Puerto Rico hurricane disaster, 450 dead

This 2 October 2017 video is called Why Puerto Rico will be without power for months.

By Rafael Azul:

Estimated death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria rises to 450

20 October 2017

The estimated death toll in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria, which slammed into the island on September 20, is far higher than previously stated, according to an investigation by Vox. As many as 450 people have died on the US territory, nearly ten times the official figure of 48.

“We knew from reports on the ground, and investigative journalists who’ve also been looking into this, that this [the official figure] was very likely way too low of a number,” Eliza Barclay, an editor at Vox, told USA Today in a report published yesterday.

On Thursday, only a few days after the initial Vox report on the death toll, US President Donald Trump met with Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosello in Washington. He rated the response of the administration to the catastrophe a “10” out of 10. The comment demonstrated the contempt that the ruling elite has for the masses of workers on Puerto Rico, 80 percent of whom are still without power and will be for months.

Rossello joined in with the congratulations, though he did admit that “a lot still has to be done.”

Trump again made clear that federal assistance will be minimal. The administration is “helping a lot” and it is “costing a lot of money,” he claimed, but “at some point, FEMA has to leave, first responders have to leave and the people have to take over.”

Vox’s estimate of the death toll includes those recorded in the official figure; 36 deaths reported by local news outlets; an NPR report of an additional 49 bodies sent to hospital morgues; and another 50 casualties in one region, reported in the Los Angeles Times. It also took into account reports from the Puerto Rican Center for Investigative Reporting of 69 morgues at full capacity, and a report from San Juan’s El Vocero of another 350 bodies awaiting autopsies at the Institute of Forensic Sciences.

On the one-month anniversary of Hurricane María, it is hard to imagine how things could be worse. The electrical blackout over most of the island is the longest in the history of the US. Forty percent of Puerto Ricans lack potable water, and thousands are forced to use water from wells contaminated with pollutants and sewage.

Earlier this week, the mayor of Canóvanas reported that several people in the city had died of Leptospirosis, a bacterial infection caused by polluted floodwaters. Dozens are dead from the disease throughout the country.

A few days before the scheduled reopening of Puerto Rican public schools, parents are being told to provide extra food and bottled water for their children. Children with conjunctivitis, a symptom of Leptospirosis, have been told to stay home.

Julia Keleher, Puerto Rico’s education secretary, is calling on authorities to install or repair water fountains for students. The San Juan Star reports that Keleher has denounced government agencies for not giving her reports on the conditions of the schools after the hurricane, and for the fact that virtually all 1,100 Puerto Rican public schools remain littered with debris left over by the hurricane—a major element in the Leptospirosis threat.

“When did the hurricane happen? How many days have passed? When are we resuming classes? At what schools is there still debris?” declared the secretary. Despite the increasing threat of Leptospirosis, schools will reopen Monday. The debris “does not make it impossible to resume classes, but it should not be happening,” said Keleher, “because the debris can bring other problems, such as Leptospirosis.”

Many teachers have had to carry out cleanup operations at schools themselves, due to the lack of coordinated reconstruction.

On Tuesday Eli Díaz, the executive director of the Puerto Rican Water and Sewer Authority, declared that water service would continue to be intermittent until the electric grid, on which much of the water system depends, is fully restored.

Thirty-four percent of households still are still totally without water. Even those that have water report that it often appears grayish-brown coming out of their faucets. Diaz has said that this is due to the clogging of water intakes from debris left behind by the hurricane.

As of last Tuesday, less than eighteen percent of households had electric service. The Puerto Rico blackout has now lasted longer than any blackout on the US mainland.

The hurricane caused an estimated $85 billion in damage in a country that is reeling from recession and faces the relentless demands of Wall Street creditors for more austerity and cuts in infrastructure and social programs to pay back their loans.


Theresa May breaks promise to London Grenfell disaster survivors

This video from London, England says about itself:

18 October 2017

Grenfell Speaks to Zeyad Cred about the Grenfell silent march and the importance of keeping this growing movement going on the 14th of every month.

