News Flash – 18 August 2018

National News

 

 

106 die in one day in flood-hit Kerala, massive air rescue on

 

Kochi/Thiruvananthapuram: Rain-battered Kerala remained in a state of siege on Friday, with officials saying as many as 106 lives were lost the previous day, taking the death toll in floods and landslides to 173 since August 8. Around 2.23 lakh people from more than 50,000 families are currently homeless and living in 1,568 relief camps across the state. After two days of incessant downpour, the rain eased a bit on Friday. The Met office said although the overall rainfall in the state was likely to decrease in the next few days, some pockets could continue to get heavy showers. Although more than 82,000 people were rescued on Friday, with the NDRF, Army, Navy and Coast Guard coordinating their efforts, emergency helplines and social media were flooded with desperate pleas from individuals and groups marooned without food and water. Nearly all rivers in the state continued to be in spate. Several areas, particularly in Pathanamthitta district, remained marooned with scores of Navy helicopters conducting repeated sorties to evacuate thousands to safety. Authorities said 1,084 people were airlifted on Friday. Air rescues were the only option for people stranded in inaccessible areas. Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted that 324 people had so far died of weather-related causes since the start of the monsoon season. In a WhatsApp video that went viral, a stranded woman with her six-year old child was seen crying for help: “We have no food or water. Please help us,” she kept pleading. Several other moving images were being circulated, like that of a heavily pregnant woman being airlifted on Friday morning by a Navy rescue team from a water-logged place near Aluva, one of the worst-hit towns in the state. She later gave birth to a baby boy and both mother and child are reportedly safe and sound. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was expected to reach the state late on Friday night. He is likely to undertake an aerial survey early on Saturday.

 

 

9 cholera cases in city; 5 patients from Byculla, Mazgaon, Nagpada

 

Mumbai: The number of confirmed cholera cases within the two-and-a-half months of monsoon this year has gone up to nine. And at least five of the nine cases have come from E ward, that covers areas in Mazgaon, Nagpada and Byculla, the BMC said in a recent statement. While the incidence of the acute diarrhoeal infection has been restricted to wards in the island city, three of the two cases in August came from Byculla alone. None of the cases were from the same or even nearby areas, said a civic official. “Usually, we find cholera cases from areas in vicinity of each other. Both these cases came from slum pockets but were in different parts of the ward. The patients also required hospitalisation. They have recovered now,” said the official. E ward has always been a hotbed of gastroentric cases, including cholera. Water contamination, which is the prime reason for cholera, is frequently seen in south Mumbai wards. “The main culprit of water contamination in the island city are corroded and damaged water pipelines,” said the civic official, adding that a massive mop-up operation has been taken up in the ward. Several cases of diarrhoea and gastroenteritis have been detected, but none with signs of classic cholera. Besides Byculla, other three cases were reported from Sion-Dharavi, Dongri and Mulund.

 

A senior doctor at Kasturba Hospital for Infectious Diseases, where cholera patients are treated in a dedicated ward, said Mumbai no longer sees acute cholera. “But one cannot take any chances with the diarrhoeal infection that can kill within hours if left untreated,” the doctor said, adding that every gastroenteritis case is subjected to a hanging drop test. “There are little chances of missing out cases,” the doctor said. Cholera cases have seen a steady decline over the years. The last time cholera cases were reported in high numbers (35) was five years ago. “Cholera can spread in no time, so you cannot never drop your guard,” the doctor added. Besides Mumbai, only Yavatmal seems to have reported cholera cases this monsoon. Director of Health Services Dr Sanjeev Kamble said 15 cases have been reported so far in the state. City doctors, however, said more than cholera, it’s gastroenteritis that has sent Mumbaikars to the sickbay. In the last fortnight, it has contributed to over 400 admissions in public hospitals. Physician Dr Hemant Thacker said at least two of his patients needed ICU care. “In both cases, it started from loose motions that gave rise to severe dehydration. Often, such dehydration can cause the kidneys to shut down,” he said.

