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Floods (24)

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:53

The California Floods

Written by

California was devastated by the worst seven days of rain and flooding to hit the region in almost a century. Rains and strong winds whipped most of the state from March 12 to March 19 causing damages estimated at $2 billion. This exceeded the first deluge of rains that hit California in January. Damages from that encounter were set at $570 million.

The flooding in March left at least 15 people dead and caused 49 of the state’s 58 counties to be declared federal and state disaster areas. An estimated 10,000 people were forced to evacuate their homes and over 2,000 people had to live in shelters.

In the north, the swelling Salinas and Pajaro rivers flooded roads into the Monterey Peninsula - cutting it off from the mainland.

About 50 miles west of Fresno, the collapse of twin bridges on Interstate 5 closed roughly 180 miles of California’s main north-south roadway. Four cars had plunged into the swollen creek causing six fatalities as a result of the collapse.

Along Monterey Bay, flood waters mixed with raw sewage from overloaded water treatment plants, had polluted vast areas of land. The 5,000 residents that were forced to evacuate were told to disinfect everything when they returned to their homes. Residents along the Russian River in Sonoma County were told to boil their water due to the risk of contamination. Raw sewage poured out continuously into Monterey Bay for four weeks as a result of the flooding.

Officials in Sonoma County are studying maps of Guerneville and Monte Rio on the Russian River. Both places have been flooded twice since January, and the county says it may be cheaper to buy the damaged homes and businesses and demolish them.

In Ventura County, a fence was erected around the entire town of La Conchita, where a collapsing coastal bluff threatened the community. Nine homes had already been destroyed from the previous week. Some 50 residents signed liability releases so county officials would allow them to stay.

Unfortunately, the flooded fields and collapsed bridges in Northern, Central and Southern California do not tell the whole story. The winter had left the Sierra Nevada with a snowpack several times its normal depth.

State officials feared that if more heavy rains occured or if an unusual stretch of warm weather sped the spring thaw, large sections of the rich agricultural valleys would be flooded again.

Workers tried to alleviate the situation by releasing water out of Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir. A distinct balance had to be reached between the water being released to allow room for melting snow from the mountains, while being careful not to overload rivers already flowing at flood stages.

An 1,880 foot wide dam in California’s northeastern fishing country is still in danger of collapsing as a result of the heavy rains. Erosion from swift moving water caused the 104-year-old earthen dam on Lake Leavitt to start leaking.

The damage was repaired quickly, but residents and officials are concerned how long it will last. If the dam collapses, U.S. 395 and countless communities and businesses will be affected. Fortunately, Lake Leavitt dam is the only one of California’s 1,220 dams in danger.

Consumers are being hit hard in the supermarket due to over $400 million in crop losses in California’s rich Salinas Valley, called the nation’s salad bowl because of the huge amount of produce grown there.

Some $70 million in lettuce crops alone were damaged in the region where over half of the nation’s winter lettuce is grown. The flood waters also washed out highways, slowing distribution of the crops that were salvaged. Monterey County’s agricultural areas were also hit hard with over 3,100 acres of farm land under water.
Prices of California-grown artichokes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, lettuce and strawberries have risen substantially since the flooding in March.

Although the full impact has yet to be seen, shoppers are already experiencing sticker shock reminiscent of last January’s floods in California.

Lettuce, sold normally for $0.50-$1.00, is now going for $2.00-$2.75 a head. Prices of broccoli and spinach have increased 40%. Leafy vegetables seemed to have suffered the worst.

California grows 55% of the entire nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables. Countless acres have been soaked and washed out roads made it hard for farmers to assess the full extent of the crop damage.

Stores are left looking for alternative suppliers, such as Florida farmers, to keep shelves stocked and prices under control. The entire U.S. crop of artichokes and avocados are grown in California as well as close to 95% of all brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Fortunately, California’s wine industry escaped serious damage. Since grapes are harvested in the fall, only the buds are on the vines.

Even if rain and debris damage the buds, there’s still plenty of vines that can produce more grapes in time for harvest.

Immigrant farm workers in regions hit by the floods are now facing the possibility that they may have to move elsewhere to find employment. Many of the 40,000 men and women who work in the fields at harvest times could lose their livelihoods because of the flood damaged crops.

