China’s ‘Absurd’ Covid Propaganda Stirs Rebellion

“We have won the great battle against Covid!”

“History will remember those who contributed!”

“Extinguish every outbreak!”

These are among the many battle-style slogans that Beijing has unleashed to rally support around its top-down, zero-tolerance coronavirus policies.

China is now one of the last places on earth trying to eliminate Covid-19, and the Communist Party has relied heavily on propaganda to justify increasingly long lockdowns and burdensome testing requirements that can sometimes lead to three tests a week.

The barrage of messages — online and on television, loudspeakers and social platforms — has become so overbearing that some citizens say it has drowned out their frustrations, downplayed the reality of the country’s tough coronavirus rules and, occasionally, bordered on the absurd.

citywide lockdown in Shanghai this spring, Jason Xue had no more food left in his fridge. Yet when he clicked on the government’s social media account, he noticed that a top city official had vowed to “make every possible endeavor” to address food shortages.

Government assistance didn’t show up until four weeks later, Mr. Xue said.

“I was extremely angry, panicked and despairing,” said Mr. Xue, who works for a financial communications firm. He eventually turned to neighbors for help. “The propaganda was resolute and decisive, but it was different from the reality that we didn’t even know whether we could have the next meal.”

Xi Jinping, China’s leader, has made controlling the virus a “top political priority.” Thousands of state media outlets and social media accounts have echoed Beijing’s “zero Covid” policy and praised the sacrifice of workers trying to control Covid-19.

at least 120 Covid-related propaganda phrases have been created since the beginning of the pandemic.

blocking them from seeking safety.

Videos of the episode were posted online and quickly deleted by censors, who said people should “at least bring masks before escaping from buildings,” even when an earthquake is “highly destructive.”

For some, the video was a reminder of how the government had used the pandemic to tighten its grip on their private lives, telling them when they can leave their apartments, what kind of food they can buy and what hospitals they can enter.

Kong Lingwanyu, a 22-year-old marketing intern in Shanghai, was upset that officials used the phrase “unless necessary” when describing restrictions around things like leaving the home, dining out or gathering with others.

Ms. Kong said a local official responsible for carrying out coronavirus policies had told her that she should not “buy unnecessary food.” She said she asked the official what standards the government used to determine what kind of food was necessary.

“Who are you to decide the ‘necessity’ for others?” she said. “It’s totally absurd and nonsense.”

On state television, Beijing’s “nine storm fortification actions” around the pandemic are frequently repeated to keep people in line with Covid policies. The nine actions are: neighborhood lockdowns, mass testing, contact tracing, disinfection, quarantine centers, increased health care capacity, traditional Chinese medicine, screening of neighborhoods and prevention of local transmission.

Yang Xiao, a 33-year-old cinematographer in Shanghai who was confined to his apartment for two months during a lockdown this year, had grown tired of them all.

“With the Covid control, propaganda and state power expanded and occupied all aspects of our life,” he said in a phone interview. Day after day, Mr. Yang heard loudspeakers in his neighborhood repeatedly broadcasting a notice for P.C.R. testing. He said the announcements had disturbed his sleep at night and woke him up at dawn.

“Our life was dictated and disciplined by propaganda and state power,” he said.

To communicate his frustrations, Mr. Yang selected 600 common Chinese propaganda phrases, such as “core awareness,” “obey the overall situation” and “the supremacy of nationhood.” He gave each phrase a number and then put the numbers into Google’s Random Generator, a program that scrambles data.

He ended up with senseless phrases such as “detect citizens’ life and death line,” “strictly implement functions” and “specialize overall plans without slack.” Then he used a voice program to read the phrases aloud and played the audio on a loudspeaker in his neighborhood.

No one seemed to notice the five minutes of computer-generated nonsense.

When Mr. Yang uploaded a video of the scene online, however, more than 1.3 million people viewed it. Many praised the way he used government language as satire. Chinese propaganda was “too absurd to be criticized using logic,” Mr. Yang said. “I simulated the discourse like a mirror, reflecting its own absurdity.”

His video was taken down by censors.

Mr. Yang added that he hoped to inspire others to speak out against China’s Covid policies and its use of propaganda in the pandemic. He wasn’t the only Shanghai resident to rebel when the city was locked down.

