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Hurricane Maria batters Dominica as category five storm

Hurricane Maria, strengthened to a "potentially catastrophic" category five storm, has torn into the Caribbean island of Dominica with sustained winds of 260km/h (160mph).

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook that his roof had been torn off and he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".

He said his house had flooded, later adding that he had been rescued.

Dominica's airport and ports have been closed.

Maria is moving roughly along the same track as Irma, the hurricane that devastated the region this month.

The nearby island of Martinique has declared a maximum-level alert while another French island, Guadeloupe, ordered evacuations.

Hurricane warnings are also in place for:

Puerto Rico: The US territory expects Maria to make landfall as a category three on Tuesday. It escaped the worst of Irma and has been an important hub for getting relief to islands more badly affected. Governor Ricardo Rossello urged islanders to seek refugeUS Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands: Both island chains suffered severe damage from Irma and President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the US territories on Monday. British authorities fear debris left behind by Irma could be whipped up by the new storm and pose an extra threat.

Warnings are also in effect for St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and St Lucia while hurricane watches are in place for St Martin, Saba, St Eustatius and Anguilla.

The islands bearing the brunt of Maria are part of the Leeward Islands chain and include Antigua and Barbuda. The latter was evacuated after being devastated by Irma.

Forecasters warned that heavy rainfall caused by the hurricane "could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides".

All ports and airports are closed and residents near the coast have been ordered to go to authorised shelters.

Curtis Matthew, a journalist based in the capital, Roseau, told the BBC that conditions went "very bad, rapidly".

"We are not able to even see properly what is happening on the road. The winds are very, very strong, we can hear the noise on the outside. We still don't know what the impact is going to be when this is all over. But what I can say it does not look good for Dominica as we speak," he said.

Martinique raised its alert status to "violet", the highest level, and ordered its population to seek shelter.

In Guadeloupe, schools, businesses and government buildings have all been closed and severe flooding is predicted. The French government has ordered low-lying areas on the islands to be evacuated, AFP reports.

Image captionThe Leeward Islands - where Maria will first strike - includes Antigua and BarbudaThe British government said more than 1,300 troops were staying put in the region and an additional military team had been deployed to the British Virgin Islands where entire neighbourhoods were flattened by Irma.

Virgin boss Richard Branson, who has a home in the Virgin Islands, has been tweeting ahead of the Maria's predicted arrival, warning people to stay safe.

Media captionA BBC team visited Caribbean islands that have been devastated by Hurricane IrmaIrma also hit the US, where several dozen deaths were linked to the hurricane. Nearly 6.9 million homes were left without power in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama.

Barbuda after Hurricane IrmaIn Pictures: Irma devastates British Virgin Islands

A second hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph.

The centre of Jose was about 265 miles east-south-east of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina, the NHC said in its advisory at 18:00 GMT on Monday.

Irma turns Caribbean island paradises into nightmares

This Sept. 7, 2017 photo provided by the Dutch Defense Ministry shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in St. Maarten. Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees. Significant damage was reported on the island that is split between French and Dutch control. Gerben Van Es/Dutch Defense Ministry via AP
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua — Strung like beads along the northeast edge of the Caribbean, the Leeward Islands are tiny, remote and beautiful, with azure waters and ocean breezes drawing tourists from around the world.

The wild isolation that made St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands vacation paradises has turned them into cutoff, chaotic nightmares in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which left 22 people dead, mostly in the Leeward Islands. Looting and lawlessness were reported Saturday by both French and Dutch authorities, who were sending in extra troops to restore order.

The Category 5 storm snapped the islands' fragile links to the outside world with a direct hit early Wednesday, pounding their small airports, decapitating cellphone towers, filling harbors with overturned, crushed boats and leaving thousands of tourists and locals desperate to escape.

The situation worsened Saturday with the passage of Category 4 Hurricane Jose, which shuttered airports and halted emergency boat traffic through the weekend.

Looting, gunshots and a lack of clean drinking water were reported on the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin, home to five-star resorts and a multimillion estate owned by President Donald Trump.

Federal officials deployed C-130s to evacuate U.S. citizens from the French Caribbean island of St. Martin to Puerto Rico. Nearly 160 were evacuated on Friday and approximately 700 more on Saturday.

