HAMNET Report 30 September 2018

Glynn Chamberlain, ZS6GLN, Regional Director HAMNET Gauteng South reports that, on Sunday the 23rd September, Hamnet Gauteng South kicked off their next season of events by assisting with the Route42 Mountain Bike Cycling Event organised by the Nigel Cycling Club.

Hamnet Gauteng South has proudly been assisting with this race for a number of years, and in total, 21 members helped on the day.

The morning started at 06h00 with the team arrival, setting up of the Hamnet Gauteng South Communications trailer, and a team briefing, before members started heading out to their pre-defined locations. Communications was facilitated with the erection of the units portable 70cm repeater near the “Webb Industries” high site where, coincidentally, the cyclists had to pass. Communications with all the members was perfect.

The race consisted of a completely new route from a venue, south east of Nigel. The route was through farmlands, forests, river beds and mountainous areas to name but a few. Feedback from the riders was that it was one of the best routes they have participated in, and they thoroughly enjoyed the race.

For the first time, the organisers asked if Hamnet Gauteng South could supply 2 riders on motorbikes to lead the 30km and 60km batches. Fortunately, we could accommodate the request, and were also able to supply the organisers with live position updates as both riders were carrying trackers. A further request was could the unit also provide a tail end vehicle for sweeping behind the last cyclists. This we were able to do, but with some apprehension, as the race was essentially a mountain bike race, and we were out of motorbike members. The plan was for one of the members to perform this duty initially in his vehicle as the first part of the race was through farmlands. Once one of the lead motorbikes had completed bringing in either of the 2 routes, that bike would then head off and meet the tail end vehicle and take over in the more difficult areas of the route. The plan worked out perfectly, with the bike meeting up with the last car about 20km into the race.

Overall, the race was a huge success not only for Hamnet Gauteng South, but also for the race organisers. Once again, the unit and members were able to practice and test their preparedness for real disaster events, which we hope will never come!

Thank you for the report Glynn, and well done, the team.

And  now to Indonesia, where a sequence of earthquakes and a tsunami in the Indonesian areas of Donggala and Palu on 28th September have left hundreds of people dead and many more injured. Dani Halim, YB2TJV, as the new IARU R3 Disaster Communication Coordinator reports, Amateur Radio Operators in Indonesia immediately activated to respond to the disaster unfolding in Central Sulawesi Province.

Following the magnitude 7.7 earthquake at 17:02 Local Time (11:02 am UTC), electricity, cellular and all communication facilities in the area were cut off. Communications have been established from the Luwuk Disaster Management Agency located 700 km from the epicentre of the Earthquake with YD8MII (Net Control) and YC8OBM to get information, on landslides occurring in the area, and also that communications routes were blocked. Many photos and videos now circulating on social media, show the enormity of the earthquake.

The Indonesian National Society ORARI immediately established an Emergency Net on 7.110 MHz and also activated the Lapan-Orari IO-86 satellite as a back-up.

Communications have now been established with YB8NT and YB8PR in Palu, who are using mobile stations. Due to QRM on 7.110 MHz though, a second net has been set up on 7.065 MHz.

ORARI asks that they be given room to use 7.110 MHz and 7.065 MHz since this earthquake could be worse than the one in Lombok at the end of August. Please allow them a QRM-free space to complete their work.

Thanks to Greg G0DUB for this report from RAYNET-HF.net

Meanwhile, a little bit North-East, Tropical Cyclone Trami-18 has been approaching Japan from the South-West, with sustained wind-speeds of 200km/h, and today, the 30th, will have crossed over Okinawa, and be pummelling the Southern half of Japan with winds in the region of 185km/h. It is expected to run along the entire length of Japan, in a North-Easterly direction, clearing the top right corner  of Japan by Monday night.

I’d like to draw the attention of the rapidly growing group of South African amateur satellite enthusiasts, to the interview aired in this week’s edition of Ham Nation, available on You Tube, of AMSAT President Joe Spier, K6WAO, which was featured in September 26th’s episode #369.

Well known Amateur Radio journalist Gordon West, WB6NOA interviewed Joe and discussed the latest news from AMSAT and ARISS.

Joe remarked, “The opportunity for this interview couldn’t have come at a better time. With the launch of ARISS’s Fundrazr drive to sustain Amateur Radio operations on the ISS and AMSAT’s own development needs, this interview will help get the word out to segments of the Amateur Radio community that don’t normally track the Amateur Radio satellite community.

“Ham Nation is promoted well throughout Amateur Radio social media so the potential audience is substantial. I hope everyone has a chance to watch the show and perhaps share it with your friends who might become interested in AMSAT and Amateur Radio in Space.”

Thanks to The Southgate Amateur Radio News page for this insert.

Finally, on a more sobering note, if you’ll pardon the pun, the World health Organisation issued a report on Friday, that noted that harmful use of alcohol leads to violence, road traffic crashes, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke. A new report launched by WHO estimates that 3 million people die every year from harmful use of alcohol, and most of these are men. That is 6 people every minute of every day! Today contains 1440 minutes, so that means 8640 people today!

Worldwide, an estimated 2.3 billion people drink alcohol. Of these, around 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol-use disorders. By far the majority therefore drink alcohol harmlessly, but this is certainly a statistic to make one sit up and think. The writer earnestly asks you not to become one of these statistics.

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

HAMNET Report 23 September 2018

Conventional telecommunications are starting to return to normal in some communities affected by Hurricane Florence, but the now long-gone storm set up others for persistent and record-breaking flooding, primarily in eastern North Carolina and along several of the state’s rivers. The storm, which made landfall near Wilmington, North Carolina, primarily affected the Carolinas, Georgia, and Virginia.

“Things are back to normal communication status, and demobilization is occurring for folks deployed,” South Carolina Section Emergency Coordinator Billy Irwin, K9OH, said on September 19. At mid-week, the FCC reported that nearly all cellular service had been restored in South Carolina.

Over the weekend, ARES volunteers from several South Carolina counties had pitched in to support emergency communication in the face of power and telecommunication outages and heavy rainfall. ARES Richland County Emergency Coordinator Ronnie Livingston, W4RWL, said volunteers in his county staffed the county Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Red Cross operators at the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) kept in contact with field volunteers in Marion and Dillon counties, after conventional telecommunications failed there.

