TIME Washington

County Considered Buying Out Homes Destroyed by Mudslide

A piece of heavy equipment moves past an American flag as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive mudslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington
The search for the missing people after the deadly mudslide continues in Oso © Jason Redmond—Reuters

Snohomish County once considered buying out the properties in the Washington state neighborhood that was devastated by a massive mudslide last month that killed at least 30 people and led to a nearly two-week search for more than a dozen others

In 2004, Snohomish County was so worried about the mudslide threat near the slope that collapsed last month that the county considered purchasing the properties to protect its citizens’ safety, The Seattle Times reports.

According to documents reviewed by the paper, the costs of buying out the neighborhood “would be significant, but would remove the risk to human life and structures.”

The county instead opted for trying to stabilize the base of the slope and, after a mudslide in 2006, a wall was built to prevent a river from cutting into the base side of the hill, in an attempt to minimize the mudslide threat.

Since the horrific mudslide near the small town of Oso in Snohomish County last month, questions have been raised about the county’s awareness of the threat. Thirty people were killed by the mudslide, and 15 are still missing.

[The Seattle Times]

TIME weather

Severe Weather Unleashes Tornadoes and Hail Across the Midwest

Early-morning storms roll through St. Louis
Jason Reidl, left, and Chris Thomas with Laclede Gas, look at a fallen tree that ruptured a gas main on Thursday April 3, 2014 in University City, Mo. Christian Gooden—St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP

Springtime sees the seasonal return of severe weather to the Midwest, with tornadoes, heavy rain and baseball-size hailstones hitting the heartland as other parts of the country prepare to warm up after months of snow

Updated 12:49 a.m. E.T. on April 4, 2014

Spring is here, and towns across Tornado Alley experienced their first taste of severe seasonal weather Thursday as tornadoes, hail and thunderstorms hit large swaths of the southern Plains and the Midwest.

As of Thursday night, myriad tornado warnings issued by the National Weather Service remained in effect in counties across North Texas, up through central Missouri and into western Kentucky. But the tornadoes were relatively small, and there were no deaths reported as of late Thursday night.

“That’s where we think (potential of) tornadoes — some potentially strong — will be the greatest,” Bill Bunting, forecast operations chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., told the Associated Press.

“This will continue to evolve with time.”

Earlier on Thursday morning, a small EF1 tornado briefly touched down in St. Louis, damaging approximately 100 homes. Severe-weather bands plagued also the Dallas–Forth Worth area, with reports of power outages and baseball-size hail wreaking havoc on automobiles and homes in north-central Texas.

TIME South America

Powerful Aftershock Rocks Chile a Day After Massive Earthquake

A resident walks along a damaged road after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique
A resident walks along a damaged road to Alto Hospicio commune after an earthquake and tsunami hit the northern port of Iquique April 2, 2014. Ivan Alvarado - Reuters

A 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit northern Chile late on Wednesday night, shaking the same area where a more powerful earthquake hit just a day before and caused some damage and six deaths

A massive aftershock struck northern Chile on Wednesday night, just a day after an earthquake prompted evacuations of cities along the coast, generated a 7-ft tsunami that crashed into the country’s northern coast, and set off tsunami warnings across the Pacific.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center posted a regional tsunami warning after Wednesday’s aftershock, but said there were no indications of a substantial threat to communities elsewhere in the Pacific.

Wednesday night’s 7.8 magnitude quake was the largest of myriad aftershocks in the past 24 hours and struck about 14 miles south of Iquique, setting off evacuations in northern Chile, where six people were killed by the quake on Tuesday.

 

TIME natural disaster

Washington Mudslide Death Toll Hits 29

Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso
Benton County Assistant Fire Chief Jack Coats makes his way over debris left by a mudslide in Oso, Wash., April 2, 2014. Max Whittaker—Reuters

Authorities say at least 29 people died in the Snohomish County, Wash. mudslide nearly a week and a half ago, as rescue workers continue picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing

Updated April 2 at 11:20am ET

The number of confirmed deaths in the Washington state mudslide has increased to 29, officials said Wednesday.

Twenty-two of the bodies were identified as of Tuesday, up from 19 the day before. As the Snohomish County medical examiner’s office worked to identify the six other victims, rescue workers continued picking through the debris field in the hopes of finding the people that are still missing.