The amphibious assault USS Wasp evacuated hospital patients from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands to St. Croix and Puerto Rico. The Norwegian Cruise Line turned a cruise ship into an ad-hoc rescue boat, sending a ship with 10 restaurants, a spa and a casino to evacuate 2,000 tourists from St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Norwegian Sky cruise ship was due to arrive Tuesday and take its charges to Miami.

More than 1,100 police, military officials and others were deployed to St. Martin and the nearby French Caribbean territory of St. Barts, where they used helicopters to identify the cars of people looting stores and homes. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Saturday night that France would be sending more Foreign Legion troops, paratroopers and other reinforcements to St. Martin starting Sunday.

Philippe said the several hundred gendarmes, soldiers and other security forces there were working in "difficult conditions" and needed help.

The government told all residents to stay inside and put the island and St. Barts on its highest alert level as Hurricane Jose rolled through the area.

The island is divided between French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten, where the Dutch government estimated Saturday that 70 percent of houses were badly damaged or destroyed, leaving much of the 40,000 population in public shelters as they braced for the arrival of Jose.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the situation remained "grim" on the island where widespread looting had broken out and a state of emergency was in force.

Rutte said some 230 Dutch troops and police were patrolling St. Maarten to maintain order and deliver aid and a further 200 would arrive in coming days. The government evacuated 65 dialysis patients from St. Maarten's hospital, which also was hard hit by Irma.

The islands' woes increased as the airport on St. Barts was closed, and those in Anguilla and St. Martin were open only to the military, rescue crews and aid organizations. Others, including St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, banned flyovers.

Late Saturday, St. Maarten Prime Minister William Marlin said about 1,600 tourists had been evacuated and efforts are being made to move 1,200 more.

Marlin said many countries and people have offered help to St. Maarten, but authorities are waiting on the weather conditions to see how this can be coordinated.

Before the hurricanes, St. Maarten's Princess Juliana International Airport was one of the former Dutch colony's major tourist draws thanks to a runway that ended just a few meters (yards) from the sandy crescent of Maho Beach, where people could stand and watch as arriving jets skimmed low over their heads.

After Irma, aerial footage shot by Dutch marines showed that Maho Beach's sands had washed away and the airport was badly damaged. The Dutch military are using the runway, which was inundated by high tides during the hurricane, to ferry in aid supplies but say it's not yet open to civilian flights as there are no runway lights or air traffic control. The Canadian low-cost airline and tour agency Sunwing evacuated some Canadian tourists from St Maarten to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic on Saturday.

Ports in St. John, St. Thomas and elsewhere remained closed.

As Jose neared, the last airplane flew in to St. Martin's battered Grande-Case airport Friday carrying workers to help re-establish the island's water supply and electricity. French authorities said some 1,105 recovery workers were deployed on St. Martin and St. Barts. A tanker with 350 tons of fresh water was also on its way.

By Saturday, damage was estimated to have already reached 1.2 billion euros ($1.44 billion).

France said it hoped to allow commercial boats to go to and from St. Martin and nearby Guadeloupe on Monday, when waters are expected to calm.

French President Emmanuel Macron came under criticism for his government's handling of the crisis.

Once known for pink sandy beaches that attracted celebrities and royalty, the island of Barbuda is now a disaster zone. Virtually all of its 1,500 residents left for the sister island of Antigua, a 1.5-hour boat ride away, ahead of Jose with assistance from

"The biggest problem in Barbuda now is the fact that you have so many dead animals in the water and so on, that there is a threat of disease. You could put all the people back in Barbuda today ... but then you'll have a medical crisis on your hand," Foreign Affairs Minister Charles Fernandez said.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson announced a package of 42 million pounds (about $55 million) for the relief effort in the British overseas territories of Anguilla, British Virgin Islands and Turks & Caicos

"The UK government is doing everything it possibly can to help those affected by the hurricane," he said.

But Anguilla's former attorney general, Rupert Jones, criticized Britain's response to the disaster.

"It is an insufficient drop in the Caribbean ocean for islands subject to devastation and inhabited by its own citizens," he wrote in an email. "The rebuilding effort is bound to cost a vast amount more and it is hard to see this making a real difference to the three islands."

___

Weissenstein reported from Havana, Cuba. Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Thomas Adamson and Angela Charlton in Paris and Mike Corder in The Hague contributed.

