Natural and manmade disasters of 2010 see relief progress

While students were moving out of their dorm rooms and tanning on the beach this summer, much of the world was in turmoil. The spring and summer of 2010 brought on a volcano, an oil spill, a shooting and a flood. Read up on what you may have missed here.

Disaster: Iceland’s Volcanic Eruption

Seismic activity of Iceland’s 5,466-foot-tall Eyjafjallajökull began near the end of 2009 and continued until finally erupting on March 20, 2010 — its first eruption in 200 years. Augmenting from a one to a two on the Volcanic Explosivity Index in under a month, Eyjafjallajökull emitted an ash plume that grew to a total height of approximately 30,000 feet, or a four on the Explosivity Index. According to the New York Times, this was the fourth eruption of comparable scale in over 1,000 years.

Although the eruption finally ended on May 21, the frequency and intensity of local tremors indicate that the volcano is not yet dormant. Eyjafjallajökull’s even larger neighboring volcano, Katla, is expected to erupt in the near future.

Damage Done: Massive disruptions of air travel across Northern and Western Europe over the initial six-day eruption in April and additional localized disruptions throughout May marked the highest level of air travel disturbance since World War II and the worst peacetime disturbance of air travel in history. In addition, 500 Icelanders were forced to evacuate their homes due to heavy ash fall. The ash hit farmlands specifically hard and contained fluoride-filled dust, which is toxic to cattle and soil.

Relief Progress: To minimize monetary loss to airlines, aviation authorities divided Europe’s overhead airspace into three zones: One zone had fully restricted air traffic, while the others had only partial or no restrictions. On the humanitarian front, the Farmers’ Association of Iceland organized  relief teams to help care for overworked farmers’ land — though some farmers actually reported improved grass growth in the aftermath of the eruption.

Disaster: The Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Better known as the BP oil spill, the largest marine oil spill in history began with an accident at the site of a drilling rig on April 20 that left 11 workers dead and 17 injured. Methane gas from the well shot up and out onto its platform where it ignited and exploded. The rig sank about 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and oil began leaking at a rate of about 53,000 barrels per day from the uncapped wellhead. By the time it was capped on July 15, an estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil had been released into the Gulf of Mexico. According to the New York Times, BP placed the initial leak at just 1,000 barrels per day, although internal BP documents showed estimates of the flow reaching as much as 100,000 barrels per day.

Damage Done: On Aug. 20, a new study published in the journal Science verified that there is a huge plume of dispersed oil deep in the Gulf that has not broken down rapidly and could pose a threat to wildlife for months or even years.

Relief progress: Under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, BP agreed to set up a $20 billion fund for claims arising from the spill. The company also agreed to suspend paying dividends to shareholders until 2011 and to compensate field workers for lost wages, according to the New York Times.

Disaster: The Hartford Distributors Shooting

On Aug. 3, Omar Thornton, a former employee of the Manchester, Conn., beer warehouse owned by Hartford Distributors, lethally shot eight coworkers before taking his own life. In a disciplinary hearing that day, Thornton was forced to resign for being caught on camera stealing beer. After signing his resignation papers, Thornton took a semiautomatic gun out of his lunchbox and opened fire.

As the police arrived in the building, Thornton hid in a locked office where he called his mother and then 911, telling the operator that his motive was the racism he had experienced at the company and that he wished he had killed more people. He then hung up and shot himself fatally in the head.

Damage Done: Nine people lay dead and another two wounded. Among them were several of Thornton’s coworkers, a local union president and a company executive.

Relief Progress: Following the police raid, surviving employees were taken to Manchester High School where families of the victims were comforted, according to the New York Times. On Aug. 15, hundreds of friends and family of the eight murdered workers joined together to mourn the victims, including Chris Roos, secretary-treasurer of the workers’ union.


Disaster: Flooding in Tennessee

Torrential rainfall on May 1 and 2 exceeded 19 inches in Nashville and Davidson Counties in Tennessee, causing flooding across Tennessee, northern Mississippi and parts of Kentucky. By May 7, 30 Tennessee counties had been declared major disaster areas by the federal government.

Damage Done:    A death toll of 31 was recorded, the majority in Tennessee. Flooding of the Cumberland River caused damage to the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the Grand Ole Opry House, the Opry Mills Mall, the Bridgestone Arena, home of the NHL’s Nashville Predators, and LP field, home of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. Mayor Karl Dean of Nashville declared a damage estimate of about $1.5 billion, excluding damage to public buildings and infrastructure.

Relief Progress: All local Red Cross shelters on higher ground were open for residents of downtown Nashville, and President Obama allocated federal funding to help cover losses.