S. Korea braces for another possible N. Korea missile test

South Korea is closely watching North Korea over the possibility it may launch another intercontinental ballistic missile as soon as Saturday when it celebrates its founding anniversary.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry spokeswoman Eugene Lee said Friday that Pyongyang could potentially conduct its next ICBM tests this weekend or around Oct. 10, another North Korean holiday marking the founding of its ruling party.

North Korea has previously marked key dates with displays of military power, but now its tests appear to be driven by the need to improve missile capabilities.

The North is just coming off its sixth and the most powerful nuclear test to date on Sunday in what it claimed was a detonation of a thermonuclear weapon built for its ICBMs. The country tested its developmental Hwasong-14 ICBMs twice in July and analysts say the flight data from the launches indicate the missiles could cover a broad swath of the continental United States, including major cities such as Los Angeles and Chicago, when perfected.

North Korea fired the ICBMs at highly lofted angles in July to reduce ranges and avoid other countries. But South Korean officials say the next launches could be conducted at angles close to operational as the North would seek to test whether the warheads survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric re-entry and detonate properly.

In Washington, President Donald Trump reiterated Thursday that military action is “certainly” an option against North Korea, as his administration tentatively concurred with the pariah nation’s claim to have tested a hydrogen bomb. A senior administration official said the U.S. was still assessing last weekend’s underground explosion but so far noted nothing inconsistent with Pyongyang’s claim.

“Military action would certainly be an option,” Trump told a White House news conference. “I would prefer not going the route of the military, but it’s something certainly that could happen.”

Pressed on whether he could accept a scenario in which the isolated nation had nukes but was “contained and deterred,” Trump demurred. “I don’t put my negotiations on the table, unlike past administrations. I don’t talk about them. But I can tell you North Korea is behaving badly and it’s got to stop,” he said.

North Korea broke from its pattern of lofted launches last month when it fired a powerful new intermediate range missile, the Hwasong-12, over northern Japan. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un then called the launch a “meaningful prelude” to containing the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam and called for his military to conduct more ballistic missile launches targeting the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, Sweden urged its citizens Friday to refrain from unnecessary trips to North Korea.

The announcement by the Swedish Foreign Affairs Ministry came hours after Mexico’s government said it declared North Korean Ambassador Kim Hyong Gil as persona non grata and ordered him to leave the country within 72 hours in response to Sunday’s nuke test.

The United States has already banned Americans from traveling to North Korea following the death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old college student from Ohio who was released from North Korea in June in a coma after being detained there for more than a year.

Sweden has had diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973. The Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang also provides consular services for the United States, Australia and Canada.

Also Friday, French President Emmanuel Macron and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed North Korea by phone. Macron called for more pressure on North Korea to bring the country back to the negotiating table, and China’s official Xinhua News Agency described Xi as being “adamant” about the denuclearization of the peninsula while also expressing hope that France would play “a constructive role in easing the situation and restarting dialogue.”

South Korean experts say that the launch was Pyongyang’s attempt to make missiles flying over Japan an accepted norm as it seeks to test new projectiles in conditions close to operational and win more military space in a region dominated by enemies.

Kim, a third-generation dictator in his 30s, has conducted four of North Korea’s six nuclear tests since taking power in 2011. His military has maintained a torrid pace in testing weapons, which also include solid-fuel missiles built to be fired from road mobile launchers or submarines.

In accelerating his pursuit of nuclear weapons targeting the United States and allies South Korea and Japan, Kim is seen as seeking a real nuclear deterrent to help ensure the survival of his government and also the stronger bargaining power that would come from it.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have been pushing for stronger sanctions to punish Pyongyang over its nuclear activities, such as denying the country oil supplies. China and Russia have been calling for talks, saying sanctions aren’t working against North Korea.

Posted in ABC

Four jailed for raping girl, 16, in Ramsgate

Three men and a boy raped a girl who had asked them for directions when she got lost on a night out with friends.

The girl, 16, who cannot be named, was trying to get to a friend’s house in Ramsgate, Kent, when she was attacked and then dumped on the street.

