Florence: Evacuations continue as North Carolina rivers rise
By GARY D. ROBERTSON, MARTHA WAGGONER and ALAN SUDERMAN
Monday, September 24
BLADENBORO, N.C. (AP) — Hurricane Florence is by no means done with the Carolinas, where some rivers are still rising and thousands of people were told to plan to leave their homes on Monday before rivers reach their crest.
About 6,000 to 8,000 people in Georgetown County, South Carolina, were alerted to be prepared to evacuate potential flood zones ahead of a “record event” of up to 10 feet (3 meters) of flooding, which is expected to begin Tuesday near parts of the Pee Dee and Waccamaw rivers, county spokeswoman Jackie Broach-Akers said.
The county’s emergency management director, Sam Hodge, said in a video message posted online that authorities are closely watching river gauges, and law enforcement would be going door to door in any threatened areas.
“From boots on the ground to technology that we have, we are trying to be able to get the message out,” Hodge said, warning people not to wait for an official evacuation order if they begin to feel unsafe.
In North Carolina, five river gauges still showed major flood stage levels and five others were at moderate flood stage, according to the National Weather Service. The Cape Fear River was expected to crest and remain at flood stage through the early part of the week, and parts of Interstate 40 are expected to remain underwater for another week or more.
While hundreds of smaller roads remain impassable, there was some good news: Interstate 95 was reopened to all traffic Sunday night for the first time since the floods, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper announced.
Floodwaters already receding on one stretch of Interstate 40 left thousands of rotting fish on the pavement for firefighters to clean up. Video showed firefighters blasting the dead fish off the highway with a fire hose in Pender County in eastern North Carolina. The local fire department posted online: “We can add ‘washing fish off of the interstate’ to the long list of interesting things firefighters get to experience.”
North Carolina Emergency Management Director Michael Sprayberry said major flooding is continuing in eastern counties along the Black, Lumber, Neuse and Cape Fear rivers.
“Florence continues to bring misery to North Carolina,” Cooper said in a statement Sunday evening. He added that crews conducted about 350 rescues over the weekend and that travel remains treacherous in the southeastern area of his state. But he said National Guard members would be shifting next to more door-to-door and air search wellness checks on people in still-flooded areas.
The storm has claimed at least 43 lives since slamming into the coast Sept. 14.
In Washington, lawmakers are considering almost $1.7 billion in new money for disaster relief and recovery, even as they face a deadline this week to fund the government before the Oct. 1 start of the new budget year.
The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee said the money would be available as grants to states to help rebuild housing and public works, as well as assist businesses as they recover. GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey called it “a first round” and said lawmakers are ready to act quickly if the federal disaster relief agency also needs more money.
An economic research firm estimated that Florence has caused around $44 billion in damage and lost output, which would make it one of the 10 costliest U.S. hurricanes. The worst disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost $192.2 billion in today’s dollars, while last year’s Hurricane Harvey cost $133.5 billion. Moody’s Analytics offered a preliminary estimate that Florence has caused $40 billion in damage and $4 billion in lost economic output.
In other developments, at least three wild horse herds survived Florence on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, but caretakers were still trying to account for one herd living on a hard-hit barrier island, the News & Observer reported Sunday. Staff members are planning to make trips to the island this week to check on the Shackleford Banks herd.
North Carolina environmental officials also said they’re closely monitoring two sites where Florence’s floodwaters have inundated coal ash sites.
Waggoner and Robertson reported from Raleigh, North Carolina. Also contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina; Meg Kinnard in Galivants Ferry, South Carolina; Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama and Michael Biesecker in Washington.
For the latest on Hurricane Florence, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes
Coal ash spill highlights key role of environmental regulations in disasters
Updated September 23, 2018
Brian J. Gerber
Associate Professor, College of Public Service and Community Solutions and Co-Director, Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Arizona State University
College Professor and Co-Director, Center for Emergency Management and Homeland Security and College Professor, Arizona State University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Arizona State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Heavy rains following Hurricane Florence has led to the release of toxic materials in North Carolina. A breached dam caused the shutdown of a power plant and the release of coal ash – the byproduct of burning coal – stored at the plant into the Cape Fear River. The state of North Carolina has also said dozens of sites have released hog waste or are at risk of doing so.
These types of events not only highlight the potential of harm to humans and the environment due to this type of uncontrolled pollution, but also the linkage between environmental regulations and the risks communities face when natural disasters occur.
The decisions communities make when managing a range of hazards, including industrial waste siting, are a key factor in a community’s vulnerability during a disaster – a dynamic we’ve seen play out in many ways in our work in disaster policy and management. Such choices also help explain why disaster damage is so costly and disaster recovery so complex.
