As Florence Makes Landfall, Poorest Once Again More Likely to Suffer Most From Storm's Destruction
By Jessica Corbett
As Hurricane Florence officially made landfall Friday, and forecasters warn of "life-threatening, catastrophic flash flooding," some attention has turned to residents across mandatory evacuation zones in the Carolinas and Virginia who chose to stay or were unable to leave, and how the poorest often pay the highest price when faced with a natural disaster.
Responding to a New York Times report in which an Edenton, North Carolina man who cares for his father—a cancer patient with whom he shares a double-wide trailer—explained that his family doesn't have the resources to leave, author and activist Naomi Klein tweeted Friday, "These disasters drag into the light exactly who is already being thrown away."
Climate chaos is a justice issue. Economic justice. Racial justice. Migrant justice. Gender justice. Justice for th… https://t.co/aZ9gvUxvlh— Naomi Klein (@Naomi Klein)1536935629.0
"Poverty lies in the path of Hurricane Florence in eastern N.C.," the Asheville Citizen Times declared Thursday. "Some people are getting out of town, but that's not an option for me. I have no money, no job, no connections," Tony Clower, a 39-year-old homeless man living in Kinston, told the newspaper. "I want to cry. All I can do is put my hands together and ask God to keep me safe."
This worries me the most about #HurricaneFlorence. “The path of Hurricane Florence sees it going over some of the… https://t.co/89atZihm25— Jim Keady (@Jim Keady)1536897886.0
A Vox article outlining common reasons people don't always abide by evacuations orders noted that "there are people who don't leave due to disabilities—they simply can't get out of their homes and don't have anyone to help them." Some don't want to leave behind their pets, and can't find a shelter or hotel that will allow animals.
Others may underestimate the threat or not receive timely storm updates—though Vox pointed out, "in an age when warnings can be blasted out via radio, TV and smartphones, and through old-fashioned door-to-door notifications, this is becoming less likely." And then there are those who fear their home will be looted, or those like Clower, who cannot afford to travel and stay somewhere safe.
Kathy Sexton, a 56-year-old resident of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, spoke with the Washington Post about the various reasons she is trying to ride out the storm in her two-story townhouse:
[She] had thought about staying with relatives who live six hours away, but the long drive would be detrimental to her elderly mother, whose damaged spine keeps her from being able to sit for extended periods. She would've booked a hotel further inland, she said, but she couldn't afford the cost. She would've stayed at one of the emergency shelters, but pets aren't allowed there, she said. Sexton has two 15-year-old cats that both need medication, and she said there's no place to board them. Even if there was one, she doesn't trust anyone else to take care of them. "They're like family. There's just no way," she said.
Emergency rescues already have begun for those who wouldn't or couldn't evacuate, after coastal communities were struck by the outer bands of the storm on Thursday. In New Bern, North Carolina, as of 2:27am local time, about 150 residents were still waiting on assistance from FEMA crews, according to the city's Twitter account.
"People surrounding me are under water. They have been trapped in their attics," New Bern resident Tonya Moore told NBC News while awaiting rescue with her mother, husband, and five children. "Every road is flooded. There's nowhere to get out over here."
"We are hearing from emergency responders that they are encountering folks and chest deep water," New Bern Police s… https://t.co/kkcLAa5LBX— CBS News (@CBS News)1536931437.0
As Florence continued its crawl along the Southeast, FEMA on Friday cut off vouchers for 987 American families living in hotel rooms across the country after being displaced from their homes in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the U.S. territory last September. FEMA offered them one-way tickets back to the island—which is still struggling with widely ridiculed recovery efforts—but that offer also expires Friday.
Some of these families spoke with NBC News about their difficulties finding longer-term housing they can afford. Vimarie Cardona is a single mother of three who has lived in an Orlando hotel with her children since November. Now working as a housekeeper at Disney World, Cardona explained that landlords have refused to rent her one-bedroom apartments because of the size of her family, and two-bedroom options are outside of her price range.
"I started looking for apartments. Even before they said [the voucher payments] would end I started looking," she said Wednesday. "From day one it was hell."
Florence also comes just days after the conclusion of a multi-week nationwide prison strike to demand improved living conditions and an end to "modern day slavery" that was organized in response to an April riot at Lee Correctional Institution in South Carolina, where guards waited several hours intervene in violence that killed seven priosners and injured more than dozen.
As the hurricane approached this week, multiple other South Carolina detention facilities made headlines for refusing to evacuate inmates despite being located in a mandatory evacuation zones. Spokesmen insisted to VICE and BuzzFeed News that the facilities can safely withstand the storm.
However, as VICE outlined, there is a long history of inmates facing dangerous conditions after officials decline to evacuate due to a hurricane—or prisoners being abandoned altogether:
Inmates left behind at a federal prison near Houston following Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 reported food shortages, no drinking water, and sewage flooding. Many inmates weathered the storm still locked in their cells. And as Puerto Rico reeled in the devastated aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons began evacuating inmates from its easternmost facility in Rio Grande due to sustained power outages. During the chaos of the relocation process after the hurricane, 13 inmates escaped.
City officials also reportedly abandoned inmates at the New Orleans Parish Prison during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Human Rights Watch reported that correctional officers left more than 600 inmates in one building without supervision to weather the storm. Some inmates say they were left locked in their cells for days as flood water seeped into the jail, eventually reaching chest level, before they were evacuated.
Ahead of the storm on Wednesday, a group of prison reform activists gathered outside of the South Carolina statehouse to protest against the decision to keep inmates in facilities located within evacuation zones, pointing to post-Katrina conditions as well as prisoners who have died even when there isn't a hurricane forcing so many others to flee.
"In perfect conditions we see people dying," activist Stephanie Serna told The State, a local newspaper. "What makes us think that in an emergency situation they'll do better without any accountability?"
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
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By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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