Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Merkel Faces Achilles Heel in Grids to Unplug German Nuclear

Bloomberg.com: Merkel Faces Achilles Heel in Grids to Unplug German Nuclear
Chancellor Angela Merkel must carry out a 10 billion-euro ($14.4 billion) expansion of Germany’s electricity-delivery network or her decision to exit nuclear power can stunt growth in Europe’s largest economy.

Cables are needed to connect new offshore wind farms in the north to the factory-rich south and high-volume lines to France are necessary for imports to cover a shortfall as Germany phases out reactors that provide 23 percent of demand. A grid upgrade is essential, and Germans must end their opposition to new power lines overhead, energy economics professor Christoph Weber said.

“The grids are the Achilles heel and greatest challenge of the energy policy,” University of Duisburg Essen’s Weber said in an interview. “The government will have to overcome significant problems on the ground to get the lines built.”

Germany became the biggest economy to plan an atomic-power exit after a meltdown in Japan stoked safety concerns, costing Merkel’s Christian Democrats votes in state elections. Europe’s largest power market will be a test case for whether an industrialized nation can rely far more on clean energy without eroding corporate profit, according to Environment Minister Norbert Roettgen.

An improved power network to avoid potential blackouts would be paid for largely by business and residential power consumers and benefit carmakers in the south including Daimler AG and Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, as well as equipment suppliers including Siemens AG (SIE) and Switzerland’s ABB Ltd. (ABBN)

Legal Challenges
Infrastructure projects often face resistance from local residents concerned that home prices and quality of life will decline. EON AG, the country’s largest utility, is fighting legal challenges to finish building a coal-fired power plant in the town of Datteln while Elia System Operator SA’s German unit is trying to convince local authorities to proceed with a plan to build power lines through a forest in the state of Thuringia.

To kick-start the work, the Economy Ministry plans to use fast-track powers last exercised in 1990, when united Germany replaced crumbling roads in the east to improve connections in the country. Control over approving power grids would be taken by Merkel’s government from states and local councils. Her cabinet is set to discuss the energy policy overhaul on June 6.

The country needs to construct 3,600 kilometers (2,235 miles) of power lines by 2020 to link renewable energy projects with consumers and guarantee stability on the grid, the German Energy Agency said in November. That would cost 9.7 billion euros and include connecting offshore wind farms, according to the agency, a think tank owned by Allianz SE, Deutsche Bank AG, DZ Bank AG, KfW Group and the government.

Boost Capacity
“The north-to-south and border connections will need to be developed” as wind parks off the coast start and utilities sell more power from France and the Czech Republic to German consumers, according to Weber.

Utilities will need to “strengthen the power grid, boosting north-south capacity and allowing for a growing percentage of intermittent renewable energy being fed in,” James Stettler, a London-based UniCredit SpA analyst, and colleague Alasdair Leslie wrote in a May 31 note to clients.

Siemens, Schneider Electric SA (SU), ABB and Alstom SA (ALO) may benefit from demand for transmission products, according to UniCredit. Siemens, a stock the analysts rate “buy,” is “particularly well-placed” given that it sells wind turbines, transmission and distribution equipment, gas-fired power plants and other energy products, according to the note.

Gas-fired power plants are used to shadow renewable energy output because they can increase and reduce generation quicker than other reactors or coal-fired stations.

Source Abroad
While Germany will add gas-fired plants, the country could have to source as much as 10 percent of its annual power use from abroad during the phase-out, said Weber.

Merkel said May 30 that Germany will raise renewable power output to 35 percent of the country’s supply in 2020 from 17 percent last year. The government already had a target of more than 30 percent and has said 35 percent would be achievable.

Germany is considering reducing the guaranteed, above- market rate paid for solar power by 6 percent on March 1, Environment Minister Roettgen said at a May 30 press conference in Berlin. That would come on top of cuts of as much as 24 percent between July and next January to adapt the subsidy to falling panel prices.

The government has cut subsidies further than it originally planned over the last two years after panel prices slumped with an increase in Chinese imports.

“It’s clearly possible to boost solar use in Germany: they have not yet managed to stop their market growing explosively despite increasing tariff cuts,” said Jenny Chase, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s lead solar analyst. “The challenge will be handling intermittency. Expect Germany to become very, very interested in a Europe-wide grid and power storage.”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

US Capitol Cities: Olympia, Washington

From Wikipedia

Olympia is the capital city of the U.S. state of Washington and the county seat of Thurston County. It was incorporated on January 28, 1859. The population was 46,478 at the 2010 census. Olympia is a major cultural center of the Puget Sound region.

The site of Olympia was home to Lushootseed-speaking peoples for thousands of years, including Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, and Duwamish. The first recorded visit by Europeans was in 1792 when Peter Puget and a crew from the British Vancouver Expedition charted the site.

In 1846, Edmund Sylvester and Levi Smith jointly claimed the land that now comprises downtown Olympia. In 1851, the U.S. Congress established the Customs District of Puget Sound for Washington Territory and Olympia became the home of the customs house. Its population being steadily expanded from Oregon Trail immigrants, in 1853 the town settled on the name Olympia, at the suggestion of local resident Colonel Isaac N. Ebey, due to its view of the Olympic Mountains to the northwest. The area began to be served by a small fleet of steamboats known as the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet.

In 1896, Olympia became the home of the Olympia Brewing Company, which brewed Olympia Beer until 2003.

A 1949 earthquake damaged many historic buildings beyond repair, and they were demolished. Parts of the city also suffered damage from earthquake tremors in 1965 and the 2001 Nisqually earthquake.

In 1967, the state legislature approved the creation of The Evergreen State College in Olympia. Because of the college's presence, Olympia has become a hub for artists and musicians, and was recently named one of the best college towns in the nation for its vibrant downtown and access to outdoor activities.

Geography and climate
Olympia is located at 47°2′33″N 122°53′35″W / 47.0425°N 122.89306°W / 47.0425; -122.89306 (47.042418, -122.893077).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 18.5 square miles (48 km2), of which, 16.7 square miles (43 km2) of it is land and 1.8 square miles (4.7 km2) of it (9.77%) is water.

The city of Olympia is located at the southern end of Puget Sound on Budd Inlet. The Deschutes River estuary was dammed in 1951 to create Capitol Lake. Much of the lower area of downtown Olympia sits on reclaimed land. The cities of Lacey and Tumwater border Olympia.

The climate of Olympia is a Marine West Coast climate), though sometimes characterized as Mediterranean. Most of western Washington's weather is brought in by weather systems that form near the Aleutian Islands in Alaska. It contains cold moist air, which brings western Washington cold rain, cloudiness, and fog. November and December are Olympia's rainiest months. City streets, creeks, and rivers often flood during the months of November through February. Olympia averages 50.8 inches (1,290 mm) of precipitation per year and has a year-round average of 75% cloud cover. According to one MSNBC study, Olympia had more rainy days per year on average over the past 30 years than any city in the lower 48 states.

Snow for the 1971-2000 period averaged 14.7 inches (37.3 cm), but the median was much lower, at 4.3 inches (10.9 cm).

Olympia has a wide array of public parks and nature conservation areas. The Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area is a 600-acre (2.4 km2) parcel that preserves more than 5 miles (8.0 km) of Puget Sound waterfront along the Woodard and Chapman bays of the Henderson Inlet. Percival Landing Park includes 0.9 miles (1.4 km) of boardwalk along Budd Inlet, as well as a playground, picnic areas and a large open space.

The Watershed Park is the site of the former water works for the city, and today features a loop trail with a large second-growth forest. Other parks include Priest Point Park, Burfoot Park, Sunrise Park and Yauger Park, which is home to one of Olympia's public skate parks including Friendly Grove which is nestled in a small Eastside Community. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge is located just outside of Olympia, as is the Capitol State Forest.

Artesian water
Olympia was historically dependent on artesian waters. Early settlers in Swantown and Tumwater used artesian springs for their main water supply. The artesian spring at Fourth Avenue and Main Street (now called Capitol Way) was the main community well where settlers gathered to socialize. The artesian well in the Diamond Parking lot at Fourth Avenue and Jefferson Street is active, located in the parking lot 421 4th Street. The City of Olympia is purchasing the lot, in part to maintain the well.

Another still flows at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Washington Street in the Bigelow Neighborhood. The northeast end of Capitol Lake was the location of an artesian well until the construction of a new park that included changes to the shoreline. McAllister Springs, the main water source for Olympia, is fed by artesian wells, and the former Olympia Brewery is supplied by 26 artesian wells.

