TIME central america

Powerful Earthquake Rocks Central America

One fatality but no major damage reported

A shallow 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of El Salvador and Nicaragua late Monday, killing one and sending tremors across Central America.

No major damage has been reported and an initial tsunami alert was retracted, Reuters reports. One man was killed by a falling electricity post, according to the mayor of the El Salvadorean city of San Miguel.

The quake happened at a 40-km depth, with the epicenter located 67 km west-southwest of Jiquilillo in Nicaragua and 174 km southeast of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador, the U.S. Geological Survey says.

[Reuters]

TIME Iceland

See Iceland’s Volcano Raging Under the Northern Lights In 1 Amazing Image

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014.
The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

Since the Aug. 31 eruption of Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, the world has watched in awe as it spews glowing red lava into the desolate landscape. Bardarbunga has stemmed a series of earthquakes through the country, but the eruption has also become the subject of some incredible photographs, videos, and satellite images.

Icelandic photographer Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson, who is also a ranger in the area, may have captured the most epic images of all: the hot glow of the volcanic eruption underneath cool and ethereal haze of the northern lights, or the aurora borealis.

The Bardarbunga volcano erupts under the aurora borealis in the Holuhraun lava field in the east highlands of Iceland near Snæfell on Sept. 2, 2014. Gísli Dúa Hjörleifsson

“In my many years of working in the highland of Iceland both as a photographer and ranger, I . . . have a knowledge of the nature and especially the way the light has an huge influence in the landscape,” Hjörleifsson told TIME. “Knowing the current situation of the volcano I wanted to capture this unique situation. I drove up in the area surrounding the volcano and watched the the sky until I could see the northern lights taking shape. That interaction with the heat and color from the volcano created a completely new color palette I have never seen [before].”

TIME

The New Job Every City Needs

Urban centers need to anticipate environmental disasters--not just clean them up. A resiliency officer can help

For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population (currently 7.1 billion) lives in urban settings. While urban living offers many attractions — employment opportunities, higher education, entertainment, health care, and public transportation – the changes we make to the natural landscape to accommodate and support our current population often makes us vulnerable to human and environmental threats. And when disasters strike urban areas, many lives are threatened and upended.

For instance, think about how we have built right up to shorelines in the New York City area and how quickly Hurricane Sandy flooded streets and subway terminals in 2012. Consider the way Hurricane Katrina overwhelmed the levee systems and devastated New Orleans in 2005. And the list of urban crises goes on: Fukushima, Japan (2011), the floods in Fort Lyons and Boulder, Colorado (2013), tornadoes in Moore, Oklahoma, and the deadly European (2003) and Chicago (1995) heat waves.

For all its attractive features, L.A., too, is vulnerable. Los Angeles is not only vulnerable to acute disasters like earthquakes and floods, but we also experience chronic hazards like air pollution and high temperatures. After all, the city is in a three-year drought and is vulnerable to 13 of the 16 federally-designated natural disasters. (The three we don’t have: volcanic eruption, snowstorms and tornadoes).

Strengthening our city is the motivation behind the recent announcement that Los Angeles will create the position of Chief Resilience Officer. L.A. is one of the first 32 cities to create such a position, as part of a campaign backed by the Rockefeller Foundation. The goal of the program is to build urban resiliency around the world by pursuing collaborations across government, private, and non-profit sectors to address complex human, environmental, and economic challenges.

In addition to the city’s emergency management departments – the fire department equipped with search and rescue capabilities, and a well-trained police force – to respond to acute disasters, L.A. needs one person to lead a city-wide effort to make the important and thoughtful decisions that will increase resiliency while reducing vulnerability to human and environmental threats in the future.

What does resilience mean in this context? The Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization, defines resilience as the ability of natural or human systems to survive in the face of great change. Resilient systems possess the ability to return to a state of equilibrium following a disturbance while non-resilient systems struggle to restore equilibrium or fail to recover altogether.