By Felicity Collier in Britain:

Only 14 Grenfell families rehoused since catastrophe

Friday 20th October 2017

LABOUR accused the government yesterday of failing to keep its promises made in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster because only 14 families have since been rehoused.

Shadow housing minister John Healey said that 152 households are still living in hotels four months on from the deadly fire that killed around 80 people.

He reminded Communities Secretary Sajid Javid that, days after the disaster, Prime Minister Theresa May had said: “I have fixed a deadline of three weeks for everybody affected to be found a home.”

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Javid admitted that only 14 families have been rehoused permanently, and that the number still needing a new home has risen to 202.

Fewer than one in 10 of the 4,000 high-rise blocks in the country have been tested by the government for fire safety and the flammability of exterior cladding similar to the material that fuelled the Grenfell blaze, Mr Healey said.

Mr Javid has “refused any government funds for essential fire safety work on other high-rise blocks,” he added.

The Communities Secretary revealed that out of 169 high-rise social housing towers in England that have Grenfell-style cladding, 161 are unlikely to meet current fire safety standards and work would be needed to make them safe.

Some 32 councils have expressed concern about funding for improvement works.

Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that the Metropolitan Police has advised Kensington and Chelsea Council not to release its correspondence with the London Fire Brigade relating to the potential risks of the cladding on Grenfell and other buildings.

Making tower blocks safe for thousands of people in the wake of the Grenfell Tower inferno will cost £405 million in London, according to a report published by the Local Government Chronicle (LGC): here.

Caribbean birds and hurricanes

This 2012 video from the USA is called [American] Robins feasting on holly berries during Hurricane Sandy.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Hurricane impacts on Caribbean birds

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has brought devastation to many parts of the Caribbean, and our hearts go out to those who have been impacted by these storms. In addition to the humanitarian consequences of these storms, bird populations have been significant affected. Thanks to our partners at BirdsCaribbean for this summary: read more.

Hurricane Ophelia disaster in Ireland, Britain

This video says about itself:

Three dead and 360,000 properties without power as Storm Ophelia hits Ireland

16 October 2017

At least three people have been killed by storm Ophelia in Ireland. It also left hundreds of thousands of houses and businesses without power.

Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips reports from the northwest coast of Ireland.

By Margot Miller:

Hurricane Ophelia’s tail hits Ireland and UK

17 October 2017

The Republic of Ireland and large parts of the UK were battered by the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia Monday.

Strong winds led to extensive damage and three fatalities. While Ireland was the worst affected, the storm also hit West Wales, Scotland, south west England and the north of England.

A woman in her fifties died when a tree landed on her car in West Waterford, while her companion, a woman in her seventies, was hospitalised. A downed tree crushed a car, claiming the male driver, in Ravensdale, Dundalk. A 30-year-old man died in a chainsaw accident in Cahir, Co Tipperary, while attempting to remove a tree felled by the storm. Another man narrowly escaped with his life when a tree fell on his car in Midleton.

As the storm made its way northeast, winds left 360,000 homes and businesses without power in the Republic of Ireland. Power was also lost to thousands of homes in Northern Ireland—18,000 affected—and Wales. Tens of thousands remained without electricity during Monday evening. Full power for all is not expected to be restored for all for at least ten days.

Winds reached 95 mph in many places and up to 109 mph in Fastnet Rock.

Waves as high as 27 feet were reported at sea in the south of Ireland. Winds ripped the roofs off many buildings and uprooted trees. A gust tore the roof from Douglas Community School, while the soccer stadium in nearby Cork, which was hit by gusts of up to 105 mph, had its roof blown off and was badly damaged.

The Guardai (Irish Police) advised people to stay indoors and refrain from travelling for their own safety. The Fine-Gael minority government ordered 1,000 troops on standby.

During the evening, police in Carrickfergus had to evacuate residents, who were at risk of flooding, due to tidal surges. They were taken to a local council hall to stay the night.

