Mass hysteria may explain ‘sonic attacks’ in Cuba, say top neurologists

Despite 22 Americans reporting symptoms , no evidence of a weapon has been received and experts suspect psychosomatic ailment links between high stress

Senior neurologists have suggested that a spate of mysterious ailments among US diplomats in Cuba– which has caused foreign diplomats rift between the two countries- could have been caused by a sort of” mass hysteria” rather than sonic attacks.

The unexplained incidents have prompted the US to withdraw most of its embassy staff from Havana and expelthe majority of Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The neurologists who talked to the Guardian cautioned that no proper diagnosis is possible without far more information and access to the 22 US victims, who have suffered a range of symptoms including hearing loss, tinnitus, headaches and dizziness.

The state department has described the incidents as “attacks”, saying they began at the end of last year with the last recorded incident in August.

But US and Cuban investigations have rendered no evidence of any weapon, and the neurologists argue that the possibility of setting up” functional ailment” due to a problem in the functioning of nervous system- rather than a disease- should be considered.

” From an objective point of view it’s more like mass hysteria than anything else ,” said Mark Hallett, the head of the human motor control section of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

” Mass hysteria” is the popular term for outbreaks among groups of people which are partly or wholly psychosomatic, but Hallett stressed there should be no blame attached to them.

” Psychosomatic illnes is a disease like anything else. It shouldn’t be stigmatised ,” said Hallett, who is also president of the International Federation of Clinical Neurophysiology.” It’s important to point out that symptoms like this are not voluntary. They are not a sign of weakness in an individual’s personality .”

Hallett said it was more common for such disorders to affect smaller groups of people, often in families, but he added that it was feasible for larger numbers of individuals to be affected, especially when they were working closely together in a tense and hostile environment.

” There are a very large number of individuals that have relatively vague grievances as far as I can see ,” Hallett said.” There has been an exploration of possible causes for this and nothing has been discovered and the notion of some sonic ray is relatively nonsensical.

” If it is mass hysteria that would clarify all the mystery- and presumably normalise US-Cuban relations again ,” said Hallett.” These people are all clustered together in a somewhat anxious environment and “its exactly” the situation that precipitates something like this. Anxiety may be one of the critical factors .”

The Associated Press reported on Thursday that it had been provided audio tapes of high-pitched whining noises which some US embassy workers said they heard in Havana, but it is unclear whether the voices were linked to the health complaints. The report noted that not all the Americans injured in Cuba heard sounds, and of those who did, it is not unclear if they heard the same thing.

Alan Carson, a consultant neuropsychiatrist and former president of the British Neuropsychiatry Association told the Guardian:” Typically what one gets in a functional disorder is some trigger. It is often relatively mild and non-specific, it can be a minor physical trauma. But then a combination of a certain degree of nervousnes and also notion and expectation distort that feeling .”

” If there is a strong enough expectation that something is going to happen, that they are able to distort in an entirely real style the incoming information ,” Carson said.” In certain circumstances that can be transmitted from person to person … If person or persons has that experience strongly enough and decides off that train of thought in somebody’s else’s mind, that can happen too .”

Many acoustics experts have said that it is highly unlikely that the range of symptoms reported could have been caused by any kind of sonic weapons.

Another theory was that the health complaints were caused by a surveillance operation that had gone wrong- but that has also met with scepticism from experts and a dearth of evidence.

The US has not directly blamed the Cuban government but said Havana had failed in its obligation to protect foreign diplomats on its territory. The Cuban government has denied conducting any form of assault and has offered its cooperation in detecting the cause of the symptoms.

” I don’t think the Cuban government is behind it ,” said Ben Rhodes, Barack Obama’s foreign policy adviser, who was involved in negotiating the previous administration’s rapprochement with Havana.

” First, these things apparently started in December … At the same hour the attacks were starting the Cuban government was frantically concluding agreements with us, signing business deals … in other words trying to preserve the relationship. So the notion that at the same time as doing that, they would initiate something that is so obviously designed to blow up the relationship doesn’t make any sense .”

Asked about the possibility of functional ailments, a state department spokesperson said:” We have no definitive answers on the cause or the source of the two attacks on US envoys in Cuba, and an aggressive investigation continues. We do not wishes to get ahead of that investigation .”

Donald Trump has struck a markedly more hostile tone towards Cuba than his predecessor, and in June announced a partial rollback of Obama’s rapprochement, tightening travel and trade rules with the island.

Jon Stone, a University of Edinburgh neurologist and the co-editor of a book on functional neurologic disorders, said that such disorders were very common, and the second commonest reason to see a neurologist.

” There is a misconception that only people who are weak-willed, people who are neurotic, get these symptoms. It isn’t true ,” Stone said.” We are talking about genuine symptoms that people have of dizziness, of headaches, of hearing problems, which they are not faking .”

He added that the outbreak could have started with one or two people falling ill with headaches or hearing problems, and those spread in a high-stress atmosphere and then amid talk of a” sonic attack “.

” None of this stimulates sense until you consider the psychogenic rationale ,” said Robert Bartholomew, a medical sociologist and the author of series of volumes on outbreaks of mass hysteria.

” American intelligence agencies are the most sophisticated in the world, and they reportedly don’t have a clue as to what’s causing the symptoms. I will bet my house that there are agents in the intelligence community who have also concluded that this is a psychogenic event- but their analysis is either being repressed or ignored by the Trump administration because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Mass psychogenic illness is by far the most plausible justification .”

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Tropical storm Nate poised to hit Gulf coast as hurricane over weekend

Storm blamed for 21 deaths in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica, with Louisiana and Mississippi declare states of emergency amid evacuations

Forecasters said tropical storm Nate was likely to reach the US Gulf coast as a hurricane over the weekend, after being is the responsibility of at the least 21 deaths in Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica.

