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Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2018 05:54:19 +0100

San Juan, Feb 12, 2018 (AFP) - Most of San Juan and a strip of northern Puerto Rico municipalities were plunged into darkness Sunday night after an explosion at a power station, five months after two hurricanes destroyed the island's electricity network.

The state electric power authority (AEE) said the blast was caused by a broken-down switch in Rio Piedras, resulting in a blackout in central San Juan and Palo Seco in the north.   "We have personnel working to restore the system as soon as possible," the AEE said.   San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, said on Twitter that emergency services and local officials attended the scene in the neighbourhood of Monacillos, but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, the Puerto Rican capital's airport said it was maintaining its schedule using emergency generators.   The blackout comes as nearly 500,000 of AEE's 1.6 million customers remain without power since Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the US territory in September 2017.   AEE engineer Jorge Bracero warned on Twitter that the outage was "serious," and advised those affected that power would not be restored until Monday.
Date: Wed, 13 Dec 2017 03:08:12 +0100
By Leila MACOR

Fajardo, Puerto Rico, Dec 13, 2017 (AFP) - Until Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Jose Figueroa did brisk business renting kayaks to tourists itching to see a lagoon that lights up by night thanks to millions of microorganisms.   Today, things are so dire he's considering selling water to motorists stopped at red lights.   "Now we are trying to survive," the 46-year-old tour guide said.

It used to be that visitors had to reserve a month in advance to get one of his kayaks and paddle around in the dark on the enchanting, bioluminescent body of water called Laguna Grande.   But tourists are scarce these days as the Caribbean island tries to recover from the ravages of the storm back in September.   "We do not know if we will have any work tonight," Figueroa said. "Last week, we worked only one day."    He and another employee of a company called Glass Bottom PR are cleaning kayaks on the seaside promenade of Fajardo, a tourist town in eastern Puerto Rico whose main attraction is the so-called Bio Bay.

The year started off well for Puerto Rico, with the global success of the song "Despacito" by local musicians Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.   The catchy tune helped promote the US commonwealth island of 3.4 million people, which is saddled with huge debts and declared bankruptcy in May.    But the hurricane turned what should be an island bustling with tourists into one with deserted beaches, shuttered restaurants and hotels full of mainland US officials working on the rebuilding of the island.   "What few tourists we have are the federal officials themselves," said Figueroa.

- Locals only -
The grim outlook spreads up and down the seaside promenade of Fajardo, where many restaurants are closed because there is no electricity.   On this particular day around noon, the only restaurant open is one called Racar Seafood. It has its own emergency generator.   "We get by on local tourists," said its 61-year-old owner, Justino Cruz.   "Our clients are local -- those who have no electricity, no generator, cold food or no food."

Puerto Rico's once-devastated power grid is now back up to 70 percent capacity, but this is mainly concentrated in the capital San Juan.   So while inland towns that depend on tourism are struggling mightily, things are getting better in San Juan as cruise ships are once again docking.   On November 30, the first cruise ship since the storm arrived with thousands of vacationers on board. They were received with great fanfare -- quite literally, with trumpet blaring and cymbals crashing.

- Pitching in to help -
The World Travel & Tourism Council, based in London, says tourism accounted for about eight percent of Puerto Rico's GDP in 2016, or $8.1 billion.   Hurricane Maria's damage has been uneven. Although some tour guides now have no work and many eateries are shut down, hotels that have their own generators are doing just fine.   Thanks to the thousands of US government officials and reconstruction crew members that came in after the storm, the hotels that are open -- about 80 percent of the total -- are pretty much full.

These people are starting to leave the island this month but hotels may receive tourists around Christmas, at least in San Juan, where power has for the most part been restored.   The hurricane "undoubtedly cost billions in lost revenue," said Jose Izquierdo, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company.    But Izquierdo nevertheless says he is "optimistic" and suggests an alternative: put tourists to work as volunteers in the gargantuan reconstruction effort that the island needs.   "We want to look for travellers who want to travel with a purpose, who might have the commitment to help rebuild," said Izquierdo.

