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30 dead as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand bear brunt of rain fury, Delhi on flood alert

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Rains continued to lash several places in Punjab and other states on Monday after at least 30 people were killed and dozens reported missing or feared dead over the weekend across north India.

Authorities in Uttarakhand and Punjab launched rescue operations in several places to move people stranded after flood and cloudbursts as the weather department forecast more rains in the region.

Flood alerts have been sounded in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh as rivers, including the Yamuna, swelled to dangerous levels. The Delhi government has asked people living in low-lying areas to move to safer places as the water level in the Yamuna is expected to cross the danger mark (205.33 metres), officials said.

The Yamuna was flowing at 203.37m on Sunday evening and is expected to touch 207m on Monday as 828,000 cusecs water was released from Haryana’s Hathini Kund barrage at 6pm, an official said.

Majority of the damage was reported from the two worst-hit states — Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand — as heavy rains remained unabated through the Himalayan belt. Hundreds were stranded after incessant rainfall triggered landslides, snapped road links, led to shutting down of hydropower projects and release of excess water from dams in the region.

As of Sunday evening, rain-related incidents had claimed at least 23 lives in Himachal Pradesh, four in Uttarakhand while dozens were reported injured. In Punjab’s Aol village, three members of a family were killed when the roof of their house collapsed, police said.

Two people were airlifted from Arakot of Uttarkashi’s Mori tehsil and brought to Sahasradhara helipad in Dehradun following a cloudburst in the area, news agency Asian News International reported on Monday. They are being shifted to Doon Hospital, it said. Two helicopters were sent to Arakot earlier with communication equipment and ropes and three medical teams have also reached Arakot.

At least 10 people were reported missing as cloudbursts wreaked havoc in several villages, damaging several houses in Arakot, Makuri and Tikochi villages in Uttarkashi district, the worst-hit region in the state.

Hundreds have been evacuated to higher reaches, state officials said adding that roads were damaged at many places, hampering rescue efforts.

Indian Army and National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF) personnel launched a rescue operation in Punjab’s Jalandhar district on Monday after major breaches were reported on the Satluj River at four places in Bholewal, Meowal and other villages under Philluar sub-division.

As per the initial reports, more than 20 people are still trapped even as NDRF teams rescued four people from Nawan Khera village.

Jalandhar’s deputy commissioner Varinder Kumar Sharma has asked people in at least 13 villages of Phillaur district to be evacuated. Officials said the situation is under control in Shahkot sub-division of Jalandhar district, where around 63 villages were put on high alert. Sharma requested residents of Shahkot to move to safer places as around 2.4 lakh cusec of water from the Sutlej is likely to hit the area during the day.

The situation also remained under control in the Shaheed Bhagat Singh Nagar district, where more than 65 villages were put on high alert. Heavy rainfall in Jalandhar lead to waterlogging in several places across the city.

The India Meteorological Department has warned heavy rainfall likely at isolated places across Punjab.

Hundreds of tourists were also left stranded in Himachal Pradesh’s tribal Lahaul and Spiti district after a freak snowfall on Sunday cut off roads in the region, officials said. They said rescuers were on their way to Chandratal situated at an altitude of about 4,300metres or 14,100ft in the Himalayas.

The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) office in Himachal Pradesh said on Sunday that the state received the highest ever rainfall for a 24-hour period since records began almost 70 years ago. “The state as a whole received 102.5mm and this was 1,065% more than normal,” IMD said in a statement.

In Uttar Pradesh, several rivers, including Ganga, Yamuna and Ghaghra, are in spate. The Ganga is flowing above the danger mark in Badaun, Garhmukteshwar, Naraura and Farrukhabad.

Of the 15 wettest places in the world in the past 24 hours, 13 were in India, according to global weather monitoring website El Dorado Weather. The world’s wettest place was Diamond Harbour in West Bengal, which received 220mm of rainfall in the past 24 hours. Vellore with 188mm rain was ranked second, Jamshedpur third with 172mm, Shimla seventh with 146mm and Chandigarh was 11th in the global ranking with 121mm of rain.

