Rains from Florence cause collapse at NC coal ash landfill
By MICHAEL BIESECKER
Monday, September 17
Duke Energy said Saturday night that heavy rains from Florence caused a slope to collapse at a coal-ash landfill at a closed power station near the North Carolina coast.
Duke spokeswoman Paige Sheehan said about 2,000 cubic yards (1,530 cubic meters) of ash were displaced at the L. V. Sutton Power Station outside Wilmington and that contaminated runoff likely flowed into the plant’s cooling pond. The company has not yet determined whether the weir that drains the lake was open or if contamination may have flowed into the Cape Fear River. That’s enough ash to roughly fill 180 dump trucks.
Florence slammed into the North Carolina coast as a large hurricane Friday, dumping nearly three feet (1 meter) of rain and swelling the region’s rivers. The resulting flooding forced swift-water rescues and left several people dead.
Sheehan said the company had reported the incident to state and federal regulators “out of an abundance of caution.”
The coal-fired Sutton plant was retired in 2013 and the company has been excavating millions of tons of ash from old waste pits and removing it to safer lined landfills constructed on the property. The gray ash left behind when coal is burned contains toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead and mercury.
Duke has been under intense scrutiny for the handling of its coal ash since a drainage pipe collapsed under a waste pit at an old plant in Eden in 2014, triggering a massive spill that coated 70 miles (110 kilometers) of the Dan River in gray sludge.
In a subsequent settlement with federal regulators, Duke agreed to plead guilty to nine Clean Water Act violations and pay $102 million in fines and restitution for illegally discharging pollution from coal-ash dumps at five North Carolina power plants. The company is in the process of closing all of its coal ash dumps by 2029.
Spokeswoman Megan S. Thorpe at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality said state regulators will conduct a thorough inspection of the site as soon as safely possible.
“DEQ has been closely monitoring all coal ash impoundments that could be vulnerable in this record breaking rain event,” Thorpe said. She added that the department, after assessing the damage, will “hold the utility accountable for implementing the solution that ensures the protection of public health and the environment.”
There are at least two other coal-fired Duke plants in North Carolina that are likely to affected by the storm.
The H.F. Lee Power Station near Goldsboro has three inactive ash basins that flooded during Hurricane Matthew in 2016, exposing a small amount of coal ash that may have flowed into the nearby Neuse River. The old waste pits are capped with soil and vegetation intended to help prevent erosion of the toxic ash beneath.
The Neuse is expected to crest at more than nine feet (3 meters) above flood stage Monday and Sheehan said the company expects the same ash basins are likely to be inundated again.
At the W. H. Weatherspoon Power Station near Lumberton, Sheehan said it had already rained more than 30 inches (75 centimeters) by Saturday evening, causing a nearby swamp to overflow into the plants cooling pond. The Lumber River is expected to crest at more than 11 feet (3.3 meters) above flood stage Sunday, which would put the floodwaters near the top of the earthen dike containing the plant’s coal ash dump.
Environmentalists have been warning for decades that Duke’s coal ash ponds were vulnerable to severe storms and pose a threat to drinking water supplies and public safety.
“Unfortunately, Duke Energy has spent years lobbying and litigating and still has not removed the coal ash from its dangerous riverfront pits in the coastal area, some of which are in the floodplain,” said Frank Holleman, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who has battled the company in court. “When a hurricane like Florence hits, we have to hope and pray that our communities do not suffer the consequences of years of irresponsible coal ash practices by the coal ash utilities.”
Follow Associated Press investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck
Charitable Giving Tips Following Flooding, Damage from Hurricane Florence
September 17, 2018
(COLUMBUS, Ohio)—Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine today offered recommendations to help Ohioans make wise charitable contributions and avoid scams related to the flooding and damage caused by Hurricane Florence.
“We encourage Ohioans to be generous and to help those in need,” Attorney General DeWine said. “We also encourage them to be cautious when evaluating charitable donation requests. When tragedy strikes, there is the potential for scams, unfortunately, and con artists will take advantage of the generosity of others and use donations for themselves.”
Attorney General DeWine offered the following recommendations for charitable giving:
Carefully review donation requests. Do some research to make sure your donation will be used as intended. After a natural disaster, some sham charities may pop up to take advantage of people’s generosity. Don’t assume that charity recommendations on social media have been vetted. Check them independently. The first request you find may not be the best.
