Daily Archives: February 13, 2012

Cold weather kills dozens in Algeria


Algerians queue to obtain gas canisters to cope with the extremely cold weather. [Lyes Aflou]

Algeria is still in the grip of an unprecedented cold spell that has lasted for more than a week.

Magharebia | Feb 13, 2012

By Lyes Aflou,  in Algiers

At least 46 people have died in Algeria after a severe cold snap gripped the nation for more than a week.

One person was swept away by floods in a wadi (valley) in Skikda, and another was buried by a snow avalanche outside his house in Tizi Ouzou. The other victims died from carbon monoxide poisoning or road accidents caused by icy conditions.

The situation has turned particularly dire for people living in rural and mountain areas, where snow has made main and secondary roads impassable. Food supplies are running low and gas canisters have become extremely scarce in the many localities that are not connected to urban gas supply networks. Several eastern and central-eastern parts have experienced power cuts.

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Russian Cold Snap Kills 215

To ease the situation, authorities deployed snowploughs to free up residents. Food supplies were restored to villages but dwindling butane gas supplies are still a serious problem.

In the commune of Ait Aissa Mimoun, about 20km east of Tizi Ouzou, residents have stormed the town hall to express their anger.

“Gas canisters are being distributed in dribs and drabs, with just one canister per household,” Omar, a teacher, told Magharebia. “That’s not enough in this icy cold, but the situation should improve as the roads are opened up, as long as it doesn’t start snowing again.”

Protests have multiplied in areas experiencing gas shortages. A crisis team in the province of Tizi Ouzou on Friday (February 10th) announced that a consignment of 20,000 gas canisters would be delivered to the region.

This “action forms part of the solidarity operation initiated by the Ministry of the Interior and Local Communities to help the provinces affected by bad weather since last Saturday”, the team explained.

These supplies from neighbouring provinces such as Chlef, Relizane, Blida and Algiers will be sent to a central warehouse in Oued Aissi before being delivered to localities across the province. The team reassured people that adequate supplies of gas will be provided.

“The supply of butane gas across the country is gradually getting back to normal after the disruption in several provinces due to the bad weather,” Energy Minister Youcef Yousfi announced on Saturday (February 11th) in Algiers.

“The weather is improving, and that enables us to distribute gas equally to the population, as will the opening-up of the roads that are still blocked,” he said during a visit to inspect the central warehouse in Sidi Rezine (south of Algiers).

Yousfi described the situation as “still difficult because of the exceptional weather conditions”.

Thirty-seven stretches of road remain closed to traffic in nine provinces in the centre of the country because of the weather, which is continuing to hamper efforts to clear the snow, the interior minister said in a statement issued on February 11th. Army intervention and the efforts of private and public companies have helped to reduce the isolation of snowed-in areas considerably, according to the ministry.

The government has come under fire for failing to respond adequately. Political parties and the media accused it of ignoring the plight of citizens, especially at the beginning of the cold snap.

“Not one minister has bothered to go and assess the difficulties experienced by people living in the provinces,” Liberté editorialised.

The Socialist Forces Front (FFS) said in a statement that government actions have “fallen well short of what the situation requires”.

“Millions of Algerians are without basic essentials and for several days they have been experiencing hunger, cold and anxiety for their sick loved ones.”

At least 600 dead so far in Europe deep freeze, 215 in Russia alone


A woman walks past a snow-covered car during heavy snowfall in Bucharest February 13, 2012, as icy weather continues across Europe. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Agence France-Presse | Feb 13, 2012

MOSCOW — Some 215 Russians have died this year in a prolonged period of abnormally cold winter weather, the health ministry said Monday as the overall death toll for Europe rose to well over 600.

Heavy snow continued to fall on Monday in Romania and Bulgaria, but the cold snap that froze much of Europe for the past two weeks began to ease in the west of the continent.

In Russia, 215 people died and 5,546 people suffered from hypothermia and frostbite, including 154 children, between January 1 and February 13, the ministry said in a statement.

Related

Russian Cold Snap Kills 215

While accustomed to frosty winters, Russia has seen 20 days of unusually cold weather, with the average temperature falling 7 to 14 degrees Celsius below average, the state weather service said.