The storm had maximum sustained gales of 50mph by Friday morning and was likely to strengthen over the north-western Caribbean before a possible ten-strike on the Cancun region at the tip-off of the Yucatan Peninsula at near hurricane strength.

Officials in Louisiana and Mississippi declared countries of state of emergency and Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of Nate’s expected landfall on Saturday night or early on Sunday, potentially close to New Orleans.

Dozens of offshore oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuated. The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said in a news release that workers had been to withdraw from 66 Gulf production platforms as of late Friday morning. That was nearly 9% of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf. The bureau also said five drilling rigs had been evacuated and 11 other rigs had been moved out of the path of the blizzard.

An calculated 71% of the Gulf’s current oil production and 53% of its natural gas production has been “shut-in”, or temporarily halted, due to the cyclone. Offshore facilities will be inspected for injury once Nate pass.

The US National Hurricane Center( NHC) issued a hurricane warning from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border and warned that Nate could create sea level by 4ft to 7ft from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the western edge of Florida. Mississippi said it would open 11 evacuation shelters in areas away from the immediate coast, with bus available for people who could not drive.

In Louisiana, the governor, John Bel Edwards, proclaimed a state of emergency and mobilized 1,300 national guard troops. New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city’s pump and drainage system, weaknesses in which were uncovered during summer flash floods. Fifteen national guard troops were headed to the city to monitor the pumping system.

With forecasts projecting landfall in south-east Louisiana as a category 1 hurricane, Edwards urged residents to ready for rainfall, storm upsurge and severe gale- and to be where they intend to hunker down by” dark on Saturday “.

Nate is forecast to move quickly, he said, rather than stall and drop-off tremendous sums of rain on the nation. State officers hope that will mean New Orleans will not run into problems with its pumps being able to handle the water. Edwards, however, warned against underestimating the storm.

Officials ordered the evacuation of part of the coastal St Bernard Parish east of New Orleans. On Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island township of Grand Isle, south of New Orleans.

On Friday morning, the cyclone was situated about 125 miles east-south-east of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel and had accelerated its north-north-west motion to 21 mph.

In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed 2 week of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

The vice-president, Rosario Murillo, said at least 11 people succumbed due to the blizzard. On Thursday, she had said 15 people died, before saying some of those were still counted as missing. She did not give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the health ministry were swept away by a inundated canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

Costa Rica’s judicial investigation department blamed seven deaths on the blizzard and said 15 people were missing. Inundating drove 5,000 into emergency shelters. In Honduras, there were three dead and three missing, according to Oscar Triminio, spokesman for the country’s firefighters.

Damage caused by the storm inspired Costa Rican officials to postpone a World Cup qualifying football match between that country and Honduras, scheduled for Friday night.

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Carmen Yuln Cruz: San Juan’s outspoken mayor in Donald Trump’s crosshairs

The dynamic leader with no time for red tape depicted the presidents ire for criticizing US efforts to help hurricane-hit Puerto Rico but is unlikely to be cowed

With her city in near ruinings, and facing the most profound crisis of her political career, San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz made it clear she had no patience for or those who are interested in a personal row with Donald Trump.

” I have no time for distractions. All I have is time for people to move forward ,” she told MSNBC’s Joy Reid on Saturday morning.” This isn’t about me, this isn’t about anyone. “Its about” lives that are being lost …

” This is a hour where everyone indicates her true colorings .”

Trump showed his the next day, referring in a tweet to” politically motivated ingrates” who have criticised his response in Puerto Rico’s hour of need.

According to those who know her, Cruz certainly seems to be showing hers: as a no-nonsense leader with a talent for empathy to match.

” She goes head first, chest first. She’s not going to let anybody do what she’s not willing to do ,” said Luis Vega, a legislator in the US territory’s house of representatives.” She has no patience for red tape and that’s what we need right now ,” Vega added.

Now the two-term mayor has become perhaps the most visible communicator of the commonwealth’s challenges in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the island leaving virtually all of its residents without energy and access to drinkable water and food.

” What we we are going to see is something close to a genocide ,” Cruz said of what many have denounced as a delayed and inadequate response to the urgent humanitarian needs of the island.” Mr Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives ,” she added, pleading for a more robust federal response.

Trump, as he has tended to during his brief political career, took Cruz’s comments personally and on Saturday morning answered via Twitter, decrying Cruz’s” poor leadership” and accusing her of being” nasty to Trump “.

” I was asking for help. I wasn’t saying anything nasty about the president ,” Cruz retorted.

Cruz was a late, amaze nominee in the 2012 election but won handily, defeating a three-term incumbent to become San Juan’s third female mayor. The mainland political action group Our Revolution described her election as” the result of a grassroots endeavor which united in an unprecedented confederation groups which have traditionally been excluded from the democratic process “.

Born in San Juan in 1963, Cruz has been a leader and a competitor since childhood. President of her high school student council, Cruz defined way and field records as a teen before she came to the mainland US for college in the 1980 s.

In 2012, Cruz operated on a platform that emphasized progressive change on issues of gender equality, LGBT and disabled rights, and a municipal plan for universal healthcare. Citizen participation has been at the core of her administration, and the city has been engaged in trialling a participatory budgeting process since she’s been in office. Cruz is a member of the centrist/ centre-left Popular Democratic party, which favors the commonwealth retaining such relationships with the mainland US, as opposed to full independence or statehood as other political parties advocate.

Carmen Yulin Cruz:’ She is a force of nature .’ Photograph: Carlos Barria/ Reuters

In 2016 she dedicated her election win to Oscar Lopez Rivera, a controversial figure in Puerto Rican politics , and a former is part of a revolutionary Puerto Rican independence group that committed several terrorist attacks on the mainland during the 1970 s.