They fulfilled their “depraved sexual desires” on the 16-year-old girl, Canterbury Crown Court heard.

Three of the men were each jailed for 14 years each and a 17-year-old boy was jailed for seven years.

The girl was found crying in the street by two people returning from a night out.

Rafiullah Hamidy, 24, of High Street, Herne Bay, Shershah Muslimyar, 21, of Hovenden Close, Canterbury, Tamin Rahmani, 38, of Northwood Road, Ramsgate, and the 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, all denied rape but were found guilty by a jury in May.

‘Prolonged and degrading

Sentencing, Judge Heather Norton said the girl had been trying to make her way on foot back to a friend’s house having missed the last train home, and was “young, drunk, disorientated and vulnerable”.

She said the girl thought the four were going to help her, but instead they “took her up to a bedroom, pushed her on to a mattress and repeatedly raped her” over a sustained period.

Judge Norton said the girl had been clear that while she was being raped, others were in the room watching.

Describing it as a prolonged attack in degrading circumstances, she told the defendants: “This was an appalling and repeated gang rape of a vulnerable girl who had sought your assistance.”

They attacked the girl at Rahmani’s home in the early hours of 18 September 2016.

He owns 555 Pizza and Kebab in Northwood Road, Ramsgate, and is in the UK under a spousal visa.

Hamidy fled to Taranto in southern Italy after the attack where he was detained by local officers.

He was returned to the UK following an extradition hearing and taken into custody at Heathrow Airport on 28 March.

After the hearing, Det Insp Richard Vickery said the men “saw an opportunity to fulfil their depraved sexual desires and betrayed the trust she placed in them in the worst possible way”.

Posted in BBC

Why RSS Still Beats Facebook and Twitter for Tracking News

You’d be forgiven for thinking RSS died off with the passing of Google Reader, but our old friend Really Simple Syndication (or Rich Site Summary) still has a role to play on the web of 2017. It’s faster, more efficient, and you won’t have to worry as much about accidentally leaking your news reading habit to all your Facebook friends. Whether you’ve never heard of it before or you’ve abandoned it for pastures new, here’s why you should be using RSS for your news instead of social media.

What is RSS?

For the completely uninitiated, RSS is just a standardized way of presenting text and images in a feed that can be used by a variety of apps and web services. It is just like how Twitter has a standard way of presenting text and images that all the various Twitter clients understand. Sites follow the rules for publishing their articles via RSS, and RSS readers follow the rules for presenting the information and laying it out.

RSS requires some effort from publishers to cobble together an active RSS feed for their site, but the smartest RSS readers out there can often piece together a feed from new articles on a site even if there isn’t a dedicated RSS channel. Reader apps, like Feedly or Reeder, present new articles in a summarized, chronological list, usually in shortened versions that can then be expanded on the main source site.

Everything all of the time

One of the main reasons RSS is so beloved of news gatherers is that it catches everything a site publishes—not just the articles that have proved popular with other users, not just the articles from today, not just the articles that happened to be tweeted out while you were actually staring at Twitter. Everything.

In our age of information overload that might seem like a bad idea, but RSS also cuts out everything you don’t want to hear about. You’re in full control of what’s in your feed and what isn’t, so you don’t get friends and colleagues throwing links into your feeds that you’ve got no interest in reading.

Perhaps most importantly, you don’t need to be constantly online and constantly refreshing your feeds to make sure you don’t miss anything. It’s like putting a recording schedule in place for the shows you know you definitely want to catch rather than flicking through the channels hoping you land on something interesting.

There’s no rush with RSS—you don’t miss out on a day’s worth of news, or TV recaps, or game reviews if you’re offline for 24 hours. It’s all waiting for you when you get back. And if you’re on holiday and the unread article count starts to get scarily high, just hit the mark all as read button and you’re back to a clean slate.

The news, unfiltered

It’s certainly still possible to create a little news bubble for yourself with your choice of RSS feeds, but assuming you are enlightened enough to pick a few divergent sources, those articles come through without any kind of extra commentary or spin.

