This video from the USA says about itself:
This 6 September 2017 video, made from a helicopter, shows the destruction by Hurricane Irma in Caribbean Sint Maarten (the Dutch colony part of Saint Martin island, of which the other half is a French colony).
By Jerry White in the USA:
Hurricane Irma slams into Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands
7 September 2017
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, leading to record flooding and damage in Houston and other areas of the state, an even more powerful hurricane has plowed through a chain of small islands in the northern Caribbean and Puerto Rico and is heading towards the Dominican Republic, Haiti, the Bahamas and Cuba. Densely populated south Florida, which includes Miami, could be hit Sunday, and the Georgia and South Carolina border by Monday afternoon.
Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 storm with 185 mile per hour winds, making it the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane ever measured. In the early morning hours on Wednesday, Irma smashed into the Lesser Antilles islands of Antigua and Barbuda (population 82,000 and 1,700), Saint Barthélemy (9,000), Anguilla (15,000) and Saint Martin/Sint Maarten (77,000).
At least seven people are confirmed dead, though this number is expected to rise quickly.
The eye of the hurricane passed directly over the island of Barbuda around 2 a.m. Wednesday, with reports of sustained winds of 118 mph, gusting to 155 mph, before meteorological instruments failed. Charles Fernandez, minister of foreign affairs and international trade for Antigua and Barbuda, said the destruction on Barbuda was “upwards of 90 percent.”
High winds and storm surges destroyed government buildings, tore roofs from houses and left islands without power or communication. Both the Dutch and the British dispatched naval ships and military personnel to their island possessions, while French President Emmanuel Macron, who was monitoring conditions in the French West Indies from an Interior Ministry crisis center in Paris, said the “toll would be harsh and cruel.”
Hurricane Irma began battering the US territory of Puerto Rico, with a population of 3.4 million US citizens, Wednesday afternoon. As of this writing, the eye of Hurricane Irma was 35 miles (56 kilometers) north of the capital city of San Juan and hovering above the Atlantic Ocean. Authorities say wind gusts of up to 100 mph (160 km/h) could hit the capital of 355,000 people.
More than one million people, or nearly a third of the population, are currently without power, and nearly 50,000 are without water. Fourteen hospitals are using generators after losing power, and trees and light posts are strewn across many roads.
The island has not been hit by a Category 5 hurricane since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, leaving 72 dead and doing $3 billion in damage. The National Weather Service predicts “extreme” danger and warns that roads are likely to become impassible, and structurally sound buildings are likely to be damaged. Rock and mudslides, particularly in rural areas, are also predicted.
Harvey and Irma are being followed by tropical storms Jose and Katia, which could develop into hurricanes threatening the northern Leeward Islands in the West Indies—including some of the same islands hit Wednesday—and Mexico, respectively.
The water in the Caribbean is warmer than usual, and this provides fuel for such hurricanes. The intensity of the storms and their frequency only underscore the impact of global warming, which is denied by President Donald Trump and only paid lip service by other capitalist governments around the world.
In response to Hurricane Irma, Trump has declared states of emergency in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to begin relief efforts. Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló announced that the government was operating 456 shelters to accommodate 63,229 people.
As in Houston, however, the human cost of the new hurricane has been far worsened by the lack of any serious government preparations and the decay of physical and social infrastructure. In the case of Puerto Rico, the island and its people have been left ever more vulnerable by the looting operation carried out by Wall Street to extract some $70 billion in debt payments, or $12,000 from each resident of the island.
Last May, a financial oversight board appointed by the Obama administration filed for Title III bankruptcy to pave the way for Greek-style austerity measures, including slashing public-sector jobs and pensions on an island that already suffers from an official poverty rate of 45 percent and 14.2 percent jobless rate. The Puerto Rican government has hired advisors who oversaw the bankruptcy of Detroit and the sell-off of public assets to pay off wealthy bondholders.
The budget proposed by Rosselló cuts the departments of education, natural resources, housing and agriculture, including a $200 million cut for Puerto Rico’s public university that provoked a two-month-long student strike. The budget also eliminates millions of dollars in annual subsidies to 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico, forcing the mayors to find funding in other areas.
The flooding of water and sewerage systems by the hurricane threatens to create a humanitarian disaster on an island that is already supplied with water from systems that violate the US Safe Drinking Water Act, due to contaminants ranging from lead to coliform bacteria. The water system has been privatized twice, resulting in skyrocketing utility bills.
Before the hurricane hit, Ricardo Ramos Rodríguez, the executive director of the Puerto Rico Power Authority, warned that the island’s electrical system was vulnerable to a catastrophic failure from high winds because it had not been adequately maintained for years. “If we are [slammed] by this hurricane as is being outlined in the forecasts, there are certainly going to be blackouts, and certainly there will be areas that are going to spend three, four months without electricity service,” Rodríguez said in a radio interview with WIPR.
“For many years there has been no maintenance or replacement of damaged equipment,” he said, adding that the public corporation has lost about 5,000 employees in recent years, of which 86 percent were operational—linemen, plant operators or mechanics.
