Oct 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Leaves Death, Damp And Darkness In Wake

As Superstorm Sandy churned slowly inland, millions along the U.S. East Coast awoke Tuesday without power or mass transit, and huge swaths of New York City were unusually dark and abandoned. At least 17 people were killed in seven states.

The storm that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 130 km/h sustained winds cut power to more than 6 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio and put the presidential campaign on hold one week before Election Day.

Photos of Superstorm Sandy New York was among the hardest hit, with its financial heart closed for a second day and seawater cascading into the still-gaping construction pit at the World Trade Center. The storm caused the worst damage in the 108-year history of New York's extensive subway system, according to Joseph Lhota, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

 “This will be one for the record books,” said John Miksad, senior vice-president for electric operations at Consolidated Edison, which had more than 670,000 customers without power in and around New York City.

Trading at the New York Stock Exchange was cancelled again Tuesday — the first time the exchange suspended operations for two consecutive days due to weather since a blizzard in 1888.

President Barack Obama declared a major disaster in New York and Long Island, making federal funding available to residents of the area.

New York City's three major airports remained closed. Overall, more than 13,500 flights had been cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, almost all related to the storm, according to the flight-tracking service FlightAware.

An unprecedented 3.9-metre surge of seawater — 90 centimetres above the previous record — gushed into lower Manhattan, inundating tunnels, subway stations and the electrical system that powers Wall Street and sent hospital patients and tourists scrambling for safety. Skyscrapers swayed and creaked in winds that partially toppled a crane 74 storeys above Midtown.

In New Jersey, where the superstorm came ashore, hundreds of people were being evacuated in rising water early Tuesday. Officials were using boats to try to rescue about 800 people living in a trailer park in Moonachie. There were no reports of injuries or deaths. Local authorities initially reported a levee had broken, but Gov. Chris Christie said a berm overflowed.

The massive storm reached well into the Midwest. Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepared for winds of up to 96 km/h and waves exceeding 7.2 metres well into Wednesday.

As Hurricane Sandy closed in on the Northeast, it converged with a cold-weather system that turned it into a monstrous hybrid of rain and high winds — even bringing snow in West Virginia and other mountainous areas inland.

Remnants of the now-former Category 1 hurricane were forecast to head across Pennsylvania before taking another sharp turn into western New York state by Wednesday morning. As of 5 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was centred about 145 kilometres west of Philadelphia.

Although weakening as it goes, the massive storm — which caused wind warnings from Florida to Canada — will continue to bring heavy rain and local flooding, said Daniel Brown, warning co-ordination meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Just before it made landfall at 8 p.m. near Atlantic City, New Jersey, forecasters stripped Sandy of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force winds.

While the hurricane's 144 km/h winds registered as only a Category 1 on a scale of five, it packed “astoundingly low” barometric pressure, giving it terrific energy to push water inland, said Kerry Emanuel, a professor of meteorology at MIT.

Officials blamed at least 17 deaths in the U.S. on the converging storms —in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina and West Virginia. Three victims were children, one just 8 years old. At least one death was blamed on the storm in Canada.

Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean before making its way up the Atlantic Coast.
Even before it made landfall in New Jersey, crashing waves had claimed an old, 15-metre piece of Atlantic City's world-famous Boardwalk.

“We are looking at the highest storm surges ever recorded” in the Northeast, said Jeff Masters, meteorology director for Weather Underground, a private forecasting service.
The New York metropolitan area got the worst of it.

An explosion at a ConEdison power substation knocked out power to about 310,000 customers in Manhattan.

“It sounded like the Fourth of July,” Stephen Weisbrot said from his apartment in lower Manhattan.
A huge fire destroyed at least 50 homes in a flooded neighbourhood by the Atlantic Ocean in the New York City borough of Queens. Firefighters told WABC-TV that they had to use a boat to make rescues. Two people suffered minor injuries, a fire department spokesman said.

Firefighters told WABC-TV that the water was chest high on the street. They said in one apartment home, about 25 people were trapped in an upstairs unit.

New York University's Tisch Hospital was forced to evacuate 200 patients after its backup generator failed. NYU Medical Dean Robert Grossman said patients — among them 20 babies from the neonatal intensive care unit who were on battery-powered respirators — had to be carried down staircases and to dozens of ambulances waiting to take them to other hospitals.

Tunnels and bridges to Manhattan were shut down, and some flooded.

A construction crane atop a $1.5 billion luxury high-rise overlooking Central Park collapsed in high winds and dangled precariously. Thousands of people were ordered to leave several nearby buildings as a precaution, including 900 guests at the ultramodern Le Parker Meridien hotel.

