Published: 08:29 EST, 5 November 2017 | Updated: 08:34 EST, 5 November 2017
HOUSTON (AP) – I returned to the city of my birth a few weeks ago, to a place that had drowned after a monster storm brought more than a year's worth of rain and sent its bayous and reservoirs overflowing. Hurricane Harvey had long left Houston, but its legacy lived on – in the ashy floors of Aunt Christine's home and the mold of Cousin Esther's house and the buckets that still sat scattered across the living room at Mom and Dad's to catch leaks.
I drove through neighborhoods with mountains of wrecked furniture and ripped-out walls tossed on front lawns. Boxes brimmed with soiled books and soggy clothes, Christmas decorations gone to ruin and soused childhood Power Rangers toys.
For five generations, my family has survived the worst of Mother Nature in a city that's seen more than its share of bad storms. But when the waters recede, despite the devastation left behind, they've always picked up and found a way to start again – because this has been home for 100 years and no hurricane or flood will drive them out.
My mother, Amelia Contreras, is 64 now, but she still remembers what her aunt used to tell her about the many storms that have pounded Houston throughout history. They are God's way of saying, "People need to get together. They need to be loving to each other," and to remind us that, "In one minute He can take it all away."
Storms like Harvey brought us to Houston in the first place.
In 1900, a massive hurricane killed more than 6,000 people on nearby Galveston Island. Months later, my 16-year-old great-grandfather, Florencio Contreras, arrived from San Luis Potosi, Mexico, to Houston after planners concluded the city was a more viable deep-water port option. New jobs were plentiful, and so he settled here.
But Florencio could only live in black or Mexican immigrant neighborhoods close to Buffalo Bayou; the laws of segregation dictated it. On the banks of that swampy bayou sat his blacksmith shop where he made tools and horseshoes before treading home. The rains came often, and nearby streets flooded routinely, but Florencio knew he'd have to make peace with the storms if he wanted to stay and succeed.
He stayed even after Buffalo Bayou took one of his sons, Joe, who was just 13 when he jumped in after a storm, slammed his head on something and drowned. He stayed after the great flood of 1935, which annihilated many of the homes in the neighborhood but not his.
My late uncle Ernest Eguia, my grandmother's brother, remembered being trapped for days in the 1935 flood. "Furniture, clothes and items were fished out of the bayou by people," he'd later write in an 11-page memoir he gave me. Eguia wouldn't see such desperation until his World War II U.S. Army battalion liberated the Nordhausen Concentration Camp in Germany, he'd say.
As the family grew, we'd have no choice but to move into houses damaged by that flood. Roland Contreras, Florencio's grandson and my cousin, remembers friends coming over and asking why his house leaned to one side. "It was real embarrassing."
Hurricane Carla struck in 1961, blowing out windows and turning over cars in family driveways. My mother and her family prepared by storing water in trash bags and cooking for 12. When the flood came, their home sat safely on stilts. Yet the waters held them hostage for days.
By the time I came into this world in 1974, Houston had grown into a major metropolitan city. Buffalo Bayou didn't hold the same wrath. We drove over the bayou on a bridge in the comfort of a Chevy Maverick. During thunderstorms, when the water from the bayou rose, my mom assured me we'd have time to run from it.
Our house in the suburbs stood next to another waterway: Greens Bayou. As the deadly Hurricane Alicia approached in 1983 when I was 9, we opted to hunker down in the home of my "Lita," my grandmother on Mom's side, in the house on stilts downtown. It had survived floods since 1935 and undoubtedly would keep us safe. The winds came as I was tucked into bed. I could hear tree branches lashing the roof and windows. Through the shades, I saw the sparks from electrical wires waving in the tempest as the lights went out.
When the winds stopped, we returned to our house, undamaged save for a fence in need of repair.
Years later, when I was a graduate creative writing student at Columbia University, my parents came to visit me in New York in the summer of 2001. During a nighttime stroll in Times Square, we looked up at the giant TV screen and were shocked to see a shot of my parents' neighborhood – under water thanks to Tropical Storm Allison. My mom remembers thinking, "We might not have a home when we get back," but as she so often does, she put her faith in God, told herself "there's a reason this is happening," and they returned to find their home had once again escaped damage.
