What is left when Peru’s flood waters recede

A chair stands in mud at the home of Francisco Coca after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru

By Mariana Bazo

CARAPONGO, Peru (Reuters) – On the outskirts of Lima, hundreds of householders salvage scant belongings in what is left of their homes after the Rimac River burst its banks in recent weeks amid Peru’s worst flooding disaster in decades.

Many of the hardest hit are those who can least afford it – poor Peruvians who built their homes on cheap land near the river, which runs from Peru’s central Andes to the Pacific coast.

Simeona Mosquera contemplates her uncertain future, standing in what once was her front room and is now a ruin of mud and debris.

A children's bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru,

A children’s bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The 74-year-old market seller fled in the night after a neighbor told her the waters were rising dangerously, but did not think anything would happen to her house.

“When I returned the next day I saw my sofa to one side, part of the house on another side, everything all over the place, everything destroyed,” she says. “I thought, am I dreaming or is this happening?

“I lost my sofas, my bed, my cupboards, my children’s documents … there is nothing left.”

Furniture that can be recovered is perched precariously on parts of brick walls, among the only remnants of nearby homes.

Across Peru, dozens have been killed and tens of thousands displaced after sudden warming of Pacific waters off the coast unleashed torrential downpours in recent weeks. It is part of a localized El Nino phenomenon that is forecast to stretch into April.

In what’s left of Carlos Rojas’ house a pink sign reading ‘Baby Shower’ hangs on a wall, one of the few things not coated with mud. It was for a party a couple of months ago for his baby daughter, the mechanic says. He brushes down a salvaged mattress. Not much else is left.

“All the things that cost me a lot of effort to earn went in no time at all,” say Rojas. “There’s no choice but to start again.”

(Click on http://reut.rs/2o9h1JB to see a related photo essay)

(Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

The family of U.S. tourist Kurt Cochran who was killed in last week’s assault on the British parliament said on Monday he would not have borne any ill feelings toward the attacker.

Clint Payne, brother of Westminster Bridge attack victim Melissa Cochran, speaks at a news conference at New Scotland Yard, in London, Britain,

LONDON (Reuters) – The family of U.S. tourist Kurt Cochran who was killed in last week’s assault on the British parliament said on Monday he would not have borne any ill feelings toward the attacker.

Cochran, 54, and his wife, Melissa, were in Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary when they were mowed down on Westminster Bridge by a car driven by British man, Khalid Masood, who went on to fatally stab an unarmed policeman at the parliament building.

The couple from Utah had been due to return to the United States the day after the attack took place last Wednesday. Melissa remains in hospital where she is recovering from a cut to the head, a broken rib and badly injured leg.

“We know that Kurt wouldn’t bear ill feelings toward anyone and we can draw strength as a family from that,” Clint Payne, Cochran’s brother-in-law, told a news conference at police headquarters, just yards from where the attack took place.

“His whole life was an example of focusing on the positive. Not pretending that negative things don’t exist but not living our life in the negative – that’s what we choose to do.”

Cochran was one of four people killed in the assault, Britain’s deadliest attack since the 2005 London underground bombings, and his family said they had since been overwhelmed by the “love of so many people” in London and around the world.

Celebrating their anniversary, the couple had left the U.S. for the first time to visit Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and parts of Britain before visiting London last week to see the neo-Gothic parliament building on the banks of the River Thames.

The couple, who had a recording studio business, were visiting Melissa Cochran’s parents, who are missionaries in London for the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), also known as the Mormon church.

“They loved it here and Kurt repeatedly said that he felt like he was at home so thank you for that, thank you for being such good people,” Melissa’s father Dimmon Payne said.

Shantell Payne, Melissa’s sister and one of 13 family members to attend the news conference, said it was “awful, horrible and gut wrenching” that the attack had been carried out in the name of religion, but that the family would focus on the positive’s of Cochran’s life.

“We’re thankful in a sense that everyone can know what an amazing person he really was,” she said.

(Reporting by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison)

Ancient quakes may point to sinking risk for part of California coast

The city of Long Beach is seen at dusk, California, U.S., September 8, 201

By Tom James

SEATTLE (Reuters) – The Big One may be overdue to hit California but scientists near Los Angeles have found a new risk for the area during a major earthquake: abrupt sinking of land, potentially below sea level.