You don’t have to read what your uncle thinks about the latest action taken by the President, or go down a rabbit hole of nested Facebook comments to get to the actual news at the bottom of it. Sure, your chosen news sources might be opinionated, but at least you’re cutting out some of the white noise on top.

As we’ve already alluded to, when you follow the news via social media, you’re relying on other people bringing you the news, unless you’re following individual news stories. RSS is like getting your newspaper of choice delivered to the front door rather than relying on heading down to the local bar to listen in on what everyone’s shouting about.

With only one page to visit rather than dozens to catch up on, you can spend less time aimlessly drifting around and more time catching up on the posts that matter.

It’s not just for news

News is the primary driver behind RSS and most of your feeds are going to be populated with dozens of new articles a day, but the technology also proves its worth for keeping track of other stuff you’d typically miss on social media. Maybe that might be new wallpapers on your favorite art site, or an obscure blog you don’t want to miss a post from.

You can find RSS feeds for weather updates, new versions of apps, keyword alerts on search engines, new videos on your favorite YouTube channels, and even recent changes to the Netflix catalog. Basically anything you might want to keep track of and not miss because of the cacophony of voices on social media, RSS can help out with.

The always-useful IFTTT (If This Then That) is fluent in RSS, giving you even more ways to make use of RSS. You can build applets to generate tweets or Facebook posts or Instagram updates from a particular feed. Zapier is another service that can take RSS feeds from anywhere in the web and plug them into other apps and platforms.

Take a tour around the web and you’re going to find RSS in more places than you expected, whether that’s subreddits or users on Reddit, categories on Craigslist, or podcasts on SoundCloud, and your RSS reader of choice will be able to handle it all.

Finding an RSS reader

Speaking of RSS readers, we can’t give you a full rundown of all the different apps out there, but we can recommend a handful. Digg Reader sticks to the basics but does them well, letting you bookmark articles for later reading and surfacing popular content from the rest of the Digg network (if you’re interested in seeing it).

Feedly is a more comprehensive option, especially if you opt for the paid-for Pro version, with mobile apps and topic boards, and an appealing-looking layout that you can customize in various ways depending on how quickly you want to power through your feeds. Feedly also boasts plenty of third-party integrations, including IFTTT.

Meanwhile Panda is a clean and relatively young news aggregator, that works on the web and comes with a host of different layout options to choose between. It’s not quite as powerful as some of the other options out there, but Panda is promising plenty of plug-ins and new features on the way in the not-too-distant future.

Since Google Reader’s demise, the RSS reader scene has been quite a chaotic one, so before you invest in a client app to call your own, make sure you can export your feeds at a later date if you want to be able to take them elsewhere.

Hurricane Irma: Caribbean counts the cost of deadly storm

As deadly Hurricane Irma barrelled through the Caribbean this week, those places already hit are braced for a prolonged recovery.

It has caused more than $10bn (£7.6bn) in damage across the Caribbean so far, disaster risk experts said on Friday.

That would make it the costliest storm ever to hit the region, the Centre for Disaster Management and Risk Reduction Technology said.

Airports are closed or inoperable and cruise lines have cancelled voyages.

Some parts of the region, such as St Kitts and Puerto Rico, faced extreme weather, but appear to have avoided the worst of the storm.

But other places have been shaken “to their core”, the secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Hugh Riley, told the BBC.

Mr Riley said people were currently focused on protecting lives.

“That’s first and foremost … but yes, clearly it has not escaped our attention that the economic wellbeing of the Caribbean is taking a hit,” he said.

  • How do you count the costs of a storm?

Irma is the second major storm to strike this season.

Financial analysts have estimated losses from Storm Harvey, which hit Texas and the Gulf of Mexico, at $90bn (£68bn), including damages and lost output. Texas officials say it could cost double that to rebuild.

Irma has caused an estimated $150m in damage on Barbuda, the island’s prime minister has estimated.

Damages on French islands are expected to exceed 200m euros (£180m), insurer Caisse Centrale de Reassurance said.

Irma has affected an estimated 1.2m people in the Caribbean before heading on to Florida in the US.

The $10bn estimate for the Caribbean does not include damage in the Dominican Republic or Cuba, which were later in the storm’s path.