As of August 15, a total of 1,058 persons have died due to rain-related incidents during the monsoon season that started on June 1 with one-fourth of the deaths reported from Maharashtra.

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‘No need for third-party intervention’: China rejects Trump’s offer to ‘mediate’ on border row with India

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China has finally reacted to US President Donald Trump’s offer to “mediate or arbitrate” on the Indo-Sino border dispute, saying that there was “no need for a third-party intervention” between Beijing and New Delhi.

Rejecting Trump’s mediation offer, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, “China and India are capable of properly resolving the issues through dialogue and consultation.”

Reacting for the first time to the US President’s offer, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said said the two countries did not want the “intervention” from a third party to resolve the military standoff.

“Between China and India we have existing border-related mechanisms and communication channels,” Zhao told reporters and added “We are capable of properly resolving the issues between us through dialogue and consultation. We do not need the intervention of the third party.”

Amid heightened tensions at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday made a surprise offer to mediate between India and China over what he calls “their now raging border dispute”.

“We have informed both India and China that the United States is ready, willing and able to mediate or arbitrate their now raging border dispute. Thank you!,” President Trump tweeted.

However, in a carefully crafted reaction to Trump’s offer to arbitrate, India on Thursday said it was engaged with China to peacefully resolve the border row.

“We are engaged with the Chinese side to peacefully resolve it,” External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said, replying to a volley of questions at an online media briefing.

“The two sides have established mechanisms both at military and diplomatic levels to resolve situations which may arise in border areas peacefully through dialogue and continue to remain engaged through these channels,” he said.

Although, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not react then, an op-ed in the state-run Global Times said both countries did not need such help from the US president.

“The latest dispute can be solved bilaterally by China and India. The two countries should keep alert on the US, which exploits every chance to create waves that jeopardise regional peace and order,” it said.

Trump’s unexpected offer came on a day when China took an apparently conciliatory tone by saying that the situation at the border with India is “overall stable and controllable.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday that both China and India have proper mechanisms and communication channels to resolve the issues through dialogue and consultations.

Meanwhile, China’s official response on the matter today comes as US President Donald Trump on Thursday, while reiterating his offer to “mediate”, said that he spoke with Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the Indo-Sino border dispute.

In a startling claim, Donald Trump on Thursday said he had spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is “not in a good mood” over the border row between India and China.

“They like me in India. I think they like me in India more than the media likes me in this country. And, I like Modi. I like your prime minister a lot. He is a great gentleman,” Trump said speaking to reporters at the Oval Office of the White House.

“They have a big conflict …India and China. Two countries with 1.4 billion people (each). Two countries with very powerful militaries. India is not happy and probably China is not happy,” the president said when asked if he was worried about the border situation between India and China.

“I can tell you; I did speak to Prime Minister Modi. He is not in a good mood about what is going on with China,” Trump claimed.

However, Indian government officials have contradicted the claim saying that the last conversation between the two leaders was on April 4 on the matter related to Hydroxychloroquine.

“There has been no recent contact between PM Modi and US President Trump. The last conversation between them was on 4 April, 2020, on the subject of Hydroxychloroquine,” said government sources, according to media reports.

“Yesterday, the Ministry of External Affairs had also made it clear that we’re directly in touch with China through established mechanisms and diplomatic contacts,” they said.

Several areas along the LAC in Ladakh and North Sikkim have witnessed major military build-up by both the Indian and Chinese armies recently, in a clear signal of escalating tension and hardening of respective positions by the two sides even two weeks after they were engaged in two separate face-offs.

The nearly 3,500-km-long LAC is the de-facto border between the two countries.

Indian and Chinese troops have remained engaged in an eyeball-to-eyeball situation in several areas along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, signalling that the standoff could become the biggest military face-off after the Doklam crisis in 2017.

Earlier, the United States had accused China of engaging in provocative and coercive military and paramilitary activities with neighbouring countries including India.

The offer for mediation has come as a surprise as the US-China military frictions are also on the rise with the US navy stepping its patrols in the disputed South China Sea as well as the Taiwan Straits. Washington and Beijing are also engaged in a war of words over the origin of the Coronavirus pandemic.

