Delhi choked by smog as emergency steps fail to offer respite

Indian fitness enthusiasts work out amid heavy smog near India Gate in New Delhi on Monday, November 13, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2017
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Delhi choked by smog as emergency steps fail to offer respite

NEW DELHI: A thick cloud of toxic smog 10 times the recommended limit enveloped India's capital New Delhi on Monday, as government officials struggled to tackle a public health crisis that is well into its second week.
A US Embassy measure showed levels of poisonous airborne particles, known as PM 2.5, had reached 495 on Monday morning, compared with the upper limit of “good” quality air at 50.
India’s weather office said the forecast rain over the next three days could help clear the smog. “Light rainfall is likely in states surrounding Delhi and in Delhi over the next three days, and this could result in a change in wind pattern in the region,” Charan Singh, a scientist at India Meteorological Department, told Reuters.
“Smog will start to abate starting tomorrow.”
The Delhi state government declared a public health emergency last week after pollution levels in the city spiked, a yearly phenomenon blamed on a combination of illegal crop burning in northern states, vehicle exhausts and dust.
Over the weekend, the government said it planned to use fire trucks to spray water in parts of the capital, but the moves have had little effect.
A senior federal government official said there was little more the government could do.
“We can only do this much, and now we will have to wait for rains to clean the atmosphere,” said Prashant Gargava, an official at the Central Pollution Control Board, a federal body.
Gargava said Delhi’s air has been consistently in the “hazardous” zone, despite measures such as a halt to construction and increasing car-parking charges four-fold to encourage people to use public transportation.
The PM 2.5 airborne particles are about 30 times finer than a human hair. The particles can be inhaled deep into the lungs, causing respiratory diseases and other ailments. Hospitals in the capital have seen a spike in the number of patients coming in with respiratory complaints, according to media reports.
“Every second we are damaging our lungs, but we cannot stop breathing,” said Arvind Kumar, the head of the chest and lung surgery department at the Sir Ganga Ram hospital in the city.
United Airlines said it had resumed flights from Newark, New Jersey to New Delhi, India on Sunday, after suspending the service temporarily over concerns about poor air quality in the Indian capital.
State and federal governments decided to reopen schools on Monday after closing them temporarily for a few days last week. The move, however, is likely to add more vehicles on the road. Enforcement agencies said they were also unable to impose a blanket ban on movement of commercial trucks.
Aarti Menon, a teacher at a primary school in New Delhi, said her family was wearing masks even when they were indoors during the weekend.
“Not everyone can afford an air purifier or air-conditioned car. We are all living in hell,” said Menon, a mother of two teenage daughters.
The National Green Tribunal, an environment court, has directed the Delhi government and neighboring states to stop farmers from burning crop residue. But the federal and state governments have not been able to do so yet.
A New Delhi-based non-governmental organization, TARA Homes for Children, which supports 60 poor children, said it was seeking donations to buy at least five air purifiers. “Some of the children have breathing issues and couldn’t go to school,” said a volunteer at the NGO.


Catholic priest stabbed live on TV at Canada's biggest church

Updated 2 min 3 sec ago
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Catholic priest stabbed live on TV at Canada's biggest church

  • The priest was celebrating mass at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory when a tall man approached and stabbed him
  • Security guards and other churchgoers quickly restrained the suspect and was arrested by police

MONTREAL: A Canadian Catholic priest was stabbed in front of dozens of stunned worshippers as he was celebrating mass Friday morning at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Oratory.
Montreal police said a 911 call was placed at around 8:40 a.m. local time. When officers arrived at the landmark church, a male suspect was already detained by security guards.
Philip Barrett, who was sitting near the front of the church, said he saw a tall man, who appeared to be a Caucasian in his 30s, rise from a pew and quickly walk to attack Rev. Claude Grou, the Oratory’s rector.
“He walked over behind the altar and he seemed to strike the priest’s body,” Barrett said. “I think the priest fell down at that time. I do remember the priest was moving away from the man but it happened so quickly there was almost no time to react.”
The service was live-streamed on a Catholic channel. Video shows a tall man in a dark jacket and white baseball cap rounding the altar and charging at Grou as he thrusts his right arm toward the priest. Grou runs backward a few steps before the assailant pushes him into a banner.
As screams are heard in the background, a group of people run forward, surrounding and blocking the suspect.

Barrett said people quickly restrained the suspect, who did not struggle. He said the suspect didn’t speak or call out during the attack.
There was no other information immediately available about why the priest may have been attacked.
Police spokeswoman Caroline Chevrefils says the victim suffered minor injuries to his upper body and was taken to the hospital.
The suspect was to be questioned by police Friday morning.
Barrett said Grou crumpled to the ground after the attack, but he appeared to be conscious and alert about 15 minutes later when paramedics wheeled him to an ambulance.
He said members of the congregation immediately began praying.
“We’re reassured, because when he left the oratory he was conscious and could talk, which we see as a good sign,” said Celine Barbeau, a spokeswoman for the church.
St. Joseph’s Oratory is among Canada’s largest churches, and pilgrims from all over the world are drawn to its domed roof and stunning architecture.
Barrett said that he, like the rest of the roughly 60 people present, was shocked that an attack would happen in a place he has come to see as a haven.
“I really find it’s a welcoming place,” he said. “I just hope that as a result of this, I mean, I can imagine they’re going to need more security, but I hope they can still keep that welcoming spirit.”