- U.S. on high alert as Hurricane Irene closes in
- Eighteen killed in Algeria attack - hospital source
- Thousands march anew against Syria's Assad, 2 killed
Posted: 26 Aug 2011 08:09 PM PDT
WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) - Hurricane Irene closed in on the U.S. Atlantic coast on Friday, triggering emergency preparations that included unprecedented evacuations and mass transit shutdowns in New York City as the menacing storm approached.
As Irene careened north, rain and tropical storm force winds and ferocious surf began pummeling the North Carolina coast. "The core of the hurricane will approach the coast of North Carolina tonight and pass near or over the North Carolina coast on Saturday," the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in an advisory on Friday evening.
Washington and states from the Carolinas through Maine declared emergencies due to Irene, a nearly 600 mile (960 km)-wide hurricane that put 55 million Americans on the eastern seaboard on alert and that experts say could cause billions of dollars in damages.
President Barack Obama said the impact of the storm, an unusually large storm, could be "extremely dangerous and costly" for a nation that still remembers destructive Hurricane Katrina in 2005. "All indications point to this being a historic hurricane," Obama said.
Hundreds of thousands of residents and vacationers were evacuating from Irene's path.
A quarter of a million New Yorkers were ordered to leave homes in low-lying areas, including the financial district surrounding Wall Street in Manhattan, as authorities prepared for dangerous storm surge and flooding on Sunday in the city and farther east on Long Island.
Some New York hospitals in flood-prone areas were already evacuating patients, and New York's mass transit system, which carries 8.5 million people on weekdays, was due to start shutting down around noon (1600 GMT) on Saturday.
"We've never done a mandatory evacuation before and we wouldn't be doing it now if we didn't think this storm had the potential to be very serious," Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a news conference.
As U.S. authorities ramped up preparations to cope with a potential major natural disaster on the densely populated East Coast, U.S. airlines canceled more nearly 7,000 flights and moved airplanes out of Irene's path.
Officials were taking every precaution with Irene because they remember all too well how Katrina swamped New Orleans, killing up to 1,800 people and causing $80 billion in damages.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the military stood ready to aid in the response to Irene, with more than 100,000 National Guard forces available if needed in eastern states.
Coastal communities stocked up on food and water and tried to secure homes, vehicles and boats. Cities, ports, hospitals, oil refineries and nuclear plants activated emergency plans.
The earliest edges of Irene began to knock down trees, caused localized flooding and had knocked out power to 7,600 residents of Wilmington, North Carolina by Friday night.
People huddling in a shelter at a local school said they feared the storm's potential impact but were reluctant to evacuate entirely.
"We were going to go to Charlotte, but we were told we might not be able to get back if there was a lot of damage," said Chastity May, 34, as she watched over her 4-year-old son.
Some were looking to capitalize on the approaching storm.
Greg Bayly, 52, and Scott Olden, 24, were selling generators out of a rented cargo truck along a busy Wilmington street that leads out to nearby beaches. Bayly said the pair could process credit cards to complete purchases, despite the rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.
U.S. federal and state leaders, from Obama downward, urged the millions of Americans in the hurricane's path to prepare and to heed evacuation orders if they received them.
WIND FIELD "HUGE"
Irene weakened early on Friday to a Category 2 hurricane from a 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, but it was still carrying winds of up to 100 miles per hour (155 kph).
It was expected to remain a hurricane as it sweeps up the mid-Atlantic coast over the weekend. The Miami-based hurricane center said it could dip below hurricane strength before reaching New England, but its impact would not vary much.
At 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT), Irene's center was 235 miles (380 km) south-southwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and churning north-northeast.
Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, has already caused as much as $1.1 billion in insured losses in the Caribbean this week, catastrophe modeling company AIR Worldwide said, with more losses expected to come.
The hurricane center said hurricane force winds extended outward up to 90 miles (150 km) from Irene's center, while tropical storm force winds extended out up to 290 miles (465 km), giving the storm a vast wind field width of nearly 600 miles (960 km).