On Wednesday evening, the World Socialist Web Site spoke with Carmen Merrill, a retired New York City sanitation worker who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in the southeast of the island. As the interview was conducted, the electricity was cut off in the home in Guayama she was sheltering in with a friend.
“My concern is how long we will be without power. There was a news segment on television a while ago and they interviewed retired workers from the Palo Seco Power Plant in Cataño, just outside of San Juan. They said any winds above 50 miles per hour could shut the plant because maintenance never got done. A worker who complained that the plant was too dangerous was killed in an explosion. The government is not doing anything about it.
“They use the word ‘Commonwealth,’ but businesses come here and get tax breaks, and that money is not available for public services. The schools are not maintained and politicians like Rosselló just talk and take no action.”
Most Puerto Ricans, she said, could not afford emergency generators. And while many homes were built with concrete to resist storms, low-income families in isolated areas and in neighborhoods like La Perla in Old San Juan live in structures that are susceptible to massive damage.
“The rising of the rivers is the most dangerous,” Carmen said. Like Houston, she said, working-class residents were helping each other put metal racks on their windows to protect their homes. “We saw what happened in Houston. It was devastating. We had a small group of people volunteering from Puerto Rico to help rescue people in Houston. People are asking here how a modern state like Texas could flood so quickly and people get washed away in unsanitary water.”
Before retiring to Puerto Rico, Carmen said, she was involved in the clean up of Superstorm Sandy in New York City in 2012. “The worst was in Rockaway in Queens, where we saw all the furniture and belongings destroyed and piled up in front of their homes. Houston reminded me of Sandy. Every house and car was flooded. An older lady came up in tears, saying, ‘I don’t care about the furniture but I want my family pictures.’ I found a black and white photo of her grandchildren and gave it to her. After that I couldn’t work, I just cried.”
Miles of devastation along Braes Bayou in Houston. A Hurricane Harvey diary: Part 3. By Charles Abelard, 7 September 2017: here.
Long-term threats to public health follow in Hurricane Harvey’s wake: here.
Hurricane Harvey First Responder Gets Flesh-Eating Bacteria From Texas Storm Water: here.
This video from the USA says about itself:
6 September 2017
Four Rivoli’s Hummingbirds stopped by West Texas in under 5 minutes this morning! The two adult males, juvenile male, and female all sipped from the same port on the back left of the feeder, providing us with a great chance to compare plumages within the species. Check it out!
Adult males: Blackish, dark green bodies, brilliant teal gorget and purple crown
Immature male: scaled appearance, light green back, iridescent green splotch on throat
Adult female: bold white spot behind the eye, white-gray throat, gray flanks, green back
The West Texas Hummingbird Feeder Cam is nestled in the mountains outside Fort Davis, Texas, at an elevation of over 6200 feet. This site hosts a total of 24 Perky Pet Grand Master hummingbird feeders, and during peak migration can attract hundreds of hummingbirds from a dozen species that are migrating through the arid mountains.
This video from the USA says about itself:
4 September 2017
By Tom Hall in the USA:
Media and political establishment begin to move on as Houston residents return to devastated city
5 September 2017
As the floodwaters begin to recede along the Texas Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands of displaced residents are returning to scenes of devastation.
Approximately 156,000 dwellings have been flooded. An estimated one million cars have been destroyed in a sprawling city where access to a vehicle is a basic necessity. The city of Beaumont, Texas, east of Houston, still does not have clean drinking water, nearly a week after the city’s water treatment facilities went offline.
Conditions have been created for any number of public health crises, from mosquito-borne diseases and bacteria-infested floodwaters, to contamination from chemical plants, oil refineries and Superfund sites. Authorities carried out a controlled burn on Sunday at a chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, where fires have been raging after floodwaters knocked out the facility’s generators. The immense psychological toll of the hurricane will also likely produce a mental health crisis in the region, as in New Orleans, when the area experienced a suicide epidemic in the months after Katrina.
The devastation along the Gulf Coast could be repeated within a few days by Hurricane Irma, which has been upgraded to Category 4 [later to Category 5] and it makes its way through the Atlantic Ocean. Current forecasts predict that Irma will pass near Puerto Rico, Haiti and Cuba, before making landfall in the United States near Miami, the 8th largest metropolitan area.
While the full impact of Hurricane Harvey is only beginning to be felt, the American political establishment and the corporate media are moving to put it behind them as quickly as possible. Over the past two days, their focus has shifted to North Korea, seizing upon the North Korean government’s alleged test of a hydrogen bomb to issue provocative war threats while burying the ongoing catastrophe in Texas.
From the beginning, the media has sought to cover up the social and political causes of the devastation wrought by the hurricane, avoiding any discussion of the neglect of infrastructure that scientists have warned about for years, and of the incompetent and indifferent response of government officials to the catastrophe.
The New York Times, which sets the tone for the rest of the American media, has run a series of articles minimizing the impact of the storm and its class implications. On Thursday, the Times published an article, “Storm With ‘No Boundaries’ Took Aim at Rich and Poor Alike,” which explicitly rejected any comparisons with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, in which the immense class divide in New Orleans was revealed by “the desperation of the poor stranded at the Superdome and the devastated, largely black, low-income neighborhoods like the Lower Ninth Ward, which were among the ones most likely to suffer catastrophic flooding and the last ones to recover.”
