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Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 10:02:48 +0200
By Sofia MISELEM, Joshua Howat BERGER

Mexico City, Sept 20, 2017 (AFP) - At least 216 people were killed when a powerful 7.1-magnitude earthquake struck Mexico on Tuesday, including 21 children crushed beneath an elementary school that was reduced to rubble.   The destruction revived horrific memories in Mexico on the anniversary of another massive quake in 1985, the disaster-prone country's deadliest ever.

It struck just two hours after the country held a national earthquake drill, as it does every year on the anniversary of the 1985 quake, which killed at least 10,000 people.   One of the most gut-wrenching scenes was at the Enrique Rebsamen primary school on Mexico City's south side, whose three floors collapsed into one, trapping students and teachers inside.

Twenty-one children and five adults were killed, said Major Jose Luis Vergara of the Mexican navy, who was coordinating a rescue effort that involved hundreds of soldiers, police, civilian volunteers and rescue dogs.   He said another 30 to 40 people remained trapped, while 11 children have been rescued so far.    Emergency workers found a teacher and a student alive beneath the rubble and are trying to get them out, he said.

But the situation was precarious. Late into the night, part of the wreckage collapsed as rescuers continued their search.   Local media reports said soldiers had administered oxygen to one trapped child through a tube.   President Enrique Pena Nieto, who rushed to the site, warned the death toll could rise.   "Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives, including children," he said in a national address.

The devastation struck across a swath of central states and the death toll as of early Wednesday was 216, the head of the national disaster response agency, Luis Felipe Puente, said on Twitter.   In a sign of the ongoing confusion gripping the country, he had at one point put the death toll at 248.   In addition to Mexico City, people were also killed in Puebla, Morelos, Mexico state and Guerrero.

- 'Nightmare' -
Well after nightfall, rescue crews and volunteers in Mexico City -- home to 20 million people -- were still clawing through the rubble of dozens of collapsed buildings looking for survivors and bodies.

Rescue workers reported that families were getting WhatsApp messages pleading for help from desperate relatives trapped under debris.   Memories of the devastating 1985 earthquake surged to the surface on what was meant to be a low-key 32nd anniversary.   Adding to the national sense of vulnerability, the quake also came just 12 days after another temblor that killed nearly 100 people and left more than 200 injured, mainly in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas.

Many in the capital ran outdoors when walls around them swayed and cracked.   "I'm so worried. I can't stop crying. It's the same nightmare as in 1985," Georgina Sanchez, 52, sobbed to AFP in a plaza in the capital.   The quake, which occurred in the early afternoon, caused massive damage in the bustling city centre.   "It was horrible," said Leiza Visaj Herrera, 27. "I had to hold on to the ground."

Scenes of chaos erupted in the quake's aftermath. Traffic jammed to a standstill at blanked-out stop lights, and anxious people ran between vehicles as ambulances tried to make headway, sirens blaring.   In several locations, large crowds of people clambered on buildings that were now piles of stone and tangled metal, trying to pull people out.   Emergency workers held up signs commanding "Silence" so crews could listen for the sounds of any survivors.

- Afraid to go home -
Patients were evacuated from the capital's hospitals, wheeled out on beds and wheelchairs.   At one collapsed building in the Roma district, dozens of people dug through rubble as they waited for the arrival of heavy machinery to move the massive chunks of stone. Officials called out for more volunteers, and for water.
 
Mexico City's international airport closed for more than three hours following the quake. The stock market was forced to shut.   In Puebla, a picturesque colonial city near the quake's epicenter, several churches were damaged and one collapsed, killing 11 people, officials said.   Fearful residents whose homes were damaged camped out for the night on the street or in parks.   On the clogged and darkened roads, muggers came out at night to assault motorists.

