Thanksgiving leftovers: Storm serves U.S. Northeast second helping of snow

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A vast wintry storm that has been raging across the United States since before Thanksgiving served a second helping of snow to the Northeast on Monday, closing offices and threatening to disrupt the evening rush-hour commute.

Alternating rain and snow showers were forecast to switch completely to snow, piling up by the workday’s end to 1 to 3 inches in New York and 4 to 6 inches in Boston, said meteorologist Bob Oravec of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

Heavier snow totals were expected in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, northwestern New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire and Maine, with some areas already receiving 1 foot of snow, Oravec said.

“When it’s all said and done, some areas will have over 2 feet of snow from this storm, especially over parts of the Poconos and Catskills,” Oravec said of the mountain regions.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed all non-essential state employees in the capital region to stay home on Monday. State offices in New Jersey opened as usual on Monday, but New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said all non-essential workers should head home at noon due to weather conditions.

Travel glitches on U.S. flights began mounting throughout the morning, with most of the 1,500 cancellations and delays posted by late morning at airports in San Francisco, Albany, Boston, Chicago and Newark.

The storm that started on the West Coast ahead of Thanksgiving, the busiest U.S. travel holiday, slowly rolled across the entire country, drenching some areas with rain, blanketing others with snow and blasting still others with winds. Three tornadoes were reported northwest of Phoenix.

“It’s uncommon to have a tornado in Phoenix, but it’s not uncommon to have multiple types of weather with a big winter storm like that,” Oravec said.

The storm was expected to linger in New York until just before sunrise on Tuesday, in Boston until early Tuesday afternoon and in Maine until Wednesday morning.

“There have been huge impacts from the storm since it occurred during the Thanksgiving week of travel and coming home from the holiday,” Oravec said.

“It hit about possibly the worst time it could hit, and it went right across the entire country.”

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

More U.S. children die in mass shootings at home than at school: study

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Three out of four U.S. children and teens killed in mass shootings over the past decade were victims of domestic violence and generally died in their homes, according to a study released on Thursday by the gun control group Everytown.

While the specter of school shootings looms darkly in the minds of American parents who remember massacres in Newtown, Connecticut; Parkland, Florida, and around the country, the group’s review of shootings from 2009 through 2018 found far more children are killed in their own homes.

“These are not random acts of violence, yet people have the perception that the killings come out of nowhere,” said Sarah Burd-Sharps, Everytown’s research director. “That is simply not the truth.”

The Everytown report, based on police and court records, as well as media reports, found that 54% of mass shootings involved the shooter killing a family member or intimate partner.

A total of 1,121 people were killed in 194 mass shootings in the decade examined – one-third of whom were children or teens.

Nearly two-thirds of all mass shootings took place entirely inside homes, the study found.

Burd-Sharps said Everytown hopes that its report helps the public gain more understanding about the statistical realities of mass shootings, which it defines as an incident that kills at least four people, excluding the shooter.

The federal government and other groups set a lower threshold for what constitutes a mass shooting. Those definitions can result in higher totals than Everytown’s count.

Only 1% of the nearly 35,000 gun deaths averaged in the United States each year in the past decade involved mass shootings, but Burd-Sharps said she believes public interest in them can help propel gun-safety legislation that could cut gun deaths across the board.

At the top of Everytown’s wish list is a “red flag” law that would allow family members or law enforcement officers to petition a judge to seize firearms from a person they think is a threat to themselves or others.

The group also believes a comprehensive federal law requiring background checks on all gun sales would quickly be effective in decreasing gun deaths.

The link between domestic violence in mass shootings was seen this week in San Diego, when a man who had a restraining order against him killed his wife and three of their four young sons before taking his own life.

“When you look at all these cases of kids who lost their lives, if some family member had been able to heed the warning signs and temporarily had guns removed from the home, many of those children would still be alive,” Burd-Sharps said.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. minority students concentrated in high-poverty schools: study

U.S. minority students concentrated in high-poverty schools: study
By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Segregation in U.S. public education has concentrated black and Hispanic children into high-poverty schools with few resources, leading to an achievement gap between minority and white students, a nationwide study showed on Tuesday.

Stanford University Graduate School of Education professor Sean Reardon and his team crunched hundreds of millions of standardized test scores from every public school in the United States from 2008 to 2016 to reach their conclusions.