ARES District Emergency Coordinator EMEA Area 3 Earl Dean, W4ESD, said ARES deployed assets as well as personnel who coordinated with the appropriate agencies. Horry County ARES and ARRL South Carolina Section Public Information Officer (PIO) Gordon Mooneyhan, W4EGM, said radio amateurs set up and organized communication networks to assist local government and emergency agencies, as well as to handle health-and-welfare traffic for affected residents, to let their family members outside the affected area know they were all right.

In North Carolina, storm surges had caused flooding in many communities. Ham radio volunteers responded in counties along the coast, including Wilmington, Topsail Beach, Jacksonville, and Morehead City, staffing both EOCs and shelters. Farther inland, numerous ARES teams activated in the face of river flooding to address a combination of sheltering needs for local residents and evacuees. Communication throughout the state was supplemented by neighbourhood-based operators, who reported emergencies to county EOCs. The FCC reported on September 19 that nearly one-third of cell service was out in Columbus, Pender, and Onslow counties. The storm also took out several broadcast outlets in the state.

We are grateful to the ARRL letter published on Thursday for these reports.

SocialistWorker.org says that the storm that hammered the Carolinas has moved on, but the catastrophic effects, made much worse by man-made factors, are still being felt. And like the storms before Hurricane Florence, poor and working people will suffer the most.

As dramatic as the images of the hurricane making landfall on September 14 were, it is the misery and suffering for days, weeks and months to come that will be burned into the lives and memories of ordinary people here. As an activist friend beautifully wrote:

“Poverty has always been a flood and not a hurricane. It’s always been a long, rolling disaster, with muddy gray water under an incongruent blue sky. It’s always been a slow build of mould between generations of people making do with babies in faded milk crates floated on mattresses down city streets.” Close quotations.

Florence struck the North Carolina coast with winds reaching 92 miles per hour (160km/h), then moved inland and south to South Carolina, then drifted north again toward Virginia and eventually West Virginia.

The storm brought destruction to every community in its path. As of the writing of this article, it had claimed 32 lives, including that of a 1-year-old who was swept away by floodwaters in Union County in North Carolina.

One preliminary estimate puts the damage caused by Florence at $18 billion. Nearly a million people lost power, and many are expected to remain without it for weeks.

The storm dropped torrential amounts of rain on the Carolinas as it moved inland, with some areas getting over two feet of rainfall (The record rainfall I picked up in  another report was 39 inches in the two days – that’s 990mm, nearly three times our annual rainfall in parts of Cape Town!) The resulting flooding will be an ongoing hazard for weeks to come.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, the flooding triggered a series of ecological disasters with coal ash ponds, chemical factories, landfills and hog farm lagoons located on or near the two main rivers in Eastern North Carolina, the Cape Fear and Neuse Rivers.

We in South Africa can only give thanks that we are not commonly exposed to this kind of meteorological disaster!

K1CE Rick Palm reports in the ARES E-Letter this week:

“DC power management has become a sub-hobby for me: I have two 100 W solar panels on the roof of my shack, two 31 A/hr gel cell batteries, a heavy duty 60 A power supply, a VHF FM radio and an HF transceiver, all fed by wires terminated with Powerpole® connectors, and managed/connected by a high power (40 A) routing/battery charging device. I changed all of my connectors to the now-ubiquitous Powerpoles years ago and never looked back.

Two aspects of 12 V power management systems are often overlooked by amateurs, admittedly including myself: length and gauge of wires. Power is saved when runs are kept as short as possible, and of a high (lower number) gauge (AWG). The power supply wire should be heavy gauge (#10) and kept as short as possible. The same applies to the batteries, which should also have a fuse in the positive lead directly at the battery’s positive terminal.

I spent a morning recently replacing all of my 12 V cables with shorter, larger gauge ones. I fused the positive battery terminal and had fun reorienting myself to installing the Powerpole connectors. There is a wealth of information available online.

One final note, and it’s an important one: Be Careful!  Any short in the battery wire, connector, or load can cause a fire and battery explosion. People almost never think of 12 V batteries as dangerous, but they are. Use the utmost of care when wiring your 12 V management system!

Thank you Rick for those words of advice.

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

HAMNET Report 16 September 2018

On diametrically opposite sides of the globe, two huge tropical storms are exerting their might on the weather.

Tropical Cyclone MANGKHUT-18, by far the bigger storm, is moving more or less due West across the Philippines, and threatening, China, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and Vietnam, with maximum wind-speeds expected to be in the 280km/h range. The estimated population affected by winds in excess of 120km/h is nearly 7 million.

The northern tip of the Philippines have already been battered, and, as I write this on Saturday afternoon, the eye of the storm is East-Northeast of the tip of the Philippines, and bearing down on the coast of China, just South of Hong Kong. Its projected path will take it Westwards along the border of China and Vietnam, just North of Hanoi.

There are an awful lot of people living in those areas, in dwellings not very cyclone-proof, houses which have probably been destroyed and rebuilt many times by previous cyclones, and the population of 7 million threatened are therefore very vulnerable. We’ll keep watching the news dispatches for further detail.

On the other side of the globe, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already had advanced plans and deployments in place for Hurricane FLORENCE, a Category 4 storm, approaching the Carolina States of the USA in a North-Easterly direction. By Monday just gone, FEMA had already positioned more than 80,000 litres of water, 402,000 meals, 1,200 cots and 34 generators at Fort Bragg near Fayetteville, North Carolina.

The projected path of Florence had it crossing the coast of North Carolina on Friday morning at about 7am our time. Wind-speeds of about 250km/h were expected as it crossed the coast.

The ARRL reported that it shipped seven Ham Aid kits to South Carolina by way of Georgia on September 11, to assist with emergency preparedness needs in advance of Hurricane Florence. These kits are the same ones that ARRL volunteers took to Puerto Rico a year ago to assist with disaster communications following Hurricane Maria.

“South Carolina ARES is fully activated,” ARRL South Carolina Section Emergency Coordinator Billy Irwin, K9OH, told ARRL, adding that he’s been coordinating regularly with the state Emergency Management Division. “We have operators serving 12-hour shifts at the SC Emergency Management Division and will move to 24-hour coverage on Thursday. Two operators have been deployed to Berkeley County to assist with shelter operations at the request of the Emergency Coordinator there.” Irwin said information about frequencies in use is in the Tactical Guide on the South Carolina ARES website.

“We are literally modifying plans on the fly to meet the needs of the mission,” Irwin added. “Several ARRL Sections have offered assistance.”

