Category: Sirennet Blog

Cocaine disguised as cake seized from vehicle in Maine

From the Associated Press

A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges over cocaine disguised as a cake that was seized from their vehicle, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said Wednesday.

This undated photo provided by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency shows a marble cake which contained about 2 pounds of cocaine, and cash, seized from a vehicle in Gardiner, Maine. A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, after the cocaine disguised as a cake was seized from their vehicle, authorities said. (Maine Drug Enforcement Agency via AP)

Acting on a tip, police stopped the car on Interstate 295 in Gardiner on Tuesday, and a drug-sniffing dog found 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of cocaine worth $200,000 on the street, the MDEA said. Also seized was $1,900 in cash.

About 2 pounds of the cocaine was disguised as a marble cake with coffee grounds used to cover up the scent, officials said.

The two were released on bail and were expected in court on Wednesday. It was unknown if they had a lawyer.

Agents believe the drugs were to be distributed in Kennebec and Somerset counties. The MDEA was assisted in the investigation by the Winslow Police Department, Maine State Police and Homeland Security Investigations.

Biden admin stepping up community grants from COVID bill

By ZEKE MILLER and JOSH BOAK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come.

FILE – In this May 5, 2021, file photo, Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo participate in a roundtable with women-led small business owners in Providence, R.I. President Joe Biden’s administration says it is making $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities. Raimondo tells The Associated Press her agency will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

“This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.”

The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers. Raimondo was set to appear at Thursday’s White House press briefing to promote the new program.

“These are taxpayer dollars we are investing in communities, so we want to help them get recovery right,” said Raimondo. “These investments can help ensure they can rebuild more sustainably and more equitably in the ways that work best for them.”

The administration hopes that the competitive nature of the program will also coax private businesses and philanthropies to focus on rehabilitating their communities by making their own development commitments. There will be $1 billion available in a competitive process for 20 to 30 regions to spend on projects that would rebuild their economies, as well as $750 million in grants targeted for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.

Fully 10% of the total will be earmarked for coal communities, which have struggled for decades amid the nation’s shift away from fossil fuels and are set to bear the economic brunt of the Biden administration’s even more aggressive efforts to move toward clean energy technologies.

“This is not hypothetical,” Raimondo said. “This is about real good-paying jobs today and investments needed to keep them coming.”

Man with coronavirus disguises as wife on Indonesian flight

By RANDI BASRI for the Associated Press

TERNATE, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian man with the coronavirus has boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a niqab covering his face and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result.

But the cover didn’t last long.

In this July 18, 2021, photo, a man who used a fake identity arrives at the Sultan Babullah airport in Ternate, Indonesia. The man with the coronavirus boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a niqab covering his face and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result. He was arrested upon landing and tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Harmoko)

Police say a flight attendant aboard a Citilink plane traveling from Jakarta to Ternate in North Maluku province on Sunday noticed the man change the clothes in the lavatory.

“He bought the plane ticket with his wife’s name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result and the vaccination card with his wife’s name. All documents are under his wife’s name,” Ternate police chief Aditya Laksimada said after arresting the man upon landing. He was only identified by his initials.

Police took him for a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.

The man is currently self-isolating at home and police said the investigation will continue.

Indonesia is in the grip of the worse coronavirus surge in Asia with 33,772 new confirmed cases and 1,383 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total number of reported cases is 2.9 million with 77,583 fatalities.

Restrictions on nonessential travel, including a mandatory negative coronavirus test, and public gatherings have been toughened over the Eid al-Adha holiday this week.

Olympic athletes test positive in Tokyo days before Games

By GRAHAM DUNBAR for the Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — A third athlete at the Olympic Village in Tokyo has tested positive for COVID-19, with the Czech Republic team reporting the case Monday of a beach volleyball player who could miss his first game.

Czech beach volleyball player Ondřej Perušič could miss his opening game on Monday after a PCR test confirmed his infection. Perušič and his playing partner are due to the begin their Olympic program against a team from Latvia.

