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US coastal growth continues despite lessons of past storms

Published: Saturday, September 16, 2017 @ 3:32 PM
Updated: Saturday, September 16, 2017 @ 3:30 PM

Nothing seems to curb America's appetite for life near the sea, especially in the warmer climates of the South. Coastal development destroys natural barriers such as islands and wetlands, promotes erosion and flooding, and positions more buildings and people in the path of future destruction, according to researchers and policy advisers who study hurricanes.

"History gives us a lesson, but we don't always learn from it," said Graham Tobin, a disaster researcher at the University of South Florida in Tampa. That city took a glancing hit from Hurricane Irma — one of the most intense U.S. hurricanes in years — but suffered less flooding and damage than some other parts of the state.

In 2005, coastal communities took heed of more than 1,800 deaths and $108 billion in damages from Hurricane Katrina, one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. Images of New Orleans under water elicited solemn resolutions that such a thing should never happen again — until Superstorm Sandy inundated lower Manhattan in 2012. Last year, Hurricane Matthew spread more deaths, flooding and blackouts across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. From 2010-2016, major hurricanes and tropical storms are blamed for more than 280 deaths and $100 billion in damages, according to data from the federal National Centers for Environmental Information.

Harvey, another historically big hurricane, flooded sections of Houston in recent weeks. Four counties around Houston, where growth has been buoyed by the oil business, took the full force of the storm. The population of those counties expanded by 12 percent from 2010 to 2016, to a total of 5.3 million people, the AP analysis shows.

During the same years, two of Florida's fastest-growing coastline counties — retirement-friendly Lee and Manatee, both south of Tampa — welcomed 16 percent more people. That area took a second direct hit from Irma after it made first landfall in the Florida Keys, where damage was far more devastating.

Overall growth of 10 percent in Texas Gulf counties and 9 percent along Florida's coasts during the same period was surpassed only by South Carolina. Its seaside population, led by the Myrtle Beach area of Horry County, ballooned by more than 13 percent.

Nationally, coastline counties grew an average of 5.6 percent since 2010, while inland counties gained just 4 percent. This recent trend tracks with decades of development along U.S. coasts. Between 1960 and 2008, the national coastline population rose by 84 percent, compared with 64 percent inland, according to the Census Bureau.

Cindy Gerstner, a retiree from the inland mountains of upstate New York, moved to a new home in January in Dunedin, Florida, west of Tampa. The ranch house sits on a flood plain three blocks from a sound off the Gulf of Mexico. She was told it hadn't flooded in 20 years — and she wasn't worried anyway.

"I never gave it a thought," she said during a visit back to New York as Irma raked Florida. "I always wanted to live down there. I always thought people who lived in California on earthquake faults were foolish."

Her enthusiasm for her new home was undiminished by Irma, which broke her fence and knocked out power but left her house dry.

In Horry County, where 19 percent growth has led all of South Carolina coastline counties, Irma caused only minor coastal flooding. The county's low property taxes are made possible by rapid development and tourism fees, allowing retirees from the North and Midwest to live more cheaply. Ironically, punishing hurricanes farther south in recent years has pushed some Northerners known locally as "half-backers" to return halfway home from Florida and to resettle in coastal South Carolina.

Add the area's moderate weather, appealing golf courses, and long white strands — the county is home to Myrtle Beach — and maybe no one can slow development there. "I don't see how you do it," said Johnny Vaught, vice chairman of the county council. "The only thing you can do is modulate it, so developments are well designed."

Strong building codes with elevation and drainage requirements, careful emergency preparations, and a good network of roads for evacuation help make the area more resilient to big storms, said the council chairman, Mark Lazarus. Such measures give people "a sense of comfort," said Laura Crowther, CEO of the local Coastal Carolina Association of Realtors.

Risk researchers say more is needed. "We're getting better at emergency response," said Tobin at the University of South Florida. "We're not so good at long-term control of urban development in hazardous areas."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency helps recovery efforts with community relief and flood insurance payments. The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. It provides community grants for projects aimed at avoiding future losses. Some projects elevate properties, build flood barriers, or strengthen roofs and windows against high winds. Others purchase properties subject to repeated damage and allow owners to move.

But coastline communities face more storm threats in the future.

Global warming from human-generated greenhouse gases is melting polar ice and elevating sea levels at an increasing pace, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That amplifies storm surges and other flooding. Also, some climate models used by scientists predict stronger, more frequent hurricanes as another effect of global warming in coming decades.

"There will be some real challenges for coastal towns," predicted Jamie Kruse, director of the Center for Natural Hazards Research at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. "We'll see some of these homes that are part of their tax base becoming unlivable."

Hazard researchers said they see nothing in the near term to reverse the trend toward bigger storm losses. As a stopgap, communities should cease building new high-rises on the oceanfront, said Robert Young, director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

He said big changes probably will not happen unless multiple giant storms overwhelm federal and state budgets.

"The reason why this development still continues is that people are making money doing it," he said. "Communities are still increasing their tax base — and that's what politicians like."

___

Donn reported from Plymouth, Massachusetts.

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Online:

National Centers for Environmental Information: https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/

Center for Natural Hazards Research: http://www.ecu.edu/cs-cas/hazards/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: http://www.noaa.gov/

Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines: https://psds.wcu.edu/

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NEW DETAILS: Warren County corrects ID of pilot in double-fatal plane crash

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 10:47 AM
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 4:14 PM

(NOTE: This story has been updated with new information regarding the pilot’s identification.) 

The Warren County Coroner’s Office revealed Thursday afternoon that the pilot thought initially to be at the helm of a 2016 plane crash in Warren County at Camp Kern was misidentified.  

The revelation comes in the wake of a final report released this week by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), indicating that the pilot killed in the crash at Camp Kern had marijuana and alcohol in his system.  

