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Southern California residents brace for “big one” after twin quakes, but experts say chances are low

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After a pair of earthquakes in Southern California, residents are bracing for the worst.

By Monday afternoon, the SOS Survival Store in Van Nuys was sold out of earthquake emergency kits, and business owner Jeff Edelstein was adding customers to a two-week wait list for a basic package containing a three-day supply of non-perishable food and water, flashlights and a first-aid essentials to endure the aftermath of major temblor.

The run on Edelstein’s Southern California store started after a 6.4 magnitude quake struck the town of Ridgecrest, more than 100 miles northeast of Van Nuys. The Independence Day shaker was followed by one a day later that measured a magnitude of 7.1.

“It’s been 20 years since we had this large of an earthquake,” Edelstein said. “A lot of people are panic buying, which tends to happen after earthquakes. They’re seeing it on the news, they’re seeing it everywhere. They’re afraid something is going to happen.”

The twin holiday weekend earthquakes sent a double jolt reportedly felt from Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay Area, but earthquake experts said it’s highly unlikely the spike in seismic activity is an omen of the “big one,” the natural catastrophe for which Californians have long been bracing.

Following the back-to-back shakers in the sparsely populated area of Kern County in the Mojave Desert, some seismologists worried that the movement of the tectonic plates could apply pressure to the San Andreas fault, the famed fissure that runs the length of California’s coast and produced a 6.6 magnitude quake that hammered urban areas of Los Angeles County in 1971, killing 64 people and injuring more than 2,500.

The last major earthquake to hit Southern California was the magnitude of 7.1 Hector Mine shaker on the Lavic Lake fault near Barstow, about 80 miles south of Ridgecrest. But that earthquake also happened in a remote area of the Mojave and caused little damage and no injuries.

In contrast, the 6.7 magnitude Northridge shaker in 1994 killed more than 50 people and caused in excess of $40 billion in damage. The Northridge quake occurred on a previously unknown fault 9 miles underground.

“The rule of thumb is about a 5% chance of something bigger happening in the week after. That probability will decrease with time. But it’s certainly not a prelude to a large event on the San Andreas that could be even bigger,” Ole Kaven, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, California, told ABC News.

“The San Andreas is quite a ways away. So it’s very unlikely that these events will have any direct effect on the seismicity or increased hazard of seismicity on the San Andreas itself,” Kaven said.

The Ridgecrest quakes happened in the Airport Lake Fault zone, which runs roughly 50 miles through the Mojave desert and is about 180 miles from the San Andreas fault, Kaven said. The quakes occurred on perpendicular fissures in the zone, including one that had not been previously charted.

The first quake on Thursday was a foreshock to the larger jolt that shook the region on Friday, according to the USGS. Since then, there has been a series of aftershocks, including five measuring 5 to 5.4 on the Richter magnitude scale. At least one magnitude 3 aftershock rattled the area on Monday morning, according to the USGS.

The two largest quakes occurred 8 to 10 miles underground and caused relatively minor damage and very few injuries.

During a packed town hall meeting in Ridgecrest on Sunday afternoon, Capt. Anthony Romero of the Kern County Fire Department told those in attendance that while Thursday’s quake “opened up the eyes of this community,” Friday’s quake “terrified the community.”

Ridgecrest Police Chief Jed McLaughlin said during the town hall meeting that a damage assessment was still being conducted and noted that many residents are so frightened to go back into their homes that they’ve been sleeping in their front yards.

“Look, I’m glad you thought it was safe to be able to sleep out in your front yard, to sleep in your cars. That makes me feel good that you had your faith in us that you could do that, but now I need you to get back in your house,” said McLaughlin. “It is time for recovery.”

Kaven said earthquakes aren’t rare in the Ridgecrest area. He said a 5.8 quake occurred there in 1995.

The most powerful recorded earthquake to rock the area was a magnitude 7.5 in 1872.

Besides the fact that there were major earthquakes on consecutive days, last week’s Ridgecrest shakers were “very typical California earthquakes,” Kaven said.

“The magnitude, the depth, the type of shaking that was experienced at the surface was very akin to what other earthquakes have been and felt like,” he said. “So, it’s a very good reminder that most Californians live in earthquake country and that we need to be prepared for this type of event and safeguard our homes and workplaces and so on.”

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Coronavirus vaccine: when will it be ready?

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Even at their most effective – and draconian – containment strategies have only slowed the spread of the respiratory disease Covid-19. With the World Health Organization finally declaring a pandemic, all eyes have turned to the prospect of a vaccine, because only a vaccine can prevent people from getting sick.

