Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Get ready for a 'global Katrina': Biggest ever solar storm could cause power cuts which last for MONTHS

By David Derbyshire
Last updated at 8:59 AM on 22nd February 2011
  • Earth is overdue a solar storm as the sun enters its most active period
The world is overdue a ferocious 'space storm' that could knock out communications satellites, ground aircraft and trigger blackouts - causing hundreds of billions of pounds of damage, scientists say.
Astronomers today warned that mankind is now more vulnerable to a major solar storm than at any time in history - and that the planet should prepare for a global Katrina-style disaster.
A massive eruption of the sun would save waves of radiation and charged particles to Earth, damaging the satellite systems used for synchronising computers, airline navigation and phone networks.
Imminent: The world got a taster of the sun's explosive power last week with the strongest solar eruption in five years sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling towards the world. Scientists believe we are overdue a ferocious solar storm
Imminent: The world got a taster of the sun's explosive power last week with the strongest solar eruption in five years (white flash, centre) sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling towards the world. Scientists believe we are overdue a ferocious solar storm
If the storm is powerful enough it could even crash stock markets and cause power cuts that last weeks or months, experts told the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The chances of a disruption from space are getting stronger because the sun is entering the most active period of its 11 to 12-year natural cycle.
The world got a taster of the sun's explosive power last week when the strongest solar eruption in five years sent a torrent of charged plasma hurtling towards the world at 580 miles per second.

 The storm created spectacular aurorae and disrupted radio communications.

Professor Sir John Beddington, the government's chief scientific adviser, said: 'The issue of space weather has got to be taken seriously. We've had a relatively quiet period of space weather - but we can't expect that quiet period to continue.
'At the same time over that period the potential vulnerability of our systems has increased dramatically, whether it is the smart grid in our electricity systems or the ubiquitous use of GPS in just about everything we use these days.
'The situation has changed. We need to be thinking about the ability both to categorise and explain and give early warning when particular types of space weather are likely to occur.'
Threat: Rio de Janeiro during a blackout in 2009. A solar storm could cause global power cuts for months, scientists have warned
Threat: Rio de Janeiro during a blackout in 2009. A solar storm could cause global power cuts for months, scientists have warned
Solar storms are caused by massive explosions on the sun.
The explosions release waves of X-rays and ultraviolet radiation which smash into the Earth within minutes, disrupting radio signals and damaging the electronics of satellites.
They are followed ten to 20 minutes later by a burst of energetic particles which cause even more havoc with satellites - and then 15 to 30 hours later by supercharged plasma which collides with Earth's magnetic field.
The plasma create the aurora - or Northern Lights - and can induce electrical currents in power lines and cables.
Jane Lubchenco, head of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said: 'This is not a matter of if, it is simply a matter of when and how big.
'The last time we had a maximum in the solar cycle, about 10 years ago, the world was a very different place. Cell phones are now ubiquitous; they were certainly around  but we didn't rely on them for so many different things.
'Many things that we take for granted today are so much more prone to the process of space weather than was the case in the last solar maximum.'
Communications satellites would be knocked out by a solar storm, causing widespread chaos on Earth and hundreds of billions of pounds of damage
Communications satellites would be knocked out by a solar storm, causing widespread chaos on Earth and hundreds of billions of pounds of damage
The sun goes through a regular activity cycle about 11 years long on average. The last solar maximum occurred in 2001. Its latest minimum was particularly weak and long lasting.
Space storms are not new. The first major solar flare was recorded by British astronomer Richard Carrington in 1859.
Other solar geomagnetic storms have been observed in recent decades. One huge solar flare in 1972 cut off long-distance telephone communication in the mid-western state of Illinois, Nasa said.
Another similar flare in 1989 'provoked geomagnetic storms that disrupted electric power transmission' and caused blackouts across the Canadian province of Quebec, the U.S. space agency said.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


 Leviticus 18:22  Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.

