Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law

Officials gather at the edge of bridge that collapsed on Jan. 28, 2022, in Pittsburgh's East End. (AP)
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Updated 29 January 2022

Half-century old US bridge collapses ahead of Biden visit to promote infrastructure law

  • At least four people on board a municipal bus that plummeted along with the span were injured

PITTSBURGH, US: A 50-year-old bridge collapsed in Pittsburgh early Friday, requiring rescuers to rappel down a ravine and form a human chain to reach a few occupants of a municipal bus that plummeted along with the span. No deaths were reported.
The collapse came hours before President Joe Biden arrived in the city to promote his $1 trillion infrastructure law, which has earmarked about $1.6 billion for Pennsylvania bridge maintenance.
At least four people required hospital treatment. Five other vehicles were also on the bridge at the time. The cause was being investigated, and crews searched under the debris for additional victims.
A large crack showed on the end of the bridge where the segmented bus landed 150 feet (46 meters) down in the ravine, as if hit by an earthquake. A car landed upside down in front of the bus, which was operated by the Pittsburgh area’s transit agency.
The Forbes Avenue bridge over Fern Hollow Creek in Frick Park came down at 6:39 a.m., city officials said. The loud noise from the collapse was followed by a hissing sound and the smell of natural gas, witnesses said.
“The first sound was much more intense, and kind of a rumbling, which I guess was the structure, the deck hitting the ground,” said Ken Doyno, a resident who lives four houses away. “I mean, the whole house rattled at that point.”
Ruptured gas lines along the bridge produced the leak, and the supply of gas was shut off within a half-hour, city officials said.
As Biden toured the scene, an officer told him a person who was running by helped first responders get people out of cars. He called it a miracle.
“It really is, it’s astounding,” Biden said.
By midafternoon, three adults were being treated, and all were in fair condition, the UPMC hospital system said. A fourth person had received treatment and was released.
The National Transportation Safety Board sent a team to investigate. The agency tweeted a photo late Friday of Chair Jennifer Homendy at the scene.
A search-and-rescue team combed the area, said Sam Wasserman, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey. Drones were brought in to help.
Most of the 10 people evaluated for injuries were first responders who were checked for exhaustion or because of the cold and snowy weather, Gainey said.
The segmented bus operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County had two passengers in addition to the driver, said Adam Brandolph, spokesperson for the agency.
The bus driver, Daryl Luciani, told WPXI-TV that as soon as he reached the bridge, he believed it was collapsing.
“I could just feel it,” Luciani told the station. “The bus was bouncing and shaking and it seems long, but it was probably less than a minute that the bus finally came to a stop, and I was just thankful that nobody on the bus was hurt.”
The passengers appeared to be OK, he said, so he pulled the air brake and waited for help to arrive. First responders reached them after descending with flashlights in the predawn darkness and used a rope to help him and other occupants get to safety, Luciani said.
About two hours after the collapse, Brandolph said, one of the passengers was on another bus, began complaining of injuries and was taken to a hospital. The driver and other passenger were not hurt, according to Brandolph.
The bus had started its route in downtown Pittsburgh and had been heading to the suburban community of Braddock.
“Judging by the time of day, had this bus been traveling inbound, toward downtown, there likely would have been more people on the bus and obviously could have been a much, much more dire situation,” Brandolph said.
The bus had seven or eight cameras, and any footage they captured of the collapse will be part of the investigation, Brandolph said.
Neighbors said a gas company worker went door to door to get them to evacuate from the immediate vicinity before the gas was successfully shut off.
“Apart from just this abiding noise, we could begin to smell gas and that was the truly frightening thing, then with that smell we both said, let’s get dressed and get out of here,” said Lyn Krynski, whose home is nearest the bridge.
“It sounded like a weather phenomenon more than anything,” said Douglas Gwilym, who was shoveling about an inch of snow when he heard the noise. “It was all I had to compare it to — it was this odd, whooshing sound.”
The bridge is an important artery that leads to the Squirrel Hill and Oakland neighborhoods and is a popular route toward downtown Pittsburgh. Authorities told motorists to avoid the area. Several neighbors said a weather-prompted two-hour school delay may have prevented a far worse human tragedy.
At the site of the collapse, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman called it “just an awful, surreal scene.”
“I hope it’s a wake-up call to the nation that we need to make these infrastructure investments,” Fetterman said.
The steel bridge, which was built in 1970, carries about 14,500 vehicles a day, according to a 2005 estimate.
Wasserman said the most recent inspection occurred in September but the report was not immediately available.
But a September 2019 inspection of the city-owned bridge revealed the deck and superstructure to be in poor condition, according to the US Department of Transportation’s National Bridge Inventory.
A spreadsheet on the state Department of Transportation website listed the bridge’s overall condition as poor, which, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, means “deterioration of primary structural elements has advanced.”


Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan

Updated 19 May 2022

Karachi blast suspect received orders from Iran-based commander, says Pakistan

  • Allah Dino, killed by police in a gun battle on Wednesday, was trained in Iran, says Counterterrorism Department
  • Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country

KARACHI: Counterterrorism authorities in Pakistan said on Thursday that a suspect in an attack in the port city of Karachi last week had been trained in Iran and was receiving instructions from the Iran-based commander of a Pakistani separatist group.

One person was killed and several were injured in a bomb blast late on May 12 in the Saddar neighbourhood of Karachi. The assault was claimed by the little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), a dissident faction fighting for independence in the province of Sindh.

The attack came two weeks after a female suicide bomber killed four people, including three Chinese nationals, in an attack on a minibus carrying staff from a Beijing cultural program at Karachi University.

In a press release on Thursday, the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) for Sindh said special investigation teams formed in the wake of the latest spate of attacks were able to identify a number of suspects through intelligence sources and the use of technology.

Police used intelligence gathered from the investigation teams to trace three suspects from the Saddar attack on Wednesday as they traveled by motorcycle to transport explosives in Karachi on the instructions of what the CTD said was an Iran-based SRA commander called Asghar Shah.

In a gun battle with the three suspects, two identified as Allah Dino and Nawab Ali were killed while a third suspect fled the scene.

“The accused (Allah Dino) had been taking instructions from Asghar Shah, who operates his group (of the SRA) from Iran,” Syed Khurram Ali Shah, a senior CTD official, told reporters on Thursday.

“The eliminated terrorist Allah Dino was a master of bomb-making and he got his military training from neighbouring country Iran,” the CTD press release said.

Iran and Pakistan regularly accuse each other of harboring militants that launch attacks on the neighboring country. Both nations deny state complicity in such attacks.


Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks

Updated 19 May 2022

Biden cheers Finland, Sweden NATO plans as Turkey balks

  • "Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger," Biden said
  • Turkey has expressed strong opposition to the Nordic countries' ascension

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden met with the leaders of Finland and Sweden at the White House on Thursday to offer robust US support for their applications to join NATO.
Meanwhile Turkey threatened to block the Nordic nations from becoming members of the alliance.
Biden, who has rallied the West to stand up to Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, joined Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö in a sunny White House Rose Garden bedecked with their countries’ flags in a show of unity and support.
“Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger,” Biden said. “They’re strong, strong democracies, and a strong, united NATO is the foundation of America’s security.”
Biden said his administration was submitting paperwork to the US Congress for speedy approval once NATO members gave the two countries a green light.
“They meet every NATO requirement and then some,” the president said. “Having two new NATO members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board.”
Turkey has expressed strong opposition to the Nordic countries’ ascension, pressing Sweden to halt support for Kurdish militants it considers part of a terrorist group and both to lift their bans on some arms sales to Turkey.
All 30 NATO members need to approve any new entrant. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said in a video posted on Twitter on Thursday that Turkey had told allies it will reject Sweden and Finland’s membership.
The Finnish president said at the White House that his country was open to discussing all Turkey’s concerns, and pledged to “commit to Turkey’s security just as Turkey will commit to our security” as a NATO ally.
“We take terrorism seriously,” Niinistö said.
Sweden and Finland have for decades stood outside the Cold War era military alliance designed to deter threats from the Soviet Union, but Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened security concerns.
The situation in Ukraine “reminds us of the darkest days of European history,” Andersson said. “During dark times it is great to be among close friends.”
Conversations between Sweden, Finland and Turkey have taken place to address Ankara’s concerns, with the United States involved in the effort. US national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Wednesday that US officials were confident Turkey’s concerns can be addressed, and Biden told reporters “I think we’re going to be okay” on the issue.
Biden’s unabashed support put a firm, deliberate US stamp of approval on Finland and Sweden’s applications. He squeezed in the meeting just before departing to Asia and gave both leaders speaking time in the Rose Garden, underscoring that support.
Biden’s remarks also sent a signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Monday Putin said there was no threat to Russia if Sweden and Finland joined NATO but cautioned that Moscow would respond if the alliance bolstered military infrastructure in the new Nordic members.
Biden said on Thursday that new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. “It never has been,” he said.


Indian court convicts Kashmiri rebel leader of terrorism

Updated 19 May 2022

Indian court convicts Kashmiri rebel leader of terrorism

  • Mohammed Yasin Malik has been charged with terrorist acts, illegally raising funds and sedition
  • Malik dismisses charges against him as politically motivated while calling himself freedom fighter

NEW DELHI: An Indian court on Thursday convicted a top Kashmiri separatist leader in a terrorism-related case that carries a maximum sentence of the death penalty or life imprisonment.

