First Fires, Then Floods: Climate Extremes Batter Australia

WEE WAA, Australia — Two years ago, the fields outside Christina Southwell’s family home near the cotton capital of Australia looked like a dusty, brown desert as drought-fueled wildfires burned to the north and south.

Last week, after record-breaking rains, muddy floodwaters surrounded her, along with the stench of rotting crops. She had been trapped for days with just her cat, and still didn’t know when the sludge would recede.

“It seems to take for bloody ever to go away,” she said, watching a boat carry food into the town of Wee Waa. “All it leaves behind is this stink, and it’s just going to get worse.”

Life on the land has always been hard in Australia, but the past few years have delivered one extreme after another, demanding new levels of resilience and pointing to the rising costs of a warming planet. For many Australians, moderate weather — a pleasant summer, a year without a state of emergency — increasingly feels like a luxury.

Black Summer bush fires of 2019 and 2020 were the worst in Australia’s recorded history. This year, many of the same areas that suffered through those epic blazes endured the wettest, coldest November since at least 1900. Hundreds of people, across several states, have been forced to evacuate. Many more, like Ms. Southwell, are stranded on floodplain islands with no way to leave except by boat or helicopter, possibly until after Christmas.

La Niña in full swing, meteorologists are predicting even more flooding for Australia’s east coast, adding to the stress from the pandemic, not to mention from a recent rural mouse plague of biblical proportions.

pregnancies on pause, shows that the El Niño-La Niña cycle has been around long enough for flora and fauna to adapt.

more than doubled since the 1970s.

Ron Campbell, the mayor of Narrabri Shire, which includes Wee Waa, said his area was still waiting for government payments to offset damage from past catastrophes. He wondered when governments would stop paying for infrastructure repairs after every emergency.

“The costs are just enormous, not just here but at all the other places in similar circumstances,” he said.

60 percent of the trees in some places. Cattle farmers culled so much of their herds during the drought that beef prices have risen more than 50 percent as they rush to restock paddocks nourished (nearly to death) by heavy rain.

Bryce Guest, a helicopter pilot in Narrabri, once watched the dust bowls grow from above. Then came “just a monstrous amount of rain,” he said, and new kind of job: flights to mechanical pumps pushing water from fields to irrigation dams in a last-ditch effort to preserve crops that had been heading for a record harvest.

On one recent flight, he pointed to mountains of stored grain — worth six figures, at least — that were ruined by the rains, with heavy equipment trapped and rusting next to it. Further inland, a home surrounded by levees had become a small island accessible only by boat or copter.

“Australia is all about water — everything revolves around it,” he said. “Where you put your home, your stock. Everything.”

The flood plains in what is known as the Murray-Darling basin stretch out for hundreds of miles, not unlike the land at the mouth of the Mississippi River. The territory is so flat that towns can be cut off with roads flooded by less than an inch of additional rain.

That happened a few weeks ago in Bedgerabong, a few hundred miles south of Narrabri. On a recent afternoon, a couple of teachers were being driven out of town in a hulking fire truck — equipment for one disaster often serves another. Across a flooded road behind them, three other teachers had decided to camp out so they could provide some consistency for children who had already been kept out of school for months by pandemic lockdowns.

Paul Faulkner, 55, the principal of the school (total enrollment: 42), said that many parents craved social connection for their children. The Red Cross has sent in booklets for those struggling with stress and anxiety.

“Covid has kept everyone from their families,” he said. “This just isolates them even more.”

He admitted that there were a few things they did not discuss; Santa, for one. The town is expected to be cut off until after the holidays as the waters that rose with surging rains over a few days take weeks to drain and fade.

In Wee Waa, where the water has started to recede, supplies and people flowed in and out last week by helicopter and in a small boat piloted by volunteers.

Still, there were shortages everywhere — mostly of people. In a community of around 2,000 people, half of the teachers at the local public school couldn’t make it to work.

At the town’s only pharmacy, Tien On, the owner, struggled with a short-handed staff to keep up with requests. He was especially concerned about delayed drug deliveries by helicopter for patients with mental health medications.

Ms. Southwell, 69, was better prepared than most. She spent 25 years volunteering with emergency services and has been teaching first aid for decades. After a quick trip into Wee Waa by boat, she returned to her home with groceries and patience, checking a shed for the stray cats she feeds and discovering that only one of her chickens appeared to have drowned.

She said she wasn’t sure how much climate change could be blamed for the floods; her father had put their house on higher stilts because they knew the waters would rise on occasion.

All she knew was that more extreme weather and severe challenges to the community would be coming their way.

“The worst part of it is the waiting,” she said. “And the cleanup.”

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Biden and Xi Pledge More Cooperation, but Offer No Breakthroughs

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Biden Meets Xi at Virtual Summit

President Biden and Xi Jinping opened talks on a friendly note, with the Chinese leader expressing his desire to move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.

“As I’ve said before, it seems to me our responsibility as leaders of China and the United States, is to ensure that the competition between our countries does not veer into conflict, whether intended or unintended. Just simple, straightforward competition. It seems to me we need to establish some common sense guardrails, to be clear and honest where we disagree and work together where our interests intersect, especially on vital global issues like climate change.”

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President Biden and Xi Jinping opened talks on a friendly note, with the Chinese leader expressing his desire to move China-U.S. relations forward in a positive direction.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

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President Biden and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, pledged at a virtual summit to improve cooperation, but offered no breakthroughs after three and a half hours of talks.

In separate statements after the talks ended, each side emphasized the points of contention that mattered most: lists of mutual grievances that underscored the depth of the divisions between them.

Mr. Biden, the White House said, raised concerns about human rights abuses and China’s “unfair trade and economic policies.” Mr. Xi said that American support for Taiwan was “playing with fire,” and warned that dividing the world into alliances or blocs — a pillar of the new administration’s strategy for challenging China by teaming up with its neighbors — would “inevitably bring disaster to the world.”

In advance of the meeting, White House officials had signaled that there would be no concrete agreements or initiatives, or even an effort to put out a joint statement — usually a pre-negotiated statement on areas of agreement or projects to tackle together.

The two leaders nevertheless expressed a willingness to manage their differences in a way that avoided conflict between the world’s two largest powers. That alone could lower temperature of a relationship that has at times this year threatened to overheat.

“It seems to me we need to establish some common-sense guardrails,” Mr. Biden said, using a phrase his administration has often cited as a goal for a challenging relationship. Addressing Mr. Xi directly, he added: “We have a responsibility to the world, as well as to our people.”

Although the two leaders have spoken by telephone twice this year, the conference was intended to replicate the more thorough discussion of issues of previous summits between the United States and China — something that was not possible because health and political concerns have kept Mr. Xi from traveling since January 2020.

Both men were accompanied by a phalanx of senior aides — the Americans in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and the Chinese inside a chamber in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. In brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting, each struck a conciliatory tone, flagging areas of disagreement but also pledging to work together.

Mr. Biden, seated before two large screens, noted that the two have “spent an awful lot of time talking to each other” over the years, dating to when Mr. Biden was vice president and Mr. Xi was a rising power in the Chinese leadership. Mr. Xi said he was prepared to move relations “in a positive direction.”

“Although it’s not as good as a face-to-face meeting, I’m very happy to see my old friend,” Mr. Xi said.

Mr. Biden emphasized the need to keep “communication lines open,” according to a White House statement, as the two countries confront disagreements over issues like the future of Taiwan, the militarization of the South China Sea and China’s exploitation of vulnerabilities to bore deeply into the computer networks of American companies, especially defense contractors.

The call, which was initiated at Mr. Biden’s request, reflected his administration’s deep concern that the chances of keeping conflict at bay may be diminishing. Mr. Biden has repeatedly suggested that it should be possible to avoid active military engagement with China, even as the United States engages in vigorous competition with Beijing and continues to confront the Chinese leadership on several significant issues.

The statements hinted at some discussion of “strategic” issues, a phrase that appeared to encompass the nuclear strategies of both nations, but American officials declined to detail those discussions. Some issues that had been the source of speculation before the summit did not come up, including disputes over visas and an invitation to attend the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which begin in February.

Reporting and research by Steven Lee Myers, David E. Sanger, Claire Fu and Li You.

Credit…Taiwan Ministry Of National Defense

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, urged the United States not to test his country’s resolve on the question of Taiwan, an island democracy Beijing claims is part of its territory.

“We are patient and are willing to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the utmost sincerity,” Mr. Xi told President Biden, according to a readout on the meeting released by Chinese state media. “But China will have to take resolute measures if the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces provoke, compel or even cross the red line.”

In vivid language that has come to define Beijing’s strident rhetoric, Mr. Xi criticized politicians in the United States who he said sought to use the island’s status as leverage over Beijing — a trend he described as dangerous. “It is playing with fire, and if you play with fire, you will get burned,” the Chinese readout cited Mr. Xi as saying.

No issue between the United States and China is more contentious than the fate of Taiwan, which functions as an independent nation in all but official recognition by most of the world.

The People’s Republic of China has claimed Taiwan since the defeated Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek retreated there in 1949, but in recent months Beijing has grown increasingly vocal in criticizing U.S. efforts to strengthen the island’s democracy and its military defenses.

Beijing’s assertive language is often coupled with displays of its growing military prowess. It has menaced Taiwan with military exercises simulating an amphibious assault and air patrols that have swept through the island’s air defense identification zone. Many military analysts, including some in the Pentagon, believe that the maneuvers by an increasingly well-equipped Chinese military could be a prelude to an invasion.

The Biden administration, like the Trump administration before it, has warned China that its military operations and threats are dangerous. The United States, which withdrew its official recognition of Taiwan as a condition of re-establishing relations with China in 1979, has responded by stepping up diplomatic efforts to bolster President Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan.

That has included visits by officials and lawmakers, as well as weapon sales.

China says those efforts stoke popular sentiment in Taiwan to formally declare independence, which Beijing has warned would lead to war. Wariness in China intensified when President Biden answered a question at a televised town hall last month by declaring, imprecisely, that the United States was committed to Taiwan’s defense in the case of an attack.