The Hurricane Watch Net (HWN), at Alert Level 3, was closely monitoring three systems, Hurricane Florence, Tropical Storm Isaac, and Invest 95L, currently in the Gulf of Mexico. The net  shifted its formal activation to Thursday, September 13, at 1300 UTC, as Florence closed in on the US east coast. The net activated on both its 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz frequencies and remained active around the clock, as needed. “Hurricane Florence is drawing a lot of concern for its size and strength, but more so for the potential flooding,” Assistant HWN Manager Stan Broadway, N8BHL, said.

HWN stations will be on both frequencies throughout the day and evening on Wednesday, September 12, to talk with stations in the coastal states. “We want to log their locations, their weather instrumentation and other pertinent information, so that when they are actively producing storm reports we already have them in the database,” Broadway said. “This will speed the reporting process Thursday and Friday as the storm does make landfall.”

WX4NHC at the National Hurricane Centre remained active through Friday, September 14, operating cooperatively with the HWN as net stations funnelled ground-level reports to the Centre. WX4NHC will monitor the HWN and the VoIP Hurricane Net (VoIPWX).

The Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN) announced plans to activate for Hurricane Florence from 1700 through 2100 UTC on Thursday, September 13, and to reactivate on Friday and Saturday at about 1600 UTC until propagation no longer supported it, or the Net Manager closed the net for the day.

And as I compiled this yesterday afternoon, ARRL News reported that the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) announced that it shut down its activation for Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a Tropical Storm but still “a formidable system that will affect the coastal states for days,” HWN Assistant Manager Stan Broadway, N8BHL, said. “Because the storm is moving inland, Amateur Radio activity will shift to the various state and regional emergency nets,” Broadway added.

“While propagation was not good on 20 meters for the period, 40 meters afforded a fairly consistent contact with stations in the area,” Broadway recounted. “The net has been in operation for 38 hours.”

Over the course of its activation, listening for reports and relaying them to the National Hurricane Centre (NHC) via WX4NHC, nearly 200 stations checked in, and the net took in approximately twice that number of reports.

“Many were not at severe levels, but all ‘ground truth’ [reports] assist in plotting the activity of the storm,” Broadway explained. WX4NHC will remain active through Friday.

As of 0000 UTC on September 15, the centre of Florence had moved into extreme eastern South Carolina, the National Hurricane Centre reported. “Life-threatening storm surges and strong winds will continue tonight,” the report said, “[with] catastrophic freshwater flooding expected over portions of North and South Carolina.”

The storm was some 15 miles north-northeast of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and about 55 miles east-southeast of Florence, South Carolina, with maximum sustained winds of 70 MPH. Florence was moving to the west at a leisurely 3 MPH.

And, if you want a live feed from the Carolina Beach, Wilmington area, visit https://www.facebook.com/derekvandamfanpage/videos/   to see daily reports from Derek van Dam.

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

HAMNET Report 9 September 2018

Seeing that we are now at the start of Spring, I thought to present a bulletin that relates to time and its consequences. Let’s start with time on the Sun.

The Royal Observatory of Belgium’s Solar-Terrestrial Centre of Excellence (STCE) has asserted that the reverse-polarity sunspot group 2720 observed in late August belongs to the current solar cycle — cycle 24 — and does not represent the start of cycle 25 [as initially thought].

“Because of its reversed polarity, some websites claimed sunspot group 2720 was possibly one of the first groups of new Solar Cycle 25,” the Centre said. “This is simply not true, in view of its very low 8° latitude. The next Solar Cycle 25 sunspot group should have both reversed magnetic polarity and much higher heliographic latitude, typically 20° to 40° from the equator. Only two tiny, short-lived numbered sunspot groups are currently assigned to new Solar Cycle 25, sunspot group 2620 in December 2016 and 2694 in January 2018.”

STCE said that while both of those small sunspots have been assigned to cycle 25, some uncertainty exists as to just which sunspot cycle they actually belong to. STCE said some additional sunspot groups that belong to cycle 25 were so tiny and short-lived that they were not assigned a sunspot number. “During each solar cycle, about 3% of all active regions have reversed polarity but do not belong to the previous or next solar cycle,” the Centre said. “With 2,000 to 3,000 sunspot groups per solar cycle, this means that every solar cycle has a few dozen reverse-polarity sunspots that belong to the ongoing sunspot cycle despite their reverse polarity.”

After examining magnetograms of the sun’s surface, well-known Amateur Radio solar observer and propagation authority Carl Luetzelschwab, K9LA, agreed that AR2720 is reversed in polarity from other sunspots in the northern solar hemisphere. What confuses the issue, he said, is its low latitude, as a cycle 25 sunspot area should be at a much higher latitude.

The same weekend of sunspot group 2720, a radio blackout lasting about a day took place, affecting the HF amateur bands as well as GPS systems. Solar watcher Dr Tamitha Skov, in her YouTube report, called the G3-level geomagnetic storm “one of the top five storms of the solar cycle.”

Thanks to the ARRL Letter for that insert.

Now time on the air you can set your watch to.

VOANews.com reported on September the 2nd that President Donald Trump’s administration wants to shut down U.S. government radio stations that announce official time, a service in operation since World War II.

WWV and WWVB in the state of Colorado and WWVH on the island of Kauai in the mid-Pacific state of Hawaii, send out signals that allow millions of clocks and watches to be set either manually or automatically.

WWVB continuously broadcasts digital time codes, using very long electromagnetic waves at a frequency of 60 kilohertz, which are automatically received by timekeeping devices in North America, keeping them accurate to a fraction of a second.

“If you shut down these stations, you turn off all those clocks,” said Don Sullivan, who managed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) stations between 1994 and 2005.

Some argue the terrestrial time signals have been rendered obsolete by the government’s Global Positioning System, whose satellites also transmit time signals, but users disagree, noting GPS devices must have an unobstructed view of a number of satellites in space to properly function.

“Sixty kilohertz permeates in a way GPS can’t,” Sullivan told VOA, explaining that WWVB’s very low frequency signal can be received inside buildings and it is an important backup to GPS in case adversaries attempt to interfere with the satellite radio-navigation system.

WWV and WWVH broadcast on a number of shortwave frequencies, meaning their signals can be received globally.

WWV, the oldest continuously operating radio station in the United States, first went on the air from Washington in 1919, conducting propagation experiments and playing music. In the early years, it also transmitted — via Morse code — news reports prepared by the Agriculture Department.

