India floods kill more than 270, displace one million

FILE PHOTO: Rescuers remove debris as they search for victims of a landslide caused by torrential monsoon rains in Meppadi in Wayanad district in the southern Indian state of Kerala, India, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

By Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav

BENGALURU/MUMBAI (Reuters) – Floods and landslides have killed more than 270 people in India this month, displaced one million and inundated thousands of homes across six states, authorities said on Wednesday after two weeks of heavy monsoon rains.

The rains from June to September are a lifeline for rural India, delivering some 70% of the country’s rainfall, but they also cause death and destruction each year.

The southern states of Kerala and Karnataka, and Maharashtra and Gujarat in the west, were among the hardest hit by floods that washed away thousands of hectares of summer-sown crops and damaged roads and rail lines.

At least 95 people were killed and more than 50 are missing in Kerala, where heavy rainfall triggered dozens of landslides last week and trapped more than 100 people.

About 190,000 people are still living in relief camps in the state, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, but he added some people are returning home as floodwaters recede.

In neighboring Karnataka, home to the technology hub Bengaluru, 54 people died and 15 are missing after rivers burst their banks when authorities released water from dams.

Nearly 700,000 people have been evacuated in the state.

Heavy rainfall is expected in parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, as well as the central state of Madhya Pradesh, in the next two days, weather officials said.

In Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital Mumbai, 48 people died but floodwaters are receding, said a state official.

“We are now trying to restore electricity and drinking water supplies,” he said.

In Madhya Pradesh, the biggest producer of soybeans, heavy rains killed 32 people and damaged crops, authorities said.

In Gujarat, 31 people died in rain-related incidents, while landslides killed nearly a dozen people in the northern hilly state of Uttarakhand.

(Reporting by Gopakumar Warrier and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Euan Rocha and Darren Schuettler)

And then there was light: Cardinal breaks law to restore power for homeless

FILE PHOTO: Konrad Krajewski, seen in this November 15, 2013 photo at centre behind Pope Francis, has drawn the ire of Italy's anti-immigrant interior minister by climbing down a manhole and breaking the law to restore electricity to hundreds of homeless people living in an occupied building. He is now a cardinal and runs the Vatican office that distributes the pope's charity funds. The picture was taken when he was an archbishop, at the Vatican. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/File Photo

By Philip Pullella

ROME (Reuters) – A close aide to Pope Francis has drawn the ire of Italy’s anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini by climbing down a manhole to restore electricity to hundreds of homeless people living in an occupied building.

Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, 55, whose job is to distribute the pope’s charity funds, went to the disused state-owned building near a Rome cathedral on Saturday night and broke a police seal to re-connect electrical circuit breakers.

To some, he was a hero of sorts by Monday morning as the news went viral. Rome’s left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper ran a banner headline calling him “The Pope’s Robin Hood” and praising him for doing the right thing under the circumstances.

“What can I say? It was a particularly desperate situation. I repeat: I assume all the responsibility. If a fine arrives, I’ll pay it,” Krajewski said in an interview in Corriere della Sera newspaper on Monday.

The building has been occupied since 2013 by Italians who had lost their homes and migrants. It houses some 450 people, including about 100 children.

It had been without power since May 6 because some 300,000 euro in electricity bills had not been paid.

“Defending illegality is never a good sign,” Salvini, who has often clashed with the pope on migration and other social issues, told reporters on Monday.

“There are many Italians and even legal immigrants who pay their bills, even if with difficulty. People can do what they please but as interior minister, I guarantee the rules.”

Krajewski, who rides around Rome on a bicycle, said he would pay the building’s electricity bills from now on but that for him, the issue went beyond money.

“There are children there. The first thing to ask is ‘why are they there? What is the reason? How is it possible that families are in such a situation” he told Corriere.

Krajewski, a Pole, was already a minor celebrity in Rome. Since the pope named him to the Vatican charity job in 2013, he became known for dressing down into simple layman’s clothes at night and bringing food the city’s homeless in a white van.

