Hurricane Irma pummels Caribbean islands, heads for Florida
Source: France24 / The Dawn News / September 8, 2017
Hurricane Irma on Thursday pounded more of the the Caribbean, shredding homes and leaving at least 14 people dead as it closes in on the United States, where up to a million people have been told to flee. Follow events with FRANCE 24’s liveblog.
Hurricane Irma grazed the tiny Turks and Caicos islands late Thursday and is next expected to head towards Cuba, the Bahamas and Florida, after leaving a trail of destruction across the region.
At least four people were killed on the French side of the small island of Saint Martin, which officials say is “95 percent destroyed”. A fifth was killed on the Dutch side of the island.
At least three fatalities have been confirmed in Puerto Rico. One toddler was killed in Barbuda while another person was killed in Anguilla, officials said. Another four people have been killed in the US Virgin Islands, according to a government spokesperson.
Speaking at a crisis centre set up at the interior ministry, French President Emmanuel Macron said he expects the final toll in terms of deaths and damage “will be harsh and cruel” and a national reconstruction plan will be drawn up for the affected territories.
Hurricane Irma Could Leave Puerto Rico Without Electricity For Months
Source: TeleSUR TV / The Dawn News / September 8, 2017
Puerto Rico residents could be left without power for four to six months after Hurricane Irma swiped the northern coast of the island on Wednesday.
Irma’s storm eye didn’t come ashore in Puerto Rico, but roared past with heavy winds. At least three people were killed, but the island escaped the large-scale devastation seen on nearby Barbuda and St. Martin.
Ricardo Ramos, executive director of Puerto Rico’s utility company, PREPA, said about two-thirds of the island’s more than one million electric customers are without power. More than 56,000 people were without potable water.
Ramos said PREPA is making efforts to store electricity, but the lack of maintenance and investment in equipment may contribute to a lengthy blackout.
“There are going to be blackouts. Areas that will spend three, four months without electricity,” Ramos said, according to EFE.
Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory with a population of more than 3 million, is in the midst of a major economic crisis, with more than US$70 billion in debt. In May, it filed for the biggest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
PREPA, a government-owned utility, defaulted on nearly US$9 billion in debt in July, NPR reported. Because of that, PREPA is in a severe state of financial distress, unable to modernize its system and facing a shortage of high-skilled workers.
“The hurricane has passed. Now we are in an emergency situation, making sure that everyone is safe. We are assessing the levels of damage, and the need for recovery and assistance,” Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello told the Washington Examiner in a statement Thursday.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has stationed more than 500 officials in Puerto Rico and more than 450 shelters are available for residents, which together can hold roughly 63,000 people.
Carlos Mercader, executive director at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, said FEMA is just beginning to survey the damage and he’s working with Congress on additional funding for the island.
“Trying to create awareness about the impact that Irma was going to have in Puerto Rico and in the region and the need for them to address an additional increase to that disaster recovery fund,” he added.
Early on Friday, Irma was about 125 km northeast of Cuba’s northeastern coast and 725 km southeast of Miami. It pummeled the Turks and Caicos Islands after saturating the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Even though it was downgraded to Category 4, Irma was still carrying winds as strong as 240 km per hour, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.
On Path of Destruction Through Caribbean, Hurricane Irma Weakens to Still-Dangerous Category 4
Source: TeleSUR TV / The Dawn News / September 8, 2017
Hurricane Irma weakened to a still extremely powerful Category 4 hurricane on Friday morning, as it continues its path of devastation through the Caribbean, leaving at least 11 dead, with massive infrastructure damage.
According to the latest data from the United States National Hurricane Center, the maximum sustained winds in the storm have decreased to 155 miles per hour after sustaining an astonishing 185 mph for 35 hours.
As the storm makes its way over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, and heads through the Bahamas, Cuba, and finally Florida, the record breaking storm remains a potentially catastrophic threat to those in its path even with the slight decrease in wind speed that likely resulted from passing over the mountainous terrain of the Dominican Republic.