The station subsequently was moved to Maryland and then to Colorado in 1966. WWV has been a frequency standard since 1922 and has disseminated official U.S. time since 1944.

All of the NIST stations rely on extremely precise atomic clocks for the accuracy of their time signals.

One second is defined as the period of the transition between two energy levels of the ground state of the Cesium-133 atom, making Cesium oscillators the primary standard for time and frequency measurements.

WWV, at two minutes past every hour, also transmits a 440 hertz note (A above middle C on a piano), something it has done since 1936, allowing musicians to tune their pianos and other instruments.

All three stations retain a huge following worldwide, according to Sullivan.

Tom Kelly, an amateur radio operator in the state of Oregon, has launched a petition to try to save the stations. Kelly’s petition calls the stations “an instrumental part in the telecommunications field, ranging from broadcasting to scientific research and education,” noting their transmissions of marine storm warnings, GPS satellite health reports and specific information about solar activity and radio propagation conditions.

Britain, China, Germany, Japan and Russia also have very low frequency time transmissions, but their stations are too distant to automatically set clocks in the United States.

Thanks to the Voice of America for this report.

Then, time in Europe.

Southgate Amateur Radio News says that BBC News reports the EU Commission is proposing to end the practice of adjusting clocks by an hour in spring and autumn after a survey found most Europeans opposed it.

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said millions “believe that in future, summer time should be year-round, and that’s what will happen”.

The Commission’s proposal requires support from the 28 national governments and MEPs to become law.

In the EU clocks switch between winter and summer under daylight saving time.

A European Parliament resolution says it is “crucial to maintain a unified EU time regime”.

However, the Commission has not yet drafted details of that proposed change.

And now it’s Time in South Africa to return you to the Amateur Radio Today Studio!

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

HAMNET Report 2 September 2018

On Wednesday 29th of August the City of Cape Town’s Disaster Risk Management department held an exercise with the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station to test their disaster processes under the watchful eyes of inspectors of the National Nuclear Regulator.  HAMNET participated with the exercise and were ready to provide emergency communication backup should any of the other existing services have failed (or be simulated to fail).

In matters of this scale there are multiple layers of redundancy to ensure that, even should multiple simultaneous faults occur for whatever reason, the situation would never put the general public at risk.

In preparation for the exercise, a mobile VHF/UHF cross-band repeater was installed at a high site known to provide suitable coverage to areas where other existing systems were struggling with coverage, and where coverage would be required.

Three HAMNET members participated with this exercise – Dean ZS1KP, Hendrik ZS1EEE and Alister ZS1OK.  After setting up the HAMNET communications room at Goodwood for the specific requirements necessitated for this exercise, we were able to follow the development of the exercise from the spill-over JOC – which had CCTV coverage of the active Disaster Management Operations Centre – where the exercise was playing itself out.

As could be expected there were a couple of curved balls thrown at the emergency management committee, but these were all dealt with very well and in due process and time.

In the end, due to the specifics of this exercise, the HAMNET members earmarked to be mobile operators in support of the exercise were not deployed, but it was a good training ground to follow the process as it unfolded from the spill-over JOC.

After the exercise was concluded, the mobile cross-band repeater was retrieved, and in preparation for future events, the radio coverage in some areas, and this experience, is to be included in future operating procedures.

Thank you to Alister ZS1OK, for providing these notes of the exercise.

KCCI News at Noon on August the 29th stated that the hurricane that struck Puerto Rico in 2017 is now the United States’ deadliest natural disaster in the last century.  A new study suggests nearly 3,000 people died after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. The government initially reported the death toll at 64.

While volunteering on the island with the American Red Cross, Juan Trujillo helped an amateur radio group re-establish communication among hospitals. Through their HAM radios, Trujillo said volunteers were able to determine which patients needed immediate help and could help facilitate trips to San Juan by ambulance or helicopter.

“They were critical, but they were still alive in the facility they were brought into,” he said. “After that, we did not know. I did not know if they were going to make it or not. We did not (ever) have that information.”

Trujillo said he trusts the increased reported death toll because of the destruction he saw in Puerto Rico.

“We knew the activity was real,” he said. “We knew the emergency was really a true emergency for everyone.”

Trujillo said that, despite the harrowing moments, he would volunteer again in a heartbeat. “A little bit of help was provided by my doing,” he said. “So yes, I would do it anytime.”

Puerto Rico’s governor commissioned an independent review of how the island responded to the hurricane. Trujillo said he hopes the review helps the island prepare for natural disasters in the future.

Southgate Amateur Radio News has reported that the National Telecommunications Commission of Honduras (abbreviated CONATEL in Spanish), delivered radio communications equipment to COPECO on August 22, 2018, that had been donated by ITU for emergency communications.

Honduras is part of a pilot project of ITU that includes Central America and the Caribbean, aiming to achieve full implementation in South America.

Miguel Alcaine, ITU Area D Representative, said: “The most important thing is that CONATEL, COPECO and the radio amateurs start working with the WinLink tool. I am very happy to know that we are doing something before disaster strikes”.

Lisandro Rosales, National Commissioned Minister of COPECO, stated that “one of COPECO’s objectives has been the strengthening of information and communication technologies (ICTs), and, thanks to them, the institution has one of the most powerful communications networks of the region, with coverage of 95% of the national territory”.

Minister Rosales also said that “We have realized that telecommunications is a key element in order to give early warnings and to warn about imminent danger, or to coordinate assistance or reconstruction activities”.

The cooperation agreement also includes a training process. To this effect, COPECO technicians, along with professionals of the 911 National Emergency System and CONATEL personnel, initiated a series of workshops, with the support of Honduran radio amateurs.

Omar Paredes, HR1OP, secretary of Club de Radio Aficionados Central de Honduras (CRACH), commented: “This program and radio equipment will allow first responders that work during emergencies to send information through radio waves in high-frequency (HF) bands, when telephone and digital communications collapse or if there are power outages”.

Now, in news from the ARRL, a team of moonbounce enthusiasts expect to activate the 32-meter dish antenna GHY-6 at Goonhilly, on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall (IO70jb) in the UK, on September 1 – 2, operating as GB6GHY. The group, including G8GTZ, G8GKQ, and G4NNS, will be on the HB9Q logger while operational, which should be between 0800 and 1200 UTC, but “earlier if possible,” they’ve said.

GB6GHY will concentrate on 3.4 GHz on September 1 and 5.7 GHz on September 2, with the ability to switch bands immediately.