- Trump's prayers -
Officials in several countries responded to the quake with offers of help.   Honduras sent a 36-strong rescue team.   US President Donald Trump, who has forged an antagonistic relationship with Mexico, tweeted: "God bless the people of Mexico City. We are with you and will be there for you."   Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: "Devastating news from Mexico City. My thoughts are with those affected by today's earthquake -- Canada will be ready to help our friends."   Mexico sits atop five tectonic plates, making it prone to earthquakes, and has two long coastlines that are frequently battered by hurricanes.
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 05:11:20 +0200
By Alastair HIMMER

Tetiaroa, France, Sept 20, 2017 (AFP) - An exotic island paradise in French Polynesia bought by Marlon Brando in the sixties is using its Hollywood image to tackle environmental issues -- with a little help from its jet-set visitors.   The tiny, palm-fringed atoll of Tetiaroa was once a favourite holiday spot for Tahitian royalty before the late American movie star fell in love with it while filming "Mutiny on the Bounty" in 1961 on islands close by.   Brando married co-star Tarita Teriipaia and the couple raised a family on Tetiaroa, now home to a luxury eco-resort that bears the reclusive actor's name and regularly pampers A-list clientele such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Johnny Depp and Barack Obama.

Guests at "The Brando" help fund research projects by paying up to $10,000 a night to stay in the elegant thatched villas overlooking a turquoise lagoon.   As Pippa Middleton soaks up the rays on honeymoon or Obama seeks inspiration to write his memoirs, scientists quietly go about their work testing ocean acidification to study the effects on coral bleaching.   Behind the butler service and Michelin-star cuisine, the resort has built on Brando's own vision for a sustainable environment, to become one of the most eco-friendly hotels in the world, running on solar power and coconut oil.   Luxury eco-tourism is a growing sector of the travel industry with big name hotel brands such as Alila and Aman investing heavily in ensuring their green
credentials.

Boutique resorts that pride themselves on sustainability and giving back to the local community, such as Song Saa private island in Cambodia, Nihiwatu in Indonesia, and the Soneva hotels in Thailand and the Maldives, are also increasingly in demand.    But Tetiaroa, where legend has it British sailors who seized control of the Bounty in 1789 found vestiges of a pagan sex cult, has the added bonus of old Hollywood glamour.   Brando's granddaughter Tumi grew up on the island, fishing for snapper and grouper in the lagoon, home to juvenile lemon and black tip sharks which glide lazily among the corals as guests snorkel.   The 29-year-old works as the chief communications officer for the non-profit Tetiaroa Society, a scientific organisation devoted to marine wildlife founded by the Brando estate, which owns the atoll.

- Coconut power -
"Our aim is to raise awareness," she told AFP as marine biologists studied shark populations inside the three-mile (4.8 kilometre) wide lagoon, which contains at least 167 species of fish, including parrotfish and spotted eagle rays.   "First among local people, because we want to protect our environment. Maybe America or China -- they come to my mind first because they're the biggest polluters -- can emulate us."   Opened in 2014, the hotel's electricity comes from more than 2,000 solar panels which line the island's tiny runway and generators fuelled by coconut oil. Its air-conditioning is powered by deep seawater -- a brainwave of Marlon Brando's.   Mosquitoes are dying out at the resort where researchers have found a way to sterilise an invasive species capable of carrying dengue and Zika virus.

Brando previously ran a modest eco-lodge after buying Tetiaroa where celebrity buddy Robert De Niro, a guest in the late 1980s, once amused himself by waiting on tables.   Brando died in 2004, but Tetiaroa, located some 2,700 miles south of Hawaii, has been preserved in line with his ecological vision -- resort staff even keep a pet cat called Marlon in homage.   "He was passionate," said Tumi. "He was dragged here by Hollywood, then grandma made him come back."   Following Brando's blueprint, naturalists at the island's research centre monitor its countless tropical birds and turtle sanctuary, ready to rescue clumsy hatchlings before they can become a meal for predators.

- 'Canary in the coal mine' -
Luxury eco-resorts offer high-rollers a chance to offset any guilt they might feel over their carbon-heavy lifestyles.   "You need to look at the full picture of sustainability," said Rochelle Turner, research director at the World Travel and Tourism Council.   "Often these upscale resorts lead the way. They have a much higher profit margin so they're able to do things that make their destinations more protected."    "But they pass on knowledge to the mass market too," she added. "Even backpackers are learning from what is happening at the high end."   Tetiaroa is ideal for ecological research, according to Frank Murphy, executive director of the Tetiaroa Society, to which DiCaprio and Depp donate.   "We're perched here on one the most vulnerable spots on earth. It's kind of the canary in the coal mine for climate change so we better be doing our damnedest to figure out what's going on," he said.   "The El Nino years we've had over the past 20 years gives us a glimpse into what will happen with global warming."
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 05:09:12 +0200
By Alexandre GROSBOIS

Cárdenas, Cuba, Sept 20, 2017 (AFP) - The humble bicycle is gradually shedding its grim association with Cuba's economic crisis that followed the fall of the Soviet Union, and making a comeback buoyed by demand from tourists and Cubans frustrated by poor public transportation.

