Natural Disasters . Fall 2018

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Five Ways Cultural Institutions, Landmarks and Zoos Are Prepping for Hurricane Florence

Many museums are closing their doors, while zoos and aquariums are moving their animals indoors

By Meilan Solly

September 13, 2018

SMARTNEWS Keeping you current

Five Ways Cultural Institutions, Landmarks and Zoos Are Prepping for Hurricane Florence

The first stage of Hurricane Florence’s onslaught began this morning, battering the Carolinas with rainfall predicted to reach up to 40 inches, winds of up to 110 miles per hour and storm surges measuring up to 13 feet. Florence was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane late last night, but as Steve Kiggins reports for USA Today, the storm still poses an unprecedented threat to the southeast coast. Roughly 10 million individuals living in the Carolinas and Virginia are currently under storm watches or warnings, and one of the region’s top power suppliers, Duke Energy, warns that Florence could leave millions without power for weeks on end.

The Associated Press’ Jeffrey Collins writes that the eye of the storm is expected to reach land as early as Friday, lingering along the eastern seaboard over the coming days and generating catastrophic inland flooding. As Florence approaches, here’s how zoos, museums and cultural institutions across the southeast are preparing.

According to The Virginian-Pilot’s Stacy Parker, the Virginia Zoo’s more than 500 critters and the Virginia Aquarium’s thousands of marine animals are headed indoors, trading in their normal enclosures for shelter in “permanent, secure buildings.” Staffers from both institutions will remain with the animals over the course of the storm, providing medical care and tracking any damage incurred.

Flooding is a particular concern, as both the zoo and the aquarium are located on Virginia’s eastern shore, but personnel are working to thwart a potential storm surge by securing loose items and maintaining the properties’ back-up generators. Although floodwaters have previously reached the zoo’s parking lot, zoo spokesperson Ashley Mars tells ABC News’ Meghan Keneally that “we’ve never really had any flooding on zoo grounds.”

Similar preparations are underway in the Carolinas: The State’s Jeff Wilkinson reports that the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia, South Carolina, began moving its birds indoors earlier this week. As zoo spokesperson Susan O’Cain tells Wilkinson, “Several of our outdoor exhibits are not made to withstand hurricane winds.” Other local zoos, including the Lynnwood Park Zoo near Jacksonville, North Carolina, and Charleston’s South Carolina Aquarium, have closed in preparation for the storm.

Keneally writes that the majority of the roughly 150 dogs and cats housed at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter in northeastern North Carolina will also ride out the storm in place. Manager Judy Anthony has found temporary foster homes for about 30 of the animals, but the remaining ones will stay at the shelter under the care of a staff member or volunteer who will check in and feed them “as conditions allow.”

The area’s wild animals will need to battle the storm on their own, but as Denise Lavoie reports for the Associated Press, at least one group is expected to escape largely unscathed. The Outer Banks’ famed wild horses are well-versed in storm survival and instinctively know how to protect themselves.

“They know where to go to stay high and dry and are probably in better shape right now than most of us humans who are scrambling with final preparations,” the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, an organization dedicated to one of the area’s herds, wrote on its Facebook page earlier this week. “They are much better off without any help from us; anything we might do in the hopes of ‘protecting’ them would probably end up being more dangerous and stressful for them than the storm.”

Museums and cultural institutions across the Carolinas and Virginia are closing ahead of the storm’s arrival

In North Carolina, Cape Hatteras’ North Carolina Maritime Museums, Raleigh’s North Carolina Museum of Art, UNC-Chapel Hill’s Ackland Art Museum and Fayetteville’s Museum of the Cape Fear are amongst the many museums shutting their doors through the weekend. The state’s Department of Natural and Cultural Resources has a comprehensive list of closings.

Patriot Points Naval and Maritime Museum, the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry and the South Carolina State Library are several of the institutions closing in South Carolina. The Post and Courier and Fox24 have more complete lists of local closings.

The latest forecasts suggest Virginia will not be as heavily hit as the Carolinas, but state museums and cultural centers are still readying themselves for the worst. Amongst the institutions locking their doors are the Chrysler Museum of Art, Glass Studio and historic houses and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. The Virginian-Pilot has a list of most regional closings, cancellations and postponements.

Kris King, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, tells Charleston City Paper’s Connelly Hardaway that museums, particularly those housed in historic estates, follow a general set of rules when preparing for storms: pull furniture into the center of the room, put plastic over everything and store the most valuable items on the second floor (the first floor may flood, and the roof could blow off of the third floor).

