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Central U.S. preparing for mega earthquake that could kill tens of thousands of people

New Madrid
June 2016SIKESTON, Missouri It is well known that California and most of the west coast of the USA are thought to be long overdue magnitude 7 or stronger earthquakes. News there has been significant movement along the 800-mile San Andreas Fault in the Sunshine State and an emergency drill of how to deal with a devastating tsunami along the length of the west coast, have kept both impending natural disasters in the headlines across the globe.
But it has largely been forgotten that another potential disaster is lurking within the ground in Missouri. The 150-mile long New Madrid Seismic Zone in New Madrid, Missouri, is the source of the concern, and is also thought to be overdue for a massive tremor, which would impact seven states – Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. It has not seen significant earthquakes for more than 200 years.
In the winter of 1811 and 1812 there were three earthquakes of magnitude 7 – as high as 7.7 – and a series of aftershocks across the American Midwest. The results were catastrophic, with the course of the Mississippi being diverted, chasms ripping open, and volcanoes of sand and water bursting through the ground. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) warned in 1999 there were four natural disasters which threatened the states.
They included major hurricanes hitting Miami and New Orleans, which has recently been rocked by Katrina, and megaquakes hitting Los Angeles, and the central USA. The US Geological Survey (USGS) has a map of the country which includes a giant pink warning area over the central states. Each year there are hundreds of small tremors in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, including a 3.5 magnitude quake last month, which many saw as a precursor. The USGS even raised the threat level for 2016 after this increase in activity.  Although the risk to these areas is less trumpeted than California and the west coast, $260million was spent on seismic strengthening of the I-40 bridge over the Mississippi into Memphis.
It is hoped the crossing, which towers over the river, could now withstand the anticipated shocks. Memphis state officials also reduced the main hospital by nine floors to limit the risk of collapse at a cost of $64m. The Mid-America Earthquake Center at the University of Illinois released a report in 2009, which suggested the effects of a force seven or stronger quake from the fault line. Amr Elnashai, the study’s lead author, wrote “All hell will break loose.”
The predicted scenario saw close to 715,000 buildings, including 130 hospitals, and 3,500 bridges damaged. Deaths and injuries were estimated at 86,000 with a combined loss of $300billion. The Central US Earthquake Consortium (CUSEC) is based next to Memphis Airport. James Wilkinson, its director, fears the Mississippi would be released from an engineered prison of levees, causing maximum damage. He told The Atlantic: “The thing that, to me, makes the river scary is how much industry we have along it: there’s power plants, there’s chemical plants, there’s ports. “And the river might change course altogether.

New Madrid Map

“I mean if we’re at flood stage, it’s kind of the worst-of-the-worst case scenario. “So if the levees are already jeopardised either by overtopping or saturation, where the water’s been there for quite a while, and then you get a shake to it? “You know, the river’s just gonna take the path of least resistance. And who knows whether that’s right through these communities.  
“I doubt it’s going to stay in the channel it’s in. The Army Corps of Engineers battles that on a daily basis but the river’s already trying to change course. “They keep it somewhat channeled, but in a massive earthquake we could lose a good part of Western Kentucky, we could lose a good part of Arkansas or southern Missouri.”
He is convinced it is only a matter of time. He said: “We’ve had earthquakes, we’ve had damage, but nothing like what we’ve seen in other parts of the world. So the clock’s ticking.” But not all seismologists agree. Seth Stein, based in Evanston, Illinois, has researched the fault line for 30 years, and told The Atlantic the warnings were “dangerous nonsense.” He set up GPS receivers along the fault line and found the land was moving two millimeters a year, if at all, meaning there is next to no strain within it. He said: “Basically the way to think about the lithosphere – and it’s easy when you live in Chicago – is, imagine you have big chunks of ice floating around on the lake, and those things are sliding by each other.
So those are the plate boundary earthquakes, like in California. “But then within those big ice sheets you have small cracks. And there are very small motions within them. That’s how the big pieces stay together.” He claims Stein any recorded new rumblings are still the aftershocks of the 1811-1812 events. He added: “Every time there’s a magnitude 4 people like CUSEC are claiming giant earthquake’s on the way.  And you think about this, and you look into the rock physics and it says no, it’s the opposite. Those are aftershocks.”  –Express

