Archive for September, 2017


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As the flood waters left behind from Hurricane Harvey recede, the search continues for victims not yet counted in the death toll.  The number of confirmed deaths attributed to Harvey has reached 63 and that number is expected to rise as Houston emergency officials continue to search flooded homes.  Emergency officials have said the number of calls for service and rescue has been steadily diminishing.

Hurricane Harvey hit Corpus Christi, Texas on August 25th and continued to batter cities and towns along the Gulf of Mexico with rain.  Some areas got as much as 50 inches of rain.  Some climatologists are calling Harvey the worst rainfall event in the country’s history.  Officials have estimated the damage to be as much as $108 billion but it’s too early to know the full scope of the Texas disaster.

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force trying to help those in need.  With hundreds of miles of heavily flooded area to cover and days of rain- no government response could have been enough.

As first responders were overwhelmed with calls for rescue, emergency lines were jammed and people were posting desperate pleas for help on social media.  Many had been stranded for days with no electricity, food or water.  Civilians with boats, high water vehicles and small watercrafts, took to the murky waters to help save lives.  Texans hours away-loaded up fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs and headed to areas inundated with flood water and over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

Others without boats stepped up to help as well.  Stories of people who were out of harms way using social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Nextdoor and Snapchat along with google maps to connect civilian rescue boats with people who posted pleas for help from their smartphones.    Boaters used Zello, a free “walkie-talkie” app to help each other navigate through rescues.

Three friends created the website “Houston Harvey Rescue,” in under 3 hours, in a leaky office, with intermittent power.  The site allowed users to drop a pin on a Google map to alert rescuers to people in trouble. The color of the pin could be changed to indicate the degree of urgency, and the pin could be removed when the rescue was completed, giving rescuers a real-time view of needs across the city.

While it’s too soon to know how many of the more than 37,000 heavily damaged homes in Texas are salvageable.  Officials say some will be submerged in water for up to a month and the longer a house is under water, the greater the damage.  Thousands have already been destroyed in the state and evacuees are slowly returning to their homes to try to assess the damage and gather any salvageable belongings.

At least 33,000 people in Texas have fled to more than 230 shelters, with 11,000 people inside Houston’s largest sports stadium. Churches and many businesses have opened their doors to evacuees as well.  Hundreds of thousands could seek some kind of disaster assistance, officials said.  It will likely take years for some areas of Texas to rebuild while other areas will never be the same.  The power of social media and people compelled to help others saved hundreds of lives during this disaster.  The heroes that emerged to help those in need remind us all that our country is not as divided as it sometimes seems.

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North Korea carried out a missile test directly over Japan that prompted the government in Tokyo to warn residents in its path to take cover. After a flight of nearly 1, 700 miles, the missile flew over the northern island of Hokkaido, broke into three pieces and landed in the sea.  Public television programs in Japan were interrupted announcing the missile’s flight over the country and warned citizens to take cover in a sturdy building or basement.

North Korea has fired projectiles over Japanese territory twice before.  Once in 1998,  prompting a minor diplomatic crisis in Asia, and once again at the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009. In both those cases, the North said the rockets were carrying satellites into orbit but they made no such claim in this case.

The missile was launched from a site near Pyongyang’s international airport, not the usual launch site in the northeast, according to the South Korean military. They are still trying to determine what type of missile was launched but it’s believed to be a Hwasong-12, a newly developed intermediate range weapon.  North Korea’s usual launch sites are in remote areas, where there would be little concern about civilian casualties.  A strike near Pyongyang would risk many civilian deaths, suggesting that the real goal was to strike at the regime.

The commander of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Defense Command said that the armed forces did not try to shoot down the missile from North Korea because they did not detect a threat to Japanese territory.  They warned citizens in its path to take cover in case any parts fell on Japan.  This latest launch appears to be the first of a missile powerful enough to potentially carry a nuclear warhead.

North Korea’s ambassador to the UN, Han Tae-song, defended his country’s actions saying they were a response to military drills carried out by the US and its allies in the region.  “Now that the US has openly declared its hostile intention towards North Korea by raising joint aggressive military exercises despite repeated warnings… my country has every reason to respond with tough counter-measures as an exercise of its rights to self-defence.”

US and Japanese forces have just finished a joint drill in Hokkaido while another annual exercise involving tens of thousands of South Korean and US military personnel is still under way in South Korea.  China warned that tensions on the Korean peninsula had reached a “tipping point” but said the US and South Korea were partly to blame. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticised the two countries for their repeated military drills, which North Korea perceives as practice for an invasion.

