Inconvenient Truths

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Residents of the small town devastated by a massive mudslide that left at least 14 dead knew that there was a “high risk” of this kind of disaster in the area, according to a Washington state official.

“This entire year we have pushed message after message that there’s a high risk of landslides,” John Pennington, director of Snohomish County Emergency Management said. “The dangers and the risks are known.”

And this one:

Scientist warned of Wash. mudslide danger 15 years ago

ARLINGTON, Wash. – A scientist working for the government had warned 15 years ago about the potential for a catastrophic landslide in the fishing village where the collapse of a rain-soaked hillside over the weekend killed at least 14 people and left scores missing.

As rescue workers slogged through the muck and rain in search of victims today, word of the 1999 report raised questions about why residents were allowed to build homes on the hill and whether officials had taken proper precautions.

“I knew it would fail catastrophically in a large magnitude event,” though not when it would happen, said Daniel Miller, a geomorphologist who was hired by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to do the study. “I was not surprised.”

Patricia Graesser, a spokeswoman for the Army Corps in Seattle, said it appears that the report was intended not as a risk assessment, but as a feasibility study for ecosystem restoration.

Asked whether the agency should have done anything with the information, she said: “We don’t have jurisdiction to do anything. We don’t do zoning. That’s a local responsibility.”

Snohomish County officials and authorities in the devastated village of Oso said that they were not aware of the study but that residents and town officials knew the risks of living in the area.

In fact, the area has long been known as the “Hazel Landslide” because of landslides over the past half-century. The last severe one before Saturday’s disaster was in 2006.

Over and over again we see people behaving with willful ignorance of the deadly consequences of their actions. People build houses on floodplains and stop vaccinating their kids and pretend climate change isn’t happening and levies won’t fail and kids won’t find grandpa’s gun, and on, and on, and on.

It’s getting really hard for me to feel sorry for humanity. We’re just so fucking stupid sometimes.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Inconvenient Truths

  1. Joseph Stans

    Really. No shit, you buy them books and they eat the covers. The only thing they are good for is standing around looking pitiful while others risk life and limb to try to find aunt Sadie. Don’t start with me. I’ll get really crabby, go on a rant and have to hit the rye. I going right for the rye and avoid the rant.

  2. onyxpnina

    *nods*

    Sometimes I wonder how we got out of the trees.

    Sometimes I think about the ending of The Stars My Destination and conclude that most of the humans were dead by the following week (this is not a spoiler per se).

    I’m going to be officially optimistically serene today (in roadnotes’ terms, serene, damnit!) because otherwise I would never leave my room.

  3. Maybe the people who lived there bought their land at $ .50 /sq. ft. ?And the people who sold them the land didn’t disclose it was a disater area ?

    • It was well-known as a slide risk, there was last a slide there in 2006, and what I want to know is, why wasn’t there some kind of zoning prohibiting building below the slide area? And how did these people get insurance? I’m smelling a rat here of some kind.

      • deep

        The insurance issue is playing out here in Massachusetts right now. They redefined the flooding maps because Insurance didn’t want to pay for disasters resulting from global warming. Of course now people are complaining to their congress critters because they can’t get insurance now and OOhhhh won’t you please get rid of the new maps?

        After all global warming is a hoax and there won’t be any disasters in the near future, RIGHT?

      • Tennessee, too. Big stories this week about how flood insurance rates are skyrocketing for some folks. Insurance is just the damn free market at work, folks. Deny climate change all you want but risk assessment isn’t going to change just because you’re swallowing Koch Kool-aid.

      • Jim in Memphis

        Wait this is the Federal Flood Insurance program managed by FEMA. This is not the “free hand of the market” at work here. This is a Federal program that (who would have ever thought) was charging way too little to cover flood damage in its insurance plan. If you read the article it states that “Nashville policyholders have received $146 million in insurance payments since joining the federally subsidized program, while overall flood insurance premiums total $5 million per year.” Yeah that is about how every other Federal program is budgeted nowadays. “As many as 1.1 million policyholders are subsidized through the National Flood Insurance Program, which is $24 billion in debt because of a series of catastrophic storms.” Sounds like a case where the people need to be paying their fair share if they want to live in a flood prone area.

