What we’re watching: Weekly disaster update, January 9

The pier at Seacliff is broken after a bomb cyclone hit the Bay Area on Jan. 4, 2023. (Source: Santa Cruz County 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 Jan. 9, 2023.

New or Emerging Disasters

Storm – California: For the past two weeks, California has been battling stormy weather driven by a continual flow of moisture off the Pacific Ocean, and there is more to come. Atmospheric rivers, corridors of air that can carry massive amounts of water over thousands of miles, have soaked much of the state and resulted in historic storm damage.

The storm has brought down trees, washed out roads and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands across the state. As of Jan. 9, the storm’s death toll had risen to 12. In Sacramento County, thousands of electric customers remained without power while officials ordered residents in the town of Wilton to evacuate. Central coast towns, including those in the Santa Cruz region, also experienced damages, with residents comparing the storm’s intensity to the deadly 1982 storm.

Precipitation totals are breaking records including in San Francisco, which on Jan. 4 marked the wettest 10-day period since January 1862. Snow totals in the Sierra Nevada mountain range are approaching what is typical for an entire season. While the moisture is helping relieve immediate drought concerns, experts say it will take more than these storms to remove California’s long-term drought. On Jan. 9, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for California.

Earthquake – California: On Jan. 1, an earthquake struck northern California for the second time in two weeks, causing power outages and damage. The magnitude 5.4 earthquake hit around nine miles southeast of Rio Dell in Humboldt County just after 10:30 a.m. local time. Residents described this quake as shorter but more violent than the quake on Dec. 20. Rio Dell’s water system was affected, and the Jan. 1 quake further damaged some homes and buildings that were damaged in the December quake. The Dec. 20 quake was 6.4 magnitude and also occurred in Humboldt County, killing two people.

Flooding – Australia: Major flooding has caused significant damage and isolated communities in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, a sparsely settled area in the country’s northwest. The Fitzroy River peaked at a record height of more than 51 feet (15.8 meters) at Fitzroy Crossing, a small town in the region. The state government declared an emergency and told people to evacuate if possible. Authorities have evacuated or rescued 233 people from the worst affected areas. Authorities have been particularly concerned about 50 remote Indigenous communities outside Fitzroy Crossing due to the risk of prolonged isolation. With floodwaters shutting down main access routes in the Kimberley region, experts say the floods have highlighted the vulnerability of Australia’s supply chains.

Storm – Central and Southern U.S.: A severe weather outbreak across the central and southern U.S. resulted in tornadoes in Oklahoma and Arkansas. The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed that an EF-1 tornado with peak winds of 102 miles per hour hit the town of Jessieville, Arkansas causing damage to the school district campus and several homes. The NWS in Tulsa confirmed that an EF-0 tornado touched down in Pryor, marking the earliest tornado in Oklahoma.

Nearly 30 million people were under some severe weather threat in the South. In Jackson Parish, Louisiana, trees were toppled, and roadways were covered with water. Damage was also reported in northern Louisiana, including to power transmission lines. The Plains and Upper Midwest received snow, sleet and freezing rain, disrupting travel. Flash flood warnings were in effect on Jan. 3 from southern Ohio to the Arkansas-Louisiana border, with rain totals of up to five inches. Several water rescues were required in north-central Kentucky.

Previous/Ongoing Disasters

Flooding – Philippines: Heavy rains inundated towns and highways in the Visayas and Mindanao regions on Dec. 25, forcing more than 50,000 people to flee their homes. On Jan. 2, the death toll had climbed to 51, with 19 missing, according to the government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. Among the worst affected areas was Misamis Oriental province in northern Mindanao. More than 4,500 houses were damaged by the floods, along with roads and bridges.

Southern Border Immigration – Southern U.S.: On Jan. 5, President Biden announced a migration management strategy that includes increased expulsions under the Title 42 pandemic-era measure and opportunities to enter the U.S. legally. The Trump administration invoked Title 42, the public health law that has given U.S. border authorities the power to expel some migrants without allowing them to make an asylum claim, at the start of the pandemic. Under the new strategy, the U.S. will accept up to 30,000 Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans each month while expelling those who arrive at the border unlawfully.

Immigration advocates have denounced the changes as restricting the right to claim asylum for people fleeing danger. Human Rights Watch said, “Instead of expanding and reviving abusive Trump-era policies, the Biden administration should respect the right to seek asylum for all people and families, and create a new and orderly process for responding to migrants’ various rights-based rationales for seeking to enter the country.” International Rescue Committee welcomed the creation of safe migration pathways but also such pathways should not “be paired with policies that expel asylum-seekers from the United States or otherwise limit the legal right to seek asylum.” CDP learned from National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters members that local capacities are becoming overwhelmed, and critical needs include housing and clothing.

Water Crisis – Mississippi: Officials in the city of Jackson issued a “boil water” notice on Dec. 25 after a powerful winter storm caused water line breaks. Jackson Public Schools has had to implement virtual learning for all its students because of low to no water pressure in 29 schools with no timetable for returning to classrooms.

Jackson, a majority-Black city, has had water problems for decades. In late August, the city lost running water after heavy rains caused flooding and created water treatment and distribution issues at the city’s primary water-treatment facility. Jackson was under a boil water notice at that time for a month. As reported by Vox in September, the roots of the crisis run deep and “are inextricably tied to white disinvestment from a majority-Black city.”

