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Rescuing trapped grandkids via kayak: the aftermath of Hurricane Ian

Photo: AFP

AFP | Gerard Martinez

Suzanne Clarke wades through waist-deep water, struggling to reach her daughter’s apartment as she drags a kayak behind her.

When she finally reaches the home, she loads her two small granddaughters into the boat and pushes them toward higher ground, where she has parked her car on a freeway.

The building where Clarke’s daughter lives, in McGregor, a small city in southwestern Florida, was flooded Wednesday as Hurricane Ian thrashed over the community, which is situated along the Caloosahatchee River. 

“I am very stressed, it’s been rough,” said 54-year-old Clarke. “I came early. The water was really, really high and I was scared.”

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A day after Ian’s fury was unleashed, the inhabitants of Lee County — one of the areas most affected by the storm — are left to count the damage inflicted over the last several hours, now standing under a radiantly sunny sky. 

Some six miles (10 kilometers) away in Iona, only a few particularly large cars dare to navigate through a flooded street. 

Resident Ronnie Sutton spent the night with a friend in a town south of here called Cabo Coral. Even though he hasn’t been able to get to his house yet, he is sure the water has destroyed everything. 

“It’s terrible,” the 67-year-old said. “I guess this is the price you pay for being at sea level. Sometimes it comes back to bite you.”

Boats in the street

Ian battered this section of southwestern Florida for hours on Wednesday, leaving behind scenes of destruction, including splintered trees, felled traffic lights and shattered glass.

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In Fort Myers, a quiet city of approximately 83,000 people, the rising Caloosahatchee River pushed dozens of small boats — usually anchored at the local marina — up into the streets of downtown, where they remained Thursday on the now-dry ground. 

Tom Johnson witnessed the flooding up close from his apartment on the second floor of a two-story building. 

Wednesday afternoon, he saw how the hurricane propelled two boats up into his complex’s courtyard in a matter of just five minutes. 

“I was scared because I’ve never been through that,” recalled 54-year-old Johnson, whose home was not damaged, gesturing to the crafts still laying there.

“It was just the most horrifying sounds, with debris flying everywhere, doors flying off.”

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One of Johnson’s neighbors, Janelle Thil, was not as lucky. Her ground-floor apartment began to flood, but she was able to ask another resident for help to get out. 

“They got my dogs and then I jumped out of the window and swam over there,” Thil said, pointing to a vacant second-floor unit where she and others took refuge. 

The 42-year-old had finished clearing out the mud that found its way into her home, and began gathering her few possessions that were not lost in the flood. 

“I cried a little bit when I finally got to my apartment,” she said. “Opened the door and I had to wait about five minutes for all the floodwaters to come out.”

“I loved my home, but I’m alive and that’s what matters.”

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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