Venice Tests Flood Barriers

Engineers in Venice have successfully tested a new flood barrier that they hope will protect the city. The BBC reports that the first four flood barriers of a planned 78 were floated in the entrance of the city’s famous lagoon.

Venice suffers annual floods due to unusually high tides that threaten irreplaceable buildings and a destination essential to Italy’s tourism industry. It’s also sinking at a rate of one to two millimeters a year, Discovery Magazine reports.

The barrier isn’t complete and has already cost $7 billion. It will take another $800 million and two years more work before it can protect the city. While Italy is suffering badly from the global economic crisis, the government has promised to complete the project by 2016.

Paradise Flooded: Fiji Closes To Tourists

Tropical storms have battered Fiji in recent days, causing flash floods that have stranded tourists, forced mass evacuations and caused upwards of three deaths. Now, the Pacific island nation braces itself as a tropical cyclone approaches the main island of Viti Levu with forecasted gusts of 68 miles per hour and the certainty of even more damage. Already, the government has declared a state of emergency. Sometimes, you just can’t catch a break.

Apart from causing widespread destruction, floods in the main tourist towns of Suva and Nadi have also wreaked havoc on Fiji’s tourism industry. Thousands of visitors were forced to remain in their hotels with limited resources until the waters receded and the air embargo was lifted on Monday. They now face chaos at the Nadi International Airport trying to secure flights back home. Australian and New Zealand news sources describe frantic scenes straight from a natural disaster flick.

The photo gallery below offers a glimpse at the current scene on the ground.


Australia floods leave tourist industry in peril

The terrible floods in Queensland, Australia, have destroyed thousands of homes, done billions of dollars of damage, and have left at least a dozen people dead. Queensland is a major coal exporter, and with the rising waters hampering shipments and flooding mines, world coal prices have risen. A major consumer of Queensland coal are Asian steel mills, which are already feeling the pinch. This has led to a rise in steel prices. That’s a double dose of bad news for the economic recovery.

Another Queensland industry has also been hard hit–tourism. The tourists have fled along with the residents, but it’s the long-term effects that are more harmful. If rising coal and steel prices hurt the economic recovery, that’s bound to hurt the tourism industry pretty much everywhere. Brisbane, Australia’s third-largest city, is the center for Australia’s Gold Coast, a major draw for Australia’s $32 billion tourist industry. Floods are damaging popular beaches and will require costly repairs. Coastal and riverside hotels and shops are being destroyed. The Brisbane Times reports that toxic materials washed into the sea could have an effect on delicate coral reefs and fish populations. With snorkeling and scuba diving such popular activities on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, this could do long-term damage to tourism.

Meanwhile, airlines are worried about how this will affect them. Virgin Blue has already seen its shares drop by 3.4 percent today because investors fear there will be a drop in bookings. Qantas shares also dipped slightly. Airlines are issuing fee waivers for passengers who want to change their flights to, from, or through Brisbane.

It looks like Queensland residents will suffer from the flood long after the waters recede.

[Photo of Brisbane sunset courtesy user t i m m a y via Gadling’s flickr pool]

Australia’s Kakadu National Park floods trap tourists after they ignore closed road signs

What is it with German tourists and Australia’s Northern Territory? If they’re not getting eaten by crocodiles or succumbing to dehydration, they’re blatantly ignoring road signs and driving their way into croc-infested floodwaters. NT News online reports that four wayward Germans visiting remote Kakadu National Park drove their rented four-wheel-drive–allegedly at 80mph, no less–through the flooded crossing at Magela Creek and Oenpelli Road. The group were en route to see the famed Aboriginal rock art at Ubirr, in the East Alligator region of the park.

The car stalled out, leaving the foursome stranded in three feet of water, smack-dab in the middle of a 300-foot crossing. Despite their apparent inability to heed large, glaring warning signs and screams from more intelligent roadside onlookers, the Germans possessed enough survival instinct to clamber to the top of their vehicle, where they were rescued by police 30 minutes later.

Look, I’ve spent a lot of time in Australia, including Kakadu. I’ll be the first to point out that the international media and popular film and literature make the country out to be some kind of fauna-invoked death wish. If the great whites and saltwater crocs don’t get you, the box jellyfish, blue-ringed octopi, brown snakes, taipans, or redback and funnel web spiders will.

I’m not disputing the deadliness of these creatures. And I can’t deny that certain situations like the current floods in Queensland make an encounter more likely. The advice to avoid “crocky” areas of tropical Northern Australia is no joke, and should be taken very seriously. In general, however, it’s easy to avoid crocs and the rest of these much-maligned critters; your odds of ever seeing one (even if you’re Australian) are unlikely. It’s a huge continent, guys, and like most venomous or aggressive species, most of these animals won’t attack unless provoked.