Evaluate charities using resources such as the Ohio Attorney General’s Office (or the offices of other state attorneys general), IRS Select Check, Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, and GuideStar.
Beware of “look-alike” websites or accounts. Be skeptical of charities or groups with names that sound similar to well-known organizations. They may be intended to confuse donors. If you receive a message from an organization asking for a donation, confirm that the request truly is from the organization, and not an impostor, by contacting the organization directly or visiting its website.
Be careful when giving to newly formed charities. Some charities that are formed shortly after a natural disaster or tragedy have good intentions but lack the experience to properly handle donors’ contributions. Established charities are more likely to have experience to respond following a tragedy and to have a track record that you can review.
Review claims carefully. Some groups may sell merchandise online and claim that “100 percent of the proceeds” will benefit a specific charitable purpose, but this claim does not necessarily mean 100 percent of the sales price will go toward the cause. Contact the organization to ask how much of each purchase will support the cause. If the organization cannot give you an answer, consider donating another way.
Contact a charity before raising money on its behalf. If you want to set up a fundraiser for a particular charity, contact the organization in advance and determine how you can properly collect donations.
Signs of a potential charity scam include:
No details about how your donation will be used.
Refusal to provide written information about the charity.
Organizations with names that sound similar to other better-known organizations.
Requests for donations made payable to a person instead of a charity.
Offers to pick up donations immediately versus in the mail or online.
Those who suspect a charity scam or questionable charitable activity should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov or 800-282-0515. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office investigates and takes enforcement action against charitable fraud.
Rivers flood regularly during hurricanes, but get less attention than coastlines
September 16, 2018
Craig E. Colten
Carl O. Sauer Professor of Geography, Louisiana State University
Craig E. Colten has received funding from the National Academy of Sciences, Louisiana Sea Grant, Minerals Management Service (currently Bureau of Energy Management), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hurricane Florence, now a tropical depression, has dropped record-setting rainfall on parts of North Carolina. Many river gauges show waterways above flood stage. Flash and long-term flooding, as well as a risk of landslides, are expected to continue for days.
Since the 1950s, coastal communities have ordered evacuations to move people out of the paths of dangerous storms. Coastal residents also prepare by building homes elevated above anticipated high water levels, and building codes commonly call for reinforced construction to endure high wind speeds.
Today, however, risk from hurricanes is extending inland. Some of the worst damage from Eastern Seaboard hurricanes in the past several decades has come from inland flooding along rivers after storms move ashore. Hurricane evacuations typically direct coastal residents to retreat inland, but river flooding can put them at risk if there are not enough shelters and accommodations in safe locations. And inland communities may not take adequate measures to ensure the safety of their residents.
Much of my research, including my book, “Southern Waters: The Limits to Abundance,” has focused on the complex historical geography of water in the American South. What I have seen is that inland river flooding linked to hurricanes and heavy storms is a huge risk in the Southeast, but receives far less attention in emergency plans than coastal areas.
Warm, rainy watersheds
The U.S. Eastern Seaboard is particularly susceptible to river flooding due to tropical weather that moves onshore. From New England to Georgia, a dense network of rivers flows down from the eastern Appalachians across the Piedmont – a broad, rolling plateau extending from the mountains to the coastal plain – and drains into the Atlantic Ocean. Steep gradients move water quickly down the mountain slopes.
On the Piedmont, many small streams merge and then become meandering rivers on the low-lying coastal plain. When tropical weather systems lumber onshore and move inland, they rise up the steep face of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the saturated air moves upward, it cools and releases huge quantities of rain – a process known as orographic precipitation.
This phenomenon, coupled with heavy rainfall dumped on lower elevations by these tropical systems, unleashes dramatic downpours that funnel into river networks and rush toward the sea, often spilling over the banks of overwhelmed channels.
Planning centers on coastal communities
A series of storms in the 1950s prompted federal agencies to start planning for extreme tropical weather events. In August 1954, Hurricane Carol grazed the Outer Banks of North Carolina before battering Long Island and Rhode Island and causing extensive flood damage in New England. Hurricane Edna followed a similar path two weeks later, but remained offshore. And an October storm dumped up to 10 inches of rain across the Appalachians as it moved inland, causing serious flooding, damage and fatalities in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
In 1955 Hurricane Connie unleashed huge amounts of rain over upstate New York. Days later, Hurricane Diane produced modest damage along the coast, but caused extensive river flooding as it continued across New England. Although both of these storms made landfall in North Carolina, their impacts in the more heavily populated northeast spurred federal action.
