TIME Environment

California Governor Declares State of Emergency After Santa Barbara Oil Spill

As many as 105,000 gallons of crude might have spilled

California Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for Santa Barbara County on Wednesday as cleanup teams sought to limit the environmental impact from a ruptured underground pipeline that might have spilled as many as 105,000 gallons of crude oil.

More than 20,000 gallons are estimated to have spilled into the ocean, seeping through the ground into a culvert and flowing into the ocean near Refugio State Beach, the Los Angeles Times reports. Oil slicks across a combined nine miles have stretched along the coastline.

The owner of the pipeline that ruptured Tuesday afternoon is Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline, which last saw results for an inspection in 2012. The line, which can pump as many as 6.3 million gallons a day, averages a flow rate of some 50,400 gallons per hour.

“We’re sorry this accident has happened and we’re sorry for the inconvenience to the community,” said Darren Palmer, district manager for Plains All American, told reporters.

There’s no estimate yet on the harm to local natural life, but officials estimate it will take at least three days—likely many more—to clean up the spill before the damage can be assessed.

TIME natural disaster

The ‘Middling’ Volcanic Eruption that Was America’s Worst

Volcanic eruption.
Universal History Archive / Getty Images In 1980, a major volcanic eruption occurs at Mount St Helens

May 18, 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts

Mount St. Helens might have been a “baby among volcanoes,” in geological terms, but its 1980 eruption was the deadliest, most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history.

When the 9,677-foot peak in the Washington Cascades blew its top on this day, May 18, 35 years ago, it killed 57 people and thousands of animals, leveling 200 sq. mi. of forest. Within seconds, its symmetrical cone became a crater 1,300 ft. lower, thanks to a sideways blast that triggered a 300 m.p.h. landslide. A plume of ash shot 16 mi. into the air, and then rained back down to earth as dust so thick and fine it blotted out the sun as far away as Montana.

TIME put the natural disaster in perspective, pointing out that geologists didn’t find Mount St. Helens a particularly impressive specimen. Two weeks after the eruption, the magazine noted:

Mount St. Helens is something of a baby among volcanoes. It was born a mere 37,000 years ago, which is scarcely more than an instant in geological time. The mountain last erupted in 1857, when the area was an uninhabited wilderness. Last week’s blowup ranked as middling, as volcanic eruptions go. But the people who stumbled off St. Helens’ slopes, or were plucked to safety by helicopters, told tales that rivaled wartime survivor stories.

Although the mountain had been letting off steam since March of that year, no one knew exactly when it would blow, or how bad it would be. Residents of the surrounding foothills and forests who were surprised by the timing included a logger who would have almost surely died if the mountain had erupted a day later, when he was scheduled to be among a crew of 200 felling trees in the blast zone. Instead, he fled his home after hearing the explosion on Sunday morning.

“I heard the goldangest noise, like someone upending a bunch of barrels down the road,” he told TIME. ‘There was a roar, like a jet plane approaching, and a lot of snapping and popping. Those were the trees. We got out fast.”

The 57 people who died included loggers and miners, journalists and geologists, along with families camping in areas they believed were safe. One was an 83-year-old innkeeper named Harry R. Truman, who became notorious in the weeks leading up to the blast for his colorful crustiness and his stubborn refusal to back down from the volcano’s threats. Despite daily earthquakes at the lodge he ran at the mountain’s base, he vowed to stay there with his 16 pet cats — and a cache of whisky, according to the New York Times.

“No damn way does that mountain have enough stuff to come my way,” he told a reporter for The Oregonian, a month before the mountain buried him and his cats in scalding ash.

But, clearly, an unimpressive volcano in geological terms can still be a staggeringly destructive force by human standards. The superheated gases that bubbled up inside Mount St. Helens ultimately exploded with 500 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, per TIME. Spewing an estimated 1.5 cubic mi. of debris, the blast rivaled another volcanic event that made an indelible impression on humanity, if not geology: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.

Read more about the eruption from 1980, here in the TIME archives: God, I Want to Live!

