News Brief: Ohio Tornadoes, Disaster Fund Lessons, ISIS Trials

May 28, 2019
Originally published on May 28, 2019 8:25 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Tornadoes hit Dayton, Ohio, and the surrounding areas last night.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Several million people lost power. We know of flattened homes and overturned cars and roofless structures. And Jake Ryle of WCPO TV says that's just what was visible in the dark.

JAKE RYLE: We're probably going to see a much larger extent of damage once the sun rises here. But right now, I mean, fire crews are doing a pretty good job of just lighting the way.

KING: We're on the line now with Ryle's colleague Evan Millward. He's in Cincinnati. Hi, Evan.

EVAN MILLWARD: Hello. Good morning.

KING: Good morning to you. So these tornadoes hit after the sun had gone down, which always makes it harder to tell what happened, what the extent of the damage is. What do we know?

MILLWARD: Well, yeah. That sure makes it scary because you can't see it. Right?

KING: Yeah.

MILLWARD: What we don't need the sun to tell us is that even now, here in the 5 a.m., hour there are some 60,000 people without power. And we know that this was kind of - it wasn't even kind of - it was a one-two punch. There were two tornado-warned storms that happened one, literally, right after the other...

KING: Wow.

MILLWARD: ...That came through almost the same path, that started northwest of Dayton and dropped right close to downtown and then moved into the neighboring county. And the length of this is what's really incredible that we've been able to piece together. There's a high school with a roof off northwest of Dayton. I-75 cuts right through the center of downtown Dayton, and they were using snowplows to clear debris on I-75 last night.

KING: Oh, wow.

MILLWARD: And east of town, we're seeing the same telltale signs of walls blown out of businesses, homes that look like someone opened up a doll house because they're missing walls.

KING: Dayton is in western Ohio. Are tornadoes common there? Are people prepared for something like this?

MILLWARD: I would say people know how to handle it in western Ohio. They - you get tornado-warned storms every season. And you know, I grew up here in - actually in one of the affected towns this go-around. Something like this is highly unusual, though.

KING: Some parts of the country that have been hit hard by weather this week are expecting more. I wonder, do you have a sense of what the forecast is there?

MILLWARD: I know that areas north of Dayton were already included in that. They were waiting for - or forecasted to get more potentially severe storms. And there was another tornado that - what they believe will be a tornado - and I think it is the worst damage in the Dayton area - is about an hour north of Dayton. It was a separate cell...

KING: Wow.

MILLWARD: ...And it went to a town called Celina, which is right on Grand Lake St. Mary's. And that part - Auglaize County is up there, and they're expected to get, really, the brunt of the severe possibility the rest of the week.

KING: And I imagine next is the cleanup - just briefly.

MILLWARD: Yeah, yeah. And I think now they're - they've had their chance to go through. And they're still - they've got Ohio Task Force 1 on the ground; they're Dayton-based anyway. But that just means that they've had to pull in from Cincinnati and Columbus because their guys are working in their own fire departments. But they're in helping with search and rescue as of about an hour or two ago.

KING: Evan Millward in Cincinnati from WCPO. Thanks, Evan.

MILLWARD: No problem. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. We have been told to expect the possibility of more disasters like this as the climate changes, and that is prompting more serious thought about how to get ready.

INSKEEP: Congress is considering a bill that would send $19 billion in aid to places that have suffered tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, fires. The money is meant to help communities like Puerto Rico or Paradise, Calif. You likely recall the fire that killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 structures. Now Paradise gets some help rebuilding. But here's a question - could it have been cheaper to spend more money in advance preparing for disaster?

KING: NPR's Kirk Siegler has been covering Paradise for the past six months. Good morning, Kirk.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. To Steve's question - you've been talking to experts in disaster recovery, what are they telling you about paying for this response in Paradise?

SIEGLER: Well, that it's going up and up and the federal government shoulders most of the tab for these disasters. And we're getting more and more of them; they're getting more and more expensive. And experts are saying we're soon going to reach the breaking point if we don't change. So let me just give you a window into the Camp Fire since I've been covering it. And you know, just removing the debris - the cleanup - that's estimated to be $1.7 billion...

KING: Wow.

SIEGLER: ...So - yeah - so far. These are the costs that are that are going up - Small Business Administration disaster loans, the government has paid out 370 million or so; $85 million in emergency FEMA aid for this largely lower-income community that was displaced by the fire. And you know, there are so many people relying on this aid, as you can imagine. Among them is a man named Chris Beaudis.

I met him outside his FEMA trailer at a campground north of where I am. He lost everything in the fire. He had no insurance. But he's super grateful, so let's listen to him.

