Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Australia - Extreme weather across parts of Queensland and NSW leaves four dead, while fires burn in other parts of the nation. Queensland could face another cyclone in 30 to 60 days as part of the monsoon cycle.
The Calrence River at Grafton appears to have peaked just two centimetres below the top of the levee wall as torrential rains from ex-tropical cyclone Oswald continue to batter the east coast. The river is believed to have peaked at midday (AEDT), at a RECORD LEVEL of 8.08 metres. "It's looking reasonably safe at this stage. Even if did overtop in some places, there's a tiny bit of extra room on the freeboard, so it's just a little trickle, not catastrophic."
The levee was breached along some parts of the wall but council workers contained it with sandbags and were now concentrating on towns downstream, including Iluka, Yamba, Ulmarra and Maclean. "It's looking more positive but the situation is still very dire. It's improving for Grafton and our attention is now on Ulmarra and the levee system around Maclean."
In Bundaberg, as many as 7500 people are displaced and the Burnett River is still rising. More than 2000 homes are underwater, making it the worst-affected city. The Burnett River is expected to hit its peak tonight. A three-year-old boy has died of head injuries after a tree fell on him in Brisbane, bringing the number of flood-related deaths to four. As the threat recedes in Grafton, crews are working across the state to restore power to thousands of properties after trees and debris became tangled in powerlines. More than 19,000 homes are blacked out in the area stretching from Kempsey on the mid-north coast, right up to the Queensland border.
Earlier, more than 1500 people were told to evacuate their homes in Lismore, Ulmarra, Cowper and Brushgrove in northern NSW with warnings of flooding as rivers peak throughout today. A severe weather warning was issued for the Hunter and Central Coast, Illawarra and the south coast and parts of the Central Tablelands. A severe weather warning for Sydney was downgraded, after the city did not get the 100km/h winds that were forecast.
In Queensland, cane crops have been ravaged by torrential rain, leading canegrowers to seek financial support from the government. It's too early to determine the full extent of the damage but it appears the Bundaberg, Maryborough and Childers areas were worst hit. Floodwaters have also reached the rooftops of more than a hundred businesses in the town of Gympie. About 25 homes have been also been affected by flooding, but it's not yet known if water has entered living areas.
The Mary River peaked at the major flood level of 20.3 metres on Monday afternoon, with floodwaters higher and flowing faster than in the disaster which hit Gympie two years ago. The river is taking its time to recede and remains at a major flood level of 17.4 metres. Water is still swamping businesses in the heart of town.
Shark nets have been torn from their moorings along hundreds of kilometres of coastline in southern Queensland. Bundaberg is at the centre of the state's flood crisis, with so many in need of help now and in the future. ''I've seen perhaps even more extraordinary sights than we saw two years ago in southeast Queensland....This is the number one priority for myself, for my government - to do everything we can for the people of this city.'' So far there are no reports that homes have been swept from their foundations, as feared. (photos)

**Our actions are the ground we walk on.**
Mandy Patinkin

Live Seismograms - Worldwide (update every 30 minutes)

This morning -
None 5.0 or larger.

Yesterday -
1/28/13 -

New Zealand - Poverty 'rampant' in quake hit Christchurch. Horror stories of Christchurch families living in garages and tents continue to surface almost two years on from the February 2011 earthquake. Some families are still stranded in sheds or illegally overcrowding friends' and relatives' houses.
Christchurch children are still suffering from anxiety two years after the earthquakes, a new study concludes.

Volcano Webcams

Volcano activity of January 27 - Small explosions with rockfalls have continued during the past 24 hours at Colima volcano (Mexico), and exhalations of gas and ash returned to an average rate of once per hour at Popocatepetl volcano in the same period.

In the Indian Ocean -
Tropical Cyclone Felleng (13s) was located approximately 460 nm north of La Reunion.

