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

By Ruma Paul and and Subrata Nagchoudhury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MASS EVACUATIONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Tornadoes rip Tennessee, leaving at least 19 dead, many missing

By Timothy Ghianni

NASHVILLE (Reuters) – At least 19 people were killed early on Tuesday after powerful tornadoes ripped through Nashville and other parts of Tennessee, flattening buildings and leaving tens of thousands of people without power, authorities said.

The death toll, provided by the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, may rise given the number of people who remain missing statewide, Governor William Lee said at a news briefing.

Debris covers a car near after a tornado touched down at Donelson Christian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee March 3, 2020. Shelley Mays/The Tennessean via USA TODAY via REUTERS

Rescue teams were going door to door, searching damaged structures for trapped or injured individuals, the Nashville Fire Department said.

At least 30 people were injured in Nashville, the state capital, and least 48 buildings were destroyed, with many more damaged, Fire Department Director Chief William Swann said.

Tennessee is one 14 states that will be holding primary elections on Super Tuesday. Despite the widespread destruction, polling sites at schools and elsewhere will be open for voting unless otherwise noted, officials said.

“We want people to exercise their rights and get out there and vote,” Lee said.

Lightning that accompanied the tornado lit up the darkened sky as the storm rumbled through central Nashville, video posted on Twitter showed.

At daybreak, video footage on local television revealed leveled houses and crumbled businesses in Nashville, a city of 691,000.

Crushed vehicles, piles of debris and power lines snapped in two were strewn about, and rescue vehicles blocked streets as residents carried their belongings away from their destroyed homes.

The police department in the Mt. Juliet suburb east of Nashville reported multiple homes damaged and people injured.

“This was obviously a very strong tornado. There are multiple homes damaged, multiple people injured, multiple people still trapped,” Mt. Juliet Police Captain Tyler Chandler said in a video posted on Facebook. “We need your help. And that means if you can stay at your house, please stay home.”

SUPER TUESDAY

Schools, district offices and courts will close on Tuesday due to the tornado damage throughout Nashville, apart from the public buildings set to be used for polling.

Voting in Nashville and the surrounding area will start an hour later at 8 a.m. local time due to extensive storm damage, state election officials said. Polling will still close at 7 p.m., as earlier planned. Authorities will relocate some polling places.

Officials told residents of Nashville, among the country’s fastest-growing cities, to try not to travel, especially through the damaged areas.

Lee said he had spoken to the White House about federal assistance and that he planned to assess the damage in a helicopter on Tuesday.

“Prayers for all of those affected by the devastating tornadoes in Tennessee,” President Donald Trump said on Twitter. “We will continue to monitor the developments.”

The twister knocked down power lines, and one utility pole dangled horizontally in the street in the Donelson area, home to country music’s most famous concert stage, the Grand Ole Opry, news pictures showed.

Nashville Electric, the city’s public utility, said http://bit.ly/38dQBMo there were more than 44,000 customers without power early in the morning, with reported damage to four substations, 15 primary distribution lines, and multiple power poles and lines.

John C. Tune Airport (JWN), located 8 miles from downtown Nashville, “sustained significant damage” and several hangars were destroyed, the airport said on its website.

The National Weather Service said there were eight reported tornadoes that touched down in Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

This is not the first tornado to occur on Super Tuesday in Tennessee. In 2008, a nighttime tornado caused significant damage across the middle part of the state, the weather service said in a Twitter post.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

‘Very strong’ tornado rips through Nashville, killing at least nine

By Bhargav Acharya

(Reuters) – At least nine people were killed by a powerful tornado that struck Nashville, Tennessee in the early hours of Tuesday morning, flattening buildings, damaging an airport and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.

The fatalities included four people in Putnam County, two in the state capital Nashville, two in Wilson County and one in Benton County, ABC News reported, citing the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency.

Search and rescue teams were out searching damaged structures for trapped or injured individuals, the Nashville Fire Department said. Earlier in the morning, the department had said it was responding to reports of approximately 40 collapses of structures around the city.

The police department in the Mt. Juliet suburb east of Nashville reported multiple homes damaged and people injured.

“This was obviously a very strong tornado. There are multiple homes damaged, multiple people injured, multiple people still trapped,” Mt. Juliet Police Captain Tyler Chandler said in a video posted on Facebook. “We need your help. And that means if you can stay at your house, please stay home.”

Schools, district offices and courts will be closed on Tuesday due to the tornado damage throughout Nashville, officials said, but election polling sites at schools and elsewhere will be open “unless otherwise noted.”

Tennessee is one 14 states that will be holding primary elections on Super Tuesday, but voting in Nashville and the surrounding area will start an hour later at 8 a.m. local time due to extensive storm damage, state election officials said. Polling will still close at 7 p.m., as earlier planned.

