‘Unimaginable destruction’: Hurricane smashes rows of houses
By JAY REEVES and BRENDAN FARRINGTON
Thursday, October 11
PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael’s wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S.
At least two deaths were blamed on Michael, and it wasn’t done yet: Though weakened into a tropical storm, it continued to bring heavy rain and blustery winds to the Southeast as it pushed inland, soaking areas still recovering from last month’s Hurricane Florence.
Under a perfectly clear blue sky, Florida families emerged tentatively from darkened shelters and hotels to an unfamiliar and perilous landscape of shattered homes and shopping centers, beeping security alarms, wailing sirens and hovering helicopters.
Over 900,000 homes and businesses in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas were without power.
“This morning, Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything. … This hurricane was an absolute monster.”
But the full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the worst areas difficult to reach. An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Panhandle, was closed because of debris.
One of the hardest-hit spots was Mexico Beach, where Michael crashed ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 monster with 155 mph (250 kph) winds. Video from a CNN helicopter Thursday revealed widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.
Entire blocks of homes near the beach were washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand. Rows and rows of other homes were reduced to piles of debris or crumpled and slumped at odd angles.
Scott said the National Guard got into Mexico Beach and rescued 20 people who survived the direct hit. The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the rapidly developing storm closed in, but some people were determined to ride it out.
A day later, the beach town remained difficult to reach by land, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines and other debris.
The governor pleaded with people in Florida not to go home yet.
“I know you just want to go home. You want to check on things, and begin the recovery process,” Scott said. But “we have to make sure things are safe.”
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said it rescued at least 27 people, mostly from homes damaged along the Florida coastline, and searched for more victims. Among those brought to safety were nine people rescued by helicopter from a bathroom of their Panama City home after their roof collapsed, Petty Officer 3rd Class Ronald Hodges said.
Florida officials also said they were moving patients from damaged health care facilities.
As of 9 a.m. EDT, Michael was centered about 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Columbia, South Carolina, with winds of 50 mph (85 kmh). It was moving at 21 mph (33 kmh).
The storm was expected to move across North Carolina and Virginia and push into the Atlantic Ocean by late Thursday or early Friday.
Along the 200-mile Panhandle, Michael washed away white-sand beaches, hammered military bases and destroyed coastal communities, stripping trees to stalks, shredding roofs, toppling trucks and pushing boats into buildings.
Authorities said a falling tree killed a man outside Tallahassee, Florida, and an 11-year-old girl in Georgia was killed when the winds picked up a carport and dropped it on her home. One of the carport’s legs punctured the roof and hit her in the head.
An Associated Press team drove for miles and encountered extensive destruction around Panama City. Though most homes were still standing, no property was left undamaged.
Downed power lines lay nearly everywhere. Roofs were peeled away and sent airborne. Aluminum siding was shredded to ribbons. Homes were split open by fallen trees.
Hundreds of cars had broken windows. Twisted street signs lay on the ground. Pine trees were stripped and snapped off about 20 feet high.
Vance Beu, 29, was staying with his mother at her home at Spring Gate Apartments, a complex of single-story wood-frame buildings. They piled up mattresses around themselves for protection.
A pine tree punched a hole in their roof, and Beu’s ears popped because of the drop in barometric pressure from the storm. The roar of the winds, he said, sounded like a jet engine.
“It was terrifying, honestly. There was a lot of noise. We thought the windows were going to break at any time,” Beu said.
Sally Crown rode out Michael on the Panhandle thinking at first that the worst damage was the many trees downed in her yard. But after the storm passed, she emerged to check on the cafe she manages and discovered a scene of breathtaking destruction.
“It’s absolutely horrendous. Catastrophic,” Crown said. “There’s flooding. Boats on the highway. A house on the highway. Houses that have been there forever are just shattered.”
More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But it moved so fast and intensified so quickly that people didn’t have much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings.
Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.
Associated Press writers Tamara Lush in St. Petersburg, Florida; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Freida Frisaro in Miami; Brendan Farrington in St. Marks, Florida; Russ Bynum in Keaton Beach, Florida; Jonathan Drew in Raleigh, North Carolina, and Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, contributed to this story.
For the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes
Protecting wetlands helps communities reduce damage from hurricanes and storms
October 11, 2018
Postdoctoral Fellow, Coastal Flood Risk, University of California, Santa Cruz
Research professor, University of California, Santa Cruz
Siddharth Narayan received funding from the Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation and the Science for Nature and People Partnership for this work.
