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US: Rising Death Toll in Texas Wildfires

Blaze near Austin is still raging out of control and has burned 600 homes

© Larry W. Smith/EPA
A wildfire burns out of control in Bastrop State Park near Bastrop on Sept. 5.
One of the most devastating wildfire outbreaks in Texas history left more than 1,000 homes in ruins Tuesday and stretched the state's firefighting ranks to the limit, confronting Gov. Rick Perry with a major disaster at home just as the GOP presidential contest heats up.

More than 180 fires have erupted in the past week across the rain-starved Lone Star State, and nearly 600 of the homes destroyed since then were lost in one catastrophic blaze in and around Bastrop, near Austin. That blaze raged out of control Tuesday for a third day.

Whipped into an inferno by Tropical Storm Lee's winds over the weekend, the blaze burned at least 40 square miles, forced the evacuation of thousands and killed at least two people, bringing the overall death toll from the outbreak to at least four.

"We lost everything," said Willie Clements, whose two-story colonial home in a neighborhood near Bastrop was reduced to a heap of metal roofing and ash. A picket fence was melted. Some goats and turkeys survived, but about 20 chickens and ducks were burned to death in a coop that went up in flames.


Halmahera, Indonesia: Ash cloud 800 meter high at Dukono volcano

Dukono volcano (North Halmahera regency, Indonesia) activity increased on September 6, 2011 in sending volcanic ash clouds as high as 800 meters in the sky. The capital town of the Halmahera regency lies at the port of Tobelo, approx. 15 km from the volcano (population approx. 15,000). Residents were asked to evacuate at least about two kilometers from the foot of the volcano.

The volcano observation post at Mount Dukono, told the press that dozens of volcanic earthquakes occurred every day.
The eruption can be seen from Ternate, and island and biggest city in the area (has also an airport).

The volcano is currently in PVMBG Alert status III (local sources) although the official PVMBG site is still showing a II alert status (alert status range from 1 to IV). North Halmehara is part of the province of North Maluku (Moluccas)


US, Alaska: Remote Alaska Volcano Resumes Dome Growth

© Unknown
The lava dome at a remote Alaska volcano has resumed growing, prompting officials to raise its alert level.

The dome now fills the floor of the crater at Cleveland Volcano, 940 miles southwest of Anchorage.

The Alaska Volcano Observatory on Tuesday raised the volcano's alert level to watch status. The threat level was dropped on Aug. 30, but raised against after a persistent thermal anomaly started Saturday. Observatory officials say in a news release that's when the lave dome likely started growing again.

The dome was 262 feet in diameter on Aug. 30, but is now about 394 feet in diameter.

Officials say if that continues, lava flows could start on the flanks of the volcano. The growing dome also increases the possibility - but doesn't ensure - an explosive eruption.


Mysterious Killer Whale Population Preys on Sharks

© McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Offshore orcas
Scientists have documented a coordinated, gruesome attack on a school of sleeper sharks by a little-studied group of orcas that ranges from California to Alaska's Aleutian Islands. An article published recently in the journal Aquatic Biology tells of a 2008 feeding frenzy in British Columbia waters just south of the Alaska border, reports the Canadian Press.
The [orcas] were hyperventilating, arching their backs and diving deep.

On the hydrophone, [Canadian scientist John] Ford could hear their excited songs.

Minutes passed and then a chunk of tissue -- about 250 grams in size and later proven to be part of a liver -- floated to the surface, coming to rest in a slick of oil.

More and more tissue and oil soon appeared, covering an area of ocean in a sheen hundreds of metres in size and flattening the water's ripples.


Iceland's Katla Volcano Monitored After Seismic Activity Increases

© Getty
A surge of small earthquakes has been reported around Iceland's Katla volcano, but scientists said Tuesday there is no immediate concern that the increased seismic activity will trigger a dangerous eruption.

Although earthquakes around Katla are common, an increase in cluster earthquakes is not.

"It's one of the most feared volcanos, so we're closely monitoring it," said Pall Einarsson of the University of Iceland. "That said, it's normal for earthquakes to be detected around Katla. What's a bit unusual is that we're seeing swarms of small earthquakes, some occurring every 10 minutes or so."

After flying over the area to monitor the situation Tuesday evening, scientists said they could not yet determine what caused the increased seismic activity. Although they detected signs that Katla was preparing for an eruption, they also emphasized that the volcano had also seen similar activity without erupting before.