“Anyone with a relatively small dish (3-meter or less) should be able to work us,” their announcement said. The European Space Agency is undertaking a project to upgrade Goonhilly Earth Station to track missions to the Moon and Mars. The work will see the GHY-6 antenna — which carried the 1985 Live Aid concert around the world — upgraded over the span of 2 years.

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

HAMNET Report 26 August 2018

HAMNET is saddened to be losing our National Director, Paul van Spronsen ZS1V, who has announced that he wishes to stand down. Paul has directed a very tight organisation for the last few years, and has been responsible for the development of a well run, and slick emergency communications vehicle. After several years as Western Cape Regional Director, Paul was the natural choice to be elevated to National Director when Francois Botha stood down. Paul’s firm hand and fair management of HAMNET’s affairs have kept our flags flying high. On behalf of all HAMNET members, I thank Paul, and wish him well in his future endeavours.

On the other hand, HAMNET is very pleased to be welcoming Glynn Chamberlain ZS6GLN as our new CEO. Glynn is well known in all Divisions, and brings to the table his fair and dedicated approach to the principles of HAMNET, so we continue to be in good hands. Well done, Glynn, and best wishes for all success during your term of office!

The Indian area of Kerala was in the news last week too, with devastating monsoon rains flooding huge areas of the state, displacing thousands of people, causing landslides, and destroying infrastructure.

The Times of India reports that  ham radio operators stepped in to provide vital connectivity.

A master control room was set up at district collectorate and amateur radio units were deployed at three taluk offices in Mananthavady, Sultan Bathery and Vythiri. “This will act as a standby communications network if other means of connectivity fail. At present, mobile and landline networks are fine, said district collector, A.R Ajayakumar.

The ham call sign of the District Emergency Operations Centre (DEOC) for flood management at collectorate is VU2PDA. The call signs for taluk offices are – Sultan Bathery VU2JLE, Mananthavady VU3AYR, and Vythiri VU2OJ.

Radio amateurs in the flood-stricken state of Kerala helped with rescue operations there, in part by tracing stranded people through their last mobile phone locations and sharing information with officials. Most telecommunication services in Kerala remain down. Accounts vary, but some 120 hams — and perhaps as many as 300 — were involved in supporting official rescue operations.

“Kerala has been hit by the worst flooding and landslides in 100 years, with six districts and neighbouring areas submerged in 7 to 15 feet of water that has spilled over from nearby rivers,” Suwil Wilson, VU2IT, told ARRL. “One million people are in relief camps, and more than 300 people are dead. Power and mobile communications in the affected areas are cut off.”

Wilson said he coordinated the statewide Amateur Radio response, which was managed by individuals without the involvement of any ham radio organization in India.

“Hams gathered at the Thiruvananthapuram District Administration office, where the District Emergency Operations Centre is functioning, and set up an Amateur Radio emergency communication control centre to work with the District Disaster Management Authority to support rescue and relief operations,” Wilson said, adding that hams from all over Kerala have been relaying reports of people stranded or in need of medical aid. “So far, hams have reported the location and other details of more than 15,000 victims stranded on roofs of houses and other buildings as floodwaters rose to the second floor of buildings.”

“At the control centre, we received messages relayed from other parts of the state and took further actions that resulted in the rescue of over 1,800 people,” Wilson said. “In many cases, the first information was relayed by hams, before any other agency did.”

After the rash of earthquakes which struck Indonesia over last weekend, the next area hit was Venezuela, which sustained a magnitude 7.3 quake on Tuesday the 21st at 23h31 our time. One and a quarter million people live within 100km of the epicentre, and Colombians felt the quake in Bogotá as well.

Karl Hleftschar, YV5YA, National Director of the National Emergency Network of the Radio Club Venezolano, reported that the YV5RNE Network is active on  7088 kHz.

Jose Rafael Gomez, YV1GEC, who lives in the Isla de Margarita, Venezuela commented that the earthquake felt strong, but until then, there had been no interruption of the electric power, or interruption of the gas service.

Roberto Rey, HK3CW, President of La Liga Colombiana de Radio Amadores, reported that in Colombia, “it was felt even in Bogota and was very prolonged.”

It is requested to keep the frequency round about 7088 kHz free of interference.

And on the 22nd of August, a RED alert for Cyclone Soulik-18 was issued, affecting South Korea, and then North Korea as it moved North East, and on to the Southernmost tip of Russia next door. Wind speeds were running at about 120 Km/s.

Then  the ARRL Letter for 22 August reported that ARRL Headquarters is in monitoring mode, as Hurricane Lane approaches Hawaii, ARRL Emergency Preparedness Manager Mike Corey, KI1U, said, and Ham Aid Amateur Radio equipment is available for deployment.

Corey said the Hurricane Watch Net has a team on standby to assist with communication between Hawaii and the mainland, if needed. Amateur Radio at the National Hurricane Centre in Miami is also standing by to assist with communication between the Central Pacific Hurricane Centre and the National Hurricane Centre. The Salvation Army Team Emergency Network (SATERN) is also keeping an eye on the situation, but has not activated. The VoIP Hurricane Net is also monitoring the situation.

The ARRL Hawaii Section is engaged with Hawaii Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) and on standby to assist with shelter operations, if necessary. Volunteers are also assisting the National Weather Service and state emergency managers. At this time, no personnel or equipment is needed. Corey asked those in the affected area to alert ARRL of any communication issues that might evolve as well as any key information that could be shared via Amateur Radio networks.

The past ten days have indeed been busy for emergency communications operators!

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

HAMNET Report 19 August 2018

The ARRL reports that HAARP’s WSPR research campaign has yielded hundreds of reports of reception on the 40 and 80 meter amateur radio bands:

The ARRL story says:

Just-completed research at the High-Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP) transmitters in Gakona, Alaska, successfully took advantage of the WSPR digital protocol and the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter Network (WSPRnet) on July 30 through August 1.

University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Space Physics Group researcher and HAARP Chief Scientist Chris Fallen, KL3WX, told ARRL that the research — HAARP’s fourth research campaign under management of the University of Alaska Fairbanks — went well.

“My ‘citizen science’ experiments were funded by the National Science Foundation and were conducted for approximately 30 minutes at the end of each campaign day,” Fallen told ARRL. “They consisted of 2-minute transmissions using the WSPR digital mode in the 40- and 80-meter bands, with a 2-minute off period between transmissions.”

