Turkey combats Black Sea floods, death toll rises to 31

By Nevzat Devranoglu

SINOP, Turkey (Reuters) -Emergency workers battled to relieve flood-hit areas of Turkey’s Black Sea region on Friday, as the death toll rose to 31 in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month.

The floods, among the worst Turkey has experienced, brought chaos to northern provinces just as authorities were declaring wildfires that raged through southern coastal regions for two weeks had been brought under control.

Torrents of water tossed dozens of cars and heaps of debris along streets, destroyed bridges, closed roads and cut off electricity to hundreds of villages.

“This is the worst flood disaster I have seen,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told reporters late on Thursday after surveying damage that extended across the provinces of Bartin, Kastamonu and Sinop.

Twenty-nine people died as a result of floods in Kastamonu and another two people died in Sinop, the Disaster and Emergency Management Directorate (AFAD) said.

Ten people were being treated in hospital, it added.

Opposition politicians said many more people were missing and the number of deaths could rise sharply.

“The infrastructure in Ayancik (district) has completely collapsed. The sewage system is destroyed. There is no electricity or water,” Sinop Mayor Baris Ayhan told Reuters.

TREES UPROOTED

The floods and fires, which killed eight people and devastated tens of thousands of hectares of forest, struck in the same week that a U.N. panel said global warming was dangerously close to spiraling out of control, and warned that extreme weather would become more severe.

About 45 cm (18 inches) of rain fell in less than three days in one village near the worst-hit region, Kastamonu’s Bozkurt district, AFAD cited meteorology authorities as saying.

Footage of the flood’s first moments in Bozkurt showed the river there overflowing in a fast-moving deluge which tore up trees and dragged away vehicles.

The small town of Bozkurt lies in a valley along the banks of the Ezine river in Kastamonu province, 2.5 km (1.6 miles) from the Black Sea.

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmakers attributed the level of destruction there to extensive construction on the river banks in recent years.

Speaking in Bozkurt, Erdogan declared the three provinces a disaster zone. “Our country has been grappling with natural disasters for a while, as are many places in the world. This is not just our country but the United States, Canada, Germany and many other European countries,” he said.

More than 1,800 people were evacuated from flood-affected areas, some with the aid of helicopters and boats, AFAD said.

Helicopters lowered coast guard personnel onto the roofs of buildings to rescue people stranded as flood water swept through the streets, footage shared by the Interior Ministry showed.

Nearly 180 villages were still without electricity on Friday evening. Five bridges had collapsed and many others were damaged, leading to road closures, AFAD added. Parts of the roads were also swept away.

Turkey’s meteorology authority said more heavy rain was expected in the central and eastern Black Sea region with a risk of further floods.

(Additional reporting Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mike Collett-White and Giles Elgood)

Algeria blames forest fires on arson, death toll rises to six

ALGIERS (Reuters) РAlgeria’s government on Tuesday said arsonists were responsible for dozens of forest fires that have killed six people and destroyed homes east of the capital.

Plumes of smoke rose from pockets of fire in the forest in Tizi Ouzou region on Tuesday, while residents used tree branches and hurled water from plastic containers in an attempt to put out the flames however they could.

Several houses were burnt and families were escaping to hotels and youth hostels, witnesses said, as the dense smoke hampered the visibility of fire crews.

“We had a horror night. My house is completely burnt,” said Mohamed Kaci, who had fled from Azazga village to a hotel with his family.

Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said an investigation would be launched to identify those behind the blazes as he put the death toll at six.

“Only criminal hands can be behind the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires across several localities of the province,” he said on state television.

Firefighters and the army were still trying to contain the blazes, and Beldjoud said the priority was to avoid more victims. He vowed to compensate those affected.

Smaller fires were also ravaging forests in at least 13 provinces since Monday night.

(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Abdelaziz Boumzar; Editing by Alison Williams)

Death toll from floods in China’s Henan province rises to 302

BEIJING (Reuters) -The death toll from last month’s floods in the central Chinese province of Henan rose to 302 as of Monday, officials said, triple the figure of 99 that was reported last week, with most of the fatalities reported in the provincial capital Zhengzhou.