About 35 companies and academic institutions are racing to create such a vaccine, at least four of which already have candidates they have been testing in animals. The first of these – produced by Boston-based biotech firm Moderna – will enter human trials imminently.

This unprecedented speed is thanks in large part to early Chinese efforts to sequence the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. China shared that sequence in early January, allowing research groups around the world to grow the live virus and study how it invades human cells and makes people sick.But there is another reason for the head start. Though nobody could have predicted that the next infectious disease to threaten the globe would be caused by a coronavirus – flu is generally considered to pose the greatest pandemic risk – vaccinologists had hedged their bets by working on “prototype” pathogens. “The speed with which we have [produced these candidates] builds very much on the investment in understanding how to develop vaccines for other coronaviruses,” says Richard Hatchett, CEO of the Oslo-based nonprofit the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi), which is leading efforts to finance and coordinate Covid-19 vaccine development.

Coronaviruses have caused two other recent epidemics – severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in China in 2002-04, and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012. In both cases, work began on vaccines that were later shelved when the outbreaks were contained. One company, Maryland-based Novavax, has now repurposed those vaccines for Sars-CoV-2, and says it has several candidates ready to enter human trials this spring. Moderna, meanwhile, built on earlier work on the Mers virus conducted at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Bethesda, Maryland.

Sars-CoV-2 shares between 80% and 90% of its genetic material with the virus that caused Sars – hence its name. Both consist of a strip of ribonucleic acid (RNA) inside a spherical protein capsule that is covered in spikes. The spikes lock on to receptors on the surface of cells lining the human lung – the same type of receptor in both cases – allowing the virus to break into the cell. Once inside, it hijacks the cell’s reproductive machinery to produce more copies of itself, before breaking out of the cell again and killing it in the process.

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All vaccines work according to the same basic principle. They present part or all of the pathogen to the human immune system, usually in the form of an injection and at a low dose, to prompt the system to produce antibodies to the pathogen. Antibodies are a kind of immune memory which, having been elicited once, can be quickly mobilised again if the person is exposed to the virus in its natural form.

Traditionally, immunisation has been achieved using live, weakened forms of the virus, or part or whole of the virus once it has been inactivated by heat or chemicals. These methods have drawbacks. The live form can continue to evolve in the host, for example, potentially recapturing some of its virulence and making the recipient sick, while higher or repeat doses of the inactivated virus are required to achieve the necessary degree of protection. Some of the Covid-19 vaccine projects are using these tried-and-tested approaches, but others are using newer technology. One more recent strategy – the one that Novavax is using, for example – constructs a “recombinant” vaccine. This involves extracting the genetic code for the protein spike on the surface of Sars-CoV-2, which is the part of the virus most likely to provoke an immune reaction in humans, and pasting it into the genome of a bacterium or yeast – forcing these microorganisms to churn out large quantities of the protein. Other approaches, even newer, bypass the protein and build vaccines from the genetic instruction itself. This is the case for Moderna and another Boston company, CureVac, both of which are building Covid-19 vaccines out of messenger RNA.

Cepi’s original portfolio of four funded Covid-19 vaccine projects was heavily skewed towards these more innovative technologies, and last week it announced $4.4m (£3.4m) of partnership funding with Novavax and with a University of Oxford vectored vaccine project. “Our experience with vaccine development is that you can’t anticipate where you’re going to stumble,” says Hatchett, meaning that diversity is key. And the stage where any approach is most likely to stumble is clinical or human trials, which, for some of the candidates, are about to get under way.

 

Clinical trials, an essential precursor to regulatory approval, usually take place in three phases. The first, involving a few dozen healthy volunteers, tests the vaccine for safety, monitoring for adverse effects. The second, involving several hundred people, usually in a part of the world affected by the disease, looks at how effective the vaccine is, and the third does the same in several thousand people. But there’s a high level of attrition as experimental vaccines pass through these phases. “Not all horses that leave the starting gate will finish the race,” says Bruce Gellin, who runs the global immunisation programme for the Washington DC-based nonprofit, the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

There are good reasons for that. Either the candidates are unsafe, or they’re ineffective, or both. Screening out duds is essential, which is why clinical trials can’t be skipped or hurried. Approval can be accelerated if regulators have approved similar products before. The annual flu vaccine, for example, is the product of a well-honed assembly line in which only one or a few modules have to be updated each year. In contrast, Sars-CoV-2 is a novel pathogen in humans, and many of the technologies being used to build vaccines are relatively untested too. No vaccine made from genetic material – RNA or DNA – has been approved to date, for example. So the Covid-19 vaccine candidates have to be treated as brand new vaccines, and as Gellin says: “While there is a push to do things as fast as possible, it’s really important not to take shortcuts.”