Some polling places will also be relocated, they said.

Nashville Electric, the city’s public utility, said http://bit.ly/38dQBMo there were more than 44,000 customers without power early in the morning, with reported damage to four substations, 15 primary distribution lines, and multiple power poles and lines.

John C. Tune Airport (JWN), located 8 miles from downtown Nashville, “sustained significant damage” due to severe weather and several hangars had been destroyed, the airport said on its website.

Lightning that accompanied the tornado lit up the darkened sky as the storm rumbled through central Nashville, according to video posted by Twitter user Brian Bates.

The twister knocked down power lines, and one utility pole dangled horizontally in the street in the Donelson area, home to country music’s most famous concert stage, the Grand Ole Opry, news pictures showed.

Images also showed rubble and debris scattered across the parking lot of the Donelson Christian Academy in Nashville.

This is not the first tornado to occur on Super Tuesday in Tennessee, according to the National Weather Service in Nashville.

“The one many remember is the 2008 Tornado Outbreak. That was also a nighttime tornado event (but AFTER the voting) that caused significant damage across Middle Tennessee,” the NWS said in a post on Twitter.

Nashville, with a population of 691,000, is among the country’s fastest-growing cities and is the informal country music capital of the United States.

(Reporting by Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Maria Caspani; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

Rescue workers comb ruins of hotel for Albanian quake survivors

By Florion Goga

DURRES, Albania (Reuters) – Rescue workers sifted through the rubble of a hotel by the Adriatic Sea for possible survivors on Friday, three days after a 6.4-magnitude destroyed the six-storey building and many others in the Albanian port of Durres and surrounding areas.

The death toll from the quake, Albania’s worst ever, has reached 49. There have been more than 500 aftershocks since Tuesday’s quake, some with a magnitude of more than 5.0, rocking already damaged buildings and terrifying residents.

The sea-front hotel, the Mira Mare, is now the only site where rescue work is still continuing. The search teams, from neighboring Serbia, Montenegro and North Macedonia, said a female dancer was believed to be buried beneath the rubble.

Nearby, another hotel, the Ljubljana, was leaning to one side, its ornamental Roman columns cracked. Shattered glass and a toppled potted plant lay strewn across what had been its reception area.

A woman pushed a pushchair piled high with bags of what appeared to be possessions she had managed to rescue from the wreckage of her home.

“At the moment when the earthquake struck, I wasn’t scared at all. But when I went out, and saw the horror, I became petrified,” said Durres resident Tahir Halili.

“Even now, as we speak, I am not at all well. When I saw all that destruction, that hell, all those lost lives, my friend, it is unbelievable.”

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said 25 people had died in Durres, 23 in the northern town of Thumane and one in the town of Lac. The quake damaged more than 700 houses in Durres, destroyed 12 more and left nearly 200 apartment buildings with cracks and fissures, he said.

Rama extended a 30-day state of emergency already in force in Durres and Thumane to Lac. A family of six was due to be buried in Thumane on Friday.

More than 5,000 people have been left homeless by the quake, Rama said. They are being housed in hotels, schools, gyms and other temporary accommodation.

“Do not stay at home if it is damaged,” Defence Minister Olta Xhacka appealed to citizens during a news conference.

“We are able to offer shelter, food and clothing. The quality of life and health of citizens is our concern and life in tents is temporary.”

(Writing by Benet Koleka, Editing by Ivana Sekularac and Gareth Jones)

Rescue teams race to save hundreds trapped by Mozambique cyclone

People return to Praia Nova Village neighborhood following Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

By Manuel Mucari and MacDonald Dzirutwe

MAPUTO/HARARE (Reuters) – Aid workers scrambled to save hundreds trapped by floods around the Mozambican port city of Beira on Wednesday, after a powerful cyclone killed hundreds of people and left a trail of destruction across swathes of southeast Africa.

Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique’s port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) last Thursday, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

The aftermath of the Cyclone Idai is pictured in Beira, Mozambique, March 17, 2019. Josh Estey/Care International via REUTERS

At least 200 people have died in Mozambique and 98 in Zimbabwe, but the death toll is likely to rise as rescuers are still finding bodies.

Hundreds were clinging onto trees or roofs, waiting for rescue teams. Roads in and around Beira were swamped and heavy rain was continuing to fall, complicating rescue efforts and meaning that aid had to be flown in by helicopter or plane.

The floods have also brought the threat of waterborne diseases.

“The first thing you see when you arrive is destruction, and a lot of water,” Get Verdonck, an emergency coordinator with the aid group Doctors Without Borders, said from Beira. “People are using well water with no chlorination, and that water is unlikely to be clean, … pneumonia and other respiratory diseases are going to be a problem.”

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has declared three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday and has said the eventual death toll from the cyclone and ensuing floods could rise to more than 1,000.