He was also responsible for opening shelters near the Vatican were the homeless can wash, get haircuts, and receive medical care.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Survivors find reasons to be thankful after deadly California fire

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin and Sonya Butts shop for new clothing for their son, Landyn, 3, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Terray Sylvester

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – Most years, Kelly Doty marked Thanksgiving by delivering scores of meals to low-income families with children in the tight-knit Northern California mountain community of Paradise.

But after the Camp Fire all but incinerated the town of nearly 27,000 residents on Nov. 8, killing at least 77 people and leaving almost 1,000 missing, the family resources center where Doty worked as a director had to scrap the annual food drive.

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya's grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

After their home in Paradise was destroyed by the Camp Fire, Orin Butts shops for new household items with his wife, Sonya, their kids, Abby, 4, and Landyn, 3, and Sonya’s grandmother, Yvonne Tranah, in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“All the families are displaced. There’s no houses to deliver boxes to,” Doty, 37, said by telephone from Battle Ground, Washington, where she and her two sons and boyfriend are staying with relatives.

She does not know the whereabouts of the 80 meals that staff at the Paradise Ridge Family Resource Center collected ahead of the holiday, or even if they survived the blaze.

Her house was reduced to rubble by the fire, as were the homes of the center’s three other employees.

Still, Doty said she had plenty to be thankful for. Her family survived and managed to escape with belongings such as family photos and children’s clothing. Many of her neighbors fled with only the clothes on their backs.

“I feel like I still have a lot,” Doty said.

In a twist, she said they were the ones receiving charity this year. During a visit to a Battle Ground pizza restaurant last week, the owner discovered they were Camp Fire evacuees and gave them a $100 gift card and $50 bottle of wine.

The band playing that night passed a tip jar around the room on their behalf, too. “It was just incredible, these people didn’t know us and they were donating money to us,” Doty said.

TURKEY IN THE PARK

For years in Chico, a few miles (km) west of Paradise, a 59-year-old homeless woman named “Mama” Rose Adams has served a Thanksgiving meal for homeless people in a park. She and her helpers buy some of the food from money they raise recycling, while the rest is donated by friends and family.

On Sunday, she was serving 17 roasted turkeys at an event advertised on social media and flyers around town. She was encouraging evacuees from the wildfire to attend since they are now homeless too.

“I’m sure a lot of them are uncomfortable now,” Adams said at the park where a few dozen people sat at picnic tables to eat. “A lot of them don’t have places to cook or eat.”

Among the displaced in Chico was Sonya Butts, her twin sister, Tonya Boyd, and their families. They had been among those hoping for a Thanksgiving meal parcel from Doty’s center.

The Camp Fire may have taken her home, her job and her town, Butts said, but it left her with the things that matter most to her.

“Being alive, knowing my husband and my kids got out alive, that’s all I ever wanted,” Butts, 28, said by phone from a Red Cross evacuation shelter at Bidwell Junior High School.

Butts, her sister and their families are lucky to be alive after a harrowing escape. They fled in a four-car caravan as the wildfire all but surrounded them, eventually reaching Chico where they watched their hometown burn in the hills behind them.

Still, Butts counts her blessings.

“Everything else can be replaced,” she said. “My family cannot.”

(Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Venezuelan immigrants survive on the streets in Brazil

Venezuelan people sit on their tent and sleep on cardboards during the night at the entrance of packages transport shop in front of the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 25, 2018. Picture taken August 25, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

By Nacho Doce

BOA VISTA, Brazil (Reuters) – Many Venezuelans thought they were leaving a collapsing economy for a land of milk and honey just next door.

But most of those fleeing the turmoil in Venezuela by walking into Brazil at an Amazon border crossing have found themselves surviving on the streets and sleeping in tents, hammocks or on pieces of cardboard.

Their drama is part of a deepening regional humanitarian crisis set off by the exodus of tens of thousands of Venezuelans who are voting with their feet and abandoning their country, mainly into neighboring Colombia, and also Ecuador and Peru.