Pollution and disaster flooding
Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Florence caused the Neuse River to flood and erode three soil-capped coal ash landfills near Goldsboro, North Carolina. At another coal ash landfill near Wilmington, heavy rains exposed its toxic contents, which include lead, arsenic and mercury, washing them into a nearby lake that drains into the Cape Fear River. Duke Energy, operator of the landfill and nearby power plant, estimates about 2,000 cubic yards escaped into the lake but claims contaminated storm waters did not make it into the river.
The problem of managing coal ash storage is a useful illustration of how environmental protection choices, good or bad, affect the degree of community vulnerability during a disaster.
The North Carolina legislature has a recent history of explicit denial of climate change. A bill passed in 2012 banned the use of climate science regarding the effects of sea-level rise and other coastal management issues. This promotes less-than-sound coastal development and increases vulnerability to coastal hazards.
Likewise, the state has a history of allowing coal ash storage in areas that put drinking water at risk for contamination. A plan to remove or clean up these sites has faced criticism from environmentalists that such efforts are inadequate to date.
Easing coal ash disposal rules
Coal ash is the toxic waste product of burning coal for energy production. There are more than 100 coal ash waste sites in the Southeast; 37 are located in North Carolina. Coal ash waste contains a wide range of compounds, most concerning of which are heavy metals. If not contained and monitored, toxic coal ash poses a significant health risk, because it can contaminate drinking water, surface waters, accumulate in fish, and harm other living organisms.
In 2008 a massive coal ash spill in Tennessee, similar to the potential situation in North Carolina, cost more than US$1.2 billion to clean up. This prompted the Obama administration to write new national regulations on coal ash disposal, adopting a final rule in 2015.
The Obama administration’s efforts on coal ash can be understood in the context of its Clean Power Plan, a broad effort at addressing climate change and industrial pollution. The Trump administration has sought to undo that regulatory approach, including rolling back the stringency of coal ash disposal regulation.
But easing regulations of energy production, consumption and waste undermines communities’ efforts to respond to disasters and the broader issue of climate change mitigation and adaptation.
For example, increasing the likelihood of water contamination through poor controls on coal ash disposal is an unnecessary public health risk that can slow response efforts and make recovery more costly and more difficult. In short, lax environmental regulation makes communities less resilient.
Environmental regulation and disasters
In general, systems of emergency management and emergency response are designed to be flexible enough to address any hazard precipitating a crisis, be it natural, such as hurricanes, technological, such as industrial accidents or acts of terrorism. After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the U.S. embarked on a transformation of how emergencies and disasters are handled.
New national guidelines and standards for preparedness and incident management were adopted to ensure effectiveness across all phases of disaster management. But policy efforts that weaken environmental protections at national, state or local levels in turn make the operations of disaster management more difficult.
Consider hazard mitigation – the use of tools such as building codes or land use planning to reduce the amount of harm that might occur during a disaster – and how it is connected to other phases of disaster management. The strength of risk reduction steps, such as safer local land use practices, directly affects emergency response and long-term recovery phases.
For example, if a community prevents residential development in a floodplain, when flooding occurs, evacuation or rescue operations are not needed, the costs of recovery are reduced, and so on. At the same time, more stringent environmental regulations have the effect of reducing risk around the hazard itself and facilitating the possibility of more effective hazard mitigation.
Increasing disaster risk
Our central point is rather straightforward: Environmental protection actions in a jurisdiction have direct effects on disaster vulnerability. The particular case of North Carolina and the risk of large-scale contamination from coal ash pollution released by the Florence flooding disaster can be viewed in the light of broader trends in the United States and globally.
With sea level rise, coastal communities in the U.S. face huge risks associated with dangerous and more routine flooding. Evidence shows the financial costs of disasters are escalating. Outside the U.S. similar negative trends of increased risk and more severe consequences from national disasters across the globe are well-established.
The coal ash problem in North Carolina can also be seen through the lens of inequitable exposure to environmental harms. Siting of hazardous waste sites is not random – risk exposure tends to be higher for poorer or minority populations. This combined with higher rates of social vulnerability – the inability to prepare for, respond to or recover from a disaster – increases the risks for these residents to suffer long-term health and socioeconomic impacts.
All of these trends – increased vulnerability, inequitable exposure, greater cost of disasters – all underscore the need for viewing environmental regulation as a key component of disaster risk reduction.
This is an update with new details to an article originally published on September 20.
