The tiny islands ravaged by Irma are in trouble as Hurricane Jose looms

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

The tiny islands ravaged by Irma are in trouble as Hurricane Jose looms

 September 7 at 4:25 PM
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Island of Barbuda ‘barely habitable’ after Irma

As Hurricane Irma departed Antigua and Barbuda’s usually pristine reef-ringed beaches with the pink and white sand, islanders struggled to grasp the destruction to Barbuda’s schools, churches and the homes that many had used their life savings to build.

Irma somehow spared Antigua, which was open for business by Thursday morning. But on Barbuda, the smaller of the two islands, the ferocious and historic Category 5 hurricane had turned the typically gentle Caribbean winds into violent gusts that decimated Codrington, the sole town on the 62-square-mile island.

“Barbuda right now is literally a rubble,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

Browne said nearly all of the government and personal property on Barbuda was damaged — including the hospital and the airport, which he said had its roof completely blown away. At least one person, a young child, was killed on the island — one of numerous deaths reported across the Caribbean in Irma’s horrific aftermath.

Now, these victims face yet another threat — a second hurricane, Jose, which appears to be coming for the same islands that are trying to dig out from Irma’s devastation.

The National Hurricane Center released an ominous bulletin Thursday about the new menace looming in the Atlantic: “JOSE EXPECTED TO BECOME A MAJOR HURRICANE BY FRIDAY … WATCHES ISSUED FOR THE NORTHERN LEEWARD ISLANDS.” By early afternoon, Jose had gained Category 2 status, and Antigua and Barbuda issued a new hurricane watch.

“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Browne said Thursday in a phone interview with The Washington Post, adding that Irma left about 60 percent of Barbuda’s nearly 2,000 residents homeless and destroyed or damaged 95 percent of its property.

Browne will make a determination by Thursday night about whether to order a mandatory evacuation ahead of Jose’s potential landfall, but added that those who want to leave Barbuda now are being ferried to nearby Antigua.

As Irma continues its merciless churn toward the U.S. mainland, the first islanders left in its wake are only beginning to decipher the scope of the storm’s ravages.

Deaths have been reported throughout the Leeward Islands, a vulnerable, isolated chain arcing southeast from Puerto Rico, which reported at least three deaths of its own.

Officials throughout the Caribbean expect the body count to rise.

After first making landfall in Barbuda, then strafing several other Leeward Islands, Irma raked the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, leaving nearly 1 million people without any electricity. The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands are next in its path. Closer to Florida’s southern tip, the Bahamas remain in danger, and mass evacuations are underway.

The United Nations has said that Irma could affect as many as 37 million people. The majority are on the U.S. mainland, but the residents of tiny islands in the Eastern Caribbean were hit first — and hardest.

Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told local media that Barbuda was left “barely habitable.”

Aerial footage showed homes with walls blown out and roofs ripped away.

“It was emotionally painful,” he told The Post. “It was sad to see such beautiful country being destroyed over a couple of hours.”

It is, he told The Post, “one of the most significant disasters anywhere in the world” on a per capita basis: Browne said it would take an estimated $100 million to rebuild — a “monumental challenge” for a small island government.

Ghastly images from St. Martin and St. Barthelemy (also known as St. Barts) showed cars and trucks almost completely submerged in the storm surge, and several buildings in ruin.

Witnesses on other islands described horrific destruction and a breakdown in public order: no running water, no emergency services, no police to stop looters — and a never ending tide of newly homeless people wandering the streets amid the devastation.

“It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island,” Marilou Rohan, a Dutch vacationer in Sint Maarten, which is part of the Kingdom of Netherlands, told the Dutch NOS news service. “Houses are destroyed. Some are razed to the ground. I am lucky that I was in a sturdy house, but we had to bolster the door, the wind was so hard.”

There was little sense that authorities had the situation under control, she said.

Supermarkets were being looted and no police were visible in the streets. Occasionally, soldiers have passed by, but they were doing little to impose order, she said.

“People feel powerless. They do not know what to do. You see the fear in their eyes,” she said.

