Quotulatiousness

September 5, 2017

The 100 Year Flood Is Not What You Think It Is (Maybe)

Filed under: Environment, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:21

Published on 6 Mar 2016

Today on Practical Engineering we’re talking about hydrology, and I took a little walk through my neighborhood to show you some infrastructure you may have never noticed before.

Almost everyone agrees that flooding is bad. Most years it’s the number one natural disaster in the US by dollars of damage. So being able to characterize flood risks is a crucial job of civil engineers. Engineering hydrology has equal parts statistics and understanding how society treats risks. Water is incredibly important to us, and it shapes almost every facet of our lives, but it’s almost never in the right place at the right time. Sometimes there’s not enough, like in a drought or just an arid region, but we also need to be prepared for the times when there’s too much water, a flood. Rainfall and streamflow have tremendous variability and it’s the engineer’s job to characterize that so that we can make rational and intelligent decisions about how we develop the world around us. Thanks for watching!

FEMA Floodplain Maps: https://msc.fema.gov/portal
USGS Stream Gages: http://maps.waterdata.usgs.gov/mapper

August 30, 2017

“Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain”

Filed under: Environment, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While nobody expects 50 inches of rain to fall in one storm, Houston is still badly situated to withstand flooding even from lesser weather events due to its location on a flood plain:

Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain, pitted against the tempestuous Gulf of Mexico and routinely hammered by the biggest rainstorms in the nation.

It is a combination of malicious climate and unforgiving geology, along with a deficit of zoning and land-use controls, that scientists and engineers say leaves the nation’s fourth most populous city vulnerable to devastating floods like the one caused this week by Hurricane Harvey.

“Houston is very flat,” said Robert Gilbert, a University of Texas at Austin civil engineer who helped investigate the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way for the water to drain out.”

Indeed, the city has less slope than a shower floor.

Harvey poured as much as 374 billion gallons of water within the city limits, exceeding the capacity of rivers, bayous, lakes and reservoirs. Experts said the result was predictable.

The storm was unprecedented, but the city has been deceiving itself for decades about its vulnerability to flooding, said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and UC Berkeley emeritus civil engineering professor who has studied hurricane risks along the Gulf Coast.

The city’s flood system is supposed to protect the public from a 100-year storm, but Bea calls that “a 100-year lie” because it is based on a rainfall total of 13 inches in 24 hours.

“That has happened more than eight times in the last 27 years,” Bea said. “It is wrong on two counts. It isn’t accurate about the past risk and it doesn’t reflect what will happen in the next 100 years.”

Some of the blame (a lot of the blame) for locating vulnerable properties in flood-prone areas is due to the US government’s flood insurance program:

Texans, watch out. An aftershock is following behind the catastrophic flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey in coastal Texas: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is coming up for reauthorization.

The main lesson that the public and policymakers ought to learn from Harvey is: Don’t build in flood plains, and especially don’t rebuild in flood plains. Unfortunately, the flood insurance program teaches the exact opposite lesson, selling subsidized insurance whose premiums do not come close to covering the risks home and business owners in flood prone areas face.

As a result, the NFIP is currently $25 billion in debt.

Federally subsidized flood insurance represents a moral hazard, Kevin Starbuck, Assistant City Manager and former Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Amarillo, argues, because it encourages people to take on more risk because taxpayers bear the cost of those hazards.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that from 1978 through 2015, 3.8 percent of flood insurance policyholders have filed repetitively for losses that account for a disproportionate 35.5 percent of flood loss claims and 30.5 percent of claim payments, Starbuck says. Most of these properties were grandfathered in before the NFIP issued its flood insurance rate maps. The NFIP is not permitted to refuse them insurance or charge them rates based on the actual risks they face.

Clearly, taxpayers should not be required to subsidize people who choose to build and live on flood plains. When Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, it should initiate a phase-in of charging grandfathered properities premiums commensurate with their risks. This will likely lower the market values of affected homes and businesses and thus send a strong signal to others to avoid building and living in such risky areas.

