Tag Archive: mark j shuster insurance


Keystone Pipeline Oil Leak

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A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.  Crews shut down the pipeline within minutes of discovering an irregularity and officials are investigating the cause of the leak, which occurred about three miles southeast of the town of Amherst.  The spill has been controlled, the company said, with no further environmental impacts observed and no threat to public safety.

Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources said  “ This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota.  In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said. About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday.  “It is a below-ground pipeline, but some oil has surfaced above ground to the grass,” Walsh said. “It will be a few days until they can excavate and get in borings to see if there is groundwater contamination.”  “There were no initial reports of the oil spill affecting waterways, water systems or wildlife” he said.

According to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website, this is the third pipeline spill in the state this year. Another 84 gallons of crude oil leaked from the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline in Spink County  in April.  That pipeline, which runs through both Dakotas and two other states, drew fierce resistance from the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota, the tribe’s allies and environmentalists.

The leak comes just days before Nebraska officials announce a decision on whether the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a sister project, can move forward.  The Keystone Pipeline system stretches more than 2,600 miles, from Hardisty, Alberta, east into Manitoba and then south to Texas, according to TransCanada. The pipeline transports crude oil from Canada.  The sections of pipeline affected stretch from Hardisty to Cushing, Oklahoma, and to Wood River, Illinois.

The proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which would stretch from Hardisty to Steele City, Nebraska, would complete the proposed system by cutting through Montana and South Dakota.  TransCanada said it was working with state and federal agencies.  “The safety of the public and environment are our top priorities and we will continue to provide updates as they become available,” the company said.  Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the spill shows the new pipeline in Nebraska should not be approved.

In March, the Trump administration officially issued a permit that approved construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.  The approval followed years of intense debate over the pipeline amid hefty opposition from environmental groups, who argued the pipeline supports the extraction of crude oil from oil sands, which pumps about 17% more greenhouse gases than standard crude oil extraction. Tar sands oil is also much thicker and stickier than traditional oil, significantly complicating cleanup efforts. Since it’s thicker, it needs to be combined with other hazardous materials to allow it to be transported in pipelines.

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The Department of Defense (DOD) is planning to send 3,000 more troops to its Afghanistan operations in early 2018.  The NATO contribution would boost the training mission, called Resolute Support, to around 16,000 US troops.  About half of the additional troops would come from the United States and the rest from NATO allies and partner countries.  The additional personnel will not have a combat role but the alliance hopes more soldiers can train the Afghan army and air force.

In August a new strategy in Afghanistan was unveiled which includes providing more troops, a stronger Afghan army, support from regional allies such as India and a harder line with Pakistan.  The latest announcement of 3,000 more troops is in addition to the September announcement that another 6,000-plus ground troops from Fort Carson are slated for a future deployment to the country.

NATO allies have already promised almost $3 billion to help the United States fund the Afghan military until 2020, which is developing an air force to complement its ground forces.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference “We have decided to increase the number of troops to help the Afghans break the stalemate, to send a message to the Taliban, to the insurgents that they will not win on the battleground.” Stoltenberg said an attack on a television station in Kabul underlined the importance of fighting militants and supporting Afghan security forces. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault, without giving evidence.

Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander for Afghanistan, told reporters “My plan is to have U.S. forces focused on the things that only U.S. forces can do, so I would not like to have to divert U.S. forces to do things that allies could perform.”  “We have made it very clear to the allies that we really need their help in filling these billets that we’ve identified.”

Hundreds of soldiers with the U.S. Army’s first security force assistance brigade are expected to deploy to Afghanistan in early 2018 as part of that ANDSF training mission. The Army intends to have a total of six brigades by 2022 with the primary mission is to train and advise foreign troops.  In Afghanistan, the focus will be bolstering government forces, which have sustained heavy losses and huge swaths of territory to the Taliban since the U.S. combat mission ended in 2014.

 

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President Trump has declared the opioid crisis- which killed 64,000 Americans last year- a public health emergency.  The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days until the President believes it is no longer needed.  President Donald Trump said “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”

The administration will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency fund and to increase federal funding in year-end budget deals currently being negotiated in Congress.  Trump has directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.  The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see the devastation that drugs cause on people and their lives.

