U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago

We know all too well that disaster can strike at any time, in any place in the world. Some disasters make headlines; others do not. Here at the Center for Disaster Philanthropy, we keep an eye on status of disasters worldwide and compile a list of the ones we’re tracking weekly, along with relevant disaster-related media coverage.

To stay informed, we invite you to check back every Tuesday for updates on new, ongoing and past disasters. Listed below is information about what we are monitoring the week of May 13.

New or Emerging Disasters We’re Watching

Gulf Coast – Severe Storms and Flooding: May is supposed to bring flowers after April’s showers. Instead, the first weeks of May have brought excessive rain – 300-600 percent more than usual – to much of the Gulf South. Saturated ground and the intensity of the storms has led to flash flooding, tornadoes, power outages and structural damage throughout the region.

Several days of bad weather including heavy rain and tornado outbreaks throughout Louisiana resulted in Governor John Bel Edwards issuing a state of emergency on Wednesday. Earlier that day, eight tornadoes hit the northern part of the state including one in Natchitoches Parish, three in DeSoto Parish, three in Jackson Parish and one that hit both Lincoln and Jackson Parishes. There’s nothing like waking up all night to the sound of emergency tones from your phone, but that’s what happened Saturday overnight into Sunday morning for me and many of my fellow residents of New Orleans. In my city, our pumping system is designed to move water out of the city – a necessity of being below sea level – but it has limited capacity: one inch in the first hour and .5 inches every hour after that. Five inches of rain fell overnight on Saturday; much of it in a solid burst of two to three inches Sunday morning. Power to one of the stations failed during one of the heaviest bursts and it took an hour before the generators were turned on and got the water moving again. I was lucky, streets just a few blocks away in multiple directions were flooded.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for several areas following severe storms in that state. Over 14 inches fell near Perkinston, Mississippi, between Tuesday and Sunday. Two people died in separate car accidents near Pearl River and a train derailed in Pearl River County when the tracks washed away because of flooding.

In Texas, Houston residents felt flashbacks to Hurricane Harvey as heavy rain fell for days across the city and state. In most areas, it was the most rain that had fallen since Harvey, and in some, more rain fell than during Harvey. On Tuesday, six to 10 inches fell in some areas within a few hours leading to flash flooding. In Needville, a town southwest of Houston, Big Creek began Tuesday well below flood stage with water levels at three feet. By Wednesday morning it was at 22 feet, over two inches higher than it reached during Harvey. A tornado hit Harrison County on Wednesday in the same system that impacted Louisiana. On Thursday, three to four more inches fell. And another several inches fell on Saturday.

South Australia – Flu Outbreak: An unprecedented flu season has struck South Australia this year with 17 deaths already. With 13 of the deaths occurring in aged care facilities, officials report that 53 outbreaks have occurred in nursing homes and 18 facilities are in lockdown. According to the Chief Medical Officer, as of last Saturday there were 12,339 cases so far this year (compared to 1,348 last year at this time). This includes seven people who died in one week and a healthy 15-year-old with no pre-existing conditions. Across the whole country, there have already been 40,000 cases, triple the typical amount at this point in the winter; there were 58,000 for all of the 2018 flu season. Experts warned this week that the deaths this year could hit 4,000 if the rate does not slow down before the winter peak.

India – Drought: A drought in India is worsening quickly with 72 percent of districts in Maharashtra and 80 percent in Karnataka suffering from crop failure and scarcity of water – 21,000 villages in Maharashtra are out of water and reserves are low. Across the state of Maharashtra there is less than 18 percent water reserves, much of it unusable. Almost 5,000 water tankers have been deployed to Maharashtra to provide water to residents; less than 1,000 were needed last year. The drought is having a significant impact on over eight million farmers and all major crops – soy, cotton, maize, pulses, citrus lemon and groundnuts – have been affected by the lack of rainfall. 

South Sudan – Bushfire: A wildfire last weekend killed at least 33 people and critically injured over 60 others in Korok county, in Lol state. The fire engulfed four villages, as well as destroying 138 homes and killing 10,000 head of cattle. South Sudan is also experiencing a significant measles outbreak. There have been 937 cases with seven deaths. Most of the cases (69 percent) were children under five.

Indonesia – Cyclone Lili: A cyclone hit the several areas of Maluku in Indonesia on Thursday, May 9. At least three villages in separate districts were flooded after being hit with a storm surge of at least five feet. A number of homes and public buildings were damaged.

Papau New Guinea – Earthquake: A 7.7 magnitude earthquake hit the island of New Ireland in Papau New Guinea on Tuesday, May 14. A tsunami threat was issued for the surrounding area. The area is not highly populated, but the quake was also very shallow which can lead to more damage. We will have an update next week.

