Strong quake in Philippines kills one, injures dozens

Rubble is seen on a floor of a hotel in the aftermath of an earthquake in Kidapawan City, Philippines October 16, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. NARU GUARDA CABADDU/via REU

By Neil Jerome Morales and Peter Blaza

MANILA (Reuters) – A magnitude 6.4 earthquake struck the southern Philippines on Wednesday, killing at least one child and injuring more than two dozen other people.

Government authorities were starting to receive reports from field officials on the island of Mindanao where the earthquake struck, opening cracks in buildings and homes, sending residents running from shops and offices and knocking power out.

“Our hospital chief reported that a child died because of the earthquake,” Reuel Limbungan, mayor of Tulunan town in North Cotabato province, told the DZMM radio station. Two more people were injured, he added.

The earthquake also shook Davao City, the hometown of President Rodrigo Duterte and among the most populous cities in the country.

In Magsaysay town, in the nearby province of Davao del Sur, 20 people were injured by falling debris and home furniture, Anthony Allada, the municipality’s information officer, told DZMM.

“Many houses were totally damaged… Another person is in a critical condition,” Allada said.

The municipality of M’lang, in Cotabato province, reported three injuries, Vice Mayor Joselito Pinol told DZMM radio.

The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck 69 km (43 miles) north-northwest of the city of General Santos, Mindanao at 7:39 p.m. (1137 GMT). The epicentre was about 80 km southwest of central Davao.

“We felt a very strong jolt and there was a blackout. I saw people rushing down. We were panicking, heading to the exit,” said Naru Guarda Cabaddu, a hotel consultant visiting Kidapawan City, between the epicentre of the quake and Davao.

The Philippines is on the geologically active Pacific Ring of Fire and experiences frequent earthquakes.

“I was driving back home when I felt a very powerful shake. I stopped and saw people and patients running out of the hospital,” Raprap Rafael, a resident of Kidapawan City, told Reuters. “I’m not sleeping at my home tonight.”

Renato Solidum, head of the Philippines seismic agency, told the ANC news channel there was a chance of aftershocks, which could be strong and capable of causing severe damage.

“Aftershocks can happen. Some can be felt most likely in low intensities. But we cannot remove the possibility of similar intensities that can be felt in the epicentral area,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Blaza; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Alison Williams and Alex Richardson)

Wind-driven Los Angeles wildfire leaves one dead, forces 100,000 to flee

 

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A fierce, wind-driven wildfire swept through foothills and canyons along the northern edge of Los Angeles on Friday, engulfing homes, closing roads and devouring acre upon acre of dry brush and chaparral as 100,000 residents were forced to flee.

At least one death was attributed to the fire, a man who authorities said suffered a heart attack while trying to battle encroaching flames.

The blaze, dubbed the Saddleridge fire, had charred more than 4,700 acres by Friday morning, 12 hours after it ignited and then grew quickly into the largest and most ferocious among a spate of wildfires across Southern California.

As water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying fire retardant fought the flames from the air, ground crews battled the blaze at close range with hand tools and bulldozers, while firefighters lugging hoses from house to house scrambled to protect threatened neighborhoods.

One community at greatest risk was Porter Ranch, which lies adjacent to the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage field where a wellhead rupture caused a massive methane leak in 2015. U.S. Representative Brad Sherman, who lives in Porter Ranch, told Reuters he was among residents who fled as flames approached.

“I left a bit earlier than most because I was watching the news, and the moment they posted on the internet that I was in the mandatory evacuation area, I was out,” Sherman said by mobile phone as he walked back toward his home.

“It’s smoke from miles away from my home, a lot of smoke. I don’t see any flames. I see helicopter drops,” he added.

The conflagration was stoked by strong, dry Santa Ana winds blowing into the Los Angeles area from desert areas separated from the city by mountains to the east. The winds were moving the flames at a rate of 800 acres per hour, Los Angeles Fire Department officials said at a morning news conference.

“This is a very dynamic fire,” Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas told reporters, as he urged residents in harm’s way to heed evacuation orders. “Do not wait to leave.”

