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End Time News – Updated 1 November - 5 stories
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earthquake headlines             6.0 quakes            7.0 quakes            quakes in diverse places          quake map

Afghanistan-Pakistan earthquake leaves hundreds dead

More than 260 people have died, mostly in Pakistan, after a magnitude-7.5 earthquake hit north-eastern Afghanistan.

Tremors from the quake were also felt in northern India and Tajikistan.

At least 12 of the victims were Afghan schoolgirls killed in a crush as they tried to get out of their building.

The earthquake was centred in the mountainous Hindu Kush region, 76km (45 miles) south of Faizabad, the US Geological Survey reported.

The death toll is set to rise as the most severely affected areas are very remote and communications have been cut off.

In Pakistan, the death toll has risen to at least 214, in the northern mountainous areas.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province alone, authorities said at least 179 people were known to have died, and more than 1,800 were injured.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is cutting short a visit abroad and returning home.

Sunnatullah Timour, a spokesman for the governor of the Afghan province of Takhar, told the BBC that as well as the fatalities at the girls' school, another 25 students were injured in the stampede.

Deaths and injuries have also been reported in the Afghan provinces of Nangarhar, Badakhshan and Kunar, with at least 52 killed in total.

Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah tweeted that the government had asked aid agencies to work with it to help those in need.

However as the earthquake originated more than 200km (125 miles) below the earth's surface, the damage is less than that which a similarly powerful but shallow tremor might cause.

In the city of Karimabad, in Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan, a witness who gave his name as Anas told the BBC that the quake had sent a landslide crashing into the Hunza river.

"At first it was as if someone was shaking us. There were about 20 of us and we just held on to each other," he said.

"Right after that we saw a major landslide. Some people say it was a glacier that came down, some people say it was a hill. It fell right in front of our eyes."

Pakistan Geological Survey head Imran Khan told the BBC there were reports of landslides disrupting the Karakoram highway between Gilgit and Baltistan. However, he said it was too early to say if any glaciers were destabilised by the quake.

Even at its revised magnitude of 7.5, this was a powerful tremor. Around the world only about 20 quakes each year, on average, measure greater than 7.0.

But its focus was deep - much further below the surface than the 7.8 quake which brought widespread destruction to eastern Nepal in April. That event was only 8km deep and was followed in early May by an aftershock with magnitude 7.3.

Similarly, the devastating 2005 Kashmir earthquake was magnitude 7.6 and just 26km deep. Today's quake, at a depth of more than 200km, appears to have caused widespread but less severe ground shaking.

People in the Indian capital Delhi ran into the streets after the tremor struck, and schools and offices were evacuated. The Delhi metro was also briefly halted.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that he had ordered an urgent assessment of any damage.

"We stand ready for assistance where required, including Afghanistan and Pakistan," he said.

Catherine Bhatti, from Durham in the UK, was visiting relatives in Sarghoda, Pakistan, when the quake struck.

"It came out of the blue, everything started to move slightly then it became stronger. We made our way downstairs and gathered outside on the lawn," she told the BBC.

"My in-laws, who have lived here all their lives, say they have never experienced anything like this before."

Buildings in the Tajik capital Dushanbe were damaged by the tremors.

Local media report that a staircase at a school in Tajikistan's Yavan district collapsed, injuring 14 children.

There are also reports of injuries in a stampede at Khorog state university in Tajikistan, as a building was evacuated.

The region has a history of powerful earthquakes caused by the northward collision of India with Eurasia. The two plates are moving towards each other at a rate of 4-5cm per year.

In 2005, a magnitude 7.6 quake in Pakistan-administered Kashmir left more than 75,000 people dead.

In April this year, Nepal suffered its worst earthquake on record with 9,000 people killed and about 900,000 homes damaged or destroyed.