In June, dozens of residents protested against the police and Covid control workers who installed chain-link fences around neighborhood apartments. When a protester was shoved into a police car and taken away, one man shouted: “Freedom! Equality! Justice! Rule of law!” Those words would be familiar to most Chinese citizens: They are commonly cited by state media as core socialist values under Mr. Xi.

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Europe Points to Sabotage in Pipeline Leaks and Pledges ‘United Response’

Credit…Irakli Gedenidze/Reuters

At least 200,000 Russians have left the country in the week since President Vladimir V. Putin announced a partial military mobilization after a series of setbacks in the country’s war with Ukraine, according to figures provided by Russia’s neighbors.

The mobilization could pull as many as 300,000 civilians into military service, from what Russian officials have said is a pool of some 25 million draft-eligible adults on their rolls, suggesting that the departures, though unusual, may not prevent the Kremlin from achieving its conscription goals.

Video posted on social media platforms showed long lines of cars approaching border checkpoints in countries including Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Finland. The rapid outflow, as well as a series of protests in different parts of the country, are a stark display of discontent with Mr. Putin’s policy.

“I left because of my disagreement with the current government in Russia,” said Alexander Oleinikov, 29, a bus driver from Moscow who had crossed overland into northeastern Georgia. He said that many people he knew were against the war, which he called a “tragedy” caused by “one crazy dictator.”

The size of the exodus is difficult to determine, however, given that Russia has borders with 14 countries, stretching from China and North Korea to the Baltic States, and not all governments release regular data about migration.

The government of Kazakhstan said on Tuesday that 98,000 Russians had entered the country in the last week and Georgia’s interior minister said more than 53,000 people had crossed into the country from Russia since Sept. 21, when the mobilization was announced. The daily number climbed over those days to around 10,000 from a normal level of about 5,000 to 6,000.

The European Union’s border agency, Frontex, said in a statement that nearly 66,000 Russian citizens entered the bloc in the week to Sunday, up 30 percent from the previous week.

Those numbers give some additional credence to the scale of exodus described in a report over the weekend by the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, which cited what it said was a security service estimate, provided by an unnamed source, of 261,000 men having left the country by Sunday.

There is also evidence that Russia may be moving to stem the flow of departures. On Wednesday, Russia’s North Ossetia republic imposed restrictions on cars arriving from other parts of the country. The republic’s governor, Sergei Menyaylo, said the ban was being introduced after 20,000 people crossed the border in two days.

Some European countries have already imposed border restrictions with Russia, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, which have closed their doors to most Russian citizens. Finland is considering similar measures.

On Wednesday, the United States Embassy in Moscow, which had previously urged its citizens to leave Russia, restated the position in the light of the mobilization drive, warning that those with dual Russian and American nationality could be at risk of being drafted.

Russia is also attempting to clamp down on citizens trying to leave the country. On Tuesday, the state news media reported that men waiting to flee at the Georgia border were being served call-up papers.

Some analysts, however, cautioned that the practical impact of the departures was likely to be limited.

“Many young Russian men are departing in a mass exodus from Russia,” said Mick Ryan, an Australian military expert who has commented extensively on the war in Ukraine. “But millions of others will not have the means to leave Russia to escape their draft notices.”

Ksenia Ivanova contributed reporting.

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An Israel-Lebanon Border Deal Could Increase Natural Gas Supplies

Israel and Lebanon have been at war since 1948, but the countries are close to an agreement that could increase production of natural gas, helping energy-starved Europe.

Officials from the two countries have said they are close to resolving long-running disputes over their maritime borders, which would allow energy companies to extract more fossil fuels from offshore fields in the Mediterranean Sea.

The increased production won’t make up for the gas that Europe is no longer getting from Russia. But energy experts say an Israel-Lebanon agreement should give a vital push to efforts to produce more gas in that part of the world. Over the last four years, energy production in the eastern Mediterranean has been growing as Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus have worked together to take advantage of oil and gas buried under the sea.

“This is a very important step for the region to come into its own,” said Charif Souki, the Lebanese-American executive chairman of Tellurian, a liquefied natural gas company based in Houston. “Players are finally realizing that it’s better to cooperate than to continuously fight.”

