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90,000 flee storm in Philippines (AFP)

MANILA (AFP) – Nearly 90,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the Philippines due to floods caused by Tropical Storm Meari, with 15 people listed as missing, the civil defence office said.

In Marikina, a low-lying suburb of Manila, 25,000 people were in evacuation centres after waters reached dangerous levels, the office added on Saturday. Authorities indicated it was too early to say when people would be able to return home.

Seas were still too rough for small craft, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said.

One of 10 fishermen who were listed as missing at sea on Thursday had been rescued but the nine others had still not been found. A further three fishermen had failed to return to port by Saturday.

In addition, a woman was washed away by raging waters while two children could not be accounted for amid floods and landslides outside the capital.

While Meari only brushed the eastern side of the country, it still brought torrential rain for most of the week.

Even though the storm was about 600 kilometres (350 miles) north of Manila and moving further away towards China on Saturday, it continued to add to seasonal monsoon rains, the government weather station said.

Numerous schools closed and at least 26 flights had been cancelled since Friday due to the bad weather, the disaster risk reduction council said.

Meari had strengthened and was packing maximum gusts of 135 kilometres per hour (85 miles per hour) and was forecast to continue moving north at 24 kilometres per hour, the weather station said.

An average of 20 storms and typhoons, some of them deadly, hit the Philippines every year.

Over the past six weeks, more than 50 people have been killed in a series of storms, one of which became a typhoon.

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No more damage in flooded Minot as river ebbs (AP)

By DALE WETZEL and JOHN FLESHER, Associated Press Dale Wetzel And John Flesher, Associated Press – 2 mins ago

MINOT, N.D. – The Souris River began a long, slow retreat in Minot on Sunday, leaving behind an arduous rebuilding job for more than 4,000 homeowners and hundreds of business operators, most of whom lack insurance to pay for it.

Because they don't have coverage, federal assistance could amount to as little as a few thousand dollars apiece. Loan and grant programs will provide some help, as will an emergency relief fund just being set up.

Still, there was at least one ray of hope: State lawmakers might be able to lend a hand, thanks in large part to North Dakota's oil boom, which generates $1 billion a year in tax money and has helped shield the state from the worst of the recession.

Few people in Minot carried flood insurance — only 375 homes in the flooded areas, said John Ashton, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Mike and Jodi Picard checked with neighbors when moving into their house less than two years ago and found that just one had flood insurance. The river was a quarter-mile away, and the prevailing opinion was that "we were not in a floodplain anymore" after a 1969 flood led to construction of levees and straightening of the river channel.

"Now you really kick yourself for not having it," said Jodi Picard.

The Souris topped out Sunday nearly 2 feet below projections heading into the weekend, and it appeared damage might not extend beyond the homes and businesses that took on water Friday. Officials warned against overconfidence until the river fell enough to take the pressure off levees. The National Weather Service projected the river would decline 2 feet by midweek.

The Picards stood on a bridge overlooking the swollen river, straining for a glimpse of their house in a distant cul-de-sac. It appeared water was knee-deep on the main floor.

The couple was staying with relatives in the area but said they were determined to return home. After the water recedes, they'll pump the basement dry, tear out drywall and insulation and make needed repairs.

State lawmakers will probably consider offering flood relief during a special session this fall. They have $386 million in a rainy-day fund, as well as another $136 million in a school-aid fund that could be diverted to the many communities touched by floodwaters this year. Both funds are fattened by state oil revenues.

"I think we're going to look at Bismarck, Minot, the whole statewide flooding issue, and look at them all together," said Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem, a Republican from Bismarck.

When it comes to paying for rebuilding, FEMA has approved individual assistance for Burleigh (home to the capital of Bismarck) and Ward counties, where Minot is located. Gov. Jack Dalrymple is pushing to expand it to 20 other counties and the Turtle Mountain Chippewa and Spirit Lake Sioux reservations.

"We know that we have a tremendous recovery effort coming, and even as we talk about how to beat this water back over the next few days, we have already started talking about how the recovery will be managed and organized," the governor said.

The FEMA assistance is capped at a little more than $30,000, but Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat, said a more realistic figure is $7,000 to $8,000 — the typical amounts provided to victims of severe flooding in Nashville, Tenn., a year ago.

FEMA and the federal Small Business Administration will offer loan and grant programs, too. The Bank of North Dakota, the nation's only state-owned bank, already offers low-interest loans up to $500,000 to business people, farmers and ranchers living in areas that the president has declared a disaster area.

The bank and the state's Public Finance Authority also have made low-interest loans available to local governments while they wait to collect expected federal aid after they make repairs on their public works.

Eric Hardmeyer, the Bank of North Dakota's president, said the bank learned valuable lessons about administering disaster aid from the epic Red River Valley floods of 1997, which swamped the city of Grand Forks, knocked out its sewer and water systems and forced the evacuation of more than 50,000 people.

"We found that we needed to let the federal programs get in and do their business before we found out where we should play," Hardmeyer said. "Their pockets are deeper, and they're more experienced at that than we are."

Pat Owens, who was mayor of Grand Forks when the flood hit in April 1997, said federal agencies were critical to the city's recovery. They set up a one-stop shop for aid programs in Grand Forks' Civic Auditorium.

"That was a salvation," Owens told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Sunday. "People would not know how to even begin trying to bring their lives back, and that gave them a place to go."

Les Younger, a retired Air Force veteran who maintained aircraft weapons systems at Minot Air Force Base, and his wife, Jacque, a seamstress, said they did not buy flood insurance because they thought their home was far enough from the river.

Jacque Younger said the couple's recovery "is going to be very tough, because we don't have a lot of savings." But they tried to put the best face on it by thinking of how they might change things in rebuilding.

"You have to look on the bright side, because if you look on the dull side, it gets you down," Jacque Younger said.

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Early Footage from Joplin Tornado Documentary Moving, Oscar-Worthy (ContributorNetwork)

COMMENTARY | The first seven minutes of a documentary about the Joplin tornado are available on the Missouri Press Association's YouTube page. Shortly after the tornado struck, a team of three filmmakers interviewed staff from the Joplin Globe, who told their stories of the tornado as they saw it.

Reporters must be impartial in and of themselves. But this documentary is a revealing look about how a media outlet deals with a disaster in its town.

The documentary starts simply enough. A Sunday newspaper proclaims the Joplin High School graduation and the screen has quotes from graduates. A fan oscillates in the background and begins blowing the newspaper, symbolic of the EF5 tornado that was about to tear Joplin asunder.

Quotes from the graduates are hauntingly wrought with foreshadowing. One said, "Cherish your memories. The ride of your life is set to begin." Another stated, "Today is that something big."

An hour later, the graduates found out exactly how much those words would actually mean. An event that would forever define their lives happened right after the culmination of their hard work was celebrated.

If the preview is any indication, this documentary will win several awards. I couldn't help but cry through half of it.

One of the Globe's staffers died in the tornado. A quarter of the paper's employees were left homeless. Yet somehow, the coverage never stopped. People from outside the area were able to use the media outlet as a viable source for firsthand accounts of the tornado and its aftermath.

One reporter's first day on the job was supposed to be May 23. Josh Letner's work started about 12 hours earlier. Instead of covering town meetings or animal shelters, the young man started his journalism career with one of the biggest events to happen in the United States this year.

It's just Joplin. It's just a small town. Yet no matter how many times I read stories about the tornado and residents picking up the pieces, I can't help but feel something. This is my home state. My sister in-law and her family live south of town.

This story hits home. If your heart doesn't go out to the people in the film, you simply aren't human. Just like any picture or description of the tornado and its aftermath, these pictures won't do the event justice. However, it's the closest thing I've seen so far that makes the story as real as possible.

Titled "Tornado: Through the Eyes of the Joplin Globe," Orr Street Productions plans on having the final product out in early 2012, reports Riverfront Times. The production team has produced nationally known commercials and video.

The film should at least be nominated for an Academy Award from what I've already seen.

William Browning, a lifelong Missouri resident, writes about local and state issues for the Yahoo! Contributor Network. Born in St. Louis, Browning earned his bachelor's degree in English from the University of Missouri. He currently resides in Branson.

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7 killed, 3 missing as bad weather hits Vietnam (AP)

HANOI, Vietnam – Officials and state media say flash floods and whirlwinds have killed seven people, left three others missing and injured 60 in northern Vietnam.

Disaster official Tran Van Nham of Yen Bai province said Friday that authorities have recovered the body of a 20-year-old man and are searching for three people who were swept away by flash flooding while walking across a stream Thursday.

In the northern port city of Hai Phong, a woman was killed Thursday by a falling tree, another person died when a house collapsed and four others were killed when they were struck by lightning, according to a statement from the Hai Phong Department for Flood and Storm Control.

It said the whirlwinds injured 60 people, and high winds destroyed or damaged more than 900 homes.

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A Host of Views on How Post-Tsunami Japan Can Move Forward (

March 11 - Japan's Zero Hour
Yoichi Funabashi

The earthquake of March 11, 2011, changed the geography of Japan - literally. Digital maps and GPS devices are likely to deviate by more than 5 m as a result. Beyond this geological shift, aftershocks from the earthquake are reverberating across many dimensions of Japanese life, creating upheaval in our politics, economy, social institutions and foreign relations. In ways many Japanese never before experienced, our national spirit has been shaken.

