Harvey claims 2nd fatality, threatens catastrophic floods

Motorists stranded on Interstate 610 look out over floodwaters after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain, in Houston, Texas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 27 August 2017

Harvey claims 2nd fatality, threatens catastrophic floods

ROCKPORT, Texas: A second person was killed on Saturday as Harvey, the most powerful storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years, roared inland, knocking out power to more than 200,000 people and threatening catastrophic flooding.
The second fatality was an elderly woman who was killed as she drove through flooded streets on Houston’s west side on Saturday night, a Houston police officer said.
“It appeared that her vehicle went into high water and she drowned as a result,” said Sergeant Colin Howard of the Houston police department. The victim was not immediately identified.
Authorities have urged residents to stay off the streets of Houston and other southeast Texas cities as rain falling at up to 5 inches per hour flooded roads and major intersections.
On Friday night, a man died in a house fire in the town of Rockport, 48 km north of Corpus Christi. Another dozen people in the area suffered injuries like broken bones, another official said.
Harvey slammed into Texas late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 209 km per hour, making it the strongest storm to hit the state since 1961.
It has since lingered over Houston, dumping amounts of rain that threaten to break the record established nearly 40 years ago when Alvin, Texas, was deluged by 43 inches of rain in 24 hours from July 24-25, 1979.
The storm ripped off roofs, snapped trees, triggered tornadoes and flash floods and cut off power to nearly 230,000 people, mostly in the Houston area, on Saturday night. Houston police officials said officers were evacuating two flooded apartment complexes.
The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency alert for the area around William P. Hobby Airport, and the airport said on Twitter that the arrivals section was flooded.
Oil and gas production was largely halted in the state, prompting price hikes at the pumps.
“There are a number of stranded people on our streets, calling 911, exhausting needed resources. You can help by staying off the streets,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on Twitter.
Harvey was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday but was expected to lash Texas for days as it lumbers inland, according to the National Hurricane Center, which described the forecast for the state as potentially “catastrophic.”
Rockport, which took a direct hit from the storm, was left with streets flooded and strewn with power lines and debris on Saturday.
A dozen recreational vehicles were flipped over on a sales lot, one blown into the middle of the street. A convoy of military vehicles arrived in the Rockport area on Saturday 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.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott 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, a city of about 320,000 people, 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.
The US Coast Guard said it had rescued 20 people from distressed vessels on Saturday, and was monitoring two Carnival Corp. cruise ships carrying thousands of people stranded in the US Gulf of Mexico.
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.
It weakened to tropical storm from hurricane strength on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said.
Authorities warned of the potentially life-threatening impact of heavy rains between Houston and Corpus Christi over the next several days, with the latest forecast storm track forecasting that Harvey could loop 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.
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 to reduce shortages.
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.


Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

Updated 17 November 2019

Hong Kong police warn of ‘live fire’ if they face deadly weapons from protesters

  • Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June
  • China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police Monday warned for the first time that they may use “live rounds” after pro-democracy protesters fired arrows and threw petrol bombs at officers at a beseiged university campus, as the crisis engulfing the city veered deeper into danger.
Protests have tremored through the global financial hub since June, with many in the city of 7.5 million people venting fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.
China has repeatedly warned that it will not tolerate the dissent, and there have been concerns that Beijing could send in troops to put an end to the spiralling unrest.
Three protesters have been shot by armed police in the unrelenting months of protests. But all in scuffles as chaotic street clashes played out — and without such warnings being given.
A day of intense clashes, which saw a police officer struck in the leg by an arrow and protesters meet police tear gas with volleys of petrol bombs, intensified as night fell.
Clashes rolled across Kowloon, with the epicenter around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), where scores of defiant demonstrators set large fires to prevent police from conducting a threatened raid on the campus.
They hunkered down under umbrellas from occasional fire from water cannon and hurled molotov cocktails at an armored police vehicle, leaving it ablaze on a flyover near the campus.
Police declared the campus a “riot” scene — a rioting conviction carries up to 10 years in jail — and blocked exits as spokesman Louis Lau issued a stark warning in a Facebook live broadcast.
“I hereby warn rioters not to use petrol bombs, arrows, cars or any deadly weapons to attack police officers,” he said.
“If they continue such dangerous actions, we would have no choice but to use the minimum force necessary, including live rounds, to fire back.”
Police said they fired at a car late Sunday that had driven at a line of officers near the campus — but the vehicle reversed and escaped.
Protesters at the campus appeared resolute — a twist in tactics by a leaderless movement so far defined by its fluid, unpredictable nature.
“I feel scared. There’s no way out, all I can do is fight to the end,” said one protester joining the barricade in front of the university building.
“We need a base to keep our gear and have some rest at night before another fight in the morning,” another called Kason, 23, told AFP.
On Sunday, activists parried attempts by police to break through into the PolyU campus, firing rocks from a homemade catapult from the university roof, while an AFP reporter saw a team of masked archers — several carrying sports bows — patrolling the campus.
Violence has worsened in recent days, with two men killed in separate incidents linked to the protests this month.
Chinese President Xi Jinping this week issued his most strident comments on the crisis, saying it threatened the “one country, two systems” model under which Hong Kong has been ruled since the 1997 handover from Britain.
Demonstrators last week engineered a “Blossom Everywhere” campaign of blockades and vandalism, which forced the police to draft in prison officers as reinforcements, shut down large chunks of Hong Kong’s train network and close schools and shopping malls.
The movement, characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability, has started to coagulate in fixed locations, showing the protesters’ ability to switch tactics.
The protests started against a now-shelved bill to allow extradition to China but have billowed to encompass wider issues such as perceived police brutality and calls for universal suffrage in the former British colony.
The financial hub has been nudged into a recession by the unrelenting turmoil.
A poster circulating on social media called for the “dawn action” to continue on Monday.
“Get up early, directly target the regime, squeeze the economy to increase pressure,” it said.
The education bureau said schools will remain closed again on Monday.
Earlier on Sunday, dozens of government supporters gathered to clear barricades near the university campus — a sign of the divisions slicing through the city.
Many residents are wearied by the sapping protests. Others support the Chinese-backed city government.
Some applauded a Saturday clean-up by Chinese troops from a garrison of the People’s Liberation Army in Kowloon.
The garrison is usually confined to the barracks under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, although it can be deployed at the request of the city’s government to help with public order breakdown or natural disasters.
Hong Kong’s government, which presides over a city that enjoys greater freedoms than the mainland, said it did not ask the PLA for help on Saturday.
The choreographed troop movement “has only compounded the impression that Beijing has simply ignored” Hong Kong’s unique political system, said analyst Dixon Sing.