Paraguay – Flooding: An emergency declaration was issued in Paraguay on Wednesday, May 8 after severe flooding impacted several communities inÑeembucú. Paraguay River is at flood stage in several spots after heavy rain. The government is providing food and relief supplies to over 1,000 families. An additional 1,000 Indigenous families in Rio Verd in La Patria’i district are receiving supplies by helicopter after flooding cut off their communities.

**A special note**– The mass flooding across the continental United States has left the country nearly drought free with only two percent of land mass in drought conditions. However, the increased amount of flooding has led to an increase in flood fatalities – there have been at least 10 in May so far. On average, there are 95 deaths to floods in the U.S. each year. To date, there have been 44 fatalities, compared to 19 in the first five months of 2018. We have already exceeded the yearly totals from 2014 (43 deaths) and 2012 (29 deaths). The slogan of emergency managers is an important one to heed: Turn Around, Don’t Drown.

Previous or Ongoing Disasters
Democratic Republic of the Congo – Ebola Outbreak: The number of cases and deaths have been growing at rates faster than witnessed previously in this crisis. In last week’s blog we shared that the number of cases stood at 1,554 and the deaths were at 1,029. As of Saturday, May 11, the totals deaths are at 1,117 and the outbreak has now reached 1,680 cases; 1,592 are confirmed and 88 suspected. This is almost 100 deaths in a week and nearly 120 new cases. The case fatality rate is 66 percent, higher than the average of 50 percent. Of those affected, 55 percent are female and almost 30 percent are children younger than 18 years old. Healthcare workers make up six percent of the total cases; 95 have been affected, including 34 deaths. Delivering vaccines and health care in an area filled with violent clashes is tough, yet approximately 111,494 people have been vaccinated, all of whom are contacts of infected or deceased individuals or contacts of contacts. For some helpful information on the history of Ebola outbreaks and case locations, see our CDP Ebola Outbreak Disaster Profile for regularly updated information and join us for our webinar on the crisis this Thursday, May 16 at 2 p.m. ET. Register here.

India/Bangladesh – Cyclone Fani: Cyclone Fani, the worst cyclone to hit India in decades, made landfall in the morning on Friday, May 3, near the city of Puri in Odisha state, India before making its way through the country and into Bangladesh. Thirteen people died in Bangladesh and 64 in India, mostly in Puri. Protests have occurred in India to draw attention to what many residents feel is a very slow and fragmented governmental response. Demonstrators blocked roads in Bhubaneswar – Odisha’s capital – to protest the lack of coordination among government agencies, the rising and high costs of food and water, the slow pace of relief and the lack of damage assessment. Odisha’s government says it will begin damage assessment this week and will provide financial assistance to families. There are ongoing power and water shortages. Officials have estimated that 30 percent of the crop in agricultural land has been damaged – about 100,000 hectares affected across Odisha. Further, 1.4 million trees – many of them coconut and mango – were uprooted. In Bangladesh, 13,000 homes were fully or partially damaged.

Mozambique – Cyclone Kenneth: Making landfall in late April, a few weeks after Cyclone Idai struck the country, Cyclone Kenneth impacted Mozambique, the Coromo Islands and Tanzania. The death toll has reached 50 people now with 276 injuries. As of May 7th, there were 11,400 homes partially destroyed in the Comoros, with a further 4,482 fully destroyed. In Mozambique, the damage is much more significant: nearly 45,400 houses have either been fully (18,179) or partially destroyed (27,203).

U.S. – Flooding/Severe Weather: Ongoing flooding of the Mississippi River led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reopen the Bonnet Carré Spillway in Louisiana on Friday, May 10. This is the 14th time it has been opened since 1937 but is the first year that it was opened twice during the same high-water event and the first time opening in consecutive years. The Spillway reduces the amount of water in the river and diverts it to the Gulf of Mexico via farmlands and Lake Pontchartrain. Commercial and local fishermen, as well as those who live along the Gulf, are concerned about the impacts on wildlife and their industry. St. Bernard Parish planned to issue its own state of emergency declaration because of the impact on oystermen. There have been reports of a couple dozen dolphins killed; many believe it is linked to freshwater intrusion.

