Rescuers hunt for survivors after cyclone kills 119 in Indonesia

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Rescuers searched for dozens missing in the remote islands of southeast Indonesia on Tuesday, as reinforcements arrived to help in the aftermath of a tropical cyclone that killed at least 119 people.

Helicopters were deployed to aid the search, and ships carrying food, water, blankets and medicine reached ports previously blocked by high waves whipped up by tropical cyclone Seroja, which brought heavy rain and triggered deadly floods and landslides on Sunday.

Indonesia’s disaster agency BNPB revised upwards the death toll from the cyclone in the East Nusa Tenggara islands, after earlier saying 86 had died. Seventy-six people were still missing.

“The rescue team is moving on the ground. The weather is good,” BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati told a news briefing.

Search and rescue personnel, however, had trouble transporting heavy equipment for use in the search.

“Search for victims is constrained, the existing heavy equipment cannot be sent to their destination, especially in Adonara and Alor,” the head of BNPB, Doni Monardo, said.

The Adonara and Alor islands were among the islands worst hit by the cyclone, with 62 and 21 people dead respectively.

Aerial images from Adonara on Tuesday showed brown mud and flood water covering a vast area, burying houses, roads and trees.

The military and volunteers arrived on the islands on Tuesday and were setting up public kitchens, while medical workers were brought in.

Video taken by a local official in Tanjung Batu village on Lembata, home to the Ile Lewotolok volcano, showed felled trees and large rocks of cold lava that had crushed homes after being dislodged by the cyclone.

Thousands of people have been displaced, nearly 2,000 buildings including a hospital were impacted, and more than 100 homes heavily damaged by the cyclone.

Two people died in nearby West Nusa Tenggara province.

There were also concerns about possible COVID-19 infections in crowded evacuation centers.

In neighboring East Timor, at least 33 were killed in floods and landslides and by falling trees. Civil defense authorities were using heavy equipment to search for survivors.

“The number of victims could still increase because many victims have not been found,” the main director of civil protection, Ismael da Costa Babo, told Reuters.

“They were buried by landslides and carried away by floods.”

Some residents of Lembata island may have also been washed away by mud into the sea.

A volcano that erupted on Lembata last month wiped out vegetation atop the mountain, which allowed hardened lava to slide towards 300 houses when the cyclone struck, a senior district official said, hoping help was on the way.

“We were only able to search on the seashore, not in the deeper area, because of lack of equipment yesterday,” Thomas Ola Langoday told Reuters by phone.

He feared many bodies were still buried under large rocks.

President Joko Widodo urged his cabinet to speed up evacuation and relief efforts and to restore power.

Weather agency head Dwikorita Karnawati said once-rare tropical cyclones were happening more often in Indonesia and climate change could be to blame.

“Seroja is the first time we’re seeing tremendous impact because it hit the land. It’s not common,” she said.

(Reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa, Stanley Widianto and Bernadette Christina Munthe in Jakarta and Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Martin Petty, Tom Hogue and Bernadette Baum)

G7 countries urge independent probe into alleged rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The United States, Germany, France and other G7 countries called on Friday for an independent and transparent investigation into alleged human rights abuses during the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

Ethiopia’s federal army ousted the former regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), from the capital Mekelle in November.

Thousands of people died, hundreds of thousands have been forced from their homes and there are shortages of food, water and medicine in the region. The government says most fighting has ceased but there are still isolated incidents of shooting.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said last week Eritrea has agreed to withdraw troops it had sent during the fighting into Ethiopian territory along their mutual border, amid mounting reports of human rights abuses. Eritrea has denied its forces joined the conflict.

The G7 foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed their concerns in a joint statement.

“All parties must exercise utmost restraint, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law,” they said.

“It is essential that there is an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into the crimes reported and that those responsible for these human rights abuses are held to account,” the ministers said.

They said the withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray must be swift, unconditional and verifiable and that a political process acceptable to all Ethiopians should be set up that leads to credible elections and a national reconciliation process.

Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said in March it was ready to work with international human rights experts to conduct investigations on allegations of abuses.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Peter Graff)

Coronavirus crisis in Latin America made worse by poverty, inequality, U.N. agency says

By Fabian Cambero

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Latin America and the Caribbean countries in the throes of the coronavirus crisis will only see their problems made worse by festering inequality, poverty and an ailing social safety net, a United Nations agency said on Thursday.

The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) said social unrest was on the rise across the region, a sign that immediate action was necessary to aid hard-hit countries struggling long before the pandemic hit.

“The effects of the coronavirus pandemic have spread to all areas of human life, altering the way we interact, paralyzing economies and generating profound changes in societies,” the report said.

Persistently high levels of inequality, the agency said, combined with a sprawling informal labor market that leaves workers without protection and a lack of effective health care coverage have made those problems worse.

Urban slums on the fringes of many of the region’s cities often lack access to basic services, mean many citizens found themselves unable to access food, water and healthcare necessary to confront the crisis.

Poverty meanwhile, has crept upward, while advances in reducing inequality have stagnated, exacerbating trends seen in the five years prior to the crisis.

During that period, Latin America and Caribbean economies grew an average of just 0.3% per year overall, while extreme poverty increased from 7.8% to 11.3% of the population and poverty, from 27.8% to 30.5%.

The report also said the prolonged closure of schools in the region could constitute a “generational catastrophe” that will only deepen inequality.

The pandemic has also brought a rise in mortality that could push down life expectancy in the region depending how long the crisis endures, the agency said.

There have been at least 21,699,000 reported infections and 687,000 reported deaths caused by the novel coronavirus in Latin America and the Caribbean so far.

​ Of every 100 infections last reported around the world, about 24 were reported from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.

(Reporting by Fabian Cambero; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Power restored to most in Texas after ‘tragic few days’

By Adrees Latif

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of homes in Texas are coping without heat for a fourth day on Thursday after utilities made some progress restoring power, as the state’s leaders came under mounting criticism for their response to the winter storm.

The crisis facing the country’s second-largest state looked set to continue, with millions of people still without access to water, many struggling to find food, and freezing temperatures expected to last through Saturday.

Judge Lina Hidalgo, the top elected official in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, said the number of homes without power in her county had fallen to 33,000 from 1.4 million a few nights ago.

“It’s definitely a big positive that the power is back on for most of the residents,” Hidalgo said in an interview. “It’s been a miserable few days, a really tragic few days.”

Hidalgo warned that a “hard freeze” Thursday night could cause setbacks and encouraged donations to food banks with some residents struggling to secure food and water. She noted reports of senior centers and other vulnerable communities lacking basic supplies.

At present some 447,000 Texas households were without power, down from around 2.7 million on Wednesday, according to poweroutage.com, a website that tracks outages.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), a cooperative responsible for 90% of the state’s electricity, said on Thursday it made “significant progress” in restoring power. It did not provide detailed figures.

Angry residents have trained much of their ire on ERCOT, which critics say did not heed warnings after a cold-weather meltdown in 2011 to ensure that Texas’ energy infrastructure, which relies primarily on natural gas, was winterized.

Critics have also raised questions about the leadership of Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who has called for an investigation of ERCOT. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz too came under fire for flying to the Mexican resort city of Cancun with his family, despite the storm’s fallout. The Republican lawmaker cut his trip short after his travels were reported, saying he would return to Texas and “get to the bottom of what happened” in his state.

Gary Southern, a 68-year-old real estate broker from Mineral Wells, Texas, said his power was restored on Wednesday afternoon, enabling him to have his first solid night of sleep since he lost electricity in the early hours of Monday.

“It was one of the worst things we’ve ever had to go through,” the lifelong Texan said, adding that he was frustrated at being told there would be rolling blackouts, only to go days without power at all. “I know a lot of people in our community still don’t have it (power) and are frustrated.”

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.

