Sunday, June 22, 2008

Landslide - Guatemala (Guatemala City) JUN

GUATEMALA CITY, June 20 (Reuters) - A landslide at a garbage dump in the Guatemalan capital on Friday killed at least four people and injured six others who made their living by scavenging for food and recyclable goods, firefighters said.

"So far, we've pulled out four corpses but the people who work here say there are more people under the tonnes of garbage," said city fire department spokesman Mynor Rodas.

Hundreds of families make their living at the dump in Guatemala City, searching the garbage for food, recyclable metal and other discarded items they can sell.

Guatemala is in the midst of its annual rainy season, when dangerous landslides are common.

In 2005, a massive fire engulfed the dump after a cloud of methane gas exploded. After the fire, the city built a wall around the dump and prohibited children from working there. - Source

Flood - Philippine (Sibuyan) JUN

A ferry carrying more than 700 passengers has partially sunk off the coast of the central Philippine island of Sibuyan after being battered by huge waves caused by a typhoon, officials say.

Fengshen displaced thousands of people as flashfloods caused rivers to overflow

The MV Princess of the Star sent a distress signal late on Saturday after Typhoon Fengshen lashed the Pacific nation leaving at least 19 people dead.

Nanette Tansingco, mayor of the coastal town of San Fernando in Romblon province, said: "I sent a speedboat to check on the report, and they saw the boat submerged with a hole in the hull.

"They saw the name Princess of the Star and there were at least four bodies there," he told DZMM local radio.

Eleandro Madrona, a local congressman, said on local radio: "The ship sank 3km from the shoreline. So far, we have only found four dead, no survivors.

"I would assume people started to transfer to rubber boats after the captain abandoned the ship.

"You can only see the bow of the ship now, it's already down in the water," she said, citing accounts from villagers.

The 22,000 tonne ferry was carrying 626 passengers and 121 crewmembers.

Vice Admiral Wilfredo Tamayo, the Philippines coast guard chief, said the MV Princess of the Star was "dead in the water" after its engine failed around noon on Saturday near Sibuyan.

Port captain Nestor Ponteres said the ferry's owner Sulpicio Lines lost radio contact with the ship.

Rescue difficulty

A rescue vessel sent to the area was forced to return to its home port in Batangas city because of big waves, Commander Antonio Cuasito, Cebu coast guard spokesman, said.

Another rescue ship was sent from central Cebu city, where the Princess of the Star was headed when it left Manila late on Friday, but it was unclear when it would reach the area.

There are fears that the sinking of the vessels could vastly increase the number of casualties from Typhoon Fengshen.

At least 19 people were killed when flashfloods and landslides forced rivers to break their banks across the Philippines.

Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave the worst-affected areas on Saturday as heavy rains from the typhoon lashed the archipelago.

Ten people drowned and five were missing after a river burst its banks in Maguindanao province.

In Cotabato City, a man and a child were buried in a landslide at a rubbish dump, police said, while five other people were drowned.

Thousands of residents in the city of Iloilo were left stranded on rooftops after a dam burst.
'Worst flooding'

Serg Biron, an Iloilo congressman, told DZBB radio said: "I have received a lot of text messages appealing for helicopters, there are many people trapped on the rooftops.

Filipinos used inflated tires and rafts to keep afloat [AFP]
"This is the worst flooding that has hit Iloilo in history."

The National Power Corporation was forced to shut down its power plant in the area, triggering a blackout across the province, Nelson Hemona, the plant's manager, said.

Fengshen, the sixth typhoon to hit the Philippines this year, tore up trees and power lines across wide swathes of the country. Flights were cancelled and ships kept in harbour.

The storm forced more than 200,000 people to seek temporary shelter in the eastern Bicol region, a civil defence office said.

Gloria Arroyo, the country's president, ordered clean-up and rescue operations before leaving for an eight-day trip to the United States.

Government agencies were instructed to stockpile relief goods and state-run hospitals were put on alert.

Arroyo also ordered a crackdown on profiteers and hoarders of basic commodities, especially rice, in areas hit hard by the typhoon. - Source

Drought - Turkey (Mardin) JUN

The southeastern Anatolian region, which cultivates a large portion of Turkey’s crops, has suffered from drought over the last few years, leading to a serious decline in the country’s total annual harvest.

According to recent studies, because of the drought in this region, total wheat production in Turkey is expected to decrease by 20 percent and barley production by 30 percent in 2008.