Bicycles rattle by everywhere on the flat cobblestone streets of Cardenas, an industrial city on the north coast where a giant iron bicycle monument greets visitors.   Bikes have long been the favored mode of transport here, but in Havana and other cities, the bike is coming back into vogue.    Modern bike shops with their smell of rubber and gear-oil are springing up to meet demand from tourists as well as Cubans simply looking for a reliable way to get around.

Osvaldo, a computer technician, sweats over an old Soviet-made MB3 with back-pedal brakes, handlebars shorn of handgrips -- the bike itself a collection of spare parts.    "Everybody gets around by bicycle in Cardenas, and I use it also to carry all sorts of things, anything I can manage," he says.   The odd slick mountain bike with swishing derailleurs is a rarity among the traditional rusty boneshakers used by ordinary Cubans heading to work, or to the bakery.

Hairdresser Kenia Lis Pulido said she uses her bike from morning to night, from the moment she takes her children to school.   "At night, if we are going anywhere, we'll pick up our bike and we'll have spent the whole day on the bike."   In some ways Cardenas is a constantly moving, living museum of mostly-communist bike transport over the last 50 years, with examples galore of the Chinese-built "Forever" model and the "Flying Pigeon" that flooded the island during the shortages in the 1990s.    One can still find a few folding MB3s from the 1980s, and rarer still, the American "Schwinn" of the 1950s.

- The made-in-Cuba 'Minerva' -
In the early 1990s bikes were the preferred way to get around in Cuba. The Soviet Union had just collapsed, removing the island's source of cheap oil imports, and cutbacks in public transportation led nearly everyone to seek a reliable alternative during the so-called "Special Period."   To cope with demand, Cuba began producing its own model, the Minerva.   They were "poor quality," remembers Lazaro Pereira, a bike-repair specialist in Cardenas.    "The forks split and when this happened, passers-by would mock people falling off their bikes."

Customization is common in Cuba's make-do culture, and bikes are often equipped with baskets, as well as wooden seats for extra passengers.   Some even have lawnmower engines fitted.   Ordinary mattress foam or plastic is used to renovate tired saddles. Often a piece of sponge wrapped in vinyl does the trick.   "During the Special Period in the 90s, many bicycles were made. Many were of good quality, because they didn't put a lot of weight on them, because a bicycle is made for only one person, but we want to put four people on it," the 43-year-old mechanic said.

- Specter of the Special Period -
Fidel Castro encouraged Cubans to get on their bikes when the Soviet cash-cow ran dry, but greater prosperity as the 21st century loomed brought a new reliance on motorized transport.   Still today, a bicycle may have "a negative connotation because... it can remain associated with poverty that characterized this period," said Maria Paula Otero Herrera, a 21-year-old music student and bike-lover.

"It was the ideal means of transport because it was the only thing that was allowed and so it has dragged with it those feeling of poverty from that time," said geography student Denis Alvarez.   Naybis Diaz Labaut is owner of VeloCuba, one of the numerous repair and bike-hire shops which have flourished around Havana in the last few years.   "For the last five years, there has been significant movement in the world of bicycles in Cuba. We see it in the streets," she said, adding that they are proving a viable alternative to the geriatric public transport system.   In general, "people aged 50+ reject bikes... but the new generation appreciates its attractions," she says.   VeloCuba has been around since 2014, and employs almost exclusively women.

