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SKYE on AOL

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    This image shows the amount of summer sea ice in the Arctic on Sept. 16, at center in white, and the 1979 to 2000 average extent for the day shown, with the yellow line. (AP Photo/U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center)

    DOHA, Qatar (AP) - An area of Arctic sea ice bigger than the United States melted this year, according the United Nations weather agency, which said the dramatic decline illustrates that climate change is happening "before our eyes."

    In a report released at U.N. climate talks in the Qatari capital of Doha, the World Meteorological Organization said the Arctic ice melt was one of a myriad of extreme and record-breaking weather events to hit the planet in 2012. Droughts devastated nearly two-thirds of the United States as well western Russia and southern Europe. Floods swamped west Africa and heat waves left much of the Northern Hemisphere sweltering.

    But it was the ice melt that seemed to dominate the annual climate report, with the U.N. concluding ice cover had reached "a new record low" in the area around the North Pole and that the loss from March to September was a staggering 4.57 million square miles - an area bigger than the United States.

    "The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth's oceans and biosphere," WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said. "Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records."

    SEE ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

    The dire climate news - following on the heels of a report Tuesday that found melting permafrost could significantly amplify global warming - comes as delegates from nearly 200 countries struggled for a third day to lay the groundwork for a deal that would cut emissions in an attempt to ensure that temperatures don't rise more than 3.6 degrees F over what they were in preindustrial times. Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees F, according to the latest report by the IPCC.

    Discord between rich and poor countries on who should do what has kept the two-decade-old U.N. talks from delivering on that goal, and global emissions are still going up.

    Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, urged delegates to heed the science and quickly take action.

    "When I had the privilege in 2007 of accepting the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC, in my speech I asked the rhetorical question, 'Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear?'" he said. "I am not sure our voice is louder today but it is certainly clearer on the basis of the new knowledge."

    Delegates in Doha are bickering over money from rich countries to help poorer ones adapt to and combat the impacts of climate change, and whether developed countries will sign onto an extension of a legally binding emissions pact, the Kyoto Protocol, that would run until 2020.

    A pact that once incorporated all industrialized countries except the United States would now include only the European Union, Australia and several smaller countries which together account for less than 15 percent of global emissions. And the United States is refusing to offer any bolder commitments to cut its emissions beyond a non-binding pledge to reduce emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

    "For developed country parties like the United States and the European Union, the pledges and commitments ... put forward on the table are far below what is required by the science," Su Wei, a member of the Chinese delegation, told reporters. "And far below what is required by their historical responsibility."

    Developing countries have said they are willing to take steps to control emissions, but that they must be given space to build their economies. Although China is the largest carbon polluter and India is rapidly catching up, both countries lag far behind the industrial countries in emissions per person and still have huge populations mired in poverty. They don't see emissions peaking anytime soon.

    "We are still in the process of industrialization. We are also confronted with the enormous task of poverty eradication," said Wei, acknowledging that the country's emissions won't peak by 2020.

    "In order to eradicate poverty, to try to improve the living standards, certainly we need to develop our economy," he said. "So the emissions will need to grow for a period of time."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A woman pedals her loaded tricycle past a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer after receiving relief supplies from a clothing and food distribution center, Monday, Nov. 5, 2012, in Long Beach, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

    A Superstorm Sandy relief volunteer has added her voice to the growing chorus criticizing the American Red Cross relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating storm.

    Michelle Manning writes in The Daily Beast:

    As one of thousands of volunteers working in the Rockaways in the weeks that have followed, I can say that the evidence of my own eyes, confirmed by many of my fellow volunteers and by the leaders of the local relief effort, is that whatever the Red Cross may say, its response has continued to be lamentable.

    Day after day, week after week, the American Red Cross was, quite literally, nowhere to be found. Yet it has raised more than $150 million for Sandy relief alone.

    As Manning points out, a Nov. 2 New York Times article also raised questions about the organization's response, observing that "the agency's delayed arrival in devastated areas of Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens drew intense criticism."

    Back then, the organization blamed delays on traffic congestion, among other factors. Red Cross officials have also defended the organization's response since then.

    Gail McGovern, chief executive officer and president of the Red Cross, told NBC News earlier this month: "I think that we are near flawless so far in this operation."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    This photo mosaic of Mercury's north pole from NASA's Messenger spacecraft shows radar-bright deposits inside permanently shadowed craters on the planet. (NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington)

    By Elizabeth Howell

    It's time to add Mercury to the list of worlds where you can go ice-skating. Confirming decades of suspicion, a NASA spacecraft has spotted vast deposits of water ice on the planet closest to the sun.

    Temperatures on Mercury can reach 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), but around the north pole, in areas permanently shielded from the sun's heat, NASA's Messenger spacecraft found a mix of frozen water and possible organic materials.

    Evidence of big pockets of ice is visible from a latitude of 85 degrees north up to the pole, with smaller deposits scattered as far away as 65 degrees north.

    The find is so enticing that NASA will direct Messenger's observation toward that area in the coming months - when the angle of the sun allows - to get a better look, said Gregory Neumann, a Messenger instrument scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. [Latest Mercury Photos from Messenger]

    "There is an ongoing campaign, when the spacecraft permits, to look further northward," said Neumann, the lead author of one of three Mercury studies published online in the Nov. 29 edition of the journal Science.

    Researchers also believe the south pole has ice, but Messenger's orbit has not allowed them to obtain extensive measurements of that region yet.

    Messenger will spiral closer to the planet in 2014 and 2015 as it runs out of fuel and is perturbed by the sun's and Mercury's gravity. This will let researchers peer closer at the water ice as they figure out how much is there.

    Similarities to the moon

    Speculation about water ice on Mercury dates back more than 20 years.

    In 1991, Earth-bound astronomers fired radar signals to Mercury and received results showing there could be ice at both poles. This was reinforced by 1999 measurements using the more powerful Arecibo Observatorymicrowave beam in Puerto Rico. Radar pictures beamed back to New Mexico's Very Large Array showed white areas that researchers suspected was water ice.

    A closer view, however, required a spacecraft. Messenger settled into Mercury's orbit in March 2011, after a few flybys. Almost immediately, NASA used a laser altimeter to probe the poles. The laser is weak - about the strength of a flashlight - but just powerful enough to distinguish bright icy areas from the darker, surrounding Mercury regolith.

    Neumann said the result was "curious": There were few bright spots inside craters.

    Team member John Cavanaugh was pretty sure of what they were finding, Neumann recalled. Cavanaugh had been a part of NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team, and he had seen a similar strange pattern on Earth's moon when LRO found ice at the lunar poles in 2009.

