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12 dead in massive fire at London residential tower

Firefighters rescued many people and are still trying to put the fire out in the 24-storey block 12 hours on.

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London, Jun 14 : A huge blaze today engulfed a 24- storey residential tower block in west London housing over 100 families, killing at least 12 people and injuring 74 others, with police suspecting the death toll could rise further.

The fire at Grenfell Tower on the Lancaster West Estate in Latimer Road was reported at 01:16 local time. About 600 people were believed to have been inside the tower’s 120 flats when the blaze ripped through the building.

The Metropolitan Police, which previously had put the number of fatalities at six, now raised the death toll to 12.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police earlier said the recovery operation would be complex “over a number of days.”

He said it was likely to be some time before police could identify the victims, and it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

The fire is thought to have started because of a faulty refrigerator on the 3rd or 4th floor of the building soon after midnight and destroyed flat after flat.

By noon, the building looked to be just smoking ruins but the fire again took hold, and cladding began to fall to the ground.

Eyewitnesses described people trapped in the burning tower, in north Kensington, screaming for help and yelling for their children to be saved.

Firefighters rescued many people and are still trying to put the fire out in the 24-storey block 12 hours on.

Police say there may still be people in the building who are unaccounted for.

Eyewitnesses said they saw lights – thought to be mobile phones or torches – flashing at the top of the block of flats, and trapped residents coming to their windows – some holding children.

It is understood that “several hundred” people would have been in the block when the fire broke out shortly after midnight, most of them sleeping.

“This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a firefighter, I have never ever seen anything of this scale,” London Fire Brigade chief Dany Cotton told reporters.

“Extensive cordons remain in place and a number of nearby residents have been evacuated as a precaution,” Cundy said.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police, said the recovery operation would be “complex and lengthy”, and the number of fatalities was expected to rise.

He declined to give any details of the number of people who may be missing.

He said it was likely to be some time before police could identify the victims, adding that it was too early to speculate on the cause of the fire.

Firefighters rescued “large numbers”, but London Mayor Sadiq Khan said “a lot” of people were unaccounted for.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing people trapped inside the burning building screaming for help and shouting for their children to be saved. People screamed for help as the fire took hold of the building. Some residents were seen using bedsheets to make their escape from the tower block.

As fire-fighters fought the blaze, witnesses said a baby was caught by members of the public after being dropped from the window of the 9th floor.

Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said firefighters expected to be on the scene for at least another 24 hours and she would not speculate about the cause of the blaze.

She said there were concerns that people were still inside the tower and she urged all residents to make sure they had reported themselves to police so that the authorities know they are safe.

Prime Minister Theresa May is “deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life”, said Downing Street.

The area around Grenfell Tower is home to a large number of Muslims. Many were awake at the time the fire broke out having their early morning meal before beginning the daily fast for the holy month of Ramzan.

The survivors, whose belongings are presumed to have been destroyed, gathered in the nearby Rugby Portobello community centre where they were given water, clothes and blankets.

Michael Paramasivan, who lives on the seventh floor with his girlfriend and young daughter, said he ignored official advice to stay in your home.

“If we had stayed in that flat, we would’ve perished. My gut instinct told me just to get the girls out. I wrapped the little one up because of the smoke and I just got them out,” he said.

“I’m lucky to be alive and lots of people have not got out of the building I’ve lost everything I own. I m standing here in everything I ve got,” one survivor said.

Paul Munakr, who lives on the seventh floor, spoke of his escape. “As I was going down the stairs, there were firefighters, truly amazing firefighters that were actually going upstairs, to the fire, trying to get as many people out the building as possible,” he told the BBC.

Another resident, Zoe, who lives on the fourth floor, said she was woken by a neighbour banging on her door.

“The whole landing was thick with smoke. The smoke alarms weren’t going off but the way it spread so quickly from the fourth floor, all the way up to the 23rd floor was scary,” she said.

