Category Archives: Poor Coastal Development

Jamaica’s Beaches in peril

negril-jamaica
Negril, Westmoreland, Jamaica. Captions and Photo source: ©© Jannes Pockele

Excerpts;

For centuries, Negril, a seven-mile stretch of white sand beach on the western tip of Jamaica, was cut off from the rest of the island by bad roads and a large swamp.

Negril beach, Jamaica, remained relatively unknown to the world until the 1960s and 1970s, when U.S. “hippies,” students and Vietnam veterans gravitated towards this laid-back village.

The U.S. travellers arrived in ever-increasing numbers and, towards the end of the 1970s, Negril blossomed as a tourist destination. But with the growing population and improved infrastructure, the natural beauty of Jamaica’s third largest tourism centre has suffered visible deterioration…

Read Full Article, IPS News

negril-beach-jamaica
Negril beach, Jamaica. Photo source: ©© Emilio Santacoloma

The battle for the beaches of Cancun

cancun-erosion
Cancun beach erosion. Photo source: ©© John M

Excerpts;

A beach holiday without a beach: a concept even the most shamefaced travel brochure would have difficulty selling. But it’s one that Cancun’s tourist industry is currently battling with.

The beaches in Mexico’s premier fly-and-flop destination are eroding. As of last year, all that remained of one of the world’s most wow-factor beaches was a band of white sand so narrow it would challenge even the trimmest beach body…

Read Full Article, The Independent UK

WATCH: Massive Beach Erosion Cliffs in Cancun (April 2010), You tube Video

WATCH: Cancun, Fast Paced Beach Replenishement, You tube Video

A 500 million euros Plan to strengthen levees in France


Seawall, Courseulles-sur-mer, Basse Normandie. Photo source: ©© Olivier Engel

Un plan de 500 millions d’euros pour consolider les digues en France.

By Bertrand d’Armagnac, Le Monde.

Quatre mois et demi après la catastrophe provoquée par la tempête Xynthia en Vendée et en Charente-Maritime, le Gouvernement a annoncé ce mardi 13 juillet, la mise en place d’un “plan digues” destiné à mieux répondre aux risques de crues et d’inondations en France.

Présenté ce mardi en Conseil des ministres par le ministre du Développement durable, Jean-Louis Borloo, ce plan prévoit le renforcement de 1200 kilomètres de digues fluviales et maritimes.

Sur la période 2011-2016, l’Etat souhaite mobiliser environ 500 millions d’euros afin d’aider au confortement de 1 200 km de digues sur un parc de près de 9 000 km. Le plan, dont la mise en place est prévue dès 2010, fera l’objet, dans les mois à venir, d’une concertation visant à l’enrichir et à le préciser. Il reprend notamment des pistes lancées lors des auditions devant le Parlement, sur les causes de la tempête Xynthia.

Read Original Article, Le Monde


A plan of 500 million euros to strengthen the levees in France.
Google English Translation

Four and a half months after the disaster caused by storm Xynthia in the Vendée and Charente-Maritime, the French Government presented Tuesday, July 13, in Council of Ministers, proposals for the development of a “Plan Digues” intended to better respond to flood risk and flooding in France.

Over the period 2011-2016, the State wants to raise about 500 million euros to aid in reinforcement of 1,200 km of sea walls and levees, on a fleet of nearly 9000 km. The plan, whose implementation is planned from 2010, will be in the coming months, an action designed to enrich and to clarify that. It includes such tracks launched at the hearings before the Parliament on the causes of the storm Xynthia.

“The state of protection works, overall concern and the lack of a suitable project management, pose real problems today,” said French Minister of Ecology, Francois Borloo. The system devised by the Department of Ecology take into consideration sea walls and levees along coastlines and rivers, as well as the natural lines of defense such as dunes, lagoons and swamps.

It encompasses not only the upgrading of the park dykes and restructuring of its management, but also reducing the vulnerability of areas at risk and better use of weather forecasting and warnings.

