Evacuees urged not to return home after devastation from storm Ida

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) -Evacuees who fled Ida before the storm hammered southern Louisiana are being urged not to return home just yet as the U.S. Gulf Coast begins an arduous recovery from one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the region.

Three days after the Category 4 hurricane came ashore, more than a million homes and businesses remained without electricity. Power was restored to some customers in the eastern part of New Orleans on Wednesday morning, Entergy Corp said. But the utility warned it may take weeks to return service in some areas where transmission towers had crumpled into heaps of metal.

The storm killed at least four people and left many thousands more in misery. Countless homes were destroyed and towns were flooded, evoking memories of Hurricane Katrina, which killed some 1,800 and nearly destroyed New Orleans 16 years ago.

Although weakened, Ida still posed a threat to parts of the United States on Wednesday. The National Weather Service warned that the remnants of the storm could dump up to eight inches of rain across the Mid-Atlantic region into southern New England, triggering “potentially life-threatening” flooding.

Along the Gulf Coast, officials were unable to complete a full damage assessment because fallen trees were blocking many roads, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Deanne Criswell said.

In one sign of desperation, cars lined up for nearly a mile on Tuesday as volunteers distributed drinking water at Lockport, Louisiana.

The community is near one of the hardest-hit towns, Houma, population 33,000 and about 50 miles (80 km) southwest of New Orleans. The storm ripped off roofs and felled power lines as it hovered over the area for hours, maintaining much of its strength.

Officials of Terrebonne Parish, which includes Houma, issued a statement imploring people not to return, saying there was no electricity, water service was unreliable, emergency shelters were damaged, and none of the hospitals were operating.

“Evacuees: DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT come back to Terrebonne Parish if you evacuated,” officials said in advisory posted on Twitter by a reporter for WWL television.

“There is NO medical care because there are no operating hospitals in Terrebonne Parish right now,” the notice said, adding that previously admitted patients were being moved.

Houma residents Scott and Daria Hebert told WAFB television they regretted not evacuating ahead of time and were attempting to flee on Tuesday.

“It was just so tenacious. It just stayed, probably seven or eight hours of just hammering us,” Scott Hebert said.

“This was our Katrina, basically,” Daria Hebert added.

Compounding the suffering, parts of Louisiana and Mississippi were under heat advisories, with a heat index in much of the area reaching 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

Even the power generators were hazardous. Nine people in St. Tammany Parish northeast of New Orleans were taken to hospital overnight for carbon monoxide poisoning from a gas-fueled generator, local media reported.

Power officials have told leaders in Jefferson Parish south of New Orleans that its roughly 440,000 people may have to manage without electricity for a month or longer after utility poles toppled across the county, councilman Deano Bonano said in a telephone interview.

“The damage from this is far worse than Katrina from a wind standpoint,” said Bonano.

Among the four deaths were two people killed in the collapse of a southeastern Mississippi highway that critically injured 10 others. One man died attempting to drive through high water in New Orleans and another when a tree fell on a Baton Rouge home.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in New Orleans; Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Maria Caspani in New York; Writing by Daniel Trotta; editing by Richard Pullin and Steve Orlofsky)

At least 112 dead in India as rains trigger floods, landslides

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) -At least 112 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, authorities said on Friday, after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages.

Parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

“Unexpected very heavy rainfall triggered landslides in many places and flooded rivers,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads Maharashtra’s state government, told journalists.

“Dams and rivers are overflowing. We are forced to release water from dams, and, accordingly, we are moving people residing near the river banks to safer places.”

The navy and army were helping with rescue operations in coastal areas, he added.

At least 38 people were killed in Taliye, 180 km (about 110 miles) southeast of the financial capital Mumbai, when a landslide flattened most of the small village, state government officials said.

In nine other landslides in other parts of Maharashtra 59 people died and another 15 were killed in accidents linked to the heavy rainfall, they said.

A few dozen people were also feared to have been trapped in landslides in Satara and Raigad districts, said a state government official who asked not to be named.

