Monthly Archives: August 2010

Volcano Erupts after 400 Dormant Years

An Indonesian volcano has erupted, causing panic in villages and delays to flights to the immediate area. Mount Sinabung, in the north of Sumatra island, started emitting lava and ash early on Sunday, followed by another eruption on Monday, sending plumes of ash two kilometres into the air. So far about 21,000 people have been evacuated from the area and are living in temporary accommodation. The volcano had previously been dormant for 400 years. It has long since been considered inactive. The volcano erupted just after 12:15 a.m. Sunday (1:15 p.m. ET Saturday), the official Antara news agency reported. After the eruption, glowing volcanic materials spewed out of the mountain and could be seen as far as 10 km away, the official Antara news agency reported. On Saturday, the Center for Volcanology and Geological Disaster Mitigation issued a warning and ordered evacuation of a six km radius around the volcano.

As many as 30,000 people who live near the mountain have fled their homes, freelance journalist  Michel Maas reported. Maas said villagers living along the slopes have packed their belongings and headed to emergency shelters, mosques and churches. “Nobody is sure how long this is going to last,” Maas told CBC News in an interview from Indonesia. He said local residents are trying to move livestock to safety because they are not sure how long they will have to stay in emergency shelters.

Health officials have been distributing thousands of face masks to help people protect themselves from the ash and smoke billowing into the air. Food, emergency tents, and medicine were on the way to the scene, said Andi Arief, a presidential adviser on disasters. The government has also set up public kitchens for refugees and handed out more than 17,000 respiratory masks. “It has now stopped,” said Johnson Tarigan, a spokesman for Karo district. “We have enough food and water here, but we need more gas masks.” (CNN)

Some small domestic flights have been deferred because of the volcanic ash, but larger planes have not been affected, since they can simply fly over the ashes, said Bambang Ervan of Indonesia’s Ministry of Transportation. Officials are concerned that if the eruption continues, the smoke – up to 2,000 metres high – could disrupt aviation. But the nearby Polonia International Airport was still operating normally Monday.

While two people have died – a 64-year-old woman from respiratory problems and a 52-year-old man from a heart attack – it was too early to say if the volcano was to blame, said Priyadi Kardono of the National Disaster Management Agency.

Sinabung last erupted in 1600, so observers don’t know its eruption pattern and admitted over the weekend that they had not been monitoring it closely before it started rumbling days ago in the lead-up to Sunday’s first, less-powerful blast. “We really have no idea what to expect,” Surono, a government volcanologist who uses only one name, said after the mountain’s alert was raised to the highest level. “We don’t know what set it off, how long it will continue or whether we should expect… more powerful eruptions.” (CBC)

Indonesia is spread across 17,500 islands and is prone to volcanic eruptions and earthquakes because of its location with the so-called “Ring of Fire” – a series of fault lines stretching from the Western Hemisphere through Japan and Southeast Asia.

Indonesia is also home to some of the largest eruptions in recorded history. The 1815 explosion of Mount Tambora buried the inhabitants of Sumbawa Island under searing ash, gas and rock, killing an estimated 88,000 people. The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa could be heard 3,200 kilometres away and blackened skies region-wide for months. At least 36,000 people were killed in the blast and the tsunami that followed.

Like other volcanoes along the Sumatra fault line – the meeting point of the Eurasian and Pacific tectonic plates that have been pushing against each other for millions of years – it has the potential to be very destructive.


3 Weeks Later, Pakistan Still Struggling to Receive Aid

In an area already devastated by war and rebellion, survivors now must wait for helicopters and ships to send aid after the worst floods in several years. Unusual heavy monsoons battered down Pakistan in late July and affected over 17 million people, roughly one-tenth of the population. Approximately 1,600 people have died, and only one million of the estimated six million people in need have received emergency shelter.

More rain was threatened in the area on Wednesday, and thunderstorms were predicted along with heavy rain into Friday. “These unprecedented floods pose unprecedented logistical challenges,” John Holmes, Coordinator of the United Nations Emergency Relief said in a prepared statement, “this requires an extraordinary effort by the international community.” (New York Times)

800,000 people are estimated to be trapped by flood water. Roads and access to many areas in Pakistan have been blocked, and the only way that aid can be delivered is via helicopter. At least 40 more helicopters are needed, though, if aid groups are going to put a dent in the enormous relief effort. “In northern areas that are cut off, markets are short of vital supplies, and prices are rising sharply,” said Marcus Prior of the World Food Program. “People are in need of food staples to survive. There is currently no other way to reach these flood victims, other than by helicopter.” (New York Times) Flooding has isolated people in Punjab and Sindh provinces, as well as in the Swat Valley.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani has been under intense criticism since the flooding occurred. Victims have accused him of being indignant and unresponsive. Gilani promised Wednesday, however, to send more relief soon. The Pakistani government asked the International Monetary Fund during talks in Washington this week to ease restrictions on an $11 billion loan program approved in 2008. Pakistan can ask the Fund to adjust the program to factor in the flood’s impact on the economy or opt out of it and take on emergency IMF funding for countries hit by natural disasters. The United States are sending $50 million from a development package for relief within the next few days.