It is, however, the poor who will be most devastated by Harvey as with Katrina, without access to insurance and unable to rebuild on the paltry aid from the federal government, mainly in the form of loans.
The insurance industry is expected to pay out only $10 to $25 billion in claims resulting from the storm, a tiny portion of the $180 billion in estimated damages. Most homeowners will receive no insurance payments for flooding damage because they do not own flood insurance, which is optional outside of federally designated flood zones. The insurance industry is sitting on between $150 and $300 billion of excess capital, according to Barron’s, equivalent to between 80 to 170 percent of the total cost of the storm.
The federal government will make available $7.8 billion dollars for relief funding, based on the initial proposal from the Trump administration. Even this, however, will not go towards new or expanded programs, but will primarily be used to fund the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s existing Disaster Relief Fund, which caps payments to individuals at $33,000 (with the majority receiving far less).
The other main source of “relief” funding will come in the form of loans from the Small Business Administration, headed by former pro wrestling executive Linda McMahon. Anyone applying for SBA funds must prove that they will be able to pay back their loans before their application is accepted, with the vast majority of applicants rejected, according to Politico.
The Times acknowledges that there are “huge differences between the options open to the poor and the well-to-do,” before insisting on its basic point: “What is clear is the devastation is connecting people of disparate means in one common experience: loss.”
The other major theme in the media coverage is that life is quickly returning to normal in Houston. On Sunday, the Times ran an article, “21 Miles of Highway, Snapshots of a Resilient Houston,” which enthused that Houston “can often be a place of remarkable heart and grit, a city built on inhospitable ground that fully expects to rebuild from the storm’s ravages.” Another Times article proclaims, “Hurricane to Cost Tens of Billions, but a Quick Recovery is Expected.”
The presentation of a quick and full recovery is aimed at obscuring the extent of the destruction, covering up for the paltry character of the government response, and setting the stage for businesses to resume profitable operations, and even seize on the opportunity.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, a Democrat, proclaimed on Sunday that “the City of Houston is open for business.” He continued, “Look, people are feeling good. Even at this shelter where we are right now… We’re not going to engage in a pity party.” Here Turner echoes the delusional and callous statement by Trump the previous day at a Houston shelter, when he declared, “As tough as this was, it’s been a wonderful thing,” and “They’re really happy with what’s going on.” Neither Trump nor Turner’s comments met with any significant backlash in the press.
As reflected in the media response, the ruling class is pulling together in response to Harvey, not to make the people of Houston whole, but to cover their own tracks.
Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top-ranking Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, issued a joint statement indicating their willingness to work with the Trump administration on its domestic agenda, which includes a massive corporate tax cut. “Providing aid in the wake of Harvey and raising the debt ceiling are both important issues, and Democrats want to work to do both … Given the interplay between all the issues Congress must tackle in September, Democrats and Republicans must discuss all the issues together and come up with a bipartisan consensus,” the statement said.
The response in the media and the political establishment follows what is by now a well-worn pattern repeated after every major disaster, whether a hurricane, flood, tornado or wildfire. During the events themselves, they avoid any serious examination of the social and political conditions that prepared it. Once the waters recede, fires are extinguished, or the winds stop, the media works as rapidly as possible to divert popular attention from the class issues raised by the disaster to topics in line with the basic strategic interests of the American ruling class.
HOUSTON FAMILIES FACING RENT PAYMENTS ON FLOODED PROPERTIES “We don’t have any money. We don’t have anything.” [HuffPost]
This video from the USA says about itself:
29 August 2017
Aerial footage highlights the extent of flooding damage caused by tropical storm Harvey in Houston.
By Patrick Martin in the USA:
Hurricane Harvey to be costliest US natural disaster
4 September 2017
With estimates of the total damage ranging from $180 billion on up, Hurricane Harvey may be the costliest disaster, in terms of economic damage, in US history.
Damage estimates are still preliminary, with large areas still inaccessible. The death toll stands at 50, but it is expected to rise considerably as homes in lower-elevation neighborhoods of Houston—mostly poor and working-class—and in the swamped cities of Beaumont and Port Arthur are reached by rescue and recovery teams.
The American Red Cross reported Sunday its highest total for storm refugees, 37,000 in emergency shelters across the Texas Gulf Coast and 2,000 more in Louisiana. Some 85,000 homes are still without electrical power, mainly in the southeast Texas region between Corpus Christi and Galveston, where Harvey first came ashore as a Category 3 hurricane.
The Texas Department of Public Safety raised its estimate of the total number of homes damaged by flooding and wind to over 200,000 Sunday, with much of Houston and all of Beaumont and Port Arthur still unaccounted for. Nearly 15,000 homes were classified as destroyed.
A staggering one million vehicles were destroyed or damaged, mainly by flooding, which destroys the complex electronic workings of most modern cars and trucks.