North Korea has been working on its missile program for decades, with weapons based on the Soviet-developed Scud.   While it has conducted short and medium-range tests on many occasions,  the pace of testing has increased.  Experts speculate that North Korea has made significant advances towards its goal of building a reliable long-range nuclear-capable weapon.  Though, no one knows how close North Korea is to miniaturizing a nuclear warhead to put on a missile.

Brazil has lifted restrictions on mining for gold in a 17,800-square mile area in the country’s north known as the National Reserve of Copper and Associates, thought to contain rich veins of gold, iron, manganese and other minerals.  President Michel Temer signed a decree abolishing protection of the area in order to help his country’s struggling economy.

The government, which has previously said that the region is rich in minerals, gold and iron, framed the decision as an effort to bring new investment and jobs to a country that recently emerged from the longest recession in its history.  The 17,800 square mile area that is now open for mining is twice the size of New Jersey.

Brazil announced a plan in July to revitalize its mining sector, and increase its share of the economy from 4% to 6% by opening 10% of all protected rainforest areas to mining. The industry employs 200,000 people in a country where a record 14 million are out of work.  They have said that mineral extraction would only be allowed in areas where there are no conservation controls or indigenous lands.

The move comes amid signs that deforestation in the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest and home to one-in-ten of Earth’s species, has accelerated.  World Wildlife Fund Brazil warned that deforestation would result, along with a loss of biodiversity and water resources. It said that even areas that remain under formal protection are at risk.

Deforestation and mining are destroying the rainforest at a stunning rate. The Rainforest Foundation estimates that about 1 acre is wiped out every second, and an estimated 20% of the rainforest has been destroyed over the past 40 years.  The Amazon covers 1.2 billion acres and produces 20% of the world’s oxygen.

A major concern arising from deforestation in Brazil is the global effect it produces on climatic change. The rainforests are of vital importance in the carbon dioxide exchange process, and are second only to oceans as the most important sink on the planet to absorb increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide resulting from industry.

Another concern is that over a million species of plants and animals are known to live in the Amazon.  There are also millions of species of plants and animals that are unclassified or unknown.  The rapid process of deforestation of the habitats of the millions of animals and plants that live in the rainforests threatens these species that may face extinction. The deforestation has the effect of reducing a gene pool amongst species meaning that there is less genetic variation that is needed to adapt to climate change in the future.

The Brazilian Amazon is known to possess a vast resource for the treatments of medicines and scientific research conducted to find a cure for major global killers such as AIDS, cancer, and other terminal diseases.

Tens of thousands of residents began evacuating coastal communities in Texas as forecasters predicted Hurricane Harvey could make landfall late Friday as a major category-three storm, delivering a life-threatening 35-40 inches of rain to some parts of the Gulf Coast.  Several counties along the Gulf coast, including Nueces county, Calhoun county and Brazoria county, have ordered mandatory evacuations in low-lying areas.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has activated about 700 members of the state National Guard and put military helicopters on standby in Austin and San Antonio in preparation for search and rescues and emergency evacuations.  In the Gulf of Mexico, oil and natural gas operators had begun evacuating workers from offshore platforms.

Harvey intensified on Thursday from a tropical depression into a category 1 hurricane. Early on Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center reported it had become a category 2. Fuelled by warm Gulf of Mexico waters, it was projected to become a major category 3 hurricane.  Typical category 3 storms damage small homes, topple large trees and destroy mobile homes. The wall of water called a storm surge poses the greatest risk.

Hurricane trackers expect the storm’s eye to come ashore near the city of Corpus Christi, where Mayor Joe McComb called for a voluntary evacuation.  Forecasters predict that if Harvey stalls over Texas it could deliver catastrophic flooding before drifting back over the Gulf of Mexico towards Louisiana.

The National Hurricane Center said it expected flash flooding along the middle and upper Texas coast. The storm is expected to stall and unload torrents of rain for four to six straight days. In just a few days, the storm may dispense the amount of rain that normally falls over an entire year, shattering records. The storm is also predicted to generate a devastating storm surge — raising the water as much as 13 feet above normally dry land at the coast.

The National Weather Service office in Corpus Christi said that due to the combination of flooding from storm surge and rainfall, “locations may be uninhabitable for an extended period.” It warned of “structural damage to buildings, with many washing away” and that “streets and parking lots become rivers of raging water with underpasses submerged.”

Harvey made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane at 11 p.m. Friday between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas. With 130 mph winds, the storm became the first major hurricane, rated Category 3 or higher to strike U.S. soil in 12 years.  In 2008, Hurricane Ike hit near Galveston, Texas as a Category 2 storm that killed 113 in the US and caused $37.5 billion in damages.