Paul de Windt, the editor of the Daily Herald of Sint Maarten, told the Paradise FM radio station in Curaçao that “Many people are wandering the streets. They no longer have homes, they don’t know what to do.”


An image released Wednesday shows severe flooding in St. Martin. (AFP)

In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, the local government is “overwhelmed” and desperate for help, Anguilla Attorney General John McKendrick told The Post late Wednesday. Officials were barely able to communicate among one another and with emergency response teams, he said. With most phone lines down, they were dependent on instant messaging.

It appears that at least one person died in Anguilla, he said.

“Roads blocked, hospital damaged. Power down. Communications badly impaired. Help needed,” McKendrick wrote in one message. In another, he said, “More people might die without further help, especially as another hurricane threatens us so soon.”

The Dutch government said that it was sending two military ships carrying smaller emergency boats, ambulances and emergency equipment to Sint Maarten.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 rations — or about four days’ worth of food — are en route to the victims to St. Barts and St. Martin.

“It’s a tragedy, we’ll need to rebuild both islands,” Collomb told reporters Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “Most of the schools have been destroyed.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the government is allocating more than $41 million (U.S. dollars) for hurricane relief efforts.

Britain’s international development secretary, Priti Patel, announced Wednesday that the British navy, along with several Royal Marines and a contingent of military engineers, had been dispatched to the Caribbean with makeshift shelters and water purification systems. While some in England criticized the response, McKendrick told The Post that he’s worried that they, too, will quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work that must be done to restore a sense of normalcy.

Elsewhere on Anguilla, some informal reports were less bleak. The Facebook page for Roy’s Bayside Grill, for instance, remained active as Irma passed.

Around 7:30 a.m., the page broadcast a brief live video of the storm captured from inside an unidentified building. With rain pelting the windows and wind whipping the treetops, a narrator calmly described the scene outside. “Can’t see very far at all,” he said. “We’ve got whitecaps on the pool. Water is spilling out. And it’s quite a ride. But thought I’d check in and let everyone know we’re still good.”

Phone lines to the restaurant appeared to be down by the afternoon, and messages left with the Facebook page’s administrator were not immediately returned.

About 1 p.m. Wednesday, the restaurant posted a panoramic photo on Facebook that appeared to show several buildings. The decking on one appeared to be ripped apart, and debris was scattered about the beach. One industrial building had a hole in its roof, but by and large everything was still standing.

“We made it through,” the caption read, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”


Destruction in a street in Gustavia on the French island of St. Barthelemy after Hurricane Irma. (Kevin Barrallon/AFP/Getty Images)

Michael Birnbaum and Annabell Van den Berghe contributed to this story from Brussels. Cleve Wootson and J. Freedom du Lac contributed from Washington. This post has been updated.

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‘Pops,’ Followed By Black Smoke And Fire, Reported At Storm-Crippled Texas Chemical Plant

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

‘Pops,’ followed by black smoke and fire, reported at storm-crippled Texas chemical plant

 August 31 at 9:56 AM

The flooded Arkema Inc. chemical plant is seen on Wednesday. (Godofredo A. Vasquez/Houston Chronicle via AP)

CROSBY, Tex. — The operators of a chemical plant left without power by floodwaters said Thursday that possible explosions have been reported at the facility, and they warned that more problems could occur as rising temperatures make the highly flammable compounds inside volatile and dangerous.

Arkema, the French chemicals group that runs the plant, said in a statement that it was notified by the Harris County Emergency Operations Center “of two explosions and black smoke” coming from the facility, which was under about six feet of water from the relentless rains unleashed by Harvey.

Local authorities later said there weren’t explosions at the facility, but rather “pops” followed by smoke and fire. But Arkema urged residents to stay clear of a temporary evacuation zone set up Wednesday, and said in its statement that “a threat of additional explosion remains.”

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office reported “a series of chemical reactions” and “intermittent smoke” at the facility, about 25 miles northeast of Houston.

Bob Royall, assistant chief for emergency operations for the Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office, said there were “small container ruptures that may have a sound” — like “a series of pops.”

“I don’t want the public thinking these are massive explosions,” Royall told reporters.

“I want to be very clear: It was not an explosion,” Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said.

