The Aftermath of Severe Drought in Texas

Texas-Austin-Drought-Bastrop-Wildfire-2011The people of Texas were wishing, hoping, and praying for rain. Governor Rick Perry even proclaimed a three day session for Texans of all faiths to pray for rain April 22 through 24 2011. This was before Texans even felt the worst of the drought—over 75% of the state would become classified with “exceptional” drought conditions, the highest possible drought ranking given. Many Texans would suffer greatly in the dry, relentless heat—some losing their homes, livelihoods, and even loved ones before the year ended. Residents of Austin, Texas heartily welcomed 2012, hoping to put both the driest and hottest year ever recorded behind them.

The people of Austin, Texas are used to hot summers—customers continue to eat in the outdoor seating of restaurants in triple-digit temperatures and are kept cool with rows of mist spraying fans. Barton Springs, a crisp blue pool of spring fed water that maintains a temperature of around 68 degrees year round, is a favorite place for the locals to gather and cool off. As summer temperatures peaked at 112 degrees, however, many heeded the heat warnings of the National Weather Service and stayed inside their air-conditioned homes.

One of the most devastating events of the drought was the wildfire in Bastrop, the most destructive fire in the history of Texas. The fire raged for over a month, destroying over 1,500 homes and 1.5 million trees, and damaging over 34,000 acres of land, including the majority of Bastrop State Park. The 2011 drought caused staggering agricultural losses: Texas lost half its cotton crop and many ranchers had to sell off their cattle due to the inability to keep them fed and hydrated. Monetary losses were estimated to be over $5 billion. Due to wildfires and drought, Texas is estimated to have lost over half a billion trees. The Texas Forest Service estimated the costs to remove the trees and the increased energy bills from their shade loss to cost $840 million.

The people of Austin, Texas have been thankful for rain received so far in 2012, with inches of rainfall in February and March exceeding normal amounts. Still, the lakes around the city and groundwater levels have much recovering left to do, and drought conditions are expected to continue through 2012. In the face of such devastating losses in 2011, many individual Texans and organizations have worked to help those in need. TreeFolks, a non-profit organization that plants trees throughout central Texas, helped plant 2,000 saplings specifically in areas such as Bastrop that suffered from wildfires. The organization planted over 13,000 trees throughout central Texas in 2011 with the help of over 2800 volunteers. The organization has been encouraging citizens to plant and care for trees despite the drought because of the services they provide, such as shade to reduce the heat island effect and energy costs, root systems that keep moisture in the soil and filter groundwater impurities, and the provision of food and shelter for struggling wildlife.

Has your neighborhood suffered from recent droughts? Learn how to combat drought in your home and care for drought-mitigating trees here.

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Help the Survivors of the Turkish Earthquake

On October 23, a 7.2 earthquake struck Turkey’s eastern region, heavily damaging the city of Ecris in the province of Van. 528 total fatalities have been reported, 455 from Ercis and over 4,000 more non-fatal injuries.

A week after the massive earthquake hit, Turkish authorities have announced an end to further search for survivors. Around 232 survivors were rescued from collapsed buildings and rubble. The earthquake destroyed over 2,000 buildings and homes leaving thousands without shelter. Survivors of the earthquake now left without homes face the incoming winter season and the accompanying freezing temperatures.

 The Turkish Red Crescent, the largest humanitarian organization in Turkey is attempting to gather resources and makeshift shelter for the dispossessed but faces lack of supplies and looting. 17 trucks carrying provisions for survivors have been looted by survivors worried about not receiving aid.

 For any concerned and wishing to help the survivors, there are a number of organizations accepting donations.

 The American Red Cross, the Canadian Red Cross and the British Red Cross – All working in conjunction with the Turkish Red Crescent to provide shelter and other needed supplies for survivors. 

The Bridge to Türkiye Fund – Established in 2003, this organization helps provide educational assistance to children and families and on the ground rebuilding work.

 The Turkish Cultural Center Boston – Working with the Helping Hands Relief Foundation to provide necessities for the survivors. 


Joplin Faces Health And Environmental Risks In Tornado Aftermath

As cleanup efforts continue after a massive tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri the city faces more trouble: the tornado’s impact on the environment and the health of its citizens.

The tornado that struck Joplin on May 22, 2011 is regarded as the deadliest in the United States in more than 60 years and the eighth all time deadliest. It had winds over 200 mph and a diameter of half a mile. 138 People were killed, 900 people were injured, and 8,000 buildings were destroyed. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has reported 7,000 Joplin residents have registered for assistance after the tornado ravaged the city.

Experts are concerned with toxic substances the tornado had displaced and spread amidst the debris. The city’s industrial area had many buildings used by chemical suppliers, natural gas companies, and paint manufacturers, which, for the most part, have been destroyed. The substances from these buildings can seep into the ground and contaminate groundwater. Also, as the debris is cleared away, there is a possibility that toxic materials within the debris can be disturbed and released into environment. As bulldozers plow through debris, significant amounts of dust may be released into the air, as well.

