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Hurricane Delta threatens a devastated Louisiana on US Gulf Coast

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Louisiana residents, still recovering from the devastation of a powerful hurricane less than two months ago, braced for another hit as Hurricane Delta steamed north through the Gulf on Thursday after swiping Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Forecasters warned the storm could blow ashore on Friday with winds of up to 160 kilometres per hour (99 miles per hour) and a storm surge of up to 3.4 metres (11 feet). They placed most of Louisiana within Delta’s path, including the southwest area of the state around Lake Charles, where Category 4 Hurricane Laura ripped houses from their foundations, peeled off roofs and tore trailers in half on August 27.

Nearly six weeks later, 5,600 people remain in New Orleans hotels because their homes are too damaged to occupy. Trees, roofs and other debris left in Laura’s wake still sit by roadsides waiting to be picked up even as forecasters warned Delta could be a larger-than-average storm.

The large majority of structures damaged by Laura have not been permanently repaired, Governor John Bel Edwards noted on Wednesday.

“All that debris could become missiles in really strong wind,” said Edwards, who also worried about the “sheer anxiety” the storm could cause already traumatised residents.

Hurricane Delta, then a category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, brought down trees when it hit Cancun, Mexico [ Rodolfo Flores/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images]

“We don’t want a hurricane to hit anywhere, but we know that the area that is least prepared and ready for a storm happens to be southwest Louisiana,” he said.

Edwards said President Donald Trump approved his request to declare a federal emergency, which frees up federal resources. This is the sixth time in the Atlantic hurricane season that people in Louisiana have been forced to flee the state’s barrier islands on sailboats to a safe harbour while emergency officials ramp up command centres and consider ordering evacuations.

In neighbouring Mississippi, Governor Tate Reeves also declared a state of emergency. The Southern part of Mississippi could see heavy rain and flash flooding.

Hurricane Delta is the 25th named storm of the Atlantic’s unprecedented hurricane season. Delta hit Mexico as a Category 2 hurricane just south of the resort city of Cancun early on Wednesday with strong winds and heavy rain, cutting power to more than 260,000 customers and forcing tourists into storm shelters. No deaths or injuries were reported.

The storm weakened to a Category 1 storm on Wednesday afternoon but had already restrengthened to a Category 2 by Thursday morning, with sustained winds of near 160km/h (99mph). The storm was expected to become a major hurricane by Thursday night, with some weakening forecast once Delta approaches the northern Gulf Coast on Friday.

Many residents said they have had enough.

Jule Chaisson secures his boat as he pulls his crab traps from Bayou Dularge in anticipation of Hurricane Delta, expected to arrive along the Gulf Coast later this week, in Theriot, La, Wednesday, October 7, 2020 [Gerald Herbert/AP]

“This has to be the worst year that I have experienced,” said Andrius Vitto, 42, a food truck owner from Gramercy who helped feed hungry evacuees after Laura. After learning this week that his native New Iberia, just to the east of Laura’s worst devastation, was in Hurricane Delta’s sights, “the hair rolled up on my arms,” he said. “To see all this happening in one year – you know with the wildfires, with the hurricanes, the rain, all the other stuff in the news – COVID – It’s mind-boggling.”

In Sulphur, across the Calcasieu River from Lake Charles, Ben Reynolds was deciding on Wednesday whether to leave or stay. He had to use a generator for power for a week after Hurricane Laura.

“It’s depressing,” Reynolds said. “It’s scary as hell.”

While New Orleans has been mostly spared by the weather and found itself outside Delta’s cone on Wednesday, constant vigilance and months as a COVID-19 hot spot has strained a vulnerable city still scarred by memories of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. Delta’s shifting forecast track likely meant no need for a major evacuation, but the city’s emergency officials were on alert.

“We’ve had five near misses. We need to watch this one very, very closely,” New Orleans Emergency Director Collin Arnold said.

Along with getting hit by Hurricane Laura and escaping Hurricane Sally, Louisiana saw heavy flooding on June 7 from Tropical Storm Cristobal. Tropical Storm Beta prompted tropical storm warnings in mid-September as it slowly crawled up the northeast Texas coast.

Tropical Storm Marco looked like it might deliver the first half of a hurricane double-blow with Laura but nearly dissipated before hitting the state near the mouth of the Mississippi River on August 24.

There are nearly eight weeks of hurricane season left, although forecasters at the National Weather Service office in New Orleans noted in a discussion Tuesday of this week’s forecast that outside of Delta, the skies above the Gulf of Mexico look calm.

“Not seeing any signs of any additional tropical weather in the extended which is OK with us because we are SO DONE with Hurricane Season 2020,” they wrote.

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Voting under way in Seychelles parliamentary, presidential polls

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President Danny Faure, in power since 2016, is facing voters for the first time in the three-day election.

Voting is under way in presidential and parliamentary elections in Seychelles, with President Danny Faure, in power since 2016, facing voters for the first time.

