Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

WARSAW (Reuters) – Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.

Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.

“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.

“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”

In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.

“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”

The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.

(Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Man kills several people in Norway in bow and arrow attacks, police say

OSLO (Reuters) -A man using a bow and arrow killed several people and wounded others in attacks in the Norwegian town of Kongsberg on Wednesday, local police said.

“The man has been apprehended … from the information we now have, this person carried out these actions alone,” police chief Oeyvind Aas told reporters.

“Several people have been injured and several are dead,” Aas said. He declined to comment on the number of casualties.

The attacks took place over “a large area” of Kongsberg, a municipality of about 28,000 people in southeastern Norway, 68 km (42 miles) from the capital, Oslo.

Following the attacks, the police directorate said it had immediately ordered officers nationwide to carry firearms. Norwegian police are normally unarmed but officers have access to guns and rifles when needed.

“This is an extra precaution. The police have no indication so far that there is a change in the national threat level,” the directorate said in a statement.

Norway’s minister of justice and public security, Monica Maeland, has received updates on the attacks and was closely monitoring the situation, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

10 dead, dozens trapped after landslide in India’s Himalayas – officials

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -A landslide in the mountainous Indian state of Himachal Pradesh has killed at least 10, injured 14 and left dozens trapped after boulders tumbled on to a major highway on Wednesday, smashing and burying several vehicles, Indian officials said.

Around 30 people are still trapped, including passengers inside a bus lying under the debris, Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police, told Reuters.

“There has been a massive landslide on the Reckong Peo-Shimla highway,” Pandey said, later adding that “operations are under way, we are trying to reach the bus.”

Abid Hussain Sadiq, a top government official in the Kinnaur district where the incident happened, said that rescue operations could continue through the night in an attempt to find the survivors.

More than 200 personnel, including from the army, paramilitary forces and local police, are working along a stretch of National Highway 5 that runs along the Sutlej river and connects northern India to the border with China, officials said.

Local police chief Saju Ram Rana said the landside, which happened around noon on Wednesday, loosened large boulders and sent them cascading down the steep mountainside, blocking about 150 meters of the highway.

“The debris fell from quite high up,” Rana told Reuters, adding that heavy machinery was being brought in to clear the area.

In pictures shared by authorities on social media, helmeted rescue workers can be seen scrambling around the mangled remains of vehicles stranded among rocks and loose earth.

In late July, at least nine people were killed by a landslide in a different part of Kinnaur district, and dozens have been left stranded by landslides and flooding in recent weeks in another area of Himachal Pradesh, a scenic Himalayan state popular with tourists.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Kirsten Donovan)

California’s second-largest wildfire grows to near 500,000 acres; 3 hurt

By Kanishka Singh

(Reuters) – A raging wildfire in northern California, now the second-largest recorded in state history, expanded to nearly 500,000 acres late on Sunday and has left three firefighters injured.

The Dixie Fire, burning northeast of San Francisco, had grown to 489,287 acres or 764.5 square miles (1,980 square kilometers) from about 274,000 acres in the middle of last week, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said on Twitter.

The blaze has been active for 26 days and is 21% contained, the department said. The burned area is about the size of Cancun in Mexico, and larger than the city of Houston in Texas.

Fire activity intensified on Sunday amid low relative humidity and strong southwest winds in the West Zone, and warm temperatures and low humidity in the East Zone, the department said, adding it has spread across four counties.

More than 5,000 firefighters are currently tackling the Dixie Fire.

“We’re seeing fire activity that even veteran firefighters haven’t seen in their career,” Edwin Zuniga, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, told the Washington Post.

Only the August Complex Fire of 2020 in California, which consumed more than 1 million acres, was bigger.

Thus far, no deaths have been attributed to the wildfire. However, the blaze has damaged 42 residential, commercial and other structures and destroyed 627 such structures, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Plumas County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) issued new evacuation orders on Sunday afternoon after the spread of the Dixie Fire.

California typically experiences peak fire season later in the year. The state was on pace to suffer even more burnt acreage this year than last year, which was the worst fire season on record.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Pacific Gas & Electric has said it may have started when a tree fell on one of the utility’s power lines.

A federal judge late on Friday ordered Pacific Gas & Electric to explain the utility company’s role in starting the fire. U.S. District Judge William Alsup said PG&E would have until Aug. 16 to respond.

“PG&E’s responses will not be deemed as an admission by PG&E that it caused any fire, but they will serve as a starting point for discussion,” the judge said.

PG&E told the Washington Post daily that it “will respond by the deadline.”

