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Thursday, September 21

Only about half of Puerto Rican homes have wind damage insurance

One of the reports I saw yesterday mentioned in passing that Puerto Rico's electrical grid was "crumbling" even before Maria knocked out power across the entire island yesterday. So I venture that a top priority for any U.S. aid to the island should be shoring up and repairing the island's electrical system.      

Hurricane Maria Exposes a Common Problem for Puerto Rico Homeowners: No Insurance
Only about half of houses on the island are covered by policies that protect against wind damage
By Leslie Scism and Nicole Friedman
Sept. 20, 2017 - 4:51 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal


Many Puerto Rican homeowners don’t have insurance policies to help with rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Maria, making the economically depressed island’s recovery more difficult.
Only about 50% of houses in the U.S. territory are covered by policies that protect against wind damage, which is far less than is typical across the U.S., according to catastrophe-risk-modeling firm AIR Worldwide.
Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, made landfall on the island early Wednesday after tearing through Dominica. Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Irma, which knocked out power in many households.
Rebuilding communities is a lot more difficult without insurance proceeds, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a national insurance-focused consumer nonprofit based in California. “In terms of straight-up cash to pay for the work that has to be done, insurance funds are the best source for most people after a disaster,” she said.
In the mainland U.S., owning a house without insurance to pay for catastrophic wind damage is fairly uncommon, insurance executives and agents said, though high deductibles can leave people with large out-of-pocket expenses. And many U.S. homeowners whose houses are flooded lack the specialized policies of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Puerto Rican homeowners without insurance coverage will have to rely on their own money, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington and other public or charitable sources as the island faces what is widely expected to be billions of dollars of damage. On Monday, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, opening the door to federal assistance.
The lower penetration of homeowners insurance reflects that annual income averages about $20,000 in Puerto Rico, which is about a third of roughly $59,000 in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The U.S. territory skidded into bankruptcy in the spring after more than a decade of economic distress.
Banks require people with mortgages to take out homeowners policies to protect the bank’s financial interest. Puerto Rico, with a population of more than 3 million, has just over 500,000 active mortgages, according to Black Knight Financial Services, a mortgage and real-estate technology and data provider.
Many older homes in the Caribbean have been “passed down through generations in a family [and are] unlikely to have insurance,” said Tom Sabbatelli, senior product manager at Risk Management Solutions, another risk-modeling firm.
A lot of these smaller homes in some poorer communities “are going to feature far less take-up of insurance” compared with homes owned by expatriates or commercial buildings, Mr. Sabbatelli said. Insured properties in the Caribbean tend to be newer, more expensive and of better quality than uninsured buildings, he said.
Puerto Rican homes are often built with reinforced concrete and can withstand some high-speed winds, experts said. But “with this one, I’m sure there’s going to be significant damages,” said Brian O’Larte, associate director at ratings firm A.M. Best, on Tuesday.
Local insurance firms dominate Puerto Rico’s home-insurance marketplace. The biggest by premium are Universal Insurance Group of Puerto Rico, Mapfre SA and Cooperativa Seguros Group, according to A.M. Best. Puerto Rican insurers tend to buy a lot of “reinsurance,” which kicks in from specialty insurers contracted to cover losses above designated levels.
“There’s really no recent experience” in Puerto Rico with a hurricane of this intensity, said Alexis Sanchez, chief operating officer at Mapfre Puerto Rico.
Based on forecasts for Maria, Mr. Sanchez said, “it’s going to affect, probably, an area with the highest concentration of people and values, which is the northeast part of the island.”

[the report continues with considerable detail and advice about insurance policies in Puerto Rico]
— Coulter Jones contributed to this article.

Tragedy in Paradise


Puerto Rican rescue team member Jonathan Cruz in tears as Hurricane Maria devastates his homeland


What's incredible is that so far there have only been nine deaths reported across all the Caribbean islands struck by Maria. But the swath of destruction in a region that is a vacation paradise is also incredible, almost beyond imagination. Now all the people who regularly vacationed in the region must acknowledge that paradise has a price, and pitch in to help.  

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"Hurricane Maria regains strength, heads for Bahamas"

God, that's still a mean looking storm
Maria, as it moved away from Puerto Rico 

NASA


From the CBS video report at their website: The only lights you see in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital, are from generators. Lights are out across the entire island. The Governor is asking the United States for as many generators as can be spared.   

Last Updated Sep 21, 2017 2:42 AM EDT
CBS News



Above chart provided by the National Hurricane Center [NHC] shows the projected path of Hurricane Maria, with the storm centered 55 miles north of the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic at 2 a.m. Eastern, Sept. 21, 2017. NHC

Hurricane Maria continued to lash Puerto Rico with torrential rain early Thursday morning as the storm gained strength and moved toward the Dominican Republic.

