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U.S. and South Korea delay anti-submarine exercises

(CNN) — South Korea and the United States postponed joint anti-submarine military exercises due to an approaching tropical storm, U.S. Forces Korea said.

The exercises were scheduled to begin Sunday and run through Thursday, the forces said in a statement. Tropical Storm Malou is forecast to arrive in the region Monday.

Military officials said the exercise could have gone ahead despite the weather, but safety concerns prompted the postponement.

“Although the alliance is capable of operating in all weather conditions, this decision was made in the interest of safety for the participants,” the U.S. military said in its statement. “Both high winds and heavy seas would have directly impacted the exercise area and the training objectives.”

The exercises will be rescheduled but a new date has not been set, the statement said.

U.S. officials have said the naval exercises off the western coast of the Korean peninsula are in response to North Korea’s alleged sinking of a South Korean warship last March.

“We said that we would continue a series of exercises that are defensive in nature, that are designed to send a clear message to North Korea,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said in August.

Tensions between North Korea and South Korea, as well as between North Korea and the U.S., have escalated since a May report from Seoul, South Korea, blamed the North for the sinking of a South Korean warship in March.

The report, whose findings have been endorsed by the U.S., alleged that a North Korean sub sank the Cheonan warship with a torpedo, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea denies it sunk the ship and has sharply criticized the military exercises, describing them as war games conducted under a false pretext.

“The U.S. forces side would be seriously mistaken if it calculates it can browbeat [North Korea] through large-scale war exercises,” the state-run KCNA news agency said in July. “It should immediately stop the [anti-North Korean] nuclear war racket.”

“[This] double-dealing attitude is a dangerous one of driving the situation on the Korean Peninsula to a war phase,” KCNA said.


‘Plan B’ could mean speedier rescue of Chilean miners

Copiapo, Chile (CNN) — Engineers in Chile said on Saturday that they have come up with a “Plan B” that could halve the time it would take to rescue the 33 miners trapped underground since August 5, but the country’s mining minister quickly cautioned against setting what he called unreasonable expectations.

Walter Herrera, quality control and risk manager for Chilean mining company GeoTech, said his company was bringing a specialized device — a Scram T-130 drill, typically used for boring water holes — to the San Jose mine. He told CNN the drill could be on site and working within five to six days.

Herrera added that the plan hinges on using one of the three bore holes, measuring 4 inches each in diameter, which has already been drilled and is being used to pass the miners supplies. The drill would use that bore hole as a pilot and simply widen the diameter to about 28 inches, which officials have said is wide enough for the miners to pass through.

“I don’t want to put a time frame on this,” Herrera said. “We think it could be quicker than the other plan. In ideal conditions, this could take around two months.”

But later Saturday, Chilean Mining Minister Laurence Golborne told reporters that the alternative plan might not be put into operation, and might not work even if it is implemented.

“We cannot let our expectations get beyond what is reasonable,” said Golborne, who spoke outside the mine.

He added the new drill would be used initially to widen one of the 4-inch holes to around 12 inches in diameter, to facilitate sending supplies to the miners. Golborne stressed he did not know whether that same drill would then be used to make the hole large enough so that the trapped miners could pass through it.

The miners have been told they could be stuck underground for as long as four months, the head of the rescue operation said Friday.

Officials expect drilling on a rescue shaft, a process that workers have said could take four months to complete, to begin Sunday or Monday.

Herrera said both operations — to drill the rescue shaft and widen the bore hole — could be carried out at the same time.

Still, even under the best-case scenario, the trapped miners will be underground for quite some time, posing a host of practical and psychological problems. To help solve them, Chilean officials are looking in unlikely places.

An official at NASA, the U.S. space agency, said on Friday that the organization has been asked by Chile to help provide nutritional and behavioral health support to the miners. A four-person team, including two physicians and a psychologist, are planning to go to Chile next week, said Michael Duncan, NASA’s lead on the Chile effort.

NASA has a long history in dealing with isolated environments and thinks experiences in space and underground are not too different, he said.

“It’s an opportunity to us to bring the space-flight experience back down to the ground,” Duncan said.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Manalich told reporters on Saturday that 61 metal cylinders have been sent to the miners in the last 24 hours, containing such essentials as water, letters and clean cotton clothing. Rescue workers have also been pumping down compressed, cool air periodically in a bid to keep the enclosed space fresh.

