Tsunami warning after 7.2 magnitude earthquake
hits off the coast of Papua New Guinea
by Callum Paton for Mailonline
--Islanders on alert for possible tsunami following the massive
--Warning centre told of possible 3ft tsunami in a radius of 186 miles
--Quake brought down power lines in towns on the coast and cut the power
--Earthquakes common in the island nation which lies on a tectonic fault
Islanders in the South Pacific were put on alert for a possible tsunami
following a powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rocked the coast of Papua
The Pacific Warning Centre cautioned against a 3ft high tsunami of
within a possible 186 miles radius of the initial quake.
The high-powered earthquake, which registered an initial magnitude of
7.5 and was later downgraded struck about 94 miles southwest of the town
of Panguna on Bougainville Island at a depth of 14 miles, the U.S.
Geological Survey reported.
The quake brought down power lines in the Rabaul area, knocking out
power to residents and to the local Geophysical Observatory office.
There were a few reports of structural damage in Kokopo, including
cracks in some walls, but no reports of injuries, Chris McKee, assistant
director of the Geophysical Observatory in the capital, Port Moresby
A tsunami estimated at under one meter was seen in the harbour of Rabaul
and the Pacific warning centre has since withdrawn the Tsunami warning.
There were no reports of flooding, as the tsunami didn't rise beyond the
normal level of high tide, McKee said.
The quake was centred in the same area as two earthquakes that rocked
Papua New Guinea last week. The nation sits on the Ring of Fire, the arc
of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where earthquakes are common.
In 1998 more than 2,200 people were killed on the north coast of Papua
New Guinea following a massive underwater landslide off the coast near
the small town of Aitape.
Massive earthquake caused a 59 ft Tsumami which ravaged the island’s
coast. Buildings were plucked from their foundations and transported as
many as 50-60 metres away by the deadly tides.
On top of the over 2,000 people who perished in the Tsunami aa further
9,500 were left homeless and 500 reported missing.
Iowa farms devastated, impacts unknown as bird flu spreads
by Erin Murphy - Journal Des Moines Bureau
DES MOINES | Iowa produces more eggs than any state in the country, and
is ninth nationally in turkey production.
But both industries are being rocked by a relentless virus that is
forcing farmers to destroy entire flocks. A highly pathogenic avian
influenza — or bird flu — believed to be introduced by wild waterfowl
such as ducks and geese has infected dozens of Iowa farms, causing the
death and disposal of more than 20 million birds.
While some farmers cope with devastating losses, others are taking every
precaution possible to prevent the disease’s spread, knowing full well
it could all be in vain.
Through Friday there have been 44 cases, most of them in Northwest Iowa.
More are discovered almost daily, and a federal official said he thinks
another round will hit in the fall when migratory birds return to the
Local, state and federal government agencies are working to address the
“This is unique,” said Bill Northey, the state’s secretary of
agriculture. "We’ve never had anything just like this in Iowa."
Experts said the last similar outbreak occurred in the early 1980s, and
the worst of that occurred in Pennsylvania.
'LIFE TURNS UPSIDE DOWN'
The virus devastates. Once a bird is infected, the entire flock must be
destroyed. The farm area is quarantined, and the barn must be scrubbed
clean and disinfected before it can be repopulated with birds.
Northey said that process can take up to months, during which operations
“Life just completely turns upside down,” Northey said.
The poultry and turkey farming communities in Iowa are close-knit. Many
operations have been in the same family for multiple generations. So the
impact of the virus is being felt even by those who have been fortunate
thus far to avoid its sting.
“The stress level is very high among all my farmers at this point,
whether you have the virus and have to deal with the emotional grief of
losing your flock of turkeys, or if you don’t have the virus and you’re
worrying about those who do and what happens next,” said Gretta Irwin,
executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation.
She said the roughly 130 turkey farmers in Iowa know each other well
through organizational meetings and social events.
The virus is frustrating producers.
They knew the virus had hit neighboring states such as Minnesota and
Missouri. They knew how it was introduced in those areas. They stepped
up biosecurity on their operations.
And yet the virus made its way to Iowa anyway.
“The farmers have been on high alert and high biosecurity for probably
the last two months as we saw outbreaks in other states,” Irwin said.
