Monthly Archives: January 2011

Thousands Protest In Rare Cairo Mass Outpouring

Thousands of protesters spilled into the streets of Cairo on Tuesday, an unprecedented display of anti-government rage inspired in part by the tumult in the nearby North African nation of Tunisia. Throngs in the sprawling city marched from the huge Tahrir Square in Cairo toward the parliament building, according to CNN reporters on the scene. Demonstrators threw rocks at police and police hurled rocks back. Tear-gas canisters were shot at demonstrators and the protesters threw them back.

To highlight the role of police corruption, the protest organizers in Egypt picked January 25 – Police Day and a national holiday – to hold protests. The protests started off small, but they grew as people came to the center of the city from bridges over the Nile River. Police were restrained and at times were seemingly outnumbered by the protesters, who sang the national anthem and inched forward to express their ire toward the government. Witnesses said large groups of plain-clothes police were heading to Tahrir Square.

Protesters had been expressing their anger over the rising cost of living, failed economic policies and corruption, but all of those concerns were distilled into one overriding demand – the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, in power for three decades.

The outpouring included young and old, Christians and Muslims, students, workers, and business people.

“We breathe corruption in the air,” said one demonstrator, who along with others said their children have no future. (CNN)

At its peak, there were perhaps 15,000 to 20,000 people in Tahrir Square, but that crowd later dwindled to about 5,000 to 8,000. The main road front of the parliament, Qasr Al-Aini, was closed to traffic. The square is two blocks from parliament.

Social media has been all-important in mobilizing and organizing protests. But bloggers and others in Egypt reported problems with electronic communication later in the day. Twitter is down or operating slowly, activists can’t access their cell phones or text messages, and opposition websites can’t be accessed.

By early Tuesday morning, more than 90,000 people throughout the country had pledged to participate in the Facebook event “We Are All Khaled Said,” named after an Alexandria  activist who was allegedly beaten to death by police. The Facebook group demands raising the minimum wage, sacking the interior minister, creating two-term presidential term limits and scrapping existing emergency laws that the group says “resulted in police control” over the people and the nation. (CNN)

Amnesty International released a statement Monday “urging the Egyptian authorities not to crack down” on the planned nationwide demonstration. (CNN) The banned Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest organized opposition to Mubarak’s regime, had stated it would not have an official presence at Tuesday’s protests, but some of its members “have reportedly been summoned and threatened with arrest and detention” if they attend and protests, Amnesty International said. (CNN)

There were other demonstrations in Cairo suburbs of Heliopolis, Shubra Al-Khaima, Muhandasin, and Dar Al-Salam. The Front to Defend Egypt Protesters, an alliance of lawyers who helped organize the events, said about 200 demonstrators were in the southern city of Aswan, 2,000 in the eastern city of Ismailiya, and about 3,000 in the northern city of Mahallah. Protest organizers said they hope to capture the regional momentum for political change set by Tunisians, who 10 days ago forced the collapse of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali’s 23-year rule. The grievances were foreshadowed after several Egyptians set themselves or attempted to set themselves on fire earlier this month, mirroring the self-immolation of a Tunisian man whose action spurred the uprising there. The Tunisian uprising was the most successful revolt in the region since 1979, but it’s anybody’s guess whether uprisings will spread to other Arabic-speaking lands.

One man, however, said Egypt is not Tunisia, it’s Romania under Nicolae Ceausescu, a reference to the late and much-reviled communist leader.

Protests also broke out in the eastern city of Ismailiya and the northern port city of Alexandria. In Alexandria, witnesses said thousands joined the protests, some chanting: “Revolution, revolution, like a volcano, against Mubarak the coward.” (BBC)

Some chants referred to Mr. Mubarak’s son Gamal, who some analysts believe is being groomed as his father’s successor. “Gamal, tell your father Egyptians hate you,” they shouted. (BBC) The organizers rallied support saying the protest would focus on torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment, calling it “the beginning of the end.”

“It’s the end of silence, acquiescence and submission to what is happening in our country,” they said in comments carried by Reuters news agency. “It will be the start of a new page in Egypt’s history – one of activism and demanding our rights.” (BBC)

The Egyptian government did not issue permits for Tuesday’s planned protests. In an interview released Tuesday with state-run al-Ahram newspaper, Interior Minister Habib Adly warned that “the security agencies are able to stop any attempt to attend” the demonstrations and called the efforts of the “youth staging street protests ineffective.” (CNN)

It was not clear whether opposition leader and Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei would attend the planned demonstrations. However, he posted statements supporting the effort on his Twitter account.

He also issued a video statement released Monday on YouTube addressing policemen. “I sympathize with you because sometimes you are asked to do things that you do not want to do,” ElBaradei said. “One day, I hope that you will regain your role as the protectors of the people; rather than protectors of … fraud elections. I am sure that every one of you deep inside is looking forward to the day that his role will again be with the people and a part of them, rather than against them.” (CNN)

George Ishaq, another Egyptian opposition leader, said security forces had been “confounded.” He added: “In the end, we will get our rights because this is just the beginning… This will not end. Our anger will continue over the coming days. We will put forth our conditions and requests until the system responds and leaves.” (BBC)

Public sentiment against state security has grown recently with alleged videos of police brutality shown on the internet. A recent report from Human Rights Watch said the problem is “epidemic” and “in most cases, officials torture detainees to obtain information and coerce confessions, occasionally leading to death in custody.” (CNN)

Some other human rights groups, such as the Arabic Network for Human Rights, have drawn a comparison between Egypt and Tunisia under Ben Ali, in terms of the level of government corruption and police brutality. Adly, the Egyptian interior minister, dismissed any such comparisons, calling it “propaganda” that had been dismissed by politicians as “intellectual immaturity.” (CNN)

But one woman, identified only as Nashla, who planned to attend the Tuesday’s protests, disagrees. She wrote in an online post, “I hope that the [Tunisia-style] revolution will be taught in history. And that Egyptians will learn in school later about the January 25th revolution.” (CNN)

Jim Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan, says Tunisia is different from other Arab nations. Tunisia, he said, is the “most secular country in the Arab world.” (CNN) Its traditions have favored women’s rights, and its Islamist influence is negligible.

The United States and other governments are monitoring the demonstrations in Cairo and elsewhere closely. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton urged all people to “exercise restraint” and supported “the fundamental right of expression and assembly for all people… But our assessment is that the Egyptian government is stable and is looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people,” she said. (CNN)

This article is a combination of information from BBC, CNN, and Reuters.