The search has been made slightly easier as receding floodwaters have exposed more ground that can now be examined by the search crews, the Associated Press reports. Treacherous conditions and bad weather have complicated the search for human remains buried in the debris, which is contaminated by chemicals, fuel and human waste.

Both rescue workers and search dogs are being hosed down at decontamination stations after completing their tasks.

“We’ve already had a little bit of dysentery out here,” Lt. Richard Burke of the Bellevue Fire Department told CBS News. “People are working in a septic tank of materials. We want them washed and decontaminated.”

The mudslide flattened more than two dozens homes when it hit the outskirts of the small town of Oso on March 22.

TIME natural disaster

5 Dead After Huge Quake Hits off Coast of Chile

An 8.2-magnitude earthquake off the Chilean coast sparked tsunami warnings along Peru and Ecuador and throughout the Pacific as far as Hawaii. President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones

Updated 5:25 a.m. E.T. on Wednesday

At least five people died and three were injured after a massive earthquake struck off of Chile late Tuesday, officials said, sending waves crashing into coastal towns in the country, prompting evacuations across Latin America’s Pacific coast and tsunami warnings as far away as Hawaii.

During a news conference late on Tuesday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet declared the Arica, Parinacota and Tarapacá regions as disaster zones, but reported that the evacuation of communities along the country’s Pacific coast was proceeding in an orderly fashion.

Officials rescinded their initial blanket warnings late on Tuesday after fears of a potential tsunami had sparked alerts throughout countries across the Pacific coastline and put officials thousands of miles away in Hawaii on standby. The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center had initially extended tsunami warnings to five countries following the quake, but as of late Tuesday night, only Chile and Peru remained on the list.

Warnings of a tsunami began circulating after the 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck 61 miles off the port city of Iquique in Chile’s northern mining region. The U.S. Geological Survey recorded the earthquake at 8:46 p.m. local time some 12 miles below the seabed. Waves as high as 7 ft. reportedly hit Iquique in the quake’s wake.

Chile’s Interior Minister Rodrigo Peñailillo said a tsunami warning would remain in place in the country for the next six hours. Peñailillo said 300 inmates had escaped from a women’s prison in Iquique after the facility was damaged. Security officials were later deployed to the city and at least 26 of the inmates had been recaptured.

As areas in coastal Chile were evacuated and residents relocated to higher ground, there were early reports that landslides were blocking roads and making it harder for residents to evacuate. However, there were no reports of major damage or serious injuries caused by the quake.

The Iquique area of Chile experienced numerous tremors last month following a relatively powerful 6.7-magnitude quake that hit on March 16, heightening fears that a larger earthquake might strike, Reuters reports.

Chile was devastated by an 8.8-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami in 2010.

Magnitude eight earthquake off the coast of Chile
USGS/EPA
NOAA
NOAA
TIME natural disaster

Washington Gov Wants Obama to Help After Mudslide

Governor Jay Inslee addresses the media outside the Arlington Police Department in Arlington, Washington
Washington Governor Jay Inslee wrote President Barack Obama on Tuesday to ask for more federal assistance for his disaster struck state. JASON REDMOND - Reuters

Gov. Jay Inslee pleaded with President Barack Obama to provide a formal disaster declaration for Washington state so that victims of the deadly mudslide, which has killed at least 24 people, can access federal relief programs

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee urged President Barack Obama on Monday to provide more federal assistance to his state as financial losses and confirmed deaths continue to mount after a mudslide killed at least 24 people late last month.

Inslee asked Obama in a letter for a “major disaster declaration” in Snohomish County that would allow individuals and businesses to access federal relief programs, including disaster-related unemployment insurance and housing.

“I am hopeful that the President can act favorably and quickly on this request to provide assistance to help the survivors begin to recover from this terrible disaster,” Inslee said in a statement. “Words cannot describe the devastation done to the community of Oso and the impact the landslide continues to have in Darrington, Arlington and neighboring communities.”

Losses in mudslide-hit area have reached $10 million, the Associated Press reports. Officials on Monday increased the official death total to 24; 22 people are still officially missing.