Major tourist sites and historical landmarks are readying themselves for the worst. The aftershocks of the storm could pose a significant threat to the region’s thriving tourism industries

Agence France-Presse reports that Charleston, South Carolina, boasts a $4.2 billion tourism industry. The oldest and largest city in the southern state, Charleston is home to Civil War icon Fort Sumter, as well as Revolutionary War bunker Fort Moultrie. Both forts, as well as the numerous national parks in the area, have been closed since Tuesday, according to The Post and Courier.

Charleston is also home to an array of historic estates that require a different form of hurricane preparation than newer houses. Some of these houses serve as public tourist attractions. Charleston City Paper’s Hardaway writes that older homes tend to exhibit “structural sturdiness.” Still, the buildings’ high number of windows leave them vulnerable to gales of wind and heavy rainfall.


North Carolina’s most significant tourism draw, the 200-mile-long string of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks, once hosted Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historic first flight, as well as the mysterious colonial settlement of Roanoke. The town of Kitty Hawk, site of the Wright Brothers’ record-breaking launch, is under a mandatory evacuation notice. A museum dedicated to the triumph has been closed for renovations since 2016 and was scheduled to re-open on September 28.

The Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily notes that the three areas constituting America’s Historic Triangle—Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown—have not opted to close, as the storm’s most devastating effects are projected to bypass southern Virginia. Still, AFP points out that the sites are susceptible to flooding.

Many universities, public schools, government offices and local businesses are closing in anticipation of Florence. Hundreds of cultural events have been postponed or canceled

Higher education institutions ranging from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, to the College of Charleston and Raleigh’s North Carolina State University have cancelled classes and/or evacuated students. As Science magazine’s Frankie Schembri reports, researchers at affected universities are scrambling to protect their life’s work: NC State toxicologist Heather Patisaul says that she and her research team moved their “most precious samples” to freezers equipped with backup power generators. She adds, “I’m also going to have at least two coolers of dry ice at home. So, if our freezers go down, at the very least I can get into campus with those coolers and get our most precious samples on dry ice.”

Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist at NC State, tells Schembri that she’s most concerned about maintaining her lab’s security during a power outage, as some of the human and animal remains she and her team study relate to ongoing law enforcement investigations.

Listings of public school, government and local business closings are available at The Port City Daily, The Post and Courier and The Virginian-Pilot.

Singer-songwriter J. Cole’s inaugural Dreamville Festival, a celebration of North Carolina music culture that was expected to bring 35,000 people to Raleigh this weekend, is one of the most prominent events shuttered by Florence. The News & Observer’s David Menconi reports that festival organizers hope to reschedule the event.

SPARKcon, an annual arts festival held in downtown Raleigh, has also been postponed. INDY Week has a more comprehensive list of North Carolina event cancellations and delays.

Some are looking to the past, hoping to learn from previous storms such as 1989’s Hurricane Hugo

Yesterday, AccuWeather’s Jonathan Petramala posted a Twitter video describing a hurricane-centric exhibit at the Wrightsville Beach History Museum in North Carolina. A post marks the heights reached by prior floodwaters, such as the 10-feet storm surges of Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and the more than 17-feet surges of Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Comparatively, Florence is expected to produce storm surges measuring up to 13 feet.

Outside magazine’s Wes Siler notes that many are comparing Florence to Hurricane Hugo, a category four hurricane that made landfall north of Charleston in September 1989. Ultimately, Hugo damaged or destroyed 108,658 South Carolina homes, trailers or apartments, claimed 19 lives, and caused $6.9 billion in damage.

It’s possible that Florence will be even more devastating than Hugo, Eric Holthaus writes for Grist. “Florence’s deluge will extend inland for hundreds of miles, which would flood virtually every river and stream in the Carolinas,” Holthaus explains. “Worst of all, Florence will likely slide southward after reaching the shore, following the coastline and inflicting damage down to Charleston ... or as far south as Savannah, Georgia. In contrast, Hugo’s landfall was relatively quick, weakening to a tropical storm in less than a day. Florence’s long coastal tour could take as long as two and a half days.”

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Major US tourist sites in path of Hurricane Florence

CHARLESTON, SC.- From Charleston's colonial mansions with finely-crafted balustrades, to fragile Outer Banks beaches, to exalted centers of American history, the tourism-heavy US East Coast is facing a potentially devastating blow from Hurricane Florence.