Met Eireann issued a “status red alert” ahead of the ex-Hurricane’s landing, which despite being downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone was potentially life threatening due to flying roof tiles and debris, falling trees and high seas, with waves pounding the coastline.

The Met Office, the UK’s national weather service, warned that the storm, which originated in the Atlantic as a Category 1 hurricane, was a potential danger to life. It issued a yellow warning of extreme winds in the West of Scotland, the North of England and Wales.

In west Wales, winds reached 90 mph in Aberdaron. Four thousand properties were without power in Camarthenshire, Pembrokeshire, Ceredigion and Powys.

Southwest Scotland was hit by winds of 80 mph during Monday evening and the heavily populated central belt, including Glasgow, faced 60 mph gusts. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency issued a series of flood alerts, while parts of England also braced themselves for flooding, with three flood warnings issued.

All schools and colleges in the Republic of Ireland closed their doors Monday and will remain closed Tuesday until the worst of the storm is over. Some head teachers berated the authorities for not informing them earlier about the closures—many had to contact parents and pupils late on Sunday night.

As a precaution, 80 schools in West Wales were shut, as well as all 48 on the Isle of Anglesey.

Due to the severe weather, all trains, ferries, buses and trams stopped running in Ireland, while Ryanair, Aer Lingus, British Airways, Qatar Airlines, Air France, City Jet, Emirates and KLM grounded flights in and out of Dublin airport. Passengers were told to check their flights from Belfast airport while Manchester airport in northwest England cancelled 20 flights. Edinburgh Airport cancelled all flights to Ireland.

Former US President Bill Clinton was forced to cancel his planned visit to the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont, to discuss the ongoing crisis in which there has been no functioning devolved government for nine months. Stormont suffered a power outage due to the storm.

The famous Peace Bridge across the River Foyle in Londonderry was closed as a precaution.

Debris strewn everywhere is expected to cause major public safety problems for days to come. According to Travelwatch NI, by 6 p.m., 179 trees/branches had fallen, causing chaos on roads. Several trees were brought down near to each other making roads impassable.

Five flights to UK airports were forced to make emergency landings, reporting mysterious “smoke smells” in cockpits that were thought to be linked to the remnants of the hurricane.

Many parts of the UK experienced eerie sepia light. Other areas reported “sunset at midday” as the sun glowed red in the sky due to particles of dust from the Sahara and debris from the wildfires in Portugal and Spain sucked over by Hurricane Ophelia.

Hurricane Ophelia was the worst storm to hit Ireland in 50 years. Extreme weather is hitting more parts of the world, with increasing frequency and ferocity, due to global warming. At least 27 people have been killed this week in the hundreds of wildfires in Portugal, leading to a state of emergency being declared in an area amounting to half of the country.

As with the hurricanes which have devastated large parts of the United States and Caribbean in recent months, evidence points to the fact that the Irish government did little to ensure public safety and prepare for what was known well in advance to be a massive storm.

Eugene Murphy, the flood relief spokesman of Ireland’s other main party, Fianna Fáil, seeking to score political points, noted that the National Emergency Coordination Committee met on Sunday. But all local authorities, civil defence and emergency services “were not put on stand-by. … Hurricane Ophelia is due to be the worst storm to hit this country in over a decade, but we have less than 24 hours to prepare for it.”

According to Dr. Dann Mitchell of the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol, “There is evidence that hurricane-force storms hitting the UK, like Ophelia, will be enhanced in the future due to human-induced climate change.

“While tropical hurricanes lose strength when they travel north, they can re-intensify due to the nature of the atmospheric circulation at UK latitudes. It is the rise in temperatures over most of the Atlantic that is a primary driver of this, a clear signature of human-induced climate change.”

Writing in the Guardian, Environment Editor Damian Carrington said, “An increase in hurricane-force winds wreaking havoc across the Britain and Ireland is entirely consistent with global warming, according to scientists.” Higher temperatures create “more energy in the climate system, especially in the oceans, which is where big storms derive their energy from.”

