Hurricane Irma expected to be downgraded before reaching Florida

Irma, at present a Category 5 storm packing maximum sustained winds of  285 km per hour, is moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, the NHC says.

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The hurricane has become a little less organised over the past few hours but the threat of direct hurricane impacts in Florida over the weekend and early next week continues to increase, the center says.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the northwestern Bahamas and much of Cuba.

At least eight people were reported killed on four different Caribbean islands by Irma, which weather forecasters have described as a “potentially catastrophic” Category 5 storm, the highest US classification for hurricanes.

The dual-island nation of Antigua and Barbuda was especially hard hit. The northernmost island, Barbuda, home to roughly 1,700 people, was “totally demolished,” with one person killed and 90 percent of all dwellings there leveled, Prime Minister Gaston Browne says, according to island television broadcasts.

Rain and high winds hit the French island territory of Saint Martin on Wednesday (September 6) as Hurricane Irma churned through the Caribbean.

Video shot inside Le Beach Hotel showed hallways flooded with water and debris carried in by the storm, and a deserted atrium with palm trees blowing in the wind.

Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, churned across northern Caribbean islands with a potentially catastrophic mix of fierce winds, surf and rain, en route to a possible Florida landfall at the weekend.

The eye of Irma, a Category 5 storm packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 km per hour), moved away from the island of Barbuda and toward the island of Saint Martin, east of Puerto Rico, early on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported.

0:00 CNN’s George Howell on Hurricane Irma Share CNN’s George Howell on Hurricane Irma

Prime Minister Browne describes Barbuda as “barely habitable” after the powerful Category 5 storm struck early on Wednesday.

“This rebuilding initiative will take years,” Browne tells local ABS Television Radio after a visit to the island, where he confirmed one person died in the storm.

Describing the scene as “absolute devastation,” he said the storm, which also snapped a telecoms tower, had caused estimated damage of some $US150 million ($A187 million).

Another storm-related fatality, that of a surfer, was reported on Barbados.

At least six people have been killed in the French part of the Caribbean island St Martin after the hurricane tore through the region, Guadeloupe prefect Eric Maire said.

“This is not the final toll. We sadly risk further discoveries,” Maire tells journalists.

The previous toll given by France’s overseas ministry was two dead and two seriously injured on the eastern Caribbean islands St Barts and St Martin.

“It’s an enormous catastrophe. Ninety-five percent of the island is destroyed. I’m in shock. It’s frightening,” top local official on St Martin Daniel Gibbs tells local radio.

Irma, with top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (300 km/h), was on track to reach Florida on Saturday or Sunday, becoming the second major hurricane to hit the US mainland in as many weeks.

While Irma’s intensity could fluctuate, and its precise course remained uncertain, the storm was expected to remain at least a Category 4 before arriving in Florida.

⚠St-Martin et St-Barthélémy sont actuellement au cœur de l’ouragan #Irma, avec le passage de l’œil du #cyclone ▶ 长沙桑拿,长沙SPA,/2qQnReB4b8 pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/J7sRRyELb4

— Météo-France (@meteofrance) September 6, 2017

Two other hurricanes formed on Wednesday. Katia in the Gulf of Mexico posed no threat to the United States, according to US forecasters.

But Hurricane Jose in the open Atlantic, about 1,000 miles (1,610 km) east of the Caribbean’s Lesser Antilles islands, could also eventually threaten the US mainland.

The flurry of severe storm activity comes after Hurricane Harvey claimed about 60 lives and caused property damage estimated as high as $180 billion after pummeling the Gulf Coasts of Texas and Louisiana with torrential rains and severe flooding.

Florida emergency management officials, chastened by Harvey’s devastation, began evacuations days in advance of Irma’s arrival, ordering all tourists to leave the Florida Keys, a resort archipelago off the state’s southern tip, starting Wednesday morning.

Evacuation of residents from the Keys was to begin Wednesday evening.Image taken from a video posted on Facebook by Stefany Santacruz showing the view from her balcony as Hurricane Irma hits the Island of St Maarteen (Getty)Getty

In Cuba, just 90 miles (145 km) south of the Keys, authorities posted a hurricane alert for the island’s central and eastern regions.

The eye of Irma was passing just north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday, buffeting the US island territory’s capital, San Juan, with heavy downpours and strong winds that scattered tree limbs across roadways.