The Israel-Lebanon negotiations will most directly affect the Karish field, which is set to produce gas for Israel’s domestic use. That fuel is expected to displace gas produced from other fields, which can then be exported. The new field is also expected to produce a small amount of oil.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil and gas company, and several smaller businesses are already producing gas from two larger fields off Israel’s coast. That fuel has increasingly replaced coal in the country’s power plants and factories. Israel now has so much gas that it has become a net exporter of energy, sending fuel to neighbors like Jordan and Egypt. Some of that gas has also found its way to Europe and other parts of the world from L.N.G. export terminals in Egypt.

The U.S. government, across several administrations, has encouraged the growth of the gas trade in the region by helping to negotiate deals between countries that have long had tense relations. The Ukraine crisis has accelerated efforts to explore and produce natural gas because of the soaring cost of the fuel in Europe, where countries are desperate to end their dependence on Russian gas.

Chevron and its Israeli partners are discussing the possibility of building a floating liquefied natural gas platform in the Leviathan gas field, Israel’s largest. The companies are expected to make a decision on the project in a few months.

But getting the gas out of the region will not be easy. Floating export terminals are vulnerable to terrorist attack. And, even if they could be adequately secured, the terminals will not be able to process as much gas as the larger coastal facilities used in major gas producers like the United States, Qatar and Australia. Building terminals on land can take several years, if not often longer, because of opposition from environmental and other groups.

“Energy infrastructure offshore is very volatile and vulnerable,” said Gal Luft, a former Israeli military officer who is the co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security in Washington. “You have to manage risk.”

Theoretically, transporting gas by pipelines would be easier than liquefying natural gas for export before converting it back into gas at its destination. But building long-distance pipelines is expensive and difficult. A long-running conflict between Turkey, Cyprus and Greece, for example, has made constructing a pipeline from Israel to southern Europe incredibly challenging, if not impossible.

Even an Israel-Lebanon border agreement faces risks. Hezbollah has threatened to attack the Karish field, and it sent unarmed drones over it in July; Israeli officials said they had shot down the ‌aircraft.

Still, Israeli and Lebanese officials have said in recent days that they are pressing on with the negotiations, with officials from the Biden administration acting as a go-between, and are close to a deal. The talks gathered momentum during the United Nations General Assembly last week.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon said on Thursday at the United Nations that he was confident about reaching an agreement with Israel. “Lebanon is well aware of the importance of the promising energy market in the eastern Mediterranean for the prosperity of all countries in the region,” he said, “but also to meet the needs of importing nations.”

U.S. and other Western oil companies have long shied away from Israel, in part because they do not want to alienate Arab countries. But, as relations between Israel and countries like Egypt, Jordan and, more recently, the United Arab Emirates have improved more companies have expressed interest in the eastern Mediterranean.

An agreement between Israel and Lebanon could accelerate that trend.

“I think it will appease many minds,” said Leslie Palti-Guzman, chief executive of Gas Vista, a consulting firm. “Companies that have been reluctant to invest could be more incentivized to develop additional projects.”

Gas fields in the Mediterranean are one of several new suppliers that Europe will need as it seeks a long-term replacement for Russian gas. Other suppliers include energy companies operating in the United States, Qatar, Africa, the Caspian Sea and the North Sea.

“There is no silver bullet,” said Paddy Blewer, spokesman for Energean, a London-based exploration company that hopes to begin producing gas in the Karish field. “The East Mediterranean is one of a series of marginal gains that Europe has to look at.”

Energean plans to begin production in the next few weeks, and has said it expects to produce up to 8 billion cubic meters of gas a year by 2025. If it is successful, the company could significantly add to Israel’s output. The country will produce roughly 22 billion cubic meters this year. Once an importer of almost all of its energy, Israel increased gas production by 22 percent in the first half of the year compared with the same period in 2021. It exported roughly 40 percent of its gas, earning the government royalties of $250 million.

The agreement between Israel and Lebanon will also open the way to drilling in Lebanese waters by a consortium led by Eni of Italy and TotalEnergies of France. Lebanese officials view natural gas as a critical financial tool in its attempts to revive the country’s depressed economy. The government has wanted to drill offshore since at least 2014, but disputes with Israel over the border have delayed exploration.

“It’s not for sure Lebanon will find gas,” said Chakib Khelil, a former president of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. “But, if they do, Lebanon will get a big boost.”

