Death toll from Brazil flooding rises in Bahia’s ‘worst disaster’ ever

By Leonardo Benassatto and Sergio Queiroz

ITABUNA, Brazil (Reuters) – The death toll from floods hammering northeast Brazil rose to 20 on Monday, as the governor of Bahia state declared it the worst disaster in the state’s history and rescuers braced for more rain in the coming days.

Much of Bahia, home to about 15 million people, has suffered from intermittent flooding for weeks, after a long drought gave way to record rains. Flooding in some areas intensified late on Christmas Eve and early on Christmas Day after a pair of dams gave way, sending residents scrambling for higher ground.

Rescue workers patrolled in small dinghies around the city of Itabuna, in southern Bahia, plucking residents from their homes, including some who escaped through second-floor windows.

Bahia Governor Rui Costa said on Twitter that 72 municipalities were in a state of emergency.

“Unfortunately, we’re living through the worst disaster that has ever occurred in the history of Bahia,” he wrote.

Manfredo Santana, a lieutenant-colonel in Bahia’s firefighting corps, told Reuters that emergency workers had rescued 200 people in just three nearby towns. The heavy currents of the swollen Cachoeira River complicated rescue efforts.

“It’s difficult to maneuver even with jet skis,” he said. “Rescue teams had to retreat in certain moments.”

Bahia’s civil defense agency said on Monday afternoon that 20 people had died in 11 separate municipalities.

Newspaper O Globo, citing a state firefighting official, said that authorities are monitoring an additional 10 dams for any signs they may collapse.

The scrutiny of public infrastructure and urban planning comes just a couple years after the collapse of a mining dam in neighboring Minas Gerais state killed some 270 people.

In televised remarks, Costa, the Bahia governor, attributed the chaotic scenes in part to “errors that have been committed over the course of years.”

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Death toll from Brazil flooding rises in Bahia’s ‘worst disaster’ ever

By Leonardo Benassatto and Sergio Queiroz

ITABUNA, Brazil (Reuters) – The death toll from floods hammering northeast Brazil rose to 20 on Monday, as the governor of Bahia state declared it the worst disaster in the state’s history and rescuers braced for more rain in the coming days.

Much of Bahia, home to about 15 million people, has suffered from intermittent flooding for weeks, after a long drought gave way to record rains. Flooding in some areas intensified late on Christmas Eve and early on Christmas Day after a pair of dams gave way, sending residents scrambling for higher ground.

Rescue workers patrolled in small dinghies around the city of Itabuna, in southern Bahia, plucking residents from their homes, including some who escaped through second-floor windows.

Bahia Governor Rui Costa said on Twitter that 72 municipalities were in a state of emergency.

“Unfortunately, we’re living through the worst disaster that has ever occurred in the history of Bahia,” he wrote.

Manfredo Santana, a lieutenant-colonel in Bahia’s firefighting corps, told Reuters that emergency workers had rescued 200 people in just three nearby towns. The heavy currents of the swollen Cachoeira River complicated rescue efforts.

“It’s difficult to maneuver even with jet skis,” he said. “Rescue teams had to retreat in certain moments.”

Bahia’s civil defense agency said on Monday afternoon that 20 people had died in 11 separate municipalities.

Newspaper O Globo, citing a state firefighting official, said that authorities are monitoring an additional 10 dams for any signs they may collapse.

The scrutiny of public infrastructure and urban planning comes just a couple years after the collapse of a mining dam in neighboring Minas Gerais state killed some 270 people.

In televised remarks, Costa, the Bahia governor, attributed the chaotic scenes in part to “errors that have been committed over the course of years.”

(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Death toll from powerful typhoon in Philippines climbs to 12

By Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz

MANILA (Reuters) – The death toll from a typhoon that slammed into the Philippines rose to 12 on Friday, and its president feared it could climb further as authorities assess the devastation caused by one of the strongest tropical storms to hit the country this year.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he would visit battered central and southern areas on Saturday to see the extent of damage, as the government tried to figure out how much it could raise for the disaster response.

Duterte said COVID-19 spending had already depleted this year’s budget.

“I’m not so much worried about damage to structures,” Duterte said in a televised briefing with disaster officials.

“My fear is if many people died. I am as eager as you to go there to see for myself,” he told Ricardo Jalad, undersecretary at the disaster agency.

Jalad said the death toll was preliminary and he was awaiting information from provincial units before a complete damage assessment could be made.

Most of the reported deaths were due to fallen trees and drowning.

Typhoon Rai, which saw winds of up to 195 km (121 miles) per hour before making landfall on Thursday, displaced more than 300,000 people, damaged homes and toppled power and communication lines, complicating the disaster response.

Rai at one point intensified into a category 5 storm, the highest classification, but later weakened and was due to exit the Philippines by Saturday. The country sees on average 20 typhoons a year.

