News Flash – 31 August 2017

National News



Day after deluge, horror stories surface from battered Mumbai


MUMBAI: As the flood waters receded in Mumbai, the grim task of taking stock of the havoc wreaked on the city got underway. According to latest reports, five people died and seven were reported missing while at least 11 were injured since Tuesday’s torrential downpour. Priyam Mainthia, a 29-year-old lawyer, was among those killed by the deluge. He was found dead inside his car after floodwaters receded at King’s Circle on Wednesday, a chilling throwback to the death by suffocation of at least 16 people in cases where they were locked inside their cars during the 2005 flood. Priyam was the only son of Ramesh Mainthia, a chartered accountant, and lived with his parents at Highway Apartment near Sion Circle. Mainthia broke down when the body of his son was carried in by friends to the 9th floor apartment at Highway Apartment near Sion Circle. “Ramesh bhai, who is retired and his wife are in deep shock at their son’s death. Priyam was supposed to go for a new job interview at BKC (Bandra-Kurla Complex) today. It is a very unfortunate incident,” said a family friend. Meanwhile, multiple disaster control agencies had begun a manhunt for noted gastroenterologist Dr. Deepak Amrapurkar (58), who is feared to have been sucked into a manhole on Senapati Bapat Marg during Tuesday’s downpour. The 58-year-old doctor of international repute called his wife at 6.30pm on Tuesday, saying he would be home in 5-7 minutes. More than 24 hours later, he had not made it to their Prabhadevi residence, merely a kilometre away from the spot where he was last seen.



Burglars strike 13 flats in 3 hours



NEW DELHI: Three masked burglars looted 13 flats of a housing society in east Delhi’s Patparganj within three hours on Wednesday morning. DCP (east) Omvir Singh Bishnoi said that the three burglars stole cash and jewellery worth Rs 2.5 lakh. They said they have registered an FIR under Section 445 (house breaking) of IPC and are investigating the case. Residents of the society told the police that there was no one in any of the 13 flats when the burglars struck. They added that they suspect someone familiar with the society to have helped them. “They entered the society around 2:30am by cutting the barbed wires on the back side,” Naman Mehra, a resident of the society said, adding that the whole incident was captured in the CCTV cameras installed in the complex. Residents said the men seemed well aware of the society’s layout. The security guards were sleeping at the time of the incident. The men came with equipment to help them break into the houses and took cash, jewellery and electronic items from the houses. The CCTV footage shared by the society showed the trio walking around with their faces covered, and carrying rods and bags. They were seen moving to different floors unnoticed by anyone and left at around 4.30am. The incident was reported when the occupants of some of the flats returned home in the morning and found their main door broken. Police officials indicated that the burglars may have come from neighbouring areas of Trilokpuri, Kota Colony and Noida. They have started going through the profiles of thieves operating in the nearby areas. They have also prepared sketches of the suspects.



Overflowing Dahisar enters 90 homes; 100 cars, 110 shops go under water


MUMBAI: As Dahisar river began to overflow its banks at Borivli East on Tuesday , around 90 houses and 110 shops occupied by Jewellers, grocers, restauranteurs, chemists in the Shantivan and adjoining areas went under six feet water. Over 100 cars were submerged and at least seven of them swept away. Two or three vehicles are still missing, four were found on the riverbed after floodwaters had receded a few hundred feet, said locals. Dahisar river, which originates from Tulsi Lake in Sanjay Gandhi National Park and flows down into the creek at Gorai, is 12 kms long and extremely narrow in parts, mainly due to encroachments and rampant construction on the flood plains. On Tuesday , as Mumbai came under a torrential downpour, the two neighbourhood of Shri Krishna Nagar and Shantivan near the Western Express Highway were among the worst hit. Amit Bagwe, whose Grand Maratha Family restaurant and bar in Shantivan was under six feet water, says he lost everything in the restaurant and his Innova was swept away in the river. “It is untraceable and has probably crossed over to the west where the river flows. We are still hopeful that we find it. I was busy taking care of my staff and the restaurant which is completely destroyed.” Another car owner from Shatidwar society, lost his Volkwagon, said Raju Bane, a Shantivan resident. In a nearby library , nearly 3,000 books were ruined, said Hemchandra Narvekar, who runs the Sant Jnaneshwar Pustakalay. A day after the deluge, residents on this stretch were busy cleaning slush left behind by receding waters, repairing vehicles or filling up police forms to facilitate assessment of loss to property.


