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Bizarro Earth

Quake landslides wipe out 4 Indonesian villages, burying hundreds

Padang - At least four Indonesian villages were obliterated by earthquake-triggered landslides that buried as many as 644 people including a wedding party under mountains of mud and debris, officials said Saturday.

The full extent of Wednesday's 7.6-magnitude earthquake was becoming apparent three days later as aid workers and government officials reached remote villages in the hills along Sumatra island's western coast.

Cow Skull

Excreted Tamiflu found in rivers

ducks
© iStockphoto
Tamiflu, the primary flu-fighting drug, is getting into surface waters where ducks and other water birds may pick it up. If the birds host influenza viruses, which many normally do, those viruses may develop a resistance to the drug, scientists now worry.

The premier flu-fighting drug is contaminating rivers downstream of sewage-treatment facilities, researchers in Japan confirm. The source: urinary excretion by people taking oseltamivir phosphate, best known as Tamiflu.

Concerns are now building that birds, which are natural influenza carriers, are being exposed to waterborne residues of Tamiflu's active form and might develop and spread drug-resistant strains of seasonal and avian flu.

For their new study, Gopal Ghosh and his colleagues at Kyoto University sampled water discharged from three local sewage treatment plants and water at several points along two rivers into which the treated water flowed. Sampling started early in December 2008, as flu season got underway. The researchers sampled again at the height of the seasonal flu's onslaught in early February and again as infection rates waned.

Umbrella

Sicily mudslides leave 17 killed, scores missing

sicily mudslides
© Unknown
Two buildings have collapsed in a mudslide triggered by torrential rains in Sicily, Italy, leaving at least 17 people killed and 35 others missing.

Up to 250 millimeters (10 inches) of rain fell in the space of a few hours on Thursday, leaving ten people seriously injured and some 415 others homeless, AFP quoted emergency services spokesman Giampiero Gliubizzi as saying.

Gliubizzi confirmed the collapse of the two buildings, adding that sniffer dogs were searching for victims in the rubble.

Info

Tsunami Warning System Worked, But Not in Time

Tsunami
© Reuters
Like a tsunami: A view of the damage after the flash flood.
Samoan death toll tops 100

An early warning system introduced after the disastrous Christmas 2004 tsunami worked as planned, U.S. officials say, but failed to prevent the deaths of more than 100 people in Samoa and American Samoa on Tuesday because of the proximity of the originating earthquake.

It was the first practical test of the system, set up in response to the 2004 wave that killed more than 220,000 people in the Indian Ocean region, primarily in Indonesia.

Officials scrambled after an 8.0-magnitude earthquake shook just before dawn Tuesday, and after a flurry of phone calls within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Island offices, the first warning was issued within 16 minutes, said NOAA spokeswoman Delores Clark. She said that was well within the agency's range of 10 to 20 minutes for an acceptable warning.

Attention

US: Chemical Found in Air Outside 15 Schools

Outside 15 schools in eight states, government regulators have found elevated levels of a substance that - in a more potent form - was also used as a chemical weapon during World War I.

Those findings, based on samples collected for the Environmental Protection Agency, mark the first time the agency has expressed concern about the chemicals it detected as part of an ongoing effort to check for toxic chemicals in the air outside 63 schools nationwide.

The monitoring is part of a $2.25 million program that began in response to a USA Today investigation that identified hundreds of schools where chemicals from nearby industries appear to saturate the air. The preliminary results are meant to help determine only whether students face any immediate dangers from toxic chemicals. The EPA will use additional tests to evaluate long-term health risks.

The chemical that once was weaponized, acrolein, can exacerbate asthma and irritate the eyes and throat. It is a byproduct of burning gasoline, wood and cigarettes, but the EPA has not yet determined the specific sources for the elevated levels it found at each school.

EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the initial readings show "more must be done to reduce the amount of acrolein the American people, especially children, are exposed to."

