Evacuations ordered as California storm knocks out power

A snow plow works to clear snow on a road, the morning after a winter storm pelted the region with a large amount of snow, in South Lake Tahoe. (AP)
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Updated 05 January 2023
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Evacuations ordered as California storm knocks out power

  • Hundreds of people have been told to evacuate in part of Santa Barbara County where mudslides killed 23 people in 2018

SAN FRANCISCO: Officials in California ordered evacuations in a high-risk coastal area where mudslides killed 23 people in 2018 as a huge storm barreled into the state Wednesday, bringing high winds and rain that threatened widespread flooding and knocked out power to more than 100,000 people.
The storm was expected to dump up to 6 inches of rain in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area where most of the region would remain under flood warnings into late Thursday night. In Southern California, the storm was expected to peak in intensity overnight into early Thursday morning with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties likely to see the most rain, forecasters said.
“We anticipate that this may be one of the most challenging and impactful series of storms to touch down in California in the last five years,” said Nancy Ward, the new director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed said at a news conference that the city was “preparing for a war.” Crews cleared clogged storm drains, tried to move homeless people into shelters and passed out emergency supplies and ponchos to those who refused to go.
The city distributed so many sandbags to residents that supplies temporarily ran out.
Powerful winds gusting to 136 kmh or more forced the cancellation of more than 70 flights at San Francisco International Airport and downed trees and power lines. Firefighters rescued a family after a tree fell onto their car. The fire department reported “large pieces of glass” fell off the Fox Plaza tower near the Civic Center, although no injuries were reported. It was “highly possible” the damage to the skyscraper was wind-related, the department tweeted.
The new storm left more than 100,000 customers in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Central Coast without power.
The storm is one of three so-called atmospheric river storms in the last week to reach the drought-stricken state. California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency to allow for a quick response and to aid in cleanup from another powerful storm that hit just days earlier.
In Southern California, evacuations were ordered for those living in areas burned by three recent wildfires in Santa Barbara County, where heavy rain forecast for overnight could cause widespread flooding and unleash debris flows.
County officials did not have a firm number for how many people were under evacuation orders, but Susan Klein-Rothschild, a spokesperson in the county’s emergency operations center, said sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door and contacted at least 480 people.
Among the towns ordered to evacuate was Montecito, where five years ago huge boulders, mud and debris swept down mountains through the town to the shoreline, killing 23 people and destroying more than 100 homes. The town is home to many celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey and Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan.
“What we’re talking about here is a lot of water coming off the top of the hills, coming down into the creeks and streams and as it comes down, it gains momentum and that’s what the initial danger is,” Montecito Fire Department Chief Kevin Taylor said.
Elsewhere, a 72 Km stretch of the coastal Highway 1 running through Big Sur was closed Wednesday evening in anticipation of flooding and rock falls. Further north, a 40 Km stretch of Highway 101 was closed due to several downed trees.
Drivers were urged to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary, especially with heavy snow expected in the mountains.
The storm came days after a New Year’s Eve downpour led to the evacuations of people in rural Northern California communities and the rescue of several motorists from flooded roads. A few levees south of Sacramento were damaged.
On Wednesday, authorities in south Sacramento County found a body in a submerged car — one of at least four victims of flooding from that storm.
Evacuation orders were in place in Santa Cruz County’s Paradise Park along the swiftly moving San Lorenzo River, as well as in areas along the Pajaro River. Residents who fled wildfires in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2020 were packing their bags as the towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond and Felton were all warned they should be prepared to evacuate.
Sonoma County authorities issued an evacuation warning for a string of towns along the Russian River, which was expected to reach flood stage on Thursday.
The storms won’t be enough to officially end the state’s ongoing drought, now entering its fourth year. The US Drought Monitor showed that most of California is in severe to extreme drought. Since the state’s major reservoirs are low, they have plenty of room to fill with more water from the storm, officials said.
Trees already stressed from years of limited rain are more likely to fall now that the ground is suddenly saturated and winds are heavy. That could cause widespread power outages or create flood hazards, said Karla Nemeth, director of the state’s Department of Water Resources.
“We are in the middle of a flood emergency and also in the middle of a drought emergency,” she said during an emergency briefing.
Storms also took a toll elsewhere in the US In the Midwest, ice and heavy snow this week closed schools in Minnesota and western Wisconsin and caused a jet to go off an icy taxiway after landing in a snowstorm in Minneapolis. No passengers were injured, Delta airlines said.
In the South, a possible tornado damaged homes, downed trees and flipped a vehicle on its side in Montgomery, Alabama, early Wednesday.
In Illinois, staff from the National Weather Service’s Chicago office planned to survey storm damage on Wednesday following at least six tornadoes, the largest number of rare January tornadoes recorded in the state since 1989.


