‘You can’t break down’: Bahamas keeps up search of Dorian-devastated island

By Zachary Fagenson

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Rescue workers wearing white hazard suits carried out a grim search for bodies and survivors in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas on Monday, as relief agencies worked to deliver food and supplies over flooded roads and piles of debris.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force said at least 45 people died after Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1, tossing cars and planes around like toys. The death toll is likely to climb.

Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days, becoming the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Large swaths of Greater Abaco Island were destroyed. Reuters journalists saw search crews using geotagging technology to mark the locations of bodies in the hard-hit Mudd section of Marsh Harbour on that island.

One Bahamian rescue worker said it is becoming hard to keep composed when surrounded by death.

“If you’re not in touch with yourself then you lose it. You have to be mentally stable because when you’re seeing these things, and when people who lost loved ones are crying on your shoulder you can’t break down on them,” said one hazmat-suited Bahamian police officer who could not give his name. “These families need this, they need someone to talk to.”

Bahamian officials said 4,800 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most from Abaco. Free flights will continue to evacuate people who choose to leave the Bahamas, but there are no mandatory evacuations, officials said.

“The plan is not to move everyone out,” said Carl Smith, a spokesman National Emergency Management Agency, during a news conference on Monday.

Thousands of people poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm shelters were straining to house evacuees from worse-hit areas. Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

Shelters are housing about 1,100 people, the agency said; more are staying with friends and relatives. The agency was asking residents whose homes were intact to open them up to people displaced by the storm.

Some 90% of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbour were damaged, the World Food Programme said. Thousands of people were living in a government building, a medical center and an Anglican church that survived the storms, it said, but had little or no access to water, power and sanitary facilities.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet opened a Human Rights Council session in Geneva on Monday with a minute of silence for hurricane victims.

“Small island nations are among those suffering the most catastrophic effects of climate change, although they contribute very little to fuelling the problem,” Bachelet said. “Just this past week, yet another devastating hurricane hit the Bahamas, taking a terrible toll in human life and destroying precious development gains.”

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

Bahamas hurricane survivors tell of children swept away; death toll reaches 30

FILE PHOTO: A man walks through the rubble in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 2, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Richard Johnson said his six-year-old brother Adrian was just too small to withstand Hurricane Dorian. The boy was blown into churning storm surge and is among thousands of people missing, many of them children, after the worst hurricane to hit the Bahamas.

It was one of many harrowing stories emerging on Thursday as residents searched for loved ones and widespread looting was reported on the islands, where the United Nations estimates 70,000 people are in immediate need of food, water and shelter.

An international relief effort was trying to overcome formidable logistical challenges to help the Bahamas, where the health minister predicted a “staggering” death toll from Hurricane Dorian, now churning northward off the coast of South Carolina.

“I guess within seconds the gusts of the wind blew the little boy off the roof into the water,” Johnson said of his brother. “Given the circumstances, I’m not that hopeful.”

Aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas, worst hit by the then-Category 5 hurricane, showed widespread devastation, with the harbor, shops and workplaces, a hospital and airport landing strips damaged or decimated.

FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the island Great Abaco, shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas, September 3, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: Aerial image of the island Great Abaco, shows the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian, Bahamas, September 3, 2019. UK Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

The death toll from Dorian stood at 30 on Thursday evening, officials told CNN, The final toll is expected to be much higher.

“Let me say that I believe the number will be staggering,” Health Minister Duane Sands was quoted by The Nassau Guardian as telling Guardian radio. “… I have never lived through anything like this and I don’t want to live through anything like this again.”

Dorian turned a shantytown known as The Mud near Marsh Harbour into shredded wreckage, with bodies believed to be still below the ruins, based on the smell coming from the debris, according to a Reuters photographer who visited the area.

The photographer witnessed widespread looting in Marsh Harbour, seeing residents breaking into liquor stores and supermarkets, carrying off goods in bags or filling their vehicles.

$7 BILLION IN DAMAGE

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) said on Thursday it was organizing an airlift from Panama of storage units, generators and prefab offices for two logistics hubs, as well as satellite equipment for emergency responders, and has bought eight metric tonnes of ready-to-eat meals.

The U.N. agency has allocated $5.4 million to a three-month emergency operation to support 39,000 people, said WFP Senior Spokesperson Hervé Verhoosel.

Displaced Haitian nationals take refuge on the grounds of the Government complex in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

Displaced Haitian nationals take refuge on the grounds of the Government complex in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian on the Great Abaco island town of Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Dante Carrer

A flight from the U.S. Agency for International Development landed early on Thursday with enough relief supplies to help 31,500 people, bringing hygiene kits, water containers and buckets, plastic sheeting and chain saws.

Total insured and uninsured losses in the Bahamas amounted to $7 billion, including buildings and business interruptions, according to a preliminary estimate by Karen Clark & Co, a consultancy that provides catastrophic modeling and risk management services.

