Thursday, September 28

How long before Pakistan falls to Islamic State? Not long.

"For 70 years, the ruling elite of Pakistan have accommodated religious fundamentalist demands in the country to either to safeguard their political interests or to keep the existing political power structure intact to sustain their rule. Now, in Pakistan, the credibility and legitimacy of politicians and bureaucrats is measured on the basis of their religious bona fides rather than the kinds of policies they hope to implement."

That passage from the following report is so scary you don't want to think about how scary it is.  

By Umair Jamal
September 28, 2017
The Diplomat

The Islamic State’s flag emerges in Pakistan’s capital. How serious is the threat?

[Emphasis mine]

Last week, an Islamic State (IS) flag was seen hoisted above one of Islamabad’s main highways. The flag, which sprung the capital’s law enforcement agencies into action, bore the message “The caliphate is coming.” While the capital police have not been able been able to find the people behind the incident, the hoisting of the flag in Pakistan’s capital offers a chilling reminder that support for militant groups such as IS is growing in Pakistan.

The government in Pakistan has said that the hoisting of the militant group’s flag doesn’t mean that the IS threat is serious in Pakistan. While the group’s presence in the country may not have emerged in the form of an active resistance, the militant group’s “passive support” base has grown exponentially over the last few years.

Pakistan launched a major counterterrorism campaign more than two years ago to contain militancy in the country. One of the core aspects of Pakistan’s recent counterterrorism campaign was to revise the country’s public education curriculum, which has been filled with religiously inspired nationalistic rhetoric, and to regulate religious seminaries all across Pakistan, which continue to radicalize young minds. Unfortunately, beyond making tactical gains related to killing militants that are targeting the state, the country’s counterterrorism campaign has not achieved anything.

There were only 137 religious seminaries in Pakistan at the time of the partition. Now, the government claims that there are more than 13.000 registered religious seminaries in Pakistan. The number of unregistered religious seminaries, which are not accounted for, remains significant. A large number of unregulated religious seminaries continue to flourish in Pakistan, particularly in places and regions that are away from the government’s scrutiny such as the slums of major cities and remote regions in the country’s tribal belt.

The country’s federal capital, Islamabad, houses more religious seminaries than schools. According to a recent research report, the number of religious schools in the capital now stands at 374 and a majority of these seminaries are not registered with the government or capital authorities. Moreover, more religious schools are being built on the outskirts of Islamabad while the federal government has not been able to open any new schools in the last four years.

The Lal Masjid (Red Mosque), a controversial religious seminary in Islamabad, continues to operate even after openly supporting the Islamic State and their version of Islam, which the mosque’s leadership wants to implement in Pakistan. A recently released documentary, Among the Believers, offers an eye-opening insight into how young Pakistani minds are radicalized and brainwashed behind the walls of Lal Masjid. Lal Masjid and hundreds of other religious seminaries in Pakistan are actually operating to create a popular support base for militant groups such as the Islamic State among the masses.

Just over a week ago, representatives of two proscribed militant organizations were not only able to participate in a major by-election in Punjab, but they managed to secure more than 11 percent of the constituency’s vote. One of the candidate’s campaign posters had the pictures of Mumtaz Qadri, who assassinated the Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer. The other candidate who was supported by the Jamaat-ul-Dawa(JuD), a proscribed organization that remains banned in Pakistan, openly campaigned on the agenda of transforming Pakistan into an conservative Islamic state with jihadism as a central theme of the candidate’s imaginative ideas of democracy.

For 70 years, the ruling elite of Pakistan have accommodated religious fundamentalist demands in the country to either to safeguard their political interests or to keep the existing political power structure intact to sustain their rule. Now, in Pakistan, the credibility and legitimacy of politicians and bureaucrats is measured on the basis of their religious bona fides rather than the kinds of policies they hope to implement.

The rates of terrorist violence may have decreased in Pakistan in the last couple of years, but the country still continues to provide an environment that enables militancy. In such an environment, it’s only a matter of time before the Islamic State develops a popular support base in the country. Last week’s flag unfurling may ultimately be a warning worth taking seriously.



Monday, September 25

I'll return Tuesday October 3

Best regards to all,


"Hurricane Maria is still churning toward the U.S. East Coast"

The Zombie Hurricane. No matter how much land it's encountered it just won't die.