Los Angeles County Fire Captain Tony Imbrenda told local radio station KPCC that high winds also were making it more difficult to effectively fight the flames from the air, causing dissipation of water and fire-retardant drops before they could hit the ground.

Similarly strong winds in northern and central California prompted utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric to impose a precautionary shutoff of power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses to reduce the risk of wildfires. Governor Gavin Newsom said on Thursday the unprecedented measure faulted the utility for what he called years of mismanagement.

At daybreak, the Saddleridge fire was still completely uncontained and its cause was under investigation.

Some 23,000 homes and around 100,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders that were expected to remain in effect for at least a few days, fire officials said. A number of emergency shelters quickly filled to capacity, as evacuees wondered whether their homes were still standing.

“They don’t know what’s going on. They’ve been evacuated, and that’s all they know,” Michelle Gross, the director of a Red Cross shelter set up at the Granada Hills Recreation Center, said when reached by phone.

The fire prompted several freeway closures in the northern part of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. At least 25 homes in two neighborhoods were destroyed early on Friday, authorities said.

About 70 miles to the east, authorities also fought to gain an upper hand on the Sandalwood Fire in Riverside County, which had scorched about 830 acres and destroyed 76 homes and other structures by Friday around the town of Calimesa.

One fatality was reported, along with two people who were unaccounted for. The blaze was just 10% contained, Riverside County Fire Department (RCFD) officials said.

The Sandalwood fire erupted on Thursday afternoon when a garbage truck dumped burning trash that spread onto vegetation, the RCFD and California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said in a statement.

POWER CUTS

Much of Northern California, from San Francisco to the Oregon border, remained under a statewide “red flag” fire alert for heightened fire danger on Friday.

Firefighters have been able to quickly contain most of the other blazes around the state.

By late Thursday, PG&E announced it had restored power to more than half of its customers whose power was turned off, and that 312,000 remained without electricity.

More than 250,000 California households and businesses were without power on Friday morning, PowerOutage.US reported, nearly all of them PG&E customers in northern California.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from major wildfires linked to its transmission wires and other equipment.

As winds moved south Friday, a power cutoff similar to PG&E’s was underway at Southern California Edison, which warned more than 173,000 customers they could face outages.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter, Rich McKay, Andrew Hay, Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis and Andrew Hay; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Pravin Char, Nick Zieminski and Tom Brown)

Typhoon lashes Japanese capital, one dead, power, transport disrupted

Passengers are stranded after railways and subway operators suspended their services due to Typhoon Faxai, at Narita airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – One of the strongest typhoons to hit eastern Japan in recent years struck just east of the capital Tokyo on Monday, killing one woman, with record-breaking winds and stinging rain damaging buildings and disrupting transport.

More than 160 flights were canceled and scores of train lines closed for hours, snarling the morning commute for millions in a greater Tokyo area with a population of some 36 million.

Direct train service between Narita airport and the capital remained severely limited into the evening, with thousands of irritated travelers packed into a key transport hub for both the Rugby World Cup starting later this month and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“They simply had no contingency plan…,” one weary traveler who lives in Tokyo said of the scene, in which people crowded the exit areas and food ran out in airport stores.

“They let planes land … and thousands of passengers were disgorged into an airport that was cut off – no buses, no JR trains. The only connection was a private train running every half hour halfway to Tokyo.”

The man, who said he arrived just before 4 p.m. local time and only caught a bus at 7:30 p.m. after standing in line, added: “My wife said: what if this happens during the Olympics?”

Typhoon Faxai, a Lao woman’s name, slammed ashore near the city of Chiba shortly before dawn, bringing with it wind gusts of 207 kmh (128 mph), the strongest ever recorded in Chiba, national broadcaster NHK said.

A woman in her fifties was confirmed dead after she was found in a Tokyo street and taken to hospital. Footage from a nearby security camera showed she had been smashed against a building by strong winds, NHK reported.