The plan to establish by 2011 a list of high-risk flood areas, identified as priorities, which will trigger the diagnosis and the securing of levees and natural systems involved. However, certain protective structures require urgent action and therefore the initiation of work before the spring tides in August and September. This is the case of dams damaged by the storm Xynthia who are already the subject of work launched in March, which should lead to a consolidation before reliable high tides.

For other works, the identification process is being completed in respect of river levees, and will be completed by the end of 2010. The diagnostic techniques for detecting the most dangerous structures will be established by end-2010 for all works damaged by Xynthia and before the end of 2011 for the entire coastline. This diagnostic work will be done on the sea walls and levees between late 2010 and late 2011.

The organization of project management is another issue to be addressed urgently. In France, almost one third of the sea walls has no known owner or is in the hands of local residents or municipalities with insufficient means.

Devices are to be found in order to ensure that sea walls’ maintenance and repairs are completed specifically when faced with owners with reduced technical and financial capabilities, or if they are unknown. A working group of State and local Governments Representatives, is to make proposals on this topic by the end of 2010, including a better definition of the legal framework for community response.

Another element of the Plan: the urbanization of areas at high risk. A greater control of these areas, including the ban on further construction in low-lying areas, is now recommended by the Ecology Minister. In order to manage urbanization, plans to prevent natural hazards (NRPP) will be completed or be reviewed within a maximum period of three years.

THESEUS:Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate

Un programme pour mieux protéger les zones côtières

By Pauline Fréour, Le Figaro

Les énormes vagues qui ont frappé la Côte d’Azur soulignent une fois de plus les dangers encourus sur certains littoraux. Le programme européen Theseus doit aider à trouver des pistes concrètes pour protéger les populations de la montée des eaux.

Le 28 février, la tempête Xynthia faisait 51 morts sur la côté atlantique française, souvent noyés dans leurs maisons basses typiques de la Vendée et de la Charente. Mardi, c’est Cannes et Nice qui ont été frappées par des vagues d’au moins six mètres de haut. La plupart des restaurants de plage ont été détruits. Partout en Europe, la densification de la population sur le littoral – le nombre d’habitants a plus que doublé en 50 ans accroît les risques liés à l’inéluctable montée du niveau de la mer.

Pour anticiper les conséquences du changement climatique et mieux protéger ses 170 000 km de côtes, l’Union européenne a lancé en décembre Theseus, un vaste programme scientifique financé à hauteur de 6,5 millions d’euros. Trente et un instituts européens vont passer à la loupe huit régions particulièrement fragiles, dont l’estuaire de la Gironde, pendant quatre ans, dans l’objectif de pouvoir livrer aux acteurs locaux des outils concrets pour limiter les dégâts liés à l’érosion et à la montée des eaux. Selon une étude de l’Union européenne, une bonne préparation de la population et des infrastructures permettrait de diviser par quatre le coût des dégâts qui ne manqueront pas de se produire si l’on n’agit pas à temps.

Un logiciel pour gérer les évacuations
Directeur scientifique du Centre d’études techniques maritimes et fluviales, un service du ministère de l’Ecologie, Philippe Sergent étudie ainsi pour Theseus les modifications à apporter aux digues pour résister à une mer plus haute et potentiellement plus forte. «Pour une montée des eaux d’1 mètre d’ici 2100 c’est le pire scénario envisagé il faudra sans doute les surélever de deux mètres».

Au-delà des ouvrages côtiers proprement dits, son équipe va également collecter des données pour l’élaboration d’un logiciel destiné à aider les acteurs locaux à organiser l’évacuation des populations en cas de besoin. «Suivant l’ampleur du phénomène constaté, il guidera les autorités locales sur la marche à suivre. Il permettra par exemple de gérer le relogement des populations et de réguler la circulation en tenant compte des routes fermées. Autant de choses qui auraient pu être utiles dans le cas de Xynthia», explique-t-il.

