Monday, August 25, 2008

Deadly dangers of the deep

Deadly dangers of the deep

So you thought flying was the most dangerous part of your holiday? Jimmy Lee Shreeve reveals why going to the beach is even riskier.

Heading for the beach this summer? Then be very careful out there: you could be exposing yourself to a raft of dangers and health hazards. Take jellyfish. There are 2,000 species, 70 of which can seriously harm, even kill you. Lurking in the waters of Australia's Great Barrier Reef for example is the Irukanji jellyfish, a tiny (one inch in diameter), but particularly venomous critter that has claimed the lives of quite a number of swimmers in the region.

In 2002, 58-year-old British tourist Richard Jordon was stung while swimming near Hamilton Island, off the coast of Queensland, and died several days later. That same year, 44-year-old American tourist Robert King also died after a brush with the Irukandji while out for a swim in the same area.

Another deadly jellyfish found in Australia, the Philippines and other tropical areas is the Box. Contact with one of its three-and-a-half-inch tentacles can kill you within three minutes. In January 2006, a seven-year-old girl, swimming on Umagico Beach, Cape York Peninsula, died of heart failure after being stung. Her death followed that of seven-year-old Jarred Crook in 2003, who was killed when a jellyfish wrapped its poisonous tentacles around his legs and torso in shallow waters at Wongaling Beach, south of Cairns.

But what about closer to home? The jellyfish that are found along the Spanish coast may not be as venomous as those in Australia, but they pack a mean sting all the same (occasionally requiring a trip to hospital). Not only that, but large numbers of jellyfish have been drifting into Spanish waters over the last year or so due to over-fishing and climate change. Last summer 19,000 people reported being stung on the Costa Brava, while in August alone around 400 people were treated for stings off Malaga. "It's very possible that we can expect a new influx of jellyfish this year," warns Xavier Pastor, executive director of environmental group Oceana.

It's not just holidaymakers in Spain who need to worry: at this year's Cannes Film Festival, Hotel Rwanda star Don Cheadle was swimming with his daughter when he was stung.

Some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are found in the Caribbean and Florida. Unfortunately, taking a dip in the inviting crystal-clear seas in either location could lead to a close - and very painful - encounter with a Portuguese Man O' War. Earlier this year, British Olympic sailing ace Nick Rogers, 29, was stung by one before a regatta in Miami. "I was thrashing around in so much pain I capsized," he said.

Similar to a jellyfish (but not a jellyfish), the Man O' War's venomous tentacles stretch from 10 to 30 feet. When a human body comes into contact with a tentacle, thousands of harpoon-like stingers inject poison into the skin. Stings from a Man O' War aren't lethal, but can be dangerous to anyone with a weak heart or serious allergy. Bob Taylor, the ocean rescue superintendent at Delray Beach, Florida, says the best thing to do if stung by a Man O' War is to remove the tentacles with a stick or towel (not with bare hands) and treat the infected area with vinegar.

But what about the marine creature perceived to be the most fearsome of all - the shark? Is it really the biggest menace of the seas and beach resorts? "The total number of shark attacks worldwide increased from 61 in 2005 to 62 in 2006 and the number of fatalities remained stable at four," says George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File kept at the Florida Museum of Natural History. "It's really quite remarkable when you have only four people a year die... [It] puts in perspective how small shark attack is as a phenomenon."

Nevertheless, last year Burgess tracked seven attacks in Australia, four in South Africa, three in Brazil, two in the Bahamas and one each in Fiji, Guam, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, RĂ©union, Spain and Tonga. "Some tourists bring their aquatic recreation to places known to be shark-infested without asking [the locals] about good and bad places, [and end up] getting grabbed by the tiger shark," Burgess says.

So would you be safer taking a beach holiday here in Blighty? Not if the alleged sightings of the great white shark (made notorious by the movie Jaws) are anything to go by. One sighting was reported in 2002 by lobster fisherman Brian Bate.

He was heading towards his regular fishing ground when he saw something large leap out of the water. "I thought, 'What was that?' " he recalls. "It was quite a size to come right out of the water.

When I approached there was all this blood in the water..."

But let's say you steer clear of the sea and stay on the beach, maybe indulge in the odd ice cream to cool down. That's got to be a surefire way of keeping out of danger, hasn't it?

Well it depends on the ice-cream vendor. Over the last decade or so various tests on ice creams bought in leading tourist attractions in Europe, including Barcelona and Rome, have failed UK hygiene standards due to contamination by bacteria.

Inspectors in Barcelona reported seeing a man urinate against a wall and return to his ice-cream van without washing his hands. Eleven out of 20 samples of his ice cream failed basic hygiene standards and Listeria was found in one.