With telephones down in many areas, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media. One Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas had 2,500 comments, mainly listing lost family members.

One survivor on the Abaco Islands, Ramond King, said he watched as swirling winds ripped the roof off his house, then churned to a neighbor’s home to pluck the entire structure into the sky.

“‘This can’t be real, this can’t be real’,” King recalled thinking. “Nothing is here, nothing at all. Everything is gone, just bodies.”

FILE PHOTO: Families react as they are reunited after a church group was evacuated from the Abaco Islands after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Nassau, Bahamas September 4, 2019. Picture taken September 4, 2019. REUTERS/John Marc Nutt

FILE PHOTO: Families react as they are reunited after a church group was evacuated from the Abaco Islands after Hurricane Dorian made landfall in Nassau, Bahamas September 4, 2019. Picture taken September 4, 2019. REUTERS/John Marc Nutt

RELIEF EFFORTS

The Netherlands’ ambassador to the United Nations tweeted the country was sending two naval ships with supplies from St Maarten, a Dutch island about 1,100 miles (1,770 km) southeast of the Bahamas.

Jamaica was sending a 150-member military contingent to help secure Abaco and Grand Bahama, officials said.

Volunteers also ferried supplies to the islands in a flotilla of small boats.

Cruise lines responded as well.

The Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line said it would transport first responders, medics and journalists for free to Freeport on Thursday, returning to Florida on Friday with any Bahamians who have documents to enter the United States.

“It’s a humanitarian trip. We’re also taking donations that have arrived in the port (in Palm Beach),” said Francisco Sanchez, a sales representative for the cruise line.

Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas said it was delivering 10,000 meals of chicken, rice and fruit to Grand Bahama.

Dorian hovered over the Bahamas for nearly two days with torrential rains and fierce winds that whipped up 12- to 18-foot (3.7- to 5.5-meter) storm surges.

On Thursday, the storm was barreling north-northeast just off the southeastern U.S. coast, moving at about 7 miles per hour (11 kph), with maximum sustained winds fluctuating between 110 and 115 mph (175-185 kph), between a Category 2 and Category 3 storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

(Reporting by Nick Brown in Nassau, Bahamas and Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbor Bahamas, Nick Carey in Charleston, South Carolina, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rebekah Ward in Mexico City, Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool)

Bahamas in crisis after Hurricane Dorian flattens homes, food scarce

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Dante Carrer

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Survivors of Hurricane Dorian on Wednesday picked through the wreckage of homes ripped open by fierce winds, struggled to fuel generators and queued for food after one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record devastated parts of the Bahamas.

The most damaging storm to strike the island nation, Dorian killed at least seven people, but the scope of the destruction and a humanitarian crisis was still coming into focus as aerial video of the Abaco Islands in the northern Bahamas showed wide devastation.

Dozens of people took to Facebook to search for missing loved ones, and aid agencies estimated that tens of thousands of people out of the Bahamas population of 400,000 would need food and other support.

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

An aerial view shows devastation after hurricane Dorian hit the Grand Bahama Island in the Bahamas,September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told a news conference. “We can expect more deaths to be recorded. This is just preliminary information.”

LaQuez Williams, pastor at Jubilee Cathedral in Grand Bahama, opened the church as a shelter for about 150 people. As the storm ground on, Williams said that from the higher ground of the church he could see people on their rooftops seeking refuge.

“They were calling for help, but you could not go out to reach,” Williams said. “It was very difficult because you felt helpless.”

Aerial video of Great Abaco Island showed miles of flooded neighborhoods littered with upturned boats and shipping containers scattered like toys. Many buildings had walls or roofs partly ripped off.

“Victims are being loaded on flatbed trucks across Abaco,” one Twitter user with the handle @mvp242 said, describing a rain-blurred photograph of limp bodies strewn across a truck bed.

Other posts on Twitter said entire communities were swept away. Photographs from the airport at Freeport showed a light plane torn in two, with hangars badly damaged and scattered debris.

After rampaging through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded, Dorian’s wind speeds dropped on Tuesday to make it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale. It maintained that level on Wednesday, but forecasters warned it was still dangerous.

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

Some minor flooding occurs on the bridges from the beach towards communities from Hurricane Dorian in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 4, 2019. REUTERS/Maria Alejandra Cardona

DANGER FOR U.S. COAST

Residents of coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were preparing for Dorian’s approach on Wednesday, with the National Hurricane Center warning it could make landfall in South or North Carolina on Thursday or Friday.

South Carolina officials said they were expecting storm surges of four to eight feet and wind gusts of 90 mph (140 kph) on Thursday, and told people to evacuate the coast as Dorian drew closer.

“It’s getting here a little weaker than it could have but now it’s gotten here,” Governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference. “Time to get out is running out.”