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At least 23 dead as historic floods sweep West Virginia

Flooding W Virgina
June 2016 WEST VIRGINIAAt least 23 people, including an 8-year-old boy who was wading in a foot of water, died in massive floods in West Virginia from a storm system that has dumped a historic amount of rain in parts of the state, state officials said Friday. As much as 8-10 inches of rain fell in six to eight hours in parts of West Virginia, the National Weather Service said. This amount of rain in such a short time is likely a “one-in-a-thousand-year event,” the weather service said.
It was the third-deadliest flood on record in West Virginia, according to the West Virginia state climatologist Kevin Law. Only the Buffalo Creek flood in 1972 (when 125 died after a dam break) and a November 1985 flood (when 38 died from a combination of Hurricane Juan’s remnants and another storm) killed more in the state, Law said. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told reporters Friday that damage is widespread and devastating. Saying search and rescue missions are still a top priority, Tomblin issued a state of emergency for 44 counties and deployed 150 members of the National Guard to help emergency responders.
The flooding was “among the worst in a century” for some parts of West Virginia, ABC News quoted the governor as saying. Tomblin’s chief of staff, Chris Stadelman, said 14 deaths had been confirmed by the state medical examiner. But local sheriffs and rescue workers across the state confirmed others not yet included in the state’s official tally, the Associated Press reported. Sheriff Jan Cahill of Greenbrier county, one of the hardest hit areas, said at least 13 were killed there. Three were killed in Kanawha County and one each in Ohio and Jackson counties.

The body of   Emanual Williams, 8, was recovered in Big Wheeling Creek in the Elm Grove area of Wheeling, The Wheeling Intelligencer reported. The newspaper said the boy was walking with his sister and mother in a foot of water in the creek when he slipped and was carried away by strong currents. One of the 500 people stranded overnight at a shopping mall said rescuers used a rope to help him and others down a steep slope behind the Crossings Mall in Elkview, about 12 miles from Charleston. Eric Blackshire, who is 48, said that he decided to get a hotel room at the mall on Thursday because a rock slide had blocked his way home to Walton. Then the bridge to the mall washed out during heavy rainfall, stranding people there overnight.
In Nicholas County, much of the town of Richwood was inundated by high water from the Cherry River, forcing the relocation of a nursing home. In nearby Greenbrier County, the grounds of the 238-year-old Greenbrier Resort, a National Historic Landmark, were partially flooded by water from Howard’s Creek. The heavy rains and rising water swamped towns, inundated a two-century old resort and trapped 500 people in a shopping center when a bridge was washed out. The storm also knocked out power to 66,000 West Virginians, and forced the shut off of gas in the town of White Sulphur Springs, Tomblin said.
The governor said 60 roads were closed, many of them destroyed, bridges were knocked out,  and homes were burned down and washed off foundations. He said water rescue teams searched devastated areas looking for possible victims. “It’s been a long 24 hours, and the next 24 hours may not be any easier,” the governor said. Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill described “complete chaos” in his county from the flooding, according to the Associated Press.  –USA Today

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At least 98 killed, 800 injured as hurricane-force storms pummel Eastern China