Here is an overview of key sites under threat.

Charleston, South Carolina

The 130,000 residents of this water-surrounded colonial gem are accustomed to flooding. Founded in the 17th Century, the historic city sits on a peninsula overlooking the Atlantic. Hardy Charlestonians often throw "storm parties" in the face of brutal weather. But this time the entire population of the city -- and coastal South Carolina -- is under an evacuation order.

The full force of Florence is threatening the city's colonial structures, cobblestone streets and dozens of bohemian bars and cafes, which delight the region's five million annual visitors. A direct hit on Charleston could shock the area's $4.2 billion tourism industry, which employs more than 47,000 people.

Outer Banks, North Carolina

This 200-mile-long (320 km) stretch of barrier islands is lined with pristine beaches that draw a wild and picturesque line between the vast Atlantic and the North Carolina mainland.

Brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made history's first successful motorized airplane flights here, in December 1903 between the wind-swept dunes of Kitty Hawk. A museum on the site has been undergoing renovations for two years and was due to re-open September 28.

It was on one of the islands, Roanoke, that explorers attempted in the late 16th century to found the first permanent English settlement in North America. One of the settlers who sailed back to Europe found no one on his return to Roanoke, and only the letters "Croatoan," the name of an Indian tribe, engraved on a tree.

For centuries the fate of the "Lost Colony" has remained shrouded in mystery.

Myrtle Beach, Virginia Beach

Large expanses of fine sand are flanked by miles of grand hotels, restaurants, and boardwalks in South Carolina's Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach, further north in Virginia. The popular destinations are particularly vulnerable to the full force of stormy seas. Millions of tourists visit each year, lured by mild weather until late in the summer season.

Civil War and colonial sites

Fort Sumter, near Charleston, was site of an artillery battle between Union and Confederate forces that launched the American Civil War, on April 12, 1861. The fortress, including its cannons, is today among the major attractions of the region.

Further north in Virginia, the beautifully preserved colonial city of Williamsburg, and nearby historical sites of Jamestown and Yorktown, are not under evacuation orders but could suffer flooding as they are near waterways.


Washington is a prime tourist zone, with more than 20 million visitors last year. Between the US Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, the National Mall is home to world-class museums, celebrated monuments and the White House, all of which could face flooding in the event Hurricane Florence brings her wrath northward.

The mayor of the city, which is famously built on a swamp, declared a state of emergency Tuesday to mobilize resources in preparation for the storm.

Across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Virginia, authorities began distributing sandbags on Monday to fight flooding in sections of the historic downtown already besieged by weeks of heavy rain.

© Agence France-Presse

Personal insight.

As I read through the hundreds of articles about hurricane Florence I just can’t help but think about all of the devastating hurricanes that rolled through the eastern coast over the last few years and the impact they have had on people today and years to come. Hurricanes Ike, Sandy, Harvey, Irma, and Maria have all been extreme natural disasters that have caused many coastal cities susceptible to catastrophic Hurricanes to prepare accordingly. Every article I have come across tells the same story, “Major art moved days before hurricane hit” and “our disaster plan preparation has been put into motion”. It looks like the Carolina’s were appropriately informed and have learned from the mistakes of other museums thus becoming proactive in lieu of this storm. It has been a few weeks since the storm has hit and yes it was catastrophic for everyone in the area but no major artworks seem to have been damaged. The MFAH is a great role model for other museums. A team, assembled for large threats, devised a disaster plan during Harvey that was tailored to the exact threats he imposed. Moving art work, lining sandbags around the facility, and wrapping up sculptress are just some of the ways that they prepared. By sleeping in the museum during the hurricane, the MFAH staff was ready for any outcome, and prepared to change directions on a fly if the storm brought about something unexpected. This preparedness is something that was seen during hurricane Florence. Important art work was driven out of immediately threatened coastal areas while staff hurried to move parts of the remaining collections to higher ground. The storm was devastating but in regards to major art work in Museums across the coast it was a success. Yes there were a few set backs but over all the priceless artwork was saved.

By Emily Duffy

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Raging fire tears through Rio de Janeiro's treasured National Museum

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP).- A massive fire ripped through Rio de Janeiro's treasured National Museum, one of Brazil's oldest, in what the nation's president says is a "tragic" loss of knowledge and heritage.

Even before the embers had begun to cool early Monday, grief over the huge cultural loss had given way to anger at across-the-board budget cuts threatening Brazil's multi-cultural heritage.

