HAMNET Report 27th February 2022

Teams from the Malagasy Red Cross Society (MRCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in the eastern part of Madagascar are working around the clock to minimize the humanitarian impact of Tropical Cyclone Emnati.

Emnati made landfall on 22nd February in Central-Southern Madagascar, with maximum sustained wind speeds of up to 180 km/h. It was expected to cross Southern Madagascar later that day, affecting nearly 2.5 million people in its path. Thereafter it was expected to continue moving South over the Indian Ocean as a tropical storm.

At least 51 300 people have been affected, as reported by The National Bureau of Disaster Risk Management (BNGRC). According to the latest update, on 24 February, about 45 190 people had been displaced, as more than 12 680 houses were damaged or destroyed. Damages were also reported to 1 985 school buildings, affecting a number of students, while 16 road sections and one bridge were impassable. Aerial assessments by the Government and humanitarian partners have begun, with some areas—including Midongy du Sud—cut-off by flooding.

Andoniaina Ratsimamanga, the Secretary General of Malagasy Red Cross said:

“There is a risk of a double tragedy, as some communities were expected to be hit by a second cyclone in less than a month. Tropical Cyclone Emnati is likely to have a devastating effect on communities on the eastern coastline of Madagascar that are still reeling from the impact of Cyclone Batsirai. Many have lost their homes, crops and livestock. We are truly worried and call upon partners to increase their support and avert a humanitarian tragedy.”

Alina Atemnkeng, who is currently in Mananjary leading IFRC’s response following Cyclone Batsirai, as well as the preparedness efforts ahead of Emnati’s landfall, said:

“Malagasy Red Cross Society’s teams, IFRC teams and partners were on high alert and were deployed in communities, warning them of the approaching storm. Red Cross volunteers were sharing early warning messages with communities, preparing evacuation sites and helping communities to move to safer locations.”

Atemnkeng added: “As we respond, we need to think short-term and long-term at the same time: more cyclones will come, and we need to ensure that communities are adequately protected from the inevitable, subsequent storms. Given the overall challenges caused by climate change, we reiterate our call to governments, regional intergovernmental bodies and our partners to strengthen their investments in disaster risk reduction, with a particular focus on preparedness actions.”

Madagascar is one of the ten most vulnerable countries to disasters worldwide and faces compounding hazards. While the eastern parts are battling cyclones, the southern parts are experiencing severe drought leaving at least 1.3 million people in need of food assistance.

And Reuters reported that Tonga was re-connected to the world on Tuesday following repairs to a submarine cable, officials said, a month after a volcanic eruption and tsunami cut communications to the remote Pacific island nation.

Tongans have struggled with makeshift satellite services as the repairs to the cable were made.

The repair ship Reliance took 20 days to replace a 92-km section of the 827-km submarine fibre optic cable that connects Tonga to Fiji and other international networks.

Tonga Cable chief executive James Panuve thanked telecommunications companies in neighbouring Pacific islands, particularly New Caledonia, which provided lengths of cable when Tonga ran out.

The next job would be to repair the domestic cable connecting the main island of Tongatapu with outlying islands that were worst hit by the tsunami, which could take six to nine months, said Panuve.

A state of emergency was declared in Ukraine just prior to the Russian military invasion. Among other things, the February 24 decree from President Volodymyr Zelensky will remain in effect at least for 30 days and may be extended. As published on the website of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral legislative body, the state of emergency includes regulation of TV and radio activities and “a ban on the operation of amateur radio transmitters for personal and collective use”.

In some carefully worded messages from radio amateurs in Ukraine, they announced their total ban, and Poland amateurs, next door, announced their solidarity with the hams in Ukraine, many of whom have family living in Poland, and suggested they send messages to their relatives in Poland using the Winlink system. Polish hams provided Winlink node frequencies, and reminded all of the IARU Region One emergency frequencies of 3770 kHz, and 7110 kHz, if the internet were to be cut off.

From Indonesia, we learn that an earthquake of 6.2 M at a depth of 12 km occurred in northern West Sumatra Province on 25 February at 01:33 UTC. The epicentre was located approximately 14 km east of Talu village (West Pasaman Regency) and 66 km north-northwest of Bukittinggi City. The earthquake was also felt in Malaysia and Singapore.