Venezuelan people rest on hammocks during the night in a spare parts shop for cars and motorbikes, near the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 24, 2018. Picture taken August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Venezuelan people rest on hammocks during the night in a spare parts shop for cars and motorbikes, near the interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 24, 2018. Picture taken August 24, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

The city of Boa Vista, capital of the Brazilian border state of Roraima, has received 35,000 Venezuelan immigrants in the past two years, swelling its population by more than 10 percent. Today, some 3,000 are homeless, according to the mayor’s office.

Near the city bus terminal, Venezuelans sleep on grassy highway medians and in shopping areas. Some are lucky enough to spend the night in tents handed out by refugee agencies.

Others hang hammocks outside car body shops and auto-parts distributors whose Brazilian owners allow them to spend the night under a covered area, as long as they are gone in the morning.

This generosity by local shop owners contrasts with an outbreak of xenophobic attacks on Aug. 18 against Venezuelan immigrants at the border town of Pacaraima, ignited after a Brazilian was allegedly robbed and stabbed by Venezuelans in his home.

“Some Brazilians treat us badly, but not all of them,” said Anyi Gomez, a pregnant 19-year-old who came to Brazil with her mother and survives by using a squeegee to clean car windshields for change at traffic lights.

The prenatal care she is getting at a public hospital in Brazil made it worth leaving Venezuela where her baby could have died for lack of food and medicine, she said.

Venezuelan people sleep on the grass in front of interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 23, 2018. Picture taken Auguist 23, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Venezuelan people sleep on the grass in front of interstate Bus Station in Boa Vista, Roraima state, Brazil August 23, 2018. Picture taken Auguist 23, 2018. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

On Tuesday, Brazilian President Michel Temer said the Armed Forces were being sent to Roraima for at least two weeks to help keep order and ensure the safety of immigrants. Temer blamed Venezuela’s authoritarian government for causing a regional crisis that requires a collective response.

Local churches provide meals or hand out bread and juice to the homeless Venezuelans.

“We have food, but no roof. And there is no work,” said Luis Daniel, from Caracas. “I came to get a job to take back things for my children who are going hungry in Venezuela. But all I have now is exhaustion from sleeping outdoors.”

(Reporting by Nacho Doce; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Brad Brooks and Susan Thomas)

As death toll on Indonesia’s Lombok tops 100, thousands wait for aid

A woman carries valuable goods from the ruins of her house at Kayangan district after earthquake hit on Sunday in North Lombok, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawihar

By Kanupriya Kapoor

KAYANGAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from a powerful earthquake that hit Indonesia’s tourist island of Lombok topped 100 on Tuesday as rescuers found victims under wrecked buildings, while thousands left homeless in the worst-affected areas waited for aid to arrive.

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

Health workers treat earthquake victims in the courtyard of Tanjung Hospital, North Lombok, Indonesia August 7, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

A woman was pulled alive from the rubble of a collapsed grocery store in the north, near the epicenter of Sunday’s 6.9 magnitude quake, the second tremor to rock the tropical island in a week.

That was a rare piece of good news as hopes of finding more survivors faded and a humanitarian crisis loomed for thousands left homeless by the disaster in the rural area and in desperate need of clean water, food, medicine, and shelter.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, the spokesman of Indonesia’s disaster mitigation agency (BNPB) put the toll at 105, including two on the neighboring island of Bali to the west, where the quake was also felt – and the figure was expected to rise.

Lombok had already been hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake on July 29 that killed 17 people and briefly stranded several hundred trekkers on the slopes of a volcano.

Indonesia sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire and is regularly hit by earthquakes. In 2004, the Indian Ocean tsunami killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People walk near the ruins of a shop after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

THOUSANDS SCATTERED ON HILLS

Few buildings were left standing in Kayangan on the island’s northern end, where residents told Reuters that as many as 40 died.

Some villagers used sledgehammers and ropes to start clearing the rubble of broken homes, but others, traumatized by continued aftershocks, were too afraid to venture far from tents and tarpaulins set up in open spaces.