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4.4M Americans Roll Up Sleeves For Omicron-Targeted Boosters

Some Americans who got the new shots said they are excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants circulating now.

U.S. health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for the updated COVID-19 booster shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the count Thursday as public health experts bemoaned President Joe Biden’s recent remark that “the pandemic is over.”

The White House said more than 5 million people received the new boosters by its own estimate that accounts for reporting lags in states.

Health experts said it is too early to predict whether demand would match up with the 171 million doses of the new boosters the U.S. ordered for the fall.

“No one would go looking at our flu shot uptake at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If we start to see a large uptick in cases, I think we’re going to see a lot of people getting the (new COVID) vaccine.”

A temporary shortage of Moderna vaccine caused some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule for a Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to resolve as government regulators wrapped up an inspection and cleared batches of vaccine doses for distribution.

“I do expect this to pick up in the weeks ahead,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “We’ve been thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine season picks up in late September and early October. We’re just getting our education campaign going. So we expect to see, despite the fact that this was a strong start, we actually expect this to ramp up stronger.”

Some Americans who plan to get the shot, designed to target the most common Omicron strains, said they are waiting because they either had COVID-19 recently or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of their existing virus-fighting antibodies.

Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.

Retired hospital chaplain Jeanie Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new booster in a couple of weeks after she has some minor knee surgery. Interest is high among her neighbors from what she sees on the Nextdoor app.

“There’s quite a bit of discussion happening among people who are ready to make appointments,” Murphy said. “I found that encouraging. For every one naysayer there will be 10 or 12 people who jump in and say, ‘You’re crazy. You just need to go get the shot.'”

President Biden later acknowledged criticism of his remark about the pandemic being over and clarified the pandemic is “not where it was.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease has entered a steady state when “we’ll get COVID shots in the fall the same as we do flu shots.”

Experts hope she’s right, but are waiting to see what levels of infection winter brings. The summer ebb in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths may be followed by another surge, Dowdy said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Thursday by a panel of biodefense experts what still keeps him up at night, noted that half of vaccinated Americans never got an initial booster dose.

“We have a vulnerability in our population that will continue to have us in a mode of potential disruption of our social order,” Fauci said. “I think that we have to do better as a nation.”

Some Americans who got the new shots said they are excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants circulating now.

“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who got the new booster and a flu shot on Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport jujitsu, so wants to protect himself from infections that may come with close contact. “I have no issue trusting folks whose job it is to look at the evidence.”

Meanwhile, President Biden’s pronouncement in a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast Sunday echoed through social media.

“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” President Biden said while walking through the Detroit auto show. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

By Wednesday on Facebook, when a Kansas health department posted where residents could find the new booster shots, the first commenter remarked snidely:

“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”

The president’s statement, despite his attempts to clarify it, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

“People aren’t sure when is the right time to get boosted. ‘Am I eligible?’ People are often confused about what the right choice is for them, even where to search for that information,” Michaud said.

“Any time you have mixed messages, it’s detrimental to the public health effort,” Michaud said. “Having the mixed messages from the president’s remarks, makes that job that much harder.”

University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he’s worried the president’s pronouncement has taken on a life of its own and may stall prevention efforts.

“That soundbite is there for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And it’s going to give the impression that ‘Oh, there’s nothing more we need to do,'” Salemi said.

“If we’re happy with 400 or 500 people dying every single day from COVID, there’s a problem with that,” Salemi said. “We can absolutely do better because most of those deaths, if not all of them, are absolutely preventable with the tools that we have.”

New York City photographer Vivienne Gucwa, 44, got the new booster Monday. She’s had COVID twice, once before vaccines were available and again in May. She was vaccinated with two Moderna shots, but never got the original boosters.

“When I saw the new booster was able to tackle Omicron variant I thought, ‘I’m doing that,'” Gucwa said.

“I don’t want to deal with Omicron again. I was kind of thrilled to see the boosters were updated.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Hurricane Fiona Roaring By Bermuda, Then To Canada

By Associated Press

and Newsy Staff
September 23, 2022

“It’s going to be a storm that everyone remembers when it is all said and done,” said a Canadian Hurricane Centre meteorologist.

