EDM Wednesday Briefing: Zika, States Better Prepared For Disasters, Chernobyl, Budget Cuts, Storms, 2011 Tornado Outbreak
Emergency and disaster management briefing for Wednesday, April 27, 2016: Zika virus concerns grow, genetically engineered mosquitos are considered, Zika funding issues cause the shifting of emergency preparedness funds, U. S. states are now better prepared for disasters, Chernobyl plant to be contained soon after 30 years, Hurricane Preparedness Week is May 15-21, Mississippi's OEM budget is cut again, strong storms rip through South, Midwest, and a look back at the 2011 tornado Super Outbreak.
- As concerns over the Zika virus grow, and funding remains stalled in Congress, officials are considering the use of genetically modified mosquitos to control the outbreak. Many people are still opposed to genetic modification, but the pest control incidents that have gone horribly wrong, including the introduction of mongoose into Hawaii to control rats, and poisonous toads in Australia to kill beetles.
- As the Zika funding battle rages on, Congress has redirected almost $44 million dollars of emergency preparedness grants being counted on by local officials. The grants were to be used for a variety of local preparedness initiatives that include terrorist attacks and disaster events, both natural and human caused. The funding deficits are hitting local communities who have endured recent disasters especially hard, including Houston and Los Angeles.
- The collective ability of U.S. states to prepare for and respond to disasters has shown improvement in the last three years, a recent report revealed. In the report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the U.S. overall score was 6.7 on a 10-point preparedness scale, up 3.6 percent over the last three years. The report referenced the National Health Security Preparedness Index (NHSPI), which tracks and measures state's abilities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters and large-scale emergencies that pose risks to health and well-being. Maryland came out on top, while Louisiana received the worst score overall.
- Thirty years after what the world considers the worst nuclear power disaster, the meltdown of the No. 4 reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine, a new radiation containment shelter is nearing completion. One of the largest moveable structures, weighing approximately 32,000 tons, and costing an estimated $1.7 billion, it is projected to last for 100 years and protect the Ukraine and Eastern Europe from a potential structural collapse of the original reactor building. It also contains remotely operated equipment, including a heavy duty crane that will be used to remove the highly radioactive fuel that still remains in the facility.
- The Atlantic hurricane season kicks off on June 1, so the National Hurricane Center, through the Weather Ready Nation website, is asking individuals and communities to take part in this year's Hurricane Preparedness Week, May 15-21. Tropical cyclones can affect more than just coastal communities, as inland areas can be adversely impacted by destructive winds, torrential rainfall, dangerous flooding and tornadoes. This year's campaign offers a series of informational publications that address hurricane specific preparations, including knowing the risks, assembling a disaster kit, preparing homes, and developing an evacuation plan.
- In Mississippi, the state Legislator has again cut the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency's (MEMA) budget again this year, down to $3.2 million. According to the state MEMA director, Lee Smithson, what makes this even more difficult is the fact that there are still 16 open federal disasters across the state that are in various stages of recovery. Even worse, recent flooding has resulted in another 26 federally declared disasters, and hurricane season has yet to begin. Smithson noted that state funding cuts also equate to the loss of federal grant funding, adding another blow to the budget. The agency has already been criticized over its slow response to the recent flooding, and with climate change impacts and increasing disaster declarations, Smithson is concerned about being prepared for another catastrophic disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina.
- Powerful storms ripped through the south overnight, spawning at least one tornado. According to the Office of Emergency Management in Grayson County, the cities of Whitesboro, Bells, and Howe in Texas were the worst affected. A significant weather advisory remains in effect for multiple counties in Texas according to the National Weather Service office in Houston-Galveston.
- Strong storms from Texas across the Midwest also produced damaging near hurricane-force (74 mph) winds and grapefruit-sized hail in northern Kansas on Tuesday, four-inch hail in Marysville, Kansas, and a small tornado that touched down in southwestern Indiana. In Oklahoma on Tuesday, some schools were closed ahead of the predicted storms, while others sent students home early to keep them safe. Texas and Oklahoma received reports of downed power lines, uprooted trees, and roof damage after the storms, although no deaths have been reported.
- April 27 marks the five year anniversary of the nation's most deadly tornado outbreak that killed 348 people and injured more than 2,770 people. The Super Outbreak was also the most costliest on record, causing $10.8 billion in damages. The Deep South, including Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Tennessee, endured the worst the outbreak had to offer, an outbreak that included a total of four EF5 tornadoes. Two EF4 tornadoes also occurred, one in Tuscaloosa, Alabama and west Birmingham that were spawned by a supercell that lasted seven hours, traveled 380 miles, and crossed through four states.
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