The EPA deployed an emergency response team to inspect the area for immediate risks to human health and to the environment. They visited sites with underground storage tanks, wastewater treatment plants, and other places that could cause significant pollution. Other than an anhydrous ammonia leak at the Jasper Products trucking company which was sealed shortly by their hazardous materials crew, the EPA concluded that at the moment, there were no major toxic spills or releases at the 40 sites they inspected.

Among the buildings that were destroyed, some of the older ones may have released toxic substances such as asbestos and lead. Until it was banned in 1992, lead has been added to paints to increase its durability and resistance to moisture. Likewise, insulation containing the carcinogen asbestos was sold until 1990. Other building materials that could contain asbestos include roof shingles, siding, and felt, floor tiles, acoustical ceiling tiles, sealants, paint, putty caulking, and drywall. Property owners and search and rescue workers involved in clean up and recovering personal items are urged to be cautious when going through debris. Exposure to lead, asbestos, and other toxic substances can cause major health problems.

The EPA has been monitoring asbestos levels and other dangerous pollutants in the air and has reported that tests reveal no asbestos has been found and air quality is “normal”. As an added precaution, the EPA has supplied masks and given special safety instructions to search and rescue crews, contractors, volunteers, and residents.

Oil leaking from blown electrical transformers also pose a threat. Some of the older transformers may also contain polychlorintated biphenyls (PCBs), a highly toxic substance. It is not known how many transformers were destroyed by the tornado.

Heavy rains have complicated the situation and caused flash flooding in some areas, potentially contaminating the city’s waterways.

Hoping to speed up cleanup and removal of debris, state officials have allowed some leniency with environmental regulations. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued a waiver that permits a limited amount of wood debris to be burned. Also, landfills are permitted to accept certain types waste that would normally be rejected, such as appliances, brush, and yard waste.

For the most part, there have been no objections to these relaxed environmental regulations, even from environmentalists. “The last thing you want to do when a community’s dealing with a situation like this is require a lot of permits and paperwork,” said Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

Even though burning debris is allowed to a limited extent, officials and experts still urge that debris be sorted properly and recycled. “I know there’s a huge amount of debris, but finding a landfill in a valley someplace where you can put it and cover it over is a lot wiser than burning it. There are health hazards associated with burning debris of any sort,” said David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-SUNY.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources urges everyone to separate different types of waste so they can be disposed of properly. Materials such as household chemicals, paints, and treated woods should be kept from being sent to landfills. Also, appliances should be recycled and vegetation converted to compost as much as possible. Minimizing the improper handling and disposal of waste will help prevent any further health hazards and damage to the environment.

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Deadliest Tornadoes Since 1950 Terrorize Southern States

An astronomical wave of tornadoes have hit the southern states of the U.S., tearing through multiple towns and lives. More than 310 people have been reported dead in the six affected states. Cadaver dogs are searching for the missing population amongst the rubble of houses and buildings.


Over one million people are left without power, functioning gas stations, or food supplies. Roads are impassable leaving victims hard to reach. Citizens are being encouraged to boil their tap water for safe use. All traces of life have been destroyed in several entire blocks of cities. From a bird’s eye view, this region has been scarred into disfigurement.


President Obama is visiting the storm’s epicenter today. He visited the wrecked University of Tuscaloosa in Alabama, to shine a spotlight on the severity of the suffering of these families. Obama told local mayors that he will be there to help, signing a storm declaration to allow affected citizens and businesses to ask for federal financial assistance. Money, food, and water will soon be transported to the victims surviving this aftermath. Some relief will be bestowed upon families, but not nearly enough to give emotions a rest.


It will costs millions of dollars for the recuperation of this disaster, placing the recovery of the recession on the back-burner. People will be left trying to piece their lives together for years to come.


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Texas Wildfires Burn, Fueled by Continuing Drought

Continued drought in Texas has fueled the flames of a series of deadly fires across the state. In response to the continued dry conditions, Texas Governor Rick Perry issued a resolution urging all Texans to pray for “an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.” 
Perry has also called on another power recently, the federal government– which he asked to provide help in fighting the out-of-control blazes.
The ongoing drought in Texas has turned the grass and wildlands of the state into a tinderbox. Some parts of Texas which average 15 inches of rain per year have seen only one-tenth of an inch of rain.
The Texas wildfires have so far burned over 1.4 million acres. Although higher humidity is forecast in the coming days, so are thunderstorms and high winds, which can often spark new fires– especially when they do not drop substantial rain, as these storms are not predicted to do.
Perry noted, “It is fitting that Texans should join together in prayer to humbly seek an end to this ongoing drought and these devastating wildfires.”

Japan Quake Shifts the Earth’s Crust and Axis

March 14, 2011 – Elizabeth Smith

Earthquakes, volcano eruptions and tectonic shifts commonly alter the earth’s crust in small ways. However in the case of an earthquake that registers 8.9 on the Richter Scale, as the one that has occurred in Japan did, we can expect massive shifts in the global positions of landforms and perhaps even a shift in the earths axis.

Scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and National Atmospheric Space Administration (NASA) have all concluded that the Japan earthquake was so large, it actually moved the surface of Japan up to 13 feet in some areas and lowered the elevation of the country by 2 feet in others. This in turn caused a domino effect; with a massive shift in landforms came a shift in the earths axis, a startling 4 inches, that shortened the day a few millionths of a second according to NASA.

The axis shift is due to a large redistribution of mass which is now leaving a gaping 217 mile long and 50 mile wide hole in the sea floor close the the epicenter of the earthquake. This moved the island of Japan 8 feet closer to the western coast of the United States and up to 13 feet closer in other areas closer to the epicenter according to an exact location and movement of a Global Positioning Center location belonging to the USGS.

The Japan earthquake has turned out to be one of the five largest earthquakes in the 20 and 21st century, a list that even the 2010 Haiti earthquake isn’t on.

The measured 8.9 Japan quake occurred on March 11 at 2:46 p.m. local time just off the east coast of Honshu Japan. This then created a 13-foot tsunami that landed on the northern coast of Japan. In the United States the tsunami created 7-foot waves that crashed into the Hawaiian islands which caused no major damage. In the continental United States a tsunami warning was issued from California to Alaska, with places like Crescent City, CA seeing moderate damage.

Earthquake Aftermath Looms Over Japan

March 12, 2011 – Paulina Perlin

Reeling from a record magnitude 8.9 earthquake and tsunami that struck early Friday, Japan remains wedged in a state of calamity, as billowing clouds from a nuclear explosion at a plant northeast of Tokyo magnified the catastrophic scene.

The blast at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, 170 miles from Tokyo, is pegged as the result of attempts to avoid a nuclear meltdown after the tsunami fractured power lines feeding the plant’s cooling system. When officials poured seawater over the fuel rods in a measure to reduce thermal pressure in the reactor, hydrogen atoms formed and reacted with oxygen from the atmosphere, igniting an explosion that decimated the building containing the reactor. The reactor itself emerged unscathed. Luckily, there were no casualties reported, though four employees are being treated for minor fractures and bruises.

Yet, Japan’s post-earthquake woes are far from over.

Though radiation levels have decreased since the blast, pre-explosion levels were pegged at dangerous heights, releasing each hour an amount of radiation that equaled the amount naturally absorbed by a person in one year. Authorities advised residents within twelve miles of the plant to evacuate, however, impeded by wreckage, a large number still remain in the area.

Stoppages in transportation and communication have encumbered clean-up and evacuation efforts. Photos capture streets riddled with small airplanes, smashed cars, and debris – grim signs indicating the massive devastation obstructing roadways.

“Everyone wants to get out of the town. But the roads are terrible,” said Japan resident Reiko Takagi. “It is too dangerous to go anywhere.”

Highways from Tokyo to quake-ravaged areas remain closed, according to the Japanese transport ministry, with only emergency vehicles allowed to get by. Coupled with flighty cellular communications and landlines, the congestion in movement is leaving many earthquake victims unrelieved and unaccounted for.

“All major phone lines in Japan were not working and even now it is hard to call Tokyo,” notes Daniel Bromberg, a Massachusetts teen staying in Osaka, Japan. “The airports in the eastern and northern parts of Japan are closed, so the rest of the airports are very stressed.”

Amidst apocalyptic images of make-shift shelters and “SOS” signs painted across roofs, authorities warn that aid is slow to reach survivors – if they can be reached at all. Search teams continue to scout the coasts for victims, as injured and hungry survivors flock to emergency centers. Reports are swirling surrounding missing counts, some placing figures beyond 9,500. Though the official death toll knells at 686, many approximations pin it above 1,000.

“Our estimates based on reported cases alone suggest that more than 1,000 people have lost their lives in the disaster,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. “Unfortunately, the actual damage could far exceed that number considering the difficulty assessing the full extent of damage.”

Global aid has begun seeping into Japan, as the nation made a formal request for assistance. Popular music singer Lady Gaga advertised a choose-your-own-price Japanese Prayer bracelet on Twitter, with “ALL proceeds [going] to Tsunami Relief Efforts”. The United Nations has deployed nine experts, including two environmental pundits, to help meltdown prevention efforts. An ally of Japan, the United States has sent seven Navy ships and several search-and-rescue teams to the area. President Obama has vowed to offer Japan “whatever assistance is needed”, addressing the disaster at a Washington D.C. press conference.

“The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable,” said the president in a written statement, “and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy.”

Yet even with international government officials exuding faint optimism in helping Japan cope with the earthquake aftermath, for survivors of the disaster, the situation remains bleak.

“All we have to eat are biscuits and rice balls,” said Noboru Uehara, a delivery truck driver. “I’m worried that we will run out of food.”

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