US readies for ‘big one’ as Hurricane Florence approaches Carolinas

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Members of the media report from from the Wrightsville Beach Pier ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Florence on September 12, 2018 in Wrightsville Beach, United States. (AFP)
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The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort departs from Naval Station Norfolk ahead of Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S September 11, 2018. Picture taken September 11, 2018. (Reuters)
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Chris and Nicole Roland walk down a beach in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. The couple boarded up their uncle's condominium and are leaving soon as Hurricane Florence approaches. (AP)
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A surfer catches a wave a day before the arrival of Hurricane Florence at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina on September 12, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 12 September 2018
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US readies for ‘big one’ as Hurricane Florence approaches Carolinas

  • Trump, warning residents to get out of the way, said the federal government was “ready for the big one that is coming”
  • Flash floods and storm surges are expected to send water gushing over miles of vulnerable coastal areas

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, USA: People fleeing North and South Carolina clogged coastal highways early Wednesday as Hurricane Florence, a monster Category 4 storm, bore down on the US east coast for a direct hit in a low-lying region dense with beachfront vacation homes.
President Donald Trump, warning residents to get out of the way, said the federal government was “ready for the big one that is coming.”
While coastal residents frantically boarded up homes and businesses and hit the road, others chose to ride out a storm that is forecast to dump up to three feet (almost a meter) of rain in some areas.
Flash floods and storm surges — in some cases up to 13 feet high — are expected to send water gushing over miles of vulnerable coastal areas and river banks further inland.


North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper warned that staying put would be a grave mistake. He urged people to leave immediately rather than face the wrath of the “once in a lifetime” storm.
Up to 1.7 million people in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia have been given voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, according to emergency management officials, as the storm churned across the Atlantic Ocean toward the coast.
The eastbound lanes of several major highways have been shut down to allow traffic to flow inland, but the exodus was slow along roads jammed with outward-bound vehicles.
“We are already experiencing heavily impacted traffic on some of the evacuation routes,” said Jeff Byard, the associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Forecasters are predicting that Florence will make landfall in the Carolinas late Thursday or early Friday as a slightly weakened but still dangerous Category 3 hurricane.
As of 8:00 am (1200 GMT), it was packing sustained winds of 130 miles (210 kilometers) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
The eye was about 530 miles southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, moving west-northwest at 17 miles per hour.
“Get out of its way, don’t play games with it, it’s a big one, maybe as big as they’ve seen, and tremendous amounts of water,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter.
“We’ll handle it. We’re ready, we’re able, we’ve got the finest people I think anywhere in the world.”
FEMA Administrator Brock Long urged people to prepare for a “very devastating storm,” with possibly weeks-long power outages.
Byard, the FEMA official, said “this storm is not going to be a glancing blow.”
“This storm is going to be a direct hit,” he added.
“Hurricane Florence is the strongest storm to target the Carolinas and this part of our country in decades.”
Predictions now have the storm stalling and making a slight southward turn after it makes landfall.
A state of emergency has been declared in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington amid concern over potential torrential rain and flooding.
In Charleston, South Carolina, streets were quiet with schools and many offices and businesses closed.
Michael Kennedy, an engineer at Boeing, said he planned to leave for his parents’ home in Atlanta, Georgia.
But his partner, Emily Whisler, said she will stay at the university where she is a resident in the psychiatry program.
“They told me to bring a pillow and blanket,” Whisler said. “I’ll be living there for a few days.”
Charleston resident William Belli said he would not be among those joining the exodus.
“Been through it!” Belli said, referring to Hurricane Hugo, which caused widespread damage in South Carolina in 1989. “Not worried in the least.”
Walking his dog along empty streets, Belli said he’s well stocked with food and water.
“I will enjoy the quiet,” he said.
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered the mandatory evacuation of one million coastal residents. Schools in 26 of the state’s 46 counties were ordered closed.
Authorities in neighboring North Carolina ordered an evacuation of the Outer Banks, barrier islands that are a popular tourist destination, and parts of coastal Dare County.
In Virginia, 245,000 coastal residents were ordered to evacuate, including from the Eastern Shore, another popular beachfront destination.
In neighboring Maryland, Governor Larry Hogan said his state was readying for potentially “historic and catastrophic rainfall, life-threatening flooding, and high winds.”
By Saturday, total rainfall could accumulate to 30 inches (76 centimeters) — or even 40 inches in places — in parts of the Carolinas and Virginia, the NHC said.
The Virginia National Guard is planning to initially bring up to 1,500 soldiers and airmen to offer help in the state’s response operations.
Some 7,000 guard members are ready to mobilize in North Carolina, while 1,100 will be activated in South Carolina.
At this height of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence was being trailed on east-to-west paths by two other storms, Hurricane Helene and Tropical Storm Isaac, but neither packs the deadly punch of Florence.


Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan faces rape accuser in court

Updated 18 September 2018
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Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan faces rape accuser in court

  • Ramadan was charged in France in February with raping two women in hotels in 2009 and 2012
  • Swiss prosecutors have also opened an investigation into allegations that he raped a woman in a Geneva hotel in 2008

PARIS: Prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan was due to face one of his rape accusers in a French court Tuesday as he seeks bail after seven months in custody on charges he furiously denies.
Ramadan, a frequent TV commentator, was a professor at Oxford University until he was forced to take leave when the rape allegations surfaced at the height of the “Me Too” movement late last year.
The Swiss citizen, whose grandfather founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, was charged in France in February with raping two women in hotels in 2009 and 2012.
Swiss prosecutors have also opened an investigation into allegations that he raped a woman in a Geneva hotel in 2008, local media reported Sunday.
Ramadan, 56, has repeatedly sought bail arguing that being in prison is making it more difficult for him to receive treatment for multiple sclerosis.
In a video posted on Facebook Monday, his son Sami said his father had been “presumed guilty since the start” and that he appeared frail during a recent visit. “He needs assistance and a walking frame to move,” he said in the video.
But judges have ruled that he has adequate care in the prison hospital at Fresnes in the southern Paris suburbs.
On Tuesday, he will come face-to-face with the disabled woman who accuses him of attacking her in the eastern French city of Lyon in 2009.
She remains anonymous but is known in the media as “Christelle.”
Ramadan was initially due to face her at a hearing in mid-July but it was postponed after Christelle’s lawyers said she was unwell.
Ramadan, a married father of four who has dismissed the allegations against him as a smear campaign, has denied any sexual contact with Christelle.
At a previous hearing she described a scar on Ramadan’s groin as proof they had a sexual encounter, but his lawyers have argued she could have obtained this detail from one of his former mistresses.
He has said he engaged in a flirtatious exchange of messages with the woman and met her for around half an hour in the hotel lobby, while she maintains that he raped and beat her in his room.
His other French accuser, a Muslim fundamentalist turned secular activist named Henda Ayari, went public with her allegations last October.
She said she was encouraged to speak out by the global torrent of sexual harassment and abuse stories unleashed by the allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Both she and Christelle said they approached Ramadan, one of the best-known Islamic scholars in Europe, seeking religious advice.
Ramadan’s lawyers have pointed to inconsistencies in Ayari’s account of the alleged attack.
Another woman, French former call girl Mounia Rabbouj, has accused Ramadan of raping her several times in France as well as in London and Brussels between 2013 and 2014, but he has not been charged over those allegations.
He maintains he had a consensual affair with Rabbouj, describing relations that were “feisty” and involved “domination.”