August 28, 2015

QotD: The unusually lucky 20th century, meteorologically speaking

Filed under: Environment, History, Quotations, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… I read a lot of history and thus know a fair bit about how weather impact has been perceived by humans over time. It is a fact that the 20th century was an abnormally lucky hundred years, meteorologically speaking. The facts I managed to jam into tweets included (a) the superstorm that flooded 300 square miles of the Central Valley in California in the 1860s, (b) rainfall levels we’d consider drought conditions were normal in the U.S. Midwest before about 1905, and (c) storms of a violence we’d find hard to believe were commonly reported in the 1800s. I had specifically in mind something I learned from the book Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild, which relays eyewitness accounts of thunderstorms so intense that travelers had to steeple their hands over their noses in order to breathe air instead of water; but a sense that storms of really theatrical violence were once common comes through in many other histories.

We had a quiet century geophysically as well — no earthquakes even nearly as bad as the New Madrid event of 1812, which broke windows as far north as Montreal. And no solar storms to compare with the Carrington Event of 1859, which seriously damaged the then-nascent telegraph infrastructure and if it recurred today would knock out power and telecomms so badly that we’d be years recovering and casualties would number in the hundreds of thousands, possibly the millions.

(I’m concentrating on 19th-century reports because those tended to be well-documented, but earlier records tell us it was the 20th century calm that was unusual, not the 19th-century violence.)

The awkward truth is that there are very large forces in play in the biosphere, and when they wander out of the ranges we’re adapted to, we suffer and die a lot and there really isn’t a great deal we can do about it; we don’t operate at the required energy scales. For that matter, I can think of several astronomical catastrophes that could be lurking just outside our light-cone only to wipe out all multicellular life on Earth next week. Reality is like that.

Eric S. Raymond, “Heavy weather and bad juju”, Armed and Dangerous, 2011-02-03.

February 13, 2014

Flooding in Britain – call for the Witchfinder Floodfinder General!

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:13

Rob Lyons asks who is to blame for the current flooding in Britain. The answer may be … nobody:

Floods in the UK are getting worse. There’s not much we can do it about it. It’s caused by climate change, which in turn is caused by human beings. It’s payback time.

There you go. In one paragraph, I’ve saved you having to read British newspapers or watch British TV news for the next few days. Of course, the recent flooding is a nightmare for those affected. It’s also a dream for lazy TV news editors who want to plonk their reporters in front of some interesting backdrop offering trite statements about a human-interest story. But the discussion about the causes of the floods and whether we can – or should – do anything about them is rather more worrying than TV’s dumbed-down ‘news values’.

[…]

A briefing published by the UK Met Office earlier this month highlights just how unusual the weather is at present. ‘Although no individual storm can be regarded as exceptional, the clustering and persistence of the storms is highly unusual. December and January were exceptionally wet. For England and Wales this was one of, if not the most, exceptional periods of winter rainfall in at least 248 years. The two-month total (December + January) of 372.2mm for the south-east and central southern England region is the wettest any two-month period in the series from 1910.’ It’s the conveyor belt of stormy weather, rather than any particular individual event, which is causing the problems. The ground is already soaked and rivers are already high; further rainfall has nowhere to go but out on to the flood plains.

However, a quick look at the Met Office briefing shows that while rainfall in southern England in January was very exceptional, it is hard to glean any particular overall pattern – other than that rainfall is very variable.

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

January rainfall, southern England, 1910-2014. Source: Met Office

Indeed, just two years ago, Britain was in drought. Consecutive winters of below-average rainfall had left water companies enforcing restrictions on supply. Then the heavens opened, and it seems to have barely stopped raining since. So how on earth did the head of the Met Office, Dame Julia Slingo, conclude that while there was ‘no definitive answer’ to what caused the storms, ‘all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change’? Indeed, Slingo is not alone in her assessment. The prime minister, David Cameron, said in January that he ‘suspected’ climate change was behind the floods. Labour leader Ed Miliband declared that climate change was sure to bring ‘more flooding, more storms’. Yet less than a year ago, scientists were assuring us that climate change would lead to more droughts in the future in the UK.