Florida avoided a direct hit from Dorian.

“We certainly got lucky in Florida, and now if we could get lucky in Georgia, in North Carolina, in South Carolina,” President Donald Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

People crept back into Jacksonville Beach as Florida appeared to be escaping the worst of the storm, with a couple of people seen surfing by its pier on Wednesday morning.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp extended a state of emergency to cover 21 counties as the storm tracked north towards its coast. The emergency covers more than 900,000 Georgia residents, of whom over 400,000 have been ordered to evacuate, according to the state Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency.

Dorian had sustained winds near 105 miles per hour (165 kph) as it churned about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida around midday on Wednesday, the NHC said.

Hurricane-force winds had expanded to 60 miles (100 km) from the storm’s core.

Heavy rains and storm-surge waters moving inland could cause life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The risk extended from Jupiter, Florida, to Surf City, North Carolina. Tornadoes were possible along the Florida coast, with the risk later moving to Georgia and South Carolina.

BAHAMAS BATTERED

With many telephones down on Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, residents posted lists of missing loved ones on social media sites.

A single Facebook post by media outlet Our News Bahamas seeking the names of missing people had 2,000 comments listing lost family members since it went live on Tuesday, although some of the comments were also about loved ones being found.

Janith Mullings, 66, from Freeport, Grand Bahama, said she had been through hurricanes all her life but had never seen anything like Dorian.

“We’ve never had hurricanes in none of our islands that have experienced the ocean rising like it did. The ocean was something no one could prepare for,” she said.

As many as 13,000 homes in the Bahamas may have been destroyed or severely damaged, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said.

“It’s heartbreaking …,” said Caroline Turnquest, director general of Bahamas Red Cross. “We know from what we’ve been seeing and hearing, that this one will require the help of all the persons.”

Food may be required for 14,500 people in the Abaco Islands and for 45,700 people in Grand Bahama, the U.N. World Food Programme said.

The State Department said it did not believe any U.S. citizens who were in the Bahamas, a popular tourist destination, during the storm were killed.

U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection personnel have airlifted 61 people from the northern Bahamas to the capital Nassau over two days, the U.S. Embassy said.

(Reporting by Dante Carrer in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas, additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Jacksonville, Florida, Gabriella Borter in Titusville, Florida, Peter Szekely, Jonathan Allen and Matthew Lavietes in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta, Writing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

Bangladesh floods worsen after breach, death toll nears 100 in India

People move along a flooded road in Gaibandha, Bangladesh July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

By Serajul Quadir and Zarir Hussain

DHAKA/GUWAHATI, INDIA (Reuters) – One of Bangladesh’s main rivers breached an embankment, flooding a northern district and forcing thousands from their homes, an official said on Thursday, as the toll from monsoon rains in neighboring India climbed to 97 in two flood-hit states.

Several million people are living in camps and makeshift settlements in India’s eastern state of Bihar and northeastern Assam, officials said, with heavy rains and flooding since last week driving even animals to seek shelter in people’s homes.

The monsoon brings heavy rains to South Asia between June and October, often triggering floods later in the season.

In Bangladesh, the Jamuna river broke through an embankment on Wednesday night, inundating at least 40 villages and displacing more than 200,000 people, government official Rokhsana Begum said.

“We have enough supply of dry food and drinking water but we cannot reach many areas due to high water levels,” said the official in the district of Gaibandha, one of 21 hit by floods.

Inadequate supplies are also a concern in the Indian state of Assam, where more than 5.8 million people have been forced out of their homes, but the situation is improving.

“No fresh areas have come under floodwaters since Wednesday night,” Assam’s health and finance minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma, said.

POACHING

The state’s Kaziranga National Park, home to endangered one-horned rhinos and tigers, was waist-deep in water, with animals sheltering in higher areas, and some straying into villages.

On Thursday, an adult tiger was found sleeping on a bed in a house on the edge of the sanctuary. “It appears the tiger strayed into a human settlement area to escape the floods and now appears very tired,” park director Shiv Kumar told Reuters.

“We are preparing to tranquilize the tiger.”

The floods have killed at least 43 animals, but authorities worry that poachers could take advantage of the deluge to target animals, especially one-horned rhinos, whose numbers are down to about 3,500 worldwide.

One-horned rhinos rest on a highland in the flood affected area of Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

One-horned rhinos rest on a highland in the flood affected area of Kaziranga National Park in Nagaon district, in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

“The biggest worry during the floods is from poachers who might take advantage of the rhinos moving to the hills and kill the animals for their horn,” said Assam Forest Minister Parimal Suklabaidya.

The death toll in Bihar, which was swamped by waters from the neighboring Himalayan nation of Nepal, jumped to 67, as rescuers reached further into flood-hit areas.