Anger in Pakistan is rising, and officials in both countries are worried about militants exploiting the disaster and taking charge of the country once again. Residents are equally worried about the Taliban being given ground because of the crisis, thus returning in brutality and feeding on the vulnerable communities.

Several aid charities have been developed in response to the crisis in Pakistan. The discouraging truth, however, is that some of these charities are scams, taking advantage of the situation for their own gain. Consumers should be wary of charities that require a direct appeal through email, phone calls or text messages. If you are approached in person, make sure to check the representative’s identification.

Former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens Killed in Alaska Plane Crash

America’s longest-serving Republican senator was killed on Tuesday night after a plane crash on the way to a fishing trip in Dillingham, Alaska. Ted Stevens, 86, who represented Alaska for 41 years until 2008, had planned the fishing trip with his buddy Sean O’Keefe, 54, the former head of Nasa and the chief executive officer of the defence contractor EADS North America. O’Keefe’s condition is still unclear, though a source told Reuters on Tuesday that O’Keefe had survived. O’Keefe’s son was also on board the plane at the time.

The aircraft came down late on Monday at 8:00 p.m. in south-west Alaska, 300 miles from Anchorage, near the town of Aleknagik. The cause of the crash was unclear, though flights at Dillingham are often perilous through the mountains, even in good weather. The plane, a DeHavilland DHC-3T,  was owned by communications company GCI. Alaskan officials reported that nine people were aboard the plane and “it appears that there were five fatalities,” National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz told AP in Washington.

Rescuers arrived via helicopter and gave medical care to the four survivors, said Major Guy Hayes, a spokesman for Alaska’s National Guard. Hayes said the Guard was called to the area about 20 miles north of Dillingham around 7 p.m. Monday after a passing aircraft saw the downed plane. But severe weather has hampered search and rescue efforts. The National Weather Service reported rain and fog, with low clouds and limited visibility early Tuesday. Conditions ranged from visibility of about 10 miles reported at Dillingham shortly before 7 p.m. Monday to 3 miles, with rain and fog later. At least three crash victims were being airlifted to Anchorage, Guard spokeswoman Kalei Brooks Rupp said. She said volunteers hiked into the crash site Monday night and provided medical aid until rescuers arrived.

The National Transportation Safety Board has launched a Go Team to investigate last night’s airplane crash near Dillingham, Alaska. Senior air safety investigator Clint Johnson, from the NTSB’s Anchorage regional office, will serve as Investigator-in-Charge. He will be assisted by investigators from the Alaska office and from NTSB headquarters in Washington D.C. NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman is accompanying the team and will serve as spokesperson for the on-scene investigation.

Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Mike Fergus said the plane took off at 2 p.m. Monday from a GCI corporate site on Lake Nerka, heading to the Agulowak Lodge on Lake Aleknagik. He did not know if that was the final destination or a refueling stop. The GCI lodge is made of logs and sits on a lake, and photos show a stately main lodge room with a large imposing stone fireplace, a leather sofa and a mounted caribou head on the wall. Fergus said the plane was flying by visual flight rules, and was not required to file a flight plan.

Senator Stevens was also one of two survivors of a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others. Before the crash, Stevens is reported to have spoken of a premonition that he would die in a plane crash.

A Second World War veteran, he was appointed to the Senate in 1968 and served longer than any other Republican in history. He lost his re-election bid in 2008 by a tiny margin after he was convicted on corruption charges related to gifts from an oil services company. The case was later thrown out because of prosecutorial misconduct.

While often gruff and short-tempered with staff, reporters and even other senators, the man known to Alaskans as “Uncle Ted” rose to become one of Washington’s most powerful Republicans. “I don’t lose my temper,” he told the Anchorage Daily News in 1994. “I always know where it is.” When Critics called for his resignation after a Los Angels Times Story detailed how Stevens became a millionaire investigating in companies he helped secure government contracts, he said: “If they think I am going to resign because of a story in a newspaper, they’re crazy.” (Associated Press)

Among his duties, the moderate Republican headed the key Senate Appropriations Committee, which doled out billions of federal dollars each year to states and communities. He became known for the proposed “Bridge to Nowhere,” which became a symbol of out-of control “pork barrel” spending. The now-abandoned project would have linked the small town of Ketchikan to its island airport at a cost of $398 million. (Vancouver Sun) Transport by small plane, including seaplanes, is common in Alaska and the crash is the third in less than two weeks in the state.

The White House said Obama administration officials were closely watching the news out of Alaska. The former Alaska governor and fellow republican Sarah Palin described Stevens, who won several medals as a pilot in the far east during the second world war, in glowing terms. “He is a warrior, an Alaskan hero, a world war two vet who dedicated his life to his country. He is one of our heroes up here,” she said. (The Guardian)

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, asked Alaskans to join her in prayer for all those aboard the aircraft and their families, as did Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. He called the plane crash tragic. Begich’s father, Nick Begich, who was Alaska’s only congressman in 1972, was killed when his plane disappeared over the Gulf of Alaska with then-House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana. In his farewell speech to the Senate he said: “I look only forward and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.” (Associated Press)

Ted Stevens remarried two years after the crash that killed his first wife. He and his second wife, Catherine, have a daughter named Lily.