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Death Toll from Brazil Flooding Continues to Rise

The death from devastating flooding continues to rise Sunday, surpassing 600, the government said. At least 655 deaths were reported in a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state, northeast of the city of Rio. Other states in the South American country have also seen heavy rainfall. Last week, authorities in neighbouring Sao Paulo state said 24 people had been killed by flooding. Forecasters there said late Sunday that an approaching cold front could bring more flooding and landslides.

Most of the deaths in Rio de Janeiro state were reported in the cities of Nova Friburgo and Teresopolis, with 302 and 276 fatalities, respectively. The state’s health and civil defence department reported 58 fatalities in the town of Petropolis and 19 in Sumidouro. Officials in that office also warned residence of the risk of waterborne diseases. Several thousand vaccines against tetanus and diphtheria have been disturbed, they said. In Petropolis, authorities are urging residence and rescue workers to get vaccinated against tetanus and the waterborne disease leptospirosis, reported Globo news group.

Rescuers have not been able to reach some hard-hit areas, and many more people are feared dead. The rain is predicted to continue for several days in areas already submerged in water or slathered with mud. Members of the army entered parts of Teresopolis and were able to rescue 110 families. But at least 10 main highways remain blocked in the rugged area north of Rio where the slides hit, hampering efforts to move the heavy machinery needed to begin massive cleanup efforts and eventually dig out bodies stuck under tonnes of mud and debris. The troops plan to set up mobile bridges that can span 60 metres and are robust enough to support the hundreds of pieces of big equipment needed in cleanup and recovery efforts.

Pilots said flying was still treacherous in the area full of jagged mountain peaks, wehre there are few safe landing zones and power lines are draped between peaks through seemingly clear space. “These are the most challenging conditions I’ve flown in,” said Adalberto Ortale, a helicopter pilot for Ibama, the enforcement branch of the Environment Ministry. “The majority of people doing the flying are not from here and you have to orient yourself on the fly.” (CBC)

Thousands of families are still living on mountain slopes or on riverbanks and face extreme risk of being washed away. One resident described the disaster as a tsunami that fell from the sky.

In a statement, Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral said he had a panic attack while he was traveling to Nova Friburgo and saw a devastated mountainside.

Outside a makeshift morgue in Teresopolis, a crowd of people waited for their turn to identify loved ones.

Marco Antonio Siqueira Costa said the last time he saw his brother, sister-in-law and niece was a few days ago, before mud buried their house. “I think that last meeting was God’s way of granting us a farewell,” he said. (CNN)

Residents in the city donned masks and helped clean streets or deliver first aid. Others combed the city searching desperately for missing loved ones.

Eunice Peixoto de Souza, 57, said she was thankful for the shelter and the hot lunches served at the Teresopolis gymnasium, where she has been staying for five days with three of her children and three grandchildren. But she has nowhere else to go, and the prospect of spending another week, or weeks, on the thin foam mattresses laid on the floor is hard to bear. “We lost everything, and we can’t pay rent,” she said. “I want a place that will let my family stay together, but I haven’t heard any word from the government yet.” One of her sons is still living in his home in a high-risk area. Peixoto de Souza wants him to leave, but he won’t bring his children to the cramped gym. “What can I tell him? Take them to live under a bridge?” she asked, upset. “We’re waiting for word from the government. I am certain that God will provide.” (CBC)

Red Cross volunteer Maria Helena de Jesus was helping with first aid. “You have to almost have a heart of stone,” she said. “It was very difficult.” (CNN)

In Teresopolis, mayors from three hard-hit cities planned to begin co-ordinating reconstruction efforts, which have been estimated at $1.2 billion. At least 5,000 new homes must be built for those who lost everything. Roads, bridges and commercial buildings need to be repaired or razed and replaced.

Teresopolis Mayor Jorge Mario Sedlacek declared his city a natural disaster area. Mayor Sedlacek said more than 2,000 tents were being brought in, each capable of sheltering up to 10 people. Teresopolis has more than 3,000 people who were made homeless by the slides.

President Dilma Rousseff flew over flood-affected areas last week and landed in Friburgo, the agency said. The floods are her first test as president. She trudged through mud to talk to residents in a neighbourhood where for of seven firefighters trying to rescue people had been buried under mud. The other three were pulled out alive. “We are going to take firm action” to help the devastated areas,” Rousseff said. (CNN)

Brazilian authorities have been criticized for a lack of disaster planning, and for allowing people to build homes in areas known to become treacherous in the rainy season. They are under increasing pressure to show a strong response. Brazil is scheduled to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.

Experts have gone to the area to assess which parts remain at risk of further landslides so that inhabitants can be evacuated. Among them is Professor Nelson Fernandes, a geologist at the Geoscience Institute at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He said both natural and human factors were behind the terrible destruction wrought when a month’s worth of rain fell in just eight hours. The mountainous area has a lot of rockey ground, impervious to water, which creates “avalanches of water” in the valleys, he told BBC. But rapid population growth in the area was also responsible, he said – with people building houses on steeply sloping areas and right next to rivers. He said it was a problem in many parts of the country, particularly at the base of the coastal Serra do Mar mountain range which runs along the coast of much of the country. “The risk is increasing each year because populations are getting bigger,” he said. “Today, almost every landslide will hit something.” (BBC)

The information in this article is a combination of works from CNN, BBC, and CBC.


Tunisian Prime Minister Takes Charge as President Departs Amidst Riots

Tunisia’s prime minister announced Friday that he is the interim president of his country’s embattled government, the latest development in a fast-moving story of unrest and public outrage in a tiny but significant corner of the Arab world.

Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi announced on Tunisian state TV that he has taken over the responsibilities of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali – who ruled the nation since 1987. “Based on constitution law No. 56, if the president of the public cannot fulfill his duties, there will be an interim decision to move his executive powers to the prime minister,” he said. “Considering the fact that at the current time he (Ben Ali) cannot fulfill his duties, I take over today, the powers of the president of the republic.” (CNN) He pledged to respect the constitution and carry out the political, economic and social reforms announced this week by Ben Ali, who fled the country Friday.