” She’s a feisty one. I’m her friend and her ally and I’ve also fought with her because we’re both very opinionated ,” Vega said.” I’ve never ever been prouder of her .”

She was no stranger to the mayor’s office when she was elected in 2012. Cruz expended 20 years in Puerto Rican politics before her run, starting off with a stint as an adviser to Mayor Hector Luis Acevedo in 1992. Before that Cruz expended 12 years on the mainland, much of that time at Boston University as an undergrad and Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. While there she was the first student to win the “spirit award” now presented annually to” the student with the greatest positive impact on the quality of life of their peers “.

” She is a force of nature ,” Jon Nehlsen, an associate dean at the school told the Pittsburgh Gazette .” She’s probably not 5ft 2in, but she’s this ball of energy, very charismatic. You can just tell she exudes leadership qualities .”

A bit of that was on display at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum, which is being used as a staging ground for relief efforts, on Friday. With tears in her eyes, Cruz greeted a river of residents warmly, but was also candid about her frustrations with how the recovery efforts had been going so far. She hadn’t eaten lunch until 3.30 pm, just before she delivered the speech that ultimately drew Trump’s ire.

But there’s little reason to believe that Cruz will adjust her tack in light of Trump’s tweets.” I am done being polite ,” she said on Friday.” I am done being politically correct. I am mad as hell so I am asking the members of the press to send a mayday call all over the world .”

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Brazil’s worst month ever for forest fires blamed on human activity

September considered more fires than any month on record, as experts say uptick is due to expansion of agriculture and reduction of oversight and surveillance

Brazil has watched more forest flames in September than in any single month since records began, and authorities have warned that 2017 could outshine the worst year on record if action is not taken soon.

Experts say that the flames are almost exclusively due to human activity, and they attribute the uptick to the expansion of agriculture and a reduction of oversight and surveillance. Lower than average rainfall in this year’s dry season is also an exacerbating factor.

The National Institute of Space Research( INPE) has seen 106,000 flames destroying natural vegetation so far this month- the highest number in a single month since records began in 1998, said Alberto Setzer, coordinator of INPE’s fire monitoring satellite program.

” It is fundamental to understand that these are not natural flames. They are manmade ,” Setzer said.

Fires are commonly used during Brazil‘s dry period to deforest land and clear it for creating cattles or other agricultural or extraction purposes.

The total number of blazes since 1 January was 196,000, and Seltzer expressed concern that- with the dry season continuing in Brazil’s Amazon- 2017 could outdo the worst year on record, 2004, when there were 270,000 fires.

According to INPE, deforestation has risen endlessly since 2012, when a new forest code that devoted amnesty to deforesters was introduced. The last available data for 2016 indicated a 29% rise since the previous year.

Burning is illegal and carries heavy penalties, but fire is often used to clear land for grassland or harvests and hunting or results from land conflicts.

A burning wood at nightfall in Brazil. Deforestation has risen endlessly since 2012, the INPE says. Photo: Brasil2/ Getty Images

The problem was compounded, Setzer said, by a lack of oversight and manpower to contain the blazes.

” When there is a reduction in checks and surveillance, we see an increase in the number of flames ,” he said.

The government of chairperson Michel Temer has been heavily criticized by environmentalists for making deep cuts to the country’s environmental budget, which have affected the ability of Brazil’s environmental police to perform inspections and raids.

In September, after a month-long battle, firefighters gave up on a flame in Tocantins state park, believed to have been lighted by local fishermen and be borne by strong winds during an intensive dry period. An region three times the size of Sao Paulo was destroyed, according to local media.

” The Temer government’s policies signal for those in the countryside that the doors are open for more deforestation and more flames ,” said Cristiane Mazzetti, a Greenpeace Brazil campaigner, listing a series of measures by the Temer government including reducing protected Amazon forest areas and devoting amnesty to land grabbers.

Critics say Temer is acting at the behest of powerful ranching and mining interests inside congress. Lately, the government was highly criticized for opening hours a vast Amazon reserve for international mining, a decree that was later revoked.

The nations most affected by flames this year have been in the Amazon, increasingly targeted by ranchers and miners, with the Amazon biome accounting for 49% of the burnings.

The Amazonian state of Para was the worst affected, with a 229% increase in flames from last year. It is home to the two hardest hit municipalities, Sao Felix de Xingu and Altamira, home of Brazil’s controversial Belo Monte dam project.

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Chelsea Manning says she has been barred from entering Canada

Former US soldier and one of the most prominent whistleblowers of modern times posts letter to Twitter saying she is not authorized to enter Canada

Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier who served seven years in military prison after instigating one of the biggest any infringement of categorized data regarding US history, has said she has been barred from entering Canada.

Who is Chelsea Manning ?

On Monday, Manning posted on Twitter a report from the Canadian governmentthat identified her as a foreign national” who has not been authorized to enter Canada” due to prior convictions.

” So, I guess Canada has permanently banned me ?” wrote Manning- one of the most prominent whistleblowers of modern times.

Chelsea E. Manning (@ xychelsea)

so, i guess canada has permanently banned me?

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Mexico City hit by fresh panic as aftershock rocks buildings

Tremor comes days after earthquake that killed more than 300

A powerful aftershock has caused panic as builds again swayed in Mexico City just days after more than 300 were killed by the country’s deadliest earthquake for a generation.

Rescue and clean-up attempts were temporarily suspended on Saturday amid were afraid that unstable structures could collapse, causing farther suffering for dozens of households whose relatives are still missing under the rubble.

