Middle East Updates / Amnesty: 1,165 forcibly evicted from northern Sinai

Rafah, near the border with southern Gaza Strip November 6, 2014.

Smoke rises as a house is blown up during a military operation by Egyptian security forces in the Egyptian city of Rafah, near the border with southern Gaza Strip November 6, 2014.   Photo by Reuters

Egypt court declares ISIS a terror group; Pope ends Turkey trip in Orthodox feast, meeting with refugees; Iran hospital manager attacked with acid

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Homes evacuated in Conway, Missouri during Saturday morning Flash Flood Emergency

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CONWAY, Mo. — High water forced several families out of bed early Saturday morning in the community of Conway, Missouri.  The National Weather Service had issued a Flash Flood Emergency.

A mobile home park was evacuated near J and CC Highways.  Authorities had to rescue seven people.  No one was injured.  The flooding damaged siding on a number of the homes and residents were moving out soaked furniture and belongings.

The flooding also forced MoDot to close part of I-44 for a few hours at mile marker 112.  It was reported 3 feet of water was over the interstate there.  Lanes reopened shortly before 7:00 a.m.

Connecticut plane crash: Former Microsoft exec, three to six others believed dead after small aircraft crash

National Transportation Safety Board investigator Robert Gretz says there are reports of two or three people killed who were in the plane, and two or three more who died on the ground in the East Haven crash. Among those dead is believed to be pilot Bill Henningsgaard.

Bill Henningsgaard and son Maxwell Henningsgaard were killed in a plane crash Friday in East Haven, Conn.

Bill Henningsgaard and son Maxwell Henningsgaard were killed in a plane crash Friday in East Haven, Conn.  Bill Henningsgaard via Facebook

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EAST HAVEN, Conn. — The National Transportation Safety Board says four to six people are believed dead after a small plane crashed in a working-class Connecticut neighborhood near an airport and engulfed two houses in flames.

NTSB investigator Robert Gretz says there are reports of two or three people in the plane and two or three on the ground. He says local and state authorities are at the scene looking for victims.

Responders survey the scene of the small plane crash.

Responders survey the scene of the small plane crash.   GLENN DUDA/Reuters

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New Oregon Wildfire; 120 Homes Evacuated

Oregon Wildfire

A new wildfire is burning in central Oregon, near the town of Gilchrist (marked with a red A)

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PORTLAND, Ore. — A new central Oregon wildfire that quickly grew to cover half a square mile has prompted the evacuation of about 120 homes in several subdivisions.

Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center spokeswoman Lisa Clark said the Stagecoach fire started Monday afternoon northeast of Gilchrist. About 35 firefighters were battling that fire, which was about 10 percent contained by Monday night. More fire crews were expected Tuesday.

Five air tankers dropped retardant Monday afternoon.

No structures have burned and the cause is under investigation, Clark said.

Meanwhile, a fire that has burned 20,000 to 25,000 acres — or 31 to 39 square miles — on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation of central Oregon was estimated to be 20 percent contained.

A couple dozen people remained evacuated from their homes, fire spokesman Clay Penhollow estimated Monday night.

The fire began Saturday and surged Sunday afternoon when it started small spot fires in the grass, sagebrush and juniper that marks the high-desert reservation south of Mount Hood, and then winds kicked up to push the flames.

The fire bypassed a reservation resort without causing damage, Penhollow said.

Temperatures are expected to peak in the high 90s through Thursday.

One abandoned homestead dwelling was reported burned. Penhollow said it had been used as an outbuilding. No serious injuries were reported.

Fire crews protected the Kah-Nee-Ta resort. The main lodge was already closed by an unrelated fire that started Thursday in the kitchen and caused extensive damage.

In a statement Monday night, the resort said it hoped to reopen Tuesday if firefighting efforts made that possible.

“We are so thankful for the hard work and the courage of our firefighters,” said resort General Manager Carlos Smith. “They worked tirelessly through the weekend. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”

 

Colorado Wildfires Force Thousands From Homes

Dramatic aerial footage shows the raging wildfires that have sparked the evacuation of thousands of homes in Colorado.