Weather conditions in the Dominican Republic were expected to begin deteriorating Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is expected to brush the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic early Thursday before heading for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas from Thursday night into Friday.
Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore Wednesday morning near the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. It punished the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for several hours, the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico has felt the wrath of a hurricane.

"Once we're able to go outside, we're going to find our island destroyed," warned Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico's emergency management director. "The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything in its path."

As people waited in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms and closets, Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs and unloaded at least 20 inches of rain.

Follow along below for live updates on the storm. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted.

2:38 a.m.: Maria regains major hurricane status 

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has regained its major hurricane status, rising to a Category 3 storm early Thursday.

An update from the Miami-based center says maximum sustained winds have increased to near 115 mph with higher gusts.

Maria's fierce core was centered about 55 miles northeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It will continue to move away from Puerto Rico during the next several hours, and then pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic early Thursday. Maria should then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas tonight and Friday.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria hit. Mr. Trump's action early Thursday makes federal funding available to people on the island of St. Croix.



11:18 p.m.: Trump tweets "Stay safe!" to Puerto Rico

President Trump again tweeted about Hurricane Maria, writing "we are with you and the people of Puerto Rico" to Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

Earlier Wednesday Rossello asked Mr. Trump to declare the island a disaster zone, a step that would open the way to federal aid.


11:11 p.m.: Maria moving away from Puerto Rico, but torrential rains continue

The National Hurricane Center said Maria is moving away Puerto Rico, but the island is still being slammed by torrential rains.

Maria is expected to bring 20 to 30 inches of rain through Saturday to Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said. Strong gusty winds are still occurring over portions of Puerto Rico, but should continue to gradually subside.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, making it a strong Category 2 storm [now Category 3]. The eye of Maria is moving away from Puerto Rico, heading toward the Dominican Republic and then is expected to move toward Turks and Caicos.

10 p.m.: Coastal city sees hundreds of homes destroyed in Puerto Rico

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 percent of the 454 homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. The fishing community near San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.

"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," he said.
8:40 p.m.: Officials say tourists should delay visit to Caribbean territory

The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism says people who want to visit the Caribbean territory should postpone their trip while authorities assess the effects of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix and recover from the damage to St. Thomas and St. John from Hurricane Irma.

The department says Hurricane Maria brought heavy rainfall and flooding to St. Croix when it passed to the south of the island and communications throughout the islands are limited.

There were no immediate reports Wednesday of any casualties from the storm on St. Croix.

[END REPORT]


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Matt Drudge gets to indulge his inner Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana


Our Man on the Internet


I wouldn't link to Media Matters if you paid me so you'll have to make do with the following blurb at the Daily Beast, which quotes the MM hit job, or today's Drudge Report. In brief:
The Drudge Report, the right-wing news-aggregator, has linked to Russian propaganda websites nearly 400 times since 2012, according to a new study by progressive watchdog group [Soros flunkies] Media Matters.
While the study found that Drudge promoted dozens of Russian propaganda articles each year, the number of linked articles increased to 79 at the start of the U.S. presidential race in 2015. The figure jumped in 2016 to 122 articles, which covered a wide range of U.S. and international topics that fit Kremlin interests. So far this year, Drudge has promoted only 45 Russian propaganda-outlet articles.
Matt is obviously having a good time with the story. But he forgot to set the briefcase on the bench. 
Our Man In Havana (1958) is a novel [and 1959 film] set in Cuba by the British author Graham Greene. He makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6, and their willingness to believe reports from their local informants.
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Wednesday, September 20

Mexico: "Hundreds of volunteers under the leadership of nobody in particular"

"Officials, overwhelmed by the number of Mexicans trying to help, redirected them to other zones."

"Mony de Swaan, a resident who was coordinating the relief center by the light of cellphones ..."

Thank you reporter Kirk Semple and The New York Times for highlighting the inspiring story of Mexicans' response to a devastating earthquake. 


Volunteers remove rubble from a collapsed building in Condesa. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Rescue workers and volunteers searched for survivors in the Condesa neighborhood of Mexico City late Tuesday. Photo: Adriana Zehbrauskas/The New York Times

Mexico City Volunteers Venture Out in Force to Aid Quake Victims
By Kirk Semple
September 20, 2017
The New York Times

