At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South

Update At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South
Family and neighbors look through debris on Ed Whestine’s farm southwest of Wellman, Iowa on Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 02 April 2023

At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South

At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South
  • Debris and memories of regular life lay scattered inside the shells of homes and on lawns: clothing, insulation, roofing paper, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered

WYNNE, Arkansas: Storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 26 people in small towns and big cities across the South and Midwest, tearing a path through the Arkansas capital, collapsing the roof of a packed concert venue in Illinois and stunning people throughout the region Saturday with the damage’s scope.
Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees and laid waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included at least nine in one Tennessee county, four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, three in Sullivan, Indiana, and four in Illinois.
Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi, along with one near Little Rock, Arkansas, where city officials said more than 2,600 buildings were in a tornado’s path.
Residents of Wynne, a community of about 8,000 people 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, woke Saturday to find the high school’s roof shredded and its windows blown out. Huge trees lay on the ground, their stumps reduced to nubs. Broken walls, windows and roofs pocked homes and businesses.
Debris lay scattered inside the shells of homes and on lawns: clothing, insulation, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered.
Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.
“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” she said.
Recovery was already underway, with workers using chainsaws and bulldozers to clear the area and utility crews restoring power.
Nine people died in Tennessee’s McNairy County, east of Memphis, according to Patrick Sheehan, director the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
“The majority of the damage has been done to homes and residential areas,” said David Leckner, the mayor of Adamsville.
Gov. Bill Lee drove to the county Saturday to tour the destruction and comfort residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his time as governor, coming days after a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people including a family friend whose funeral he and his wife, Maria, attended earlier in the day.
“It’s terrible what has happened in this community, this county, this state,” Lee said. “But it looks like your community has done what Tennessean communities do, and that is rally and respond.”
Jeffrey Day said he called his daughter after seeing on the news that their community of Adamsville was being hit. Huddled in a closet with her 2-year-old son as the storm passed over, she answered the phone screaming.
“She kept asking me, ‘What do I do, daddy?’” Day said, tearing up. “I didn’t know what to say.”
After the storm passed, his daughter crawled out of her destroyed home and over barbed wire and drove to nearby family. On Saturday evening, baby clothes were still strewn about the site.
In Memphis, police spokesman Christopher Williams said via email late Saturday that there were three deaths believed to be weather-related: two children and an adult who died when a tree fell on a house.
Tennessee officials warned that the same weather conditions from Friday night are expected to return Tuesday.
In Belvidere, Illinois, part of the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed as about 260 people were attending a heavy metal concert. A 50-year-old man was pulled from the rubble.
“I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him), ‘It’s going to be OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do,” concertgoer Gabrielle Lewellyn told WTVO-TV.
The man was dead by the time emergency workers arrived. Officials said 40 others were hurt, including two with life-threatening injuries.
Crews cleaned up around the Apollo on Saturday, with forklifts pulling away loose bricks. Business owners picked up glass shards and covered shattered windows.
In Crawford County, Illinois, three people were killed and eight injured when a tornado hit around New Hebron, said Bill Burke, the county board chair.
Sheriff Bill Rutan said 60 to 100 families were displaced.
“We’ve had emergency crews digging people out of their basements because the house is collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had that safe space to go to,” Rutan said at a news conference.
That tornado was not far from where three people died in Indiana’s Sullivan County, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said at a news conference that an area south of the county seat of about 4,000 “is essentially unrecognizable right now” and several people were rescued overnight. There were reports of as many as 12 people injured, he said.
“I’m really, really shocked there isn’t more as far as human issues,” he said, adding that recovery “is going to be a very long process.”
In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than 50 were hurt, some critically.
The National Weather Service said that tornado was a high-end EF3 twister with wind speeds up to 165 mph (265 kph) and a path as long as 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Masoud Shahed-Ghaznavi was lunching at home when it roared through his neighborhood, causing him to hide in the laundry room as sheetrock fell and windows shattered. When he emerged, the house was mostly rubble.
“Everything around me is sky,” Shahed-Ghaznavi recalled Saturday. He barely slept Friday night.
“When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t sleep, imagined I was here,” he said Saturday outside his home.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. On Saturday, Sanders requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden to support recovery efforts with federal resources.
Another suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County, officials said, and in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, authorities confirmed one death and four injuries.
Tornadoes also caused damage in eastern Iowa and broke windows northeast of Peoria, Illinois.
The storms struck just hours after Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of town.
It could take days to determine the exact number of tornadoes from the latest event, said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center. There were also hundreds of reports of large hail and damaging winds, he said.
“That’s a quite active day,” he said. “But that’s not unprecedented.”
More than 530,000 homes and businesses were without power as of midday Saturday, over 200,000 of them in Ohio, according to PowerOutage.us.
The sprawling storm system also brought wildfires to the southern Plains, with authorities in Oklahoma reporting nearly 100 of them Friday. At least 32 people were said to be injured, and more than 40 homes destroyed.
The storms also caused blizzard conditions in the Upper Midwest.
A threat of tornadoes and hail remained for the Northeast including in parts of Pennsylvania and New York.