Polling stations opened on Thursday for a three-day election as the Indian Ocean archipelago nation is expected to see its tourism-dependent economy contract by 14 percent this year, according to ratings agency Fitch, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The contraction would reverse some fragile progress made since the government defaulted on its debt in 2008 and sought an International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout.

A ballot paper is seen at the English River polling station during the early voting for the presidential and legislative elections, in Victoria [Rassin Vannier/AFP]

The same party has been in power since 1977. Faure was previously vice president and became president when his predecessor resigned after a constitutional amendment was passed limiting presidents to two terms.

Despite the economic hardship, Faure is viewed as likely to retain power, in part because the opposition is divided.

An opposition coalition captured parliament in the 2016 election, but has since split. The leader of one its two parties told supporters to vote for the governing party after the electoral commission rejected his own presidential bid.

Walter Jeannevole, 45, said on Thursday he had cast his ballot for Faure.

“I trust that he will help the economy back on its feet and work for all Seychellois, like he is doing now.”

Some voters complained on Thursday they had to wait for more than six hours to cast their vote because there were too few voting booths [Herbert Labrosse/Reuters]

Faure’s two challengers – Wavel Ramkalawan, who has unsuccessfully contested the presidency since 1998, and Alain St Ange, a former tourism minister – have both promised voters that if elected, they will increase the monthly minimum wage of 5,800 Seychellois rupees ($318).

St Ange has also pledged to tackle a persistent complaint from locals that high-end hotels pay expatriate workers far more than local staff.

“I see Ramkalawan struggling to fight for justice for the country and now is the time to vote for him and make him our president,” said a Ramkalawan supporter who declined to give his name.

Some voters in the English River district of Mahe island complained on Thursday they had to wait for more than six hours to cast their vote because there were too few voting booths.

There are about 74,600 voters out of a population of 100,000. Polling is spread over three days and the results are expected on Saturday.

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Palestinian’s hunger strike entering ‘critical phase’: Red Cross

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ICRC calls on Maher al-Akhras and the Israeli authorities ‘to find a solution that will avoid any loss of life’.

A Palestinian man on hunger strike for 85 days since his arrest by Israel is entering a medically “critical phase”, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Thursday.

Maher al-Akhras, 49, was arrested near Nablus and placed in administrative detention, a policy that Israel uses to hold suspected armed people without charge.

The father of six launched his strike to protest the policy.

He had been arrested several times previously by Israel.

“More than 85 days into the hunger strike, we are concerned about potentially irreversible health consequences,” said Yves Giebens, the head of the ICRC’s health department in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“From a medical perspective, he is entering a critical phase,” Giebens added in a statement.

The ICRC said it had been “closely monitoring” the situation.

“The ICRC encourages the patient, his representatives and the competent authorities involved to find a solution that will avoid any loss of life,” the statement said.

Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip have launched several demonstrations to demand the release of al-Akhras. They have also organised sit-ins and online campaigns to show their support for him.

Following his arrest in early July, al-Akhras was transferred in early September to Kaplan Hospital, south of Tel Aviv.

His lawyers have appealed on multiple occasions to Israel’s Supreme Court for his release.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has also demanded his immediate release.

Israel’s administrative detention system allows the internment of prisoners for renewable periods of up to six months each, without bringing charges.

Israel says the procedure allows authorities to hold suspects while continuing to gather evidence, but critics and rights groups say the system is abused.

About 355 Palestinians were being held under administrative detention orders as of August, including two minors, according to Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem.

Palestinian women hold a placard bearing the portrait of Maher al-Akhras during a demonstration demanding his release at Beit Hanoon, known as Erez to Israelis, in Gaza Strip [File: Mahmud Hams/AFP]

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Israel strikes Gaza after rocket attack

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Israeli army says it struck Hamas military targets in the besieged strip after two rockets were fired into Israel.

The Israeli military says it launched overnight air attack in the besieged Gaza Strip after Palestinian fighters fired rockets, with no reports of casualties or significant damage on either side.

The military said Palestinian fighters fired two rockets into Israel late on Thursday. One was intercepted by the Israeli missile defence system, while the other fell in an open area.

“In response to the 2 rockets that were fired from Gaza at Israel earlier tonight, our Air Force just struck Hamas military targets in Gaza,” the Israeli army said on Twitter.

“Hamas will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians,” it added.

Sirens were sounded in a region south of Israel that borders the Gaza Strip to warn residents of the incoming fire.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket attack.

The last reported rocket attack from Gaza was on Tuesday night.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars and several skirmishes since the Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian groups in 2007.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza, including those claimed by other fighter groups based in the region.

New tunnel discovered

Israel and Egypt have maintained a crippling blockade on Gaza Strip – a coastal territory which is home to two million Palestinians – since Hamas seized power.

The latest incident came after the Israeli army announced it had found a new tunnel that crosses “dozens of metres into Israel” from the Israeli-blockaded Palestinian coastal enclave.

The next day, the army said the tunnel belonged to Hamas.

Authorities have discovered some 20 tunnels originating from Gaza since 2014, army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said this week.

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