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.


Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

This photo taken on October 3, 2018 shows Hong Kong-based flight attendant Venus Fung, who works for a European airline, posing during an interview with AFP in Hong Kong. (AFP)
Updated 23 sec ago
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Sexual harassment in the sky: Hong Kong flight attendants fight back

  • The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide

HONG KONG: Immaculate-looking flight attendants who appear unruffled by the demands of a life spent in the air are part of the slick image sold by carriers — but Hong Kong-based workers are increasingly hitting back against sexual harassment.
Female cabin crew told AFP of how they had been harassed not only by passengers but also by colleagues.
While they say carriers have made some steps in the right direction, they argue airlines still lag far behind in the #MeToo era.
Venus Fung, whose experiences drove her to join and lead the Cabin Attendants Union of Hong Kong, says airlines must teach workers on how to deal with harassment.
Fung, 29, said the issue was never raised in her company training.
The Hong Kong-based attendant told AFP she had been physically picked up by a pilot who touched her chest, waist and bottom, commenting she had a nice body, when she was new to the job more than two years ago.
“At that moment I was really angry, but I was mostly also panicking and afraid. My mind went completely blank — I had no idea what to do or how to react,” said Fung, who works for a European airline which she did not want to identify for fear of recrimination.
The cabin manager who witnessed the incident did not intervene, Fung added, instead threatening to report her for wearing a skirt that was “too tight.”
As a result Fung stopped wearing skirts at work for more than a year, opting for trousers instead.
She has since been training colleagues on how to report sexual harassment and seek help, but said long-term cultural changes are needed.
“When a flight attendant comes out it looks very fancy with the uniform, heels and makeup. There are fantasies around this industry and it’s hard to change public perception but it absolutely cannot be an excuse for bad behavior,” Fung said, calling for an awareness-raising campaign.
“Education is key to changing people’s attitudes. It’s difficult to carry out overnight, it takes time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do these things.”
The airline did not respond to requests by AFP for comment.

The complaints from attendants like Fung come as demands for change grow worldwide.
The US-based Association of Flight Attendants last year called on American airlines to “renounce the past objectification of flight attendants.”
Vietnamese budget carrier VietJet, which has staffed some of its inaugural flights with bikini-clad attendants and publishes a calendar featuring scantily-dressed models posing on planes, has sparked criticism for its marketing ploys.
Owned by Vietnam’s only female billionaire, the airline had to apologize for sending lingerie models to join the country’s under-23 football squad on a flight home in January after a social media outcry.
Some airline staff in Hong Kong told AFP the perceived glamor attracted many women to the job — there are popular makeup tutorials on YouTube by flight attendants from Dubai-based airline Emirates on how to achieve their look.
But others say some of the industry’s grooming standards are outdated.
Staff at Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific must wear eyeshadow, lipstick and nail polish in specifically approved shades and check it at regular intervals, according to an official handbook.
Male staff are also under scrutiny — banned from wearing make-up but told they must “maintain a clear complexion at all times.”
Cathay’s cabin crew representatives say they will push to make nail polish optional in talks with the company next year.
The airline announced in March it would introduce a trouser option for female attendants, ending a 70-year skirt rule.
But Dora Lai, Cathay Pacific Flight Attendants Union leader and a cabin manager, said that while the move was a step toward gender equality, it would do little to end sexual harassment without a shift in public and staff awareness.
Lai said many airline advertisements deployed beautiful women to sell the industry’s “sex appeal,” rather than the practical skills of the job.
“We are there to provide a service and to bring our passengers safely from point A to point B,” she said.

Despite Cathay launching an online course with a special section on sexual harassment for Hong Kong cabin staff in March, the union says some in-flight managers continue to distrust staff who report cases.
A Cathay attendant who did not want to be identified told AFP her in-flight manager had been reluctant to warn a passenger who had patted her head and back repeatedly, which she described as “humiliating.”
“I felt angry and sad. I was the concerned party, not just relaying the incident... And after telling him, the supervisor was still not supportive,” she said.
Cathay Pacific told AFP it provided training to all staff on the “prevention and elimination of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.”
But attendant Michelle Choi said the company needed to go further to support staff in taking immediate action, from giving warnings to asking passengers to apologize, or in some cases reporting to police.
“We want flight attendants to know what they can do instead of feeling embarrassed about reporting the case, and in the end making excuses to tolerate these acts as many used to do before,” she said.