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Key facilities in Fukushima plant could have collapsed before tsunami
The News - Current Events
May 15, 2011

Key facilities at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power may have been damaged by the quake itself that day rather than tsunami-caused power loss that failed the reactor's cooling function, Kyodo News quoted a utility source said Saturday.

Data taken by workers entering the No. 1 reactor building at the crippled plant on the night of March 11 showing the radiation level was as high as 300 millisieverts per hour suggest a large amount of radioactive materials from nuclear fuel in the reactor was already released.

The findings may call for a review of preparedness against quakes at various nuclear power stations in Japan as they have primarily focused on securing auxiliary power supplies and embankment enhancement against tsunami after the Fukushima plant crisis, assuming that reactor facilities at the plant were unscathed by trembling. [ xinhuanet ]

 
The Great Flood of 2011
The News - Natural Disasters
May 14, 2011
great mississippi flood 2011

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says federal officials have been given approval to open a Louisiana spillway as early as Saturday to avert a Mississippi River disaster in places like Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Jindal said Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers had received permission to open the Morganza spillway for the first time in 38 years to relieve pressure on river levees. The corps says it will open the spillway when the river flow reaches a certain point, but an exact timing wasn't known. However, that flow rate is expected
to happen Saturday.

Sheriffs and National Guardsmen will warn people in a door-to-door sweep through the area, Jindal said. In addition to the 2,500 people living inside the spillway, there are 22,500 people and 11,000 structures in the backwater areas that could be flooded.
 
Mississippi River Floods Should Have Been Expected
The News - Natural Disasters
May 13, 2011

Last year, it was Pakistan and Russia. This spring, all talk of disasters attributable to freak weather conditions turns eyes to the U.S.

First, it was snowfalls that never seemed to end. After that came tornadoes . Now, a massive slug of water is working its way down the Mississippi River , forcing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deliberately flood farmland to spare riverside towns such as Cairo in Illinois, and threatening near-record water levels all the way to New Orleans. Here are the underlying causes of these extreme events, and how the surge might have been predicted. [ SA ]
 
Rich Russians Buy Bunkers on Apocalypse Angst
The News - Current Events
May 13, 2011
doomsday bunker apocalypse planning

Terrorism can be good for bunker builders. An apocalypse can be even better for business.

Danila Andreyev started building “panic rooms” three years ago, when fears of terrorist attacks and commercial disputes turning violent created demand in Russia. Now he’s selling “survival bunkers” for as much as $400,000 each to capitalize on angst over theories the world will end next year.

“I myself am not a believer in doomsday scenarios,” Andreyev, 31, whose Spetsgeoproekt company is completing 15 bunkers at hidden locations across Russia, said at his office in central Moscow. “But when you start hearing clients talking about the end of the world, it gets you thinking.”

While Russia has been a target for terrorists, with 37 people dying in a blast at Moscow’s busiest airport in January, more people are looking to protect themselves from what Andreyev calls a “global cataclysm” in 2012 based on predictions such as interpretations of the ancient Mayan calendar. [ bloom ]

 
Farmers on the Mississippi see crops washed away
The News - Climate-Environment
May 13, 2011
mississippi flooding crops wash away

With crop prices soaring, farmers along the lower Mississippi River had been expecting a big year. Maybe even a huge one.

Now, many are facing ruin, with floodwaters swallowing up corn, cotton, rice and soybean fields.

And even more farmland will be drowned in the coming days if engineers throw open a spillway for the first time in 38 years, as they are expected to do, sometime over the weekend. Unlocking the spillway would inundate Louisiana Cajun country with as much as 25 feet of water but would ease the pressure on levees downstream, averting a potentially bigger disaster in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. [ ap ]

 
The Importance of the Morganza Spillway
The News - Climate-Environment
May 12, 2011
Morganza Spillway mississippi flooding

The Mississippi is a bloated beast of a river that has already reached record stages in 21 locations along the Lower Mississippi River basin, flooded towns in parts of Mississippi and is now set to make a final surge into south-central and southeast Louisiana.

How flooding shakes out across southern Louisiana all rests upon one key component - the .  It's just a matter of time before the flood gates are opened but the decision to open the Morganza is not an easy one to make. That decision is in the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers.

