What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, April 3

Tornado damage in Wynne, Arkansas, April 1, 2023. (Source: Arkansas Division of Emergency Management via Twitter)

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 the status of disasters worldwide and compile a list of the ones we’re tracking weekly, along with relevant disaster-related media coverage.

Here’s what we’re watching for the week of April 3, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Tornadoes – U.S. South and Midwest: On the heels of the devastating tornadoes that wreaked havoc in Mississippi and the Deep South March 24-26, another tornado outbreak this past weekend killed at least 32 people and caused damage across at least seven states. At least 15 reported deaths occurred in Tennessee, including nine in McNairy County, east of Memphis.

The huge storm system prompted at least 50 preliminary reports of tornadoes. By the evening of March 31, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists had issued more than 450 tornado warnings. The damages and impacts on lives and communities are widespread and diverse. In Wynne, Arkansas, Mayor Jennifer Hobbs said the town had been “cut in half by damage from east to west.” On March 31, one person was killed and 40 others injured after a roof collapsed at a theater in Belvidere, Illinois.

Drone footage captured significant damage in Little Rock, Arkansas. On April 2, President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in Arkansas. The declaration makes individual and public assistance available in Cross, Lonoke and Pulaski counties. Amid an exhausting series of disasters in the U.S. and globally, philanthropy must avoid disaster fatigue by continuing to support tornado-affected communities.

For more, see our 2023 U.S. Tornadoes disaster profile.

Earthquake – Papua New Guinea: According to the U.S. Geological Survey, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Papua New Guinea’s East Sepik province in the early morning hours on April 3. The remote region has many swamps, and people live subsistence lives hunting and fishing. A spokesperson for Papua New Guinea’s Natural Disaster Centre said the earthquake had left at least three people dead. Early reports from villages in the affected area said people needed medical attention, and dozens of houses had collapsed.

Landslide – Ecuador: Weeks of heavy rainfall appear to have triggered a massive landslide on March 26 in Alausí, 137 miles south of Ecuador’s capital, Quito. On March 31, Ecuador’s government raised the number of dead to 23 while rescue teams continued to look for missing individuals. Ecuador’s disaster agency had warned of potential landslide danger for a 610-acre area in Alausi in February.

More than two million cubic meters of dirt and mud buried more than 50 homes, some three stories tall. According to Dave Petley of the University of Hull, this landscape is dominated by landslides. Petley wrote on The Landslide Blog, “On the steep slopes around Alausí, there are multiple arcuate scars that probably mark the source zones of previous landslides.”

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Tornadoes – Mississippi: NWS confirmed six tornadoes from the severe storm that affected large portions of west-central Mississippi on March 24. The strongest of the confirmed tornadoes received a rating of EF-4 and had an unusually long path, traveling 59.4 miles. Less than 1 percent of US tornadoes travel more than 50 miles. According to NWS, an EF-4 tornado has top wind gusts between 166 and 200 miles per hour.

In their March 29 severe weather update on the March 24 disaster event, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said preliminary damage assessments revealed 1,914 residential homes damaged or destroyed across 12 counties. Monroe County reported most of the damages, with 1,476 homes impacted. Before and after satellite photosof Rolling Fork, Mississippi, show the extent of the tornado damage to the town in Sharkey County.

President Joe Biden visited Rolling Fork and other affected areas in Mississippi on March 31, pledging long-term support from the federal government. Mississippi’s major disaster declaration (DR-4697) provides individual and public assistance to Carroll, Humphreys, Monroe, Montgomery, Panola and Sharkey counties. As of April 3, 333 individual assistance applications had been approved worth more than $2.06 million. On March 31, northeast Mississippi was hit with tornadoes due to the weekend’s outbreak.

On March 30, CDP hosted a webinar to discuss immediate and long-term needs in the tornado-affected communities and provided takeaways for funders to support relief and recovery efforts effectively.

For more, see our 2023 U.S. Tornadoes disaster profile.

Wildfire – Spain: Crews were battling more than 100 wildfires in Spain’s northern Asturias region on March 30, with another wildfire still burning several days after it started in the eastern Valencia region. A separate fire swept through more than 2,700 acres (1,100 hectares) of land in Galicia in the northwest. The country recorded its hottest March 29 last week, with temperatures exceeding normal levels by 44 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit (seven to 14 Celsius). Authorities said most of the recent fires were started intentionally by arsonists and others.

In addition to the disasters listed above, we actively monitor the following disasters or humanitarian emergencies. For more information, see the relevant disaster profiles, which are updated regularly.

U.S. Midwest Low-Attention Disasters

The Midwest is regularly faced with low-attention disasters that affect people across the region. CDP’s Midwest Early Recovery Fund (ERF) effectively funds efforts that catalyze equitable disaster recovery.