It was unclear whether President Biden and Mr. Xi directly discussed the question of how the United States would respond, militarily, should Beijing attack Taiwan. The White House’s readout about the virtual meeting only described President Biden as affirming the United States’ position on Taiwan. The statement used longstanding language that acknowledges but does not recognize Beijing’s claim on Taiwan while indicating Beijing should do nothing to change the status quo.

Beijing is likely to be skeptical of the Biden administration’s intentions. “China’s view is that the United States plays rhetorical games on the Taiwan issue, saying that there is one China and that it does not support Taiwan independence, while it makes actual deals with Taiwan,” said Wu Xinbo, director of the center for American studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. “I think this is still a major divergence point in bilateral relations.”

Reporting and research by Steven Lee Myers and Li You.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

From China’s perspective, the virtual meeting itself amounts to a vindication of its strategy to wait out the new administration.

After the tumult of the Trump years, China’s leaders hoped to reset the relationship with the United States when President Biden took office in January. When that didn’t happen, officials seemed surprised, then angry.

Senior officials lashed out as Mr. Biden’s national security team challenged China on a variety of issues — from Taiwan to the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the State Department has declared a genocide of Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities is underway. In a speech in Beijing in July celebrating 100 years of the Chinese Communist Party, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, warned: “The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress or enslave us. Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

What Beijing did not do was compromise on any of its policy and behaviors that have stoked exactly those divisions, including menacing military patrols and exercises around Taiwan. Instead, it squeezed concessions out of the United States.

Those included the release in September of Meng Wanzhou, an executive of the telecommunications giant Huawei who had been detained in Canada in 2018 on an American arrest warrant. Beijing, infuriated by the detention at the time, retaliated by essentially taking two Canadians hostage.

China continues to warn the United States of its red lines, especially over the fate of Taiwan, but the tone of various public statements has mellowed considerably. That is also in China’s interest heading into the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February and the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party in November.

“I think that both countries want to bring down the temperature,” said Ali Wyne, an analyst focused on U.S.-China relations with the Eurasia Group, a consultancy based in Washington. “They both recognize that threshold between intensifying competition and unconstrained rivalry is tenuous.”

Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

President Biden and Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, made no apparent progress on trade issues at their virtual summit, but they struck a hopeful note about the potential for future deals.

Some of the differences were on display in the accounts the two sides released after the meeting. Mr. Biden repeated U.S. calls for China to live up to its agreement early last year to import more American goods, a senior administration official said. An official Chinese statement did not mention the agreement publicly, but it said Mr. Xi described the bilateral trade relationship as “mutually beneficial” while calling for trade not to be politicized.

There was no announcement of multi-billion-dollar commercial purchases of American products of the sort that Donald J. Trump, the former president, had sought from China. Trade officials from both sides would hold more talks, the senior administration official said.

The softer tone of the rhetoric on both sides in recent weeks and at the virtual summit has nonetheless inspired some optimism, particularly in China, on economic issues.

“I think gradually trade disputes will be resolved,” said Chen Dingding, a professor of international relations at Jinan University in Guangzhou. “We’ll see some concrete measures very soon.”

Wide differences between the two countries remain, including about the commitments the two sides made in striking their trade war truce early last year. That truce, dubbed the Phase 1 trade agreement, called for China to buy $380 billion worth of American goods by the end of 2021. But based on China’s purchases through September of this year, the country is on track to buy only three-fifths of that, according to data compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

China has bought large quantities of American corn, pork and other farm goods, but far fewer manufactured goods and far less fossil fuels than were called for by the Phase 1 agreement. That is partly because China has not placed large orders lately for Boeing jets, as air travel slowed during the pandemic. China has also been cautious about signing long-term agreements to buy American natural gas.

China is reportedly close to allowing Boeing 737 Max jets to return to its skies after crashes about three years ago in Ethiopia and Indonesia. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the plane late last year, and it has since been widely used elsewhere without incident.

China’s statement did not mention jetliners, but did say that Mr. Xi had called for closer cooperation on natural gas, although there were no details.

There have also been some hints of compromise on the American side. Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, announced last month that the Biden administration would restart a Trump-era procedure for excluding a few specific products from tariffs. The exemptions are for products that American companies can prove that they genuinely need and cannot readily purchase elsewhere.

China was allowed to retain some tariffs on U.S. goods under the Phase 1 agreement, but has already issued exemptions for most of its tariffs.

Mr. Biden’s economic deputies are traveling elsewhere in Asia this week, strengthening ties to counterbalance the Chinese relationship. Ms. Tai and Commerce Secretary Gina M. Raimondo are touring the region, meeting with economic officials in Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea and India.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

When President Biden connected with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, on a video call late Monday, each did so from two of the best-known rooms in their respective country’s statecraft.

Despite the physical distance from which the two talked, the choice of setting underscored the importance of the meeting and the attention to diplomatic protocol, even in an era of Zoom calls and coronavirus.

President Biden called from the Roosevelt Room, a famed meeting area in the White House, which President Nixon in 1969 renamed for Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt. Today, the room is frequently used to announce nominations and as a preparatory room for delegations before meeting the president.

Mr. Xi dialed in from the East Hall in China’s Great Hall of the People, a room featuring a large mural of a mountain landscape with a poem from Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic of China. That room is perhaps best known as the place where new members of the country’s Politburo Standing Committee are announced. The Great Hall of the People is a cavernous structure of ornate rooms built alongside Tiananmen Square in Beijing; it is where the Chinese Communist Party and China’s government stage their most important meetings.

In a video broadcast before the meeting, Kang Hui, an anchor for China’s state television broadcaster, pointed out that the East Hall has been the site of many high-profile state visits, and more recently has been the staging ground for Mr. Xi to virtually connect in meetings with other leaders and major conferences.

With strict protocols and lengthy quarantines in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19 across China’s borders, Mr. Xi has not left the country in almost two years.

Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

During the summit, President Biden was candid about his concerns about the state of human rights in China, administration officials said.

Xi Jinping, China’s most authoritarian leader in decades, has been accused of overseeing a widespread rollback of individual freedoms across the country. According to the official readout from the Chinese government, he defended Beijing’s political model and said that while China was willing to discuss human rights, it would not be lectured by outsiders. “We do not approve of interfering in other countries’ internal affairs through human rights issues,” he told Mr. Biden.

China has drawn scrutiny from Western democracies over its crackdown in Xinjiang, where the authorities have rounded up and detained Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in large numbers, and in Hong Kong, where a harsh national security law has undone many of the city’s democratic traditions.

The Biden administration has stuck by the Trump administration’s accusations of genocide in Xinjiang, and more recently, also raised concerns over the fate of Zhang Zhan, a citizen journalist whose family and friends say is critically ill in prison. Ms. Zhang is being held for documenting the chaos of the early days of the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan.

President Biden has worked quickly to enlist allies to join his campaign to pressure China on issues such as human rights and trade. The U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, said this year that Beijing was routinely undercutting Hong Kong’s autonomy, and that the Biden administration would push back against what he described as coercion from China.

Mr. Xi has previously dismissed what Beijing sees as sanctimonious preaching.

When the United States imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, Beijing retaliated with its own penalties. Beijing has also responded to the recriminations with its own criticisms. Chinese diplomats and state media hit out at the United States over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

It remains to be seen how firmly Mr. Biden will push Mr. Xi on human rights. In the first face-to-face meeting of American and Chinese officials of Biden’s administration in Alaska, the raising of such issues led to mutual denunciations, setting the tone for a testy relationship.

Credit…Getty Images

Climate policy is the rare area where the United States and China at least appear to be on the same page. At the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow this month, the two countries — the biggest polluting nations — signed a surprise pact to do more to cut emissions this decade.

During the summit on Monday, they reiterated their commitment to the issue, with the United States in its readout saying that the “two leaders discussed the existential nature of the climate crisis to the world.”

But much remains unclear about how the two governments will work together. The Glasgow pact was short on specifics, including any commitment from China on when it will start reducing the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases it generates by burning coal, gas and oil. Beijing has said only that it will do so by 2030.

China’s top leader Xi Jinping said climate policy could become a “new highlight” of cooperation with the United States, according to China’s statement on the summit. But Mr. Xi also reiterated Beijing’s position that China, as the world’s largest developing nation, had different responsibilities to uphold when it came to climate change than the developed countries that pumped out more carbon dioxide over the past century.

China’s mighty manufacturing sector makes it the planet’s No. 1 emitter, responsible for around a quarter of all global emissions. It is also the reason Beijing’s leaders cannot dial back emissions easily or quickly.

Electricity demand is still growing rapidly in China. And the world still depends on Chinese factories to produce electronics, toys, exercise equipment and much else.

Mr. Xi has announced steps to reduce China’s use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel. But the country still has extensive plans for building coal-fired power plants and for mining more coal, a need that has been highlighted by recent power shortages caused partly by a lack of coal. China already digs up and burns more of the fuel than the rest of the world.

Although China has been racing to put up wind and solar projects, it has not been able to shift from coal toward natural gas, which emits less carbon dioxide when burned, as quickly as the United States.

Credit…Noel Celis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Lurking beneath the many tensions between Beijing and Washington is the question of whether the two countries are slipping into a Cold War, or something quite different.

One of the few areas of agreement between Xi Jinping, China’s leader, and President Biden is that letting relations devolve into Cold War behavior would be a mistake of historic proportions.During the talks, Mr. Xi implicitly criticized Mr. Biden’s efforts to shore up alliances of democratically minded countries to counter China, saying that “ideological demarcations” would “inevitably bring disaster to the world,” according to an official readout of his comments at the meeting. “The consequences of the Cold War are not far away,” the statement said.

Mr. Biden has insisted that the United States is not seeking a new Cold War. His national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said last week, “we have the choice not to do that.” The summit meeting between the two leaders is part of a White House effort to make sure that the right choices are made — and that accidents and misunderstandings do not propel either country in the wrong direction.

There are many reasons to argue that what is happening today is quite different from the Cold War. The amount of economic interchange, and entanglement, between the United States and China is huge; with the Soviet Union it was minuscule. Both sides would have a huge amount to lose from a Cold War; Mr. Xi and Mr. Biden both know that and have talked about the risks.

