Factbox: Evacuations from Afghanistan by country

(Reuters) – The United States and allies are hurrying to evacuate as many people from Afghanistan as possible before an Aug. 31 deadline. The combined effort has evacuated more than 114,000 people since Aug. 14, the day before the Taliban entered Kabul, the White House has said.

Here are some more details of the evacuation effort by country:

UNITED STATES

The U.S. military will continue evacuating people from Kabul airport until Aug. 31 if needed, but will prioritize the removal of U.S. troops and military equipment on the last couple of days, the Pentagon has said. On Monday, two U.S. officials said most U.S. diplomats had left the country.

Washington has evacuated 5,400 U.S. citizens since Aug. 14, according to the U.S. government.

There were still about 350 U.S. citizens in Afghanistan trying to leave the country, a State Department spokesman said.

BRITAIN

Britain’s last military flight left Kabul late on Saturday after evacuating more than 15,000 people in the two weeks since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, the defense ministry said.

CANADA

Canadian forces in Kabul ended evacuation efforts for their citizens and Afghans on Thursday, acting chief of the defense staff General Wayne Eyre said.

He said Canada had evacuated or facilitated the evacuation of about 3,700 Canadian and Afghan citizens.

GERMANY

Germany ended evacuation flights on Thursday. The German military has evacuated 5,347 people, including more than 4,100 Afghans.

Germany previously said it had identified 10,000 people who needed to be evacuated, including Afghan local staff, journalists and human rights activists. About 300 German citizens remain in Afghanistan, a spokesman for the foreign office in Berlin said on Friday.

FRANCE

The French Defense Ministry said on Friday it had finished its evacuation effort from Afghanistan. During the operation, nearly 3,000 people, including more than 2,600 Afghans, had been brought to France.

ITALY

Italy evacuated 5,011 people, including 4,890 Afghan nationals, among them 1,301 women and 1,453 children, a defense ministry statement said. The last evacuation flight left on Friday.

SWEDEN

Sweden has ended its evacuation mission in Kabul, Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde said on Friday. She said that a total of 1,100 people had been evacuated, including all locally employed embassy staff and their families.

BELGIUM

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Thursday Belgium had ended its evacuation operations. Just over 1,400 people were evacuated, with the last flight arriving in the Pakistan capital of Islamabad on Wednesday night, he said.

IRELAND

Ireland’s foreign ministry said that it had evacuated 36 Irish citizens after the completion of an emergency consular mission on Thursday.

It said it was now aware of approximately 60 Irish citizens and family members plus a further 15 Afghan citizens with Irish residency who are still in the country and have requested assistance, far more than they had initially estimated.

POLAND

Poland has evacuated about 900 people from Afghanistan, including about 300 women and 300 children, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Thursday.

HUNGARY

Hungary has ended evacuations in Afghanistan after airlifting 540 people, including Hungarian citizens and Afghans and their families who worked for Hungarian forces previously, Defense Minister Tibor Benko said on Thursday.

DENMARK

Denmark made its last evacuation flight out of Kabul on Wednesday with the remaining diplomatic staff and military personnel, according to its defense ministry.

Denmark has airlifted about 1,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, including diplomatic staff, their families, former interpreters, Danish citizens as well as people from allied countries, the ministry said.

UKRAINE

Ukraine has evacuated of all of its citizens who wanted to leave, the president’s chief of staff said on Saturday.

In all, it has flown out more than 600 people including foreign journalists, rights activists, women and children, Andriy Yermak said.

AUSTRIA

Austria says 109 people with Austrian citizenship, residency or work permits have been evacuated. The number of such people left is in the dozens, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference on Monday, adding that none are citizens as far as he was aware and new people are still getting in touch with the Austrian authorities daily.

SWITZERLAND

Switzerland has wound up its evacuations from Afghanistan after repatriating 387 people over two weeks with the help of the German military, the foreign ministry said on Friday. There were still 11 Swiss nationals there — some working for international organizations — with whom the ministry remained in contact, it added in a statement.

THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch government said on Thursday it had evacuated 2,500 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 15, with about 1,600 of them brought to the Netherlands. The Dutch ambassador left on the final flight on Thursday. The Dutch have no diplomatic presence left in the country.

