Climate disasters will happen everywhere, anytime

“This summer has seen a rising number of “compound events,” disasters occurring simultaneously or hitting one after another, according to climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe. In some cases, one event might accelerate another. A heat wave, drought, and wildfire can conceivably all hit the same area, for example, and even raise the risks of flooding if a storm finally comes, because the ground is too parched to absorb the influx of water.
And there may be worse to come. Disaster season — or at least, what we’ve historically thought of as disaster season — is hardly over yet. Summer and fall are typically prime times for extremes, but this year we also have El Niño, the natural cycle when Pacific waters reach higher-than-average temperatures, which is just starting to ramp up. This is why meteorologists expect an extraordinary fall to follow the unprecedented summer, likely filled with active hurricanes and warmer weather through the winter.

With El Niño amplifying the effects of climate change, what we can expect from seasons is rapidly changing. Instead of a singular type of disaster any given region must prepare for, but places all over the world can expect multiple events at once. That means our traditional idea of disaster season no longer holds. What we now have is an extended practically year-round calendar of disasters, which often all hit at once.”

Hawaii could burn again. How can the government prepare?

“President Joe Biden’s disaster declaration came within hours of the wildfires that tore through Lāhainā, Maui, last week, where the death toll is at least 111 and a thousand people may still be missing. The disaster declaration helped unlock federal aid for Maui, adding to Hawaii’s emergency stores another 50,000 meals, 10,000 blankets, and $700 cash for survivors in the immediate aftermath.
But questions around the response at every level of government continue to mount. Many of the disaster’s survivors have said the assistance was slow to arrive, wondering days later why distribution centers were so disorderly, and missing persons numbers still so high.”

“At the same time, some decisions made locally also contributed to the chaos. “As reports have come out, the alarm systems weren’t initiated the way that community members would expect,” Ing added. “Even the evacuation process seemed unclear. Some community members were feeling that there was more deference and priority given to the hotels.””

“If you think about disaster response, that’s like a body responding to an injury. You’ve got arteries and capillaries, and those are not the same thing; they serve very different purposes. So I think when people critique FEMA and the federal government, it’s sort of misplaced because you can’t assume that a national, huge apparatus is going to know who the right people are on the ground to reach into the community.

What we need to do is make sure those local capillaries are very strong and as well-circulating as possible. The artery function that FEMA is meant to do are the big volumes of aid coming in. If you don’t have FEMA working with those local capillaries and supplying aid in the right spaces, then you get delay and confusion. That has to be organized at the local level so that when they show up, they’re immediately directed by the state and local level to the most effective channels.”

DeSantis voted against Sandy aid a decade ago. Now his state needs the help.

“Ron DeSantis had just been sworn in as a member of the House in 2013 when he voted against sending $9.7 billion in disaster relief to New York and New Jersey, two states still reeling from the damage of Hurricane Sandy.
“I sympathize with the victims,” the Florida Republican said at the time, but objected to what he called Congress’ “put it on the credit card mentality” when it came to government spending.

Now, a day after Hurricane Idalia pummeled Florida less than a year since Hurricane Ian’s destruction, DeSantis is not objecting to federal borrowing when it’ll help his disaster-stricken state. As Florida’s governor — and a 2024 White House contender — he is in regular contact with President Joe Biden as the state seeks dollars from Washington to rebuild from the storm wreckage, assist rescue efforts and aid displaced residents.”

” DeSantis’ vote a decade ago was based on his opposition to the Sandy package’s “additional pork spending,” a spokesperson for his presidential campaign said”

The deadly train collision in India, explained

“India’s railway system was constructed in the 19th century, when the country was a British colony, and serves millions of people each day. Though it’s an important part of the country’s transit system, it has long suffered from underinvestment, and deadly, destructive accidents are not uncommon.”

“Modi’s government has recently announced major spending on the transit and railway systems, including high-speed, indigenously produced trains between major transit corridors. But many such upgrades are years away, require mountains of outside investment, and must wind through a labyrinthine government bureaucracy to take effect.”

“India’s railway system is in some ways a marvel, in that it connects a massive country together, is an affordable mode of transportation that serves 13 million people each day according to state-run Indian Railways, and connects India’s large rural population to its urban areas.
The railway system also spurred economic growth after it was first introduced in 1853, because it could move commodities both internally and internationally far more quickly than traditional transportation. The economy still depends on rail transportation, to an extent, though increased roadways and a large auto industry have increased Indians’ auto-ownership from 115 million in 2009 to 295.8 million in 2019, according to a report from the Ministry of Road Transport and Highway Transport.

Still, people all over the country depend on old, overcrowded trains for all aspects of life, despite the massive number of accidents and deaths that occur on India’s more than 40,000 miles of railway.”

‘Enough with the politics’: Derailment investigator takes aim at partisan sniping, misinfo

“NTSB’s preliminary report released Thursday showed that the engineer at the controls of the Norfolk Southern train that derailed in Ohio tried to stop the train following a warning about an overheating wheel, but by that time several cars had already come off the tracks.
According to the report, before it derailed, the train passed three detectors intended to alert train crew to physical problems, including overheating wheels. Though the train detectors showed one of the wheels was steadily getting hotter, it did not reach a temperature Norfolk Southern considered critical until it passed the third detector and alerted, as outlined by the National Transportation Safety Board.