Other deep links — the mutual dependencies on technology, information and raw data that leaps the Pacific in milliseconds on American and Chinese-dominated networks — also never existed in the Cold War.

“The size and complexity of the trade relationship is underappreciated,” Mr. Biden’s top Asia adviser, Kurt M. Campbell, said in July as part of his argument of why this moment significantly differs from the Cold War of 40 years ago.

Still, with his repeated references this year to a generational struggle between “autocracy and democracy,” Mr. Biden has conjured the ideological edge of the 1950s and ’60s. And so has Mr. Xi at moments, with his talk about assuring that China is not dependent on the West for critical technologies, while also trying to make sure that the West is dependent on China.

Without question, the past several months have resounded with echoes of Cold War behavior: the Chinese air force running sorties in Taiwan’s air identification zone; Beijing expanding its space program, launching three more astronauts to its space station and accelerating its tests of hypersonic missiles meant to defeat U.S. defenses; and the release of a top Huawei executive for two Canadians and two Americans in what looked like a prisoner swap.

At the same time, the United States announced that it would provide nuclear submarine technology to Australia, with the prospect that its subs could pop up, undetected, along the Chinese coast. It did not escape Chinese commentators that the last time the United States shared that kind of technology was in 1958, when Britain adopted naval reactors as part of the effort to counter Russia’s expanding nuclear arsenal.

Credit…Xie Huanchi/Xinhua, via Associated Press

That the summit was taking place virtually, not in person, was a concession to China’s leader, Xi Jinping.

The White House had hoped that he and President Biden would meet at the Group of 20 gathering in Rome last month, but Mr. Xi did not attend. He has not left China since Mr. Biden took office in January — in fact, not since January 2020, when the coronavirus was beginning to spread from China.

The ostensible reason for remaining home still seems to be Covid-19, but some experts have speculated that Mr. Xi could not afford to be away before an important political gathering that ended last week.

He used that forum to solidify his stature within the Communist Party, bolstering his case for what is widely expected to be a third five-year term as China’s paramount leader, beginning next year. With the coronavirus still a threat, it is conceivable that Mr. Xi might stay home until the party’s national congress next November.

That reflects more than just internal political machinations. It is in keeping with China’s increasing insularity, forged by a growing confidence — hubris, some might say — that the country under Mr. Xi’s leadership is the master of its own destiny, less dependent on the rest of the world for validation as its economic and military might solidifies.

Still, Mr. Xi’s absence has coincided with the withering of China’s international standing, with public sentiment in many countries turning against the country’s behavior at home and abroad. He faced sharp criticism for submitting a letter to the climate talks in Glasgow and for joining India in watering down the final statement to reduce pressure on cutting the use of coal.

Ever since President Nixon stunned the United States in 1971 by announcing that he would travel to China, meetings between American and Chinese leaders have become milestones in a relationship fraught with hope.

In the five decades that have followed, the relationship between the two countries has lurched between cooperation and confrontation. In 1979, Mao Zedong’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, met President Carter in Washington to normalize diplomatic ties and end years of mutual hostility.

That was followed by meetings with Ronald Reagan in 1982 and George H.W. Bush in February 1989 — that one just months before Deng ordered a brutal military crackdown on student protests around Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Mr. Bush responded to the massacre by suspending all official contacts with the Chinese, but a month later surreptitiously dispatched his national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, to keep open channels with a country then allied with the United States’ efforts to contain its Cold War rival, the Soviet Union.

There was not another official visit until 1997, when President Clinton played host to Jiang Zemin, who emerged as the country’s leader after Deng’s death, which officials hoped would usher in a new era of openness.

After a while, meeting with Chinese leaders and senior officials became a goal in itself of American foreign policy. The idea was that regular meetings would entwine the Chinese economy with the world’s.

In 2006, President George W. Bush and Hu Jintao announced the creation of a strategic economic dialogue, where officials from both sides could meet regularly to resolve proliferating trade disputes.

When President Obama came to office, the strategic economic dialogue in 2009 became the strategic economic and security dialogue, reflecting emerging conflicts over China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

A criticism of both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations was that the Chinese smothered the Americans with talk, while doing as they pleased — whether cyberattacks, or militarization of artificial islands in the South China Sea.

U.S.-China summitry may have peaked in 2017. President Trump invited Xi Jinping to his Mar-a-Lago resort in April, where he informed him over “the most beautiful chocolate cake you’ve ever seen” that the United States had bombed Syria.

The two leaders met again that November, when Mr. Trump traveled to Beijing, becoming the first foreign leader to dine in the Forbidden City. “You’re a very special man,” he told Mr. Xi, banking on flattery to win over the Chinese leader. It didn’t.

Credit…Alex Plavevski/EPA, via Shutterstock

The long-smoldering clash between China and the United States over the future of technology hit a rare moment of accord in September, when the Justice Department helped broker a deal that led to the release of a senior executive at the Chinese telecom equipment maker, Huawei.

The two countries have been struggling to find any more common ground in that area.

President Biden has done little to roll back measures put in place under the Trump administration aimed at limiting China’s access to American technology. U.S. officials fear China will use American software and equipment to build government-supported rivals and develop tools to strengthen its surveillance state, including advanced computers, artificial intelligence and facial recognition systems.

Huawei itself remains a point of contention. American authorities helped secure the release of Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese executive who was detained in Canada. But they are still restricting Huawei’s access to critical American semiconductors and software, crimping its business.

While parts of the Biden Administration have called for improving economic ties, many American lawmakers are pushing for even tougher measures on Chinese technology firms. Mr. Biden has invoked competition with China to help pass his infrastructure bill, which seeks to bolster American technology competitiveness.

On China’s side, the country’s drive for self-reliance will likely take precedence over taking steps to regain access to American technology. Beijing is unlikely to back away from its tough limits on the flow of data or free expression online. Those positions have effectively locked most major foreign internet firms out of China. One of the last, LinkedIn, said last month it would shut down there.

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Once a Leading Polluter, the U.K. Is Now Trying to Lead on Climate Change

LONDON — As Britain prepares to host a landmark climate summit in Glasgow this week, the milestones of its own evolution to a more climate-friendly economy are on vivid display along the railroad line from London to Scotland.

Near Gainsborough, a river town 150 miles north of the capital, one of Britain’s last coal-fired power plants still spews carbon dioxide and other gases into the air. Another 150 miles north, off the coast of the seaside port of Blyth, the slender blades of five turbines in an offshore wind farm turn lazily in the breeze.

The two plants, both owned by the French utility giant EDF, illustrate how far Britain has come. The coal station, restarted recently to cover a shortfall in electricity, is slated to be taken out of operation next year, while the company plans to install experimental floating turbines in the waters off Blyth.

“We’re talking about a huge transition,” said Paul Spence, the director of strategy and corporate affairs at EDF, referring to Britain’s goal of being a carbon-neutral economy by 2050. “A lot of things need to happen to keep the lights on.”

climate meeting, known as COP26, it has a credible claim to being a global leader in climate policy. The birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, Britain became the first country to legally mandate reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions through the Climate Change Act in 2008. Its high-tech windmills and superannuated smokestacks are only the most visible evidence of a three-decade campaign.

Having built the world’s largest offshore wind industry, Britain has reduced emissions by 44 percent from 1990 levels. Its target to cut them by at least 68 percent by 2030 is one of the most ambitious of any major economy, according to the Climate Action Tracker, a scientific analysis of the policies of countries.

If Britain achieves that target, which is far from clear, it would be one of a handful of countries doing enough to fulfill the key goal of the Paris Agreement: limiting the long-term rise in the planet’s temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

showdown with striking coal miners in 1984. By crushing the union and slashing subsidies for the coal industry, Mrs. Thatcher accelerated Britain’s search for alternative energy sources, namely natural gas.

“She got rid of the coal miners for a combination of political and economic reasons,” said Tom Burke, the chairman of E3G, an environmental think tank, and a former government adviser. “But it gave the U.K. a degree of freedom of action that wasn’t available to other countries.”

she said to the United Nations.

Mrs. Thatcher planted the seed for a bipartisan cause, as Conservative and Labour governments sought to burnish their green credentials. British diplomats played key roles in brokering climate deals in Rio de Janeiro and Kyoto, Japan. Britain installed climate attachés in its embassies around the world.

In 2006, a British government adviser, Nicholas Stern, produced a seminal study of the economic effects of climate change, which framed the debate before the 2009 summit in Copenhagen and set the stage for the Climate Act, passed under a Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown.

When the Conservatives came to power in 2010, they viewed climate policy as a way to appeal to younger voters, many of whom viewed the Tories as a tightfisted party in thrall to business interests. Parliament created a climate change committee, which prodded the government to adopt policies that would help Britain meet its goals. Several of its policies were mimicked by fellow European Union members. “We basically ran the E.U. on climate policy,” Mr. Burke said.

Then came the Brexit vote in 2016, and “we lost our most important tool for influencing other countries, which was the E.U,” he said.

Mr. Johnson, who once scoffed that wind farms would “barely pull the skin off a rice pudding,” now speaks about climate change with the zeal of the converted. Allies say he has been convinced of the need for action by his third wife, Carrie Johnson, who campaigns against plastic pollution.

But critics say Mr. Johnson’s bracing words are belied by his actions. The Climate Action Tracker, while praising Britain’s ambitions, criticized its financial commitment to achieving them, calling it “highly insufficient.”

“It’s accurate to say that this is a betrayal of a national commitment by the current government,” Mr. Burke said.

Mr. Johnson’s pro-Brexit government, he said, depends on support from the libertarian wing of the Tory party, which opposes far-reaching climate initiatives, while his anti-business messaging hinders partnerships with the private sector.

For private companies, the government’s messaging has been muddled. EDF said it would like to build more onshore wind farms, but local resistance and lack of incentives has made it less attractive. And the government has struggled to line up financing for a new generation of nuclear plants.

“We’re only a quarter of the way toward the decarbonized energy system that the prime minister set as a goal for 2035,” said Mr. Spence, of EDF. “We need all the answers, faster than we’ve ever done them before, if we’re going to get anywhere close to a 1.5-degree world.”