“It is not expected to cause massive damage compared to typhoons of the same strength previously,” said Casiano Monilla, assistant secretary at the Office of the Civil Defense.

However, Bohol provincial governor Arthur Yap appealed for help as flooding hampered rescue efforts.

“Families are trapped on rooftops now,” he told DZBB radio.

The typhoon, the 15th to strike the archipelago this year, saw dozens of flights cancelled and paralyzed operations at several ports, leaving about 4,000 people stranded.

Authorities also postponed a mass vaccination drive in most regions.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Enrico Dela Cruz; Editing by Ed Davies, Martin Petty and Michael Perry)

Biden visits tornado-stricken Kentucky bringing federal aid, empathy

By Jarrett Renshaw

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden flew to Kentucky on Wednesday to survey the areas hardest hit by one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent U.S. history, a system that killed at least 74 people in the state and at least 14 elsewhere.

Biden, no stranger to tragic personal losses, will reprise his familiar role as consoler in chief, while promising to bring the might of the federal government to rebuild devastated communities that suffered billions of dollars in damage.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear offered a grim update on Tuesday, saying the dead included a dozen children, the youngest of whom was a 2-month-old infant. He added that he expected the death toll to rise in the coming days, with more than 100 still missing.

Biden will visit the Army installation at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a briefing on the storm before continuing on to Mayfield and Dawson Springs, two towns separated by roughly 70 miles (112 km) that were largely flattened by the twisters.

The president will be “surveying storm damage firsthand, (and) making sure that we’re doing everything to deliver assistance as quickly as possible in impacted areas to support recovery efforts,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent search-and-rescue and emergency response teams to Kentucky, along with teams to help survivors register for assistance, Psaki said.

FEMA has also sent dozens of generators into the state, along with 135,000 gallons (511,000 litres) of water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots, blankets, infant toddler kits and pandemic shelter kits.

Biden has approved federal disaster declarations for Kentucky and the neighboring states of Tennessee and Illinois, offering residents and local officials increased federal aid.

Credit ratings agency DBRS Morningstar said the tornadoes were likely the most severe in the United States since 2011. Insurers are sufficiently prepared to cover claims without significant capital impact, it said in a report.

The trip marks one of the few that Biden, a Democrat, has taken to areas that tilt heavily toward the Republican Party, many of whose voters and leaders have embraced Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election. The White House has been careful not to bring politics into the disaster relief efforts, including not focusing on what role, if any, climate change may have played in the tragic events.

“He looks at them as human beings, not as people who have partisan affiliations,” Psaki said. “And in his heart, he has empathy for everything that they’re going through.”

“The message he will send to them directly and clearly tomorrow is: ‘We’re here to help, we want to rebuild, we are going to stand by your side and we’re going to help your leaders do exactly that,'” she added.

Biden lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash, and his older son, Beau, died in 2015 after a fight with brain cancer.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, additional reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Heather Timmons, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Indonesia volcano erupts again as death toll rises to 22

By Willy Kurniawan and Tommy Adriansyah

SUMBERWULUH, Indonesia (Reuters) – An Indonesian volcano was active again on Monday, spewing out hot clouds of ash, two days after a powerful eruption killed at least 22 people and left dozens missing.

Mt. Semeru, the tallest mountain on the island of Java, erupted dramatically on Saturday, shooting a towering column of ash into the sky that blanketed surrounding villages.

Aerial footage showed roofs jutting out of an ashen landscape, while on the ground, military officers, police and residents dug through mud with their hands to pull out victims.

The death toll had risen to 22 by Monday, while 27 were missing, Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency said.

The volcano erupted again on Monday, Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation confirmed via its Twitter account, warning of continued seismic activity.

“Semeru is one of the most active volcanoes in Indonesia. Before and after the December 4 eruption, it will continue to be active,” Liswanto, the head of the Semeru Volcano Observatory, told Reuters.

Some residents returned to their homes to check on belongings and livestock, but Liswanto urged people to keep a safe distance.

“People need to be more vigilant because the potential threat is still there,” he added.

In the Sumberwuluh area, rescue teams battled poor weather to retrieve victims from the rubble.

“The main obstacle is the weather… Hopefully the weather going forward will be good enough to make it easier for us to search,” Wuryanto, operations director of the national search and rescue agency (Basarnas), told reporters.

People have posted photos of missing loved ones on Facebook, with pleas for any information about their whereabouts.

Complicating logistics and rescue efforts, lava flows from Saturday’s eruption destroyed a bridge connecting two areas in the district of Lumajang with the city of Malang.

Public kitchens and health facilities have been set up for more than 1,700 people who have been displaced.

Semeru is one of more than 100 active volcanoes in Indonesia, a country that straddles the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area of high seismic activity that rests atop multiple tectonic plates.