The last known major quake on the San Andreas fault occurred in 1857, but three quakes over the last 2,000 years on nearby faults made ground just outside Los Angeles city limits sink as much as three feet, according to a study published Monday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Seismologists estimate the 800 mile-long San Andreas, which runs most of the length of the state, should see a large quake roughly every 150 years.

Scientists from California State University Fullerton and the United States Geological Survey found evidence the older quakes caused part of the coastline south of Long Beach to drop by one-and-a-half to three feet.

Today that could result in the area ending up at or below sea level, said Cal State Fullerton professor Matt Kirby, who worked with the paper’s lead author, graduate student Robert Leeper.

“It’s something that would happen relatively instantaneously,” Kirby said. “Probably today if it happened, you would see seawater rushing in.”

The study was limited to a roughly two-square-mile area inside the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge, near the Newport-Inglewood and Rose Canyon faults. Kirby acknowledged that the exact frequency of events on the faults is unclear, as is the risk that another quake will occur in the near future.

The smallest of the historic earthquakes was likely more intense than the strongest on record in the area, the magnitude 6.3 Long Beach earthquake of 1933, which killed 120 people and caused the inflation-adjusted equivalent of nearly a billion dollars in damage.

Today, the survey site is sandwiched by the cities of Huntington Beach and Long Beach, home to over 600,000 people, while nearby Los Angeles County has a population of 10 million.

Seismologist John Vidale, head of the University of Washington-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, said after reviewing the study he was skeptical such powerful quakes could occur very frequently in the area.

Kirby noted that the team could only collect soil core samples within the relatively undisturbed refuge, and that taking deeper samples would shed light on the seismic record even further back, potentially giving scientists more examples of similar quakes to work from.

(The story was refiled to correct the second paragraph to clarify timing of last known major quake on the San Andreas fault)

(Reporting by Tom James; Editing by Patrick Enright and James Dalgleish)

Life under Russia not all it was cracked up to be: Crimean ex-leader

Sevastopol Mayor Alexei Chaliy applauds during a meeting of deputies of the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament house, with members of the Crimean parliamentary delegation in Moscow

By Darya Korsunskaya and Anton Zverev

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (Reuters) – The pro-Moscow Crimean politician who signed a document handing control over the Ukrainian peninsula to Russia in March 2014 said the three years since had been a time of disappointment for many people in the region.

Alexei Chaliy, who at the time of Russia’s annexation was the self-proclaimed governor of Crimea’s biggest city Sevastopol, said he has no regrets about the region becoming part of Russia – a status that Ukraine and most other countries do not recognize.

But he took issue with the way the region had been run since, saying local leaders who took over from him were ineffective, plans to develop the economy had gone nowhere, and prices for consumer goods had shot up.

“If we’re talking about changes linked to quality of life in the region, then here – we have to acknowledge – in a significant way things don’t correspond to what was expected,” Chaliy said.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in the days after an uprising installed pro-Western leaders in the Ukrainian capital, prompted Europe and the United States to impose sanctions on Russia and dragged east-West relations to their lowest level since the Cold War.

Chaliy, a 55-year-old businessman, played a major role in events on the ground leading up to the annexation.

While Russian soldiers appeared on the streets, and many officials loyal to Kiev fled, Chaliy took de facto control of the local administration in the city of Sevastopol. Crimea voted to join Russia in a referendum that is regarded as illegitimate by Ukraine and Western states.

Soon after the vote, Chaliy, dressed in his trademark tight black sweater, attended a March 18 Kremlin ceremony with Russian President Vladimir Putin to co-sign a document on Crimea’s status within Russia.

Afterwards, he served briefly as the Moscow-backed governor of Sevastopol before stepping aside for new leaders. He is now a member of the Sevastopol legislative assembly.

In an interview in his office in the city – three years after the annexation – Chaliy said that Sergei Menyailo, who took over from him as Moscow-backed governor of Sevastopol, had failed to follow up on a strategy for economic development.

“Why didn’t it work out? Because the executive arm which came in … turned out to be incompetent and unwilling,” Chaliy said. “Therefore if we’re talking about expectations, then a lot of expectations were not fulfilled.”

He also said that funds injected from Moscow were misspent by the local administration.

Menyailo was moved from the post last year and is now the presidential plenipotentiary for Siberia. He did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Chaliy said he supported the new governor.

Most Crimean residents interviewed by Reuters reporters over several visits in the past few months said they had no wish to go back to rule from Kiev.

HARSH REALITY

Chaliy said many people in Crimea had hankered for the certainties of life in the Soviet Union, the last time the peninsula was ruled from Moscow.