For all of Britain’s agenda-setting, there is also a sense among activists and experts that there is only so much a midsize country can do to solve a planetary problem. Its total emissions account for barely 1 percent of the world’s total. China accounts for nearly 30 percent, and the United States for 14 percent.

“Imagine if these policies had been picked up in 1997 by the United States,” said David King, a former climate envoy and scientific adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair. “The world would be a very different place.”

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The Body Collector of Spain: When Migrants Die at Sea, He Gets Them Home

ALGECIRAS, Spain — No one knew the man’s name when he washed ashore. His body had floated in the ocean for weeks, and it then sat much of the summer unidentified in a refrigerator in a Spanish morgue.

He was one among thousands lost at sea during what has been a record year for migrant drownings in Spain. And he might have been sent with the other unclaimed dead to an unmarked grave if Martín Zamora had not figured out that the body had a name, and a life.

He was Achraf Ameer, 27, a mechanic from Tangier. He had been missing for weeks when Mr. Zamora reached his family by WhatsApp. He had found their son’s body. He could bring it to them in Morocco, for a price.

“Sometimes, I get the feeling that some years ahead — in 30, 40, 50 years, I don’t know how many — they will look at us like monsters,” he said. “They’ll see us all as monsters because we just let people die this way.”

tracks the deaths. The International Organization for Migration, a United Nations body that keeps a more conservative count, has recorded more than 1,300 deaths so far this year.

Helena Maleno Garzón, who heads Caminando Fronteras, said Spain’s situation was especially perilous because it is the only European country with smuggling routes on both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. “These include some of the most dangerous routes which are now being used,” she said.

Dozens of boats have gone down this year near the Canary Islands, a Spanish archipelago off West Africa.

Migrant boats also are tempted by the narrowness of the Gibraltar Strait, only nine miles wide in one section, despite strong currents that sink many boats. Some migrants drown only hours after leaving Africa, their bodies later washing ashore on beaches in Spain’s southern region of Andalusia.

The Spanish media sometimes carry stories about the latest bodies. Then, when the headlines recede, Mr. Zamora’s work begins.

The body is the mystery. The clothes are often the only clues.

“It can be hard to identify someone’s face,” Mr. Zamora said. “But a shoe, a jersey, a T-shirt — suddenly a family member will recognize it, because it once was a gift.”

His first clue came in 1999, when he found a note inside the clothes of a dead Moroccan man. Back then, the government was outsourcing to funeral homes the job of burying unclaimed remains in a field alongside the local cemetery.

Mr. Zamora was on call when that body and 15 others were discovered on the beaches. He brought the corpses back to his mortuary and discovered the damp note with a phone number in Spain.

He called and a man on the other end of the line claimed to know nothing. But a few days later, Mr. Zamora recalled, the same man called back and admitted he was the brother-in-law of the young man who had drowned.

“I told him, ‘I’ll make you a deal: I’ll charge you half the price to get the body home, but you have to help me look for the rest of the families,’” Mr. Zamora said.

The man agreed to guide him to the region in southeastern Morocco where his brother-in-law had lived. Mr. Zamora first took care of the body of the young man, embalming it and sending it back to Morocco. Then he got permission from a local judge to take the clothes of the other dead migrants to Morocco.

Mr. Zamora and the relative went from village to village, carrying a large rack on which they hung the clothes of the dead migrants, along with rings and other personal effects, which they took to markets where they knew people would go.

After two weeks they had identified the remaining 15 relatives and repatriated every body.

Mr. Zamora realized he had a solution to what had been seen as a lost cause in Spain. Yet it costs thousands of euros to repatriate the bodies. And the families that he was meeting had far less than he did.

“You find the family, you get the father and the mother, they take you to where they live and you see it’s a tin shack on the side of a mountain with two goats and a rooster, and they tell you they want their son back,” he said. “What do you do? Be a businessman or be sentimental?”

Mohammed El Mkaddem, an imam at the mosque in Algeciras which makes collections for the families of the dead, said he understood Mr. Zamora’s constraints. “In the end, they run a funeral home and it’s a business,” said the imam. “But they do what they can, and we’re thankful for it.”

José Manuel Castillo, the director of the city morgue in Algeciras, said Mr. Zamora filled a gap left by the authorities. “Someone has to take care of the paperwork and the repatriation of the bodies, and if it’s Martín Zamora, that is great,” he said.

Even in the heat of southern Spain, Mr. Zamora wears a tie and loafers, looking more like a lawyer than an undertaker. On a recent afternoon, he was working on a body with his son, Martín Jr., 17.

“They found him in his work clothes,” Martín Jr. said of the corpse. “Maybe he went straight from work into the boat.”

The boy wandered off for a moment, and Mr. Zamora began to speak, almost to himself. His son was 15 the first time they worked together, after a boat carrying 40 people capsized off the coast of Barbate, just north of Algeciras, leaving 22 dead.

He was afraid his son would have nightmares, but Martín Jr. wanted to work, he said.

“No father wants his son to see these things,” Mr. Zamora said. “But this is the world we live in.”

Just before the summer, Mr. Zamora said he received a WhatsApp message from a man who identified himself as Yusef and said he worked at a mosque in the city of La Linea, across the border from the Rock of Gibraltar.

“There were two boys we don’t know if they are alive or dead — surely they are dead,” began the voice message. “The family was looking everywhere and I said we would ask someone we know who is involved in this kind of thing.”

The next message contained a picture of three men in a dinghy with homemade life vests, taken moments before they left Morocco. One was Achraf Ameer, the illiterate mechanic from Tangier.

With that, Mr. Zamora contacted the local authorities, who had a body in the morgue. They gave Mr. Zamora photographs of the man’s clothes, and Mr. Zamora — helped by Yusef — located Mr. Ameer’s sister in Tangier and showed her a photo of the clothes. These days, Mr. Zamora rarely needs to make the trips to Morocco that he used to, making identifications from afar.

“The paint on his clothes was the paint he has on his clothes at work,” the sister, Soukaina Ameer, 28, said in a telephone interview from Tangier.

She said her brother had tried once before to cross into Spain, only to be deported. This time, he didn’t tell anyone but left cryptic hints when the family began making plans to move to a new home.

“He was always telling us: ‘I won’t be living with you in the new house,’” Ms. Ameer recalled.

He left on April 13, she said, his boat likely sinking the same night. His body floated in the sea for much of April before it came ashore around the end of the month. For the rest of the spring and part of the summer, it was placed in a morgue, where it deteriorated from not being frozen.

And so on a sweltering day, Mr. Zamora loaded Mr. Ameer’s body into his hearse and, with his son, drove past pines and sunflower fields. The body was wrapped in blankets from the Red Cross, which had found him. A hospital tag was affixed to one leg. At the mortuary, Mr. Zamora and his son arrived dressed in hazmat suits and began embalming.

Ten pumps from a long needle into Mr. Ameer’s shoulder. Another 10 into his chest. After an hour, Mr. Zamora wrapped the body in a shroud which he covered in a green cloak and sprinkled it with dried flowers, recreating a Muslim rite that an imam had once shown him. Then he shut the lid on the coffin and he and his son took off their hazmat suits. The two were covered in sweat.

Yet the work hardly felt finished. In the adjoining room sat stacks of case files, people whose bodies Mr. Zamora was still trying to locate after their relatives had gotten in touch with him. There was an Algerian man, born in 1986. There were two Moroccans who had been lost at sea; and a Syrian man, who once had a wife and lived in Aleppo.

And there was a ringing from the other room, and with it, another possible lead.

“Martín, go get my phone,” Mr. Zamora said to his son, taking off his gloves.

Aida Alami contributed reporting from Rabat, Morocco, and José Bautista from Madrid.

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Rohingya on Bangladesh Island of Bhashan Char Seek to Leave

DHAKA, Bangladesh — Its name translates into “floating island,” and for up to 100,000 desperate war refugees, the low-slung landmass is supposed to be home.

One refugee, Munazar Islam, initially thought it would be his. He and his family of four fled Myanmar in 2017 after the military there unleashed a campaign of murder and rape that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing. After years in a refugee camp prone to fires and floods, he accepted an invitation from the government of neighboring Bangladesh to move to the island, Bhasan Char.

Mr. Islam’s relief was short lived. Jobs on the island were nonexistent. Police officers controlled the refugees’ movements and sometimes barred residents from mingling with neighbors, or children from playing together outside. The island was vulnerable to flooding and cyclones and, until relatively recently, would occasionally disappear underwater.

So, in August, Mr. Islam paid human smugglers about $400 to ferry his family somewhere else.

“When I got the chance, I paid and left,” said Mr. Islam, who asked that his location not be revealed because leaving Bhasan Char is illegal. “I died every day on that island, and I didn’t want to be stuck there.”

Myanmar.

worsened storms and sent sea levels rising. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, said refugees and humanitarian workers alike fear that inadequate storm and flood protection could put those on the island at serious risk.

Nevertheless, the Bangladesh government has moved ahead with resettling Rohingya refugees there. They have built housing for more than 100,000 people, with a series of red-roofed dormitories checkering more than two square miles of the western side of the island.

The number of people trying to escape the island has become a growing problem. About 700 have tried to flee, according to the police, sometimes paying $150 per person to find rides on rickety boats. The police have arrested at least 200 people who attempted to leave.

The police cite safety concerns. In August, a boat carrying 42 people capsized, leaving 14 people dead and 13 missing.

“When we catch them, we send them back to the island,” said Abul Kalam Azad, a police officer in the port city of Chattogram on the southeastern coast of Bangladesh. “They say they are mostly upset for not having any job in Bhasan Char. They are eager to work and earn money.”

Some simply want to see their families again.

Last year, Jannat Ara left her hut in Cox’s Bazar for a dangerous sea journey to take a job in Malaysia that would provide food for eight members of her family. Her boat was intercepted by the Bangladesh navy. She was sent to Bhasan Char, where she lived with three other women.

Alone and desperate to leave, in May she seized the first chance she could get to escape. Her parents paid around $600 for the journey back to Cox’s Bazar, she said. She traveled for hours in pitch dark before arriving back at the camp.