Fiona, a Category 4 hurricane, pounded Bermuda with heavy rains and winds early Friday as it swept by the island on a route forecast to have it approaching northeastern Canada late in the day as a still-powerful storm.

Authorities in Bermuda opened shelters and closed schools and offices ahead of Fiona. Premier David Burt sent a tweet urging residents to “take care of yourself and your family. Let’s all remember to check on as well as look out for your seniors, family and neighbors.”

The Canadian Hurricane Centre issued a hurricane watch over extensive coastal expanses of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fiona should reach the area as a “large and powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds.

“It’s going to be a storm that everyone remembers when it is all said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre.

The U.S. center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph late Thursday. It was centered about 195 miles west of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 21 mph.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 115 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 275 miles.

Fiona so far has been blamed for at least five deaths — two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French island of Guadeloupe.

Hurricanes in Canada are somewhat rare, in part because once the storms reach colder waters, they lose their main source of energy and become extratropical. But those cyclones still can have hurricane-strength winds, though with a cold instead of a warm core and no visible eye. Their shape can be different, too. They lose their symmetric form and can more resemble a comma.

Robichaud said at a news conference that modeling projected “all-time” low pressure across the region, which would bring storm surges and rainfall of between 4 and 8 inches.

Amanda McDougall, mayor of Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said officials were preparing a shelter for people to enter before the storm arrived.

“We have been through these types of events before, but my fear is, not to this extent,” she said. “The impacts are going to be large, real and immediate.”

Dave Pickles, chief operating officer of Nova Scotia Power, said it expected widespread power outages.

More than 60% of power customers in Puerto Rico remained without energy Thursday and a third of customers were without water, while local officials said they could not say when service would be fully restored.

As of Friday, hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained isolated by blocked roads five days after the hurricane ripped into the island. Frustration was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to signal for help from work crews she spotted in the distance.

“Everyone goes over there,” she said pointing toward crews at the bottom of the mountain who were helping others also cut off by the storm. “No one comes here to see us. I am worried for all the elderly people in this community.”

At least five landslides covered the narrow road to her community in the steep mountains around the northern town of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement was to climb over thick mounds of mud, rock and debris left by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the foundations of nearby homes with earthquake-like force.

At least eight of the 11 communities in Caguas were completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector of recovery and reconstruction.

It was one of at least six municipalities where crews had yet to reach some areas. People there often depend on help from neighbors, as they did following Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm in 2017 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Danciel Rivera arrived in rural Caguas with a church group and tried to bring a little cheer by dressing as a clown.

“That’s very important in these moments,” he said, noting that people had never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria. “A lot of PTSD has reared its head these days.”

His huge clown shoes squelched through the mud as he greeted people, whose faces lit up as they smiled at him.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Biden Vows Government Won’t Walk Away From Storm-Struck Puerto Rico

More than 60% of power customers remained without energy on Thursday, and a third of customers were without water.

President Joe Biden said Thursday the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, while Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces prepared for a major blast from the Category 4 storm.

Speaking at a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York, President Biden said, “We’re all in this together.”

President Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already on the ground in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide blackout.

More than 60% of power customers remained without energy on Thursday, and a third of customers were without water — and local officials admitted they could not say when service would be fully restored.

President Biden said his message to the people of Puerto Rico who are still hurting from Hurricane Maria five years ago is: “We’re with you. We’re not going to walk away.”

That seemed to draw a contrast with former President Donald Trump, who was widely accused of an inadequate response to Maria, which left some Puerto Ricans without power for 11 months.

Hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained cut off by road four days after the hurricane ripped into the U.S. territory, and frustration was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to signal for help from work crews she spotted in the distance.

“Everyone goes over there,” she said pointing toward crews at the bottom of the mountain who were helping others also cut off by the storm. “No one comes here to see us. I am worried for all the elderly people in this community.”

At least five landslides cover the narrow road to her community in the steep mountains around the northern town of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb over thick mounds of mud, rock and debris left by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the the foundations of nearby homes with earthquake-like force.

“The rocks sounded like thunder,” recalled Vanessa Flores, a 47-year-old school janitor. “I’ve never in my life heard that. It was horrible.”

At least one elderly woman who relies on oxygen was evacuated on Thursday by city officials who were working under a pelting rain to clear paths to the San Salvador community.

