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    MIAMI—As South Florida fell under hurricane warnings, gas shortages and gridlock plagued thousands of people fleeing for high ground ahead of Irma.

    More than a half-million people have been ordered to evacuate to escape the Category 5 hurricane tracking toward the state, and that volume turned normally simple trips into tests of will.

    Carmen Pardo and her 6-year-old daughter, Valeria, drove around Miami for seven hours, gas station to gas station, frantically searching for somewhere to fill up the tank to evacuate. They found nothing.

    “She was saying, ‘Mommy I’m so tired, I can’t do this anymore,’” she said Thursday. “It was craziness.”

    Pardo booked the only flight she could find leaving the city, to Orlando, where she reserved two seats on a bus bound for Tallahassee on Friday.

    “It’s the beginning of an adventure,” she said.

    Late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center issued the first hurricane warnings for the Keys and parts of South Florida, including some of the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people and Lake Okeechobee. It added a storm surge warning and extended watch areas wrapping around the tip of the peninsula.

    Read more:Hurricane Irma brings death, ‘wide-scale’ destruction to the Caribbean

    Quebec man on Saint-Martin calls Irma the most terrifying experience of his life

    Canadian couple stranded on Caribbean island pleads for help, evacuation

    People along the Atlantic coast anxiously watched the behemoth while Irma battered the northern Caribbean, killing at least 11 people and leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees.

    At least 31,000 people fled the Florida Keys, which could begin seeing wind and rain from Irma as early as Friday night, Gov. Rick Scott said. He noted the size of the powerful storm, and told residents not to become complacent.

    “It is wider than our entire state and could cause major and life-threatening impacts from coast to coast. Regardless of which coast you live on, be prepared to evacuate,” Scott said. He ordered all public schools, colleges and universities to close Friday through Monday.

    With winds that peaked at 185 mph (300 kph), Irma has been the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.

    NASA secured Kennedy Space Center and SpaceX launched an unmanned rocket for an experimental flight. Kennedy closed its doors to all non-essential staff and a crew of about 120 people will ride out the storm on site.

    Most of the critical buildings at Kennedy are designed to withstand gusts of up to 220 km/h. Irma’s wind could exceed that if it reaches Cape Canaveral.

    Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered evacuations for all areas east of Interstate 95, including the city of Savannah, and authorized about 5,000 National Guard members to help with response and recovery. Georgia was last struck by a hurricane of force Category 3 or higher in 1898.

    Noel Marsden said he, his girlfriend, her son and their dog left Pembroke Pines north of Miami with plans to ride out Irma in Savannah, only to find the city was also shutting down because of Irma. Marsden wasn’t sure where they would all end up.

    “I’ve got a buddy in Atlanta and a buddy in Charlotte. We’ll wind up one of those two places because there are not hotels, I can tell you that,” he said.

    Irma’s eventual path and Florida’s fate depends on when and how sharp the powerful hurricane takes a right turn, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said.

    “It has become more likely that Irma will make landfall in southern Florida as a dangerous major hurricane,” the Hurricane Center said in a forecast discussion Thursday afternoon.

    The last Category 5 storm to hit Florida was Andrew in 1992. Its winds topped 265 km/h, killing 65 people and inflicting $26 billion in damage. It was at the time the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.

    U.S. Air Force Reserve weather officer Maj. Jeremy DeHart flew through the eye of Irma at 10,000 feet Wednesday and through Hurricane Harvey just before it hit Texas last month.

    He said Irma’s intensity set it apart from other storms.

    “Spectacular is the word that keeps coming to mind. Pictures don’t do it justice. Satellite images can’t do it justice,” DeHart said.

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    MEXICO CITY—One of the most powerful earthquakes ever to strike Mexico has hit off its southern Pacific coast, killing at least 15 people, toppling houses and businesses and sending panicked people into the streets more than 1,000 kilometres away.

    The U.S. Geological Survey said the earthquake hit off Chiapas state near the Guatemalan border with a magnitude of 8.1 — slightly stronger than the magnitude 8 quake of 1985 that killed thousands and devastated large parts of Mexico City.

    National civil defence chief Luis Felipe Puente told the Televisa network that at least 15 people had died, 10 of them in Oaxaca, also close to the epicentre.

    Hundreds of buildings collapsed or were damage, power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people and authorities closed schools Friday in at least 11 states to check them for safety.

    “The house moved like chewing gum and the light and internet went out momentarily,” said Rodrigo Soberanes, who lives near the Chiapas state city of San Cristobal de las Casas.

    The U.S. Geological Survey recorded at least 20 aftershocks of magnitude 4.0 or greater within about five hours after the main shake, and the president warned that a major aftershock as large as magnitude 7.2 could occur.

    The USGS said the quake struck at 11:49 p.m. Thursday and its epicentre was 165 kilometres west of Tapachula in Chiapas. It had a depth of 69.7 kilometres.

    The quake caused buildings to sway violently in Mexico’s capital more than 1,000 kilometres away. As beds banged against walls, people still wearing pyjamas fled into the streets, gathering in frightened groups.

    Chiapas Gov. Manuel Velasco said that three people were killed in San Cristobal, including two women who died when a house and a wall collapsed. He called on people living near the coast to leave their houses as a protective measure.

    “There is damage to hospitals that have lost energy,” he said. “Homes, schools and hospitals have been damaged.”

    Tabasco Gov. Arturo Nunez said two children had died in his Gulf coast state. One of them was killed when a wall collapsed, and the other was a baby who died in a children’s hospital that lost electricity, cutting off the infant’s ventilator.

    The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said waves of one metre above the tide level were measured off Salina Cruz, Mexico. Smaller tsunami waves were observed on the coast or measured by ocean gauges in several other places. The centre’s forecast said Ecuador, El Salvador and Guatemala could see waves of a meter or less. No threat was posed to Hawaii and the western and South Pacific.

    Mexican authorities said they were evacuating some residents of coastal Tonala and Puerto Madero because of the warning.

    The quake hit as Mexican emergency agencies were bracing for another crisis on the other side of the country. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hurricane Katia was likely to strike the Gulf coast in the state of Veracruz early Saturday as a Category 2 storm that could bring life-threatening floods.

    In neighbouring Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales spoke on national television to call for calm while emergency crews checked for damage.

    “We have reports of some damage and the death of one person, even though we still don’t have details,” Morales said. He said the unconfirmed death occurred in San Marcos state near the border with Mexico.

    The quake occurred in a very seismically active region near the point of collision between three tectonic plates, the Cocos, the Caribbean and the North American.

    Mexico’s National Seismological Service said the area has seen at least six other quakes of magnitude 7.0 or greater since 1900 — though three of those all occurred within a nerve-wracking nine-month span in 1902-1903.

    The new quake matched the force of a magnitude 8.1 quake that hit the country on June 3, 1932, roughly 500 kilometres west of Mexico City.

    A study by Mexico’s National Seismological Service said that quake is believed to have killed about 400 people, causing severe damage around the port of Manzanillo. A powerful aftershock that hit 19 days later caused a tsunami that devastated 25 kilometres of coastline, killing 75 people.

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    One of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s best players is hanging up his skates.

    Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid will not run for re-election in the June 7, 2018 campaign.

    Duguid, 55, has represented Scarborough Centre since 2003 and was a city councillor for nine years before that.

    He has been Wynne’s point man on economic growth, travelling the world to attract investment to Ontario, and served as the “voice of business” at the cabinet table.

    Read more: Heart attack leads to better choices, new priorities for cabinet minister Brad Duguid

    But Duguid — whose announcement comes less than six weeks after former environment and climate change minister Glen Murray retired— insisted he is not leaving because he is worried the Liberals won’t get re-elected.

    “We’ve had the privilege of serving the people of Ontario for 14 years — I am very confident that Kathleen Wynne will offer the best alternative going into the next election,” said the minister, who is expected to remain in cabinet until the election.

    “People will rally around again to choose that best alternative,” he told the Star on Thursday in his Bay Street office decorated with Indigenous art and political and hockey memorabilia.

    While sources say several other senior ministers are pondering not running again next spring, Duguid noted that people have their own individual reasons for moving on.

    “Like a good boxer . . . you have to know when it’s time to go personally,” said the veteran, who also served as minister of labour, Aboriginal affairs, energy and infrastructure, and training, colleges, and universities.

    “I’m not old but I am old enough to know that the runway is shorter than it used to be — that now is the time to go and find another way to contribute,” he said, adding he has not yet determined what he will do after politics.

    Duguid said a mild heart attack in April 2016 was a sobering reminder that he is a “mortal.”

    He has since lost 25 pounds and looks a decade younger than he did thanks to his “whole food plant-based diet” that has him thriving on fruits and vegetables.

    “I feel stronger both mentally and physically than I have in a very long time because of the fact that I have dedicated more time to fitness and nutrition.”

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    Premier Kathleen Wynne is cornering the recreational marijuana market by restricting sales to 150 LCBO-run stores, sources say.

    The standalone cannabis outlets – physically separate from existing provincial-owned liquor stores – and a government-controlled website will be the only place weed can lawfully be sold after Ottawa legalizes it on July 1.

    Read more: Wynne not ruling out LCBO having role in marijuana sales

    In a move that will close scores of illegal weed “dispensaries” that now dot Ontario cities, the provincial government will limit the sale of cannabis to weed grown by producers licenced by Health Canada.

    Only those 19 and older will be allowed to purchase marijuana.

    Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Health Minister Eric Hoskins and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi are unveiling the plan Friday after Queen’s Park after months of work from Ontario’s cannabis secretariat.

    The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which runs the province’s 651 liquor stores – using workers who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – will oversee all retail sales and run the online service.

    “This approach will ensure that there will be only one legal retail distributor for recreational cannabis in Ontario, and alcohol and cannabis are not sold alongside each other,” a source said.

    There will be 80 LCBO weed stores in place across the province by July 1, 2019 and another 70 by 2020.