As of Thursday morning, 154 of the 254 counties in Texas have reported disruptions in water service, affecting 13.2 million people, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Many of those affected have been told they need to boil their water.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said historically low temperatures were hindering efforts to inoculate people against COVID-19, with more than 2,000 vaccine sites in areas with power outages. In addition to aiding Texas, FEMA said on Thursday it would provide assistance to the neighboring state of Oklahoma due to the weather’s impact on its power grid.

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 been discovered yet.

In Galveston on the Gulf Coast of Texas, a pop-up shelter with heat but no running water had allowed about three dozen people to huddle overnight before they were ushered back out into the cold on Thursday morning to let cleaning crews get it ready to do it all over again on Thursday night.

“When you go to the bathroom, grab a bucket of water to clear the toilet – we’re going old school!” Cesar Garcia, director of Galveston’s Parks and Recreation Department, called out as he oversaw scrubbing of the shelter set up in the McGuire-Dent Recreation Center.

Garcia said he was bracing for a potentially bigger crowd tonight, perhaps closer to the 100 who sought shelter on Monday night, sleeping on bleachers or a gymnasium floor with blankets and whatever they brought with them from home.

“Tonight being the coldest night, we don’t know what to expect,” Garcia said.

While the icy conditions should gradually improve, record low temperatures will likely persist in the South Central region of the United States through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service said, which said the storm was moving northeastward, dropping snow on a swath of states in its path.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey; Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Jonathan Oatis)

Himalayan helicopter flies flood-hit villagers home to mourn

By Alasdair Pal

RAINI CHAK LATA, India (Reuters) – For three days, Sushama Rana waited at a makeshift dirt helipad in the Indian Himalayas to return to her village and look for her missing brother-in-law.

Yashpal Rana was herding goats when a flash flood swept down a remote valley on Sunday, smashing everything in its path including two hydroelectric power stations.

More than 200 people are feared killed, although most of those are still missing.

The wall of water also swept several bridges into the valley, home to more than a thousand people spread over 13 villages.

An eight-seater Airbus helicopter more often used to carry tourists has begun ferrying supplies to the villages, some of which are suffering from intermittent power and water.

But it is also carrying people back to their home villages to mourn.

Yashpal married his wife a year ago, and is the father of a four-month-old son.

His family has given up hope of finding him alive.

“We just want to find his body and perform his last rites,” Sushama said.

The valley is home to a key paramilitary post by the Chinese border, and many of the troops, known as the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), are helping in the relief work from a command post at a primary school in Lata, one of the affected villages.

Some can now only be accessed via a 5km trek on foot, Deputy Commandant Raj, the officer in charge of the operation said. Dozens of solar powered lamps are being sent up towards the border to those without power.

The Indian military’s Mi-17 and Chinook helicopters are useless when trying to access the villages, perched on steep hills with little flat ground.

Instead, the relief operation is relying on a commercial craft – normally used for pleasure rides at a nearby ski resort – to land on a narrow strip of concrete perched by the Dauliganga river.

Jagged, snow-capped peaks loom over the valley, which is covered in forests of pine and fir.

In contrast to the mud and tangled metal remnants downstream, the crystalline Dauliganga – a tributary of the Ganges river worshipped as a god by many Indians – sparkles in the sun.

Reuters travelled on one of the relief missions into the valley, with returning locals in the passenger seats and sacks of rice and lentils in the helicopter’s small hold.

But in Raini Chak Lata, the first village in the valley to be cut off, the most pressing issue is not food, but processing the events of Sunday’s disaster, the causes of which are still be to be conclusively determined.

“Nobody wants to eat when family members are not able to come,” Yashpal’s brother Rajpal said.

Yashpal had two postgraduate business degrees, according to Rajpal, but was not able to find a job. He had returned to Raini Chak Lata, and was down at the river bank with the family’s goats when the torrent of water, mud and dust came roaring down the valley.

“He is probably somewhere there,” he said.

When Sushama saw the first helicopter of the day on Friday, she wept and ran towards it, before being held back by workers as the blades swept up a cloud of dust.

Authorities have transported more than 300 people since the disaster, but the list of people wanting to ride is long.