In Moscow, the temperature was minus 20 degrees Celsius (minus four Fahrenheit) on Monday afternoon, the state weather service said.

While Russian apartment blocks are generally well heated, the homeless are particularly at risk.

In a stunt to protest the prices that Ukraine pays for Russian gas the Ukrainian feminist group Femen braved the cold to pose topless outside the Moscow headquarters of Russian gas giant Gazprom.

The women were escorted away by security guards after about 10 minutes, an AFP photographer said.

Over the last 24 hours, the coldest temperature measured in Russia was -52.8 degrees Celsius (-63 Fahrenheit) in Toko in the northern Sakha republic, the state weather service said.

Meanwhile in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, authorities set up shelters in the capital Tbilisi on Monday after two homeless people died during the coldest weather for decades.

“The situation is very serious as far as homeless people are concerned,” Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava said in a statement after visiting a hospital where a further three homeless men were reported to be in intensive care.

Ugulava said that municipally funded canteens that provide free food to the poor would be turned into temporary shelters.

Two homeless men died Friday after being admitted to hospital with hypothermia, one in the capital and the other in the western town of Ozurgeti, local media reported.

Temperatures fell to minus 10 degrees Celsius (14 degrees Fahrenheit) in Tbilisi on Sunday — the lowest recorded in the capital for 40 years, according to local media.

In Romania, the death toll from the cold increased to 74 on Monday as new snowfalls blanketed the south of the country.

“Unfortunately there have been six new deaths due to cold, five of which occurred outside, on the streets or in courtyards, and one in a non-heated building,” said deputy under-secretary for health Raed Arafat.

Snow disrupted road and railway transportation in the south and in Bucharest. More than 300 passenger trains were cancelled, officials said.

In neighbouring Bulgaria where heavy snowfalls also took place, the newspaper Trud on Monday said 47 people had died of cold or drowned since late January. There is no official death toll.

In Bosnia, an 84-year-old woman was found dead of cold in Foca, while in neighbouring Montenegro one of 80 passengers who have been stranded in a train for the past three days because of an avalanche died of a heart attack.

The total number of deaths in the western Balkans was put at 56.

Twenty people have died in Serbia, 13 in Bosnia, 10 in Kosovo, five in Montenegro, three in Croatia, three in Albania and two in Montenegro.

In Sarajevo the heavy snowfall caused the roof of the Olympic sports hall in Skenderija to collapse but no one was injured.

At the Grbavica football stadium, part of the stands also crumbled under the weight of the snow, an AFP photographer reported.

Over the past two weeks at least 135 people have died of the cold in Ukraine, 82 in Poland, and 45 in Italy.

In western Europe, temperatures began to return to normal February averages.

Utah House committee OKs ban on DUI checkpoints

Eleven states have done away with DUI checkpoints

Salt Lake Tribune | Feb 10, 2012

By Robert Gehrke

Law enforcement officials and drunken driving opponents argued Friday that Utah should maintain the practice of setting up checkpoints to catch DUI drivers on the streets.

But a House committee disagreed, approving HB140 sponsored by Rep. David Butterfield, R-Logan, who made the case that the checkpoints infringe on Utahns’ civil liberties, are an ineffective way of catching drunken drivers and should be done away with.

“We have to decide what is the balance between effective law enforcement … and protecting constitutional and civil rights,” Butterfield told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. “That’s why we’re gathered here. That’s what we do.”

Eleven states have done away with DUI checkpoints, he said.

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Legislature looks at banning DUI checkpoints

Butterfield met resistance from Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder, who said people were dying in droves at Little Sahara and near Lake Powell and the Cottonwood canyons before law enforcement started putting up checkpoints at key, high-traffic times.

“There’s a reason the TSA [Transportation Security Administration] checks people coming onto planes … because wandering around an airport doesn’t quite cut the mustard,” said Winder, speaking on behalf of the state’s sheriffs.

Taking away checkpoints, Winder said, would deny law enforcement a tool it uses that has been deemed constitutional by the Utah and U.S. supreme courts.

Butterfield also argued that saturation patrols generate significantly more DUI arrests than checkpoints, and require less manpower.