Pope warns Lithuanians against rebirth of anti-Semitism
By NICOLE WINFIELD
Sunday, September 23
KAUNAS, Lithuania (AP) — Pope Francis warned Sunday against historic revisionism and any rebirth of anti-Semitism that fueled the Holocaust as he marked the annual remembrance for Lithuania’s centuries-old Jewish community that was nearly wiped out during World War II.
Francis began his second day in the Baltics in Lithuania’s second city, Kaunas, where an estimated 3,000 Jews survived out of a community of 37,000 during the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation. He ended it back in the capital, Vilnius, to pay his respects to Lithuanians who were deported to Siberian gulags or were tortured, killed and oppressed at home during five decades of Soviet occupation.
Francis honored freedom fighters at the former KGB headquarters where anti-Soviet partisans were detained and executed, solemnly touring the chambers that have now been turned into a haunting museum of occupation atrocities.
“In this place of remembrance, Lord, we pray that your cry may keep us alert,” he said. “That your cry, Lord, may free us from the spiritual sickness that remains a constant temptation for us as a people: forgetfulness of the experiences and sufferings of those who have gone before us.”
Francis recalled that Sunday also marked the 75th anniversary of the final destruction of the ghetto in Vilnius, which had been known for centuries as the “Jerusalem of the North” for its importance to Jewish thought and politics. Each year, the Sept. 23 anniversary is commemorated with readings of the names of Jews who were killed by Nazis or Lithuanian partisans or were deported to concentration camps.
Francis prayed silently in the former ghetto and warned against the temptation “that can dwell in every human heart” to want to be superior or dominant to others again.
He prayed for the gift of discernment “to detect in time any new seeds of that pernicious attitude, any whiff of it that can taint the heart of generations that did not experience those times and can sometimes be taken in by such siren songs.”
Across Europe, far-right, xenophobic and neo-fascist political movements are making gains, including in Lithuania.
Francis is travelling to Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to mark their 100th anniversaries of independence and to encourage the faith in the Baltics, which saw five decades of Soviet-imposed religious repression and state-sponsored atheism. Lithuania is 80 percent Catholic; Lutherans and Russian Orthodox count more followers in Latvia and Estonia, where Francis visits on Monday and Tuesday.
The Baltic countries declared their independence in 1918 but were annexed into the Soviet Union in 1940 in a secret agreement with Nazi Germany. The Vatican and many Western countries refused to recognize the annexation. Except for the 1941-1944 Nazi occupation, the Baltic countries remained part of the Soviet Union until its collapse in the early 1990s.
Francis’ trip changed its schedule three weeks ago to allow him to acknowledge the slaughter of around 90 percent of Lithuania’s 250,000 Jews at the hands of Nazi occupiers and complicit Lithuanians.
The issue of Lithuanian complicity in Nazi war crimes is sensitive here. Jewish activists accuse some Lithuanians of engaging in historical revisionism by trying to equate the extermination of Jews with the deportations and executions of other Lithuanians during the Soviet occupation.
Many Lithuanians don’t make any distinctions between the Soviets who tortured and killed thousands of Lithuanians and the Nazis who did same with Jews.
Until recently, the Vilnius KGB museum was actually called the “Genocide Museum” but changed its name to the “Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights” since it focuses on Soviet atrocities, not Nazi German ones.
Liudas Dapkus contributed to this report from Vilnius.
A previous version of this story corrected the dateline to Kaunas, not Kounas.
As life expectancies rise, so are expectations for healthy aging
September 24, 2018
Marcia G. Ory
Regents and Distinguished Professor, Associate Vice President for Strategic Partnerships and Initiatives, Texas A&M University
The Aljoya Endowed Professor of Aging, University of Washington
Matthew Lee Smith
Co-Director of Texas A&M Center for Population Health and Aging, Texas A&M University
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Texas A&M University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
University of Washington provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
The Fountain of Youth may still be a myth, but a longer life expectancy is now a reality.
In fact, life expectancy at birth in the U.S. has risen by more than 30 years in barely more than a century to a current 78.6 years.
But with the increased life expectancy, a question arises: How do people stay healthy as they age? A new concept of healthy aging has emerged. In fact, some are using a new word for aging baby boomers – “perennnials” – to describe people who want to live an active, blossoming life into old age.
What is healthy aging? As members of the Healthy Aging Research Network, we have been researching factors affecting how long Americans will live, ways to stay as healthy as possible, and how best to make extended years quality years. Taking a comprehensive view, we defined healthy aging as “the development and maintenance of optimal physical, mental (cognitive and emotional), spiritual, and social well-being and function in older adults.”