    Flash heating on Mercury would mix nearly all of its ice with the surrounding regolith - as well as with possible organic material borne to the planet by comets and ice-rich asteroids.

    "So what you're seeing is the fact that water ice can't survive indefinitely in these locations because the temperatures apparently spike up," Neumann said.

    Organics the big surprise

    The team expected to find water ice on Mercury. Indeed, Messenger already drew a link this year between permanently shadowed areas on the planet and the "radar bright" spots seen from Earth.

    All researchers needed to do was point their instruments in the right spot, seek out bright areas and then measure the temperature and composition.

    Messenger's neutron spectrometer spotted hydrogen, which is a large component of water ice. But the temperature profile unexpectedly showed that dark, volatile materials - consistent with climes in which organics - are mixing in with the ice.

    "This was very exciting. You are looking for bright stuff, and you see dark stuff - gee, it's something new," Neumann said.

    Organic materials are life's ingredients, though they do not necessarily lead to life itself. While some scientists think organics-bearing comets sparkedlife on Earth, the presence of organics is also suspected on airless, distant worlds such as Pluto. Scientists say comets carrying organic bits smashed into other planets frequently during the solar system's history.

    Researchers are now working to determine if they indeed saw organics on Mercury. So far, they suspect Mercury's water ice is coated with a 4-inch (10 centimeters) blanket of "thermally insulating material," according to Neumann's paper.

    It will take further study to figure out exactly what this material is, but Neumann said the early temperature curves could show organic materials such as amino acids.

    Follow Elizabeth Howell @howellspace, or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Water-Ice On Mercury - How It Was Found | Video
    Most Enduring Mysteries of Mercury
    NASA's Messenger Mission to Mercury (Infographic)

    Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Photographers with Reuters news agency reflect on covering Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. "It just felt like driving through Beirut," says one photographer.

     

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    Thinkstock

    By BARBARA ORTUTAY, AP Technology Writer

    NEW YORK (AP) - "Do we still have a TV?"

    That's the text message I got from my husband as I walked up the steps to our Brooklyn apartment on a Friday afternoon this fall. I was fairly sure that we did. I opened the door. Cats, check. TV, check.

    He needed to know because we'd just entrusted a stranger, by most senses of the word, with keys to our home and with it, access to everything we own. It was with the same implicit trust she'd placed in us when she asked to spend a couple of nights on our futon, sight unseen.

    We did this through Couchsurfing.org, whose motto is helping you "meet and adventure with new friends around the world." No money changes hands. Maybe a drink or a meal out, or a promise of an open couch in return, should you find yourself in Barcelona, Budapest or Bali. Another service, Airbnb, lets people rent out their homes, rooms, tree houses or whatever other dwellings they choose.

    These are just two of the online tools that help people who want to branch out beyond hotels, motels and hostels and explore peer-to-peer accommodations to stay in the homes of ordinary people.

    Reasons to do this are as varied as the places where you'll rest your head if you sign up for them - to save money, to see places underserved by traditional lodging services, or simply to meet locals.

    While neither is particularly new (the idea behind Couchsurfing dates back to 1999, while Airbnb launched in 2008), both are gaining traction beyond adventurous city folk and student travelers with the help of social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth. To get started, simply visit their websites, browse the offerings and sign up for an account to make the arrangements.

    Hosting can be a treat, too. Left without a real vacation budget this year, hosting Couchsurfers in our small one-bedroom apartment was a way to invite people from faraway places into our little corner of the world. If meeting interesting people is one of the best things about traveling, why not have the people come to you?

    We had guests from Austria, Australia and more. Some did the dishes. A couple of women from Sweden, we barely saw, their presence indicated mostly by humungous suitcases and late-night entries. But they were sweet, in their early 20s and orbiting a different realm. One morning, I made pumpkin pancakes for one of them. One night, my husband and I went to sleep instead of going out with them to hear a DJ. I felt old.

    One Couchsurfer hung out with us all weekend as we introduced her to such time-honored American traditions as brunch, a Bloody Mary and a Sunday evening dance party on the bank of one of New York's most polluted waterways, the Gowanus Canal. We walked around a stretch of Brooklyn we'd never seen before and happened upon a small cat colony in an abandoned building.

    That was about two months ago. She was back on our futon over Thanksgiving, having traveled to other U.S. cities in the meantime. In the intervening weeks, we'd followed one another on the photo-sharing site Instagram. That's how it came to be that we had no qualms leaving her in our apartment alone while we visited family for Thanksgiving dinner.

    Whether or not you let them stay when you're not home is obviously up to you. For us, it comes down to knowing enough about our guests by spending time with them. Your home is not a hotel, so people shouldn't expect that they will automatically be handed keys. The only thing you've promised is a roof.

    As guests, we tried out Airbnb for a late-summer jaunt to upstate New York to try something more informal, cozier and hopefully cheaper than a Holiday Inn or Hilton. It worked out.

    We stayed one night in a wonderful farmhouse of a couple whose kids have left for college ($85 per night for a large room and our own bathroom). Another night was in a cabin on an old family chicken farm ($125 per night for a cabin that sleeps four). A Holiday Inn in the same area runs $100 to $150 per night for two people, and you probably wouldn't share wine and travel stories with other guests in the lobby while a little old dog scurries around your feet.

    Airbnb's commercial transaction removed a level of uncertainty from our trip, but it added a layer of formality and distance that didn't exist with Couchsurfing. Take the simple act of sharing a drink with your host or guest. One of our Airbnb hosts politely demurred, while our Couchsurfing guests were usually game for a beer or three. But just try inviting the hotel concierge up to your room for a glass of wine and see what happens.

    Which site to go with depends on what you want out of an experience. Both, and others such as the long-running vrbo.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner), offer an alternative to traditional hotels and a chance to dive into life as a local. In San Francisco, where Airbnb is based, the company recently launched "local lounges," established coffee shops where Airbnb guests can stop in to get a welcome and a travel guide.

    On Airbnb, the focus is on the accommodation. The best listings will have plenty of photos and reviews from other users. Couchsurfing profiles, meanwhile, read more like dating sites (though the rules bar using the site as such) or a place to find random new friends. You add photos and other users as friends. You can flesh out your profile to include musical tastes and life philosophy (my husband "would much rather try something stupid, dangerous or bad for me than risk feeling regret over missing out on something at the end of the line." I married the right man).

    Since there are no commercial transactions on Couchsurfing, the site uses other ways to verify that people are who they say they are. Paying $25 will match the name you put on the site with the name you use with your bank. If you do that, you'll get the words "identity checked" next to your profile. Couchsurfing then mails a postcard with a special code to the address you provided. Once you enter the code on the website, you are "verified." We were more likely to accept verified guests, though it wasn't a requirement.