The museum's destruction caused a social media outcry and students and researchers gathered to demonstrate outside its still-smoldering remains.

"It's not enough just to cry, it is necessary that the federal government, which has resources, helps the museum to reconstruct its history," the museum's director Alexandre Keller said in front of the devastated building.

The fire, the cause of which remains unknown, broke out late Sunday at around 2230 GMT.

The majestic edifice -- which was closed to the public when the fire started -- was swept by flames as plumes of smoke shot into the night sky, while scores of firefighters battled to control the blaze.

Five hours later they had managed to smother much of the inferno that had torn through hundreds of rooms, but were still working to extinguish it completely, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

By morning the extent of the loss was still unclear -- although a fire department spokesman told AFP there were no reports of victims so far.

Charred ruins

Firefighters were poised to enter the charred ruins to see what might be salvageable, the spokesman added, warning that it would be dangerous.

"The facade is resistant, but a lot of material fell from the roof," he said. "We are going to proceed with great care, to see if we can save something."

The natural history and anthropology museum -- founded in 1818 and home to over 20 million valuable pieces -- has suffered from funding cuts, forcing it to close some of its spaces to the public.

The head of finance and planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, on which the museum depends, described the destruction as "a loss to the whole world."

"We are not going to put up with this strangulation of public resources anymore," Roberto Antonio Gambine Moreira told AFP.

"This is a sign of the lack of investment, a lack of resources, and the consequences that brings," he said.

The museum's collection included art and artifacts from Greco-Roman times and Egypt, as well as the oldest human fossil found within today's Brazilian borders, known as "Luzia."

It also housed the skeleton of a dinosaur found in the Minas Gerais region along with the largest meteorite discovered in Brazil, which was named "Bendego" and weighed 5.3 tons.

Pieces covering a period of nearly four centuries -- from the arrival of the Portuguese in the 1500s until the declaration of the first Brazilian republic in 1889 -- were also stored there.

"This is a tragic day for Brazil," President Michel Temer said in a statement. "Two hundred years of work and research and knowledge are lost."

'Culture is grieving'

Brazil's minister of culture, Sergio Sa Leitao, tweeted that "there will be little or nothing left of the palace and the exhibits."

A deputy director at the museum, Luiz Fernando Dias Duarte, voiced "profound discouragement and immense anger" as the treasured institution burned, accusing Brazilian authorities of a "lack of attention."

He said the museum, a former palace that was once the official residence of the Portuguese royal family, had never had necessary support.

The fire comes as campaigning for October's critical presidential vote gets underway, one of the most uncertain Brazilian elections in decades.

Senator Lindbergh Farias of the country's leftist Workers' Party hit out at the institution's lack of funding and blamed it on spending cuts ordered by the government.

'Lobotomy' of national memory

Sa Leitao, who in July 2017 became culture minister under Temer -- a deeply unpopular center-right leader -- acknowledged that "the tragedy could have been avoided" but said "the problems of the National Museum have been piling up over time."

The minister recalled that in 2015 under the government of leftist Dilma Rousseff the museum had been closed for maintenance.

Leitao also said the fire struck just after the South American country's National Development Bank had signed a sponsorship contract aimed at revitalization.

He said a reconstruction project would be set in motion, adding "this tragedy serves as a lesson."

"Brazil needs to take better care of its cultural heritage and the collections of its museums," he said.

Meanwhile Marina Silva, a former environment minister who is running for president, called the blaze "equivalent to a lobotomy of the Brazilian memory."

The collection, she said, "contains objects that helped define the national identity -- and are now turning to ashes."

© Agence France-Presse

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Brazil orders museums to boost fire protection

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP).- Brazil has issued a 30-day deadline to improve fire protection at six federal museums, a week after a blaze gutted Rio de Janeiro's treasured National Museum.

Federal Judge Geraldine Pinto Vital ordered that steps be taken immediately at the museums of the Republic, Villa-Lobos, De la Chacara do Ceu, Do Acude, National Fine Arts and the National Historical Museum.

The Public Prosecutor's Office ordered the six closed temporarily because they did not have the authorization of the firefighters to operate.

On the night of September 2, a fire destroyed the three floors of the National Museum, which had a collection of some 20 million pieces. It was the country's oldest.

The causes of the incident continue to be investigated.

The historical institution, linked to the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), had suffered cuts in funding, which forced it to close several of its spaces to the public.

© Agence France-Presse