In Pajaro, the J.M. Smucker Company’s processing plant has it’s production levels dependent on the level of fruit harvested for the season. The production levels dictate how many part and full time laborers are needed during the season. With the rash of flooding, workers are hoping the plant will bring in fruit from elsewhere, or there may be no demand for their services.

Fortunately, there is some good news for the victims of March’s flooding. Since the majority of counties in California were declared state and federal disaster zones, affected residents have the opportunity to claim their losses from the floods in their 1994 tax returns, instead of waiting to claim it as part of their 1995 tax return.

When the President signs a declaration of disaster, the area becomes eligible for federal assistance. Another consequence of this designation is the option for taxpayers who have sustained a casualty loss to deduct the loss in the tax return for the year immediately preceding the year in which the loss occurs.

This gives victims quick access to any allowable tax refunds from the casualty.

Many property owners may have a deductible casualty loss even though there is no structural damage to their home or business.

Land owners whose property has been damaged by the disaster may apply for special property tax relief.


Kevin Kraff is an editor with the Disaster Recovery Journal.

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:52

The River Came Too Close To Monsanto

Written by

This summer we didn’t have to wait for weekends to go “down by the riverside” -- the Mississippi came to us !!!
Early in July, Monsanto’s Carondelet Plant received the warning of potential flooding from the River Des Peres. On July 9 the decision was made to cut power and phone service to low lying buildings at the plant -- including the computer center. The DRP/Test machine for another Monsanto Site was located there! It was decided to move this machine to the World Headquarters Campus about 30 miles from the plant so testing and maintenance could continue. Following shutdown, on July 10 power was cut and transformers pulled.

Preparation began to minimize the effects of the flood that weekend. Raw material and finished product as well as the PBX, personal computers, office equipment and supplies were moved to higher ground or off-site. Volunteers from Carondelet, other plants and corporate headquarters began building “COOLEY DAM”, a sandbag levee between the plant and the river. The levee was named for the plant manager.

On July 12 it was decided to move all critical computer processing to World Headquarters and business operations to another building north of the plant. A temporary office was set up with phones, furniture, PC’s, office supplies, etc.

Cellular phones and modems were distributed by Monsanto’s DRP group.

For computer processing, the in-house HP DRP machine was used. This system had recently been delivered, configured and had a pre-test run on July 8 (just a few days before disaster struck). Recovery began immediately from back-up tapes. Since Carondelet uses an HP Classic machine and the DRP machine is an HP Spectrum, a migration was required with the recovery.

MIS personnel from several of our locations worked feverishly to recover computer processing. The operating system, critical applications and electronic mail were functional by July 13. During recovery, prewired phone lines were installed to allow for dial-in access. A 24 port pad was installed at the temporary office to the X.25 WAN providing quick access to all systems. Necessary printers were also attached to the pad.

On July 18 the River Des Peres levee broke, breaching “Cooley Dam.” Water flooded the warehouse, engineering, Admin and Lab buildings. Although damage was extensive, much was saved because precautionary steps had been taken.

Business ran smoothly, although production ceased. In preparation for production start-up, more applications were added to the DRP system.

Just when we thought production could begin, electricity was once again cut and an evacuation was ordered for the plant and the temporary office on July 30th. Fifty-one propane tanks located less than one mile away at another company’s premises floated from their cradles. Some of the tanks began to leak and an explosion was imminent. Of course, this occurred during the month-end closing cycle!

On August 3 plant personnel were relocated to Monsanto’s World Headquarters Command Center to complete closing. PC’s were set up to access all critical systems. Closing was successful, checks were printed and delivered on time. The following weekend (Aug 7-8) the evacuation order was lifted. The crisis had been resolved safely without explosion.

On August 9, everyone returned to the plant and temporary office. For the first time since July 18 the computer center could be reached by land rather than boat. Extensive cleanup and decontamination were required before re-entering water soaked buildings.

The Carondelet plant was able to return to operations exactly one month after the initial threat. The plant came back strong, setting record production in the first full month following the flood.