The Olympic athletes from the United States arrive at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, on July 1, 2021. Tens of thousands of visiting athletes, officials and media are descending on Japan for a Summer Olympics unlike any other. There will be no foreign fans, no local fans in Tokyo-area venues. A surge of virus cases has led to yet another state of emergency. (Kyodo News via AP)

Czech team leader Martin Doktor said in a statement they would ask to postpone the game until the infected player is cleared to play.

Perušič, who said he has been vaccinated, is the second member of the Czech delegation to test positive in Tokyo after a team official’s case was reported Saturday.

He is the third athlete who was staying at the village to test positive. Two South African men’s soccer players had their COVID-19 cases announced Sunday.

Also Monday, the personal coach for U.S. gymnast Kara Eaker confirmed that the 18-year-old alternate had tested positive in an Olympic training camp in Japan. The coach, Al Fong, said the 18-year-old Eaker was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus two months ago. Eaker, the first American athlete to test positive after arriving in Japan, had been rooming with other alternates, with the competitive team rooming with fellow competitors.

The South African players and a team video analyst who tested positive one day earlier were moved to the “isolation facility” managed by the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.

Their 21 close contacts around the South Africa team now face extra scrutiny before their first game Thursday against Japan in Tokyo. The monitoring regime includes daily testing, traveling in a dedicated vehicle, training separately from teammates not affected and being confined to their rooms for meals.

“Although you are a close contact, you are able to do the minimum that you need to do so that you can continue your preparation for the Games while you are being monitored,” said Pierre Ducrey, the Olympic Games operations director.

Earlier Monday, before the Czech case was reported, Tokyo Olympic organizers confirmed three new COVID-19 cases, including a media worker arriving in Tokyo and a Games staffer or official in the Chiba prefecture.

Both people, who were not identified, went into a 14-day quarantine, organizers said.

The Tokyo metropolitan authority reported 727 new COVID-19 cases Monday, which was the 30th straight day the tally was higher than the previous week. The count was 502 last Monday.

The games open Friday with no fans in nearly all event venues, including at the opening ceremony, amid a state of emergency in Tokyo, and a slower than hoped for vaccine rollout. Japanese authorities said Monday 21.6% of the nation’s 126 million population is fully vaccinated.

The total of Games-related infections was officially 58 since July 1 before the two new cases were announced. They should be added to the official tally on Tuesday.

These resulted from 22,000 people arriving in Japan since July 1 with 4,000 of those staying in the village, Ducrey said. About 11,000 athletes are scheduled to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

Virus surge fears, UK leader’s quarantine, mar ‘Freedom Day’

By UROOBA JAMAL and JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Corks popped, beats boomed out and giddy revelers rushed onto dancefloors when England’s nightclubs reopened Monday as the country lifted most remaining coronavirus restrictions after more than a year of lockdowns, mask mandates and other pandemic-related curbs on freedom.

People drink on the dance floor shortly after the reopening, at The Piano Works in Farringdon, in London, Monday, July 19, 2021. Thousands of young people plan to dance the night away at ‘Freedom Day’ parties after midnight Sunday, when almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be scrapped. Nightclubs, which have been shuttered since March 2020, can finally reopen. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

For clubbers and nightclub owners, the moment lived up to its media-given moniker, “Freedom Day.” But the big step out of lockdown was met with nervousness by many Britons and concern from scientists, who say the U.K. is entering uncharted waters by opening up when confirmed cases are not falling but soaring.

As of Monday, face masks were no longer legally required in England, work-from-home guidance ended and, with social distancing rules shelved, no limits existed on the number of people attending theater performances or big events.

Nightclubs were allowed to open for the first time in almost 18 months, and from London to Liverpool, thousands of people danced the night away at “Freedom Day” parties starting at midnight.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” clubgoer Lorna Feeney said at Bar Fibre in the northern England city of Leeds. “That’s my life, my soul — I love dancing.”

At The Piano Works in London, patrons packed the area around the cordoned-off dance floor on Sunday as a host led a countdown to midnight.

Once a ceremonial ribbon was cut, the crowd ran toward the dance floor as confetti canons went off and a disco ball spun above. Soon, unmasked clubgoers dancing to a live band’s rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” filled the floor.