’It’s a mistake,’ Zelensky says of Biden’s Putin mix up

Updated 11 sec ago
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’It’s a mistake,’ Zelensky says of Biden’s Putin mix up

“We can forget some mistakes, I think so,” Zelensky told reporters

SHANNON, Ireland: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said his UScounterpart Joe Biden accidentally referring to him as Russian President Vladimir Putin was a mistake that could be forgotten about given all the support the US has provided to Ukraine.
Biden mistakenly referred to Zelensky as Putin at a NATO summit in Washington on Thursday before correcting himself two seconds later.
“It’s a mistake. I think United States gave a lot of support for Ukrainians. We can forget some mistakes, I think so,” Zelensky told reporters on Saturday at Ireland’s Shannon airport where he was meeting Irish Prime Minister Simon Harris.

A Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan and wife in marriage case, paving the way for possible release

Updated 17 min 2 sec ago
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A Pakistani court acquits ex-PM Khan and wife in marriage case, paving the way for possible release

  • The acquittal comes two weeks after another appeals court upheld the Feb. 5 conviction and sentence of Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Saturday overturned the conviction and seven-year prison sentence of former Prime Minister Imran Khan and his wife in the case of the couple’s alleged 2018 unlawful marriage case, removing the last known hurdle in the way of his release nearly a year after he was jailed, lawyers said.
Naeem Panjutha, one of Khan’s lawyers, said the court announced the verdict in the garrison city of Rawalpindi, where the former premier is being held.
The acquittal comes two weeks after another appeals court upheld the Feb. 5 conviction and sentence of Khan and his wife, Bushra Bibi.
The court in its brief order said if the couple is not wanted in any other case, they should be released.
Bibi is Khan’s third wife and a spiritual healer. She was previously married to a man who claimed that they divorced in November 2017, less than three months before she married Khan. Islamic law, as upheld by Pakistan, requires a three-month waiting period before a new marriage.
Bibi has said they divorced in August 2017 and the couple insisted during the trial that they did not violate the waiting period.
It was unclear how the government would respond to the court order. Authorities have registered multiple cases against Khan since 2022 when he was ousted from power through a vote of no-confidence in the parliament.
The latest development came a day after Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled that the party of Khan was improperly denied at least 20 seats in parliament, in a significant blow to the country’s fragile governing coalition.
Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party was previously excluded from a system that gives parties extra seats reserved for women and minorities in the National Assembly, or lower house of the parliament. Though the verdict was a major political win for Khan, it would not put his party in a position to oust the government of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, who came into power following a Feb. 8 election that Khan allies say was rigged.
Khan has been embroiled in more than 150 legal cases, including inciting violence, since his arrest in May 2023. During nationwide riots that followed that, Khan’s supporters attacked the military and government buildings in various parts of the country and torched a building housing state-run Radio Pakistan in the northwest.
The violence subsided only when Khan was released by the Supreme Court. Khan was again arrested in early August 2023 after a court handed him a three-year jail sentence for corruption.
Since then, Khan has been given bail by different courts in all the cases in which he has been convicted.


Philippine diving town trades plastic for rice to tackle ocean waste

Updated 1 min 34 sec ago
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Philippine diving town trades plastic for rice to tackle ocean waste

  • Philippines is the third-largest source of ocean plastic waste worldwide
  • Plastic Palit Bigas helps Mabini residents cut food spending while saving the sea

MANILA: Campaigners in Mabini, one of the Philippines’ most famous diving resorts, have found a new way to make the issue of plastic pollution everybody’s business, as they swap rice for waste in a drive to clean up the town’s shores.

Known for its pristine waters, the town in Batangas province — some 100 km south of Manila — is considered the birthplace of the Philippine scuba-diving industry and every weekend draws crowds of tourists to enjoy its sandy beaches.

While they significantly contribute to Mabini’s economy, many have been arriving and leaving behind trails of plastic waste, compounding the problem of ocean pollution, which was already threatening the region’s marine wildlife.

“Marine plastic washes up on shore. During the habagat (southwest monsoon) season, onshore winds can cause a lot of plastic to pile up on our beaches from faraway places, but we also noticed that tourists from all over the country spend the day at our beaches and sadly some of them leave garbage behind,” said Ronald Necesito, the founder of Plastic Palit Bigas, an initiative to tackle the problem by mobilizing local communities.

Launched in mid-2022, Plastic Palit Bigas translates to “trade plastic for rice.” It offers to exchange a bag of plastic waste collected by Mabini residents for a sack of rice.