He said HAARP transmitted in full-carrier, double-sideband AM because it does not have SSB capability. HAARP operated under its Part 5 Experimental license, WI2XFX, with Special Temporary Authority (STA) from the FCC to transmit on amateur bands.

“I systematically varied the HAARP transmission parameters, such as gain, net power, beam direction, and polarization, to see how they affected the reception reports collected in the WSPRnet.org database,” Fallen said. “During the 3 days, we gathered more than 300 confirmed reports of signal strength and location from nearly 100 unique participants throughout Canada and the US.”

Further news about HAARP comes from Webcenter11.com, which reports:

There’s a bit of lingering controversy surrounding HAARP that researchers are looking to put to rest. People have made science fiction-like assertions that the equipment at this site can control minds, alter weather, and even make a caribou walk backwards. Dozens of publications, and even a book, have been written about the conspiracies believed to be involved with HAARP, but officials at the university say these are false accusations.
The university acquired this facility from the military a few years ago to continue studying the highest level of the atmosphere where the auroras live. A strong aurora storm has the potential to interfere with radio communications, cell phones, TV broadcasts, and even electrical grids. Studying the upper atmosphere can help UAF understand how those aurora interactions work, and how they can prevent the interference.

HAARP can study the skies with an array of delicately tuned radio antennas that broadcast straight up in the air. The facility is located about five hours south of Fairbanks off the Richardson highway. It’s not usually open to the public, but on August 25, they’re allowing people to tour the site and learn more about what they really do out there.

“It’s an exquisite facility. It’s the best of its kind in the world, cost about $290 million to build and the university received it for free so we’re now trying using it to do basic research into the ionosphere,” said public relations manager, Sue Mitchell.

I’m sure this is the kind of Citizen Science Hans van de Groenendal ZS6AKV was writing about last week in the EngineerIT periodical. Let’s hope we can get this kind of research going in South Africa soon, too.

From the Hickory Record.com comes this interesting piece:

“(You may) have heard about the Navaho code talker soldiers that served during World War II in the Pacific arena of the war, but many people are unfamiliar with code talkers from numerous other Native American tribes that served in World War I and greatly aided Allied military efforts in the area of military communications.

“On Aug. 21, 1918, British forces were attacking German positions along the Western Front in northern France in an assault that was part of the Somme Offensive. Cherokee soldiers from western North Carolina were in the 119th and 120th Infantry regiments attached to the British forces. During this conflict, the Allies discovered that the Germans were intercepting Allied telephone and radio communications and using information gleaned from those calls to locate and attack Allied forces.

“On the spur of the moment, the Signal Corps decided to use Cherokee troops to pass coded information via telephone and radio since they rightly deduced that the Germans would not be able to translate the Cherokee language. This particular battle in the Somme Offensive was the first known modern use of Native American troops for code-related linguistic purposes. Code-talking troops from other Native American tribes were also utilized in other World War I battle locations and served in such capacity for the remainder of the war.

“Prior to the British using the Cherokee code talkers, the Germans had broken every Allied code type used and regularly intercepted the more physical means of information distribution as well. Codes transmitted by Native American code talkers were never broken and caused much confusion for German decoders who did not realize they were hearing an indigenous American language.

“The success of Cherokee, Choctaw and other tribal code talkers in World War I inspired the U.S. military forces to use Navaho and other Native American tribes as code talkers during World War II.”

That battle, during which Cherokee code talkers were first used, took place one hundred years ago this coming Tuesday the 21st of August.

And, yes, it would appear that your teenage children are not the only ones capable of talking an indecipherable language!

It has been a long time since I commented on the dam situation in the Western Cape. The winter rains have been average so far, after that one short but very sharp rainy week or two, but storage in our major dams has risen to an average of 53% this week, up by 2 percentage points on last week, and almost double the 29% at the same time last year. However, in comparison to the last 10 years or so, only last year’s rain harvesting was worse than our current one, so we are not out of trouble down here yet. However, I must point out that many areas in the Eastern and Southern Cape are now in a worse position than we are, and help in the form of basic foods and animal feeds are urgently being transported to these areas. Please keep current with the drought and famine situation in our land, and offer assistance if you can?

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

 

 

HAMNET Report 12 August 2018

As Radio Amateurs in Indonesia responded for the second time to an Earthquake in the Lombok area on Tuesday, the Indonesia Amateur Radio Organisation, or ORARI, asked all amateurs please to take care to avoid causing QRM to their activities on 7.110MHz, and emergency activities on satellite IO-86.

The second powerful earthquake in the area killed at least 98 people and seriously injured more than 200 others. The electricity supply in the area was disrupted and the ORARI of West Nusa Tenggara Region, led by YB9KA and YB9GV, have taken action to cover areas with no cellular coverage, including taking battery supplies to affected repeaters. At the moment four repeaters are operating in the disaster area, and ORARI HQ has asked their Bali Island Region (the closest area) to provide further repeater support for use during emergency communications in Lombok.

ORARI HQ has also issued an official request to the nearest region, to help with both logistics and personnel to Lombok, designated a National Frequency for the Lombok Earthquake at 7.110 MHz for HF, VHF on 145.500 MHz Simplex and 147.000 MHz Duplex, and also to activate the ORARI Satellite LAPAN IO-86, to assist with communications.

The Central Java Region of the Indonesian Search And Rescue Council has sent a group of rescuers and vehicles, lead by YB2QC, the Operation and Technical Head of ORARI, to join the National Rescue Operation in Lombok, and ORARI Jakarta is also arranging the delivery of logistical assistance to Lombok.

And after this report, news came in on Thursday of a third earthquake in the region, magnitude 5.9, and likely to affect nearly 3 million people living within a 50km radius.

Dani reports again: Entering the sixth day of post-Earthquake 7 SR which shook the region in West Nusa Tenggara and Bali, emergency handling was further intensified. The emergency response period for handling the impact of earthquakes in West Nusa Tenggara ended on 08/08/2018. However, considering the many problems in handling the impact of the earthquake, the Governor of West Nusa Tenggara finally decided to extend the 14-day emergency response period, which is now calculated from August 12 to the 25th, 2018.

Conditions in the field reveal many problems, such as the victims who still have to be evacuated, refugees who have not been handled adequately, the aftershocks that are still going on, and even earthquakes that damage and cause casualties. With the establishment of an emergency response period there is easy access for personnel deployment, resource use, budget use, procurement of logistics and equipment, and administration so that the handling of disaster impacts becomes faster.