January 24, 2014

Government subsidies that make flooding worse

Filed under: Britain, Environment — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:51

Chris Edwards on the oddity of an EU subsidy that inadvertently makes it more likely that floods will be worse:

… Britain has been suffering from river flooding, and a Daily Mail article explains how subsidies are a key culprit: “Thought ‘extreme weather’ was to blame for the floods? Wrong. The real culprit is the European subsidies that pay UK farmers to destroy the very trees that soak up the storm.”

The author is a liberal environmentalist, but his piece illustrates how liberals and libertarians can share common ground on the issue of government subsidies.

The article describes how forests in the upstream areas of watersheds can mitigate floods. However, there “is an unbreakable rule laid down by the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. If you want to receive your single farm payment … that land has to be free from what it calls ‘unwanted vegetation.’ Land covered by trees is not eligible. The subsidy rules have enforced the mass clearance of vegetation from the hills.”

In the United States, we’ve got our own environment-damaging farm subsidies. We’ve also got the Army Corps of Engineers, which the Daily Mail could be describing when it refers to British policy: “Flood defence, or so we are told almost everywhere, is about how much concrete you can pour.

Another foolhardy thing, in the long term, is government subsidizing people to rebuild after devastating floods … in the same location that is just as likely to be damaged in the next flood. If you can’t get property insurance without getting the government to force insurers to offer it, you’ve probably built in an area that you shouldn’t have. A lot of the perception that major storms are more dangerous now than fifty years ago is that a lot of buildings are being erected in areas where storm damage is more likely to occur.

June 28, 2013

Edmonton and Calgary – united by mutual dislike

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 13:51

When the flooding hit Calgary, some of the first responders to the scene from outside the city were soldiers from Edmonton. There were several jokes on Twitter about the war of words between the two cities, and a few “invasion” hints, but for those of us outside Alberta local politics, we just didn’t know:

Calgary and Edmonton mutual dislike

I think we have a new meme.

June 22, 2013

Three deaths reported in Calgary flooding

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

680News rounds up the reports from Calgary, where the Bow River flooded significant portions of the city yesterday:

Officials are now blaming the devastating flooding in southern Alberta for at least three deaths in the province.

An estimated 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes, with little information available on when they’ll be able to return.

“I’m not in a position right now to be able to give you timings on neighbourhoods that are along the Bow River and when people may be able to return to those homes, but we are slowly getting there,” said Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi.

Many also have no idea whether they’ll have a livable home to return to once the floodwaters finally recede.

Experts say that in some areas, that could still be days.

‘Stunning’ is how Prime Minister Stephen Harper described the flooding in southern Alberta, after he boarded a military helicopter in Calgary to get an aerial view.

Calgary has been one of the hardest hit areas in the western province, and the city was something of a ghost-town Saturday.

There was some positive news for those who have been evacuated, with people in at least one Calgary neighbourhood being allowed to return home Saturday.

During the intial reporting, several Edmontonians were poking fun at Calgary’s plight, but the tone changed quickly once the seriousness of the situation became clear:

The traditional Edmonton-Calgary rivalry went by the wayside, with the provincial capital city promising to send 100 of its police officers to help out where needed.

A total of 1,200 Canadian troops and eight military helicopters have been sent to the city to help local emergency crews with evacuations and sandbagging.

Emergency crews from Ontario, meanwhile, were planning to head out as soon as possible.

“The Ontario Red Cross is at this time mobilizing supplies to help shelter thousands of people in Calgary,” the agency’s Mike Morton said.

The power is off in much of the downtown core in Calgary still, with some of the outages done as a precaution, while others as a direct result of the flooding.

Officials say it could be the middle of next week before all of the lights are back on.

The Calgary Sun‘s front page:

Calgary Sun front page flooding

June 21, 2013

Calgary flooding

Filed under: Cancon, Environment — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:23

December 1, 2012

The problem with flood insurance

Filed under: Britain, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:57

Talking about a very topical issue in Britain, Tim Harford explains why flood insurance is so expensive for some areas:

I’m not sure this is really an insurance problem.

How could it not be an insurance problem?

It seems to me that there are three kinds of hard-to-insure risks. First, there are unimaginable events, “unknown unknowns”, if you like. Yet floods are all too easy to imagine. Then there are risks that are subject to what economists call adverse selection. To take an extreme example, imagine a town ruled by some all-powerful Mob. Nobody in this town is ever robbed without warning. The Mob will be sure to let you know what’s coming to you and why they think you deserve it.