But while entertainment businesses and ravers are jubilant, many others are deeply worried about scrapping restrictions at a time when COVID-19 cases are on a rapid upswing because of the highly infectious delta variant first identified in India. Cases topped 50,000 per day last week for the first time since January. Deaths remain far lower than in the winter thanks to vaccines, but have risen from less than 10 a day in June to about 40 a day in the past week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has dialed down talk of freedom in recent weeks, urged the public to “proceed cautiously” and “recognize that this pandemic is far from over.”

Or, as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam put it at a televised news conference: “Don’t tear the pants out of this.”

In a reminder of how volatile the situation is, the prime minister was spending “Freedom Day” in quarantine. Johnson and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak are both self-isolating for 10 days after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Johnson initially said he would take daily tests instead of self-isolating — an option not offered to most people — but U-turned amid public outrage.

The prime minister is among hundreds of thousands of Britons who have been told to quarantine because they have been near someone who tested positive. The situation is causing staff shortages for businesses including restaurants, car manufacturers and public transport.

Globally, the World Health Organization says cases and deaths are climbing after a period of decline, spurred by the delta variant. Like the U.K., Israel and the Netherlands both opened up widely after vaccinating most of their people, but had to reimpose some restrictions after new infection surges. The Dutch prime minister admitted that lifting restrictions too early “was a mistake.”

In the U.S., many areas abandoned face coverings when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear them in most settings. Some states and cities are now trying to decide what to do as cases rise again.

British officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the U.K.’s vaccine rollout — 68.5% of adults, or more than half the total population, has received two doses — will keep the threat to public health at bay. But 1,200 scientists from around the world backed a letter to British medical journal The Lancet criticizing the Conservative government’s decision.

“I can’t think of any realistic good scenario to come out of this strategy, I’m afraid,” said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester. “I think it’s really a degree of how bad it’s going to be.”

Tang said nightclubs in particular are potent spreading grounds, because they increase close physical contact among a core customer base — people 18 to 25 — that hasn’t yet been fully vaccinated.

“That’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants,” he said.

The government wants nightclubs and other crowded venues to check whether customers have been vaccinated, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.

“I don’t want to have to close nightclubs again, as they have elsewhere, but it does mean nightclubs need to do the socially responsible thing,” Johnson said.

There is no legal requirement for them to do so, however, and most say they won’t. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said many owners accuse the government of “passing the buck” to businesses.

“Either mandate it or don’t mandate it,” Kill said. “This is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on us.”

Soon they may have no choice. Johnson said that from the end of September, full vaccination will become a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues with big crowds. He said by that time, everyone 18 and over will have had the chance to get both doses of a vaccine.

Johnson’s decision to scrap the legal requirement for face masks in indoor public spaces — while recommending people keep them on — has also sowed confusion.

Some retailers said they would encourage customers to keep their masks on, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said they remain mandatory on the capital’s subways and buses — though police can no longer be called in to enforce the rule.

Khan said Monday that more than 90% of passengers appeared to be wearing masks, “and what I think that shows is that people are carrying on their great habits.”

The end of restrictions in England is a critical moment in Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people nationwide, the highest death toll in Europe after Russia. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking slightly more cautious steps out of lockdown and keeping mask requirements for now.

Psychologist Robert West, who sits on a science panel that advises the government, said telling people to be careful without giving them thorough knowledge of risks was “like putting someone out on the road without having taught them to drive.”

At London’s Egg nightclub, clubber Alex Clark acknowledged feeling “a bit of apprehension and uncertainty.”

Fellow clubgoer Kevin Ally felt no such qualms.

“There’s zero concern,” he said. “The only concern is why we haven’t been here for a year and a half. It’s been a very long time since we’ve been out.

“It’s good to be back, and we’re here to dance.”

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Sylvia Hui and Jo Kearney contributed to this story.

German officials defend their actions on devastating floods

By GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — German officials defended their actions ahead of last week’s severe floods that caught many towns by surprise and killed 196 people in Western Europe, but they conceded that more lessons can be learned from the disaster.

