Monster storm prompts evacuation orders in three US states

With mandatory evacuations already issued for parts of three East Coast states, millions of Americans are preparing for what could become one of the most catastrophic hurricanes to hit the Eastern Seaboard in decades.

Carrying winds of up to 220 km/h as a Category 4 storm, Hurricane Florence is expected to strengthen and become a Category 5 storm on Tuesday (Weds NZT). 

It's then forecast to close in on North or South Carolina on Thursday local time, hitting a stretch of coastline that's vulnerable to rising sea levels due to climate change.

"Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!" President Donald Trump tweeted Monday evening.

South Carolina's governor ordered the state's entire coastline to be evacuated starting at noon Tuesday and predicted that one million people would flee. And Virginia's governor ordered a mandatory evacuation for some residents of low-lying coastal areas, while some coastal counties in North Carolina have done the same.

The storm's first effects were already apparent on barrier islands as dangerous rip currents hit beaches and seawater flowed over a state highway.

For many people, the challenge could be finding a safe refuge: If Florence slows to a crawl just off the coast, it could bring torrential rains to the Appalachian mountains and as far away as West Virginia, causing flash floods, mudslides and other dangerous conditions.

The storm's potential path also includes half a dozen nuclear power plants, pits holding coal-ash and other industrial waste, and numerous hog farms that store animal waste in massive open-air lagoons.

Airlines, including American and Southwest, have started letting passengers change travel plans that take them into the hurricane's possible path.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned that Florence was forecast to linger over the Carolinas once it reaches shore. People living well inland should prepare to lose power and endure flooding and other hazards, he warned.

"It's not just the coast," Mr Graham said. "When you stall a system like this and it moves real slow, some of that rainfall can extend well away from the center."

A warm ocean is the fuel that powers hurricanes, and Florence will be moving over waters where temperatures are peaking near 30 degrees Celsius, hurricane specialist Eric Blake wrote. And with little wind shear to pull the storm apart, Florence's hurricane wind field was expected to expand over the coming days, increasing its storm surge and inland wind threats.

By 11pm Monday (Tues afternoon NZT), Florence was centered about 1,745 kilometres east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, and moving west at 20 km/h. Its centre will move between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and approach the coast of South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Two other storms were spinning in the Atlantic. Hurricane Isaac was expected to lose strength as it reaches the Caribbean, and Helene, much farther out to sea, may veer northward into the open ocean as the 2018 hurricane season reaches its peak.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Olivia triggered warnings for multiple Hawaiian islands as it blew west toward an arrival over the state as soon as late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

Preparations for Florence were intensifying up and down the densely populated coast. Since reliable record-keeping began more than 150 years ago, North Carolina has been hit by only one Category 4 hurricane: Hazel, with 130 mph winds, in 1954.

Several meteorologists said Florence could do what Hurricane Harvey did last year over Texas, dumping days of rain, although not quite as bad.

Hurricane Florence is bearing down on America’s south-east, with more than a million people already ordered to flee. Source: 1 NEWS



Young boy arrested after admitting he put needles in Australian strawberries

A young boy has been arrested in Australia after police say he admitted to putting needles in strawberries.

NSW Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith said detectives had arrested one young boy over an incident that "could be a prank", 7 NEWS reports.

"Obviously in the last few days we found a young person has admitted to a prank, including putting needles in strawberries, and he’ll be dealt with under the youth cautioning system," the acting assistant commissioner said.

Earlier today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the "idiot" who first sabotaged Queensland strawberries, setting off a distressing series of events, had risked the livelihoods of farmers and put fear in the hearts of parents across the country.

"This is a shocking and cowardly thing for this individual and others who have jumped onto the bandwagon here to have engaged in," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra today.

Anyone found guilty of contaminating food could soon face a maximum of 15 years in prison, up from 10 years.

The threshold for the harsh penalties will also be lowered from an intention to cause anxiety or harm, to simply engaging in a reckless act.

The new criminal penalties are on par with child pornography and terror financing offences.

Additionally, anyone who piggy-backs off such a crisis by engaging in a reckless hoax would also face 10 years behind bars.

The offence would extend to people who provide false reports or make jokes in poor taste on Facebook.

"It's not a joke, it's not funny, you are putting the livelihoods of hard-working Australians at risk and you are scaring children, you're a coward and you're a grub." Mr Morrison said.

"If you do that sort of thing in this country, we will come after you and we will throw the book at you."

Mr Morrison wants the laws to pass Parliament by the time it rises on Thursday evening.

"I don't care if you've got a gripe with a company, I don't care whether you've got a gripe with your fellow worker, this is a very serious thing," he said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the sanctions would not be applied retrospectively to those responsible for the existing strawberry saga.

"But the reason we are doing this so quickly is ... this sends a massive deterrence message to anyone out there who would further cripple this industry."

NSW authorities are investigating more than 20 incidents of needles found in strawberries. Source: Breakfast

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Captain Cook's Endeavour may have been found in US

US and Australian archaeologists hunting for Captain Cook's HMS Endeavour may have finally discovered its location on the east coast of America.

The search in Newport Harbour, Rhode Island, has pinpointed one or two potential archaeological sites.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project and the Australian National Maritime Museum teamed up to search for the HMS Endeavour and will announce their results at an event in Rhode Island on Friday.

die HMS Endeavour des Captain Cook beim Maritime Museum in der Cockle Bay in Darling Harbour und der Sydney Tower und Skyline im Hintergrund
A replica of the Endeavour in Sydney, Australia. Source: istock.com

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California jury finds career criminal guilty of raping, murdering two teens four decades ago

A Northern California jury today found guilty a career criminal thought to be the "Gypsy Hill Killer" of raping and murdering two teenage girls more than 42 years ago.