Only a small fraction of homeowners and businesses in Harris County, which includes Houston, have federal flood insurance policies, about 250,000 for 1.7 million homes or apartments and 100,000 business premises. For the region as a whole, it is estimated that at least 70 percent of the flood damage is uninsured.
The Houston Independent School District, seventh largest in the US, reported that at least 202 of its 284 schools had water inside, and only 115 had been deemed safe to reopen by September 11, when the school year is now scheduled to start. At least 75 schools had “major” or “extensive” damage, and 39 were still inaccessible due to flooding and had not been checked.
In the face of this catastrophe, the response from the institutions of the American ruling class is a combination of criminal negligence and indifference. The federal and state governments have left the bulk of the population to shift for itself, local governments across the region have virtually collapsed, and the giant corporations and other institutions of the ruling elite—universities, churches, foundations, etc.—have offered only token assistance.
President Trump traveled to the Gulf Coast for the second time in a week, in a choreographed show of “sympathy” for the victims of Harvey in Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana. As usual with Trump, every appearance was a display of sickening self-love and hollow and obviously phony populism.
After speaking with a small, vetted group of storm refugees at the NRG Center, one of several convention centers in downtown Houston housing victims of Harvey, Trump told reporters, “They’re really happy with what’s going on.” He added, referring to the government response to Harvey, “It’s something that’s been very well received. Even by you guys, it’s been very well received.”
This comment, a mixture of self-promotion and self-delusion, only underscores the unbridgeable social gulf between the billionaire president (along with the media) and the vast majority of the storm’s victims, working people who have lost nearly everything, and in some cases saw loved ones swept away by rushing waters.
The White House is requesting an initial $7.8 billion appropriation from Congress in emergency assistance to the storm-ravaged area, with a second request for $6.7 billion to follow shortly. The combined total, $14.5 billion, is less than 10 percent of the published estimates of damage, and less than a quarter of the recovery and relief funds approved after Superstorm Sandy in 2012-2013.
The Trump administration appears to be seizing on Hurricane Harvey to solve an immediate political dispute with Congress, following the cynical maxim of Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (now mayor of Chicago) to “never let a good crisis go to waste.”
White House budget director Mick Mulvaney, in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan sent Friday, called for the initial emergency funds for Hurricane Harvey to be packaged in a bill to raise the federal debt ceiling, which Treasury officials have said must be enacted by September 29 to avoid dislocating Wall Street and global financial markets.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin appeared on Fox News Sunday to reiterate this demand, which is aimed mainly at the Freedom Caucus, a grouping of 40 ultra-right Republicans in the House of Representatives who have threatened to block any increase in the debt ceiling unless it is combined with major cuts in social spending.
Besides the impact on Wall Street, the Trump administration is concerned that a federal debt default could disrupt the overseas operations of the US military, which are dependent on foreign countries receiving US payment for supplies, refueling and other costs, as well as direct financial subsidies to client regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The real attitude of the Trump administration towards the victims of natural disasters like Harvey is shown in the draft budget plan prepared by the White House, which cut nearly a billion dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as well as abolishing the Chemical Safety Board, which investigates disasters like the series of explosions at the Arkema plant in Crosby, Texas, northeast of Houston.
Trump has gloried in his executive actions dismantling what little remains of regulatory restrictions on the operations of the giant oil and chemical companies that dominate the Gulf Coast. According to one tabulation, there are 33 plants in the greater Houston area whose corporate owners have filed formal notices with the federal government that in “worst-case” scenarios, a disaster at the plant would endanger a nearby population of more than one million people. Arkema was only one of the 33.
The Environmental Protection Agency reported Sunday that more than 800 wastewater treatment plants are not fully operational in the wake of Harvey, while 166 water systems are operating under “boil-water” instructions to their customers. Another 50 have shut down entirely, including the water system for the entire city of Beaumont, with a population of 118,000.
Rather than redoubled monitoring of the dangers of toxic chemical leaks, the EPA was engaged Sunday in a bitter war of words with the Associated Press, after the AP reported that there were 13 toxic waste sites in southeast Texas, managed under the EPA’s “superfund” program, that had been inundated, raising the prospect of dioxin and other toxic chemicals leaking into the floodwaters.
The EPA denounced claims that it had not yet bothered to check on these sites, a full week after Harvey struck the region, claiming the AP “is cherry-picking facts.” However, these facts were unanswerably true, as the AP and other sources documented that 13 of the 41 superfund sites in the region were underwater.
The EPA admitted that it had not been able to physically visit the sites near Houston, because of floodwaters, and was relying on aerial monitoring to “confirm possible damage,” a completely inadequate method of determining whether there were breaches in the containment around any of the sites.
The EPA maintained that it was working with state authorities, but the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has suspended pollution reporting requirements for the duration of the hurricane disaster, and the TCEQ office in Houston is closed. The Trump administration budget would cut the superfund program by 30 percent.
Once the immediate danger of drowning is past, the main threat from floodwaters is the combination of chemicals and waste products they have accumulated. The federal Department of Health and Human Services reported that it had treated 420 of the 7,500 people housed at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, some of them for diarrhea or vomiting following contact with contaminated floodwater.