In downtown Olympia, current efforts to preserve the use of artesian water at the one remaining public well has been the mission of H2Olympia: Artesian Well Advocates.In 2011, the city of Olympia committed $50,000 towards improvements of an artesian well, located in a parking lot that was recently purchased by the city.

As of the census of 2000, there were 42,514 people, 18,670 households, and 9,968 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,544.4 people per square mile (982.3/km²).

There were 19,738 housing units at an average density of 1,181.3 per square mile (456.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 85.3% White, 1.9% African American, 1.3% Native American, 5.8% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 1.7% from other races, and 3.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.4% of the population. 15.0% were of German, 11.3% Irish, 10.0% English, 6.0% Norwegian and 5.3% American ancestry according to Census 2000. 91.6% spoke English, 2.9% Spanish and 1.7% Vietnamese as their first language.

There were 18,670 households out of which 26.8% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 39.6% were married couples living together, 10.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.6% were non-families. 35.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 10.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.21 and the average family size was 2.88.

In the city the population was spread out with 21.5% under the age of 18, 11.9% from 18 to 24, 30.4% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 13.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.5 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 88.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $40,846, and the median income for a family was $54,136. Males had a median income of $41,267 versus $31,515 for females. The per capita income for the city was $22,590. About 6.9% of families and 12.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.4% of those under age 18 and 6.3% of those age 65 or over.

Schools and universities
Olympia's main public school district is the Olympia School District. Olympia School District enrolled 9,231 students in K-12, based on the 2005-06 school year enrollment report. The school district has a total of 18 schools: 11 elementary schools, 4 middle schools and 3 high schools. Its high schools are Olympia High School (originally known as William Winlock Miller High School), Capital High School, and Avanti High School.

In the 2007-2008 school year, Olympia began the new Parent Partnership Program, which provides more opportunities to homeschooling families. Olympia's online high school, Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA), is also part of the same program. Private elementary schools include Olympia Waldorf School, Olympia Community School, St. Michael School, Holy Family, and Evergreen Christian. Private middle schools include NOVA Middle School.

In addition to primary & secondary schools, Olympia has a number of institutions of higher learning, including The Evergreen State College, South Puget Sound Community College, and St. Martin's University in adjacent Lacey, Washington.

Olympia is a regional center for fine arts. A number of theatrical experiences are available with companies such as Capital Playhouse, Olympia Family Theater, Theater Artists Olympia (TAO), Olympia Little Theater, and Harlequin Productions at the historic State Theater. The Olympia Symphony Orchestra performs five regular season concerts at the Washington Center and two pop concerts.

Visual art venues include some of the local coffeehouses, such as Batdorf & Bronson and Caffe Vita in downtown. A gallery called Art House Designs presents works of sculpture, painting, and printmaking and hosts a jazz performance space. Murals and public art installations of sculpture are prevalent in Olympia, and are especially featured on the State Capitol Campus and along Percival Landing on the urban waterfront. South Puget Sound Community College has a gallery in its Minnaert Center with rotating exhibitions. The Washington Center for the Performing Arts also presents visual art exhibitions throughout the season in the spacious lobby areas.

Outside Olympia city limits, two visual art venues are notable: Art In Ecology is a long-established art-in-the-workplace venue that features works by northwest artists. Housed in Washington Department of Ecology, in neighboring Lacey, solo shows and group exhibitions rotate throughout the year. Permanent installations by Alfredo Arreguin are juxtaposed with works by 20-30 other northwest artists throughout the spacious and light filled building. Appointments are needed to view the 322,000-square-foot (29,900 m2) building, and tours of the whole space usually take about an hour. Also notable is the Gallery in the Library Building at the Evergreen State College, northwest of Olympia.

Each year the Olympia Film Society (OFS) produces a nationally-recognized[citation needed] film festival and fosters film and video education in Olympia. It also shows independent, classic and international films year-round at the art-deco Capitol Theater. A mostly volunteer-powered organization, OFS supports and presents a variety of culture events, including All Freakin' Night, an all-night horror film screening with a cult following.

On the fourth Saturday in April, in honor of Earth Day, Olympia is host to one of the region's largest community celebrations - the Procession of the Species celebration. Held in conjunction with the city's biannual Arts Walk, the Procession is organized by the community-based non-profit organization, Earthbound Productions. Structured around an annual Community Art Studio that is free and open to the public, organizers provide art, music and dance workshops during the preceding seven weeks leading up to the Procession weekend.

In its July 2009 Best of America feature, Reader's Digest magazine honored the Procession of the Species with the top spot in its “can’t resist” parades and processions list. Open to all, the Procession of the Species attracts up to 30,000 viewers, while its costumed participants of all ages frequently number nearly 3,000. On the Friday evening before the Procession of Species, a Luminary Procession is held.

In 1984, Olympia hosted the U.S. Olympic women's marathon trial. The winner of the event was Joan Benoit who would later win a gold medal at the first women's Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles.

Olympia is the home of the Oly Rollers, the local women's flat track roller derby league whose travel team (the Cosa Nostra Donnas) became the 2009 national champions of the Women's Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA) by winning the national "Declaration of Derby" tournament in Philadelphia, PA on November 15, 2009. Olympia is also home to some of the Pacific Northwests greatest running talents such as the Guerilla Running Racing Club.

RailAmtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to Olympia-Lacey at Centennial Station. Amtrak train 11, the southbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 11:21am with service to Centralia; Portland; Sacramento; Emeryville, California (with bus connection to San Francisco); and Los Angeles. Amtrak train 14, the northbound Coast Starlight, departs Olympia at 6:22pm daily with service to Tacoma and Seattle. Amtrak Cascades trains, operating as far north as Vancouver and as far south as Eugene, Oregon, serve Olympia-Lacey several times daily in both directions.

Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and the surrounding area are primarily served by Intercity Transit. Routes from other transit services such as Grays Harbor Transit, Mason Transit, and the Tacoma/Lakewood Express with Pierce Transit. Intercity Transit maintains a free shuttle route called "Dash". Dash runs from the Capitol Campus to the Farmers Market at the far edge of downtown. In 2009 Intercity Transit won an award for Americas best Public Transportation System in the mid size category by the American Public Transportation Association.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Oroumieh Lake turning to salt

Lake Urmia (Oroumieh) ancient name: Lake Matiene) is a salt lake in northwestern Iran, near Iran's border with Turkey. The lake is between the Iranian provinces of East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan, west of the southern portion of the similarly shaped Caspian Sea. It is (or rather, was) the largest lake in the Middle East, and the third largest salt water lake on earth, with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 miles) length, 55 km (34 miles) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.

From YahooNews: Oroumieh Lake turning to salt
OROUMIEH LAKE, Iran -- From a hillside, Kamal Saadat looked forlornly at hundreds of potential customers, knowing he could not take them for trips in his boat to enjoy a spring weekend on picturesque Oroumieh Lake, the third largest saltwater lake on earth.

"Look, the boat is stuck... It cannot move anymore," said Saadat, gesturing to where it lay encased by solidifying salt and lamenting that he could not understand why the lake was fading away.

The long popular lake, home to migrating flamingos, pelicans and gulls, has shrunken by 60 percent and could disappear entirely in just a few years, experts say – drained by drought, misguided irrigation policies, development and the damming of rivers that feed it.

Until two years ago, Saadat supplemented his income from almond- and grape-growing by taking tourists on boat tours. But as the lake receded and its salinity rose, he found he had to stop the boat every 10 minutes to unfoul the propeller – and finally, he had to give up this second job that he'd used to support a five-member family.

"The visitors were not enjoying such a boring trip," he said, noting they had to cross hundreds of meters of salty lakebed just to reach the boat from the wharf.

Other boatmen, too, have parked their vessels by their houses, where they stand as sad reminders of the deep-water days. And the lake's ebbing affects an ever-widening circle.

In April, authorities stopped activities at the nearby jetty in Golmankhaneh harbor, due to lack of water in the lake, now only two meters deep at its deepest. Jetties in Sharafkhaneh and Eslami harbors faced the same fate.

The receding water has also weakened hotel business and tourism activities in the area, and planned hotel projects remain idle since investors are reluctant to continue.

Beyond tourism, the salt-saturated lake threatens agriculture nearby in northwest Iran, as storms sometimes carry the salt far afield. Many farmers worry about the future of their lands, which for centuries have been famous for apples, grapes, walnuts, almonds, onions, potatoes, as well as aromatic herbal drinks, candies and tasty sweet pastes.

