Two earthquakes in Iran kill 300 and injure 5,000 By Yeganeh Torbati | Reuters – 10 hrs ago DUBAI (Reuters) – Overcrowded hospitals in northwest Iran struggled to cope with thousands of earthquake victims on Sunday as rescuers raced to reach remote villages after two powerful quakes killed nearly 300 people.Thousands huddled in makeshift camps or slept in the street after Saturday’s quakes for fear of more aftershocks, 60 of which had already struck. A lack of tents and other supplies left them exposed to the night chill, one witness told Reuters.”I saw some people whose entire home was destroyed, and all their livestock killed,” Tahir Sadati, a local photographer, said by telephone. „People need help, they need warm clothes, more tents, blankets and bread.”The worst damage and most casualties appeared to have been in rural villages around the towns of Ahar, Varzaghan and Harees, near the major city of Tabriz, Iranian media reported.Tabriz resident Ahmad, 41, told Reuters his cousin living in a village near Ahar was killed and his body found.”Nobody knows what happened to his wife and two daughters,” aged 4 and 7, Ahmad said. „We fear that if rescuers don’t get to them soon, they will lose their lives too if they’re still alive.”But Iranian officials said rescue operations had ended by Sunday afternoon and that all those trapped beneath the rubble had been freed, Iran’s English-language Press TV reported.Many villages are hard to reach by road, hindering rescue efforts. Hospitals in Tabriz, Ardabil and other cities nearby took in many of the injured, residents and Iranian media said, and there were long queues of survivors waiting to be treated.”I wanted to go there last night to help but heard there was bad traffic and that it wasn’t safe enough,” Ahmad said. „People in those villages need help.”Abbas Falahi, member of parliament for Ahar and Harees, said people in some villages were still „in dire need of food and drinking water”, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.”Despite the promises of officials, little first aide has been distributed in the region and most people are left without tents. If the situation continues, the toll will rise,” he said.Aidin, a Tabriz resident, said he went to give blood at a local hospital on Saturday and saw staff struggling to cope with the influx of patients. Most patients had been taken there by their families, he said, indicating a shortage of ambulances.Ahar’s 120-bed hospital was full, said Arash, a college student in the town. There were traffic jams on the narrow road to Tabriz as victims tried to reach hospitals, he said by telephone.VILLAGES DESTROYED-„People are scared and won’t go back into their houses because they fear the buildings aren’t safe.”The U.S. Geological Survey measured Saturday’s first quake at 6.4 magnitude and said it struck 60 km (37 miles) northeast of the city of Tabriz, a trading hub far from Iran’s oil-producing areas and known nuclear facilities.The second, measuring 6.3, struck 11 minutes later near Varzaghan, 49 km (30 miles) northeast of Tabriz.More than 1,000 villages in the area were affected by the earthquakes, Ahmad Reza Shaji’i, a Red Crescent official, told the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA). Some 130 villages suffered more than 70 percent damage, and 20 villages were completely destroyed, he said.”We saw some villages that were truly destroyed,” said Sadati, the photographer who was documenting the quake aftermath. „One good thing was that the earthquake happened during the day, so many people were not in their homes. If it had happened at night the casualties would have been far worse.”Close to 300 people were believed to be dead, said Reza Sadighi, Ahar’s local governor, Fars news agency said. National emergency head Gholam Reza Masoumi said 5,000 people are believed to be injured, according to ISNA.Nearly 100 ambulances and 1,100 Red Crescent workers were deployed, Shaji’i said, along with 44,000 food packages and 5,600 tents for shelter. The relief agency had enough supplies and most residents in the area had access to clean water but Shaji’i asked residents to donate cash to the relief effort.Tehran officials sent condolences to the victims and declared two days of mourning in the province, ISNA reported.About 36,000 people in the quake-hit area have been given emergency shelter, Masoumi was quoted as saying by ISNA.Iranian lawmaker Mohammad Hassan-Nejad warned that if relief efforts did not speed up, the death toll would swiftly rise.”Relief groups have still not reached many villages, because in normal conditions some of these villages are several hours away,” he told ISNA. „Currently the roads are closed and the only way to reach these villages is by air.”COLLAPSED BUILDINGS-Photographs posted on Iranian news websites showed numerous bodies, including children, lying on the floor of a white-tiled morgue in Ahar and medical staff treating the injured in the open air as dusk fell on Saturday. Other images showed rescue workers digging people out of rubble – some alive, many dead.Twenty-eight year old Narges in Tehran said she saw dozens of people in a hospital waiting to donate blood for the victims.Iran is crisscrossed by major fault lines and has suffered several devastating earthquakes in recent years, including a 6.6 magnitude quake in 2003 that reduced the historic southeastern city of Bam to dust and killed about 31,000 people.Saturday’s quakes struck in East Azerbaijan province, a mountainous region that neighbours Azerbaijan and Armenia to the north. Buildings in Tabriz, the provincial capital, are substantially built and ISNA reported nobody in the city had been killed or hurt.Homes and business premises in Iranian villages, however, are often made of concrete blocks or mud brick that can crumble and collapse in a strong quake.Water, electricity, and phone lines in the area of Varzaghan are all down, further hindering rescue efforts, Iran’s English-language Press TV reported.Tabriz residents left their homes and crowded the streets following the two quakes, those in the city said. „Everyone was scared last night,” a resident said by telephone. „They set up tents and were sleeping in the streets and in parks.”(Additional reporting by Marcus George and Zahra Hosseinian; Writing by Andrew Torchia and Marcus George; Editing by Jon Hemming)