Turkish Union of Agricultural Chambers (TZOB) Chairman Şemsi Bayraktar told Sunday’s Zaman in a phone interview last week that precipitation decreased by 15 percent between October 2007 and May 2008 across Turkey, adding that this drop was 44 percent in the southeastern Anatolia region. For him, this figure simply means that grain production in the region will be halved in 2008.

Precipitation has decreased by 18 percent in the eastern Anatolia region and 15 percent in the Mediterranean region in the first six months of 2008 compared to the same period last year, according to the State Meteorology Affairs General Directorate (DMİ). Bayraktar said the drought in Turkey is not restricted to the southeastern region; rather, the entire country is lacking in sufficient precipitation for a good harvest. Turkey’s agriculture chambers recently conducted a study to analyze the effects of drought at the level of provinces. According to this study, the rate of loss in grain production in 2008 to date has been 90 percent compared to the average production of provinces including Mardin, Şanlıurfa, Diyarbakır, Batman, Hakkari, Muş, Siirt, Şırnak, Gaziantep and Elazığ. The rate was 60 percent for lentil production.

Bayraktar said these provinces provide 13 percent of Turkey’s wheat, 16 percent of barley and 86 percent of lentils, adding that there has been close to a 90 percent decrease so far this year in the grain production of the southeastern region, which means there will be a decrease of 2.5 million tons in Turkey’s total wheat production.

Similarly, lentil production in the southeastern Anatolia region, which alone fills 86 percent of Turkey’s total lentil demand, also declined by 60 percent in the first half of the year. Considering that the average annual lentil production is 340,000 tons, a loss of 250,000 tons is a significant number.

“The government supplies the seeds, but the farmers do not have a penny to sow them in their fields,” said Şanlıurfa Chamber of Agriculture Chairman Halil Dolap, describing the situation of the farmers in the region. He said the government’s recent action plan to finish the Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP) should be taken into consideration within the context of increasing production in the entire Southeast. “This is also a national action plan like our struggle against the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party [PKK] terrorists. We need to solve our problems in cooperation.” Dolap said the steps the government had taken so far for their region were very important yet insufficient since although the government suspended loan repayments to public banks, 80 percent of the region’s farmers had borrowed from private banks, which are not so eager to offer postponement of payments for indebted farmers.

The barley production in the southeastern Anatolia region has declined by 90 percent in 2008 over the previous year, indicating that Turkey’s total barley production will be 1.4 million tons less. Similarly, Turkey’s total lentil production is also expected to go down by 250,000 tons as the production of this crop dropped by 86 percent in the first five months of 2008 in the southeastern Anatolia region compared to the region’s average production. A dramatic consequence of this was seen when the price of barley doubled this year, increasing from YKr 30 to YKr 60 per kilogram.

The cattle and sheep breeders in the region reacted against this increase, saying if barley prices continue to rise they will no longer be able to feed their cattle or sheep next winter. Cattle and sheep breeding is a major source of income among the farmers of the Southeast, and barley prices thus have tremendous significance for them.

Soil Products Office (TMO) President İsmail Kemaloğlu said they expect Turkey’s total barley production to be 6 million tons this year, which means it will need to import this grain during 2008. Turkey’s average annual barley production has varied between 8 and 9 million tons during the last decade. Noting that Turkey’s quota for wheat imports is 800,000 tons, Kemaloğlu said: “However, now is not the right time to import wheat as the wheat harvest season is continuing. We are negotiating with the US, Kazakhstan and Russia about it.”

Bayraktar said considering the drought in the central and southeastern Anatolia regions, the total production losses for 2008 are expected to be around 20 percent. “The 150 percent rise in fertilizer prices and over 30 percent increase in diesel prices drive the production costs of wheat. The farmers’ cost to produce one kilogram of wheat is YKr 61, and we want the TMO to set a price ceiling for these basic production inputs.” As a magnifying effect to this dramatic situation, wheat prices are also declining significantly, to slightly over YKr 50/kilogram. Worse than that, it is expected to drop even further as the harvest season starts, and this is simply a huge loss for the farmers.

As farmers suffer more from weak harvests, especially in the Southeast, Bayraktar said, everybody should learn their lessons from 2007’s drought and the government has to devise some ways to compensate for farmers’ losses. “The government has to determine how much the farmers will lose and act rapidly to cover these losses so that the farmers can survive. There should be no discrimination based on regions or products in delivering these benefits,” he further suggested.