Another woman in her 20s was rescued from her house in Ichihara, east of Tokyo, after it was partly crushed when a metal pole from a golf driving range fell on it. She was seriously injured.

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“There was a huge grinding noise, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I looked up and saw a big hole in the roof, but I was so keyed up I couldn’t figure out what had happened,” a neighbor said.

Some minor landslides occurred and a bridge was washed away, while as many as 930,000 houses lost power at one point, NHK said, including the entire city of Kamogawa. But the number of homes without power had dropped to 840,000 by early Monday afternoon, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Some concrete electric poles were snapped off at their bases, while electricity towers in Chiba were toppled over. Some panels of a floating solar power plant southeast of Tokyo were on fire.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said a cooling tower at its research reactor at Oarai, which has not been in operation since 2006 and is set to be decommissioned, had fallen, but there was no radiation leakage, impact on workers or the surrounding environment.

A Sony Corp <6758.T> spokesman said operations at its plant in Kisarazu, southeast of Tokyo, were suspended due to power outages. The company could not say when the plant, which assembles PlayStation gaming consoles, would reopen.

Two Nissan factories west of Tokyo, including its Oppama plant, suspended operations due to flooding, NHK said.

DESERTED STREETS

About four to five typhoons make landfall in Japan every year, but it is unusual for them to do so near Tokyo. NHK said Faxai was the strongest storm in the Tokyo area in several years.

Streets normally busy with commuters walking or bicycling were deserted, with winds just east of Tokyo shaking buildings.

Metal signs were torn from buildings, trucks overturned, the metal roof of a petrol station torn off and glass display cases destroyed, scattering sidewalks with broken glass.

Trees were uprooted throughout the metropolitan area, some falling on train tracks to further snarl transport.

Some 2,000 people were ordered to leave their homes at one point because of the danger of landslides, NHK said.

Parts of the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen train line were halted but service resumed after several hours. It took hours for other lines to resume, packing stations with impatient commuters fanning themselves in the humid air.

Temperatures shot up to unseasonably hot levels in the wake of the storm, prompting authorities to warn of the danger of heatstroke.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Chris Gallagher, Linda sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)

Crane collapses on Dallas apartment building, killing one, injuring six

A construction crane collapses amidst high winds in Dallas, Texas, U.S., June 9, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video. Sophie Daigle via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A construction crane, apparently toppled by high winds, collapsed onto an apartment house in Dallas on Sunday and sliced through five floors of the building, killing at least one person and injuring six others, a city fire and rescue spokesman said.

The building’s parking garage was also heavily damaged, and authorities planned a thorough search of the entire structure for anyone else who may have been trapped or killed inside, the spokesman, Jason Evans, told reporters at the scene.

“We’re hoping that what we have at this point is where it ends” in terms of casualties, Evans said during the televised news briefing.

The collapse occurred just before 2 p.m. CDT as a bout of severe weather blew through the city, according to Evans and a number of eyewitness accounts reported in the news media.

A nearby resident identified as Abbey Kearney told CNN that she and her husband saw the crane come down on the Elan City Lights apartment building in downtown Dallas just as extremely high winds kicked up in the area.

“It just sliced through the building … like a hot knife through butter,” she said.

Evans said one person was found dead in a residential portion of the five-story building hardest hit by the fallen crane, and six others were taken to hospitals, two of them in critical condition.

Local media reports said the person who died was a woman.

While the precise cause of the accident was not immediately determined, Evans said there was a “strong possibility that yes, the wind did play some role in the collapse of the crane itself.”

The crane broke into several pieces that fell into different portions of the apartment building, located across the street from a large construction site, Evans said. He said did not know whether the crane was in operation at the time.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Two students arrested in Colorado school shooting make first appearance

Crime scene tape is seen outside the school following the shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

By Keith Coffman

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (Reuters) – Two teenage students accused of fatally shooting one classmate and wounding eight in a suburban Denver school made separate court appearances on Wednesday, a day after their arrest on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

Douglas County District Judge Theresa Slade, who presided over both proceedings, ordered the two suspects to remain held without bond pending their next court hearings, set for Friday, when formal charges are expected to be filed.