Earlier in the day, the storm passed over the northernmost Virgin Islands after crossing the half-French, half-Dutch island of St. Martin-St. Maarten, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Just spoke w/ Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Kenneth Mapp of the U.S. Virgin Islands & Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico. WE ARE W/ YOU ALL! pic.twitter长沙桑拿按摩论坛,/k92cslgKFa

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 6, 2017

On its current path the core of Irma, which the Miami-based center said marked the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Ocean and one of the five most forceful storms to hit the Atlantic basin in 82 years, was expected to scrape the northern coast of the Dominican Republic on Thursday.

It was on a track that would put it near the Turks and Caicos and southeastern Bahamas by Thursday evening.

Karel van Oosterom, the Netherlands ambassador to the United Nations, said Irma had hit the Dutch islands of Saba and Sint Eustasius before overrunning St. Martin.

“First information indicates that a lot of damage has been done, but communication is still extremely difficult,” he said at a UN meeting.

0:00 Webcam in St Maarten captures full force of Irma Share Webcam in St Maarten captures full force of Irma

Irma began lashing Puerto Rico with rain at mid-morning. Governor Ricardo Rossello told residents to stay inside as the storm bore down on the island.

“There is no reason to be in the street,” Rossello told a midday press conference.

Businesses throughout San Juan were closed and many buildings were covered with storm shutters. Occasional shoppers were out making final purchases of water, ice and food to prepare for what they feared could be several days without power.

Power was knocked out on both islands, according to prefecture officials on Guadeloupe. At least four buildings were damaged and low-lying regions had been flooded, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said.

The UN World Food Program prepared to provide emergency aid to Haiti if it was hit by Irma. The country was ravaged by a 2010 earthquake and Hurricane Matthew last year.

0:00 Trump praises first responders to Irma Share Trump praises first responders to Irma

US President Donald Trump said he and aides were monitoring Irma’s progress. “But it looks like it could be something that will be not good. Believe me, not good,” he told reporters at the White House.

Trump, whose waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, could take a direct hit from the storm, has already approved emergency declarations for Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, mobilising federal disaster relief efforts.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said Irma could be more devastating than Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm that struck the state in 1992 and still ranks as one of the costliest ever in the United States.

Residents of low-lying areas in densely populated Miami-Dade County were urged to move to higher ground.

“We can expect additional evacuations as this storm continues to come near our state,” Scott told a news conference in the Keys.

He said 7,000 National Guard troops would report for duty on Friday, ahead of the storm’s expected arrival.

In South Carolina, Governor Henry McMaster also declared a state of emergency and urged residents to prepare for Irma’s potential landfall there.

Jose and Katia upgraded to hurricanes 

Tropical storm Jose in the Atlantic Ocean has been upgraded to hurricane status, the National Hurricane Center said Wednesday.

Jose was 1,040 miles (1,675 kilometers) east of the Lesser Antilles and packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour (120 kilometers per hour), the NHC said. 

It was considered a Category One hurricane on the five-level Saffir-Simpson scale.

Tropical storm Katia in Gulf of Mexico has also been upgraded to a hurricane, forecasters say.

Related Reading

Historic walk-off for childcare staff over $21/hr pay

More than 3,000 childcare workers walked out of centres nationwide as part of a campaign for better pay.

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After stopping work at 3.20pm on Thursday – the time the union says they start working for free – staff took to city streets flanked by children and supporters holding balloons and brandishing signs calling for fairer wages.

“What do we want? Equal pay. When do we want it? Now!” the early childhood educators chanted at rallies in Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and through wet and windy conditions in Melbourne.

If we changed the title “childcare worker” to “small human engineer” they’d make more money without any resistance #childcare #strike

— Amelia Yaron (@SlayAtHomeMum) September 7, 2017

The strike action was also supported by parents at centres in Sydney, Canberra and Darwin.

“They are qualified, they are committed, they are experienced and yet they can be paid as little as $21 an hour,” the United Voice (UV) union’s assistant national secretary Helen Gibbons said in Melbourne.

“And everybody knows why.

“Historically, it’s been seen as women’s work that they did for the love of it alone. But love does not pay the bills.”

Related

Melbourne early childhood educator Lucy Luzza joined the strike.

She said the current pay rate just isn’t enough. 

“I love my job, I love working with children, however saying that, love doesn’t pay my bills and I think it’s unfair that we ask our parents or families to pay extra money towards early learning.”

Parents were forced to leave their own jobs early to pick up their children as a result of the largest walk-off in the sector’s history in Australia.

But despite the inconvenience, many parents, like mother Amanda Richmond, said they support the strike. 

“Our inconvenience is incomparable to the injustice that’s going on around Australia with the wages that these workers are being paid. It’s unacceptable and we’re not going to stand for it,” said Ms Richmond. 