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Cucumber Salmonella Outbreak 2015: Deadly Food Poisoning Cases In 35 States Spread To Maryland Amid Recalls
by Elizabeth Whitman

Add Maryland to the list of states hit by a deadly nationwide outbreak of Salmonella Poona bacteria linked to imported cucumbers. The outbreal has sparked recalls and led to four known deaths. A resident of Maryland was recently confirmed to have the bacteria, the Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday. So far, 732 people have been sickened by the bacteria, and 150 have been hospitalized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The outbreak began in September after Custom Produce Sales recalled all cucumbers sold under the label of “Fat Boy" dating back to Aug. 1, 2015, saying the produce “may be contaminated with Salmonella.” At the time, it said the recall was “associated” with a Salmonella Poona outbreak that had struck 341 people and killed two.

The company Andrew & William Fresh Produce also recalled cucumbers sold under the label of “Limited Edition.” Some of those cucumbers had been sold to Custom Produce Sales.

The cucumber in question is often known as a slicer or an American cucumber, and the recalled versions were grown in the Mexican state of Baja California. It is typically dark green and seven to 10 inches long. These cucumbers were distributed in at least 35 states, although “further distribution to other states may have occurred,” the CDC said. Cucumbers grown in the United States were not believed to have caused cases of salmonella in this outbreak, the agency said.

Salmonella are bacteria that can cause diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps. In people with weaker immune systems, or in young children and the elderly, it can be fatal. It is estimated to cause some 380 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC.

Although the outbreak began in September, cases continue to emerge because testing to confirm the illness takes time. "There is often a delay from when someone is exposed to when they get symptoms and they get tested," Dr. Lucy Wilson, a physician at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told the Baltimore Sun.


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CDC Update: 4 Deaths, 732 Salmonella Cases in 35 States
by Cathy Siegner

Oct. 6 update: CDC announced on Tuesday that 61 more Salmonella Poona infections have been reported from 24 states, bringing the total to 732 cases in 35 states (Maryland was added to the list).

One related death has been reported in Oklahoma, bringing the total number of deaths to four, CDC stated. The other reported deaths have been one each in Arizona, California and Texas. Also, CDC reported that 150 people have been hospitalized in connection with this outbreak.

Given the 14-day shelf life of cucumbers and the gap between when someone gets sick and when that illness is reported to public health, it is not unexpected to continue to see illnesses reported after the recalls, the agency noted.

Sept. 29 update: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) again updated this outbreak on Tuesday, Sept. 29. There are currently three deaths, 131 hospitalizations and 671 confirmed cases being reported in 34 states. The deaths being reported are in Arizona, California and Texas (one each).

Since the previous update a week ago, there have been 113 more Salmonella infections reported to CDC from 19 states, and Alabama was added to the list of states reporting cases.

“Given the 14-day shelf life of cucumbers, it is not unexpected to continue to see illnesses reported after the recalls,” CDC noted.

Previous coverage follows:

Sept. 22 update: The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) again updated this outbreak on Tuesday, Sept. 22. There are currently three deaths, 112 hospitalizations and 558 confirmed cases being reported in 33 states. The deaths being reported are in Arizona, California and Texas (one each).
Since the previous CDC update a week ago, this latest report reflects an increase of 140 confirmed cases, 21 additional hospitalizations, and confirmed cases in residents of two additional states (Iowa and South Dakota, with one each).

Previous coverage follows:

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated this outbreak on Tuesday, Sept. 15. There are currently two deaths, 91 hospitalizations and 418 confirmed cases being reported in 31 states. The deaths being reported are in California and Texas (one each).

The total number of confirmed cases is 77 more than CDC’s most recent Sept. 9 update, and Indiana, with two cases, was added to the total list of states reporting confirmed cases of Salmonella linked to Mexican cucumbers.

Previous coverage follows:

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) updated this outbreak on Wednesday, Sept. 9. There are now two deaths, 70 hospitalizations and 341 confirmed cases being reported in 30 states. The deaths being reported are in California and Texas (one each). That is 56 more confirmed cases since CDC’s Sept. 4 update.