[. . .]

But that doesn’t sound like a good description of flood risk.

Quite so. Now the third kind of hard-to-insure risk is stuff that’s expensive and happens quite often. I’m trying to buy a house, I’m nearly 40 and so I’m trying to buy insurance for my family in case I die or become too ill to work. This is perfectly possible: it’s just expensive, because it’s not unusual for middle-aged men to get seriously ill. This sounds like a much better description of allegedly uninsurable homes: if there is a one in five chance of a flood, and a flood is going to cost £50,000, don’t expect to pay less than £10,000 a year for flood insurance.

But that’s unaffordable for a lot of people.

Yes, but unaffordability is not uninsurability. It’s insurable but expensive.

November 19, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, storm surges, and superstition

In sp!ked, Dominic Standish looks at how some recent extreme weather incidents are being attributed to climate change/global warming without sufficient scientific evidence:

Hurricane Sandy brought havoc in the Caribbean, especially Haiti, and caused approximately 60 deaths. Then the storm hit the US east coast; New York experienced exceptional floods and at least 40 people lost their lives. Next, Venice in Italy witnessed high flooding on 11 November, when the city’s tide measurements reached their sixth-highest level for 140 years. No one died from these floods in Venice, but — like Haiti and New York — the economic impact was significant.

Global warming was widely blamed for the flooding, yet in all three cases flooding was principally caused by storm surges. In the Caribbean and America, there was an unfortunate convergence of weather systems creating storm surges. As Hurricane Sandy swirled north in the Atlantic and towards land, a wintry storm headed towards it from the West and cold air was blowing south from the Arctic. After the hurricane devastated parts of the Caribbean, it moved towards the north-east of the US, pushing water up the estuaries of New York into the city. Venice’s floods were unconnected to Hurricane Sandy, but were also caused by high winds creating storm surges pushing water through the three inlets between the sea and the Venetian lagoon towards the city. Subsidence over the past century has made Venice more susceptible to storm surges. Nevertheless, after 70 per cent of Venice was under water on 11 November, Italy’s environment minister, Corrado Clini, insisted that global climate change was to blame.

Although storm surges were the cause of the floods in all three locations, global warming was widely identified as the culprit. Of course, we cannot ignore climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) established in 2007 that there was a global temperature rise of 0.74 degrees Celsius between 1906 and 2005, which added to global sea levels rising by an average rate of 1.8 millimetres per year from 1961. We need to have an open debate about climate change and its relationship with bad weather events. Some argue that climate change has increased hurricanes and storm surges, while others suggest there is insufficient evidence to prove this link. Whether climate change impacts on the frequency and strength of hurricanes remains uncertain, yet global warming has definitely been deployed as a superstitious narrative to close down discussion.

Update: Of course, the storm damage will eventually repaired and the federal government will pay the lion’s share of the costs. This is one of the bigger causes of rising costs due to storm damage along the US coastline: properties that are more exposed to damage keep getting rebuilt. Here’s an example from Dauphin Island, Alabama:

The western end of this Gulf Coast island has proved to be one of the most hazardous places in the country for waterfront property. Since 1979, nearly a dozen hurricanes and large storms have rolled in and knocked down houses, chewed up sewers and water pipes and hurled sand onto the roads.

Yet time and again, checks from Washington have allowed the town to put itself back together.

Across the nation, tens of billions of tax dollars have been spent on subsidizing coastal reconstruction in the aftermath of storms, usually with little consideration of whether it actually makes sense to keep rebuilding in disaster-prone areas. If history is any guide, a large fraction of the federal money allotted to New York, New Jersey and other states recovering from Hurricane Sandy — an amount that could exceed $30 billion — will be used the same way.

Tax money will go toward putting things back as they were, essentially duplicating the vulnerability that existed before the hurricane.