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Cleanup ongoing at Lyondell Texas plant after chemical leak kills two, injures 30

By Liz Hampton

(Reuters) -Cleanup was ongoing on Wednesday morning after a chemical leak killed two workers and injured 30 others at a LyondellBasell Industries plant in La Porte, Texas, the company said.

The incident occurred on Tuesday evening at the facility’s acetyls unit, releasing roughly 100,000 pounds (45,000 kg) of a mixture that included acetic acid. An “all clear” was issued early Wednesday morning and air monitoring did not indicate actionable levels, Lyondell said in a statement.

The company said 24 of the 30 individuals taken to local hospitals have been released. The two individuals who died in the incident were contractors.

The incident marks one of the worst chemical disasters in the United States since a series of explosions at a TPC Group plant in Port Neches, Texas, in November, 2019. Although there were no fatalities and only three injuries, 60,000 people within a four-mile radius were told to evacuate the day before the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.

An investigation into the cause of the leak was underway, and local and federal agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Chemical Safety Board, and Environmental Protection Agency, had all been notified, Lyondell said.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton in Denver and Erwin Seba in Houston editing by Jonathan Oatis, Diane Craft and Marguerita Choy)

Blast in German industrial park kills one, four others missing

BERLIN (Reuters) -An explosion in a German industrial park on Tuesday killed at least one person and injured 31 others, setting off a fierce blaze that sent a pall of smoke over the western city of Leverkusen. Four people were still missing.

Emergency services took three hours to extinguish the fire at the Chempark site, home to chemicals companies Bayer and Lanxess, that flared up after the blast at 9:40 a.m. (0740 GMT), park operator Currenta said.

“We are deeply shaken by the tragic death of one colleague,” said Chempark chief Lars Friedrich, adding that a search was underway for the four missing people.

Police said five of the 31 injured people were affected seriously enough to need intensive care.

“This is a tragic moment for the city of Leverkusen,” said Uwe Richrath, mayor of the city, which lies north of Cologne.

The area and surrounding roads were sealed off for much of the day.

Police told residents living nearby to stay indoors and shut doors and windows in case there were toxic fumes. Currenta said locals should also turn off air conditioning systems while it measured the air around the site for possible toxic gases.

Chempark’s Friedrich said it was not clear what had caused the explosion, which led to a fire starting in a tank containing solvents.

“Solvents were burned during the incident, and we do not know precisely what substances were released,” Friedrich added. “We are examining this with authorities, taking samples.”

Sirens and emergency alerts on the German civil protection agency’s mobile phone app warned citizens of “extreme danger.”

Leverkusen is less than 50 km (30 miles) from a region hit last week by catastrophic floods that killed at least 180 people.

More than 30 companies operate at the Chempark site in Leverkusen, including Covestro, Bayer, Lanxess and Arlanxeo, according to its website.

Bayer and Lanxess in 2019 sold Chempark operator Currenta to Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets for an enterprise value of 3.5 billion euros ($4.12 billion).

($1 = 0.8492 euros)

(Reporting by Maria Sheahan, Madeline Chambers, Caroline Copley; Editing by William Maclean, Edmund Blair and Gareth Jones)

Thunderstorms batter Chicago area, leave thousands in the dark

(Reuters) -Severe thunderstorms tore through the Chicago area on Sunday night after the National Weather Service said a “confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado” had touched down in a western suburb of the city, causing damage.

Chicago-area utility Commonwealth Edison’s (ComEd) website showed that more than 22,000 customers were without power as the thunderstorms swept through the region, near Lake Michigan in the north of the U.S. state of Illinois.

The tornado touched down near Route 53/75th Street in Woodridge, DuPage County, around 11 p.m. ET on Sunday. About a dozen homes were damaged, and four people were rushed to area hospitals with minor injuries, CBS Chicago reported.

A CBS Chicago reporter tweeted that six people were injured in total and some residents were evacuated to nearby shelters. The news outlet added that there were no fires, but there were lots of gas breaches.

Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said that anyone who was displaced from their homes could go to Ranchview Elementary School, which was designated as a place of shelter, according to CBS Chicago.

The website of ComEd, a unit of Exelon Corp, showed about 12,000 customers were without power in DuPage County alone while about 8,000 customers were in the dark in Cook County, which includes Chicago.

“The severe threat has diminished/ended for most of the Chicago metro area. Severe T-storm Watch remains in effect for a bit longer for Will, Kankakee, Ford, Iroquois, and northwest Indiana counties,” NWS Chicago said on TwitterQ.

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Mark Heinrich)

Pakistani train smashes into derailed carriages, 36 killed

By Asif Shahzad and Gibran Naiyyar Peshimam

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) -A train in Pakistan smashed into derailed carriages of another train on Monday, killing at least 36 people, authorities said, the latest accident to highlight the decrepit state of a railway system that dates to the 19th century.

