Weather & National Disasters

Winter's for Building

By Jordan Weinstein   |   Thursday, February 23, 2012
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Feb. 23, 2012


BOSTON — Though February's not over yet, all indicators are that this month will likely to go into the books as the fourth-mildest February on record. And while the season’s paltry snowfall has been lethal for New England ski resorts, it’s been a boon for commercial banks and builders. Sarah Coffey, financial services reporter at the Boston Business Journal, explained that beyond the balmy weather, banks are making loans to support the work.

Where Did The Money Go In Haiti?

By Phillip Martin   |   Thursday, January 12, 2012
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Jan. 12, 2012

haiti

A storefront in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is brightly painted with a message welcoming President Michel Martelly into power. (Jason Beaubien/NPR)

 
SOMERVILLE, Mass. — Thursday marked two years since the devastating earthquake tore apart Haiti. The quake killed 220,000 people and left at least 1.6 million homeless. Boston is home to about 100,000 Haitians, making us the fourth-largest Haitian community in the nation. Today, many are frustrated at the pace of recovery… and the flow of financial aid.
 
The Haitian Coalition operates from a small apartment in a housing project just blocks from Tufts University. Lince Semerzier, who runs the bare-bones office, said the Haitian Coalition has been struggling financially to keep up with the needs of people who moved here after the earthquake:

"You have a lot of great organizations, Haitian organizations that are doing more with less," he said. The coalition is one of a number of groups that have been instrumental in providing services — "mental health support services and also working on finding shelters for families."

On this day volunteers are taking calls from Haitians from Somerville out to Pittsfield who are frustrated about the conditions of family members and friends left behind in Haiti. Two years after the earthquake, most are still living in temporary housing built by the Red Cross and other organizations.

Semerzier was recently in Haiti. "You should see what they’re building. It's like little boxes — and they're calling them houses," he said.

Melinda Miles, a Haitian American from Northampton, works in Port-au-Prince for TransAfrica. "It’s true that there were billions of dollars pledged and also donations that came in from various NGOs," she said. "What we’ve seen is that despite that fact there were over one and a half million people displaced, very little of the money has actually gone for the construction of housing."

TransAfrica is one of several organizations monitoring how money is being spent in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. "One of the goals that was set in the first year… was to build 125,000 transitional shelters. Now we're at the two-year mark and there still aren't even 100,000 shelters," Miles said. That means more than half a million people are living under tarps and tents.

Michael Delaney is with Oxfam America, based in Boston’s North End. He agreed that two years after the earthquake, housing remains the most intractable problem. But, he said, non-governmental organizations, including Oxfam, are dealing with a major catch-22: Before they can move people out of the camps and help them rebuild, the government has to deal with the issues around land.

"There’s a lot of open land that can be used for new housing programs but there hasn’t been a bold action" to use it for low-cost housing, Delaney said.

Yet increasing numbers of Haitian Americans blame the slow pace of development in Haiti on the non-governmental organizations themselves. Semerzier described it as"an international mafia." He criticized groups such as Oxfam and the Red Cross for not hiring qualified Haitians and Haitian Americans for jobs in these projects.

Semerzier’s organization is competing for the same limited pot of money for development work in Haiti, and that may color his opinion. But a new investigative report by an independent journalism group, Haiti Grassroots Watch, concurred with many of Semerzier’s concerns.

Read the report.

"A foreigner will get eight times what a Haitian will get for the same work," said Jane Regan, a college professor and journalist in Port-au-Prince.

Where does the money go? Some has gone to good purposes, such as cholera treatment pills for the water supply and tarps, she said. However, "there has been little accountability and also little participation of the actual eventual beneficiaries, and therefore there has been a lot of waste."

Haitian organizations and watchdog groups also point out that a good deal of the funds earmarked for Haitian development and relief in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake have helped save lives and jumpstart an economy that had been left for dead. A few weeks from now, the Haiti Coalition of Somerville will take a delegation of medical professionals to Haiti from the Cambridge Health Alliance. They will be accompanied by Haiti Grassroots Watch. That way, Regan said, no one will have to wonder where resources go once they reach Haiti’s shores.