The Sept. 9 CDC update included this information:

--53 percent those sickened are children younger than 18 years.
--Epidemiologic, laboratory, and traceback investigations have identified imported cucumbers from Mexico and distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce as a likely source of the infections in this outbreak.
--91 (68 percent) of 134 people interviewed reported eating cucumbers in the week before their illness began.
--Eleven illness clusters have been identified in seven states. In all of these clusters, interviews found that cucumbers were a food item eaten in common by ill people.
--Arizona, California, Montana, and Nevada isolated Salmonella from samples of cucumbers collected from various locations that were distributed by Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce.
--On Sept. 4, 2015, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce voluntarily recalled all cucumbers sold under the “Limited Edition” brand label during the period from Aug. 1, 2015, through Sept. 3, 2015, because they may be contaminated with Salmonella.
--The type of cucumber is often referred to as a “slicer” or “American” cucumber and is dark green in color. Typical length is 7 to 10 inches. In retail locations, the cucumbers are typically sold in a bulk display without any individual packaging or plastic wrapping.
--Limited Edition cucumbers were distributed in the states of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. Further distribution to other states may have occurred.
--Consumers should not eat, restaurants should not serve, and retailers should not sell recalled cucumbers.
--If you aren’t sure if your cucumbers were recalled, ask the place of purchase or your supplier. When in doubt, don’t eat, sell, or serve them and throw them out.

The original Food Safety News story, posted Sept. 4, follows:

A multi-state outbreak of Salmonella Poona linked to imported Mexican cucumbers has apparently sickened more than 300 people from 27 states and hospitalized 53 of them, according to an alert posted Friday afternoon by the New Mexico Department of Health and additional reporting by Food Safety News.

A statement released Friday by the California Department of Public Health reported that there has been one related death in California, and that additional cases were continuing to come in.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released information on the outbreak at 8 p.m. Eastern Time Friday night.

According to CDC, “Among people for whom information is available, illnesses started on dates ranging from July 3, 2015 to August 26, 2015. Ill people range in age from less than 1 year to 99, with a median age of 13. Fifty-four percent of ill people are children younger than 18 years. Fifty-seven percent of ill people are female. Among 160 people with available information, 53 (33%) report being hospitalized. One death has been reported from California.”

Fifteen confirmed cases were announced Friday in New Mexico, as well as 11 confirmed cases (with two suspected) reported from eight counties in Montana.

Thursday’s total case count was 285, and the total on Friday was said to have climbed higher than that.

“I know that it’s over 300 now,” Mark DiMenna, deputy director of the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department, told Food Safety News.

He said the breakdown of the 285 S. Poona cases by state as of Sept. 3 was as follows: AK (8), AR (6), AZ (60), CA (51), CO (14), ID (8), IL (5), KS (1), LA (3), MN (12), MO (7), MT (11), NE (2), NM (15), NV (7), NY (4), ND (1), OH (2), OK (5), OR (3), SC (6), TX (9), UT (30), VA (1), WA (9), WI (2), WY (3).

He said that Albuquerque health inspectors come in from the field on Friday and contacted anybody in grocery stores or restaurants who might have received the Mexican cucumbers.

“We contacted anybody who we knew had gotten them and asked them to pull them off the shelves,” he said, adding that barring an official recall, product removal would be on a voluntary basis.

While DiMenna wouldn’t name the distributor involved, he noted that several outlets in his area had already been contacted by them.

“It’s an indication of the scale of that distributor,” he said.

On Friday, a San Diego produce distributor, Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce, recalled cucumbers imported from Mexico for Salmonella risk. Andrew & Williamson also supplies vegetables to Red Lobster and In-And-Out restaurants, among others, according to an Oklahoma City TV station.

California health department officials stated that Andrew & Williamson had initiated a voluntary recall of their garden cucumbers after being informed of the epidemiologic association between these cucumbers and the Salmonella Poona outbreak.

“The recalled garden cucumbers can be identified in distribution channels as ‘Limited Edition’ brand pole grown cucumbers. The labeling on these cases indicates the product was grown and packed by Rancho Don Juanito in Mexico. These cucumbers were distributed between August 1 – September 3, 2015,” the department stated.