SPAIN

Spain has concluded its evacuation of personnel from Afghanistan, the government said.

Two military planes carrying the last 81 Spaniards out of Kabul arrived in Dubai early on Friday, a government statement said. The planes were also carrying four Portuguese soldiers and 83 Afghans who had worked with NATO countries.

Over the course of its rescue mission Spain evacuated 1,898 Afghans who had worked with Western countries, the United Nations or the European Union.

TURKEY

Turkey has evacuated all troops and civilians from Afghanistan aside from a small “technical group” left behind, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday.

Turkey has evacuated at least 1,400 people from Afghanistan, including about 1,000 Turkish citizens, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier this week.

QATAR

Qatar said on Thursday it had helped evacuate more than 40,000 people to Doha and “evacuation efforts will continue in the coming days in consultation with international partners”.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

The UAE said on Thursday it had helped evacuate 36,500 people to date, including 8,500 coming to the UAE via its national carriers or airports.

INDIA

India has airlifted 565 people from Afghanistan, most of them embassy personnel and citizens living there but also dozens of Afghans including Afghan Sikhs and Hindus, a government official said.

AUSTRALIA

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday that Australia had evacuated 4,100 people, including over 3,200 citizens and Afghans with Australian visas, over nine days, with the last planned flight leaving before the airport attack. The other evacuees were from coalition partners.

Morrison acknowledged some Australian visa holders remained in Afghanistan though he did not know exact numbers.

Australia is committed to bringing at least 3,000 more people out over coming months as part of a humanitarian program, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand’s Defense Force ran three flights out of Kabul, and the last planned flight had left before the attack, a government statement said.

No NZDF personnel were in Kabul at the time of the explosions and no New Zealand evacuees were left within Kabul airport. According to preliminary numbers, at least 276 New Zealand nationals and permanent residents, their families and other visa holders were evacuated, it said.

(Compiled by Reuters staff; editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Alex Richardson, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Ana Nicolaci da Costa, Nick Macfie, Frances Kerry and Andrew Heavens)

Biden again defends U.S. pullout as world powers struggle with Afghanistan evacuations

KABUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) -World powers struggled on Friday to hasten evacuations from Afghanistan after reports of Taliban reprisals, as U.S. President Joe Biden insisted that the chaos following the American troop withdrawal had not diminished Washington’s international credibility.

Facing a torrent of criticism at home and abroad for his handling of the withdrawal and the subsequent Taliban conquest of Afghanistan, Biden pledged that every American who wanted to would be evacuated, with about 13,000 flown out so far.

“I have seen no question of our credibility around the world from our allies,” Biden said in a speech from the White House.

“We are united with our closest partners to execute the mission at hand,” he said.

He said he could not promise what the final outcome would be in Afghanistan, where the United States has waged a 20-year war. But he promised to work with other countries to set “harsh conditions” for any cooperation or recognition of the Taliban, based on their human rights record.

“They’re looking to gain some legitimacy, they’re going to have to figure out how they’re going to retain that country,” he said. “And there’s going to be some harsh conditions, strong conditions we’re going to apply that will depend on … how well they treat women and girls, how they treat their citizens.”

Thousands of desperate Afghans clutching papers, children and some belongings thronged Kabul airport where gun-toting Taliban members urged those without travel documents to go home. In and around the airport, 12 people have been killed since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.

Former government officials told harrowing tales of hiding from the group, as armed gunmen went from door to door. One family of 16 described running to the bathroom, lights off and children’s mouths covered, in fear for their lives with the militants at their door.

“Those who may be in danger have no clear way out,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said, urging neighboring countries to keep borders open.

The speed with which the Islamist group conquered Afghanistan, as foreign troops were withdrawing, surprised even their own leaders and left power vacuums.

Biden reiterated his contention that the U.S.-funded and -armed Afghan military had been expected to put up more of a fight.

“The overwhelming consensus was that they (the Afghan government forces) were not going to collapse … they were not going to put down their arms and take off,” Biden said.

The Taliban called for unity, asking imams at Friday prayers to persuade people not to leave. Residents in Kabul and four other cities said attendance was low, though prayers passed off without incident.