Story continues below
AdvertisementAdvertisement"The salty winds not only will affect surrounding areas but also can damage farming in remote areas," said Masoud Mohammadian, an agriculture official in the eastern part of the lake, some 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of the capital Tehran.

Other officials echoed the dire forecast.

Salman Zaker, a parliament member for Oroumieh warned last month that, "with the current trend, the risk of a salt tsunami is increasing." Warning that the lake would dry out within three to five years – an assessment agreed to by the local environment department director, Hasan Abbasnejad – Zaker said eight to 10 billion tons of salt would jeopardize life for millions of people.

Masoud Pezeshkian, another lawmaker and representative for city of Tabriz in the eastern part of the lake said, "The lake has been drying but neither government nor local officials took any step, so far."

How did this disaster develop, and what can be done now?

Official reports blame the drying mainly on a decade-long drought, and peripherally on consumption of water of the feeding rivers for farming. They put 5 percent of the blame on construction of dams and 3 percent on other factors. Others disagree about the relative blame.

The first alarm over the lake's shrinking came in late 1990s amid a nagging drought.

Nonetheless, the government continued construction of 35 dams on the rivers which feed the lake; 10 more dams are on the drawing boards for the next few years.

Also completed was a lake-crossing roadway between Oroumieh and Tabriz, cities on the west and east of the lake. No environmental feasibility study was done in the planning for the road, and environmentalists believe the project worsened the lake's health by acting as a barrier to water circulation.

Nasser Agh, who teaches at Tabriz Sahand University, suggested miscalculations led to late reaction to save the lake. "Experts believed it would be a 10-year rotating drought, at first," he said. But long afterward, the drought still persists, with devastating effects.

In the early 2000s, academic research concluded that the lake could face the same destiny as the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, which has been steadily shrinking since rivers that feed it were diverted by Soviet Union irrigation projects in 1960s. It is now less than one-tenth of its original size.

In April, the Iranian government announced a three-prong effort to save the lake: a cloud-seeding program to increase rainfall in the area, a lowering of water consumption by irrigation systems, and supplying the lake with remote sources of water.

Mohammad Javad Mohammadizadeh, vice-president to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in charge of environmental affairs, said the government approved the three-part approach.

Some experts termed the weather control portion of the program as only a "symbolic action" by government, saying the best answer would be to release more water currently being held back by dams. The evaporation rate has been three times the rainfall rate, making the rivers' historic role vital to sustaining the lake.

"The lake is in such a misery because of the dams," Ismail Kahram, a professor in Tehran Azad University and a prominent environmentalist, told The Associated Press. Three-fifths of the lake has dried up and salt saturation has reached some 350 milligrams per liter from 80 milligrams in 1970s, he said.

Kahram said the government should allow 20 percent of the water from the dams to reach the lake.

Mostafa Ghanbari, secretary of the Society for Savior of the Lake Oroumieh, believes transferring water from the Caspian Sea may be "the only way to save" the lake. But such a project would be ambitious, requiring the pumping of water some 430 miles (700 kilometers), from a body of water at considerably lower elevation.

In the green and beautiful city of Oroumieh, famous for peaceful coexistence between Azeri people, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians as well as Muslims and Christians, talk about the fate of the lake is common among ordinary people in teahouses and on the streets.

Many express happiness with the government decision to manipulate clouds in hopes of increasing rainfall.

"It is a good decision. Every evening I look at the dark clouds that are coming and I tell my family soon there will be rain," and on some nights there have been showers, said Masoud Ranjbar, a taxi driver.

However, Eskandar Khanjari, a local journalist in Oroumieh, called the cloud-seeding plan "a show." He said recent rainfall was only seasonal, as predicted by meteorologists.

Scoffing at the promises of officials and what he called "non-expert views," he said of efforts to save the lake: "It seems that people have only one way; to pray for rain."

Beyond the debates by national and local authorities some folks here suggest another way Oroumieh could be saved.

A local legend says wild purple gladiolas have had a miraculous role in doing just that. The flowers have grown every year for a thousand years in the spot where a princess of Oroumieh was killed as she warned the people of the city about an invading enemy.

As a recent sunset turned the lake golden, Kamal the boatman tried to find some hope in the returning blossoms.

"You see, still wild purple gladiolas are appearing in the spring," he said. "The city and its lake can eventually survive."

Monday, May 23, 2011

Joplin searches through wreckage

Downtown Joplin before the latest tornado

Joplin is a city in southern Jasper County and northern Newton County in the southwestern corner of the U.S. state of Missouri. Joplin is the largest city in Jasper County, though it is not the county seat. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 50,150. In 2009, the surrounding Metropolitan Statistical Area had an estimated population of 174,300.

Although often believed to be named for ragtime composer Scott Joplin who lived in Sedalia, Missouri, Joplin is actually named for the Reverend Harris Joplin, the founder of the area's first Methodist congregation. Joplin was established in 1873 and expanded significantly from the wealth created by the mining of zinc, its growth faltering after World War II when the price of the mineral collapsed. The city gained additional renown as one of the stops on the historic Route 66.

On May 6, 1971, Joplin was struck by a severe tornado resulting in one dead and 50 people injured, along with major damage to many houses and businesses.

On May 22, 2011, Joplin was hit by a very intense tornado causing 89+ deaths and injuries along with major damage to many houses, St. John Medical Center, and multiple school buildings.

USAToday: Joplin searches through wreckage
Joplin residents searched through major tornado devastation Monday morning as another severe storm threatened to bear down on the region and rescuers warned the death toll could climb.

At least 89 people were killed in the massive tornado that tore a 6-mile swath through southwestern Missouri, hitting Joplin, destroying a hospital, flattening a high school, slamming cars into buildings and splintering the bark off trees.

The damage was breathtaking in scope.

"You see pictures of World War II, the devastation and all that with the bombing. That's really what it looked like," said resident Kerry Sachetta, the principal of a flattened Joplin High School. "I couldn't even make out the side of the building. It was total devastation in my view. I just couldn't believe what I saw."

The new storm moving into the area was likely to hamper door-to-door searches for survivors.

"It's definitely not making the process any easier," said National Weather Service Meteorologist Doug Cramer.

He said the storm heading toward the city could have wind speeds up to 60 mph and hail as big as a 1/4-inch around.

A massive storm system dropped the tornado into the heart of Joplin Sunday evening.

Cramer said a team of meteorologists was en route to Joplin to begin determining the path and devastation of the tornado. He said meteorologists had not determined the scale of the tornado nor did they have a solid number of dead or injured.

Roger Dedick and his wife survived the storm by taking shelter in the couple's garage, which is partly underground. There are no walls on the house the couple lived in for 17 years.

"That's all that's left," Dedick said, pointing to a section of foundation with a small stairwell.

Dedick said his ears popped as the tornado blew the windows out of the garage. He said he had to use a metal bar to pry his way out of the rubble of his home.

Lance Gaines has been in the Joplin area since 11 last night. He's a member of a search-and-rescue group made up mostly of firefighters from Fayetteville, Ark.

Gaines said he's been searching almost non-stop since arriving in Joplin and has not found anyone in the rubble.

Searching for survivors is difficult because all the street signs have been knocked down, so it's difficult to pinpoint a location.

The Springfield Police Department sent 10 officers last night to help relief efforts, public information officer Matt Brown said.

He said officers are assisting Joplin officials by maintaining perimeters around damaged buildings and offering other services.

City Manager Mark Rohr announced the number of known dead at a pre-dawn news conference outside the wreckage of a hospital that took a direct hit from the storm. His own home was among the buildings destroyed as the twister swept through this city of about 50,000 people about 160 miles south of Kansas City.

The Joplin twister was one of 68 reported tornadoes across seven Midwest states over the weekend, from Oklahoma to Wisconsin, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center. One person was killed in Minneapolis.

The devastation in Missouri was the worst of the day, reminiscent of the tornadoes that killed more than 300 people across the South last month.

Sunday's storm in Joplin hit a hospital packed with patients and a commercial area including a Home Depot construction store, numerous smaller businesses, restaurants and a grocery store. Jasper County Emergency Management Director Keith Stammer said about 2,000 buildings were damaged.

Among the worst-hit locations in Joplin was St. John's Regional Medical Center. The staff had just a few moments' notice to hustle patients into hallways before the storm struck the nine-story building, blowing out hundreds of windows and leaving the facility useless.

In the parking lot, a helicopter lay crushed on its side, its rotors torn apart and windows smashed. Nearby, a pile of cars lay crumpled into a single mass of twisted metal. Matt Sheffer dodged downed power lines, trees and closed streets to make it to his dental office across from the hospital. Rubble littered a flattened lot where a pharmacy, gas station and some doctors' offices once stood.