The program, called "Meaningful Travel" and launched in mid-November, organizes trips on which residents, Puerto Ricans living abroad and tourists are invited to help the island get back on its feet.   "The plan aims to create empathy with this tourist destination," said Izquierdo.    "We want to be like New Orleans after Katrina, where 10 years after the hurricane, tourism is the driving force of its economy. We want to build that narrative of recovery," he added.   "There are different ways in which the world wants to help Puerto Rico. The best way is to visit us."
Date: Thu, 9 Nov 2017 12:39:04 +0100
By Marcos PÉREZ RAMÍREZ

San Juan, Nov 9, 2017 (AFP) - Andrea Olivero, 11, consults her classmate Ada about an exercise during their daily English class at San Juan's Sotero Figueroa Elementary School. The task: list the positive and negative aspects of Hurricane Maria's passing almost two months ago.

The girls only have to look around. There is no electricity and they "roast" in the heat, Andrea says. At the back of the room, computers and televisions collect dust.   "We would like to move past the topic of the hurricane a bit. It is already getting repetitive," Andrea told AFP.   She is one of more than 300,000 pupils in the public education system, although only half of schools are functioning. Barely 42 per cent of Puerto Ricans have electricity seven weeks after Maria struck, killing at least 51 in the American territory.

The lack of power has prompted disorienting timetable changes on the tropical island, to avoid both the hottest hours of the day and the use of dining facilities.   "The children are very anxious. We manage to make progress in lessons and they change the hours again. Everything is messed up and we fall behind," English teacher Joan Rodriguez explained.   "We can't use the computers to illustrate classes," she said. "They are reading the novel "Charlotte's Web," and we wanted to do exercises comparing it to the film version. But we cannot use the television.

- Suspicions -
From October 23, some directors reopened their schools in the western region of Mayaguez and San Juan.   But last Thursday, the Department of Education ordered their closure, insisting they must be evaluated by engineering and architectural firms, then certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers.   One of those schools was Vila Mayo, also in San Juan. The community presumed it would open, as it had been used as a shelter, its electrical infrastructure had been inspected and it had not suffered structural damage.

But Luis Orengo, the education department's director in San Juan, told protesters outside the school it was closed as inspectors' findings had not reached the central government.   "This is unacceptable! The school is ready to give classes but they don't want to open it. Our children cannot lose a year," fumed Enid Guzman, who protested with her 11-year-old son, Reanny De la Cruz.   There are suspicions the stalled reopening of schools is, in part, related to the prior closure of 240 schools over the past year during Puerto Rico's long-running financial crisis.   The fiscal difficulties have seen the island's population drop over the past decade by 14 percent, leading in turn to a fall in school enrolment.

Before the storms, 300 schools were at risk of closure -- and for the president of Puerto Rico's federation of teachers, Mercedes Martinez, the government's aim is clear.   "Secretary (Julia) Keleher seems to have an orchestrated plan to close schools," she said, referring to the education secretary. "Why do you have to wait 30 days to get a certification so a school can open?"   Keleher has announced she expects most schools to be open by the middle of November.
Date: Tue 24 Oct 2017
Source: KFOR Oklahoma News4 [edited]

Puerto Rico has reported at least 76 cases of suspected and confirmed leptospirosis, including a handful of deaths, in the month after Hurricane Maria, said Dr. Carmen Deseda, the state epidemiologist for Puerto Rico.

Two deaths involved leptospirosis confirmed through laboratory testing, and "several other" deaths are pending test results, Deseda said. The 76 cases, up from 74 last week, also include one patient with confirmed leptospirosis who is currently hospitalized.

The island typically sees between 63 and 95 cases per year, she said. Health officials had expected that there would be a jump after the hurricane. "It's neither an epidemic nor a confirmed outbreak," Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario Cortes said at a news conference Sunday [22 Oct 2017]. "But obviously, we are making all the announcements as though it were a health emergency."

Leptospirosis may be treated with antibiotics, but many people recover on their own. "The majority of leptospirosis cases is a mild, subclinical disease with no complications," Deseda said. "But one out of 10 people who have leptospirosis develop severe illness." In the 1st stage of leptospirosis, symptoms vary widely from fever and headache to red eyes and rashes. Some people may have no symptoms at all. But a small number will develop dire complications: meningitis, kidney and liver damage, bleeding in the lungs and even death.

Doctors are required to report any potential leptospirosis cases to health authorities, Deseda said. Those cases must then be tested to confirm the bacteria, since the symptoms can be difficult to tell apart from other illnesses. After that, health officials may look for patterns or clusters and determine whether there is an outbreak.

