- A state of emergency has been declared in Louisana and thousands have been evacuated as the state gets ready for Tropical Storm Barry.
- Forecasters have said the storm could be upgraded to a hurricane when it makes landfall late Friday or early Saturday, but most officials and residents are more worried about the flooding the storm could cause than wind damage.
- One of the biggest threats is the Mississippi River, which is typically at 6 to 8 feet in New Orleans this time of the year, but is now at 16 feet due to record flooding.
- New Orleans already experienced massive flash floods earlier this week, and many view Barry as the first real test to the levees which broke during Hurrican Katrina in 2005, destroying the city.
Flooding in New Orleans
Louisiana has declared a state of emergency as residents prepare for Tropical Storm Barry which has already caused flash floods and inclement weather throughout the state.
The storm is expected to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday, and forecasters anticipate that it could be upgraded to a hurricane before then.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning Thursday for the areas between Intracoastal City and Grand Isle, about 50 miles south of New Orleans.
Thousands of people are already under mandatory evacuations, while others have been told to prepare for an intense rainfall, strong winds, and enormous storm surges. Around 3,000 National Gaurd members have been deployed for search and rescue efforts.
If Barry does become a hurricane, it would likely be a fairly weak one in terms of wind speeds.
As of Friday afternoon, wind speeds had reached 65 miles per hour, with forecasters predicting it will make landfall just above 74 miles per hour, the speed required to be categorized as a hurricane.
As Louisiana prepares for the incoming storm, many are far more concerned about the flood risks and storm surges from Barry’s heavy rains than the damage its winds could create.
“This is going to be a major weather event for a huge portion of the state of Louisiana,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “The more information we get, the more concerned we are it’s going to be an extreme rain event for large portions of the state.”
“There are three ways that Louisiana can flood; storm surge, high rivers, and rain. We’re going to have all three,” Edwards continued.
Forecasters have predicted that the storm could bring a three-to-six-foot storm surge to coastal areas. The Mississippi River represents one of the biggest risks to the state at large.
Between 10 to 20 inches of rain are expected across Louisiana, posing a dangerous threat of flooding from the Mississippi River, which is already inundated with unusual amounts rainwater.
The Mississippi River, which is usually at 6 to 8 feet in midsummer in New Orleans, is now at 16 feet because of record flooding along the waterway.
“This is the first time we’ve had a tropical system with water levels on the river this high,” Jeffrey Graschel, a hydrologist with the weather service’s Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center told CNN.
Low-lying parts of New Orleans have already flooded earlier this week in the wake of heavy storms ahead of Barry. It was reported that 10 inches of rain had fallen in parts of the city by noon on Wednesday.
Many streets were covered with dangerous amounts of water, and power outages were also reported.
On Friday, the National Weather Service of New Orleans issued an alert on Twitter warning that the city was “looking at potential for life-threatening flooding in some areas.”
A Test for New Orleans
Regardless of Barry’s strength, many view the storm as the first real test of the storm system improvements put in place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Specifically, many New Orleans officials and residents are concerned about the levees that protect the city, and that infamously broke during Katrina, causing massive flooding and damages that New Orleans has still not fully recovered from.
Experts expect rainwaters to push the Mississippi River to swell to 19 feet, just a foot below the tops of the shortest levees.
The Army Corps of Engineers has said that the Mississippi River will likely be contained by levees that protect New Orleans, and many of the floodgates near the river have already been closed.
However, officials still warned that the system of levees and drainage pumps have limited capacity. New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Thursday that the city’s pumps were operating at “optimal capacity,” but also added that Barry’s downpour could outpace the pumps ability to move the water.
Still, Cantrell stopped short of mandatory evacuations in the city. On Friday, Cantrell announced a voluntary evacuation for the areas outside of the protection of the levees, noting on Twitter that certain areas could expect “a surge between three to six feet.”
Cantrell has also asked New Orleans residents to shelter in place starting at 8 p.m. local time.
Mother and Boyfriend Charged After Abandoning 3 Children in Apartment With Sibling’s Remains
Authorities said the malnourished children had been living in the unit without their parents for months.
Abandoned Children Discovered in Houston
Police in Texas arrested a mother and her boyfriend on Tuesday after finding the woman’s three children abandoned in an apartment unit with the remains of their sibling.
Authorities found the 7-, 10-, and 15-year-old boys on Sunday when the teen called police to report that his brother had been dead for a year and that his body was in the unit.
When authorities arrived at the scene, they found the children living in “deplorable conditions.” Police also found the skeletal remains of an 8-year-old, who they emphasized had been decomposing for an extended period of time.
Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said the boys were fending for each other, with the eldest doing his best to care for the younger ones. According to the teen, his parents hadn’t been living in the apartment with them for months.
Gonzales called it one of the most shocking cases he had ever seen in all his years in law enforcement, and many are now asking how these kids could have been suffering for so long without anyone ever noticing.
Signs That Went Unnoticed
The Daily Beast reported that the kids hadn’t been attending school since May 2020, claiming that the school even conducted an unsuccessful home visit in September of that year.
On top of that, the children had been without power for several weeks, with one neighbor telling local reporters that the teen would often charge his phone at her place.
Another neighbor, Erica Chapman, said she had once found the teen sleeping on a playground slide, so she gave him some food and drinks.
“I asked him if he was hungry. He said, ‘Yeah,’ and I brought him out some food and some drinks,” Chapman told KHOU.