Ramiro Figueroa, 63, said his 97-year-old bedridden father refused to leave home despite insistence from rescue crews. Their road was blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s pickup, which was washed down the hill during the storm.

National Guard troops and others brought water, cereal, canned peaches and two bottles of apple juice.

“That has helped me enormously,” Figueroa said as he scanned the devastated landscape, where a river had changed its course and tore up the community.

At least eight of 11 communities in Caguas are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector of recovery and reconstruction. It’s one of at least six municipalities where crews have yet to reach some areas. People there often depend on help from neighbors, as they did following Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm in 2017 that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Miguel Veguilla said that in Maria’s aftermath he used picks and shovels to clear debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing huge landslides.

“I cannot throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands in Puerto Rico, Veguilla has no water or electricity service, but said there is a natural water source nearby.

Puerto Rico’s government said some 62% of 1.47 million customers remained without power Thursday. A third of customers, or more than 400,000, did not yet have water service.

“Too many homes and businesses are still without power” President Biden said in New York, adding that additional utility crews were set to travel to the island to help restore power in the coming days.

The executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority, Josué Colón, told a news conference that areas less affected by Fiona should have electricity by Friday morning. But officials declined to say when power would be restored to the hardest-hit places and said they were working first to get energy to hospitals and other key infrastructure.

Neither local nor federal government officials had provided an overall estimate of damage from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.

Fiona so far has been blamed for at least two deaths in Puerto Rico.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Puerto Rico Struggles To Reach Areas Cut Off By Hurricane Fiona

By Associated Press

and Newsy Staff
September 22, 2022

Roughly 900,000 people on the island were without power four days after the storm, and nearly 500,000 people did not have water service.

Hurricane Fiona left hundreds of people stranded across Puerto Rico after smashing roads and bridges, with authorities still struggling to reach people four days after the storm smacked the U.S. territory, causing historic flooding.

For now, government officials are working with religious groups, nonprofits and others braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt by foot to provide food, water and medicine for people in need, but they are under pressure to clear a path so vehicles can enter isolated areas soon.

Nino Correa, commissioner for Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas that were cut off by Fiona, which struck as a Category 1 hurricane and was up to Category 4 power Wednesday as it headed toward Bermuda.

Living in one of those areas is Manuel Veguilla, who has not been able to leave his neighborhood in the north mountain town of Caguas since Fiona swept in on Sunday.

“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he worries about elderly neighbors including his older brother who does not have the strength for the long walk it takes to reach the closest community.

Veguilla heard that municipal officials might open a pathway Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because he said large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the 10-foot space beneath it.

Neighbors have shared food and water dropped off by nonprofit groups, and the son of an elderly woman was able to bring back basic supplies by foot Wednesday, he said.

Veguilla said that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, he and others used picks and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing huge landslides.

“I cannot throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguilla had no water or electricity service, but said they there is a natural water source nearby.

Fiona sparked an islandwide blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest region, which already was still trying to recover from a series of strong earthquakes in recent years. Some 62% of 1.47 million customers were without power four days after the storm amid an extreme heat alert issued by the National Weather Service. Some 36% of customers, or nearly half a million, did not have water service.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent hundreds of additional personnel to help local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency on the island.

Neither local nor federal government officials had provided any damage estimates as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets remained in shelters.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much suffering over the last couple of years,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president of operations and logistics at the Red Cross.

After Puerto Rico, Fiona pummeled the Dominican Republic and then swiped past the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened into a Category 4 storm. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, though the eye of the storm passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, on Tuesday.

“God has been good to us and has kept us safe during this period when we could have had a far worse outcome,” Deputy Gov. Anya Williams said.

Fiona was forecast to pass near Bermuda early Friday, and then hit easternmost Canada early Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Thursday morning. It was centered about 485 miles southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 13 mph.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Strong Earthquake Shakes Mexico´s Pacific Coast; 1 Killed

By Associated Press
September 19, 2022

There were some early reports of damage to buildings from the quake, which hit at 1:05 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

A magnitude 7.6 earthquake shook Mexico’s central Pacific coast on Monday, killing at least one person and setting off a seismic alarm in the rattled capital on the anniversary of two earlier devastating quakes.

There were at least some early reports of damage to buildings from the quake, which hit at 1:05 p.m. local time, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which had initially put the magnitude at 7.5.

