Monday, October 21, 2013

SIGNS IN THE HEAVENS: The Latest Happenings In Space - Comet ISON's Blazing Green Tail Captured In Stunning Photo; Orionid Meteor Shower Still Active; Two Large Sunspots Of Interest Emerges; And NASA's All-Sky Cameras Sees 34 Fireballs Intersecting With Earth!

October 21, 2013 - SPACE - Here are several stories of the latest happenings in space.

COMET ISON BLAZING GREEN TAIL: Comet ISON blazes through the night sky on its dangerous journey toward the sun in this great photo recently sent to

Adam Block took this image of comet ISON using a SBIG STX16803 CCD Camera with a 32-inch Schulman
Telescope Schulman Telescope atop Mount Lemmon from the University of Arizonas SkyCenter on the
morning of Oct. 8. (Adam Block/Mount Lemmon SkyCenter/University of Arizona)

Astrophotographer Adam Block captured this amazing image of the comet using a SBIG STX16803 CCD camera with a 32-inch Schulman Telescope Schulman Telescope atop Mount Lemmon from the University of Arizona’s SkyCenter on the morning of Oct. 8.

Comet ISON could wow stargazers this December if it survives its close encounter with the sun next month. The comet was discovered last year by a couple of amateur Russian astronomers as it made its way from the cold and distant comet refractory called the Oort Cloud. Astronomers believe this trip is its maiden voyage to the inner solar system.

Comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun on Nov. 28, coming within 730,000 miles of the solar surface. Recent photos of Comet ISON by the Hubble Space Telescope showed that the comet has held together during its trip into the inner solar system.

ORIONID METEOR SHOWER--STILL ACTIVE: Earth is passing through a stream of debris from Halley's Comet, source of the annual Orionid meteor shower. Last night NASA's All-Sky Fireball Network detected 15 Orionid fireballs over the United States. After sunrise, the Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar (CMOR) continued to record echoes from Orionids in broad daylight. This CMOR sky map shows the Orionid radiant (ORI) clearly active at 1445 UT on Oct. 21st:

Forecasters expect the shower to peak on Oct. 21st with about 20 meteors per hour. However, Halley's debris stream is broad, so Orionid activity could spill into Oct. 22nd. The best time to look is during the hours before local sunrise when the constellation Orion is high in the sky. [meteor radar] [sky map]

WATCH: Orionid Meteor Shower.

SUNSPOTS OF INTEREST: Two large sunspot groups, AR1875 and AR1877, have emerged over the sun's eastern limb and they are turning toward Earth. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory captured this three-day movie of their approach:

AR1877 is large, and AR1875 is rapidly growing to match it. Both sunspot groups have 'beta-gamma' magnetic fields that harbor energy for M-class solar flares. So far, however, neither one is actively flaring. Perhaps this is the calm before the storm. NOAA forecasters estimate a 25% chance of M-flares in the next 24 hours.

FIREBALLS: Every night, a network of NASA all-sky cameras scans the skies above the United States for meteoritic fireballs. Automated software maintained by NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office calculates their orbits, velocity, penetration depth in Earth's atmosphere and many other characteristics.

On Oct. 21, 2013, the network reported 34 fireballs.(15 Orionids, 13 sporadics, 4 Leonis Minorids, 2 epsilon Geminids).

In this diagram of the inner solar system, all of the fireball orbits intersect at a single point--Earth. The orbits are color-coded by velocity, from slow (red) to fast (blue). [Larger image] [movies]

SOURCES: FOX News | Space Weather | SLOOH.

MAJOR ALERT: "There Is No Way To Stop This" - Massive Vulnerability Detected In National Power Grids!

October 21, 2013 - UNITED STATES - If you think that our multi-billion dollar electrical power grids are secure and capable of withstanding a coordinated attack, think again.

According to one group of engineers, the grid is so vulnerable that it wouldn’t even require a skilled hacker to compromise. In fact, when Adam Crain and Chris Sistrunk decided to test some new software they were developing they identified a vulnerability so serious that it could literally blind operational controllers to such an extent that they would be locked out of monitoring systems and unable to maintain grid integrity.

The consequences, according to the engineers who note they are in no way security specialists, could be a total downing of the national power grid with nodes across the nation being taken over all at once. Moreover, the same systems used to maintain the U.S. power grid are also being used in other industries, like water treatment facilities.

You’d think that such a vulnerability would be a top priority for the Department of Homeland Security, considering they are spending millions of dollars and promoting their coming Grid Ex exercise in November.
But you’d be wrong. The kicker is that when Crain and Sistrunk advised the DHS Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, they got what essentially amounts to no response. It took Homeland Security a full four months before they even acknowledged the problem.
The two engineers who discovered the vulnerability say little is being done.

Adam Crain and Chris Sistrunk do not specialize in security. The engineers say they hardly qualify as security researchers. But seven months ago, Mr. Crain wrote software to look for defects in an open-source software program.

The program targeted a very specific communications protocol called DNP3, which is predominantly used by electric and water companies, and plays a crucial role in so-called S.C.A.D.A. (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems.
Utility companies use S.C.A.D.A. systems to monitor far-flung power stations from a control center, in part because it allows them to remotely diagnose problems rather than wait for a technician to physically drive out to a station and fix it.

Mr. Crain ran his security test on his open-source DNP3 program and didn’t find anything wrong. Frustrated, he tested a third-party vendor’s program to make sure his software was working. The first program he targeted belonged to Triangle MicroWorks, a Raleigh, North Carolina based company that sells source code to large vendors of S.C.A.D.A. systems.
It broke instantly.

“When Adam told me he broke Triangle, I worried everything else was broken,” said Mr. Sistrunk.

Over the course of one week last April, the two tested Mr. Crain’s software across 16 vendors’ systems. They did not find a single system they couldn’t break.

By the end of the week, the two had compiled a 20-page report replete with vulnerabilities in 16 different system vendors for the Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, I.C.S.-C.E.R.T., which notifies vendors of vulnerabilities and issues public advisories.

And then, they waited. It would take I.C.S.-C.E.R.T. another four months to issue a public advisory for Triangle MicroWorks’ system.

D.H.S. did not return a request for comment.

Mr. Crain found that he could actually infiltrate a power station’s control center from afar. An attacker could use that capability to insert malware to take over the system, and like Stuxnet, the computer worm that took out 20 percent of Iran’s centrifuges, inflict actual physical harm.

“This is low-hanging fruit,” said Mr. Crain. “It doesn’t require some kind of hacker mastermind to understand the protocol and do this.”

What makes the vulnerabilities particularly troubling, experts say, is that traditional firewalls are ill-equipped to stop them. “When the master crashes it can no longer monitor or control any and all of the substations,” said Dale Peterson, a former N.S.A. employee who founded Digital Bond, a security firm that focuses on infrastructure.

“There is no way to stop this with a firewall and other perimeter security device today.”

The New York Times
When outgoing DHS head Janet Napolitano suggested that a cyber attack on the nation’s power grid is imminent, she meant it.

