JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Damaging winds were followed by drenching rains across much of Louisiana and Mississippi on Thursday, prompting flooding concerns that threatened to move east along with a storm front.
A Louisiana woman died when a tree fell through her camper late Wednesday, and nightfall Thursday brought calls in southern Mississippi to flee rising creeks.
The National Weather Service confirmed one tornado in southwest Louisiana, and is investigating two other possible twisters. Wind damage was reported in seven Louisiana parishes and seven Mississippi counties
Officials blocked off numerous roads, including some major highways, and rescued motorists who got stalled in deep water.
Weather Service radar estimated that more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain fell in parts of Louisiana’s Washington Parish, north of New Orleans, while a broad swath of both states got more than 5 inches (13 centimeters). Local governments handed out sandbags in the Baton Rouge area. Forecasters declared a flash flood emergency in parts of southern Mississippi, including Hattiesburg, Thursday evening, saying waters were life-threatening and that people should leave low-lying areas and avoid non-emergency travel.
Flash flooding also became a concern in southwest Alabama as rain moved eastward. A number of rivers in the region are predicted to rise above flood stage in the coming days.
Tangipahoa Parish sheriff’s deputies found 58-year-old Roxanne Kliebert dead when they arrived Wednesday night after a pine tree fell through the roof of her camper in the Louisiana town of Ponchatoula.
The Weather Service confirmed that a tornado with top winds of 105 mph (169 kph) briefly touched down south of Crowley in Acadia Parish. Possible tornadoes hit Franklin Parish in northeast Louisiana and Yazoo County in central Mississippi.
Mercill Linder, a resident of the Franklin Parish town of Crowville, told KNOE-TV that a tree fell on her porch and roof around 8:30 a.m. Thursday.
„I could tell that this was not a normal wind,” Linder said. „It was coming from one direction and then another direction and I felt like I was in a washing machine.”
In the Mississippi city of Vicksburg, heavy winds damaged the roof on the city’s water treatment plant. There were also reports of damage to a number of other buildings in Vicksburg and nearby areas.
There’s a marginal chance of tornadoes Friday in a band stretching from the central Gulf Coast to southeast Virginia, forecasters said.
High winds were predicted Thursday evening and Friday morning across parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia.
The same system produced numerous reports of trees down and power outages across Texas and Arkansas late Wednesday and early Thursday.
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Heavy snow and rainstorms moving through much of the United States are predicted to create dangerous road conditions for millions of travelers heading out after Christmas.
A winter storm affecting the West and parts of the Midwest is bringing snow to the Central and Northern Plains and the upper midwest as it moves through the area on Thursday, the National Weather Service said.
Blizzard warnings are in effect for portions of North Dakota, according to the NWS’s Grand Rapids center, and will remain until Friday morning. Up to 18 inches of snow is expected to cover the Southern Red River Valley area. Wind gusts are predicted to go as high as 50 mph.
The NWS has warned against traveling under such weather conditions.
“Travel will be nearly impossible,” the blizzard warning issued by the NWS says. “Widespread blowing snow will significantly reduce visibility.”
Severe weather is also spreading toward the Southeast after thunderstorms rolled through parts of Texas Thursday. Further storms are expected in Louisiana, Arkansas, western Alabama and Mississippi, AccuWeather reports.
The post-Christmas weather events are likely to impact travelers heading out after the holiday, AccuWeather forecaster Brett Edwards says.
“Based off the severe threat alone there are going to be a few million people who will be impacted,” Edwards says.
The heavy snow and high-powered winds hitting the Dakotas and Minnesota “could create very dangerous travel conditions,” Edwards says.
Travelers are warned to keep up to date with weather forecasts and to know what the weather will be like at their destination, Edwards says. If roads are packed with snow, drivers should stay put.
Australians will be cranking up the pedestal fans, as extreme heatwave conditions sear across most of the country.
Temperatures have soared above average across much of the continent, peaking at 49.1°C (120.38°F) in the town of Marble Bar in Western Australia, according to the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM).
Since Tuesday, severe to extreme heatwave conditions have been affecting the country, with the highest intensity areas including Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory, and inland Victoria, the BOM reports. Queensland has been experiencing low intensity conditions.
The heatwave has expanded across South Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and even northeast Tasmania, and is expected to remain static over the weekend before reducing intensity by Monday.
That staggering top 49.1°C (120.38°F) temperature recorded in the former gold mining town of Marble Bar — which battles it out with the town of Wyndham for the title of the hottest place in Australia on average — marks the hottest day since folks started recording the temperature there in 1901.
To put it in perspective, the highest temperature ever recorded in Australia is 50.7°C (123.26°F), recorded in 1960 at South Australia’s Oodnadatta Airport. The official highest recorded temperature in the world is 56.7°C (134°F), which was measured at Greenland Ranch, Death Valley, California on Jul. 10, 1913.
These extreme temperatures are way above average for Australia’s south in particular at this time of the year. A representative from the BOM told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that most of the country’s southeast had been experiencing temperatures „10 to 14 degrees above average for this time of the year.”