NATO soldiers injured in Kosovo clashes with Serb protesters

NATO soldiers injured in Kosovo clashes with Serb protesters
Updated 51 min 50 sec ago

NATO soldiers injured in Kosovo clashes with Serb protesters

NATO soldiers injured in Kosovo clashes with Serb protesters
  • KFOR: ‘Several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns’
  • Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that 52 Serbs were injured, three of them seriously

LEPOSAVIC, Kosovo: Around 25 NATO peacekeeping soldiers defending three town halls in northern Kosovo were injured in clashes with Serb protesters on Monday, while Serbia’s president put the army on the highest level of combat alert.
KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping mission to Kosovo, condemned the violence.
“While countering the most active fringes of the crowd, several soldiers of the Italian and Hungarian KFOR contingent were the subject of unprovoked attacks and sustained trauma wounds with fractures and burns due to the explosion of incendiary devices,” it said in a statement.
Hungary’s defense minister Kristof Szalay-Bobrovniczky said that 7 Hungarian soldiers were seriously injured and that they will be taken to Hungary for treatment. He said 20 soldiers were injured. Italian soldiers were also injured in clashes.
“What is happening is absolutely unacceptable and irresponsible,” Italy’s Giorgia Meloni said in a statement. “It is vital to avoid further unilateral actions on the part of the Kosovar authorities and that all the parties in question immediately take a step back to ease the tensions.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that 52 Serbs were injured, three of them seriously.
Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani accused Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic of destabilising Kosovo.
“Serb illegal structures turned into criminal gangs have attacked Kosovo police, KFOR (peacekeeping) officers & journalists. Those who carry out Vucic’s orders to destabilize the north of Kosovo, must face justice,” Osmani tweeted.
Vucic accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of creating tensions. He called on Serbs in Kosovo to avoid clashes with NATO soldiers.
The tense situation developed after ethnic Albanian mayors took office in northern Kosovo’s Serb majority area after elections the Serbs boycotted — a move that led the US and its allies to rebuke Pristina on Friday.
In Zvecan, one of the towns, Kosovo police — staffed by ethnic Albanians after Serbs quit the force last year — sprayed pepper gas to repel a crowd of Serbs who broke through a security barricade and tried to force their way into the municipality building, witnesses said.
Serb protesters in Zvecan threw tear gas and stun grenades at NATO soldiers. Serbs also clashed with police in Zvecan and spray-painted NATO vehicles with the letter “Z,” referring to a Russian sign used in war in Ukraine.
In Leposavic, close to the border with Serbia, US peacekeeping troops in riot gear placed barbed wire around the town hall to protect it from hundreds of angry Serbs.
Later in the day protesters threw eggs at a parked car belonging to the new Leposavic mayor.
Vucic, who is the commander-in-chief of the Serbian armed forces, raised the army’s combat readiness to the highest level, Defense Minister Milos Vucevic told reporters.
“This implies that immediately before 2:00 p.m. (1200 GMT), the Serbian Armed Forces’ Chief of the General Staff issued additional instructions for the deployment of the army’s units in specific, designated positions,” Vucevic said, without elaborating.
NATO peacekeepers also blocked off the town hall in Zubin Potok to protect it from angry local Serbs, witnesses said.
Igor Simic, deputy head of the Serb List, the biggest Belgrade-backed Kosovo Serb party, accused Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti of fueling tensions in the north.
“We are interested in peace. Albanians who live here are interested in peace, and only he (Kurti) wants to make chaos,” Simic told reporters in Zvecan.
Serbs, who comprise a majority in Kosovo’s north, have never accepted its 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia and still see Belgrade as their capital more than two decades after the Kosovo Albanian uprising against repressive Serbian rule.
Ethnic Albanians make up more than 90 percent of the population in Kosovo as a whole, but northern Serbs have long demanded the implementation of an EU-brokered 2013 deal for the creation of an association of autonomous municipalities in their area.
Serbs refused to take part in local elections in April and ethnic Albanian candidates won the mayoralties in four Serb-majority municipalities — including North Mitrovica, where no incidents were reported on Monday — with a 3.5 percent turnout.
Serbs demand that the Kosovo government remove ethnic Albanian mayors from town halls and allow local administrations financed by Belgrade resume their work.
On Friday, three out of the four ethnic Albanian mayors were escorted into their offices by police, who were pelted with rocks and responded with tear gas and water cannon to disperse the protesters.
The United States and its allies, which have strongly backed Kosovo’s independence, rebuked Pristina on Friday, saying imposing mayors in Serb-majority areas without popular support undercut efforts to normalize relations.
Kurti defended Pristina’s position, tweeting after a weekend phone call with the European Union’s foreign policy chief: “Emphasized that elected mayors will provide services to all citizens.”
Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic told RTS it was “not possible to have mayors who have not been elected by Serbs in Serb-majority municipalities.”
After meeting Kurti, US ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier told reporters: “We are concerned about reports today about violence against official property.”
“We’ve seen pictures of graffiti against KFOR cars and police cars, we’ve heard about attacks on journalists, we condemn that, that is not appropriate response.”