Tens of thousands of people have been left homeless and entire regions rendered uninhabitable by last Tuesday’s devastating 7.1 -magnitude tremor.

The earthquake wreaked havoc in parts of the capital, which is built on a drained lagoon bed, as more than 50 houses- including a school, pharmaceutical lab, and clothes factory- collapsed. As many as 5,000 builds were damaged.

More than half the dead- 160- succumbed here in Mexico City, including 27 children. Overall, 105 victims were women and 55 humen, according to the city’s mayor Miguel Angel Mancera.

At least eight foreigners are among the confirmed dead including four Taiwanese women, a Panamanian female, and men from South Korea, Spain and Argentina.

Dozens of aftershocks registered across several countries since Tuesday left the country on edge and jittery.

The epicentre of yesterday’s 6.1 -magnitude aftershock was in the southern nation of Oaxaca, which is still reeling from the 10 September earthquakethat left a hundred dead and thousands homeless. Initial reports showed injury builds and a collapsed bridge, but no loss of life.

In the capital, hopes of procuring survivors after five days are minimal and many rescue operations have now been called off- fuelling fury among relatives and volunteer workers, who want to keep searching. In the Colonia Obrera district, civilians have clashed with security force at the site of the collapsed textiles factory, demanding rescue efforts continue despite official claims that there are no signs of life. “Were not receiving” up to date list of employees, or house plans for the factory.

In the hipster La Roma area, relatives of dozens of office workers trapped under a multistorey build have accused the armed forces of stymie the rescue operating and failing to provide accurate information.

Odeth Zuniga Gonzales, 36, a Red Cross paramedic, said she had treated dozens of volunteers and rescue workers from the collapsed office block for respiratory problems caused by gas leaks and dust and exhaustion.

Despite health risks, the disaster has triggered a remarkable answer and energy among ordinary Mexicans, which shows no sign of slowing down. Volunteer-run aid centres- where donations of clothes, medicines, toiletries, tools, petrol and toys are dropped off, organised and dispatched to affected communities, shelters and rescue sites- continue to operate in streets, parks, colleges and churches across the country. The outpouring of generosity has lifted spirits even as anger mounts at the slow official response in some of the worst affected areas.

Victims in Xochimilco, one of the capital’s poorest municipalities where electricity and water supplies have been severely damaged, accuse city and national governments of ignoring their predicament – a charge rejected by the authorities.

The paramedic Gonzales, like many people, is frustrated by the lack of official help to small poor communities outside the capital.

” We should be doing so much more in Morelos, but these communities are forgotten. People could be injured in the rubble but no-one is looking for them, it’s so frustrate, it induces me angry .”

At least 20,000 homes suffered damage in Morelos and Puebla, yet some communities are still struggling to obtain basic tools – shovels, buckets, wheelbarrows – to begin excavating the debris.

The bishop of Cuernavaca city, the capital of Morelos state, publicly denounced the nation governor for diverting assistance trucks to government operate warehouses away from the directly affected communities.

Last week’s earthquake struck 32 years to the day since the country’s deadliest earthquake, which killed thousands and flattened large parts of the capital. Residents suffered years of suffering while Mexico City was slowly rebuilt, while many fled to other countries out of fear.

Ironically, 170 households left homeless in 1985 were finally rehoused this month as part of a programme targeting the so-called forgotten families.

Detailed inspections of the buildings damaged this time round will start in earnest on Monday, but reconstruction could again take years.

Eloise Tamayo, 72, a retired nurse, lived on the fourth floor of a five-storey building in the Del Valle neighbourhood. She returned home to find shattered windows, cracked walls and her dog, Moni, cowering in a corner. They are staying in a makeshift shelter at a local school.

” I’m too scared to go home, I don’t want to leave here and be alone, the aftershock frighten me ,” Tamayo said.” The’ 85 earthquake was worse, but this one came close .”

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Rescuers work in silence to pull children from collapsed school in Mexico City

Discovery of 12-year-old Frida Sofa in the rubble maintains Mexicans glued to their TVs in hope of find small children alive where at least 21 died

A hushed silence has maintained falling over the volunteers, soldiers and neighbours congregating outside a collapsed school in southern Mexico City, where rescue workers tried to extract students trapped under the rubble.

A stern-looking policeman in jeans and black vest from Mexico’s federal police would raise his fist high above his head signalling silence on Wednesday to enable rescuers with sensitive microphones to listen for calls from the rubble.

But bystanders and rescuers alike burst into applause at around 4:30 pm- with one employee on top of a dump truck full of rubble pumping his fist- as the word spread rescuers had removed two girls from the school.

The applause was premature, however. Rescuers worked into the night to reach a girl called Frida Sofia, 12, who told them she was in contact five friends on the third floor of the school. They would later detect at 11 pm she was not on the floor they had thought.

The plight of Frida Sofia captivated Mexicans, who were glued to their TVs as the country’s big broadcasters beamed video live from the school.

It came to represent hope and heartache for Mexicans: the hope of pulling a child from the rubble, but also the heartache of rescuers encountering so many close calls.

The tragedy at the Enrique Rebsamen school, meanwhile bore witness to the scale of the demolition unleashed by the quake. Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, visited the school on Tuesday night, but there was bad news: 21 children were dead, along with four adults. Another 30 people were missing. At least 237 have been confirmed dead across the country.

On Wednesday morning, rumours spread that a teacher and two students had sent text messages from within the rubble, and local television reported that rescuers had spotted a young girl trapped in the building who had moved her hand when they called out to her.

Amid the uncertainty, parents clung to hope that their children had survived.” They keep pulling children out, but we know nothing of my daughter ,” Adriana D’Fargo told Reuters. She had been waiting for hours for news of her seven-year- old.

