Monday, July 14, 2008

Why More Men Die in Floods

Why More Men Die in Floods

In the floods that have swamped the U.S. this month, at least 12 people have been killed. Nine of them were men: in Iowa, three men, ages 33, 35 and 50, died in the floods; three middle-aged men perished in Indiana; Wisconsin, West Virginia and Minnesota lost one man each.

The ratio, it turns out, is typical for storms. Men are more likely than women to die in floods, year after year, all over the country. A study of U.S. thunderstorm-related deaths from 1994 to 2000 found that men were more than twice as likely to die than women. Of the 1,442 fatalities, 70% were men, according to research by Thomas Songer at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. Most of the deaths happened outside the home during flash floods or lightning strikes. That is partly because men are more likely to be outside for their jobs. But men are also more likely to take risks of all kinds — which can be a fatally bad idea in ugly weather.

Most storm deaths happen the same way: people drown when they try to drive or walk through floodwater. The brain is not very good at assessing the depth and strength of water on a road. Water can hide dips and valleys, making the path look smooth and shallow when it is not. And the brain is even worse at assessing the risk of anything that appears to be familiar or within control — like driving a car in the rain. To add to the general cognitive confusion, flash floods can happen quickly, without any warning at all.

Lightning is another very common, very deadly — and very underappreciated — natural hazard. Men are more likely to die from lightning partly because, in addition to their riskier occupations and behaviors, they are more likely to be outside playing or watching sports, Songer found.

On June 15, a 43-year-old Wisconsin man drove around ROAD CLOSED signs and hit a washout, according to news reports. He was pronounced dead at the scene. In Indiana, two men died in separate incidents this month after their cars were swept away — and they tried to walk home.

Of the 12 deaths across the country this summer, eight involved people driving in floodwaters. Two of those victims were women. (The total number of flood deaths this season will probably turn out to be higher than 12, but the Federal Government does not yet have complete figures. This number was compiled by TIME through interviews with county emergency managers as well as a review of local media reports. It does not include tornado deaths.)

Floods are extremely common all over the country and getting more common in many places. The good news is that we understand how to reduce the odds of dying in one. So what can men (and women) do to override their brain's blind spots? The simplest solution is to stay inside. But if you do find yourself out in flood conditions, here are some survival strategies:

— Don't be deceived by water that looks shallow. Six inches (15 cm) of water will reach the bottom of most cars and can cause stalling and loss of control, according to FEMA. A foot of water will float many cars, and two feet of moving water can carry away most vehicles — including SUVs and pickup trucks. In other words, if you can turn around, do it.

— If floodwaters do rise around your car, leave the car and move to higher ground ...

— ... Unless you don't know the depth of the water or if you are in moving water. In those cases, stay in the car and wait for help.

— If you must walk through water, walk where the water is not moving. Even ankle-high water, if it is moving, can make you fall. Use a stick to check the depth and firmness of the ground in front of you.

— If you do get swept into a fast current, don't fight it, according to the U.S. Army Survival Manual. In fast, shallow water, swim on your back, feet first. Keep your feet up to avoid hitting debris or getting pulled under.

Senior writer Amanda Ripley is the author of The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes [EM] and Why, a new book about human behavior in disasters


While this might not be the answer all inclusive to the problem of severe weather preparedness. It is one heck of a good start. We here are Robin Storm ask all of our readers to contact their US Senator's in support of CJ's Law.

Weather radio bill stalls in Senate

Aim is aiding those in mobile homes

By Doug Abrahms
Gannett News Service

WASHINGTON -- A bill proposed by Indiana lawmakers to require emergency weather radios in new manufactured housing has languished in the Senate for months while nearly half of this year's tornado deaths have been in mobile homes.

Fifty-two people living in mobile homes died in tornadoes this year in Alabama, Tennessee, Indiana and six other states, according to the National Weather Service. That was 44 percent of all tornado fatalities, a higher percentage than a generation ago, said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the weather service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

This year's high rate was partially due to more people living in mobile homes, he said.

The number of mobile homes in the country has grown from 4.6 million in 1980 to 8.8 million in 2006, according to the Census Bureau.

Trying to reduce these deaths, Rep. Brad Ellsworth of Indiana introduced legislation to require manufacturers to add weather radios to all new mobile homes. The cost is estimated at less than $35 per radio, he said.

Ellsworth was Vanderburgh County sheriff in 2005 when a tornado with winds of more than 136 mph tore through the area, killing 25 people.

"If it saves one life, we're better for it," he said.

The House passed his bill in October, but Ellsworth said he's a little frustrated by slow progress in the Senate.

Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., offered a similar bill in March that was sent to the banking committee, which has been busy with legislation to deal with the rising number of home foreclosures.

The Senate has only a few months left in this session, given an August recess and time off for fall campaigning.

The Manufactured Housing Institute, which represents makers of mobile homes, opposes the legislation because it singles out one type of housing.

