39km To Miles

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Janet D. Mommsen Professor Emeritus of Human and Community Development, University of California, Davis. Editor of Women and Change in the Caribbean and many other works. Author of Gender and Development…

39km To Miles

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A storm watch has been issued for St. Lucia as Tropical Storm Brett barrels toward the eastern Caribbean at hurricane strength.

Tropical Storm Brett continues to strengthen as it targets the eastern Caribbean islands, causing heavy rains, mudslides and flooding.

Saint Lucia is an island nation in the Caribbean Sea. It is the second largest of the Windward group in the Lesser Antilles and is located about 24 miles (39 km) south of Martinique and about 21 miles (34 km) northeast of St. Vincent.

St. Lucia is 27 miles (43 km) long and has a maximum width of 14 miles (23 km). The capital and main port is Castries. Saint Lucia is a member of the Commonwealth.

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The island is of volcanic origin and bisected from north to south by a central ridge of forested mountains, the highest point being Mount Gimi (3,145 feet [959 meters]). Many streams flow from the mountains through fertile valleys. To the southwest are Gros and Petit Pitons (2,619 feet [798 meters] and 2,460 feet [750 meters], respectively), two massive stone pyramids rising sharply from the sea and enclosing a small bay. Near Petit Piton, in the crater of an ancient volcano, the nearby town of Soufriere takes its name from boiling sulfur springs. A popular tourist destination, the springs also contain great energy potential.

Saint Lucia lies in the path of the northeast trade winds and has a tropical maritime climate. Precipitation and temperature change with altitude. Average annual rainfall ranges from 51 inches (1,295 mm) on the coast to a total of 150 inches (3,810 mm) in the interior. There is a dry season from approximately January to April and a rainy season from May to November. Average temperatures are around 80 °F (27 °C), with highs sometimes in the 80s (31 °C) and lows in the 60s (20 °C).

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The understory forest through the tree contains colorful orchids and anthurium. The rich avifauna includes the St. Lucia parrot (the endangered national bird), the St. Lucia black finch and the St. Lucia oriole. There is also a lizard unique to St. Lucia, and the agouti is common.

There are no Caribs left on the island; The majority of the island’s inhabitants are black with a small minority of mulattoes and other admixtures. The rest are of white or East Indian extraction. French Patois is spoken by most residents but is gradually being replaced by English as the official language. The main religion is Roman Catholicism, and Seventh-day Adventists and other Protestants are a significant minority. St. Lucia’s population growth rate is slightly higher than the Caribbean average. The main population centers are Castries and Vieux Fort.

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Sugarcane was the main crop, but production ceased completely in 1964 when most of the sugarcane fields were converted to banana cultivation. Banana is now the main crop. Other crops include coconut, cocoa, citrus and other fruits, spices, cassava and yam. There is a stable local fishing industry.

Saint Lucia’s manufacturing sector is a major beneficiary of the US Caribbean Basin Initiative, a program designed to promote manufacturing in the region. An industrial free zone was established in the south of the island near Vieux Fort; Factories there produce and export electronic goods and toys. Other industries produce cardboard, cloth, rum, tobacco products, coconut products, concrete blocks and beer. Tourism has developed rapidly since the 1970s; A cruise ship complex opened near Castries in 1987.

The main exports are bananas, cardboard, cloth, coconut products and electronic goods. Saint Lucia’s major trading partners are the United States, Trinidad and Tobago, Great Britain, Barbados and Dominica. Imports include food, fuel and manufactured goods.

There is an international airport at Vieux Fort on the southern tip of the island and a smaller airport at Vigie for domestic and regional flights. International shipping companies operate from ports in Castries and Vieux Fort. In addition, there is an oil transshipment terminal near Castries.

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Saint Lucia is a constitutional monarchy with the British monarch as head of state, represented by the Governor-General. A bicameral Parliament consists of a House of Assembly elected by universal adult suffrage and a Senate, with members appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition in the House and the Governor-General. The Prime Minister, the leader of the majority party, is the head of the government.

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Saint Lucia maintains its relationship with the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which consists of the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.

Several general hospitals and many health centers are distributed across the island. There is also a private hospital under command at Vieux Fort.

Primary education is free and compulsory and there is a branch of the University of the Caribbean in Castries. There is also a technical college and a teacher’s college. Many primary schools are parochial, mainly Catholic. Austrian Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a speed of 833.9 mph (1,342 km/h).

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The 43-year-old also broke the record for tallest free fall, jumping from a balloon 128,100 feet (24 miles; 39 km) over New Mexico.

It took him less than 10 minutes to come down. Only the last few thousand feet were negotiated by parachute.

Once down, he dropped to his knees and raised his fists in triumph. Helicopter recovery teams were on hand a short time later.

“I tell you – when I stand on top of the world, you are very humble. You no longer think about breaking records, you no longer think about getting scientific data – you just want to come back alive,” he later told a media conference.

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Any new points set by Baumgartner cannot be classified as “official” until approved by the Fédération Aeronautique Internationale (FAI).

Its representative was the first to welcome the skydiver on the ground. GPS data recorded on a microcard in the Austrian’s chest pack is the basis for the altitude and speed claims made.

There was concern early in the dive that Baumgartner was in trouble. As soon as he left his capsule he had to put himself in the delta position – head down, arms back. But the video shows it falling again and again.

Ultimately, however, he was able to use his vast experience of more than 2,500 career dives to correct his fall and enter a stable configuration.

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Even before this drama, it was thought that the operation might have to be stopped. While conducting last-minute checks inside the capsule, it was discovered that the heater for his visor was not working. This meant that the mask fogged up when he breathed.

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“This is very serious, Joe,” he told retired U.S. Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, whose record he was trying to break and who served as his radio link in mission control at Roswell Airfield.

Kittinger held the marks for highest, farthest and longest free fall in 1960 when he jumped from a helium balloon. Their altitude is 102,800 feet (31 km). (His record for longest free fall remains intact – he fell for four and a half minutes before deploying his chute; Baumgartner was in free fall for four minutes and 20 seconds).

Kittinger, now an octogenarian, was an integral part of Baumgartner’s team, offering advice and encouragement to the Austrian whenever the younger man doubted his ability to complete such a daring task.

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“Felix did a great job and it was a great honor to work with this brave man,” said the senior man.

The 43-year-old adventurer – known for his skyscrapers – first seriously discussed the possibility of beating Kittinger’s records in 2005.

At the height of Sunday’s jump, the air pressure will be less than 2% of sea level and breathing will be impossible without an oxygen supply.

Baumgartner’s team built a special pressure capsule to protect him on the way up, and for his offspring he wore a next-generation full pressure suit made by the same company that makes astronaut flight suits.

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Researchers on the Red Bull Stratos project say it has already provided valuable data for the development of high-performance, high-altitude parachutes.

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