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Houston keeps buckling under storms like Beryl. The fixes aren't coming fast enough

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Houston keeps buckling under storms like Beryl. The fixes aren't coming fast enough

HOUSTON (AP) — Sharon Carr is frustrated. Like many others who lost power after Hurricane Beryl slammed into the Texas coast earlier this week, she went to a cooling center in Houston to get relief from summer heat while the city’s utility company warned that restoring everyone’s electricity could take longer than they might hope.

“There’s too much wind, we don’t have power. It’s raining a long time, we don’t have power,” said Carr, who also went without electricity for a week in May when a destructive storm known as a derecho swept through the area.

Carr, who works for the city’s transportation and drainage department, thinks more could be done to keep the lights on — or at least restore them more quickly — if Houston and other urban areas prone to severe weather would stop focusing on immediate problems and look at the bigger picture, including climate change.

“This shouldn’t keep happening,” she said. “If it’s broke, let’s fix it.”

Hurricane Beryl is the latest in a long line of devastating storms to paralyze Houston, underscoring the city’s inability to sufficiently fortify itself against weather events brought on by climate change. Past storms such as Hurricane Ike in 2008 and Harvey in 2017 made clear that the city needed to remove trees, bolster its flood-plain protections and bury more power lines underground, but those efforts fell short or were completely overwhelmed by recent storms that have inundated the city and knocked out power to millions.

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With climate change heating up ocean water, fueling storms that are more powerful and intensify much faster, experts say cities need to rethink how they prepare and respond to such events.

“It’s a totally different game that we’re playing today,” said Michelle Meyer, director of the Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center at Texas A&M University. The old playbook, she said, “doesn’t work anymore.”

If we rebuild it, it will flood again

Where and how developers build is one obvious issue, said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Barack Obama. He said that became evident to him 20 years ago while working in Florida, where four successive hurricanes were not enough to stop beachfront development.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, how many times do we need to rebuild something before we either build it back differently or we don’t build back in that same spot?” he said.

Fugate thinks taxpayers are increasingly shouldering the burden, supporting expensive insurance programs for at-risk areas when instead, developers could stop building in storm-prone areas and residents could move out of the floodplains.

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“It is the hardest system to implement because people resist,” said Jim Blackburn, co-director of the severe storm center at Rice University. “People really like where they live, as a general proposition.”

Buyouts instead of insurance payments are one way to get people to move, but Fugate notes such programs often take too long to kick in after a storm hits. By the time such funds are ready, persuading someone to take a buyout is “almost impossible,” he said.

Problems with known solutions

In many cases, officials know what actions are needed to mitigate severe weather disasters, but find them hard to implement.

For instance, the city of Houston commissioned a report documenting how falling trees caused power outages after 2008’s Hurricane Ike. But no one wanted to cut down the trees that still stood. Today, utility officials note, they install underground electric lines for every new construction project.

Updating the city’s electrical infrastructure could also go a long way toward preventing power outages, Meyer said, noting that North Carolina did so after Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

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“They were really forward-thinking, like, ‘OK we’re not going to be in this situation again,’” she said.

CenterPoint Energy, which provides Houston’s power, has partially installed an “intelligent grid” system that automatically reroutes power to unaffected lines during an outage. A document on the utility’s website noted that 996 of the devices had been installed as of 2019 — less than half of the grid at the time. It’s not clear if more progress has been made since then. The company did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

A changing reality

With more storms like Beryl expected under climate change conditions, cities have to plan for the worst — and the worst is getting nastier.

“It’s all about learning to live with water,” Blackburn said.

After Hurricane Harvey — the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in more than a decade when it slammed into the Texas coast in August 2017 — Houston passed a $2.5 billion bond measure to finance flood damage reduction projects in Harris County, which includes the city. The action resulted in “a lot of improvements,” Blackburn said, but was based on old flood projections.

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In addition, a task force Republican Gov. Greg Abbott created in 2018 made dozens of recommendations in a nearly 200-page report, including investigating ways to harden utilities and creating an inventory of mitigation and resiliency projects that are needed across the state.

But with weather becoming more and more unpredictable, even cities that make improvements can be caught unprepared if they don’t plan with the future in mind. The “diabolical” component of climate change, Blackburn said, is that the goalposts keep moving: Just as cities adjust to a heightened risk, the risk escalates again.

Scientists are more equipped than ever before to make decisions about evacuations, development and other measures using computer systems that can predict the damage a certain storm will inflict, noted Shane Hubbard, a research scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

And yet, he added, all the computing power in the world can’t match the unpredictability of climate change. Warming oceans are driving rapidly intensifying weather events that defy models and quickly change conditions on the ground.

“That’s the thing I’m most concerned about” in the future, Hubbard said.

