13 dead, hundreds rescued after Hurricane Maria pummels Puerto Rico

Trees are toppled in a parking lot at Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Wednesday, during the passage of the Hurricane Maria. (AFP)
Updated 22 September 2017
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13 dead, hundreds rescued after Hurricane Maria pummels Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN: Puerto Rico was on Friday battling dangerous flooding after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, as the death toll there jumped to 13 and authorities rescued nearly 700 people from high waters.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello called Maria the most devastating storm in a century after it destroyed the US territory’s electricity and telecommunications infrastructure.
“Part of the island is lacking communications so what we have are some preliminary assessments about 13 deaths at this juncture,” he told CNN early Friday.
“We’re 24 hours post-hurricane warning and right now our efforts are to make sure we have everybody safe, that we can rescue people. Our efforts have already produced almost 700 rescues so we’re clearly focused on that.”
The National Hurricane Center said some areas in Puerto Rico could see 40 inches (more than a meter) of rain from Maria, and Rossello warned of dangerous mudslides brought on by the deluge.
“We have a lot of flooding, we have reports of complete devastation of vulnerable housing. Of course it’s still raining over here.”
Maria was blamed for at least 33 deaths, including 15 in Dominica, three in Haiti and two in Guadeloupe.
“Puerto Rico is absolutely obliterated,” US President Donald Trump told reporters on Thursday after declaring the territory of 3.4 million people a disaster area, a move that will free up emergency relief funding.
“Puerto Rico is in a very, very, very tough shape,” he said.
The torrential rain had turned some roads into muddy brown rivers, impassable to all but the largest of vehicles.
Toppled trees, street signs and power cables were strewn across roads that were also littered with debris.
“We all lived through the worst night of our lives, but Puerto Ricans have great inner strength,” said Iris Rivera, 53, in San Juan.
“Everyone is helping by cleaning up, directing traffic and supporting their neighbors.”
As of early Friday, Maria was a Category Three hurricane with winds of 205 km, churning in the sea some 35 miles east of Grand Turk Island in the Turks and Caicos.
Heavy rains and high winds began hitting the archipelago, a British territory, on Thursday afternoon.
The government opened new shelters after several buildings which had been used during Hurricane Irma earlier this month were damaged and authorities feared they might not hold up under another fierce storm.
In the Dominican Republic, the heavy rains triggered flooding as rivers overflowed their banks.
High winds downed trees and electrical pylons, and 140,000 people were left without power, the government said. Some 17,000 have been evacuated from their homes.
Ricardo Ramos, who heads Puerto Rico’s electricity board, said it could take months before power is fully restored on the island.
“The system... has been totally destroyed,” he said of the electricity grid.
While the island had suffered major blackouts in previous hurricanes, Ramos said the impact would be felt much more keenly this time.
“I guess it’s a good time for dads to buy a glove and ball and change the way you entertain your children and the way you are going to go to school and the way you are going to cook,” Ramos told CNN.
Following reports of looting, Rossello imposed an overnight curfew, from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 am, which will stay in place until Saturday.
Maria has already torn through several Caribbean islands, claiming the highest toll on Dominica, which has a population of around 72,000 and has been largely cut off from the outside world.
“So far, we would have buried in excess of 15 people,” Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said.
“If there (are) no other fatalities, it is a miracle,” he said.
“We have no water, no electricity, very limited communications.”
AFP aerial footage showed debris from damaged buildings scattered across the island and many structures with their roofs ripped off. Trees were snapped in half or ripped out of the ground.
Residents on Thursday were busy shoveling mud from their homes and businesses, while laundry was hung out to dry on the frames of half-destroyed homes and along downed utility cables.
Skerrit appealed for desperately needed supplies and helicopters to ferry them to cut-off communities.
“These hurricanes are becoming stronger than ever and more powerful than ever... And we really need, all of us, to understand that these issues are of greater concern to small islands like ours.
“We are very very vulnerable,” said Skerrit, who himself had to be rescued during the hurricane which blew off the roof off his home.


Indian cancellation of defense equipment orders hurts investor sentiment: Experts

A tender was withdrawn for short-range surface-to-air missiles, with Israel’s SPYDER system having been the front-runner. Supplied
Updated 18 June 2018
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Indian cancellation of defense equipment orders hurts investor sentiment: Experts

  • New Delhi scrapped a $500 million deal for Israel’s Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile. Israel had agreed to transfer the technology to India, and had set up a factory in a venture with an Indian company
  • Modi wants the country to decrease its reliance on foreign firms, reduce its import bill and manufacture equipment in-house

NEW DELHI: The Indian government’s penchant for canceling or withdrawing tenders for defense equipment at the last minute is likely to hurt investor confidence in the country, experts said on Sunday.
New Delhi called off a $9 billion deal to co-develop with Russia a next-generation fighter aircraft, after the state-owned Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) said it would do the job in-house, Indian media reported this week.
Under the deal, a significant amount of the research would have been carried out in India. Russia had agreed to tailor the aircraft to Indian needs, and was to hand over all the technology, the Economic Times reported.
India is the world’s largest importer of defense equipment, and imports at least 90 percent of its equipment, including parts for assembly.
The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi wants the country to decrease its reliance on foreign firms, reduce its import bill and manufacture equipment in-house.
But India lacks much of the high-end technology needed for such equipment, which is why deals where foreign partners agree to share technology are useful for its long-term plans, experts say.
When such deals are canceled, “it greatly reduces confidence in India,” said Saurabh Joshi, editor of StratPost Media Pvt Ltd., a defense news website.
“We can’t willy-nilly… accept arguments that a particular equipment can be developed and produced indigenously before such tenders are withdrawn,” he added.
“There should be an adequate test to develop and produce indigenously. Otherwise, we’re simply postponing an acquisition process by 10 to 15 years, and it’s the armed forces that have to go without critical equipment until then.”
Experts say one reason for the government canceling orders could be a lack of funds. The Russian deal is not the only one to be jettisoned recently.
New Delhi scrapped a $500 million deal for Israel’s Spike Anti-Tank Guided Missile. Israel had agreed to transfer the technology to India, and had set up a factory in a venture with an Indian company. The reason given for the cancellation was the same: To develop the missiles indigenously.
A tender was also withdrawn for short-range surface-to-air missiles, with Israel’s SPYDER system having been the front-runner, experts said.
On average, it takes a tender at least six years to go through the various steps before the final purchase order can be placed.
Any company that loses a bid has to account for that time and investment to its head office and its board, Joshi said.