Necesito told Arab News: “I just thought rice would encourage citizens to clean the shores and segregate household plastic. Everyone needs rice. This way, we can reduce pollution as well.”

Poor waste management has plagued the Philippines’ waterways for years. According to the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the country is the third-largest source of ocean waste worldwide. Every year it discards an estimated 3.3 kg of plastic waste per person, emitting 350,000 tonnes of non-degradable litter into the ocean.

Necesito’s campaign is trying to address the issue on a local scale and is concentrated along a 3-km-long shoreline, which every Saturday will see a few dozen volunteers who, for 3 kg of the collected waste, can bring home 1 kg of rice.

The program is sustained by donations from individuals, local resorts and small enterprises.

“According to the families participating in this program, it is a big help for them because the cost they need to spend on buying rice is reduced,” Necesito said.

“So far, it has greatly helped our environment and even the sea. We have noticed less plastic on our shores. Mabini relies heavily on tourism, so having clean beaches is very important to our economy as well.”

The campaign has provided over 2,600 kg of rice to families in need to date.

Sheila Casa, a 35-year-old schoolteacher who regularly participates in the program, said that it had also helped raise awareness and incentivize people to care more as it reduces their food expenditure, with one sack of rice being enough to feed a family for a few days.

“There are some people who, even at home, avoid dumping their plastic waste … There are also more volunteers who want to join in the cleaning. This is a huge help for us,” she told Arab News.

“Waste becomes valuable because we can exchange it for rice.”


North Korea threatens to boost nuke capability in reaction to US-South Korea deterrence guidelines

Updated 13 July 2024
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North Korea threatens to boost nuke capability in reaction to US-South Korea deterrence guidelines

  • The US has repeatedly promised to use all its military capabilities to protect South Korea if it is attacked by North Korea
  • North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue nuclear weapons to deal with US-led nuclear threats

SEOUL, South Korea: North Korea threatened Saturday to boost its nuclear fighting capability and make the US and South Korea pay “an unimaginably harsh price” as it slammed its rivals’ new defense guidelines that it says reveal an intention to invade the North.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol authorized the signing of joint nuclear deterrence guidelines as part of efforts to enhance their capabilities to cope with North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal. The guidelines were adopted a year after the two countries established a consultation body to bolster information-sharing on nuclear operations and discuss how to integrate US nuclear weapons and South Korean conventional weapons in contingencies.
In a statement carried by state media, North Korea’s Defense Ministry said the US-South Korea guidelines betrayed “their sinister intention to step up their preparations for a nuclear war against” North Korea.
The statement said its enemies’ escalating nuclear threats urgently require North Korea to further improve its nuclear deterrent readiness and add unspecified “important elements to the composition of the deterrent.” It said the US and South Korea will “pay an unimaginably harsh price” if they fail to stop provocative acts.
Details of the US-South Korean guidelines weren’t available, but experts say they are largely about how the two countries would integrate US nuclear weapons and South Korean conventional weapons to respond to various potential contingencies caused by North Korean attacks and provocations. Experts say the US and South Korea are expected to map out detailed concept and operation plans based on the guidelines and review them via bilateral military exercises.
The guidelines are the first of kind between the allies. The US has repeatedly promised to use all its military capabilities to protect South Korea if it is attacked by North Korea, but many experts in South Korea believe the US lacks plans on how it would implement its extended deterrence to its ally. South Korea has no nuclear weapons.
North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue nuclear weapons to deal with US-led nuclear threats. US and South Korean officials have steadfastly said they have no intention of attacking North Korea.
Concerns about North Korea’s nuclear program have grown in recent years as the North has performed a slew of provocative missile tests and openly threatened to use nuclear weapons preemptively in potential conflicts with its adversaries.


UK police arrest man over discovery of human remains on bridge

Updated 13 July 2024
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UK police arrest man over discovery of human remains on bridge

  • On Friday police said the remains were of two adult men and that the main suspect had traveled from London with the bags

LONDON: British police arrested a man on Saturday in connection with the discovery of human remains in two suitcases at a famous bridge in western England last week.
The 24-year-old was arrested in Bristol, where the bodies were found on the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and will be taken to London for questioning later in the day, the capital’s Metropolitan Police said in a statement.
On Friday police said the remains were of two adult men and that the main suspect had traveled from London with the bags.
Police have said that they received reports just before midnight on Wednesday of a man with a suitcase acting suspiciously on the bridge. A second suitcase was found nearby.
On Saturday they said inquiries were ongoing, but that they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident at this stage.
“We understand the concerns of local communities in both Bristol and London and officers will remain in the ... areas over the coming days to reassure those affected by this tragic incident,” Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Valentine said.