Monday, November 14, 2011

BANGKOK — Angry residents in flooded Bangkok protested on Monday, briefly blocking a major highway as frustration mounted that parts of the Thai capital are suffering badly while the centre stays dry.

Thailand's worst floods in half a century, triggered by months of unusually heavy monsoon rains, have left at least 562 people dead around the kingdom and damaged millions of homes and livelihoods.

After weeks of flooding, waters in some Bangkok districts have receded significantly. An AFP photographer said the water level in Lat Phrao and Mo Chit areas, on the northern edge of the city centre, had fallen by nearly a metre in 48 hours and inhabitants were no longer using boats to get around.

But elsewhere anger is growing that residential areas are being sacrificed to preserve Bangkok's commercial and tourist heart.

In the west of the city, around 200 people blocked a section of the Rama II road, the main route linking the capital to southern Thailand, to demand extra water pumps to help drain their swamped neighbourhoods.

"The villagers were not happy that there were not enough pumps to drain the floods," local police chief Colonel Nakarin Sukontawit said.

"The BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) agreed to bring two more pumps today, so the villagers decided to stop their protest."

Around 70 people also gathered at a major floodwall in northern Don Mueang district, watched by about 30 police officers, to ensure the authorities did not repair a gap they had opened to allow water to drain away from badly flooded areas.

Visiting the scene, Bangkok governor Sukhumbhand Paribatra reassured locals that he had not received a government order to repair the barrier and his team would take time to "analyse the situation".

People in the area -- many of whom have been living in waters waist-deep or worse for almost a month -- have threatened to step up their protest if the opening in the structure is repaired.

The 15-kilometre (nine-mile) floodwall, mostly made up of huge sandbags weighing up to 2.5 tonnes, is a key defence preventing run-off waters from the north from swamping Bangkok's glitzy downtown area.

"The water in my house reaches as high as my neck," said 65-year-old Wattana Klongsakon, adding that she was "satisfied" to see the brown liquid rushing through to the other side of the damaged barrier.

"If they rebuild it, we will definitely block the toll road", she said, referring to a major nearby route linking Bangkok to the north.

In an effort to spare Bangkok's economic and political heartland, authorities have been trying to drain the floods through waterways in the east and west of the sprawling capital and out to sea.

Under-pressure Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, facing the first serious test of her fledgling premiership, pleaded for patience and unity on her Facebook page on Monday.

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Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Heavy rains and flooding in southern France over the weekend forced the evacuation of about six hundred people, and three people died in weather-related deaths as a dozen local regions remained on alert on Sunday.

Rivers overran their banks, flooding streets and homes and leaving hundreds stranded. Television images showed cars floating along roads and residents mopping up their sodden, muddy homes.

A retired couple, both aged 71, in the southeastern coastal town of Bagnols en Foret died late Saturday night or Sunday morning from carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to bail out rising water in their cellar, police said.

On Saturday, police told Reuters they found the body of a 51-year-old homeless man who had been washed away from his campsite in the Herault southern region.

Some 600 people have already been evacuated along the coast and in the Alps in the south east of the country, authorities said. Firefighters helped rescue around 1,200 people affected by the storms, using helicopters to save about 30 people.

An orange alert -- the second-highest weather alert after red -- remained in place in 12 southern regions on Sunday, down from about 16 on Saturday.

The regions affected are the low-lying areas near the Pyrenees in the south west, where it continued to rain on Sunday, and in the flooded Alps region.

In the past two days, the level of the Var river in the southeast rose from 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) to 5 meters, said Europe 1 radio.

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Monday, October 31, 2011

Last month, Hurricane Irene left more than 260,000 PPL customers without power.

The rare October nor’easter that on Saturday dumped 5.5 inches of heavy snow in the Harrisburg area was worse.

Saturday’s storm left 315,000 PPL customers in central and eastern Pennsylvania and 257,000 Met-Ed customers without electricity.

By 7:15 p.m. Sunday, PPL still had 150,000 customers without electricity in its 29-county region, including 1,995 in Cumberland County, 3,027 in Dauphin County, 1,003 in Lebanon County, 1,288 in Perry County and 1,998 in York County.

The outages occurred when leaf-laden trees bent and broke under the heavy snow and fell on power lines and poles. In a company statement, PPL called the Lehigh Valley the hardest-hit region, with 125,000 customers affected, followed by the Harrisburg and Lancaster areas.

“With a storm of this magnitude, it could take days until we can restore service to all customers,” said David DeCampli, PPL Electric Utilities president. “Our crews are assessing the damage by foot, by vehicle and by air. We’re focusing on repairs that can restore power to the largest numbers of customers as quickly and safely as possible.”

He said about 1,000 workers on 250 crews responded to outages. An additional 150 crews from western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee joined the restoration effort.

It was a familiar job for electricity workers, who in September replaced miles of power lines and more than 1,200 utility poles, 300 transformers and thousands of pieces of pole-top equipment damaged by Hurricane Irene.

The storm also affected transportation through the midstate.

Greg Penny, Pennsylvania Department of Transportation District 8 spokesman, said that as of 6 p.m. Sunday, about 30 roads in the eight-county district remained closed because of downed trees on power lines. Most of these were in York County, he said.