Finally, she was able to board the final flight of the day, which swept over destroyed dams.

She clutched her shawl as she disembarked.

“Somehow, after waiting for three days, I have finally arrived,” she said, walking the mile to the village on foot.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

No water! No fear! Kenya’s community leaders step up to coronavirus challenge

By Katharine Houreld

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Few residents in Nairobi’s sprawling informal settlement of Kibera have access to running water to wash their hands – but most have heard of a deadly new disease killing off people in China and Europe.

Although the disease was slow to hit Africa, more than 30 countries now have cases of the coronavirus – Kenya has seven. So concerned residents in neighbourhoods neglected by Kenya’s notoriously corrupt government are setting up handwashing stations and organising teams of volunteers to educate people about the disease.

“We can’t sit pretty in our houses knowing that tomorrow we may have a crisis beyond our control,” said Ed Gachuna, the chief finance officer of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO), an organisation set up by Kennedy Odede, who was born and brought up in Kibera.

Community-led initiatives like SHOFCO’s coronavirus drive are far more likely to win compliance from residents than edicts from a government noted only for its neglect – an important lesson learned from the Ebola outbreaks in West Africa in 2014 and in Congo last year.

Kibera, home to more than half a million people, has little government presence bar an occasional policeman. There are no formal water connections. Residents illegally tap government lines using rubber hoses that leak into open sewers. Police cut them when they find them, said Gachuna, leaving the area waterless for days at a time.

But SHOFCO runs schools, clinics and a network of drinking water points linked by aerial pipes suspended far above the rubbish-strewn alleys, keeping the water clean. SHOFCO’s purification plant provides Kibera residents drinking water at heavily subsidised rates – 2 shillings (2 cents) for 20 litres.

On Wednesday, crowds of volunteers – some wearing T-shirts emblazoned “Fighting Coronavirus” – gathered at the SHOFCO offices, listening to a talk about symptoms and prevention before disappearing down the narrow alleys.

A friend of one volunteer approached, hand out to greet her, but the woman recoiled dramatically, shouting “Nooooooo – coroonaaaaaavirrrrrrus!” to peals of laughter from both women and appreciative cheers from children. The women put their hands on their hearts instead.

Behind them, young men tied large plastic drums and boxes of soap onto perilously tilting motorbikes to set up the first wave of 24 SHOFCO handwashing stations. Keeping the disease at bay is their only hope.

Many families here cluster into single-room shacks; few here have the space to isolate, or the luxury of working from home. Few can stockpile food either – most work daily jobs that earn a couple of dollars a day. The markets are busy and greetings enthusiastic.

“Africans love greetings and physical contact,” explained auditor Emmanuel Olima, shaking drops of water from his hands and one of the new handwashing stations. “So even if you hide your hands, you might not avoid a handshake.”

The stations are staffed by volunteers like 24-year-old Judy Adhiambo, whose dimpled smile greets each passerby as she tells them the symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it. Children squeal with delight at the water and suds, but the adults listen.

“Rub between the fingers very well,” Adhiambo advises a young boy washing his hands with his mother.

“Asante,” the woman says quietly as they leave – thank you.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

From Brazil to Cambodia, conflicts flaring over land, water

By Rina Chandran

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Conflicts over land and water flared across the world this year amid greater competition for resources and increasing hostility towards farmers and indigenous people, according to two reports published Tuesday.

At least 108 people were killed trying to protect their land from encroaching industries in 23 countries from January to November, human rights advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific said – compared to 91 killings recorded in the same period last year.

The Philippines was the deadliest country for a third year with 50 killings, or nearly one killing per week, it said.

Colombia recorded 27 killings, while Brazil had nine, with most crimes linked to energy, mining, plantation and logging industries.

“The landless face more risks than ever before, especially where the disregard for their rights converges with a conservative politics and an environmental emergency that the former heightens,” said Arnold Padilla, a regional coordinator at PAN Asia Pacific.

From Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, so-called strongmen politicians are stripping away environmental and human rights protections to promote business, Padilla told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Philippines was also ranked the deadliest nation for land rights activists last year by another human rights group, Britain-based Global Witness, which recorded 164 killings worldwide.

A spokesman for Duterte did not respond to a request for comment.

In Brazil, indigenous tribes are facing escalating violence under Bolsonaro, with two indigenous men shot dead last week, not far from where a prominent tribesman who defended the Amazon rainforest was killed last month.

Meanwhile, a rush to build hydropower dams from Chile to Cambodia has uprooted tens of thousands of people and destroyed ecosystems they rely on, non-profit International Rivers said.

Collectively, dams have displaced more than 80 million people worldwide so far, and affected an estimated half a billion people, according to data compiled by International Rivers.

“Dams can exacerbate poverty and worsen conditions for people who earn their livelihoods from land and river ecosystems,” it said.

Chinese firms have become the biggest players in dam building, International Rivers said, as the country rolls out its Belt and Road Initiative, a trans-continental scheme with trillions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

Chinese developers have said they adhere to global environmental and human rights standards.

In the tiny Southeast Asian nation of Laos, more than 100 dams are in operation, under construction or are planned, bringing much-needed investment to the impoverished nation.

But the collapse of the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam in Laos in July 2018 killed dozens of people and displaced over 6,000, underlining concerns over their safety.

In October, the first hydropower dam on the lower Mekong River began commercial operations in Laos amid protests from Thai villagers who say the Xayaburi Dam and others in the works will destroy their livelihoods.

Hydropower could impact more than 300,000 kilometers (186,411 miles) of rivers by 2050, estimates International Rivers.

(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran; Editing by Zoe Tabary.

Ten years after ‘suicide’ mission, NASA thirsts for lunar water

By Joey Roulette

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A decade after NASA sent a rocket crashing into the moon’s south pole, spewing a plume of debris that revealed vast reserves of ice beneath the barren lunar surface, the space agency is racing to pick up where its little-remembered project left off.

The so-called LCROSS mission was hastily carried out 10 years ago Wednesday in a complex orbital dance of two “suicide” spacecraft and one mapping satellite. It proved a milestone in the discovery of a natural lunar resource that could be key to NASA’s plans for renewed human exploration of the moon and ultimately visits to Mars and beyond.

“The LCROSS mission was a game changer,” NASA’s chief Jim Bridenstine told Reuters, adding that once water had been found the United States “should have immediately as a nation changed our direction to the moon so we could figure out how to use it.”

The agency now has the chance to follow up on the pioneering mission, after Vice President Mike Pence in March ordered NASA to land humans on the lunar surface by 2024, accelerating a goal to colonize the moon as a staging ground for eventual missions to Mars.

Bridenstine says the moon holds billions of tons of water ice, although the exact amount and whether it’s present in large chunks of ice or combined with the lunar soil remains unknown. To find out before astronauts arrive on the moon, NASA is working with a handful of companies to put rovers on the lunar surface by 2022.

“We need next to get on the surface with a rover to prospect for water, drill into it, and determine how suitable it is for extraction,” said Jack Burns, director of the Network for Exploration and Space Science at the University of Colorado.

Instead of launching expensive fuel loads from Earth, scientists say the lunar water could be extracted and broken down into its two main components, hydrogen and oxygen, potentially turning the moon into a fuel arsenal for missions to deeper parts of the solar system.

OPEN KIMONO

Weeks before the LCROSS impact booster struck the moon’s south pole, the mission’s development timeline “was a bad rush to the finish line,” Tony Colaprete, principal investigator for LCROSS, told Reuters.

“We wanted to make as large of a hole as possible to get as much materials out of the shadows and into the sunlight,” Colaprete said, describing an unusually fast-paced program using technology that had never been used in space before.

Engineers and mission leaders used the business phrase “open kimono” about disclosing company information to characterize the program’s breakneck development speed and the need for clear and open lines of communication between contractors and NASA.

“That almost became a mantra for the project,” Colaprete said.