TIME natural disaster

Arkansas Couple Dies Shielding Infant Daughter From Tornado

"I think they were together and trying to protect the child," a friend of the mother said

A couple living in Nashville, Arkansas, died after a tornado ripped though their home on Sunday night. However, neighbors who rushed help the husband and wife say they found them huddled around their 1-year-old daughter, who survived the incident unharmed.

The storm hit the mobile home where Melissa Mooneyhan, 29, and her husband Michael, 28, lived at about 11:20 p.m. on Sunday night. In an interview with KTHV News, Linda Purtell, a friend of Melissa Mooneyhan’s, said she felt the couple had died heroically.

“I think they were together and trying to protect the child,” Purtell said.

Howard County Coroner Howard Gray told KSLA News that the tornado flipped over the Mooneyhans’ trailer and “exploded” it.

“That poor little girl is never going to know them,” Gray said. “But she’s young enough that she’ll never remember what happened.”

This article originally appeared on People.

TIME Chile

See 9 Stunning Photos From the Volcano Eruption in Chile

It was the volcano's first eruption in more than four decades

Last week’s eruption of the Calbuco volcano in Chile was its first in more than four decades. Officials issued a red alert for a nearby city, Puerto Montt, and evacuated more than 1,500 people in a six-mile radius of the volcano—some 600 miles south of Santiago—as ash began to spew into the air.

Read next: Life and Death in One Picture After Quake Hits Nepal

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TIME Nepal

See Photos From a Survivor of the Mount Everest Avalanche

At least 17 people were killed Saturday after an earthquake outside Kathmandu triggered the avalanche

An initial wave of survivors from Mount Everest arrived in Kathmandu on Sunday, one day after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck outside Nepal’s capital city and triggered an avalanche that killed at least 17 people and injured dozens more, the Associated Press reports.

AFP photographer Roberto Schmidt was at Everest Base Camp on Saturday when the avalanche flattened parts of it. After capturing the snow and debris rushing down, he turned his camera to document the aftermath: mangled tents, rescuers helping the injured and the helicopters taking them off the mountain.

Read next: First Survivors of Everest Avalanche Reach Quake-Hit Kathmandu

TIME Behind the Photos

See the Most Dramatic Rescue From the Nepal Earthquake

A man was pulled from the rubble alive in Kathmandu after a 7.8-magnitude quake struck on Saturday

Photojournalist Narendra Shrestha was at home on Saturday when he felt the tremors of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that struck central Nepal, killing more than 1130 people.

“I thought I was going to die,” Shrestha tells TIME. “It was horrifying. How did I get out of this? This is my lucky day.”

As soon as the tremors began, his daughter started crying—she did not want him to leave their newly built home, which was left intact. But, Shrestha said to himself, “I should capture this. This is my job”

Shrestha, 40, a staff photographer for the European Pressphoto Agency based in Kathmandu, has worked in the region and across the world for 17 years.

Shrestha was stunned by the devastation after the quake. “Everybody is in shock,” he said.

Not far from his home in Thamel, the main tourist hub in Kathmandu, he came across a hotel under construction. An old home next to the hotel had collapsed, trapping an undetermined number of people. Shrestha estimated 40 construction workers were on site, actively searching for people who were trapped, when they found a man.

“All you could see was his head,” he said. “The rest of his body was buried.”

As they worked to uncover him it was apparent he was still alive.

With dust still in the air and a flurry of rescue workers and volunteers scrambling to find survivors, Shrestha captured the scenes of chaos before returning to his office to transmit his photos, as aftershocks continued to be felt across the region.

Shrestha also checked on his father—who has lived through numerous earthquakes. “He’s never seen anything like this,” he said

As night approached in Kathmandu, people were still in shock, he added. “Nobody is going to sleep in their homes tonight. I’m going to move my family outside. I’m just grateful my family is OK.”

