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Archive for August 30th, 2010

Indonesian volcano erupts again, spewing hot ash

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2010

TANAH KARO, Indonesia – An Indonesian volcano dormant for four centuries erupted for the second straight day Monday, shooting clouds of hot ash more than a mile into the air and forcing 30,000 people to flee.

Mount Sinabung spews volcanic materials into ...

Mount Sinabung spews

Some domestic airplanes had to be diverted because of poor visibility.

Many villagers living along the slopes of Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province wore masks as they packed their belongings and headed to emergency shelters, mosques and churches, said Andi Arief, a presidential adviser on disasters.

Their abandoned homes and crops were blanketed in gray soot and the air was thick with the smell of sulfur.

While two people 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 they had not monitored it closely before it started rumbling days ago in the lead-up to Sunday’s first, less-powerful blast.

Hours later, the alert was raised to the highest level.

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

Stiff magna forming inside the conical tip can act as a plug, allowing pressure to build up until it reaches a bursting point.

“A volcano with a long repose period could deliver a more powerful eruption,” as was the case with Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991, which killed about 800 people, said Alain Bernard, a professor at the University of Brussels.

Sinabung could either go back to sleep or produce a series of blasts with increasing intensity, he said. “A Pinatubo-size eruption is a rare event and unlikely to appear during the following days. It takes normally weeks or months,” said Bernard.

Though strong wind shifts or a powerful follow-up blast could affect air traffic in nearby Singapore and Malaysia, Transportation Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan said so far only four domestic flights heading to the provincial capital of Medan were diverted.

The number of people evacuated reached 30,000 by Monday afternoon, said Erni Damanik with the Tanah Karo district information center. Many people living along the base of the 8,000-foot (2,400-meter) mountain have also moved to outlying villages.

Food, emergency tents, and medicine were on the way to the scene, officials said, including more than 17,000 respiratory masks.

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

It 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 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) away and blackened skies region-wide for months. At least 36,000 people were killed in the blast and the tsunami that followed.

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Associated Press writers Irwan Firdaus and Ali Kotarumalos contributed to this report from Jakarta.

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Biden visits Iraq to mark formal end to US combat

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2010

BAGHDAD – Vice President Joe Biden returned to Iraq Monday to mark this week’s formal end to U.S. combat operations and push the country’s leaders to end a six-month postelection stalemate blocking formation of a new government.

Joe Biden, Ray Odierno

Wednesday’s ceremony will signal a shift toward a greater U.S. diplomatic role as the military mission dwindles seven years after the American invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Underscoring the shift, officials said Biden will make a new appeal to Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to end the political deadlock and seat a new government. March 7 parliamentary elections left Iraq without a clear winner, and insurgents have exploited the uncertainty to hammer Iraqi security forces in near-daily attacks.

Biden and al-Maliki will meet Tuesday morning “to discuss the political situation and withdrawal, and Iraqis taking over responsibility for security,” the prime minister’s adviser, Yasin Majeed, told The Associated Press.

It was the vice president’s sixth trip to Iraq since he was elected and, officially, he came to preside over a military change-of-command ceremony. On Wednesday, Gen. Ray Odierno ends more than five years in Iraq and hands over the reins as commander of U.S. forces here to Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin. Austin also has served extensively in Iraq, most recently as commander of troop operations in 2008-09.

But the Sept. 1 ceremony also marks the start of the so-called “Operation New Dawn” — symbolizing the beginning of the end of the American military’s mission in Iraq since invading in March 2003.

Just under 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — down from a peak of nearly 170,000 at the height of the 2007 military surge that is credited with turning the tide in Iraq as it teetered on the brink of civil war. Additionally, U.S. troops no longer will be allowed to go on combat missions unless requested and accompanied by Iraqi forces.

Under a security agreement between the two nations, all U.S. forces must leave Iraq by the end of 2011. But the Obama administration, sensitive to charges of American abandonment, has directed its diplomats to step into the void and help Iraq’s weak government, economy and other institutions get back on their feet for years to come.

Threats still remain.

