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At Least 2 Dead After Magnitude 6.4 Earthquake Hits Taiwan
The World Post - Reuters

A powerful earthquake toppled a 17-story apartment building in southern Taiwan on Saturday, killing at least two people, including a 10-day-old girl, and triggering frantic efforts to rescue dozens of people feared trapped inside.

The baby and a 40-year-old man are the only confirmed deaths from the building, a complex of towers whose floors pancaked down onto to each other when the 6.4 magnitude tremor hit at around 4 a.m. (3.00 p.m. ET), at the start of a Lunar New Year holiday.

Rescuers mounted hydraulic ladders and a crane to scour the wreckage, plucking more than 120 survivors to safety, with dozens taken to hospital, a fire brigade official said.

Elsewhere in the city of 2 million people, several buildings tilted at alarming angles but a fire department official said rescue efforts were now focused entirely on the apartment block.

"I was watching TV and after a sudden burst of shaking, I heard a boom. I opened my metal door and saw the building opposite fall down," said a 71-year-old neighbor who gave his name as Chang.

A plumber, he said he fetched some tools and a ladder and prised some window bars open to rescue a woman crying for help.

"She asked me to go back and rescue her husband, child, but I was afraid of a gas explosion so I didn't go in. At the time there were more people calling for help, but my ladder wasn't long enough so there was no way to save them."

The quake was centered 27 miles (43 km) southeast of Tainan, at a depth of 23 km (14 miles), the U.S. Geological Survey said. Several aftershocks shook Tainan, Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau said.

One elderly woman, wrapped in blankets, was strapped to a board and slowly slid down a ramp to the ground as the cries of those still trapped rang out. Rescuers used dogs and acoustic equipment to pick up signs of life in the rubble.

"There are 60 households in that building," said Tainan fire department information officer Lee Po Min, estimating that there might be about 240 people living there.

One city hospital said 58 people had been brought in, most of them with light injuries. The fire department said a total of 115 people had been taken to hospital from around Tainan.


Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou, speaking to reporters in the capital before leaving for the disaster scene, said authorities were not clear on the extent of the disaster.

"The disaster situation is not very clear yet. We will do our utmost to rescue and secure (survivors)," Ma said.

The quake initially cut power to 168,000 households in Tainan, many of whose residents lived through a massive 1999 tremor that killed about 2,400 people. Later, utility Taipower said power had been restored to all but about 900 households.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) (2330.TW), the world's largest contract chipmaker, said some of its wafers made in Tainan had been damaged and some customers might be affected. It did not say which customers.

TSMC will step up production to make up for any delayed shipments, spokeswoman Elizabeth Sun said. The company is a major supplier to global smartphone firms, including Apple Inc (AAPL.O) .

Taiwan lies in the seismically active "Pacific Ring of Fire". Television quoted Tainan residents as saying the quake felt worse than the 1999 tremor, centered in central Taiwan.

China's Taiwan Affairs Office, which in is charge of Beijing's relations with the self-ruled island, said China was willing to provide help if needed, Chinese state news agency Xinhua said. Beijing regards Taiwan as a wayward province.

Taiwan's Formosa TV said its reporters could hear the cries of people trapped inside the collapsed apartment tower as firefighters, police and troops swarmed the area. The defence ministry said 810 soldiers had been mobilized for rescue efforts.

Firefighters hosed down part of the building to prevent a fire while others used ladders and a crane to enter upper floors. The building appeared to have collapsed onto the first story where a child's clothes fluttered on a laundry line.

Some bullet train services were suspended to the south of Taiwan as inspections were carried out on the tracks for damage, Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp said in a statement.

Zika Virus Poses Real Threat Of Spreading To The U.S., Experts Say
by Dan Vergano

A U.S. travel warning calls for pregnant women to avoid trips to Latin and South America because of birth defects linked to a tropical disease outbreak. “There is a real risk the disease will spread,” one expert said.

The Zika virus, a tropical disease that has triggered an epidemic in Brazil and other parts of South and Central America, poses real risks of spreading to the U.S., infectious disease experts warn.

On Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert telling travellers to watch out for mosquito bites in 14 South and Central American nations, including Brazil, where birth defects in thousands of babies have been linked to Zika infections during early pregnancy. Pregnant women and those considering getting pregnant are advised to postpone travel.

“I think the warning was appropriate and it’s balanced, given what we now know,” infectious disease expert Daniel Lucey of Georgetown University told BuzzFeed News. (This so-called level 2 alert is less serious than calls to totally avoid travel to a region, as was seen in the recent Ebola crisis in Western Africa.)

So far in Brazil, the Zika virus has infected perhaps 1.5 million people and has been linked to some 3,500 infants born with microcephaly, an abnormally small brain. That is a 20-fold increase in the birth defect there since 2014. “I would say the suspicions are very strong about the birth defect link at this point,” Lucey said.

It appears that Zika virus damages nervous system development during the early stages of pregnancy, similar to rubella or cytomegalovirus. This is surprising to public health officials because Zika doesn’t seem to act like other tropical viruses in its family, such as Dengue or West Nile, which don’t seem to cause birth defects.

“We have to be cautious, because much of the evidence for a link from the Zika virus to microcephaly is indirect,” infectious disease expert Nikos Vasilakis of the University of Texas Galveston Medical Branch told BuzzFeed News. “At the same time, we have seen a wave of tropical diseases spread widely. And there is a real chance of this disease spreading here.”

That’s because Zika, like West Nile virus, is carried by mosquitoes. Between 1999 and 2003, West Nile was linked to 1,100 deaths across the U.S. It likely entered the country inside an infected traveller who had been bitten by a mosquito that transmitted the disease, and in turn, passed it to other people and to birds via subsequent mosquito bites.