But some rescuers were doubtful that any more survivors could emerge from the rubble.

” People are saying these children are alive, but that’s unlikely ,” said one Mexican government employee working on the rescue.” It’s dangerous in there. We’re advancing little by little, rock by stone .”

The Mexico City earthquake struck on 19 September- the same day a huge tremor wrecked the national capital in 1985, claiming an estimated 10,000 lives.” Another lethal 19 -S ,” noted the newspaper Milenio.” Another curst S-1 9 ,” read the headline on El Economista. Others were more optimistic, with Reforma running the headline:” Solidarity emerges .”

After the 1985 quake, Mexican authorities is commonly criticised for reacting slowly to a national calamity; this time again, many in Mexico City felt that they had been left to fend for themselves.

At the noisy police barricade several blocks from the school, a steady stream of volunteers arrived in work clothes and hard hat, carrying picks and shovels and pushing wheelbarrows.

Neighbours came carting jugs of water, trays of tortas( thick sandwiches) and boxes of bananas to freshen the rescuers. Physicians indicated up, too.

All were sent to another collapsed building in the area. Several hundred soldiers and civil protection crew members were already picking through the rubble of the school, along with panicked parents and good Samaritans.

” Classes were cancelled so we came to help ,” said David Macillas, a student at the Autonomous University of Mexico, who arrived with a full toolkit. The night before, he and a pair of classmates had ventured out to aid in the relief attempt- along with thousands of others.” There were already too many people everywhere we went ,” Macillas said.

The earthquake inflicted a surprising sum of damage in affluent areas, where houses are usually sturdier. The Enrique Rebsamen school stood in a solidly middle-class area, with tidy streets, boulevards and American chain stores.

Buildings in many parts of Mexico City- founded by the Aztecs on a lake in the central part of the country, then plundered by the Spanish in 1521 and subsequently drained- swayed violently during earthquakes.

” Mexico City is like jelly ,” said Eduardo Corona, a radio operator with civil protection.

Building codes and building practices have improved since 1985, along with earthquake preparedness. There was a drill simply two hours before the earthquake rocked the city, though some supposed citizens were becoming complacent and have acted nonchalantly.

” Maybe the 1985 earthquake was stronger. But this felt even stronger” as the epicentre was closer to Mexico City, said Corona, a musician who moonlights as a civil protection volunteer.” People are a little more prepared. Communications are better. We have more rescue groups.

” But this earthquake was so strong. No one believed this could happen .”

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Donald Trump threatens to ‘totally destroy’ North Korea in UN speech

President chastises a small group of rascal regimes and says Iran nuclear bargain an shame to the United States

Donald Trump has threatened to” totally destroy” North Korea, in a bellicose first address to the United nations organization general assembly in which he lashed out at a litany of US adversaries and called on “righteous” countries to confront them.

The speech was greeted in the UN chamber mostly with stillnes and occasional outbreaks of disapproving murmurs, as Trump chastised a succession of hostile regimes.

In an address heavy with echoes of George W Bush’s” Axis of Evil” State of the Union address more than 15 years earlier, Trump said:” The scourge of our planet today are a small group of rascal regimes.

” If the righteous many do not confront the wicked few, then evil will triumph ,” the president said.

He first singled out North Korea, recounting its history of kidnapping, persecution, and missile and nuclear tests.

” The US has great strength and patience ,” Trump said. But he added:” If it is forced to defend ourselves or our friends, we will have no choice but to altogether destroy North Korea .”

As alarmed murmurs spread around the hallway, Trump had another barb. Utilizing his newly adopted epithet for Kim Jong-un, Trump said:” Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime .”

He said the US was ” ready, willing and able” to take military action, but said hopefully that would be unnecessary if the rest of the world stepped up its endeavour to hold the Pyongyang regime.

” That is what the United Nations is for ,” the president said.” Let’s see how they do .”

Play Video

Trump’s combative first speech to the UN general assembly- video highlightings

Trump moved on to Iran, claiming that the Islamic Republic had robbed a great people of its destiny.

” The entire world understands that the good people of Iran want change and, other than the vast military power of the United States, that Iran’s people are what their leaders fear the most ,” he said, adding that the working day would come when the Iranian people would be faced with a option between” the path of poverty, bloodshed and terror” and their country’s” proud roots as a center of civilisation, culture, and wealth “.

Trump said the Iran nuclear bargain, signed by the US under the Obama administration with five other countries two years ago, was ” one of the most serious and most one-sided transactions the United States has in the past entered into “.

” Frankly, that deal is an shame to the United States ,” he said.” I don’t think you’ve heard the last of it- believe me .”

Trump must decide by 15 October on whether to certify Iranian conformity or not. His threatened withdrawal of presidential endorsement could lead to Congress reimposing nuclear-related sanctions and the collapse of the agreement.

Like much of the 41 -minute speech, Trump’s reference to the Iran deal was met by stony silence. The deal is overwhelmingly been endorsed by UN member states, including the majority of members of Washington’s closest allies.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, also stimulating his UN debut, said he had offered to discuss further constraints on Iranian missile developing and curbs on Tehran’s nuclear programme after 2025, when important elements of the 2015 bargain expire. But Macron warned that if the existing bargain was abandoned it would lead only to a “no man’s land”, a nuclear arms race and a situation as serious as the North Korean crisis.

The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded with a tweet, saying Trump’s” ignorant hate speech belongs in medieval times- not the 21 st Century UN” and adding that it was ” unworthy of a reply “.” Fake empathy for Iranians fools no one ,” he said.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was one of the few to applaud when the US president said the world could not abide by the Iran agreement” if it provides cover for the eventual construction of a nuclear programme “.

