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Hurricane Irma brings death, destruction to the Caribbean

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 7th, 2017

Hurricane Irma has killed at least eight people and injured 23 in French Caribbean island territories as the dangerous Category 5 storm roared over the Caribbean, France’s interior minister said Thursday.

Speaking on French radio France Info, French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said the death toll in Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy could be higher because rescue teams have yet to finish their inspection of the islands.

“The reconnaissance will really start at daybreak,” Collomb said.

Irma blacked out much of Puerto Rico, raking the U.S. territory with heavy wind and rain while staying just out to sea, and it headed early Thursday toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

To the east, authorities struggled to get aid to small Caribbean islands devastated by the storm’s record 185 mph (298 kph) winds earlier Wednesday, while people in Florida rushed to get ready for a possible direct hit on the Miami area.

Communications were difficult with areas hit by Irma, and information on damage trickled out.

Nearly every building on Barbuda was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday and about 60 per cent of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne told The Associated Press.

“It is just really a horrendous situation,” Browne said after returning to Antigua from a plane trip to the neighbouring island.

He said roads and telecommunications systems were wrecked and recovery would take months, if not years. A 2-year-old child was killed as a family tried to escape a damaged home during the storm, Browne told the AP.

On St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Laura Strickling spent 12 hours hunkered down with her husband and 1-year-old daughter in a boarded-up basement apartment with no power as the storm raged outside. They emerged to find the lush island in tatters. Many of their neighbours’ homes were damaged and once-dense vegetation was largely gone.

“There are no leaves. It is crazy. One of the things we loved about St. Thomas is that it was so green. And it’s gone,” Strickling said. “It will take years for this community to get back on its feet.”

Significant damage was also reported on St. Martin, an island split between French and Dutch control. Photos and video circulating on social media showed major damage to the airport in Philipsburg and the coastal village of Marigot heavily flooded. France sent emergency food and water there and to the French island of St. Bart’s, where Irma ripped off roofs and knocked out electricity.

By early Thursday, the centre of the storm was about 140 miles (225 kilometres) northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico, and moving west-northwest near 16 mph (26 kph).

More than half the island of Puerto Rico was without power, leaving 900,000 in the dark and nearly 50,000 without water, the U.S. territory’s emergency management agency said in the midst of the storm. Fourteen hospitals were using generators after losing power, and trees and light poles were strewn across roads.

Puerto Rico’s public power company warned before the storm hit that some areas could be left without power from four to six months because its staff has been reduced and its infrastructure weakened by the island’s decade-long economic slump.

State maintenance worker Juan Tosado said he was without power for three months after Hurricane Hugo in 1989. “I expect the same from this storm. It’s going to be bad,” he said.

President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies to remove debris and give other services that will largely be paid for by the U.S. government.

Pauline Jackson, a 59-year-old registered nurse from Florida visiting Puerto Rico, said she had tried to leave before the storm but all flights were sold out.

She has a reservation to fly out Friday and is worried about her home in Tampa. “When you’re from Florida, you understand a Category 5 hurricane,” she said.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicted Irma would remain at Category 4 or 5 for the next day or two as passes just to the north of the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Thursday, nears the Turks & Caicos and parts of the Bahamas by Thursday night and skirts Cuba on Friday night into Saturday. It will then likely head north toward Florida.

The storm is expected to hit Florida sometime Sunday, and Gov. Rick Scott said he planned to activate 7,000 National Guard soldiers by Friday. He warned that Irma is “bigger, faster and stronger” than Hurricane Andrew, which wiped out entire neighbourhoods in south Florida 25 years ago.

Experts worried that Irma could rake the entire Florida east coast from Miami to Jacksonville and then head into Savannah, Georgia, and the Carolinas, striking highly populated and developed areas.