According to the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia (BMKG), a foreshock of 5.2 M and two aftershocks of 5.0 and 5.1 M were recorded in the area. The USGS estimates that up to 6 000 people were exposed to very strong shaking and up to 199 000 to strong shaking.

According to media reports, at least two people died, and 20 others have been injured in West Pasaman Regency. In addition, widespread damage to buildings has been registered in the same Regency.

Finally some very good news for the HAMNET team in the Western Cape, because the venue we have always used for our monthly meetings at the Tygerberg Hospital Provincial Emergency Management Centre has been made available again to us for this week’s meeting, after two years of Covid regulations.

This means we can have a face-to-face meeting again, and our Regional Director, Michael, ZS1MJT hopes that all our regulars will turn out in full force again, and attend the meeting at 19h30 on Wednesday.

This does mean that there won’t be a HAMNET Western Cape radio bulletin on Wednesday evening, and we apologise to all our new listeners on Echolink from Division 5, who joined us last week for the news bulletin, because there will be no Echolink transmission on ZS1DCC-R on the 2nd of March.

I hope to see all your call signs again on Echolink on the 9th of March.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 20th February 2022

The New York Times is reporting on a devastating flood and mudslide in the region of the city of Petropolis in Brazil, after a month’s worth of rainfall fell overnight on Tuesday night, killing at least 104 people.

The mayor of Petropolis, a historic city nestled in mountains some 70 miles from Rio de Janeiro’s beaches, said the death toll could still rise. A similar disaster killed more than 900 people in the area in 2011. Many experts say such extreme weather events are becoming more common with global warming.

Intense rainfall starting on Tuesday evening caused mudslides that tore down dozens of homes on the hillsides above Petropolis and caused flooding that did more damage in the streets below. Images and videos on social media showed rivers of mud rushing through the city’s streets, sweeping everything away: cars, trees, and sometimes people.

The rains that caused the devastation were the heaviest the city had seen since 1952, Brazil’s National Meteorological Institute said.

“What we saw was a really extreme event,” said Cássia de Castro Martins Ferreira, a researcher at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, who studies extreme weather events in the region. “It didn’t rain — it was an extraordinary amount of water that poured down.”

For many of Petropolis’s residents, the disaster was a painful reminder of 2011, when similar mudslides killed more than 900 people in the region — the worst natural disaster in Brazil’s history.

Petropolis’ unique geography makes it vulnerable to extreme rainfall, Ms. Castro said. The region is often where hot-air masses coming from the coast clash with the colder temperatures common at higher altitudes, which can cause storms.

“We have an enormous number of extreme weather events in Petropolis, related exactly to its location,” she said. But another risk, she said, “is the way that the city has grown.”

As Petropolis has expanded, residents have moved into the hills, clearing forests that once acted as a buffer against mudslides and building homes on terrain that is often too steep and unsuitable for development.

Search and rescue efforts are still continuing in the ever-diminishing hope of finding more survivors.

Southgate Amateur Radio News tells us that an item which has been picked up already by hams in both IARU Region 1 and 2 and also passed to Oscar Reyes VK’s IARU 3 representative came from Geoff VK4ZPP

It’s to do with listening, and responding to emergency traffic. Geoff says:

“Now the regional list of emergency traffic frequencies is regularly published, but we don’t appear to have any pattern or system for monitoring them.

“Certainly the authorities can say we have international response networks and the amateur radio service isn’t necessary. However, there are many people in various places on the globe that do have amateur radio and HF CB as local communications or for recreational use. Many people have complained of the tedium of having to isolate during the pandemic and I have seen that several skeds have appeared on an ad hoc basis just to allow people to call in and interact with others.

“The international net for sailors goes on, particularly on 20 metres, and on the land mobile services in this country, listening watches are maintained. With time on our hands and equipment on the bench, just what would it take to tune into one of these emergency frequencies and spend some time just monitoring whilst going on with the days routine? What would it take to have clubs organise a roster of willing members to fill the spots on a roster and how much more would it take to have a national contact point to action matters such as reports?

“To me this doesn’t seem like a radical proposal or an onerous task for any one person. Even operators by themselves could do this. We think of ourselves as person to person communicators and the bulk of the time there will just be the usual noise we expect with no signals to monitor. I know there are people who spent many hours monitoring on the CB band emergency channels and there are still CB operators doing this.