An illustration of that is a vaccine that was produced in the 1960s against respiratory syncytial virus, a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms in children. In clinical trials, this vaccine was found to aggravate those symptoms in infants who went on to catch the virus. A similar effect was observed in animals given an early experimental Sars vaccine. It was later modified to eliminate that problem but, now that it has been repurposed for Sars-CoV-2, it will need to be put through especially stringent safety testing to rule out the risk of enhanced disease.

It’s for these reasons that taking a vaccine candidate all the way to regulatory approval typically takes a decade or more, and why President Trump sowed confusion when, at a meeting at the White House on 2 March, he pressed for a vaccine to be ready by the US elections in November – an impossible deadline. “Like most vaccinologists, I don’t think this vaccine will be ready before 18 months,” says Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. That’s already extremely fast, and it assumes there will be no hitches.

In the meantime, there is another potential problem. As soon as a vaccine is approved, it’s going to be needed in vast quantities – and many of the organisations in the Covid-19 vaccine race simply don’t have the necessary production capacity. Vaccine development is already a risky affair, in business terms, because so few candidates get anywhere near the clinic. Production facilities tend to be tailored to specific vaccines, and scaling these up when you don’t yet know if your product will succeed is not commercially feasible. Cepi and similar organisations exist to shoulder some of the risk, keeping companies incentivised to develop much-needed vaccines. Cepi plans to invest in developing a Covid-19 vaccine and boosting manufacturing capacity in parallel, and earlier this month it put out a call for $2bn to allow it to do so.

 

Once a Covid-19 vaccine has been approved, a further set of challenges will present itself. “Getting a vaccine that’s proven to be safe and effective in humans takes one at best about a third of the way to what’s needed for a global immunisation programme,” says global health expert Jonathan Quick of Duke University in North Carolina, author of The End of Epidemics (2018). “Virus biology and vaccines technology could be the limiting factors, but politics and economics are far more likely to be the barrier to immunisation.”

The problem is making sure the vaccine gets to all those who need it. This is a challenge even within countries, and some have worked out guidelines. In the scenario of a flu pandemic, for example, the UK would prioritise vaccinating healthcare and social care workers, along with those considered at highest medical risk – including children and pregnant women – with the overall goal of keeping sickness and death rates as low as possible. But in a pandemic, countries also have to compete with each other for medicines.

Because pandemics tend to hit hardest those countries that have the most fragile and underfunded healthcare systems, there is an inherent imbalance between need and purchasing power when it comes to vaccines. During the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, for example, vaccine supplies were snapped up by nations that could afford them, leaving poorer ones short. But you could also imagine a scenario where, say, India – a major supplier of vaccines to the developing world – not unreasonably decides to use its vaccine production to protect its own 1.3 billion-strong population first, before exporting any.

Outside of pandemics, the WHO brings governments, charitable foundations and vaccine-makers together to agree an equitable global distribution strategy, and organisations like Gavi, the vaccine alliance, have come up with innovative funding mechanisms to raise money on the markets for ensuring supply to poorer countries. But each pandemic is different, and no country is bound by any arrangement the WHO proposes – leaving many unknowns. As Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, points out: “The question is, what will happen in a situation where you’ve got national emergencies going on?”

This is being debated, but it will be a while before we see how it plays out. The pandemic, says Wilder-Smith, “will probably have peaked and declined before a vaccine is available”. A vaccine could still save many lives, especially if the virus becomes endemic or perennially circulating – like flu – and there are further, possibly seasonal, outbreaks. But until then, our best hope is to contain the disease as far as possible. To repeat the sage advice: wash your hands.

• This article was amended on 19 March 2020. An earlier version incorrectly stated that the Sabin Vaccine Institute was collaborating with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) on a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Delta flight attendant praised for helping deaf teen

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In a heartwarming act of kindness from  a nice Delta flight attendant, a note handed to a 16-year-old passenger on board a plane has gone viral on social media.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little gesture to make someone’s day.

Case in point: A mother is praising a Delta flight attendant who took care of her daughter while she was flying by herself. The young girl is deaf, and the flight attendant wrote out a note explaining everything she would need to know for the flight.

Loretta Ober shared a photo of the note on her Twitter account, with the caption: “My daughter who is Deaf took a flight by herself! The attendant handed her this note on the plane! Delta makes it amazing!”

Delta flight attendant

The note reads, “Hi, good morning Ashley, my name is Janna and I will be your flight attendant on today’s flight to JFK.

