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Friday, September 30, 2011

Tropical Storm Ophelia Likely to Reform (ContributorNetwork)

The National Weather Service states Tropical Storm Ophelia's remnants are just over the Northern Leeward Islands in the Atlantic Ocean as of today. There is a 90 percent chance this system will develop into a tropical storm again as it moves to the west-northwest. Thus far the system is not near any huge land masses, but it could eventually reach the eastern United States.

Trailing behind Ophelia is Tropical Storm Philippe, which is forecast to turn north into the Atlantic and go out of harm's way. Ever since Hurricane Irene slammed into the East Coast, the Atlantic basin has been active with tropical systems. Luckily strong storms have avoided the mainland of the United States.

Forecasters predicted a more active than normal hurricane season this year. The Climate Prediction Center proposed as many as 19 named storms this year. Philippe is No. 16 on the list with another two months to go in hurricane season.

The Houston Chronicle reports all of these tropical systems haven't done the exceptional drought in Texas any good whatsoever. After Sept. 24, the chances of hurricanes hitting the Texas coast are very low in terms of historical numbers. The last late-season hurricane to make landfall in the Lone Star State was Hurricane Jerry in 1989.

The entire state of Texas is covered in a severe drought or worse. If anyone needs a huge dowsing storm from the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, Texas is a prime candidate. They weren't so fortunate this year as most tropical systems stayed away from the southern United States. Tropical Storm Lee made landfall over Louisiana and only brushed the eastern edges of Texas.

Places like Dallas, Austin and Del Rio have set records for the most 100-degree days in one year. Dallas has had 70 days at 100 degrees or greater, eclipsing the old record of 69 set in 1980. Austin's Camp Mabry set a mark of 86 days that obliterated the old record of 69 set in 1925. San Antonio needs three more days to break 2009's record of 59 100-degree days.

The wettest months in Texas have already passed for this year and fall may not bring much relief. The drought will need inundating rain for at least a week to dissipate. Crop losses are already in the billions of dollars with cattle farmers taking their herds to be sold.

As hurricane season draws to a close, the exception drought may continue until at least next year for weary residents of Texas.


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Lightning Delays Washington Monument Rappel (ContributorNetwork)

Engineers began rappelling down the sides of the Washington Monument today as part of an inspection team looking over possible damage to the structure. When the weather forecast turned to possible lightning and thunderstorms in the area, the Associated Press reports the first-of-its-kind operation had to be put on hold.

The obelisk was damaged when a 5.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Virginia in late August 2011. The shaking was felt in Washington and numerous cracks formed on the outer facade of the monument. Although the entire structure is sound and the monument isn't going to collapse, the National Park Service has closed the tourist attraction indefinitely until repairs can be made.

Rain from late summer storms and from Hurricane Irene seeped into the structure through the cracks. The reason for the rappelling team is to ascertain how many cracks are up and down the 555 foot-tall structure. After the initial inspection, teams will begin filling in cracks with caulk to weather proof the building once again. The largest crack is four feet long and an inch wide. Daylight can be seen through some cracks.

Rappelling in less-than-ideal weather conditions can be dangerous. Lightning is a factor because there are lightning rods on the Washington Monument. Even rain can be hazardous as the engineers may slip on the slick marble that is on the outside of the obelisk.

Even dressing appropriately for the weather is also a must. If it gets too cold while a climber is unable to move very quickly, he or she can suffer from hypothermia. Although it won't be as big of deal in warmer months, hypothermia can become a factor if temperatures cool suddenly.

Overly windy conditions may also spell trouble for climbers. Although the ropes are secured at the very top of the Washington Monument, winds can make it difficult for the climbers to stay still and do their work. If they are halfway down the tall structure it may be awhile before they can ascend into the hatch from which they came. The other option is to descend to the bottom to safety on the ground.

Rappelling down the Washington Monument is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will likely not happen again for another 150 years if at all. All precautions will have to be taken in weird weather so the climbers are safe while they do their jobs.

If all goes well, the Washington Monument will reopen in mid-October.


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Cruising During Hurricane Season -- to Insure or Not? (ContributorNetwork)

With Hurricane Hilary churning off the coast of Baja California and tropical storm Philippe causing chaos in the Caribbean, I caught up with Travelzoo Senior Editor Gabe Saglie to ask him about cruising during hurricane season.

Q: To your knowledge, what percentage of cruisers purchase trip insurance of some sort?

A: I don't have a good data on how many cruisers buy travel insurance. Some purchase directly from the cruise line, others through third parties. I'd safely say not all cruisers who purchase travel insurance make the investment on every cruise. I think it's a safe bet that most cruisers would rather take the gamble that nothing will go wrong with their trip

Q: What are the most likely scenarios for cruising during hurricane season? Will travel insurance cover an extra night in a hotel if my cruise is delayed, or if I miss my flight home because my ship stays at sea to avoid a hurricane? What about missed ports?

A: For the most part, travelers taking to sea even during hurricane season will see no problems. Let's face it, most days that fall on "hurricane season" -- June through September -- are void of storms. But, especially later in that season, bad storms become more likely. Cruise ships can be safe havens during tropical storms and hurricanes since these vessels can easily sail around them. This means the traveler needs to be flexible and open to skipping ports or visiting alternate ones, as well as open to the possibility some of their travel days will be rainy. Travel insurance generally will not cover wet days or changed itineraries.

The key to any insurance policy is to read the fine print, and if you're confused or unclear as to what exactly is covered, call your insurer before you travel so you don't have any lingering doubts about what is covered. That said, yes, most policies will cover expenses (not always 100 percent of your costs, though, so read the fine print) incurred by things like delayed or lengthened cruises, like hotel stays. While cruise lines will generally help passengers in cases where these altered plans are their fault, it's not always clear how much of your trip cost will be covered. Keep in mind cruise lines could be handling thousands of passengers at once, so a call to your travel insurer could resolve issues like rebooked flights or missed hotel stays much more quickly. Depending on your policy, insurance can also pay for the cost of getting you, or your mishandled luggage, to the next port, should you (or your bags) miss setting sail on day one.

Q: Sometimes people tell me, "We self-insure." Do you have anything to say to those people?

A: Self-insurance can be a safe bet for most travel scenarios; again, odds are that the vast majority of the travel we do over our lifetime will happen unaffected by the unforeseen. The potential downfall is that not enough money is set aside for unexpected mishaps. The cost of a missed hotel night or even flying yourself to the next port of call if you miss your cruise's departure time may be manageable. But on very expensive trips, or trips to exotic ports of call, the biggest concern is that not enough self-insurance was planned to offset some of those very high costs. It all comes down to your own, personal capacity and financial wherewithal for risk. For many people, investing an extra 8 to 10 percent on third-party insurance for that bucket list trip may be worth considering.

Q: What are some things that travel insurance doesn't cover? For example, if I miss an extra day of work due to a hurricane delay, will it cover lost wages?

A: Weather is often the biggest sticking point when it comes to insurance. Certainly, trip delay, trip cancellation or trip interruption insurance will come to your aid should a hurricane derail your cruise -- but keep in mind this counts only if you've bought insurance before the storm develops. But bad weather during your cruise will not be covered. Also, since cruise lines reserve the right to skip ports of call or visit alternate ones due to storms, itinerary tweaks are also generally not covered.

You can find a policy to insurance against a wide range of scenarios. I know, for example, that some policies will cover the cost of your vacation if you need to cancel last minute because you lost your job and can no longer afford to go. Lost wages may be covered by some insurers, but it must be clearly stated in your policy before you go.


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Contaminated Rice, Radiation Problems Continue for Japan (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | Radiation is an ongoing problem for Japan with recent reports focusing on contaminated rice. The lasting impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami continues to affect the country. However, I am forced to question why the rice was being grown in areas contaminated by the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. Officials were aware of the nuclear plants releasing iodine 131 and cesium 137 into the air in March, yet they seem to have allowed food production to continue.

Lasting Tragedy

The March 11 earthquake and tsunami led to the damage of several Japanese nuclear power plants. The release of radioactive materials including iodine 131 and cesium 137 forced officials to caution residents about drinking milk and eating contaminated food. However, they also assured residents that the land surrounding the nuclear plants would be free from the effects of radiation within a few weeks. This was misleading information because cesium 137's half-life, the time necessary for half of it to decay, is 30 years.

Problems

Scientists warned Japan that the effects of radiation would not disappear quickly. Soil and water contamination would continue to be hurdles for many years. Although Japan made a commitment to continue testing food for radiation levels, it has allowed crops to grow in contaminated areas. The impact of eating food contaminated with radioactive particles may be difficult to measure initially. However, there is a strong link to cancer.

Rice and Tea

Japan's contaminated rice may have grabbed more headlines, but it is not the first time that the issue of radiation and food has come to the surface. In June, the Japanese government attempted to stop tea shipments because high levels of cesium 137 were found. The tea contained 3,000 becquerels of radioactive cesium. Compared to Japan's regulations of not exceeding 500 becquerels of cesium per kilogram, this was an extremely high amount.

The most disturbing aspect of the tea story is that it questions the officials' ability to stop shipments. The governor of the area with the contaminated product was defiant and blatantly announced his refusal to follow the government's instructions. How safe is Japan's food supply and how is this affecting other nations who receive the imports? Although it is obvious the country is making a strong effort to test food and shipments, are they able to control all of the situations and how many products go untested? Japan must face these uncomfortable questions as the country continues to deal with the aftermath of March 11.