“I still feel the chances are that the number may again increase,” Pratyaya Amrit, a state disaster management official, told Reuters, referring to the death toll.

(Additional reporting by Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

On Venezuelan independence day, Maduro calls for dialogue as Guaido slams ‘dictatorship’

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, is seen at Venezuela's National Assembly to celebrate the 208th anniversary of Venezuela's independence in Caracas, Venezuela July 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fausto Torrealba

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuela’s bitterly divided political factions held competing commemorations of the country’s independence day on Friday, with President Nicolas Maduro calling for dialogue and opposition leader Juan Guaido decrying alleged human rights violations by Maduro’s “dictatorship.”

Speaking to a gathering of top military officials, Maduro reiterated his support for a negotiation process mediated by Norway between his socialist government and Guaido, the leader of the opposition-held National Assembly who argues Maduro’s 2018 re-election was a fraud.

“There is room for all of us within Venezuela,” Maduro said in a speech in Caracas, before calling for military exercises on July 24 to defend the South American country’s “seas, rivers and borders.”

“We must all give up something in order to reach an agreement,” he said.

Venezuela was plunged into a deep political crisis in January when Guaido invoked the constitution to assume a rival interim presidency, calling Maduro a usurper. He has been recognized as the rightful head of state by dozens of countries, including the United States and most South American neighbors.

But Maduro retains the recognition of Cuba, Russia and China, and remains in control of state functions and the armed forces. He calls Guaido a U.S.-backed puppet seeking to oust him in a coup.

Guaido held a separate independence day event, calling on supporters to march toward the headquarters of the military counterintelligence directorate, or DGCIM, where navy captain Rafael Acosta died last month after opposition leaders and family members said he was tortured in custody.

The march is the first major opposition gathering since a botched Guaido-led military uprising on April 30 and follow-up protests on May 1. The government responded to the failed attempt to oust Maduro with a crackdown on Guaido-aligned lawmakers and military members suspected of involvement.

This week, the United Nations human rights chief, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, published a report detailing alleged extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and other rights violations by Venezuelan security forces in recent years.

“There is no longer any valid euphemism to characterize this regime, other than dictatorship,” Guaido told reporters earlier on Friday. “The systematic violation of human rights, the repression, the torture… it is clearly identified in the (UN)report.”

The Venezuelan government has called the report “selective” and said the UN sources lacked objectivity.

A new round of Norway-mediated talks expected for this week was called off after Acosta’s death. Opposition leaders frequently argue that Maduro’s government seeks to use dialogue to distract from its continued human rights violations.

In an apparent referral to Acosta before Maduro spoke, Commander Remigio Ceballos said the armed forces “regretted the events related to the loss of the retired naval official.” Without naming Acosta, he accused him of conspiring against the Venezuelan state, and said authorities were investigating the circumstances of his death.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera, Mayela Armas and Luc Cohen, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Villagers accuse city of seizing water as drought parches ‘India’s Detroit’

A man sits on a fishing boat stranded on the bed of dried-up lake in Thiruninravur, India, June 29, 2019. Picture taken June 29, 2019. REUTERS/P. Ravikumar

By Sudarshan Varadhan

CHENNAI (Reuters) – In the small village of Bangarampettai, 20 miles from India’s manufacturing capital Chennai, about 150 people last month “captured” a water tanker, breaking its windscreen and deflating its tires before handing it over to a nearby police station.

People living on the outskirts of this southern Indian metropolis are blocking roads and laying siege to tanker lorries because they fear their water reserves are being sacrificed so city dwellers, businesses and luxury hotels don’t run out.

“Private tankers have fitted more than eight bore wells in our village and are indiscriminately extracting thousands of liters of water every day,” the Bangarampettai villagers wrote in a letter to a government official in the region a day after they stopped the tanker.

Bad water management and a lack of rainfall mean that all four reservoirs that supply Chennai, a carmaking center dubbed “India’s Detroit”, have run virtually dry this summer. That has forced some schools to shut, companies to ask employees to work from home and hotels to ration water for guests.

Other Indian cities, including the capital New Delhi and technology hub Bengaluru, are also grappling with serious water shortages.

But the problem is most acute in Chennai, where local tensions have been inflamed by the Tamil Nadu state government tapping wells normally used for agriculture and villagers’ daily needs.

In their letter, the Bangarampettai residents said they had petitioned government officials, including the district’s top administrator, several times, but the tankers keep returning. “We don’t have water in one of the two water tanks in the village now because the private tankers have been extracting water day and night,” said S Arul, a local signboard painter.

Groundwater levels in Chennai’s neighboring districts, Thiruvallur and Kancheepuram, fell at a faster rate in May than the state average in districts excluding Chennai, data from the state’s public works department showed. Data for Chennai district has not been made public. The Kancheepuram district to the southeast of the city, which includes the factories of many foreign automakers, saw groundwater levels deplete more than 6 ft (1.88 meters), or three times the state average, to about 20 ft during the year ended May 2019, the data showed.

