Extra Extra : Disasters

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 ...

Read more ...

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 ...

Read more ...

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 ...

Read more ...

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 ...

Read more ...

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.

FEMA money unequally distributed in flooded Colo. neighborhoods

"It’s been four months since record floods tore up roadways and transformed the geography of northeastern Colorado. Since then, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent millions helping people affected by the disaster.

Yet an investigation by FOX31 Denver found some neighborhoods are getting a lot less FEMA money than others."

Read the full story and explore the station's interactive map.

Ammonium nitrate sold by ton as U.S. regulation is stymied

Despite being banned in countries such as Afghanistan, China, Colombia, Germany, Ireland and the Philippines, the potentially explosive fertilizer ammonium nitrate  can be purchased pure and by the ton in the United States, according to the Dallas Morning News.

An investigation by the newspaper found that "for more than a decade, U.S. efforts to tighten controls over ammonium nitrate fertilizer have repeatedly failed, bogged down by bureaucratic gridlock and industry resistance. Regulations approved years ago remain unenforced and unfinished. Mere talk of safer substitutes has been blocked by those with profits at stake."

Many Oklahoma schools not adequately prepared for emergencies

Despite a 10-year-old state law requiring schools to have up-to-date safety and disaster plans on file with local emergency management officials, 9 Investigates at KWTV in Oklahoma City and 6 Investigates at KOTV in Tulsa, Okla., found that few districts are in compliance. Often, fewer than half the schools in an area had current plans on file, and very few private schools did.

Using Outdated Data, FEMA Is Wrongly Placing Homeowners in Flood Zones

"From Maine to Oregon, local floodplain managers say FEMA’s recent flood maps — which dictate the premiums that 5.5 million Americans pay for flood insurancehave often been built using outdated, inaccurate data. Homeowners, in turn, have to bear the cost of fixing FEMA’s mistakes," according to a ProPublica report.