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Rains, flooding kill dozens, maroon many in India (AP)

By BISWAJEET BANERJEE, Associated Press Biswajeet Banerjee, Associated Press – Mon Sep 26, 11:15 am ET

LUCKNOW, India – Monsoon rains destroyed mud huts and flooded wide swaths of northern and eastern India, killing at least 48 people in recent days and leaving hundreds of thousands marooned by raging waters, officials said Monday.

Those stranded took shelter atop trees, hills and rooftops in the eastern states of Orissa and Bihar and the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Rescue helicopters dropped food in hard-to-reach areas, while hundreds of boats ferried the stranded to safety.

But the rains, expected to continue for two more days, were holding up rescue efforts, officials said.

All 31 people killed over the weekend in Uttar Pradesh state died when the roofs of their mud houses collapsed, Relief Commissioner K.K. Sinha said. The state offered compensation of about $2,200 to victims' families.

"Many of them died in their sleep," said P.K. Upadhaya, a district magistrate in Jaunpur, where 18 of the deaths occurred. "Heavy rainfall hampered the rescue operation."

Another 17 people were swept away over the weekend by floodwaters in Orissa state, where more than 130,000 have been evacuated from low-lying areas near rivers that burst their banks, Revenue and Disaster Management Minister S.N. Patra said. Since the monsoons began in August more than 70 people have died in Orissa.

The state's chief minister widened the evacuation area this week, while the air force was ordered to send more aircraft to help.

Hundreds of thousands of people scrambled into trees or on top of buildings to escape the rising waters.

In Bihar state, soldiers rescued more than 200 people who were stranded when flood waters from the Sone River entered their village. At least 500,000 people have been affected by floods as torrential rains and overflowing rivers inundated central and southern Bihar, said Vyas Ji, a top official.

At least 12 districts in Bihar were flooded after authorities in neighboring Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states released water from overflowing dams. Bihar's government has ordered engineers to cancel holidays and guard the embankments from further erosion, said Water Resources Minister Vijendra Choudhary.

___

Associated Press writer Indrajit Singh in Patna contributed to this report.


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New Forecast: Sun's 'Superstorms' Could Doom Satellites (SPACE.com)

Magnetic storms set off by the sun could pose a bigger threat than thought to weather, communication, military and other satellites close to Earth, with a potentially devastating economic impact, scientists suggest.

In the new study, researchers found that solar radiation can energize a belt of high-energy particles that surrounds Earth more dramatically than previously believed.

The study focused on the possible effects of a particularly strong magnetic storm on the Van Allen radiation belts, the dangerous rings of high-energy particles that girdle the Earth. The belts are split into two distinct zones. The outer belt, which is made up of electrons, reaches from about 15,800 to 31,600 miles (25,500 to 51,000 kilometers) above the surface, while the inner belt, which consists of a mix of electrons and protons, reaches from about 4,000 to 8,000 miles (6,400 to 12,800 km) above. [Stunning Photos of Solar Flares & Sun Storms]

Scientists had known the outer belt could become far more intense during geomagnetic storms caused by high-energy particles spewed by the sun, such as the storm that supercharged Earth's northern lights display Monday night (Sept. 26). However, they have long thought such storms do not affect the inner belt.

Now computer simulations suggest that during a "superstorm" — which has occurred in the past and is likely to recur in the future ? the electrons in the inner belt, too, could become energized. Near-Earth radiation could then remain dramatically more intense for several years afterward.

"The increase in radiation in the inner zone may last for up to a decade and continue damaging satellites for years after a very strong storm," study lead author Yuri Shprits, a space physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, told SPACE.com.

This radiation would damage satellites in that zone and potentially cut their lifetimes by five-sixths or more. [Related: Space Radiation to Rise for Astronauts, Airline Passengers]

"It would not destroy all satellites at once," Shprits said. "However, at least according to our calculations, a very strong storm can increase the radiation dose in the inner zone by a factor of 10, and within a few years we may lose a significant portion of the satellites that traverse the inner zone."

In terms of new strategies that might be needed to protect satellite systems, "it's hard to say," Shprits said. "First of all, we need to estimate risks and estimate cost. If cost is too high, we may want to accept the risks and start getting ready to replenish the fleet in the case of such event."

"There are a number of rather expensive strategies that can be used to mitigate the risk, including redundancy in electronics and increased shielding," he added. "Zero risk means infinite cost."

Two missions to study the radiation belts are planned for 2012, Shprits noted: NASA's Radiation Belt Storm Probe will observe radiation belts in the equatorial plane, while Moscow State University's LOMONOSOV mission, with UCLA-built instruments on board, will observe radiation belts at low altitudes.

The scientists detailed their findings online in the Aug. 25 issue of the journal Space Weather.

Follow SPACE.com contributor Charles Q. Choi on Twitter @cqchoi. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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Thursday, September 29, 2011

North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue Suggests Suspending the Next Election (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | Faced with a political tsunami that might make the 2010 election seem mild by comparison, North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue suggested suspending the next election so government can focus on the economy.

Was she joking or was she in earnest? Does it matter?

Perdue seems to reflect a wide spread discontent among Democratic elites with the angry voters who keep messing things up by objecting to the government's handling of the economy. Former Barack Obama Budget Director Peter Orszag, for example, proposed using commissions and automatic triggers to insulate Congress for the ire of voters over tax increases and budget cuts he feels will be necessary to reduce the massive budget deficit. At least Orszag's idea pretends to adhere to the Constitution, which Perdue does not.

Trust in the federal government is at an all-time low, according to recent polling. To be sure that it is understandable that people like Perdue and Orszag are searching for some kind of mechanism to get Congress to do its duty and do what is necessary. But do they really think the American people will be appeased by, in effect, suspending democracy?

Mind, Perdue is enjoying the double standard the media imposes on Democratic lawmakers vis-à-vis Republicans. Imagine if in 2007 a Republican governor had proposed suspending the 2008 election so President George W. Bush could conclude the war in Iraq favorably. Such a person so incautious would be forced to resign the very next day amidst headlines that Republicans want to overthrow the Constitution. But Perdue gets a pass by the media, with suggestions she is just joking.

American democracy, particularly in these troubled times, is not a thing to joke about. If people are irate at their government now, imagine the anger if someone seriously proposed to just not have an election next year. Elections are, after all, a means for people to peacefully express their anger by throwing the bums out. Take that mechanism away, and what is left?

Is it any wonder, then, the tea party, inspired by the American Revolution, has become the greatest force in American politics? When people in public office behave like King George, they should expect Americans to start behaving like the men who gathered at Lexington and Concord. For a growing number of people, November 2012 cannot come fast enough.


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Philippines evacuates 100,000 as typhoon Nesat nears (Reuters)

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines ordered the evacuation of more than 100,000 people in flood and landslide-prone parts of the main island of Luzon as Typhoon Nesat gathered speed and strength ahead of its expected landfall early on Tuesday.

Six fishermen were reported missing on Monday, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said, adding about 50,000 people are now in temporary shelters in the central Albay province.

Nesat was expected to hit the rice- and corn-growing provinces of Aurora and Isabela in the north on Tuesday, crossing mountain regions before exiting via the northwestern Ilocos provinces, weather forecaster Robert Sawi told reporters.

Packing winds of 130 kph (80 mph) with gusts of up to 160 kph, Nesat was 260 km (161 miles) east by southeast of Casiguran town in northern Aurora province, moving west by northwest at 19 kph.

Flights to the central region were suspended, and schools in the capital Manila closed in the afternoon in response to heavy rains and strong winds brought by Nesat, which is expected to intensify to a category 3 typhoon with winds of around 200 kmh (125 mph)

The disaster agency said hundreds of motorists and ferry passengers were stranded in ports, while soldiers and rescue workers were put on alert to help move residents to safety from areas at risk of flood and landslide.

Nesat, known locally as Pedring, could cause landslides, flash floods and storm surges in coastal areas, Sawi said.

"We've raised the typhoon alerts due to strong winds and rain that could uproot trees and topple communications and power lines," he said.

Graciano Yumul, head of the weather bureau, said 25 ml per hour of rainfall was expected, less than half the amount dumped in 2009 by Ketsana, which submerged large parts of the capital and killed hundreds.

(Reporting By Manny Mogato; Editing by John Mair and Sanjeev Miglani)


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Pinckneyville, Ill., Builds Hope for Joplin, Mo., Tornado Victims (ContributorNetwork)

Residents of Pickneyville, Ill., are familiar with the hazards of living in tornado country, so when they were given a chance to be a part of the rebuilding effort for Joplin, Mo., one of the communities devastated by a tornado in May.

Contempri Homes in Pinckneyville will donate the facility and materials to build a two-bedroom, 1,200 square-foot home to be given to a family that lost everything in the storm. The project is part of Extreme Makeover Home Edition's plan to build seven homes in seven days in the community that suffered as much as $3 billion in damages from the tornado. More than 100 people died in the storm.