There has been little government relief for the area, where the greatest need is for water and food, as underground water sources have been blocked by the quake and shops destroyed or abandoned.

About 75 percent of the north has been without electricity since Sunday, officials said, and some communities were hard to reach because bridges were damaged and trees, rocks, and sand lay across roads cracked wide open in places by the tremor.

“Thousands of people moved to scattered locations,” Sutopo told a news conference in Jakarta.

“People have moved to the hillsides where they feel safer. It’s difficult for help to reach them. We advise people to come down and move closer to the camps.”

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Rescuers and policemen talk on top of a collapsed mosque as they try to find survivors after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok Island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

Aid agency Oxfam said it was providing clean drinking water and tarpaulin shelters to 5,000 survivors, but the need was much greater, with more than 20,000 estimated to have been displaced.

“Thousands … are under open skies in need of drinking water, food, medical supplies, and clothes,” it said in a statement. “Clean drinking water is scarce due to the extremely dry weather.”

Villagers in Pemenang on Lombok’s northwestern shoulder heard cries for help emerging from the mangled concrete of a collapsed minimart on Tuesday and alerted rescuers. Four hours later they pulled out alive Nadia Revanale, 23.

“First we used our hands to clear the debris, then hammers, chisels, and machines,” Marcos Eric, a volunteer, told Reuters. “It took many hours but we’re thankful it worked and this person was found alive.”

Rescuers heard a weak voice coming from under the wreckage of a nearby two-story mosque, where four people were believed to have been trapped when the building pancaked.

“We are looking for access. We have a machine that can drill or cut through concrete, so we may use that. We are waiting for heavier equipment,” Teddy Aditya, an official of the Indonesian Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas), told Reuters.

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

People push their motorcycle through the collapsed ruins of a mosque after an earthquake hit on Sunday in Pemenang, Lombok island, Indonesia, August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Beawiharta

TOURIST EXODUS

Thousands of tourists have left Lombok since Sunday evening, fearing further earthquakes, some on extra flights added by airlines and some on ferries to Bali.

Officials said about 4,600 foreign and domestic tourists had been evacuated from the three Gili islands off the northwest coast of Lombok, where two people died and fears of a tsunami spread soon after the quake.

Saffron Amis, a British student on Gili Trawangan – the largest of the islands fringed by white beaches and surrounded by turquoise sea – said at least 200 people were stranded there with more flowing in from the other two, Gili Air and Gili Meno.

“We still have no wi-fi and very little power. Gili Air has run out of food and water so they have come to us,” she told Reuters in a text message, adding later that she had been taken by boat to the main island en route to Bali.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo and by Agustinus Beo Da Costa,; Fransiska Nangoy and Fanny Potkin in JAKARTA; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Laos scrambles for food, medicines, coffins three days after dam burst

Rescuers work at a flooded site after a hydropower dam collapse in Attapeu Province, Laos July 24, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken July 24, 2018. Mime Phoumsavanh via REUTERS

KHOKONG, Laos (Reuters) – Troops searched for survivors in the remote southern tip of Laos on Thursday, three days after the collapse of a hydropower dam sent a torrent of water charging across paddy fields and through villages, as rescuers rushed aid to thousands of homeless.

The scale of the disaster was still unclear, in part because of the inaccessibility of the area but also because reports from the communist country’s state media have been scant and sketchy.

The official Laos News Agency said that 27 people were confirmed dead and 131 were missing following the failure of the dam on Monday, a subsidiary structure under construction as part of a hydroelectric project in the province of Attapeu.

Earlier reports had suggested the death toll would be much higher, and on Wednesday the Vientiane Times had said more than 3,000 people were waiting to be rescued from swirling floodwaters, many of them on trees and the rooftops of submerged houses.

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

In the village of Khokong, a sea of mud oozed around the stilt houses that were still standing and dead animals floated in the water.