The San Mateo County jury deliberated for a little more than an hour before finding Rodney Halbower guilty.

Authorities believe the 69-year-old is responsible for other rapes and murders of young women in Northern California and Reno, Nevada, over a five-month span in 1976. In 2004, advances in DNA technology connected Halbower to the murders. He was in an Oregon prison at the time.

Halbower is scheduled to be sentenced on October 10 in Redwood City, about 40 kilometres south of San Francisco. The judge is required to sentence Halbower under the sentencing laws of 1976, the year the crimes occurred.

District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said the stiffest sentence available then was life with the possibility of parole. Mr Wagstaffe said the judge can impose consecutive sentences, meaning if Halbower was given parole for one murder, he would start serving the life sentence for the second.

"Our expectation is that this monster of a killer will never, ever, be allowed to be free on our streets again," Mr Wagstaffe said.

The six murders remained a mystery for four decades until a cold-case detective re-opened the investigation. He scraped DNA samples from cigarette butts found at the scene and in 2014 they were discovered to match Halbower's genetic makeup. DNA taken from the victims also matched Halbower's DNA, prosecutors told jurors.

It took four years to start Halbower's after he was charged with two of the murders. He routinely fired his attorneys and demanded to represent himself. A judge also ordered a trial to determine if he was sane enough to stand trial. A jury in 2017 found him sane.

The start of the murder trial almost ended as soon as it started on September 7 with Halbower disrupting the proceedings.

"I am not guilty!" he yelled at the jury. "I have never raped or murdered in my life!"

The judge declined public defender John Halley's calls for a mistrial and Halbower ceased his outbursts.

"He doesn't get to set up his own mistrial," Judge Mark Forcum said.

He stopped the outbursts after that and Wagstaffe said Halbower calmly congratulated prosecutor Sean Gallagher after the verdicts were read.

Prosecutors said they charged him with the two murders with the strongest evidence and expected he would be locked up for life if convicted.

Mr Gallagher told the jury about the two teen girls who were abducted, raped and killed in a once-tranquil suburb, and that DNA from semen found in both women and preserved for decades matched Halbower's DNA. One of the victims was stabbed to death and the other was beaten in the head with concrete and stabbed in her heart.

Authorities in the 1970s said the killings were linked and dubbed the attacker the Gypsy Hill Killer for the location where one of the first victims was found. Halbower is also suspected of raping and killing a nursing student in Reno during the same period as the five California killings.

It's possible that Halbower would never have been linked to the attacks had he not escaped from a Nevada prison in December 1986. He made his way to Oregon, where he was arrested on suspicion of rape and attempted murder within days of his escape.

An Oregon jury convicted Halbower and sentenced him to 15 years in prison in that state. First, he was returned to Nevada to finish that state's prison term.

When Nevada paroled him in 2013, he was sent back to Oregon, where prison officials took a DNA sample and submitted it to the national database investigators use to revive stalled investigations. Authorities say the results linked him to the Gypsy Hill case.

Court records show Halbower has spent the past 53 years in prison or on the lam.

This undated file photo provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office shows Rodney Halbower. Source: Associated Press


Pasifika leaders call for action after Florida bar trademarks Fijian bula greeting

Pasifika leaders in New Zealand are calling for people to post one-star reviews for a Florida bar that has trademarked the word 'bula'.

The commonly-used Fijian greeting was trademarked this month by United States businessman, Ross Kashtan.

This sparked outrage online.

Ross Kashtan owned three "bula" businesses spread across Florida - Bula Kafe, Bula on the Beach and Bula Coco Beach.

He probably did not expect a huge backlash when he went to trademark the word "bula".

But he got one.

Among those to express their fury online was Josiah Tualamali'i, who is one of the members of the Mental Health and Addictions Inquiry panel and the chairperson of New Zealand Pasifika youth charity PYLAT.

Mr Tualamali'i wanted people to leave one-star reviews on the Facebook page of one of Mr Kashtan's bars.

"I just thought 'well they have 4.9 as their overall rating so let's pull that back a bit'," said Mr Tualamali'i.

"We know they are listening because they removed my comment and some others, so this has got to them and that was the point."

Dozens of angry people have left such reviews.

The word Bula itself is a commonly-used traditional Fijian greeting.

Trademarking it meant Mr Kashtan could attempt to prevent other businesses like his using the word.

"They are trying to steal something that doesn't belong to them," said Mr Tualamali'i. "It really has to end."

Mr Kashtan's bula logo appeared on many of his business' products and advertising, from signage and bottle branding, to "bula babe shorts".

Checkpoint repeatedly tried to get in touch with Mr Kashtan, but only got as far as one of his workers who was well aware of the unfolding drama.

"It's not to inhibit anyone to use it, we just don't want anyone calling their businesses that because we have a ten-year-old business called 'bula'," the worker said.

"It's not too hurt anybody...we are really good people I promise."

He said he would pass along Checkpoint's contact details to Mr Kashtan, but we have not heard back.

It's not the first time United States businesses have been accused of cultural appropriation.

Illinois restaurant chain Aloha Poke Company copped criticism just last month for sending cease and desist letters to other restaurants using the word 'aloha'.

The US Patent and Trademark office lists 43 companies which have trademarked the word 'bula".

The New Zealand government was unimpressed with this recent trademark.

The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio, said more needed to be done to stop this kind of thing happening.

"This is a disturbing revelation and will be distressful not only to Fijians in New Zealand but to all Fijians throughout the world," he said.

"It is unbelievable that a company from another country can trademark what belongs to another group of people."

- by Logan Church

rnz.co.nz

Bula Kafe. Source: Facebook