Leviticus 20:13  If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

1 Corinthians 6:9  Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,

Hawaii Legislature passes civil unions bill; governor will sign it

By the CNN Wire Staff
February 17, 2011 -- Updated 1513 GMT (2313 HKT)
Governor Neil Abercrombie (C) said he will sign a bill that will legalize same-sex unions in Hawaii.
Governor Neil Abercrombie (C) said he will sign a bill that will legalize same-sex unions in Hawaii.
  • Gov. Neil Abercrombie says civil unions "respect our diversity"
  • Hawaii will join New Jersey in allowing civil unions
  • The bill will take effect January 1, 2012
(CNN) -- Hawaii's Senate has given final passage to a measure legalizing same-sex unions in the state, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said he will sign it.
The state House had already passed the bill, which "extends the same rights, benefits, protections and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union," according to the Legislature's website. It will take effect January 1, 2012.
Abercrombie has 10 legislative days to sign the bill, which passed the Senate on Wednesday.
"I have always believed that civil unions respect our diversity, protect people's privacy and reinforce our core values of equality and aloha," Abercrombie said in a statement.
"I appreciate all the time and effort invested by those who shared their thoughts and concerns regarding civil unions in Hawaii. This has been an emotional process for everyone involved, but that process is now ended. Everyone has been heard; all points of view respected.
"For me, this bill represents equal rights for all the people of Hawaii," Abercrombie said.
In July, Hawaii's then-Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed a similar bill, saying the issue needed to be put to a referendum. Gay rights groups decried her decision.
Five states and the District of Columbia issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Hawaii will join New Jersey in allowing civil unions.
Three states -- Rhode Island, New York and Maryland -- recognize same-sex marriages from other states, according to the conference.
California recognizes same-sex marriages performed during six months in 2008 after its Supreme Court granted same-sex couples the right to marry and before the passage of Proposition 8, which overturned the court's decision.

Monday, February 14, 2011


The app that can read your mind: iPhone brainwave detector arrives (it was only a matter of time)

By Matt Blake
Last updated at 3:56 AM on 15th January 2011
It's a device that would be more at home on the set of a Star Wars movie than the streets of Britain.
But an iPhone application has been developed that can read minds.
The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels.
Scroll down for video
No-brainer: The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels
No-brainer: The XWave allows users to control on-screen objects with their minds as well as train their brains to control attention spans and relaxation levels
The device - that could confuse Luke Skywalker himself - is the latest in the field of emerging mind-controlled games and devices and works via a headset strapped around the user's forehead, plugging into the iPhone jack.
A state-of-the-art sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen.
State of the art: A sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen
State of the art: A sensor within the device can then read the user's brainwaves through the skull, converting them into digital signals before displaying them in various colours on the iPhone screen
And as the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation.
The high-tech sensor was developed by innovations giant PLX Devices using technology that has for years been used by doctors to treat epilepsy and seizures in patients.
Brain train: As the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation
Brain train: As the mind focuses on a particular task the graphics change, indicating the user's level of concentration or relaxation
But PLX Devices founder and CEO Paul Lowchareonkul said it was a matter of time before such contraptions entered the mainstream.
He said: 'The human brain is the most powerful, complex thing in the universe, and for the first time, we're able to harness its amazing power and connect it to everyday technology.
'With the development of 3rd party apps, the potential for innovation is limitless.'
Brain-training exercises include levitating an on-screen ball for a certain amount of time or changing a colour by relaxing the brain in a bid to maximise the brain's attention span.
And designers say it won't stop there.
Incredibly, another app, called XWave Tunes allow users to connect with each other through the type of music that most stimulates their brainwaves.
The company says it is working on other ways in which the futuristic technology can be applied such as playing games through the mind, controlling the lights at home and even choosing what music to listen to on an iPod depending on the user's mood.
Its designers claim the possibilities are endless, whether it is for relaxation, brain training, entertainment, games, social networking, sports or sleep.


Malaysia tiger mauling stopped by wife with soup ladle

Sumatran Tiger taking a dips in pool at National Zoo, Kuala Lumpur, 7 Dec 2005 Tigers do not usually attack humans - nor they do often have to fend off soup ladles
 A man has been rescued from a near-fatal attack by a tiger in northern Malaysia by his wife.
She entered the fray wielding a wooden soup ladle at the tiger - which fled.
Tambun Gediu, now badly lacerated and recovering in hospital, had tried hitting the tiger away in vain and says his wife saved his life.
Wildlife rangers plan to track the tiger and send it further into dense, unpopulated jungle in the the northern state of Perak.
"I was trailing a squirrel and crouched to shoot it with my blowpipe when I saw the tiger.
"That's when I realised that I was being trailed," Mr Gediu said after surgery.
The tiger pounced not far from the Gediu home in a jungle settlement of the Jahai tribe.
Mr Gediu had tried climbing a tree to escape the animal, but was dragged down by the tiger.
His wife, 55-year old Han Besau, rushed out of the kitchen on hearing his screams and used the kitchen implement to good effect.
"I was terrified and I used all my strength to punch the animal in the face, but it would not budge," the New Straits Times newspaper quoted him as saying.
"I had to wrestle with it to keep its jaws away from me, and it would have clawed me to death if my wife had not arrived."
It was the first time anyone in the village had been attacked by a tiger.
The director of the Department of Wildlife and National Parks in the state, Shabrina Mohd Shariff, estimated that there were about 200 tigers in the jungles of Perak.
She added that five had been spotted near the major East-West Highway in the region.

