Extra Extra : Disasters

Regulators lack resources to confront risks posed by exploding oil trains

Almost a year and a half after an oil train explosion devastated a Quebec town —and after three railcar explosions in the United States — those headline-grabbing measures have turned out to be less than they appeared. Idling oil trains are still left unattended in highly populated areas. The effort to draft new safety regulations has been bogged down in disputes between the railroads and the oil industry over who will bear the brunt of the costs. The oil industry is balking at some of the tanker upgrades, and the railroads are lobbying against further speed restrictions. The story and video ...

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Six years after Hurricane Ike, Texas coast remains vulnerable

Hurricane Ike sent a clear message that the people and vital energy industry of greater Houston, one of America's largest urban areas needed protection from rising seas. Six years later, it remains an easy target as storm surges grow increasingly more destructive. Many major coastal cities are in the same boat.

A Reuters analysis of RealtyTrac data for the third installment of the “Water’s Edge” series found that at least $1.4 trillion worth of businesses and homes line the country’s tidal shores, yet the U.S. lacks a unified national response to rising sea levels. The ...

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Landslide safety all over the map in Washington

The deadly Oso landslide in March sparked a debate over Snohomish County’s apparent failure to protect residents at the base of a known landslide zone.

But Washington state is dotted with landslide-prone slopes, and many counties and cities do less than Snohomish County to keep homes away from harm.

A joint KUOW-EarthFix investigation found that local rules vary widely around the state, leaving some communities with much smaller margins of safety than others.

Danger lurks underground from aging gas pipes

About every other day over the past decade, a gas leak in the United States has destroyed property, hurt someone or killed someone, a USA TODAY Network investigation finds. The most destructive blasts have killed at least 135 people, injured 600 and caused $2 billion in damages since 2004.

A crack found in a cast-iron service main caused an apartment building explosion in Birmingham, Alabama last year. Alabama Gas Corp. built and operated that pipeline, according to the Montgomery Advertiser, one of the Gannett-affiliated publications involved in the project.

The Advertiser recently went to court over Alagasco documents it obtained ...

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Reports reveal safety violations at many bioterror labs

Recent glaring safety lapses involving anthrax, smallpox and a dangerous strain of bird flu are the latest violations at a half-dozen laboratories run by federal health agencies, 11 labs run by universities and eight more operated by state, local or private entities, according to government reports stamped "restricted" obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.

The reports by the Office of Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cited inadequate security procedures, lax inventory records for germs that could be used as bioterror agents and training concerns. Auditors warned in reports issued ...

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Tracking federal, state aid money after the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes

An investigation by Oklahoma Watch and KGOU found that almost three-fourths of the people who applied for FEMA aid following the killer twisters in Oklahoma last year were rejected.

While tens of millions of dollars in state and federal aid were released following the storm, the process of receiving and using those funds hasn’t always gone smoothly.

According to Oklahoma Watch:

“At least three cities and a school district had requests denied because the damage was determined to be unrelated to the disaster. Others were turned away because the project was too small, under $1,000, to be eligible ...

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No one held accountable for deadly blast in Washington

Four years after one of the state’s worst industrial accidents, no one has been held publicly accountable for the deaths of seven workers at the Tesoro refinery on the outskirts of Anacortes, Washington.

According to Puget Sound Public Radio:

Refinery owner Tesoro agreed to pay millions to families of the dead, but the company continues to fight government accusations that it willfully put its workers in harm’s way. The families have also sued Lloyd’s Register Energy Americas, a company that advised Tesoro on how to inspect the refinery’s maze of high-temperature, high-pressure machinery.

With legal proceedings ...

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Many displaced by superstorm Sandy still wait for housing help

Seventeen months after Congress authorized up to $16 billion to fix homes wrecked by superstorm Sandy, tens of thousands of people still are living in damaged houses or paying rent on top of a mortgage as they wait for rebuilding help, reports The Wall Street Journal. About 15,000 New York City residents are seeking aid, but city officials say only 352 have so far received a check or city-provided home construction.

Officials were warned about dangers of Wash. mudslide area

Snohomish County officials in a 2010 report were warned that neighborhoods along the Stillaguamish River were ranked “as one of the highest risk areas for deadly and destructive landslides," according to The Seattle Times.

The document contradicts claims from an emergency-management official that the area “was considered very safe” and that the slide “came out of nowhere.”

The Times also found state records showing that the plateau that gave way Saturday had been logged for almost a century. Scientists in recent decades had warned that the slope was becoming unstable and could potentially lead to calamity.

More coverage: Before and ...

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Federal government reduces fines for deadly "gas blow" incident, still no ban against practice

After six workers were killed in a massive gas explosion at the Kleen Energy plant in Middletown four years ago, federal investigators tallied hundreds of violations at the site and issued $16.6 million in penalties against more than a dozen companies — the third-largest workplace-safety fine in the nation's history.

But in the years since the blast, the federal government agreed to deals that will wipe out as much as 88 percent of the fines levied against the companies it determined were responsible for the explosion, a Courant review of documents related to the case has revealed.