CNN, updated 3:21pm EDT September 24:
The East Coast is bracing for a possible direct hit from Hurricane Maria, days after the storm caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean.
North Carolina may bear the worst of the storm, as current forecasts show Maria brushing its coast Wednesday morning.
Although it's not currently predicted to make landfall along the coast, Maria is the third hurricane to affect the US in the last month.
"It is likely that some direct impacts will occur along portions of the coast by midweek," the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory Sunday.
Some of the US coast may be under a tropical storm or hurricane watch later Sunday, the center said. Those on the Carolina and mid-Atlantic coasts are warned to monitor the storm's progress.
As of 11 a.m. Sunday the storm was roughly 475 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
"Regardless of the exact forecast track," the storm is so big that "tropical storm-force winds could reach a portion of the North Carolina coast by mid-week," the NHC said.
Maria weakened to a Category 2 storm Sunday, with sustained winds of about 105 mph. The NHC said it expected the storm to weaken further by Monday night or Tuesday.
Even so, Maria still packs a dangerous punch.
Swells generated by Maria are increasing along portions of the southeastern United States coast and Bermuda and will be increasing along the Mid-Atlantic coast later today," the center said Sunday, warning that such swells can cause "life-threatening surf and rip currents."
The five-day tracking model shows Maria maintaining hurricane strength through Friday as it makes it way north before turning northeast and heading further out into the Atlantic.

Sunday, September 24

Can legendary Canadian politeness save the world?

"This is Canada," Cote said, adding that "if you remain calm, the bear remains calm; we all can co-exist."

The story is reported at Sputnik, which links to the video posted at Facebook of Cote's encounter with the -- um, guests. However, given the large teeth of these guests I think that in addition to politeness it takes a certain je ne sais quoi to pull off Cote's exercise in diplomacy. 


Tales from John Batchelor's magical attic

[brushing aside a cobweb and setting the candle-holder down, as I struggle against the rusted hinges on an aged steamer trunk] Let me see what's in here. [rooting around in the books stacked inside] Hmmm. Shall I try tales from the 10th century, or the story of -- what's the name? Humboldt. Alexander von Humboldt. Never heard of him. 

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was the most famous scientist of his age, a visionary German naturalist and polymath whose discoveries forever changed the way we understand the natural world. Among his most revolutionary ideas was a radical conception of nature as a complex and interconnected global force that does not exist for the use of humankind alone. In North America, Humboldt’s name still graces towns, counties, parks, bays, lakes, mountains, and a river. And yet the man has been all but forgotten.

I see from more of the review that he was also quite an adventurer -- indeed, a veritable superman.  

All right, this calls for chocolate chip cookie dough and a glass of milk.

[returning shortly with the sustenance and settling into listening to the podcast of John Batchelor and a historian bringing history alive again.]

The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt's New World by Andrea Wulf. Part 1 of 4.

What a great story! Welcome relief from the day's news! I can't wait for Part 3, which I hope will be aired on Monday night.  


Puerto Rico: San Juan port reopened, large amounts of aid supplies arriving

The port was ordered closed September 19, 8am local time, as precaution against gale-force winds from Hurricane Maria. At 11:01 last night The Associated Press reported that the port has been reopened, allowing large amounts of aid to arrive in Puerto Rico by ship. In the following excerpts from the report I've omitted reporting about other aspects of the crisis in Puerto Rico in order to focus on the aid delivery situation:  

Aid begins to flow to hurricane-hit Puerto Rico


The opening of the island's main port in the capital allowed 11 ships to bring in 1.6 million gallons of water, 23,000 cots, dozens of generators and food. Dozens more shipments are expected in upcoming days.

The federal aid effort is racing to stem a growing humanitarian crisis in towns left without fresh water, fuel, electricity or phone service. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of the relief effort, said they would take satellite phones to all of Puerto Rico's towns and cities, more than half of which were cut off following Maria's devastating crossing of Puerto Rico on Wednesday.


Rossello and other officials praised the federal government for planning its response in detail before the storm hit, a contrast with what Puerto Rico has long seen as the neglect of 3.4 million Americans living in a territory without a vote in Congress or the electoral college.

"This is the first time we get this type of federal coordination," said Resident Commission Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's non-voting representative in Washington.


Officials said 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cellphone towers were downed, and 85 percent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may worsen.


Across Puerto Rico more than 15,000 people are in shelters, including some 2,000 rescued from the north coastal town of Toa Baja. Many Puerto Ricans planned to head to the mainland to temporarily escape the devastation.