Saturday, February 5, 2011



‘Dating’ Site Imports 250,000 Facebook Profiles, Without Permission

How does a unknown dating site, with the absurd intention of destroying Facebook, launch with 250,000 member profiles on the first day?
You scrape data from Facebook.
At least, that’s the approach taken by two provocateurs who launched Lovely-Faces.com this week, with profiles — names, locations and photos — scraped from publicly accessible Facebook pages. The site categorizes these unwitting volunteers into personality types, using a facial recognition algorithm, so you can search for someone in your general area who is “easy going,” “smug” or “sly.”
Or you can just search on people’s real names.
The duo behind the site say it’s art, not commerce.
In what seems to be liberal-arts-grad-schoolese, Paolo Cirio, a media artist, and Alessandro Ludovico, media critic and editor in chief of Neural magazine, explain why they made the site.
“Facebook, an endlessly cool place for so many people, becomes at the same time a goldmine for identity theft and dating — unfortunately, without the user’s control,” the two explain. “But that’s the very nature of Facebook and social media in general. If we start to play with the concepts of identity theft and dating, we should be able to unveil how fragile a virtual identity given to a proprietary platform can be.”
And, the duo speculate, if people pull hard enough on that bothersome thread, Facebook’s $50 billion valuation will unravel.
Facebook, as you might expect, is not amused.
“Scraping people’s information violates our terms,” said Barry Schnitt, Facebook’s director of policy communications. “We have taken, and will continue to take, aggressive legal action against organizations that violate these terms. We’re investigating this site and will take appropriate action.”
Facebook’s terms of service require those who want to collect data from its pages to apply for permission, which Cirio and Ludovic did not do when they pulled down publicly available profile information on a million Facebook users. (They aren’t the first to scrape a million Facebook profiles.)
Cirio and Ludovic say they will take down a user’s profile, if a person asks and the site doesn’t have any indication they are actually trying to make any money. Instead, it’s part of a series of prank sites, the first two of which aimed at Google and Amazon, intended to make people think more about data in the age of internet behemoths.
Moreover, it’s a bit funny hearing Facebook complain about scraping of personal data that is quasi-public.
Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s founder, made his name at Harvard in 2003 by scraping the names and photos of fellow classmates off school servers to feed a system called FaceMash. With the photos, Zuckerberg created a controversial system that pitted one co-ed against another, by allowing others to vote on which one was better looking.
So even if Facebook’s anticipated legal nasty gram makes its way to the duo, who seem to be based somewhere in Europe, they’ll have an excellent defense.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Radio Study for:
November 19, 2010

Cocoa is safe for diabetics and may modestly improve HDL-good cholesterol
     Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that occurs naturally in all parts of the body. The body needs some cholesterol to work properly. But if there is too much cholesterol in the blood, it can stick to the walls of the arteries. This is called plaque. Plaque can stiffen the arteries or even block them. High levels of cholesterol in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease. Cholesterol levels tend to rise with age. There are usually no signs or symptoms that indicate high blood cholesterol, but it can be detected with a blood test. Chances of having high cholesterol would include if family members have it, being overweight or eating lot of fatty foods.
     HDL is the "good" cholesterol which helps keep the LDL (bad) cholesterol from getting lodged inside artery walls. LDL cholesterol is the "bad" cholesterol; when too much of it circulates in the blood, it can clog arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. To lower cholesterol levels exercise and eating more fruits and vegetables is advised.
     A study published in Diabetic Medicine evaluated the effects of Cocoa antioxidant rich chocolate on cholesterol levels, weight and glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes. The placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study included 12 individuals with type 2 diabetes stabilized on medication. The participants were randomly separated into one of two groups. The first group was given 45 grams of 85 percent dark chocolate rich in cocoa antioxidants to eat per day for 8 weeks and the second group was given placebo which contained no cocoa antioxidants but was the same color as the dark chocolate. At the end of the first 8 weeks, the groups had a 4 week washout period and then crossed over to the opposite group for a second 8 week period. The researchers found that HDL cholesterol increased significantly when the subjects ate the dark cocoa rich chocolate everyday and also the patients did not gain weight. They also found a decrease in the total cholesterol: HDL ratio in the dark chocolate group. It is thought that the high polyphenol content in dark chocolate is responsible for the positive results that were observed in this study. Although this was a relatively small study, it appears that chocolate in moderation is not harmful and may actually offer significant benefits. The study is published in the November 2010 issue of the journal Diabetic Medicine.


Important Health News

Radio Study for:
November 11, 2010

Vitamin K1 doesn’t prevent thinning of the bone in this study but it does prevent bone fracture and cancer
Researchers from the University of Toronto performed a 2-year long randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study, extended for earlier participants for up to an additional 2 years because of interest in long-term safety and fractures. A total of 440 postmenopausal women with osteopenia were randomized to take either 5 mg of vitamin K1 or placebo daily.

