Thousands evacuated in Australia’s worst floods in nearly half a century

Residents wade through a flooded road during heavy rain in western Sydney on March 20, 2021, amid mass evacuations. (File/AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2021

Thousands evacuated in Australia’s worst floods in nearly half a century

  • Almost 20,000 people evacuated
  • Around 40% of population under severe weather warnings

SYDNEY: Australian authorities issued fresh flood warnings and evacuation orders on Tuesday as torrential rains again pummelled several parts of the country, sweeping away homes, roads and livestock in the worst downpour in more than half a century.
The national weather agency posted weather warnings in every mainland state or territory but one, affecting around 10 million people in the country of 25 million, across an area the size of Alaska.
“The rain and flood situation does remain dynamic and extremely complex,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters.
No deaths were reported, but thousands of people have been rescued by emergency services in recent days. Authorities have ordered about 22,000 people to be ready to flee their homes, potentially joining around 18,400 people who have already been evacuated.
Images shared on social media showed bridges washed away, stranded animals and submerged homes in New South Wales, the most populous and worst affected state.
One video showed a container truck ramming into a bridge, causing structural damage, while another showed a car swept off a road by raging floodwaters in neighboring Queensland.
Other photos captured mass swarms of spiders and snakes as the creatures sought to escape the fast-moving flood waters.
In NSW, a fourth straight day of heavy rain was expected to combine with a coastal trough and increase the deluge overnight on Tuesday, even as the main city Sydney saw a reprieve by late afternoon.
Thousands of people who live along the Hawkesbury River, a major waterway about 60km (37 miles) north of Sydney, were told to be ready to evacuate.
Dave Murray, a landscaper from North Richmond, on the Hawkesbury, filmed with a head-mounted camera from his jetski as he rescued his neighbor’s 10 cows by forcing them to swim about 300 meters through floodwater five meters deep.
“I knew they could swim because I’ve done it before, but I didn’t realize they could swim as good as that,” Murray said by telephone.
Emergency workers used inflatable rafts and even some surf boats, usually reserved for beach rescues, to reach stranded locals, Reuters footage showed.
Alicia Pitt was rescued along with her family from their holiday cabin on the Hawkesbury River.
“We’ve got a place on the other side of the river and we just came over to move our van onto high ground and were trapped on the other side of the river, with the landslides, so we’ve been there for a couple of days,” Pitt told Reuters.
Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main water supply, began overflowing on Saturday and was expected to keep doing so for another week. The summer before, amid drought and bushfires, the same dam fell below half its water catchment, triggering severe water restrictions.

LOGISTICS LAG
Authorities began coordinating with supermarkets to ship groceries to people who could not get to a store, Federal Emergency Management minister David Littleproud said.
Grocery chain Coles Group Ltd. planned to deliver essentials to stores near the Hawkesbury on Tuesday. Rival grocer Woolworths Group Ltd. said it closed several stores due to staff safety concerns and warned of delivery delays as trucks were re-routed to avoid flooded roads.
Coal deliveries to Port of Newcastle, north of Sydney, the world’s biggest coal export port, were halted earlier because flooding shut rail lines.
On Tuesday, the country’s biggest independent coal miner, Whitehaven Coal Ltd, said it was forced to stop shiploading at the port due to structural faults, while weather-related port restrictions were slowing ship movements.
The company said road flooding may also stop staff driving to work and cut its forecast coal sales to a range of 18.5 million to 19 million tons, from a range of 19 million to 20 million previously.


US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS

Updated 03 December 2022

US whistleblower Snowden gets a Russian passport -TASS

MOSCOW: Former US intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who exposed the scale of secret surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA), has sworn an oath of allegiance to Russia and received a Russian passport, TASS reported on Friday.
“Yes, he got [a passport], he took the oath,” Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s lawyer, told the state news agency TASS.
“This is still a criminal investigative matter,” White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday, referring any questions about the report on Snowden to the US Department of Justice, which declined to comment.
US authorities have for years wanted Snowden returned to the United States to face a criminal trial on espionage charges.
President Vladimir Putin in September granted Russian citizenship to Snowden, who fled the United States after leaking secret files that revealed the extensive eavesdropping activities of the United States and its allies.
“I’m in Russia because the White House intentionally canceled my passport to trap me here. They downed the President of Bolivia’s diplomatic aircraft to prevent me from leaving, and continue to interfere with my freedom of movement to this day,” Snowden, 39, said on Twitter on Friday, referring to events from 2013.
Snowden was referring an incident in July 2013, when Bolivia complained that its presidential jet carrying Evo Morales from Russia to Bolivia had been rerouted and forced to land in Austria over suspicion that Snowden was on board.
Defenders of Snowden hail him as a modern-day dissident for exposing the extent of US spying and alleged violation of privacy. Opponents say he is a traitor who endangered lives by exposing the secret methods that Western spies use to listen in on hostile states and militants.