The decrease in grain production in the world and in particular in Turkey is expected to increase the prices of grains this year and in following years; however nobody expects Turkey will have a supply shortage in grains, at least for 2008. Despite this fact, the prices may increase more than expected due to speculation. For this reason, according to Bayraktar, the TMO should follow a policy to protect both the producers and consumers. - Source

Tornado - USA (Georgia) JUN

SANDFLY, GA (WTOC) - From a distance the registration building at the Forest City Gun Club looked intact. But a closer look revealed just how devastating Thursday's Tornado really was. Big, plate windows blown out, the roof caved in, and a brick wall crumbled into a pile of rubble.

Office Manager, Teresa Moore, was less than 50 feet away, in the clubhouse, when the storm hit.

"The rain looked funny because it was coming in sideways, and then it started hailing," said Moore. "The hail got bigger and bigger, we were told to get away from the windows, about that time everything went black."

When Teresa emerged a few minutes later, she was shocked by what she saw. A shed blown to pieces, trees toppled over on the lawn, and the registration building partially collapsed.

But it wasn't until she walked around to the back of the building did she realize how strong the storm was. Part of the building was cracked, and moved off it's foundation.

"It's just devastating to look at it and to look at the grounds because the grounds are usually so pretty and all," she said.

In a WTOC exclusive we obtained aerial photos of all the damage. The building is a total loss and will have to be demolished.

The National Weather Service out of Charleston says the tornado blew the windows out, then lifted up the roof, crashing it back down onto the building. It's a consolation to the members to now know exactly what caused all this destruction. But now the real work begins.

The Forest City Gun Club is rich with history. The private club started in 1883. It moved out to the Sandfly area in the 1950's. It's the second biggest gun club, and the oldest organization, in the country.

Over 700 members call the grounds and clubhouse home. Teresa believes many of those members will be back to help them rebuild.

Teresa is just thankful no one was hurt.

"It was very amazing," she said. "Somebody upstairs was looking out for us."

The Forest City Gun Club is not sure when they'll be able to re-open. But they hope to hold more shoots in the near future. - Source

Tornado - China (Anhui) JUN

HEFEI, June 21 (Xinhua) -- A tornado lasting about five minutes in east China's Anhui Province has claimed one live and caused 18.5 million yuan (2.68 million U.S. dollars) of losses, said a local official on Saturday.

Forty-five people, including eight seriously wounded, were being hospitalized after the tornado hit Lingbi County on Friday, said the official with the Suzhou municipal bureau of civil affairs.

Local resident Xu Wencai, 76, died of injuries on the way to hospital.

The tornado, moving at a speed up to 132 km per hour, blasted several villages at 2:20 p.m. and blew down 650 houses and damaged960 others within five minutes.

More than 20,000 people were affected by the tornado, and 950 of them were relocated. - Source

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Flood - USA (Iowa) JUN

Brandon Smith carries his two cats, Fry and Bender, to dry land from their flooded and evacuated home on June 11 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Rising flood waters swamped this central US river city on Friday, forcing residents to flee their homes and officials to abandon city hall amid a wider crisis that has left 20 dead. - Source

Earthquake - Japan (Iwate) JUN

KURIHARA, Japan (Reuters) - A powerful earthquake struck rural northern Japan on Saturday, killing at least three people, injuring more than 100 and sparking landslides, officials and media said.

The 7.2 magnitude quake struck at 8:43 a.m. (7:43 p.m. EDT Friday) in Iwate, a sparsely populated, scenic area around 300 km (190 miles) north of Tokyo, where buildings also shook faintly.

Dozens of aftershocks rocked the northern area and officials warned more strong quakes might be in store. But experts said the energy released by the quake was far smaller than the magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit southwestern China on May 12, leaving nearly 87,000 people dead or missing.

"I was at home and we had finished eating breakfast," said Akira Nishimura, an official from the city hall in Kurihara.

"We got under the table", he said, referring to himself, his 4-year-old child and his wife.

One of the people killed was caught in a landslide, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura told reporters. A second man was hit by a car after running out of a building and a third was killed by falling rocks at a dam construction site.

Seven people were trapped in a hot-spring resort inn hit by a landslide but police had rescued five and were trying to get the other two out, NHK public TV reported.

Three more were missing at a work site after another landslide in Kurihara, Kyodo news agency reported, adding that more than 100 people were hurt throughout the quake-hit region.

Rail operator JR East said 2,000 were trapped on bullet trains that stopped between stations due to the quake. Some lines had resumed service but 1,000 passengers were still waiting on one stranded train, JR East said.

More than 300 people were cut off in remote areas after landslides blocked roads, and rescue helicopters were heading their way, media reports said.


A highway was closed and TV footage showed huge cracks in some roads, while others were swamped by landslides.

