Great Famine of 1876–78

 

The Great Famine of 1876–78 (also the Southern India famine of 1876–78 or the Madras famine of 1877) was a famine in India that began in 1876 and affected south and southwestern India (Madras, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Bombay) for a period of two years. In its second year famine also spread north to some regions of the Central Provinces and the North-Western Provinces, and to a small area in the Punjab. The famine ultimately covered an area of 670,000 square kilometers (257,000 sq. mi) and caused distress to a population totaling 58,500,000. The death toll from this famine is estimated to be in the range of 5.5 million people.

Great Famine of 1876–78

In part, the Great Famine may have been caused by an intense drought resulting in crop failure in the Deccan Plateau. But, the regular export of grain by the colonial government; during the famine, the viceroy, Lord Lytton, oversaw the export to England of a record 6.4 million hundredweight (320,000 ton) of wheat, this weakens the rich cultural and economic strength especially of southern India. However, the cultivation of alternate cash crops, in addition to the commodification of grain, played a significant role in the events.

The famine occurred at a time when the colonial government was attempting to reduce expenses on welfare. Earlier, in the Bihar famine of 1873–74, severe mortality had been avoided by importing rice from Burma. However, the Government of Bengal and its Lieutenant-Governor, Sir Richard Temple, were criticized for excessive expenditure on charitable relief. Sensitive to any renewed accusations of excess in 1876, Temple, who was now Famine Commissioner for the Government of India, insisted not only on a policy of laissez-faire with respect to the trade in grain but also on stricter standards of qualification for relief and on more meager relief rations. Two kinds of relief were offered: “relief works” for able-bodied men, women, and working children, and gratuitous (or charitable) relief for small children, the elderly, and the indigent.

The insistence on more rigorous tests for qualification, however, led to strikes by “relief workers” in the Bombay presidency. Furthermore, in January 1877, Temple reduced the wage for a day’s hard work in the relief camps in Madras and Bombay—this ‘Temple wage’ consisted of 450 grams (1 lb) of grain plus one anna for a man, and a slightly reduced amount for a woman or working child, for a “long day of hard labour without shade or rest.” The rationale behind the reduced wage, which was in keeping with a prevailing belief of the time, was that any excessive payment might create ‘dependency‘ (or “demoralization” in contemporaneous usage) among the famine-afflicted population.

Temple’s recommendations were opposed by a number of officials, including William Digby and the physician W. R. Cornish, Sanitary Commissioner for the Madras Presidency. Cornish argued for a minimum of 680 grams (1.5 lb) of grain and, in addition, supplements of vegetables and protein, especially if the individuals were performing strenuous labor in the relief works. However, Lytton supported Temple, who argued that “everything must be subordinated to the financial consideration of disbursing the smallest sum of money.”

Eventually, in March 1877, the provincial government of Madras increased the ration halfway towards Cornish’s recommendations, to 570 grams of grain and 43 grams of protein in the form of daal (pulses). Meanwhile, many more people had succumbed to the famine. In other parts of India, such as the United Provinces, where relief was meager, the resulting mortality was high. In the autumn and winter of 1878, an epidemic of malaria killed many more that were already weakened by malnutrition.

By early 1877, Temple proclaimed that he had put “the famine under control.” Digby noted that “a famine can scarcely be said to be adequately controlled which leaves one-fourth of the people dead.”

All in all, the Government of India spent Rs. 8 1/30 million in relieving 700 million units (1 unit = relief for 1 person for 1 day) in British India and, in addition, another Rs. 7.2 million in relieving 72 million units in the princely states of Mysore and Hyderabad. Revenue (tax) payments to the amount of Rs. 6 million were either not enforced or postponed until the following year, and charitable donations from Great Britain and the colonies totaled Rs. 8.4 million. However, this cost was minuscule per capita; for example, the expenditure incurred in the Bombay Presidency was less than one-fifth of that in the Bihar famine of 1873–74, which affected a smaller area and did not last as long.

The mortality in the famine was in the range of 5.5 million people. The excessive mortality and the renewed questions of “relief and protection” that were asked in its wake, led directly to the constituting of the Famine Commission of 1880 and to the eventual adoption of the Provisional Famine Code in British India. After the famine, a large number of agricultural laborers and handloom weavers in South India immigrated to British tropical colonies to work as indentured laborers in plantations. The excessive mortality in the famine also neutralized the natural population growth in the Bombay and Madras presidencies during the decade between the first and second censuses of British India in 1871 and 1881 respectively. The famine lives on in the Tamil and other literary traditions. A large number of Kummi folk songs describing this famine have been documented.

The Great Famine was to have a lasting political impact on events in India. Among the British administrators in India who were unsettled by the official reactions to the famine and, in particular by the stifling of the official debate about the best form of famine relief, were William Wedderburn and A. O. Hume. Less than a decade later, they would found the Indian National Congress and, in turn, influence a generation of Indian nationalists. Among the latter were Dadabhai Naoroji and Romesh Chunder Dutt for whom the Great Famine would become a cornerstone of the economic critique of the British Raj.

 

Floods of North India (2005)

In June 2013, a multi-day cloudburst centered on the North Indian state of Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and landslides becoming the country’s worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami. The reason the floods occurred was that the rainfall received was on a larger scale than the regular rainfall the state usually received. The debris blocked up the rivers, causing major overflow. The main day of the flood is said to be on 16 June 2013. Though some parts of Himachal PradeshHaryanaDelhi and Uttar Pradesh in India experienced the heavy rainfall, some regions of Western Nepal and some parts of Western Tibet also experienced heavy rainfall, over 89% of the casualties occurred in Uttarakhand. As of 16 July 2013, according to figures provided by the Uttarakhand government, more than 5,700 people were “presumed dead. This total included 934 local residents.

floods of north india
A submerged statue of the Hindu Lord Shiva stands amid the flooded waters of river Ganges at Rishikesh in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand June 17, 2013. Early monsoon rains have swollen the Ganges, India’s longest river, swept away houses, killed at least 60 people and left tens of thousands stranded, officials said on June 18, 2013. The picture was taken June 17, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer (INDIA)

Destruction of bridges and roads left about 100,000 pilgrims and tourists trapped in the valleys leading to three of the four Hindu Chota Char Dham pilgrimage sites. The Indian Air Force, the Indian Army, and paramilitary troops evacuated more than 110,000 people from the flood-ravaged area.

From 14 to 17 June 2013, the Indian state of Uttarakhand and adjoining areas received heavy rainfall, which was about 375% more than the benchmark rainfall during a normal monsoon. This caused the melting of Chorabari Glacier at the height of 3800 metres, and eruption of the Mandakini River which led to heavy floods near Gobindghat, Kedar DomeRudraprayag districtUttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh and Western Nepal, and acute rainfall in other nearby regions of Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and some parts of Tibet.

The upper Himalayan territories of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand are full of forests and snow-covered mountains and thus remain relatively inaccessible. They are home to several major and historic Hindu and Sikh pilgrimage sites besides several tourist spots and trekking trails. Heavy rainfall for four consecutive days as well as melting snow aggravated the floods. Warnings by the India Meteorological Department predicting heavy rains were not given wide publicity beforehand, causing thousands of people to be caught unaware, resulting in huge loss of life and property.