Brad Perry, Contempri's chief operating officer, said, "If you've got a heart for service and can handle a paintbrush or a hammer, we encourage you to join us. We've had calls from groups and individuals from three or four states, offering to help but we'd like to offer the volunteer openings to residents of our home region first. When it's all said and done this is about getting a family back in their home, and I feel confident in our ability as a community to do that."

Contempri was asked to participate by Sher-wood Forest Homes of Joplin, a retailer that sells Contempri homes. The company was too busy to just add another house to its work schedule, but that didn't mean they didn't want to help.

So, they put together a plan. With enough volunteers, a house could be built in 36 to 40 hours, using the Contempri facilities and supervised by Contempri staff. The company is supplying the materials and the know-how; the community is supplying the labor.

Up to 300 could participate in the marathon building session which will start just after midnight on a Friday night and conclude in the wee hours of Sunday morning. Construction starts at 12:01 a.m. Oct. 8.

Once the house is completed, it will be wrapped in white plastic and all the volunteers will be asked to sign the shipping materials with words of hope for Joplin. That afternoon volunteers will hold a celebratory barbeque, then Pickneyville Police Chief John Griffin will drive escort as the home is delivered to Joplin, about seven hours away.

The finishing touches for the home, including cabinets, will be added beginning the week of Oct. 19 when Extreme Makeover Home Edition arrives in Joplin to film its special broadcast.

Local residents wanting to volunteer must be 18 years old or have a signed parental permission slip and be prepared to work a two hour shift at any time between 12:01 Oct. 8 and 6 a.m. Oct. 9. Volunteers must also attend a mandatory Volunteer Rally on Oct. 5. Volunteers should register at Pickneyville Builds Hope.

Lucinda Gunnin cut her teeth as a reporter covering Illinois news as an intern in the statehouse pressroom. She now brings 20 years insight and experiences to covering Illinois issues.


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Deadliest Typhoons in Recent History (ContributorNetwork)

With Typhoon Nesat heading toward North Vietnam, moving at 14 mph producing winds of up to 85 mph and gusts of up to 105 mph, Filipino locals say Nesat has brought the worst flooding Manila Bay has seen in decades. So far, 16 are dead, and there are presumably more as at least four are missing.

Nesat hit Luzon Island's northern areas right before sunrise on Tuesday, when it was a Category 3 typhoon, bringing winds of 125 mph with much stronger gusts. Nesat is projected to hit landfall again sometime Thursday night, passing over the Haiku peninsula in China before it hits North Vietnam.

Let's look at the most damaging and deadliest in recent history.

September 2009 -- Typhoon Ondoy

Also known as Typhoon Ketsana, Typhoon Ondoy struck the Philippines on Sept. 26, 2009, and it killed more than 500 people. At the time, Typhoon Ondoy had caused the worst flooding the country and town had seen in a long time. That was at least until Nesat hit this year. This typhoon also hit Vietnam, then devastated Cambodia as well.

October 2009 -- Typhoon Pepeng

Also known as Typhoon Parma, Typhoon Pepeng hit the Philippines in the same area Nesat hit, in northern Luzon, about a week after Ondoy, which was one of the reasons it was so destructive. The death toll was 492 with hundreds more missing. But the first death toll count was at only 15 with another 10 missing. The total monetary damage caused reached upward of $608 million and is to date classified the single most destructive typhoon in Filipino history.

June 2008 -- Typhoon Fengshen

Also known as Typhoon Frank, Fengshen hit the central Filipino town of Iloilo, causing a dam to collapse and sending 30,000 residents to seek higher ground. This report stated there were only 60 dead, but later reports confirmed the total was more. In fact, multiple reports came in throughout the next day and each had a higher tally of persons killed. The Red Cross said there were 229 dead with hundreds more presumed dead after a boat carrying more than 700 passengers capsized.

November 1991 -- Typhoon Uring

Also known as Tropical Storm Thelma, Typhoon Uring made landfall on Nov. 2 and stuck around until Nov. 7, all the while officially killing a total of 5,100 to 8,000. Because of the flooding, Ormoc City was devastated as it was completely submerged under floodwaters. This typhoon is labeled as the single deadliest typhoon in all of Filipino history; in fact, it is one of the deadliest and costliest in the 20th century, according to HurricaneScience.org. Leaving more than 50,000 homeless, the total damage costs were estimated at $30.4 million.


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The nations weather (AP)

Friday, September 16, 2011

RMS pegs Irene insured losses at up to $5.5 billion (Reuters)

(Reuters) – Hurricane Irene caused between $2.5 billion and $5.5 billion in insured losses in the United States and the Caribbean, excluding flood claims that fall under federal insurance programs, catastrophe modeling company RMS said on Monday.

RMS's estimate falls roughly between those of its two main competitors, AIR Worldwide and Eqecat. AIR has estimated losses at $3.5 billion to $7.1 billion, while Eqecat's estimate is $1.8 billion to $3.4 billion.

At the highest end of those ranges, Irene would rank as one of the 10 costliest disasters in U.S. history as measured by insured losses.

Losses appear to have been limited by the nature of the damage Irene caused. In most places in the United States, the majority of the damage was flood-related. Such losses are covered by the National Flood Insurance Program, which writes nearly all of the homeowner flood insurance in the country.

(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; editing by John Wallace)


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USDA, FDA Provide Aid to Farmers for Flood-Damaged Crops (ContributorNetwork)

The Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration announced today that both departments will be offering assistance and resources to farmers who have been impacted by intense flooding as a result of Tropical Storms Irene and Lee.

The assistance will specifically target flood-damaged crops and will provide compensation to farmers who are unable to bring their crops to market due to this damage. Floodwaters are especially harmful to crops as they can be a health hazard to those who consume them. Floodwaters often bring contact with animal waste, sewage and other pathogens and contaminants.

Michael Scuse, acting under-secretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, commented on the assistance announced by the USDA and FDA: "We are working closely with FDA to protect people and livestock from damaged crops, while not penalizing the farmer whose crops are affected. I want to assure insured farmers that they are covered under the federal crop insurance program for crops not harvested due to flood damage. America's farmers and rural communities are vitally important to our nation's economy, producing the food, feed, fiber and fuel that continue to help us grow and out-compete the rest of the world."

FDA Deputy Commissioner for Foods Michael R. Taylor also spoke about the storm damages to farms on the East Coast and the available aid: "We empathize with the farmers who are dealing with the loss of crops due to recent flooding. We all share the goal of protecting the food supply. We are working directly with USDA on damage response and will consult with them on assistance for farmers following our guidance to keep damaged crops out of the food supply."

The USDA has also recently announced other types of aid for farmers and agriculture affected by the storms. According to the World Dairy Diary, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack pledged aid for dairy farms hit hard by Irene and Lee and flooding afterward, especially since three of the top 10 dairy states were impacted. Vilsack has already pledged immediate aid of $15 million to New York dairy farms.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Irene hit the East Coast hard in late August and estimates show that the damage could cost insurers up to $5.5 billion. Delmarva Now reported Lee also caused a significant amount of destruction in the Northeast when it hit late last week. Lee caused large amounts of flooding, especially in Pennsylvania where there were evacuations after heavy rains.

The USDA is reminding farmers and ranchers to contact their local USDA Farm Service Agency Service Centers to report damages and losses and find further information on available aid.

Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.


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Japan anti-nuclear protests mark 6 months since quake (Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Anti-nuclear protesters took to the streets of Tokyo and other cities on Sunday to mark six months since the March earthquake and tsunami and vent their anger at the government's handling of the nuclear crisis set off by meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant.

In one of the largest protests, an estimated 2,500 people marched past the headquarters of the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, and created a "human chain" around the building of the Trade Ministry that oversees the power industry.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan's northeastern coast left 20,000 dead or missing and crippled the Fukushima plant, triggering the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

The accident that led to radiation and contamination fears spurred widespread calls for an end to Japan's reliance on nuclear power in the quake-prone country.

Protesters, marching to the beat of drums, called for a complete shutdown of nuclear power plants across Japan and demanded a shift in government policy toward alternative sources of energy.

Among the protestors were four young men who declared the start of a 10-day hunger strike to bring about change in Japan's nuclear policy.

"I believe it is very important that the young generation voices opposition against nuclear power, and in order to bring our point across we need to put ourselves on the line and that's why we chose to hunger strike for 10 days," said 20-year-old Naoya Okamoto.

Japanese media reported similar protests in other cities across Japan on the day many offered prayers to those who died in the March 11 disaster.

(Reporting by Olivier Fabre; Writing by Tomasz Janowski)


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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Northeast turns to flood recovery after Lee (AP)

By MARK SCOLFORO and MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press Mark Scolforo And Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press – Mon Sep 12, 6:59 pm ET

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Recovery efforts in the aftermath of flooding from Tropical Storm Lee focused Monday on reopening roads and bridges, cleaning the grimy layer of mud left by receding waters and tallying up the millions of dollars in damage wrought by days of drenching rains last week.

For people in riverside towns prone to flooding, it felt familiar.

"The long haul now will be the money thing, the estimating, the recording, getting estimates on different things," said Mayor Norm Ball of Tunkhannock, a northeastern Pennsylvania town where parts of the business district were inundated by high waters from the Susquehanna River and tributaries. "It's quite a process — I've dealt with it before."