MEXICO CITY — They arrived alone, in pairs or in groups. Some brought supplies others might need: water, blankets, medicine, tools. Others came with nothing more than able hands and a sense of purpose.
And as midnight neared on Tuesday — hours after a powerful, deadly earthquake struck central Mexico — Parque España, the verdant refuge of dog-walkers and young lovers in the Condesa neighborhood of the capital, had become the venue for something else: a frenetic, impromptu relief center, where hundreds of volunteers, under the leadership of nobody in particular, had created an emergency distribution point for food and supplies.
“It’s very characteristic of the Mexican people: We stand together,” said Christian Piñeiro, 21, a medical student, who was helping a team of doctors hand out medication. Behind him, in the darkness, supplies were being frantically passed along bucket lines of volunteers that snaked from one side of the park to the other.
“Independent of the fact that there are gangs and crime,” Mr. Piñeiro continued, “the people unify against adversity.”
The earthquake killed more than 200 people in several states, flattened dozens of buildings in Mexico City alone and damaged thousands of others. Among the dead were more than two-dozen school children. The quake, which came two weeks after another devastating temblor off the country’s southern coast, was centered about 100 miles from the capital and was followed by at least 11 aftershocks.
Millions of people were left without electricity, and President Enrique Peña Nieto said emergency workers were being sent to affected areas.
Throughout much of Mexico City on Tuesday, nightfall brought an eerie quietude, as businesses closed early and people sought the succor of their families at home. But in the hardest hit neighborhoods, the landscape was different: blocks cast in darkness from power failures were punctuated by nodes of intense activity.
On another block in Condesa, a traffic circle had been converted into a small, noisy redistribution point. Trucks, cars, motorcycles arrived, a couple every minute, to drop off supplies, which were sorted, repackaged and sent back out into the city.
Many of the volunteers were from the surrounding blocks, while others had traveled from farther away. It was a scrum of hustle and loud voices; the energy belied the hour but underscored the urgency.
“We’re neighbors,” said Magdalena Camarillo, 27, an internet technology programmer, who was helping to receive and load packages.
It was as though the collective memory of the devastating 1985 earthquake seemed to animate the city: Back then, the authorities failed to act quickly and citizens took the lead in what is now considered the birth of civil society in Mexico.
“This is what I did 30 years ago, because it’s a way I know I can help,” said Marta García as she handed coffee and snacks to police officers, paramedics, volunteers and passers-by near a collapsed residential building in the Del Valle neighborhood.
The federal and local governments reacted much faster this time around, but as midnight neared, there was still a considerable sense of improvisation.
People milling near several affected sites in Del Valle were unsure where to leave the donated water, food, blankets and first aid kits. Officials, overwhelmed by the number of Mexicans trying to help, redirected them to other zones.
“Right now there really aren’t any instructions from the top down or anything,” said Monica Valerio, a teacher and the member of a cycling group that coordinated a rubble-clearing crew on social media. “There are more pairs of hands that we know what to do with, which is amazing, but we also need to find order among the mess to help more efficiently.”
On a grassy avenue in Condesa, hundreds more gathered in an effort to help clear the rubble of a collapsed eight-story apartment building. Under the glare of portable floodlights, in air thick with dust, the volunteers had formed long lines to pass five-gallon buckets full of crumbled concrete, twisted metal and splintered wood to waiting dump trucks.
Sirens whooped in the distance then faded. From time to time, a scrum of rescue workers in jumpsuits and hard hats would stride out of the darkness, moving briskly, then circumnavigate a cat’s-cradle of police tape and disappear around a corner.
In an Art Deco house on Laredo Street in Condesa that normally serves as an office building, an informal command center had been set up for the families of those trapped under the rubble of a building across the street.
Doctors and psychologists waited on call as relatives made their way inside to ask for information. Outside volunteers gathered medicine and water.
Mony de Swaan, a resident who was coordinating the center by the light of cellphones, said that as many as seven people remained trapped. With the help of the building’s doorman who had escaped, he had made a list of residents in the seven-story building.
A young woman approached the table. “My mother’s name is Mari,” she told Mr. de Swaan. “On the second floor.”
He answered her gently. “She is still inside,” he said. “On the second floor, Mari, Lorna and Consuelo are still inside.”
The missing woman, María Ignacia Cruz, had traveled every day from her home in a poor suburb to look after an elderly lady, said Ms. Cruz’s husband, Alberto Arrellano Nicolas, sitting almost mute with worry. His adult daughter and son sat on a sofa, talking quietly with a psychologist as they tried to hold back their tears.
On a darkened street in the Roma Norte neighborhood, away from the commotion of relief efforts, a group of neighbors gathered on the street, sitting on chairs and blankets. The authorities had barred them from returning home because their apartment building adjoined a damaged 
one, putting both structures at risk.
Others in the city, however, were simply too unnerved to return home, out of fear of aftershocks or hidden damage, choosing instead to seek shelter with relatives and friends elsewhere.
The earthquake terrified Silvia Bustamante, 65, too, but she was unwilling to abandon the apartment she has called home for 40 years. So she came up with a compromise: She pitched a tent in the lobby, a few feet from the sidewalk.
“We’re traumatized,” Ms. Bustamante said as she stood outside her building, watching the traffic of relief workers. “I dread the thought of being upstairs and not being able to get down in time.”
Her block lay in darkness. The lights of skyscrapers on the city’s main Reforma Avenue less than a mile away seemed a very distant reminder of normalcy.