About 6000 citizens of Nepal were visiting the Indian region, of which 1,000 were rescued as of 22 June 2013. Flooding of the Dhauliganga and the Mahakali rivers had caused extensive damage, with reports of 128 houses and 13 government offices swept away and over 1000 people homeless. A bridge that joins the India-Nepal border is highly damaged or destroyed.

The ArmyAir ForceNavyIndo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), Border Security ForceNational Disaster Response Force (NDRF), Public Works Department and local administrations worked together for quick rescue operations. Several thousand soldiers were deployed for the rescue missions. Activists of political and social organizations were also involved in the rescue and management of relief centers. The national highway and other important roads were closed to regular traffic. Helicopters were used to rescue people, but due to the rough terrain, heavy fog and rainfall, maneuvering them was a challenge. By 21 June 2013, the Army had deployed 10,000 soldiers and 11 helicopters, the Navy had sent 45 naval divers, and the Air force had deployed 43 aircraft including 36 helicopters. From 17 to 30 June 2013, the IAF airlifted a total of 18,424 people – flying a total of 2,137 sorties and dropping/landing a total of 3,36,930 kg of relief material and equipment.

Even after a week, dead bodies had not been removed from Kedarnath town, resulting in water contamination in the Kedarnath valley and villagers who depend on spring water suffered various types of health problems like fever, diarrhea. When the flood receded, satellite images showed one new stream at Kedarnath town. No damage at the Kedarnath Temple occurred. The Uttarakhand Government announced that due to the extensive damage to the infrastructure, the temple will be temporarily closed to regular pilgrims and tourists for a year or two, but the temple rituals will still be maintained by priests. The Temple opened for pilgrims on Sunday, 4 May 2014.

Landslides, due to the floods, damaged several houses and structures, killing those who were trapped. The heavy rains resulted in large flashfloods and massive landslides. Entire villages and settlements such as Gaurikund and the market town of Ram Bada, a transition point to Kedarnath, had been obliterated, while the market town of Sonprayag suffered heavy damage and loss of lives. Pilgrimage centers in the region, including Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath, the hallowed Hindu Chardham (four sites) pilgrimage centers, are usually visited by thousands of devotees, especially after the month of July onwards. Over 70,000 people were stuck in various regions because of damaged or blocked roads. People in other important locations like the Valley of flowers, Roopkund and the Sikh pilgrimage center Hemkund were stranded for more than three days. National Highway 58, an important artery connecting the region was also washed away near Jyotirmath and in many other places. Because summers have a number of tourists, the number of people impacted is substantial. For more than three days, stranded pilgrims and tourists were without rations or survived on little food.

On 25 June, one of 3 IAF Mil Mi-17 rescue helicopters returning from Kedarnath, carrying 5 Air Force Officers, 9 of the NDRF, and 6 of the ITBP crashed on a mountainous slope near Gauri Kund, killing all on board. The deceased soldiers were given a ceremonial Guard of honor by Home minister of India, at a function organized by the Uttarakhand State Government.

Indo Tibetan border police (ITBP) a Force which guards the Indo China borders on the high Himalayas with its 3 Regional Response Centers (RRCs) based at Matli (Uttarkashi), Gauchar (Chamoli) and Pithoragarh swung into action and started rescue and relief operation. 2000 strong ITBP force with its mountaineering skills and improvisation methods started rescue of stranded pilgrims. It was a simultaneous effort by ITBP at Kedar ghati, Gangotri valley, and Govind ghat areas. According to official figures by ITBP, they were able to rescue 33,009 pilgrims in 15 days on their own from extremely remote and inaccessible areas.Before Army or Air Force called in, being deployed in the nearby areas, ITBP took the first call and saved many lives.

Eastern India Storm (2010)

At approximately 11 pm local time, 13 April 2010, a severe storm struck parts of Bangladesh and eastern India. It lasted about 90 minutes, with the most intense portion spanning 30–40 minutes. As of 16 April, more than 140 deaths have been reported. At least 91 people died in the Indian state of Bihar, 44 in West Bengal, and 4 in Assam. In Bangladesh, five deaths and two hundred injuries were reported. Most of the deaths were women and children crushed when their huts were destroyed. Over 91,000 dwellings were destroyed in India and several thousand in Bangladesh; approximately 300,000 dwellings were at least partially damaged. Both mud and pucca housing were damaged by the storm. Nearly 500,000 people were left homeless or otherwise affected by the storm.

Eastern India Storm (2010)

According to local officials, the storm was an extreme nor ‘ester commonly formed over the Bay of Bengal during the hot months of the year. Meteorologist S.I. Laskar said the storm was due to an unstable atmosphere caused by excessive heat and humidity. “It is quite normal in the pre-monsoon season,” he added. The severity of the storm was likely due to wind pulling the moisture from the Bay of Bengal northward to north Bihar, where it converged with another cloud formation to form a 20 km tall cloud mass. The cool air in the clouds was met by hot air rising from the ground, which caused the storm to start rotating. Although thunderstorms had been predicted, the severity of the storm was unexpected.

Although not a tropical cyclone, the storm brought back memories of Cyclone Aila, which killed 155 people in the same area in May 2009. One eyewitness described the storm: “It was all dark. I thought it was the end of the world and we were going to die.” Locals received no warning of the impending storm and were mostly sleeping when the storm hit, increasing the casualties. Out-dated equipment with limited capabilities was blamed for the lack of warnings.

The storm spawned a large tornado, which lasted about 20 minutes. It was the first tornado recorded in Bihar history. Tornadoes are a very rare occurrence in India – the last one was in 1998. Radar equipment which could have provided early warning had arrived in the area but had not yet been installed because the building to house it was still under construction. The storm occurred during a heat wave with temperatures greater than 40 °C (104 °F) reported. West Bengal regional weather office director Gokul Chandra Debnath said that the heatwave “could have been a catalyst … that triggered the tornado”. The amount of damage caused directly by the tornado is unknown.

The storm struck in northeastern parts of West Bengal and Bihar states, with winds estimated at 120–160 kilometers/hour (75–100 miles/hour), and then moved into Bangladesh. The strong winds uprooted trees, displaced rooftops, and snapped telephone and electricity lines. The worst damage was reported in the towns of HemtabadIslampurKaliaganjKarandighi, and RaiganjPurina had the most reported casualties. Power was lost throughout the area, and communication was difficult due to severed phone lines and damaged rail lines. Nepal, which relies on India for part of its power generation, was also affected by the outages.

In Araria district, a jail was partially destroyed causing the transfer of 600+ inmates to another facility. In Rangpur, a police officer was killed and five others injured when a wall of the Rangpur Police Line building collapsed. The police barracks in Raiganj, which houses 300 officers, were partially destroyed. Several other police buildings had their roofs blown away.

The initial strong winds were followed by heavy rains, causing further damage to weakened structures. Widespread damage to crops and livestock was also reported in both West Bengal and Bihar, as well as in Bangladesh. More than 8,000 hectares of maize was destroyed in West Bengal. More than 4,000 hectares of maize and boro was destroyed in Bangladesh. In Assam, paddy crops, bananas, and other vegetation were damaged. Assam crops were already in poor shape due to earlier hail storms before 13 April storm and were further damaged by another strong storm on 15 April.

Rescue efforts have been inhibited as many roads, including National Highway 34, are blocked by downed trees and telephone poles. Medical personnel and supplies were quickly rushed to the affected areas, and aid packages were announced. Aid workers began to distribute rice, dried fruits, water, and temporary tarpaulin shelters on 15 April. However, many remote regions remained inaccessible as of 16 April. Aid workers said that hundreds of thousands of victims had not received any relief by 16 April. Another rainstorm on 15 April added to frustrations.

