Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hurricane Sandy takes dead aim at Jersey Shore

Hurricane Sandy threatened to make a direct hit on the Jersey Shore near Atlantic City late Monday in what a meteorologist called a "once-in-50-years" storm that would disrupt the lives of millions of East Coast residents between Delaware and Long Island.
Already Sunday, the advancing storm had forced the evacuation of Shore towns, grounded hundreds of flights at Philadelphia International Airport, promoted SEPTA to suspend mass transit, and led school officials across the region to cancel classes. Governors in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware all declared states of emergency. Caravans of power-company trucks from Southern states were barreling toward the Northeast on I-95 to be in position to assist with anticipated power outages from 70 m.p.h. wind gusts that officials warned could be widespread and last for days.
The storm could wobble or weaken, but both the National Hurricane Center and Accuweather predicted it would make landfall just north or just south of Atlantic City, which like some other towns already was starting to flood Sunday from high surf. Officials across the region - from the Shore to Philadelphia, to the heart of Pennsylvania - warned of a huge, destructive weather mass with drenching rains and high sustained winds that could bring down power lines and topple trees. The threat of flooding stretched west to Harrisburg. Rain could turn to snow in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania. Most of the Philadelphia region's economy will grind to a halt. Taxi services, malls, universities, and government agencies have announced one- or two-day closures. At the airport, all flights are canceled for Monday. On Sunday, people waited in lines for gasoline and supermarkets ran short of peanut butter, bread, and water. A major threat was storm surges that could erode beaches and damage property. "This is a storm surge you'll see once in 50 years. That's the kind of thing that's coming," said Jack Boston, expert senior meteorologist with Accuweather. Philadelphia can expect gusts of near hurricane-force Monday night and rain of four to eight inches between Monday and Wednesday. Boston described Hurricane Sandy as a "hybrid between a nor'easter and a hurricane" because of its size. Gov. Corbett declared a state of emergency and said at a news conference that 1,600 National Guard troops were prepared to lend assistance in the event of a disaster. "We are prepared for the worst and hope for the best," he said. Gov. Christie said all schools in Gloucester, Salem, and Mercer Counties would be closed Monday and Tuesday. He ordered closure of state offices and suspension of NJ Transit services. Delaware Gov. Jack Markell proclaimed a "level-one driving warning" to limit motorists on roadways. "If there's not a critical need for you to be on the roads, stay off of them," Markell said. "I encourage employers to think seriously about following the state's lead and allowing nonessential employees to remain home." School, transit, and city officials in the Philadelphia area were taking nothing for granted as Sandy bore down. Mayor Nutter said he spoke with President Obama on Sunday about the storm and the mayor pleaded with Philadelphia residents in river-prone neighborhoods to seek safety in city-run shelters or with family members. He announced that city government would be closed Monday. "The intensity is not lessening," the mayor said. "It's actually strengthening. Every concern that we've laid out for the past couple of days is in fact real." Nutter said extra police and fire personnel would be on duty through the storm and that roads needed to be clear for them. "If you don't need to be out tomorrow, please stay home," he said Sunday. City trash will not be picked up Monday. City residents with Monday pickup days were asked to keep their trash for an extra week. The city opened three shelters at 4 p.m. Sunday, and residents seemed to be heeding the mayor's alarm. Between 4 and 5 p.m., about two dozen people streamed into West Philadelphia High, dragging small suitcases and carrying bags. Cots with blankets filled the shelter area, and bottled water and food arrived soon after the shelter opened. Members of the media were not allowed into the shelter, with the city's Office of Emergency Management and Red Cross personnel citing concerns about adding to the individual trauma. The School District of Philadelphia said it would close schools Monday, and Catholic schools will be closed Monday and Tuesday. Dozens of suburban districts in Pennsylvania and South Jersey also canceled sessions. Alex Klein, a junior at University of Pennsylvania majoring in urban studies, said he and his five roommates ran to the grocery store to stock up for the storm when they heard the university had canceled classes Monday and Tuesday. They already had jugs of water on hand from a delivery service. They had stocked up on flashlights, batteries, food, and candles. "Everyone has exams