"Scientists have run out of adjectives to describe Maria’s devastating power"

That's a first, when a storm can shut up scientists. 

This is a NOAA satellite photo of Maria from about five hours ago, after the storm had 'weakened' passing over Puerto Rico.   

Maria beats up U.S. Virgin islands. Meanwhile Jose ain't dead yet

From Associated Press 'live blogging' report 3:13 PM EDT, The Latest: US Virgin Islands: Maria Tears Away Roofs, Trees: 
No deaths or injuries reported on St. Croix from Hurricane Maria, but full assessment not yet completed.
[...]
In the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Jose's outer rainbands are approaching southern New England's coast. The hurricane center says dangerous surf and rip currents will affect much of the U.S. East Coast for days. Jose, a former hurricane, was about 140 miles (230 kilometers) south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts with top sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). ...

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Maria knocks out all electricity in Puerto Rico "This is just the beginning"

Now comes the river and reservoir flooding and mudslides.

Also, little has been heard from Dominica since Prime Minister Skerrit announced that Maria had carried away the roof of his house; that's because the storm knocked out all phone service and electricity on the island. There's no running water available on the island, either.  

Two passages from a Reuters report updated about 30 minutes ago:
  • "Maria lost some of its power as it moved over land [in Puerto Rico], but its top winds were still 140 mph (220 kph) as it headed off the island, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Shortly before 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT), the eye of the storm was about 15 miles (40 km) west of San Juan, the center said."
  • “When we are able to go outside, we are going to find our island destroyed,” Abner Gomez, the director of the island’s emergency management agency, known by its Spanish language acronym AEMEAD, was quoted as saying by El Nuevo Dia newspaper. “It’s a system that has destroyed everything in its path.”

UPDATED 2:48 PM EDT
Hurricane Maria Live Updates: Puerto Rico Loses Power, Officials Say
By THE NEW YORK TIMES

SAN JUAN, P.R. — Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico with a one-two punch of high winds and driving rain on Wednesday, and sent thousands of people scrambling to shelters.

Electricity was knocked out on the whole island, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management said. The authorities warned weary residents not to let down their guard, because flash flooding and mudslides could be more deadly than the initial winds.

The storm, now a category 3 system, brought new challenges to an island that has been groaning under the weight of a debt crisis that has crippled the public health and infrastructure systems and sent professionals fleeing to the mainland.

More than 500 shelters had been opened, according to the governor, Ricardo Rosselló, though he said he could not vouch for the storm-worthiness of all of those structures.

About 600 people took refuge in one of the biggest, the Robert Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, which was near the center of the storm. Witnesses said the stadium’s roof had come off and the shelter lacked electricity and hot water.

“It’s looking ugly, ugly, ugly over here,” Shania Vargas, a resident of Carolina who sheltered in the stadium, said over the phone. But in a video shared on Twitter by the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz,, she said, “As uncomfortable as we are, we are better off than any other place.”

Here’s the latest:

• The storm made landfall at Yabucoa in Puerto Rico’s southeast shortly after 6 a.m., with winds as strong as 155 m.p.h. It had crossed the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, then weakened slightly but remained “extremely dangerous.”

• Governor Rosselló said that 11,000 people were reported to have gone to shelters, but that the real number was most likely higher.

• Hartley Henry, an adviser to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that there had been seven confirmed deaths from Hurricane Maria on that island. Two people were also killed on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, officials said.
Flooding is a major concern in Puerto Rico

“This is just the beginning,” Gov. Rossello said in an interview with El Nuevo Dia, the largest daily newspaper in Puerto Rico. “We know there are severe damages along different rivers and reservoirs, and water has overflowed from riverbanks, causing flooding,” he added.

The island had not seen a category 4 storm since 1932. As of 2 p.m., Maria’s core was offshore of the northwestern coast of Puerto Rico with 115 m.p.h. winds, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to produce “life-threatening flooding,” with 20 to 25 inches of rain falling in Puerto Rico through Friday and an additional five to 10 inches of rain in the Virgin Islands.

Forecasters warned that winds could strike with more force on the windward sides of hills and mountains and on high-rise buildings. Tornadoes were possible over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and Maria was expected to remain a dangerous hurricane through Friday.

As the storm continued on its northwestward path, tropical storm conditions were expected to begin on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic Wednesday afternoon, worsening into hurricane conditions. The storm would move on to the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas Thursday morning, forecasters said.

Puerto Ricans woke up to strong winds

Residents of Puerto Rico braced for a more direct hit than from Irma, which killed three people there and knocked out power to many.

As the storm moved in, Jerika Llano, 27, took refuge with three family members in her concrete home in Bayamón, a town near the island’s capital. She said the wind was “blowing hard and screaming.”

