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Disaster

Hurricane Ian wallops Florida, heads north

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FLAGLER BEACH, Fla. — The Flagler Beach pier on the east coast of Florida has sustained significant damage as Hurricane Ian whipped up waves that broke off a large portion of the wooden structure. Locals captured video and photos of the destruction Thursday afternoon as waters rose and crashed onto the pier, leaving debris on the shoreline.

Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly told News4JAX Thursday that he didn’t believe the pier — which was damaged by Tropical Storm Isaias in 2020, as well as Hurricane Matthew in 2016 — would survive the storm’s impact.

Authorities advised residents to avoid the pier over safety concerns.

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KEY DEVELOPMENTS:

— Ian regains hurricane strength as it heads to South Carolina

— Many trapped in Florida as Ian heads toward South Carolina

Florida hospitals evacuate hundreds of patients

— Search on for migrants after boat sinks off Florida Keys

Cuba begins to turn on lights

— Find more AP coverage here: https://apnews.com/hub/hurricanes

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OTHER DEVELOPMENTS:

ENGLEWOOD, Fla. — Christine Bomlitz, of Las Vegas, had been anxious to reach her mother, Shirley Affolter, an 84-year-old resident of a retirement community just north of where Hurricane Ian made landfall.

She had no way to contact her mother, who had lost her cellphone before the storm. Then her landline went down. Affolter was supposed to have left with other residents as part of an evacuation plan but was never picked up. So she hunkered down. It was too late for anyone to get her.

Bomlitz grew distraught as the hours passed and as Ian’s ferocity grew. Then morning came, but still no word. Frantic, she posted a plea for help on social media.

By Thursday afternoon, a Good Samaritan had waded into the chest-high flood waters of her mother’s neighborhood to do a welfare check.

“I’m thankful for this stranger,” she said, “a total stranger. People are amazing.”

Bomlitz said she and others were trying to arrange for a boat rescue.

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Officials are warning people in South Carolina that Hurricane Ian will be a problem for much of the state on Friday.

The storm is forecast to make landfall midday Friday as a Category 1 hurricane. But the storm is so broad that gusty winds, heavy rain and storm surge will arrive hours before.

Along the coast, 4 to 7 feet of storm surge is expected, rivaling problems created by hurricanes over the past decade. If Ian comes ashore as a hurricane, it would be the first hurricane to strike the state since Matthew in 2016.

National Guard troops are being positioned to help with the aftermath, including any water rescues and highway crews will be ready to clear roads.

Thursday afternoon, a steady stream of vehicles were heading out of Charleston on Interstate 26 with just a few heading into the city.

Gov. Henry McMaster issued no evacuations, but he said that doesn’t mean the storm isn’t dangerous.

“We know we can handle this if we use our heads and follow the rules,” McMaster said.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Lee Health announced Thursday that it was evacuating all of its facilities in Lee County, where Hurricane Ian first made landfall in Florida.

President and CEO Dr. Larry Antonucci said in a video posted online that the health care system’s structures and facilities were in good shape, but infrastructure was challenged in the way of water and power. Generators were being used at some facilities, but three of the system’s four hospitals were without water, Antonucci said.

“We cannot run a health system and a hospital without running water. It’s critical to what we do,” Antonucci said. “Not only from the perspective of patient care but also for fire protection.”

Lee Health is working with the Agency for Health Care Administration in Florida, as well as state and local emergency operations management agencies, to arrange for the evacuation of patients to other hospitals outside of Lee County, officials said.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to prepare for lots of rain, high winds and potential power outages when the remnants of Hurricane Ian cross the state soon after the storm likely reaches landfall again in South Carolina.

Visiting the state’s emergency operations center, the governor said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that up to 7 inches (17.8 centimeters) of rain could fall in some areas, with the potential for mountain landslides and tornadoes statewide.

“For North Carolinians, I want to be clear: This storm can still be dangerous and even deadly,” Cooper said.

State Emergency Management Director Will Ray said widespread power losses and evacuations weren’t anticipated at this time. Still, he urged people to keep an eye for changes to the storm’s forecast track, which could bring more troubles Friday to central and coastal counties than currently projected.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Other states are sending help to Florida after Hurricane Ian. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said Thursday that he’s calling up 135 National Guard members to send to Florida. Forty military and support vehicles will also be sent, he said.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has approved sending 245 National Guard members to Florida. The state is also fulfilling requests for a family shelter task force and a hazmat team. “Louisiana knows all too well the chaos and destruction a hurricane as strong as Ian can bring, and we will do everything we can to help our neighbors in Florida and other states impacted by this storm,” Edwards said in a news release.

Utility trucks from Texas made their way early Thursday along Interstate 75 toward the southwest Florida areas ravaged hardest by the storm.

