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Cyclone Fani moves into Bengal; no major damage reported yet

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Kolkata escaped the direct fury of Cyclone Fani as it followed a path through West Midnapore, Hooghly and Nadia districts and passed about 40km to the west of the West Bengal capital.

Cyclone Fani, which crossed Odisha coast close to Puri between 8am and 10am with a maximum wind speed of around 175 Kmph, caused huge damage in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Puri, and Khordha districts in the state. It smashed through Odisha, where eight people died, triggering rains in several towns and cities and leaving a trail of destruction in its path.

Officials of the India Meteorological Department said Cyclone Fani has lost its severity as it moved towards Bangladesh. It will lose its cyclone status and turn into a deep depression as it enters Bangladesh.

“It has turned into a cyclonic storm rapidly losing severity. It will start moving into Bangladesh by 10am,” Sanjib Bandyopadhyay, IMD Kolkata’s deputy director, said on Saturday morning.

There will be rains in a few districts of Bengal, but there was no apprehension of any further damage in the state, said Bandyopadhyay.

The met department official also said that since Cyclone Fani kept losing severity fast and wind speed was recorded around 50-55km per hour in Kolkata instead of the 70-75km they expected on Friday night.

Kolkata airport resumed operations from 8am on Saturday after remaining closed for 17 hours.

Eastern Railway, which suspended all local train services from Sealdah station between Friday midnight and 6am on Saturday, resumed services from Sealdah. At important city crossings, some people were seen waiting for traffic.

In Digha, some of the tourists who stayed back ignoring the instructions of the administration to leave, went to the beach to watch the sea.

On Saturday morning, the sky was overcast in Kolkata and adjoining districts with moderate winds.

The administration in West Bengal said it prepared to meet any emergency by marshalling men and materials to launch relief operations.

In Kolkata, about 45,000 people living in dilapidated buildings were evacuated and shifted to safe shelters. “These persons were accommodated in different school buildings of Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC),” said an official of KMC.

A few markets and two shopping malls were closed down on Friday afternoon. The civic authorities have also locked the gates of different parks in the city. After South City Mall, the authorities of Gariahat Mall in south Kolkata also closed down on Friday afternoon.

West Midnapore district magistrate P Mohan Gandhi said on Friday evening that 3,130 persons were evacuated. In East Midnapore district about 18,000 people were evacuated, said district magistrate Partha Ghosh.

Till 8:30pm on Friday, 339 houses were damaged in West Midnapore district.

Though there were indications that the cyclone might have damaged more houses and crops in the districts of West Midnapore, East Midnapore and Hooghly on Friday night, there was no official confirmation of it till 8am.

On Friday, chief minister Mamata Banerjee cancelled all her political programmes and parked herself in Kharagpur, a town about 60km from Odisha, and on the projected path of the cyclone to monitor the situation and coordinate relief efforts. Almost all election-related programmes of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) were also cancelled on Friday.

Cyclone Fani is expected now to enter Bangladesh, which has ordered the evacuation of 2.1 million people before the storm arrives. The neighbouring country’s junior disaster minister Enamur Rahman said 56 thousand volunteers were working to move millions out of the storm’s path.

Met office spokesperson Omar Faruque said on Friday the cyclone is likely to “enter Bangladesh through Khulna coastlines and will take the entire night to cross the country, ravaging southwestern” coastline districts.

Bangladesh’s disaster management minister Enamur Rahman said the government was fully prepared to face the cyclone. “Army, navy, coastguards and other agencies are ready to be called out for disaster operation,” he said in a news briefing.

The government has ordered all fishing boats and trawlers over North Bay and deep sea to remain in shelter till further notice.

Weather experts said the wrath of Fani is likely to be lesser in Bangladesh coasts as compared to that of Odisha since the cyclone would lose its strength on its land routes, minimising risks of a high number of casualties.

However, it could damage standing crops and infrastructure on a vast landmass. Besides, heavy rains, along with strong winds, will continue throughout Saturday in many parts of the country, they said.

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Brazil sends Army to fight Amazon fires; Donald Trump tweets support

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro said he’s sending troops to battle fires roaring through vast expanses of the Amazon as President Donald Trump offered U.S. support to combat the disaster.

Under growing domestic and international pressure, Bolsonaro on Friday promised “zero tolerance” for environmental crimes and pledged “strong action” to control fires — many of them set by loggers emboldened by his government’s disdain for environmental oversight.

“Forest fires exist everywhere in the world and that can’t be used as pretext for possible international sanctions,” he said in a rare televised speech, adding the flames have been spreading faster this year because of high temperatures, an extremely dry season, and strong winds.