“Saturation patrols do result in more arrests,” agreed Layton police Chief Terry Keefe, representing the Utah Chiefs of Police Association. “I don’t think there’s any argument on that point … but the deterrent value of sobriety or DUI check points allows us to stop the problem before it starts.”

The bill passed the committee on an 8-5 vote. Reps. Lee Perry and Richard Greenwood, current and former Utah Highway Patrol officers, respectively, voted against the ban.

It now goes to the full House for consideration, but could meet even more resistance in the Senate, which has traditionally supported tough DUI enforcement.

“At the end of the day we’re on the same team. We want to see our highways as safe as they can be and DUI drivers off the road,” said Butterfield. “It’s up to us as legislators to balance that requirement with the need to protect civil liberties and put our limited resources into the most effective tool.”

Frozen continent: Europe’s rivers, lakes and seas frozen over as bitter cold temperatures plunge near -40C


Rock solid: The surface of the Black Sea is seen covered with ice at the port of Yevpatoria in the Ukraine earlier this month

Frozen continent! Europe’s rivers, lakes and even seas are iced over as bitter Siberian cold leads to temperatures of almost -40C

Daily Mail | Feb 13, 2012

You would be forgiven for thinking these stunning vistas lay deep in the heart of Antarctica.

But they are, in fact, what has become of the European landscape as temperatures plummet to nearly -40C – the coldest snap in decades.

Rivers, lakes, beaches and even seas have been iced over by a Siberian freeze, creating some incredible sights, but also more tales of tragedy.

Thousands enjoyed a day out on the frozen Lake Pfaeffikersee, near Zurich, Switzerland, today, while ice anglers looked more like Eskimos as they braved the conditions on a Polish reservoir.

But in southern Kosovo, nine people were killed when an avalanche hit the village of Restelica, officials said on Sunday, adding to more than 500 killed in snow and bitter cold across the Continent in the past two weeks.

In Poland, the interior ministry said 20 people had died in the past 24 hours because of the freezing weather, bringing the toll there so far this year to at least 100.

A spokeswoman said the latest victims froze to death or were suffocated or killed by fires due to defective or improvised heaters.

The Kosovo avalanche enveloped about 15 houses on Saturday, but only two were occupied at the time.

One person was missing and a girl aged about six was found alive late on Saturday after residents and emergency services helped dig out the houses. She was taken to hospital.
‘The number of dead people now is nine and we believe there is still one missing person,’ said Ibrahim Shala, a spokesperson from the Kosovo Security Force (KSF).

Temperatures have plummeted in parts of Europe close to minus 40 degrees Celsius (minus 40 Fahrenheit) in the coldest February snap the region has seen in decades. Meteorologists say it could last till the end of the month.

In Kosovo, three people died and two children were injured on Thursday when a gas can that a family was using for heating exploded.

Kosovo’s government ordered schools to remain closed for another week with more snow expected. Police said many inhabited areas were completely cut off.

In neighbouring Montenegro the government imposed a state of emergency late on Saturday after snow blocked roads and railways across most of the country. Three people have died so far.

More than 50 people have been stranded on a train in Montenegro’s north for more than two days as emergency crews struggle to rescue them.

In the mountain town of Zabljak in Montenegro’s north, snow was 2.3 metres deep, while authorities have banned all private traffic in the capital Podgorica, where snow is almost a metre (three feet) deep and more is forecast on Sunday.

In Serbia, which declared a state of emergency last week, 19 people have died in the cold snap so far.

Economists said damage from the cold weather may cost the country more than 500 million euros ($660 million).

More than 2,000 industrial businesses have been idled to limit the strain on coal-fired power plants and hydropower plants, which were struggling because of the buildup of ice.

The government also ordered the closure of all schools and non-essential businesses until February 20.

Port authorities for Serbian sections of the Danube, Sava and Tisa rivers halted navigation due to a heavy buildup of ice.

For the first time in decades, parts of the Black Sea has frozen near its shores, while the Kerch Strait that links the Azov Sea and the Black Sea has been closed to navigation.

Are state, feds tying police grant money to DUI arrest quotas?

“There’s no rule that says you can’t have an objective that has a certain number of arrests per hour.”

Sun-Times Media | Feb 11, 2012

BY JON SEIDEL

Former Will County State’s Attorney Jeff Tomczak

One DUI arrest every 10 hours.