Prabhakar Gadgil who has a bungalow in the 60-year-old tree-lined Shrikrishna Nagar, also saw his Volkswagen Vento disappear under muddy waters. “The river that runs along the society is closest to our house. Water levels were low at 3.30pm but by 5pm within 10 minutes it was like a flash flood. Water rose even over retaining walls built after the last flood, 12 years ago. The wall height was raised only this year, but was no match for the fury of the water,” he said on Wednesday. “We were taken unawares. The water came gushing straight into our courtyard,” said Dhiren Samel, a Shrikrishna Nagar resident, on Wednesday. With local labourers demanding exorbitant charges, the Same have launched a cleanup on their own. “It’s dejavu-we were reminded of July 26,” he added stoically. Residents also expressed anger against the BMC for letting them down in their hour of crisis. “There hasn’t been any kind of warning from the local administration,” said Shroff. Former corporator Bhaskar Khursunge blamed the civic body for not issuing alerts. “Letters to the civic administration on the Dahisar river issue and re-development of the area along the river bank remain by and large unanswered,” said Ramesh Patel, whose industrial unit in Daulat Nagar suffered sizeable losses because of the river’s fury. Shiv Sena corporator Sheetal Mhatre demanded that the state address this issue. “BMC can’t do much about it…villagers living on the bank have to be shifted to SRA projects. There are `tabelas’ (stables) too. Re-development can happen only if state government effectively intervenes,” said Mhatre.


Similar damage was reported along the same stretch after the 267 deluge in 2005. The Madhav Chitale committee had then called for identifying flood risk zones along the rivers flowing through the city and creation of buffer areas free of construction on their banks. This was to allow floodwaters to drain out quickly and insulate adjoining residential clusters from impact during heavy rains. But these recommendations remain on paper more than a decade later. The damage this year can be assessed from the fact that 90 of 170 houses in this Borivli East stretch were flooded, and electric poles and railings on a bridge had collapsed. Slush is spread thick; shopkeepers are heaping rotten goods–including food grains, CDs and teddy bears–on the road. “People need a helping hand with the clean-up. BMC must help. It will soon start stinking. Diseases may be a danger,” said Anagha Nachane. The head office of Sanjay Gandhi National Park was flooded with over 8 feet water on Tuesday. The downpour had raised water levels of Dahisar river, which emanates from the national park, and devastated the office in the Krishnagiri area. Computers, files, cupboards were left muddied. A park officer said, “Water was at least 2.5m high”. The office is located about a kilometre from the main entrance in Borivli.



Gang skims, clones 17 cards, steals Rs 8.68 lakh in 5 days



BENGALURU: A gang of tech-savvy thieves has made away with at least Rs 8.68 lakh belonging to 17 people holding credit/debit cards from a private bank in just five days. Prima facie they appear to have skimmed card details and later cloned the cards to withdraw money from ATMs. Cybercrime police under Criminal Investigation Department (CID), who are probing the case, said: “The accused stole at least Rs 8.68 lakh from the HDFC Bank accounts of 17 customers in Bengaluru between July 31 and August 4. The customers approached the bank, alleging the transactions happened without their knowledge or authorization”. Skimming is a process where details of a card is retrieved secretly when the card-holder uses it somewhere. Cloning is when a duplicate card is created using these details. “In a complaint, S Kapilavasudevan, assistant vice-president, HDFC Bank, said 17 customers owning debit/credit cards have disputed certain ATM cash withdrawals carried out using their cards. He said customers said they were in possession of their cards when the said transactions took place and that they didn’t do the same,” police said. The money, police said, was withdrawn at various ATMs located in different parts of the country, including Bengaluru. Police sources further added that the modus operandi are similar to those used by gangs in the city and that there are a number of other cases filed by individual customers in the beginning of July, especially from east Bengaluru. While the CID said this case is a priority and expected results in the next few days, Bengaluru city police said they have registered dozens of such cases, investigations into which are on. “We have collected photographs of five suspects, whose images were captured on CCTV cameras at ATM kiosks. However, we are yet to find solid clues on their whereabouts or identity,” said Jinendra Kanagavi, DC (crime). He added that the five people would install skimming devices to ATM machines and use the stolen data to make fake cards.