 

 

ATM’s in city, Navi Mumbai and Thane used in Cosmos fraud

 

 

Mumbai: Several automated teller machines (ATMs) in Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Kolhapur were used by fraudsters to withdraw money as part of the Rs 94.42 crore cyber hack committed on the Pune-headquartered Cosmos Bank between August 11and 13. “A bulk of these transactions were effected in Kolhapur and Mumbai,” a police officer associated with the investigations by the Pune police’s cybercrime cell told TOI on Friday. The bank’s managing director, Suhas Gokhale, had lodged an FIR on Tuesday stating that hackers used malware to steal VISA and Rupay debit cards’ information from the bank’s ATM switch server and siphoned off Rs 94.42 crore. Of these, over 12,000 transactions worth Rs 78 crore were effected across 28 countries using the VISA card details and over 2,800 transactions worth Rs 2.5 crore were effected within India using the Rupay card details. Another Rs 13 crore was transferred to an account in a bank in Hong Kong. The officer said the fraudsters also used ATMs in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. “After we get the complete data from the bank, we will know how many ATMs in the state and the other places were used for withdrawals,” he added. The probe, so far, has revealed that in Maharashtra, the maximum transactions were made from ATMs in Mumbai and Kolhapur. “Our teams will get the CCTV footage from the ATM kiosks to identify those who withdrew the money,” the officer said. On the money withdrawn in the 28 countries, the officer said the special investigation team has begun the process to contact these countries.

 

 

Kerala fishermen in over 100 boats join rescue operations

People in Aluva being taken to a relief camp in a boat on Friday.

 

 

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala fishermen who had borne the travails of cyclone Ockhi last year are setting a new model in rescue mission, in what could be an act of repayment for the care they had received when Ockhi wreaked havoc. In more than 100 country boats, fishermen from Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam, Kollam and Alappuzha have joined the rescue mission in the flood-hit areas. The twin engine country boats made of wood are helpful in places with strong undercurrent and unexpected flow of water. “It can go through any narrow lane. We have the driver, the path guide and a helper on board. In addition, we can accommodate 10 people. A minimum depth of 50cm is enough for the boat to move and we are equipped with wooden poles to traverse ahead,” said Jack Mandela, a fisherman who is part of a rescue team from Veli. Kerala Swanthantra Matsyathozhilali Federation has set up regional centres to coordinate the mission. Each team has been assigned a leader who has been directed to work with revenue authorities, police and disaster management team. While in some cases, the fishermen have been supported by the local police, in many places, they are shelling out their own money. Each boat is equipped with fuel, drinking water, life jackets and search lights. “It’s time to express our gratitude for all the help we have received during Ockhi. Many of the fishermen who are taking part in rescue operations have forsaken their daily jobs,” said T Peter, the forum general secretary at the National Fish Workers.

 

 

Cyber stalkers on prowl, 50 cases every 30 days

 

Hyderabad: Several women and minor girls are falling prey to stalking online as well as on the phone, with city police receiving nearly 50 such complaints every month. However, very few cases are filed as most women and girls avoid going to police. Data provided by the Cyber Crime police has revealed that this year, as of July, the number of social media harassment cases has already touched 25 as compared to a similar number of cases filed in the entire 2017. Admitting that instances of social media and phone harassment have shot up, cops, however, said that in most cases the offender is warned, counselled and let off and that a case is registered only in severe cases. “There are cases where women and girls receive frequent calls and messages on social media. If not severe in nature, we warn and counsel the offenders and let them go. However, if the case is severe, we book the offenders in cases under sections such as 70 (c) of CP Act or 290 of IPC,” said ACP Narmada, SHE Team, Hyderabad. According to SHE Team officials, most victims are not keen on lodging cases and just want the accused to be warned so that they don’t bother them in the future.