“Seven villages were hit, two very badly. There were 200 houses and only about 10 are left standing,” said a medical official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We retrieved one body today. I suspect there will be more as the water goes down and the road becomes easier to access.”

He said villagers were warned about three to four hours before the dam burst, but few had expected the water to rise as high as it did.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said roads and bridges were damaged, and boat and helicopter were the only means of transport in the worst-affected areas.

Schools in safe areas were being used as evacuation centers, and about 1,300 families needed tents for shelter, it said.

On a road to the small town of Sanamxai, Reuters saw trucks carrying aid, including freshwater and blankets, for those made homeless. The government put their number at 3,060.

Phra Ajan Thanakorn, a Buddhist monk returning from Sanamxai, said he had delivered food and medicine in four pick-up trucks that had come from Vientiane, the capital some 800 km (500 miles) to the north, and he was heading back there to load up with more.

“The situation is really bad,” he told Reuters. “All the relief efforts are at Sanamxai. There are volunteers distributing food and medicine for survivors every day there. They are still lacking food, medicine, and coffins.”

Rescue and relief teams from around Asia have headed into Attapeu, a largely agricultural province that borders Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south.

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“BATTERY OF ASIA” AMBITIONS

Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has ambitions to become the “battery of Asia” through the construction of multiple dams.

Its government depends almost entirely on outside developers to build the dams under commercial concessions that involve the export of electricity to more developed neighbors, including power-hungry Thailand.

Laos has finished building 11 dams, says Thai non-government group TERRA, with 11 more under construction and dozens planned.

Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the human and environmental cost of the dam drive, including damage to the already fragile ecosystem of the region’s rivers.

The dam that collapsed was part of the $1.2 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project, which involves Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms. Known as “Saddle Dam D”, it was part of a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams.

The project’s main partner, South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction, said part of a small supply dam was washed away and the company was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers.

The firm blamed the collapse on heavy rain. Laos and its neighbors are in the middle of the monsoon season that brings tropical storms and heavy downpours.

In Cambodia’s northern Strung Treng province, nearly 1,300 families that were also affected by the flooding from the dam in Laos were moved to higher ground.

“These people will be affected for about seven to 10 days and once all the water flows into the Mekong, we will be fine,” said Keo Vy, a spokesman for the National Centre for Disaster Management.

An official at SK Engineering & Construction said fractures were discovered on the dam on Sunday and the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon as the danger became clear.

Laotian Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told a news conference in the capital that the company could not deny responsibility for the destruction of livelihoods and property. The Vientiane Times cited him as saying that all compensation would be “borne by the project developer 100 percent”.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Wildfires kill at least 74 near Athens, families embrace as flames close in

A woman reacts as she tries to find her dog, following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece July 24, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

By Vassilis Triandafyllou and Alkis Konstantinidis

MATI, Greece (Reuters) – Wildfires sweeping through a Greek resort town killed at least 74 people, officials said, including families with children found clasped in a last embrace as they tried to flee the flames.

The inferno was by far Greece’s worst since fires devastated the southern Peloponnese peninsula in August 2007, killing dozens. It broke out in Mati, east of Athens, late Monday afternoon and was still burning in some areas on Tuesday.

“Greece is going through an unspeakable tragedy,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said as he appeared on television to declare three days of national mourning.

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Firefighters and soldiers fall back as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Emergency crews found one group of 26 victims, some of them youngsters, lying close together near the top of a cliff overlooking a beach.

“They had tried to find an escape route but unfortunately these people and their kids didn’t make it in time. Instinctively, seeing the end nearing, they embraced,” Nikos Economopoulos, the head of Greece’s Red Cross, told Skai TV.

The strong smell of charred buildings and trees lingered in the air in parts of Mati on Tuesday, where white smoke rose from smoldering fires.

Residents wandered the streets, some searching for their burned-out cars, others for their pets. The eerie silence was punctured by fire-fighting helicopters and the chatter of rescue crews.

A Reuters photographer saw at least four dead people on a narrow road clogged with cars heading to a beach.

