Tag Archives: disaster response

Quake-prone Japanese Area Runs Disaster System on Force.com

Quake-prone Japanese Area Runs Disaster System on Force.com | PCWorld.

A coastal region of Japan due for a major earthquake and possible tsunamis has implemented a cloud-based disaster management system run by Salesforce.com.

Shizuoka Prefecture, on Japan’s eastern coast in the central region of the country, lies curled around an undersea trough formed by the junction of two tectonic plates. It has been rocked by repeated large temblors in past centuries, collectively called “Tokai earthquakes,” and the central government has warned that with underground stresses high another is imminent.

The local prefectural government began to build a new disaster management system last year, the initial version of which went live in July. It is based on Salesforce.com’s platform-as-a-service offering, Force.com, which hosts hundreds of thousands of applications.

“It would have cost a lot more to run our own servers and network, and if a disaster happened managing something like that would be very difficult, especially if the prefecture office was damaged,” said Keisuke Uchiyama, a Shizuoka official who works with the system.

Japanese prefectures are the rough equivalent of states.

The system is currently hosted on Salesforce.com’s servers in the U.S. and goes live when an official disaster warning is issued by the government. It links up information about key infrastructure such as roads, heliports and evacuation centers.

Salesforce.com says it combines GIS (geographic information system) data with XML sent from Japan’s Meteorological Agency. Users can also send email updates from the field using their mobile phones, with GPS coordinates and pictures attached.

Uchiyama said the original plan was to allow open access, but budget cuts forced that to be postponed and it is now available only to government workers and disaster-related groups. The system was implemented with a budget of about 200 million yen (US$2.6 million) over its first two years, down from an original allotment of about 500 million yen over three years.

He said it was used to keep track of the situation last week when a powerful typhoon swept through central Japan.

The obvious downside to a hosted system is that key infrastructure is often destroyed during natural disasters. After the powerful earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan’s northeastern coast in March, some seaside towns were completely devastated and went weeks without basics like power or mobile phone service. Local communities turned to word-of-mouth and public bulletin boards to spread information and search for survivors.

“If the network gets cut, it’s over,” said Uchiyama.

Two Plus Two Equals Five – A 2nd look at disaster death tolls

Two Plus Two Equals Five – By Philip Walker | Foreign Policy.

The death toll and level of destruction immediately following a disaster are always difficult to determine, but over time a consensus usually emerges between governments and aid organizations. But, as David Rieff points out, “Sadly, over the course of the past few decades, exaggeration seems to have become the rule in the world of humanitarian relief.… These days, only the most extreme, most apocalyptic situations are likely to move donors in the rich world.” And with donor fatigue an ever-present possibility, it is no surprise then that later studies that contradict the original, inflated estimates are criticized — or worse, ignored — for seemingly undermining the humanitarian cause.

Arriving at these estimates is no easy endeavor, as government agencies and relief organization are rarely able to survey entire populations. Instead, emergency management experts rely on sound statistical and epidemiological techniques. But debating and questioning the numbers behind man-made and natural disasters is not just an academic exercise: the implications are huge. For example, relief agencies were restricted from operating in Darfur, partly because of Sudan’s anger that the U.S.-based Save Darfur Coalition had estimated that 400,000 people were killed in the region. Moreover, the U.N. Security Council used the International Rescue Committee’s death toll of 5.4 million in the Congo to put together its largest peacekeeping operation ever. Similarly, government aid pledges increase or decrease depending upon the extent of the disaster. Numbers do matter, and much depends upon their validity and credibility. What follows is a look at some recent disasters where the numbers just don’t match up.

Above, a view of some of the destruction in Bandar Aceh, Indonesia, a week after the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck on Dec. 26, 2004. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 227,898 people died and about 1.7 million people were displaced in 14 countries in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and East Africa. Indonesia, the hardest hit country by the disaster, initially claimed that 220,000 people had died or went missing but ended up revising that number down to around 170,000.


Discrepancy: 5.4 million vs. 900,000 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 1998 and 2008

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has seen more than its fair share of conflict over the past 15 years. The war in the DRC officially broke out in 1998 and although the conflict technically ended in 2003 when the transitional government took over, fighting has continued in many of the country’s provinces. The conflict has been dubbed “Africa’s World War,” both due to the magnitude of the devastation and the number of African countries that have, at different times, been involved in the conflict. According to a widely cited 2008 report by the New York-based International Rescue Committee (IRC), “an estimated 5.4 million people have died as a consequence of the war and its lingering effects since 1998,” making it the world’s deadliest crisis since World War II. The organization is one of the largest providers of humanitarian aid in the Congo and is therefore deemed one of the few reliable sources on the conflict.

However, Andrew Mack, director of the Human Security Report Project at Simon Fraser University in Canada, said the IRC study did not employ appropriate scientific methodologies and that in reality far less people have died in the Congo. “When we used an alternative measure of the pre-war mortality rate, we found that the IRC estimates of their final three surveys, the figure dropped from 2.83 million to under 900,000,” Mack argued. (He also argued that international relief agencies — such as the International Rescue Committee — are facing a potential conflict of interest because they depend on donations that, in turn, are stimulated by their studies of death tolls. Those studies should be done by independent experts, not by relief agencies that depend on donations, he says.)

Above, the body of a young man lying on the central market avenue of Ninzi, about 25 miles north of Bunia, where on June 20, 2003, Lendu militias launched an attack, killing and mutilating at least 22 civilians.

Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 15,000 women raped in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between 2006 and 2007

A June 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health found that 400,000 women aged 15-49 were raped in the DRC over a 12-month period in 2006 and 2007. The shockingly high number is equivalent to four women being raped every five minutes. Perhaps even more alarming, the new number is 26 times higher than the 15,000 rapes that the United Nations reported during the same period.

Maria Eriksson Baaz, a Swedish academic from the University of Gothenburg, has called the study into question by arguing that it is based on out-of-date and questionable figures. As a long-time researcher on women’s rights in the DRC, Baaz claims that extrapolations made from these figures cannot be backed up scientifically. In a recent interview with the BBC, she said it was difficult to collect reliable data in the Congo and that women sometimes claim to be victims in order to get free health care. “Women who have been raped can receive free medical care while women who have other conflict-related injuries or other problems related to childbirth have to pay,” she said. “In a country like the DRC, with [its] extreme poverty where most people can simply not afford health care, it’s very natural this happens.”

Above, Suzanne Yalaka breastfeeds her baby Barunsan on Dec. 11, 2003, in Kalundja, South Kivu province. Her son is the consequence of her being raped by ten rebels from neighboring Burundi. She was left behind by her husband and her husband’s family.