They know that these systems are vulnerable, and the steps needed to protect the grid from cyber attacks and other potential hazards like a Super EMP or a severe geo-magnetic event would cost in the multiple billions of dollars to fix.

The fact of the matter is that DHS and the vendors who produce these software control systems are dragging their feet, leaving the entire country vulnerable.

Crain and Sistrunk are not hackers or security experts. They are software engineers and they were able to compromise our entire national power grid and water utility systems from remote locations.

What do you think China, Russia, and rogue hackers are capable of doing?

If you don’t think they’ve mapped our entire grid and its vulnerabilities you are kidding yourself.

This is deadly serious.

And when we say deadly, we mean it, because according to a report from the Center for Security Policy presented to Congress in 2010, if our power grid were to be taken offline for an extended period of time, 9 out of 10 Americans would be dead within a year.

There would be no way to transport food because gas stations pumps would be inoperable. And even if they did work, the commerce systems which makes the exchange of goods possible would be offline. Couple that with water utilities not functioning due to lack of electricity, and we’re talking about a worst-case scenario so bad that this country may never recover.

WATCH: Former Congressman Roscoe Bartlet has urged those who can to move out of major cities for this reason.

- SHTF Plan.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Apocalyptic Weather To Batter The United Kingdom - Expect Relentless Rainstorms And Terrifying Winds; "NOWHERE WILL ESCAPE"!

"There will be widespread winds very heavy downpours. Nowhere will escape." - Jonathan Powell, Weather Forecaster.

October 21, 2013 - UNITED KINGDOM
- FEROCIOUS storms will batter Britain this week – with gale-force winds and torrential downpours expected.

The UK needs to prepare for extreme weather conditions setting in within the week [GETTY]

The entire country is on alert for heavy rain and brutal gusts of up to 80mph, which could continue until the end of the month.

Forecasters warned persistent rain over the past two weeks has made the ground sodden – and further showers have raised the risk of flash floods.

The strongest winds are expected to batter coastal regions, though fierce inland gusts could lead to structural damage and travel disruption.

The volatile weather has already caused flooding in parts of Wales and triggered a tornado which hit Hayling Island near Portsmouth.

The frenzied whirlwind brought down telegraph poles and damaged the roofs of almost 100 houses yesterday.

A Havant Borough Council spokesman said: “A mini-tornado hit Hayling Island at around 8am causing damage to properties.”

Resident Cheryl Hart said: “It woke me – you could hear it coming. It sounded like a freight train coming up the road.

In Cardiff flash floods have already seized the city with more predicted to fall imminently [PA]

Drivers will have to take extra care as road conditions will be dangerous [GETTY]

“You could actually see it. It’s difficult to describe but it was like a big grey wall of wind.

“We are lucky as we have only a bit of damage to our garden but other homes have been hit.”

Neighbour Kara Saunders, said: “It sounded like the 1987 hurricane all over again.” The heavy cloud and storms brought darkness, forcing cars to use full headlights at 1pm yesterday afternoon in many areas.

In Cardiff, heavy flash floods turned roads into rivers and caused traffic to grind to a halt.

Local priest Jan Gould described the “apocalyptic” rain as “the worst” she has seen.

She added: “The weather was so horrendous in west Cardiff – there was flooding all over the place – that police closed lots of the roads.”

Nick Prebble, a forecaster for MeteoGroup, warned the region to expect more heavy rain for the next few days.

The Met Office said parts of the UK, including Scotland, had seen almost half an inch of rain in an hour at the weekend.

Forecaster Charlie Powell said: “Another band of rain will move into the South-west by Monday morning bringing persistent and heavy showers.

The winds and downpours will actually make temperatures muggy and warm [GETTY]

“There are also strong winds around, particularly along the coasts. It’s going to stay windy into the week with gusts touching gale-force in exposed regions.”

Strong winds drawn up from the south will make it feel warmer than usual for the time of year with temperatures at 64F [18C].

The Met Office man added: “Rather than the wind making it feel very cold, it is actually going to be rather muggy.”

Jonathan Powell, forecaster for Vantage Weather Services, said gusts could hit 80mph in isolated coastal regions with winds reaching 40mph inland.

He added: “There will be widespread winds, which will be strong at times and very heavy downpours. Nowhere will escape.”

Passengers on First Great Western trains between Paddington and Reading were hit by delays after signal equipment was hit by lightning.

Racing at Bath was abandoned after heavy rain led to flooding in the jockeys’ changing room. - Express.

GLOBAL VOLCANISM: Russia's Klyuchevskoy Volcano Erupts On The Kamchatka Peninsula - Prompts Airspace Warnings In Alaska's Western Aleutians!

October 21, 2013 - RUSSIA - Some of the most active volcanoes in the world were currently erupting on the Kamchatka Peninsula in southeast Russia over the weekend, shooting ash tens of thousands of feet into the air. On Sunday, shifting wind patterns put scientists on alert for ash that may potentially obstruct flight paths across the Bering Sea and Western Aleutians.

 The Kluchevskoy volcano on Oct. 19, 2013. All told, seven volcanoes were listed as “active or restless” on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula and Northern Kuriles Islands on Sunday. Courtesy Demyanchuk Yu, IVS FEB RAS, KVERT

Russia’s Klyuchevskoy volcano spurted ash 33,000 feet in the atmosphere on Saturday, the National Weather Service wrote. The eruptions continued on Sunday, with ash shooting 26,000 feet into the air.

The volcano has been erupting for almost a week, but wind patterns shifted over the weekend, said Jeff Freymueller, coordinating scientist with the Alaska Volcano Observatory. On Sunday, winds were carrying the ash east over the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

A "Significant Meteorological Event" warning, also known as a SIGMET, was issued Sunday morning to alert pilots of the hazardous conditions in the area. While ashfall may disrupt flight plans, ash was not expected to fall over Anchorage, at least for now, the NWS wrote.

Klyuchevskoy is “part of a cluster of volcanoes that are some of the most active in the world” in terms of the amount of ash, smoke and lava they produce, Freymueller said. “It’s really a pretty spectacular place.”

The volcanoes of Kamchatka peninsula are thought to be highly active due to their placement almost directly on the edge of the Pacific plate -- the sub-tectonic plate that makes up the so-called Ring of Fire along the edges of the Pacific Ocean, which spurs volcanoes and earthquakes from Alaska to New Zealand. Scientists suspect that the frequent activity on Kamchatka is due to the pattern of lava flow as it attempts to squeeze out of the Earth's mantle and around the edge of the plate, Freymueller said.

WATCH: Check out this video of Klyuchevskoy in action on Oct. 19:

Russia's Kamchatka Volcanic Eruption Response Team, part of the Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, monitors 30 active volcanoes on the Peninsula, relying on seismic data, webcams, satellites and pilot reports to evaluate the volcanoes' status.

It has “not been unusual to see three or four (different volcano) eruptions at one time,” Freymueller said. And sometimes the lava and ash erupts not from the summit, but instead from the sides of the volcano.

