Canadian wildfire edges south, leaves thousands stranded

CONKLIN/LAC LA BICHE, Alberta The 88,000 residents who fled a wildfire that has ravaged the Canadian oil town of Fort McMurray in Alberta will not be able to return home anytime soon, officials warned on Thursday, even as the inferno edged slowly south.The out-of-control blaze has consumed entire neighborhoods of Fort McMurray in Canada's energy heartland and officials warn its spread now threatens two oil sands sites south of the city. The wildfire has already forced precautionary production cuts or shutdowns at about a dozen major facilities, eating into a global crude surplus and supporting oil prices this week. "The damage to the community of Fort McMurray is extensive and the city is not safe for residents," said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley in a press briefing late Thursday, as those stranded in camps and on the roadside to the north of the city clamored for answers. "It is simply not possible, nor is it responsible to speculate on a time when citizens will be able to return. We do know that it will not be a matter of days," she said. Three days after the residents were ordered to leave Fort McMurray, firefighters were still battling to protect homes, businesses and other structures from the flames. More than 1,600 structures, including hundreds of homes, had been destroyed by Wednesday morning. Officials declined on Thursday to estimate how many more had been lost. The communities of Anzac and Gregoire Lake Estates about 50 kilometers (31 miles) south of Fort McMurray were "under extreme threat," late Thursday, as the flames spread to the southeast.CNOOC Nexen's Long Lake oil sands facility and Athabasca Oil's Hangingstone project are also in danger as winds blow southward, according to emergency officials. There have been no known casualties from the blaze itself, but fatalities were reported in a car crash along the evacuation route. Although the cause of the fire was unknown, officials said tinder-dry brush, low humidity, and hot, gusting winds left crews unable to stop the massive conflagration. The blaze, which erupted on Sunday, grew more than tenfold from 18,500 acres (7,500 hectares) on Wednesday to some 210,000 acres (85,000 hectares) on Thursday, an area roughly 10 times the size of Manhattan.The dry weather conditions prompted the province to issue a fire ban for parks and protected areas on Thursday. "GIVE US ANSWERS"For those stranded north of Fort McMurray, there was a hint of good news. With the fire moving to the southeast, officials are hoping to begin a ground evacuation from the north on Friday morning and briefly re-open the main highway through the city to let people drive south.On Thursday, frustration for thousands stranded to the north was growing, with some venting online and demanding answers. One twitter user posted a message saying, "NO ONE IS TELLING US ANYTHING!! We're just sitting in a camp praying to get out!! Give us answers!!! Please." The premier said that a government airlift of those cut off to the north was going smoothly and that about 4,000 people had already been evacuated to the cities of Edmonton and Calgary as of late Thursday.Closer to the scene, hundreds filled a community center on Thursday in Lac La Biche, a community 290 km (180 miles) south of Fort McMurray. Many were second-round evacuees ordered to relocate from temporary refuges closer to Fort McMurray on Wednesday night as the flames spread. Kirby Abo, who came from Fort McMurray with his wife and three children, said he worried that his job in a recycling depot may no longer exist when he returns home. "I think it's going to be a ghost town for quite a while," he said. Fort McMurray's mayor in a television interview acknowledged the city faces a long road to recovery, saying that "what comes next is absolutely daunting, but not insurmountable."The winds gave the city a reprieve on Thursday by driving the fire to the southeast, away from areas with the most dwellings. But officials warned the unpredictable weather could quickly shift and that gusting winds have been very challenging for firefighters. Properties near green areas in Fort McMurray remain at risk, they said. (With additional reporting by Ethan Lou, Andrea Hopkins, Allison Martell, Amran Abocar, Jeffrey Hodgson and Euan Rocha in Toronto, Nia Williams in Calgary and Julie Gordon in Vancouver; Writing by Andrea Hopkins, Dan Whitcomb and Euan Rocha; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Andrew Hay and Tom Hogue)