Although many places are still assessing the damage from Irma, it is already clear that the combination of storms means 2017 is shaping up to be one of the costliest years ever for the insurance industry, Paul Schultz, chief executive of Aon Securities, told the BBC.

“Both from an economic perspective and from an insured perspective losses are going to be truly catastrophic,” he said.

Much of the damage sustained in Harvey was not covered by insurance.

Price warning

Harvey’s path through the Gulf of Mexico and Texas disrupted oil production and refining plants and contributed to a spike in gas prices.

Those problems deepened in Florida this week, as families stocked up on petrol in advance of Irma. Price search site, GasBuddy, estimated that more than 40% of stations in some areas were without fuel as officials ordered evacuations.

Authorities in Florida said they had received thousands of reports of price gouging – whereby sellers raise prices beyond what is considered fair – on items such as petrol and water.

Several airlines pledged to cap prices on flights for evacuations, after an outcry over fare increases.

Those companies were already grappling with millions in losses stemming from cancelled flights related to Harvey.

Analysts said the airlines could face prolonged challenges, depending on the scale of the damage wrought by Irma in the tourist destinations of the Caribbean and Florida.

“Curtailed travel to the south and to the Caribbean is likely material,” analysts for The Buckingham Research Group wrote in a note.

An analysis of tourist traffic in the Caribbean found that it fell by 2% after a typical hurricane and by as much as 20% for major events.

At least two hotels on St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands have already said they will be closed for months. And another hurricane is on its way.

The US, UK, France and the Netherlands are among those providing help to places affected by the storm, but a long-term decline in travel would be a blow to a major driver of the Caribbean economy.

Tourism directly and indirectly contributed about 15% of Caribbean GDP last year, according to the World Trade Organization.

“There isn’t any question that we as Caribbean people know how to get up and stand on our feet,” said Mr Riley. “The question is how long it will take.”

Posted in BBC

Pope Francis addresses violence against women on Colombia visit

Pope Francis has condemned “verbal and physical violence towards women” and called for “respect” while addressing large crowds on a visit to Colombia.

The Argentine pontiff, the first Pope to visit the country in over three decades, said that the Bible celebrates women who are strong and influential.

“How many women, in silence, have persevered alone?” he asked those gathered in the city of Villavicencio.

The Pope is on a five-day trip to show support for the Colombia peace process.

He was repeatedly interrupted by applause as he told listeners at a huge open-air mass on Friday that many communities “are still weighed down with patriarchal and chauvinistic customs”.

The Pope has received a warm welcome in Colombia, a majority Roman Catholic country.

As the country prepares to reintegrate former members of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) back into society, the pontiff is urging reconciliation and forgiveness following decades of bloody civil war.

The crowd in Villavicencio on Friday included thousands of victims of the fighting.

During the homily, the pontiff beatified two priests killed during the conflict and warned those present that the peace process needed reconciliation in order to work.

The 2016 peace deal was narrowly rejected at first in a referendum. The government and the Farc then agreed a deal several weeks later, which was submitted to Congress rather than a second popular vote.

Since then, there have already been cases of murders of former Farc fighters.

Many hope that the Pope can help bring the country together again.

On Wednesday, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the BBC that the Pope’s visit will help Colombians to finally make peace.

The Farc agreed to disarm and in June officially ceased to be an armed group.

The last papal visit to Colombia was in 1986.

Posted in BBC

North Korea crisis: What will Russia do?

“It smells of freshness, and of our deep respect for our leader,” the woman declared, smiling to the Russian TV camera.

A North Korean, she’d just sniffed a big red flower named after the country’s former leader Kim Jong-il.

Part of a series of glowing reports on everyday life in the secretive state, covering topics from fashion to food, the moment was broadcast to millions of Russians watching state television over their breakfast.

The coverage suggested Russia was taking a rather different approach over North Korea’s nuclear programme and its missile tests, two weeks after Donald Trump tweeted that the US military was “locked and loaded”, primed to respond with what he called “military solutions”.

  • North Korea crisis in 300 words
  • How should Trump handle North Korea?
  • How do you defend against North Korea?