Impliquer les populations
Jean-Paul Vanderlinden, professeur de sciences économiques à l’Université de Versailles St-Quentin-en-Yvelines, expert des milieux côtiers, travaille à des recommandations qui accompagneront le logiciel. L’objectif : aider les collectivités locales à bien communiquer auprès de la population, pour que celle-ci comprenne bien l’ampleur de la menace. «Lorsque l’on révèle un danger trop grand aux gens, on se rend compte qu’ils deviennent «sourds» aux avertissements. Pour éviter cela, les riverains doivent être impliqués activement à l’identification du risque et à l’aménagement du territoire», explique-t-il.

De fait, quand une population est bien informée, les risques diminuent. A ce titre, Venise, ville coutumière des inondations, offre un exemple intéressant. «Des recherches en cours montrent que les gens sont tellement habitués que le coût des dégâts est désormais presque nul. Les Vénitiens savent comment réagir, leurs maisons sont adaptées et ils ne se laissent pas surprendre», souligne Jean-Paul Vanderlinden. L’enjeu est d’autant plus important qu’il est lié à la notion de responsabilité. Car quand un lotissement est construit dans une zone identifiée comme étant à risque, qui doit payer : l’Etat, les collectivités territoriales, le promoteur, les riverains ?

L’exemple de Nice montre par ailleurs que la France a encore des progrès à faire en termes d’avertissement de la population, estime Philippe Sergent. «Dans ce cas précis, on aurait sans doute pu limiter l’ampleur des destructions puisque l’alerte avait bien été donnée par Météo France, estime-t-il. Mais il semble que la gravité du phénomène n’ait pas été saisie, par les restaurateurs notamment.» Selon, lui, il serait sans doute judicieux d’aligner le système d’alerte de franchissement maritime sur celui déjà en place pour les inondations fluviales, qui fonctionne bien. «Un service spécialisé de prévisions à été mis en place il y a quelques années et il permet d’avertir le grand public des risque de crues, par le biais de la météo à la télévision par exemple».

Original Article


THESEUS, Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate: THESEUS

THESEUS (Innovative technologies for safer European coasts in a changing climate) is the largest Integrated Project funded by the European Commission (6,530,000 €) and consists of 31 partner institutes. The project will develop during the next four years a systematic approach to deliver both a low-risk coast for human use and healthy coastal habitats for evolving coastal zones subjected to multiple factors.

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches, Vendée, France; By Claire Le Guern

La Faute-sur-Mer

The Memory of Risks

By Claire Le Guern

The very last day of February 2010.

It is 4:00 am. Howling winds, whipping rains, infuriated seas, and eight meter high (26 feet) crashing waves, are muffling the desperate cries for help…4:00 am… Twenty nine human lives are being swept away, drowned in the frigid and salty ocean waters. They were in their sleep, in their beds, in the comfort of their home. They did not understand, they could not react, most of them too old, too frail, or much too little to run for safety and climb on the rooftops, like most of the survivors did. That very night, hundreds of survivors were trapped for hours, trembling with fear and piercing cold, in agony, and battered by rain and incomprehension. Only lit by the full moon, in the darkest night of their life, all were waiting for the emergency crews and help to arrive.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution.
—Claire

These are horrifying facts, eventually, yet tragically surpassed by an intolerable truth. The potentiality of such a disaster was well foreseen, and highly expected to occur. And it did, in France, one of the most developed and industrialized countries in the world, in the southwestern coastal towns of La Faute-sur-Mer and neighboring l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer. 

When daylight unveiled the disaster, Prime Minister François Fillon held an emergency cabinet meeting and afterward called the storm a “national catastrophe.” French President Nicolas Sarkhozy, declared: “We have to find out how families in France in the 21st-century can be surprised in their sleep and drowned in their own houses.” Mr. Sarkozy added, “We have to shed light as urgently as possible on this unacceptable and incomprehensible tragedy.”

As much as this tragedy is utterly unacceptable, it is all too comprehensible and sadly, previously announced by warnings from many scientists, locals, and even more relevantly by an official 2008 report from the Vendée Equipment Department, DDE. The risks of marine submersion were known to the Vendée DDE, which strongly addressed and questioned coastal safety, citing in particular the fragile sea walls in L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer and La Faute-sur-Mer, as well as their existing location and development in flood-prone areas. “There is no doubt about the vulnerability of the Vendée coast to marine submersion”.

