TIME Taiwan

Taiwan’s Crippling Gas Explosion Caught On Camera

+ READ ARTICLE

Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second largest city, is currently in a state of disarray due to blasts caused by a gas explosion. The number of casualties has now surpassed 250, with bodies continuing to be discovered as the day progresses.

Eruptions began around midnight Thursday and continued into the morning Friday. Taiwan’s Central News Agency (CNA) announced that residents had been reporting smells of leaking gas to authorities prior to the explosions.

Investigations are currently underway to uncover how the blasts could have occurred and who was responsible. It is currently assumed that the cause was underground gas leaks from petrochemical pipelines built alongside the city’s sewer system.

TIME Disasters

Fear of Flying: Don’t Be Fooled By the Scary News—Air Travel Is as Safe as Ever

If you're like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. But you've reached the wrong conclusion.

+ READ ARTICLE

The news from the skies couldn’t get grimmer. In just the week since Malaysian Airlines flight 17 was brought down by a missile strike in Ukraine, killing 298 people, two more planes have gone down or gone missing: On July 23, a TransAsia flight crashed off Taiwan, killing 58 people, probably due to turbulence caused by typhoon Matmo; this morning an Air Algerie plane with 116 people aboard disappeared from radar and is thought to have crashed off of Mali, another possible victim of weather. And all of this comes in the wake of the still-mysterious March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Air flight 370, with 239 people aboard.

If you’re like most people, the temptation is to swear off air travel, at least for a while. And, like most people, you’ve reached the wrong conclusion.

Human beings are very good at a lot of things, but we’re terrible when it comes to risk assessment. That’s not our fault; we’re wired that way. If the tiger comes from one patch of the forest, you avoid that patch. If snakes are in one fruit tree you never return to it. But the modern world presents a whole lot more complexity than our still slowly developing brains are equipped to handle. And few things flummox us more than airplanes.

Start with the fact that we can’t wrap our brains around how they work in the first place. Yes, there are engines and lift and flaps and who-knows what all keeping them up. But the fact is, a fully loaded 747 weighs 975,000 lbs and attains a top speed of 570 mph at altitudes exceeding 6.5 mi. That kind of machine just shouldn’t work and so we always half-assume it won’t.

There is, too, the much discussed helplessness attendant to buckling yourself into an airline seat, obeying all the rules about seat backs and tray tables and turning off electronic equipment and when you can jolly well get up to go to the bathroom. When you’re behind the wheel, you feel like you’re in control. When an anonymous pilot is at the stick, you feel like little more than cargo.

The occasional rash of disasters like the recent ones don’t help matters any. But the fact is, those are just statistical clusters — the airline equivalent of a few people in one country developing a rare form of cancer, which gets people looking for an environmental toxin or some other cause, when in fact it may just be random numbers at play. Yes, flying into a war zone or the teeth of a typhoon is going to increase the danger that something very bad is going to happen to you. But avoid those obvious no-go zones and the odds are very good you’ll be just fine.

In 2010, according to a report by the U.N.’s Civil Aviation Organization, there were a breathtaking 30,566,513 commercial departures worldwide. Yet, according to an authoritative site that tracks all departures and arrivals, there were only 12 crashes of planes carrying more than 18 people and only three of them resulted in more than 99 fatalities. Those deaths were an unspeakable tragedy for the people who lost their lives and the families they left behind, but in the cold calculus of probability, they’re less than a rounding error compared to all the people who flew aboard those 30.5 million flights.

Despite such low individual odds, one thing that scares us off of airplanes is the unavoidably uneven distribution of the crashes that do occur. So the 35 commercial accidents in 1968 and 1969, the 34 in 1972 and 1973, and the 33 in 1989, would have likely had a lot of people reaching for their car keys and hitting the roads instead. And it’s worse when one of the crashes is especially notorious — such as the Dec. 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, which directly preceded 1989’s string of comparatively bad luck.