From FEMA Twitter page, posted at 5:04pm Sept 22 showing U.S. aid deliveries to U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which of course was prior to the San Juan port reopening:


Puerto Rico: Spillway opened late last night, easing pressure on cracked dam

I guess this means they got the spillway gate(s), which had been damaged by Hurricane Maria, working again. From The Associated Press, 11:01 PM EDT. September 23, reporting from Guajataca, Puerto Rico:
In northwest Puerto Rico, people began returning to their homes after a spillway eased pressure on [Guajataca] dam, which had cracked after more than a foot of rain fell in the wake of the hurricane.
A dam upstream of the towns of Quebradillas and Isabela in northwest Puerto Rico [Guajataca] was cracked but had not burst by Saturday night as water continued to pour out of rain-swollen Lake Guajataca.
Governor [Ricardo Rossello] said there is "significant damage" to the dam and authorities believe it could give way at any moment. "We don't know how long it's going to hold. The integrity of the structure has been compromised in a significant way," Rossello said.
Some residents nonetheless returned to their homes Saturday as the water levels in the reservoir began to sink.
"There were a lot of people worried and crying, but that's natural, because the reservoir was about to break through," said Maria Nieves, 43. "They couldn't open the spillway until later in the night."
The 345-yard (316-meter) dam, which was built around 1928, holds back a man-made lake covering about 2 square miles (5 square kilometers). More than 15 inches (nearly 40 centimeters) of rain from Maria fell on the surrounding mountains.

CNN: "Two new earthquakes shake southern Mexico ..."

I think that technically at least one of those two quakes, the first one, should be called an aftershock. I don't know about the second. See the Los Angeles Times report Sept 23 - 7:30 PM filed from Mexico City re the first quake yesterday.

From the CNN report updated 12:57 AM ET, Sun September 24, 2017:

Two more earthquakes shook southern Mexico on Saturday, further rattling a country still coming to grips with the devastation from stronger temblors earlier this month.
A 6.1 magnitude earthquake Saturday morning was centered in Oaxaca state near Matias Romero, a town about 275 miles southeast of Mexico City, the US Geological Survey said. Roughly speaking, the epicenter was between the centers of this month's two more violent earthquakes -- the 7.1 magnitude temblor that hit Tuesday closer to the capital, and the 8.1 magnitude quake that struck September 8 off the southern Pacific coast, near Chiapas state. 

[Pundita note: I thought it struck on Sept 7; yes, from Wikipedia, Sept. 7, not 8.]
A 4.5 magnitude quake hit Oaxaca at 7:06 p.m. ET. That temblor occurred at a depth of 8.9 kilometers, according to initial readings by USGS.

In Oaxaca, some highways and a bridge that had been damaged during the September 8 earthquake collapsed, Mexico's federal police said.

Mexico City did not appear to have sustained significant damage in the earlier and stronger of Saturday's two quakes, said the country's office of the secretary of public security.

Warning sirens sounded in Mexico City after the morning quake was detected, interrupting rescue operations at some of the dozens of buildings that collapsed from Tuesday's earthquake.

CNN video showed rescuers walking off one vast pile of rubble to more stable ground in case any shaking shifted debris further.


Uh oh. Mexican tells Reuters no quake relief aid from government, only civilians

Julia Juarez, 56, sat in a park where the homeless set up tents. "All the help we have received is from the civilian population. The government has not sent anything at all," she said. "No food, no clothes, no water, not even an Alka-Seltzer," she said, referring to the pain relieving medication.

Unfortunately I am predisposed to believe Juarez. But before the Reuters report, what may be hopeful news about the search and rescue effort -- although as with all such news, it's hard to gauge what is actually happening. From the Associated Press 'live blogging' updates yesterday (emphasis mine):
3:00 AM [Sept. 23]:
As earthquake rescue operations stretched into Day 5, Mexico City residents throughout the city held out hope that dozens still missing might be found alive.
More than half the dead —157 — perished in the capital, while another 73 died in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico State, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

Along a 60-foot stretch of a bike lane in Mexico City's downtown, families [displaced by the earthquake] huddled under tarps and donated blankets Friday, awaiting word of loved ones trapped in the four-story-high pile of rubble behind them.

"There are moments when you feel like you're breaking down," said Patricia Fernandez Romero, who was waiting for word on the fate of her 27-year-old son. "And there are moments when you're a little calmer. ... They are all moments that you wouldn't wish on anyone."