    I also connected my Facebook account with my Airbnb and Couchsurfing profiles and checked out the Facebook pages of potential hosts and guests. We even used some interest-based filters to vet potential Couchsurfing guests. For example, having been to the annual Burning Man event in Nevada will likely get you in our door, while other hosts might automatically disqualify you for that.

    The more you use the sites, the more friends and reviews you get from other users, which further serves to ensure trust. It's a bit like eBay, and how your cred improves the more transactions you do and do well.

    The rest comes down to gut feelings. We made it clear to potential guests that we live in a small apartment and that they'd be sleeping on our fold-out futon in a living room with no doors, possibly with one or two cats on top of them. On weekends, we stroll around the city to explore new and old sights, scenes and tastes.

    If that's not your cup of tea, the Hilton in Times Square might be a better bet. I won't forgo hotels now that I've tried out Couchsurfing and Airbnb, but it's good to know the options are out there. It certainly makes travel - and staying home- more interesting.

     

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    Vessels navigate through close quarters at a fleeting area, where barges are picked up and dropped off, on the Mississippi River near St. Louis. Mo. (AP)

    ST. LOUIS (AP) - After months of drought, companies that ship grain and other goods down the Mississippi River are being haunted by a potential nightmare: If water levels fall too low, the nation's main inland waterway could become impassable to barges just as the harvest heads to market.

    Any closure of the river would upend the transport system that has carried American grain since before steamboats and Mark Twain. So shipping companies are scrambling to find alternative ways to move tons of corn, wheat and other crops to the Gulf Coast for shipment overseas.

    "You can't just wait until it shuts down and suddenly say, 'There's a problem,'" said Rick Calhoun, head of marine operations for Chicago-based Cargill Inc. "We're always looking at Plan B."

    The mighty Mississippi is approaching the point where it may become too shallow for barges that carry food, fuel and other commodities. If the river is closed for a lengthy period, experts say, economic losses could climb into the billions of dollars.

    It isn't just the shipping and grain industries that will feel the pinch. Grocery prices and utility bills could rise. And deliveries of everything from road-clearing rock salt for winter and fertilizer for the spring planting season could be late and in short supply.

    "The longer it lasts, the worse it gets," said Don Sweeney, associate director of the Center for Transportation Studies at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. "It's inevitable that it will mean higher prices down the road."

    The focus of greatest concern is a 180-mile stretch of the river between the confluences of the Missouri River near St. Louis and the Ohio River at Cairo, Ill. That's where lack of rain has squeezed the channel from its normal width of 1,000 feet or more to just a few hundred feet.

    The river depth is 15 to 20 feet less than normal, now about 13 feet deep in many places. If it dips to around 9 feet, rock pinnacles at two locations make it difficult, if not impossible, for barges to pass. Hydrologists for the National Weather Service predict the Mississippi will reach the 9-foot mark by Dec. 9.

    The situation worsened last week when the Army Corps of Engineers began reducing the outflow from an upper Missouri River dam in South Dakota, where a group of experts said Thursday that the worst U.S. drought in decades had intensified over the last week.

    The flow is gradually being cut by more than two-thirds by Dec. 11 as part of an effort to ease the effects of the drought in the northern Missouri River basin.

    Lawmakers from Mississippi River states are frustrated with the corps' action and even requested a presidential emergency declaration to overturn it. So far, the White House has not responded.

    On Thursday, Army Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy told Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and some of his colleagues from Iowa and Minnesota that the corps would consider cutting the amount of water held back from the Mississippi.

    Darcy also pledged to expedite removal of rock formations south of St. Louis, though that work would take at least two months after a contractor is hired.

    To Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, the stakes couldn't be higher.

    "There is going to be a dramatic ripple effect to our economy if the barge traffic grinds to halt, which clearly it will if something is not done to avert this crisis," she said.

    Her Missouri colleague in the Senate, Republican Roy Blunt, acknowledged "friction" between upper Missouri River interests that control the flow and those downstream on the lower Missouri and Mississippi rivers. He said the corps "needs to manage that balance."

    Over the years, parts of the river have occasionally been closed because of low water, barge accidents, dredging, ice and flooding. But this shutdown, if it happens, would affect a pivotal stretch that is used for heavy two-way traffic - shipments going south to the Gulf as well as transports from the Illinois and Ohio rivers headed north to Chicago and Minneapolis.

    A two-month shutdown - the length of time that some observers fear given current conditions - would have an estimated impact of $7 billion, according to the river industry trade group American Waterways Operators.

    Consider agricultural products. It costs 30 to 35 cents more per bushel to send grain to the Gulf by rail instead of barge - a massive figure when calculating the millions of bushels shipped downriver.

    "When you think of all we buy at the grocery store that has grain and corn, consumers could really see it hit them in the pocketbooks," said Ann McCulloch of the Waterways Operators group.

    The Coast Guard controls navigation on the river and decides when to require restrictions or shut it down.

    "It's really played by ear," Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said. "The Mississippi River is a dynamic environment."

    River shippers are bracing for the worst, weighing train and truck alternatives to move a staggering volume of cargo, if necessary.

    Seven million tons of farm products are shipped via barge in a typical December-January period, along with 3.8 million tons of coal, 1.7 million tons of chemical products, 1.3 million tons of petroleum products and 700,000 tons of crude oil, McCulloch said.

    Trains already haul a vast volume of material, but switching from river to rail isn't that easy, especially on short notice. Cargill, for example, uses 1,300 of its own barges on inland waterways. Finding that much capacity elsewhere is no simple task.

    "We'll look for other sources of transportation to the extent we can. But if you take away this important artery, you can't just snap your fingers and replace it with trains," Calhoun said. "There aren't just trains sitting around. They're already pretty busy with their business on their books."

    Tractor-trailers can pick up some of the slack. But some cargo, such as coal, just isn't cost-effective to haul by truck over long distances, said Bob Costello, an economist with the American Trucking Associations.

    Businesses operating directly on the river are bound to suffer, too.

    George Foster founded JB Marine Service Inc. in St. Louis 36 years ago to make a living fixing and cleaning barges. An extended river closure may force layoffs, he said. He figures many other companies will be forced to cut jobs, too.

    "It's extremely dire," Foster said. "There's no way to sugarcoat it."

    RELATED ON SKYE: 7 Surprising Health Effects of Drought

     

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    Donna Gugger, left, and Teresa deGavre, pose with the West Point uniform jacket Gugger found on a beach in New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy. The jacket belonged to deGavre's late husband Chester B. deGavre, a U.S. Army Brig. General. (AP Photo/Eastern Shore News, Malissa Watterson)

    RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Donna Gugger's heart was heavy as she sifted through the scattered debris and devastation left by Superstorm Sandy along the Jersey Shore. Pieces of broken furniture. Shards of metal. Chairs ripped off patios. Blue jeans tossed out of bureaus.