Alice Goldberg, 15, a tourist from Paris, was watching television in the hotel — whose slogan is “Uptown, Not Uptight” — when a voice came over the loudspeaker and told everyone to leave.

“They said to take only what we needed, and leave the rest, because we'll come back in two or three days,” she said as she and hundreds of others gathered in the luggage-strewn marble lobby. “I hope so.”

Off North Carolina, not far from an area known as “the Graveyard of the Atlantic,” a replica of the 18th-century sailing ship HMS Bounty that was built for the 1962 movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” sank when her diesel engine and bilge pumps failed. Coast Guard helicopters plucked 14 crew members from rubber lifeboats bobbing in 5.4-metre seas. A 15th crew member who was found unresponsive several hours after the others was later pronounced dead. The Bounty's captain was still missing.

President Barack Obama scrapped his campaign events for Monday and Tuesday to stay at the White House to oversee the government's response to the superstorm. Romney was going ahead with a planned event in Ohio on Tuesday, but his campaign said its focus would be on storm relief.

Source: The Star

Oct 12, 2012

Pope Acknowledges Bad Fish In Church

Pope Benedict urged lapsed and lukewarm Roman Catholics on Thursday to rediscover their faith but acknowledged there are "bad fish" in the Church itself.

The pope made his comments at two large events before thousands of people in St. Peter's Square on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, a far-reaching event in the Church's 2,000-year history.

"Recent decades have seen the advance of a spiritual desertification," he said in his sermon of a morning Mass, opening a worldwide "Year of Faith". "We see it all around us ... the void has spread," he said.

The mass was attended by hundreds of Roman Catholic bishops as well as representatives of other Christian churches, such as Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The bishops are in Rome for a synod, or conference, at the Vatican aimed at building a strategy to bring lapsed Catholics back to the faith.

Later, on Thursday evening, the pope made an impromptu address from the window of his apartment overlooking the square and made references to the sexual abuse scandal and conflict within the 1.2-billion-member Church. "In these years, we have seen that there is discord in the vineyard of the Lord, we have seen that in the net of Peter (St Peter, the first apostle) there are bad fish, that human fragility exists even in the Church," he said.

"The ship of the Church is navigating in strong headwinds, in storms that threaten the ship and sometimes we have gone as far as thinking that God is sleeping and he has forgotten us," he said.

Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council 50 years ago to bring the Church up to date with the modern world. During the Council, which ended in 1965, nearly 3,000 bishops from more than 100 countries wrote 16 documents on various aspects of Church life and mission and urged more "collegiality," or sharing of responsibility, between the pope and bishops. Among its innovations was the introduction of the Mass in local languages after centuries of it being said in Latin.

The Council also encouraged dialogue with, and respect for, other religions and repudiated the concept of collective Jewish guilt for Jesus' death, revolutionising Catholic-Jewish relations after 2,000 years of mistrust.

But 50 years on, the Council is divisive. Liberals in the Church say Benedict, who attended the Council as a young priest, has turned back the clock on some Council reforms and moved to centralise power in the Vatican again. Conservatives praise him for correcting what they regard as errors in applying its ideas. For example, conservatives assert that the Council's push for dialogue with other religions went too far and weakened the traditional teaching that Catholicism is the one true faith.

Nigeria President Declares Floods A National Disaster

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday visited some of the hundreds of thousands of people made homeless by the country's worst flooding in at least five decades, calling it a 'national disaster'.

Vast stretches of Africa's most populous nation have been submerged by floods in the past few weeks, as major rivers like the Niger, the continent's third longest, burst their banks. At least 140 people have been killed, hundreds of thousands uprooted and tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have been submerged since the start of July, raising concerns about food security, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said.

In Kogi, a northern state that has been the worst affected and which Jonathan visited on Thursday, NEMA state coordinator Ishaya Chonoko said 623,900 people had been displaced and 152,575 hectares of farmland destroyed so far.

"We are very sad over these flood incidences in the country. It is a national disaster," Jonathan said with a sombre expression, after casting an eye over the makeshift displacement camp huddling 738 people together in Dankolo primary school. "We are thinking of how to settle you all back to your places after the floods. Government is doing everything possible to cushion the effects on you ... it will soon be over."

Nigeria, which gets heavy tropical rains from May to September, usually suffers from seasonal flash floods but almost never on this scale. Floods have also devastated the Niger Delta, home to Africa's biggest energy industry, where the Niger river fans into creeks before emptying itself into the Atlantic.

There has been no reported impact on crude oil production, but a cocoa industry body said last month that cocoa output would fall far short of a 300,000 tonne target for last season. As images have trickled out of stranded villagers perched on rooftops and fuel trucks washed onto their sides, pressure has mounted for the government to act, and it has pledged millions of dollars for relief efforts.