The findings reinforced previous studies illustrating that poverty, linked to continuing segregation, is a key mechanism accounting for racial disparities in academic achievement.

“If we want to improve educational opportunities and learning for students, we want to get them out of these schools of high-concentrated poverty,” Reardon said in presenting his findings at Stanford on Tuesday.

“Part of the reason why we have a big achievement gap is that minority students are concentrated in high-poverty schools, and those schools are the schools that seem systematically to provide lower educational opportunities,” he said.

African-American and Hispanic students tend to score lower on standardized tests than white students, and closing that achievement gap has posed a persistent challenge for educators.

The U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education ruled that racial segregation was a violation of the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

In the decades that followed, public education officials wrestled with how to integrate schools in the face of opposition by residents and politicians in many regions.

This history became a point of contention between Democratic presidential candidates during a televised debate in June, when U.S. Senator Kamala Harris criticized former Vice President Joe Biden for his 1970s opposition to court-ordered busing to reduce segregation.

In a working paper released on Monday, Reardon and his team compared different levels of racial disparities between schools in New York City and those in Fulton County, Georgia, to explain how segregation affected student performance.

The school attended by the average black student in New York City over a recent span of eight years had a poverty rate 22 percentage points higher than that of the average white student. There researchers found white students performing 2-1/2 grade levels above black students on average.

By comparison, the average black student attended a school with a poverty rate 52 percentage points higher than the average white student’s school in Fulton County, where an achievement gap of four grade levels separated black and white students.

Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles and not affiliated with the Stanford study, endorsed the methodology Reardon’s team used but said its findings reveal only part of the picture.

“It’s really misleading to talk about whether race or poverty is most important, because a lot of the poverty is caused by race, and that’s something that people need to keep in mind,” Orfield said.

For instance, discrimination against minority parents is a factor in why those families are more likely to struggle with poverty, Orfield said by telephone.

The Stanford research data is publicly available at the website edopportunity.org.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Steve Gorman and Darren Schuettler)

Texas shale towns grapple with growth as oil-bust fears fade

FILE PHOTO: A sign soliciting applicants is seen outside of a truck stop in Midland, Texas, U.S., February 13, 2019. REUTERS/Nick Oxford

By Jennifer Hiller

ODESSA, TEXAS (Reuters) – In west Texas, the center of the U.S. oil boom, about 3,800 students at Permian High School are crammed into a campus designed for 2,500, with 20 portable buildings to help with the overflow.

School officials had expected enrollment to fall after the last oil price crash, starting in 2014, but it kept rising – one sign of a growing resilience in the region’s oil economy as Exxon Mobil, Chevron and other majors continue pouring billions of dollars into long-term investments here.

For most of the last century, oil money has flowed into this region like a rising tide during booms – but residents here had enough sense to know it would flow right back out again when the next bust hit. That cycle has always made officials, developers and voters wary of investing too much during the good times on everything from school construction to roads to housing.

That hesitance is fading fast as oil majors make ever-larger and longer-term commitments to drill in the Permian Basin and residents grow weary of traffic jams on once-rural roads, long waits for medical appointments, pricey housing and overcrowded schools. Local governments, industry and foundations are joining forces to tackle the region’s overwhelmed infrastructure and public services.

“When you have more students, you need more teachers,” said Danny Gex, principal at the Odessa school, which was made famous as the home of the Permian Panthers football team in the book and screen adaptations of “Friday Night Lights.”

Texas has a statewide teacher shortage, Gex said, and “when you’re in a desert, it makes it a lot more difficult to find them.”

Also in severe shortage: housing. The median price of a home in Midland, $311,000 in April, was higher than any other Texas city except the hip tech-industry hub of Austin, according to data tracked by Texas A&M University.

(For a graphic comparing Midland home prices to the rest of Texas, see: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Zd7YIS )

Former convenience store manager Ruben Garcia came to the region and now earns $2,000 to $2,500 a week hauling sand to fracking sites. But he had to sleep in his truck until he could find an RV to rent.

“I had to go where the money is, and the money is here,” Garcia said.

The city of Midland, the local hospital district and other employers are considering banding together to build apartments for workers, said Jerry Morales, mayor of Midland, the de facto capital of the Permian. In neighboring Odessa, the school district has considered buying a hotel to house new teachers.