The Mexican cucumbers being linked to the current S. Poona outbreak are not the long, thin ones that come wrapped in plastic (English cucumbers) nor the small pickle-shaped type (Persian cucumbers). They are the thick-skinned, unwrapped type of garden-variety cucumbers and were sent to grocery stores and restaurants in New Mexico and other states through a produce distributor.

CDC reported Friday that several state health and agriculture departments are collecting leftover cucumbers from restaurants and grocery stores where ill people reported eating or shopping to test for the presence of Salmonella.

“The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency isolated Salmonella from cucumbers collected during a visit to the Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce facility. DNA ‘fingerprinting’ is being conducted to determine the PFGE pattern of the Salmonella isolated from these cucumbers. Results of additional product testing will be reported when available,” CDC stated.

The New Mexico Health Department noted in its Friday announcement that officials there were working with CDC, FDA, the New Mexico Environment Department, the Albuquerque Environmental Health Department, and multiple other state health departments on the outbreak investigation.

According to the state health department there, the 15 New Mexico cases are seven residents of Bernalillo County, two residents of Doña Ana County, two residents of Sandoval County, and one resident from McKinley, Santa Fe, and Valencia counties, respectively, with one case of unknown residence at this time.

Several of the New Mexicans sickened were hospitalized, ranged in age from 1 to 65 years of age, and approximately 60 percent are female. Illness onset ranged from July 30 to late August, according to the health department.

New Mexico health officials recommended that New Mexicans not buy, sell, eat, or serve cucumbers grown commercially in Mexico until additional information is available from the CDC and FDA.

“If you have any concerns we recommend that you ask your retail grocer where the cucumbers you purchased were grown. When in doubt as to their origin, do not eat them, and throw them out,” they stated.

California health officials sent out a photo of a box of the recalled cucumbers, noting that, “It is unlikely that cucumbers in retail grocery stores will have any identifying brand information. CDPH recommends that consumers check with their grocer to determine if the cucumbers they purchased are impacted by this warning.”

People who are at high risk for Salmonella infection include: infants, elderly, those with compromised immune systems, including persons on immunosuppressive therapies or medications, and pregnant women. Healthy adults rarely develop severe illness. It is important for people at high risk to follow the standard CDC guidance about Salmonella. People can decrease their risk of Salmonella infection through proper food handling and preparation and by practicing proper hand washing and hygiene practices.

Eating food contaminated with Salmonella can cause salmonellosis, an uncommon but potentially serious infection. Salmonellosis is characterized by an acute onset of headache, abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes vomiting. Dehydration, especially among infants, may be severe.

This is not the first Salmonella outbreak linked to cucumbers. An outbreak of Salmonella Newport in 2014 affected a total of 275 people in 29 states and the District of Columbia, with illness onsets occurring during May 20 to Sept. 30, 2014. That outbreak was linked to cucumbers grown in the Delmarva region of Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.) http://www.foodsafetynews.com/subscribe/#.VhbVDPlVhBd


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Wars and Rumors of Wars

U.S. pledges nearly $100 million to support Syrian opposition as anti-ISIS offensive begins
by John Davison

BEIRUT — A newly formed U.S.-backed Syrian rebel alliance launched an offensive against the Islamic State in the northeast province of Hasakah on Saturday, a day after the United States said it would send Special Operations forces­ to advise insurgents fighting the jihadists.

It was the first declared operation by the Democratic Forces­ of Syria since the alliance of a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia and several Syrian Arab rebel groups announced its formation last month.

Fighting in Hasakah had begun after midnight, a spokesman for the alliance said. A group monitoring the war reported fighting and coalition airstrikes in the area. The campaign would “continue until all occupied areas in Hasakah are freed from Daesh,” a spokesman for the alliance’s general command said in the video, using an Arabic name for the Islamic State. He urged residents to stay away from militant-controlled areas of Hasakah.

The U.S. decision to station a force of up to 50 military advisers in Syria comes after it dropped ammunition to rebel groups in northern Syria several weeks ago. Washington’s strategy in Syria has shifted from trying to train fighters outside the country to supplying groups headed by U.S.-vetted commanders.

