Pablo Figueroa, of Punta Santiago in Puerto Rico, keeps his belongings wedged into a corner of his home, the only spot where the roof remains after Hurricane Maria destroyed his home. Photo: The New York Times

By Frances Robles and Jugal K. Patel
20 September 2018

PUNTA SANTIAGO, P.R. (The New York Times) – When it rains, Maritza Cruz Sánchez springs into a well-rehearsed, 30-minute ritual: She climbs a ladder to where her roof used to be and sucks on a hose to siphon puddles from the plastic tarp suspended over her house.

The tarp is held aloft by a few thin wooden posts, which have begun to warp and now seem almost certain to collapse. The temporary contraption that shelters Ms. Cruz and what little she still owns has been in place since March.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency gave her $6,000 to replace waterlogged belongings, but nothing to help make her house habitable again.

“I am thankful for the little they gave me,” she said, “but thanks for nothing.”

A year ago, on Sept. 20, the deadliest storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 100 years slammed into the island’s southeast coast, just 14 miles south of where Ms. Cruz lives in Punta Santiago. The tourist and fishing town of 5,000 people bore a terrible share of Maria’s initial fury.

Almost 650 houses flooded with water from the sea; others were inundated by an overflowing lake, a river, and two ponds — and also raw sewage. Many homes lost walls and roofs in winds that reached 155 miles per hour when the storm made landfall.

An aerial photo of Punta Santiago’s handwritten, desperate “S.O.S.” plea, taken in the early days after the storm, circulated around the world. When the Puerto Rico government kicked off a recent public relations campaign to highlight a year of recovery, it did it here. A new sign in town reads: “Bienvenidos. #Covertheprogress.”

Number of Puerto Rico households that sought help from FEMA after Hurricane Maria, compared with the number that received a grant for repairs. Of those who received a repair grant, most got a small amount. The median grant was $1,800. About two-thirds received less than $3,000. Data: OpenFEMA, data as of 30 August 2018. Graphic: The New York Times

Times journalists visited 163 homes in two neighborhoods in Punta Santiago to cover what progress had been made in the last 12 months.

They found a community with signs of fresh paint and, in some of the middle-class parts of town, rebuilt rooms and new furniture.

But in neighborhoods where residents live on meager pensions and disability checks, there were gutted kitchens and electrical wires running randomly along unfinished walls. Roofs were covered with plywood or plastic, many near collapse. Some houses still had no running water. A number of families lived in single rooms in unfurnished houses, sleeping on the floor.

Leomida Uniel, 82, the walls of her house stained in black mold that gave her a lung infection, was sitting on her porch, sobbing. Gilberto Díaz and his wife, María Carrión, were bathing and washing dishes with the aid of a neighbor’s hose stuck through a window. Roberto Albino had an inch of water inside his house.

“They did a ‘magnificent job.’ President Trump says so himself,” Ms. Cruz said. “Have him come say that to my face.” [more]

On Hurricane Maria Anniversary, Puerto Rico Is Still in Ruins

In this handout photo provided by Philippine Red Cross-Cebu Chapter, Red Cross volunteers treat a victim after she was pulled out of her house that was struck by a landslide in Naga city, Cebu province central Philippines on Thursday, 20 September 2018. A Philippine official says several people were killed and more are feared buried in a landslide that hit two villages amid heavy rains in the central Philippines. Photo: Philippine Red Cross, Cebu Chapter / AP

By Bullit Marquez and Joeal Calupitan
20 September 2018

NAGA, Philippines (AP) – A massive landslide buried dozens of homes near a central Philippine mountain Thursday, killing at least 15 people and sending rescuers scrambling to find survivors after some sent text messages pleading for help.

The slide surged down on about 30 houses in two rural villages after daybreak in Naga city in Cebu province, Roderick Gonzales, the city police chief, told The Associated Press by telephone as he helped supervise the search and rescue. Seven injured villagers were rescued from the huge mound of earth and debris.
Some victims still managed to send text messages after the landslide hit, Gonzales said, adding elderly women and a child were among the dead.

Naga city Mayor Kristine Vanessa Chiong said by telephone that at least 64 people remained missing.
"We're really hoping we can still recover them alive," she said.