Netanyahu swiftly issued a statement praising Trump.” In over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech ,” Netanyahu said.” President Trump spoke the truth about the great dangers facing our world and issued a powerful call to confront them in order to ensure the future of humanity .”

Trump is also almost entirely isolated on climate change. Unlike the other opening speakers, including the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, Trump constructed no mention in his speech of an issue that most other leaders in the chamber consider to be the greatest threat to the world.

When his turn to speak came, Macron insisted that though the Paris climate accord, which Trump said he would leave, could be improved,” it will not be renegotiated “. He said he” profoundly respected” the US decision but said ” the door will always be open to them “.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu( centre ), was one of the few to praise the US president’s stance on the Iran nuclear bargain. Photo: UPI/ Barcroft Images

The US president had clearly not come to the UN in the mood to placate foreign leaders, but instead to speak over their heads to his own supporters.

He picked out one antagonist after another, pointing out that he had taken steps to reverse Barack Obama’s policy of detente with Cuba. But he dedicated much more of his speech to a rigorous denunciation of the government of Nicolas Maduro, which he said was strangling Venezuela through “faithfully implemented” socialism.

Trump vowed to help the Venezuelan people” regain their liberty, regain their country and restore their democracy “.

The US has already imposed severe imposing sanctions on the Maduro government and Trump said Washington was ready to take” farther action” if the regime” persists on its path to enforce authoritarian rule “.

The Venezuelan foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, said Trump’s remarks were” sad for the world” and said the US president had spoken like a general at the head of an invading army.

” We do not accept threats from President Trump or whoever in the world ,” Arreaza said.” We are … peaceful people and we want relations of mutual respect .”

Maduro, who did not attend the UN gathering, reacted angrily from Caracas, calling the US president’s speech an” aggression from the new Hitler of international politics, Mr Donald Trump, against the people of Venezuela “.

Attacks on other governments took up much of the second half of Trump’s speech. The first half was allocated to outlining his view of international relations, which he repeatedly said should be based on” strong sovereign nations” with different cultures and values.

Trump’s argument against humanitarian intervention and “nation-building” is an approach favoured by Russia, China and much of the Non-Aligned Movement.

” As president of the United States ,” he said,” I will set America first, just as you as leaders of your countries will always put your countries first .”

It was one of the few lines that drew significant applause. Trump did not explain how that sentiment squared with the second part of his address, in which he called for action against” rascal regimes” for their lack of democracy.

Angelique Chrisafis contributed to this report from Paris

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Caribbean faces fresh devastation as category 5 Hurricane Maria hits islands

Eye of blizzard expected to pass near Dominica on Monday evening with hurricane set to hit eastern islands still struggling after Hurricane Irma

The Caribbean island of Dominica has been” brutalised and devastated” by category 5 Hurricane Maria, the prime minister of the country has said.

The eyewall of the hurricane barrelled into Dominica’s eastern coast on Monday evening, crossing towards the former British colony’s capital, Roseau, on the south-west side.

Hurricane Maria had intensified into different categories 5 storm as it barrelled towards Dominica. It is expected to move towards the eastern Caribbean islands still working to provide basic food, water and health services to the regions hard hit by Hurricane Irma.

The US National Hurricane Center( NHC) said the” major hurricane” was already creating maximum sustained gales of 160 miles per hour and would strengthen further over the next two days.

Roosevelt Skerrit, the prime minister of Dominica, experienced the force of the hurricane first hand. He posted on his official Facebook page that the wind had ripped the roof off his house and wrote he was ” at the complete compassion of the hurricane “.

After he was rescued from the property, he told Caracas-based TV station Telesur that the island had been “brutalised” and “devastated” by Maria.

” In the morning we will know how many dead there are ,” he said.

Earlier, residents of the island, which escaped Hurricane Irma, had flocked to supermarkets to stock up on essentials as officials advised people living in low-lying areas or along rivers to move to high ground.

The island’s airport and ports were closed, and the local water company shut down its systems to protect its intake valves from rubble churned up by the cyclone. The government opened all shelters.

Late on Monday, a police official, inspector Pellam Jno Baptiste, said there were no immediate the reporting of casualties but it was still too dangerous for officers to do a full appraisal as the blizzard raged outside.

” Where “weve been”, we can’t move ,” he said in a brief phone interview.

” It’s really a desperate situation ,” said Chamberlain Emanuel, head of the environment commission at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States( OESC ).

In a telephone interview from St Lucia, Emanuel said the incoming blizzard threatened to slow the recovery from Irma. The scale of the extermination left by that hurricane is becoming clearer by the hour as communications systems are restored across the region.” We’re trying to be resilient but the vulnerability is just too high ,” he said.

Irma, also different categories 5 hurricane, left about 40 people dead in the Caribbean before veering towards Florida, where at least 20 people died.

The NHC cautioned Hurricane Maria could make a” dangerous cyclone upsurge accompanied by large and destructive waves” that would create water levels by as much as 9ft( 2.7 metres) as it approached approached the French province of Guadeloupe, the base for relief operations for several islands were destroyed by Irma this month.

Islanders on nearby Martinique were ordered to stay indoors under a maximum-level “violet” alert. And the energy supplier EDF said power had been cut off from 10,000 homes on the island, which has a population of 400, 000.

Up to 20 in of rain could drench the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands through Wednesday night- conditions that could cause life-threatening floods and mudslides.

Officials in Puerto Rico advised residents of wooden or otherwise flimsy homes to find safe shelter.

” You have to evacuate. Otherwise you’re going to die ,” said Hector Pesquera, the island’s public safety commissioner.” I don’t know how to make this any clearer .”

Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and the British island of Montserrat are also on alert.