"It's really not the structure you're in but where it's located," said Brian Cooney, the group's senior vice president. "If you're in the path of a tornado, it's really going to flatten everything."

The federal government is implementing a system that will alert people to emergencies via cell phones, TVs and other devices that will provide information to everyone, including people living in mobile homes, he said.

Most people get their weather information from TV, said Mike Smith, who founded Weatherdata, a private forecasting company in Wichita, Kan.

"But a television doesn't turn itself on automatically when a tornado happens," counters Bruce Thomas, chief meteorologist and spokesman for Midland Radio Corp., the nation's largest maker of weather radios.

The radio devices sound a tone when notified by a National Weather Service signal that a tornado or other emergency is possible in a specific county, he said. The company sold tens of thousands of weather radios this year in Huntsville, Ala., after tornadoes killed five people in the area in February, he said.

"I'll say unequivocally there will be lives saved if you put weather radios in mobile homes," Carbin said. "People will get the alert and hopefully take the action to get out of harm's way."

Kathryn Martin also is convinced the radios will save lives. She lost her 2-year-old son, C.J., in 2005 when a tornado in Evansville hit his great-grandmother's mobile home, where he was sleeping.

"We didn't know (weather radios) existed before the tornado," she said.

Martin persuaded Indiana lawmakers to pass a bill last year that requires new mobile homes installed in the state to have weather radios.

She also started CJ's Bus, a mobile service that tries to entertain and distract children in the immediate aftermath of disasters. In the past two years, CJ's Bus has given away more than 300 weather radios that were donated by manufacturers.

"It's frustrating for me to see kids dying and parents dying all because they didn't have a weather radio," she said.


Local officials being cautious as hurricane likelihood increases

One month into the 2008 hurricane season, Iredell County residents cannot be too prepared in the event of an emergency situation.

Although the region’s most recent and disastrous storm was 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, another hurricane hitting the South Carolina coast and moving inland could potentially strike the Mooresville area, said David Martin, Iredell County’s Emergency Management coordinator and emergency communications director.

“Most of the time, what you deal with with inland hurricanes is flooding,” said Martin. “We get a lot of water in a short period time.”

“It’s very rare that you’d have an inland hurricane that’s going to come through with the force that Hugo came through with.”

But as the hurricane season continues, signs are piling up that the tropical Atlantic Ocean, cradle of hurricanes during the August and September height of the season, could be a more fertile breeding ground than normal in coming months.

Tropical waves emerging from Africa have been stronger in this early season than last year, and Atlantic Ocean water temperatures between Africa and the Caribbean Sea ran higher than normal through June. Water temperatures in much of the tropical Atlantic last month were about 1 degree above normal.

Those elements are important because warm water becomes fuel for hurricanes. Water temperatures will continue to rise through the September heart of the season.

Tropical waves are the seeds of storms that form moving west across the Atlantic. If those are stronger than normal, they are more likely to survive to become storms.

Martin, who has heard that this summer will provide an active hurricane season, had several tips for Iredell County residents if a hurricane were to move inland and strike the region.

“One of the things with any type of disaster you’re looking at is trying to get 72 hours worth of stuff,” Martin suggested, noting that having enough food and water – as well as medications – for three days is important in an emergency situation.

He also advised people to purchase a manual can opener because having canned food will require a manual opener if the electricity fails.

“Another thing people don’t think about is cash,” said Martin. Having cash is vital, especially if power is out and ATMs are down.

If the region is expecting a storm like Hugo, with high winds, Martin recommended securing anything that is outside, including furniture and grills.
“A lot of the time that’s where your injuries come from is flying debris.”
Martin mentioned stocking up on batteries and alternative light sources, such as flashlights or candles, in case the electricity is out for a period of time.
“I think if you had all that kind of stuff, you could probably weather it pretty good.”

In preparing for a storm, Martin suggested keeping an eye on the weather, especially for those living in low-lying areas susceptible to flooding. A weather radio – which can be purchased from Iredell County Emergency Management for $30 or at several retail locations – can alert individuals of weather-related events that may be approaching.

“For $30, you have a lot of security,” said Martin, who highly recommends making this preventative purchase.

“Preparedness is the key. Being ready for it and having a way to know it’s coming.”

Many people, noted Martin, fail to think of their homeowner’s insurance when preparing for a natural disaster. He said those primarily living in flood zones need to be aware of their policy and whether their home is covered by homeowner’s insurance or flood insurance.

“If a hurricane hits the North Carolina coast, the biggest thing we’re going to get is rain,” said Martin, noting that Emergency Management is prepared in the event of a summer hurricane.

Aside from their mitigation efforts – such as the sale of the weather radios – and planning efforts, Emergency Management has “a debris management contract already in place” covering Iredell County, Martin added.

During June and much of July, most storms form in the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean. Those areas have proved barren so far.