Experts said casualties could rise as reports came in from isolated areas but that the scope of the quake was far smaller than one that hit southwestern China a month ago.

"The seismic energy of the China quake was one order of magnitude greater," Naoshi Hirata, a professor at Tokyo University's Earthquake Research Institute, told Reuters.

He added the region's sparse population and Japan's strict building standards had likely limited the impact.

Water containing a small amount of radiation leaked within a Tokyo Electric Power Co nuclear power facility in the region, but there was no leakage outside, a spokesman for Japan's biggest utility said.

Tohoku Electric Power said its nuclear plants at Onagawa and Higashidori were running as usual.

About 20 people on a bus that swept by a landslide 50 meters into a ravine were rescued by helicopter, media reports said, adding that several were injured, some seriously.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater, prompting tough building codes to try to limit damage.

The government set up an emergency response centre, the Tokyo Fire Department sent a relief team and the local governor asked for help from a military disaster relief unit.

"We are doing all that we can," Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda told reporters. "The most important thing is to rescue people.

Tohoku Electric Power Co Inc said more than 30,000 people suffered power cuts but most was restored within hours of the shallow quake.

"It shook for about two minutes," Kazue Hishiya, manager of a hotel in Iwate prefecture, said by telephone.

"Three television sets fell off shelves, elevators have stopped, and we've turned off the boiler."

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka, Yoko Kubota, Yuzo Saeki, Chikafumi Hodo, Osamu Tsukimori and Nathan Layne; Writing by Linda Sieg) - Source

Drought - Nicaragua (Los Chiles)

A Nicaraguan girl goes looking for water in the drought-hit area of Los Chiles in May 2008.

The Spanish city of Zaragosa is to open the Expo 2008 on the theme of "water and sustainable development", hoping to attract 6.5 million visitors and draw the world's attention to one of the great environmental challenges of the 21st century - Source

Monday, June 9, 2008

Earthquake - Greece (Káto Akhaïa) JUN

ATHENS, Greece - A strong earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.5 struck southwestern Greece on Sunday, killing at least two people, injuring more than 100 and leveling dozens of homes, authorities said.

A car is buried in debris after an earthquake in Kata Achaia, about 240km west of Athens

It was Greece's first fatal earthquake since 1999, when a 5.9 magnitude quake near Athens killed 143 people and left thousands homeless.

Sunday's quake struck at 3:25 p.m. near the port city of Patras, about 120 miles west of Athens in the northwestern Peloponnese, the Athens Geodynamic Institute said. It was felt as far away as southern Italy.

Two people were killed and 120 were injured, Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos said. By nightfall, six of the injured remained hospitalized.

One man was killed by a falling pergola outside his home in Kato Ahaia, a village near the epicenter, while a woman who had only been slightly injured in the quake died later in the hospital of a heart attack, Pavlopoulos said.

"My thoughts in these hours are with our fellow citizens who are suffering," Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said in a statement from Vienna, Austria, where he was on a three-day visit. "I want to stress and underline that the state will be at (their) side."

Karamanlis was to cut his visit to Austria short and return to Greece on Monday.

Frequent aftershocks rattled already frightened residents, and seismologists urged caution, particularly around buildings damaged in the initial quake.

"We are watching the seismic activity with great attention. We are not yet certain that the danger is completely over," said Athens Geodynamic Institute director Gerasimos Papadopoulos.

Although it was unlikely there would be a stronger quake, he said, "there is still concern."

With dozens of houses destroyed or severely damaged, the government said it would give $4,680 to anyone who had lost their primary home in the quake. Authorities also said they would set up tents for those left homeless and distribute food.

Military helicopters and transport planes, and a specialized Air Force rescue crew were placed on standby, the National Defense General Staff said.

Teams of rescuers from 17 Balkan and Mediterranean countries who had just arrived in Greece for a disaster response training exercise joined in rescue efforts.

The quake damaged the air traffic control tower of the Andravida military airport, but a secondary tower was being used and the airport remained open, the general staff said.

Two families — seven people in total — were rescued after being trapped in houses that collapsed, one in the village of Fostaina, about 20 miles south of Patras, the other in the village of Vartholomio, authorities said.

Television footage showed rescue crews pulling a 9-year-old girl from beneath the rubble of her house in Fostaina after a two-hour rescue effort and placing her on a stretcher. The girl suffered only slight injuries.

"I have seen nothing like that in my lifetime," an 88-year-old woman in Kato Ahaia, told state-run NET television. "When the earthquake began, I was in bed. I tried to leave but fell down. I crawled on my knees to the front door."