In Pennsylvania, about 1,100 customers were still without power, more than 200 roads remained closed and 18 state and local bridges had damage, with another 64 on a precautionary list, emergency officials said Monday. The state was establishing a joint task force to coordinate recovery efforts, with disaster response centers to be located in affected areas.

The tentative statewide death toll dropped from 13 to 11, a change that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency could not immediately explain. The total figure may be revised again as death certificates are issued.

Authorities pulled the body of a Manheim man from Chiques Creek in Lancaster County on Sunday evening, the Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era reported. The man was walking through flood waters Thursday when the current knocked him over, and he was swept away after holding on to a utility pole for about 20 minutes, the newspaper said.

Tests were being conducted at a home after a 62-year-old West Pittston woman died from inhaling some sort of gas, the Luzerne County coroner told The Citizens' Voice of Wilkes-Barre. Initial tests showed there was very little oxygen in the house, which had 3 feet of groundwater in the basement.

More than a foot of rain fell in many communities over the five-day period that ended Friday, said meteorologist Jason Krekeler with the National Weather Service in State College. Harrisburg International Airport, which averages about 4 inches of rain in September, was deluged by 13.4 inches over that five-day period.

"One thing to keep in mind is, a lot of these areas were hit fairly hard by (Hurricane) Irene as well, with 3 to 4, 5 inches in some locations," he said.

Across the region, preliminary damage assessments were being conducted on the ground and by air because parts of the state remain inaccessible, said Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokesman Cory Angell.

"You don't just open a road when the water goes away," Angell said. "You have to inspect, find out what damage has occurred. Is the bridge stable, for example."

He urged people with losses to report them to their local governments because the dollar value factors into the state's eligibility for federal relief.

As a sign that life was starting to return to normal, the American Red Cross said Monday that only two or three evacuation shelters remained open, down from 16 on Saturday.

New Cumberland, across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg, lifted its state of emergency Monday after the Yellow Breeches Creek, a tributary of the river, returned to its banks, said borough council president Jack Murray.

In some places, the flooding left a 2-inch layer of mud, and workers have been spraying down roadways to clean it up. About a dozen structures had major damage, Murray said, but most people got out well before the high water hit.

"We had great cooperation from the people who live in the area that was flooded," Murray said. "We only had to tow one car, and my understanding (is) that was people who had to leave quickly."

In York County, bordered by the Susquehanna and the Maryland line, preliminary figures showed 19 homes or businesses were destroyed by flooding, along with another 146 with major damage and some 600 with minor damage, county officials reported.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has fielded reports of damage from throughout the state, including a Wyoming County dairy that had to dump a tank of milk because delivery trucks were blocked by bad roads, a Bradford County winery that lost 10 tons of grapes worth $15,000 and an aquaculture operation that lost $1.75 million worth of fish and equipment from flooding at facilities in York and Lebanon counties.

The bureau says farm losses in the state could reach tens of millions of dollars.

Residents of Pine Grove, a small town in Schuylkill County where the Swatara Creek became a raging river and flooded about 200 homes, were placing ruined belongings by the curb, ripping up soggy carpeting and drywall and pondering how long it will take them to recover from the worst flooding in perhaps a century.

Kelly Maher and Jeff McCurdy, a couple with two children under age 10, were overwhelmed by the task.

Their newly renovated first floor took on 4 feet of water, but they did not have flood insurance and he was recently laid off from his job at a masonry company. They lost furniture, a TV, a computer, kitchen appliances and cabinets and important documents.

McCurdy, 43, ripped away wall paneling to expose soggy wall studs that have already begun to grow mold. He questioned whether it's even worth rebuilding.

"I'm afraid it won't be safe for the kids," he said Monday. "What happens in six months?"

"I haven't cried yet. I'm still in shock," said Maher, 31, who works in accounting at, of all places, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. "It's as depressing as it gets."

Throughout the Northeast, residents and officials were surveying damage, working on recovery and in some cases, still coping with high waters.

It could be Wednesday before the Passaic River in New Jersey falls below flood stage, forecasters said. Moderate flooding was occurring, and a flood warning was in place at two places along the river, Pine Brook and Little Falls.

In Port Deposit, Md., a few roads were opened on a limited basis Sunday, but the town still required residents along those roads to get permission before returning home. Most of the 1,000 residents had been told to evacuate because of flooding expected from the opening of flood gates at the Conowingo Dam to relieve pressure on the Susquehanna.

In hard-hit Binghamton in southern New York, some residents were being allowed to return home during daylight to begin cleaning up. Schools and businesses were reopening Monday, and classes were resuming at Binghamton University, the Press and Sun-Bulletin reported.

In Apalachin, in Tioga County just west of Binghamton, residents slogged through thick layers of mud as they returned home to check on their properties, many of which are likely to be condemned, officials said.

"Everything in my house is pretty much garbage," John Prosinski, 41, told the newspaper. "I'd rather not come back, but my daughter is in first grade. She loves her school."

___

Rubinkam reported from Pine Grove.


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Nate now a depression, oil contractors found in Mexico (Reuters)

GUTIERREZ ZAMORA, Mexico (Reuters) – Storm Nate weakened to a tropical depression on Sunday as it moved farther inland across the coffee and sugar growing state of Veracruz, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nate, which could still dump one to two inches of rain over Veracruz, is expected to dissipate on Monday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

State oil monopoly Pemex said it had rescued seven out of 10 contract workers who had been missing since Thursday after evacuating a rig in the Gulf of Mexico due to bad weather.

Four Mexicans, two Americans and one Bangladeshi were among those rescued in the Bay of Campeche. Two other workers were found dead and one remains missing, Pemex said.

The depression was 30 miles south south-west of Tuxpan, with maximum sustained winds of 35 miles per hour, the hurricane center said in its 5:00 p.m. EDT advisory. It is moving west, north-west at eight mph.

Veracruz is one of Mexico's top producers of coffee and sugar and flooding could damage recently planted crops. High moisture also can cause fungus in coffee beans and flooding and landslides that could affect transportation routes and delay exports.

Sugar crops in Veracruz were greatly damaged last year in an intense tropical storm season.

The oil-exporting port of Cayo Arcas remained closed along with two other smaller ports. Dos Bocas reopened to shipping earlier on Sunday after four days of inactivity.

Pemex evacuated 473 workers from five sea platforms as a precaution but had not said if they had started to return to work. Nate had cut Mexican oil production by 178,800 barrels a day as of Friday.

Local media reported a fisherman drowned on Friday after strong surf capsized his little boat in the Bay of Campeche area.

Meanwhile, the center of Tropical Storm Maria was seen passing well north of Puerto Rico later on Sunday.


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Maria prompts tropical storm watch in Bermuda (AP)

MIAMI – A tropical storm watch has been issued for Bermuda as Tropical Storm Maria crawls up the Atlantic.

Early Tuesday, Maria has maximum sustained winds near 50 mph (85 kph) with some strengthening forecast during the next two days.

Maria is centered about 340 miles (545 kilometers) east of the southeastern Bahamas and is moving north-northwest near 5 mph (7 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Maria is expected to pass west of Bermuda on Thursday.

Maria's forecast track shows it curving away from the U.S.


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New PM: Japan should aim to reduce nuclear power (AP)

TOKYO – Japan's new prime minister has promised to restart nuclear plants following safety checks ordered after the crisis at the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda also said Tuesday in his first policy speech since taking office two weeks ago that the country should reduce its reliance on atomic energy over the long term, but offered no specifics.

More than 30 of Japan's 54 reactors have been idled, causing electricity shortages amid sweltering summer temperatures.

Noda also said he would press ahead with the recovery of the tsunami-battered northeastern region, calling on his fellow citizens not to forget "the spirit of dignity of all Japanese" in the face of disaster.


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Summer Gas Waiver Granted for Western Pennsylvania (ContributorNetwork)

Hurricane Irene inflicted some damage on northeastern Pennsylvania, and Tropical Storm Lee compounded that damage by flooding even more areas. As damage estimates quickly approach the $50 million level, another issue that resulted from the series of bad weather was quickly handled by Gov. Tom Corbett and the Environmental Protection Agency. The regulation that requires a summer blend of gasoline be sold in the Pittsburgh area was lifted.

What does gasoline in Pittsburgh have to do with flooding on the other side of the state?

Flooding from Lee and Irene has caused fuel delivery delays to southwestern Pennsylvania. Those pipelines carry large amounts of fuel to the Pittsburgh region. In addition, Irene caused the shutdown of many pipelines and refineries that supply gas to western Pennsylvania. The summer blend of fuel is what retailers are required by law to sell, and is in short supply and could have run out. Since the conventional fuel is readily available, the state asked for a waiver from the EPA to sell that fuel to avoid additional difficulties.

Why is summer blend fuel required?

During the summer months in an effort to reduce emissions, the EPA requires the summer blend to keep those smog-creating chemicals at a minimum. Outside the Pittsburgh area, conventional fuel is available all year, but the city has a notorious air quality record that draws the attention of the EPA. The summer blend is required for the period of June 1 to Sept. 15, which means the date was drawing close anyway.

Has the waiver issue been raised before?

The issue of having the Pittsburgh area issued a waiver for use of conventional fuel versus summer blend was brought up earlier in the year. During that event, problems with the pipeline caused a minor gas shortage in the Pittsburgh area; however, a waiver was not granted in that case.

What counties are affected?