     Over 2 years bone mineral density decreased by −1.28% and −1.22%
at the lumbar spine and −0.69% and −0.88% at the total hip in the vitamin K and placebo groups, respectively. So there was no significant difference in bone loss with Vitamin K1 however, the number of women with fractures decreased significantly and the number of women with cancer dropped significantly in the Vitamin K1 group. The number of women dying from cancer although low in general was certainly lower in the Vitamin K1 group.

     The researchers conclude that in this study 5 mg of vitamin K1 supplementation taken daily for 2 to 4 years does not protect against age-related decline in bone mineral density, but may protect against fractures and cancers in postmenopausal women with osteopenia. The apparent contradiction between the effects of vitamin K1 on not improving bone density but still decreasing the number of women with fractures could mean that vitamin K1 supplements strengthen bone by changing factors other than bone density, e.g., by changing its fine structure rather than making it denser; in other words improving the microarchitecture (filling in the Swiss cheese holes) that make bone more fragile. The study results are published in the recent edition of PLoS Medicine



Julie Capper stands with her hologram at Manchester International Airport. Julie and her hologram work in the same area — which has created some confusion.
Enlarge Courtesy of Manchester International Airport Julie Capper stands with her hologram at Manchester International Airport. Julie and her hologram work in the same area — which has created some confusion.
Courtesy of Manchester International Airport
Julie Capper stands with her hologram at Manchester International Airport. Julie and her hologram work in the same area — which has created some confusion.
Apparently people who fly from Manchester, England, often forget to throw away their liquids. Since 2006, when the policy that required travelers to ditch their liquids went into effect, staff at the Manchester airport has tried all sorts of mechanisms to get people to comply.
"We've tried a number of things, from posters to leaflets, from real staff being there to remind people," Russell Craig, spokesman for the Manchester International Airport, tells Robert Siegel on All Things Considered. "Even, last summer, we had people dressed as giant bottles of water."
Their latest ploy? Holograms — just like those in Star Wars (remember the scene where Princess Leia makes a plea to Obi-Wan Kenobi?). Last week, the airport added holograms of two real employees — Julie Capper and John Walsh — to remind passengers of the liquid restrictions. Their holograms are two-dimensional.
Source: YouTube
Craig says the holograms are drawing crowds — and "incredible results."
But Julie's hologram, which runs through a 13-14 second script, is set up in the same section that Julie works — confusing some travelers.
"In fact, an old guy walked up to Julie's hologram and obviously thought it was the real Julie, handed her his passport — and of course when she didn't respond, he looked very annoyed that he was being ignored," Craig says. "And then [he] suddenly realized what happened and kind of shuffled off to see the real Julie."
Neither Julie nor John get any overtime for their holograms' long hours.
Says Craig: "That's one of the benefits of [holographic] staff, of course, is they don't go sick, they don't complain, they just carry on doing what they do."
  • By the way, the TSA doesn't care if you bring a water bottle through security; they only care about the water. If you remember to empty the bottle before going through, you can refill it on the other side.
 400 Yellowstone Bison Held For Possible Slaughter
Enlarge Matthew Brown/Associated Press Animals that test positive for exposure to the disease Brucellosis were to be sent to slaughter in coming days.
Animals that test positive for exposure to the disease Brucellosis were to be  sent to slaughter in coming days.
Matthew Brown/Associated Press
Animals that test positive for exposure to the disease Brucellosis were to be sent to slaughter in coming days.
Yellowstone National Park's iconic bison herds are suffering their worst winter in several years with almost 400 of the animals being held for possible slaughter - and a much-heralded initiative to expand where they can roam on the verge of failure.
Forty-seven more bison were captured at the Montana border on Thursday. Yellowstone workers and state livestock agents were trying to halt the animals' exodus from the snow-packed park to lower elevations.
Bison periodically attempt to migrate out of the park in search of food, but many end up in government-operated corrals under a controversial program meant to guard against the spread of the disease brucellosis to livestock.
Disease testing on the animals began Wednesday. Those that test positive for exposure to brucellosis are slated to be shipped to slaughter.
Through Thursday, 161 of the 368 captured bison had been tested. Fifty-three tests came back positive and 108 negative, park spokesman Al Nash said.
There is no guarantee the negative animals will be released. Holding them until spring in the corrals along the park border could prove impossible if bison keep pouring out of the park.
More of the animals were moving toward the park border Thursday, and the corrals only hold about 400 animals.
"Bison can move a long distance in a short period and we've often seen movement in the night hours," Nash said. "Our plan at the moment is to continue testing and sorting these animals. We'll see what next week brings."
Livestock officials said plans to ship brucellosis-positive bison to packing plants beginning this week had been delayed until at least Monday, after agencies ran into difficulties lining up trucks for transport.