Along the bike lane, where families slept in tents, accepting food and coffee from strangers, people have organized to present a united front to authorities, who they pressed ceaselessly for information.

They were told that water and food had been passed along to at least some of those trapped inside. Fernandez said officials told them they knew where people were trapped on the fourth floor.
So there is still hope that more can be rescued from the collapsed buildings. However, the report from Reuters, published at 7:23 AM Sept. 23, seems pessimistic:

In Mexico, frantic rescuers keep up search for quake survivors
By Julia Love and Alexandra Alper

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - An army of trained rescuers and scores of volunteers carefully combed through the rubble of Mexico's most deadly earthquake in decades on Saturday, hoping against diminishing odds to pull more survivors out nearly four days after the disaster struck.

While rescue efforts at the sites of some collapsed buildings had been called off, at others sweat-drenched workers kept up a frenzied pace.

The 7.1 magnitude earthquake destroyed 52 buildings in the sprawling Mexican capital early afternoon on Tuesday, leaving thousands homeless and close to 300 people dead nationwide.

Apartment buildings, offices, a school and a textile factory were among the structures flattened.

Maria Isela Sandoval waited anxiously outside a collapsed office building in the trendy Roma neighborhood for news of her missing nephew and possibly other co-workers trapped somewhere under the ruins.

She said her nephew worked on the fourth floor of the building, and that officials have told her they believe survivors could be trapped in a capsule within the twisted steel and chunks of concrete.
[Pundita note: this sounds like the building mentioned in the AP update, above]

"We pray to God they are alive, that they can hold on," the 38-year-old housewife said, her eyes red with exhaustion as she has not slept in days.

U.S. rescue workers went to work Friday in the collapsed office building, looking for six people who were still missing.

Mexican soldiers and volunteers, supported by teams from as far away as Israel and Japan, have so far rescued at least 60 people from the ruins in Mexico City and surrounding towns.[1]

After several days of searching, rescuers were finding more corpses than survivors, and frustration was mounting especially as the government's efforts were largely panned.

Across the mega city of more than 20 million people, many whose homes had become uninhabitable sought a place to call home, raising the specter of a housing shortage.

Officials said there could be some 20,000 badly damaged homes in the adjacent states of Morelos and Puebla.

Julia Juarez, 56, sat in a park where the homeless set up tents. "All the help we have received is from the civilian population. The government has not sent anything at all," she said. "No food, no clothes, no water, not even an Alka-Seltzer," she said, referring to the pain relieving medication.

Tuesday's massive quake hit on the anniversary of the deadly 1985 tremor that by some estimates killed as many as 10,000 people and destroying scores of older buildings in the Mexican capital.

Despite the shrinking odds that more survivors would be pulled out from huge piles of debris, workers at many sites continued to dig on the faintest chance at success.

At the same collapsed Roma office building, volunteer coordinator Angel Ortiz, a 36-year-old taxi driver, pointed to the results of heat-sensing detectors that appeared to show signs of life somewhere underneath the rubble.

"There are still people alive down there," he said.

Like many traumatized but determined rescue workers, Ortiz described the past few days as an emotional roller-coaster, feeling encouraged one moment but depressed the next.

"For me, it's really satisfying to be here even though it's hard to explain," he said. "There's so much emotion and anxiety."

(Reporting by Julia Love and Alexandra Alper; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)


U.S. Air Force Delivers Search-and-Rescue Teams to Mexico After Quake; September 21,
The U.S. Air Force sent a C-17 Globemaster III filled with search-and-rescue teams, disaster relief personnel, and thousands of pounds of supplies and equipment to Mexico City on Wednesday night as the city grapples with its latest earthquake aftermath.
The airlift cargo plane from Travis Air Force Base, California, carried the United States Agency for International Development's elite disaster team, including 60 members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Urban Search and Rescue team, five search dogs and 62,000 pounds of equipment and medical supplies, Air Mobility Command officials said in a release Thursday. ...

Israeli rescue team applauded in the streets of Mexico; September 23, The Times of Israel 


Kentucky National Guard flies "airbase in a box" to Puerto Rico. Now we're cookin!

There's no timeline on when they'll be coming home. “Just until the mission is done."

By Fallon Glick
Posted: Sep 23, 2017 8:53 PM EDT - Updated 9:38 PM EDT

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – 32 airmen from the Kentucky National Guard left Saturday morning for Puerto Rico with two large C-17 planes. They'll be opening up the airfield so supplies can be flown in.