      • It’s still based on real risk data. Why are taxpayers underwriting people who live in flood-prone areas, BTW?

      • Jim in Memphis

        SB – I agree taxpayers should not be subsidizing these policies. If you want to build your house in a flood plain then you should pay for your own stupidity. Basically private insurance companies wanted nothing to do with flood insurance. They all know that it is not a matter of if something floods only when. The same reasoning is used on earthquake insurance. The policies are written such that the deductible for earthquake damage is very high. You are only going to get insurance money if it is a very large quake that destroys your house and even then you are paying a huge deductible on top of all the premiums you paid over the years. Insurance companies are not stupid – they know how to cover their risks.

      • If you want to build your house in a flood plain then you should pay for your own stupidity.

        There are too many places where no private insurance company would ever underwrite a development so the government has to step in to help. Very much like the Price-Anderson Act which I’ve railed about here many times, which is basically U.S. taxpayers underwriting the nuclear power industry because the costs associated with a power plant failure of any kind are way too catastrophic for any private underwriter to be able to shoulder. So Uncle Sam stepped in and said no probolem, if there’s an accident will just socialize those losses.

        I’ve been advocating repeal of the Price Anderson Act for over 30 years.

  4. I’ve since given it away but I had a book on avalanches that was written by a woman who studies them for a living. She has seen the result of avalanches (and concurrent landslides) many, many times. The death and devastation are ALWAYS heart wrenching but, yeah, for being the only supposedly “reasonable” species on the planet, we are spectacularly stupid and hubristic.

    There will (have been, I’m sure) lotsa claims by various folks that a person (especially a baby) or a kitteh who was found alive in an air pocket and detected by dogs or body scanning radar or somesuch has been MIRACULOUSLY SAVED. Meanwhile up to 150 or so other folks are dead. Strange ways. indeed.

  5. Kosh III

    Cull the herd

  6. “Very much like the Price-Anderson Act which I’ve railed about here many times, which is basically U.S. taxpayers underwriting the nuclear power industry because the costs associated with a power plant failure of any kind are way too catastrophic for any private underwriter to be able to shoulder. ”

    While it might be true that no single insurer could cover the losses from a nuke disaster there’s a much less noble reason for Price Anderson. It shelters the nuke owners from having to pay the HUGE premiums that would be required by any prudent pool of insurers and thus escape paying for the externalities. The same thing happens with situations like Prince William Sound, Duke Energy’s spills and the Gulf well blowout.

    One of the best scare tactics used by the fossil fuel and nuclear energy industry is that alternative power sources are far too costly to ever be feasible. That it’s absolute bullshit has never mattered in the least.

    Flood insurance is a huge fucking boondoggle and the feds have attempted to do something about it, but the Congress sells out to monied interests on that idea, just like they do on everything else. Otoh, it’s pretty obvious from every comment he makes that Jimbo would be perfectly happy in a world of toll roads, private water and sewer districts, private schools, workhouses for the poor, debtor prisons, subscription fire departments and private militias and police for those who can afford them. Because he’s a self-sufficient man and can do anything that needs being done without he don’t need no gummint help.

    • Jim in Memphis

      “Otoh, it’s pretty obvious from every comment he makes that Jimbo would be perfectly happy in a world of toll roads, private water and sewer districts, private schools, workhouses for the poor, debtor prisons, subscription fire departments and private militias and police for those who can afford them. Because he’s a self-sufficient man and can do anything that needs being done without he don’t need no gummint help.”

      toll roads – perfectly legal for the government to run – are you ok with them?

      Private water and sewer districts – lots of people run their houses from well water and septic tanks – should those be outlawed?

      Private schools – while I don’t think education should be a federal budget item, I have nothing against states or local communities that decide they want to offer public schools. I also think people should be free to choose to send their kids to a private school or homeschool them if they want. Should those choices be outlawed?

      workhouses for the poor and debtor prison – I am not in favor of those

      Subscription Fire Departments – several small communities operate volunteer fire departments through subscriptions. Should these be outlawed?

      Private militias and police – Well this is specifically listed as a duty of the Federal government, but I have nothing against someone that wants to hire a private security service – should those be outlawed?