“The working class has organized to save the working class”. A Hurricane Harvey diary: Part 2. By Charles Abelard, 4 September 2017. This is the second installment of my diary of Hurricane Harvey. I began these notes in the evening of Tuesday, August 29, 2017, after the hurricane moved off to the east and Houston skies began to clear. This installment covers August 31 through September 1: here.
Texas Wind Turbines Went Right on Turning Under Harvey’s Impact, as Refineries Shut Down: here.
Older Victims of Hurricane Harvey May Need Special Attention: here.
As some residents begin to return to their homes and rescuers search the still flooded buildings in and around Houston, Texas, the massive extent of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey is only now being fully revealed. The consequences of what by some measures is the greatest natural disaster in American history will be far-reaching, not only for the millions of people directly affected, but for social and political stability in the United States: here.
Analysis: Nearly 1 Million Pounds of Seven Deadly Air Pollutants Released by Texas Refineries During Harvey Floods: here.
Fetid floodwaters in the “chemical coast” carry toxins and disease. The incalculable human health consequences of Hurricane Harvey: here.
[Donald Trump administration Scott] Pruitt Delayed Emergency Rules for Chemical Plants Weeks Before Toxic Fires Erupted in Houston: here.
A Hurricane Harvey diary, Part one. By Charles Abelard. 2 September 2017. I began these notes in the evening of Tuesday, August 29, 2017, after the hurricane moved off to the east and Houston skies began to clear. The observations here are personal in nature, and reflect my own thoughts as the events unfolded, and as earlier parts of the story were better filled in with new information: here.
Disaster Coverage Still Has Blind Spot for Low-Income Victims: here.
Media Largely ‘Blind’ to Harvey’s Devastating Impact on Poor Communities: here.
Harvey Won’t Be The Last Thousand-Year Storm, by Krista Sperber, Rae Breaux: here.
Antifa and Leftists Organize Mutual Aid and Rescue Networks in Houston: here.
By Niles Niemuth in the USA:
Death toll expected to rise as chemical explosions add to devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey
1 September 2017
The number of dead and the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey continue to mount in what is already one of the worst disasters in American history.
The confirmed death toll from the region surrounding Houston, Texas remains at 31, but this is expected to rise rapidly as search-and-rescue teams carry out house-to-house searches now that floodwaters are beginning to subside. Meanwhile, now-Tropical Depression Harvey is making its way up through the Southeast, dumping heavy rains on Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
At a White House press conference Thursday, Tom Bossert, President Trump’s Homeland Security Advisor, reported that an estimated 100,000 homes have been affected by the storm. AccuWeather, a private weather forecasting company, predicts that total damages from the storm could reach $190 billion, or more than 1 percent of US Gross Domestic Product.
Adding to the danger, two explosions Thursday rocked the Arkema chemical plant in Crosby, Texas, approximately 20 miles northeast of Houston, sparking a fire and sending noxious black smoke into the air. A 1.5-mile radius around the plant was evacuated, and 21 emergency responders were treated for chemical exposure at a local hospital and discharged.
Company officials had warned earlier in the week that the facility, which produces highly volatile organic peroxides, was primed for an explosion after it was inundated by floodwaters and the refrigeration units necessary to keep the chemicals from exploding lost power. More explosions are expected at the plant, and it is not known how many other such facilities in the region are at risk.
Arkema and many other chemical companies opposed additional safety regulations issued by the Obama administration in the wake of several accidents in Texas, including an explosion at a fertilizer plant in [West,] Texas in 2013 that killed 15 workers. The Trump administration postponed enforcement of the regulations in June.
Further east, more than 120,000 people in the city of Beaumont, Texas, home to some of the country’s largest oil refineries, were left without access to clean water after the city’s main water pump was overwhelmed by flood waters Wednesday night. The city’s hospital, Baptist Hospitals of Southeast Texas, was forced to close and transfer patients to other facilities across the region.
In Tyler County, north of Beaumont, the Army Corp of Engineers was forced to open the floodgates of the Angelina-Neches Dam Wednesday, as rising waters threatened to overflow barriers. All residents were told to leave the region immediately.
“Anyone who chooses to not heed this directive cannot expect to be rescued and should write their social security numbers in permanent marker on their arm so their bodies can be identified,” Tyler County Emergency Management warned on Facebook. “The loss of life and property is certain.” The post ended with the declaration: “GET OUT OR DIE!”
Officials at every level of government continue to congratulate themselves on their response to the storm, while the endless media commentary avoids any discussion of those responsible for the disaster. If such a calamity had happened in Russia, China or Iran it would undoubtedly be cited as evidence of government incompetence and the failures of officials and urban planners.
US Vice President Mike Pence, fresh from a trip to West Virginia, where he pushed the Trump administration’s plans or a massive tax handout to the rich, visited Corpus Christi, Texas on Thursday. Pence echoed the empty pledges of other government officials that Washington will assist in ensuring a full recovery.