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At least four major wildfires have broken out along the front of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, burning up to 60 houses and chasing people from thousands more homes.

Thick smoke plumes visible for miles billowed from fires near Colorado Springs, in southern Colorado, and in Rocky Mountain National Park to the north.

A wildfire in a residential area northeast of Colorado Springs forced mandatory evacuations of 2,530 homes, including some worth more than $1 million.

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Homes in upscale California subdivision sinking into the ground

Eight of the houses in the Lakeside Heights development in Lakeport, Calif., are now abandoned, and another 10 are under notice of imminent evacuation. Officials believe water bubbling to the surface is playing a role, but they can’t explain why that happened in a county with groundwater shortages.

Janice and Mike Kropa walk past their neighbors’ empty homes. They are packing their belonging and plan to move before the ground under their own home gives way.

Janice and Mike Kropa walk past their neighbors’ empty homes. They are packing their belonging and plan to move before the ground under their own home gives way. – Rich Pedroncelli/AP

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAKEPORT, Calif. — Scott and Robin Spivey had a sinking feeling that something was wrong with their home when cracks began snaking across their walls in March.

The cracks soon turned into gaping fractures, and within two weeks their 600-square-foot garage broke from the house and the entire property — manicured lawn and all — dropped 10 feet below the street.

It wasn’t long before the houses on both sides collapsed as the ground gave way in the Spivey’s neighborhood in Lake County, about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

“We want to know what is going on here,” said Scott Spivey, a former city building inspector who had lived in his four-bedroom, Tudor-style dream home for 11 years.

Eight homes are now abandoned and 10 more are under notice of imminent evacuation as a hilltop with sweeping vistas of Clear Lake and the Mount Konocti volcano swallows the subdivision built 30 years ago.

The situation has gotten so bad that mail delivery was ended to keep carriers out of danger.

“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” said Randall Fitzgerald, a writer who bought his home in the Lakeside Heights project a year ago.

Unlike sinkholes of Florida that can gobble homes in an instant, this collapse in hilly volcanic country can move many feet on one day and just a fraction of an inch the next.

Officials believe water that has bubbled to the surface is playing a role in the destruction. But nobody can explain why suddenly there is plentiful water atop the hill in a county with groundwater shortages.

“That’s the big question,” said Scott De Leon, county public works director. “We have a dormant volcano, and I’m certain a lot of things that happen here (in Lake County) are a result of that, but we don’t know about this.”

Other development on similar soil in the county is stable, county officials said.

The situation is so bad that the U.S. Postal Service has stopped delivering mail to the area.

The situation is so bad that the U.S. Postal Service has stopped delivering mail to the area.  –  Rich Pedroncelli/AP

While some of the subdivision movement is occurring on shallow fill, De Leon said a geologist has warned that the ground could be compromised down to bedrock 25 feet below and that cracks recently appeared in roads well beyond the fill.

“Considering this is a low rainfall year and the fact it’s letting go now after all of these years, and the magnitude that it’s letting go, well it’s pretty monumental,” De Leon said.

County officials have inspected the original plans for the project and say it was developed by a reputable engineering firm then signed off on by the public works director at the time.

“I can only presume that they were checked prior to approval,” De Leon said.

The sinkage has prompted county crews to redirect the subdivision’s sewage 300 feet through an overland pipe as manholes in the 10-acre development collapsed.

Consultant Tom Ruppenthal found two small leaks in the county sewage system that he said weren’t big enough to account for the amount of water that is flowing along infrastructure pipes and underground fissures, but they could be contributing to another source.

“It’s very common for groundwater to shift its course,” said Ruppenthal of Utility Services Associates in Seattle. “I think the groundwater has shifted.”

If the county can’t get the water and sewer service stabilized, De Leon said all 30 houses in the subdivision will have to be abandoned.