She said neighbors got her out of the house.

Hours after the quake, terrified residents stayed away from their homes, gathering in village squares and outdoor coffee shops. Local authorities cordoned off unsafe buildings, and ordered all schools in the area to remain shut Monday.

The Tourism Ministry and Greek tourist board said no damage had been reported in any of the area's hotels and that no tourists had been hurt.

The interior minister said the damage was relatively light.

The fire service said a landslide cut off part of the Corinth to Patras highway.

The U.S. Geological Survey gave a preliminary magnitude of 6.1 for the quake, while the Athens Geodynamic Institute gave a preliminary magnitude of 6.5. Magnitudes often vary in the first hours or days after an earthquake.

Greece is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, but most quakes cause no injuries. - Source

Sinkhole - USA (Florida) JUN

LUTZ, FL -- A sinkhole has engulfed the backyard of a home in Heritage Harbor. So far, the home has not been compromised by the hole. - Source

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Tornado - USA (Minnesota) JUN

EMMAVILLE, Minnesota (AP) -- Strong storms smashed houses, deluged neighborhoods, toppled trees and left thousands without power across the Midwest on Friday in the latest round of fierce weather. No injuries were reported.

A toy car floats in a yard of a house along Main Street in Cambridge, Iowa, after parts of the town flooded Friday.

A tornado downed trees and overturned a trailer home near Pickerel Lake in Minnesota on Friday.

A tornado raked a half-mile-wide path of destruction in northwestern Minnesota, where a house overlooking Pickerel Lake near Emmaville was destroyed, it's contents spilling down the hill. Wooden chairs and tables were floating below. Nearby was a concrete slab the size of a two-car garage, but whatever structure once sat on it was blown away.

Flooding forced the evacuation of about a dozen homes in the central Iowa town of Cambridge, but areas to the southwest saw some of their roads and buildings re-emerge from subsiding waters in a much-needed respite from severe weather.

Heavy rains that began Thursday night seeped into most basements and at least one foundation collapsed, said Lori Morrissey, Story County's emergency management coordinator.

"The ground is just fully saturated," Morrissey said. "The runoff from the community just all comes to that part of town. This is probably the worst it's ever been."

In Illinois, the Chicago Department of Aviation said high winds and storms were causing delays and cancellations at the city's airports.

Delays at O'Hare International Airport were averaging two hours Friday night, and more than 200 flights were canceled. At Midway Airport, some flights were delayed 20 minutes.

High winds blew the roof off an eastern Illinois lumber yard, sending debris through a nearby auto dealership. Also, 60-mph winds blew trucks off highways near Effingham and Champaign, but authorities said there were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Missouri, the Washington County Sheriff's Department said there were reports of a tornado touching down near Richwoods, about 65 miles southwest of St. Louis. No damage was immediately reported.

Flash flooding forced highways closed in Missouri and Minnesota, where a storm caused widespread damage in Park Rapids and an unincorporated town north of it called Emmaville.

No serious injuries were reported.

"Right now, I can tell you we've been fortunate," Sheriff Gary Mills said.

Susan Vessey said she's lived on the shore of the lake for 40 years and has never seen a storm like Friday's. "It was too fast to be scared," she said. Trees fell on her deck and roof, but there wasn't any damage to the inside of her house.

In Indiana, Gov. Mitch Daniels declared 41 counties disaster areas -- the first step to gain federal aid -- after severe storms and tornadoes. One person was killed and at least 10 injured in the round of storms this week.

Daniels wore a hard hat as he toured a tornado-ravaged apartment complex in Indianapolis on Friday.

"No matter how many times I see it, I'm constantly amazed and awed by the human sprit and the spirit of compassion that characterizes our state," Daniels said. - Source

Tornado - USA (Chicago) JUN

CHICAGO - A tornado damaged homes, toppled power lines and overturned semitrailers across Chicago's southern suburbs on Saturday evening.

A tornado warning was issued for the city's northern suburbs.

The tornado came amid storms that also brought severe flooding to central Indiana after as much as 10 inches of rain fell, and spawned tornadoes in Wisconsin.

Trooper Mark Dorencz said one person was injured on Interstate 57 in Chicago's southern suburbs. A swath of the major highway was closed as authorities cleared overturned trucks.

The National Weather Service said the large tornado touched down between the towns of Richton Park and University Park, then moved northeast.

Will County Sheriff's Department spokesman Pat Barry said the tornado damaged several homes in the Wilmington area.