This has been a learning experience for Monsanto. For many years we have tested our ability to recover from a disaster; however, we had never attempted to return. The difficulty is merging files restored to the DRP machine (the critical ones) with files and applications not restored. Further complicating the restoration was a migration from a Spectrum to a Classic Machine.

Although this was a tragedy for the Carondelet Plant, things could have been worse had they not been prepared.

Jeanne M. Grimes, CDRP, is on the Computer Task Group with Monsanto, headquarter in St. Louis, Missouri.

After months of rain, major rivers reached record flood levels, breaching levees and flooding cities and businesses throughout the Midwest. The story that follows is an account of one bank’s recovery told by Mike Cannon to Patti Fitzgerald.

“We tested for tornadoes, fires, bomb threats, and earthquakes, but never floods.” explained Mike Cannon, CDRP, Vice President, & Corporate Contingency Planning Manager of Boatmen's Bancshares, Inc., St. Louis, MO. One of Mike’s primary functions is to coordinate, monitor and guide other contingency coordinators at all Boatmen's Bank’s various subsidiaries.

Temporary power supplied by rental generators provided the pulse that kept many devastated communities alive throughout The Great Flood of ’93.

The underground flood of Chicago on Monday, April 13, 1992 is proving to be one of the worst business disasters ever. It is exactly the kind of event that disaster recovery planners prepare for, but hope they never have to experience.

When the disaster struck, I went to Chicago to report on the damage and take photos. The other articles in this special report come from members of the disaster recovery industry who experienced the flood's impacts first-hand.

Although this issue of Disaster Recovery Journal had already been printed, mailing was halted so that we could bring you this special report on this major event.

This disaster will have a far-reaching impact on disaster recovery. Many companies in Chicago were forced to implement their disaster recovery plans. 230 buildings lost power because water threatened their underground power sources.

For many disaster recovery planners, this was the first real test of their work. Hopefully we can learn from their experiences.

This article adapted from Vol. 5 #2.

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:44

When It Rains, It Pours

Written by
1993 is only half over and already two major disasters have hit the United States. It's unusual that The Disaster Recovery Journal would run two Special Reports in the same year. In our second quarter issue (Volume 6, Number 2) we covered the World Trade Center Bombing. Now, only four months later, we are reporting on The Great Flood of 1993. Many of our subscribers have been calling us to inquire if we've been flooded. But there is no need for you to worry! The flood waters are practically in our back yard, The Disaster Recovery Journal office and all its employees are high and dry!
Monday, 29 October 2007 02:41

DISASTER 101: A Hands-On Recovery Lesson

Written by

Thanks to a commitment to safety and preparedness, and a lot of luck, American Republic Insurance came through the recent Midwest flood ordeal much wiser and better prepared to face a future catastrophe.

Disaster survival is the hard way to test your contingency and recovery programs. It is also the only true test of the effectiveness of your plan. If you’re like me, a disaster plan is in the same category as the health insurance our company sells. You cannot risk being without it... but you hope to never use it. I don’t wish the “practical experience” of a disaster on anyone. But I do hope that what we learned firsthand will help others devise more pragmatic and functional recovery policies.

Luckily, for American Republic, the summer floods turned out to be a positive learning experience. Flooding was not a major threat to our employees’ safety or to our office building. What the repercussions from the flood jeopardized were our computer operations and thus our ability to do business.

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:39

97 Midwest Floods

Written by

On April 7 rushing flood waters forced the evacuation of most of a Minnesota city for the first time in 1997. Residents of Ada, MN, fled after two normally shallow rivers overran their banks and poured into homes. Approximately 1250 people were evacuated or left Ada after the Wild Rice and Marsh rivers overflowed their dikes. The evacuees included 55 patients of the Ada Municipal hospital that were transported via ambulance to facilities in nearby cities. Some residents who waited too long to leave their homes had to be evacuated in the buckets of front end loaders. National Guard trucks began what became a daily ritual, scouting Minnesota and North Dakota cities, searching for stranded residents.

To complicate the wet situation, northwestern Minnesota had to suffer bone chilling cold, ice storms, and blizzards which left an estimated 50,000 residents without power. Devastated home and business owners, power and phone outages, and impassable flooded roads prompted Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson to begin seeking federal disaster relief early. In all, 56 counties would be declared federal disaster areas.