Australia - The city of Ipswich, west of Brisbane, has been spared major flooding after the Bremer River peaked below predicted levels.
No flooding inside Brisbane homes - There are no reports of homes with water above the floorboards as the Brisbane River flood peak hits.
A permanent disaster relief fund, not a one-off levy, is needed to help communities recover and rebuild after extreme weather, the Australian Greens say.
Flooding Photos


150,000 displaced by Mozambique floods - At least 150,000 people have been forced from their homes by intense flooding in Mozambique, with that figure expected to rise as fresh rains spread flooding northward.
Heavy rains and overflowing rivers have already killed at least 40 people in the southeastern African country, which is experiencing its WORST FLOODS IN MORE THAN A DECADE. The south of Mozambique has been most badly hit, with the province of Gaza bearing the brunt of the flood surge. There 150,000 residents have been forced to flee to higher ground.
Emergency teams are still reaching isolated areas, adding to the number of victims. "People in high-risk areas are still being rescued." Boats, helicopters and trucks have been deployed to scoop up survivors and taken them to safe camps.
In the town of Chokwe, the scene was one of total devastation. Palm fronds poking through grimy mud-brown water, offer a clue of what this terrain once looked like. Nearby, children and families take refuge on rooftops scattered amid the few belongings they could salvage. At least two women gave birth on rooftops after being marooned by the floodwaters.
Many of those stranded have little more than thin cotton sheets to shelter from the elements, which have once again destroyed their town. Chokwe was virtually rebuilt after devastating floods 13 years ago. With water levels on the Limpopo river touching higher levels than those seen in 2000, when 800 people were killed, no one yet knows what the final human toll will be. Aid agencies and government emergency services have set up scores of temporary camps in the area where flood victims are being fed and housed in tents.


Spain - Olive failure. Spain is by far the biggest producer of olive oil in the world, accounting last year for around 50% of the total production worldwide. However farmers in southern Spain believe their crop of olives this year is down by as much as 80%, and some think it is inevitable that the price of this increasingly sought-after commodity will rise.
Jaen province, part of Spain's southern region of Andalucia, accounts of around half of Spain's total production. As the olive harvest draws to a close, farmers in Jaen say their crop could be only 20% of what it was last year. "The rain was noticeable for its absence"... the harvest this year was "really bad".
The fall in production could be felt around the world. "This year, Spain will have only enough production to cover its internal consumption." Because Spain normally produces between 40 and 60% of the world's olive oil, there might not be enough this year to meet demand worldwide. "If this year we don't have enough oil to cover the total consumption worldwide, then the price will increase to a dangerous level." By "dangerous" he means that there is the risk that consumers might be tempted to opt for cheaper alternatives.
However an expert at Deoleo, one of the biggest olive oil companies in the world, believes the fall in production in Spain this year will not be so marked. The company's managing director estimates that the Spanish olive harvest will be around 50% of what it was last year - and last year was a bumper crop. "We have had record crops for the three previous years." He argues that the surplus from recent years will reduce the impact of this year's poor harvest. "Like in any other market, if you have a shortage of supply the price goes up. However a price increase came in, in late August of 2012, and we don't expect any other price increase for the remainder of this crop."
The demand for olive oil worldwide is growing, especially in fast-growing economies such as Brazil, India and China. There is strong evidence that people who have a healthy amount of olive oil in their diet are less likely to have heart attacks, or to suffer from some forms of cancer. However, to get the best health benefits, olive oil connoisseurs will tell you that the oil has to be "extra virgin", which comes from the best quality olives, and accounts for roughly 20% of the oil produced in Spain each year. "It cures illnesses and helps your skin, and gives you a great complexion."