Rohingya remain ‘top priority’ for OIC as chief visits refugee camp in Bangladesh

Rohingya remain ‘top priority’ for OIC as chief visits refugee camp in Bangladesh
Updated 29 May 2023

Rohingya remain ‘top priority’ for OIC as chief visits refugee camp in Bangladesh

Rohingya remain ‘top priority’ for OIC as chief visits refugee camp in Bangladesh
  • OIC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha in Bangladesh until May 31
  • Islamic body been leading advocacy for Rohingya, says nation’s FM

DHAKA: The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which has said that the Rohingya remain a top priority for the body, saw its chief official visit the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Monday as part of a five-day trip to the country.

OIC Secretary-General Hissein Brahim Taha arrived in Bangladesh on Saturday and met with the country’s top officials, including Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The Rohingya situation was discussed in Taha’s meetings with Bangladeshi officials, as the South Asian nation is hosting more than 1 million refugees from the persecuted minority, most of whom fled from Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2017 to escape a deadly military crackdown.

“(The) Rohingya is one of the top priority issues for (the) OIC … These Rohingya people are suffering. They deserve peace, security and a better life,” Taha told reporters after meeting Bangladesh’s Foreign Affairs Minister A.K. Abdul Momen on Sunday.

The OIC chief also called on the organization’s member states to support Gambia’s case at the International Court of Justice, which alleges that Myanmar has violated the Genocide Convention with its actions against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

During his meeting with Hasina, Taha thanked the Bangladeshi government and people “for their relentless efforts to provide shelters, protection, hospitality, and necessary assistance to Rohingya refugees,” the OIC said in a statement.

Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, and has spent an estimated $1.2 billion a year to support the refugees.

“For a long time, we have had them (the OIC) beside us on the Rohingya issue. They have taken a leading role in removing the plight of the Rohingya,” Momen told reporters.

Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Mizanur Rahman said Taha spoke with members of the Rohingya community in Cox’s Bazar during his visit on Monday.

“(The) OIC secretary-general exchanged views with the Rohingya and listened to their plight,” he said. “Taha promised to do the best on (the) OIC’s part to resolve the Rohingya crisis.”

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are facing compounding issues, including a further decrease of their rations from the World Food Programme, which said a lack of funding has forced it to cut food aid per person from $10 to $8 a month starting June 1.


Thousands of Albanians breaching immigration bail in UK

Thousands of Albanians breaching immigration bail in UK
Updated 29 May 2023

Thousands of Albanians breaching immigration bail in UK

Thousands of Albanians breaching immigration bail in UK
  • 12,842 Albanians released from immigration detention centers failed to report to bail officials at their scheduled time

LONDON: Nearly 13,000 Albanians who entered the UK without valid visas breached the terms of their immigration bail, it was reported on Monday.

Home Office data shows that in the 15 months to this March, 12,842 Albanians released from immigration detention centers failed to report to bail officials at their scheduled time. They accounted for just over a quarter of the 44,957 people who violated their immigration bail in that period.

Many people released into the community are monitored by electronic tags. The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that videos on TikTok show Albanians using scissors or wire cutters to remove them. 

