Wildfires kill 39 in Portugal and Spain

1 / 2
Firefighters try to extinguish a fire in Cabanoes near Louzan as wildfires continue to rage in Portugal on October 16, 2017. (AFP / Francisco Leong)
2 / 2
Firefighters and civilians attempt to subdue wildfire flames in Vigo, northwestern Spain, on October 15, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
0

Wildfires kill 39 in Portugal and Spain

VOUZELA, Portugal: At least 36 people have died in fires ravaging forests in northern and central Portugal over the past 24 hours, rescuers said Monday, after three people were killed in Spain in blazes sparked by arsonists and fanned by Hurricane Ophelia.
The 36 deaths, which were confirmed by Portugal’s national civil protection agency and included a one-month-old baby, come four months after 64 people were killed in the deadliest fire in the country’s history in June.
“There are still places where security services have not yet managed to reach,” civil protection agency spokeswoman Patricia Gaspar said, adding that the toll remained preliminary for that reason.
She said seven people were still missing due to the fires, which have also injured at least 63 people, including 16 critically.
The 524 registered outbreaks of fire in Portugal, by far the most since 2006, were caused by “higher than average temperatures for the season and the cumulative effect of drought,” Gaspar said.
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa reafirmed his pledges to prevent new tragedies by carrying out “fundamental reforms” in forest management and firefighting.
“After this year, nothing should remain as it was before,” he said.
In Portugal, as in the northwestern Spanish region of Galicia, temperatures were cooler on Monday and weather services forecast rain for Tuesday, but about 3,600 firefighters were still battling some 30 major fires in Portugal by evening.
In Spain, Galician authorities, who have declared three days of regional mourning, said there were still 15 active fires representing a risk to the population and homes.
One of the worst hit areas in Portugal is near the city of Lousa in the Coimbra region, where 650 firefighters were battling blazes.
“We went through absolute hell, it was horrible. There was fire everywhere,” a resident of the town of Penacova, near Lousa. told RTP television.
Two brothers in their 40s who were trying to put out the blaze there were among the fatalities.
In a village in the commune of Vouzela, in the northern district of Viseu, residents used water hoses to try to fight the flames as several homes were consumed.
“Everything happened in 45 minutes, the fire came at the foot of the village and spread at an incredible rate,” resident Jose Morais told AFP. “I had never seen anything like that before. It felt like the end of the world. Everyone fled.”
Fallen electricity pylons and abandoned cars were left lying in roads, the area surrounded by burnt pine and eucalyptus trees, as thick smoke clogged the sky.
“Most of the victims were killed in their cars, but we also found them inside their houses,” said the mayor of the town of Oliveira do Hospital, Jose Carlos Alexandrino, on public television RTP.
“The whole city looked like a ball of fire, surrounded by flames on all sides,” he said.
The Portuguese government said it had called on EU members and Morocco to help in the firefighting efforts, but so far only Italy had agreed to send two water bombers due to arrive in the evening.
Even before the latest blazes, nearly 216,000 hectares (530,000 acres) had been consumed by wildfires across the country between January and September, according to estimates from the country’s forest service.
In Galicia, on Spain’s border with Portugal, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy blamed arsonists for most of the deadly wildfires, which have caused three deaths in the country.
“What we are experiencing here does not happen by chance, this was provoked,” he said after observing a minute’s silence for the victims in the town of Pazos de Borben.
Hundreds of firefighters backed by water-dropping helicopters and planes were battling 19 large wildfires in Galicia on Monday, the regional government said in a statement.
“Galicia is not burning by itself. Galicia is being burned,” said Alberto Nunez Feijoo, head of the regional government, blaming “terrorist arsonists.”
Five wildfires near Vigo, Galicia’s biggest city, forced the evacuation of a shopping mall and a Peugeot Citroen car factory on the outskirts of the city, though workers were able to return to the factory on Monday.
The city of around 300,000 residents has opened up two sports centers and booked rooms in three hotels for people who had to evacuate their homes.
Two women died on Sunday after being engulfed in flames trapped in their van near Nigran, outside Vigo, and an elderly man died in an animal shed near his house in Carballeda de Avia.
Hurricane Ophelia swept past Spain before being downgraded to a violent storm on Monday as it battered Ireland.
Meteorologists said Ophelia was the most powerful hurricane recorded so far east in the Atlantic and the first since 1939 to travel so far north.


India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

Updated 11 December 2018
0

India’s Modi stares at biggest election loss since coming to power

  • Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition
  • Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters

NEW DELHI: India’s ruling party could lose power in three key states, four TV networks said on Tuesday, citing votecount leads, potentially handing Prime Minister Narendra Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014, and months ahead of a general election.
The main opposition Congress party could form governments in the central states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, and in the western state of Rajasthan, all big heartland states that powered Modi to a landslide win in the 2014 general election.
Analysts say a big loss for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party would signify rural dismay and help unite the opposition, despite his high personal popularity in the face of criticism that he did not deliver on promises of jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
“We’ve all voted for Congress this time and our candidate is winning here,” said Bishnu Prasad Jalodia, a wheat grower in Madhya Pradesh, where it appears as if Congress might have to woo smaller parties to keep out Modi’s party.
“BJP ignored us farmers, they ignored those of us at the bottom of the pyramid.”
The elections are also a test for Rahul Gandhi, president of the left-of-center Congress, who is trying to forge a broad alliance with regional groups and face Modi with his most serious challenge yet, in the election that must be held by May.
In Rajasthan, the Congress was leading in 114 of the 199 seats contested, against 81 for the BJP, in the initial round of voting, India Today TV said.
In Chhattisgarh, the Congress was ahead in 59 of the 90 seats at stake, with the BJP at 24. In Madhya Pradesh, the most important of the five states that held assembly elections over the past few weeks, Congress was ahead, with 112 of 230 seats. The Hindu nationalist BJP was at 103, the network said.
Three other TV channels also said Congress was leading in the three states, with regional parties leading in two smaller states that also voted, Telangana in the south and Mizoram in the northeast.
Poll analysts cautioned that with the counting in preliminary stages, it was still too early to predict the outcome of state races involving millions of voters.
Local issues usually dominate state polls, but politicians are seeing the elections as a pointer to the national vote just months away.
Indian markets recovered some ground after an early fall as the central bank governor’s unexpected resignation the previous day shocked investors.
The rupee currency dropped as much as 1.5 percent to 72.465 per dollar, while bond yields rose 12 basis points to 7.71 percent after the resignation of Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel.
The broader NSE share index was down 1.3 percent, with investors cautious ahead of the election results.
“As the three erstwhile BJP states have a large agrarian population, the BJP’s drubbing could be interpreted to mean that farm unrest is real,” Nomura said in a research note before the results.
“A rout of the BJP on its homeground states should encourage cohesion among the opposition parties to strengthen the non-BJP coalition for the general elections.”
Gandhi, the fourth generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, has sought to build a coalition of regional groups, some headed by experienced firebrand, ambitious politicians.
Congress has already said it would not name Gandhi, who is seen as lacking experience, as a prime ministerial candidate.
“When one and one become eleven, even the mighty can be dethroned,” opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav said of the prospect of growing opposition unity.