He added: “It is not anything toxic; it is not anything that we feel is a danger to the community at all.”

The plant in Crosby manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used in everything from pharmaceuticals to construction materials such as counter tops and pipes.

A variety of federal agencies have warned about the dangers of organic peroxides. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that “contact of organic peroxides with the eyes should be avoided. Some organic peroxides will cause serious injury to the cornea, even after brief contact, or will be corrosive to the skin.”

It added that “many organic peroxides also burn vigorously.”

An earlier study done for the Environmental Protection Agency found that organic peroxides are skin and eye irritants and could also cause liver damage.

Smoke from the plant left at least one sheriff’s deputy in need of medical treatment. A total of 15 deputies were evaluated by medical teams as a precaution, and most were later released from the hospital after experiencing what Gonzalez, the sheriff, referred to as respiratory irritation. “We believe the smoke is a non-toxic irritant,” he said.

The incident was reported between midnight and 1 a.m. on Thursday, and local authorities and Arkema officials had warned earlier that such problems were likely.

The material at the plant must remain cold — otherwise it can combust. “The material naturally degrades and some types can be unstable unless refrigerated,” Arkema explained.

The facility’s coolant system and inundated backup power generators failed, according to the company. Primary power at the plant went out on Sunday, and two sources of emergency backup power were lost shortly thereafter.

At that point, Richard Rowe, chief executive of Arkema’s North American unit, warned that trouble was likely.

“We have lost critical refrigeration of the materials on site that could now explode and cause a subsequent intense fire,” Rowe said in a statement Wednesday. “The high water and lack of power leave us with no way to prevent it. We have evacuated our personnel  for their own safety. The federal, state and local authorities were contacted a few days ago, and we are working very closely with them to manage this matter.  They have ordered the surrounding community to be evacuated, too.”

In the statement, Rowe apologized “to everyone impacted by our situation.”

A mandatory evacuation zone was established for a 1.5-mile radius Wednesday as the last remaining workers at the facility attempted to resolve the problem. Police cruisers and SUVs sealed off access to the plant on Highway 90, which connects Houston and Beaumont. Parts of the highway nearby were underwater.

A continuous flow of trucks, many hauling boats to participate in flood rescue efforts, approached the police barricade near the facility Wednesday afternoon only to be turned away as Crosby Volunteer Fire Department trucks crisscrossed the highway cut-through roads.

A Crosby, Tex. volunteer fireman with an evacuee in tow answers questions on road closures from bystanders near a chemical plant authorities said is going to explode. (Alex Horton/The Washington Post)

The facility, the company noted, “is in a rural area with no hospitals, schools, correctional facilities or recreational areas or industrial/commercial areas in the vicinity.” Arkema said the plant, which employs 57 people, “has never experienced flooding of this magnitude before.”

Ahead of Harvey’s arrival, “the plant made extensive preparations,” bringing extra backup generators to the facility, along with diesel-powered refrigerated tank trailers, Arkema said. But the generators were inundated by water and failed. At that point, the company said, “temperature-sensitive products” were transferred into the diesel-powered refrigerated containers.

Still, the company said Wednesday, “the most likely outcome is that, anytime between now and the next few days, the low-temperature peroxide in unrefrigerated trailers will degrade and catch fire. There is a small possibility that the organic peroxide will release into the floodwaters but will not ignite and burn. … In the alternate, there could be a combination event involving fire and environmental release. Any fire will probably resemble a large gasoline fire. The fire will be explosive and intense. Smoke will be released into the atmosphere and dissipate. People should remain clear of the area.”

The Associated Press reported that Arkema was previously required “to develop and submit a risk management plan to the Environmental Protection Agency, because it has large amounts of sulfur dioxide, a toxic chemical, and methylpropene, a flammable gas.”

The plans are supposed to detail the effects of a potential release, evaluate worst-case scenarios and explain a company’s response. In its most recently available submission from 2014, Arkema said potentially 1.1 million residents could be impacted over a distance of 23 miles (37 kilometers) in a worse case scenario, according to information compiled by a nonprofit group and posted on a website hosted by the Houston Chronicle.