Throughout Japanese history, seismic disasters have often seemed to mark the dramatic end of an era. The momentous question now is what sort of change the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake will delineate. Japan can no longer afford the delusions of "graceful decline" or "small is beautiful" - notions that appealed to many prior to March 11. Our choice is rebirth or ruin. (See Japan's history of massive earthquakes.)

Unfathomable losses are the most immediate consequence of the earthquake and tsunami. Some are at least measurable, or will be in the foreseeable future - in particular, the toll in lost lives, vanished communities and destroyed property. But the losses are intangible as well. The compound crisis of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear emergency has shattered Japan's image as a land of safety and security. Instead of viewing Japan as a haven of immunity from danger and inconvenience, many around the world now perceive the country as fraught with peril and discomfort. This perception is certain to have an effect on foreign investment and the nation's appeal as a destination for tourists.

Another consequence of the disaster is a crisis of trust. The government has performed inadequately in sharing information with the Japanese public as well as the rest of the world. Unfortunately, Japan's ineptness in communication and global literacy is a long-standing problem. More fundamental in this regard is the exposure of the too cozy relationship between an elite cadre at Tokyo Electric Power Company and officials at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The lack of transparency and accountability has undermined faith in Japan's ability to manage risks properly and effectively.

Well before March 11, Japan's vulnerabilities included its fault-ridden land, a heavy reliance on oil and nuclear power, a rapidly aging population, isolated local communities and bloated national debt. But these vulnerabilities have become more pronounced since the last comparable event, the 1995 earthquake in Kobe. Within this same time frame, the number of people ages 65 and over has increased to 29 million, or 22.7% of the population, from 18.3 million, or 14.5%.

The events of March 11 could make Japan more fragile. The three hardest-hit prefectures - Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima - are struggling with the destruction of entire municipalities, the departure of tens of thousands of people, the abandonment of agriculture by many elderly farmers and the uninhabitability of vast expanses of land because of radiation fears. Companies will move their factories to other regions, perhaps overseas, because of power shortages and damaged infrastructure. (See pictures from Japan's tsunami and earthquake.)

At the same time, the March 11 disaster highlighted the national strengths that provide the most promising grounds for hope. The Japanese people gained a newfound sense of unity and solidarity as they witnessed the patience, courtesy and fortitude of those who lost homes and loved ones. The victims' ability to maintain social order even as civilization seemed to crumble about them was not only heartwarming but confidence-inspiring. Japan has also reaped rewards in the form of sympathy and support from abroad for the role it has played as a global civilian power, including its involvement in developmental assistance, environmental protection and disarmament. But the task ahead will require a sustained and intense focus on recovery and rebirth.

First, Japan needs to strengthen public policies aimed at protecting the lives and assets of its people from threats such as natural disasters and major technological malfunctions. Next, the switch from an energy structure that relies on oil and nuclear power to one based on renewable energy is a must. We should set our long-term sights on becoming a green society, with energy needs met by solar power and other renewable sources. Third, Japan faces challenges in its nation-rebuilding exercise that relate to the type of country it wants to be. One consideration is the concentration of population, government and industry in Tokyo. The clustering of so much power, wealth and knowledge looks more than ever like a massive risk. At the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, the government considered, and then rejected, the idea of relocating the capital. Perhaps this time, the decision should be different. From the perspective of risk management, decentralizing government operations to other parts of the country would be desirable.

On March 16, Emperor Akihito spoke to the nation, expressing his sympathy for the victims and gratitude to emergency responders and other relief workers. Before his statement, the Emperor declared voluntary power cuts in the Imperial Palace and residences, displaying solidarity with the disaster victims and the Japanese people.

Many people took the Emperor's message to be the most weighty of its kind since the Aug. 15, 1945, radio broadcast by his father, Emperor Hirohito, announcing the country's surrender in World War II. Then the Japanese people heard the Emperor acknowledge that they were "enduring the unendurable and suffering the unsufferable." For Japanese of a certain age, where they were and what they were doing during that broadcast has long been considered a turning point in their lives. In the same way, 2:46 p.m., March 11, 2011 - the moment the earth cracked in Tohoku - will mark "zero hour" for the Japanese people for years to come.

See "Elusive Royals Out of Seclusion to Help Victims."

Shortly after the earthquake, several friends remarked on the phenomenon that Mount Fuji had gleamed as brilliantly as they had ever seen it in the week following March 11. Those words imbued me with a fervent desire for Japan again to rise, with all the majesty of that snow-covered summit. At the same time, a feeling of melancholy overcame me as I reflected on the pulsating spirit of noble purity that welled up among the people immediately after the earthquake and tsunami.

The images of victims "enduring the unendurable" were both wrenching and uplifting. However, somewhere in those images I sensed resignation and fatalism. Does "enduring the unendurable" not resemble our resignation over the political leaders who have repeatedly betrayed us? This resignation is what I fear most. (See pictures of life in Japan's evacuation centers.)

Political leadership and a constructive contribution by the media will be critical factors. Whether these factors will be sufficient remains to be seen, but this much is certain: in the past 20 years, never have I been more sanguine about prospects for Japan's rebirth. There is an overflow of will and hope among the Japanese people as they begin rebuilding their country.

All of the above explains my cautiousness - and my optimism. I believe that Japan will be reborn.

How to Drive Change
Carlos Ghosn

Japan's resilience in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake has reminded the world of this nation's extraordinary capacity to face adversity and pull together. So much was lost. And yet, as I watch Japan come to grips with this enormous tragedy, I am filled with admiration, respect and hope. The social and cultural values demonstrated by Japan's people with such dignity, calm and resolve amid the catastrophe reaffirm my faith in the country's ability to rally in the face of almost any challenge. My regard for those values underlies my faith that the Japanese people can not only recover from the damage inflicted by the earthquake but also address their nation's long-term challenges.

Three particular values come to mind. First, there is the quality of service. No other country has the same kind of reliable and predictable consumer relations, underpinned by modesty and humbleness. Second, the Japanese value simplicity. Finally, the Japanese excel in process. No one executes like the Japanese; they embody focus, discipline, relentless effort and quality combined with a respect for hierarchy.

Many people believe Japan is resistant to change, that transforming Japanese companies is impossible. That's not true. You can make any change you want in Japan, with a few conditions: you need to simplify the change, explain it and connect the change with people. If you can do those things, you can do anything. In my experience, change is much easier here than in any other country. Japanese people take time to understand change and the reasons for it. And when they get it, they move - fast. (See "Rising to the Challenge: Can Young People Save Japan?")

I know Japanese companies can change, but successful globalization, particularly in emerging markets, will put them to the test. Japanese companies will find it increasingly difficult to compete globally without understanding and embracing diversity. At the most basic level, diversity in Japan means having more women in the workforce. The country needs more active people, and the most obvious resource is women. I don't think Japan has a choice here. Women will have to play a much bigger role and take much more responsibility in business and society than they currently do.

People who say they do not have much hope for Japan don't really understand Japan. The country clings to the status quo not because people don't want to change but because sometimes their leaders don't have a clear sense of direction. How can people follow leaders who are lost? If there is one recommendation I would make to Japan's corporate leaders, it is to take the time to form a vision, simplify it, explain it and make it meaningful to people. If you can do those things in Japan, the people will make change happen.

Poised for Prosperity
Jesper Koll

I have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. I'm a professional Japan optimist. I've been singing Japan's praises since arriving in Tokyo in 1986. Unfortunately of late, I have found it harder and harder to maintain credibility.

To be a Japan optimist, it is essential to consider both the demand and supply sides of the national economy and to remember that on both sides obstacles to renewed dynamism are surmountable. On the supply side, Japan's economy is constrained by excessive rules and regulations. On the demand side, it suffers from popular anxiety about underfunded pensions and the possible bankruptcy of public services. Wise leaders can fix both problems with relative ease. The government sends mixed messages on national goals. Privatization of the postal savings system? Yes! Then ... no. Fiscal consolidation? Yes, then no, then maybe. Such unpredictability has had a predictable result. Japan's bewildered firms have slowly but surely curtailed investment at home. What's killing the Japanese economy is not the strong yen or high tax rates. It is the lack of clear focus in public policy.

What should that focus be? First, Japanese economic policy must come to the rescue of the nation's producers and entrepreneurs. Business investment and private risk taking are what create jobs and incomes. Examples abound of highly successful new entrepreneurs in Japan. The problem is that the successes have been largely restricted to retail, a sector that was the focus of deregulation during the 1990s, and "new economy" sectors involving the Internet and digital media that escaped entanglement in the regulatory dragnet.

See pictures of stagnant Japanese economy.

Deregulation and market-oriented policies could unlock private risk capital and entrepreneurship in Japan. In key sectors of the Japanese economy, regulations strangle growth. Specifically, policy should promote producers in sectors where Japan has natural strengths. I see at least four areas in which Japan has the potential to leverage inherent social and cultural attributes to realize substantial economic returns:

• Rojin power. No country is better suited to create a network of health care facilities, retirement communities, hospices and the like that would set new global standards for how societies provide for their rojin, or seniors. (See "A Time for Renewal in Japan.")

