What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, December 19

Damage after tornadoes went through southeast Louisiana on Dec. 14, 2022. (Credit: Barbara Arcement)

Please note: The What We’re Watching blog post will be on hiatus for the next two weeks. The next post will be published on Jan. 9, 2023.

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 Dec. 19, 2022.

New or Emerging Disasters

Tornadoes – Southern U.S.: A massive storm affecting large portions of the country produced tornadoes in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas last week. The National Weather Service confirmed 15 tornadoes that touched down across a broad area of North Texas on Dec. 13. In North Texas, the tornadoes damaged several homes and businesses and injured at least seven people. An EF-2 tornado damaged homes and outbuildings in Wayne, Oklahoma.

The storm battered Louisiana from north to south, killing at least three people. In Union Parish, near the Arkansas line, an EF-3 tornado on Dec. 13 damaged two apartment complexes and a neighboring trailer park, injuring 14 people. Louisiana Housing Commission reported that 74 units were severely damaged in the Farmerville North and Union Village rental properties and the parish reports about 10 mobile homes were destroyed. A suspected tornado in New Iberia in southwest Louisiana damaged several buildings of the New Iberia Medical Center and destroyed several homes. Another tornado hit parts of New Orleans and neighboring St. Charles, Jefferson and St. Bernard parishes, including areas badly damaged by a March tornado. The New Orleans emergency director said businesses and residences suffered significant wind damage, mainly on the Mississippi River’s west bank. In St. Charles Parish, the towns of Montz and Killona were hard hit by an EF-2 tornado that damaged and destroyed many mobile homes.

Most people killed and injured by the tornadoes in the latest outbreak lived in manufactured homes. While building standards for manufactured homes have significantly improved in recent decades, these structures pose risks to residents during severe weather events. On Oct. 13, CDP hosted a webinar to explore manufactured home disaster risk and how philanthropy can support recovery and preparedness.

The storm also brought more than a foot of snow to the Upper Midwest. Freezing rain and snow covered parts of the Mid-Atlantic, and the northeastern U.S. Blizzard conditions were reported in the High Plains forcing major road closures across several states. Some truckers trapped in the I-90 closure in South Dakota said it was the worst storm they had seen.

Flooding – Democratic Republic of Congo: Following the worst floods in years in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at least 169 people are dead and around 30 injured. Many of those who died were in hillside areas that suffered landslides. Entire neighborhoods were flooded and roads damaged, including the N1 highway that connects the capital to the country’s main port of Matadi. According to BBC weather presenters, more than six inches of rain fell around the capital during the evening of Dec. 12.

Kinshasa is located on the Congo River and has experienced a significant population influx in recent years. Many dwellings are built on flood-prone slopes, increasing disaster risk. Amnesty International, the global human rights organization, acknowledged the role of climate change in exacerbating extreme weather events such as the recent flooding while calling on DRC authorities to ensure the capital is better prepared for disasters. The DRC is also experiencing a complex humanitarian emergency with high levels of displacement and conflict.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Wildfire – Colorado: On Dec. 30, 2021, the Marshall Fire started on the outskirts of Boulder County and was driven into suburban Superior and Louisville by high winds. The blaze killed two people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes, making it Colorado’s most destructive fire. As the first anniversary approaches, the community of Louisville is celebrating the first home rebuilt after the fire. However, some survivors are yet to rebuild or have not returned to their structurally-intact homes due to smoke damage which presents health risks. Advocates would like to see the state improve fire remediation statutes, as gaps in current rental laws leave renters vulnerable and lead to improper fire remediation cleanings in homes.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office announced on Dec. 15 that they are in the final stages of their investigation into the cause of the Marshall Fire and could release their findings early next year. To improve their preparedness, Boulder Fire is introducing a new evacuation system to prevent bottlenecks and speed up decisions around evacuation. In August, CDP announced several grants that will support Marshall Fire recovery.