The two youths are accused of opening fire with handguns on fellow students on Tuesday in two classrooms at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, about 25 miles (40 km) south of Denver.

They were arrested by police after several students under fire at the school fought back, including a young U.S. Marine recruit, Brendan Bialy, who survived, and 18-year-old robotics enthusiast Kendrick Ray Castillo, who was killed.

Castillo’s father, John Castillo, told the Denver Fox news affiliate Fox 31, that his son, “gave up his life for others.”

“If he didn’t do it, what would this mess look like?” he said.

Devon Erickson, 18, accused of taking part in a deadly school shooting at the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) School in Highlands Ranch, appears at the Douglas County Courthouse where he faces murder and attempted murder charges, in Castle Rock, Colorado, U.S., May 8, 2019. Joe Amon/The Denver Post/Pool via REUTERS

The first defendant, Devon Erickson, 18, who prosecutors said they were treating as an adult, sat silently at a small table with his head bowed, hands shackled to his waist, flanked by two defense lawyers as a pair of sheriff’s deputies stood just behind them.

Slight of build with longish, unkempt black hair partially dyed bright lavender, Erickson wore an orange-red jail uniform.

His 16-year-old accused accomplice, referred to in court by his lawyer as Alec McKinney, was listed on the court docket by the name Maya Elizabeth McKinney but was addressed by the judge during the hearing as Mr McKinney.

Denver’s ABC television affiliate, citing an unidentified police source, has reported that the younger suspect identified as transgender and had been bullied for it.

Erickson’s hearing was televised live, but the judge closed McKinney’s hearing to cameras. District Attorney George Brauchler said he would decide by Friday whether to charge McKinney as a juvenile or adult.

Dressed in dark blue jail garb with short-cropped brown hair, McKinney said little in court except to answer softly, “No your honor,” when the judge asked the defendant if there were any questions. The judge refused a defense request to unshackle McKinney for the hearing.

No pleas were entered.

ECHOES OF COLUMBINE

The ABC affiliate, Denver 7, said the two pistols used in the attack had been stolen from the home of Erickson. His friends told the Denver Post that he had acted in musical theater and performed as lead singer in several rock bands. According to Denver 7, city law enforcement sources, Erickson’s parents had purchased the guns legally.

Both defendants were being held on suspicion of a single count of first-degree murder and 29 counts of attempted murder, according to court records. Eight students were wounded in the shooting and survived.

The attack occurred less than a month after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in nearby Littleton, carried out by two students who shot 13 people to death before committing suicide.

Precisely what happened inside the STEM school remained unclear as police searched for a motive in the attack.

Sheriff Tony Spurlock said there was a struggle as officers entered the building, and some students said one victim was shot in the chest as he tried to tackle a shooter.

A man who identified himself as Fernando Montoya said his 17-year-old son, a junior at STEM, was shot three times when one assailant walked into his classroom and opened fire.

“He said a guy pulled a pistol out of a guitar case and started to shoot,” Montoya told the Denver TV station.

The bloodshed shocked the affluent suburb of Highlands Ranch. Parents and students had considered the school a safe place for its 1,850 pupils ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“It still doesn&rsquo;t seem real to me. It completely came out of nowhere,” Aiden Beatty, a friend of Erickson, told the Denver Post, recounting that he broke down sobbing in his car when he heard Erickson had been arrested in the shooting. “I was really close with him. We were best friends.”

The attack came a week after a gunman opened fire on the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina, killing two people and wounding four others.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Castle Rock, Colo.; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico and Rich McKay in Atlanta; writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; editing by Bill Trott, G Crosse and Lisa Shumaker)

Cyclone kills one, leaves trail of destruction across Mozambique

Damaged properties are pictured after Cyclone Kenneth swept through the region in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique April 26, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken from inside a vehicle. UNICEF via REUTERS

By Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer

JOHANNESBURG/LUANDA (Reuters) – Cyclone Kenneth killed at least one person and left a trail of destruction in northern Mozambique, destroying houses, ripping up trees and knocking out power, authorities said on Friday.