On Tuesday, rescuers saved 167 people around Beira with the help of South African Air Force helicopters. The South African shipping firm Grindrod said it would send a container ship with relief supplies from Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, to Beira.

In the eastern Zimbabwe, grieving families rushed to bury their dead because the cyclone had knocked out power supplies and put mortuaries out of action.

Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on a visit to the town of Chimanimani that his government would ensure houses were built with stronger materials in future. In rural Zimbabwe, many people cannot afford cement to build their houses, leaving them vulnerable to torrential rain and wind.

Malawi has not released details of casualties from the storm, which weakened as it moved further inland. More than 50 people had already died in floods the week before the cyclone hit.

Damage from the Cyclone Idai is seen in Beira, Mozambique, March 19, 2019. International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via REUTERS

Damage from the Cyclone Idai is seen in Beira, Mozambique, March 19, 2019. International Federation Of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies via REUTERS

MOURNING AND DEVASTATION

Drone footage showed residents of a shantytown in Beira still picking through wreckage almost a week after the storm hit and trying to drag plastic sheeting over their ruined homes.

The film, released by the Red Cross, showed the settlement pockmarked with empty plots where whole buildings had been blown off their foundations.

“Great floods have sowed mourning and devastation in various areas of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi,” Pope Francis said on Wednesday. “I express my pain and closeness to those dear people.”

Aid groups said they were struggling to reach many survivors trapped in remote areas of Mozambique where villages were submerged. The European Union’s Earth Observation Programme said on Tuesday that an area of 394 sq km (152 sq miles) was flooded.

The U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, estimated that 260,000 children were at risk from the devastation.

Beira, a low-lying city of 500,000 people, is home to Mozambique’s second-largest port and serves as a gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

Both Mozambique and Zimbabwe have declared states of emergency in some areas. The cyclone knocked out Mozambican electricity exports to South Africa, exacerbating power cuts that are straining businesses in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

The EU has said it will provide initial emergency aid of 3.5 million euros ($4.0 million) to Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe for emergency shelters, hygiene, sanitation and healthcare. Britain and the United Arab Emirates have also pledged aid.

(Additional reporting by Frank Phiri in Blantyre, Catarina Demony in Lisbon and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Greek inferno kills at least 80, many missing

An electricity pole stands among burnt trees following a wildfire in Neos Voutzas, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

By George Georgiopoulos and Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – The death toll from a fire which ripped through a Greek coastal town stood at 80 on Wednesday, with dozens of people unaccounted for as forensic experts tried to identify victims who were burned alive.

With most of the corpses badly charred, identification of the dead will be challenging, experts said, meaning no fast closure in sight for suffering relatives.

Hundreds of people were trapped in the eastern resort of Mati on Monday night as flames whipped around them. Many jumped into the sea to survive, but others died from suffocation either in their cars or trapped on the edge of steep cliffs.

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A house burns as a wildfire rages at the village of Mati, near Athens.
REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

The Greek fire brigade said the death of a survivor in hospital had brought the toll up to 80. The service was also receiving dozens of calls reporting missing persons, but it was unclear if some of them were among those found dead, a spokesperson said.

With many burned beyond recognition, Greek coroners began the grim task of trying to identify the victims of the wildfires near Athens, having to rely on DNA or dental records as angst over missing persons mounted among relatives.

“Work has started on identifying the victims of the wildfires but the majority of the bodies are totally charred,” Grigoris Leon, head of the Hellenic Society of Forensic Medicine, told Reuters.

The post-mortems and identification procedures are taking place at a morgue at Shisto, west of Athens. Leon said this will involve teamwork by coroners, forensic dentistry experts from the Athens University’s Dental School, and the Greek police’s forensic service.

Post-mortems to determine the cause of death are mandatory by Greek law and the last stage after the conclusion of identification procedures.

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Burnt houses are seen following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens, Greece, July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Rescue teams combed through the area and the sea on Wednesday, trying to locate anything which could offer clarity on the missing, who are thought to number about 40.

“It was a really terrible situation here,” said Finnish tourist Jaakob Makinen. “We had to run away from the hotel, we ran through the beach, along the beach and then we were caught by fire, so kind of surrounded, we had to go into the water,” he told Reuters Television.

He and others spent several hours in the water.

It was unclear what caused the fire, which spread rapidly through Mati, a maze of narrow streets and dense forest. But some suggested that the sheer force of winds, thick pine, fire and panic was a deadly combination making even the most well-executed evacuation plan futile.

“You can’t leave. My house was up in flames in two minutes,” Elias Psinakis, the Mayor of Marathon, told Greece’s SKAI TV. “With eight Beaufort (wind) and pine you don’t even have time.”

“Armageddon,” wrote the daily newspaper Ethnos on its front page, a reference to the Biblical location prophesizing the end of times. It carried a photo of a burned Greek flag hanging among the branches of a charred tree.