Flights to Chicago-area airports were delayed up to an hour, NBC News reported.

The floods in Indiana threatened dams, inundated highways and forced the Coast Guard to rescue residents from swamped homes. And though flooding was a problem wherever the storms blew through, forecasters were especially concerned about a large, slow-moving tornado tearing through suburban Chicago.

Indiana had been spared any reported deaths or injuries.

"At this point, mercifully, we believe all Hoosiers are secure," Gov. Mitch Daniels said at a news conference. "We hope that will continue."

Daniels declared an emergency in 10 counties as the Coast Guard was called in from the Great Lakes to help with flooding that has forced hundreds of people from their homes. No injuries or deaths have been reported.

Small town under water
Ninety percent of the small town of Paragon, southwest of Indianapolis, was under water, State Homeland Security Director Joe Wainscott said.

Water reached the first floor of Johnson Memorial Hospital in Franklin, but no patients had to be moved, county Commissioner Tom Kite said, and cars were submerged up to their windshields in the county government building parking lot.

"We have dams failing in the Prince's Lakes area," threatening the town of Nineveh, about 30 miles south of Indianapolis, Kite said.

Indiana State Police reported evacuations in the Lake Lemon area about 10 miles northeast of Bloomington. Dams near Gold Point were close to collapse, police said.

'Worse than it's ever been'
Near Martinsville, southwest of Indianapolis, Ben Pace watched motorboats rescuing neighbors. The rain didn't appear that bad when he woke up, Pace said, but he then watched water rise 6 to 8 inches in his backyard shed.

"Then I realized that it's worse than it's ever been," he said.

A rescuer came by boat to his front door to get him. He managed to grab some clothes and his dog, leaving the home with knee-deep water in his bedroom.

Interstate 70 was closed in Clay County in west-central Indiana, and Interstate 65 and another major route, U.S. 31, both were closed near Franklin.

Residents of Helmsburg, a town of about 6,000 just 40 miles south of Indianapolis, were taken by bus to a YMCA in Nashville, said Wayne Freeman, Brown County Red Cross chairman.

In western Indiana, water more than a foot deep surrounded homes on Terre Haute's east side. U.S. 41 was the only route open into Terre Haute, and it was down to one lane by mid-afternoon.

200 people rescued
J.D. Kesler, deputy director of the Vigo County Emergency Management Agency, said more than 200 people had to be rescued from their homes, vehicles and nursing homes there.

Peter Perdoue, 35, a mortgage broker from Terre Haute, heard a trickle Saturday morning and checked his daughter's basement room. The water had risen above the window.

"It was almost like I was standing inside an aquarium," he said.

Within a few hours, sewage started backing into his basement, and it wasn't long before the waters had filled his basement up to the 10-foot ceiling.

More than 30,000 electricity customers lost power, the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission said.

Damage in Wisconsin
Powerful storms in Wisconsin dropped baseball-size hail on central and southeastern parts of the state, blowing roofs off homes and knocking down trees and power lines. Heavy rains also pelted the area, causing flash flooding.

Authorities said a camper was hurt in Rio and four more people suffered minor injuries after a house had its windows blown out near the Village of Randolph. Authorities also said a tornado spun a police car around.

Flooding built up around Milwaukee, where water as deep as 2 feet in roads caused parked cars to drift and closed parts of an interstate highway.

On the south side of town, two vacant buildings partially collapsed because of the heavy rains, authorities said. No injuries were reported there. - Source

Volcano - Indonesia (Sulawesi) JUN

A volcano has been erupting in Mount Soputan in North Sulawesi Island in eastern part of Indonesia since Friday and the head of the country's volcanology agency Surono warned Saturday that possible stronger explosion could emit all dangerous material.

"Stronger explosion may happen, which can emit dangerous materials from the crater," he told Xinhua.

The volcano has been frequently roaring and erupting since Friday, spewing white smoke up to 1,500 meters high, said Surono.

Surono said that there was no casualty or damage, as the eruption only triggered rain of ash by up to the radius of 8 kilometers.

"There is no need to displace the villagers. The frequency of the eruption has decreased since 2 a.m. Saturday," he said.

The agency has forbidden people to enter the areas in the radius of 6 kilometers from the crater since the mount increased seismic activity, according to Surono.

The agency have raised the status of the volcano to the second highest alert, he said.

Mount Soputan is among the country's 129 active volcanoes, 66 of which are located in high-density population areas, Java and Sumatra islands. - Source

Landslide - China (Hong Kong) JUN

Rainstorms which brought the heaviest downpour since records began have swamped Hong Kong, causing landslides which claimed two lives.

