Australia drought-free for first time in a decade Published on Apr 27, 2012

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Australia drought-free for first time in a decade


Published on Apr 27, 2012

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia on Friday said it would be officially drought-free next week for the first time in more than a decade, providing relief for struggling farmers.

The exceptional dry period, brought on by an intense El Nino weather pattern, sent many of those who work the land to the wall, but Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig said an end was in sight.

When he lifts the last two Exceptional Circumstances declarations - which provide subsidies to hard-up farmers - in two areas on Monday, the vast island continent will officially no longer be in drought.

'The extended period of drought, which made things tough for many on the land, is finally over,' Mr Ludwig said.

'The seasonal outlook is brighter than it has been for many years and the improved conditions are a welcome reprieve for farmers across Australia.'

Australia, with climate zones ranging from the tropical to the alpine, is characterised by extremes.

Its sheer size, location and the fact that it is surrounded by oceans make it especially vulnerable to the El Nino phenomenon and its cousin, La Nina.

While El Nino brought on the drought, La Nina conditions over the past two years have contributed to flooding and downpours across Australia.

Mr Ludwig added he was working with the country's states and territories to put together new policies that would provide more effective measures to help farmers manage risk and prepare for the next drought.

Most victims knew twisters were coming: Study


Published on Apr 27, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) - Most of the victims of last year's epic tornado outbreak in the United States (US) state of Alabama had at least one thing in common: They knew the storm was coming.

A year after the onslaught of dozens of twisters killed at least 250 people in Alabama and more elsewhere in the South, federal researchers are completing a study of who died and where they were when it happened. Among the conclusions so far: Nearly half of the people who died had been advised to take shelter. Indeed, most of them did.

But many of the tornadoes were so fierce that few structures were able to withstand them.

'These were catastrophic winds that could destroy pretty much anything in its path,' Ms Cindy Chiu, an epidemic intelligence service officer, said in reporting preliminary findings this month at a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conference in Atlanta.

Unlike in other tornado outbreaks, the largest group of people who died were in single-family houses - not mobile homes - the CDC analysis found.

The April 27, 2011, outbreak involved 62 tornadoes that stretched along ground-hugging tracks that covered more than 1,610km. Fatalities were reported from central Alabama to far north Alabama.

While many who heard the warnings sought shelter, others took their chances and lost.

The American Red Cross shares disaster data with the CDC, including what was gathered in extensive interviews with families of the deceased.

Relatives of an 80-year-old woman from Lawrence County 'notified her of impending storm - asked her to go to storm shelter next door. She refused, said if it's her time to go, she would.'

The wife of a 35-year-old man from Franklin County heard the warning on TV, according to another vignette provided by Ms Chiu.

'She and sons went to basement of neighbours. He stayed in the home,' the vignette states.

'Tornado struck (at) 3.30pm and he was found 30 mins later near a tree. He was badly injured and died in the hospital.'

The CDC has been examining reports of 255 deaths, including a few for which no Alabama death certificate has been found yet. It's possible a few people were injured in Alabama but died in hospitals in nearby states, Ms Chiu said.

For 120 of those 255, the CDC determined whether the victims knew of the coming tornadoes ahead of time. And 105 were warned.

Of those, 70 took some kind of protective action, like covering themselves or going to what they thought was a safer location or room - including 45 who sought proper shelter, like a basement or interior room on the lowest floor possible. Nineteen were in bathrooms, 10 in basements, 10 in bedrooms and 10 in hallways and smaller numbers in other rooms.

The average age of those who died was 50, and a third of the deaths were people 65 and older, the CDC found.

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