At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South

Family and neighbors look through debris on Ed Whestine’s farm southwest of Wellman, Iowa on Saturday, April 1, 2023. (AP)
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Updated 02 April 2023
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At least 26 dead after tornadoes rake US Midwest, South

  • Debris and memories of regular life lay scattered inside the shells of homes and on lawns: clothing, insulation, roofing paper, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered

WYNNE, Arkansas: Storms that dropped possibly dozens of tornadoes killed at least 26 people in small towns and big cities across the South and Midwest, tearing a path through the Arkansas capital, collapsing the roof of a packed concert venue in Illinois and stunning people throughout the region Saturday with the damage’s scope.
Confirmed or suspected tornadoes in at least eight states destroyed homes and businesses, splintered trees and laid waste to neighborhoods across a broad swath of the country. The dead included at least nine in one Tennessee county, four in the small town of Wynne, Arkansas, three in Sullivan, Indiana, and four in Illinois.
Other deaths from the storms that hit Friday night into Saturday were reported in Alabama and Mississippi, along with one near Little Rock, Arkansas, where city officials said more than 2,600 buildings were in a tornado’s path.
Residents of Wynne, a community of about 8,000 people 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Memphis, Tennessee, woke Saturday to find the high school’s roof shredded and its windows blown out. Huge trees lay on the ground, their stumps reduced to nubs. Broken walls, windows and roofs pocked homes and businesses.
Debris lay scattered inside the shells of homes and on lawns: clothing, insulation, toys, splintered furniture, a pickup truck with its windows shattered.
Ashley Macmillan said she, her husband and their children huddled with their dogs in a small bathroom as a tornado passed, “praying and saying goodbye to each other, because we thought we were dead.” A falling tree seriously damaged their home, but they were unhurt.
“We could feel the house shaking, we could hear loud noises, dishes rattling. And then it just got calm,” she said.
Recovery was already underway, with workers using chainsaws and bulldozers to clear the area and utility crews restoring power.
Nine people died in Tennessee’s McNairy County, east of Memphis, according to Patrick Sheehan, director the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.
“The majority of the damage has been done to homes and residential areas,” said David Leckner, the mayor of Adamsville.
Gov. Bill Lee drove to the county Saturday to tour the destruction and comfort residents. He said the storm capped the “worst” week of his time as governor, coming days after a school shooting in Nashville that killed six people including a family friend whose funeral he and his wife, Maria, attended earlier in the day.
“It’s terrible what has happened in this community, this county, this state,” Lee said. “But it looks like your community has done what Tennessean communities do, and that is rally and respond.”
Jeffrey Day said he called his daughter after seeing on the news that their community of Adamsville was being hit. Huddled in a closet with her 2-year-old son as the storm passed over, she answered the phone screaming.
“She kept asking me, ‘What do I do, daddy?’” Day said, tearing up. “I didn’t know what to say.”
After the storm passed, his daughter crawled out of her destroyed home and over barbed wire and drove to nearby family. On Saturday evening, baby clothes were still strewn about the site.
In Memphis, police spokesman Christopher Williams said via email late Saturday that there were three deaths believed to be weather-related: two children and an adult who died when a tree fell on a house.
Tennessee officials warned that the same weather conditions from Friday night are expected to return Tuesday.
In Belvidere, Illinois, part of the roof of the Apollo Theatre collapsed as about 260 people were attending a heavy metal concert. A 50-year-old man was pulled from the rubble.
“I sat with him and I held his hand and I was (telling him), ‘It’s going to be OK.’ I didn’t really know much else what to do,” concertgoer Gabrielle Lewellyn told WTVO-TV.
The man was dead by the time emergency workers arrived. Officials said 40 others were hurt, including two with life-threatening injuries.
Crews cleaned up around the Apollo on Saturday, with forklifts pulling away loose bricks. Business owners picked up glass shards and covered shattered windows.
In Crawford County, Illinois, three people were killed and eight injured when a tornado hit around New Hebron, said Bill Burke, the county board chair.
Sheriff Bill Rutan said 60 to 100 families were displaced.
“We’ve had emergency crews digging people out of their basements because the house is collapsed on top of them, but luckily they had that safe space to go to,” Rutan said at a news conference.
That tornado was not far from where three people died in Indiana’s Sullivan County, about 95 miles (150 kilometers) southwest of Indianapolis.
Sullivan Mayor Clint Lamb said at a news conference that an area south of the county seat of about 4,000 “is essentially unrecognizable right now” and several people were rescued overnight. There were reports of as many as 12 people injured, he said.
“I’m really, really shocked there isn’t more as far as human issues,” he said, adding that recovery “is going to be a very long process.”
In the Little Rock area, at least one person was killed and more than 50 were hurt, some critically.
The National Weather Service said that tornado was a high-end EF3 twister with wind speeds up to 165 mph (265 kph) and a path as long as 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Masoud Shahed-Ghaznavi was lunching at home when it roared through his neighborhood, causing him to hide in the laundry room as sheetrock fell and windows shattered. When he emerged, the house was mostly rubble.
“Everything around me is sky,” Shahed-Ghaznavi recalled Saturday. He barely slept Friday night.
“When I closed my eyes, I couldn’t sleep, imagined I was here,” he said Saturday outside his home.
Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. On Saturday, Sanders requested a major disaster declaration from President Joe Biden to support recovery efforts with federal resources.
Another suspected tornado killed a woman in northern Alabama’s Madison County, officials said, and in northern Mississippi’s Pontotoc County, authorities confirmed one death and four injuries.
Tornadoes also caused damage in eastern Iowa and broke windows northeast of Peoria, Illinois.
The storms struck just hours after Biden visited Rolling Fork, Mississippi, where tornadoes last week destroyed parts of town.
It could take days to determine the exact number of tornadoes from the latest event, said Bill Bunting, chief of forecast operations at the Storm Prediction Center. There were also hundreds of reports of large hail and damaging winds, he said.
“That’s a quite active day,” he said. “But that’s not unprecedented.”
More than 530,000 homes and businesses were without power as of midday Saturday, over 200,000 of them in Ohio, according to PowerOutage.us.
The sprawling storm system also brought wildfires to the southern Plains, with authorities in Oklahoma reporting nearly 100 of them Friday. At least 32 people were said to be injured, and more than 40 homes destroyed.
The storms also caused blizzard conditions in the Upper Midwest.
A threat of tornadoes and hail remained for the Northeast including in parts of Pennsylvania and New York.


Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Updated 14 sec ago
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Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

  • Unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting
  • Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a ‘retired military police officer’
DARUVAR, Croatia: A gunman opened fire in a nursing home in Croatia on Monday, killing at least five people, according to officials and state media, in a rare instance of gun violence in the Balkan country.
State broadcaster HRT said an unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting.
At least five were killed and several others wounded during the incident, HRT said.
Police said they were informed of the incident at 10:10 a.m. local time (0810 GMT), and confirmed the suspect had entered the nursing home and used a firearm.
“The person linked to the perpetration of the crime is under police custody,” police said in a statement.
The number of dead was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who called for a thorough investigation by relevant officials.
“We are appalled by the murder of five people at the home for elderly in Daruvar,” Plenkovic said on social media.
The head of a regional emergency care facility, Nenad Mrzlecki, told local media that medical teams found four dead at the scene and four others wounded, who were immediately taken to local hospitals.
Mrzlecki did not provide information about the fifth victim.
“Our teams are still on the ground and the priority is to provide everyone with the necessary help, after that is done we will know the exact data on the number of victims,” he said.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a “retired military police officer” who killed his mother along with other residents and staff.
Daruvar, a town of some 7,000, has long been a popular spa destination thanks to the area’s thermal springs.
Shootings in the Balkan country are rare.
Last year in neighboring Serbia, the country was rocked by back-to-back mass shootings, including a massacre at a school in the capital in Belgrade in which 10 people were killed.

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Updated 21 min 33 sec ago
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Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a trip from July 23 to 25
  • The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin

KYIV/BEIJING: Ukraine’s top diplomat will visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Beijing for talks that Kyiv said would focus on how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and on a possible Chinese role in reaching a settlement.
Nearly 29 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip to China from July 23 to 25, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
“The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia’s aggression and China’s possible role in achieving a stable and just peace,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Chinese statement said Kuleba’s visit would run from July 23 to 26 and provided less detail.
The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin, with which Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022 just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though the world’s second largest economy has not condemned the Russian invasion and helped keep Russia’s war economy afloat, Kyiv has been cautious in its criticism of Beijing.
China meanwhile says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of non-alliance and do not target any third party.
Various peace initiatives have emerged in recent months as the fighting has dragged on ahead of a US election in November that could see the return to power of ex-president Donald Trump who has threatened to cut vital aid flows to Ukraine.
Kyiv held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland in June to promote its vision of peace and now says it hopes to be ready to hold another one in November that would feature Russian representation.
China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, together with Brazil published a separate six-point peace plan on May 23, saying they supported an international peace conference being held that would be recognized by both sides in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that only the world’s powerful countries would be able to successfully bring an end to the war, singling out China as well as Kyiv’s close US ally as two possibilities.
The Ukrainian leader has said that China should play a serious role in helping to resolve the war.


India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

Updated 22 July 2024
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


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

Updated 22 July 2024
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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 22 July 2024
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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.