Hotdog stands fare little better, particularly the unlicensed ones which are all too common around beach resorts. Leaving aside the artery-clogging levels of saturated fats and salt, inspectors regularly find inadequate refrigeration and a lack of probe thermometers (used to make sure raw meat is cooked at the correct temperature). Lack of hand-washing facilities is another issue highlighted by hygiene inspectors. It brings a high risk of food becoming infested with germs, especially after a vendor has handled raw meat or cash.

But even if you resist the lure of junk food, you could still come unstuck. We all know by now the dangers of sunbathing, but even if you daub yourself from head to toe in factor 50 sunblock, spending time on the beach can still prove hazardous.

In June 2005, scores of beach-goers were stretched out on the sands of Portugal's Carcavelos beach when some 500 youths swarmed into the crowd, robbing them of money and valuables. Five people, including two police officers were injured during the mass mugging...

Montezuma's revenge on Britain's beaches

Never mind sharks and jellyfish, the biggest danger to swimmers in Britain is sewage. According to the latest Good Beach Guide, published by the Marine Conservation Society, raw and semi-filtered sewage is pumped directly into the sea at 73 spots along our coastline and swimmers have a one in seven chance of catching a stomach bug at more than 100 British beaches.

These figures may be worrying but they actually represent a big improvement on previous years. As the society points out, the bathing quality of water at 60 per cent of Britain's beaches is perfectly acceptable. Which would be comforting, were it not for the fact that a shift in rainfall patterns caused by global warming could undo much of the good work: increased storms will sweep more pollutants from the land directly into the sea and could take pollution back to previously high levels. Check out Britain's cleanest beaches at


Rare mountain tornado strikes Park County

Park County tornado near Eleven Mile Reservoir. Image courtesy 7News and Jerry Bivens.

In a truly unusual weather occurence, a tornado struck near Eleven Mile Reservoir in Park County Saturday afternoon. Certainly we are all used to hearing about twisters along the Front Range and on the plains but mountain tornadoes are quite rare - the rugged terrain usually disrupts the weather patterns necessary to product tornadoes. Authorities estimate five vehicles were damaged including a motorhome and pickup truck camper that were overturned, a trailer was destroyed. Beyond cuts and scrapes, thankfully no one was injured.

Colorado is ranked ninth in the country with an average of 40 tornadoes a year. It is interesting to note that every state in the union - including Alaska and Hawaii - have had tornadoes.

Doing some research at the yields an interesting fact as well. This was Park County’s first tornado ever. That leaves 12 of Colorado’s 64 counties that have never had a tornado including:

Clear Creek
San Juan
San Miguel

It does serve as a reminder that while the unofficial severe weather season is behind us, Colorado’s weather is anything but boring and everyone should be aware of all the types of weather hazards that are possible.

Tropical Storm Fay: St. Johns flooding

River's worst yet to come

It could rise fast -- but not drop for weeks, say forecasters

|Sentinel Staff Writers

The St. Johns River could hit Central Florida this week with some of the worst flooding on record.

Runoff from Fay is gorging nearly every part of the 310-mile St. Johns River, which forms south of Melbourne and flows north to the Orlando area and on to Jacksonville.

"Geneva, Astor and other areas will see moderate and major flooding," forecaster Todd Hamill at the Southeast River Forecast Center said Saturday night. "There's just a lot of water and no place for it to go."

Even in ordinary times, the meandering St. Johns drains to the Atlantic Ocean very slowly. During heavy rainfall, it grows wider rather than flow much more quickly.

Fay brought more than heavy downpours. Some parts of Brevard County received in two days as much rain as the area would see in six months.

"It will take a lot of time for levels to drop, probably weeks," Hamill said.

The 11 people killed in Florida and one in Georgia bring the death toll from Fay to at least 35. A total of 23 died in Haiti and the Dominican Republic from flooding.

Fay has been an unusual storm since it was named Aug. 15. After hitting the Keys on Monday, it crossed open water again before hitting a second time near Naples on the southwest coast. It limped across the state, popped back out into the Atlantic Ocean and struck again near Flagler Beach on the central eastern coast. It was the first storm in almost 50 years to make three landfalls in the state as a tropical storm. Its fourth landfall as such -- near Apalachicola -- was the first in recorded history.

Hamill said with the region so saturated with Fay's rainfall, flooding could get much worse with just the precipitation of afternoon showers.

Neighborhoods along the north shore of Lake Monroe are bracing for high waters.

Forecasters say that by Tuesday, flooding may make roads impassable and even swamp some homes in the Stone Island subdivision in Volusia County.

"We've seen a huge rise in the water," said resident Karen Lee. "The only thing we can do is pray a whole lot. That's the only thing we can do."

'Can't just bottle them up'

River experts agree.

For the next several days, a number of swollen waterways will surge into the St. Johns. Among the bigger tributaries are the Wekiva and Econlockhatchee rivers in Orange and Seminole counties.

There's no way to stop their flows.

