Ask AP: Soldier in Uzbekistan, solar panel safety

AP News
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Posted: Nov 13, 2009 8:45 AM

A lot of the sunniest parts of the U.S. _ like Florida and the Gulf Coast _ are also prime hurricane country.

If you decide to take advantage of those rays by putting solar panels on your roof, is there a chance they could be ripped off in a storm?

Curiosity about solar panels and hurricanes inspired one of the questions in this edition of "Ask AP," a weekly Q&A column where AP journalists respond to readers' questions about the news.

If you have your own news-related question that you'd like to see answered by an AP reporter or editor, send it to newsquestions@ap.org, with "Ask AP" in the subject line. And please include your full name and hometown so they can be published with your question.

You can also find Ask AP on AP Mobile, a multimedia news service available on mobile devices. Go to http://www.apnews.com/ to learn more.

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I'm a citizen of Uzbekistan and I read an article of yours that mentioned the number of U.S. deaths in the war in Afghanistan. It said this:

"As of Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009, at least 833 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as a result of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. The department last updated its figures Friday at 10 a.m. EDT. Of those, the military reports 640 were killed by hostile action."

This gave the impression that members of the U.S. military had died in Uzbekistan. But how could this be? There is no military action in Uzbekistan, and I have never heard that any American has died here.

Zukhriddin Ibragimov

Tashkent, Uzbekistan

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AP maintains information on all U.S. troop casualties reported by the Department of Defense as part of the Afghanistan War effort. This includes service members who have died under non-hostile circumstances and deaths that have occurred outside Afghanistan.

While there have been no combat actions in Uzbekistan, one U.S. soldier, Pvt. Giovanny Maria, 19, of Camden, N.J., died in the country on Nov. 29, 2001, from what the Defense Department described as a "non-hostile gunshot wound." Maria was among 1,000 soldiers providing security at an air base in southern Uzbekistan, which borders Afghanistan.

The day before his death, about two dozen soldiers from his group, the 10th Mountain Division, were being moved from Uzbekistan to Afghanistan. According to officials at the time, their mission was to serve as a quick-reaction force in case of renewed Taliban resistance.

Details about Maria's death and his assignment in Uzbekistan _ including whether he was about to go to Afghanistan at the time of his death _ are unclear. The Defense Department referred calls to the Army, and Army officials said they would look into Maria's case but weren't immediately able to provide more information.

Monika Mathur

AP News Research Center

New York

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I'd like to use solar power on my buildings in Lake Charles, La., but I'm concerned that hurricanes would destroy the equipment. Is there a risk of this?

Harvey Adams

Lake Charles, La.

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There's certainly a risk. But solar panels should be able to withstand most of the weather that comes your way _ even in Hurricane Alley. Unlike roof tiles, solar panels are designed to be bolted to the rafters so they'll hold in strong weather. Some brands are even engineered to endure 140 mph winds.

Richard Smith, president of Superior Solar Systems in Longwood, Fla., said his company has installed 18,000 solar systems in the Southeast since 1984, and only a handful have blown off in a storm.

"The roof may come off, but the solar panel should not," Smith said. "When it happens, it's typically due to debris like a tree limb or something hitting it."

Before buying solar panels, it's a good idea to make sure the installer will fasten the panels to the roof rafters instead of the plywood surface. Also make sure there's a warranty. Many installers will replace solar panels that pop off in a storm as a result of an installation error.

It also may be a good idea to keep nearby trees neatly trimmed, minimizing the chance that one of them will snap off in a storm and take a solar panel with it.

Chris Kahn

AP Energy Writer

New York

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How much money does the federal government owe the Social Security trust funds? And how much interest does the federal government pay on the money it has borrowed every year?

Jim Durham

Chillicothe, Mo.

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The Social Security trust funds have a balance of about $2.5 trillion. Over the years, the federal government has borrowed all of that money to spend on other government programs. In return, the Treasury Department has issued Social Security special bonds _ think of them as IOUs, backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.

Twice a year, the Treasury Department makes interest payments to the trust funds, though it is little more than an accounting exercise. No money changes hands, but the interest payments are added to the balance of the trust funds. In 2008, the trust funds earned $116.3 billion in interest, according to the 2009 annual report by the Social Security trustees.

Stephen Ohlemacher

Associated Press Writer

Washington

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Have questions of your own? Send them to newsquestions@ap.org.