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natural disaster

Julio Alicea's 8-month-old granddaughter Aubrey came down with severe respiratory problems a day after Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico. "We are very lucky," Alicea says. "The hospital is open and we live nearby." Aubrey's cough turned intense, and when she started vomiting, Alicea says, he rushed her to the hospital at 4 a.m.

She didn't have any respiratory issues before the hurricane, Alicea says, sitting on a blue bench outside San Jorge Children's Hospital in San Juan. His 3-year-old granddaughter Angelica is keeping him company.

How to help Puerto Rico after Maria

Sep 27, 2017
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Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, damaging homes and roads and destroying the island's power grid.

The official count puts the number of people killed at 16, but hundreds of people are still missing, and families are desperate to hear news of their whereabouts.

What’s the best way to help?  The United States Agency for International Development suggests donating money, instead of goods, after natural disasters.

In a tiny sliver of shade, on a hill next to Puerto Rico's Route 65, Kiara Rodriguez de Jesus waves a sparkly pink hand fan to keep cool.

"I trust in God," she says. "Please, come the gas."

Along with her family, parked in a Volvo SUV, she has been in line for gasoline since 3 a.m., she says. Now it's after 1:30 p.m. And like everyone else at this gas station, she has no idea how much longer she'll be waiting.

Irma Rivera Aviles, like nearly 200 others, is stuck at a shelter in Cataño, Puerto Rico, where conditions are getting worse daily. Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria rampaged through the country, she's desperately pleading for help. "The governor needs to come here and take a look at our critical situation," she says. "The bathrooms flooded and aren't working, sewage is overflowing, the generator is broken and we are here in the dark."

"We desperately need water, power and ice," she says.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. ET

The disaster relief bill given final approval by Congress on Friday can't come too soon for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Without a new injection of funds, officials said FEMA's cash box would be empty as early as this weekend, right around the time that Hurricane Irma is scheduled to slam into southern Florida, while southeast Texas and Louisiana are still drying out from Hurricane Harvey.

In the wake of disasters like Hurricane Harvey, you often hear calls to donate blood. In this instance, it was people who gave blood before the storm who helped the disaster victims.

If you give blood at this point, your donation is likely to stay home -- where it is welcome and needed.

There isn't a city in the United States, and there are probably very few anywhere in the world, that could have handled Hurricane Harvey's 50 inches of rain without significant flooding.

But Harvey was Houston's third flood in three years to surpass the "100 year flood" mark. Urban planners and civil engineers say a combination of natural and man-made factors has created a chronic drainage problem that left the city especially vulnerable to Harvey's torrential rains.

Much of Beaumont, Texas, is an island, with major roads cut off by floodwaters.

John Livious is standing in front of a hotel, looking out as rescue trucks navigate the flooded road in. Conditions here are getting worse.

"Winds picking up. Rain getting heavier. Water rising. Very bad sight," he says. "Wouldn't wish this on anyone."

Livious came here to escape rising water in Houston early Sunday. Evacuating was an easy call, he says.

Disasters like the flooding that has followed Hurricane Harvey, displacing thousands of people, always create a tremendous need for help — and a tremendous desire to provide that help.

But those who have dealt with disasters before say people need to be careful about how they contribute to disaster relief, and when. Cash donations are almost always preferred over items — such as blankets, clothing and stuffed animals — often sent into overwhelmed disaster areas by well-meaning donors.

Texas National Guard soldiers conduct rescue operations in flooded areas around Houston, Texas, 27 August, 2017. (Photos by 1Lt. Zachary West, 100th MPAD)
Flickr Photo/The National Guard/(CC BY 2.0)https://flic.kr/p/XVUhAK

On Sunday, as Harvey pounded Houston with record rainfall and flooding, 17 emergency responders from Washington received a call to help.


As Hurricane Harvey churned toward the Texas coast, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told people to stay put. Don't evacuate, he said. Ride out the storm.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott sounded a different note, telling Houstonians that if he were living in the area, he'd head north. "If you have the ability to evacuate and go someplace else for a little while, that would be good."

Local officials, in response, doubled down on their advice: Don't go.

Vulnerability assessments by utilities and emergency planners along the U.S. West Coast suggest it could be weeks or a month or more before water service gets restored after a major earthquake - not to mention electricity, sewage treatment and fuel supply too. The social and economic disruption does not have to be that bad though, given adequate preparedness and investments in critical infrastructure as demonstrated in Japan.

KUOW / John Ryan photo

Wind and heavy rain could make this weekend tough for Puget Sound dwellers.

The storm could be rough on the sound's underwater residents as well.


Cholera spreads in Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew

Oct 11, 2016
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Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

The people of Haiti face a new terror, just days after Hurricane Matthew blasted the Caribbean nation: cholera.

“Everyone is talking about this,” says The World’s Amy Bracken, in Dame Marie, in southwestern Haiti. “Aid workers, doctors, random people I’m talking to on the streets, have been talking about this. They’re terrified.”

Cholera is a deadly water-borne disease, and it’s already taking lives in Haiti.

“They’re terrified of cholera getting worse around here,” Bracken says. “They’re terrified of people getting it and not being able to be taken to a clinic.”