The cyclone brought storm surges and wind gusts of up to 280 km per hour (174 mph) when it made landfall on Thursday evening, after killing three people in the island nation of Comoros.

It was the most powerful storm on record to hit Mozambique’s northern coast and came just six weeks after Cyclone Idai battered the impoverished nation, causing devastating floods and killing more than 1,000 people across a swathe of southern Africa.

The World Food Programme warned that Kenneth could dump as much as 600 millimeters of rain on the region over the next 10 days – twice that brought by Cyclone Idai.

One woman in the port town of Pemba died after being hit by a falling tree, the Emergency Operations Committee for Cabo Delgado (COE) said in a statement, while another person was injured.

In rural areas outside Pemba, many homes are made of mud. In the main town on the island of Ibo, 90 percent of the houses were destroyed, officials said. Around 15,000 people were out in the open or in “overcrowded” shelters and there was a need for tents, food and water, they said.

There were also reports of a large number of homes and some infrastructure destroyed in Macomia district, a mainland district adjacent to Ibo.

A local group, the Friends of Pemba Association, had earlier reported that they could not reach people in Muidumbe, a district further inland.

Mark Lowcock, United Nations under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, warned the storm could require another major humanitarian operation in Mozambique.

“Cyclone Kenneth marks the first time two cyclones have made landfall in Mozambique during the same season, further stressing the government’s limited resources,” he said in a statement.

FLOOD WARNINGS

Shaquila Alberto, owner of the beach-front Messano Flower Lodge in Macomia, said there were many fallen trees there, and in rural areas people’s homes had been damaged. Some areas of nearby Pemba had no power.

“Even my workers, they said the roof and all the things fell down,” she said by phone.

Further south, in Pemba, Elton Ernesto, a receptionist at Raphael’s Hotel, said there were fallen trees but not too much damage. The hotel had power and water, he said, while phones rang in the background. “The rain has stopped,” he added.

However Michael Charles, an official for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said heavy rains over the next few days were likely to bring a “second wave of destruction” in the form of flooding.

“The houses are not all solid, and the topography is very sandy,” Charles said.

In the days after Cyclone Idai, heavy inland rains prompted rivers to burst their banks, submerging entire villages, cutting areas off from aid and ruining crops. There were concerns the same could happen again in northern Mozambique.

Before Kenneth hit, the government and aid workers moved around 30,000 people to safer buildings such as schools, however authorities said that around 680,000 people were in the path of the storm.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alexandra Zavis)

Snowstorm kills one, thousands without power in U.S. southeast

Snow hits a porch in Banner Elk, North Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from a time-lapse video obtained from social media. Rod Wilbourn/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm was easing up on Monday after it dumped up to two feet of snow in Virginia, left one motorist dead in North Carolina and cut off power for more than 300,000 people in the U.S. southeast.

The storm headed out to sea but the region will stay cold this week, the U.S. National Weather Service said.

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

Motorists in northern Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia can expect snow and ice to taper off on Monday, NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

“It’s fairly light and some of it is actually mixing with rain in North Carolina, so it won’t be as bad as it was in the last 24 hours,” Oravec said.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the NWS said. Whitetop received two feet (60 cm) of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina saw 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina got 14 inches (36 cm).

“Some of the higher totals occurred in higher elevations, but there were high totals in the more populated area of North Carolina as well,” Oravec said.

A motorist died and a passenger was injured in Matthews, North Carolina, on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, causing the driver to plow through the front lawn of a church and slam into the building, Matthew police officials said in a statement.

In Kinston, North Carolina, divers searched for a driver whose 18-wheeler was found in a river, an NBC affiliate in Raleigh reported.