US: 2 Killed in Massive Texas Wildfire

Bastrop - More than 1,000 homes have been destroyed in at least 57 wildfires across rain-starved Texas, most of them in one devastating blaze near Austin that is being blamed for two deaths, officials said Tuesday.

Bastrop County Sheriff Terry Pickering said Tuesday he had no details about the deaths. On Sunday, a 20-year-old woman and her 18-month-old daughter were killed Sunday in an East Texas blaze.

© Jay Janner / Austin American-Stateman
Massive plumes of smoke block the sky on Highway 71 east of Bastrop, Texas, on Monday Sept. 5, 2011.
Gov. Rick Perry, who cut short a presidential campaign trip to South Carolina on Monday to return to help oversee firefighting efforts in Texas, told NBC's Today that the fires were "a long way" from being under control and described the effect on people who had lost their homes as "devastating."

Texas Forest Service spokeswoman Victoria Koenig said it is too early to say how much progress was made fighting the wildfire in Bastrop County overnight, but that there were no winds early Tuesday. The fire enveloped at least 25,000 acres Monday.

"It's encouraging we don't have winds right now, not like yesterday," Koenig said early Tuesday morning.

Cow Skull

Papua New Guinea Drought Leaves Thousands Food Insecure

© Mike Bourke
Mangrove fruit is a staple part of some islanders' diet
Aid workers say more than 6,000 people on a remote cluster of islands off the northeast coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG) have been left food insecure following an extended dry spell.

"The situation is now under control, but these people will need food in three months," Ruger Kahwa, head of the Humanitarian Support Unit of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told IRIN from Port Moresby.

The government has distributed 34,000kg of rice to the isolated islands, expected to last a few months, but post-distribution monitoring is needed, Kahwa said.


US Counts the Cost of Nine Months of Unprecedented Weather Extremes

© Mario Tama/Getty Images
A store in Manhattan, New York shuts down in preparation for hurricane Irene.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration, there have been 10 major disasters this year

As deadly fires continue to burn across bone-dry Texas and eight inches of rain from tropical storm Lee falls on New Orleans, the US is beginning to count the cost of nine months of unprecedented weather extremes.

Ever since a massive blizzard causing $2bn of damage paralysed cities from Chicago to the north-east in January, nearly every month has been marked by a $1b+-weather catastrophe. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration (Noaa), there have been 10 major disasters already this year, leaving more than 700 people dead and property damage of over $35bn (£22bn).

In the past 31 years the mainland states have suffered 99 weather-related disasters where overall damages and economic costs were over $1bn. This year has seen three times as many than as usual.

Bizarro Earth

US: Gas 'fracking' not cause of Virginia earthquake

© Unknown
Illustration only
There is no connection between expanded "hydraulic fracturing" gas drilling in the Mid-Atlantic States and the Aug. 23 Virginia earthquake, scientists say

There is no evidence linking "fracking" of shale layers with strong, widespread earthquakes, they said.

"You've only got a very small volume of rock that you're taking out of there (with fracturing)," Anthony Crone, a research geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Pittsburgh Tribune.

"The only conceivable thing that could happen is that hole could close up, so it would only have a very narrow sphere of influence."

Virginia officials said they're satisfied drilling did not cause last month's quake as no wells being drilled for natural gas extraction exist within 150 miles of the quake's epicenter.

Bizarro Earth

US: Rain, Strong Winds Sweep North Georgia

State emergency officials say nearly 100 homes were damaged in north Georgia's Cherokee County from severe weather that moved through Monday.
© Duane Tate
Areas of north Georgia were hit with heavy rain, winds, and possible tornadoes on Tuesday.
Twisters and heavy rains were the result of slow-moving remnants of Tropical Storm Lee that pushed through the northern portion of Georgia. Across parts of the region, there were flooded roads reported with downed power lines. Schools are closed in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties in northwest Georgia because of flooding.

Forecasters say there's a flood warning in effect for the northwest corner of the state, with a flash flood watch extending until noon Tuesday through far north Georgia down to a line from Rome to Gainesville.

There were incidents and damage in other parts of the state due to the rough weather.

In Monroe County, Georgia emergency officials say an 18-car pile-up just north of Macon was due to the bad weather.

Officials at Fort Stewart said a lightning strike sent about 22 soldiers to the hospital on Monday, with at least three kept overnight.

Fort Stewart spokesman Pat Young said the soldiers were on the post's Donovan Field in a large, mobile tent that may have been directly hit by lightning.