Two brothers weep in each other’s arms in front of their parents’ house, which was destroyed by the flood in Altenahr, Germany, Monday, July 19, 2021. Numerous houses in the town were completely destroyed or severely damaged, there are numerous fatalities. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)

As floodwaters receded Monday, authorities continued searching for more victims and intensified their efforts to clean up a sodden swath of western Germany, eastern Belgium and the Netherlands.

So far, 117 people have been confirmed dead in the worst-affected German region, Rhineland-Palatinate, while 47 were killed in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and at least one in Bavaria, parts of which saw heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. The death toll in Belgium was 31.

Authorities said they were likely to find more victims among destroyed homes.

Weather officials had forecast the downpours that led to even small rivers swelling rapidly, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage didn’t appear to have made it to many people in affected areas — often in the middle of the night.

Federal and state authorities faced criticism from some opposition politicians over the disaster, which comes as a national election looms in September. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer dismissed suggestions that federal officials had made mistakes and said warnings were passed to local authorities “who make decisions on disaster protection.”

“I have to say that some of the things I’m hearing now are cheap election rhetoric,” Seehofer said during a visit to the Steinbach Reservoir in western Germany, where authorities say they no longer fear a dam breach. “Now really isn’t the hour for this.”

Seehofer underlined that message during a visit Monday to Bad Neuenahr, in the worst-hit area, but said authorities will have to draw lessons once the immediate relief phase is over.

“Wherever we can improve anything — in alarms, in equipment … we must do so,” he said. “We owe that to the families who have been affected, and above all to the victims.”

The head of Germany’s civil protection agency said the weather service had “forecast relatively well” and that the country was well-prepared for flooding on its major rivers.

But, Armin Schuster told ZDF television Sunday night, “half an hour before, it is often not possible to say what place will be hit with what quantity” of water. He said 150 warning notices had been sent out via apps and media.

He said “we will have to investigate” where sirens sounded and where they didn’t.

Officials in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state said they were well-prepared for flooding, and municipalities were alerted and acted.

But the state’s interior minister, Roger Lewentz, said after visiting the hard-hit village of Schuld with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that “we, of course, had the problem that the technical infrastructure — electricity and so on — was destroyed in one go.”

Local authorities “tried very quickly to react,” he said. “But this was an explosion of the water in moments. … You can have the very best preparations and warning situations (but) if warning equipment is destroyed and carried away with buildings, then that is a very difficult situation.” Cellphone networks also were knocked out by flooding.

Broader questions about Germany’s emergency warning system had arisen after a nationwide test in September 2020, the first in 30 years, largely failed. Sirens didn’t sound in many places, or had been removed after the end of the Cold War, and push alerts from the national warning app arrived late or not all.

Schuster, the head of the civil protection agency, noted that a program to reform civil protection was launched earlier this year, including a drive to encourage local authorities to install more sirens. Germany doesn’t have a text messaging system for disaster warnings, but Schuster told Deutschlandfunk radio it is exploring the possibility.

As local communities face the huge task of rebuilding smashed homes and infrastructure such as bridges and water systems, Merkel’s Cabinet is set to draw up a package of immediate and medium-term financial aid Wednesday.

At the Steinbach Reservoir, North Rhine-Westphalia state governor Armin Laschet said the dam was designed for a risk that might occur once in 10,000 years.

“This was exceeded in the last few days,” he said. “It was a likelihood nobody had foreseen.”

Clark County Jail reaches agreement on handling deaf inmates

From the Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — The Clark County Jail and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a settlement to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to services.

“When a person with communication disabilities has their liberty restrained by incarceration, the ability to effectively communicate is of critical importance,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman said in a press release. “They must be able to provide and receive information about medical care, legal rights, and their basic human needs.”

The settlement stemmed from a complaint filed by a woman who was deaf and was denied aids or services while held in the jail for two days in 2019, Gorman said. There have been multiple lawsuits against the jail by inmates with hearing impairments since 2014.

An investigation determined that jail staff were not trained on how to assess an inmate’s communication needs despite the fact that the jail deals with many people with hearing impairments.

