Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian

Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian
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Hurricane Dorian approaches the coast of Florida, US, in this August 29, 2019 NASA handout satellite image. (REUTERS)
Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian
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Residents stock up with hurricane supplies at Home Depot in Miami on August 29, 2019, ahead of Hurricane Dorian's landfall.(AFP)
Updated 30 August 2019

Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian

Florida braces for Hurricane Dorian
  • The Category 2 storm is expected to strengthen into a potentially catastrophic Category 4
  • With the storm’s track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered

MIAMI: Florida residents picked the shelves clean of bottled water and lined up at gas stations Thursday as an increasingly menacing-looking Hurricane Dorian threatened to broadside the state over Labor Day weekend.
Leaving lighter-than-expected damage in its wake in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the second hurricane of the 2019 season swirled toward the US, with forecasters warning it will draw energy from the warm, open waters as it closes in.
The National Hurricane Center said the Category 2 storm is expected to strengthen into a potentially catastrophic Category 4 with winds of 130 mph (209 kph) and slam into the US on Monday somewhere between the Florida Keys and southern Georgia — a 500-mile (805-kilometer) stretch that reflected the high degree of uncertainty this far out.
“If it makes landfall as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, that’s a big deal,” said University of Miami hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy. “A lot of people are going to be affected. A lot of insurance claims.”
President Donald Trump canceled his weekend trip to Poland and warned Florida residents to be prepared.
“All indications are it’s going to hit very hard and it’s going to be very big,” Trump said in a video he tweeted Thursday evening, comparing Dorian to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida in 1992.
With the storm’s track still unclear, no immediate mass evacuations were ordered.
Along Florida’s east coast, local governments began distributing sandbags, shoppers rushed to stock up on food, plywood and other emergency supplies at supermarkets and hardware stores, and motorists topped off their tanks and filled gasoline cans. Some fuel shortages were reported in the Cape Canaveral area.
Josefine Larrauri, a retired translator, went to a Publix supermarket in Miami only to find empty shelves in the water section and store employees unsure of when more cases would arrive.
“I feel helpless because the whole coast is threatened,” she said. “What’s the use of going all the way to Georgia if it can land there?“
Tiffany Miranda of Miami Springs waited well over 30 minutes in line at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Hialeah to buy hurricane supplies. Some 50 vehicles were bumper-to-bumper, waiting to fill up at the store’s 12 gas pumps.
“You never know with these hurricanes. It could be good, it could be bad. You just have to be prepared,” she said.
As of Thursday night, Dorian was centered about 295 miles (475 kilometers) northeast of the Bahamas, its winds blowing at 105 mph (169 kph) as it moved northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
It is expected to pick up steam as it pushes out into warm waters with favorable winds, the University of Miami’s McNoldy said, adding: “Starting tomorrow, it really has no obstacles left in its way.”
The National Hurricane Center’s projected track had the storm blowing ashore midway along the Florida peninsula, southeast of Orlando and well north of Miami or Fort Lauderdale. But because of the difficulty of predicting its course this far ahead, the “cone of uncertainty” covered nearly the entire state.
Forecasters said coastal areas of the Southeast could get 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) of rain, with 15 inches (38 centimeters) in some places, triggering life-threatening flash floods.
Also imperiled were the Bahamas, with Dorian’s expected track running just to the north of Great Abaco and Grand Bahama islands.
Jeff Byard, an associate administrator at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, warned that Dorian is likely to “create a lot of havoc with infrastructure, power and roads,” but gave assurances FEMA is prepared to handle it, even though the Trump administration is shifting hundreds of millions of dollars from FEMA and other agencies to deal with immigration at the Mexican border.
“This is going to be a big storm. We’re prepared for a big response,” Byard said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to bring in more fuel and call out the National Guard if necessary, and Georgia’s governor followed suit.
Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Norwegian began rerouting their cruise ships. Major airlines began allowing travelers to change their reservations without a fee.
At the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, NASA decided to move indoors the mobile launch platform for its new mega rocket under development.
A Rolling Stones concert Saturday at the Hard Rock Stadium near Miami was moved up to Friday night.
The hurricane season typically peaks between mid-August and late October. One of the most powerful storms ever to hit the US was on Labor Day 1935. The unnamed Category 5 hurricane crashed ashore along Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 2. It was blamed for over 400 deaths.
Dorian rolled through the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday.
The initial blow did not appear to be as bad as expected in Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria two years ago. Blue tarps cover some 30,000 homes, and the electrical grid is in fragile condition.
But the tail end of the storm unleashed heavy flooding along the eastern and southern coasts of Puerto Rico. Cars, homes and gravestones in the coastal town of Humacao became halfway submerged after a river burst its banks.
Police said an 80-year-old man in the town of Bayamón died after he fell trying to climb to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.
Dorian caused an island-wide blackout in St. Thomas and St. John in the US Virgin Islands and scattered outages in St. Croix, government spokesman Richard Motta said.
No serious damage was reported in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov. Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late Wednesday afternoon.
Back in Florida, Mark and Gisa Emeterio enjoyed a peaceful afternoon sunbathing and wading in the ocean at Vero Beach. The newly retired couple from Sacramento, California, wanted to relax after spending the morning shuttering their home.
Mark, a retired pipe layer, and Gina, a retired state employee, planned to wait it out the storm with local friends more experienced with hurricanes.
“We got each other,” Mark Emeterio said. “So we’re good.”
“I told him, ‘Whatever happens, hold my hand,’” his wife joked.


Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
Updated 11 min 44 sec ago

Family of London terrorist claim his death was needless

The family of terrorist Sudesh Amman, who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London, are expected to question whether his life could have been saved. (AP/File Photo)
  • Sudesh Amman shot dead after stabbing 2 people
  • Family say he could have been arrested before attack

LONDON: The family of a terrorist who was shot dead by police after conducting a knifing rampage in London are expected to question whether his life could have been saved by being arrested earlier.

It will be the first time relatives of an Islamist terrorist in Britain will ask in court if the killing of their relative was necessary.

The inquest into the death of Sudesh Amman, 20, who stabbed two random members of the public on Feb. 2, 2020, is due to open on Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

Amman was being closely observed by undercover reconnaissance officers when he was seen purchasing items for a fake suicide vest, which he put together in his probation hostel.

The next day, while being followed by officers, he quickly grabbed a knife from a shop and stabbed two passers-by in south London.

Both of his victims survived, but Amman was shot and killed by the armed team that was tracking him a minute after his rampage commenced.

His prison release on Jan. 23 meant that he had spent just 10 days in a probation hostel before he was killed.

At a pre-inquest hearing in July, Amman’s relatives queried if the police and MI5 could have arrested him before he was able to conduct the attack.

MI5, Britain’s domestic security service, has applied for intelligence about Amman to be given public interest immunity, which would limit its use in court or any inquiry.

Rajiv Menon QC, representing the Amman family, argued that immunity should not be given if the material “goes to the state of mind of any relevant police officer or security service agent, as to what Sudesh Amman was planning or contemplating.”

The lawyer said his clients have objected to a statement by a police officer known as HA6, who was the senior investigating officer on the “priority” operation against Amman.

The officer said police “could not effect an arrest,” but Menon argued that they “knew the day before that Amman had bought items that could be used to make a fake suicide vest.”

At the hearing at the High Court, he added: “We will be making the point that the police knew more than enough to effect an arrest and should have done so.”

At the time, investigators and surveillance officers feared an attack by Amman was imminent, keeping him under constant observation.

Jonathan Hough QC, for the coroner, said: “This is not a case of signs being missed. It is difficult to imagine a higher grade response, short of arrest and you will be aware of what HA6 says about why that was not feasible.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is writing a supplementary report to cover the operation against Amman from January 2020.

The IOPC said on June 17 that during the investigation, “it is not anticipated that any concerns will arise as to the conduct of any police officers.”