On 16 April, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced an ex gratia payment Rs 100,000 to the next of kin to persons killed in the storm. The money will come from the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund. In the Lok Sabha, members have taken turns blaming each other’s political parties for the delays. On 19 April, The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPM) asked for the central assistance of Rs 10 billion for Bihar and Rs 5 billion for West Bengal. Prashanta Mazumdar additionally asked for government workers to assess the damage and distribute relief. Indian National Congress (INC) member Deepa Dasmunshi countered by saying the state administration had failed miserably. All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) leader Sudip Bandopadhyay agreed and added that the CPM was “more involved in state terrorism” against political opponents than the distribution of aid.[24] The CPM responded that West Bengal had done its best to provide relief. Dasmunshi strongly disagreed, claiming “not even one tarpaulin or piece of cloth has reached the victims. The state government has failed.” The CPM and other left parties accused Dasmunshi and Bandopadhyay of “playing politics at the cost of human lives”. Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav demanded that the House have a more thorough discussion on the matter

 

Bihar Floods of 2008

The 2008 Bihar flood was one of the most disastrous floods in the history of Bihar, an impoverished and densely populated state in India. The Kosi embankment near the Indo-Nepal border (at Kusaha VDC, Sunsari district, Nepal) broke on 18 August 2008. The river changed course and flooded areas which had not been flooded in many decades. The flood affected over 2.3 million people in the northern part of Bihar.

On 18 August 2008, heavy monsoon rains and poor maintenance caused a breach in the Kosi embankment. Water passed through the breach at an estimated 129,800 m³/second, flooding many villages in Nepal and hundreds of villages in northern Bihar. The flood submerged most of the Kosi alluvial fan area, which is very fertile, with a dense agrarian population.

Bihar floods of 2008
Morigaon: Wild buffaloes marooned at the inundated Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary in Morigaon district of Assam on Monday. PTI Photo (PTI8_14_2017_000181B)

The Kosi River‘s upper basin in southern Tibet and eastern Nepal drains some 60,000 km² of mountainous terrain, a region that tectonic forces are elevating by about 1 cm a year. If erosion keeps pace with geologic uplift, an estimated 600 million cubic meters of sediment would be carried downstream in an average year. However, empirical measurements of the river’s sediment load have yielded estimates of 100 million cubic meters annually, indicating that the area is rising.

River gradient ranges from more than 10 meters/km for major upper tributaries in the mountains to as little as 6 cm/km as the lower Kosi nears the Ganges. As the gradient decreases on the plains, current slows and turbulence that holds sediments in suspension diminishes. Sediments settle out and are deposited on the riverbed. This process eventually raises a channel above the surrounding terrain. The river breaks out, seeking lower terrain, which it again proceeds to elevate by deposition. This creates a cone-shaped alluvial fan. The Kosi alluvial fan is one of the largest in the world, covering some 15,000 km² and extending 180 km from the outermost foothills of the Himalayas to the Ganges river valley.

Flood waters naturally spread out over the surface of this cone. Flows over 25000 m³/s have been measured where the Kosi exits the Himalayan foothills, enough to create a flow of water 30 km wide. At this rate, in one week enough water would accumulate to cover the entire mega fan to a depth of 1.5 meters.

Preventative flood control measures include upstream reservoirs that can also serve irrigation needs and produce hydroelectric power. However, in Nepal these are mostly in the planning stages.[11] The flood control measures mainly consist of downstream embankments meant to confine the river to a fixed channel. In theory, the faster flow along this channel would carry high flows away and keep sediments in suspension.

On 18 August 2008 one of the man-made embankments got failed. The river reverted from the prescribed western channel to an old channel near the centre of its alluvial fan. The river spread out widely and flooded towns, villages, and cultivated fields on the densely populated alluvial fan. Recurrent flooding on the lower Kosi contributes largely to India’s history of suffering more flood deaths than any other country except Bangladesh, and has earned the Kosi the epithet “The Sorrow of Bihar”.

Flooding occurred throughout the Kosi River valley in northern Bihar, in the districts of SupaulArariaSaharsaMadhepuraBhagalpur, West Champaran and Purnea.

The flood killed 250 people and forced nearly 3 million people from their homes in Bihar. More than 300,000 houses were destroyed and at least 340,000 hectares (840,000 acres) of crops were damaged. Villagers in Bihar ate raw rice and flour mixed with polluted water. Hunger and disease were widespread. The Supaul district was the worst-hit; surging waters swamped 1,000 square kilometres (247,000 acres) of farmlands, destroying crops

It affected six districts in Nepal. Approximately 53,800 Nepalese (11,572 households) were affected by the Koshi floods in Sunsari District, according to the Government of Nepal (GoN). Koshi Wildlife Reserve along the Koshi River was severely impacted by the floods including its wildlife and biodiversity.

In response to the disaster, widely reported as the region’s worst flood in 50 years, Nitish KumarChief Minister of Bihar, met Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to seek his help in dealing with the “catastrophe”.

The Prime Minister declared a “natural calamity” on 28 August and earmarked US$230 million in aid for the region. Rescue operations were carried out by the Indian Army, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and non-government organizations. Indian Air Force helicopters dropped relief supplies in the worst-hit districts. Mumbai Fire Brigade sent a 22-member disaster management team to help in relief work.

Chief Minister Kumar requested a rehabilitation package of Rs 145 billion from the central government for the flood ravaged Kosi region.

The Bihar government returned funds from Gujarat for relief work because of purported differences with the Gujarat Chief Minister, Narendra Modi.

On 1 September, describing the floods as a “disaster,” the Dalai Lama gave 1,000,000 rupees to the Bihar government for relief work.

The Government of Bihar initiated Kosi Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Programme covering 30,000 affected families in Saharsa, Supaul and Madhepura district based on a pilot project implemented by ODR Collaborative, a network of organisations, supporting the Government and an owner driven reconstruction policy was formulated to support each family with Rs. 55,000 to construct their own house. After signing an agreement with the World Bank in January 2011, this programme has been upscaled to cover 100,000 families for reconstruction of hazard safe houses.

The cost per house will be Rs. 55,000 ($1200) with an additional cost of Rs. 2,300 ($50) for a toilet and Rs. 5,000 ($110) for solar powered lighting. In cases where beneficiaries do not own land, the Government of Bihar will provide additional assistance of Rs. 5000 ($110) for the people to buy the land. Towards this project, the World Bank is contributing $220 million. The Government of Bihar has also partnered with ODR Collaborative and UNDP to continue the social and technical facilitation and capacity building for this ‘owner driven reconstruction’ programme. Technical guidelines have been brought out to enable owners to build houses with various local materials including bamboo.

The rehabilitation work has been incredibly slow. Out of a total 100,000 houses to be built by the Government in the Kosi region comprising MadhepuraSaharsaand Supaul districts, only 12,500 were built till February 2014.

