News & Current Affairs

September 16, 2008

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas begins mass post-Ike rescue

Texas has begun what is being described as the biggest search and rescue effort in its history following Hurricane Ike.

At least 2,000 people have been rescued but many thousands more are believed to have ignored the mandatory order to evacuate before Saturday’s storm.

The death toll rose to 30 as Ike swept on from Texas into the mid-US, with heavy rain causing flooding.

Millions of people are without power and Houston is under a week-long curfew as work continues to restore services.

While many schools remained shut, there were signs of a return to normality on Monday, as the city’s two airports resumed limited services and some shops and restaurants opened for business.

Five people died in Galveston Bay, an island city south-east of Houston which bore the brunt of the storm as Ike swept ashore on Saturday, bringing 13ft (4m) waves and 110mph (175km/h) winds.

‘Stay away’

Rescuers feared the toll could rise as they searched areas awash with sewage for those who did not leave before the hurricane hit.

As many as 140,000 people – some 10,000 in Galveston alone – failed to heed the order to evacuate.

Across Texas, 50 helicopters, 1,500 federal, state and local search teams were looking for stranded survivors, and a US navy ship carrying engineers was heading to Galveston to help with rebuilding operations.

We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal
US President George W Bush

Nearly 40,000 evacuees were being housed in 250 shelters across Texas – some with little money and no idea how long they would have to stay.

Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas urged residents to stay away until it was safe to return to their homes.

“There’s nothing to come here for,” she said. “Please leave.”

Warning that residents of Texas and Louisiana were in for “tough times”, David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said some people would “be out of their homes for not only weeks, but months”.

Fema has said it will deliver 7.5m meals as well as 5m gallons (20m litres) of water over the next few days.

President George W Bush, who is due to survey the damage on Tuesday, told those affected by the storm: “We’ll work as hard and fast as we can to help you get your lives back up to normal”.

Although Ike weakened to a tropical depression as it headed beyond Texas, the storm’s US death-toll rose to 30 as torrential rain caused severe flooding and power outages in parts of Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois.

Ike killed more than 80 people when it tore through the Caribbean late last week.


Have you been affected by Hurricane Ike? Send us your comments and experiences

September 13, 2008

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

‘Catastrophic’ storm hits Texas

Hurricane Ike has made landfall on the Gulf coast of Texas, where it is expected to cause “potentially catastrophic” flooding and damage.

It hit land at Galveston at 0710 GMT, with winds of up to 110 mph (175km/h).

Much of the city, which in 1900 was the scene of the country’s deadliest hurricane, was already under water after a 12ft (3.7m) storm surge.

The eye of the storm, which has since weakened to a Category One, is turning away from Houston, towards Arkansas.

Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby [of our hotel] shattered

Mandatory evacuation orders affected more than one million people, but there are fears for up to 90,000 people across Texas who officials say decided to brave out the storm.

In Galveston, an estimated 23,000 residents stayed behind.

President George W Bush, who earlier declared a federal emergency in Texas, said the federal and state authorities would conduct the recovery effort together, bringing in generators and ensuring water and ice supplies.

US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is due to arrive in Texas on Saturday, weather conditions permitting, he added, speaking at the White House.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has waived federal clean air regulations for petrol sold in states affected by the storm, in an effort to reduce fuel disruption.

Ike has halted more than a fifth of US oil production, forcing 17 refineries in the Gulf of Mexico to shut down as a precaution.

Rain and debris

Jessica Willey, a journalist based in Galveston which lies on a small island off the coast of Texas, told it was the worst storm she had ever seen:

See the likely path of Hurricane Ike through the US

“The rain is coming sideways. Debris is flying through the air. Things are getting ripped off buildings every second, and flying through the air.

All emergency workers have been pulled off the streets until daybreak when a curfew will be lifted.

“We hope we will find the people who are left here alive and well,” said Galveston mayor Lynda Ann Thomas.

There is widespread flooding, and a hospital there is under at least 9.8ft (3 meters of water). The city has lost power and a number of houses are reported to be on fire.

Residents of low-lying homes were warned they faced “certain death” if they stayed.

Haitian appeal

At 1300 GMT, Hurricane Ike was about 20 miles (30km) south-southeast of Huntsville, Texas, with top sustained winds of nearly 90mph (145km/h).

It was due to pass through eastern Texas during the day, reaching western Arkansas on Saturday night, according to US National Hurricane Center.

