Tuesday, February 19, 2013

AUSTRALIAN WEATHER ANOMALIES: Deluge And Geological Upheaval - Giant Sinkhole Swallows Two-Storey Building In Bundaberg As Widespread Flooding Swamps Queensland, 10 More Businesses At Risk!

February 19, 2013 - AUSTRALIA - Authorities fear more buildings could topple into a sinkhole that has swallowed a two-storey building in the flood-ravaged Queensland city of Bundaberg.

Mayor Mal Forman says about 10 businesses, including a multi-level hotel, are at risk along the Burnett River.

Now you see it, now you don't. A sinkhole appeared at Midtown Marina in Bundaberg. © Unknown.
Another deluge has further destabilised the banks of the river after the recent floods caused by ex-cyclone Oswald.
A sinkhole that opened up on Tuesday morning has already swallowed a two-storey building that was part of Jan Douglas's Midtown Marina business.

Authorities are yet to decide if they will evacuate other properties in the area, but say there's a potential for further collapses.

"The way it's happened is very frightening actually - to see it collapse so quickly in such a large area," Mr Forman told reporters on Tuesday.

"But I think if you look down there, there's more area that can fall away as well."

Ms Douglas said she came into work early on Tuesday to find the back half of her business being held up by a gate. Minutes later, it was gone.

"It's a two-storey building, so it shows you how big that sinkhole is," she told AAP.

Community Recovery and Resilience Minister David Crisafulli has urged residents not to let the severe weather distract them from the flood-recovery task.

"We have got to keep rebuilding this place. We cannot stop," he told reporters in Bundaberg.

Across Queensland, SES crews have received 136 calls for help in 24 hours - mostly in the state's southeast - for leaky roofs, tarping and flood assistance.

In the Mary Valley, north of Brisbane, a minor flood warning has been issued for the Mary River, with 150mm of rain falling since 9am (AEST) on Monday.

Minor flood levels are being recorded at Gympie with further rises of up to 10 metres possible on Tuesday, depending on the rainfall.

Severe weather, including gale-force winds of about 100km/h, is expected across the southeast corner on Tuesday.

The Seqwater Flood Operations Centre has been mobilised, with low-level releases being made from Brisbane's two main dams.

Somerset Dam will release 400 cubic metres per second for several days while 150 cubic metres per second will flow from Wivenhoe Dam until Monday.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) in Sydney issued a flood watch on Tuesday for the area between Queensland and the NSW Hunter Valley on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The State Emergency Services (SES) said residents should be prepared for possible flooding in coastal river catchments.

"We are urging people who live or work near rivers and creeks to monitor the situation," an SES spokesperson said on Tuesday.

"People should prepare now in case they need to move to higher areas." - 9 NEWS.

Part of the Midtown Marina building fell into the Burnett River in Bundaberg in southern Qld on February 19, 2013.

Authorities are assessing whether to evacuate buildings in Bundaberg in southern Queensland after a marine supplies business was washed away on the bank of the Burnett River overnight.

Ten businesses on Quay Street, including a multi-level hotel, may be deemed unstable after last month's record flood.

A 20-metre section of the Burnett River bank has collapsed from the rain and a section of the Midtown Marina Store in Quay Street has washed away.

Owner Jan Douglas says it happened about 7:30am (AEST).

"I came into work early, went down and took some photographs and it was already dropped into the water, but it was held up by a farm gate onto the front of the roller door for safety," she said.

"You could hear the creaking and we saw it slowly just topple into the sinkhole."

Mayor Mal Forman says much of the area along the river is fragile.

"The way it's happened is very frightening to see it collapse so quickly and such a large area, but I think when you look down there's areas that could fall away as well," he said.

Nick Heenan manages a multi-storey hotel and says he is concerned he may have to evacuate the building.

"We are keeping a very close eye on it and also through last night - that's when we noticed the building had proceeded into the sinkhole," he said.

"It's only half of it - the upper lower level of the building has gone into it."

Meanwhile, the weather bureau says the low pressure system that caused yesterday's heavy rain in the Wide Bay is now moving south.

Falls of more than 100 millimetres were recorded since 9:00am yesterday at Rainbow Beach and Lady Elliot Island.

There is still a flood warning for the Mary River, with falls of 150 millimetres recorded in the catchment.

Bureau spokesman David Grant says there will be patches of rain today, but nothing like yesterday.

"We are expecting it to become fairly slow-moving today while deepening a bit further, continuing to rain at times," he said.
"We may hear the odd crack of thunder but really generally just scattered showers tending to rain at times." - Yahoo.

WATCH: Downpour washes away part of Bundaberg building.

EXPLOSIONS: Tracking Violent Outbursts Of Energy Across The World - Massive Gas Blast In Downtown Kansas City, Up To 3 Different Explosions, Gruesome Injuries Reported?!

February 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - At least 14 people were injured in a fire triggered by a natural gas explosion Tuesday in an upscale business and shopping district of Kansas City, Mo., authorities told NBC News.

Kansas City police said the blast occurred about 6 p.m. (7 p.m. ET) outside JJ's Restaurant in Country Club Plaza. Enormous flames tore into the night sky outside the restaurant, which was at the center of the fire and was destroyed, NBC station KSHB of Kansas City reported.

The explosion occurred Tuesday, Feb. 19, in Century Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. NBC News.
Kansas City Fire Chief Paul Berardi said in a news conference at 11 p.m. ET that the cause of the explosion was still under investigation.

"It doesn’t appear to be foul play at this time," Berardi added.

A statement released by the Missouri Gas Energy company said early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues.

At the news conference, Berardi said MGE had turned off the gas at 8 p.m. local time (9 p.m. ET) and there was no danger of another explosion occurring in the area. The chief acknowledged the department had received earlier reports of gas odor in the area.

Authorities had told NBC News earlier in the evening that the explosion occurred when a car struck a gas main.

"Get out! You are not safe right here! Please!" rescue crews could be heard urging people who were trying to get a look at the scene in the blast's aftermath.

"Fire is mostly under control," Kansas City Mayor Sly James said on Twitter at about 8 p.m. ET, but numerous crews remained on the scene nearly an hour later as flames spewing thick, black smoke continued to burn.

Crews were battling a four-alarm fire with possible multiple injuries reported Tuesday night near the
Country Club Plaza. MARY SCHULTE| The Kansas City Star.
According to The Associated Press, City Manager Troy Schulte said he had not heard of any fatalities and was not aware of anyone being reported missing. After 10:30 p.m. ET, authorities began searching the scene with cadaver dogs.

Berardi said he fears there may be fatalities at the scene, as the blast occurred during JJ's Restaurant's happy hour.

"Everything right now is geared toward people," the mayor said at the news conference, adding that the search for people who may have been unable to get out of the collapsed structure would continue through the night.

At least 11 ambulances responded, fire officials said. A physician at Saint Luke's Hospital said in a brief news conference the hospital had received five patients, including two patients in critical condition -- one with severe burns and another with deep lacerations.

University of Kansas Hospital had received six injured people, including two in serious condition and one critical. Two patients drove themselves in with minor injuries.

Two patients arrived at the Research Medical Center, and another at the Truman Medical Center.