    Online sales will begin next July after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government legalizes recreational marijuana.

    Premier Kathleen Wynne has long said she wants the LCBO to have a role in the distribution of recreational marijuana.

    Wynne has noted the booze monopoly has staff trained to keep underage drinkers from buying alcohol and has a tightly controlled distribution channel.

    The premier was an early opponent of the illegal storefront weed shops – some of which are supplied by or operated by organized crime gangs – that have popped up in cities like Toronto.

    It is expected that Friday’s announcement will provide police and municipalities with the clarity they have been seeking to close them down.

    The government is also looking at new road safety rules to curb impaired driving.

    Other jurisdictions that have legalized weed have seen a spike in such offences, so the province will try to get in front of that with heftier penalties and new testing machines.

    Currently, the only legally available marijuana is prescribed by a medical doctor and comes from 58 producers who are licensed and inspected by Health Canada.

    It can only be delivered directly to patients’ doors through registered mail by Canada Post.

    The existing storefront “dispensaries,” which Toronto Mayor John Tory has long opposed, have nothing to do with the federal Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations.

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    Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez spent a busy day in Los Angeles trying to head off a possible next wave of misguided asylum seekers who could be forced to leave the United States in the coming months.

    Canadian officials fear thousands of migrants could come streaming across the Canada-U.S. border when President Donald Trump makes a decision on the fate of a special immigration designation, known as a Temporary Protected Status, afforded to citizens of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

    “We want to relay the message that there’s a whole bunch of misinformation that’s circulating and before folks decide to sell their homes and uproot their families and potentially make a really rash decision based on false information, we want these folks to have all the facts — the true facts about what lies ahead with the Canadian immigration system,” said a government spokesperson, speaking on background about the objectives of the L.A. trip.

    In total, more than 300,000 citizens of 10 countries that are suffering the effects of conflict or disaster are eligible for the TPS protection. More than 250,000 are from El Salvador and Honduras alone.

    On Aug. 30, Honduran newspaper La Prensa also published an article citing a Miami-based Honduran immigration activist as saying he had been contacted by the Canadian government about the possibility of welcoming desperate Hondurans to Canada. Canadian officials scrambled to deny the report the following day.

    Immigration anxiety also peak again this week when Trump decided to scrap a program known as DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, that provided work permits to people who were young children when they entered illegally into the U.S. with their parents. The program will formally expire in six months.

    Rodriguez’s L.A. trip is modelled on a similar visit to Miami in August by Haiti-born Liberal MP Emmanuel Dubourg. There, he met with members of Miami’s Haitian diaspora as well as local elected officials and groups working with new immigrants.

    Dubourg had a tough message — that those choosing to sneak across the border into Canada risk eventual deportation to their home country if their claim is not accepted. But Dubourg was chosen because he could deliver it in English, French and, most importantly, Haitian Creole.

    Similarly, Rodriguez gave Spanish-language interviews to La Opinion and the Univision television network Friday.

    Rodriguez also held a meeting with the consuls general for Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

    “They were very anxious to get all those facts so they can start to relay them to the folks that are coming in to see them and asking questions,” the Canadian government official said.

    The three countries, whose TPS designation expires between January and March 2018, have been lobbying the American government for an extension, arguing that the housing shortages, damage to infrastructure and the security challenges that have risen in the years since make it tough to resettle so many people all at once.

    Nicaragua and Honduras have had the designation since shortly after Hurricane Mitch ravaged the countries in 1998. El Salvador was designated as a TPS country after two major earthquakes in 2001 killed 1,000, injured about 8,000 and caused serious damage in 165 of the country’s 262 municipalities.

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    “Well, we found one,” John Burzynski leader of the Raise the Arrow expedition told a news conference Friday morning before unveiling sonar images of a long-lost object that was a part of Canada’s most significant aviation program.

    Burzynski confirmed that the expedition’s engineers have located one of nine models of the Avro Arrow that have been sitting at the bottom of Lake Ontario since they were launched in test flights between 1954 and 1957.

    The Arrow was a fighter jet developed in the 1950s that was lauded as a groundbreaking technological achievement before the program’s controversial cancellation by the Diefenbaker government in 1959.

    The Arrow’s story, Burzynski said, was one of “the realization of dreams,” as well as the “bitter taste of defeat,” when the program was cancelled and the only existing planes destroyed. Canadians were stunned when then-prime minister John Diefenbaker announced the cancellation, the reasons for which were never clear, but likely had to do with costs.

    The Raise the Arrow expedition, Burzynski said, was not only about finding something that was lost. It was about the people who worked on the plane, and all the Canadians who held memories of the Arrow dear.

    The expedition spent a total of 12 days since the end of July searching the lake.

    The model, which remains on the floor of the lake, is about three metres long and two metres wide. Images show orange paint, a hallmark of the treasured Canadian technology, still intact and peeking through the zebra mussels that almost entirely cover its surface.

    “I think being able to showcase using cutting edge Canadian technology —being our sonar systems and underwater vehicles — to actually find and resurrect cutting edge Canadian technology… I think it’s an amazing example of what we can do as Canadians looking back at our history,” said David Shea, vice-president of engineering for Kraken Sonar.

    Shea remembers being fascinated by the Arrow as a child after reading his older brother’s history books on the aircraft.

    “I remember going through this book and looking at these jet fighters and I didn’t understand why they didn’t exist anymore,” he said. “Every since then, growing up and going into engineering, I’ve been fascinated with the fact that Canada had such a cutting edge technology and we were world leaders at one point in time.”

    The Avro Arrow program, Shea said, is unparalleled in the ability it had to inspire Canadian engineers. He hopes that the country is beginning to gain back some prestige in the field of science and technology — particularly as the advanced sonar technologies he uses proved successful in finding one Arrow model.

    The discovery of the model is the biggest Arrow-related event since a full-sized replica of the plane was unveiled in 2006.

    Shea’s looking forward to going back out onto the water to find the other eight right away.

    An archaeological team led by Scarlett Janusas will now get to work on recovering the model. She said the team hopes to send divers down before the end of the season.

    The object will likely be retrieved next spring, at which point more information about its place in Arrow history is expected to come to light.

    Once all the models are removed from Lake Ontario, they will be housed at the Canada Aviation and Space museum in Ottawa and the National Air Force Museum of Canada in Trenton.

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    Canada is edging closer to the July 2018 target date for the legalization of marijuana in a haze of political smoke.

    With every new development, the gap between the political narrative attending the initiative and its actual implementation is harder to bridge.

    Take the federal government’s talking points. They have greatly evolved since Justin Trudeau was campaigning on university campuses in the last election campaign. Logic has not always benefited from that evolution.

    To hear the prime minister these days, the point of the policy is to make it harder for minors to buy marijuana. Clearly, Canada is making its peace with marijuana the better to fight it.

    According to Trudeau, that will be achieved by imposing stiffer penalties on those who sell weed illegally and/or drive under the influence. There is a commitment to government-funded public education campaigns to drive home the health risks associated with marijuana.

    Fair enough, but those are all measures a health-conscious federal government could have undertaken without jumping through the hoops of legalizing the substance.

    The oft-missing link in the Liberal talking points is how Trudeau’s stated goal ties in with the legal sale of marijuana.

    Proponents of the plan talk of the need to replace a thriving underground market with a regulated one. The calculation, or at least the hope, is that legal competition will accomplish what judicial repression has so far failed to achieve. But to do that one must be willing to use means on par with policy ambitions.

    In the federal/provincial division of labour, setting the legal marijuana business on a competitive footing is left to the discretion of individual provinces. It is a politically uncomfortable task for which none is particularly enthusiastic.

    Cue the government of Ontario.

    On Friday it became the first to come up with a template to sell marijuana.

    As Canada’s largest province, Ontario stands to set the tone for much of the rest of the country. Many of its sister provinces are still seeking advice from experts and/or sounding out constituents.

    Quebec, for instance, has yet to decide something as basic as whether to apply the legal age to buy alcohol to marijuana. Ontario is set to use age 19 for both categories.

    But the Ontario blueprint falls well short of the purported goal of driving out of business those who sell weed illegally.

    If anything over the next few years, it stands to fatten the golden goose that is the marijuana black market rather than kill it.

    The plan is to establish a government monopoly on the selling of marijuana. The LCBO would run the operation in stores distinct from its liquor outlets. Ontario would open 80 pot shops by July 1, 2019 and another 70 over the following year.

    It would take a lot more than 150 outlets and quite a bit longer than two years to flood the market with legal marijuana in a province the size of Ontario.

    For the sake of comparison, Colorado, with a population of less than six million people, initially opened 136 venues for the purpose of legally selling marijuana.

    Ontario, with more than double that population and a larger territory, is planning to offer little more than the same number. It is as if a cheese artisan set out to drive Kraft out of business by setting up a stall at the St. Lawrence market in Toronto.

    At the same time Ontario would clamp down on illegal storefront dispensaries.

    Under the guise of creating a state-run monopoly, the province is running the risk of creating more demand for the services of the very people it purports to drive out of business.

    I have never tried marijuana. Not even in high school when everyone else seemed to be partaking in the weed experience. But that was not for lack of availability.

    I cannot think of a time at any point in my adult life when I could not have easily procured a joint. That is particularly true of the period over which I was raising teenagers.

    Unless they have been living on another planet, the provincial and federal politicians who are debating the upcoming legalization of marijuana must be familiar with the omnipresence and the reach of the underground market. And they must know that half-hearted measures tend to yield costly failures.

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    Metrolinx is proposing changes to its privacy policy after the Star revealed the provincial transit agency had quietly shared Presto fare card users’ travel data with the police.

    Metrolinx spokesperson Anne Marie Aikins said that the agency, which operates the Presto system used by the TTC and 10 other transit agencies in Ontario, has always complied with privacy legislation.