Water officials can briefly hold back Jane Green Creek in Brevard County by closing a dam gate. But that brings the risk of catastrophic flooding if rising waters breach the dam.

Elsewhere, the upper reaches of the St. Johns River are buffered by more than 60,000 acres of reservoirs.

They went from nearly empty to nearly overflowing last week. Holding back that water has lessened the surge down the St. Johns River.

But now officials are draining those reservoirs as quickly as they can.

"We can't just bottle them up," said Jeff Elledge of the St. Johns River Water Management District. "They would fill up, and their dikes would burst."

Water-district officials might open canal gates that allow water to flow from the upper reaches of the river to the Indian River Lagoon along the coast. But that's an option of last resort because of significant environmental harm that results by dumping fresh water into a slightly salty ecosystem.

Still, even sending water to the coast will do little to head off flooding in Central Florida, Elledge said.

"There's going to be flooding and no way to stop it," he said. "It's a matter of trying to get out of the way of the river."

Turn into a lagoon'

Floodwaters along Lake Harney near Geneva should crest at about 18 inches above flood stage, likely causing significant flooding to homes and roads.

Tony Cristaldi, senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Melbourne, said flooding in that area is likely to push toward record levels.

"I suspect through next week the river will stay at flood stage," Cristaldi said. "It's forecast to crest and kind of just stay there," he said. "The areas just turn into a lagoon."

Along Lake Monroe, the water might reach 4 inches above flood stage, blocking roads into the Stone Island and Stillbrook subdivisions, and while in the DeLand area it could top 6 inches above flood stage.

Water could enter buildings around Hontoon Island and flood docks at nearby marinas.

"What we've got to hope and pray for is that we don't have another tropical system come our way," said Scott Hagen, a University of Central Florida professor who studies the river.

Official offers tips for severe weather survival

August 20, 2008

PORTAGE --- As far as the Porter County Emergency Management director is concerned, it's not over until it's over when it comes to the severe weather of 2008.

Phil Griffith spent an hour Tuesday afternoon informing the seniors at Miller's Assisted Living about the facts and misconceptions of thunderstorms, lightning, tornadoes and flash floods.

Center residents watched the presentation that Griffith regularly gives to groups all over the county, learning the details of what emergency management officials have in place to protect them and what they need to do to make themselves safe during severe weather.

"The United States averages about a thousand tornadoes a year, but this year we're going to see 1,300 or 1,400," he said.

He outlined the system of trained volunteers who are a critical link in confirming whether wind damage, such as that suffered in Valparaiso on East Lincolnway and Campbell Street, was caused by a tornado.

"We have 105 spotters in SKYWARN who report to the (National Weather Service), because Doppler radar can't see tornadoes, just moisture rotation. There was rotation over the city, but not a tornado," he said.

The reason is that a tornado is defined as a rotating column of air that extends all the way to the ground, while a funnel cloud doesn't touch the ground.

"The roof blew off Jimmy John's, but there was no twisting," he said.

Griffith said the damage suffered in Pine Township two years ago was from straight-line winds of more than 100 miles an hour, not a tornado.

He said Porter County benefits from its position downwind from Lake County when it comes to weather alerts, as with the Kohl's tornado that struck U.S. 30 in Hobart without warning in 2001.

"They had 30- to 45-seconds warning; didn't see it coming. But that gave us five or six minutes," he said.

He recommended buying an inexpensive weather radio from Wal-Mart or Radio Shack, either a $20 seven-channel model that sounds an alert for severe weather anywhere in the Chicago area, or a $40 to $50 one that can be programmed to go off only for Porter County alerts.

Miller's Personal Care Assistant Tasha DeMaria said the residents participate in unannounced drills for severe weather and fires four times a year and attend periodic classes to review emergency procedures for power outages, blizzards, severe heat and earthquakes.


TORNADOES - Funny home videos are a click away


Dangers of the Deep

Fishing is one of America's most perilous jobs. Can anything be done to make it safer?

By Alex Markels

There was nothing perfect about the storm that capsized the Northern Edge as it scoured the sea bottom off Nantucket, Mass., for scallops last winter.

It was five days before Christmas, and the 10-foot waves kicked up by an approaching low-pressure system made the 75-foot boat bob like a rubber duck in a bathtub. As the boat's six-man crew raced to top off their catch, one of the dredges that scoop up the shellfish got hung up on the seafloor. Its cable tightened, and the vessel listed sharply to starboard. Water gushed over the rail, swamping the deck and flooding the engine room and crew compartments.

Unable to clear the water from the deck or reach their neoprene survival suits, the crew members scrambled to free a life raft, but it fell overboard before they could inflate it. So deckhand Pedro Furtado jumped into the water, grabbed hold of the raft, and pushed the inflate button. Then he called to the others to abandon ship, but only one jumped overboard.