The lab tests on the suspected cases have been sent to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Deseda said. The turnaround time is about 5-6 days.

Doctors on the island have expressed concerns about burgeoning health crises amid hospitals that are overwhelmed, undersupplied and sometimes burning hot. Influenza is another concern on the horizon, Deseda said. Drinking water is also hard to come by on many parts of the island.

Dr. Raul Hernandez, an internist in San Juan, told CNN that people were drinking water from whatever sources they could find, such as rivers and creeks. If that water contains urine from a [leptospirosis-infected rat], those people will be at risk, he said.

Deseda said people should be discouraged from walking barefoot, drinking or swimming in potentially leptospirosis-contaminated waters.

"These diseases are everywhere, and there's a way to prevent them," she said.
=====================
[Leptospirosis is a zoonotic, spirochetal infection that occurs worldwide and is transmitted to humans by exposure to soil or fresh water contaminated with the urine of wild and domestic animals (including dogs, cattle, swine, and especially rodents) that are chronically infected with pathogenic _Leptospira_. _Leptospira_ may survive in contaminated fresh water or moist soil for weeks to months. Outbreaks of leptospirosis frequently follow heavy rainfall, flooding with fresh water, and increasing rodent numbers.

Parts of Puerto Rico saw more than 30 inches of rain and consequent flooding with recent Hurricane Maria. A map showing the estimated rainfall across Puerto Rico with this hurricane is available at <https://twitter.com/NWSSanJuan/status/910983698597777409/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url>.

With continued absence of potable water, inadequate sanitation, and flooding in the streets for a large proportion of the population in Puerto Rico, food- and water-borne diseases, like leptospirosis, will be a major problem. - ProMED Mod.ML]

[A HealthMap/ProMED-mail map can be accessed at:
Date: Thu, 19 Oct 2017 16:37:27 +0200
By Ricardo ARDUENGO, con Nelson DEL CASTILLO en San Juan y Leila MACOR en Miami

Utuado, Puerto Rico, Oct 19, 2017 (AFP) - It's been a month since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico and Samuel de Jesus still can't drive out of his isolated, blacked-out town.   In fact, much of the US territory in the Caribbean is still a crippled mess four weeks after that fierce Category Four storm.

The bridge connecting Rio Abajo to the rest of the island was swept away when Maria slammed the island on September 20. For two weeks Rio Abajo, located in a mountainous region in central-western Puerto Rico, was cut off and forgotten, without power or phone service.   "We didn't know what to do. We were literally going crazy," said de Jesus, 35.   "Those were difficult, desperate days. We could not find a way out, and the hurricane caused extensive damage," he told AFP.

During the two long weeks following Maria, the 27 families living in Rio Abajo saw their supplies quickly deplete.   De Jesus, who has diabetes, needed to keep his insulin refrigerated. The storm blew away the island's already decrepit power grid, so people resorted to emergency generators.   "But I was running out of gasoline to run the generator," he said.   A helicopter now makes regular deliveries of food, water and medicine because with the bridge washed out, there is no other way in or out of town.

People can't wade across the river because it is contaminated with human waste after a pipe broke when the bridge went.   Some brave souls use a precarious ladder rigged to get across the water, but for most people it is too dangerous.   We need a bridge "to take out our vehicles and leave in case of emergency, or if there is a landslide," he said.   Where the bridge once stood, residents set up a system of ropes, pulleys and buckets to move supplies over the river, which has been contaminated with sewer water since the hurricane.   Over the remains of the bridge locals hung the single-star, red, white and blue flag of Puerto Rico and a sign that reads "the campsite of the forgotten."

- Desperate need for electricity -
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello visited the surrounding municipality of Utuado on Wednesday to deliver supplies, but he did not stop in Rio Abajo.   "Utuado is certainly one of the most severely affected municipalities in all of Puerto Rico," Rossello said.   "Our commitment is to give it support and aid during the whole road to recovery."   Eighty-one percent of Puerto Rico remains blacked out one month after Maria struck. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is scarce, too.

Puerto Ricans' main obstacle to getting back to some semblance of normality is the slowness of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in getting the power grid back up and running.   The lack of power has paralyzed a key industry -- pharmaceutical production -- and most businesses including restaurants are closed or operating at great cost through the use of diesel powered generators.