“There are lots of people who are disappointed because … it wasn’t Russia they were joining but, for many of them, it was the Soviet Union. Back to 1988 or 1989, when factories were operating and there were loads of specialists and jobs.”

“They don’t understand that this won’t happen, and cannot happen.”

Soon after Russian’s annexation, pensions and public sector wages rose dramatically because they were brought into line with Russian levels, higher than in Ukraine.

This though was offset by a rise in prices in stores, partly the result of difficulties of getting goods to the peninsula – which is not connected by land to Russia.

“For us, 2015 and 2016 were very difficult from the point of view of inflation. Now the process has stabilized. As a whole, prices are at a high level. In Sevastopol they’re higher than anywhere else,” said Chaliy.

“Of course, if you compare this with people’s expectations, then in this sense a lot of people are disappointed.”

The private sector, heavily dependent on tourism, has suffered. Ukrainian tourists stopped visiting, and major companies, including some Russian ones, suspended investments because of the risk of being hit by sanctions.

“Businessmen are accustomed to going skiing in Europe and nobody wants to leave themselves open” to being included on a list of people barred from entering the European Union, Chaliy said.

He saw no prospect of the sanctions being lifted any time soon, and offered advice to his fellow Crimeans: “Breathe slowly, relax, and live under a state of sanctions.”

(Editing by Christian Lowe and Pravin Char)

U.S.-backed forces capture Islamic State-held airport near Euphrates dam

Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters walk near damaged ground east of Raqqa city, Syria.

By Angus McDowall and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – A U.S.-backed Syrian alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias on Sunday took a military airport in northern Syria held by Islamic State, close to the country’s largest dam that may be in danger of collapse.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias supported by a U.S.-led international coalition, said in a statement it had seized the air base.

Earlier, SDF spokesman Talal Silo said its fighters had seized “60 to 70 percent” of the airport but were still engaged in intense clashes with the ultra-hardline militants inside the air base and on its outskirts.

The SDF, backed by U.S. special forces in a campaign that has driven Islamic State from large swathes of northern Syria, fights separately from other rebel groups that seek to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.

The SDF has been battling the militants near the Tabqa dam and air base west of the Syrian city of Raqqa in an accelerating campaign to capture Islamic State’s stronghold.

Hundreds of families were fleeing the city of Tabqa to the relative safety of outlying areas as U.S.-led coalition air strikes intensified in the past few days, according to former residents in touch with relatives.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said a week-long campaign of U.S-led strikes on Tabqa and the western countryside of Raqqa province had killed at least 90 civilians, a quarter of them children, while injuring dozens.

A media representative for the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said it was looking into the Observatory’s assertion.

Last week, the Pentagon said there were no indications a U.S.-led coalition air strike near Raqqa had hit civilians, in response to an Observatory statement that at least 33 people were killed in a strike that hit a school sheltering displaced people near the city. The Pentagon added it would carry out further investigations.

A group of civic bodies and local and tribal notables from Raqqa province warned of an impending humanitarian crisis in the city of Raqqa as a result of the escalating campaign to seize the de facto capital of the militants.

“We call for immediate efforts to save people and protect them,” the statement of the Turkey-based opposition-run Local Council of Raqqa Province said, urging the international coalition to provide safe passage to civilians and ending bombing of infrastructure in the fight against Islamic State.

DAM AT RISK

The Pentagon said last Wednesday it had for the first time airdropped local ground forces behind enemy lines near Tabqa in a move aimed at retaking the major dam.

Islamic State said on its social media channels that Tabqa dam had been put out of service and all flood gates were closed. It said the dam was at risk of collapse because of air strikes and increased water levels.

Islamic State captured the Tabqa Dam, also known as the Euphrates Dam, which is about 40 km (25 miles) upstream from Raqqa and the air base, at the height of its expansion in Syria and Iraq in 2014.

The United Nations warned this year of catastrophic flooding in Syria from the Tabqa dam, which is at risk from high water levels, deliberate sabotage by Islamic State and further damage from air strikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

The director of the Syrian government’s General Authority of Euphrates Dam that formerly operated the huge project blamed U.S. strikes in the past two days for disrupting internal control systems and putting the dam out of service, and warned of growing risks that could lead to flooding and future collapses.

“Before the latest strikes by the Americans, the dam was working. Two days ago, the dam was functioning normally,” Nejm Saleh told Reuters.