A report commissioned in May by the Association of British Insurers (ABI)—carried out by the Consultancy firm Air Worldwide in conjunction with the UK Met Office—warned of the disastrous consequences of even a minimal increase in global warming by 1.5º C. The ABI called for action to reinforce buildings to withstand damage from wind destruction, which the report projects would likely increase by over 50 percent across the UK.

A 2,000-page report produced over three years by 80 experts for the Committee on Climate Change found the UK completely unprepared for the effects of global warming—which could see deadly heatwaves with temperatures in the high 30º C and up to 48º C in London, more flooding and water shortages.

The indifference of the ruling elite to the safety and wellbeing of the population was demonstrated by Theresa May on becoming prime minster last year. One of her first acts was the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Republic of Ireland: Storm clean-up under way, 245k homes and businesses still without power. … Around 20,000 households are without water: here.

Hurricane Ophelia kills, damages electricity in Ireland

This video says about itself:

Hurricane Ophelia: Thousands lose power as storm hits Ireland – BBC News

16 October 2017

Thousands are without power in southern Ireland as the remnants of Hurricane Ophelia reach the British Isles.

The Met Office has warned of “potential danger to life”, with winds off the south coast of Ireland reaching 109mph (176km/h) at Fastnet Rock.

In the Republic of Ireland, Met Eireann has issued a red wind warning and the government has deployed the army.

An amber warning for Northern Ireland, Wales, south west Scotland and the Isle of Man is in force until 23:00 BST.

From the Irish Times today:

Hurricane Ophelia: 230,000 without power as monster storm hits

Woman killed after tree falls on car as storm hits the southwest with winds of over 160 km/h

Patrick Logue, Seán Dunne

Some 230,000 homes are without power on Monday as Hurricane Ophelia sweeps in over Ireland with damaging gusts and heavy rainfall.

Members of the public have been advised to stay inside and not to make unnecessary journeys as the worst storm the country has seen in more than 50 years passes over. Public transport services have been cancelled countrywide and there have been a series of road closures, including the M8 motorway.

The death of a woman in the hurricane has been confirmed. A tree fell on the car in Aglish, Co Waterford, according to a spokeswoman for Waterford County Council. Gardai say the woman driving the car in her 20s died when the car was struck and a passenger in her 50s was injured.

Power outage

As of 1pm, approximately 230,000 electricity customers were without power, with the main areas impacted in the southern half of the country including Counties Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford and Limerick. The ESB expects this to rise significantly in the coming hours and could take several days to restore power.

There are widerspread reports from the counties of fallen trees and blocked road with the extreme weather moves through the southwest and southeast.

The storm winds have hit the south-west and south Leinster and are moving quickly up across the country. Met Éireann is warning that violent and destructive gusts of 120km/h are expected countrywide and that winds could exceed these value in some exposed and coastal areas.

Met Eireann has said the eye of the storm passed over Valentia Observatory in Co Kerry.It has reported gusts as high as 160 km/h with extremely severe conditions across Cork and Kerry.

“The most severe winds over Munster and south Leinster at present will extend quickly to the rest of the country this afternoon,” according to Met Éireann.

“The heaviest of the hurricane winds will be down along the south and east coast of the Irish sea. As the storm moves along, there’s another extra core going to fed into Co Clare and the West Coast of Galway. The estimated time of the secondary core is 3pm. …

The public have been advised to stay indoors and the Government’s crisis management committee, the National Emergency Co-ordination Group, met this morning and warned against all unnecessary travel.

Ophelia: Man dies in ‘chainsaw accident’ in Ireland during storm: here.

UPDATE: Three people die in Storm Ophelia incidents: here.

Brother Kevin Crowley, who runs the Capuchin Day Centre for homeless people in central Dublin, has criticised the Government for failing to make timely provision for rough sleepers during Storm Ophelia: here.

California, USA wildfires, inadequate warnings

This video from the USA says about itself:

11 October 2017

California wildfires are devastating everything in their path. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, the hosts of The Young Turks, show you footage of the aftermath from the fires.

