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Sunday
Apr212013

Days After Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Some Residents Return Home

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WEST, Texas) -- After small fires were contained at the site of the massive West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, a town official said on Saturday that some residents are being allowed to return to their homes.

"Everything is safe. Any rumors you've heard today, forget about it," West City Council member Steve Vanek said at a news conference Saturday. "Everything is safe, safe and safe."

While the news was welcome for some of West's displaced residents, those returning are under strict orders to stay in their homes and will also have to adhere to an evening curfew.

Evacuated residents have been waiting to return to assess the condition of their homes and belongings after they were forced to flee at a moment's notice after a blast on Wednesday at West Fertilizer Co. killed at least 14 people, injured 200 more and carved a widespread path of destruction.

Firefighters responded at the plant on Wednesday at 7:29 p.m., and after realizing the severity of the situation, began evacuating people in the vicinity.

Approximately 20 minutes later, an explosion tore through a four-to-five block radius, leveling roughly 80 homes and a middle school and trapping 133 residents of a nursing home in rubble. The blast was so powerful, residents said it shook the ground and there were reports of people hearing it several miles away.

"At some buildings, walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back," Waco Police Department Sgt. William Swanton said.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation

Donald Adair, the owner of West Fertilizer Co. and a lifelong resident of the town, said Friday his heart was "broken with grief."

"This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come," Adair said in a statement.

"My family and I can't express enough our deep appreciation for the loving service and selfless sacrifice from within and around our community responding to the urgent needs of those affected," he said.

Adair vowed his company would "pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community."

As the town works to rebuild after the tragedy, Vanek said a large memorial service is being planned to honor the victims, many of whom were first responders.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Sep042012

Bear Epidemic Expected to Worsen in the West

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Across the West, communities are in the midst of a black bear epidemic this summer as the hungry critters venture into backyards and neighborhoods in a search for food.

Cities like Vail, Colo., have received more than 50 calls about problem bears in August alone.  Bear calls are also skyrocketing in places like Aspen, Colo.  Police there recorded 292 calls about bears in August, compared to only 38 last year, according to the Aspen Times.

The bear encounters have largely been fueled by a search for food -- something bears will need a lot more of as they bulk up for winter hibernation.  In other words, the problem is about to get worse.

“They’re looking at trying to consume 20,000 calories a day.  They will spend 20 of 24 hours a day looking for food,” said Randy Hampton with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department.

It’s bad news for people like Melissa Carroll of Eagle, Colo.  She’s endured five separate bear invasions in her home this year, including one face-to-face encounter on her back porch.  The bear tore its claws into a back door trying to escape, leaving behind serious damage.

“Seeing one right like that, it took me a long time to calm down,” she told ABC News.

The wave of bruin break-ins can partly be blamed on severe drought.  A lack of rain means natural foods are scarce, sending bears hunting for an easy alternative: people food.  Bears have been spotted breaking into trash cans, searching for any calories they can get.  One bear even broke into a candy shop near Estes Park, Colo., to steal sweets.

The bad news for bears is that human foods get them accustomed to people, which inevitably leads to trouble.

“Generally the bear has to be put down once it becomes aggressive,” Hampton says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Aug142012

Western Wildfires: More Than 60 Fires Rage Across 10 States

File photo. iStockphoto/Thinkstock(CLE ELUM, Wash.) -- The long hot summer of 2012 has turned the West into a tinderbox. More than 60 fires are raging in at least 10 states.

Cle Elum, Wash., has not had a drop of rain for three weeks. Add to that scorching heat and high winds and the town is on the edge.

Rhonda Griffin spent the day putting out hotspots after a sleepless night watching the garage and the shop next to her house burn to the ground. Somehow, even though every bit of land around her burned, her home survived.

The fire moved with incredible speed, blowing up from hundreds to thousands of acres in just hours and nearly overrunning a sanctuary for rescued lab chimps.