“This could easily be the most costly storm in U.S. history, which is saying a lot considering what just happened two weeks ago,” said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

Associated Press writer Danica Coto reported this story in San Juan and AP writer Anika Kentish reported from St. John’s, Antigua. AP writers Seth Borenstein in Washington, Michael Weissenstein in Havana and Ben Fox in Miami contributed to this report.


TTC to spend $500,000 to study subway air quality

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017

Riders wait for the subway at Yordale station in Toronto, February 14, 2010.  The Canadian Press Images/J.P. Moczulski
Riders wait for the subway at Yordale station in Toronto, February 14, 2010. The Canadian Press Images/J.P. Moczulski

Riders wait for the subway at Yorkdale station in Toronto, February 14, 2010. The Canadian Press Images/J.P. Moczulski

Toronto Transit Commission chair Andy Byford is again working to clear the air after a recent study suggested that air pollution in the subway is measurably higher than other environments.

The study, conducted by Health Canada and published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, found that air pollution levels in the tunnels are 10 times worse that what is found outside and comparable to “a typical day in Beijing.” The Urban Transportation Exposure Study found that particulate matter is primarily iron from steel wheels and rails.

At its Board Meeting on Tuesday, the TTC said it would spend upwards of $500,000 and work with outside consultants and Toronto Public Health to do its own updated study.

The TTC has conducted three air quality studies but the last one was done back in 1995.

Byford says since then, there have been a number of improvements to air quality, including buying new, cleaner-running trains, but it won’t stop there.

“We have been removing detraitis from the tunnel, clearing the tunnel walls of what’s called ‘tunnel fur’ which hasn’t been done before, to my knowledge,” said Byford. “We’ve also finished the rollout of the rocket trains. We’ve removed lots of garbage from the stations, which can potentially cause fire or dust.”

Councillor Joe Mihevic says he wants to ensure that the TTC is a safe environment for frequent riders and subway workers. Mihevic says he expects recent improvements, including a tunnel vacuum train that’s on it’s way, will help air quality.

“If it was something that really was an important key issue right now, I’m sure that we would hear from the medical officer of health that it’s an immediate threat,” said Mihevic. “There is no threat to people’s health.”

While the TTC has already started work on a study, the union representing workers will be conducting its own investigation into air quality.

Also at the meeting, the Board approved the purchase of 325 diesel buses, and 60 Wheel-trans buses. They should all be on the road by the end of 2019. Councillors plan to order another 115 buses this fall. The entire order will cost an estimated $326-million.

Powerful Hurricane Irma bears down on Caribbean islands

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017


The most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history bore down on the islands of the northeast Caribbean on Tuesday night, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida over the weekend.

At the far northeastern edge of the Caribbean, authorities on the Leeward Islands of Antigua and Barbuda cut power and urged residents to shelter indoors as they braced for Hurricane Irma’s first contact with land early Wednesday. Officials warned people to seek protection from Irma’s “onslaught” in a statement that closed with: “May God protect us all.”

The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 185 mph (295 kph) by early Tuesday evening, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“I hear it’s a Cat 5 now and I’m terrified,” Antigua resident Carol Joseph said as she finished her last trip to the supermarket before seeking shelter. “I had to come back for more batteries because I don’t know how long the current will be off.”

Other islands in the path of the storm included the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Anguilla, a small, low-lying British island territory of about 15,000 people.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared emergencies in Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Warm water is fuel for hurricanes and Irma is over water that is 1.8 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal. The 79 degree (26 Celsius) water that hurricanes need goes about 250 feet deep (80 metres), said Jeff Masters, meteorology director of the private forecasting service Weather Underground

Four other storms have had winds as strong in the overall Atlantic region but they were in the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico, which are usually home to warmer waters that fuel cyclones. Hurricane Allen hit 190 mph in 1980, while 2005’s Wilma, 1988’s Gilbert and a 1935 great Florida Key storm all had 185 mph winds.

The storm’s eye was expected to pass about 50 miles (80 kilometres) from Puerto Rico late Wednesday. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometres) from Irma’s centre and tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 175 miles (280 kilometres).

