Cyclone kills two as Bangladesh, India evacuate two million

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Some 55,000 volunteers have been mobilized to go door to door and alert people about Cyclone Bulbul. (AFP)
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Villagers holding umbrellas carry their belongings on their way to enter a relief centre as Cyclone Bulbul is approaching, in Bakkhali near Namkhana in Indian state of West Bengal on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
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Storm clouds of the approaching Cyclone Bulbul are pictured from Kakdwip in West Bengal state on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
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An outside view from the window of a relief centre as Cyclone Bulbul is approaching, in Bakkhali near Namkhana in Indian state of West Bengal on November 9, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Cyclone kills two as Bangladesh, India evacuate two million

  • Bulbul, packing a maximum wind speed of 120 kilometers per hour, is on course to make landfall near the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest
  • Some 55,000 volunteers have been mobilized to go door to door and alert people about the storm

MOUSOUNI ISLAND, India: Cyclone Bulbul hit India and southern Bangladesh on Saturday, leaving two dead as authorities in the countries ordered more than two million people to get out of the path of the storm.
The cyclone, packing winds of up to 120 kilometres (75 miles) per hour, has "weakened" and "started crossing" India's West Bengal and Bangladesh's Khulna coast at about 9:00 pm (1500 GMT), Dhaka's Meteorological Department said in a special bulletin.
"It is likely to move in a northeasterly direction" and "weaken gradually, and may complete crossing West Bengal-Khulna coast by midnight tonight," the department said.
Airports and ports were shut down and the deaths were reported before the full force of the cyclone had hit.
One person was killed by an uprooted tree in Kolkata and another by a wall that collapsed under the force of the winds in Odisha state, authorities said.
More than 60,000 people were moved away from the coast on the Indian side of the border.
Bangladesh disaster management secretary Shah Kamal told AFP that "2.028 million" have been evacuated and moved to more than 5,500 cyclone shelters.
He said there was no reports of casualties and rejected reports in local media that dozens of local fishermen were missing on the southern coast.
Bangladeshi troops were sent to some villages, while about 55,000 volunteers went door-to-door and making loudspeaker announcements in the streets to get people away from the danger zone in villages, many of which were below sea level.
A storm surge up to two metres (seven feet) was predicted along the coast, Bangladesh's Meteorological Department said.
About 1,500 tourists were stranded on the southern island of Saint Martin after boat services were suspended due to bad weather.
Bangladesh's two biggest ports, Mongla and Chittagong, were closed because of the storm, and flights into Chittagong airport were halted.
In India, flights in and out of Kolkata airport were suspended for 12 hours because of the storm.
On the West Bengal island of Mousouni, which lies in the path of the storm, frightened residents took shelter in schools and government buildings because they had not been able to escape.
Military planes and ships have been put on standby to help in emergencies, Indian authorities said.
Bulbul hit the coast at the Sundarbans, the world's largest mangrove forest, which straddles Bangladesh and part of eastern India, and is home to endangered species including the Bengal tiger and the Irrawaddy dolphins.
Bangladesh's low-lying coast, home to 30 million people, is regularly battered by cyclones that leave a trail of destruction.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in cyclones in recent decades.
While the frequency and intensity have increased, partly due to climate change, the death tolls have come down because of faster evacuations and the building of 4,000 cyclone shelters along the coast.
In November 2007, Cyclone Sidr killed more than 3,000 people. In May this year, Fani became the most powerful storm to hit the country in five years, but the death toll was about 12.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”