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Selasa, 31 Agustus 2021

WHO monitoring new coronavirus variant named ‘Mu’ - NEWS.com.au

The 'Mu' coronavirus variant, first identified in Colombia, has mutations indicating a risk of vaccine resistance, the WHO says

The World Health Organization has said it is monitoring a new coronavirus variant known as "Mu", which was first identified in Colombia in January.

Five variants, including Mu, are to be monitored.

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2021-09-01 01:55:04Z
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Hurricane Ida leaves Louisiana residents without power and water, New Orleans implements curfew - ABC News

Hundreds of thousands of people in Louisiana have been sweltering in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida with no electricity, no tap water, little petrol and no clear idea of when things might improve.

More than 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans — were left without power when Hurricane Ida slammed the electric grid with its 240-kilometre-per-hour winds toppling a major transmission tower, knocking out thousands of kilometres of power lines and hundreds of substations.

Long queues at the few petrol stations that could pump fuel were wrapping around the block, while many residents cleared rotten food out of their refrigerators.

Neighbours shared generators and borrowed buckets of swimming pool water to bathe or to flush toilets.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the clean-up and rebuilding across the state would be slow, as workers were hampered by the late summer heat.

"We have a lot of work ahead of us and no-one is under the illusion that this is going to be a short process," he said.

Mr Edwards said state officials were working to set up food, water and ice distribution stations.

The governor's office also said discussions were underway about establishing cooling stations and places where people on oxygen could plug in their machines, but officials had no details on when those will be operational.

Peopel queuing for petrol at a petrol station.
People are queuing in long lines trying to get petrol in Louisiana.(

AP: Eric Gay

)

More than 25,000 utility workers laboured to restore electricity, but officials said it could take weeks.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said 70 buses would be used as cooling sites while drive-through food, water and ice distribution locations set up on Wednesday.

The mayor also said she expects the main power company Entergy to be able to provide some electricity to the city by Wednesday evening local time but stressed that does not mean a quick citywide restoration.

"We know it's hot. We know we do not have any power and that continues to be a priority," she said.

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Hurricane Ida wreaks havoc in Louisiana

Ms Cantrell also ordered a night-time curfew, calling it an effort to prevent crime as the downed electricity grid plunged the city into darkness after sunset.

Police Chief Shaun Ferguson said there had been some arrests for stealing.

With water treatment plants overwhelmed by floodwaters or crippled by power outages, some places were also facing shortages of drinking water.

About 441,000 people in 17 parishes had no water and an additional 319,000 were advised to boil water, federal officials said.

The number of deaths climbed to at least four in Louisiana and Mississippi, including two people killed Monday night when seven vehicles plunged into a 6-metre-deep hole near Lucedale, Mississippi, where a highway had collapsed after torrential rains.

Mr Edwards said he expects the death toll to rise.

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Are US authorities better equipped to handle Hurricane Ida since Hurricane Katrina?

AP

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2021-09-01 00:39:12Z
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US President Joe Biden praises Afghan evacuation efforts, defends departure from 'forever war' - ABC News

Faced with tough questions about leaving Afghanistan, including Americans left behind, President Joe Biden has called the US military airlift to extract more than 120,000 people from Kabul an "extraordinary success".

Mr Biden was under heavy criticism, particularly from Republicans, for his handling of the final evacuation, which left more than 100 Americans behind.

Twenty-four hours after the departure of the last American C-17 cargo plane from Kabul, Mr Biden — in an address to the nation — vigorously defended his decision to end America's longest war and withdraw all US troops ahead of an August 31 deadline.

"I was not going to extend this forever war," Mr Biden said in an address from the White House State Dining Room. "And I was not going to extend a forever exit."

Mr Biden said 90 per cent of Americans who wanted to leave Afghanistan were able to do so.

Thousands of troops spent a harrowing two weeks protecting the airlift of Afghans, Americans and others seeking to escape a country once again ruled by Taliban militants.

"For those remaining Americans there is no deadline," Mr Biden said.

He said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was leading continued diplomatic efforts to ensure safe passage for any American, Afghan partner or foreign national who wanted to leave Afghanistan after the August 15 takeover by the Islamist Taliban.

He said the international community would hold Taliban leaders accountable for their promise to permit freedom of travel.

"The Taliban has made public commitments, broadcast on television and radio across Afghanistan, on safe passage for anyone wanting to leave, including those who worked alongside Americans," he said.

"We don't take them by their word alone, but by their actions, and we have leverage to make sure those commitments are met."