Mohammed Yasin Malik had been charged with terrorist acts, illegally raising funds, being a member of a terrorist organization, and criminal conspiracy and sedition.

Judge Praveen Singh set May 25 for hearing arguments from both sides on sentencing, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The judge also directed Malik to provide an affidavit regarding his financial assets.

During the trial, Malik protested the charges and said he was a freedom fighter.

“Terrorism-related charges leveled against me are concocted, fabricated and politically motivated,” his organization, the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, cited him as telling the court.

“If seeking Azadi (freedom) is a crime, then I am ready to accept this crime and its consequences,” he told the judge.

The Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front was one of the first armed rebel groups to come into existence in Indian-administered Kashmir. It supported an independent and united Kashmir. Led by Malik, the group gave up armed rebellion in 1994.

An insurgency broke out in Indian-administered Kashmir in 1989 with fighters demanding an independent Kashmir or its merger with Pakistan. India accuses Pakistan of arming and training rebel groups to fight Indian forces, a charge Pakistan denies. Islamabad says it provides only moral and diplomatic support to insurgents.

Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since British colonialists granted them independence in 1947. Both claim the region in its entirety and have fought two of their three wars over control of Kashmir.


Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties

Updated 19 May 2022

Germany strips Schroeder of official perks over Russia ties

  • The parliament's decision to strip Schroeder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin
  • EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder

BERLIN: Germany on Thursday removed perks accorded to former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, assessing that he has failed to uphold the obligations of his office by refusing to sever ties with Russian energy giants.
The parliament’s decision to strip Schroeder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin, which spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine.
EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder and other Europeans who refuse to give up lucrative board seats at Russian companies.
“The coalition parliamentary groups have drawn consequences from the behavior of former chancellor and lobbyist Gerhard Schroeder in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the parliament decided.
“The office of the former chancellor shall be suspended,” it said, noting that Schroeder “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office.”
German media have put the annual cost of Schroeder’s office and employees paid for by taxpayers at around 400,000 euros ($421,000).
Schroeder, Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has been under fire for refusing to quit his posts with Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom following Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
He condemned the invasion as unjustified but said that dialogue must continue with Moscow.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who like Schroeder is from the Social Democratic Party, has also repeatedly and publicly urged the former leader to give up his Russian jobs, but to no avail.
Schroeder, 78, is chairman of the board of directors of Russian oil giant Rosneft, and also due to join the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in June.
The gas group is behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which has been halted by Scholz in one of the West’s first responses to the war in Ukraine.
Schroeder himself signed off on the first Nord Stream in his final weeks in office.
In fact, he took a job with Gazprom as chairman of the shareholder’s committee at its subsidiary Nord Stream in 2005, just days after leaving office and parliament in 2005.
Schroeder has always cut a controversial figure.
Schroeder was born on April 7, 1944 in Mossenberg, western Germany but lost his father in the war in Romania six months later.
Recalling his childhood, he said they “really didn’t have a cent — that is something that marks you for life.”
He joined the SPD at 19 and worked a variety of jobs to fund night classes to earn his high school diploma at age 22.
Schroeder qualified as a lawyer before becoming a radical left-wing activist, only later developing a taste for cigars, bespoke Italian suits and Mercedes cars.
His rise through the official ranks began in 1990 when he became premier of the state of Lower Saxony at his second attempt, before taking Germany’s top job in a coalition with the Greens in 1998.
Germany was the “sick man of Europe” with high joblessness. Schroeder is credited for his so-called Agenda 2010 reforms which restored the country’s economic competitiveness and turned it into an export giant.
But many in his blue-collar party saw the painful cuts as a betrayal of their ideals, and reviled him for pushing through the plans that widened the country’s wealth gap and left it with millions of working poor.
He became the first postwar leader to back Germany’s economic muscle with military might when he deployed combat troops abroad for the first time since World War II: to Kosovo and Afghanistan.
However, despite pressure from US president George W. Bush, he declined to commit German troops to Iraq, causing a rift between Berlin and Washington.
The “bromance” with the Kremlin chief would mark his post-chancellorship years, as Putin made headlines as a prominent guest at Schroeder’s 70th birthday party.
When the Russian leader held his inauguration in 2018, Schroeder was in the front row.
Asked in 2004 if Putin was a “flawless democrat,” Schroeder said he was “convinced that he is.”


UK police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

Updated 19 May 2022

UK police end Downing Street party inquiry, 126 fines issued

LONDON: British police said on Thursday they had ended their investigation into COVID-19 lockdown parties held at Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office, saying they had issued a total of 126 fines.
“Our investigation was thorough and impartial and was completed as quickly as we could, given the amount of information that needed to be reviewed and the importance of ensuring that we had strong evidence for each FPN (fixed penalty notice) referral,” London Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Helen Ball said.
“This investigation is now complete.”