In December, Congress passed a $1.7 trillion government funding bill, which includes $600 million to address the Jackson water crisis.

Blizzard – New York: Western New York was among the areas most affected by the winter storm that wreaked havoc across the U.S. over Christmas weekend. The storm brought intense winds and snow, causing whiteout conditions that disrupted emergency response efforts as people remained stuck in their homes or vehicles. On Dec. 25, the NWS said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul referred to the disaster as the blizzard of the century and declared a disaster emergency on Dec. 23. President Joe Biden approved New York’s emergency declaration on Dec. 26. Individual and Public Assistance is available for Eerie and Genesee counties under EM-3590-NY.

The blizzard resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people, most of them in Buffalo. Some froze to death in their cars, houses or outside while attempting to reach safety. Others died when emergency medical services were unable to reach them. Black residents represent just 14% of Eerie County’s population, but more than half of the dead were Black.

The region’s normal emergency systems struggled to cope with the storm’s intensity and impact. New York University will study the blizzard and produce an after-action report on the actions to prepare for, respond to and recover from the disaster. The disaster marked the end of a challenging year for Buffalo following a racist attack that resulted in 10 people killed at a Buffalo supermarket in May.

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:

  • A winter storm at the end of December buried the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in more than 30 inches of snow, with powerful winds creating snow drifts up to 12 feet high. The Oglala Sioux Tribe President said communities were cut off by impassable roads and running out of essential supplies. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem mobilized the state’s National Guard to assist the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux tribes. Rosebud tribal officials said at least six people died because of the winter storms. In late December, several organizations actively assisted people in south central South Dakota affected by the winter storms.

Complex Humanitarian Emergencies – Nigeria

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.

Continued conflict in northeast Nigeria has resulted in one of the world’s largest humanitarian crises, with 8.3 million people estimated to need assistance in 2023. Insecurity linked to armed groups, including the terrorist group Boko Haram, has disrupted livelihoods and displaced more than two million people.

In the country’s northeast, many displaced and poor households have consumed their crops and have difficulty accessing food due to high food prices and low income. Based on the Integrated Food Security Classification’s (IPC) acute food insecurity scale, Crisis (IPC Phase 3) outcomes are expected to remain widespread and grow in early 2023.

In addition to conflict, severe floods in 2022 across Nigeria have affected 4.4 million people and increased humanitarian needs. As floodwater recedes and people return to their homes, humanitarian partners are moving toward recovery. Needs include shelter, preventing or addressing disease outbreaks, providing access to food, clean water and sanitation, health care, and other essentials. As families attempt to rebuild their lives, many children have been forced out of school to help support their families.

Nigeria’s complex crisis is also influenced by economic factors such as unemployment, high inflation and poverty also drive insecurity throughout the country. The government’s revenue is mainly consumed by debt payments, contributing to a worrying economic outlook. In February 2023, Nigerians will choose a new leader since the incumbent is term-limited. The new president will have to confront various challenges, including a humanitarian and security crisis and a struggling economy.

What We’re Reading

  • Trends driving humanitarian crises in 2023 (and what to do about them) – The New Humanitarian: Informed by their coverage from humanitarian hotspots around the globe and by editors’ research, The New Humanitarian examines issues likely to drive humanitarian needs over the next year including soaring debt, legacies of colonialism and modern-day imperialism, mismanaged migration, record hunger, and global health declines.
  • The 22 Strangest Things About 2022’s Weather – The Weather Channel: “2022’s weather will be remembered largely for a pair of destructive strikes in Florida during an otherwise off-kilter hurricane season, areas repeatedly hit by tornadoes, and some bizarre record heat and drought. But those were just a few of the weather oddities.”
  • Europe starts 2023 with historic winter heatwave; snow shortage forces ski resorts to close – CNBC: Over New Year’s weekend, January temperatures reached an all-time high in several European states, with national records set in at least seven countries including Netherlands, Denmark, Poland, Czech Republic, Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania. The winter heat follows the region’s hottest summer on record.
  • How Russia’s War on Ukraine Is Worsening Global Starvation – The New York Times: Ukraine, together with Russia, once exported a quarter of the world’s wheat. Few Ukrainian ports are operational due to a naval blockade imposed by Russia, and Russian attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid disrupt the flow of food. Food shortages and high prices are being felt across Africa, Asia and the Americas, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a critical contributing factor.
  • Wildfires in Colorado Are Growing More Unpredictable. Officials Have Ignored the Warnings. – ProPublicaUrban areas face fire threats that once were considered limited to homes and people near forests. “ProPublica found Colorado’s response hasn’t kept pace. Legislative efforts to make homes safer by requiring fire-resistant materials in their construction have been repeatedly stymied by developers and municipalities, while taxpayers shoulder the growing cost to put out the fires and rebuild in their aftermath.”
  • Philanthropy Awards, 2022 – Inside Philanthropy: “…overall concern over the influence of the ultra-wealthy continues to surge. At the same time, as is always the case in this sector, we saw a lot of impressive activity and important funding, including MacKenzie Scott’s continued shattering of philanthropic norms, several huge commitments to critical issues, and inspiring social justice work happening at multiple levels.”

Carnival, an annual holiday celebrated in south Louisiana, began on Jan. 6. The King Cake is a favorite treat for celebrating the holiday. This overview of King Cake includes images and a recipe that will make your mouth water. Carnival will culminate on Feb. 21 with the Mardi Gras Day celebrations.