Vladimir Putin has underlined those differences many times this week, warning against whipping up “military hysteria”, and insisting that North Koreans would rather “eat grass” under more sanctions, than give up their weapons programme.

And while he has criticised recent missile tests as “provocative”, he’s also taken pains to explain them.

North Koreans remember the 2003 US invasion of Iraq over Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons programme, Mr Putin reasoned.

So the country sees becoming a nuclear state as its only sure-fire guarantee of self-defence.

‘Paranoid’

“Russia believes that Pyongyang’s aim is not to bomb anyone, that its [nuclear programme] is a deterrent against South Korea and the US,” explains Alexander Gabuev of the Moscow Carnegie Centre.

“Russia understands that because it is just as paranoid about American ‘democracy promotion’ as North Korea is,” he adds.

Personal experience is perhaps also partly why Russia – under US sanctions itself – opposes imposing further penalties on Pyongyang to halt its nuclear ambitions.

The US wants the international community to apply more economic pressure, including a full energy embargo and a ban on hiring North Korean labourers.

“What are we going to do? Stop all energy exports so people freeze and ambulances have no fuel to reach the sick?” asks Georgy Toloraya, a Russian diplomat who spent many years in North Korea.

He says Russia’s position is motivated by a principle, rather than concern over lost trade.

President Putin himself described energy exports to its neighbour as “practically zero”, though some 30,000 North Koreans are employed in logging and construction in Russia’s Far East.

They are essentially hired out by the state which pockets most of their pay.

“It’s not about whether Russia has any leverage. The question is why should we use that?” Mr Toloraya asks.

Buffer

“Our whole concept does not allow for the isolation and strangulation of North Korea, and the weakening of the regime,” he explains.

  • Can the world live with a nuclear North Korea?
  • What if Trump cut ties with North Korea’s trade partners?
  • Have North Korea’s missile tests paid off?
  • What do we know about N Korea’s nuclear site?

Like China, Russia shares a border with North Korea and sees it as a buffer against South Korea, a political and military ally of the US.

Moscow and Beijing have presented their own road map for resolving the conflict.

As a first step, it calls for a joint freeze of Pyongyang’s missile tests – and US and South Korean military exercises. The next step would be bringing all sides together for talks.

Leverage?

Some suggest that strategy is more about posturing than peace: that Russia wants to insert itself into another global crisis.

“Russia knows that plan won’t fly, but it makes the US look bad,” Alexander Gabuev argues. “At least China and Russia have a peaceful programme, whereas the US president is just tweeting about fire and fury.”

He believes Moscow’s leverage with Pyongyang these days is minimal, despite years of Soviet support for the regime.

But this week, following a trip to China, President Putin hosted the leaders of South Korea and Japan at an economic forum in eastern Russia, also attended by a delegation from North Korea.

Historic ties

They were in Vladivostok, which felt the tremors from Pyongyang’s latest missile test.

“It’s in our interests to have a peaceful, stable neighbour,” Georgy Toloraya argues.

“As for North Korea, Russia is the least hostile of all the great powers involved in resolving this crisis,” he says, insisting that historic ties mean Russia still knows “many people” who matter there.

A few years back, President Putin wrote off most of North Korea’s Soviet-era debt in a major goodwill gesture.

Recent efforts to improve ties have included a ferry service to the peninsula, and even a North Korean tourism agency in Moscow, presumably banking on a rush of visitors keen to sniff flowers named after its leaders.

The ferry has since been suspended due to lack of demand.

All this is unfolding as Russia’s relations with Washington have plummeted amid allegations of interference in the US elections, sanctions and tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions.

That gives Moscow little incentive to back the US against Pyongyang. It knows the power to reward Russia by lifting sanctions now lies with a hostile US Congress.

‘Creep towards war’

Meanwhile, Russian ties with China have been increasing in importance.

  • How much leverage does China have over North Korea?

So the two continue to push for talks as the best way to prevent an accidental escalation of the Korean crisis into actual conflict.

“The Americans need to make contact [with Pyongyang] and the sooner the better. We can pass information on, if they want,” says Mr Toloraya.