When the Morganza is opened, you are purposely flooding some to save many. Yes, you may save Baton Rouge and New Orleans from waters spilling into those cities however you are creating widespread inundation of the Atchafalaya Basin. [ weather ]
 
Japan Reactor-Core Damage Worse Than Thought
The News - Current Events
May 12, 2011
japan nuclear risk higher than thought

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said one of the reactor cores at its stricken Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant is more seriously damaged than previously thought, setting back the utility’s plan to resolve the crisis.

Fuel rods in the core of the No. 1 reactor are fully exposed, with the water level 1 meter (3.3 feet) below the base of the fuel assembly, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the utility known as Tepco, told reporters at a briefing in Tokyo. Melted fuel has dropped to the bottom of the pressure vessel and is still being cooled, Matsumoto said.

Japan is trying to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl after a quake and tsunami two months ago knocked out power and cooling systems at the Fukushima station. While authorities have previously suspected a partial meltdown at unit 1, high radiation levels had prevented workers from entering the building to check the damage until last week. [ bloom ]

 
New Report Warns Mega-Fire Risk Is Global and Growing
The News - Climate-Environment
May 12, 2011
mega fire global climate disaster

Global warming and decades of outmoded fire prevention strategies are merging to set the stage for massive "mega-fires" that scar communities' homes and pocketbooks, according to a new assessment.

Preliminary findings from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released this week trace the circumstances around eight mega-fires across the world in a quest to uncover clues on how best to ward them off and minimize their damage. Such fires are defined more by their impact on people and the environment than by their specific size.

"Mega-fire is more of a concept than a construct," said Robert Keane, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service's Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory who was not involved with the report. "What I interpret [mega-fire] to mean is not only is it large, but it affects a lot of people," he said. [ SA ]

 
Mississippi flood passes 1937 record level
The News - Natural Disasters
May 11, 2011
record flooding mississippi

The swollen Mississippi River broke an all-time record level at Natchez, Mississippi, on Wednesday -- 10 days before its expected crest in the southern city.

The level of the largest river in North America reached 58.37 feet at Natchez on Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service, over the record of 58.04 feet in 1937. The river is expected to crest at 64 feet on May 21.

So far, levees along the river are holding, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"We're continuing to watch and wait and monitor the situation," said Jim Pogue, a Corps spokesman. "Everything is performing as we had hoped." [ yahoo ]

 
Spring 2011 Weather, by the Numbers
The News - Climate-Environment
May 11, 2011
The end of April saw a massive tornado outbreak along with some of the worst flooding along the Mississippi River in history. Here's a look at the wild month of weather, by the numbers.
 
Japan Earthquake Shifted Towns That Now Flood During Tides
The News - Natural Disasters
May 11, 2011
japan earthquake tsunami flooding
When water begins to trickle down the streets of her coastal neighborhood, 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 sea walls from the massive tsunamis triggered by the quake. [ huff ]

 
UK leads space disaster charter
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 11, 2011
space disaster watch

The UK is to lead the international effort that coordinates the acquisition of satellite pictures whenever there is a natural disaster. Britain will chair the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters for the next six months.

Images taken from orbit in the event of earthquakes or floods are critical tools in helping emergency responders deal with a crisis. Satellite maps can show the extent of the damage or the areas under water.

NGOs, UN agencies and national civil protection centres will use the information to guide their aid efforts on the ground, pinpointing still-passable roads and the best locations to set up refugee camps or mobile medical units. [ bbc ]

 
Seven dead after earthquake hits Spain
The News - Natural Disasters
May 11, 2011
seven dead spain earthquake
Seven people were killed Wednesday when an earthquake struck southeastern Spain, the central government's chief representative in the region told National Spanish Radio.

The 5.3-magnitude quake occurred at 4:47 p.m. (10:47 a.m. ET) and was centered about 50 kilometers (31 miles) southwest of Murcia, near the Mediterranean coast, the U.S. Geological Survey said. That is about 350 kilometers (218 miles) south-southeast of Madrid.

It was preceded at 3:05 p.m. by a 4.5-magnitude temblor centered in the same area, the survey said.