    But there was something different about that swath of gray cloth with shiny brass buttons. She stopped to take a second look, leaning down to tug on an edge of the fabric that peeked out from under the sand. At first glance, she thought it was an elaborate Halloween costume - a jacket that reminded her of the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper.

    It was no costume. Gugger had stumbled across an 80-year-old tunic owned by a 1933 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, a World War II hero described in his West Point yearbook as a soldier with a "heart like a stormy sea."

    The jacket's journey is as mysterious as its history. No one knows how it ended up on the Jersey Shore, hundreds of miles north of the late warrior Chester B. deGavre's home on Virginia's Eastern Shore. His 98-year-old widow, Tita deGavre, didn't even know it existed.

    But now that it has been found, the jacket is more than just a recovered forgotten relic.

    For deGavre, it is another part of her late husband to cherish. She plans to hang it on the wall along with some of his other military garb and awards at the Deep Creek Plantation, a sprawling Virginia landscape along the shore where she also found her husband's missing West Point ring years ago.

    "I found it most impossible to believe," deGavre said after Gugger drove five hours earlier this week to deliver the ornate jacket. "Where could it have been all this time?"

    Chester deGavre's parents used to live in Red Bank, less than 10 miles southwest of where the jacket was found. But that was years ago and the house has been sold many times over.

    "Somebody must have had (the jacket) under great care, and whether their house blew away with Sandy, I don't know," said deGavre, who met her husband while he was overseas in her native England. They married in 1948.

    "It's all a big mystery, but I'm happy about it."

    To Gugger, the jacket is nothing less than a symbol of resurrection and renewal in a landscape scarred by sorrow and loss.

    The 48-year-old pharmaceutical consultant from Holland, Pa., found the military clothing while she and other members of the Sandy Hook Bay Catamaran Club helped clean up damage from Sandy, which struck in late October.

    "I saw blue jeans, I had seen jackets, chairs, backpacks - all kinds of things," she said. "And to go from a point of looking at devastation and the sadness that was associated with that, to find that something so good could potentially come out of the findings in all of that debris, I was just overjoyed."

    Gugger took the jacket home, shook out the sand, and washed it off. It was in extraordinary condition, and upon closer examination, she noticed the words "West Point" and "issued to deGavre" on the inside. Determined to get the jacket back to its rightful owner, she contacted West Point's Association of Graduates, which cleaned and preserved it and tracked down deGavre's family.

    The heavy coat, studded with brass buttons down the front and sleeves, hasn't changed much since it was first adopted at the academy around 1816, said retired Army Col. Chris Needels, a 1965 graduate of West Point and family friend of the deGavres. With its tails, intricate stitching, and diagonal gold braids on the shoulders, the jacket is still worn by cadets for formal occasions and in parades.

    Before his death in 1993 at age 85, Chester deGavre was a retired Army brigadier general, a pioneering paratrooper and chief of staff for the 1944 airborne invasion of southern France. He was one of the first Army officers to take parachute training at the start of World War II, joining the Airborne Command at Fort Bragg, N.C. The Newark, N.J., native improved techniques and standardized equipment for the airborne forces as a parachute-training officer and chief of test and development. His decorations included a Silver Star from the Korean War and the Legion of Merit with three oak-leaf clusters.

    "This was a soldier, this was a war hero, somebody who risked his life for our country, and I was determined to get it back to the family," Gugger said of the jacket.

    "It's a miracle because it's still a mystery how it made it to that beach and for me to have even had the opportunity to pick it up. It's not really about the jacket, it's about the journey."

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    The end of the 2012 hurricane season left an impression, as historic Sandy wreaked immense damage in the Northeast.

    Photos: 2012 Hurricane Season
    Link: 2012 Atlantic Hurricane Season Wallpaper


    2012 tied 1887, 1995, 2010 and 2011 as the third most-active year on record in the Atlantic, with a total of 19 named storms in the Atlantic Basin. A normal hurricane season has around 12 storms, with around six hurricanes and close to three major hurricanes. The most active hurricane season was 2005, with 28 named storms, including Hurricane Katrina.

    Category 5 = 0
    Category 4 = 0
    Category 3 = 1
    Category 2 = 3
    Category 1 = 6
    Tropical storm = 9

    Number of land-falling storms on the U.S.: 4

    Highest category: Michael, Category 3

    No major hurricane (Category 3 or higher) has hit U.S. since 2005.

    Lowest pressure in a hurricane: Sandy, 940 mb

    Highest wind: Michael, 115mph

    Earliest storm: Alberto, May 19

    Latest storm: Sandy, Oct. 29

    Costliest storm: Sandy, according to The New York Times

    Longest duration: Nadine, 24 days

    Shortest duration: Joyce, 3 days



    The statistics come from the National Hurricane Center.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Breaking Weather: Rain Train Slams California

    The Western states will see another wet day on Friday, while the East will remain quiet and dry. A low pressure system spinning off the West Coast will continue pushing disturbances eastward throughout the day. A cold front will continue making its way southeastward throughout the day, bringing more rain showers to central and southern California, while the northern side of this system will move eastward through the Intermountain West and into the Northern Rockies.

    Expect snow showers to develop above 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas with 3 to 5 inches of snow likely in these areas. Rainfall totals will range from 1 to 3 inches below 7,000 feet. Idaho and Montana will also see a combination of rain and snow showers, with rainfall amounts from 2 to 3 inches. Snowfall accumulations will range from 4 to 6 inches for the Northern Rockies above 6,000 feet on Friday.

    At the same time, another cold front moves into the Pacific Northwest Friday afternoon. This will bring another round of heavy rainfall and strong winds. Flooding will be of concern for the region as the past two storms have soaked the ground.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    This image shows surface melt water rushing along the surface of the Greeland Ice Sheet through a supra-glacial stream channel southwest of Ilulissat, Greenland. (AP Photo/Ian Joughin)

    WASHINGTON (AP) - Fueled by global warming, polar ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are now melting three times faster than they did in the 1990s, a new scientific study says.

    So far, that's only added about half an inch to rising sea levels, not as bad as some earlier worst case scenarios. But the melting's quicker pace, especially in Greenland, has ice scientists worried.

    One of the biggest wild cards in climate change has been figuring out how much the melting of the massive sheets of ice at the two poles would add to the seas. Until now, researchers haven't agreed on how fast the mile-thick sheets are thawing - and if Antarctica was even losing ice.