Wildlife advocates scrambled to stop the shipments, asking a federal judge in Helena for a restraining order that would halt the impending slaughter. Those involved in the legal effort said the chance of livestock being infected by bison is too low to justify the death of so many bison - the largest wild land animals in North America.
"It doesn't make sense why they have such a lethal approach," said Tom Woodbury with the Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs in the case. "There are no cattle on public lands (adjacent to the park) this time of year. This seems to be more about population control than disease control."
Meanwhile, a $3.3 million initiative to give a small number of bison more to roam outside the park was down to a single animal by Thursday.
It has been just two weeks since 25 of the burly animals were herded onto the Gallatin National Forest, where bison had been prohibited for decades. But some of them repeatedly left the 2,500-acre patch where they were supposed to spend the winter. One was shot after entering private property, and 23 were captured and shipped back to the park or returned there on their own.
It has been just two weeks since 25 of the burly animals were herded onto the Gallatin National Forest, where bison had been prohibited for decades. Since that widely-publicized event, 23 of the animals have been captured and shipped back to the park or returned to the park on their own. One was shot after entering private property.
Government officials said it was uncertain when or how the attempt to carve out new habitat for the species in Montana. The state's Democratic governor, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, suggested another batch of 25 bison could be herded from the park down to the forest land, but there were no immediate plans to do so.
Roughly half of Yellowstone's estimated 3,900 bison have been exposed to brucellosis, which can cause infected animals to prematurely abort their young.
There have been no recorded cattle-to-bison brucellosis transmissions, and few cattle remain in the immediate vicinity of the park. Wildlife advocates said those conditions make it possible for government agencies to ease their restrictions on where bison can move.
But a spokesman for the Montana Stockgrowers Association said the livestock group is closely tracking the pending legal case and remains wary of any move to expand where bison can roam outside Yellowstone.
Jay Bodner, the association's director of natural resources, said cattle producers whose animals are infected with brucellosis can face economic losses if buyers are not willing to pay as much for their animals.
"Management actions still need to be taken," he said in reference to the government-sponsored capture and slaughter program.
In 2008, a record 1,600 bison were killed leaving the park, including more than 1,400 that were shipped to slaughter.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oysters disappearing worldwide: study
Feb 3 01:20 AM US/Eastern
A survey of oyster habitats around the world has found that the succulent mollusks are disappearing fast and 85 percent of their reefs have been lost due to disease and over-harvesting. Most of the remaining wild oysters in the world, or about 75 percent, can be found in five locations in North America, said the study published in BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences.
An international team of researchers led by Michael Beck of the Nature Conservancy and the University of California, Santa Cruz, examined the condition of native oyster reefs in 40 ecoregions, including 144 bays.
"Oyster reefs are at less than 10 percent of their prior abundance in most bays (70 percent) and ecoregions (63 percent)," said the study.
"They are functionally extinct -- in that they lack any significant ecosystem role and remain at less than one percent of prior abundances in many bays (37 percent) and ecoregions (28 percent) -- particularly in North America, Australia and Europe."
By averaging the loss among all regions, the researchers came up with an estimate that 85 percent of oyster reef ecosystems have been lost, but said that figure was likely low because some areas lacked historical records for comparison.
The study also did not include oyster reefs in parts of South Africa, China, Japan, and North and South Korea.
Other studies and observations in those areas "suggest that wild oyster abundance was much higher in the past and that reefs have declined greatly in abundance or have disappeared altogether," the authors said.
The one bright spot in the oyster world was in the Gulf of Mexico, where native oyster catches are "the highest in the world despite significant declines in abundance and reefs," according to the study.
Five regions where oyster catches were globally the highest were located in eastern North America, from the Virginia coast southward and also in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oysters are important to ecosystems because they filter impurities from water and provide food and employment for people living in coastal communities.
The decline in oyster population often begins when trawling or dredging destroys the structure of parts of the reef, leaving surviving oysters vulnerable to stresses in the environment.
In some cases, non-native species of oysters are introduced after a population decline, and they bring with them diseases that further kill off the native oysters.
The authors recommended that any reefs with less than 10 percent of their former abundance be closed to further harvesting until the oysters can build up their numbers again.



