Category / Places
Last week, while media attention was focused on Boston, a massive explosion took place at the West Fertilizer Company, in the small town of West, Texas. The blast damaged 150 buildings, including three of West's four schools, killed 14 people and injured more than 160 others. It was so powerful that it set off seismographs, registering as a 2.1-magnitude tremor. The cause remains unknown, and investigators are still sifting through the rubble. Today, about 1,500 West students returned to school, set up in makeshift classrooms or in nearby districts.
Two years after the the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, and the following tsunami and nuclear disaster, a large area around the failed Fukushima nuclear plant is still considered an exclusion zone. Namie, a small city just north of the nuclear power plant, was evacuated shortly after the quake, and its 21,000 townspeople have been unable to return since, leaving it a ghost town. At the invitation of local officials, Google recently deployed its camera-equipped vehicles to Namie to create a street view map of the deserted town so residents can see their abandoned homes, and the world can witness the remains of the disaster. On Google's Map blog, Namie's Mayor Tamotsu Baba said, "Ever since the March disaster, the rest of the world has been moving forward, and many places in Japan have started recovering. But in Namie-machi time stands still... Those of us in the older generation feel that we received this town from our forebears, and we feel great pain that we cannot pass it down to our children." I've collected some of the scenes captured by the Google Maps crew below, a glimpse into an otherworldly landscape a few kilometers north of the Fukushima nuclear plant.
Underlying northwestern North Dakota is a massive rock formation, referred to as the Bakken shale, which holds an estimated 18 billion barrels of crude oil. When this resource was first discovered in 1951, recovering it was financially unfeasible because the oil was embedded in the stone. Then, around 2008, everything changed, and North Dakota boomed. New drilling technology called hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," became widespread, and oil production took off. As of 2013, there are more than 200 active oil rigs in North Dakota, producing about 20 million barrels of oil every month -- nearly 60 percent of it shipped by rail, rather than pipeline. The rigs and support systems have resculpted the landscape, millions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure upgrades across the area, and thousands of oil field workers have arrived, living in new or temporary housing. Gathered below is a collection of images of this recent boom, spread across North Dakota's wide open plains.
A huge public works project is currently under construction in New York City, connecting Long Island to Manhattan's East Side. Deep underground, rail tunnels are extending from Sunnyside, Queens, to a new Long Island Rail Road terminal being excavated beneath Grand Central Terminal. Construction began in 2007, with an estimated cost of $6.3 billion and completion date of 2013. Since then, the cost estimate has been raised to $8.4 billion, and the completion date moved back to 2019. When finished, the line will accommodate 24 trains per hour at peak traffic, cutting down on commute times from Long Island, and opening up access to John F. Kennedy International Airport from Manhattan's East Side. Collected here are images of the progress to date, deep beneath Queens and Manhattan.
Since The Pixtale last visited Mali, the country has slipped further toward chaos, with Islamist rebels taking large swaths of the north of the country. Attempts by rebels to move south toward the capital Bamako prompted the intervention of France, which has supplied troops and carried out airstrikes. Charges of summary killings and other atrocities by the Malian military have clouded perceptions of the conflict. West African nations are seeking aid from the United Nations for a regional force to help France and the Malian government push back against the rebels. The military force appears to be working, although it is uncertain if rebels have been defeated, have fled, or have simply blended in with civilian populations. Gathered here are images (mostly in the south, where photographers are able to work) of the daily lives of Malians, portraits of civilians, and pictures of the increasing military presence.
No country in history has become a major industrial power without creating a legacy of environmental damage. China is clearly not an exception. The speed and scale of China's rise has brought an unprecedented pollution problem. Public health is reeling. Pollution has made cancer China's leading cause of death according to the Ministry of Health. Ambient air pollution alone is blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. The factories and spewing automobile engines recently caused hundreds of flights to be cancelled in and around Beijing. Stores are selling out of face masks and the government struggles to figure out this political challenge and provide relief of the long-term burden on its people.
Our nation's presence in Afghanistan made its way back to the collective conscience last week when Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared in a joint press conference with President Barack Obama. This post features a few images of daily life from late December and the first few weeks of January. Simple things - shelter, food - remain challenges for many of the Afghan people - displaced by years and years of conflict and war.
Through his Vanishing Cultures Project photographer Taylor Weidman documents threatened ways of life. Regular readers of The Big Picture will recognize his distinctive work from his previous entry here on the Mustang region of Nepal. Weidman writes of the threatened nomadic culture in Mongolia: "Mongolian pastoral herders make up one of the world's largest remaining nomadic cultures. For millennia they have lived on the steppes, grazing their livestock on the lush grasslands. But today, their traditional way of life is at risk on multiple fronts. Alongside a rapidly changing economic landscape, climate change and desertification are also threatening nomadic life, killing both herds and grazing land. Due to severe winters and poor pasture, many thousands of herders have traded in their centuries-old way of life for employment in mining towns and urban areas. The ger (yurt) camps that ring the capital city Ulaanbaatar house a permanent population of displaced nomads. There, they live without running water or a tangible use for the skills and crafts that were practiced on the steppes. The younger generation is no longer learning these essential aspects of their nomadic heritage."
The opening ceremonies for this year's Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival in Heilongjiang province in northeastern China were held earlier this week. The event, held since 1963, can last more than a month, depending on the weather, and attracts visitors from around the world who come to see the elaborate ice and snow sculptures.
December in Afghanistan is traditionally a quiet period in the country's decades-old war, and coalition troops suffered only 14 deaths last month, half as many as the previous year. Yesterday, General John Allen, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, submitted a post-2014 plan to the Pentagon, laying out options to keep between 6,000 and 15,000 troops in the country after the official NATO withdrawal. (Current troop levels are around 66,000.) The smaller forces would be mainly focused on counterterrorism operations and engaging members of the Taliban and al Qaeda. These photos show just a glimpse of this conflict over the past month, part of the ongoing series here on Afghanistan.