Towns submerged as 7 killed in central Europe floods

Heavy rain in central Europe has caused floods which killed at least seven people, cut off towns and forced the evacuation of residents from submerged villages by helicopter, authorities and local media said Saturday. The Polish town of Bogatynia was cut off after a river overflowed its banks, covering the main bridge leading into the town and sweeping away several smaller bridges. "At this moment we need everything," said Andrzej Grzemielewicz, mayor of the town of 18,000. "We need helicopters. People are on their roofs. The situation is dramatic." Several buildings had collapsed in the town and local media reported one person was killed. In the Czech Republic, the news agency CTK reported three people had been killed by floods in the north of the country.

Huge ice island calves off Greenland glacier

An ice island four times the size of Manhattan broke off from one of Greenland's two main glaciers, scientists said on Friday, in the biggest such event in the Arctic in nearly 50 years. The new ice island, which broke off on Thursday, will enter a remote place called the Nares Strait, about 620 miles south of the North Pole between Greenland and Canada. The ice island has an area of 100 square miles (260 square km) and a thickness up to half the height of the Empire State Building, said Andreas Muenchow, professor of ocean science and engineering at the University of Delaware. Muenchow said he had expected an ice chunk to break off from the Petermann Glacier, one of the two largest remaining ones in Greenland, because it had been growing in size for seven or eight years. But he did not expect it to be so large.

Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” overlaps BP spill zone

This year's low-oxygen "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest ever, about the size of Massachusetts, and overlaps areas hit by oil from BP's broken Macondo well, Louisiana scientists report. The area of hypoxia, or low levels of oxygen, covered 7,722 square miles (20,000 square kilometers) of the bottom of the Gulf and extended far into Texas waters, researchers from the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium said in a statement late on Sunday. "This is the largest such area off the upper Texas coast that we have found since we began this work in 1985," said Nancy Rabalais, the consortium's executive director. "The total area probably would have been the largest if we had had enough time to completely map the western part (of the Gulf)."

Sri Lanka, Hawaii sites get world heritage status

Sri Lanka's central highlands and a protected marine area in Hawaii, the only habitats of several endangered plant and animal species, have been added to UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites, the U.N. body said on Saturday. Sri Lanka's central highlands were deemed of prime importance because of the pristine forests that are home to the Sri Lanka leopard and other rare animal and plant life. The Hawaiian marine site, known as Papahanaumokuakea, is the habitat of the endangered Hawaiian Monk seal and rare birds. The site encompasses about 140,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean. Its isolated reef ecosystems are dominated by top predators like sharks.

Thick smog from heatwave fires covers Moscow

Muscovites struggled to breathe on Monday and Red Square was blanketed in smoke as a record-setting heatwave that that has already ruined crops caused fires that set the area around the capital ablaze. The emergency ministry said 34 peat fires and 26 forest fires were blazing on Monday in the area surrounding Moscow, covering 59 hectares (145 acres). Experts warned the air had become dangerous. State-run RIA news agency said airports serving Moscow, a city of 14 million, had been unaffected by the thick smoke, whose sharp, cinder-filled smell permeated the city and crept into offices, homes and restaurants via windows and doors.

Obama sets plan for oceans, Great Lakes

President Barack Obama set a new policy on Monday intended to improve coordination of uses of U.S. coastal waters ranging from recreation to commercial fishing to offshore drilling. As his administration contends with the BP Plc oil spill, Obama was to sign an executive order creating a single National Ocean Council to make sense of the huge number of rules from different agencies on the use of U.S. coastal waters and the Great Lakes. The plan, the final recommendation of an Ocean Policy Task Force that Obama established last year, does not set new rules for offshore drilling, commercial or recreational fishing or other uses of U.S. waters.

Russia swelters in heatwave, many crops destroyed

Soaring temperatures across large swathes of Russia have destroyed nearly 10 million hectares of crops and prompted a state of emergency to be declared in 17 regions. On Friday the state-run Moscow region weather bureau said it expected the heatwave, which has gripped the country since late June and is estimated to have already cost the agricultural sector about $1 billion, to continue into next week. Saturday could see temperatures in Moscow hit 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit), which would break the previous record of 36.6C. set in 1936. "It looks like tomorrow could just break the record," the weather bureau's Moscow head Yelena Timakina said.

Hurricane Alex could make land late Wednesday

Hurricane Alex strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico early on Wednesday and was expected to make landfall later in the day but skirt Mexican oil rigs and U.S. oil fields, alleviating concerns in crude markets. The first named storm of the Atlantic season became a Category 1 hurricane late Tuesday night as it slowly moved west toward northern Mexico where it was expected to drop as much as a foot of rain. While the storm was forecast to miss major oil drilling sites, rough seas and rain were already hampering efforts to control damage left by an ongoing spill from the major leak at a BP Plc facility south of Louisiana.

First Asian carp found in waterway near Great Lakes

A 20-pound (9-kg) Asian carp was fished out of a waterway close to the Great Lakes and beyond twin electric barriers designed to keep them out, authorities said on Wednesday. It was the first time the voracious invader has been found beyond the electric barriers in the waterways that connect Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes, with the Mississippi River basin, where the carp have proliferated. "It's important evidence, and the more information we know about where the carp are, the better ... that's the reason we're intensifying the effort" to find any Asian carp beyond the barriers, said Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Hurricane Celia strengthens in Pacific off Mexico

Hurricane Celia, the first hurricane of the 2010 Pacific season, formed in the eastern Pacific Ocean near Mexico on Sunday but was headed away from land, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. A Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 80 mph, Celia was 370 miles south of the tourist resort of Acapulco and was moving toward the west, away from Mexico, at 7 mph. "Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours," the center said. Mexico's key oil export facilities are in the Gulf of Mexico, well away from Celia's path.