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Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina

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Hurricane Florence makes landfall in North Carolina

Hurricane Florence made landfall in the US state of North Carolina early on Friday, pushing a life-threatening storm surge of floodwater miles inland and ripping apart buildings with screaming wind and pelting rain.

More than 60 people had to be pulled from a collapsing motel at the height of the storm. Pieces of buildings ripped apart by the storm flew through the air.

Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at 7:15am local time (11:30GMT) at Wrightsville Beach, a few miles east of Wilmington, as the centre of its eye moved onshore, the National Hurricane Center said.

“The worst of the storm is not yet here, but these are the early warnings of the days to come,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told reporters just before the hurricane made landfall. “Surviving this storm with be a test of endurance, team work, common sense and patience.” 

Rescue workers volunteers rescue a woman and her dog from their flooded home during Hurricane Florence [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]

Coastal streets flowed with ocean water, and more than 460,000 homes and businesses were without power, mostly in North Carolina, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks the nation’s electrical grid.

‘Not acting like a normal hurricane’

Forecasters said “catastrophic” freshwater flooding was expected along waterways far from coast of North and South Carolina. 

They added that the onslaught would last for hours and hours because Florence was barely creeping along at nine kilometres per hour (kph) and still drawing energy from the ocean.

“A big worry about Hurricane Florence is that it’s not acting like a normal hurricane,” said Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from Wilmington , North Carolina. 

“Hurricanes normally come in and they go inland, which sucks the power out of them as they go over the land,” he said. “This one is set to linger right where it is for at least 48 hours.” 

Hurricane-force winds extended 130km from its centre, and tropical-storm-force winds reached out to 315km.

Winds bent trees towards the ground and raindrops flew sideways as Florence moved in for an extended stay, with enough of its killer winds swirling overseas to maintain its power. 

A tree bends from the heavy rain and wind from Hurricane Florence in Wilmington, North Carolina [Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP] 

The wind howled and sheets of rain splattered against windows of a hotel before dawn in Wilmington, where Sandie Orsa of Wilmington sat in a lobby lit by emergency lights after the power failed.

“(It’s) very eerie, the wind howling, the rain blowing sideways, debris flying,” Orsa, who lives nearby and fears splintering trees will pummel her house, told The Associated Press. 

The rising sea crept towards the two-story home of Tom Copeland, who lives on a spit of land surrounded by water in Swansboro. Winds knocked down trees all over.

Water “is as high as it’s ever been and waves are breaking on my point, which is normally grass,” said Copeland, a freelance photographer for The Associated Press.

“Trees are blowing down in the wind. Nothing’s hit the house yet, but it’s still blowing.”

The storm’s maximum sustained winds held at about 144kph. A gust of 169kph was recorded at Wilmington airport, surpassing the power of Hurricane Fran two decades ago.

The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina [Eduardo Munoz/Reuters]

The National Hurricane Center said a gauge north of Wilmington in Emerald Isle, North Carolina, reported 1.92 metres of inundation.

Farther up the coast, in New Bern, about 150 people were waiting to be rescued from floods on the Neuse River, local news station WXII-TV reported. 

‘Not a lot of time’

In South Carolina, emergency officials said there was still time, “but not a lot of time” for people to leave flood-prone areas. 

More than 12,000 were in shelters in North Carolina. Another 400 people were in shelters in Virginia, where forecasts were less dire.

Officials said some 1.7 million people in the Carolinas and Virginia were warned to evacuate, but it’s unclear how many did. The homes of about 10 million were under watches or warnings for the hurricane or tropical storm conditions. Coastal towns in the Carolinas were largely empty, and schools and businesses closed as far south as Georgia.

Forecasters said Florence’s surge could cover all but a sliver of the Carolina coast under as much as 3.4 metres of ocean water, and days of downpours could unload more than 0.9 metres of rain, touching off severe flooding.

Volunteers  help rescue three children from their flooded home in James City, North Carolina [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]

Once a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 225kph, the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 1 on Thursday night.

Forecasters said that given the storm’s size and sluggish track, it could cause epic damage akin to what the Houston area saw during Hurricane Harvey just over a year ago, with floodwaters swamping homes and businesses and washing over industrial waste sites and hog-manure ponds.

Florence was seen as a major test for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which was heavily criticised as slow and unprepared last year for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.

More than a million people have been ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Florence approaches the East Coast. pic.twitter.com/ybNagWym8y

— AJ+ (@ajplus) September 11, 2018

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Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

 Police halt rally of family members of dead soldiers in Baku, one arrested

 Where is the red line for Azerbaijan’s journalists?

Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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