These are some of the latest disasters and related news the ERF team is monitoring:

  • Oklahoma saw around 100 fires across the state as strong winds and a cold front moved through on March 31 and April 1. Logan County Emergency Management reported more than 30 destroyed homes. Oklahoma City Fire Department responded to over 350 emergency calls, including downed power lines, vehicle fires, grass and trash fires. The Oklahoma State Department of Health said there were 32 injuries related to the fires and severe weather. At least 28,000 customers were without power on April 1, but power has been restored as of April 3, according to PowerOutage.us.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Haiti

Many places worldwide are experiencing emergencies caused by conflict, climate change, drought, famine, economic challenges and other conditions that combine to create a complex humanitarian emergency (CHE). CDP maintains complete profiles on several CHEs, and what CDP considers Level 1 CHEs are profiled in this weekly blog post and tracked.

Haiti’s 2023 Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) says, “The country is plagued by widespread violence and ongoing political unrest, against a backdrop of soaring inflation and a third consecutive year of economic recession.” In Haiti, 5.2 million people need humanitarian assistance this year, up from 4.9 million in 2022.

Insecurity and violence are critical drivers of humanitarian needs. According to the Human Rights Service of the UN Integrated Office in Haiti, from the beginning of 2023 to March 15, “531 people were killed, 300 injured, and 277 kidnapped in gang-related incidents that took place mainly in the capital, Port-au-Prince.” The New Humanitarian reported that sexual violence had reached unprecedented levels.

Nearly five million people in Haiti, almost half the country’s population, are experiencing high levels of acute food insecurity between March and June 2023. High inflation, the rising cost of transportation and the worsening security situation reduce the purchasing power of the poorest households.

Jean-Martin Bauer, the World Food Programme’s Country Director for Haiti, said in March 2023, “Haiti can’t wait – we cannot wait for the scale of the problem to be expressed in deaths before the world responds, but that is where we are heading.” On March 17, the UN and its partners urgently called for increased access and resources to reach people in desperate need.

Haiti also faces high levels of disaster risk due to its geographic location and severe vulnerability. Its vulnerability is complex and the result of a combination of issues such as political instability, legacies of French colonization and foreign interference, lack of building code enforcement, chronic poverty, and violence.

Recovery continues from the 7.2 magnitude earthquake and tropical storm in August 2021 that devastated large parts of rural southwest Haiti. The approaching 2023 Atlantic Hurricane Season is a reminder of the importance of investments in helping communities prepare for disasters and build resilience.

In December 2022, CDP provided a $300,000 grant to Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief through its Haiti Earthquake Recovery Fund to repair four schools in the Sud Department while strengthening the capacity of local contractors and laborers. The repairs will ensure the structures are more resilient to withstand future shocks.

What We’re Reading

  • Centering Equity by Celebrating César Chávez – PEAK Grantmaking: Dolores Estrada, PEAK Grantmaking’s Chief Operating Officer, shares how holidays at work impact its culture and employee experience, and reflects on César Chávez Day, which celebrates the labor organizer’s contributions on March 31.
  • AccuWeather’s 2023 Atlantic hurricane season forecast – AccuWeather: According to AccuWeather’s team of tropical weather forecasters, the 2023 season will be near the historical average with 11-15 named storms. Four to eight named storms are expected to reach hurricane strength, with one to three hurricanes achieving major hurricane status. The meteorologists said, “preparations should begin in earnest.”
  • After Hurricane Ian, Fort Myers Beach struggles to become ‘a functional paradise’ – NPR: Six months after Hurricane Ian, rebuilding is going slowly across southwest Florida. In Fort Myers Beach, one of the hardest hit communities, piles of debris remain, and many homes are waiting to be demolished. Officials say slow and inadequate insurance payouts are hurting the recovery.
  • Florida’s biggest insurer wants 14% rate hike, warns of ‘hurricane tax’ if big storm hits – Miami Herald: “Millions of Florida homeowners could see their already skyrocketing insurance costs soar even higher. The board overseeing Citizens, the state-run company that is Florida’s largest home insurer, voted Wednesday to seek a 14 percent rate increase.”
  • ‘We’re Building Another Puerto Rico’: Communities Adapt to Climate Change – VOA: Nonprofit Casa Pueblo is recognized for its efforts to turn the municipality of Adjuntas into Puerto Rico’s first solar town. During Hurricane Maria, the nonprofit’s facility that runs on solar energy did not lose power. The Honnold Foundation is one group supporting the expansion of solar energy in the region.
  • Why the size of the Mississippi tornado was remarkable – The Washington Post: The tornado that tore across west-central Mississippi on March 24 had a path of 59.4 miles. Around 67,000 tornadoes have touched down in the U.S. since 1950, with an average path of under four miles. Less than 1% of tornadoes between 1950 and 2021 traveled more than 50 miles.
  • Earthquake funding gap exposes larger fault lines for emergency aid sector – The New Humanitarian: “Funding pledges for last month’s catastrophic earthquakes in Türkiye and Syria are only a fraction of recovery costs, but they also point to deeper problems in an overstretched aid system that keeps money in the hands of the biggest players, analysts and aid insiders say.”

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