 

Bhopal Gas Tragedy of 1984

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy or the Bhopal Disaster is considered as the world’s worst industrial disaster in the history of mankind. This disaster occurred on the night of 2nd December 1984 in Bhopal (present capital of Madhya Pradesh) at UCIL (Union Carbide India Ltd.). The people around the industry were exposed to methyl isocyanate and some other types of chemicals as well. These chemicals were spread all over the shanty towers and other areas around the plant. Although not many people were dead immediately more than five lakhs became victims of these chemicals and suffered a lot. The government and survey team confirmed a total of 3787 deaths.

bhopal tragedy

The estimate of victims was not cleared before but later the number was found to be more than five lakh. Out of this, about 39 thousand people were partially injured and about four thousand had permanent diseases and injuries. Since the tragedy, around 14 thousand people had died out of which two thousand died immediately and about eight thousand died within a week or so after the disaster.

The cause of the disaster remains under debate. The Indian government and local activists argue that slack management and deferred maintenance created a situation where routine pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into a MIC tank, triggering the disaster. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) contends water entered the tank through an act of sabotage.

The owner of the factory, UCIL, was majority owned by UCC, with Indian Government-controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. In 1989, UCC paid $470 million ($907 million in 2014 dollars) to settle litigation stemming from the disaster. In 1994, UCC sold its stake in UCIL to Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL), which subsequently merged with McLeod Russel (India) Ltd. Eveready ended clean-up on the site in 1998 when it terminated its 99-year lease and turned over control of the site to the state government of Madhya Pradesh. Dow Chemical Company purchased UCC in 2001, seventeen years after the disaster.

Civil and criminal cases were filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster. In June 2010, seven former employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by Indian law. An eighth former employee was also convicted but died before the judgment was passed.  Anderson died on 29 September 2014.

There are two main lines of an argument involving the disaster. The “Corporate Negligence” point of view argues that the disaster was caused by a potent combination of under-maintained and decaying facilities, a weak attitude towards safety, and an undertrained workforce, culminating in worker actions that inadvertently enabled water to penetrate the MIC tanks in the absence of properly working safeguards.

The “Worker Sabotage” point of view argues that it was not physically possible for the water to enter the tank without concerted human effort, and that extensive testimony and engineering analysis leads to a conclusion that water entered the tank when a rogue individual employee hooked a water hose directly to an empty valve on the side of the tank. This point of view further argues that the Indian government took extensive actions to hide this possibility in order to attach blame to UCC.

Theories differ as to how the water entered the tank. At the time, workers were cleaning out a clogged pipe with water about 400 feet from the tank. They claimed that they were not told to isolate the tank with a pipe slip-blind plate. The operators assumed that owing to bad maintenance and leaking valves, it was possible for the water to leak into the tank.

This water entry route could not be reproduced despite strenuous efforts by motivated parties. UCC claims that a “disgruntled worker” deliberately connecting a hose to a pressure gauge connection was the real cause.

Early the next morning, a UCIL manager asked the instrument engineer to replace the gauge. UCIL’s investigation team found no evidence of the necessary connection; the investigation was totally controlled by the government, denying UCC investigators access to the tank or interviews with the operators.

The corporation denied the claim that the valves on the tank were malfunctioning, and claimed that the documented evidence gathered after the incident showed that the valve close to the plant’s water-washing operation was closed and was leak-tight. Furthermore, process safety systems had prevented water from entering the tank by accident. Carbide states that the safety concerns identified in 1982 were all allayed before 1984 and had nothing to do with the incident.

The company admitted that the safety systems in place would not have been able to prevent a chemical reaction of that magnitude from causing a leak. According to Carbide, “in designing the plant’s safety systems, a chemical reaction of this magnitude was not factored in” because “the tank’s gas storage system was designed to automatically prevent such a large amount of water from being inadvertently introduced into the system” and “process safety systems—in place and operational—would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident”. Instead, they claim that “employee sabotage—not faulty design or operation—was the cause of the tragedy”.

UCC chairman and CEO Warren Anderson were arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on 7 December 1984. Anderson was taken to UCC’s house after which he was released six hours later on $2,100 bail and flown out on a government plane. These actions were allegedly taken under the direction of the chief secretary of the state, who was possibly instructed from chief minister’s office, who himself flew out of Bhopal immediately. Later in 1987, the Indian government summoned Anderson, eight other executives and two company affiliates with homicide charges to appear in Indian court. In response, Union Carbide said the company is not under Indian jurisdiction.

The Great Bengal Famine of 1943

During the World War II, the Bengal province saw one of the deadliest famines in Bengal of British India during 1943-44. People were all dead and the number got an increment with time. On an estimate almost 2.1 million were dead, the deaths first occurring from starvation and then from various kinds of diseases including malaria, smallpox, cholera, kala-azar, dysentery, etc. Not only this, many died because of unitary conditions, lack of treatment, malnutrition and population displacement. As the diseases and famine were increased to more areas, all this led to the economic inequality.

Bengal-Femine-1943

The people of Bengal were dependent on farmland and producing, storing and maintaining various kinds of crops. Since almost 10 years people were in a crisis and a few had started to starve because of improper food and malnutrition. Almost half of them had lost their crops and farmland. There was some cause behind this including dense population, land grabbing by powerful and bad agricultural practices. Peasants were forced to work without any payment and the one who refused to do so was brutally beaten and threatened by the British officials.

Other than the government threatening and de-peasantisation there was some natural disaster on a small scale that caused damage to crops and economy. In a short span of time, the natural disasters namely cyclone, flood, storm surges and rice crop disease and five consequences of war were responsible for this famine.

The economy faced the loss of rice crops due to natural disasters and some diseases and simultaneously when Japanese conquered Burma (present Myanmar) that led to destruction and disruption of market supplies and many means of transport were shut down.

Later, massive inflation brought on by repeated policy failures, war profiteeringspeculation, and perhaps hoarding. Finally, the government prioritized military and defense needs over those of the rural poor, allocating medical care and food immensely in the favor of the military, laborers in military industries, and civil servants.

All of these factors were further compounded by restricted access to grain: domestic sources were constrained by emergency inter-provincial trade barriers, while access to international sources was largely denied by the War Cabinet of Great Britain. The relative impact of each of these contributing factors to the death toll and economic devastation is still a matter of controversy. Different analyses frame the famine against natural, economic, or political causes.

The government was slow to supply humanitarian aid, at first using propaganda to discourage hoarding. It attempted to drive rice paddy prices down through price controls and a series of procurement schemes. Price controls merely created a thriving black market and encouraged cautious sellers to withhold their stocks; moreover, prices soared when the controls were abandoned. Relief efforts in the form of gruel kitchens, agricultural loans and test works were both insufficient and ineffective through the worst months of the food crisis phase.

Despite having a long-established and detailed Famine Code that would have triggered a sizable increase in aid, the provincial government never formally declared a state of famine. Relief efforts increased significantly when the military took control of crisis relief in October 1943, and more effective aid arrived after a record rice harvest that December. Deaths from starvation began to decline, but “very substantially more than half” of the famine-related fatalities were caused by disease in 1944, after the food security crisis had subsided.

Despite the organized and sometimes violent civil unrest just prior to the famine, there was no organized rioting when the famine took hold. However, social disruption was deep and widespread: families disintegrated, with cases of wives and children being abandoned, child-selling, infanticide, and both voluntary and forced prostitution. Lines of small children begging could stretch for miles outside of cities; at night, children could be heard “crying bitterly and coughing terribly … in the pouring monsoon rain … stark naked, homeless, motherless, fatherless and friendless. Their sole possession was an empty tin”. A schoolteacher in Mahisadal witnessed “children picking and eating undigested grains out of a beggar’s diarrheal discharge”. Author Freda Bedi wrote that it was “not just the problem of rice and the availability of rice. It was the problem of society in fragments.’’

