Where will Cyclone Gita hit NZ? '(That's) the million dollar question', says MetService

As Cyclone Gita was this morning upgraded to a mammoth Category 5 storm, New Zealand meteorologists are describing its possible course towards our shores as an unknowable "million dollar question".

Fiji's Meteorological service have Gita with winds of 203 kph, and moving westward slowly towards New Caledonia and Vanuatu for the next two days.

MetService meteorologist Georgina Griffiths says Cyclone Gita will remain in the tropics until the weekend, and which point it will track south.

Check the forecast in your region on the 1 NEWS NOW weather page 

But whether it will be towards New Zealand is really impossible to tell at this stage.

"There's still a number of reasonable tracks the system could take as it starts to move out of the tropics late in the weekend," Ms Griffiths says.

"Some of those track more towards the South Island, some towards central New Zealand, some towards Taranaki, New Plymouth area.

"Basically trying to estimate where that system will go once it starts to move out of the tropics is like betting on a game that you don't know the rules."

Ms Griffiths says once it leaves the tropics on the weekend it will no longer be classified as a tropical cyclone, but it is expected to still be an "intense" system.

"As soon as it comes under some wind share in the Tasman, it's going to lose some of it's tropical cyclone characteristics, so it's going to become a different beast," she says.

"The models keep it being an intense system. The warm seas around New Zealand are to play a part, we have very warm Tasman sea at the moment which either way, wherever it goes, it looks pretty intense."

MetService will take control of tracking and grading Cyclone Gita once it leaves the tropics, and Ms Griffiths says they should have a better idea on it's direction sometime tomorrow.

If it were to hit New Zealand it could bring heavy wind and rain, swells and storm surges early next week.

"The million dollar question is where," Ms Griffiths says.

"It's going to make a great deal of difference where it tracks to which, if any, of New Zealand gets affected and we just can't say at this stage.

"We can't determine with any degree of confidence."

Even if the system doesn't directly hit New Zealand it is likely to increase humidity levels as it interacts with the unusually warm seas off our shores.

Jane Foster said Oxfam is still waiting for contact to be re-established with two of Fiji's southern Lau islands, after the edge of Gita brushed them yesterday. Source: Breakfast

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Five climbers, four guides go missing in Nepal during storm

Five South Korean climbers and four Nepalese guides were missing on Gurja Himal mountain after a strong storm swept through their base camp, officials and expedition organizers said.

A storm today destroyed their camp and rescue helicopter sent today were unable to land because of bad weather conditions on the mountain, police official Bir Bahadur Budamagar said.

It was unlikely the weather would clear today and the base camp is at least one-day trek from the nearest village.

A police team was also heading toward the base camp on foot and would likely reach there overnight.

The climbers were attempting to scale the 7,193-metre peak during the Autumn climbing season.

Climbing
Climbing Source: istock.com


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Melania Trump opens up on marriage to the US President in exclusive TV interview

Melania Trump has spoken about her marriage to US President Donald Trump and rumours of his affairs.

The first lady gave a rare TV interview during a recent trip to Africa, with no questions off-limits.

Through it all, she's held her tongue. Ms Trump was silent when porn star Stormy Daniels stepped forward. She said nothing when the White House denied the affair, and she remained tight-lipped when the president later admitted to paying hush money to keep Ms Daniels silent.

Now, a much-hyped tell-all interview with the first lady has addressed allegations of her husband's infidelity.

"It is not concern and focus of mine. I'm a mother and first lady and I have much more important things to think about and to do," Ms Trump said.

"I know people like to speculate and media like to speculate about our marriage and circulate the gossip but I understand the gossip sells newspapers, magazines, and unfortunately, we live in this kind of world today."

She said it's "not always pleasant, of course, but I know what is right and what is wrong and what is true and not true".

Ms Trump insists she is not focused on the scandal, but it is clear she cannot ignore it.

She said she was not happy when her husband's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, appeared to put words in her mouth.

"She believes in her husband - she knows it's not true. I don't think there's even a slight suspicion that it's true," Mr Guiliani had said at the time.

Ms Trump said, "I never talk to Mr Giuliani".

"Why do you think he came out and said that? I don't know. You need to ask him."

A former model, the first lady moved to New York in 1996 shortly before meeting Donald Trump.

"He came with a date and he was known as kind of a lady's man."

During the interview, Ms Trump said she knew for 20 years that he had dreamed of being president, and she had pictured herself being a "very traditional" first lady by his side, saying, "I will support him. I will stand by my man".

While the first lady has continued to stand by her husband, their relationship has been widely scrutinized.

The first lady is adamant she still has a good marriage, despite many images appearing to show the contrary.

"Yes we are fine. Yes," she said of their relationship.

"It's what media speculate and it's gossip. It's not always correct stuff."

The first lady gave a rare TV interview while touring Africa. Source: 1 NEWS

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Aerial footage shows devastation after Hurricane Michael tears through 'cozy' Florida beach town

Tom Garcia surveyed the damage to an apartment block on the coast road in Mexico Beach, Florida, pacing along in his walker through the debris today.

He said he hadn't heard from his daughter and 90-year-old mother since Thursday, when Hurricane Michael tore the small Gulf Coast community in the Florida Panhandle.

Search and rescue teams combed through dozens of destroyed buildings, some knocked by the massive sea swells clean off their foundations, others gone altogether. Source: Associated Press

Search and rescue teams from south Florida combed through dozens of destroyed buildings, some knocked by the massive sea swells clean off their foundations, some obliterated altogether.

Mexico Beach described by its mayor, Al Cathey is a quiet "cozy, family oriented town," which he added " hardly exists" anymore.

No one in the town has cell phone service, phone service or internet.

Local 86-year-old man Bill Shockey stayed at his house when the storm hit and the hurricane swells crashed water 1500 feet inland, flooding his enitre house.

Hector Morales, a cook at a local restaurant, pointed to a boat tethered to a palm tree in front of a neighbour's house, by his old mobile home.

Morales squeezed out the door in flood water and swam with a dog to the boat and held on for dear life.

He says he's lost everything and he's now starting from zero.

Search-and-rescue teams found at least one body in Mexico Beach, the ground-zero town nearly obliterated by Hurricane Michael, an official said today as the scale of the storm's fury became ever clearer.

The death toll across the South stood at 13, not counting any victims in Mexico Beach.

Search and rescue teams combed through dozens of destroyed buildings in Mexico Beach. Source: Associated Press


US pastor convicted of terror links flies out of Turkey

An American pastor flew out of Turkey yesterday after a Turkish court convicted him of terror links but freed him from house arrest, removing a major irritant in fraught ties between two NATO allies still strained by disagreements over Syria, Iran and a host of other issues.

The court near the western city of Izmir sentenced North Carolina native Andrew Brunson to just over three years in prison for allegedly helping terror groups, but let him go because the 50-year-old evangelical pastor had already spent nearly two years in detention. An earlier charge of espionage was dropped.

Hours later, Brunson was transported to Izmir's airport and was flown out of Turkey, where he had lived for more than two decades. He was to be flown to the US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then on to Washington, where he was to meet with US President Donald Trump today.

"I love Jesus. I love Turkey," an emotional Brunson, who had maintained he was innocent of all charges, told the court during yesterday's hearing. He tearfully hugged his wife Norine Lyn as he awaited the court decision.

"PASTOR BRUNSON JUST RELEASED. WILL BE HOME SOON!" Trump tweeted after the American was driven out of a Turkish prison in a convoy. Later, after Brunson was airborne, Trump told reporters the pastor had "suffered greatly" but was in "very good shape," and that he would meet with him at the Oval Office today.

Trump predicted at a campaign rally in Ohio that Brunson will is "going to be in great shape."

Brunson's release was a diplomatic triumph for Trump, who is counting on the support of evangelical Christians for Republican candidates ahead of congressional elections in November.

It could also benefit Turkey, allowing the government to focus on an escalating diplomatic crisis over Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi contributor to The Washington Post who went missing more than a week ago and is feared dead after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Turkish officials suspect Khashoggi was killed in the consulate; Saudi officials deny it.

Additionally, Turkey could now hope that the US will lift tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminum imports, injecting some confidence into an economy rattled by high inflation and a mountain of foreign currency debt.

Yesterday's ruling followed witness testimony that seemed to partly undermine the prosecutor's allegations and highlighted concerns that Turkey had been using the US citizen as diplomatic leverage.

Turkey bristled at suggestions that its judicial system is a foreign policy instrument, and has accused the US of trying to bend Turkish courts to its will with tariffs in August that helped to send the Turkish currency into freefall.

Brunson's release doesn't resolve disagreements over US support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, as well as a plan by Turkey to buy Russian missiles. Turkey is also frustrated by the refusal of the US to extradite Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based Muslim cleric accused by Turkey of engineering a 2016 coup attempt.

The court dropped an espionage charge against Brunson, who had faced up to 35 years in jail if convicted of all the charges against him. He was among tens of thousands of people, mostly Turks, who were caught up in a government crackdown after the failed coup.

He was accused of committing crimes on behalf of Gulen as well as Kurdish militants who have been fighting the Turkish state for decades.

Earlier, the court called two witnesses following tips from witness Levent Kalkan, who at the previous hearing had accused Brunson of aiding terror groups. The new witnesses did not confirm Kalkan's accusations. Another witness for the prosecution said she did not know Brunson.

Brunson again denied accusations that his church aided Kurdish militants, saying he had handed over a list of Syrian refugees whom the congregation had helped and adding that Turkish authorities would have identified any terrorists.

"We helped everyone, Kurds, Arabs, without showing any discrimination," he said.

The pastor, who is originally from Black Mountain, North Carolina, was imprisoned for nearly two years after being detained in October 2016. He was formally arrested in December of that year and placed under house arrest on July 25 for health reasons.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had resisted US demands for Brunson's release, insisting that the courts are independent. But he had previously suggested a possible swap involving Brunson and Gulen, who denied he organised the coup attempt.

Other witnesses had not yet testified in Brunson's case and evidence was still not complete, suggesting a rushed effort to resolve the case.

Brunson led a small congregation in the Izmir Resurrection Church. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, with top representative Tony Perkins monitoring the trial, had listed him as a "prisoner of conscience."

While supporters in the United States celebrated Brunson's release, his case overshadowed the predicament of a Turkish-American scientist from NASA and several Turkish workers for the US diplomatic mission who were arrested in Turkey.

Evangelical pastor Andrew Brunson was able to leave the country after spending nearly two years in detention. Source: Associated Press