“We essentially bring a base in a box,” Lt. Col. Steven Campbell said.

Following weeks of hurricane relief efforts from Hurricane Harvey and then being on alert for Hurricane Irma, the Kentucky National Guard is now fully focused on relief efforts in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after Hurricane Maria.

“We'll go in there, we'll set up. We don't need electricity, we don't need running water. We don't need anything. We'll go in and if there's a runway and a ramp, we'll set up an airbase and start bringing in recovery supplies,” Campbell said.

While the airmen are preparing the base, volunteers back home in Louisville will be collecting supplies to be shipped there.

“Shampoo, toothbrushes, toothpaste, baby diapers, adult diapers for the elderly and water is a very important thing,” Mitch Dennison said.

Dennison is one of many in this collection effort.

Those items can be dropped off with volunteers loading up a large truck outside the Americana Center on Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Other items being collected include non-perishable food items and rechargeable radios. Dennison says the radios are important for communication.

“Because 911 is down in Puerto Rico. There's no electricity, there's no 911, there's no electricity, there's no communication to emergency services,” he said.

Many are also using Facebook at times to share pictures of loved ones -- hoping for good news.

“You don't know whether to think the worst or to wonder if the person is not there anymore,” Dennison said.

Dennison himself was just reunited with friends and family from social media after not hearing from them for several days.

“It goes straight to voicemail or it says there is no connection,” he said. “It's hard for the Puerto Ricans not to hear anything from their families.”

A truck full of the Louisville donations will be sent to New York and then to Puerto Rico.

As for how long the National Guard will be there -- there's no timeline on when they'll be coming home.

“Just until the mission is done,” Campbell said.

Organizers are asking for volunteers to help pack the truck before it leaves Wednesday morning, asking volunteers to spare 15 or 20 minutes when dropping off their donated items.

The truck will be parked outside the American Center at 4801 Southside Drive in Louisville.


Saturday, September 23

Mexico City: lackadaisical building inspections are beyond negligent

"A Red Cross worker stands, top center, on a collapsed building where rescuers continue searching for people trapped inside, in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017. Mexicans across the city are digging through collapsed buildings, trying to save people trapped in debris under schools, homes and businesses, toppled by a 7.1 earthquake that killed more than 200 people."(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell) The Associated Press

"As it often goes in Mexico, it is not the law that is problematic, but rather the implementation."

"But the inspection of older buildings can also be lax, which might have been the case in the tragedy at the Enrique Rebsamen School , where 19 children and 6 adults died this past week following the collapse of one of its buildings."

What follows is a very important investigative report from The New York Times, which it clearly put together in quick time. Bravo, NYT! My only criticism is that the report didn't make clear that Mexico City isn't just built on "soft" soil; it's built on soil that shakes worse than jelly, which exacerbates infrastructure shaking during earthquakes. From Associated Press Science Writer Seth Borenstein's September 20 report:
Mexico City is built on deep, soft soil that was once the bottom of a lake. Instead of cushioning the city from earthquakes, it exaggerates their effects, said James Jackson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Cambridge in England.
The vibrations, or seismic waves, from the hard rocks below are amplified by the soil and sediments above, making the surface — and the structures built on the surface — shake longer and more intensely.
"It's like being built on jelly on top of something that is wobbling," Jackson said.
The soft sediments were the major cause of damage in Mexico City's 1985 earthquake, according to Cornell University geophysicist Geoffrey Abers.
The same deep soft soil effect worsened the deadly 2015 Nepal earthquake because Katmandu is also built on a dry lake bed, Jackson said. ... 
While the soil factor isn't directly connected with the issue of building code enforcement, it adds urgency to the discussion. 

In fact, the geologic situation for the mega-city makes the lackadaisical inspections there almost beyond belief, particularly after the Kathmandu quake. There is no way that Mexican officials could have been unaware that their city was in the same danger as Kathmandu's.  