At a press conference, Pence repeatedly sidestepped questions about whether the White House would insist on budget cuts to offset any emergency federal funding—a position that Pence took as a congressman in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The vast majority of Houston-area residents who lack flood insurance will be eligible for only $33,000 in loans from the government to cover building costs and hotel stays. (See, “More than 80 percent of homeowners impacted by Harvey lack flood insurance“)
White House Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced at a White House press conference Thursday that President Donald Trump had decided to donate $1 million of his own money to relief efforts, pocket change for the billionaire real estate developer.
Trump’s PR stunt will be viewed with contempt by the broader population, who have seen tens of thousands left homeless due to negligence by the government and large corporations, including the developers who paved over Houston’s wetlands and prairie lands.
Throughout the week, government officials have promoted volunteerism as the way to confront the flooding that has swept over southeastern Texas. The inept rescue effort by the Coast Guard and other government agencies has been buttressed by the response of thousands of volunteers who have risked their own lives to save people trapped by the floodwater.
The destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey has exposed the reality of social life in the United States, the richest country in the world. Decades of increasing social inequality, official neglect and the decay of social infrastructure have left the fourth-largest city in the country, Houston, completely vulnerable to the hurricane.
The drowning of Houston comes exactly 12 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated nearby New Orleans and the surrounding area, killing more than 1,800 people. It comes seven years after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed eleven and produced the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country.
Each of these disasters, in different ways, was the product of criminal negligence on the part of the American financial oligarchy. Trillions of dollars have been made available to bail out Wall Street and finance US military operations abroad, yet nothing has been done to prepare for entirely predictable extreme weather events like Harvey and Katrina. In the case of the BP oil spill, corporate cost cutting and deregulation left the entire region to the mercy of the profit drive of a giant oil company.
Fire Erupts Again at Houston-Area Chemical Plant as Public Remains in Dark. Arkema says more explosions likely to come after fire breaks out for second day in a row: here.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOUR HOUSE FLOODS “Maybe you’re sitting in your living room looking out your window when it starts. Maybe you’re asleep. But you’re definitely surprised. You never thought the storm would get this bad.” [HuffPost]
Joel Osteen is being brutally dragged in memes over his Hurricane Harvey response.
By Barry Grey in the USA:
“I grew to call the oil industry the rape, pillage and plunder industry”
Former Shell Oil civil engineer and Berkeley Professor Emeritus Robert Bea speaks on Hurricane Harvey
1 September 2017
Robert Bea is a retired civil engineer and professor emeritus at the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California at Berkeley. He has had a long career in the fields of flood control and risk assessment and management, beginning in 1954 when he joined in the Army Corps of Engineers.
He was appointed chief offshore civil engineer at Shell Oil in 1965 and stationed in New Orleans. Four years later he was moved by Shell to Houston. After helping to develop the international consulting engineering contractor that became PMB-Bechtel, he joined the faculty at UC Berkeley. There he worked on the analysis of major failures and disasters involving engineered systems, such as the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, the NASA Columbia Shuttle explosion, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the PG&E San Bruno pipeline explosion, and, most recently, the 2017 failures at the Oroville and Anderson dams in California.
Professor Bea spoke with the World Socialist Web Site on Wednesday from his home in California.
Robert Bea: The upset at the Oroville Dam and Anderson Dam in California this past winter is connected to Hurricane Harvey in Houston. In California, we’re coming out of a very dramatic five-year drought. So this year we were blessed with a lot of fresh water, but the systems we had in place to help us benefit from this crucial resource were not prepared.
Worse yet, no one really understood the system as a system. It was a collection of disjointed pieces and parts. Well, that’s just what we’ve seen unfold in Houston, Texas. The storm is much more intense than was expected—that’s to be expected, actually. Global climate change is not a debate. The climate’s been changing since there was a climate to change.
The system in Houston for “flood protection”—it’s really not flood protection at all. It isn’t a system. It’s a bunch of disjointed pieces and parts.
Barry Grey: When you say it’s not really a flood control system, could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
RB: Sure. The Corps of Engineers built nice piles of dirt we call the Barker and Addicks dams. We used to live a few miles from those dams. Our home was located in Memorial Estates, next to a wonderful area called Buffalo Bayou. As our sons grew up, it changed from a bayou to a swamp. The spillway for the Barker and Addicks dams turned into a clogged sewer pipe.
Surrounding it, the open country we saw when we first got there turned into strip malls and highways and research facilities and refineries. So the environment changed. There was no system to confront that set of environmental changes.
At the end of that picture, you open up the newspaper to see the news and say, “Oh, my God! We’ve got flooding in Houston.” It looks like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It looks like it because it’s about the same damn thing.
BG: You know that just the other day the administrator of FEMA made a statement saying there’s no way we could have anticipated this.
RB: That’s total bullshit! I’m normally not that blunt. Absolutely total bullshit! You couldn’t anticipate it because you weren’t looking for it. To anticipate something you have to be looking carefully at it, analyzing what you see and what you detect. Who’s looking carefully and analyzing carefully how in the hell water gets from north of Houston to south of Houston? Nobody.
Some of the pictures of levees that were breaking and will continue to break are just like the levees I found in New Orleans after Katrina. You had trees growing on them or around them. Trees undermine levees, so levee breaks should be no surprise.