Cyclone Terrorizes Australia But Spares Lives

Enlarge Jonathan Wood/Getty Images A local resident photographs a home on the outskirts of Innisfail, Australia, on Thursday after it was hit by Cyclone Yasi.
A local resident photographs a home on the outskirts of Innisfail, Australia, on Thursday after it was hit by Cyclone Yasi.
Jonathan Wood/Getty Images
A local resident photographs a home on the outskirts of Innisfail, Australia, on Thursday after it was hit by Cyclone Yasi.
text size A A A
February 3, 2011
First came the terrifying roar, then a violent bang like something had exploded. "We gotta go!" David Leger screamed to his father as one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in Australia tore the roof off their home, sucking the air up and out of the room like a vacuum.
Leger and his parents scrambled down the staircase, but the house shook violently, sending 83-year-old Francis Leger tumbling down the stairs. The family finally made it to a small room on the ground floor, where they rode out the ferocious storm that slammed into the already flood-ravaged Queensland state Thursday.
This was the worst cyclone this country has experienced, potentially, for 100 years.
"We're just thankful," David Leger said later as he slogged across the drenched carpet of their ruined home, water pooling around his sandaled feet. "This is only material."
Residents and officials were amazed and relieved that no one was reported killed by the monstrous Cyclone Yasi, which roared across northern Queensland with winds up to 170 mph. Tidal surges sent waves crashing ashore two blocks into seaside communities, several small towns directly under Yasi's eye were devastated and hundreds of millions of dollars of banana and sugarcane crops were shredded.
Officials said lives were spared because, after days of increasingly dire warnings, people followed instructions to flee to evacuation centers or bunker themselves at home in dozens of cities and towns in Yasi's path.
Hundreds of houses were destroyed or seriously damaged, and the homes of thousands more people would be barely livable until the wreckage was cleared, officials said. Piles of drenched mattresses, sodden stuffed animals, shattered glass and twisted metal roofs lay strewn across lawns in the hardest-hit towns.
The region is considered a tourist gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, but whether the storm caused damage to the reef was not yet known. Experts say that cyclones can cause localized reef damage as they cross over and that under normal circumstances they will recover.
Yasi crossed the coast around midnight at the most-destructive Category 5 rating and then immediately began to weaken. Still, it was strong enough to hold a Category 1 cyclone rating about 500 miles inland, where it was threatening to cause flooding late Thursday in the Outback town of Mount Isa.
It was a terrifying night for thousands who waited out the storm in their darkened houses. Sandy Haratsis was fighting off a panic attack as she lay on a mattress between her daughters' beds listening to the cyclone rage outside. The two-story wood house was shaking, and she was worried about the roof.
Suddenly, a bang rang out, followed by a whoosh. Her daughters screamed as raindrops began falling onto them through the ceiling. The roof was peeling away.
"That's it! Downstairs!" Haratsis shouted at her daughters and her 69-year-old mother Verna Kohn. They fled to a small ground floor room and spent the night sitting in a tight cluster on a bed of pillows, listening to the radio and praying the house would hold up.
"It was eerie and whistling and whirling and popping and girls screaming," Kohn recalled Thursday as she stood inside her waterlogged home.
Everything was drenched: the furniture, the carpet, her floral curtains, the stacks of hand-sewn quilts she'd spent years carefully crafting. On the ground floor, water dripped through the ceiling into saucepans and buckets scattered about. Half her roof had been torn away and the windows ripped off. A neighbor's palm tree lay across her yard.
The disaster zone was north of Australia's worst flooding in decades, which swamped an area in Queensland state the size and Germany and France combined and killed 35 people during weeks of high water until last month.
But the storm added to the state's woes, and was sure to add substantially to the estimated $5.6 billion in damage since late November. The government has already announced a special tax nationwide to help pay for the earlier flooding.
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said several thousand people would be temporarily homeless, and Red Cross Australia and local governments were registering people in need and finding places to house them.
It would take days to make a proper assessment of the damage, and fatalities could yet emerge.
"It's a long way to go before I say we've dodged any bullets," Bligh said.
Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said initial assessments were that more than 280 houses were damaged in the three hardest-hit towns, and crews were unable to reach at least four others, so the tally would certainly rise.
Australia's huge, sparsely populated tropical north is battered annually by about six cyclones - called typhoons throughout much of Asia and hurricanes in the Western hemisphere. Building codes have been strengthened since Cyclone Tracy devastated the city of Darwin in 1974, killing 71 in one of Australia's deadliest natural disasters.
"This was the worst cyclone this country has experienced, potentially, for 100 years, and I think that due to very good planning, a very good response ... we've been able to keep people safe," Roberts said.
Still, signs of devastation were everywhere. The main coastal highway was a slalom course of downed trees and power lines, fields of sugar cane and banana were shredded and flattened, and lush hillside forests were stripped of every leaf.
Rudy Laguna, 53, picked his way through the drenched rubble of a house he owns in Tully. The roof had peeled away, the windows were shattered and what was left of the siding flapped in the wind. He paused on the verandah and looked up at what was once the ceiling — and saw nothing but cloudy sky.
"It's only timber and fiber," he said. "As long as no one got hurt, it's OK."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blizzard of 2011 ‘a storm of historic proportions’