Until the military assumed control of relief efforts in September 1943, government aid seldom provided much help to the rural poor, directing most of its cash and grain supplies instead to the relatively wealthy landowners and urban bhadraloks. After an initial spate of humanitarian aid for the cyclone-stricken areas around Midnapore in October 1942, the government response was slow, and relief efforts were very limited until April 1943. The response was slowed both by a failure to grasp the nature and scope of the problem and by political factors brought on by a public propaganda campaign declaring “sufficiency” in Bengal’s rice supply, denying that there had been any significant crop shortfall, and blaming rising prices on war profiteering and hoarding.

In April, more cash and grain began to flow to the outlying areas, but relief efforts were misdirected. Famine relief came in three major forms: agricultural loans (for the purchase of paddy seed, plow cattle, and maintenance expenses), gratuitous relief, and test works. Agricultural loans offered no assistance to the large numbers of rural poor who had little or no land. Grain relief was divided between cheap grain shops and the open market, with far more going to the markets. Supplying grain to the markets was intended to lower grain prices, but did not accomplish that aim, instead of putting rural poor in direct competition with wealthier Bengalis at greatly inflated prices.

As the depth and scope of the famine became unmistakable, the government began setting up gruel kitchens in August 1943; the gruel, which often provided barely a survival-level caloric intake, was sometimes unfit for consumption – moldy or contaminated with dirt, sand, and gravel. Despite a long-established and detailed Famine Code that would have triggered a sizable increase in aid, and a statement privately circulated by the government in June 1943 that a state of famine might need to be formally declared, this never happened. Significant aid was not provided until the military took over crisis relief in October 1943, especially after November. In particular, grain was imported from the Punjab, and medical resources were made far more available. However, effective relief from the food crisis came from a record rice harvest that December

An Introductory Guide To Surviving Hot Weather


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines extreme heat as “summertime temperatures that are substantially hotter and/or more humid than average for location at that time of year”.  The year 2014 was the hottest in modern history and more hot weather may well be on the way.   Extreme heat and high temperatures can lead to health issues and eventually death if not properly addressed.  Young children, older adults, those who are sick and/or overweight are even more likely to succumb to the effects of extreme heat and temperature.  There are things one can do now, however, to mitigate against the effects of extreme heat.  The following is an introductory guide to doing just that.

Extreme Heat: General Preparation

  • Having air conditioning installed at home or place of business is a good starting point.  The system must be in good repair and installed properly.
  • All air-conditioning ducts should be inspected for proper insulation.
  • Do not rely upon fans as a primary source of cooling.
  • On a temporary basis, window reflectors can be installed to reflect heat back outside.
  • Be sure to cover windows that receive sun with drapes, shades, or other coverings.
  • Outdoor awnings or louvers can also reduce the heat significantly.
  • Weather-stripping can be installed on doors and window sills to keep cool air in the building.
  • During a heat emergency, limit your exposure to the sun as much as possible.
  • Cooling showers or baths may be taken to reduce body heat.
  • Be sure to drink plenty of water.  Hydration is key to survival.  For those with medical conditions that require a fluid-restricted diet, consult with your family physician first.  Note very cold beverages can lead to stomach cramping.
  • Beverages containing caffeine, alcohol, or large amounts of sugar should be avoided.
  • If possible, have a backup source of water available at all times.  A sudden stoppage of the normal supply of water could be catastrophic during an extreme heat event.
  • In addition to having backup sources of water, consider obtaining the equipment and skills to filter and purify your own water from natural sources.
  • Wear sun screen and appropriate clothing for the weather.
  • Be sure to eat a well-balanced, and preferably light, meals during the event.
  • If possible, avoid hard work during the hottest part of the day.
  • At no time leave small children or animals alone in a closed vehicle.  Temperatures in such enclosed spaces can climb from 78° to 120° F in under eight minutes.
  • Be sure that any animals you have (e.g., pets, livestock, etc.) have proper shade and access to water.
  • If one own a mobile device (e.g., a smartphone, tablet, etc.), consider install the free American Red Cross Emergency App.  The app contains information on preparing for and coping during a heat wave.  Alternatively, with the proper tools, the free app may also be run on a Mac OS based machine or on Windows based device.
  • Be sure to check on people you know, such as friends, family, neighbors, etc., that do not have air conditioning, are elderly, have small children, or have medical conditions that may be adversely effected by extreme heat.  Be prepared to render first aid should they require said.
  • Stay informed by tuning into the radio or Internet sources for updates on the heat wave.

Heat-Induced Illnesses

There are a number of heat-induced illnesses that the reader should be aware of.  Some are similar, but each have unique symptoms and treatments.  The American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), local emergency management organizations, citizens-organized groups (e.g., The American Civil Defense Association, etc.), and others all can provide training for addressing heat-induced illnesses.  However, in brief, the conditions that should be noted are:

Heat Exhaustion:  Heat exhaustion can result in heavy sweating, but the skin may be cool to the touch.  Additionally, the victim may have a weak pulse and experience nausea, dizziness, headaches,  and vomiting.

Heat exhaustion can be treated by having the victim loosen or remove clothing articles, lie down in a cool place, and apply cool, wet cloths.  An air conditioned location is best for treatment.  The victim can be given small, even sips of cool water, but no more than half a glass every fifteen minutes.  Should vomiting occur, stop administering water, and seek medical treatment immediately.

Heat Cramps:  Heat cramps are painful spasms that typically occur in the abdominal muscles and legs.

A victim of heat cramps can be treated by moving to a cool location and gently massaging and stretching the affected muscles.  As with heat exhaustion, small sips of water can be administered, but must be stopped if the victim feels nauseated.  When in doubt, seek medical treatment.

Sunburn: Sunburn usually manifests with skin redness, irritation, and pain.  Blisters and swelling may also be present.  Secondary symptoms include headaches, fever, and disorientation.

Mild sunburns can be treated by taking a cool shower.  If blistering occurs, apply sterile, dry dressings and seek medical attention.

Heat Stroke:  Heat strokes is a very serious medical condition in which the victim’s temperature control system stops working.  It can feature high body temperatures (105°+ F), a rapid and weak pulse, and shallow breathing.  If a victim is exhibiting these signs, do not administer water and do not delay in calling 9-1-1 or other emergency medical services.  A delay may prove fatal.  Until medical help arrives, the victim can be moved to a cool location and remove unnecessary clothing.  The victim’s should be monitored for breathing problems.

The preceding has been a short introductory guide to the topic of extreme heat.  Additional material may be accessed in the sources listed below.  If the reader wishes to discuss extreme heat preparation, or other disaster related topics, the free Disaster.com forum is available here.  Sign up is quick and easy.