The Sept. 11 attacks, of course, are the darkest example of all. The two flights that brought down the World Trade Towers alone top the list of the world’s worst air disasters, with the 2,907 deaths easily outdistancing the two-plane runway accident that claimed 583 lives on Tenerife in the Canary Islands in 1977.

Air travel suffered badly in the wake of Sept. 11, but so, it turned out, did some of the people who avoided the planes. From October to December 2001 there were 1,000 more highway fatalities than there had been in that same period the year before — the simple result of more people being on the road. “It was called the 9/11 effect,” David Ropeik, an independent risk consultant and a former professor of the Harvard School of Public Health, told me for my 2007 book Simplexity. Nearly 3,000 people died as a direct result of the attacks and a third again as an indirect one.

Air travel, surely, is not risk free, but it’s hardly a new observation to say that nothing is. Statistical clusters do smooth out over even a relatively short period of time and what feels like a grave danger today will seem relatively benign again tomorrow. The tragedy of the lives lost on the recent crashes is a very real thing; but so is the low likelihood of any one person suffering the same sorrowful end.

TIME Disasters

No, Fidel Castro’s Niece Wasn’t on the Algerian Plane

Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, gives a press conference in Havana, Cuba on May 5, 2014.
Mariela Castro, director of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education and daughter of Cuba's President Raul Castro, gives a press conference in Havana, Cuba on May 5, 2014. Franklin Reyes—AP

"I’m alive and kicking"

Multiple news outlets reported Thursday that Cuban President Raul Castro’s daughter—Fidel Castro’s niece—was on the Air Algérie flight that disappeared earlier in the day, citing information from the airport in Burkina Faso. Mariela Castro, a sexologist and gay rights activist, is the director of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education.

But she wasn’t on the flight.

“I’m at a meeting, happy and healthy,” she told the television network TeleSUR. “I’m alive and kicking.”

The Facebook post which appeared to have first reported the news was later deleted.

 

 

TIME Disaster

California Wildfires Still Raging After Burning Homes

The latest wildfire that broke out in Carlsbad on Wednesday is one of several fires dotting Southern California. At least 30 homes were engulfed in flames, causing thousands of evacuations, including from Legoland, the popular amusement park

Updated: May 15, 2014, 7:30 a.m. E.T.

Wildfires whipped along by blustering winds during a massive drought have burned at least 30 homes and forced thousands to flee in southern California, where several blazes continue to burn as of Thursday morning.

At least 15,000 people have been ordered to evacuate their homes in Carlsbad, California, among the towns hardest hit by the wildfires. The Carlsbad fires also forced park officials on Wednesday to shut down Legoland, a local LEGO-themed amusement park.

Cal State San Marcos, a San Diego County college with approximately 10,000 students, and Camp Pendleton, an area Marine Corps base, have also been evacuated.

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency late Wednesday after local county officials urged him to do so as firefighting resources ran thin in the face of spreading fires.

The cause of the fires is not known, but officials say temperatures reaching into the 100s and the ongoing drought in the region make the area ripe for wildfires.

Two firefighters have been injured fighting the blazes, one with a heat-related injury and another due to smoke inhalation.

[LA Times]

TIME

Washington Authorities End Mudslide Search

Washington Mudslide Transition
A search dog walks on a tree as the search continues for the remaining missing victims of the massive deadly mudslide that hit the community of Oso, Wash on April 16, 2014. Ted S. Warren—AP

The hunt for bodies of victims in Washington state has drawn to a close, five weeks after the devastating mudslide that killed 41

After weeks of searching for bodies from the March 22 mudslide in Washington state, authorities are ending the search.

Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary said the decision to quit was difficult as there were still two bodies missing, the Associated Press reports.

41 victims have been found, and 11 people were saved on the day of the mudslide. Hundreds of people and dogs have participated in the search since the March 22 disaster.