Manalich said each miner has received about 1,500 calories of food in the past day and can expect up to get up to 2,000 calories of food by Sunday.

The rescue effort has been dubbed the “Saint Lorenzo Operation,” after one of the miners’ patron saints.

The miners have been trying to keep their spirits — and the spirits of their loved ones — from flagging. They sent a video message to their families earlier this week in which they expressed thanks for the efforts under way to free them and displayed occasional flashes of humor.

The images showed the 50-square-meter (about 540-square-foot) living space occupied by the men since they were trapped by the collapse of a mine shaft. Some appeared heavily bearded, all of them were stripped to the waist. A thermometer showed 29.5 degrees Celsius, (about 85 degrees Fahrenheit), a little cooler than officials had estimated.

Some of the men were standing, others were lying down. “Oh, you’re sleeping on a box-spring bed,” joked one man to another, who is sprawled out on a pile of rocks.

On a crate sat a set of dominoes; on a wall were two first-aid boxes. Nearby were two stretchers.

Out of the view of the camera, as one miner finished his message, another could be heard saying, “Get us out of here soon.”

Family members who saw the video in a private screening said their loved ones appeared thin, but healthy and in good spirits.

Doctors have given the miners advice about how to keep their limited living space clean: Portions of a 1-meter-high (3.3 feet), 40-meter-long (about 130 feet) shaft are being used as a latrine.

It is connected to the main cabin, which is being used for sleeping, washing and praying.

Health Minister Manalich said the trapped miners have organized themselves into shifts to patrol the underground space and to monitor the arrival of shipments sent from above. Rescue workers plan to establish a permanent line of communication by early next week, which would allow miners to talk directly with their family members and friends.

Manalich also reported that all of the miners, including ones who were previously thought to be showing signs of anxiety and depression, are doing well.

“There has been an enormous improvement and some of the miners we were worried about yesterday are now in good shape,” he said.

Tropical depression in Atlantic expected to become hurricane

(CNN) — A tropical depression moving through the Atlantic Ocean will likely become a hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday, though the storm is not expected to make landfall.

The storm was relatively weak Saturday, with maximum sustained winds of 30 miles per hour, but “all reliable guidance makes the depression a hurricane within a few days,” the National Hurricane Center said in a Saturday evening advisory.

Conditions ahead of the storm, known as Tropical Depression 6, are favorable for strengthening, which means it is likely to become Tropical Storm Danielle as soon as early Sunday.

“All model guidance has this as a large hurricane in the middle of the Atlantic for the middle of next week,” CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras said. “The current forecast track has the storm staying clear of land through mid-late week.”

There are no coastal watches or warnings in effect for the storm, the National Hurricane Center said Saturday.

It is too early, however, to say that the storm will definitely steer clear of the United States, forecasters said, because of possible changes in the long-range forecast.

On Saturday, the tropical depression was 580 miles southwest of the Cape Verde Islands, off the west African coast.

If the depression builds into a hurricane, it would be the second of the season. Hurricane Alex left thousands in northeastern Mexico in shelters in late June and early July.

Gulf oil traces spread east on sea floor, researchers say

St. Petersburg, Florida (CNN) — Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill may have settled to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico further east than previously suspected and at levels toxic to marine life, researchers reported Monday.

Initial findings from a new survey of the Gulf conclude that dispersants may have sent the oil to the ocean floor, where it has turned up at the bottom of an undersea canyon within 40 miles of the Florida Panhandle. Plankton and other organisms showed a “strong toxic response” to the crude, according to researchers from the University of South Florida.

“The dispersant is moving the oil down out of the surface and into the deeper waters, where it can affect phytoplankton and other marine life,” said John Paul, a marine microbiologist at USF.

Results of the latest survey are scheduled to be released Tuesday, but CNN obtained a summary of the initial conclusions Monday night. Tests conducted offshore indicate the oil matches the 205-million-gallon Deepwater Horizon spill, which has been temporarily capped for a month, the summary states.

Some of it has spread into the DeSoto Canyon, a channel on the ocean floor east of the ruptured well. That canyon comprises part of the spawning grounds for much of the Gulf’s commercial fish. “To date, this is the easternmost location for the occurrence of subsurface oils,” the report states.