More than 300,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted more than 1,000 flight cancellations at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest airport in the country, and other airports across the region, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware, early Monday.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday a state of emergency would remain in effect and the North Carolina National Guard had been activated to help with the response.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Gas-laden truck set afire, three stabbed, one dead in Australia terror attack

A burnt out vehicle is surrounded by police tape on Bourke Street in central Melbourne, Australia, November 9, 2018. AAP/James Ross/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Sonali Paul

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A Somali-born man set fire to a pickup truck laden with gas cylinders in the center of the Australian city of Melbourne on Friday and stabbed three people, killing one, before he was shot by police in a rampage they called an act of terrorism.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, without providing any evidence.

The utility truck carrying barbecue gas cylinders burned on busy Bourke Street just before the evening rush hour as the driver stabbed bystanders and attacked police.

The cylinders did not explode and the fire was put out in 10 minutes, by which point the attack was over.

“We are still trying to piece together whether the vehicle was lit then he got out the car or whether he got out the car and then the vehicle took flame,” Victoria Police Commissioner Graham Ashton told reporters.

Video posted to Twitter and broadcast on television showed the man swinging a knife at two police officers, while his truck burned in the background.

One of the officers shot the man and he collapsed to the ground clutching his chest, the video showed. Other footage showed two stab victims lying on the ground nearby.

The attacker, who police said was 31, died in hospital, as did one of the victims, Ashton said. “From what we know of that individual, we are treating this as a terrorism incident,” he said of the attacker.

Asked about what the attacker had been planning, Ashton referred to the gas cylinders in the car and said: “You could make certain assumptions from that.”

Victoria police declined to comment when contacted about Islamic State’s claim. The militant group also claimed responsibility for a deadly siege in the city in 2017 when a Somali man was killed by police after taking a woman hostage.

Ashton said there was no longer a threat to the public, but that security would be boosted at horse races and Remembrance Day memorials over the weekend.

Policemen stop members of the public from walking towards the Bourke Street mall in central Melbourne, Australia, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sonali Paul

Policemen stop members of the public from walking towards the Bourke Street mall in central Melbourne, Australia, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Sonali Paul

NO WARNING

Police did not identify the attacker but Ashton said the man was known to them and intelligence authorities because of family associations.

All of the victims were men, Ashton said. He declined to release their names because police were still in the process of contacting families.

Police later said the two wounded men were aged 26 and 58.

Asked if the attacker had recently traveled to Syria he said: “That is something we might be able to talk more about tomorrow.”

A staunch U.S. ally, Australia has been on alert for such violence after a Sydney cafe siege in 2014, and its intelligence agencies have stepped up scrutiny, though there was no warning of the latest attack.

Authorities say Australia’s vigilance has helped to foil at least a dozen plots, including a plan to attack downtown Melbourne at Christmas in 2016.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement released on Twitter: “Australia will never be intimidated by these appalling attacks.”

TEN MINUTES OF CHAOS

Video posted to social media showed chaotic scenes as bystanders scattered while the attacker fought with police and his victims lay bleeding on the footpath.

One man charged at the tall attacker, who was wearing a long black shirt, with a shopping trolley just before police drew their weapons.

A witness, Markel Villasin, told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio: “Bystanders were yelling out ‘just shoot him, just shoot him’.” They did.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the attack was “an evil, terrifying thing that’s happened in our city”.

Warning text messages were sent after the attack and police sealed off the downtown area, usually busy with shoppers and diners on a Friday evening. Some cordons were lifted later, though the immediate crime scene would be sealed until Saturday, police said.

Memories remain fresh of a fatal but not terror-related attack on the same street last year, in which a man drove his car at pedestrians at high speed, killing six people and wounding about 30. That prompted the city to install hundreds of security bollards. The driver is on trial.

In December 2014, two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney.

(Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Police name murder suspect in Los Angeles store hostage standoff

Police respond to a hostage situation at a Trader Joe's store in Los Angeles, California, Saturday July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

(Reuters) – Los Angeles police named a 28-year-old man on Sunday as the suspect who took hostages and barricaded himself for three hours inside a Trader Joe’s grocery store in which he fatally shot a woman.

