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.

TIME natural disaster

Hope and Fear After Deadly Mudslide

Officials are still grappling with a deadly mudslide in Washington State that left at least 14 dead, 176 missing and authorities scrambling to explain why risks were ignored.

TIME natural disaster

14 Dead in Washington State Mudslide, With 176 Still Missing

Search-and-rescue teams are waiting for the ground to stabilize after a weekend mudslide in Washington State that has killed at least 14 people and left another 176 unaccounted for as of Tuesday morning. Gov. Jay Inslee has instituted a state of emergency

Updated: March 24, 2014, 10:05 pm. E.T.

Fourteen people have been confirmed dead in a devastating mudslide that struck a small riverside neighborhood in Washington State on Saturday morning. Authorities said Monday that 176 people were still missing or unaccounted for, a huge increase of prior estimates that 18 people were missing, though that number may include duplicates.

Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington emphasized that not all of the missing were necessarily injured or killed. The larger number is from a combined list of names reported missing in the wake of the mudslide from various sources.

Screams and cries for help could be heard by rescue teams beneath the wreckage on Saturday evening, but the mud was so thick that the searchers had to turn back. On Sunday, no sounds were heard among the sludge-covered debris.

“We didn’t see or hear any signs of life out there today,” said Snohomish County Fire District 21 chief Travis Hots. Still, Hots said crews were in a “search-and-rescue mode. It has not gone to a recovery mode at this time.”

The operation was discontinued at nightfall because of dangerous conditions. Rescue workers had already sunk down to their armpits into the mud and had to be pulled to safety.

The massive slide, destroying about 30 homes, occurred at about 11 a.m. Saturday.

“In three seconds everything got washed away,” a witness who was driving on a highway when the mudslide happened told the Seattle Times. “Darkness covering the whole roadway and one house right in the middle of the street.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee described the scene as “a square mile of devastation” after flying over the area on Sunday, and declared a state of emergency. Residents have been advised to evacuate the area, as debris from the slide has dammed up the north fork of the Stillaguamish River, threatening severe flooding if the water, rising roughly a foot every half hour, bursts through the blockage.

[The Seattle Times, CBC, ABC]

The article has been updated to include the latest developments on Monday evening.

TIME weather

Animals Have Actually Rained from the Sky

[Duncan] / Flickr

We're going to need better umbrellas

Modern Farmer, our generation’s foremost chronicler of animal weirdness and the current host of a live pig webcam, reports that animals raining from the sky is a thing that has actually happened.

Pick your favorite creature, and it’s pretty likely it has fallen like rain from the clouds. Fish are a classic choice, of course, but the list goes on, Justin Nobel writes:

Tadpoles over Japan; spiders over Brazil; frogs over Serbia, ancient Egypt and Kansas City; brown worms over Indiana; scarlet worms over Massachusetts; red worms over Sweden; snails over England; a shower of raw meat (thought to be venison or mutton) over Kentucky; blackbirds over Arkansas; eels over Alabama; snakes over Tennessee and fish over Australia, India and Honduras.

In Marksville, Louisiana in 1947, fish even fell out of a clear sky, with various species ranging from two to nine inches in length. But why does this bizarre meteorological phenomenon actually happen?

Modern Farmer tests a variety of hypotheses, including powerful tornados and waterspouts, a vortex that forms over a body of water and sucks up the water along with it, perhaps including any stray fish or frogs. “It seems very reasonable that they could be flung airborne and carried some distance away,” says University of Georgia scientist John Knox.

Sharknados, however, are still completely impossible. Unless, one expert explains, global warming causes heavier rainfall and stronger storms. Uh oh.