UV says it was the biggest walk-off by childcare workers in Australian history, affecting about 10,000 Australian families, and follows a similar protest in March that failed to influence the federal budget.

0:00 Childcare workers protest, demanding higher pay Share Childcare workers protest, demanding higher pay

Ms Gibbons said about 180 people leave the industry each week due to financial struggles.

“They are calling on the federal government to improve their pay rates, arguing $21 an hour is significantly less than men with equivalent qualifications earn in other sectors,” she said.

“They are saying squarely to the federal government that you need to fund this sector properly.

“If we don’t get an outcome today, I am pretty confident the educators are not going to give up.

“They are going to get bigger and bolder and stronger.”

RelatedChildcare by the numbers

* About 80,000 ‘long day care’ educators, 97 per cent of which are female

* About 700,000 children cared for across 6900 centres

* Qualified educators are paid as little as $21.29 per hour, or $42,218 annually

* The average wage in Australia is $40.62 per hour, or $80,555 annually

* Education unions have filed an application for a 35 per cent wage increase with the Fair Work Commission

(Source: United Voice; Australian Bureau of Statistics)

‘And then they exploded’: How Rohingya insurgents built support for assault

When the former UN chief Kofi Annan wrapped up his year-long probe into Myanmar’s troubled northwest on August 24, he publicly warned that an excessive army response to violence would only make a simmering conflict between Rohingya insurgents and Myanmar security forces worse.

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Just three hours later, shortly after 8pm, Rohingya insurgent leader Ata Ullah sent a message to his supporters urging them to head to the foot of the remote Mayu mountain range with metal objects to use as weapons.

A little after midnight, 600 km northwest of the country’s largest city Yangon, a rag-tag army of Rohingya militants, wielding knives, sticks, small weapons and crude bombs, attacked 30 police posts and an army base.

“If 200 or 300 people come out, 50 will die. God willing, the remaining 150 can kill them with knives,” said Ata Ullah in a separate voice message to his supporters. It was circulated around the time of the offensive on mobile messaging apps and a recording was subsequently reviewed by Reuters.

Debrief

The assault by Ata Ullah’s group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), was its biggest yet. Last October, when the group first surfaced, it attacked just three police border posts using about 400 fighters, according to Myanmar government estimates. The Myanmar army is now estimating up to 6,500 people took part in the August offensive.

Its ability to mount a much more ambitious assault indicates that many young Rohingya men have been galvanized into supporting ARSA following the army crackdown after the October attacks, according to interviews with more than a dozen Rohingya and Rakhine villagers, members of the security forces and local administrators.

The brutal October response led to allegations that troops burned down villages and killed and raped civilians.

The crisis in ethnically-riven Rakhine state is the biggest to face Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and her handling of it has been a source of disillusionment among the democracy champion’s former supporters in the West.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed to Myanmar authorities on Tuesday to end violence against Rohingya Muslims, warning of the risk of ethnic cleansing, a possible humanitarian catastrophe, and regional destabilisation.

Rohingya leaders and some policy analysts say Suu Kyi’s failure to tackle the grievances of the Muslim minority, who have lived under apartheid-like conditions for generations, has bolstered support for the militants.

Major counteroffensive

The fledgling militia has been transformed into a network of cells in dozens of villages, capable of staging a widespread offensive.

Myanmar’s government has declared ARSA a terrorist organisation. It has also accused it of killing Muslim civilians to prevent them from cooperating with the authorities, and of torching Rohingya villages, allegations the group denies.

Rakhine State chief minister Nyi Pu (C) listens to report from officials in Sittwe, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 31 August 2017. EPA

The latest assault has provoked a major counteroffensive in which the military says it killed almost 400 insurgents and in which 13 members of the security forces have died.

Rohingya villagers and human rights groups say the military has also attacked villages indiscriminately and torched homes. Myanmar government says it is carrying out a lawful counter-terrorism operation and that the troops have been instructed not to harm civilians.

Nearly 150,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, leading to fears of a humanitarian crisis. Some 26,750 non-Muslim villagers have also been displaced inside Myanmar.

Suu Kyi has said she would adopt recommendations of Kofi Annan’s panel that encouraged more integration. She has also previously appealed for understanding of her nation’s ethnic complexities.

In a statement on Wednesday, she blamed “terrorists” for “a huge iceberg of misinformation” on the strife in Rakhine. She made no mention of the Rohingya who have fled.

Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, could not be immediately reached for comment.