In Haiti, An Orphanage Shaped Like A 'B'

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, January 12, 2012
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Jan. 12, 2012

BOSTON — It’s been two years since a devastating magnitude-7 earthquake leveled much of Haiti, leaving over 300,000 dead. One of them was 19-year-old Rutland native Britney Gengel. Her grief-stricken family is working through its loss by picking up where Britney left off. 

Britney was a communications major at Lynn University in 2010 when she joined a humanitarian mission trip to Haiti. She was distributing meals to the country’s poverty-stricken children. The experience changed her, something she shared with her parents in a text message:
 
“They love us so much and everyone is so happy. They love what they have and they work so hard to get nowhere, yet they are all so appreciative. I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”
 
Three hours later, a devastating magnitude-7 earthquake leveled much of Haiti.
 
At first, relief: The family was told Britney had been found alive and was heading back to Florida. They packed their bags and headed down to Florida to meet her. Then, devastation: When they got to Florida, the family learned Britney was still missing.
 
“We were told our children were safe and rescued,” Britney’s father Len Gengel told reporters at the time. “And now we’re told they’re not.”


Thirty-three days after the earthquake, Britney’s body was pulled from the rubble of the Hotel Montana. She was the last of six Lynn University students and professors to be recovered. The university remembers the students killed in the quake.

In their grief, the Gengels remembered Britney’s text message: “I want to move here and start an orphanage myself.”
 
In September 2010, the Gengels bought a perch of land overlooking the water for $50,000 in the southwestern town of Grande Goave. Britney was supposed to visit there with her mission group the day after the earthquake. A year after the quake, the family broke ground on a 19,000-square foot orphanage, with a medical clinic and outfitted with solar panels. The best part: The building will be earthquake-proof.
 
Shaped in the letter “B” for Britney, the building will be home to 33 boys and 33 girls. The number represents the number of days it took for Britney’s body to be recovered. The Gengels say they're not sure yet how those 66 children will be chosen — there are now roughly 2 million orphans in Haiti — but they want the orphanage to house “true” orphans: children who have lost both parents.
 
The Gengels hope to welcome 66 of them by the three-year anniversary of the earthquake that took their only daughter.

WGBH News 2012 Winter Weather Outlook

By WGBH News   |   Wednesday, December 7, 2011
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Dec. 7, 2011

jan 2011 weather map

Last winter was cold and snowy — witness this map of the Jan. 12, 2011 snowfall. This year's weather could be very different. (National Weather Service)


BOSTON — Maybe it’s the traditional New England Yankee conscience. As we run around in December in T-shirts and no gloves, many fear we’ll have to pay for this warm fall with another devastatingly cold and snowy winter —  a possibility that seems to draw nearer as rain and snow moved up the East Coast on Wednesday.
 
It really has been that warm. This has been “the all-time warmest autumn on record for the Boston area,” National Weather Service meteorologist Benjamin Sipprell told WGBH News’ Bob Seay on Dec. 7. The average temperature was 58 degrees — 4 degrees higher than usual. Records go back to 1870.

Will it snow, will it snow, will it snow? Listen to Bob Seay's conversation with meteorologist Benjamin Sipprell.

However, you may be able to tell your conscience to chill out. Sipprell made no guarantees but said temperatures will likely be at or above average this winter. In fact, he said, “There hasn’t been a period within the last 100 years where we’ve had a very warm autumn and then the following winter thereafter has been below normal.”
 
There’s another factor that suggests warmer temperatures: Sea ice in the Arctic tends to create an influx of cold air into New England — and the ice levels are low this year.
 
The precipitation forecast is more, well, hazy. There isn’t a strong relationship between autumn conditions and the amount of rain or snow that falls in the winter, Sipprell said.
 
Skiers and snowboarders, and the businesses that depend on them, might be in trouble. Along with the possibility of warmer temps, Sipprell noted that recent storms have tended to turn inward instead of staying on the coast. If that pattern continues, “it’s definitely going to be an issue of concern for those ski resorts,” he said.
 
As usual, we’ll just have to wait and dig out the ice scrapers just in case… and the umbrellas.

