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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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Severe flooding in Thailand has left more than 300 people dead and stranded thousands of others. As rain waters continue to inundate farms and flood cities, the country now faces about $7 billion in damages.

The situation began at the start of monsoon season in July, and three months of rain has resulted in the worst flooding in Thailand for 50 years.

Yingluck Shinawatra, the country's newly elected prime minister, warned Thai citizens that unless waters can be diverted into the sea, Bangkok could be even more severely damaged. Around 90 percent of the locks in the capital, which sits on the Gulf of Thailand, have been opened to allow water to drain out of the city, but additional storms could still cause massive floods, according to The Guardian.

Thai soldiers also built flood walls in Bangkok using more than one million sandbags.

The situation has invited criticism of Yingluck, who some Thais feel didn't properly warn or prepare the country for the disaster. So far, she has refused to call a state of emergency, fearing it would scare off tourists, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The rainy season has also affected Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, where nearly 10,000 people have had to leave their homes.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Australia weather bureau says country faces more than 12 cyclones 2011-12

* Oil, gas, as well as coal and iron ore mines may be at risk

* Another La Nina weather pattern brewing to fuel storms

SYDNEY, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Australia faces an above-average number of cyclones over the coming storm season, meteorologists said on Monday, threatening new devastation after massive floods swamped homes, as well as destroying crops and crippling mining earlier this year.

The northwest offshore oil and gas field and coastal iron ore operations face a 65 percent chance of being hit by more than seven cyclones, Australia's Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) said in its 2011-12 tropical cyclone season forecast.

Northeast Australia, where coal mining was crippled last year due to heavy flooding partly generated by cyclones, also faces a 65 percent chance of more than the average of three to four cyclones this season, said BOM.

In total, Australia's north may be hit by more than 12 cyclones due to neutral to borderline La Nina weather conditions, which bring wet weather to the western Pacific, fuelling tropical storms over the ocean.

"Historically, these conditions have favoured an above average number of cyclones in the Australian region," said BOM.

Australia's cyclone season is between November and April.

Natural disasters including floods and cyclones cut economic activity by 0.75 percentage points in 2010-11, wiping A$1.75 billion from revenue across 2010-11 and 2011-12, Treasurer Wayne Swan said.

Australia's third-largest city Brisbane was inundated with floodwaters and flooding across an area as big as France and Germany forced major miners to declare force majeure and damaged large swaths of croplands, including the key sugar crop.

Australia, one of the world's largest coal exporters, accounts for about two-thirds of the global coking coal trade, with around 90 percent of that coming from Queensland state.

Coking or metallurgical coal is used for steelmaking, with the bulk of Australian exports to China.

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Friday, October 14, 2011

MEXICO CITY, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- The death toll in Mexico and Central America rose to 49 on Friday as tropical storms and hurricanes continued to hit the region.

The United Nations said as many as 100,000 people had been affected in Mexico and Central America, while the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned that more heavy rains would pound the region in the next 48 to 72 hours.

"Locally heavy rains are likely to continue over portions of the Pacific coast of southeastern Mexico and Central America, resulting in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides," said the NHC in its latest forecast for one of two storms currently moving over southern Mexico and Central America.

Civil protection authorities across Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica continued to be on maximum alert.

A second storm was forming over the eastern part of Mexico and Central America, and although neither of the two storms seem likely to become hurricanes, the NHC warned that the second storm will cause heavy rains,mudslides and flooding in Central America, Cuba and nearby islands.

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega raised the alert for the country and broke off an election campaign to attend to what he declared a "national emergency" as the death toll in Nicaragua climbed to seven due to the rains.

Salvadorian President Mauricio Funes declared a state of national emergency over the massive flooding in coastal areas and initiated plans to evacuate 65,000 people from areas vulnerable to more flooding and landslides in the next three days.

The United Nations said it had activated its emergency and assessment teams in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

"Some 100,000 people in Mexico and Central America are facing flooding as Hurricane Jova and a tropical depression unleash torrential rains over the region," the United Nations news center said.