“Almost all the trees have fallen, and I can see aluminum roofs flying,” she said. “The doors and gates vibrate because of the power of the gusts.”

In the town of Cataño in northern Puerto Rico, several houses lost their zinc roofs and the roof of a church was ripped apart, Felix Delgado Montalvo, the town’s mayor, said on a local radio station.

“My message now is not to leave your houses until the situation is over,” he told listeners.


Federal officials say they are prepared to help

President Trump said on Wednesday that he had “never seen” winds like the ones generated by Hurricane Maria as it made landfall in Puerto Rico.

“We have a big one going right now — I’ve never seen winds like this — in Puerto Rico,” he said as he entered a meeting in New York with King Abdullah II of Jordan. “You take a look at what’s happening there, and it’s just one after another.”

The king extended his “condolences” to residents in the path of the three storms that have hit the United States over the last several weeks, adding, “For us sitting on the outside, looking at how the Americans came together at a difficult time, is really an example to everybody else.”

On CNN, Brock Long, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said that the agency was well positioned to help in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

Mr. Long confirmed that both areas had fragile power systems. “It’s going to be a very frustrating event to get the power back on,” he said.


‘There was howling in every part of this house,’ said a St. Croix resident

Residents of the Virgin Islands, whose homes were damaged by Irmatwo weeks ago, had been urged to find new shelters to ride out Maria.

The storm began pounding the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening, and a flash-flood alert was sent to residents’ cellphones at 10:05 p.m., Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp of the United States Virgin Islands said. He had warned that hurricane-strength winds were likely to batter the islands until Wednesday morning.

The core of the storm passed south of the Virgin Islands, with the outer eyewall lashing St. Croix.

“There was howling in every part of this house,” said Ernice Gilbert, a journalist who lives on the east side of the island. “In my area, the winds were ferocious. But the bulk of the winds were expected to hit strongest in the southwest.”

At one point, he said, the rafters of his house began “cracking,” and part of his wall had cracked. The strong winds forced him to barricade his doors with couches, Mr. Gilbert said.

“That was the scariest portion of the ordeal for me,” he said by telephone.

Maria had battered the island nation of Dominica a day earlier. Prime Minister Skerrit described the damage as “mind-boggling” and wrote on Facebook that he had to be rescued after winds ripped the roof off his official residence. But little information has emerged since then, with the storm having taken out phone and power lines on Dominica.

Luis Ferré-Sadurní reported from San Juan, and Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong. Jonah Engel Bromwich contributed reporting from New York.

[END NYT REPORT]

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A hurricane, an earthquake, a flooded supercity: When infrastructure is everything

As Puerto Rico is pounded by the worst hurricane to hit the island in more than 80 years, Mexicans frantically continue to dig through a collapsed school in a desperate attempt to find survivors of a powerful earthquake that struck yesterday. Meanwhile in India severe flooding from heavy rains brought the megacity of Mumbai, the country's financial hub, to a standstill yesterday for the second time in a month. 

Tracking back a few weeks America's fourth largest city, Houston, was brought to a standstill by catastrophic flooding from an extraordinarily destructive hurricane, and last week almost the entire American state of Florida was brought to a standstill by another extraordinary hurricane, which also wreaked destruction on island nations in the Caribbean.

The great good fortune is that the faultline slippage in Mexico's Puebla Earthquake, as it's been named, was 32 miles deep; if it had been shallow then today we'd be looking at a death toll in the many thousands instead of hundreds (about 230 at latest estimate).

In fact the most extraordinary aspect of the extraordinary natural events over the past few weeks has been the low death tolls. Some of this is simply good fortune, as with the Puebla Earthquake and Hurricane Irma's erratic course across the Caribbean and in Florida. Some of it is due to improved infrastructure and disaster preparedness in the wake of earlier severe natural events. 

And no small part of the low death toll in Houston was due to a rescue effort quickly mustered by a large volunteer force of civilians with boats -- an impromptu effort buttressed by the U.S. Coast Guard's numerous rescue operations by helicopter.

But the truth is that disaster from a powerful hurricane will strike Houston again and again in future. The only way to avoid this is not to have situated what became a large city smack dab in a floodplain in Hurricane Alley. Just as the only way for Mexico City to avoid disaster from future earthquakes is to relocate the capital to a far less seismically active region of the world.

Yet it's to Mumbai we must turn for the other side of being philosophical about humans building in the face of Nature's wrath. It's idiocy for urban sprawl to occur in low lying flood-prone regions that depend on 19th century drainage systems. 

And with earthquakes, no amount of disaster drills and rescue efforts can offset the fragility of structures built to 19th century codes. 

Granted, Mexico has made great improvements in its building modernization since the 1985 earthquake, which killed something like 10,000 people in Mexico City alone. But the number 1 point for earthquake preparedness in this era of urban megapopulations is "Modernize faster and better, you fools."