"My office is totally gone. Probably for two to three blocks, it's just leveled," he said. "The building that my office was in was not flimsy. It was 30 years old and two layers of brick. It was very sturdy and well-built."

St. John's patients were evacuated to other hospitals in the region, said Cora Scott, a spokeswoman for the medical center's sister hospital in Springfield.

Early Monday morning, floodlights from a temporary triage facility lit what remained of the hospital that once held as many 367 patients. Police officers combed the surrounding area for bodies.

Miranda Lewis, a spokeswoman for St. John's, was at home when the tornado sirens began going off. Early Monday, she had no details on any deaths or injuries suffered at the hospital in the tornado strike, although she had seen the damaged building.

"It's like what you see someplace else, honestly," Lewis said. "That's a terrible way to say it, but you don't recognize what's across the street.

"I had seen it on television, but until you're standing right here and see the devastation, you can't believe it."

Michael Spencer, a national Red Cross spokesman who assisted in the aftermath of a tornado that devastated nearby Pierce City in 2003, was stunned.

"I've been to about 75 disasters, and I've never seen anything quite like this before," Spencer said. "You don't typically see metal structures and metal frames torn apart, and that's what you see here."

Triage centers and shelters set up around the city quickly filled to capacity. At Memorial Hall, a downtown entertainment venue, nurses and other emergency workers from across the region treated critically injured patients.

At another makeshift unit at a Lowe's home improvement store, wooden planks served as beds. Outside, ambulances and fire trucks waited for calls. During one stretch after midnight Monday, emergency vehicles were scrambling nearly every two minutes.

Winds from the storm carried debris up to 60 miles away. Medical records, X-rays, insulation and other items fell to the ground in Greene County, said Larry Woods, assistant director of the Springfield-Greene County Office of Emergency Management.

Travel through and around Joplin was difficult as Interstate 44 was shut down and streets were clogged with emergency vehicles and the wreckage of buildings.

Emergency management officials rushed heavy equipment to Joplin to help lift debris and clear the way for search-and-recovery operations. President Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was working with state and local agencies.

Jeff Lehr, a reporter for The Joplin Globe, said he was upstairs in his home when the storm hit but was able to make his way to a basement closet.

"There was a loud huffing noise, my windows started popping. I had to get downstairs, glass was flying. I opened a closet and pulled myself into it," he told the Associated Press. "Then you could hear everything go. It tore the roof off my house, everybody's house. I came outside, and there was nothing left."

An aching helplessness settled over residents, many of whom could only wander the wreckage bereft and wondering about the fate of loved ones.

Justin Gibson, 30, huddled with three relatives outside the tangled debris field of what remained of a Home Depot. He pointed to a black pickup that had been tossed into the store's ruins and said it belonged to his roommate's brother. "He was last seen here with his two little girls," ages 4 and 5, Gibson said.

"We've been trying to get ahold of him since the tornado happened," Gibson said, adding his own house had been leveled.

"It's just gone. Everything in that neighborhood is gone. The high school, the churches, the grocery store. I can't get ahold of my ex-wife to see how my kids are," he said, referring to his three children, ranging in age from 4 months to 5 years.

"I don't know the extent of this yet," Gibson said, "but I know I'll have friends and family dead."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One year after Eyjafjoell, Iceland volcano Grimvotn shuts down flights

This is an overhead view of the Antarcitc circle (the curvy line denotes that circle. Note that Iceland is below Greenland, with Canada to the Northwest.

CourierMail.com.au: One year after Eyjafjoell, Iceland volcano Grimvotn shuts down flights
A NEW volcanic eruption in Iceland has shut down the country's airspace, a year after the eruption of nearby Eyjafjoell caused aviation chaos across Europe.

However experts and aviation authorities said the impact of the Grimsvotn eruption should not be as far-reaching.

Grimsvotn, Iceland's most active volcano located at the heart of its biggest glacier Vatnajoekull, began erupting late on Saturday (early Sunday AEST), sending a plume of smoke and ash as high as 20km into the sky.

Ash soon covered nearby villages and farms and had by Sunday morning reached the capital, nearly 400 kilometres to the west.

"It's just black outside, and you can hardly tell it is supposed to be bright daylight," said Bjorgvin Hardarsson, a farmer at Hunbakkar Farm in the nearby village of Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

On Sunday morning, Iceland's airport administration, Isavia, announced that the country's main airport Keflavik was shutting and that basically all of the country's airspace was closing due to the ash cloud.

The airspace closure "affects pretty much all of Iceland right now, at least for the next hours... flights to and from Iceland are shutting down," said Isavia spokeswoman Hjordis Gudmundsdottir, adding that flight routes to the north of the North Atlantic island nation could also be affected.

However, she stressed, the fact that winds were blowing the ash to the north was far better than last year's eruption of Eyjafjoell, when a massive cloud of ash was blown to the south and southeast over mainland Europe.

The Eyjafjoell eruption caused the planet's biggest airspace shutdown since World War II, lasting almost a month, amid fears the volcanic ash could wreak havoc on aircraft engines.

By late morning on Sunday, no other European countries had decided to close their airspace, although aviation authorities in Britain and Scandinavia, among the hardest hit last year, said they were keeping a close eye on developments.

The European air safety organisation EuroControl said no impact was expected on European airspace outside Iceland or on transatlantic flights for at least 24 hours.

In The Netherlands, an aviation authority spokeswoman said there were as yet no plans to cancel a flight planned from the Amsterdam-Schiphol airport to Keflavik at 2200 AEST.

With ash falling on villages in the surrounding area and as far away as Reykjavik on Sunday, geophysicists at Iceland's Meteorological Office said they expected the Grimsvotn eruption to have far less impact on international flights than last year's blast.

"I don't expect this will have the same effect as Eyjafjoell volcano because the ash is not as fine," said Gunnar Gudmundsson.

"I don't think this will have much of an effect on international flights, or that it will shut down airports abroad."

Einar Kjartansson, another geophysicist at the Icelandic Meteorological Office, however insisted "it's much too early to say".

"If the eruption lasts for a long time we could be seeing similar effects as seen with Eyjafjoell last year," he cautioned, but added that for the time being "most of the traffic at least to the south of Iceland will probably not be affected".

"We don't know what will happen after that. We are expecting weather changes on Tuesday, when the winds should change to a northwesterly direction and the ash should clear from us here (in Reykjavik)," he said.

Experts have been quick to note though that no two volcanic eruptions are alike, and Gudmundsson said it was unlikely that Grimsvotn would emit a similar kind of ash — fine, with very sharp particles — as found in the massive plume that burst from Eyjafjoell.

"The eruption is still going strong, but because the ash is basalt it is rougher and falls back down to earth much quicker," he said.

Grimsvotn, which has erupted nine times between 1922 and 2004, is located in an enormous caldera — a collapsed volcanic crater — eight kilometres in diameter near the centre of the Vatnajoekull icefield.

When it last erupted in November 2004, volcanic ash fell as far away as mainland Europe and caused minor disruptions in flights to and from Iceland.

Geologists had worried late last year the volcano was about to blow when they noticed a large river run caused by rapidly melting glacier ice.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Human Geography

This blog, Recreational Geography, focuses on physical geography.

Nevertheless, here's what human geogrpahy is:
Human geography is the branch of geography that focuses on the study of patterns and processes that shape human interaction with various environments. It encompasses human, political, cultural, social, and economic aspects.

While the major focus of human geography is not the physical landscape of the Earth, it is not possible to discuss human geography without referring to the physical landscape on which human activities are being played out, and environmental geography is emerging as a link between the two. Human geography can be divided into many broad categories, such as:

Cultural geography
Development geography
Economic geography
Health geography
Historical & Time geography
Political geography & Geopolitics
Demography or Religion geography
Social geography
Transportation geography
Tourism geography
Urban geography

Various approaches to the study of human geography have also arisen through time and include:

Behavioral geography
Feminist geography
Culture theory

Around Africa: Western Sahara

So far we've gone from Northwest to North east Adrica, starting at Morroco, then Algeria, Libya, and stopping with Egype, which abuts the Mediterranean sea to its north and the Red Sea to its East.

Now we're going back to the West and will begin with Western Sahara.

The Western Sahara (al-Gharbīyah, Berber: Taneẓṛuft Tutrimt, Spanish: Sahara Occidental) is a disputed territory in North Africa, bordered by Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, Mauritania to the east and south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 sq mi). It is one of the most sparsely populated territories in the world, mainly consisting of desert flatlands. The population of the territory is estimated at just over 500,000, over half of whom live in El Aaiún, the largest city in Western Sahara (also called Laayoune).