    But she acknowledged that there could be ways to improve its protocol around giving the data of its passengers to law enforcement.

    “We know that privacy and the protection of personal information are highly important to our customers and we share that concern,” said Aikins.

    “We felt it was important to conduct a thorough review and consultation to balance the need to protect the privacy of our customers and our efforts as a good community partner.”

    The proposed changes, which Metrolinx intends to post online next week for public consultation, reflect largely recommendations made by experts who warned that the existing policy could lead to violations of transit users’ privacy.

    According to Aikins, the proposals include: changing the written information provided to Presto users to explicitly state under what circumstances Metrolinx will share private information with law enforcement; requiring police officers to get their supervisors to sign off on requests for cardholders’ information; notifying cardholders when police have asked for their information, and tracking and publishing annual statistics about how many requests the agency received and how it responded.

    Aikins said Metrolinx came up with the proposed reforms after a review that included examining the privacy policies of other transit agencies, telecommunications companies and financial institutions.

    Former three-term Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian said that the proposed reforms are “an improvement, but they don’t go far enough.”

    She said her main concern was that the reforms stop short of requiring police to provide a warrant to obtain Presto users’ information.

    While exceptions should be made in emergencies, such as missing persons cases, in all other instances “you need judicial oversight,” said Cavoukian, who is now the distinguished expert-in-residence at Ryerson University’s Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence.

    “You shouldn’t be giving customers’ personal information . . . to law enforcement unless there is a legitimate case. And if there is a legitimate case, you go to a judge and you get a warrant.”

    The agency couldn’t immediately provide updated statistics about how many requests for Presto users’ information it has received from law enforcement.

    However, the Star reported in June that, since the start of the year, the agency had received 26 requests for Presto usage data, which show where and when a passenger taps their fare card as part of a transit trip. The agency has said that it doesn’t share any other information that it collects from Presto users, such as email addresses, phone numbers, or financial details.

    The agency granted 12 of the 26 requests. Six of them were related to criminal investigations, and six were missing persons cases.

    In only two cases did police produce a warrant.

    In the 14 instances where requests weren’t granted, Metrolinx either turned down the application or it was withdrawn by police.

    At the time, the agency said that it did not always notify users police had asked for their data.

    The public will now have a chance to provide feedback about the potential reforms. Metrolinx also plans to consult with privacy experts, academics, law enforcement, and representatives from other transit agencies. The agency is expected to report back on potential changes to its privacy protocol at its December board meeting. After receiving input from the board, it will report to the provincial Information and Privacy Commissioner.

    Roughly 3 million transit riders in Ontario now use Presto, according to Metrolinx. The TTC intends to complete its move to the fare-card system sometime next year, and phase out older forms of payment such as tickets and tokens.

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    When GarCon Building Group went bankrupt more than two years ago, Karim Hajee was one of several homeowners who collectively lost more than a million dollars in deposits on home renovation work.

    Court documents filed last week allege that the money — which hasn’t been returned — went partly toward the company owner’s personal expenses, including gambling debt, and bills for his former Toronto home.

    “Just that realization that ‘Wow, I trusted someone and now a big chunk of my finances are gone’ — that was devastating,” Hajee said in an interview Thursday with the Star.

    Eight families, including Hajee and his wife, launched a lawsuit in June 2015, against Adam Gardin, his wife Naomi and GarCon, collectively seeking $1.5 million in damages, plus $500,000 in punitive damages and their legal costs.

    They accused Gardin, who now lives in Michigan, of fraud, theft, conversion, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. None of their allegations have been proven in court.

    In a statement of defence from August 2015, Gardin denied wrongdoing, saying that increased costs forced GarCon to file for bankruptcy, that the company used advanced funds to pay for the work on the plaintiff’s homes, and that he acted in good faith.

    Last week, the plaintiffs filed new court documentsthrough their lawyer Ryan Wozniak, which included bank records they argue show “Adam and Naomi used the plaintiffs’ deposits to pay myriad personal expenses.”

    “Adam requested large deposits from the plaintiffs at a time when GarCon was hemorrhaging cash and on the brink of financial collapse,” a portion of the motion reads.

    They also allege that those expenses included hefty gambling debts. The bank records show $95,617.04 of credit card expenses incurred at Caesar’s Palace Windsor and Fallsview Casino between December 2013 and December 2014.

    The Star contacted Gardin asking him to respond to detailed allegations contained within the Aug. 31 motion. He declined to respond to the specific allegations, but emailed the following statement:

    “GarCon, the company I started from nothing in 2004, has now been closed for over two years now. Over this time, my family has suffered immensely by the closure of the company, and the subsequent negative media I have gotten, as well as the legal matters I am currently dealing with. Although I am deeply saddened by what has happened to the clients of GarCon, my main focus right now is my family and my health. I hope that we will all be able to put this behind us soon.”

    Wozniak declined to comment on this story.

    Hajee, his wife and four kids, now live in the home he hired GarCon to renovate back in 2015, but it’s taken a long time to get to that point. Even now the interior of his home isn’t completely finished, nor is his driveway.

    “Our home still isn’t completed because we’ve run out of funds,” he said.

    He said he paid GarCon $155,909 in deposits but the work was not completed; his home was only ever gutted, and a big hole was dug in the backyard before GarCon went bankrupt.

    He hopes homeowners see what he went through as a cautionary tale.

    “There’s no clear protection for you, the homeowner, once you pay the contractor any amount,” he said.

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    With Harvey’s floodwaters rapidly flowing into the Houston hotel where she worked, Jill Renick reportedly made a frantic cellphone call to a fellow employee: “I’m in an elevator. The water is rushing in. Please help me!”

    Those words were among the few clues Renick’s family and friends had to go on for a week and a half, when repeated searches of the Omni Houston Hotel failed to turn up any sign of her and desperate calls to shelters and hospitals were similarly fruitless.

    Worst fears were confirmed with the discovery of a body in the ceiling of the hotel basement near elevators Thursday, and police say they believe it to be that of the 48-year-old Renick.

    Read more:

    Hurricane Harvey cleanup anything but tidy

    After Harvey, mould ‘monster’ invades Texas homes

    ‘This is the face of Houston’: Flood cleanup marked by friendliness, lack of crime

    “We are heartbroken. To know Jill is to have loved her,” her sister, Pam Eslinger, said in a statement issued on behalf of the family. “She could light up a room just by walking in and adored life.”

    Renick’s disappearance had been among the most baffling mysteries in the wake of Harvey, which has killed at least 74 people after hitting the Texas coast Aug. 25 and dropping more than 129 centimetres of rain. At least 22 people in Houston remain missing.

    Renick, who was director of spa services at the four-star hotel, was last heard from Aug. 27, police said, when she made the call to a co-worker saying she was stuck in a service elevator that was rapidly filling with water. Eslinger, who has said she spoke with employees, detailed the call to Dallas television station KTVT.

    Renick had stayed the night with her dog in a fourth-floor room at the hotel but left to help guests evacuate as water poured into the lobby and basement. After her cellphone call, there was no sign of Renick. Her dog was found in the hotel room and her car in the parking lot.

    Attempts by the police dive team and the Houston Fire Department to locate Renick were unsuccessful because of the severe flooding. A hotel employee finally spotted the body early Thursday.

    “She was loved by so many people,” said the family statement, “and we will feel the impact of her absence in our hearts forever.”

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    Alex McKeenTamar HarrisSamantha BeattieStaff Reporters

    Worried Canadians are frantically trying to get in touch with friends and relatives trapped in the wake of Hurricane Irma, after it hit the Leeward Islands in the West Indies.

    A Category 5, the strongest hurricane there is, Irma has cut a swath through the Caribbean for several days, killing at least 22 people, downing power, destroying buildings and causing massive flooding.

    Irma flattened Barbuda, to the north of Antigua, and both the French-Dutch island of St. Martin/St. Maarten and Anguilla, which lie to the east of the Virgin Islands.

    Morvarid Sanandaji, a 24-year-old medical student from Toronto, is trapped in St. Maarten where she studies.

    “Right now, honestly, there is no island of St. Maarten,” Sanandaji told the Star on Friday. “There is no structure on this island right now that you would be able to live in.”

    Read more:

    Canadian couple stranded on Caribbean island pleads for help, evacuation

    Miami is rounding up homeless people against their will ahead of Hurricane Irma

    Donald Trump’s ‘Winter White House’ Mar-a-Lago Club told to evacuate before Irma hits

    She’s keeping shelter along with around 600 students, faculty and their families at the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine, awaiting evacuation.

    When the hurricane went through the island Wednesday, Sanandaji described a scene of “sheer terror.”

    “Not a lot of people were talking . . . . Everybody was waiting for it to pass. I know there were people who were panicking,” she said.

    Injuries range from cuts from shattered glass to sprained ankles to broken legs, and people are still missing, Sanandaji said.

    Sanandaji resorted to using a rental car she and some others found to go out and secure provisions. Its windows were blown in, and the doors had caved, but it had to do.

    “As much stuff as we could fit in the car, we were just trying to get back to the building,” she said.

    “We’re lucky because we can go somewhere else, but the people who have been born here, raised here . . . they have nowhere else to go.”

    Geeta Wadehra can’t stop calling the Global Affairs Canada crisis line out of concern for three friends, who are trapped in a St. Maarten condo, unsure how to get food or water.

    “The one time they tried to leave the apartment they witnessed a robbery,” said Wadehra, who has been able to reach her friends over the phone intermittently.

    Wadehra’s friends noticed a Dutch military presence, but told her they haven’t received guidance about how to get out of the destroyed island.

    In Brewers Bay, Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands, about 150 kilometres to the east of Puerto Rico, 59-year-old Anita Gulliver is safe, but her exact whereabouts are unknown, her daughter Natalie told the Star.

    “The most that I know is that I got a text message with a photograph of a note that someone had written saying that she was safe,” Natalie said. “I have no further information; I’m hoping that she’s safe.”