The agency has just opened a second Havana outlet and also offers guided tours to tourists on its 40 recent models.   All were bought from foreign tourists because "the bikes sold in Cuba are Chinese models made of iron," and of poor-quality, says Diaz-Labaut.   Two-wheeled transport has a big future in Havana even though it has not yet reached anywhere near the popularity of bicycles in the provinces, she says.   Cycling in Cuba has its dangers however, "from antique vehicles unable to properly slow down, to the absence of proper bike paths, and the lack of motorist education."   "It's hard and challenging to ride in Havana," laughs Jake Lester, a cyclist from Massachusetts in the US, on a three-month study trip.   "You have to be very careful about what happens round you."
Date: Wed, 20 Sep 2017 00:23:43 +0200

Rio de Janeiro, Sept 19, 2017 (AFP) - Brazilian police said Tuesday that a British woman missing during an attempt to paddle the entire Amazon by kayak has been murdered and that three people are in custody.   The Amazonas state police force said a 17-year-old suspect has confessed to being part of a gang that shot Emma Kelty, 43, stole her electronic gear and cash, then dumped her body in a river.

The adolescent was arrested in Codajas, 240 kilometres (150 miles) from the state capital Manaus. Two more people have been arrested and a further four are still wanted, police chief Frederico Mendes in a statement.   Kelty was a head teacher in Britain and an accomplished adventurer who'd trecked unassisted to the South Pole, hiked across the United States and was now attempting to kayak the River Amazon from its source to the ocean.   A keen social media user, she had last tweeted on September 13, near the town of Coari.   She reported having met "three lovely locals," a big change from the previous day when she tweeted about encountering "50 guys in motor boats with arrows!!!"

According to police, the detained teenager said he and the other six suspects found the British traveller camping on Boieiro island, in the Coari area.   "The adolescent said the British woman was hit by two shots from a sawn-off 20-gauge shotgun, and then the offenders threw the body of the woman into the river," the statement said.

The seven assailants tried to sell two cell-phones, a tablet device and a GoPro camera in local towns, the statement said.   Kelty's siblings paid tribute to their "active and determined sister" in a statement released by the UK foreign ministry.   "In a world that is today a much smaller place, the explorer in our sister found herself seeking ways to prove that challenges were achievable.   "We are extremely proud of our sister who was dearly loved by us all and her strength will be sorely missed," her family said.
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2017 19:05:52 +0200

Pointe-à-Pitre, Sept 19, 2017 (AFP) - At least one person was killed as Hurricane Maria battered Guadeloupe, officials said Tuesday, in the first confirmed casualty from the huge storm sweeping the eastern Caribbean.     The person was killed by a falling tree, the local administration said, while two more were reported missing after their ship sank off Desirade, the easternmost island in the French territory's archipelago.   The dead person "did not respect orders to stay inside", authorities said in a statement, adding that "several floods have been signalled" around Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe's largest city.

Coastal areas around the capital Basse-Terre have also been "submerged".   "All of the archipelago's road networks have been affected by falling trees or branches," it said.   Little damage to buildings had been reported so far, though "some roofs have been ripped off".   Authorities said 40 percent of households in the territory of some 400,000 had no electricity, and 25 percent of landlines had been cut.   The US National Hurricane Center described Maria as "potentially catastrophic" as it pushed northwest towards the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Date: Tue 19 Sept 2017
Source: The News International [edited]

Dengue virus took another life in Peshawar on [Mon 18 Sep 2017] and 242 more people were diagnosed with dengue in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the provincial Health Department reported here.

[A 35 year old male], became the latest victim of the mosquito-borne disease, raising the death toll from dengue to 27 in KP so far. He belonged to Tehkal area of Peshawar and was admitted at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) on [Sat 16 Sep 2017].

Dengue virus was 1st reported in Tehkal area of the city in July [2017] and then spread to the adjacent Pishtakhara area. It later became an epidemic when infected more and more residents of these areas.

The majority of these patients from Tehkal and Pishtakhara are being shifted to the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) as it is close to the dengue affected areas. The hospital has become overburdened due to heavy rush of dengue patients.

According to the Dengue Response Unit (DRU), 1498 patients mainly suffering from fever and body ache were taken to different hospitals in KP, the majority of them in the provincial capital. Of 242 total dengue positive patients, 96 were admitted in the hospitals after 71 patients recovered from their disease and discharged from the hospitals. Presently 242 dengue patients are under treatment in KP's hospitals.

The KTH received 973 patients on [Mon 18 Sep 2017]  and 174 of them were tested dengue positive. Of 174 patients, 45 patients were admitted in the hospital. The hospital is providing services to 242 indoor dengue patients at the moment.

The Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) received 297 patients and 28 of them were diagnosed with dengue positive. Similarly, 105 patients were taken to the Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) where 25 patients were tested positive.

Also in Peshawar, the Naseerullah Babar Hospital received 12 patients and 4 of them were tested dengue positive and Kuwait Teaching Hospital diagnosed 3 patients with dengue virus. Mardan reported 3 positive cases, Mansehra 2, and Abbottabad, Swabi and Buner one each dengue positive case.
======================
[The ongoing Dengue epidemic has been declared as a provincial emergency in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The 1st case was notified on 19 Jun 2017. As of 3 Sep 2017 over 30 000 suspected cases have been registered of which nearly 6000 have tested positive (using NS 1 rapid test) [personal communication]. A total of 27 deaths have been registered since the start of the outbreak. Affected districts include Bannu, Abbottabad, Haripur and Nowshera and the city of Peshawar. The World Health Organization is taking special measures to support the department of health and allied administrative departments by strengthening surveillance, laboratory, case management, vector mapping and control along with health education and coordination - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Fri 15 Sep 2017
Source: ASL Latina [in Italian, machine trans. and Mod.TY, edited]

In our Latina province to date, 4 chikungunya cases have been registered, 2 confirmed and 2 probable.

Chikungunya virus disease manifests itself with symptoms similar to influenza, with high fever, chills, headache, etc. and arthralgia, and is transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus _Aedes_, which in our country is represented by the mosquito _Aedes albopictus_, commonly called the tiger mosquito.

Not everyone who encounters an infected mosquito will show the symptoms; in any case, the disease is self-limiting.

As a result of the recorded cases and on the basis of Circular No. 20 957 dated 10 Jul 2017 from the Ministry of Health, the Mayor of the Municipality of Latina has already been informed by jurisdiction officials. At the same time, it is advising all provincial agencies to take preparatory actions when any pandemic interventions are initiated in the event of a case-by-case verification.

A dedicated "Arbovirosi Outpatient Clinic" was activated at the SMGoretti UOC Infectious Diseases Hospital for an initial period of 2 weeks from Monday to Friday, with direct access to prescription by general practitioners for suspected cases attended on their own; the outpatient clinic will also provide general practitioners with medical advice by specialists by telephone.

A series of recommendations for the general population will be available on the Latina ASL web site in the coming hours for the prevention of insect bites.
------------------------------------------
Communicated by:
Remigio Russo
Professional Journalist
========================
[ProMED-mail thanks Remigio Russo for sending in this report and noting that it is the 3rd focus of transmission.

The number of foci of chikungunya virus infections has increased from 2 in the previous post to 3, the most recent in Latina province. Apparently, the Asian tiger mosquito, _Aedes albopictus_, is the vector implicated in the Latina outbreak and likely in the other foci. This outbreak is beginning to look like the one in 2007 in Emilia Romagna in central Italy, which was also transmitted by _Ae. albopictus_.

Maps of Italy can be accessed at
Date: Sun 17 Sep 2017 3:00 pm AEST
Source: The Advocate [edited]

Tasmania is in the "peak phase" of the most devastating flu season in recent memory, Health Minister Michael Ferguson warned.

As of [12 Sep 2017], there were 2337 confirmed cases of influenza and 21 deaths since [1 Jan 2017]. Last year [2016], 14 people died, and only 969 influenza cases were reported.

Mr Michael Ferguson spoke about the outbreak on Sunday morning [17 Sep 2017] before running the Women's 5 km in Launceston. "My latest advice on the flu outbreak this year [2017] is that we're still at a very high level of confirmed cases of influenza A," he said. "Taking only into account those cases that have been confirmed by a medical test, we are at a 3-4 times higher rate of confirmed cases than in previous years, the last 5 years. It could be the most devastating; it could be the highest rate in many years."

Of the 2337 cases since [1 Jan 2017], 1357 were in the state's south, 651 in the north, 327 on the northwest, and 2 were overseas visitors.

With spring upon us, Mr Ferguson hoped the season would soon end. "It certainly looks like we're in the peak phase, and whether or not that's going to continue to grow or start to plateau and fall away, I simply don't know," he said.
Last week [week of 11 Sep 2017], Tasmania's director of public health, Mark Veitch, said cases appeared to be declining.