So in my view gross negligence about building inspections in Mexico City, with its megapopulation, is frankly evil. 
Mexico City Quake Jolts Complacency Over Building Code Enforcement
September 23, 2017
The New York Times

MEXICO CITY — The devastation caused by Tuesday’s earthquake in Mexico City was far less than it might have been, and a fraction of what the city suffered in the quake of 1985.
But one main reason had to do with the nature of the earthquake itself and less with the toughened building codes adopted in the last 30 years, as many people had thought.
Although the new codes now rank among the world’s best, their enforcement is deeply flawed and uneven, according to interviews with scholars, officials and building inspectors.
Building inspections have essentially been outsourced to a network of private engineers who are hired and paid for by the developers, creating conflicts of interest that can undermine even the best standards.
Tighter building codes, better construction materials and a robust public awareness surely played a role in limiting the carnage this time around. Fewer than 300 people died and about 40 buildings collapsed, while nearly 4,000 buildings were declared severely damaged and are likely to be uninhabitable, officials have said.
But what spared this metropolitan area of 21 million was, at least in part, luck.
The 1985 earthquake was 30 times more powerful than the one on Tuesday. It toppled apartment and office towers, killing more than 10,000 people.
Tuesday’s earthquake, while centered closer to the capital, struck hardest at smaller, less populated buildings, taking fewer lives.
“They were different seismic activities, in magnitude but especially given the distance,” said Dr. Eduardo Reinoso, a researcher specializing in seismic engineering at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. 
“Because this one was much closer, the shock waves were different. This quake affected shorter houses and buildings, while in 1985 the collapses were mostly high-rises because of the different waves.”
In a 2016 study of a random sample of 150 buildings constructed after 2004, when the new codes were adopted, Mr. Reinoso found that many failed to meet city standards. In many cases, the buildings reviewed did not even have enough necessary paperwork to conduct a full assessment.
As it often goes in Mexico, it is not the law that is problematic, but rather the implementation. Whether because of a lack of political will, the corruption that seethes through the system or the dysfunction of the bureaucracy, one of the deadliest threats that the nation faces has been left unfixed. 
Once the dust settles, officials will be confronted once more with a choice: whether to truly enforce a public safety imperative or continue with reforms that seem to exist mostly on paper.
“Some developers have their preferred inspectors and they usually hire the same person for their buildings, so that inspector is active, familiar, and always has a ton of work,” said Jorge Ortiz, an engineer and architect who is one of several hundred contract inspectors for the city. “And sometimes if you have several projects, they aren’t there as much or are not present at all phases of construction and that’s when there’s carelessness.”
According to last year’s study, of the buildings that could be fully inspected, 71 percent failed to meet a high threshold of compliance with the city standards, while 36 percent failed to meet even a lower threshold of compliance.
“It would appear that the regulator is not performing its duty,” the study concluded.
But the inspection of older buildings can also be lax, which might have been the case in the tragedy at the Enrique Rebsamen School , where 19 children and 6 adults died this past week following the collapse of one of its buildings.
City code requires that certain buildings, including schools, be inspected for safety after an earthquake. After a massive earthquake hit Mexico on Sept. 7, an inspector was dispatched to the school.
The contracted inspector signed off on the structure, deeming it safe, said Claudia Sheinbaum, the local delegate in charge of the district where the school is located.
“They came to the school to verify the building and said it was O.K.,” she said.
There are still tens of thousands of pending requests across the city for engineers to review structural damages, so the estimate of damaged buildings is likely to grow.
As in many of the recovery efforts, legions of volunteers have raised their hands to help in the building assessments. A patchwork group of engineering groups and nongovernmental organizations have taken to the streets to assess the status of structures whose sagging frames pose dangers to neighboring buildings as well as passers-by.
Still, it could have been worse, a message that some in the civil engineering community are hoping to send to Mexico City officials to prompt changes to the conflict-ridden system of building inspections.