La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer beaches are the most southerly beaches on the Vendée Atlantic coast. Blue flagged for cleanliness, gently sloping with fine golden sand, these beaches attract a myriad of visitors from around the world, each summer.

On the Atlantic side, 8 kilometers of fine sand beach and dunes pass by the town of La Faute-sur-Mer, located on a 10 kilometer long and 2 kilometer wide Peninsula, with the Atlantic Ocean on one side, then onward the Pointe D’Arcay. On the other side, there is an estuary and the Lay Bay with the Lay River. In front, lays l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, the neighboring town. La Faute-sur-Mer fragile environment of sand dunes is stabilized by 200 hectares of pine forest and Holm Oak (evergreen Oak) which were planted nearly 150 years ago. This forest domain is continued by the Reserve Ornithologique of la Pointe d’Arcay.The Beach in the town of l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is based around two man made lakes and has been developed with families in mind.

These coastal communities, however, have been built on areas that used to be swamps. The towns are 2 to 2.5 meters below sea level, on a polder, in other words, in a bowl. A 5 kilometers sea wall, the “Digue du Géni”, was built in 1860 at l’Aiguillon, and originally meant to protect the land for agricultural purposes. As for la Faute-sur-Mer, a sea wall was built in 1929.

L’Aiguillon-sur-Mer is the French capital of the mussel industry with over 20 percent of the nations production being cultivated in the estuary of the River Lay and the Anse de l’Aiguillon. The main attractions of the coastal towns besides the beaches are the Nature Reserve, and the off shore mussel farms.

Not anymore.

In the early hours of February 28th 2010, a well-forecasted storm named Xynthia swept through France with powerful winds of 160km/h 90 miles, leaving a trail of devastation, and 53 victims. About half the French death toll was attributed to marine submersion and breach of the dilapidated and too low sea walls of La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon-sur-Mer, allowing waves and sea waters to flood the villages, trapping people in their homes.

Brice Hortefeux, France Interior Minister, declared, “What happened in Vendée, was an exceptional combination of facts.” Corroborating observers such as, P.Bouteloup, a physicist who specializes in tides, or Eric Mas, director of Météo Consult, said that a chain of events was to blame as well as “extraordinary coincidences”: unusually strong winds, enormous waves and, above all, very low atmospheric pressure drawing the sea level even higher, (on that full-moon night, the tide measured 105 to 108 on a scale of 20 to 120) creating a potentially fatal combination for these communities located on the Atlantic coast.

Unfortunately, in light of what was previously known by the DDE, even though not ordinary, these events were obviously far from being just and simply coincidental, and actually followed an all too announced plausible, and furthermore, predicted scenario.

France has up to 9,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) of sea walls, with some of them built in the 17th century, according to Secretary of State for Ecology, Chantal Jouanno. More relevantly, about one tenth of them, 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), “can be considered a risk”. The European Center for Flood prevention, estimates that of the 9,000 kilometers of sea walls, at least 3,600 kilometers have no existing or identifiable owners, thus no responsible entity to maintain, rebuild or repair the dilapidated or inadequate sea walls.

 “The sea wall that broke dates back to the Napoleon era. Either we build (new) sea walls, in which case they need to be taller, or we have to build further inland,” said Philippe de Villiers, President of the General Council of Vendée.

When sea walls or levees are needed, it is obviously to “protect” a land naturally flood-prone. And indeed, how strong can a sea wall possibly be in comparison with the unfathomable power of angry waves? How high can sea walls possibly be? Scientists are warning us that, due to climate change and rising seas, storms are expected to be stronger, fiercer and more frequent than ever before. The France Nature Environment group says the recent tragedy should serve as a “shock treatment” to the nation. The group added, “By 2100, global warming will cause sea waters to rise by one meter, allowing a small storm to do the same damage as powerful Xynthia did.”

A “Plan Digue” (a Sea Wall Project) has been ordered by the Government to be completed within the next two months. Financing and responsibilities are to be reassigned and already the pre-plan opens doors to polemics, in term of responsibility, financing, costs of repair and construction, as well as to fundamental debates.