“PennDOT crews remove trees and branches from the roads when power lines are not involved,” he said. “But if the trees or limbs are entangled with power lines, we have to wait for the utility crew to come in and safely clear the electric power line. Right now, utility crews are busy restoring electricity.”

Penny also said Route 11 at the West Pennsboro and Penn townships border near Newville remains closed in both directions. He said state police requested the closure because they are concerned that a silo that appears to be leaning might fall on nearby power lines and the road.

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Category 1 hurricane was expected to sweep by the eastern coast of the Yucatan peninsula, home to the strip of resorts known as the Riviera Maya, by Thursday evening, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Cancun's airport stayed open, but more than 90 flights in and out of the city were canceled for Thursday. Hundreds of passengers loaded with luggage formed long lines at airport counters, trying to get out before the storm hit.

Danielle Selvin and Justin Harris from Los Angeles, decided to cut their visit short when they learned about Rina.

"We just figured that we'd rather be home where it's dry and the sun is still shining," said Selvin, 23, as they stood in line to try to get a refund for their original flight.

Though Rina was earlier downgraded from a Category 2 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with winds dropping to 85 mph (140 kph), emergency services in Cancun's home state of Quintana Roo advised people in vulnerable areas to take cover.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, Quintana Roo's secretary of tourism, earlier on Wednesday urged prospective travelers to reschedule their vacations to avoid running into Rina.

The weakened storm posed little danger to tourists already there, but many were dejected by Rina's arrival.

"Rina ruined our plans," said Raquel Cortes, on her honeymoon in Cancun. "We wanted to go to the beach, scuba dive and go to the marine parks ... we can't get in the ocean."

Rina is not expected to affect Mexico's main oil installations in the Gulf of Mexico or coffee-growing areas in Central America that were battered by heavy rains this month. All of Mexico's ports in the Gulf of Mexico, including major oil exporting terminals, were open on Wednesday afternoon.

In Cancun's poorer neighborhoods, emergency workers made rounds to encourage people to move to public shelters.

"Above all, we're acting in flood prone areas with fragile housing, which are the zones we have to evacuate first," said Felix Diaz, head of civil protection for the Cancun area.

People were urged not to go to Cancun's airport unless they had confirmed reservations.

Vacationers along the coast of the Yucatan were met with cloudy skies and sporadic heavy rains. Beaches near the hotel zone emptied during the day, and many stores closed early.


Cancun was devastated in 2005 by Hurricane Wilma, the most intense storm ever recorded in the Atlantic, and locals still have keen memories of the damage.

"After Wilma, how could I be afraid of this storm?" said soft drink salesman Mario Gomez, 45. "Even that day, I was the last one to leave. I didn't want to go before all my fruit was sold and I still have cold drinks to sell today.

"I'll be here tomorrow, too," he added.

Even with the downgrade, Rina is still expected to cause downpours and potentially dangerous waves. Most schools in Quintana Roo closed as a safety precaution.

About 2,800 people were being evacuated from low-lying Holbox Island, off the Yucatan's northeastern tip, including 200 tourists, Quintana Roo's governor Roberto Borge said.

On Tuesday there were around 80,000 tourists in the state. Most were foreigners, staying at hotels in Cancun and other resorts like Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel.

Some cruises changed course to avoid Yucatan.

The sixth hurricane in the 2011 Atlantic season, Rina was located about 140 miles (225 km) south southeast of Cozumel Island at 10 p.m. CDT/2100 GMT on Wednesday, and was moving west northwest at 6 mph (9 kph).

The hurricane could dump 6 to 10 inches (15 to 25 cm) of rain over the eastern Yucatan peninsula, and some streets in the main tourist zone were already flooding on Wednesday.

A huge storm surge is also possible, raising tide levels as much as 4 feet (1.2 meters) above normal along the coast.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Upgraded call centers and increased use of social media could help utility companies better respond to natural disasters like the two destructive storms that recently hit Pennsylvania, executives and state officials told lawmakers.

Utility representatives and state emergency officials testified Tuesday at a joint hearing of two Senate committees about lessons learned from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

The hearing was prompted by constituent complaints to senators about a lack of communication from the utilities and the lag in restoring service in some areas.

About 706,000 Pennsylvanians had no electricity during the peak of the outages caused when Irene barreled through the state on Aug. 28. Some residents went without power for 10 days.

Just over a week later, the state was hit with historic flooding from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.

Utility officials stressed how destructive the storms were to transmission lines and distribution systems. But Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said the lack of communication with customers left residents "powerless and in the dark," literally and figuratively.

Many irate residents had no idea when their service would be restored in the days after Irene, Baker said. Some saw utility trucks parked in their neighborhoods for hours only to watch them leave — without having restored the power, she said.

Carl Segneri, an executive with Allentown-based utility PPL Corp., said the volume of calls to report damage during Irene exceeded the company's phone system capacity. The problem was compounded by breakdowns in the outage management system, he said.

PPL is evaluating its technology to see how it can improve reliability and performance, Segneri said.

UGI Utilities Inc. plans to acquire better weather forecasting tools and buy a new system to manage power outages, executive Robert Stoyko told lawmakers.

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