Caribbean girds for Hurricane Irma threat

This image obtained from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Hurricane Irma on September 4, 2017, at 2045 UTC. (AFP)
Updated 05 September 2017

Caribbean girds for Hurricane Irma threat

MIAMI: Hurricane Irma surged to a dangerous Category Four storm Monday as it churned toward the Leeward islands, sparking alarm and alerts from the Caribbean to Florida, which declared an emergency.
The National Hurricane Center said at 0001 GMT (Tuesday) that the storm was packing top sustained winds of 140 mph (220 km/h). “Additional strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours,” the NHC warned.
Its center was about 450 miles (725 kilometers) east of the Leeward islands, grinding westward at 13 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour) the NHC said.
“On the forecast track, the center of Irma will move near or over portions of the northern Leeward Islands Tuesday night and early Wednesday.”
A Category Four storm on the Saffir Simpson scale is capable of doing widespread major structural and infrastructure damage; it can easily tear off roofing, shatter windows, uproot palm trees and turn them into projectiles that can kill people.
Category four strength was the maximum attained by Hurricane Harvey, which recently devastated parts of Texas and Louisiana.
Irma is projected to reach the Leeward Islands of the Lesser Antilles chain by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, bringing water levels up to 9 feet (3 meters) above normal levels, rainfall of up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) in areas, and “large and destructive waves.”
In Puerto Rico, a US territory of 3.5 million, Governor Ricardo Rossello activated the National Guard and announced the opening of storm shelters able to house up to 62,000 people. Schools will be closed Tuesday.

A US aircraft carrier carrying a field hospital and dozens of aircraft able to conduct rescue or supply missions has been positioned protectively in the area, according to Alejandro de la Campa of the Caribbean division of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Local press identified the carrier as the USS Kearsarge.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz Soto ordered 900 municipal employees — police, emergency personnel, and aid and social workers — to report for rotating 12-hour shifts.
Even if that island is spared a direct hit, the mayor said, three days of pounding rain will do heavy damage.
Irma’s precise path remains unclear, but several projections have it passing over the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before turning north toward Florida and then possibly swinging up the US East Coast.
Scrambling amid the uncertainty, Florida declared a state of emergency to facilitate preparations.
For now, hurricane warnings have been issued for the islands of Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Martin, Sint Maarten, St. Barthelemy, Saba and St. Eustatius. A warning means hurricane conditions are expected in the next 36 hours.
Anne Laubies, prefect of Saint Barthelemy warned the hurricane posed the greatest danger the island had faced in 20 years with more people endangered in flood-prone areas because of a rise in population.
Long queues of people rushed to get batteries and bottled water, while many cut trees around their dwellings and sought to tie down objects and caulk their windows.
Hurricane watches — meaning hurricane conditions are possible within 48 hours — have been issued for some of the more populous parts of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico; as well as Guadeloupe and the US and British Virgin Islands.
Irma is expected to produce total rainfall accumulations of 3 to 6 inches (7.6-15 cm) across the Leeward Islands, with isolated maximum amounts of 10 inches (25 cm) across the northern Leeward Islands. These rainfall amounts may cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC said.
The Haitian authorities issued an early alert for a storm that said could hit them for three days, with potential for landslides and flooding.
On the French island of Guadeloupe, people have been stocking up on provisions, leaving some store shelves empty.
Schools will be closed Tuesday and Wednesday, and hospitals have been asked to stock 72 hours supplies of medicines, food and drinking water, according to authorities, who are also evacuating low-lying areas.
Authorities elsewhere in the region were alerting residents to the location of storm shelters, and urging them to closely monitor the developing storm.


Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

Updated 58 sec ago

Coronavirus spreads in China prisons, Korean church as fears weigh on global markets

  • Hubei doubles Wednesday’s number of reported new cases
  • Global stock markets, US business activity hit

BEIJING/SEOUL : The coronavirus has infected hundreds of people in Chinese prisons, authorities said, as cases climbed outside the epicenter in Hubei province, including 100 more in South Korea and a worsening outbreak in Italy where officials announced the country’s first death.
A total of 234 infections among Chinese prisoners outside Hubei ended 16 straight days of declines in new mainland cases. Another 271 cases were reported in prisons in Hubei — where the virus first emerged in December in its now locked-down capital, Wuhan.
US stocks sold off and the Nasdaq had its worst daily percentage decline in about three weeks on Friday as the spike in new coronavirus cases and data showing a stall in US business activity in February fueled investors’ fears about economic growth. The rise in coronavirus cases sent investors scrambling for safe havens such as gold and government bonds.
Chinese state television quoted Communist Party rulers as saying the outbreak had not yet peaked amid a jump in cases in a hospital in Beijing.
Total cases of the new coronavirus in the Chinese capital neared 400 with four deaths.
China has reported a total of 75,567 cases of the virus to the World Health Organization (WHO) including 2,239 deaths. In the past 24 hours, China reported 892 new confirmed cases and 118 deaths.
US activity in the manufacturing and services sectors stalled over growing concern of the potential toll of the virus, a survey of purchasing managers showed on Friday.
The IHS Markit flash services sector Purchasing Managers’ Index dropped to its lowest since October 2013, signaling that a sector accounting for roughly two-thirds of the US economy was in contraction for the first time since 2016.
Data also showed Japan’s factory activity suffered its steepest contraction in seven years in February, underlining the risk of a recession there as the impact of the outbreak spreads. Asian and European stocks also fell.
The impact of the outbreak on global growth “may be large” given China’s role in the world economy, and may stress financial markets just as tensions over a US-China trade war did in 2019, Bank of England policymaker Silvana Tenreyro said on Friday.
The outbreak may curb demand for oil in China and other Asian countries, depressing prices to as low as $57 a barrel and clouding growth prospects across the Middle East, the Institute of International Finance said.
The WHO warned that the window of opportunity to contain the international spread of the epidemic was closing after cases were reported in Iran and Lebanon.
An outbreak of coronavirus in northern Italy worsened on Friday as officials announced and 78-year-old man was the first Italian to die after being infected. The man was among 17 confirmed cases, including the country’s first known cases of local transmission.
The virus has emerged in 26 countries and territories outside mainland China, killing 11 people, according to a Reuters tally.
“There still is a chance we can focus principally on containment, but it’s getting harder because we’re getting secondary chains of transmission in other countries now,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a US infectious disease expert from Vanderbilt University.

South Korea hot spot
The spike in cases in jails in the northern province of Shandong and Zhejiang in the east made up most of the 258 newly confirmed Chinese infections outside Hubei province on Friday.
Authorities said officials deemed responsible for the outbreaks had been fired and the government had sent a team to investigate the Shandong outbreak, media reported.
Hubei, adding to case-reporting confusion, doubled the number of new cases it initially reported on Wednesday to 775 from 349. The lower number was a result of going back to counting only cases confirmed with genetic tests, rather than including those detected by chest scans.
South Korea is the latest hot spot with 100 new cases doubling its total to 204, most in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million, where scores were infected in what authorities called a “super-spreading event” at a church, traced to an infected 61-year-old woman who attended services.
South Korean officials designated Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo county as special care zones where additional medical staff and isolation facilities will be deployed. Malls, restaurants and streets in the city were largely empty with the mayor calling the outbreak an “unprecedented crisis.”
Another center of infection has been the Diamond Princess cruise ship held under quarantine in Japan since Feb. 3, with more than 630 cases accounting for the biggest infection cluster outside China. Australia said on Saturday that four more of its nationals evacuated from the cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus in addition to two individuals previously identified.
Some 35 British passengers were due to arrive back home on Saturday after spending more than two weeks stuck on the quarantined.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Friday that of 329 Americans evacuated from the ship, 18 have tested positive for the virus.
A second group of Chinese citizens from Hong Kong who had been aboard the Diamond Princess have been flown home from Japan, Xinhua News reported.
In the Iranian city of Qom, state TV showed voters in the parliamentary election wearing surgical masks after the country confirmed 13 new cases, including two deaths. Health officials on Thursday called for all religious gatherings the holy city of Qom to be suspended.
Ukraine’s health minister joined evacuees from China for two weeks’ quarantine in a sanatorium on Friday in a show of solidarity after fears over the possible spread of coronavirus led to clashes between protesters and police.