“Farmers are used to not being able to control Mother Nature, but this
is something we’re still scratching our heads on.”
Northey said biosecurity still is very important and can, at the very
least, reduce the odds of a flock getting infected. He conceded,
however, that no level of biosecurity has proved to be foolproof.
“It’s no guarantee you won’t get it,” he said.
Despite the massive impact on Iowa’s turkey and poultry populations,
prices at the grocery store are unlikely to change drastically,
according to an economist at Iowa State University who specializes in
Lee Schulz, an economics professor at Iowa State, said grocery-store
prices tend to be “sticky” so as to not erode customer loyalty. So
consumers should not have to worry about sudden price spikes on eggs or
“Looking in the short-term, those prices don’t change very much,” Schulz
But the bird losses are sure to have some kind of effects eventually,
Schulz said. To what degree, he said, is difficult to ascertain while
new cases are being discovered almost daily.
Schulz said the losses could affect the supply of turkeys and eggs for
exports; it could affect the demand for those products if trade partners
ban them while the virus is present; it could affect the state’s economy
as farm operations and tangential businesses may have to lay off
workers; and general uncertainty could have negative effects on the
“It’s too early to put a quantitative number to it. I haven’t seen any
studies yet that have projected that cost,” Schulz said. “It’s all
speculation because this is still evolving.”
Similarly, it is difficult to put a price on the fiscal impact farmers
There is a federal program that provides financial assistance to farmers
who have to put down birds to prevent the disease’s spread.
The program provides assistance only for birds that are proactively and
properly destroyed; it does not compensate farmers for birds that
already have died from the virus.
Randy Olson, executive director of the Iowa Poultry Association, said
that because farmers have been so proactive since first hearing of the
virus’ spread in other states, most have identified it before suffering
“These farmers have very extensive testing protocols, and these farmers
are in their barns every day. So they see signs on the early end of this
timeline. I’ve understood that these farmers have generally noticed
signs (of infection) before massive death loss,” Olson said. “It’s
really important that they catch this early.”
The impact will not be felt only on poultry and turkey farms, Olson
said. He said there will be tangential effects. For example, with
roughly a third of the state’s egg-laying hens wiped out by the virus,
there are fewer birds eating corn and soybean meal.
“So this disease, which has a devastating impact to the individual egg
farmers, also has detrimental effects on grain and oil seed demand,”
In Minnesota, Jennie-O Turkey Store said this week it will lay off 233
employees at a processing plant because of bird flu outbreaks that have
cut its turkey supply.
Northey said the state is doing everything it can to help farmers
minimize their losses. He praised the cooperative efforts of not only
the different levels of government, but the varied departments within
those levels. For example, the state departments of agriculture,
homeland security, public health, natural resources, human services,
transportation and public safety all have worked in some fashion on the
Northey and other officials also stressed that there is no threat to the
public health — the virus cannot spread to humans — nor is there a
threat to food safety. The Iowa-grown eggs and turkey meat in the
grocery store are perfectly safe, experts say.
Olson said he expects farmers will rebound. In the meantime, he
suggested Iowans can show their support at the breakfast table.
“Everyone should add an additional egg for breakfast to join in a sign
of solidarity with the egg farmers that are going through a very tough
time,” he said.
How the Midwest's massive bird flu outbreak could threaten humans
by Julia Belluz
We're in the midst of the largest-ever bird flu outbreak in the United
States. More than 23 million turkeys and chickens have been affected
Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have all declared states of emergency,
and five months in, the outbreak keeps spreading with no sign of slowing
down, forcing farms to halt production, slaughter millions of birds, and
lay off workers.
But most people haven't even heard about the outbreak yet — because, so
far, it hasn't spread to humans. And that's the scary question that
keeps disease experts up at night: could bird flu somehow spread to
people? The longer these avian flu viruses circulate in poultry, the
higher the risk that they mutate into something people can catch.
"That's why we monitor H5 [avian flu] viruses very closely," said Joseph
Bresee, chief of the epidemiology branch of the influenza division at
the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "There's always a chance
they'll adapt in a way that'll make it easier to infect humans."