“Only Allah knows how I lived there for a year,” Ms. Ara said. “It is a jail with red roof buildings and surrounded by the sea from all sides. I used to call my parents and cry every day.”

Human rights groups have questioned whether the refugees at Bhasan Char have enough access to food, water, schooling and health care. In an emergency, they say, the island also lacks an ability to evacuate residents.

“The fear is always there,” said Dil Mohammad, a Rohingya refugee who arrived on the island in December. “We are surrounded by the sea.”

But the biggest worry, Mr. Mohammad said, is the education of his children.

“My elder son used to go to the community school when we were in Cox’s Bazar,” he said, “but he is about to forget everything he learned, as there is no option for him to study in Bhasan Char.”

The fear of being stuck on the vulnerable island without any means of getting out has led to protests against Bangladeshi authorities by the refugees. The protests began in May, when U.N. human rights investigators paid a visit. They continued in August after the boat incident, with protesters carrying signs criticizing the Bangladesh government and appealing to the U.N. to get sent back to Cox’s Bazar.

Mr. Islam, the Rohingya refugee who fled in August, was one of the protesters. But he was already thinking about getting out.

He lost three cousins during a killing spree carried out by the Myanmar military in Rakhine state in 2017. Once they arrived in Cox’s Bazar, he and his family built a hillside hut out of sticks and plastic tarpaulins and shared it with another family of three.

During hot summer nights, Mr. Islam said, he and the other man slept outside so that their children and wives could sleep comfortably inside.

The promise of an apartment on Bhasan Char held appeal. In January, while other families were forced to go there, he volunteered. They carried a few blankets and two bags of clothes.

He came to regret the decision. When he arrived back at Cox’s Bazar in August, he saw it with new eyes.

“I felt,” he said, “as if I was walking into my home.”

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Hurricane Ida News: Storm Could Be Among the Strongest to Hit Louisiana since the 1850s, Governor Warns

saying local officials expected “the possibility of flooding and even spinoff tornadoes in portions of Alabama.” In Mississippi, Gov. Tate Reeves also issued a state of emergency on Saturday, allowing for the use of state resources for response and recovery.

Research over the past decade has found that, on average, such rapid intensification of hurricanes is increasing, in part because the oceans, which provide the energy for hurricanes, are getting warmer as a result of human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases. But Ida will also strengthen quickly because the Gulf, as is usual at the end of the summer, is very warm.

The hurricane center defines rapid intensification as at least a 35-m.p.h. increase in sustained winds over 24 hours. In the extremely active 2020 season, Hurricane Laura intensified by 45 m.p.h. in the 24 hours before making landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm in late August.

The National Hurricane Center said Ida was likely to produce heavy rainfall late Sunday into Monday from southeast Louisiana to coastal Mississippi and Alabama. Tropical storm force winds will arrive along the coast as early as Saturday night, according to the National Weather Service, before the storm makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening. After moving inland, the storm could contribute to flooding in Tennessee, where flash flooding killed 20 people last weekend.

“Based upon current track and strength of Ida, this storm will test our hurricane protection systems in a way they haven’t been tested before,” Chip Kline, executive assistant to the governor of Louisiana for coastal activities, said on Twitter. “It’s times like these that remind us of the importance of continuing to protect south Louisiana.”

Correction: 

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misidentified the location of Tropical Storm Ida. It was in the Caribbean Sea early Friday, not the Gulf of Mexico.

Bella Witherspoon, left, and Sara Marriott prepare their boat ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Ida in Ocean Springs, on the Mississippi coast.
Credit…Hannah Ruhoff/The Sun Herald, via Associated Press

Hurricane Ida will produce “life-threatening” weather conditions in Louisiana and batter parts of Mississippi, the National Weather Service said, urging people to evacuate inland.

Here is a breakdown of how various parts of the region could be affected when the hurricane makes landfall on Sunday afternoon or evening , according to the Weather Service.

Baton Rouge, La.

River Parishes and Northshore in Louisiana

New Orleans

Coastal Louisiana

Southwest Mississippi

Coastal Mississippi

Jawan Williams shoveled sand for a sandbag held by his son Jayden Williams, before landfall of Hurricane Ida at the Frederick Sigur Civic Center in Chalmette, La., on Saturday.
Credit…Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall Sunday, threatening to bring dangerous wind, storm surge and rain to the Gulf Coast exactly 16 years after the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, one of the most costly natural disasters in American history, which left more than 1,800 dead and produced more than $100 billion in damages.

The overall impact of storm surge from Ida is predicted to be less severe than during Katrina. Because that storm began as a Category 5 hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico before weakening as it approached landfall, it generated enormous storm surge, which brought over 20 feet of water to parts of the Mississippi coast. Current projections put the storm surge of Ida at 10 to 15 feet.

“Fifteen-foot sure can do a lot of damage,” said Barry Keim, a professor at Louisiana State University and Louisiana State Climatologist. “But it’s going to be nothing in comparison with Katrina’s surge.”

Improvements to the levee system following Katrina have better prepared the New Orleans metro area for the storm surge.

However, the areas likely to receive the most severe surge from Ida may be less equipped to handle it than the area hit by Katrina, said Dr. Keim.

Ida is expected to make landfall to the west of where Katrina struck, bringing the most severe storm surge impacts to the Louisiana coast west of the Mississippi River rather than east of the river along coastal Mississippi, as Katrina did.

“We are testing a different part of the flood protection in and around southeast Louisiana than we did in Katrina,” said Dr. Keim. “Some of the weak links in this area maybe haven’t been quite as exposed.”

While the impacts of Ida’s storm surge are expected to be less severe than Katrina’s, Ida’s winds and rain are predicted to exceed those that pummeled the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Ida is expected to make landfall on the Gulf Coast as a Category 4 storm with peak winds of 130 mph, while Katrina made landfall as a Category 3 with peak winds of 125 mph.

“It could be quite devastating — especially some of those high rise buildings are just not rated to sustain that wind load,” said Jamie Rhome, acting deputy director of the National Hurricane Center.

The severe damage from Hurricane Laura, which struck southwest Louisiana last year as a Category 4 storm, was caused primarily by high winds peaking at 150 mph. The storm caused 42 deaths and damage costing more than $19 billion.

Ida’s rainfall also threatens to exceed Katrina’s highs.

The National Hurricane Center estimates that Ida will drench the Gulf Coast with 8 to 16 inches of rain and perhaps as much as 20 inches in some places. Katrina brought 5-10 inches of rain with more than 12 inches in the most impacted areas.

“That is a lot of rainfall,” said Mr. Rhome. “Absolutely the flash flood potential in this case is high, very high.” Especially combined with storm surge, he said, such intense levels of rainfall could have a “huge and devastating impact to those local communities.”

A wedding party marches by boarded-up buildings in the French Quarter in New Orleans on Saturday.
Credit…Dan Anderson/EPA, via Shutterstock

NEW ORLEANS — When a hurricane comes roaring toward New Orleans out of the Gulf of Mexico, there is a discernible mood shift on Bourbon Street, the city’s famed strip of iniquity and conspicuous alcohol consumption.

It goes from tawdry to tawdry with a hint of apocalypse. On Friday afternoon, the street was half alive. Daiquiri bars were open and daiquiri bars were boarded up. The doors to Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club were locked. Nearby, a man lay on his back on the sidewalk, a plastic bag at his side, yelling the name “Laura.” Or maybe “Lord.”

Six happy women from New York ambled toward Canal Street in matching black T-shirts that said, “Birthday, beignets and booze.” The birthday girl declined to give her name. They went past the club called The Famous Door, where a listless bar band played “Fat Bottomed Girls.”

The riffs poured out into the street. A member of the birthday team raised a glass of something alcoholic and sugary and shouted out the chorus.

Another of the New York women, Jessika Edouard of Long Island, said that most of her group had been trying to get out of town before the storm’s arrival, to no avail. It was all cancellations and unresponsive airline customer service. “The flights are terrible,” she said.

What choice did they have but to keep the party going? Ms Edouard thought she and some of the others might be able to leave on Monday, after Ida hit.

In the meantime, she said, they had bought a ton of booze in the French Quarter. In the morning they had beignets. They had just met a crew from the Weather Channel. They seemed more excited than scared.

Ms. Edouard even had words for the storm, which she delivered like a threat from one pro wrestler to another.

“If Hurricane Ida thinks she is going to ruin my friend’s 30th birthday, then Ida has another thing coming,” she said.

New Orleans residents prepared to leave after the mayor asked for voluntary evacuations in anticipation of Hurricane Ida.
Credit…Max Becherer/NOLA.com, via The Advocate, via Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — With Hurricane Ida likely to bring powerful winds and heavy rain to their city, residents of New Orleans faced a familiar choice: flee or hunker down for the duration.

The storm was expected to make landfall by Sunday afternoon or evening and officials urged people who intended to evacuate to do so by Saturday. Residents came to a variety of decisions on the matter.

Lacy Duhe, 39, and Jeremy Housely, 42, opted to hunker down in their second-story apartment on Deslonde Street in New Orlean’s Lower Ninth Ward. If they evacuated and ended up in a shelter, they said, they worried about the risk of their unvaccinated children contracting Covid-19. They also had just paid their monthly bills and could not afford to go anywhere.

“It feels serious,” said the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, Ja-nyi. “I wasn’t born during Katrina time. But I know it knocked down a lot of places.”

Mary Picot, 71, walked out the door on Saturday afternoon carrying bags of snacks and medicine. She wasn’t worried about flooding and believed the levees would hold. It was the threat of power outages that convinced her to leave.

“My husband is diabetic,” she said. “We have to keep his medicine cold.”

Donald Lyons, 38, was packing up a silver Nissan sedan Saturday afternoon under a cloud-filled sky in Hollygrove, one of the traditionally Black working class neighborhoods that flooded badly when Katrina hit. The car, carrying his wife, three children and mother-in-law, was full of bags and bedding. They were heading to Sugar Land, Texas, 27 miles southwest of Houston, where they had family that had left after Katrina, 16 years ago, and never come back.

“I’m just trying to get somewhere safe,” Mr. Lyons said.

