Two storms, Florence and Mangkhut, different as water and wind

Nature expresses its fury in sundry ways. Two deadly storms — Hurricane Florence and Typhoon Mangkhut — roared ashore on the same day, half a world apart, but the way they spread devastation was as different as water and wind.

Storms in the western Pacific generally hit with much higher winds and the people who live in their way are often poorer and more vulnerable, Princeton University hurricane and climate scientist Gabriel Vecchi said Saturday. That will likely determine the type of destruction.

Mangkhut made landfall Friday on the northeastern tip of Luzon island in the Philippines with top-of-the-scale Category 5 winds of 165 mph. Florence had weakened to a Category 1 storm with 90 mph winds by the time it arrived at North Carolina's coast.

Yet a day after landfall the faster-moving Mangkhut was back out over open water — weakened, but headed across the South China Sea toward China. Florence, meanwhile, was still plodding across South Carolina at a pace slower than a normal person walks. By Saturday morning, it had already dumped more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain, a record for North Carolina.

Experts say Mangkhut may well end up being the deadlier storm.

As of Saturday afternoon (local time), the death count in the Philippines was a bit higher, although still far below that of other storms that have hit the disaster-prone island nation.

The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast. Source: Associated Press

And with Mangkhut now headed toward the densely populated southeast coast of China, it is likely to cause more death and destruction.

But watery Florence's insured loses total will eventually be higher, Ernst Rauch, head of climate research for the world's largest reinsurer Munich Re, told German media.

That's because of a combination of geography, climatic conditions and human factors.

The western Pacific has two-and-a-half times more storms that reach the minimum hurricane strength of 74 mph. It has three-and-a-half times more storms that reach major hurricane strength of 111 mph, and three times more accumulated energy out of those hurricanes, an index that measures not just strength and number of storms but how long they last, according to more than 65 years of storm data.

It's feared the US state could be in for its most destructive flooding in its history. Source: Associated Press

So far this year there have been 23 named storms in the western Pacific and 10 in the Atlantic, both regions more than 30 percent busier than average years. Hurricanes and typhoons are the same type of storm; both are tropical cyclones, but those that occur in the Pacific west of the International Date Line are called typhoons.

The water in the western Pacific is warmer, and warm water fuels storms. There are also only a few pieces of land to get in the way and weaken them, said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

"If we are ever going to have a Category 6 (a speculated-on level that's above current measurement tools), the western Pacific is where it's going to be," said meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com.

The Philippines tends to get hit nearly every year, the Carolinas far less frequently though with lots of close calls, Maue said. That shows another big difference in the storms. Mangkhut formed further south and stayed south — over warmer water. Florence was out of the tropics when it hit land.

Because of that, Florence was weakened by the dry air and upper level winds of the higher latitudes. Not so the more southerly Mangkhut, which Maue said, "essentially had a perfect environment to intensify to a Category 5 and stay there."

"Mangkhut and Florence are certainly different animals," said Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. Because Florence is moving so slowly, he said, it will dump more rain than Mangkhut, which is named for the Thai word for the mangosteen fruit.

Both storms have lasted a long time, especially Florence which formed all the way over near Africa 15 days before landfall, McNoldy said. Both storms cover a large area, but Mangkut still dwarfs Florence. Mangkhut's tropical storm force winds stretched more than 325 miles from the center, while Florence's spread about 195 miles, Klotzbach said.

"It was very dark, all you could see was water and wind, you couldn't really figure out what was going on out there," a neighbour said. Source: Associated Press

Economics also play a role in a storm's impact. As a developing country, the Philippines is much poorer than the southeastern United States, which means houses tend to be less sturdy and first responders less well equipped, among other factors. This is one reason why, when disaster does strike, the effects can be devastating. In 2013, one of the most powerful storms on record, Typhoon Haiyan , killed 7,300 people and displaced more than 5 million when it swept across the islands of the central Philippines.

Straddling the famous Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines is also bedeviled by volcanoes and earthquakes, and while there are considerable patches of poverty in North and South Carolina, it is not the same as the rural area where Mangkhut hit.

Typhoon Mangkhut, a category five storm, could bring winds of more than 280km/h. Source: 1 NEWS

Munich Re's Rauch said about 30 to 50 percent of storm damage is usually insured in the United States but often less than 10 percent in developing countries, meaning nine-tenths of the people hit will end up shouldering a bigger economic burden.

In the United States, "you can't move houses, but people can move out of the way," reflecting mounting damages from storms and often lower losses in life, Vecchi said.

As the world warms from the burning of fossil fuels, the globe will see both more extremely intense storms like Mangkhut and wetter storms like Florence, Vecchi said.

Ferocious winds and rain tore off tin roof sheets and knocked out power through Baggao, in Cagayan province. Source: Associated Press

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Mobile phone catches alight during Qantas flight from LA to Melbourne

A mobile phone has reportedly caught alight during a Melbourne-bound Qantas flight after becoming crushed in a seat.

A business class passenger dropped their device on the flight from Los Angeles this morning and it got stuck in a seat.

When the passenger tried to retrieve it, it got crushed and passengers later reported a burnt rubber smell, the Herald Sun said.

Qantas said cabin crew contained the situation and the captain decided to continue onto Melbourne.

Qantas plane (file picture). Source: 1 NEWS

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Extinct cousin of the kiwi thought to be biggest bird to have roamed the earth

A long running debate about the identity of the largest ever bird may have been put to rest by British researchers. The top spot being awarded to a distant relative of the flightless New Zealand kiwi.