“With the band conditions providing interesting DX we can no longer say that listening out on emergency frequencies will simply be local. Region 3 is a very much populated and at the same time a very remote cluster of radio operators in our part of the world. I believe we have an opportunity to make a small but perhaps profoundly important contribution in times of need.”

Thanks to Geoff Emery VK4ZPP for this opinion.

In fact, Greg Mossop G0DUB has already published the 3 page long list of HF emergency Comms frequencies used around region 1 of the IARU, and it is available from me at my email address if you haven’t already got it.

Southgate also reports that the RSGB sponsored TV show called TX Factor, is back, after a year’s break.

Bob and Mike get to grips with constructing a digital voice modem using an MMDVM module kit and Raspberry Pi Zero, and Bob reviews the long-awaited ID-52 5W hand-held transceiver from ICOM.

There’s a chance to win a bundle of books from the RSGB in the free-to-enter draw, and you’ll find a quick overview of EMF requirements during the show.

I’m looking forward to watching this relaxed style of amateur radio presentation.

Alister van Tonder, ZS1OK, has recently retired from his senior position in the City of Cape Town’s communications department, and has decided to relinquish his role in the radio room at the Disaster Management Centre in Goodwood.

Single-handedly, he supervised the acquisition and installation of a first-class radio station there, with sufficient HF, VHF, UHF, and digital capability to relay across bands a variety of Western Cape news bulletins, to manage Echolink, APRS and packet networks, and to run JS8Call, all directly or remotely.

Yesterday, at a meeting of a small group of computer-savvy HAMNET members, he started the process of teaching newcomers how to continue to run the various aspects of ZS1DCC which he established, in the course of the last 10 years or so.

HAMNET Western Cape is hugely grateful to him for the effort he has put in to create the emergency comms station for the City of Cape Town, and we are seriously sorry to see him retire from the position he so competently held. Enjoy your retirement, Alister!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 13th February 2022

Tropical Cyclone Batsirai-22 seems to have been a big one for the island country of Madagascar. GDACS reports that the number of fatalities has risen to 92, of which 71 were reported in the Ikongo District of the Fitovinany Region, in east-central Madagascar. Their Office of Risks and Disasters reports almost 62,000 people displaced, and in total 112,100 people affected. Between the 10th and 11th February, more heavy rain was predicted to fall over south-eastern, central and northern Madagascar.

Luckily for South Africa, the wind strength dissipated while over Madagascar, and the storm turned South-west as predicted in the Mozambique Channel, and then drifted off to the South-east and away from Southern Africa.

I cannot fail to refer to the sad passing of Bob Bruninga this week.

The father of the Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS), Bob Bruninga, WB4APR, of Glen Burnie, Maryland, died on February 7. An ARRL Life Member, Bruninga was 73. According to his daughter, Bruninga succumbed to cancer and the effects of COVID-19. Bruninga had announced his cancer diagnosis in 2020.

While best known for APRS, Bruninga, a retired US Naval Academy senior research engineer, had an abiding interest in alternative power sources, such as solar power. In 2018, he authored Energy Choices for the Radio Amateur, published by the ARRL, which explores developing changes in the area of power and energy and examines the choices radio amateurs and everyone else can make regarding home solar power, heat pumps, and hybrid and electric vehicles. Bruninga drove an all-electric car and had experimented with a variety of electric-powered vehicles over the years.

What became APRS had its origins in 1982, when Bruninga wrote his first data map program that plotted the positions of US Navy ships for the Apple II platform. A couple of years later, he developed what he called the Connectionless Emergency Traffic System (CETS) on the VIC-20 and C-64 platforms for digital packet communications to support an endurance race. The program was ported to the IBM PC platform in 1988 and was renamed APRS in 1992 and is linked globally via the internet. Bruninga founded the Appalachian Trail Golden Packet event, which fields APRS nodes from Stone Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine each July.

Bruninga mentored US Naval Academy midshipmen in building and launching amateur radio satellites and CubeSats, beginning with PCSat in 2001. PCSat was the first satellite to report its precise position directly to users via its onboard GPS module. Subsequent USNA spacecraft included PSK-31 capability (HF to UHF) and other innovations.