Under the settlement, the jail must provide interpreter services for things like medical appointments, educational classes, classification reviews and religious services. The jail must also modify its restraint and handcuffing policy so inmates can communicate with sign language or writing.

The jail will pay the woman involved $25,000.

Hawaii teenager recycles to help students reach college

By JESSIE WARDARSKI and LUIS ANDRES HENAO from the Associated Press

In the beginning, Genshu Price recycled for his own sake — his father said it would be a good way to save money for his college tuition.

In this May 2021 photo provided by Maria Price, Genshu Price stands on the back of a truck after loading it with recyclable cans and bottles from Kualoa Ranch in Kāne’ohe, Hawaii, for his fundraiser, Bottles4College. (Bottles4College Price via AP)

But then, he came up with grander idea: Why not recycle thousands of bottles and cans to help other students in Hawaii reach their college dream.

“That way, it would be able to help a lot more local families, help a lot more people throughout the generations,” Price said.

The 13-year-old from Oahu launched Bottles4College three years ago. The goal is to collect and recycle 2 to 4 million cans and bottles annually to fund college tuition for up to two students. Price said his project “gained traction” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People saw this as a way to give an opportunity back to local families, especially since the pandemic has hit everyone so hard, especially the kids,” he said. At the same time, they would protect the environment and keep their island clean.ADVERTISEMENT

His mother, Maria Price, recalled how he began going around to beaches, Little League baseball games and parks, “just asking people if they’re done with their drinks,” to collect their bottles and cans, which he sorted with his parents’ help.

Since then, he has collected more than 100,000 bottles and cans and has received support from businesses and schools, setting up drop-off depots at places like Mililani Uka Elementary School, the Kualoa Ranch nature reserve and S.W. King Intermediate School, which he attends.

“Hawaii already has very high living costs. COVID made that even harder,” he said. “I want to give a way for students who may not … have been able to go to college by themselves.”

Bottles4College, he said, is based on four pillars: education, environment, community and lifestyle. “We’re helping the environment by recycling,” he said. “We’re helping education by providing scholarship funds for Hawaii kids and inspiring them to want to get a good education. And then you’re bringing communities together.”

It’s a lifestyle, he said, because the other pillars become a part of your life.

The soon-to-be eighth grader is also an aspiring filmmaker; he created a documentary highlighting his work. He also posts videos on YouTube, including tips on how to sort cans and bottles and encouraging others to recycle.

“We still have a little bit to go to get to the place where we want to be, but it’s definitely exciting. Every can counts, it’s one can or bottle at a time,” he said.

Caring about others, he said, is even more important during challenging times.

“In school they teach you how to treat other people how you want to be treated,” he said. “And especially at a time like during the pandemic, that phrase really comes into play.”

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Rescuers rush to help as Europe’s flood toll surpasses 120

By FRANK JORDANS from the Associated Press

This image provided on Friday, July 16, 2021 by the Cologne district government shows the Blessem district of Erftstadt in Germany. Rescuers were rushing Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole. (Rhein-Erft-Kreis via AP)
This image provided on Friday, July 16, 2021 by the Cologne district government shows the Blessem district of Erftstadt in Germany. Rescuers were rushing Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole. (Rhein-Erft-Kreis via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Emergency workers in western German and Belgium rushed Friday to rescue hundreds of people in danger or still unaccounted for as the death toll from devastating floods rose to more than 120 people.

Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 63 people had died there, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River. In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could increase.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.

“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”

Rescuers sought to save people trapped in their homes in the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed when the ground beneath them sank suddenly. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.

“We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,” county administrator Frank Rock said. “We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued.”

Speaking to German broadcaster n-tv, Rock said authorities had no precise number yet for how many had died in the flash floods that turned roads into wild raging torrents, ripping up cobblestones, collapsing homes and flipping parked cars into piles of rubble.

“One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn’t manage to escape,” he said.

Authorities were still trying to account for hundreds of people listed as missing, but cautioned that the high number could be due to duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone service.

After Germany, where more than 100 people have died, Belgium was the hardest hit by the floods that caused homes to be ripped away. Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday that the country’s official confirmed death toll had grown to 20, with 20 other people still missing.