To work on both these strategies, the job of the Los Angeles Chief Resilience Officer requires several different types of skills: the local knowledge to know what risks the city faces; the technical capacity to do the planning; and the ability to bring together very different kinds of people – from scientists to politicians to media and neighborhood leaders.

By way of example, consider how the Chief Resilience Officer might confront repeated heat waves in the city. Before the heat wave, the CRO would work to redesign our city to minimize exposure – adding trees and green spaces that have cooling effects (L.A. River restoration plans, especially removing the concrete, would have benefits here); coordinating heat warnings with the National Weather Service also would be important. During the heat event, the city could provide cooling centers, water and aid stations, and health services to assist people in need. Post-heat wave, the CRO would work to return residents and the city to normal. Think how complex such work would be on this one subject – and then think about all the other threats Los Angeles faces.

The benefits of such work would go far beyond preparation and response to disaster. Resilience planning can create jobs for those engaged in the work, add to knowledge and science as the city gathers and analyzes data on its vulnerabilities, and improve education (in part by involving scholars and other experts in the work). Incorporating technology into these planning efforts could create easily available real-time, geo-referenced data regarding evacuation routes and hazards during a disaster through social media. And once we learn lessons on effective resiliency planning, we can share them with others. The Dutch, for instance, are experts in land reclamation and levees, and they provided their expertise to New Orleans officials dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

If the CRO is to succeed, people around Los Angeles will have to collaborate as never before, and many of us – at least in the academic sector — are eager to contribute to this work, and learn from it.

In fact, students in my USC program on GeoDesign­ — a first-of-its-kind major that brings together architecture, planning, and spatial sciences – have already started investigating how resilience can be engineered. And younger students, from kindergarten to high school, can be engaged as well, through class projects and field trips.

The appointment of a Chief Resilience Officer to Los Angeles is a demonstration of global leadership. It’s also timely because, unlike New Orleans or New York, LA has not experienced a major disaster recently. L.A. can get a head start on investing in critical infrastructure and services before we encounter the disasters that we know are on their way.

Darren Ruddell is assistant professor and director of undergraduate studies at the Spatial Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California. This piece first appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Photos

The 22 Most Surprising Photos of the Month

From dogs suckling tiger cubs to earthquake skaters, each photograph will surprise you as TIME shares the most outrageous images from August 2014

TIME natural disaster

How 10 Seconds Could Save Lives During Earthquakes

Napa Area Businesses Continue Recovery Effort From Earthquake
A crack runs down the center of an earthquake-damaged street in Napa, Calif., on Aug. 26, 2014 Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

California eyes warning system after latest quake

Ten seconds could save your life. That’s the message from researchers developing an early-warning system in California that could eventually alert the public an earthquake is about to hit.

The research program, run by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in partnership with several California universities, is still in beta form, but was put to the test last weekend when an earthquake struck the Napa area. At the University of California, Berkeley, to the south, the system detected and sent out a warning signal to the scientists about six seconds before the tremor reached the area.

The technology behind the system uses sensors across the state that detect early waves from an earthquake before the main event strikes. While it’s not possible to issue warnings to those located right next to an earthquake epicenter, those further away could be warned seconds or even a minute in advance.

Doug Given, USGS’s early-earthquake-warning coordinator, says 10 seconds might not seem like a lot, but it could be enough for people to take cover before an earthquake hits and for public services and private industry to take precautionary steps. This might include systems that force elevators to let passengers off at the closest available floor and those that let first responders know they should open garage doors ahead of tremors so they can quickly begin search-and-rescue missions afterward. Given says other applications include letting hospitals know an earthquake is coming, so they can prepare doctors and patients. “If you’re in an MRI machine, you might want them to pull you out before it starts shaking hard,” says Given. Likewise, he says surgeons performing delicate operations — on eyes, for example — could have notice that their work is about to be interrupted.