Bizarro Earth

Illegal toxic waste spotted from space

Image
© S. Silvestri et al.
No hiding place
Move over Erin Brockovich. Today's environmental detectives can use radar, helicopters and even satellite images to help them spot illegal toxic waste dumps and help catch those responsible.

Ironically, the tightening of restrictions on waste disposal and the enforcement of new recycling laws have made illegal dumping more likely, turning it into big business for the criminals involved.

The trouble is digging up suspect dumps to investigate their contents can release toxins into local water supplies. But with new remote-sensing techniques, such as ground-penetrating radar (GPR), you can find toxic trash without disturbing the soil. Instead, you bounce microwaves off buried materials and the strength of returning signals provides clues to what they are.

Alastair Ruffell, a forensic geologist at Queen's University, Belfast in the UK, has used GPR in 17 cases for the environment agencies of Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Most are ongoing, however three have resulted in the culprits being jailed and fined.

Ruffell's latest research shows that geophysical techniques can be used to characterise the waste (Environmental Forensics, DOI: link). GPR surveys suggested the presence of a highly conductive waste such as farmyard slurry in a peat bog in Northern Ireland, simply because the suspect pocket in the bog reflected no microwaves.

Bizarro Earth

Asian quake could trigger California's big one

Image
© David Paul Morris/Getty
Influencing the San Andreas fault line at Parkfield.
It's a kind of geological butterfly effect. Fenglin Niu of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and colleagues believe they have found two clear cases where remote events weakened the San Andreas fault near Parkfield, California. The finding suggests powerful earthquakes - like the one that has just hit Sumatra - may trigger further quakes worldwide.

The first changes to the San Andreas occurred in 1992 after a 7.3-magnitude earthquake several hundred kilometres to the south. The second took place in 2004 after a quake of magnitude 9.1, also in Sumatra, 8000 kilometres away. In both cases, there were distinct changes in the movement of fluids and an increase in the frequency of micro-earthquakes deep within the fault below Parkfield (Nature, DOI: link).

Niu and colleagues believe these changes are linked to a weakening of the fault, and that monitoring them could lead to more accurate earthquake forecasts. They suggest that very large quakes might push faults all round the world closer to the point of failure, and so lead to a temporary increase in global seismicity.

Video

New film blames drug firm for plight of honey bees

It's a question that has baffled the worlds of agriculture and science - what is it that has caused the mysterious deaths of honey bees all over the world in the last five years? A new film may have the answer.

Vanishing of the Bees, which will be released in Britain next month, claims the cause is the use of a new generation of pesticides that weakens the bees and makes them more susceptible to other diseases.

Narrated by the British actress Emilia Fox, the 90-minute film tells the story of what has become known as colony collapse disorder.

Bizarro Earth

Philippines Looks to God as Super Typhoon Looms

Survivors
© AFP
Flood survivors mourn during a funeral mass for flood victims in Quezon City, suburban Manila
Millions of terrified Philippine flood survivors hunkered down Friday as a super typhoon approached, with officials pleading for God to save the disaster-struck Southeast Asian country from more devastation.

Typhoon Parma, packing gusts of 230 kilometres (145 miles) an hour, was forecast to hit rural areas in the north of the Philippines' main island of Luzon before dawn on Saturday.

The government warned Parma would tear down houses in its direct path, while likely bringing more heavy rain and high winds to the nation's capital, Manila, and nearby areas still recovering from record floods last weekend.

Ambulance

Indonesian Quake Toll at 1100, Thousands Missing

Quake
© AP Photo
Indonesian youths sit on the roof of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009.
Padang - Across this coastal provincial capital, hardest hit by the latest earthquake to devastate Indonesia, mourners, survivors and rescue workers alike clawed through the rubble.

Some, like Malina Utami, had already realized the worst. She was just looking for the shoes missing from her dead daughter's body, found in the rubble of a four-story school that was flattened within seconds.

As the death toll climbed Thursday - to 1,100 by one U.N. estimate - others looked for survivors, with thousands of people missing and feared trapped in the wreckage of shattered buildings.