Haiti still recovering from 2016 hurricane and not equipped for Irma: Australian aid worker

With devastating winds reaching 290km/h Hurricane Irma has slammed the northeast Caribbean islands of Barbuda, Saint Martin, and the British and US Virgin Islands killing at least 10 people and flattening towns.


As rain intensifies and flooding begins on the small island of Haiti, Australian aid worker Ascension Martinez talked about the impact another storm could have on a struggling nation that has not fully recovered from Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

Ms Ascension said the potential damage the Category 5 storm could wreak on the north of the island is worrying with infrastructure in Haiti not equipped to deal with the possible floods and landslides.

0:00 Residents evacuate Florida as Irma looms Share Residents evacuate Florida as Irma looms

“The latest news we are getting in now from the north in particular, where the heavier rain has started, is there is already flooding in the far north parts of the country,” Ms Ascension told SBS World News from Haiti’s capital Port-au-Prince.

“We are not hearing a lot of wind issues at this point in time and they are still saying it will hit later today.

“With the rain will come flooding and with flooding could come landslides, because this country has a very poor environmental habitat. The mountains are all bare and people live in very dangerous places due to the poverty.”

Ms Ascension, working with Save the Children, said hundreds and thousands of families living in precarious infrastructure or poverty at sea level would be affected if severe flooding was to hit the north of the country.

0:00 Video shows devastation to St Martin Share Video shows devastation to St Martin

Haiti is still recovering from when Hurricane Matthew devastated the small Caribbean island killing hundreds of people and destroying livelihoods in October 2016.

“The main concern here is heavy rain and people living in poor housing areas, low-lying areas, in areas that a prone to flooding,” she said.

“Also the loss of livelihoods with crops gone and people’s livelihoods at risk of disappearing again.

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“Any disturbance to what is their livelihood, and here most of the population live off the little businesses, any loss of business means they have very little to fall back on.”

She said in the capital, Port-au-Prince, depending on the strength of the hurricane, most of the population that live in poverty will be affected.

A few Saint Maarten homes remain intact in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. (AAP)AAP

“What we’ve done is we have schools and clinics in various places we support. What we will be doing is we have contact numbers for these people and we will be ringing them as off tomorrow [Friday] morning,” she said.

“We will be calling our contacts and staff in the field to see what the situation is and then linking to our regional offices in Panama and our headquarters in London to see exactly what we need.

“You are never really equipped to handle these things. We can support the government initiatives and support what we know, but you never really seem to have the stocks to respond.

People pick up the remains of a home after the crossing of Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic.AAP

“That is why we are doing so much work here on disaster risk reduction trying get people to build better and build in safer places. All of those things to get a better outcome.”

The National Hurricane Center said Irma still remained a Category 5 storm, despite winds dipping on Thursday.

Irma is expected to head towards Florida as a potential Category 4 hurricane by the time it reaches on Sunday.

Australians in Florida prepare for monster Hurricane Irma

Spencer Hooker has four Australian inspired cafes in St Augustine, Florida, but instead of dishing up meat pies and flat whites to his American clientele he has been creating sandbags and buying plywood to board up windows.


With the monster-sized category five Hurricane Irma tearing through the Caribbean with winds exceeding 280 km/h and on target for a direct hit on Florida on Sunday, Mr Hooker and the large population of other Australian expatriates across the state spent Thursday getting ready.


“There’s a lot of uncertainty,” Mr Hooker, 36, who has four Kookaburra Coffee cafes in St Augustine, on the northeast coast of Florida, told AAP.

The hurricane has killed at least ten people as it crashed through Caribbean islands including St Martin, Puerto Rico and the British Virgin Islands.

Mr Hooker and other Australians were waiting until Friday to get a better read on what path Irma would likely take before deciding whether to evacuate.

“One of my baristas is from Noosa and his wife is eight months pregnant,” Mr Hooker said.

The couple hopes to stay in the area where their doctor and hospital is, but are prepared to evacuate.

Another Australian, Cameron Pinnock, his wife Alyssa and two children aged seven and two, took no chances with staying in their home in Orlando in central Florida.

They flew north to Michigan, even buying a ticket for their family dog, to wait out the hurricane with family.

Gavin Caddy, an Australia lawyer in Fort Lauderdale on Florida’s southeast coast, is driving 240km north to be with friends in the central Florida city of Sebring.

“You can’t play games with this,” Mr Caddy said.

“It’s as wide as the state of Florida so the chances are it will hit the entire state and some areas are worse than others.

“There is nowhere in south Florida that is safe as far as I’m concerned.”


Another Australian in Fort Lauderdale, yacht broker David Nichols, is staying at his home that is eight kilometres inland on the New River.

He spent Thursday drilling plywood across windows and has stocked his fridges and freezer “with plenty of water, beer wine and spirits”.

Mr Nichols also has options if the power goes out.

“I have a large BBQ that uses propane and charcoal,” he said.

“My generator also has enough petrol to run for about five days and will run most of the house.”

Alcohol and Australian fare appears to be a key for the Australians as they bunker down.