The current lunar program is also “forcing some cultural changes” at NASA, he added, which has undergone a series of high-level management changes and delays with the agency’s commercial crew program, a public-private effort to resume U.S. human spaceflight for the first time since 2011.

“People are coming together in a way like they did on LCROSS.”

(Reporting by Joey Roulette; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Richard Pullin)

Wider Image: The Indian children who need to take a train to get to water

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUKUNDWADI, India (Reuters) – As their classmates set off to play after school each day, nine-year-old Sakshi Garud and her neighbor Siddharth Dhage, 10, are among a small group of children who take a 14-km (9-mile) return train journey from their village in India to fetch water.

Their families are some of the poorest in the hamlet of Mukundwadi, in the western state of Maharashtra, a village that has suffered back-to-back droughts.

India’s monsoons have brought abundant rain and even floods in many parts of the country, but rainfall in the region around Mukundwadi has been 14% below average this year and aquifers and borewells are dry.

“I don’t like to spend time bringing water, but I don’t have a choice,” Dhage said.

“This is my daily routine,” said Garud. Their cramped shanty homes are just 200 meters (220 yards) from the train station. “After coming from school, I don’t get time to play. I need to get water first.”

They are not alone. Millions of Indians do not have secure water supplies, according to the UK-based charity, WaterAid. It says 12% of Indians, or about 163 million people, do not have access to clean water near their homes – the biggest proportion of any country.

For an interactive graphic on India’s depleting water resources, please click https://tmsnrt.rs/2mgof1L

Recognizing the issue, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to spend more than 3.5 trillion rupees ($49 billion) to bring piped water to every Indian household by 2024.

More than 100 families in Garud and Dhage’s neighborhood do not have access to piped water and many depend on private water suppliers, who charge up to 3,000 rupees ($42) for a 5,000-litre tanker during summer months.

But private water supply is something Garud and Dhage’s parents say they can not afford.

“Nowadays, I don’t get enough money to buy groceries. I can’t buy water from private suppliers,” said Dhage’s father, Rahul, a construction worker. “I am not getting work every day.”

PIPE DREAM

The children take the train daily to fetch water from the nearby city of Aurangabad.

The train is often overcrowded, so a group of small children jostling to get on board with pitchers to fill with water is not always welcome.

“Some people help me, sometimes they complain to railway officials for putting pitchers near the door. If we don’t put them near the door, we can not take them out quickly when the train stops,” Dhage said.

Garud’s grandmother Sitabai Kamble and an elderly neighbor help occasionally by pushing them on board in the face of irritable passengers.

“Sometimes they kick the pitchers away, they grumble,” Kamble said.

When the train pulls into Aurangabad thirty minutes later, they scramble to fill the pitchers at nearby water pipes. Garud can’t reach the tap, so she relies on her taller sister, Aaysha, 14, and grandmother.

Others, like Anjali Gaikwad, 14, and her sisters, also board the train every few days to collect water and wash clothes.

Their neighbor Prakash Nagre often tags along with soap and shampoo. “There’s no water to bathe at home,” he says.

When the train returns them to Mukundwadi, they have just under a minute to disembark. At times, Dhage’s mother, Jyoti, is waiting at the station to help.

“I’m careful, but sometimes pitchers fall off the door in the melee and our work is wasted,” she said, holding her infant in one arm and a pitcher in the other. “I can’t leave my daughter at home alone so I have to take her along.”

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Additional reporting by Francis Mascarenhas; Writing by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Euan Rocha and Neil Fullick)

Preparing for disasters. Yes, it can happen to you.

Hurricane Michael survivor Yvette Beasley stands in her front yard during a wellbeing check by a 50 Star Search and Rescue team in Fountain, Florida, U.S., October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Kami Klein

The statistics on a recent emergency preparation survey commissioned by the National Ad Council stated that 60 percent of Americans believe that preparation for natural or man-made disasters is of great importance to them, yet only an astounding 17 percent claim to be completely prepared for an emergency situation.  