Witnesses told KSHB that they smelled natural gas in the area of the restaurant at least an hour before the explosion.

The blast occurred during the dinner hour at JJ's Restaurant, a 27-year-old Kansas City institution. JJ's is widely regarded as one of the best dinner spots in the Midwest, earning a 93 rating from Zagat's, and its wine cellar has been listed by The Wine Spectator as one of the finest in the world. - NBC.

WATCH: Kansas City explosions.

Hours after an explosion and billowing fire at J.J’s restaurant injured more than a dozen people just west of the Country Club Plaza this evening, fire crews are trying to make sure no one is left inside the burned-out structure.

“We have cadaver dogs that are thoroughly combing the scene right now,” Fire Chief Paul Berardi said in a briefing about 10 p.m. “We will not know the result of that search for some time.”

In a statement this evening, Missouri Gas Energy described the blast as a natural gas explosion. “Early indications are that a contractor doing underground work struck a natural gas line, but the investigation continues,” the company said.

People in the area had begun smelling gas earlier in the afternoon. Berardi said utility crews had shut off gas to the area by 8 p.m., about two hours after the explosion.

At least 15 people are being treated at area hospitals, four in critical condition. One more patient is being transported now from the scene to St. Luke’s Hospital.

No deaths have been reported, but asked about fatalities, Berardi said: “This was happy hour in a crowded restaurant. Of course, we always fear fatalities.”

The fire that resulted from the explosion at the restaurant, 910 W. 48th St., about 6 p.m. was upgraded to a four-alarm blaze. Initially, 65 firefighters responded, and another 35 were called in to search the buildings in the surrounding neighborhood. The fire was reported under control at 8:16 p.m.

A fire official said the explosion appears to have been an accident.

There may have been two or even three explosions. A contractor working on a reported gas leak outside JJ’s said there was a small explosion outside the restaurant and some of the gas workers ran inside to order everybody out.

Then there was a larger explosion. The worker did not think everybody got out of the restaurant.

A woman who lives in an apartment across Belleview Avenue from JJ’s said she saw a lot of injured people being wheeled on stretchers, one man with a leg that appeared to be almost severed. She also saw people bleeding from the ears, perhaps from the explosion.

Another witness said he started smelling gas as early as 1 p.m. and reported it to a construction crew that was working at the West Edge project nearby. That person said a health spa next door to JJ’s, House of Elan, is also destroyed because a wall caved in.

JJ’s owner Jimmy Frantze is driving back to Kansas City from Oklahoma tonight.

“It was 28 years of a great restaurant, and then it has to end like this,” Frantze said. “"I want to check on my employees. I want to make sure they are all right."

Mark Ebbitts, who works at a nearby travel agency, stopped at JJ’s after work. He said the streets in the area were blocked off between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. because of the smell and he saw Missouri Gas Energy workers inside JJ’s with gas detectors. Ebbitts said an alarm went off but the gas workers did not appear to panic.

“They did not have a sense of urgency about them,” Ebbitts said. “They didn’t say we had to go.”

Kim Vineyard was in her apartment at 4732 Belleview Ave. across from JJ’s and said the explosion occurred just after 6 p.m.

“It sounded like my dining window, which faces Belleview, was gong to be blown through,” she said.

She and her husband and their two dogs were standing outside their building tonight, not sure whether they should leave the area or stay. Vineyard said the odor of gas was still very strong.

Joe Whisler of Westwood met friends at JJ’s after work Tuesday.

"I could smell gas from my car when I got to 48th and Belleview," Whisler said. "It was overpowering."

Whisler said he noticed a pipe in ground in the entrance to the alley on the east side of JJ’s that appeared to be leaking gas as he walked into the restaurant. "I could hear a hiss of gas and smell it wafting up," he said.

Whisler met his friends inside and had a glass of wine.

About 5:20, he said, Kansas City firefighters came into the restaurant and told the owners to turn off their ovens and grills and open the doors to the outside. They did as they were told, Whisler said. Employees were "covering their faces because of the odor," he said.

Crews were battling a four-alarm fire with possible multiple injuries reported Tuesday night near the
Country Club Plaza. MARY SCHULTE| The Kansas City Star.

"I said to the lead fire guy, ’Shouldn’t we evacuate here?’" Whisler said. "They told me no, that they had called the gas company. I saw three Missouri Gas Energy workers walking around outside."

But the odor proved too strong for Whisler, and he left JJ’s about 5:30 p.m.

"The smell inside was so bad I couldn’t stand it," he said. "It was unbearable."

Whisler noticed the same pipe wafting gas in the alley when he left JJ’s.

He estimated that about 15 people were in the bar and some people in the dining room when he left. The general manager, Matt Nichols, a friend of Whisler’s, was in the restaurant when he left. He was wondering Tuesday night about Nichols and other friends still at the restaurant when he left.

"Most of the staff are my friends," he said.

Whisler was reeling Tuesday night.

"I’m OK, but I was just 15 minutes from dead," he said.

Several employees of the Plaza Physicians Group, in an office across the alley from J.J’s, smelled gas around 1 p.m. and told a member of the street crews but they didn’t seem to pay any attention. The smell grew stronger through the day, to the point an employee blew out a candle in the office, said Dr. John Verstraete.

Just before 6 p.m., a member of the gas company showed up at the physicians’ office and said: “I recommend that you evacuate.”

Roughly two minutes later, everything exploded.

“We feel very blessed,” said Cisco Sherman, an office manager with the physicians group. He was huddled in a van with several co-workers, waiting to be allowed back in the building to get their belongings.

The staff saw their last patient at 5:45 p.m.. “There could have been a lobby full of people if it was a little earlier,” said Sharon Sears, a receptionist.

Crews were battling a four-alarm fire with possible multiple injuries reported Tuesday night near the
Country Club Plaza. MARY SCHULTE| The Kansas City Star.
The impact of he blast was felt blocks away.

"I thought something had exploded in my house," said Peggy Zilm, who lives about seven blocks from the site of the fire, in the Westwood neighborhood.

"It’s horrible," said Zilm, who said smoke was pouring over her street. "It just brings back too many memories of the Hyatt and other things. "

There are at least 12 ambulances oj the scene. Kansas City, Kan., and Johnson County have sent ambulances on stand-by.

Helicopter images of the site of the fire appear to show that the walls of the building may have been blown out. - Kansas City Star.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Dramatic New Eruption On Mount Etna In Italy - New Strombolian Activity At Bocca Nuova!

February 19, 2013 - SICILY, ITALY -  Italy's Mount Etna sent lava and gas shooting toward the stars early this morning (Feb. 19), the first big eruption for the volcano in 2013.

The famous Sicilian volcano burst to life overnight, sending a fountain of fire into the air. The dramatic scene was captured in a video by Klaus Dorschfeldt, a videographer and webmaster at Italy's National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology.

Mount Etna, one of the world's most active volcanoes, had emitted signs of an imminent paroxysm in recent weeks.

On Jan. 22, lava and strong flashes in the volcano's New Southeast Crater were clearly visible from the Sicilian foothills; these often herald a new paroxysm: short, violent eruptive bursts.

Dorschfeldt said he knew Mount Etna's recent signals could precede new activity. "[I've] followed the activity of Etna for many years, and with time you learn to know it as if it were your friend," he said in an email interview.

