AMU Emergency Management Public Safety

EDM Monday Briefing: 9 Dead After Himalayan Glacier Breaks Off

Emergency and disaster management briefing for February 8, 2021: More than 150 people are feared dead after a Himalayan glacier broke off and released a torrent of rocks, mud, and water for miles downstream; heavy snowfall led to a crash on I-84 Sunday that snarled Connecticut traffic for hours; signs of eruption have elevated alerts for the Semisopochnoi Volcano in Alaska; California utilities are set to spend $13 billion to reduce wildfire risks; four skiers are dead after getting caught in an avalanche in Utah; concerns rise in Bangladesh and India after China announces plans to build the world’s largest dam on a Tibetan river; the DRC confirms a new case of Ebola in Butembo city; and a report shows that more than half of firefighter deaths in 2019 were heart-related.

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1. A massive rescue operation continues in northern India after part of a Himalayan glacier broke off on Sunday, releasing a torrent of rock, water, mud and debris. The torrent swept away a hydroelectric dam, caused damage to another dam and left at least 150 people missing in Uttarakhand, many of whom are feared dead. On Sunday, rescuers pulled survivors from tunnels they dug in the mud and also recovered nine bodies.

2. The Northeast was hit with another winter storm beginning on Sunday — just days after a major snowstorm inundated some locations with at least two feet of snow. Parts of New Jersey and Connecticut had already received five to seven inches of snow by early Sunday afternoon. The fast- moving storm was forecast to dump up to eight inches of snow on New York City and snarled traffic on I-84 in Connecticut after a tractor-trailer jackknifed.

3. The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) raised the alert level for the Semisopochnoi Volcano to Advisory. The Aviation Color Code was also raised to Yellow after the observation of fresh ash deposits in the North Cerebus Crater. Visibility into the crater has been limited due to heavy steam emissions. The Semisophochnoi Volcano is a stratovolcano in the Aleutian Islands, almost due west of Adak, where a series of ongoing smaller earthquakes continue to occur.

4. After a particularly devastating wildfire season, the three major electric utilities in California announced Friday that they will spend nearly $13 billion to reduce wildfire risks. Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is set to use a new computerized risk model that helps pinpoint locations at higher risk of sparking wildfires. Once identified, various measures — which include moving overhead power lines underground, the continued installation of weather stations and high definition cameras, and the installation of devices to reduce and limit Public Safety Power Shutoffs — will be priorities for the company.

5. Four skiers were killed when they were caught in an avalanche that occurred on Saturday in Utah. A total of eight people, ages 23 to 48, were caught in the avalanche. Four people survived the slide, which was about two and a half feet deep and covered about 250 feet. According to authorities, all eight of the individuals caught in the avalanche were wearing locator beacons.

6. China announced its plan to build the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on a Tibetan river. The dam is set to be built on the Yarlung Tsangpo river, located in the Himalayan mountains. It is the highest river in the world at more than 16,400 feet above sea level and flows through Tibet, Bangladesh, and India. Concerns over the dam being built by China range from its use as a political tool by the nation to its impact on livelihoods, with the loss of fishing in communities downstream due to reduced water level impacts on fish populations.

7. Nearly eight months after announcing the end to its Ebola outbreak, the Democratic Republic of Congo has confirmed a new case of the deadly disease. The case was detected in the city of Butembo in the North Kivu province, where the previous outbreak killed 2,299 people. According to health officials, the provincial response team is already working diligently to address the isolated case, which reportedly is not uncommon after a major outbreak has occurred.

8. February is American Heart Month, which provides an opportunity to focus on firefighter health. The U.S. Fire Administration report in 2019 identified stress and overexertion as the leading cause of firefighter deaths. The report noted that of the total deaths, over half were heart attacks or strokes. Prevention through medical screening, operational risk reduction measures, and health, wellness, and fitness programs are key to reducing the number of firefighter deaths.

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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