Hurricane Sandy pounds Jamaica, then aims at Cuba By DAVID McFADDEN | Associated Press – 1 hr 32 mins agoWaves, brought by Hurricane Sandy, crash on a house in the Caribbean Terrace neighborhood in eastern Kingston, Jamaica, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012. Hurricane Sandy pounded Jamaica with heavy rain as it headed …
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Hurricane Sandy’s howling winds and pelting rains lashed precarious shantytowns, stranded travelers and downed power lines Wednesday as it roared across Jamaica on a course that would take it on to Cuba and then possibly threaten Florida and the Bahamas.Sandy’s death toll was at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled onto his clapboard house, police reported. Earlier Wednesday, a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river she was trying to cross.In some southern towns on Jamaica, a few crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets, showing up in districts where electricity was knocked out, local residents reported. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family’s front yard in the city of Portmore.By Wednesday evening the hurricane’s eye had crossed Jamaica and emerged off its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island, and hurricane conditions were predicted to last well into the night.It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert 24 years ago, and fearful authorities closed the island’s international airports and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting. Cruise ships changed their itineraries to avoid the storm, which made landfall five miles (8 kilometers) east of the capital, Kingston.Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for this debt-shackled tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice runoff water to the sea.In the hilly community of Kintyre, on the outskirts of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her neighbors expected to completely lose the town’s bridge over the Hope River, which washed away a section of the span just three weeks ago during a heavy downpour. The shell of a concrete home that collapsed into the river and killed two people several years ago still lies toppled on the sandy banks.”I’m really nervous. We’re trying not to show it in front of the children though,” the mother of three said, huddling under a sopping white towel as she stared at the rising river.The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early Thursday, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.Cuban authorities issued a hurricane watch for several provinces. A hurricane watch was issued for the central and northwestern Bahamas, where the storm was predicted to pass Thursday and Friday morning.Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said tropical storm conditions were possible along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the area, the center said.In southwestern Haiti, a woman died in the town of Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country’s civil protection office. There were reports of extensive damage to Port Salut on Haiti’s far-southwestern coast after a river burst its banks. Mayor Larock Pierre Clervert said a hotel was destroyed by flood waters.Across Jamaica, the poor in slums and moneyed residents in gated communities hunkered down at home as powerful winds shrieked around buildings and sent sheets of rain sideways. Many homes were lit by candlelight and lanterns since tens of thousands of power utility customers were without electricity.Stranded business travelers and a smattering of locals rode out the Category 1 hurricane in hotels clustered along a strip in Kingston’s financial district. Some read prayer books or novels, while others watched movies or communicated with loved ones on computers.Cris Hopkinson, a Toronto woman who was on a business trip, said she hoped to catch a flight off the island Friday once the stormy weather cleared.”For now, I’m just hoping that the glass in the windows doesn’t shatter from the winds,” Hopkinson said in the dining room of the Courtleigh Hotel.About a mile away in the rough neighborhood of Grants Pen, where shops have been ransacked in the past during storms, a number of young men ignored the curfew, riding on bicycles or walking in small groups in the steady rain.Cecile Graham, a mother of two teenagers, said she was worried about the possibility of burglaries or looting at the small markets and shops that line the main road.”I hope that all the police are out and we won’t have the looting that has taken place before,” she said.Police slowly drove through drenched communities in the coastal capital with their cruisers’ lights flashing. A senior police superintendent was shot in troubled West Kingston, but the circumstances were murky.The storm was predicted to drop as much as 12 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, especially over central and eastern parts of Jamaica, the country’s meteorological service said. Some isolated spots could see as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters), according to U.S. forecasters. Sea water washed over the streets of southern coastal towns like Port Royal, a depressed fishing village at the tip of a spit of land near Kingston’s airport.More than 100 fishermen were stranded in outlying Pedro Cays, a lobster- and conch-rich area about 40 miles (66 kilometers) off Jamaica’s southern coast that was the first area of Jamaica to get Sandy’s winds and rain. Some of them told local media they lacked fuel to get back to the mainland, but authorities said they willfully disobeyed an evacuation order.On the mainland, over 1,000 people moved to shelters, but others living in low-lying areas on the mainland refused to evacuate their homes because they were fearful that their possessions would be stolen.Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay shut down for the day and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced that its Allure of the Seas megaship would not stop at Jamaica’s northern Falmouth terminal on Wednesday, remaining at sea instead. Other cruise lines also rerouted ships from port calls to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.While Jamaica was ravaged by bands from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and other powerful hurricanes centered offshore, the eye of a hurricane hasn’t carved across the island since Gilbert in 1988, Jamaican meteorologist Jacqueline Spence said.By Wednesday evening, strengthening Sandy was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph). It was moving north at about 14 mph (22 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 50 mph (85 kph) and was moving east-northeast at 25 mph (41 kph). Its center was 1,060 miles (1,705 kilometers) west-southwest of the Azores._Associated Press writers Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report.