Sea walls are currently owned by eclectical entities: towns, syndicates, even individuals. The State is not much involved in ownership (1,000 kilometers of levees, mostly on La Loire river). Furthermore, most of the sea walls and levees are owned by entities that do not have the necessary financial power to maintain them. According to Anne-Marie Levraut, director of natural and water risks, Ministry of Ecology, most often the existing sea walls were built to allow farming, then population rose but the response did not rise to the new situation.

The Plan Digue is expected to contain a five-year financing project; 1 million euros per kilometer is the estimated investment on building and repair of the French sea walls. However, a fundamental debate is needed as per the sea wall’s relevance as acceptable defense in itself, specifically when comparing to the Netherlands’ levees never-ending reviews to see whether standards should be raised in light of various threats. In 2008, the Netherlands announced more than 100 billion euros (then $140 billion) in new spending through the year 2100 to prepare for the effects of global warming.

As much as the sea walls were a large part of the problem, solutions should not be built up solely on such a questionable base. Squandering taxpayers money and more catastrophes are to be feared.

As l’Aiguillon mayor, Maurice Milcent, said “The breach in our sea wall, that was not the problem! The waters just rose at once, overflowing our communities, built on swamps, on a flood-prone area. The problem has been known since Napoleon’s era ” and added, “According to our regional construction codes, houses had to be “fishermen style.” Tragically indeed, at L’Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer, most of the houses located right on the shorelines, were one story homes, to conform with local plans and legislation forbidding two story houses. This explains in part why so many drowned, unable to escape to higher levels.

The 2008 DDE report, preceded by published studies as early as 1999 and 2001, clearly stated that Aiguillon and La Faute-sur-Mer have been built: “On flood-prone areas, on soil temporarily won from the sea, without taking into account the “memory of risks”. That is where the problem resides and the solution rests! Unbridled urbanization on risk-prone areas along beloved, yet, hazardous coastlines.

The storm has definitely exposed major flaws in a well-developed western country’s housing planning.

Flooding is the number one natural risk in France. One out of three communities are potentially threatened, i.e. 5,1 million French people.

The last fifty years, the rate of urbanization of coastal and flood prone areas has dangerously increased. La Vendée, as most other coastal regions, has experienced an increase in popularity, attracting a population of more than 80,000 in the past decade, generating the construction of new houses perilously close to the country’s poorly protected shoreline. Many retired citizen flock to the western coast for its clement climate and more affordable lands.

As most industrialized and developed countries, France has adopted environmental laws addressing risks factors and management in determined areas. The Littoral Law of 1986 forbids construction at less than 100 meters from shoreline for buildings, and 2 kilometers for roads. Yet exemptions could too easily be obtained. A 1995 law, Major Risks Prevention Plan law, (La Loi Barnier du 2 Février 1995) was adopted, completing a 1982 law. It defines risk zones from white, to blue (dark blue and light blue) and red, and regulates construction interdiction levels from strict to permissible with specific requirements (regarding architecture and material used). The law was meant to install a flexible approach that would easily adopt to the needs of local and regional authorities. Under pressure, local executives, Mayors and General Council Presidents, continue to deliver construction permits, reluctant to recognize and comply with zoning. Since 2007, the French Government has had authority to intervene by expropriating any construction should a clear and present danger exist.

The Secretary of State for Ecology reported that 860 communities are below sea level in risky areas, but only 46 have Risk Prevention Plans defining zones where building is permitted, calling that “very insufficient”. To date, only 7600 Risk Prevention Plans have been approved. Since 1999, 100 000 homes have been approved to be built in coastal zones, known to be flood-prone.

“Each time a house is built, it’s money for the community,” said Léon Gendre, the mayor of La Flotte-en-Ré, an ancient town on the Ile de Ré, impacted by the flood as well. “Money is running all this.”

Chantal Jouano added, “We have to tighten up the rules regarding construction in flood-prone zones and behind sea walls, regardless of pressures.” President Sarkhozy declared that, “A reflexion must happen on urbanism. We cannot be lenient with safety.”