BG: There have been numerous studies, reports, recommendations by the American Society of Civil Engineers and others, certainly since Katrina. What has been the response from the political establishment to those reports?
RB: None. I’m a lifetime member of the ASCE. We have carried that story here in California to our political representatives, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and others. It’s unusual to find engineers doing this. I only did it at the end of my career.
We carried the story to them. They are intelligent people. They received us very politely. They had some great questions, particularly from their chiefs of staff. And after the doors closed, there’s been total radio silence.
BG: In your view, is this a question of negligence, indifference…?
RB: Yes. First, on negligence. After a long career trail carried me to Berkeley, we researched what’s known as a legal standard of care. There’s a legal definition for it. It has five specific elements that have to be satisfied so that you can avoid a lack of the appropriate, legal standard of care—that is, what is called negligence.
I have applied those five critical characteristics toward what I have watched and personally experienced in Houston, Texas, and also here this year in California at Oroville Dam and Anderson Dam. Also, the Coyote Creek flooding in San Jose. Yes, this is a tragedy of neglect.
BG: The general line of government officials is that nothing could have been done. What could have been done?
RB: An excellent question. Recognizing a problem is only the first step. I have networked with 26 different countries around the world. In my field development work, I was able to bring colleagues, experienced old people like me, from countries like the Netherlands here to the United States.
The Netherlands particularly is of interest to me because that is really a low-lying country. Yet the Dutch have quit sticking their fingers in the dyke and have learned to protect themselves from a vital resource called water. They have done some marvelous things to manage water risks, largely after the catastrophic flooding of 1956 that affected 80 percent of their country and damn near wiped the Netherlands off of the global map.
They even have an overarching governmental organization, a water risk management commission, that spans the entire country. They’ve applied very advanced risk management technology and they’ve bonded with some other advanced countries to implement that technology, so today the country is controlling water.
They had to do it over a long period of time. They had to learn, as they put it, to give water room. Water needs to be treated with respect. It has to flow from one spot to another. You’ve got to give it an open watercourse.
You can’t have a plugged-up pipe like Buffalo Bayou, filled with swamp material and trees, trying to let water out of the Addicks Dam to get to the Gulf of Mexico. It has to be a coherent, respectful system. Yes, it costs money, but it costs far less than the destruction of the country of the Netherlands.
So they learned that lesson, and they make smaller, annual incremental investments, and boy are they stingy with their money! They make sure that the right money reaches the right places. And it’s not a political money distribution process. They want it to be distributed according to the mitigation of the risk they are facing. Notice how different that story is than what goes on here in our blessed United States.
BG: What does go on in the blessed United States? What are the priorities here?
RB: Because of the blessings in the United States, particularly monetary blessings, we have the approach of watching things fail and then calling it a natural disaster. It’s an approach that places our infrastructure at risk.
BG: But those monetary blessings increasingly are unequally distributed.
RB: Yes, that’s right. That is exactly right.
BG: One of the things both Katrina and Harvey have revealed is the tremendous levels of poverty that exist.
RB: Yes. In New Orleans, my family got flooded out there in 1965, Hurricane Betsy. Our first home was in New Orleans east. Why did we buy a house in New Orleans east? Well, elevation minus 20 feet in reference to sea level. It was cheap. Of course, when the levees first broke there in 1965, that was the first area to get flooded.
We got wiped out, but I had a pretty damn good job working for Shell Oil Company at that time, so we could recover quickly. We sure had some neighbors who couldn’t. They didn’t have as good jobs. They didn’t have parents who were on high ground who could help support their recovery. By the way, there was no FEMA in those days, thank God. There wasn’t any 100-year flood insurance either in those days. But we recovered because we had the support.
But the poor populations that don’t have that support are truly screwed. Look at what happened after Katrina in the Houston Astrodome. It was filled with evacuees from New Orleans. Well, today we have the Houston convention center filled with evacuees again, this time from Houston. And many of the people who are there are people who don’t have all these blessings. So there is a disproportional effect on what we call the disadvantaged communities.
BG: On the other hand, there are people who are making money. If there had not been this massive and rapid development …
RB: Fueled by oil and gas. See, that’s what brought us to Houston. I was employed by Shell. I was chief offshore engineer for Shell. I worked in downtown Houston. Next door we had Exxon, further down the street, Mobil. Later there were some guys from Sohio, British Petroleum, now known as BP. It is an oil and gas center. That was what was fueling that paving I was talking about that surrounded us in Houston.
BG: Why are they so interested in paving everything over and expanding and building and developing and destroying wetlands and prairie lands? What’s in it for them?
RB: Well, the first answer I’ll give, it’s honest, not filtering the words. It comes from very extensive experience with the oil and gas industry internationally. I grew to call it the rape, pillage and plunder industry. Those are pretty severe negative words, but I came to understand that it’s very much like a mountain lion.
Mountain lions are actually very interesting beasts. They’re very efficient and effective at what they do. But if you’re prey and you turn your back on this lovable creature, it can eat you alive.