Wind circling a low pressure area over the eastern United States most of June created winds from the west over the Gulf and Caribbean, which have dampened storm chances.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a season with 12 to 16 named storms with six to nine becoming hurricanes. Of those, three to five could become storms of Category 3 or stronger.
For more information about how to prepare for a hurricane in Iredell County and throughout North Carolina, visit

Neil Johnson of Media General News Service contributed this article.


‘Princess’ had deficient stabilizer, says maritime official

MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE) MV Princess of the Stars may have been “unstable” when it sailed because two of its ballast compartments were empty, a flaw that could have led to its sinking, a maritime official said Thursday.

Commodore Amado Romillo, member of the Board of Marine Inquiry investigating the sinking of Sulpicio Lines Inc.’s inter-island ferry, said that based on shipping firm’s report, two of the four ballast compartments of the ill-fated ferry were empty when it sailed.

He said empty compartments made the ship “unstable” and could have caused it to capsize when big waves battered it after sailing into the eye of Typhoon Frank (international codename: Fengshen) on June 21.

"It's very obvious the ship sailed without the proper quantity of ballast," said Romillo, a private sector representative to the BMI.

He questioned the stability of the Princess of the Stars after noting that data submitted by SLI to the board showed that the ship was not holding the full ballast tanks that he said were supposed to serve as its permanent ballast.

Ballast tanks are used to stabilize the ship and are filled with or emptied of water as needed.

Romillo’s comment at the ongoing investigation of the sinking did not sit well with Sulpicio lawyer Arthur Lim, who appealed to the BMI to suspend the announcement of its "tentative, individual findings."

Lim said Sulpicio did not want to foster an environment that would encourage the clamor for the government to take over the shipping company.

Benjamin Eugenio, Sulpicio’s port captain in Manila, said some ballast tanks had to be emptied to accommodate the cargo and ensure the ship's stability.

But Romillo said the ballast was needed for continued stability, regardless of the cargo on board.

"If they discharge ballast in place of cargo, you change the center of gravity,” Romillo said. “Then you can't consider the vessel stable. Thereby, you are risking the lives of passengers,"

Eugenio replied that selected tanks were full, but added that he did not have all the data about the ballast tanks with him. He assured the BMI that the data would be submitted soon.

Romillo, who showed Eugenio pictures of the upturned ship published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, parent company of, and cited a Philippine Coast Guard report to him, said the vessel was dead in the water and was drifting after it capsized.

The photos showed a portion of the ship's bow protruding from the sea off Sibuyan Island.

According to Romillo, buoyancy keeps a ship afloat, and this buoyancy could have been caused by the air in the empty ballast tanks.

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"A ship will sink if there is continued ingress of water. But if there's enough air left on board, that will keep the ship afloat even though she capsized," he said.

He further said this could mean that the ballast tanks of the ill-fated vessel could have been empty when it sailed.

"What's keeping her afloat is her empty ballast tanks. The reason the stern is lower is because of the cargo," he said.

He also said the ballast should be calculated while the ship was at port, and not while at sea because such practice would be dangerous.

Romillo also said that because of the high center of gravity of the cargo, it appeared there was not enough weight down below, and when strong waves hit the ship it listed.

If the ship had more weight below, it could have uprighted itself when hit by the waves, he added.

Romillo further said there were "lapses in the management of the ship."

He pointed out that the ship had only one form of communication with the ports, which was the single side band radio. There were also certain hours when no one was manning the radio communication. Thus, he said, the vessel was unable to receive an important weather bulletin at 10 p.m. on Friday.

But Lim objected to the airing of Romillo's views.

He countered the board member's statement and said that as far as he knew, the vessel may not necessarily floating.

"Maybe the vessel is afloat because is it resting on something, not because it is floating," he said.

He also asked the board to suspend judgment on the ballast tanks and the stability of the ship considering that the vessel would be refloated.

"It's purely speculative even when backed up by scientific theory," he said. "I don't think it will be fair to make conclusions that certain things were done or not done."

He also asked the board to consider that the vessel "went right smack in the eye of typhoon" and that the incident was "very extraordinary."

Lim noted that there has been talk about government's takeover of Sulpicio, and said he did not want the board member's view to persuade people to support the idea of a state takeover.

He said Romillo's statement about the ship was a "rhetorical observation."

"So if media will pick that up, everybody in the country will be agitating for the closure of Sulpicio. I don't believe the board should be the instrument of a sinister plan anyone might have," he said.

BMI chair Rear Admiral Ramon Liwag assured Lim that the board would conduct its investigation fairly.

In a separate interview, Engineer Nelson P. Ramirez, president of the United Filipino Seafarers, said it was also possible that the cargoes on board the 23000-ton vessel were not properly secured, causing them to be dislodged when big waves hit the ship.

The Princes of the Stars went down with over 800 passengers and crew on board. Only 57 have been found alive.

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