    The new research concludes that Antarctica is melting, but points to the smaller ice sheet in Greenland, which covers most of the island, as the bigger and more pressing issue. Its melt rate has grown from about 55 billion tons a year in the 1990s to almost 290 billion tons a year recently, according to the study.

    "Greenland is really taking off," said National Snow and Ice Data Center scientist Ted Scambos, a co-author of the paper released Thursday by the journal Science.

    Study lead author Andrew Shepherd of the University of Leeds in England, said their results provide a message for negotiators in Doha, Qatar, who are working on an international agreement to fight global warming: "It's very clear now that Greenland is a problem."

    Scientists blame man-made global warming for the melting. Burning fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, emits carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that trap heat, warming the atmosphere and oceans. Bit-by-bit, that erodes the ice sheets from above and below. Snowfall replenishes the ice sheets, but hasn't kept pace with the rate of melting.

    Because the world's oceans are so big, it takes a lot of ice melting - about 10 trillion tons - to raise sea levels 1 inch. Since 1992, ice sheets at the poles have lost nearly 5 trillion tons of ice, the study says, raising sea levels by about a half inch.

    That seemingly tiny extra bit probably worsened the flooding from an already devastating Superstorm Sandy last month, said NASA ice scientist Erik Ivins, another co-author of the study. He said the extra weight gives each wave a little more energy.

    "The more energy there is in a wave, the further the water can get inland," Ivins said.

    Globally, the world's oceans rose about half a foot on average in the 20th Century. Melting ice sheets accounts for about one-fifth of sea level rise. Warmer water expands, contributing to the rise along with water from melting glaciers outside the polar regions.

    Just how much ice is melting at the two poles has been difficult for scientists to answer. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not include ice sheet melt in its calculations of future sea level rise because numbers were so uncertain.

    It's an important factor because if all the polar ice sheets somehow melted - something that would take centuries - global sea levels would jump by more than 200 feet, said Pennsylvania State University ice scientist Richard Alley, who wasn't part of the research.

    Some past studies showed melting on the polar ice sheets, while others said that the Antarctic ice sheet was growing and offsetting melting in Greenland. The new work by 47 scientists around the world combines three methods and measurements from 10 satellites to come to a scientific consensus on what's happening to the polar ice sheets.

    In the 1990s, the two ice sheets combined on average lost 110 billion tons of ice each year to melting, the researchers reported. That increased and by 2005 to 2010, they were losing three times as much - 379 billion tons yearly. The numbers don't include the summer of 2012 when Greenland experienced a melt that hadn't been seen in more than a century, researchers said.

    The consensus says that as a whole the Antarctic ice sheet is melting. Part of the issue is that the southern continent is not reacting to climate change uniformly, with some areas growing and others shrinking. The entire Antarctic ice sheet is about the size of the U.S. and Mexico combined.

    NASA chief scientist Waleed Abdalati, one of the few top ice researchers who wasn't part of the study, praised the work.

    "Understanding how and why the ice sheets are changing today better equips us for understanding and predicting how much and in what ways they will change in the future," he said.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: Striking Images of Islands, Rivers and Seas from Space

     

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    A KTLA weather reporter got quite a surprise when a strong gust of wind blew away the news camera during a live report.

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    Updated 8:02 p.m. ET, Nov. 30, 2012

    Dark clouds move over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County, Calif., Thursday. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The second in a series of storms slammed Northern California on Friday as heavy rain and strong winds knocked out power, tied up traffic and caused flooding along some stretches.

    The weather also may be behind the death of a Pacific Gas & Electric worker in West Sacramento who was killed after his truck crashed into a traffic signal pole during the stormy weather.

    Flights were delayed at San Francisco's airport, and in the city's affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood, traffic was blocked for hours after a large tree crashed down, smashing a car and obstructing a busy street.

    A flash flood watch will remain in effect for most of the San Francisco Bay Area extending to the Santa Cruz Mountains throughout the weekend. A constant barrage of downpours could lead to standing water and overflowing drains, said Diana Henderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey.

    The North Bay was seemingly hit the hardest, as parts of Sonoma County received more than 7 inches of rain and areas in Napa County received nearly 6 inches, Henderson said.

    "It's not a super storm by any measure, but this is pretty significant," Henderson said. "We should see periods of moderate to heavy rains."

    With rain expected all weekend long, Tony Negro, a contractor from Penngrove, Calif., in Sonoma County, said he is worried about water flooding his workshop.

    "I'm on my way to get some sand bags," he said.

    Thousands of people were without power in that area after an outage that also affected the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The suspension span of the bridge was briefly in the dark as traffic was backed up longer than usual because of rain and strong wind gusts.

    Also, a mudslide shut down a stretch of Highway 84 east of Fremont, the California Highway Patrol reported. There was no estimate on when it would reopen.

    In Sacramento, an empty big-rig jackknifed in the southbound lanes and struck the median divider on Interstate 5 south of downtown Friday morning, the CHP said.

    "I would definitely say it's weather-related. The reports came in that he hit a water puddle and hydroplaned and couldn't correct," CHP Officer Mike Bradley said. "A lot of high-profile vehicles, especially the lighter ones, are getting windblown and having some problems maintaining their lane."

    No one was injured in the crash on I-5, California's main north-south highway. But a second vehicle also was damaged and had to be towed, while workers cleaned up diesel fuel spilled from the tractor-trailer.

    In West Sacramento, police say wet conditions may have been a factor when a PG&E worker died after he lost control of his vehicle and slammed into a traffic pole. PG&E workers at the scene told KCRA-TV that the driver had been working overtime and was returning from Clarksburg in southern Sacramento County.

    Henderson said rain in the region is expected to taper Saturday, but return later that night into Sunday. The storms could create the possibility of rock and mud slides in areas already saturated and affected by wildfires this summer.

    In Los Angeles, conditions were wet and gloomy as downtown skyscrapers disappeared in low-hanging clouds.

    Elsewhere in the West, a state of emergency was declared in Reno, Sparks and Washoe County in Nevada due to expected flooding as a storm packing heavy rain and strong winds swept through the area. Reno city spokeswoman Michele Anderson said public servants would be working overtime through the weekend to control what's expected to be the worst flooding there since 2005. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning along the Truckee River.

    The weather also prompted cancellations of Christmas parades and tree lightings in Sparks and Truckee, just across the border from California.

    Also, a storm rushed through southern Oregon this week, lingering inland over the Rogue Valley and dropping record rainfall. It largely spared coastal Curry County and its southernmost city, Brookings, which were still recovering from a storm this month.

    "We are still vigilant for landslides and road closures and trees down, but so far - knock on wood - we are still good to go," Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said.