There are seven counties in the Pittsburgh area affected by the change in fuel: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland. The waiver should assure an adequate supply of gas for consumers.

Jason Gallagher is a long-time Pennsylvania resident. He has experiences in trends and developments in many regions from having lived in many parts of the Keystone State, and currently resides in the Pittsburgh area.


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Japan marks 6 months since earthquake, tsunami (AP)

By TOMOKO A. HOSAKA, Associated Press Tomoko A. Hosaka, Associated Press – Sun Sep 11, 11:58 am ET

TOKYO – Up and down Japan's devastated northeast coast, survivors prayed and communities came together Sunday to mark six months since the massive earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, a date that changed everything for them and their country.

As the world commemorated the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, Japanese parents hung colorful paper cranes for their lost children and monks chanted in front of smashed buildings. Thousands also marched in the streets to demand that the country abandon nuclear power because of damage to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

At precisely 2:46 p.m., they stopped and observed a minute of silence.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake produced the sort of devastation Japan hadn't seen since World War II. The tsunami that followed engulfed the northeast and wiped out entire towns. The waves inundated the Fukushima plant, triggering the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

Some 20,000 people are dead or missing. More than 800,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed. The disaster crippled businesses, roads and infrastructure. The Japanese Red Cross Society estimates that 400,000 people were displaced.

Half a year later, there are physical signs of progress.

Much of the debris has been cleared away or at least organized into big piles. In the port city of Kesennuma, many of the boats carried inland by the tsunami have been removed. Most evacuees have moved out of high school gyms and into temporary shelters or apartments.

The supply chain problems that led to critical parts shortages for Japan's auto and electronics makers are nearly resolved. Industrial production has almost recovered to pre-quake levels.

But beyond the surface is anxiety and frustration among survivors facing an uncertain future. They are growing increasingly impatient with a government they describe as too slow and without direction.

Masayuki Komatsu, a fisherman in Kesennuma, wants to restart his abalone farming business.

But he worries about radiation in the sea from the still-leaking Fukushima plant and isn't sure if his products will be safe enough to sell. He said officials are not providing adequate radiation information for local fisherman.

"I wonder if the government considers our horrible circumstances and the radiation concerns of people in my business," said Komatsu, who also lost his home.

Another resident, 80-year-old Takashi Sugawara, lost his sister in the tsunami and now lives in temporary housing. He wants to rebuild his home but is stuck in limbo for the time being.

"My family is not very wealthy, and I only wish that the country would decide what to do about the area as soon as possible," Sugawara said.

He might be waiting for a while. The Nikkei financial newspaper reported this week that many municipalities in the hardest-hit prefecture of Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima have yet to draft reconstruction plans.

Of the 31 cities, towns and villages severely damaged by the disaster, just four have finalized their plans, the Nikkei said. The scale of the disaster, the national government's slow response and quarrels among residents have delayed the rebuilding process.

Workers at the Fukushima nuclear plant are still struggling to meet a goal of bringing it to a cold shutdown by early next year.

"We are barely keeping the reactors under control and the situation is still difficult," Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency spokesman Yoshinori Moriyama said in Tokyo.

In Fukushima city, dozens of citizens rallied Sunday outside a government-backed international conference at which scientists agreed that the radiation danger from the nuclear plant was far less than Chernobyl. The protesters accused conference organizers of trying to underestimate the risk for children.

Citizens also demonstrated in major cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where thousands of anti-nuclear protesters demanded that the country give up nuclear power. Activists circled the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry holding banners saying, "Nuclear power? Goodbye."

Criticism of the government's handling of the disaster and nuclear crisis led former Prime Minister Naoto Kan to resign. Former Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda took over nine days ago, becoming Japan's sixth new prime minister in five years.

He spent much of Saturday visiting Miyage and Iwate prefectures, promising more funding to speed up recovery efforts and trying to shore up confidence in his administration.

But the trip was overshadowed later in the day by his first big political embarrassment. Noda's new trade minister Yoshio Hachiro resigned, caving into intense pressure after calling the area around the nuclear plant "a town of death," a comment seen as insensitive to nuclear evacuees.

Public support for the new government started out strong, with an approval rating of 62.8 percent in a Kyodo News poll released last Saturday. Hachiro's resignation will likely translate into a drop and new doubts about Noda's ability to lead.

Regardless of politics, what's clear is that the road ahead will be long.

"Given the enormous scale of the destruction and the massive area affected, this will be a long and complex recovery and reconstruction operation," Tadateru Konoe, the Red Cross president, said in a statement. "It will take at least five years to rebuild, but healing the mental scars could take much longer."

___

Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Fukushima and APTN videojournalist Miki Toda in Kesennuma contributed to this report.


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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Tropical Storm Lee Stalls and Floods Athens, Pa. (ContributorNetwork)

FIRST PERSON | When Tropical Storm Lee decided to hang out over the southern tier of New York and Pennsylvania on Sept. 3, no one could have guessed what horrors lay ahead for Athens, Pa.

After a few days of steady rains, Wednesday became the catalyst for a tragedy. Athens received 3 inches of rainfall, which sent swollen creeks pouring into the rivers. The Susquehanna River began to rise half a foot an hour.

At 6:30 p.m., members of the Athens Borough firemen began to go door to door alerting residents to prepare to move fast. It was voluntary to leave at first. I grew up in this area and when Hurricane Agnes rolled through this area in June 1972. I saw the devastation with my own eyes. I was not sticking around.

I spent a few hours with my son Timmy, who is 19, and we put lots of things at least 3 feet off the floor. I prayed that 3 feet would be enough. When Jay, my boyfriend, came with the truck, we were ready to get out of town.

We left our home in Athens at 10:30 p.m. on Wednesday and prayed that we would have a home to return to. We went to the home of Thomas and Diana McBride (my sister) on Laurel Hill, far away from the rivers. I thought my daughter and her husband were following us out, but they did not.

By 3 a.m. Thursday, they were evacuating the entire town while sand-bagging efforts on the banks of the Susquehanna failed. At nearly 5 a.m., my son sent a text message that simply said "I have Amber." Those were the longest two hours of my life. With my two older children safe and sound, I fell back to sleep.

By 6 a.m., most of the downtown area was under water up to the first floor. The rain was still falling as it had for a few days and it continued to fall until early afternoon. We watched the television with my niece Karmie and her son. We saw the horror unfolding in our town and many towns south of us as the raging river rolled south. A home flowing down the river, a soaked woodchuck clinging to a fence and two doe in the middle of the river are images I will never forget.

The water in town never crossed the railroad tracks where I live, my home is safe with no damage. Three blocks down homes are in ruins.

I am very thankful my home was spared because like many people in my town, I do not have flood insurance. Once we learned the dam upriver had held up, I came back to my home. My daughter and my grandkids were here waiting for me, fresh from a shelter. Amber, her husband Tim and the three kids are with us until power is on in downtown Athens. Their townhouse had some water, but they cannot go back until the power is on. They may be here a few weeks.


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Monsoon flooding kills 16 in eastern India (AP)

BHUBANESHWAR, India – Heavy rains and flooding have killed at least 16 people in eastern India and left nearly 100,000 others homeless, an official said Monday.

Incessant rains have hit the coastal and western parts of Orissa state for 10 days and nearly 2,800 villages have been affected, said S.N. Patra, the minister in charge of disaster management.

The rain stopped in most areas by Sunday evening, but the region's main river, the Mahanadi, remained over the danger mark on Monday and about 800 villages were still cut off, Patra said.

He said the government has set up about 180 relief camps and army helicopters were dropping food and water packets for people stranded in remote villages.

The loss to crops and property is still being assessed, he said.

Patra said the deaths occurred over the last four days.

India's monsoon season, which runs from June through September, brings rains that are vital to agriculture but can also cause massive destruction.

Flooding, landslides and other rain-related events kill thousands of people each year.


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Tropical storm Katia slams into Ireland, Britain (AP)

DUBLIN – Tropical Storm Katia shut down roads and power and led to one death Monday in Ireland and Britain, where residents braced for the strongest wind gusts in 15 years.

Forecasters in both countries said Monday's gusts topped 80 mph (125 kph) as the storm — previously a hurricane as it roared across the Atlantic — made driving, shipfaring and even walking dangerous in broad swathes of Ireland, Scotland and northern England.

In northeast England's County Durham, a driver died after a tree fell on a car on the highway, Durham police said. Officers later warned all drivers to be careful driving through the high winds.

CE Electric UK, which provides power in the north east of England, said it was working to restore the power supply to about 10,000 properties.

Most ferry services between Ireland and Britain were canceled, and fishing boats along the Atlantic coasts of Ireland and Scotland were warned to head into port.

Britain's government forecasting service, the Met Office, told the public to be ready for the strongest winds since October 1996, when the tail end of Hurricane Lili killed five Britons and caused an estimated 150 million pounds ($250 million) of damage there.

The Met Office said winds were averaging 55 mph (88 kph) while the strongest reported gust so far was 82 mph (128 kph) at a mountain station in North Wales. Gusts in the Northern Ireland border town of Castlederg reached 74 mph (118 kph).

Heavy rainfall hit the north of Ireland and central Scotland, where Transport Minister Keith Brown reassured travelers that emergency crews were ready to handle accidents, road blockages and power outages.