The administration’s opioid plan will allow expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.  It also speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.  The designation gives the administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is nearly empty.

In August, Trump said that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency but later said the White House had determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency.  Many have criticized the decision to declare a public health emergency rather than a national emergency as not enough.  A commission created by the administration and headed by Gov. Chris Christie called on the president to declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act. Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Congress is currently spending $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year. The administration says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to find new money to fund addiction treatment programs. A group of senators introduced a bill that would provide more than $45 billion for opioid abuse prevention, surveillance and treatment.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioids are consumed in the US.  A report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico.  A large portion of the country’s fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.

 

 

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In California, the death toll from unprecedented wildfires has risen to at least 42, with over 400 more missing, as firefighters continue to battle 15 major blazes across the state.   At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 people still displaced.  Some area residents only had a brief window to escape as the fire quickly spread through neighborhoods with 20 mph winds and 40 mph wind gusts.  Search teams are using drones with three-dimensional cameras and search dogs in an effort to locate missing people in neighborhoods that have been reduced entirely to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.

The state’s insurance commissioner says the unprecedented wildfires have caused over $1 billion in insured losses. The wildfires have scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City.   The fires have destroyed over 8,000 homes and businesses and are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began.

The fires started Oct. 8 and 9 and steadily burning through forests, neighborhoods, farms, wineries and other infrastructure—including cell phone towers used by the state’s emergency services.  High winds and dry weather statewide have hampered efforts to contain the multiple blazes-making them the most destructive wildfires in California’s history.

Firefighters have continuously fought to contain the series of fires using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.  Hundreds of firefighters poured in to California as crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from Canada and Australia. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.

The fires have been particularly bad in Sonoma County, where 30 marijuana farms and three marijuana manufacturers have lost everything to the blazes. Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses since federal law prohibits banks and financial institutions from participating in the marijuana industry, even in the eight states where recreational pot is legal, because marijuana is illegal according to federal law.  Twenty-seven wineries have reportedly suffered damaged.  Many wineries have reported either complete losses or significant damage.

California governor Jerry Brown has remained in state capital Sacramento this week, issuing emergency declarations and securing federal disaster relief.  “This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced,” Brown said. “The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined.”

 

 

 

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Three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, officials are warning the island’s health system is in dire condition as the island still has severely limited electricity and running water.  Many residents have contracted bacterial diseases, likely as a result of their exposure to contaminated floodwaters but without electricity and clean water-treatment is scarce.  The official death toll from Hurricane Maria has now risen to 45.

Hurricane Maria knocked out the water system for more than half the island’s 3.4 million people, leaving many reusing what little water they can get their hands on.  Medical experts say it is one of the factors that make them deeply concerned over a possible spike in infectious diseases in coming weeks.  Twenty of the island’s fifty-one sewage treatment plants are still out of service allowing raw sewage to contaminate rivers, streams and reservoirs.  Those without running water bathe and wash their clothes in contaminated streams, and some islanders have been drinking water from condemned wells.

Nine out of 10 homes on the island still have no electricity, leaving fans and air conditioning units unavailable to stave off mosquitos carrying illness in the storm’s aftermath.  Neither electricity nor running water is expected to be fully restored for months.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency says 64 of the island’s 68 hospitals are open but only 25 are hooked up to the power grid.  The remaining hospitals are running off of generators that aren’t meant to be used for such long periods and rely on erratic diesel supplies.

Some 11,000 U.S. military personnel have come to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and convoys of military vehicles carrying pallets of bottled water and meals are visible in the interior. Mosquito control units deployed in six municipalities, officials said, and five temporary biomedical waste stations have been set up.

FEMA has 16,000 federal and military assets are on the ground in Puerto Rico and about 350,000 Puerto Ricans have registered so far in the FEMA system to receive financial assistance.  Roads and highways have been washed out, hampering relief efforts to the interior of the island.  Some remote areas have not received any help since the storm.  Food and basic supplies remain scarce in the mountainous interior making the threat of waterborne diseases grow.

Authorities hope the arrival of the USNS Comfort will help ease problems at hospitals around the island.  The hospital ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States and is equipped with three operating rooms, 50 ICU beds along with another 200 other beds, and some 500 medical personnel. Two MH-60 helicopters sit on its landing-pad deck.