Kluchevskoy erupts at least once annually, Freymueller said. The nearby Sheveluch volcano was also active over the weekend. All told, seven volcanoes were listed as “active or restless” on Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula and the neighboring Northern Kuriles Islands on Sunday. - Alaska Dispatch.

INFRASTRUCTURE & SOCIETAL COLLAPSE: More Examples Of Violence Across The Globe - 43 Killed In Suicide Bombing In Syria; Blasts Kill At Least 6 Passengers On Pakistan Train; New Series Of Attacks In Iraq Kills 43; Six Killed In Russian Bus Explosion; And Mass Shooting In The United States Leaves 2 Dead In Nevada!

October 21, 2013 - EARTH - At least 43 people have been killed after a suicide bomber blew up a truck laden with explosives at an army checkpoint in Syria's central city of Hama, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

43 Killed In Syria Suicide Bombing.
Syrian state media blamed the attack on "terrorists" [SANA/Reuters] Add caption

Syrian state media confirmed the blast, saying that the man blew himself up inside the vehicle on Sunday on a busy road on the outskirts of the government-held city.  State news agency SANA blamed the attack on "terrorists", the term it uses to describe rebel forces trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad.  The Britain-based Syrian Observatory said 32 civilians were among the dead in the attack on the road linking Hama to the town of Salamiyeh.

Huge fires
SANA said the explosion appeared to have set ablaze a petrol truck nearby, increasing the damage and casualties.   Pictures on Syria TV showed firefighters trying to put out huge fires and black clouds of smoke rising from charred trucks and cars.   Clashes were reportedly ongoing in the area and gunfire could be heard. On Saturday, activists said a suicide bomber from the self-proclaimed jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra blew himself up at an army checkpoint in a Damascus suburb.More than 30 combatants from both sides were said to have been killed in the blast and ensuing clashes.   In the first months after the uprising against Assad's government erupted in March 2011, Hama saw some of the largest demonstrations against his rule.   But in late summer of that year, security forces stormed the city, killing scores of people. They have held a tight grip on the city ever since.   While several other Syrian cities have been engulfed by fighting, Hama has seen only sporadic violence in recent months.   However, the surrounding province has seen some major clashes between troops and rebels. On the diplomatic front, it was announced on Sunday that a long-delayed Geneva peace conference aimed at bringing together Syria's government and opposition will be held on November 23. - Aljazeera.

Blasts Kill At Least 6 Passengers On Pakistan Train.

Explosions targeting a passenger train carrying hundreds of passengers traveling after Eid holidays killed at least six passengers and wounded more than 12 others in Pakistan’s southern Balochistan province on Monday, police said.  Three improvised explosive devices went off as the train approached an area in the Naseerabad district of the province, said Muhammad Azhar, a local police official.  He said the blasts appeared to have been coordinated.  The train had come from Pakistan’s most populous province, Punjab, Azhar said.  The explosions damaged the train and the rail tracks, and authorities suspended the train service after the attack.  There has been no claim of responsibility for the attack.  Baloch separatists have been targeting security forces and infrastructure in the region for more than a decade. - FOX2NOW.

New Series Of Attacks In Iraq Kills 43.
Civilians inspect the aftermath of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq, on Saturday. At least 350
people have been killed during the violence in Iraq in October.

At least 43 people were killed and dozens more injured in the latest round of attacks Sunday in Iraq's Anbar and Baghdad provinces, local police said.  In a Sunday evening attack, at least 37 people were killed and 42 others wounded in Baghdad province. A suicide bomber wearing an explosives-laden vest blew himself up in a crowded coffee shop in the predominantly Shiite al-Amel neighborhood in southwest Baghdad, according to police officials.  Many of the victims were young men gathering to drink tea, smoke hookah and play games, officials said.  Some buildings nearby were also damaged in the attack. Iraq's security force has since sealed off the area and started a security operation searching houses and buildings close by.

Earlier, three attacks in Anbar province targeted a checkpoint, a mayor's office in a government complex and a police station, killing at least six people and wounding 19 others, according to police in the provincial capital of Ramadi. The attacks occurred in the predominantly Sunni town of Rawa. The first Anbar suicide attack targeted a joint security checkpoint manned by Iraqi soldiers outside the offices of Rawa's mayor. A suicide bomber also attacked inside the municipal building where the mayor's office is. A car bomb targeted a police station in the third attack. The attacks come as internal conflicts tear through the country.  At least 50 people died and 170 were wounded on Thursday in a series of car-bomb and roadside explosions across Baghdad, police officials said. At least 10 car bombs and three roadside bombs exploded in several Baghdad neighborhoods. The attacks were primarily targeting amusement parks where families and children typically go to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha, according to police.  At least 350 people have been killed in October during the violence in Iraq, based on CNN reporting. - CNN.

Six Killed In Russian Bus Explosion.
Six people were killed and 37 injured - some of them critically - after a female suicide bomber set off a bomb on a bus in Volgograd, central Russia. Local authorities have been put on high terror alert for the next 15 days.  “Today at 2:05pm Moscow time [10:05 GMT] in Volgograd inside a bus, as a result of an unknown explosive device going off, a blast happened, leading to casualties,” a national Anti-terrorist Committee representative said in the statement.  Forty passengers were on the bus. At least eight of them are in critical condition. A 20-month-old toddler is among those injured. His state is assessed as moderately severe.  Russia’s Health Ministry indicated that most of the victims in the explosion sustained mine explosive-type wounds, caused by the bus’s paneling and the shattered glass.  Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has instructed the Emergencies Ministry and the Ministry of Health to provide all the necessary help to the victims of the blast. An Emergencies Ministry plane, with medics and five special medical units on board, has arrived in Volgograd to help treat the injured.  A three-day mourning for the victims of the terrorist attack has been declared in Volgograd Oblast.

WATCH: Volgograd bus blast - Deadly terror attack rocks —Āentral Russia.

 A young man named Ilya, an eyewitness of the terror act, who was in a different bus on the same route, described the scene of the blast to RT:  “First I saw a lot of pieces of broken glass scattered all over the driveway [road]… There definitely was an explosion in [the bus] as its windows burst outside sending glass to a considerable distance, but with no fire outbreak… There were a lot of police there and also people who had been just driving by and stopped to help the victims, they were bringing med kits with them. There were people from the emergency service at the scene helping the injured, but I saw a woman sitting inside the bus. She was covered with blood and I couldn’t make out whether she was alive or not. She was just sitting there.”  According to Ilya, lots of students use that bus route, as it stops at Volgograd State University, and there were apparently some students at the scene of the blast. The bus also passes the local Cardio Center, he said, adding that some heart patients might have been there too.

WATCH: Volgograd bus blast.