In his speech to the country, Prime Minister Ghannouchi said that he called on “all sons and daughters of Tunisia to show the spirit of patriotism and unity in order to enable our country, which is dear to all of us, to overcome this difficult phase and restore its security and stability.” (New York Times)

The development came as a spokesman for Malta’s Foreign Affairs Ministry told CNN that Malta has allowed a plane carrying Ben Ali and headed toward France to use Malta’s airspace. But the French Foreign Ministry said Friday that it had received no request for Ben Ali to travel to France. Should such a request be made, France would issue a response in agreement with Tunisian constitutional authorities, the ministry said. Ben Ali’s immediate whereabouts were unclear after Ghannouchi said he was taking control of the government.

Ben Ali’s departure follows widespread outrage over poor living conditions and repression of rights in recent weeks. Protesters who held daily demonstrations denounced corruption in the Ben Ali government and had urged that he step down.

Earlier Friday, he dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency, state TV reported. He also called for parliamentary elections to be held within six months. The moves came days after he dumped the interior minister and fired a couple of aides.

Ben Ali was reacting to instability ripping through the North African country. He announced concessions in a nationally televised address Thursday to meet some grievances.

Officials said the emergency was ordered to protect Tunisians and their private property. People are not allowed on the street from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m. As part of the emergency, groups of three or more people are subject to arrest and, if they try to flee, can be fired on.

The airport in Tunis was under lockdown Friday night, with the facility closed and ringed by soldiers. Reporters driving from the airport into the city were stopped several times by military manning checkpoints. A few gunshots could be heard at the airport, but otherwise the streets were quiet.

Earlier Friday in the capital, police, wielding batons and firing tear gas, dispersed demonstrations, a show of force that aggravated what had been a peaceful gathering. Security forces were seen beating protesters, who attempted to flee. Fires were seen in the center of Tunis and downtown. The incident underscored concerns among Tunisians and in the international community that security forces have been overreacting to peaceful gatherings of protests.

Tunisia under Ben Ali has been a pro-Western state supportive of U.S. policy in the Middle East and in its efforts against terrorism. The White House said Tunisians should have the right to choose their own leader. It was monitoring the developments in Tunisia and called on authorities there to respect human rights. “We condemn the ongoing violence against civilians in Tunisia, and call on the Tunisian authorities to fulfill the important commitments… including respect for basic human rights and a process of much-needed political reform,” White House spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement. (Reuters)

It has been a relatively stable and more prosperous country in what diplomats call “a rough neighbourhood.” (CNN) The education level in Tunisia is relatively high for the Arab world, and the country is closely linked to France and French culture.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he stood side-by-side with the citizens of Tunisia, his country’s former protectorate. “Only dialogue can bring a democratic and lasting solution to the current crisis,” said Mr. Sarkozy in a statement. (BBC)

U.S. State Department officials said Friday the Obama administration was closely monitoring the situation and urging all parties to work together peacefully to resolve the political unrest. “We are calling for calm,” one official said. “Obviously the people have expressed concerns, and it is the responsibility of the government to work toward responding to the concerns of its people. Clearly there are divisions within society that need to be healed… We call on parties to come together for political dialogue.” (CNN)

The United States, France, and Britain have issued travel advisories, warning against nonessential visits, and a tourism company announced the evacuation of 2,000 German vacationers. Tour operator Thomas Cook said it was transporting 3,800 British, Irish and German vacationers from Tunisia as a precaution. Tourism is one of the nation’s key industries. (CBC) “The situation is unpredictable and there is the potential for violence to flare up, raising the risk of getting caught up in demonstrations,” the UK Foreign Office said in its latest travel advisory. (BBC)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the organization is monitoring the situation and has called for restraint, respect for freedom of expression and dialogue to resolve problems peacefully.

Earlier, thousands congregated in front of the Interior Ministry and chanted slogans such as “Get out!” and “Freedom for Tunisia!” Haykal Maki, a pro-opposition lawyer who was in the throng, said protesters were seeking “regime change,” the resignation of Ben Ali and lawsuits addressing the regime’s corruption. (CNN)

Recent diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia obtained by WikiLeaks reveal growing disquiet with the government – and especially nepotism within the government. WikiLeaks published a 2009 cable recounting a lavish dinner for the U.S. ambassador given by Ben Ali’s son-in-law, Mohammed Sakher El Materi, a prominent businessman. The ambassador wrote in the cable: “After dinner, he served ice cream and frozen yogurt he brought in by plane from Saint Tropez (a high-end French resort), along with blueberries and raspberries and fresh fruit and chocolate cake.” (CNN)

The wave of demonstrations in Tunisia – in which people protested high unemployment, alleged corruption, rising prices and limitations on rights – was sparked by the suicide of an unemployed college graduate, a man who fatally torched himself in December after police confiscated his fruit cart, cutting off his source of income. During the protests Friday morning, people shouted, “Bouazizi you are a hero,” referring to the college graduate. “The people of Tunisia have won.” (New York Times)

Ben Ali on Thursday had vowed to cut prices of basic foodstuffs, to lift censorship and to ensure police do not use live ammunition except in self-defence, and he implied that he would not run again for president. “Enough violence,” Ben Ali said after at least 21 people had died in days of riots. (CNN) In his speech, Ben Ali said that there was “no presidency for life” in Tunisia. But he did not intend to amend the constitution to remove the upper age limit for presidential candidates, which would have allowed him to stand for a further term in 2014. (BBC)

Organized mainly by the country’s lawyers union and other unions, Friday’s demonstration took place under the watchful eyes of a contingent of riot police officers. But their presence did not keep protesters from slamming the government and Ben Ali. “Public trial for the president’s family!” some shouted. “Yes to water and bread, but no to Ben Ali!” (CNN)

Some demonstrators said they hoped that other Arab countries would follow their example despite the many differences between their country and many of those nations, where popular discontent is often expressed in the language of Islam. Zied Mhirsi, a 33-year-old doctor carried a sign that said, “Yes We Can,” a reference to President Barack Obama, above “#sidibouzid,” the name of an online Twitter feed that has provided a forum for rallying protesters. On the other side his sign said, “Thank you Al-Jazeera,” in reference to the Arab news network’s month of extensive coverage. (New York Times)

“Perhaps all the Arab governments are monitoring with eyes wide open what is happening in Tunisia,” columnist Abdelrahman al-Rashed wrote in regional newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. “Much of what prevents protests and civil disobedience is simply the psychological barrier,” he said in an article after Ben Ali had made sweeping concessions before he quit. “But the psychological barrier is broken.” (Reuters)