2012 Wildfire Season Hits 2nd-Largest Area Since 1960s By Douglas Main, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer | LiveScience.com – 10 hours ago
View Photo A photograph of the Eagle Creek wildfire in Montana, taken in late September, 2012. As of Oct. 24, wildfires …Although there are still wildfires going strong in several states, wildfire season is almost over for most of the country. And this fire season has been a bad one.Since the beginning of the year, wildfires have burned through 14,065 square miles (36,430 square kilometers) — an area the size of Maryland. That’s the second-largest area burned, year-to-date, since detailed fire records began being recorded in the 1960s, according to government records. „It’s been a busy year,” said Ken Frederick, a spokesman with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, which collects data on fires and helps coordinate efforts to fight them.With more than two months left to go, this year’s fire season could become the worst ever in terms of area burned. But that seems unlikely, given current weather patterns, according to the wildfire experts OurAmazingPlanet spoke with.Fire on the open plains-The main reason why such a large area burned this year is that more fires than average occurred in grasslands and open scrublands, said National Weather Service meteorologist Ken Waters. These kinds of fires tend to burn more quickly than forest fires, and take up more land. „Fire can move through grass almost as fast as it can burn gasoline,” he told OurAmazingPlanet. [Amazing Video: Speed of Wildfire] These grasslands also tend to be sparsely populated. That helps explain why the fires weren’t more destructive or didn’t cause more fatalities. Although an exact count of total wildfire fatalities wasn’t immediately available, Frederick said it was below average this year. A total of 11 firefighters died this year, which is fewer than average, Frederick said.Fires have torched 4,191 structures so far in 2012; of those, 2,196 were residences, which is an average or slightly-above-average amount, he said.Colorado was one of the hardest-hit states, where more than 600 homes were destroyed, he said. The worst incident in that state was the Waldo Canyon Fire, estimated to be the costliest fire in the state’s history. That blaze destroyed 347 structures, mostly homes, according to InciWeb, a government website that tracks wildfires.The wildfire season began, as it usually does, in the southern United States, and migrated west, with bad fires throughout the Southwest in the spring and early summer. Many of these fires were dampened by the arrival of the North American monsoon, which ferries moistures northwest from the Gulf of Mexico.Primed for fire-Fires then generally migrated north and west. Much of the western and southwestern United States was primed for fire due to an extended, nearly decadelong drought, an unusually warm winter and low levels of snow pack, Waters said. This left grasses and plant matter extremely dry and ready to burn. The lack of snow also didn’t compact these grasses as much as usual, making them easier to burn, Waters said.Besides the dryness, much of the West was gripped by extreme heat, exacerbated by dry ground; wet soil absorbs some energy as water turns to vapor, preventing extreme highs, but parched landed offers no such relief, said Jeff Weber, a scientist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.Later in the summer, more fires were seen in the Northwest, where drought and winds gradually dried up forests and areas of high elevation that are normally more resistant to fires, Frederick said.As of Friday (Oct. 19) there were still 11 large fires burning in nine states, mostly in the West and Northwest.But today (Oct. 24), a weather system has brought cold, moist air to the West Coast, and begun dropping considerable amounts of precipitation throughout the area, Weber said. „That will bring an end to the fire season,” he said.Santa Ana wild card-However, the chance remains for blazes in Southern California, which, unlike the rest of the country, is susceptible to blazes late in the year, thanks to the Santa Ana winds. These hot, dry winds can gust up to 80 mph (129 kph) in high mountain passes and stem from the development of a high pressure system throughout the Great Basin (an area covering Nevada, parts of Utah, California and Oregon). But their strength varies dramatically each year. If they’re strong enough, they can quickly dry out vegetation throughout Southern California, setting the stage for big blazes. This year, however, it doesn’t look there will be strong Santa Ana winds, at least for the next couple weeks, although conditions could change quickly, Waters said.Strangely, there were only 50,651 blazes this year, the fewest in a decade, year-to-date. Frederick said he doesn’t know exactly why that would be, although it clearly didn’t reduce the amount of area burned, thanks to the location of fires.The worst year for wildfires, in terms of area burnt, was 2006, when fires charred 14,690 square miles (38,020 square km).”It’s been a bad, tough year, but it hasn’t been the worst, thank goodness,” Frederick said.Reach Douglas Main at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Douglas_Main. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.
EU: Spain, Italy putting EU emissions cuts at risk By JAN M. OLSEN and KARL RITTER | Associated Press – 16 hrs agoEnlarge Photo Associated Press/Frank Augstein, File – FILE – In this Feb. 25, 2008 file photo the tower of a church is seen between the smoke billowing chimneys of the brown coal power plant Frimmersdorf in Grevenbroich …more
Mexico declares end to bird flu outbreak By Associated Press – 11 hrs ago MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico says an outbreak of the H7N3 bird flu virus in western Mexico has been „totally controlled” after 68 days without any reports of new cases.President Felipe Calderon said Wednesday that more than 22 million hens had been slaughtered throughout the country since efforts to contain the outbreak were announced in July.The outbreak caused price increases in chicken and egg products in Mexico. Calderon said the outbreak caused significant damage because of the outbreak.The United States was among the countries that began exporting eggs to Mexico to help lower egg prices.