The Northern Leeward Islands were expected to see waves as high as 11 feet, while the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas could see towering 20-foot waves later in the week, forecasters said.

“This is not an opportunity to go outside and try to have fun with a hurricane,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp warned. “It’s not time to get on a surfboard.”

The National Weather Service said Puerto Rico had not seen a hurricane of Irma’s magnitude since Hurricane San Felipe in 1928, which killed a total of 2,748 people in Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Florida.

“The dangerousness of this event is like nothing we’ve ever seen,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “A lot of infrastructure won’t be able to withstand this kind of force.”

The director of the island’s power company has warned that storm damage could leave some areas without electricity for about a week and other, unspecified areas for four to six months. The utility’s infrastructure has deteriorated greatly during a decade-long recession, and Puerto Ricans experienced an island-wide outage last year.

Government officials began evacuations and urged people to finalize all preparations as store shelves emptied out around Puerto Rico.

“The decisions that we make in the next couple of hours can make the difference between life and death,” Rossello said. “This is an extremely dangerous storm.”

No directly storm-related deaths were reported by Tuesday evening but a 75-year-old man died in the central Puerto Rico mountain town of Orocovis after he fell from a ladder while preparing for the hurricane, police said.

The eye of the storm was expected to roar westward on a path taking it north of millions of people in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba, but meteorologists warned that it could still cause life-threatening storm surges, rains and mudslides.

The northern parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti could see 10 inches of rain, with as much as 20 inches in the southeast Bahamas and Turks and Caicos.

The storm seemed almost certain to hit the United States by early next week.

“You’d be hard pressed to find any model that doesn’t have some impact on Florida.” said University of Miami senior hurricane researcher Brian McNoldy.

In Florida, people also stocked up on drinking water and other supplies.

Gov. Rick Scott activated 100 members of the Florida National Guard to be deployed across the state, and 7,000 National Guard members were to report for duty Friday when the storm could be approaching the area. On Monday, Scott declared a state of emergency in all of Florida’s 67 counties.

Officials in the Florida Keys geared up to get tourists and residents out of Irma’s path, and the mayor of Miami-Dade county said people should be prepared to evacuate Miami Beach and most of the county’s coastal areas.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the voluntary evacuations could begin as soon as Wednesday evening. He activated the emergency operation centre and urged residents to have three days’ worth of food and water.

A new tropical storm also formed in the Atlantic on Tuesday, to the east of Irma. The hurricane centre said Tropical Storm Jose was about 1,400 miles (2,255 kilometres) east of the Lesser Antilles with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph). It was moving west-northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) and was expected to become a hurricane by Friday.

Meanwhile, a tropical depression formed in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Mexico. The hurricane centre said the system could become a tropical storm while meandering in the Gulf for several days before making landfall in Mexico on Saturday.

An earlier version of this report incorrectly said the island of Anegada was part of Antigua instead of the British Virgin Islands.

Some Ontario students to negotiate end-of-term grades in new pilot project

NICOLE THOMPSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017


A new pilot project at a high school in Ontario will see Grade 9 students negotiating their end-of-semester grades with their teacher, an idea some experts say will help keep the focus on learning.

The students, enrolled in four courses at Mayfield Secondary School in Caledon, Ont., will receive feedback from their teacher throughout the semester, but not grades. At the end of the term, they’ll sit down with the teacher and evaluate their course work and will, ideally, come to an agreement on an appropriate final grade.

“It’ll be a negotiation process where they have a conversation about the learning, and the student can articulate exactly what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown as a learner,” said school principal James Kardash. “And when we can get to that, we’re starting to make inroads on what education should really be about.”

Experts have had mixed reactions to the idea.

Colleen Willard-Holt, dean of the faculty of education at Wilfrid Laurier University, thinks grades carry a lot of weight, and sometimes they’re overrated.

“It can work quite well for students to engage in a dialogue with their teacher and talk about what they have learned and what kinds of things they can show that demonstrate their learning,” she said in an interview.