    The last time Natalie talked to Gulliver, a Toronto expat now living in the Caribbean, her mother was sheltered in a shower.

    “It was a very emotional phone call,” Natalie said. “A lot of goodbyes. We weren’t sure that we were going to ever see each other again.

    “At that point, the wind was already blowing and they were already terrified. And we were still, like, six hours away from the eye of the storm actually hitting them,” Natalie said.

    Michael Moriarty and his wife, Meryl Zacitz, were vacationing in St. Maarten when the storm hit, and have only been able to contact family intermittently.

    “Please contact the Canadian consulate and tell them we’re stuck in Simpson Bay Resort and that we are stranded and they need to rescue us,” Moriarty wrote in a text message to his sister, Monique Balmforth.

    “We are very frightened right now and don’t know what’s going on or what’s happened,” Balmforth said.

    Natasha Nystrom, a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, said in a statement that the government is updating its travel advisories page, and sending affected Canadians messages over email, text and social media.

    The storm raged past Cuba’s northern coast Friday toward the Bahamas and Florida, threatening the state with destruction not seen in a generation. The crush to leave Florida had millions of people on the move. Highways were jammed, gas was scarce, airports were packed and mandatory evacuations began to roll out as the first official hurricane watches were issued for the region, which could face destruction not seen since Category 5 Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

    “I can guarantee you that I don’t know anybody in Florida that’s ever experienced what’s about to hit South Florida,” William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said at a briefing on Friday.

    “They need to get out and listen and heed the warnings.”

    Toronto resident Gail Rutherford was stranded in Ft. Lauderdale Friday after her flight back to Toronto was cancelled.

    The area where she had been staying was evacuated, so when she spoke to The Star Friday she was staying in her mom’s hospital room, unable to leave, she said, because she wouldn’t be allowed to reenter the closed hospital.

    “For the next four days, I am going to sleep in a chair and eat bananas and apples I cleaned out from the cafeteria,” she said.

    She thought about the scores of people she saw at the airport, just trying to get out safely before Irma hits.

    “There are lineups outside the airport of people standing with their suitcases.”

    Those on islands already devastated by Irma hope for safety and to rebuild their houses.

    But some are grieving over the loss of loved ones.

    On Barbuda, a coral island rising a mere 38 metres above sea level, authorities ordered an evacuation of all 1,400 people to neighbouring Antigua, where Stevet Jeremiah was reunited with one son and made plans to bury another.

    Jeremiah, who sells lobster and crab to tourists, was huddled in her wooden home on Barbuda early Wednesday with her partner and their 2- and 4-year-old boys, as Irma ripped open their metal roof and sent the ocean surging into the house.

    Her younger son, Carl Junior Francis, was swept away.

    Neighbours found his body after sunrise.

    “Two years old. He just turned 2, the 17th, last month. Just turned 2,” she repeated. Her first task, she said, would be to organize his funeral.

    “That’s all I can do. There is nothing else I can do.”

    With files from The Washington Post, The Canadian Press and Orlando Sentinel

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    Trying to find any good that can come from the LCBO seizing control of the marijuana market is like trying to get high by smoking a rolled-up Bounty towel.

    It’s strange. Honestly, I can usually find something good in just about anything. The other night, my wife unilaterally imposed a new household budget and whipped up a dinner of “Greek tacos” that were hastily constructed with leftover souvlaki skewers and a mixture of spices few Mexicans would endorse and, though it was touch-and-go for a bit, I was not rushed to the ER.

    So that was good.

    But upon learning Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals plan to open 150 stand-alone marijuana stores — come for the 30 per cent markup of bundled excise taxes, stay for the glossy CCBO magazine with delightful Facewreck Haze garden-party recipes — the only feeling was one of a bad trip.

    And I don’t even use recreational drugs.

    On what future potheads will refer to as Black Friday, Ms. Wynne took a big hit off the nanny-state bong and announced plans for the provincial government to add “drug dealer” to its monopoly portfolio. At this rate, I give it six months before she decrees that all snow tires be purchased exclusively through a Service Ontario kiosk.

    As the Star’s Robert Benzie reported: “The stand-alone cannabis outlets — physically separate from existing provincial-owned liquor stores — and a government-controlled website will be the only place weed can lawfully be sold after Ottawa legalizes it on July 1.”

    Yes, after weed is legalized on July 1 — or given Justin Trudeau’s penchant for broken promises, perhaps that should read if weed is legalized — Wynne will bravely mutate into a cross between Metrolinx and El Chapo and aim to control the local supply of cannabis through Beer Store-style outlets where the “product” is hidden from view, circa 1962, and the surreal experience is decidedly at odds with the presumed preferences of marijuana enthusiasts who’ve been known to do some impulse buying outside of traditional retail hours, and who likely won’t be thrilled when their new dealer is closed for a holiday or is suddenly on strike.

    Then there is the issue of supply and demand. And here it is not clear if Wynne is trying to corner the market on marijuana or rare orchids.

    In a “Backgrounder” released on Black Friday, with the wildly exciting title, “Ontario’s Cannabis Retail and Distribution Model,” the government’s “proposed approach” is to open 80 stores by 2019, before that number climbs to 150 the following year.

    Is that sufficient when the government is also shuttering every private dispensary? If you’ve ever tried to locate an LCBO outside a major urban pocket, you know the answer is “not bloody likely.” The weird part is the government is claiming it and only it can control cannabis at a time when it has ceded to public pressure and allowed beer and wine sales to seep into grocery aisles.

    This makes the claim of higher responsibility — “Ontario is proposing a safe and sensible approach to the retail of recreational cannabis, overseen by the LCBO through a subsidiary corporation,” reads the backgrounder — harder to reconcile with the revenue-grab reality. It’s like saying I trust my ex to take the kids on a skydiving vacation, but he’s strictly prohibited from picking them up after school.

    So the government is now in the process of expending a startling volume of tax dollars to: a) effectively kill competition, b) reduce the choice and convenience for citizens interested in buying a legalized product, c) inhibit entrepreneurship and small-business growth in an emerging sector and, d) do all of this under the dubious guise of control in the hope nobody will notice the blatant overreach.

    Again, I have no dog in this fight. I’m not a user. But if I were, I’m not sure I’d want to venture out to a Big Box mall, wander into an antiseptic store with a Walmart vibe and exchange pleasantries with a grumpy, on-the-clock employee who may not know a Champagne Kush from a Veuve Clicquot. I’m not sure I’d want to return to my car carrying a CCBO-branded paper bag after “browsing” theoretically and being made to feel like I was purchasing an AK-47 at a Toys “R” Us.

    Which is why the only thing Wynne is destined to achieve is breathe new life into the black market. This decision is a lump of coal in the vaporizer of users.

    As any drug dealer can tell you, territory is key. And on Black Friday, Wynne made it clear she believes the province is her street-corner and rival factions hoping to get a piece of this action will be wiped out by her gang of bureaucrats.

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    Doug Ford, ex-city councillor and brother of the late Rob Ford, has confirmed he wants a mayoral rematch with John Tory next year.

    “Robbie, this one is going to be for you,” Ford told a huge crowd at the annual “Ford Fest” party in their mother’s sprawling Etobicoke backyard.

    “I will be running for mayor of Toronto,” he said to deafening cheers from “Ford Nation” fans.

    Tory “is all talk and no action and broken promises,” said Ford, 52, after speeches by councillors nephew Michael Ford, Vince Crisanti and Giorgio Mammoliti, and Progressive Conservative MPP Monte McNaughton.

    Ford accused Tory of letting city spending “skyrocket” and vowed as mayor he would give Toronto the lowest taxes in North America and end the “war on the car.”

    Tory said Friday he welcomes a rematch and holding up his record to Ford’s in the scandal-filled 2010-2014 council term in which Doug was Ward 2 councillor and Rob was mayor.

    “The council was dysfunctional. The relationship with the other levels of government (was) in tatters. The reputation of the city was being challenged every day in media around the world.

    “I think people will have to think long and hard about whether they want to go back to the old way and to the chaos that we saw just three short years ago.”

    The actual campaign for the Oct. 22, 2018 election does not start until May 1, so Ford is a sort of shadow candidate until then. He can talk about his intention to run but cannot fundraise, buy ads, post election signs or otherwise spend money on his mayoral quest.

    Ford had been toying with running for Patrick Brown’s Progressive Conservatives in the June 7, 2018 provincial election.

    Sources have told the Star that Premier Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals were keen to have Ford as an opponent they could accuse of wanting to bring the right-wing politics of U.S. President Donald Trump to Ontario, and that some PCs were keen for him to choose a rematch with Tory instead. Ford denied those allegations.

    Others have said the co-owner of Deco Labels & Tags was dissuaded from running provincially when PC officials told him that, if elected and elevated to cabinet, by law he would have to put his shares in the family company in a blind trust.

    Ford was elected as city councillor, serving as his brother’s sidekick and top adviser, promising to find billions of dollars in waste at city hall. At one point he wanted city staff to put a connecting door between the mayor’s office and his adjoining council office.

    When the Star in March 2013 revealed then-mayor Rob Ford had attended a naval gala incoherent, and had a substance abuse problem that worried those around him, Doug Ford branded the assertions lies meant to keep the “gravy train” running at city hall.

    Ford likewise dismissed as nonsense later allegations that his brother was caught on videotape smoking crack cocaine with gang members who sold drugs and guns. Doug Ford has said he became aware of his brother’s addictions only after Rob Ford confessed them in November 2013.

    As councillor Doug Ford could claim success in helping convince city council to pass austerity budgets, contract out garbage collection between the Humber River and Yonge St. and extract deep concessions from city workers in new contracts.

    However, his behind-the-scenes push for a remake of Toronto’s east waterfront with a ferris wheel and boat-in hotel dealt his brother his first major policy loss. Doug Ford’s “cut the waist” challenge, in which he and his brother publicly competed to lose weight, embarrassed the mayor who failed to shed pounds and was peppered with reporters’ questions about his scandals.