• Soft power. Given the global admiration for Japanese fashion, design, new media and architecture, the country can become a magnet for firms in those fields from all over the world.

• Agripower. With a shift in focus to eco-food, safe food and innovative food, even Japan's famously inefficient farmers could become world beaters.

• Destination power. Since neighboring countries are generating millions of newly prosperous citizens who want to tour the world, Japan should make itself much more inviting to these travelers.

None of these activities involve significant manufacturing. Each is labor-intensive, offering reasonable pay for jobs requiring relatively high levels of education and creativity.

Poll after poll finds that Japan's citizens are anxious about the future. Among their biggest fears: uncertainty about whether the state's promises to cover graceful retirement can be honored. This uncertainty drives workers to save much of their paychecks, depresses demand and worsens the vicious deflationary cycles.

Magic bullets are rare in public policy, but in this case, one is available: Japan should pass a law that automatically raises the consumption tax from its current 5% level by an additional percentage point every year. And this law must leave unspecified how many consecutive years this step-up is supposed to happen.

Not all optimists are starry-eyed; my confidence in Japan is rooted in reality. Empowering people and entrepreneurs and enacting sensible tax increases can put Japan back on a track toward prosperity.

The More Things Change
Pico Iyer

One Japanese individual commits suicide every 15 minutes. Perhaps a million Japanese are hikikomori, meaning that they almost never leave their houses. Even as the country is suffering through one recession after another - shuttered stores seem to be as common as departing Prime Ministers - the social fabric of my adopted home, sustained and refined over centuries, is beginning to crack. Some older couples are hiring young actresses to visit them on Sundays to say, "Hi, Mom! Hi, Pop!" because their own daughters no longer do. (See pictures of a world of deep despair among young Japanese women.)

Yet even as all the external registers suggest a society in decline, and even after the horrifying earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 literally reduced parts of the country to rubble, the Japan I see around me seems much stronger and more durable than statistics suggest. It remains the pop-cultural model that countries from Taiwan to Singapore are keen to follow in its street fashions, its gizmos, its convenience stores. Japan is still a byword for quality and efficiency. Its people, in moments of stress (as after the tsunami), summon a fortitude and a community spirit at which the rest of the world rightly marvels. And when Richard Florida at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto conducted a survey of 45 countries a few years ago, Japan ranked first in the values index - a register of how much the country holds to the traditional. For Florida, this ranking was not an advantage, but for those who worry that Japan has left its past behind without ever quite arriving at an international future, the result could be both a surprise and a consolation.

As I look around the city I've made my home - at the deer grazing just outside the glass-and-concrete city hall - it's hard not to wonder if the country's strength lies not in its future but in its past, at least in the traditional sense that time moves around rather than always pressing forward. Fashions change in Japan, famously, more furiously than anywhere else, and there are few places more full of surging crowds, flashing images and all the apparatus of tomorrow. But the ideas underlying all these spinning surfaces often suggest that progress is cyclical, not linear, that moments keep returning as the seasons do and that change itself can be a constant. Every year, the details shift - but the pattern looks very much the same.

The recent power and popularity of Japan, such as it is, has come not from its trying to diminish its distance from the world so much as from trying to turn that distance to advantage. The brilliant miniaturism of its TVs and smart phones arises from a land that has long liked to work in small spaces - think haiku and bonsai. The manga and anime that have swept the pop-cultural globe come from a culture that has long thought in images more readily than in words. The planetary phenomenon that Yorkshiremen call "carry-oke" derives from a country whose people are at once publicly shy and yet strikingly confident when it comes to playing a part.

Japan has long been less like anywhere else than anywhere else I know, and when the country sees that as a strength, it finds its place on the international stage. Who would have thought, for example, that people from Bombay to Rio would be devouring raw fish? In an era of globalization, the local has a new and particular force.

Their economy is stalled, their political system looks bankrupt, their land was hit by an apocalyptic series of traumas, and their kids are acting out. But when Japan looks toward the future - and this was not the case in the England I grew up in or in California when I lived there - it sees something that looks as familiar as the falling leaves and brilliant skies of November. The things that don't change give a meaning and a perspective to the many things that do. Autumn turns to winter, and then to spring again.

Excerpted from Reimagining Japan: The Quest for a Future That Works, edited by McKinsey & Co., Clay Chandler, Heang Chhor and Brian Salsberg (VIZ Media, 2011). © McKinsey & Co.

See TIME's full coverage of the Japan quake.

See the new activism of Japan's youth.

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Warning system glitches found after Alaska quake (AP)

JUNEAU, Alaska – Glitches were reported in Alaska's tsunami warning system after Thursday evening's 7.2-magnitude earthquake in the Aleutian chain, causing some anxiety and bewilderment among residents.

State Department of Homeland Security spokesman Jeremy Zidek said Friday that tsunami warning messages were sent late via the emergency alert system to TV and radio stations, about the same time the warning was being canceled.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough reported its sirens, tied to a weather radio system, only went off when the alert was canceled. Normally, there's no siren when a warning is canceled, emergency management director Eric Mohrmann said.

"It's unfortunate it occurred" that way, he said Friday. "It's not a perfect system, that's for sure."

The reason for the glitches wasn't immediately clear, though Zidek said the state does not rely on just one system to alert communities to possible dangers. For example, he said officials also send emails and make calls, alerting communities to possible impending dangers. In all, 14 communities were notified Thursday, he said. Mohrmann said he learned of the tsunami warning by email.

It's not the only emergency management communication problem for the state this week.

Alaska State Troopers Capt. Barry Wilson told the Anchorage Daily News the agency is investigating glitches in this week's Amber Alert, including breaks in audio for some radio and TV listeners. There were also problems with television text scrolls that either didn't appear or moved too fast, and not everyone who signed up for Amber Alert email and text message alerts received them.

The tsunami warning glitches were cast more as the exception than the rule in a state where earthquakes are common occurrences.

Thursday's quake, a magnitude 7.2, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center, shook a huge section of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Centered about 122 miles east of Atka and about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, it was jarring enough to send residents of some small coastal towns, such as Unalaska, to higher ground. There were no immediate reports of damage.

It hit just after 7 p.m. Thursday.

Unalaska's mayor, Shirley Marquardt, was at the airport. The shaking wasn't violent but it lasted "long enough." Officials decided to evacuate the low-lying city as a precaution. This time of year, the community is bustling. The hotel, which is built around sea level, like many other buildings in town, was full, she said.

"We stand to lose everything in a tsunami," Marquardt said.

Unalaska City Manager Chris Hladick estimated that thousands of people evacuated to higher ground until they received the all-clear. He said the process ran smoothly, with sirens blaring and officials going through neighborhoods to rouse residents. Ships were sent out of the harbor.

Atka resident Rodney Jones said the shaking he felt lasted about 20 seconds and was "just a little rumbly."

He said it appeared all of the town's 61 residents moved to higher ground upon hearing the tsunami warning, which he heard issued over CB radio. Townspeople gathered on a high hill for about an hour, near the city's new water tank.

During their wait for the all-clear signal, a priest with the town's Russian Orthodox Church recited prayers, Jones said.


Associated Press writer Mark Thiessen contributed from Anchorage.

Becky Bohrer can be reached at

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Four Tornadoes Hit Kentucky Hit During Storm System (ContributorNetwork)

The National Weather Service has now confirmed that at least four different tornadoes touched down in Louisville, Kentucky on Wednesday evening, with a fifth striking in Indiana. No injuries were reported.

One of the tornadoes struck iconic Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is held each year. Concern for the stabled horses led many to brave the weather and make sure the animals were safe. Several barns on the property sustained damage, which led to some of the horses being set free to wander the Downs, but they were eventually rounded up and no injuries to the animals were reported.

The number of tornadoes and the ensuing damage has been compared to activity normally seen in the Gulf area. Media outlets and residents were also quick to compare Wednesday's storms with the much larger tornado that hit the area in 1974.

Here are some numbers related to the Louisville tornadoes.

EF2: The strongest of Wednesday night's tornadoes is believed to only have been a medium-strength funnel according to guidelines. The wind speed of this twister is believed to have been approximately 115 miles per hour. The path of this tornado was measured at about 1 mile in length.

EF0: The tornado that hit Churchill Downs was reportedly fairly weak according to guidelines, although the National Weather Service believes it may have picked up a little strength to become an EF1 as it left the area and moved towards Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

EF1: The strength of the other two tornadoes that touched down in Kentucky on Wednesday night. The wind speed of this tornado is thought to have reached between 95-100 miles an hour.

100: The number of stable workers that are in residence at Churchill Downs at any one time.

1,300: The number of horses that were stabled at Churchill Downs when the tornado struck.

136: The number of years Churchill Downs has been in business. Wednesday's tornado was the first to ever strike the property.

1974: The year of Louisville's largest tornado to date. An EF4 that caused massive property damage, including the destruction of 900 homes. It also downed power lines all over the city, as well as causing the deaths of 2 people and the injuries of 207 more.

25: The number of crew members that Louisville Gas and Electric has assigned to deal with all the downed power lines.