“Imagine being a dental chair,” says Margaret Vinci, manager of the Office of Earthquake Programs for the California Institute of Technology, one of the colleges partnering with USGS. “Would you not want that dentist to pull that drill out of your mouth?”

Given and Vinci also say a statewide early-earthquake-warning system could tell rapid transit systems to slow trains to help prevent derailments. A similar alert program exists in earthquake-prone Japan, where earthquake warning alerts automatically slow bullet trains.

Japan and Mexico are two countries that already have the kind of earthquake-warning system California lacks. Devastating quakes in those countries prompted major public investments in such systems. As recently as April, residents in Mexico City had a full minute of warning before a 7.2-magnitude quake 170 miles away rocked the capital.

California’s program, though, is hobbled by lack of adequate funding, according to Given, who says the program needs an investment of $80 million over five years and about $12 million a year to maintain operations. California passed a law recently calling for a statewide early-earthquake-warning system to be set up, but did not provide funding. Given says the program currently includes about 400 sensors set up around the state, but needs at least double that figure for the warning system to be fully functional. “We hope we will be the first country that builds its system before the big earthquake rather than after,” Givens says.

Investments in the system itself wouldn’t include spending by local governments and private businesses that would need to establish response plans, and possibly automated systems, to take advantage of the USGS warnings. As for the public, earthquake warnings could be sent out via text message and through local television and radio stations, but that too requires advance planning and spending. Vinci says if the early-warning system was fully funded, it could be ready for public consumption in two years.

In the meantime, researchers involved in the project are asking public and private organization to test whether the alert system works and offer suggestions about how to improve it. Disneyland, the city of Long Beach and the Bay Area Rapid Transit system are among those serving as testers. Researchers are also studying which kinds of warning sounds and signals work best with the public. When activated, the existing system, which is called ShakeAlert and which runs on computers for those involved in the program or serving as beta testers, kicks in to tell users an earthquake is coming, how soon it will happen and how severe the shake will be. The warning includes a loud quick buzz with a speaker saying, ”Earthquake! Earthquake!”

“Right now the ShakeAlert we have now is kinda scary,” Vinci says.

TIME Quantified Self

This Is What Happens When You Sleep Through an Earthquake

Jawbone's Up 24 wristband
Jawbone's Up 24 wristband Jawbone

It's not good

The largest earthquake to hit California’s Napa Valley in 25 years struck near the Bay Area early Sunday morning. The 6.0-magnitude quake hit at 3:20 a.m. local time near American Canyon, about 6 miles southwest of Napa, at a depth of 6.7 miles. Nearly 90 people were injured—and countless more woken up, disturbed, and generally freaked out. Thanks to the quantified self phenomenon—the always-on activity and sleep trackers many people now wear—we know more than ever about the psychic effects of such an event.

Jawbone, the San Francisco-based maker of fitness trackers, analyzed data from its users to see how the quake affected sleep across the Bay Area. The company’s UP device is a slinky bracelet that monitors movements and sleep. Here’s what Jawbone found:

Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Fairfield were less than 15 miles from the epicenter. Almost all (93%) of the UP wearers in these cities suddenly woke up at 3:20AM when the quake struck. Farther from the epicenter, the impact was weaker and more people slept through the shaking. In San Francisco and Oakland, slightly more than half (55%) woke up. As we look even farther, the effect becomes progressively weaker—almost no UP wearers in Modesto and Santa Cruz (and others between 75 and 100 miles from the epicenter) were woken up by the earthquake, according to UP data.

Perhaps not surprisingly, once awoken, residents near the quake took a long time to get back to sleep. According to the company’s data, “45% of UP wearers less than 15 miles from the epicenter stayed up the rest of the night.” The visualization below, provided by Jawbone’s senior data scientist Brian Wilt, shows sleep changes based on proximity from the epicenter. The company says the results of its study are statistically significant.