The ship will treat patients and also provide services to other hospitals such as refilling tanks for medical-grade oxygen and re-sterilizing hospital gear.  The ship’s staff had already treated 64 patients shortly after its arrival and medical personnel expected to see many others with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and lung problems.

 

Harvey Weinstein Scandal

 

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An investigation by The New York Times exposed allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact by Harvey Weinstein that stretched nearly three decades.  The scandal was uncovered through interviews with current or former employees and film industry workers as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.  Among other victims, the Times piece revealed that Rose McGowan had reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein after an encounter in a hotel room during Sundance Film Festival in 1997.  Later, the actress revealed Weinstein had raped her.

Shortly after, The New Yorker published another expose that alleges the producer raped three women.  The New Yorker article contains on-the-record accounts from 13 actresses who reported Weinstein forcibly received or performed sexual acts on the women.  A slew of women have sine come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape.  Among his accusers are some of Hollywood’s most well-known actresses including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Kate Beckinsale and Heather Graham.

Many of the instances occurred during meetings that agents, studios and assistants set up for Weinstein under the guise of a potential movie role.  The common theme in the accusations is that the harassment took place early in their careers and they kept quiet out of fear that they would destroy their budding careers.  Other lesser known actresses and models have come forward as well.  Weinstein’s lewd behavior seemed to be an open secret in Hollywood for decades.  Fear of Harvey Weinstein’s influence helped keep his treatment of women shrouded for years with a network of aggressive publicists and lawyers helping.

New revelations have surfaced showing his studio, Weinstein Company, knew for at least two years that he had been paying off women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein was fired from the company shortly after the New York Times article was published.   Police in the US and outside the country are investigating allegations of sexual assault involving Harvey Weinstein as the scandal surrounding the disgraced Hollywood movie mogul mounts.

A spokeswoman for Weinstein denied the rape allegations in a statement.  “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” the statement read. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”  Weinstein sent an official statement to The New York Time in response to the accusations saying “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.  Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment.”

Shortly after The New Yorker piece came out, Harvey Weinstein’s wife of a decade, Georgina Chapman, announced she was She said in a statement, “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” the statement read. “I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.”

 

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On October 1st 2017, the deadliest mass shooting in the US occurred at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring 527.  The shooter, identified as 64 year-old Stephen Paddock, broke two windows in his suite on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel and sent more than 22,000 country music fans scrambling for their lives.  Between 10:05 and 10:15 pm, Paddock fired thousands of rounds at concert goers, turning the last day of the festival into a massacre.  The headlining performer, country music singer Jason Aldean was giving the closing performance when the first shots were fired.

Several videos of the attack show the terror as countless rounds of gunfire can be heard with intervals of just a few seconds in between.  Many concert-goers and performers still in the area initially thought the sounds were fireworks.  When the second round of gunfire is heard, Jason Aldean ran off the stage and fans realized it was automatic gunfire-but for many, it was already too late.  As terrified fans got down, many noticed people nearby who had already been shot.  Videos of the attack show fans running, and then dropping to the ground as another round of gunfire starts.  As people ran for their lives, many were separated and left not knowing if their friend or loved ones made it out.  The day after the attack, stories circulated of the many brave people helping people to safety, tending to those injured and loading wounded into their vehicles to get them to area hospitals.  Slowly, the identities of those lost were confirmed either through family confirming on social media or reaching out to news outlets.

Six minutes prior to the shooting, Mandalay Bay hotel security guard Jesus Campos was checking an alert for an open door in another guest’s room near Paddock’s room.  Paddock, who had placed security cameras outside his room, shot Campos through the door of his suite, which was outfitted with a camera to survey the hallway, as was a room service cart parked outside. Police said Paddock fired 200 rounds into the hallway, hitting Campos once in the leg.  Campos radioed the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department that the gunman was in room 32135 and began evacuating people from the 32nd floor, including a maintenance worker who entered the hallway moments after he was shot.