coming up, and Thanksgiving isn't far away," Klein said. "If worse comes to worst, we'll just study. We've got candles." While government officials were quick to respond to the threat, so were businesses and retail stores Sunday. All of the region's major malls, including King of Prussia, said they would not open Monday.In Center City, building owners planned to put up maintenance staff in hotels overnight so that high-rise towers could be open Monday morning. PATCO said Sunday night that bridges - Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, Commodore Barry, and Ben Franklin - would remain open unless winds grew dangerously high. Officials will monitor weather reports closely, he said. Many municipalities issued their own storm warnings. In Bucks County, Lower Makefield Township declared a state of emergency beginning at 6 a.m. Monday and said that nonessential cars and trucks are prohibited on the town's roads and nonessential businesses are to close. In nearby Yardley, just yards from the Delaware River, Eben Copple, executive chef at the Yardley Inn, vowed: "We are going to continue as if things are normal. We are not expecting deliveries [on Monday], so we'll rewrite our menu to accommodate for the storm. But that's OK, we'll make do." In Royersford, Montgomery County, residents along the Schuylkill were asked to voluntarily evacuate before Sandy hits, County Commissioner Josh Shapiro said at a news conference. Residents in other county areas, including Pottstown, Mont Clare, Norristown, Conshohocken, Glenside, and Whitemarsh were being urged to consider evacuating. Despite the storm anticipation, Sunday seemed just another fall day for some. The Eagles played - and lost - at the Linc. A regatta went ahead on the Schuylkill. Ellen Carver, codirector of the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, said only one race was stopped because of the wind. "Other than that it was a wonderful day of racing," Carver said. Elsewhere, residents were stocking up on bread and nonperishables and filling up gas tanks. At Wegmans in Cherry Hill, crowds were steady all day, said merchandising manager Amanda Mancini. Despite the rough weather ahead, the store planned to keep regular hours - 6 a.m. until midnight. "We have ice. As of this moment we have water. I can't guarantee we're going to have water in the next 10 minutes," Mancini said just after dark. The store was out of batteries and flashlights but had plenty of groceries - she wasn't worried they were going to run out, Mancini said. But there was definitely a run on certain items. "We've sold a lot of potato chips, a lot of cookies. Lots of peanut butter and jelly," Mancini said. At the Whole Foods on South Street, a cashier said they had run out of gallon-size bottles of water. "We still have a good bit of one-liters and the smaller bottles," he said. The store was also sold out of eggs. Karen Muldoon Geus, a Peco spokeswoman, said the utility had 300 line crews and 150 tree crews on standby. Utilities from Chicago, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana were dispatching crews to assist. Peco had positioned trailers near flood-prone areas to act as operations centers during power restoration activities, she said. "We expect if we get a direct hit, the storm will result in a multiday restoration effort," Geus said. In Camden County, authorities announced they had ordered all county parks closed at 2 p.m. Streets emptied in Sea Isle City and Ocean City as flooding began at 11 a.m., with some main roads in Sea Isle completely impassable. Traffic clogged the Garden State Parkway early Sunday, with tolls waived for residents on their way to the mainland. As weather services focused on Atlantic City as Hurricane Sandy's landfall, the casino town quickly emptied out on Sunday, with hundreds of residents and vacationers lining up at the city's convention center to board buses for emergency shelters. Casinos closed shop as early as noon. Some vacationers said they had planned to wait out the storm at the blackjack tables and the Trump Plaza but were turned away. Waiting to board a bus outside the convention center, Tamika Brooks, of Atlantic City, stood behind a long line of residents trying to get out of the city. She said she had no idea where the bus was taking her, but wanted to heed Christie's mandatory evacuation order. "I'm not worried," she said, laughing. "Right now I just want to go to sleep - I've been up since 5

NJ Governor: 'Don't Try to Be a Hero'