October 17, 2012

The real story of the London Beer Flood of 1814

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:40

When the story isn’t quite as juicy as the recounter would like, there is a common tendency to make shit up to amp up the tale:

I can stake a tenuous family link to the Great London Beer Flood disaster of 1814, which took place exactly 196 years ago today. My great-great-great-great grandfather on my mother’s side, Maurice Donno, was living in Soho, a minute or three’s walk from the Horse Shoe Brewery off Tottenham Court Road, when a huge vat of maturing porter at the brewery collapsed violently and flooded the surrounding tenements, killing eight people. Most, if not all, of those who died were poor Irish immigrants to London, part of a mass of people living in the slums around St Giles’s Church, the infamous St Giles “rookeries” (later to be cleaned away by the building of New Oxford Street in 1847). Maurice Donno was very probably Irish, his surname most likely a variation of Donough or something similar (which would make his first name a common Anglicisation of the Irish Muirgheas). Perhaps he knew some of those who died, or were injured, in the Great Beer Flood, or knew people who knew them. It seems very likely he would have gone across the road at some point after the tragedy, to join the hundreds who came to see the destruction wreaked by that dreadful black tsunami of beer.

[. . .]

Thank you, Eugene Tolstov, for pointing to my mistake, and for not laughing too much at my inability to multiply 3,555 by 36 by 10 and divide by 2,240. But at least my narrative on probably the worst industrial accident involving a British brewery was more accurate than many. The late Alan Eames, for example, in The Secret Life of Beer, claimed that the vat burst “with a boom heard five miles away” – not mentioned in any of the many sources from the time that I’ve read – while “eyewitnesses told of besotted mobs flinging themselves into gutters full of beer, hampering rescue efforts” – no, newspaper reports of the rescue don’t support this at all – and “many were killed suffocated in the crush of hundreds trying to get a free beer” – again, the contemporary reports don’t say this – while “the death toll eventually reached 20, including some deaths from alcohol coma” – no, the newspaper reports from the time make it clear that only eight people died, all women and children, and all killed by the initial huge wave of beer and the destruction it caused to the buildings in the tenements behind the brewery.

Similarly there’s a myth arisen that when those injured after the vat burst were taken to the nearby Middlesex Hospital, “patients already there for illnesses unrelated to the beer disaster smelled the ale and began a riot, accusing doctors and nurses of holding out on the beer they thought was being served elsewhere in the hospital”, while another myth claims that when bodies of those killed were taken “to a nearby house for identification”, so many people turned up to see them that “the floor collapsed under the sheer weight of onlookers” and “many inside the building perished in the collapse.” None of this is in any reports of the accident from newspapers in 1814, and if any of it had happened, you can bet one of them would have written about it.

July 14, 2012

Flood policy and personal responsibility

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Government — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

James Delingpole on the British government’s latest announcements on flood policy:

Yesterday it was reported that the Coalition had decided we should all be liable for the cost of flood damage, regardless of where we live. This puzzled me, as the Coalition’s decisions so often do. The only way it would make any kind of sense would be if you believed a) flooding is a new and unnatural phenomenon resulting directly from late 20th century Man Made Climate Change or b) that everyone is now so stupid they cannot be trusted to act in their own best interests and that it is therefore government’s job to hold their hands and wipe their bottoms for them from cradle to grave.

To discount a) you only have to go somewhere like the River Severn, just below Worcester Cathedral, and look at the flood marks on the wall. Many of the most dramatic inundations happened in years long before “man made global warming” was even a sinister glint in Al Gore’s eye. This isn’t to say that the cost of flood damage hasn’t risen to unprecedented levels these last few decades. But that has more to do with our insane practice of allowing property developments to be built on flood plains, together with our unfortunate habit of paving and tarmacking everything (such as the front gardens we would once have kept as front gardens) which means that in times of high rainfall floodwater is likely to accumulate in drains more rapidly. Plus, of course, we’re all richer — so there’s more expensive property for flooding to damage.

But it’s the b) aspect I find more worrying because of the way it rides roughshod over the most basic principles of free market economics. Can we really assume that when anybody buys a house by a river — or near a floodplain — they don’t do so in the full knowledge that flood-risk is one of the prices they pay for their pleasing waterside ambience? The very idea is a nonsense. Buyers, being rational, will factor this into their calculations: “OK, so it will be great for fishing and swimming and boating. But getting insurance will be a bugger and we’d better not keep anything too precious on the ground floor.” These complexities will be reflected by the market. While the value of the property may be enhanced by its attractive location, it will simultaneously be decreased by its flood-damage potential.