    Rob Ford successfully went to rehab but had to abandon his 2014 mayoral re-election campaign after being diagnosed with a rare aggressive cancer. Doug Ford took his brother’s place late in the campaign and received 330,610 votes to 394,775 votes for Tory. Rob Ford, who was re-elected to the council seat he had held for a decade, died in March 2016.

    With files from Jennifer Pagliaro and Betsy Powell

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    This story is part of the Star’s trust initiative, where, every week, we take readers behind the scenes of our journalism. This week, we focus on how Freedom-of-Information requests can lead to public interest stories.

    In order to hold governments to account and shine a light on issues of public interest, reporters have for years used provincial and federal access-to-information legislation.

    For a fee of $5, these laws allow citizens to ask governments and various governmental organizations to provide information, such as emails, memos, and studies. The idea is that the public should be able to scrutinize the actions of government to ensure our democracy is functioning properly.

    In practice, the laws are not without problems and observers and users of the legislation have long complained that it is an expensive system fraught with delays and bureaucracy. However, when it does work, journalists, acting for the public, can uncover valuable insights on how governments operate.

    At the Star, Freedom-of-Information requests have led to stories about carding by Toronto police, how mayoral staff reacted to former mayor Rob Ford’sinfamous crack-smoking scandal, and federal government preparations for the ongoing NAFTA talks, to name just a few.

    Recently, documents obtained by the Star’s transportation reporter Ben Spurr through a Freedom-of-Information request revealed how Ontario’s transportation ministry pressured Metrolinx to approve a new $100-million GO Transit station in Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca’s Vaughan riding. The documents also showed the ministry pressed for another station that would be part of Toronto Mayor John Tory’s “SmartTrack” plan with a price tag of $23 million.

    The records Spurr uncovered consisted of more than 1,000 pages, including reports, briefing notes and emails between Metrolinx officials and transportation ministry staff that exposed how Metrolinx approved the stations — Kirby in Vaughan and Lawrence East in Toronto — even though an analysis determined they would decrease ridership on the GO system if built.

    How did Spurr get the story? His curiosity was piqued in June 2016 when the Metrolinx board approved 12 new GO Transit stations but didn’t release detailed feasibility reports right away. It wasn’t until almost nine months later that the reports were made public. In the interim, Spurr had heard grumblings that research didn’t support the construction of Kirby station.

    So Spurr filed a Freedom-of-Information request to Metrolinx in March 2017 asking for emails to and from then-CEO Bruce McCuaig that pertained to Kirby station, as well as any briefing notes prepared for senior staff about the station.

    Metrolinx asked for $714 to provide the records, which was later reduced to $625. The Star ended up paying half of that, the agency waived the rest. Spurr received the documents in late August. While heavily redacted, the records also contained correspondence about the proposed Lawrence East station raising more questions for Spurr.

    The records were eye-opening.

    “Senior Metrolinx officials candidly discussed through emails what they described as the minister’s disappointment that stations they thought he wanted weren’t headed for approval. They also discussed performing an ‘alternative analysis’ that could see the two stations approved,” Spurr said. “I found this concerningbecause Metrolinx is supposed to be an arms-length agency.”

    Spurr was also surprised to read emails showing that Metrolinx was blindsided when the transportation ministry sent draft press releases indicating the minister would announce new GO stations the Metrolinx board had already voted not to approve, namely Kirby and Lawrence East.

    Despite what the documents revealed, the story didn’t go to print right away. In order to be fair to all the subjects of the story, Spurr alerted Del Duca’s office, Metrolinx and Mayor John Tory’s office and sent each a list of questions. “None of them answered my individual questions. They instead sent statements that addressed some points I had raised, but not all,” Spurr said.

    Spurr quoted in his story an emailed statement from Del Duca’s office that said the station approvals were based on “initial business case analysis, extensive consultation with municipal and regional representatives, community engagement, and collaboration between the ministry of transportation and Metrolinx.”

    Julie Carl, the Star’s senior editor of national and urban affairs and social justice, says sometimes, as in this case, requests reveal unexpected details that add new dimensions to stories.

    “Ben’s story is a great example of this. His FOI request revealed the shocked reactions of Metrolinx officials when they found out the minister intended to announce the two new stations the agency’s board hadn’t approved,” said Carl.

    At other times, the results of Freedom-of-Information requests provide only part of a story, meaning reporters have to rely on other sources to get a fuller picture.

    “We may receive just part of the puzzle so we have to figure out the missing pieces,” she said, adding that doing due diligence before publishing cuts down on the odds the Star will get it wrong and ensures subjects of the story are given a fair amount of time to respond.

    “We think this is so important — we phone, email, knock on their doors and leave letters explaining what we are doing and provide questions we would like them to answer,” Carl said.

    “We give them every opportunity to have their say.”

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    JUCHITAN, MEXICO—One of the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit Mexico was followed by a Gulf coast hurricane, dealing a one-two punch to the country that killed at least 63 people as workers scrambled Saturday to respond to the twin national emergencies.

    The 8.1 quake off the southern Pacific coast just before midnight Thursday toppled hundreds of buildings in several states. Hardest-hit was Juchitan, Oaxaca, where 36 people died and a third of the city’s homes collapsed or were uninhabitable, President Enrique Pena Nieto said late Friday in an interview with the Televisa news network.

    In downtown Juchitan, the remains of brick walls and clay tile roofs cluttered streets as families dragged mattresses onto sidewalks to spend a second anxious night sleeping outdoors. Some were newly homeless, while others feared further aftershocks could topple their cracked adobe dwellings.

    Read more: Hurricane Katia makes landfall in Mexico following earthquake that killed at least 61

    “We are all collapsed, our homes and our people,” said Rosa Elba Ortiz Santiago, 43, who sat with her teenage son and more than a dozen neighbours on an assortment of chairs. “We are used to earthquakes, but not of this magnitude.”

    Even as she spoke, across the country, Hurricane Katia was roaring onshore north of Tecolutla in Veracruz state, pelting the region with intense rains and maximum sustained winds of 120 km/h.

    Veracruz Gov. Miguel Angel Yunes said two people died in a mudslide related to the storm, and he said some rivers had risen to near flood stage, but there were no reports of major damage.

    Veracruz and neighbouring Puebla states evacuated more than 4,000 people ahead of the storm’s arrival.

    The Hurricane Center said Katia could still bring 7.5 to 15 centimetres of additional rain 25 to 37 centimetres to a region with a history of deadly mudslides and flooding.

    Pena Nieto announced Friday that the earthquake killed 45 people in Oaxaca state, 12 in Chiapas and 4 in Tabasco, and he declared three days of national mourning. The toll included 36 dead in Juchitan, located on the narrow waist of Oaxaca known as the Isthmus, where a hospital and about half the city hall also collapsed into rubble.

    Next to Ortiz, 47-year-old Jose Alberto Martinez said he and family members have long been accustomed to earthquakes. So when the ground started moving, at first they simply waited a bit for it to stop — until objects began falling and they bolted for the street.

    “We felt like the house was coming down on top of us,” Martinez said, accompanied by his wife, son and mother-in-law.

    Now, he didn’t feel safe going back inside until the home is inspected. Right next door, an older building had crumbled into a pile of rough timbers, brick and stucco, while little remained of a white church on the corner.

    Rescuers searched for survivors Friday with sniffer dogs and used heavy machinery at the main square to pull rubble away from city hall, where a missing police officer was believed to be inside.

    The city’s civil defence co-ordinator, Jose Antonio Marin Lopez, said similar searches had been going on all over the area.

    Teams found bodies in the rubble, but the highlight was pulling four people, including two children, alive from the completely collapsed Hotel Del Rio where one woman died.

    “The priority continues to be the people,” Marin said.

    Pena Nieto said authorities were working to re-establish supplies of water and food and provide medical attention to those who need it. He vowed the government would help rebuild.

    “The power of this earthquake was devastating, but we are certain that the power of unity, the power of solidarity and the power of shared responsibility will be greater,” Pena Nieto said.

    Power was cut at least briefly to more than 1.8 million people, and authorities closed schools in at least 11 states to check them for safety.

    The Interior Department reported that 428 homes were destroyed and 1,700 were damaged just in Chiapas, the state closest to the epicentre.

    “Homes made of clay tiles and wood collapsed,” said Nataniel Hernandez, a human rights worker living in Tonala, Chiapas, who worried that inclement weather threatened to bring more structures down.

    “Right now it is raining very hard in Tonala, and with the rains it gets much more complicated because the homes were left very weak, with cracks,” Hernandez said by phone.

    The earthquake also jolted the Mexican capital, more than 1,000 kilometres away, which largely lies atop a former lake bed whose soil amplifies seismic waves. Memories are still fresh for many of a catastrophic quake that killed thousands and devastated large parts of the city in 1985.

    Mexico City escaped major damage, though part of a bridge on a highway being built to a new international airport collapsed due to the earthquake, local media reported.

    The quake’s power was equal to Mexico’s strongest in the past century, and it was slightly stronger than the 1985 quake, the U.S. Geological Survey said. However its impact was blunted somewhat by the fact that it struck some 100 miles offshore.

    The epicentre was in a seismic hot spot in the Pacific where one tectonic plate dives under another. Such subduction zones are responsible for some of the biggest quakes in history, including the 2011 Fukushima disaster and the 2004 Sumatra quake that spawned a deadly tsunami.

    In the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, tourists abandoned coastal hotels as winds and rains picked up ahead of Hurricane Katia’s landfall and workers set up emergency shelters.

    “The arrival of Katia may be particularly dangerous for slopes affected by the earthquake. Avoid these areas,” Pena Nieto tweeted.

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    COX’S BAZAR, BANGLADESH—With Rohingya refugees still flooding across the border from Burma, those packed into camps and makeshift settlements in Bangladesh were becoming desperate Saturday for scant basic resources as hunger and illness soared.