Ada was not the first Minnesota or North Dakota community to see the flooding catastrophe unfold, nor would it be the last. Many communities in Minnesota had seen floodwaters fill streets, homes and businesses just days before Ada was evacuated. Preparations to divert and contain floodwaters had begun all around the region weeks before the disaster hit. Unfortunately, within the next few weeks many cities in Minnesota and North Dakota would see the devastation caused by millions of gallons of flood waters.

The next stop on the flood tour was the cities of Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN. On April 11 it was predicted that the dikes would hold and the floodwaters would not crest over the top of the dikes, sparing the cities. On April 13 that prediction was foiled when the National Weather Service at Grand Forks, ND announced that the Red River at Fargo would crest at its highest level this century - more than 20 feet above flood stage.

Even though flood waters surmounted the dikes, hard work by the citizens of Fargo and Moorhead and a little luck kept officials from mandating evacuations. But tough decisions about levee routings forced officials to announce that several hundred homes in Fargo's newest and most expensive neighborhood would not be protected.

Meanwhile, the city of Grand Forks had completed work on all of its dikes, raising them to 52 feet - 3 feet above the expected crest. That would not be enough. By April 17 Grand Forks officials were concerned that the flood's crest would be even higher than previously predicted levels. The flood of '79, which devastated Grand Forks with a crest of 48.8 feet, would be exceeded by nearly 6 feet - smashing 100 year flood records.

The raised dikes did little to stop the raging floodwaters. The rising pressure of the excessive water caused the clay dikes to blow apart.

By April 18 widespread flooding was occurring throughout the Grand Forks area, reaching into downtown and other areas that had been dry earlier that day. By April 19 most of the cities of Grand Forks, ND and East Grand Forks, MN would be underwater. The 60,000 residents of the cities were evacuated.

The situation in Grand forks was worsened by a fire that erupted in two buildings and engulfed most of a block in the city's flooded downtown. Flood waters were so deep that firefighters could not reach the buildings. Instead, they evacuated the area and sent planes to drop chemicals on the blaze. By the time the fire was extinguished at least 11 buildings were destroyed or damaged - the center of the Grand Forks business district was obliterated. Luckily there were no injuries reported from the fire.

While the fire destroyed the offices and newsroom of the Grand Forks Herald, Coast Guard crews were able to prevent the fire from reaching the US West building, which houses all telephone switching equipment for Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. Other businesses destroyed or damaged by the fire included a Federal building, a bank, a law office, a restaurant, a dance studio, a formal wear store, and a camera shop.

By Sunday, April 20 more than 75% of the town was underwater. The 50,000 Grand Forks residents were warned by their Mayor that it would be to 2 to 4 weeks before they could return to their homes because it would take that long to repair the cities flooded water plant. North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer called the flooding 'the worst single disaster in the history of North Dakota'.

On April 22 President Clinton visited the Red River Valley. He told residents 'Water cannot wash that [spirit] away. Fire cannot burn that away. A blizzard cannot freeze that away. And if you don't give it away, it will bring you back better than ever. And we'll be there with you every step of the way'. This said just before he pledged $488 million in federal assistance.

As of May 8 the American Red Cross had received more than $27 million in cash donations from corporations, foundations and individuals in support of Red Cross flood relief efforts, including 11 major gifts of $200,000 or more.

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has approved millions of dollars in disaster loans to owners of property damaged by the disaster in North Dakota and Minnesota. Homeowners, renters and non-farm businesses of all sizes are eligible to apply for low-interest disaster loans if their homes or businesses were damaged by the floods and severe storms. Disaster loans of up to $200,000 are available to homeowners to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters are eligible for up to $40,000 to replace damaged or destroyed personal property. Businesses of any size may qualify for up to $1,500,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, machinery and equipment, inventory and other business assets. In addition, small business owners may qualify for economic injury disaster loans if they have been financially impacted by the disaster. The SBA estimates that nearly 5,200 businesses have been destroyed, damaged or affected by the winter storms or floods.

Estimates are that the 1997 floods will cost farmers more than $1 billion. More than 2.2 million acres of farmland were completely submerged, making the planting season in many areas uncertain at best.