Emanuel said the region needed help from the entire international community because the small islands have few resources.” The force-out of the wind from that category 5-plus cyclone was truly something that was unprecedented and “theyre not” ready for ,” he said.

Criticised for the pace of relief efforts in their overseas territories devastated by Irma, Britain, France and the Netherlands said they were boosting resources for the Caribbean as Maria approached.

” We are planning for the unexpected, we are planning for the worst ,” said Chris Austin, head of a UK military taskforce set up to deal with Irma, as the British Virgin Islands readied for the storm.

On the island of St Martin, which is split between France and the Netherlands, the Red Cross flew in 11 tonnes of aid from the Dutch mainland on Sunday, including urgently needed materials to replace roofs ripped off by Irma.

Although Hurricane Irma did not make landfall on mainland Puerto Rico, its after consequences are still being feel. For some, the electricity returned only a few days after the blizzard, while others in neighborhoods like Old San Juan, Miramar, and Hato Rey have only just had their power turned on over the weekend and some still have no power at all.
In Santurce, one of the biggest neighborhoods in San Juan, residents could be seen on Monday preparing for the latest blizzard, tying down and securing large potted plants and satellite dishes, and preparing wooden committees that will eventually protect the windows of homes and industries.
Gas stations began to get busy over the afternoon with four or five cars awaiting at every pump. The local Walmart was mobbed with people stocking up on water, soft drink, chips, canned food, and batteries.

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Downward spiral: how Venezuelas symbol of progress became political prisoners hell

The dizzying spiraling structure in central Caracas was conceived in the 1950 s as a monument to a nations confidence but now its disintegrating shell homes a notorious political prison. Is El Helicoide a metaphor for modern Venezuela?

Spiralling up a hill in the heart of Caracas is a playful, ambitious building that once represented Venezuela’s dreams of modernity, power and influence, and was feted by Salvador Dali and Pablo Neruda.

Today, its crumbling concrete shell houses the headquarters of Venezuela’s intelligence services and the country’s most notorious political prison. It has become a symbol of national disintegrate, bankrupt dreams and faltering democracy.

Slums on the surrounding slopes obscure the aging Buckminster Fuller dome that tops its elegant coils, but the building can still be seen from around the capital, and casts a long darknes of fear.

El Helicoide in front of San Agustin barrio. Photograph: Pietro Paolini/ TerraProject

El Helicoide- as it was named in a nod to the geometry that inspired it- was conceived in the early 1950 s as a shopping mall that would exemplify Venezuela’s wealth and confidence. Its curving lines are created by more than two miles of ramps in an interlocking helix, designed as a modern take on the high street.

The design included space for 300 boutiques, and parking spaces for each. There were also plans for a hotel and galleries. But the building was never finished, and the stores never opened. Instead, regions earmarked for the sale of luxury goods were turned first into shelters for the homeless, then prison cells, police headquarters and eventually even torture chambers, described by former inmates as “hell on earth”.

The planned interior. Photograph: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

Several Venezuelan governments tried to remake El Helicoide as a museum or cultural centre, but all the efforts ended in failure. Its cells have never been as mobbed as they are today, after months of street protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro that often turned violent. Support for his government has collapsed in the face of severe shortages of food and medication, hyper-inflation and spiralling violence.

The president blames foreign sabotage for the country’s problems, even though Venezuela sits on the world’s largest oil reserves, and he has responded to the unrest by jailing and blacklisting foes, convening a legislative super-assembly to sideline the opponent controlled parliament, and even openly flirting with ” becoming a dictator to insure costs for the people “~ ATAGEND.

Celeste Olalquiaga, a culture historian who grew up in Caracas, said:” El Helicoide is a metaphor for the whole modern period in Venezuela and what went wrong .” She has launched a project to document its extraordinary history and a book about the mall-turned jail.

The transformation from icon of Venezuela’s hopes to emblem of failing and repression was slow and complicated. It began with a coup, stretched over decades of totalitarianism and democracy, through the rule of 14 presidents and several cycles of petroleum boom and bust. Someone go looking for bad omen might have found one in the name of the hill where it’s constructed, Roca Tarpeya; the Tarpeian Rock was an execution ground in ancient Rome.

Construction on Roca Tarpeya, in about 1956. Photos: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

But after the project was unveiled in 1955, the first years of planning and building were ones of steady the successes and optimism. El Helicoide was so internationally celebrated that it was praised by Neruda, and Dali reportedly offered to help decorate the interior. But a 1958 coup that deposed the dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez from power swept away dreams for the mall along with much else.

El Helicoide was actually a private project, but Perez Jimenez had become so famous for his grandiose building plans that most Venezuelans presumed the dizzying mall was a country attempt. As the country tried to move on from his brutal regulation, everything associated with the ex-president was tainted- and that included El Helicoide. Without funding or subsistence, the project collapsed and the near-finished house sat empty for years.

Meanwhile, Caracas was changing around it. Wealthy residents of the city moved east, and slums expanded south, until they all but engulfed El Helicoide.

The concrete shell, poured but never finished, became embroiled in legal action between the developers, the government and store owners who had made downpayments to purchase their space. Eventually in 1975 it comes down under government control.

El Helicoide abandoned, 1968. Photograph: Paolo Gasparini

The lead Venezuelan designer Jorge Romero Gutierrez had sunk so much of his once considerable fortune into it that its failing all but bankrupted him. It also damaged his reputation and destroyed his spirit, said Alberto Sato, an architect and prof based in Chile.

Sato tracked down Romero- a personal hero of his- where reference is first came to Venezuela in the 1970 s. He detected a human bankrupted and broken by El Helicoide’s failure, who had largely abandoned architecture.