“Talks can go on for 10 or 20 years if necessary. But for that time we would have stability, not this creep towards war.”

Posted in BBC

Hurricane Jose: ‘Barely habitable’ Barbuda residents flee

The entire population of Barbuda, the small Caribbean island devastated by Hurricane Irma, has been evacuated as a second powerful storm, Hurricane Jose, is expected to hit the region on Saturday.

The Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, said Barbuda had been left “barely habitable” with 95% of its building structures destroyed by Irma.

The BBC’s Laura Bicker‏ arrived on the island on Friday, sharing images that show the impact of the storm. She described the aftermath as “truly horrendous”, with “barely a building left untouched”.

But more devastation is feared to be on its way as Jose follows Irma’s path across the Atlantic.

Mr Browne ordered the emergency evacuation of everyone on Barbuda – around 1,600 people – after Hurricane Jose was upgraded to a category four storm on Friday.

Speaking to the BBC, the first international broadcaster to enter Barbuda since Irma swept through the territory, Mr Browne said that the intention was to transfer all residents to neighbouring Antigua.

“The objective this morning is to ensure we get every single resident off Barbuda. We cannot afford a situation in which Barbuda is hit by yet another hurricane in these kind of conditions,” he said.

He urged any “defiant residents” of Barbuda to evacuate to Antigua, which he said was “the responsible thing to do”.

Boats and at least one helicopter have now managed to get anyone who wanted to leave off the island.

Hurricane Irma spared Antigua the same level of damage that was suffered in Barbuda, which is just 60km (37 miles) away.

Small groups of four or five Barbudans arrived in Antigua in a steady stream, just as conditions were beginning to worsen.

Hurricane Jose’s approach made the journey by air and by sea increasingly hazardous.

If the storm remains a category four hurricane, the second-highest rating, it will bring winds of up to 240km/h (150mph) and could wreak yet more havoc on the tiny island.

On Friday, the US National Hurricane Center predicted the centre of Jose will pass near or to the east of Barbuda. The eye of the storm is not expected to pass over Barbuda, as Irma’s did.

Antigua, Anguilla, St Martin and St Barts are also at risk from the second hurricane.

Posted in BBC

Mexico earthquake: Death toll rises as rescue effort begins

The number of people killed by a powerful earthquake off the southern coast of Mexico has risen to at least 61, officials say.

A huge rescue operation is under way in the worst-hit states of Tabasco, Oaxaca and Chiapas where people are feared trapped under rubble.

President Enrique Peña Nieto says at least 200 people have been injured.

The 8.1-magnitude quake, which hit late on Thursday, was the strongest to hit the region in a century.

President Peña Nieto has declared a day of mourning, saying flags would fly at half mast out of respect for the dead and bereaved.

  • BBC in depth – Earthquakes
  • A history of deadly earthquakes
  • Can earthquakes be predicted?

The president said 45 deaths had been reported in Oaxaca, 12 in Chiapas and four in Tabasco.

One of the worst hit towns was Juchitán, in Oaxaca, where at least 17 deaths have been reported. The town hall and a number of other buildings were destroyed or badly damaged.

“The situation is Juchitán is critical; this is the most terrible moment in its history,” said Mayor Gloria Sanchez.

President Peña Nieto visited the town on Friday.

The BBC’s Arturo Wallace says the affected region is the poorest and least developed part of Mexico and the full extent of the damage is yet to become clear.

At least one other person was killed in Guatemala, its president has said.

The huge quake struck at 23:50 local time on Thursday (04:50 GMT Friday), shaking buildings and causing panic hundreds of miles away in the capital, Mexico City.

It also triggered a tsunami warning and the evacuation of thousands of people in coastal communities in Chiapas. The warning was later lifted.

Throughout Friday, the region was shaken with scores of aftershocks.

President Peña Nieto’s office said he would travel to Chiapas to survey the damage.

Pope Francis, addressing an open air Mass on a visit to Colombia, said he was praying “for those who have lost their lives and their families”.