“That’s crazy to even think that,” said Gex, the principal.

STAYING POWER

The oil industry, of course, still has its ups and downs, like any business involving global commodities subject to rapid market shifts.

Some of the smaller producers that pioneered shale drilling in the Permian, such as Concho Resources, Laredo Petroleum and Whiting Petroleum, are downshifting as West Texas oil prices have lost 16% and natural gas has tumbled 36% over the past year.

But the world’s biggest oil majors are increasingly taking control of the Texas shale business, and their drilling plans – sometimes sketched out in decades rather than years – are envisioned to withstand the usual price drops.

That means they will need to lure more staff to live permanently with their families in cities such as Midland and Odessa, rather than depending on “man camps” for transient roughnecks or relying on temporary worker-training schemes.

In Midland, a group of local foundations started by wealthy area families, as well as a consortium of energy firms, recently put up $38.5 million to finance 14 tuition-free charter schools to relieve the stress on local classrooms.

“The mindset is changing,” said Mayor Morales. “There are those who understand we’re growing and we need these things.”

But it’s a scramble to catch up: “We’re behind, because we never invested in ourselves.”

On the New Mexico side of the Permian, local governments, schools and foundations joined together to build a $63 million sports complex with a water park in Hobbs. Hotel taxes from visiting energy workers will pay part of the facility’s operating costs, said Hobbs Mayor Sam Cobb.

Hobbs’ next proposal involves a $60 million vocational high school that would help turn out welders, electricians and other skilled blue-collar workers. Oil firm executives will consult on the curriculum by offering insight into the skills they need in new hires, he said.

“I think there’s more sustainability because all of the supermajors have come back into the area,” Cobb said.

While many local officials and civic leaders say the region has permanently left its boom-and-bust cycle behind, others remain wary. Alan Herig arrived in Midland in 1977 to sell oilfield equipment and later opened an office supply store. He went from flying to Houston for steak lunches to painting houses after oil prices crashed.

“Midland became a ghost town,” said Herig, who now owns three hotels in the area and believes hard times could come again any day.

Still, Herig understands why city officials and civic groups are scrambling to upgrade local infrastructure and services.

“Midland is way behind,” Herig said. “They need to invest.”

ORANGE BUCKETS AND FOLDING TABLES

The latest shale boom, which started about three years ago, has brought jobs and wealth but also many hassles to day-to-day life.

Midland resident and energy executive Kaes Van’t Hof had a hard time scheduling an eye-doctor’s appointment for new contacts before his wedding earlier this year.

“Simple things have to be planned far in advance here,” Van’t Hof said.

Max Campos, a tattoo artist who lives in Odessa, recently sold his motorcycle after concluding it was no longer safe to ride alongside heavy truck traffic.

Odessa, a city of 120,000 people, drew unwanted attention last year after a school teacher equipped a classroom with orange buckets and folding tables because of a lack of chairs and desks. The school found tables after photos of students using the makeshift furniture went viral online.

Several groups have formed to bring change to the region, and local officials are finding that voters are more receptive to approving new spending on services such as schools and roads.

Priority Midland – a long-range planning initiative formed this year by officials in government, business and philanthropy – plans get-out-the-vote efforts to press for increased school financing and a possible sales tax hike to pay for hospital services or improved roads, Morales said.

The Permian Strategic Partnership, a group of 20 energy companies operating in the area, promises to spend $100 million to promote training, education, health care, housing and roads. The partnership chipped in $16.5 million for the charter school initiative, which will open its first campus in August 2020 and plans to offer public education to 10,000 students over time.

One member of the organization is Travis Stice, chief executive at Midland’s Diamondback Energy, which has been among the Permian’s fast-growing firms.

It’s time for the community, he said, to trust that the oil industry is here to stay.

“We’ve allowed ourselves to be rangebound by thinking: ‘Don’t invest during the boom time because the bust time is coming,'” Stice said.

(Graphic: How shale booms affect Midland, Texas, home prices link: https://editdata.thomsonreuters.com/#/portal/groups/editorcharts).

