Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One in 10 families millionaires by 2017

One in 10 British families will live in a "millionaire household" within a decade, a report has suggested.

Despite short-term fears over the economy, about 2.4 million families will have a seven-figure net income by 2017. The number of households worth more than £5 million will increase by 120 per cent over the same period, according to the Barclays Household Wealth Index.

The increases will see Britain stay in the top five wealthiest countries in the world and the wealthiest country in Europe. The rise is being partly driven by the country's position as one of the world's leading financial centres.

Michael Dicks, the head of research and investment strategy at Barclays Wealth, said: "The UK will continue to outperform Europe and remain a significant centre for wealth generation over the next decade."

Original here

Nearly 10,000 reported killed by China quake

CHENGDU, China (CNN) -- Rainy weather and poor logistics thwarted efforts by relief troops who walked for hours over rock, debris and mud on Tuesday in hopes of reaching the worst-hit area of an earthquake that killed nearly 10,000 in central China, state-run media reported.


Newly born babies are moved at a hospital in Nanchong, China, in this photo from Xinhua.

Setting out from Maerkang in Sichuan Province at 8 p.m. Monday, the 100 or so troops had to travel 200 kilometers (124 miles) to go before reaching Wenchuan, the epicenter of the quake, also in the province, Xinhua reported. After seven hours, they still had 70 kilometers (43 miles) to go.

"I have seen many collapsed civilian houses, and the rocks dropped from mountains on the roadside are everywhere," the head of the unit, Li Zaiyuan, told Xinhua.

Added CNN Correspondent John Vause: "The roads here are terrible in the best of times ... right now they're down right atrocious. They've resorted to going in one man at a time on foot."

Nearly all the confirmed deaths were in Sichuan Province, but rescuers were hindered because roads linking it to the provincial capital, Chengdu, were damaged, Xinhua reported.

Local radio quoted disaster relief officials as saying a third of the buildings in Wenchuan collapsed from the quake and another third were seriously damaged.

The earthquake was powerful enough to be felt throughout most of China. Many children were buried under the rubble of their schools.

The Chinese government said the death toll was sure to rise.

An expert told CNN the 7.9-magnitude quake at about 2:28 p.m. Monday (6:28 a.m. GMT) was the largest the region has seen "for over a generation."

Residents as far as Chongqing -- about 200 miles from the epicenter in Sichuan Province -- spent the night outdoors, too afraid of aftershocks to sleep indoors.

Local radio in Sichuan quoted disaster relief officials as saying a third of the buildings in Wenchuan collapsed from the quake and another third were seriously damaged. Video Watch as the death toll rises »

The state-run Zhongxin news agency reported that a survivor who escaped Beichuan county in Sichuan Province described the province as having been "razed to the ground."

The Red Cross Society of China, coordinating some of the international aid efforts, encouraged financial donations because of the difficulty of getting supplies to those most in need.

At least six schools collapsed to some extent in the quake or aftershocks that followed, Xinhua reported. Video See a report on rescue operations at the school »

At one school, almost 900 students -- all eighth-graders and ninth-graders, according to a local villager -- were believed to be buried. Video See workers in Chengdu hiding under their desks during the quake »

At least 50 bodies were pulled from the rubble by Monday night at Juyuan Middle School in Juyuan Township of Dujiangyan City, Sichuan Province, Xinhua reported.

"Some buried teenagers were struggling to free themselves from the ruins while others were calling for help. Eight excavators were working at the site. Devastated parents watched as five cranes worked at the site and an ambulance waited," Xinhua reported.

"A tearful mother said her son, ninth-grader Zhang Chengwei, was buried in the ruins."

Meanwhile, 2,300 people were buried in two collapsed chemical plants in Sichuan's Shifang city, and 80 tons of ammonia leaked out, Xinhua reported. Six hundred people died there. The plants were among a series of buildings that collapsed, including private homes, schools and factories.

The local government has evacuated 6,000 civilians from the area and was dispatching firefighters to help at the scene, Xinhua reported.

Much of the nation's transportation system shut down. Xinhua reported there were "multiple landslides and collapses along railway lines" near Chengdu. Video Quake victims have been sleeping outside in Chengdu »

Sichuan Province sits in the Sichuan basin and is surrounded by the Himalayas to the west. The Yangtze River flows through the province and the Three Gorges Dam in the nearby Hubei Province controls flooding to the Sichuan -- though there were no reports of damage to the world's largest dam.

Monday's quake was caused by the Tibetan plateau colliding with the Sichuan basin, Zhigang Peng, an earthquake expert at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia, told CNN.

"Earthquakes in this part of China are infrequent but not uncommon," he said.

The last major earthquake in the region occurred in the northwestern margin of the Sichuan basin when a 7.5-magnitude quake killed more than 9,300 people on August 25, 1933.