High-flying bacteria spark interest in possible climate effects - Microbes found at extreme altitudes could influence precipitation and cloud density. Seemingly squeaky-clean clouds are made by filthy bacteria-laden air.
Ravaged by arid winds and ultraviolet rays, some bacteria not only survive in the upper atmosphere but might affect weather and climate. A total of 314 different types of bacteria were collected in air masses around 10 kilometres above the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the continental United States. Although the scientists trapped only a small amount of material, bacteria accounted for around 20% of all particles - biological and non-biological - a higher proportion than in the near-Earth atmosphere.
“I’m really, really surprised at the high bacterial density at these high altitudes. This is clearly a harsh environment. One of the next challenges is to figure out the role of these organisms." Genetic analysis revealed that some microbes in the upper atmosphere are related to bacteria thought to catalyse ice-crystal formation and cloud condensation. The fundamental process, called nucleation, occurs when water molecules in the air coalesce around a seed particle, often dust or soot. Depending on temperature, these complexes can grow into large water droplets or frozen balls of ice, leading to cloud formation and rain or snow.
The latest findings support emerging theories that bacterial communities, especially in the upper atmosphere where dust is relatively rare, could influence weather and climate. “There’s increasing recognition that they’re not just spores that are floating around." But more research is needed to understand the relative importance of airborne bacteria, compared to other atmospheric elements.
Samples collected by the NASA mission before, during, and after two hurricanes also allowed researchers to study the effects of extreme weather on the atmospheric microbiome. The storms injected large numbers of new cells — including faecal bacteria — high into the sky. Bacterial composition varied by location and time, but 17 types of bacteria formed a core microbiome across all samples. Uunderstanding more about the bacterial ecology of the sky represents an exciting new frontier for natural history. “What’s up there, and how does what’s up there change across time? These are things we don’t know.”


CDC sees mixed flu picture, remaining threat for seniors - Deaths from pneumonia and flu in the United States rose sharply last week, with a rise in hospitalizations that continues to hit older people the hardest, though other disease indicators showed declines.

Swine flu infected 'fifth of people' in 2009 - At least 20% of people, including half of schoolchildren, were infected with swine flu during the first year of the pandemic in 2009, according to data from 19 countries. It is thought the virus killed 200,000 people around the world.
Large numbers of people were infected, although not all would have developed full-blown flu. The H1N1 virus first appeared in Mexico in 2009 and rapidly spread around the world. Approximately 24% of people had been infected overall, but half of school-age children showed signs of infection. Fewer than two in every 10,000 people infected died during the pandemic. "However, those that did die are much younger than in seasonal flu so the years of life lost will be much more. The figures drive home how incredibly infectious the virus is."
Many older people, who typically die during outbreaks of flu, were protected as they had been exposed to the virus decades before. "It was the busiest virus on the block and it displaced other influenza viruses - it was the only virus in town." A similar pattern would be expected in countries which were not analysed in the study.

Norovirus, Salmonella top list of outbreak-causing pathogens - Norovirus and Salmonella continued to top the list of pathogens responsible for US outbreaks of foodborne disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week.

For the third year in a row, ground beef tainted with Salmonella has caused a multi-state food poisoning outbreak. At least 16 people in five states have developed Salmonella infections after eating tainted ground beef as of Friday. Seven of these people became so sick they needed to be hospitalized.
Last year, 46 people in nine states were part of a ground beef Salmonella outbreak, 12 of those people required hospitalization. And in 2011, eight of the 20 people sickened in a seven-state outbreak were hospitalized. By these accounts, and many other reports of single-state outbreaks, it’s clear that Salmonella in ground beef is a serious public health threat. So why is it legal to sell raw beef that’s contaminated with Salmonella?
Under federal law, it is illegal to sell meat that is “adulterated.” But there are only a handful of food/pathogen combinations that meet this criteria. For ground beef, the only adulterant defined by law is E.coli. That means it’s legal to sell raw ground beef that is tainted with Salmonella - until someone gets sick. To food safety advocates, this doesn’t make much sense.
“It is long overdue for Salmonella in ground beef to be considered an adulterant under the law. Time and again, we have seen Salmonella outbreaks related to beef contamination. That shouldn’t happen. Clearly we need to be doing more to prevent these in the first place. This should be a wakeup call for the policy makers at the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.”


-Whole Foods Market is recalling one lot code of Whole Catch Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon (4 oz), cold smoked and sliced, sold in stores in 12 states, because it may contain Listeria Monocytogenes.