Storm Harvey threatens Texas with ‘catastrophic’ floods, one dead

A dead dog lies out of the passenger window of an overturned pickup truck after Hurricane Harvey landed in the Coast Bend area in Port Aransas, Texas, on Saturday. (AP)
Updated 27 August 2017

Storm Harvey threatens Texas with ‘catastrophic’ floods, one dead

ROCKPORT, Texas: The most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years has killed at least one person and is now threatening catastrophic flooding as search and rescue teams deploy to the hardest-hit zones, authorities said on Saturday.
Harvey slammed into Texas, the heart of the US oil and gas industry, late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 130 miles per hour (209 km per hour), making it the strongest storm to strike the state since 1961.
It ripped off roofs, snapped trees, and triggered tornadoes and flash floods, and cut power to nearly a quarter of a million people. It also curtailed a large portion of America’s oil and fuel production, prompting price hikes at the pumps.
Harvey has since weakened to a tropical storm, but is expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, bringing as much as 40 inches (102 cm) of rain to some areas, and affecting heavily populated.
Houston could receive as much as 2 to 3 inches of rain per hour overnight, Mayor Sylvester Turner said late on Saturday. The National Hurricane Center described the rain forecast for the state as potentially “catastrophic.”
“Rainfall measured in feet rather than inches can certainly create a catastrophic flood,” spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.
One person died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 30 miles (48 km) north of the city of Corpus Christi, as Harvey roared ashore overnight, Mayor Charles Wax said in a news conference on Saturday, marking the first confirmed fatality from the storm. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries like broken bones, another official said.
The town took a direct hit from the storm and had streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday afternoon. At a recreational vehicle sales lot, a dozen vehicles were flipped over and one had been blown into the middle of the street. By Saturday evening, a convoy of military vehicles had arrived in the Rockport area with people and equipment to help in the recovery efforts, and town officials announced an overnight curfew for residents.
“It was terrible,” resident Joel Valdez, 57, told Reuters. The storm ripped part of the roof from his trailer home at around 4 a.m., he said as he sat in a Jeep with windows smashed by the storm. “I could feel the whole house move.”
Before the storm hit, Rockport’s mayor told anyone staying behind to write their names on their arms for identification in case of death or injury. A high school, hotel, senior housing complex and other buildings suffered structural damage, according to emergency officials and local media. Some were being used as shelters.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott on Saturday said he was activating 1,800 members of the military to help with the statewide cleanup, while 1,000 people would conduct search-and-rescue operations.
The streets of Corpus Christi, which has around 320,000 residents, were deserted on Saturday, with billboards twisted and strong winds still blowing. City authorities asked residents to reduce use of toilets and faucets because power outages left waste water plants unable to treat sewage.
Elsewhere, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said it was forced to evacuate some 4,500 inmates from three state prisons near the Brazos River because of rising water. Texas utility companies, meanwhile, said 220,000 customers were without power for an indefinite period of time.
The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was also monitoring two Carnival Corp. cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the US Gulf of Mexico due to the effects of the storm.
Harvey was a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale when it hit the coast, the second-highest category, and the most powerful storm in over a decade to come ashore anywhere in the mainland United States.

HEADING INLAND, STORM WEAKENS
Harvey weakened to tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said. The center of the storm was barely moving and was less than 150 miles (240 km) from Houston with sustained winds of 60 mph.
Houston, the fourth most populous city in the United States and home to a third of the 6 million people that could be impacted by Harvey, has gotten about 16 inches of rain so far, and will receive 2 to 3 more feet in the coming days, Mayor Sylvester Turner said Saturday afternoon.
“This is serious,” Turner said in a televised interview as Harvey turned into a tropical storm expected to linger over the mid Texas coast. “It is important that people stay off the roads.” Turner said the city, which has faced flooding in recent years during smaller storms, is prepared for what he described as a “major water event.”
Other authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days.
The latest forecast storm track has Harvey looping back toward the Gulf of Mexico coast before turning north again on Tuesday.
“This rain will lead to a prolonged, dangerous, and potentially catastrophic flooding event well into next week,” the National Weather Service said.
The size and strength of Harvey dredged up memories of Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that made a direct hit on New Orleans as a Category 3 storm, causing levees and flood walls to fail in dozens of places. About 1,800 died in the disaster made worse by a slow government emergency response.
US President Donald Trump, facing the first big natural disaster of his term, signed a disaster proclamation on Friday.
He met with his cabinet and staff on Saturday to discuss the federal reaction to the storm, according to a White House statement.
“President Trump emphasized his expectations that all departments and agencies stay fully engaged and positioned to support his number one priority of saving lives,” according to the statement.

Utilities American Electric Power Company Inc. and CenterPoint Energy Inc. reported a combined total of around 240,000 customers without power.
Several refiners shut down plants ahead of the storm, disrupting supplies and pushing prices higher. Many fuel stations ran out of gasoline before the storm hit, and the US Environmental Protection Agency loosened gasoline specifications late on Friday to reduce shortages.
The American Automobiles Association said pump prices rose 4 cents in four days in Texas to reach $2.17 a gallon on Friday.
Disruptions to fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline futures to their highest price in four months.
More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the US Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude is produced offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.
Just under 25 percent of Gulf output, or 429,000 barrels per day (bpd) had been shut in by the storm, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said on Saturday.


Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

Updated 13 July 2020

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

  • Follows little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army carrying out attacks

KARACHI: Investigations into a spate of recent attacks in southern Sindh province have led Pakistani officials to believe there are growing links between Sindhi separatists and militant groups from the insurgency-racked Balochistan province, officers with knowledge of the investigation have told Arab News.

However, experts warn that it may be too early to assume a “nexus” between the groups.

Late last month, gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four attackers.

Counterterrorism officials said that the attack had been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

Just weeks earlier, three consecutive explosions killed four people, including two soldiers in Sindh. A shadowy secessionist organization, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), which wants the province to break away from the Pakistani federation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. This week, SRA also claimed a grenade attack on a Karachi bakery in which a retired paramilitary Rangers official was killed. 

SRA and two other Sindhi groups were banned by the government in May this year. 

Speaking to the media after the attack on the stock exchange building,  Sindh Rangers  chief  Major General Omer Ahmed Bukhari said that the attacks proved that “hostile intelligence agencies” were working to forge a “nexus” between Sindhi and Balochi insurgent groups, adding that he believed current investigations would establish this beyond doubt. 

In a statement emailed to the media after the stock exchange attack, the BLA admitted that it had “complete support” from Sindhi groups. 

“Today both the nations (Baloch and Sindhi) are fighting for the independence of their homelands against Pakistan,” the BLA statement said. “We had the complete support of the Sindhi nation in today’s attack, and it shows a strong brotherly bond between both the nations.”

Separatists have been fighting security forces for years in Balochistan over what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province’s vast mineral wealth. Insurgents are also opposed to — and attack projects linked to — China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in the resource-rich province. 

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists, a charge that Delhi denies.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament that he had no doubt India was behind the attack on the stock exchange building, which India promptly denied. Khan offered no evidence for his allegation, but he said that there had been intelligence reports warning of attacks in Pakistan and he had informed his Cabinet about the threats.

Sindhi separatists such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks. Their attacks, however, have been less violent than that of neighboring Balochistan where separatists have attacked a Chinese consulate, a leading hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

Now, officials fear that Sindhi groups might be able to enhance their capacity to carry our deadlier attacks with help from Baloch militants and other hostile groups. 

“It can be a source of lawlessness in the future if this nexus is not broken,” said a police officer involved in investigating a “possible nexus between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, backed by India.” He requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

The police official said that Baloch groups already had “some capability” to launch damaging attacks, “but once there is a nexus, it can also be helpful for Sindhi nationalists, and that’s worrisome.”

A senior intelligence officer, who also declined to be named, said there had been a noticeable increase in the frequency of attacks by Sindhi groups, which pointed to the fact that they might have more experienced helpers.

“Increase in capability (through a nexus with Baloch groups) will only be proved if they launch more sophisticated attacks,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies are absolutely aware and alert to the dangers posed by the growth of this nexus.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism officer in Karachi, said that while teaming up with other groups might enhance the capacity of Sindhi nationalists, he did not see the nexus posing a significant threat in the near future. 

“The nexus can supplement the capacity of Sindhi sub-nationalists,” Khattab said, “but they will not be able to create any big law and order situation due to the preparedness of the law enforcement agencies.”

Sindh’s chief of Rangers has also said that Baloch and Sindh separatists were cosying up to the London faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Pakistani political party whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in exile in London. 

“Hostile intelligence agencies strive to make a nexus of the cells, sleeper cells and facilitators of the remnant terrorist organizations (separatists), which include the remnants of the MQM,” Bukhari said during a press conference after the stock exchange attack.

The MQM, one of Pakistan’s most prominent political parties, is mostly comprised of descendants of Muslim Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan around the time of the partition of India in 1947. 

Once able to control Sindh province with an iron grip, the party’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly since 2013 when the military launched a crackdown against criminal groups and militants as murder rates soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily. Many saw the operation, centered in Karachi, as a pretext to wrest control of the port city from the MQM, an accusation that security forces deny.

While Karachi crime rates have dropped sharply and many local businesses have welcomed the operation, allegations of brutal and illegal methods have remained. 

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has in the past referred dozens of cases of illegal abductions of MQM workers to the Pakistan government, concluding a “pattern of specific targeting” of the MQM by Rangers, which the paramilitary force denies.

Before the 2013 operation, law enforcement agencies and many Karachi residents accused the MQM of racketeering, the abduction, torture and murder of opponents and holding the city to ransom by calling mass strikes at will.

On Wednesday, the MQM’s Qasim Ali Raza denied that the party had any links to separatists or attacks in Sindh and urged the state to stop the “blind and fraudulent” process of blaming the party. 

The Karachi-based political analyst, Mazhar Abbas, said that a nexus between the MQM and separatist groups, if it existed, would not work. 

“The workers of MQM neither accepted the alliance with Sindhi nationalists (in the past),” he said, “nor will they subscribe to the current idea of a friendship.”

Other analysts said that there was as yet no “solid” evidence to claim the nexus existed. 

“Politically, there has been some closeness between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, but speaking about a military nexus, one needs to have solid evidence at hand,” said Sohail Sangi, a Karachi-based analyst who closely observes separatist groups.

However, Anwar Sajjadi, a Quetta-based security analyst, said that he believed a growing nexus was a possibility, adding it was no coincidence that Sindhi groups had recently started voicing opposition to Chinese projects being built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella, which Baloch groups have long opposed.

“We have seen uniformity in their stances,” Sajjadi said. “Same stance on CPEC and other (rights) issues is bringing all these groups closer.”

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