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Pope decided to stay on through storm: spokesman
by Staff Writers
Madrid (AFP) Aug 21, 2011

Pope Benedict XVI never considered abandoning his prayer vigil during a violent storm that struck a World Youth Day ceremony for more than one million pilgrims, the Vatican spokesman said Sunday.

"Benedict XVI had decided, solidly decided, to stay there, like the young people who stayed," Federico Lombardi told AFP.

"He never had the slightest doubt. The storm is a parable of Christian life in which, in the most difficult moments, things are overcome by the strength of faith."

The storm lashed the open-air service at the Cuatro Ventos (Four Winds) airbase near Madrid late on Saturday, forcing the 84-year-old pope to cut short his speech and drenching the faithful who had waited for hours in blistering heat.

One of 17 tents set up for the "Eucharist Adoration", in which the faithful adore the holy sacrament, collapsed, injuring seven people who were taken to hospital, including a girl who suffered a broken leg, Lombardi said.

He said police estimate that 1.5 million pilgrims packed the esplanade -- the size of 48 football pitches -- at the airbase, spilling out onto the surrounding area as there was not enough space.

"Today, the pope is calm, very favourably impressed by the endurance of the young people and their prayers."

When the storm hit during World Youth Day celebrations, Benedict's skullcap was swept off and an assistant struggled to shelter the 84-year-old with a large white umbrella.

The sound system on the stage where the pope was speaking broke down, contributing to the roughly 20-minute delay during the service on Saturday night, Lombardi later told a news conference.

When the rain eased some 20 minutes later, the pope declared to cheers: "Thank you for your joy and endurance. Your strength is greater than the rain."

The pope then left the stage to change and returned wearing a golden mitre, draped in a golden cloak and clutching a golden crucifix before resuming the service.

The pilgrims spent the night in the open air at the base, eight kilometres (five miles) southwest of Madrid, where Benedict celebrated the closing mass of the August 16-21 youth festival on Sunday morning.

Tens of thousands of pilgrims who were registered to take part in World Youth Day were not able to enter the base because organisers let unregistered pilgrims enter the grounds on Saturday afternoon, Lombardi and the executive director of the event, Yago de la Cierva, told the news conference.

Many of the pilgrims who had paid a registration feee for the event and were not able to enter had walked to the base in the heat at the suggestion of the organisers.

Before the mass the popemobile was not able to pass near the pilgrims as had been scheduled because many youths had toppled fences and crossed over boundaries meant to keep them out of the route which the vehicle was to take, Lombardi added.

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Belgium drops Pukkelpop death toll to four
Brussels (AFP) Aug 22, 2011 - Belgian authorities on Monday lowered the death toll from the violent storm that lashed last week's Pukkelpop rock festival.

The mayor of Hasselt Hilde Claes tol Belga news agency that four people died when stages and tents collapsed on Thursday evening amid a hailstorm that uprooted trees in Flemish eastern Belgium.

One of those initially counted as a victim and who died in hospital in Hasselt on Thursday night had not been at the festival, two Dutch-language regional dailies said.

Eleven people were seriously hurt during the storm, three of whom were in a critical condition in hospital.

The three-day Pukkelpop festival, drawing some 65,000 fans each day with top international acts such as Eminem, the Foo Fighters or The Offspring on the bill, was immediately halted when the storm hit.

Hasselt prosecutors on Friday opened an inquiry, with Belgian authorities set over the weekend to declare a natural catastrophe for insurance purposes.

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New tool allows first responders to visualize post-event disaster environments
Livermore, CA (SPX) Aug 22, 2011
Using iPad mobile devices, emergency preparedness officials and first responders participating last month in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Level Exercise 2011 (NLE-11)were able, for the first time, to make use of a new, science-based software tool that allows them to view and modify accurate models of building damage and other post-event disaster effects. With funding ... read more

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