China Tornado
June 2016CHINA Rescuers in eastern China searched Friday for survivors of a tornado and hailstorm that killed at least 98 people as it swept over a city’s outskirts, destroying buildings, smashing trees and flipping vehicles on their roofs. The tornado hit a densely populated area of farms and factories Thursday near the city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) south of Beijing. Jiangsu Governor Shi Taifeng said Friday that the death toll had risen to 98 people, with 800 others injured, according to the official China News Service. Earlier, the state-run Xinhua News Agency had said 200 people were critically injured.
On Friday, rescuers worked to carry injured villagers into ambulances and deliver food and water to others, Xinhua reported, although state broadcaster CCTV said that roads were blocked with trees, downed power lines and other debris. Heavy rain and the possibility of further hailstorms and more tornadoes complicated rescue efforts. In badly hit Xintu village, survivors grieved over lost relatives and surveyed the damage wrought on their homes.
“The people inside tried to run outside, but the wind was too strong so they couldn’t,” villager Wang Shuqing told an Associated Press reporter. “My family members were all inside, they all died. The police then came and took the bodies out, I can’t bear it.” The disaster has been declared a national-level emergency, and on a trip to Uzbekistan, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered central government bodies to provide all necessary assistance.
Tents and other emergency supplies were being sent from Beijing, while schools and other facilities were used to shelter survivors, CCTV said. The network showed people carrying the injured to hospitals, cars and trucks lying upside down, street light poles snapped in half, and steel electricity pylons crumpled and lying on their side. Power and telephone communications were knocked out over a broad area. I heard the gales and ran upstairs to shut the windows,” Xinhua quoted Xie Litian, 62, as saying. “I had hardly reached the top of the stairs when I heard a boom and saw the entire wall with the windows on it torn away.”
The roof then collapsed as he raced downstairs, Xie said. After sheltering in a corner for 20 minutes, he emerged to find the neighborhood transformed into a wasteland. “It was like the end of the world,” he said. Jiangsu is a coastal province north of Shanghai. Yancheng is an ancient city with more than 8 million people. The Jiangsu provincial fire and rescue service said on its microblog that the storm was accompanied by hail. Crews were dispatched to evacuate workers and secure chemicals and other potentially dangerous items at a sprawling solar panel factory in a Yancheng suburb, it said. No chemical leaks have been reported, CCTV said.
Photos showed a wrecked three-story school with large trees strewn on its playing field. Its windows had been blown out and its roof and upper floor torn off, along with those of numerous other buildings. Bodies were shown lying in the open or buried in rubble. At least one hog farm was hit, its livestock covered in bricks and roofing material.
The reports said the tornado struck at about 2:30 p.m. and hit Funing and Sheyang counties on the city’s outskirts the hardest, with winds of up to 125 kph (78 mph). Tornados occasionally strike southern China during the summer, but rarely with the scale of death and damage caused by the one on Thursday. This year, southern and eastern China have experienced weeks of torrential rain and storms that have caused widespread flooding and dozens of casualties. The southern part of the country is hit every year during the May-July monsoon season, but this rainy season has been particularly wet. Water levels in some major rivers have exceeded those of 1998, when China was hit by disastrous floods that affected 180 million people, according to state media reports.  –Indian Express

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San Andreas: considerable seismic strain building – all the energy could be released in a major earthquake

San And
June 2016CALIFORNIA For the first time, scientists have produced a computer image showing huge sections of California rising and sinking around the San Andreas Fault. The vertical movement is the result of seismic strain that will be ultimately released in a large earthquake. The San Andreas Fault is California’s longest earthquake fault, and one of the state’s most dangerous. Scientists have long expected that parts of California are rising — and other parts sinking — around the fault in a way that is ongoing, very subtle and extremely slow.
Such vertical movement makes a lot of sense. California sits on the border of two gigantic tectonic plates — the Pacific and North American — that are constantly grinding past each other. But actually observing how California’s landscape is rising and falling from seismic strain has been an elusive goal, until now. In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Monday, scientists found that much of the Los Angeles Basin, Orange County, San Diego County and the Bakersfield area are sinking 2 to 3 millimeters a year — a couple of penny-widths annually. By contrast, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and a large portion of San Bernardino County, are rising at the same rate.
The areas closest to the San Andreas fault, however, remain locked in place. When the next big earthquake strikes, the different parts of Southern California will lurch back to the same level. “Once there is a major event, all of that energy gets released,” said Sam Howell, a doctoral candidate in geophysics at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the lead author of the report. The region of the San Andreas fault between Monterey County and Imperial County hasn’t moved in a significant way in more than 150 years, and other parts of the fault have been accumulating stress for more than 300 years.
The last big earthquake on the southern San Andreas fault, a magnitude 7.9 temblor, ruptured from Monterey County through Los Angeles County in 1857. Further south, the section of the San Andreas between San Bernardino County and Imperial County hasn’t ruptured in a major way since about 1690. Howell said the time span for a large rupture on the southern San Andreas is, on average, once every 150 years or so. But the actual interval can vary over the centuries, and that’s why it’s hard to say exactly when the next big one will hit.
Howell said a better understanding of how California is being warped as a result of this accumulating seismic strain is helping scientists “understand more about how the fault is behaving and the effect it’s going to have in the surrounding region.” The study, however, isn’t expected to help scientists suddenly predict the precise time and location of the next devastating quake. “It’s pretty much impossible to say when the next one will happen,” Howell said.  –LA Times

