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Debris from a collapsed wall sits in Oaxaca, Mexico, after an earthquake on Sept. 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Luis Alberto Cruz)

Mexico hit by biggest earthquake in a century, country’s president says

CityNews | posted Friday, Sep 8th, 2017

A major earthquake off Mexico’s southern coast killed at least five people, with the president saying Friday it was the biggest in a century to hit the country. Houses and at least one hotel toppled, electricity was cut and people fled into the streets in panic.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported the earthquake’s magnitude as 8.1, but President Enrique Pena Nieto quoted local calculations it was 8.2, making it the largest in Mexico in 100 years – even larger than the magnitude 8.1 quake in 1985, which killed thousands and devastated large sections of Mexico City.

Officials said at least five people died, but the death toll could rise as authorities assess the damage. The government closed schools Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety.

The USGS recorded at least 20 aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or greater within about five hours after the main shake, and the president warned that a major aftershock as large as magnitude 7.2 could occur.

Pena Nieto said that serious damage had been caused and that 1 million customers initially had been without power following the quake, but that electricity had been restored to 800,000 of them.

The USGS said the quake struck at 11:49 p.m. Thursday local time and its epicenter was 165 kilometres west of Tapachula in Chiapas, close to Guatemala. It had a depth of 69.7 kilometres.

The quake caused buildings to sway violently in Mexico’s capital more than 1,000 kilometres (650 miles) away. Residents fled buildings, many in their pyjamas, and gathered in frightened groups in the street. Some neighbourhoods remained in darkness after electricity was knocked out.

“The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily,” said Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near San Cristobal de las Casas in the southernmost state of Chiapas.

Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco said that three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women who died when a house and a wall collapsed. He called on people living near the coast to leave their houses as a protective measure.

“There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.”

Tabasco Gov. Arturo Nunez said two children had died in his Gulf coast state. One of them was killed when a wall collapsed, and the other was a baby who died in a children’s hospital that lost electricity, cutting off the infant’s ventilator.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said waves of one meter above the tide level were measured off Salina Cruz, Mexico. Smaller tsunami waves were observed on the coast or measured by ocean gauges in several other places. The centre’s forecast said Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala could see waves of a meter or less. No threat was posed to Hawaii and the western and South Pacific.

Mexican authorities said they were evacuating some residents of coastal Puerto Madero because of the warning.

Meanwhile, Mexico was bracing for another natural emergency on the other side of the country. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Katia was likely to strike the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz early Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods.

In neighbouring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales spoke on national television to call for calm while emergency crews checked for damage.

“We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don’t have details,” Morales said. He said the unconfirmed death occurred in San Marcos state near the border with Mexico.

Lucy Jones, a seismologist in California who works with the U.S. Geological Survey, said such a quake was to be expected.

“Off the west coast of Mexico is what’s called the subduction zone, the Pacific Plate is moving under the Mexican peninsula,” she said. “It’s a very flat fault, so it’s a place that has big earthquakes relatively often because of that.”

“There’s likely to be a small tsunami going to the southwest. It’s not going to be coming up and affecting California or Hawaii,” she said. “For tsunami generation, an 8 is relatively small.”

The Associated Press’ Frank Griffiths in London contributed to this report

Ontario to review school curriculum as student math scores decline

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 7th, 2017

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Ontario is looking to overhaul its school curriculum with a focus on math, an announcement that comes one week after standardized test results showed flat or falling math scores among public elementary students.Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Wednesday that the government will start public consultations to modernize the curriculum.

“There’s a lot of work that has to be done in the math curriculum,” she said. “We know there are challenges with the math curriculum. Even though we’ve got great staff and we’ve put lots of money into the teaching of math, still there’s something going on there that we’re just not feeling like we’re seeing the results that we should.”

The tests showed that only half of Grade 6 students met the provincial standard in math, unchanged from last year, and 62 per cent of Grade 3 students met the standard, a one percentage point decrease from the previous year.

That’s despite a three-year, $60-million math strategy implemented last year that puts an average of 60 minutes per day of “protected math learning time” in the curriculum for Grades 1 through 8. It also designates up to three “math lead teachers” in all elementary schools and a dedicated math professional development day.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said last week that the program had only been in place for one year, and the government wanted to give it time to assess the impacts. On Wednesday, Wynne acknowledged her announcement came close on the heels of that program, but defended the review as necessary.

“We made changes just last year,” she said. “They haven’t had a long time to set, but we do need to look at whether we’re doing everything that we can to make sure that kids are getting those math skills.”

Wynne also announced Wednesday that a new Ontario curriculum will place more emphasis on life skills such as communication, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and what she called “global citizenship.”