On Monday, however, he told Reuters Myanmar was carrying out a counterterrorism operation and taking care of “the safety of civilians, including Muslims and non-Muslims.”

Related’Not how humans live’

In an interview with Reuters in March, Ata Ullah linked the creation of the group to communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine in 2012, when nearly 200 people were killed and 140,000, mostly Rohingya, displaced.

“We can’t turn the lights on at night. We can’t move from one place to another during the day,” he told Reuters in previously unpublished remarks, referring to restrictions placed on the Rohingya population’s behavior and movements.

“Everywhere checkpoints: every entry and every exit. That’s not how humans live.”

Photo taken July 15, 2017, in a village in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine shows women and a child of the country’s minority Rohingya Muslims. Kyodo

A Rohingya community leader who has stayed in northern Rakhine said that, while the rest of Myanmar enjoyed new freedoms under Suu Kyi after decades of military rule, the Muslim minority have been increasingly marginalized.

Support for the insurgents grew after the military operation last year, he said.

“When the security forces came to our village, all of the villagers apologized and asked them not to set the houses on fire – but they shot the people who made that request,” he said.

“People suffered because their sons got killed in front of them even though they begged for mercy, their daughters, sisters were raped – how could they live without constantly thinking about it, that they want to fight against it, whether they die or not.”

Reuters couldn’t independently confirm the villagers’ accounts.

Last month, a Myanmar government probe – led by former head of military intelligence and now Vice President, Myint Swe – rejected allegations of crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing during the crackdown last year.

Cell network

Villagers and police officers in the area say that ARSA had since last October established cells in dozens of villages, where local activists then recruited others.

“People shared their feelings with others from the community, they talked to each other, they told their friends or acquaintances from different regions – and then they exploded,” said the Rohingya community leader.

Rohi Mullarah, a village elder from the Kyee Hnoke Thee village in northern Buthidaung, said the leaders sent their followers regular and frequent messages via apps like WhatsApp and WeChat, encouraging them to fight for freedom and human rights and enabling them to mobilize many people without the risk of being caught going into the heavily militarized areas to recruit.

“They mainly sent phone messages to the villagers, they didn’t … move people from place to place,” he said. He said his village was not involved in the insurgency and even posted a signboard in front of it that said any militants would be attacked by the villagers if they attempt to recruit people.

Many Rohingya elders have for decades rejected violence and sought dialogue with the government. While ARSA has now gained some influence, especially among young, disaffected men, many Rohingya elders have condemned the group’s violent tactics.

Campaign of terror

In recent months there had been reports of killings of local administrators, government informers and village chiefs in the Rakhine region, leading to speculation the insurgents were adopting brutal tactics to stop information on their activities from leaking to the security forces.

Myanmar policeman stands guard at the Shwe Zarr muslim quarter in Maungdaw township, Rakhine State, western Myanmar, 06 September 2017.EPA

“They cut out the government communication by instigating a campaign of fear and took charge in the region,” said Sein Lwin, police chief in Rakhine. .

An army source directly involved in operations in northern Rakhine also said it was now much more difficult to get information on ARSA’s plans.

The strategy resulted in the “shut down of government mechanisms” in some places “because no government servants dared to stay there”, the army source said.

A village head from northern Buthidaung township, who asked not to be named, said the insurgents called him several times pressing him to allow some young villagers to take part in their training – an offer he refused.

“I tried to stay safe and sometimes I had to sleep at the police station and local administrator’s house,” he said.

Intercepted messages

Despite the largely successful clamp down on information by the insurgents, it was a tip off by an informer that stopped the Aug. 25 attacks from being much worse for the Myanmar security services, the army source said.

About an hour after Ata Ullah’s men headed for the jungle in the evening of Aug. 25, the army received a signal from the Rohingya informer saying the attack was coming.

The 9 p.m. message mentioned imminent multiple attacks, but it did not say where they would occur. The warning was enough for the security forces to withdraw some troops to larger stations and to reinforce strategic locations, saving many lives on the government side, the military source said.

The raids by the insurgents came in waves from around 1 a.m. until sunrise, and took place mostly in Maungdaw township where Ata Ullah staged his three attacks in October. This time, though, the distance between the northern- and southern-most points was as long as 100 km (60 miles). The Rohingya also struck in the north of the neighboring Buthidaung township, including an audacious bid to storm an army base.

“We were surprised they attacked across such a wide geographical area – it shook the whole region,” said the army source.

Related reading

WA budget slugs gold miners, big business

Western Australia’s new Labor government has turned to big business in its bid to repair the state’s diabolical finances, imposing a payroll tax levy on large corporations, while gold miners will be hit with higher royalties.