Opposition leader Najib Chebbi, one of Ben Ali’s most outspoken critics, described the events as a “regime change,” saying, “This is a cruicial moment. There is a change of regime under way. Now it’s the succession,” he told France’s I-Tele TV. “It must lead to profound reforms, to reform the law and let the people choose.” (Reuters)

At least one American has been injured in the violence. Stephen Chmelewski, a 50-year-old English teacher who lives in the Lafayette neighbourhood of downtown Tunis, said he saw police “corralling” residents into certain streets and protesters setting debris fires, so he went out to take pictures of the events. He said he saw police snipers firing down on the crowds from rooftops, and one evidently struck him with a bullet that passed through his left leg and lodged in his right one. “I had protesters behind me and the police in front,” he said, “and then all of a sudden I got hit from behind by a bullet.” He was let out of the Charles Nicole hospital Thursday night, he said, because more wounded were flooding in with gunshot wounds from riots around Tunis. “All the emergency room beds were filled up,” he said. (New York Times)

Some Tunisians were unsatisfied by Ghannouchi taking charge. Fadhel Bel Taher, brother of a man who was killed in the protests, told al-Jazerra television that protests would soon resume. “Tomorrow we will be back in the streets, in Martyrs Square, to continue this civil disobedience until… the regime is gone,” he said. (Reuters)

A U.S. lobbying and communications firm has dropped the government of Tunisia as a client, saying it was troubled by the country’s “approach to important civil rights and civil liberties issues.” (Washington Post) The move by Washington Media Group is somewhat unusual in the world of foreign lobbying and consulting firms, many of which specialize in representing often unsavory regimes and despots. Documents filed with the Justice Department show that Washington Media Group signed a $420,000 annual contract last May to be a consultant for Tunisia, which has paid $315,000 so far. The firm formally severed its ties in a letter dated Jan. 6, according to the records, which are required under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. “It was clear to us the Tunisian government was not going to implement the recommendations and work product we provided,” said Washington Media Group president Gregory L. Vistica, a former journalist for the Washington Post and other news outlets. “We felt on principle that we could not work for a government who was shooting its own citizens and violating their civil rights with such abuse.” (Washington Post)

The information in this article is a combination of articles from CNN, BBC, New York Times, Reuters, and The Washington Post.


A Year Later, Haitians Still Struggling

They filled the grounds in front of the collapsed cathedral in Haiti’s capital. To remember. To cope. To pray. Wednesday marked the first anniversary of the earthquake that changed the face of a nation.

More than 200,000 people perished last January 12 when the earth shook violently for a few seconds. Houses toppled, swallowing residents alive. Government offices and landmark buildings, including the Notre Dame cathedral, came tumbling down.

Five days ago, three more bodies were pulled from the rubble in central Port-au-Prince.

Haitians still come to pray at the cathedral every Sunday. On this day, the crowds overwhelmed the small park in front. People embraced one another and cried openly. There was no reason to hide the sorrow that pervades their lives every day.

On Tuesday, President Rene Preval and other officials joined relatives of victims to lay wreaths at a mass grave on the outskirts of the capital.

Religious leaders also held prayers at the University of Notre Dame. “Let the heart of the people never cease to beat for charity and liberty,” one priest said in his address. (BBC)

In one neighbourhood, a man woke up residents as he walked through the streets at dawn. He carried a Bible and recited prayers. Faith is all that many Haitians have left.

CBC’s Connie Watson reported from Port-au-Prince that while many official ceremonies had been organized to mark the earthquake anniversary, it is in the tent cities that people are reminded every minute of their loss. “What happened January 12, I feel the pain,” said Luckner Daldomble. “I lose my wife with two children. And God give me my life. I lose three house. I don’t worry about that. I worry that my wife and my kids are lost.” (CBC)

At a monument in a city park, Karlenz Almon lit a candle for his wife. After the quake, he said, he spent five hours trapped under rubble. “My neighbours dug me out,” he said. “What I thought was debris weighing on my back was actually the body of my wife. She was dead. It terrified me.” Almon still doesn’t know what happened to his missing sister. (CBC)

Banks, schools and government offices were set to be closed on Wednesday for the day of national mourning.

For the rest of the world, January 12 is a day to mark the horror that unfolded in Haiti.

Haitians in Canada are also mourning the loss of family and friends in the quake. Over the weekend, members of Montreal’s Haitian community packed St. Joseph’s Oratory for an emotional ceremony that brought many to tears. Canadians across the country marked the anniversary Wednesday. In Montreal, which has the largest Haitian community, numerous events were planned. La maison d’Haiti, a cultural hub, threw open its doors and welcomed anybody feeling sorrow over the anniversary, said CBC’s Dan Halton. There were also fundraisers in the city, including one to help provide chicken farms for single mothers in Haiti, and another to support sustainable building projects in the country.

Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s former governor general and now a special UN envoy to Haiti, arrived for a 24-hour visit in the country where she was born. The trip is her first since she took on her UN post. Jean and the former U.S. President Bill Clinton also attended the UN memorial. On Tuesday, Jean voiced her anger at the slow rate of aid delivery, blasting the international community for abandoning its commitments. “As time passes, what began as a natural disaster is becoming a disgraceful reflection on the international community,” Jean said in a public letter co-authored with Irina Bokova, the head of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. (CBC) Since the quake, the Canadian government has committed $550 million to Haiti. Canadians have raised another $220 million, for a total of $770 million to help offer relief. On Tuesday, the federal government announced where a portion of that money will be spent. Beverley Oda, the minister of international co-operation, announced several initiatives in Montreal aimed at helping Haitian recovery efforts. The announcement, totaling $93 million, includes a project to provide free, basic health services to three million people, the rebuilding of Haiti’s midwifery school, new maternity beds and a pediatric ward. (CBC)

“No one is more frustrated than I am that we haven’t done more,” Mr. Clinton said during his visit to Port-au-Prince, in his capacity as UN envoy to Haiti. But he said he was confident that the speed of reconstruction would pick up.