Following these tragic back-to-back seasons, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers launched a series of hurricane risk assessments for communities along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, and the Weather Bureau – the forerunner of the National Weather Service – commenced studying tropical weather systems. The Corps considered building structural protection for most cities, but found that flood walls were too expensive in most locations. Instead, it recommended evacuations, building codes and zoning to limit exposure in areas subject to storm surge – that is, in the immediate coastal zone.
The Weather Bureau issued a model for hurricane planning in 1959 that used a hypothetical community situated directly on the coast. It emphasized effective emergency communication, public education, preparation, and most importantly, evacuation. Neither agency paid any significant attention to inland flooding.
The growing inland threat
Hurricane Floyd in 1999 showed that tropical weather events could wreak havoc inland, mainly through river flooding. Floyd moved onshore near Cape Fear, North Carolina, in mid-September with wind speeds of about 105 miles per hour and traveled northward, dumping up to 20 inches of rain along a path stretching into New England and Canada.
Copious rainfall pushed inland ahead of the storm’s eye overwhelmed most of the rivers in eastern North Carolina. Emergency responders conducted hundreds of inland freshwater rescues. Some river flood crests did not occur until over a week after the storm had passed. Millions of hogs, chickens and other farm animals drowned, and dozens of animal waste lagoons overflowed, contaminating water supplies.
Floyd’s impact was compounded by the fact that it followed Hurricane Dennis by about 10 days, so soils were already saturated. And rivers were still at higher-than-normal stages when Hurricane Irene arrived a month later. Total damage from Floyd alone was estimated at US$6.5 billion, much of it from inland flooding. Now preliminary reports indicate that Florence is setting new North Carolina rainfall records.
Massive floods in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2015 and southeast Louisiana in 2016, caused by rare heavy rainfall events, soaked major urban areas and triggered evacuations – again, mainly through river flooding. And in 2017, Hurricane Harvey dropped at least 52 inches of rain on Houston in six days, an amount NASA described as “unfathomable.”
As the record shows, places adjacent to the sea are not the only danger zones during hurricanes. Inland river flooding from hurricanes is a major risk, particularly in areas with dense populations. Urban expansion and suburban sprawl have placed more people in areas where no one lived in 1955 and the coastal Carolina region has seen extensive development.
As warmer ocean temperatures contribute to heavier rainfalls and slower moving hurricanes, inland flooding is likely to increase. Until hurricane planning fully incorporates this threat, coastal communities will risk evacuating people straight into harm’s way and inland residents will share a false sense of security.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on September 13, 2018.
Hope fades in Philippines for dozens buried in landslides
By JOEAL CALUPITAN and AARON FAVILA
Monday, September 17
ITOGON, Philippines (AP) — Dozens of people believed buried in a landslide unleashed by Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines probably did not survive, a mayor said Monday, although rescuers kept digging through mud and debris covering a chapel where they had taken shelter.
Of the 40 to 50 miners and their families believed inside the chapel, there is a “99 percent” chance that they all were killed, said Mayor Victorio Palangdan of Itogon, the Benguet province town that was among the hardest hit by the typhoon that struck Saturday.
Mangkhut already is confirmed to have killed 66 people in the Philippines and four in China, where it weakened to a tropical storm as it churned inland Monday.
Palangdan said rescuers have recovered 11 bodies from the muddy avalanche, which covered a former bunkhouse for the miners that had been turned into a chapel. Dozens of people sought shelter there during the storm despite warnings it was dangerous.
“They laughed at our policemen,” he said. “They were resisting when our police tried to pull them away. What can we do?”
Police and soldiers were among the hundreds of rescuers with shovels and picks searching for the missing along a mountainside as grief-stricken relatives waited nearby, many of them praying quietly. Bodies in black bags were laid side by side. Those identified were carried away by relatives, some using crude bamboo slings.
Jonalyn Felipe said she had called her husband, Dennis, a small-scale gold miner in Itogon, and told him to return to their home in northern Quirino province as the powerful typhoon approached Friday.
“I was insisting because the storm was strong but he told me not to worry because he said they’re safe there,” said a weeping Felipe, adding that her husband was last seen chatting with fellow miners in the chapel before it was hit by the collapsing mountainside.