In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
Updated 35 min 55 sec ago

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources

In heat emergency, southern Europe scrambles for resources
  • Temperatures reached 45 C in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries
  • Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions

ATHENS: A heat wave baking southeast Europe has fueled deadly wildfires in Turkey and threatened the national grid in Greece as governments scrambled Monday to secure the resources needed to cope with the emergency.
Temperatures reached 45 C (113 F) in inland areas of Greece and nearby countries and are expected to remain high for most of the week.
Battling deadly wildfires along its coastline for a sixth day, Turkey broadened an appeal for international assistance and was promised water-dropping planes from the European Union. The fires have been blamed for the deaths of eight people in recent days.
In Greece, workers with health conditions were allowed to take time off work, while coal-fired power stations slated for retirement were brought back into service to shore up the national grid, under pressure due to widespread use of air conditioning.
Dann Mitchell, a professor of climate science at the University of Bristol, said that the heatwave in southeast Europe “is not at all unexpected, and very likely enhanced due to human-induced climate change.”
"The number of extreme heat events around the world is increasing year on year, with the top 10 hottest years on record all occurring since 2005,” Mitchell told The Associated Press.
“This year, we have seen a number of significant events, including a particularly dramatic heatwave in western Canada and the U.S., that was extreme even for current levels of climate change," Mitchell said. "These black swan events have always happened, but now they sit on the background of a hotter climate, so are even more deadly.”
As hot weather edged southward, Italy and Croatia were experiencing storms as well as wildfires in different regions of the country.
A small tornado in Istria, on Croatia’s northern Adriatic coast, toppled trees that destroyed several cars, hours before a large fire erupted outside the nearby resort of Trogir, threatening homes and the local power supply.
Some 30 people were treated for light smoke inhalation in Italy’s coastal city of Pescara, after flames tore through a nearby pine forest.
“That zone of pine forest is a nature reserve, and it’s completely destroyed. It brings tears to see it. The environmental damage is incalculable. This is the heart of the city, its green lung and today it is destroyed,” Pescara Mayor Carlo Masi said.
Cyprus, recovering from a major wildfire last month, kept water-dropping planes on patrol to respond to fires as they broke out.
“If you don’t react right away with a massive response to any outbreak, things can turn difficult quickly,” forestry service chief Charalambos Alexandrou, told state-run media.
“The conditions are war-like.”


Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
Updated 02 August 2021

Petraeus: US has abandoned Afghanistan to civil war

An Afghan National Army commando stands guard on top of a vehicle along the road in Enjil district of Herat province on August 1, 2021, as skirmishes between Afghan National Army and Taliban continues. (AFP)
  • Kandahar, Lashkar Gar on brink of Taliban capture while American forces prepare to depart
  • Ex-US military chief in Afghanistan warns hard-won rights, freedoms will likely be lost if onslaught continues

LONDON: America has deserted its responsibility to protect rights and freedoms in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, the former US commander in the country, has told The Times.

With the Taliban rapidly sweeping up territories that were until recently defended by US-led coalition troops, Petraeus warned that a “medieval Islamist regime” and the return of terror-training safe havens are a realistic possibility.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have already started fleeing their homes as the Taliban start to take ground around Kandahar, the country’s second city.

“The rest of the world will see that we are not supporting democracy or maintaining the values that we promote around the world — human rights, particularly women’s rights, the right to education and freedom of speech and press — all very imperfect in Afghanistan, to be sure, but vastly better than if the Taliban reinstates a medieval Islamist regime,” Petraeus said.

“The worst-case scenario is we could see a bloody, brutal civil war similar to that of the 1990s when the Taliban prevailed,” he added.

“If that were to happen we would likely see the return of an Al-Qaeda sanctuary, although I don’t think Al-Qaeda would be able to threaten the homeland and Europe in the near-term. And certainly, our intelligence services and military will be watching for that.

“But it would be easier for Al-Qaeda if the Taliban seize control. We would see millions of refugees flooding into Pakistan and other neighboring countries. If the Taliban do take control we will see dramatic reductions in freedoms for Afghan citizens, particularly women. I don’t think this is what the world wants to see.”

Petraeus said he is shocked by how Washington is closing down its military operations in Afghanistan.

“If we had shown the determination and will to stay, we would have been in a much stronger negotiating position with the Taliban. But if we tell the enemy we are going to leave, why would they give up anything?

“I am a little bit unclear why we didn’t think we could maintain 3,500 troops to stop the Taliban from bringing back an ultraconservative Islamist theocracy, which is not in anyone’s interest.”

Petraeus added: “The war will go on and will get much worse. Ryan Crocker (Washington’s envoy to Kabul between 2011 and 2012) once said you can get tired of a movie and leave the theater but the movie continues to roll on. We forced the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners, and got little or nothing for it. But if we had 3,500 troops there to maintain situational awareness and help our Afghan partners, we would have been in a position to prevent the Taliban from bringing civil war to the country.”

