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.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

Updated 3 sec ago
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea
MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.

France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

Updated 5 min 2 sec ago
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France says Israeli athletes ‘welcome’ at Olympics

PARIS: Israeli athletes are welcome at the Paris Olympics, French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne said Monday, after a hard-left member of the French parliament sparked outrage by urging them to stay away.
“The Israeli delegation is welcome in France,” Sejourne said in Brussels ahead of talks with his Israeli counterpart, adding that the call by France Unbowed (LFI) lawmaker Thomas Portes for the country’s exclusion had been “irresponsible and dangerous.”
“We will ensure the security of the delegation,” Sejourne added.
Portes drew ire from French Jewish groups and both political opponents and allies for saying Israeli athletes were “not welcome” and calling for “mobilization” around the Olympics, during a demonstration in support of Palestinians.
He later told the Parisien newspaper that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” over its invasion of Ukraine.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said the comments had “hints of anti-Semitism” while the head of the Crif Jewish organization Yonathan Arfi said he was “putting a target on the backs” of Israeli athletes.
Portes’ remarks were condemned at the weekend by some allies from the more moderate Socialists, but backed by others in LFI.


Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

Updated 15 min 39 sec ago
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Taiwan starts annual war games, aiming to closely mimic actual combat

  • The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills
  • China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control
TAMSUI/TAOYUAN, Taiwan: Taiwan carried out anti-landing drills on a strategic river on Monday at the start of the annual Han Kuang war games, which this year aim to be as close as possible to actual combat with no script and simulating how to repel a Chinese attack.
China, which views democratically governed Taiwan as its territory, has been staging regular exercises around the island for four years to pressure Taipei to accept Beijing’s claim of sovereignty, despite Taiwan’s strong objections.
Taiwan’s drills this year have canceled elements that were mostly for show, like scripted firepower displays, while there will be intensified nighttime exercises and practicing how to operate with severed command lines.
Kicking off the first day of exercises in Tamsui at the mouth of a major river leading to Taipei, soldiers practiced laying mines and nets to stymie the landing of enemy forces, part of a series of drills designed to prevent the capital being seized.
“We are trying our best to slow them down as much as possible,” military office Chang Chih-pin told reporters, referring to a scenario where the enemy was trying to make landfall by sending rubber boats into the Tamsui River.
“The slower they move, the better for us,” he added.
Earlier on Monday in nearby Taoyuan, outside of Taipei and home to Taiwan’s main international airport, reservists gathered to get their orders as they would during a war, and civilian vans were pressed into service to carry supplies.
On Thursday, Taoyuan airport will close for an hour in the morning for the drills, though a typhoon is expected to be impacting the island that day meaning that the exercise could be delayed.
Taiwan’s defense ministry also published video of air force fighter jets at the Hualien air base on the island’s east coast, which has hangars cut out of the side of a mountain to protect aircraft from aerial attack.
Live fire drills will only take place on Taiwan’s outlying islands, including Kinmen and Matsu which sit nestled next to the Chinese coast and were the scene of on-off clashes during the height of the Cold War.
The five-day war games will be happening in conjunction with the Wan’an civil defense drills, where the streets of major cities are evacuated for half an hour during a simulated Chinese missile attack, and test warning alarms will sound on mobile phones.
The drill scenarios this week include setting up contingency command lines after existing hubs are destroyed and dispersing Chinese forces trying to land on Taiwan’s western coastline facing China, a defense official involved in the planning said.
China held two days of its own war games around the island shortly after President Lai Ching-te took office in May, saying it was “punishment” for his inauguration speech, which Beijing denounced as being full of separatist content.
But China has also been using grey zone warfare against Taiwan, wielding irregular tactics to exhaust a foe by keeping them continually on alert without resorting to open combat. This includes almost daily air force missions into the skies near Taiwan.
China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control. Lai, who says only the Taiwanese people can decide their future, has repeatedly offered talks but been rebuffed.

Headquarters of Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party raided

Updated 42 min 30 sec ago
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Headquarters of Pakistan ex-PM Imran Khan’s party raided

KARACHI: Pakistan police raided the headquarters of jailed former prime minister Imran Khan’s party on Monday, a week after the military-backed government vowed to ban the political movement.
An AFP journalist at the scene saw the headquarters of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) sealed off by police, who led a number of party workers into waiting vans.
Pakistani media initially reported party chairman Gohar Ali Khan, a barrister, was among those taken away.
However, an official at Islamabad Police, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media, told AFP that they had not arrested him.
The official confirmed the arrest of Raoof Hassan, a founding member of the party and head of its press department.
“Raoof Hasan was arrested but the police did not arrest Gohar Ali Khan,” the police official said.
The government’s information minister said last week it would ban Khan’s PTI, just days after the Supreme Court made a crucial ruling in the party’s favor that dealt a huge blow to the government.
Candidates loyal to Khan won the most seats in February elections but were kept from power by an alliance of usually feuding parties, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, with the key backing of the powerful military.


More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police

Updated 22 July 2024
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More than 500 arrested in Bangladesh capital over violence: police

  • Detainees include the opposition Bangladesh National Party’s third-most senior leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury

DHAKA: More than 500 people, including some opposition leaders, have been arrested over days of clashes in the Bangladesh capital Dhaka sparked by protests against job quotas, police said Monday.
“At least 532 people have been arrested over the violence,” Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain said.
“They include some BNP leaders,” he added, referring to the opposition Bangladesh National Party.
The detainees included the BNP’s third-most senior leader Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury and its spokesman Ruhul Kabir Rizvi Ahmed, he said.
A former national football captain turned senior BNP figure, Aminul Huq, was also held, he added.
Mia Golam Parwar, the general secretary of the country’s largest Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, was also arrested, Hossain said.
He said at least three policemen had been killed during the unrest in the capital and about 1,000 injured, at least 60 of them critically.
BNP spokesman A.K.M Wahiduzzaman said that nationwide, “several hundred BNP leaders and activists were arrested in the past few days.”