A Spanish colony since the late 1800s, the Western Sahara has been on the United Nations list of non-self-governing territories since 1963.

In 1965, the UN General Assembly adopted its first resolution on Western Sahara, asking Spain to decolonise the territory. One year later, a new resolution was passed by the General Assembly requesting Spain to organise a referendum on self-determination.

In 1975, Spain relinquished the administrative control of the territory to a joint administration by Morocco, which had formally claimed the territory since 1957, and Mauritania.

A war erupted between those countries and the Sahrawi national liberation movement Polisario Front, which proclaimed the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) (exiled government in Tindouf, Algeria). Following the withdrawal of Mauritania in 1979, Morocco eventually secured effective control of most of the territory, including all the major cities and natural resources.

Since a United Nations-sponsored ceasefire agreement in 1991, most of the territory (including the entire Atlantic coast line) has been controlled by Morocco, strongly backed by France, and the remainder by the SADR, strongly backed by Algeria.

Internationally, major powers such as the United States and Russia have taken a generally ambiguous and neutral position on each side's claims, and have pressed both parties to agree on a peaceful resolution. Both Morocco and Polisario have sought to boost their claims by accumulating formal recognition, essentially from African, Asian, and Latin American states in the developing world.

The Polisario Front has won formal recognition for SADR from 81 states, and was extended membership in the African Union, while Morocco has won recognition or support for its position from several African governments and from most of the Arab League.

In both instances, recognitions have over the past two decades been extended and withdrawn according to changing international trends.

Human rights
The Western Sahara conflict has resulted in severe human rights abuses, most notably the displacement of tens of thousands of Sahrawi civilians from the country, the expulsion of tens of thousands of Moroccan civilians by the Algerian government from Algeria, and numerous casualties of war and repression.

During the war years (1975–91), both sides accused each other of targeting civilians. Moroccan claims of Polisario terrorism has generally little to no support abroad, with the USA, EU, AU and UN all refusing to include the group on their lists of terrorist organizations.

Polisario leaders maintain that they are ideologically opposed to terrorism, and insist that collective punishment and forced disappearances among Sahrawi civilians should be considered state terrorism on the part of Morocco. Both Morocco and the Polisario additionally accuse each other of violating the human rights of the populations under their control, in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara and the Tindouf refugee camps in Algeria, respectively. Morocco and organizations such as France Libertés consider Algeria to be directly responsible for any crimes committed on its territory, and accuse the country of having been directly involved in such violations.

Morocco has been repeatedly criticized for its actions in Western Sahara by international human rights organizations.

Aside from its rich phosphate deposits and fishing waters, Western Sahara has few natural resources and lacks sufficient rainfall for most agricultural activities. There is speculation that there may be rich off-shore oil and natural gas fields, but the debate persists as to whether these resources can be profitably exploited, and if this would be legally permitted due to the non-decolonized status of Western Sahara.

Western Sahara's economy is centred around nomadic herding, fishing, and phosphate mining. Most food for the urban population is imported. All trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan government. The government has encouraged citizens to relocate to the territory by giving subsidies and price controls on basic goods. These heavy subsidies have created a state-dominated economy in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara, with the Moroccan government as the single biggest employer.

The indigenous population of Western Sahara is known as Sahrawis. These are Hassaniya-speaking tribes of mixed Arab–Berber heritage, effectively continuations of the tribal groupings of Hassaniya speaking Moorish tribes extending south into Mauritania and north into Morocco as well as east into Algeria. The Sahrawis are traditionally nomadic bedouins, and can be found in all surrounding countries.

War and conflict has led to major displacements of the population.

As of July 2004, an estimated 267,405 people (excluding the Moroccan army of some 160,000) lived in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara. Many people from parts of Morocco outside of the Southern Provinces have come to live in the area, and these latest arrivals are today thought to outnumber the indigenous Western Sahara Sahrawis. The precise size and composition of the population is subject to political controversy.

The Polisario-controlled parts of Western Sahara are barren. This area has a very small population, estimated to be approximately 30,000 in 2008. The population is primarily made up of nomads who engage in herding camels back and forth between the Tindouf area and Mauritania. However, the presence of mines scattered throughout the territory by the Moroccan army makes it a dangerous way of life.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

'Gaddafi's wife, daughter in Tunisia'

Tunisia, officially the Tunisian Republic, is the northernmost country in Africa. It is a Maghreb country and is bordered by Algeria to the west, Libya to the southeast, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north and east. Its area is almost 165,000 square kilometres (64,000 sq mi), with an estimated population of just over 10.4 million. Its name is derived from the capital Tunis located in the north-east.

Tunisia is the smallest of the nations situated along the Atlas mountain range. The south of the country is composed of the Sahara desert, with much of the remainder consisting of particularly fertile soil and 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) of coastline. Both played a prominent role in ancient times, first with the famous Phoenician city of Carthage, then as the Roman province of Africa, which was known as the "bread basket" of Rome. Later, Tunisia was occupied by Vandals during the 5th century AD, Byzantines in the 6th century, and Arabs in the 8th century.

Under the Ottoman Empire, Tunisia was known as "Regency of Tunis". It passed under French protectorate in 1881. After obtaining independence in 1956 the country took the official name of the "Kingdom of Tunisia" at the end of the reign of Lamine Bey and the Husainid Dynasty. With the proclamation of the Tunisian republic on July 25, 1957, the nationalist leader Habib Bourguiba became its first president.

The country was governed by the authoritarian regime of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali from 1987 to 2011 before he fled during the Tunisian revolution. Tunisia, an export-oriented country in the process of liberalizing and privatizing an economy that has averaged 5% GDP growth since the early 1990s, had suffered corruption benefiting the former president's family.

Tunisia has relations with both the European Union—with whom it has an association agreement—and the Arab world. Tunisia is also a member of the Arab League and the African Union. Tunisia has established close relations with France in particular, through economic cooperation, industrial modernization, and privatisation programs. The government's approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict has also made it an intermediary in Middle Eastern diplomacy

The Times of India: 'Gaddafi's wife, daughter in Tunisia'MOSCOW: Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's wife Safiya and his daughter Aisha have fled to Tunisia, Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday , citing a source in Tunisia's defence ministry.

According to the sources, Safiya and Aisha crossed the Libyan-Tunisian border a few days ago and are currently at a refugee centre on the island of Djerba. The revolt in Libya against Gaddafi's 41-year rule, which began in mid-February , has already claimed thousands of lives, with Gaddafi's troops maintaining their combat capabilities despite Nato air strikes against them.

The air strike on a wealthy residential area in Tripoli a week ago killed Gaddafi's youngest son and three of his grandchildren, as well as several friends and neighbours.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi's forces intensified their campaign to take strategic heights in a western mountain range and targeted a road that many people have used to flee the fighting in Libya, forcing the temporary closure of a border crossing to Tunisia.

Much of the fighting centered around the town of Yafrin, and residents and rebel fighters said Wednesday that Gaddafi forces were using Grad missiles and rockets in their nearly monthlong siege. Residents , trapped in homes, were cut off from food and medical supplies, they said

Monday, May 16, 2011

What is Geography?

For some time I've just been sharing news articles from countries around the world, and adding maps so that you, the reader, can get an idea of where in the world these events are taking place.

Now I'm adding another feature, which is just, geography itself.

Geography (from geographia, lit. "earth describe-write") is the science that deals with the study of the Earth and its lands, features, inhabitants, and phenomena.

A literal translation would be "to describe or write about the Earth". The first person to use the word "geography" was Eratosthenes (276-194 BC).

Four historical traditions in geographical research are the spatial analysis of natural and human phenomena (geography as a study of distribution), area studies (places and regions), study of man-land relationship, and research in earth sciences.

Modern geography is an all-encompassing discipline that foremost seeks to understand the Earth and all of its human and natural complexities—not merely where objects are, but how they have changed and come to be. Geography has been called 'the world discipline'. As "the bridge between the human and physical sciences," geography is divided into two main branches—human geography and physical geography.

I'll cover human geography in my next post.

Around Africa: Egypt

Egypt, officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia.

Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world.

It covers an area of about 1,010,000 square kilometers (390,000 sq mi), and is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north [and above the Mediterranean Sea is Turkey], the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.