"Robust contingency arrangements are in place so people should not panic," Brown said.

The Tour of Britain cycling race canceled Monday's planned second stage across northern England after deeming the course's most exposed and elevated points too dangerous.

Ireland, which is regularly buffeted by strong Atlantic winds, also warned of exceptionally dangerous driving conditions and the risk of widespread coastal flooding. Towns along Ireland's Atlantic coast last experienced heavy flooding in November 2010.

A bridge spanning a bay in County Donegal, northwest Ireland, was closed Monday as a precaution, while fallen trees obstructed roads in several other parts of the island, including Limerick in the southwest.

Ireland's Electricity Supply Board said its engineers were trying to restore power to about 11,000 homes along the Irish Republic's border with Northern Ireland. Another 2,000 homes in Dublin lost power because of toppled electricity lines.

Authorities in Norway, Sweden and Denmark said they expected gale-force winds to arrive there Tuesday.

Ireland and Britain periodically catch the tail-end of Atlantic hurricanes as they travel northeast with the Gulf Stream and weaken into tropical storms.

The Met Office said Britain and Ireland felt the winds of one former hurricane in 2009, three in 2006, two in 2000, one in 1998 and one in 1996, when Lili's winds topped 90 mph (145 kph) and brought widespread disruption to Britain and Ireland.

Katia is the second major hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, forming two weeks ago near the west African islands of Cape Verde. Katia traveled in a C-shape route toward the Caribbean and the eastern United States but didn't reach landfall there, then headed northeast to Europe.


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Tropical Storm Maria moving away from NE Caribbean (AP)

MIAMI – Tropical Storm Maria is moving slowly westward in the Atlantic and has lost a little strength.

Maria's maximum sustained winds Monday decreased to near 50 mph (85 kph).

The storm is centered about 175 miles (285 kilometers) north-northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and is moving west near 2 mph (4 kph).

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says the storm's center is expected to pass east of the Bahamas. Maria's forecast track shows it eventually curving away from the U.S.

Meanwhile, rescuers have been searching for an oil rig worker who's been missing since he and nine others evacuated their disabled rig during Tropical Storm Nate in the Gulf of Mexico last week. Seven workers were found alive Sunday but one has since died. Two bodies have also been found.


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Pennsylvania Residents Begin Inventory of Damage from Lee (ContributorNetwork)

Hurricane Irene made quite an impact on a few regions in Pennsylvania, but Tropical Storm Lee compounded that effect by bringing even more rain. As the state was approved for federal help from the damage that Irene brought, Lee came along and made a bad situation that much worse. Some 150,000 residents were evacuated in anticipation of flooding, and Lee did not disappoint. Now, as residents start returning to their homes the real work begins.

Are the mandatory evacuations over?

While not completely lifted, evacuation orders for many areas have been lifted. However, many locations affected by Lee still have a standing curfew order, which could be lifted at any time. Power is being restored slowly and surely to many homes, but those in remote locations might be waiting a little while.

How much damage resulted from Tropical Storm Lee?

More than 2,000 structures were damaged from flooding. While no specific dollar amount has yet to be confirmed, analysts put the cost in the tens of millions of dollars. The situation could have worse if evacuations ahead of the storm and other preparations had not been made. When Lee arrived many officials were still assessing the damage from Irene, and many emergency management agencies were already close by as a result.

Will federal aid be available?

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has asked President Barack Obama to declare a major disaster declaration in the state. Once federal approval is in place, residents will be able to seek federal help. Up to $30,200 will be available to each homeowner to help cover repairs and home essentials, such as furnaces.

What is the death toll from Tropical Storm Lee in Pennsylvania?

Unofficially, the death toll from Lee stands at 12. But that number could have been much higher had residents not evacuated low-lying areas.

How long with the recovery take?

The damage will take a few weeks to sort out, but even the most conservative guesses will stand at months or longer. Many residents are just starting to return to their flood ravaged homes and specific conditions are trickling into the media every hour. The recovery from this disaster will take some time, but some luck will also be needed to avoid another punch from more storm remnants in hurricane season.

Jason Gallagher is a long-time Pennsylvania resident. He has experiences in trends and developments in many regions from having lived in many parts of the Keystone State, and currently resides in the Pittsburgh area.


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Six months after Japan's tsunami, residents worry their plight is fading from view (video) (The Christian Science Monitor)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Congress at odds over disaster aid (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans and Democrats in Congress moved to quickly approve disaster aid on Monday but remained at odds over the amount of money needed to help victims of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.

With the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster-relief fund running dangerously low, top Republicans in the House of Representatives said they would attach up to $1 billion to a must-pass spending bill that is expected to pass Congress next week.

In the Senate, Democrats tried to attach about $7 billion in disaster aid to a separate bill, but they were blocked by Republicans who said they wanted time to examine the measure.

The parliamentary maneuvering underscored the stark divide between the two parties even as they try to show voters they can work together.

President Barack Obama requested $5.1 billion last week to help victims of floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters in one of the most extreme years for weather in U.S. history.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will need about $500 million to ensure it does not run out of money in the next several weeks, according to the White House.

FEMA has already suspended some payments for longer-term projects to ensure that money remains for the more pressing needs of victims of last month's Hurricane Irene and other recent disasters.

Republicans want to offset that money with spending cuts elsewhere to avoid deepening the country's budget woes, but they have been careful to say the aid will not get held up by spending concerns.

House Republicans said they would attach between $500 million and $1 billion to a stopgap spending bill that is expected to clear Congress next week. More money would presumably come later.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said that was not enough.

"We're not going to accept some small number that the House sends us," he said on the Senate floor.

After Senate Republicans blocked his attempt to add about $7 billion to a bill that continues sanctions on Burma, Reid said he would try again. Another vote could come as soon as on Tuesday, and an aide suggested that it could be modified to win more Republican support.

Congress must pass the stopgap bill by the end of the month to ensure that the government will keep operating when the new fiscal year starts on October 1.

Budget battles have pushed the country to the edge of default and the brink of a government shutdown this year, but that's not likely to be the case with this spending bill, a top Republican said.

"The risk of bringing about brinkmanship or another potential shutdown is not something now that we need, it is not something that would be helpful to create jobs and regain confidence," said Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)


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Monsoon rains test cash-strapped Pakistan after 200 die (Reuters)

TANDO MUHAMMAD KHAN, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan's cash-strapped government, struggling to help victims of last year's devastating floods, faces another major test as monsoon rains, which have already killed about 200 people in recent weeks, sweep across the south.

Flood waters across Sindh province have also destroyed or damaged nearly one million houses and flooded 4.2 million acres since late August, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Prospects for further flooding would put Pakistan's unpopular government, already battling Taliban militants, allegations of widespread corruption and public anger over power cuts and poverty, under immense pressure.

"The situation in Sindh is already serious and there will be more flooding and more problems because of these rains," said meteorology department official Arif Mehmood.

Neighboring India has also been hit by floods, which have killed more than 300 people and affected close to nine million since monsoon rains started in June, said the Indian Red Cross.

"As the rain already started a few months ago, in some places, the water has receded... There is fear in some of the states regarding outbreaks of diseases like diarrhea arising from poor hygiene and sanitation," said John Roche, country representative for the International Federation of Red Cross.

Zafar Qadir, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, said Pakistan faced a crisis "of great magnitude."

In the town of Tando Muhammad Khan, residents who watched water rise to about eight feet and rush through homes and shops feel helpless. Water has been stagnant for a week in some areas.

Some, like 15-year-old student Sonam, were so shaken they concluded conditions were worse than last year's floods. "The entire blame goes on the government," she said.

Pakistan's military, which has ruled the country for more than half of its history, took charge of rescue and relief operations during last year's floods, while the government was seen as slow and ineffective.

Still, more than a year later, over 800,000 families remain without permanent shelter, according to aid group Oxfam, and more than a million people need food assistance.

Pakistan's High Commissioner in London, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, told Reuters international support was needed.

"The unprecedented torrential rains followed by flooding were the last thing one would have expected to hit the country already head-deep involved in war against terrorism besides already facing enormous problems including an acute energy crisis and a challenging law and order situation," he said. Pakistan may also have lost up to two million cotton bales, or about 13 percent of its estimated crop, due to heavy monsoon rains during harvesting in Sindh, government and industry officials said.

"The water flow to the sea is very slow. The drainage system has choked...the agriculture system could not stand the water pressure. So the devastation became immense," said Qadir.

WEAK ECONOMY

Monsoon rains sweep the subcontinent from June to September and are crucial for agriculture.

Pakistan, which relies heavily on foreign aid and an IMF emergency loan package, cannot afford heavy losses in the agriculture sector, a pillar of the economy.

The 2010 floods killed about 2,000 people and made 11 million homeless in one of Pakistan's worst natural disasters.

One-fifth of Pakistan was then submerged in water -- an area the size of Italy -- and the government faced a $10 billion bill to repair damage to homes, bridges, roads and other infrastructure.

Aid workers expressed fears over possible outbreaks of diseases linked to the new floods, especially among children.