Several passengers were still trapped in mangled coaches strewn across the tracks in the southern province of Sindh, according to railway officials.

Police officer Umar Tufail said at least 36 people were killed and his men could see four more bodies in the wreckage.

“We have not been able to take them out so far, but an operation is underway for that,” he told reporters at the site. “We have saved three more people; they are injured.”

More than 70 passengers were admitted to various hospitals, another police officer Kamran Fazal told Reuters.

An injured passenger, who had been travelling on the train that derailed, recounted how one calamity led to another.

“We felt as if we had been thrown away,” the man, who had a bandaged head, told a television reporter from hospital, speaking of the initial derailing of his train.

“The second train then hit our train (and) that caused more damage,” he said, adding most of the passengers were sleeping at the time in the pre-dawn hours.

A Pakistan Railways spokesman said several carriages of the first train spilled across the adjacent track after the derailment in the Ghotki district. Within minutes, the second train, coming from the other direction, smashed into them.

“The driver tried to apply emergency brakes but the locomotive hit the infringing coaches,” Pakistan Railways said in an initial report.

“The track has got issues on several points, the coaches are old, some as old as 40 years,” railway official Tariq Latif told Geo News TV. “I’ve told high-ups several times: ‘Please do something about it’,” he said.

Prime Minister Imran Khan said on Twitter he was shocked by the “horrific” accident and was ordering a comprehensive investigation into railway safety.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry blamed the crash on what he said was corruption by previous government, saying the exact cause of the accident was yet to be known, and an inquiry had been opened.

The two trains were carrying a total of 1,388 passengers, he told parliament in a speech telecast live.

Accidents on the decaying rail system are common.

In 2005, in the same district, about 130 people were killed when a crowded passenger train rammed into another at a station and a third train struck the wreckage.

Successive governments have for years been trying to secure funds to upgrade the system from a planned laying of a new rail track called ML-1 as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative of energy and infrastructure projects.

Due to certain technical issues the ML-1 project has yet to get under way despite final approval late last year, said Pakistan Railways Chairman Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani.

Certain technical issues have held up the launch of the ML-1 project despite final approval late last year, said Pakistan Railways Chairman Habib-ur-Rehman Gilani.

He told Geo News TV that any spending now to upgrade the track where the crash occurred would be a waste of resources.

“I would say that until we get a permanent solution (ML-1), this track can’t be foolproof,” Gilani said.

(Reporting by Asif Shahzad and Gibran Peshimam in Islamabad, Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, India; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Mark Heinrich)

COVID and conflict: Gaza’s hospitals strained on two fronts

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Gaza’s hospitals were already struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic before the conflict with Israel erupted last week. Now, medics say, they are being stretched further.

“The Ministry of Health is fighting on two fronts in the Gaza Strip – the coronavirus front and the other front, which is more difficult, is the injuries and the wounded,” said Marwan Abu Sada, the director of surgery in Gaza’s main Shifa hospital.

More than a week into fighting, with Palestinians pounded night and day by airstrikes and Israelis racing for refuge from rockets as sirens wail, Gaza’s doctors are battling to keep pace.

At Shifa, the biggest health facility among the 13 hospitals and 54 clinics serving the crowded enclave’s 2 million people, the number of intensive care beds has been doubled to 32 as the toll of those wounded from the conflict mounts.

Like the rest of the system, the 750-bed hospital faced shortages of medicines and equipment before fighting erupted on May 10 – blamed by medics on a blockade led by Israel and backed by Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza. Israel says its measures aim to stop arms reaching militants. “The list of essential medications and medical disposables suffered an acute shortage,” Abu Sada said.

It’s not just medicines in short supply. Fuel for generators that power Gaza’s hospitals – with main’s power too intermittent to be relied on – is also running out.

Israel says its blockade does not aim to stop medicines or other humanitarian supplies, and any shortages are the result of actions by Hamas, the Islamist group that has run Gaza since 2007, when the blockade was imposed.

“Hamas constructed a network of underground terror tunnels in Gaza underneath the homes of Palestinians, using funds meant for their health & welfare to expand Hamas’ terror machine instead,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said on Twitter Monday.

Hamas has rejected the accusation.

Palestinians say 201 people have been killed in Gaza since the fighting started, with hundreds more hurt, including those wounded by shrapnel or injured by collapsing buildings.

Israel has reported 10 dead in the rocket salvoes, with many more injured, some directly by the blasts and others when dashing to safety. Some are in a critical condition.

“We have a very bad time over here,” said Racheli Malka, an Israeli living in Ashkelon, a city north of Gaza repeatedly hit by rockets. “I hope it will finish fast.”