    Fights were erupting over food and water. Women and children were tapping on car windows or tugging at the clothes of passing reporters while rubbing their bellies and begging for food. Health experts warned of the potential for outbreaks of disease.

    The UN said Saturday that an estimated 290,000 Rohingya Muslims have arrived in the border district of Cox’s Bazar in just the last two weeks, joining at least 100,000 who were already there after fleeing earlier riots or persecution in Buddhist-majority Burma. The number was expected to swell further, with thousands crossing the border each day.

    “More and more people are coming,” said UNHCR spokeswoman Vivian Tan. With camps already “more than full,” the new arrivals were setting up spontaneous settlements along roadsides or on any available patches of land.

    Read more:‘Alarming number’ of 270,000 Rohingya have fled Burma violence, UN says

    Fires in empty Rohingya village intensifies doubts about Burmese government claims

    Fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners tried to convince Burma’s Suu Kyi to defend Rohingya

    Within the camps “we are trying our best, but it is very difficult because every day we are seeing new arrivals” with nowhere to go.

    The exodus began Aug. 25 after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts in Burma’s northern Rakhine state. The military responded with what it called “clearance operations” to root out any fighters it said might be hiding in villages. The Burmese government says nearly 400 people have been killed in fighting it blames on insurgents, though Rohingya say Burmese troops and Buddhist mobs attacked them and destroyed their villages.

    Many of the newly arrived were initially stunned and traumatized after fleeing the violence. They are now growing desperate in searching for food distribution points that appeared only in recent days, passing out packets of biscuits and 25-kilogram bags of rice.

    One aid worker who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the media said “stocks are running out” with the refugees’ needs far greater than what they had imagined. “It is impossible to keep up,” she said.

    At one food distribution point, women were volunteering to help keep order by tapping people with bamboo sticks to gently urge them back in line. Weary women carried infants in their arms while clutching other children to their sides, afraid they might be separated in the crowds.

    One 40-year-old man, faint with hunger, collapsed while waiting and could not stand again on his own strength when others tried to help him up. They drizzled water between his lips in an attempt to revive him, to no avail.

    At one camp, a mobile clinic set up for the first time Saturday had already seen 600 patients by the afternoon. Patients, mostly children, were coming in with severe diarrhea, fungal skin infections, ear infections and high fever, said Nasima Yasmin, the director of the clinic run by a well-known Bangladesh health group.

    Yasmin said their work was barely sufficient given the camp’s scale and requirements.

    “We need deep tube wells so that there is clean water and people can clean themselves. Also toilets are needed,” she said, adding that the sheer number of newcomers raised fears of a serious outbreak of disease.

    Refugee camps had already been filled to capacity before the influx. Makeshift settlements were quickly appearing and expanding along roadsides, and the city of Cox’s Bazar — built to accommodate only 500,000 — was bursting at its seams.

    There was an urgent need for more temporary shelters, Tan said. “We are seeing the mushrooming of these very flimsy shelters that will not be able to house people for too long,” she said.

    The UN has asked Bangladesh authorities to make more land available so they can build new relief camps.

    It’s not known how many Rohingya remain in Rakhine state. Previously the population had been thought to be roughly 1 million. Journalists in Rakhine state saw active fires in areas Rohingya had abandoned, adding to doubts over government claims that Rohingya themselves were responsible for setting them.

    Dozens of Rohingya have died in boat capsizings as they fled the violence. Those who trek days through the jungle to cross the land border face other dangers, including landmines.

    Landmines were planted years ago along parts of the border. Bangladeshi officials say Burmese soldiers have planted new explosives since the latest wave of violence began, though the Burmese military denies it.

    “It may not be landmines, but I know there have been isolated cases of Burmese soldiers planting explosives three to four days ago,” Lt. Col. S.M. Ariful Islam, commanding officer of the Bangladesh border guard in Teknaf, said Friday. He added that he was aware of at least three Rohingya injured in explosions.

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    Asad Aryubwal wanted a safe Afghanistan. When he was a boy in Kabul, his father’s family owned the biggest movie theatre in town, Aryub Cinema, and he remembers the young men and women dating in the open, blue jeans, religious freedom. After the Saur Revolution in 1978, his father was arrested and never seen again. Then the wars came in endless waves, forcing him to flee his home three times.

    By the time CBC journalist Carol Off came to Kabul, he was a married father of five and he was tired of the violence. He wanted the world to know that teaming up with warlords to fight the Taliban was not a good idea.

    Off was a journalist who could take his words to the world — and so in 2002, he helped her access different locations and agreed to an on-camera interview talking about life under Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum. He did it again when Off returned to film an update in 2006. There were consequences both times, but in 2007 he was ultimately told: leave Afghanistan or die.

    Off has always considered herself an old-fashioned journalist: you tell the story, you keep your distance. This is the story she couldn’t walk away from.

    In their Toronto home this summer, the Aryubwal family talk about their eight-year journey to Canada, which Off has written about in her book All We Leave Behind. Robina Aryubwal, the oldest child, now 29, says it was hard for everybody involved, including the journalist.

    “I didn’t suffer,” Off interjects, quietly, sitting on the floor.

    “She suffered more than our family,” Robina says.

    “No. No. There’s no comparing,” Off says in that forceful voice Canadians are used to hearing on the radio. “I was always secure. I was always safe. I was always OK. I lived a normal life.”

    The man who brought Carol Off and the Aryubwal family together is Abdul Rashid Dostum. The warlord turned Afghan vice-president is an ethnic Uzbek who holds great power in the north of Afghanistan and has been accused of human rights abuses. He is known for switching allegiances to survive — “more often than some people change socks,” as Off writes in her book. In the ’90s, when Afghanistan descended into civil war, he was one of the warlords battling for control.

    It was out of that chaos that the Taliban rose to power, and when it did, Dostum teamed up with some of his former enemies to form the Northern Alliance to fight the Taliban.

    The CIA put them on the payroll after 9/11, even though allegations of human rights abuses and violence were known, says Aisha Ahmad, an international security professor at the University of Toronto and author of Jihad & Co.

    It was “counter-insurgency on the cheap,” she explains — and the warlords “were very happy to take the sacks of cash and crates full of guns and then restart their bid for power that they lost during the civil war.”

    At the time, warlords were considered by U.S. officials to be the “expedient way to check the Taliban,” she says, “even though many analysts were screaming about the fact that you are going to set in motion forces that you can’t control.”

    Dostum’s forceswere accused of murdering hundreds or possibly thousands of Taliban prisoners of war in 2001, as reported in investigations by the New York Times and Newsweek, and Physicians for Human Rights, who discovered a mass grave in 2002. (Dostum, through a spokesperson, has said that any deaths in the prison transfer were unintentional, and the numbers were not as high as those in media reports.)

    Allegations like these were why Off came to Afghanistan in 2002 — to find out just who the U.S. had partnered with in fighting the Taliban.

    Asad Aryubwal and his family had lived in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif for a few years in the 1990s. Dostum’s northern stronghold was a relatively safe option during the civil war. Asad ran a wholesale business, but he says he had to join Dostum’s army to keep his family and property safe. He was named a general, but was a “glorified gofer,” as Off notes in her book. He worked in logistics, supervising construction sites and the like, but he told Off he never had a weapon, and “prayed that would never be ordered to do more.”

    His wife, Mobina, was worried it wasn’t safe to talk on camera, but she was proud of her husband. She was a teacher and they both believed in the power of education, equality and that he was doing the right thing.

    Asad travelled to the north with the CBC team, helping them gain access to Dostum’s fortress and people who might be useful to their story. Thanks to Aryubwal, “we had evidence that significant offences against human rights had occurred under General Dostum’s authority,” Off writes.

    When Off and her team (producer Heather Abbott and cameraman Brian Kelly) first met the Aryubwals, the family was living in Kabul, where life had improved since international forces had arrived. Schools reopened and the girls were star students. Women weren’t forced to wear the burka.

    “We had a good feeling,” Robina says. “We really loved these independent, strong women who came all the way from Canada to Afghanistan.”

    Off returned home, and later won a Gemini for In the Company of Warlords. Back in Afghanistan, the Aryubwals made the eight-hour drive for a summer vacation in Mazar-e-Sharif. It was here, she writes, that one of Dostum’s men found Asad, and told him he shouldn’t have spoken to the CBC.

    He didn’t tell Off about this warning. She had done her job, and he was hopeful that Afghanistan would improve. When she returned in 2006 to film an update, he spoke on camera again.

    Dostum’s people found out, and a commander visited the family’s home in Kabul: “Instead of execution, Asad’s punishment would be banishment,” Off writes.

    “I am actually astonished that this gentleman spoke out and got out alive,” says U of T’s Ahmad. “Dostum has publicly boasted about shocking acts of violence he has perpetrated against his opponents.”

    Back in Toronto, Off hadn’t heard from the Aryubwals. She knew Robina had started law school in Kabul and she imagined their lives were busy, as hers was. She had started a new job as co-host of CBC Radio’s As It Happens in the fall of 2007, when the phone call came from a stranger.

    The man was told to find Off when he arrived in Toronto and tell her Asad needed to speak to her.

    Off imagined it was about Robina. She had been in Paris to study for a month and perhaps she wanted to continue her schooling in Canada. Off emailed her, but didn’t hear back.

    In January 2008, Off was travelling to Pakistan to report on the election after Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. She had been in touch with the family, and knew they were living in Pakistan, but she didn’t know the details. In an Islamabad hotel room, she learned about the warnings in 2002, and the banishment. She asked Asad why he had spoken to her.

    As he spoke in Pashto, the faces around her crumpled into tears. She waited on Robina’s translation.

    “Because if I had not spoken up, if I had not told you the truth of what was happening, I would never be able to look into the eyes of my children again.”