According to the Associated Press, a commission will independently review the incident, and it could take up to three months to clear all the debris. The disaster caused around $10 million worth of damage, and a further $32 million in recovery costs.

[AP]

TIME Washington

This Satellite Photo Of Washington Mudslide Shows Full Extent of Damage

A DigitalGlobe close-up satellite imagery of the Osa, Washington mudslide area after the March 2014 tragedy. Imagery collected on March 31st, 2014.
A DigitalGlobe close-up satellite imagery of the Oso, Washington mudslide area after the March 2014 tragedy. Imagery collected on March 31st, 2014. DigitalGlobe/Getty Images

An image snapped from a DigitalGlobe satellite on March 31 shows the enormous damage caused by the March 22 mudslide in Snohomish County, where at least 27 bodies have been found and search teams are still looking for 22 people who remain missing

A satellite image taken Monday illustrates the full extent of damage caused by the March 22 mudslide in Snohomish County, Wash. Rescuers are still looking through the wreckage in search of victims. The death toll rose to 27 Tuesday, while the number of missing remained at 22.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee urged President Barack Obama on Monday to make a “major disaster declaration” in Snohomish County, as financial losses mounted in the rescue operations. That would allow individuals and businesses to access federal relief programs, including disaster-related unemployment insurance and housing.

TIME Disasters

WATCH: Footage of Chicago Airport Train Crash Leaked Online

Chicago Transportation Authority did not authorize release of security camera footage showing train jumping tracks at O'Hare airport

A Chicago train derailed at O’Hare International Airport on Monday, injuring 32 people. Union officials stated that the operator of the train that jumped its tracks before scaling up an escalator may have dozed off at the wheel, according to the Associated Press.

Now, a video has been leaked of the train as it barrels into the station. In the video, a security guard and a man are seen running out of the way. There are more than 40 surveillance cameras in the CTA’s Blue Line O’Hare station, according to ABC News. Officials have not disclosed whether the video came from one of those cameras.

“CTA did not release a video and does not have a comment at this time. All matters are being handled by the NTSB,” a CTA spokesperson told TIME.

TIME Disasters

Unofficial Death Toll Hits 24 in Washington Mudslide

The rescue effort continues for survivors of a devastating mudslide that occurred over the weekend in Snohomish County, Wash., a "high risk" area for this kind of disaster, and officials believe at least 24 people died

Updated: March 26, 2014, 9:40 p.m. E.T.

Rescue teams expanded their search in Snohomish County, Wash., on Tuesday in a desperate attempt to find survivors of the catastrophic mudslide that left an estimated 24 dead amid ruined houses and countryside.

The Washington Army National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency joined local officials in the search on Tuesday, using specially trained dogs and sonar technology to scour the vast affected area, reports the Seattle Times. Two more bodies were discovered on Tuesday, bringing the official death toll to 16, while an additional eight were located but not recovered.

Residents of the small town devastated by a massive mudslide knew there was a “high risk” of this kind of disaster in the area, according to a Washington State official.

“This entire year we have pushed message after message that there’s a high risk of landslides,” said John Pennington, director of Snohomish County emergency management. “The dangers and the risks are known.” A smaller mudslide hit the area in 2006, and Pennington said adjustments had since been made after the event, including millions of dollars in land development in order to prevent a potential disaster.

“We did a great job of mitigating the effect of smaller slides,” Pennington said. “It haunts me because we did everything we could have done, and the community did feel safe.”

That marks a change of stance from Monday, when Pennington stated, “This was a completely unforeseen slide. This came out of nowhere.” The Seattle Times reported late on Monday that a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report had warned as long ago as 1999 of the “potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the hill that collapsed at the weekend.

Over 90 people are still reported missing after the devastating mudslide, which took place over the weekend after a long period of heavy rain. A smaller mudslide hit the area in 2006, although Pennington said adjustments had since been made.