Spanish police stop second attack after 13 killed in Barcelona

Spanish police say they have killed five suspected terrorists in the town of Cambrils to stop a vehicle attack, after an earlier one in Barcelona.

The men, wearing explosive belts, were linked to the first attack, police say.

Thirteen people died and dozens were hurt when a van hit crowds in the Las Ramblas area of Barcelona on Thursday. The driver fled and is still at large.

Spain's PM Mariano Rajoy described it a "jihadist attack", which so-called Islamic State said it had carried out.

Mr Rajoy has announced three days of national mourning and a minute's silence will be held later on Friday.

The authorities are now also linking the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils with an explosion at a house on Wednesday evening in the town of Alcanar that left one person dead.

Police chief Josep Lluis Trapero said it appeared the residents at the Alcanar house had been "preparing an explosive device".

In Cambrils, seven people, including a police officer, were wounded when a car was driven into them early on Friday, Catalan emergency services said. One person is in a critical condition.

Spanish media reported that the attackers' vehicle overturned and when the men got out they were quickly fired upon by police.

A series of controlled explosions was then carried out.

Police in Cambrils inspect the car used in an attempted attack, 18 August 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPolice inspect the vehicle used in the Cambrils attack

Police say the situation in Cambrils - a popular seaside resort to the south-west of Barcelona - is now under control.

Meanwhile police are continuing to search for the driver of the van used in the Barcelona attack, who fled on foot. He is believed to be the sole attacker there.

Tourists and locals fled when the rented vehicle sped down Las Ramblas in the centre of the city, mowing down people.

Witnesses said the van deliberately targeted people, weaving from side to side as it drove down the boulevard.

Two people have been arrested, but police say neither was the driver.

Driss OubakirImage copyrightSPANISH NATIONAL POLICE/ HANDOUT
Image captionPolice released this photo of Driss Oubakir, whose documents were used to rent the van

Police have released a photo of a man named as Driss Oubakir, whose documents were used to rent the van involved in the attack.

Local media say he is in his 20s, and was born in Morocco. However, latest reports suggest he has told police he was not involved, and that his documents were stolen.

So-called Islamic State has said it was behind the Las Ramblas attack, saying in a brief statement carried by its Amaq news agency that it was carried out by "Islamic State soldiers". The group gave no further evidence or details to back this claim.

Vehicles have been used to ram into crowds in a series of attacks across Europe since July last year.

In another incident, police shot dead a man who drove into officers at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Barcelona, but the authorities said there was no evidence that he was connected to the attack in Las Ramblas.


Barcelona map

Analysis: A worrying trend

Gordon Corera, BBC News security correspondent

Barcelona is just the latest European city to witness the terrible effects of a vehicle attack on an iconic or "soft" target. 

In Nice a year ago, Bastille Day celebrations were targeted, then a Christmas market in Berlin. In London, Westminster and London Bridge, as well as Finsbury Park, saw cars and vans used as weapons. 

In the UK, new barriers have been put in place to mitigate some of the risks at key locations and there is discussion of imposing checks on those renting vans, but security services in Britain - as well as across Europe - are all too aware that there are limits to what they can do to spot and stop those planning murder in this way. 

The weapons employed are readily available and there is little or no training, co-ordination or planning required. This means there are few points where individuals can be spotted by the intelligence services.

Although so-called Islamic State has released a statement saying what it calls its "soldiers" had carried out the Barcelona attack, it is not yet clear whether there was any direct link to the group or if they were simply inspired by its call to act. The language used often indicates the latter.

Either way, authorities will be bracing themselves for the possibility of further attacks of a similar nature.


What did people see in Barcelona?

A businessman from New Orleans, who was just arriving in a taxi in Las Ramblas, said: "I heard a crowd screaming. It sounded like they were screaming for a movie star.

"I saw the van. It had already been busted on the front. It was weaving left and right, trying to hit people as fast as possible. There were people lying on the ground."

 
Media captionFootage shows police surrounding a white van moments after the attack

Aamer Anwar said he was walking down Las Ramblas, which was "jam-packed" with tourists.

"All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids," he told Sky News.

"Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere. Then the whole street started getting pushed back.

"Police officers who got there just started screaming at people to move back, move back."

