After 27 years, jury blames UK stadium disaster on police

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A UK inquest determined Tuesday that the Hillsborough disaster, a 1989 stadium crowd crush that claimed 96 lives, was the fault of police. The jury's verdict follows decades of tabloid lies and police cover-ups that began immediately after the incident in Sheffield, England, attempting to blame the victims for their own deaths.

After a 27-year campaign by victims' families, the behaviour of Liverpool fans was exonerated. The jury found they did not contribute to the danger unfolding at the turnstiles at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday's ground on 15 April 1989. Nine jurors reached unanimous decisions on all but one of the 14 questions at the inquests into Britain's worst sporting disaster. The coroner Sir John Goldring said he would accept a majority decision about whether the fans were unlawfully killed - seven jurors agreed they were.

The incident, at a huge and decrepit stadium, saw countless fans admitted by police to a standing-only zone with few points of escape. As the situation worsened, according to the jury's verdict, police failed to open gates, caused the crush on the terraces, responded slowly to the emergency, and exacerbated it through their actions.

In the aftermath, police blamed fans and stonewalled the first inquiry, which forced changes to stadiums but lacked the remit to condemn the authorities. Here's how the UK's largest-circulation daily tabloid, The Sun, reported the incident (with its decades-late apology on the right.)

As part of the verdict, police Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield was held "responsible for manslaughter by gross negligence."

The video above shows the horror of the crush in still images. Read the rest

How the standard, high-quality disaster-relief tarpaulin came to be

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Tarpaulins are critical supplies for disaster relief and humanitarian aid, serving as cover, shelter, carpet and all-round utility infielder. Read the rest

A survivalist on why you shouldn't bug out

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Seven years ago, Alex Steffen and I proposed that rather than preparing "bug out bags" you can grab and go with after the apocalypse, we should all have "bug-in bags" full of things we'll use to help our neighbors when the lights go out. Read the rest

Over 60 dead after crane collapse in Mecca's Grand Mosque

Muslim pilgrims pray around the holy Kaaba at the Grand Mosque
Images and video in this post contain graphic images of death, and may be disturbing.

Indonesia's plane crash problem

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Another Indonesian passenger jet went down, this time with 54 people on board. Read the rest

Earthquake early warning system gets a $4 million boost from USGS

A demo of the ShakeAlert warning system prototype, in action.
What if there were a way to warn people right before a big earthquake hits? Earthquake early warning system technology is already serious stuff in Japan, and a system in development for the U.S. just got some serious funding.

Photo of a monstrous hole swallowing a neighborhood

This giant hole is the result of water flowing into a salt mine in Russia. When the soil started shifting in 2005, the government shut off power to the area to encourage residents to leave.

On Tuesday, the mines were evacuated due to shifting earth, and the hole opened up on Tuesday evening. Russian authorities are studying the scene and performing air quality tests to determine whether noxious gasses are being released.

There Goes the Neighborhood Read the rest

Farmhouse narrowly avoids boulder-flattening

A farm in Ronchi di Termeno, Italy, was nearly squashed by titanic boulders that rumbled off nearby mountains in a landslide. One of them destroyed the barn, while another stopped a whisker shy of the farmhouse itself. The furrows the boulders cut through the fields are straight out of a golden age DC comic.

Boulder smashes through Italian farm [BBC]

(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

(Images: downsized, cropped thumbnails of photos from the Associated Press) Read the rest

Chernobyl's deadly Elephant's Foot

This is a photo of the Chernobyl "Elephant's Foot", a solid mass made of a little melted nuclear fuel mixed with lots and lots of concrete, sand, and core sealing material that the fuel had melted through. The photo was taken in 1996. At that point, the Elephant's Foot had cooled enough that a human being could stand directly in front of it for an hour before receiving a lethal dose of radiation. When the Foot was first discovered, shortly after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl power plant, it delivered a lethal dose in just five minutes. You can read Kyle Hill's interesting history of the Elephant's Foot at Nautilus. And be sure to check out this 1991 video that shows how people were able to rig up robotic camera systems to safely take photos of the thing (though, as Hill points out, not all the photos of Elephant's Foot were taken safely). Read the rest