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in west Texas; Editing by Gary McWilliams and Brian Thevenot)

Notre-Dame toxic fallout lawsuit turns heat on Paris authorities

FILE PHOTO: A view shows the damaged roof of Notre-Dame de Paris during restoration work, three months after a fire that devastated the cathedral in Paris, France, July 14, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – An environmental protection group has filed a suit alleging lives were deliberately endangered after the fire that ravaged Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris, saying authorities failed to protect people from lead that spewed into the area.

The April 15 inferno melted hundreds of tonnes of lead in the cathedral’s spire and roof. Unusually high levels of lead were later detected in the air and nearby buildings, including primary schools.

Campaign group Robin des Bois filed a lawsuit dated July 26 against unknown persons, alleging that authorities in Paris were aware the fire had dispersed large quantities of lead into the air and that lead is toxic.

Authorities failed to provide adequate warnings of potential lead poisoning to local residents, tourists and workers on the site before and after the blaze, the suit says.

The authorities’ actions meant there was exposure to toxic fallout and that “lives were deliberately endangered”, Robin des Bois said in its complaint, filed with the Paris prosecutor.

Paris City Hall declined to comment.

The prosecutor will next determine whether the complaint merits deeper investigation.

Health officials have said people living and working in the vicinity of the cathedral were kept informed of risks and safety measures. Nearby residents were advised to wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth.

In June, after unusually high lead levels were detected in a child, pregnant women and young children were invited to get tested for lead levels in their blood.

More than three months after the fire, the Paris prefect suspended restoration work on the cathedral on July 25 until more robust decontamination measures have been put in place. The same day, the mayor’s office temporarily closed a nursery and primary school that were hosting a holiday club for a “deep clean” after high lead levels were detected.

The cathedral’s spire and roof, which collapsed in the fire, contained more than 450 tonnes of lead.

(Reporting by Emilie Delwarde; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Fire engulfs eight massive petrochemical storage tanks in Houston

Smoke rises from a fire burning at the Intercontinental Terminals Company in Deer Park, east of Houston, Texas, U.S., March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A fire at a fuels storage company at the Houston Ship Channel spread on Monday to eight massive petrochemical storage tanks, shutting schools and forcing residents in the suburb of Deer Park to stay indoors.

The fire, which sent a plume of black smoke across the city’s eastern half and was visible from 10 miles (16 km) away, began in a giant storage tank containing naphtha, a volatile component of gasoline, at about 10:30 a.m. on Sunday.

No evacuations or injuries were reported.

School officials in Deer Park, population 32,000, and nearby La Porte, Texas, with about 34,000 residents, suspended classes and told employees not to report to work on Monday.

Tanks containing naphtha and xylene, petrochemicals used to make gasoline and base oils commonly used as machine lubricants, were burning, officials of the Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) said.

The company said on Monday that a tank containing Toluene also caught fire. Toluene is used to manufacture nail polish remover and paint thinner.

The burning tanks are surrounded by several other storage tanks within a spill containment dike. Firefighters used a foam fire retardant on nearby tanks to try to limit the fire from spreading.

“ITC officials continue working with local first responders to contain the fire,” the company said in a statement. “The safety of our employees, the surrounding community and the environment is our first priority.”

Ships continued to cross the channel linking refineries and chemical plants in Houston and Texas City, with the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard ordered ships not to dock at ITC or an adjoining terminal.

Air emissions tests detected the presence of a volatile organic compound six miles away from the facility. Levels were below those considered hazardous, ITC said.

The fire was not affecting operations at the nearby Royal Dutch Shell Plc joint-venture refinery in Deer Park, said Shell spokesman Ray Fisher.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Additional reporting by Rich McKay and Gary McWilliams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Schools work to restore routine to children of lost Paradise

FILE PHOTO: Statues are seen on a property damaged by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage

By Lee Van Der Voo

CHICO, Calif. (Reuters) – For two dozen third-graders who survived the massive wildfire that largely obliterated Paradise, California, school is now the small home of their teacher, Sheri Eichar: Reading center on the couch, math in the kitchen nook, language in the corner.

When it’s time for recess, the pupils jog around the block of Eichar’s suburban neighborhood in Chico, a 20-minute drive from Paradise.

Of the 24 kids in Eichar’s class at Children’s Community Charter School, 20 lost their homes in the Camp Fire, which broke out near Paradise on November 8 and swept through the small mountain community, killing at least 88 people.