In Zhengzhou, a city of 12 million that lies along the Yellow River, the death toll was 292, including 14 who perished when a subway line was flooded. In total, 39 people died in underground areas in Zhengzhou including garages and tunnels.

Over three days last month, 617.1 mm (24.3 inches) of rain fell in Zhengzhou, nearly equivalent to its annual average of 640.8 mm, causing widespread damage and disruption in a city that is a major transport and industrial hub.

Of the 50 people still missing in Henan province, 47 were from Zhengzhou, local officials told a briefing on Monday.

Direct economic losses in Henan reached 114.27 billion yuan ($18 billion), with more than 580,000 hectares of farmland affected.

China’s State Council said it will set up a team to investigate the disaster in Zhengzhou and will hold officials accountable if found to have derelicted their duty, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

($1 = 6.4592 Chinese yuan renminbi)

(Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Tony MunroeEditing by Mark Heinrich and David Holmes)

Belgium sets day of mourning as flood deaths hit 20

By Bart Biesemans

TROOZ, Belgium (Reuters) -Belgium declared a national day of mourning next week as the death toll from burst rivers and flash floods in the south and east of the country rose to 20 on Friday, with another 20 people missing.

“What should have been beautiful summer days suddenly turned into dark and extremely sad days for our fellow citizens,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. “These are exceptional circumstances that our country has not seen before.”

A week of rain finally came to an end after reaching levels in some places normally expected once in 200 years. But several communities across parts of Belgium were nervously watching as the river Meuse, which flows through the city of Liege in eastern Belgium, continued to rise and threatened to overflow.

Others were trying come to terms with disaster.

“We did work, we renovated everything, we’re losing everything we’ve got. Now we have to start from zero and work at it little by little to put it back in order.” said Sylvia Calvo Lorente, 33, surveying damage in her home in the small town of Trooz near Liege.

In the eastern town of Verviers, the swollen river was still rushing through neighboring streets, where people gingerly tried to salvage ruined shops, homes and cars.

“We made it through COVID, we were hoping we’d get back on our feet and now look!” a shopkeeper said through tears in a pause from his work.

Several towns and villages were submerged, including Pepinster near Liege, where around 10 houses collapsed. Belgium’s king and queen visited the town on Friday, wading through flooded streets.

The government set next Tuesday as a day of mourning and decided to tone down festivities for Belgian National Day the day after.

Interior minister Annelies Verlinden said 20 people had lost their lives, with a further 20 missing.

The crisis center, which is coordinating rescue efforts, urged people in the affected areas to avoid all travel.

Belgium has called on the European Union’s civil protection mechanism, resulting in contributions from France, Austria and Italy, principally boats, helicopters and rescue personnel.

It also received help from Luxembourg and the Netherlands, despite these countries also suffering from flooding. More than 250 foreigners, including helicopter pilots and divers, have come to aid the search.

Over 20,000 people in the southern region Wallonia were without electricity. Others lacked clean water. Large parts of the rail network in southern Belgium were unusable, with certain sections of track swept away.

(Additional reporting and writing by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

COVID-19 crisis could return quickly as infections surge, UK adviser warns

By Alistair Smout and Kanishka Singh

LONDON (Reuters) -England’s coronavirus crisis could return again surprisingly quickly and the country is not yet out of the woods, the British government’s chief medical adviser said, as infections surged ahead of the lifting of legal restrictions.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is removing most pandemic restrictions in England from July 19, saying a rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has largely broken the link between infections and serious illness or death.

Some scientists are worried, though. Daily reported cases are at their highest since January, while the reproduction “R” number remains above one, indicating a continued exponential growth of cases.

“We are not by any means out of the woods yet on this,” Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said late on Thursday during a webinar hosted by the Science Museum.

He added that the doubling time for hospitalizations was around three weeks, and that low numbers of people in hospital currently could escalate in next couple of months.