Biden highlights Trump's role in messy exit 

President Donald Trump and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani sit side by side in front of flags
Mr Trump brokered a deal that authorised the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners last year.(

AP Photo: Alex Brandon

)

Mr Biden criticised the ousted Afghan government's inability to fight back against swift Taliban advances, which forced the United States and its NATO allies into a hasty exit, and highlighted the role played by former US president Donald Trump.

The deal brokered by Mr Trump authorised "the release of 5,000 prisoners last year, including some of the Taliban's top war commanders, among those who just took control," Mr Biden said.

But he said it was inevitable that the final departure from two decades of war would be difficult and violent, no matter when it was planned and conducted.

"To those asking for a third decade of war in Afghanistan, I ask, 'What is the vital national interest?'" Mr Biden said.

"I simply do not believe that the safety and security of America is enhanced by continuing to deploy thousands of American troops and spending billions of dollars in Afghanistan."

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Who are IS-K?

ABC/wires

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2021-08-31 20:50:20Z
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Ida death toll edges upward as US South surveys damage - news.com.au

People ride out of a flooded neighborhood in LaPlace, Louisiana on August 30, 2021

Louisiana and Mississippi took stock Tuesday of the disaster inflicted by powerful Hurricane Ida, as receding floodwaters began to reveal the full extent of the damage along the US Gulf Coast and the death toll rose to four.

New Orleans was still mostly without power nearly two days after Ida slammed into the Louisiana coast as a Category 4 storm, exactly 16 years after devastating Hurricane Katrina -- which killed more than 1,800 people -- made landfall.

Images of people being plucked from flooded cars and pictures of destroyed homes surfaced on social media, while the damage in New Orleans itself remained limited.

One person was killed by a falling tree in Prairieville, while a second victim died trying to drive through floodwaters some 60 miles (95 kilometers) southeast in New Orleans, officials reported.

But power provider Entergy told New Orleans City Council members Tuesday morning that some electricity could be restored as early as Wednesday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reported.

Entergy had initially said it could take days to even assess the full extent of the damage.

The death toll is expected to rise further, Louisiana Deputy Governor Billy Nungesser warned Tuesday, especially in coastal areas directly hit by Ida where search and rescue operations are ongoing.

- Ida heads northeast -

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said his state had deployed more than 1,600 personnel for search and rescue operations, while the Pentagon said over 5,200 personnel from the military, federal emergency management and National Guard had been activated across several southern states.

Scientists have warned of a rise in cyclone activity as the ocean surface warms due to climate change, posing an increasing threat to the world's coastal communities.

...

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2021-08-31 22:37:24Z
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Afghanistan an ‘extraordinary success’: Biden - NEWS.com.au

President Biden, in a defiant address to the nation, said that he took “responsibility” for the decision to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan.

US President Joe Biden has hailed the “extraordinary success” of the withdrawal of US forces and nationals from Kabul as the war in Afghanistan officially ended after 20 years.

Mr Biden praised the “incredibly, skill and bravery” of US soldiers, diplomats and intelligence professionals who carried out the operation.

The president touted one of the “biggest airlifts in history,” noting that more than 120,000 people who were airlifted from Kabul. He said “no nation has ever done anything like it in all of history.”

Mr Biden said the real decision in Afghanistan was “between leaving and escalating”.

“I was not going to extend this forever war, and I was not extending a forever exit,” he said.

The US began the final phase of its chaotic withdrawal from the country in May as the Taliban seized much of the country in a lightening blitz.

Kabul fell on August 15 and a suicide attack at Kabul airport killed 13 US service members and more than 170 other people.

Taliban celebrates return to power

The hard line Islamist Taliban have celebrated their total return to power on with gunfire, after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan to end two decades of war.

The United States’ longest military conflict drew to a close on Monday night when its forces abandoned Kabul airport, where it had overseen a frenzied flight that saw more than 123,000 people flee.

Taliban fighters then quickly swept into the airport and fired weapons into the sky across the city in jubilation – an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks, and toppled them for supporting al-Qaeda.

“Congratulations to Afghanistan … this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the runway of the airport.

“We highlight to every occupier that whoever sees Afghanistan with an evil eye will face the same fate as the Americans have faced.”

“We’ve never given up to pressure or force, and our nation has always sought freedom,” Mujahid said.

Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders”. Many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban’s initial rule from 1996-2001, which was infamous for their treatment of girls and women, as well as a brutal justice system.

The Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, and Mujahid continued that theme.

“We want to have good relations with the US and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all,” he said.

Mujahid also insisted Taliban security forces would “be gentle and nice”.

The Taliban face a daunting challenge of transforming from an insurgent group to a government, in war-ravaged nation dependent on foreign aid.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, with food stocks running low because of disruptions caused by conflict as well as a severe drought.