 
Media captionFootage captures people using a shop as an escape route on Las Ramblas

Kevin Kwast, who is on holiday in Barcelona with his family, said: "I was eating with my family in La Boqueria market very near where the crash occurred. 

"Hundreds of people started stampeding through the market... we started running with them going outside right into where casualties were already on the ground. 

"Police pushed us into a money transfer shop and we've been sheltering there for over an hour."


Las Ramblas (file photo 2015)Image copyrightREUTERS

Las Ramblas

  • Central boulevard that runs 1.2km (0.75 miles) through the centre of Barcelona
  • Runs from the city's Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) to the Christopher Columbus monument at the seafront. 
  • Popular with tourists because of its market stalls, bars and restaurants
  • Barcelona city council restricted traffic flow because of heavy pedestrian use of the street

Europe's deadly vehicle attacks

  • Paris, 9 August 2017: A man rammed a BMW into a group of soldiers, injuring six.
  • London, 19 June 2017: A man is killed in a van attack on Muslims outside a mosque in Finsbury Park.
  • London, 3 June 2017: Eight people died when three jihadists drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and then stabbed passers-by. 
  • Stockholm, Sweden, 7 April 2017: Uzbek Rakhmat Akilov killed four people when he drove a lorry into a department store.
  • London, 22 March 2017: Four people died when a car rammed into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and the driver then stabbed to death a policeman.
  • Berlin, Germany, 19 December 2016: Tunisian Anis Amri ploughed a truck into a Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz, killing 12 people.
  • Nice, France, 14 July 2016: Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a truck into crowds on the Promenade des Anglais, killing 86 people on Bastille Day.
  • France, December 2014: A van was driven into a Christmas market in Nantes and a car rammed pedestrians in Dijon, leaving more than 20 wounded.

Brazilian lawmakers junk graft charge vs Pres Temer

Brazilian President Michel Temer. (Reuters)


BRASILIA — Brazil’s lower house of Congress voted on Wednesday to reject a corruption charge against President Michel Temer for allegedly taking bribes, saving him from facing a possible Supreme Court trial that could have ousted him from office.

Temer won enough ballots to keep the opposition from gaining the two-thirds of the vote required to move the corruption case forward to the top court.

The strong show of support for Temer raised the prospects that he can now move ahead with reform of Brazil’s pension system that is crucial to plug a wide budget deficit and revive investor confidence in an economy emerging from recession.

But Temer is widely expected to face more corruption charges in the coming weeks, which would again put his presidency at stake.

Opposition lawmakers, carrying briefcases stuffed with fake money, chanted “Out with Temer!” on the House floor at the start of the day-long tumultuous session.

Temer’s main coalition ally, the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB), which seeks to win the presidential election next year, was split on whether to back Temer, whose economic policies it shares, or distance itself from his corruption-plagued government.

PSDB leader Ricardo Tripoli, calling for the charge to be approved, said Temer must be investigated, “not because we want to oust the president, but because Brazilians are tired of so much suspicion surrounding their politicians.”

To shield Temer only further undermines the credibility of Brazil’s political system, Tripoli said.

Brazil’s stocks and currency rose earlier on Wednesday after a cloture vote signaled a victory for Temer and robust support for his reform agenda to cut spending and restore confidence in government accounts.

Brazil’s top prosecutor Rodrigo Janot in June charged Temer with arranging to eventually receive a total of 38 million reais ($12.2 million) in bribes from the world’s largest meatpacker, JBS SA in return for political favors.

Temer and his legal team have denied any wrongdoing.

His supporters have said that Janot failed to provide proof that he had broken the law.

Lawmaker Paulo Abi-Ackel of the PSDB credited Temer with turning around the economy, falling inflation, interest rates and record unemployment, and early signs of renewed growth.

“Is this the right time to be removing the president?” he said on the House floor, appealing to his peers to clear Temer.

Temer had scrambled for support in recent days to avoid becoming the second president to be ousted in a year in a deepening crisis fueled by massive corruption investigations.

Temer’s hold on office could become precarious if new corruption charges are brought against him as expected. With the 2018 election year approaching, key lawmakers have told Reuters they would find it harder to back him again later his year.

Janot has said he would file at least two more graft-related charges against Temer before he steps down in mid-September.