“That dialogue then, is another chance for them to engage in the learning process itself, because they’re learning to advocate for themselves, they’re learning to articulate the learning that has taken place within themselves.”

Carol Rolheiser, director at the Centre for Teaching Support and Innovation at the University of Toronto, says that when students receive consistent feedback from teachers and peers throughout the school year, they tend to perform better.

“Saying, ‘Based on that feedback, what do I need to do differently in the future? What are the areas of strength? What are the areas I need to improve?’, that’s the cycle we want to get at,” Rolheiser said. But, she said, ultimately she feels that assigning a grade should be the teacher’s responsibility.

Some of the teachers have been skeptical too, Kardash noted, adding that they’ve slowly been coming around to the idea.

“I think a few of them thought that maybe I hit my head playing football a few too many times,” said Kardash, a former Toronto Argonauts player. But by the start of this school year, after a few professional development sessions, he estimated that about a fifth of the school’s teachers are in favour of the change.

Bringing parents onboard, however, was a different story.

“I was told that there were Facebook groups out there that were critical of me, and saying that they weren’t going to let their kids go to Mayfield and whatnot, and that’s normal. You’ve got to expect that to happen when there’s no information,” he said.

Kardash said that once he informed parents about the program’s merits, they started wondering why their kids wouldn’t be able to continue with the program throughout their entire high school careers.

“I had some parents in the school today because we had a Grade 9 bring-your-parents-to-school day, and that was one of the questions: If I have a son and he thinks he deserves a 95, and the teacher says he only deserves a 72?” Kardash said.

If that happens, the teacher will have the final say, but there will be an appeal process if the student really thinks the teacher was wrong, he said.

Willard-Holt said she doesn’t think many of those discrepancies will happen.

“I’ve actually had some experience in having students talk about their grades with me, and for the most part, I find that they’re pretty tough on themselves,” she said.

More than 300 GTA school bus delays reported on 1st day back

CityNews | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017


There were more than 300 school bus delays in the GTA Tuesday, including about 140 routes in Toronto, on the first day back to school on Tuesday.

The delays, which lasted anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, were slightly better than last year, when a driver shortage created chaos across the region.

“The Number 1 reason was traffic delays … obviously a lot of people out on the roads and slowing down those bus routes,” said Kevin Hodgkinson, general manager of Toronto Student Transportation Group (TSTG).

Other reasons included drivers arriving late or not showing up for their shift. A handful of delays were due to buses breaking down.

“Mind you, over the summer those buses aren’t running and they’re parked,” Hodgkinson said. “But there is supposed to be a routine in place where they’re checking those buses and there are dry runs to ensure the drivers are comfortable with their routes. So we’ll be investigating with the companies to find out why there were breakdowns.”

Last week, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), and the TSTG put out a joint statement saying no significant delays were expected in Toronto.

Any student, or parent of a student, who takes the bus to a TDSB or TCDSB school can see delay notices online, or call the transportation office at 416-394-4BUS (416-394-4287). Anyone with complaints can email complaint@torontoschoolbus.org.

In Halton, 30 routes remain unassigned, mainly in Oakville. Students in Milton and Burlington could also be affected. There are delays of 10 to 30 minutes in that area.

There are two dozen delays in Peel Region, mostly in Mississauga. In York Region, there are delays of 15 to 30 minutes, affecting about 40 routes.

To find out what’s happening with your bus route, or your child’s, check out the links below.

Toronto: torontoschoolbus.org/school-bus-delays 

York: net.schoolbuscity.com 

Halton: haltonbus.ca

Peel: stopr.ca

Durham: dsts.on.ca 

Related stories:

Students in Oakville, Burlington could face shortage of school bus drivers

Canadian schools reluctant to embrace later bell times despite mounting research

Ontario Ombudsman says school boards were ‘complacent’ about bussing issues

Video game giant Ubisoft announces $780-million Quebec expansion

JULIEN ARSENAULT, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017


MONTREAL – Twenty years after coming to Quebec, French video game giant Ubisoft announced plans Tuesday to invest $780 million in the province by 2027, hire more than 1,000 people and open two new studios.