PROTESTS, ‘DESPITE A TALIBAN GUN’

A witness said several people were killed in the eastern city of Asadabad on Thursday when the Taliban fired on a protest. There were similar shows of defiance in two other eastern cities – Jalalabad and Khost – coinciding with celebrations of the nation’s 1919 independence from British control.

“The Taliban are facing the new reality of Afghanistan that Afghans are not the same Afghans of 20 years ago,” Barakat Rahmati, Afghanistan’s deputy ambassador to Qatar, told Reuters.

“Afghans, inclusive of men and women, held protests in Kabul despite a Taliban gun being pointed to them. They are holding protests against injustice. They are defending their identity and their flag.”

Washington has about 5,800 soldiers controlling the airport but acknowledged it does not have a grip on how many U.S. citizens were in Afghanistan.

In Britain, media said several senior officials were on holiday as the Afghan debacle erupted and that spy chiefs may face a grilling over intelligence failings. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab countered that the government had been working “tirelessly” on evacuations.

Germany said on Friday it was sending helicopters to help, amid reports that one of its citizens had been wounded.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said other countries should not impose their own values. Beijing, too, said the world should support, not pressure, Afghanistan.

The Taliban ruled with an iron fist from 1996-2001, enforcing a harsh version of Islamic law, before being toppled by U.S.-led forces for sheltering al Qaeda militants behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

This time they are seeking to present a more moderate face.

The group said it wants peace, will not take revenge against enemies and will respect women rights within Islamic law.

There are immediate fears for Afghan economy, with foreign grants and aid set to slow, funds and assets trapped abroad and GDP predicted to slump. Hundreds of bureaucrats are unpaid for two months, a Taliban official said.

As Western leaders insisted the Taliban would be judged on actions not words, a Norwegian intelligence group said fighters had begun rounding up Afghans on a list .

Amnesty International said the Taliban, whose members are Sunni Muslims, killed nine men of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara minority ethnic group after taking Ghazni province last month.

(Reporting by Kabul, Washington and Reuters bureaux worldwide; Writing by Philippa Fletcher, Andrew Cawthorne and Nick Macfie; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Jon Boyle and Grant McCool)

Factbox-Evacuations from Afghanistan by country

(Reuters) – The United States and other Western powers are pressing on with the evacuation from Afghanistan of their nationals and some of their Afghan staff from Kabul airport, from where about 8,000 people have been flown out since Sunday, a Western security official said.

Thousands of people have desperately tried to get past Taliban roadblocks and U.S. troops to reach the airport. On Thursday the Taliban urged crowds of Afghans waiting outside it to return home, saying they did not want to hurt anyone, a day after firing at protesters and killing three.

EUROPEAN UNION

The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Thursday about 100 EU staff and 400 Afghans working with the EU and their families had been evacuated, but that 300 more Afghans were still trying to leave.

UNITED KINGDOM

Britain is unable to evacuate unaccompanied children from Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said on Thursday when asked about footage of a young child being handed over a wall to Western soldiers at Kabul airport.

Britain’s ambassador said his team had evacuated about 700 people on Tuesday and hoped to scale up the operation in coming days.

A spokeswoman for Britain’s foreign ministry said that since Sunday, approximately 1,200 people had left Kabul on flights for the United Kingdom.

UNITED STATES

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said on Wednesday that in the previous 24 hours U.S. military flights had evacuated approximately 2,000 more people.

The Pentagon is aiming to evacuate up to 22,000 Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, their families and other at-risk people.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said there were about 4,500 U.S. military personnel in Kabul and there “have been no hostile interactions with the Taliban and our lines of communication with Taliban commanders remain open.”

AUSTRALIA

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, facing criticism over plans to evacuate citizens and some Afghans from Kabul, said on Thursday that bad weather in the coming days may delay rescue flights.

Australia has evacuated 26 people on one flight from Afghanistan, and Morrison said a further 76 were transported out of Kabul late on Thursday on a British plane.

GERMANY

Germany has evacuated some 500 people from Afghanistan since Sunday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday, adding that a fifth of the rescued people were Afghan nationals.

FRANCE

Twenty-five French nationals and 184 Afghans were evacuated from Afghanistan overnight, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday.