That was his country’s loss, says Sato.” He was a type of madman, unbelievably visionary ,” pointing out that El Helicoide is one of the few Caracas builds distinctive enough to identify easily from the air.” I think that he was one of the most important point architects of the 1950 s in Venezuela, but his work wasn’t treated as it deserved .”

The building’s first permanent occupants did not move in until the mid-1 970 s, and could hardly have been further from original visions. When landslides swept away swathes of a nearby township, the government moved five hundred newly homeless families into temporary shelters on the ramps.

Conditions is very much basic: neither energy nor water supplies had ever been installed, and so the building offered little more than protection from the elements.

But that was attraction enough though for those who had lost everything, and before long, 2,000 households- 10,000 people- were crammed into the ramps, said Olalquiaga. Conditions were grim, and it soon became a centre for drug trafficking, prostitution and crime.

In 1982, the families were cleared out, and Sato worked on a project to turn El Helicoide into a cultural centre. Romero wanted little to do with the building that had ruined his reputation.

” He was too old, too tired, to have any real hope. I remember him saying’ It’s cursed, you are not going to be able to do anything there ,'” Sato said.

El Helicoide is’ very anti-climactic, like a building equivalent of the Wizard of Oz ‘, says Celeste Olalquiaga, who was allowed inside on a visit. Photo: Cristobal Alvarado Minic/ Getty

Romero turned out to be correct, at the least as far as Sato’s project was concerned. After a change of government in 1984 and a foreign currency crisis, El Helicoide slipped back into disuse. Frets about squatters returning, the governmental forces moved the secret police in the next year.

Different iterations of the intelligence and security forces have been based in the building ever since 1985, with top floors serving as offices and the lower two as a incarcerate. The cells are tiny and cramped, partly because of the deceptive nature of the building itself. It may look like a futuristic cruise liner, but most of its bulk comes from the hill that defines its basic sort. The actual build is no more than the ramps spiralling up to the summit and back down.

” When you visit El Helicoide you realise that between the rock, which takes most of the centre of the site, and the ramps, there is very little useable space ,” said Olalquiaga, who was allowed inside on a visit in 2015.

” It’s very anti-climactic, like a build equivalent of the Wizard of Oz. From outside you insure a huge thing, but from inside you see that it’s kind of small ,” she said.” I call it a living ruin as it’s semi-abandoned .”

Even the indefatigable populist chairperson Hugo Chavez was defeated by El Helicoide, which he described as both “cursed” and “very important”. At one point he ordered the intelligence services to leave and promised to turn the ramps into a social centre, but the officers and their prisoners never did depart and the grand project never materialised.

A protester takes aim at riot police during anti-government protests in Caracas, May 2017. Photograph: Cristian Hernandez/ EPA

There are no records of who was incarcerated in the early years. The first human known to have been held for his views was an astrologer, Jose Bernardo Gomez. He was apprehended the 1990 s for forecasting the impending death of the country’s then chairperson, Rafael Caldera( who was then in his late 70 s)- a crime that seems almost as strange as the building where he was held.

” I was held prisoner at El Helicoide 21 years ago ,” said Gomez, who is still reading the stars.” In those years the government( the president) reacted in this way because I had shared my astrological reads at a private event for businessmen .”( On his release in 1996, El Nacional newspaper quoted Gomez defiantly clinging to his reasons for watching mortality in the alignment of Pluto, Uranus, Mars and the comet Chiron, though Caldera lived on until 2009.)

Since then, hundreds of others have followed in Gomez’s footsteps, including both regular captives and those locked up for their political views.

Rosmit Mantilla, an LGBT activist and opponent legislator, said:” The Helicoide is the centre of torture in Venezuela. It’s a hell on earth .” Desginated a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty, he spent two and a half years jailed in the building.

He suffered psychological torment and physical abuse, but believes he was spared the most extreme torturing thanks to an international campaign for his release. He decided to compile a record of what he saw and heard from fellow prisoners, and has worked to raise awareness since his own release in November last year.

He describes a routine of overcrowding and malnutrition, psychological pressure and sparse rations as universal. Some endured worse treatment.

Stamps commemorating the 38 th anniversary of DISIP( National Directorate of Intelligence and Prevention Services) in 2007. Photo: Archivo Fotografia Urbana/ Proyecto Helicoide

” There are at least three rooms used for torture, and we couldn’t sleep because we would hear the hollers all night: people who would appear and disappear ,” he said.

Prisoners include both men and women, maintained on separate floors. Torments reported to Mantilla include people being beaten, electrocuted, hung by their extremities, forced into stress positions and forced to plunge their face into a bag of faeces and breathe in.

Problems of overcrowding are now far worse. After months of political upheaval and street protests, there are currently thought to be more than 300 people crammed into cells that already felt mobbed with 80, according to the campaign group Una Ventana a la Libertad( A Window on Freedom ).

El Helicoide makes an unusually high-profile prison for political detainees: a landmark building visible from across the city. But the secret police are so unambiguously proud of their unique headquarters that in 2007 they issued a series of stamps to celebrate it.

The fate of El Helicoide- constructed amid dreamings of prosperity, but now in a state of slow disintegrate- reflects Venezuela’s recent history. Spellbound by the promise of easy petroleum wealth, the country’s leaders focused on gleaming trophies and forgot the people they ruled, most of whom are still living in desperate poverty.

Olalquiaga still hopes the building can be rescued from disintegration and its grim new reputation, by a government more dedicated to serving its people than controlling them.” What should happen is the one thing which has never happened, the communities that surround it should be asked what they want ,” she said.” El Helicoide has suffered for all kinds of reasons, and it is unable to and should be re-purposed. I don’t think the situation is doomed .”

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