 A relative of one of the surviving passengers told Echo of Moscow radio the explosion went off in the middle of the bus aisle. There were a lot of youngsters on the bus at the time of the blast, he said.  Witnesses reported that the front part of the vehicle was heavily damaged, and that the nearby cars had their windows broken. The Investigative Committee has identified the woman who was the suicide bomber behind the blast: it's allegedly Naida Asiyalova, from Dagestan.  The preliminary information indicates that “the female suicide bomber recently converted to Islam, and was the wife of a militant leader,” an Investigative Committee representative told the media.  Also, a grenade has been found under the vehicle and it's now being checked whether the explosive is live, a source in the security forces now at the scene told RIA Novosti. - RT.

Mass Shooting In The United States Leaves 2 Dead In Nevada.
Authorities have yet to figure out what motivated a 12-year-old boy to open fire at a Nevada middle school early Monday, killing a mathematics teacher and wounding two boys before taking his own life.  Kyle Nucum, a 13-year-old student at Sparks Middle School, east of Reno, told NBC News that the suspect “was pointing a gun at the teacher after the teacher told him to put it down” before the first shot went off.  In a separate interview, Nucum told the Reno Journal Gazette  that he heard “a pop, like a loud pop, and everybody was screaming.”  “The teacher fell and everybody ran away,” Nucum told the newspaper. “We ran across the field to get somewhere safe, and while we were running we heard about four or five more gunshots.”

WATCH: Teen eye-witness describes Nevada school shooting.

Police said the first shots were fired from a semiautomatic handgun at 7:16 a.m., just before classes got underway. First responders arrived at the scene in less than three minutes, police said.  The two wounded boys, who were originally transferred to a local hospital in critical condition, were later upgraded to stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries, Sparks deputy police chief Tom Miller said at a Monday afternoon news conference.  The slain teacher was identified by his brother as Michael Landsberry, 45, a former Marine and a member of the Nevada Air National Guard who last Friday celebrated his wedding anniversary. His brother, Reggie, told NBC News that the 8th-grade math teacher is survived by his wife, Sharon, and two of her children from a previous relationship.  Authorities suggested that Landsberry tried to shield students from the gunman, but stressed they were still investigating.

"In my estimation, he is a hero,” said Tim Robinson, deputy chief of the Sparks police.  Chanda Landsberry, Reggie’s wife, told the Reno Gazette-Journal newspaper that she wasn’t surprised by reports that Michael scrambled to save the students.  “To hear he was trying to protect those kids doesn’t surprise me at all,” she told the newspaper. “He could have ducked and hid, but he didn’t. That’s not who he is.”  Landsberry had worked in the Washoe County School District since August 2001, according to his Facebook page.  Although authorities have not specified a motive for the attack, a student told the Reno Gazette-Journal that the suspected gunman said he had been teased.  “I heard him saying, ‘Why you people making fun of me, why you laughing at me,” student Michelle Hernandez told the newspaper.  Police said that the suspect had been “neutralized.” He died after sustaining a self-inflicted gunshot wound, said Washoe County School District spokeswoman Katie Holmes.   Authorities said it was too early to tell whether the gunman was targeting anyone or simply on a spree.   The two boys were being treated at Renown Regional Hospital, said Angela Rambo, a spokeswoman.  Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval said that he was receiving regular updates and was “deeply saddened” to learn of the shooting.  In 2006, a boy using his father’s .38-caliber pistol opened fire at another Reno-area middle school and wounded a boy and girl, both 14, the newspaper said. A gym teacher was honored later for ending the episode by telling the boy to drop the gun and bear-hugging him.  James Scott Newman, 14 at the time of that shooting, pleaded guilty to battery with a deadly weapon and got house arrest until he completed 200 hours of community service. - NBC News.

MASS MAMMAL DIE-OFF: "This Week Was Outrageous,... The Most We've Ever Had" - Nor'easter Strands Record Number Of Mammals; 18 Dolphins And 5 Turtles Wash Ashore Dead Along Delaware Coastline!

October 21, 2013 - UNITED STATES - A record number of dolphins washed ashore following the recent nor'easter, according to estimates by a local sea mammal stranding group.

 A local sea mammal stranding group says more dolphins washed ashore last week than normally do so in a year.
Source: File

“This week was outrageous,” said Suzanne Thurman, executive director of Marine Education, Research and Rehabilitation Institute. “This is the most we've ever had.”

On Monday, Thurman was trying to catch up after tending to 18 bottle-nosed dolphin strandings and five loggerhead turtles – all found dead this past week along a coastline stretching from Kitts Hummock on the Delaware Bay down to Fenwick Island, she said.

“This is more than we get in a year,” she said.

Moving dolphins that weigh several hundred pounds and burying them is backbreaking work, she said. One of the dolphins found Oct. 14 was lodged against a rock jetty, which made moving it extra tricky for volunteers.

Normally, she said, her group logs in about a dozen dolphin strandings a year. Already this year, there have been 67; the total sea mammal strandings has been about 200.

Most dolphin strandings occurred in August when 58 dolphins died from the morbillivirus, she said. However, Thurman said, they do not know whether the latest dolphin deaths can be attributed to the virus. The dolphins were found in advanced stages of decomposition, and they could not be tested, she said.

The virus found in the earlier dolphins is a similar to measles found in humans and distemper in dogs.

The virus is not contagious to humans, but Thurman warns people to stay away from stranded dolphins because they could have other harmful contagions. Thurman asks anyone who finds a stranded dolphin or sea mammal to call MERR at 228-5029.

Although the storm has passed, Thurman said, she expects more strandings throughout the week.

“I think there will be some that haven't been discovered yet,” she said.

For more information, go to - Cape Gazette.

PLAGUES & PESTILENCES: Polio Cases In Syria Spark Alarm Over Rise In Diseases - Including Flesh-Eating Parasites Due To Civil War!

October 21, 2013 - SYRIA - The World Health Organisation has recorded the first suspected outbreak of polio for 14 years in Syria, sparking renewed alarm at the collapse of health care caused by the country's civil war.

Doctors in Syria are also seeing a flare-up of typhoid, hepatitis, and the flesh-eating parasite, leishmaniasis, blamed partly on the inability to administer a proper vaccination programme and partly on poor living conditions and a much-reduced access to health care.

Some 22 people in the northeastern province of Deir Ezzor are now showing symptoms that are "very likely" to be polio, Oliver Rosenbawer, from the WHO Global Polio Eradication Initiative told The Telegraph.

"We still need final confirmation from a laboratory, but all the indicators show that this is polio," said Mr Rosenbawer.

For centuries, epidemics of polio, a highly infectious disease that invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours, blighted countries across the globe, leaving hundreds of thousands of children and adults permanently incapacitated.

Vaccination programs have dramatically reduced the number of cases, and the disease is now targeted for global eradication. In the past century the number of cases around the world has fallen from 350,000 in 1988 to 223 reported last year, according to the WHO.

Until this outbreak in Deir Ezzor, in Syria the last recorded case of polio was in 1999.

"We are worried about the suspected outbreak [in Syria]," said Mr Rosenbawer. "As long as there is polio in one place, countries around the world are at risk. The tragedy is that there is no cure; once you have polio, it is for life. So the only way is to tackle it is through vaccination."