SPAIN

Spain plans to airlift around 500 people including Spanish embassy staff and Afghans who worked with them and their families from Kabul, radio station Cadena SER said on Wednesday, citing sources close to the evacuation.

NETHERLANDS

The Netherlands said it got 35 of its citizens and 20 other foreign nationals out of Afghanistan on Wednesday, in a slow start to its evacuation operation amid chaos outside Kabul airport.

A flight, which included 16 Belgians, two Germans and two British passport holders landed in Amsterdam late on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. It added that brought the total number of Dutch nationals evacuated to 50.

CZECH REPUBLIC

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday his country’s rescue operation to evacuate Czechs and Afghans who worked for the Czech embassy or as interpreters had ended. The country sent three flights to Kabul since Sunday, evacuating Czech citizens, as well as 170 Afghans.

DENMARK

Denmark’s prime minister said 84 people were evacuated on Wednesday from Afghanistan on a military plane.

HUNGARY

Hungary said on Wednesday it had organized the evacuation of a group of 26 Hungarian nationals working as contractors from Afghanistan and they would return to Hungary shortly on a flight organised by another country.

POLAND

Poland has evacuated around 50 people from Afghanistan, a deputy foreign minister said on Wednesday, a day after Poland said it had around 100 people on an evacuation list.

JAPAN

Japan is in close contact with a “small number” of its nationals still in Afghanistan, seeking to ensure their safety after Taliban militants took over Kabul, the government’s top spokesman said on Wednesday.

Japan has closed its embassy and evacuated the last 12 personnel, officials said this week.

CANADA

Canada plans to resume military flights to Afghanistan to evacuate civilians as the United States regains control of the Kabul airport, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) said late on Tuesday.

INDIA

An Indian air force plane evacuated over 170 people from Kabul on Tuesday, including India’s ambassador to Afghanistan, a government official said.

TURKEY

President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey has evacuated 552 citizens from Afghanistan so far, including around 200 people flown from Kabul to Islamabad by a military plane on Wednesday. A Turkish Airlines plane was scheduled to bring them to Istanbul from Islamabad later the same day.

SWITZERLAND

The Swiss government said it was working to evacuate 230 local aid agency workers and their families from Afghanistan and bring them to Switzerland.

Around 40 local employees who worked for the Swiss Development Agency in Kabul and their families will be allowed into Switzerland in a humanitarian operation, the government said.

(Compiled by Catherine Evans and Hugh Lawson; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Deadly Jalalabad protests as Taliban consolidate Islamist rule

KABUL (Reuters) -At least three people were killed in anti-Taliban protests in the Afghan city of Jalalabad on Wednesday, witnesses said, as the militant group tried to set up a government and Western countries stepped up evacuations of diplomats and civilians.

More than a dozen people were injured after Taliban militants opened fire on protesters in the eastern city, two witnesses and a former police official told Reuters.

The Taliban have promised peace following their sweep into Kabul, saying they will not take revenge against old enemies and will respect the rights of women within the framework of Islamic law.

The witnesses said the deaths took place when local residents tried to install Afghanistan’s national flag at a square in the city, some 150 km (90 miles) from the capital on the main road to Pakistan.

Taliban spokesmen were not immediately reachable for comment.

As the Taliban consolidated power, one of their leaders and co-founders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, returned to Afghanistan for the first time in more than 10 years. A Taliban official said leaders would show themselves to the world, unlike in the past when they lived in secret.

“Slowly, gradually, the world will see all our leaders,” the senior Taliban official told Reuters. “There will be no shadow of secrecy.”

But thousands of Afghans, many of whom helped U.S.-led foreign forces over two decades, are desperate to leave the country.

More than 2,200 diplomats and civilians have been evacuated from Afghanistan on military flights, a Western security official said on Wednesday.

“We are continuing at a very fast momentum, logistics show no glitches as of now,” the Western security official told Reuters.

The Taliban held their first news briefing since their return to Kabul on Tuesday, suggesting they would impose their laws more softly than during their harsh 1996-2001 rule.

“We don’t want any internal or external enemies,” Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban’s main spokesman, told reporters.

