India braces for cyclone, puts navy on alert

A fisherman carries his tools as he leaves for a safer place after tying his boats along the shore ahead of Cyclone Fani in Peda Jalaripeta on the outskirts of Visakhapatnam, India. (Reuters)
Updated 01 May 2019

India braces for cyclone, puts navy on alert

  • Tropical Cyclone Fani, located in the Bay of Bengal and packing wind speeds up to 205 kilometers per hour, is expected to make landfall at Odisha state Friday
  • Authorities have ordered the evacuation of thousands of people from coastal districts likely to bear the brunt of the storm

BHUBANESWAR, India: India deployed emergency personnel Wednesday and ordered the navy on standby as it braced for an extremely severe cyclonic storm barrelling toward the eastern coast.
Tropical Cyclone Fani, located in the Bay of Bengal and packing wind speeds up to 205 kilometers (127 miles) per hour, is expected to make landfall at Odisha state Friday.
Authorities have also ordered the evacuation of thousands of people from coastal districts likely to bear the brunt of the storm.
The neighboring coastal states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have also been put on a high alert.
India’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) said sea conditions were “phenomenal” over the west-central Bay of Bengal area.
“Fishermen are advised not to venture into these areas,” NDMA warned on Twitter.
The office of the state’s special relief commissioner said local authorities had been told to identify “all vulnerable people... and shift them to multipurpose cyclone/flood shelters.”
“Arrangements have already been made for free kitchen, safe drinking water, lighting, health and sanitation,” it said in a statement.
Local media reports say there are over 850 shelters in the state that can accommodate around one million people.
H.R Biswas, director of the meteorological center in state capital Bhubaneshwar, said at least 11 districts would be affected by severe rainfall.
“We have suggested people to stay indoors,” he told reporters.
Coastal Puri town, some 62 km (40 miles) from Bhubaneshwar, has also been put a high alert.
Puri is home to Shree Jagannath, one of Hinduism’s holiest temples, which receives millions of pilgrims each year.
The government also advised the pilgrims to leave the holy town, if possible, and to reschedule any non-essential travel in the region.
India’s weather department, in an advisory, asked all fishermen in the state to return to shore by late Wednesday.
The department warned of “potential threat of flying objects ... Extensive uprooting of communication and power poles ...Disruption of rail, road.”
One local agency said that it had kept around 300 boats and crew on standby for rescue or relief work in the next 48 to 72 hours.
India’s election commission has eased its restrictions in Odisha’s coastal districts to allow the state authorities to carry out swift relief and rehabilitation work.
The rules, which apply during elections, suspend certain powers of the incumbent government to announce new schemes or take fresh administrative decisions.
Odisha, which has a population of around 46 million, has already voted in India’s ongoing election, which started on April 11.
The seventh and final phase of voting will be held on May 19, with counting and results due May 23.
Odisha had to evacuate some 300,000 people last October when its coastal districts were battered by cyclone Titli, with winds up to 150 km (95 miles) per hour and heavy rains.
At least two people were killed in the cyclone.
Storms regularly hit eastern and southeastern India between April and December. In 2017, Cyclone Ockhi left nearly 250 people dead in Tamil Nadu and Kerala states.
Odisha’s worst-ever cyclone, in 1999, killed over 8,000 people.


Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

Updated 13 October 2019

Britain’s Johnson plays down Brexit breakthrough hopes

  • EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson played down hopes Sunday of a breakthrough in his last-ditch bid to strike an amicable divorce deal with the European Union.
Negotiators went behind closed doors for intensive talks in Brussels after Johnson outlined a new set of proposals to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday.
They have very little time left to succeed.
EU leaders will meet on Thursday and Friday for a summit held under the pressures of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.
The 27 would ideally like to have a full proposal to vote on by then.
But the sides are trying to achieve in a few days what they had failed to in the more than three years since Britons first voted to leave the European Union after nearly 50 years.
Chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier called the weekend negotiations “constructive” enough to keep going for another day.
“A lot of work remains to be done,” Barnier stressed in a statement to EU ambassadors.
“Discussions at technical level will continue (Monday).”
Downing Street said Johnson also told his cabinet to brace for a cliff-hanger finish.
He reiterated “that a pathway to a deal could be seen but that there is still a significant amount of work to get there and we must remain prepared to leave on October 31,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
Johnson rose to power in July on a promise not to extend Brexit for a third time this year — even for a few weeks.
Breaking that pledge could come back to haunt him in an early general election that most predict for the coming months.
Johnson is under parliamentary orders to seek a extension until January 31 of next year if no deal emerges by Saturday.
He has promised to both follow the law and get Britain out by October 31 — a contradiction that might end up being settled in court.
Outgoing EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker said British politics were getting more difficult to decipher than the riddle of an “Egyptian sphinx.”
“If the British ask for more time, which they probably will not, it would in my view be a historical nonsense to refuse them,” Juncker told Austria’s Kurier newspaper.
Ireland’s Varadkar hinted on Thursday that he could support the talks running on up to the October 31 deadline if a deal seemed within reach.
The few details that have leaked out suggest a compromise around the contentious Irish border issue Britain’s Northern Ireland partially aligned with EU customs rules.
Whether such a fudge suits both Brussels and the more ardent Brexit backers in parliament who must still approve a deal should become clearer by the end of the week.
Britain will only avoid a chaotic breakup with its closest trading partners if the agreement is also passed by the UK parliament — something it has failed to do three times.
Johnson heads a minority government and must rely on the full backing of not only his own fractured Conservatives but also Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party.
DUP’s parliamentary leader Nigel Dodds warned Johnson that “Northern Ireland must remain entirely in the customs union of the United Kingdom” and not the EU.
“And Boris Johnson knows it very well,” Dodds told Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper.
The comments do not necessarily rule out DUP support.
UK media are presenting Johnson’s mooted compromise as a “double customs” plan that could be interpreted to mean that Northern Ireland is leaving EU rules.
Yet details are still under discussion and the prime minister’s allies are urging lawmakers to give the British leader a chance.
Main opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn signalled Sunday that he would wait for the outcome of the EU summit before trying to force an early election.
But he added that there was “a strong possibility” that those polls would come before the Christmas break.