As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

Updated 02 December 2022

As IMF funding delayed, Pakistan expects $3 bln from friendly country

  • An IMF review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September
  • Pakistan's finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said all targets for the IMF's ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan expects to secure $3 billion in external financing from a friendly country in two weeks, its finance minister said on Friday as the South Asian country awaits IMF funding.
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) review for the release of its next tranche of funding has been pending since September, leaving Pakistan in dire need of external financing.
Pakistan’s finance minister, Ishaq Dar, said on Friday in an interview with Geo News TV that all targets for the IMF’s ninth review had been completed, adding that withholding a tranche despite that would not make sense.
Pakistan secured a $6 billion bailout in 2019 under an Extended Fund Facility (EFF), that was topped up with another $1 billion earlier this year.
“We continue to engage in discussions with the government over policies to address the humanitarian and rehabilitation needs of the floods while promoting macroeconomic and fiscal sustainability,” the IMF’s resident representative in Pakistan, Esther Perez Ruiz, said in a statement.
Dar said Pakistan’s foreign reserves, which have dropped to $7.5 billion, will be shored up with a $3 billion financing from a friendly country in the next two weeks.
That is hardly enough for a month of imports for Pakistan, which has been facing a widening current account deficit and a balance of payments crisis.
“All the requirements for the ninth (IMF) review are completed,” Dar said, adding that the international lender was “behaving abnormal” by not completing the review.
Pakistan will make alternate arrangements in case of any delay from the IMF, he said.
“If the money doesn’t come, we will manage, no problem,” he added.


EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

Updated 02 December 2022

EU bans cough syrup chemical over severe allergies

  • The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine should be withdrawn from sale
  • "Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction"

THE HAGUE: Cough medicines containing the chemical pholcodine should be banned due to the risk of potentially deadly allergic reactions in people under general anaesthetic, the European Union’s drug regulator said Friday.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended that treatments containing pholcodine, which is used in adults and children to treat dry coughs, should be withdrawn from sale.
“Use of pholcodine in the 12 months before general anaesthesia... is a risk factor for developing an anaphylactic reaction” to muscle relaxants in the anaesthetic, the Amsterdam-based watchdog said.
Anaphylactic shock is a “sudden, severe and life-threatening allergic reaction,” it added.
Medicines with the chemical were “being withdrawn from the EU market and will therefore no longer be available by prescription or over the counter.”
Opioid-based pholcodine has been used as a cough medicine since the 1950s.
Medicines containing the chemical are currently authorized in the EU countries of Belgium, Croatia, France, Ireland, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Slovenia, under brand names including Dimetane, Biocalyptol and Broncalene.
France had said in September that pholcodine could be banned due to the risk of allergies.
In April 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when a dry cough was one of the main symptoms of the disease, French authorities had recommended against the use of syrups with pholcodine.
The EMA in January had recommended updating packaging to warn of the risk of allergies, based on new data.


Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

Updated 02 December 2022

Parcels with animals’ eyes sent to Ukrainian embassies

  • The “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia, Italy and Czech
  • Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko said that “we are studying the meaning of this message”

KYIV: Ukrainian embassies and consulates in six European countries have received packages containing animals’ eyes in recent days, a Ukrainian official said Friday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Nikolenko wrote on Facebook that the “bloody parcels” were received by the Ukrainian embassies in Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Croatia and Italy, as well as by consulates in Naples, Italy; Krakow, Poland and the Czech city of Brno. He said that “we are studying the meaning of this message.”
Nikolenko said they arrived after a package containing an explosive device that was sent to the Ukrainian Embassy in Madrid ignited upon opening on Wednesday and injured an employee. That was one of multiple explosive parcels found in Spain this week.
In addition, the entrance to the residence of the Ukrainian ambassador to the Vatican was vandalized and the embassy in Kazakhstan was warned of a mine attack, though that wasn’t confirmed, Nikolenko said.
All Ukrainian embassies and consulates have stepped up security measures. Nikolenko quoted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying that “we have reason to believe that a well-planned campaign of terror and intimidation of Ukrainian embassies and consulates is taking place.”


Bombs target Italian embassy cars in Athens: police

Updated 02 December 2022

Bombs target Italian embassy cars in Athens: police

  • There was no immediate claim of responsibility and officers are still investigating

ATHENS: Two explosive devices targeted cars belonging to the Italian embassy in Greece on Friday, one of which went off causing no injuries, Greek police said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility and officers said they were investigating.
A homemade bomb exploded at around 4:00 am (0200 GMT), damaging a vehicle parked at the home of an embassy officer in an Athens suburb, police said.
The other device, placed near a second diplomatic vehicle, did not go off.
Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni expressed “deep concern” at what she called an “attack... probably of anarchist origin.”
The far-right leader sent her “personal thoughts and those of the Italian government to the first counsellor of the Italian embassy in Athens, Susanna Schlein.”
Meloni added she was following the case “with the utmost attention” and through Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani who was in Athens for talks on Friday.
The Greek foreign ministry “strongly condemned the attack” and said such “unacceptable” acts “would not disrupt... the excellent relations and ties of long-standing friendship between Greece and its partner and ally Italy.”
Crude, homemade devices, which cause damage but rarely injuries, are commonly used against political or diplomatic targets, banks or foreign companies in Greece.
Police often blame groups on the extreme left or anarchists.

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