The landslide hit while several northern Philippine provinces were still dealing with deaths and widespread damage wrought by Typhoon Mangkhut, which pummeled the agricultural region Saturday and left at least 88 people dead and more than 60 missing. A massive search was still underway for dozens of people feared dead after landslides in the gold-mining town of Itogon in the north.

Cebu province was not directly hit by Mangkhut but the massive typhoon helped intensify monsoon rains across a large part of the archipelago, including the central region, where Naga city lies about 570 kilometers (353 miles) southeast of Manila.

Rescuers there were treading carefully in small groups on the unstable ground to avoid further casualties.

"We're running out of time. The ground in the area is still vibrating. We're striking a balance between intensifying our rescue efforts and ensuring the safety of our rescuers," Naga city Councilor Carmelino Cruz said by phone. [more]

New landslide kills 21, buries houses in Philippines

A man receives medical treatment after he fell off a tree at the Hambach forest in Kerpen, Germany, Wednesday, 19 September 2018. Activists are protesting against the expansion of a coal strip mine in western Germany that would entail the chopping down of an ancient forest. Photo: Christophe Gateau / dpa / AP

BERLIN, 19 September 2018 (AP) – Authorities in western Germany say they’re suspending the eviction of protesters from a threatened forest after a journalist fell to his death.

Police said Wednesday the young man plunged at least 15 meters (50 feet) from a rope bridge strung between two treehouses in Hambach forest in what appeared to be a “tragic accident.”

The government of North Rhine-Westphalia state later announced it was halting work to clear the forest, which is to make way for a coal mine.

Environmentalists have been trying to prevent the ancient woodland from being chopped down, arguing that Germany should stop extracting and burning fossil fuels.

Dozens of protesters have been camping in the trees in recent weeks, while hundreds more have tried to enter the woods to stop workers from preparing the clearance.

German police halt forest eviction after journalist dies


Activists kneel after a man fell off a tree house at the Hambach forest in Kerpen, Germany, Wednesday, 19 September 2018. People are protesting against the expansion of a coal strip mine in western Germany that would entail the chopping down of an ancient forest. Photo: Christophe Gateau / dpa / AP

20 September 2018 (Democracy Now) – In Germany, a journalist has died while covering the eviction of protesters from the Hambach Forest. For the past six years activists have occupied the forest in an attempt to stop the planned expansion of a nearby open-pit coal mine. But over the past two weeks German police have been clearing the protest encampment—evicting activists from their treehouses. The journalist died after falling from a bridge connecting two treehouses. On Sunday, nine environmental activists were injured as police tried to remove them from the treehouses.

Germany: Journalist Dies While Covering Hambach Forest Occupation

A protest against the Keystone XL pipeline in Washington, D.C. Photo: Gary Cameron / Reuters

By Will Parrish and Sam Levin
20 September 2018

(The Guardian) – Angeline Cheek is preparing for disaster. The indigenous organizer from the Fort Peck reservation in Montana fears that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline could break and spill, destroy her tribe’s water, and desecrate sacred Native American sites.

But environmental catastrophe is not the most immediate threat.

The government has characterized pipeline opponents like her as “extremists” and violent criminals and warned of potential “terrorism”, according to recently released records.

The documents suggested that police were organizing to launch an aggressive response to possible Keystone protests, echoing the actions against the Standing Rock movement in North Dakota. There, officers engaged in intense surveillance and faced widespread accusations of excessive force and brutality.

“We have to stay one step ahead at all times,” said Cheek, a Hunkpapa and Oglala Lakota activist and teacher. “History is repeating itself.”

The proposed TransCanada project would carry a daily load of 830,000 barrels of oil over 1,204 miles – from Alberta, Canada to Montana, South Dakota and Nebraska, linking to the existing Keystone pipeline and Texas refineries. The path of the project, which was revived by Donald Trump last year, would cross dozens of rivers and streams and run near a number of Native American reservations, sparking legal challenges and a judge’s recent order for a full environmental review.

If the pipeline gets final approvals and construction advances in the coming months, some are anticipating massive demonstrations similar to the fight against the Dakota Access pipeline (Dapl). That conflict galvanized a global movement, but also led to FBI monitoring and the prolonged prosecution of hundreds of activists.