Sources

  1. Extreme Heat Prevention Guide – Part 1. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp
  2. NASA, NOAA Find 2014 Warmest Year in Modern Record. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.nasa.gov/press/2015/january/nasa-determines-2014-warmest-year-in-modern-record
  3. Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 118-119). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  4. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 85-92). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  5. Warning Signs and Symptoms of Heat-Related Illness. (2011, June 20). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/warning.html
  6. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  7. TACDA ACADEMY – CIVIL DEFENSE BASICS 1 9. WATER PURIFICATION. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_9Water.pdf
  8. Heat Wave Safety Tips | Heat Illness Prevention | American Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/heat-wave
  9. Rosdahl, C., & Kowalski, M. (2008). Textbook of Basic Nursing (9th ed., pp. 465-466). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  10. Schwartz, R. (2008). Tactical Emergency Medicine (pp. 84-87). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  11. Heat and alcohol–a dangerous combination. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.hazelden.org/web/public/ade70528.page
  12. Extreme Heat. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/heat
  13. Sunburn | Doctor | Patient.co.uk. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/sunburn
  14. (2013, June 10). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/extremeheat/
  15. Extreme Heat Tip Sheet for Individuals. (n.d.). Retrieved May 24, 2015, from http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/emergency/natural/heat/tips.pdf

extreme heat

Preparing for and Surviving a Blizzard


A blizzard is an extreme form of winter storm.  It is categorized by massive snowfall and sustained winds of at least 35 miles per hour.  In addition to these parameters, the National Weather Service (NWS) also adds that it is a snow storm lasting three or more hours.

As a blizzard is marked by extreme cold, high winds, and reduced visibility, they can present unique challenges and dangers.  Heavy snowfall can result in vehicle accidents, collapsed roofs, disrupted distribution systems, damaged power and communication systems, the death of pets and livestock, and serious injury or death to those caught outside.  The following guide will assist the reader in being prepared for blizzards and related winter weather.

Be Informed about Winter Storms

First and foremost, one must be aware that such a weather pattern is on the way.  Serious winter storm conditions are generally known days in advance, so one can prepare and adjust plans accordingly.  Governmental authorities, as well as members of the scientific community often provide guidance in the days before a blizzard occurs.  Be sure to tune in your radio or television for regular updates.  The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also broadcasts information on a continual basis.  These broadcasts may be listened to on the Internet or with a radio receiver.

Preparing for Blizzards

There are steps that can be taken today to reduce the risk of injury or loss of property due to severe winter weather.  These include:

  • Know the signs and symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.  The American Red Cross has information on these life threatening condition.
  • Consider installing or obtaining a generator for emergency electricity.  Note:  never run a generator indoors as the carbon monoxide can kill.
  • Winterizing one’s home, business, barn, etc., will help with extreme winter weather and makes good economic sense.
  • Supplies should be available before the storm arrives.  These include:
    • Plenty of food items.  Food that require little heating and water are best.
    • A first aid kit.
    • Warm clothing, blankets and other bedding should be on hand.
    • Have snow shovels on hand.  Rock salt or an alternative can aid in the melting of snow and ice.
    • Sand can improve the traction of vehicles.
    • Enough heating fuel (e.g., firewood, propane, etc.) should be on hand for many days of bad weather.  During particularly bad weather, one cannot rely upon delivery of fuel.
    • Emergency lighting (e.g., candles, oil lamps, etc.).
    • Prescription medications should be refilled before a storm.
    • A radio to receive updates is necessary.
    • A snow rake is helpful to have on hand to safely remove snow from your roof.
  • If one absolute must travel, the vehicle should be prepared beforehand.
    • All systems should be in good working order at the correct levels.
    • All fluids should be at the correct level.  The antifreeze levels are particularly important.
    • Good, all weather tires should be installed on the vehicle.
    • For icy conditions, studded tires or snow chains are a necessity.
    • Emergency-related items should be in the vehicle at all times.  These include:
      • Nonperishable, light, but calorie-dense food items.  These include protein bars, jerky, MRE entrées and the like.
      • Bottled water
      • A flashlight.
      • Road flares.
      • Jumper cables.
      • Ice scrapers or a canned deicing agent.
      • A shovel.
      • A basic first aid kit.
      • Emergency blankets or a sleeping bag.
      • Cat litter for traction.
      • A tool kit.
      • Cellular telephone.
      • Citizen Band radio.
      • A small pocket knife.
      • Small hygiene items.
      • Snow chains if studded tires are not installed.
      • Warm clothing and related articles (e.g., gloves, hat, etc.).
      • A road map or GPS system.

After a Winter Storm Strikes

Waiting Out the Winter Storm

Once a blizzard has struck in your area, it is important to have taken shelter.  If outside for any reason, adequate clothing should be worn at all times.  While waiting out the storm:

  • Conserve fuel as the duration of the storm may not be known.
  • Monitor the progress of the storm by listening to radio broadcasts, television news, and/or a NOAA Weather Radio.
  • Eat regularly and stay hydrated.
  • Watch for any signs of hypothermia or frostbite.
  • If power is lost and a backup generator is utilized, be sure the vapors are ventilated properly.
  • Take care when using oil lamps and candles as a backup lighting source.
  • If you have livestock be sure they are properly sheltered.
  • Travel only if it is absolutely necessary.
  • If traveling and you are trapped in your vehicle:
    • Remain in your vehicle.  Do not leave unless you are sure you can reach a warm building.
    • Activate your emergency/hazard lights to alert rescuers.  Turning on the interior lights may also alert rescue workers to your location.
    • If you have a Citizen Band radio installed, you can try to call for assistance on Channel 9.
    • If you are within range of a cellular tower, you can attempt to call for assistance by phone.
    • Drink water, juice, or other fluids to stay hydrated.
    • Stay warm in blankets, sleeping bags, and mylar blankets.  If with other people, huddle together to share warmth.

If you wish to discuss surviving during a blizzard or other disaster-related topics, consider joining the free Disaster.com forum.

Citations

  1. Sims, J. (2013). The No-Nonsense Guide To Blizzard Safety. Cork: BookBaby.
  2. Glossary – NOAA’s National Weather Service. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://w1.weather.gov/glossary/index.php?letter=b
  3. The American Civil Defense Association.  Cold Weather Survival. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.tacda.org/docs/TACDA_Academy_CDBasics_11ColdWeather.pdf
  4. Winter Storms & Extreme Cold. (2014, August 27). Retrieved February 11, 2015, from http://www.ready.gov/winter-weather
  5. Allen, J. (2002). Blizzards (pp. 11-17). Mankato, Minn.: Capstone High-Interest Books.
  6. Oliver, J. (2005). Encyclopedia of World Climatology (p. 165). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer.
  7. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 80-85). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  8. Singh, D. (2014). Winter Survival Kit. In A Beginner’s Guide to Winter Survival – How to Survive Cold Weather (pp. 22-27).
  9. Winter Storm Preparedness. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/winter-storm
  10. There’s No Business Like Snow Business This Winter. (2011, February 4). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/02/04/133477343/theres-no-business-like-snow-business-this-winter

winter storm

Fire Safety and Wildfire Preparedness


Wildfires (also known as a brush fire, forest fire, desert fire, or vegetation fire) are uncontrolled fires in areas in which combustible vegetation can be found.  Practicing good fire safety is paramount when wildfires may be imminent. These fires can be started by natural occurrences, such as lightning and volcanic eruptions, or by man-made sources, such as accidents, carelessness, military action, terrorist activity, or arson.  Droughts, heat waves, and climate changes can impact the behavior of wildfires.

According to a recent study, wildfires, and related burns, kill 339,000 people worldwide every year.  The majority of the recorded deaths are in Sub-Saharan Africa, followed by southeast Asia.  The death toll is lower in the United States and Canada, but property damage is in the multiple billions annually.  Millions of acres are consumed each year by wildfires.