    Forecasters said the region should expect more storms over the next few days.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Breathtaking Photos of Winter Landscapes

     

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    A pedestrian passes by a mural showing iconic comedy team Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergan during a rainstorm in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles on Friday. AP Photo.

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - California is bracing for more stormy weather this weekend after heavy rain and strong winds knocked out power to thousands, delayed flights, tied up traffic and flooded some roadways.

    After the second in a series of storms slammed the region Friday, scattered showers are expected Saturday before a third storm strikes Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

    A flash flood watch will remain in effect for most of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Santa Cruz Mountains throughout the weekend. The storms could cause rock and mud slides in areas already saturated and affected by wildfires this summer, said NWS forecaster Diana Henderson in Monterey.

    "It's not a super storm by any measure, but this is pretty significant," Henderson said. "We should see periods of moderate to heavy rains."

    Friday's stormy weather may be behind the death of a Pacific Gas & Electric worker in West Sacramento who was killed after his truck crashed into a traffic signal pole during the stormy weather.

    Friday's storm delayed flights at San Francisco International Airport and knocked down a large tree that smashed a car and blocked a busy street for hours in the city's affluent Pacific Heights neighborhood.

    The North Bay was seemingly hit the hardest, as parts of Sonoma County received more than 7 inches of rain and areas in Napa County received nearly 6 inches, Henderson said.

    With rain expected all weekend long, Tony Negro, a contractor from Penngrove, Calif., in Sonoma County, said he is worried about water flooding his workshop.

    "I'm on my way to get some sand bags," he said.

    Thousands of people were without power in that area after an outage that also affected the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The suspension span of the bridge was briefly in the dark as traffic was backed up longer than usual because of rain and strong wind gusts.

    Also, a mudslide shut down a stretch of Highway 84 east of Fremont, the California Highway Patrol reported. There was no estimate on when it would reopen.

    In Sacramento, an empty big-rig jackknifed in the southbound lanes and struck the median divider on Interstate 5 south of downtown Friday morning, the CHP said.

    "I would definitely say it's weather-related. The reports came in that he hit a water puddle and hydroplaned and couldn't correct," CHP Officer Mike Bradley said. "A lot of high-profile vehicles, especially the lighter ones, are getting windblown and having some problems maintaining their lane."

    No one was injured in the crash on I-5, California's main north-south highway. But a second vehicle also was damaged and had to be towed, while workers cleaned up diesel fuel spilled from the tractor-trailer.

    In West Sacramento, police say wet conditions may have been a factor when a PG&E worker died after he lost control of his vehicle and slammed into a traffic pole. PG&E workers at the scene told KCRA-TV that the driver had been working overtime and was returning from Clarksburg in Yolo County.

    In Los Angeles, conditions were wet and gloomy as downtown skyscrapers disappeared in low-hanging clouds.

    Elsewhere in the West, a state of emergency was declared in Reno, Sparks and Washoe County in Nevada due to expected flooding as a storm packing heavy rain and strong winds swept through the area. Reno city spokeswoman Michele Anderson said public servants would be working overtime through the weekend to control what's expected to be the worst flooding there since 2005. The National Weather Service issued a flood warning along the Truckee River.

    The weather also prompted cancellations of Christmas parades and tree lightings in Sparks and Truckee, just across the border from California.

    Also, a storm rushed through southern Oregon this week, lingering inland over the Rogue Valley and dropping record rainfall. It largely spared coastal Curry County and its southernmost city, Brookings, which were still recovering from a storm this month.

    "We are still vigilant for landslides and road closures and trees down, but so far - knock on wood - we are still good to go," Curry County Sheriff John Bishop said.

    Forecasters said the region should expect more storms over the next few days.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Breathtaking Photos of Winter Landscapes

     

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    Seaweed is collected on a cyclone fence that surrounds the Statue of Liberty on Friday. AP Photo.

    NEW YORK (AP) - The Statue of Liberty survived Superstorm Sandy with every crown spike in place, but its surrounding island was so badly damaged that the National Park Service doesn't know when the beloved tourist attraction will reopen or how much repairs will cost.

    A tour of Liberty Island on Friday showed broken railings, torn-up paving stones, damaged equipment and flood-wrecked buildings.

    The storm destroyed boilers, sewage pumps and electrical systems, said David Luchsinger, the superintendent of the Statue of Liberty and of the neighboring Ellis Island.

    "Our entire infrastructure on both islands, both Liberty Island and Ellis Island, was under water," he said.

    Luchsinger estimated that 75 percent of Liberty Island's 12 acres was flooded, with water as high as 8 feet. The water would have been chest-high on the plaza that visitors cross en route from the ferry to the statue itself, he said.

    Days after the storm, there was a controlled detonation of explosives on Ellis Island. Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said the explosives were stored there to train bomb-sniffing dogs. They were compromised by the storm and had to be destroyed.

    The Oct. 29 storm came one day after the Statue of Liberty's 126th birthday and the grand reopening of the crown - though the park was closed at the time in advance of the storm. The crown had been closed for a year for a $30 million upgrade to the monument's fire alarms, sprinkler systems and exit routes.

    The rest of the statue was open during that year and had 3.7 million visitors last year, making it the 19th most visited national park in America.

    Luchsinger said Sandy did not damage any of the work completed during the renovation.

    "I can tell you that if you walked in there today it would look like we just reopened it," he said. "Not one dime of it was lost."

    Historical artifacts on Ellis Island also survived intact, Luchsinger said.

    Luchsinger evacuated ahead of the storm and returned Oct. 30, when Liberty Island was covered with mud and debris. Hundreds of National Park Service workers from as far away as California and Alaska have spent the past month cleaning the island and assessing the damage.

    Friday's tour showed there is much still to be done. The main passenger dock was splintered but usable on Friday, while an auxiliary dock in back of the island was in pieces. Generators are supplying most power on the island, though one working transformer lights the statue itself.

    A water line several feet high marked the walls, and dried seaweed was still stuck in the chain-link fence.

    Luchsinger, 62, has lived on Liberty Island with his wife during his 3 1/2 years as superintendent. But no more. The storm blew the doors and windows out of the low-slung brick house, and the couple lost almost everything they owned.

    "I had a digital grand piano in there," Luchsinger said. "I had a whole bunch of stuff. I had a couple of my mother's antique Tiffany lamps."

    The house and adjoining staff buildings on landfill behind the statue will probably be razed and not rebuilt, Luchsinger said.

    "One of the things we want to do is rebuild smartly and sustainably," he said. "The buildings on the back side of the island are not sustainable. ... To rebuild and have them flooded out again doesn't make a whole lot of sense. We probably won't have anybody living on the island any more. I'm probably the last one."