She said she screamed after hearing the news about her husband, and their 4-year-old son sensed what had happened and cried too.
Palangdan said authorities “will not stop until we recover all the bodies.”
Itogon resident Roel Ullani helped search for the missing, including several of his cousins and other relatives. “For me, it will just be retrievals,” he said.
Many of those who sought cover in the two-story building thought it was sturdy but the storm was just too severe, with the avalanche covering it “in just a few seconds,” Ullani said.
Environmental Secretary Roy Cimatu said the government will deploy soldiers and police to stop illegal mining in six mountainous northern provinces, including Benguet, to prevent such tragedies.
Philippine officials say that gold mines tunneled by big mining companies and by unauthorized small miners have made the hillsides unstable and more prone to landslides. Tens of thousands of small-time miners have come in recent years to the mountain provinces from the lowlands and established communities in high-risk areas such as the mountain foothills of Itogon.
On Monday, Mangkhut was still affecting southern China’s coast and the provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan, and rain and strong winds were expected to continue through Tuesday.
The storm was about 200 kilometers (124 miles) west of the city of Nanning in Guangxi region on Monday afternoon, moving in a northwesterly direction and weakening as it progressed. There were no new reports of deaths or serious damage.
Life was gradually returning to normal along the hard-hit southern China coast, where high-rise buildings swayed, coastal hotels flooded and windows were blown out. Rail, airline and ferry services were restored and casinos in the gambling enclave of Macau reopened.
In Hong Kong, crews cleared fallen trees and other wreckage left from when the financial hub felt the full brunt of the storm Sunday.
“This typhoon really was super strong … but overall, I feel we can say we got through it safely,” Carrie Lam, the territory’s chief executive, told reporters.
The Hong Kong Observatory said Mangkhut was the most powerful storm to hit the city since 1979, packing winds of 195 kph (121 mph).
The typhoon struck Asian population centers as Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic flooding in parts of North Carolina in the United States.
Associated Press writers Jim Gomez and Cecilia Forbes in Manila contributed to this report.
As Cuba backs gay marriage, churches oppose the government’s plan
September 17, 2018
María Isabel Alfonso
Professor of Spanish, St. Joseph’s College of New York
María Isabel Alfonso is co-founder of the not-for-profit group Cuban Americans For Engagement, which works to improve diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States.
Cubans are debating a constitutional reform that, among other legal changes, would open the door to gay marriage. It would also prohibit discrimination against people based on sex, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity in the communist nation.
The proposed new Constitution, drafted by a special commission within Cuba’s National Assembly, was unveiled in July. If the National Assembly and President Miguel Díaz-Canel approve the document after a Feb. 24, 2019 public referendum, marriage would be defined as a “union between two people.”
Cuba’s 1976 Constitution, known as the Carta Magna, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. And it does not fully protect private enterprise, freedom of association or allows for same-sex marriage – despite growing social acceptance and political tolerance for such rights.
Emigrés who retain Cuban nationality have been invited to participate in Cuba’s public debate on the constitutional reform – though not to vote on it – via a digital forum run by the Foreign Ministry – a level of citizen outreach that’s “unprecedented” in Cuba, says Ernesto Soberón, the ministry’s director of consular affairs and Cubans residing overseas.
Cuba’s political process opens up
This lively, broad-based debate is a sign of how much Cuba – a main subject of my research as a professor of literature and cultural studies – has changed in recent years.
President Raúl Castro, who took over for his ailing older brother Fidel in 2006, began to open Cuba’s economy to foreign investment and normalized diplomatic relations with the United States, which has maintained its economic embargo on the Communist island since 1962.
Raúl Castro also worked with President Barack Obama to ease some economic restrictions on Cuba.
Castro stepped down in April 2018, handing power over to the much younger Díaz-Canel.
Cuba has moderately amended its Carta Magna just three times. A 1978 constitutional reform created an official channel for youth political participation, for example, while that of 1992 liberalized elements of Cuba’s socialist economic model to revitalize Cuba’s economy.
Today’s proposed reform is a complete overhaul. It would add 87 articles, change 113 and eliminate 13, even a section of Article 5 affirming Cuba’s “advance toward a Communist society.”
Beyond legalizing gay marriage, the new Constitution would protect private property, limit the presidential term to five years and introduce the role of prime minister.