Denis O’Brien, a supporter of Clinton and chairman of the Irish-owned cell phone company Digicel that is Haiti’s biggest foreign investor, told Reuters the former U.S. leader had a solid understanding of what needed to be done for Haiti. But O’Brien said most members of Haiti’s ruling elite families have done little to help. “They’re making massive profits on the importation of goods, products, services, everything… Profiteering at a major scale is going on here,” O’Brien added. (Reuters)

Several major aid agencies have questioned the effectiveness of the overall response to the earthquake. Medical charity MSF has pointed to a lack of coordination, Oxfam said donor countries had too often pursued their own aid priorities, while Merlin said the large number of NGOs has undermined Haiti’s own health service. International donors last March pledged $2.01 billion for the country’s long-term recovery but by the end of December, the amount distributed totaled $1.28 billion – or 63.6%.

In spite of the money that has been sent, Haitians must cope with their memories every day.

Jane-Eileen Fourcand says she is avoiding watching television on Wednesday. She does not need reminders. Instead, she will quietly remember the death of her mother, killed instantly in the quake, and her father, who was rescued after being buried for 16 hours but died a month later. Fourcand planned to visit her parents’ tomb with flowers in hand and prayers in her heart. And then, she planned to tell a few jokes. “Why? Because my mother always said, ‘When I die, I want you to be happy about it. Don’t cry all over,’” she said. “I know we have to cry to get rid of the pain. But we’re going to make it a little better with these jokes we used to do.” (CNN)

At 4:53 p.m., the time the earthquake hit, Haiti will fall silent to officially pay homage to the dead – and to the millions of lives that were forever changed in just a few seconds.

In some Port-au-Prince neighbourhoods, mountains of rubble still stand as they did 12 months ago. The hundreds of tent cities that shelter the displaced were supposed to be temporary. Those sites make it hard to imagine that a year has passed. Many tent city residents have sadly resigned themselves to permanence in those places of squalor. Several hundred members of organizing committees for 17 makeshift camps marched on the streets Wednesday, determined to cast a spotlight on their plight. They carried a sign saying in Creole: “If I don’t stand up, I’m condemned to live in a tent for the rest of my life.” (CNN)

The anniversary of the catastrophe, as the Haitians call it, comes as the Caribbean nation grapples with new crises: a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 3,700 Haitians and a political impasse sparked by allegations of fraud in a presidential election.

International monitors from the Organization of American States decided to wait until the anniversary passed to hand President Rene Preval the results of its election review, which suggests that Preval’s handpicked successor be eliminated from contention. Preval has grown increasingly unpopular as many Haitians preceive the government response to Haiti’s troubles has been inadequate. There is a growing tide, too, of criticism of the thousands of aid agencies that operate in the country.

Earthquake survivors like Michel Clervil wonder why, a year on, nothing has changed in Haiti, why he hasn’t seen any of the money the world sent. He lost his house and was forced to find shelter in a camp, where his wife, Elaine, died of disease. Many people are still suffering, he says, “And we don’t know why.” (CNN)

“If the reconstruction were serious, the mass would be happening inside the rebuilt church,” Carla Fleuriven, a 19-year-old mother of three dressed in a white skirt and blouse, told Reuters outside the Notre Dame cathedral. “We wake up every morning in the dust… We need people who can understand the country, who can change the country.” (Reuters)

“I hear about aid on TV but us in Champs Mars, we’ve never seen it. We have no way to get out,” said 55-year-old Ginelle Pierre Louis. (Reuters)

“The diplomats pass through in the air, in helicopters, but they never come through here on the ground,” said Hyacinthe Minthia, 56, a resident of Champs Mars, which overlooks the heavily damaged presidential palace. (Reuters) Mintha’s daughter, Hyacinthe Benita, 39, lives in a metal and wood shack with a frayed tarp roof and a thin pallet as the only bed for herself and her four children. “We are still here in misery,” she said. “I hope this year brings serious change because 2010 was hell for us.” (Reuters)

Jimmy Jean-Louis, a Haitian-born actor who now lives in Los Angeles but was visiting his homeland, said not much had changed since the disaster. “Everything went down on January 12th,” he added. “It might stay down for years to come.” (Reuters)

The information in this combined article has been gathered from sources including the BBC, CNN, CBC, and Reuters.


BP Gulf Oil Spill Panel Calls for Reforms

A White House panel that investigated last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico called Tuesday for the oil industry, Congress and the Obama administration to do more to reduce the chances of another large-scale disaster.

The independent panel, assembled by U.S. President Barack Obama, issued its final report recommending increased budgets and training for the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling and raising the liability cap for damages when companies drill offshore. It also proposed dedicating 80 per cent of fines and penalties from the BP spill to restoration of the Gulf and lending more weight to scientific opinions by other federal scientists in decisions about drilling.

The blowout and rig explosion last April that killed 11 workers and released more than 730 million litres of oil from the damaged well have prompted changes in the oil industry and at the agency in charge of offshore drilling.

“It is our government’s responsibility that exploration and extraction occur in ways that are beneficial to the country,” panel co-chair and former Florida Senator Bob Graham said. “Drilling offshore is a privilege to be earned, not a right to be exercised by private corporations.” Graham said “the probability of another failure will be dramatically greater” if the recommendations are not carried out. (CBC) Graham said the investigation showed the disaster was “preventable and foreseeable,” and described a shared “failure that was years in the making… Federal government oversight utterly failed to provide an acceptable level of protection for those on the rig and for the Americans who call the Gulf their home,” Mr. Graham said in a statement. “Our regulators were over-matched.” (BBC)

The panel said Congress should draft legislation to create within the Interior Department an independent safety agency and a separate environmental office to evaluate the risks of oil drilling to natural resources. U.S. regulations should for offshore drilling should be at least as stringent as those in other oil-producing countries and require oil companies to adopt safety procedures common elsewhere but lacking in the Gulf, it said.

Kendra Barkoff, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said in a statement Monday that the department already has “undertaken an aggressive overhaul” to increase safety and ensure responsible oil and gas development. We have made significant progress over the last eight months, but these reforms must continue,” Barkoff said. (CBC)

The report spreads blame for the disaster widely, criticizing BP, which owned the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned the rig; and Halliburton, which managed the well-sealing operation. It said the companies had cut corners to save time and money – decisions that contributed to the disaster.