The blaze, which is now fully contained, is already the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, with 158 people still unaccounted for as search and rescue teams comb through the rubble and ash for human remains.

Many of Paradise’s 27,000 residents are now settled in and around Chico after the firestorm that consumed the town and destroyed the elementary school.

Within days of the evacuation, Eichar notified her students that classes would resume in her three-bedroom home and she and her husband moved the couches around so the children can sit on the floor of their living room.

On the first day, “The kids walked in like they did it every day of their lives,” Eichar said, and lined up side by side on the couches. Ten to 12 students come most days, although 18 turned up on Tuesday.

“They just needed each other so bad. This fire has created such isolation for the families and these children. They just need to be together,” she said.

MORE FUN

Eleanor Weddig, 8, says the home is more fun than a schoolhouse.

“Well, I love it. It’s like more comfortable than our classroom, the chairs are cushy,” Weddig said. “And anyway it’s a house so it’s like more fancy and stuff, and she cooks us great lunches.”

All told, 5,000 students have been displaced from Paradise schools. Eight of nine schools in the Paradise Unified School District are damaged or destroyed.

Students left homeless are eligible under federal law to re-enroll in a school wherever they temporarily reside, said Tom DeLapp of the Butte County Office of Education.

Officials are scrambling to identify commercial buildings, available real estate, mobile classrooms and partnerships with other agencies to keep classrooms and kids together.

“It could be years,” before schools are rebuilt in Paradise, DeLapp said. “While the place burned down in 24 hours, we can’t rebuild it in 24 hours.”

TEST SCORES

Families and staff at Children’s Community Charter School gathered at the Grace Community Church in Chico on Tuesday to hear about plans for recovery.

Starting Monday, the school’s 220 students will begin holding classes at a church gym in Chico. On Friday, a second charter school will squeeze into the same space.

Principal Steve Hitchko says it will be tricky. There is only one restroom, and students have missed a lot of classes.

“Will our test scores suffer? Yeah. I’m just going to be honest with you. We’re going through trauma,” Hitchko said.

At the meeting, parents voiced concerns about long commutes from new or temporary homes, counseling services and after-school programs. Children wondered whether there would be books and computers.

For many, the meeting was an emotional reunion. Some parents and children were seeing each other for the first time since the fire.

Staff members there included Jessica Hamack, the school’s office manager, who was applauded by parents for canceling classes when the fire rapidly overtook Paradise. Some credit her cancellation notice for alerting them to the flames.

Hamack said she issued the alert after seeing flames behind the school when she arrived for work, adding: “There were already kids in my office and that made me nervous.”

(Reporting by Lee Van Der Voo in Chico, California; Writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Sonya Hepinstall)

Classrooms near empty as school starts in crisis-stricken Venezuela

A teacher stands next to a billboard that reads "Welcome to classes" and empty desks in a classroom on the first day of school, in Caucagua, Venezuela September 17, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Brian Ellsworth and Vivian Sequera

CAUCAGUA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela’s school year began on Monday with few students arriving in classrooms amid a crippling economic crisis that has left many families unable to afford supplies or provide their children with enough food to focus on schoolwork.

The OPEC nation is collapsing under low oil prices and an unraveling socialist economic system, leaving millions struggling to eat and hundreds of thousands streaming into neighboring countries in search of better conditions.

Though classes often take several weeks to get into full swing, teachers said the absenteeism was significantly more notable this year.

In the poor, rural town of Caucagua about 75 kilometers (47 miles) from Caracas, only three students had arrived at the Miguel Acevedo Educational Unit, a public elementary school that has 65 students registered, according to principal Nereida Veliz.

School performance “is quite low because children are not coming to class” said Veliz in the small schoolhouse where the power is out and running water only works three days a week. Students generally come to receive state-sponsored meals.

“They do not eat at home, they eat here,” she said.

The Education Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

Education Minister Aristobulo Isturiz on Friday said classes would start this week for 7.6 million students at 30,000 schools around the country, a figure that includes 5,000 private schools.

Venezuela’s hyperinflationary collapse has left pencils, books, and uniforms out of the reach of the average citizen.

A steady decay of public transportation has become a growing limitation on activities ranging from delivering products to taking children to school.