Immunisation, already insufficiently widespread in Syria before the civil war, is almost impossible to carry out in Deir Ezzor and other parts of the country that are subjected to near constant shellfire and airstrikes, or are rife with lawlessness and kidnappings.

A study by WHO earlier this year found that least 35 per cent of the country's public hospitals had been damaged or destroyed in the conflict, and that in some areas, up to 70 per cent of health workers had fled.

In recent months the WHO has set up an "Early Warning and Response System" designed to identify possible outbreaks of dangerous diseases within Syria, said Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman.

 Residents look at a a fire at a gasoline and oil shop in Bustan Al-Qasr, as polio cases in Syria spark alarm
over rise in diseases including flesh-eating parasites due to civil war  Photo: REUTERS

"We have 291 public health providers in government and opposition-held areas reporting suspected diseased that we then investigate. This network has detected hepatitis A, leishmaniasis, typhoid and measles."

In war-riven Aleppo, the summer heat combined with streets filled with putrid, uncollected rubbish, allowed leishmaniasis to thrive. Doctors recorded tens of thousand of cases of the tropical disease, transmitted by sand flies, that causes skin ulcers resembling leprosy.

The mass exodus of Syrian civilians fleeing the war is also increasing the risk of conveying diseases that had mostly been eradicated through vaccination back to neighbouring countries.

Alla Karpenko, a communications officer with Medicins Sans Frontieres, said the organisation had recorded cases of leishmaniasis, usually endemic to Syria, whilst working in Lebanon.

A measles outbreak that started in northern Syria is now showing up among refugees in Lebanon.

The revelation of the polio cases came as western diplomats prepared to step up efforts to convince leaders of the Syrian opposition to take part in a planned peace conference in Geneva next month.

Meanwhile nine Lebanese citizens who were kidnapped by rebel groups in May last year arrived back in Beirut late on Saturday, after a hostage swap with two Turkish airline pilots who were held prisoner by gunmen in Lebanon.

Lebanon says the hostages were Shia pilgrims, but the rebel opposition accused them of being part of the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

Murat Akpinar, one of the pilots, described facing despair and hardships while in captivity. "For the first 15 days, we were kept in a room and didn't see the light of day," he said, adding that and his colleague were guarded by dozens of gunmen. "It was impossible for us to escape," he said.

Whooping crowds greeted the Lebanese men on their arrival at Beirut airport. One of them accused his kidnappers of not offering the hostages medical care.

"We wished that any of them had any kind of values," he said. "We were with people who couldn't tell a female camel from a male camel," he said, referring to an Arabic proverb to describe an ignorant person.

Other pilgrims said they were kept in dark, humid rooms for most of their confinement and reported hearing heavy fighting nearby. - Telegraph.

MASS ANIMAL DIE-OFF: 100 Sheep Suddenly And Mysteriously Die In Asir Province, Saudi Arabia?!

October 21, 2013 - SAUDI ARABIA - Salman Sabaan Miteb, a shepherd from Tihamah Qahatan Al-Farsha, 200 kilometers east of Asir province was surprised by the mysterious death of 100 of his sheep.

File photo.

He said that there is no branch of the Ministry of Agriculture in Tihamah Qahatan, Asir. He had notified the ministry in Abha but there was no response. However, a committee from the Civil Defense Al-Farsha Police and Health Department came to the scene and reported to the province’s governorate. Investigations are now under way.

“Some government authorities are negligent. There is insufficient follow up on livestock concerns and long delays in treating sick ones,” said Hamdan Rahi, another citizen of Tihamah.

He said he sympathizes with Salman because he depends wholly on livestock for his income. He pointed out that citizens in the area are going to file a lawsuit against entities that fail to carry out their duties, and demand financial compensations for the sheep that died.

A source in the Asir agricultural branch said they had sent a veterinarian to Tihamah to bring samples for testing in the ministry’s laboratories in Riyadh.

Press spokesman for the Asir Municipality, Mohammad Al-Bishri said the Ministry of Agriculture should be held accountable for the death of the livestock.

A businessman in the province said he is ready to help Salman with compensation of his loss in the near future. - Arab News.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Fourth Earthquake In As Many Days Hits Northern Israel - Raising Fears That A Significant Geological Event Is In The Offing!

October 21, 2013 - ISRAEL - For the second time Sunday, a minor earthquake shook northern Israel around 4 p.m., the fourth of its kind since Thursday.

View of the Sea of Galilee (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

No injuries or damage were reported, but Tiberias residents told Ynet that they felt the 3.6-magnitude quake. The first quake Sunday also registered 3.6 on the Richter scale quake. Both epicenters were near Kibbutz Ginosar, on the Sea of Galilee.

Similarly powerful quakes rattled the north early Saturday morning and Thursday. Last Sunday, a 6.4-magnitude quake, centered in the Mediterranean Sea near Crete, was felt in Athens, Egypt and Israel. In September, an early-morning 3.5-magnitude quake was felt in the northern Dead Sea area, including in Jerusalem.

Seismologist Dov Lakovsky of the Geophysical Institute of Israel told The Times of Israel Sunday that there was no cause for alarm and that the quakes were just “a bit stronger than usual.” Such tremblers, he said, “happen all the time.”

According to the GII’s statistics, seven earthquakes strong enough to be felt have rattled Israel in 2013. The most powerful one, centered near the Suez Canal on June 1, registered 5.0 on the Richter scale.

Israel is situated along the Syrian-African rift, a tear in the earth’s crust running the length of the border separating Israel and Jordan, and is part of the Great Rift Valley, which extends from northern Syria to Mozambique.

Israel’s last major earthquake rattled the region in 1927 — a 6.2-magnitude quake that killed 500 and injured another 700. An earthquake in 1837 left as many as 5,000 people dead. According to a 2010 Haaretz report, major earthquakes strike Israel once every 80 years or so, meaning the country may be due for a serious natural disaster. - Times of Israel.

Earthquake preparedness drill. (Photo credit: Flash 90)

Israel experienced not one, but two earthquakes on Sunday, raising fears that a significant geological event was in the offing. Sunday's quakes followed one that occurred early Saturday morning, which was preceded by one last Thursday night.

The first quake was reported at 11:50 AM, measuring 3.6 on the Richter scale. The epicenter of that quake was in the northern Kinneret, five kilometers north of Ginnosar. The second one, reported at 3:54 PM, also measured 3.6 on the Richter scale, and its epicenter was somewhat south of Ginnosar.

There were no injuries or damage in either quake, but both were felt distinctly in communities around the Kinneret, including Tiberias, where police received a barrage of calls from beachgoers and residents.

On Saturday, an earthquake measuring 3.5 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter in the Kinneret, was reported as well. That followed an earthquake that was felt throughout northern Israel last Thursday night. The epicenter of that quake was also in the Kinneret. It reached 3.5 on the Richter scale, and was felt in communities surrounding the lake.