The earthquake was more powerful than the 1985 tremor that hit close to Mexico City and caused thousands of deaths. Correspondents say the death toll appears to have been lower because it struck less populated areas.

Journalist Franc Contreras, who was in Mexico City, told the BBC: “You could hear loud cracks in the concrete. It sounded like a giant wooden branch being just broken open violently.

“People were streaming out of the hallways. And everybody walking out single file into the streets, trying to avoid overhead power lines.”

The quake struck as Mexico faces the threat of Hurricane Katia on its eastern coast.

The category one hurricane is south-east of Tampico and has sustained winds of 140km/h the US National Hurricane Center says.


Inevitable tremors

Jonathan Amos, BBC science correspondent

This is the biggest quake experienced anywhere in 2017. Going on the statistics, you would expect at least one magnitude eight to occur somewhere on the planet each year.

It occurred where the Pacific ocean floor is drawn under Mexico and Guatemala. A great slab of rock, known as the Cocos tectonic plate, is driving towards the coast at a rate of 75mm per year. As it jerks downwards into the Earth’s interior, about 200km offshore, large tremors are the inevitable outcome.

There have been three magnitude sevens in 2017, with a 7.9 recorded deep under Papua New Guinea back in January. This latest event, being an 8.2, is nearly three times as energetic. That tells you something about how the magnitude scale works.

Fortunately, this event was deep, too. The rupture, which will have ripped across more than 100km of fault line, was down at 70km. That will have limited some of the shaking, but as we’ve seen there is still extensive damage.

Posted in BBC

Hurricane Irma: Cuba hit with strong winds and heavy rain

Hurricane Irma is lashing Cuba with strong winds and heavy rain after devastating several Caribbean islands.

The category five storm made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago, off the north-eastern coast.

But the Bahamas have largely been spared after Irma changed track.

In Florida, 5.6 million people, or 25% of the US state’s population, have been told to leave as the storm approaches. At least 20 people are known to have died so far across the Caribbean.

Irma, which strengthened in the last few hours, hit the Camaguey Archipelago late on Friday, threatening nearby coastal towns and villages.

This is the first time a category five hurricane has hit Cuba in decades.

At 03:00 GMT on Saturday, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 257km/h (160mph), the National Hurricane Center in the US said.

The eye of the storm was about 190km (120 miles) east-southeast of the Cuban fishing town of Caibarien.

A hurricane warning is currently in effect in the provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Matanzas.

Some communities have lost power, and communication is becoming increasingly difficult with towns in more remote areas, the BBC’s Will Grant in Havana reports.

Residents are hoping the storm will just glance the island before heading across the Florida Straits to Miami.

Even that, however, could bring dangerous flash flooding and storm surges in many populated areas, our Havana correspondent says.

Earlier, people tried to secure their roofs and move belongings from low-lying coastal areas to higher ground.

“There are really strong gusts of wind. It is pouring off and on, and the lights are out,” Anaida Gonzalez, a retired nurse in the Camaguey province, told Reuters.

About 50,000 tourists are fleeing or have fled Cuba, with resorts on the north coast now empty, the news agency reports.

Irma is expected to hit Florida on Sunday.

Brock Long, the head of the US federal emergency agency, warned that Irma would “devastate” either Florida or neighbouring states.

He said that parts of Florida would be without power for days.

“The entire south-eastern United States better wake up and pay attention,” he added.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said all Floridians should be prepared for possible evacuation, and issued a stark warning to those in threatened areas.

“We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now,” he told reporters.

“Remember, we can rebuild your home, we can’t rebuild your life.”

The death toll continued to rise on Friday in the Caribbean.

France’s Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said nine people were dead and seven missing in the French territory on St Martin, an island shared with the Netherlands, and St Barthélemy.

Another death – the second – has been confirmed in the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten.

French officials said six out of 10 homes on Saint-Martin were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable.

US President Donald Trump spoke on Friday to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to extend his condolences and offer support, the White House said.

French, British and Dutch military authorities have deployed aid – including warships and planes equipped with food, water and troops – to their territories.