“It doesn’t take many doublings until we’re in actually quite scary numbers again … I don’t think we should underestimate the fact that we could get into trouble again surprisingly fast,” Whitty said.

The Office for National Statistics estimated as many as 1 in 95 people in England were infected with COVID-19 in the week to July 10, the highest prevalence since February.

“New cases of Delta will lead to long COVID, hospital admissions and deaths,” said James Naismith, Director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute

“The ratios between these have been massively changed by the safe and effective vaccines we are administering but the link is not eliminated.”

WRECKING THE ECONOMY

Britain’s COVID-19 death toll is among the highest in the world but two-thirds of its adult population have been fully vaccinated.

On Monday, the last remaining businesses still closed in England, including nightclubs, can finally reopen, but business leaders have warned that the self-isolation requirement for people exposed to positive cases could hinder the economy.

Over 520,000 contact tracing alerts were sent through the National Health Service app in the week to July 7.

“The hospitality sector, 20% of staff are isolating, the health service up to 25% of staff are absent, and buses and trains delayed,” Karan Bilimoria, president of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), told LBC radio.

“This cannot go on … This is wrecking the economy.”

A spokesperson for Johnson said that “self-isolation remains one of the best tools that we have to tackle the virus”.

(Reporting by Alistair Smout in London; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru and Kate Holton and Elizabeth Piper in London; Editing by Karishma Singh, Guy Faulconbridge, Catherine Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Floodwaters still rising in western Europe with death toll over 120

By Martin Schlicht and David Sahl

SCHULD/ERFTSTADT, Germany (Reuters) – German officials feared more deaths on Friday after “catastrophic” floods swept through western regions, demolishing streets and houses, killing more than 100 people and leaving hundreds more missing and homeless.

Communications were cut in many areas and entire communities lay in ruins after swollen rivers tore through towns and villages in the western states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate as well as parts of Belgium and the Netherlands.

After days of heavy rain, 103 people have died in Germany alone, the largest number killed in a natural disaster in the country in almost 60 years. They included 12 residents of a home for disabled people surprised by the floods during the night.

In Belgium, which has declared a day of mourning on Tuesday, officials said there were at least 20 dead and another 20 missing.

The flooding was a “catastrophe of historic dimensions,” said Armin Laschet, state premier of North Rhine-Westphalia and the ruling CDU party’s candidate to replace Chancellor Angela Merkel when she steps down after an election in September.

The devastation of the floods, attributed by meteorologists to a climate-change driven shift in the jet stream that has brought inland water that once stayed at sea, could shake up an election that has until now seen little discussion of climate.

“It is a sad certainty that such extreme events will determine our day-to-day life more and more frequently in the future,” Laschet said, adding that more measures were needed to fight global warming.

Proposals by the Greens, running a distant second in polls to Merkel’s conservatives, to introduce motorway speed limits to cut carbon emissions had previously drawn outrage.

Days after the European Commission unveiled plans to make Europe the “first climate-neutral continent, Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said the scale and intensity of the flooding was a clear indication of climate change and demonstrated the urgent need to act.

CONCERN OVER DAMS

Achim Hueck, a fish farmer in the town of Schuld, said he had only just managed to escape. “It was rising really fast, it started from the path back here,” he said, pointing to the wreckage of his business.

“There was a path, there were ponds, lots of them up there. Fishing hut, toilet facilities, everything is gone,” he said.

As officials assessed the damage, the devastation appeared to have exceeded that caused by disastrous flooding in eastern Germany almost 20 years ago.

Some 114,000 households in Germany were without power on Friday and mobile phone networks had collapsed in some flooded regions, making it hard for authorities to keep track of the number of missing.

Roads in many affected areas were impassable after being washed away by the floods. Rescue crews tried to reach residents by boat or helicopter and had to communicate via walkie-talkie.

“The network has completely collapsed. The infrastructure has collapsed. Hospitals can’t take anyone in. Nursing homes had to be evacuated,” a spokeswoman for the regional government of Cologne said.

Authorities worried that further dams could overflow, spilling uncontrolled floods into communities below, and were trying to ease pressure by releasing more water.