It’s not the only extreme heat event Australia has experienced of late. Three blistering heat waves enveloped much of southeastern Australia in January and February 2017. In 2018, Sydney alone saw its hottest day in 80 years in January, and an unseasonably warm April saw heat records broken and below average rainfall across the country, leading to a devastating drought for New South Wales.
In fact, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef will never be the same following the devastating marine heat wave of 2015 and 2016.
Kalianda (Indonesia) (AFP) – Searching a debris-strewn beach for victims of Indonesia’s deadly tsunami, a rescue team happened upon a giant sea turtle trapped in a pile of marine trash.
It took four staff to haul the endangered creature back to sea, just the latest in a string of turtle rescues along the country’s devastated coast.
„The turtle was really large and it got stuck in a pile of rubbish, lying almost upside down,” Adi Ayangsyah, a member of a search and rescue team in hard-hit Lampung on Sumatra island, told AFP Friday.
He said the turtle was „probably about 30 kilograms (66 pounds)”.
This week, about 15 other turtles were rescued in the same area.
„We think they were swept ashore by the tsunami,” said Teguh Ismail, head of Lampung’s conservation agency.
„But they didn’t have any wounds so we got them back in the water.”
An eruption of the Anak Krakatoa volcano, which sits in the middle of the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra islands, caused a section of the crater to collapse and slide into the ocean, triggering the killer tsunami on Saturday evening.
On Friday, the death toll stood at 430 with some 159 still missing.
Hopes for finding any survivors are all but gone, but the hunt isn’t limited to human victims.
„We’ll keep our eye out for other stranded turtles as well,” Ayangsyah said.
„For us, all lives matter. Human or animal — we’ll try to rescue them all.”
Restaurant explosion injures dozens in Sapporo, Japan
Firefighters work at the scene of an explosion in Sapporo, Japan, Dec. 17, 2018. Dozens of people were injured in the explosion Sunday night at a Japanese restaurant in northern Japan, police said. The explosion occurred in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, and caused nearby apartment buildings and houses to shake. (Photo: Masanori Takei/Kyodo News via AP)
A suspected gas explosion destroyed wooden buildings housing a restaurant and a real estate office in northern Japan on Sunday night, injuring 42 people, police and local media said.
The powerful explosion in Sapporo, the capital city of Japan’s northern main island of Hokkaido, shook nearby buildings, shattered windows and scattered wooden debris across the area. Some residents told reporters they thought the blast was an earthquake.
One person was in serious condition, but police said the other injuries were mostly mild.
Police are investigating the cause of the explosion, which occurred in Sapporo’s Toyohira district. Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that a gas safety center official noted five propane gas tanks outside of the restaurant and two outside the real estate office.
The fire burned for nearly six hours, Kyodo said, and photographs and TV footage showed smoke rising above charred, collapsed debris as dozens of firefighters poured water onto the building. Windows on an apartment building next door were broken, and cars parked outside were partially covered with debris that had fallen on them.
A witness told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that he smelled gas after the sound of an explosion. NHK said neighbors of the building were being provided shelter overnight. (AP)
A five-year jail term was sought for three former executives atthe company operating Japan’s Fukushimanuclear plant, media reported Wednesday, the only people to face criminal charges over the 2011 meltdowns.
Former chairman of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) Tsunehisa Katsumata and former vice presidents Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro are charged with professional negligence resulting in death and injury, and have pleaded not guilty.
They are the only charges to have stemmed from the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns at the plant that set off the worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
Attorneys, who are exceptionally acting as prosecutors in the trial, said the three executives were aware of data indicating the nuclear plant risked being hit by a tsunami with waves exceeding 15 metres (52 feet) — enough to trigger power loss and cause severe accidents.
„They should have halted operations at the nuclear plant” until the company finished anti-tsunami measures, including construction of a breakwater, the prosecutors told Tokyo District Court, according to Jiji Press.
Katsumata, 78, has said during the trial he could not have predicted the towering waves that pummelled Japan’s northeast coast and swamped reactors in March 2011.
The disaster forced tens of thousands to evacuate their homes near the plant. Many are still living in other parts of Japan, unable or unwilling to go back home as fears over radiation persist.
The charges against the ex-bosses are linked to the deaths of more than 40 hospitalised patients who were hastily evacuated from the Fukushima area and later died.
Prosecutors had twice refused to press charges, citing insufficient evidence and little chance of conviction.
But a judicial review panel composed of ordinary citizens ruled in 2015 that the trio should be put on special trial in which designated attorneys accuse defendants and demand a penalty.
Waves as high as 14 metres swamped the reactors’ cooling systems in March 2011 after a 9.0 magnitude tremor.
Although the quake-tsunami disaster left some 18,500 people dead or missing, the Fukushima accident itself is not officially recorded as having directly killed anyone.
A parliamentary report a year after the disaster said Fukushima was a man-made crisis caused by Japan’s culture of „reflexive obedience”.