Women would be allowed to work and study and “will be very active in society but within the framework of Islam”, he said.

During their rule, also guided by sharia religious law, women were prevented from working, girls were not allowed to go to school and women had to wear all-enveloping burqas to go out and then only when accompanied by a male relative.

‘TIME WILL TELL’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, echoing leaders of other Western countries, said the Taliban would be judged on their actions.

“We will judge this regime based on the choices it makes, and by its actions rather than by its words, on its attitude to terrorism, to crime and narcotics, as well as humanitarian access and the rights of girls to receive an education,” Johnson told parliament.

Britain has said it will welcome up to 5,000 Afghans during the first year of a new resettlement program that will prioritize women, girls and religious and other minorities.

Many Afghans are skeptical of the Taliban promises. Some said they could only wait and see.

“My family lived under the Taliban and maybe they really want to change or have changed but only time will tell and it’s going to become clear very soon,” said Ferishta Karimi, who runs a tailoring shop for women.

Mujahid said the Taliban would not seek retribution against former soldiers and government officials, and were granting an amnesty for ex-soldiers as well as contractors and translators who worked for international forces.

“Nobody is going to harm you, nobody is going to knock on your doors,” he said, adding that there was a “huge difference” between the Taliban now and 20 years ago.

The Taliban, who have fought to expel foreign forces since they were overthrown in 2001, seized Kabul on Sunday as U.S.-led Western forces withdrew under a deal that included a Taliban promise not to attack them as they leave.

U.S. forces running the airport had to stop flights on Monday after thousands of frightened Afghans swamped the airfield looking for a flight out. Flights resumed on Tuesday as the situation came under control.

Seventeen people were wounded on Wednesday in a stampede at a gate to the airport, a NATO security official said, adding that civilians seeking to leave had been told not to gather unless they had a passport and visa to travel. He said he had not heard any reports of violence by Taliban fighters at the airport.

Britain said it had managed to bring out about 1,000 people a day while Germany flew 130 people out. France said it had moved out 25 of its nationals and 184 Afghans, and Australia said 26 people had arrived on its first flight back from Kabul.

“Everyone wants out,” said one Afghan man who arrived in Frankfurt on Wednesday with his wife and son on a flight via Tashkent. “We saved ourselves but we couldn’t rescue our families.”

(Reporting by Kabul newsroom; Writing by Robert Birsel and Jane Merriman; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Nick Macfie and Catherine Evans)

No end to Greek inferno as wildfires rage into the night

By George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris

ATHENS (Reuters) -Wildfires in Greece raged into the night burning more forest and homes in the northern outskirts of Athens and other parts of the country and forcing more evacuations as more international aid was on the way.

Authorities struggled with 154 wildfires across the country on Friday with the biggest fronts still burning in the north of Athens, the island of Evia and areas in the Peloponnese including Mani, Messinia and ancient Olympia, the site of the first Olympic Games.

“We are facing another, more difficult night,” Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias told reporters. “Wildfires of unprecedented intensity and spread, all our forces are fighting the battle day and night to save lives, together with volunteers.”

In the northern part of the island of Evia near Athens, the coast guard evacuated 650 people by boat as wildfires burned through forestland all the way to the shore for the fourth day.

As night approached, firefighters kept battling a continuous resurgence of blazes in the north of Athens which, fanned by strong winds, threatened to engulf the lake of Marathon and go up Mount Parnitha.

Greece, like much of the rest of Europe, has been grappling with extreme weather this summer. A week-long heatwave – its worst in 30 years – has sparked simultaneous wildfires in many parts of the country, burning homes and killing animals as flames tear through thousands of acres of land.

The fire, which broke out on Tuesday, burned around the main highway linking Athens to northern Greece and hundreds of firefighters with water-bombing aircraft battled to contain it.

A 38-year-old man was killed on Friday by a falling electricity pylon in a suburb north of Athens, the hospital where he was treated said.

In neighboring Turkey, authorities are battling the country’s worst-ever wildfires. Flames sweeping through its southwestern coastal regions forced the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. In Italy, hot winds fanned flames on the island of Sicily this week.

Police went door to door on Friday urging people to leave their homes north of Athens. Authorities ordered the evacuation of more suburbs in the north of Athens as the blaze advanced, burning more homes, cars and businesses.

