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.


Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

Updated 17 November 2018
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Buber picks up the taxi challenge on the streets of Kabul

  • Popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads
  • Buber will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019

KABUL: Booking a ride that picks you up from your doorstep has been a dream for many Afghans for a long time. The dream is now coming true. After the popular ride-hailing services such as Uber and Careem declined to run on Afghanistan’s chaotic and unmapped roads, a private national firm came up with a local solution: Buber.
Currently on its test run, the service will be officially launched in Kabul in January 2019.
Basharmal Dawlatzai, a Buber driver, says the initiative in a congested city where violence and criminal activities have been part of daily life for years, is a relief for both clients and drivers.
“It is very convenient for both sides, the customer does not need to walk to a street, wait for taxi in cold or hot weather and bargain with a taxi he or she does not know,” Dawlatzai told Arab News. “We go to their homes and drop them at their favored destination, which saves both sides time and hassle.”
He has been with Buber for two months and has taken around employees of Afghanistan’s Holding Group (AHG) that owns Buber, which in Dari means “Take me”.
AHG’s headquarters near the ancient Darul-Aman palace is tucked away behind blast walls with a sprawling compound that enjoys far better security measures than many state institutions which are the targets of routine attacks by militants in Afghanistan.
The security precautions at AHG include a series of body searches by armed guards as well as scanners and the layers of checks that make it look as if the compound is in top-secret location.
There is a different world and mood inside, and for a moment you may think that this is not Afghanistan, given the pace of its work and manner of efficiency. Groups of young sleek men and women are busy typing away on computers or discussing their regular daily activities.
AHG hopes to gallop and make Afghanistan catch up with the revolution in the field of technology that has spread across the globe in recent years.
Staff at AHG say that since its launch in 2009 the company has provided professional business services to more than 700 organizations across Afghanistan. Its clients range from small companies, non-profits and corporations to development institutions and government customers. It offers a range of services that include legal and human resources support and assistance with licensing, visas, payroll, taxation, audit and procurement.
Now, AHG is working on its new innovation, Afghanistan Technology Services (ATS), which covers Hisab (accounting) and Buber, online taxi ordering similar to Uber.
The Hisab application allows customers to pay online power and water bills and order goods for home delivery, as well as paying for Buber.
The online car ordering has been operating in Afghanistan for several years, but business is tailing off for the other two firms, which according to officials had not managed to develop an advanced application.
“Technology is taking over each and every thing across the world, we do not want to be behind those guys and we would like to reach somewhere and rebuild Afghanistan. This is our mission, to rebuild Afghanistan,” said Zaheeruddin Naeabkhail, Buber’s senior manager.
Until its launch in January Buber is on a test run to make sure that the application works smoothly. It has enlisted 500 vehicles, with Kabul being the immediate target, and with the intention to expand to other major cities later.
Not many will be able to afford the Buber service: Smart phone owners and literate people are its target.
Even the drivers will have to be literate.
In a country where there is no fixed rate for taxis and customers usually bargain, Buber will have fixed prices and can come to a customer’s desired address for pick up.
In a country riven by violence and crimes, such as abductions, Buber can offer peace of mind to clients as it has a tracking mechanism which clients can share with anyone they want to for their safety, AHG officials said.
“The problem for now in the market is the security concern. We have this facility for the user as well as the driver that allows them to be able to track users through our GPS,” Naeabkhail said.
Drivers will be registered with full details for security measures and they can help the police with information if anything happens to a client between pickup and drop-off.
The application can be a great help for the customer to avoid congested areas and routes where there is protest or there has been an attack, officials said, adding this will save time for the client and money for the driver, as well as reducing pollution.
“This application is very challenging application, nobody else has it, it is not easy for others to build it easily. Afghans have developed the application themselves,” Naeabkhail said.
Roadblocks created by officials, some embassies, foreign troops and factional leaders are the key challenges and Buber hopes to address that with the help of Google, he said.
“The main challenge that we face is the map, because Afghanistan is not mapped very well. We would like the support of Google if they are willing to help us … it is like general support for the public at large and also for any company that comes later and invests.”