The Telegraph said that TikTok users in Albania were also offering to act as guarantors for up to £3,000 ($3,700), so that compatriots entering the UK could skip being held at a detention center.

Immigration lawyers in London told Top Channel that Albanians were breaching their bail because they were afraid of being deported to their home country following the signing of an agreement between Tirana and London that fast-tracks their removal. 

“We take further steps if the person does not comply with the conditions of their bail,” A Home Office spokesman told the Telegraph. “There are further bail conditions, home visits, arrests and obtaining financial guarantees,” they added.
 


Ukraine approves sanctions against Russian ally Iran: parliament

A police expert examines fragments of a missile after Russia fired a barrage of missiles for the second time in 24 hours.
A police expert examines fragments of a missile after Russia fired a barrage of missiles for the second time in 24 hours.
Updated 29 May 2023

Ukraine approves sanctions against Russian ally Iran: parliament

A police expert examines fragments of a missile after Russia fired a barrage of missiles for the second time in 24 hours.
  • Package was approved one day after Ukraine said Russia used Iranian Shahed drones in the largest UAV attack on the capital since beginning of invasion

KYIV: Kyiv’s parliament on Monday approved a sanctions package against Russia’s ally Iran, accused of sending weapons to Moscow during its more than year-long invasion of Ukraine.
The package was approved by parliament one day after Ukraine said Russia used Iranian Shahed drones in the largest UAV attack on the capital since the beginning of the invasion.
“The resolution synchronizes Ukrainian sanctions with the actions of the entire civilized world on the path to the complete isolation of Iran,” the Ukrainian parliament said on its website.
The package includes a ban on “military and dual-use goods” with Iran and the “suspension of economic and financial obligations in favor of residents of Iran.”
It still needs to be signed into law by Zelensky — a formality as the Ukrainian leader submitted the bill himself.
Zelensky had last week appealed directly to Iranians, asking: “Why do you want to be accomplices in Russian terror?“
His adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said Sunday that Kyiv was hit by dozens of Shahed drones and called Iran a “terrorist regime.”
“Tehran has become a key ally of Moscow in this war, deliberately supplying it with weapons for attacks on civilian cities,” Podolyak said on Twitter.
Tehran has struck back by saying this was an attempt by Zelensky to gain the West’s military and financial support.


Afghanistan calls for ‘diplomatic’ resolution with Iran after border skirmishes

Afghanistan calls for ‘diplomatic’ resolution with Iran after border skirmishes
Taliban security forces in Nimroz province take defensive position at the Afghanistan-Iran border on May 27, 2023. (Twitter) A
Updated 29 May 2023

Afghanistan calls for ‘diplomatic’ resolution with Iran after border skirmishes

Afghanistan calls for ‘diplomatic’ resolution with Iran after border skirmishes
  • 1 Taliban officer, 2 Iranian border guards killed after shooting broke out on Saturday
  • Latest incident came amid a dispute over water rights to the Helmand River

The Taliban government has called on Iran to resolve bilateral issues “through diplomatic channels,” an Afghan official told Arab News on Monday, as tension at their border eased following skirmishes over the weekend. 

At least one Taliban officer and two Iranian border guards were killed on Saturday after shooting broke out near a border post between Afghanistan and Iran, with officials from the two countries accusing each other of opening fire first. 

The incident came amid a dispute over water rights to the Helmand River, which flows from Afghanistan into Iran’s arid eastern regions, as the neighbors face worsening drought exacerbated by climate change. 

“We don’t want relations with our neighboring countries to deteriorate. Our request to all neighboring countries, including Iran, is to resolve these issues through diplomatic channels,” Hafiz Zia Ahmad, deputy spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Arab News. 

“The current situation is normal. The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is never in favor of escalation.” 

Officials have yet to provide details on what provoked the incident, in which several people on both sides were also injured. 

It occurred after Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned the Taliban earlier this month not to violate Iran’s water rights over their shared Helmand River, as laid out in a bilateral treaty signed in 1973. 

Water rights are among other issues the two countries faced since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 2021, including previous skirmishes at the border and reports of mistreatment against Afghan refugees in Iran, which has for decades hosted millions of them. 

In a report published on Monday, state-run IRNA news agency quoted Iran’s Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi as saying that “there is no problem at the present time” and that “everything is calm” at the Afghan-Iranian border. 

Gul Mohammed Qutrat, a police spokesman in Nimroz, said problems at the border have been addressed. 

“Currently, the situation is under control,” he told Arab News. “There is no tension at all at the border.”