A man and a woman died when a landslide crashed into a hut in which they were sleeping and 16 people were injured in other storm-related incidents.

Hong Kong's observatory recorded 145.5mm (5.73 inches) of rain in one hour on Saturday morning.

Low pressure which caused the storms was forecast to weaken gradually.

A 20-tonne wall was brought down by a landslide on top of the hut where the man and woman were staying, local media said.

Emergency workers used cranes to lift the wall and dug a tunnel to reach the two but they were dead by the time rescuers got through.

Fire department district commander Tam Yiu-kei said there was a "chance of further landslides".

Streets across Hong Kong were severely flooded, some roads were closed and some flights were delayed at the international airport on Lantau Island. - Source

Drough - Morocco (Marrakech) JUN

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) -- Abdellilah Meddich's childhood memories of the famous palm grove of Marrakech are of a "magical" place, a lush desert oasis of flowers, animals and farmers who tended tree-shaded plots.

Today, the unique and vast World Heritage site is "nothing like it used to be when I was a child," says the 37-year-old Meddich, a forestry engineer overseeing a plan to plant more palms.

An ancient city on the rim of the Sahara desert, Marrakech has been a magnet for tourism since the 1960s, when hippies dubbed it "the city of four colors" - for its blue skies, its backdrop of white snowcapped peaks, the red walls of its medieval fortifications, and the sprawling green palm grove on its outskirts.

But one of these colors is fading fast. Legions of tall, swaying palms are yellowing and sickly, parched by drought that climate change experts predict may worsen as the planet warms.

Government-encouraged mass tourism, land developers, golf courses and rich Europeans' closed-off luxury villas are squeezing out farmers from the grove. For generations, farming families here lived almost in symbiosis with the palms, harvesting their fruit and shelter while tending to the trees' health. Most now have gone or been evicted, pushed out by lack of work or tourism driving land prices up.

The pace of destruction is staggering.

In 1929, Morocco's then-French rulers measured the palm grove at about 40,000 acres - an area nearly 50 times that of New York's Central Park. By 1998, it had declined to nearly 30,000 acres. Since then, the grove has shrunk by nearly half, to an estimated 16,000 to 19,000 acres.

Water is a major problem, for both the trees and the people who have long lived under them.

Fatima Lemkhaouen and her family of two dozen brothers, in-laws and children live crammed in one of the few Douar, or traditional hamlets, still standing in the palm grove. They have no electricity, or sanitation. The guard of one of the luxury villas next to their mud home passes over a hose to fill their plastic jugs and metal basins.

"We love the palm grove, but I don't think it's for us anymore," says Lemkhaouen, 29. Local officials have rebuffed their appeals for a public well, she adds. "They just want us out," she surmises.

The grove was planted in the 11th century under the Almoravid dynasty, which founded the city of Marrakech. Its empire extended from present-day Senegal to Spain and Portugal. The United Nations' cultural arm, UNESCO, included the grove when it added Marrakech to its list of World Heritage sites in 1984.

The grove's farmers practiced an age-old technique known as "three-layered crops:" wheat and vegetables on the arid soil, fruit trees at a man's height, and dates from the palm trees. A network of hundreds of miles of "Khettarras" - man-made canals and cisterns - brought water from the hills for plants to survive in the desert climate.

This ecosystem is collapsing.

Drought and heavy pumping for extensive agriculture in the hills around the grove have drastically lowered water reserves. The water table - a decade ago just 30 feet underground - is now at some 65 yards, beyond the reach of the trees' roots and anything but the deepest of wells.

Simultaneously, Marrakech became a top tourism destination. Even small plots in the palm grove now fetch as much as $1.5 million, creating pressure to sell to promoters. The Lemkhaouens' landlord has refused to renew their lease.

"Even one century of cultivation couldn't match the price owners can get for their land," says Youssef Sfairi, head of a nongovernment group trying to preserve the grove. His association, Amal Palmeraie, would translate from French and Arabic as "Hope for the Palm Grove."

As a UNESCO heritage site, the grove is supposed to be protected by Morocco. Marrakech City Hall, Morocco's government and private partners have committed the equivalent of $13 million to replant 400,000 palm trees by 2012.

The plan, launched by Morocco's King Mohammed VI and headed by one of his sisters, has already brought the number of palm trees from 100,000 in 2006 to over 260,000, said engineer Meddich. But most of the new trees are being planted in touristic zones near Marrakech instead of throughout the palm grove, he says.

