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Australian Fires ‘Contained’ in New South Wales as Flooding Dangers Loom

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  • Australia’s New South Wales Rural Fire Service said all fires within the state have been contained after heavy rains brought in by a now ex-tropical cyclone. 
  • Seemingly replacing one problem for the next, flash flooding has led to power outages and even prompted evacuations. 
  • Australia’s recent extreme weather shifts have raised concerns over climate change, with scientists predicting the country will continue to experience even more intense extremes as climate change worsens.

All Fires in New South Wales “Contained”

After months of struggling to contain brutal fires that ravaged millions of acres, firefighters in Australia’s state of New South Wales said all fires in the region have been contained.

“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents, who’ve suffered so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales, which is great news,” Rob Rogers, assistant commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, said.

“Not all fires are out,” he added. “There’s still some fire activity in the far south of the state, but all fires are contained, so we can truly focus on helping people rebuild.”

New South Wales is the country’s most populous state, with it being home to both Sydney and the country’s capital, Canberra. This is the first time since the bushfire season began in June that all fires have been contained—meaning fire crews have managed to surround them on all sides to prevent them from spreading.

While Australia sees a yearly brushfire season, its most recent one was particularly extreme thanks to a combination of below-average rainfall and high winds.

Source: Australian Board of Meteorology

In November, NSW and Queensland both declared states of emergency. Throughout the season, thousands were forced to evacuate their homes, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed, and at least 33 people died.

In December, heavy smoke blanketed Sydney, with the air quality in the city measuring 11 times above the hazardous level at one point. 

The fires have also been devastating to wildlife, with one billion animals estimated dead. On Tuesday, Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Water, and Environment listed 113 species in need emergency intervention following the fire, including the koala and the platypus, among others.

Rain Puts Out Fires but Leads to Flash Flooding

News that NSW’s fires were contained came after the region’s latest bout of rain. In fact, over the last few weeks, Australia has witnessed several waves of rain that have helped assist fire crews in controlling the blazes.

In NSW alone, the RFS said the downpour helped it put out 30 fires since Friday. That rain also helped to put out NSW’s two biggest fires, which were burning about 1.2 million acres of land each. 

Over the past week, Australia’s east coast has experienced rain brought in by now ex-Tropical Cyclone Uesi. According to the Australia Bureau of Meteorology, NSW saw nearly 8 inches of rain within a 24 hour period.  Over a four day period, it saw more than 15 inches of rainfall, reportedly the heaviest it’s seen in 30 years. 

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney’s dams are reaching their highest levels since April 2018.

However, with the rain, Australia seemed to have traded one problem for another. Both Queensland and NSW are currently facing a series of issues, including flash flooding, power outages, and more evacuations.

Queensland itself saw several reports of missing people, with one body being found.

Is Climate Change To Blame?

With Australia’s extreme weather shifts, some have wondered whether or not the heavy rainfall witnessed on the east coast is a result of climate change; however, the answer isn’t quite clear.

Many scientists have credited the bushfire season as a result of climate change. Those scientists also predict that Australia’s bushfire season will only continue to become more frequent and more intense. Part of this is because Australia is especially susceptible to climate change since it has a vast interior desert and rapidly-heating ocean currents surround the country.

As far as storms go, the Climate Council of Australia found in 2016 that climate is fueling more intense and more damaging storms. 

“Extreme weather events including tropical cyclones, extreme rainfall, hail/thunderstorms and extra-tropical cyclones (for example, east coast lows) are now occurring in an atmosphere that is packing more energy and carrying more moisture than it did in the 1950s,” it found, adding that climate change also exacerbates coastal flooding. 

It then predicted that “climate change will continue to exacerbate storms in Australia, increasing the risk of devastating impacts.”

Still, it’s unclear whether this ex-tropical cyclone is a result of that climate change, though as London School of Economics and Political Science Professor Tim Forsyth said, it is possible.

“For years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted weather will be more extreme and unpredictable,” he told NBC News. “This is consistent with the pattern this year in Australia of a longer than expected dry period, followed by unexpectedly high rainfall.”

“However, it is also important not to draw rapid conclusions,” he added. “There’s still a lot of uncertainty about long-term weather patterns. We have to acknowledge that human records of weather in Australia only go back to the early 20th century — so there are limits to what we know.”

See what others are saying: (BBC) (The Guardian) (NPR)

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Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders

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Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.


Azovstal Waves the White Flag

Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.

A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.

The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.

It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.

Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.

Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.

Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.

Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.

Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands

After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.

The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.

Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.

The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.

The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.

It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)

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Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls

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Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.


Hundreds Make It Out Alive

A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.

People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.

The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.

Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.

“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”

63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.

“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.

Putin’s Plans Go Poorly

In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.

On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.

The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”

Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.

After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.

“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.

On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.

Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.

The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”

“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.

Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.

See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)

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Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished

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The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.


Settlers Get Ready to Move in

On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.

“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.

The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.

The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.

In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”

“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.

In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.

Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land

On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.

Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.

The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s

“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”

See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Peace Now) (Associated Press)

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