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Iceland’s Hekla volcano “ready to blow” – internal pressure greater than ever detected

Hekla Volcano
June 2016ICELAND A geophysics professor from the University of Iceland has warned people not to travel up Hekla volcano in South Iceland as it could erupt at any moment. As reported by Icelandic news website visir.is (link in Icelandic), Hekla erupted regularly ever ten years or so from 1970 to 2000 – but has now been silent for sixteen years. According to Professor Páll Einarsson, pressure readings within the famous volcano are now higher than before the last two previous eruptions – meaning it could blow with little warning.
“Hekla is a dangerous volcano,” says Einarsson. “We could be looking at a major disaster when the next eruption begins if we are not careful. Hekla has become a very popular tourist destination. Nowadays, there are tourist groups on Hekla most of the summer,” Einarsson explain in the visir.is article. “There are also 20-30 planes full of passengers flying right over the top of Hekla every day,” he warns. “This is a risky moment which we need to take seriously.” New measurements have shown that Hekla has been gathering magma and internal pressure is higher than before the last two previous eruptions. “Hekla is ready – at any moment,” Einarsson concludes.  –Iceland Monitor

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Mystery object found 20 times brighter than all the stars in the Milky Way combined – and NASA has no clue what it is

Cosmos M
June 2016SPACEAstronomers are not entirely sure what it is. If, as they suspect, the gas ball is the result of a supernova, then it’s the most powerful supernova ever seen. In June of 2015, astronomers viewed a ball of hot gas billions of light years away that is radiating the energy of hundreds of billions of suns. Even in a discipline that regularly uses gigantic numbers to express size or distance, the case of this small but powerful mystery object in the center of the gas ball is extreme. At its heart is an object a little larger than 10 miles across. ASAS-SN-15lh, as the object is known, was twice as luminous as any previously seen, far brighter than any normal supernova, and outshone our entire Milky Way galaxy by 50 times.
 The artist’s impression below shows what it would look like from an exoplanet 10,000 light-years away in its home galaxy. The team reported that the object at the center could be a very rare type of star called a magnetar–but one so powerful that it pushes the energy limits allowed by physics. An international team of professional and amateur astronomers spotted the possible supernova, now called ASASSN-15lh, when it first flared to life in June 2015.

Cosmic Light

The gas ball surrounding the 10 mile wide object can’t be seen with the naked eye because its 3.8 billion light years from Earth. Though ASAS-SN has discovered some 250 supernovae since the collaboration began in 2014, the explosion that powered ASASSN-15lh stands out for its sheer magnitude. It is 200 times more powerful than the average supernova, 570 billion times brighter than our sun, and 20 times brighter than all the stars in our Milky Way Galaxy combined. “We have to ask, how is that even possible?” said Krzysztof Stanek, professor of astronomy at Ohio State. “It takes a lot of energy to shine that bright, and that energy has to come from somewhere.”
“The honest answer is at this point that we do not know what could be the power source for ASASSN-15lh,” said Subo Dong, lead author of the Science paper and a Youth Qianren Research Professor of astronomy at the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Peking University. He added that the discovery “may lead to new thinking and new observations of the whole class of superluminous supernova.” Todd Thompson, professor of astronomy at Ohio State, offered one possible explanation. The supernova could have spawned an extremely rare type of star called a millisecond magnetar, a rapidly spinning and very dense star with a very strong magnetic field.
To shine so bright, this particular magnetar would also have to spin at least 1,000 times a second, and convert all that rotational energy to light with nearly 100 percent efficiency, Thompson explained. It would be the most extreme example of a magnetar that scientists believe to be physically possible. “Given those constraints,” he said, “will we ever see anything more luminous than this? If it truly is a magnetar, then the answer is basically no.”  –Daily Galaxy

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Earth Crisis: Global Migrant tide swells to 65 million people