Some Afghans appealed to the Islamist movement to keep their promise of a softer rule.

Fawzia Koofi, a rights activist and former negotiator for the ousted government who has twice survived assassination attempts, called on the Taliban via Twitter to include all Afghans as they turn to governing the country.

“Taliban, hear us out: we must rebuild together!” she wrote. “This land belongs to all of us.” Other activists struggled to find hope amid the gloom.

“If I let my thoughts linger on what we have lost, I will lose my mind,” Muska Dastageer, who lectured at the American University of Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter.

The withdrawal came amid the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden to end the war – one that claimed the lives of more than tens of thousands of Afghans and over 2400 American service members.

The slightly early finish followed a threat from the regional offshoot of the Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, to attack the US forces at the airport.

Thirteen US troops were among more than 100 people killed when an IS suicide bomber late last week attacked the perimeter of the airport, where desperate Afghans had massed in the hope of getting on board an evacuation flight.

The US-led airlift began as the Taliban completed an astonishing rout of government forces around the country and took over the capital on August 15.

Their victory came after Mr Biden withdrew nearly all American troops, then was forced to send back about 6000 more to conduct the airlift.

Mr Biden said he would address the nation today in Washington, as his critics continued to savage him for his handling of the withdrawal.

“We can’t fight endless wars, but the scope & consequence of Biden’s failure here is staggering,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said.

Mr Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was able to offer little more than stern words for the Taliban.

“Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” Sec. Blinken said, as he announced the United States had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and shifted its operations to Qatar.

All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handle their first few days with sole authority over the country, with a sharp focus on whether they will allow free departure for those wanting to leave – including some foreigners.

Sec. Blinken said a small number of US citizens remained in the country – “under 200” but likely closer to just 100.

Britain says the number of UK nationals inside Afghanistan are in the “low hundreds.”

Many thousands of Afghans who had worked with the US-backed government over the years and fear retribution also want to get out.

Western allies have voiced heartbreak in recent days that not all Afghans who wanted to flee could get on the evacuation flights.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday, requiring the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan in the days ahead, and to grant access to the UN and other aid agencies.

Talks are ongoing as to who will now run Kabul airport, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tuesday was of “existential importance”, because it is a lifeline for aid.

The Taliban have asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted that offer.

Read related topics:Joe Biden

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2021-08-31 20:39:27Z
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The last US plane has departed Kabul, so what now for the people of Afghanistan? - ABC News

After the last American plane left Kabul, the city's skyline lit up with gunfire — a Taliban celebration of the "complete independence" they have achieved over Afghanistan. 

Many Afghan people watched on from their homes or hideouts, fearful of what happens next and unsure how they will pay for their next meal. 

"The Taliban are celebrating now in Kabul, lots of gunfire, but the regular people are at home, unhappy," one young woman inside the city told the ABC. 

Their sorrow is steeped in the betrayal many feel towards the foreign forces and governments that promised them so much. 

Afghanistan today is very different to 20 years ago, when the Taliban was removed from power.

There are shopping malls and apartment buildings — apparent signs of progress, suddenly now reminders of what could have been.

"People's expectation is more. People [were] already used to a relatively better lifestyle," the Kabul student said. 

"When I talk to people, they are extremely unhappy.

"Most of them have their money in the banks and literally it is very hard to take [out] your own money, even if you are a millionaire." 

Afghan people have been left to salvage what they can from the lives they built when they believed they would be free. 

Three men with guns wave from the tray of a ute in Kabul
With the US officially out of Afghanistan, the Taliban has complete control. (

AP: Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi

)

Changes on the streets of Kabul

As the US left Afghanistan early yesterday morning, headlines around the world announced: 'the war is over'. 

But the young women of Afghanistan feel as if it is just beginning. 

The ABC has hidden the identity of the women we have spoken to for security reasons. 

"I am afraid. I feel very depressed," the young Kabul student said.  

"Now, if someone kills you on the street, no-one has the courage to ask why. 

"We understand that the West dealt with the Taliban, but as Afghan women we [cannot] forgive them unless they put the maximum pressure on Taliban to respect civil rights." 

When asked what she wanted, the student said: "I would like to continue my education without fear. I will do anything to achieve this goal." 

The Taliban had promised life under their rule would be different for women this time, but the student said there were already verbal threats on the streets that if "the world wasn't watching" there would be more violence.

"I lost my faith on that. They haven't changed," she said. 

"When I am out, I continuously think something bad will happen." 

A teenaged boy stands in front of a mosque holding bunches of white and black Taliban flags
Taliban flags are now for sale on the streets of Kabul. (

AP: Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi

)

A second young woman, who is hiding in Kabul, told the ABC: "The world left us alone. We were handed over to the Taliban." 