Smart Streets: Tech to be used to make roads safer



HYDERABAD: In addition to implementing pedestrian-friendly measures, necessary systems must be put in place to bring down the number of road accidents in the city, said stakeholders at the Smart Streets Lab, a joint initiative of the Telangana government and the WRI India Ross Center. Nearly 20 stakeholders of Smart Streets Lab gathered at the Indian School of Business on Tuesday to discuss problems faced by commuters on roads. Those present included top traffic cops, law and order department heads, transport experts and urban planners. “Close to 60% of fatalities in road accident are pedestrians. Improving road infrastructure and behavioral change of vehicle operators are essential strategies to combat this,” said Amit Bhatt, strategy head, Integrated Urban Transport, WRI India. The platform will pilot innovative road safety and women safety solutions and leverage new developments in technology and IT to make Hyderabad roads safer. Through the Smart Streets Lab, the state government aims to source technological interventions that can make the streets secure and easy to navigate. Cyberabad traffic cops pointed out how the department’s accident mapping initiative has identified several hotspots across the city where accidents and fatalities occur most frequently. “Even as a lot of initiatives are currently under implementation and progress is being made, challenges of inter-departmental coordination continue to exist,” said a top traffic cop. Anant Maringanti of Hyderabad Urban Lab (HUL) said, “Government agencies and departments collect data on a regular basis, but this data needs to be open so that different pairs of eyes can look at it and generate different insights”.



BBMP: 4,280 dengue cases since January, just 604 last year



BENGALURU: In its first admission that the number of dengue cases is spiraling threateningly, the BBMP on Wednesday said the city has reported 4,280 cases so far this year, a shocking seven-fold rise over the previous year. The rising number of dengue cases and the looming garbage crisis in the city dominated the BBMP Council meeting on Wednesday. Chief health officer (public health) Dr. Lokesh MN informed the council that more than 4,000 dengue cases had been reported from within the Palike limits since the beginning of this year. He added a caveat that some private hospitals had been reporting suspected dengue cases as confirmed ones. The Palike reported 604 dengue cases in the year 2016, 1,249 in 2015, and 823 in 2014. The BBMP’s admission came after the opposition created a ruckus demanding a reply from the civic body on the actual number of dengue cases in Bengaluru. Until now, the civic body was in denial about the spike. Padmanabha Reddy , leader of the opposition in the council, said the civic body had no data on the number of dengue cases reported from its areas and the citizens were in the dark. “I’ve visited private hospitals where beds were full. If this is the reality, why isn’t the BBMP revealing the number of dengue cases? What are they trying to hide,” Padmanabha Reddy, leader of the opposition in the council asked. Dr. Lokesh said the BBMP had taken measures to contain the disease, and platelets were being given to patients free. When the opposition demanded that the BBMP take more measures and got no response from the health officer, mayor G Padmavathi directed Dr. Lokesh to submit a detailed report on the matter.