President Hu Jintao ordered an all-out effort to help those affected, and Premier Wen Jiabao traveled to the region to direct the rescue work, Xinhua reported.

"My fellow Chinese, facing such a severe disaster, we need calm, confidence, courage and efficient organization," Wen was quoted as saying.

"I believe we can certainly overcome the disaster with the public and the military working together under the leadership of the CPC Central Committee and the government."

Peter Sammonds, professor of geophysics at University College London, called the earthquake "tremendous."

"Particularly in the more remote, the more mountainous part where this has taken place, a lot of the buildings are built on sediments that are quite unstable. They're probably liquifying, causing the buildings to collapse. You might expect landslides to occur, which could actually stop the relief efforts going through on the roads, so this could be very grim in the remoter, more mountainous parts of this province."

While many of the most immediate efforts were focused on Sichuan Province, Xinhua also reported dead and injured in Gansu, Chongqing and Yunnan provinces.

A provincial government spokesman said they feared more dead and injured in collapsed houses in Dujiangyan City in Wenchuan County.

A driver for the seismological bureau said he saw "rows of houses collapsed" in Dujiangyan, Xinhua reported.

Bonnie Thie, the country director of the Peace Corps, told CNN she was on a university campus in Chengdu about 60 miles from the epicenter, in the eastern part of China's Sichuan province, when the first quake hit.

"You could see the ground shaking," Thie told CNN.

The shaking "went on for what seemed like a very long time," she said.

Bruce Presgrave, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, said this quake could cause major damage because of its strength and proximity to major population centers. Also, it was relatively shallow, and those kinds of quakes tend to do more damage near the epicenter than deeper ones, Presgrave said.

An earthquake with 7.5 magnitude in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan killed 255,000 people in 1976 -- the greatest death toll from an earthquake in the last four centuries and the second greatest in recorded history, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Tangshan is roughly 995 miles (1,600 km) from Chengdu, the nearest major city to the epicenter of Monday's quake. Read an explanation about earthquakes »

After the quake struck Monday, the ground shook as far away as Beijing, which is 950 miles (1,528 km) from the epicenter. Residents of the Chinese capital, which hosts this year's Olympic Games in August, felt a quiet, rolling sensation for about a minute. Video See CNN's interview with an American in Chengdu »

Thousands of people were evacuated from Beijing buildings immediately after the earthquake.

At least seven more earthquakes -- measuring between 4.0 and 6.0 magnitudes -- happened nearby over the four hours after the initial quake at at 2:28 p.m. local time, the USGS reported.

A spokesman for the Beijing Olympic Committee said no Olympic venues were affected. The huge Three Gorges Dam -- roughly 400 miles east of the epicenter -- was not damaged, a spokesman said.

The earthquake was also felt in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Taiwan, and as far away as Hanoi, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand, according to the Hong Kong-based Mandarin-language channel Phoenix TV. Impact your world
Original here

Google Banned by Myanmar Govt., Still Donates $1 Million to Cyclone Relief

Google bannedDespite being banned by the government of Burma (also Myanmar), Google has said that it will donate up to $1 million USD to assist victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Google has offered to match donations made to UNICEF and Direct Relief International for all donations made at Google’s Support disaster relief in Myanmar page, up to one million dollars.

Internet users in Burma reported that access to Google and Gmail had been blocked by the strict military junta governing the country in the summer of 2006. By this time, Yahoo and Hotmail had already made the censored IT blacklist.

Go to Google in Burma and you’ll get: “Error Number 1045 Access Denied.”

The ban, of course, was put in place before the government crackdowns on popular uprisings that left many dead or imprisoned. Some of the last words to leave Burma were from observers there who described nighttime kidnapping raids on the homes of Buddhist monks. The monks were involved in the popular uprisings against the government. On mornings after a raid, only blood would be found in the empty house.

Since the crackdowns, the flow of photos and information from Burma has all but completely stopped. No information gets in. None gets out. A political black hole where a country used to be.

While we all like to see our donations doubled, giving to cyclone relief through Google is, of course, only one way to go. For more ways to help those affected by the cyclone in Burma, see this list of organizations accepting donations and possibly volunteers.

If you feel less than comfortable sending money into a country whose government would ban and obstruct the same groups trying to help its people, consider that you can also donate money directly to Buddhist monks in Burma. During the crackdown, the monks were the most visible targets of government brutality. Avaaz.org donates money directly to the International Burmese Monk Association, which will use the money to provide grassroots support to cyclone victims. Visit the site for a video from the U. Uttara, the General Secretary of the Burmese organization.