TIME psychology

Fukushima Three Years Later: How One Town Is Coping

Japan To Mark 2nd Anniversary Of Magnitude 9.0 Earthquake And Tsunami
MINAMISOMA, JAPAN - MARCH 10: Children float balloons and pay their respects to victims during the second anniversary commemoration of the earthquake and tsunami on March 10, 2013 in Minamisoma, Japan. Japan on March 11 will commemorate the second anniversary of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and following tsunami, that claimed more than 18,000 lives. (Photo by Athit Perawongmetha/Getty Images) Athit Perawongmetha—Getty Images

Eating right, exercising, work, sense of community, and drinking all help buffer against mental illness

Three years after the earthquake that triggered a tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan, new research reveals a high-than-normal incidence of PTSD symptoms among survivors in Hirono, Fukushima. But the study also sheds light on how to buffer oneself from mental illness following such disaster.

Though only two residents of Hirono died in the earthquake and tsunami, more than half of the 241 residents surveyed were found to display “clinically concerning” symptoms of PTSD, and two-thirds reported depression symptoms. Those rates are higher than what has normally been observed following other natural disasters, and researchers point to the fact that the radiation leak forced many residents to relocate to temporary housing, breaking up the residents’ sense of community and the support that comes with it. All participants surveyed were living in government-provided temporary housing, and their average age was 58 (younger residents were more likely to have relocated elsewhere).

Despite the poor mental health scores, the research illuminated factors influencing psychological resilience following a disaster. Unsurprisingly, healthy behaviors like eating right and exercising helped buffer against mental illness. “Those factors are very strongly associated with great physical wellbeing. Having a very good physical wellbeing helps the psyche as well,” says study author Niwako Yamawaki, a professor at Brigham Young University. The positive effects of maintaining a job was also expected, since having a distraction and something to work towards can help people cope and give them a sense of normalcy.

What was unexpected, though, was that drinking alcohol a couple times a week also helped survivors in terms of resilience, though researchers suspect the effect could be cultural. “In the U.S., if people are drinking after a psychologically traumatic event, it is seen as a negative consequence. But what we found was that when people were drinking in Japan, they were interacting with community members–usually over dinner or at meetings,” says Yamawaki. This suggests that for these survivors, the human connection during gatherings where they drank were positive. In general, Yamawaki says the Japanese and residents of Hirono are used to having a community, and group interaction is core to their identity.

Since more natural disasters are expected in Japan’s future, Yamawaki says she hopes her findings will provide insight into how to best prepare for the mental trauma that comes with natural disasters, and how to keep cultural details in mind to ensure that people receive the best care during clean-up and relocation. “These survivors are still suffering,” she says.

The findings are published in the journal, Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences.

TIME extreme weather

Physicist Claims Giant Walls Could Stop Tornadoes In Midwest

A storm chaser video taping a very close tornado
A storm chaser video taping a tornado in South Dakota, March 25, 2010. Carsten Peter—National Geographic/Getty Images

Tornado barriers 100 miles long and 1,000 feet high could save lives and property by stopping twisters before they begin, says Professor Rongjia Tao of Temple University in Philadelphia -- but critics aren't so sure

Three “Great Walls” built around the United States’ Tornado Alley could eliminate twisters from destroying billions of dollars in property and endangering millions of lives, a physicist has claimed.

Professor Rongjia Tao of Temple University, Philadelphia unveiled a proposal this week calling for the construction of three 1,000-foot barriers up to 100 miles long, which would act like hill ranges and soften winds before tornadoes could form, the BBC reports.

The $16.9 billion plan would call for the faux hill ranges in North Dakota, along the border between Kansas and Oklahoma, and in Texas and Louisiana, ostensibly saving billions of dollars in damage every year, Tao said. The walls would not shelter towns, he said, but instead would soften the streams of hot southern and cold northern air that form twisters when they clash in the first place.

But critics scoffed at Tao’s proposals. Leading tornado experts pointed to areas that are already protected by hill ranges the size of the barriers Tao is proposing, yet still have plenty of tornados, like parts of Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. And even if the plan did work, it would create more problems than it would solve, scientists said, by creating catastrophic weather side effects.

“Everybody I know is of 100% agreement – this is a poorly conceived idea,” Professor Joshua Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research. “From what I can gather his concept of how tornadoes form is fundamentally flawed. Meteorologists cringe when they hear about ‘clashing hot and cold air’. It’s a lot more complicated than that.”

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