Police call it an “objective.” Or a “guideline.”

Former Will County State’s Attorney Jeff Tomczak calls it a “quota.” And he said the language — found in the fine print of grants funding some suburban police patrols — could undermine drunken-driving cases when they reach a courtroom.

“I haven’t seen anything like this before,” said Tomczak, now a criminal defense attorney.

Local law enforcement officials say Tomczak’s wrong. Under a real quota system, officers get punished when the numbers don’t add up. That’s not the case here, they said, and there must be some way to find out if federal money has been spent wisely.

“There is no quota system in the Will County Sheriff’s Office,” Deputy Chief Ken Kaupas said.

But Tomczak’s not alone. The Governors Highway Safety Association also said the grant language should be changed, but not for fear of a legal challenge.

Executive director Barbara Harsha said the public simply might not like it if officers are told how often to make an arrest, and that could make the job harder for police.

“It causes them to get push-back,” Harsha said.

The grants in question are funded federally but distributed by the Illinois Department of Transportation, which wrote the “performance objectives” in the documents to offer some accountability to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The grants are designed to help police cut down on alcohol-related crashes and curb drivers’ dangerous behaviors.

A Will County IDOT grant from 2009 to 2010 said deputies were expected to write one ticket or warning each hour they were on patrol and make one drunken-driving arrest every 10 hours.

Similar language can be found in grants given to Shorewood and Minooka around the same time.

But Kaupas said his agency didn’t quite meet that mark last year.

He said Will County made three DUI arrests in 157.5 officer hours during alcohol-enforcement details funded by IDOT in May, August and September. To meet the grant’s “performance objectives,” that number should have been more like 15 or 16.

He said there are myriad reasons officers might not meet IDOT’s numbers — including poor weather or a nearby crime needing their attention — and he’s not worried IDOT will pull its funding in 2012.

“You can’t just make something up,” Kaupas said. “It’s either out there or it’s not.”

Asked about the language, IDOT only said it takes the issue of drinking and driving very seriously.

“We have seen a steady reduction in DUI arrests and fatalities through our cooperation with local law enforcement throughout the state,” spokesman Guy Tridgell said.

Shorewood Cmdr. Eric Allen said his department considers the language a “performance standard,” nothing more. And Minooka Police Chief Justin Meyer said every grant has one. His department doesn’t participate in this grant anymore — opting out for lack of need — but he said he wasn’t troubled by the language.

“We try to protect everybody’s rights,” Meyer said. “We’re not going to violate people’s rights to meet some type of grant.”

Tomczak said defense attorneys could use the grant to suggest officers are being compelled to make arrests. He’s even made the argument, putting Will County Sgt. Steve Byland on the stand during a DUI case last month to talk about the traffic division Byland leads.

Byland told a judge his department has no quota system, but he said it would have to answer to a grant representative if the numbers fail to add up.

“If he does not make a certain rate per se,” Byland said, “then we would have to explain to him what happened that month.”

Kaupas said IDOT-funded details are always summarized in a report to the agency.

Tomczak’s client eventually was found not guilty. But Harsha said she hasn’t heard of a DUI arrest being thrown out of court for such language.

She did say IDOT should consider asking officers to make a certain number of traffic stops or “interactions” with the public — not arrests. She said most states steer away from the language used by Illinois.

“There’s no rule that says you can’t have an objective that has a certain number of arrests per hour,” Harsha said.

“But it does give the appearance of having a quota.”

Members of the Order of Knights Templar gather in Australia for ‘Malta Festival’


The Right Eminent George Mumford, Past Great Seneschal GCT, from St Nicolas Geurie; the Most Eminent Knight George Palmer, Most Eminent Supreme Grand Master of the Great Priory of NSW & ACT, from Agnus Dei, Glenfield; and The Very High and Right Eminent Knight Great Seneschal Wal Charlwood, Knight Grand Cross of the United Orders, of Drummond preceptor, Windsor, in full regalia for the gathering

In addition to a business order on Monday, the Great Priory installed a member into the Degree of a Knight of Malta

mudgeeguardian.com.au | Feb 13, 2012

by ROBYN MURRAY

The flags of the Crusaders flew at Parklands Resort on the weekend as Mudgee hosted The Great Priory of the Order of Knights Templar in NSW & ACT.

