Cyclone kills 33 in India with thousands in relief camps

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The aftermath of cyclone Gaja is seen in Tamil Nadu, India November 16, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. (REUTERS)
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The aftermath of cyclone Gaja is seen in Tamil Nadu, India November 16, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 November 2018
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Cyclone kills 33 in India with thousands in relief camps

  • Most deaths were caused by flooding, house collapses and electrocution

NEW DELHI: A powerful cyclone in southern India has killed at least 33 people, caused massive damage to homes and roads and drove tens of thousands of people into relief camps, officials said.
India’s navy assigned two ships and a helicopter for relief work as state authorities rushed drinking water, food and paramedics to nearly 82,000 people who took shelter in more than 400 state-run camps.
They were evacuated from areas in the path of Cyclone Gaja, which struck six districts of Tamil Nadu state on Friday with heavy rains and winds that reached 90 kilometers (55 miles) per hour.
Rescuers found 13 bodies Friday and an additional 20 on Saturday, said Edappadi Palaniswami, the state’s top elected official. Most deaths were caused by flooding, house collapses and electrocution.
The cyclone uprooted 30,000 electricity poles and more than 100,000 trees, he said. Nearly 10,000 workers were trying to restore electricity supply to the worst-hit areas, he said.
Palaniswami said a large number of goats, deer and wild animals had also perished in the flooding over the past two days.
Coconut trees over thousands of acres (hectares) of farmland have been uprooted, according to Tamil Nadu Vivasayigal Sangam, a farmers’ organization.
Tamil Nadu state is prone to cyclones that develop in the Bay of Bengal.


Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

Updated 6 min 43 sec ago
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Firefighters battle wildfire in Portugal, 32 people hurt

COLOS, Portugal: More than 1,000 firefighters battled a major wildfire Monday amid scorching temperatures in Portugal, where forest blazes wreak destruction every summer.
About 90% of the fire area in the Castelo Branco district, 200 kilometers (about 125 miles) northeast of the capital Lisbon, was brought under control during cooler overnight temperatures, according to local Civil Protection Agency commander Pedro Nunes.
But authorities said they expected heat in and winds to increase again in the afternoon, so all firefighting assets remained in place. Forests in the region are tinder-dry after weeks with little rain.
The Portuguese Civil Protection Agency said 321 vehicles and eight water-dumping aircraft were deployed to tackle the blaze, which has raced through thick woodlands.
Nunes told reporters that the fire, in its third day, has injured 32 people, one seriously.
Police said they were investigating what caused the fire amid suspicions it may have been started deliberately.
Temperatures were forecast to reach almost 40 C (104 F) Monday — prolonging a spell of blistering weather that is due to hit northern Europe late this week.
Recent weeks have also seen major wildfires in Spain, Greece and Germany. European Union authorities have warned that wildfires are “a growing menace” across the continent.
In May, forest fires also plagued Mexico and Russia.
Huge wildfires have long been a summer fixture in Portugal.
Residents of villages and hamlets in central Portugal have grown accustomed to the summer blazes, which destroy fruit trees, olive trees and crops in the fields.
In the hamlet of Colos, 50-year-old beekeeper Antonio Pires said he had lost half of his beehives in the current wildfire. Pires sells to mainly Portuguese and German clients, but also to Brazil and China.
“(I lost) 100 out of 230 (hives), so almost half,” Pires said. “A lot of damage.”
The country’s deadliest fire season came in 2017, when at least 106 people were killed.
The average annual area charred by wildfires in Portugal between 2010 and 2016 was just over 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres). That was more than in Spain, France, Italy or Greece — countries which are significantly bigger than Portugal.
Almost 11,500 firefighters are on standby this year, most of them volunteers. Volunteers are not uncommon in fire brigades in Europe, especially in Germany where more than 90% are volunteers.
Experts and authorities have identified several factors that make Portugal so particularly vulnerable to forest blazes. Addressing some of them is a long-term challenge.
The population of the Portuguese countryside has thinned as people have moved to cities in search of a better life. That means woodland has become neglected, especially as many of those left behind are elderly, and the forest debris is fuel for wildfires.
Large areas of central and northern Portugal are covered in dense, unbroken stretches of forest on hilly terrain. A lot of forest is pine and eucalyptus trees, both of which burn fiercely.
Environmentalists have urged the government to limit the area of eucalyptus, which burns like a torch. But it is a very valuable crop for Portugal’s important paper pulp industry, which last year posted sales worth 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion). The government says it is introducing restrictions gradually.
Experts say Portugal needs to develop a diversified patchwork of different tree species, some of them more fire-resistant and offering damper, shaded.
Climate change has become another challenge, bringing hotter, drier and longer summers. The peak fire season used to run from July 1 to Sept. 30. Now, it starts in June and ends in October.
After the 2017 deaths, the government introduced a raft of measures. They included using goats and bulldozers to clear woodland 10 meters (33 feet) either side of country roads. Property owners also have to clear a 50-meter (164-feet) radius around an isolated house, and 100 meters (328 feet) around a hamlet.
Emergency shelters and evacuation routes have been established at villages and hamlets. Their church bells aim to toll when a wildfire is approaching.
With 98% of blazes caused by human hand, either by accident or on purpose, officials have also been teaching people how to safely burn stubble and forest waste. Police, army and forest service patrols are also increased during the summer.