TIME natural disaster

Death Toll Rises in Washington Mudslide as Search Drags On

Washington Mudslide
Searchers pause for a moment of silence at the scene of a deadly mudslide Saturday, March 29, 2014, in Oso, Wa. Elaine Thompson—AP

The number of dead in the Washington State mudslide of March 22 has climbed to 24, as the search continues for 22 people still missing

Updated 11:46 p.m. EST

Rescue workers combing through the wreckage of the deadly mudslide in Washington State have raised the official death toll to 24, officials said on Monday, as the search hit its ninth day and even rescue dogs grew fatigued by the effort.

Authorities have identified 17 of the victims, officials said, but the identities of seven bodies remain unconfirmed. Twenty-two people are still missing after about 90 were unaccounted for in recent days. The death toll has risen slowly following the massive mudslide on March 22, which leveled the local community of Oso, Wash., after unusually heavy rains inundated the Pacific Northwest this month.

Search-and-rescue officials said on Sunday that dogs being used in the extensive operation would now need to rest for at least two days, the Associated Press reports. “The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs,” Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for one of the leading rescue teams, told the AP.

If overworked, the animals could lose their keen sensing abilities that are pivotal to finding the missing who are buried under mud that ranges in height from 15 ft. to 75 ft. (4.6 m to 23 m). Dogs that were sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency will reportedly continue to aid the rescue operations on Monday.

Rescue crews have cleared approximately 450 ft. (137 m) of the total 6,000 ft. (1,830 m) of earth and wreckage that buried the town in the mudslide, Snohomish County officials said. The latest weather forecasts predict dry conditions through at least Wednesday for northwest Washington.

While search teams continued to pick through the debris field, residents looked for solace amid the tragedy on Sunday as they squeezed into a number of churches in the area to reflect on the devastation.

“People say in times of disaster, it brings out the best and the worst in people. But I’m just seeing the best,” Pastor Gary Ray of Oso Community Chapel told CNN. “I’m seeing patience and sacrifice. Character is being developed. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do hope for some unexpected blessings.”

TIME Natural Disasters

NYC Mayor Spending $100M to Rebuild Every Home Sandy Destroyed

New York City Mayor De Blasio Gives His State Of The City Address
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio gives the State of the City address at La Guardia Community College on Feb. 10, 2014 in the Long Island City section of the Queens borough of New York City. John Moore—Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to reallocate funds to rebuild every home destroyed by Superstorm Sandy as part of the city's "Build It Back" program -- amid widespread complaints along the East Coast over slow relief

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to rebuild every home destroyed by Hurricane Sandy 17 months after the mega-storm caused billions of dollars property damage and left an estimated 117 dead in the U.S. alone.

De Blasio said Saturday that he’s reallocating $100 million to fund the rebuilding of every home Sandy destroyed as part of the city’s “Build It Back” program. De Blasio announced his plan in a speech alongside Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY).

“Construction has started, the first checks are on the way and we are making immediate policy and staff changes to further expedite and streamline the process so that New Yorkers get the help they need now,” said de Blasio.

Many New Yorkers and residents along the East Coast have expressed frustration with the pace of recovery as rebuilding has lagged behind schedule in many areas.

[CBS]

TIME Natural Disasters

Magnitude 5.1 Earthquake Strikes Los Angeles

California Earthquake
A car sits overturned on a highway in the Carbon Canyon area of Brea, Calif., March 28, 2014, after hitting a rock slide caused by an earthquake. Kevin Warn—AP

The magnitude-5.1 quake, which occurred Friday at around 9:09 p.m. Pacific Time, burst water mains and caused Disneyland to halt rides as a precaution. It was followed by a 4.1-magnitude aftershock on Saturday afternoon

Updated 6:08 PM ET

A magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck Los Angeles Friday evening, breaking water mains in a local community and rattling neighborhoods in Southern California.

The earthquake struck at 9:09 p.m. Pacific Time on Friday, centering about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles near La Habra, Reuters reports. No injuries or substantial structural damage were reported.

A 4.1-magnitude aftershock was reported Saturday afternoon, according to the AP.

The quake was felt between Palm Springs in the east and Ventura County to the north, prompting Disneyland to halt park rides as a precaution. Several water mains in Fullerton ruptured, spilling water into the streets.

Friday night’s earthquake is the second major tremor to hit the area in two weeks, after a recent magnitude 4.4 quake hit north of Los Angeles.