Indian cities occupy first 30 spots on Blue Whale search list



KOLKATA: Blue Whale Challenge, the deadly online game in which participants are given life-threatening challenges in secret groups, has piqued the interest of Indians like never before, shows data published by Google. Till late Wednesday, the top 30 spots on a Google global list of 50 cities that searched the most for the dangerous online game were all occupied by Indian cities, with Kochi at the top and Kolkata at No. 2. In fact, there were altogether 33 Indian cities among the top 50. Two other cities from Bengal — Siliguri and Howrah — took the 16th and 19th spots respectively. According to Google Trends — the public web facility of Google Inc. based on Google Search that shows how often a particular search term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world — India consistently ranked first in the world for searches related to the Blue Whale Challenge for the past 12 months. Kolkata was at No. 1 till Tuesday, but was overtaken by Kochi on Wednesday. The two cities were followed by Kanpur, Ghaziabad and Coimbatore. The first city outside India on the list is Sharjah at No. 31. The continuously updated data is based on searching related keywords like Blue Whale Challenge, Blue Whale Game Download, Blue Whale Suicide Game, Blue Whale Game app and Suicide Game. The infamous Blue Whale Challenge has been making headlines both nationally and internationally due to the rising number of teenage suicides by its players around the world. To be part of the challenge, one has to be accepted by an administrator who, reportedly, allows only troubled teens to ‘play’.


Over the course of the next 50 days, the participant is given one challenge a day, providing photographic evidence of having completed it to the administrator to move to the next one. Several of the tasks in the challenge include cutting oneself and carving messages on the hands and legs. Other dangerous tasks include standing on the ledges of high buildings, bridges, poking yourself with needles, watching disturbing videos sent by the administrator. The final task is to commit suicide. The Blue Whale challenge is believed to have originated in Russia in 2013, invented by a Philipp Budeikin, a psychology student expelled by his university, who claimed he created the challenge to “clean society” by egging those who were of no value to it to commit suicide. Budeikin was eventually arrested and proved guilty for inciting 16 teenagers to commit suicide. Since July, teenagers from Kerala, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh have reportedly committed suicide after playing the game. At least two teenagers were intercepted and saved just before they attempted the final suicide task. Last week, the authorities of Budge Budge Institute of Technology engineering college and the CID’s cyber-cell raced against time to bring back a 19-year-old student from the brink after he came dangerously close to undertaking the last Blue Whale challenge, death. This was the first case in Bengal where alert officials have been successful in pre-empting a Blue Whale death after a West Midnapore boy took up the fatal challenge and died in the second week of August. On 24 August, West Bengal CID shared an awareness video on its official Facebook page to warn teenagers and issue guidelines for parents and teachers to enable them to protect children.


There has been growing concern among parents, the government and law-enforcement agencies about vulnerable teens falling prey to the allure of the challenge. In a letter dated 11 August, the Ministry of Electronics and IT directed six Internet majors — Google, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Microsoft and Yahoo — to immediately remove links to the dangerous game. Psychiatrists in the city said the finding was extremely disturbing as well as alarming. “People especially teenagers have a knack to do what is prohibited. Hence, as there is more news of this deadly game, more young adults may start taking interest and may end up playing the game. Parents should be very careful about what our children are searching and doing over the internet,” said city psychiatrist Jai Ranjan Ram. A mother of a class VI student however said the search increase may have been the result of more awareness on part of the parents as well as students. “I have searched all related links and facts related to the game to counsel my children to ensure they do not end up playing the game and also to learn the signs and symptoms of identifying if my son is actually into the game,” said Samarpita Roy Chowdhury, a homemaker in Jadavpur.



This August, Tamil Nadu got maximum rain in 50 years



CHENNAI: The state has recorded the highest rainfall for August in 50 years, while the city has recorded its highest rainfall for the month since 2011. After a 20% deficit in rainfall between June and September last year, Tamil Nadu has received 21% excess rainfall since this June. While Nungambakkam has recorded 41cm rainfall, 10cm above normal, Meenambakkam received the highest rainfall in the state during the period receiving 50cm, 15.6cm above normal. Kodaikanal has got 45cm rain, Tiruttaani 42.7cm and Vellore 42.4cm. Weathermen have predicted more rainfall in the coming days for the city and the state. Chennai has received nearly 24cm rainfall this August compared to the all-time highest of 37cm recorded in 2011. The city only gets on average 12.7cm rainfall in August, as per the meteorological department’s climatological table (1981-2010). Last August, the city recorded only 4.4cm rainfall. On Wednesday evening, a quick burst of rainfall brought 1.4cm rainfall at Nungambakkam. “There will be short spells of rainfall over the next few days,” said weather blogger Pradeep John. During the 24 hours between 8.30am on Tuesday to 8.30am on Wednesday, the city received no rain. Coimbatore, in the west, recorded 6cm rainfall, while Nilgiris received 2cm and Tirunelveli 1cm. Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh received widespread rainfall. For Thursday, the met has forecast that the city sky will be ‘partly cloudy’ and will turn to ‘generally cloudy’ later in the day. Rain has been predicted in some parts during the evening or night. The met has forecast a maximum and minimum temperatures of 37°C and 28°C.