Named the Vorombe titan, Malagasy for "big bird", it's part of a group known as elephant birds that once roamed the African island of Madagascar around 1000 years ago.

The study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, describes the now extinct creature as weighing up to 800kg and towering over people at three metres tall, Newsweek reports.

New analysis of elephant bird bones from museums around the world revealed "unexpected diversity"in the Madagascan behemoths, according to Newsweek.

The study found that the group was actually divided into at least four different species.

The distinct differences in bone size and shape merited a new genus name, Vorombe. The colossal elephant bird belonged to the same family of flightless animals that today includes the kiwi, emu and ostrich.

"Elephant birds are a radiation of extinct, giant, flightless birds unique to the island of Madagascar.

"Remarkably, it is the kiwi that are the closest living relatives to elephant birds today," James Hansford, from the Zoological Society of London said.

Vorombe Titan, roaming the Madagascan island 500,000 to 1 million years ago.
Vorombe Titan, roaming the Madagascan island 500,000 to 1 million years ago. Source: Jaime Chirinos / Royal Society Open Science

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British Labour Party says it’ll consider new Brexit referendum

Britain's main opposition Labour Party announced today it will reject Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed divorce deal with the European Union if it comes to a vote in Parliament and might even support a new Brexit referendum.

The party's chief Brexit spokesman accused May's government of offering the country a choice between "really bad and even worse."

If Britain and the EU agree on a deal, it must be approved by the British and European parliaments before Britain leaves. The math on the UK vote looks ominous for May's government, because it lacks an overall majority.

Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Labour's annual conference that the party would vote against a Brexit deal along the lines that May is proposing because it does not meet "six tests" it has set, including protecting workers' rights and retaining access to European markets.

"We do not accept that the choice is between whatever the prime minister manages to cobble together and no deal ... between really bad and even worse," Starmer said.

The comments come as the Brexit deadline gets closer, with no deal in sight. Source: Breakfast

Starmer said if the British Parliament rejected the deal, there should be a national election.

"If that is not possible, we must have other options," he said. "Our options must include campaigning for a public vote - and nobody is ruling out 'remain' as an option."

Starmer's suggestion that a new referendum could reverse Britain's 2016 decision to leave the EU - which wasn't in the advanced printed text of his speech - drew a standing ovation from many delegates in the conference hall.

Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed the idea of a new Brexit referendum, saying the party must respect voters' decision to leave.

Most of the party's 500,000 members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit. Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave argued Tuesday that the party would "hemorrhage votes" if it tried to stop Britain from leaving the 28-nation bloc.

But with Britain due to leave the EU on March 29 and negotiations at an impasse, Corbyn is under intense pressure from party members to support a new public vote.

With a show of hands, conference delegates voted Tuesday to back a compromise motion leaving the option of a second Brexit referendum open, but not calling for it directly.

EU leaders last week rejected the British government's blueprint for future trade ties at a fractious summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg.

May's plan seeks to keep the UK in the EU's vast single market for goods but not for services, in order to ensure free trade with the bloc and an open border between the UK 's Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. But EU officials say that amounts to unacceptable "cherry-picking" of elements of membership in the bloc without accepting all the costs and responsibilities.

The Salzburg rebuff left May under siege from Brexit-supporting Conservatives, who want her to seek a looser relationship based on a bare-bones free trade agreement that would leave Britain free to strike new deals around the world.

But May is sticking by her proposal, saying the "hard Brexit" proposed by some Conservatives would be "a bad deal" because it would not resolve the Irish border problem.

"What we have put on the table is a good deal," she said Tuesday. "It's a deal which retains the union of the United Kingdom, our constitutional integrity, it's a deal that provides for no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protects jobs and enables us to have a good trading relationship with Europe and also the rest of the world."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that time is tight. An EU summit next month is seen as a make-or-break moment for a Brexit deal.

Speaking in Berlin, Merkel said there were "six to eight weeks of very hard work in front of us in which we must take the political decisions."

"Of course, to a significant extent, this also depends on what Britain really wants - the discussion isn't so clear here," she said.

Ms May is sticking to her plan for cooperation with the EU, but European leaders says it won’t work. Source: Breakfast


Boy, 13, found naked, chained in US home, forced to sleep in dog crate - officials

A 13-year-old boy was forced to sleep in a dog crate at night and was found naked and chained at the ankles in a home in the US state of Alabama, officials say.

Three people have appeared in court on charges of aggravated child abuse, Fox News reports, citing the Montgomery Advertiser.

Danielle Martin, 32, and Joshua Martin, 26 - the boy’s mother and stepfather - and  Vickie Higginbotham, 58, the boy’s grandmother, were taken into custody after police received an anonymous call last Friday NZT about the child being chained inside the home in the city of Prattville.

An investigation showed the boy had been bound by chains and padlocks for at least 18 hours before police went to the house, the newspaper reported.

Officials said the child had been chained before and was even forced to sleep in a dog crate at night.

The Martins blamed Higginbotham for the alleged abuse and claimed they didn’t know what was happening to the child. 

Joshua Martin placed blame on his long work hours.

"How can you do these things, allow these things to take place, when you are in a lucid, conscious state?" Autauga County District Judge Joy Booth was quoted as saying during the court appearance today.

The trio are being held on $US30,000 bond.

The 13-year-old boy was taken to the hospital and treated for malnutrition. 

Two other children, aged five and 12, were taken from the home and placed in custody with the Alabama Department of Human Resources.

Danielle Nicole Martin, 32, Joshua Daniel Martin, 26, and Vickie Seale Higginbotham, 58, were arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse. Source: Autauga County Sheriff's Office