Discrepancy: 2.4 million vs. 220,000 dead in North Korea between 1995 and 1998

Due to the regime’s secretive nature, reliable statistics on the 1990s famine in North Korea are hard to come by. Yet, surprisingly, on May 15, 2001, at a UNICEF conference in Beijing, Choe Su-hon, one of Pyongyang’s nine deputy foreign ministers at the time, stated that between 1995 and 1998, 220,000 North Koreans died in the famine. Compared with outside estimates, these figures were on the low end — presumably because it was in the regime’s interest to minimize the death toll.

A 1998 report by U.S. congressional staffers, who had visited the country, found that from 1995 to 1998 between 900,000 and 2.4 million people had died as a result of food shortages. It noted that other estimates by exile groups were substantially higher but that these numbers were problematic because they were often based on interactions with refugees from the northeastern province of North Hamgyong, which was disproportionately affected by the famine.

Above, North Koreans rebuilding a dike in Mundok county, South Pyongan province, in September 1997, following an August tidal wave after typhoon Winnie. The rebuilding effort was part of an emergency food-for-work project organized by the World Food Program. According to a former North Korean government official, during the famine — from 1993 to 1999 — life expectancy fell from 73.2 to 66.8 and infant mortality almost doubled from 27 to 48 per 1,000 people.


Discrepancy: 400,000 vs. 60,000 dead in Darfur between 2003 and 2005

In 2006, three years after the conflict in Darfur began, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir publically criticized the United Nations for exaggerating the extent of the fighting in Darfur. “The figure of 200,000 dead is false and the number of dead is not even 9,000,” he proclaimed. At the same time, outside groups like the Save Darfur Coalition and various governments, including the United States, were having a difficult time producing concrete numbers as well. Their only consensus was that the real death toll was exponentially higher than those numbers provided by Bashir.

In 2005, a year after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told a U.S. congressional committee that the ethnic violence in Darfur amounted to “genocide,” Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick estimated the death toll between 60,000 and 160,000. Zoellick was widely criticized for understating the numbers. The World Health Organization estimated that 70,000 people had died over a seven-month period alone. At the same time, researchers for the Coalition for International Justice contended that 396,563 people had died in Darfur. Today, the Sudanese authorities claim that since the conflict began in 2003, 10,000 people have died, while the U.N. estimates that over 300,000 have been killed and another 2.7 million have been displaced.

Above, an armed Sudanese rebel arrives on Sept. 7, 2004, at the abandoned village of Chero Kasi less than an hour after Janjaweed militiamen set it ablaze in the violence-plagued Darfur region.


Discrepancy: 138,000 vs. unknown death toll in Burma in 2008

Tropical cyclone Nargis made landfall in southern Burma on May 2, 2008, leaving a trail of death and destruction before petering out the next day. It devastated much of the fertile Irrawaddy delta and Yangon, the nation’s main city. Nargis brought about the worst natural disaster in the country’s history — with a death toll that may have exceeded 138,000, according to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology. But, with a vast number of people still unaccounted for three years later, the death toll might even be higher. The Burmese authorities allegedly stopped counting for fear of political fallout.

It’s more common for countries hit by a devastating disaster to share their plight with the world and plead for a robust relief effort, but in the aftermath of cyclone Nargis the Burmese military regime sought to maintain control over news of the disaster — restricting access to journalists and censoring the release of information and images. Moreover, the United Nations and other relief agencies were initially banned from setting up operations. At the time, with over 700,000 homes blown away, the U.N. and the Red Cross estimated that over 2.5 million people were in desperate need of aid.

Above, school teacher Hlaing Thein stands on the wreckage of a school destroyed by cyclone Nargis in Mawin village in the Irrawaddy delta region on June 9, 2008.


Two Plus Two Equals Five

What numbers can we trust? A second look at the death toll from some of the world’s worst disasters.



Discrepancy: 318,000 vs. 46,000-85,000 dead in Haiti in 2010

The devastating earthquake of Jan. 12, 2010, killed over 318,000 people and left over 1.5 million people homeless, according to the Haitian government. International relief organizations generally estimate anywhere between 200,000 and 300,000 casualties.

However, a recently leaked report compiled for USAID by a private consulting firm claims that the death toll is likely between 46,000 and 85,000, and that roughly 900,000 people were displaced by the earthquake. The report has not yet been published, but its alleged findings have already been disputed by both Haitian authorities and the United Nations. Even the U.S. State Department, for now, is reluctant to endorse it, saying “internal inconsistencies” in some of the statistical analysis are currently being investigated prior to publication.


Discrepancy: Large numbers affected vs. small death toll in Pakistan in 2010

A young girl washes the mud from her toy at a water pump in the middle of collapsed buildings at a refugee camp near Nowshera in northwest Pakistan on Sept. 23, 2010. Figures provided by the United Nations and Pakistan’s government estimate that 20 million people were affected by the 2010 summer floods — the worst in the country’s history. Almost 2,000 people died, 3,000 were injured, 2 million homes were damaged or destroyed, and over 12 million people were left in need of emergency food aid, according to Pakistan’s National and Provincial Disaster Management Authority. Flood waters wiped out entire villages and vast stretches of farmland affecting an area roughly the size of England. After surveying 15 key sectors across the country, in Oct. 2010, the World Bank and Asian Development Bank announced an estimated damage of $9.7 billion — an amount more than twice that of Pakistan’s 2005 earthquake which killed approximately 86,000 people. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized the destruction as more dire than that caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake combined. “In the past I have visited the scenes of many natural disasters around the world, but nothing like this,” he stated.

David Rieff warns that, “By continually upping the rhetorical ante, relief agencies, whatever their intentions, are sowing the seeds of future cynicism, raising the bar of compassion to the point where any disaster in which the death toll cannot be counted in the hundreds of thousands, that cannot be described as the worst since World War II or as being of biblical proportions, is almost certainly condemned to seem not all that bad by comparison.” This was the case in Pakistan where the number affected by the flooding was gigantic but the death toll was relatively low — especially compared to the Haiti earthquake a few months earlier. As a result, the United Nations and other aid organizations were unable to raise large sums for the relief effort compared to previous disasters. “Right now, our level of needs in terms of funding is huge compared to what we’ve been receiving, even though this is the largest, by far, humanitarian crisis we’ve seen in decades, ” said Louis-George Arsenault, director of emergency operations for UNICEF, in an interview with the BBC in Aug. 2010.

As David Meltzer, senior vice president of international services for the American Red Cross, discerningly put it, “Fortunately, the death toll [in Pakistan] is low compared to the tsunami and the quake in Haiti. … The irony is, our assistance is focused on the living — and the number of those in need is far greater than in Haiti.”


Teen arsonists sought over Texas wildfire

Cops: Teen arsonists sought over Texas wildfire – Weather – TODAY.com.

Police in Texas were hunting three teenagers after a wildfire caused $1.4 million in damage in an Austin suburb, officials said.

The blaze destroyed nearly a dozen homes and caused the evacuations of 500 people in Leander, according to residents and media reports. Investigators were treating the wildfire as arson.