She said she was now in imminent danger. 

"The Taliban started searching home to home. They are searching for us. They killed a number of our colleagues. Some are arrested," she said. 

"I do not know what our fate will be. Nothing is predictable." 

The cash crisis in Kabul 

Right now, a lot of the anxiety over what happens next for Afghan people is underwritten by their financial desperation. 

Quite simply, they need money to buy food and the banks are either closed or only allowing $USD200 ($273) to be withdrawn each week, which is not enough for society to function as it did before.  

And accessing that cash means joining a very long line. 

"For that you have to spend the whole night, maybe two days to get that money," the student said.

"I have a relative that visited my father [and] walked 15 kilometres just because he couldn't afford to pay for the taxi or bus. He had relatively a good life.

A long line of men outside a Kabul building
The Taliban have limited weekly cash withdrawals in Afghanistan to $US200 — about $273.(

AP: Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi

)

Dr Omar Sadr, professor of political science at the American University of Kabul, was evacuated to India after the capital fell to the Taliban. 

"The people on the ground in Afghanistan are suffering," he said.

"In terms of a humanitarian tragedy, people are facing drought in rural areas. In the city, there is a great inflation and prices are skyrocketing. 

"People of Afghanistan [are] the poorest people who don't have access to any sort of basic livelihood now." 

As the Taliban moved across Afghanistan, more than 550,000 people were displaced. Many of them travelled to Kabul, hoping to seek shelter from conflict. 

The country is now facing a dire humanitarian crisis, according to the United Nations.  

Afghanistan is cut off from most foreign aid, it is dealing with a devastating drought, mass displacement of its citizens and COVID-19.

"The evacuation effort has undoubtedly saved tens of thousands of lives, and these efforts are praiseworthy," UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi said.

"But when the airlift and the media frenzy are over, the overwhelming majority of Afghans, some 39 million, will remain inside Afghanistan.

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Aid agencies warned the healthcare system could collapse after foreign donors suspended assistance.

But on Monday, a plane carrying 12.5 tonnes of World Health Organization medical supplies landed in northern Afghanistan — the first such shipment since the Taliban took control.

Last week, UNICEF reported it was working on positioning supplies ahead of the winter and would also avoid the Kabul airport. Instead, the plan is to bring aid in over the Pakistan border. 

What Afghan people hope for now 

The last remaining hopes are that the international community will continue to play a role, in particular applying pressure to the Taliban to uphold the rights of women, and that the resistance front in the Panjshir Valley — the only district not under Taliban control — can survive.  

"We need to have hope of a resistance and a resilience," Dr Sadr said. 

The ABC has heard multiple reports of villagers outside Kabul being forced to provide meals for Taliban soldiers, even when they do not have enough food to feed themselves. 

"They cannot support and feed their own members, how can [they] present a good life to the people?" the Kabul student told the ABC. 

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Dr Sadr agrees the Taliban is not capable of governing Afghanistan, but does not believe that will lead to them forming an inclusive government. 

He points out there is a difference between ruling people, and governing them. 

"The Taliban don't have the capacity, they don't have the knowledge to form a modern state, which ... has the ability to deliver services, for example education, healthcare, communications or transportation," Dr Sadr said. 

"Taliban have not changed, if there has been any change they have become more brutal, more radical, more conservative, more tribal. 

"There is no hope that the Taliban will share power ... to form an inclusive government." 

Three Taliban fights stand together with white flags.
Taliban fighters hold flags in Kabul, celebrating their victory in Afghanistan.(

AP: Khwaja Tawfiq Sediqi

)

On Monday, the UN Security Council passed a resolution that called for the Taliban "to facilitate safe passage for people wanting to leave Afghanistan, allow humanitarians to access the country and uphold human rights, including for women and children".

Dr Sadr said the problem would be trying to hold the Taliban to account now that they were celebrating defeating America and its allies. 

"Their view is they have won this war and now the international community will not have any leverage to change their minds or their decisions," he said. 

"This is a fully fledged human catastrophe.

"What is the cost of this for us as human beings on the ground and what is the cost of this for the international community? Can we even calculate that cost? It's huge."

ABC/Reuters

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2021-08-31 19:01:06Z
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Two dead, at least 10 injured as a Mississippi highway collapses in Hurricane Ida's wake - ABC News

Two people have been killed and at least 10 others injured when their vehicles plunged into a deep hole where a highway collapsed after Hurricane Ida blew through the US state of Mississippi.

Torrential rain may have caused the collapse, and the drivers may not have seen that the roadway in front of them had disappeared on Monday night, Mississippi Highway Patrol Corporal Cal Robertson said.