Ubisoft’s expansion includes a $135-million investment to open a studio in early 2018 in Saguenay, about 250 kilometres north of Quebec City, said co-founder and CEO Yves Guillemot.

The company also plans to add 675 jobs in Montreal and another 200 in Quebec City, while opening a fourth bureau in the province in an undisclosed location.

“The expertise of Ubisoft’s Quebec studios is one of the motors of the company’s growth,” Guillemot said.

He said the company is looking to hire 125 people within five years to work in the Saguenay office.

Ubisoft’s studios in the province have developed some of the company’s famous brands including video games Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry.

The company, which currently has 3,600 employees in Montreal and Quebec City, has taken advantage of the Quebec government’s subsidy program for multimedia firms.

Up to 37.5 per cent of admissible salary expenses is eligible for reimbursement with tax dollars.

For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, Ubisoft received $90 million from Quebec’s coffers to subsidize employee salaries.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was on hand for the announcement and said the tax credit program is worth it.

“Tax credits on 1,000 jobs created by Ubisoft represents an expense of roughly $160 million,” Couillard said. “It’s a choice we have made.”

The province’s subsidy program has been criticized by non-multimedia companies in the province who aren’t offered similar tax credits but who are competing for the same talent.

Guillemot said Ubisoft’s Quebec investment has totalled $3.5 billion since 1997 and will increase to $9 billion at the end of its expansion plan.

All Toronto bus routes have a driver for first day of school, but delays persist

NEWS STAFF | posted Tuesday, Sep 5th, 2017

File photo of a school bus. CITYNEWS.

All school bus routes in Toronto had a driver for the first day of school, but delays persisted.

Meanwhile, a driver shortage still remains in Halton Region.

There were more than 50 delays in Toronto on Tuesday, lasting anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Last week, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), and the Toronto Student Transportation Group put out a joint statement saying no significant delays were expected in Toronto.

There were no cancellations in Toronto. Most of the delays were due to late drivers, and two buses had broken down.

Any student, or parent of a student, who takes the bus to a TDSB or TCDSB school can see delay notices online, or call the transportation office at 416-394-4BUS (416-394-4287). Anyone with complaints can email complaint@torontoschoolbus.org.

In Halton, 30 routes remain unassigned, mainly in Oakville. Students in Milton and Burlington could also be affected. There are delays of 10 to 30 minutes in that area.

There are two dozen delays in Peel Region, mostly in Mississauga. In York Region, there are delays of 15 to 30 minutes, affecting about 40 routes.

Toronto police launches back-to-school traffic safety blitz

CityNews | posted Monday, Sep 4th, 2017


Summer is winding down and with kids returning to school on Tuesday, you can expect to see an increase in traffic.

The Toronto police launches it’s week long back-to-school traffic safety blitz at midnight Monday to make sure motorists remain alert during this busy time on the roads.

Toronto police constable Clint Stibbe with traffic services told 680 NEWS both drivers heading to work and those dropping their children off at school need to play it safe.

“Drivers that are going to work, we’re asking that you slow down, be aware that some kids may be stepping out from between vehicles. You may be in a school zone, you need to make sure your speeds are at or below the posted speed limits, especially where any children are expected to be.”

And when it comes to school drop-offs in the morning, he says drivers who ignore the rules are a major concern – so don’t be that parent.

“Anybody that’s going to school to drop their kids off, the biggest problem we see is parents double parking or parking in areas that they’re not permitted or disobeying even school crossing guards,” he said.

Stibbe also said pedestrians should take note of increased traffic and stay safe by crossing the street at marked crossings and never mid-block or between vehicles.

The back-to-school traffic safety blitz runs through till Friday.

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