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FBI Joins Flint Drinking Water Investigation
Gina Balaya, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, told the Detroit Free Press that federal prosecutors are "working with a multi-agency investigation team on the Flint water contamination matter, including the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Office of Inspector General and EPA's Criminal Investigation Division."
Balaya did not specify whether the inquiry was civil or criminal, but announced the FBI's involvement late Monday in response to a concern over the EPA leading the investigation when the agency had been criticized for its response to the crisis.
As Common Dreams has previously reported, the EPA's region 5 office knew as early as April 2015 that Flint's public drinking water was contaminated with high levels of toxins, particularly lead. The EPA's regional director stepped down in late January.
The office of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder became aware of the problem at least as early as February 2015, less than a year after Flint officials switched the city's water supply from Lake Huron, which is treated by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, to the polluted and corrosive Flint River. Included within more than 250 pages of emails between high level state government officials, released last month, is a background memo that "dismissed the pleas of Flint's then-mayor Dayne Walling for state assistance, saying that the mayor had 'seized on public panic … to ask the state for loan forgiveness and more money for infrastructure improvement.'"
The crisis became public last October after high levels of lead were detected in Flint children's blood.
Balaya's announcement also comes just as the U.S. House Oversight Committee prepares to hold its first hearing on the crisis Wednesday. Former Flint emergency manager Darnell Earley has reportedly been asked to testify, but is expected to decline.
Earley has reportedly stepped down as emergency manager of Detroit Public Schools.
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A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.
"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."
The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.
My god, White Island volcano in New Zealand erupted today for first time since 2001. My family and I had gotten off it 20 minutes before, were waiting at our boat about to leave when we saw it. Boat ride home tending to people our boat rescued was indescribable. #whiteisland pic.twitter.com/QJwWi12Tvt— Michael Schade (@sch) December 9, 2019
Michael Schade / Twitter
At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.
The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.
Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.
"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."
Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.
Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.
"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.
"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."
The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.
Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.
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