New Zealand wildfires show no sign of easing, 3,000 flee

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New Zealand Defence Force firefighters combat the Richmond fire near Nelson, South Island, New Zealand, February 8, 2019. (REUTERS)
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In this image made from video, helicopters drop water on a wildfire coming over a ridge near a residential area, Friday, Feb. 8, 2019, in Wakefield, New Zealand. (AP)
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Smoke rises from the Richmond fire near Nelson, South Island, New Zealand, February 8, 2019. (REUTERS)
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New Zealand Defence Force firefighters combat the Richmond fire near Nelson, South Island, New Zealand, February 8, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 February 2019
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New Zealand wildfires show no sign of easing, 3,000 flee

  • Up to 3,000 people have been forced to leave the Wakefield and Pigeon Valley areas, NZ Civil Defense Controller Roger Ball told a Saturday news conference on Saturday

SYDNEY: Strong winds on Sunday are expected to fan forest fires that have been burning for a week through New Zealand’s South Island, forcing thousands of people from their homes, with more residents expected to flee, officials said.
The Pigeon Valley fire covers 2,300 ha (5,700 acres) with a 25 km (15 mile) perimeter, NZ Civil Defense said in a statement on its website.
No deaths have been reported and only one home destroyed.
“There is some concern about predicted high winds this afternoon, which are expected to test the control lines,” the agency said.
Early on Sunday, 155 firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground with air support from 23 helicopters and 3 fixed wing planes, the agency said, making it the largest aerial firefight on record in New Zealand.
Up to 3,000 people have been forced to leave the Wakefield and Pigeon Valley areas, NZ Civil Defense Controller Roger Ball told a Saturday news conference on Saturday.
More people were likely to be forced from their homes on Sunday.
New Zealand Red Cross Communications Manager Ellie van Baaren said evacuees were tired and frustrated.
“When you have to leave your home and in some cases your livestock and animals and you don’t know what’s become of them, and you’re staying with friends and family, then it’s an uncertain situation for everybody,” she told Reuters by telephone.
Much of the affected area south of Nelson was used for forestry but it also has many small farms. Some livestock has also been moved to safety.
Fires started on Monday and Tuesday and quickly spread. On Wednesday, authorities declared a state of emergency.
Hundreds of volunteer and professional firefighters, police, civil defense and military personnel are battling the fires.


Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

Updated 16 min 13 sec ago
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Sri Lanka churches halt public services over security fears

  • Potential bombers ‘at large’ as death toll lowered to 253
  • Muslims asked to shun Friday prayer

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspended all public services over security fears on Thursday, as thousands of troops joined the hunt for suspects in deadly Easter bombings.

A senior priest said that all public services were being suspended and all churches closed “on the advice of security forces.”

Authorities revised the death toll down to 253, from the previous figure of 359, explaining that some of the badly mutilated bodies had been double-counted.

The father of two of the suspected bombers has been arrested on suspicion of aiding his sons.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said suspects remained at large and could have access to explosives. Some of the suspects “may go out for a suicide attack,” Wickremesinghe said.

Hundreds of Ahmadi refugees in western Sri Lanka have taken refuge in mosques and a police station after facing intimidation following the bombings. Scores of Ahmadis who settled in Negombo after fleeing persecution in their home countries have been thrown out of their accommodation by landlords.

Sri Lanka’s Defense Secretary Hemasiri Fernando resigned on Thursday over security failures. He submitted a letter of resignation to President Maithripala Sirisena.

Britain’s Foreign Office advised against all but essential travel to Sri Lanka.

“The horrific attack is a demonstration of how tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) that originated in this island nation several decades ago returned to haunt a shocked and broken government thanks to a complete collapse of counterterrorism capability or capacity,” Dr. Theodore Karasik, a security expert, writes in an opinion piece.

Hate preacher Zahran Hashim, head of the National Thowheeth Jama’ath group that is being blamed for the attacks, developed a reputation as a preacher who “copied” Daesh propaganda videos to enhance his posts via the pro-Daesh Al-Ghuraba media channel, which used Facebook and YouTube as its primary platforms, Karasik says. 

Sri Lanka’s Islamic affairs minister, M. H. M. Haleem, asked all Muslims to avoid prayers on Friday for security reasons. He also said it would be a mark of respect for those who perished in the nation’s worst violence in years.

Politician and Western Province Gov. Azath Salley told Arab News that the blasts were orchestrated by a handful of extremists and that the island’s Muslim population could not be held responsible for their “deviant” actions.