Since December, three types of avian flu — H5N8, H5N1, and H5N2 — have
been detected in 18 states and two Canadian provinces. None of the
circulating pathogens here have been known to make people sick, although
there's another version of H5N1 that has infected nearly 650 people in
Asia and the Middle East since 2003, with deadly results.
"The H5 viruses in Asia are different from the H5 viruses we're seeing
here," Breese explained. "But avian flu viruses, as long as they're
spreading in animals, are going to continue to mutate and adapt."
How this massive flu outbreak in birds could leap into humans
First, let's be clear: the risk that these pathogens spread to people is
low, though not zero. As Tom Philpott points out at Mother Jones,
"Public health officials have been warning for decades that massive
livestock confinements make an ideal breeding ground for new virus
strains." In particular, scenarios like the one that's playing out in
the Midwest right now pose a threat.
There are two potential scenarios in which an outbreak like this could
make the leap across species and spread to humans.
First, there's a process called "reassortment." Flu viruses have eight
segments of their DNA that are independent from one another. Different
viruses can swap whole gene segments with each other, essentially
popping apart and reattaching to form new viruses.
So for bird flu to spread to humans, an avian influenza virus and a
human influenza virus would have to meet within the same cell and swap
genetic material, in order to create a new virus that can infect humans.
The most likely place for this to occur is in a pig, since pigs have
receptors for both bird flu and human flu. Once this new virus is
created, a person would then need to be exposed to the infected pig and
catch the virus that way.
Second is a slower process: a single avian influenza virus can mutate
through generations into something that can affect humans. All viruses
mutate as they jump from host to host, and over time those mutations can
alter the severity of the virus or how it's transmitted, Bresee
Time is a big factor in whether either of these two conditions might
arise: the longer the flu sticks around in birds, the more chances it
has to mutate or reassemble into something that can infect humans.
Even if bird flu does jump to humans, that doesn't ensure a pandemic
Now here's a crucial caveat: even if a bird flu virus does make the leap
from birds to humans, it doesn't necessarily mean we'll see a deadly
David Quammen, author of the book Spillover, points out that having a
virus that makes the jump from one species to humans isn't enough to
ensure a worldwide health threat. The virus also needs to be able to
sicken or kill humans, and it needs to be easily spread from person to
person, through a cough or sneeze.
"There's a lot of unpredictability with influenzas," Quammen adds,
"because they mutate." But again, the longer an outbreak persists, the
more opportunities the virus has to mutate or reassemble in ways that
can harm people.
Right now, bird flu is a bigger risk to farmers than to the general
The CDC is very concerned about this outbreak from a human health
perspective, Bresee said. "This is clearly a very large outbreak in
poultry. For humans, that's important because both the size and
geographic distribution of the outbreak, as that expands, represents a
bigger and bigger threat to humans. More and more humans will be exposed
to viruses, so from our standpoint, this is a very significant
For now, however, the people who work on farms are at a greater risk
than the general public. That's because even if bird flu did mutate in a
way that made it susceptible to humans, those infected birds are
unlikely to be shipped to market. (You can read more about the CDC's
recommendations for the public here.) The US Department of Agriculture
has programs to help contain outbreaks — and euthanize flocks — as soon
as potentially harmful pathogens are detected.
"We have production systems that are highly efficient, and they all have
a biosecurity program," said Rodrigo Gallardo, assistant professor in
the poultry medicine program at the University of California Davis. "We
also have the best surveillance system in the world in terms of
This wasn't the case in many parts of Asia, where bird flu did spread to
the general public. In the places were the outbreak began, poultry was
often raised in unsanitary conditions, or alongside other mammals like
pigs, increasing the risk of recombination. Many Asian countries didn't
have robust surveillance systems to identify outbreaks at the earliest
Even so, Gallardo warned about being too complacent. "This has been an
extended outbreak. It started with different viruses in January than
what we're seeing now," he said. "What we need to hope is that through
the summer — because of the dryness and the weather changes — the virus
For now, officials are taking a range of precautions. In addition to
closely monitoring the circulating viruses and tracking their mutations,
they are closely watching people who work with poultry for signs of
infection. The CDC has also advised them to wear the same protective
outfits as Ebola workers, including respirators and goggles.
"The important message," the CDC's Bresee said, "is to make sure we
protect humans, because the chance is not zero, that's for sure."