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EDM Friday Briefing: Chemical-Laden Container Ship Sinks Off Sri Lanka

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Emergency and disaster management briefing for June 18, 2021: CalFire will use red flags in Butte County for Red Flag Warnings; extreme heat has shattered records across many western states amid a massive and ongoing heat wave; Indiana was struck with a small earthquake that was felt in nearby states; the Robertson Draw Fire exploded in Montana amid soaring temperatures; Florida faces another dust cloud from the Saharan Desert; the NHC has issued Tropical Storm Watches and Warnings for much of the central Gulf Coast; a massive power outage left hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans in the dark on Wednesday evening; and the container ship that caught fire off the coast of Sri Lanka sank Thursday amid rough seas.

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1. CalFire recently unveiled another method they hope will further alert residents to Red Flag Warning conditions. Fire stations in Butte County, California, will display new, 14-foot red flags that read Fire Danger whenever a Red Flag Warning has been issued for the area. Red Flag Warnings indicate the height of fire danger, which is when high temperatures coupled with low humidity and high winds make fire ignition chances extremely high.

2. Extreme heat in the West has shattered temperature records across the region over the last four days. Arizona, Southern California, Utah and Wyoming set records on Wednesday, including in Death Valley where the temperature soared to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat wave is expected to last through the weekend and push temperatures anywhere from 10 to 30 degrees higher than normal.

3. A small earthquake struck west-central Indiana and was felt in several adjacent states, including Illinois and southern Michigan. The 3.8 magnitude quake struck Thursday afternoon at a depth of around 1.9 miles and was centered about two miles west of Bloomingdale in Parke County. Although the region rarely sees earthquakes, there were no reports of injuries or damages from the tremor.

4. Amid record temperatures across the west, the Robertson Draw Fire burning in Montana has exploded from 2,000 to 24,273 acres. The wildfire is burning in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, near Clark, Wyoming, and fire suppression efforts are being managed by a Type 2 Incident Management Team. The blaze is believed to be human-caused and according to Inciweb, some evacuation orders remain in place. Officials are urging all residents in the region to have an evacuation plan and remain aware of current conditions.

5. Clouds of dust from the Saharan Desert are set to sweep across Florida in the coming days. Trade winds are carrying the dust plume, which will likely help dampen storms kicked up by the low pressure system in the Gulf of Mexico. The dry air carries the dust, which mixes with tropical air, reducing moisture and decreasing storms. But the fine particles increase air pollution and may increase symptoms for those with allergies or asthma.

6. The National Hurricane Center (NHC) continues to monitor low pressure System Three in the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, sustained winds are at 35 mph, the system is moving northeastward at about 14 mph, and the NHC has issued Tropical Storm Watches and Warnings along the north-central Gulf Coast. Heavy rainfall associated with this system is likely to bring anywhere from four to eight inches of rain, flash floods, flooding, and storm surges along the Gulf Coast.

7. Nearly 337,000 residents across Puerto Rico were suddenly without power Wednesday evening. According to Luma Energy, a private company now in operation of the grid, three of its units were knocked offline. The company indicated that the incident was not related to its upcoming planned outages, which had been announced just hours prior to Wednesday’s power failure.

8. A container ship, filled with multiple chemicals that caught fire nearly a month ago, sank off the coast of Sri Lanka on Thursday. The burned ship released debris, including plastic pellets that polluted nearby beaches. It is now sitting 70 feet below the surface, amid rough and violent seas. Salvage is likely to begin sometime in September after the monsoon season, and concerns over an environmental disaster from the sunken ship remain high.


Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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