The Haitian government has called for all institutions, including banks and stores, to be shut down until further notice.
President Jovenel Moise said in a televised speech that his cabinet had spent a week preparing, but warned that there will be unpredictable challenges ahead. “The hurricane is not a game,” he said, encouraging everyone to stay indoors.
Slight fluctuations in strength are expected to occur over the next several days.
As of 5am EDT on Friday morning, Irma’s eye was located 55 miles (90 kilometers) northwest of Great Inagua Island of the Bahamas. It is moving northwest at 16 mph, with a path taking it toward Florida.
According to authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands, at least four people have died on the islands after Irma caused what they called “catastrophic damage.” The storm’s destructive winds tore through the area, downing power lines and flooding shelters.
Some of the deaths occurred in the St. Thomas and St. Johns district. Officials say that crews are attempting to clear roads to open up inaccessible areas.
The Virgin Islands Constorium is coordinating rescue requests and damage reports via their Facebook account, asking victims to post their addresses and photos of their location to assist with rescue efforts.
The storm caused catastrophic devastation in Barbuda, which was hit by the eye wall at the storm’s peak, as well as in several other northeast Caribbean islands.
At least eight have died in Saint Martin, one in Anguilla, and an infant in Barbuda. According to Emergency relief services in Puerto Rico, nearly a million are without electricity and 50,000 without water access.
There are still fears that the death toll in Saint Martin could rise, because rescue efforts have been hampered by ongoing strong winds.
Venezuela is sending relief in the form of two armed forces planes, 34 civil protection specialist with 4 teams, 10 tons of appliances, water, medicines, gloves, and tents to Antigua. But the supplies are actually for Barbuda, which was hit directly by Hurricane Irma.
Trump’s Crackdown on Intl Climate Policies Might Impact Hurricane-Affected Developing Nations
As spree of Hurricanes continues to tear down and cause major destruction in developing countries, Trump’s crackdown on climate policies can have a severe impact on the ability of these countries to recover fully.
Several small Carribean islands in the path of these strong tropical storms have suffered major destruction, the island of Barbados recorded over 90 percent of infrastructure damage, several small islands close to Puerto Rico, French islands of St Barts and St Martin, were smashed but these regions have limited resources to recover. Thousands of people have reportedly evacuated coastal regions in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba.
In a blog post, Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, included the international climate programs in a list of the 10 worst cuts in Trump’s budget proposal.
“This budget’s severe cuts single out our clean air and water and our attempts to fight climate disruption,” Hitt said.
Trump proposed budget eliminates funding for a plethora of important projects like Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that coordinates global climate research; the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, that forms the basis of international climate negotiations like the Paris Agreement; the UN Green Climate Fund (GCF); and climate programs at agencies like the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The US president also pulled out from the Paris climate agreement earlier in June. The agreement is aimed at limiting warming temperatures to 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels, and also shift all nations towards sustainable growth practices.
“We are deeply disappointed by today’s decision,” a coalition of officials from Caribbean nations including Colombia, Costa Rica, Grenada, Mexico and Saint Lucia had said in a statement at the time.
“Our commitment to the Paris Agreement is unshakeable. We have every reason to fight for its full implementation: our families, our health, our welfare, our security, our economies and our livelihoods.”
Trump administration released the budget for the next fiscal year in May in which he called for ceasing funds to the global climate programs and attributed the cut to “a shift in global foreign policies.” In his proposed budget, he said since the U.S. had already fulfilled its US$2 billion pledge to the Climate Investment Funds, the government does not intend to provide any further contributions.
The funds under attack by the Trump administration include the Clean Technology Fund and the Strategic Climate Fund. The technology fund promotes low-carbon technologies and the climate fund helps vulnerable countries develop their programs to equip them to deal with climate change better.
(ANTIMEDIA) Florida — Two nuclear sites in Florida are in the path of Hurricane Irma. Though the plants’ owners are confident they can withstand the storm and the facilities have withstood previous hurricanes, concerns are being raised about their durability as one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the Atlantic approaches.