Hopes rest largely on female palms. Although more vulnerable to drought than male ones, only they carry date fruits - and hence the seeds for more trees. Large teams of street workers circle the grove to maintain and water over 50,000 of these "mother palms."

Palm trees only grow each decade, and the small ones being replanted remain vulnerable. Meanwhile, the three-century old, 100-foot tall ones continue to die out.

Omar Jazouli, the mayor of Marrakech, acknowledges that most of the palm trees are "in an appalling state." But he views tourism as the savior, not the bane, of the grove.

"From the air you can see that all the trees in private ownership - golfs, hotels and villas - are being superbly looked after," he says. Every construction site for a new villa is required to survey its palm trees and can only move them - not cut them down - if building is impossible otherwise, he says.

The king has set a goal of 10 million tourists visiting Morocco by 2010, up from 7 million last year - including 1.6 million who came through Marrakech. Drawn by the near constant sunshine, tourists are pouring in from Europe on discounted three-hour flights. Jet-setters, Paris glitterati and some 16,000 other foreigners now have second homes in and around Marrakech, multiplying some land prices by 100 in a decade.

With over 40,000 rooms, hotel space has also grown tenfold in the same period, and each of the three golf courses in the palm grove is expanding from a normal 18-hole size to a jumbo 27 holes. Another 15 golf courses are under completion around Marrakech and in the grove, the mayor says.

But promoters must pay $4.7 million for building permits for a course, and the money goes to building wastewater recycling plants. One plant is already working near a section of the palm grove now largely viewed as preserved, he says.

Jazouli concedes that the building boom is driving out farmers, but says the benefits outweigh the impact for Marrakech's 850,000 people. Tourism and construction have driven salaries way above the national average, he said, and with just 7 percent unemployment Marrakech is nearly three times below the rest of the country.

Others see a less rosy future.

"Parts of this beautiful palm grove are becoming a construction dump," said Sylvie de Gouy, the owner of the villa who shares her water with the Lemkhaouen family. Gouy, a dentist in the northern French town of Lille, comes to her Marrakech villa at least once a month.

"You can't buy a house down here if you don't appreciate the Moroccans and living alongside them," she said, sipping a glass of mint tea at Lemkhaouen's modest breeze-block house across the wall from her mansion.

But even for her, water is now an issue. The private well to keep her garden green ran out last summer. - Source

Wildfire - USA (North Carolina) JUN

A wildfire that has burned nearly 31,000 acres in eastern North Carolina may smolder for months as it burns decayed vegetation that makes up the soil in the area, a state official said Saturday.

The fire, about 40 percent contained, continues to burn in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, about 70 miles south of Norfolk, Va. The spread of the fire across more than 48 square miles slowed over the past few days. Winds remain light, but it continues to threaten about 80 homes and businesses.

No injuries or structure damage have been reported.

The blaze burned an additional 1,000 acres - 1.5 square miles - on Saturday. Firefighters must build 25 miles of containment lines before it can be fully controlled, officials said.

North Carolina Forest Service spokesman Bill Swartley warned that temperatures near 100 degrees this weekend would keep conditions ripe for the blaze.

Gov. Mike Easley has declared a state of emergency in three counties. He warned that driving could be difficult with smoke-filled roads. Officials said none were expected to be closed.

For the past few days, smoke from the fire has blown north into heavily populated areas along Virginia's coast. But the winds shifted, and forecasters expected it to blow east toward the Outer Banks.

Fire officials told residents that smoke could linger for months because of fire smoldering in the decayed vegetation that makes up the peat-filled soil. Peat is flammable.

"You won't see open flame. The ground is just really hot - you can't walk on it," Swartley said.

The only way to stop the fire in the soil is to flood it. Firefighters are pumping water from nearby Phelps Lake to battle the ground fire. However, the only thing that will put all of it out for good would be several inches of rain at one time, like from a tropical storm, Swartley said.

The fire was sparked by lightning a week ago.

In California, a wildfire that briefly threatened 50 homes in the mountains northwest of Los Angeles was contained early Saturday. The blaze in the Grapevine area along Interstate 5 in the Tehachapi Mountains had charred about 500 acres - less than a square mile - of grass and brush by the time it was declared surrounded.

Residents of about 50 homes in Digier Canyon were advised to leave but the threat ended and the fire basically had stopped growing by Friday evening.

Damp weather during the night helped keep the fire down.

The cause of that fire had not been determined.

Another wildfire briefly threatened scattered canyon homes Saturday in eastern San Diego County, but its spread was stopped by late afternoon. - Source