7,600: The number of people without power in Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, after Wednesday's storms.

Vanessa Evans is a musician and former freelance writer based in Michigan with a lifelong interest in politics and community issues.

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Japanese parents fume over Fukushima radiation impact (Reuters)

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – Angry parents of children in Japan's Fukushima city marched along with hundreds of people on Sunday to demand protection for their children from radiation more than three months after a massive quake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.

"We want our lives back, we want to live like before the quake in happy families," said Hiroko Sato who marched in heavy rain with her nephews, age 3 and 7, next to banners saying "No Nukes" and "One Fukushima is Enough." "My baby was born two weeks before the nuclear accident and I don't feed her with my milk as I'm afraid I was exposed to too much radiation," said Sato.

Three reactors went into meltdown after the earthquake hit the Fukushima Daiichi power plant in northeastern Japan on March 11, forcing 80,000 residents to evacuate from its vicinity as engineers battled radiation leaks, hydrogen explosions and overheating fuel rods.

The parents have felt emboldened since May, when mass protests led to the government lowering the limit for radiation exposure for children at schools and to offer money for schools to remove topsoil in playgrounds with too much radiation.

But the protesters, who included activists and members of groups from Tokyo, said the government had not done enough.

"They still haven't removed the topsoil at the majority of grounds, and didn't help cleaning up the school buildings," said Akiko Murakami, a mother of four and volunteer at the "Fukushima Network for Saving Children from Radiation."

It is one of many self-help citizen groups near the plant in Fukushima, where many areas are exposed to around 13 or more millisieverts of radiation a year, about 6.5 times natural background radiation levels, a city survey showed.

According to the survey, as many as 182 places showed readings close to or above the official annual exposure limit of 20 millisieverts per year.

The International Commission on Radiological Protection recommends that governments set radiation exposure targets at the lower end of the 1-20 millisievert per year range.


Local governments now need to provide reports of radiation, while most schools in Fukushima are equipped with dosimeters and teachers have to record hourly radiation readings to help create a contamination map. Anxiety over health risks associated with prolonged stay in a contaminated area is shared by mothers who did not take part in Sunday's rally.

"I just found out that a place near my house was designated a 'radiation hotspot' and now I'm seriously thinking about leaving the city," said Noriko Ouchi, mother of a 4-year-old daughter.

"We are exhausted. We have to look at every food item we eat, we only use bottled water for cooking, and on top of that every day we confront this nagging dilemma whether it's really safe for our children to stay in Fukushima or not," she said.

The Fukushima disaster has triggered worries over the safety of other nuclear power plants in Japan.

On Sunday, government officials held a live TV talk show with residents in Saga, southern Japan, home to the 36-year-old Genkai plant, to convince them that safety measures were in place for a restart of reactors now shut for maintenance.

Reactors at the Genkai plant had been considered among the likeliest candidates for the first idled reactors in Japan to restart after the Fukushima disaster as electricity shortages loom for the summer, but residents remained worried.

"I couldn't keep up with the complex terminology. I couldn't understand what they were saying, so I'm not convinced (over safety)," said a housewife, one of just seven residents selected for the program. Dozens protested against nuclear power outside the venue.

(Additional reporting by Chisa Fujioka in Tokyo; Editing by Sugita Katyal)

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The nation's weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – Sun Jun 26, 5:13 am ET

The country's main weather feature Sunday is a storm rolling from the Western plains over and into the Tennessee Valley, followed by another storm behind it.

All of this activity will produce thunderstorms and rain in the Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley. In the Plains, more rain is expected in the Dakotas, potentially bad news for the flooded town of Minot, N.D. This excess rain will add water to the already raging Souris River though no strong tornadoes are anticipated from the stormy weather.

The Southern plains will not receive any rain Sunday, prolonging a devastating drought that has spread from Arizona through Louisiana.

In the West, a high pressure system will dominate for one more day before an unseasonably strong storm from the Pacific Ocean begins to weaken the high pressure system to open the work week. Warm inland temperatures will give way to cool and cloudy conditions closer to the coast in California, while typical warm desert temperatures will prevail in the Southwest.

Temperatures in the Northeast will rise into the 70s and 80s, while the Southeast will see readings in the 90s and 100s. The Southern plains will continue with warm temperatures in the 90s and 100s, while the Southwest will see similar conditions. The Northwest will rise into the 70s and some 80s. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states ranged Saturday from a morning low of 26 degrees at Stanley, Idaho, to a high of 111 degrees at Pecos, Texas.

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Tornadoes, floods deliver blow to state budgets (AP)

By DAVID A. LIEB, Associated Press David A. Lieb, Associated Press – Sat Jun 25, 4:03 pm ET

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The tornadoes and floods that pummeled much of the South and Midwest also have dealt a serious blow to struggling state budgets, potentially forcing new cuts to education and other services to offset hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster aid.

Most state budgets were still reeling from the economy when a huge outbreak of tornadoes marched across the South in late April, followed in May by more twisters and flooding that extended into the Midwest.

"The disaster could not have come at much worse of a time from a budget standpoint," said David Perry, Alabama's finance director. The budget lawmakers adopted included "relatively steep cuts for many state agencies, and the tornado outbreak only adds to our budget pressure going forward."

The first of the cuts have already hit home in Missouri, where students will be saddled with greater college costs, and grants for domestic violence shelters have been trimmed, among other things.

Missouri and Alabama — where about 400 people were killed by twisters this year — could be forced to make a total of about $150 million in cuts because of the violent weather.

Georgia has tapped an emergency fund. Tennessee is relying on its reserves, too. And storm costs in Oklahoma will only add to the state's multimillion-dollar disaster debt accumulated over several years of natural disasters.

After a major catastrophe, the federal government often shells out billions of dollars to clean up debris, rebuild roads and buildings and help families left homeless get back on their feet. For most disaster costs, the federal government pays 75 percent, leaving state and local governments to cover the rest.

Yet when disaster costs climb to nine or 10 digits, the state's comparatively small share can still present a staggering bill.

In Missouri, lawmakers passed a $23 billion annual budget about the same time that the Army Corps of Engineers blew up a levee to ease flooding pressure along the Mississippi River. The resulting deluge affected an estimated 130,000 acres of fertile farmland and rural homes. A couple of weeks later, the nation's deadliest tornado in decades tore through Joplin, killing 156 people and destroying about 8,000 homes and businesses.

Missouri's budget had set aside $1 million for disaster aid, but Gov. Jay Nixon quickly pledged $50 million for the Joplin tornado and southeast Missouri flooding, offsetting that with cuts to other government programs. The biggest chunk came from higher education, which already was slated for a 5.5 percent cut in the coming school year.

Nixon deepened that cut to 7 or 8 percent, depending on the institution, and also reduced the amount of money lawmakers had budgeted for scholarships.

For the University of Missouri's four-campus system, that means its state aid for the 2011-2012 school year will be 11 percent lower than in 2001, despite an enrollment increase of 39 percent during the past decade.

Eric Woods, student president of the Columbia campus, acknowledged the need for disaster assistance, but bemoaned that students now have to shoulder the burden for Missouri's "crummy luck" with disasters.

"I think when you're making a state chose between rebuilding after several natural disasters or funding their schools, there's something not quite right about it," said Woods, a senior majoring in political science, history and religious studies.

Among other things, Nixon also trimmed the budget for domestic violence grants by 15 percent, essentially continuing a cut from the previous year. That comes as the number of abused women and children seeking shelter the Lafayette House in Joplin has more than doubled since the May 22 tornado, said Louise Secker, the organizations' director of community services.

Missouri and Alabama hope the federal government will agree to cover a greater-than-usual share of the cost for rebuilding public facilities and removing debris. But that may not be enough to avoid painful budget decisions in Alabama, which has about $20 million available for disaster aid in the next fiscal year but expects this year's tornadoes to cost the state $80 million to $120 million over the next several years, Perry said.

"Obviously, we'll have to either cut other areas to come up with enough money to pay for the state's share, or we'll have to come up with some new revenue sources," Perry said.

The situation is other states is less dire, but still troublesome.

When lawmakers return to the Georgia Capitol next year, they will need to find an additional $5.9 million to cover the state's remaining share of disaster costs from tornadoes. Georgia's governor already has tapped $2.6 million from an emergency fund.

Tennessee, which has been trying to rebuild its reserves, plans to dip into them to cover part of the $71 million budgeted for tornado and flooding aid, said Lola Potter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Finance and Administration.

Some Southern states, including Louisiana and Mississippi, created special disaster-reserve funds after hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Those accounts have helped ease the strain of paying for this year's storm damage.

Even for a state with a budget surplus — North Dakota — disaster relief spending has been high. After several floods this year including the Souris River in Minot, which forced thousands of residents to evacuate their homes, state flood-fighting expenses are expected to exhaust a $23.5 million disaster relief fund that was supposed to last until June 2013.

Because rebuilding can take years, disaster bills often go unpaid for long periods in some states. For the second straight year, budget problems led Kansas to delay a couple of million dollars' worth of payments to electric cooperatives for storm damage.

In Oklahoma, where the federal government has declared more than two dozen emergencies or disasters since 2007, the state has a $30 million backlog of unpaid reimbursements to cities, counties and rural electric utilities. At the same time, its emergency fund has just $1.6 million, and no new money was appropriated this year.