Michael Beck has received funding from the Lloyd’s Tercentenary Research Foundation. He is a Research Professor at UC Santa Cruz and Lead Marine Scientist for The Nature Conservancy.
University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
2017 was the worst year on record for hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean from Harvey, Irma and Maria. We had hoped for a reprieve this year, but less than a month after Hurricane Florence devastated communities across the Carolinas, Hurricane Michael has struck Florida.
Coastlines are being developed rapidly and intensely in the United States and worldwide. The population of central and south Florida, for example, has grown by 6 million since 1990. Many of these cities and towns face the brunt of damage from hurricanes. In addition, rapid coastal development is destroying natural ecosystems like marshes, mangroves, oyster reefs and coral reefs – resources that help protect us from catastrophes.
In a unique partnership funded by Lloyd’s of London, we worked with colleagues in academia, environmental organizations and the insurance industry to calculate the financial benefits that coastal wetlands provide by reducing storm surge damages from hurricanes. Our study, published in 2017, found that this function is enormously valuable to local communities. It offers new evidence that protecting natural ecosystems is an effective way to reduce risks from coastal storms and flooding.
Coastal wetlands and flood damage reduction: A collaboration between academia, conservation and the risk industry.
The economic value of flood protection from wetlands
Although there is broad understanding that wetlands can protect coastlines, researchers have not explicitly measured how and where these benefits translate into dollar values in terms of reduced risks to people and property. To answer this question, our group worked with experts who understand risk best: insurers and risk modelers.
Using the industry’s storm surge models, we compared the flooding and property damages that occurred with wetlands present during Hurricane Sandy to the damages that would have occurred if these wetlands were lost. First we compared the extent and severity of flooding during Sandy to the flooding that would have happened in a scenario where all coastal wetlands were lost. Then, using high-resolution data on assets in the flooded locations, we measured the property damages for both simulations. The difference in damages – with wetlands and without – gave us an estimate of damages avoided due to the presence of these ecosystems.
Our paper shows that during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, coastal wetlands prevented more than US$625 million in direct property damages by buffering coasts against its storm surge. Across 12 coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, wetlands and marshes reduced damages by an average of 11 percent.
These benefits varied widely by location at the local and state level. In Maryland, wetlands reduced damages by 30 percent. In highly urban areas like New York and New Jersey, they provided hundreds of millions of dollars in flood protection.
Wetlands reduced damages in most locations, but not everywhere. In some parts of North Carolina and the Chesapeake Bay, wetlands redirected the surge in ways that protected properties directly behind them, but caused greater flooding to other properties, mainly in front of the marshes. Just as we would not build in front of a seawall or a levee, it is important to be aware of the impacts of building near wetlands.
Wetlands reduce flood losses from storms every year, not just during single catastrophic events. We examined the effects of marshes across 2,000 storms in Barnegat Bay, New Jersey. These marshes reduced flood losses annually by an average of 16 percent, and up to 70 percent in some locations.
In related research, our team has also shown that coastal ecosystems can be highly cost-effective for risk reduction and adaptation along the U.S. Gulf Coast, particularly as part of a portfolio of green (natural) and gray (engineered) solutions.
Reducing risk through conservation
Our research shows that we can measure the reduction in flood risks that coastal ecosystems provide. This is a central concern for the risk and insurance industry and for coastal managers. We have shown that these risk reduction benefits are significant, and that there is a strong case for conserving and protecting our coastal ecosystems.
The next step is to use these benefits to create incentives for wetland conservation and restoration. Homeowners and municipalities could receive reductions on insurance premiums for managing wetlands. Post-storm spending should include more support for this natural infrastructure. And new financial tools such as resilience bonds, which provide incentives for investing in measures that reduce risk, could support wetland restoration efforts too.
Improving long-term resilience
Increasingly, communities are also beginning to consider ways to improve long-term resilience as they assess their recovery options.
There is often a strong desire to return to the status quo after a disaster. More often than not, this means rebuilding seawalls and concrete barriers. But these structures are expensive, will need constant upgrades as as sea levels rise, and can damage coastal ecosystems.
Even after suffering years of damage, Florida’s mangrove wetlands and coral reefs play crucial roles in protecting the state from hurricane surges and waves. And yet, over the last six decades urban development has eliminated half of Florida’s historic mangrove habitat. Losses are still occurring across the state from the Keys to Tampa Bay and Miami.