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For five years starting on July 1, employers with a nation-wide payroll between $100 million and $1.5 billion will be taxed at a rate of six per cent, up from 5.5 per cent.

Those with a payroll exceeding $1.5 billion will be taxed at a rate of 6.5 per cent.

The increases are expected to trim $435 million from net debt over the forward estimates and affect 1200 business or 0.5 per cent of the state’s corporate world.

“I understand fully they’re not going to appreciate it,” Treasurer Ben Wyatt told reporters.

The Business Council warned the levy could make larger companies reconsider creating new jobs in WA, while the gold royalty rate hike would undermine investor confidence in the state and erode its competitive edge.

The royalty changes are expected to shave $392 million off total net debt, which is projected to peak at an eye-watering $43.7 billion in 2019/20.

That compares to $41.1 billion in February’s pre-election financial projections statement.

The state’s books are tipped to finally return to surplus in 2020/21 after a $3.039 billion deficit this financial year, which is roughly in line with the PFPS estimate.

Premier Mark McGowan reiterated his government had inherited the worst set of books in the state’s history and had to make tough decisions.

“It hasn’t been easy – we always knew it wouldn’t be,” Mr McGowan said.

The premier said he wanted to protect struggling families, which had already been slugged an almost $440 per year increase in utilities and other fees in June’s mini-budget, and small-to-medium enterprises.

Mr McGowan said he was confident the right balance had been struck – but still apologised to gold producers and corporate giants.

“It is not fair to leave the task of fixing the mess just to everyday West Australians,” he said.

“It’s only fair we ask the state’s largest companies and largest industries to help recover the huge revenue hits to our budget.

“I acknowledge that for large corporations and gold miners, we will be forced to breach the commitments we made before the state election. We are sorry about that.”

Opposition Leader Mike Nahan described it as a “budget of betrayal”, saying Labor broke election promises to reduce debt and not increase taxes, add new taxes or cut frontline services.

“One of the key themes of the McGowan government was to be a job-creating premier … payroll tax is a tax on jobs,” Dr Nahan said.

“He has failed his own clearly set KPIs.”

Mr Wyatt, Australia’s first Aboriginal treasurer, said he was determined to meet the surplus target, but noted the mining royalty-dependent and GST-deprived state was vulnerable to dramatic revenue stream changes.

He said he expected WA’s credit rating would remain the same.

Lyon bowls Australia to series-levelling victory

Chasing 86 for victory, Australia suffered a mini-collapse of their own, losing openers David Warner and Matt Renshaw as well as captain Steve Smith before reaching the 50-mark.

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Glenn Maxwell made a breezy 25 not out, though, and sealed the victory with a six off Nasir Hossain to avenge Australia’s 20-run loss in the series opener in Dhaka.

“I thought we played some good cricket at times in this test match,” Smith said at the presentation ceremony.

“I’m proud of the way the boys got over the line here in the end to get the 1-1 draw.”

Earlier, Australia were not able to add to their overnight score as Lyon fell for a duck and were all out for 377, a first innings lead of 72.

Paceman Pat Cummins drew first blood for the tourists by dismissing opener Soumya Sarkar before Lyon’s three-wicket burst in the morning session unhinged the home side.

By the time they had erased the first innings deficit, Bangladesh had lost the top half of their batting lineup and the lack of a partnership down the order effectively condemned them to defeat.

Captain Mushfiqur Rahim topscored with 31, while Mominul Haque (29) and Sabbir Rahman (24) also got the starts but none of them were able to move on to the sort of big knock that might have set Australia a bigger test in the fourth innings.

Lyon claimed a third successive six-wicket haul to take his series tally to 22 wickets, the most by an Australian bowler in a two-test series.

“I thought Nathan Lyon was remarkable in that first innings. There wasn’t much in the pitch for him, and I think he got 22 wickets for the series, really good effort,” Smith said of his spin spearhead.

Lyon won the man-of-the-match award and shared the man-of-the-series honour with team mate Warner who scored back-to-back centuries in the series.

Despite the draw, Australia slipped to fifth place in the official test rankings.

Home captain Mushfiqur said his team should have batted better in the first innings when they scored 305.

“Credit goes to Australia. We knew they are a very strong team and will come at us harder,” the stumper-batsman said.

“If we could score 350-400, a target of 150-200 in the fourth innings, you never know. Our first innings cost us the game.”

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Greg Stutchbury/Nick Mulvenney/Pritha Sarkar)