"Our major problem here is that we don't have accommodation for all the victims. They are crammed into this small school," said Red Cross coordinator of the camp, Jubril Ebiloma, as families squeezed together in a classroom behind her.

In Humble Home, Guatemala Farmer Finds Ancient Maya Murals Under Plaster

In a ramshackle home in Guatemala's rural highlands, farmer and odd job man Lucas Asicona made for an unlikely guardian of ancient Mayan treasures--until he decided to redo his kitchen.

When he pulled back the plaster in his humble colonial-era home of stone, adobe and haphazard wooden boards, he discovered 300-year-old murals, a priceless piece of Guatemalan history. Scenes of tall Europeans beating drums and playing flutes stare out over the one-room dwelling where his family including five children cooked, slept and played.

So he carefully drew back the furniture and moved his wood burning kitchen stove outside to protect the treasured artwork, an informal curator of Guatemala's rich past. "We try to keep the kids away from it and keep people from touching it," said Asicona, 38, who discovered the murals by chance in 2005 during renovation work at his home, which has been in his family for generations.

"The house is very humid and some of the colours have been fading. The black has started to turn gray and some of the other colours have lost their shine, but we do what we can without any funding," he added.

Asicona is among four householders in Chajul, an Ixil Maya community some 220 miles (350 kms) from Guatemala City, struggling to preserve murals revealed after peeling back plaster on the walls of ancient homes. Experts believe similar murals could lie hidden in a further eight homes in the town.

Painted by the current occupants' Mayan ancestors, the friezes cover several walls of the homes, whose colonial history is glimpsed in details including heavy hardwood doors and carved stone pillars propping up modern tin roofs. The murals provide a unique visual record of the moment in history when the local Maya--some depicted in plumed costumes--encountered the tall, bearded conquistadors from Spain who tried to convert them to Christianity.

Historians says the murals peeping through the plaster at Asicona's home illustrate the so-called "conquest dance," from a time in the 1650s when Spaniards forced locals to build a Catholic Church which still stands at the center of town.

Other paintings in a neighbour's home show spiraling fireballs that local lore says fell from the sky at the height of the colonial encounter in the 17th century and were thought by the Maya to be a sign of anger from the gods. "We consider these murals to be very unique," Guatemalan anthropologist Ivonne Putzeys said of the trove found in the pine-ringed highland town. "It's tangible heritage that represent real scenes from history."

Mayan civilization thrived between AD 250 and 900 and extended from modern day Honduras to central Mexico. It left behind a trove of pyramids and dozens of distinct Mayan groups who continue to endure.

Around half of Guatemala's 14.5 million people are of indigenous descent, many of whom continue to speak 21 officially recognized languages and wear brightly coloured traditional dress

Historians in Chajul say conserving the rich pictorial heritage is vital for the town of 25,000 people, which was settled four centuries ago by Mayan groups who fled Spanish settlers in Antigua, a few miles (kms) from Guatemala City. "Throughout our history, our people painted these murals so that their stories wouldn't be forgotten," said historian Felipe Rivera.

But in a country where more than half the population live in poverty, conservation is proving a challenge. Asicona said he last contacted the government for help in 2007 but never received a response. Like other families, he says he is simply doing his best to conserve the friezes.

After making the discovery, Asicona swiftly made repairs to his home to prevent leaks during the country's soggy rainy season and pushed the family's beds to opposite walls where his kids jump up and down. Cabinets have been moved to the center of the room in order to keep dust from dirtying the murals.

He has received visitors from as far away as Europe who have paid up to $10 dollars to come in and see the paintings, but without more support he worries that the prized artwork could disappear. "We keep the house up as best we can," he said. "We have contacted the government about the paintings, but (all we get are) promises and no action."

Culture Ministry spokesman Sergio Igax said that for the families to receive funding to preserve the murals, the homes have to be declared national heritage--a long process that involves lots of paperwork. He said the ministry had not received a request from Chajul for an evaluation in recent years.

Oct 5, 2012

Turkey Steps Up Syria Strikes, Says Will Defend Borders

Turkey stepped up retaliatory artillery strikes on a Syrian border town on Thursday, killing several Syrian soldiers, while its parliament approved further military action in the event of another spillover of the Syrian conflict.

Seeking to unwind the most serious cross-border escalation in its 18-month-old crackdown on dissent, Damascus apologised through the United Nations for shelling which killed five civilians in southeast Turkey on Wednesday and said it would not happen again, Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay said.