"Following it constantly [you] learn to be a keen observer and a minor change can lead to something important," he told OurAmazingPlanet.

The tallest volcano in Europe, Mount Etna is almost constantly spewing gas or lava. Its Bocca Nuova crater also erupted earlier this year, from Jan. 10 to Jan. 20. In 2011, Etna's violent bursts were spotted from space. - OAP.

WATCH: Dramatic new eruption on Mount Etna.

What started last night in fact became in a true paroxysm this time, with tall lava fountains and lava flows from the New SE crater.

Paroxysm of Etna on the webcam.
A lava flow descended into Valle del Bove and reached about 2600 m elevation on the slope north of Sierra Giannicola Picola. The eruption ended rapidly by about 06h30.

This marks the first "true" paroxysm this year, very similar to the spectacular ones during 2011-12, but comparably weaker than these.

The strombolian activity progressively increased and merged into lava fountains at around 04h40 local time.

The characteristic tall tremor peak.

Tremor is rising and probably, this means that some strombolian activity is present in either New SE crater or Bocca Nuova, but visibility is poor due to bad weather. - Volcano Discovery.

SHADOW WARS: Nightmare On The Korean Peninsula - North Korea Threatens "Final Destruction" Of South Korea As It Tests Long Range Rocket Engine In Preparation For Fresh Nuclear Test, In Conjunction With Iran!

February 19, 2013 - KOREAN PENINSULA - North Korea threatened South Korea with "final destruction" during a debate at the United Nations Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday, saying it could take further steps after a nuclear test last week.  "As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction," North Korean diplomat Jon Yong Ryong told the meeting.  Jon's comments drew quick criticism from other nations, including South Korea, France, Germany and Britain, whose ambassador Joanne Adamson said such language was "completely inappropriate" and the discussion with North Korea was heading in the wrong direction.  "It cannot be allowed that we have expressions which refer to the possible destruction of U.N. member states," she said.  Spanish Ambassador Javier Gil Catalina said the comment left him stupefied and appeared to be a breach of international law. 

"In the 30 years of my career I've never heard anything like it and it seems to me that we are not speaking about something that is even admissible, we are speaking about a threat of the use of force that is prohibited by Article 2.4 of the United Nations charter," Catalina said.  Since the North tested a nuclear bomb last week in defiance of U.N. resolutions, its southern neighbor has warned it could strike the isolated state if it believed an attack was imminent.  Pyongyang said the aim of the test was to bolster its defenses given the hostility of the United States, which has led a push to impose sanctions on North Korea.  "Our current nuclear test is the primary countermeasure taken by the DPRK in which it exercised its maximum self-restraint," said the North Korean diplomat Jon.  "If the U.S. takes a hostile approach toward the DPRK to the last, rendering the situation complicated, it (North Korea) will be left with no option but to take the second and third stronger steps in succession," he said, without indicating what that might entail.  North Korea has already told key ally China that it is prepared to stage one or two more tests this year to force the United States into diplomatic talks, a source with direct knowledge of the message told Reuters last week.

U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy said she found North Korea's threat on Tuesday profoundly disturbing and later tweeted that it was "offensive".  Poland's representative suggested North Korea's participation in the U.N. forum should be limited.  Impoverished and malnourished North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned states in the world.  It is still technically at war with South Korea after a 1950-53 civil war ended in a mere truce.  Washington and its allies are believed to be pushing to tighten the noose around North Korea's financial transactions in a bid to starve its leadership of funding.  Jon said last week's test was an act of self-defense against nuclear blackmail by the United States, which wanted to block North Korea's economic development and its fundamental rights.  "It is the disposition and firm will of the army and people of the DPRK to counter high-handed policy with tough-fist policy and to react to pressure and sanctions with an all-out counter-action," he said.  Jon said the United States had conducted most of the nuclear tests and satellite launches in history, and he described its pursuit of U.N. Security Council resolutions against North Korea as "a breach of international law and the height of double standards".  Neither Russia nor China, which are veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council, spoke at Tuesday's meeting in Geneva.  Before its nuclear test, North Korea was already facing growing diplomatic pressure at the United Nations.  The U.N. Human Rights Council is widely expected to order an inquiry next month into its leaders' responsibilities for crimes against humanity. - Reuters.

WATCH: North Korea to perform fourth Nuclear Test?

 North Korea's Nuke Was Bought And Paid For By Iran.
Intel: Iran military delegation was present at N. Korean
 nuclear test (East-Asia-Intel.com, Feb. 13)
All intelligence indicators received and processed by GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs show that the nuclear weapon tested by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) on Feb. 12, was paid for, and intended for, the Islamic Republic of Iran. It was, in essence, a test of an Iranian nuclear weapon, and involved scientific as well as financial involvement by the Iranian government. Moreover, the weapon was not — as some media reporting has averred — a “step toward” a North Korean or Iranian nuclear weapons capability: it was in fact a demonstration of a common North Korean and Iranian operationally-ready nuclear weapon.  Just as North Korean officials indicated long before the first North Korean nuclear weapons demonstration on Oct. 9, 2006, that the North Koreans had effectively tested its weapons and proven their design in the May 1998 Chagai-I series of tests by Pakistan, so the North Korean tests — particularly the February 12, 2013, test, were to prove Iranian weapon design efficacy.

However, given the commonality of the payload “nipple” on the Iranian and North Korean missiles, it seems likely that the nuclear weapon design tested would be the baseline system for both countries.  North Korea on Feb. 12, 2013, at 03.57hrs GMT detonated its third nuclear explosion, a miniaturized warhead, at an underground site at Punggye-ri. Even by Feb. 14, 2013, there was no detectable aerial evidence of the test, so well protected was the test site.  However, seismic data indicated — through two different methods — that the warhead yield was at least double that of the second nuclear test on May 25, 2009, and was either six to seven kiloton yield or 10 kiloton yield, and was from a warhead sufficiently small to fit into the nose compartment already in service on the North Korea’s Taepo-Dong 2 and Iran’s Shihab 3D intermediate-range ballistic missiles.  Initial interpretations of the limited evidence available soon after the detonation indicated that the weapon was a normal nuclear warhead (uranium and plutonium), and not the next-stage weapon on which the North Koreans had been working. That would be a boosted-fission weapon, just below the level of a thermonuclear warhead.  The Feb. 12, weapon was below the boosted fission level weapon. There was a large satcom terminal near the entrance to the test site (which was unusual), and it was believed that this was because the weapon was, indeed, a joint Iranian-North Korean weapon, and was, in fact, funded by Iran.  Intelligence sources noted that there were significant numbers of Iranians present at the test site.  Significantly, there were two test sites being prepared; one, heavily camouflaged, and the one used for the Feb. 12, 2013, test, indicating that a follow-on detonation was possible in the weeks following the third weapon test. - World Tribune.