Petraeus contrasted the Afghanistan policy with the US approach to Iraq, where Washington has retained a small deployment of some 2,500 troops in an advisory role.

“But they can at least help the Iraqi security forces keep an eye on the insurgent and terrorist cell remnants of the Islamic State (Daesh),” he said.

The continued presence of US forces in Iraq is undergoing examination by military planners in Washington. 

The US has been launching airstrikes via fast jets and unmanned Reaper drones in support of Afghan forces. The drones take eight hours to travel to their targets from their airstrip in the Gulf.

Fighter jets launching sorties originate from Qatar, the UAE, and an aircraft carrier off the coast of Pakistan.

“The US may try to continue providing air support. But, to do that, it would have been wiser to keep Bagram and Kandahar air bases. Now, we have to fly from the Gulf, we can’t fly over Iran, so we have to go over southwest Pakistan. We’re not going to get a base in Pakistan,” Petraeus said.

“What will happen next depends most importantly on what the US will do to enable the Afghan air force to continue flying. The Afghan air force requires highly trained mechanics and supply chains and logistical support or they will not be operationally capable.”


UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
Updated 02 August 2021

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more

UK eases travel restrictions as industry lobbies for more
  • Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free

LONDON: Britain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from the US and European Union on Monday as travel industry leaders urged the government to further ease restrictions and allow people to enjoy the benefits of a successful COVID-19 inoculation program.
The new rules came into effect amid reports that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government may add a new category to Britain’s traffic light system of travel restrictions, a move industry officials say would make many people decide to stay home.
As of Monday, fully vaccinated travelers from destinations on Britain’s “amber list” are allowed to enter the country without self-isolating for up to 10 days. The government is considering creating an amber watchlist to warn people about destinations that may be downgraded because of rising infection rates or the emergence of new variants.
“An amber watchlist will be viewed as a massive red flag, which is likely to cause bookings to those countries on that watchlist to collapse,’’ Huw Merriman, chairman of the House of Commons’ Transport Committee, told the BBC. “In my view, we don’t need any more uncertainty, complexity or anxiety for passengers or this beleaguered sector. It just needs clarity.”
British airlines and holiday companies are hoping for a late summer travel boom after the pandemic halted most international travel, slashing profits and threatening thousands of jobs. The number of passengers traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport, the UK’s busiest airport, fell 75 percent in the first half of this year.
Travelers are required to take expensive PCR tests to prove they are virus-free and countries including the US still bar foreign travelers from crossing their borders.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, said the British government should allow most travelers to use cheaper lateral flow tests and work with countries like the US to ease remaining travel restrictions. This is warranted by the UK’s successful vaccination program, he said.
Almost 89 percent of adults in Britain have received at least one dose of vaccine and 73 percent have been fully vaccinated.
“This is a good start, we are showing that the vaccine is our passport to freedom,’’ Holland-Kaye said. “Let’s be confident in the vaccines. Tests show they work against delta and beta variants. So let’s start to show the vaccination will get us back to our lives as they used to be.”


Thousands more Afghans can resettle in US as refugees: State Department

Thousands more Afghans can resettle in US as refugees: State Department
Updated 02 August 2021

Thousands more Afghans can resettle in US as refugees: State Department

Thousands more Afghans can resettle in US as refugees: State Department
  • ‘The US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States’

WASHINGTON: Thousands of Afghans who may be targets of Taliban violence due to US affiliations but are ineligible for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) will have the opportunity to resettle as refugees in the United States, the State Department said on Monday.

Reuters exclusively reported on plans to set up the “Priority Two” refugee program, covering Afghans who worked for US-funded projects and for US-based non-government bodies and media outlets, earlier on Monday.

“In light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the US government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States,” the State Department said in the announcement.

“This designation expands the opportunity to permanently resettle in the United States to many thousands of Afghans and their immediate family members who may be at risk.”

Those who worked as employees of contractors, locally employed staff and interpreters and translators for the US government or armed forces are eligible for the new designation, as well as Afghans employed by a US-based media organization or non-governmental organization, the State Department said.