The news bulletins and the press in the Western Cape are of course concentrating on the disastrous building collapse in George, where 81 workers were still busy building the structure. It was apparently to be a 5 storey building, with a basement and a ground-floor parking area, and 4 stories of apartments.

As of Saturday afternoon, 13 deaths had been reported amongst those removed from the rubble, 19 survivors had been hospitalized (of which one was air-lifted to Groote Schuur hospital for highly intensive care), and 39 souls were still trapped in the rubble. The 19th survivor was miraculously pulled out of the rubble yesterday afternoon, 120 hours after the collapse. It is now more than 140 hours since the disaster, and likelihood of finding those still trapped alive diminishes with each passing hour.

The airspace over the site has been declared a no-fly zone, so that a rescue drone has total freedom over the area. Heavy duty earth moving equipment has been brought in, to remove more rubble more quickly, but is going very carefully and slowly, in case further collapse as a result of major rubble shifts occurs. Forensic medical services are operating at the site, to be able to help with fast identification of victims.

Our thoughts are with the families still waiting for news of their loved ones, and with the teams of rescuers, from a variety of agencies, who are working around the clock to find them.

There being no need for unusual communications efforts at the scene, HAMNET has neither offered our services, or been asked for them.

Meanwhile, there are heavy rains and floods all over the world. In the last week, reports have come from Indonesia, India, Brazil, Texas, Tanzania, Kenya, Haiti, and Iraq, and there are flood warnings out for Belarus, Ukraine, Belgium and Germany. There have been many deaths, even more injuries, loss of many dwellings with displacement of thousands of people, and humanitarian aid organizations being stretched to the limit.

I suppose we must be grateful that the circulation of water becoming salty as it runs into the sea, evaporating into the clouds, and then being released as salt-free water in the mountains for us to drink, is maintained, but sometimes it is just too much of a good thing!

On top of all this, the sun is displaying a whole lot of aggression as it nears the peak of solar cycle 25, and producing ever more frequent large groupings of sunspots, which are resulting in solar flares, leading to coronal mass ejections, and geomagnetic storms.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), issued an updated warning on Friday afternoon of a severe G4 level geomagnetic storm likely to occur either that evening, or possibly yesterday and today. The Space Weather Prediction Centre says that currently, we are experiencing the first G4 Watch since 2005. They reported on Friday at least 7 earth-directed Coronal Mass Ejections in transit to Earth. Each of these CME’s comes from a high intensity solar flare, and all of them have arisen from complex sunspot cluster named Region 3664. This sunspot group is currently 16 times the diameter of Earth, and hasn’t stopped partying yet, so there is more to come, before it drifts off the western limb of the sun and around the back.

The associated geomagnetic storms, as the CME’s slam into Earth’s magnetosphere can trip out powerlines, affect radio (which means us), and of course GPS navigational systems, as well as charge up the surface of spacecraft systems, increase drag on low earth orbit satellites, and cause tracking and orientation problems.

On Friday night, a G5 geomagnetic storm alert was issued, which is as strong as it gets, and the resulting storm was experienced.  Coupled with a Planetary K index of 9 (also the maximum measurable), the bands were completely closed. I doubt whether communications were much good for this weekend’s International Mill Weekend.

On the other hand, outstanding aurora reports have been issued, and I’m sure lots of you have seen the pictures of auroras, or witnessed them yourselves, from the south-western Cape, and even from Kuruman, which is only 27.5 degrees of latitude away from the equator! By midday Saturday, as I write this, the K index is still 9, so the storm is not over yet and the auroras may be nearly as widespread this Saturday night. However, I hope you will have gone out after about 10 and looked around. And if you couldn’t see anything, I hope you tried taking a picture with your smartphone camera. Its spectral range is wider than your eyes can see, and you might have seen things there you didn’t actually witness.

From Sciencenews.com, Meghan Rosen writes that the anti-venom for a black mamba’s bite could one day work for a slew of other snakes. 

Scientists have developed an antibody that shuts down paralyzing toxins in the venom of black mambas, king cobras and dozens of other sharp-toothed serpents. The antibody — a single protein manufactured in the lab — protected mice from otherwise lethal doses of venom, protein engineer Joseph Jardine and colleagues report in the Feb. 21 Science Translational Medicine. That antibody “will be a critical component of an eventual anti-venom,” says Jardine, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

Venomous snakes generally rely on just a handful of toxin families. If scientists could mix together antibodies targeting each of those types, Jardine says, they could potentially create “one vial of anti-venom that works against any snake in the world.” Such a universal anti-venom might still be many years away, he says. But “theoretically, this is possible.”

The old anti-venom  technology involved  injecting animals like horses or sheep with snake venom and harvesting the venom-targeting antibodies that their immune systems churn out. A snakebitten patient would then get an infusion of horse or sheep antibodies — if doctors have them in stock. 

The new generic antibody targets a portion of snake venom protein that is common to all types of venom, and which might then be effective in a variety of snakebites. Jardine and his colleagues recommend however that anti-venoms be developed for all the snakes in specific areas, rather than the entire planet, because an antibody to a smaller group of snake venoms is more likely to be 100% effective.

When one realises how scarce snakebite anti-venom actually is, one easily understands the value of a generic mix specific to one’s own region, particularly if it is readily available.

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