Down the block, Barbara Butler, 65, a housekeeper, said she thought the city was safer now with all of the new flood protection. She intended to ride out the storm at home.

“It gave us some relief,” she said. “It’s better than no relief.”

She was sitting on the porch with her husband, Curtis Duck, 63, and her brother, Ray Thomas, in a house that Ms. Butler said was flooded with eight feet of water after Katrina.

Mr. Duck said he was sick of evacuating time and again.

“We listen to the news,” he said. “People telling us to go, go, go.”

Victor Pizarro, a health advocate, and his husband decided to ride out the storm in their home in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood, although they said they would leave town if they lost power for an extended period.

“It’s definitely triggering to even have to think about this and make these decisions,” Mr. Pizarro said in a telephone interview while he drove across town in search of a spare part for his generator. “It’s exhausting to be a New Orleanian and a Louisianian at this point.”

Andy Horowitz and his family decided to vacate their home in the Algiers Point neighborhood, which sits directly across the Mississippi River from the French Quarter. Mr. Horowitz is the author of “Katrina: A History, 1915-2015,” and he is among those scholars and Louisiana residents who fear that the city’s new flood protection system, as massive as it is, may prove to be inadequate for a sinking city in the likely path of more frequent and powerful storms in the age of climate change.

“Every summer, New Orleans plays a game of Russian roulette, and every summer we pull the trigger,” Mr. Horowitz said.

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New Orleans Mayor Urges Evacuations Ahead of Hurricane Ida

Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, which is also the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mayor LaToya Cantrell warned residents to either evacuate immediately or bunker down in a safe place ahead of the hurricane.

What we know is today, right now, everyone has to make a decision to leave voluntarily, which I’m recommending, do that, prepare yourselves. If you’re going to leave, you need to do that now. We need to make sure that you are in a safe place, everyone, whether you’re going to leave voluntarily or stay onsite, hunkered down. Wherever that is, hopefully that’s your home, in our city, but in a safe space. Prepare for damaging wind, power outages, heavy rain, tornadoes. What I am told is that this storm in no way will be weakening. There will be and there are no signs, again, that this storm will weaken, and there’s always an opportunity for the storm to strengthen. This continues to remain a very fluid situation. And we know, again, that time is not on our side. It’s just, it’s rapidly, it’s growing, it’s intensifying.

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Hurricane Ida is expected to make landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sunday, which is also the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Mayor LaToya Cantrell warned residents to either evacuate immediately or bunker down in a safe place ahead of the hurricane.CreditCredit…Matthew Hinton, via Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — With tracking maps for Hurricane Ida consistently showing an expected pathway toward southeast Louisiana, Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans issued a stern warning on Saturday that city residents who intend to leave should do so immediately.

“In no way will this storm be weakening, and there’s always an opportunity for the storm to strengthen,” Ms. Cantrell said at a news briefing. “Time is not on our side. It’s rapidly growing, it’s intensifying.”

City officials are asking that residents who plan to stay in the city prepare for extended power outages, limited emergency services and several days of high temperatures after the storm passes.

“The first 72 is on you,” said Collin Arnold, director of the New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “The first three days of this will be difficult for responders to get to you.”

Forecasters are predicting that Hurricane Ida will be a Category 4 storm upon landfall on Sunday, the 16th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which left more than 1,800 dead.

“What we learned during Hurricane Katrina is we are all first-responders,” Ms. Cantrell said. “It’s about taking care of one another.”

Delery Street in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans was flooded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Credit…Nicole Bengiveno/ New York Times

NEW ORLEANS — On Saturday afternoon, the Rev. Willie L. Calhoun Jr., a 71-year-old resident of the Lower Ninth Ward, was in his Lincoln Continental on the brink of getting out of town. He was not quite sure where. Somewhere in Alabama, he figured.

Rev. Calhoun remembers his father smashing a hole in the roof of his family’s home in the Lower Ninth in 1965, when Hurricane Betsy put 10 feet of water in his house. When Katrina came, he and his family made sure to get out of the neighborhood before the storm destroyed their homes — unlike many of his neighbors, some of whom perished when the levees failed.

The pain from Katrina was now an indelible fact of life in the neighborhood. He had hoped to take part in a 16th anniversary commemoration on Sunday, with a high school marching band and a theme, he said, of “healing, unifying and strengthening our communities.”

“The trauma, and the hurt that’s there,” he said. “I have one friend who lost his mother and his granddaughter in Katrina. For that trauma to be revisited every year is a tough thing.”

But his perspective on the neighborhood 16 years on was somewhat nuanced. He felt confident that the improvements to the city’s storm protection system — with its mammoth flood walls and new gates and levees — would keep the Ninth Ward safe. His worry, he said, was the damage from the wind that comes with a Category 4 hurricane.

And yet it was difficult not to be disappointed. The jobs for Black men seemed to have dried up in the city. A revamped post-Katrina educational system, heavily reliant on charter schools, did not seem, in Rev. Calhoun’s opinion, to have done much good. The neighborhood was in need of economic stimulus. Still full of empty lots, and ghostly foundations of homes, many of them owned by Black families, long washed away.

After $20 billion in infrastructure improvements, it felt, at best, like partial progress, and like survival with an asterisk.

Credit…Adrees Latif/Reuters

LAKE CHARLES, La. — Not again. That was the widespread sentiment among residents of Lake Charles, a city of about 76,000 residents some 200 miles from New Orleans, on Saturday.

A year after Hurricane Laura left many here without power — and some without homes — for long periods of time, residents were preparing for perhaps yet another weather catastrophe.

When Laura, a powerful Category 4 storm, barreled through Lake Charles last August, it shattered the windows of the home that Juan Jose Galdames, 55, a construction worker, shared with his five children. On Saturday, he was at Home Depot, buying plywood to protect the windows and other vulnerable parts of his house ahead of the storm.

“Yes, I am a little afraid,” Mr. Galdames said. “I don’t want a repeat of that day. It was scary. I want my children to feel safe. I’m trying to get everything ready before nightfall.”

Water and bread were in short supply at an area Target store, and traffic stretched for miles as residents sought safety elsewhere.

Tracy Guillory, 57, a carpenter, tried to prepare by stocking up on supplies and staying on top of weather reports. She said she and her family were weary after a long year of weather crises that included Hurricane Delta and a winter storm that caused pipes to burst and knocked out water systems throughout the region.

Ms. Guillory said her neighborhood was still recovering from flooding in May, which left her SUV beyond repair. She plans to hunker down with her 83-year-old father and 21-year-old daughter.

Josue Espinal, 34, who also works in construction, was trying to reassure his 4-year-old son, Anderson, that everything would be all right. The boy sat on top of a generator box as his father loaded a cart with bottles of water at a Home Depot. Truth was, Mr. Espinal admitted, he too was worried. He and his family live in a mobile home near a lake, and he was looking for a better option to spend the next two nights.

A medical worker monitored a Covid-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in Louisiana earlier this month.
Credit…Mario Tama/Getty Images

In Louisiana, where daily deaths from Covid reached their highest levels this week, stretched hospitals are having to modify the intense preparations they would normally make ahead of an expected strike from Hurricane Ida.

Louisiana’s medical director, Dr. Joseph Kanter, asked residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary emergency room visits to preserve the state’s hospital capacity, which has been vastly diminished by its most severe Covid surge of the pandemic.

And while plans exist to transfer patients away from coastal areas to inland hospitals ahead of a hurricane, this time “evacuations are just not possible,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said at a news conference.

“The hospitals don’t have room,” he said. “We don’t have any place to bring those patients — not in state, not out of state.”

The governor said officials had asked hospitals to check generators and stockpile more water, oxygen and personal protective supplies than usual for a storm. The implications of a strike from a Category 4 hurricane while hospitals were full were “beyond what our normal plans are,” he added.

Mr. Edwards said he had told President Biden and Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to expect Covid-related emergency requests, including oxygen.

The state’s recent wave of Covid hospitalizations has exceeded its previous three peaks, and staffing shortages have necessitated support from federal and military medical teams. On Friday, 2,684 Covid patients were hospitalized in the state. This week Louisiana reported its highest ever single-day death toll from Covid — 139 people.

Oschner Health, one of the largest local medical systems, informed the state that it had limited capacity to accept storm-related transfers, especially from nursing homes, the group’s chief executive, Warner L. Thomas, said. Many of Oschner’s hospitals, which were caring for 836 Covid patients on Friday, had invested in backup power and water systems to reduce the need to evacuate, he said.

The pandemic also complicated efforts to discharge more patients than usual before the storm hits. For many Covid patients who require oxygen, “going home isn’t really an option,” said Stephanie Manson, chief operating officer of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, which had 190 Covid inpatients on Friday, 79 of them in intensive care units.

The governor said he feared that the movement of tens or hundreds of thousands of evacuees in the state could cause it to lose gains made in recent days as the number of new coronavirus cases began to drop. Dr. Kanter urged residents who were on the move to wear masks and observe social distancing. Many of the state’s testing and vaccination sites were slated to close temporarily.

The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal Surge Barrier was constructed after Hurricane Katrina to prevent tidal surges from hurricanes from reaching New Orleans.
Credit…Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — As Hurricane Ida heads toward a possible Sunday landfall on Louisiana’s coastline, the National Weather Service’s storm surge forecast has local officials warning about the potential for water to overtop some of the levees that protect parts of New Orleans.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell of New Orleans noted at a news briefing on Friday evening that water overtopping the levees “is as it was structured to do.” That reflects the updates to the local system of earthen and reinforced levees that protects much of southeast Louisiana in the years after Hurricane Katrina stretched it to a breaking point.

The system, officials said, was rebuilt to defend against a so-called “100-year-storm,” or a storm that has a 1 percent chance in happening every year, but to remain reinforced up to a 500-year-event. It includes armoring, splash pads — concrete areas designed to keep the ground behind an overtopped wall from being washed away — and pumps with backup generators, officials said.

Heath Jones, an emergency operation manager with the Army Corps of Engineers, said that some levees protecting New Orleans on the western side of the Mississippi River were at risk of overtopping in line with the Weather Service’s forecast calling for between 10 and 15 feet of storm surge. A federal levee database shows sections of levee there as low as 10 feet.