 Ahmadinejad Puts North Korean-Educated Man For Key Post.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
(Photo credit: AP/Amr Nabil).
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has nominated a North Korean-educated former Iranian military official for a key post in his government.  The official IRNA news agency reported that Mohammad Hasan Nami has been named as the proposed Minister of Communications and Information Technology to parliament, and will now face a vote of confidence he is likely to pass.  Nami holds a doctorate degree in state management from Kim Il-Sung University in Pyongyang, North Korea. He is also a former deputy defense minister and Iran’s ex-deputy Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Army.  IRNA’s Monday report says Nami is fluent in English and is the man behind an Iranian national intranet project.  The West suspects Iran and North Korea of collaborating on nuclear projects.  It was reported Sunday night that the man whom Western intelligence agencies believe may very well be the head of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program was present as an observer last week when North Korea carried out a critical nuclear test  According to a British Sunday Times report Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi very rarely leaves Iranian soil due to fear that the Mossad will make an attempt on his life, following an alleged pattern of previous assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.  Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi is currently pursuing technology that would enable his country to assemble a nuclear warhead compact enough to be fitted to the ballistic missile technology in its possession, Western intelligence sources reportedly informed the paper.  North Korea’s test last week, during which it detonated a nuclear device at a remote underground site, was a key step en route to just such a prototype, South Korean defense officials and Japanese government sources were quoted as saying.  “The atomic bomb appears to have been made compact enough to be placed on a missile,” a Japanese source reportedly said. - Times of Israel.

North Korea Tells China Of Preparations For Fresh Nuclear Test.
North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks, said a source with direct knowledge of the message.  Further tests could also be accompanied this year by another rocket launch, said the source, who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.  North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation.  "It's all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year," the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third, at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT.  The tests will be undertaken, the source said, unless Washington holds talks with North Korea and abandons its policy of what Pyongyang sees as attempts at regime change.  North Korea also reiterated its long-standing desire for the United States to sign a final peace agreement with it and establish diplomatic relations, he said. North Korea remains technically at war with both the United States and South Korea after the Korean war ended in 1953 with a truce.- Reuters.

North Korea Tested Long Range Rocket Engine.
North Korea tested an engine for its new long-range missiles one day before its third nuclear test last week, government sources here said Sunday.     Pyongyang carried out a function test of the engine for its long-range "KN-08" missiles on the Dongchang-ri launch site in North Pyongan Province on Monday, according to multiple government sources. It was one day before the communist country defied international warnings by detonating what it calls a miniaturized atomic device, drawing a chorus of worldwide condemnations and prompting the United Nations Security Council to start work on "appropriate measures" against the North's latest provocation. The North also conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.  "It appears that North Korea conducted the engine test aimed at extending the range of the KN-08 missile to over 5,000 kilometers," said a source. He declined to be identified. "If the North decides the test successful, it is expected to operationally deploy the new long-range rocket," he added. North Korea unveiled six units of the mobile missile last April to celebrate the 100th birthday of Kim Il-sung, its founding father and grandfather of current leader Kim Jong-un. Experts assumed that the missile measuring 2 meters in diameter and 18 meters in length could carry a nuclear warhead, while the North has yet to conduct a test-firing.     "What deserves attention is that the North carried out the engine test despite being aware of the fact that the U.S. surveillance satellite would detect the move," said another source. "The engine test right before its third nuclear test would be intended to intensify its threat to the U.S. and its allies," he added.     North Korea has been making good on its threat to the international community following its nuclear test, warning that it is ready to conduct additional nuclear tests and can acquire intercontinental ballistic missiles "to counter hostile forces and bolster its self-defense capabilities." Seoul has been keeping close tabs on the possibility that the North may launch the long-range rocket if the U.N. Security Council slaps tougher sanctions on the North for its latest atomic test, according to military officials. - Yonhap.

Iranian Nuke Chief Was In North Korea For Atomic Test.
An Iranian Shahab-3 missile is launched during military
 maneuvers outside the city of Qom, Iran, Tuesday,
June 28, 2011 (photo credit: AP/ISNA, Ruhollah Vahdati).
The man whom Western intelligence agencies say may very well be the head of Iran’s clandestine nuclear weapons program was present as an observer last week when North Korea carried out a critical nuclear test, The British Sunday Times reported. According to the report Sunday, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi very rarely leaves Iranian soil due to fear that Israel’s Mossad will make an attempt on his life, following an alleged pattern of previous assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi is currently pursuing technology that would enable his country to assemble a nuclear warhead compact enough to be fitted to the ballistic missile technology in its possession, Western intelligence sources reportedly said.  North Korea’s test last week, during which it detonated a nuclear device at a remote underground site, was a key step en route to just such a prototype, South Korean defense officials and Japanese government sources were quoted as saying.  “The atomic bomb appears to have been made compact enough to be placed on a missile,” a Japanese source reportedly said.  The test was roundly condemned the world over — even Iran issued an ostensible scolding – with US President Barack Obama calling it a “highly provocative act” that threatened security and international peace. Meanwhile, North Korea’s official state media said the test was aimed at coping with “outrageous” US hostility that “violently” undermined the North’s peaceful, sovereign right to launch satellites. Evidence of military cooperation between Iran and North Korea has been compounded by satellite images showing distinct similarities between an Iranian missile launch pad and a North Korean missile facility, the report said.  Iran’s Shahab-3 long-range missile is based on the North Korean Nodong-1 and is estimated to have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers. In December, Iranian agents were reportedly on hand in North Korea for a long-range missile test.  Fakhrizadeh-Mahabadi, the Iranian nuclear official, reportedly may have traveled to Pyongyang through China, an ally of North Korea that has also allegedly provided nuclear and military assistance to Tehran. - Times of Israel.

EXTREME WEATHER: North America Experiencing Severe Storms - Hail, Violent Winds And Possible Tornadoes To Slam Texas To Mississippi; 3 Killed, Plows Withdrawn As Blizzard Grips Western Minnesota; More Snow Possible This Week In Pittsburgh Area; Winter Storm To Hit US From California To Midwest; Strong Winds, Snow Pounds Atlantic Canada As Thousands Lose Power! UPDATE: Scientists - U.S. Has To Get Used To Extreme Weather!

February 19, 2013 - NORTH AMERICA - As a major storm swings out of the Southwest, there is the potential of violent thunderstorms sweeping from western Texas to the lower Mississippi Valley during the middle of the week.  The setup has the potential to bring a significant severe weather outbreak, by way of a developing squall line.  The most common characteristics of the severe thunderstorms will be damaging wind gusts, hail and blinding downpours. However, a few of the storms will bring the potential for a tornado.  Tornadoes could occur during the early stages of the developing squall line or in isolated storms ahead of the squall line.

The first isolated storms during the outbreak are likely to fire late Wednesday afternoon from parts of western Texas in the vicinity of I-27/Route 287. The storms will fire on the leading edge of clear-air wind gusts that can kick up dust in parts of New Mexico.  The storms will then progress and increase in number farther east, along the I-20 corridor across central Texas to near the Red River area Wednesday night. The storms could impact areas from San Antonio to Dallas/Ft. Worth. During Thursday and Thursday evening, the storms will cross the lower Mississippi Valley region from southern Arkansas and Louisiana to Mississippi. The severe weather outbreak will follow strong to locally severe thunderstorms Monday evening over the lower Mississippi Valley. The pattern of strong storm systems sweeping across much of the nation will continue through the end of the month and will continue to bring rounds of severe weather and heavy rain in the South and areas of snow, ice and rain in the northern states. - AccuWeather.