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HINDMAN, Ky. — Emergency officials in eastern Kentucky, which was devastated by historic flooding in July, are watching the path of Storm Ian closely.

Knott County Emergency Management Director Jeff Combs said officials there are keeping a close eye on the storm and plan to have spotters out beginning Friday to watch trigger points in area waterways that are the most likely to flood, “just in case everything starts to go south on us.”

If things start looking bad, he said the agency will put out an alert so that rescue squads can respond quickly.

Historic floodwaters inundated parts of eastern Kentucky in late July, leaving dozens dead. A full recovery is expected to take years in the hardest-hit areas.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that “our entire country hurts” along with the people of Florida after Hurricane Ian flooded communities across the state, knocked out electrical power and forced people into shelters.

Biden said he would visit Florida and meet with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis when “conditions allow.” The president said he would also visit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that was slammed by Hurricane Fiona.

“We know many families are hurting,” Biden said at the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where he was briefed on federal response efforts. “Our entire country hurts with them.”

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Alberta

‘Cautiously optimistic’: Lawyer for trucker in Broncos crash waiting on Federal Court

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

A lawyer for a former truck driver who caused the deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash says he’s cautiously optimistic that he will get the chance to argue against his client’s possible deportation before Federal Court.

In 2019, Jaskirat Singh Sidhu was sentenced to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving causing death and bodily harm in the Saskatchewan crash that killed 16 people and injured 13 others.

The Canada Border Services Agency recommended in March that Sidhu be handed over to the Immigration and Refugee Board to decide whether he should be deported to India.

Michael Greene, Sidhu’s lawyer, said if the Federal Court decides not to hear the case, the deportation process would continue.

He said all written arguments with the Federal Court were filed in July, adding that no news can be good news when waiting for the court to make its decision.

“I’m cautiously optimistic, but I know enough not to get cocky about something like that,” Greene said. “Usually when it takes time, it means you’ve got an arguable case.”

It is also a high-profile case, so a judge might want to be extra careful, he said.

Court was told that the rookie Calgary trucker, a newly married permanent resident, went through a stop sign at a rural intersection and drove into the path of the Humboldt Broncos bus carrying players and staff to a junior hockey league playoff game.

The Parole Board of Canada granted Sidhu day parole in July for six months. He can get full parole after that if he follows conditions, including not contacting the families of the victims.

“Day parole means he is at home. He’s with his wife and I can’t tell you how happy that makes them,” Greene said. “They’re trying to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Greene said even if he is granted permission to appeal before the court and is successful, the matter would be sent back to Canada Border Services Agency for another review. He said the original officer put all the weight of his decision on the gravity of the harm caused.

“You can’t get your hopes up too high,” Greene said.

“Sometimes the judge will make comments in their decision that will give some guidance to the (CBSA) officers.”

An online fundraising page set up to raise money to help keep Sidhu in Canada has reached more than $42,000.

A message from Sidhu’s wife, Tanvir Mann, a Canadian citizen, said her husband made a “tragic mistake.”

“When confronted by the unimaginable magnitude of the consequences of his mistake, he did everything he could to make things better,” Mann writes.

“I pray that there are people out there who don’t believe that Jaskirat should be deported and are willing to contribute to my fight to be able to live out our lives in Canada.”

The Canada Border Services Agency has previously declined to comment on Sidhu’s case, but said there are multiple steps built into the process to ensure procedural fairness.

Greene said he understands that several of the victims’ families are still angry.

“It’s completely understandable. It is,” he said. “Everybody deals with grief and loss in their own way.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2022.

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Disaster

S. Korea in shock, grief as 151 die in Halloween crowd surge

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Concerned relatives raced to hospitals in search of their loved ones Sunday as South Korea mourned the deaths of at least 151 people, mostly in their teens and 20s, who got trapped and crushed after a huge Halloween party crowd surged into a narrow alley in a nightlife district in Seoul.

Tens of thousands of people were believed to have gathered in Itaewon for festivities on Saturday night. Witnesses say the streets were so densely clogged with people and slow-moving vehicles that it was practically impossible for emergency workers and ambulances to reach the alley near Hamilton Hotel, as the situation quickly developed into one of the country’s worst disasters in years.

There were concerns the death toll could grow as 24 people among the 104 being treated for injuries are in critical condition, according to Seoul City’s disaster headquarters.

The city government said more than 2,600 people have called or visited a city office in nearby Hannam-dong as of Saturday afternoon, reporting their relatives as out of contact and asking officials to confirm whether they were among those injured or dead after the crush.

The dead included 19 foreigners, said Choi Seong-beom, chief of Seoul’s Yongsan fire department. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry did not confirm the nationalities of those victims, but it said that they alerted their countries’ embassies in Seoul. The Chinese state news agency Xinhua said at least three Chinese nationals were killed.