The number of earthquake victims continues to increase. As of today (Saturday 11/08/2018), 387 people are recorded as having died.

Mr. Erdius (YBØQA), as Head of Operations and Technical Affairs on behalf of ORARI HQ, has sent 1 unit of VHF Repeater and 10 VHF Handy Talkies, to facilitate communication in all fields.

This update was received on August 11, 2018, 20:39 Local Time (13:39 UTC) from Dani YB2TJV.

The ARRL reports Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES®) volunteers have pitched in to assist where needed to provide or support communication as catastrophic wild-fires have struck California.

Volunteers from multiple ARRL Sections in the state have stepped up to help, as some fires remain out of control. The fires have claimed several lives, destroyed more than 1,000 homes, and forced countless residents to evacuate, including radio amateurs.

ARRL Sacramento Valley Section Emergency Coordinator (SEC) Greg Kruckewitt, KG6SJT, said this week that things have calmed somewhat compared to the past couple of weeks, with American Red Cross shelter communicators stepping down after 10 days of support. Initially, there were four shelters in Redding. On August 5, the Shasta-Tehama ARES team was able to take its communications trailer to Trinity County to support a shelter in Weaverville opened for Carr Fire evacuees, he said.

CalFire reports that the Carr Fire in Shasta and Trinity counties covers more than 167,000 acres and is 47% contained. Evacuations and road closures are in effect. At one point, more than a dozen ARES volunteers from Shasta, Sacramento, Butte, Placer, and El Dorado counties were working at shelters opened in the wake of the Carr Fire.

Kruckewitt said Winlink was the go-to mode, as fire has damaged several repeaters and no repeater path exists to the Gold County Region of the Red Cross in Sacramento.

Thank you to the ARRL news for this coverage.

BBC News reports that the Parker Solar Probe, set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida yesterday, Saturday the 11th, has been delayed for 24 hours.

It is now scheduled to blast off – on board the mammoth Delta-IV Heavy rocket – this Sunday morning. The probe is set to become the fastest-moving manmade object in history. The rocket was on the launch pad when the countdown clock was interrupted, as officials investigated an alarm. NASA had a weather window of 65 minutes to launch, but the time elapsed before the issue could be resolved.

The probe aims to dip directly into our star’s outer atmosphere, or corona.

Its data promises to crack longstanding mysteries about the Sun’s behaviour – assuming it can survive roasting temperatures above 1,000C.

The Delta will hurl the probe into the inner Solar System, enabling the Nasa mission to zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that.

Over the course of seven years, Parker will make 24 loops around our star to study the physics of the corona, the place where much of the important activity that affects the Earth seems to originate.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km  from the Sun’s broiling “surface”.

“I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart. Parker Solar Probe would then be just 4cm away from the Sun,” explained Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist who is affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“We’ll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h.”

Wow! I doubt if any traffic cops will catch that one for speeding!

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

HAMNET Report 5 August 2018

Writing in EngineerIT, Hans van de Groenendaal reports that two South African amateur radio associations, the South African Radio League (SARL) and AMSAT SA, are planning to launch an umbrella association that will link up with scientists in various electronic and physics disciplines to enhance research opportunities. The two organisations are currently involved in propagation research on 5 MHz, and a study of the rapid increases in the radio frequency noise floor, its causes and possible mitigation, and the possible slowing down of the noise pollution which will ultimately render the radio spectrum useless for communication, particularly for weak signal communication.

The new organisation will be known as Amateur Radio Science Citizen Investigation, or HamSCI SA. The concept of HamSCI was started by US scientists who study upper atmospheric and space physics and who are also licensed radio amateurs. HamSCI SA will be a platform for the publicity and promotion of projects that are consistent with the following objectives: to advance scientific research and understanding through amateur radio activities; to encourage the development of new technologies to support this research; and to provide educational opportunities for the amateur community and the general public with a main focus on the youth.

HamSCI SA will be a means of fostering collaborations between professional researchers and radio amateurs. It will assist in developing and maintaining standards and agreements between all people and organisations involved. HamSCI SA will not be an operations or funding programme, nor a supervisory organisation. HamSCI SA will not perform research on its own. Rather, it will support other research programmes such as the SARL’s 5 MHz propagation study, the RF noises monitoring projects, and programmes funded by structures such as the National Research Foundation.

The SARL and AMSAT SA invite interested persons to join the HamSCI SA initiative and offer their expertise. “It will work (in) two ways”, says SARL president, Nico van Rensburg. “It will create interesting activities for radio amateurs, in particularly for the new generation of young people who have been bitten by the ‘radio bug’ but need more challenges than just communications. For the scientific community it means that they can involve many more people in their projects and make a contribution to make science popular.”

Since the beginning of the amateur radio service in South Africa in the early 1900’s, radio amateurs have made significant contributions to radio technology and the understanding of radio science.  This work must be continued today, as the ITU Radio regulations state that a primary purpose of the amateur radio service is the continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art. Recent advances in the fields of computing, software-defined radio, and signal processing provide unprecedented opportunities to meet this mandate, specifically in the field of radio science. These opportunities are already beginning to be realised with the advent of systems such as the reverse beacon network (RBN), the weak signal propagation reporting network (WSPRNet), and PSKReporter. In addition, enabling amateurs to make and contribute legitimate scientific observations will expose amateur radio to a wider community of people interested in science around the world.

Many radio amateurs unwittingly generate a large portion of data during their regular amateur radio operations. A good example of this is the annual SARL High Frequency contest during which hundreds of radio amateurs transmit over a two- or three-hour period, logging the details of every contact they make. Similarly, on a world-wide basis (there) are international contests where thousands of radio amateurs are active over a 24-hour period. There is a massive volume of data collected, however it is unstructured and currently perhaps not that useful, scientifically speaking. This is where collaboration with scientists can make the difference.

The SARL is in partnership with AMSAT SA, who will drive the initial thrust to get HamSCI SA off the ground. If you would like to be part of HamSCI SA and be invited to their launch conference later this year send your contact details to admin@amsatsa.org.za with HamSci SA in the subject line.

Thank you to Hans ZS6AKV for these extracts from his report. I sincerely hope this will generate a greater interest in using more science to further the aims and objectives of HAMNET, in serving the cause of our community.

And from the New York Times, Austin Ramzy reports that one of the greatest aviation mysteries of all time deepened Monday when the official government inquiry into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 released a 495-page report that gave no definitive answers as to the fate of the airliner.