Dawn Camp, 33, a fire evacuee from Leander near the Austin city limits, hadn’t heard the phone ring and didn’t know it was time to flee her home until she smelled smoke and walked out the front door to see her neighbor’s home burning.

“Fire was raining down on my yard,” she said.

Story: Rising death toll in Texas wildfires She grabbed her children, put them in the car, and started down the road. A block later, she jumped out and gave the keys to her 18-year-old daughter, who spirited her younger siblings, ages 8 and 10, to their great-grandmother’s house.

Camp then walked home to coax her cats, Bugbite and Moonshine, out of the house. But police were in her yard.

“They wouldn’t let me back in,” she said, standing outside a shelter at Rouse High School in Leander. Walking along a main street through the quiet subdivision, Camp said the smoke was so thick she couldn’t see or breathe.

Slideshow: Wildfires scorch Texas (on this page)

A passerby picked her up, and she rejoined her family. Later, a relieved Camp reported that she was able to see her house — and both the home and the cats were fine.

“I saw some houses that were burned, but our little half of the street was fine,” Camp said. The cats “were thirsty, but they were wonderful.”

The wildfire in Leander had been extinguished by Tuesday afternoon.

There were also signs that firefighters were gaining ground on the Bastrop County wildfire, which has destroyed more than 600 homes and blackened about 45 square miles.

The Texas Forest Service said Wednesday that the blaze was 30 percent contained.

Agency spokeswoman April Saginor said lighter winds have helped and that the weather conditions mean Wednesday “should be a good day for” those battling the wildfires.

The Bastrop blaze is the most severe of the more than 180 wildfires reported in the past week across drought-stricken Texas.

“It is certainly a remarkable fire in terms of evacuations and the number of homes that have burned,” Ken Frederick, spokesman for the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, told Reuters.

Altogether, fires in Texas have destroyed a total of more than 1,000 homes and caused four deaths, including the two at Bastrop, marking one of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in state history.

Governor Rick Perry said Tuesday that a 100-member search team would begin to comb the area around Bastrop for more possible victims Wednesday morning.

Video: Gov. Rick Perry: Wildfires have been ‘devastating’ (on this page) He deployed Texas Task Force 1, the state’s elite search team, to help local authorities. The team includes a dozen search dogs.

Texas Task Force 1 was also sent to New York following the Sept. 11 attacks and to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Perry cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina to deal with the crisis. On Tuesday, he toured a blackened area near Bastrop, about 25 miles from Austin.

“Pretty powerful visuals of individuals who lost everything,” he said after the tour. “The magnitude of these losses are pretty stunning.”

The governor would not say whether he would take part in Wednesday evening’s Republican presidential debate in California, explaining that he was “substantially more concerned about making sure Texans are being taken care of.”

But campaign spokesman Mark Miner said in an email later in the day that Perry planned to be there.

Story: For GOP, debate is where expectations meet reality Perry, a favorite of the Tea Party movement who has made a career out of railing against government spending, said he expects federal assistance with the wildfires. He also complained that red tape was keeping bulldozers and other heavy equipment at the Army’s Fort Hood, 75 miles from Bastrop, from being put to use. Fort Hood was battling its own fire, a 3,700-acre blaze.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration has approved seven federal grants to Texas to help with the latest outbreak, and “we will continue to work closely with the state and local emergency management officials as their efforts to contain these fires.”

About 1,200 firefighters battled the blazes, including members of local departments from around the state and crews from out of state, many of them arriving after Texas put out a call for help. More firefighters will join the battle once they have been registered and sent where they are needed.

Five heavy tanker planes, some from the federal government, and three aircraft capable of scooping 1,500 gallons of water at a time from lakes also took part in the fight.

“We’re getting incredible support from all over the country, federal and state agencies,” said Mark Stanford, operations director for the Texas Forest Service.

The disaster is blamed largely on Texas’ yearlong drought, one of the most severe dry spells the state has ever seen.

Interactive: Texas drought (on this page)

The fire in Bastrop County is easily the single most devastating wildfire in Texas in more than a decade, eclipsing a blaze that destroyed 168 homes in North Texas in April.

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman April Saginor said state wildfire records go back only to the late 1990s.

Lee's remnants brings fresh flood worries to East Coast

Lee’s remnants brings fresh flood worries to East – Yahoo! News.

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – As the leftovers from Tropical Storm Lee brought welcome wet weather to farmers in the Southeast, many areas of the East Coast were getting soaked Wednesday, bringing new concerns about flooding.

Tornadoes spawned by Lee damaged hundreds of homes, and flooding knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people. Trees were uprooted and roads were flooded. Winds from the storm fanned wildfires in Louisiana and Texas. Lee even kicked up tar balls on the Gulf Coast.

At least four people died in the storm.

Lee was moving north, bringing heavy rain along with it. Flood warnings were in effect Wednesday and Thursday for much of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Flood watches have been issued for water-logged eastern New York.

Rising waters of a rain-swollen creek forced the evacuation of residents in the northeastern Pennsylvania city of Wilkes-Barre early Wednesday morning.

Officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of about 3,000 residents. Rain from Irene also prompted evacuations there two Sundays ago.

In New Jersey, major flooding was forecast for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage in some communities.

Lee formed just off the Louisiana coast late last week and gained strength as it lingered in the Gulf for a couple of days. It dumped more than a foot of rain in New Orleans, testing the city’s pump system for the first time in years. The storm then trudged across Mississippi and Alabama. By Tuesday, it had collided with a cold front leaving much of the East Coast wet, with unseasonably cool temperatures.

At one point, flood watches and warnings were in effect from northeast Alabama through West Virginia to New England.

In southeast Louisiana, Red Eubanks used a floor squeegee to clean up his restaurant and bar. His parking lot had been dry — and the headquarters for Livingston Parish sheriff’s deputies and their rescue boat — but the nearby Amite River slowly rose and overflowed its banks.

Water crept into the dining hall and back of Red’s Restaurant and Bar. Eubanks’ son and several friends put the refrigerator, freezers and salad display boxes on cinder blocks to protect them.

“This makes the fifth time I’ve had water in this building in 31 1/2 years,” he said.

In New Jersey, where many residents were still cleaning up after Hurricane Irene, the remnants of Lee were expected to drop anywhere from 2 to 5 inches of rain. Major flooding was forecast on Wednesday for the Passaic River, which breached its banks during Irene and caused serious damage in some communities.

On New York’s Long Island, heavy rain and winds knocked out power to more than 9,000 utility customers for several hours on Tuesday. But Lee’s damage paled in comparison with Irene. At least 46 deaths were blamed on that storm, millions lost power and the damage was estimated in the billions of dollars.

Still, Lee was an unprecedented storm in some places. In Chattanooga, a 24-hour record for rainfall was set with 9.69 inches, eclipsing the previous record of 7.61 inches in March of 1886. By Tuesday, more than 10 inches of rain had fallen in the state’s fourth-largest city, which had its driest August ever with barely a drop of rain.