“I made a huge effort to bring my son to school. Part of his uniform is from last year and from his brother’s things,” said Omaira Bracho, 50, in the coastal city of Punto Fijo in the state of Falcon. “I found shoes on sale. The hardest thing is the school supplies.”

President Nicolas Maduro says the country is victim of an “economic war” led by U.S-backed political adversaries.

In the border state of Tachira, Javier Tarazona of the state teachers’ association said classes had not started due to problems including lack of power, inadequate sanitation, and insufficient food.

At the Benedicto Marmol school in Punto Fijo, only three of 365 students showed up on Monday, according to Falcon state teachers’ union representative Mari Garcia.

“There are always a lot of children missing at the beginning of the class, but it has never been so noticeable,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo and Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Andrea Ricci)

U.N. shares locations of Idlib hospitals and schools, hoping to protect them

FILE PHOTO: A man watches as smoke rises after what activists said was an air strike on Atimah, Idlib province March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. officials have notified Russia, Turkey and the United States of the GPS coordinates of 235 schools, hospitals and other civilian sites in the Syrian province of Idlib, in the hope the move will help protect them from being attacked.

“We share these coordinates so there is no doubt that a hospital is a hospital,” Panos Moumtzis, U.N. regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis, told a briefing.

“We would like to see civilians not targeted, hospitals not bombed, people not displaced.”

An estimated 2.9 million people live in Idlib, the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian government and Russian warplanes began air strikes last week in a possible prelude to a full-scale offensive.

Four hospitals in Hama and Idlib have been hit by air strikes in the past week, constituting “serious attacks” that violate international law, Moumtzis said. “A hospital is a hospital and has to be respected by all on the ground.”

Moumtzis called on all warring sides to ensure that civilians in Idlib were able to move freely in any direction to flee fighting or bombing, and for aid workers to have access to them.

He quoted a Russian official as telling a humanitarian task force meeting in Geneva on Thursday that “every effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem is being made”.

The United Nations is working 24/7 to ensure delivery of shelter, food and other assistance if, as feared, hundreds of thousands of people flee, he said.

“In no way am I saying we are ready. What is important is that we are doing our maximum to ensure a level of readiness,” Moumtzis said. “As humanitarians, while we hope for the best we are preparing for the worst.”

An estimated 38,300 people have fled hostilities in Idlib this month, U.N. figures show. About 4,500 of them have returned to their homes following a slight calming, Moumtzis said, calling it a “barometer”.

At least 33 people have been killed and 67 wounded in aerial and ground-based bombing, according to a partial U.N. toll from Sept. 4-9.

Moumtzis said he was going to Turkey for talks with government officials and to oversee preparations for stepping up cross-border aid deliveries to Idlib, where the U.N. is providing supplies to two million people.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Andrew Roche)

More than 3,000 Vietnamese fell victim to human traffickers in 2012-2017

FILE PHOTO - A woman walks along a dirt road during a misty day in Sapa, northwest Vietnam, May 23, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Khanh Vu

HANOI (Reuters) – More than 3,000 people in Vietnam, most of them women and children, were trafficked between 2012 and 2017, many of them into China, the Ministry of Public Security said on Friday, as parliament sought to tighten laws to tackle the problem.

Human traffickers took people from markets and schools, and used Facebook and a Vietnamese messaging app to befriend victims before selling them to karaoke bars, restaurants or smuggling them abroad, the ministry said in a statement.

Seventy-five percent of cases involved people being smuggled across the border into China, the ministry said.

“Human trafficking has been taking place across the country, not just in remote and mountainous areas,” Le Thi Nga, head of the National Assembly’s justice department, told a hearing on the problem on Thursday.

The National Assembly is reviewing its anti-human trafficking law, introduced in 2012.

Nga said enforcement of the law had faced “difficulties and shortcomings” and urged legislators to introduce more comprehensive guidelines.

The Ministry of Public Security said police had launched investigations into 1,021 human trafficking cases and arrested 2,035 people in the 2012-2017 period.

A total of 3,090 people had been victims of human trafficking during that time, the ministry said, of whom 90 percent were women and children from ethnic minorities living in remote, mountainous areas.

Vietnam should “reduce poverty, eradicate illiteracy, provide vocational training and create jobs for people – especially for the ethnic minorities”, to help address the problem, the ministry said.

(Reporting by Khanh Vu; Editing by James Pearson)