The Grand Masters of Queensland and Victoria, the Assistant Grand Priory Royal Arch of NSW and the Provincial Great Marshall of Somerset, UK, were among members who gathered for the Order’s Malta Festival.

The Masonic order’s regalia and ceremonies are based on those of the Knights Templar, who are best remembered for their military role in the Crusades, but also established a monastic order dedicated to protecting pilgrims.

The Knights Templars also founded an early form of banking, under which pilgrims deposited their valuables with the Order before leaving, and in return received a letter of credit to the value of their deposit, which could be redeemed when they arrived in the Holy Land.

The Order has preceptories in Broken Hill, Wagga, Albury, Moruyah, Tamworth, Grafton, Ballina and smaller centres including Geurie, which hosted the weekend’s event in Mudgee.

Preceptories have a charitable as well as fraternal role, giving to causes such as schools.

In addition to a business order on Monday, the Great Priory installed a member into the Degree of a Knight of Malta and invested its officers for the next 12 months.

Following the Malta ceremony banquet on Saturday night, members attended a church service on Sunday which was open to members of the public.

Cold snap to finally end after record-breaking sub-zero temperatures


Temperatures have plunged during the recent cold snap Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Today is likely to see the end of the cold snap, with the mercury finally rising slightly after several days of record-breaking sub-zero temperatures, according to forecasters.

Telegraph | Feb 12, 2012

Cloud cover moving down the country from the north will bring much-welcome slightly warmer weather, after several days and nights of bitterly cold weather.

Temperatures struggled to get above freezing yesterday after Britain endured its coldest night of the winter on Friday night.

But Paul Knightley, forecaster for MeteoGroup, the weather division of the Press Association, said the cold spell was coming to an end – although it could take some time.

He said: “We are coming to the end of the cold spell. It’s going to be a slow process, it’s not going to suddenly be massively mild.

“Some places will see a dramatic change in temperature but it may not be something people necessarily notice because they have been so low.”

He said cloud spreading down the country from the north would bring a rise in temperature and some patchy drizzle and light snow in some parts.

“The snow itself is not going to be near the amounts we have seen but there will be some drizzle which will fall on to very cold ground so we will see the risk of some ice, especially in untreated areas.”

Daytime temperatures of around 8C (46.4F) are expected in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales today, while eastern and southern areas are expected to have readings of around 5C (41F).

Mr Knightley said many areas could expect fog tonight, adding: “By Monday morning it may well be very grey and foggy in some places but not much frost around.”

The mercury plummeted to minus 18.3C (minus 0.94F) in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, on Friday night, while sub-zero temperatures were recorded in other areas, as low as minus 15.6C (3.92F) in Holbeach, Lincolnshire, and minus 11C (12.2F) in Charnwood, Surrey.

Overnight was slightly milder in most regions, with Chesham again recording the lowest UK temperature of -minus 15.4C (4.3F).

The Met Office said Friday had probably been the coldest night in England since December 2010.

It has issued a “yellow” severe weather warning instructing people to “be aware” of ice on roads today for the East Midlands, east of England, London and south east England.

The weather wreaked havoc with yesterday’s sporting calendar after a number of matches and racing fixtures fell victim to frozen conditions, with some of today’s matches also cancelled, including the opening round of rugby league’s Northern Rail Cup.

Ambulance crews were called out to three separate cases of people who narrowly avoided tragedy in icy water, West Midlands Ambulance Service said.

A spokeswoman said crews were called to one man who reportedly jumped into a canal near Chancel Way in Halesowen, Birmingham to rescue his dog. Both were found out of the water when they arrived.

In a separate call two teenage boys, aged 13 and 14, were taken to hospital by ambulance after falling through ice in Doxey Marshes near Creswell Farm Drive, Stafford.

And in a third incident crews were called to Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, to reports of children playing on a frozen lake, but no one was hurt after police moved them away, the spokeswoman said.

“Adults and children alike are reminded that frozen lakes, canals and ponds are extremely dangerous and can have serious or even fatal consequences,” she added.

“In all three cases ambulance crews have responded to, those involved have had very lucky escapes.”