Protecting and nurturing these natural first lines of defense could help Florida homeowners reduce property damage during future storms. In the past two years our team has worked with the private sector and government agencies to help translate these risk reduction benefits into action for rebuilding natural defenses.
Across the United States, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, coastal communities face a crucial question: Can they rebuild in ways that make them better prepared for the next storm, while also conserving the natural resources that make these locations so valuable? Our work shows that the answer is yes.
This is an updated version of an article originally published on Sept. 25, 2017.
I wish insurance companies would not insure any new houses or developments that put these natural habitats in danger, and if … I mean when … existing structures are damaged by hurricanes, insurance payouts should only be allowed to go toward finding and funding housing elsewhere for the displaced. If people choose to rebuild in the same spot after these policies, then they should suffer the consequences.
Giant mosquitoes flourish in floodwaters that hurricanes leave behind
October 11, 2018
Assistant Professor of Entomology, North Carolina State University
Michael Reiskind receives funding from North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
North Carolina State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
After Hurricane Florence, reports started rolling in of “giant mosquito” sightings – and bitings – throughout North Carolina. What’s going on with these mega mosquitoes that can be as big as a quarter?
As a mosquito biologist, I often get asked to identify a mosquito based upon someone’s verbal report of the little buggers. I usually do OK with an educated guess based on descriptions like “It had striped legs, and was brown” or “It looked kind of purple.”
What I have always struggled with is when someone says “It was little” or “It was pretty big.” For the most part, size is not a good identifying feature of the common mosquitoes Americans encounter close to home.
This is because you can grow relatively large mosquitoes or small ones just depending on the conditions where they grow up – what entomologists call their larval environment. If the larval environment has few other competing mosquitoes, or is rich in nutrients, or has a cool temperature, the result is larger adult mosquitoes.
There are a couple of species of mosquitoes that are truly gigantic, though. If someone says they saw a big mosquito, and I follow up with “big for a mosquito, or too big to even be a mosquito?” and they say “too big to be a mosquito, but it was biting me,” then I know we truly have one of a couple species of “giant” mosquitoes.
Under normal circumstances, these giant, biting mosquitoes – known locally here in North Carolina as “gallinippers” or scientifically as Psorophora ciliata or Psorophora howardi – are quite rare. They are two of about 175 species of mosquitoes we have in the United States. Their moment in the spotlight comes after major flooding events, like we had with Hurricane Florence. These mosquitoes can be as much as three times larger than their more typical cousins.
The gallinippers belong to a genus of mosquitoes that specialize in responding to floods. Females produce lots of eggs, which they spread out around areas that might flood, such as wet meadows, floodplain forests or even agricultural land. Those eggs are resistant to desiccation – that is, they aren’t damaged by dry conditions – so they can wait around for a flood the following year, forming an “egg bank.” The eggs are fertilized as the female lays them, from sperm she’s stored during mating. In order to get the blood meals necessary to make many eggs, these mosquitoes are aggressive feeders on mammals, and maybe other vertebrates occasionally.
But evolving to a giant size doesn’t seem necessary to carry out these tasks. Indeed, many other species in this genus are not giants; they’re more typically mosquito-sized. So what separates the gallinipper?
One possibility is the fact that gallinippers, as larvae, prey on other mosquito larvae. Perhaps their size is an adaptation to consuming other floodwater mosquitoes, allowing them to more easily capture and consume smaller species? The more typical-sized mosquitoes that use floodwaters are not predators. Size may also allow them to produce many more eggs, which can also be an advantage when the floodwaters come.
Gallinippers have a painful bite that is usually well noticed by human victims, so the large numbers that emerged after Florence have received lots of attention.
While being bitten by a giant mosquito may not seem like a great thing, there are reasons to take heart. First, these mosquitoes likely get just one good blood meal in their lives, limiting their ability to transmit a pathogen. As far as entomologists know, they don’t transmit any pathogens to people. And since, as larvae, these giants eat other mosquitoes, maybe one big bite is worth 10 small ones? Finally, it’s a great post-hurricane brag to announce “I got bit by a giant freakin’ mosquito!”
Other good news is that the adults likely don’t live more than a couple of weeks, so the great boom of mosquitoes from Florence is winding down. Of course, now it looks like Hurricane Michael may bring about another round of gallinippers. Winter does end the most immediate threat, but all those eggs are still out there, awaiting next year’s floodwaters.