(Additional reporting by Prasto Wardoyo and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Kate Lamb and Fathin Ungku; Editing by Karishma Singh, Gerry Doyle and Nick Macfie)

Triple suicide bombing kills three, wounds dozens in Ugandan capital

By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) -A triple suicide bombing killed at least three people in the heart of Uganda’s capital on Tuesday, sending members of parliament and others rushing for cover as cars burst into flames in the latest in a wave of bomb attacks.

The blasts in Kampala shocked a nation that is known as a bulwark against violent Islamist militants in East Africa, and whose leader has spent years cultivating Western security support.

At least 33 people were being treated in hospital, including five who were in critical condition, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said.

The death toll including the three bombers was six, Enanga said.

A diplomat told Reuters two police were among the victims. Enanga confirmed the death toll included police but declined to give further details.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Police said intelligence indicated the Islamic State-aligned Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) were responsible.

“Our intelligence … indicates that these are domestic terror groups that are linked to ADF,” Enanga said.

The explosions – the first near the central police station and the second very close to parliament – sent bloodied office workers rushing for cover over shards of broken glass as a plume of white smoke rose above the downtown area.

A suicide bomber wearing a backpack carried out the first blast near the checkpoint at the police station, which killed two people, Enanga said. The second attack, involving two suicide bombers on motorbikes, killed one other person.

“A booming sound like that from a big gun went off. The ground shook, my ears nearly went deaf,” said Peter Olupot, a 28-year-old bank guard who was near the attack close to parliament.

“I saw a vehicle on fire and everyone was running and panicking. I saw a boda boda (motorcycle) man – his head was smashed and covered in blood.”

A Reuters journalist saw burned cars behind a police cordon at the scene and a reporter with local television station NTV Uganda said he saw two bodies in the street.

Anti-terrorism police caught another person who was preparing to carry out an attack, Enanga said, adding: “We are now pursuing other members of the terror group.”

MILITANT GROUPS

The al Qaeda-linked Somali insurgent group al Shabaab has carried out deadly attacks in Uganda in the past, including a 2010 attack that killed 70 people.

Ugandan soldiers are fighting al Shabaab in Somalia as part of an U.N.-backed African Union peacekeeping force. An al Shabab spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The ADF is a separate group, founded by Ugandan Muslims but now largely active in the forested mountains of the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, where it has been blamed for thousands of civilian deaths.

Last month, Islamic State made its first claim of responsibility for a blast in Uganda – an attack on a police station in Kampala’s Kawempe neighborhood in which no one was killed.

It later also said a “security detachment” in “Central Africa Province” had placed a bomb in a restaurant. Police said it killed a waitress and wounded three others, and linked it to the ADF, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

Also last month, Ugandan police said a suicide bomber had blown up a bus, killing only himself. His affiliation was unclear.

Dino Mahtani of the think tank International Crisis Group said ADF’s focus had once been on settling local scores and controlling local war economies.

“With the more recent affiliation of its main faction to ISIS (Islamic State), a number of foreigners from across East Africa with more globalist jihadist agendas have been arriving into its camps,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Giles Elgood, Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)

Hopes fade of finding survivors of Nigeria high-rise collapse as toll rises

By Fikayo Owoeye

LAGOS (Reuters) – Hopes are fading of finding survivors four days after a high-rise apartment block building under construction collapsed and trapped scores of people in the Nigerian commercial capital of Lagos, officials said.

Ibrahim Farinloye, head of the national emergency unit in Lagos, said the death toll stood at 36. The Lagos state emergency agency put the casualty number at 29 and said eight people had been critically injured.

Large crowds, including anxious family members, have been gathering daily near the site of the collapse, now a pile of broken masonry and mangled steel.

Lagos governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Thursday said a six-member panel of engineers, architects and town planers had been appointed to “bring closure to this event and ensure that justice is served”.

The panel has a month to present its findings.

Building collapses are frequent in Africa’s most populous country, where regulations are poorly enforced and construction materials often substandard.

Phone numbers for the project owner, main contractor, project manager, structural engineers and architects listed near the collapsed building could not be reached when Reuters called on Thursday.

The collapsed building, in the affluent neighborhood of Ikoyi, was one of three planned high-end apartment blocks.

Moshood Adesola, a witness who works in a nearby office, told Reuters that more than 50 people worked at the site daily.

(Additional reporting by Lanre Ola in Maiduguri; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Russian regions extend workplace shutdown, Moscow to lift curbs

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Four Russian regions said on Wednesday they would extend a one-week workplace shutdown that took effect nationwide on Oct. 30 in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases, as the death toll from the country’s epidemic hit a record high.

President Vladimir Putin ordered the shutdown last month, giving regional authorities the option of extending it.