Because of a spate of blizzards, floods, twisters and other storms, Oklahoma will likely incur an additional $5 million in disaster debt, said Albert Ashwood, director of the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

"We're probably further behind, but keep in mind where we compare to other states in terms of disasters," Ashwood said. "When you start getting four, five or six disasters every year, it's easier to use it up."


Associated Press writers Shannon McCaffrey in Atlanta; Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss.; Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City; Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, La.; Dale Wetzel in Bismarck, N.D., and Lucas Johnson in Nashville, Tenn., contributed to this report.

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Flooding submerges parts of North Dakota city (Reuters)

MINOT, North Dakota (Reuters) – The swollen Souris River whose waters deluged North Dakota's fourth-largest city of Minot, was expected to crest early on Sunday, with storms threatening to complicate efforts to contain the biggest flood in area history.

Local and federal officials worked feverishly to reinforce levees, protect the city's key infrastructure and care for thousands of residents forced to flee their submerged homes.

By Saturday evening, the Souris, which flows from Canada southeast into North Dakota, was at least 3.5 feet above the 130-year-old record it shattered on Friday.

Under current conditions, the river is expected to crest by Sunday morning at 3.8 feet above that record, according to the National Weather Service.

"We will continue to be at this highest level for the next several days," said Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman, adding that the possibility of rain could complicate containment efforts.

"There is a cluster of thunderstorms that are pretty close to Minot now. It looks like a couple of inches of rain could impact some of the areas with flooding," said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

There have been no reported deaths or injuries.

"There is still a tremendous amount of water and even when this crest has passed, there will be months of a recovery effort," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Jeffrey DeZellar said.

"When the water goes down it relieves pressure on emergency levees, but there has been so much damage done to the community that there is going to be a tremendous recovery effort," DeZellar said.

Authorities were also trying to stop a walking bridge that collapsed in the middle of the river from crashing into a downriver dam, a Minot Fire Department official said. The bridge had not moved as of Saturday evening.

Floodwaters have all but swallowed more than 3,000 Minot-area homes, according to North Dakota Department of Emergency Services spokeswoman Cecily Fong.

Officials' attention has turned to displaced residents, more than 12,000 of whom heeded mandatory evacuation calls.

Some moved in with friends or family, but more than 250 people were holed up in Red Cross shelters at a city auditorium and Minot State University or at the Minot Air Force Base.

More evacuees were expected from the towns of Turtle Lake, Velva and Sawyer, among others, according to Allan McGeough, executive director of the mid-Dakota chapter of the Red Cross.

In Sawyer, about 16 miles southeast of Minot, 400 residents were told to evacuate after river water rushed through a downtown roadway, and as many as 300 people in Velva will require shelter, McGeough said.

Flood warnings have been issued from Burlington, northwest of Minot, through Logan and Sawyer to the southeast.

The massive flooding in Minot has overshadowed temporarily the widening deluge along the Missouri River that threatens cities from Montana through Missouri.

Federal officials have pushed record water releases from six reservoirs along the Upper Missouri River that are near capacity because of a deep melting snowpack and heavy rains.

Those reservoirs have little capacity for additional rain, and record releases are expected to continue through August, causing widespread flooding in Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

Heavy rains across the Souris River Basin left Canadian reservoirs over capacity. Water rushing down from Canada has forced U.S. officials to make record-large releases from the Lake Darling Dam above Minot and other communities.

(Writing by Eric Johnson; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)

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Nebraska residents shrug off flood risk to nuclear plant (Reuters)

BROWNVILLE, Neb (Reuters) – Residents near a nuclear plant on the rain-swollen Missouri River were largely unconcerned about any potential safety risks from flooding ahead of a nuclear regulator's visit on Sunday.

Gregory Jaczko, the chair of the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will monitor flood preparations during a visit to the Cooper Nuclear Station near Brownville.

The plant is located about 80 miles south of Omaha, where snow melt and heavy rains have forced the waters of the Missouri River over its banks, although they have not flooded the plant and receded slightly on Sunday.

"I just don't think the water is going to get that high," said Brownville resident Kenny Lippold, a retired carpenter who has been following each step of the flood preparations in this riverside village of 148 residents.

"They claim that they are going to keep operating," Lippold said, adding that he will not flee his home of 29 years even though it is less than a mile from the Cooper reactor.

Jaczko will be briefed on Sunday by NRC resident inspectors -- the agency staff who work on-site every day -- plant officials and executives, said Mark Becker, a spokesman at the Nebraska Public Power District, the agency that runs the plant.

Water levels there are down after upstream levees failed, Becker said, relieving worries that water will rise around the Brownville plant as it has at another nuclear plant north of Omaha in Fort Calhoun.

Local shop owner Katy Morgan, 28, said her fears have been assuaged by information she has received via plant officials, who give out emergency radio equipment to residents within a 10-mile radius of the Cooper plant.

"I know everybody freaks out when they talk about nuclear," said Morton, who runs a boutique on Brownville's main thoroughfare. "I suppose if there was a drastic increase in the river I would be concerned. If they say 'evacuate' then I would be concerned," Morton said.

Jaczko will also visit on Monday the Fort Calhoun plant in the town of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, about 20 miles north of Omaha, an agency official said.

Flood water up to 2-feet deep is standing on the site of the 478-megawatt Fort Calhoun plant, which will stay shut down until the water recedes, the NRC said.

On Sunday afternoon, workers accidentally deflated an auxiliary berm at the plant, said Omaha Public Power District spokesman Jeff Hanson.

Hanson said the "aqua dam" was a supplemental measure that provided workers "more freedom" but was not essential to keeping the plant dry.

"The plant itself is still protected," Hanson said. Floodwater would need to rise over 7 feet to flow over the berms and enter the plant, Hanson said, adding that the supplemental dam was not in original flood prevention plans.

An NRC inspection at Fort Calhoun two years ago indicated deficiencies in the flood preparation area, which have now been remedied, the agency said.

(Writing by Eric Johnson; Editing by Tim Gaynor)

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Sunflowers to clean radioactive soil in Japan (AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) – Campaigners in Japan are asking people to grow sunflowers, said to help decontaminate radioactive soil, in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed March's massive quake and tsunami.

Volunteers are being asked to grow sunflowers this year, then send the seeds to the stricken area where they will be planted next year to help get rid of radioactive contaminants in the plant's fallout zone.

The campaign, launched by young entrepreneurs and civil servants in Fukushima prefecture last month, aims to cover large areas in yellow blossoms as a symbol of hope and reconstruction and to lure back tourists.

"We will give the seeds sent back by people for free to farmers, the public sector and other groups next year," said project leader Shinji Handa. The goal is a landscape so yellow that "it will surprise NASA", he said.

The massive earthquake and tsunami left more than 23,000 people dead or missing on Japan's northeast coast and crippled the Fukushima nuclear power plant that has leaked radiation into the environment since.

Almost 10,000 packets of sunflower seeds at 500 yen ($6) each have so far been sold to some 30,000 people, including to the city of Yokohama near Tokyo, which is growing sunflowers in 200 parks, Handa said.

Handa -- who hails from Hiroshima, hit by an atomic bomb at the end of World War II -- said the sunflower project was a way for people across the nation to lend their support to the disaster region.

"This is different from donations because people will grow the flowers, and a mother can tell her children that it is like an act of prayer for the reconstruction of the northeast," Handa said.

"I also hope the project will give momentum to attract tourists back to Fukushima with sunflower seeds in their hands. I would like to make a maze using sunflowers so that children can play in it."

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Kansas town rises green from tornado rubble (Reuters)

GREENSBURG, Kansas (Reuters) – When community leaders in tornado-ravaged places such as Joplin, Mo., consider the future, they look to Greensburg, Kansas.

Destroyed by a powerful tornado on May 4, 2007, Greensburg is renowned for its rebirth as a community of sustainable living. The town has energy-saving buildings and landscaping at every turn, drawing curious public officials and tourists from around the world.

"Greensburg is certainly a great story," said Steve Castaner, a long-term recovery manager for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "It's a laboratory for how you can take advantage of opportunities to reinvent yourself."

Next week, FEMA will host a "sustainable communities workshop" in Greensburg, attended by people from Joplin and two southeast U.S. communities recently damaged by tornadoes. They will learn how to follow Greensburg's example.

The EF-5 tornado destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg, a town of 1,600 in the flat farmland of south central Kansas. Almost immediately, city, state and community leaders talked about bringing Greensburg back green, said Mayor Bob Dixson.

Greensburg's population is down to about 800 because of a loss of housing stock and jobs, but it draws "a pilgrimage" of people who want to see sustainability at work, said Matt Deighton, a volunteer who gives tours of the town.

There is plenty to see.

The tornado destroyed many of the town's large trees, so wind turbines now outnumber them. The town has a ten-turbine wind farm. The hospital has its own turbine, as does the public school and even the Best Western motel, which has saved 50 percent on its utility bill.

"As far as I know, we are the only hotel in the United States with a wind power generator," said Ron Wright, owner of the Best Western Night Watchman Inn.