This nightmare comes about a year after the US government established an external fiscal control board for the island after it declared bankruptcy because of 73 billion dollars in debt.   Economist Joaquin Villamil told AFP that damage from Hurricane Maria is estimated at 20 billion dollars -- four times that of Hurricane Georges in 1998, when measured in 2016 dollars.

Villamil said reconstruction money provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and from insurance companies will have a positive impact on the island's economy in the second half of fiscal 2018 and in fiscal 2019, but this boost will just be temporary.   "From an economic point of view there is not much net gain," said Villamil, who works for a consulting firm called Estudios Tecnicos.   He said the economy has been shrinking since 2006 and Maria will delay any prospect of recovery.   It will take at least until 2026 to get back to the GDP level of 2006, he added.

Making things worse, people are leaving the island for the mainland US. Forecasts are that the population now at 3.4 million will go down to 3.1 million or even less by 2026, said Villamil.   The government of Florida estimates that since October 3 -- the day a state of emergency to deal with an influx of Puerto Ricans was declared -- more than 36,000 people from the island have poured in.
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World Travel News Headlines

Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2019 10:44:51 +0200

Zagreb, July 16, 2019 (AFP) - Some 10,000 tourists were evacuated from a popular party beach on a Croatian island after a forest fire erupted early Tuesday, police said.

Police ordered visitors to night clubs on Zrce beach on the northern island of Pag to leave after the blaze erupted in a pine forest at around 1:00 am (2300 GMT Monday), a police statement said.   No one was injured in the fire which was brought under control, the mayor of the nearby town of Novalja, Ante Dabo, told national radio.  The cause was not immediately known.   Three firefighting planes were rushed to the scene to help extinguish the blaze which spread to a local road that had to be closed.

The island of Pag and its Zrce beach are popular with young tourists, notably British, who party there.  Tourism is a pillar of Croatia's economy, with visitors flocking to hundreds of islands and islets along its stunning Adriatic coast.   Last year the country of 4.2 million people welcomed more than 19 million tourists.
Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2019 01:09:24 +0200

Kinshasa, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - The first case of Ebola has been confirmed in Goma, now the biggest city to have been affected by the disease since its outbreak in eastern DR Congo last August, the health ministry said on Sunday.  A sick man had arrived in Goma early Sunday by bus with 18 other passengers and the driver from Butembo, one of the main towns touched by Ebola in Nord-Kivu province.

The man was tested  "and the results of the laboratory test confirmed that he was positive for Ebola," the ministry said in a statement.   It added that his trip began on Friday after "the first symptoms appeared on July 9 (Tuesday)".   "Given that the patient was quickly identified, as well as all the passengers on the bus from Butembo, the risk of the disease spreading in the city of Goma is low," the ministry said.    The passengers and the bus driver will begin getting vaccinations on Monday, it added.

The Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo has so far killed 1,655 people and 694 have been cured, according to a health ministry bulletin on Saturday.  And 160,239 people have been vaccinated, it added.  But efforts to tackle the crisis have been hampered both by militia attacks on treatment centres, in which some staff have been killed, and by the hostility of some local people to the medical teams.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 13:37:24 +0200

Pamplona, Spain, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - Three men were gored Sunday during the eighth and final bull run of Spain's San Fermin festival, bringing to eight the total number of daredevils injured during this year's fiesta.   Among those who were hospitalised this year after being injured by a bull's horns was an American who was wounded in the neck while taking a selfie.    In the last run, two Australians aged 27 and 30 as well as well as a 25-year-old Spaniard from Madrid were gored by the half-tonne fighting bull, "Rabonero", regional health authorities said.

The three men suffered injuries to the armpit, arm and leg from the bull's horns. Another two men were taken to hospital with bruises.   During Sunday's run in the northern city of Pamplona, Rabonero, the heaviest of the six bulls used in the event, became separated from the pack moments into the run and began charging people in its way.   Isolated bulls are more likely to get disoriented and start charging at people.

The bulls from the Miura ranch in the southwestern province of Seville completed the 848.6-metre (928-yard) course from a holding pen to the city bull ring in two minutes and 45 seconds.   Each morning from July 7 to 14, hundreds of daredevils, many wearing traditional white shirts with red scarves tied around their necks, tested their bravery by running ahead of a pack of bulls through the course set up in the narrow, winding streets of the medieval city.