The plane was heading north from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014, when it deviated from its scheduled path, turning west across the Malay Peninsula. It is believed to have turned south after radar contact was lost and crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.

No significant pieces of the wreckage of the jetliner, a Boeing 777, have ever been found. Nor have any remains of the 239 people on board.

The absence of definitive answers in the report, which was released at a news conference, devastated families of the victims.

Intan Maizura Othaman, whose husband, Mohd Hazrin Mohamed Hasnan, was a steward on the flight, told reporters after a briefing for family members that she was angered by the absence of answers.

“It is so frustrating, as nobody during the briefing can answer our questions,” Bernama, the Malaysian state news agency, quoted her as saying.

The report offered no conclusion on what caused the plane to veer off course, cease radio communications and vanish.

The head of the safety investigation team, Kok Soo Chon, said the available evidence — including the plane’s deviation from its flight course, which tests showed was done manually rather than by autopilot, and the switching off of a transponder — “irresistibly point” to “unlawful interference,” which could mean that the plane was hijacked.

But he added that the panel found no indication of who might have interfered or why, and that any criminal inquiry would be the responsibility of law enforcement authorities, not safety investigators.

While Kok did not directly address theories that the disappearance was the result of pilot suicide, he said investigators were “not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot.”

The report detailed an extensive examination of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and the first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid. The investigators “could not detect any abnormality,” Kok said.

An entirely unsatisfactory ending for the bereaved families of those lost in the disaster!

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

HAMNET Report 29 July 2018

Noting the wildfires in UK, Sweden, Latvia, and especially in Greece, and that the European Civil Protection mechanism has been activated in some cases with support from other EU countries such as the Polish Fire Service sending assistance to Sweden, Greg Mossop G0DUB has wondered if any groups have been asked to support their emergency services.

Reports from Greece, Ireland and Germany revealed no participation, but Michal Wilczynski SP9XWM in Poland reported that their fires had rapidly been brought under control by their local fire brigades; and that their special Fire Brigade, consisting of 139 firemen and 44 rescue vehicles, had started to help people in Sweden to fight the flames, and are available to help the citizens of Greece. Very good cross-border cooperation from Poland!

The World Health Organisation has announced that the 24th July marks the end of the ninth outbreak of Ebola in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, joined Minister of Health Dr Oly Ilunga for the announcement in Kinshasa.

“The outbreak was contained due to the tireless efforts of local teams, the support of partners, the generosity of donors, and the effective leadership of the Ministry of Health. That kind of leadership, allied with strong collaboration between partners, saves lives,” said Dr Tedros.

Within hours of the outbreak being declared on 8 May, WHO released US$2 million from its Contingency Fund for Emergencies, deployed a team to augment capacity in the field, and activated an emergency incident management system.

“WHO moved quickly and efficiently,” said Dr Moeti, “We also demonstrated the tremendous capacity of the African region. More than three-quarters of the 360 people deployed to respond came from within the region. Dozens of experts from Guinea spent weeks leading Ebola vaccination efforts here, transferring expertise which will enable the DRC to mount an effective response both within its borders and beyond.”

“This effective response to Ebola should make the Government and partners confident that other major outbreaks affecting the country such as cholera and polio can also be tackled,” said Dr Tedros. “We must continue to work together, investing in strengthened preparedness and access to healthcare for the most vulnerable.”

In Appateu, Laos, the rescue of a baby boy, terrified and hungry after days without food, has been captured in a viral video showing the infant survivor of a dam collapse in southern Laos being carefully carried through swirling flood waters and waist-high mud.

Footage of volunteers from Thailand rescuing 14 people, including the baby, went viral when it was released this Friday as an increasingly international relief mission scrambles to save lives in a disaster that has left scores dead and missing.

The survivors were stranded by flood waters after they fled up a hill on Monday as the Xe-Namnoy dam broke under heavy rain, leaving several villages devastated by flash floods.

The Thai team, who waded several kilometres through rushing water, carrying uprooted trees and debris, to rescue the group, are fresh from efforts to help free the youth football team trapped in a cave in the north of their country.

They have now come to help out in neighbouring Laos, which is poorly equipped to deal with natural disasters of this scale.

“The boy is four months old. He didn’t have fever but he was crying, maybe because of the cold weather,” Kengkard Bongkawong, one of the rescuers, who is from Thailand’s northeast, told AFP.

“The baby was crying and looked terrified. Actually survivors were (all) still terrified of the rushing water.”

Earlier this week officials said 27 bodies had been retrieved so far, with the country’s prime minister reporting 131 missing.

But on Friday the governor of Attapeu province Leth Xiayaphone revised down the toll to five, saying the larger number previously given was “unconfirmed information”.

Authorities in Laos are not used to international scrutiny, and have blocked access to foreign media, complicating efforts to establish the exact death toll.

Now, here’s a good news story about the use of drones. I have previously reported on the use of drones to assess disaster damage, and aid in rescue planning.

Well, TV20’s reporter Landon Harrar, reporting in wcjb.com, said that ” the drones aren’t just being used to map flooded areas. They, in fact, have many other uses including environmental ones, some that have to deal with wildlife.”

David Peaton, Levy County’s Assistant Director of Emergency Management, gave an example of this happening. “We had this birds nest at the top of one of our old communications towers which our public safety department had determined we had to tear down. Well, we wanted to make sure there were no active eggs in it, and that it was no longer being used. So instead of paying someone hundreds if not thousands of dollars to climb this tower, we decided to fly the drone up there and check the nest out.” The nest was empty and the tower came down! Well done, Levy County.

I hope most of you seized the opportunity on Friday evening  to watch our nearest celestial neighbour go through a change in colour-scheme. I refer of course to the Lunar Eclipse, visible to all of South Africa, most of which seems to have been free of cloud, allowing good viewing.

During the peak of the eclipse, examination of the moon through binoculars would have revealed stars in the near background, not normally visible when the moon is fully bright. And nearby, clearly visible, Mars seemed to shine even more brightly as the moon’s colour changed to a deep “blood” colour. In  fact, at moonrise, Jupiter was visible directly above us, and Venus just setting to the West, chasing after the Sun. It was a wonderful night for star-gazing, and I hope some of you experimented with your DSLR cameras and telephoto lenses, trying to get some decent memories of the event. The next eclipse of similar proportions for South Africa will take place only in 2025.

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