A farmer sits on a tractor trolley after auctioning his onions at Lasalgaon market in Nashik
By Rajendra Jadhav and Mayank Bhardwaj
HIVARGAON/MUJAHIDPUR, India (Reuters) – A spike in the price of onions has led to the ouster of governments in Indian elections in the past. Now, prices of the staple have collapsed, and many impoverished farmers are saying they will make Prime Minister Narendra Modi pay in next year’s general election.
Steep drops in recent weeks in the prices of onions and potatoes, both staple foods for India’s 1.3 billion people, have badly hit the rural economy in large states.
In interviews with dozens of farmers last week, Reuters reporters found resentment welling against Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for not helping support incomes in the countryside, where a majority of the population lives.
„Whatever they do in the coming months, I will vote against the BJP. I won’t repeat the 2014 mistake,” said Madhukar Nagare, an onion grower from Nashik in Maharashtra state, referring to his backing the BJP at the last general election.
In the 1998 state elections, a sharp spike in onion prices led to the fall of the BJP government in the capital New Delhi.
In the 1980 general election, sky-high onion prices helped former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dislodge a coalition government that had included politicians who later formed the BJP.
In recent weeks, loss-stricken farmers have staged protests, blocked highways and dumped onions on the road after prices plunged to as low as one rupee (1.4 U.S. cents) per kg for a crop that costs about 8 rupees a kg to produce.
But because of large cuts taken by middlemen, consumers have not benefited from the low prices.
In Maharashtra, the top onion producing state, farm prices have fallen 83 percent, dragged down by surplus supplies from the previous season’s crop and lower export orders from the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
And in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, which was crucial in Modi’s election win in 2014, there is a similar problem with low potato prices.
Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh are both dominated by rural voters and together send 128 lawmakers to the 545-member lower house of parliament. It means that big losses in these two states could either see Modi lose the next election which is due by May or his party be forced to form a coalition government. Farmers say shortcomings in a government crop support program, and weak overseas demand have combined to produce the current glut of onions. And as prices have plunged, fertilizer and crop nutrient costs have risen, thanks in part to a weak rupee.
Perhaps most important of all, the BJP came into office in 2014 determined to shift away from subsidies. That may have been fine when crop prices were relatively high but as they crashed it has exposed the party in farm areas.
The prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
NOT „GOOD DAYS”
Many farmers blame Modi for not fixing a price protection program which barely covers 7 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, leaving most growers at the mercy of middlemen.
They also criticize him for not setting up more food processing and cold storage facilities, which would allow them to store their crops without having to sell immediately after the harvest.
„Expecting good days, as promised by Modi, we voted for the BJP, but now we are going through the worst phase,” onion farmer Madhav Pawase said, pointing to his rotting crop stocked in a temporary shed in Hivargaon village, about 230 km (140 miles) northeast of Mumbai, India’s financial hub.
„I’ve spent more than 80,000 rupees to produce 15 tonnes of onions from my two acres of land, but I won’t recover more than 3,000 rupees at the current market price,” he said.
Some farmers have decided to let onions rot in the field, saying that harvesting and transporting the produce to wholesale markets would only add to their losses.
The BJP was defeated by the opposition Congress party in three major states in local elections this month because of rural anger, and Modi’s government is under pressure to come up with measures to placate farmers.
Congress wrote off farmers’ loans in the three states which it won and has demanded the federal government do the same across the country.
Although the BJP has so far not commented on the issue of farm loan waivers, Rajiv Kumar, the head of government think-tank NITI Aayog, has said that writing off debt is not the solution for the problems of the farm sector.
Syed Zafar Islam, a spokesman for the BJP, said the government had initiated a number of steps to help farmers get remunerative prices, including a project to electronically provide farmers with real-time market prices and help them directly sell to buyers, eliminating middlemen.
„It’s an ongoing process and the results will not just start reflecting in four years,” he said.
In Mujahidpur village of Uttar Pradesh, India’s biggest potato growing state, farmers lamented that prices have dropped by 86 percent to 2,500 rupees a tonne.
„I lost my entire investment of 100,000 rupees to grow potatoes on one hectare,” said Gopi Chand, 55, sitting next to bright yellow mustard fields.
He said he and some other farmers in the area had dumped potatoes in favor of growing mustard.
Farmers in the two states also complained of rising operating costs.
Prices of crop nutrient diammonium phosphate, popularly called DAP, have gone up by 400 rupees to 1,450 rupees for a bag of 50 kg, said Babloo Singh in Mujahidpur village. DAP rates have gone up because of higher overseas prices and India’s weaker currency.
„Higher input costs and record low potato prices have left us in deep debt,” said Singh. „The situation would have been different had there been more cold storage facilities and food processing plants in our state.”
The crash in vegetable prices hasn’t helped consumers either thanks to the chain of middlemen.
In Lasalgaon, the country’s largest onion trading hub, most farmers are selling their produce at 2 rupees a kg. But consumers in Mumbai are still shelling out 20 rupees. Between Lasalgaon and Mumbai, a distance of 220 km (135 miles), traders say onions pass through at least four layers of middlemen, adding a hefty margin at every stage.
(Editing by Martin Howell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)