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    After the Flood: Can Surge Barriers Save New York?


    Spurred by a history of disastrous floods, London, Venice and the Netherlands have pioneered surge barriers and sea walls. In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, what can New York learn from engineering innovators worldwide? The Wall Street Journal's Robert Lee Hotz reports.

    PHOTOS ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    Milton Lopez checks his engine after attempting to drive through flood waters Friday in Windsor, Calif. AP Photo/The Press Democrat, Kent Porter.

    SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Residents of Northern California hunkered down Sunday as a powerful storm drenched the area with yet another round of pounding rain and strong winds.

    The latest storm system - the third to hit the area in less than a week - moved across the region late Saturday and early Sunday dropping as much as an inch of rain per hour in some areas, toppling trees and knocking out electrical service to tens of thousands of people, officials said.

    With rivers across Northern California swelling from the deluge, the National Weather Service warned that several rivers were in danger of topping their banks Sunday afternoon or early Monday.

    Flood warnings were in effect for the Napa and Russian rivers, two rivers north of San Francisco with a history of flooding, as well as the Truckee River, near Lake Tahoe.

    "We've been in preparation mode since Thursday," said Barry Martin, a spokesman for the city of Napa.

    In bracing for the storm, city officials had handed out more than 8,000 sandbags and about 150 tons of sand, Martin said.

    The Napa River was expected to surpass flood stage Sunday afternoon, though most of the flooding was expected to be in agricultural areas outside of the city of Napa, officials said.

    In Sonoma County, the Russian River was expected to top its banks Monday morning, forecasters said.

    Elsewhere, officials were preparing for flooding near Truckee, Calif. a small town of about 16,000, as the Truckee River neared the top of its banks.

    But weather officials were heartened by the speed in which the system moved through the area, meaning rainfall amounts could be less than predicted. And with colder temperatures than expected in the mountains, more snow and less rain was falling.

    "I'm not sure by how much it could lower the flood threat yet," said Gary Barbato, a NWS hydrologist said early Sunday. "Maybe dramatically but we'll have to see."

    In far Northern California, flood warnings remained in effect Sunday for the Eel, Navarro and Mad rivers.

    Meanwhile, around 94,000 people from Santa Cruz to Eureka, including about 21,000 people in the San Francisco Bay area, were without electricity Sunday as the powerful winds from the storm knocked down trees and sent broken tree limbs and branches across power lines, said Pacific Gas & Electric spokesman Joe Molica.

    "It really did broadside California," Molica said of the storm.

    About 2,000 PG&E crews were working Sunday to try to restore power, Molica said.

    Wind gusts, recorded as high as 60 miles per hour in parts of the Bay area, were blamed for knocking over a big rig truck as it drove over the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge at around 5 a.m. Sunday.

    Tow crews had to wait for the winds to subside later in the morning before they could remove the truck, officials said.

    Also train service on the Bay Area Rapid Transit was disrupted for about an hour Sunday morning because of an electrical outage blamed on the weather.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Epic Storm Photos from the Twittersphere

     

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    Eddie Saman cleans out his house, which was damaged by Superstorm Sandy, as it begins to snow in the New Dorp section of Staten Island, New York, Nov. 7. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    NEW YORK (AP) - A month after Sandy's floodwaters swept up his block, punched a hole in his foundation and drowned his furnace, John Frawley still has no electricity or heat in his dilapidated home on the Rockaway seashore.

    The 57-year-old, who also lost his car and all his winter clothes in the flood, now spends his nights shivering in a pair of donated snow pants, worrying whether the cold might make his chronic heart condition worse.

    "I've been coughing like crazy," said Frawley, a former commercial fisherman disabled by a spine injury. He said his family doesn't have the money to pay for even basic repairs. So far, he has avoided going to a shelter, saying he'd rather sleep in his own home.

    "But I'm telling you, I can't stay here much longer," he said.

    City officials estimate at least 12,000 New Yorkers are trying to survive in unheated, flood-damaged homes, despite warnings that dropping temperatures could pose a health risk.

    The chill is only one of the potential environmental hazards that experts say might endanger people trying to resume their lives in the vast New York and New Jersey disaster zone.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Lost Military Jacket Found on Post-Sandy N.J. Beach

    Uncounted numbers of families have returned to coastal homes that are contaminated with mold, which can aggravate allergies and leave people perpetually wheezing. Others have been sleeping in houses filled with construction dust, as workers have ripped out walls and flooring. That dust can sometimes trigger asthma.

    But it is the approaching winter that has some public health officials worried most. Nighttime temperatures have been around freezing and stand to drop in the coming weeks.

    New York City's health department said the number of people visiting hospital emergency rooms for cold-related problems has already doubled this November, compared with previous years. Those statistics are likely only the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

    Mortality rates for the elderly and chronically ill rise when people live for extended periods in unheated apartments, even when the temperature is still above freezing, said the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley.

    "As the temperatures get colder, the risk increases," he said. "It is especially risky for the elderly. I really want to encourage people, if they don't have heat in their apartment, to look elsewhere."

    Since the storm, the health department has been sending National Guard troops door to door, trying to persuade people to leave cold homes until their heating systems are fixed. The city is also carrying out a plan to spend hundreds of millions of dollars helping residents make emergency repairs needed to restore their heat and hot water.

    Convincing people that they could be endangering themselves by staying until that work is complete, though, isn't always easy.

    For weeks, Eddie Saman, 57, slept on sheets of plywood in the frigid, ruined shell of his flooded Staten Island bungalow. He stayed even as the house filled up with a disgusting mold that agitated his asthma so much that it sent him to the emergency room.

    Volunteers eventually helped clean the place up somewhat and got Saman a mattress. But on Sunday the wood-burning stove he had been using for heat caught fire.

    Melting materials in the ceiling burned his cheek. A neighbor who dashed into the house to look for Saman also suffered burns. The interior of the house - what was left of it after the flood - was destroyed.

    Two days later, another fire broke out in a flood-damaged house across the street, also occupied by a resident trying to keep warm without a working furnace.

    Asked why he hadn't sought lodging elsewhere, Saman said he didn't have family in the region and was rattled by the one night he spent in an emergency shelter. He said it seemed more populated by homeless drug addicts than displaced families.

    "That place was not for me," he said.

    The Federal Emergency Management Agency offered to pay for a hotel, but Saman said he stopped looking because every inn within 100 miles of the city seemed to be booked solid through December.

    Saman's case may be extreme, but experts said it isn't unusual for people to hurry back to homes not ready for habitation.

    After Hurricane Katrina, medical researchers in New Orleans documented a rise in respiratory ailments among people living in neighborhoods where buildings were being repaired.