“We are concerned if we have a huge earthquake like the one in 1985 we may have problems in buildings,” said Sergio Alcocer the vice president of the Mexican Society of Civil Engineers and the former head of structural engineering for the government’s Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters. “It’s a wake-up call.”
Mr. Alcocer said that while the system was imperfect, he was pleased with how some larger structures held up under Tuesday’s seismic shudders. But he feared that builders, who often hire the cheapest inspectors to review their buildings and may not follow code, might take the wrong lesson from the earthquake if their buildings did not fall.
“In another type of earthquake, we could have problems in buildings that fared well this time,” he said.
(Yet another earthquake, this one of 6.1 magnitude and centered in the state of Oaxaca, shook Mexico City just before 8 a.m. Saturday, and anxious residents, some in pajamas, raced into the streets. In the Oaxaca city of Juchitán, several houses damaged in the 8.1 earthquake three weeks ago, collapsed, and so did a bridge.)
No two earthquakes are the same, even two that strike in the same seismic region. The 1985 quake and the one on Tuesday occurred in the same subduction zone, an area where one of the earth’s large crustal plates is sliding under another.
The 1985 quake, at magnitude 8.1, released about 30 times more energy than Tuesday’s magnitude 7.1 quake. But it also struck twice as far from the capital – 220 miles compared with about 100.
There were other differences as well: the 1985 quake was shallower, and even the orientation of the faults — the direction the rocks moved in — was different.
All of those factors affected the toll in destroyed buildings — about 350 in 1985 and one-tenth that number on Tuesday — and in deaths. Four days after Tuesday’s quake, the death toll was still climbing, but the final tally will be nowhere near the estimated 10,000 who died in 1985.
Generally, a more powerful quake would cause more shaking and greater destruction. Being farther away would tend to reduce the impact.
But in the case of the 1985 earthquake, the larger distance from the epicenter played a critical role in which buildings were damaged and destroyed, and in the death toll as well.
After that quake, engineers noticed a pattern to the destruction. Of the hundreds of buildings that collapsed or were heavily damaged, most were six to 16 stories tall.
The reason soon became apparent. High-frequency waves of energy generated by the quake dissipated over the miles to Mexico City, leaving mostly low-frequency waves to reach the capital. It’s similar to how, when listening to far-off music, treble sounds tend to be absorbed and only bass sounds reach the ear.
During the earthquake, those lower-frequency waves rolled through the city about one second apart. That closely matches the natural resonance, or rate of vibration, of buildings about 60 to 160 feet tall.
Successive waves caused those buildings to sway more and more. The soft sediments that the city is built on, which tend to amplify movements, made the swaying even worse until the structures failed.
In the quake on Tuesday, however, “there wasn’t as much distance for that higher frequency energy to be absorbed,” said Gavin Hayes, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey. As more of these shorter, faster waves reached the city, smaller buildings vibrated until failure. Taller buildings were generally spared this time.
Since smaller buildings hold fewer people, that helped keep the death toll down.
But not all larger buildings were spared. In an area called Portales Sur, which sits on the fringe of the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Narvarte, buildings have sprung up in recent years for young professionals looking to own their first home in the city.
The builder of a six-story condominium completed this year promised the latest in technology and design – apartments constructed of concrete and steel-draped elegance. Rainwater cisterns fed eco-friendly plumbing, while solar panels stationed by the rooftop garden powered units that sold for about $150,000.
The building collapsed on Tuesday, taking with it the lives of two people. Now, its remains sit in a pile of twisted metal and fractured concrete, testament to the often-shoddy construction and lax inspections that helped clear the way for a voracious real estate boom in the capital, according to experts and officials.
Residents are searching for legal recourse, given the failure of inspectors to detect or report the structural flaws.
They have to. Many did not have property insurance, as few people do in Mexico, and the developer has claimed the quake was unforeseeable, raising fears among the unit owners that the company may try to abdicate responsibility.
“I can’t believe something like this can happen in a new building,” said Luis Reséndiz, 35, a photographer who said he saved for five years to buy an apartment there. “This is the fruit of many years of labor, and here it is, all lost.”