 

She also pointed out that if SHE Team receives very severe cases of harassment, which includes sending of obscene images and messages, they divert them to local police or cybercrime police. “However, we follow up on the cases,” added the ACP. Cybercrime police said they identified one repeated offender, Abdul Majid, and opened a rowdy sheet against him. Majid, who was earlier detained under the PD Act, targets women on social media and harasses them, cops said. “Majid is a repeat offender who has harassed hundreds of women and minor girls by creating fake Facebook accounts. We found that despite being detained multiple times, he repeats the same behaviour after a few months. Though instances of social media harassment are high, not all women choose to file FIRs,” said Raghu Vir, additional DCP (cybercrime).

 

 

Devastation continues, Army in Kodagu for rescue ops; ATM’s dry

 

DANGER AT OUR DOORSTEP: (Clockwise from top) Houses collapse as landslides continue to hit Madikeri town; Inflatable boats are carried through the streets by volunteers; Revenue minister R V Deshpande tours Kodagu district to assess the damage; A gruel centre opened in Madikeri; A flooded street in the town shows the extent of devastation in this tourist destination on Friday.

 

 

Madikeri: Six persons, including a two-week-old child, died in landslides and house collapses due to heavy rain in Kodagu. Venkatesh, Yashwanth and Pavan were buried in a landslide at Katakeri on Thursday. Basappa, 51, died when a house collapsed in a landslide at Jodupala and Mukkatira Sabu Uthappa, 64, was buried under slush when his house collapsed at Muvathoklu on Friday. Minister RV Deshpande disclosed these details at late night press conference here. Thousands of people were stranded even as the state government pressed Army and with many state agencies for rescue operations. Many households are running out of food and water, and those not affected are helping out. Since most mobile networks are down, people have not been able to contact police or relatives for help. The situation is likely to worsen as the Met department has predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall in the next 24 hours in Malnad and coastal regions. The government on Friday dispatched a team of 73 engineering task force of the Army with boats and rescue equipment. Twelve Navy swimmers have been rushed to the district. Deshpande has summoned a Navy team from Karwar and an additional Army team to speed up rescue. Chief minister HD Kumaraswamy will visit the district on Saturday and oversee rescue & relief operations. He’s expected to conduct an aerial survey of rain-affected areas. On Sunday, he’ll visit Nanjangud and Kabini areas.

 

Around 20 people were reportedly missing due to landslides at Jodupala in Kodagu district. Massive landslides were reported from Shirangala, Mandalpatti, Mukkodlu, Hattihole, Kaluru, Galibeedu and 2nd Monnangeri. Several towns and villages including Madikeri, Kushalnagar and Napoklu have been marooned. Around 300 people are stranded in different areas. The district administration has roped in helicopters for rescue operations, they are unable to use them due to inclement weather. “We have not been able to clear debris and landslides using JCBs as soil slips every time we clear them. Since no vehicles can reach spots where people are stranded, rescue teams have to trek to the spots,” said Kodagu DC P I Sreevidya. The government has opened 17 relief centres across the district. Many ATMs and fuel stations are running dry in Kodagu district, adding to people’s misery. The situation could turn grim if banks don’t replenish ATMs soon. As the district was cut off from the rest of the state since Monday, banks haven’t been able to replenish ATMs in Madikeri, Somwarpet, Virajpet and Siddapura. People are struggling to pay for groceries and medicines. The supply of petroleum products to the district has stopped as the Mangaluru-Madikeri road is cut off due to landslides. The Mysuru-Madikeri road is also blocked at various places. Police sources said their diesel reserve is fast running out.

 

 

Alarm as Godavari brims, Bhupalapally faces threat

 

 

Warangal: The water level in Godavari river is rising and with a steady flow of flood discharge from the upstream, the level will cross the danger mark (No 2.) on Saturday. The first flood caution warning signal No.1 was issued in Bhupalapally district on Friday after the water level touched 7.5 metres and by evening, the water level at Ramannagudem rose to 8.9 metres. Second warning signal will be issued after the level crosses 10.6 metres. People living in Ramannagudem, Lambadi thanda, Ramnagar and Popkapur villages are likely to be inundated if the level increases. The official machinery is gearing up to evacuate people living in low-lying areas along the river course. ITDA project officer Chakradhar and superintendent of police Bhaskaran are camping at Ramannagudem village and monitoring the flood flow. Officials have also made arrangements at the government school at Eturunagaram mandal headquarters to shift people from low-lying on areas. Bhaskaran told the media that officials are constantly reviewing the situation and the entire official machinery has been put on high alert to meet any eventuality. “We are fully geared to shift the affected to safer places,” he said.