Same point applies to infrastructures built to offset the worst flooding from storms in today's large cities.

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Bad optics



Tuesday, September 19

Guadeloupe also battered by Hurricane Maria

For damage to Dominica, see Maria caves in roof at Dominica PM's residence, devastates rest of island; Pundita, published 3:16 AM EDT today.

Hurricane Maria video update: powerful winds batter Guadeloupe as storm lashes Caribbean

[see website for very brief footage of the winds striking in the area of Guadeloupe's regional capital city]

HURRICANE MARIA has left a swath of devastation in the Caribbean with shocking video capturing the sheer force of the storm in Guadeloupe.
By DARREN HUNT
PUBLISHED: 09:26 - Sep 19, 2017 
[U.K.] Express

[...]

The path of the Category Four storm [upgraded again to Cat 5 at about 5 AM EDT today] also crashed into Basse-Terre, the capital of Guadeloupe just weeks after Hurricane Irma hit the Caribbean and United States. 

In the shocking footage, winds can be seen battering a car park in Basse-Terre with trees and lampposts shaking in the intense conditions.

The video, posted online from the French local authorities said: “Winds are extremely violent. Stay confined. Don't go out under any circumstances.”

[...]

From Wikipedia:
Guadeloupe (/ɡwɑːdəˈluːp/; French pronunciation: ​[ɡwadəlup]; Antillean Creole: Gwadloup) is an insular region of France located in the Leeward Islands, part of the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean. Administratively, it is an overseas region consisting of a single overseas department. With a land area of 1,628 square kilometres (629 square miles) and an estimated population of 400,132 as of January 2015, it is the largest and most populous European Union territory in North America.

Guadeloupe's two main islands are Basse-Terre to the west and Grande-Terre to the east, which are separated by a narrow strait that is crossed with bridges. They are often referred to as a single island. The department also includes the Dependencies of Guadeloupe, which include the smaller islands of Marie-Galante and La Désirade, and the Îles des Saintes.

Guadeloupe, like the other overseas departments, is an integral part of France. As a constituent territory of the European Union and the Eurozone, the euro is its official currency and any European Union citizen is free to settle and work there indefinitely. As an overseas department, however, it is not part of the Schengen Area. The prefecture (regional capital) of Guadeloupe is the city of Basse-Terre, which lies on the island of the same name. The official language is French and Antillean Creole is spoken virtually by the entire population except recent arrivals from metropolitan France.

[...]

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Ustad Nusrat & Co., putting it all in context again for me

Jaani Door Gaye - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

Listening to this song always reminds me of a time in India when I was walking alone on a road. It was very hot and I was very thirsty. Then I saw by the road a tree with many branches and leaves; the tree was so huge it must have been hundreds of years old. Under the canopy of tree branches was a man selling green coconuts. He lopped the top off a coconut, plunked a straw in it, and wordlessly handed it to me. I drank and drank and drank. Then I paid him and continued on my journey, refreshed.

Well, onward.

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Maria caves in roof at Dominica PM's residence, devastates rest of island

My notes from CNN Breaking News televised report (See CNN website for the report): 
Latest text CNN update, filed at 2:27 AM Sept. 19:

Dominica PM: Hurricane Maria 'devastates' island
By Euan McKirdy, Joe Sterling and Holly Yan, CNN


The Caribbean island of Dominica has been "devastated" by Hurricane Maria, the country's Prime Minister tells CNN.

The powerful storm, which made landfall Monday night, has since been downgraded to a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 mph. After it passes over Dominica it is on course to score a direct hit on the US territory of Puerto Rico -- the first hurricane of its strength to do so in 85 years. [Another report cited 1928 as the last time a Cat 4 or 5 hit Puerto Rico.]  

"We're just waiting for daybreak to do an assessment of the damage," Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit told CNN's Rosemary Church.

"Our first order of business will be search and rescue to ensure we can account for every single citizen and residents who were on the island during this really devastating hurricane."

A statement from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that its record-topping winds reached 160 miles per hour when it hit the island nation. In an update the Center said that reports "indicate significant damage to structures has occurred in Dominica."

Maria made landfall on Dominica late Monday, coming ashore at 9:15 p.m. ET. It was so powerful that it tore the roof off the Prime Minister's residence.

"Personally I was affected," Skerrit said. "The roof of the residence caved in because of the strength of the wind. But I was taken to safe ground by ... police officers, thank God.

"This hurricane stayed in the country for a very, very long time and (was) just unrelenting. I don't think there were very many roofs which would survive the hurricane."

In a Facebook post he added: "So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains."

The storm will continue moving toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as a strong Category 4 or a Category 5 and is not expected to diminish [appreciably] in strength.

Relentless march

After Dominica, Puerto Rico is in Maria's sights. It is moving toward the island as an "extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island," the hurricane center said.

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosselló, has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.