The soggy ground meant even modest winds were toppling trees onto homes and cars. A tree fell on a Chattanooga woman while she was moving her car, killing her, said police Sgt. Jerri Weary.

In suburban Atlanta, a man died after trying to cross a swollen creek near a dam. Authorities in Alabama called off the search for a missing swimmer presumed dead in the rough Gulf waters and in Mississippi, another man drowned while trying to cross a swollen creek in a car. Two people in the car with him were saved when an alert motorist nearby tossed them a rope.

There were other rescue stories, too. At a flooded apartment complex in Fort Oglethorpe in northwest Georgia, 33 people were saved by boat, Georgia Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ken Davis said.

The American Red Cross set up a shelter for them and other residents displaced in Mississippi, where damage was reported in at least 22 counties.

In Gulf Shores, Ala., black and brown chunks of tar ranging in size from marbles to baseballs washed up on the beach. Brandon Franklin, the city’s coastal claims manager, said samples would be sent to Auburn University for chemical testing to determine if the tar is from last year’s BP oil spill.

Oil from the spill had soiled Gulf Coast beaches during the summer tourist season a year ago, though officials said the tar balls found so far didn’t compare with the thick oil found on beaches then.

BP has sent survey teams to conduct post-storm assessments along coastal beaches to determine what may have developed on the beaches and barrier islands as a result of Lee. The oil giant is prepared to mobilize response crews to affected areas if necessary, spokesman Tom Mueller said.

In Cherokee County in northern Georgia, National Weather Service meteorologists confirmed that it was a tornado that damaged or destroyed about 400 homes. The twister was about a quarter-mile wide, with winds of around 90 mph. It traveled 24 miles on the ground, meteorologist Jessica Fieux said.

One man received minor injuries from flying debris, but otherwise no one was hurt.

Georgia Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner Ralph Hudgens toured a speedway and other neighborhoods damaged by the tornado.

“Sometimes a house would be hit, and a lot of damage,” Hudgens said. “And then the next door neighbor, nothing.”

The rain was a blessing for some farmers who had been forced to cut hay early and had seen their corn crop stunted by a summer drought.

“Obviously we would like to have this a while earlier,” said Brant Crowder, who manages 600 acres of the McDonald Farm in the Sale Creek community north of Chattanooga. “It’s been hot and dry the last two months.”

As many as 200,000 had lost power across Alabama at the height of the storm, with most of the outages in the Birmingham area, Alabama Power spokeswoman Keisa Sharpe said. Outages were also reported in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina.

Meanwhile, in the open Atlantic, Hurricane Katia threatened to bring large swells to the East Coast but was not expected to make landfall in the U.S.


Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Orange Beach, Ala.; Bob Johnson in Montgomery; Ray Henry in Atlanta; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.



Remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could flood Atlantic states, Northeast

The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could bring new floods to the Northeast.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Lee could bring new floods to the Northeast.
  • Up to 10 inches of rain are expected in Mid-Atlantic states
  • Rainfall amounts of up to 4 inches are forecast for the Northeast
  • Lee is blamed for at least four deaths in the South
  • What remained of Lee was located southwest of Knoxville, Tennessee

Read more about the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee from CNN affiliate WCBS.

Atlanta (CNN) — The remnants of former Tropical Storm Lee were forecast to bring heavy rainfall and flooding along the Appalachians and Mid-Atlantic states as they move up the East Coast on Wednesday.

The system also was expected to dump additional rain on the Northeast, which has yet to dry out after Hurricane Irene last week.

Flood and flash flood watches and warnings were posted from the South through the Appalachians and up into the Northeast as the remnants of Lee tracked north.

Rainfall amounts of up to 4 to 8 inches were expected, with up to 10 inches possible in isolated areas, the National Weather Service’s Hydrometeorological Prediction Center said late Tuesday.

“These rains may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the center said.

Lee’s remains spawn tornadoes in Georgia

As of 11 p.m. ET, the center of what remained of Lee was about 95 miles southwest of Knoxville, Tennessee, and was nearly stationary, the center said. The system had maximum sustained winds of 25 mph, with higher gusts.

To the north, the forecast was unwelcome news for waterlogged Vermont and northern New York, which could receive another 1 to 3 inches of rain with up to 4 inches possible in some spots by Wednesday night.

“We could get flooded again,” Robin Stewart of Paterson, New Jersey, told CNN affiliate WCBS. “We’re real concerned about that.”

Garbage remained piled outside Stewart’s home after flooding from Irene wrecked the first story of her house, WCBS said. Stewart hasn’t had power for more than a week, and she is afraid more rain will flood her home again and keep her in the dark even longer.

“When everybody else is on their way to recovery, we’re getting flooded again,” Stewart said.

Lee left at least four people dead as it crossed Southern states.

In Gwinnett County, Georgia, just outside Atlanta, firefighters said Tuesday they found the body of a man who drowned in a rain-swollen creek near Norcross.

In Baldwin County, Alabama, police said they no longer believe a missing 16-year-old boy is alive. The teen was last seen on a beach near Gulf Shores on Sunday.

A flooding death was also reported in rural northeast Mississippi, where one person drowned after floodwaters swept away a vehicle in Tishomingo County, emergency officials said.

And a woman was struck by a tree and killed in Chattanooga, Tennessee, early Tuesday.

Rainfall totals from Lee included 11.74 inches in Tillman’s Corner, Alabama; 10 inches in Mobile, Alabama; 10 inches in Milton, Florida; 10 inches in LaFayette, Georgia; 15 inches in Holden, Louisiana; and 14 inches in Waveland, Mississippi.




California fire started by plane crash, threatens homes

California fire threatens 800 homes – CNN.com.

The fire started when a small plane crashed southeast of Tehachapi, California, on Sunday.

The fire started when a small plane crashed southeast of Tehachapi, California, on Sunday.
  • 4,759-acre fire starts after plane crashes
  • Firefighters, working in “extreme conditions,” have fire 5% contained
  • Roads are closed, evacuations suggested, power lines threatened

(CNN) — A fire caused by a plane crash threatened 800 homes or structures in Tehachapi, California, on Monday, with nearly 5,000 acres ablaze in rugged terrain, according to state and local officials.

The fire started Sunday and was 5% contained by Monday, but there was no estimate of when it would be fully contained, according to a statement from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the Kern County Fire Department. Evacuations were recommended in the area threatened by the fire and at least three roads were closed, the statement said.

A relief center has been set up at Jacobsen Junior High School in Tehachapi for evacuees.

“Firefighters are working in extreme conditions, high heat, low humidity, with the potential for erratic winds,” according to the statement. The fire was burning in a mix of grass, brush and trees in steep rugged terrain, officials said. It was moving southeast toward Old West Ranch, Tehachapi City and Oak Creek and local power lines were threatened, according to the statement. Bulldozers were building perimeter lines to try to halt the fire, the statement said.