Documents obtained by the ACLU of Montana and reviewed by the Guardian have renewed concerns from civil rights advocates about the government’s treatment of indigenous activists known as water protectors.

Notably, one record revealed that authorities hosted a recent “anti-terrorism” training session in Montana. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency also organized a “field force operations” training to teach “mass-arrest procedures”, “riot-control formations” and other “crowd-control methods”. [more]

'Treating protest as terrorism': US plans crackdown on Keystone XL activists

A young activist hides on a tree from police, who is clearing treehouses in the forest ‘Hambacher Forst’ near Dueren, Germany, Thursday, 13 September 2018. Young environmentalists fight against German energy company RWE, who plans clearing and grubbing the old forest for their open-pit lignite mine nearby to continue digging for brown coal. Photo: Martin Meissner / Associated Press

By Martin Meissner and David Rising 
13 September 2018

KERPEN, Germany (AP) – German police forcibly removed protesters from tree houses Thursday as they sought to free the way for parts of an ancient forest to be cleared next month for new coal strip mining.

Police were hoisted on platforms by cranes to the up-to 25-meter (80-foot) high tree houses constructed on wooden tripods in the forest’s canopy.

In one case a protester was guided by police off the treehouse onto a platform that had been hoisted up to the same level by a crane, then lowered to the forest floor.

Hundreds of police and water cannon trucks were on hand for the operation that began in the morning in the 12,000-year-old forest near the town of Kerpen, southwest of Cologne.

Using megaphones, police warned the protesters they had to remove their tree homes or face being removed.

Activists rejected as “ridiculous” local authorities’ contention that the homes constituted a fire hazard.

“The destruction of the Hambach forest is intolerable,” activist Jan Puetz told the dpa news agency, saying they planned “actions of mass civil disobedience.”

“Through this form of protest we are taking our future into our own hands,” he said.

By Thursday evening, two activists had been removed from the trees and four makeshift houses had been cleared and destroyed, dpa reported.

Police reported that one officer was slightly injured in skirmishes with activists who threw Molotov cocktails and stones. Several supporters blocked roads leading to the forest and one police car was damaged during the protests, dpa reported.

Power company RWE wants to start cutting down half the forest next month to expand a lignite strip mine. [more]

German forest standoff: Police clear protester tree homes

The village of Watch Post, in the Munduruku Amazon Territory, in January 2018. The village has been swallowed by the heavy equipment of hundreds of illegal gold miners (called garimpeiros). What was once a few huts hidden in the Amazon forest now resembles a bombed battlefield. Photo: Fabiano Maisonnave / Climate Home News

By Jason Hickel
12 September 2018

(Foreign Policy) – Warnings about ecological breakdown have become ubiquitous. Over the past few years, major newspapers, including the Guardian and the New York Times, have carried alarming stories on soil depletion, deforestation, and the collapse of fish stocks and insect populations. These crises are being driven by global economic growth, and its accompanying consumption, which is destroying the Earth’s biosphere and blowing past key planetary boundaries that scientists say must be respected to avoid triggering collapse.

Many policymakers have responded by pushing for what has come to be called “green growth.” All we need to do, they argue, is invest in more efficient technology and introduce the right incentives, and we’ll be able to keep growing while simultaneously reducing our impact on the natural world, which is already at an unsustainable level. In technical terms, the goal is to achieve “absolute decoupling” of GDP from the total use of natural resources, according to the U.N. definition.

It sounds like an elegant solution to an otherwise catastrophic problem. There’s just one hitch: New evidence suggests that green growth isn’t the panacea everyone has been hoping for. In fact, it isn’t even possible.

Green growth first became a buzz phrase in 2012 at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. In the run-up to the conference, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and the U.N. Environment Program all produced reports promoting green growth. Today, it is a core plank of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

But the promise of green growth turns out to have been based more on wishful thinking than on evidence. In the years since the Rio conference, three major empirical studies have arrived at the same rather troubling conclusion: Even under the best conditions, absolute decoupling of GDP from resource use is not possible on a global scale.