The new public school not only has a wind turbine but 97 wells dug 410 feet into the ground for a geothermal heating system that uses the 55-degree water to cool or warm air pumped into the building.

Like those of many buildings in town, the school's windows are sized and positioned to make best use of natural light and the sun's warmth.

The mayor had his house built with small windows on the north and larger ones elsewhere, and he used timber in four- or eight-foot lengths to reduce waste.

City Hall and several other buildings have rooftop solar panels to convert sunshine into electric power. Many homeowners have chosen to build energy-efficient houses.

In building anew, Greensburg used a lot of old materials. Bricks for the walls at city hall came from a power plant the tornado destroyed. The furniture store is made of bricks from the old store. Wood siding at the school came from trees damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Rain is not wasted. All through town are systems for filtering and capturing rainwater, which is stored in underground cisterns for irrigation when the weather is dry.

Greensburg is building a museum to herald what used to be its biggest claim to fame -- the largest hand-dug well in the world -- but also to tell the story of its green rebirth.

Its slogan is that it is "Stronger. Better. Greener."

The community took advantage of various federal programs to build with sustainability in mind, but it took a spirit of public and private cooperation to be successful, Dixson said.

FEMA provided $80 million in subsidies for construction of city hall, the school and hospital, said Pam Reves, city treasurer. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory provided technical assistance and other guidance on sustainable construction in the public and private sector.

A key player is Greensburg GreenTown, a nonprofit organization that promotes green projects and gives tours. The town boasts the most LEED-certified buildings, a recognized system of measuring green projects, per capita in America.

The visit by officials from Joplin and the communities of Smithville, Miss. and Cordova, Ala., comes on the heels of an earlier visit by a delegation from Tuscaloosa, Ala., heavily damaged by a recent tornado.

Greensburg City Councilwoman Erica Goodman said Greensburg is ready with a message of hope for other communities.

"We can't tell you want to do," Goodman said. "We can only tell you what we have done and hopefully you can take that home and start your recovery."

(Writing and reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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Taiwan issues sea warning for tropical storm (AP)

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Taiwan has issued a sea warning for Tropical Storm Meari and cautioned residents on the eastern and southern parts of the island to watch out for torrential rain.

Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau says the storm was 340 miles (550 kilometers) south of Taiwan's southern tip as of Friday morning, and was moving north at 15 miles (25 kilometers) per hour.

The bureau says ships off the island's eastern and southern coasts should brace for the storm, and that heavy rain may hit eastern and southern Taiwan on Saturday.

It says the storm may gain strength as it moves past the East China Sea toward the Korean peninsula.

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Huge quake triggers tsunami alert in Alaskan islands (AFP)

DUTCH HARBOR, Alaska (AFP) – A powerful 7.3-magnitude earthquake shook Alaska's Aleutian Islands late Thursday, triggering a tsunami warning that sent people heading for high ground before the alert was canceled.

Hundreds of people walked, drove and rode in the back of pickup trucks as they fled the the coast after the earthquake struck 80 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of the seafood port of Dutch Harbor, home to some 4,400 people.

The temblor struck at 7:10 pm local time (0300 GMT Friday), triggering a tsunami warning from the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WCATWC).

Sirens rang out, officials ordered people to move to at least 50 feet above sea level, and fishing boats could be seen steaming out of the harbor as a precaution in case waves strike the coast line.

"Those feeling the earth shake, seeing unusual wave action or the water level rising or receding may have only a few minutes before the tsunami arrival and should move immediately," warned the WCATWC.

"Homes and small buildings are not designed to withstand tsunami impacts. Do not stay in these structures," officials warned.

But about an hour later it was all over. "We've confirmed that no wave has been generated," acting public safety director Matt Betzen said at 8:21 pm (0421 GMT). "We're giving the all-clear."

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in near the remote island chain. Fire engines and police cars drove up and down the hillsides telling residents it was safe to return to their homes.

The United States Geological Service reported the earthquake was at a depth of about 25 miles. It could be felt in and around Dutch Harbor.

The quake struck more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) west of the major Alaskan city of Anchorage.

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Tornado strikes Kentucky Derby's historic home (AP)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Susan Margolis rushed to Churchill Downs on a rescue mission as a tornado was pummeling stables full of horses at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

The first twister to strike at the 136-year-old track demolished parts of her husband Steve's barn and six others Wednesday night but left without inflicting any human or equine casualties.

Churchill Downs' famed twin spires, along with the stands and clubhouse, were untouched by the tornado's swirling winds. The historic track has survived flooding, ice storms and heavy winds over the years, and now, for the first time, a tornado.

When it hit, the trainer and his wife rushed to the track near downtown Louisville.

"When we came around that corner last night, my mouth was so dry because I thought, 'Oh God, that's our barn,'" Susan Margolis said. "I thought we were going to find bodies of people, never mind the horses."

The National Weather Service said the tornado was classified as an F1 with wind speeds of 100 mph. The twister intensified as it moved away from the track and smashed a nearby business.

Every available pair of hands scrambled to pull horses from stables as the storm caved in roofs and tossed debris. Seven of the 48 backside barns and the track's chapel were damaged.

Dale Romans, trainer of Preakness winner Shackleford, had to pull 20 horses out of one of his barns.

"Ours wasn't near as bad as some of them," said Romans, who had to move a total of 200 horses due to the storms. "It's a pretty amazing thing."

Other horses were moved to undamaged barns at Churchill, private farms and Keeneland racetrack in Lexington.

Thursday's racing was canceled but Friday's card was expected to go off as scheduled.

Trainer William "Jinks" Fires said it looked as if something "took a bite" out of his barn. His horses were spooked by the storm — kicking the wall and bumping into stall doors — and he had to tranquilize two to settle them down.

Jerry Brown, a groom for trainer James Baker, was watching a movie with his wife in their apartment above a barn when the storm hit.

"I shut the door, grabbed my wife, we got over there in the corner and huddled," Brown said. "I said we have to ride it out because there's no way we could make it down the steps."

Once it was over, Brown went to Margolis' barn to clear debris and make a path for the horses to get out. The roof was bowed to the ground and the winds left a gaping hole in it.

Plenty of people pitched in to help.

"It doesn't matter who they worked for. If they saw a horse in need, they immediately put themselves in danger to get that horse out," track chaplain Ken Boehm said. Even the track's chapel sustained some roof damage.

Churchill Downs underwent extensive renovations in 2002 and 2003 totaling more than $200 million. In August 2009, a flash flood heavily damaged the Kentucky Derby Museum, which closed for nine months while it was renovated.


Dylan Lovan is on Twitter at


Associated Press writer Brett Barrouquere and AP freelancer Josh Abner also contributed to this report.

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No tsunami for coastal Alaska after strong quake (AP)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook a large swath of Alaska's Aleutian Islands on Thursday evening, sending residents of small coastal towns to higher ground as officials issued a tsunami warning in the temblor's wake.

The quake was centered about 122 miles east of Atka, about 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage. It was recorded at a depth of 26 miles, the Alaska Earthquake Information Center said.

The quake was felt through the central Aleutians and as far east as Dutch Harbor and Unalaska, but no damage was reported, said Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

"It was shaking, it was just a little rumbly" and lasted about 20 seconds, said Atka resident Rodney Jones.

The West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center posted a tsunami warning for some coastal areas of Alaska, but canceled the warning about an hour after the quake. The warning covered an area from 80 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor to about 125 miles west of Adak.

Jones said it appeared all of the town's 61 residents took to higher ground when they heard the tsunami warning, which he heard issued over CB radio. The townspeople gathered on a high hill for about an hour, near the city's new water tank.

During their wait for the all-clear signal, he said a priest with the town's Russian Orthodox Church recited prayers.

In Dutch Harbor, longshoreman Jim Paulin said warning sirens caused also caused hundreds of people to begin climbing up a nearby hill.

"Right now there's hundreds of people up on the hilltop," he told The Associated Press before the all-clear was given. "I can look across the bay and see people on another hilltop."

After the tsunami warning was canceled, he said everybody was "calm. It seems like everybody's kind of enjoying it. It's good weather."

Paulin said no one seemed panicked because the city has been evacuated in the past. But, he said, "It's better to be safe than sorry."


Associated Press writers Kathy McCarthy in Seattle and Michelle Price in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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Drone copter nearly crashes at Japan nuclear plant (AP)

TOKYO – A drone helicopter has made an emergency rooftop landing after developing engine trouble while measuring radiation over Japan's tsunami-hit nuclear power plant.

Plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said no major damage occurred Friday to the aircraft or the reactor building roof. It was still being assessed further.

The U.S.-made drone has been used regularly to inspect hard-to-access areas of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

A Japanese robot also failed to complete its debut mission because of mechanical problems.

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50,000 flee storm in Philippines (AFP)

MANILA (AFP) – Some 50,000 people were in evacuation centres in the Philippines on Friday after fleeing their homes following days of torrential rains caused by Tropical Storm Meari, officials said.

More than 3,200 people fled their homes overnight in the capital Manila alone as the storm added to seasonal monsoon rains, bringing massive flooding to city streets, the civil defence agency said.

