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Wildfire in California displaces 30,000

The recent Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara County, California, has burned more than 8,600 acres of land over the last four days. Over 75 homes were destroyed, and more than 30,500 residents were evacuated. Another 23,000 are on standby to leave immediately when the notice comes down.

Approximately 3,500 homes along with 100 businesses are currently threatened by the blaze.

“Right now, if you are not evacuated in the Santa Barbara area, you are sheltering evacuees,” said city Fire Chief Andrew DiMizio, “We saw the fire spread laterally across the top of the city and the fire front extend to almost eight kilometers now.”

The firefighting crew on guard against the fire has amassed 2,300 firefighters with 246 fire engines, fourteen air tankers, fifteen helicopters as well as a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker.

There have been no reports of residents being injured, however 11 firefighters have sustained injuries battling the fire, placing three in the hospital.

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Article Licensed under CC BY 2.5, photo CC BY 2.0

Can railroads help alleviate California’s 4-year drought?

 

By Jeff Daniels

 

As California’s four-year drought worsens and water supplies dwindle in the state, an old technology—railroads—could play a role in alleviating some water shortages.

“We certainly have that capability today,” said Mike Trevino, a spokesman for privately held BNSF Railway, which operates one of the largest freight railroad networks in North America. “We carry chlorine, for example. We carry liquefied commodities.”

Experts say the East Coast’s plentiful water could cost cents per gallon to Californians and provide a stable, potable water supply for small communities. Obstacles include identifying a state willing to share some of its water, and securing the construction funds for key infrastructure work, including terminals that can handle water.

“We’ve actually spent some time on this and some energy, and there’s merit; there’s value for railroads to play a role in moving water,” said Ed McKechnie, chairman of the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association.

Overall, McKechnie estimates it would cost upwards of $40 million to build the terminals needed to load and unload the water. He bases that figure on the investment for a similar facility to handle oil.

McKechnie, who also serves as executive vice president for short-line railroad holding company Watco Companies, said the estimated cost of the water would depend on how much is spent on construction. “It wasn’t dollars per gallon,” he said. “It was in the cents range per gallon.”

Bulk water delivered by truck can run under 10 cents per gallon in parts of California’s drought-parched Central Valley, but some of those supplies are at risk of drying up. The truck water tanks typically hold around 2,500 gallons, while each railroad tank car carries about 29,000 gallons, and sometimes more.

“We move trains that are 110 cars long with liquefied materials,” said BNSF’s Trevino. “There would be costs associated with shipping it, but those can certainly be overcome.”

Trevino’s not aware of any municipality or private enterprise that has approached BNSF about hauling bulk quantities of water. The railroad operates in the western half of the United States, so if the water were to come from the East Coast, it would likely require an eastern railroad, such as Norfolk Southern or CSX, to assist in the delivery.

During Union Pacific’s quarterly earnings conference call last week, an analyst commented on how truckers were moving water into California and asked the railroad’s management about water hauling. An executive essentially shot down the idea, saying: “I do not think that’s material.”

The concept of water by rail has historic precedent. Railroads with water tank cars played a role during earlier U.S. droughts, in the West, the Midwest and on the East Coast. Southern Pacific Railroad, which later became part of Union Pacific, was one of the railroads that hauled water in the late 19th century to small towns in California.

Only in modern times have arid communities been able to drill wells deep enough to pump water. If wells are running dry, or water isn’t potable, the rail option could help for domestic use. But the idea faces big challenges.

According to California historian Richard Orsi, “It was extremely expensive to deliver it even then, and railroads only did it for their own operations and economic stimulus plans for their regions. It seems to me, that if this importing is indeed done, it would require vast infrastructure, and finance systems that I can’t see actually emerging in this fractious, politically divisive society we live in.”

Nepal: We will need huge foreign support for reconstruction

 

 

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Nepal’s government will need immense international support as the Himalayan nation begins turning its attention toward reconstruction in the coming weeks, in the wake of the devastating April earthquake, a top official said Monday.

 

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest nations, and its economy, largely based on tourism, has been crippled by the earthquake, which left more than 7,300 people dead. While there are no clear estimates yet of how much it will cost to rebuild, it will certainly be enormously expensive.

 

“In two to three weeks a serious reconstruction package needs to be developed, where we’ll need enormous help from the international community,” said Information Minister Minendra Rijal. “There’s a huge, huge funding gap.”

 

He also said foreign rescue workers were welcome in Nepal, saying they could remain as long as they are needed. He had earlier said that the need for their services was diminishing, but later denied that he wanted them to leave the country.

 

Soon, he added, the nation will be shifting away from a rescue mode and “will be concentrating more on relief operations.”

 

Since the April 25 earthquake, 4,050 rescue workers from 34 different nations have flown to Nepal to help in rescue operations, provide emergency medical care and distribute food and other necessities. The still-rising death toll from the quake, Nepal’s worst in more than 80 years, has reached 7,365, police said.

 

Meanwhile, Buddhists turned out to visit shrines and monasteries to mark the birthday of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism.

 

At the base of the Swayambhunath shrine, located atop a hill overlooking Kathmandu, hundreds of people chanted prayers as they walked around the hill where the white iconic stupa with its gazing eyes is located.

 

Some of the structures around the stupa, built in the 5th century, were damaged in the quake. Police blocked off the steep steps to the top of the shrine, also called the “Monkey Temple” because of the many monkeys who live on its slopes.

 

“I am praying for peace for the thousands of people who were killed,” said Santa Lama, a 60-year-old woman. “I hope there will be peace and calm in the country once again and the worst is over.”

 

Kathmandu’s main airport remained closed since Sunday to large aircraft delivering aid due to runaway damage, but U.N. officials said the overall logistics situation was improving.

 

The airport was built to handle only medium-size jetliners, but not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying in aid supplies, food, medicines, and rescue and humanitarian workers, said Birendra Shrestha, the manager of Tribhuwan International Airport.

 

There have been reports of cracks on the runway and other problems at the only airport in Nepal capable of handling jetliners.

 

“You’ve got one runway, and you’ve got limited handling facilities, and you’ve got the ongoing commercial flights,” said Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. coordinator for Nepal. “You put on top of that massive relief items coming in, the search and rescue teams that have clogged up this airport. And I think once they put better systems in place, I think that will get better.”

 

He said the bottlenecks in aid delivery were slowly disappearing, and the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid following complaints from the U.N.

 

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