California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to provide money to offset the state and local costs of fighting the fire.

Wildfires whip through drought-stricken Texas

The plane crashed and burned near Mountain Valley Airport in Tehachapi, about 100 miles north of Los Angeles, FAA spokesman Ian Gregor told CNN. He said local authorities had confirmed one death, but did not know whether any other people were aboard. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will look into the cause of the crash, Gregor said.

Six hundred firefighters were on the scene trying to corral the 4,759-acre fire. The effort also involves 69 engines, 21 fire crews and two helicopters, according to the fire agencies’ statement. One injury has been reported and one structure has burned, the statement said.

Besides the Kern County Fire Department, others agencies fighting the fire include the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Los Angeles County Fire Department, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, the Ventura County Fire Department and the Orange County Fire Authority. The Red Cross and other agencies also were on the scene.

Texas wildfires destroy 700+ homes in two days

Texas wildfires destroy more than 700 homes in two days – CNN.com.

Bastrop, Texas (CNN) — Wildfires continued to rage Tuesday in Texas, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of homes near Austin and Houston as firefighters struggled to gain the upper hand against flames, winds and fatigue.

“Texas is in a difficult situation right now and our priorities are pretty simple. No. 1 is to protect life at all costs,” said Nim Kidd, chief of the state Division of Emergency Management.

The Texas Forest Service said it has responded to 181 fires that have burned more than 118,400 acres over the last week.

The fires have killed two people and, according to the forest service, destroyed more than 700 homes since Sunday. More than 1,000 homes have burned in the state since fire season began in November, Gov. Rick Perry’s office said.

The largest fire, near Austin, has spread across 30,000 acres, destroying more than 600 homes and forcing the evacuations of at least 5,000 people, officials said Tuesday. Known as the Bastrop County Complex, the fire has burned largely uncontrolled since it began Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t think it’s registered in our brains that our house is gone and that, really, half of Bastrop is gone,” said evacuee Claire Johnson.

The danger from a fire near Houston — called the Magnolia fire — appeared to be lessening for the most populated areas. Harris County, which includes Houston, said the fire was no longer a threat there. Also, many residents were being allowed back into their homes Tuesday in neighboring Montgomery County.

Perry: Wildfires trump politics
Wildfire prompts evacuations in Texas
Wall of smoke dominates Texas skyline
Wildfires continue to plague Texas

About 4,000 homes in Montgomery had been evacuated, according to Lt. Dan Norris of the county’s emergency management office. Firefighters continued to battle hot spots in Montgomery, but the bulk of the problems from the Magnolia fire now appear to be centered in Waller and Grimes counties, Norris said.

Another blaze in Grimes County, the Riley Road fire, has destroyed 20 homes and has hundreds more in its path, the forest service said. It had burned 3,000 acres as of Tuesday, according to the forest service.

Two major fires in Travis County destroyed 44 structures and damaged 74 others, Roger Wade, a spokesman for the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, said Tuesday.

Authorities planned to allow residents of the Steiner Ranch area, burned by one of those Travis fires, to return to their homes Tuesday afternoon.

“We have made progress, but there are smoldering islands here, and we will be working day and night,” said Jim Linardos, the fire incident commander.

While most of the damage has been to homes and other structures, a wildfire killed a woman and her 18-month-old child Sunday when flames engulfed their home near Gladewater, officials said.

Four firefighters working the Magnolia fire were taken to the hospital for treatment of heat exhaustion, according to the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management. One also had an ankle injury. All injuries were minor, the agency said.

The Bastrop County fire started Sunday and spread quickly though Monday on winds fueled by Tropical Storm Lee. It chased at least 2,500 people who registered with evacuation centers from their homes, and likely more.

Firefighters accustomed to attack a fire head-on could do little more than pick around the edges, trying to protect whatever they could, said Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service.

“We’ve been very defensive. It’s all we could do until now,” he said. “By the end of the day we hope to gain a lot of ground on this.”

Winds that had peaked at nearly 30 mph had calmed to little more than half that Tuesday, giving firefighters a chance to move to the fire’s front and try to slow its advance, Boggus said.

Still, the damage is staggering, said officials who have toured the area.

“Bastrop County is not the same,” county Judge Ronnie McDonald told CNN affiliate KXAN-TV in Austin.

Historic drought in Texas has created ideal conditions for the rapid spread of wildfire.

So far in 2011, 7.2 million acres of grass, scrub and forest have burned in wildfires nationwide. Of those, 3.5 million — nearly half — have been in Texas, according to Inciweb, a fire-tracking website maintained by state and federal agencies.

Tuesday marks the 294th consecutive day of wildfires in Texas, according to Inciweb.

More than 2,000 firefighters are working fires across the state, Boggus said.

Fatigue is a major issue, Boggus said, especially for volunteer firefighters from local departments who form the backbone of the response. Boggus said Texas officials are seeking additional resources from around the country to help battle the fires.

Read more about the Texas fires from CNN affiliates KXAN and KVUE. Are you there? Share photos, video, but stay safe.

Bastrop, Texas (CNN) — Firefighters southeast of Austin, Texas, battled strong winds Monday as they struggled to gain ground against a fast-moving wildfire that has so far scorched some 25,000 acres and destroyed close to 500 homes.

Another fire in eastern Texas killed a mother and her 18-month-old child when flames engulfed their mobile home Sunday near Gladewater, the Gregg County Sheriff’s Department said.

“We got a long way to go to get this thing contained,” Gov. Rick Perry said about the fire raging near Austin. “I have seen a number of big fires in my life. This one is as mean looking as I’ve ever seen.”

Dozens of fires are burning across the parched state, the Texas Forest Service said Monday.

Earlier, the governor issued a statement in which he called the wildfire situation in Texas “severe” and said that all state resources were being made available to protect lives and property.

“We will pick up the pieces. We always do,” he told reporters.

Wall of smoke dominates Texas skyline
Waiting for the wind to die in Texas
Wildfires continue to plague Texas

Texas is battling its worst fire season in state history. A record 3.5 million acres — an area roughly the size of Connecticut, Perry said — have burned since the start of the season in November as hot and dry weather, coupled with a historic drought, made conditions ripe for rapid fire growth.

“It’s a very serious, scary situation,” said Jan Amen, a Texas Forest Service spokeswoman. “The drought has gone on so long — it’s just bone dry. Anything that catches fire takes off.”

Over the weekend, officials said low relative humidity and strong winds from Lee, which made landfall as a tropical storm but then weakened, further fanned the flames.

A red flag warning was in effect for much of east, south and central Texas on Monday, with wind gusts of up to 35 mph in places, according to the National Weather Service.

A fire broke out about 45 miles north of Houston Monday afternoon. It was moving between 15 and 20 mph and threatening homes, said Rhonda Reinholz with the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department.