Flooding – Trinidad and Tobago: On Nov. 26-27, significant rainfall across the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago resulted in 30 flood incidents and more than 51 landslides across 12 administrative districts. The disaster affected approximately 100,000 people and flooded homes, trapping some residents. The area of Tunapuna Piarco hosts a sizeable migrant population who will be significantly impacted, considering limited support systems. In December 2021, around 21,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily Venezuelan, registered with the government or humanitarian organizations.

In addition to the disasters listed above, we are actively monitoring 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 disaster-related news the ERF team is monitoring:

  • The Keystone Pipeline’s oil spill in Kansas last week is the second-largest spill of tar sands crude on U.S. soil. The Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged the crude was diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit, which poses unique risks to the environment. The cause of the pipeline break remains unknown, and cleanup could take months.
  • With the cold winter setting in, hundreds of families impacted by Montana’s historic flooding in June face a race against time to complete home repairs. Many people report unstable housing situations due to a delay in repair work, costs of materials, and the cold temperatures now driving them into temporary set-ups.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Chad

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.

Chad is enduring a prolonged humanitarian crisis due to growing insecurity in the country and region and socioeconomic, health and climate-related challenges in the context of political transition.

Through August 2022, Chad endured the heaviest rainfall and floods in 30 years, leaving parts of the capital, N’Djamena, submerged under water and forcing thousands to flee their homes. As of Dec. 9, 222,201 people have been affected by flooding in Chad’s east and center. Humanitarian needs include water, sanitation and hygiene and mosquito nets and blankets. People living in displacement sites are far from essential services and face serious health risks, particularly during the current seasonal peak of malaria.

Chad is also hosting more than 582,000 refugees, and asylum seekers from neighboring countries and more than 381,000 people are internally displaced. The International Organization for Migration’s 2023 Chad Crisis Response Plan targets newly displaced internally displaced persons (IDPs) by armed conflict; IDPs in protracted displaced situations who receive no assistance; newly displaced IDPs by natural hazards; and stranded migrants, including those forcibly returned in the north.

As of Dec. 9, donors had funded only 44% of Chad’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan. On Dec. 1, the European Commission allocated $2.38 million (€2.25 million) in emergency aid following deadly floods in Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon. The U.S., through the U.S. Agency for International Development, has provided an additional $2.5 million in humanitarian assistance in response to the flooding in Chad.

What We’re Reading

  • Children dying in Somalia as food catastrophe worsens – Reuters: “More than 200,000 Somalis are suffering catastrophic food shortages and many are dying of hunger. The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which sets the global standard for determining the severity of food crises, said its most acute level, ‘IPC Phase 5 Famine’, had been temporarily averted but things were getting worse.”
  • UN approves exempting humanitarian aid from all UN sanctions – The Washington Post: As a result of sanctions, sometimes aid cannot be shipped, financed, insured and delivered. A legally binding resolution, which humanitarian organizations welcomed, states that activities of humanitarian organizations and workers “are permitted and are not a violation of the asset freezes imposed by this council or its sanctions committees.”
  • Report: Afghanistan, African Countries Are Most at Risk of Humanitarian Crises – U.S. News & World Report: “Somalia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and 17 other countries will face the greatest risk of new or worsening humanitarian emergencies in 2023,” according to the International Rescue Committee’s 2023 Watchlist. Most of the countries in crisis listed in the report are not new, showing that many underlying issues contributing to crises have lasted.
  • This Hurricane-Ravaged Town Has Waited Years for Long-Term Aid. It Could Happen Again. – ProPublica“Since Hurricane Laura struck in August 2020, Lake Charles, a small city in Louisiana’s industrial southwestern corner, has served to spotlight the shortcomings in America’s system for helping communities rebuild in the wake of catastrophe.”
  • Where is Blizzard Alley? – AccuWeather: While “Tornado Alley” may be the best-known corridor for severe weather in the U.S., blizzards are five times more deadly than tornadoes. There are three defined Blizzard Alleys inside the U.S. – in the Central region, in Colorado and the Northeast.

A 10-year-old in Los Angeles County wanted a unicorn license and wrote the county’s animal control and care department. The department wrote back, providing a preapproved unicorn license and some conditions for caring for the unicorn.