Well, the industry is a group of people charged with doing one thing, and that’s to produce oil and gas resources. And they’ve got to do that with acceptable profitability, so this very severe negative thing I said about rape, pillage and plunder is actually the natural outcome of a very powerful commercial industry. It’s the largest and most powerful commercial and industrial enterprise in the history of this earth, including the military enterprise.
BG: If Houston had not expanded as it did and paved over these natural lands, how much of a difference do you think that alone would have made in terms of the impact of the hurricane?
RB: Look at Lake Charles, Louisiana, which is probably getting rainfall from Harvey right now. It has refineries, etc., but it has merged in a much more respectful way with the environment that preceded it. I can already tell you—I know it’s dangerous to predict these kinds of things—but there’s not going to be nearly the disaster there as the one that has hit Houston.
BG: Because of the fact that they haven’t destroyed all of these natural absorbing lands?
RB: Bingo! Unfortunately, it’s not largely been the product of a plan. It’s actually been a product of a series of circumstances that didn’t allow it to become a paved strip mall.
BG: Aside from not having all this unchecked development, what else could and should have been done to minimize the impact of a hurricane or a major storm? What other things could have been done in the Houston area?
RB: Bring over a whole bunch of smart, experienced people from the Netherlands and say, “OK, we want to develop this area so that it can look like Rotterdam.” That’s a very vital port. It’s got manufacturing, petroleum refining facilities, all sorts of things that provide goods and services to and from the Netherlands.
Bring them over and say, “OK, Dutch guys, we’re not going to stick fingers in our dykes anymore. We don’t have a lot of money, so we’re going to have to spend money cautiously, stingily if you will, carefully. And we want to manage water with respect. We’re going first to develop a coherent, integrated system, and that system has to include the environment. And that environment has to include people, their welfare, which has to be provided for.”
Let’s start thinking long-term, not short-term. Here in the United States, we like to fix it fast and go back to our enjoyable lives. Sorry, but you can’t work problems like this short-term. So it’s got to be a long-term vision that says, OK, this can be done correctly. We’ve learned how to do it correctly in other parts of the world. Let’s take the best of that knowledge, let’s manage our resources very carefully—you might call it being stingy—using the best of the knowledge about how to do this and let’s go to work. And understand that the process can never stop.
That’s a real change in thinking, and we haven’t shown signs of that change in thinking here in our blessed United States.
BG: You raised the question of money. The Financial Times today has an article about what has happened to the 10 richest billionaires in the world since the Wall Street crash of 2008. Bill Gates, who was number one then, is still number one, except that he’s gone from $60 billion to almost $100 billion. All of them, it’s the same.
BG: There’s trillions of dollars stashed away in bank accounts and stock portfolios, but there’s no money to protect people from floods.
RB: Bingo! I developed for my graduate students at Berkeley a simple equation for these disasters. It was A+B = C. It’s like two plus three equals five. “A” I call natural hazards. It could be lots of rainfall, incredible amounts of rainfall as with Hurricane Harvey.
“B”—there’s an interesting list there. It includes hubris, arrogance, greed, complacency, corruption, incompetence, indolence, ignorance.
“C” is a disaster, sooner or later.
Well, you’ve got your finger on the “B,” buddy. What’s driving these things nutty is the “B” things. You’re learning why engineers are mostly engineers, because they don’t like “B.”
BG: The WSWS has an editorial today on the question of planning. We counterpose what we call the anarchy of the capitalist market with the need for planning. We believe that what’s happening in Houston is a tragic example of the result of no planning, and instead, anarchy driven by personal greed.
RB: It’s not driven solely by greed. There are other ingredients—arrogance, hubris. I find it really difficult to watch television any more, particularly news, when I watch our president talking. And I watch with great apprehension when he makes a trip to Corpus Christi or Austin, Texas. I’m worried about those “B” factors, and I’ve seen them reinforced.
BG: Has this problem, in your view, gotten worse over the years, better, or stayed the same?
RB: It’s getting worse. Houston is a good example. We’re continuing to commercialize, industrialize, populize the United States. And we’re putting this new stuff on top of the old stuff. Well, if the foundation is crumbling, it can’t take anymore, and you pile more on top of it, it’s going to get worse.
BG: What do you think should be done? What do you think the answer is?
RB: Personally, we’ve moved to higher ground. We’ve moved from minus 20 feet when we lived in New Orleans to plus 652 in California. We’ve taken the measures we can to protect ourselves.
And then, I’ve taken my retirement time and said, I guess I better try to tell my story, even if it’s got to be a simple equation like A+B=C.
The major point is to please keep doing what you’re doing—getting the word out to the public, so that the people, particularly here in the United States, who are victims of this corruption and incompetence, can start to see how it can be corrected.
If you can keep that work up, I’ll bless you forever.
HURRICANE IRMA ‘RAPIDLY INTENSIFYING’ IN THE ATLANTIC Initial forecasts predict the storm will be heading toward Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. [HuffPost]
An estimated 1,200 people have been killed and some 40 million more affected by floods that have swept through India, Bangladesh, and Nepal since mid-July. Millions have fled their homes. Thousands of schools and hospitals have been inundated and closed: here.