The oil is not “draping” across the bottom, but is spread out in “small, unevenly distributed droplets,” the report states. USF chemical oceanographer David Hollander said that when an ultraviolet light used to detect oil was turned onto the sea floor, “All of a sudden, it turns out to be a constellation of little dots.”
And the oil could well up onto the continental shelf and resurface later, Paul said. Or it could be eaten by fish and other animals and accumulate in the food chain, Hollander said.

“It’s in such small droplets that you can see it — you can filter it and see it,” he said. “But if you look at it, it’s transparent, and small larval fish see these droplets as food so they’re ingesting pure oil.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has previously reported some oil turning up in the sediment at the bottom of the Gulf, but has not determined whether it came from the Deepwater Horizon spill that erupted in April or whether it was already present. And on August 4, the head of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration warned that oil could persist in the water even though the well has been temporarily capped.

The oil company BP used more than 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants on the Deepwater Horizon spill between its eruption in late April and the time the well was capped in mid-July. BP says the chemicals allowed the oil to be broken up into droplets small enough that microbes can digest it, and the Environmental Protection Agency has said the dispersants were no more toxic than the oil itself.

Critics warned the full effect of the dispersants on the food chain was not known and that their use in deep water effectively concealed the full extent of the spill.

NOAA spokeswoman Mary Jane Schramm said on Monday that she had not seen the latest study and couldn’t comment on it. BP spokesman John Curry, meanwhile, said the company wants “to know everything everyone wants to know.”

The company is responsible for capping, cleaning up and compensating victims of the oil spill, and it has committed to spending $500 million to research the spill’s impact over the next 10 years. The latest study will “add another piece to the puzzle,” Curry said.

“There will be others that’ll want to look at this study and want to look at doing some additional research,” he said. “There’s been extensive testing up to this point, and I’m sure there will be much more going forward.”

China observes national day of mourning for mudslide victims
Beijing, China (CNN) — Flags lowered to half-staff Sunday across China and at the nation’s embassies and consulates around the world to mourn the victims of deadly mudslides in northwestern Gansu provice.

The mudslides killed 1,239 people and 505 are still missing, the state-run Xinhua news agency said Saturday. But residents of hard-hit Zhouqu County told CNN they believe the toll is much higher.

Meanwhile, in southwestern China, already inundated by heavy downpours all summer, new rain-triggered landslides Saturday left at least 38 people missing, Xinhua said.

Thousands of people and vehicles were stranded as roads become impassable in Sichuan province. The only highway linking Wenchuan County to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan province, was submerged under 13 feet of water.

About 10,000 residents have been evacuated, Xinhua said. The county government has designated schools and office buildings of township governments as temporary shelters.

Students in Zhouqu will start the fall semester 10 days late because some schools were buried or suffered severe damage. Power had been restored to about 76 percent of affected homes, Xinhua said.

Vegetables became available for the first time in nearly a week, the news agency reported.

The Chinese government has banned public entertainment — including movies, karaoke online videos and music — on Sunday in remembrance of those who perished in Gansu province this week.

Sunday is the seventh day since the Zhouqu mudslide and, according to some Chinese traditions, the seventh day after a death is the height of the mourning period.

Large-scale national displays of mourning, however, are rare in China, though it held three days of mourning after a massive 2008 earthquake in Sichuan and a one-day mourning after a quake in Yushu earlier this year.

China has been drenched by heavy rains and floods since the end of May. More than 400 million people in 28 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions have been affected.

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California permits same-sex marriages.

Los Angeles, California (CNN) — A federal judge ruled on Thursday to allow same-sex couples to marry in California, starting on August 18, handing another victory to supporters of gay rights in a case that both sides have said is likely to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco struck down the state’s ban on same-sex marriage last week, ruling that voter-approved Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution. Walker had issued a temporary stay on his decision, which on Thursday he said he would lift.

The high-profile case is being watched closely by supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, as many say it is likely to make its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does, the case could result in a landmark decision on whether people in the United States are allowed to marry others of the same sex.

Same-sex marriage is legal in five U.S. states and in the District of Columbia, while civil unions are permitted in New Jersey. The five states are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa and New Hampshire.

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