More Snow Possible This Week In Pittsburgh Area.
Rain and snow showers are expected after 2 p.m. Tuesday with about a half-inch of accumulation possible. On Monday, it was in the 40s, with plenty of sunshine. But for Tuesday? Things are gonna look a little different. Rain and snow showers are expected after 2 p.m., with about a half-inch of accumulation possible. After 3 a.m. Wednesday we could see another half-inch of precipitation. And things aren't looking much better the rest of the week, either. "A frontal boundary will push into the area Thursday night into Friday, bringing a wintry mix to the area. Light accumulations of snow and ice area possible with this system," according to a hazardous weather outlook issued by the National Weather Service.  For a full weather report, visit the National Weather Service website here. - Chartiers Valley Patch.

 Winter Storm To Hit US From California To Midwest.
Snow forecast through Wednesday. The Weather Channel.
A winter storm moving in from the Pacific Ocean was expected to bring a foot or more of snow and 75 mph wind gusts to mountainous areas of California on Tuesday, before aiming for the Midwest and laying down a wintry blanket as it goes, the National Weather Service said. Even coastal Californians would feel the storm's wrath in the form of high winds and heavy rains, forecasters said. Weather.com meteorologists said the storm originated in the Gulf of Alaska and was taking a southerly course that would hammer California before the system turns inland and strikes as far northeast as Chicago and the Midwest. Mountainous parts of Los Angeles, San Diego and Ventura counties in California were under winter storm warnings, and snow could present a danger on mountain highways, including Interstate 15, the weather service said. Those on the Southern California coast were expected to see see wind-whipped waves. High-surf advisories, predicting waves up to 10 feet, have been issued from Ventura County south through Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.  Up to two inches of rain could fall in some areas as the storm moves through, and high winds and snow are likely to also cause problems inland, in heavily populated Riverside and San Bernardino counties, both of which are under winter storm and high-wind warnings.

After the storm moves through California, it will take a sharp turn and hit the Four Corners states Wednesday and Thursday, bringing widespread snowfall across the mountains of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and parts of Arizona, Weather.com reported.  Weather Channel meteorologist Nick Wiltgen said that as the storm moved eastward, cold air from Canada and moist air from the western Gulf of Mexico would mix to bring snowfalls of up to an inch an hour for several hours, setting the stage for a "major winter storm" over the Plains that could produce double-digit snowfalls along the Interstate 80 corridor. Just to the south, an icy mix could make travel treacherous.  A huge section of the middle of the country is under a winter storm watch, and the Deep South may see severe thunderstorms.  By the time the weather system reaches the Great Lakes, the snowfall was likely to be minor, Wiltgen said.  However some computer models suggested Chicago would get heavy snow late in the week.  The weather service has issued special weather statements and various winter storm advisories for large parts of the western Great Lakes region.  The Northern Plains were expected to remain in the icy grip of arctic winds, with wind chills in many approaching 40 degrees below zero. Up to nine inches of snow was thought possible in places.  Nearly the entire state of Minnesota and large parts of the Dakotas were under a wind-chill advisory. - NBC News.

3 Killed, Plows Withdrawn As Blizzard Grips Western Minnesota.
Wes Bevans, a truck driver from Northern California, walks to
his truck at Flying J Travel Plaza in Grand Forks, N.D., Monday.
Dozens of semi trucks were forced to wait out the storm as
Interstate 29 from Grand Forks to the Canadian border closed.
Photo: Eric Hylden, Associated Press.
Three people were killed on Minnesota highways Monday and the state Transportation Department pulled some plows off the road as a blizzard roared across western Minnesota, blinding drivers and coating pavement with snow and ice.  Two people were killed in a four-vehicle accident at midday on Interstate 94 near Barnesville, between Fergus Falls and Moorhead, and one died in a head-on collision on Hwy. 23 south of Granite Falls just after 7:30 a.m.  Winds of up to 30 miles per hour, with gusts pushing 40, were actually drilling under a crust atop a deep snow pack and lifting that snow into the air, reducing visibility, National Weather Service meteorologist Tony Zaleski said. More snow was falling as well. The state Transportation Department started ordering plows off the highways about 4 p.m. in the Willmar area. By 6 p.m. plows had been withdrawn from roads in six west-central Minnesota counties. Willmar school officials also ordered buses on out-of-town routes to return to the school because of the poor conditions and asked parents to make arrangements to pick their kids up.  Plows were expected to be back on the job before Tuesday morning’s commute under clearing skies, although winds were expected to remain strong through the day.  According to the State Patrol, the wreck on I-94 was caused when a car tried to slip past a semitrailer truck in the left lane and a MnDOT plow on the shoulder, hitting both, stalling and then being struck by a pickup truck. Names of the dead, who were apparently in the car, were not available. The pickup driver suffered a minor injury; the plow and semi drivers were uninjured.  The westbound lanes were closed for several hours Monday afternoon.  In the accident near Granite Falls, 35-year-old Terrie McCoss of Marshall was killed when her northbound sedan was hit when Jennifer Heslin, 50, of Granite Falls, lost control of her SUV and crossed the center line.  The cold front that brought the high winds Monday sent temperatures plummeting across the state. In the Twin Cities, the temperature dropped from a high of 34 just before noon to 16 at 7 p.m., with a windchill reading of 2 degrees. Fergus Falls at that hour was experiencing an air temperature of 0 and windchill of minus-24.  The Weather Service warned of windchills of 20 below to 30 below for the metro area Tuesday night; a blizzard warning was to remain posted for west-central Minnesota until midnight.  The Twin Cities temperature was expected to drop to 2 below by Tuesday morning, rise to only 5 Tuesday, then fall to 8 below by Wednesday morning.  The snow and following cold are part of a long parade of storm systems from the Canadian Arctic in recent weeks. But a jet stream shift later this week is expected to bring a storm originating in the southern Rockies to the Twin Cities, one that could dump 6 to 7 inches of snow on the metro area from Thursday into Friday, Zaleski said.  Temperatures should rise into the upper 20s with that storm later in the week, but the replenished snow cover “should extend the winter,” Zaleski said. - Star Tribune.