“We are witnessing a catastrophe of historic proportions and climate change is the basic cause,” said Alexis Tsipras, leader of Greece’s main political opposition. “We must support our frontline fighters and all who lost the efforts of a lifetime in a few minutes.”

FIERY DISASTER

Temperatures have been over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) all week and little let up came on Friday with high winds spreading the flames further.

The Athens power grid operator announced staggered power cuts in the surrounding region to ensure there were no major outages in mainland Greece.

In Gytheio in the southern Peloponnese, a coast guard vessel rescued 10 people from a beach as a blaze there flared. Locals made desperate calls for firefighting aircraft.

More foreign help was on the way with Switzerland sending three helicopters, joining other countries, including France, Cyprus, Israel, Sweden and the Ukraine who sent firefighters and water-bombing aircraft, the civil protection minister said.

The U.S. Navy was sending a P-8 aerial reconnaissance aircraft to support firefighting efforts.

In the Peloponnese, where firefighters saved Ancient Olympia from a fire this week, the flames left behind scorched earth and dead animals.

“A catastrophe,” said farmer Marinos Anastopoulos. “The fire came around midday with swirling winds and homes were burned, a lot of animals burned to death. Rabbits, sheep, dogs, everything.”

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Lefteris Papadimas, Giorgos Moutafis and Rami Ayyub; Writing by George Georgiopoulos and Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Giles Elgood, William Maclean and Aurora Ellis)

Tropical cyclone kills at least 113 in Indonesia, East Timor

By Yos Seran and Agustinus Beo Da Costa

MALAKA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Floods and landslides triggered by tropical cyclone Seroja in a cluster of islands in southeast Indonesia and East Timor have killed 113 people, with many still unaccounted for and thousands displaced, officials said on Monday.

At least 86 deaths were reported on several islands in Indonesia’s West and East Nusa Tenggara provinces, while 71 others were missing, after the cyclone brought flash floods, landslides and strong winds amid heavy rain over the weekend, disaster agency BNPB said.

In East Timor, which shares the Timor island with Indonesia, at least 27 people were killed by landslides, flash floods and a falling tree, while 7,000 were displaced, its government said.

On Lembata island, authorities feared bodies had been washed away.

“We are using rubber boats to find bodies at sea. In several villages, flash floods hit while people were sleeping,” Thomas Ola Langoday, deputy head of Lembata district government, told Reuters by phone.

About 30,000 people have been impacted by floods in Indonesia, some already taking shelter in evacuation centers, but rescue operations have been made difficult after five bridges collapsed and falling trees blocked some roads, BNPB spokesman Raditya Jati said.

A continuing storm had also halted evacuations in some places, local authorities said.

Hundreds of houses and other facilities such as a solar power plant were damaged, BNPB said. Ships and motor boats sank as the cyclone set off waves as high as 6 meters.

Powerful currents continued to flow through villages in the Malaka district on Timor island on Monday, even though the rain had stopped.

Some residents there hauled themselves to their roofs to escape flood water rising to 3-4 meters.

“We had to dismantle the zinc roof. We went out through the back door and pulled ourselves out with a rope,” Agustina Luruk, 36, told Reuters as she and her three daughters waited to be evacuated by the side of a muddy road.

President Joko Widodo offered his condolences and ordered speedy disaster relief efforts.

The Seroja cyclone hit the Savu sea southwest of Timor island in the early hours of Monday, Indonesia’s weather agency said.

Within 24 hours, the cyclone’s intensity could strengthen, bringing yet more rain, waves and winds, although it was moving away from Indonesia, the agency said.

Dwikorita Karnawati, the agency’s head, said that the cyclone would be weakening in the next two days.

(Reporting by Yos Seran in Malaka, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Nelson Da Cruz in Dili; Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe; Writing by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Martin Petty, Giles Elgood, Kirsten Donovan)

Fire sweeps through Southern California canyon, residents flee

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A blaze that ignited overnight in a single-family home injured two firefighters and forced residents of a rustic Southern California canyon to flee their homes on Thursday, as flames tore across some 4,000 acres of dry brush and wooded hillsides.

The Bond Fire, which broke out at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, was driven through Silverado Canyon in Orange County by gusty Santa Ana winds. Authorities issued evacuation warnings to thousands of people.

“There were two firefighters that were injured while battling the Bond Fire this afternoon,” the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. “They were treated by firefighter paramedics and transported to a hospital for further care.”

The woodsy canyon, miles from Southern California’s suburban sprawl and reached by a single winding road, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including artists, horse owners and ranchers.

Some 500 firefighters aided by water-dropping aircraft battled the flames, which sent smoke drifting across Orange and Los Angels counties, but had not achieved any containment as of mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Fire managers said they believed homes and other structures had been damaged by the blaze but could not yet provide details. Power was knocked out to some 50,000 homes across the region.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation point at a community college near the mouth of the canyon.

Since the start of the year, wildfires have scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of California land according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The state has grappled with fires of record-breaking intensity and size in recent years and 2020 has been particularly difficult.

“We’re in December and we now have active wildfires still in our state,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing. “These Santa Ana winds have been quite intense.”

The yearly land area burned by severe wildfires in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said in research published last month.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Diane Craft and Tom Brown)

Storm-weary U.S. offshore energy firms prep for massive hurricane

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Oil and gas workers withdrew en masse from U.S. offshore production facilities and onshore refineries began preparations on Wednesday as Hurricane Delta was forecast to grow into a powerful storm over the Caribbean on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Delta’s winds declined to 105 miles per hour (169 kph) as it tore across Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula early Wednesday. It is expected to enter the Gulf of Mexico and re-intensify into a Category 3 storm, the National Hurricane Center said.

Oil producers had evacuated 57 production facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday and halted 540,000 barrels per day of oil and 232 million cubic feet per day of natural gas production. The region accounts for about 17% of U.S. oil output.

Onshore energy facilities and export ports began securing operations. Royal Dutch Shell Plc was preparing three refineries in Convent, Geismar and Norco, Louisiana, for Delta’s arrival. Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the sole deep water port on the Gulf of Mexico, halted seaborne exports and imports.

After weakening over the Yucatan, Delta is expected to re-strengthen and grow into a massive storm. A “life-threatening storm surge and strong winds are likely over a large portion of the northwestern and northern Gulf coast,” the NHC said.

Energy prices were mixed. Natural gas futures were up nearly 2% on storm shut-ins and export disruptions. U.S. crude oil and gasoline futures each fell about 3%.

Delta is expected to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast on the weekend as the 10th named storm to make a U.S. landfall this year, eclipsing a record that has held since 1916.

Oil companies have had to evacuate workers repeatedly this year with departures and returns complicated by pandemic related quarantines and virus testing for offshore staff.

Delta’s evacuations were at least the sixth time that some companies have had to remove staff and curtail production since June.

W&T Offshore Inc, one of the smaller Gulf of Mexico producers, estimated the storms cost it 9,000 barrels of oil and gas per day in the latest quarter, more than a fifth of its targeted output.

Phillips 66 said Delta would delay the restart of its Lake Charles refinery, a Louisiana plant shut by August’s Hurricane Laura. A second plant, on the Louisiana coast, has remained closed since a mid-September storm for maintenance.

Shell, the largest Gulf of Mexico offshore oil producer by volume, evacuated staff from nine facilities and Chevron Corp evacuated and shut production on all its Gulf of Mexico platforms. BP Plc, BHP, Occidental Petroleum Corp, and Murphy Oil pulled workers out and halted some production.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Leslie Adler and Marguerita Choy)

Northern California wildfires kill three, force evacuation of thousands

By Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (Reuters) – A northern California wildfire raging in the foothills of the Cascade range has claimed three lives, officials said on Monday, as a separate blaze prompted mass evacuations and spread turmoil to the famed wine-producing regions of Napa and Sonoma counties.

The three fatalities in the so-called Zogg Fire in Shasta County, which erupted on Sunday near Redding, about 200 miles north of San Francisco, were reported by the county sheriff and the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire). They were all civilians.

No further details about the victims or how they perished were immediately provided. But the deaths bring to 29 the number of people killed since mid-August in a California wildfire season of historic proportions.