A team of scientists led by the German researcher Monika Dittrich first raised doubts in 2012. The group ran a sophisticated computer model that predicted what would happen to global resource use if economic growth continued on its current trajectory, increasing at about 2 to 3 percent per year. It found that human consumption of natural resources (including fish, livestock, forests, metals, minerals, and fossil fuels) would rise from 70 billion metric tons per year in 2012 to 180 billion metric tons per year by 2050. For reference, a sustainable level of resource use is about 50 billion metric tons per year—a boundary we breached back in 2000.

The team then reran the model to see what would happen if every nation on Earth immediately adopted best practice in efficient resource use (an extremely optimistic assumption). The results improved; resource consumption would hit only 93 billion metric tons by 2050. But that is still a lot more than we’re consuming today. Burning through all those resources could hardly be described as absolute decoupling or green growth.

In 2016, a second team of scientists tested a different premise: one in which the world’s nations all agreed to go above and beyond existing best practice. In their best-case scenario, the researchers assumed a tax that would raise the global price of carbon from $50 to $236 per metric ton and imagined technological innovations that would double the efficiency with which we use resources. The results were almost exactly the same as in Dittrich’s study. Under these conditions, if the global economy kept growing by 3 percent each year, we’d still hit about 95 billion metric tons of resource use by 2050. Bottom line: no absolute decoupling.

Finally, last year the U.N. Environment Program—once one of the main cheerleaders of green growth theory—weighed in on the debate. It tested a scenario with carbon priced at a whopping $573 per metric ton, slapped on a resource extraction tax, and assumed rapid technological innovation spurred by strong government support. The result? We hit 132 billion metric tons by 2050. This finding is worse than those of the two previous studies because the researchers accounted for the “rebound effect,” whereby improvements in resource efficiency drive down prices and cause demand to rise—thus canceling out some of the gains. [more]

Why Growth Can’t Be Green

A year after Hurricane Maria, homes remain in ruins along the beach in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Photo: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

By Paloma Esquivel
20 September 2018

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Los Angeles Times) – The rain falling into Bianca Cruz Pichardo’s home in Puerto Rico’s capital forms a small stream from her living room to the kitchen, past a cabinet elevated by cinder blocks.

The living room is dark, save for some light coming from the kitchen and a bedroom. The 25-year-old cannot bring herself to install light bulbs in the ceiling’s sockets because she fears being electrocuted.

For a year, her landlord in San Juan has told her he will repair damage caused when Hurricane Maria ripped through the island last September, she said, but still nothing. The worst of the rain is kept out by a blue tarp that serves as a temporary roof.

“He says, ‘This week I’ll bring the materials over,’” she said recently. “But he doesn’t do anything.”

Throughout Puerto Rico, the destruction caused by the devastating wind and rain generated by the Category 4 hurricane a year ago Thursday still shapes daily life.

Thousands of families rely on the blue tarps to protect themselves and their homes while awaiting repairs, many residents face financial struggles exacerbated by the storm, neighborhoods are dotted with shuttered schools and abandoned homes, and some residents can’t help worrying about whether they’ll survive when the next storm hits.

Hurricane Maria led to nearly 3,000 deaths, sent residents on desperate searches for food, water and medical treatment, knocked out electricity in many areas for months and damaged hundreds of thousands of homes. It caused thousands of residents of the U.S. territory to move to the mainland to protect themselves and their families. [more]

A year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico still struggles to regain what hasn’t been lost for good — while fearing the next big one

An aerial view shows the flooded neighborhood of Juana Matos in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Catano, Puerto Rico, on 22 September 2017. Photo: Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Images

By Maria Socorro Oyola
20 September 2018

(NBC News) – In the days and weeks after Hurricane Maria, friends and family never turned their backs on me. Through all the havoc that these storms brought to Puerto Rico and to the Puerto Rican people, I cannot quite put into words how it felt to know that I had so many people who cared so much about me in my time of need. The emotional and economic support my children and I received was overwhelming to say the least. I'll never be able to repay their kindness, but should they need me, I hope I will be able to be there for them.

But while I am eternally grateful for my friends, this is not necessarily a happy story. Although it could be a hopeful one.