There is no sign yet that the factories are having to reduce production because of the shortage.

DRY LAKES

M Jeeva, 27, who runs a hardware store near Bangarampettai, said he followed trucks taking the village’s water back into the city and found they mostly supply hotels and companies.

Two of the biggest lakes in Thiruninravur, the nearest town to Bangarampettai, are dry. When Reuters visited, a fishing boat could be seen grounded and abandoned while children played cricket in the middle of the dry lakebed.

In Poochi Athipedu, another village on the city’s outskirts, a local landowner S Ramesh allowed private tankers to sink bore wells and extract water, leading to protests by the local community.

Ramesh said he was paid up to 500 rupees ($7.20) to fill a 12,000-litre water tanker, but stopped selling water after the protests.

Officials, though, say there is no reason to be worried.

“Water is being extracted only from regions within the district where there is sufficient water,” said Mageswari Ravikumar, Thiruvallur’s top administrative official, adding that the district administration had stopped some water tankers that were extracting water illegally.

Two state government officials said residents in at least three other villages in the district – where much of the population relies on cultivating rice and sugar cane – blocked roads in protest over worries about falling groundwater levels.

And N Nijalingam, president of the South Chennai Private Water Tankers Association, confirmed some tankers have been chased away, while others have had confrontations with angry crowds on the city’s outskirts.

More than 5,000 water tankers have been traveling within a 35-mile (55-km) radius of the city to pick up water for Chennai, he said.

HAPHAZARD DEVELOPMENT

Like many Indian cities, Chennai’s growth over the past 20 years has been rapid and haphazard. Its population will have likely more than doubled to 10.7 million by 2020, from 4.6 million in 2011, according to the United Nations.

The Chennai municipality provides more than half of the city’s water through piped supplies and tankers hired by the authorities, with the rest handled by private firms, according to Sekhar Raghavan, director of the Chennai-based Rain Centre.

Across the city’s poorer suburbs, there are many signs of the shortage.

In Shanmugapuram, a suburb in the Thiruvallur district located right beside one of Chennai’s biggest water sources, women of all ages holding blue and green plastic pots shouted slogans demanding water last week outside a government office.

At a water distribution point in North Chennai, people crowded around taps, with some arriving on the three-wheeler auto-rickshaws loaded with as many pots and buckets as they could carry.

The state government last decade made it mandatory to install rainwater harvesting structures in new buildings, but locals say it hasn’t been properly adopted.

Harsh Koda, Coordinator of FOMRAA, a residents association in the city, said people in his locality were paying up to 70 percent more to buy water from private water tankers.

Residents in Chennai say the waiting period for city corporation-run water tankers, which deliver water at a lower price, is as long as 25 days.

“I paid 1,700 rupees for a 12,000-litre water tanker two days ago because the tanker had to travel 50 km more to fetch water,” Koda said, adding that he previously paid 1,000 rupees for a tanker.

(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Additional reporting by P Ravikumar; Editing by Martin Howell and Alex Richardson)

Papua New Guinea volcanic eruptions force 15,000 from their homes

FILE PHOTO - Ash billows from Mount Ulawun during a volcanic eruption, West New Britain, Papua New Guinea June 26, 2019 in this still image taken from social media video. Eroli Tamara via REUTERS

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Volcanic eruptions in Papua New Guinea (PNG) have forced 15,000 villagers in the country’s northeast to flee their homes, aid agencies said on Sunday.

Mount Ulawun on PNG’s northeastern island of New Britain exploded suddenly on Wednesday, shooting an ash column 18 km (11.18 miles) into the air, while nearby Manam erupted on Friday, sending dangerous pyroclastic flows down its slopes.

There were no reported casualties but the eruptions destroyed homes, plantations and wells, leaving villagers without food and water while ash columns disrupted domestic flights.

The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said as of Sunday, 3,775 people had fled the Manam eruption and 11,047 people from the Mount Ulawun eruption and taken shelter in refugee centers.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area with tiny glass-like particles that can permanently damage the lungs, leading to sickness or death.

Leo Mapmani of the West New Britain Provincial Disaster Centre said health risks from the ash falls meant people were unable to return to their homes while the dust would damage food crops if rains did not wash it off soon.

“If it is on the hilltops and the treetops and the wind blows, people will inhale it,” he told Reuters by telephone from West New Britain’s provincial capital of Kimbe.

Manam Island resident Jordan Sauba told local media his house was destroyed by ash and stones.

“We had nowhere to go so we went under the house and hid there for at least eight hours,” he said from Manam Island.