Refurbishment of the housing block had been completed last year and the Fire Brigades Union said something had gone badly wrong with fire prevention procedures at the building.

London Mayor Khan declared the fire as a “major incident” and said questions will need to be answered over the safety of such tower blocks.

“We can’t have a situation where people’s safety is put at risk because of bad advice being given or if it is the case, as has been alleged, of tower blocks not being properly serviced or maintained,” he said.

Grenfell Tower is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the local council.

The local Grenfell Action Group had claimed, before and during the refurbishment, that the block constituted a fire risk and residents had warned that access to the site for emergency vehicles was “severely restricted”.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building burning through to “its very core”.

Distraught relatives have been using social media to try and make contact with missing loved ones.

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Queensland PM seeks veto of federal loan to Adani’s coal mine project

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Protest against Adani in Australia(Photo- Reuters )

Brisbane, Dec 12: Queensland’s re-elected Labor Party Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to veto a federal loan to Indian conglomerate Adani Enterprises’ A$16.5-billion Carmichael coal project in Galilee Basin, a media report said.

In one of her first acts after she was officially sworn in on Tuesday morning, Palaszczuk has followed through on the shock announcement she made during the election campaign to block a A$900 million loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to the Indian conglomerate to build a common-user rail line in the basin, The Australian reported.

“My government provides formal notification for the Commonwealth that financial assistance should not be provided to Adani for the North Galilee Basin Rail Project,” Palaszczuk’s letter to Prime Minister Turnbull reads.

“As such, the government is exercising its veto right under section 13(4) of the Investment Facility Mandate in response to the Adani loan application.”

An Adani spokesman said the company was still committed to Queensland despite the veto, and insisted the Queensland government was still supportive of its Carmichael coal mine proposal for the Galilee Basin.

“We congratulate Premier Palaszczuk on her government’s election and look forward to working closely and cooperatively with the state and federal governments and regulatory authorities as we get on with the job of making all of our projects a reality,” the spokesman said.

“Adani Australia currently employs over 800 people and has invested over $3.3 billion in Queensland, which is one of the biggest investments by an Indian company in Australia.

“We would not be investing our time, money and energy in this manner if our projects were not viable and if we were not serious about delivering our projects which will ultimately generate more than 10,000 direct & indirect jobs across all of our projects.

“The projects are viewed in a positive light by the Queensland Government and considered as critical infrastructure investments. The projects continue to retain the support of the Queensland Government.

“Adani Australia will now fully consider and adjust to the constraints the veto of NAIF (Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility) funding brings. Adani Australia is 100 per cent committed to Queensland, we have a strong regional Queensland presence. This will not change,” it said.

The contentious loan was for a rail line connecting the Carmichael coal mine to the Abbot Point coal terminal, and related mining project.

In response to Palaszczuk’s letter to Turnbull, Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan said the Queensland government had “chosen to stand in the way of North Queensland jobs as its first official act”.

“It was the Palaszczuk Government that first asked last year that the NAIF consider a loan to the Adani Galilee rail project in a letter from the now-sidelined former Treasurer Curtis Pitt,” Senator Canavan said.

“But what the Queensland Premier has failed to say today is whether she intends to block all investment in the Galilee Basin.

“The people of regional Queensland deserve to know which jobs will be next on Labor’s hit list.

“I hope the Adani project proceeds because there are 800 people whose current jobs depend on it, and thousands of future jobs hang in the balance. If Adani does proceed it will be in spite of Queensland Labor not because of it.”

Under the constitution, the federal government funding must be facilitated by the state government to the private company.

Palaszczuk said newly appointed Treasurer Jackie Trad, the state’s Deputy Premier, would write to federal Northern Australia Minister Matt Canavan to provide the same advice.

During the campaign, the Integrity Commissioner wrote to Palaszczuk and said she should not make any decisions about any NAIF applications, because of a conflict of interest created by Palaszczuk’s partner working on Adani’s NAIF application, the Australian reported.