Before this very catastrophe, were all the cards not already on the table?

Under mounting scientific and environmentalist awareness and reports, as well as occurrences of announced and preventable disasters worldwide, concepts such as “the territorial intelligence” (see link) are developed. While opening necessary concerted actions between politicians, scientists, environmentalists and the people as a whole, implementation of knowledge to practical, sustainable and safer territorial development is promoted.

The point of all discussions should remain focused on stopping unbridled urbanization and preventing avoidable deaths and the gushing influx of taxpayers money by replicating past mistakes or investing in palliative, political and unadapted quick-fix solutions.

Modern mankind appears to be the only species on Earth whose propensity is to migrate its habitat counter-intuitively, solely ruled by will, preference, and or greed, against Nature’s evolution. Attempts to control disharmoniously the ultimately uncontrollable forces of Nature bear too costly a price for us, and future generations.

“We must be reasonable, and build further inland.” said Philippe de Villiers. We must be courageous as well, and seek implementation. In a speech to the victims, on March 16th, President Nicolas Sarkhozy declared he would ensure that, “All lessons were learned from this disaster, and would request local authorities to prevent zones devastated from being reoccupied.” To date, 30 construction permits recently granted in La Faute-sur-Mer and l’Aiguillon flood-prone areas, have been revoked.

Today, the memory of the tragedy is vivid and raw, as France is grieving and solutions are sought. In less than two months, the official report will be released, sadly titled “Plan Digues”… Will the “Memory of Risks” prevail?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results.” -Benjamin Franklin.

May cease the insanity, as the Seas are rising… ineluctably.


Latest Developments:

Xynthia Deadly Storm: The Trial Opens
Four years after a deadly storm devastated part of France west coast, killing 29 people in La Faute sur Mer town, the trial opens. Four elected officials and a real estate agent are indicted for aggravated manslaughter…

Le maire de la Faute-sur-mer René Marratier placé en garde à vue, Le Figaro, April 13th 2011
Les investigations sont menées dans le cadre d’une information judiciaire ouverte aux Sables d’Olonne pour “homicide involontaire”, “mise en danger de la vie d’autrui”, “abstention de combattre un sinistre” et “prise illégale d’intérêt.”

Xynthia : a Year Later, in Coastal Care

Xynthia : les chiffres de la tempête, un an après, Le Figaro

500 million Euros Plan to Strengthen Levees in France

1500 Homes are ordered to be destroyed, Euronews

1500 Maisons à détruire, Le Figaro

Chile Was Prepared for the Quake but Not the Tsunami

By Tim Padgett

In Chile’s second largest city, ConcepciÓn, the army has issued a “silence” order on some urban blocks so rescue workers can hear the possible tapping of survivors under the rubble of the massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake that hit the country on Feb. 27. The quake may be, as Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said on Sunday, “an emergency unparalleled” in the country’s history. But the death toll – fewer than 1,000 so far, despite the quake’s being one of the strongest ever recorded – is a tribute to Chile’s remarkable preparation and response.

Remarkable, that is, in terms of coping with what happened on land. Disaster officials now say the majority of Chile’s fatalities may have resulted from the temblor-generated tsunami waves that slammed coastal towns like ConstituciÓn, where 350 people were killed. And that points up the only area in which Chile and its government may have fallen short in this disaster.

If so, it’s a perplexing misstep by a country that has seen what kind of tsunami an earthquake this strong can hurl – as it did in 1960, when a 9.5-magnitude quake, the most powerful ever recorded, killed more than 1,600 people. Inexplicably, in the minutes after Saturday’s quake, Chilean officials told coastal communities like ConstituciÓn that there was little if any danger of tsunamis. Chilean television networks later aired video of tall, destructive waves pushing houses, cars and boats through fishing villages. “We ran desperately up the hill and watched how the sea washed everything away,” a woman in the village of Duao told a Chilean-TV reporter. The wave that hit the village of Talcahuano rose more than 7½ ft.