When I visited stunning Kakadu (with a seasoned outfitter from the region, because there’s no shortage of untrained, self-proclaimed, even downright dangerous guides in the world), it was this same time of year; the “Wet,” or monsoon season. It’s low season for tourists because many roads are flooded, and as such, that does make for greater statistical odds for a croc encounter. But more to the point, why would you intentionally disobey safety precautions, especially when you’re in a foreign environment/they’re prominently displayed/designed for easy comprehension by international visitors?

The bottom line is, whether you choose to explore isolated places alone or with an environmentally-responsible, accredited professional, use your brain. Obey the rules, because they exist for a reason. Behave with respect for the land, flora, fauna, and people. Your stupidity or carelessness often cause more than just inconvenience to others. It can result in great expense and lost lives, including those of your rescuers. If nothing else, you’ll become fodder for global news outlets, who use you as an example of what not to do.

Travel that brings you up close to the news

In September when I was in Los Angeles for an impromptu weekend away, sans family, my friend and I passed Cedars-Sinai Hospital the night we went to the Algonquin West Hollywood Literary Award Soiree. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this made me think of Owen Wilson and his stay there. (Even Justin has his Owen Wilson musings. Although, I have to say, I was perhaps more fond of Darjeeling Ltd. than Justin.)

Now that Britney has had her Cedars-Sinai stay, I have to admit, that, yes, reading about her visit to the hospital gave me a flashback about my LA trip and when I passed by Cedars-Sinai.

This brushing up with news stories happens frequently if you travel. Those who stay home merely get info from a newspaper that ends up in a recycling bin or is off the radar as soon as the channel changes. Yesterday’s news stays yesterday’s news.

Travel makes news stories more vivid somehow, even if the news is months old. Places become not just a name we heard about, but one with which we have a taste of a personal relationship–even if it’s just an asterisk.

For New Year’s Eve we headed to Ottawa, Ohio to spend the night with friends. As I drove through town, I thought about the flood that happened there this past August.

My friend took me on a little tour to show me where the sandbags were and how her brother’s downtown office was spared because its first floor is actually above street level and the sandbags saved it. Not only did the sandbags save it, but her high school-aged son helped put the sandbags there.

I also met friends of theirs who lost totally lost their house and are in the process of having it rebuilt. There hasn’t been a flood like that in Ottawa since 1900 or so. Until the flood this past summer, Ottawa was just a place where our friends had moved.

Then earlier this week, there was Ottawa in the news again. Kenneth Richey, the British citizen who has been whiling away a quarter of his life on Death Row in Ohio for the death of a 2-year-old girl was released yesterday. He was being held in the Portage County jail in Ottawa awaiting his release. When I saw he was in Ottawa, I thought about my recent trip there and the great time I had at our friend’s house– and the flood.

On an international scale, every time I see John McCain on Jon Stewart, or like last night when he gave his acceptance speech when he won the Primary in New Hampshire, I flash to the photo I took of the photo of him at the museum in what is left of the Hoa Loa Prison, once dubbed the Hanoi Hilton. McCain was a prisoner of war there for five years.

(McCain is the guy in the middle)

Most of the prison was torn down to make room for an hotel/shopping complex, but the remaining section is a fascinating, albeit gruesome look at a slice of Vietnamese history. Most of the museum is about the French occupation with just a few rooms about the U.S.

When we drove through Louisville, Kentucky in August, I thought of Kentucky Kingdom and the young girl who had her feet recently severed by the Superman Tower of Power ride. These are not pleasant thoughts. I’d rather think about the Kentucky Derby and sipping Mint Juleps, but I’ve never been to the Kentucky Derby. I did write a post about the accident so it’s in my brain somewhere and comes out at the oddest times.

Every time we go to Cleveland, we pass by the Trooper James R. Gross’s Memorial on the side of I-71 North. My son looks for it on each trip and asks if we’re almost there. Trooper Gross was shot and killed in 1996 during a highway traffic violation stop. This spot will always be in my son’s mind I bet just because we travel to Cleveland. Even today, when I couldn’t remember the name of my officer, I asked my son. He just turned 6 and told me straight away without thinking about it.

It’s not like I’ve gone to these places to be closer to the news. I’m not one of those people who would take the unofficial Anna Nicole Smith tour in the Bahamas to trace her woes. But, there are places one happens upon that gets you thinking of those stories that captured the media’s attention for awhile. Or if some big incident happens at a place where you once were on vacation, there your mind wanders remembering your trip in an unexpected way.

This time though, as you remember, the news story intertwines altering the experience somehow. It’s like being temporarily in a Wes Anderson movie or something. Or, maybe it’s just me.