Amateur Radio on the International Space Station (ARISS) ARRL liaison Rosalie White, K1STO, recalled that Bruninga attended many ARISS-International meetings and contributed “enormously” to ARISS APRS activities, leading a team in developing protocols and software for rapid message exchange via a packet “Robot.”

Though the technology he pioneered carries on, his continuing contributions will be sorely missed. Thank you to the ARRL newsletter for these notes.

We in the Western Cape celebrated Bob Bruninga’s 40 year-old invention yesterday as HAMNET Western Cape helped marshal the Gryphon 99er Cycle Tour around Durbanville. Eleven HAMNET members provided rover duties, and traffic reporting functions to traffic officers needing to stop on-coming cars as bunches of cyclists negotiated awkward corners and circles.

It was a blazingly hot day, as the route took riders on the long route out of Durbanville and northwards to the outskirts of Malmesbury (which can get even hotter than Durbanville) and back via a more westerly route. It was a trouble-free race, and the medics commented on the fact that the reason why there were no major or minor disasters was because the organisers had thought of everything. The Doctor-in-charge quoted his maxim around these things, when he said “Plan for the worst, and hope for the best”!

The previous day, our regional Director Michael ZS1MJT and I had installed a temporary APRS digipeater above the clouds, it seemed, at a beautiful vantage point on an outcrop on the Wine Estate Meerendal. It ran about 8 watts to an X-30 antenna mounted 4 metres up on a pole tied to a gate post on the top of the mountain, and seemed to behave flawlessly.

The route had a few dips and high points and some of the voice traffic and APRS traffic was a little scratchy, but nothing happened that radio and APRS couldn’t handle. Yours truly was ably assisted in the JOC by ZS1MMT, and I say thank you to her and ZS1TAF, ZS1REY, ZS1MJT, ZS1DGK, ZS1YT, ZS1JM, ZS1ZV, ZS1SJ, ZS1CO, ZS1S, ZS1OSK and ZS1LED for their sterling services.

HAMNET also supplied trackers to the five ambulance vehicles on the route, the three roving marshals from the school sponsoring the event, and the back markers of the long and short race. The value that these kinds of interventions provide is incalculable.

Personally, I had hoped to incorporate the use of map pins on WhatsApp more frequently, to be able to pinpoint, literally and figuratively, exactly where the incidents were taking place, but in the end, there weren’t any incidents, so that didn’t happen. I thought it might occur that a rover, who had last beacon’ed his position 2 minutes ago, might come upon an accident or injury, and would then send his lat and long with a map pin. Clearly, in a rescue or an out-of-town event, we won’t always have access to WhatsApp, so it is not something we should rely on. We are, after all, RADIO operators.

This is the 13th time HAMNET Western Cape has assisted the organisers of the 99er Cycle Tour. Last year’s event was cancelled because of pandemic lockdown, but 2020’s event took place a month before South Africa went into earnest lockdown for the first time.

Our next big event is the Two Oceans Marathon, over the Easter Weekend. This was cancelled two years in a row, because lockdown extended from before Easter 2020 to late in 2021. In an attempt to reduce runner concentrations during the race, the organisers have decided to hold the short 21km race, and the longer 56km race on different days, to help maintain a degree of distance between participants.

With COVID Omicron as infectious as it is, this makes good sense, and I look forward to inviting volunteers to assist with the Two Oceans again this year.

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.

HAMNET Report 6th February 2022

From Popular Science, we learn that over the past week, ships from Australia and New Zealand have delivered hundreds of thousands of gallons of water to the Pacific archipelago of Tonga, which quickly ran out of drinking water in the aftermath of the volcanic eruption on January 15. According to Tonga’s speaker of the house Fatafehi Fakafānua, many of the country’s 100,000-plus residents still have no access to water after ash contaminated its drinking supplies.

According to a report from the United Nations, relief organizations have set up 16 water stations around the island to meet that need. But the process of digging out wells and rooftop tanks has been slow-going, in part because to avoid introducing COVID to the largely disease-free islands, relief teams have remained in quarantine.