Nearby, Israelis celebrated the Jewish festival of Shavuot in a synagogue that had a hole caused by a rocket strike.

The Israeli military said Hamas – regarded by Israel, the United States and European Union as a terrorist group – and others militants had fired about 3,150 rockets in the past week.

‘OLD EQUIPMENT, OLD BUILDINGS’

Sacha Bootsma, the head of the World Health Organization in Gaza, said COVID-19 had strained the enclave’s struggling system.

“Before COVID, the health system could be categorized as fragile because it has very old equipment, old buildings, a shortage of properly trained health staff and, of course, a chronic shortage of essential medicines,” she said.

Gaza has reported about 106,000 cases of COVID-19, or about 5.3% of the population, with 986 deaths, health official say.

While Israel has rolled out one of the fastest vaccination programs in the world, fully inoculating about 55% of its 9.3 million people, Gaza received about 110,000 doses, or enough for 55,000 people, health officials say, to be distributed among one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

One ward at Shifa, still marked “Corona Isolation Department”, has had to be turned into an intensive care unit for those injured in the conflict.

“We require more urgent support from international and relief institutions,” said Ashraf Al-Qidra, spokesman for the ministry of health, calling for medicines and ambulances.

For those living near Shifa hospital, the sound of ambulances wears on their already shattered nerves. “As long as we hear sirens we know it is not over yet,” said Karam Badr, 57.

Yet, healthcare workers keep the creaking medical facilities going. WHO’s Bootsma said scarce resources were still reaching those most in need.

“The resilience of the health system is remarkable,” she said.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Additional reporting by Eli Berlzon in Ashkelon; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Two dead, 27 hurt as Chad protesters demand civilian rule

By Edward McAllister and Mahamat Ramadane

N’DJAMENA (Reuters) -At least two people were killed and 27 injured in Chad on Tuesday as demonstrators took to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule after the military took control following President Idriss Deby’s death last week.

Tensions have risen in Chad following Deby’s death and the military transition is struggling to win over a population exhausted by 30 years of monolithic, autocratic rule.

A health official at a hospital in the capital N’Djamena, who requested anonymity, confirmed the death of a man in his 20’s who was brought into the emergency ward along with 27 other people injured during Tuesday’s protests.

Witnesses also reported the death of another protester in Moundou, Chad’s second largest city.

A spokesman for the ruling military council said security forces were attempting to contain the protesters while limiting material damage.

The military council seized power after Deby was killed as he visited troops fighting rebels on April 19.

Some opposition politicians have called the military takeover a coup and asked supporters to protest, even as the army appointed a civilian politician, Albert Pahimi Padacke, as prime minister of a transitional government on Monday.

The military council banned protests in a statement on Monday evening, saying no demonstrations that could lead to disorder were allowed while the country was still in mourning.

‘NO MONARCHY’

Headed by Deby’s son Mahamat Idriss Deby, who was declared president, the military council has said it will oversee an 18-month transition to elections.

“We do not want our country to become a monarchy,” said 34-year-old protester Mbaidiguim Marabel. “The military must return to the barracks to make way for a civilian transition.”

Trucks loaded with soldiers were seen patrolling the streets around central N’Djamena.

“The police came, they fired tear gas. But we are not scared,” said Timothy Betouge, age 70.

Police responded with tear gas as protesters burned tires in several neighborhoods of N’Djamena early on Tuesday. A Reuters witness said firefighters struggled to contain a blaze which was large enough to be seen from far away.

The council is coming under international pressure to hand over power to civilians as soon as possible. The African Union has expressed “grave concern” about the military takeover, while France, the former colonial ruler, and some of Chad’s neighbors are pushing for a civilian-military solution.

Anti-French sentiment was running high among the protesters, who blamed France for having backed the Deby regime against the will of the people. Posts on social media showed protesters burning a French flag.

Reuters reporters in N’Djamena were repeatedly berated by protesters who assumed they were French and told them to “go back to France”. The reporters saw businesses with French connections, such as a Total fuel station, being targeted by protesters.

Deby’s death came as Chad’s military battles an insurrection by Libya-based rebels known as the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT). The rebels came as close as 200-300 km (125-185 miles) from N’Djamena before being pushed back by the army.

Chad’s military council rejected an offer from the rebels for peace talks on Sunday, calling them “outlaws” who needed to be tracked down and arrested for their role in Deby’s death.

(Reporting by Edward McAllister and Mahamat Ramadane, additional reporting by Madjiasra Nako, writing by Cooper Inveen, editing by Bate Felix, William Maclean and Estelle Shirbon)