The bodies of the dead were being kept at 42 hospitals in the capital, Seoul, and nearby Gyeonggi Province, according to Seoul City, which said it will instruct crematories to burn more bodies per day as part of plans to support funeral proceedings.

Around 100 businesses in the Hamilton Hotel area have agreed to shut down their shops through Monday to reduce the number of partygoers who would come to the streets through Halloween Day.

An estimated 100,000 people had gathered in Itaewon for the country’s biggest outdoor Halloween festivities since the pandemic began and strict rules on gatherings were enforced. The South Korean government eased COVID-19 restrictions in recent months and this was the first big chance to get out and party for many young people.

While Halloween isn’t a traditional holiday in South Korea, where children rarely go trick-or-treating, it’s still a major attraction for young adults, and costume parties at bars and clubs have become hugely popular in recent years.

Itaewon, near where the former headquarters of U.S. military forces in South Korea operated before moving out of the capital in 2018, is an expat-friendly district known for its trendy bars, clubs and restaurants and it’s the city’s marquee Halloween destination.

Officials initially said 150 people were injured as of Sunday morning before later lowering their tally. National Fire Agency officials didn’t immediately explain why the tally was reduced but said emergency workers would have had a more accurate idea of the casualties as rescue operations proceeded and that some of the injured would have been converted to deaths. It was also possible that some of those who were lightly injured had returned home overnight and were no longer counted.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol declared a national mourning period on Sunday and ordered flags at government buildings and public offices to fly at half-staff. During a televised speech, Yoon said supporting the families of the victims, including their funeral preparations, and the treatment of the injured would be a top priority for his government.

He also called for officials to thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and review the safety of other large cultural and entertainment events, including regional festivals, to ensure they proceed safely.

“This is really devastating. The tragedy and disaster that need not have happened took place in the heart of Seoul amid Halloween (celebrations),” Yoon said during the speech. “I feel heavy hearted and cannot contain my sadness as a president responsible for the people’s lives and safety.”

After the speech, Yoon visited the Itaewon alley where the disaster occurred. Local TV footage showed Yoon inspecting the alley filled with trash and being briefed by emergency officials.

It was not immediately clear what led the crowd to surge into the narrow downhill alley near the Hamilton Hotel, a major party spot in Seoul. One survivor said many people fell and toppled one another “like dominos” after they were pushed by others. The survivor, surnamed Kim, said they were trapped for about an hour and a half before being rescued, as some people shouted “Help me!” and others were short of breath, according to the Seoul-based Hankyoreh newspaper.

Another survivor, Lee Chang-kyu, said he saw about five or six men push others before one or two began falling, according to the newspaper.

In an interview with news channel YTN, Hwang Min-hyeok, a visitor to Itaewon, said it was shocking to see rows of bodies near the hotel. He said emergency workers were initially overwhelmed, leaving pedestrians struggling to administer CPR to the injured lying on the streets. People wailed beside the bodies of their friends, he said.

Another survivor in his 20s said he avoided being trampled by managing to get into a bar whose door was open in the alley, Yonhap news agency reported. A woman in her 20s surnamed Park told Yonhap that she and others were standing along the side of the alley while others caught in the middle of the alley had no escape.

Choi, the fire department chief, said that bodies were being sent to hospitals or a gym, where bereaved family members could identify them. He said most of the dead and injured are in their 20s.

“Horrific news from Seoul tonight,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak tweeted. “All our thoughts are with those currently responding and all South Koreans at this very distressing time.”

Jake Sullivan, the U.S. national security adviser, tweeted that reports of the disaster were “heartbreaking” and said Washington “stands ready to provide the Republic of Korea with any support it needs.”

The last South Korean disaster this deadly also hit young people the hardest. In April 2014, 304 people, mostly high school students, died in a ferry sinking. The sinking exposed lax safety rules and regulatory failures. It was partially blamed on excessive and poorly fastened cargo and a crew poorly trained for emergency situations. Saturday’s deaths will likely draw public scrutiny of what government officials have done to improve public safety standards since the ferry disaster.

It was also Asia’s second major crushing disaster in a month. On Oct. 1, police in Indonesia fired tear gas at a soccer match, causing a crush that killed 132 people as spectators attempted to flee.

More than 1,700 response personnel from across the country were deployed to the streets to help the wounded, including about 520 firefighters, 1,100 police officers and 70 government workers. The National Fire Agency separately said in a statement that officials were still trying to determine the exact number of emergency patients.

This was the deadliest crushing disaster in South Korean history. In 2005, 11 people were killed and around 60 others were injured at a pop concert in the southern city of Sangju.

In 1960, 31 people died after being crushed on the stairs of a train station as large crowds rushed to board a train during the Lunar New Year holidays.

Kim Tong-hyung And Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press

 

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