PNG Red Cross, provincial governments, provincial disaster centers and the Salvation Army have taken emergency supplies to the shelters, IFRC PNG head Udaya Regmi told Reuters on Sunday.

It was unclear when villagers would be able to return to their homes, he said.

PNG Prime Minister James Marape visited the Ulawun refuge shelters in West New Britain province on Sunday. Marape had previously said he would send the defense force to help.

Steve Saunders, principal geodetic surveyor at the Rabaul Volcano Observatory told Reuters that Manam was expected to continue to erupt with active lava flows from the summit to the sea.

“Satellites are monitoring the gas and temperatures and we’re monitoring deformation to see if we have any uplift,” he said.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Sam Holmes)

 

Venezuela’s Guaido calls for uprising but military loyal to Maduro for now

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, talks to supporters in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Vivian Sequera, Angus Berwick and Luc Cohen

CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Tuesday made his strongest call yet to the military to help him oust President Nicolas Maduro but there were no concrete signs of defection from the armed forces leadership.

Early on Tuesday, several dozen armed troops accompanying Guaido clashed with soldiers supporting Maduro at a rally in Caracas, and large anti-government protests in the streets turned violent. But by Tuesday afternoon an uneasy peace had returned and there was no indication that the opposition planned to take power through military force.

Opposition demonstrators take cover from tear gas on a street near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase "La Carlota" in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Opposition demonstrators take cover from tear gas on a street near the Generalisimo Francisco de Miranda Airbase “La Carlota” in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN that “as we understand it” Maduro had been ready to depart for socialist ally Cuba, but had been persuaded to stay by Russia, which has also been a steadfast supporter.

In a message posted on his social media accounts on Tuesday evening, Guaido told supporters to take to the streets once again on Wednesday. He reiterated his call for the armed forces to take his side and said Maduro did not have the military’s support.

“Today Venezuela has the opportunity to peacefully rebel against a tyrant who is closing himself in,” Guaido said.

Maduro appeared in a state television broadcast on Tuesday night flanked by Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino and socialist party Vice President Diosdado Cabello, among others.

“Today the goal was a big show,” Maduro said, referring to the military members who sided with Guaido as a “small group.” “Their plan failed, their call failed, because Venezuela wants peace.”

He said he had reinstated Gustavo Gonzalez Lopez as the head of the Sebin intelligence agency, without providing details on the exit of Manuel Cristopher Figuera at the helm of the agency. Cristopher Figuera replaced Gonzalez Lopez at Sebin last year.

Other U.S. officials said three top Maduro loyalists – Padrino, Supreme Court chief judge Maikel Moreno and presidential guard commander Ivan Rafael Hernandez Dala – had been in talks with the opposition and were ready to support a peaceful transition of power.

“They negotiated for a long time on the means of restoring democracy but it seems that today they are not going forward,” said U.S. envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams. U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said: “All agreed that Maduro had to go.” Neither provided evidence.

Venezuela’s U.N. Ambassador Samuel Moncada rejected Bolton’s remarks as “propaganda.”

Flanked by uniformed men, Padrino said in a broadcast that the armed forces would continue to defend the constitution and “legitimate authorities,” and that military bases were operating as normal. Moreno issued a call for calm on Twitter.

Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing that Maduro’s re-election in 2018 was illegitimate. But Maduro has held on, despite economic chaos, most Western countries backing Guaido, increased U.S. sanctions, and huge protests.

Soldiers ride on top of a car with supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (not pictured), who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, during anti-government protests, in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

Soldiers ride on top of a car with supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido (not pictured), who many nations have recognised as the country’s rightful interim ruler, during anti-government protests, in Caracas, Venezuela April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

BOLD, BUT RISKY, MOVE

Tuesday’s move was Guaido’s boldest effort yet to persuade the military to rise up against Maduro. If it fails, it could be seen as evidence that he lacks sufficient support. It might also encourage the authorities, who have already stripped him of parliamentary immunity and opened multiple investigations into him, to arrest him.

Tens of thousands of people marched in Caracas in support of Guaido early on Tuesday, clashing with riot police along the main Francisco Fajardo thoroughfare. A National Guard armored car slammed into protesters who were throwing stones and hitting the vehicle.

Human rights groups said 109 people were injured in the incidents, most of them hit with pellets or rubber bullets.

Venezuela is mired in a deep economic crisis despite its vast oil reserves. Shortages of food and medicine have prompted more than 3 million Venezuelans to emigrate in recent years.

The slump has worsened this year with large areas of territory left in the dark for days at a time by power outages.

“My mother doesn’t have medicine, my economic situation is terrible, my family has had to emigrate. We don’t earn enough money. We have no security. But we are hopeful, and I think that this is the beginning of the end of this regime,” said Jose Madera, 42, a mechanic, sitting atop his motorbike.