- Like getting hit by a truck -
The bulls face almost certain death in afternoon bullfights, and earlier this month animal rights activists staged a "die-in" protest in the streets of the city to protest the tradition.   At the end of the festival's first run, a bull ran over and sunk one of its horns deep in the neck of a 46-year-old  American from San Francisco, Jaime Alvarez, narrowly missing key arteries.    He was injured as he was trying to take a video-selfie with his mobile phone.   "It was like a truck or car just hitting me in the side of the head. I put my hand on my neck and I saw blood," he told US television from a Pamplona hospital.   His wife had asked him not to take part in the bull run, he added.    He was released from hospital two days later.

Another 23-year-old American from Kentucky and 40-year-old Spaniard were also gored that day.   In addition to the eight men who were gored, another 27 people were taken to hospital for broken bones and bruises suffered during the bull runs.   About 500 more people were treated at the scene for more minor injuries, according to the Red Cross.   The festival dates back to medieval times and was immortalised in Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel "The Sun Also Rises".   It claims scores of casualties every year although last year just two men were gored.

Although the runs are over, the festival's closing ceremony takes place at midnight Sunday.   People from around the world flock to the city of 200,000 residents to test their bravery and enjoy the festival's mix of round-the-clock parties, religious processions and concerts.   Sixteen people have been killed in the bull runs since records started in 1911.   The last death was in 2009 when a bull gored a 27-year-old Spaniard in the neck, heart and lungs.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 12:47:38 +0200

Labuha, Indonesia, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - A major 7.3-magnitude earthquake hit the remote Maluku islands in eastern Indonesia Sunday, sending panicked residents running into the streets, but no tsunami warning was issued.   The shallow quake struck about 165 kilometres (100 miles) south-southwest of the town of Ternate in North Maluku province at 6:28 pm (0928 GMT), according to the US Geological Survey.
 
"The earthquake was quite strong, sending residents to flee outside. They are panicking and many are now waiting on the roadside," said local disaster mitigation official Mansur, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.   Officials were assessing the situation but there were no immediate reports of casualties, he told AFP.

In the town of Labuha, one of the closest to the epicentre, panicked residents took to motorcycles in a bid to flee to higher ground, according to an AFP photographer in town when the earthquake hit.   Local disaster official Ihsan Subur told Metro TV that no damage or casualties had been reported there so far, but residents took to the streets and many evacuated to higher ground.   "Electricity went of during the earthquake, but now it's back to normal," ubur said, adding that at least seven big aftershocks were felt after the initial quake.

The province was also hit by a 6.9-magnitude tremor last week.   Indonesia experiences frequent seismic and volcanic activity due to its position on the Pacific "Ring of Fire", where tectonic plates collide.   Last year, a 7.5-magnitude quake and a subsequent tsunami in Palu on Sulawesi island killed more than 2,200 people, with another thousand declared missing.   On December 26, 2004, a devastating 9.1-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra and triggered a tsunami that killed 220,000 across the Indian Ocean region, including around 170,000 in Indonesia.
Date: Sun, 14 Jul 2019 09:02:36 +0200

Sydney, July 14, 2019 (AFP) - A strong 6.6-magnitude earthquake struck off northwest Australia Sunday, shaking buildings over a wide area but causing no immediate reports of damage or injuries.   The shallow quake hit early Sunday afternoon 10 kilometres under the Indian Ocean 203 kilometres (126 miles) west of the West Australian beach resort of Broome, the US Geological Survey said. No tsunami alert was issued.   Sergeant Neil Gordon of the Broome police department said the quake rattled the city for more than a minute.   "The building here was shaking for about a minute and a half ... a steady shaking for that period of time," he told AFP by telephone.   He added that there had been "no reports of any injuries or any damage throughout the district," following the tremor.   The national broadcaster ABC said there were some reports of minor damage from the quake, and no injuries.   Australian media said the tremor was felt across a long stretch of the northwestern coast of Australia, from the West Australian capital of Perth and the mining centres of Karatha and Port Hedland to the south and as far as Darwin to the north.

Thursday 11th July 2019
https://www.who.int/csr/don/11-july-2019-ebola-drc/en/

The outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, Democratic Republic of the Congo continues this past week with a similar transmission intensity to the previous week. While the number of new cases continues to ease in former hotspots, such as Butembo, Katwa and Mandima health zones, there has been an increase in cases in Beni, and a high incidence of cases continues in parts of Mabalako Health Zone. In addition to these re-emerging hotspots, there are a large number of people with confirmed and probable infections moving to other health zones, with the greatest number coming from Beni Health Zone. The movement of cases causes the outbreak to spread to new health zones and re-emerge in health zones with previously controlled infections. Overall, this underscores the importance of robust mechanisms for listing and following up contacts and understanding the motivations for peoples’ decisions to move.