The owners of six damaged homes said they need help from the government.

The Lake County Board of Supervisors asked Gov. Jerry Brown to declare an emergency so funding might be available to stabilize utilities and determine the cause of the collapse. On May 6, state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, wrote a letter of support asking Brown for immediate action. The California Emergency Management Agency said Brown was still assessing the situation.

Randall Fitzgerald checks a fissure that has opened in a lot near his home.“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” he said.

Randall Fitzgerald checks a fissure that has opened in a lot near his home.“It’s a slow-motion disaster,” he said.  –  Rich Pedroncelli/AP

On Wednesday, the state sent a water resources engineer and a geologist to look at the problem. Sen. Dianne Feinstein sent a representative the next day.

Lake County, with farms, wineries and several Indian casinos, was shaped by earthquake fault movement and volcanic explosions that helped create the Coast Ranges of California. Clear Lake, popular for boating and fishing, is the largest fresh water lake wholly located in the state.

It is not unusual for groundwater in the region to make its way to the surface then subside. Many natural hot springs and geysers receded underground in the early 1900s and have since been tapped for geothermal power.

Homeowners now wonder whether fissures have opened below their hilltop, allowing water to seep to the surface. But they’re so perplexed they also talk about the land being haunted and are considering asking the local Native American tribe if the hilltop was an ancient graveyard.

“Someone said it must be hexed,” said Blanka Doren, a 72-year-old German immigrant who poured her life savings into the house she bought in 1999 so she could live on the rental income.

The home shares a wall with her neighbor, Jagtar Singh — who had two days of notice to move his wife, 4-year-old daughter and his parents before the hill behind the back of his home collapsed — taking the underside of his house and leaving the carpet dangling.

Doren is afraid that as Singh’s house falls it will take hers with it. Already cracks have spread across her floors.

Damaged houses in the subdivision have been tagged for mandatory removal, but the hillside is so unstable it can’t support the heavy equipment necessary to perform the job.

“This was our first home,” said Singh, who noticed a problem in April when he could see light between the wall and floor of his bedroom. A geotechnical company offered no solutions.

“We didn’t know it would be that major, but in one week we were gone,” he said.

So far insurance companies have left the owners of the homes — valued between $200,000 and $250,000, or twice the median price in the county — dangling too. Subsidence is not covered, homeowners said. So until someone figures out whether something else is going on, they’ll be in limbo.

“It’s a tragedy, really,” contractor Dean Pick said as he took photos for an insurance company. “I’ve never seen anything like it. At least that didn’t have the Pacific Ocean eating away at it.”

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Thousands of Australians stranded by floodwaters

Image provided by Chris Hadfield shows flooding in Maryborough in Queensland, Australia on January 29, 2013 via AFP

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Thousands of people on Australia’s east coast were cut off by floodwaters on Sunday, with the heavy rain claiming two lives as extreme thunderstorms damaged homes and brought down trees in Sydney.

State Emergency Services said the Macleay River peaked lower than had been forecast in the northern New South Wales town of Kempsey, 350 kilometres (215 miles) north of Sydney, and the town appeared to have escaped major flooding.

But the north coast region, including the towns of Port Macquarie and Taree, remained under close watch along with the Hawkesbury-Nepean area west of Sydney.

 

“In most other areas floodwaters are falling,” State Emergency Services said in a statement.

“Isolation remains a concern with around 20,000 (people) cut off across the north and mid-north coasts. The New South Wales SES is monitoring isolated areas and will provide resupply or medical evacuation if required.”

The SES said it had undertaken 66 flood rescues, including from stranded cars, and Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged the public to avoid the floodwaters if possible.

“Water is a dangerous thing. Deceptively dangerous. Even very low levels of water, if it’s fast moving, can sweep people away,” she said.

A 17-year-old boy was swept into a drainpipe on Friday as he stood in waist-high water in Kew, near Port Macquarie, to collect golf balls.