At least 12,000 people have been evacuated in the five countries worst hit by week-long torrential rains caused by Hurricane Jova, Hurricane Irwin, tropical depression 12-E and two other independent storm systems.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

MANZANILLO, Mexico – Hurricane Jova slammed into Mexico's Pacific coast as a Category 2 storm early Wednesday, killing at least five people and injuring six, while a tropical depression hit farther south and unleashed steady rains that contributed to 13 deaths across the border in Guatemala.

Jova came ashore west of the Mexican port of Manzanillo and the beach town of Barra de Navidad before dawn with 100 mph winds and heavy rains, before moving inland and weakening to a tropical depression by afternoon. It continued to dump rain over a large swath of northwest Mexico, including Jalisco state where rainfall this year had been low.

A 71-year-old woman drowned in Colima state after a strong current swept away the car in which she and her son were riding. Her son survived, Colima Gov. Mario Anguiano said.

In the neighboring state of Jalisco, Jova triggered a mudslide in the town of Cihuatlan, just inland from Barra de Navidad, that swept away a house on a hillside, killing a 21-year-old woman and her daughter, Jalisco civil protection officials said in a statement.

Farther northwest along the Mexican coast in the town of Tomatlan, about 12 miles from where Jova landed, a man and a teenage boy were killed when a wall of their home softened by heavy rains fell on them, officials said.

Also in Tomatlan, two children suffered head injuries when the walls of their brick home collapsed under the force of the wind and rains, said Oscar Mejia, spokesman for the Jalisco state Red Cross rescue division.

The new tropical depression formed in the Pacific off far-southern Mexico near the Guatemala border, with maximum sustained winds near 35 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center reported. The storm quickly moved ashore over Mexico and was expected to move slightly north before dissipating before day's end.

The storm was smaller and less powerful than Jova, but the mountainous terrain of southern Mexico state of Chiapas and neighboring Guatemala is particularly vulnerable to flash flooding and mudslides. Numerous Indian villages perch precariously on hillsides.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom blamed rain from the storm for the deaths of 13 people in his country. At least four of those were electrocuted when contacted power lines, Colom said. Others died in mudslides or were swept away by swollen rivers.

National Hurricane Center forecaster John Cangialosi said the rains in Guatemala probably were linked to the tropical depression, even though it had not yet hit land.

"If they're in Guatemala, they're pretty close to the circulation center of the system, and it has been a very slow-moving system ... so it's likely linked to this feature," Cangialosi said.

Farther north on Mexico's coast, flooding from Jova was so bad in Cihuatlan that the Red Cross office had to be evacuated because it was filled with 4 feet of water.

Mexico's navy said it evacuated a total of 2,600 people in flood-prone areas hit by Jova, and set up kitchens at shelters to feed 1,600 evacuees.

The approach of Jova led authorities to close the port in Manzanillo, which is Mexico's second-biggest non-oil cargo port. The storm flooded some neighborhoods in the city and brought down power lines and billboards. Flooding knocked out at least one bridge and destroyed stretches of highways leading out of Manzanillo.

The federal Communications and Transportation Department said that several roads were damages by the storm and that landslides and flooding blocked three main highways connecting cities in Jalisco and Colima states.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

(AP) MANZANILLO, Mexico — Hurricane Jova slammed into Mexico's Pacific coast as a Category 2 storm early Wednesday, swamping beach towns and causing floods in the mountains above.

The storm toppled trees, knocked out power and flooded streets in the major port city of Manzanillo, but the full extent of damage was still unclear before dawn Wednesday. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Jova's maximum sustained winds were near 100 mph (160 kph) when it hit, but it was weakening steadily as it moves inland and winds were down to 75 mph (140 kph) by 7 a.m (8 a.m. EDT; 1200GMT).

As the storm's leading rain bands began swatting at the coast Tuesday night, heavy rain fell in Manzanillo, Mexico's second-biggest non-oil cargo port. It was closed to navigation because of the storm.

Callers told local station Radio Turquesa that water was several feet (more than a meter) deep in some neighborhoods and schools, some used for shelters, were closed for the day.

The Hurricane Center in Miami warned that the storm surge could cause significant coastal flooding along the 210-mile (340-kilometer) stretch between Manzanillo and Cabo Corrientes, which is southwest of the resort city of Puerto Vallarta.

Up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain could fall on isolated areas as Jova moves inland, the center said.

Before nightfall Tuesday, marines visited flood-prone areas in Manzanillo to advise people to leave. They found a home for elderly people whose homes were already flooded and evacuated dozens of people to stay with relatives, Adm. Jaime Mejia said. Forty others were evacuated in the nearby town of Tecoman, he said.

Some people vowed to ride out the storm, while others took refuge at shelters in towns like Jaluco, just inland from the beach community of Barra de Navidad.

"My house has a thatch roof, and it's not safe," said Maria de Jesus Palomera Delgado, 44, a farmworker's wife who went to an improvised shelter at a grade school in Jaluco, along with her 17 children and grandchildren.

"The neighbors told us the house was going to collapse" if hit by the hurricane, she added as the children slept nearby on folding cots packed into a classroom.

In an another classroom, migrant farmworker Rufina Francisco Ventura, 27, fed her 2-month-old son. She said she had left the ranch where she plants chiles and tomatoes planning only to pick up some free blankets, but shelter workers "told me I shouldn't leave here, because it's going to hit hard."

Jalisco state authorities evacuated about 200 people to shelters by Tuesday and issued alerts over loudspeakers placed in communities along the coast, telling people to take precautions as the hurricane approached, state civil defense spokesman Juan Pablo Vigueras said. The state had 69 shelters ready, he said.

Authorities also set up shelters for residents of inland towns, where the mountainous terrain could cause flash floods and mudslides, which often pose the greatest dangers in hurricanes

The Mexican army said it had assigned about 1,500 soldiers to hurricane preparedness and relief efforts.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MEXICO CITY — Hurricane Jova barreled towards Mexico on Tuesday and was expected to slam into the Pacific coast later in the day, bringing high winds, heavy rains and the risk of devastating mudslides.

Mexican authorities have placed four southern coastal states on high alert ahead of the expected arrival of the category three storm.

The Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said in a 0900 GMT bulletin that Jova was packing maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers (115 miles) per hour and was 235 kilometers (150 miles) southwest of the busy port city of Manzanillo, in Colima state. It was moving north-northeast at 9 km/h (6 mph).

"The center of the hurricane will be near the coast of Mexico in the hurricane warning area by this afternoon or evening," the NHC said, adding it expected the storm to reach the coast at "near major hurricane strength."

Mexico has issued hurricane alerts for large swaths of the Pacific coast.

The zone stretched north from the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan for almost 480 kilometers (298 miles), encompassing the popular tourist cape of Cabo Corrientes in Jalisco, Mexico's meteorological institute said.

Colima, Jalisco, Michoacan and Nayarit state to the north were all put on guard for possible landslides from heavy rain expected to be dumped by the ninth Pacific hurricane of the season.

"A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding near and to the east of where the center makes landfall," the NHC warned.

The surge, said the hurricane center, "will be accompanied by large and destructive waves" as well as torrential rainfall with accumulations of up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) in some areas.

"These rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mud slides over mountainous terrain," the NHC said.

Several major storms or hurricanes have buffeted Mexico's Pacific coast in recent months but most have remained offshore.

The season's first named storm, Arlene, left at least 16 people dead and drenched much of the country in July.

Tropical storms and hurricanes last year caused flooding and mudslides in Mexico that killed 125 people, left hundreds of thousands homeless and caused more than $4 billion in damage.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Officials have warned Filipinos to brace against the inconvenient truth of devastating storms, flooding and drought unless policies and projects are put in place to mitigate climate change.

Undersecretary Graciano Yumul of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said that in the next 20 to 50 years, the Philippines would find "the dry seasons drier and the wet seasons wetter."

"With the climate change scenario, we will see more of this as a frequent reality," Yumul said in an interview. "What we used to consider as abnormal we should now consider as normal," he noted.

Scientists describe the phenomenon as any distinct changes in weather patterns, such as temperature, rainfall, wind and snow over a long period of time.

A major factor is global warming-the increase in the oceanic and atmospheric temperatures of the planet resulting in the melting of the ice caps and the rising of the seas.

The doomsday scenarios, depicted in Al Gore's 2006 award-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," are now playing out in the Philippines.

The climatology division of the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (Pagasa) has released the results of a study in 2010 concluding that climate data from 1960 to 2003 showed significant increases in the frequency of hot days and warm nights in many areas of the country.

On the other hand, Pagasa observed that cooler days had decreased. This trend mirrors the experience of other countries in Southeast Asia, Pagasa said as it predicted more rains in the Philippines in the coming decades.

"Reduction of rainfall is seen in March, April and May in most provinces, while rainfall increases are likely in Luzon and Visayas in 2020 and 2050 during the June-July-August and September-October-November seasons," the study said.

"Greater increase in rainfall is expected in the provinces of Luzon (0.9-63 per cent) and Visayas (2-22 per cent) during the peak southwest monsoon period (June-July-August)."

The number of days where temperature will breach 35 degrees Celsius will also increase in 2020 and 2050, according to Pagasa models.


Antonio Apostol Jr., chief geologist of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau, said human activities in the regions that bore the brunt of Typhoons "Pedring" and "Quiel" that struck the country last week exacerbated the hazards and the risks.

The plains of Bulacan and Pampanga have always been prone to floods, he said.

But the proliferation of fishponds and aquaculture projects in the major waterways and in the coasts has slowed down the flow of water from the typhoons and the dams, resulting in prolonged flooding in residential and rural areas, Apostol said.

"These have a multiplier effect. So when the water was released from the dams, the natural drainage could not handle it anymore," he said.

If there were no fishponds and garbage clogging the canals and rivers of the region, "the outflow would have been quicker," Apostol said.

Floods and landslides will be more widespread until officials realize that they should adapt to the changes in weather and lessen their effects on the general population, Apostol and Yumul said.

"In other parts of the country, we are seeing the same situation. In the cities of Butuan and Cotabato, there were floods, too, because the rivers were clogged with water lilies," Apostol said.

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Thursday, October 06, 2011

As extensive flooding continues to wreak havoc in 28 provinces throughout the country, the confirmed death toll on Thursday had risen to 244 with three people missing, and the forecast isa for worse to come.

Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director Wibul Sanguanpong said the flooding has hit 1,486 tambons of 201 districts of 28 provinces, affecting 2.6 million people and damaging more than 7.5 million rai of farmland.

The flood toll as of Oct 6 was 244 dead and three missing.

Mr Wibul, also deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s disaster monitoring centre, said the amount of water in major dam reservoirs was still at a critical level and overflows from the Chao Phraya river have seriously hit low-lying areas in Uthai Thani, Chai Nat, Sing Buri, Lop Buri, Ang Thong, Suphan Buri, Ayutthaya, Saraburi, Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi.

In Ayutthaya, authorities alerted residents living around the former capital’s central area, known as Koh Muang, to evacuate their belongings to safe ground immediately as more flooding was expected to hit the area in the next few hours.

There were fears that floodwalls in the area could not resist the flood torrent and also concerns that the floodwaters would surge into the famous Wat Yai Chaimongkol temple in the area.

Ayutthaya governor Witthaya Piewpong said that flooding in the province is expected to reach a critical point in the next three to seven days as overflow from the Lop Buri, Pasak and Chao Phraya rivers would add to existing flood woes in the province.

It is predicted that flood levels will increase by at least 50 centimetres, Mr Witthaya said, adding that he had instructed workers to reinforce embankments around the Koh Muang area with more sandbags, raising the level of the embankment from 50cm to one metre.

Public Health Minister Witthaya Buranasiri said Bang Pahan hospital in Ayutthaya has been temporarily closed because of flooding.

He said of the 17 patients being treated in the hospital, two had been moved to Ang Thong hospital, four to Uthai Thani hospital, four to Somdej Phra Sangkharat hospital and seven to Wang Noi hospital.

Two field hospitals have been set up at the PTT petrol station between Bang Pahan hospital and the district office and at tambon Bang Kwang in Maharat district.

They were being staffed around the clock by doctors and staff from Vajira Phuket hospital.

Ban Phraek, Maharat, Tha Rua and Nakhon Luang hospitals in Ayutthaya and Chumsaeng hospital in Nakhon Sawan are also under a flood threat.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

HANOI — Massive floods have ravaged vast swathes of Asia's rice bowl, threatening to further drive up food prices and adding to the burden of farmers who are among the region's poorest, experts say.

About 1.5 million hectares (3.7 million acres) of paddy fields in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos have been damaged or are at risk from the worst floods to hit the region in years, officials say.

In Thailand, the world's biggest rice exporter, where 237 people have died in the floods, about one million hectares of paddy -- roughly 10 percent of the total -- have been damaged, they say.

Heavy rains in Laos and Cambodia have also led to big losses in recent weeks, and experts say flood waters have now drained into Vietnam's Mekong Delta, a key global rice producer, making it the latest to be inundated.

Further west, flooding of rice and other farmland in Pakistan's arable belt has cost that country nearly $2 billion in losses.

"The whole region will now suffer from rising food prices as potential harvests have now been devastated. The damage is very serious this year and it will be some time before people can resume normal lives," Margareta Wahlstrom, the United Nations chief of disaster reduction, said in a statement.

The flood damage comes on top of worries about the impact on global rice prices of a new scheme by the Thai government to boost the minimum price farmers receive for their crop.

Vietnam meanwhile is the world's number-two rice exporter and the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam accounts for half the country's production.

"The upstream waters have begun to drop slightly but here they are rising three to five centimetres (1.2 to two inches) daily," said Duong Nghia Quoc, director of the agriculture department in Dong Thap province.

Dong Thap and neighbouring An Giang, which abut Cambodia, have been the worst affected in the delta.

The UN, citing government sources, says 11 people have died, more than 20,000 homes are flooded and 99,000 hectares of rice are at risk in Vietnam.

"Agricultural production is seriously affected this year by the floods that were, in fact, worse than our forecasts," said Vuong Huu Tien, of the flood and storm control department in An Giang, where thousands of soldiers have been mobilised to reinforce dykes and help residents reach safer ground.

In Cambodia, more than 330,000 hectares of rice paddy have been inundated, of which more than 100,000 hectares are completely destroyed, said a senior official at the Ministry of Agriculture.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2011

BANGKOK — Thailand's worst monsoon floods in decades have killed 224 people and affected three quarters of the country, including part of the ancient city of Ayutthaya, according to officials.

Two months of flooding have inundated 58 of Thailand's 77 provinces -- with 25 still severely affected -- and damaged the homes or livelihoods of millions of people, according to the government.

"It's the worst flooding yet in terms of the amount of water and people affected," said an official at the Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation who preferred not to be named.

Wat Chaiwatthanaram, one of Ayutthaya's best known temples, has been closed to visitors after a makeshift dyke was breached at the former capital, a popular tourist destination north of Bangkok.

"The water level inside the temple grounds is now 1.50 metres," said Supoj Prommanoch, head of the Fine Arts Office in Ayutthaya, located north of the capital Bangkok.

But he said the authorities were confident they could prevent the floods from reaching Ayutthaya's main World Heritage Park, which is located further away from Chao Phraya River.

The northern city of Chiang Mai, another popular tourist destination, has been badly hit and the authorities are battling to stop the floods reaching central Bangkok.

"The current flood situation is the worst that I have ever seen and it will last until the first week of November," said independent flood expert Royal Chitradon, director of Thai Integrated Water Resource Management.

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Monday, October 03, 2011

England is in the grip of a late September heatwave.

After another poor summer, temperatures have soared to almost 28C (82.4F) and are expected to carry on getting higher over the weekend.

The top temperature seen in England on Wednesday was in Gravesend, Kent, where it reached 27.1C (80.78F).

The Met Office said the hot weather was caused by a high pressure system pushing warm air north across France and towards the UK.

The high pressure is holding rain and wind coming in from the Atlantic away from the west.

Heatwave to continue
Paul Mott, meteorologist for MeteoGroup, the Press Association's weather arm, said the top temperatures would continue over the weekend.

"We are still on for some exceptionally warm weather, temperatures will probably reach 28C (82.4F) over the London area," he said.

"Central and eastern England could reach up to 27C (80.6F), so it is very warm indeed.

"That is a good 10C to 11C (18F to 20F) warmer than what we would expect for this time of year."

Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid to high-20s until next Tuesday.

In Northumberland, a lamb has been born early and a field of about 100 sunflowers have blossomed near Bamburgh castle.

However no records have yet been set, temperatures exceeded 28C (82F) on 21 September 2006 and the all-time high in the month of 30.6C (87F) was achieved in Hampshire in 1895.

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