“Residents and visitors in the area did not escape in time even though they were a few meters from the sea or in their homes,” fire brigade spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said.

Coastguard vessels and other boats rescued almost 700 people who had managed to get to the shoreline and pulled another 19 survivors and six dead bodies from the sea, the coastguard said.

In total, at least 60 people were killed and the death toll was expected to rise, Evangelos Bournous, mayor of nearby Rafina-Pikermi, said.

It was unclear how many people remained unaccounted for as coastguard vessels combed beaches to find any remaining survivors, with military hospitals on full alert, the government’s spokesman said.

One of the youngest victims was thought to be a six-month-old baby who died of smoke inhalation, officials said. Of the at least 94 people injured, 11 were in intensive care, and 23 were children, they added.

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A wildfire rages in the town of Rafina, near Athens, Greece, July 23, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

“KILLER FIRE”

Mati, 29 km (18 miles) east of the capital, is a popular spot for Greek holiday-makers, particularly pensioners and children at camps. Poland said two of its citizens, a mother and her son, were among the victims.

Greece’s fire brigade said the intensity and spread of the wildfire at Mati had slowed on Tuesday as winds died down, but it was still not fully under control.

The service urged residents to report missing relatives and friends. Some took to Twitter and Facebook, posting photographs of young children and elderly couples they hoped to locate.

Newspapers printed banner headlines including “Killer Fire” and “Hell”.

Greece issued an urgent appeal for help to tackle fires that raged out of control in several places across the country, destroying homes and disrupting major transport links.

Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after Greece said it needed air and land assets from European Union partners.

“Our thoughts go to Greece and the victims of the terrible fires,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in tweets published in French and Greek. Forest fires are also raging in Sweden.

Authorities said they would use an unmanned drone from the United States to monitor and track any suspicious activity.

Tsipras and Greek officials have expressed misgivings at the fact that several major fires broke out at the same time.

Wildfires are not uncommon in Greece, and a relatively dry winter helped create the current tinder-box conditions. It was not immediately clear what ignited the fires.

A hillside of homes was gutted by flames east of Athens. A mayor said he saw at least 100 homes and 200 vehicles burning.

On Monday, Greek authorities urged residents of a coastal region west of Athens to abandon their homes as another wildfire burned ferociously, closing one of Greece’s busiest motorways, halting trains and sending plumes of smoke over the capital.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Michele Kambas, George Georgiopoulos and Costas Baltas in Athens and Agnieszka Barteczko in Warsaw; Writing by Karolina Tagaris; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Japan faces ‘frequent’ disasters as flood toll reaches 200

Rescue workers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Japan risks more severe weather and must find ways to alleviate disasters, a government spokesman said on Thursday, as intense heat and water shortages raised fear of disease among survivors of last week’s floods and landslides.

Torrential rain in western Japan caused the country’s worst weather disaster in 36 years, killing 200 people, many in communities that have existed for decades on mountain slopes and flood plains largely untroubled by storms.

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Forces soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

But severe weather has been battering the country more regularly in recent years, raising questions about the impact of global warming. Dozens of people were killed in a similar disaster last year.

“It’s an undeniable fact that this sort of disaster due to torrential, unprecedented rain is becoming more frequent in recent years,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo.

Saving lives was the government’s biggest duty, he said.

“We recognize that there’s a need to look into steps we can take to reduce the damage from disasters like this even a little bit,” he said.

He did not elaborate on what steps the government could take.

More than 200,000 households had no water a week after disaster struck and many thousands of people were homeless.

With temperatures ranging from 31 to 34 Celsius (86 to 93 Fahrenheit) and high humidity, life in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centers, where families spread out on mats on the floors, began to take a toll.

Television footage showed one elderly woman trying to sleep by kneeling across a folding chair, arms over her eyes to keep out the light.

With few portable fans in evacuation centers, many survivors waved paper fans to keep cool.

Tight water supplies meant that people were not getting enough fluids, authorities said.

“Without water, we can’t really clean anything up. We can’t wash anything,” one man told NHK television.