 

 

Armed gang strikes again, this time at New Town Metro site

 

Kolkata: The construction of Metro work got stalled for the third time in last two months after an armed gang attacked workers and looted raw materials from the New Town station site on Thursday night. Earlier, work was suspended for days — first at New Garia and then at Phoolbagan — in June after local toughs laid siege at the construction sites and threatened the workers. According to officials of II&FS Engineering, which is building seven stations for the 34km Airport-New Garia corridor along EM Bypass, armed goons, carrying pistols and sharp weapons, barged into the project site opposite Eco Park’s Gate No. 2 late on Thursday night and looted construction materials worth Rs 5.4 lakhs. They had tied up one of the security guards and chased away others. “We are questioning some people. We do have some leads and are trying to arrest the miscreants. We have managed to recover a part of the stolen articles from a Manicktaka godown. The miscreants had sold some of the stolen stuff to AK Steel, which deals in crude iron,” Bidhannagar DC (headquarters) Amit Javalgi told TOI. Proprietors of AK Steel are also being interrogated. Alak Kumar Pan, senior HR manager of IL&FS, said, “The cops found some Ujacks. Most of the stolen stuff, worth more than Rs 4 lakhs, are still missing. We had been apprehending trouble lately. Some men had come to the site 10 days ago. They threatened the workers with dire consequences for ‘not cooperating’ with them and allowing them to take away the raw materials they needed”.

 

The incident comes barely one-and-a-half months after armed miscreants roughed up security guards at the New Garia-Airport terminal station site on the other end of EM Bypass. But the security personnel did manage to resist and the gang had dropped the raw materials and left, only to return the next day, when they were chased away once again. Their repeated attacks temporarily stalled the project since labourers had fled the site and were afraid to return to the site, which had been subjected to threats and attacks by local hooligans for several months. Eventually, a permanent police outpost was set up and work resumed thereafter. Around the same time, work at the Phoolbagan site of East-West Metro came to a standstill as two syndicates involved in supplying building materials clashed on June 29 over who had the right to provide supplies for the road restoration work around the upcoming underground station. The miscreants were arrested after ITD-Cementation, hired to build the Sector V-Sealdah leg of East-West metro, sought top-level police intervention. Is cop presence the only solution to the recurring trouble at Metro sites? Rajesh Prasad, executive director of RVNL, which is implementing the Airport-New Garia project, sounded aghast: “How can we complete our projects if there are constant law and order issues?”. Cops said the modus operandi (of looting raw materials after intimidating workers and supervisors at construction sites) seemed familiar, especially since this was the second such incident at the New Town station site in three months. In May this year, several tonnes of raw materials were stolen from here. They were later recovered from a godown at Atghara near Chinar Park and four persons were arrested in a night-long raid. Even at that time, RVNL had complained to the police that frequent thefts of raw materials were hampering the project.

 

 

Families evacuated as rivers swell

IN FULL FLOW: This is all that can be seen of the submerged Muniappan temple on the banks of the Cauvery at Karungalpalayam in Erode.

