Last hospital in IS-led Raqqa: Staff forced to clean patients' wounds with salt water

Only one health facility remains operational in the Islamic State-held part of Raqqa, serving thousands of civilians trapped in the Syrian city with virtually no emergency services or rescue personnel as the intense US-backed campaign to liberate the city continues, Physicians for Human Rights said Friday.

The New York-based group described "nightmarish" conditions in the ever-shrinking area controlled by IS militants amid an incessant bombing campaign. The wounded civilians are left under the rubble because civilians fear being struck by further airstrikes.

The lone operating hospital is using salt water to sanitize wounds and treatment of traumatic injuries is limited to stopping the bleeding, the group said based on interviews it carried out with survivors, physicians and aid workers from the city.

The US-led campaign, which began in earnest in June, left only the national hospital functioning at reduced capacity, as others were either bombed or closed, the group said according to witnesses it interviewed.

One doctor who escaped in mid-August told PHR he operated out of his home because civilians feared going to the hospital in case it was shelled, or to avoid extortion by IS. Militants from the extremist group administer the hospital, which has been divided in two sections, one for civilians and another for the group's fighters. Amid the campaign, the last of the hospital's remaining services were forced underground, providing very basic medical care, PHR said.

In recent weeks, medical supplies dwindled and pharmacies were closed. The doctor finally left Raqqa after two of his colleagues were killed in airstrikes that struck their homes. As he fled, his daughter was killed in a land mine explosion.

"Raqqa is a deathtrap where civilians who have already suffered for years under (IS) rule now also suffer the deadly consequences of the fight against (IS)," said Racha Mouawieh, Syria researcher for PHR.

The U.N. has estimated that up to 25,000 civilians remain trapped in the city, unable to leave either because IS holds them to use as human shields, or because of land mines along the roads and the heavy bombing.

For those who survived escaping the city, the closest health facility is 50 miles away, in Tal Abyad, or 90 miles away in Kobane for a specialized trauma unit. A new private hospital opened in Tabqa, about 25 miles from Raqqa, last week, PHR said.

The group called on parties to the conflict to ensure civilian access to medical care and safe evacuation.

The US-led coalition has said it does everything "within its powers" to limit harm to civilians, but that casualties are inevitable in a street-by-street battle with the militants.

Since the campaign began in June, US-backed Syrian fighters have seized more than 60 per cent of the city, tightening the noose on hundreds of IS militants who are fighting to the death for the city, and trapping thousands of civilians with them. The U.N. and rights groups have expressed concern for civilian safety, with one official urging a "humanitarian pause."

Meanwhile, Russia's Ministry of Defense said Friday it has killed four IS leaders, including one it described as the group's war minister, in an airstrike outside the eastern Syria city of Deir el-Zour, south of Raqqa.

Russia has been providing air cover for Syrian President Bashar Assad's offensive on IS since 2015.

The defense ministry said its airstrike killed 40 militants, including four prominent warlords who gathered for a meeting of IS commanders in an underground bunker outside Deir el-Zour.

Heavy clashes are taking place between Syrian government forces and IS around Deir el-Zour as militants fight to reinstate a years-long siege of the city.

Assad's troops on Tuesday broke the nearly three-year militant blockade of parts of the city, marking a significant advance against the extremists.

The Russian military named Abu Muhammad al-Shimali and Gulmurod Khalimov as two of the four IS leaders killed in the airstrike. The other two were not named in the statement.
Al-Shimali reportedly headed the movement of foreign fighters into Syria and processed the group's new recruits.

Khalimov, a colonel who received US training while heading the riot police force in his native Tajikistan, has often been described as the IS' minister of war. The United States last year placed a $3 million bounty on his head.

FILE - In this undated file image posted by the Raqqa Media Center, in Islamic State group-held territory, on Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014, which has been verified and is consistent with other AP reporting, fighters from the Islamic State group pray at the Tabqa air base after capturing it from the Syrian government in Raqqa, Syria. A two-pronged advance to capture key urban strongholds of the Islamic State, and the extremist group's self-styled capital of Raqqa has underlined a convergence of strategy between Washington and Moscow to defeat the extremist group, with Syria's Kurds emerging as the common denominator. (Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group via AP, File)
Source: Associated Press



Clean-up begins after Typhoon Mangkhut slams into Philippines coast with wind gusts of up to 255km/h

Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the country's northeastern coast early Saturday, with witnesses saying the storm's ferocious wind and blinding rain ripped off tin roof sheets and knocked out power at the start of the onslaught.