Meanwhile, the United States ramped up its support for the opposition on Saturday with a pledge of nearly $100 million in fresh aid. The new U.S. funds will support local and provincial councils, civil society activists, emergency services and other needs on the ground inside Syria.

The U.S. promise of cash, which American officials say brings to nearly $500 million the amount pledged to the opposition since 2012, coincided with the completion of international talks to pursue a new peace effort involving Syria’s Iranian-backed government and opposition groups. World powers and regional rivals convened in Vienna to seek a solution to the 4 1/2 -year-old conflict in Syria that has escalated since Russia intervened a month ago with an intense air campaign.

The negotiations left open the thorny question of when Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad might leave power, and it was unclear whether he or disparate rebel groups fighting to topple him would sign on to any peace proposal. A new round of talks was expected to take place within two weeks.

Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the additional $100 million in U.S. assistance on Saturday at the Manama Dialogue security conference in Bahrain.

Blinken suggested that Russia’s military intervention in Syria, although widely seen as a strong sign of support for Assad, could end up incentivizing Moscow to work toward a political transition that removes him from power.

“Russia cannot afford to sustain its military onslaught against everyone opposed to Assad’s brutal rule. The costs will mount every day in economic, political and security terms — but at best only to prevent Assad from losing,” Blinken said. He predicted a “quagmire” that draws Russia deeper into a conflict alongside Syria’s allies Iran and the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, and that alienates Sunni Muslims both in the region and in Russia itself.

The decision to send U.S. troops to Syria comes a month after Russia began launching airstrikes against insurgents in the country. Russia has come under criticism for airstrikes that seemed to be randomly targeting any opposition to the Assad regime.

On Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 64 people, including 28 children, had been killed by Syrian army and Russian air raids in the northern province of Aleppo in the past 24 hours. The group said Syrian government forces backed by Russian air cover intensified bombardments against insurgents throughout the country.

A Syrian member of parliament on Saturday called the U.S. decision an “act of aggression.”

“When America sends ground forces into Syrian territories without an agreement with the Syrian government it becomes an intervention and aggression,” Sharif Shehadeh told the Associated Press by telephone. “Will America allow Russian ground forces­ to go into America without an agreement? I think the answer is no.”

Shehadeh said that the troops will have no effect on the ground but that Washington wants to say it is present in Syria. “What has happened to make America realize, after five years, that it should send between 30 and 50 military advisers?” he said.


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South Sudan war: 30,000 people face starvation, UN warns

At least 30,000 people are facing starvation in South Sudan, the UN has said.

Three UN agencies warned that a famine could develop in southern Unity State, where fighting has prevented deliveries of humanitarian aid.

Two years of civil war have left nearly 4m people - particularly young children - facing severe hunger, the UN said.

Both the government and rebel forces have accused each other of breaching a peace agreement signed in August.

The conflict has left a third of the country's population is in crisis, up 80% since last year, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), children's agency Unicef and the World Food Programme (WFP) said in a joint statement.

"People are on the edge of a catastrophe that can be prevented," said WFP chief Joyce Luma.

'Catastrophic' situation

Fighting has disrupted harvests, food and fuel prices have risen and some displaced families are being forced to survive on a single daily meal of fish and water lilies.

An official famine has not yet been declared, but almost a million people are described as living in a "catastrophic" situation, the highest level of food emergency under the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), which classifies hunger on a scale of one to five.

Under the IPC, a famine is declared when 20% of the population are deemed to be in a catastrophic situation.

Families have been "extraordinary" in trying to sustain their children but have now exhausted all their coping mechanisms, said Jonathan Veitch, head of Unicef in South Sudan.

"Agencies can support, but only if we have unrestricted access. If we do not, many children may die," Mr Veitch said.

The civil war began in December 2013, when President Salva Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar of planning a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings that has split the country along ethnic lines.

Both sides are accused of perpetrating ethnic massacres, recruiting and killing children and carrying out widespread rape, torture and forced displacement of populations to force out their opponents.


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