Egypt is one of the most populous countries in Africa and the Middle East. The great majority of its estimated 80 million people live near the banks of the Nile River, in an area of about 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq mi), where the only arable land is found. The large areas of the Sahara Desert are sparsely inhabited. About half of Egypt's residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centres of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.

Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization, with famous monuments such as the Giza pyramid complex and its Great Sphinx. Its ancient ruins, such as those of Memphis, Thebes, and Karnak and the Valley of the Kings outside Luxor, are a significant focus of archaeological study. The tourism industry and the Red Sea Riviera employ about 12% of Egypt's workforce.

The economy of Egypt is one of the most diversified in the Middle East, with sectors such as tourism [now of course practically destroyed], agriculture, industry and service at almost equal production levels. In early 2011 Egypt underwent a peaceful revolution, which resulted in the removal of the dictator of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, by the Army. Whether the Army will relinquish its power remains to be seen.

Modern Egypt
Local dissatisfaction with Ismail and with European intrusion led to the formation of the first nationalist groupings in 1879, with Ahmad Urabi a prominent figure. In 1882 he became head of a nationalist-dominated ministry committed to democratic reforms including parliamentary control of the budget. Fearing a reduction of their control, the UK and France intervened militarily, bombarding Alexandria and crushing the Egyptian army at the battle of Tel el-Kebir. They reinstalled Ismail's son Tewfik as figurehead of a de facto British protectorate.

In 1914 the Protectorate was made official, and the title of the head of state, which had changed from pasha to khedive in 1867, was changed to sultan, to repudiate the vestigial suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, who was backing the Central powers in World War I. Abbas II was deposed as khedive and replaced by his uncle, Hussein Kamel, as sultan.

In 1906, the Dinshaway Incident prompted many neutral Egyptians to join the nationalist movement. After the First World War, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement to a majority at the local Legislative Assembly. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates to Malta on March 8, 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. The revolt led the UK government to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt's independence on February 22, 1922.

The new government drafted and implemented a constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. In 1936 the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was concluded. Continued instability due to remaining British influence and increasing political involvement by the king led to the dissolution of the parliament in a military coup d'état known as the 1952 Revolution. The Free Officers Movement forced King Farouk to abdicate in support of his son Fuad. British military presence in Egypt lasted until 1954.

On June 18, 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 by Gamal Abdel Nasser – the real architect of the 1952 movement – and was later put under house arrest. Nasser assumed power as President in June, 1956. British forces completed their withdrawal from the occupied Suez Canal Zone on June 13, 1956. He nationalized the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956, prompting the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Three years after the 1967 Six Day War, during which Israel had invaded and occupied Sinai, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat in 1970. Sadat switched Egypt's Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972. He launched the Infitah economic reform policy, while violently clamping down on religious and secular opposition.

In 1973, Egypt, along with Syria, launched the October War, a surprise attack against the Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. It was an attempt to regain part of the Sinai territory Israel had captured 6 years earlier. Sadat hoped to seize some territory through military force, and then regain the rest of the peninsula by diplomacy. The conflict sparked an international crisis between the US and the USSR, both of whom intervened. The second UN-mandated ceasefire halted military action. While the war ended with a military stalemate, it presented Sadat with a political victory that later allowed him to regain the Sinai in return for peace with Israel.

Sadat made a historic visit to Israel in 1977, which led to the 1979 peace treaty in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Sadat's initiative sparked enormous controversy in the Arab world and led to Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League, but it was supported by most Egyptians. A fundamentalist military soldier assassinated Sadat in Cairo in 1981. He was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak.

In 2003, the Egyptian Movement for Change, popularly known as Kefaya, was launched to oppose the Mubarak regime and to establish democratic reforms and greater civil liberties.

In January 2011, a popular protest began against the Mubarak government. The objective of the protest was the removal of Mubarak from power. On 11 February 2011, the Vice President of Egypt Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down as President of Egypt as a result of the popular protests starting on January 25.

On February 13, 2011, the high level military command of Egypt announced that both the constitution and the parliament of Egypt had been dissolved. The parliamentary election was to be held in September.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Jindal: Decision on opening spillway could come Saturday

See a larger - and readable version - of this photo at: http://media.nola.com/weather_impact/photo/map2-morganza-051111jpg-0ad237fba02ef817.jpg
CNN.com: Jindal: Decision on opening spillway could come Saturday
CNN) -- It is "extremely likely" that the Morganza Spillway will be opened by Saturday night or Sunday morning at the latest as officials try to ease flooding at New Orleans, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Friday.

Opening the spillway could lower anticipated cresting levels along the lower Mississippi River and divert water away from Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but would flood much of low-lying south-central Louisiana.

Though the governor said a decision has not been made, he said residents in the areas around the spillway should expect flooding and plan accordingly.

Louisiana state and local officials braced for the possibility of major flooding in the Atchafalaya River Basin if federal authorities go ahead and open the Morganza Spillway, which is north of Baton Rouge.

The National Guard worked around the clock to construct a flood barrier in Morgan City, Louisiana, where the Atchafalaya River was already 3.15 feet above flood stage, according to the National Weather Service.

The strategy in Morgan City, officials say, is to reinforce the levees around the city. That's where efforts were being focused on Friday, rather than on handing out sandbags to individual residents.

"Really, we're just waiting," said Evie Bertaut, who has lived in Morgan City for 50 years.

Officials believe that the levees will protect the city from flooding, but some are taking preliminary precautions, she said. At Sacred Heart Church, where Bertaut works, people spent the day moving important documents such a baptismal, marriage and financial records to the second floor.

"Most people are getting their photographs together, things that you can't replace in case you have to go," she said.

Meanwhile, in the Arkansas town of Helena, the river crested at 56.4 feet, according to the National Weather Service. That's 12.4 feet above the flood stage there.

The river's slow pace has given emergency responders more time to prepare, forecasters said. But while the slow-moving water gives residents extra time to get ready, it also means that land could remain under water for some time.

Jindal urged southeastern Louisiana residents to evacuate.

"Now is the time to take action," he said.

The Corps is measuring the current flow at a river landing, and once it reaches a specified volume and velocity, the Mississippi River Commission will make a decision on the Morganza Spillway.

Jindal said projections indicated the tipping point could be reached as early as Saturday evening.

The U.S. Coast Guard said floodwaters could close the Mississippi River to ships at the New Orleans port as early as Monday morning.

To help New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday opened more bays at the Bonnet Carre spillway just north of the city, diverting water into Lake Pontchartrain. A total of 223 bays are now open in the 350-bay spillway.

The National Weather Service said that as of Friday morning, the river was at 16.8 feet in New Orleans, just a fraction below flood stage. It is expected to crest on May 23 at more than 19 feet. The New Orleans levees are built to withstand 20 feet, according to the weather service.

Efforts to spread awareness of the dangers and damages that the flooding can cause got a boost Thursday night from some of country music's biggest stars at a televised benefit.

The goal of "Music Builds: The CMT Disaster Relief Concert" was to raise money not only for victims of the flooding, but also for those in the South affected by deadly tornadoes.

"There is nothing more beautiful than seeing people rally together and support and help each other, and I truly think that something positive comes from all of this, and that's a unified community, a unified country," said Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellem.

Country star Tim McGraw urged those in flood areas to "not be a hero" and evacuate if so ordered by authorities.

Upriver in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Police Chief Walter Armstrong said 600 residents had been evacuated as of Thursday night. The river is expected to crest next Thursday at 57.5 feet. Flood stage at Vicksburg, the level at which the river may begin flowing over its banks, is 43 feet.

Armstrong said he expected higher water Friday, with more homes affected. More than two dozen roads were closed and about 45 businesses will be closed by Friday.

Homes that were built between the levee and the Mississippi River were the first affected.

"We estimate that every home built on the river side of the levee from Memphis all the way to the Louisiana line is flooded," said Mike Womack, executive director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

Across the South and lower Midwest, floodwaters have covered about 3 million acres of farmland, eroding for many farmers what could have been a profitable year for corn, wheat, rice and cotton, officials said.

In Arkansas, the Farm Bureau estimated that damage to the state's agriculture could top more than $500 million as more than 1 million acres of cropland are under water.

"It's in about 10 feet of water," Dyersburg, Tennessee, farmer Jimmy Moody said of his 440 acres of winter wheat, which was to be harvested in the coming month.

Other farmers in Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Arkansas rushed to salvage what wheat they could ahead of the rising water. As for corn, farmers who were able to get into the fields during a soggy planting season in late March and April are seeing their crops in some cases under several feet of water.