An underwater volcanic eruption is, clearly, different from climate-related storms, fires, and floods. But it highlights the vulnerability of global water systems to withstand such events, creating humanitarian disasters that linger for months. “This is really just a classic textbook case of what happens when you have one disaster on top of another,” says Craig Colten, a senior adviser at the Water Institute, a Louisiana-based water policy organization, and an expert on coastal disasters.

Tonga gets its water from two sources. Rural areas generally rely on rainwater gathered from rooftops, while urban areas tap a shallow freshwater aquifer that sits in the porous limestone that makes up the islands. This aquifer, which also forms from pooled rainfall, sits on top of saltwater, like a drop of oil on a bowl of water.

Experts studying the conditions in Tonga think it should be okay for people to drink from water tanks, as long as they wait for the ash to settle. But it’s harder to predict how the particles will affect the aquifer. When seawater boils from volcanic activity, all kinds of new chemicals can form, says Esteban Gazel, a volcanologist at Cornell University. Some of them can be acidic.

An analysis of the ash blanketing Tonga shows that is has a similar pH to drinking water, Carol Stewart, co-director of the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network, told PopSci on February 4. The islands’ limestone base is also alkaline, which means it could neutralize any acidic compounds that make their way into the groundwater. But the reserves are also close to the surface, which is why Gazel says it’s impossible to know the end result without more careful analysis of the aquifer.

And, sadly, CNN is now reporting that 5 cases of community-acquired COVID have been picked up on the main island of Tonga, so I’m afraid Omicron will probably rip through there in no time at all. May its effects remain as mild in Tonga as elsewhere in the world.

By Monday of this week, the next Tropical Storm on its way towards the East coast of Africa, called BATSIRAI-22, was being mentioned, out in the central Indian Ocean, and threatening Madagascar, and eventually, the North-eastern coast of South Africa and Mozambique. Maximum wind-speeds of 200 km/h were forecast, and scores of people in Madagascar were in the line of fire.

GDACS raised its Alert Level Warning to RED on Tuesday, and issued maps showing the Cyclone predicted to hit the country of Madagascar amidships by the weekend. By Thursday, the population threatened by 231 km/h winds had grown to 4.4 million.

The storm is expected to cross the East Coast of Madagascar on Saturday the fifth, whereafter it will get into the Mozambique channel and turn a bit Southwards, travelling down the coast of Mozambique and Kwazulu-Natal. Forecasts after that are too limited at present. We hold thumbs for the citizens of the affected countries.

Nine years after the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant, scientists are left wondering how dangerous the surrounding area still is.

To investigate, a team of researchers enlisted unlikely help: nine Japanese rat snakes that live in the region. The scientists, using some handy duct tape and superglue, attached GPS trackers and radiation dosimeters to the varmints, according to The Guardian, which allowed them to measure radioactivity exposure levels while the snakes slithered around.

Most of the people who initially fled the disaster have since returned home, but the snake study, which was published in the journal Ichthyology and Herpetology, could help officials come up with a plan for how to handle the remaining 444 square miles that remain fenced off as the Fukushima Exclusion Zone.

Snakes may seem like an odd choice. But it was actually a deliberate move.

“Snakes are often understudied when it comes to other animals, but they are actually a vital part of many ecosystems,” lead study author and University of Georgia researcher Hannah Gerke told Earther. “They can act as both predator and prey in the food web, which means they have the potential to accumulate contaminants from prey they eat and also be a source of contaminants for other animals that eat them.”

Basically, if snakes are exposed to high levels of radioactivity, the rest of the ecosystem is too — and that gives the researchers a better idea of the area’s overall ecological health.

The findings varied substantially from area to area, the scientists learned. That suggests that radioactive isotopes didn’t fall over the region in a uniform way, and depended in some way on the underlying terrain, according to the study. Snakes that selected different habitats reported different levels of radiation even within the same area, suggesting that the Fukushima Exclusion Zone is a bit more complex than scientists initially assumed.

Regardless, the scientists determined that monitoring snakes and other wildlife will be a useful proxy for radioactivity levels going forward, so their continued work could help identify which, if any, areas will become safe for human habitation sooner than others.

Thank you to Dan Robitzski, writing rather appropriately in an online journal called “The byte”, (spelled b-y-t-e) which has more to do with digital bits than reptilian bites, it seems!

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.