My case study was the Mt. Pinatubo eruption of 1991 in Luzon, Philippines. I originally chose this event because I thought volcanoes were a really interesting type of hazard; I came across this disaster while looking for incidents of volcanic eruptions. Once I started looking up facts about this event, I became interested in it for more specific reasons. For instance, I thought it was really interesting how this volcanic eruption had a global effect. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo generated such a large cloud of ash and chemicals that the global temperature decreased by 1-2 degrees Fahrenheit. While this effect wasn’t particularly hazardous, I think it’s amazing that one independent event could have an impact on the entire world. I also found the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo to be interesting to look at in terms of preparation and mitigation. The population of Luzon was actually really well prepared for the eruption; while there was still a high number of fatalities, many lives were saved by the swift measures taken by scientists in the area.

Mt. Pinatubo is located in the Zambales region of Luzon. Luzon is the largest island to make up the Philippines.

For a long time, Mt. Pinatubo was not well monitored. The volcano had been dormant for 500 years, and nobody expected it to erupt. However, ten weeks before the volcano erupted, scientists noticed small steam explosion issuing from the volcano. They quickly realized that Mt. Pinatubo was not only active, it was likely to erupt soon. Volcanologists leapt into action, working with the soldiers stationed at the nearby Clark Air Base to install tilt meters and other monitoring devices near the volcano, develop maps of where the greatest damage was likely to occur, create evacuation routes, and implement warning systems so that people would know when to evacuate.

Scientists installing tilt meters in order to monitor Mt. Pinatubo.

However, unforeseen circumstances greatly increased the deadliness of this hazard. At the same time that Mt. Pinatubo erupted, Typhoon Yunya struck the Philippines. The combination of ash from the eruption and rain from the typhoon created a new set of hazards that the population was not prepared for. Lahars swept through, destroying homes, property, and agricultural lands. Most of the fatalities came from the weight of wet ash collapsing roofs and killing the occupants. Many of these deaths occurred because the homeowners were considered out of the way of the eruption and were not told to evacuate. Researches have noted that the majority of the fatalities in this event was due not to the volcano erupting, but due to lahars and wet ash.

Damage due to mudflows; here, bridges have been destroyed and people in cars are looking for alternative routes.

That being said, the mitigation efforts that were successful saved thousands of lives. The steps taken to prepare for this eruption was considered by the rest of the world to be exemplary; the speed with which these scientists were able to figure out and implement mitigation efforts was incredible. These scientists had to deal with a multitude of obstacles. Until ten weeks before the eruption, there was no existing monitoring devices for Pinatubo, no evacuation maps, and no set system to warn the public to evacuate. Not only that, but the scientists had to contend with people who did not want to evacuate unless it was absolutely necessary. The military personnel at Clark Air Base in particular was reluctant to leave; they didn’t want to launch a full scale evacuation if it turned out that the volcano wasn’t actually about to erupt. This event, coupled with the typhoon, still caused a tragic loss of life; an estimated 840 people were killed. However, it is incredible to see how scientists were able to save so many lives with so little notice of an impending threat.

Unfortunately, while recovery efforts began soon after the event, they have not been entirely successful. A large portion of the population had jobs in agriculture; after the eruption, some land was so damaged by the ash falls that it is now unusable as agricultural land. In addition, the ash build up combines with heavy rain from the rainy season to produce yearly lahars. This meant that many people were unable to return to their homes even after reconstruction. According to one journal I read, close to 55,000 people were still living in evacuation centers two years after the eruption.

Some additional mitigation efforts have been put into place; the volcano is now monitored more closely than it was before. In addition, the population is more aware of the dangers of the volcano and of lahars. In areas where lahars were common, some people put their house on stilts to minimize damage; however, most still leave as a precaution during the rainy season.

Nowadays, the area around Mt. Pinatubo is used less as a place to live and more as a tourist attraction.

A picturesque view of area around Mt. Pinatubo from a tourism article in the NY Times.

This seems like an intelligent response to the dangers of Mt. Pinatubo. While the volcano is currently quiet, it is still an active volcano that could have another eruption in the near future. Designating the area around this volcano as a tourist spot will mean that evacuation will be much easier in the future and damage that is done to the land or to structures will be less devastating. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo was a devastating event that was costly in both lives and infrastructure; this eruption had a lasting effect on the area around it. However, the commendable mitigation efforts of 1991 are incredible to read about, and it is encouraging to see that the population in this area have adapted the land around Mt. Pinatubo to cope with the dangers of the volcano.

Here is a video that shows some of the evacuation efforts as well as the impact of the ash:


Refugees Impacted by Flooding in Iraq

In Iraq, around the area of West Mosul, refugees have been suffering the impacts of a flooded river. The permanent bridges in the area had been destroyed by fighting in the area, and the makeshift pontoon bridges that replaced them were not able to withstand the flooding. All traffic across these rivers has been halted, and refugees have been forced to walk across lines of boats to cross the river and continue their journey. However, this means that they are dangerously under supplied as the supply trucks cannot cross the rivers; supplies can only be taken across in small increments by boat. One displaced citizen stated that either the bridges must be re-constructed or larger boats must be brought in.

This article raises interesting points about how people interact with disasters. This disaster was made much worse by the fighting in the area; permanent bridges may have been able to withstand this level of flooding, but the temporary bridges were obviously not. However, the solutions that the refugees have come up with to mitigate some of the side effects of this flood have been incredible, such as the idea to use the boats themselves as a bridge for people to walk on. It seems from this article that the individual people in the area are doing their best to mitigate and work around the side effects of the disaster, but the government has either been unable or unwilling to assist in mitigation before and after this event.