Seven vehicles were involved, including a motorcycle.

A crane was brought in to lift them out of the hole.

A worker looks on at a washed out road.
Two people died when their cars crashed into the hole.(

Mississippi Highway Patrol.

)

A drone video published by local media showed how a raised beam beneath the road had washed away, leaving a red-clay scar that runs for many metres, from a cemetery on one side into a wooded area on the other.

"It is a slide, which means the ground under the roadway and embankment was super-saturated and we can tell right now that's what caused the slide," Kelly Castleberry, district engineer for the Mississippi Department of Transportation said.

Local TV station WDSU-TV reported that state troopers, emergency workers and rescue teams responded to Highway 26 west of Lucedale, about 96 kilometres north-east of Biloxi, to find both the east and westbound lanes collapsed.

Mr Robertson said the hole is around 15 to 18 metres long and 6 to 9 metres deep.

"You can imagine driving at night with heavy rain coming down," he said.

A man covers his head from the rain as he passes a section of roof that has been torn off a building by hurricane winds.
A section of roof is blown off a building in New Orleans, August 29, 2021.(

AP: Eric Gay

)

The identities and conditions of the of those involved in the accident have not yet been released.

Mississippi Highway Patrol said, "While we are still in the early stages of this investigation, motorists can expect Highway 26 to be closed at this location until further notice.

"The Mississippi Department of Transportation will assess the damages and make a determination as to when the roadway will reopen for travel."

Hurricane Ida leaves her mark

More than 20 centimetres of rain fell in the area during Ida, according to the National Weather Service.

Between 3,100 and 5,700 vehicles drive along the stretch of two-lane highway on an average day, according to Mississippi Department of Transportation data.

Hurricane Ida blasted ashore on Sunday as a Category 4 storm, one of the most powerful ever to hit the US mainland.

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Hurricane Ida wreaks havoc in Louisiana

It knocked out power to much of southern Mississippi and south-eastern Louisiana, blowing roofs off buildings and reversing the flow of the Mississippi River.

Ida ravaged the region's power grid, leaving all of New Orleans and hundreds of thousands of other Louisiana residents in the dark with no clear timeline on when the electricity would come back on.

Some areas outside New Orleans also suffered major flooding and damage to homes and businesses.

"I can't tell you when the power is going to be restored. I can't tell you when all the debris is going to be cleaned up and repairs made," Governor John Bel Edwards said on Monday.

"But what I can tell you is we are going to work hard every day to deliver as much assistance as we can."

The storm was blamed for at least two other deaths in Louisiana and Mississippi.

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Are US authorities better equipped to handle Hurricane Ida since Hurricane Katrina?

AP

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2021-08-31 15:57:16Z
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Taliban: ‘Victory belongs to us all’ - NEWS.com.au

The Taliban has celebrated its return to power with cheers and gunfire after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan.

The hard line Islamist Taliban have celebrated their total return to power on with gunfire, after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan to end two decades of war.

The United States’ longest military conflict drew to a close on Monday night when its forces abandoned Kabul airport, where it had overseen a frenzied flight that saw more than 123,000 people flee.

Taliban fighters then quickly swept into the airport and fired weapons into the sky across the city in jubilation – an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks, and toppled them for supporting al-Qaeda.

“Congratulations to Afghanistan … this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the runway of the airport.

“We highlight to every occupier that whoever sees Afghanistan with an evil eye will face the same fate as the Americans have faced.”

“We’ve never given up to pressure or force, and our nation has always sought freedom,” Mujahid said.

Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders”. Many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban’s initial rule from 1996-2001, which was infamous for their treatment of girls and women, as well as a brutal justice system.

The Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, and Mujahid continued that theme.

“We want to have good relations with the US and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all,” he said.

Mujahid also insisted Taliban security forces would “be gentle and nice”.

The Taliban face a daunting challenge of transforming from an insurgent group to a government, in war-ravaged nation dependent on foreign aid.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, with food stocks running low because of disruptions caused by conflict as well as a severe drought.

Some Afghans appealed to the Islamist movement to keep their promise of a softer rule.

Fawzia Koofi, a rights activist and former negotiator for the ousted government who has twice survived assassination attempts, called on the Taliban via Twitter to include all Afghans as they turn to governing the country.

“Taliban, hear us out: we must rebuild together!” she wrote. “This land belongs to all of us.” Other activists struggled to find hope amid the gloom.

“If I let my thoughts linger on what we have lost, I will lose my mind,” Muska Dastageer, who lectured at the American University of Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter.

The withdrawal came amid the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden to end the war – one that claimed the lives of more than tens of thousands of Afghans and over 2400 American service members.

