Lane downgraded to tropical storm as downpours flood Hawaii’s Big Island

People watch as waves crash along sea cliffs on the southeast shore of Oahu as Hurricane Lane approaches, Friday, Aug. 24, 2018, near Honolulu. (AP)
Updated 25 August 2018

Lane downgraded to tropical storm as downpours flood Hawaii’s Big Island

  • The hurricane was forecast to make its nearest approach to land just west of the island chain over the weekend
  • A number of structures on the Big Island were destroyed and some residents were reported to be fleeing their homes

HONOLULU: Hurricane Lane crept closer toward the heart of the Hawaiian islands on Friday as it weakened into a tropical storm while still drenching the Big Island with torrential rains and severe, widespread flooding, weather and civil defense officials said.
Lane, with maximum sustained winds diminishing to near 70 mph (110 kph), was forecast to make its nearest approach to land just west of the island chain over the weekend, bringing tropical storm-force conditions to Maui and the state’s most populous island, Oahu, starting on Friday night.
Farther north, a tropical storm watch was posted for the island of Kauai.
The biggest immediate danger was posed by flooding and mudslides that could grow worse the longer the storm lingers close to the US Pacific island chain, soaking the landscape.
But forecasts made clear that Hawaii had been spared from the threat of its first direct hit by a major hurricane in a quarter of a century, although many residents had already boarded up windows of their homes as a precaution.
Lane was downgraded on Friday to a Category 2 hurricane, then to a Category 1, the lowest ranking on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, as it churned through the Pacific south of Oahu, the National Weather Service said. It was downgraded again to a tropical storm shortly before 5 p.m. local time as its maximum sustained wind speeds fell below 74 mph.
The storm was expected to continue drifting slowly northward and weaken further still before trade winds overtake its forward momentum and begin pushing it sharply off to the west and away from land on Saturday, Weather Service forecaster Leigh Anne Eaton told a news conference in Honolulu.
Forecasts called for Lane, which peaked as a Category 5 hurricane earlier in the week, to diminish into a tropical depression by early on Sunday.
Still, the storm posed a considerable weather hazard to parts of the state, with the island of Hawaii, popularly known as the Big Island, bearing the brunt of torrential downpours from Lane.
More than 2 feet (60 cm) of rain had fallen in a 36-hour period by Friday morning on the Big Island’s windward side, where the Weather Service reported “catastrophic flooding” and wind gusts peaking at 67 mph (108 kph). Eaton said some parts of the island had received nearly 3 feet of rain.
A number of structures on the Big Island were destroyed and some residents were reported to be fleeing their homes, said Melissa Dye, a Weather Service spokeswoman in Honolulu.
Fire department personnel have conducted several rescues of people stranded by high water on the Big Island since Thursday, mostly around its biggest city, Hilo, said Kelly Wooten, a Hawaii County civil defense spokeswoman.
Overnight, the National Guard and fire department rescued six people and their dog, and two hikers were rescued by helicopter near the camping destination of Waimanu Valley, Wooten said. There were no injuries.
She said two Hilo-area neighborhoods were evacuated.
Flash flooding and mudslides on the Big Island have also forced a number of road closures and Governor David Ige urged residents to avoid any unnecessary travel.


‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

Updated 28 February 2020

‘We don’t want to leave’: Sikhs consider future in Afghanistan

  • Decades of violence has seen them flee to India, Canada and Germany

KABUL: When Sikh community leader Hakam Cha Cha Singh leaves his Kabul home for work each day, he says goodbye to his family as if it is for the last time, unsure he will make it back home safely in a country where embattled minorities face daily prejudice, harassment and violence from militant groups.

“We used to travel in the middle of the night from one province to another,” a white-bearded Singh told Arab News. “Now when I leave home, I say goodbye to my family, telling them there is a chance I might not return home because of insecurity.”

Then he paused and added: “But still we love Afghanistan.”

Singh is part of a fast-shrinking minority in Afghanistan, thousands of members of which have fled conflict and moved to countries like India, their spiritual homeland, or Canada and Germany over the last four decades.

Although almost an entirely Muslim country, Afghanistan was home to as many as 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before a devastating civil war in the 1990s. For centuries, Hindu and Sikh communities played a prominent role in merchant trade and moneylending in Afghanistan, although today they mostly run medicinal herb shops.

Once spread across the country, the Sikh community is now concentrated in the eastern provinces of Nangarhar, Ghazni and the capital Kabul.

FASTFACT

Afghanistan was home to 250,000 Sikhs and Hindus before 1990s civil war.

Afghan Sikhs boast no more than 300 families. It has only two gurdwaras, or places of worship, one each in Jalalabad and Kabul.

In 2018, an explosion in the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad killed at least 20 people, including several members of the small Sikh minority, pushing hundreds to flee the country. Among those killed was Avtar Singh Khalsa, the only Sikh candidate running in Afghanistan’s then-upcoming parliamentary election.

Many Sikhs say local Muslim hard-liners have stirred up hostility against them, and the community now requires police protection for their funeral rituals.

But while most of the Sikhs who remain in Afghanistan are wary of religious discrimination and the absence of economic opportunities, some Sikhs, especially those with land or businesses and no ties to India, say they do not plan to leave and Afghanistan remains their “motherland.”

“We have suffered a lot. Our honor, property and life have been in danger, but still, we call Afghanistan our mother, our home,” said 31 year-old Gajandar Singh Bashardost at his traditional medicinal herb shop in the once-bustling Sikh neighborhood of Karte Parwan.

“It is bad for us Sikhs, Afghanistan ... if we leave and seek asylum in India or any other place,” Bashardost said. “I do not want to give my country a bad name.”

Earlier this month, Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance allocated $650,000 to renovate Hindu and Sikh temples communities across the country.

“Hindus and Sikhs love their country and despite the prejudice and discrimination do not want to leave,” said Anar Kali Honaryar, the only Sikh member of the Afghan Senate.

Zabihullah Farhang, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, said the level of discrimination and prejudice shown towards the Hindus and Sikhs compared to the past has come down.

However, he added that the government needs to do more to “protect their rights, help them with building schools, providing them health facilities, finding job opportunities and giving them opportunities in the government.”

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