"Threat from Hurricane Maria to U.S. coast is increasing"

"Maria’s wind field has been gradually expanding ... Maria has been successfully fending off moderately strong wind shear of around 15 knots with the help of its well-established structure as well as very warm sea surface temperatures ..."

Maria’s Forecast Path Edging Closer to Outer Banks
By Bob Henson
September 23, 2017 - 1:06 PM EDT
Weather Underground

[See website for NASA infrared satellite image of Hurricane Maria at 12:27 pm EDT today and various charts showing Maria's projected path.]

Still a Category 3 storm on Saturday, Hurricane Maria was rolling northward away from the Bahamas on a path that could affect parts of the U.S. East Coast next week. Maria pummeled the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday, its western eyewall passing over the capital city of Cockburn Town.

For the first time in several days, Maria poses no immediate threat to land. At 11 am EDT Saturday, Maria was located about 320 miles east of Nassau, The Bahamas, moving north-northwest at 8 mph. Maria’s top sustained winds had dropped to 115 mph, putting it at the low end of the Category 3 range.

Maria was not a classically symmetric hurricane on Friday night, but its appearance on satellite had become dramatically stronger by midday Saturday. Very strong thunderstorms (convection) were wrapping around Maria’s ragged, 35-mile-wide eye. As is typically the case for hurricanes moving poleward, Maria’s wind field has been gradually expanding. Hurricane-force winds now extend up to 60 miles from Maria’s center, with tropical-storm-force winds extending out some 200 miles to the northeast of the center.

Maria has been successfully fending off moderately strong wind shear of around 15 knots, with the help of its well-established structure as well as very warm sea surface temperatures (SSTs) of 29-30°C (84-86°F).


Intensity forecast for Maria

Maria will continue to traverse very warm water over the weekend, with oceanic heat content high enough to reduce the chance of cooler water being upwelled. Wind shear will drop to around 10 knots, which together with the warm water will help give Maria a bump-up in strength, perhaps to the high-end Cat 3 or low-end Cat 4 range. As time goes by, greater parts of the circulation will be passing over the wake of cooler water left by Jose. This should produce a gradual weakening trend, although Maria is still expected to be a Category 1 hurricane on Thursday. Wind shear should be around 10 – 15 knots for most of next week, which is moderately strong but not enough to destroy a well-organized hurricane like Maria. 

If Maria’s path continues trending westward, it will keep more of the circulation over the warm Gulf Stream waters and away from Jose’s wake, which would help Maria to maintain more of its intensity.

Regardless of Maria’s exact track, the hurricane is sure to bring a long period of increasing swells, dangerous surf, and rip currents to the Southeast U.S. coast, extending to the mid-Atlantic later next week. Significant beach erosion can be expected in and near the Outer Banks, given Maria’s strength and slow movement. There will also be an increasing chance of tropical-storm-force winds across parts of the U.S. East Coast by midweek (see Figure 4).


Plenty more in the report, which Weather Underground's Dr Jeff Masters contributed to.


Situation in Puerto Rico far worse than shown on TV reports: NY Gov. Cuomo

Governor Cuomo surveying Maria's destruction in Puerto Rico

The Governor's visit was yesterday; this morning New York City also sent an official delegation to Puerto Rico; see the following report for details. While the Governor's delegation brought supplies, troops, and even helicopters, this is virtually nothing next to what is needed. And I am surprised that the NYC delegation arrived only with an offer of help and not with any supplies in tow. Or if they did bring supplies, this wasn't noted in the Gothamist report. 

I note that in addition to the emergency supplies brought by the Governor's delegation: 
... Governor Cuomo has announced that 60 members of the New York Army National Guard, four Black Hawk helicopters and 50 State Police are on standby.
September 23, 2017 - 2:30 PM EDT

[See Gothamist site for more photos of the Governor's visit]

After surveying the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico on Friday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that "in person it is much worse than it appears on the TV reports."

"The devastation of the island is really breathtaking," continued Cuomo, who held a press conference shortly after a delegation of officials who visited the island with him landed in JFK. "There are parts of the island that have as much as seven to eight feet of water in homes."

Cuomo went to Puerto Rico in response to an official request for assistance and aid from Governor Ricardo Rossello. The delegation brought 34,000 bottles of water, 9,600 ready-to-eat meals, 3,000 canned goods, 500 flashlights, 1,400 cots, 1,400 blankets, 1,400 pillows and 10 10kW generators. The supplies and the delegation arrived via an aircraft donated by JetBlue.

"The one thing that's clear is these people need a lot of help. And we have to remember that they're American citizens. It's Puerto Rico, they're American citizens. U.S. Virgin Islands, they're American citizens," he said.

Cuomo was joined by 60 members of the National Guard, emergency management officials, Representative Nydia Velazquez and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo.

Crespo, like so many others who haven't been able to reach their loved ones, wasn't able to visit the town where his mother lives during the visit because it was so "battered and flooded," according to the New York Post.

"While I didn't get to see mommy, I have hope," Crespo told the Post. "I don't know much about my town today, as I did before this trip. But I know the donations Puerto Ricans have received are going to help where it matters the most."

And this morning, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and 22 city workers flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Among the city workers are 10 emergency managers, nine members of the NYPD Hispanic Society, two staffers from Department of Buildings, and a staffer from the Mayor's Community Affairs Unit.

"We're ready to do all we can to help those affected by this devastating hurricane," Mayor de Blasio said in a statement. "We thank the Hispanic Federation for making this flight possible and these responders for dedicating their time and expertise to assisting with recovery."

For a list of organizations collecting money and goods for the hurricane recovery effort, click here.