HAMNET Report 28 October 2018

HAMNET would like to congratulate the 79 new radio amateurs who passed their South African exams this month, and welcome them to the world of communications, electronics and experimentation. We hope you will stay with us for many seasons, and teach us as much as we can teach you. Selfishly, we hope some of you have already decided to join HAMNET, to use your skills in emergency communications and during sporting or community events. Welcome aboard, indeed!

In the wake of Category 4 Hurricane Willa, battering the Pacific coast of Mexico, Greg Mossop G0DUB posted news that The Federación Mexicana de Radioexperimentadores (FMRE), Mexico’s IARU member-society, is asking radio amateurs to avoid 7060, 7130, and 14120 kHz, where Category 4 Hurricane Willa emergency nets are operating (in Spanish).

As of 1200 UTC, on 23rd October, the storm was some 240 Km south-southwest of Mazatlan, with maximum sustained winds of 210km/h. Willa was moving north at 8 km/h and was expected to make landfall later that day along the west-central coast of mainland Mexico. Mexico’s National Emergency Net activated the nets yesterday. Alternate systems include IRLP, node 0077, and DMR TE 33450 of the FMRE.

The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) considers a Category 4 hurricane a “major” disaster, with “catastrophic damage” likely. Thanks to Benjamin Kuo, AI6YR.

Far away from the US mainland, American citizens are reeling from a direct hit by Super Typhoon Yutu.

Writing in Grist, Eric Holthaus notes that, during its landfall on Thursday, Yutu lashed the Mariana Islands with more than a foot of rain, coastal flooding in excess of 15 feet, waves the size of five-story apartment buildings, and winds of 290 km/h.

Saipan and Tinian are the two most-populated islands of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory in the central Pacific Ocean about 12800 kilometres from Washington, D.C. — nearly twice as far away as Honolulu. Both islands took a direct hit. About 50,000 people live in the Commonwealth, and after Yutu, they’re fighting for survival.

Most structures have lost their roofs, and even the leaves have been stripped from trees and bushes, local lawmaker Edwin Propst told the Associated Press. Closed circuit video from near the point of landfall showed an entire hotel lobby destroyed in seconds.

Just hours after landfall, local news reports said that food, drinking water, and fuel were already in short supply. “This damage is just horrendous, it’s going to take months and months for us to recover,” Propst said.

If recent history holds, he’ll be right. Yutu is the third tropical cyclone (the scientific term for typhoons and hurricanes) in just over a year to plunge a remote U.S. territory into humanitarian crisis. Last year, Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands was eclipsed just days later when Hurricane Maria made a direct hit in Puerto Rico.

Like so many recent hurricanes, Yutu rapidly strengthened just before landfall, going from a Category 1 to a Category 5 in just 36 hours. Waters near Yutu were 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than normal, consistent with the effects of climate change and a key factor in rapidly strengthening storms.

Residents of the Islands are set to be without electricity and running water for months, after the category 5 storm wiped out the territory’s infrastructure.

A US military plane is bringing food, water and other emergency supplies to the 50,000 people living on the islands.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) said it would aim to help restore power, reopen ports and airports and ensure mobile phone towers can operate on emergency power until utility services return.

At least one person was killed and several people were injured by spraying glass and other debris, as winds of 25 km/h pummelled the islands on Thursday.

The only hospital on the Northern Marianas said it received 133 people in its emergency room on Thursday. Three patients had severe injuries that required surgery.

A 44-year-old woman taking shelter in an abandoned building died when it collapsed in the storm, according to the governor’s office’s Facebook page.

The hospital in Saipan was running on backup generators but otherwise operating normally, said Esther Lizama Muna, CEO of the Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. She said she expects more patients to seek medical help on Friday and is worried the hospital could run out of medical supplies.

Yutu has now passed the Northern Mariana Islands by, and is plodding on across the Western Pacific, where it is still expected to bring powerful winds and torrential rain to the Philippines and Taiwan next week, endangering even more residents.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the third hurricane still in our minds, residents of the Florida Panhandle are still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Michael. As a snapshot of where they stand now, 16 days after the storm, about 70,000 customers remain without power, some water and sewer systems are not working, and cellphone service is spotty.

A complete breakdown of communications during and after the storm crippled the emergency response, and now it hinders recovery.

It has been a major problem throughout the region, where hundreds of people have been reported missing because the phones aren’t working. It’s also hampered search and rescue operations because first responders can’t talk to one another.

Finally, Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) in the Western Cape were involved in two group rescues amongst hikers this week.

In the first, a group of hikers along the multi day Whale Trail in the De Hoop Nature Reserve Overberg, needed help on Tuesday, and two of them were casevacced to a hospital in Swellendam by the Air Mercy Service (AMS) rescue helicopter. The rest of the group continued on foot to a point where they were safely off the trail.

In the second, a group of 3 hikers on Table Mountain, who were unfamiliar with their route, became disorientated, and started to become dehydrated, in the hot sun on Friday the 26th. Rescuers drove up to the Back Table from Constantia Neck and proceeded on foot in the direction of the Smuts Track, where the group was found, assessed, found to be well enough to be walked out, and were proceeding towards Kitchen Ravine, when they were met by 4×4 support vehicles and brought safely down.

This week’s heat wave has indeed been intense in the Western Cape.

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