Authorities in the Kursk and Bryansk regions, which border Ukraine, the Chelyabinsk region near the Ural mountains and Tomsk in Siberia said their shutdowns would be prolonged.

“The tense epidemiological situation forces us to extend the period of non-working days by another week,” Tomsk governor Sergei Zhvachkin said in a statement. “One non-working week is not enough to stop the chain of infection.”

Russia’s daily COVID-19 death toll rose to a record 1,189 on Wednesday as the government coronavirus task force also reported 40,443 new infections in the last 24 hours.

Moscow authorities, meanwhile, said businesses there would reopen on Monday.

“The spread of the disease has stabilized in terms of its detection and its severe forms requiring hospitalization,” RIA news agency quoted the capital’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, as saying.

Other measures, including a requirement that companies have at least 30% of their staff work from home, would remain in place, Sobyanin said.

The health consumer watchdog in Moscow said it had recorded violations of COVID-19 regulations at more than a quarter of the businesses it inspected last week.

The Moscow region, which includes the small cities and towns surrounding the city, also said it would not prolong the shutdown.

The Novgorod region announced on Monday it was extending its shutdown by a week.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gleb Stolyarov; editing by John Stonestreet)

Rescuers search for survivors after Lagos building collapse kills six

By Nneka Chile

LAGOS (Reuters) -Rescuers on Tuesday dug through rubble searching for survivors a day after a luxurious high-rise building collapsed while under construction in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, as officials put the death toll at six and scores were reported missing.

Emergency services used earth moving equipment to lift chunks of masonry at the site in the affluent neighborhood of Ikoyi after torrential rains pounded Lagos overnight and briefly stopped the search. Large trailers were brought in to help move debris, blocking one of Ikoyi’s main roads.

Building collapses are frequent in Africa’s most populous country, where regulations are poorly enforced and construction materials often substandard.

“Currently all responders are on the ground as search and rescue is ongoing,” Lagos state official Olufemi Oke-Osanyintolu said, adding that the death toll stood at six.

Seven people have so far been rescued alive as excavators sifted rubble from the heaps of shattered concrete and twisted metal that engulfed the site where the building once stood.

Witnesses say up to 100 people were missing after the luxury residential structure crumbled, trapping workers under a pile of rubble.

President Muhammadu Buhari has called for rescue efforts to be stepped up.

Agitated families whose relatives and loved ones were missing refused to speak to media, although they could be heard accusing emergency services of lacking urgency after rescue efforts were briefly halted due to the rains.

New high-end apartments have been springing up in Ikoyi, and the collapsed building was part of three towers being built by private developer Fourscore Homes, where the cheapest unit was selling for $1.2 million.

The project developer and owner of Fourscore Homes, Olufemi Osibona told a local news channel in August that he had developed buildings in Peckham and Hackney in Britain and that the Ikoyi apartments were the start of bigger projects he planned in Nigeria.

Osibona could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. Some local media reports said he may have been among those trapped.

A narrator in a promotional video on Fourscore Homes Instagram page says the complex “bestrides the Ikoyi landscape like a colossus,” and showed the buildings as each having rooftop pools and being kitted out with luxury fittings.

Telephone calls to numbers listed for Fourscore Homes and the main building contractor did not ring through on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Libby George in Lagos and Chijioke Ohuocha in Abuja, Editing by Clarence Fernandez, William Maclean)

Death toll in Ecuador prison riot rises to 116, six decapitated

QUITO (Reuters) -The death toll from a riot at one of Ecuador’s largest prisons rose to 116, President Guillermo Lasso said on Wednesday, adding that he would send additional security forces and free up funds to avoid a repeat.

Another 80 inmates were injured during the Tuesday night clashes at the Penitenciaria del Litoral in Guayas province, which has been the scene of bloody fights between gangs for control of the prison in recent months.

“It is unfortunate that criminal groups are attempting to convert prisons into a battleground for power disputes,” Lasso told reporters in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city. “I ask God to bless Ecuador and that we can avoid more loss of human life.”

Tuesday’s clash was the most deadly act of violence ever reported in Ecuador’s penitentiary system. Similar clashes took place in February and July 2021 in various prisons throughout the country. At least 79 people died in the February violence, and in July at least 22 lives were lost.

Dozens of people arrived at the jail to seek information about relatives and demand accountability from officials responsible for the inmates’ safety. The government bolstered military presence outside the facility. Lasso said the state would assist the families of dead and injured inmates.

The South American country’s prosecutor’s office said earlier on Wednesday that six of the slain prisoners at Penitenciaria del Litoral had been decapitated.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) has previously condemned the violence, and Human Rights Watch urged Ecuador’s government to fully investigate the prison violence and bring those responsible to justice.

Lasso in August said the government would provide more funding for the overcrowded prison system to build new wards and install new equipment to improve security.

(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia in Quito; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Sam Holmes and Lincoln Feawst)