“Rescue operations are going on at various places in Satara, Raigad and Ratnagiri. Due to heavy rainfall and flooded rivers, we are struggling to move rescue machinery quickly,” he said.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places, another Maharashtra government official said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villages and towns were without electricity and drinking water, he said.

Rivers were also overflowing in the neighboring southern states of Karnataka and Telangana where authorities were monitoring the situation, government officials there said.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they also deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall and are crucial for farmers.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Joe Bavier and Giles Elgood)

Argentina urges people to ‘save water’ with Parana river at 77-year low

By Maximilian Heath

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) – Argentina’s government has urged citizens to limit water use in a bid to alleviate pressure on the Parana River, a key grains thoroughfare that is at a 77-year low, a situation which is hampering shipments of cereals including soy and wheat.

A government advisory group called on people to “save water,” store rainwater for irrigation and avoid burning waste to prevent wildfires on the wetlands around the river delta.

“Water levels in the Parana are at the lowest level since 1944, which requires a commitment from everyone to attend and act preventively and responsibly against this situation,” the group said in a statement late on Monday.

The Parana, which has its source in southern Brazil, flows through Argentina to the coast near Buenos Aires. It is the transportation route for 80% of country’s farm exports and a source of drinking water, irrigation and energy.

However, due to a prolonged shortage of rainfall in Brazil, the Parana’s water levels have dropped dramatically, hitting the amount of cargo that can be carried by ships at the peak of the Argentine corn and soy export season.

On Saturday, the government announced a $10.4 million relief fund to mitigate the impact of low water levels.

On the banks of the Parana are important cities such as Rosario, Parana and Santa Fe. Rosario is the main agro-industrial hub and river port of Argentina, a leading global supplier of soy, corn and wheat to global markets.

(Reporting by Maximilian Heath; Editing by Adam Jourdan and David Evans)

‘Fragile’ Texas energy grid comes back to life, steep challenges remain

By Brad Brooks

LUBBOCK, Texas (Reuters) – A “fragile” energy grid has fully returned to life for frigid Texans who have spent five days dealing with blackouts caused by a historic winter storm, but challenges in finding drinking water and dealing with downed power lines loomed on Friday.

All power plants in the state were once again functioning, but about 280,000 homes were still without power early Friday while 13 million people – nearly half of all Texans – have seen water services disrupted.

Ice that downed power lines during the week and other issues have linesman scrambling to hook all homes back up to power, while the state’s powerful oil and gas sector has looked for ways to renew production.

Hospitals in some hard-hit areas ran out of water and transferred patients elsewhere, while millions of people were ordered to boil water to make it safe for drinking. Water-treatment plants were knocked offline this week, potentially allowing harmful bacteria to proliferate.

Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, said she was pleased with progress in the past 24 hours, but warned residents to brace for more hardship.

“The grid is still fragile,” she said, noting that cold weather would remain in the area for a few days, which would “put pressure on these power plants that have just come back on.”

Texas Governor Greg Abbott confirmed that all power-generating plants in the state were online as of Thursday afternoon. He urged lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure the energy grid was prepared for cold weather in the future.

“What happened this week to our fellow Texans is absolutely unacceptable and can never be replicated again,” Abbott told an afternoon news conference.

The governor lashed out at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, which he said had told officials before the storm that the grid was prepared for the cold weather.

The lack of power has cut off water supplies for millions, further strained hospitals’ ability to treat patients amid a pandemic, and isolated vulnerable communities, with frozen roads still impassable in parts of the state.

Nearly two dozen deaths have been attributed to the cold snap. Officials say they suspect many more people have died, but their bodies have not yet been discovered.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

EPA finalizes lead contamination rule

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday finalized the first update of regulations of lead in drinking water in 30 years, a move it said strengthens federal rules but that environmental critics say is a missed opportunity to carry out the kind of regulatory overhaul needed to ensure safety.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler announced the final rule at a virtual news conference alongside the mayor of Flint, Michigan, Sheldon Neeley, saying it strengthened “every aspect” of the existing regulation and would protect children and communities from lead exposure.

“For the first time in nearly 30 years, this action incorporates best practices and strengthens every aspect of the rule, including closing loopholes, accelerating the real world pace of lead service line replacement, and ensuring that lead pipes will be replaced in their entirety,” Wheeler said in a statement.