Reports of Dangerous Levels of Water Scarcity Due to Drought and Other Factors

This article discusses a recent UN report that estimated that by 2040, one in four children will live with water scarcity worldwide. What I thought was most interesting in this article is that it discusses linkages between ongoing droughts and other hazards as well as how the humans in certain areas are exacerbating the problem of water shortage.  Linkages between hazards can be seen in places like Iran, which is undergoing such a severe drought that the soil is eroding; this soil erosion leads to damage to forests, an increase in dust storms, and increased air pollution. The human effect on hazards can be seen across the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. The article names constant conflict, increased industrialization, and large numbers of people flocking to certain areas as factors that are rapidly depleting water in areas already under drought. It also mentioned an instance where efforts to conserve water actually ended up harming the environment; Lake Urmia, a large water resource for Iran, has reportedly shrunk to 12% of its size since the 1970’s due to droughts and bad water management policies upstream.

In this article, it can be seen that certain hazards in this situation are fixed; people cannot get rid of the drought or the hazardous events that are following it. However, governments can take steps to reduce some of the exacerbating effect that humans are having on the environment as well as implement techniques to mitigate the effects of the drought.



Tornadoes in Midwestern U.S.

Yesterday, tornadoes and severe storms passed over the midwestern U.S., killing at least two people and injuring others, destroying buildings and houses, and knocking the power out for thousands of people. Tornado spotters reported 23 twister sightings across Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Tennessee and Indiana. The winds accompanying the storm were so strong that in Perryville, Missouri cars on the interstate were flipped over; it has also been reported that at several locations, hailstones the size of baseballs fell.

One thing that stuck out to me in particular was the concern over severe damage done to a nursing home, since that relates back to vulnerability. While everyone who was hit by these tornadoes were vulnerable, there are parts of the population, like the elderly, who were more so. Another interesting point of the article was a statement that meteorologist Amy Seeley gave. According to her, February tornadoes in Illinois are quite rare; she further said that tornadoes at this time of year is unusual but has happened before. This reminded me of the discussion we had on Monday about probability. It doesn’t always matter if an area has a low probability of a hazardous event occurring, since if the event occurs, it can still be extremely devastating.


Bosnian Lake Floods Into Highway

Heavy rains have flooded a lake in Sarejevo, Bosnia; roughly 150 people have been evacuated and a major highway has been flooded. The lake itself is only about a week old; it was created when a massive landslide of mine waste from a mining pit poured into a river. The closure of the highway has been a large problem for Bosnians, as it is a major route from the capital of Sarajevo to other towns; in addition, it is feared that the flooding will continue to worsen. Work crews are attempting to lessen the danger of this by draining the lake into drainage ducts. The 150 people who were evacuated were evacuated from the villages of Ribnica and Mramor; in both of these villages, the houses and buildings have been entirely swept away. While authorities have stated that the citizens will be economically compensated for the damage, the villages have been so decimated by the landslides and the flooding it is expected that people will never be able to return to these locations.

It can be noted how in this case, one hazard made it possible for another to occur; without the lake that was created by the landslide, the heavy rains would most likely not have caused such severe flooding.


Cyclone Alfred Heads for Queensland and Northern Territory, Australia

Tropical cyclone Alfred has recently formed in the Gulf of Carpentaria; it is now headed towards Australia. The storm is due to hit on Tuesday between Borroloola and the Northern Territory and Queensland border. Meteorologists expect winds of up to 100 km/hr and heavy precipitation, which will likely cause flooding in low-lying coastal areas as well as around the Carpentaria coastal rivers and the MacArthur river.  This has caused some concern since several areas were already flooded due to the monsoon season; several communities are already isolated due to flooded roads. However, while many are prepared to evacuate, it is believed this won’t be necessary for the majority of citizens; only one community has deemed it necessary to evacuate so far. According to the manager of McArthur River Caravan Park, Annita Pohlman: “We’re just going to enjoy it and go with the flow, there’s not much we can do… On a positive note, fishing will be good once it’s all settled down.”


Flooding across Idaho

A combination of warm weather and rain has caused flooding across the state of Idaho. The warm weather has been melting ice and snow, causing rivers to run much higher than usual; this, coupled with heavy precipitation, has produced the statewide flooding. While several areas have needed to be evacuated and many major roads closed, there have been no reported injuries due to the flooding. Other hazards present in Idaho at the moment are avalanches, which are another side effect of the warm weather, and mudslides, which are a byproduct of the flooding. There has been one reported fatality due to an avalanche.


A bridge that has been partially swept away by the flooding.

Articles: and

Photo (as well as other photos):


Southern Africa Deals with Armyworm Infestation

Maize crops in southern Africa are being decimated by armyworms. This infestation has been particularly devastating as the maize crop was already suffering the effects of a severe drought that was brought on by last year’s El Niño. Zimbabwe has reportedly taken the worst damage with up to 70% of crops destroyed in some areas, while Zambia has resorted to using military planes to spread pesticides. Some are worried that if the armyworms continue to spread, the affected countries will be economically devastated. Many of these countries are making efforts to teach farmers how to identify and exterminate the worms to help combat this infestation.


Articles: and


Lava Streaming into Pacific Ocean in Hawaii

On New Year’s Eve, a lava delta in Hawaii collapsed into the Pacific Ocean; as a result, molten lava from the Kilauea volcano is now flowing into the water. When the lava hits the water, it explodes, throwing rock and debris onto the island and causing massive waves. The main concern is debris hitting either hikers or tour boats in the area; the National Park Service has sectioned off certain zones in the area that are particularly dangerous. Another large concern is a ‘hot crack’ that is above the lava tube, as this could lead to land collapse.


Photos: Shane Turpin/Lava Ocean Tours (other photos at