In a video on his Twitter account, Guaido was accompanied by men in military uniform and leading opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, a surprise public appearance for a man who has been under house arrest since 2017.

Chile’s foreign minister said later Tuesday that Lopez and his family had entered Chile’s diplomatic residence.

Oil prices topped $73 before easing, partly driven higher by the uncertainty in Venezuela, an OPEC member whose oil exports have been hit by the U.S. sanctions and the economic crisis.

WHO BACKED WHO?

The crisis has pitted supporters of Guaido, including the United States, the European Union, and most Latin American nations, against Maduro’s allies, which include Russia, Cuba and China.

The White House declined to comment on whether Washington had advance knowledge of what Guaido was planning.

Carlos Vecchio, Guaido’s envoy to the United States, told reporters in Washington that the Trump administration did not help coordinate Tuesday’s events.

“This is a movement led by Venezuelans,” he said.

But accusations flew back and forth, with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza saying the events had been “directly planned” in Washington and Bolton saying that fears of Cuban retaliation had propped up Maduro. Neither provided evidence.

Trump threatened “a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions” on Cuba for its support of Maduro.

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro threw his support behind Guaido and said Venezuelans were “enslaved by a dictator.” But his security adviser, a retired general, said Guaido’s support among the military appeared “weak.”

Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday accused the Venezuelan opposition of resorting to violence in what it said was a brazen attempt to draw the country’s armed forces into clashes. Turkey also criticized the opposition.

The United Nations and other countries urged a peaceful solution and dialogue.

 

(Reporting by Angus Berwick, Vivian Sequera, Corina Pons, Mayela Armas, Deisy Buitrago, and Luc Cohen in Caracas; Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle, Lesley Wroughton and Roberta Rampton in Washington, Madeline Chambers in Berlin, and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Alistair Bell and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Venezuelans seek joy amid the chaos

A woman holds a child as they get ready to hit a pinata at a birthday party celebration in Caracas,Venezuela, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Shaylim Valderrama and Ivan Alvarado

CARACAS (Reuters) – A night at a bar is interrupted by a power outage, going to a baseball game is prohibitively expensive, and a trip to a nearby beach requires months of savings. But many Venezuelans have not given up on finding ways to smile.

Despite an economic crisis that has led to shortages of food and medicine and has prompted more than three million to emigrate, Venezuelans are seeking ways to have fun and spend time with family in the hope of easing their discomfort.

Still, the increased frequency of blackouts and a political showdown between the socialist government and the opposition has cast a cloud of uncertainty, leaving many Venezuelans bereft of simple pleasures.

Venezuela fell to the 108th place in the 2019 World Happiness Report prepared by the United Nations, down from 102nd place in 2018. In the Western hemisphere, only Haiti was below the oil-rich nation, ranking 147th out of 156 countries studied by the U.N.

Leonel Martinez, who works as soldier, kisses his girlfriend as they spend a day at Coral beach in La Guaira near Caracas, Venezuela, March 23, 2019. "It's a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country," said Martinez. "It's not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country." REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

Leonel Martinez, who works as soldier, kisses his girlfriend as they spend a day at Coral beach in La Guaira near Caracas, Venezuela, March 23, 2019. “It’s a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country,” said Martinez. “It’s not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country.” REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

The happiness report – which in its first edition in 2012 placed Venezuela in the 19th position – is based on indicators such as gross domestic product per capita, generosity, life expectancy, social freedom and absence of corruption.

Venezuela was plunged into darkness with two massive blackouts in March, generating water shortages and prompting the government to suspend work and school. Earlier this month, the government launched a power rationing plan, and electricity remains intermittent in many parts of the country.

In search of distraction, Venezuelans from the country’s capital of Caracas have long taken to the nearby seaside state of Vargas to spend weekends with family and friends on the shores of the Caribbean.

“You put your mind in another place,” said Leonel Martinez, a 26-year-old soldier while relaxing on the sand with his girlfriend while her nephews played nearby. “It’s a way to think about something besides what is happening in the country.”

But in a country where the monthly minimum wage amounts to just $6 per month, the $15-$20 a day trip to the beach can require months of savings and advance planning.

Martinez, who said he used to take the 40-kilometer (25 mile) trip to the beach frequently, said it was the first time he had gone in a year.

“It’s not something you can do every day, because of the situation in the country,” said Martinez.

Members of Family Rose softball team put their hands together before a match at Lecuna Avenue softball pitch in Caracas, Venezuela, March 24, 2019. "After the game we always had a few beers. But now they are too expensive," said Felix Babaza. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarad

Members of Family Rose softball team put their hands together before a match at Lecuna Avenue softball pitch in Caracas, Venezuela, March 24, 2019. “After the game we always had a few beers. But now they are too expensive,” said Felix Babaza. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

‘IN THIS WORLD THERE IS NO CRISIS’

For Venezuelans, queuing for food is a daily ordeal. They also are used to trying multiple pharmacies and hospitals in search of the medicines they need, and more recently have grown accustomed to collecting water from streams.