After the first reported case in the Ariwara Health Zone on 30 June, no new cases have been observed in that health zone. A response team deployed to that zone continues to identify contacts, engage the community, and vaccinate individuals at risk. Response personnel from the bordering countries of Uganda and South Sudan continue to support operational readiness activities. Resources are being dedicated to monitoring the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border in that area.

In the 21 days from 19 June through 9 July 2019, 72 health areas within 22 health zones reported new cases, representing 11% of the 664 health areas within North Kivu and Ituri provinces (Figure 2). During this period, a total of 247 confirmed cases were reported, the majority of which were from the health zones of Beni (41%, n=101), Mabalako (19%, n=48), Lubero (6%, n=16), and Mandima (5%, n=13). As of 09 July 2019, a total of 2437 EVD cases, including 2343 confirmed and 94 probable cases, were reported (Table 1). A total of 1646 deaths were reported (overall case fatality ratio 68%), including 1552 deaths among confirmed cases. Of the 2437 confirmed and probable cases with known age and sex, 57% (1384) were female, and 29% (704) were children aged less than 18 years.

Cases continue to increase among health workers, with the cumulative number infected rising to 132 (5% of total cases). Of the 128 health workers with information available, the greatest proportion is among health workers at health posts [poste de santé] (20%, n = 26) and private health facilities (35%, n = 45). The majority (68%, n = 87) of health worker infections were among nurses.

No new EVD cases or deaths have been reported in the Republic of Uganda since the previous EVD Disease Outbreak News publication on 13 June 2019. As of 3 July, 108 contacts exposed to those cases were identified, and they all completed the 21-day follow-up period. All contacts were asymptomatic. Arua district, located in the north-western part of Uganda near the Uganda-Democratic Republic of the Congo border, is currently stepping up its response readiness to prevent imported cases of Ebola following the case that died on 30 June 2019 in Ariwara Health Zone in neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo, located 8 kilometres from the Uganda border. This case is known to have over 200 contacts, some of whom are in the communities bordering the Arua district. As of 9 July 2019, two suspected cases in the Arua district were reported and both tested negative. As of 9 July 2019, the cumulative number of individuals vaccinated in Arua district is 811 out of 1092 targeted front line and healthcare workers.

More information here: https://www.who.int/csr/don/11-july-2019-ebola-drc/en/

Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2019 10:41:55 +0200

Kuala Lumpur, July 13, 2019 (AFP) - Flash floods killed a Dutch tourist in a popular cave located in the rugged Mulu National Park on Malaysia's Borneo island, an official said Saturday, as a search continues for a missing guide.    Local fire and rescue chief Law Poh Kiong identified the dead man as 66-year-old Peter Hans Hovenkamp from Utrecht in the central Netherlands.     "He died due to drowning following flash floods in the caves. His body was found in a river inside the cave and was taken to the Miri public hospital for a post-mortem on Saturday," he told AFP.   Law said a search-and-rescue operation involving 16 officers had been launched to locate 20-year local tour guide Roviezal Robin.   Eight other tourists in the same group "almost become victims" but fled to higher ground and escaped from being washed into the river, Law added.

Hovenkamp was reported missing on Friday while the group was touring the popular "Deer Cave", home to an estimated three million bats which form amazing patterns in the sky when they leave each dusk.   Mulu park, located in the remote Borneo jungle of Sarawak state and famous for its caves, cliffs and gorges, is a UNESCO world heritage site.   It sees thousands of visitors annually, particularly for its cooling rains during the summer months.    Law described the death as "a freak tragedy."
Date: Sat, 13 Jul 2019 09:52:36 +0200

Kathmandu, July 13, 2019 (AFP) - Floods and landslides triggered by torrential monsoon rains have killed at least 40 people across South Asia in the last two days, officials said Saturday.   The monsoon, which lasts from June to September, causes widespread death and destruction across South Asia each year.   In Nepal, 27 people have died in floods and landslides after heavy rains hit the country's eastern region and the southern plains.