Trump tweeted on Friday evening that that he had spoken with Bolsonaro about the fires and trade between the two countries. His tweet appeared hours after French President Emmanuel Macron — who’s about to host the Group of Seven summit — accused Bolsonaro of lying about his country’s commitments to fight climate change and threatened to block the European Union’s trade deal with the Mercosur countries of South America.

“Our future Trade prospects are very exciting and our relationship is strong, perhaps stronger than ever before,” Trump said in the tweet. “I told him if the United States can help with the Amazon Rainforest fires, we stand ready to assist!”

Macron vowed to make the burning of the Amazon jungle a priority at the summit, but the reactions of not only Trump, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel, suggested that the leaders about to gather in the French seaside resort of Biarritz were not in harmony on the crisis.

Merkel publicly disagreed with Macron. Her spokesman told Bloomberg News that she didn’t think upending the trade deal would achieve Macron’s aim of slowing deforestation in Brazil. Merkel’s spokesman, however, did back Macron’s decision to involve the international community, siding with him against Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro faces outrage abroad and at home, with protesters marching against him in Brazil’s main cities.

After a week in which the public outcry only grew louder — and as images of the flames and giant clouds of smoke continued to appear on screens around the world — he decided to deploy the Brazilian army to the Amazon. The president’s decree ordered the armed forces to carry out “preventive and repressive actions against environmental crimes” and to combat fires in the region, including indigenous territories.

“I had today an excellent conversation with President @realDonaldTrump,” Bolsonaro tweeted on Friday night. “Relations between Brazil and the U.S. are better than ever. We have a mutual desire to launch a big trade negotiation soon, aimed at promoting our peoples’ prosperity.”

Earlier Friday, the French president’s office said that it had become clear that Bolsonaro wasn’t serious about his pledges to address climate change when he spoke to world leaders at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka earlier this year.

“The president can only conclude that President Bolsonaro lied to him in Osaka,” the statement said. “Under these conditions, France is opposed to the Mercosur deal.”

The French president’s remarks provoked an angry response from Bolsonaro, who accused him of acting like a colonialist. Issues relating to Brazil should not be discussed without the country at the table, Bolsonaro added.

“The news is really worrisome, but we need to lower the temperature, there are fires in Brazil every year,” Brazilian Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias told reporters in Brasilia. “There were fires in Portugal, in Siberia, there were fires all over the world and Brazil wasn’t questioning them.”

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Photos: Robot waiters serving food at Bengaluru’s first Robot Restaurant

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Service robots line up in a corridor on the opening day of the “Robot” restaurant. These robots were earlier introduced in Chennai and Coimbatore. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
A menu and the order tablet are seen on the table of the “Robot” restaurant. Every table has a digital tablet, and one has to jut pick and choose, order and await their turn. Once the food was ready, the kitchen assigns a robot. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
A service robot delivers food to customers. On a digitally marked out path the robot heads out with the food neatly arranged on a tray. At the assigned table, she turns to greet and guide the customer to pick up the dish. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
Customers take pictures with a service robot. The robots are interactive and are programmed to sing birthday wishes and wishes for special occasions. So, for the Saturday launch, every robot wore a scarf and a name. The names are both dynamic and customizable. (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)
The robots are programmed to work efficiently and the staff has also undergone training from the manufacturers to attend to any issues that may arise over the course of operations. While the restaurant holds a unique appeal with its robot servers, it also lends a glimpse into one possible future for hospitality businesses and the mechanization of workforces.  (Manjunath Kiran / AFP)

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First moon image captured by Chandrayaan-2 released by ISRO

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Chandrayaan-2 on Thursday beamed the first image captured by the Vikram Lander after it entered the lunar orbit earlier this week. The image was taken at a height of about 2650 km from lumar surface.

Mare Orientale basin and Apollo craters are identified in the picture.

The crucial process of taking up soft landing of the lander ‘Vikram’ onboard the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft will be taken up in the early hours of September 7, ISRO Chairman K Sivan said today.

Chandrayaan-2, launched on July 22 by India’s most powerful rocket GSLV MkIII-M1, had entered the Lunar Transfer Trajectory on August 14, leaving the Earth orbit.

It comprises an Orbiter, Lander (Vikram), named after the father of Indian space research programme Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, and Rover (Pragyan).

The rover is set to make the soft landing on the Moon on September 7 and if successful the mission would make India the fourth country after Russia, the US and China to achieve the feat.

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