The two plants in question are the Turkey Point plant near Homestead, FL, and the St. Lucie plant in Port St. Lucie. According to Peter Robbins, a spokesman for the Florida Light & Power, which owns both sites:
“St. Lucie was originally designed and built decades ago to withstand flooding and hurricanes. It’s designed beyond the most severe natural disasters we’ve ever seen in the region. It’s absolutely designed to withstand extreme flooding.”
According to a report by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, St. Lucie survived with minimal significant damage. That report, published in November 2005, found:
“Although the hurricanes disrupted operation of the impacted NPPs [nuclear power plants], they did not have a significant impact on nuclear safety. The reportable impacts on the NPPs were mainly confined to the three areas of complete or partial loss of offsite power (LOOP), loss of sirens, and loss of communications equipment.”
Of course, the commission is tasked with keeping these facilities safe, so it’s worth considering the potential bias of a report from an entity bearing responsibility for potential damages. Nevertheless, Robbins said this week that in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, the industry in general “beefed up” their preparedness levels. “The industry has set up two regional response centers that have equipment that could be airlifted to a crippled nuclear plant, if necessary,” he told TC Palm. He also said they have backup generators on hand in case the reactors are shut down.
Turkey Point has also been deemed resilient against natural disasters. According to a 1993 report sponsored by the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Turkey Point successfully survived Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in August 1992, the plant remained stable and its “vital areas were secure and never jeopardized by the storm.”
Even so, the plant sustained $90 million in damage. A note from the NRC concluded:
“There was no damage to the safety-related systems except for minor water intrusion and some damage to insulation and paint, and there was no radioactive release to the environment. The units remained in a stable condition and functioned as designed.”
The note also cautioned that the facilities were not designed to weather hurricane-force winds, though Robbins said this week that they have extra fuel and generators on hand, stressing Turkey Point, like St. Lucie, was safe.
Perhaps more concerning is that the Turkey Point plant’s old cooling canal system has been leaking polluted water into Biscayne Bay. The New York Times noted last year that a study found “elevated levels of salt, ammonia, phosphorous and tritium, a radioactive isotope that is found in nature but also frequently associated with nuclear power plants.”
Though the levels of tritium were reportedly too low to harm people, they were enough for scientists to determine that the plant was the source. Environmentalists worried about marine life and the plant’s owners’ slow reaction to remedy the leak. It’s unclear how a hurricane might affect the already leaking facility.
Regardless, Robbins says Florida Light & Power is prepared to shut down the sites if it looks like Irma will hit them. “If we anticipate there will be direct impacts on either factory we’ll shut down the units,” he told the Miami Herald, noting doing so is a gradual process.
According to the Herald:
“In anticipation of powerful Hurricane Irma, which projections on Wednesday showed headed straight for South Florida, Florida Power & Light’s two nuclear plants were finalizing staffing plans and cleaning up the grounds. But neither Turkey Point nor the St. Lucie plant farther up the coast had made the call yet to shutting down the plants.”
It is still unclear whether Irma will hit Florida, though if it does, it will likely do so this weekend or early next week. The National Hurricane Center predicts that should it hit Florida, it will likely remain a Category 5 storm or weaken to Category 4.
Update: Both plants are now in the process of shutting down in preparation for Irma.
Planet Rages With Fires And Storms, Ire Aimed At Climate Denialism
Source: Mint Press News / The Dawn News / September 8, 2017
As Houston begins its long recovery from Hurricane Harvey, epic wildfires burn throughout the western U.S., and Irma charges toward Florida after devastating several Caribbean islands, while two other storms build strength in the Atlantic basin, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is among those helping to expose the deadly consequences of climate change denialism by claiming threats posed by such global warming-related events are being exaggerated.
And so while climate activist Bill McKibben on Thursday morning warned that “we’ve never had anything quite like” the current fires and storms now being experienced, it was The Nation‘s Mark Hertsgaard who argues, in a piece titled “Climate Denialism Is Literally Killing Us,” that those who have made it public policy to downplay the threat of man-made climate change should be held to account for the deaths that such denialism is now causing.
