Joplin is all but destroyed

Joplin, Missouri–an hour’s drive from where I grew up, where we would often go when we wanted a “big city”–was struck by a tornado that is said to have destroyed three-fourths of the city, killing 89 people!

UPDATE: Now the report is that “only” one fourth of the city of 50,000 was destroyed. But the death toll has risen to 116.

The mighty Mississippi

The street in Memphis where the blues were born is underwater, as are many of the towns and cities and farms along the Mississippi river:

Waging war against flooding of historic proportions that has already affected thousands of people in eight Midwestern and Southern states, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened a spillway Monday north of New Orleans in an effort to calm the rising Mississippi River.

A crowd gathered near the entrance to the Bonnet Carre spillway to watch workers using cranes slide open the gates to the flood control system, which was built beginning in 1929 after a devastating flood two years before. The spillway, like another that could be opened next week, is designed to divert floodwater away from New Orleans and slow the raging river to protect the low-lying city.

While the river’s highest levels may still be days away, a decision to open the second flood control structure — the Morganza Spillway — may not be, Gov. Bobby Jindal said. People with property that would flood if the spillway is opened should not dally, Jindal warned.

“My advice to our people is not to wait, to get prepared now,” Jindal said.

Upstream in Memphis, Tennessee, residents and authorities had prepared all they could Monday as they anxiously waited for the Mississippi to crest Tuesday morning at a near-record 14 feet above flood stage.

“It’s sort of torturous, we’ve been waiting so long. It’s hard keeping peoples’ attention. It’s warning fatigue, if you will,” Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton Jr. said. “But we’re ready for it.”

The river is the highest it’s been at Memphis since 1937, when it crested at 48.7 feet — 14.7 feet above flood stage. That flood killed 500 people and inundated 20 million acres of land, said Col. Vernie Reichling, the Corps’ Memphis District commander.

The river Monday covered the lowest parts of the city’s historic Beale Street and had forced about 400 people from their homes, Wharton said. Another 1,300 remained in low-lying areas, he said.

While Corps’ officials said it appeared levees protecting the area were holding up well, with only minor amounts of water seeping in from beneath or lapping over from above, local officials were taking no chances.

“It’s a very powerful river. It looks like it’s running very slowly, but it has a very strong current,” said Bob Nations, director of preparedness in Shelby County, Tennessee, which includes Memphis. “We still don’t know (exactly what) the river might do.”

via Army Corps battles rising Mississippi from Memphis to New Orleans – CNN.com.

Whirlwinds

I grew up in Oklahoma, right in tornado alley.  We didn’t have a basement or a cellar so when the sirens blew we would get in the car and drive through the wind, often us kids still in our pajamas, to the church basement.  When we didn’t have time, we’d hide under our parents’ bed.  I remember vividly looking out their window and seeing a funnel bearing down.   I’ve seen a lot of massive wreckage.  Few things are as scary or as awe-inspiring as a tornado.  But I never went through anything like what happened on Wednesday night and Thursday morning, with  among the worst tornado outbreaks in history:

At least 290 people were killed across six states — more than two-thirds of them in Alabama, where large cities bore the half-mile-wide scars the twisters left behind.

The death toll from Wednesday’s storms seems out of a bygone era, before Doppler radar and pinpoint satellite forecasts were around to warn communities of severe weather. Residents were told the tornadoes were coming up to 24 minutes ahead of time, but they were just too wide, too powerful and too locked onto populated areas to avoid a horrifying body count.

“These were the most intense super-cell thunderstorms that I think anybody who was out there forecasting has ever seen,” said meteorologist Greg Carbin at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

via Tornadoes devastate South, killing at least 290 – Yahoo! News.

Good Friday conjunctions

This year Good Friday falls on April 22, which is also the new environmentalist holiday of Earth Day.  (It is also “89ers’ Day,” the anniversary of the Oklahoma Land Run in 1889, as all of my fellow Oklahomans should know.)   Some churches, usually of the more liberal persuasion, are trying to honor Good Friday and Earth Day together, recommending ecological gestures to honor Christ and suggesting that Christ died for the Earth.