    So many times in her career, she had thought: “Geez, I wish I could help you but you know I can’t really do anything … but I feel your pain.”

    There was always an invisible line separating her from her sources.

    “Once I had looked over my shoulder and seen what the consequences had been of those interviews,” she says, “I knew I could never walk away from that either as a journalist or a human being.”

    She would help them come to Canada. Asad told her she was the family’s only hope. It was unusual for the self-reliant man to say something so dire to someone he hardly knew.

    Off thought: how hard could it be?

    Problems were quick to appear. Asad’s refugee application was rejected because the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees confused him with another man, Off writes. The application was soon back on track but the process was fraught.

    At the UNHCR office, Asad bristled when his name was called out, or when a security guard loudly asked about his situation in front of others. Strangers sometimes approached with schemes, money in exchange for influence with the application.

    Living in Peshawar, on the Afghan-Pakistani border, the family did not feel safe. Off sent money, and Asad and Mobina used it to send their children to school. If they were five minutes late, their father would call their mobiles. Where are you?

    In 2012, their oldest son, Muhammad, went to the market to buy tomatoes. He was stopped by police and asked for ID. He had forgotten his university card at home, and they took him to jail.

    “I spent three nights with people who were addicted to drugs and criminals and killers,” he says, now 26, wearing a Blue Jays hat as he sits on a stool in the kitchen.

    You were so young, says Off, who experienced these crises through phone calls and texts.

    The police threatened to deport Muhammad. Asad wondered if it was a plot to get him to follow his son back into the country.

    In 2014, their youngest child Hossna came home from school crying. The Army Public School in Peshawar had been attacked by Taliban gunmen, and her teacher told her: “It’s all because of you.”

    Robina felt that one of the biggest problems with the refugee process was corruption. Things moved so slowly. In Toronto, Off woke early to phone the other side of the world, to push the case along, asking for information from the UNHCR office or the Canadian High Commission in Pakistan. She saw it as part of her job. She knows other journalists might disagree. She might have, years ago.

    “I saw it definitely as something that was my responsibility … to help get them out of the mess that I put them in.”

    Robina had a hard time sleeping, and when Off’s emails came, sometimes in the middle of the night, she’d wake her parents tell them the latest news, occasionally embellishing to see the “glow” in their faces.

    In the kitchen, Mobina nods, tears in her eyes.

    “It was the only happiness for us,” says Hossai, 27.

    There were days when they felt like giving up. “Maybe one of our family members will be kidnapped, the other will get upset, get depression,” Robina says of the future she imagined. “One by one our family would be finished.”

    She says Off would tell them there would be light at the end of the tunnel.

    “We had no jobs, no money, but Carol sent us money to live,” she continues. “We went to school with that.”

    “It’s because of Carol we have our bachelors,” Hossai says.

    “It’s all because of Carol,” Robina says.

    “You were family,” Off says quietly. “You were my family.”

    Off has not heard them talk about her like this, and in some ways, it is painful, how concerned about her they have always been amid their own troubles. Later, on the phone, she explains that she had to push Asad into including the CBC documentary as the reason he had to flee Afghanistan when he was filling out his asylum application.

    “He didn’t want to get me in this trouble or cause me any grief,” she says. “Their feelings of concern for me, all the time … that’s who they are. There is nothing selfish in them.”

    In 2013, UNHCR recommended the Aryubwals as good candidates for settlement in Canada, and many people wanted to help. Two church groups had signed on to sponsor, but each had to change plans as time dragged on with no news. In 2014, the interview at the Canadian High Commission went well. Off sent the family encouraging emails, but privately worried she was giving false hope. Before Christmas, she thought about draining her bank account, sending it to the family, and walking away.

    In Peshawar, Asad also thought about walking away — returning to Afghanistan, to Dostum — telling him he could do whatever he wanted if his family would be safe.

    In 2015, Off brought immigration lawyer Lorne Waldman in to help. He found out the family’s security checks cleared in 2014. He filed an application in federal court to find out why the file was held up. Not long after, the family was approved as government-assisted refugees. Off sent Robina a text to check out a map.

    “We were laughing and crying together,” Hossai says.

    The process took eight painful years, or nine, depending on when you start your count.

    Asad goes to another room and returns with a framed photo of him and his sons at the Santa Claus parade in Hamilton in 2015, a few days after arriving in Canada. The family was sent to Hamilton because they didn’t have relatives in Toronto. They talk about how hard it was in those first months to shake the old feelings of insecurity. Robina remembers going for a walk, and telling her mother to slow down. No one was after them in Steeltown.

    In October 2016, the family moved to Toronto.

    Asad works as a dishwasher at the Carlu. Mobina started a business, making samosas and mantus (dumplings) which the family sells at the Wychwood market on Saturdays.

    Youngest daughter Hossna is in Grade 11. Mujeeb and Hossai work at O&B restaurant in Bayview village. Muhammad has applied to Ryerson for engineering, which he studied in Pakistan. He makes deliveries for a pharmacy, and enjoys driving around the city. Robina studies at U of T’s Mississauga campus. She hopes to one day go to law school.

    Both Muhammad and Mujeeb have their drivers’ licences, and everyone else in the family is in the process. They all look at Robina.

    “In Afghanistan I was wearing the chador,” Robina begins, as the room erupts in laughter. “In Pakistan I was . . .”

    “So why is Hossai doing so well?” Off asks.

    “Oh my God, she just gets frozen when she is turning the wheel,” her younger brother Mujeeb says. “You have to drive with her some time.”

    “No!” Off says. “I’m not going to.”

    Asad closes his eyes in laughter. He has always wanted security for Afghanistan. To find safety in Canada is bittersweet. He wants his children to go to school and change this country for the better.

    “We are Canadians, with no citizenship, but we will get that,” Mujeeb says. “This is our Afghanistan.”

    On a recent Friday, Mobina and her daughters Robina and Hossna were frying beef, cutting vegetables and making dough for their dumplings and samosas, at a commercial kitchen loaned to the family. Asad came in to help before a dishwashing shift downtown.

    “In Afghanistan, businessperson,” he said, smiling as he scraped onion skin. “Here, kitchen worker.”

    Mobina was a teacher in the years when the Taliban weren’t calling the shots. She taught high school literature.

    “Oh I miss,” she said, dreamily, stirring spices into the ground beef in the pan. Then she starts reciting some verses in Dari.

    “Whatever you want to do, it’s your own personal choice,” Robina translates. “But never bother anyone else.”

    The Aryubwal family closely follows the news in Afghanistan, which often involves Dostum.

    In 2013, he made a public apology to all who had suffered in Afghanistan’s wars, paving his way to run for vice-president on the same ticket as President Ashraf Ghani, who had only a few years earlier called his running mate a “known killer.”

    Romain Malejacq, a political scientist at the Centre for International Conflict Analysis and Management at Radboud University in the Netherlands, is writing a book about warlords.

    In Afghanistan, he says, many of these people with “a proven ability to organize violence,” are involved in politics, like Dostum.

    “If the state collapses or gets weaker and weaker, you will see that these men, I believe, will assert more autonomy in their previous territories, and might become what I call active warlords again,” he says.

    “Warlords exert power in different ways today but they remain warlords.”

    Dostum’s tenure as vice-president has been volatile. He is currently in Turkey, in what has been described as exile, amid allegations that he was behind the abduction and sexual torture of a political rival, former Jowzjan Province Gov. Ahmad Ishchi, last November. He has denied the charges, allegations that Amnesty International has called “stomach churning.”

    Off tried to interview Dostum when making the documentary, but once the family was in peril, she didn’t try, for fear it would endanger them.

    “I think that exposing him and what he did to the light of day kind of inoculates them to some extent,” Off says.

    When she wanted to write the book, the Aryubwals were on board. They wanted people to know what happened to them, and they wanted to highlight problems in their long journey to Canada in the hopes that life might be easier for refugees who don’t have a “Carol Off.”

    Off felt that as a result of telling the family’s story, people might understand “what others are going through out there.”

    The Aryubwals have mourned the death of Off’s father and celebrated the births of her granddaughters. She has celebrated their birthdays and milestones, and chided Asad for his smoking habit. They are friends.

    Before Off is sent out the door with a bag of leftovers, Robina says even though Off isn’t a blood relation, she is “more than a blood connection.”

    “Wait till I start making demands on you, wait and see,” Off says. “I’m the oldest, OK? So you have to take care of me when I’m an old lady.

    “That would be our pleasure,” Hossai says.

    “I will be a really miserable old lady,” Off says. “You will regret this. You’ll say, how do we get rid of this old lady who is so miserable?”

    “Never,” Hossai says.

    0 0

    I’m not an expert on the origin of phrases or etymology — so rather than write about a particular controversy at Toronto City Hall revolving around the meaning of a seemingly sexist phrase, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong might tell me I should “stick to my knitting.”

    Or maybe he’d put it differently, after the week he’s had.

    Minnan-Wong was quoted last week saying he hoped that the next chief planner of the city would “stick to the knitting” rather than wading into public debates on social media.

    The phrase typically means something similar to “mind your own business,” “tend your own garden” or “stay in your lane.”

    Some people took exception to his choice of words — in particular, saying that it was a sexist phrase, given that knitting is traditionally considered a feminine activity. Among them was the obvious target of his criticism, outgoing chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat.

    “He might as well have told me to go back to the kitchen,” Keesmaat said on Thursday morning in an interview on CBC radio. “I think it’s a deeply offensive comment.”

    She wasn’t alone in that interpretation, with councillors Mary-Margaret McMahon, Mike Layton and Joe Cressy publicly joining her in hearing it as a variation of “stick to women’s stuff” — perhaps a folksier version of the internet-misogynist favourite “make me a sandwich.”

    After the outcry that bubbled up, Mayor John Tory called the comment inappropriate.

    Minnan-Wong said his words had been taken out of context. “However, I unreservedly apologize to Ms. Keesmaat or anyone else who may have taken offence.”

