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The Buzz

Need to Know News

Issue: "Effective Compassion," Sept. 1, 2007

Weather, weather

 Hurricane Dean slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula on Aug. 21 as the third most intense Atlantic hurricane to make landfall in recorded history. The massive Category 5 hurricane left at least 15,000 people homeless and destroyed an estimated 60,000 acres of crops on the eastern end of the peninsula. Authorities initially reported no casualties, but warned they weren't yet sure how rural jungle communities fared.

Authorities in Jamaica said Dean killed at least 20 people when it battered the Caribbean region east of the Yucatan as a Category 4 hurricane one day earlier. The hurricane weakened as it moved west, sparing a storm-weary Texas from a direct hit.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry had prepared for the worst: State officials set up shelters, mobilized the National Guard, shipped some 80,000 barrels of gasoline to gas stations in the Rio Grande Valley, and asked President Bush for a preemptive disaster declaration.

The state was still reeling from heavy rains and flooding that killed at least six and heavily damaged hundreds of homes. By mid-August, Houston had received some 40 inches of rain, nearly a foot more than the average. The torrential rains moved north, causing flooding in the Midwest that displaced more than 1,000 people from their homes.

The flooding killed at least 22 people across the region, and residents in Ohio grappled with the worst flooding in the state in nearly a century. "This is a major, major disaster," Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said. "We'll do everything we can to help these people get back on their feet, but this is going to take some time."

Meanwhile, residents in the Southeast endured some of the driest conditions they had seen in 50 years. Officials at the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb., gave parts of northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia a "D4" rating: the highest possible level of drought intensity.

Government officials in Alabama classified some 88 percent of the state's corn crop as very poor due to dry conditions. They gave the same rating to 85 percent of the state's soybeans, and 74 percent of its cotton.

Scorching temperatures accompanied the scorching drought: An August heat wave shattered high-temperature records in more than 20 cities in the region. Atlanta tied its all-time high record of 108 degrees-a temperature the city hasn't seen since 1873. High humidity made the high temperatures feel even hotter. The heat index in Jackson, Miss., reached 111 degrees, while temperatures in Charleston, S.C., felt like 117 degrees.

But Americans weren't the only ones enduring the effects of extreme weather. In China, torrential rains nearly 400 miles south of Beijing flooded two coal mines when a levee burst near the Wen River. At least 181 miners were trapped, and authorities held out little hope of rescuing them. Some 580 miners at the Huayuan mine escaped the rising water.

Safety experts have criticized dangerous working conditions in China's coal mines for years, and families of the missing blamed mine bosses for ignoring flood warnings before the disaster. The state-controlled media devoted little space or time to the tragedy, and family members told the Associated Press that local security officials tried to prevent them from speaking to the press. Liu Binyin, whose 32-year-old son is missing, said she wasn't afraid to speak out: "I don't care if he is fired or laid off, I just want my son back alive." That's a sentiment weather victims the world over can endorse.

Campaign '08

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton spent the bulk of her 42-minute speech at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention playing to the Kansas City crowd with feel-good talk of a new GI Bill of Rights. But when the Democratic front-runner turned to Iraq, her tone sharpened: "It's unacceptable for our troops to be caught in a crossfire of a sectarian civil war while the Iraqi government is on vacation."

Clinton is not alone in her criticism of 275 Iraqi lawmakers' month-long recess taken while 160,000 U.S. troops slog through a blistering summer to bring stability to the war-torn country. But her words upped the pressure on embattled Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, under fire for failing to forge a political compromise between two rival Islamic factions. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) called for the prime minister's ouster upon his return from a trip to Baghdad last week.

But the comments came as al-Maliki, along with leaders from all Iraq's ethnic-religious factions, summited in Iraq on security issues. And the statements drew fire from critics who questioned why key Democrats are meddling in a conflict they want to exit.

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