International News



Harvey moves into Louisiana with at least 25 dead, 17 missing

Floodwaters from the Addicks Reservoir inundate a neighborhood off N. Eldridge Parkway in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey on Aug. 30, 2017, in Houston.



LAKE CHARLES, La./HOUSTON: Tropical Storm Harvey spun across southeastern Texas into Louisiana on Wednesday, sending more people fleeing for shelter after swamping Houston with record rains and flooding that killed at least 25 and drove tens of thousands from their homes. The storm has forced 32,000 people into shelters since coming ashore on Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in half a century. On Wednesday, it pummeled the coast from Port Arthur, Texas, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Harvey weakened to a tropical depression on Wednesday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, but the forecaster warned that “catastrophic and life threatening flooding will continue in and around Houston, Beaumont/Port Arthur, eastward into southwest Louisiana for the rest of the week”. Among the latest deaths reported were a married couple who drowned while driving through high water near Simonton, Texas, Major Chad Norvell of the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office said on Twitter. The Houston Chronicle identified the victims as Donald and Rochelle Rogers of Katy, Texas. Houston’s KHOU-TV reported that an infant girl was swept away after her parents got out of their pickup truck near New Waverly, Texas, and tried to carry her across rushing water. Police in Harris County, home to Houston, said 17 people remained missing. Busloads of people fleeing floodwaters around Port Arthur arrived in Lake Charles, joining local residents who had already packed into shelters to escape waterlogged homes. About 254,000 homes and businesses were without power in Texas and Louisiana, according to figures from four utilities. Harvey was forecast to drop a further 3 to 6 inches (7.5-15 cm) of rain on Wednesday, with a storm surge of up to 4 feet (1.2 m) along the western part of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast, although the Houston area was finally expected to get a break with no rain forecast for Thursday or Friday. The floods shut the nation’s largest oil refinery in Port Arthur in the latest hit to U.S. energy infrastructure that has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies.


ANOTHER WEEK OF FLOODING: Moody’s Analytics is estimating the economic cost from Harvey for southeast Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history. At least $23 billion worth of property has been affected by flooding from Harvey just in parts of Texas’ Harris and Galveston counties, a Reuters analysis of satellite imagery and property data showed. “The worst is not yet over for southeast Texas as far as the rain is concerned,” Governor Greg Abbott said. He warned residents of storm-hit areas to expect floodwaters to linger for up to a week and said the area affected was larger than that hit by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed more than 1,800 people in New Orleans, and 2012’s Super storm Sandy, which killed 132 around New York and New Jersey. The population of Houston’s metropolitan area is about 6.5 million, far greater than New Orleans’ at the time of Katrina. Abbott asked that the federal government spend more on rebuilding Texas’ Gulf Coast than it did after the earlier storms. A day after visiting Texas to survey the damage, U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on Wednesday to stand by the people of Texas and Louisiana. “We are here with you today and we will be with you every single day after to restore, recover and rebuild,” he said during an appearance in Springfield, Missouri. The storm made it less likely Trump would act on his threat to shut the federal government over funding for a border wall with Mexico, Goldman Sachs economists said. They now estimate that probability at 35 percent, down from 50 percent previously. Vice President Mike Pence and several Cabinet secretaries will travel to Texas on Thursday to meet with residents affected by the storm as well as local and state officials, Pence’s press secretary said.