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Coronavirus cases cross 1.58 lakh in India; US passes 1 lakh deaths

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With over 6,566 fresh cases reported in the last  24 hours, the COVID-19 tally in India reached 1,58,333 on Thursday with as many as 4,531 fatalities, according to ministry of health.

Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Delhi remain the worst-affected states, with Maharashtra alone reporting 56,948 COVID-19 infections and 1,897 deaths. Tamil Nadu has reported 18,545 cases with 182 deaths. Gujarat has 15,195 cases with death toll at 938.

Jammu and Kashmir witnessed the biggest single-day spike in COVID-19 cases on Wednesday with 162 people testing positive for the disease, raising the tally to 1,921. Of these, 1,535 are in Kashmir and 386 in Jammu region. The number of active cases has now gone up to 1,041, 288 in Jammu and 753 in Kashmir.

The rise in cases comes amid easing of lockdown relaxations and the restarting of one-third of all domestic flights.

Meanwhile, globally the number of infections has reached  5,693,066 with 355,629 number of deaths according to Johns Hopkins data.

The United States remains the worst affected country with 1,699,176 cases of infections and death toll at 100,442. This comes as many states relax preventative measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

According to The Guardian, the pandemic has killed more Americans than the Vietnam and Korean wars combined, and the death toll is approaching that of the first world war, when more than 116,000 Americans died in combat.

US is followed by Brazil, Russia, and United Kingdom with maximum number of cases of COVID-19.

South Korea, which had successfully reduced its coronavirus cases has reported 79 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday, the highest one-day increase in 53 days, the BBC reports.

This week, infections continued to creep up in and around the country’s capital Seoul. Jeong Eun-kyeong, the director of Korea Centers for Disease control and Prevention, has now said social distancing measures eased in April may need to be reimposed.

The development comes after World Health Organisation had warned countries which were easing the lockdown to stay cautious of a second wave of infections.

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IMD issues ‘red alert’ for North India as heatwave intensifies, warns people to stay indoors between 1-5pm

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As the temperature in the Northern India is soaring high with each passing day the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has warned that heatwave is likely to persist for the next few days in most parts of the northern India, Maharashtra and Telangana. While, the day temperature in the state capital is likely to touch 46 degrees Celsius by Tuesday.

The IMD has also issued a ‘red alert’ for a severe heatwave, for parts of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh and Rajasthan for the next two days.  While sweltering heat engulfing the capital city on Sunday with maximum temperature hovering close to 45 degrees Celsius in most parts of the city.

Meanwhile, the IMD also issued “orange” warning for eastern Uttar Pradesh.

“Heatwave will prevail in many places and severe heatwave in isolated places. Mainly clear sky with strong surface winds (20-20 kilometres per hour),” the IMD forecast said.

The maximum temperature was recorded at 44.4 degrees Celsius, which was five notches above the normal, on Sunday and the minimum temperature was recorded at 28.7 degrees Celsius, two notches above the normal.

The temperature is likely to remain around 46-48 degrees Celsius in all the northern states affected by heatwaves except for Uttar Pradesh.

Kuldeep Srivastava, the head of the regional forecasting centre of the IMD, said some respite from the stifling heat is expected in the national capital on May 28 due to a fresh Western Disturbance and easterly winds at lower levels.

“Dust storm and thunderstorm with winds gusting up to 60 kilometres per hour is likely over Delhi-NCR on May 29-30,” he said.

Srivastava added that this this is the first “Red” warning for heatwave which is issued by the IMD according to the intensity ascending from  green to  yellow to orange with the highest level of red.

“The warning has been issued to caution people not to step out between 1 pm and 5 pm, when heat is most intense,” said Srivastava.

The ‘Red alert’ comes at a time when lakhs of migrant labourers are on roads, walking back to their home states amid the Coronavirus lockdown, making it all the more difficult for them to reach their destinations when even the ‘Shramik Special’ trains and buses with inadequate numbers and mismanagement haven’t been able to take them  back safely.

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