Eight days ago, an earthquake was felt in southern and central Israel, measuring at 6.4 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter beneath the Mediterranean about 40 kilometers under the sea bed, 70 kilometers west of Crete. In Israel, reports of the tremor were received from citizens in central and southern Israel, including Raanana, Rehovot and Ashkelon. It was reportedly felt mostly on the top floors of tall buildings. No injuries or damage were reported in that quake either.

Scientists at the Israel Geophysical Institute said they were examining the quakes, searching for patterns and clues that could indicate if the sudden confluence of small earthquakes could indicate that something bigger was imminent. The Kinneret is smack in the middle of the Syria-Africa rift, which occasionally “acts up,” with a major earthquake. The last such a quake, measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale, occurred in 1927. 300 people were killed in that incident.

In recent years, school children around the country, from kindergarten age and up, have participated in annual earthquake drills in their schools, practicing safe steps to take when the ground starts shaking.

In a recent interview, Dr. Ephraim Laor, who headed the National Steering Committee for Earthquake Preparedness, told Arutz Sheva that individual Israelis must prepare themselves for a major earthquake that could hit Israel. Experts have warned that Israel is expected to be hit by a major earthquake in the coming years. - Israel National News.

STORM ALERT: Major Hurricane Raymond Menaces Off Mexico's Pacific Coast - Potential For Damage From Rainfall And Flooding Is Very High!

October 21, 2013 - MEXICO - Hurricane Raymond gained more strength as it remained nearly stationary off Mexico's southern Pacific coast Monday, though it threatened to hurl heavy rains onto a sodden region already devastated by last month's Tropical Storm Manuel.

Guerrero state authorities said it was raining in places in the afternoon but so far no torrential rains had hit the area. More than 100 people were evacuated as a precaution from a mountain town east of Acapulco, authorities said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the Category 3 hurricane was nearly stalled offshore, with maximum sustained winds of about 125 mph (205 kph). Raymond was centered about 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of the beach resort of Zihuatanejo late Monday afternoon, and it was expected to move only a little closer to the coast by Tuesday before veering back out to sea Wednesday.

In the beach resort of Zihuatanejo, officials went door-to-door in hillside communities warning residents about the risk of flash floods and mudslides, but nobody had voluntarily evacuated to the three shelters set up in schools and athletic facilities, municipal firefighter Jesus Guatemala said.

Amid light, intermittent rains, tourists continued to stroll the town, albeit under cloudy skies.

Tropical Storm Raymond brought cloudy skies to Acapulco, Mexico, on Sunday,
before it strengthened into a hurricane.

Mexican authorities rushed to deploy emergency crews and said they were considering evacuations of low-lying areas. About 10,000 people already were living away from their homes a month after Manuel inundated whole neighborhoods and caused landslides that buried much of one village. It left behind drenched hillsides that posed serious landslide risks.

David Korenfeld, head of Mexico's National Water Commission, said Sunday that officials were pinning their hopes on a cold front moving from the north that could help steer Raymond away from the coast.

"The cold front coming down is what makes it (Raymond) turn to the left, but that is a model," Korenfeld said. "If that cold front comes down more slowly, this tropical storm ... can get closer to the coast."

WATCH: Major Hurricane Off Mexican Coast. 

Forecasters said that even if Raymond stays offshore, the storm could dump heavy rain and cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides along the south-central Mexican coast.

"There will be rain for the next 72 hours along the Pacific coast - very heavy rain, torrential rain," Korenfeld said.

A hurricane warning was in effect from Tecpan de Galeana, up the coast from Acapulco, north to the port of Lazaro Cardenas. A tropical storm warning was posted from Acapulco to Tecpan.

Authorities in the southern state of Guerrero, where Manuel caused about 120 deaths from flooding and landslides in September, closed seaports, set up 700 emergency shelters and urged residents in risk areas to take precautions. Officials were expected to decide soon whether to order more evacuations, including from low-lying areas of Acapulco that flooded during Manuel.

WATCH: Where is Hurricane Raymond? 

The state cancelled classes in most coastal communities west of Acapulco, including Zihuatanejo. Schools are often used as emergency shelters in Mexico.

The potential for damage from such rains is high. About 50 dams in the area are still over capacity, and officials began releasing water to make room for expected rainfall.

Some villages high in the mountains of Guerrero were still without electricity and phone service following Manuel. - TWC.

PLANETARY TREMORS: Precursor To Mega-Quake - Three Minor Earthquakes Hits California!

October 21, 2013 - UNITED STATES - Three shallow minor earthquakes was reported Monday in California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

USGS earthquake locations.

The first hit at about one mile from Blackhawk, less than 30 miles east of Oakland at 03:32:56 UTC, with a magnitude of 3.0 and a depth of 7.5 miles.

The second was a 3.8 magnitude temblor that struck 11 miles southeast of Mammoth Lakes on 12:04:10 UTC at a depth of 5.1 miles.

The third one also hit near to Mammoth Lakes,  on 17:05:11 UTC, at a distance of 12 miles. This quake had a magnitude of 3.1 and a depth of 3.0 miles

In the past 10 days, there has been one earthquake magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

This comes just two days after a 6.5 magnitude earthquake struck off the western coast of Mexico in the Gulf of California on Saturday, the 19th.

California is one of the world's most seismically active regions. The entire west coast of the United States sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire and a massive network of faults runs underneath the American state.

California - Earthquake History
The first strong earthquake listed in earthquake annals for California occurred in the Los Angeles region in 1769, probably near the San Andreas Fault. Four violent shocks were recorded by the Gaspar de Portola Expedition, in camp about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles center. Most authorities speculate, even though the record is very incomplete, that this was a major earthquake.

Forty persons attending church at San Juan Capistrano on December 8, 1812, were killed by a strong earthquake that destroyed the church. Many mission buildings were severely damaged there and at San Gabriel. The shock probably centered on a submarine fault offshore.

A violent shock near Fort Tejon in January 1857 threw down buildings and large trees at the Fort. It was also severe in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. This earthquake has been compared to that of April 1906; both caused extensive displacement along the San Andreas Fault. One source notes, "The magnitude of the two events cannot have differed greatly."

A strong earthquake occurred on the Hayward Fault, the principal active branch of the San Andreas in central California, in October 1868. Some 30 persons were killed in the region. Damage was severe at San Francisco; many buildings were wrecked at Hayward and San Leandro. Until 1906, this shock was often referred to as "the great earthquake."

USGS earthquake hazard map of California.

An earthquake in the Sierra - Nevada Fault system in March 1872, killed 27 people at Lone Pine and destroyed 52 of 59 adobe houses. Near Owens Lake, numerous depressions formed between cracks in the earth. One area 200 to 300 feet wide sank 20 to 30 feet; several long, narrow ponds formed. Thousands of aftershocks, some severe, appear to have occurred.

