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Hurricane Harvey unleash catastrophe in Houston, parts of Texas

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Houston/AP: Floodwaters reached the roof lines of single-story homes on Monday, and people could be heard pleading for help from inside as Harvey kept pouring rain on Houston after a chaotic weekend of rising water and rescues.

The nation’s fourth-largest city was still largely paralysed, and there was no relief in sight from the storm that spun into Texas as a Category 4 hurricane, then parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 2 feet of rain still expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

Water gushed from two reservoirs overwhelmed by Harvey as officials sought to release pressure on two dams that were at risk of failing from the immense floodwaters that have filled the city. The move aimed at protecting the downtown business district risked flooding thousands more homes.

Meanwhile, authorities continued plucking people from the floodwaters—at least 2,000 so far, according to police chief Art Acevedo.

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Connie Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

At least 185 critical rescue requests were still pending on Monday morning. The goal is to rescue those people by the end of the day, Acevedo said.

With rain falling unabated, he said there was nowhere left for the water to drain.

“I’m not sure where the water is going because it’s just so much that we can’t really absorb more in the ground at this point,” he told MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

Harvey, which made landfall on Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and then lingered just off the coast as a drenching tropical storm, sent devastating floods pouring into Houston on Sunday. The rising water forced a mass evacuation of parts of the city and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with constant calls for help.

As many as 50 counties are affected by the flooding, Federal Emergency Management Agency director Brock Long said on Monday. The rain and floods have been blamed for at least two deaths.

Emergency vehicles made up most of the traffic on Monday in downtown Houston. The normally bustling business district was virtually deserted. Many traffic signals did not work and most businesses were closed.

Residents living near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs—which were created to prevent flooding in downtown Houston—were warned on Sunday that a controlled release would cause additional street flooding that could spill into homes. The rising water and continuing rain put pressure on the dams, which could fail if the pressure is not relieved.

Harris and Fort Bend county officials advised residents to pack their cars on Sunday night and leave in the morning.

“When the sun comes up, get out,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District. “And you don’t have to go far, you just need to get out of this area.”

The Red Cross quickly set up Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Centre and other venues as shelters. The convention centre was also used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005. By Monday morning, it had already reached half its capacity.

More than 2,600 people had taken shelter there, said Ken Sandy, a shelter manager for the American Red Cross.

Red Cross officials estimated that the convention centre can accommodate roughly 5,000 people, although Sandy cautioned that the shelter had run out of cots and was waiting for more to arrive.

The Army Corps of Engineers started the reservoir releases before 2am on Monday—ahead of schedule—because water levels were increasing at a rate of more than 6 inches (15 centimetres) per hour, Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said.

Officials in suburban Fort Bend County issued mandatory evacuation orders late Sunday along the Brazos River levee districts as the river rose to major flood stage. The National Weather Service predicted that the water could rise to 59 feet (18 metres), 3 feet (90 centimetres) above 2016 records and what County Judge Robert Herbert called an “800-year flood level.”

That much water would top the levees and carries a threat of levee failure, Herbert said.

On Sunday, incessant rain covered much of Houston in turbid, gray-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat. In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighbourhoods and high-water vehicles plowed through water-logged intersections. Some people managed with kayaks or canoes or swam.

Volunteers joined emergency teams in pulling people from their homes or from the water. Authorities urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.

Long predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.

“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” he said Sunday.

The weather service warned that the flooding will get worse in the days ahead and that the floodwaters will be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on.

Up to 20 inches (51 centimetres) of rain could fall in the coming days, on top of the more than 30 inches (76 centimetres) some places have already seen, weather service director Louis Uccellini said on Monday.

Rescuers were giving priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. And several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.

Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying trash bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers.

Houston mayor Sylvester Turner urged drivers to stay off the roads.

The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey’s path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.

The governor refused to point fingers on Sunday.

“Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. “What’s important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild.”

The mayor, a Democrat, defended his decision, citing the risk of sending the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants onto the highways at the same time.

“If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” Turner said.

The Coast Guard deployed five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans.

The White House said President Donald Trump would visit Texas on Tuesday, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump.

Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the US in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961’s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

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USAfrica is an international multimedia company, founded since 1992 by Dr. Chido Nwangwu [author of Mandela & Achebe: Leadership, Identity and Footprints of Greatness], with its headquarters in Houston, Texas. Also, he established the 1st African-owned, U.S.-based professional newspaper published on the internet USAfricaonline.com, both assessed by the CNN and The New York Times as the largest and arguably the most influential African-owned, U.S-based multimedia networks. USAfrica’s first print edition of USAfrica magazine published August 1993; USAfrica The Newspaper on May 11, 1994; The Black Business Journal in 1998; CLASSmagazine on May 2, 2003; PhotoWorks.TV in 2005, and several platforms and products. USAfricaonline.com is powered by the global resources of USAfrica, CLASSmagazine, CLASSmagazine.TV, PhotoWorks.Tv, USAfrica.TV, MandelaAchebeChido.com, AchebeBooks.com and ChidoNwangwu.com

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Boko Haram faction backed by the Islamic State group overrun Nigerian troops in Gudumbali

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Buhari-clasped-USAfrica

Boko Haram jihadists were in control of a town in northeast Nigeria on Saturday after sacking a military base, in the latest attack that raises questions about claims they are weakened to the point of defeat.

Local officials and security sources said scores of fighters believed to be loyal to a Boko Haram faction backed by the Islamic State group overran troops in Gudumbali.

At least eight civilians were believed to have been killed, while thousands of others fled to neighbouring towns.

Gudumbali, in the Guzamala area of Borno state, is Boko Haram’s first major seizure in two years and comes after a series of recent attacks on troops.

The authorities and the military have been encouraging people displaced by violence in the long-running conflict to return to Guzamala, insisting it is safe to do so.

But aid agencies say minimum levels of basic services, including shelter, civilian infrastructure and security are still lacking.

President Muhammadu Buhari, a former army general, was elected in 2015 on a promise to defeat Boko Haram and is seeking a second term of office at polls in February.

The Gudumbali attack will again raise questions about his claims to have “technically defeated” the group and that Borno state was now in a “post-conflict stabilisation phase”

An official of the Guzamala local government area, of which Gudumbali is the headquarters, confirmed troops had been pushed out of the town and Boko Haram was in “full control”.

A military source in the Borno state capital, Maiduguri, said the attack began at about 7:50 pm (1850 GMT) on Friday and lasted until the early hours of Saturday, “when troops were forced to withdraw”.

Local civilian militia member Musa Ari said: “So far eight civilians, who were errand boys for troops, were believed to have been killed in the attack.”

But “most civilians were spared because the attack was targeted at the military base”, he added.

The IS-backed faction — known as Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) — has vowed to hit only “hard” military or government targets.

It is reportedly trying to get the support of local populations in the Muslim-majority region.

Ari said soldiers and residents fled Gudumbali to Damasak, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, on the border with Niger.

Others escaped south towards Gajiram, where nine soldiers were killed in a similar attack in June.

Nigerian Army spokesman Brigadier General Texas Chukwu said he was “not aware” of the latest attack.

  • Increasing strength –

ISWAP fighters led by Abu Mus’ab al-Barnawi were last month blamed for an attack in Zari village, just 50 kilometres away from Gudumbali, which killed 48 soldiers.

In July, dozens of troops were said to have been killed, wounded or missing in a similar attack on a base in Jilli village, across the border in Yobe state.

Yan St-Pierre, head of the Modern Security Consulting Group, said the Gudumbali attack was “another demonstration of ISWAP’s increasing capabilities and level of strength”.

“They’ve been able in recent months to attack larger, more important targets with increasing frequency and success,” the counter-terrorism specialist told AFP.

“It is likely to get worse because ISWAP is not only adapting to changing circumstances but benefiting from the changing dynamics in the Sahel as well.”

The Nigerian military regularly trumpets successes against Boko Haram and has strongly condemned any reports of significant troop losses.

But there are indications of disquiet in the ranks, mirroring the situation four years ago when Boko Haram ran rampant across the northeast.

Then, under-equipped troops in some instances refused to deploy.

A military counter-insurgency has since driven out Boko Haram from captured territory, including Gudumbali, which was captured in 2014.

But aid agencies providing food, shelter and healthcare to 1.8 million displaced by the conflict, say much of the hard-to-reach countryside remains in Boko Haram control.

Last month, hundreds of soldiers protested at the airport in Maiduguri, for several hours, shooting into the air and disrupting flights.

They complained about being battle weary and needing home leave after sometimes years on the frontlines.

St Pierre said Nigeria’s military needed to break the cycle by acknowledging its tactics against the insurgents were not working and by addressing low morale.