At least one of the deaths occurred in a building collapse in the town of Lorca, state-run EFE said.

 
NASA Considers Lasers To Battle Space Junk
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 11, 2011
space debris junk orbit

“Space junk” or debris has become an increasing threat to commercial satellites along with spacecraft and the International Space Station. Now NASA scientists may have a new option for reducing debris.

Collisions with debris, and the resulting damage, have the potential for being costly and difficult to repair.

During missions, astronauts aboard the International Space Station have had to take refuge in an escape capsule because they knew they were going to have a close encounter with space debris.

NASA scientists propose using a mid-power laser that could move the objects from their collision course. Unlike lasers that have been used in the past, this new laser would not be able to vaporize debris. [ cbs ]

 
Watch the planets align amid morning skies
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 11, 2011
planet alignment this week

The planet Venus is still a glittering "morning star," which this week is rising about one hour before sunrise.

About a half-hour before sunup, if you face due east, it can be seen hovering about 5 degrees above the horizon (your clenched fist held at arm's length measures 10 degrees in width, so Venus will stand roughly 'half a fist" above the brightening dawn horizon).

Although this is not very high, it still shines brilliantly at magnitude -3.8, and trying to keep track of it can be fun as it fades out in the growing light of day. On this astronomer's scale, smaller numbers represent brighter objects, with negative numbers reserved for the brightest of all.

Up until now, as early risers can attest, Venus has ruled the morning sky in solitary splendor.But this week, the planet that ranks second to its brilliance will join it. [ msnbc ]

 
Italians rattled by rumors about quake prediction
The News - Current Events
May 11, 2011
Italian officials are going to extraordinary lengths to try to debunk an urban legend predicting a devastating earthquake in Rome on Wednesday.

The country's Civil Protection Department has posted a dense information packet on its website stressing that quakes can't be predicted and that Rome isn't particularly at risk. Toll-free numbers have been set aside at city hall to field questions. The national geophysics institute will open its doors to the public Wednesday to inform the curious and the concerned about seismology.

The effort is all designed to debunk a purported prediction of a major Roman quake on May 11, 2011, attributed to self-taught seismologist Raffaele Bendandi, who died in 1979. The only problem is Bendandi never made the prediction, says Paola Lagorio, president of the association in charge of Bendandi's documentation. [ msnbc ]

 
Crab Nebula's gamma-ray flare mystifies astronomers
The News - Science-Astronomy
May 11, 2011
crab nebula gamma ray burst

The Crab Nebula has shocked astronomers by emitting an unprecedented blast of gamma rays, the highest-energy light in the Universe.

The cause of the 12 April gamma-ray flare, described at the Third Fermi Symposium in Rome, is a total mystery.

It seems to have come from a small area of the famous nebula, which is the wreckage from an exploded star.

The object has long been considered a steady source of light, but the Fermi telescope hints at greater activity.

The gamma-ray emission lasted for some six days, hitting levels 30 times higher than normal and varying at times from hour to hour. [ bbc ]

 
Italians evacuate Rome over 'big one' fears
The News - Current Events
May 10, 2011
rome earthquake big one disaster prediction prophecy

Italians will on Wednesday flee Rome over fears a giant earthquake is coming following a seismologist's 1915 prediction that "the big one" will strike on May 11, 2011.

Businesses have reported requests from one in five people to have time off work and many are also keeping children away from school and heading to the beach or country for the day.

Romans are taking it so seriously that local newspapers have even been publishing survival guides with tips of what to do – if – the ground starts to tremble.

The panic has been fanned by Facebook, Twitter and text messages around a prediction by Raffaele Bendani, a seismologist who forecast in 1915 that a "big one" would hit Rome on Wednesday. [ telegraph ]

 
Understanding Earthquakes and Their Impacts: Part I
The News - Natural Disasters
May 10, 2011
This is the first of a two-part blog focusing on the science and aftermath of earthquakes. Part I focuses on the science of a high-magnitude earthquake and whether one could happen in the United States. Tomorrow, Part II will focus on What We Can Do About It. [ whitehouse.gov ] - [ See Also : Top 5 Natural Disaster Threats to U.S. ]
 
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