What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, February 27

Search and rescue teams search area in Vila Sahy affected by flooding and landslides, Feb. 22, 2023. (Photo credit: Sérgio Barzagui/Government of the State of SP; CC BY 2.0)

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 Feb. 27, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Flooding – Brazil: The municipalities of Bertioga, Caraguatatuba, Guarujá, Ilhabela, São Sebastião and Ubatuba in Brazil’s southeastern state of São Paulo received heavy rain on Feb. 19, leading to flooding and landslides. As of Feb. 24, the disaster’s death toll had risen to 54, with 53 deaths in Sao Sebastiao.

The São Paulo state government said more than 23.6 inches of rain had fallen in the region in a single day, one of the highest amounts ever recorded in Brazil in 24 hours. On the Landslide Blog, Dave Petley explained that houses in the affected area were located at the foot of slopes. The extreme rainfall likely caused instability on the slopes, meaning the homes were exposed and vulnerable to landslides.

For more, see our 2023 São Paulo, Brazil Floods disaster profile.

Tornadoes – South Central U.S.: More than 140 storm reports were recorded in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas on Sunday, Feb. 26 as hurricane-force winds and severe thunderstorms tore through. A tornado displaced a dozen families in Liberal, Kansas and 10 trailers were damaged. A line of thunderstorms swept across the Texas Panhandle, and a dust storm turned the sky orange in northwest Texas.

The worst affected areas were in central Oklahoma, with damage concentrated around Norman and Shawnee. On Feb. 27, officials in Norman said there were at least 12 weather-related injuries, and several roads remain closed. The National Weather Service in Norman was surveying the tornado tracks on Feb. 27. As of the morning of Feb. 27, more than 15,000 customers in Oklahoma remained without power, according to PowerOutage.us.

At least seven tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma on Feb. 26, and it was the first-time tornadoes were seen in the state in February in more than 10 years. The events on Feb. 26 will likely go down in history as the largest February tornado outbreak in Oklahoma’s history.

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

Tropical Cyclone – Madagascar: Tropical Cyclone Freddy made landfall on Madagascar’s eastern coast, near Mananjary, on Feb. 21. The weather system sustained average winds of more than 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour), resulting in a storm surge and damaging houses and critical infrastructure.

According to Madagascar’s National Bureau of Risk and Disaster Management, the storm left at least seven people dead and affected 79,000 people in several regions. More than 22,500 people were displaced, and more than 14,000 houses were affected. Freddy was the first cyclone and the second tropical weather system to hit Madagascar in the 2022-2023 Southwest Indian Ocean cyclone season.

Freddy then traveled over the Mozambique Channel before making landfall immediately south of Vilanculos, Mozambique, on Feb. 24 as a moderate tropical storm. This landfall took place almost three weeks after the storm’s initial formation. Preparedness efforts in Mozambique prevented loss of life due to Freddy. Still, six provinces are affected by flooding because of the impact of Freddy and previous floods, and there is damage to public infrastructure.

Winter Storm – California: A winter storm system brought a rare blizzard warning to parts of Southern California. The system eventually moved east and put more than 20 million people under the threat of severe storms from western Texas to Illinois. The National Weather Service’s Los Angeles office had not issued a blizzard warning since 1989.

Southern California saw huge amounts of precipitation over the weekend, including more than 6.5 feet of snow to Mountain High and more than five inches of rain to Cucamonga Canyon. Dangerous road conditions and rockslides were among the hazards reported. The weather stranded drivers, shut down interstates and resulted in over 128,000 power outages. In the Central Valley, flooding closed schools and highways.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Earthquake – Turkey and Syria: The death toll in Turkey and Syria from the Feb. 6 earthquakes surpassed 50,000. In the past three weeks, thousands of aftershocks have been recorded, and more are expected for the foreseeable future. On Feb. 27, a magnitude 5.6 earthquake shook southern Turkey, causing damaged buildings to collapse and killing at least one person.

According to ACAPS, new earthquakes are among the worst-case scenarios for the region because they could impact humanitarian needs and the ability to meet them. Damaged buildings are at high risk of collapse, and survivors may continue to experience ongoing fear while also beginning to deal with lasting trauma.