The update of the lead and copper rule was a response to the 2014 Flint water crisis, when the predominantly Black city of 100,000 switched its drinking water supply from Detroit’s system to the Flint River to save money, unleashing water contamination that led to elevated lead levels in children’s blood.

The rule would require utilities to notify customers of high lead concentrations within 24 hours of detection – down from 30 days – and require testing for lead in elementary schools and childcare facilities for the first time. It would also require water systems to identify and notify the public about the locations of lead service lines.

But environmental groups criticized the final rule for failing to speed up the replacement of lead pipes, a requirement they say is crucial to protect communities’ drinking water.

The final rule says that in communities where high lead levels are found, utilities must replace 3% of lead water lines compared with the previous requirement of 7%.

“If you have the chance to make the first major revisions in 30 years, you need to really solve this problem. The EPA should speed up replacements of lead pipes, not slow them down,” said Suzanne Novak, an attorney for Earthjustice.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

In Argentina’s north, indigenous children sicken and die from malnutrition

By Miguel Lo Bianco

TARTAGAL, Argentina (Reuters) – In Argentina, once one of the world’s richest countries and long a major supplier of beef, children are dying of hunger.

In Argentina’s far northern province of Salta, in a small indigenous community plagued by extreme poverty, eight children died in January alone from malnutrition and a lack of access to clean drinking water, health authorities say.

Women from the indigenous Wichi community carry their children who are undergoing treatment for malnourishment at a hospital, in Tartagal, in the Salta province, Argentina, February 27, 2020. Picture taken February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

The issue affects other places, too, and has prompted the national government to announce a plan to tackle hunger. The governor of Salta has declared a public health emergency, vowing to work with the national government to provide clean water in the province.

In the province last week, children from the Wichi community, with a population of just 1,200, played barefoot in the mud, outside homes constructed by hand from wood and cloth.

In Tartagal, the small town nearest to where the Wichi live, hospital beds are filled with Wichi children battling malnutrition and a host of other health issues linked to a lack of clean water, health officials said. Sometimes, the children arrive too late to make a recovery, according to Juan Lopez, manager of the hospital in Tartagal.

Complications related to the issues led to the deaths of the eight Wichi children in January, he said. The community also has one of the country’s highest rates of infant mortality.

A spokesman for Argentina’s ministry of health said, “We are constantly liaising with the province of Salta. We are doing food assistance and health assistance.” He added that there were teams from the federal government working in the province.

Liliana Ciriaco, a 45-year-old Wichi woman, said in an interview that there had been “many sicknesses.”

“There are some pregnant women who die, there are children who die, the elderly, too, and we don’t know what is going on,” she said.

A century ago, Argentina was one of the world’s most affluent countries, but it has weathered a series of economic crises in recent decades. The latest one began in 2018. Inflation hovers above 50% and the poverty rate is at 35%. Argentina’s indigenous communities, historically poor, have been especially hard hit.

A child from the indigenous Wichi community holds onto a feeding tube at a hospital, in Tartagal, in the Salta province, Argentina, February 26, 2020. Picture taken February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

For the Wichi community, the lack of access to safe water is a critical problem.

“The place where they access their water source has high salinization or even chemicals that have been used for agriculture, which cause many gastrointestinal diseases, diarrhea, malnutrition and, above all, dehydration,” said Diego Tipping, president of the Red Cross in Argentina.

Argentina’s new center-left President Alberto Fernandez campaigned on promises to address hunger, poverty and unemployment. In December, he announced a plan to combat the issue in the most affected areas of the country called “Argentina Against Hunger.”

Alejandro Deane, president of the Siwok Foundation, which is dedicated to improving water access for indigenous communities in northern Argentina, called the situation for the Wichi community “disastrous.”

“There is no good news. What needs to be done? What can be done? Here we need a long-term plan, not a short-term plan,” Deane said.

(Reporting by Miguel Lo Bianco; Additional reporting by Marina Lammertyn and Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Richard Chang)

Arsenic, lead, PFAS chemicals; A toxic brew is being found in our drinking water and it’s getting worse.