Syria's staunch ally Russia said it had received assurances from Damascus that the mortar strike had been a tragic accident. But Turkey's government said "aggressive action" against its territory by Syria's military had become a serious threat to its national security and parliament approved the deployment of Turkish troops beyond its borders if needed.

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said the fundamental aim of parliament's mandate was as a deterrent. "We as Turkey just want peace and security in our region. We could never be interested in something like starting a war. The consequences of war are plain to see in Iraq and Afghanistan," Erdogan told reporters at a news conference in Ankara.

He said the shelling was the eighth attack of its kind from Syria, but that the previous incidents had only caused material damage and Damascus had ignored Ankara's warnings on the issue. "The Turkish Republic is a state capable of defending its citizens and borders. Nobody should try and test our determination on this subject," he added.

At the United Nations, Russia blocked the adoption of a draft statement condemning the Syrian shelling of Akcakale and proposed a text that would call for "restraint" on the border without referring to breaches of international law. Western diplomats complained that Russia's proposals, if accepted, would weaken the statement to an unacceptable degree.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was "alarmed by escalating tensions" between Syria and Turkey and warned that the risk of the 18-month-old Syrian conflict embroiling the entire region was growing, his spokesman said. China's Foreign Ministry urged Turkey and Syria to exercise restraint.

The peaceful pro-democracy movement which surfaced in March 2011 in Syria turned into a full-scale armed revolt after President Bashar al-Assad tried to crush it and is now becoming a sectarian conflict that could destabilise neighbouring states. Turkey hit back after what it called "the last straw" when the mortar hit Akcakale, killing a mother, her three children and a female relative. Atalay said Turkey had exercised its right to retaliation and that parliament's authorisation for a foreign military deployment was not a "war memorandum".

"It's a deterrent measure taken in line with Turkey's interests, for use when it needs to protect itself," he told reporters.

Three armoured personnel carriers were positioned on the southern edge of Akcakale, their guns trained on the Syrian town of Tel Abyad a few miles (kilometres) across the frontier. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said three Syrian soldiers were killed by Turkish shelling of a military post nearby. Syrian state media has not reported any casualties.

The observatory also reported clashes between Syrian rebels and the Syrian army at the military post, and said the rebels had killed 21 elite Republican Guards on Thursday in an ambush on an army minibus in a suburb northwest of Damascus.

The southern edge of Akcakale, right on the border, resembles a ghost town. Houses stand empty and shops are shuttered. Much of the population is ethnically Arab and many men walk around in the traditional Arab jalabiyya and red and white headscarves.\

"Everyone is gone, look around," said Ibrahim Cilden, 33, who lives only a few houses away from the one which was hit on Wednesday. A new camp for Syrian refugees sits on the edge of the town but nobody has yet moved in.

"Where have they built it? Right at the exit to our town. So the Syrians fire mortars at us. We act like a magnet," he said.

Turkey's parliament already had been due to vote on Thursday on extending a five-year-old authorisation for foreign military operations, an agreement originally intended to allow strikes on Kurdish militant bases in northern Iraq. But the memorandum signed by Erdogan and sent for parliamentary approval also said that despite repeated warnings and diplomatic initiatives, the Syrian military had launched aggressive action against Turkish territory, presenting a "serious threat".

"At this point the need has emerged to take the necessary measures to act promptly and swiftly against additional risks and threats," it said.

19 Students Confirmed Dead After Chinese Landslide

All 18 elementary school students buried in a landslide were confirmed dead Friday, while one other person also died after a hillside collapsed and smothered part of a village in mountainous southwestern China.

The Tiantou Elementary School was buried Thursday when the hillside collapsed in Zhenhe, a village in Yunnan province, the Yiliang County government said on its website.

All 18 students who were buried in the school were confirmed dead, the government said. The official Xinhua News Agency said the body of a 19th victim was found Friday. It gave no details, but the county government said earlier that a person was missing from a house that had collapsed.

The government also said that a person injured in the landslide was hospitalized.

The landslide dammed a river, causing its water to pool 15 meters (45 feet) across and 7 meters (21 feet) deep around the buried area, hampering rescue efforts and forcing the evacuation of 800 other people, the government said. Rescue teams removed the blockage and the water was subsiding.

While officials have yet to give a cause for the landslide, that part of Yunnan province has been lashed by rain and is prone to earthquakes. A series of quakes last month left 81 people dead and devastated parts of Yiliang county, which are still recovering.

Thursday was a holiday across China, but the students who were killed had been attending school to make up for days missed after the quake, Yiliang officials said. Xinhua said their school was damaged in the quake and they were sent to Tiantou temporarily.

Source: CTV


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