After the hurricane, I was ready to help rebuild Puerto Rico. I didn't criticize those that headed to the states for an easier life, but personally I wanted to stay. I didn't want to leave and come back to a homeland rebuilt by others. But as time passed, I started to get worried.

Two months after the hurricane, when the school finally reopened, I would drop my kids off in the mornings on my way to work only to have them call me two hours later asking to be picked up again. They would tell me: "Mom, they let us out early because the math teacher didn't come to work and neither did the English teacher and the Spanish teacher had to leave early." Every day there was a different excuse. Various teachers were absent or there wasn't water or electricity.

I started to wonder if I was being selfish in wanting to stay. I owed my children a life, with a decent education and opportunities that just weren't available in Puerto Rico any more. It was tough before the hurricane, I won't lie. But now? My twins were in 9th grade and my oldest was in 11th. They didn't have time to lose.

When I was six years old, my mother chose to move my family to the U.S. to give us a chance at a better life. Now it was time for me to do the same. [more]

Hurricane Maria, one year later: Why I had to leave Puerto Rico, and why I still struggle with that decision

A house is surrounded by floodwaters from Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, N.C., Monday, 17 September 2018. Photo: Gerald Herbert / AP Photo

By Bob Henson 
17 September 2018

(Weather Underground) – Almost three weeks since it was first classified by the National Hurricane Center, Tropical Depression Florence is spreading heavy rain and flood risk toward the Northeast U.S., and its aftermath is still plaguing the Carolinas. Florence, which is being tracked by the NOAA/NWS Weather Prediction Center (WPC), was centered on Monday morning near the Ohio/Kentucky/West Virginia intersection, heading northeast at 15 mph. Winds are no longer a major problem with Florence, as top sustained winds are just 25 mph, but rains are still a big concern, mainly well to the northeast and east of Florence’s center.

Widespread 2” – 4” rains, with pockets up to 6”, will envelop much of the interior mid-Atlantic on Monday and southern New England on Tuesday. WPC has a moderate risk of flash-flood-producing rains for Monday along a swath from northwest Virginia to south-central New York, with a slight-risk area encompassing most of the interior mid-Atlantic. The main threat north of the Carolinas is for flash flooding, although moderate river flooding was already occurring along the South River at Waynesboro and is expected by Wednesday along the Potomac at Edwards Ferry.

River flood woes will extend all week in the Carolinas

Before they can even start on recovering from Florence, folks in the hardest-hit parts of southern North Carolina and adjacent South Carolina have days of river flooding to contend with. All road transport to the region’s largest city, Wilmington, was cut off by floodwaters on Sunday, which prompted officials to explore whether supplies might need to be airlifted to the city’s 120,000 residents. Road access to Wilmington was reopened on Monday, though it may again be lost by Tuesday as river flooding begins to peak, according to the state transportation director and Governor Roy Cooper.

At least five record river crests had already been established by Monday afternoon, all of them topping records established during either Hurricane Floyd (1999) or Hurricane Matthew (2016). Most of these are predicted to remain above the previous record levels throughout this week. Records set as of early Monday afternoon include:

Time series for Wilmington, NC accumulated precipitation, 17 September 2018. Data has a 1-2 day lag here. Over 80” so far, has surpassed previous record. Graphic: Jared Rennie

Other rivers expecting record or near-record flooding this week include the Cape Fear River at Fayetteville, NC; the Neuse River at Kinston, NC; the Waccamaw River near Conway, SC; and the Pee Dee River at Cheraw, SC.

At least 20 deaths have been attributed to Florence, including 14 in North Carolina and six in South Carolina. See the weather.com roundup for more on Florence’s impacts.

Tallying the titanic totals from Florence’s rains

The largest reliably observed storm total from Florence as of Monday morning was 34.00” from a CoCoRaHS observer just north of Swansboro, NC. Another CoCoRaHS observer near Elizabethtown reported 35.93”, but NOAA was still in the process of confirming that total on Monday afternoon. Either way, the old record for tropical cyclone rainfall in North Carolina has been definitively smashed. Likewise, a new preliminary state record for tropical cyclone rain in South Carolina has been set with a CoCoRaHS report of 23.63” in Loris, SC. [more]

Carolinas Struggle After Florence's 1-in-1000-Year Rains

 

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