Strong Winds, Snow Pounds Atlantic Canada As Thousands Lose Power.
Thousands of people on the East Coast lost power and school was cancelled in Nova Scotia and parts of New Brunswick after blasts of winter wind and wet snow swept through the region.  Nova Scotia Power reported about 12,000 outages by 8 a.m. local time.  In New Brunswick, NB Power issued a news release saying that at least 6,000 customers had lost power in the Fredericton, Rothesay and St. Stephen areas, with more people expected to report the loss of electricity as the morning went on.  "The storm has certainly created significant damage including broken poles and large trees on lines," wrote Meghan Gerrish, a spokeswoman for NB Power.  A spokeswoman for Nova Scotia Power said repair crews were having difficulty reaching some areas in the southern half of the province due to the poor driving conditions.  "They're experiencing severe weather there (in the Annapolis Valley) which is causing travel delays for our crews and will impact restoration efforts throughout the day," said Lauren Brown, a spokeswoman for the utility.  Over 50 communities in Newfoundland's northern peninsula lost power as well when the storm hit Sunday evening, and the province's utility was still restoring power to those communities early today.  The Trans-Canada Highway in western Newfoundland was closed for several hours on Sunday evening, after a tractor-trailer jackknifed on the road in the Hampden Junction area and blocked traffic.  Schools closed in Nova Scotia and five of seven school boards in New Brunswick due to the weather.  Police forces around the region were warning of hazardous driving conditions as road-clearing teams started moving snow off roads and highways.  In Prince Edward Island it's a public holiday, but police were cautioning travellers to be careful on the roads and the Confederation Bridge was restricting trucks and tractor-trailers from crossing.  Airports in Halifax and in St. John's, N.L., were reporting cancellations and delays early in the morning for flights within the region.  Environment Canada said that strong winds caused blowing snow and near-zero visibility driving conditions.  In western Cape Breton, wind gusts approached 160 kilometres per hour.  Between 20 to 40 centimetres fell in New Brunswick, while eastern Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I. and Nova Scotia had varying amounts of snowfall mixed with rain.  Marine Atlantic cancelled both of its crossings between North Sydney, N.S., and Port Aux Basques, N.L., on Sunday. - CTV News.

WATCH: Strong winds, snow pounds Atlantic Canada as thousands lose power.

Scientists: U.S. Has To Get Used To Extreme Weather.
Scientists meeting at this week’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Boston have warned that extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the Texas drought are here to stay. At this week’s annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) researchers served notice that episodes of extreme weather like Superstorm Sandy and the extended severe drought in Texas are the new normal as human-driven climate change makes such events more intense and more frequent.

Just a few days after President Obama made reference to Superstorm Sandy and other wild weather events in his State of the
 Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite 13 (GOES-13)
captured this image of Hurricane Sandy on October 28, 2012.
Union address, researchers meeting at the AAAS, while echoing the President’s remarks that single events don’t constitute a trend, pointed to a number of factors highlighting why we seem to be experiencing ever more severe meteorological conditions: • In the 1950s, the number of days setting record high temperatures in the U.S. equalled the number of days setting record low temperatures. Fifty years on, record highs were twice as likely as record lows.

• Precipitation falling as the heaviest rain and snow events in the U.S. increased almost 20% since the 1950s.

• Since the 1970s, almost every measure of hurricane activity in the Atlantic Ocean, from frequency to storm intensity, has increased substantially.

Donald Wuebbles, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Illinois, commented,
"The scientific analyses are now indicating a strong link between changing trends in severe weather events and the changing climate. Every weather event that happens nowadays takes place in the context of a changed background climate.” “Globally the temperatures are higher, the sea levels are higher, and there is more water vapor in the atmosphere, which energizes storms. So nothing is entirely natural anymore. The background atmosphere has changed and continues to change due to human activity.” “While a particular heat wave may have still have occurred in the absence of human-induced warming, it would not have been as hot, or lasted this long, and such events would not occur as frequently."
A body of evidence has gradually been built up by ecologists and wildlife biologists which points to climate change affecting when and where plants flower and animals breed but biologist Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin said some of these botanical and zoological changes can be brought about by incidents of extreme weather, with even just a few days of extreme heat or rainfall having an impact. Whilst acknowledging that factors such as pollution and shrinking habitats can combine with climate change and affect the plant and animal kingdoms, Parmesan said studies of coral reefs and other natural habitats suggest that “if we reduce these other human stresses, we actually can increase resilience and resistance in natural ecological systems.” The researchers made no forecasts as to the ability of humans to survive in the face of more extreme weather but they did highlight some historical events pointing to societies that had failed to adapt to changes in climate. David Stahle, a tree-ring scholar from the University of Arkansas spoke on tree-ring analysis from the American Southwest suggesting a drought in the 13th century. So severe was the drought that it may have forced the inhabitants of Mesa Verde, Colorado to abandon their fields and homes. He commented,

"The historical record shows us a community that may have failed environmentally. We are doing the same thing now in terms of our heavy consumption of water and fossil fuels."
Donald Wuebbles made reference to farmers in the American Midwest already engaged in altering planting times and even crop types as a result of severe drought and floods seen in recent years. This year’s extreme drought in Texas has been monitored by Texas State climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. He said the extreme conditions in Texas had more to do with extreme high temperatures rather than lack of rainfall. In Texas, reservoirs are at their lowest levels in almost a quarter of a century. In spring 2013, the Texas state legislature will discuss a water plan intended to guarantee supplies for the next 50 years. The difficulty, as Nielsen-Gammon pointed out, is the required outlay, “... it costs $53 billion, and there’s presently no mechanism to fund it. Up until this point, climate change has been largely an abstract concept because some of the United States has not seen a large increase in temperatures until just recently. The awareness of the importance of dealing with climate change is just now becoming apparent within our state.” - Digital Journal.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: The Volcano Discovery Report For February 19, 2013 - Updates On Stromboli, Etna, Santiaguito, Kizimen, Shiveluch, Tolbachik, Ambrym, Tongariro, White Island, Santa María, Fuego, Copahue, And Sakurajima!

February 19, 2013 - WORLDWIDE VOLCANOES - The following constitutes the new activity, unrest and ongoing report from the Volcano Discovery Group.

Thermal webcam image of the crater area of Stromboli (INGV).
Stromboli (Eolian Islands, Italy): After the brief surge of activity during last week, the volcano has calmed down again to average levels.

Paroxysm of Etna on the webcam.
Etna (Sicily, Italy): What started last night in fact evolved into a true paroxysm this time, with tall lava fountains and lava flows from the New SE crater. This is the first eruption of this kind after 9 months, and it will be interesting to see whether more follow (likely).

The strombolian activity progressively increased and merged into lava fountains at around 04h40 local time. A lava flow descended into Valle del Bove and reached about 2600 m elevation on the slope north of Sierra Giannicola Picola. The eruption ended rapidly by about 06h30... [read more]

Tremor is rising and probably, this means that some strombolian activity is present in either New SE crater or Bocca Nuova, but visibility is poor due to bad weather.

Shiveluch (Kamchatka): A possible ash explosion sent ash up to 16,500 ft (5.0 km) a.s.l. KVERT registered moderate seismicity, but clouds obscured the view of the volcano.

Tolbachik (Kamchatka): KVERT reports no changes in the ongoing eruption, that continues to produce lava flows from the southern fissure.

SO2 from Ambrym today (NOAA).
Ambrym (Vanuatu): Strong SO2 emissions are visible on today's NOAA satellite data. This suggests that the lava supply to the lava lakes inside the vents remains strong.

Current seismic signal at Tongariro (WT station, GeoNet).
Tongariro (North Island, New Zealand): An increased number of earthquakes and possibly a weak tremor pulses appear on today's seismic recording.

Current seismic signal from White Island (GeoNet).
White Island (New Zealand): Continuous tremor remains high (although a bit lower than a few days ago) and earthquakes have started to reappear. So far, no recent updates have been posted by GeoNet.

Santa María / Santiaguito (Guatemala): Relatively frequent small to moderate explosions have been occurring today. The activity generated ash plumes rising up to 1-1.5 km above the lava dome and drifting at 13,000 ft (4 km) altitude to the NW.