CLEAR SKIES IN HOUSTON: Clear skies in Houston on Wednesday brought relief to the energy hub and fourth-largest U.S. city after five days of catastrophic downpours. The first flight out of Houston since the storm hit had boarded, city officials said on Wednesday evening. Mayor Sylvester Turner said he hoped the port of Houston would reopen soon. But disruptions lingered and even some of the people helping evacuees in Houston said they had lost their homes. Even those who safely evacuated found further suffering as floodwaters inundated part of Port Arthur’s Bob Bowers Civic Center, forcing evacuees into the bleachers. A shelter in Lake Charles was bracing for about 1,500 people rescued from floods by the U.S. Coast Guard, said Angela Jouett, who is running the shelter. Among them was Jacelyn Alexander, 41, who woke up at 4 a.m. when her neighbor in an Orange, Texas, apartment complex warned her the building was flooding. She flagged a rescue boat and escaped. “I can’t move. I’m wet and tired. I’m trying to find my family,” said Alexander, who last spoke with her parents early in the morning when her father told her by phone he had declined a rescue. Disputes flared at some shelters, with at least one arrest reported. Harvey made landfall for a third time early on Wednesday, and was about 50 miles (80 km) north of Lake Charles, near the Texas border at 4 p.m. CDT (2100 GMT), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Texas officials said close to 49,000 homes had suffered flood damage, with more than 1,000 destroyed. Some 195,000 people have begun the process of seeking federal help, FEMA said. The nation’s largest refinery, Valero Energy Corp’s facility in Port Arthur was shut, according to sources familiar with plant operations. The storm has shut about one-quarter of US fuel production, sending gasoline futures surging to a two-year high on Wednesday. Royal Dutch Shell sent staff back to the Perdido oil and gas platform in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico to begin to restart production.



‘Gates of Hell’ – Iraqi army says fighting near Tal Afar worse than Mosul


BAGHDAD: Iraqi forces battling to retake the small town of al-‘Ayadiya where militants fleeing Tal Afar have entrenched themselves, saying on Tuesday the fighting is “multiple times worse” than the battle for Mosul‘s old city. Hundreds of battle-hardened fighters were positioned inside most houses and high buildings inside the town, making it difficult for government forces to make any progress, army officers told Reuters. Iraqi government troops captured the town of Mosul from Islamic State in June, but only after eight months of grinding urban warfare. But one Iraqi officer, Colonel Kareem al-Lami, described breaching the militants’ first line of defence in al-‘Ayadiya as like opening “the gates of hell”. Iraqi forces have in recent days recaptured almost all of the northwestern city of Tal Afar, long a stronghold of Islamic State. They have been waiting to take al-‘Ayadiya, just 11 km (7 miles) northwest of the city, before declaring complete victory. Tough resistance from the militants in al-‘Ayadiya has forced the Iraqi forces to increase the number of air strikes, as well as bring in reinforcements from the federal police to boost units from the army, air force, Federal Police, the elite U.S.-trained Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS) and some units from the Shi’ite Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF). Up to 2,000 battle-hardened militants were believed to be defending Tal Afar against around 50,000 government troops last week. Military intelligence indicated that many militants fled Tal Afar to mount a staunch defence in al-‘Ayadiya. Many motorcycles carrying the Islamic State insignia were seen abandoned at the side of the road outside al-‘Ayadiya.


Though the exact numbers of militants on the ground in al-‘Ayadiya was still unclear, al-Lami, the Iraqi Army colonel, estimated they were in their “hundreds”. “Daesh (Islamic State) fighters in their hundreds are taking positions inside almost every single house in the town,” he said. Sniper shots, mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-armoured projectiles were fired from every single house, he added. “We thought the battle for Mosul’s Old City was tough, but this one proved to be multiple times worst,” al-Lami said. “We are facing tough fighters who have nothing to lose and are ready to die”. Two army officers told Reuters that no significant advances had yet been made in al-‘Ayadiya. They said they were waiting for artillery and air strikes to undermine the militants power. The extra Federal Police troops that were called in said late on Tuesday that they had controlled 50 percent of the town, deploying snipers on the high buildings and intensified shelling the militant’s headquarters with rockets, a federal police spokesman said in a statement. Tal Afar became the next target of the U.S.-backed war on the jihadist group following the recapture of Mosul, where it had declared its “caliphate” over parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014.

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