Read more

Truce takes hold in Aleppo but fighting goes on elsewhere in Syria

AMMAN Relative calm prevailed on Thursday in the Syrian city of Aleppo following a U.S.-Russian agreement to extend a cessation of hostilities that had crumbled after nearly two weeks of violence between rebels and government forces that killed dozens.Syrian state media said the army would abide by a "regime of calm" in the city that came into effect at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT on Wednesday) for 48 hours. But the army again blamed Islamist insurgents for violating the agreement overnight by what it called indiscriminate shelling of some government-held residential areas of the divided city.President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday his country would not accept less than an outright victory against rebels in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo and across Syria, state media reported. [L5N1821PX]In a telegram sent to Russian President Vladimir Putin in which he thanked Moscow for its military support, Assad said the army would not accept less than "attaining final victory" and "crushing the aggression" in its fight against the rebels.The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least one person was killed in rebel shelling overnight of the Midan neighborhood on the government side of the city. State media said rockets hit the New Aleppo district. A resident contacted in the rebel-held eastern part of the city said although warplanes were flying overnight, there were none of the intense raids seen during more than 10 days of aerial bombing.People in several districts ventured out onto the streets where more shops than normal had opened, the resident of al Shaar neighborhood said. Another resident said civilians in several districts sensed a general trend toward calm."From last night it was positive and my wife went out to shop and shops opened and people breathed. We did not hear the shelling and bombing we had gotten accustomed to," Sameh Tutunji, a merchant said. "Enough of this daily killing after more than 10 days," he added. A rebel source also said that despite intermittent firing across the city's main front lines, fighting had subsided and no army shelling of residential areas had been heard.The only intense fighting reported was in the southern Aleppo countryside near the town of Khan Touman, where Syria's al Qaeda offshoot Nusra Front is dug in close to where Iranian backed militias maintain a stronghold, a rebel source said. Rebels also said Syrian helicopters dropped barrel bombs on rebel held Dahyat al-Rashdeen al Junobi, situated northwest of the city and near Jamiyat al Zahraa area that saw a major rebel ground assault Wednesday that failed after their positions were pounded by warplanes.[L5N1812KR]The army however said rebels continued shelling of Jamiyat al Zahraa after they were routed. The surge in bloodshed in Aleppo, Syria's largest city before the civil war, wrecked the first major "cessation of hostilities" agreement of the war, sponsored by Washington and Moscow, which had held since February.A spokesman for the mainstream Syrian opposition said the Saudi-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC) supported the deal but wanted a cessation of hostilities that would cover all of Syria, not just limited to Aleppo. It blamed the government for violating the truce.Separately, there was no let-up in fighting in other parts of Syria. Syrian state media said at least six people were killed and scores injured in a village in the eastern Homs countryside where Islamic State militants operate after a suicide bomber blew himself in the center. It did not identify the bomber. (Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Read more

Trump soars from long-shot to presumptive Republican nominee

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. Republican front-runner Donald Trump went from long-shot contender to become the party's presumptive nominee on Tuesday with a commanding win in Indiana, and the party began to coalesce around him as top rival Ted Cruz bowed out of the race. The New York billionaire, who has never held public office, had repeatedly defied pundits' predictions that his campaign would implode. He prevailed despite making outrageous statements along the way that drew biting criticism but still fed his anti-establishment appeal.The former reality TV star now can prepare for a matchup in the Nov. 8 election with Hillary Clinton expected to be his Democratic opponent. Clinton's march to the Democratic nomination was slowed by rival Bernie Sanders' victory over her in Indiana.Trump's immediate challenge is to unite deep fissures within the Republican Party as many party loyalists are appalled at his bullying style, his treatment of women and his signature proposals to build a wall on the border with Mexico and deport 11 million illegal immigrants."We have to unite the party if we want to win in November," said Henry Barbour, a Republican National Committee leader from Mississippi. "Donald Trump is the guy with the keys to the car. He’s the one who needs to unite us. Now is his opportunity. The voters have picked him."Trump himself called for unity in a speech at a victory rally that was free of his usual bombast and flamboyance. Trump's victory put to rest a belief that Republicans would choose their nominee at a contested convention when party leaders gather in Cleveland July 18-21.At his victory rally at Trump Tower in New York, Trump walked on stage with wife Melania and other family members as the Rolling Stones' "Start Me Up" blared over loudspeakers.He is likely to formally wrap up the nomination on June 7 when California votes, although Ohio Governor John Kasich vowed to stay in the race as Trump's last challenger. Trump called Indiana a "tremendous victory" and immediately directed fire at Clinton."We're going after Hillary Clinton," he said. "She will not be a great president, she will not be a good president, she will be a poor president. She doesn't understand trade."Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called Trump the party's presumptive nominee in a tweet and said, "We all need to unite and focus" on defeating Clinton. CRUZ: "VOTERS CHOSE ANOTHER PATH"As the vote returns flowed in, Cruz announced that he has ended his campaign in Indianapolis, with his wife, Heidi, at his side. Cruz, 45, sounding beaten but defiant, said he no longer sees a viable path to the nomination."We gave it everything we got. But the voters chose another path, and so with a heavy heart, but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign," said Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas.Clinton's campaign signaled the former secretary of state's approach to dealing with Trump in a statement issued by senior Clinton adviser John Podesta, who said Trump seeks to "bully and divide Americans.""Throughout this campaign, Donald Trump has demonstrated that he’s too divisive and lacks the temperament to lead our nation and the free world. With so much at stake, Donald Trump is simply too big of a risk," he said.Cruz had hoped to show he was still a factor in the race. Some at his event expressed shock at the decision by Cruz, who had been the last serious challenger to Trump out of an original field of 17 candidates. Dan Follis, 62, was too rocked by Cruz's announcement to know for sure his next thought on the campaign. But he was sure of one thing: "I will not vote for Trump."Trump won at least 51 of 57 possible delegates awarded in Indiana, according to the Associated Press delegate tracker. His victory in the state pushed him to 1,047 delegates of the 1,237 needed to clinch the nomination, compared with 153 for Kasich.Cruz had 565 delegates before suspending his campaign.On the Democratic side, Clinton now has 2,202 of the 2,383 needed, while Sanders has 1,400. Trump declared Cruz a tough man to beat."Ted Cruz, I don't know if he likes me or doesn't like me. But he is one hell of a competitor. He is one smart guy. And he has got an amazing future," Trump said.Trump also reached out to both Hispanics and African-Americans as he talked about ensuring jobs and saying he would "make America great again." "This is going to be a beautiful and loving country," Trump said.THIRD-PARTY ALTERNATIVEBut anti-Trump groups said they would continue fighting, and Lanhee Chen, who had advised former Republican candidate Marco Rubio, broached the possibility of a third-party candidate."Tonight's outcome raises seriousness & urgency of discussions about third-party alternative; how real it is depends on who steps up to run," he tweeted. Cruz had been counting on a win in Tuesday's primary to slow the New York businessman's progress toward the nomination. But Trump rode momentum from wins in five Northeastern states a week ago to wrest Indiana from Cruz, whose brand of Christian conservatism had been expected to have wide appeal in the state.The only hope Kasich has for becoming the Republican nominee is to somehow deny Trump the 1,237 delegates he needs to win the nomination outright and force Republicans at the July convention to choose one of them.Kasich vowed to stay in the race."As long as it remains possible Governor Kasich will fight for the higher path," said Kasich senior strategist John Weaver. "Governor Kasich will continue to campaign and offer the voters a clear choice for our country." (Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson and Megan Casella in Washington; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Read more