US officials have warned as many as 100,000 homes in Texas could be affected by flooding.

Nearly 4.5 million people in the Houston-Galveston area are without electricity, a spokesman for power company CenterPoint Energy said.

Ferocious winds and rain have been lashing at his hotel for 10 hours.

“We are largely trapped here,” he said. “The power went out five hours ago, the lowest floor is submerged. Outside walls and ceilings have collapsed, the glass atrium in the lobby shattered.

“With the threat of rising seas, hotel guests have been ushered into the concrete stairwell, the sturdiest part of the building, and urged to climb to higher floors.”

The massive system is causing flooding along the Louisiana coast, still recovering from Hurricane Gustav earlier this month.

1900 GALVESTON HURRICANE
Men carry out bodies from the wreckage after a hurricane in Galveston, Texas, in 1900
Thought to be worst natural disaster in US history
8,000 people killed
130mph (209km/h) winds and 15ft (4.6m) waves swept homes away

Authorities are trying to avoid a repeat of 2005, when some 110 people died in Houston during a chaotic evacuation in the face of Hurricane Rita.

Mr Chertoff said Ike was a “potentially catastrophic hurricane”.

Earlier, it caused devastation in Cuba and Haiti, where hundreds of people have died in several tropical storms over the last month.

The Haitian Prime Minister, Michele Pierre-Louis, believes one million people may be homeless, and has called for international help.

The UN says more than $100m (£55.8m) is needed.


Are you in the areas affected? Are preparing to evacuate or are you staying in your home? Send us your comments and experiences

September 6, 2008

Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

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Poland’s finest to rock Wembley

Bajm

Bajm were popular across Eastern Europe before the Iron Curtain fell

Eight of Poland’s top pop and rock acts perform in front of a 10,000-strong crowd at Wembley Arena on Sunday. Billed as the biggest ever Polish music event on foreign soil, what does it mean for Britain’s Polish community?

Crowds of adoring fans will pack Wembley Arena on Sunday to see their favorite superstars perform to a full house.

But it will not be Madonna, Oasis or Jay-Z entertaining more than 10,000 people.

Bajm and Lady Pank may be largely unheard of in the UK but are household names in Poland, where four million viewers are expected to watch the London Live show’s highlights on state channel TVP2.

Tabloid hellraiser

Described as Poland’s answer to Pink Floyd and Red Hot Chili Peppers, their albums have sold three million copies.

Alongside Bracia’s modern grungy-rock and Natalia Kukulska’s soulfull R’n’B, the show even has its own tabloid hellraiser in Doda, who has posed for Playboy and courted controversy by spitting on stage.

Stanislaw Trzcinski, president of promoter STX Records, said: “This is like the O2 Festival, except for Polish music.”

Natalia Kukulka. Photo Wojciech Wojtczak
Performing at Wembley is a great honor
Natalia Kukulska

Guests on stage include Jan Tomaszewski, the goalkeeper whose heroics at the old Wembley Stadium in 1973 helped secure a 1-1 draw to send Poland to its first World Cup at England’s expense.Mr Trzcinski said: “The name Wembley brings back happy memories for Polish people and it remains a special place, so it was the perfect location.”

Kukulska, 32, has performed with tenor Jose Carreras and duetted with British R’n’B star Lemar at the Sopot festival in Poland in 2005.

She said: “Performing at Wembley is a great honor. I hope I will draw energy from the people who have played there in the past.”

After picking up influences of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston during a year in the US, she blended them with her own style to sell 2.5 million records at home.

Free tickets

“I’m very excited because this is the first time a lot of artists from Poland are performing abroad together,” she added.

Costing almost £1m to stage, the event has been advertised on 30 London buses and is being beamed back to Poland in high definition, thanks to a 100-strong production crew. Tickets were free to those who registered.

More than one million people voted in an internet talent competition giving bands the chance to perform on a second stage outside the arena, where they will be joined by top acts from the UK and Ireland’s Polish communities.

The show’s arrival reflects the remarkable influx of Poles into Britain.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents.

By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain.

But since Poland’s accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have swollen to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year, although the numbers arriving has dropped in recent months.

Appetite for rock

At least 100,000 settled in London, with many basing themselves around established Polish communities in western districts like Hammersmith.

There, the Posk cultural centre boasts the largest library of Polish books outside Poland, a gallery, restaurant and 350-seat theatre.