Al-Maliki last week put Iraq on its highest level of alert for possible attacks by al-Qaida and Saddam’s former Baath Party loyalists in the days leading up to the U.S. ceremony on Wednesday. An Iraqi intelligence official said suicide bombers are believed to have entered Iraq with plans to strike unspecified targets in Baghdad, the capital.

And on the eve of Biden’s arrival, Iraqi police said two mortar rounds landed in the capital’s Green Zone, where the parliament and many foreign embassies are housed behind blast walls, steel gates and barbed wire. The rounds landed near the U.S. Embassy but did not kill or injure anyone, police said.

All Iraqi security officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they was not authorized to discuss sensitive information with the media.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, is struggling to keep his job after his political alliance narrowly came in second place to the Sunni-backed Iraqiya coalition in the March 7 vote.

U.S. diplomats have encouraged a power-sharing agreement between Iraqiya and al-Maliki’s State of Law alliance. Together, they would control a majority of parliament and win the right to choose the new government’s leaders.

But al-Maliki and Iraqiya’s leader, former Premier Ayad Allawi, both want to be prime minister. So far, neither has backed down — creating a political impasse and leading to back-room jockeying by hard-line Shiite groups for a larger share of power.

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Hurricane Earl lashes Caribbean, threatens US

Posted by Admin on August 30, 2010

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Hurricane Earl lashed the northeastern Caribbean on Monday as a still-growing Category 3 storm on a course that could threaten the eastern United States later this week.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Earl, which formed on Sunday, was already a major hurricane with sustained winds of 120 mph (193 kph), and it was likely to keep gaining force.

“Interests from North Carolina all the way to Maine should keep an eye on the system,” said Jessica Schauer, a meteorologist at the Hurricane Center.

The storm’s forecast track would run north of the Caribbean, then bend to the north, roughly parallel to the U.S. East Coast. The hurricane center said it is early to say what effect Earl would have on the U.S.

The eye of the powerful storm was passing close to the tiny British territory of Anguilla, where police said the wind blew the roofs off buildings and damaged utility poles.

“The winds are whistling outside,” said Martin Gussie, a police officer involved in coordinating the emergency response. “When the gusts of wind come, each time it sounds stronger.”

In Antigua, powerful wind and rain destroyed at least one home and at least eight people had to be evacuated, though there were no reports of critical injuries. Emergency response officials said about 350 people were in shelters. Local weather authorities reported at least 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain and 10-foot (3-meter) waves.

In St. Maarten, the storm toppled trees and knocked out electricity to much of the island but there were no reports of serious damage. Heavy gusts of wind swirled debris across streets that were empty due to a government-imposed curfew.

Alisha Daya, a 24-year-old tourist from Milwaukee, said she wore earplugs Sunday night but still had trouble sleeping because of the noise from the wind and crashing waves at the Oyster Bay Beach Resort in St. Maarten.

“It was loud because we were right on the ocean,” said Daya, who said the storm will keep her and her parents and boyfriend from leaving the island as planned on Monday although the worst seemed to have passed. “Some furniture is flying around, but everything seems to be OK.”

Cruise lines diverted ships to other ports in the Caribbean and Mexico as a customary precaution for tropical weather. Antigua’s V.C. Bird International Airport closed, and regional airlines LIAT and Winair suspended flights.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barthelemy, St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Culebra and Vieques.

By late Monday morning, Earl was about 165 miles (265 kilometers) east of San Juan and headed west-northwest at 15 mph (24 kph), according to the center in Miami. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from its center.

Earl has grown rapidly in strength, fueled by warm ocean temperatures of 86 F (30 C).

Earl could bring battering waves and storm surges of up to four feet (1.2 meters) above normal on some islands, as well as downpours that threaten to unleash flash floods and mudslides.

Forecasters say there is a chance the hurricane could brush the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region toward the end of the week, with its closest approach to North Carolina on Thursday or Friday. In any case, the U.S. East Coast is likely to see pounding surf.

Meanwhile, the Category 1 Hurricane Danielle was weakening far out over the north Atlantic.

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Associated Press writers Anika Kentish in St. John’s, Antigua, Judy Fitzpatrick in Philipsburg, St. Maarten, Clive Bacchus in Basseterre, St. Kitts, David McFadden in San Juan and Sofia Mannos in Washington contributed to this report.

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