TIME natural disaster

How a Dust Storm Inspired a Mass Exodus and a Great Novel

Dust Storm
Arthur Rothstein—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Father & sons walking towards shack, pace slowed by dust storm, in the Great Plains in the 1930s

April 14, 1935: The worst dust storm in history descends on the Great Plains—exactly four years before 'The Grapes of Wrath' is published

The dust fell so thickly on this day, April 14, 80 years ago, that even Okies and Texans inured to dust storms thought the end of the world was upon them. The fast-moving, low-hanging black cloud caught them unprepared, trapping motorists in their cars and forcing those who were caught out in the open to drop to their knees and crawl blindly toward shelter, according to an account by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. “Afternoon brightness [plunged] immediately into midnight darkness,” noted one National Weather Service observer.

It became known as the Black Sunday storm — the worst on record in the drought-stricken Great Plains. An Associated Press reporter and photographer who had tried to outrun the storm in a car were trapped for hours in the suffocating blackness. The next day, the reporter used the term “Dust Bowl” for the first time in print to describe the devastated region: “Three little words — achingly familiar on a western farmer’s tongue — rule life today in the dust bowl of the continent … ‘if it rains,’ ” he wrote.

Four years after Black Sunday, John Steinbeck marked the storm’s anniversary by publishing The Grapes of Wrath, the iconic tale of Oklahoma tenant farmers driven off their land and pushed into California in search of a new life. The fictional Joad family joined the real-life exodus of migrant farmers — roughly a quarter of a million of them, per TIME — who followed the same path out of desperation after the farms of the Great Plains were ruined by drought, overgrazing and unsustainable farming practices.

But in the promised land where Ma Joad dreamed of “a white house with oranges growin’ around,” they encountered hostility and living conditions not much better than in the dusty wasteland they’d left behind.

“Some of them camp in packing-box jungles and drink ditchwater; others are lucky enough to lodge in new government camps with modern plumbing and electric washing machines,” TIME observed in a 1940 article that compared the real-life migrant farmers to Steinbeck’s fictional ones. (Reviled as the penniless Okies were in California, TIME offered an ambivalent defense: “Strangely enough the incidence of venereal disease among the migrants is lower than among native Californians, and they have relatively little tuberculosis. Greatest plague: dietary diseases (scurvy and pellagra), resulting from lack of fresh meat and vegetables.”)

And while The Grapes of Wrath climbed to the top of the bestseller list, won the Pulitzer Prize, and became a “cornerstone of [Steinbeck’s] 1962 Nobel Prize,” according to the introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, TIME was similarly ambivalent about the merits of the book. In its review, TIME concludes:

The publishers believe it is “perhaps the greatest modern American novel, perhaps the greatest single creative work this country has ever produced.” It is not. But it is Steinbeck’s best novel… It is “great” in the way that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was great — because it is inspired propaganda, half tract, half human-interest story, emotionalizing a great theme.

Read the full review of The Grapes of Wrath, here in the TIME archives: Oakies

TIME Vanuatu

Aid Agencies Struggle to Reach Affected in Vanuatu After ‘Monster’ Cyclone Pam

President says rising sea levels due to climate change exacerbated the situation

Vanuatu’s President Baldwin Lonsdale says the tiny South Pacific island nation has lost much of its development due to the havoc wreaked over the weekend by “monster” Cyclone Pam.

“It’s a setback for the government and for the people of Vanuatu. After all the development that has taken place, all this development has been wiped out,” he told the Associated Press in Japan attending a U.N. conference on disaster-risk reduction. “We will have to start anew again.”

Lonsdale went on to say that climate change contributed to the devastation as the low-lying islands of the Pacific are suffering from rising sea levels.

International aid agencies along with military personnel from Australia, France and New Zealand have arrived in Vanuatu to assess the damage and deliver much needed aid and supplies.

Oxfam, who led coordination efforts in preparing for the storm, said 90% of housing in the capital, Port Vila, has been seriously damaged as the Category 5 cyclone ripped through the country bringing with it wind speeds of up to 168 m.p.h. on Friday and Saturday.

The government of Vanuatu declared a state of emergency on Sunday for Shefa province, which includes Port Vila.