During his show on Tuesday, Limbaugh told his listeners: “There is a desire to advance this climate change agenda, and hurricanes are one of the fastest and best ways to do it…. All you need is to create the fear and panic accompanied by talk that climate change is causing hurricanes to become more frequent and bigger and dangerous, and it’s mission accomplished, agenda advanced.”
He also alleged that reporting about hurricanes results from a “symbiotic relationship between retailers and local media” that “revolves around money,” adding: “The media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.”
But these comments—which arrived as people in the Caribbean made emergency preparations for landfall and officials in Florida began announcing mandatory evacuations—were immediately decried as irresponsible.
“To state the obvious, these are potentially dangerous comments from Limbaugh, who is based in Palm Beach, Fla.,” writes Callum Borchers for the Washington Post. “He is encouraging listeners who might be in Irma’s path not to take seriously the official guidance disseminated through the media.”
With evacuations underway in southeast Florida on Thursday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Service warned that Irma will likely “maintain most of its current intensity” while it approaches the state, and “the threat of dangerous major hurricane impacts in Florida continues to increase.”
“Hurricane Irma’s epic size is being fueled by global warming,” Michael Le Page wrote for New Scientist on Wednesday. “Hurricane Irma has the strongest winds of any hurricane to form in the open Atlantic, with sustained wind speeds of 295 kph,” and “Irma could yet grow stronger.”
“So why did Irma grow so strong? Most likely because climate change is making Atlantic waters ever warmer,” Le Page continued. “Tropical cyclones are fueled by warm surface waters.”
Climate scientists such as Michael Mann explain that “one thing that the science is very clear on is that the strongest storms will get stronger because of global warming, because the oceans are warmer.”
In an interview with The Real News Network on Thursday, Mann said although there are many factors that contribute to how frequently tropical storms occur, with rising ocean temperatures, “we’re going to see more of these cat 4, cat 5 monsters like Irma,” as well as more extreme weather overall.
“Even though we’re so focused here in the U.S. on the impacts of extreme weather events on us,” Mann also noted, “in other regions, like India and Bangladesh, and Bangladesh in particular—which is already suffering from the impacts of global sea level rise—a very low-lying region, with millions of people, that has already been impacted by global sea level rise, and now you add to that these flooding record monsoonal rains, and you’re talking about a far greater loss of life than we’ve seen here in the U.S.”
“The impacts of climate change are gonna be most felt by the most vulnerable,” Mann added, “and that means that there’s a real sort of ethical dimension to acting to avert a climate catastrophe.”
[VIDEO] Texas Prisoners Are Facing Horrid Conditions After Hurricane Harvey & Retaliation for Reporting Them
Source: Democracy Now! / The Dawn News / September 8, 2017
[Transcript] As Florida braces for Hurricane Irma, we look at conditions in Texas prisons since Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast two weeks ago with a historic downpour that lasted several days and caused massive flooding. Prisoners were not evacuated from either the federal prison or three Texas prisons in the heavily flooded city of Beaumont, east of Houston, where high water was so destructive that it disabled the city’s water supply system. State prison officials say water did not flood prisons there. But a prisoner named named Clifton Cloer, who is housed on the first floor of the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, told his wife that he stood in water up to his kneecaps during the storm and later faced the stench of backed-up toilets. We speak to Rachel Villalobos, who has been in touch with her husband who is held at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont; Lance Lowry, the president of AFSCME Local 3807 of the Texas Correctional Employees; and Democracy Now! correspondent Renée Feltz.
AMY GOODMAN: Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm ever recorded, laid waste to parts of the Caribbean overnight, pummeling Turks and Caicos, hammering the Bahamas and taking aim at South Florida, home to millions. The storm’s death toll rose to 18, but officials warn the figure will increase as rescue workers search through the rubble on islands that have seen over 90 percent of all buildings destroyed.