Migration
June 2016WORLD POPULATIONThe number of refugees and others fleeing their homes worldwide has hit a new record, spiking to 65.3 million people by the end of 2015, the United Nations said Monday. Europe’s high-profile migrant crisis, its worst since World War II, is just one part of a growing tide of human misery led by Palestinians, Syrians and Afghans. Globally, close to one percent of humanity has been forced to flee.
“This is the first time that the threshold of 60 million has been crossed,” the UN refugee agency said. The figures, released on World Refugee Day, underscore twin pressures fuelling an unprecedented global displacement crisis. As conflict and persecution force growing numbers of people to flee, anti-migrant political sentiment has strained the willingness to resettle refugees, said UNHCR chief Filippo Grandi. “Instead of burden-sharing, we see borders closing. Instead of political will, there is political paralysis and humanitarian organizations like mine are left to deal with the consequences and struggling to save lives on limited budgets,” Grandi told reporters in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul.
The number of people displaced globally rose by 5.8 million through 2015, according to the UN figures. Counting Earth’s population at 7.349 billion, the UN said that one out of every 113 people on the planet was now either internally displaced or a refugee. They now number more than the populations of Britain or France, the agency said, adding that it is “a level of risk for which UNHCR knows no precedent. Every 24 minutes a person is forced to choose exile from his home,” Grandi said in Kabul. Displacement figures have been rising since the mid-1990s, but the rate of increase has jumped since the outbreak of Syria’s civil war in 2011.
Of the planet’s 65.3 million displaced, 40.8 million remain within their own country, 21.3 million have fled across borders and are now refugees, while the remainder are asylum seekers. Palestinians are the largest group of refugees at more than five million, including those who fled at the creation of Israel in 1948 and their descendants. Syria is next on the list, with 4.9 million refugees, followed by Afghanistan (2.7 million) and Somalia (1.1 million). – Rising conflict, shrinking solutions.  A mixture of worrying factors has led to rising displacement and narrowing space for refugee resettlement.
“Situations that cause large refugee outflows are lasting longer,” the agency said, including more than 30 years of unrest in both Somalia and Afghanistan. New and intense conflicts as well as dormant crises that have been “reignited” are further fuelling displacement, UNHCR said, pointing to South Sudan, Yemen, Burundi and the Central African Republic, aside from Syria. Beyond the refugee hotspots in the Middle East and Africa, UNHCR said there were also troubling signs in Central America, where growing numbers of people fleeing gang violence led to a 17-percent rise in those leaving their homes through 2015.
Faced with an increasing need to resettle those facing persecution, the answers are not always obvious. “The rate at which solutions are being found for refugees and internally displaced people has been on a falling trend since the end of the Cold War,” the UN agency said. “We simply do not have the option of turning our backs and walking away,” Grandi warned in Kabul, echoing wider calls among humanitarian chiefs for world powers, especially in the West, to be more welcoming of migrants and refugees.
Turkey — which struck a controversial deal with the European Union in March to stem Europe’s migrant crisis — hosted the highest number of refugees through 2015 at 2.5 million, mostly Syrians. Germany received the highest number of asylum requests (441,900) over the 12-month span, demonstrating the country’s “readiness to receive people who were fleeing to Europe via the Mediterranean.” –Yahoo News

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To survive what’s before us; we have to take a note from the animals – mass seasonal migration to flee the areas of the Earth that will become increasingly inhospitable from the extremes of climate change…Like wild animals scurrying from the fury of a raging wildfire, the human race will have to learn to become mobile and transmigratory if it plans to survive the changes that are already upon us.
Since you can’t shuffle 7 billion people around the planet and you can’t shield them from an increasing set of environmental risk hazards, a vast majority of the population of the planet will be wiped out. The fortunate survivors will become geo-nomads, wandering between mountains, caves, and decayed urban landscapes to escape the ravages of a planet now at war with the natural elements. Extreme winters, partial glaciations, blistering temperatures from a runaway global heating trend and a chaotic Sun on the precipice of convulsion will render life in many regions of the world unbearable. Every nation will be under some duress from nature’s curse. Agricultural ecology will be equally taxed, as growing seasons slowly disappear one by one. The frequency of natural disasters and cataclysms will intensify without respite, as the planet succumbs more and more to this chaotic model. Earth is falling under the shadow of a death march.  –The Extinction Protocol, page 9, 2009, Alvin Conway

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