When the train passed that last detector, the detector “transmitted a critical audible alarm message instructing the crew to slow and stop the train to inspect a hot axle,” the report said.

By then, the engineer was already trying to slow the train because it was behind another train. Upon hearing the alarm, the engineer increased the application of the brakes, and then automatic emergency brakes initiated, bringing the train to a stop.

When it stopped, the crew “observed fire and smoke and notified the Cleveland East dispatcher of a possible derailment,” the report said.

Thirty-eight cars derailed and 12 more were damaged in the ensuing fire.

The hopper car with the overheating bearing was carrying plastic pellets, which caught fire when the axle overheated, Homendy said.

The placards that designate which cars are carrying hazardous materials — and which she said are “critical in response and in protecting the community,” were also made of plastic and melted. NTSB may recommend a different material for the placards.

The focus of the investigation is on the wheelset and the bearings. They are also looking at the design of the tank cars themselves, the accident response, including the venting and burning of the vinyl chloride, railcar design and maintenance procedures and practices, Norfolk Southern’s use of wayside defect detectors, and Norfolk Southern’s railcar inspection practices.

NTSB plans to hold a rare investigative field hearing near the site in the spring with the goals of informing the public, collecting factual information from witnesses, discussing possible solutions and building consensus for change.”

Better buildings could have saved lives in Turkey’s earthquakes. Are contractors really to blame?

“Turkey sits along two major fault lines, and after a deadly 1999 earthquake, the country passed stricter building codes, but they were not consistently enforced. And that goes beyond builders and contractors cutting corners or using inferior materials. There are also likely inspectors and municipal and state officials who issued permits when they shouldn’t have, or who looked the other way. There are those who lobbied for (and the politicians who backed) amnesty laws for buildings, essentially overriding ordinances in the name of quick construction and profit.
“Earthquakes are a natural phenomenon. Yes, it happens. But the consequences of the earthquake are quite, I would say, governmental and political and administrative,” said Hişyar Özsoy, a deputy chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party and an opposition member of Parliament representing Diyarbakır, a city near the quake’s devastation.

All of this happened under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, along with his Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been in power for about two decades. Erdoğan made a construction boom the centerpiece of Turkey’s economic growth. At the same time, he has consolidated his power over institutions, the press, and the judiciary. This rapid economic growth, happening alongside democratic erosion, created layers of corruption and government mismanagement that allowed contractors to construct the buildings the way that they did.

“This is very much about the entire system that Erdoğan built — not just the politics of it, but also the economies behind it,” said Sebnem Gumuscu, a professor of political science at Middlebury College who has studied democracy and authoritarianism in Turkey. “The entire system is built around these corrupt networks, crony networks, and it is all levels: local level, national level, local branches of the party, local construction, developers — they’re all in this together.””

“Construction was also a source of political power for Erdoğan and the AKP, as major Turkish construction companies enriched themselves with government contracts and cozied up to the regime. That construction boom, which fueled other sectors of the economy, helped make Erdoğan and the AKP popular; that in turn allowed him to bolster his own authority, and helped put AKP into power at all levels of government, including state and municipal offices — often the ones tasked with overseeing permits or enforcing construction codes.

Politicians had incentives to approve things like amnesty laws. People enriched themselves through this ecosystem of cronyism, so there was no incentive to make sure earthquake-safe standards were applied. And the institutions that might hold these players and politicians accountable — the press, the civil service, the courts — were being hollowed out and eroded by Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian bent.

So, yes, developers and contractors likely were negligent, constructing buildings with cheap materials or designs that could not withstand a 7.8-magnitude quake. But these shortcuts couldn’t happen without the complicity or encouragement of government institutions, all of which knew the country’s vulnerabilities and pushed ahead anyway.”

Wealthy Connecticut Residents Received Millions in Federal Dollars After Hurricane Sandy

“If wealthy homeowners want to live in places likely to experience severe weather events, they’re free to do so, but it shouldn’t be the federal government’s responsibility to help protect them against the consequences.”

Where Did Puerto Rico’s Disaster Relief Go?

“Billions of dollars were allocated by the federal government to rebuild Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and recovery efforts are projected to cost U.S. taxpayers another $50 billion, according to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) estimates. But corruption by FEMA officials in Puerto Rico has slowed down progress dramatically. Back in 2019, FEMA’s deputy regional administrator in charge of Maria recovery was indicted as part of a $1.8 billion bribery scheme involving an Oklahoma-based electric company. Officials on the island were also indicted for allegedly steering $15 million in federal rebuilding contracts to preferred contractors. And the Jones Act shares some of the blame since its restrictions on shipping to U.S. territories like Puerto Rico drive up costs for imported products significantly and delay the arrival of necessary supplies during emergency situations.
Congress has begun to ask questions about how exactly that money has been spent over the last five years.”