Military planes started carrying out surveillance flights on Monday to assess the damage, but the full extent of the devastation in the many vulnerable outer islands, which are home to 33,000 people, is still unknown. Humanitarian organization World Vision told TIME that given the severity of the damage in Port Vila, they “fear the worst” for the other 81 islands. Only 21 of the agency’s 80 staff across the archipelago nation have been accounted for.

The death toll currently stands at eight with more than 30 injured, but that is expected to rise as rescue teams reach remote areas.

World Vision says the hospital in Port Vila, which suffered damage in the storm, is operational but overcrowded and vehicles are short on fuel. Evacuation centers are packed and humanitarian agencies are focusing their responses on providing food, water, sanitation, shelter, health care and child protection to the thousands of people left homeless and vulnerable.

According to aid group ReliefWeb, Internet, radio and GSM communications remain offline throughout the country with the exception of Port Vila, which has intermittent services. More than 80% of power lines in the capital are down and will not be fully restored for several weeks.

Oxfam county director Colin Collet van Rooyen said damage to hospitals, schools and morgues could create major problems in the coming days.

“With extra help arriving on the Australian government plane today, we now have a team of 10 people working on this emergency response, and there is a lot of work to be done,” he said from Port Vila.

Cyclone Pam also caused serious damage in nine other countries including Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, according to the U.N. The cyclone, which has now been downgraded, has moved on to New Zealand, where hundreds of people are without power.

TIME natural disaster

Reflections on the Earthquake in Japan, 4 Years Later

Japan Earthquake cover
Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY ALY SONG / REUTERS The Mar. 28, 2011, cover of TIME

On Mar. 11, 2011, a 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit Japan

It has now been four years to the day since an earthquake and tsunami upended Japan. These days, the country continues to rebound from the devastating natural disaster that struck on Mar. 11, 2011, with cleanup — nuclear and otherwise — and reflection ongoing.

In the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake, those questions were all the more urgent.

TIME devoted a special report to the aftermath of the disaster, taking a look at Japan’s nuclear power industry as well as its national character. The insights drawn from those investigations are still worth heeding, even today. As TIME’s Nancy Gibbs wrote in the aftermath of the quake:

It only started as a natural disaster; the next waves were all man-made, as money fled to higher ground. Fear and uncertainty sheared $700 billion off the Toyko Stock Exchange in three days. Japan makes nearly a quarter of the world’s semiconductors and most of its gadgets. Sony suspended production at seven plants; carmakers slowed output, fearful of gaps in the supply chain; power companies scheduled rolling blackouts. How can a global recovery take hold if the world’s third largest economy is out of business, even temporarily? Meanwhile, Switzerland announced a freeze on new nuclear plants, Germany shut down all its facilities built before 1980, and the U.S. Congress called for hearings on nuclear safety. The flooded Japanese plants will never reopen. But demand for power only grows.

We sleep easy in the soft arms of clichés: hope for the best, prepare for the worst; risk varies inversely with knowledge; it’s a waste of time to think about the unthinkable. But Japan shook those soothing assumptions. No amount of planning, no skills or specs or spreadsheets, can stop a force that moves the planet.

Read the full special report, here in the TIME Vault: Japan’s Meltdown

TIME natural disaster

The Odds of a Massive Earthquake Hitting California Just Went Up

The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.
Otto Greule Jr—Getty Images The Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the richter scale on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco.

But the chances of a moderate earthquake went down

The chances of earthquake magnitude 8.0 or greater hitting California in the next 30 years have been increased from about 4.7% to 7%, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) said in a statement Tuesday.

The revised forecast was calculated by the Third California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3), a follow-up to 2008’s UCERF2 conducted by USGS and its partners, who modeled the latest geological data.

While UCERF3 increased the odds of a massive California earthquake, the study lowered the chance of an earthquake around magnitude 6.7—like the 1994 Northridge earthquake—by about 30%, from one every 4.8 years to one every 6.3 years.

“The new likelihoods are due to the inclusion of possible multi-fault ruptures, where earthquakes are no longer confined to separate, individual faults, but can occasionally rupture multiple faults simultaneously,” said the study’s lead author Ned Field.

Read next: A Village in Italy Just Got 8 Feet of Snow in 1 Day

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