Mr Nichols’ hurricane “Aussie survival kit” includes Four’N Twenty pies, a couple of bottles of Bundaberg Rum, Vegemite and Tim Tams.

Mr Pinnock, who endured last year’s Hurricane Matthew, said another common Florida tactic to get through a hurricane involved a mix of beer and red wine.

“You drink the beer while the power remains on and the beer is cold and then you switch to the red wine because you don’t have to keep it cold,” Mr Pinnock said.


US cities in bidding war for Amazon’s new $6 billion headquarters



com is searching for a location to build its second headquarters in North America that would cost more than $US5 billion ($A6.2 billion) and house up to 50,000 staff.

The e-commerce company, which is headquartered in Seattle, said on Thursday it was seeking proposals from local and state government leaders, and would select the location next year.


Amazon’s workforce has exploded to more than 380,000 from under 25,000 since it moved to Seattle in 2010, as it rapidly expanded to become a global retailer – selling everything from groceries to appliances.

The company’s total revenue has grown to $US136 billion at the end of last year from $US34 billion in 2010. Amazon recently snatched up Whole Foods Market for $US13.7 billion.

Amazon said the new headquarters should ideally be located in a metropolitan area with more than one million people, potentially giving the company a shopping list of more than 50 cities to choose from.

The project would initially need more than 500,000 square feet and up to 8 million square feet beyond 2027, Amazon said.

“We want to find a city that is excited to work with us and where our customers, employees, and the community can all benefit,” Amazon said.

Amazon is looking for a favourable tax structure and local government subsidies, incentives that have attracted other companies like Taiwan-based Foxconn to build facilities in the United States.

Foxconn plans to build a $US10 billion liquid crystal display factory in Wisconsin.

The state’s Republican-controlled government had voted to approve a bill aimed at establishing a $US3 billion incentive package for the plant.

Amazon expects the new headquarters to be a “full equal” to its Seattle office, Chief Executive Jeff Bezos said in a statement.

The Seattle campus is spread across 8.1 million square feet in 33 buildings and employs more than 40,000 people.

No Sharks mercy for NRL’s battered Cowboys

North Queensland have the most expensive casualty ward of any team in the NRL finals, but Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan says the Sharks have no sympathy for them.


The Cowboys will have co-captains Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott watching from the sidelines for Sunday’s elimination final between the clubs, while former Queensland centre Justin O’Neill is also injured.

The Queenslanders enter September with just one win from their past six matches, their worst end to the regular season since 2010.

In comparison, the Sharks’ casualty ward from their top 17 includes only bench forward Sam Tagataese, while Tony Williams is also unavailable after playing reserve grade for the first half of the year.

But Flanagan scoffed at suggestions the Cowboys are disadvantaged, saying they had been without Thurston and Scott for 17 of 24 matches this year.

“We don’t buy into feeling sorry for the Cowboys because they are wounded,” Flanagan said.

“The two players they’ve got out, Scott and JT, they’ve been out for long periods of time.

“I think everyone is trying to pump it up to feel sorry for the Cowboys, but you won’t get anything from us.”

Flanagan’s comments come just days after Sharks captain Paul Gallen accused the Cowboys of “crying poor” heading into Sunday’s clash at Allianz Stadium.

The Cowboys have an 8-9 record without champion playmaker Thurston this year, but that figure slips to a worrying 1-9 against the top-eight finishers.

They have also been described as “cannon fodder” by Queensland coach Kevin Walters, while no eighth-placed team has survived the first week of the finals since the introduction of the current system in 2012.

But Flanagan pointed to the fit members of the Cowboys squad as reasons why they were still dangerous and said the threats didn’t stop with Jason Taumalolo.

“They’ve got some other players in their team that are quality as well.

“They’ve got a young Origin player (Coen Hess) sitting on their bench, and the two backrowers are great players.

“(Michael) Morgan is a quality player, (Lachlan) Coote is a great player.”

Gay wedding cake case heads to US Supreme Court

The Trump administration has filed papers at the US Supreme Court backing a Christian baker in Colorado whom a state court ruled against for declining to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.


In the brief, Acting Solicitor General Jeff Wall said Jack Phillips should be exempt from Colorado’s anti-discrimination law because making custom cakes is a form of free expression protected under the US Constitution’s First Amendment.

The high court agreed in June to hear Phillips’ appeal of the state court ruling that his refusal to make the cake violated the anti-discrimination law.


Phillips contends the law violated his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and free exercise of religion.

The court will hear oral arguments and issue a ruling in the case in its new term, which starts in October and ends in June.

The legal fight broke out in 2012 when Phillips told gay couple David Mullins and Charlie Craig that because of his Christian beliefs, his store’s policy was to deny service to customers wanting to purchase cakes to celebrate a same-sex wedding.

In the new court papers, Wall wrote that a First Amendment violation occurred “where a public accommodation law compels someone to create expression for a particular person or entity and to participate, literally or figuratively in a ceremony or other expressive event.”

Wall said if Phillips wins the case, only businesses that engage in creative acts similar to making a cake would potentially be able to obtain similar exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

“What the Trump administration is advocating for is nothing short of a constitutional right to discriminate,” said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Louise Melling, who represents the couple.