Nel's New Day

September 1, 2017

Hurricane Harvey’s Disasters

First a Category 4 hurricane followed by a 1,000-year rain/flood. What can be worse? Explosions!  After EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt delayed rules for chemical plants, organic peroxide at the Arkema chemical facility in Crosby, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, continues to blow up because of refrigerator loss from flooding. Arkema officials refused to keep the chemicals from exploding because it would then be unsalable. They aren’t even required to tell first responders what chemicals are at Arkema to provide safety for the firefighters. In more explosions, the “extremely flammable” chemical will just have to “burn itself out,” producing “incredibly dangerous” fumes, according to a facility spokesperson.  Interview with Houston Chronicle reporter Matt Dempsey regarding Arkema’s refusal to talk.

The rules that Pruitt delayed came after a 2013 explosion at a chemical facility in West, 200 miles north of Houston, that killed 15 people. Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) is erasing any federal responsibility in disaster response and discouraging corporate investment in new infrastructure. The newest refinery is 60 years old. Millions of pounds of pollutants have been released from flooded and shut-down refineries and chemical plants. Two nuclear reactors are still operating at Bay City, 65 miles southeast of Houston, where people have been evacuated, and flooding could cause electrical fires leading to core damage as well as a meltdown from loss of cooling water inventory.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez lied about the explosion, describing them as a “pop” followed by smoke; FEMA director, Brock Long, said a plume of chemicals leaking from the plant was “incredibly dangerous.”

Rebuilding in Texas will fail because DDT rescinded the requirement that future building company meet tougher flood standards set by President Obama. A bipartisan plea to keep the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard was overwhelmed by real estate developers and builders. DDT announced his change in an executive order at his August 15 press conference when he ranted support of white supremacists at Charlottesville (VA). Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) wife and Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, will be implementing DDT’s order. She is a former banker with Citicorp, vice president of Bank of America Capital Markets Group, and board member of Wells Fargo.

DDT’s lack of personnel and budget cuts will also ensure worse flooding and other disasters in the future. The U.S. has no director for either NOAA, which includes the National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center, nor DHS. Two FEMA deputy directors await confirmation. DDT’s budget slashes $667 million from FEMA programs and grants, including cuts to the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Program, which provides funding states and cities to better withstand the impact of hurricanes and coastal storms. He wants the funding moved to “the wall.” Proposed NOAA cuts: 16 percent overall; 32 percent to the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the agency’s main ocean, weather and climate research office; computer modeling of storms and observation of storms and data dissemination; and 22 percent to NOAA’s satellite division used for weather prediction.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) submitted an amendment to the federal government’s 2018 spending bill preventing funds for the government’s National Climate Assessment.

Texas wants FEMA money but turned down other aid. People of Quebec offered blankets, beds, and water as well as other relief effort such as equipment and crews to help restore power, but Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos refused everything. He asked for “prayers from the people of Quebec” instead. Mexico has also offered help, but the U.S. has not yet accepted.

Both GOP Texas U.S. senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, begged DDT for “any and all emergency protective measures available by a major disaster declaration.” Along with over 20 GOP Texas representatives in the House, they voted against the emergency aid package for Sandy that hit the East Coast. Thirty-nine GOP senators and 179 GOP representatives opposed money for Sandy, and senators stalled for 91 days.

After two months on the job, FEMA Director Long explained that he didn’t order an evacuation of Houston because it would take too long to get people out of the city. People left in the city sat in water if they couldn’t get out on their own—like these women in a Houston nursing home.

As usual, DDT treated the hurricane disaster as his own television reality show. Balanced on a ladder between two fire trucks in Corpus Christi, he held up a Texas flag and said to a few hundred people, “What a crowd, what a turnout!” He talked about the “ratings” from Hurricane Harvey and bragged that FEMA Director Long “has really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.” He seemed self-congratulatory when he tweeted, “WOW – now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood!” DDT even lied in his tweet about “witnessing first hand the horror & devastation.” In Texas for only three hours, he went to Austin and Corpus Christi, met with the Texas governor, and was briefed at a Corpus Christi firehouse. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to cover for DDT by saying, “He met with a number of state and local officials who are eating, sleeping, breathing the Harvey disaster.”

The piece missing from his impromptu speeches was any reference to the people who died in the storm or were forced to leave their homes from the floods. As a germaphobe, DDT may not have been able to touch any of the victims.

DDT did advertise the items for sale on his campaign website through product placement. The “USA” hat that he consistently wore is available for only $40.

While people in Texas were suffering, DDT concentrated on forcing transgender service members out of the military, pardoning white supremacist Joe Arpaio, advertising racist David Clark’s new book, and demanding his “wall.” At no time did he ask for donations for the people in the disaster areas. President Obama did that.

DDT promised to donate $1 million to an unspecified Harvey relief fund, but it is unlikely that he will. Although Sanders said the money might come from the Trump Foundation, donations from other people, that might be difficult because the Foundation is under investigation. When DDT collected money for veterans during his campaign, he didn’t release the money until the media embarrassed him into giving at least part of it to veterans. His statement that he had given $1 million of his personal money turned out to be false.

From Amy Goodman:

“Hurricane Harvey has been downgraded from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical depression as it moves over Louisiana and into Mississippi. In Houston, floodwaters have begun to recede, revealing corpses and mass devastation. Texas officials say at least 44 people [now 47] have been killed by the storm. Nearly 100,000 homes are damaged by flooding. More than 30,000 people remain in shelters. Health officials are taking steps to minimize the spread of diseases such as cholera and typhoid, and nearly 150,000 homes have been told to boil their water. East of Houston, in hard-hit Beaumont, drinking water is completely shut off, and emergency workers are evacuating Beaumont’s main hospital. Meanwhile, flooding continues in North Houston as the Neches River surged beyond its banks and is expected to rise another foot by Friday afternoon.”

In another segment on Democracy Now, guest Renee Feltz talked about the release of waters from reservoirs that increases flooding and one of the polluted areas that EPA is still trying to clean up. Houston is home to over a dozen Superfund sites requiring cleaning up from pollutants, and DDT has cut that budget by almost one third.

Five public health problems after flooding in Houston: contaminated water, especially because of the release of pollutants by the oil and gas industry and explosions from the Arkema chemical plant; mosquitoes, bred in standing water and spreading disease; lost medicines left in evacuated homes, perhaps when people don’t know the names of their medications; mold from underwater conditions in many homes and other buildings; spread of infectious diseases from close contact in shelters; and long-term mental issues such as depression.

Eric Holthaus (Politico):

“Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.”

Michael Mann (The Guardian):

“Sea level rise attributable to climate change – some of which is due to coastal subsidence caused by human disturbance such as oil drilling – is more than half a foot (15cm) over the past few decades (see here for a decent discussion). That means the storm surge was half a foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction. In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31C, or 87-88F).”

Two high pressure systems kept Harvey in place longer than any other tropical storm in history. The disaster is consistent with last decade’s trend with nine of the past 11 years of Atlantic hurricane seasons producing more storms than normal. And now, Hurricane Irma, suddenly turned into a Category 3 hurricane, is headed for the U.S.

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