Some 4,500 people were evacuated downstream from the Steinbachtal dam in western Germany, which had been at risk of a breach overnight, and a stretch of motorway was closed.

REINFORCING DIKES

Thousands of residents in the north of Limburg province in neighboring Netherlands were ordered to leave their homes early Friday as floodwaters peaked.

Emergency services were on high alert, and authorities were also reinforcing dikes along vulnerable stretches where floodwaters continue to rise.

Waters were receding in the southern city of Maastricht, where there was no flooding and in the town of Valkenburg, where damage was widespread, but no one was hurt.

France sent 40 military personnel and a helicopter to Liege in Belgium to help with the flood situation, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Twitter.

“The waters are rising more and more. It’s scary,” Thierry Bourgeois, 52, said in the Belgian town of Liege. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

In the town of Maaseik, on the Dutch border, the Meuse had risen beyond a retaining wall and was spilling past sandbags placed on top.

Several towns and villages were already submerged, including Pepinster near Liege, where around 10 houses partially or fully collapsed.

The death toll in Germany is the highest of any natural catastrophe since a deadly North Sea flood in 1962 that killed around 340 people.

Floods at the Elbe river in 2002, which at the time were billed by media “once-in-a-century floods”, killed 21 people in eastern Germany and more than 100 across the wider central European region.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told magazine Spiegel the federal government aimed to provide financial support for the affected regions as quickly as possible, adding a package of measures should go to the cabinet for approval on Wednesday.

(Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa, Kirsti Knolle, Douglas Busvine, Anneli Palmen, Matthias Inverardi, Tom Sims, Thomas Escritt, Anthony Deutsch, Phil Blenkinsop; Writing by Maria Sheahan; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Alex Richardson)

Anger mounts after 92 killed in Iraq COVID hospital fire

By Ahmed Rasheed and Maher al-Saih

NASSIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) -The death toll from a fire that tore through a coronavirus hospital in southern Iraq rose to 92, health officials said on Tuesday, as authorities faced accusations of negligence from grieving relatives and a doctor who works there.

More than 100 people – patients and visitors – were injured in the blaze on Monday night in Nassiriya, officials said.

An investigation showed the fire began when sparks from faulty wiring spread to an oxygen tank that then exploded, police and civil defense authorities said.

It was Iraq’s second such tragedy in three months, and the country’s president on Tuesday blamed corruption for both. A statement from the prime minister’s office called for national mourning.

Rescue teams were using a heavy crane to remove the charred and melted remains of the part of the city’s al-Hussain hospital where COVID-19 patients were being treated, as relatives gathered nearby.

A medic at the hospital, who declined to give his name and whose shift ended a few hours before the fire broke out, said the absence of basic safety measures meant it was an accident in the making.

“The hospital lacks a fire sprinkler system or even a simple fire alarm,” he told Reuters.

“We complained many times over the past three months that a tragedy could happen any moment from a cigarette stub but every time we get the same answer from health officials: ‘we don’t have enough money’.”

In April, a similar explosion at a Baghdad COVID-19 hospital killed at least 82 and injured 110.

The head of Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said Monday’s blast showed how ineffective safety measures still were in a health system crippled by war and sanctions.

“To have such a tragic incident repeated few months later means that still no (sufficient) measures have been taken to prevent them,” Ali Bayati said.

The fact that the hospital had been built with lightweight sandwich panels separating the wards had made the fire spread faster, local civil defense authority head Salah Jabbar said.

Health and civil defense managers in the city and the hospital’s manager had been suspended and arrested on Monday on the orders of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, his office said.

Government investigators arrived in Nassiriya on Tuesday morning, according to a statement. Their findings would be announced within a week, Kadhimi’s office said.

‘FAILED GOVERNMENT’

President Barham Salih on Twitter said both fires were “the result of endemic corruption and mismanagement that disregards the lives of Iraqis”.

At the city’s morgue, anger spread among people gathered as they waited to receive their relatives’ bodies.