This time, my relatives were not so lucky.
When Harvey came, my aunt, Christine Contreras Kahan, and my Uncle Andy watched the scenes of destruction from the safety of their west Houston home. Then they got word: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would release water from an overfilled reservoir and their home would be flooded out. Aunt Christine raced to save the family photos and important documents. Then she went to her porch, opened a bottle of wine and just waited. Uncle Andy cleaned their pool. "What else was I going to do?" he said.
They stayed until volunteers in boats escorted them to dry land.
My cousin, Esther Gonzales, a single mom, lives near that same reservoir with her 11-year-old son, Stephen. She woke to find 3 feet of water in her home. The pair and their dog, Da Vinci, walked three miles in the flood to safety.
Two months later, their houses still are undergoing repairs, like so many of the homes on the Gulf Coast of Texas. My parents' home across the street from my old high school suffered only minor damage, though neighbors still wait for available contractors to fix waterlogged walls.
Given all the storms in all these years, I had to ask my mom one simple question: Why? Why stay and endure more and keep rebuilding and starting anew?
Her answer was just as simple. "Houston is our home," she said. "You don't run every time there's a problem. We deal with it, and you keep going."
Associated Press writer Russell Contreras is a member of the AP's race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras
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Sydney seaplane crash: Exhaust fumes affected pilot, report confirms
The pilot of a seaplane that crashed into an Australian river, killing all on board, had been left confused and disorientated by leaking exhaust fumes, investigators have confirmed.
The Canadian pilot and five members of a British family died in the crash north of Sydney in December 2017.
All were found to have higher than normal levels of carbon monoxide in their blood, a final report has found.
It recommended the mandatory fitting of gas detectors in all such planes.
British businessman Richard Cousins, 58, died alongside his 48-year-old fiancée, magazine editor Emma Bowden, her 11-year-old daughter Heather and his sons, Edward, 23, and William, 25, and pilot Gareth Morgan, 44. Mr Cousins was the chief executive of catering giant Compass.
The family had been on a sightseeing flight in the de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver plane when it nose-dived into the Hawkesbury River at Jerusalem Bay, about 50km (30 miles) from the city centre.
The final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) confirmed the findings of an interim report published in 2020.
It said pre-existing cracks in the exhaust collector ring were believed to have released exhaust gas into the engine bay. Holes left by missing bolts in a firewall then allowed the fumes to enter the cabin.
“As a result, the pilot would have almost certainly experienced effects such as confusion, visual disturbance and disorientation,” the report said.
“Consequently, it was likely that this significantly degraded the pilot’s ability to safely operate the aircraft.”
The ATSB recommended the Civil Aviation Safety Authority consider mandating the fitting of carbon monoxide detectors in piston-engine aircraft that carry passengers.
It previously issued safety advisory notices to owners and operators of such aircraft that they install detectors “with an active warning” to pilots”. Operators and maintainers of planes were also advised to carry out detailed inspections of exhaust systems and firewalls.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55862128
Australia unlikely to fully reopen border in 2021, says top official
Australia is unlikely to fully open its borders in 2021 even if most of its population gets vaccinated this year as planned, says a senior health official.
The comments dampen hopes raised by airlines that travel to and from the country could resume as early as July.
Department of Health Secretary Brendan Murphy made the prediction after being asked about the coronavirus’ escalation in other nations.
Dr Murphy spearheaded Australia’s early action to close its borders last March.
“I think that we’ll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus,” he said, adding that he believed quarantine requirements for travellers would continue “for some time”.
Citizens, permanent residents and those with exemptions are allowed to enter Australia if they complete a 14-day hotel quarantine at their own expense.
Qantas – Australia’s national carrier – reopened bookings earlier this month, after saying it expected international travel to “begin to restart from July 2021.”
However, it added this depended on the Australian government’s deciding to reopen borders.
Australia’s tight restrictions
The country opened a travel bubble with neighbouring New Zealand late last year, but currently it only operates one-way with inbound flights to Australia.
Australia has also discussed the option of travel bubbles with other low-risk places such as Taiwan, Japan and Singapore.