He did die for the world.  And the whole creation suffered from the Fall and is in travail until the coming of Christ.  So can we make legitimate connections?

The health benefits of fidgeting

Some good new words here:  Inactivity Studies; Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (a.k.a. NEAT).  Also, I daresay, some good advice:

James Levine, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has an intense interest in how much people move — and how much they don’t. He is a leader of an emerging field that some call inactivity studies, which has challenged long-held beliefs about human health and obesity. . . .

His initial question — which he first posed in a 1999 study — was simple: Why do some people who consume the same amount of food as others gain more weight? After assessing how much food each of his subjects needed to maintain their current weight, Dr. Levine then began to ply them with an extra 1,000 calories per day. Sure enough, some of his subjects packed on the pounds, while others gained little to no weight.

“We measured everything, thinking we were going to find some magic metabolic factor that would explain why some people didn’t gain weight,” explains Dr. Michael Jensen, a Mayo Clinic researcher who collaborated with Dr. Levine on the studies. But that wasn’t the case. Then six years later, with the help of the motion-tracking underwear, they discovered the answer. “The people who didn’t gain weight were unconsciously moving around more,” Dr. Jensen says. They hadn’t started exercising more — that was prohibited by the study. Their bodies simply responded naturally by making more little movements than they had before the overfeeding began, like taking the stairs, trotting down the hall to the office water cooler, bustling about with chores at home or simply fidgeting. On average, the subjects who gained weight sat two hours more per day than those who hadn’t. . . .

The good news is that inactivity’s peril can be countered. Working late one night at 3 a.m., Dr. Levine coined a name for the concept of reaping major benefits through thousands of minor movements each day: NEAT, which stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. In the world of NEAT, even the littlest stuff matters. McCrady-Spitzer showed me a chart that tracked my calorie-burning rate with zigzagging lines, like those of a seismograph. “What’s that?” I asked, pointing to one of the spikes, which indicated that the rate had shot up. “That’s when you bent over to tie your shoes,” she said. “It took your body more energy than just sitting still.”

via Is Sitting a Lethal Activity? – NYTimes.com.

Spillionaires

A new word for people who got rich from British Petroleum from the oil spill in the Gulf:

The oil spill that was once expected to bring economic ruin to the Gulf Coast appears to have delivered something entirely different: a gusher of money.

So many people cashed in that they earned nicknames: “spillionaires” or “BP rich.” Others hurt by the spill wound up getting comparatively little. Many people who got money deserved it. But in the end, BP’s attempt to make things right — spending more than $16 billion so far, mostly on damage claims and cleanup — created new divisions and even new wrongs.

Some of the inequities arose from the chaos that followed the April 20 spill. But in at least one corner of Louisiana, the dramatic differences can be traced in part to local powerbrokers.

To show how the money flowed, ProPublica interviewed people who worked on the spill and examined records for St. Bernard Parish, a coastal community about five miles southeast of downtown New Orleans.

Those documents show that companies with ties to parish insiders got lucrative contracts and then charged BP for every possible expense. The prime cleanup company submitted bills with little or no documentation. A subcontractor billed BP $15,400 per month to rent a generator that usually cost $1,500 a month. Another company charged BP more than a $1 million a month for land it had been renting for less than $1,700 a month. Assignments for individual fishermen also fell under the control of political leaders.

“This parish raped BP,” said Wayne Landry, chairman of the St. Bernard Parish Council, referring to the conduct of its political leadership. “At the end of the day, it really just frustrates me. I’m an elected official. I have guilt by association.”

via ‘Spillionaires’ are the new rich after BP oil spill payouts – The Washington Post.

Would it be fair to say that the environmental damage from the oil spill was much less than it was hyped up to be, and that BP was the victim of extortion?


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