Last Modified: Feb 2, 2011 08:34PM

In the end, the great Blizzard of 2011 didn’t set a record — but still dumped 20.2 inches on the city, shut down schools, closed businesses and even major shopping malls, knocked out power to hundreds of thousands and left hundreds stranded on Lake Shore Drive.
The total snowfall made it the third worst snowstorm on record, behind only blizzards in 1967 — when 23 inches blanketed the city — and 1999 — when 21.6 inches fell.
“We are experiencing a storm of historic proportions . . . the likes of which we really haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years,” said Ray Orozco, Mayor Daley’s chief of staff.
“If you don’t have to go outside, stay indoors,” said Jose Santiago, executive director of the city’s 911 Center. “Walking in the streets is extremely dangerous. If you absolutely must drive, slow down.”
After a night when hundreds of motorists were stranded on Lake Shore Drive, the Drive remained closed Wednesday — and city officials could not say late Wednesday afternoon just when it would reopen.
“Was it a mistake not to close Lake Shore Drive? The answer is ‘no,” ’ Orozco said, saying traffic was moving until a series of accidents stopped traffic. “We were monitoring The Drive, and The Drive was moving.”
Later, Orozco said it was his call to keep the Drive open.
“No, I don’t think the mayor was pleased,’’ Orozco said.
But he said “hundreds of people” had been rescued off Lake Shore Drive and he said officials were “not aware of any serious health issues or injuries that occurred during the backup, but we know that hundreds of people were very inconvenienced, and we apologize for that.”
Orozco blamed a series of accidents on the Drive between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m., coupled with “white-out” conditions and wind gusts of up to 70 mph. One of the accidents was with a CTA bus, helping to cripple the roadway and bring traffic to a halt that never restarted.
“Efforts to get these cars and motorists were severely hampered by the on-going accumulation, high snow drifts and extremely poor weather conditions,” Orozco said. “And while we wanted to get people quickly, we needed to get people safely, particularly as people were leaving their vehicles and walking. This presented a real safety issue, given the visibility we experienced on the drive.”
Some people stayed in their cars and hunkered down for hours. Others abandoned their cars and headed for safety.
“Our plan is to eventually reopen Lake Shore Drive when we believe it is safe to do so,” said Orozco.
The third-largest snow storm to ever hit the area began pummeling the city Tuesday afternoon continued on into Wednesday morning, with more blowing snow, fierce wind gusts along the lakefront and reports in and around Chicago of drifts up to 6 feet.
Now, bitter cold is on the way, with temperatures in the city hovering near zero Wednesday night.
ComEd officials said late Wednesday afternoon that 32,000 customers remained without power, including 23,000 in the city. More than 161,000 lost power at the peak of the storm.
With many drivers still stranded all over the region, officials were telling people to stay at home unless travel was absolutely critical. Almost all of the Illinois expressways were “impassable,” with freeway ramps swamped under three to four feet of drifting snow, according to the Illinois State Police as of 5:30 a.m.
Public transportation looked to be the best bet for getting around.
Most Metra rail lines ran at a Sunday schedule, according to an alert on Metra’s website. However, the Heritage Corridor, North Central Service, Metra Electric Blue Island Branch, SouthWest Service and Union Pacific McHenry Sub were not running, the alert said.
“We are going to do the best we can,” according to Metra spokesman Michael Gillis.
All CTA trains lines were running Wednesday, except the Yellow Line, said CTA spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. She recommended Yellow Line customers take the 97 Skokie bus.
Buses were also running, “But they are dealing with the same road conditions as everyone else, so it’s challenging,” Gaffney said. “We recommend, if it’s an option, that people take trains instead or delay their travel until the weather clears.”
Gaffney said CTA was experiencing “light ridership.”
Also this morning, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said that because of the severe winter storm, the county is in a state of emergency and, except for those performing “essential services,” all employees should stay home Wednesday.
PACE spokesman Patrick Wilmot said the only cancellations they had as of 3:45 a.m. were the Niles Freebus, routes 411, 412, and 413. Some drivers even stayed overnight in the garages, so they could be ready for Wednesday’s shifts, Wilmot said.
Roadways, however, remained difficult to navigate or even impassible, and officials throughout northeastern Illinois were urging drivers to keep off the roads this morning.
“We have a lot of people stuck and not enough people out there to help,” Illinois State Police Elgin District Sgt. Amy Pelletier said.
“It’s terrible,” Joliet District Sgt. Chris Paluch said as crews scrambled to keep up late Tuesday. “There are too many crashes and too many vehicles in ditches. You can’t even get to the cars anymore.”
Conditions were so dire in north suburban Lake County and west suburban Kane County that officials there had closed all roads to traffic as of Wednesday morning.
Driving in those counties was said to be “nearly impossible,” and with crews struggling to reach stranded drivers, heading out on the roads could “put your life at risk,” according to the Lake County alert, issued through the NWS.