Another fire burned in the Steiner Ranch subdivision in Travis County, forcing families out of their homes. Justin Allen evacuated from there with his five kids. Though he does not think the flames will reach their house, which is tucked near the back of the development, they are close enough to worry about, he said.

“It’s pretty scary,” said Allen. “And it’s really sad for everyone that’s in that path.”

The outbreak of wildfires prompted Perry to return to Texas from South Carolina, where he was scheduled to participate in a forum for Republican presidential candidates.

The massive, uncontained fire in Bastrop County, near Austin, was the state’s largest Monday. It destroyed 476 homes, according to Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald, and threatened about 1,000 others, officials with the forest service’s incident management team reported. About 5,000 residents evacuated as flames approached, officials said.

‘There’s nothing left of these houses’
Perry: Wildfires trump politics
Winds whip up Texas wildfires

Lisa Ross learned she needed to leave her Bastrop home when her husband called 911 after realizing a looming fire had darkened the skies above.

“You learn what is valuable in life, and it isn’t the stuff,” she said. “It’s people in your life, and what means something to you.”

Cars crammed with belongings and pets packed a gas station on a highway near Austin, attorney Jonathon A. Zendeh Del said. “I’ve lived in Texas almost all my life, and I’ve never seen a fire that big in central Texas,” he said.

Officials issued a boil water notice for parts of Bastrop Monday. Dark clouds of smoke billowing across the sky could be seen miles from the fire.

Satellite images Monday showed the fire stretching over about 25,000 acres, jumping the Colorado River and a highway, the Texas Forest Service said.

More evacuations are likely as the fire spreads, officials said. Already, hundreds of people are in shelters as dangerous flames keep them from finding out whether their homes survived.

“We have been told already from three people that live in that area that our house has been burnt. I had a gut feeling that it did not, but now it’s looking worse and worse,” said Gisele Vocal, an evacuee. “We just have to wait now.”

Firefighters used Black Hawk helicopters to douse flames with a mixture of water and fire retardant Monday, officials said.

The fire forced parts of state highways 71 and 21 to shut and additional road closures were expected.

At least 63 new fires across Texas on Sunday burned nearly 33,000 acres, the state’s fire service said. Fires were reported in at least 17 counties.


September 6, 2011 8:08 AM

“No containment” of Texas wildfire


Last Updated 9:52 a.m. ET

BASTROP, Texas – Firefighters trying to control a wind-fueled wildfire that has destroyed nearly 600 homes in Central Texas were looking for a few overnight hours of diminished winds as thousands of evacuees spent the night away from their threatened homes.

There’s been no significant rainfall over central Texas for a year, said CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds, and today the consequences of that are being seen in Bastrop and other areas.

Since December, wildfires have consumed 3.6 million acres of Texas – an area the size of the state of Connecticut.

Unfortunately, there is no rainfall in the forecast for the foreseeable future.

The Texas Forest Service put out statement saying, “This is unprecedented fire behavior. No one on the face of this Earth has ever fought fires in these extreme conditions.”

Tom Boggus, director of the Texas Forest Service, told CBS’ “The Early Show” that as of this morning “There’s no containment right now.”

“We’ve been in a defensive mode for a couple of days now, and really all you can do is get people out of the way, protect homes where you can, and make sure our firefighters are safe,” Boggus told anchor Erica Hill. “But today, the winds have died down so we can probably be much more aggressive, and we hopefully can get some containment on all these fires in the Austin area.”

Texas wildfire destroys nearly 500 homes
Winds whip up Texas wildfires


Texas Gov. Rick Perry left the campaign trail Monday and returned to Texas for the latest outbreak of blazes. He told “The Early Show” Tuesday that he doesn’t know whether he will participate in the first Republican debate since he entered the raced for president while his state continues to battle persistent wildfires.

Perry mum on GOP debate as Texas wildfires rage

Boggus said 90 percent of wildfires are caused by people – directly, or through the electricity used by us. Texans are aware of the fire dangers. “People get it, they understand it,” he said. “Especially now it’s heightened with the news media … people understand to be very, very careful. And with the high winds people understood how dangerous and how volatile this state is.

“It’s historic. We’ve never seen fire seasons like this. We’ve never seen drought like this. This is an historic time that we’re living in, and so people know and understand they’ve got to be extremely careful,” Boggus said. (To watch the interview click on the video player below.)

FEMA funding faces now familiar congressional wrangling

FEMA funding faces now familiar congressional wrangling – CNN.com.

Washington (CNN) — As rescuers raced Tuesday to free people trapped by floodwaters caused by Hurricane Irene, Washington politicians bickered over how to pay for it.

The same budget arguments that nearly brought the first government default in history earlier this month now raise questions about whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will have enough money to deal with Irene’s aftermath.

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund has less than $800 million remaining, and given the pace of operations in the wake of Irene, could run out before the end of the current fiscal year on September 30.

With conservative House Republicans calling for spending cuts to offset any increase in emergency funds — a condition opposed by many Democrats — the ability of Congress to act quickly on the issue remains uncertain.

“The notion that we would hold this up until Republicans can prompt another budget fight and figure out what they want to cut, what they want to offset in the budget, and to pit one section of the country against the other and to delay this and create this uncertainty, it’s just the latest chapter and I think one of the most unsavory ones of our budget wars,” said Rep. David Price, D-North Carolina.

Connecticut Gov.: Ron Paul is an ‘idiot’
Ron Paul and FEMA
Paul defends negative remarks about FEMA
Is FEMA relevant?

Irene first made landfall on the U.S. mainland in North Carolina, devastating some coastal areas. Price said GOP efforts led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of neighboring Virginia to offset additional emergency funds amount to “an untenable position and one that simply is unresponsive and insensitive to the kind of situation we face.”

Cantor’s spokesman, however, noted that an appropriations bill already passed by the House and awaiting action in the Democratic-controlled Senate includes additional money to replenish the FEMA disaster fund.

“That funding was offset,” said the spokesman, Brad Dayspring. “The Senate has thus far failed to act on that legislation.”

While the appropriations bill is for fiscal year 2012, which begins October 1, the money could be used for disasters that occurred in fiscal 2011.

“People and families affected by these disasters will certainly get what they need from their federal government,” Dayspring said. “The goal should be to find ways to pay for what is needed whenever possible. That is the responsible thing to do. ”

States can request FEMA Disaster Relief Fund assistance once the president declares a federal disaster within their borders. Most of the Eastern and Northeast states hit by Irene already have that designation.

Federal officials say they don’t yet know how much money will be needed for all the emergency operations associated with Irene. After a series of destructive tornadoes earlier this year, including one that leveled a large swath of Joplin, Missouri, FEMA announced Monday that it was not approving new long-term reconstruction projects in order to ensure it has enough money for immediate emergency funding needs.

“Historically, when the balance in our Disaster Relief Fund has been under the range of $1 billion, we have employed this strategy,” a FEMA statement said.