Fuego (Guatemala): The volcano has calmed down and is back to its typical activity with occasional mild strombolian explosions, generating ash plumes rising 5-800 m above the crater.

Copahue (Chile/Argentina): The volcano continued to show a gradually decreasing trend of internal activity, is the conclusion of the latest bulletin SERNAGEOMIN published.
Weak seismic swarms continued to be registered mainly in the first week of February. A total of 331 seismic events were measured between 1-15 Feb. Degassing has been weak except on 5 Feb, when a gas plume rose significantly higher.

Sakurajima (Kyushu, Japan): After a period of frequent strong explosions, the volcano seems to be taking a rest and is back with smaller explosions at a rate of 1-3 per day.

WATCH: A webcam video has been posted showing an explosion on 8 February:

Photo of the Day: Klyuchevskoi volcano, Kamchatka
Klyuchevskoi volcano, Kamchatka (Photo: Alexander Lobashevsky).

SHADOW WARS: Escalating Towards World War III - Russia Sends Four More Warships To Mediterranean Sea Near Syria; United States Scrambles Jet Fighters After Russian Nuclear Bombers Circle American Airspace Over Guam!

February 19, 2013 - MIDDLE EAST - A flotilla of four Russian warships is heading to the Mediterranean Sea near the Syrian waters, Russian Defense Ministry says.

The ministry said in a statement to Russian media on Tuesday that the four warships will join an escort ship and smaller vessels, which are currently on duty in the area.

Russia sends four more warships to Mediterranean Sea.
Russia’s Ria Novosti news agency quoted a military source as saying that the main task of the deployed ships could be participating in a possible evacuation of Russian nationals from Syria.

"Even though the tasks of the warships has not been announced, it can be assumed that given the development of the situation in the region their main job will be taking part in a possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria," the source said, according to the Russian news agency.
Also on Tuesday, Russian Emergencies Ministry said it sent two planes to the Syrian port city of Latakia to transfer 46 tons of humanitarian aid for civilians in the Arab country.
A ministry spokesman also said the planes would evacuate any Russians wanting to return to Russia on the flight back.

Russia also deployed five landing ships, carrying military vehicles and hundreds of marines, as well as combat vessels in the eastern Mediterranean in January.

The diplomatic sources said at the time that the ships were deployed to participate in a naval drill and to deter any military intervention by the Western states in Syria.

In December, Russia also sent warships carrying a marines unit to Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus, where Moscow has a naval base. - Press TV.

US Scrambles Jet Fighters After Russian Nuclear Bombers Circle US Airspace Over Guam.
Two Russian bombers have been caught circling the US island of Guam in a 'highly unusual' move some are claiming shows President Vladimir Putin's growing strategic assertiveness towards America.  The aircraft - Russian Tu-95 Bear-H bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons - flew over the western Pacific island just hours before Obama's state of the union address on Tuesday and were intercepted by Air Force F-15 jets. 

Bombers: Two Russian Tu-95 Bear-H bombers, like that pictured, flew over the western Pacific island of Guam
just hours before Obama's state of the union address on Tuesday and were intercepted by Air Force F-15 jets.
Officials insisted the surprise training mission 'stayed professional' and said it was unclear whether the bombers were equipped with nuclear missiles. The bombers remained in international air space, they said.   Air Force Capt. Kim Bender, a spokeswoman for the Pacific Air Force in Hawaii, told The Washington Free Beacon that the F-15s based on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, 'scrambled and responded to the aircraft.

The Tu-95s were intercepted and left the area in a northbound direction. No further actions occurred,' she said, refusing to release any other details for security reasons.  The Russian planes were tracked by US long-range radars and satellites as they took off from northeastern Russia.  

Highly unusual: The training mission, which took place over Guam, pictured, was 'highly unusual but not unprecedented' officials said.
Japan also rushed to send up fighter jets to intercept the aircraft as the bombers passed over Japanese airspace but did not enter it.  A US official told NBC News the fly-over 'wasn’t provocative but it certainly got our attention.' 

Former U.N. ambassador and former State Department international security undersecretary John Bolton told the Free Beacon that the Russian bomber flights appeared to be part of a new tack Moscow was taking in response to President Obama's anti-nuclear policies.

New tack: The training exercise some are claiming shows President Vladimir Putin's growing strategic
assertiveness towards America.
Unnamed defense officials told the newspaper that the bombers were probably equipped with six Kh-55 or Kh-55SM cruise missiles that can hit targets up to 1,800 miles away with either a high-explosive warhead or a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead. 

However, the Air Force didn't confirm that the bombers were in fact armed.  NBC reported officials saying the act was 'not unprecedented' however the Free Beacon wrote that Russian strategic bombers were not known to have conducted such operations in the past from the nation's bases in the Russian Far East, which is thousands of miles away and over water.  The trip requires 'multiple refueling,' according to NBC. - Daily Mail.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Briton Dies After Contracting New SARS-Like Virus - "Coronavirus Belongs To Same Family As SARS" And Current Cases May Be "Tip Of The Iceberg"?!

February 19, 2013 - ENGLAND - A British man infected with a new virus from the same family as SARS has died, health officials said on Tuesday, bringing the worldwide death toll from the previously unknown disease to six.

The virus, called novel coronavirus or NCoV, was unknown in humans until it emerged in the Middle East last year. There have been 12 confirmed cases worldwide - including in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain - and half the patients have died.

An electron image of the coronavirus in an image courtesy of Britain's Health Protection Agency. The virus,
called novel coronavirus or NCoV, was unknown in humans until it emerged in the Middle East last year.
Credit: Reuters/HPA.
"This patient had an underlying condition that may have made them more susceptible to respiratory infections," the Health Protection Agency said in a statement announcing the death of one of four people in Britain with the NCoV infection.

NCoV was identified when the World Health Organisation issued an international alert in September 2012, saying a completely new virus had infected a Qatari man in Britain who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.

Since then 12 cases have been identified, including a cluster of cases reported last week in a family in Britain.

The HPA said it had followed up more than 100 people who had close contact with cases in this family cluster.

"Besides the identified secondary cases, all tests carried out on contacts to date have been negative for the novel coronavirus infection," it said.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes those that cause the common cold as well as the one that caused SARS - which emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it infected worldwide.

Scientists are not sure where the new virus came from, but say one possibility is it came from animals. HPA experts say preliminary scientific analysis suggests its closest relatives are bat coronaviruses.

In one of the first published papers on NCoV, scientists said on Tuesday that while it might have jumped from animals, it was already well adapted to infect humans and could penetrate the lining of passageways in the lungs and evade the immune system as easily as a cold virus could.

This shows it "grows very efficiently" in human cells and suggests it is well-equipped for infecting humans, said Volker Thiel of the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in Switzerland, who led the study.

John Watson, the HPA's head of respiratory diseases said the recent cluster of cases, two of which had no recent history of travel to the Middle East, provided "strong evidence of human-to-human transmission" of the new virus "in at least some circumstances".

Ian Jones, a professor of virology at Britain's University of Reading said currently NCoV "does not appear threatening".

"It is related genetically to SARS but only distantly and the other known human coronaviruses cause only mild disease," he said in an emailed comment.

He added, however, that like bird flu, it may in future have the potential to spread more widely "but not without acquiring multiple changes".

