KwaZulu Natal is still not out of danger from heavy rain and its consequences. GDACS reported on Thursday that the number of casualties increased after the floods due to heavy rainfall and thunderstorms that affected KwaZulu-Natal province, since 12th January.

Media report, as of 17th January, at least 13 fatalities due to overflowing rivers in eThekwini municipality and Durban city area. Six people were injured by severe weather-related incidents and three people have been rescued in Tongaat. Across eThekweni, KwaDukuza and Ndwedwe municipalities, people in the flooded areas have been evacuated. Moreover, roads, bridges infrastructure and electricity networks have been severely damaged.

On Friday, the Newcastle area was being threatened by oncoming storms and heavy rain, so the summer rainfall areas are certainly suffering a lot.

In a summary of the Tropical Cyclone’s path, GDACS says that BELAL made landfall over Reunion on 15th January and passed close to Mauritius on 15th and 16th January, bringing heavy rainfall and strong winds, that caused floods and resulted in casualties and damage.

In Reunion, civil protection reported four fatalities and more than 700 displaced people. In Mauritius, according to the United Nations, at least two people died, over 1,000 others were evacuated and approximately 100,000 were affected.

The Government of Mauritius is leading the response coordination with support from humanitarian partners.

BELAL has moved eastward as a tropical storm and was located 910 km south-east of Mauritius on Thursday. It was forecast to change direction moving south-westwards over the southern Indian Ocean and weaken. 

Meanwhile, large areas of Japan affected by the New Year’s Day earthquake are still without water and power, particularly in the evacuation centres, where 20000 people are still trying to keep warm in icy winter conditions.

As of Monday the 15th, the death toll stood at 222, with 22 people still unaccounted for and 1025 suffering injuries. The tsunami waves, while small, nevertheless inundated some 190 hectares of land in three municipalities mostly in the north-eastern part of the Noto Peninsula in the Ishikawa province, wrecking houses and port facilities, including the town of Shika, but the full extent of the destruction is yet to be assessed.

In an editorial carried on the Mainichi newsline, it is noted that the communication network broke down. This was due to equipment malfunctions and power outages rendering mobile phone base stations inoperable.

Service providers swung into action to provide alternatives. Major mobile carriers NTT Docomo Inc. and KDDI Corp. set up joint mobile base stations on ships, transmitting signals from the sea. SoftBank Corp. is using special drones as mobile base stations — a system introduced based on experiences from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

However, communication coverage remains limited in some disaster-stricken areas, making it difficult for phone and internet services to function properly. Delays in restoration could impede vital information gathering through drones and online medical consultations.

Strengthening disaster prevention capabilities is an urgent task. In the Great East Japan Earthquake, about 29,000 base stations went offline, with roughly 80% attributed to power outages.

Carriers have improved backup power for base stations, extending their operational life from three to around 24 hours in the case of a blackout. Considering that the first 72 hours after a disaster are crucial for life-saving efforts, further performance improvement is needed.

In the Noto quake, satellite phones played a significant role. The government sent terminals to affected areas, supporting recovery efforts. KDDI provided equipment to medical facilities and evacuation centres to tap into U.S. firm SpaceX’s Starlink communication system.

Communications are a lifeline during disasters. The government and network providers have a responsibility to establish essential universal services to protect the people.

Amateur radio enthusiast Tony Falla is encouraging community members to consider having a radio on hand to assist in times of emergency when all other forms of communication fail.

Tony has been an amateur radio enthusiast for more than 50 years and established the local Facebook group ‘Mt Alexander Radio Watch‘, in Australia, to encourage people to set up their own radio network for use in times of power cuts, mobile outages and other unpredictable situations. 

But his skills and equipment were recently put to the test when simultaneous power and Optus network outages plunged homes across the region into darkness and saw many unable to communicate via phone. 

The storm event on January 2 saw 24,000 homes across the central and western regions without power after 90,000 lightning strikes across the state damaged infrastructure. 

“Despite having to look for an alternative source of lighting, I was able to use my car radio transmitter set up to reach out to other Mt Alexander Radio Watch members across the region and to gauge how widespread the issue was and if everyone was okay,” Tony said. 

“After confirming everyone was okay, one of my colleagues offered to drop me off some spare car batteries to extend my lights’ duration. However, they weren’t required in the end as fortunately the outage only lasted a couple of hours.” 

Point-to-point radio enables an ‘open mesh’ network to form. This means participants can hear each other and are able to talk to everyone. It’s an efficient way of solving problems or calling for help. 

Thank you to midlandexpress.com for reminding us of the value of being “radio-active”. The message does bear repeating.

In this connection, Stanford News reports that researchers from Stanford and the American University of Beirut have developed a lightweight, portable antenna that can communicate with satellites and devices on the ground, making it easier to coordinate rescue and relief efforts in disaster-prone areas.

The antenna, described recently in Nature Communications, packs down to a small size and can easily shift between two configurations to communicate either with satellites or devices on the ground without using additional power.

The antenna, is made of fibre composites, and consists of multiple strips of material crossing each other in spirals, and able to be concertina’ed down to a 2.5cm tall 12.5cm ring, or stretched out to 30cm and considerably narrower.

Technically it is a bi-stable deployable quadrifilar helix antenna, and needs a ground plane to be used either for satellite communications with a high power directional signal, or for lower power omnidirectional signals, rather like a router’s antenna. The frequencies it resonates on obviously depends on its general dimensions. However it weighs just 40gms, so is easy to carry and use in portable situations.

Thanks to news.stanford.edu for this snippet.

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