Water in glass, Clean drinking water

By Kami Klein

Water…we are all taught from an early age that drinking water is a must for our body to remain hydrated and flush out the bad stuff.  Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon per day. The American people seem to be getting the message and are drinking more water than ever before. but reports and studies recently released are creating increasing alarm about the many dangerous chemicals that we are consuming with every drop. Americans get drinking water from private wells, tap water from public water treatment plants and in buying bottled water. Many concerned consumers are urging scientists for in-depth analysis of the health risks for each.  

Groundwater contamination

The United States Geological Survey says that about 44 million people in the U.S. get their drinking water from private wells. Surveys show about half of those have their wells tested at least once a year.  When flooding occurs, such as in this spring’s historic storms, thousands can be exposed to a dangerous mix of materials in their water.

Many in the Midwest that are affected rely on groundwater for rural and small municipal water supply. Household, farm, and small business wells situated in broad, sand and gravel valleys and glaciated rolling countryside could be standing in water for several days, raising the potential for contamination if the wells aren’t properly maintained. Exposure to E. coli, coliform, and other pathogenic microbes from human and animal fecal matter in floodwaters is a common health concern following a major flooding event.

But there is a growing problem in many states that has nothing to do with flooding.   And that is from a natural substance found in our soil…Arsenic.

Though arsenic can be found in the air and soil, the World Health Organization says the greatest threat to public health globally comes from groundwater, which is contaminated as it flows through rocks and minerals containing arsenic and resides in wells and tributaries.  

In a recent study published by the American Heart Association Journal, the dangers of increased and prolonged exposure to arsenic in water and in some food such as rice are becoming more evident. The study found that young adults free of diabetes and cardiovascular disease developed heart damage after only five years of exposure to low-to-moderate levels of arsenic commonly found in groundwater. Arsenic has also been linked to various cancers, kidney damage, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“It is important for the general public to be aware that arsenic can be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the study’s lead author, Dr. Gernot Pichler said. “Private wells are currently not regulated and people using private wells, including children and young adults, are not protected.”

Millions Exposed to PFAS chemicals

In a recent report by the non-profit Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University, it has been found that people in nearly every state in the U.S. are exposed to unhealthy drinking water both in private wells and through public water systems. According to researchers, 43 states have locations, including drinking water sites, contaminated with PFAS chemicals

Taken from Pentagon data and water utility reports the study shows an estimated 19 million people are exposed to contaminated water. PFAS, are synthetic chemicals found in many products, including food packaging, household cleaners and nonstick cookware, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency

In an interview with CBSN, David Andrews, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group said, “This should be frightening to all Americans in many ways. these chemicals… don’t break down in our body and they don’t break down in our environment and they actually stick to our blood. So levels tend to increase over time.”

The EPA stated in March 2019 that 92 percent of the water used every day by Americans meets all of the EPA requirements for safe drinking water.  According to Andrews, the EPA  has not set a new legal drinking water limit for any contaminant in over two decades. And feels that the whole system of regulating chemicals that may end up in our water is broken.  “The agency is really falling behind the science here.”

But let’s say that the EPA is correct and do the math on their claims. Nationwide, 327 million Americans each drink two to eight glasses of water on average every day. If 8 percent of that supply doesn’t meet EPA standards, that’s up to 209 million unsafe glasses of water per day, or 2.3 billion gallons of water—enough to fill a quarter of a million bathtubs. In short, high compliance numbers do not mean everything is fine.

In May 2019, Representatives from both parties of Congress released a half-dozen bills in response to PFAS contamination. The bills range from providing more funding for communities tasked with the cost of treating contaminated water to increasing transparency in reporting chemical flows and prohibitions on products with PFAS.

But as many consumer groups have stated, the damage is there and many feel that it would take decades to fix this ever-increasing problem.  

Filtered is Best

Many have turned to bottled water as a safer alternative. In fact, Americans consume more than 8.6 gallons of bottled water each year.  Studies on the health risks of bottled water have shown that plastic these bottles are made of and can basically leak into the water.