How to: Protect people from tornadoes

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a story I'd written on the socio-cultural systems that underly natural disasters — how the way we think, and build, and think about buildings affects who dies and who doesn't. If you'd like to dig into that a bit deeper, Andy Revkin recently pointed me toward several stories he's written at the Dot Earth blog, about designing safety systems, buildings, and cities in ways that allow them to better stand up to the threat of a tornado. Read the rest

Why Oklahomans don't have basements

Seriously now. Why don't people in central Oklahoma have basements to protect them from tornadoes? The answer, according to the engineers and geologists I spoke with for a column at Ensia magazine, is almost entirely cultural. In fact, people who study disasters say that all natural disasters are really cultural ones — created when environmental forces run headlong into complex human social systems. And that presents an interesting question: How do you protect people from tornadoes in a state where most people don't want a basement? Read the rest

A marine biologist's guide to determining whether floodwaters really are shark-infested

This is an older piece, but given that we're into hurricane season, I expect it will come up again. How do you tell if the photo you've been forwarded, showing sharks swimming through flooded urban landscapes, is real or fake? Marine biologist (and shark expert) David Shiffman has a simple 5-step process. In fact, it's so simple that I'm sure many of you will already be familiar with these tricks. But, here's the thing, it's helpful to be reminded that the tricks are necessary. They're very easy to forget when a hurricane is crashing into shore and social media is blowing up. Besides which, this will make a handy link to forward to friends and family passing questionable photos of all sorts. Read the rest

Time Magazine uses Oklahoma tragedy to take deceptive potshot against "secular humanists"

Writing in a Time cover story about the virtue of service, Joe Klein took a religious detour: in the relief army helping Oklahoma recover from a barrage of tornadoes, he wrote, "you don’t see organized groups of secular humanists giving out hot meals." He's lying out of his ass, Hemant Mehta points out. But that is the point, isn't it? Read the rest

At least 34 people have died in earthquakes in Iran

A 6.3 earthquake and one with a magnitude of 7.8 hit Western Iran in the course of just a week. These are largely rural areas, with a lot of mud brick buildings that tend to collapse when the earth shakes. It's hard to say how many casualties there are, in total. Scientifically speaking, the earthquakes were also fairly interesting, writes Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous. They happened in different — in fact, totally opposite — ways, with the smaller one happening as plates crashed into one another and the larger caused by tectonic plates moving away from each other. This was along the same plate boundary. How's that work? Rowan has the details. Read the rest

Why is it so hard to make a phone call in emergency situations?

When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection. Calls were made, but they got dropped. More often, they were never connected to begin with. There was even a rumor circulating that all cell phone service to the city had been switched off at the request of law enforcement.

That rumor turns out to not be true. But it is a fact that, whenever disaster strikes, it becomes difficult to reach the people you care about. Right at the moment when you really need to hear a familiar voice, you often can't. So what gives?

To find out why it's frequently so difficult to successfully place a call during emergencies, I spoke with Brough Turner, an entrepreneur, engineer, and writer who has been been working with phone systems (both wired and wireless) for 25 years. Turner helped me understand how the behind-the-scenes infrastructure of cell phones works, and why that infrastructure gets bogged down when lots of people are suddenly trying to make calls all at once from a single place. He says there are some things that can be done to fix this issue, but, ultimately, it's more complicated than just asking what the technology can and cannot do. In some ways, service failures like this are a price we pay for having a choice and not being subject to a total monopoly. Read the rest

Meteor explodes over Russia

A meteor has exploded over Chelyabinsk , a remote part of Russia 150km north of Kazahstan. The meteor's descent was captured by many video cameras (largely the ubiquitous Russian dashboard cams, it seems).

The horrors of an avalanche (and the beauty of really amazing online journalism)

Now this is how you do multimedia.

At The New York Times, John Branch tells the amazing, terrifying story of 16 backcountry skiers and snowboarders caught in an avalanche in the Cascade mountains in February 2012. The article, by itself, is a must-read. But you should also take a look at the absolutely fantastic way that Branch and his editors put the online medium to good use — embedding interactive maps, photos that move like something out of Harry Potter, and more standard videos into a lovely, fluid design.

Alissa Walker, who pointed me toward this piece, said that she felt cold just reading it. And you really do get that feeling. All the elements of Branch's article are brought together in a way that enhances the urgency and amplifies your sense of experiencing somebody else's story. It's really, really, really fantastic.

Read the full story at The New York Times Read the rest

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