“God forbid … there could be collapses or big failures that could lead to flooding,” Saleh said.

An SDF spokesman denied that coalition strikes hit the structure of the dam and said the air drop landing last week was conducted to prevent any damage to the main structure by engaging the militants away from the dam.

“The capture of the dam is being conducted slowly and carefully and this is why the liberation of the dam needs more time,” Silo said, adding that militants dug inside the dam knowing they would not be hit for fear of damaging the dam.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had also learned from its own sources that the dam had stopped functioning but that Islamic State remained in control of its main operational buildings and turbines.

The dam is about 4.5 km (2.8 miles) long. The SDF has advanced a small distance along the dam from the northern bank but its progress is slow because Islamic State has heavily mined the area, the Observatory said.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall in Beirut and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus and Jason Lange in Washington; Editing by Tom Heneghan and Peter Cooney)

How Republicans can hobble Obamacare even without repeal

People march in a "Save Obamacare" rally in Los Angeles.

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Republicans may have failed to overthrow Obamacare this week, but there are plenty of ways they can chip away at it.

The Trump administration has already begun using its regulatory authority to water down less prominent aspects of the 2010 healthcare law.

Earlier this week, newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stalled the rollout of mandatory Medicare payment reform programs for heart attack treatment, bypass surgery and joint replacements finalized by the Obama administration in December.

The delays offer a glimpse at how President Donald Trump can use his administrative power to undercut aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), including the insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion that Republicans had sought to overturn.

The Republicans’ failure to repeal Obamacare, at least for now, means it remains federal law. Price’s power resides in how to interpret that law, and which programs to emphasize and fund.

Hospitals and physician groups have been counting on support from Medicare – the federal insurance program for the elderly and disabled – to continue driving payment reform policies built into Obamacare that reward doctors and hospitals for providing high quality care at a lower cost.

The Obama Administration had committed to shifting half of all Medicare payments to these alternative payment models by 2018. Although he has voiced general support for innovative payment programs, Price has been a loud critic of mandatory federal programs that dictate how doctors should deliver healthcare.

Providers such as Dr. Richard Gilfillan, chief executive of Trinity Healthcare, a $15.9 billion Catholic health system, say they will press on with these alternative payment plans with or without the government’s blessing. But they have been actively lobbying Trump officials for support, according to interviews with more than a dozen hospital executives, physicians and policy experts.

Without the backing of Medicare, the biggest payer in the U.S. healthcare system which Price now oversees, the nascent payment reform movement could lose momentum, sidelining a transformation many experts believe is vital to reining in runaway U.S. healthcare spending.

Price “can’t change the legislation, but of course he’s supposed to implement it. He could impact it,” said John Rother, chief executive of the National Coalition on Health Care, a broad alliance of healthcare stakeholders that has been lobbying the new administration for support of value-based care.

The move Friday to pull the Republican bill only reinforces the risk to the existing law, which Trump said on Friday “will soon explode.”

“It seems that the Trump Administration now faces a choice whether to actively undermine the ACA or reshape it administratively,” Larry Levitt, senior vice president at Kaiser Family Foundation, wrote on Twitter.

“The ACA marketplaces weren’t collapsing, but they could be made to collapse through administrative actions,” he added.

NEW PAYMENT PLANS AT RISK

The United States spends $3 trillion a year on healthcare – more by far than 10 other wealthy countries – yet has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate, according to a 2013 Commonwealth Fund report.

Health costs have soared thanks in part to the traditional way doctors and hospitals get paid, namely by receiving a fee for each service they provide. So the more advanced imaging tests a doctor orders or pricey procedures they perform, the more money he or she makes, regardless of whether the patient’s health improves.

“We have a completely broken economy in healthcare,” said Blair Childs, senior vice president at hospital purchasing group Premier Inc. “Literally, all of the incentives in fee-for-service are for higher cost.”

Alternative payment models are designed to remove incentives that reward overtreatment of patients. Private insurers are on board, with Aetna Inc, Anthem Inc, UnitedHealth Group and most Blue Cross insurers announcing plans to shift half of their reimbursement to alternative payment models to control costs.

To promote the shift to alternative payments, the ACA created an incubator program at the Centers for Medicare Medicaid Services (CMS). The CMS innovation center is funded by $10 billion over 10 years to test payment schemes aimed at improving quality and cutting the cost of care.