“We’ve had some people stranded for hours, and we’re just getting to them now,” said Deputy Chief Kevin Parker of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department.
Hundreds of abandoned vehicles had further hampered blizzard response efforts earlier this morning, prompting the Illinois Emergency Management Agency to close expressways statewide as crews tried to catch up. In the Chicago area, I-55 was closed at Lake Shore Drive, I-57 was closed southbound at I-80 and I-290 was closed from St. Charles to I-90, all until further notice.
The Illinois Department of Transportation was working hard to try and keep the roadway problems under control.
“There are accidents everywhere, we are getting stuck, maintenance is getting stuck, there are accidents all over the place,’’ according to one IDOT dispatcher at 4 a.m. “We are swamped. All of the ramps are blocked and some are shut down, There are jackknifed semis everywhere, It’s messed up. We’ll be here till Friday,’’ she said.
IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said as of 4:30 a.m. the expressways are still covered with snow.
“In general travel is not recommended,’’ Tridgell said.
“We have stopped short of directing people off [the roads] everywhere today,’’ Tridgell said.
Chicago Police were also reporting persistent problems early this morning, especially Lake Shore Drive on the North Side, which remained closed. Authorities had even enlisted the help of snowmobiles to help stranded motorists — some of whom were stuck there overnight for several hours.
Rogers Park District police Capt. Mark Scheithauer said at 2:30 a.m. that some motorists were still stuck on Lake Shore Drive, trying to get home from work.
“They started to run out of gas. We tell them help in coming and the fire department has a half a dozen snowmobiles and they can send a paramedic as needed,’’ the captain said.
“The people who are sitting in their cars and hungry have my deepest sympathy, but they were warned,’’ of the blizzard’s arrival, Scheithauer said.
Air travel will also be slow-going Wednesday.
The OEMC reported early Wednesday that airlines at O’Hare and Midway had canceled numerous flights. Despite the high number of cancellations, both O’Hare and Midway have been, and continue, to remain open, the release said.
Airlines at O’Hare canceled more than 1,300 flights Tuesday. Most of the airlines at O’Hare have indicated they will have limited or no flight operations Wednesday, according to the OEMC.
At Midway, airlines canceled flight operations for Tuesday but some airlines expect to resume operations this afternoon, with the majority of flights expected to resume this evening.
But travelers were advised to check their airlines’ website for flight status before going to the airports. Passengers with flights still scheduled to depart over the next few days are encouraged to arrive at the airports at least two hours before flight time.
The biggest problem overnight for many police officers in the city was getting the squad cars, even their sport-utility vehicles, getting stuck in the snow.
“Our biggest issue is squad cars being stuck. It’s awful, we can’t get to calls,’’ according to South Chicago District police officer early Wednesday.
“Normally we’d call for a city town truck, but it’s a four-hour backlog right now,’’ the officer said.
At least one police wagon was stuck in the police stations, “sally port,” where prisoners are brought in, according to an Englewood District police captain, who said the parking lots had not been plowed sufficiently. “We can’t get out of the lots,’’ the captain said.
Meanwhile, police in southwest suburban Joliet had their hands full with disabled cars.
“It is motorist assist after motorist assist,’’ according to Joliet Police Lt. Jeff Allbert. Allbert urged motorists to use common sense.
“The snow was coming down and blowing like crazy, and this one guy just had to go out and buy a case of pop,’’ Allbert said. “He goes out and he gets stuck.’’
One woman who was in a motorized scooter who went out for a loaf of bread to a convenience store several miles from her home became struck on the sidewalk and they had to call a tow truck to get her out of the snow, Allbert said.
She also reported delays in crews getting the scene of outages because of the roadway conditions.
“We do have 100 crews out there but we are being inhibited by the weather, so there are delays in the restorations. They are being hampered by the icy roads and the blizzard conditions,’’ Zatkowski said.
The city got its first taste of the record-breaking blizzard Tuesday afternoon and evening. Whipping wind gusts clocked at 67 miles per hour along the lakefront — coupled with drifting snow — forced drivers to abandon their cars on Lake Shore Drive, which was closed from 67th to Hollywood.
The blizzard even knocked WBBM Newsradio 780 AM broadcast on and off the air for at least an hour, associate producer Brad Robinson said.
Power went out in a maximum security division and boot camp of the Cook County Jail, which was on lockdown since before the storm hit and was being powered by backup generators. Five inmates who were released Tuesday told guards they had no where to go and asked if they could stay in jail overnight to avoid the storm.
“They wanted to stay an extra night. We never had that before,” said Steve Patterson, a spokesman for the Cook County Sheriff’s office. “It gives new meaning to idea of ‘Hotel California.’”
Sun-Times Media Wire, Sun-Times Staff
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