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

A man walks among burnt cars following a wildfire at the village of Mati, near Athens. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Fires are common in Greece in the summer months. However, one outspoken cleric had at least one theory of what caused it.

In a vitriolic post, Bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta said it was the wrath of God because Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is a stated atheist. It drew a sharp response from the Church, which distanced itself from the Bishop’s remarks.

Tsipras declared three days of national mourning.

(Additional reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Vassilis Triantafyllou, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Thai diver dies as rescue teams ponder how to bring out trapped boys

Rescuers carry supplies into the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 5, 2018. Video taken July 5, 2018. Mandatory credit RUAMKATANYU FOUNDATION/Handout via Reuters TV

By Panu Wongcha-um and John Geddie

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (Reuters) – A former Thai navy diver died working to save 12 boys and their soccer coach trapped inside a flooded cave, highlighting the risks for rescue teams trying to find a safe way to bring the group out after 13 days underground.

Dwindling oxygen levels in the cave complex and weather forecasts predicting more heavy rain added to the pressure on authorities to work out a rescue plan.

Members of the media attend a news conference about the death of a Thai rescue diver after he fell unconscious during part of an operation, in front of the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Members of the media attend a news conference about the death of a Thai rescue diver after he fell unconscious during part of an operation, in front of the Tham Luang cave complex, where 12 boys and their soccer coach are trapped, in the northern province of Chiang Rai, Thailand, July 6, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Samarn Poonan, 38, a former member of Thailand’s elite navy SEAL unit, died on Thursday night as he worked underwater in the cave complex, laying oxygen tanks along a potential exit route, the SEAL commander said.

“We won’t let his life be in vain. We will carry on,” Admiral Arpakorn Yuukongkaew told reporters on Friday.

Samarn was working with a partner placing oxygen tanks in a section of the cave. As they returned, Samarn fell unconscious about 1.5 kms from the cave entrance.

“Once his mission was over he dove back, but in the middle of their return his buddy found Samarn unconscious in the water and tried to pump his heart, but he could not save his life,” the SEAL unit said in a statement.

The diver’s death also highlighted the risks for the boys, who have no scuba diving experience, if authorities decide they should attempt to swim out of the flooded cave.

“A navy SEAL just passed away last night. How about a 12-year-old boy that will have to pass through?” said Rafael Aroush, an Israeli living in Thailand and volunteer at the site.

“There will be rain and many things could go wrong. I don’t want to say it, but it could be a catastrophe,” he said.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha expressed his condolences over Samarn’s death but it would not deter the rescue teams, a spokesman said.

“Authorities have not lost courage because of this,” Thassada Thangkachan told reporters in Bangkok.

Officials warned on Friday that oxygen levels inside the cave have fallen and rescuers were racing to get more oxygen pipes into the cave. They have been working on a five km (three miles) “oxygen pipeline” to prepare for the group’s extraction.

Rescuers, including international teams, are pondering other ways to bring the group out before heavy rains hit the country’s north next week which could further hamper the rescue operation.

In a rare piece of good news, rescuers on Friday cleared enough water from inside the cave to be able to wade to one of the cave’s chambers located about 1.7 kms from the boys’ location without diving.

DEEP WATER

Rescue alternatives include teaching the boys to dive and then swim out, a highly risky venture, remaining in the cave for months until the wet season ends and flood waters recede, or drilling a shaft into the cave from the forest above.

The boys, aged between 11 and 16, and their assistant coach were found inside the Tham Luang cave in northern Chiang Rai province on Monday, after nine days underground. They went missing after setting out to explore the cave on June 23.

Rescuers have been slowed by logistical issues including high water levels inside the cave and narrow, flooded passages which would require the boys to dive alone.

The navy is teaching the boys the basics of diving, with a view to guiding them out through flood waters.

But getting them out won’t be easy.

The boys will have to be taught how to use scuba diving gear and how to navigate a cave that has frustrated even the most expert divers. Some of the boys cannot swim.

“Regarding the plan for the 13 to swim or dive, there is only one critical point which is risky: It is where every boy has to dive alone,” Chiang Rai GovernorĀ NarongsakĀ Osottanakorn said on Thursday.

Rescuers are considering other options including keeping the 13 inside the cave until the flood waters recede at the end of the rainy season in about four months.

If the weather is on their side and enough water can be pumped out of the cave, the boys could get out the same way they got in, on foot, perhaps with some swimming.

Another option would be to find an alternative way into their chamber, such as drilling a shaft into the cave from the forested mountain above.

(Additional reporting by John Geddie and Patpicha Tanakasempipat in CHIANG RAI, Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Pracha Hariraksapitak and Panarat Thepgumpanat in BANGKOK; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schuettler)