 

 

Erode: The flood alert sounded for 11 districts remains after inflow into the Mettur dam crossed 1.70 lakh cusecs. More than 73 families living in low-lying areas on the banks of the Cauvery at Thavittupalayam in Karur were moved to safer zones. Road links and rail services continue to be affected across the state. For the second consecutive day, Trichy and Karur districts were put on high alert following heavy flow in the Cauvery. There was a slight surge in inflow on Friday at Thirumukkudal in Karur district where the Cauvery, the Bhavanisagar and the Amaravathi converge. PWD sources said the inflow at Thirumukkudal went up to 2.38 lakh cusecs on Friday. “Inflow through the Amaravathi merging at Thirumukkudal was reduced to 5,000 cusecs from 10,000 cusecs on Friday, so the situation in Karur district will not become worse,” they said. Due to the heavy flow of the Cauvery at Thirumukkudal, close to 90 acres of crops were inundated. Many residents were stranded in the floodwaters at Pallipalayam in Namakkal district and Karungalpalayam in Erode district on Friday. Most of them were taken to safety by police and fire and rescue services personnel. In the past three days, authorities have rescued more than 8,500 people in Namakkal and Erode districts.

 

The state highway that connects Mettur and Edappadi was submerged in flood waters. The Salem district administration has given ‘red alert’ to Mettur and its surrounding areas. In Coimbatore district, more than 1,000 residents from several low-lying areas were moved to temporary shelters by the administration on Friday as water bodies began to swell. “Even though, the rainfall has considerably reduced in the district, it is still unprecedented,” said an official from the district administration who is involved in the rescue operations. Also, due to heavy rain in the catchment areas of the Pillur reservoir and at Kallaru and Mayaru regions in the Nilgiris, the sluice gates of the reservoir is being opened and about 57,000 cusecs of surplus water is being discharged into the Bhavani. Life in the Nilgiris, especially in Ooty and Gudalur taluks, was disrupted as constant rain and gusty winds brought down trees at several places and power supply failed. Road blocks due to landslips affected traffic movement at many points between Ooty and Gudalur and on many other arterial roads in Ooty town.

 

 

International News

 

 

Summer of heatwaves puts oceans in hot water

SUMMER SUN: Marine heat waves last for several days or even weeks.

 

 

Washington: Even the oceans are breaking temperature records in this summer of heatwaves. Off the San Diego coast, scientists earlier this month recorded all-time high seawater temperatures since daily measurements began in 1916. “Just like we have heat waves on land, we also have heat waves in the ocean,” said Art Miller of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Between 1982 and 2016, the number of “marine heatwaves” roughly doubled, and likely will become more common and intense as the planet warms, a study released on Wednesday found. Prolonged periods of extreme heat in the oceans can damage kelp forests and coral reefs, harm fish and other marine life. “This trend will further accelerate with global warming,” said Thomas Frolicher, a climate scientist at the University of Bern in Switzerland, who led the research. His team defined marine heat waves as extreme events in which sea-surface temperatures exceeded the 99th percentile of measurements for a given location. Because oceans both absorb and release heat more slowly than air, most marine heat waves last for at least several days — and some for several weeks, said Frolicher. Many sea critters have evolved to survive within a fairly narrow band of temperatures compared to creatures on land, and even incremental warming can be disruptive.

 

Some free-swimming sea animals like bat rays or lobsters may shift their routines. But stationary organisms like coral reefs and kelp forests “are in real peril,” said Michael Burrows, an ecologist at the Scottish Marine Institute, who was not part of the research. The latest study in ‘Nature’ relied on satellite data and other records of sea-surface temperatures including from ships and buoys. Miller said he knew something was odd when he spotted a school of bat rays — which typically only congregate in pockets of warm water — swimming just off the pier earlier this month. Changes in ocean circulation associated with warmer surface waters will mean decreased production of phytoplankton — the tiny organisms that form the basis of the marine food web, he said. Marine biologists nicknamed a patch of persistent high temperatures in the Pacific Ocean between 2013 and 2016 “the Blob.” During that period, decreased phytoplankton production led to a cascading lack of food for many species, causing thousands of California sea lion pups to starve, said Miller. “We’ve repeatedly set new heat records. It’s not surprising, but it is shocking”.