Levees in this part of the state have rarely been challenged since they were shored up in the years after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The previous big tests were (hurricanes) Isaac and Gustav,” said Matt Roe, a public affairs specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers, which occurred in 2012 and 2008, “but it’s important to note that each storm is different.”

Ida’s strength, according to Chip Cline, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, “will test our hurricane protection system in a way they haven’t been tested before.”

Homes in Lake Charles, La., were covered with blue tarps after being hit by Hurricane Laura. Then Hurricane Delta swept through, knocking down trees and scattering debris from the previous storm.
Credit…William Widmer for The New York Times

Hurricane Ida threatens to be the first major storm to strike the Gulf Coast during the 2021 season, hitting a region in many ways still grappling with the physical and emotional toll of a punishing run of hurricanes last year.

The Atlantic hurricane season of 2020 was the busiest on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of which reached hurricane strength. There were so many storms that forecasters ran through the alphabet and had to take the rare step of calling storms by Greek letters.

Louisiana was dealt the harshest blow, barraged repeatedly by storms, including Hurricane Laura, which was one of the most powerful to hit the state, trailed six weeks later by Delta, which was weaker than Laura but followed a nearly identical path, inflicting considerable pain on communities still gripped by the devastation from the earlier storm.

The state is still struggling to claw its way back. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said the state had $3 billion in unmet recovery needs. In Lake Charles, which was ravaged by direct hits from both hurricanes followed by a deadly winter storm and flooding in May, local officials recently renewed a plea for federal aid as the city has failed to regain its footing; much of it has yet to recover and many residents, unable to find adequate or affordable housing, have fled.

The looming impact of Ida underscores the persisting danger imperiling coastal communities as a changing climate stands to intensify the destructive force of the storms that have always been a seasonal part of life.

President Biden cited the growing danger in May when he announced a significant increase in funding to build and bolster infrastructure in communities most likely to face the wrath of extreme weather.

A fallen tree and electricity pole were cleared as Hurricane Nora approaches Manzanillo, Mexico, on Sunday.
Credit…Reuters

Hurricane Nora formed in the eastern Pacific on Saturday morning, threatening much of Mexico’s western coastline as the storm strengthens and barrels its way toward Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco and the tip of the Baja California Peninsula, forecasters said.

As of 10 a.m. on Saturday, Nora was about 425 miles from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour as it moved north, according to the National Hurricane Center.

A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of western Mexico.

Forecasters said the storm was expected to cause flooding, mudslides and perilous surf along much of Mexico’s central and northern Pacific Coast.

The remnants of the storm are expected to produce heavy rainfall in parts of the southwestern U.S. and central Rockies toward the middle of next week, forecasters said.

A forecast track from the National Hurricane Center showed Nora skirting close to Mexico’s coastline by Sunday morning before moving toward the Gulf of California a day later.

“Some additional strengthening is forecast through tonight if Nora’s center does not make landfall,” the National Hurricane Center said in an update. “Some gradual weakening is expected to begin by Sunday night or Monday, but Nora is forecast to remain as a hurricane through Tuesday.”

Nora is expected to produce rainfall totals of up to 12 inches this weekend along Mexico’s western coast.

It has been a dizzying few weeks for meteorologists who are monitoring Hurricane Ida this weekend after having monitored three named storms that formed in quick succession in the Atlantic, bringing stormy weather, flooding and damaging winds to different parts of the United States and the Caribbean.

The links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent. A warming planet can expect to see stronger hurricanes over time, and a higher incidence of the most powerful storms — though the overall number of storms could drop because factors like stronger wind shear could keep weaker storms from forming.

Hurricanes are also becoming wetter because of more water vapor in the warmer atmosphere; scientists have suggested that storms like Hurricane Harvey in 2017 produced far more rain than they would have without the human effects on climate. Also, rising sea levels are contributing to higher storm surges — the most destructive element of tropical cyclones.

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A powerful earthquake violently shakes Haiti. Hundreds are dead.

storm was projected to pass over or near Haiti on Monday, the center said in an update on Saturday afternoon, adding that people on the island should monitor the path of Grace, and that tropical storm warnings for Haiti and other nearby islands could be required later on Saturday or on Sunday.

Over Haiti, the storm could dump four to seven inches of rain, with isolated totals of up to 10 inches, the center said, adding that heavy rainfall could lead to flooding and potential mudslides on Monday and into Tuesday.

Before the center’s afternoon update, Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist at the center, said the earthquake could increase the chance of mudslides.

“It could have shifted some of the ground and soil, which could make mudslides more common,” he said.

Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the center, said the storm was not expected to make landfall in Haiti, which means the center of the storm wouldn’t cross over the island itself.

However, he said, “rain is centered all around the storm, so the center won’t mean a whole lot.”

Grace is expected to strengthen over the next couple of days, and then weaken by Monday or Tuesday, the center said.

Grace, which is the seventh named storm of the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, follows several days of floods and power outages unleashed this week by Fred.

The Sacred Heart church in Les Cayes was damaged in an earthquake on Saturday.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

A magnitude-7.2 earthquake struck Haiti on Saturday morning. It was stronger than the magnitude-7.0 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country in 2010. The United States Geological Survey said the quake struck five miles from the town of Petit Trou de Nippes in the western part of the country, about 80 miles west of Port-au-Prince, the capital. Seismologists said it had a depth of seven miles. It was felt as far away as Jamaica, 200 miles away.

The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center reported a tsunami threat because of Saturday’s earthquake, but later rescinded it.

Aftershocks rippled through the region, the U.S.G.S. said, including one at magnitude 5.1.

More than 300 people were killed and 1,800 injured, according to Jerry Chandler, the director general of the Civil Protection Agency. An untold number of others were missing.

Among the dead was the former mayor of Les Cayes, Gabriel Fortuné, who was killed when the hotel he owned collapsed during the quake, according to a local journalist who knew him, Jude Bonhomme.

Two cities, Les Cayes and Jeremie, located in Haiti’s southern peninsula, have reported major devastation with people caught under rubble and buildings collapsed. Phone lines were down in Petit Trou de Nippes, the epicenter of the quake. No news emerged immediately from that city, leaving Haitian officials to fear for the worst.

The full extent of the damage and casualties is not yet known. But doctors said hospitals were overwhelmed.

A building housing medical students, hospital interns and two doctors had collapsed, trapping those who were most needed to provide aid, said Dr. James Pierre, a surgeon at the general hospital of Les Cayes, also known as the Hospital Immaculée Conception.

The State Department’s internal assessment of the earthquake was bleak. Up to 650,000 people experienced “very strong” tremors with an additional 850,000 affected by “strong shaking,” leaving thousands of buildings at risk of damage and potential, eventual collapse, according to the assessment, shared by a State Department official.

This earthquake could not have come at a worst time for Haiti, which is still recovering from a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 220,000 people and leveled much of Port-au-Prince. The southern peninsula, where the earthquake hit, is also still recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which hit the country in 2016.

The country of 11 million is also recovering from political turmoil. Haiti has been in the throes of a political crisis since President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated on July 7, and the government is not financially equipped to take care of repairs.

A home in Les Cayes damaged in Saturday’s earthquake.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

Archdeacon Abiade Lozama of a regional Episcopal Church in Haiti was welcoming teachers and parents to discuss plans to return to school on Saturday when the earthquake struck Les Cayes. Everyone ran outside, looking for an open space free of trees or buildings that could collapse.

He said he walked from the school to the town center and saw only a handful of houses that did not have damage.

“The streets are filled with screaming,” he said. “People are searching, for loved ones or resources, medical help, water.”

Les Cayes was hit hard by Saturday’s earthquake, which came about a month after the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, forced the country into a political crisis.

“People are sitting around waiting for word, and there is no word — no word from their family, no word on who will help them,” he said. “When such a catastrophe happens, people wait for word or some sort of confidence from the state. But there’s nothing. No help.”

Archdeacon Lozama had planned for a joyous day to discuss pandemic reopenings but that was derailed.

“Today was supposed to be a day of hope, of meetings with teachers and students to plan for returning to school,” Archdeacon Lozama said.

In Jérémie, another area hit hard by the quake, the collapse of an old cathedral — a Haitian landmark — was a chilling throwback to 2010, when a cathedral in Port-au-Prince, the capital, was destroyed during an earthquake that has scarred the nation since.

That cathedral, which has yet to be restored, is a symbol of the many devastations the country has faced and of the government’s inability to help its own population, one of the most destitute in the world.

The main supermarket in Les Cayes collapsed, leaving the population of about half a million with dwindling supplies and worries that eventually there would be looting and fighting over basics like drinking water. The local hospitals — already underfunded — were overwhelmed with casualties.

The magnitude-7.2 quake snapped the underground pipes of Les Cayes, flooding the streets.

Dr. Fatima Geralde Joseph said she tried to rush over to the clinic where she works to start helping, but she could not cross the flooded streets and eventually had to return home.

Others interviewed said there were aftershocks as strong as magnitude 5.2 every 10 minutes, setting off panic among the population.

Damage caused by the earthquake on Saturday.
Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/EPA, via Shutterstock

When Gepsie Metellus got the news from a cousin on Saturday morning that a powerful earthquake had rocked Haiti, she made a panicked call from her home in Miami to her husband, who had traveled to Port-au-Prince on Thursday for a visit.

As she dialed his number, her thoughts returned in terror to the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti 11 years ago.

“It’s taking me back to visions of 2010,” said Ms. Metellus, executive director of Sant La, a Haitian neighborhood center in Miami. “We’re just bracing ourselves, just bracing ourselves for really terrible news.”

She was able to contact her husband, who was safe, but for some, the agony of not knowing the fate of their loved ones continued through the day.

Members of the Haitian diaspora in the United States spoke on Saturday of making anxious calls to relatives and friends in the Caribbean nation, and U.S.-based aid organizations were struggling to assess the scope of the damage and to connect with their people on the ground.

“All circuits are busy — circuits are really, really overwhelmed right now,” said Elizabeth Campa, an adviser with Zanmi Lasante, a health care provider in Haiti, and a sister organization of the Boston-based organization Partners in Health.

