Thirst turns to anger as Australia’s mighty river runs dry

Thirst turns to anger as Australia’s mighty river runs dry
By Tracey Nearmy

MENINDEE, Australia (Reuters) – Reduced to a string of stagnant mustard-colored pools, fouled in places with pesticide runoff and stinking with the rotting carcasses of cattle and fish, the Darling River is running dry.

The parched earth of Australia’s longest waterway, if tributaries are included, is in the grip of the continent’s most severe drought in a century. At Menindee, 830 km west of Sydney, despair has turned to anger as residents blame the government for exacerbating the drought by drawing down river water in 2017 for irrigation and other uses downstream.

Locals now avoid using tap water for drinking and washing babies and children, saying it has caused skin irritation, and prefer boxed and bottled water instead.

“That was our food source, the river, our water source. That was our livelihood,” said Aboriginal elder Patricia Doyle, in her backyard piled with flotsam discovered in the now-exposed riverbed.

“When you live on a river and you have to have water brought into your town to drink and survive on, what’s that saying? It’s saying that our system … isn’t looked after properly.”

The past two years have been the driest in the catchment area of the Darling, which flows 2,844 km (1,767 miles) over the outback to the sea, and adjoining Murray river since records began in 1900.

Drought is weighing on economic growth, and the dire conditions have prompted Australia, a major wheat exporter, to import the grain for the first time in 12 years.

Last summer was the hottest on record, and in Menindee, where temperatures regularly top 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit), another scorching season is expected.

The government has set up a panel to evaluate water management and ordered its anti-trust watchdog to investigate trading in irrigation rights.

‘THE RIVER SHOULD BE FLOWING’

Doyle’s clan is called the Barkindji, or people of the river, and in Aboriginal language, the Darling is called the Barka.

The river is at the heart of stories about the origins of the clan and its cultural life, particularly evident in Menindee where a third of 550 residents are indigenous, compared with a national average of less than 3%.

Lined with river red gums, the Darling also waters some of Australia’s richest grazing land, and until the construction of railways in the early 20th century, was the main route used to take wool and other goods to market.

All aspects of society are now suffering. “The river country itself, it doesn’t provide as much as what it used to,” says Kyle Philip, a Barkindji hunter and goat musterer.

Parents have forbidden children from swimming in the murky water that remains. Fish caught in holes still deep enough to hold water are inedible.

“We could taste the mud in the meat of the perch,” said Philip. “We couldn’t really eat them.”

Recently, Aboriginal communities held special festivals along the river “to heal the Barka”. Ochre-painted dancers performed around fires at dusk, revering the river but also seeking to draw attention to its plight.

“We’re going to start dancing and singing the land,” organizer Bruce Shillingsworth said. “Singing the rivers, singing our environment back again to make it healthy.”

And in the Anglican church at Menindee, there are prayers. “The river should be flowing,” said Reverend Helen Ferguson.

“When that river flows, the people are just abuzz and the whole town just comes to life. But that hasn’t happened for some time now and my prayer is that people don’t get worn down through that.”

(Reporting by Tracey Nearmy in Menindee. Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Karishma Singh)

Japan braces as typhoon charts course for main island

Super typhoon Trami is seen from the International Space Station as it moves in the direction of Japan, September 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media on September 26, 2018. ESA/NASA-A.Gerst/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan braced for high winds and heavy rain as a typhoon roared north on Friday, enveloping outlying islands in high seas before taking aim at the rest of the nation and raking across its biggest main island at the weekend.

Typhoon Trami, rated category 2 by Tropical Storm Risk, with category 5 the highest, is the latest storm to threaten Japan in a year filled with more than the usual number of disasters, including punishing heat, heavy rains, and landslides.

Less than a month ago, a typhoon flooded Kansai International airport near Osaka, leaving thousands of tourists stranded.

Outlying islands in the Okinawan chain, some 1,000 km southwest of Tokyo, were being pounded by heavy seas and strong winds, just two days before an Okinawan gubernatorial election, forcing some areas to hold voting early. The central government set up an emergency office to deal with the storm.

Trami was about 300 km (186 miles) southeast of Miyako island, with winds gusting as high as 216 kilometers an hour (134 mph).

Churning north across Okinawa on Saturday, Trami is then predicted to rake across the islands of Kyushu and the main island of Honshu on Sunday, a path similar to that taken by typhoon Jebi early in September.