Well, as Florida braces for Hurricane Irma, we now take a look at conditions in Texas prisons since Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast two weeks ago with an historic downpour that lasted several days and caused massive flooding. Prison officials say about 4,500 prisoners remain evacuated. This is Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Bryan Collier giving an update Wednesday.
BRYAN COLLIER: We currently still have the Ramsey 1, the Terrell and the Stringfellow units evacuated. Those units remain largely dry; however, many of the outbuildings, support services areas, appear to be wet, and we’re still trying to work to get a full assessment of the damage done at those locations.
AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, prisoners were not evacuated from either the federal prison or three Texas prisons in the heavily flooded city of Beaumont, east of Houston, where high water was so destructive it disabled the city’s water supply system. State prison officials say water did not flood prisons there. But a prisoner named Clifton Cloer, who is housed on the first floor of the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, told his wife he stood in water up to his kneecaps during the storm and later faced the stench of backed-up toilets.
For more, we go to Texas, where we’re joined in Dallas by Rachel Villalobos, who has been in touch with her husband who’s held at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont. She says prisoners there faced mistreatment during flooding related to Hurricane Harvey. In Houston, we’re joined by Lance Lowry, president of AFSCME Local 3807 of the Texas Correctional Employees, the union which represents Texas prison employees. Also with us, Democracy Now! correspondent Renée Feltz, who I just left in Houston. She’s back in her hometown.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let us begin right now with Rachel Villalobos. Can you describe when your husband called you and what he said was happening in Beaumont, in the Beaumont prison he’s in, Rachel?
RACHEL VILLALOBOS: He called me September 2nd from prison for the first time since August 27th. And he explained the amount of food they were getting, which was two sandwiches a day, eight ounces of water. He said that the prison did get water in it, that all the inmates are using the number one and number two in bags, just to reserve the toilet water, so they could drink the toilet water. I explained to him, “Don’t drink the toilet water. Don’t drink that water in Beaumont.” You know, it has bacteria and all kinds of infestations in it. And he said, at this moment, he didn’t care. If the water didn’t kill him, then the situation was going to kill him. He said he was so dehydrated that when he woke up, his eyelids were sticking to his eyeballs. His tongue was sticking to the top of his mouth. That’s how severely dehydrated he was due to the lack of water.
AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Can you explain again, what were they given in bags?
RACHEL VILLALOBOS: No, they was using the restroom in bags, to preserve the toilet water.
AMY GOODMAN: And the AC, air conditioning? I mean, it is, to say the least, hot in Houston, in Beaumont. And with everything that had happened, the power had gone out. The AC was out?
RACHEL VILLALOBOS: Yes. They had no power. They had the generators that they were turning on and off. The AC—they didn’t have no AC for a good while. The 27th was the last time I believe they had the AC. I just got a message from him saying they did have AC for four to five days. But again, I was told that the officers there are watching him and telling him what to write. So, right at this moment, I don’t know what to believe, but that I was told from other inmates’ wives that they did not have AC, either.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, there are a lot of rumors that go around at times like this, you know, in prison and outside of prison, but you got reports that two prisoners died from drinking the toilet water? Is that what you heard?
RACHEL VILLALOBOS: I have emails from inmates saying, yes, quoted, “Another inmate has passed already.” And then, at the bottom of the email, it said that this guy collapsed due to him drinking water, that the guards rushed to him. Yes, but I dig get confirmation that two inmates from the Low, Beaumont Low, have passed away due to this.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, the federal officials have responded. They said there have not been any inmate fatalities as a result of Hurricane Harvey or otherwise at FCC—that’s Federal Correctional Complex—Beaumont. This is TDCJ—that’s the Texas Department of Criminal Justice—Executive Director Bryan Collier giving an update Wednesday on water access for prisoners in Beaumont, where the floodwaters disabled the city’s water supply system.