Some officials said Thursday that spillover effects resulting from the flood could threaten other industries. That includes the possibility that the Waterford 3 nuclear power plant in Taft, Louisiana, could be closed, according to CNN affiliate WGNO.

The Mississippi River is expected to crest at 26.6 feet in Taft on May 23. If it reaches 27 feet, officials told WGNO, the plant's water intake system could shut down.

Carl Rhode of Entergy, the plant's operator, told WGNO that the threat to the intake system is not a matter of nuclear safety.

However, Scott Welchel, a St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center official, said shutting down the plant would have a "domino effect" on local industries.

"It would impact every industry along the river," Welchel said. "That's just something that isn't easy for people to deal with, especially on a moment's notice."

For residents in communities along the river, the damage has been far more devastating than can be measured in dollars and cents.

Danny Moore, of Millington, Tennessee, told CNN affiliate WPTY that the recent disaster marked the second time in one year that flooding took away nearly everything he had.

Moore said that after a flood destroyed all of his furniture last year, he decided to move everything he owned into rented storage space. However, those belongings were destroyed when his storage unit was flooded several days ago.

"They say bad luck comes in threes. I hope this is the end of it," Moore told WPTY.

The Millington resident said he lost a house to a fire in 2009. Moore said he is too preoccupied with taking care of his girlfriend, who is suffering from an infection that is damaging her liver, to look for new furniture.

"We'll do what we've got to do and keep praying," Moore said, holding back tears.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Spain Gauges the Damage as Quake Death Toll Hits 9

The New York Times: Spain Gauges the Damage as Quake Death Toll Hits 9

MADRID — The death toll reached nine Thursday from two earthquakes that injured dozens of people and damaged about a tenth of the buildings in the southeast Spanish town of Lorca.

Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero said “no economic means will be spared for the reconstruction of Lorca.” He was expected to visit the town on Friday, and Spain’s politicians interrupted their campaigns for municipal and regional elections that were to be held May 22.

The second earthquake, which measured 5.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was felt as far away as Madrid. The first, less than two hours earlier, was measured at a magnitude of 4.5. Their epicenters were a few kilometers outside Lorca, in a region that has long been considered among the most vulnerable to quakes in the Iberian Peninsula because of its proximity to a large fault beneath the Mediterranean.

Luis Eugenio Suárez, president of the Spanish College of Geologists, said in a statement that a quake of that magnitude “does not have sufficient intensity to produce a collapsing effect,” which therefore must lead to the conclusion that “the damages caused must have been due to previous damages.”

Some of the buildings that suffered the most serious damage were in the medieval center of Lorca, including a church, where the bell tower and part of the facade fell only meters away from a Spanish national television reporter as he was broadcasting. But television footage also showed that more modern constructions had been partly destroyed.

Still, Mayor Francisco Jódar said initial inspections by architects and engineers suggested that 90 percent of the homes in Lorca did not suffer any structural damage during the quakes.

Thousands of people left their homes because of the risk of additional tremors, and many of them were expected to spend a second night on Thursday in tents and other makeshift accommodation. Altogether, more than two dozen tremors were felt in Lorca into the early hours of Thursday.

Spain is hit by about 2,500 quakes a year, but only about two a month are strong enough to be felt, according to the National Geographic Institute.

An earthquake of magnitude 4.8 struck near Lorca in 2006, without fatalities.

The army sent about 420 troops to Lorca to help local rescue teams search for possible victims and to provide medical assistance.

The death toll was raised to nine on Thursday, from eight late Wednesday, after a woman died of her injuries. An additional 41 people were hospitalized and 293 suffered lighter injuries, the local authorities said.

The quakes were the most deadly in Spain since 1956, when 12 people died near Granada in the south.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Japan’s coasts lowered by earthquake, areas underwater

TheStar.com: Japan’s coasts lowered by earthquake, areas underwater
Jay Alabaster
Associated Press
ISHINOMAKI, JAPAN — When water begins to trickle down the streets of her coastal neighbourhood, Yoshiko Takahashi knows it is time to hurry home.

Twice a day, the flow steadily increases until it is knee-deep, carrying fish and debris by her front door and trapping people in their homes. Those still on the streets slosh through the sea water in rubber boots or on bicycle.

“I look out the window, and it’s like our houses are in the middle of the ocean,” says Takahashi, who moved in three years ago.

The March 11 earthquake that hit eastern Japan was so powerful it pulled the entire country out and down into the sea.

The mostly devastated coastal communities now face regular flooding, because of their lower elevation and damage to seawalls from the massive tsunamis triggered by the quake.

In port cities such as Onagawa and Kesennuma, the tide flows in and out among crumpled homes and warehouses along now uninhabited streets.

A cluster of neighbourhoods in Ishinomaki city is rare in that it escaped tsunami damage through fortuitous geography.

So, many residents still live in their homes, and they now face a daily trial: The area floods at high tide, and the normally sleepy streets turn frantic as residents rush home before the water rises too high.

“I just try to get all my shopping and chores done by 3 p.m.,” says Takuya Kondo, 32, who lives with his family in his childhood home.

Most houses sit above the water’s reach, but travel by car becomes impossible and the sewage system swamps, rendering toilets unusable.

Scientists say the new conditions are permanent.

Japan’s northern half sits on the North American tectonic plate. The Pacific plate, which is mostly undersea, normally slides under this plate, slowly nudging the country west.

But in the earthquake, the fault line between the two plates ruptured, and the North American plate slid up and out along the Pacific plate.

The rising edge of plate caused the sea floor off Japan’s eastern coast to bulge up — one measuring station run by Tohoku University reported an underwater rise of 5 metres — creating the tsunami that devastated the coast.

The portion of the plate under Japan was pulled lower as it slid toward the ocean, which caused a corresponding plunge in elevation under the country.

Some areas in Ishinomaki moved southeast 5.3 metres and sank 1.2 metres lower.

“We thought this slippage would happen gradually, bit by bit. We didn’t expect it to happen all at once,” says Testuro Imakiire, a researcher at Japan’s Geospatial Information Authority, the government body in charge of mapping and surveys.

Imakiire says the quake was powerful enough to move the entire country, the first time this has been recorded since measurements began in the late 19th century. In Tokyo, 340 kilometres from Ishinomaki, parts of the city moved 24 centimetres seaward.

The drop lower was most pronounced around Ishinomaki, the area closest to the epicentre. The effects are apparent: Manholes, supported by underground piping, jut out of streets that fell around them. Telephone poles sank even farther, leaving wires at head height.

As surrounding areas clear rubble and make plans to rebuild, residents in this section of Ishinomaki are stuck in limbo — their homes are mostly undamaged and ineligible for major insurance claims or government compensation, but twice a day the tide swamps their streets.

“We can’t really complain, because other people lost so much,” says Yuichiro Mogi, 43, as his daughters examine a dead blowfish floating near his curb.

The earthquake and tsunami left more than 25,000 people either dead or missing, and many more lost their homes and possessions.

Mogi noticed that the daily floods were slowly carrying away the dirt foundation of his house, and built a small embankment of sandbags to keep the water at bay.

The shipping company worker moved here 10 years ago, because he got a good deal on enough land to build a home with a spacious front lawn, where he lives with his four children and wife.

Most of the residences in the area are relatively new.

“Everyone here still has housing loans they have to pay, and you can’t give away this land, let alone sell it,” says Seietsu Sasaki, 57, who also has to pay off loans on two cars ruined in the flooding.

Sasaki, who moved in 12 years ago with his extended family, says he hopes the government can build flood walls to protect the neighbourhood.

He never paid much attention to the tides in the past, but now checks the newspaper for peak times each morning.

Officials have begun work on some embankments, but with much of the city devastated, resources are tight.

Major construction projects to raise the roads were completed before the tsunami, but much of that work was negated when the ground below them sank.

The constant flooding means that construction crews can only work in short bursts, and electricity and running water were restored only about two weeks ago.

The area still doesn’t have gas for hot water, and residents go to evacuee shelters to bathe.

“We get a lot of requests to build up these areas, but we don’t really have the budget right now,” says Kiyoshi Koizumi, a manager in Ishinomaki’s roads and infrastructure division.

Sasaki says he hopes they work something out soon: Japan’s heavy summer rains begin in about a month, and the higher tides in autumn will rise well above the floor of his house.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Evacuations in Memphis as River Nears Crest

Downtown Mississippi in happier times

Memphis is a city in the western corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County. The city is located on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff, south of the confluence of the Wolf and Mississippi rivers.

