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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Saturday Art: Toxic Forest (#SXSWEco)

12:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Chris Jordan's Toxic Forest

Toxic Forest is an image constructed from photos of 139,000 cigarette butts. Click for larger view.

See more of Kit’s SXSW Coverage.

When a tanker runs aground or a pipeline spills, the mainstream media still attempts to cover the story. But other kinds of pollution have a less TV-friendly narrative because they are continuous ongoing issues. Legacy, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing the health impact of smoking, commissioned Toxic Forest from artist Chris Jordan to help visualize one such problem.

Every 15 seconds, 139,000 cigarettes are smoked and discarded in the United States, many of them improperly. “They are the most discarded item on beaches, waterways and roadways,” Sarah Shank, a Senior Communications Manager at Legacy told an assembled audience while presenting the artwork at this year’s SXSW Eco conference in Austin, Texas.

Legacy initially focused on the prevention of childhood smoking and helping smokers give up their addictions. But recently, the organization added a new goal — finding a solution for the problem of cigarette waste. 360 billion cigarettes are smoked every year. and in one survey, three quarters of smokers admitted to disposing of cigarette butts on the ground or out a car window. Despite popular belief to the contrary, discarded cigarette butts do not biodegrade. They take years to break down and, when they finally do, merely break apart into smaller pieces of plastic. Anyone who has ever participated in a cleanup effort on a road, beach, or anywhere else will vividly remember picking up butt after butt — or the plasticy fluff they turn into with time. In 2010, the Ocean Conservancy reported collecting over a million butts in their annual cleanup efforts, over 31% of the total trash collected.

Toxic Forest shows a forest made of photocollaged butts.

Toxic Forest (Detail)

At a distance, Toxic Forest appears to be an attractive but unremarkable woodland scene. As the viewer approaches, it slowly resolves into a strange pattern of whites and darks, flecks of color mingling. At last, up close, one can see that this collage isn’t just meant to symbolize waste but actually constructed out of waste. Forest is literally made from 139,000 photographs of individual cigarette butts, collected as garbage in Austin and Seattle. Jordan then created the cunning photo collage that drew many visitors outside SXSW Eco’s trade show throughout the event.

Jordan is known for this technique of using photocollage to symbolize American consumerism and wastefulness. Most of his work is grouped into series like Running the Numbers, which mixes garbage with high finance and other images of the American Way. His Midway series depicts the death of baby albatrosses that are fed plastic by their mothers, and an accompanying film launches soon. Toxic Forest fits perfectly into this oeuvre. Gazing upon Toxic Forest, I imagined those moments in my life when I’d hiked into a wooded lot or forested state park and found myself in some place of almost intolerable natural beauty — only to have my reverie come crashing down upon the discovery of a crumpled beer can and a pile of discarded cigarette butts. More seriously, both animals and human infants have been known to consume butts with neurotoxic effects.

Legacy recently launched a scholarly journal, Tobacco Control, to bring scientific research to the issue of cigarette butts. It’s full of research papers with titles like “Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish.” Since this is crucial but not especially approachable work for the average cigarette consumer, they’ve also partnered with the Leave No Trace Center to create a series of public service announcements. You can view one of them below.

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Watercooler: Democracy Now on #Sandy

6:15 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Stay dry, y’all.

So much of today’s Democracy Now! program on Hurricane Sandy lines up with today’s myFDL articles that I had to share it as a closer to today’s coverage — nuclear power, climate change denial, human survival, and the crucial need to halt our damage to the environment and change our dependence on environmentally damaging finite resources. It’s worth the time just to hear Jeff Masters of Weather Underground call climate change the ‘Voldemort of our time.’ We also featured the David Swanson review of the latest book by DN!’s Amy Goodman.

Enjoying the dry, mild Texas weather with a steady supply of electricity, I felt accutely aware how lucky I am — and worried for the many people I know in the storm zone. My thoughts are with my family and friends in Connecticut, the many Occupiers throughout the region I’ve connected with since joining that movement, and of course Ellie Elliott, Scarecrow, Jane Hamsher, Cynthia and all firepups that live in affected areas. Check in when you can & stay safe!

Twitter provides the most up to date coverage of this actively developing event. Check the hashtag #Sandy and related ones like #SandyNYC for the latest from regular people on the ground (though beware of misinformation and pranksters). And share your news in the comments here.

This is our latest open thread — what’s on your mind?