Bachelet’s government has suggested it was working with flawed data from its navy. Scientists say a tsunami’s likelihood and force depend largely on the amount of vertical movement an earthquake causes at the sea floor. The 9.0-magnitude quake that caused the devastating South Asia tsunami of 2004 yielded potent vertical displacement of about 16 ft. (5 m); Chile’s Saturday temblor, centered just off the Pacific coast about midway between the capital, Santiago, and ConcepciÓn, is thought to have involved significant vertical motion as well. Fortunately, no other countries in the Pacific Basin were affected by the Chile tsunami. “But it’s hard to understand how the Chileans didn’t foresee a major tsunami, at least for its own coast so close to the epicenter,” says a U.S. geologist who asked not to be identified because he is still studying the Chile data. “Not only was this one of the most powerful earthquakes we’ve seen in years, its movement was mostly vertical, which produces the most dangerous tsunamis.” (See how Asia recovered from the 2004 tsunami.)

But Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington, which is analyzing the Chile tsunami data, says that precisely because the communities were so close to the epicenter, tsunami waves arrived “almost instantaneously.” (Most accounts indicate they hit the shore less than 20 minutes after the first quake shock.) “It would have been virtually impossible to mobilize quickly enough to get out of harm’s way,” Lubchenco says – especially at 3:30 a.m., when the quake hit. “They didn’t have the benefit of early warning in this case.”

Ricardo Zapata, a disaster-evaluation chief for the Santiago-based Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), cites three levels of damage in the Chile quake. The first was the collapse of older, pre-1960 buildings, many of which were further damaged because they were constructed too close to one another. The second was the failure of newer buildings like ConcepciÓn’s apartment high-rises, which, while not pancaking like poorly built structures did during Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12, in many cases tilted over and broke, because even the strongest foundations can experience a kind of liquefaction by vibration in such powerful temblors. The last was the tsunami wreckage – and if early reports are true that it caused the most deaths, says Zapata, “that’s something the Chileans are going to have to take a long, hard look at.” (See why Chile’s earthquake wasn’t unexpected.)

Still, says Zapata, who is heading up ECLAC’s evaluation of the Haiti quake, “given the intensity of Chile’s earthquake, it’s amazing that there haven’t been more damage and deaths than what we’ve seen so far.” Chile has been credited with mandating strict building codes. But even the best earthquake-fitted infrastructure would have trouble withstanding magnitudes much higher than 8.0. The Chile quake, Zapata says, “is off the charts no matter how you look at it,” which is why so many bridges and roads have been destroyed there. (See the top 10 news stories of 2009.)

Chile’s death toll could eventually rise above 1,000. But right now, aside from the rescue process, the biggest issue on the ground is the top priority for any earthquake-battered country: getting food, water and medical aid to the hardest-hit zones. Rescuers were hampered in ConcepciÓn over the weekend by tear-gas smoke fired at grocery-store looters – an embarrassing scene that prompted Bachelet to arrange for vendors to give free food away.

Bachelet, a moderate socialist who remains remarkably popular in Chile, hands her office to conservative President-elect SebastiÁn PiÑera on March 11. She is expected to ask U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a relatively small amount of American aid when Clinton visits Chile on Tuesday during her previously scheduled tour of Latin America this week. Clinton will no doubt praise Bachelet’s leadership during the emergency – as most Chileans have, despite the apparent tsunami mishap. It will be up to PiÑera to put mechanisms in place to make sure Chile is as prepared at sea as it is on land when the next earthquake strikes.

Slideshow

View Full Article

Rebuilding Communities in Flood Prone Coastal Zones

Destruction from Hurricane Ike
Destruction from Hurricane Ike. Photo: Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines

Hurricane Katrina destroyed communities in Louisiana. Ike leveled the Port Bolivar peninsula and parts of Galveston. But Galveston has been destroyed before. With the damage from hurricane Ike still being totaled and hurricane Katrina still in our memories, what is the answer?

Question: Should we rebuild communities in flood prone coastal zones? Who should pay for the rebuilding? Is it fair to ask residents of Kansas to pay taxes for rebuilding of roads and structures on the coast? What do you think?