BRYAN COLLIER: We’ve had significant improvement in the last couple of days in the Beaumont area. Water pressure yesterday began improving. So, as we continue this week, we see that continuing to improve, so we are getting water back in the Beaumont areas. Some of the things we did during the time the city of Beaumont was without water is, our units, we have water tankers that were on site and remained filled, so that we could do activities with water. We also distributed significant truckloads of water, bottled water, to those units to have offenders be able to use water. We also provided water in the housing areas of many of the facilities, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Renée Feltz into this discussion, Democracy Now! correspondent on the ground in Houston this week. Renée, can you talk about what you’ve been able to document on the ground about prison conditions?
RENÉE FELTZ: Well, thanks, Amy, for having me back on.
There is a lot of talk about who was evacuated during the storm and who wasn’t, and the conditions. And we knew that it was important to look also at the conditions behind bars. It’s a little hard to document what’s happening. The Houston Chronicle has tried to visit some of the facilities in Beaumont, where the city did lose water, and the prisoners were not evacuated in the Texas or the federal facilities. The Chronicle wasn’t allowed to receive a tour, as they had requested. You know, there may be a lot going on there, and it wasn’t able to be accommodated. But at the same time, journalists haven’t been able to go in to see with their own eyes what’s happening at the facilities.
That said, it’s interesting that there’s an effort by the National Lawyers Guild. They have an effort called the Prisoner Legal Advocacy Network. And today, they’re going to be filing a notice with the Bureau of Prisons and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, asking them not to—to make sure that evidence basically is preserved in terms of documenting what’s happened. So we’re talking about surveillance footage. We’re talking about videos inside the prison, outside. We’re talking about social media images. We’re talking about other records of who was moved and when, staffing records. And they’re also asking people like Rachel and other loved ones and friends of prisoners in these facilities to keep track of what they’ve been able to document, because they plan to use some of this potentially for litigation in the future.
Part of what they’re concerned about is that these facilities have flooded before. In fact, we have images of a facility in the Texas area—in Texas that has flooded previously and is now flooded again this time. I believe it’s the Terrell and Stringfellow units in Rosharon, Texas. And so, people have raised concerns about, if these facilities are prone to flooding, do you have a solid plan in place in terms of how to evacuate, or if you’re not going to evacuate prisoners, what you’re going to do to make sure that they have humane living conditions, because what we’ve understood from prisoners who’ve been able to call out to their loved ones or to send emails, like Rachel described, is not only that—some of them were describing that they did have water, even though prison officials have said that there was not water in the cells necessarily, even though there was some in outerlying buildings. There’s conflicting reports of that. But we’ve also heard prisoners describe eating a single hot dog with no bun for lunch and having very limited access to water, as Rachel described.
It’s important to note—and I’d be interested to hear from Rachel about any retaliation that prisoners are facing when they do try to document conditions or to get in touch with family members. We mentioned last week when we were talking about how TDCJ, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, didn’t actually get around to evacuating prisons in Fort Bend County until some people made calls to the outside, and their loved ones then called the officials and encouraged them to evacuate the facilities. We heard, for example, that Nanon Williams made a call like that and is now one of the 45,000 prisoners that remains evacuated. One thing also, we did get an update from that prisoner, Nanon Williams, who said that they are being held in a gymnasium-like facility, sleeping on cots, and that they do have a lot of concern about cockroaches, snakes, other bugs that are bothering them there in that facility. But—
AMY GOODMAN: And, Renée, talk about who Nanon is.
RENÉE FELTZ: Mm-hmm. Nanon Williams is a former death row prisoner here in Texas who was sentenced to death for a crime he—a murder he says he did not commit. He was a juvenile at the time. And the U.S. Supreme Court has said that it’s unconstitutional to sentence juveniles to death, and so he was moved to a different facility, where he remains now. And his case is actually being reinvestigated by a special unit set up to look at cases that had evidence that ran through the Harris County crime lab, which had a lot of problems at the time.
AMY GOODMAN: Rachel Villalobos, that question of Renée’s: Was there any retaliation for your husband or others speaking out, trying to reach you? And was there trouble reaching loved ones during the storm?