[Reuters]

TIME natural disaster

Landslides May Be Inevitable, But They’re Not Yet Predictable

A massive landslide killed dozens in Washington
A massive landslide near Oso, Washington killed at least 16 people, with far more still missing Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

There was plenty of warning before the deadly Washington landslide. Why didn't it help?

There was the rain. The tiny town of Oso in northwestern Washington state is used to wet weather—rain falls every other day on average—but the past few months have been positively biblical, with precipitation as much as 200% above normal. There was the geography: steep terrain composed of glacial sediment, which is a loose mix of sand, silt and boulders, the geological equivalent of a banana peel. And there was the history. Mudslides have hit the land around Oso numerous times over the past few decades, including as recently as 2006. There’s a reason that some residents used to call the area “Slide Hill.”

Yet when the earth gave way on the morning on the morning of Mar. 22, no one was ready for the scale of devastation. More than 15 million cu. yards (11.5 million cu. m), equivalent to three million dump truck loads, came tumbling down, burying nearly 50 homes in a hilly area 60 miles (97 km) northeast of Seattle. At least 16 people have died in the landslide, which covered more than a square mile (2.6 sq. km) and more than 170 people are listed as missing, even as hope of finding survivors dwindles. Even if the number of missing comes down, as officials have predicted, this will go down as one of the deadliest landslides in U.S. history.

There was no shortage of warnings. As the Seattle Times reported earlier this week, a study by outside consultants had been filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1999 warning of “the potential for a large catastrophic failure” on the very hill that collapsed on Mar. 22. A 2000 study by the engineer and geomorphologist Tracy Drury warned that future landslides would take an increasing toll because “human development of the floodplain in this area has steadily increased.” Yet while local officials claimed that residents knew of the landslide risks, there’s little evidence that much was done to try to mitigate those risks. A 1,300 ft. (396 m) “crib wall” of boom logs anchored by 9,000 lb. (4,082 kg) concrete blocks every 50 ft. (15 m) was built after the 2006 landslide. But it was helpless against the landslide. “The place was set up to be unstable,” says David Montgomery, a geomorphologist at the University of Washington.

But despite all that, it’s not surprising that Oso wasn’t ready when the earth collapsed. Even though they kill more than 25 Americans and cause more than $2 billion in damages each year on average, landslides are the “underappreciated natural hazard,” as Montgomery puts it. But as Andrew Freedman points out on Mashable, that’s in part because there’s no uniform, national monitoring system:

Instead, the USGS, working with the National Weather Service (NWS) and state and local agencies, has put together a “patchwork quilt” of monitoring and experimental warning programs, based upon rainfall and soil moisture and pressure measurements. One such program has been in place near Puget Sound, but did not cover the area where the March 22 landslide occurred.

This is despite the fact that landslides are the most geographically dispersed natural hazard—all 50 states face at least some mudslide risk. But the widespread nature of landslide risk is part of the reason why there is no uniform warning system, although the USGS has put together a national map that identifies high-risk zones. (Unsurprisingly, they tend to be mountainous regions like the Appalachians, the Rockies and the Pacific Coastal ranges.) While landslides as a whole are common, they occur only rarely at any given location—even places as inherently unstable as the hills above Oso can go decades between slides. And while decades of study—and a national network of radar stations—has enabled meteorologists to predict hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather with increasing precision, it is still incredibly difficult to identify when a landslide-prone hill will finally crumble. Heavy rainfall obviously plays a role, allowing water to infiltrate and loosen soil, but slides can also be triggered by earthquakes or erosion. “We can identify hazard zones, the places where you can expect a high probability of failure,” says Montgomery. “But it’s hard to say this slope will go on this particular day. We just don’t have enough data about the internal plumbing of the hillside.”

And it’s not just mountain towns that are at risk of landslides. Oregon state geologists have said that as much as 30% of metro Portland is in a high-risk zone for landslides, and a 2013 study by the University of Washington found that Seattle has some 8,000 buildings are at risk of an earthquake-induced landslide. Internationally, the danger is far greater: a 2o12 study in Geology estimated that rainfall-induced landslides alone—like the one near Oso—killed more than 32,000 people between 2004 and 2010, a massive toll, even though mudslides tend to get far less attention than earthquakes, hurricanes or tornadoes. Homes with a view come with danger attached, even if it’s one most people don’t know. Changing that fact might be the best way to ensure that the next major landslide is nowhere near as deadly.

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