BPA, a component often found in plastic, is a hormone disruptor that can have a wide range of impacts on the human body, including hormone imbalance, toxicity, inflammation, and even cancer.  BPA isn’t even the only component of plastic that is potentially dangerous—there are dozens of other chemicals that can have adverse effects on the body, endocrine system, and other organs.

What is the solution?  How do we keep our family from toxic chemicals?  How do we know our water is safe?

The best solution is to filter your water.  Bottled water, which many believe is the best alternative is costly.  A good filtering system can save you money and remove ALL of the chemicals used to treat water as well as those that are leaking into our water systems.  

There are many advances in the past decade of filtering systems that remove more than 99 percent of pathogens, bacteria, lead and more.

The light on the problems with our water quality are becoming brighter by the day. In the meantime, we must tackle the problem with common sense and safety in mind.  A filtering system for your drinking water is what makes the most sense for YOUR health and for your family.

 

There are many water filtration systems out there.  Morningside highly recommends Seychelle products.  

References for this Article: Newsweek, CNN, CBS, Agency for Toxic Substances, National Groundwater Association, Livescience.com, World Health Organization,

Hundreds leave homes near dangerously crumbling Puerto Rico dam

Local residents look at the flooded houses close to the dam of the Guajataca lake. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Dave Graham and Robin Respaut

SAN JUAN (Reuters) – Most people living near a crumbling dam in storm-battered Puerto Rico have been moved to safety, Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Monday, as he urged the U.S. Congress to fund an aid package to avert a humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria.

Most of the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory with a population of 3.4 million, is still without electricity five days after Maria swept ashore with ferocious winds and torrential rains, the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico for nearly a century.

There have been growing concerns for some 70,000 people who live in the river valley below the Guajataca Dam in the island’s northwest, where cracks were seen appearing on Friday in the 88-year-old earthen structure.

An aerial view shows the damage to the Guajataca dam. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

An aerial view shows the damage to the Guajataca dam. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

Rossello said he was working on the assumption that the dam would collapse. “I’d rather be wrong on that front than doing nothing and having that fail and costing people lives,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“Some of the dam has fallen apart and now we’re making sure that we can assess if the other part is going to fall down as well. … Most of the people in the near vicinity have evacuated.”

It was unclear if the governor was saying that most of the 70,000 valley inhabitants had left the area, or only the several hundred people living in the small towns closest to the dam. About 320 people from those towns have moved to safety, according to local media.

The fear of a potentially catastrophic dam break added to the difficulties facing disaster relief authorities after Maria, which was the second major hurricane to strike Caribbean this month and which killed at least 29 people in the region.

At least 10 of those who died were in Puerto Rico, including several people who drowned or were hit by flying debris, and three elderly sisters who died in a mudslide.

Many structures on the island, including hospitals, remain badly damaged and flooded. Clean drinking water is hard to find in some areas. Very few planes have been able to land or take off from damaged airports.

After Maria caused widespread flooding, the National Weather Service warned of further flash floods in some western parts of the island on Monday as thunderstorms moved in.

The hurricane hit at a time when Puerto Rico was already battling economic crisis. [nL2N1M31LR]

Rossello said on Monday that before the storms struck he had been embarking on an aggressive fiscal agenda that included more than $1.5 billion in cuts.

“This is a game changer,” the governor told CNN. “This is a completely different set of circumstances. This needs to be taken into consideration otherwise there will be a humanitarian crisis.”

In Washington, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said Congress was working with President Donald Trump’s administration to make sure the necessary assistance reaches Puerto Rico.

“Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico remain in our prayers as we make sure they have what they need,” Ryan said in a statement.

Local residents react while they look at the water flowing over the road at the dam of the Guajataca lake.

Local residents react while they look at the water flowing over the road at the dam of the Guajataca lake.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Maria continued to weaken and would likely be downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm by Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center said. As of 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Monday, it was about 315 miles (505 km) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, heading slowly north, the center said.

The storm was unlikely to hit the continental United States directly, but a tropical storm warning was in effect for much of the North Carolina coast. Officials issued a mandatory evacuation order for visitors to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks, beginning at 5 a.m. ET (0900 GMT) on Monday.

 

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Robin Respaut; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)