The slightly early finish followed a threat from the regional offshoot of the Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, to attack the US forces at the airport.

Thirteen US troops were among more than 100 people killed when an IS suicide bomber late last week attacked the perimeter of the airport, where desperate Afghans had massed in the hope of getting on board an evacuation flight.

The US-led airlift began as the Taliban completed an astonishing rout of government forces around the country and took over the capital on August 15.

Their victory came after Mr Biden withdrew nearly all American troops, then was forced to send back about 6000 more to conduct the airlift.

Mr Biden said he would address the nation today in Washington, as his critics continued to savage him for his handling of the withdrawal.

“We can’t fight endless wars, but the scope & consequence of Biden’s failure here is staggering,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said.

Mr Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was able to offer little more than stern words for the Taliban.

“Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” Sec. Blinken said, as he announced the United States had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and shifted its operations to Qatar.

All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handle their first few days with sole authority over the country, with a sharp focus on whether they will allow free departure for those wanting to leave – including some foreigners.

Sec. Blinken said a small number of US citizens remained in the country – “under 200” but likely closer to just 100.

Britain says the number of UK nationals inside Afghanistan are in the “low hundreds.”

Many thousands of Afghans who had worked with the US-backed government over the years and fear retribution also want to get out.

Western allies have voiced heartbreak in recent days that not all Afghans who wanted to flee could get on the evacuation flights.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday, requiring the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan in the days ahead, and to grant access to the UN and other aid agencies.

Talks are ongoing as to who will now run Kabul airport, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tuesday was of “existential importance”, because it is a lifeline for aid.

The Taliban have asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted that offer.

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2021-08-31 14:37:30Z
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Taliban: ‘Victory belongs to us all’ - NEWS.com.au

The Taliban has celebrated its return to power with cheers and gunfire after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan.

The hard line Islamist Taliban have celebrated their total return to power on with gunfire, after the last US troops flew out of Afghanistan to end two decades of war.

The United States’ longest military conflict drew to a close on Monday night when its forces abandoned Kabul airport, where it had overseen a frenzied flight that saw more than 123,000 people flee.

Taliban fighters then quickly swept into the airport and fired weapons into the sky across the city in jubilation – an astonishing return after US forces invaded in 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks, and toppled them for supporting al-Qaeda.

“Congratulations to Afghanistan … this victory belongs to us all,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters hours later on the runway of the airport.

“We highlight to every occupier that whoever sees Afghanistan with an evil eye will face the same fate as the Americans have faced.”

“We’ve never given up to pressure or force, and our nation has always sought freedom,” Mujahid said.

Mujahid said the Taliban’s victory was a “lesson for other invaders”. Many Afghans are terrified of a repeat of the Taliban’s initial rule from 1996-2001, which was infamous for their treatment of girls and women, as well as a brutal justice system.

The Taliban have repeatedly promised a more tolerant brand of rule compared with their first stint in power, and Mujahid continued that theme.

“We want to have good relations with the US and the world. We welcome good diplomatic relations with them all,” he said.

Mujahid also insisted Taliban security forces would “be gentle and nice”.

The Taliban face a daunting challenge of transforming from an insurgent group to a government, in war-ravaged nation dependent on foreign aid.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe, with food stocks running low because of disruptions caused by conflict as well as a severe drought.

Some Afghans appealed to the Islamist movement to keep their promise of a softer rule.

Fawzia Koofi, a rights activist and former negotiator for the ousted government who has twice survived assassination attempts, called on the Taliban via Twitter to include all Afghans as they turn to governing the country.

“Taliban, hear us out: we must rebuild together!” she wrote. “This land belongs to all of us.” Other activists struggled to find hope amid the gloom.

“If I let my thoughts linger on what we have lost, I will lose my mind,” Muska Dastageer, who lectured at the American University of Afghanistan, wrote on Twitter.

The withdrawal came amid the August 31 deadline set by US President Joe Biden to end the war – one that claimed the lives of more than tens of thousands of Afghans and over 2400 American service members.

The slightly early finish followed a threat from the regional offshoot of the Islamic State group, rivals of the Taliban, to attack the US forces at the airport.

Thirteen US troops were among more than 100 people killed when an IS suicide bomber late last week attacked the perimeter of the airport, where desperate Afghans had massed in the hope of getting on board an evacuation flight.

The US-led airlift began as the Taliban completed an astonishing rout of government forces around the country and took over the capital on August 15.

Their victory came after Mr Biden withdrew nearly all American troops, then was forced to send back about 6000 more to conduct the airlift.

Mr Biden said he would address the nation today in Washington, as his critics continued to savage him for his handling of the withdrawal.