Though the Japanese capital of Tokyo is set for heavy rain, current predictions show it avoiding a direct hit.

Jebi, the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 25 years, brought some of the highest tides since a 1961 typhoon and flooded Kansai airport near Osaka, taking it out of service for days.

Seventeen people died in the storm, whose high winds sent trees crashing to the ground and cars scudding across parking lots.

Even for a nation accustomed to disasters, this year has been hard for Japan, starting with a volcanic eruption in January that rained rocks down on a ski resort, killing one.

July brought record-breaking heat that killed at least 80 people and sent over 20,000 to the hospital for treatment, along with torrential rains in western Japan that set off floods and landslides, killing more than 200.

Just two days after Jebi hit in September, the northernmost main island of Hokkaido was rocked by an earthquake that set off landslides, knocked out power throughout the island and killed at least 44 people.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

Typhoon slices through western Japan, killing at least six

An aerial view shows a flooded runway at Kansai airport, which is built on a man-made island in a bay, after Typhoon Jebi hit the area, in Izumisano, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 4, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan issued evacuation advisories for more than a million people and canceled hundreds of flights as Typhoon Jebi sliced across the west on Tuesday, cutting power, overturning cars and killing at least six people.

Jebi, or “swallow” in Korean, was briefly a super typhoon and is the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 25 years following rains, landslides, floods and record-breaking heat that killed hundreds of people this summer.

Television footage showed waves pounding the coastline, sheet metal tumbling across a parking lot, cars turned on their sides, dozens of used cars on fire at an exhibition area, and a big Ferris wheel spinning around in the strong wind.

Parts of the roof of Kyoto train station fall to the ground during Typhoon Jebi, in Kyoto, Japan September 4, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/@CRAZY904KAZ/via REUTERS

Parts of the roof of Kyoto train station fall to the ground during Typhoon Jebi, in Kyoto, Japan September 4, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. TWITTER/@CRAZY904KAZ/via REUTERS

As the typhoon made landfall, a 71-year-old man was found dead under a collapsed warehouse, likely due to a strong wind, and a man in his 70s fell from the roof of a house and died, NHK public television reported, adding more than 90 were injured.

NHK and broadcaster TBS put the number of deaths at six.

Tides in some areas were the highest since a typhoon in 1961, NHK said, with flooding covering one runway at Kansai airport near Osaka, forcing the closure of the airport and leaving about 3,000 tourists stranded.

“This storm is super (strong). I hope I can get home,” a woman from Hong Kong told NHK at the airport.

The strong winds and high tides sent a 2,591-tonne tanker crashing into a bridge connecting the airport, built on a man-made island in a bay, to the mainland. The bridge was damaged and closed, but the tanker was empty and none of its crew was injured, the coast guard said.

The storm made landfall on Shikoku, the smallest main island, around noon. It raked across the western part of the largest main island, Honshu, near the city of Kobe, several hours later, before heading into the Sea of Japan in the evening.

The center of Jebi was about 100 km west-northwest of Sado in Niigata prefecture, central Japan, and heading north-northeast, NHK said.

Evacuation advisories were issued for more than a million people at one point, the Fire and Disaster Management Agency said. Wind gusts of up to 208 km/h (129 mph) were recorded in one part of Shikoku.

Around 100 mm (3.9 inches) of rain drenched one part of the tourist city of Kyoto in an hour, with as much as 500 mm (20 inches) set to fall in some areas in the 24 hours to noon on Wednesday.

Video posted on Twitter showed a small part of the roof of Kyoto train station falling to the ground. Other video showed roofs being torn off houses, transformers on electric poles exploding and a car scudding on its side across a parking lot.

Nearly 800 flights were canceled, along with scores of ferries and trains, NHK said. Shinkansen bullet train services between Tokyo and Okayama were suspended and Universal Studios Japan, a popular amusement park near Osaka, was closed.

Some 1.6 million households were without power in Osaka and its surrounding areas at 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) Toyota Motor Corp said it was canceling the night shift at 14 plants.

The capital, Tokyo, escaped the center of the storm but was set for heavy rains and high winds.

Jebi’s course brought it close to parts of western Japan hit by rains and flooding that killed more than 200 people in July but most of the damage this time appeared to be from the wind.

(Additional reporting by Osamu Tsukimori, Naomi Tajitsu, and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Nick Macfie)