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Complicating matters in Texas is that some leaders still don’t acknowledge climate change. The report issued by the governor’s task force in 2018 noted that powerful natural disasters in Texas would become more frequent because of a changing climate. But it made no mention of “climate change,” “global warming” or of curbing greenhouse gases in Texas, the nation’s oil-refining epicenter that leads the U.S. in carbon emissions. Texas is a state where politicians, at least publicly, are deeply skeptical about climate change.

Cities must be willing to face the scientific facts before their planning can truly improve, Blackburn says.

Asked whether coastal cities in general are prepared for climate change, Meyer said simply, “No.”

She said prevention and mitigation measures must evolve to the point that a Category 1 hurricane “will be no problem moving forward.”

A city like Houston “should not be touched by a Cat 1,” she said.

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Walling reported from Chicago. Associated Press/Report for America writer Nadia Lathan in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Follow Walling on X: @MelinaWalling.

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The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage receives financial support from multiple private foundations. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Campaign Arm Endorses Biden for President -Statement

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Congressional Hispanic Caucus' Campaign Arm Endorses Biden for President -Statement
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The fundraising arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Bold PAC, has endorsed President Joe Biden for re-election, the Biden campaign said in a statement on Friday, as the 81-year-old president continues to rebuff calls for him to step down as the Democrats’ 2024 …
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Netanyahu, Israel blast UN court decision over illegal settlements ruling: 'Fundamentally wrong'

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Netanyahu, Israel blast UN court decision over illegal settlements ruling: 'Fundamentally wrong'

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The United Nation’s top court has ruled Israel’s settlements in the Palestinian territories are illegal, and they must be removed immediately.

“The State of Israel is under the obligation to bring an end to its unlawful presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory as rapidly as possible,” ICJ President Nawaf Salam said when he delivered the court’s findings on Friday, stressing that the “continued presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is illegal.” 

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The opinion is merely advisory and is not legally binding. The court specifically aimed to provide its view on Israel’s policies and practices as well as the legal status of the settlements, the BBC reported. 

The court in May demanded Israel “immediately halt its military offensive” against Hamas in Rafah, the Palestinian terrorist group’s final stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

WASHINGTON POST DELETES ‘UNACCEPTABLE’ POST SCOLDING AMERICAN HOSTAGE PARENTS FOR NOT BEING CRITICAL OF ISRAEL

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strongly rejected the court’s conclusion, arguing in a statement posted on X that “Jewish people are not occupiers in their own land, including in our eternal capital Jerusalem nor in Judea and Samaria, our historic homeland.

“No absurd opinion in The Hague can deny this historical truth or the legal right of Israelis to live in their own communities in our ancestral home.” 

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The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a longer, more detailed statement through its spokesperson Oren Marmorstein, who posted on social media platform X that “Israel rejects the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that was published today regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” 

DEADLY EXPLOSION IN TEL AVIV LEAVES ONE DEAD, MORE WOUNDED

“Unfortunately, the Court’s opinion is fundamentally wrong,” Marmorstein wrote. “It mixes politics and law. It injects the politics of the corridors of the U.N. in New York into the courtrooms of the ICJ in The Hague.

Nawaf Salam, judge and president of the International Court of Justice, second from right, delivers a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the International Court of Justice in The Hague July 19, 2024.  (Nick Gammon/AFP via Getty Images)

“The opinion is completely detached from the reality of the Middle East: While Hamas, Iran and other terrorist elements are attacking Israel from seven fronts … with the aim of obliterating it, and in the aftermath of the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, the opinion ignores the atrocities that took place on October 7, as well as the security imperative of Israel to defend its territory and its citizens,” Marmostein continued.

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“It should be emphasized that the opinion is blatantly one-sided,” Marmostein added. “It ignores the past: The historical rights of the State of Israel and the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

BIDEN’S $230 MILLION GAZA PIER QUIETLY SHUTS DOWN, US SENATOR LABELS PROJECT ‘NATIONAL EMBARRASSMENT’

Israeli settlements

Two Israeli Cabinet members issued a rebuttal to American criticism of settlement construction in the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria in Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

“It is detached from the present: from the reality on the ground and the agreements between the parties,” he stressed. “And it is dangerous for the future: it distances the parties from the only possible solution, which is direct negotiations.”

Netherlands Hague Israel

Members of the diplomatic corps react as they attend a non-binding ruling on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem at the International Court of Justice in The Hague July 19, 2024. (Nick Gammon/AFP via Getty Images)

Anne Bayefsky, director of the Touro Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust and president at Human Rights Voices, told Fox News Digital the court’s opinion “literally throws out the Oslo Accords and U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

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Israeli flag

This picture taken July 30, 2020, from the Mount of the Olives shows a view of an Israeli flag flying in Jerusalem with the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock seen in the background.  (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images)

“It is impossible to overstate the legal perversion from this U.N. Court,” Bayefsky said. “It was read out by its president, who is a politician from Lebanon (whose name was on the ballot to be the prime minister of Lebanon in the last two elections), a country that doesn’t even recognize Israel’s right to exist. Incredibly, the court openly states it didn’t need to find any specific facts in violation of international law before reaching its conclusions, including before making the slanderous claim that Israel is guilty of the crime against humanity of apartheid. It took the court all of four mini-paragraphs to reach the apartheid conclusion.

