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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 earthquake
--Warning centre told of possible 3ft tsunami in a radius of 186 miles around
--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 line

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 New Guinea.

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 told AP.

A tsunami estimated at under one meter was seen in the harbour of Rabaul and the Pacific warning centre has since withdrawn the Tsunami warning.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 region.

Local, state and federal government agencies are working to address the outbreak.

“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.


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 are halted.

“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 agriculture.

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 turkey.

“Looking in the short-term, those prices don’t change very much,” Schulz said.

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 market.

“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 will face.

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 large losses.

“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,” Olson said.

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 outbreak.

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 since December.

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 explained.

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 pandemic.

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 public

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 outbreak."

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 identifying outbreaks."

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 stage.

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 will die."

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."

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