But that has not stopped Joaquin Nino, a cash-strapped 35-year-old father of two, from taking his kids to an amusement park in southern Caracas.

“We have to work miracles just to have some fun,” Nino said.

At a parade in eastern Caracas celebrating Holy Week, revelers dressed in straw hats topped with flowers sang, banged drums and blew trumpets to tropical beats. With the sun beating down, one marcher who gave his name as Carlos remembers how in past years onlookers would douse those marching with water to cool them down.

“Now, because of the problems with the water, that probably will not happen,” he said.

In central Caracas, a group of men of all ages meet every Sunday to play softball while a handful of their relatives watch. The wire fence that once surrounded the field was long ago stolen. The lights, which once allowed the group to play at night, were also pilfered.

“I always come because my husband plays,” said Delia Jimenez, a 62-year-old industrial designer who jumps up from the stands whenever her husband comes up to bat. “We have fun and we shake off our stress.”

A youth flies a homemade kite next to Gran Mision Vivienda housing project in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2019. The children make their own kites using a plastic bag, sticks and a nylon line. "Most expensive is the nylon cone, which is 10 thousand Bolivar notes (approximately 3 U.S. dollars)," said Luis Flores. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A youth flies a homemade kite next to Gran Mision Vivienda housing project in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2019. The children make their own kites using a plastic bag, sticks and a nylon line. “Most expensive is the nylon cone, which is 10 thousand Bolivar notes (approximately 3 U.S. dollars),” said Luis Flores. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

A few blocks away, groups of young people come together to break-dance, which they say is a way to disconnect. But some admitted that they had not been eating enough recently to be able to spend as much time dancing as they used to.

“When we’re out here dancing, we don’t think about the state of the country,” said Yeafersonth Manrique, a 24-year-old drenched in sweat after a long practice. “In this world there is no crisis.”

 

(Editing by Vivian Sequera, Pablo Garibian and Diane Craft)

Venezuelans set up burning barricades over lack of power, water

Demonstrators set up a fire barricade at a protest against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela March 31, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Deisy Buitrago

CARACAS (Reuters) – Angry Venezuelans set up burning barricades near the presidential palace in Caracas and in other parts of the country on Sunday in protests over constant power outages and shortages of drinking water in the wake of two major blackouts this month.

The situation has fueled frustration with the government of President Nicolas Maduro and frayed nerves as schools and much of the nation’s commerce have been interrupted by problems with public services for nearly three weeks.

Protesters, some carrying rocks and their faces covered, burned tires and tree trunks along a stretch of downtown Caracas as they demanded Maduro improve the situation.

“We’re here fighting for water and power, we’ve gone twenty-some days without water,” said Yofre Gamez, 32, an informal vendor. “They put the power on for two hours, then turn it off at night, it comes on the next day for half an hour and then it goes off again – we’re tired of this.”

A Reuters witness heard shots ring out as Gamez spoke.

Demonstrators reported that one woman had been injured by gunfire, which they attributed to pro-government gangs. Reuters was unable to confirm who fired the shots.

Similar protests took place in other parts of the country, including the central state of Carabobo, where demonstrators burned tires and blocked roads, according to witnesses.

Rights group Penal Forum said that 12 people were arrested nationwide in protests against public services.

Venezuela suffered a week-long nationwide blackout starting on March 7 that left hospitals unable to attend to the sick and businesses giving away perishable food before it rotted.

The power went out again on March 25 and has been intermittent since.

Maduro in a televised broadcast on Sunday night announced a 30-day plan of “load management regime to balance the process of generation and transmission with consumption,” a phrase widely interpreted on social media as power rationing.

He did not offer further details on how this would work. Maduro first mentioned load management last week.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said in a statement on Sunday that school activities, which were called off for most of last week, would remain suspended. Business hours will run only until 2 p.m., he said.

The government has offered a variety of explanations for the blackouts, ranging from Washington-backed cyberattacks to opposition-linked snipers causing fires at the country’s main hydroelectric dam.

Critics insist it is the result of more than a decade of corruption and incompetent management of the power system, which the late socialist leader Hugo Chavez nationalized in 2007.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who is recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, has called on residents to organize at the neighborhood level to demand better services.

Guaido in January invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was fraudulent and that he usurped power when he was sworn in for a second term.

Maduro calls Guaido a puppet of the United States, which he says is seeking to force him from office through a coup.

Washington has levied crippling sanctions against Maduro’s government in an effort to push him from power. He has hung on in large part thanks to the continued loyalty of top military commanders.

(Reporting by Deisy Buitrago; writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz, Dan Grebler and Michael Perry)