 

 

Third attack in 3 weeks: Sikh stabbed to death in US

 

 

New York: A Sikh man has been stabbed to death at his store in the US state of New Jersey, the third incident targeting the minority Sikh community in the country in three weeks. Terlok Singh was discovered dead by his cousin on Thursday in his store with an apparent stab wound in the chest. The Essex County Prosecutor’s office is calling the incident a homicide, according to a report in ABC7NY. The motive behind the killing was not immediately known. Singh is survived by his wife and children who live in India. He owned the store to support his family. The report said Singh ran his store for at least six years and a neighbours said he should not have had to worry about being attacked in his work place. Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organisation, in a Facebook post, expressed condolences to Singh’s family, friends and local community. Simran Jeet Singh, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Center for Religion and Media and a Senior Religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, tweeted about Singh’s tragic death, saying “this is the third attack on a Sikh in the last three weeks. So tired of all this sadness”. On August 6 in Manteca, California, Sahib Singh, 71, was brutally attacked by Tyrone McAllister and a juvenile when the elderly man went on a morning walk. On July 31, Surjit Malhi, 50, was attacked while putting up campaign signs in support of incumbent Republican Congressman Jeff Denham and other local Republican candidates. Following the incidents, the Sikh Coalition had urged members of the community to know their rights, remain vigilant and report cases of bias, bigotry and backlash.

 

 

Australian teen breaches Apple’s secure network

 

 

Sydney: An Australian teenager, who “dreamed” of working for technology giant Apple Inc., has pleaded guilty to hacking into the firm’s main computer network, downloading big internal files and accessing customer accounts, because he was a fan of the company, local media reported. The boy, 16, from Melbourne city, broke into the US company’s mainframe from his suburban home many times over a year, ‘The Age’ newspaper reported, citing statements by the boy’s lawyer in court. The teen downloaded 90 gigabytes of secure files and accessed customer accounts without exposing his identity. When Apple became aware of the intrusion it contacted the US FBI, which referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the newspaper said, quoting statements made in court. The report said that an AFP raid on the boy’s family home produced two laptops, a mobile phone and a hard drive which matched the intrusion reported by Apple. The sensitive documents were saved in a folder called “hacky hack”, the report added. The report said the boy had boasted about his activities on WhatsApp. Apple Inc. issued a statement on Friday saying that no customer data was compromised. A spokesman said the company’s information security personnel “discovered the unauthorised access, contained it, and reported the incident to law enforcement”. “We …want to assure our customers that at no point during this incident was their personal data compromised,” the spokesman said. When contacted, the Australian police declined to comment saying the matter was before the court. A court spokeswoman also refused to comment, other than to say the teen would be sentenced on September 20. The boy’s name could not be made public because he was a juvenile offender.

 

 

Google staff protest secret work on censored search engine for China

 

US: Hundreds of Google employees, upset at the company’s decision to secretly build a censored version of its search engine for China, have signed a letter demanding more transparency to understand the ethical consequences of their work. In the letter, employees wrote that the project and Google’s apparent willingness to abide by China’s censorship requirements “raise urgent moral and ethical issues.” They added, “Currently we do not have the information required to make ethically-informed decisions about our work, our projects, and our employment.” The letter is circulating on Google’s internal communication systems and is signed by about 1,400 employees, according to three people familiar with the document. The internal activism presents another obstacle for Google’s potential return to China eight years after the company publicly withdrew from the country in protest of censorship and government hacking. China has the world’s largest internet audience but has frustrated US tech giants with content restrictions or blockages of services including Facebook and Instagram.

 

It is also the latest example of how Google’s outspoken work force has agitated for changes to strategy. In April, the employees spoke out against its involvement in a Pentagon programme that uses artificial intelligence to improve weaponry. By June, Google had said it would not renew a contract with the Pentagon. Earlier this month, reports surfaced that Google was working on a search app that restricts content banned by Beijing. The project, known internally as Dragonfly, was developed largely in secret. Google declined to comment on the letter. It has said in the past that it will not comment on Dragonfly or “speculation about future plans”. But late on Thursday, employees pressed Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, and other management about Dragonfly at a weekly staff meeting. “If we were to do our mission well, we are to think seriously about how to do more in China,” Pichai said in the staff meeting, audio of which was obtained by The Times. “That said, we are not close to launching a search product in China”.


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