China ends nuke plant ban set after Japan disaster By GILLIAN WONG | Associated Press – 58 mins agoEnlarge Photo Associated Press/Eugene Hoshiko, File – FILE – In this June 10, 2005 file photo, workers walk past a part of Qinshan No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant, China’s first self-designed and self-built national commercial …more
BEIJING (AP) — China has decided to approve new nuclear power plants as part of plans to reduce reliance on oil and coal, ending the moratorium it imposed to review safety in the wake of Japan’sFukushima disaster last year.The government’s decision Wednesday that nuclear power is safe for China takes the country in the opposite direction from some developed nations such as Germany, which decided in the wake of the Fukushima disaster to speed its complete phase-out of nuclear power. Japan is planning to phase it out by 2040China is the world’s biggest energy consumer, and building new reactors is a key part of Beijing’s plans to curb demand for fossil fuels.The communist government is aggressively promoting alternatives to coal and oil in order to reduce pollution and curb its reliance on imported petroleum, which it sees as a national security risk. Still, coal is forecast to remain the country’s main energy source for decades.The government said Wednesday it hopes to generate 30 percent of China’s power from solar, wind and other renewable sources, as well as from nuclear energy, by the end of 2015. That’s up from an earlier target of 15 percent from renewables plus 5 percent from nuclear by 2020.The Cabinet on Wednesday passed plans on nuclear power safety and development that said construction of nuclear power plants would resume „steadily.”Only a small number of plants will be built, and only in coastal areas, according to a Cabinet announcement. The plants will meet the most stringent safety standards, it said.No date was given for resuming construction of nuclear plants. Despite widespread public concern over possible radiation contamination from the Fukushima disaster and calls for improved safety precautions and emergency preparedness, China remains committed to building up nuclear power to help reduce emissions from coal-fired plants and curb its reliance on costly oil imports.China suspended approvals of new nuclear plants after a tsunami triggered by the massive March 11, 2011, earthquake crippled the Fukushima plant’s cooling and backup power systems, causing partial meltdowns in the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.China’s leaders ordered safety checks for existing nuclear facilities, a review of projects under construction and improved safety standards.”The inspection results show that nuclear security is guaranteed in China,” according to a government report on its energy policy also released Wednesday. „China implements the principle of ‘safety first’ in the whole process of nuclear power station planning.”China currently has 15 nuclear reactors that provide about 12.5 gigawatts of generating capacity, and another 26 reactors are under construction that will add 30 gigawatts, the report said.Nuclear power accounts for only 1.8 percent of power in China, it said.The government report also said that China is now 90 percent energy self-sufficient, but acknowledged high demand will continue to put a strain on resources.It also warned of „grave challenges” to its energy security in its growing dependence on imported petroleum. Imports accounted for a third of total petroleum consumption in the early 2000s and have jumped to nearly 60 percent now, the report said.China will also encourage private companies to participate in exploration and development of energy resources, it said.
Antarctic Ozone Hole 2nd Smallest in 20 Years By Live Science Staff | LiveScience.com – 5 hrs ago The ozone hole above the Antarctic has hit its maximum extent for the year. Due to warm temperatures, the opening in the protective atmospheric layer was the second smallest it has been for 20 years, scientists said Wednesday (Oct. 24).Stretching to 8.2 million square miles (21.2 million square kilometers), an area roughly the size of all of North America, the ozone hole reached its peak on Sept. 22. The largest one recorded to date spanned 11.5 million square miles (29.9 million square km) in 2000.On the Earth’s surface, ozone is a pollutant, but in the stratosphere, it reflects ultraviolet radiation back into space, protecting us from skin cancer-causing UV rays.Scientists say the hole in this protective ozone layer mainly is caused by chlorine from man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were created in the early 20th century and used in products like spray cans. CFCs, which destroy ozone, are believed to linger in the stratosphere for decades.Air temperature can affect the rate at which these CFCs break apart ozone molecules. Years with large ozone holes are generally associated with very cold winters over Antarctica and high polar winds, the scientists say.Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said the gouge, which forms in September and October, was smaller this year because of warmer air temperatures high above the South Pole.”It happened to be a bit warmer this year high in the atmosphere above Antarctica, and that meant we didn’t see quite as much ozone depletion as we saw last year, when it was colder,” said Jim Butler with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colo.The Antarctic ozone hole was first discovered in the late 1970s. The gash continued to grow steadily during the 1980s and 90s, though since early 2000 the growth reportedly leveled off. Scientists, however, have seen large variability in its size from year to year.Although the production of ozone-depleting chemicals has been regulated for the past 25 years, scientists say it could be another decade before we start seeing early signs of Antarctic ozone layer recovery. NASA atmospheric chemist Paul Newman has estimated that the ozone layer above Antarctica likely will not return to its early 1980s state until about 2060.Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.