In the Midwest, some communities remain flooded, while others brace for flooding or are beginning clean-up. For many communities, beyond the initial media surge when the first bomb cyclone hit, these are low-attention disasters. In part, this stems from the rural nature of the communities; many of those affected were farmers and there could be significant impacts to the food system.. Farms in Nebraska are covered with several feet of sand – sediment from the rivers and streams that flooded. Farmers were already suffering before the disaster, but the destruction of farmland means that recovery may be several years in the making. Farmers, and other agricultural workers, have a very high suicide rate and much of the support for this crisis is aimed at mental health and counseling supports to prevent a recurrence of the 1980s when 1,000 farmers took their own lives during the foreclosure crisis.

FEMA began its damage assessments in the Quad Cities on Monday; some communities have been underwater for 51 days already. Water is finally receding and clean-up beginning in Davenport following the levee breach at the end of April.

Only Nebraska and Iowa received federal disaster declarations, meaning that the ability of each state to respond was beyond their capacity.

  • Nebraska – DR-4420 Much of the state is eligible for public assistance and about half of the counties are eligible for individual assistance. To date,2,297 Individual Assistance Applications have been approved for a total Individual and Households Program dollars approved in the amount of $21,940,191.
  • Iowa – DR-4421 – While much of the state is eligible for public assistance, only about nine counties on the western side of the state are eligible for FEMA individual assistance. To date, 1,232 Individual Assistance Applications have been approved for a total Individual and Households Program dollars approved in the amount of $12,206,197.

In Kansas, Governor Laura Kell issued a state of emergency on Thursday, May 9, due to flooding from intense rainfall. Several people had to be rescued from flood waters.

Michigan, including Detroit, continues to experience flooding along Lake Erie. Predictions about the severity of Great Lakes flooding also has New York and communities on the Canadian side of the lakes preparing for potential flooding as snow melt continues.

Friend to CDP, Maretta Champagne recently received the Spirit Award from National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters for her work supporting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota as it recovers from multiple disasters, including flooding in March after the bomb cyclone. Maretta blogged about her experiences for us here.

What We’re Reading

  • Mapping America’s Wicked Weather and Deadly Disasters – The Washington Post: “The fear of losing everything in a natural disaster sits in the back of our minds no matter where we live. The same diverse physical geography that gives us sunny beaches and crisp mountain air also generates devastating storms and wildfires. Climate change is only making things worse. Data collection for these events has never been more consistent. Mapping the trends in recent years gives us an idea of where disasters have the tendency to strike. In 2018, it is estimated that natural disasters cost the nation almost $100 billion and took nearly 250 lives. It turns out there is nowhere in the United States that is particularly insulated from everything.”
  • India’s Cyclone Fani Recovery Offers the World Lessons in Disaster Preparedness – The Conversation:“The United Nations office for Disaster Risk Deduction (UNISDR) and other organi[z]ations have hailed government and volunteer efforts that have ensured the levels of destruction have been kept to a minimum. According to official estimates, 64 people lost their lives due to the devastating cyclone Fani. But considering the power of the cyclone, it is remarkable that more lives have not been lost.”
  • If Storms give you Anxiety after Hurricane Harvey, Therapy is Available Online – KHOU“Because of Harvey, a lot of people still feel anxiety every time it rains. But you don’t have to bottle it in. There’s a free app called “Onto Better Health” that allows people to get confidential cognitive behavioral therapy at home. UTHealth offers the app, thanks to funding from the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.”
  • How the University of Iowa Recovered From the ‘Unfathomable’ Flood That Ruined It – The New York Times: “Don Guckert’s job is keeping the buildings on the University of Iowa’s charming campus up and running, and safe. His most important lessons came from the worst days of his career, in June 2008, when the waters of the Iowa River washed across the campus, causing catastrophic damage. . .Now Mr. Guckert has a side gig. He travels the country, telling other institutions what he and the University of Iowa have learned from the disaster, and explaining how others can prepare for the worst. Mr. Guckert said that in a changing world, people might not know what the worst could mean.”
  • The Indian Ocean is Spawning Stronger and Deadlier Tropical Cyclones – Quartz Africa“The Indian Ocean has made its mark on the global news cycle this year. In March, tropical cyclone Idai made headlines as one of the most severe storms to have made landfall in Mozambique. Current estimates indicate that more than 1,000 people died. This makes it the most deadly tropical cyclone ever to have made landfall on the southern African subcontinent.”
  • Researchers Develop Better Way to Determine Coastal Flooding Risk – Floodlist: Researchers at Oregon State University have developed a new methodology for building computer models that paves the way to better understanding the flood risks faced by coastal communities. That’s important because towns along the coast are often situated near estuaries, which makes them vulnerable to both storm tide inundation and river flooding. Estuaries occur where rivers flow into the ocean, meaning the rivers are influenced by tidal flooding and also experience frequent, periodic changes in salinity, sunlight and oxygen.”