Memphis has an estimated population of 646,889, making it the biggest city in the state of Tennessee, the third largest in the Southeastern United States, and the 19th largest in the United States.[1] The greater Memphis metropolitan area, including adjacent counties in Mississippi and Arkansas, has a population of 1,280,533. This makes Memphis the second largest metropolitan area in Tennessee, surpassed only by metropolitan Nashville, which has overtaken Memphis in recent years. Memphis is the youngest of Tennessee's major cities (including Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Clarksville). A resident of Memphis is referred to as a Memphian and the Memphis region is known, particularly to media outlets, as the "Mid-South".

Evacuations in Memphis as River Nears Crest
MEMPHIS — The Mississippi River near Memphis is expected to crest Monday evening and emergency officials have spent the last several hours going door-to-door to warn residents in low-lying areas to evacuate.

The Mississippi, which has already caused some flooding in Memphis during the past several days, will top out at 48 feet on Monday at about 7 p.m., said Tracy Howieson, a National Weather Service hydrologist. It is expected to stay at that level for at least 48 hours before slowly receding.

“It will be a prolonged crest at Memphis and in parts downstream,” said Ms. Howieson.

The river had not been expected to crest until later this week, but it has taken on a surge of water in recent days from some of its tributaries, officials said.

During the most recent measure of the river’s level — at 4 a.m. Monday morning — the Mississippi was at 47 feet nine inches.

In all, residents in more than 1,300 homes have been told to go, and about 370 people were staying in shelters, according to the Associated Press.

On Monday morning, Cornelius Holliday, 62, was in his yard watching as water crept toward his low-slung white house.

Around him, streets had been blocked off and an industrial area had been flooded, but Mr. Holliday said he planned on staying, even though he said he had never seen the water get so close.

“What it always did in the past, the low end comes out in the street but it never comes that far,” he said. "In 62 years I’ve never seen it that bad." Mr. Holliday, who was raised in the house along with 13 siblings, said he and his wife plan to go up into the attic once the water reaches his yard, taking their five dogs and the house’s furniture with them.

Already, the dogs’ kennels and his car are under water.

So far, evacuations have not been made mandatory for the area, but city officials have strongly urged residents in areas likely to take on a great deal of water to leave.

The highest recorded level of the river at Memphis came during the 1937 floods when the Mississippi crested at 48 feet 8 inches - some eight inches higher than the crest expected Monday evening.

Much of the flooding in and around Memphis is likely to come from tributaries to the Mississippi, as opposed to the Mississippi itself, Ms. Howieson said.

“We are expecting some backwater effects on creeks and tributaries that flow into the Mississippi,” said Ms. Howieson. “That’s where we are going to see most of the effect. We don’t expect much from the Mississippi itself.”

Down river in Louisiana, the Associated Press reported Monday that the Army Corps of Engineers had opened some floodgates in order to divert water from the Mississippi into Lake Pontchartrain and from there into the Gulf of Mexico.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Where was Osama Bin Laden living?

Pakistan lies between Afghanistan and India.

Bin Laden was hiding in Abbottabad, which is located in North Afghanistan:

From Wikipedia:
Abbottabad is a city located in the Hazara region of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in Pakistan. The city is situated in the Orash Valley, 115 kilometres (71 mi) northeast of the capital Islamabad and 150 kilometres (93 mi) east of Peshawar at an altitude of 1,260 metres (4,134 ft) and is the capital of the Abbottabad District. The city is well-known throughout Pakistan for its pleasant weather, high-standard educational institutions and military establishments. Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden lived in Abbottabad from 2005 until the time of his death in May 2011.

The town of Abbottabad, in British Raj, was the headquarters of the Hazara district during British rule of India. It was named after Major James Abbott who founded the town and district in January 1853 after the annexation of Punjab. He remained the first Deputy Commissioner of the Hazara district from 1849 until April 1853.

Major Abbott is noted for having written a poem titled "Abbottabad", before he went back to Britain, in which he wrote of his fondness for the town and his sadness at having to leave it. Abbottabad became and is still an important military cantonment and sanatorium, being the headquarters of a brigade in the Second Division of the Northern Army Corps. The garrison consisted of four battalions of native infantry (Gurkhas and Frontier Force) and four native mountain batteries.

In 1901, the population of the town and cantonment was 7,764[4] and the income averaged around Rs. 14,900. This increased to Rs. 22,300 in 1903, chiefly derived from octroi. During this time chief public institutions were built such as the Albert Victor unaided Anglo-Vernacular High School, the Municipal Anglo-Vernacular High School and the Government dispensary.[5] In 1911, the population had risen to 11,506 and the town also contained four battalions of Gurkhas.

In June 1948, the British Red Cross opened a hospital in Abbottabad to deal with thousands of patients who were being brought in from the Kashmir fighting areas. On October 8, 2005 Abbottabad was devastated by the Kashmir earthquake. Although most of Abbottabad survived, many old buildings were destroyed or damaged.

On May 2, 2011, Abbottabad gained worldwide attention when U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed in the city.

The city is bounded at all four sides by the Sarban hills, from which residents and tourists can see breathtaking views of the region and city. The location of the city and the hills allows Abbottabad to experience pleasant weather in the summer and cold winters. Neighbouring districts are Mansehra to the north, Muzaffarabad to the east, Haripur to the west and Rawalpindi to the south. Tarbela Dam is situated west of Abbottabad.

Abbottabad has been attracting tourists to the city since the colonial era, as it is a major transit point to all major tourist regions of Pakistan such as Nathiagali and Naran. According to the Imperial Gazetteer of India, "the town is picturesquely situated at the southern corner of the Rash (Orash) plain, 4,120 feet (1,260 m) above the sea".[5] Like much of the mountainous Northern Areas, tourism is one of the important sources of income in Abbottabad. In the summer when temperatures rise to around 45 degrees Celsius in Punjab and NWFP, a large number of tourists travel north to Abbottabad.

The Karakoram Highway, which traces one of the paths of the ancient Silk Road, starts from Hasan Abdal on the N5 and heads north passing through the city eventually reaching Khunjerab Pass. The Karakorum Highway is a major attraction itself for its views. The Karakoram, Himalayas and the Hindu Kush ranges can be approached from Abbottabad and it continues to be a transit city for tourists, serving as a base for visiting numerous nearby places, such as Hunza, Gilgit, Skardu and Indus Kohistan, of the Karakoram Range.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

USA: New England: Massachusetts

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States. It is bordered by Rhode Island and Connecticut to the south, New York to the west, and Vermont and New Hampshire to the north; at its east lies the Atlantic Ocean. As of the 2010 Census, Massachusetts' population was 6,547,629.

The state features two separate metropolitan areas - the eastern Boston metropolitan area and the western Springfield metropolitan area. Approximately two thirds of the state's population lives in Greater Boston, most of which is either urban or suburban. Western Massachusetts features one urban area - the Knowledge Corridor along the Connecticut River - and a mix of college towns and rural areas. Massachusetts is the most populous of the six New England states, the third most densely populated state in the United States, and also has the U.S.'s third highest GDP per capita.

Culturally, historically, and commercially, Massachusetts has been significant throughout American history. Plymouth was the second permanent English settlement in North America. Many of Massachusetts's towns were founded by colonists from England in the 1620s and 1630s. Harvard University, founded in 1636, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the (now) United States.

In 1692, the towns surrounding Salem, Massachusetts experienced one of America's most infamous cases of mass hysteria, the Salem Witch Trials. In the eighteenth century, the Protestant First Great Awakening, which swept the Atlantic world, originated from the pulpit of Northampton, Massachusetts preacher Jonathan Edwards. In the late 18th century, Boston became known as the "Cradle of Liberty" for the agitation there that led to the American Revolution and the independence of the United States from Great Britain. In 1777, George Washington founded the Springfield Armory, which during the Industrial Revolution catalyzed numerous important technological advances, including interchangeable parts.

Before the American Civil War, Massachusetts was a center for the temperance, transcendentalist, and abolitionist movements. In 1837, Mount Holyoke College, the United States' first women's college, was opened in the Connecticut River Valley town of South Hadley. In the late nineteenth century, the (now) Olympic sports of basketball and volleyball were invented in the Western Massachusetts cities of Springfield and Holyoke, respectively. In 2004, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to legally recognize same-sex marriage. The state has contributed many prominent politicians to national service, including members of the Adams family and of the Kennedy family.

Originally dependent on fishing, agriculture, and trade with Europe, Massachusetts was transformed into a manufacturing center during the Industrial Revolution. During the 20th century, the state's economy shifted from manufacturing to services. In the 21st century, the state is a leader in higher education, health care technology, high technology, and financial services.