"The wind field is huge," NHC Director Bill Read told Reuters Insider.
In earlier comments, Read said Irene, which will be the first significant hurricane to affect the populous U.S. Northeast in decades, would lash the eastern seaboard with tropical storm-force winds and a "huge swath of rain" from the Carolinas to New England.
"WATCHING THAT BIG WHITE SWIRL"
Wall Street firms scrambled to raise cash into early next week in case Irene caused major disruption in trading.
Traders were "watching that big white swirl" on their television sets, said Guy LeBas, chief fixed income strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia.
Northeast oil, natural gas and power facilities also made preparations.
Brent crude oil futures rose in choppy trading on Friday as the storm approached and traders weighed comments by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the economy.
Benedict Willis III, director of floor operations for investment banking boutique Sunrise Securities, said the New York Stock Exchange had a responsibility to open on Monday after the storm passes because millions of investors will be relying on it for stock prices.
"But if the waters rise this high," he said, gesturing at the buzzing trading floor, "then it's a bigger problem than I can handle. My name's not Noah."
Irene will be the first hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland since Ike pounded Texas in 2008.
In Washington, Irene forced the postponement of Sunday's dedication ceremony for the new memorial honoring civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Tens of thousands of people, including the president, had been expected to attend.
Flooding from Irene killed at least one person in Puerto Rico and two in Dominican Republic. The storm knocked out power in the Bahamian capital, Nassau, and blocked roads with trees.
(Reporting by Tom Brown, in Miami, Daniel Trotta, Basil Katz, Richard Leong, Joan Gralla, Lynn Adler, Ben Berkowitz in New York; Jeremy Pelofsky and Vicki Allen in Washington, Laura MacInnis and Alister Bull on Martha's Vineyard, Ed Barnett in Morehead City, North Carolina; Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Todd Eastham)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 26 Aug 2011 06:05 PM PDT
ALGIERS (Reuters) - Two suicide bombers hit a military barracks in Algeria on Friday, killing 18 people in one of the deadliest attacks in the North African country in recent years.
The attackers arrived by motorbike near the entrance of the barracks in Cherchell soon after iftar -- when Muslims break their daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan, a security source said.
"Of the 18 dead, there are 16 servicemen and two civilians," a hospital source said.
The town of Cherchell, home to ancient Roman ruins, lies just under 100 km (60 miles) west of the capital Algiers.
Algeria, an energy exporter in North Africa, is still emerging from nearly two decades of conflict between security forces and Islamist militant groups.
In the past few years the violence has been reduced significantly, but the militants -- who now operate as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) -- still carry out ambushes, kidnappings and occasional bombings.
One the last major attacks was in August 2008, when a bomb attack targeting a paramilitary gendarmerie training school at Issers, east of Algiers, killed 48. In June 2009, insurgents killed 18 paramilitary police officers and one civilian, according to officials, in an ambush.
Algeria has said it believes the chaos inside neighbouring Libya, and large quantities of weapons circulating there, are being exploited by AQIM, which has weapons, a safe heaven in the Sahara desert and huge sums of money earned from kidnapping.
The location of Cherchell is unusual, as attacks have usually occurred east of the capital such as in the mountainous Kabylie region, where AQIM has a stronghold.
Algeria has taken a leading role in combating AQIM, in part because the organisation is led by Algerian nationals and grew out of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which fought a long insurgency against Algeria's security forces.
"Al Qaeda's main target is the capital Algiers but it failed to hit it, that is why it is operating around the capital," Sameur Riad, a security analyst at Algeria's El Khabar newspaper, said.
Al Qaeda's North African wing this month claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on a police headquarters in the town of Tizi Ouzou that officials said injured 29 people.
(Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
Posted: 26 Aug 2011 05:03 PM PDT
AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian forces killed at least two protesters on Saturday as tens of thousands of people marched again to demand the removal of President Bashar al-Assad, activists and residents said.
The two were killed overnight when government forces fired live ammunition to disperse demonstrators who streamed out of mosques in the town of Qusair and in Latakia after al-Qadr prayers, the night when Muslims believe the Prophet received the Koran.