Local residents try to clear debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Local residents try to clear debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

The government has sent out water trucks but supplies remain limited.

In the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city in Okayama prefecture, piles of water-damaged refrigerators, washing machines and furniture lined the streets as residents used hoses to wash mud out of their homes.

Unable to join in the strenuous work Hisako Takeuchi, 73, and her husband, spent the past five nights at an elementary school that had been turned into a make-shift evacuation center.

“We only have each other and no relatives nearby. We aren’t able to move large things and we desperately need volunteer helpers,” said Takeuchi.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, on a visit to Kurashiki on Thursday, promised to provide help as soon as possible. He is set to visit two other hard-hit areas on Friday and the weekend.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters toiled through the debris in a search for bodies.

Teams used diggers and chainsaws to clear landslides and cut away wreckage of buildings and trees. Many areas were buried deep in mud that smelled like sewage and had hardened in the heat.

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel)

Japan PM visits flood disaster zone, promises help as new warnings issued

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets local residents staying at an evacuation center in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KUMANO, Japan (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited flood-stricken parts of Japan on Wednesday as the death toll from the worst weather disaster in 36 years reached 176 and health concerns rose amid scorching heat and the threat of new floods.

Torrential rain caused floods and triggered landslides in western Japan last week, bringing death and destruction to neighborhoods built decades ago near steep mountain slopes.

At least 176 people were killed, the government said, with dozens missing in Japan’s worst weather disaster since 1982.

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In Kumano, a mountainside community in Hiroshima prefecture that was hit by a landslide last week, Ken Kirioka anxiously watched rescuers toiling through mud, sand and smashed houses to find the missing, including his 76-year-old father, Katsuharu.

“He is old and has a heart condition. I prepared myself for the worst when I heard about the landslide on Friday night,” he said, pointing at a pile of mud and rubble where he said his father was buried.

“He is an old-fashioned father who is hard-headed and does not talk much,” Kirioka said, adding he would stay until his father was found. “It would be too bad for him if a family member were not around”.

Rescuers working under a scorching sun combed through heaps of wood and thickly caked mud in a search for bodies, helped by sniffer dogs. In some cases only the foundation of homes remained as they cut through debris with chain saws.

With temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in the devastated areas in Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures, attention turned to preventing heat-stroke among rescue workers and in evacuation centers where thousands of people have sought shelter.

People sat on thin mats on a gymnasium floor in one center, plastic bags of belongings piled around them and bedding folded off to the side. Portable fans turned slowly as children cried.

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

ABE PLEDGES SUPPORT

Abe, who canceled an overseas trip to deal with the disaster, was criticized after a photograph posted on Twitter showed Abe and his defense minister at a party with lawmakers just as the rains intensified.

After observing the damage from a helicopter flying over Okayama, one of the hardest-hit areas, Abe visited a crowded evacuation center. He crouched down on the floor to speak with people, many of them elderly, and asked about their health. He clasped one man’s hands as they spoke.

Later he told reporters the government would do everything it could to help the survivors.

“We’ll cut through all the bureaucracy to secure the goods people need for their lives, to improve life in the evacuation centers – such as air conditioners as the hot days continue – and then secure temporary housing and the other things people need to rebuild their lives,” he said.

Abe is up for re-election as party leader in September and has seen his popularity ratings edge back up after taking a hit over a cronyism scandal earlier this year.

His government pledged an initial $4 billion toward recovery on Tuesday, and a later special budget if needed.

Officials turned to social media to warn of the additional danger of food-borne illnesses, urging people to wash their hands and take other measures against food poisoning.

Evacuation orders were issued for 25 households in the city of Fukuyama after cracks were found in a reservoir.

Water accumulating behind piles of debris blocking rivers also posed a danger after a swollen river rushed into a Fukuyama residential area on Monday, prompting more evacuation orders.

The intensifying heat was expected to trigger thunderstorms on Wednesday, with authorities warning new landslides could be set off on mountainsides saturated with water.