      • Uh, I’m not sure how to break it to ya, Jimbo, but I actually DO know about all of that stuff. It’s not an “either,or” proposition for me.

        Yeah, the gummint has toll roads, almost 6,000 miles of them (source: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/tollpage/facts.cfm). And there are ONLY 3.9 MILLION miles of paved roads and highways in the U.S.(source: http://www.nationalatlas.gov/transportation.html). Lemmeesee, rounding up to 6 dropping the three zeros divided by 3,900 (also dropping three zeros) and we get, um, .15%; so only about 99.8% of all roads in the U.S. don’t have tolls.

        Private water and sewer systems are all the rage these days, oh, wait, no they’re not even though they’re not outlawed in any jurisdiction that I’m aware of. What they require is massive capital outlays and the ability to absorb things like the expense of redoing the system and paying for remediation when the shit hits the aquifer or improperly installed mains burst for reasons of frost heaves and the like. Privately held water companies, according to at least one survey (source: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/factsheet/economic-failures-of-private-water-systems/) are no bargain. There are both pros and cons for private v publicly operated waste/wastewater systems–in new construction, especially in suburban, exurban and rural areas. No one, afaia, is advocating for having public sewer facilities in any major owned by private companies–because, I suspect, you can’t make shit, processing shit and the downside costs are enormous.

        “Private schools – while I don’t think education should be a federal budget item, I have nothing against states or local communities that decide they want to offer public schools.”

        Spoken like a true Liberpublican. You would love, no doubt, a system where your children get the education that YOU can afford and have the children of the poor get a substandard education or none at all. After all, educating the serfs is not a good idea. Are you aware that we used to do that sort of thing and when it was left to the states, people who weren’t WHITE didn’t get the same level of STATE SUPPORTED edjumicashun as we did? I sure do, And THEN we got to make fun of those stupid darkies who could only get jobs washing dishes, sweeping and carting trash*. Yeah, those were the good ol’ days.

        “workhouses for the poor and debtor prison – I am not in favor of those”

        So, they have the same right to sleep under bridges and on heating grates as you do? Gosh, what a humanitarian.

        “Subscription Fire Departments – several small communities operate volunteer fire departments through subscriptions. Should these be outlawed?”

        They would have, no doubt, done a great job after a pair of jet aircraft were rammed into the WTC. Or fighting conflagrations in urban areas, spending days on end helping survivors–who have nothing–after a major weather event be it water, wind or jiggly-shaky in nature.

        “Private militias and police – Well this is specifically listed as a duty of the Federal government,”

        Not in the copy of the Constitution that I was just looking at here:

        http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/constitution_transcript.html

        no mention of police, anywhere. Private militias? I think that you mean STATE militias. Well, the National Guard and the Regular Army (Navy, Marines and Air Force) as well as their reserve units are PROHIBITED from acting as police by the Posse Comitatus Act–unless specifically authorized by Congress or the U.S. Constitution. Here’s a hint, they don’t investigate armed robberies, vandalism, public drunkenness and the like. Nor will they come a’runnin’n’a’gunnin’ when your home is invaded by someathem poor folk that didn’t get a decent education and decided crime was a lot easier (and better paying) than working for your private sewage treatment company.

        Big picture, Jimbo. I didn’t say any of the things you mentioned should be outlawed (I do think that they should be regulated and licensed if they’re doing anything that affects anyone’s life, limb or peaceful enjoyment–especially if they’re not customers). Otoh, I pretty much KNEW that you would come in here and bloviate–without spending any time to do a little research and find out what actually HAPPENS when everything is privatized.

        Your comment also tells me that you’re a white male who probably lives in a nice home in an area where you don’t have all of those inconvenient poor people to deal with.

        I think I said that you were misanthropic, recently; lets add sociopath to that description.

        Kthxbye.

        * The garbage trucks of my youth were ALL crewed by black men. That situation obtained until they unionized and then, miraculously, lotta white guys.

  7. Joseph Stans

    Good grief! A simple trip to the library would have produced aerial maps of the area and shown quite clearly the problem. A stop at the county office would have hopped you up with the guy that predicted this 15 years ago. Do we have to leave a trail of bread crumbs for you fools?