Janot is considering filing the charges of obstruction of justice and racketeering sooner now that lawmakers have rejected the first corruption charge, an official with direct knowledge of the investigation told Reuters, requesting anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Janot’s team has to provide evidence linking Temer to a payment made by JBS to his right-hand man, Rodrigo Rocha Loures, who was arrested in June after he was caught in a police video rushing out of a Sao Paulo restaurant with a bag full of cash handed to him by a JBS executive.

William, Harry had ‘short’ chat with Diana on day she died

LONDON: Britain’s Prince William and Prince Harry have revealed they talked to their mother Princess Diana on the day she died and that the “short” conversation now weighs “heavily” on their mind. “It was her speaking from Paris, I can’t really necessarily remember what I said but all I do remember is probably regretting for the rest of my life how short the phone call was,” Prince Harry told ITV for a documentary to commemorate their mother. Prince William was just 15 and his brother Harry 12 when their mother and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed were killed in August 1997 after the car they were in crashed in a tunnel in central Paris as it was being pursued at high speed by press photographers. Their French chauffeur Henri Paul, who was later found to be over the legal blood alcohol limit, also died. The two princes were in Balmoral, the queen’s residence in the Scottish Highlands, and William had earlier told Diana of the “very good time” they were having. “Harry and I were in a desperate rush to say goodbye, you know ‘see you later’…if I’d known now obviously what was going to happen I wouldn’t have been so blase about it and everything else,” William told ITV. “But that phone call sticks in my mind, quite heavily.” To mark the 20th anniversary of her death, the princes announced earlier this year they were setting up a committee to raise funds to pay for a statue of Diana, who was known as the Princess of Wales. The statue is to be erected in the public gardens of Kensington Palace in London, where she lived.

Flash flood sweeps through Coverack in Cornwall

-BBC

Flash flooding has seen torrents of water sweep through a Cornish village.
Residents in Coverack, on the Lizard Peninsula, have reported roads being blocked and hailstones the size of 50 pence pieces smashing windows.
Heavy rainfall hit at about 15:00 BST and the coastguard airlifted two people trapped on the roof of a house. Four people remained in the building.
Emergency services have asked people to avoid the area and not attempt to drive through any flood water.
Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service said its crews were attending "multiple flooding-related incidents" and urged people to "avoid this area".
Gloria Knight, who lives on a hill above Coverack, said her garden became 'like a waterfall'
Cornwall Council said the first calls about the flooding were received about 15:40. One person was reported to be trapped in an outbuilding and six people were on the roof of their property.
A major incident was declared at 17:20 and the helicopter was deployed to rescue the people trapped on the roof.
About 50 properties are estimated to be affected by the flooding, but no injuries have been reported.
The road into Coverack is currently impassable .
With the latest information from the Met Office suggesting there is a risk of further heavy rain, people were asked to drive carefully and not to go though flood water.
'Flood of water'
A spokeswoman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said a helicopter was sent from Newquay.
She said: "Six people were in a house and two have been rescued from the house by helicopter."
Karla Wainwright, who works at the Paris Hotel, said: "This afternoon we could tell it was going to get about stormy, then about 3pm it hit.
"There were hailstones as big as 50p pieces and a lot of small panes in our windows are broken."
Ms Wainwright said the storm continued for an hour and a half.
"Once it cleared off then we could see a massive flood of water coming down the main way into Coverack."
Water ran through the village before crashing over cliffs and into the sea
Bill Magill, who owns the nearby White Hart Hotel, said the water was "over a foot high" in some areas.
"It was nothing like I've ever known in this area, we were totally unprepared for it and it was totally unexpected," he said.
"[It was] racing down a little country lane, pouring over the banks like these waterfalls."
'Cut in half'
The Met Office said the flood followed heavy thunderstorms and rain in Cornwall and Devon on Tuesday afternoon.
Bill Frisken, a local councillor in Coverack, said he could not access the centre of the village because the main road is underwater.
Describing the speed with which the flood hit, he said: "It was almost instantaneous."
"The village has effectively been cut in half, you can't cross the river," he added.
Mr Frisken said he and his wife had to bail water out of their kitchen, while their garage was also flooded.
"It was several feet of water coming down and pouring into the house. The depth of water was immense."
Another witness said: "I have never seen such big hails. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing and it was hailing, all at the same time.
"It was quite amazing really."

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