“Yes, we need to look at math and we need to make sure that all the supports are there,” she said. “But then there’s a broader refresh of the curriculum that has to do with those other skills. Math is part of this but it is not the only thing that we’ll be looking at.”

Ontario will also introduce new report cards starting next school year, which, in part, will track students’ development of such skills, the government said.

Hunter announced Tuesday that Ontario will spend $49 million over three years for new and expanded programs to help students’ mental and physical health.

Canadian airlines fly travellers out of destinations in Hurricane Irma’s path

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 7th, 2017

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Canadian Airlines including Air Canada, WestJet and Air Transat mobilized planes on Wednesday to get travellers out of cities in Hurricane Irma’s path — such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba and even Florida.

Air Canada planned to operate additional flights out of the Dominican Republic (Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, Samana) and Florida (Fort Lauderdale and Miami), and larger aircraft for flights from Cuba (Varadero, Holguin and Havana).

The airline has also sent extra flights to areas in immediate danger, including Antigua and Providenciales, to bring customers home early.

Montreal-based Air Transat said it was sending 10 aircraft to the Dominican Republic — seven to Punta Cana, two to Puerto Plata and one to Samana.

The holiday travel airline did not say how many of its travellers would board the flights back to Canada.

Air Transat also said its scheduled flights on Thursday to Punta Cana departing from Toronto and Montreal have been cancelled.

The airline said it would contact affected customers and offer them travel at a later date, travel to another destination subject to conditions, or cancellation with a full refund excluding travel insurance costs.

Sunwing, meanwhile, said on Wednesday “we have already activated plans to repatriate customers in the destinations that we fly to that are currently under hurricane watch or warning. We are in regular contact with our local representatives who are keeping our customers in the affected destinations apprised of the situation and assisting them with making the necessary changes to their travel arrangements.

“Our hurricane policy has been extended to all southbound passengers that were scheduled to travel to any of these destinations between Sept. 6 and 10 inclusive. Passengers have been provided the option to change destination or re-book for travel at a later date.

Two flights were sent to St Maarten/St Martin on Sept. 5, and two flights are going to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday. Southbound flights to Punta Cana have been cancelled on Sept. 6 and 7. Our Sept. 8 flights to Puerto Plata have also been cancelled.

“Flights to Cuba, Freeport in the Bahamas and Florida are all scheduled to operate as planned, however the hurricane policy also applies to passengers due to depart to these destinations in the same time frame,” the airline said in a statement.

More information about Sunwing flights can be found here.

Irma, considered the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, was bearing down on the northeast Caribbean, following a path predicted to then rake Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Cuba before possibly heading for Florida.

The eye of the hurricane passed over Barbuda around 1:47 a.m. ET Wednesday, the U.S. National Weather Service said. Heavy rain and howling winds raked the neighbouring island of Antigua, sending debris flying as people huddled in homes or government shelters.

The Category 5 storm had maximum sustained winds of 295 kilometres per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

American Airlines added extra flights out of the Caribbean islands of St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis to get people out of Irma’s path.

Bahamas Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said his government was evacuating the six islands in the south because authorities would not be able to help anyone caught in the “potentially catastrophic” storm.

People there would be flown to Nassau starting Wednesday in what he called the largest storm evacuation in the country’s history.

With files from The Associated Press

Man dumps bucket of water on woman at TTC station; police investigating

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 7th, 2017

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The TTC says it has handed surveillance footage over to Toronto police after a man was caught on video tossing a custodian’s bucket of mop water on a woman at Lawrence East Station.

A brief clip of the incident was originally posted to Instagram by @Starzto on Tuesday night. The clip has been viewed nearly 7,000 times.

The video appears to show a woman arguing with a man. At one point, the woman flicks water from the bucket at the man. Seconds later he grabs the bucket and dumps its contents over her head before fleeing down a flight of stairs.

A TTC employee is visible in the video, but doesn’t intervene.

The TTC tells CityNews it is cooperating with police, who are treating it as an assault with a weapon.

The transit agency launched a new safety smartphone app on Wednesday to combat harassment and improve customer safety. Through the app, customers can discreetly report incidents.

Click the image below to see the video (contains explicit language).

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Hurricane Irma brings death, destruction to the Caribbean

CityNews | posted Thursday, Sep 7th, 2017

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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.

 

Send your farewell wishes to Russ!

BT Toronto | posted Wednesday, Sep 6th, 2017

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After a 50-year journey with Rogers, our traffic specialist Russ Holden will sign off one last time Wednesday morning on Breakfast Television as he heads off to a well-deserved retirement.

Send your well wishes and messages below:

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

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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.

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