At the United Nations, a U.S. and European push to impose Security Council sanctions on Syria over its crackdown on the protests met resistance from Russia and China, diplomats said.
Assad has sent in tanks and troops to crush months of street demonstrations calling for an end to his family's 41-year rule.
Syrian authorities have blamed armed "terrorist groups" for the bloodshed and say 500 police and army have been killed. They have expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify events on the ground. The United Nations says his troops have killed at least 2,200 protesters.
Coastal Latakia has been besieged by tanks and armoured vehicles for two weeks to end protests in the sixth month of the uprising.
"Death but not humiliation," a YouTube video showed marchers shouting in the northwestern city of Idlib.
They carried the old Syrian green and white flag of the republic before the Baath Party took power in a 1963 coup, ushering in almost five decades of minority Alawite rule.
"The people want the execution of the president," was another slogan chanted during a protest in the Damascus suburb of Hajar al-Aswad, home to refugees from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Similar demonstrations were reported in other Damascus suburbs, such as of Douma and Qadam, districts inside the capital, in Homs, hometown of Assad's wife Asma, the ancient desert city of Palmyra, Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military and a tank assault this month, in the southern Hauran Plain and the eastern province of Hasakeh.
On Friday residents of Deir al-Zor said security forces opened fire to disperse scores of protesters, killing two of them on the spot, 26-year-old Marii Fathi and 22-year-old Oday Bahloul.
"There was shooting in Kanama Street near Jandol cafe and a white security van took their bodies," one witness said.
Another youth, Ibrahim Mohammad al-Dukhoul, was taken to hospital with serious gunshot wounds and died later, he said.
Six other protesters were killed across the country on Friday, including the southern town of Nawa, which has seen regular protests, where residents and activists said one protester was killed after security forces shot at demonstrators coming out of a mosque.
State television said two gunmen were killed in Deir al-Zor, capital of a tribal province bordering Iraq, after they fired at a checkpoint, wounding three security officers.
"Gaddafi is gone, it is your turn Bashar!" shouted protesters in the town of Hirak northeast of Deraa, encouraged by the overthrow of the Libyan strongman by rebels this week, according to a witness who spoke by phone.
In New York, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Portugal circulated a draft resolution calling for sanctions against Assad, members of his family and associates. They said they wanted to put the draft to a vote as soon as possible but diplomats said there are no plans for that yet.
The measures are not as severe as U.S. sanctions in place and a proposed expansion of European Union steps against Damascus that would forbid the import of Syrian oil.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has hinted that Moscow would use its veto power to knock down the draft if it was put to a vote at the present time. Western diplomats said that Russia and China were refusing to discuss the draft.
Russia has a naval base in Syria and is one of its main arms suppliers. One proposed sanctions is an arms embargo.
The United States and EU have urged Assad to step down.
Any power shakeup in Syria would have major regional repercussions. Assad, from Syria's minority Alawite sect, still has alliances with the country's influential Sunni business class and a loyalist core in the army and security service.
The uprising has damaged Syria's economy, hitting investment and tourist numbers. Businesses have been laying off workers.
European Union diplomats said on Wednesday the bloc's governments were likely to impose an embargo on imports of Syrian oil by the end of next week, although new sanctions may be less stringent than those imposed by Washington.
"France is more determined than ever to do everything it can that Bashar al-Assad ends the repression without delay and that blood stops flowing," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said on Friday.
Since Ramadan began on Aug. 1, tanks have entered the cities of Hama, scene of a 1982 massacre by the military, Deir al-Zor and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
The first U.N. mission to be allowed into Syria since the crackdown began found that civilians felt under constant threat, a U.N. spokesman said on Friday.
"The mission concluded that although there's no countrywide humanitarian crisis, there is an urgent need to protect civilians from the excessive use of force," spokesman Farhan Haq said.
(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi, Mariam Karouny, John Irish in Paris, Patrcik Worsnip at the United Nations; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
Copyright © 2011 Reuters
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