"The biggest issue is that they will drink water from anywhere, so water-borne diseases are a threat, especially diarrhea and cholera," Sami Malik, a spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider and Qasim Nauman in Islamabad; Sahar Ahmed in Karachi, and Reporting by Arup Roychoudhury, Nita Bhalla and Mayank Bhardwaj in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubneshwar and Myra MacDonald in London.; Writing by Michael Georgy)


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Japan's new PM suffers early blow as minister quits (Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's new government suffered a blow on Saturday after just eight days in office when the trade minister resigned over gaffes on the sensitive topic of radiation from the tsunami-hit Fukushima plant.

The resignation of Trade Minister Yoshio Hachiro, who handles the energy portfolio, will give opposition parties ammunition for attack as Noda strives to end the radiation crisis at the Fukushima plant while tackling a plethora of challenges from rebuilding after the March earthquake and tsunami to curbing huge public debt.

Hachiro submitted his resignation to Noda after reports that he joked with a reporter about radiation from the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, Jiji news agency and other domestic media reported. It was his second remark seen as offensive to victims of the worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Japanese media said Hachiro had attempted to rub up against a reporter saying "I'll give you radiation" after visiting the Fukushima plant on Thursday.

Opposition party leaders criticised the remark and said that they would press Noda himself over his responsibility for appointing Hachiro, NHK public TV reported.

Hachiro had already been rebuked by Noda and apologised on Friday for calling the deserted area near the plant a "town of death," a comment seen as offensive to disaster victims.

Noda, who took over as Japan's sixth prime minister in five years after predecessor Naoto Kan resigned, will face harsh questioning over his appointment of Hachiro and other novice ministers in a session of parliament expected to begin next week. Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa has already come under attack for calling himself an "amateur" in security matters.

Noda, who won a bruising battle to become head of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, has emphasized the need to restore fractured party unity in his appointments, raising concerns that he had done so at the expense of expertise.

"There was already great mistrust of his personnel appointments," said independent commentator Atsuo Ito.

Noda's quick decision to sacrifice Hachiro would probably help dampen public criticism, but a drop in his voter support could make it harder to obtain help from opposition parties to pass bills in the divided parliament, where they control the upper house and can block legislation, Ito added.

(Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)


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100 Animals Die in Petco Store From Tropical Storm Lee Flooding (Time.com)

At least 100 animals died in a New York Petco store after the building was flooded by Tropical Storm Lee.

The animals, which included hamsters, rodents, reptiles, birds and aquatic life, were left in the Johnson City, N.Y., store during the storm. Whether they died from drowning or starvation has not been disclosed.

The building, near Binghamton, was evacuated and later besieged by flood waters. Store employees discovered the animals on Friday, the first day they were allowed to enter the pet store after the storm.

(LIST: Top 10 Strange Mass Animal Deaths)

The animal deaths reportedly could have been prevented. Marcie Whichard, a Petco executive, blamed the incident on miscommunication between the city and the store regarding evacuation orders.

On the company website, Petco CEO Jim Myers discussed the "unfortunate tragedy." Myers wrote, "Our store in Johnson City is relatively new, we were not operating the last time flooding threatened the community and we misjudged the risk to this location."

Despite the nearly 100 deaths, the majority of the animals were rescued, according to Myers. "We feel terrible that we did not do more to avoid this tragedy, are truly saddened by what has occurred, and accept full responsibility."

At the time of this writing, Myers' apology drew more than 1,000 comments, some claiming to have notified People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. A Facebook page has also cropped up for the boycott of Petco.

MORE: Top 10 Pets in Power

Kai Ma is a TIME contributor. Find her on Twitter at @Kai_Ma or on Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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The nations weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 2 hrs 16 mins ago

Weather Underground Forecast for Tuesday, September 13, 2011. A significant storm will begin Tuesday north of the Great Lakes before moving northeastward through Canada as the day progresses. The associated cold front will drape southward into the eastern third of the country, bringing another round of wet weather to the Northeast. This precipitation will not be tropical in nature, as was the last storm to hit the area, thus only moderate amounts of rain are expected.

A second storm will move into the Great Lakes region late in the day, renewing rain and even the slightest chance of early season snow in the Upper Midwest.

The two aforementioned storms will precede a blast of Arctic air that will stream into the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest. This Arctic air will not be as cold as in the Winter, but a definite cooling trend will sweep through much of the northern tier of the country during the second half of the week.

Seasonally typical showers and thunderstorms will pop up through the Southwest as well.

The Southern Plains and Southeast will rise into the 90s and 100s, while the Northeast will see temperatures in the 70s. The Northern Plains will rise into the 60s and 70s, while the Southwest will see temperature sin the 80s, 90s, and some 100s. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Monday have ranged from a morning low of 30 degrees at Stanley, Idaho to a high of 102 degrees at McGregor, Texas


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Thursday, September 8, 2011

More rain spurs flash flood watch in battered Northeast (Reuters)

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Still mopping up after tropical storm Irene, Vermont and other Northeastern states were placed under a flash flood watch on Monday as more rain headed their way.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood watches for Monday afternoon lasting through Tuesday for a vast swath of the Northeast, including flooded areas of Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut down through Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey.

"This is a potentially dangerous situation" the NWS said in a statement on its website. "Areas hard hit by tropical storm Irene last week will be susceptible to more flash flooding given the already wet and eroded ground. It will not take much rainfall to cause flash flooding in this situation."

The heaviest rain was expected on Monday afternoon.

"Periods of heavy rainfall to persist into Monday evening with localized amounts of 3 inches or greater likely," the weather service said.

"Several rounds of showers and thunderstorms containing torrential downpours will become more numerous today and should continue through tonight."

The areas hardest hit by Irene, including New York's Long Island, northern New Jersey and southern and central Vermont, were advised to be particularly wary of rising waters in rivers and streams that proved deadly in the last storm.

"The combination of today's heavy rainfall along with the ground being saturated from last weekend's rainfall with Irene will increase the threat for flash flooding," the NWS said.

The region also remains on the alert for high winds, with the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee heading northeasterly into the Appalachians by late Tuesday and Hurricane Katia, moving westward in the Atlantic, expected to kick up surf by midweek.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said a tornado touched down in Amsterdam, New York, near Albany, late on Sunday, damaging some structures but causing no serious injuries.

The governor said he called in search and rescue crews who were already in the Albany area due to damage from Irene.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg. Editing by Peter Bohan)


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Weather service: Tornado touched down in NY (AP)

AMSTERDAM, N.Y. – A tornado that caused property damage near the state capital, Albany, was spawned in a string of violent thunderstorms a week after Tropical Storm Irene brought destructive flooding to the region.

The tornado was about a half-mile wide and on the ground for more than 10 minutes Sunday evening, said Steve DiRienzo, a National Weather Service meteorologist who assessed the damage Monday. Amateur video posted online shows a dark funnel cloud crossing the New York Thruway, where it knocked down trees.

DiRienzo said the tornado hit around 5:20 p.m. and traveled east about 4 miles along the Mohawk River, from the town of Amsterdam into Schenectady County's hilly West Glenville. Estimates of wind speeds weren't immediately available, he said. But trees and power lines were knocked down, parts of some roofs and pieces of siding were torn off and windows were blown out. There were no reports of serious injuries.

Amsterdam Town Supervisor Tom DiMezza said it could have been "a lot worse."

"There's sections where trees fell between homes and missed both houses. Huge trees," DiMezza said.

He said 30 to 40 homes and businesses had damage.

"After the tropical storm, we were just getting things cleaned up, and this happens," said DiMezza, who declared a state of emergency in the town.

He said 39 National Grid utility crews were working to restore power, particularly in the hard-hit Cranesville neighborhood. The utility reported about 300 customers in the immediate area still without electricity Monday afternoon.

Extra state police and some members of the National Guard, including a military police unit, were dispatched to help with traffic control, DiMezza said.

Most of the damage was in Montgomery County, already eligible for federal disaster assistance after Irene.

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Amateur video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v8pWkmTVbqcA


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At least 100 homes damaged by storms near Atlanta (Reuters)

ATLANTA (Reuters) – At least 100 homes were damaged by thundershowers and possible tornadoes that raked Atlanta's northern suburbs on Monday as the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee moved inland, but no serious injuries were reported.

Local fire officials said the turbulent weather struck Cherokee County at about 3 p.m. local time, downing power lines, snapping utility poles, uprooting trees, shattering glass and shearing roofs and siding from buildings.

The damage extended from the city of Woodstock at the south end of the county to the town of Ball Ground at its northern edge.

"It was a pretty long stretch, about 14, maybe 15 miles," said Tim Cavender, spokesman for the Cherokee County Fire Department.

He said at least 100 homes sustained damage in the area, mostly from high winds, and "there may be more."

A fire department lieutenant reached by telephone said that number was "about right."

"It's significant," added Howard Baker, a spokesman for the county sheriff's department. "We've got numerous homes and commercial businesses with varying degrees of damage."

Fallen trees crushed cars and buildings, he added, describing the overall damage as widespread but far from devastating.

"I'm not aware of any homes that were demolished," he said.

One man who sought refuge in his basement was slightly injured by debris that fell on him and was taken to an area hospital "to be checked out," Cavender said.

He and Baker said some damage appeared to have been caused by tornadoes when severe thunderstorms rolled through the area, but it would take another day to confirm any tornado activity.

The county as a whole lies roughly 20 to 40 miles north of Atlanta, the state capital.