September 2, 2011

US flood insurance is “a veritable bucket of fail”

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:12

Felix Salmon on the state of US flood insurance:

Ben Berkowitz has a big report on the the National Flood Insurance Program — something which is a veritable bucket of fail. In a nutshell, it undercuts private insurers and therefore is the only game in town; it insures only a small minority of homeowners; and it loses gobs of money. In September 2005, the NFIP was $1.5 billion in hock to the federal government; that number has now ballooned to $21 billion, and is certain to rise further.

There’s a simple answer to all these problems: let the NFIP raise its rates. And I don’t understand why it’s not being allowed to do so. If the rates rose, then that might allow private insurers into the flood-insurance game, giving consumers a choice and helping to get the word out about how insuring your home against flood damage is a really good idea. The NFIP could become profitable, and thereby start paying back all the money it owes. And while homeowners are quite price sensitive when it comes to flood insurance, the fact is that so few homeowners take out flood insurance right now that the number would be unlikely to fall dramatically if rates went up to a reasonable level.

July 13, 2011

Expanding government-provided flood insurance?

Filed under: Economics, Environment, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:42

It has always amazed me that the US government is the primary insurer for flood damage, but the idea of putting the few remaining private insurace companies out of business is insane:

The House of Representatives is scheduled this week, as early as today, to consider an extension and “reform” of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), administered by FEMA. Since Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the NFIP has been about $18 billion in the hole. And this is from a program that only collects around $2 billion a year in premiums, which barely covers losses and expenses in a normal year. So make no mistake, the NFIP is still on course to cost the taxpayer billions more in the future.

Even before Katrina, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the NFIP was receiving a subsidy of close to a billion dollars a year. Under CBO’s optimistic projections, the House’s reform bill would increase NFIP revenues by about $4 billion over the next ten years, making only a small dent in the program’s current deficit.

If private insurers aren’t willing to offer insurance to people and businesses located on flood plains, isn’t that a strong indication that building a house or a plant on that location is a bad idea? Why should people who chose not to locate in risky locations be forced to subsidize the risk-taking of those who do?

March 12, 2011

Earthquake, tsunami, and worse

Filed under: Environment, Japan, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:04

The earthquake by itself was one of the biggest ever recorded, and then the tsunami compounded the quake damage and will make relief and rescue efforts that much harder. Kevin Voigt has more:

The powerful earthquake that unleashed a devastating tsunami Friday appears to have moved the main island of Japan by 8 feet (2.4 meters) and shifted the Earth on its axis.

“At this point, we know that one GPS station moved (8 feet), and we have seen a map from GSI (Geospatial Information Authority) in Japan showing the pattern of shift over a large area is consistent with about that much shift of the land mass,” said Kenneth Hudnut, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Reports from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Italy estimated the 8.9-magnitude quake shifted the planet on its axis by nearly 4 inches (10 centimeters).

The temblor, which struck Friday afternoon near the east coast of Japan, killed hundreds of people, caused the formation of 30-foot walls of water that swept across rice fields, engulfed entire towns, dragged houses onto highways, and tossed cars and boats like toys. Some waves reached six miles (10 kilometers) inland in Miyagi Prefecture on Japan’s east coast.

Another major concern is the ongoing struggle to regain control of one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant:

An explosion at an earthquake-struck nuclear plant was not caused by damage to the nuclear reactor but by a pumping system that failed as crews tried to bring the reactor’s temperature down, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Saturday.

Workers at the Fukushima Daiichi plant have begun flooding the reactor containment structure with sea water to bring the reactor’s temperature down to safe levels, he said. The effort is expected to take two days.

Radiation levels have fallen since the explosion and there is no immediate danger, Edano said. But authorities were nevertheless expanding the evacuation to include a radius of 20 kilometers (about 12.5 miles) around the plant. The evacuation previously reached out to 10 kilometers.

H/T to Chris Taylor for the link.

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