RACHEL VILLALOBOS: There was trouble reaching him. Like I said, the last time I spoke to him was on August 27th. The first time I spoke to him was September 2nd. So you can imagine me, the emotion I was—I had. I feel for the people that have their husbands in the SHU, the loved ones in the SHU, because they haven’t heard from them. And that’s really sad.
There is retaliation. I got confirmation that they’re retaliating on one prisoner already. And they’re starting to retaliate on my husband. And that’s really sad that these guards could be so corrupted like that. I mean, all we’re trying to do is just help them. And for them to retaliate like that on my husband is sad.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Lance Lowry. Lance is president of AFSCME Local 3807, Texas Correctional Employees, represents guards and others. What are your concerns right now in hearing these descriptions?
LANCE LOWRY: My concerns are for our members. Our members are in the same conditions as the offenders. What I’m getting back from the feedback from the officers on the ground, they’re going to tell us the truth, what’s going on. There tends to be a exaggeration of some of the conditions. I’m not going to paint a rosy picture, like the agency. This is a hurricane disaster zone. There has been power outages in the areas, obviously disruption of water supplies, which does create a sanitary issue. However, you know, inmates standing in three, four feet of water? I visited some of these facilities, have talked personally with the officers on confidential basis. I have not heard of any of the TDC facilities flooding inside—the ones that are currently occupied. Now, there have been issues as far as the disruption of the water supply and sanitary conditions. But the staff on the ground are in the same conditions, and they do have a vested interest, pertaining to their own health, to keep a sanitary environment. So—
AMY GOODMAN: Lance, you have—
LANCE LOWRY: There is a—
AMY GOODMAN: You’ve told the Houston press that the sheriff [sic], [Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesperson Jason] Clark, is just doing his job by presenting a rosier picture, but have been talking about, you know, the difficulties. For example, can you talk about the Stiles Unit and other prisons on emergency lockdown in Beaumont? People outside Texas might be surprised to hear, in this one town, not that large, there are what? How many prisons? At least five?
LANCE LOWRY: Yeah, there’s several federal facilities, and there’s three TDCJ state facilities in Beaumont. The conditions of the TDCJ facilities, the biggest issue, what we’ve seen, is staffing issues. Some of the homes, roadways were obviously shut down. One thing the agency did try to paint a rosier picture of was the staffing situation. Obviously, if you look at any of the maps from the flooding, you can clearly see that the roadways going in and out of the majority of the facilities were severely flooded. As a matter of fact, our union hall in Beaumont was flooded. So, you know, I’ve talked personally with people on the ground. It’s devastation for our officers. A lot of them have experienced flooding in their own homes. And at the same time, they are trying to take care of the prisons and take care of the prisoners to the best of their abilities.
AMY GOODMAN: In Polk County, Florida, the sheriff, Grady Judd, tweeted this week, quote, “If you go to a shelter for #Irma, be advised: sworn LEOs”—that’s law enforcement officers—”will be at every shelter, checking IDs. Sex offenders/predators will not be allowed.” Renée, talk about the significance of this.
RENÉE FELTZ: Well, Amy, you mention Florida. A lot of people are looking at what Florida plans to do with its prison system and their prisoners. I looked this morning to see who they had evacuated, and the latest update sounds like they’ve got 5,000 prisoners evacuated in the last 24 hours from facilities located in the path of Hurricane Irma, and there is another 3,000 that are set to move soon. And those are early reports. That’s what we’re hearing from the prison officials. There is concern not just about who’s going to be evacuated in terms of the prisons, but, as that tweet refers to, there is concern about people with criminal records being able to access shelters and how they’re being treated during all of this. And, you know, is there—
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this is a separate issue, but the issue of DACA and immigrants being terrified to go into shelters, which we saw in speaking to people when we were in Houston this weekend, the number of people staying in their homes, afraid, if they come out, the immigration police, as they said, the “migre,” would get them.