The National Weather Service earlier on Monday issued tornado watch advisories in parts of several states, including Georgia, as Tropical Storm Lee continued to lash the Gulf Coast and the Southeast as it weakened after making landfall early on Sunday in southern Louisiana.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Peter Bohan)


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Lee's remnants cause twisters, flooding in South (AP)

By HOLBROOK MOHR and DORIE TURNER, Associated Press Holbrook Mohr And Dorie Turner, Associated Press – 23 mins ago

ATLANTA – The destructive remnants of Tropical Storm Lee slithered farther north Tuesday morning after spawning tornadoes, flooding numerous roads, sweeping several people away and knocking out power to thousands. Record amounts of rain have fallen in parts of Tennessee, and more was expected.

Flash flood watches and warnings were in effect early Tuesday from the Appalachians northeastward into New England, according to the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

More than 9 inches of rain fell Monday in Chattanooga, and forecasters expected rain clouds to loom over the area through the next day. The rainfall beat an all-time mark for rain in 24 hours. Numerous roads were flooded, and even modest winds were pulling trees out of the soggy ground.

"We have had problems with trees coming down, mainly because the soil is so saturated with water," said National Weather Service forecaster David Gaffin in Morristown, Tenn.

To the south, forecasters expected rainfall to taper off in Alabama overnight after flooding numerous Birmingham roads. The weather also caused a roof to collapse at Pinson Valley High School outside Birmingham, according to The Birmingham News. No one was injured.

As many as 200,000 lost power across Alabama as the storm moved through, with most of the outages in the Birmingham area, Alabama Power spokeswoman Keisa Sharpe said. By early Tuesday, the number of outages was down to 187,000, she said. Power outages were also reported in Georgia and Tennessee.

The storm system churned up treacherous waters across the South. In Mississippi, a man drowned while trying to cross a swollen creek, while authorities called off the search for a missing swimmer presumed dead off Alabama. Another man was missing after trying to cross a creek in suburban Atlanta.

Chainsaws and blue tarps were coming out in Georgia neighborhoods hit by suspected twisters that ripped off siding and shingles and sent trees crashing through roofs. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency said about 100 homes were damaged there in Cherokee County, about 30 miles north of Atlanta.

To the southeast in Norcross, a man was swept away when he tried to cross a swollen creek between apartment complexes, Gwinnett County Fire Battalion Chief Dan Rowland said. The search was called off at nightfall, and body recovery operations were going to start Tuesday morning. A companion to the missing man was caught in the creek but managed to make it out of the water.

Mickey Swims and his wife hid in the basement of their house in Woodstock, Ga., as an apparent tornado passed.

"I heard it and saw the trees go around and around," Swims said. "I knew when I heard it that if it touched down, it was going to be bad."

Swims owns the Dixie Speedway, where he estimated the storm caused $500,000 worth of damage. That includes about 2,000 feet of chain-link fence uprooted from its concrete base, walls blown out of a bathroom and concession stands and tractor-trailer trucks turned into mangled messes.

Areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that bore the brunt of Lee over the weekend were also digging out. Lee's center came ashore Sunday in Louisiana, dumping up to a foot of rain in parts of New Orleans and other areas. Despite some street flooding, officials said New Orleans' 24-pump flood control system was doing its job.

Heavy rain fell in Mississippi on Monday, and a swollen creek near an apartment complex in Jackson prompted officials to move 45 families into a storm shelter. In Louisiana's Livingston Parish, about 200 families were evacuated because of flooding.

The man who died in Mississippi, 57-year-old John Howard Anderson Jr., had been in a car with two other people trying to cross a rain-swollen creek Sunday night. Tishomingo County Coroner Mack Wilemon said Anderson was outside of the car and couldn't hold onto a rope thrown by a would-be rescuer.

Jonathan Weeks, a 48-year-old salesman from Plantersville who owns a vacation home nearby, said he helped pull two people to shore and tried to save Anderson.

Weeks said he and his wife saw a van crossing the creek, and he happened to have a rope in the tool box of his truck.

"It all happened so fast. They were in there trying to get out and panicking. The power was out so everything was dark," Weeks recalled in a phone interview Monday.

"We threw them a rope and tied it to a tree," Weeks said. "We got two of them to the bank and were trying to help the driver. We had him on the rope and were trying to pull him in, but I don't think he was able to hold on."

Residents in Lee's wake are worrying about the effects of soggy ground. Part of a levee holding back a lake in Mississippi's Rankin County gave way, endangering some homes and a sod farm. Rankin County Road Manager George Bobo said officials could order evacuations of the few homes if the situation gets worse. The indention left by the levee slide didn't go all the way through to the water, though.

Sharon Spears, a 54-year-old special education teacher, stood in her front yard Monday looking up at the red dirt exposed from the levee slide.

"I'm concerned," Spears said. "I won't sleep any tonight."

Sandy Shamburger said a full breach would ruin his sod farm.

"It would be devastating. It would probably be the end of Rankin Sod," he said.

In Gulf Shores, Ala., surf churned up by the storm proved treacherous. The Coast Guard suspended its search for a swimmer who went missing Sunday. Local authorities were transitioning to efforts to find his body, said Maj. Anthony Lowery of the Baldwin County Sheriff's Office.

Elsewhere, the heavy rain made for a dud of a Labor Day holiday as Gulf Coast beaches mostly cleared of tourists. On Monday morning, the main road on Alabama's Dauphin Island was flooded and covered with sand, jellyfish and foam washed in by Lee. Customers trickled in to the town's largest store on what should have been a busy day.

"It's been kind of boring," said Tabitha Miller, a clerk at Ship and Shore. "It's not killing us though since we're the only gig in town."

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Associated Press writers Jay Reeves in Dauphin Island, Ala., and Randall Dickerson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.


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Two dead as wildfires scorch Texas, Perry back home (Reuters)

SAN ANTONIO/AUSTIN (Reuters) – Sixty separate wildfires, whipped by winds as Tropical Storm Lee passed, burned across parched Texas on Monday, destroying hundreds of homes and leaving at least two people dead, authorities said.

"I'm still seeing no containment," said April Saginor, public information officer for the Texas Forest Service, who confirmed that the Bastrop County Complex Fire east of the state capital has alone scorched more than 25,000 acres and burned 476 residences so far.

"That's a record in Texas for a single fire," she said of the homes destroyed.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the front-running Republican Party presidential candidate, canceled his appearance at a candidate roundtable in South Carolina on Monday to return to Austin.

"I have seen a lot of mean-looking fires in my time, but this one is the meanest. You realize the devastation when you see it first hand," Perry said at a news briefing on Monday.

"I am not paying any attention to politics right now. There are people's homes and lives in danger, and that is far more important," he said to a smattering of applause.

"I have never seen a fire season like this. We have lost more than 3.5 million acres to brush fires, that is an area larger than the state of Connecticut," he said. "We have a long way to go to get this thing contained."

Officials said the worst of the fires was in Bastrop, a country of about 70,000 people thirty miles east of Austin.

Saginor said more than 250 firefighters were working on the Bastrop fire, which stretches for 16 miles with a breadth of six miles in some spots.

"This fire is nowhere near being under control," Bastrop County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Fisher said.

On Monday a second fire had broken out southwest of the main fire, in southwestern Bastrop County, he said. But crews had been able to contain the main fire north of the Colorado River, and he was confident it is not likely to move into more populated areas west of the main fire zone.

The Service responded on Sunday to 63 new fires burning on more than 32,000 acres, including 22 new large fires.

Authorities in Gregg County, in northeast Texas, said a fire there killed a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter, who were trapped in their mobile home by flames.

GUSTS DRIVE SPEED

Residents said the fire had moved at an amazing speed, driven by the strong, gusty winds.

"There was a policeman that started hollering through a big megaphone, telling us to get out of our houses immediately, now!" said a woman who lives in one of the Bastrop County subdivisions.

"This is a shock," said one man as he drove out of the fire zone near Bastrop with his family. "We had some nice plans for Labor Day, and this gives you a sick feeling."

"We know that this is tough on people who have been evacuated," Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell said. "Especially since there is no set time for people to return."

The Texas Forest Service said 'dozens' of aircraft are responding to fire danger, including four heavy airtankers, 15 single-engine airtankers, and 13 aerial supervision aircraft.

In the Steiner Ranch area of Austin, a separate fire has forced the evacuation of some 1,000 homes. One woman desperately scanned the wall of thick black smoke and flames looking for her lost dog.

"I was just driving around the neighborhood, I'm five months pregnant, and I was taking in smoke and I was freaking out," she said. "I looked to the right of me and everything over there was full of fire, it was just gone."

About 200 homes had to be evacuated due to a brush fire in the Austin suburb of Pflugerville. Another 150 homes were evacuated in Longview, in east Texas. A dozen homes were under mandatory evacuation on Monday near Tyler in east Texas.

The winds sent ash from the fires flying around the state. Residents thirty miles away from Austin woke up on Monday morning to find ashes on their cars parked in their driveways.

Weather forecasters say the winds now fueling the fires should start dying down after midnight on Monday.

"It's going to be horrible for tonight, but the winds will start diminishing after midnight," said Sally Russell, Meteorologist for the Weather Channel. "Winds that are now 35 to 40 miles per hour will be down to 5 to 10 miles an hour after midnight.

(Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Peter Bohan)


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