“We can’t fight endless wars, but the scope & consequence of Biden’s failure here is staggering,” Republican Senator Rick Scott said.

Mr Biden’s top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, was able to offer little more than stern words for the Taliban.

“Any legitimacy and any support will have to be earned,” Sec. Blinken said, as he announced the United States had suspended its diplomatic presence in Kabul and shifted its operations to Qatar.

All eyes will now turn to how the Taliban handle their first few days with sole authority over the country, with a sharp focus on whether they will allow free departure for those wanting to leave – including some foreigners.

Sec. Blinken said a small number of US citizens remained in the country – “under 200” but likely closer to just 100.

Britain says the number of UK nationals inside Afghanistan are in the “low hundreds.”

Many thousands of Afghans who had worked with the US-backed government over the years and fear retribution also want to get out.

Western allies have voiced heartbreak in recent days that not all Afghans who wanted to flee could get on the evacuation flights.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Monday, requiring the Taliban to honour a commitment to let people freely leave Afghanistan in the days ahead, and to grant access to the UN and other aid agencies.

Talks are ongoing as to who will now run Kabul airport, which German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tuesday was of “existential importance”, because it is a lifeline for aid.

The Taliban have asked Turkey to handle logistics while they maintain control of security, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has not yet accepted that offer.

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2021-08-31 14:12:18Z
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Hurricane Ida traps Louisiana residents, shatters the power grid - 9News

US rescuers have set out in hundreds of boats and helicopters to reach people trapped by floodwaters after a furious Hurricane Ida swamped the Louisiana coast and ravaged the electrical grid in the stifling, late-summer heat.

Residents living amid the maze of rivers and bayous along the state's Gulf Coast retreated desperately to their attics or roofs and posted their addresses on social media with instructions for search-and-rescue teams on where to find them.

More than one million customers in Louisiana and Mississippi — including all of New Orleans — were left without power as Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the US mainland, pushed through on Sunday (local time).

People are evacuated from floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana.
People are evacuated from floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana. (AP)

The damage was so extensive that officials warned it could be weeks before the power grid was repaired.

President Joe Biden met virtually with Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves along with mayors from cities and parishes most impacted by Hurricane Ida to receive an update on the storm's impacts, and to discuss how the Federal Government can provide assistance.

"We are closely coordinating with state and local officials every step of the way," Mr Biden said.

The administration said more than 3600 Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees are deployed to Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

FEMA staged more than 3.4 million meals, millions of litres of water, more than 35,700 tarps, and roughly 200 generators in the region in advance of the storm.

As the storm was downgraded to a tropical depression yesterday afternoon and continued to make its way inland with torrential rain, it was blamed for at least two deaths — a motorist who drowned in New Orleans and a person hit by a falling tree outside Baton Rouge.

But with many roads impassable and cellphone service out in places, the full extent of its fury was still coming into focus.

Christina Stephens, a spokesperson for Mr Edwards, said that given the level of destruction, "We're going to have many more confirmed fatalities."

Lenny Richard was sleeping when the wall fell in as his home was destroyed  by Hurricane Ida in Houma, LA. Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.

A look inside the communities hit by Hurricane Ida

The governor's office said damage to the power grid appeared "catastrophic" —dispiriting news for those without refrigeration or air conditioning during the dog days of summer, with highs forecasts predicted by midweek.

"There are certainly more questions than answers. I can't tell you when the power is going to be restored. I can't tell you when all the debris is going to be cleaned up and repairs made," Mr Edwards told a news conference.

"But what I can tell you is we are going to work hard every day to deliver as much assistance as we can."

Local, state and federal rescuers combined to save at least 671 people by yesterday afternoon, Mr Edwards said.

Debbie Greco, her husband and son rode out the storm in LaPlace with Ms Greco's parents.

Water reached a foot up the first-floor windows, then filled the first floor to 1.2 metres deep once the back door was opened.

They retreated to the second floor, but then screaming winds collapsed the roof as waves broke in the front yard.

They were finally rescued by boat after waiting in the only dry spot, five people sharing the landing on the stairs.

Flooded streets and homes are shown in the Spring Meadow subdivision in LaPlace, Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.
Flooded streets and homes are shown in the Spring Meadow subdivision in LaPlace, Louisiana after Hurricane Ida. (AP)

"When I rebuild this I'm out of here. I'm done with Louisiana," said Ms Greco's father, 85-year-old Fred Carmouche, a lifelong resident.

Elsewhere in LaPlace in Louisiana people pulled pieces of chimneys, gutters and other parts of their homes to the curb and residents of a mobile home park waded through floodwaters.