“Our exhaustive investigation finds that none of the major aspects of offshore drilling safety – not the regulatory oversight, not the industry safety standards, not the spill response practices – kept pace with the push into deep water,” said panel co-chairman William Reilly. (BBC)

The BBC’s Paul Adams, in Washington, says William Reilly was at pains to emphasize that last year’s spill was not a freakish, one-off event, but  rather part of a much wider problem. The commission’s recommendations include plenty of talk about tougher regulation. In Congress, where Republicans who traditionally mistrust federal regulation now control the House of Representatives, it’ll be interesting to see how lawmakers decide to act, Adams added. Last week, the commission released an advance chapter of its report which said the firms involved had made decisions to cut costs and save time that contributed to the spill. It said the decisions, even if inadvertent, had significantly increased the risk the Macondo well would blow out. “BP did not have adequate controls in place to ensure the key decisions in the months leading up to the blow-out were safe or sound from an engineering perspective,” the report found. (BBC)

“As drilling pushes into ever deeper and riskier waters where more of America’s oil lies, only systemic reforms of both government and industry will prevent a similar, future disaster,” said William Reilly. “The industry needs to pick up its own game,” said Reilly, who said the industry was already considering the commission’s charge that it form a self-policing “safety institute.” (CNN)

Halliburton spokeswoman Cathy Mann criticized the report’s conclusions, saying the commission “selectively omitted information provided to it by Halliburton in response to its numerous inquiries.” Mann specifically noted what she described as a mischaracterization of the February and April foam stability tests related to the cement pumped at the deepwater well, according to a company statement Tuesday.” (CNN)

Transocean spokesperson Samantha Cohen blamed BP for the incident, lauding the Transocean crew who “took appropriate actions to gain control of the well.” She added that “it would be premature to draw final conclusions at this juncture,” according to a written statement. (CNN)

In contrast, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said his organization commends “the oil spill commission for its thorough and thoughtful examination of the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history… This report is very timely, following a severe Alaskan pipeline leak this past week that reinforced the need for us to take a hard look at safety standards and our nation’s addiction to oil,” he said in a written statement.

BP said Tuesday it cooperated fully with the commission. “Given the emerging consensus that the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of multiple causes involving multiple parties, we support the commission’s efforts to strengthen industrywide safety practices,” BP spokeswoman Ellen Moskowitz said. “We are committed to working with government officials and other operators and contractors to identify and implement operational and regulatory changes that will enhance safety practices throughout the oil and gas industry.” (CNN)

The information gathered in this article has been collected from sources including CNN, BBC, and CBC.


Arizona Holds Mass for Shooting Victims as Suspect Appears in Court

Representative Gabrielle Giffords had been holding an open-invitation meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in Tucson on Saturday when a man holding a gun approached and opened fire. Ms. Giffords, 40, was shot from close range by the gunman, who then began shooting into the crowd. Six other people were killed in the attack, and 13 others were injured. Christina Taylor Green, a young girl killed in the shooting, was born on 9/11 and featured in a book – Faces of Hope, Babies Born on 9/11 – about some of the children born on that day. The dead also included a federal judge and a congressional aide. A total of 19 people were shot outside the supermarket in Tucson.

Doctors treating Ms. Giffords say she remains in critical but stable condition. “At this phase in the game, no change is good,” said Dr. Michael LeMole, who is Gifford’s primary physician. “And we have no change.” (CBC) In a briefing at University Medical Center in Tucson, LeMole said Giffords is on a ventilator and responding to simple commands. No more swelling in her brain has been observed, and she remains in a medically induced coma. LeMole added that she is not “out of the woods yet… That swelling can take three days to five days to maximize,” he said. “Every day that goes by and we don’t see an increase we are slightly more optimistic.” (CBC)

Daniel Hernandez, an intern for Giffords, was standing about 15 metres away from the congresswoman, directing the public toward her, when the shooting began. He rushed to Gifford’s aid after she was hit. “The first thing I did was actually pick her up and kind of cradle her up against my body, up against my chest, to make sure she was sitting upright so she could breathe,” he told CBC News. “Once I had her breathing OK, I then started applying pressure to her wound to try and stem the blood loss as much as possible.” Hernandez said he then tried to keep Giffords calm, telling her he would contact her family.

Jared Loughner, 22, walked into the courtroom Monday afternoon wearing handcuffs and in a prison uniform, with a cut on the right side of his head. His expression was impassive as he walked in, looked straight at the crowd at the back of the room packed with reporters, then turned to speak to his lawyer, Judy Clarke. He responded “yes” when asked if he understood his rights. Clarke is known for her defence of “unabomber” Ted Kaczynski and Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. During the 13-minute hearing, Mr. Loughner said very little, only periodically leaning forward to speak into a microphone. Mr. Loughner, who did not enter a plea, confirmed his identity and had an attorney appointed to defend him. When asked, he said he understood that he could get life in prison or the death penalty for allegedly killing federal Judge John Roll on Saturday. Ms. Clarke defended Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Timothy McVeigh. She waived a detention hearing for her client. The federal judge ordered Mr. Loughner held without bail and scheduled a preliminary court appearance for January 24. The courtroom was under heavy protection on Monday by about a dozen US marshals. Prosecutors charged Mr. Loughner with five counts, including killing federal employees and attempting to assassinate Representative Gabrielle Giffords. It is unclear whether the US justice department will seek the death penalty against Mr. Loughner.

Mr. Loughner has not co-operated with investigators, instead invoking his right under the US constitution to remain silent. Local Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he almost certainly acted alone. “He’s a typical troubled individual who’s a loner,” he said, quoted by Associated Press news agency. (BBC)

Investigators searching Mr. Loughner’s home said they had found evidence that the attack was premeditated. They found an envelope with messages saying “I planned ahead”, “my assassination”, and the name Giffords. (BBC) The 9mm pistol used in Saturday’s shooting was purchased at a gun store in November, FBI Director Robert Mueller told reporters Sunday. And a law enforcement source said the suspect tried to buy ammunition at a Walmart store but was turned down because of his behaviour. Another Walmart store later sold him the ammunition, the source said. Describing the attack, Sheriff Dupnik said a potentially worse tragedy may have been averted. A woman tackled the gunman as he tried to reload, snatching a magazine of bullets, he said. The gunman managed to reload with another magazine, but the gun malfunctioned and two men then restrained him.