However, she said she would veto the loan. Palaszczuk has not said what she would do for other NAIF projects, such as Aurizon’s application to build a rail line in the Galilee Basin.

Despite scepticism that its Carmichael mine was not viable, Adani said it had been verified by independent third parties to be in the lowest cost quartile of the cost of production in the global cost curve for seaborne thermal coal.

The decision to veto the loan has been criticised by the federal coalition government, which says it will put the entire multibillion-dollar project in jeopardy.

IANS

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Unicef calls for making digital world safer for children

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United Nations, Dec 12: The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has said little is done to protect the children from the perils of the digital world and to increase their access to safe online content.

Pointing out that one in three internet users worldwide is a child, the agency in its State of the World’s Children 2017: Children in a Digital World report on Monday, highlights digital divides and explores current debates about the impact of the internet and social media on children’s safety and well-being, Xinhua reported.

“For better and for worse, digital technology is now an irreversible fact of our lives,” said Unicef Executive Director Anthony Lake. “In a digital world, our dual challenge is how to mitigate the harms while maximizing the benefits of the internet for every child.”

The report explores the benefits that digital technology can offer the most disadvantaged children, including by increasing their access to information; building skills for the digital workplace; and giving them a platform to connect and communicate their views.

“The internet was designed for adults, but it is increasingly used by children and young people, and digital technology increasingly affects their lives and futures,” Lake noted.

The report also examines how the internet increases children’s vulnerability to risks and harms, including by misusing their private information, accessing harmful content, and cyberbullying.

The report notes that the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices has made online access for many children less supervised, and potentially more dangerous.

Moreover, digital networks, like the “Dark Web” and cryptocurrencies, are enabling the worst forms of exploitation and abuse, such as trafficking and “made to order” online child sexual abuse.

According to the report, young people are the most connected age group. Worldwide, they have a 71 percent presence online compared with 48 percent of the total population.

However, African youth are the least connected, with around three out of five not online, compared to just one in 25 in Europe.

It also reveals that more than nine in 10 child sexual abuse URLs are hosted in Canada, France, the Netherlands, Russia and the US.

The report says that only collective action by governments, the private sector, families and children themselves can help level the digital playing field and make the internet safer and more accessible for children.

IANS

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Trump to send astronauts back to moon

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Washington, Dec 12: US President Donald Trump authorised the acting NASA administrator Robert M. Lightfoot Jr. to “lead an innovative space exploration programme to send American astronauts back to the moon, and eventually Mars” during a White House signing ceremony.

Standing with retired astronauts including Harrison Schmitt, one of the astronauts on Apollo 17 — the last piloted mission to the moon, and Vice President Mike Pence, Trump on Monday touted the initiative as the first step in establishing a foundation on the moon for “an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond”, reports CNN.

“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space programme on human exploration and discovery.

“It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 for long-term exploration and use. This time we will not only plan on flag and leave our footprint.”

The directive, which came on the 45th anniversary of Apollo 17’s landing on the moon, called for collaboration with commercial companies and other nations, but it did not specify when the moon mission would occur or how much it might cost.

During a 2016 campaign event near NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, Trump had pledged to “free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistical agency for low Earth-orbit activities” and “instead refocus on space exploration”, CNN reported.

“Under a Trump administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars,” he said.

Pence, during the first meeting of the National Space Council in October, said the Trump administration “will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond”.

“The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.”

Trump’s announcement essentially revives goals that former President George W. Bush announced in 2004. The resulting NASA programme, Constellation, was to put astronauts on the moon by 2020 but was hobbled by delays and cost overruns, reports The New York Times.

Former President Barack Obama canceled it in 2010 and instead told NASA to focus on reaching an asteroid in the 2020s and then Mars in the 2030s.

The new heavy-lift rocket that NASA is developing for deep-space missions – known as the Space Launch System – could serve as a core component of a moon trip.

But the first uncrewed test of that rocket will not occur until 2019 or 2020, and the first flight carrying astronauts would follow only several years later.

IANS

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