Jawbone

[Jawbone]

TIME natural disaster

Northern California Earthquake Leaves Area Devastated

The worst earthquake in California's Napa Valley in 25 years left scores injured and widespread damage in its wake

TIME weather

Earthquake Hits Hawaii as it Braces for Two Hurricanes

Hawaii Braces For Multiple Hurricanes
In this handout provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from the GOES-East satellite, four separate weather system (L-R) Halong, Genevieve, Iselle, and Julio are tracked in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of the United States Getty Images

No damages were immediately reported

A 4.5-magnitude earthquake rattled Hawaii’s Big Island on Thursday morning just as residents prepare to weather twin hurricanes.

There were no reports of damage yet, Hawaii County Civil Defense Director Darryl Oliveira told the Associated Press, and small quakes like this are “not uncommon.”

“We felt a pretty good shake,” Joanna Cameron, owner of the Kohala Club Hotel, told TIME of the tremor at 6:24 a.m. local time. Cameron’s hotel is located close to the epicenter, estimated 7 miles from Waimea. She plans to keep the hotel open throughout the storm despite numerous cancellations and the closures of nearby schools and businesses.

“We have an earthquake this morning,” she added. “Now the sun is coming out and we’ll have a hurricane at 4 p.m. No one is enjoying this.”

Hurricane Iselle is expected to strike the Big Island on Thursday night, followed by Hurricane Julio. Hawaii hasn’t been directly hit by a hurricane in 22 years and, according to ABC meteorologists, this will be the first to ever impact the Big Island.

When asked what’s next, Cameron replied: “Locusts.”

— Additional reporting by Jonathan D. Woods

TIME China

China Quake Death Toll Nears 400 With Rain Hampering Rescue Efforts

Villagers sit in front of their destroyed house following a massive earthquake in the town of Longtoushan in Ludian County in southwest China's Yunnan Province on Aug. 5, 2014.
Villagers sit in front of their destroyed house following a massive earthquake in the town of Longtoushan in Ludian County in southwest China's Yunnan Province on Aug. 5, 2014. Andy Wong—AP

Thunderstorms and huge downpours are forecast for the next three days, forcing rescuers to race against the clock

As rescuers continue to sift through the rubble left by a 6.5 magnitude earthquake that struck southwestern China’s Yunnan province on Saturday, heavy rain and landslides are slowing down rescue efforts and the delivery of desperately needed supplies to survivors — with worse weather to come.

Thunderstorms and torrential downpours are forecast over the next three days for Ludian County, one of the worst affected areas, forcing thousands of troops, police and other aid workers to race against time.

The death toll in what local officials say is the most destructive earthquake to strike the mountainous area in years is now 398, with 1,801 injured, China’s official news agency Xinhua reports. Over 411 aftershocks have also been recorded, some as high as 4.9 magnitude.

Around 80,000 homes have been destroyed, and 124,000 others seriously damaged, the Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said on its website. And though some 230,000 people have been evacuated, thousands more remain threatened by aftershocks, landslides and floods. A lake has formed near the Hongshiyan hydropower station and is rising at one meter per hour, engulfing homes, forcing further evacuations, and threatening several power stations downstream, the South China Morning Post reports.

Collapsed infrastructure means that many survivors have yet to be reached. “The blocked roads and the continuous downpours have made some disaster areas inaccessible for heavy relief vehicles,” Liu Jianhua, a local party official, told Xinhua.

A volunteer teacher in Longjiang Village, Huang Min, told the Post that the situation was desperate. “We’re in desperate need of food, water, tents and electricity,” Huang said.

Yunnan province is prone to earthquakes. A series of tremblors in 2012 killed 81 and injured over 800.

TIME China

Earthquake in China Kills at Least 589

Infrastructure and buildings in remote area of Yunnan province left in ruins after huge temblor

Update: Aug. 6, 10:05 a.m. ET

At least 589 people were killed after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit a rural area of Yunnan province on Aug. 3, causing several buildings to collapse. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake was less than a mile below the ground.

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