Feeding Texas longhorns? Canada farmers cash in on U.S. drought By Rod Nickel | Reuters – 12 hrs ago WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – After spring floods drowned his seeding plans two years straight, Canadian farmer Walter Finlay is harvesting what looks to be an average or slightly better crop of wheat and canola.Average will do just fine this year.The worst drought in a half century in the U.S. Midwest has scorched corn and soybean crops, igniting grain and oilseed prices and leaving farmers in Western Canada poised to profit nicely off the misery of U.S. growers.”You hate to see anybody have a hard time,” Finlay said from his farm near Souris, Manitoba. „There maybe is better opportunity just because of what’s going on in the States … the price of corn has obviously drawn the price of feed wheat up.”Canada is the world’s seventh-largest, wheat-growing country, and the top exporter of spring wheat and durum, used in baking and pasta-making respectively. It’s the biggest producer and shipper of canola, used to make oil for salad dressings and margarine.Canadian farmers will harvest a record-smashing 16 million metric tons (17.6 million tons) of canola this year, and the biggest wheat crop in three years, according to a July poll by Reuters of traders and analysts.Already farmers are finding new markets for their crops, as Canadian wheat replaces scarce U.S. corn in feedlots, coming to the rescue of livestock and poultry industries that are scrambling to feed their animals. Oilseeds users are also looking to plentiful canola rather than soybeans.”I certainly know buyers of feedstocks are looking wherever they can in the world to find it,” said Sam Miller, managing director of agriculture at BMO Harris Bank.The western prairie provinces, Canada’s main crop growing area, got generally favorable weather after spring rains left soil wet enough to limit damage from summer heat. In the U.S. Midwest, corn and soybean ratings are the worst since 1988.”Canadian farmers facing better conditions will really cash in,” said Earl Sweet, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday cut its estimate for the U.S. corn crop more than expected, to the smallest corn harvest in six years, a report that pushed corn prices to a record high before investors took profits.The reversal of fortune for oft-flooded growers like Finlay comes as Western Canadian farmers have a dizzying number of sales options for wheat after the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly ended this month, and it has the potential to upset the natural order and patterns of world grain trade.Already, feedlots in Texas are taking the rare step of buying usually much higher-priced Canadian wheat to fatten cattle, given limited supplies of U.S. corn available.Southeastern U.S. chicken producers are looking to import corn from Brazil, while feedlots in the U.S. plains are looking to Canada for wheat and to Brazil and Argentina for corn as substitutes for U.S. corn, Miller said.Canadian canola also stands to steal some sales from U.S. soybeans, their oilseed competitor in the global vegetable oil market, with the USDA forecasting the lowest U.S. soybean exports in seven years for 2012/13.Canada should export a record volume of canola, and some of those sales will likely come at the expense of U.S. soybean exports, said Anne Frick, an analyst at Jefferies Bache in New York.Canadian canola crushers, who include Viterra Inc, Richardson International Ltd, Cargill Ltd, Archer Daniels Midland Co, Louis Dreyfus Corp and Bunge Ltd, processed a record volume of canola last year.The drought is likely to drive up demand from U.S. biodiesel makers for Canadian canola oil in place of soyoil, and boost canola seed imports by traditional buyers like Mexico, Frick said.But export demand for canola depends also on the overall vegoil market, especially supplies of palm oil, and on the next South American soy crop, said Don Roberts, analyst at Canolainsight.com.NOT A ‘BIN-BUSTING YEAR’-But yields and weather will determine if Canadian exporters can fully claim the spoils of drought.While farmers expect a record-setting canola harvest overall, early yield reports are mildly disappointing. Manitoba canola yields range widely from 20-40 bushels per acre, compared with last year’s average 33.8, after July heat scorched some fields.”Everyone, myself included, was thinking it was going to be a bin-busting year,” said Angela Brackenreed, an agronomist for Canola Council of Canada. „It is a little bit disappointing, but you can’t tell Mother Nature what to do.”The chance of Canadian wheat exporters filling U.S. demand for livestock and poultry feed depends on how much of the crop comes in below the standard for millers, who pay more than feedlots.Western Canada’s wheat is looking good, but little of it is in the bin, leaving it vulnerable to late-season rain or frost that can lower the quality to feed use, said Neil Townsend, director of market research at grain marketer CWB.”I would say we won’t have a huge supply of feed wheat, but it’s just a matter of pricing,” he said. „Most of it should go into food channels but you never know.”Kansas City nearby wheat is currently at a premium of about 80 cents to corn, around the lowest level in three weeks, making wheat a more affordable feed option than usual.While Western Canadian farmers are sitting pretty, growers in the eastern province of Ontario, who produce most of Canada’s corn and soybeans, have coped until recently with hot and dry conditions of their own.Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said last month that the country would be a net corn exporter in 2012/13, a rare occurrence that made headlines in 2011 when Canada shipped corn to Spain.But a summer heatwave in Ontario shriveled both harvest and export prospects, said Todd Austin, marketing manager at Grain Farmers of Ontario, and will likely keep them from capitalizing on the U.S. crop disaster.Back on Walter Finlay’s Manitoba farm, sympathy for Midwest farmers is tempered by the stinging memory of last year’s Canadian floods.”They have had high prices the last two years when we had no crop,” said Finlay. „I would say it’s Western Canada’s turn.”(Editing by Janet Guttsman, Jeffrey Hodgson and Leslie Gevirtz)
Urban disasters spotlight strain on Asian cities By Daniel Rook | AFP – 5 hrs ago Deadly floods, power blackouts and traffic gridlock — many of Asia’s biggest cities are buckling under the strain of rapid economic development, extreme weather and an exodus from the countryside.Poor strategic planning, paltry investment in infrastructure and a lack of political will have also left the region’s overcrowded metropolises highly vulnerable to the pressures of climate change, experts say.Over the past year Bangkok and Manila have been hit by the most devastating floods in decades, while India recently suffered the world’s worst-ever power blackout due to surging demand from industry, homes and offices.It is a situation that is increasingly out of step with growing affluence in Asia, where millions of people escape from poverty every year but face a return to third-world conditions when disaster strikes.Many Asian cities are „lagging behind in infrastructure provision, whether we talk about sewers, roads or electricity supplies,” said Professor Sun Sheng Han, an urban planning expert at Australia’s University of Melbourne.At the heart of the problem lies a lack of vision in a region where urban development policies reflect a mixture of „political goals and economic ambitions,” he told AFP.In the Thai capital Bangkok, years of aggressive groundwater extraction to meet the growing needs of its factories and 12 million inhabitants have taken a heavy toll.Yet despite warnings the city — built on swampland and slowly sinking — risks being below sea level in half a century from now, a building boom shows no sign of abating with apartment towers mushrooming around the city.Rapid urbanisation that blocks natural waterways and neglected drainage systems are also seen as major factors behind the deadly floods that have battered the Philippine capital Manila this month.On the outskirts of Manila, vital forested areas have been destroyed to make way for housing developments catering to growing middle and upper classes.Within the city, squatters — attracted by economic opportunities — often build shanties on river banks, storm drains and canals, dumping garbage and impeding the flow of waterways.But perhaps nowhere are the challenges more stark than in India, where a two-day power blackout across half the country last month left more than 600 million people without supplies as high demand overwhelmed the grid.Yet even now, only 30 percent of India’s 1.2-billion population live in cities, far lower than the 50.6 percent in China or the 70-80 percent in developed countries, according to a UN report released last year.It forecasts India’s urban population will grow by 60 percent from its current level of 377 million, to 606 million, by 2030.As air conditioners, microwave ovens, washing machines and other electrical items become increasingly popular with the country’s burgeoning middle class, the strains on the power sector are expected to increase.According to the McKinsey Global Institute research centre, India also needs 350-400 kilometres (around 250 miles) of new metros and subways a year and 19,000-25,000 kilometres of roads.Mumbai — with 20,000 inhabitants per square kilometre — is one of the world’s most densely populated cities.Its packed suburban trains are estimated to carry seven million people every day, and each year more than 3,000 people are killed on the railway network, sometimes falling from open doors or hit while crossing the tracks.”The rush hour is the biggest issue. There are times it’s so crowded, it’s difficult to breathe,” said Sudhir Gadgil, 62, an office assistant in Mumbai’s southern business district, whose commute to work by train takes 1.5 hours.In neighbouring Bangladesh, the capital Dhaka is facing the worst transport infrastructure problems in its history.Soon after taking over in January 2009, the government promised to tackle the crisis with an array of ambitious rail, bus and road projects, but most are still in the design stage.”Dhaka already is a moribund city. It’s dying fast and I see no hope how we can save it,” said Shamsul Haq, the country’s top transport expert and a professor at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.Traffic jams are by no means unique to Dhaka, however, and in many teeming cities the prospect of abandoning city life altogether is becoming increasingly appealing for some frustrated residents.In Jakarta, ranked bottom of 23 cities in Frost & Sullivan’s 2011 global commuter satisfaction survey, experts predict that given its ageing bus network and lack of train system, the capital will reach total gridlock by 2014.”If it doesn’t change in the next five years, I’m moving to Bali for a more peaceful life,” freelance writer Dian Agustino told AFP in one of the city’s shopping malls.