RENÉE FELTZ: That’s right. And we have also seen, Amy, when we were out at one of the neighborhoods where people were inflating their kayaks and going into their neighborhoods, we saw a Customs and Border Patrol truck full of officers that were putting on wading gear to help, as they said, but you can see how their presence in some of these neighborhoods, because of the fear about ICE and Customs and Border Patrol officials turning people in and engaging in raids and mass deportations, people are going to avoid areas where they see them, because of that fear. So that’s another major concern.
I wanted to suggest that we get Lance to elaborate on one point, Amy, which is back here in Texas. The facilities that we’ve described are in areas—again, Beaumont—it’s incredible. They weren’t evacuated from a city that lost its water supply. And we’re talking about five prisons. And we’re talking, as Lance pointed out, not just about the prisons, but the guards. And it’s been said that there are port-o-potties on site, for example, but groups like the Prison Abolition Prisoner Support network, PAPS, have pointed out that, you know, 20 port-o-potties at a prison for a week may get a bit overused and may start to overflow. And there were concerns even whether or not the inmates themselves, the prisoners, were able to use those or if they were just for the guards. But, you know, all of this points to a question of whether or not the facilities are meeting constitutional standards or whether or not their prisoners, during this disaster and crisis, are being held in constitutional conditions or cruel and unusual conditions. And I wanted to see if Lance could speak to that point and also about some of the history of evaluating whether the conditions at some of these facilities are constitutional.
AMY GOODMAN: Lance Lowry?
LANCE LOWRY: Sure. There’s definitely some issues we need to look at, as far as the facilities. One of our main concerns is the facilities south of Houston along the Brazos River that have flooded. We’re concerned about the health and safety, as far as mold, black mold exposure. When the agency decides to reopen these facilities, you know, this can impact, like I said, not only the inmates, but the officers themselves. And you have to remember, the officers are in these facilities for a high number of hours. And what affects the inmates, as far as the health and safety, does affect our officers. And that’s concerning when we do have this onset of these crises.
Obviously, one thing I’ve seen as far as a major flaw in Texas has been our staffing ratios. We don’t have a high number of correctional staff available for emergencies such as this. They were lucky to get 6,000 inmates out of south of Houston, where it was flood-prone. Had we had more disastrous situations in Beaumont, at the time, we didn’t have enough time to get people in and evacuate those offenders or even the officers. And I’ve been on site and have seen, you know, and talked to, like I said, a lot of the officers. It has severely impacted our officers. And running these prison systems without the correct appropriations is leading to constitutional issues. We don’t have enough staffing in place. When you don’t have enough staff, you know, services sometimes are delayed. If you look at the state of Texas as far as our staffing ratios, we manage, for every officer, six offenders. You go to the state of New York, it’s one and three.
RENÉE FELTZ: And just to jump in there, Lance, as we probably need to wrap up, there is an interesting concern raised: If prisoners are evacuated to other facilities, and you’ve got those facilities managing potentially twice as many population, many of these facilities have been—had concerns raised previously about whether they are constitutional, because of the lack of air conditioning in Texas. And we see that again to some of the facilities where people were evacuated to. And finally, here in Harris County, we’ve seen reports that the Harris County Criminal Justice Complex, a 20-story building, had its toilets explode and sewage flood everywhere, after the storm. It’s right next to Buffalo Bayou downtown. It could be closed for many, many months, delaying people’s trials—and another aspect of the criminal justice system that we’re going to keep an eye on here in Texas.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you all for being with us, Lance Lowry, president of AFSCME Local 3807 of the Texas Correctional Employees, represents guards and others in the prisons, the union; Renée Feltz, Democracy Now! correspondent; and Rachel Villalobos, on the phone with us, whose been in touch with her husband who’s held at the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont and says prisoners there faced mistreatment during the flooding related to Hurricane Harvey. Beaumont lost all its water.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the segregation of Alabama schools. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Come Down Here and Say That” by Deerhoof, performing here at Democracy Now!‘s studios. To see the full performances and interview, go to democracynow.org. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman.