This week saw more of the impact of extreme weather conditions in Russia and Asia. California was also in the news for its many wildfires, and new geological research that sheds light on a better understanding of the dreaded San Andreas Fault.
Also in news, was BP, but this time it had nothing to do with the oil spill in a Gulf. For more about that, you're going to have to skip to the end.
Natural disasters are often only a stone's throw from politics, and that's very much the case in Pakistan. With more than 20 million displaced in a flood covering a fifth of the nation and some of the hottest temperatures in the world right now, the fear of disease is hardly exaggerated by the UN. Neither is the claim of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon that Pakistan's post-flood nightmare is the worst humanitarian crisis in the history of the UN.
With more money coming in as nations up their contributions, the one positive about this situation is however, a political one. Pakistan has downgraded hostilities with neighboring India to their lowest level since 1948, especially in light of the latter nation's contribution to Pakistan's relief efforts.
China / North Korea
As landslides have accounted for more than 2,500 killed in western China recently, new rain in the northeastern border of the country with North Korea has created new flood problem for both nations. Rain continues to fall in the area of the overflowing Yalu River, but Chinese official agency Xinhua claims that that water levels have fallen below flood levels.
An unnamed official from the Water Resources Department in Liaoning however claimed four dead, but would not elaborate. North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in a rare moment of disclosure, said that rain and river flooding swamped houses, farmland and public building in five villages near the border. KCNA added that both military and civilians were involved in rescue work in the area, as well as the evacuation of 5,150 people in the area.
Rapper Wyclef Jean is appealing a ruling by election officials in Haiti that declared him ineligible to run for president in the country's general election November 28. He and other candidates were declared ineligible as they do not reside in Haiti. Jean has lived in New York since he was nine years old. The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) who effectively are in charge of the nation's security as relief continues since the island nation's January 2010 earthquake, stepped up patrol efforts this weekend, concerned that ruling would park unrest among the nations' youth, but no trouble was reported.
Meteorological predictions of Mother Nature coming to the rescue of Russia's widespread fires was on the money. Torrential rain, hail and windstorms arrived as predicted, and warnings to prepare were not in vain. Storms in the St. Petersburg area recorded winds as high as 67 mph and some 79,000 people were without power due to the storms.
Still, the storms were a welcome reprieve from a summer of drought, wildfires, and temperatures soaring past 100 degrees.
California continues to be hard hit by fires. In addition to two fires earlier this week, firefighters are still working to contain a 3000 acre fire in the Cleveland National Forest near San Diego. Two firefighters were treated for minor injuries, and ten people in total were evacuated by helicopter, but as AP reports, no damage was reported.
"We're making good progress on it now," said Roxanne Provaznik, spokeswoman for the California Dept. of Forestry and Fire Protection. "The smoke has died down. And as it cools down, firefighters plan to work through the night to get full containment and contra."
Another fire is burning in the Angeles National Forest, some 50 miles northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Valyermo. More than 150 firefighters are currently battling the blaze, which has now spread to 100 acres, and has so far forced the evacuation of several ranch homes.
This weekend, many news outlets picked up the "California is due for a big one" story which has been often repeated for years, but geologists from UC Irvine and Arizona State University shed new light on the claim, stating that that every 45 to 144 years, a catastrophic earthquake occurs along the San Andreas fault line. The last major quake, according to the researchers, was in 1857, more than 150 years ago, when a 8.5 magnitude quake crippled the Golden State.
The findings were published Friday in the journal Geology, based on careful examination of hundreds of years worth of charcoal samples in the Carrizo Plain, 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Field data showed that the widely accepted beliefs about quake frequency and intensity were not accurate. Previously accepted belief was that major quakes occurred every 250 to 400 years. While the researchers found the frequency of large earthquakes to happen in a far shorter cycle, they also found that most quakes were smaller than previously thought as well, though still packing a wallop in the range of 6.5 to 7.9 magnitude.
"It's not the kind of news that ought to make people crawl into the fetal position," US Geological Survey geophysicist Ken Hudnut told the LA Times. "Rather, it's the kind of information that ought to once remind people about basic earthquake preparedness," her said.
Saturday, a much smaller 3.6 magnitude quake rattled the Palm Springs area, and was felt in parts of the Inland Empire and Orange County. No damage or injuries were reported.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami have their eyes on a tropical depression in the Atlantic Ocean that is likely to develop into a tropical storm. The depression, on a current course of southern Mexico is the ninth tropical depression in the season so far, and would become Tropical Storm Danielle, should it's windspeed exceed 39 MPH.
Weather experts still claim that 2010 is going to be a very busy season, but since the season started June 1, very little activity has been seen in the Gulf and Atlantic other than Hurricane Alex, which hit Northern Mexico, flooding communities there and in South Texas.
Tennessee saw what was called a thousand year flood earlier in May, and suddenly, the whole Southeast was deluged with more rain and flooding when the remnants of a tropical depression hit the Southeast. As the Cumberland River and her tributaries began to flood in Central Tennessee, many in Nashville, still traumatized from thought they were going to see a repeat performance.
Then, almost as quickly, the rain let up and while some minor damage was reported. Still authorities were wary from their lack of flood preparedness in May, which resulted in 22 dead and $2 billion in damage, and elected to put emergency services on ready and fill Nashville with sandbags.
"We feel as a city it's important to err on the side of caution," said Nashville Mayor Karl Dean in a Thursday press conference. "Flooding situations can change quickly."
BP, this time…Benzene?
Texas was the only state in the Gulf of Mexico to avoid the recent oil spill caused by the destruction of BP's oil platform, the Deepwater Horizon. As it turns out, from a period of April 6 to May 16, the company burned half a million pounds of toxic chemicals in it's Texas City refinery, including 17,000 pounds of cancer-causing benzene.
BP claims that Texas law only required that it report the unauthorized release of the chemicals only twice, once it began, and two weeks after it ended. Texas City locals, who many are now claiming health problems since the release, had no knowledge of the event until weeks after it was completed, when the local newspaper reported it and lawyers began going door to door to sign up plaintiffs for a class action lawsuit.
City officials claim that while BP told them of the release, they had no idea how dangerous the chemicals were. Federal regulators, notably the EPA are investigating the incident. The EPA claims that they were never told anything about the unauthorized release.
When asked why BP didn't inform the EPA, Michael Marr told the Houston Chronicle that no one notified federal regulators because it "didn't think the event required reporting."
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality refused to comment to the Chronicle, stating only that it has filed a lawsuit against the company, citing a poor operational and maintenance history that led to what it called an "excessive emissions event."