Wildfire alert systems to be assessed in California as death toll grows to 23

Communities in wildfire-prone Northern California have an array of emergency systems designed to alert residents of danger: text messages, phone calls, emails and tweets.

But after days of raging blazes left at least 23 dead, authorities said those methods will be assessed after some residents complained those warnings never got through.

The fast-moving fires, strengthened by fierce winds and nearly absent humidity, began to burn through the state's fabled wine country Sunday (Monday NZT) night.

Counties used a variety of ways to send out warnings, but the alert systems rely on mobile phones, landlines or the internet to rouse residents.

"People were in bed, asleep at midnight, and these fires came down on these communities with no warning within minutes," said state fire agency Chief Ken Pimlott.

"There was little time to notify anybody by any means," he added.

Sonoma County used various systems in an attempt to alert residents of the approaching flames but also decided against using what's known as a Wireless Emergency Alert, a widespread message sent to cell phones in the region, sometimes compared to an Amber Alert issued for missing children.

Because of its broad reach, officials concluded the message could panic people not in danger, triggering unnecessary evacuations that would snarl traffic and delay emergency vehicles, said county spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque.

"They would have reached many people not affected by the fire," she said. "It would have delayed our response."

In emergencies where a few minutes or even seconds can save lives, the notification systems have inherent blind spots. Not everyone will get the message.

Sonoma County uses a service that sends out text messages or emails when an evacuation is ordered, but residents have to sign up to receive them.

The county also uses a mobile phone app that can receive messages, but again it requires a resident to opt-in to participate.

The county can also trigger automated emergency calls to landlines in an area threatened by fire, but that would only reach homes with those phones.

The Sonoma County Sheriff's Department said the county's emergency alert service texted thousands of warnings to residents to flee Sunday night (Monday NZT).

However, nearly 80 cellphone towers were knocked out or badly damaged, officials said.

Some evacuees escaped only when they realized the fire was nearly at their doors.

The death toll from devastating wildfires in California has risen to at least 23. Source: 1 NEWS


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'We haven't given up hope' - orca whale declared dead but US feds refuse to stop search

Efforts to find a sick young orca from a critically endangered population of killer whales in the Pacific Northwest came up empty, and a scientist who tracks the animals declared her dead — though federal authorities said they'd keep looking.

The grim news means scientists believe just 74 whales remain in a group that has failed to reproduce successfully in the past three years. The orcas have struggled with pollution, boat noise and, most severely, a dearth of their preferred prey, chinook salmon, because of dams, habitat loss and overfishing.

"We're watching a population marching toward extinction," said Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research. "Unless we do something about salmon recovery, we're just not going to have these whales in the future."

The whales are in such bad shape that experts prepared last-ditch efforts to save the emaciated nearly 4-year-old known as J50. A sharpshooting veterinarian fired an antibiotic-filled dart into her, crews dropped live salmon in front of her to try to get her to eat, and scientists even mulled capturing her so they could diagnose and treat her.

J50 has not been seen since last Friday. As teams scrambled to find her today, she failed to appear with her pod once again, despite favorable sighting conditions. Balcomb, who tracks the whales for the US government, declared her dead late this afternoon.

Michael Milstein, a spokesman for NOAA Fisheries, said the agency gives great weight to Balcomb's assessment of the whales, given his long experience monitoring them. But, he said the US and Canadian governments plan to continue searching Friday on the chance she's still alive.

"We want to make the most of it to make sure that if J50 is there, we haven't missed her," Milstein said. "We haven't given up hope."

Crews in a US Coast Guard helicopter, 10 vessels, whale watch crews and other resources on both sides of the border were involved in the search. Authorities also alerted a network of people who respond when marine mammals wash ashore.

Whale experts feared the orca was dead earlier this month when J50 lagged behind her family and went missing. But she later turned up and was seen with her family.

The distinctive black-and-white orcas, known as southern resident killer whales, have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the US and Canada well over a decade ago.

The orcas' numbers are now at their lowest in more than three decades.

Another whale in the same pod, known as J35, triggered international sympathy this summer when she kept the body of her dead calf afloat in waters for more than two weeks.