The Obama administration’s decision to make some of these payment programs mandatory has drawn the ire of Price, a former U.S. senator and orthopedic surgeon. In response to a mandatory payment program for joint replacements last September, for example, Price charged that the CMS innovation center was “experimenting with Americans’ health.”

In his January 17 confirmation, Price said he was a “strong supporter of innovation,” but said he believed the CMS innovation center “has gotten a bit off track.”

TRUMP SETS WHEELS IN MOTION ON DAY 1

President Trump has already signed an executive order directing the HHS to begin unraveling Obamacare. In the early hours of his presidency, Trump directed government agencies to freeze regulations and take steps to weaken the healthcare law.

The order directed departments to “waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation” of provisions that imposed fiscal burdens on states, companies or individuals. These moves were meant to minimize the costs and regulatory burdens imposed on states, private entities and individuals.

David Cutler, the Harvard health economist who helped the Obama Administration shape the ACA, said Price could do all sorts of things to undermine the law.

“If he wants to blow it up, he can,” Cutler said in an email. But if they do, he added, “they alone will own the failure.”

(Editing by Edward Tobin)

Kremlin rejects U.S., EU calls to free detained opposition protesters

A law enforcement officer climbs on a lamp pole to detain opposition supporters during a rally in Moscow. REUTERS/Sergei

By Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Monday rejected calls by the United States and the European Union to release opposition protesters detained during what it said were illegal demonstrations the previous day and accused organizers of paying teenagers to attend.

The protests, estimated to be the biggest since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011/2012, come a year before a presidential election that Vladimir Putin is expected to contest, running for what would be a fourth term.

Police officers detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Vladivostok.

Police officers detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Vladivostok. REUTERS/Yuri Maltsev

Police detained hundreds of protesters across Russia on Sunday, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, after thousands took to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman has called corruption allegations against him “propagandistic attacks,” saying they amount to pre-election posturing by Navalny, who hopes to run against Putin next year.

Opinion polls suggest the liberal opposition, which Navalny represents, has little chance of fielding a candidate capable of unseating Putin, who enjoys high ratings. But Navalny and his supporters hope to channel public discontent over official corruption to attract more support.

The United States and the European Union both issued statements calling on Russia to free detained protesters, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday such calls were wide of the mark.

“We can’t agree with these calls,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call, saying the police had been professional and properly enforced Russian law.

He said the Kremlin had no problem with people expressing their opinions at protest meetings, but said the timing and location of such events had to be agreed with the authorities in advance, something which he said had not been done in large part on Sunday.

The authorities are concerned opposition activists will try to encourage people to break the law again in future, he said.

Law enforcement officers detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Moscow.

Law enforcement officers detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Moscow. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

“We can’t respect people who deliberately misled minors — in essence children — calling on them to take part in illegal actions in unsanctioned places and offering them certain rewards to do so, thus putting their lives at risk,” said Peskov.

“What we saw yesterday in certain places, and especially in Moscow, was a provocation.”

He said police had gathered factual evidence that some teenagers, who had been detained, had been paid cash by protest organizers to attend.

The Kremlin would listen to what people who took part in other sanctioned anti-government protests in some Russian cities had said on Sunday, Peskov promised.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn/Maria Kiselyova; Editing by Kevin O’Flynn)

Northeast Australia braces for cyclone, thousands flee to higher ground

Residents fill sandbags in preparation for the arrival of Cyclone Debbie in the northern Australian town of Bowen, located south of Townsville. AAP/Sarah

By Tom Westbrook

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Thousands of Australians fled their homes on Monday as a powerful cyclone bore down on coastal towns in Queensland, where authorities urged 30,000 people to evacuate low lying areas most at risk from tidal surges and winds of up to 300 km per hour (185 mph).

Cyclone Debbie is expected to gather strength before making landfall in the northeast state early on Tuesday, with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology forecasting a category four storm, just one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

The growing alarm persuaded the state government on Monday to warn some 25,000 people living in parts of Mackay, a city 950 kilometers (590 miles) north of the state capital Brisbane, to head south to higher ground.

“Because of the intensity of this cyclone … we are very concerned, at the moment, at the prospect of a tidal surge in Mackay,” State Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.

“It’s very clear that the time for people to move is now.”

The evacuation from Mackay would be the biggest seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy struck the northern city of Darwin in 1974.

State authorities had already advised thousands of residents in two townships several hundred kilometers (miles) to the north of Mackay to leave their homes, though some were preparing to ride out the storm.