BRIEF-Severn Bancorp says CFO Bevivino to step down

May 3 Severn Bancorp Inc :* Severn Bancorp Inc announces retirement of chief financial officer * Thomas G. Bevivino advised Bancorp and Severn of his intention to step down as executive vice president and chief financial officer * Initiated a search to identify a replacement for Bevivino * Bevivino will remain with co to assist with CFO succession for transition period prior to his planned retirement at end of June 2016 Source text for Eikon: Further company coverage:

Read more

Islamic State boosts attacks in response to territorial losses: IHS

BAGHDAD Islamic State attacks have increased this year, particularly in Iraq and Syria as the group responds to substantial territorial losses, a U.S.-based analysis firm IHS said on Sunday.There were 891 attacks during the first quarter of 2016 in neighbors Iraq and Syria, more than in any three-month period since the militants' sweeping advance in mid-2014, IHS said in a new report.Those attacks killed 2,150 people, a 44 percent rise over the previous three months and the highest quarterly toll in nearly a year."The group is resorting more and more to mass-casualty violence as it comes under heavy pressure from multiple angles," said Matthew Henman, head of IHS Jane's Terrorism and Insurgency Center.The U.S. military estimates Islamic State's territory in Iraq has shrunk by about 40 percent from its 2014 peak and 20 percent in Syria. Iraq's military routed the militants from the western city of Ramadi four months ago and then pushed further west towards the Syrian border. The northern offensive has been slower, with army and Sunni Arab tribal forces taking only four villages over the past month south of Mosul.In Syria, government-aligned forces backed by Russian air power have recaptured territory from Islamic State, including the ancient city of Palmyra. The group is also under pressure from a separate U.S.-led air campaign in the north and northeast, where Kurdish fighters have advanced. The IHS report also noted a rise in Islamic State attacks in Libya, where the militants have grown in strength, taking over the central city of Sirte and attacking oilfields. Analysis showed almost as many attacks in the first three months of this year as in the preceding six months.IHS said Islamic State activity has also spiked around the northwestern town of Sabratha it described as a key staging ground for attacks in neighboring Tunisia. "High profile, mass casualty attacks are a tried and tested method of changing the narrative and deflecting attention away from the problems it is facing," said Henman. "This is done for internal consumption just as much as external." (Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Read more
Older Post