The Zogg fire, which has destroyed 146 structures and charred 31,000 acres of grassy hillsides and oak woodlands thick with dry scrub, coincided with the outbreak of another conflagration in the heart of California’s wine country north of the Bay area.

That blaze, dubbed the Glass Fire, has spread across 36,000 acres of similar terrain in Napa and Sonoma counties since early Sunday, incinerating more than 100 homes and other buildings, forcing thousands of residents to flee and threatening world-renowned vineyards, according to CalFire.

Both fires were listed at zero containment as of Monday evening. The cause of each was under investigation.

They marked the latest flashpoints in a destructive spate of wildfires this summer across the Western United States.

In California this year, wildfires have scorched 3.7 million acres (1.5 million hectares) since January – far exceeding any single year in state history. They have been stoked by intense, prolonged bouts of heat, high winds and other weather extremes that scientists attribute to climate change.

More than 7,000 homes and other structures have burned statewide so far this year.

LANDMARK CHATEAU BURNS

The Glass Fire broke out in Napa Valley before dawn near Calistoga before merging with two other blazes into a larger eruption of flames straddling western Napa County and an adjacent swath of Sonoma County.

In one notable property loss, the mansion-like Chateau Boswell winery in St. Helena – a familiar landmark along the Silverado Trail road running the length of the Napa Valley – went up in flames on Sunday night.

An estimated 60,000 residents have been placed under evacuation orders or advisories in Sonoma and Napa counties combined, but no injuries have been reported.

Not everyone heeded evacuation orders.

In 2017, roughly 5% of Santa Rosa’s homes were lost when downed power lines sparked a devastating firestorm in October that swept the region, killing 19 people.

HARVEST SEASON SMOKE

The Glass Fire struck about midway through the region’s traditional grape-harvesting season, already disrupted by a spate of large fires earlier this summer.

Several Napa Valley growers said recently they would forgo a 2020 vintage altogether due to smoke contamination of ripening grapes waiting to be picked.

The 475 vintners in Napa Valley alone account for just 4% of the state’s grape harvest but half the retail value of all California wines sold. Sonoma County, too, has become a premiere viticulture region with some 450 wineries and a million acres of vineyards.

The full impact on the region’s wine business remains to be seen and will differ for each grower, depending on how far along they are in the harvest, said Teresa Wall, spokeswoman for the Napa Valley Vintners trade group.

“There are some who were close to wrapping up, and some who were still planning to leave their grapes hanging out there for a while,” she said.

The fires caused major upheavals for the area’s most vulnerable residents already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Adventist Health St. Helena hospital was forced to evacuate patients on Sunday, the second time in a month following a lightning-sparked wildfire in August.

On Monday, residents at Oakmont Gardens, a Santa Rosa retirement community, leaned on walkers and waited to board a bus taking them to safety, their face masks doubling as protection against smoke and COVID-19.

Over 100,000 homes and business have suffered power outages across northern California since Sunday, some from precautionary shutoffs of transmission lines to reduce wildfire risks in the midst of extremely windy, hot, dry weather, Pacific Gas and Electric Co reported.

Red-flag warnings for extreme wildfire risks remained posted for much of Northern California, forecasting low humidity and gale-force wind gusts.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif and Stephen Lam in Santa Rosa, California; Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney, Gerry Doyle & Shri Navaratnam)

Cyclone kills at least 82 in India, Bangladesh, causes widespread flooding

By Ruma Paul and and Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – The most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade killed at least 82 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land.

Mass evacuations organized by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph).

In neighboring Bangladesh, the initial toll was put at 10.

“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world. All I could do was to pray… Almighty Allah saved us,” Azgar Ali, 49, a resident of Satkhira district on the Bangladesh coast told Reuters.

Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a senior police official in the area said the storm tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines and left many villages inundated.

When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five meters resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.

Reuters Television footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a tweet expressing concern over the people suffering in West Bengal.

“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he said.

Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.

“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.

“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, told Reuters.

MASS EVACUATIONS

Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.

The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay underwater and several neighborhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, according to residents.

After the storm passed people were trying to retrieve articles from the rubble of their shops in the city.

Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.

Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in this area, he said.

The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.

 

(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)