Television images showed residents in areas around Townsville, about 400km to the north of Mackay, protecting homes and shops with sandbags and plywood boards.

“We’ll just give it a go and rally together,” Cungulla resident Mike Kennedy told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Palaszczuk warned it would be the most powerful storm to hit the state since Cyclone Yasi destroyed homes, crops and devastating island resorts in 2011.

Authorities had set up 15 evacuation centers in safer parts of Mackay to provide shelter for those most endangered and least able to leave, Palaszczuk added.

Far to the north in Townsville, some 3,500 people had left, and authorities asked 2,000 more people in the town of Bowen to also quit their homes.

 

A sign can be seen painted on the fence of a home regarding the arrival of Cyclone Debbie in the northern Australian town of Bowen, located south of Townsville.

A sign can be seen painted on the fence of a home regarding the arrival of Cyclone Debbie in the northern Australian town of Bowen, located south of Townsville. AAP/Sarah Motherwell/via REUTERS

The Abbot Point coal terminal and ports at Mackay and Hay Point were closed until further notice, ports spokeswoman Fiona Cunningham said.

BHP Billiton suspended operations at its South Walker Creek coal mine, which is just to the south of the cyclone’s expected path. Glencore said it was halting operations at the Collinsville and Newlands coal mines.

Gales were already lashing the tourist resorts at Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands.

Townsville Airport was closed and airlines Qantas, Jetstar, Rex and Virgin Australia said they had canceled several flights to and from the region scheduled for Monday and Tuesday.

Queensland produces some 95 percent of Australian bananas and while Cyclone Debbie is on course to miss the largest growing regions in the state’s far north, analysts said heavy rains and strong winds could cause significant crop damage.

The cyclone is expected to miss most of region’s coal mines, weather and mining data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows, and no major dry-bulk vessels are in storm’s path.

Police blamed the wild weather associated with the storm for a traffic accident in which a 31-year-old female tourist died. Police did not give the woman’s nationality.

(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye, Sonali Paul, Colin Packham and Benjamin Weir. Editing by Jane Wardell and Simon Cameron-Moore)

Israel urges citizens to leave Egypt’s Sinai, citing IS threat

A general view shows Israel's border fence with Egypt's Sinai peninsula (R), as seen from Israel's Negev Desert

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Monday urged citizens vacationing in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula to leave immediately, saying the threat of attacks inspired by Islamic State and other jihadi groups was high.

The advisory was issued ahead of the Passover holiday, when thousands of Israelis cross the land border with Egypt to visit resorts and beaches on the Sinai’s Red Sea coast.

Israel’s Anti-Terrorism Directorate said its “Level 1” alert related to a “very high concrete threat”.

“Islamic State and those inspired by it are at the forefront of global jihadi groups that are highly motivated to carry out attacks during this period,” the directorate wrote.

“All Israelis currently in the Sinai should return and … (we) also strongly advise that those wanting to travel to Sinai should not do so.”

An Islamist insurgency in the rugged, thinly populated Sinai has gained pace since Egypt’s military toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013.

Militants have launched a number of deadly cross-border attacks on Israel in recent years.

Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. The directorate on Monday refreshed standing warnings for other countries, including Jordan and Turkey.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Roche)

House speaker tells Trump healthcare bill lacks votes: CNN

U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Representative Greg Walden (R-OR) (center L, at table) and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) (center R, at table) testify at an early-morning Rules Committee hearing as Congress considers health care legislation to repeal Obamacare at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By Richard Cowan and Dustin Volz

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in Congress said they lacked the votes needed for passage of their U.S. healthcare system overhaul and a key committee chairman came out in opposition after Donald Trump demanded a vote on Friday in a gamble that could hobble his presidency.

Amid a chaotic scramble for votes, House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, who has championed the bill, met with Trump at the White House. Ryan told the president there were not enough votes to pass the plan, U.S. media reported.

The showdown on the House floor follows Trump’s decision to cut off negotiations to shore up support inside his own party, with moderates and the most conservative lawmakers balking. On Thursday night he had issued an ultimatum that lawmakers pass the legislation that has his backing or keep in place the Obamacare law that Republicans have sought to dismantle since it was enacted seven years ago.

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said at the White House, adding that Ryan should keep his job regardless of the outcome.

The White House said the vote was set for about 3:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday on the bill to replace Democratic former President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, the 2010 Affordable Care Act, widely known as Obamacare.