"Crews were running," said volunteer firefighter Gary Ackerson. "If you were caught in the wrong place you were getting in your rig and bugging out."

The staff at the sanctuary said the chimps are scared, but now out of danger.

Tuesday afternoon, Tricia Roghair and her husband and father-in-law were asleep in the living room after a night of battling flames with garden hoses.

Bone dry conditions, extreme heat and even dry lightning have scorched dozens of miles across Utah, Oregon and Northern California this week as well.  Firefighters battling the blazes are facing one of their deadliest years on record. Eleven firefighters have been killed in the line of duty so far this year.

Many of them are young seasonal workers like 20-year-old Anne Veseth, an energetic college student, who was killed in Idaho on Sunday by a falling tree.

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A fire safety officer told ABC News that even though the work is dangerous, young firefighters are closely watched to make sure they don’t get into deadly trouble.

"Fire fighting is inherently dangerous," said fire safety officer Steve Laramie. "We have many eyes looking around making sure everybody’s safe."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
May162012

Annular Solar Eclipse 2012: Visible in West on Sunday

PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Enjoy the sun. If you live along a narrow band across the southwestern United States, Sunday afternoon will bring the rare treat of an annular solar eclipse -- a ring of sunlight as the new moon, passing between Earth and the Sun, blocks most, but not all, of the Sun’s disc.

Mind you, this is not the kind of eclipse of which you usually see pictures -- the moon blocking the sun completely, creating a few moments of near-night in the middle of the day, with only the sun’s ethereal corona visible around the moon’s edges.  The sky will darken a bit, but there will still be a blindingly bright ring (an “annulus” in Latin) of sun, and it’s dangerous to look directly at it.

Still, there will be a striking sight to see, if you look at a heavily-filtered image projected onto a screen through binoculars or a small telescope, or protect your eyes with No. 14 arcwelders glass (not something found at most hardware stores).

The ring will be visible Sunday afternoon in a strip that begins on the California-Oregon coast and stretches southeastward across Reno, Nev., the Grand Canyon, and Albuquerque, N.M., and ends at sunset near Lubbock, Texas.  

Why this rare annular eclipse?  Because the moon, constant in size as it appears, does not move in a perfect circle around us.  Its orbit is slightly elliptical.  On average, it’s about 239,000 miles away, but at its closest it comes within about 225,000 miles of us.  At its farthest -- as it will be Sunday -- it’s a little more than 250,000 miles away.  It’s just enough of a difference so that the moon will only cover 88 percent of the sun.

The Interior Department points out that a number of national parks -- Redwoods and Lassen in California, Zion in Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona, Petroglyph National Monument in New Mexico -- will all be at the center of the eclipse path.

But if you’re in the eclipse path, you really just need a place with a good clear view westward. You may want to go to a local observatory or planetarium, where viewing parties are likely.

And if you don’t feel like investing in welder’s glasses, you may be happy -- seriously -- with a piece of paper, or leafy trees around you.  Prick a small hole in the paper and it will act as a tiny lens, projecting a miniscule image of the sun onto the pavement.  Likewise, take advantage of the natural pinholes in many leaves.  As the eclipse approaches maximum, look down, not up.  If you’re lucky, you’ll see hundreds of little eclipse images dancing on the ground beneath your feet.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Nov202010

Storms Dump Snow, Rain in Parts of Western US

Photo Courtesy - ABC News/KOMO-TV Seattle(SEATTLE) -- Parts of the west are getting slammed by powerful, winter like storms.

Up to two feet of snow fell in parts of Washington. There was heavy rain and mountain snow from California into Utah and Montana. Higher elevations could get five feet of snow.

“Saturday and Sunday night could be some of our heaviest,” said Brian O’Hara of the National Weather Service.

Another storm is moving into Washington and Oregon bringing more snow, rain and high winds.

Winter warnings and watches have been posted in 11 western states.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio







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