In Turkey, more than 164,000 buildings collapsed or were heavily damaged, generating 116-120 million tons of rubble. At least 2.2 million people have left the affected area, and 1.9 million live in tents and temporary shelters.

As of Feb. 21, more than 10,000 buildings have been completely or partially destroyed in northwest Syria, leaving at least 11,000 people homeless. Displaced people say shelter, winterization and multi-purpose cash needs are their top priorities.

For more, see our 2023 Turkey-Syria Earthquake disaster profile.

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.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Cameroon

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.

Cameroon’s complex, protracted humanitarian crisis results from inter-communal violence in the Far North region, insecurity in the Northwest and Southwest (NWSW) region, and crises in Nigeria and Central African Republic (CAR).

In 2023, 4.7 million people in Cameroon will need humanitarian assistance, a 17% increase compared to 2022.Insecurity continues to make humanitarian access challenging, and underfunding remains the most important obstacle to reaching people in need.

Throughout 2022, the situation in the NWSW region was characterized by violence and targeted attacks against civilians. Over 55 incidents directly affecting humanitarian partners were reported, and more than 80,000 people were displaced. In early 2023, civilians continued to be caught in the crossfire between non-state armed groups (NSAGs) and State security forces, including clashes between rival NSAG factions.

Humanitarian partners in 2023 will apply a distinct approach to Cameroon’s crises. In the NWSW region, the priorities will be protecting victims of violence and providing food; nutrition; health; water, sanitation and hygiene; shelter; and education assistance. Priorities in the Far North region include assisting displaced people and promoting sustainable solutions. In the East, Adamawa and North regions, the focus will be reducing refugees’ dependence on aid and humanitarian assistance supporting the most vulnerable people.

What We’re Reading

  • Prevention is a ‘no-brainer’: top UN disaster risk reduction official on Türkiye-Syria quakes – The New Humanitarian: Mami Mizutori, the special representative of the UN secretary-general for disaster risk reduction, offers her take on disaster planning, and what we can learn from the Turkey and Syria earthquakes. Mizutori said, “I really feel when we see these devastating disasters, that the cost of prevention, when compared to the cost of reconstruction and recovery, it’s nothing.”
  • Ukrainian refugees safe, but not at peace, after year of war – The Associated Press: Refugees suffer from trauma and loss, and experts say the psychological toll of the conflict is vast, with rates of anxiety and depression skyrocketing.
  • Philanthropy Statement of solidarity and support to the people of Ukraine – Philea: On the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Philanthropy Europe Association (Philea) published a statement, with other organization signatories, including CDP, stating their commitment to supporting an independent, resilient, secure and sustainable Ukraine. Organizations are invited to sign the statement to show alignment and solidarity.
  • Donor Fatigue, Somalia Aid Cuts Worry Aid Workers – VOA: Needs are increasing in Somalia while donors warn that there will be less funding this year. Somali and UN officials say the sooner the funding is received, the better they will be able to respond to the crisis. Reena Ghelani, the UN Famine Prevention and Response coordinator, urged donors to respond before the crisis worsens.
  • Dry canals, low rivers and shrunken lakes: Europe braces for severe drought amid winter heatwave – CNN“A winter heatwave, record low levels of rain and a startling lack of snow in Europe are pushing rivers, canals and lakes across the continent to alarmingly low levels, with experts warning there could be repeat of last year’s severe droughts.”
  • Cracking the code of catastrophic floods in New Zealand – Stuff NZ: Flash flooding in January in New Zealand killed at least four people, took out power for thousands and left hundreds without drinking water in the Auckland region. Experts say that in addition to new infrastructure design standards that consider intense rainfall, establishing mutual understandings of acceptable risk and focusing on adaptation is needed.
  • Can Philanthropy Curb the Growing Threat of Wildfire? West Coast Funders Are Giving it a Shot – Inside Philanthropy: Historically, in California philanthropy, much of the response to wildfire has been to provide emergency relief, but a shift towards more investments in wildfire resilience is occurring. With the risk of fire expected to increase over the coming years, philanthropy can play an important role in reducing disaster risk.

Here’s a rescue you don’t see every day. Fire and rescue personnel in Italy airlifted a cow to safety last week.