Rachel Racusen, a FEMA spokesperson, said in a statement that the revised funding strategy “prioritizes the immediate, urgent needs of survivors and states when preparing for or responding to a disaster.”

“This strategy will not affect the availability of aid that any disaster survivors are receiving for recent disasters, such as tornadoes or flooding, or our response operations for Hurricane Irene or any event in the coming weeks or months,” Racusen said.

Missouri legislators worried that FEMA was shifting priority from Joplin’s recovery to focus on Irene because of the funding crunch.

“Recovery from hurricane damage on the East Coast must not come at the expense of Missouri’s rebuilding efforts,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said in a statement Monday. “If FEMA can’t fulfill its promise to our state because we have other disasters, that’s unacceptable, and we need to take a serious look at how our disaster response policies are funded and implemented.”

To Price, the problem is the Republican demand for spending offsets, which he said ended up pitting regions against each other for needed emergency funding.

“I’m just very impatient and I think the American people are going to be impatient with any attempt to hold these funds hostage to political objectives,” he said.

A Democratic Senate appropriations aide told CNN on condition of not being identified that the FEMA disaster fund was at $772 million on Tuesday morning, and that it would be about a week before the agency can estimate the costs associated with Hurricane Irene.

The House appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, which includes FEMA, will come up in the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 6, according to the Senate aide.

It doubled the original $1.8 billion requested by President Barack Obama for fiscal 2012, adding $850 million for emergency funding that was offset by cuts in other DHS programs including the Coast Guard, first responders and FEMA, the aide said.

In addition, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, added another $1 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund that was offset by cutting funds for a fuel-efficient vehicles program, according to the aide.

Democrats take issue with cuts to Homeland Security funding to offset additional emergency funding, the aide noted. In July, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, who chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations subcommittee, criticized the House appropriations bill as “short-sighted.”

Even the White House got involved in the fracas, with Press Secretary Jay Carney telling reporters Tuesday that he wished Cantor and other conservative Republicans had the same commitment to spending offsets “when they ran up unprecedented bills and never paid for them” during the administration of President George W. Bush.

That prompted a quick response from Cantor’s office, which said: “The goal should be to find ways to pay for what is needed when possible. In the face of a $14 trillion national debt, that is the responsible thing to do.”

Conservatives' attack FEMA

Another disaster: Conservatives’ attack on FEMA – CNN.com.

Editor’s note: Sally Kohn is a strategist and political commentator. She is the founder and chief education officer of the Movement Vision Lab, a grassroots think tank. This piece was written in association with The Op-Ed Project, an organization seeking to expand the range of opinion voices to include more women.

(CNN) — Three months ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives tried to slash 2012 spending for the Federal Emergency Management Agency by 55% compared with 2011 spending levels, 70% compared with the 2010 budget. Thankfully, Senate Democrats avoided the most extreme cuts to FEMA. But since then, the United States has been pelted by several major disasters and FEMA is almost out of money.

Nonetheless, Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia — whose own district was the much-damaged epicenter of a severe earthquake last week — said he would not increase FEMA’s funding until spending is cut elsewhere.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Republicans also said they wouldn’t do anything to help the economy and the middle class unless spending was cut from the very poor and elderly: proposing cuts to food stamps and Medicare. It’s as if millions of Americans are drowning while Republicans stand on the shore, hoarding life preservers by the armfuls. You can have one in a natural disaster or get one later if you’re old or unemployed — but you can’t have both.

Of course, many conservatives want to get rid of life preservers altogether. This weekend, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul made waves by saying FEMA should be destroyed. In its policy manifesto for members of Congress, the libertarian Cato Institute urged that FEMA “should be abolished,” saying that “by using taxpayer dollars to provide disaster relief and subsidized insurance, FEMA itself encourages Americans to build in disaster-prone areas and makes the rest of us pick up the tab for those risky decisions.” Indeed, when the small town of Mineral, Virginia, built itself over a fault line in 1890, it should have foreseen last week’s earthquake. And don’t even get me started on New York City brazenly popping up in the path of a hurricane.

Conservatives hate FEMA precisely because it represents the ideals of government at its best. Not always the implementation — the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exposed the dire need for reforms in FEMA’s chain of command. But the spirit — that, as Thomas Jefferson put it, through our government, we “unite in common efforts for the common good.”

Just as up and down the East Coast this weekend, good neighbors helped those who couldn’t help themselves, in these crisis moments, good government helps entire neighborhoods, towns and even cities that can’t help themselves.

Hurricane Irene tragically claimed at least 21 lives, but fortunately the damage overall was less than anticipated. Still, according to the Los Angeles Times, total uninsured losses could be as high as $4 billion. At a time when cities and states are already strapped and our fragile economy needs every small business and working family at full speed, it’s the job of our federal government to help. Yes, even if that means taxing the very rich or borrowing more money to do so.

Funnily enough, now some Republicans in Congress are demanding FEMA’s budget be increased. The very same party that tried to slash FEMA’s budget by more than half is now accusing President Obama of “purposefully and irresponsibly underfunding” disaster relief and “putting families and communities who have suffered from terrible disasters on the back burner.”

The Republican-led House Appropriations Committee which earlier this year gouged FEMA’s budget has issued a press release trying to blame Democrats and the president for cuts to disaster relief aid. Someone had better call the congressional doctor and check the Capitol building for chunks of falling debris.

This dramatic about-face perfectly captures conservative opportunism against government: Beat it to the ground and then, when government is obviously needed, blame liberals for not helping it get up. Coming from a political party that has vowed to shrink government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub, we should be skeptical when Republicans pretend they’re the ones resuscitating our common good.

Governors from both sides of the aisle are praising FEMA in the wake of Irene. “FEMA has been very responsive,” said New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Maryland’s Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, also praised FEMA and drew contrasts with a few years ago when, under President George W. Bush, FEMA was undermined and ineffective.

The fact is, government works. FEMA, when it’s adequately funded and staffed by competent professionals, is not an exception but the rule. It’s one of millions of examples of how, through government, we unite in common efforts for the common good.

As Irene approached my neighborhood in New York, people were helping evacuees get safely to shelters, carrying gallons of water up each other’s stairs and generally keeping each other entertained in the insanely long lines at grocery stores. In our national community, government was standing by to offer its helping hand if needed — a hand conservatives are trying to sever, when they’re not busy ceremoniously shaking it.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Sally Kohn.

Residents review 'devastating' damage as waters recede in Vermont

Residents review ‘devastating’ damage as waters recede in Vermont – CNN.com.

Wilmington, Vermont (CNN) — Ten-foot-high flood waters poured through Eileen Ranslow’s 40-year-old flooring business in Wilmington when Irene struck Vermont over the weekend.

The family business, where revenue has dwindled in the economic downturn, now faces at least $300,000 in damage.