A vaccination scheme is due to begin in Australia in late February. Local authorities have resisted calls to speed up the process, giving more time for regulatory approvals.
Australia has so far reported 909 deaths and about 22,000 cases, far fewer than many nations. It reported zero locally transmitted infections on Monday.
Experts have attributed much of Australia’s success to its swift border lockdown – which affected travellers from China as early as February – and a hotel quarantine system for people entering the country.
Local outbreaks have been caused by hotel quarantine breaches, including a second wave in Melbourne. The city’s residents endured a stringent four-month lockdown last year to successfully suppress the virus.
Other outbreaks – including one in Sydney which has infected about 200 people – prompted internal border closures between states, and other restrictions around Christmas time.
The state of Victoria said on Monday it would again allow entry to Sydney residents outside of designated “hotspots”, following a decline in cases.
While the measures have been praised, many have also criticised them for separating families across state borders and damaging businesses.
Dr Murphy said overall Australia’s virus response had been “pretty good” but he believed the nation could have introduced face masks earlier and improved its protections in aged care homes.
In recent days, Australia has granted entry to about 1,200 tennis players, staff and officials for the Australian Open. The contingent – which has recorded at least nine infections – is under quarantine.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55699581
Covid: Brisbane to enter three-day lockdown over single infection
The Australian city of Brisbane has begun a snap three-day lockdown after a cleaner in its hotel quarantine system became infected with coronavirus.
Health officials said the cleaner had the highly transmissible UK variant and they were afraid it could spread.
Brisbane has seen very few cases of the virus beyond quarantined travellers since Australia’s first wave last year.
It is the first known instance of this variant entering the Australian community outside of hotel quarantine.
The lockdown is for five populous council areas in Queensland’s state capital.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the measure on Friday morning local time, about 16 hours after the woman tested positive.
Ms Palaszczuk said the lockdown aimed to halt the virus as rapidly as possible, adding: “Doing three days now could avoid doing 30 days in the future.”
“I think everybody in Queensland… knows what we are seeing in the UK and other places around the world is high rates of infection from this particular strain,” she said.
“And we do not want to see that happening here in our great state.”
Australia has reported 28,500 coronavirus infections and 909 deaths since the pandemic began. By contrast, the US, which is the hardest-hit country, has recorded more than 21 million infections while nearly 362,000 people have died of the disease.The lockdown will begin at 18:00 on Friday (08:00 GMT) in the Brisbane city, Logan and the Ipswich, Moreton and Redlands local government areas.
Residents will only be allowed to leave home for certain reasons, such as buying essential items and seeking medical care.
For the first time, residents in those areas will also be required to wear masks outside of their homes.
Australia has faced sporadic outbreaks over the past year, with the most severe one in Melbourne triggering a lockdown for almost four months.
A pre-Christmas outbreak in Sydney caused fresh alarm, but aggressive testing and contact-tracing has kept infection numbers low. The city recorded four local cases on Friday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s government has pledged to start mass vaccinations in February instead of March as was planned.
Lockdown interrupts ‘near normal’ life in Brisbane
Simon Atkinson, BBC News in Brisbane
At 8:00 today I popped to the local supermarket for some bread, milk – and because it’s summer here – a mango. I was pretty much the only customer.
When I went past the same shop a couple of hours later it was a different story – 50 people standing in the drizzle – queuing to get inside as others emerged with bulging shopping bags. “Heaps busier than Christmas,” a cheery trolley attendant told me. “It’s off the scale”.
Despite the “don’t panic” messages from authorities, pictures on social media show it’s a pattern being repeated across the city.
While shutdowns are common around the world, the tough and sudden stay-at-home order for Brisbane has caught people on the hop here after months of near normality.
But while such a rapid, hard lockdown off the back of just a single case of Covid-19 will seem crazy in some parts of the world, I’ve not come across too many people complaining.
And I don’t think that’s just because Aussies love to follow a rule. This is the first time the UK variant of the virus has been detected in the community in Australia.
And nobody here wants Brisbane to go through what Melbourne suffered last year. Even if it means going without mangoes.
Read from source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-55582836
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