The first 911 call was at 10:08 pm but police officers were initially confused as to where the shooting was coming from.  Officers eventually spotted multiple flashes of gunfire on the northern side of Mandalay Bay and responded to the hotel.  At 10:12 pm, two officers on the 31st floor reported the sounds of gunfire on the floor above them.  Between 10:26 and 10:30pm, eight officers reached the floor but didn’t hear anymore gunfire.  They systematically searched and cleared rooms, evacuating any remaining guests using a master key provided by Campos.   At 10:55pm officers reported all guests had been evacuated and at 11:20pm, police breached Paddock’s room with explosives.  Paddock was found dead, having shot himself in the head before the police entered.

Police found 22 rifles and one handgun inside Paddock’s hotel room that he had occupied since September 28.  Police believe Paddock’s surveillance cameras and additional evidence found in the room suggest that Paddock intended to escape after the shooting.  Police, relatives, and neighbors described him as a wealthy, high-stakes gambler who kept to himself -with no political or religious affiliations.  They say he frequently gambled tens of thousands of dollars-earning him valuable comps from Vegas area casinos.  Paddock had no criminal record or known history of mental illness.  Police believed he acted alone but have not determined his motive.

 

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The U.S. State Department announced that it is evacuating more than half its embassy staff from Cuba and warning US citizens not to travel to the island after a wave of mysterious sonic attacks have harmed 21 American diplomats and family members in Havana.  The evacuation was announced after a series of unexplained health problems that embassy workers are suffering, including hearing loss and brain injury. The health problems appear to be caused by some form of sonic attack.   An official said “The decision to reduce our diplomatic presence in Havana was made to ensure the safety of our personnel.  We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba and our work in Cuba continues to be guided by the national-security and foreign-policy interest of the United States.”  Several Canadian households in Cuba are also believed to have been affected by the sonic attacks, but Canada said it had no plans to remove any staff from Cuba or warn travelers against heading to the island.

Cuban officials deny any involvement in the apparent attack and Cuban officials are cooperating with U.S. officials to investigate the incidents.  Cuba’s foreign ministry official in charge of US affairs, Josefina Vidal, said “We consider the decision announced today by the US government through the state department is hasty and will affect bilateral relations.”  The decision delivers a significant setback to the delicate reconciliation between the US and Cuba, two countries that endured a half-century estrangement despite their locations only 90 miles apart.

A senior US State Department official said some of the attacks were carried out in hotels; appear to have affected only the diplomats staying there and no other guests or hotel workers.  That gave them reason to believe the attacks were targeted, and that it may be unsafe for US citizens to travel to Cuba.  They still don’t know the means, methods and how these attacks are being carried out. Officials who announced the decision said it was still not clear who was responsible for the “targeted attacks” which have caused injuries including permanent hearing loss, brain injuries, speech problems, dizziness, tinnitus, problems with balance, visual impairment, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and difficulties sleeping.  The range of symptoms has raised speculation of some kind of sonic weapons, while some former intelligence officers have suggested they might be a result of a surveillance effort that went awry.  An official said the possibility that a third country was responsible for the attacks had not been ruled out but investigations are continuing.

The FBI and other agencies that searched homes and hotels where incidents occurred found no devices. Some US diplomats reported hearing various loud noises such as ringing or a high-pitch chirping similar to crickets or cicadas while others heard a loud grinding noise.  In some cases, the effects were narrowly confined, with victims able to walk “in” and “out” of blaring noises audible in only certain rooms or parts of rooms.  Others heard and felt nothing yet reported symptoms later.  The attacks seemed to come at night with several victims reporting that they were in minute-long bursts.

U.S. diplomats first complained of unexplained hearing loss in the fall of 2016 and the US first acknowledged the attacks in August – nine months after symptoms were first reported.  Some victims now have problems concentrating or recalling specific words, a sign of more serious damage than the US government initially realized.

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Medical investigators who examined the brain of disgraced New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez said the NFL star had Stage 3 Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  Researchers said that Hernandez had the most severe case of the brain injury anyone had ever seen in someone so young.  Hernandez hanged himself last April at the age of 27, in a prison cell while serving a life sentence for the murder of Odin Lloyd.  A posthumous examination of his brain showed he had such a severe form of the degenerative brain disease CTE that the damage was akin to that of players well into their 60s.

CTE, which is caused by repetitive head trauma, has been linked to memory loss, depression, dementia, mood swings as well as problems with controlling impulsivity and aggression. A study released in July in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that of 111 NFL players whose brains were studied, 110 of them had signs of CTE.

The study was conducted by Boston University researcher Dr. Ann McKee who examined the brains of 202 deceased high school, college and professional football players, finding CTE in 177 of the 202 brains.  The study examined players as young as 23 years old and as old as 89. The brains were also from all player positions including 44 linemen, 10 linebackers, 17 defensive backs and seven quarterbacks.  Dr. McKee said her study showed that it is no longer debatable whether or not there is a problem in football—there is a problem.

The results of the study of Mr. Hernandez’s brain only add to the NFL’s public relations problems regarding CTE.  The league has already faced backlash after other high-profile players were found to have C.T.E., including Junior Seau, Ken Stabler and Frank Gifford.  Mr. Seau — along with Dave Duerson, Andre Waters and Ray Easterling, among others — killed himself.  The release of the Journal of the American Medical Association study and now the recent findings regarding Hernandez only reignite backlash.

Though researchers did not make a direct link between Mr. Hernandez’s violence and his disease-the symptoms of the disease could explain or even have caused the decisions that led to his rise and fall. After the results of the study were made public, Hernandez’s estate filed a federal lawsuit against the N.F.L. and the New England Patriots seeking damages to compensate his 4-year-old daughter for the loss of her father. The suit alleges that the league and the team knew that repeated head hits could lead to the brain disease, yet did not do enough to protect Mr. Hernandez from those hits.

The Hernandez’s family lawyer, Jose Baez, said the family was also contemplating suing the N.C.A.A. and the University of Florida, where Mr. Hernandez played before playing for the Patriots.  The N.F.L. did not comment on the medical finding and declined to comment on the suit. The New England Patriots also declined to comment.

Mexico Ravaged By Earthquakes

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Three powerful earthquakes that have hit Mexico in the month of September have killed nearly 400 people.  The death toll is expected to rise as rescuers work around the clock to search for survivors who may be trapped in the rubble.  Homes and structures already damaged by the first earthquake, have collapsed after the 2nd and 3rd quake, leaving more devastation.

The first earth quake, a magnitude 8.1, struck off Mexico’s southern coast on Thursday, September 7th.  It was the most powerful to hit the country in a century and was felt as far as Mexico City and Guatemala City by an estimated 50 million people.  The quake’s epicenter was in the Pacific Ocean, some 600 miles southeast of Mexico’s capital and 74 miles off the coast.  The United States Geological Survey (USGS) reported multiple aftershocks, including at least six with tremors measuring above 5.0 in magnitude.  Ninety people were confirmed dead after the quake and the death toll was expected to rise as searchers dug through rubble for survivors.

Eleven days later, on Tuesday September 19th, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico.   Dozens of buildings in Mexico City collapsed and over 200 people were reported dead and almost 2,000 injured.  The disaster caused extensive damage across Mexico, leveling at least 44 buildings in the capital alone, including homes, schools and office buildings.  Its epicenter was located 74 miles south-east of Mexico City at a depth of 31 miles and roughly 400 miles from the first quake.  Experts say the second earthquake was not an aftershock but a separate quake entirely.  Exactly 32 years ago, on 19 September 1985, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake devastated Mexico City and killed 10,000 people.

The third quake, on September 23rd, which was one of hundreds of aftershocks from the second quake, had a 6.1 magnitude, according to the US Geological Survey. It was centered about 11 miles south-southeast of Matias Romero in Oaxaca state, a region worst hit by the first earthquake this month.

The quakes were sparked by heightened tension between the Cocos tectonic plate, which borders the western coast of Mexico, and the North American tectonic plate. As the Cocos plate slid underneath the North American plate, it fractured in two different places, known as faults.  The two fractures were several hundred miles apart -both caused by bending and tension in the Cocos plate, but in different ways.

The depth of the subduction zone – where the Cocos plate is thrusting under the North American plate – makes it difficult to assess how the strain is building up but the fear is that it will cause another sequence of aftershocks that will cause additional deaths and damage.  Mexico qualifies as highly active because the country sits at the boundary of three tectonic plates which are pieces of the Earth’s crust that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Unlike most natural disasters, there’s no way to predict earthquakes, making preparations extremely important, whether it’s through building codes or earthquake drills-planning ahead is still the only defense for earthquakes.