The message, the Center for Whale Research said in a website post, is that extinction is looming "while the humans convene task forces and conference calls that result in nothing, or worse than nothing, diverting attention and resources from solving the underlying ecological problems."

Scientist began to be concerned about J50 in July. Teams dropped live salmon from a boat as J50 and her pod swam behind — a test to see whether fish could be used as a means of delivering medication.

Drone images taken earlier this month showed J50 much thinner than she was last year. Her mother, J16, has also declined in condition in the past month.

Orca whale
Orca whale. Source: Getty


NSW woman who killed new boyfriend with carving knife on suspicion he killed her cat jailed for 12 years

A NSW woman who suspected her new boyfriend had killed her cat has been jailed for at least 12 years for fatally stabbing him in the back with a large carving knife.

Rachel Impson, 42, was found guilty in April of murdering Michael "Mick" Insley one night in October 2014 on an isolated and dark island in the Lake Illawarra region, after he turned up outside her tent, uninvited and without notice.

In jailing her in the NSW Supreme Court today, Justice Michael Walton found there had been "a degree of provocation" by Mr Insley towards Impson, who was in a "heightened emotional state", not only due to the death of her cat Angel but also because of her mental health disorders.

Knife.

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Super Typhoon Mangkhut retains ferocious strength, changes path toward more populated area of Philippines

Super Typhoon Mangkhut has retained its ferocious strength and slightly shifted toward more densely populated coastal provinces as it barrels closer to the northeastern Philippines, where a massive evacuation is underway.

More than 4 million people are at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center categorizes as a super typhoon with powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 5 Atlantic hurricane.

Forecaster Chris Perez says the typhoon was initially expected to hit the northern tip of Cagayan province but it's now likely to make landfall farther south. He says the shift won't cause much difference because of the typhoon's massive size.

After the Philippines, the Hong Kong Observatory predicts it will plow into the Chinese mainland with sustained winds of 175 kilometres per hour.

Filipino forecaster Meno Mendoza illustrates the path of Typhoon Mangkhut, locally named "Typhoon Ompong" as it approaches the Philippines with sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour (127 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 255 kph (158 mph), at the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration in metropolitan Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. Philippine officials say they plan to evacuate thousands of villagers, shut down schools and offices and scramble to harvest rice and corn as the most powerful typhoon so far this year menacingly roars toward the country's north. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)
Typhoon Mangkhut. Source: Associated Press


Actress and activist Cynthia Nixon defeated in race to be New York's first female governor

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has defeated Democratic primary challenger Cynthia Nixon to win his party's nomination for a third term in US.

Mr Cuomo had far greater financial resources going into the matchup, and polls suggested he held a commanding lead before today's primary.

The longtime political activist and former "Sex and the City" star thanked her supporters Thursday at a primary night party in Brooklyn. She says the "blue wave is real" and is coming for Republicans and "Democrats who act like them."

Ms Nixon says her campaign reflects an insurgent movement of liberals challenging establishment incumbents.

Seven Sharp sat down with Nixon, known to many as Miranda Hobbes. Source: Seven Sharp

She noted that while many people dismissed her challenge, Mr Cuomo took her seriously, as evidenced by the millions he spent on his campaign.

Mr Cuomo's campaign dismissed her as inexperienced and touted the governor's work to push back against President Donald Trump.

His victory comes despite several missteps, including a widely condemned mailer that questioned Nixon's support for Jewish people. Ms Nixon has two Jewish children and called the attack "sleazy."

Mr Cuomo will face Republican Marc Molinaro and independent Stephanie Miner in November's general election.

FILE - In this combination of file photos, New York gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, left, speaks during a Democratic primary debate in Hempstead, N.Y., on Aug. 29, 2018, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference in New York on July 18, 2018. Democratic primary voters in New York on Thursday, Sept. 13 will settle the primary battle between two-term Cuomo and liberal challenger Nixon. (J. Conrad Williams Jr./Newsday Pool, and Evan Agostini/Invision, File)
Governor Andrew Cuomo defeats activist and actress Cynthia Nixon. Source: Associated Press