Nearly all brick structures were wrecked, and many frame buildings were damaged in Vacaville by an earthquake on April 19, 1892. Damage was similar at Winters and Dixon, two small towns nearby. Ground fissures were noted in the area. The shock centered north of Santa Rosa, in the Healdsburg Fault area.

On Christmas Day of 1899, six persons died and several were injured at Saboba, near San Jacinto, by a strong shock. At nearby Hemet, nearly all brick buildings were severely damaged, with only two chimneys remaining upright. This shock occurred on the San Jacinto Fault, and has been compared to the April 1918 (magnitude 6.8) shock in the same region.

Seven hundred persons died on April 18, 1906, in one of the greatest earthquakes ever to hit California. Damage was extensive in San Francisco, and was increased perhaps tenfold by raging fires. Total damage was estimated at over $500 million.

Two destructive shocks nearly one hour apart caused about $1 million property damage in southern Imperial Valley on June 22, 1915. Six persons were killed and several injured by the second quake at Mexicali, located just inside the Mexican border. Unstable banks of the New and Alamo Rivers caved in many places. Magnitude 6 1/4, both shocks.

A shock on the San Jacinto Fault in April 1918 caused heavy damage at San Jacinto and Hemet. Only one new concrete and one frame building remained standing in the business section of San Jacinto; property loss was about $200,000. The dry earth surface was broken up, as though by a harrow, in the San Jacinto Fault area southeast of Hemet. One auto was carried off the road by a slide; many area roads were blocked. Magnitude 6.8.

Santa Barbara sustained $8 million damage and 13 fatalities from an offshore shock in June 1925. The shock occurred in the Santa Barbara Channel, on an extension of the Mesa Fault or the Santa Ynez system. On State Street, the principal business thoroughfare, few buildings escaped damage; several collapsed. One on marshy ground withstood the shaking well, but its foundation sank 19 feet. The shock occurred at 6:42 a.m., before many people had reported for work and when streets were uncrowded, reducing death and injury. Magnitude 6.3.

USGS earthquake seismicity of California.

The shock of November 1927 wrecked chimneys at Lompoc, shifted a house on its foundation, and caused heavy earth and rockslides on steep slopes. Water spurted from the ground in places; sand craters formed.

The Long Beach earthquake of March 1933 eliminated all doubts regarding the need for earthquake resistant design for structures in California. Forty million dollars property damage resulted; 115 lives were lost. The major damage occurred in the thickly settled district from Long Beach to the industrial section south of Los Angeles, where unfavorable geological conditions (made land, water-soaked alluvium) combined with much poor structural work to increase the damage. At Long Beach, buildings collapsed, tanks fell through roofs, and houses displaced on foundations. School buildings were among those structures most generally and severely damaged. The epicenter was offshore, southeast of Long Beach, on the Newport - Inglewood Fault. Magnitude 6.3.

Nine people were killed by the May 1940 Imperial Valley earthquake. At Imperial, 80 percent of the buildings were damaged to some degree. In the business district of Brawley, all structures were damaged, and about 50 percent had to be condemned. The shock caused 40 miles of surface faulting on the Imperial Fault, part of the San Andreas system in southern California. It was the first strong test of public schools designed to be earthquake-resistive after the 1933 Long Beach quake. Fifteen such public schools in the area had no apparent damage. Total damage has been estimated at about $6 million. Magnitude 7.1.

The towns of Tehachapi and Arvin were hit severely by the July 1952 Kern County earthquake. Twelve persons died, many were injured, and $60 million property damage was sustained. Damage to well designed structures was slight, but old and poorly built buildings were cracked, and many collapsed. Reinforced tunnels with walls 18 inches thick near Bealville were cracked, twisted, and caved in; rails were shifted and bent info S-shaped curves. Near Caliente, reinforced concrete railroad tunnels were demolished. Many aftershocks occurred, three over 6 on the Richter scale. One aftershock on August 22 (magnitude 5.8) centered near Bakersfield. It took two lives and caused extensive damage to many already weakened buildings. The Kern County earthquake, the largest with an epicenter in California since 1906, originated on the White Wolf Fault. - USGS.

FUK-U-EARTH: War On Mother Nature - Highly Radioactive Water Leaks At Fukushima As TEPCO Underestimates Rainfall And China Smog Pollution Emergency Shuts City Of ELEVEN MILLION PEOPLE!

October 21, 2013 - ASIA - Highly radioactive water overflowed barriers into Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, its operating utility said on Monday, after it underestimated how much rain would fall at the plant and failed to pump it out quickly enough.

Radioactive Water Leaks At Fukushima As Operator Underestimates Rainfall.

The utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co, also known as Tepco, has been battling to contain radioactive water at the nuclear complex, which suffered meltdowns and hydrogen explosions following a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Dealing with hundreds of tonnes of groundwater flowing through the wrecked nuclear plant daily is a constant headache for the utility and for the government, casting doubt on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's promises that the Fukushima water "situation is under control."

After heavy rain on Sunday, water with high levels of radioactive strontium overflowed containment areas built around some 1,000 tanks storing tonnes of radioactive water at the plant, Tepco said. The radioactive water is a by-product of an improvised cooling system designed to keep the wrecked reactors under control in case of further disaster.

Tepco said it had planned to pump out the accumulating rainwater into empty tanks, check it for radioactivity, and if it was uncontaminated, release into the sea. But the company was overwhelmed by the amount of rainwater.

"Our pumps could not keep up with the rainwater. As a result, it flowed over some containment areas," said Tepco spokesman Yoshikazu Nagai. The company had planned for 30 to 40 millimeters of rainfall on Sunday, but by late afternoon the rainfall already stood at around 100 millimeters, he said.

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 220 km (130 miles) north of Tokyo, highlight the immensity of the task of containing and controlling radioactive water and eventually decommissioning the plant, processes expected to take decades.

Earlier this year, Tepco lost power to cool spent uranium fuel rods at the plant after a rat shorted wiring at the plant.

In the latest incident, containment areas surrounding 12 of 23 groups of tanks overflowed, with one of them containing Strontium-90 as highly concentrated as 710 Becquerels per liter - 71 times higher than the level set by the company as safe for release.

Strontium-90 is a by-product of the fission of uranium and plutonium in nuclear reactors as well as nuclear weapons, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says on its website.

Tepco said it will prepare some 30 extra pumps and lay additional 10 kilometers of pipes to prevent overflowing from happening again.

WATCH: Radioactive water leaks at Fukushima as operator underestimates rainfall. 

The utility has come under increased scrutiny after it found in August that 300 tonnes of highly radioactive water had leaked from one of the hastily built storage tanks at the Fukushima site. Japan stepped up support for the embattled utility in September, pledging half a billion dollars to help contain contaminated water at Fukushima.

Tepco is seeking permission to restart its only remaining viable plant - Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world's largest nuclear power station, to cut high fuel costs and restore its finances. - Reuters.

China Smog Emergency Shuts City Of 11 MILLION PEOPLE!
People ride along a street on a smoggy day in Daqing, Heilongjiang province, October.