It said the quake was centered 23 miles southeast of Aquila near the boundary of Colima and Michoacan states and at a depth of 9.4 miles.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said via Twitter that the secretary of the navy told him one person was killed in the port city of Manzanillo, Colima when a wall at a mall collapsed.

In Coalcoman, Michoacan, near the quake’s epicenter, buildings were damaged, but there were not immediate reports of injuries.

“It started slowly and then was really strong and continued and continued until it started to relent,” said 16-year-old Carla Cárdenas, a resident of Coalcoman. Cárdenas ran out of her family’s hotel and waited with neighbors.

She said the hotel and some homes along the street displayed cracks in walls and segments of facades and roofs had broken off.

“In the hotel, the roof of the parking area boomed and fell to the ground, and there are cracks in the walls on the second foor,” Cárdenas said.

She said the town’s hospital was seriously damaged, but she had so far not heard of anyone injured.

Mexico’s National Civil Defense agency said that based on historic data of tsunamis in Mexico, variations of as much as 32 inches were possible in coastal water levels near the epicenter. The U.S. Tsunami Warning Center said that hazardous tsunami waves were possible for coasts within 186 miles of the epicenter.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum tweeted that there were no reports of damage in the capital

Alarms for the new quake came less than an hour after a quake alarms warbled in a nationwide earthquake simulation marking major, deadly quakes that struck on the same date in 1985 and 2017.

“This is a coincidence,” that this is the third Sept. 19 earthquake, said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Paul Earle. “There’s no physical reason or statistical bias toward earthquakes in any given month in Mexico.”

Nor is there a season or month for big earthquakes anywhere on the globe, Earle said. But there is a predictable thing: People seek and sometimes find coincidences that look like patterns.

“We knew we’d get this question as soon as it happened,” Earle said. “Sometimes there are just coincidences.”

The quake was not related to or caused by the drill an hour or so earlier, nor was it connected to a damaging temblor in Taiwan the day before, Earle said.

Humberto Garza stood outside a restaurant in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood holding his 3-year son. Like many milling about outside after the earthquake, Garza said that the earthquake alarm sounded so soon after the annual simulation that he was not sure it was real.

“I heard the alarm, but it sounded really far away,” he said.

Outside the city’s environmental ombudsman’s office, dozens of employees waited. Some appeared visibly shaken.

Power was out in parts of the city, including stoplights, snarling the capital’s already notorious traffic.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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New Model To Enlist Regular Americans To Resettle Refugees

Neighbors, co-workers, faith groups and friends have banded together in “sponsor circles” to help Afghans get settled in their communities.

When nearly 80,000 Afghans arrived in the United States, refugee resettlement agencies quickly became overwhelmed, still scrambling to rehire staff and reopen offices after being gutted as the Trump administration dropped refugee admissions to a record low.

So the U.S. State Department, working with humanitarian organizations, turned to ordinary Americans to fill the gap. Neighbors, co-workers, faith groups and friends banded together in “sponsor circles” to help Afghans get settled in their communities.

They raised money and found the newcomers homes to rent, enrolled their children in schools, taught them how to open bank accounts and located the nearest mosques and stores selling halal meat.

Since the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Kabul last year, the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans has helped over 600 Afghans restart their lives. When Russia invaded Ukraine, a similar effort was undertaken for Ukrainians.

Now the Biden administration is preparing to turn the experiment into a private-sponsorship program for refugees admitted through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and is asking organizations to team up with it to launch a pilot program by the end of 2022.

The move comes amid increasing pressure on President Joe Biden, who vowed in a 2021 executive order to increase opportunities for Americans to resettle refugees and restore the U.S. as the world’s safe haven. The Trump administration decimated the refugee program, which traditionally tasks nine resettlement agencies with placing refugees in communities.

Experts say the private sponsorship model could transform the way America resettles refugees and ensure a door remains open no matter who is elected.

“I think there is a real revolution right now that is happening in terms of American communities and communities around the world that are raising their hands and saying, `We want to bring in refugees,'” said Sasha Chanoff, founder and CEO of RefugePoint, a Boston–based nonprofit that helped jumpstart the effort.