Water levels on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands remains critical, and several dikes were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said. Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the looming threat of flooding from the river.

Flash floods this week followed days of heavy rainfall in Western Europe. Thousands of people remained homeless in Germany after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities.

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after Germany’s election on Sept. 26, said the disaster had caused immense economic damage to the country’s most densely populated state.

“The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet,” Gov. Armin Laschet said at a news conference. “They lost their houses, farms or businesses.”

Federal and state officials have pledged financial aid to the affect areas, which also includes the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where at least 60 people died and entire villages were destroyed.

Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming. She accused Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.

“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” she told the Funke media group.

Steinmeier, the German president, echoed her calls for greater efforts to combat global warming.

“Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,” he said.

Experts say such disasters could become more common in the future.

“Some parts of Western Europe … received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days. What made it worse is that the soils were already saturated by previous rainfall,” World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis said.

While she said it was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heat wave on rising global temperatures, Nullis added: “Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.”

Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said the German military had deployed over 850 troops to help with flood effeorts but the number is “rising significantly because the need is growing.” He said the ministry had triggered a “military disaster alarm.”

Italy sent a civil protection officials, firefighters and rescue dinghies to Belgium to help in the search for missing people from the devastating floods.

In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, which also has been hit hard by flooding, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 1.1-kilometer (0.7 mile) stretch of dike along the Maas River and police helped evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government was officially declaring flood-hit regions a disaster area, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation. Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region Thursday night and called the scenes “heart-breaking.”

Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen late Thursday.

Erik Schulz, the mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said there had been a wave of solidarity from other regions and ordinary citizens to help those affected by the floods.

“We have many, many citizens saying ‘I can offer a place to stay, where can I go to help, where can I registered, where can I bring my shovel and bucket?’,” he told n-tv. “The city is standing together and you can feel that.”

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Associated Press writers Geir Moulson and Emily Schultheis in Berlin, Raf Casert in Brussels, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Angela Charlton in Paris, Mike Corder in The Hague and contributed to this report.

Dutch COVID-19 infections soar by 500% in a week

By MIKE CORDER for the Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands skyrocketed by more than 500% over the last week, the country’s public health institute reported Tuesday. The surge follows the scrapping of almost all remaining lockdown restrictions and the reopening of night clubs in late June.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, June 24, 2021. At their summit in Brussels, EU leaders are set to take stock of coronavirus recovery plans, study ways to improve relations with Russia and Turkey, and insist on the need to develop migration partners with the countries of northern Africa, but a heated exchange over a new LGBT bill in Hungary is also likely. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

The weekly update showing that nearly 52,000 people in the Netherlands tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week came a day after caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for the June 26 lockdown relaxation and called it “an error of judgment.”

Rutte backtracked Friday and reintroduced some restrictions in an attempt to rein in the soaring infection rate. Bars again have to close at midnight, while discotheques and clubs were shuttered again until at least Aug. 13.

The Netherlands, along with other European nations, is facing a rise in infections fueled by the more contagious delta variant just as governments hoped to greatly ease or eliminate remaining pandemic restrictions during the summer holiday season.

With infections rising around France, President Emmanuel Macron on Monday cranked up pressure on people to get vaccinated and said special COVID passes would be required to go into restaurants and shopping malls starting next month.

The Dutch public health institute said that of the infections that could be traced to their source, 37% happened in a hospitality venue such as a bar or club. Infections among people ages 18-24 surged by 262%, followed by a 191% rise in 25-29 year-olds.

Despite the alarming rise in confirmed cases, hospital admissions increased by a modest 11%, or 60 COVID-19 patients, over the week, the institute said. Twelve of the admissions were to intensive care units.

More than 46% of the Netherlands’ adult population is fully vaccinated, and more than 77% of the country’s adults have had at least one shot. Health authorities said more than 1.3 million people would receive their first or second doses this week.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Monday that the late June loosening of restrictions combined with a lack of social distancing and the delta variant “has had, of course, an accelerating effect. You can unfortunately see that with hindsight.”

Other countries in Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations in the hope of outpacing the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

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