The typhoon made landfall before dawn in the coastal town of Baggao in Cagayan province on the northern tip of Luzon island, an agricultural region of flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces often hit by landslides.

More than 5 million people were at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Centre categorizes as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.

Typhoon Mangkhut slammed into the country's northeastern coast, with witnesses saying ferocious wind and blinding rain ripped off tin roof sheets and knocked out power. Source: Associated Press

There were no immediate reports of major damages or casualties in the region, where a massive evacuation from high-risk areas was carried out over two days.

Associated Press journalists in a hotel in Cagayan's capital city of Tuguegarao saw tin roof sheets and other debris hurtle through the air and store signs crash to the ground. Cars shook as wind gusts pummelled a parking lot.

With a huge raincloud band 900 kilometres wide, combined with seasonal monsoon rains, the typhoon was expected to bring intense rain that could set off landslides and flash floods. Storm warnings have been raised in almost all the provinces across the Luzon, including the capital, Manila, restricting sea and air travel.

Before it hit the island, Mangkhut was tracked late Friday with sustained winds of 205 kilometres per hour and gusts of up to 255km/h, forecasters said.

Even if the typhoon weakens slightly after slamming ashore, its winds will remain very destructive, government forecaster Rene Paciente said.

"It can lift cars, you can't stand, you can't even crawl against that wind," Paciente told reporters late Friday in Manila.

In Cagayan's capital city of Tuguegarao, residents braced for the typhoon's fury by reinforcing homes and buildings and stocking up on food.

"It was busy earlier in the hardware store and people were buying wood, nails, tin wire, plywood and umbrellas," said Benjamin Banez, who owns a three-story hotel where workers were busy hammering up wooden boards to protect glass panels.

A super typhoon wrought heavy damage to Banez's hotel and the rest of Cagayan in 2016.

Ninia Grace Abedes abandoned her bamboo hut and hauled her four children to a school building serving as an emergency shelter. The 33-year-old laundrywoman said the 2016 typhoon blew away their hut, which they abandoned before the storm hit.

"If we didn't, all of us would be dead," Abedes said.

More than 15,300 people had been evacuated in northern provinces by Friday afternoon, the Office of Civil Defence said.

Concerns over massive storm surges that could be whipped inland by the typhoon's winds prompted wardens to move 143 detainees from a jail in Cagayan's Aparri town to nearby towns, officials said.

The typhoon hit at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said. The threat to agriculture comes as the Philippines tries to cope with rice shortages.

After the Philippines, the Hong Kong Observatory predicts Mangkhut will plough into the Chinese mainland early Monday south of Hong Kong and north of the island province of Hainan. Though it is likely to weaken from a super typhoon to a severe typhoon, it will still pack sustained winds of 175km/h, it said.

The observatory warned of rough seas and frequent heavy squalls, urging residents of the densely populated financial hub to "take suitable precautions and pay close attention to the latest information" on the storm.

The gambling enclave of Macau, near Hong Kong, suffered catastrophic flooding during Typhoon Hato last August that left 10 dead and led to accusations of corruption and incompetence at its meteorological office.

On the Chinese mainland, the three southern provinces of Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan are coordinating preparations, including suspending transport and moving people to shelter inland, the national meteorological agency reported.

Guangdong, China's manufacturing hub, has set up 3,777 shelters, while more than 100,000 residents and tourists have been moved to safety or sent home.

The province has recalled more than 36,000 fishing boats to port, while train services between the cities of Zhanjiang and Maoming have been suspended and all ferry services between Guangdong and Hainan have been put on hold. Fujian province to the north of Guangdong is also closing beaches and tourist sites, the agency reported.

Philippine forecasters said the shifting typhoon could possibly blow toward Vietnam after it exits late Saturday or early Sunday.

In an emergency meeting Thursday, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte asked Cabinet officials from the north to help oversee disaster-response work and told reporters it was too early to consider seeking foreign aid.

"If it flattens everything, maybe we need to have some help," he said.

Mangkhut, the Thai word for mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.

Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines in 2013.

Ferocious winds and rain tore off tin roof sheets and knocked out power through Baggao, in Cagayan province. Source: Associated Press


Armed police at the scene of a fight in Lower Hutt where a man was killed

Armed police are at the scene where a man was killed in a fight in Lower Hutt last night.

The 29-year-old victim was attacked near the intersection of High Street and Burcham Street, in Taitā, at around 7.45pm.

The man's body will be removed from the scene for a post-mortem examination this afternoon while a scene examination on High Street continues.

Detective Senior Sergeant Tim Leitch said one man, an associate of the victim, was charged with assault and has since been released on bail.

Police are still seeking a second man, who was seen leaving the area in a silver station wagon, in relation to the incident.

Police have since seized the vehicle for testing after is was spotted nearby on Pringle Street.

It's believed items of interest may have been discarded by the occupants of the vehicle, and police are asking residents in the surrounding areas of Burcham Street, Macky Street, Pringle Street and Churton Crescent to search surrounding areas for anything which may be relevant to the investigation.

The man has been described as being of Māori descent with a solid build, dark curly hair and facial tattoos.

He was last seen wearing a black top and pants, and may have received a facial injury in the incident. 

Anyone who witnessed the incident or saw either the silver station wagon or any suspicious activity shortly after 7.45 pm has been urged to contact police.

Armed police are at the scene where a man was killed in a fight in Lower Hutt last night with police hoping to remove the body from the scene this afternoon. Source: 1 NEWS

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At least five people dead as tropical storm Florence spreads to South Carolina

Blowing ashore with howling 155 km/h winds, Florence splintered buildings, trapped hundreds of people and swamped entire communities along the Carolina coast Friday in what could be just the opening act in a watery, two-part, slow-motion disaster. At least five people were killed.

Forecasters warned that drenching rains of 30 centimetres to 1 metre as the hurricane-turned-tropical storm crawls westward across North and South Carolina could trigger epic flooding well inland over the next few days.

As 645-kilometre-wide Florence pounded away at the coast with torrential downpours and surging seas, rescue crews used boats to reach more than 360 people besieged by rising waters in New Bern, while many of their neighbours awaited help. More than 60 people had to be rescued in another town as a cinderblock motel collapsed at the height of the storm's fury.

Florence flattened trees, crumbled roads and the assault wasn't anywhere close to being over, with the siege in the Carolinas expected to last all weekend. The storm knocked out power to more than 890,000 homes and businesses, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the US electrical grid.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called Florence an "uninvited brute" that could wipe out entire communities as it grinds across the state.

"The fact is this storm is deadly and we know we are days away from an ending," Cooper said. Parts of North Carolina had seen storm surges - the bulge of seawater pushed ashore by the hurricane - as high as 3 metres, he said.

A mother and baby were killed when a tree fell on a house, according to a tweet from Wilmington police. Also, a 77-year-old man was apparently knocked down by the wind and died after going out to check on his hunting dogs, Lenoir County authorities said, and the governor's office said a man was electrocuted while trying to connect extension cords in the rain.

Shaken after seeing waves crashing on the Neuse River just outside his house in New Bern, restaurant owner and hurricane veteran Tom Ballance wished he had evacuated.

"I feel like the dumbest human being who ever walked the face of the earth," he said.

After reaching a terrifying Category 4 peak of 225 km/h earlier in the week, Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7.15am at Wrightsville Beach, a few kilometres east of Wilmington and not far from the South Carolina line. It came ashore along a mostly boarded-up, emptied-out stretch of coastline.

By Friday evening, Florence was downgraded to a tropical storm, its winds weakened to 112 km/h as it moved forward at 6km/h about 25 kilometres north of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

But it was clear that this was really about the water, not the wind. Several places already had more than 40 centimetres of rain, and Oriental, North Carolina got more than 50 centimetres in just a few hours.

Florence's forward movement during the day slowed to a near-standstill - sometimes it was going no faster than a human can walk - and that enabled it to pile on the rain.

The flooding soon spread into South Carolina. The National Hurricane Centre in Miami says the core of Florence was located at 11pm Friday about 20 kilometres west-northwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a resort area known for its white sands and multitude of golf courses.

Top sustained winds are now about 100 km/h and the storm is moving to the west-southwest at 7 km/h — a track that is expected to continue through early Saturday.

Forecasters say catastrophic freshwater flooding is expected over parts of North Carolina and South Carolina ahead.

As Florence moves further inland over the coming days, the storm is expected to gradually weaken. Forecasters say it could become a depression by Saturday night.

For people living inland in the Carolinas, however, the moment of maximum peril from flash flooding could arrive days later, because it takes time for rainwater to drain into rivers and for those streams to crest.

Preparing for the worst, about 9,700 National Guard troops and civilians were deployed with high-water vehicles, helicopters and boats.

Authorities warned, too, of the threat of mudslides and the risk of an environmental disaster from floodwaters washing over industrial waste sites and hog farms.

Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticised as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, where the death toll was put at nearly 3,000.

The National Hurricane Centre said Florence will eventually break up over the southern Appalachians and make a right hook to the northeast, its rainy remnants moving into the mid-Atlantic states and New England by the middle of next week.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com said Florence could dump a staggering 68 trillion litres of rain over a week on North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland. That's enough to fill the Chesapeake Bay or cover the entire state of Texas with nearly 10 centimetres of water, he calculated.

North Carolina alone is forecast to get 36 trillion litres, enough to cover the Tar Heel state to a depth of about 25 centimetres.

On Friday, coastal streets in the Carolinas flowed with frothy ocean water, and pieces of torn-apart buildings flew through the air. The few cars out on a main street in Wilmington had to swerve to avoid fallen trees, metal debris and power lines.

A wind gust at the Wilmington airport was clocked at nearly 170km/h, the highest since Hurricane Helene in 1958. Nationwide, airlines cancelled more than 2,400 flights through Sunday.

In Jacksonville, North Carolina, next to Camp Lejeune, firefighters and police fought wind and rain as they went door-to-door to pull dozens of people out of the Triangle Motor Inn after the structure began to crumble and the roof started to collapse.

In New Bern, population 29,000, flooding on the Neuse River left 500 people in peril.

"WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU," the city tweeted around 2am. "You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU."

Boat teams including volunteers rescued some 360 residents, including Sadie Marie Holt, 67, who first tried to row out of her neighbourhood during Florence's assault.

"The wind was so hard, the waters were so hard, that trying to get out we got thrown into trailers. We got thrown into mailboxes, houses, trees," said Holt, who had stayed at home because of a doctor's appointment that was later cancelled. She retreated and was eventually rescued by a boat crew; 140 more awaited assistance.

Ashley Warren and boyfriend Chris Smith managed to paddle away from their home in a boat with their two dogs, and the experience left her shaken.

"Honestly, I grew up in Wilmington. I love hurricanes. But this one has been an experience for me," she said. "We might leave."

The storm dropped 10 to 18 inches of rain along the North Carolina coast. Source: Associated Press


Mother and baby killed after tree falls on their house in Hurricane Florence

A mother and infant in North Carolina are dead after a tree fell on their home - the first two fatalities of Hurricane Florence.

The Wilmington Police Department said Friday (local time) that the two were killed when a tree fell on their house. The father was transported to a hospital for treatment.

Neighbour Adam Sparks says the family stocked up for the storm, just like he did. He says he heard the tree crashing down, but wasn't sure what had happened.

The storm lumbered ashore in North Carolina with howling 145 kph winds and terrifying storm surge this morning. Source: US ABC/ Associated Press

"It was very dark, and the wind being high like it is now, it was even higher then. So, all you could see was water and wind and it was very loud winds. So, you can't really figure out what's going on out there," he says.

"It's sad, something like that happening to a neighbour."

Forecasters have been predicting catastrophic flash flooding. The National Hurricane Center in Miami says more than 405mm of rain have fallen at locations in southeast North Carolina and another 508mm to 635mm is on the way.

Mother and baby die in Hurricane Florence after tree falls on their house. Source: 1 NEWS