The largest, though not deadliest, wildfire in American history was Great Fire of 1910.  It was dubbed the Big Burn and approximately three million acres in Idaho, Montana, and Washington state.  Eighty-seven individuals, mostly firefighters, lost their life in the event.  The largest wildfire in North America was the 1950 Chinchaga fire in British Columbia and Alberta, which destroyed around 3.5 million acres.

While a fearsome force of nature, there are preparations that private citizens and home owners can take today to help mitigate against the ravages of wildfires.  The following are some steps to take before and during a wildfire event.

Fire Safety – Preparing for a Wildfire

  • Read up on the the dangers of wildfires and how to be prepared.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state level organizations, the American Red Cross, and citizen-initiated groups all publish material on the topic.
  • If you have a mobile device, consider installing a free, real time wildfires app such as that published by the American Red Cross.
  • Practice good fire safety in general:
    • Install smoke alarms in your home and business, if they are not already in place.  Fully functional smoke alarms have been shown to decrease the chances of dying from a fire by fifty percent.  Each level of a home or business should have a smoke alarm.  Smoke alarms should be tested each month and the batteries changed once a year.  After a smoke alarm has been in service for ten years, replace it with a new unit.
    • Have fire extinguishers available in places where they are handy, especially in locations prone to fires such as the kitchen, laundry room, etc.  Make sure they are checked regularly.  In many communities, the fire department will do this for free.
    • Be sure to have an escape route planned and discussed with your family.  Fire safety practice runs are not a bad idea either.
    • Escape ladders for upper story rooms are essential.
    • Make sure all windows are able to open properly in the event of a fire.
    • Insure all members of the family are familiar with the procedure to stay low to the floor when escaping a fire.  Also, make sure everyone in the household is familiar with the Stop, drop, and roll procedure in the event their clothing is on fire.
    • Reduce clutter, such as old papers, trash, periodicals, etc., as these are fire hazards and represent poor fire safety.  This goes doubly so for flammable materials such as gasoline, kerosene, benzine, motor oil, etc.
    • If you smoke, make sure to never do so near flammable materials and ensure that the cigarette or cigar is properly put out when finished.  Dousing is the best method to extinguish such items, but deep ashtrays work as well.  Never smoke in bed.  Smoking related materials remain the leading cause of death by fire in the United States.
    • Make sure that matches, lighters, candles, and other such items are out of the reach of children.  Small children are curious about such articles and they may inadvertently start a fire.
    • If within your budget, consider installing an automatic fire sprinkler system and/or install a home security system that monitors for fire.
    • If there is any doubt as to the state of your electrical wiring, have the system inspected by a licensed electrician.
    • In many communities, the fire department will do a free walk through and inspection of your home.  If available, it is worth having the inspection completed.
  • Make sure your home or business has the entrance marked with an easy-to-see sign so that emergency vehicles can locate you easily.
  • Ensure that water sources, such as fire hydrants, swimming pools, etc., are accessible by the fire department.
  • Ensure that your yard, garden, shrubs, and trees are kept well maintained.  Remove debris, dead wood, leaves and other combustible material around at least a 30 foot radius around your home or business.  Consider planting fire-resistant vegetation.
  • Firewood should be stacked at a distance from your home.  Thirty feet or more is best for maximum fire safety.
  • Using fire resistant materials for roofing can reduce the risk to your home or business.  The installation of fire-resistant drapes can add an additional protection.
  • Cover exterior vents and eaves with a ¼ inch metal mesh screens to keep sparks out.
  • Flammable materials, such as fuels, lubricants, grease, oil-based paint, solvents, etc., should be stored in metal containers and be located at least 30 feet away from structures and other wood material.
  • Have tools on hand, such as shovels, rakes, axes, etc., to fight small fires until responders can arrive.
  • If a wildfire is close, lawn sprinklers can be placed on the roof and used to douse the structure.
  • Consider storing fire retardant gel to be applied in the event of a wildfire.
  • If a wildfire is close, shut off gas sources, such as natural gas, propane, etc.  Connect all garden hoses.  If available, fill any contains (e.g., pools, jacuzzis, children’s pools, trash cans, etc.) with water.
  • If you must evacuate, be prepared with the necessary supplies to do so.  The American Red Cross has a checklist available here.
  • Before leaving, close all doors inside the structure to prevent a draft.
  • Review the fire safety resources below
  • If an evacuation order is issued, do so immediately.

This has been a short, introductory guide on fire safety and things you can do to help protect yourself and your property from wildfire damage.  Additional information is available in the sources listed below.  If the reader wishes to discuss wildfire preparation, the Disaster.com forum is available here.  Sign up is quick, easy, and completely free.

Sources

  1. Silverstein, A., & Silverstein, V. (2010). Wildfires: The Science Behind Raging Infernos. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow.
  2. Wildfire | U.S. Drought Portal. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.drought.gov/drought/content/products-current-drought-and-monitoring/wildfire
  3. Wildfire Prevention Strategies. (1998, March 1). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.nwcg.gov/pms/docs/wfprevnttrat.pdf
  4. Terrorist Interest in Using Fire as a Weapon. (2012, May 31). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from https://info.publicintelligence.net/DHS-TerroristFireWeapon.pdf
  5. Sheridan, K. (2012, February 19). Wildfires kill 339,000 people per year: Study. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://phys.org/news/2012-02-wildfires-people-year.html
  6. American Experience: The Big Burn. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/burn/
  7. Wildfires. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.iii.org/fact-statistic/wildfires
  8. Are you ready? An In-depth Guide to Citizen Preparedness (pp. 115-122, 123-125). (2002). Washington, D.C.: FEMA.
  9. Harrison, K. (2008). Wildfires. In Just in Case: How to Be Self-sufficient When the Unexpected Happens (pp. 124-126). North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.
  10. Linton, J. (2004). Wildfires: Issues and Consequences (pp. 43-45). New York, New York: Nova Science.
  11. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://m.fema.gov/wildfires
  12. Wildfire Preparedness | How to Prepare for Wildfires | Red Cross. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/wildfire
  13. Causes of fire. (n.d.). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/causes
  14. Fire retardants that protect the home. (2007, November 25). Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.latimes.com/business/realestate/la-re-fire25nov25-story.html#page=1
  15. Home Fire Safety, from http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/home-fire

fire safety

A Story of Surviving a Category 5 Hurricane


(Picture Above is Looking across Efate, Vanuatu before Cyclone Pam hit)

Please Note: This is a firsthand experience of Cyclone Pam slamming into Vanuatu from the perspective of a couple living on Efate, the third largest island of the chain. Cyclones, Hurricanes and Typhoons are all the same weather phenomenon, but which word is used is based upon where the event occurs – Cyclones in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, Hurricane in the North Atlantic and Pacific, and Typhoon in the Northwest Pacific.

Preparing for Cyclone Pam

We had plenty of warning from Internet based forecast services of a seriously big tropical storm heading for us. The Vanuatu Meteorological Service (VMS) refused to acknowledge the threat this system posed as it hadn’t entered their area of responsibility. Public pressure on social media eventually led to them issuing warnings before it did enter their area. This was such a large and ferocious system that many, including myself, got on to social media to warn people. This earned us insults and threats from people using the VMS Facebook name.

I can’t recall what I was feeling in the build up to the arrival of Cyclone Pam as my business is boat orientated so we obviously had a lot to do to prepare, including craning our own boat out of the water. Preparing for such a big storm took up all of my mental capacity and I really had no time to feel anything. I guess, in retrospect, I was functioning on autopilot – some natural instinct directing me to do what I was doing. Sort of like a flight or fight situation.