The swift evacuation of Manila residents as the waters rose overnight prevented any deaths, said Benito Ramos, executive director of the official National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

"It is a good thing we pre-positioned rubber boats. Thankfully, people reacted well. When we told them to evacuate, they evacuated," Ramos said.

However 11 people were still missing in or near the less-developed Bicol peninsula southeast of Manila that bore the brunt of Meari as it brushed past the eastern side of this country, the council added.

The missing included 10 fishermen who ventured out to sea from the island of Catanduanes before Meari struck and a woman swept away by flash flooding in another part of Bicol, a council said.

The rains, which have been falling for most of the week, intensified on Thursday, forcing people to flee their homes, fearing floods and landslides.

Most schools in and around Manila cancelled classes on Friday due to the flooding with debris blocking many streets, authorities said.

Science Department Undersecretary Graciano Yumul said that rain would further intensify over the main island of Luzon where Manila is located, even though the storm was moving away from the Philippines towards Taiwan.

The government weather station reported that Meari had strengthened as it moved northwest towards Taiwan, with gusts of 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour.

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Soggy Midwest faces new summer threat: more rain (AP)

ALAN SCHER ZAGIER and DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press Alan Scher Zagier And Dave Kolpack, Associated Press – Thu Jun 23, 3:00 pm ET

MINOT, N.D. – The reservoirs are full. The dams are open wide. The rivers have already climbed well beyond their banks. Throughout the Missouri River Valley and other parts of the upper Midwest, there's simply no place left for any more water.

That brings a new threat to the nation's water-logged midsection: more rain. In a region already struggling with historically high water, the return of heavy storms could intensify the flooding and turn a soggy summer into a tragic one for a dozen states that drain into the Missouri.

"We know what's coming down the river, and what's going to continue to come down the river," said meteorologist Wes Browning of the National Weather Service office in St. Louis. "But what we don't know with any certitude, beyond five to seven days, is the amount of rainfall. That's really going to drive this flood."

The peril began unfolding during the spring, when storms dumped an unexpectedly large amount of rain across Montana. That precipitation, combined with unusually heavy snowmelt, caused a vast volume of water to build up behind dams in the United States and Canada.

The Army Corps of Engineers and Canadian authorities have been releasing water through those dams for weeks, inundating many low-lying, mostly rural parts of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and North and South Dakota. Now the river valley is saturated, and the arrival of any more water could create an even larger disaster.

Many people expect to spend an anxious summer watching the skies and monitoring forecasts.

Terry Higedick, who farms 2,500 acres in central Missouri's Boone and Cole counties, has had plenty of time to prepare. He sold his excess corn and soybeans or put them in a grain elevator. His heavy equipment has been moved to higher ground.

But despite daily updates on dam releases and sophisticated forecasts, he has few reliable ways to estimate how much rain will fall over the next few months — or how high the floodwaters will rise.

"It makes it impossible to plan," he said. "We're kind of stuck in that mode."

In Minot, the danger came from the Souris River, a little-known channel that flows south from Canada without entering the Missouri River basin. On Thursday, crews worked furiously to raise earthen levees in a last-ditch effort to protect at least some neighborhoods, even as officials acknowledged they could not prevent significant damage to North Dakota's fourth-largest city.

The workers on the levee and National Guard troops were the only people to be seen in the endangered areas. As many as 10,000 residents, or about one-fourth of Minot's population, evacuated ahead of the community's worst flooding in four decades.

Thursday's effort also focused on protecting critical infrastructure, including sewer and water service. If those utilities were to be knocked out by floodwaters, more evacuations could be necessary. Parts of the city were already under several feet of water, including a trailer park near the river.

The weather service's Climate Prediction Center issued its three-month outlook for rain on June 16. Above-normal rain was anticipated over a large swath of the Great Plains covering much of the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska.

In the worst-case scenario, that rain would gush into the already full river system and produce widespread, near-record flooding from Kansas City to St. Louis.

A case in point: a mere 2 to 3 inches of rain last week in northern Missouri pushed the Mississippi River up 6 feet within days near Hannibal. In Minot, the Souris is expected to top a city record set in 1881 by more than 5 feet.

Flood projections in Missouri are similarly dire. In the state capital of Jefferson City, for instance, the predicted crests of 6 feet to 14 feet above flood stage would wash out roads, breach levees, close railroads, threaten power plant operations and shut down major highways. Experts can't say with certainty if water levels will rise that high, but are warning residents to be prepared.

Right now, those projections are simply "good long-range planning information," Browning said. "From this point on, it depends on what's coming out of the sky."

And the threat looms not just in the amount of rain but also its intensity. A half-inch of rain every day for a week would be far different than a severe thunderstorm that dumped 5 inches of rain in a few hours.

Browning compared the two scenarios to a homeowner watering his lawn.

"I could take two approaches. I could take out a sprinkler overnight with a nice steady, slow stream and nothing would go down the curb," he said. "Or I could do it with a fire hose in five minutes. I would get an inch of water in both cases. But the runoff into the gutter would be far more with the fire hose."

In Minot, the city already endured a major evacuation last month, when the Souris rose briefly to threatening levels. Though residents had been warned that another evacuation was possible, the river's second rise after heavy weekend rains shocked many people, including city officials.

"It's just an unprecedented amount of rainfall this spring in the whole basin," said Mark Davidson, a spokesman for the army corps in St. Paul., Minn. "We're all doing our best, but Mother Nature, she's just tough."


Associated Press Writer Doug Glass in Minneapolis contributed to this report.


Zagier reported from Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at

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Major quakes strike in Pacific off Alaska (Reuters)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – A major earthquake of 7.4 magnitude struck in the Pacific Ocean more than 1,000 miles west of Anchorage on Thursday, prompting a brief tsunami warning for part of the remote Aleutian Islands chain.

No damage or injuries were reported. The warning, which extended for roughly 800 miles -- from Unimak Pass, northeast of Dutch Harbor, westward to Amchitka Pass, west of Adak Island -- was canceled after a little more than an hour.

A tsunami wave measuring just 6 centimeters tall was recorded at Nikolski, a tiny Aleut village on the island of Umnak, and a 10-centimeter wave was observed at Adak, said Becki Legatt, a spokeswoman for the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer, Alaska.

The coast of the entire Alaska peninsula and all of the Alaska mainland were never considered to be threatened.

The quake struck shortly after 7 p.m. local time at a depth of about 25 miles. A second tremor of magnitude 7.2 hit in the same vicinity of the Aleutians a half-minute later, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Quakes of 7 to 8 magnitudes and higher are relatively common in the Aleutians but are generally of little consequence because the island chain is so remote and sparsely populated.

"This is a very seismically active area," said Randy Baldwin, a USGS geophysicist with the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado.

A tsunami warning means all coastal residents in the warning area who are near the beach or in low-lying regions should move immediately to higher ground and away from harbors and inlets, including those sheltered directly from the sea.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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The nation's weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 2 hrs 19 mins ago

Showers and thunderstorms will continue popping up along a cold front that lingers over the East Coast and Southeast on Friday.

A low pressure system over the Great Lakes will slowly advance northeastward and into Quebec. This will allow for scattered showers to persist around the Great Lakes and Northeast, but slowly diminish across the Midwest and Ohio River Valley. A cold front produced by this system will start to push offshore, but allow for a few scattered showers and thunderstorms to develop along the coasts of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. Strong winds and hail are likely, but tornadoes are not anticipated.

Behind this system in the Plains, a trough of low pressure that dipped into the Northern Rockies from British Columbia will continue moving eastward Friday. As this system moves into the High Plains, it will push warm and moist Gulf air northward into the Central U.S. This will kick up scattered showers and thunderstorms across the Plains. There is a slight risk that these storms will turn severe from North Dakota to Missouri, with possibly an isolated tornado or two.

Farther west, a ridge of high pressure dominates the Southwest, allowing for another hot, dry and windy day. These conditions are favorable for rapid fire spread, with relative humidity values ranging from 8 to 13 percent and surface winds at 20 mph with gusts up to 35 mph.

Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Thursday ranged from a morning low of 24 degrees at Cottonwood Pass, Colo., to a high of 106 degrees at Needles, Calif.

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11 missing in Philippine storm chaos (AFP)

MANILA (AFP) – Tropical Storm Meari caused chaos across the Philippines on Thursday, dumping heavy rains in the capital, leaving 11 people missing in other parts of the country and grounding dozens of flights.

Head-high floods swept through parts of Manila during the evening rush hour, leaving thousands of people stranded in their cars and others in their offices as traffic turned to gridlock.

Authorities said they had dispatched rescue workers in rubber boats to help residents of badly-affected riverside areas.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Manila, but authorities said at least 11 people were missing and thousands of others had been forced to flee their flooded homes elsewhere in the Philippines.

More than 7,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the Bicol peninsula of the main island of Luzon, said Raffy Alejandro, civil defence officer for the mainly rural region.

Ten fishermen were declared missing after they failed to return to port in Bicol, Alejandro said, adding that heavy seas prevented authorities from launching a search operation.

A woman had also been washed away by a flash flood in Bicol and authorities did not know whether she was alive, Joey Salceda, governor of one of the provinces in the region, said in a television interview.

Aviation authorities cancelled at least 56 flights to and from Manila, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council said. Thirty were foreign flights.