It comes as the number of people forced to flee their homes topped 100 million this year, the first time on record, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The pilot program will incorporate lessons learned from the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, which was developed as an emergency measure to accelerate the resettlement of Afghans, with many languishing on U.S. bases. But the pilot program will differ because it is intended to be “an enduring element of U.S. refugee resettlement,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in an email to The Associated Press.

The pilot program will match regular Americans with refugees overseas who have already been approved for admission to the U.S., the spokesperson said. Later, the plan will let Americans identify a refugee overseas and apply to resettle them.

Canada has used private sponsorship for decades to augment its government program.

Chanoff said the new model should also be in addition to the traditional U.S. government refugee program, which has admitted only about 15% of the 125,000 cap Biden set for the budget year that ends Sept. 30. The Biden administration has been slow to beef up staff and overcome the huge backlog, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to advocates.

Those numbers exclude the roughly 180,000 Afghans and Ukrainians who were mostly admitted through humanitarian parole, a temporary legal option that was intended to get them in quicker but left them with less government support.

Regular Americans helped fill that need, Afghan families say.

Under the Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, participants underwent background checks, received training and developed a three-month plan. Each group had to raise at least $2,275 for each person who was resettled, the same allocation the U.S. government gives agencies for each refugee.

Mohammad Walizada, who fled Kabul with his family, said five days after he was connected to a sponsor circle with the Four Rivers Church in New Hampshire, his family moved into a furnished home in Epping, a town of about 7,000 residents.

Meanwhile, Afghan friends and relatives spent months on U.S. bases waiting to be placed by a resettlement agency, he said. Many ended up in California, staying in hotels because of the lack of affordable housing, and with just three months of government assistance.

He said his sponsor circle gave his family 10 months worth of rent and a car, and someone still checks on him, his wife and six children daily. Each circle gets a mentor who coaches them from WelcomeNST, an organization created in 2021 to help Americans resettle Afghans and now Ukrainians. The organization offers a Slack channel for circles and partners with the resettlement agency, HIAS, which connects them to caseworkers when needed.

The New Hampshire team has more than 60 members helping people like Walizada.

“I feel like I have a lot of family here now,” Walizada said.

To be sure, regular Americans have always helped resettle refugees, but not at this scale since the 1980 U.S. Refugee Act created the formal program, experts say.

A similar outpouring of goodwill happened when the Biden administration launched Uniting for Ukraine, which allows Ukrainians fleeing the war into the U.S. for two years with a private sponsor. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the program, received more than 117,000 applications through August.

Hundreds of Americans have formed teams to resettle Ukrainians, including in Wyoming — the only state that has never allowed an official refugee resettlement program.

“We just wanted to be able to do something and we have such a beautiful community here,″ said Darren Adwalpalker, pastor at Highland Park Community Church in Casper, who formed a group that sponsored three Ukrainians who arrived to the city of 60,000 in June.

Adwalpalker got support from humanitarian group Samaritan’s Purse.

“Without private sponsorship, this would not have been possible for a lot of these communities with tremendous resources and goodwill to do this,” said Krista Kartson, who directs its refugee programs.

With $3,000, the pastor said his group provided an apartment for six months for the one Ukrainian who stayed in Casper. Just about everything else — grocery store gift cards, furniture — was donated.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that the whole idea of a resettlement office isn’t that significant” if there are people on the ground willing to help, said Adwalpalker.

“We’ve got dentists working on their teeth. We have doctors seeing them. We have lawyers helping with their immigration paperwork.”

Rudi Berkelhamer, a retired biology professor, wanted to help because her grandparents fled attacks on Jews in the early 20th century in what is now Ukraine.

She was connected to a sponsor circle in Irvine, California, through HIAS, which requires a six-month commitment. Circle members had a week to get to know each other and draft a plan before they were matched to an Afghan family — a young couple and their 3-year-old son — in February.

Berkelhamer shuttled furniture to the family’s home and got them set up with computers and cellphones. Others got them bus passes.

The father — a mechanical engineer who worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan — found work at a parachute factory. The mother is taking English classes, and their son is attending preschool.

Berkelhamer sees the family every two weeks. This summer, she went to a museum with the mom and another circle member to paint parasols and have lunch. She plans to keep helping.

“It is not just the necessities; it is doing those kinds of things that make it so meaningful,” she said.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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