Intense debate has surrounded the possibility of marriage equality in Cuba, and not just within the government’s official public meetings. Cubans are also discussing and debating gay marriage with neighbors and friends, in the streets and online – a departure from Cuba’s traditionally more top-down style of government.
The rise of gay rights in Cuba
Cuba’s nascent LGBTQ rights movement also began under Raúl Castro, thanks in large part to the leadership of his daughter Mariela Castro, a National Assembly member and president of the semi-governmental Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual, founded in 1987 to advance sexual awareness in Cuba.
A lack of opinion polling makes it difficult to measure Cuban public support for gay marriage. But acceptance of homosexuality, both within the government and in civil society, has grown appreciably.
During the 1960s and 1970s, homosexuality was considered incompatible with Cuba’s model of the revolutionary man: atheist, heterosexual and anti-bourgeoisie. Gay people, active Christians and others who defied these ideals were sent to military work camps to “strengthen” their revolutionary character.
Today, the Cuban government appears to accept homosexuality as part of socialist society. In 2008 the National Assembly approved a law allowing sexual reasignment surgery.
La Habana holds annual marches against homophobia and transphobia and cities across the island celebrate the Gay Pride parade.
The church emerges as an opposition force
But legacies of intolerance remain.
The Assembly of God Pentecostal Church, the Evangelical League and the Methodist Church of Cuba, among other Christian churches, have issued a joint statement opposing gay marriage.
Their public letter, published on June 8, argues that such “gender ideology” has “nothing whatsoever to do with our culture, our independence struggles nor with the historic leaders of the Revolution.”
Cuba is a secular country where political ideology has historically trumped religion. Religious opposition to a government proposal is rare.
It is even more unusual for the church to attempt to mobilize the Cuban public, as some Christian leaders are trying to do now.
According to the Cuban magazine La Jiribilla, preachers on the streets have been handing out fliers saying gay marriage defies God’s “original design” for the family.
LBGTQ activists answer
Gay rights groups and feminists are responding with a creative show of force.
Clandestina, Cuba’s first online store, and the tattoo studio La Marca are spearheading a campaign called “Cuban design,” celebrating a “very original family” – phrasing that rebuts Christian claims about God’s design.
“More than anything, this is an issue of free expression,” Roberto Ramos Mori, of La Marca, said in an email. “The way to push back against hate is calmly, with intelligence – and, of course, humor.”
Cubans with internet access use the hashtag #mifamiliaesoriginal to signal their support for LGBTQ rights on social media.
The church’s powerful opposition to marriage equality reflects a strategy commonly deployed across Latin America, says the Cuban feminist Ailynn Torres Santana.
Catholic and evangelical groups in Ecuador used similar language, for example, to oppose a 2017 law allowing citizens to choose their own gender identifier, she says. In response to the legislation – which recognized gender as “a binary that is socially and culturally created, patriarchal and heteronormative” – churches called for “citizens to live in harmony with nature.”
Similar scenes played out when both Colombia and Brazil advanced LGBTQ rights, with Christian groups dismissing any attempt to change traditional gender roles as the “result” of what they pejoratively call “gender ideology.”
What’s next for Cuba
Gay marriage is not the only battlefield for Cuba’s newly empowered churches.
Abortion, illegal in most of Latin America, has been a woman’s right in Cuba since 1965. Traditionally, not even Cuba’s Catholic church publicly opposed it.
Recently, though, Christians in Cuba have begun publicly advocating against abortion.
If conservative religious groups manage to prevent gay marriage in Cuba, I believe it would be a setback for social progress on the island.
But the mere existence of alternative voices in Cuba’s public sphere – including that of its churches – is, itself, proof that the country has already changed.
This article was originally published in Spanish
Comment: Heidi Hehn
Certainly the history of organized religion is that of oppression and control of everything up to and including reproductive rights. An open minded and intelligent person can see through such manipulation but unfortunately most people are too blinded and programmed to do so. This resurgence of these so-called ‘christian’ groups is being encouraged and exploited by the alt-right in the US and has even spread into Canada. More people need to be aware of this.
Cuba’s history is one of fighting for the right to self determination in opposition to other interests outside their country trying to curtail that right. I hope this attitude continues to propel Cubans to stand up to this new more insidious attempt to interfere with the Cuban people and their choices for their own future. Having been to Cuba on several occasions and having met with Cubans throughout Cuba my hope is that they are left to continue to go in the direction that they themselves choose. I look forward to seeing the nation THEY build.