    But his claim that he didn’t intend it as a gendered comment — he also used the phrase publicly in 2012 in regards to a man, then-chief medical officer of health Dr. David McKeown, for example — has plenty of defenders. The same defence is brought out every year or two when a similar controversy erupts here or elsewhere over the use and interpretation of the phrase, as a quick Google search shows.

    They point out that the phrase is in fairly common use in the business and startup community, most often employed not as an insult to others but as a piece of advice or even a self-applied mantra. Executives and entrepreneurs tend to use the phrase as a warning to themselves not to be distracted or to overly diversify their businesses — in this context saying “we should stick to our knitting” as a synonym for “let’s keep our eyes on the prize.”

    It was likely most popularized in that way because of the widely read 1982 management book In Search of Excellence, by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr., which has an entire chapter entitled “Stick to the Knitting,” a principle the authors say is one of eight themes common to successful companies.

    But the use of the phrase in this way seems to stretch back almost a century. In an online language and usage forum at the website, a user named Sven Yargs cited published examples of the phrase and variations of it in books stretching back to the late 1800s.

    For example, in 1898, he finds the book The Pharmaceutical EraThe Pharmaceutical Era, advising advertisers not to put the Spanish-American War into their ads: “As much as we admire the drum major, we should remember that there is the quartermaster somewhere in the rear, who in the din and glory of battle, must remain unrattled and calmly figure out problems of bean rations and army mules. He must attend strictly to business, and the advertiser must do the same. There is a homely old injunction, which originated in our homespun days, which the advertiser might recall. It is this: ‘Stick to your knitting.’ ”

    Similar examples are found around the same time and in the decades that follow. Yargs cites another typical example from 1918’s proceedings of the National Safety Council: “My advice to all men is to stick to your knitting and take care of your committees.”

    Interestingly, Yargs finds that a much earlier, similar phrase, “attend to your knitting,” has an unmistakably gendered meaning — offered as stunningly demeaning advice to wives tempted to offer advice to their husbands in an 1839 issue of Evangelical MagazineEvangelical Magazine: “Your mind is too feeble, your discernment too contracted, your general ignorance vastly too great to become my adviser! — attend to your knitting and sewing, look after the cooking, take care of the children — for these are all the subjects which you have ability to comprehend!”

    This meaning appears to be what Keesmaat and others understood Minnan-Wong to mean when he spoke recently. The other meaning, the one men in business often apply to themselves, is what Minnan-Wong claims to have intended.

    I don’t see a reason to doubt him, necessarily. In my research and conversations about this, the world seems to be divided into people unfamiliar with the phrase who think it is obviously sexist upon hearing it and those who are very familiar with the phrase and are astonished to learn anyone would think it is sexist.

    But that divide points to a good reason Minnan-Wong and others may want to retire it from their rhetorical arsenals — especially if they are using it as an insult.

    An analogy or expression of speech is only useful if it helps you to make your point more clearly and elegantly. If half of your audience takes you to mean something different, and far more offensive, than you intend, then your turn of phrase is hurting rather than helping your cause.

    And if you need to spend hours explaining the meaning and history of a term in your own defence, you have lost any semblance of elegance or clarity, and you have missed the chance to make your point.

    You could say your yarn spins out of control. Or that you lose your needle in a haystack. Or that your stitches get twisted.

    Or you could just stick to your . . . uh, area of expertise.

    0 0

    LUXOR, EGYPT—Egypt on Saturday announced the discovery in the southern city of Luxor of a pharaonic tomb belonging to a royal goldsmith who lived more than 3,500 years ago during the reign of the 18th dynasty.

    The tomb, located on the west bank of the river Nile in a cemetery for noblemen and top officials, is a relatively modest discovery, but one that authorities has announced with a great deal of fanfare in a bid to boost the country’s slowly recovering tourism industry.

    “We want tomorrow’s newspapers to speak about Egypt and make people want to come to Egypt,” Antiquities Minister Khaled el-Anani told reporters.

    El-Anani said the tomb was not in good condition, but it contains a statue of the goldsmith and his wife as well as a funerary mask. He said a shaft inside the tomb contained pottery as well as mummies and coffins belonging to ancient Egyptian people who lived during the 21st and 22nd dynasties.

    The minister identified the goldsmith as Amunhat.

    Read more: Egyptian archeologists discover massive statue in Cairo slum

    Egyptian archeologists discover tombs dating back more than 2,000 years

    The tomb was discovered by Egyptian archeologists, something that a senior official at the Antiquities Ministry hailed as evidence of their growing professionalism and expertise.

    “We used to escort foreign archeologists as observers, but that’s now in the past. We are the leaders now,” said Mustafa Waziri, Luxor’s chief archeologist.

    0 0

    MIAMI—With the window closing fast for anyone wanting to escape, Irma hurtled toward Florida with 205 km/h winds Saturday on a shifting course that took it away from Miami and instead threatened the first direct hit on the Tampa area from a major hurricane in nearly a century.

    That represented a significant turn in the forecast, which for days had made it look as if the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people was going to get slammed head-on by the Big One.

    “You don’t want to play with this thing,” Sen. Marco Rubio warned during a visit to the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center. “People will die from this.”

    Forecasters predicted Irma’s centre would blow ashore Sunday in the perilously low-lying Florida Keys, then hit southwestern Florida, move up the state’s Gulf Coast and plow into the Tampa Bay area.

    The storm centre itself is expected to miss Miami, but the metro area will still get pounded with life-threatening hurricane winds, National Hurricane Center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.

    Tampa has not been struck by a major hurricane since 1921, when its population was about 10,000, Feltgen said. Now the area has around 3 million people and encompasses two of Florida’s biggest cities: Tampa and St. Petersburg.

    Read more: Irma unleashed ‘sheer terror:’ stranded Canadians

    Hurricane Irma will batter Florida and ‘devastate the United States,’ officials warn

    More than 500,000 ordered to evacuate as Hurricane Irma bears down on South Florida

    The biggest danger to life and property from Hurricane Irma could come from storm surge that forces seawater inland, which could topple houses, isolate residents who don’t evacuate and make drowning an imminent threat, the National Hurricane Center is warning.

    Storm surge occurs when heavy winds push the ocean onto the land, and it’s a destructive feature of many cyclones and hurricanes, including Hurricane Harvey in Texas last month. Irma’s surge could top 3.6 metres in areas of the Florida coast, and some surge is predicted up and down the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

    The most severe storm surge is projected for a more than 322-kilometre stretch of southern Florida coast from Miami to north of Fort Myers, while the Florida Keys also are expected to see significant surge.

    Irma battered Cuba on Saturday with deafening winds and relentless rain, pushing seawater inland that flooded homes and knocked out power across a wide area. Elsewhere in the Caribbean, islands already reeling from Irma prepared for a second pounding — from Hurricane Jose.

    The twin Category 4 storms had desperate residents seeking shelter across the region. In Cuba, high winds from Irma upended trees, toppled utility poles and scattered debris across streets. Roads were blocked, and witnesses said a provincial museum near the eye of the storm was in ruins after being buffeted by brutal squalls.

    On the French overseas islands of St. Martin and St. Barts, Jose was expected to bring torrential rains and dangerous rip currents.

    “The protection and shelter of people already harshly tested by Irma is the priority,” officials said in a statement. More than 1,100 police, military officials and others have been deployed to both islands to provide help. Crews were evacuating the sick and injured to nearby Guadeloupe.

    The last airplane flew in to the battered Grande-Case de Saint Martin airport Friday carrying emergency workers to help with reconstruction as well as specialists who aim to re-establish the island’s cutoff water supply and electricity. Remaining mothers and children were flown out Friday in small 40-person capacity planes.

    Irma claimed at least 20 lives as it levelled islands in the Caribbean and headed toward Florida, where a massive evacuation was in progress. The hurricane centre said the storm slowed down after slamming into Cuba’s northern coast, but that wind speeds would likely regain momentum as it approached the Sunshine State.

    Early Saturday, the hurricane centre said the storm was centred about 145 kilometres east-southeast of Varadero, Cuba, with maximum sustained winds of 205 km/h. Soldiers and government workers earlier had gone through coastal towns enforcing the evacuation, taking people to shelters at government buildings and schools — and even caves.

    Many of Irma’s victims fled their islands on ferries and fishing boats as Jose approached, threatening destruction for anything Irma might have left untouched. Early Saturday, Jose was located about 190 kilometres east of the northern Leeward Islands. The storm was moving to the northwest at 20 km/h, with maximum sustained winds of 230 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

    Hurricane warnings were in effect for Dutch Sint Maarten, St. Martin and St. Barthelemy, and tropical storm warnings were in effect for Barbuda and Anguilla, as well as Saba and St. Eustatius.

    Some islands, though, received a last-minute reprieve as a hurricane warning for Barbuda and Anguilla was downgraded to a tropical storm. Both islands were devastated by Irma.

    Many residents and tourists were left reeling after Irma ravaged some of the world’s most exclusive tropical playgrounds, known for their turquoise waters and lush green vegetation. Among them: St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla.

    Irma smashed homes, shops, roads and schools; knocked out power, water and telephone service; trapped thousands of tourists; and stripped trees of their leaves, leaving an eerie, blasted-looking landscape littered with sheet metal and splintered lumber.

    The dead included 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four in the British Virgin Islands and one each on Anguilla and Barbuda.

    Also, a 16-year-old junior professional surfer drowned Tuesday in Barbados while surfing large swells generated by an approaching Irma.

    French authorities said Saturday that some 1,105 workers are now deployed St. Martin and St. Barts to help the islands’ recovery. By Saturday, damage estimated to have already reached the $1.44 billion mark — pockmarking the islands that have become famous as lush playgrounds for the rich and famous.

    It’s still not known if U.S. President Donald Trump’s luxury property on St. Martin has been damaged by the storm.

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