“Public health officials are very aware of this threat,” Lucey said, which is particularly concerning because it can’t be screened for at airports, and is generally reported by doctors after patients are diagnosed with symptoms. “Maybe the only good thing about Ebola is we do know how to screen travellers.”

Zika is hosted by the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that also carry Dengue fever and which are found widely across southern U.S. states. But Asian tiger mosquitos, found as far north as the Great Lakes states, could also carry the Zika virus, according to a New England Journal of Medicine analysis released on Wednesday by Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

On the other hand, widespread air-conditioning, window screens and mosquito abatement measures make U.S. homes less hospitable to these mosquitoes, raising some expectation that spread of Zika isn’t inevitable.

“We don’t want to scare people, but awareness and education doesn’t hurt anyone,” Vasilakis said. “This is all the more reason to avoid mosquitoes, wear long pants and shirtsleeves, wear mosquito repellant, and stay where it’s air-conditioned.”

Zika virus was first discovered five decades ago in Uganda in an infected monkey. One mystery in the current outbreak is why a link to birth defects has not been observed sooner, given how long the disease has been around. It’s possible that in Africa the disease generally infects people with an unremarkable flu-like disease during childhood, before they ever can become pregnant. That allowed its birth defect effects to escape detection until its recent spread around the equator, where it infected a large population in Brazil that included many fertile women without any childhood immunity to the disease.

Aside from overcoming an infection, there is no vaccine or treatment for Zika virus, which usually causes mild flu symptoms, and was not viewed as a major concern until the reports of birth defects in Brazil. Spurred by the Brazilian reports, public health officials in French Polynesia have since gone through their health records of an earlier Zika outbreak there affecting about 8,000 people, and reported in November at least 17 cases of brain birth defects tied to infections.

“We may have to cast a wider net now looking at more than microcephaly to find more cases in more places,” Vasilakis said.

All of that said, Lucey also worries that American panic over Zika may be similar to what happened during the Ebola outbreak, which claimed more than 28,00 lives in Africa, but also led to excessive fears of its spread in the United States.

“I was in Africa during the Ebola crisis and it was the worst thing I have ever seen, just unimaginable,” Lucey said. “That is not what we are facing here in any way.”

Iowa ag officials: Prepare for next bird flu outbreak
by ROD BOSHART Journal Des Moines Bureau

DES MOINES | A new outbreak of avian influenza in Indiana drives home the need for Iowa to take proactive steps, said state Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey.

Iowa needs to be able to deal quickly and appropriately with future animal health emergencies after last year’s deadly bird flu losses, he said.

Northey made a pitch to the House Agriculture Committee last week for a $500,000 state appropriation to aid in preparing for and potentially responding to a foreign animal disease outbreak, such as Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.

The requested funds -- which Gov. Terry Branstad did not include in his $7.412 billion fiscal 2017 state budget proposal -- would be used to increase the capacity of the animal industry bureau, and provide resources to better equip and prepare for future responses.

Northey said Iowa was among the states hit hard by an avian flu outbreak that federal officials consider to be the worst animal health emergency in U.S. history.

Since animal agriculture plays a critical economic role in Iowa, Northey, a Spirit Lake farmer, said the requested funds would help his agency prepare for another animal disease situation.

“If anything, Indiana shows us that it can happen again. We hope that it doesn’t, but we have to be prepared,” he said.

In Iowa, 77 premises in 17 counties and 31.5 million birds were affected by the disease last year, including 35 commercial turkey flocks, 22 commercial egg production flocks, 13 pullet flocks, one chicken breeding flock, one mail-order hatchery and six backyard flocks.

The bulk of the state's commercial poultry losses occurred in Northwest Iowa. Sioux County was one of the hardest-hit counties in the state, with 16 confirmed cases at commercial egg-layer facilities. The virus also was found on farms in Buena Vista, Cherokee, Lyon, O'Brien, Osceola, Plymouth, Clay and Sac counties.

Gretta Irwin, of the Iowa Turkey Federation, said Iowa’s affected turkey farms have been repopulated. Randy Olson, an official with the Iowa Egg Council and the Iowa Poultry Association, told committee members the affected Iowa egg-laying operations would be repopulated by mid-2017.

“We’re going to be steadily ramping up through 2016,” Olson said.

Irwin and Olson said a federal indemnification fund helped affected Iowa producers and businesses cover about 80 percent or more of their disposal, cleanup and disinfection costs. Northey said the federal indemnification payout for Iowa’s bird flu outbreak was “north of $500 million.”

No new cases of bird flu have been reported in Iowa since last June; the final quarantine order was lifted Dec. 1. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship also recently lifted an order canceling all live bird exhibitions at county fairs, the Iowa State Fair, livestock auction markets, swap meets, exotic sales and other gatherings of birds due to avian influenza.

USDA confirmed last week a new strain has been found in several turkey flocks in Indiana.

With euthanasia still the preferred method of dealing with avian influenza, further spread of the highly pathogenic virus will impact egg and poultry prices.

“We would view the overall impact as somewhat bearish, although that is for the most part speculative at this point,” economists Steve Meyer and Len Steiner said in their Daily Livestock Report Jan. 18.

“The reason we view this as somewhat bearish for livestock markets is because the supply impact from this outbreak is quite limited, affecting a small number of farms and a very small portion of the turkey supply.”

Avian influenza outbreaks could also affect the export markets. Meyer and Steiner said delays could occur as broiler markets are reopened.

“Chicken supplies are burdensome at this point and the industry needs all the help it can get to normalize export demand,” they said.

Iowa Farmer Today staff writer Jeff DeYoung contributed to this story.

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