    The issue wasn't just mold, which can cause problems for years if it isn't mediated properly, said Felicia Rabito, an epidemiologist at Tulane University's School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. There was simply so much work being done, families spent their days breathing the fine particles of sanded wood and drywall.

    People complained of something that became known as the "Katrina cough," and while it subsided once the dust settled, researchers later found high lead levels in some neighborhoods due to work crews ignoring standards for lead paint removal.

    A group of occupational health experts in New York City, including doctors who run programs for people sickened by World Trade Center dust after 9/11, warned last week that workers cleaning up Sandy's wreckage need to protect themselves by suppressing dust with water, wearing masks and being aware of potential asbestos exposure.

    "There are clearly sites that you don't want children at ... and it is very challenging for homeowners to know whether it is safe to go home," said Dr. Maida Galvez, a pediatrician and environmental health expert at The Mount Sinai Hospital who is part of a team evaluating hazards in the disaster zone.

    U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler has urged FEMA and the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a testing program that could give residents an indication of whether their homes were free of mold, sewage and other hazardous substances.

    Farley, New York City's health commissioner, said people entering rooms contaminated by floodwater should wear rubber boots and gloves, and exercise care in cleanup. The hazard posed by spilled sewage is a short-term one and experts say the disease-causing bacteria found in it can be wiped out with a good cleaning. But they say anything absorbent that touched tainted water, like curtains or rugs, should be thrown out.

    As for the bitter cold, there was no test needed to tell John Frawley that his home is no place to be spending frigid autumn nights.

    "A couple of days ago, I was shivering so badly, I just couldn't stop," he said.

    Yet with winter nearly here, he still had no plan for getting his heat working again or his ruined electrical system restored, although he also has passed up some of the programs designed to help people like him.

    And he has no intention of heading to a shelter.

    RELATED ON SKYE: 25 Indelible Images from Superstorm Sandy

     

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    A full-color self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover, stitched together from 55 high-resolution images the car-sized robot vehicle took of itself Oct. 31 using its Mars Hand Lens Imager. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems

    NASA will discuss the latest Red Planet activities of its Mars rover Curiosity on Monday, but space geeks shouldn't get their hopes up for a bombshell announcement.

    Despite rampant rumors to the contrary, Monday's press conference - held at 12:00 p.m. EST during the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco - won't present any earth-shaking results that force humanity to rethink its place in the universe, NASA officials said.

    "Rumors and speculation that there are major new findings from the mission at this early stage are incorrect," officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which manages Curiosity's mission, wrote in an update Thursday. "The news conference will be an update about first use of the rover's full array of analytical instruments to investigate a drift of sandy soil."

    Rumors of a big Curiosity discovery began swirling two weeks ago, after an NPR story quoted mission chief scientist John Grotzinger as saying that the rover's Sample Analysis at Mars instrument, or SAM, had recently gathered data "for the history books." [Latest Photos from Curiosity Rover]

    Because SAM can identify organic compounds - the carbon-containing building blocks of life as we know it - many people speculated that the car-size robot had discovered complex organics in a Martian soil sample.

    But that's not the case, JPL officials say.

    "At this point in the mission, the instruments on the rover have not detected any definitive evidence of Martian organics," they wrote in Thursday's update.

    NASA's attempts to rein in such rumors and set reasonable expectations for Monday's press conference began with some thoughts from Curiosity itself on Nov. 21 (via the rover's JPL-run Twitter account, @MarsCuriosity).

    "What did I discover on Mars? That rumors spread fast online. My team considers this whole mission 'one for the history books,'" Curiosity wrote in a Twitter post that day.

    The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed Aug. 5 inside the Red Planet's huge Gale Crater, kicking off a two-year prime mission to determine if Mars has ever been able to support microbial life.

    The six-wheeled robot is the largest and most capable explorer ever sent to the surface of another world, NASA officials say. Curiosity has already discovered an ancient streambed where water likely flowed for thousands of years long ago, and it may well make a truly monumental discovery about the history and evolution of Mars before its roving days are done.

    Just don't expect such an announcement on Monday.

    Visit SPACE.com Monday for complete coverage of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity announcement and other space news from the American Geophysical Union's annual fall meeting.

    Follow SPACE.com senior writer Mike Wall on Twitter @michaeldwall or SPACE.com @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook and Google+.

    Copyright 2012 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

    RELATED ON SKYE: Mind-Blowing New Photos from Space

     

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    Waves batter a home and oil tanker in Manila, Philippines during a typhoon earlier this year. (AP)

    MANILA, Philippines (AP) - Thousands of villagers fled from their homes Monday as a strong typhoon roared closer to the southern Philippines, prompting authorities to suspend sea travel in high-risk areas and halt gold-mining in a mountain town notorious for deadly landslides.

    President Benigno Aquino III appeared on nationwide TV to appeal to people in Typhoon Bopha's path to move to safety and take storm warnings seriously even though many communities were still basking in sunny weather Monday.

    "This typhoon is not a joke," Aquino said after meeting top officials in charge of disaster-response.

    "It could be the strongest to hit the country this year," he said. "But we can minimize the damage and loss of lives if we help each other."

    The storm was approaching from the Pacific Ocean with sustained winds of 109 miles per hour and gusts of up to 130 mph. Its eye was last tracked at 242 miles southeast of Surigao del Sur province's Hinatuan township and the typhoon was expected to hit land around dawn on Tuesday.

    Bopha, which has a 373-mile-wide rain band, was expected to barrel across southern and central provinces before blowing out into the South China Sea on Thursday, according to government forecasters.

    Aquino said army troops were deploying search and rescue boats in advance and villagers were being pre-emptively evacuated.

    Authorities ordered small boats and ferries not to venture out along the country's eastern seaboard, warning of rough seas and torrential rain and wind that could whip up 13-foot waves.

    Thousands of villagers moved out of their homes in high-risk coastal villages and along rivers, including in southern provinces that were devastated in December by a deadly storm.

    In the mountainous Compostela Valley, authorities halted mining operations and ordered villagers to evacuate to prevent a repeat of deadly losses from landslides and the collapse of mine tunnels seen in recent storms.

    Residents in a riverside village that was wiped out by the storm in December in southern Cagayan de Oro city moved to a government hall, carrying TV sets, bundles of clothes and a pig.

    Nearly 8,000 villagers were moved to four government shelters in Hinatuan, the coastal town that was directly in Bopha's path until the typhoon began to veer slightly, officials said.

    Bopha, a Cambodian word for flower or a girl, is the 16th weather disturbance to hit the Philippines this year, less than the 20 typhoons and storms that normally lash the archipelago annually. Forecasters say at least one more storm may hit the country before Christmas.

     

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