But, Arkema added, it was using “multiple layers of preventative and mitigation measures” at the plant, including steps to reduce the amount of substances released, and that made the worst case “very unlikely.”

On Wednesday, James and Deborah Hyer sat, frustrated, in a white pickup truck with a plant water tower in view. They were waiting with their three young children for the police to clear out so they could return to their home in Dayton, about 10 miles north of the barricade.

They were out of milk and water, with local stores either closed or cleaned out of supplies.

Their newly purchased double-wide trailer on top of a hill escaped much of the floodwaters, Deborah Hyer said, but some of their friends living at the bottom experienced complete devastation.

“They lost everything,” she said. One friend of hers, a single mother of five children, lived in a house on 17-foot stilts, but the water rose so high she had to evacuate, she said.

In tiny Kenefick to the northeast, neighborhoods built on the floodplains and banks of the Trinity River were destroyed, and relatives of friends who tried to evacuate were still missing.

 Play Video 0:54
Houston hero rescues neighbors from Harvey’s floodwaters
Howard Harris purchased a boat last time his hometown of Cypress, Tex., flooded. Now, as Harvey unleashes record levels of rain on Houston and surrounding areas, Harris is making sure his neighbors can evacuate safely. (Kurt Kuykendall, Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)

As in other areas like Houston and its western suburb of Katy, residents remarked on the quick response of volunteers with fishing boats fanning out as self-deputized rescue units.

“Some authorities are helping, but civilians like the Cajun Navy are helping the most,” James Hyer said.

A Crosby Volunteer Fire Department truck with flashing lights stopped as another man flagged him down to get updates on alternate routes to Dayton.

“We have nowhere to go,” James Hyer pleaded to the firefighter.

“I’d go away from here,” the firefighter responded, though he conceded he did not know which nearby back roads were flooded or, like Highway 90, sealed by police. The Hyer family, resigned, turned around with their backs to Dayton.

Cleveland Walters, Jr. waits for a police barricade to close down on Highway 90 in Crosby, Tex. Police sealed off the highway following reports of an imminent explosion at a chemical plant after floodwaters damaged its coolant systems. (Alex Horton/The Washington Post)

Cleveland Walters Jr., who also lives in Dayton, waited more than an hour outside his black GMC pickup to get home, where his wife and elderly 92-year old father needed to be cared for, he said.

“Dayton is where all my medicine is,” he said, ticking off the medical issues stemming from Agent Orange he said he was exposed to while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Guam during the final years of the Vietnam War.

The runways for B-52 Stratofortress bombers taking off were choked with jungles, and the defoliant sprayed around his tent sparked skin and gastrointestinal problems. He takes about 30 pills a day, he said, and had only a limited supply with him as he sat on Highway 90.

But Walters wasn’t overly concerned about the plant’s reported impending explosion, after working in the oil industry for many years after his service.

“I drive by it about every day. It is what it is,” he said. He left soon after, and like the Hyer family, put more distance between himself and Dayton as rescue vehicles roared to Beaumont.

Mufson and du Lac reported from Washington. Brian Murphy and Mark Berman contributed to this report, which has been updated.

Trump Makes Devastating Hurricane All About Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Trump Makes Devastating Hurricane All About Trump

“What a crowd, what a turnout.”

X

Crises like major weather disasters offer presidents the chance to unify the country and rise above partisan politics. Although a significant amount of aid work is done at the state and local levels, the president still has a major role in coordinating the response and setting the tone for the country.

But for Donald Trump, Hurricane Harvey has been a golden opportunity to promote himself.

“We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now as, this is the way to do it,” the president said on Tuesday. “We want to do it better than ever before.”

Right now, however, Trump wants to be looked at in a way that makes people say, “I would really like to wear that hat, and I’d be willing to pay that man $40 for it.”

The president has repeatedly worn his own campaign merchandise, which is on sale at his website, to Hurricane Harvey events.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

Trump has used his Harvey meetings as product placement for hats he sells for $40 two days in a row now…

For a third time, Trump is using Hurricane Harvey as product placement for a hat he sells for $40

Nearly every chance he gets, Trump brags about the size of his hurricane. He doesn’t have to deal with just any old storm like his predecessors did ― he is confronting a huge storm. The biggest storm you’ve ever seen. A storm that only he could handle. And of course, he wants everyone to know that he and his administration are doing a heckuva job.