Rescue workers are still scouring through the wreckage, 55 miles (89 km) northeast of Seattle, to find survivors. Firefighters have reported difficulties with the terrain that are slowing the process. “It’s like quicksand out there,” local fire chief Travis Hots said. “Some of my guys could only go 50 ft. in five minutes.”

Pennington says he believes in miracles and is reserving hope. President Obama asked Americans to send prayers Washington’s way.

[USA Today]

TIME Disasters

Oklahoma Shakes—Is Fracking to Blame?

Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas
Earthquakes have been linked to oil and gas disposal wells in states like Kansas. Travis Heying—Wichita Eagle/MCT/Getty Images

A normally calm state is hit by a wave of minor earthquakes—causing some to point the finger at fracking. But wastewater disposal wells likely play a bigger role

It’s been a shaky week in Oklahoma. The Sooner State has experienced more than 150 earthquakes over the past week, far more than the Okies usually get. And while the vast majority of the quakes were fairly minor, one, on Feb. 16 measured 3.8 on the Richter scale, followed by a number of aftershocks. There’s been little damage reported, but the quakes jolted folks in a part of the country who aren’t accustomed to the Earth moving under their feet. “[It] felt like bombs going off,” central Oklahoma resident Nancy York told ABC News affiliate KOCO-TV. “It’s just a huge noise and then it’s like a reverb from that boom that just shakes the entire house.”

Something is clearly going on in Okalahoma—and has been for a while now. Residents have experienced more than 200 quakes with a magnitude of at least 3.0 since the beginning of 2009, and more than 2,600 tremors altogether during 2013. (A 3.0 magnitude quake is considered the threshold at which most people can feel shaking.) According to a recent analysis by EnergyWire, Oklahoma is now the second most seismically active state in the continental U.S., after California.

So what’s happened? Suspicion has turned to the energy sector. Oklahoma is the center of the country’s hydrocarbon industry, with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells dotting the state. Some of those wells have been drilled with the use of hydrofracking, in which explosives are used to generate cracks in a layer of shale rock thousands of feet below the surface. Millions of gallons of fracking fluid—most of which is water—are then pumped underground to keep the cracks open, allowing oil and natural gas that had been trapped in the shale rock to flow back to the surface. Surely it’s not too difficult to think that a process meant to break up the ground could end up triggering an earthquake.

(MORE: Your City Might Not Be Ready for the Next Big Quake)

But while a few studies have linked the act of fracking to minor earthquakes, there’s no definitive proof yet that fracking by itself can cause noticeable quakes. What’s more likely at fault are wastewater disposal wells. When an oil or gas well has been drilled, millions of gallons of wastewater—tainted with hydrocarbons and any number of other unhealthy contaminants—flow back up to the surface. That wastewater needs to be contained, so companies drill new wells, and inject the liquid underground at extremely high pressures. It’s entirely possible that the high water pressure used in these injection wells—and there are more than 10,000 of them in Oklahoma—may nudge previously dormant faults out of their locked position. A study published in Science last year linked unusual earthquakes in Ohio to the presence of nearby disposal wells, and other research in Oklahoma has raised similar concerns.

It’s not yet clear exactly how disposal wells might be causing or contributing to these unusual “swarms” of earthquakes. It’s possible there’s something more natural at work. Austin Holland, Oklahoma’s state seismologist, has raised the possibility that historically high water levels at Oklahoma’s Lake Arcadia may be playing a role, perhaps by placing additional stress on dormant faults. In any case, though, Oklahoma is not alone—other normally calm states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas have experienced unusually heavy seismic activity in areas near oil and gas drilling and disposal wells. Kansas Governor Sam Brownback announced on Feb. 17 that he would appoint a committee to study what role oil and gas activity might be playing in a recent spate of minor quakes in the state. Given that oil and natural gas production is on the rise in the U.S.—and that there are more than 30,000 deep injection wells throughout the country—that’s a question that needs an answer.

(MORE: How Earthquakes Heal Themselves — and Why That’s Important)

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 45,975 other followers