Bishwaraj Pokharel, spokesperson for Nepal Police, added that another 11 people were injured and 15 others reported missing.    Three of the victims were killed when a wall collapsed in the capital Kathmandu.   "Our first priority is life saving rescue and all our resources have been deployed," Home Ministry official Umakanta Adhikari told AFP.

Police used boats to bring people to safety as rivers swelled, inundating their settlements, while parents were seen wading across chest-high waters carrying children on their shoulders.    Nepal's weather department issued a high alert for the southern Sapta Koshi river on Saturday and sent SMS warnings to people in the area.

In neighbouring India 11 deaths have been recorded in the north-eastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, officials said Friday.  Monsoon floods have inundated 21 districts in Assam, affecting thousands, officials said Friday.

In Bangladesh aid groups were providing rations to Rohingya refugees in the southeast of the country with the UN World Food Programme saying Friday that two people including a child had died.   Last year, more than 1,200 people were been killed across South Asia in monsoon storms with India's Kerala suffering its worst floods in nearly 100 years.
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2019 16:00:57 +0200

Chennai, India, July 12, 2019 (AFP) - A special 50-wagon train carrying 2.5 million litres of water arrived in the Indian city of Chennai Friday, as the southern hub reels under one of its worst shortages in decades.    The wagons were hauled by a special locomotive, decorated with flowers and with a "Drinking Water for Chennai" banner on its front.   Four special trains a day have been called up to bring water to Chennai -- India's sixth most populous city -- from Vellore, some 80 miles (125 kilometres) away, to help battle the drought.    The first consignment will be taken to a water treatment centre, and then distributed in trucks to different parts of the metropolis on Saturday.   Chennai has seen only a fraction of the rain it usually receives during June and July.   The city of 4.9 million people also needed trains to bring water in when it suffered a similar crisis in 2001.

The bustling capital of Tamil Nadu state normally requires at least 825 million litres of water a day, but authorities are currently only able to supply 60 percent of that.   With temperatures regularly hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), reservoirs have run dry and other water sources are dwindling further each day.   The Chennai metro has turned off its air conditioning, farmers have been forced to stop watering their crops, and offices have asked staff to work from home.   The city's economy has also taken a hit as some hotels and restaurants shut shop temporarily, and there have been reports of fights breaking out as people queue for water. 
Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2019 11:42:26 +0200

Sydney, July 12, 2019 (AFP) - A looming ban on climbing Australia's Uluru rock, intended to protect the sacred site from damage, has instead triggered a damaging influx of visitors, tourism operators said Friday.    Clambering up the giant red monolith, also known as Ayers Rock, will be prohibited from October -- in line with the wishes of the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land, the Anangu.   But a rush to beat the ban has led to a sharp increase in tourists and is causing its own problems for the World Heritage Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.   Families arriving in campers vans and RVs are a particular problem, chief executive of Tourism Central Australia Stephen Schwer told AFP.   "We have got so much of one particular market coming, we don't have enough infrastructure to handle the number of drive travellers."

While most visitors are doing the right thing, camping venues in the area are at capacity with advance bookings, leaving many less organised arrivals to set up illegally.   "People don't realise when they go off the road they are actually trespassing on pastoral land, or Aboriginal land, or protected land," Schwer said.   "We are getting people that are leaving their rubbish behind and lighting fires," he added.   "Sadly, people are also emptying their toilet waste out of their vans on what they think is unpopulated land, but is actually private land."   In the 12 months to June 2019, more than 395,000 people visited the Uluru-Kata National Park, according to Parks Australia, about 20 percent more than the previous year.   Yet just 13 percent of those who visited also climbed the rock, the government agency said.    Tourism operators say that Australian and Japanese tourists most commonly seek to climb Uluru.

The Aboriginal connection to the site dates back tens of thousands of years and it has great spiritual and cultural significance to them.   "Since the hand back of Uluru and Kata Tjuta to traditional owners in 1985, visitors have been encouraged to develop an understanding and respect for Anangu and their culture," a spokesperson for Parks Australia said.     "This is reflected in the 'please don't climb' message," they added.   Lyndee Severin from Curtin Springs station and roadhouse, one of just a few camping venues within 100 kilometres of Uluru, said "the vast majority of people are doing the right thing" but hundreds were setting up illegally by the side of the road or down a bush track.   "So we have some people that think that the rules don't apply to them," she told AFP.