If it does not, “it will simply never be in a position to defeat them”, he added. ref: AFP

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AFRICA

Kenya’s President returns home after meeting with Trump on trade, security

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President Uhuru Kenyatta has returned to Nairobi from his meeting with President Donald Trump on Monday at the White House, where the two leaders talked trade, security and some issues facing the two continents.

Kenya is emerging from a period of election turmoil. He’s the second African leader to meet with Trump at the White House, following a visit by Nigeria’s president earlier this year.

Trump has been criticized for paying too little attention to the continent and faced demands for an apology earlier this year after his private comments about “shithole countries” in Africa and other regions were leaked to journalists.

U.S. first lady Melania Trump, who helped welcome Kenyatta and his wife to the White House, is planning a solo trip to Africa this fall.

Trump and Kenyatta, during remarks to reporters in the Oval Office and Cabinet room, said they would be discussing a series of topics, including cooperation on terrorism and building trade and investment ties. USAfrica/VOA

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AFRICA

FIRESTORM: Trump’s false tweet on “South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers”

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JOHANNESBURG: South Africa accused US President Donald Trump of fuelling racial tensions on Thursday (Aug 23) after he said farmers were being forced off their land and many of them killed.

Trump’s tweet touched on the overwhelmingly white ownership of farmland in South Africa – one of the most sensitive issues in the country’s post-apartheid history.

The foreign ministry said in a statement it would meet officials at the US embassy to challenge the “unfortunate comments”, which were “based on false information”.

Foreign Minister Lindiwe Sisulu would also speak directly with her American opposite number, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, it added.

Trump wrote overnight: “I have asked Secretary of State … Pompeo to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers.”

His tweet apparently followed a segment on conservative Fox News about [an alleged] plan to change the constitution to speed up expropriation of land without compensation to redress racial imbalances in land ownership.

“‘South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers’,” said Trump’s post, which tagged the show’s host, Tucker Carlson, as well as the channel.

In the clip, Carlson painted an apocalyptic picture of the situation accompanied by on-screen graphics warning of the “threat of violence and economic collapse”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who faces elections in 2019, has claimed expropriating farms without ramaphosa-ANCcompensating their owners would “undo a grave historical injustice” against the black majority during colonialism and the apartheid era.

Even though apartheid ended in 1994, the white community that makes up eight per cent of the population “possess 72 per cent of farms” compared to “only four per cent” in the hands of black people who make up four-fifths of the population, Ramaphosa said.

The stark inequality stems from purchases and seizures during the colonial era that were then enshrined in law during apartheid.

But plans to change the constitution have yet to be approved by parliament, and there is a vigorous debate in South Africa about how land redistribution would work – and whether seizures could be economically damaging as they were in post-independence Zimbabwe.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance party which opposes forced expropriation but backs land reform, said “fear mongering by international leaders adds no value”.

“The injustices of land dispossession in South Africa can be addressed by our constitution in its current form. We must ensure ownership of land for all South Africans,” he tweeted.

Later on Thursday, US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert called for “a peaceful and transparent public debate”.

However she added that on “the expropriation of land without compensation, our position is that that would risk sending South Africa down the wrong path”.

Earlier this year, Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton sparked a diplomatic row after he said that Canberra should give “special attention” to white South African farmers seeking asylum.

The level of violence against farmers and farm workers is hotly contested but the police’s latest figures show there were 74 farm murders in 2016-17, according to the Africa Check fact-checking site.

South Africa’s leading farming lobby group AgriSA on Thursday praised the government’s “commitment to agriculture”.

“As a country it’s important that we find solutions together – we did this pre-1994 and we can do it again,” AgriSA chief executive Omri van Zyl told the SABC broadcaster.

Van Zyl was speaking at a conference on the land issue also attended by Deputy President David Mabuza who warned against “spreading falsehoods”.

“We would like to discourage those who are using this sensitive and emotive issue of land to divide us,” he said.

But Kallie Kriel, chief executive of AfriForum – a group that advocates for its largely white membership – welcomed Trump’s intervention and attacked Ramaphosa for pressing ahead with the policy.

“We need to get international support to put pressure on the South African government to hopefully make them re-visit their stance,” he told AFP.

Kriel added that Trump could suspend South Africa from the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade programme if property rights were not respected.

“The US has a lot of power,” he said.

South Africa’s rand currency dropped as much as 1.9 per cent against the US dollar following Trump’s tweet, according to the Bloomberg news agency, ending four days of gains against the greenback.

Julius Malema, the leader of the radical opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party, called Trump a “pathological liar” and told him to “stay out of South Africa’s domestic affairs”. ref AFP

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