The state weather service said Meari had not directly hit Luzon, but it had caused a lot of damage across the island because it combined with seasonal monsoon weather and a tropical depression at sea.

It had packed maximum gusts of 90 kilometres (56 miles) an hour on Thursday, said government weather forecaster Sonny Pajarillo, adding that the storm could continue dumping rains on Luzon until Sunday.

An average of 20 storms and typhoons, some of them deadly, hit the Philippines every year.

Over the past six weeks, more than 50 people have been killed in a series of storms, one of which became a typhoon.

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Floods kill 6, displace 150 in northern Nigeria (AP)

KANO, Nigeria – Nigeria's fire service says at least six people have died after torrential rains flooded a highly populated area in northern Nigeria.

Kano state fire service chief Kassim Musa said Wednesday that the wet season's early rains flooded a neighborhood in the city of Kano because of poor drainage.

He said about 150 people have been displaced and at least 27 houses destroyed.

Authorities say flooding last year displaced about 500,000 people across Nigeria. Most of them lived in the country's northwest region.

Nigeria's National Emergency Management Agency recently warned state governments in the area to take preventive measures against floods after weather forecasts showed that rains would be even heavier this year.

The wet season loosely lasts from June to September, with July and August as the rainiest months.

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Japan nuke plant struggles with contaminated water (AP)

TOKYO – A system to treat contaminated water that is impeding repairs at Japan's damaged nuclear power plant is not performing as well as hoped but should be functioning fully next month, a government official said Thursday.

Since the March 11 tsunami, workers have cooled the reactors and spent fuel by pumping fresh water, which becomes contaminated with radiation. About 110,000 tons of tainted water have accumulated, threatening to leak into the sea and posing health risks and logistical hurdles to the workers struggling to make repairs at the plant.

"The contaminated water problem is the biggest barrier right now," said Goshi Hosono, director of the government's nuclear crisis task force. "We are anxious to stabilize the treatment system one way or the other."

Problems were expected along the way, he said, but added that he wanted to get the system fully operational by the end of June and running stably by mid-July.

"The water treatment system is a key step toward bringing the reactors to cold shutdowns," he said. The plant operator and the government's goal for cold shutdown is early January.

Workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant have struggled to get the treatment system fully operational before the tainted water overflows. It's estimated that could happen in early July.

The contaminated water has hampered work to install a sustainable cooling system at the reactors. Unit 1 is close to that stage, but the other two reactors have fallen behind due to high radiation or large amounts of debris.

The water treatment system involves parts from around the world.

Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi have developed oil- and salt-removal components, but a trial run Wednesday of a component developed by Kurion Inc. of the United States only reduced the level of radioactive cesium to one-tenth of what had been expected, TEPCO spokesman Junichi Matsumoto said.

A component made by French nuclear giant Areva SA also underperformed, he said.

The treatment system was halted last week when a cartridge reached its limit of radioactive cesium after only five hours, not several weeks as expected. After cleaning and adjustments, the system is being tested and has intermittently processed nearly 2,000 tons of water, Matsumoto said.

Hosono said the system was assembled in a rush and problems were not surprising since the system has never been tested in an environment as severe as Fukushima Dai-ichi. He said he also has instructed TEPCO to secure extra tanks as emergency storage for the water to keep it from leaking into the ocean.

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Study: Even routine weather can be costly (AP)

By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, AP Science Writer Randolph E. Schmid, Ap Science Writer – Wed Jun 22, 12:11 pm ET

WASHINGTON – The day-to-day weather may be the source of lots of small talk, but that comes at a big price.

A study released by the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., says the annual impact of routine weather in the United States can total $485 billion.

Economist and lead study author Jeff Lazo says "it's clear that our economy isn't weatherproof." He adds in a statement that even routine changes in the weather can have a substantial impact on the economy.

"Weather directly and indirectly affects production and consumption decision-making in every economic sector of the United States," the researchers reported. "From very local short term decisions about whether or not to pour concrete on a construction project to broader decisions of when to plant or harvest a field, to the costs of rerouting an airplane around severe weather, to peak demand electricity generation in response to extreme heat, to early season snow for a bumper ski season in Colorado, drought in the Midwest, or wind-fueled wildfires in California, weather can have positive or negative effects on economic activity."

The researchers studied 70 years of weather records, through 2008, from across the contiguous United States.

The study, being published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, focused on variations in temperature, total precipitation and deviation from average precipitation.

It did not take into account the additional costs of extreme weather, such as this year's tornado outbreaks, or the possible impacts of climate change, which is expected to lead to more flooding, heat waves, and other costly weather events.

Every state is sensitive to the weather in one way or another, the researchers concluded. In terms of gross state economic output, New York was the most sensitive and Tennessee the least, they reported.

Mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather, the researchers reported. Other sensitive sectors include manufacturing, finance, insurance and utilities.

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Japan lifts tsunami warning after strong quake (AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan issued a tsunami warning Thursday after a magnitude-6.7 earthquake struck in the northeast of the country, rattling the areas hardest hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami disasters.

But the meteorological agency lifted the warning about an hour after the latest jolt hit at 6:51 am (2151 GMT Wednesday) some 50 kilometres (31 miles) off the east coast of Miyako, Iwate prefecture, at a depth of 20 kilometres in the Pacific.

USGS also registered the quake at 6.7 in magnitude at a depth of 32 kilometres.

The Japanese agency had warned that a 50 centimetre (20-inch) tsunami could be expected in the region, but no warning was issued to Fukushima at the centre of the nation's nuclear crisis.

Public broadcaster NHK reported there were no immediate reports of damage from the quake while no sizable high waves were seen.

Local authorities issued evacuation orders to some 8,000 households in Iwate, NHK said.

Shinkansen bullet train services were temporarily suspended, while there was no new damage to the Onagawa nuclear power plant in Miyagi, south of Iwate, which has been out of operation since the March 11 disaster, NHK added.

The northeast coast of Japan's main Honshu island was ravaged by a 9.0 magnitude quake and monster tsunami on March 11 which left some 23,000 people dead or missing.

The disasters also crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, triggering the world's worst atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986 and forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to leave their homes.

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'Lady Gaga-san' says Japan safe for tourists (AFP)

TOKYO (AFP) – An emotional Lady Gaga pledged to use her star power to "remind the world that Japan is safe" following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The performer, ranked this year's most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine, is in Tokyo for the charity concert MTV Video Music Aid Japan, to be held on Saturday at a convention hall in Chiba near Tokyo.

"I believe it's time to look forward now," a teal-haired Lady Gaga -- or Lady Gaga-san as she is referred to in Japan -- told reporters at a press event in Tokyo on Thursday as she sipped tea on stage in front of photographers.

"It is so important that we continue to raise money. But it is also important that we remind the world that Japan is now safe and that the doors are wide open for tourists from all over the world to come in and enjoy the beautiful country."

She said she would auction off her tea cup to raise funds for the Red Cross.

The American singer has so far donated around $3 million for people in the disaster zones, including revenues from selling a wristband that her Haus of Gaga behind-the-scenes creative team produced, and personal contributions, according to local media.

"I would like to use my position here today and all week-long to run around Tokyo and enjoy the beautiful city and kiss all the beautiful little monsters," she said, referring to the name she gives to her fans.

She pledged to "scream at the top of my lungs that everyone should come to Japan and visit this beautiful place."

Foreign arrivals to Japan in May plunged by half from a year earlier, a third straight monthly drop following the March quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

The massive March 11 earthquake and tsunami left more than 23,000 people dead or missing on Japan's northeast coast and crippled a nuclear power plant that has been leaking radiation into the environment since.

Officials stress that there is no danger from radiation in Tokyo and other popular tourist destinations such as Osaka and the ancient capital of Kyoto.

At the press event, US ambassador John Roos also stressed that "Japan is open for business" after exchanging hugs and kisses with the performer.

"I had breakfast with some US-Japan think-tank experts who said to me, Mr Ambassador, what can we do in order to strengthen the strategic, economic and people-to-people relations between Japan and the United States?", he said.

"And I had one answer. Lady Gaga."

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FEMA to supply homes to those displaced by Joplin tornado (Reuters)

KANSAS CITY, Mo (Reuters) – The Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to build up to 348 modular homes for people displaced by the May 22 tornado in Joplin, Missouri, a FEMA official said on Wednesday.

The three-bedroom, one-bath mobile homes will be placed as needed on city-owned land in the north part of town, said Crystal Payton, a FEMA spokesperson in Joplin.

FEMA has identified 624 families or individuals still in need of housing after losing their homes in the tornado, she said.

"This will allow them to develop a permanent housing solution," Payton said Wednesday. "We will work with them on a monthly basis to get their plans together."

FEMA will pay for the homes, available rent-free until late 2012, Payton said. Occupants must show they are attempting to find permanent housing, she said. FEMA has also placed people in existing mobile home parks and apartments in the area.

Mobile homes were also used for people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, but the Joplin homes will be larger and built to higher construction and air quality standards, Payton said.

A total of 155 people were killed as a result of the massive Joplin tornado, the deadliest in the United States in more than 60 years.

(Reporting by Kevin Murphy; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Jerry Norton)

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