Following our September news analysis on Hurricane Ida, one of our readers reached out with some additional suggestions. And we’re glad he did.
Vance Bennett is an emergency management coordinator and instructor II with CalOES/CSTI Hazmat Section. He spent the last three years of his U.S. Coast Guard deployment in the Marianas Islands.
The Marianas Islands are a collection of dormant volcanoes between Japan and Hawaii. They are, as Bennett says, right in Typhoon Alley. In his three years on the islands, they were pounded with 19 typhoons; two of those years were record-setting for the number of typhoons. To say Bennett has been battle tested by extreme weather would be an understatement.
And his timing for reaching out to us couldn’t have been better. Shortly after we got his correspondence, a tropical cyclone hit Oman and Iran, leaving devastating flooding and 13 dead in its wake.
Here are Bennett’s three pieces of expert hazmat advice for coping with cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes.
Before it hits, drive around your area of responsibility. Look for situations that may cause problems after the storm has passed. After the winds die down, you’ll have a good idea of what to check on first. For example, prior to a typhoon we noticed that two Navy ships were still tied to the dock. This was unusual since they would always get underway before the typhoon arrived. It turned out their engineering plants were down for maintenance and they couldn’t go to sea. Sure enough, after the winds died down we found they had run aground. Luckily the hulls weren’t damaged and there were no oil spills from either vessel.
Expect equipment failure and personnel errors. We were making our rounds of the port prior to a typhoon and found 13 foreign fishing vessels tied to the dock. We asked them if they were going to get underway and they suddenly lost the ability to speak English. After the typhoon had passed, we found all 13 had sunk at the dock.
At first we didn’t know how many were there. They had broken up and sank. So, we counted bows and sterns and divided by two. There was diesel fuel and dead fish everywhere. You can imagine the smell. So how did these guys get into such a fix? Their mooring lines held just fine. However, when the eye passed the winds calmed, they thought the storm was over and took in their lines and proceeded to go out and fish before their competitors could (think Forrest Gump). When the eye passed and the 150-knot winds came back, their boats were headed out to sea. They didn’t get far.
Some things aren’t a problem. In the above incident, all the fishing vessels had refrigeration systems. Guess what they used as a refrigerant. Yes, anhydrous ammonia. All the anhydrous was released when the boats broke apart. Was this a problem? Not when the wind is blowing 150 knots.
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