Watson said the cluster of British cases offer an opportunity for researchers to find out more about the characteristics of the infection in humans and risk factors for contracting it.

"The risk of infection in contacts in most circumstances is still considered to be low and the risk ... to the general UK population remains very low," he said. - Reuters.

A microscopic view of the new Coronavirus.
Coronavirus Cases May Be "Tip Of The Iceberg".
Research on the new strain of coronavirus, which has killed almost half of those who have caught it, has found that it breeds in the human body faster than SARS and can evade the immune system as easily as the common cold.

There have been 12 cases reported worldwide and five have died.

The new findings published in the journal mBio, the online open-access journal of the American Society for Microbiology found similarities between the new coronavirus and the common cold.

Co-author Volker Thiel of The Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in St. Gallen, Switzerland, said: "We don't know whether the cases we observe are the tip of the iceberg.

"Or whether many more people are infected without showing severe symptoms." 

Despite there being relatively few cases in the three months since the virus was discovered, suggesting it is not particularly contagious, the scientists found it is well adapted to the human body and can replicate faster than SARS.

Coronaviruses normally cause upper respiratory diseases and the new strain is particularly severe causing kidney problems, breathing difficulties and fever.

Its nearest genetic relative is a bat coronavirus. - Telegraph.

"Coronavirus Belongs To Same Family As SARS".
The new Sars-like virus probably originated from an infected bat and was passed to humans via other animals, a veteran Hong Kong virologist said on Monday. Dr Ho Pak-leung, president of the University of Hong Kong’s Centre of Infection, said the novel coronavirus belongs to the same family as the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus that killed 299 people in Hong Kong, and others worldwide, in 2003.

Ho, speaking on a radio programme, said he believed the novel coronavirus had the same origin as the Sars virus and that their transmission routes to humans were similar. He said the viruses probably first passed to a wild animal and then on to humans. In the case of the Sars, the virus was passed to humans from palm civets – a wild animal consumed by mainland diners as a delicacy.

Last week, two new infections of the novel coronavirus were reported in Britain, bringing the total number of cases worldwide to 12 since the virus was reported last April. Of the 12 people infected with novel coronavirus, five have died. Judging from the development of the virus, evidence of its human-to-human transmission had been limited, Ho said. “If the virus was easily transmissible from human to human, we would have had far more many infections than we do now,” he said.

But both the novel coronavirus and the Sars virus caused similar serious symptoms to people, such as severe pneumonia, fever and breathing difficulty, Ho said. He said most patients infected with novel coronavirus, as with Sars, would require intensive care and some would eventually die as there was no specific drug to combat it and doctors could only used the anti-viral drug Ribavirin and steroids to treat patients.- SCMP.

ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: Disaster Precursors - Bird Invasion Brings Real-Life Horror To Kentucky City?!

February 19, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Millions of birds have descended on a small Kentucky city this winter, fouling the landscape, scaring pets and raising the risk for disease in a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock's horror film, The Birds.

The blackbirds and European starlings blacken the sky of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, before roosting at dusk, turn the landscape white with bird poop, and the disease they carry can kill a dog and sicken humans.

"I have seen them come in, and there are enough that if the sun is just right, they'll cloud your vision of the sun," said Hopkinsville-Christian County historian William Turner. "I estimate there are millions of them."

David Chiles, president of the Little River Audubon Society, said the fact that migratory flocks are roosting in the city rather than flying further south is tied to climate warming.

Blackbirds descend on the town of Hopkinsville, Kentucky - Source: Reuters.
"The weather, the climate plays a big role," said Chiles, the bird enthusiast who also teaches biology at Hopkinsville High School.

"They somehow establish a roost south of where the ground is frozen solid," he explained. "They are ground feeders, feeding on leftover crops and insects. If the fields are frozen solid, they can't feed."

Although the birds have not turned on humans as in the classic 1963 Hitchcock movie featuring vicious attacks on people in a small northern California town, the city has taken defensive measures.

The south-central Kentucky city of 35,000 people, about an hour north of Nashville, has hired a pest control company to get rid of the interlopers.

Henry Jako, general manager of McGee Pest Control, said crews use air cannons and "bird-bangers" - similar to bottle rocket fireworks aimed into the trees where the birds roost.

The artillery attacks are disturbing some locals as well as the birds.

"It scares my little dog to death," said Christian County Judge-Executive Steve Tribble. "I don't know what it does other than move the birds from one tree to the next."

Jako said that in the worst-affected neighborhoods, multiple cannons and consecutive blasts are being used to keep the birds moving.

When they fly away, the birds leave behind a huge volume of excrement.

"I've got an apple tree that has almost turned white," Tribble said. "Any vehicle parked outside is covered up. I guess it's good for folks that have car washes."

Historian Turner said that the blackbird invasion this year is the worst he's witnessed since the late 1970s, when Hopkinsville suffered a similar bird blitz.

"We aren't seeing the temperatures go as low as zero like we used to. Now we very often don't even see temperatures in the teens around here," Jako said. "If the birds are comfortable, they are going to stay around," he added.

The birds also pose a serious health hazard because their droppings can carry a fungal disease called histoplasmosis, which can cause lung infections and symptoms similar to pneumonia, according to the Centers for Disease Control website.

"It does become a matter of public health," said Dr. Wade Northington, director of the Murray State University Breathitt Veterinary Center, an animal disease diagnostic facility whose territory covers a 322 kilometre radius from Hopkinsville, including parts of Tennessee, Illinois and Indiana.

"The blackbirds are able to harbor this organism ... so it can be shed in their droppings and it becomes a problem, especially where they tend to roost in extremely high numbers," he said.

It can cause illness in humans, and is particularly dangerous for people with compromised immune systems or respiratory ailments, he said. It can be fatal for canines.

Turner, who suffered histoplasmosis decades ago after excavating family property that once held a chicken coop, describes the disease as debilitating. "I didn't have any energy, and I didn't have much appetite and lost weight," he said.

The droppings contaminate the soil, making it unhealthy for years. It is a worry for dog owners, said Northington.

"It can be very expensive and take months to get it arrested and get an animal cured from it," Northington said. "The disease is very prevalent in our area." - TVNZ.

WATCH: Eye-witness captures swarm of blackbirds over Kentucky.

On a perfectly sunny day, a dark black cloud descended over Hopkinsville, Kentucky, but it's not what you might think: it's a swarm of thousands of blackbirds roosting in trees there.

The Audubon Society says this year's mild winter is keeping the birds from flying further south. As a result, some trees and sidewalks in the neighborhood are covered in bird droppings.

The Audubon Society says those droppings can also carry a fungus known as histoplasmosis - something that can make people with weak immune systems sick, and it can even kill some dogs if it's bad enough.

The city has hired a pest control company to use air cannons that make a loud noise to scare away those birds from roosting in Hopkinsville trees.

They're loud when they come in at night, they're loud when they leave in the morning and the droppings all over the houses and sidewalks are really inconvenient," said David Chiles with the Audubon Society.

The Audubon Society says the birds shouldn't hang around Hopkinsville for too much longer.
They expect the birds to fly further north in about three to four weeks. - News Channel 5.

WATCH: Blackbird Invasion Descends Upon Hopkinsville.