A hurricane warning from the NHC remains in effect for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands as well as Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.

US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US territory for federal assistance to augment the territory's storm-response initiatives.

The ferocity of Maria bears striking similarities to Hurricane Andrew, the Category 5 hurricane which hit the Bahamas and Florida in 1992 [and was the most destructive hurricane to hit Florida since record-keeping began], says CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. 

Both storms are compact, and Maria's wind speed comes close to that of Hurricane Andrew -- 165 mph -- when it hit southern Florida.

[...]

********

Maria now Cat 5. Nature takes command of U.S. news cycle again.

How did that storm grow so fast into a monster? I guess the meteorologists know, but within less than 24 hours Maria went from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane and then leapfrogged last night into a Cat 5. [shaking her head]   

See CNN for latest update, filed at 1:12 AM EDT September 19.

Hurricane Maria packs a Category 5 punch toward Dominica
Approx 10:00 PM EDT September 18, 2017
By Holly Yan and Joe Sterling *
CNN via St. Louis Post-Dispatch

A "potentially catastrophic" Hurricane Maria is now a Category 5 storm, packing 160 miles per hour winds -- with even higher gusts -- as it nears Dominica and takes aim at the US territory of Puerto Rico.
"The extremely dangerous core of Maria is expected to pass over Dominica within the next hour or two," the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. ET advisory. "Maria is likely to affect Puerto Rico as an extremely dangerous major hurricane, and a hurricane warning has been issued for that island."
A US Air Force Reserve C-130 Hurricane Hunter data measured the intense storm, which heightens the chance of life-threatening storm surge and "hitting the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico."
For the first time in 85 years, Puerto Rico is expected to suffer a direct landfall from such a strong hurricane. Puerto Rico's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of that landfall, which will likely happen Wednesday.
The hurricane center statement said Maria was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica and 40 miles and 70 kilometers north of Martinique. The mammoth storm was moving west-northwest at 9 mph.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico for federal assistance to augment the territory's storm-response initiatives.
Track the storm here

Bracing for impact in Dominica

Dominica is a small island with a population of nearly 74,000 about halfway between Puerto Rico and Trinidad and Tobago, according to the CIA World Factbook. It's nearly 290 square miles (751 square kilometers) and "slightly more than four times the size of Washington DC."
"The Dominican economy has been dependent on agriculture -- primarily bananas -- in years past, but increasingly has been driven by tourism as the government seeks to promote Dominica as an 'ecotourism' destination," the factbook said.
Hours before Maria's expected landfall on Dominica -- and just over week after the island was brushed by Irma -- Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit urged residents to take any belongings that could become dangerous projectiles indoors.
"The next few hours should be placed on cleaning up around the house and on your properties rather than stockpiling weeks of foods and other supplies," Skerrit said in a televised speech.
"This is not a system that will linger very long. Therefore, the goal must not be on stockpiling supplies but on mitigating damage caused by flying objects."

Puerto Rico braces

Puerto Rico sheltered many of the evacuees who fled Hurricane Irma's wrath in other Caribbean islands. Now those evacuees and native Puerto Ricans are bracing for another catastrophic hurricane.
The governor ordered evacuations ahead of Tuesday's deteriorating conditions.
"We want to alert the people of Puerto Rico that this is not an event like we've ever seen before," Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told reporters.
Puerto Rico housing authorities said there are 450 shelters able to take in 62,714 evacuees, and up to 125,428 in an emergency situation. But there are six fewer shelters available post-Irma, since some schools still have no electricity.

"We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, since Tuesday up until late on Thursday. That's about two-and-a-half days of tropical storm winds, and on Wednesday we will feel the brunt -- all of the island will feel the brunt of sustained category four or five winds, Rosselló said.
"This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic, and our main focus -- our only focus right now -- should be to make sure we save lives."
Rosselló added that Maria's size means all of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane conditions.
"It is time to seek refuge with a family member, friend, or move to a state shelter because rescuers will not go out and risk their lives once winds reach 50 miles per hour."
If Maria strikes the island as forecast, it will be "more dangerous than Hugo and Georges," he said.
Hurricane Hugo killed five people in Puerto Rico in 1989, and Hurricane Georges caused more than $1.7 billion in damage to the island in 1998.

Hurricane and tropical storm warnings

The storm will affect parts of the Leeward Islands and the British and US Virgin Islands for next couple of days, the center said.
Other Leeward Islands are now under hurricane warnings, including Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. The US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands are under warnings.
Trump issued an emergency declaration for the US Virgin Islands.
There are tropical storm warnings in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba and St. Eustatius, St. Martin, Anguilla and St. Lucia.
The government of the Dominican Republic has issued a hurricane watch from Isla Saona to Puerto Plata, and a tropical storm watch west of Puerto Plata to the northern Dominican Republic-Haiti border.
The British Foreign Office said more than 1,300 troops are in the region, on affected islands or nearby locations, ready to help after Maria goes by. One military team has been deployed to the British Virgin Islands.
A British military reconaissance team is on standby to go to Montserrat and assess needs, the office said. The HMS Ocean is set to arrive in the area at week's end with 60 tons of government supplies.