Various former classmates have described Mr. Loughner as “obviously disturbed.” (BBC) One of them, Lynda Sorenson, feared he might become violent. “We do have one student in the class who was disruptive today,” she wrote in an e-mail quoted by the Washington Post. “He scares me a bit… Hopefully he will be out of class very soon, and not come back with an automatic weapon.” (BBC) He was said to be a loner who had posted a number of anti-government videos and messages on social networking websites. Shortly before the attack, he had posted: “Goodbye friends. Dear friends, don’t be mad at me.” (BBC)

Months before Saturday’s shooting rampage, one of Loughner’s former instructors said he saw Loughner as a threat and kicked him out of class. Loughner was “physically removed” from the Pima Community College algebra course in June – less than a month after it began – instructor Ben McGahee told CNN. McGahee said Loughner sometimes shook, blurted things out in class and appeared to be under the influence of drugs at times. “I was scared of what he could do,” McGahee said. “I wasn’t scared of him physically, but I was scared of him bringing a weapon to class.” (CNN) McGahee said that in class once, Loughner had accused him of violating his free-speech rights: “And of course free speech is limited in the classrom.” One such outburst was “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and McGahee – who had already raised concerns about Loughner with administrators – had him removed. Loughner “needed psychological help,” and McGahee said he was not surprised to hear that his former student was the suspect in Saturday’s bloodbath. “The guy was mentally disturbed. He was very isolated,” he said. (CNN) In a statement Saturday night, Pima Community College said Loughner was was suspended after a series of run-ins with campus police between February and September, capped by the discovery of a YouTube video in which he accused the college of operating unconstitutionally. Loughner quit school after the suspension, the college said – and it warned him that to return, he had to present a doctor’s note saying that his presence would not be “a danger to himself or others.” McGahee said the school responded to complaints about Loughner but “they didn’t do it early enough… I think they did the best they can do, but as far as the time frame goes it could have been shortened,” he said. (CNN)

A U.S. army official confirmed that Loughner was rejected by the military in 2008 for failing a drug test. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, did not disclose the type of drug.

Flags across the US were flown at half mast on Monday. Earlier Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, led a national minute of silence at the White House for the victims of the shooting. About 300 White House staff members joined the brief outdoor ceremony, bowing their heads as a marine honour guardsman rang a bell three times. Mr. Obama praised the “extraordinary courage” of the people at the scene who wrestled the gunman to the ground, saying they had showed “the best of America.” (BBC) Later, Obama called the shooting a “heinous crime” and “mindless violence… I think it’s important for us to also focus, though, on the extraordinary courage that was shown during the course of these events,” Obama told reporters. “Part of what I think that speaks to is the best of America, even in the face of such mindless violence.” (CBC) The president is expected to travel to Arizona in the next few days. The moment of silence was also observed at the U.S. Capitol building and on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange. On the east steps of the Capitol building, hundreds of congressional staffers also paid tribute to Ms. Giffords and the other victims of Saturday’s shooting. Lawmakers also paid tribute to Ms. Giffords and other victims of the mass shooting on the steps of the Capitol building.

The BBC’s Jonny Dymond, in Tucson, says small groups gathered in public places, in offices and in shops and stopped in silence for a minute. The city did not come to a halt, Dymond said, as many had done their mourning over the weekend in public vigils and private houses.

The crew on board the International Space Station (ISS) also paused for a brief silence. The commander on the ISS is Ms. Gifford’s brother-in-law, Cmdr. Scott Kelly. “As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not,” Cmdr. Kelly said. “These days, we are constnatly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions but also with our irresponsible words. We are better than this. We must do better,” he added. (BBC)

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner, called on fellow legislators to “stand together” and “rally round our wounded colleague.” (BBC) The House has postponed all legislative debates next week, including a controversial bill to repeal Mr. Obama’s healthcare reform.

Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg, a gun control advocate from the state of New Jersey, announced on Monday to introduce legislation that would ban high-capacity ammunition clips, like the one used in Saturday’s attack. “The only reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun is to kill a lot of people very quickly. These high-capacity clips simply should not be on the market,” Mr. Lautenberg said. (BBC)

Some commentators and politicians have blamed violent rhetoric and hatred conveyed in the media for the shooting. “People think now if they want to make a statement, they can do that by bringing bodily harm to someone who doesn’t agree with them,” Democratic Representative Ed Pastor said on CNN.

The information in this article has been gathered from sources including the BBC, CBC, and CNN.


Australian Floods Cause Catastrophic Damage

Australia’s record floods are causing catastrophic damage to infrastructure in the state of Queensland and have forced 75 percent of its coal mines, which fuel Asia’s steel mills, to grind to a halt, Queensland’s premier said on Wednesday.

The worst flooding in decades has affected an area the size of Germany and France, leaving towns virtual islands in a muddy inland sea, devastated crops, cut major rail and road links to coal ports, slashed exports and forced up world coal prices.

“Seventy-five percent of our mines are currently not operation because of this flood,” Premier Anna Bligh told local television. “So, that’s a massive impact on the international markets and the international manufacturer of steel.” (Reuters)

“We’ve had big floods before,” Ms. Bligh said in an interview with ABC, Australia’s public broadcaster. “We’re a tropical state. But we’ve never had them over so many towns, so many cities and had so much public infrastructure at risk because of the size of the area.” (New York Times)

The Australian floods, which have cut off 22 towns and affected 200,000 people, have resulted from the La Nina weather phenomenon, which produces monsoonal rains over the western Pacific and Southeast Asia. The La Nina is expected to last another three months after it produced Australia’s third-wettest year on record in 2010, the nation’s weather bureau said on Wednesday.

“Queensland is a very big state. It relies on the lifelines of its transportation system, and those transport systems in some cases are facing catastrophic damage,” said Bligh. “Without doubt this disaster is without precedent in its size and its scale here in Queensland. What I’m seeing in every community I visit is heartbreak, devastation.” (Reuters)

Residents in flooded towns scrambled to build sandbag levees on Wednesday in the hope of holding back the rising waters, which analysts estimate could shave around 0.4 percentage point of Australia’s economic activity.