Doomed. Within 10 minutes, the Northern Edge rolled over and sank, drowning the remaining crew members and leaving Furtado floating alone on the high seas until he was rescued by another fishing boat. "They were there, and then all of a sudden they weren't," the 22-year-old native of Portugal recalls of a moment he has spent the past five months trying to forget.

The sinking was New England's worst fishing accident since 1991, when the Andrea Gail and its six crew members were lost in the "perfect storm," later recounted in a book and movie. But the Northern Edge tragedy was hardly a rare occurrence. Commercial fishing ranks among the nation's most dangerous occupations (chart, Page 45), despite safety rules passed by Congress more than a decade ago. In 2003 (the most recent year for which data are available), an average of about one fisherman died on the job every week--while many others suffered serious injuries.

Fishermen are a famously independent bunch, and they have long resisted the sort of safety regulations that are compulsory in other workplaces. Against their opposition, the first and only law aimed at improving the industry's safety record was passed by Congress in 1988. The Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act requires boats to carry life rafts, survival suits, and emergency beacons in the event of an accident--steps that Coast Guard officials say have since helped lower the number of annual fatalities.

The Coast Guard has other safety rules as well. But provisions to prevent an accident--such as requirements that most boat captains be licensed and submit to mandatory dockside safety examinations--have never been passed. The Coast Guard now conducts voluntary examinations, but only about 6 percent of boats participate. "The fishermen aren't going to do it on their own," says Capt. Michael Karr, chief of the Coast Guard's investigations and analysis office. "Until we make inspections mandatory, we're going to have 60 people drown and 140 boats sink every year." Karr and his colleagues have repeatedly asked for legislation to do just that, including a proposal presented to Congress last week that would create a pilot program for mandatory dockside examinations.

Skeptics. Some lawmakers aren't convinced. "We have the best safety requirements of any fishing nation in the world," argues Don Young, a Republican from Alaska who heads a congressional committee that oversees the Coast Guard. Young plans to review the Coast Guard's proposal, but he's skeptical. "We'll see whether it's justified or if it's just another attempt to have more government intrusion in private enterprise," he says. "Why should some snot-nosed lieutenant say you can't go fishing because of this or that?"

Fishermen complain that more safety rules would further choke an industry already suffering from government-imposed catch limits. Amid concerns about declining fish populations, regulators have also moved to limit catches, shorten fishing seasons, and declare some prime fishing grounds "off limits" until fish populations recover. Fishermen argue that some of those limitations have actually made commercial fishing less safe by increasing the pressure on them to make the most of their time at sea, even when weather conditions might otherwise send them back to port.

In the case of the Northern Edge, some pointed out, a complicated rule had forced the boat to return from a previous fishing trip before it had filled its quota. Given a short time window to complete a "compensation trip" the following month, the boat's captain "was under a lot of pressure to stay out there and make up for all the time and fuel he'd already spent," says Herman Bruce, a longtime scalloper from New Bedford, Mass. Under public pressure, regulators have since eliminated the controversial rule.

Some express similar concern over the fate of the Big Valley, which went down in rough seas off Alaska during last January's snow crab fishing season, killing skipper Gary Edwards and four crewmen. The 92-foot boat had seen the annual season for Alaskan snow crab shrink from five months in the early 1990s to just five days last January, forcing its crew and the rest of the 200-boat fleet to work nonstop to lay as many crab traps, or "pots," as possible, then retrieve them before the clock ran out.

The weather "wasn't nice but it wasn't bad," Josh Trosvig recalls of the day both the Big Valley and his boat, the Diligence, headed for the Bering Sea. State law allowed both boats to fish 70 crab pots at a time, each weighing about 600 pounds. But the Coast Guard had limited the Big Valley to carrying just 31 pots, because it was one of the smallest boats in the fleet. Thirty-one, evidently, wasn't enough for Edwards, whose boat left port with 55 pots and 183,000 pounds of bait--more than three times as much as officially allowed, according to a preliminary Coast Guard investigation.

Just what caused the boat to capsize may never be known. But it is clear that "the Big Valley was improperly loaded," says Coast Guard Lt. Commander Chris Woodley. Trosvig counters that his friend, skipper Edwards, might never have loaded so many pots on his boat if not for a state rule that prevented other crabbers from helping out and carrying pots for him. But the Coast Guard's Woodley also points out that the crewmen who died had not properly donned their survival suits.

The arguments over safety rules continue, but for many fishermen, they are beside the point. "We were heartbroken . . . and we pray it doesn't happen to us," Trosvig says of his friends on the Big Valley. "But this is our way of life. People just have to accept that."

Fatality Rates

(2003 data: deaths per 100,000 workers)

Loggers 131.6

Fishers 115

Aircraft pilots 97.4

Police officers 20.9

Firefighters 17.4

Office workers 0.6

Source: U.S. Department of Labor


This story appears in the May 23, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.