“There are two buttons above your head; a yellow one that controls the reading light and a big grey one with a person on it that you can use to call me if you need anything. In the case of an emergency, the nearest exit is behind you.

“Those are our over-wing exits. Please don’t hesitate to ask if you need any assistance. Again, my name is Janna and welcome aboard our CRJ200 aircraft.”

Ober’s 16-year-old daughter, Ashley, was flying from Baltimore/Washington International Airport to Kennedy International in New York, WKYT reports.

In a statement to Fox News, a spokesman for Delta said, “We appreciate customers sharing their Delta moments with us, and applaud Janna’s thoughtfulness to help assist this first-time solo flyer.”

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P Chidambaram arrested in INX Media case after night of high drama

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Former Union home and finance minister P Chidambaram was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation after a night of high-voltage drama that saw CBI officers climbing walls to enter Chidambaram’s home. Chidambaram was arrested in the INX Media case, in which he has been accused of wrongdoing, money laundering and misuing the post of finance minister.

Chidambaram was formally arrested at the CBI headquarters after being taken into custody from his Jor Bagh home. He will be produced before a special CBI court (Rouse Avenue) on Thursday, where the agency will seek his remand.

“Mr P Chidambaram has been arrested in connection with INX media case,” a senior official of the agency said.

A CBI spokesperson said he has been arrested on the basis of a warrant issued by a competent court.

After his arrest at his residence, the former minister was taken to Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital where a medical examination was done, sources said.

Chidambaram has been kept in the suit No. 5 of the CBI Guest House on the ground floor of the agency headquarters, they said.

Earlier, Chidambaram, who had not been seen in public since Tuesday evening, made a dramatic appearance at a press conference at the Congress headquarters, and asked probe agencies to “respect” the law and wait till Friday when the Supreme Court is supposed to hear his interim bail plea.

Facing arrest after the Supreme Court refused immediate relief in the INX media case, Chidambaram put up a strong defence of himself and his family members, saying none of them have been accused of any offense by the probe agencies.

“I am aghast that I was accused of hiding from the law,” he said rejecting allegations that he was evading investigating agencies. He said he was working with his lawyers through the last night, preparing his papers or his bail application.

The CBI is investigating Chidambaram in the INX Media case, in which he is accused of wrongdoing and misusing the post of finance minister.

HIGH DRAMA

A cat-and-mouse game followed soon after Chidambaram appeared at the Congress headquarters at 8 pm on Wednesday. A CBI team followed him there only to find that Chidambaram had already left for home. The CBI followed him to his Jor Bagh home.

A team of CBI officers reached Chidambaram’s home and knocked at the main gate for a few minutes before scaling the boundary wall to enter the premises.

Soon, more CBI officers as well as sleuths from the Enforcement Directorate arrived at Chidambaram’s home. A contingent of the Delhi Police too arrived at location to maintain law and order.

Around an hour after the CBI first reached Chidambaram’s home, the CBI whisked him away and took him to the RML Hospital, likely for a medical check-up.

INX MEDIA CASE

The INX Media case is the same scam in which his son Karti was in jail for 23 days before being granted bail by the Delhi High Court.

The scam drew attention as other high profile accused in the same case are jailed – media entrepreneur Peter Mukerjea and his wife Indrani.

Both of them are in jail in connection with the murder of Sheena Bora, who was Indrani’s daughter from her previous marriage.

Karti’s arrest was made on the basis of a statement of Indrani — former Director of INX Media (P) Ltd — to ED, where she had said that the couple had acceded to Karti’s demand of $1 million for allegedly fixing the violations made in the FIPB clearance.

Indrani had on July 11 turned approver in the CBI case.

The names of the couple had cropped up in the case involving Rs 305 crore relating to Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) approval granted in 2007 for receipt of funds by INX Media.

Karti Chidambaram, elected MP from Shivaganga, Tamil Nadu, is on bail in the case granted by the Delhi High Court on March 23, 2018.

CBI had registered an FIR in the case on May 15, 2017 alleging irregularities in the FIPB clearance granted to the media group for receiving overseas funds to the tune of Rs 305 crore in 2007 during P Chidambaram’s tenure as finance minister.

Thereafter, ED also lodged the money laundering case against the company’s founders, the Mukerjeas, and others under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

Karti was arrested on February 28, 2018 by the CBI on his return from the United Kingdom.

He was granted interim protection from arrest in the money laundering by the Delhi High Court on March 9, 2018 which was later extended by the apex court on March 14, 2018 the relief which has been extended from time to time.

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