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Eric Hackney, 43, of Punta Gorda, Florida, was originally named as the pilot of the plane that crashed after it struck a zipline over the Little Miami River in Oregonia on Oct. 16.  

But Warren County Coroner’s investigator Doyle Burke told this news outlet that Hackney’s passenger, Jesse Loy, 36, of Punta Gorda, Florida, also killed in the crash, was actually piloting the aircraft.  

“The family contacted me after they said they had read a report somewhere by NTSB that had Hackney as the pilot,” Burke said. “Loy was piloting the plane, and Hackney was a passenger ... so I am not sure how that initial information got released.”  

He added that a dental forensic processes helped make the positive identification of Loy and Hackney, who were both killed in the crash.  

“We want to make sure in these types of situations that the correct bodies get released to the families,” Burke said. “I was able to assure the families that was the case in this instance.”  

An NTSB spokesman confirmed that the organization doesn’t release the specific names of people piloting an aircraft in its accident reports. “We do not give out the names,” the spokesman said. 

According to the NTSB’s final report, “the blood level was below the regulatory limit; however, pilots may be impaired below this threshold,” the report read.  

Findings during the investigation also “indicated that the pilot had used marijuana sometime before the accident; however, since there is no accepted relationship between blood levels and degree of impairment, whether the impairing effects… contributed to the accident could not be determined,” the report said.  

The report indicated the cause of the crash was “the pilot’s decision to fly at a low altitude, which resulted in the collision with a zipline.”  

The plane did not have any other mechanical malfunctions during the crash, according to the report.  

The report shows Loy had a private pilot certificate since September 2008 and had at least 750 hours of flight time. At least 200 of those hours were logged while Loy flew an RV-4 plane, which was the type involved in the fatal crash, the report read.

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Police: Mother facing charges after Urbana elementary student comes to school with cocaine in system

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 3:52 PM

A 7-year-old student came to school high on cocaine Monday morning. The mother of that student is now in custody.

A 7-year-old Urbana student came to school high on cocaine on Monday, police said.

The child is a student at North Elementary, one of the district’s kindergarten and first-grade schools, and was acting very unusual in the late morning, according to police and school officials.

“The student was drowsy, groggy and they thought there might be a blood sugar question,” Urbana superintendent Charles Thiel said.

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Thiel said the student’s classroom was quarantined and administrators called 9-1-1.

The student was taken to Urbana Mercy Health Hospital, where it was determined the substance in the student’s system was cocaine.

The child received treatment and was later released, but it’s not known whether the student has returned to school after the incident.

“It’s a terrible situation for one of our youngest students to have to be in an environment in which the ingestion of an illegal substance occurs,” Thiel said.

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The mother of the child appeared to be under the influence of multiple drugs, including cocaine and fentanyl, when she showed up at the hospital, according to police.

Police say it’s likely the student inhaled the drug prior to the start of the school day while staying at a Springfield home.

The mother is currently being held at Tri-County Jail and is facing multiple felony drug abuse charges, police said.

Thiel said an all-call went out to parents on Monday evening explaining what happened, and he’s grateful for the experienced nursing staff the district had on hand and their quick actions.

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7-year-old cat who walked 12 miles to owners who gave him away finds forever family

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 4:10 PM

Toby, a 7-year-old FIV-positive cat, has found his forever family after his owners gave him to a county shelter to be euthanized. (Photo by SPCA of Wake County)
SPCA of Wake County
Toby, a 7-year-old FIV-positive cat, has found his forever family after his owners gave him to a county shelter to be euthanized. (Photo by SPCA of Wake County)(SPCA of Wake County)

A 7-year-old cat given away by his family walked 12 miles back home -- only to be given away again.

WRAL.com reported that, according to an April 4 Facebook post from the SPCA of Wake County, Toby, a fluffy orange and white cat, was given to another family but found his way back to his home.

>> Read more trending news 

“When he arrived, he was met with heartbreak,” the post said. “The family he thought had loved him took him to a shelter and asked staff to euthanize him. The shelter called us at the SPCA to ask if we could take him in and help him find a new family. Of course we said YES!”

The animal shelter said it took Toby in from a county shelter at the end of February.

Toby was adopted by his new mom, Michele, on Friday the 13, SPCA of Wake County communications manager Tara Lynn said in a blog post.

“It’s funny. He’s very sweet, but he didn’t get along with his (feline) roommate,” Lynn told People Pets. “We thought he’d need to be adopted out as the only cat in a home, but his new family has two other cats and he’s fine with them. He’s just been through a lot and wasn’t settled yet.”

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Lynn told People that she wasn’t sure if Toby, who is FIV-positive, was given up by his family because of his disease, but it didn’t seem to impact interest from potential adopters.

“It’s cool, people were interested in him despite his FIV,” Lynn said.

Toby’s life with his forever family is captured on his own Instagram page, a.cat.named.toby. The page has more than 15,000 followers and includes a post supporting the SPCA of Wake County’s annual Dog Walk, which benefits all animals in the shelter.

#newtoinstagram

A post shared by a.cat.named.toby (@a.cat.named.toby) on

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Missing Adult Alert issued for Warren County man with dementia

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 4:00 PM

Homer Howard
Homer Howard

A Missing Adult Alert has been issued for an 83-year-old Warren County man who suffers from dementia.

Homer Howard left his Maineville residence at 10:15 a.m. today and has not returned.

He stands 5 feet 11 inches, weights 190 pounds, and has gray hair and blue eyes.

He is believed to be driving a gray 2012 Ford Fusion with Ohio plates CA35QV.

Anyone who sees Howard or the vehicle is urged to call 911. You can also call 1-866-693-9171 to be transferred to the investigating law enforcement agency or to hear the alert information.

 

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