CHRIS BEAUDIS: FEMA's been great. I understand the process. It's kind of slow at times. But man, they've been overwhelmed, you know? There's more than just this disaster going on in the world.

KING: I mean, this is - with respect to FEMA, this is their job. Why are they overwhelmed, just too much happening?

SIEGLER: Right. Well, the federal government, largely, and our system is overwhelmed. You know, for decades, I mean, everything is pinned on FEMA typically during disaster. But it's much bigger than them.

You know, for decades, our disaster response and recovery system has been, you wait till something happens, and you go out and fix it. You respond. You clean up. You cut checks. And you make it as easy as possible for people who want to rebuild to do so in most cases, even in high-risk places. You know, this worked OK. We got pretty good at it, even, before we started getting this overwhelmed with this many storms, these many floods and fires and gaining in intensity.

Noel, one expert I've been talking to is Josh Sawislak. He was a climate resiliency adviser to President Obama. He told me the system is broken and badly needing an update in this era of climate change.

JOSH SAWISLAK: We're not going to be able to do that anymore. We're spending more and more money. It's going to get even worse. And climate change is going to force our hand to be smarter about how we do this.

SIEGLER: And Noel, I think the, you know, the bigger picture he's getting at is - should we be making it easier for people to rebuild in such high-risk places, including Paradise, Calif., or in hurricane zones in the South or places that always flood in the Midwest, just to give a few examples here?

KING: NPR's Kirk Siegler. Kirk, thanks so much.

SIEGLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: In a courtroom in Iraq, four members of ISIS were sentenced to death. The men came from France. And by all indications, France is ready to let them stay in Iraq.

INSKEEP: More French citizens have left their country to join ISIS than any other place in Europe. And these four ISIS members were among a dozen French citizens transferred to Iraqi custody from U.S. allies in Syria. France doesn't want them extradited back home. This is part of a larger story. There are hundreds of ISIS recruits from various nations who've been detained by U.S. allies, and there's no clear plan of what to do with them all.

KING: NPR's Jane Arraf has been following the story of these four men. She's in Iraq now. Hi, Jane.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Hi, Noel.

KING: So let's go back a ways. How did these four guys end up in an Iraqi courtroom?

ARRAF: So they were captured by Kurdish Syrian forces - U.S. allies. And they're being held by Kurdish Syrian forces, who are absolutely overwhelmed. They actually have 1,200 suspected foreign fighters...

KING: Wow.

ARRAF: ...In addition to the thousands of Syrians and Iraqis. Yeah. So they agreed to extradite some of them who had committed crimes - alleged to have committed crimes in Iraq. And among them were these 12 French citizens, so they are being put on trial this week. But here's the problem. There are significant problems with trials in Iraq in the terrorism courts.

Let's listen to a bit of what Human Rights Watch has to say - a researcher named Belkis Wille.

BELKIS WILLE: The trials of ISIS suspects in Iraq are fundamentally unfair. Defendants do not get any of their basic due process rights granted to them under international law, as well as under Iraqi law. There is absolutely no presumption of innocence when they walk into the courtroom. And many times, defendants are alleging that they have been tortured.

ARRAF: In fact, one of the men yesterday in the courtroom in Baghdad lifted up his shirt to show the judge scars. He said he had been tortured, so his trial is being postponed. But they have sentenced four others to death in the past two days, and there are more on trial this week.

KING: Well, this is a legally tricky question - and an interesting one - because France doesn't have the death penalty. But French officials say they're not going to stop Iraq from sentencing their citizens to death. What are the implications of that?

ARRAF: Yeah. That's interesting, right? So all of these European countries who have citizens there - and lots of citizens, almost 2,000 of them are believed to be French and then there're Germans and Swedes - they don't have the death penalty. But France has agreed to let its people be extradited to Iraq, which it knows does have the death penalty. So France issued a statement saying that it opposes the death penalty, it will remind Iraq of this, but it also recognizes Iraqi jurisdiction.

This is a huge problem for everyone because nobody knows what to do with these fighters. Their countries don't want to take them back, and the Kurds across the border say they just can't handle them.

KING: What problems are other governments facing specifically?

ARRAF: So the biggest problem is the administration in the Kurdish Syrian region of Syria; it's called Rojava. And it's not actually recognized as a region. So here you have these U.S. allies who fought against ISIS to defeat ISIS with the U.S. They lost something like 11,000 fighters, and they're not in a position to put all these people on trial. They're calling for international help for a tribunal but, so far, no takers. Sweden has proposed there be a tribunal. We're still waiting to see whether that will actually happen.

KING: NPR's Jane Arraf in Iraq.

Thanks, Jane.

ARRAF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY GIRL'S "LUSH MEADOWS OF STONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.