Mr Ferguson said this year's [2017] flu season had started earlier and that the number of cases had been much higher, putting pressure on workplaces, aged care homes, and hospitals.

"The numbers are immense, but the response from our team has been really fantastic," he added. "It's a big strain on our system, but I want to say thank you to all of our staff who have worked so hard to provide a strong and positive response."

But the devastating flu season has not been exclusive to Tasmania. This year [2017], the deadly strain of flu has killed 94 people in Victorian aged-care facilities. Across the country, case numbers have continued to climb, making 2017 one of the worst years for influenza in recent memory.

Dr Veitch said that while a high-coverage of flu vaccination among aged-care residents and staff was helpful, it was only one part of reducing outbreaks. "Staff and visitors can help by staying away if they have flu-like symptoms," he said.  [Byline: Hayden Johnson]
=======================
[Earlier ProMED posts have also highlighted the increased intensity of the current influenza season in countries in southern hemisphere including Australia (Influenza (17): WHO global update, Australia (QL) http://promedmail.org/post/20170812.5237383). Every year, influenza epidemics can seriously affect all populations, but the highest risk of complications occurs among pregnant women, children aged 6 month-5 years, the elderly, individuals with specific chronic medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, asthma, and chronic heart or lung diseases, and healthcare workers (<http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs211/en/>).

While influenza vaccination is the most effective way to prevent disease, antiviral drugs are available for treatment, though influenza viruses can develop resistance to the drugs. - ProMED Mod.UBA]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2017 10:49:21 +0200
By Amandine ASCENSIO with Jean-Philippe LUDON in Fort-de-France

Pointe-à-Pitre, Sept 19, 2017 (AFP) - Hurricane Maria smashed into the eastern Caribbean island of Dominica on Tuesday, with its prime minister describing devastating damage as winds and rain from the powerful storm also hit territories still reeling from Irma.   As residents hunkered down in their homes the Category Five hurricane made landfall with top winds swirling at 160 miles (257 kilometres) per hour, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.   "We have lost all what money can buy and replace," Dominica's premier Roosevelt Skerrit posted on Facebook, saying there were initial reports of "widespread devastation".

"My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains."   Earlier, he said his roof had been blown off, his house was flooding and he was "at the complete mercy of the hurricane".   After being rescued Skerrit appealed for "help of all kinds" but noted specifically that helicopters will be needed so that authorities could survey the damage.

Dominica's airport and ports have been closed.   After moving across the tropical island of 72,000 people, Maria was downgraded to an "extremely dangerous" Category Four hurricane but could strengthen again as it races north towards the British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.   The NHC warned of dangerous storm surges, destructive waves, flash floods and mudslides and warned that "preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion".

The French territory of Guadeloupe -- the bridgehead for aid for Irma-hit French territories -- ordered all residents to take shelter in a maximum-level "violet alert". Heavy rain lashed the island and several areas were without power Tuesday morning.   The Dominican Republic, the east coast of which was battered by Irma, ordered citizens in part of the north to evacuate ahead of Maria's arrival, expected Wednesday.   St Kitts, Nevis, the British island of Montserrat, Culebra and Vieques were also on alert.   Martinique, a French island south of Dominica, suffered power cuts but avoided major damage as the storm skirted its shores.    Flooding, mudslides and power outages were also reported in parts of St Lucia.

- 'Worst-case scenario' -
Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean.   "We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst," said Chris Austin, head of a UK military task force set up to deal with Irma, as the British Virgin Islands readied for a new onslaught.   On the island of St Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, authorities announced a red alert ahead of Maria's arrival.   "We're watching its trajectory very closely, and we're preparing for the worst-case scenario," said local official Anne Laubies.

In Guadeloupe's biggest city of Pointe-a-Pitre, Elodie Corte, the boss of a metalworking company, said there had been frantic preparations to limit the damage from the storm.   "We spent the morning strapping down the aluminium to stop it from flying away if the winds are strong," she said Monday.   The Dutch navy tweeted that troops were heading to the two tiny neighbouring islands of Saba and St Eustatius to ensure security following widespread complaints after the first hurricane of looting and lawlessness on St Martin, among the worst hit by Irma, with 14 killed.   French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 110 more soldiers would be deployed to the region to reinforce about 3,000 people already there shoring up security, rebuilding infrastructure and distributing aid.   But he warned of "major difficulties" if Guadeloupe is hard hit.