HISTORIC rainfall in Houston, and all over Texas. Floods are unprecedented, and more rain coming. Spirit of the people is incredible.Thanks!

Going to a Cabinet Meeting (tele-conference) at 11:00 A.M. on . Even experts have said they’ve never seen one like this!

Wow – Now experts are calling  a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!

Trump also continued to tout how many supporters he has, and the size of his crowds, which he also does at nearly every campaign rally. On Tuesday, he remarked on the crowd size while visiting Corpus Christi, saying, “What a crowd, what a turnout.”

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He was at a fire station to meet with local officials about the disaster response. It was not a rally.

Reporters at the event heard no mention from the president of the dead, suffering or displaced Texans, nor did they hear Trump express any sympathy for them, according to a Dallas Morning News reporter.

Trump seems to be taking a certain amount of satisfaction from the attention he and the hurricane are getting on TV, where cable news has nearly non-stop coverage.

On Tuesday, Trump boasted that Federal Emergency Management Director Brock Long “has really become very famous on television over the last couple of days.” And he defended his decision to pardon controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio during Harvey, saying he did so because of how many people were tuning in: “I assumed the ratings would be far higher.”

On the same day that Trump was tweeting about the size of the hurricane, his great rescue operation, NAFTA and his insistence that Mexico will pay for the border wall, former President Barack Obama tweeted a donation link to the Red Cross.

I worked for his opponent in 2012 and had many differences but this really is how a president should respond. In substance & tone. https://twitter.com/barackobama/status/901946021437206528 

Want more updates from Amanda Terkel? Sign up for her newsletter, Piping Hot Truth, here.

Trump Tweets About 2016 Election and Border Wall in the Midst of Hurricane Harvey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM NEWS)

 

President Trump Tweets About 2016 Election and Border Wall in the Midst of Hurricane Harvey

10:44 AM ET

In the midst of a series of tweets about Hurricane Harvey Sunday morning, President Donald Trump shared a reminder of his 2016 presidential victory, asserted that Mexico will pay for the border wall and threatened to terminate NAFTA renegotiations.

Trump’s first tweet of the morning was a link to a book, “Cop Under Fire” by Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke Jr. A controversial figure, Clarke has called the Black Lives Matter movement a “domestic hate group” and categorized Planned Parenthood as a “destructive racist organization”

Trump, who is currently at Camp David, quickly pivoted to the storm sweeping through Texas — vowing to visit the state, which is currently getting battered by Harvey despite it being downgraded to a tropical storm, as soon as he could “without causing disruption.” ” The focus must be life and safety,” he tweeted. This was the third tweet he had sent about the hurricane Sunday morning.

I will be going to Texas as soon as that trip can be made without causing disruption. The focus must be life and safety.

But about 15 minutes later, he tweeted that Texas would not be the only state he was visiting. ” I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!” h wrote.

I will also be going to a wonderful state, Missouri, that I won by a lot in ’16. Dem C.M. is opposed to big tax cuts. Republican will win S!

“C.M.” is presumably a reference to Claire McCaskill, the Democratic senator from Missouri who is up for reelection in 2018. The White House has not released any details about this visit.

Shortly after, Trump shifted his Twitter discourse back to Harvey, assuring his social media followers that all would end well despite the unprecedented nature of the storm, which has been linked to at least two deaths in Texas. “Now experts are calling #Harvey a once in 500 year flood! We have an all out effort going, and going well!” he wrote. He did not mention any of the reported fatalities.

He then switched back to political commentary, tweeting that Mexico would pay for his border wall with Mexico, even though a leaked transcript of a phone call with the country’s President Enrique Peña Nieto revealed Nieto was refusing to pay for it. Trump also threatened to end ongoing negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement because Mexico and Canada are being “difficult.”

We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada.Both being very difficult,may have to terminate?

With Mexico being one of the highest crime Nations in the world, we must have THE WALL. Mexico will pay for it through reimbursement/other.

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