But achieving this is something different altogether.
Shifting demographics, shifting views
We now know many of the interacting factors influencing healthy aging – one’s genetic makeup, cellular biology, lifestyle behaviors, personal perspectives about aging, social engagement, and environment – and realize the importance of viewing aging as the culmination of all these factors. Despite the accumulation of chronic diseases such as arthritis, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, or cancer, aging is not a “disease” but rather a lifelong process that occurs from birth to death. Social and behavioral determinants are often stronger predictors of premature death than one’s biology or health care.
Yet, there are fundamental questions about what aging means in the U.S. and abroad. This is important to consider, as stereotypical views of aging can be health hazards themselves, as research has shown that holding negative perceptions of aging can cut 7.5 years from one’s life.
In the early 1900s, U.S. life expectancy at birth was under 50 years of age, and only a very small percentage of Americans lived to age 65.
As a result, people did not expect to live to an old age, and the concept of healthy aging was unthinkable. Few people, including older adults, health care professionals, or policymakers, could imagine the costs of aging with chronic conditions for individuals and society.
Now, aging is a global phenomenon with 962 million people 60 years and older around the world, including about 78 million North Americans. With average life expectancies hovering around 80 and the possibility of living to 125 on the horizon, there is more attention to the contributors and consequences of living into one’s 80s, 90s, 100s, and beyond.
Population aging, older persons comprising an increasingly larger share of the population, is becoming the “new normal” throughout the world. This is resulting in the debunking of some stereotypes about global aging as a phenomenon only occurring in the most developed countries. Although Japan and European countries have the highest percentages of older people, rates of population aging are actually higher in many developing regions such as Asia, Africa, and Latin America and have huge implications for the welfare of older populations. With rapid globalization and urbanization, families are often more mobile, social support networks are breaking down, health care systems are inadequate, and older people are often left in remote villages to fend for themselves or care for young children left behind.
On the positive side, we in the U.S. can learn from how some countries are successfully dealing with their aging populations and age-related conditions by considering “all in” community approaches such as dementia-friendly communities.
Despite the increased proportion of older people in our society, many people still hold stereotypical views of aging and view seniors as less capable. Often, the images they hold depict aging as synonymous with frailty, loneliness, and poverty.
Similarly, depictions of super-aging, such as 90-year-olds running marathons, reflect extreme cases that are not necessarily the reality for most people in their 80s, 90s, or 100s, the age groups increasing most rapidly. Healthy aging does not mean everyone needs to be at peak performance on every dimension; rather, it means everyone should live life to the fullest.
Foremost, it is important to combat ageism in all its forms requiring a shift in our thinking and policies away from negative aging stereotypes.
Recognizing aging as a societal and individual concern, it is important to identify concrete actions at all levels that can make a difference.
For grand-scale change, we believe that multiple sectors – aging services, public health, and health care – and policymakers, health care professionals, families, and older people themselves can take action. We believe there needs to be more public support enabling the growing number of perennials to engage in the well-documented keys to healthy aging. These include having a positive attitude toward aging, being physically active, having access to healthy foods, being socially connected, and living in safe communities.
Toward this end, several aging advocacy groups have banded together to create a campaign to “reframe” or “disrupt” aging – stressing its positive aspects, but also recognizing the realities of some age-related changes, such as declines in sensory abilities and chronic conditions.
A crucial factor is rethinking the role of older people in society and having meaningful roles throughout one’s life, whether paid or unpaid. We need to combat ageist views that make it difficult for older workers to maintain high-paying jobs or find new ones if they find themselves unemployed. As researchers, we have seen the positive impact of evidence-based programs for chronic disease self-management, physical activity, falls prevention, and lifestyle enhancement for promoting health and independence.
The challenge isn’t going away
By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion older people globally. By 2035, there will be more adults 65 and older than children under the age of 18 in the U.S. This unprecedented transformation can bring about doom-and-gloom projections. While these numbers are game-changing, aging demographics do not need to be destiny.
Such projections can also serve as a catalyst to action to create a society that values older people, fosters social and physical environments that are supportive for healthy aging, encourages intergenerational commonalities over intergenerational conflicts, and emboldens older people to take charge of their own health. However, this requires a commitment to programs and services that help older people maintain their health and functioning.
We want to envision a world where intimate relationships would be seen as natural at any age, most falls are preventable, technology is omnipresent to extend older adults’ health and well-being, and caregivers have support to maintain their valuable roles. Most importantly, we believe it is best for society as a whole if perennnials do indeed remain in vibrant, productive roles whether at home, in the community, or at work.