Lastly, for those wondering why all this is on a site otherwise dedicated to the environment, it’s a good question. In response, consider that most people tend to prioritize the environment after their immediate wellbeing and that of their family. (Unless you’ve chosen to live in a tree, in which case wellbeing is relative. But that’s a different story.) Only after these immediate needs for safety and wellbeing are met will the majority of people take action to help the planet. So lend a hand and hopefully you’ll get a helping hand in return.

Original here

Old gas pumps can't handle ever-rising prices

REARDAN, Wash. (AP) -- Mom-and-pop service stations are running into a problem as gasoline marches toward $4 a gallon: Thousands of old-fashioned pumps can't register more than $3.99 on their spinning mechanical dials.

The pumps, throwbacks to a bygone era on the American road, are difficult and expensive to upgrade, and replacing them is often out of the question for station owners who are still just scraping by.

Many of the same pumps can only count up to $99.99 for the total sale, preventing owners of some SUVs, vans, trucks and tractor-trailers to fill their tanks all the way.

As many as 8,500 of the nation's 170,000 service stations have old-style meters that need to be fixed - about 17,000 individual pumps, said Bob Renkes, executive vice president of the Petroleum Equipment Institute of Tulsa, Okla.

At Chip Colville's Chevron station in this eastern Washington town, where men in the family have pumped gas since 1919, three stubby, gray pumps were installed when gas was less than $1 a gallon. They top out at $3.999, only 30 cents above the price of regular gas at Colville's station.

"In small towns, where you don't have the volume, there's no way you can afford to pay for the replacements for these old pumps," Colville said. "It's just not economically feasible."

The problem is worse in extremely rural areas, where "this might be the only pump in town that people can access," said Mike Rud, director of the North Dakota Petroleum Marketers Association.

Demand for replacements has caused a months-long backlog for companies that make or rebuild the mechanical meters - and that's just for stations that can afford the upgrade.

For many station owners - who, because of relatively small profit margin on gas, aren't raking in money even though gas prices are marching higher - replacing the pumps altogether with electronic ones is just not an option.

"The new ones run between $10,000 and $15,000 apiece," Colville said. "It's an expense that's not worth it."

Mechanical meters can be retrofitted with higher numbers when pump prices climb another dollar. The last time that happened was in late 2005, when gas went over $3 a gallon, and owners of the older pumps installed kits that went to $3.999.

This time around, owners of the old pumps will need to install another kit that can handle prices up to $4.999, and possibly higher. Industry experts say those changes could cost as much as $650 per pump.

It costs less to change the meter to raise the maximum price from $2.99 to $3.99 a gallon, but that option raises the risk of a breakdown, said said Pete Turner, chief operating officer for APS Petroleum Equipment Inc. of Anniston, Ala.

"The computer that they're upgrading was not designed to go any more than what it's going now, and if you do it, they don't last long enough," Turner said. "They run so fast that the gears are wearing out."

The price of fixing the meters jumped in the past three years because old pumps are being phased out for new electronic pumps and demand for refurbished meters is down, Al Eichorn, vice president of PMP Corp., which makes the mechanical meters.

The Avon, Conn., company has hired extra employees who are working overtime but still has a 14-week backlog of orders, Eichorn said.

To deal with the problem, some state regulators are allowing half-pricing - displaying the price for a half-gallon of gas, then doubling the price shown on the meter.

In North Dakota, regulators recently told service stations their mechanical pumps could use half-pricing, provided they use signs to alert costumers and find a permanent solution by April 2009.

South Dakota is preparing similar rules, officials say. And in Minnesota, rural service station owners whose pumps cannot display the right price are being told to cover up the incorrect numbers.

"The consumer can only see the gallons turning," said Bill Walsh, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Commerce. "Then they just have to settle up with a calculator, basically." Colville and about a dozen other service station owners in Washington have received temporary variances from the state to allow them to half-price fuel.

Stations granted variances are required to post signs telling customers that the final price they will pay is twice what the pump meter indicates.

"No, that don't bother me. The price does," said Jim Puls, a third-generation rancher who pulled up to Colville's diesel pump to fill up his flatbed truck at $4.41 a gallon. "I can understand what they have to do."

Nationally, the average price for a gallon of gasoline rose past $3.70 Sunday, while diesel was selling for an average of $4.33 a gallon, according to AAA and the Oil Price Information Service.

Small stations are struggling to make a profit on gas, even as the price rises. Its small profit margin makes it less lucrative that snacks and other products the stores sell inside.

"If gas is the profit driver and you are one of those guys with the old pumps, you're either evolving or getting out," said Jeff Lenard, spokesman for the National Association of Convenience Stores, a trade group that represents about 115,000 stores that sell gasoline.

"If you're just that kind of image of the '50s gas station where you have a conversation, fill up and have a cup of coffee, that's in the movies."


Associated Press Writer Dale Wetzel in Bismarck, N.D., contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Learn more about our Privacy Policy.

Original here