Hurricane Jose

Another hurricane, Jose, is also churning in the Atlantic and has spawned tropical storm warnings for part of the US East Coast.
While forecasters don't anticipate Jose making landfall in the US, it's still expected to cause "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.
* CNN's Brandon Miller, Marilia Brocchetto, Judson Jones, Taylor Ward, Deborah Bloom, Leyla Santiago, Michael Holmes, Matt Wotus and Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.
Here are my notes from NBC News and Associated Press/CBS News reports-updates, both filed around 5:15 PM EDT 9/18:
  • Maria grew from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane in less than 24 hours. Now approaching Category 5. 
  • Per National Hurricane Center update approx 5 PM 9/18 Maria an "extremely dangerous" storm with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. It was centered about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica -- or 40 miles east of Martinique -- and heading west-northwest at 9 mph late Monday afternoon.
  • Hurricane warnings posted for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, Martinique and St. Lucia. A tropical storm warning was issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and Anguilla. On Wednesday Maria is expected to be near or over Puerto Rico.
  • Maria's projected path will take it near many of the islands already wrecked/battered by Hurricane Irma.
  • Defensive preparations underway across Caribbean countries. 
  • Puerto Rico has imposed rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula.
  • Puerto Rico as with other islands damaged by Irma is facing double catastrophe. 85 percent of customers in the capital are still without electricity from Irma; 6,000 are still without drinking water.
  • Forecasters said Maria would dump up to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico and whip the U.S. territory with heavy winds for 12 to 24 hours.
  • Puerto Rico hasn't been struck by a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928.
5:11 PM EDT - September 18, 2017
NBC News *
Hurricane Maria was strengthening fast into a monster storm Monday as it barreled toward Puerto Rico and other Irma-battered Caribbean islands.
Maria grew — in less than 24 hours — from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane that the National Hurricane Center called an "extremely dangerous" system.
At 5 p.m. ET it was just 45 miles east-southeast of Dominica, an island of 72,000 people in the Lesser Antilles, and producing maximum sustained winds of 135 mph.
Maria could begin threatening the Virgin Islands on Tuesday evening and Puerto Rico by Wednesday morning, said the hurricane center, which issued hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico and its satellite islands of Culebra and Vieques.

Puerto Rico has not been hit by a Category 4 or 5 hurricane since 1928, NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said.

Maria, however, could be "catastrophic" for Puerto Rico, which was largely spared by Hurricane Irma, Karins said. It passed 50 miles north of the island and caused only wave damage, but even that was enough to knock out power to about 1 million people.

"There's an excellent chance that Maria will be a major hurricane very close to Puerto Rico in 48 hours," he said, adding that it could also hit the Irma-devastated U.S. and British Virgin Islands.

"Maria is expected to produce total rain accumulations of 6 to 12 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches across the central and southern Leeward Islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, through Wednesday night," the hurricane center warned.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló warned Sunday the storm could bring more rain, wind and water than Irma, which killed three people there.
Rosselló said 46,000 people — or about 85 percent of customers in the metropolitan area of the capital, San Juan — remained without electricity. Another 6,000 were still without drinking water.
Help is already on the way. A ship from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA] was expected to arrive early Tuesday with more than 1 million gallons of water and 111 generators, and the island is ready to house 67,000 people across 450 shelters, Rosselló said.
"The priority is to be prepared and save lives," he said.
[...]
Last updated 5:22 PM EDT 9/18
Associated Press/CBS News
Puerto Rico imposes rationing as Hurricane Maria approaches

MIAMI -- Puerto Rico has imposed a rationing of basic supplies including water and baby formula as Hurricane Maria approaches as a Category 5 storm.
Officials said Monday that the rationing is necessary to ensure everyone has access to basic items such as batteries, milk, canned foods, flashlights and other supplies. It does not apply to gasoline or other fuels.
Shelves at many stores were emptying out quickly as people rushed to finalize hurricane preparations.
Many posted desperate pleas on social media for help in finding certain items.
Some stores were already imposing their own rationing measures and stressed that more merchandise was scheduled to arrive on Monday to replenish shelves, officials said.
[...]
[Puerto Rican Governor] Rossello said officials had prepared about 450 shelters with a capacity for nearly 68,000 people -- or even 125,000 in an emergency. Schools were cancelled for Monday and government employees would work only a half day.
*****
* NBC News report filed by RACHEL ELBAUM, DANIELLA SILVA, JASON CUMMING and CORKY SIEMASZKO

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