hurricane harvey
October 16, 2017

More than 6,600 prisoners in Texas together donated about $53,000 to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. The donations came from their commissary funds, the limited spending money prisoners have to purchase personal items like snacks, hygiene products, or stamps at the prison commissary store.

Commissary funds are replenished by contributions from friends or family members or by wages inmates can earn in prison jobs. The average daily wage for prison labor in the United States is $3.45 — for eight hours of work, that would be a mere 43 cents an hour — which makes all the more impressive the average inmate's individual Harvey donation of $8 per person.

Some Texas prisoners themselves were among Harvey's victims. As BuzzFeed News reported shortly after the storm hit, "inmates at a federal prison east of Houston lived in squalid conditions, were given minimal amounts of drinking water, and were restricted from freely communicating with loved ones." Prisoners were reportedly kept in flooded cells with backed-up toilets and no air conditioning. Bonnie Kristian

September 9, 2017

President Trump sent out a tweet Friday evening advocating Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reimbursement for religious institutions.

While FEMA did reimburse some churches for disaster relief efforts in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it is agency policy to only provide reimbursement if less than half of the organization's facilities are used for religious purposes. Three churches are suing FEMA for relief aid to repair structural damage from Hurricane Harvey; all three provided hurricane relief, with one sheltering 70 people and serving some 8,000 meals in Harvey's aftermath. Bonnie Kristian

September 6, 2017

The House of Representatives approved $7.85 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief funds Wednesday in a nearly unanimous vote of 419-3, BuzzFeed News reports. Only Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Thomas Massey (R-Ky.) voted against the bill.

The bill will now go to the Senate, where it could be paired with legislation to raise the debt ceiling, likely sparking a more divisive vote than what took place in the House. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin encouraged the bills to be linked, claiming "the costs for disaster relief may push up the deadline for the debt ceiling — a situation that could become more urgent if the Category 5 Hurricane Irma hits the Florida coast," The Hill writes.

Not everyone agrees with using Harvey aid as leverage. "We should quickly pass a bill to assist victims with no add-ons, no pork spending, and no attachments to gain leverage over separate issues," said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).

"Total losses" from Hurricane Harvey could cost $190 billion, Accuweather reports. Jeva Lange

September 5, 2017

Scientists claim the effects of man-made climate change will worsen America's hurricane seasons, but psychologists warn that even the devastation of Harvey won't change already made-up minds, Axios reports. "We have to get out of that emotional loop we're in," said psychosocial researcher Renee Lertzman. "Unless we actually talk about the trauma and anxiety about what it means to come to terms with our way of life, then something like Harvey won't have any effect."

While Harvey likely would have been a historic storm regardless of climate change, "there are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding," The Guardian reports. Even with Houston years away from a full recovery, people's preconceived notions and short attention spans could prevent major preventative policy changes.

The weeks after a major storm, though, are "the only time people pay attention," Adam Sobel, the director of an extreme weather initiative at Columbia University, told Axios. "People say don't politicize it. That's ridiculous. Frankly, it's politicized from the moment it happened."

And the clock is ticking. Pennsylvania State University professor of meteorology David Titley added: "Expect #HarveyFlood record will be broken in five, 15, 25 years from now — sooner rather than later."

On Tuesday, Hurricane Irma strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it brews near the Caribbean. It is projected to possibly hit Florida early Sunday. Jeva Lange

September 3, 2017

At least 13 "Superfund" toxic waste sites in Houston have been flooded or otherwise damaged by Hurricane Harvey, adding a new element of risk to clean-up efforts. Superfund sites are designated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); they are "the nation's most contaminated land."

Since Harvey flooding occurred, the EPA has made aerial assessments of 41 Superfund locations in and around Houston and identified 13 in bad shape. "Teams are in place to investigate possible damage to these sites as soon as flood waters recede, and personnel are able to safely access the sites," the EPA said in a response to an Associated Press inquiry as to why in-person investigations have not already been made. AP reporters already visited seven sites.

It will take about two weeks for waters to fully recede at these locations, which are contaminated with industrial waste, pesticides, and more. "My daddy talks about having bird dogs down there to run and the acid would eat the pads off their feet," said Houston native Dwight Chandler of the toxic sites. "We didn't know any better." Bonnie Kristian

September 2, 2017

Retail gasoline prices in the United States are up an average of 18 cents since Aug. 23, two days before Hurricane Harvey made landfall in refinery-heavy East Texas and Louisiana.

The Department of Energy (DOE) reports 10 refineries, together accounting for about 16 percent of the nation's daily refinery capacity, have suspended operations because of the storm and resultant flooding, temporarily eliminating 4.4 million barrels of daily oil production. The largest refinery in the United States is among them and is expected to be closed for two weeks.

To ameliorate some of the disruption, the DOE has sent 1 million barrels of crude oil, borrowed from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, to a refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The refinery will replace the oil in the reserve after Harvey-related chaos subsides. European refiners are also working to fill the short-term production gap. Bonnie Kristian

September 2, 2017

President Trump will make a second trip Saturday to observe the damage done by Hurricane Harvey and to meet with the storm's victims, the White House announced Friday.

This time, Trump will visit Houston as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana. "All American hearts are with the people of Texas and Louisiana," he said Saturday in his weekly radio address, praising the region's "spirit of love, determination, and resolve" to rebuild in the aftermath of Harvey.

The president's first Texas visit Tuesday was criticized for its self-congratulatory tone and focus on the logistics of federal responses to Harvey flooding rather than the suffering of those affected by the catastrophic floods. "There was a lot of high-fiving about how well this disaster was being handled even as people were on their rooftops hoping to be rescued," said former Obama administration adviser David Axelrod, panning Trump's lack of apparent "human connection" in his Tuesday appearances. Bonnie Kristian

September 2, 2017

The Trump administration on Friday requested $7.85 billion in immediate relief aid for the victims of Hurricane Harvey as well as an additional $6.7 billion in Harvey clean-up funding to be added to the omnibus spending bill Congress must pass by the end of September to avert a government shutdown.

Some $7.4 billion of the emergency allocation will fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the remaining $450 million will pay for small business loans to facilitate economic recovery. This aid package is larger than the initial request President Trump was expected to make, which saw only $5.5 billion going to FEMA.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) both said Friday they are prepared to "act quickly" to approve Trump's funding requests.

"Working closely with the president and the House of Representatives," McConnell said in a statement, "the Senate stands ready to act quickly to provide this much-needed assistance to those impacted communities, and support first responders and volunteers." Bonnie Kristian

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