While many businesses affected by this disaster will fail, others will thrive. Plumbers, carpenters and electricians for example will experience booming business. The economy also will be helped with insurance claims and hundreds of millions of dollars in federal and state aid. The recovery period will also be a boom for discount retailers such as Target and Walmart. Edward Lotterman, regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis, said the economic impact of the flood will be serious, but not as great as some might expect. 'It will switch the composition of demand,' he said. 'Instead of taking a vacation to Hawaii, people will replace the furnace or washer and dryer that were flooded in the basement...'.

Here are some of the statistics associated with the Floods of 1997:

  • The Red Cross served more than 200,000 meals
  • As of Tuesday, April 29, FEMA reported 9,693 persons have applied for assistance.
  • Up to 20,000 persons are displaced from their homes in the flooded areas, and will not be able to return for an extended period of time.
  • More than 30,000 calls were logged to Minnesota's flood information hot line.
  • As of May 12, approximately 3,000 Grand Forks electrical customers and 9,200 natural gas customers were without service.
  • To date, seven people have died as a result of problems created by the winter storm and flooding.

At this writing the devastation of the flooding continues. Rapid City South Dakota is currently being hit, while communities in North Dakota and Minnesota are enduring the cleanup and recovery from this record setting flood season.

Daniel Carlson is Senior Business Continuation Analyst for Dayton Hudson and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for DRJ.

This article adapted from Vol. 10#3.

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:37

Floods Can't Stop the Presses In Grand Forks

Written by

The scene looks more like Sesame Street than Lou Grant.

The Big People perch on orange plastic chairs, hunched in front of kids' computers in a very small elementary school computer lab. This is the newsroom.

The Little People are across the hall in Mrs. Muehlenbeck's second-grade class, keeping a watchful eye.
'Usually, there's not this many phones ringing,' reports Emily Gowan, 8.

The Manvel Public School is where the Grand Forks Herald newspaper ended up after it was flooded out then burned down in the Great Flood of 1997.

Despite these twin disasters, it has not missed a single day of publication.

And that's probably not surprising to the generations who have lived here and read the newspaper for the past 108 years. Like Grand Forks, this daily newspaper with a circulation of 35,000, is infused with a fierce pride for North Dakota.

It duly notes the daily doings of its residents - the births, the deaths and the cross-town high school football rivalry.

A few years ago, as the media focused on crime, the Herald consulted its readers and found them most concerned about potholes. So the Herald wrote about potholes.

Now, as the newspaper covers the flood, it has also become a community lifeline. It publishes phone numbers, tips for cleaning up and messages to and from displaced residents.

'They are providing a sense of community that Grand Forks needs right now,' says Beth Blanks Hindman, a journalism professor at North Dakota State University in Fargo. 'The radio is important, but this gives you something tangible, something to hold onto.'

The newspaper set up in Manvel, population 300, the day after it was forced to abandon its offices in the early morning hours of April 19.

Down the hall from the computer lab, the advertising department occupies the health room. The photography department is set up next to the drums in the music room, and the circulation department has taken over the library. If you want to place a classified ad, you have to go to the counselor's office.

'It's wonderfully weird being here,' says Editor Mike Jacobs, from his trailer out by the playground. The trailer is Jacobs' new office. At the moment it contains a phone, a desk, a fax machine and six metal folding chairs.
The staff is adjusting. So is the school.

The day the Herald moved in, the school had two phones and a fax line. The phone company soon arrived, bored a hole in the cinder-block wall and threaded a dozen new lines into the new newsroom.

'It's turned out to be a little more than we expected,' principal Richard Ray says. 'The kids have lost their computer class. But we look at the paper as a community service, especially in an emergency. People need information.'
The night the Red River spilled over the dike will go down as the most perilous night in the newspaper's history. The river washed into the downtown streets about 1:30 a.m. The presses were rolling. Jacobs had just added the latest developments to the front page, including a new headline: 'THE FLOOD HITS HOME: CREST COULD COME TONIGHT.' Then police phoned and ordered them out. Jacobs begged for more time.

By 2:20 a.m., the river slurped up to the door. The foreman shut down the power, and Jacobs and the others abandoned the plant.