“It’s devastating. It’s devastating,” Ranslow said, her voice cracking.

She is not alone, as the effect of Irene continues to be felt in flood-ravaged communities along the U.S. East Coast.

Irene killed 43 people from Florida to New England as it marched up the Eastern Seaboard over the weekend, dumping torrential rain. Some of the worst flooding struck Vermont, New Jersey and upstate New York.

Flood advisories remained in place Thursday for portions of New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Virginia and South Carolina.

The extent of the damage in upstate New York has become more evident in the days since Irene, where the storm battered a cluster of communities 50 miles southwest of Albany.

“There is a lot of damage left to clean up. I know the town of Prattsville has been almost completely condemned,” said Jacob Hubbell of neighboring Margaretville. “Fleischmanns isn’t doing too well either, and main street (in) Margaretville has been closed.”

“It’s safe to say that we probably won’t be back to normal in the Catskills for at least a month.”

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Irene’s impact still felt days after storm
Aerials show Irene damage in Vermont
Explain it to me: Weather forecasting

In northern New Jersey, the Passaic River has begun to settle back into its banks, the National Weather Service said. The river is expected to fall below flood stage Thursday morning.

The development will be welcome news in the towns of Wayne, Totowa, Little Falls, Paterson and Woodland Park, where about 1,700 residents were evacuated from their homes this week.

President Barack Obama will travel to Paterson Sunday to view the damage, the White House announced.

The full extent of Irene’s destruction won’t be known for some time. The federal government estimates that the cost from wind damage alone will exceed $1 billion. Analysts have put the total expected cost of Irene much higher.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Thursday the storm also took a toll on agricultural production.

“I had an opportunity to take a look at fields in North Carolina,” he said. “I have never seen anything like it. The corn was just totally destroyed — tobacco hit hard, cotton hit hard.” It remains to be seen how some other crops, such as soybeans and tomatoes, fared, he said, but “it’s very clear that farmers in North Carolina, Virginia, along the East Coast, have suffered pretty significant losses.”

But, he said, it’s unlikely that higher prices will result, as “we have such a diverse agriculture in the United States and we have so many acres planted and so many different crops. I don’t think this is going to affect much of anything.”

The federal government’s tab for the storm could exhaust the $800 million left in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund before the fiscal year ends on September 30.

With conservative House Republicans, led by Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, calling for spending cuts to offset any increase in emergency funds — a measure opposed by many Democrats — the ability of Congress to act quickly on the issue remains uncertain.

Mayor Jeffery Jones of Paterson said he was “outraged” about the funding dispute. “Mother Nature has a mind of her own, a will of her own, and we can’t have the petty wrangling going on when we have folks in dire need,” he said.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie echoed those sentiments during a news conference Wednesday, saying, “We don’t have time to wait for folks in Congress to figure out how they want to offset this stuff with the budget cuts. Our people are suffering now. And they need support now.”

More than 1.7 million customers remained without electricity Wednesday from North Carolina to Maine, the U.S. Department of Energy said — a decrease from the 1.8 million reported earlier in the day. Outage figures include more than 366,000 in Connecticut and 314,000 in New York.

Vermont transportation officials made emergency repairs on roads to all but one of about a dozen previously isolated towns, officials said.

Replacing washed-out bridges will take more time.

Air drops were being made to three towns. The National Guard is carrying supplies to other communities, said Mark Bosma, spokesman for Vermont Emergency Management.

Illinois National Guard helicopters are helping with the operation, distributing food, water and medicine to several towns.

Because the repaired roads are intended for emergency and supply delivery traffic, residents will have to wait for more permanent repairs to resume their old driving habits. That is expected to take at least several weeks or months in some cases.

“We’ve transitioned into the recovery stage for the most part,” Bosma said. “The worst is over.”

In Wilmington, Vermont, volunteers from across the state descended on the community to help with the clean-up.

“I couldn’t sit at home. I had to come help,” said Sarah Boisbert, as she worked outside Ranslow’s gutted flooring shop.

Ranslow was touched by the gesture of so many helping hands.

“They’re just people,” she said, pausing. “They’re neighbors and in Vermont we’re all neighbors.”

Landslides & flash floods kill 32 in South Korea

Landslides, flash floods hit South Korea, 32 dead | Reuters.

Rescue workers remove a body from a house following a landslide in Chuncheon, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Seoul, July 27, 2011. A landslide caused by torrential rain crashed into a South Korean mountain resort east of Seoul early on Wednesday, destroying four buildings, including two small hotels, and killing at least 10 people, officials said. REUTERS-Jo Yong-Hak
Rescue workers walk past a collapsed house swept by a landslide in Chuncheon, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Seoul, July 27, 2011. REUTERS-Jo Yong-Hak
Cars are trapped on a flooded motorway during heavy rainfall in Seoul July 27, 2011, in this picture taken through a window. REUTERS-Jun Su-young-Yonhap

1 of 10. Rescue workers remove a body from a house following a landslide in Chuncheon, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Seoul, July 27, 2011. A landslide caused by torrential rain crashed into a South Korean mountain resort east of Seoul early on Wednesday, destroying four buildings, including two small hotels, and killing at least 10 people, officials said.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

CHUNCHEON, South Korea | Wed Jul 27, 2011 11:49am EDT

(Reuters) – Torrential rain battered the South Korean capital Seoul and surrounding regions Wednesday, causing dozens of landslides and flash floods that killed at least 32 people, the emergency services said.

In the worst single accident, a landslide crashed into a mountain resort at Chuncheon, east of Seoul, destroying three small hotels and killing at least 13 people.

A resident reported hearing what sounded like a train.

“Then I heard someone shouting ‘help me’. So I went out to see, and I saw a landslide had swept all over the area,” she said.

Another landslide on the outskirts of Seoul buried dozens of houses and killed at least 10 residents, local media reported, adding that one villager was missing.

A tributary of the Han River running through Gonjiam, about 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Seoul, had overflowed and killed five residents, Yonhap news agency reported.

Wild weather has battered the central region of the country since late Tuesday, causing rivers to burst their banks, disrupting travel and triggering power outages.

More than 60,000 homes were still without electricity on Wednesday evening, Yonhap said.

The share price of insurers fell on fears that damage costs would run into tens of millions of dollars.

At Chuncheon, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Seoul, soldiers were drafted in to help with the rescue operation after a wall of mud flattened the small hotels just after midnight.

More than 40 holidaymakers, mostly university students, were sleeping in the inns when the landslide hit.

“We were asleep and suddenly I heard a big sound, and then the ceiling fell down,” Lee Beon-seok, a student, told a television station.

Officials said 26 people were injured.

About 400 mm (16 inches) of rain fell on Seoul in a period of 24 hours, and the weather bureau said the heavy rain would last until Friday.

There was no immediate reports of damage to crops, and flights and shipping were not affected.

(Reporting by Seoul bureau; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Ron Popeski)