- Hurricane series
Irma, also a Category 5 hurricane, left around 40 people dead in the Caribbean before churning west and pounding Florida, where the death toll stood at 50 Monday.   It broke weather records when it whipped up winds of 295 kilometres per hour for more than 33 hours straight.   Another hurricane, Jose, is also active in the Atlantic and has triggered tropical storm warnings for the northeastern United States.   Many scientists are convinced that megastorms such as Irma, and Harvey before it, are intensified by the greater energy they can draw from oceans that are warming as a result of climate change.
Date: Tue, 19 Sep 2017 05:17:23 +0200
By Bassem Aboualabass

Luxor, Egypt, Sept 19, 2017 (AFP) - Pummelled by political unrest and jihadist attacks, Egypt's tourism industry is slowly growing again, but too slowly for thousands of bazaar workers who fondly recall when tourists thronged their stores.

Abu Aya owns a souvenir shop in the southern city of Luxor which is home to ancient pharaonic monuments, and he fondly remembers the days when the front pocket of his traditional Arabic robe sagged with cash.   "Before 2011 it was filled with dollars and euros. Today the sellers just sit in front of their stores reading the papers because there are so few customers," the 47-year-old said.   In the promenade bazaar lined with shops selling souvenirs and incense, every business seemed to be suffering from the downturn.   For years the North African nation had worked to attract more tourists to its famed ancient sites and pristine Red Sea beaches, a policy that resulted in a record 14.7 million visitors in 2010.

Tourism in the Arab world's most populous country has long provided much-needed revenues.   But an uprising that unseated autocrat Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, followed by years of political unrest, rolled back the gains in a disaster to the four million people whose jobs at the time relied on the tourism industry.   A jihadist insurgency that erupted in 2013 also took its toll. Two years later, security forces mistakenly killed eight Mexican tourists they thought were "terrorists".

- Public relations blitz -
In October 2015, the Islamic State group said it downed a Russian airliner in the Sinai after it took off from a Red Sea resort, killing all 224 people on board.   Visitor numbers plunged from 9.3 million in 2015 to 5.3 million the following year.   A public relations blitz by the tourism industry including international events and slick advertisements has had some effect, tourism officials say.   Hotel occupancy rates in Luxor are expected to reach 30 percent by the end of the year, compared with 23 percent in 2016 and 17 percent in 2015, said Maher Abdel Hakim, an expert on the hospitality industry who runs a tourism promotion group.

But there is still a long way to go, as suggested by the desperate shop owners and drivers of horse-drawn carriages who resort to pleading for business.   "I'll accept whatever you pay -- I just want to buy fodder for the horse," one yelled at potential clients outside the colossus-flanked entrance of the ancient Luxor Temple.

Sites such as Luxor -- once a pharaonic capital that still boasts stunning ancient temples -- have been hardest hit, compared with the beach resorts that continue to attract a diminished but steady flow of holidaymakers.   "Before the 2011 revolution, 1,500 French tourists would come to Luxor in just a week," said Ahmed Mahmoud, a 35-year-old former tourism industry worker who has since switched to teaching.

- 'The people are great' -
Abdel Hakim said the city's population and its tourism workers were suffering.   "Tourists in the past would walk around the historic sites, and ride carriages and buy souvenirs... everyone would profit," he said.   Abu Aya accepts that tourists have indeed begun to return. But "this hasn't yet been felt by the owners of bazaars and residents of the city".

He says that despite a bungled attack in a Luxor temple in 2015, the city is safe, a view Chinese tourist Ann Zhu agreed with.   "I feel Luxor is safer than Cairo, and the people here are great," said the 28-year-old who had just visited the Karnak temple where the attack was foiled.   Tourists from China have been among the most drawn to the ancient Egyptian sites over the past two years.

China's top public travel agency, China International Travel Service, reported a 58 percent increase in the number of tourists flying to Egypt compared with 2015.   "I've started speaking Chinese," said Ahmed Hassan, who operates a hot-air balloon that gives tourists the chance to experience a different perspective of the area's famous sites.