'We wanted to try and finish the run,' he says. 'We had very few truck drivers so we started loading papers into my vehicle. I took the papers six blocks away. By the time I came back, water had swamped the building, The pressmen were running through water to get to their cars.'

The fire the next day seemed strangely anticlimactic. 'I remember thinking, 'A fire? Sure, there's a fire,'' says Andy Braford, the chief copy editor. 'Everything else has been happening, so why not a fire? Why not locusts?'
Grand Forks by this time was evacuated, Jacobs went on the radio in search of reporters to put out the Sunday newspaper. He asked them to meet at the University of North Dakota on the west edge of town.

But floodwaters soon threatened the university. Uprooted again, the Herald moved to Manvel. The plan was to publish the newspaper in St. Paul, Minn., at the Pioneer Press, which, like the Herald; is owned by Knight-Ridder Inc. Then the newspapers would be flown back and delivered free.

The stories would be written in Manvel and transmitted to St. Paul via e-mail.

Braford and two other editors flew to St. Paul to lay out the pages and write the head-lines. As the plane left Grand Forks, Braford doubted they'd be able to pull it off. 'That was the only time I lost faith that we were gonna get a paper out,' he says. 'I said we should just turn around. I don't think we can do this.'

Two weeks into the crisis, Jacobs is searching for a closer print site. This week, the comics, editorials and a page of Sports returned. Home delivery has resumed in outlying areas.

The newspaper has only be-gun to assess its losses. The presses are damaged, but salvageable. The main computers seem intact, so accounting re-cords and the circulation list eventually can be retrieved. The library, however, was destroyed by the fire. It was used regularly by area residents re-searching family histories. Thousands of photographs and clippings dating to the 1800's were lost.

'Losing 20 years' worth of negatives down there was an emotional moment for me,' says John Stennes, the chief photographer.

In Manvel, the Herald staff is slowly developing a routine. Those displaced by the flood stay at the Lutheran Church here and eat at the Manvel Community Center. Managing Editor Jim Durkin frets about long-term stress.
'When we did the first pa-per, it was a sprint,' he says. 'This has turned into a marathon, and I'm not sure that people have the stamina. Adrenaline can only pump for so long.'

Meanwhile, the students at the Manvel school are preparing a special section about the flood for this Sunday's edition. The section will contain stories, poems and drawings.

The project has become a lesson in the value of getting a newspaper out, no matter what. When Jacobs met with student editors, one said that he'd try to finish on time.

'No. If it's not done, it's not going in,' Jacobs said. 'I explained to them what a deadline was. Then there was this very serious silence.'

Laura Parker is a national correspondent for USA Today.

This article adapted from Vol. 10#3.

Monday, 29 October 2007 02:34

Red River Rising

Written by

The City of Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba, with a population of about 650,000, is at the geographical centre of North America. Located about 829 miles north of Kansas City, Winnipeg is at the confluence of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers.

The Red River Valley has a long and storied history of flood events. The flow rates of the River are notoriously variable with all-time minimum flows of about 13 cubic feet per second (cfs) and an all time maximum flow of over 200,000 cfs. Each spring brings with it a threat of serious flooding. With head waters in the United States each year�s problems are first manifest there (North Dakota) and the crest gradually moves north into Canada, eventually through Winnipeg (see map 1 on page 54). This south to north flow allows for a further complication in as much as ice cover is generally present on the River at the commencement of spring flooding. Furthermore, points down stream are usually frozen longer than up-stream points. This significantly compounds the likelihood and severity of ice jamming and blockages as a complicating factor.

In this article I will highlight some of the key events and lessons learned in the flood of '97 or the 'Flood of the Century'. A brief explanation of the factors which contribute to flooding will be given. Mention will also be made of how available forecasts prompted appropriate warnings. The City of Winnipeg benefits greatly from one of the most effective disaster mitigation projects in the world. The article will touch on the Red River Floodway and its key role in this disaster. The impact, or when the crest (highest river levels) reached Winnipeg, was the culmination of all the preparedness activities. That was when all defences met their sternest test. This is also the time when the most number of people were evacuated from their homes.

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