“No quick response to the fire, not enough firefighters. Sick people burned to death. It’s a disaster,” said Mohammed Fadhil, who was waiting to receive his bother’s body.

Two health officials said the dead from Monday’s fire included 21 charred bodies that were still unidentified.

The blaze trapped many patients inside the coronavirus ward who rescue teams struggled to reach, a health worker told Reuters on Monday before entering the burning building.

In Najaf, a holy Shi’ite city around 250 km (155 miles) northwest of Nassiriya, an angry Imad Hashim sobbed after losing his mother, sister-in-law and niece.

“What should I say after losing my family,” the 46-year-old said. “No point demanding anything from a failed government. Three days and this case will be forgotten like others.”

(Reporting by Maher al-Saih and Ahmed Rasheed;Editing by Tom Perry and Janet Lawrence)

Death toll in Florida condo collapse rises to 78

(Reuters) -The confirmed death toll in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium tower increased to 78 on Friday after workers pulled the remains of an additional 14 people from the rubble of the building, an official said.

A total of 62 people remain missing and feared dead in the concrete and steel ruins of the 12-story tower, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference.

The number of missing could change as it remains possible that not all were in the building when it abruptly caved in and crumbled to the ground early on June 24.

“This is a staggering and heart-breaking number that affects all of us very deeply,” Levine Cava told a briefing.

The rising death toll followed the removal of 13 million pounds (589,6701 kg) of debris from the site, she said.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said that crews have whittled down the size of the building debris pile from four or five stories to nearly ground level, with some areas at below-ground level.

“So the progress that our search and rescue teams are making is really incredible,” Burkett said.

Investigators have not determined what caused the Champlain Towers South to fall apart without warning. Attention has been focused on a 2018 engineering report that warned of structural deficiencies.

(reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Editing by Franklin Paul and Aurora Ellis)

Death toll in Florida condo collapse rises by 6 to 60

By Brad Brooks

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) -Crews searching the collapsed condominium tower near Miami recovered an additional six bodies, bringing the death toll to 60, officials said on Thursday, one day after declaring there was no longer hope of finding anyone alive.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference that 80 people were still considered missing in the disaster, believed to have been inside the Champlain Towers South when it abruptly crumbled in the early hours of June 24.

As of midnight Eastern Daylight Time (0400 GMT) on Thursday, the emergency effort officially transitioned from an attempt to find survivors to a recovery operation, vanquishing any hope of extracting anyone alive from the rubble.

“Yesterday was tough,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at the news conference. “But the work is going to go on and they are going to identify every single person.”

(Reporting Brad Brooks in Surfside, Florida and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Howard Goller)

Death toll in Miami condo collapse rises to 46

By Brad Brooks

SURFSIDE, Fla. (Reuters) -Search and rescue workers on Wednesday recovered 10 more bodies from the rubble of an apartment block outside Miami that collapsed last month, bringing the death toll to 46, as hopes faded that any of the 94 people still unaccounted for would be found alive.

The effort to locate survivors of the Champlain Towers South building continued in warm, dry conditions with the threat from Tropical Storm Elsa, battering the opposite side of Florida, having receded.

Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a briefing that in addition to the 46 confirmed dead, 94 others who may have been inside the building in Surfside when it partially collapsed on June 24 were still unaccounted for.

Levine Cava, who shed tears as she repeated her remarks in Spanish, said the rescue effort had been made easier by the planned demolition on Sunday night of the half of building that had remained standing.

“The team continues to make progress in the areas of the pile that was inaccessible prior to the demolition,” Levine Cava said.

As she spoke, a new shift of workers walked by in small groups, wearing clean uniforms and not sharing a word with each other, while a group leaving the rubble pile looked exhausted and were drenched in sweat.

Though local officials say they have not given up hope of finding survivors, no one has been discovered alive in the rubble since the first few hours after the building came down.

Asked about whether continuing the search was giving families false hope, Levine Cava said: “They are being supported to come to closure as soon as possible.”

(reporting by Brad Brooks and Franciso Alvarado; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; editing by Jonathan Oatis and John Stonestreet)