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — The deadly wildfires devastating Northern California continued to spread across dry hills and vineyards Wednesday, prompting more evacuations from a menacing arc of flames that has killed at least 21 people, destroyed more than 3,500 buildings and battered the region’s renowned wine-growing industry.

Officials expect the death toll to rise as crews begin to reach heavily burned areas. Hundreds in flame-ravaged Sonoma County remain missing, and higher winds coupled with low humidity and parched lands could either hamper efforts to contain the fires or create new ones.

“We’re not out of the woods, and we’re not going to be out of the woods for a number of days to come,” Cal Fire Chief Ken Pimlott said at a news conference Wednesday. “We’re literally looking at explosive vegetation. These fires are burning actively during the day and at night.”

What makes these fast-moving fires particularly dangerous, Pimlott said, is that they “aren’t just in the backwoods. . . . These fires are burning in and around developed communities.”

Nearly two dozen large fires have been raging in the northern part of the state, sending thousands of residents to evacuation centers and burning roughly 170,000 acres — a collective area larger than the city of Chicago. That size is likely to grow.”

Read more here.

By Rafael Azul and Eric London in the USA:

Why didn’t Northern Californian county governments use Wireless Emergency Alerts to warn residents of breakout wildfires?

16 October 2017

Over a week has passed since the most devastating fires in California history ignited Northern California. The death toll is still climbing, reaching 40 as of Sunday night. One hundred and seventy two people are still missing in Sonoma County, the hardest hit of the four affected counties, and another 74 are unaccounted for in neighboring Napa County.

Neither Napa nor Sonoma counties alerted residents of the fires through Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) systems. Despite the fact that such technology is readily available, many of the dead and injured were caught sleeping, completely unprepared for what was coming. In some cases the victims did not hear horns or the desperate knocking of neighbors. Many rural residents beyond the reach of local police departments were left with no warning at all, their limited escape routes quickly engulfed by flames.

But the Washington Post reported yesterday that in neighboring Lake County, due north of Sonoma, local officials did send out an emergency blast that activated all cellphones, “turning them into the equivalent of squawking alarms.” Untold lives were saved by this activation of the WEA. Lake County is the only affected county that has reported zero fire deaths.

According to the Post:

“Of the four counties in Northern California where residents were killed in fires this week, two—Sonoma and Mendocino—had agreements in place with FEMA that enabled them to send alerts. Yuba and Napa counties did not, according to federal records.”

In Sonoma, local officials justified their failure to activate wireless notification on the grounds that it would produce mass panic and “because the warning is not targeted,” a county spokesperson said, adding, “to keep everyone safe we chose not to use a mass alert that would have reached areas not affected by the fire.”

The result was a nightmare. In Santa Rosa, the largest city in Sonoma County, the smoke and heat of approaching flames woke people in residential neighborhoods shortly after 1:00 AM. “Something told me, death, go, leave,” Julie Pilacelli, a resident of Santa Rosa’s Hemlock Street told the Los Angeles Times.

By 1:30 AM, most of the of Pilacelli’s neighbors were waking each other up and fleeing their homes. There had been no warning, no phone calls, no alarms. Eventually a lone patrol car with a megaphone but no alarm sound drove up Hemlock telling people to leave. “We were left high and dry,” said Jimmy Warren, also of Hemlock Street. “No one was there to help.”

County officials claim that warning the population would have clogged roads, but they have offered no explanation as to why emergency services did not have a county-wide evacuation plan in place to prepare for the inevitability of large fires, a common occurrence in rural and semi-rural parts of Northern California.

This week’s fires have far surpassed previous fires in death and destruction because unlike previous rural wildfires, these were able to approach densely urban areas. In this case, entire residential neighborhoods were left sleeping without warning as flames swept down from the hills despite the fact that they are situated right next to highways and would have been easy to evacuate with proper warning.

A FEMA spokesperson told CNN on Saturday that contrary to Sonoma County government claims, agencies sending emergency notifications do have “the option of providing geographic coordinates defining the area where the alert is to be targeted” with basic information like the location of cell phone towers.