“The U.N. and its kangaroo court says it knows best — the same U.N. that today is controlled by a vicious antisemitic majority, elects the judges and chooses the poison, in this case, legal farce — which, make no mistake, has one goal: to devastate and destroy the Jewish state.”

Israel already suffered a legal blow from the International Criminal Court, a separate legal governing body in the Netherlands, in which Prosecutor Karim Khan filed applications for arrest warrants against Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in addition to leaders of Hamas.

The State Department did not respond to a Fox News Digital request for comment by the time of publication.

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State of the Union: Von der Leyen and Metsola reelected, Trump nominated

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State of the Union: Von der Leyen and Metsola reelected, Trump nominated

This edition of State of the Union focuses on the reelection of Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola and the state of play of the U.S. presidential campaign.

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Hello and welcome to State of the Union, I’m Stefan Grobe in Strasbourg.

It’s still July, but for European lawmakers it felt like back-to-school day.

Following the European elections in June, the new and old members of the European Parliament gathered in Strasbourg for the first plenary session of the new legislative season.

The 720-member chamber is the EU only directly elected institution, it negotiates and adopts EU legislative proposals and approves the bloc’s budget.

On top of the agenda this week: the election of the top positions in Parliament and Commission – no real surprise here, as Roberta Metsola and Ursula von der Leyen were both confirmed in office.

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Metsola, who easily won a second term, got a little emotional when she recalled what Europe meant to her when she grew up in Malta.

“To me, Europe was worth fighting for. It was never perfect, but we looked to the European Parliament, to this Strasbourg hemicycle, as a symbol of standards of opportunity, of reconciliation. It was our guarantee of the rule of law, of equality, of democracy, of liberty, of prosperity.”

While all eyes were on Strasbourg this week, it was business as usual in Brussels.

And for the EU Commission it meant grappling with the drama of the presidential campaign in the United States.

The attempted assassination of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania sent shockwaves through the corridors of power in Brussels.

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reacted with condemnation and relief: “Fortunately, the attack on Trump was not what they wanted it to be, he is alive, thank God. And hopefully the campaign will normalize and Americans will decide what they think is right.”

The assassination attempt paired with the struggle inside the Democratic Party over whether President Joe Biden should drop out of the race have dramatically upended the election campaign.

At the Republican Convention in Milwaukee this week, Trump was celebrated as a hero and a survivor of evil.

Republicans are now more confident than ever before to win in November, even to beat Biden in a landslide.

So, do we all have to fasten our belts and get ready for another Trump administration in Washington? What does that mean for Europe?

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We spoke to Majda Ruge, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Berlin.

Euronews: Following the assassination attempt, Trump and Biden have called for unity – how long can that moment last? Or is it already over?

Ruge: Well, the sort of unity that we’re actually seeing is more in the Republican Party, I would say. I think Trump’s call for unity is also a very subtle and intelligent tactics to reach out to either undecided or disgruntled Biden voters in the swing states. So, you know, I’m not expecting a sudden turn to, national unity, really, but more kind of an approach of unifying the Republican Party and then reaching out to voters that might be useful for President Trump.

Euronews: European leaders have been preparing for a Trump victory in November – will they have to step up their efforts now?

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Ruge: They definitely will have. I think the key question really on these preparations is not whether they should prepare and step up, but when they should have started, and I think they should have started long time ago, at least two years ago. Now it’s very clear that there will be a radical shift in the U.S. foreign policy if Trump is re-elected, and that the Europeans will be faced with multiple policy shocks at the same time, starting from potential withdrawal of U.S. aid for Ukraine over radical downsizing of U.S. military presence in Europe and their role in NATO through trade protectionism.

Euronews: What will bring a possible vice president JD Vance to future U.S.-EU relations?

Well, if you kind of look at his foreign policy profile, not that he has an active one as a government official, but he has been quite vocal, and active both in terms of interviews, statements and op-eds. He is a big, big sceptic of U.S. support for Ukraine. He thinks that the wealthy European nations, and he has singled out Germany many times, are the one who are responsible for really financing and, you know, paying for this war. He is kind of a restrainer in heart, but in fact, on foreign policy, a big prioritizer of China and Taiwan. So, I think that one thing we can expect as Europeans, if Trump is elected, is that JD Vance, his appointment as vice president is going to draw in many of the foreign policy experts in the Republican ecosystem who have long been arguing that a radical shift of military and financial resources needs to be made from Europe and Ukraine to China and Taiwan.

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