At one stage, as Pam drew closer, I was to be seen with a wooden carving in my hand “conducting” the storm with “big” music on the stereo.

After accepting that we were going to get a very close pass on this category 5 system we prepared the work side of our lives as best as we could. We have a cyclone rated building as a workshop and we put all business records, computers etc. into a work vehicle and parked it inside the workshop. We also left our other work vehicle inside the workshop and relied on public transport until the storm was over.

We had been through a smaller cyclone before – but on our boat in a marina and not in a house on land. For this reason we had a fairly good idea of what to expect and how to prepare with only a few adjustments for protecting ourselves in a building rather than aboard a boat. Our community is small and close knit so everyone shared their experiences of previous cyclones including lessons learnt and what to do to prepare.

A view from our back deck before Cyclone Pam hit

At our rented accommodation we discovered that they didn’t have storm shutters, and it was obvious with the large trees growing all around us we would need them to protect from flying timber. These were quickly made by our wonderful landlords and fitted in place. We brought in a 150 amp hour battery, small inverter and LED light stand to provide lighting during the cyclone itself, and a 350 watt generator to provide basic power for fridge/freezer etc. after the cyclone passed. We also brought plenty of carbohydrate based food which was easy to prepare and wouldn’t require refrigeration (we use propane for cooking) and don’t forget the coffee.

Approximately 30 litres of clean drinking water was stored in various containers as well as fuel and oil for the generator. We live within a few metres of the water so toilet flushing etc. after the cyclone was not a problem with a bucket.  All loose materials around the premises were secured; kindle, cellphone and laptop charged. We had basic first aid supplies as well as a course of antibiotics on hand.

As stated, our house is right on the water (actually a lagoon) and was facing the worst of the expected wind so we made inspections of the foundations to ensure they weren’t likely to wash away. We had many big trees around us but I figured that if they fell during the early stages, they would miss the house, and if they fell later when the wind shifted they would help keep the roof on.

The VMS had finally discovered the wonders of blanket texting just before the cyclone and started issuing warnings. What those warnings didn’t contain was the expected wind direction, so people who couldn’t read a weather map had no idea what side of their homes was vulnerable. Traditionally cyclones come in with the northwest winds here, but this one started from the southeast so many were caught off guard.

Cyclone Pam Hits Vanuata Dead On

We hunkered down at home well before the onset of Pam, confident we had preparations in hand. As the wind built throughout the day, we built our bunker inside using two sturdy tables covered with a tarpaulin to shelter our precious mementos, passports, etc as well as offering us and our two cats a final refuge should we lose the roof.

Our homemade "bunker" to protect us if our roof collapsed

Our homemade “bunker” to protect us if our roof collapsed

Around six hours before the peak was due to hit us a glancing blow with less than a hundred knots of wind, the system changed course to pass directly over us (amazingly, we still had power and internet). At this stage I made the decision to extend our bunker by using our king size bed base to form a roof with mattress underneath, all covered with a tarpaulin. Winds were now forecast to be up to 130 knots.

The build up to the storm was very long with winds starting to rise at least 18 hours before the peak. They say there are three wind noises in a storm – howling, shrieking and moaning.  For about 12 hours we had howling wind then a very short period of shrieking wind and then a couple of hours of moaning. I had never heard moaning wind before and never want to again.

As the peak happened around midnight, and we had shut ourselves in before midday with our shutters up, we weren’t able to see the storm unfolding. We could only guess what was happening as we heard flying debris hit our house. We retired to bed about three hours before the peak and actually managed to get some sleep through the worst of it. Our cozy cave was giving us a feeling of security.

We're looking out from the same deck as before, but we're missing a few trees this time.

We’re looking out from the same deck as before, but we’re missing a few trees this time.

Cleaning Up After a Category 5 Cyclone

The next morning we awoke to virtually no wind. We were in the lee of a ridge, and by then the wind shifted. Even though our house and work escaped virtually untouched, the destruction around Port Vila was extensive, and it was obvious that foreign assistance was needed immediately. Everybody has seen the photos so I won’t go into that, but I will describe the feeling around town as the first C17 Globemaster from Australia did a morale boosting low pass over town as it brought in the first planeload of aid. The sight of that plane did more for the people of Port Vila than the aid it carried.

Post cyclone cleanup demonstrated the true spirit of the South Pacific. I have not seen an outward sign of grief even though there is much to grieve over. Amongst the destruction, people are cleaning up with smiles on their faces. I even had a bus (minivan) driver refuse to take my money when I went to see if I could retrieve our work vehicles.

A Few Thoughts on What Happened

Mine and Sue’s relationship is pretty firmly founded in traditional gender roles, even though Sue is exceptionally strong when the shit hits the fan – and we have an unconventional lifestyle. I am acutely aware of my duty to protect those I love, and this places a burden on me that I am happy to shoulder. Many years at sea, and some military service, gave me confidence to know that I had done everything within my power to keep us safe.

I did however start second guessing myself when the winds were beyond anything I had experienced before and were making sounds I had never heard before. During this time, having my love by my side and trusting me was comforting.

Post cyclone cleanup demonstrated the true spirit of the South Pacific. I have not seen an outward sign of grief even though there is much to grieve over.

Could I have done more? Yes I believe I could have protected my family better by living in a temperate climate and working a 9-5 job. Do I want to experience the same forces again? No way, but I have been strengthened and educated by the experience.

The same view of Efate, but after Cyclone Pam hit. Note the missing roofs, downed trees and more.

The same view of Efate, but after Cyclone Pam hit. Note the missing roofs, downed trees and more.

The Female Perspective

Note: This section was written by Sue Green, Peter’s fiancée

Pre Cyclone Pam

We had a week to prepare for the coming of Pam, which in some ways was a bonus in terms of getting fully prepared, but on the down side it also allowed anxiety to build. It was the total topic of conversation, and being around people who were full of doom and gloom wasn’t easy. I found myself alternately being a little bit crazy (I am anyway at the best of times) and fighting anxiety attacks. At one stage, as Pam drew closer, I was to be seen with a wooden carving in my hand “conducting” the storm with “big” music on the stereo.

During Cyclone Pam

I actually felt better once she ramped up as I knew that at some point soon the waiting would be over and Pam would be over. I had faith that we were as prepared as we could be. Pete takes such things seriously and is eminently sensible during crises. Wearing ear muffs helped immensely in cutting down the frightening noise, and I tried to focus on breathing deeply and slowly to keep myself calm. One of our cats snuggled between us at the height of the storm and stroking her was soothing.

Post Cyclone Pam

The shakes and tears came when we finally got communications again and could contact friends and family. I believe that they possibly went through more of an ordeal than us – they could see and hear on the news and social media what was happening, and the not knowing if we were OK for hours/days must have been scary. We knew we were OK; they didn’t. It was certainly a relief when it was over, and in some ways I feel guilty that we were so fortunate and our damage was minuscule.

I’m Peter Wederell and my fiancée is Sue Green. Our business is Total Marine Solutions (http://www.totalmarinesolutions.com.vu)

Sue & I met whilst working in Antarctica (the windiest place on Earth) in 2002. We brought a sailboat in 2006 and went cruising around New Zealand and the South Pacific. We eventually washed up on the shores of Vanuatu and were encouraged to start up a full service marine company which we did and have now lived here for 4 years.

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