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.