Supermarkets across Britain have started stocking Polish goods and delicatessens have sprung up in many towns.

THE PERFORMERS
Doda
Bajm: Six-piece rock outfit, formed in 1978, their 13 albums all went gold or platinum
Wilki: Hard-rock band, named “Wolves”, have performed in New York and London
Doda (pictured): Daughter of an Olympic weightlifter, gave up athletics to be a pop tearaway
Natalia Kukulska: Began singing aged seven and sold 1.5 million records as a child star
Kayah: Was a backing singer before her solo career in soul, jazz and R’n’B took off
Bracia: Their grunge-rock style made this band – “The Brothers” – favourites with younger fans
Monika Brodka: Her soulful voice was inspired by her idols Erikah Badu and Lauren Hill
Lady Pank: These punk survivors formed in 1982, playing 400 gigs to promote their debut album

But Piotr Grzeskiewicz, station director at Hammersmith-based Polskie Radio Londyn, said there had been little to feed young migrants’ appetite for rock and pop.

“Hundreds of thousands of Polish people in Britain have limited access to modern Polish culture and this is their best opportunity in many years to see some really big Polish bands,” he said.

Organizers hope many Britons will be at Wembley.

However, Mr Grzeskiewicz said: “The language barrier is huge. Only a few of these bands have played abroad and usually only for Polish fans.”

Warsaw-based bank PKO BP financed the event to promote its central London branch, which opened last December to cater both for migrants and British businesses investing in Poland.

Branch manager Katarzyna Cal said the move demonstrated the growing confidence in Poland’s economy and the number of investors keen to do business in the country.

Meanwhile, Dr Jan Mokrzycki, chairman of the UK’s Federation of Poles, admits he prefers the classical works of Chopin to today’s rock.

Vibrant

But the 75-year-old said the event would help build understanding between the established and newly-arrived Polish communities.

Initial tensions between the groups are diminishing, said the dental surgeon whose mother – a former Nazi concentration camp detainee – brought him to Britain in 1948 to escape communism.

“A combination of their youth, enthusiasm and education and our knowledge of the laws and customs of Britain is helping integration,” said Dr Mokrzycki.

“Cultural events of the old community have been traditional, forged from our experiences of pre-war Poland, so involve mostly classical or folk music.

“The new culture is vibrant with jazz and pop and it’s important younger people have access to that.”

August 9, 2008

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Texas bus crash kills 15 pilgrims

Bus wreckage in Sherman, TX

The crash sent the bus off a bridge

Fifteen people have been killed in the US state of Texas after a bus carrying a Vietnamese church group crashed off a bridge into a ravine.

The bus, carrying 55 people, slid off a bridge in Sherman, about 60 miles (100 km) north of Dallas, at 0045 local time (0545 GMT) on Friday.

Police said the bus was chartered by Vietnamese Catholics from Houston who were on a pilgrimage to Missouri.

The operators of the bus did not have a valid licence, officials say.

Initial reports said the bus lost control and smashed into the rail guard of the bridge. It apparently then skidded along the rail before sliding off the bridge.

At the site of the crash, the crumpled wreckage of the bus lay on its right side, littered with luggage, shopping bags and scattered clothing.

Expired certificate

Twelve people died at the screen of the crash and another three later in local hospitals.

Bus crash survivor Leha Nguyen

Leha Nguyen: “I’m the luckiest one”

A large section of the highway was closed as ambulances and at least 13 helicopters rushed to the scene to ferry the wounded to several hospitals in the Dallas area.

One passenger, Leha Nguyen, 45, said people were dozing off when passengers started screaming.

“Somebody was laying on my legs. A lady next to me, she had her arm crushed up,” she said.

“I think I’m the luckiest one out of most people,” she added, stating that none of the passengers were wearing seat belts.

Accident investigators say that a tyre on the bus blew out, and that it had been refitted with a new tread, in violation of safety regulations.

The National Transportation Safety Board said that the 52-year-old driver, who survived the crash, had a commercial licence, but had an expired medical certificate.

According to Houston’s KHOU-TV, the passengers were from the Vietnamese Martyrs Church of Houston who were on their way to Carthage, Missouri, for the Marian Days festival, an annual celebration to honour the Virgin Mary.

August 5, 2008

Mexican set for Texas execution

Mexican set for Texas execution

Jose Medellin

Jose Medellin, now 33, has been on death row since he was 18

A Mexican man whose case has drawn international legal attention is set to be executed in Texas for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl.

Barring a last-minute stay, Jose Medellin will face lethal injection at 1800 local time (2300 GMT).

The International Court of Justice had ruled that Medellin was entitled to a new hearing as he was not told of his right to contact a consular official.

Texas says its courts are not bound by the rulings of the ICJ.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on the US to abide by the ICJ ruling, AFP news agency reported.

“All decisions and orders of the International Court of Justice must be respected by states,” he is reported to have told a television station in Mexico City, where he is attending a world Aids conference.

“The United States should take every step to make sure the execution does not take place.”

Medellin’s case dates back to 1993 when two girls, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, were raped and murdered by six gang members in Houston.

A general view of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, file pic from February 2008

Set up in 1946, the ICJ is the highest United Nations court

Medellin, who was born in Mexico but moved to the US as a child, was convicted of Miss Pena’s murder.

At the time of his arrest, police did not tell him that he could request assistance from the Mexican consulate – in violation of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

In 2003, Mexico, which does not have the death penalty, filed a lawsuit at the ICJ on behalf of Medellin and 50 other Mexican nationals on death row in the US who had also not received consular support.

The court ruled in Mexico’s favour, and ordered that their cases be reviewed.

Texas acknowledged that Medellin had not been told he could ask for help from Mexican diplomats, but argued that he had forfeited the right because he never raised the issue at trial or sentencing.

State officials also argued that it would not have made any difference to the outcome of the case.

Earlier this year, President George W Bush ordered Texas to comply with the ICJ ruling, but the Supreme Court justices subsequently decided 6-3 that he had overstepped his authority.

Case is ‘clear’

Last month, in response to an urgent request from Mexico, the ICJ ordered the US to “take all measures necessary” to halt Medellin’s execution.

But Texas judicial authorities said in response that the law in Medellin’s case was “clear”.

“Texas is not bound by the World Court but by the US Supreme Court, which reviewed this matter and determined that the convicted murderer’s execution shall proceed,” a statement from the attorney general’s office said.

On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles rejected a request by Medellin and his legal team for a reprieve.

Medellin’s legal team are still hoping the Supreme Court will grant a stay of execution that would give Congress time to enact new legislation compelling US states to abide by ICJ decisions.

Tropical Storm Edouard hits Texas

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Tropical Storm Edouard hits Texas

Resident of Galveston

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation

A powerful tropical storm has hit the upper coast of Texas, bringing heavy rains and winds of up to (65mph) 100km/h, US weather forecasters said.

Tropical Storm Edouard made landfall between Galveston and Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

The near-hurricane strength storm is expected to weaken as it moves inland, with flooding the primary concern.

The governor of Texas has declared 17 counties disaster areas, while a state of emergency was declared in Louisiana.

About 6,000 residents of two communities in western Louisiana had been asked to evacuate low-lying coastal areas.

Evacuations

The mayor of Galveston has not ordered an evacuation but sent in about 1,200 National Guard troops.

Edouard is the fifth tropical storm of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.

Map

Tropical Storm Edouard was just short of hurricane strength when it came ashore between High Island and Sabine Pass, weather forecasters said.

A storm is considered to be a hurricane once its winds reach an average speed of at least 74mph (119 km/h), according to the NHC.

It had formed near a major oil and gas producing area of the northern Gulf of Mexico, causing disruption.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port has stopped offloading tankers and two oil firms evacuated workers from platforms.

Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell said they were removing employees from rigs as a precaution, but both insisted that production had not been affected.

The Houston Ship Channel was also closed.

Heavy rain near Houston

Edouard is the second tropical storm to hit the Gulf states in two weeks

A storm surge of 2-4ft (0.6-1.2m) was expected in coastal areas between Grand Isle, Louisiana, and Sargent, Texas, the NHC said.

Rainfall of up to 5in (12.7cm) was predicted in Louisiana, and up to 10in (25.4cm) in Texas.

It is the second bout of severe weather to batter the Gulf’s coastline in a month.

On 24 July, a state of disaster was declared in 14 Texas counties when Hurricane Dolly lashed the state’s coast with winds of 100mph (161km/h).

The Gulf of Mexico supplies about 25% of the US’s crude oil.


Are you in Texas or Louisiana? How are you preparing for Tropical Storm Edouard? Send us your comments

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