Revisiting Weather Disasters In Western New England

By WGBH News   |   Tuesday, December 6, 2011
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Dec. 10, 2011

monson tornado

June's tornado caused heavy damage in Monson, Mass., among other towns. (Daren Winkel/WGBY)


SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — The headlines have faded, but western New England continues to rebuild after June tornadoes and Tropical Storm Irene. Our partners at WGBY in Springfield, Mass. have been covering it all along. In these three segments, residents, business owners, emergency responders and members of the media tell their stories of the storms and their aftermath.  

Flooding in Shelburne Falls, Mass.

Storm Flooding (pt 1) from WGBY on Vimeo.


Voices from the story:

Pub owner: "I got out of the building quick and went across the street and watched the river rise for the rest of the day."

Quiltmaker: "My studio floated down the river."

Gallerist/framer: "The FEMA and Small Business Administration require mounds of paperwork. They are very kind, open-hearted individuals. But bottom line is that it's a bureaucracy."

Small manufacturing president: "Our desire is to be in business. We want to keep the families of our employees happy and healthy."




Flooding in Brattleboro and Jamaica, Vt.


Storm Flooding (pt 2) from WGBY on Vimeo.


Voices from the story:

Brattleboro, Vt. restaurant owner: “After five years of building up the restaurant, it happened in three or four hours… I was positive that we could get this work out and clean up and start again. We can. But it’s going to be a long uphill battle.”
 
Jamaica, Vt. resident: “I probably did about 60 miles of hiking just to see where people’s houses were.”
 
Jamaica, Vt. emergency worker: “A lot of local excavating contractors came in and filled where we’re standing now, which was a 30-foot-deep hole.”



Remembering June's Tornado

Remembering June's Tornado from WGBY on Vimeo.

Voices from the story:

Meteorologist: “Really unheard-of. This is really a moment of history that deserves all of the historic treatment that it gets.”
 
The Republican executive editor: “We got over 3 million page views.”
 
News photographer: “Oftentimes when we cover disasters or murders or accidents, we’re not welcome. People don’t want to see cameras intruding on their lives. This was a different story…. People welcomed us with open arms. They wanted to tell their stories.”
 


Visit wgby.org for additional coverage.

National Grid Under Fire For Irene, Snowstorm Outages

By Cristina Quinn   |   Wednesday, November 9, 2011
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Nov. 9, 2011

When trees went down during Hurricane Irene, they caused power outages that lasted for days in some areas. Here, a tree is seen laying across Beacon Street in Boston, fallen by the storm. (AP)


BOSTON — The state Department of Public Utilities is opening a new investigation into National Grid's response to the late-October snowstorm that left hundreds of thousands without power. Meanwhile, residents and area officials are still expressing their frustation at the utility's response to Hurricane Irene.

On Tuesday, a small crowd, including state and local elected officials and fire chiefs,gathered for a public hearing in Brockton as part of the latter investigation.

Customers complained of a lack of communication with local public safety departments. Patricia Vinchesi, the town administrator of Scituate, lambasted National Grid for giving out what she called dishonest information.

“If communities had been given candid information as to when power would be restored, all communities could have adjusted their efforts more efficiently. But what happened was that local personnel and officials bore the burden of anxious, angry and worried residents, who day after day could not get an answer to when will my power be restored,” Vinchesi said.

Both Hurricane Irene and the snowstorm left hundreds of thousands of customers without power -- some for over a week.

About the Authors
Jordan Weinstein Jordan Weinstein
Jordan Weinstein is a news anchor for NPR's All Things Considered on WGBH, 89.7 FM in Boston.
Phillip Martin Phillip Martin
Phillip W. D. Martin is the senior investigative reporter for WGBH Radio News and executive producer for Lifted Veils Productions. In the past, he was a supervising senior editor for NPR, an NPR race relations correspondent and one of the senior producers responsible for creating The World radio program in 1995. He was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard in 1998. Learn more at liftedveils.org.
WGBH News
The WGBH News team comprises the WGBH radio newsroom, The Callie Crossley Show, The Emily Rooney Show and WGBH Channel 2 reporters and producers from Greater Boston and Basic Black. 

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