The floods that hit Louisiana last month were caused by rainfall that was unlike anything seen there in centuries. Most of the southern part of the state was drenched with up to 2 or 3 inches in an hour. A total of 31 inches fell just northeast of Baton Rouge in about three days; 20 parishes were declared federal disaster areas.

Climate scientists and flood managers suspect there could more like that to come — in Louisiana and in other parts of the country.

The rain fell for days, sometimes 3 inches or more in a single hour, as streets became rivers and rivers ate up entire neighborhoods in southeast Louisiana.

Between Aug. 11 and Aug. 14, more than 20 inches of rain fell in and around East Baton Rouge, one of the hardest-hit parishes. And in some parishes in the region, as much as 2 feet of rain fell in 48 hours.

The National Weather Service says the likelihood that so much rain would fall in so little time was about one-tenth of 1 percent. A flood this bad should only happen once every thousand years.

Kji Kelly of Historic Seattle, at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. The city of Seattle says the building is unreinforced masonry and is expected to be dangerous in a quake. These brick walls could collapse, hurting people inside and outside.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

After a big earthquake it could take 10 days for help to arrive, so neighborhoods will be on their own.

The City of Seattle says communication hubs would allow neighbors to meet up. Many neighborhoods already have a natural meeting place, but a major earthquake brings complications.

Mt. Rainier peeks between two houses in Orting, Washington.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

When geologist Carolyn Driedger talks about Mount Rainier, she feels like she’s trash-talking.


The upper loop trail in Seward Park, where a tree fell on a BMW station wagon. Eric Medalle, 42, was killed; his toddler daughter was in the backseat and survived.
Seattle Fire Department

The tree that fell onto a car in Seward Park in a windstorm last month was rotten. 

Eric Medalle, 42, a father of two, was killed almost instantly. His toddler was in the back seat but wasn't badly injured.

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Andres Martinez Casares/Reuters

It's six years since an earthquake devastated Haiti, and killed at least 200,000 people.

In the immediate aftermath, the world rallied and pledged enormous amounts of assistance and development aid. But in Haiti today there is anger about the promises that have fallen short.

The UN estimates that about $10 billion was pledged, and about half of that has been spent.

A scene from a simulation by the Washington State Department of Transportation of what could happen if a massive earthquake hits the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
YouTube/WSDOT

You know a major earthquake in Seattle is possible – there was that scary New Yorker article this year with the headline: "The Really Big One."

Now you’ve got a new online tool to help you prepare.

1962: Remembering The Deadly Columbus Day Storm

Oct 12, 2015
Columbus Day Storm damage at 30th Avenue and East Spruce Street. The photo was taken Oct. 15, 1962, three days after the storm struck.
Seattle Municipal Archives

A lot of strange things happened in October 1962.

In Hollywood, Bobby "Boris" Pickett topped the charts with “Monster Mash.” In New York, James Brown recorded his incredible "Live at the Apollo" album. And in Cuba, offensive missile sites were being built, marking the start of the Cuban missile crisis.

Closer to home, the Pacific Northwest was about to face one of the most destructive natural disasters in American history.

There are a lot of stories to tell about New Orleans.

There are uplifting stories about new houses, new shops and gigantic drainage projects. There are melancholy stories about everything residents lost in Hurricane Katrina, about all that can never be recovered. There are stories about all that remains to be done, 10 years after the hurricane and the levee failures.

And, throughout it all, there are love stories.

Want to hear one?

'It Was Still Mardi Gras'

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1948, a dike at Vanport, Ore., broke and the flood engulfed the nearby Portland Air National Guard Base.
Oregon Air National Guard

Jeannie Yandel talks to Shawn Daley, chief innovation officer and assistant professor of education at Concordia University in Oregon, about the lost town of Vanport, Oregon.

KUOW Photo/Amy Radil

Early warnings for earthquakes already occur in Japan, and they’re being piloted in California. Now the University of Washington hopes to bring them to the Northwest.

The Washington state education department has released a report detailing the natural disaster risks for schools across the state.

Along with familiar risks like earthquakes and wildfires, the list of natural disasters that threaten Washington schools includes things you may not have known to worry about.

Like tsunami indundation in Seattle.

In Auburn and Puyallup, it’s lahars – mud flows from volcanic eruptions.

The Oso landslide, with 41 dead and two still missing, could be the the third-worst natural disaster in Washington history after the Stevens Pass Avalanche of 1910 and the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980.

It's no question the weather's been brutal for some communities, including Washington, Ill., a town of 15,000 in the central part of the state. When a tornado ripped through the area last November three people died and more than a thousand homes were damaged.

KUOW Photo/Phyllis Fletcher

Marcie Sillman checks in with U.S. Representative Suzan DelBene, who serves the 1st Congressional District, about helping on the scene of the Oso mudslide.

The Titanic
Courtesy of George Behe's Collection

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Most people who boarded the luxury ocean liner didn’t survive the trip. For some, the only thing separating survival and drowning was a split-second decision.

Now, 100 years after the tragedy, a Seattle woman wonders what she would do if she had been in her relative's shoes on the night of the sinking.

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