The hurricane blew ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina, the 2005 storm that breached New Orleans' levees, devastated the city and was blamed for 1800 deaths.

This time, New Orleans appeared to escape the catastrophic flooding city officials had feared.

Stephanie Blaise returned to her home with her father in New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward after evacuating.

The neighbourhood suffered devastating flooding in Katrina, but only lost some shingles in Ida.

However, with no idea when electricity would be restored, Ms Blaise didn't plan to stay long.

"We don't need to go through that. I'm going to have to convince him to leave. We got to go somewhere. Can't stay in this heat," she said.

The city urged people who evacuated to stay away for at least a couple of days because of the lack of power and fuel.

"There's not a lot of reasons to come back," Collin Arnold, chief of emergency preparedness, said.

Also, 18 water systems serving about 255,000 customers in Louisiana were knocked out of service, the state Health Department said.

Jacob Hodges, right, and his brother Jeremy Hodges work to clear debris from their storage unit which was destroyed by Hurricane Ida.
Jacob Hodges, right, and his brother Jeremy Hodges work to clear debris from their storage unit which was destroyed by Hurricane Ida. (AP)

Four Louisiana hospitals were damaged and 39 medical facilities were operating on generator power, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said.

Officials said they were evacuating scores of patients to other cities.

The governor's office said over 2200 evacuees were staying in 41 shelters, a number expected to rise as people were rescued or escaped flooded homes.

The governor's spokesperson said the state will work to move people to hotels as soon as possible so they can keep their distance from one another.

"This is a COVID nightmare," Ms Stephens said, adding: "We do anticipate that we could see some COVID spikes related to this."

Preliminary measurements showed Slidell, Louisiana, got at least 398.7mm of rain, while New Orleans received nearly 355.6mm, forecasters said.

The Louisiana National Guard said it activated 4900 Guard personnel and lined up 195 high-water vehicles, 73 rescue boats and 34 helicopters.

Local and state agencies were adding hundreds more.

Mr Edwards said he decided not to tour hurricane damage by air to add one more aircraft to the effort.

On Grand Isle, the 40 people who stayed on the barrier island through the brunt of the hurricane gave aircraft checking on them Monday a thumbs-up, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Joe Lopinto said.

The road to the island remained impassable and rescuers would try to reach them as soon as they are able, the sheriff said.

The hurricane twisted and collapsed a giant tower that carries key transmission lines over the Mississippi River to the New Orleans area, causing widespread outages, Entergy and local authorities said.

The power company said more than 3218 kilometres of transmission lines were out of service, along with 216 substations. The tower had survived Katrina.

Michael Thomas, back, carries his daughter Mikala, out of his flooded neighborhood after Hurricane Ida moved through on Monday (local time).
Michael Thomas, back, carries his daughter Mikala, out of his flooded neighborhood after Hurricane Ida moved through on Monday (local time). (AP)

The storm also flattened utility poles, toppled trees onto power lines and caused transformers to explode.

The governor said 25,000 utility workers were in the state to help restore electricity, with more on the way.

"We're going to push Entergy to restore power just as soon as they can," Mr Edwards said.

AT&T said its wireless network in Louisiana was reduced to 60 per cent of normal but was coming back.

Many people resorted to using walkie-talkies.

The governor's office staff had no working phones.

The company sent a mobile tower to the state's emergency preparedness office so it could get some service.

Charchar Chaffold left her home near LaPlace for Alabama after a tree fell on it Sunday (local time).

She frantically tried to get in touch via text message with five family members who stayed behind.

She last heard from them Sunday night.

They were in the attic after water rushed into their home.

"They told me they thought they was going to die. I told them they are not and called for help," she said.

Jerilyn Collins returns to her destroyed home with the assistance of a Louisiana National Guard high-water vehicle to retrieve medicine for herself and her father, and a few possessions, after she evacuated from rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana.
Jerilyn Collins returns to her destroyed home with the assistance of a Louisiana National Guard high-water vehicle to retrieve medicine for herself and her father, and a few possessions, after she evacuated from rising floodwater in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida in LaPlace, Louisiana. (AP)

Ida's 230km/h winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane ever to hit the mainland.

Its winds were down to 64km/h around midday Monday.

In Mississippi's southwestern corner, entire neighbourhoods were surrounded by floodwaters, and many roads were impassable.

Ida was expected to pick up speed Monday night before dumping rain on the Tennessee and Ohio River valleys Tuesday, the Appalachian mountain region Wednesday and the nation's capital on Thursday.

Forecasters said flash flooding and mudslides are possible along Ida's path before it blows out to sea over New England on Friday.

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2021-08-31 09:02:20Z
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