A task force has been created to lead recovery efforts. Officials say the flood bill could exceed $5 billion. Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has appointed Maj. Gen. Mick Slater to head the task force. With natural disasters declared across an area of a million square kilometers, Ms. Bligh said the scale of the crisis was unprecedented and would require an unparalleled rebuilding effort. “This is a very serious job ahead of us recovering from a disaster like this. Rebuilding regional Queensland will be a marathon, not a sprint,” she said. (BBC)

In Rockhampton, a cattle town of 75,000, a rise of just 20 cm (8 inches) in floodwaters would inundate another 400 homes and lap at the front door of a further 4,000 properties. “Let’s hope we dodge the bullet. Every centimeter counts,” said Ian Stewart, Queensland’s state disaster co-ordinator. (BBC)

Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas told CBC News that officials believe water levels in Rockhampton peaked Wednesday, though he noted that they would likely remain high for another seven days. The flood crisis in northeastern Australia has affected about 200,000 people in about 40 communities, state officials say. Lucas said the entire flood-affected area is about 10 per cent larger than British Columbia. “It’s a massive area,” Lucas said. “Here, because it’s so flat, the water takes a long time to come up and then takes a long, long time to go down.” (CBC)

Three people have drowned in the floods. Authorities are warning people to stay out of floodwaters not just because of the risk of drowning but because snakes and crocodiles are being washed into homes and shops.

Some coal mines in Queensland, the world’s biggest exporter in steel-making, were resuming production although the outlook remained uncertain. Macarthur Coal said on Wednesday it had resumed transporting coal by rail to Dalrymple Bay Coal Terminal this week, but force majeure notices remained in place and future coal trains would depend on coal availability. “Once the pits are free of water, we’ll have more coal exposed that can be processed and transported,” said Nicole Hollows, Macarthur’s managing director. “It is not possible to predict when we will return to a steady state of mining as that largely depends on any future rain.” (Reuters)

Wesfarmers is resuming output at its Curragh mine in Bowen Basin, but maintained its force majeure. A spokesman for Dalrymple port warned that unless mine companies resume production in the nation’s biggest coal region soon, coal export shipments could again be cut. Some rail lines carrying coal from inland mines expected to stay partially underwater for another week.

“In terms of river levels, they might recede by next week but these big mining establishments are obviously going to feel the affects for months to come,” said Jess Carey, a flood forecaster for the Australian Bureau of Meteorology. (Reuters)

The floods are having ramifications far beyond Queensland.

Australia accounts for more than half of global coking coal exports, which are vital to steelmakers, especially in Asian countries such as booming China. The floods have hit mines which produced 35 percent of Australia’s estimated 259 million tonnes of coal exports in 2009. An estimated $1 billion has been lost in coal production, said the Queensland Resource Council.

The floods weighed on investment sentiment with Australian stocks falling on Wednesday by 0.6 percent to a one-month low.

Shares in global miners BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto lost ground and top banks such as Commonwealth Bank fell on concern about their financial exposure to affected firms. The Australian dollar also slipped back toward parity with the U.S. currency, after shedding 1.2 percent on Tuesday.

“Our equity analysts think that a lot of coal mines in Queensland could be shut down for two to three months, so that’s going to be a substantial hit to exports going forward,” said David Forrester, FX strategist at Barclays Capital in Singapore. (Reuters)

Shinichi Taniguchi, executive vice president at Nippon Steel Corp, the world’s fourth-biggest steelmaker, said the firm had coal stocks to last up to three months, much higher than in 2008 when there was a similar supply shortage from Australia.

Eliji Haysahidi, president of JFE Steel Corp, the world’s No. 5 steelmaker, said the supply crunch had come at a difficult time. “We are not optimistic of the situation. We are worried, particularly because demand for steel products is tight for the time being.” (Reuters)

Coal buyers like JFE are already talking with other potential suppliers in case Australia’s exports are halted for an extended period. Spot coking coal prices have risen around 10 percent to around $250 a tonne in a month as rains hit Australia.

Further downstream from the Bowen Basin coal region, more rains are forecast to cause fresh flooding. Flood warnings have been declared for seven river systems, with one swollen river now 6 km (4 miles) wide.

Rockhampton mayor, Brad Carter, said it would be two weeks before people could move back into their homes. The Australian weather bureau said the Fitzroy River had stayed around 9.2 m and slight drops in height would be seen from Thursday. Mr. Carter welcomed the news, saying “it looks like it may have stabilized.” (BBC) The difference of 0.2m means some 400 homes in Rockhampton will be spared severe flood damage, and the only road into the city remains open. However, the authorities said it was still too early to say that the worst was over, with the weather bureau issuing a severe weather warning for flood-affected areas in the Fitzroy catchment. The city’s airport is closed. Supplies are currently being flown by military cargo plane to a town north of Rockhampton and taken on by road or barge. Many of the city’s historic buildings are being protected by piles of sandbags. Mr. Carter said residents had reported seeing snakes moving through the water looking for dry ground, and some saltwater crocodiles had also been spotted in the Fitzroy River. “We do not think they are a risk to the public safety if people keep out of the waters, but if people do enter the waters, their safety cannot be guaranteed,” he told the local newspaper. (BBC)

The weather bureau told local residents the Fitzroy River was expected to peak at around 9.4 meters Tuesday or Wednesday. But weather bureau hydrologist Paul Birch told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the river has stayed around the 9.2-meter mark since Tuesday afternoon. “It will stay at that level all day today and may well still be there tomorrow,” he told the broadcaster. “We should start to see some slight drops in height tomorrow.” (CBC)

Chief Supt. Alastair Dawson said it would be some time before flood waters disperse. “This is a prolonged flooding event that is taking an unprecedented time to pass, even after the peak river height has been reached,” he said in a statement. (CBC)

Residents in the town of St. George have built dirt moats to try and stop the floodwaters from reaching their homes, but authorities fear 80 percent of the small town will be swamped if the Balonne River reaches a record 14 meters on Saturday. “It started to rain here again. We could get a flood on top of our flood,” said Barnaby Joyce, a National party senator who lives in St. George.

Australia is the world’s fourth-largest wheat exporter and the flooding in Queensland, along with heavy rains and earlier flooding across eastern Australia, could mean up to half the national crop – or about 10 million tonnes – could be downgraded to animal feed or low-grade milling grains.

Supply concerns sparked by the waterlogged crop in Australia had helped benchmark U.S. wheat futures to reach a 5-month high, before falling back slightly. “The thing we are all very fearful of is that we’ve only just started our wet season. We’ve got three months of cyclone season to go,” said Brent Finlay, the president of the rural lobby group AgForce. “We’re trying to encourage people to get whatever they can done in anticipation of another hit and the forecast up here isn’t great.” (Reuters)

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has promised millions of dollars in federal assistance to flood victims.

The information in this article has been taken from the following sources: CBC, BBC, Reuters, and The New York Times.