Gene Atkins is being held on a $2-million bail on suspicion of murder for Saturday’s attacks, said Los Angeles Police Department spokesman Drake Madison.

A Trader Joe's employee waits in a parking lot near a Trader Joe's store where a hostage situation unfolded in Los Angeles, California, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

A Trader Joe’s employee waits in a parking lot near a Trader Joe’s store where a hostage situation unfolded in Los Angeles, California, July 21, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Cullen

Atkins is likely to appear in court to be formally charged early this coming week, Madison added.

Atkins is suspected of repeatedly having shot his grandmother and another woman in a separate part of the city before being chased by police and crashing his car outside the Trader Joe’s, according to the police account. He exchanged gunfire with police and entered the crowded store, police said.

Some people managed to escape the store by climbing through a window down a rope ladder, according to video footage. The stand-off came to an end after the gunman, who at one point was shot in the arm, talked with police over the phone to negotiate a surrender before emerging.

The woman killed at the store was identified as Melyda Corado by relatives, who said she worked there as a manager.

Trader Joe’s called the attack the “saddest day in Trader Joe’s history” in a statement on its website, saying the store would remain closed indefinitely.

“Our thoughts are with her family, and our Crew Members and customers who experienced this terrifying and unimaginable ordeal,” the statement said.

Atkin’s grandmother was left in critical condition in the earlier attack on Saturday, police said. There was no update on her condition on Sunday, they said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Sandra Maler)

One dead, two firefighters hurt battling wildfires in U.S. West

Flames and smoke rise from a treeline in Mariposa County, California, U.S., July 17, 2018 in this still image taken from a social media video obtained July 18, 2018. INSTAGRAM/@JSTETTS/via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A tractor operator was killed while trying to clear brush around a massive wildfire in central Oregon and two firefighters were injured battling a blaze burning at the edge of Yosemite in California, officials in the two states said on Wednesday.

Crews responding to a report of a charred tractor near the 36,000-acre (14,600-hectare) Substation Fire burning near The Dalles, Oregon, found the unidentified driver nearby, Wasco County Sheriff’s officials said on the department’s Facebook page.

“It appears the tractor operator died as a result of exposure to the fire,” the sheriff’s office said, asking for the public’s help in identifying the victim.

In California, one firefighter broke a leg, requiring hospitalization, and a second was treated for heat-related illness, after fighting the so-called Ferguson Fire burning on the western boundary of Yosemite, said Richard Egan of the U.S. Forest Service.

The United States is facing an unusually active wildfire year, with some 3.3 million acres (1.3 million hectares) already charred this year, more than the year-to-date average of about 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) over the past decade.

The California injuries came as crews made a major push to cut containment lines around the conflagration before thunderstorms forecast for this week further whip up the flames.

“These next 48 hours are going to be pretty critical for us in terms of containing the fire,” Egan said, adding that lightning strikes could touch off new hot spots.

The blaze has blackened more than 17,300 acres (7,000 hectares) of forest in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, prompting the closure of State Route 140 and a Yosemite park entrance.

Fire managers have issued evacuation orders or advisories for the mountain communities of Jerseydale, Mariposa Pines, Clearing House and Incline.

Complicating firefighting efforts was an inversion layer of thick black smoke, visible for miles, that has prevented water-dropping aircraft from flying into narrow canyons.

That inversion layer, an atmospheric condition that prevents the warmer air and smoke from rising, was expected to partly clear on Wednesday evening as the storm approached, allowing aircraft to make runs at the fire, Egan said.

Firefighter Braden Varney was killed on Saturday when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Varney was the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.

California has had its worst start to the fire season in a decade, with more than 220,421 acres (89,200 hectares) blackened and six major wildfires burning statewide as of Wednesday.

In Oregon, where the Substation Fire has burned since Tuesday, Governor Kate Brown declared an emergency, prompting authorities to issue evacuation orders for communities along the Deschutes River.

The risk of large wildfires is set to ease in much of the Southwest and Rocky Mountains because of expected summer rains, but remains high in California through October.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)