Regardless of how many massive catastrophes people have seen on the news or heard of from friends or relatives, despite the ad campaigns on preparedness by communities and state governments, the common sense notion of preparing for an emergency gets pushed aside. This can and does have great consequences for whole communities.  

In 2016 the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Washington state’s National Guard created a full-scale, nine-day drill to test how well they could respond to a massive earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That area covers Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland through northern California.

The 83-page report comes to many deeply concerning conclusions. The authors admit the systems are not ready, infrastructure would collapse, and they’d have a full-blown humanitarian crisis in ten days.

In the summations it was written:

“Through the two-year ramp-up and the culminating functional and full-scale exercises, the following overall conclusions can be drawn:  There is an urgent need for residents to prepare.  Despite the ongoing public education efforts and community preparedness programs, our families, communities, schools, hospitals, and businesses are not prepared for the catastrophic disaster that a worst-case earthquake would cause.”

According to the World Health Organization, every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts.

Emergency management professionals say people do understand that they should prepare for disasters but when it comes to something in life that creates fear and when you have never experienced a disaster situation personally, the human mind will rationalize and think “Those bad things won’t happen to me.” There are others who will also put the thoughts out of their minds and believe that rescue groups will bring what they need to their family in the event that they are in an emergency situation.  The reality of mass disasters proves over and over again that there is never enough help and many times it can be impossible to get to those that are affected because of great damage to roads and infrastructure.

Recently the massive flooding in our country’s breadbasket, caused by incredible storms and mountain snowmelt created islands of muddied silt instead of acres of farmland.  It has been weeks since this event and yet many communities have been without electricity and their water systems because crews are still having trouble getting to them. Worse yet, there have been round after round of intense storms, tornadoes and heavy rains contributing to the flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers which is impeding the recovery efforts.

Facts are best for combating fear. The weather is an unpredictable force. In the United States alone, we average, 8 hurricanes a year, 2 that are major.  Last year we experienced a whopping 66,535 earthquakes that average at a  2.5 and above. Every season, the U.S. will be pounded by at least 1,154 tornados. In 2018 alone there were 58,083 wildfires. The likelihood that at some time you and your family could be involved in a disaster situation is higher than any of us want to believe.

The responsibility of preparing belongs to every family. There are basics to have on hand that not only will help you survive the worst but give you security when those panicked moments arrive with little time to respond.  Food and water are top on the list along with flashlights, and a source to cook meals. While some emergency personnel recommends only a 72 hour supply, that number is quickly changing due to the increased knowledge found in experiencing these catastrophes to having “at the very least” a two week supply on hand.  

A very good resource for what you need for your emergency kits and supplies can be found at Ready.gov.  Professional emergency management teams encourage you to look at the posted guidelines in the same way as you do with your insurance policies.  Become “matter of fact” about the possibilities and simply begin. By taking one step at a time there will be no reason to feel overwhelmed.

If you need inspiration, please read the testimony “It can happen to you” by Evonne Richard. whose family survived the deadly storm April 27th, 2011 in Apison, Tennessee. This town had been home to her for over 30 years with never a tornado or disaster.  The community was wiped out, many dead and the aftermath quite chaotic. But only weeks before the storm, Evonne observed a billboard regarding “How to Prepare” and felt compelled to act on it.  Her story will inspire you to do the same.

We cannot count on government offices nor rescue groups to help us in times of disaster. Most will be overwhelmed.  These unexpected events will continue to come. Together we must learn to count on ourselves to have on hand what we need for survival.  It isn’t a whim, nor is it something to put off. With the statistics of the possibilities that can and will happen to most of us in a lifetime, it makes common sense!!   

Morningside believes strongly in the practice of preparing.  We want you to be ready for anything to help your family and your community. In order to stay on the air and support this ministry, Morningside does have special offers of survival items including food, generators, water filtration, and other great items. These items are well researched and in most cases at a reduced price from items you can find online.  Don’t forget that you can also check out PTLshop.com YOUR faith-based shopping network!

Start Preparing!  It is one of the few things in life you will never regret.