She said he “wouldn’t talk about his parents,” and she didn’t push because she wanted him to feel safe coming to her if he needed food. Chapman added that she would drop off food at the apartment sometimes but said it was hard to tell what was going on inside.
Police also described a foul odor coming from the unit, which a different neighbor said she complained to management about more than once. That woman claimed the smell was so vile, she could not turn on her air conditioning.
Dianne Davis, who lived in the complex for two years, told The Houston Chronicle that the building manager performs regular inspections on the units, with the most recent one happening last week.
“How come they couldn’t detect this?” Davis told the paper. “How could that not have been found?”
Mother and Boyfriend Face Charges
According to Child Protective Services (CPS), the agency does have a history with the family, but there was no active investigation at the time the kids were discovered.
After they were found, the boys were treated at a hospital and placed with CPS while the agency seeks emergency custody of them.
At the hospital, doctors discovered fractures in the 7-year-old face and said two of the three boys were malnourished. Meanwhile, the medical examiner’s office said the deceased child suffered multiple blunt force injuries and ruled his death a homicide.
Police located the mother, 35-year-old Gloria Williams, and her boyfriend, 31-year-old Brian Coulter, on Sunday. They were interviewed and initially released without charges.
ABC13 reported that the teen texted his mother, who lived just 15 minutes, before calling the police.
On Tuesday, the couple was finally arrested while allegedly reading articles about themselves at a library. Williams, faces multiple charges, including injury to a child by omission and tampering with evidence involving a human corpse.
Meanwhile, Coulter was charged with murder over the death of the child, though both he and Williams are expected to face more charges as investigators continue to unpack the details of this case.
See what others are saying: (The Houston Chronicle) (The Daily Beast) (The Washington Post)
Man Spent COVID Relief Loan on $58,000 Pokemon Card, Feds Say
The man is facing a wire fraud charge, which carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
COVID Relief Funds Used on Pokemon Card
Authorities have accused a man in Georgia of misusing COVID-19 relief funds, claiming that he spent $57,789 on a single Pokemon card.
Prosecutors said Vinath Oudomsine made false statements about the gross revenue his business earns and the number of workers he employs when he applied for aid authorized under the CARES Act.
On his July 2020 application, Oudomsine allegedly claimed he had 10 employees and 12-month gross revenues of $235,000.
The following month, he was given about $85,000 from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which means he spent nearly all of the money on the rare card.
Authorities have given few details about the specific card purchased, though they have said Oudomsine was charged with wire fraud and is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
The charge carries a max sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison, along with a $250,000 fine.
Misuse of COVID Relief Funds
Oudomsine is far from the first person to face charges for fraud related to small business loans issued amid the pandemic. Others who received relief funds have been accused of spending the money on Lamborghinis, nights at strip clubs, and even an alpaca farm, among other purchases.
In fact, the first person to be charged with fraudulently seeking a pandemic relief loan was recently sentenced to 56 months in prison following a nationwide search after the man faked his own death.
According to The Washington Post, a federal watchdog said this month that the SBA overpaid $4.5 billion in grants to self-employed people and that “no system of controls was in place to flag applications with flawed or illogical information.”
On top of that, the SBA inspector general determined earlier this year that the agency rushed to send out billions of dollars in loans through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) “at the expense of controls” that could have blocked inappropriate aid.
In a statement on Sunday, the agency said that under the Biden administration, it has worked with Congress and the inspector general to add antifraud measures. Meanwhile, defenders of pandemic relief programs have argued that flagged loans and grants represent only a small fraction of the distributed aid that has been critical to small businesses and their pandemic recovery.
See what others are saying: (NPR)(USA Today)(The Washington Post)
FDA Authorizes Moderna and J&J COVID Vaccine Boosters, Approves Mix-and-Match Doses
The approval will allow at-risk Americans who received Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to get any booster six months after their initial series and all Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older to do the same two months after their single-shot dose.
New FDA Authorization
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized boosters shots of Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines and approved a mix-and-match strategy that will allow people who got one company’s shot to get a booster from a different maker.
The decision paves the way for millions of more at-risk Americans to get extra protection, and not just certain Pfizer recipients as previously approved by the FDA.
Under the authorization, people who received Moderna or Pfizer can get any one of the three booster shots six months after completing their initial series if they are 65 and older, at high risk of severe COVID, or face increased exposure because of their work.
Meanwhile, all J&J recipients 18 and older can get any of the approved vaccines two months after they received the one-shot jab.
Hazy Recommendations, For Now
Notably, the FDA did not recommend a certain combination of vaccines, nor did the agency say whether or not it would be more effective for people to stick with their original vaccine maker for their booster.
The new authorizations draw on a study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which found that there are no safety concerns with mixing boosters and that vaccine combinations were at least as effective in stimulating antibodies as matched vaccines.
In the case of J&J recipients, the NIH found that people actually had a higher boost from mixing either Moderna or Pfizer boosters.
However, some of the scientists who worked on the study said it should not be used to recommend one combination over another because the research was limited.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which determines vaccine recommendations, could issue more guidance on when and whether people should switch vaccine makers for their booster shots.
An advisory panel for the agency is meeting Thursday to discuss the new FDA authorizations and recommendations.
Once the panel makes its decision, the CDC director has the final say on the guidelines. If the agency agrees with the FDA’s decisions, the booster shots could be rolled out as soon as this weekend.