On Saturday the body of a man was found in his submerged car on a road about 20 kilometres northwest of Grafton, also on the New South Wales north coast.

 Intense storms bringing high winds and heavy rain also tore through eastern Sydney and other areas overnight, ripping off roofs and bringing down trees.

“Local intense storms with reported ‘mini-tornados’ in some locations caused… significant damage,” the SES said, adding the worst-hit areas were Sydney’s east, the southern fringe suburb of Narellan and Kiama further south.

“Damage included a trampoline blown into powerlines, trees and branches down and roof damage,” the SES said.

The latest deluge comes just weeks after torrential rains in the wake of tropical cyclone Oswald flooded parts of Queensland and neighbouring New South Wales.

Those floodwaters prompted scores of helicopter rescues and isolated tens of thousands of people at their peak.

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Cops required to inspect gun owners’ homes?

Misstep in gun bill could defeat the effort

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One of the major gun-control efforts in Olympia this session calls for the sheriff to inspect the homes of assault-weapon owners. The bill’s backers say that was a mistake.

By Danny Westneat

Forget police drones flying over your house. How about police coming inside, once a year, to have a look around?

As Orwellian as that sounds, it isn’t hypothetical. The notion of police home inspections was introduced in a bill last week in Olympia.

That it’s part of one of the major gun-control efforts pains me. It seemed in recent weeks lawmakers might be headed toward some common-sense regulation of gun sales. But then last week they went too far. By mistake, they claim. But still too far.

“They always say, we’ll never go house to house to take your guns away. But then you see this, and you have to wonder.”

That’s no gun-rights absolutist talking, but Lance Palmer, a Seattle trial lawyer and self-described liberal who brought the troubling Senate Bill 5737 to my attention. It’s the long-awaited assault-weapons ban, introduced last week by three Seattle Democrats.

Responding to the Newtown school massacre, the bill would ban the sale of semi-automatic weapons that use detachable ammunition magazines. Clips that contain more than 10 rounds would be illegal.

But then, with respect to the thousands of weapons like that already owned by Washington residents, the bill says this:

“In order to continue to possess an assault weapon that was legally possessed on the effective date of this section, the person possessing shall … safely and securely store the assault weapon. The sheriff of the county may, no more than once per year, conduct an inspection to ensure compliance with this subsection.”

In other words, come into homes without a warrant to poke around. Failure to comply could get you up to a year in jail.

“I’m a liberal Democrat — I’ve voted for only one Republican in my life,” Palmer told me. “But now I understand why my right-wing opponents worry about having to fight a government takeover.”

He added: “It’s exactly this sort of thing that drives people into the arms of the NRA.”

I have been blasting the NRA for its paranoia in the gun-control debate. But Palmer is right — you can’t fully blame them, when cops going door-to-door shows up in legislation.

I spoke to two of the sponsors. One, Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, a lawyer who typically is hyper-attuned to civil-liberties issues, said he did not know the bill authorized police searches because he had not read it closely before signing on.

“I made a mistake,” Kline said. “I frankly should have vetted this more closely.”

That lawmakers sponsor bills they haven’t read is common. Still, it’s disappointing on one of this political magnitude. Not counting a long table, it’s only an eight-page bill.

The prime sponsor, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, also condemned the search provision in his own bill, after I asked him about it. He said Palmer is right that it’s probably unconstitutional.

“I have to admit that shouldn’t be in there,” Murray said.

He said he came to realize that an assault-weapons ban has little chance of passing this year anyway. So he put in this bill more as “a general statement, as a guiding light of where we need to go.” Without sweating all the details.

Later, a Senate Democratic spokesman blamed unnamed staff and said a new bill will be introduced.

Murray had alluded at a gun-control rally in January that progress on guns could take years.

“We will only win if we reach out and continue to change the hearts and minds of Washingtonians,” Murray said. “We can attack them, or start a dialogue.”

Good plan, very bad start. What’s worse, the case for the perfectly reasonable gun-control bills in Olympia just got tougher.

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