In response, another Sonoma County spokesperson gave residents cold comfort then she told CNN on Sunday, “It’s something we’ll absolutely be looking into as part of our after-action plan.” Sonoma County already has WEA capabilities, unlike Napa, which has reportedly not used WEAs.

Even those who did sign up for the alerts often received notice several hours after the flames had enveloped their neighborhoods. A reader of the World Socialist Web Site reported that his family in Sonoma County was only alerted of approaching fires by a call from a neighbor and barely made it out alive. Three hours after the family evacuated, they received their cell phone evacuation notice from the county.

Many elderly people were evacuated from residential nursing homes with just minutes to spare and without public warning. The San Francisco Chronicle’s growing list of the dead includes many elderly or infirm people who may have been able to survive had they been warned and evacuated in a timely manner.

Different levels of local and state government have responded with a blame game. Governor Jerry Brown also has the capacity to activate the warning system, but administration officials sought to pass the buck on to local officials: “From the state level we wouldn’t do that,” said Kelly Houston, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Alerts and warnings happen on a local level…They decide what are the appropriate alerts for their population.”

Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano in turn blamed residents for failing to sign up for an emergency alert system that sends out texts in emergencies. “If you don’t sign your cellphone up, you don’t get that service,” Giordano said. “So the message is, sign up for SoCoAlerts if you live in this county.”

On Friday, a Sonoma County spokesman said that only 2 percent of the county’s 500,000 residents signed up for the emergency warning system, an indication of how little was done by the government to advertise the system.

Lake County officials explained their decision to activate the WEA system was simple: “We had folks that were in immediate danger, and wanting to notify them of the situation,” Police Lt. Corey Paulich said. Lake County regularly sends out WEAs for weather and criminal alerts. The county also uses an app called CodeRed which notifies residents of impending disasters. In short text messages, Lake County residents were told where the fire was and where their assigned evacuation center was located.

According to the federal government’s Ready.gov emergency preparedness website, WEAs “look like text messages, but are designed to get your attention and alert you with a unique sound and vibration.” They “are no more than 90 characters, and will include the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, as well as the agency issuing the alert.” They are simple, cheap, and effective, often used to send “Amber alerts”, warning drivers to be on the lookout for child abductors.

Sonoma County’s decision not to activate the WEA for fear of causing panic is not a justified “spur of the moment” judgment call. It betrays the government’s incompetence and its lack of confidence in its own evacuation emergency plans. Moreover, the county’s fears of causing panic indicate that county officials and police feared that social tensions in the county—and particularly in the working class and immigrant neighborhoods of Santa Rosa—have reached the point that a panic would produce riots or looting.

There is no telling how many lives would have been saved had the county governments flicked the switch and activated their warning systems. There is a telling difference between the lack of emergency preparations for natural disasters and the massive degree of government preparation in response to peaceful demonstrations against police violence, for example.

As in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, the task of saving lives and property falls to the working class. Thousands of firefighters have converged from all over the country into a veritable army that is combatting the flames in multi-day shifts. These firefighters continue to risk their lives to control the flames and have contained several of the fires. Despite the firefighters’ best efforts, high winds Saturday whipped up new fires like the large one that has now engulfed the Mayacamas mountain range, threatening the small towns of Kenwood, Glen Ellen, and Oakmont.

Reports indicate that up to one-third of all those fighting the flames are prisoners, paid just $1 per hour for the extremely dangerous job. Residents of the affected towns greet firefighters with massive rounds of applause wherever they are sighted in public and have even gathered to keep residents quiet in areas where firefighters are sleeping. Fire departments have had to issue public statements asking that the public cease donations of food and drink on account of the already overwhelming showing of public support.

CALIFORNIA FIRES EXPOSE FLAWS IN EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM 65 percent of U.S. counties reportedly do not have the authorization to send advisories via wireless emergency alerts. And wine country isn’t the only thing that’s been destroyed — just ask the cannabis growers. [HuffPost]