Choking smog all but shut down one of northeastern China's largest cities on Monday, forcing schools to suspended classes, snarling traffic and closing the airport, in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

An index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5), reached a reading of 1,000 in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of northeastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people.

A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on in the city for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 meters.

The smog is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing concern to China's stability-obsessed leadership because it plays into popular resentment over political privilege and rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy.

Domestic media have run stories describing the expensive air purifiers government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so cadres need not risk suffering from recurring food safety scandals.

The government has announced plans over the years to tackle the pollution problem but has made little apparent progress.

Users of China's popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging site reacted with both anger and bitter sarcasm over Harbin's air pollution.

"After years of effort, the wise and hard-working people of Harbin have finally managed to skip both the middle-class society and the communist society stages, and have now entered a fairyland society!" wrote on user.

Other parts of northeastern China also experienced severe smog, including Tangshan, two hours east of Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.

Last week, Beijing city released a color-coded alert system for handling air pollution emergencies, to include the temporary halt of construction, factory production, outdoor barbeques and the setting off of fireworks.

Beijing suffered its own smog emergency last winter when the PM2.5 surpassed 900 on one particularly bad day in January. - Yahoo.

EXTREME WEATHER: A State Of Emergency Has Been Declared In Australia - Firefighters Struggle To Prevent The Creation Of A 180-MILE LONG "Mega-Fire" In New South Wales That Could Threaten Sydney; One Dead; 208 Homes Destroyed; 122 Other Buildings Damaged; Over 60 Active Blazes!

October 21, 2013 - AUSTRALIA - Firefighters in New South Wales, Australia battle to stop wildfires linking up and creating a 180-mile long "mega-fire".

An estimated 2,000 firefighters are battling more than 60 active blazes which have been raging in New South Wales, Australia since Thursday.

While dozens of blazes have been contained, 58 were still alight and 14 of them were out of control, enveloping
Sydney in a thick white smoke haze that prompted warnings for people to stay indoors and avoid exercise.

Firefighters were racing to tame an enormous blaze in southeastern Australia with officials warning it could
merge with others to create a mega-fire if weather conditions worsen. Crews have been battling fires that
flared in high winds and searing heat across the state of New South Wales last week with more than
200 homes so far destroyed and many others damaged.Picture: EPA/DAN HIMBRECHTS

The wildfires have killed one man, destroyed 208 homes and damaged another 122, the Rural Fire Service (RFS) said. There have also been reports of looting in areas affected by fires.

Firefighters have spent the last four days trying to contain the fire with at least six water bombing helicopters assisting the crews on the ground.

WATCH: Australian wildfires: looters ransack homes. 

The RFS is warning weather conditions are expected to deteriorate with the worst expected on Wednesday, but added the current conditions are changing rapidly. Officials fear intensifying heat and winds could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue Mountains and then move towards the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura.

"I don't think I've ever used the word mega-fire," said Rural Fire Service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons. "But the reality is that the modelling indicates that there's every likelihood that in the forecast weather conditions that these two fires, particularly up in the back end of the mountains, will merge at some point."

Burnt houses can be seen from inside a burnt-out car after they were destroyed by a bushfire in the
Blue Mountains suburb of WinmaleePicture: REUTERS/David Gray

Officials fear intensifying heat and winds could push it into another blaze at nearby Mount Victoria in the Blue
Mountains and then move towards the populated areas of Katoomba and Leura.Picture: EPA/PAUL MILLER

Firefighters spent the night and much of Monday building containment lines to try to prevent such an event,
ahead of a predicted deterioration in weather conditions.Picture: EPA/PAUL MILLER

Australia has declared a state of emergency as concerns mount that several wildfires could join and encircle Sydney

Australian firefighters were on Monday preparing for some of the worst conditions in decades as several major blazes threatened to merge into a single dangerous fire front that could reach outlying districts of Sydney.

The government declared a state of emergency in New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, as forecasters warned of soaring temperatures and powerful winds for days to come.

The unseasonably early start to the Australian bushfire season has already killed one and left hundreds homeless.

Another major fire around the Springwood area of the Blue Mountains, where almost 200 houses were razed
last week, escalated to the emergency declaration level along with another in Wilton, southwest of Sydney.

The cricket match between the South Australian Redbacks and the Western Australia Warriors at Drummoyne
Oval in Sydney was played under the haze caused by the bushfirePicture: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

On Saturday and Sunday, firefighters battled along lines of fire, while authorities warned of unparalleled risk and exposure for the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury communities, to the west and north of Sydney.

By night, the fires lit up a horizon punctuated by eucalyptus trees in an eerie red glow.

Fire services had taken advantage of cooler weather to reduce the number of active fires to around 60 from more than 100 last Thursday, but rural fire service commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons warned of deteriorating conditions, and a threat not seen in four decades.

A spokesman said there was great concern at the risk if the fires now became united. "We can understand the magnitude of that as it would then creep into the bottom end of Sydney," he said.

The city's suburban outskirts are just across the Nepean River from the foot of the mountains, and embers have already briefly jumped its banks on one occasion since the fires began.

Police said compulsory evacuation orders would be enforced in some areas.

"At the end of the day we hope we have buildings standing, but if we don't have buildings standing we don't want bodies in them," said Alan Clarke, state police commissioner.

One Blue Mountains resident, Alison Rooke, 38, described how she made her way to the fire-ravaged town of Winmalee to gather supplies for her family but was turned back when "the skies went dark and ash started to rain down".

Smoke from the fires blocked the sun over downtown Sydney, casting an eerie, orange haze across
the cityPicture: Cassie Trotter/Getty Images

Sean Butler stands in front of his 1958 bus after fighting a fire with five other residents in the historic
township of Newnes Junction north of LithgowPicture: EPA/DEAN LEWINS

While her family home is set back from the fire front, embers blow over sporadically threatening to ignite yet more of a volatile, tinder-dry bush landscape that hasn't seen rain in months.

"There is just anxiety everywhere, incredible nervousness. When you grow up in the mountains you're very aware that there's fire (danger), and you need to prepare, and everyone does - but it all came so fast, and all (people) could do was run for their lives. It's just so unpredictable."

The Rooke family are not new to the phenomenon: they built their first home in Winmalee just before Blue Mountains fires more than 30 years ago that destroyed 49 buildings, burnt 200 square miles of land and showered Sydney suburbs up to 40 miles away with blackened leaves.

Ms Rooke, who was then aged two, remembers being placed in a bathtub full of water by her mother to escape the danger. At the time, the Rooke residence was one of only three houses in Winmalee; the town now has a population more than 6,500.

WATCH: Battle to prevent 'mega-fire' in Australia.

A family whose home survived similar fires 20 years ago saw their house burned to the ground over the weekend.

"Everyone's alive and safe, and that's the most important thing," said Tahnee Barnes, 25.

Meanwhile the Australian defence department said it was investigating whether there was any link between the Lithgow fire, which started on Wednesday, and military exercises using explosives at a nearby training range on the same day. - Telegraph.