Japanese media on Wednesday focused on the timing of evacuation orders issued in the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city just minutes before a levee broke and water poured into the residential area.

A number of the dead in Mabi were found in their homes, suggesting they did not have enough time to flee, media reports said.

(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Hideyuki Sano; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Trump approves disaster aid for Hawaii’s volcano-stricken Big Island

Journalists and National Guard soldiers watch as lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday approved federal emergency housing aid and other relief for victims of the six-week-old Kilauea Volcano eruption on Hawaii’s Big Island, where hundreds of homes have been destroyed, state officials said.

The approval came a day after Governor David Ige formally requested assistance for an estimated 2,800 residents who have lost their homes to lava flows or were forced from their dwellings under evacuation orders since Kilauea rumbled back to life on May 3.

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018.  REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava destroys homes in the Kapoho area, east of Pahoa, during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 5, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has said that rivers of molten rock spewed from volcanic fissures at the foot of Kilauea have engulfed roughly 600 homes. The governor’s office put the number of residences destroyed at 455.

Either tally marks the greatest number of homes claimed over such a short period by Kilauea – or by any other volcano in Hawaii’s modern history – far surpassing the 215 structures consumed by lava in an earlier eruption cycle that began in 1983 and continued nearly nonstop for three decades, experts say.

The latest volcanic eruption also stands as the most destructive in the United States since at least the cataclysmic 1980 explosion of Mount St. Helens in Washington state that reduced hundreds of square miles to wasteland.

The geographical footprint of Kilauea’s current upheaval is much smaller, covering nearly 6,000 acres, or just over 9 square miles (2,400 hectares) of the Big Island in lava, an area roughly seven times Central Park in Manhattan.

No specific sum of money was sought by the governor for federal disaster aid, and no dollar figure was attached to the package Trump approved under the Individuals and Households Program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Lava erupts in Leilani Estates during ongoing eruptions of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii, U.S., June 9, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper reported this week that eligible homeowners and renters could get up to $34,000 each.

The program provides grants to displaced residents to secure temporary housing while their homes are repaired or rebuilt. Assistance can also be obtained for repair and replacement costs.

In addition to housing assistance, Trump approved relief from several other FEMA programs, including crisis counseling, unemployment benefits and legal aid.

Trump previously issued a major disaster declaration weeks ago authorizing money from FEMA public assistance grants for the County of Hawaii, the island’s local governing authority.

Residents will be able to register for assistance at a disaster recovery center that will open on Friday at the Kea‘au High School Gymnasium. The center will be jointly operated by Hawaii County, the State of Hawaii and FEMA.

NO END IN SIGHT

His expansion of FEMA assistance came as the Kilauea eruption entered its 43rd day on Thursday.

In addition to lava and toxic sulfur dioxide gas spewing from about two-dozen fissures on the eastern flank of the volcano, daily periodic explosions of ash from the crater at Kilauea’s summit have created a nuisance and health hazard to communities downwind.

Volcanic smog, or vog, carried aloft by the winds has hampered air quality for parts of the island and been detected as far away as the western Pacific island of Guam.

The volcanic activity at Kilauea’s summit has also triggered thousands of mostly small-scale earthquakes that have added to the jitters of residents living nearby and damaged facilities at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, the island’s biggest attraction. Most of the park remains closed.

A report from the governor accompanying his request for federal aid documented the larger toll taken on residents of the island’s volcano-stricken Puna district, including disruption of power, communications and drinking water infrastructure.

It cited an uptick in reports of residents “experiencing acute mental health effects of fear, anxiety and stress” as the crisis drags on with no end in sight.

With about one-fifth of Puna’s population displaced by the eruption, the disaster has created a “housing crisis in a rental market that was already severely constrained,” the report said.

In other economic impacts, the report cited losses of nearly $37 million in vacation rentals and $14 million from agriculture, including half of the state’s entire cut-flower industry and 80 percent of its papaya crop.

(Additonal reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles)