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



Environmentalists outraged with shark killings after Queensland attacks

Baiting and killing sharks in the wake of two life-threatening attacks in the Whitsundays gives swimmers a false sense of security and will not prevent more bites, environmentalists say.

Sea Shepherd Australia and Humane Society International say human safety is paramount but that killing three tiger sharks in Cid Harbour in response to attacks on a Tasmanian woman and Melbourne girl woman is not the answer.

"Public support for these shark control methods is dropping off," HSI marine campaigner Lawrence Chlebeck told AAP today.

"We acknowledge the need for the use of technology and reducing these sorts of incidences ... but drumlines have been in the water since 1962, that's 60 years ago now.

"The technology is there and we've moved on."

The girl is Hannah Papps, who lives in Melbourne with her New Zealand parents. Source: 1 NEWS

Fisheries Queensland has dropped baited hooks into the waters where Justine Barwick, 46, and Hannah Papps, 12, were bitten 24 hours apart last week.

The state government insists killing the sharks is in the interest of public safety despite admitting it will never know if they caused the injuries.

But Mr Chlebeck and Sea Shepherd's Jonathan Clark say personal shark deterrent devices, aerial spotters, drone surveys, public education and alert systems play a bigger role in protecting ocean-goers.

They want the Queensland government to rethink its approach to preventing attacks.

"Stop the nonsense about speaking of 'effectiveness' only in terms of their ability to kill sharks," Mr Clark said.

"That bit is easy and it's lazy policy. Making beaches actually safer is much harder and unrelated to their ability to kill sharks."

Both victims in last week's attacks remain in hospitals in Brisbane.

Image taken in Isla Guadalupe in Mexico.
A file shot of a shark. Source: istock.com


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UK envoy urges EU to step back from the Brexit 'abyss'

Britain's foreign secretary today urged European Union leaders to "step back from the abyss" and seek a compromise over stalled Brexit negotiations.

Jeremy Hunt told the BBC that the EU should work with Britain to try to find a way to make British Prime Minister Theresa May's "sensible, concrete proposals actually work" in the divorce between Britain and the bloc.

He spoke a day after May used a rare televised address to complain the EU was acting in bad faith by rejecting her proposed Brexit plan without offering an alternative. She said talks were at an "impasse" over future trade relations and a possible border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU-member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

A gathering of EU leaders in Salzburg not only failed to make progress on the topic of Brexit but led to bitter recriminations from both sides. Since the failed summit, the usually reserved May has used unusually blunt language to complain that EU leaders are not taking her proposals seriously.

EU Council President Donald Tusk used a satirical Instagram post showing him giving May some sweets with the caption "Sorry, no cherries" - a reference to the EU's refusal to allow Britain to cherry-pick what aspects of EU membership it would like to keep after Brexit.

The British foreign secretary said this approach, and comments by French President Emmanuel Macron characterising the leaders of Britain's Brexit campaign as "liars," are counterproductive.

"Insulting her on social media, getting to these standoffs where you are calling people liars and so on is not the way we are going to get a solution to this difficult situation," Hunt said.

The increasingly bitter stalemate has raised the prospects that Britain will leave the EU in March without a deal. The value of the British pound dropped Saturday because of fears of the possible economic costs of a "no deal" Brexit scenario.

In the fallout from the snap UK Election two of Theresa May's closest advisors failed to sell her vision and lost their jobs in the process.
Source: 1 NEWS


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Australian doctor admits to helping suffering patient die

An Australian doctor has admitted to helping one of her suffering patients to die in an exclusive interview with Australia's 60 minutes.

West Australian based GP Alida Lancee is putting her reputation and freedom on the line by identifying one patient who requested her help in assisted dying.

This admission will most likely spark a police investigation and a possible murder charge.

"I’m not wimping out now. I’m going to take this all the way," Dr Lancee told 60 Minutes. "Deal with me as you see fit."

A long-time campaigner for euthanasia, Dr Lancee was investigated by police in 2016 over the death of one of her patients.

They found that her patient died of natural causes and there was no wrongdoing.

What police didn't realise is they were investigating the wrong patient.

Now, Dr Lancee wants to set the record straight in a bid to change Australia's euthanasia laws.

"Right now, behind closed doors in Australia, hundreds of people are begging for help," says Dr Lancee.

"This is no minor issue. This is not something that you can say, 'oh it's not happening because I can't see it'.

"If this requires a challenge in the court system, I have medical opinions who will back me up."

A police investigation has seen Dr Lancee face very public scrutiny being labelled "Dr Death", but 60 Minutes reveals, she is not without support.

Two other Australian doctors have come forward to 60 Minutes and have admitted to assisting terminally ill patients end their life.

Dr Frank Kotai says he has assisted in half a dozen deaths and Dr Rodney Syme admits to a staggering 300.

This admission could land them both in jail, but it is one they say is worth the risk if it results in their patients having control over the end of their lives.

"We recognise her courage and her enthusiasm," Dr Kotai says. "(Dr Lancee is) courageous enough to go out there in the public space.

"Not many doctors are willing to do it, and so she’s quite unique."

In June 2019 new laws will make Victoria the only state in Australia where it is legal for doctors to assist terminal patients who seek their help to end their lives.

Dr Lancee, Dr Kotai and Dr Syme are hopeful that by airing their stories, Australians will support them in their campaign to allowing for an end of life choice.

Mr Seymour, author of the End of Life Choice Bill, debated the pros and cons with Dr Peter Thirkell of the Care Alliance, which opposes euthanasia.
Source: 1 NEWS


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Woman accusing US Supreme Court nominee of a decades-old sexual assault to testify

The woman accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of a decades-old sexual assault has accepted a Senate committee's request to tell her side next week but Christine Blasey Ford wants to resume negotiations over the exact terms of her appearance, her lawyers said Saturday (local time).

It was not immediately clear whether the Republican-run Senate Judiciary Committee would agree to more talks with Ford's team.

Also unclear was when she might come to Capitol Hill and she was offering to speak in a public session or a private one.

The committee wanted her to appear Wednesday, but she prefers her earlier request for Thursday, according to a person familiar with the negotiations who was not authorised to discuss the matter publicly.

Her lawyers' letter to the committee's GOP majority was released just at the 2:30 p.m. deadline set by the chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley, to respond to the panel's latest offer.

Grassley, R-Iowa, had set a possible Monday vote to decide whether to recommend Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate.

As Republicans were considering their next move in private talks Saturday, they also made it clear they viewed Ford's offer as a way to delay voting on President Donald Trump's pick for the court.

A senior official at the White House said the letter amounted to "an ask to continue 'negotiations' without committing to anything.

It's a clever way to push off the vote Monday without committing to appear Wednesday."The official was not authorised to publicly discuss the Senate negotiations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The White House views Ford's potential testimony with trepidation, nervous that an emotional performance might not just damage Kavanaugh's chances but could further energize female voters to turn out against Republicans in November against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement.

Moreover, the West Wing aides who had urged Trump to remain muted in his response to the accusations worried about how the president might react if she ended up partaking in an hourslong, televised hearing.

In a single tweet Friday, Trump broke his silence to cast doubt on Ford's story in ways Republicans had been carefully trying to avoid.

Trump mused to confidants that the "fake" attacks against his nominee were meant to undermine his presidency, according to a White House official and a Republican close to the White House.

Both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss private conversations.

Other Republicans scoffed at Ford's willingness to accept the committee's request to tell her story.

"When?" tweeted the No. 2 GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the committee.

The lawyers for Ford wrote that she "accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week."

Attorneys Debra Katz and Lisa Banks said many aspects of Grassley's latest offer were "fundamentally inconsistent" with the committee's promise of a "fair, impartial investigation."

They said they remained disappointed by the "bullying" that "tainted the process." Yet they remained "hopeful that we can reach agreement on details."

It was unclear whether Grassley would permit more negotiations Saturday, with patience among Republicans is running thin.

The GOP is facing enormous pressure from its base of conservative leaders and voters to swiftly approve Kavanaugh, who would become the second of President Donald Trump's nominees to sit on the nation's highest court, before the Nov. 6 election.

A spokesman for GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a committee member, tweeted that Ford "agreed to nothing. She rejected the committee's offer to testify Wednesday."

Earlier Saturday amid the latest deadline standoff Vice President Mike Pence called Kavanaugh "a man of integrity with impeccable credentials." He expressed confidence that Republicans "will manage this confirmation properly with the utmost respect for all concerned" and said he expected Kavanaugh to join the high court soon.

Grassley had set a Friday night deadline for the 51-year-old California psychology professor to agree to the committee's latest offer setting terms for her appearance.

Grassley said that if she missed that deadline, he would scrap the hearing and his committee would vote on sending Kavanaugh's nomination to the full Senate.

Ford's lawyers asked for another day. In a tweet aimed at Kavanaugh shortly before midnight, Grassley said he was giving them additional time.

"She should decide so we can move on. I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It's not my normal approach to b indecisive," Grassley wrote.

Ford's accusations and the standoff over the terms of her appearance have left the appeals court judge's confirmation in jeopardy.  And just seven weeks from an election in which Democrats are hoping to capture control of the House and maybe the Senate, her emergence also has drawn intensified attention to the #MeToo movement's focus on sexual abuse.

Ford says an inebriated Kavanaugh pinned her on a bed, muffled her cries and tried removing her clothes when both were teenagers in the 1980s.

Kavanaugh has denied doing this and said he wants to appear before the committee as soon as possible to clear his name.

In backing away from his deadline, Grassley underscored the sensitivity with which Senate Republicans have tried handling Ford.

Moderate female voters will be pivotal in many races in the elections and the #MeToo movement has elevated the political potency of how women alleging abuse are treated.

In requesting another day to decide, Katz called Grassley's original deadline "arbitrary" and said its "sole purpose is to bully Dr. Ford and deprive her of the ability to make a considered decision that has life-altering implications for her and her family."

Earlier Friday, Grassley rejected concessions Ford wanted if she is tell her story publicly before the committee.

Grassley turned down Ford's request that only senators, not attorneys, be allowed to ask questions.

The committee's 11 Republicans - all men - have been seeking an outside female attorney to interrogate Ford, mindful of the election-season impression that could be left by men trying to pick apart a woman's assertion of a sexual attack.

He also rejected her proposal that she testify after Kavanaugh, a position lawyers consider advantageous because it gives them a chance to rebut accusations.

Grassley's stance reflected a desire by Trump and GOP leaders to usher the 53-year-old Kavanaugh onto the high court by the Oct. 1 start of its new session and before the November elections, when Democrats are mounting a robust drive to grab congressional control.

Friday was the latest in a string of tumultuous days for Kavanaugh, whose ascension to the Supreme Court seemed a sure bet until Ford emerged last weekend and provided details of the alleged assault.

Earlier, Trump ended a week of constraint and sarcastically assailed Ford, tweeting that if the episode was "as bad as she says," she or "her loving parents" surely would have reported it to law enforcement.

Trump's searing reproach defied the Senate Republican strategy, and the advice of White House aides, of not disparaging Ford while firmly defending his nominee and the tight timetable for confirming him.

The president's tweet brought blistering rejoinders from Democrats and a mix of silence and sighs of regret from his own party.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, who hasn't declared support for Kavanaugh, called the remark "appalling."

Grassley rebuffed other Ford requests, including calling additional witnesses.

Ford wants an appearance by Mark Judge, a Kavanaugh friend who Ford asserts was at the high school party and in the room where the incident occurred.

Grassley consented to other Ford demands, including that she be provided security and that Kavanaugh not be in the hearing room when she testifies.

Ford's request for security comes after her lawyers said she has relocated her family due to death threats.

President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is sworn-in before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, September 4, 2018, to begin his testimony in his confirmation hearing to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Source: Associated Press


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