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. Floods And Heatwaves Offer Warning Of Impact Of Climate Change

Monsoon rains in western and southern India late last week, which caused flash floods and left 144 people dead, were followed by a cyclone that ripped through neighbouring Pakistan's coastline, killing 19 people. Photo courtesy AFP.

Snowfall on several cities in S.Africa, roads closed
Johannesburg (AFP) June 27 - Unexpected snowfall caused disruption in Johannesburg and several other parts of South Africa on Wednesday, forcing some major roads to be closed, officials said. A spokeswoman for the South African Weather Service said heavy snow was recorded early in the morning in and around Johannesburg, a rare occurrence even in winter. "We recorded between two and four inches of snow in some southern parts of Gauteng", the province surrounding Johannesburg. "But this snow is expected to melt away with the sun in the afternoon," she said, declining to be named.

Several major roads in Eastern Cape were closed to motorists due to the snow, the provincial transport department spokesman Tshepo Machea said, according to SAPA news agency. KwaZulu-Natal province in the southeast was also affected by the dawn snow, officials said. Flights were not disrupted, officials in the Aviation Weather Centre said. "Domestic and international flights are operating normally," an official said.

by Staff Writers
Geneva (AFP) June 27, 2007
Recent floods in Asia and Britain, and heatwaves in southern Europe, show the world must be better prepared to cope with the impact of climate change, the United Nation's top disaster prevention official said Wednesday. "Heavy rainfalls in Pakistan, India and northern England and heatwaves in Greece, Italy and Romania are indications of what might happen more frequently and more severely across the globe as a consequence of the global warming," said Salvano Briceno, director of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

"We cannot wait to be taken by surprise, we know what is going to happen and we can prepare for it," he added.

The UN body is trying to convince governments to give greater priority to reducing the risks from natural disasters and increasing their populations' resilience to potentially deadly storms, floods or heatwaves.

That includes taking concrete measures such as early warning systems, building flood shelters, protecting houses as well as critical infrastructure like hospitals, schools, water and electricity supplies, and transport links.

"We are not trying to scare people but we want to alert every government of the urgency to put disaster risk reduction as a top priority of their political agenda as no country will be immune," said Briceno.

Monsoon rains in western and southern India late last week, which caused flash floods and left 144 people dead, were followed by a cyclone that ripped through neighbouring Pakistan's coastline, killing 19 people.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people in northern England were evacuated from their homes Tuesday after torrential rain claimed at least three lives and threatened to cause a dam to collapse.

At least 46 people have also died in a heatwave stretching across Greece, Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, and Romania where temperatures reached 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.

A UN panel of the world's leading climate change experts warned earlier this year that Earth was already warming and predicted severe consequences including drought, flooding, violent storms and increased hunger and disease.

earlier related report
'Longest ever' Greek heatwave kills five, causes long blackouts
Athens (AFP) June 27, 2007 A heatwave in Greece described by authorities as the longest in history has killed five people and caused serious electricity blackouts, officials said on Wednesday.

"The weather conditions have been unprecedented, we have never had a heat wave lasting for eight straight days," development ministry general secretary Nikos Stefanou told private Flash Radio.

The health ministry said that five people had succumbed to searing temperatures expected to hit 44 degrees Celsius (111.2 Fahrenheit) in some areas, most of them pensioners with prior medical problems.

Media reports pushed the heatstroke death toll to ten.

Cooled facilities are maintained by local councils for those without air-conditioning at home and even police stations have been told to provide rest areas for pregnant women and the elderly, but Greece's electricity network has begun to buckle from the accumulated demand for power.

The Greek state-owned public power corporation (PPC) on Tuesday apologised to customers over long blackouts registered in the northern Athens suburbs of Halandri and Psychiko, and the development ministry on Wednesday said the grid's performance has been nothing short of miraculous.

"It was a miracle, the grid handled tremendous demand," Stefanou told Flash.

"The distribution network in some areas in Athens was built to handle population loads only a fifth of what they are today," he said.

National power consumption on Tuesday set an all-time record at 10,496 MW, of which 3,867 MW in the general Athens region alone, the PPC said.

In the city centre, the Athens Observatory on Tuesday marked its highest temperature at 44.8 degrees since recordings began in Greece 110 years ago, observatory metereologist Costas Lagouvardos told AFP.

The top temperature in Athens on Tuesday stood at 46.2 degrees Celsius in the northern district of Nea Filadelfia, the highest since records there began in 1955, the national weather service said.

Large sections of the capital were without electricity on Wednesday because of power transformer malfunctions in several districts, including areas near the port of Piraeus and the populous municipality of Peristeri.

The PPC has 200 crews working around the clock across the capital to remedy the problems, the company said.

The Greek army has called off exercises and civil servants were sent home early to save energy.

Dozens of wildfires have broken out in rural areas of northern, southern and central Greece and threatened homes before being brought under control, but fire risk remains high in several parts of the country.

The heatwave is expected to abate from Thursday.

earlier related report
Four dead in British floods as waters recede
London (AFP) June 27 - The death toll from floods in Britain rose to four overnight, while fears remained that a dam could burst even though water levels were receding after days of rain, officials said Wednesday.

The latest death was confirmed in Worcestershire, west central England, where police found the body of a motorist whose car was swept away by floodwater, local emergency services said.

The death came after a 14-year-old boy was swept to his death in a swollen river and a 68-year-old man was killed as he crossed a flooded road in Sheffield, northern England, according to officials Tuesday.

A man in his 20s also drowned in the northeastern city of Hull after becoming trapped up to his neck in a drain.

Meanwhile authorities in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, were still monitoring a dam which is threatening to burst. Some 700 residents were evacuated from their homes and a nearby motorway blocked off as a precaution.

A major operation went through the night to reduce water levels at Ulley Dam and rebuild parts of the dam wall. Engineers said the danger had been reduced, but was not over.

Overall floodwater levels were reported to be receding across the country, although many homes remained under water and without power as emergency services continued to help.

Parts of Britain, particularly the Yorkshire area of northern England, saw more than a month's rainfall fall in a day. Forecasters are predicting this month will be the wettest June since records began.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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MIT Tool Determines Landslide Risk In Tropics
Cambridge MA (SPX) Jun 27, 2007
Engineers at MIT have devised a simple yet effective system for determining an area's landslide risk, a tool that could help planners improve building codes, determine zoning and strengthen mitigation measures in mountainous tropical regions frequently hit by typhoons.

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