“We are still trying to desperately get a hold of the staff,” said Skyler Badenoch, chief executive of Hope for Haiti, a U.S.-based organization that works to reduce poverty in Haiti. By Saturday afternoon, the organization had been able to account for 45 of its 60 staff members in Haiti. Of those who reported themselves safe, many had experienced major damage to their homes.

Commissioner Jean Monestime of Miami-Dade County said he had fielded calls all day from constituents desperately trying to reach family members in Haiti.

“People are still in disbelief that Haiti is experiencing yet another disaster,” he said, adding that he and other Haitian American elected officials were working to organize response efforts.

“What the assessment has been so far in terms of casualty and the effort for search and rescue — there’s not much that we are learning as of yet,” Mr. Monestime said.

For those watching anxiously from the U.S., the political turbulence in the weeks following the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse of Haiti raised additional concerns about the prospect of recovery from Saturday’s earthquake.

“All this against the backdrop of a country where gangs are running amok, a country with no functioning government,” said Ms. Metellus, adding, “Everyone’s feeling this collective sense of anxiety, of frustration, of fear, of déjà vu.”

A damaged building in Les Cayes on Saturday.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

With phone lines down and roadways disrupted or gang-controlled, news organizations and emergency officials scrambled to try to gain access to the parts of Haiti damaged by a powerful earthquake on Saturday morning. Port-au-Prince, the capital, is 80 miles west from the quake’s epicenter, near Les Cayes — and some four and half hours away by car.

The flight time from Port-au-Prince to Les Cayes is only 30 minutes. News services like The Associated Press tried to get reporters on medical or charter flights to document the state of the stricken region.

News photographs and reports began filtering through by Saturday afternoon, but in the interim, social media became a pivotal source of information about the earthquake’s devastation, supplying images and videos.

One video being picked up by multiple reporters and media outlets online shows the destruction of multiple houses and buildings as people try to help those that might be caught under the rubble.

The posts show people still in their pajamas or bath towels, out in the street seeking safety after fleeing violently trembling homes. Entire three-story buildings were flattened to eye-level. One video showed a group of men sifting through rubble to try to extract someone buried beneath.

This is not the first time that social media has filled an urgent news role in the Caribbean. Climate change has caused stronger storms and hurricanes that hit the area with more force, and suffering and paralyzing hits to infrastructure often hit social media first.

Social media platforms also have sometimes served as a communications network, where families could connect with loved ones when phone lines went down and learn about relief efforts, according to reporting from The Pulitzer Center.

That was true during Hurricane Maria in 2017 and also in 2010, when a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing more than 220,000 people.

A building in Les Cayes damaged in Saturday’s earthquake.
Credit…Ralph Tedy Erol/EPA, via Shutterstock

Hours after the earthquake hit Haiti, the Biden administration, the United Nations and private relief agencies that operate in Haiti promised urgent help.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris received a briefing on Saturday morning about the Haiti earthquake while they were at a meeting discussing Afghanistan, according to the White House. The president authorized an immediate response, The Associated Press reported, and named the USAID administrator, Samantha Power, as the senior official coordinating the effort.

Ms. Power said in a Twitter post that USAID was “moving urgently to respond” and that experts were on the ground assessing damage and needs. In a tweet, the United Nations secretary-general, António Guterres, said that the U.N. “is working to support rescue and relief efforts.” There was no outline of what the responses might look like as damage on the ground continues to be evaluated and the death toll continues to rise.

“While it will take days to assess the full scale of the damage, it is clear that this is a massive humanitarian emergency,” said Leila Bourahla, Save the Children’s Haiti country director. “We must respond quickly and decisively.”

UNICEF, a branch of the U.N., said in a statement that it was working with government and non-goverment organizations to evaluate what was needed. The agency said it has offices in the south of Haiti and staff members on the ground were making assessments in order to prioritize urgent needs and provide assistance to affected populations. Much of the assistance right now seems to be medical.

Nonprofit organizations like Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, which was founded by Sean Penn in 2010 after another earthquake hit Haiti, are also on the ground. CORE deployed two teams Saturday, one of which is a mobile medical team, according to a statement from the organization.

But getting aid to those who need it in Haiti isn’t easy. An influx of foreign aid and peacekeeping forces after the 2010 earthquake appeared to only worsen the country’s woes and instability. The international community has pumped $13 billion of aid into the country over the last decade, and instead of the nation-building the money was supposed to achieve, Haiti’s institutions have become further hollowed out in recent years.

The aid has propped up the country and its leaders, providing vital services and supplies in a country that has desperately needed vast amounts of humanitarian assistance. But it has also left the government with few incentives to carry out the institutional reforms necessary to rebuild the country, allowing corruption, violence and political paralysis to go unchecked.

A home damaged by an earthquake in Les Cayes on Saturday.
Credit…Delot Jean/Associated Press

After a powerful earthquake hit Haiti early Saturday, the U.S. Tsunami Warning Center initially reported a tsunami threat and warned of waves between three to 10 feet high.

The threat was then rescinded.

A video circulating on social media showed residents of Les Cayes fleeing a flooded street, splashing through murky, knee-deep water, but it wasn’t clear what caused the flooding.

Earthquakes with a magnitude between 6.5 and 7.5 generally do not produce deadly tsunamis, but they can cause a small sea change level close to a quake’s epicenter, according to the United States Geological Survey.

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Afghanistan Collapse Accelerates as 2 Vital Cities Near Fall to Taliban

KABUL, Afghanistan — Two more major cities in western and southern Afghanistan were on the verge of collapse to the Taliban on Thursday night, as the insurgency’s race to seize control of the country accelerated.

With the Taliban’s sudden gains in Kandahar, in the country’s southern Pashtun heartland, and Herat, a vital cultural and economic hub, the insurgents appear to be nearing a complete military takeover. Only four major cities — including the capital, Kabul — remain under government control, and two of them are under siege by the Taliban.

Over the past week, the Taliban have toppled city after city in a stunning advance that has well positioned the insurgents to attack Kabul. It has also laid bare the Afghan security forces’ near complete collapse less than three weeks before the United States is set to completely withdraw. Some American officials fear the Afghan government will implode within 30 days, and are preparing for an evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents now control well over half of the country’s 400-odd districts. And with the fall of Kandahar and Herat, along with another provincial capital south of Kabul, Ghazni, and one in the northwest, Qala-e-Naw — all on Thursday — the insurgents will control 13 provincial capitals.

eeking assurances from the Taliban that they will not attack the embassy if the insurgents overrun the capital, two American officials said.

Afghan security forces, exhausted and overstretched by the Taliban’s advance, are giving up across the country. On Wednesday, an entire Afghan army corps in the northern city Kunduz surrendered to Taliban fighters, who had seized control of the city a few days before. They handed over their weapons and vehicles to the insurgents and ceded control of the city’s airport, officials said.

As the Taliban have pressed on their brutal offensive, thousands of displaced people have flocked to Kabul, one of the last islands of government control not yet under siege. Hundreds of thousands of others have been trapped between fighting in city streets and airstrikes from the sky.

“Every second here I am concerned, I am crying,” said Humaira Jahion, 47, who fled to Kabul from the northern city Kunduz hours before it fell to the Taliban on Sunday.

For two nights she sheltered in her home with her seven children, afraid to leave after a mortar landed half a block from her house. Now, thinking about her family’s future as she crowded in with hundreds of others in a makeshift shelter, a look of anguish washed over her face.

“There is no future here,” she said. “There is no future for me and there is no future for my children.”

Asadullah Timory, Najim Rahim, Jim Huylebroek and Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting.

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Greek Fires Force Thousands More to Evacuate

ATHENS — Firefighters continued to battle blazes across Greece on Saturday after another difficult night that saw thousands more people fleeing their homes and hundreds being evacuated by sea, as southern Europe grapples with one of its worst heat waves in decades.

Wildfires are also still raging in Turkey, which is in its 11th day of trying to extinguish flames that are ravaging its southern coastline and that have killed at least eight people and destroyed hundreds of acres of land.

High winds in Greece hampered nighttime firefighting efforts on Friday as wildfires tore through swaths of forestland north of Athens, the capital, and through mountains and farmland on the island of Evia and on the southern Peloponnese peninsula.

As flames ravaged Evia’s coastline, hundreds of residents and tourists were evacuated by ferry, dramatic scenes of which were captured on video by the National Observatory of Athens’s online weather service, Meteo.

North of the capital, police officers went door to door to urge people to abandon their homes, and they evacuated a detention facility for migrants, a day after moving asylum seekers out of another camp in the area.

At first light on Saturday, firefighters and aircraft from several countries — including Croatia, Cyprus, France, Israel, Sweden and Ukraine — joined their Greek counterparts in battling blazes dotting the mainland and islands. Romania and Switzerland were also sending help, followed by the Czech Republic, Egypt, Germany and Spain.

Fifty-five fires were active around the country, the largest of which were north of Athens, on the island of Evia and in Fokida, in central Greece, according to Nikos Hardalias, the deputy civil protection minister, speaking at a briefing early Saturday afternoon. He added that the situation had improved slightly since Friday, but that fires were constantly rekindling as winds strengthened.

Dozens of firefighting aircraft and thousands of firefighters have been working to control the wildfires, but overnight, TV reports said, flames moved north, reaching a new town and forcing six neighborhoods to evacuate.

Earlier Saturday in Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said his government’s priority was protecting human lives, and then, as possible, people’s properties.

A 38-year-old volunteer firefighter from Ippokrateios Politeia, a settlement north of Athens affected by the fires, died on Thursday of head injuries after being hit by a falling electricity pylon.

More than 20 people have suffered burns, including four firefighters, two of whom were critically injured. President Katerina Sakellaropoulou visited those firefighters on Saturday at a hospital in Athens.

The fires have razed tens of thousands of acres of forestland, but the number of homes that have been destroyed remains unclear.

Officials have said that at least three people have been arrested and are facing arson charges in connection with blazes in Kryoneri, north of Athens; in Fthiotida, in central Greece; and in Kalamata, in southern Greece.

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