“There’s nobody that objectively can look at this effort and say the president didn’t do every single thing he possibly could with this team to get every vote possible,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters.

Republicans control Congress and the White House but have deep divisions over the first major legislative test since Trump became president on Jan. 20.

In a blow to the bill’s prospects, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen announced his opposition, expressing concern about reductions in coverage under the Medicaid insurance program for the poor and the retraction of “essential” health benefits that insurers must cover.

“We need to get this right for all Americans,” Frelinghuysen said.

Representative Rodney Davis, a member of the House Republican team trying to win passage, said the bill was short of the needed votes, and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney added it was unclear if enough support was present.

Vice President Mike Pence, a former House member and influential among Republican lawmakers, postponed a planned trip to Arkansas and Tennessee to help secure passage.

“I’m still optimistic,” Spicer said. “I feel like we’re continuing to work hard. But at the end of the day you can’t force somebody to do something.”

Trump and House Republican leaders cannot afford to lose many votes in their own party because Democrats are unified in opposition, saying the bill would take away medical insurance from millions of Americans and leave the more-than-$3 trillion U.S. healthcare system in disarray.

Republican supporters said the plan would achieve their goal of rolling back the government’s “nanny state” role in healthcare.

FOREHEAD TATTOO

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, “What’s happening today is a lose-lose situation for the Republicans. It’s a lose-lose for the American people, that’s for sure. But the people who vote for this will have this vote tattooed to their foreheads as they go forward.”

Failure of the measure would call into question Trump’s ability to get other key parts of his agenda, including tax cuts and a boost in infrastructure spending, through a Congress controlled by his own party.

“If it doesn’t pass, this issue is dead,” Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, a bill supporter, said of Republican healthcare legislation. “This is the one shot.”

Even if the legislation passes in the House, it faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where Republicans have expressed misgivings.

Healthcare was the first major test of how Trump, a real estate magnate who touted his deal-making prowess in the 2016 presidential campaign, would work with Congress. Days of negotiations led to some changes in the bill but failed to produce a consensus deal.

U.S. stocks were mixed on Friday in early afternoon trading, having pared earlier gains, while U.S. treasuries were mostly higher.

Leading Republicans had taken to the House floor to make their case to pass the bill and implored conservatives to seize the opportunity to make good on the party’s long promise to get rid of Obamacare.

‘ONLY OUR FIRST STEP’

“Today we are faced with a stark choice,” said Republican Diane Black, who heads the Budget Committee. “While no legislation is perfect, this bill does accomplish some important reforms.”

Black called the bill “only our first step.”

Trump added on Twitter, “This is finally your chance for a great plan!”

Democratic Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a breast cancer survivor, called the bill “an immoral piece of legislation” that would gut medical coverage and patient protections.

A Quinnipiac University poll released on Thursday found 56 percent of U.S. voters opposed the House bill, with only 17 percent supporting it. Quinnipiac said its poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Replacing Obama’s signature health care plan was a key campaign pledge for Trump and Republicans, who view it as overly intrusive and expensive.

Obamacare boosted the number of Americans with health insurance through mandates on individuals and employers, and income-based subsidies. About 20 million Americans gained insurance coverage through the law.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said under the Republican legislation 14 million people would lose medical coverage by next year and more than 24 million would be uninsured in 2026.

The House plan would rescind a range of taxes created by Obamacare, end a penalty on people who refuse to obtain health insurance, end Obamacare’s income-based subsidies to help people buy insurance while creating less-generous age-based tax credits

It also would end Obamacare’s expansion of the Medicaid state-federal insurance program for the poor, cut future federal Medicaid funding and let states impose work requirements on some Medicaid recipients.

House leaders agreed to a series of last-minute changes to try to win over disgruntled conservatives, including ending the Obamacare requirement that insurers cover certain “essential benefits” such as maternity care, mental health services and prescription drug coverage.

The House and Senate had hoped to deliver a new healthcare bill to Trump by April 8, when Congress is scheduled to begin a two-week spring break.

Click on the links below for related graphics:

Graphic on Obamacare and Republican healthcare bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2n0ZMKf)

Graphic on shifting positions in the U.S. Senate on Republican healthcare bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2mUE4Xf)

Graphic on poll on Americans’ views of the Republican healthcare bill (http://tmsnrt.rs/2n7f3e4)

(Additional reporting by Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Jeff Mason, David Morgan, David Lawder, Amanda Becker, and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Bill Trott)