Nel's New Day

September 11, 2018

Disasters: Hurricanes, Federal Government

Filed under: Climate change — trp2011 @ 11:31 PM
Tags: , ,

Hurricane Florence is currently the biggest crisis for millions of people in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia with northern Florida and Georgia possibly affected. Over 1.5 million people have been told to evacuate because of a triple threat of ocean water across dry land, freshwater flooding from heavy rainfall, and damaging hurricane-force winds of up to 170 mph both at the coast and inland. The rising water in the storm surge could reach as high as 20 feet, and rain could drop up to 45 inches in places where the ground is already saturated. The numbers keep increasing as the hurricane nears shore.

In North Carolina, ocean overwash spilling onto low-lying roads is already slowing evacuations, and schools 150 miles away from the coast are canceling classes.  In South Carolina, all the highway lanes lead only away from the coast. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster has refused to evacuate prisoners although he said that “we’re not going to gamble with the lives of the people of South Carolina. Not a one.” In Virginia, a prison has been evacuated. Washington, D.C. has declared a state of emergency, but House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the House will stay in session.

North Carolina could become a cesspool of dead hogs and coal ash. The state has over 9 million pigs on 2,100 industrial-scale farms with long metal sheds. The grated floors allow urine and feces to fall through and flow into open pits with millions of gallons of untreated sewage. Nine toxic waste cleanup sites are located near the Carolinas coast. Two dozen huge unlined coal ash pits containing dangerous chemicals such as mercury, arsenic and lead are along lakes and rivers. Eleven nuclear reactors are within the hurricane’s path, two of them like the ones in Fukushima, Japan, that exploded and leaked radiation after a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The Navy, Air Force, and Army are leaving the dangerous areas; the Marines are staying. Over 5.4 million people live in areas now under hurricane warnings or watches on the US East Coast, and another 4 million people are under a tropical storm watch. Assorted bad weather advisories stretch from Florida to Maine on Tuesday evening. Winds may arrive on land Thursday morning with the full-blown hurricane by evening. Like Hurricane Harvey in 2017, Hurricane Florence could hover over the Southeast for several days and be worse than Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Thanks to climate change and the increase of greenhouse emissions, hurricanes are increasing in strength. They need warm ocean waters; the warmer the water, the stronger the hurricanes. Florence, now the size of Colorado, may be the biggest one in many decades. The waters ahead of Hurricane Florence are about 3 to 4 degrees Fahrenheit above average. The coast where Florence is headed is already suffering from sea rise caused by climate change; this hurricane may change the entire makeup of the southeastern coast.

Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) said that the storm will be “tremendously big and tremendously wet,” his administration is “totally prepared,” and that is “sparing no expense” to ensure Americans’ safety. Yet he gave no idea about what his government is doing to be “prepared.” When asked what he learned from Hurricane Maria and Puerto Rico, he asserted that his handling of Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico was an “incredible unsung success,” and that he did even better in Puerto Rico than in Texas and Florida.

DDT said that “Congress will be generous because we have no choice,” but not all Republicans may agree with him. His Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had tried to force Congress to reduce other expenses to pay for the disaster aid for Hurricane Sandy and voted no to the package while he was representative to the House from South Carolina. FEMA is already short $10 million from “response and recovery” because DDT gave FEMA money to ICE to provide for their deportations.

Approximately the same number of people died in the terrorist attack on 9/11 and the lack of federal response to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The 9/11 attacks led to multiple hearings, investigations, reports, and commissions, and everything from airport security to national security changed. The 2,975 deaths in Puerto Rico, which DDT has never admitted, led to two hearings with the FEMA administrator.

One week ago, a federal audit from the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that major hurricanes and wildfires wreaking havoc in 2017 overwhelmed disaster responders. The “2017 Hurricanes and Wildfires: Initial Observations on the Federal Response and Key Recovery Challenges” reported that FEMA is stretched thin and faced “numerous challenges” and “complications” in its response to Hurricane Maria.

“Some of FEMA’s disaster staff deployed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were not physically able to handle the extreme or austere environment of the territories, which detracted from mission needs.”

Agency officials told auditors that “the physical fitness of staff could be assessed” in the future. About 54 percent of emergency personnel were unqualified to do rescue work in October 2017, a month after the Category 4 storm devastated the U.S. territory.

Yet DDT’s “incredible unsung success” in Puerto Rico had these problems:

  • A $156 million food contract went to an Atlanta contractor and one employee; the company was barred from getting new contracts because it had such a bad track record. The contractor turned the responsibility to a wedding caterer, who failed to complete the job.
  • FEMA gave a $30 million contract for half a million tarps for people who had no shelter, but the tarps were never delivered because the two brothers running the newly-formed company didn’t know how to source them.
  • FEMA administrator Brock Long said that the government had many good contracts, but he couldn’t find enough Spanish speakers to help people. The GOP congressional leadership refused to investigate any more problems with FEMA.
  • The non-profit Red Cross raised over $60 million in donations to help people in Puerto Rico but still has $32 million left from the money promised to ease suffering in Puerto Rico. People died of contaminated water in Puerto Rico, but the Red Cross expenditures included over $6 million management fees and almost $6 million in warehousing and freight costs.
  • FEMA refused all except 75 of 2,000 requests for funeral assistance. Long said that it was not FEMA’s responsibility to count the dead.

The Puerto Rican governor has spent the last year in fear of upsetting DDT and avoiding action. Under his control, the electricity utility granted a $300 million contract to a company with two employees in Whitefish (MT), a small town where Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lives. Zinke’s son worked for the company. Full power was not restored on the island until last month—11 months after Hurricane Maria struck.

DDT explained that “Puerto Rico was actually more difficult because of the fact that it’s an island.” Yet the government failed to mobilize the necessary number of helicopters, and kept the Jones Act from delivering food and water in a timely manner. A hospital ship wasn’t sent for days after the hurricane.

Puerto Rico suffered over $100 billion of damage. People from poorer backgrounds were 45% more likely to have been killed in the aftermath of the hurricane. It is a U.S. territory without representation in Congress and without the ability to vote for the U.S. president. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens able to vote when they move to the mainland. Yet Florida Republicans have tried to keep the 30,000 Puerto Ricans seeking refuge in their state from voting by refusing them Spanish-language ballots. Judge Mark Walker quoted the movie Groundhog Day when he ruled that Florida violated federal election law. Gov. Rick Scott has succeeded in keeping released felons from voting because state law allows him to do it for no reason, but Walker stopped him from blocking the Puerto Ricans.

Today is the 17th anniversary of 3,000 deaths from four airplane attacks by terrorists. DDT succeeded in calmly reading a speech to honor the 40 passengers and crew members who died when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed outside Shanksville (PA) on 9/11/01, but his victory walk from Air Force One failed to show any empathy for the victims. (Video here.) Just like he told Puerto Ricans that their deaths were their own fault. What will he say about any disasters from Hurricane Florence? Will he throw paper towels at people on the East Coast the way he did in Puerto Rico?

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