  • Hurricane Irma: A visual guide
  • The areas most at risk
  • In pictures: Irma ravages Caribbean

Reporting from another badly damaged island, Barbuda, the BBC’s Laura Bicker says the destruction there is worse than feared.

Which other areas have already been hit?

  • Turks and Caicos Islands: widespread damage, although extent unclear
  • Barbuda: the small island is said to be “barely habitable”, with 95% of the buildings damaged. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimates reconstruction will cost $100m (£80m). One death has been confirmed
  • Anguilla: extensive damage with one person confirmed dead
  • Puerto Rico: more than 6,000 residents of the US territory are in shelters and many more without power. At least three people have died
  • British Virgin Islands: widespread damage reported
  • US Virgin Islands: damage to infrastructure was said to be widespread, with four deaths confirmed
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Both battered by the storm, but neither had as much damage as initially feared
    • Caribbean counts the cost of Irma
    • Troops deployed against post-Irma looting
    • The worst Atlantic hurricanes

    Are there more hurricanes to come?

    Another storm, Jose, further out in the Atlantic behind Irma, is now a category four hurricane, with winds of up to 240km/h (150mph).

    It is following a similar path to Irma and already hampering relief efforts in some of the worst affected areas.

    Residents of Barbuda, where 95% of buildings have been destroyed by Irma, have now left the island as Jose approaches.

    Hurricane Katia, in the Gulf of Mexico, a category one storm with winds of up to 75mph, made landfall on the Mexican Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz late on Friday.

    The storm is expected to weaken rapidly in the coming hours.

Posted in BBC

George Michael’s new single gave Nile Rodgers ‘mixed feelings’

Producer Nile Rodgers has admitted to feeling “uncertainty” about working on George Michael’s new single.

Fantasy, a remix of a 1980s outtake, premiered on Radio 2 on Thursday.

Rodgers’ confession came in response to a fan who expressed “mixed feelings” over the song’s release, eight months after Michael’s death.

“You SHOULD have mixed feelings,” he said on Twitter. “No one’s heart was dragged through emotional ambiguity more than mine.”

Rodgers said he approached the remix with “tears, uncertainty, happiness & #LOVE”.

Fantasy sounds vastly different to the version that was released as a b-side in 1990, and later as a bonus track on 2011’s deluxe version of the Faith album.

The tinny 80s production of the original has been completely overhauled in favour of a slinky funk groove, featuring Rodgers’ choppy guitar rhythms and championing Michael’s soulful harmonies.

On first listen, it appears some of the vocals are alternate takes to the previously released version.

But while it is refreshing to hear Michael’s voice on the radio again, the track still feels more like an offcut than an undiscovered gem.

The decision to create a new “hook” from speeded-up samples of the star’s vocals also feels like a rare mis-step for Rodgers, whose production credits include Madonna, David Bowie and Duran Duran.

“Fantasy was originally meant to be on Listen Without Prejudice and was intended to be one of the singles from the album, but somehow it got lost in the ether,” Michael’s manager David Austin told Radio 2’s Chris Evans in a letter, which the broadcaster read out on his breakfast show.

While working on a reissue of Listen Without Prejudice before his death, he revisited the song and decided it could become a single.

“George phoned up Nile Rodgers, his good pal, in early 2016 because the two of them have always spoken the same musical language, and Nile has reworked the record.”

News of the single emerged on Wednesday as Michael’s sisters Melanie and Yioda posted an update on his official website, saying they will carry on his musical legacy “exactly as Yog would have wanted”.

Fans embraced the track, and many tweeted about “listening with tears” in their eyes.

Michael, who rose to fame in band Wham!, died last year from heart disease and a build-up of fat in his liver.

His body was found by his partner, hairdresser Fadi Fawaz, at his home in Goring-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, on Christmas Day.

During his career, Michael enjoyed seven number ones on the UK singles charts, including Careless Whisper, A Different Corner, Jesus To a Child and Fast Love.

The 53-year-old had 23 top 10 hits, including Faith, Father Figure, Outside and You Have Been Loved.

The Fantasy remix will feature on a deluxe version of Listen Without Prejudice Vol 1 / MTV Unplugged, which is set for release on 20 October.

 

Posted in BBC