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  • Writer's pictureDavid Lee

Weekly News Blast | Feb. 6-12

An overview of key developments from this past week.

A photo of a Chinese spy balloon moments before the U.S. military shot it down off the coast of South Carolina (Michael DeBock, Flickr).

Earthquake in Turkey and Syria

On February 6, Turkey and Syria were struck by a magnitude 7.6 earthquake, leaving more than 46,000 dead. The strongest in the country in over 100 years, the quakes left more than 84,000 buildings collapsed, in dire condition, or in urgent need of demolition. With so much crucial infrastructure destroyed, survivors will need aid for months. In addition, severe public health concerns have risen with sanitation infrastructure damaged by the collapse of thousands of buildings. On the political side, anger among families with relatives in Turkey has grown as they see the disintegration of thousands of homes and businesses resulting from corrupt building practices and flawed urban development. Along with the detention of 100 suspects, including building developers, Turkey has promised investigations of those suspected of playing a part in the collapse of the buildings.

This urgent humanitarian crisis drew relief and aid from all around the world. Aid agencies are currently helping the affected people secure access to food, tents, mattresses, blankets, warm clothing for the winter, medical support, and more. The United Nations is appealing for almost 1.4 billion dollars to help the survivors of the earthquake, with one billion dollars going to the survivors in Turkey and 397 million dollars going to the survivors in Syria. The World Health Organization is also sending amputation equipment, medicine, and intravenous fluids to Turkey and Syria. However, there are problems with the flow of aid to some of the affected regions. Restricted access in the rebel-held northwest of Syria has delayed assistance to millions—the first aid packages from the United Nations took almost five days to arrive. In spite of these limitations, monetary donations were sent from across the Muslim world. In just a week, an online campaign in Saudi Arabia raised more than 100 million dollars from more than 1.6 million individuals and companies. The United Arab Emirates announced 100 million dollars in humanitarian aid one day after the earthquake to assist some of the millions of affected and displaced people in Turkey and Syria. Other Muslim nations, even Afghanistan under the Taliban regime, sent donations of medicine, food, and other supplies.

Chinese Spy Balloons

A Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina was recovered and evaluated by the Forensic Bureau of Investigation. According to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the “majority” of the balloon pieces on the surface have been recovered. The balloon, which was taller than the Statue of Liberty, entered U.S. airspace near Alaska and made its way toward the continental United States after transiting over Canada. Tracked by the Defense Department over Montana, the balloon made its way toward the East Coast, where a U.S. fighter jet shot it.

It was found to have high-tech equipment that could collect communication signals and, according to a statement by a senior State Department official, was “clearly for intelligence surveillance” and included “multiple antennas” that were “likely capable of collecting geo-locating communications.” According to a senior administration official, video showed that small motors and multiple propellers allowed China to actively control the balloon over specific locations, including American missile systems and military bases. China accused the U.S. of overreacting and violating international practice by shooting the balloon down, claiming it was used for weather research. Nevertheless, President Biden has presented the mission as a success.

Train Derailment in Ohio

Evacuated residents of East Palestine, Ohio, are unable to return to their homes after a train crash and derailment caused a massive fire and prompted a swift evacuation. The train, carrying hazardous materials, caused a fire that continuously burned despite firefighting efforts. Five derailed cars carried vinyl chloride, an unstable chemical that threatened an explosion that could have sent toxic fumes into the air and shot deadly shrapnel as far as a mile away. Crews performed a controlled release of the chemicals, but evacuated residents were urged to stay away and wait for the fire to die down.

On February 12, the Environmental Protection Agency came out and said that pollution levels had not yet reached “levels of concern” after claiming that it had not detected life-threatening vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride in 486 homes, but locals remained skeptical. Several residents accused local officials of failing to clearly communicate the scale of the disaster and the possible health threats it could pose. Regardless, there have been bipartisan calls on local, state, and federal levels to investigate the environment around East Palestine and extend aid and support to the residents.



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