Massive and dangerous Hurricane Sandy has grown to record size as it barrels northeastwards along the North Carolina coast at 10 mph. At 8 am EDT, Sandy's tropical storm-force winds extended northeastwards 520 miles from the center, and twelve-foot high seas covered a diameter of ocean 1,030 miles across. Since records of storm size began in 1988, only one tropical storm or hurricane has been larger--Tropical Storm Olga of 2001, which had a 690 mile radius of tropical storm-force winds when it was near Bermuda (note: I earlier reported this was a subtropical storm, as per the original NHC advisory, but it was later re-analyzed as a tropical storm.) Sandy has put an colossal volume of ocean water in motion with its widespread and powerful winds, and the hurricane's massive storm surge is already impacting the coast. A 2' storm surge has been recorded at numerous locations this morning from Virginia to Connecticut, including a 3' surge at Virginia's Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and Sewells Point at 9 am EDT. Huge, 10 - 15 foot-high battering waves on top of the storm surge have washed over Highway 12 connecting North Carolina's Outer Banks to the mainland at South Nags Head this morning. The highway is now impassable, and has been closed. The coast guard station on Cape Hatteras, NC, recorded sustained winds of 50 mph, gusting to 61 mph, at 5:53 am EDT this morning. In Delaware, the coastal highway Route 1 between Dewey Beach and Bethany Beach has been closed due to high water. Even though Sandy is a minimal Category 1 hurricane, its storm surge is extremely dangerous, and if you are in a low-lying area that is asked to evacuate, I strongly recommend that you leave.Sandy was a brutal storm for the Caribbean, the storm's death toll now stands at 65. The death toll is highest in Haiti, with 51 deaths. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the Associated Press that "This is a disaster of major proportions. The whole south is under water." Approximately 8 - 10" of rain (200 - 250 mm) fell in the capital of Port-au-Prince. Eleven people were killed in Cuba, where 35,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Sandy is also being blamed for 1 death in Jamaica, 1 in Puerto Rico, and 1 in the Bahamas. Sandy has a rather unusual structure, with the strongest winds on the southwest side of the center, but a larger area of tropical storm-force winds to the northeast of the center. Most of the storm's heavy thunderstorm activity is on the storm's west side, in a thick band several hundred miles removed from the center, giving Sandy more the appearance of a subtropical storm rather than a hurricane. Satellite loops show that the low-level center of Sandy is no longer exposed to view, and heavy thunderstorms are increasing in areal extent near the center, due to a reduction in wind shear from 35 - 40 knots last night to 25 - 30 knots this morning. Wind shear is expected to drop another 5 knots today, which may allow the storm to build an increased amount of heavy thunderstorms near its center and intensify by 5 - 10 mph over the next 24 hours. The NOAA Hurricane Hunters noted this morning that Sandy had a partial eyewall on the west through SE sides of the center, and the storm may be able to build a nearly complete eyewall by Monday morning. By Monday afternoon, though, Sandy will be moving over cool 25°C waters, which should slow down this intensification process. However, the trough of low pressure that will be pulling Sandy to the northwest towards landfall on Monday will strengthen the storm by injecting "baroclinic" energy--the energy one can derive from the atmosphere when warm and cold air masses lie in close proximity to each other. Sandy should have sustained winds at hurricane force, 75 - 80 mph, at landfall. Sandy's central pressure is expected to drop from its current 951 mb to 945 - 950 mb at landfall Monday night. A pressure this low is extremely rare; according to wunderground weather historian Christopher C. Burt, the lowest pressure ever measured anywhere in the U.S. north of Cape Hatteras, NC, is 946 mb (27.94") measured at the Bellport Coast Guard Station on Long Island, NY on September 21, 1938 during the great "Long Island Express" hurricane. The latest set of 00Z (8 pm EDT) and 06Z (2 am EDT) computer model runs are in agreement that Sandy will make landfall between 10 pm Monday night and 4 am Tuesday morning in New Jersey.

Obama calls on residents to heed orders ahead of Hurricane Sandy
President Barack Obama has warned that Hurricane Sandy is a "serious and big storm" and called on East Coast residents to heed the orders of state and local officials to protect themselves from its onslaught. President Barack Obama has warned that Hurricane Sandy is a "serious and big storm" and called on East Coast residents to heed the orders of state and local officials to protect themselves from its onslaught. Mr Obama was speaking after a briefing at the federal government's storm response centre in Washington. He said officials had assured him that they had all the resources they needed in place, and he stressed that "it is important for us to respond big and to respond fast" to the hurricane's onslaught. "We're going to cut through red tape and we're not going to get bogged down in a lot of rules," said President Obama, who was having to juggle both is re-election bid and his efforts to stay on top of the storm's impact just nine days before Election Day. Earlier today, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered city schools to be closed on Monday and the evacuation of 375,000 residents who live in at risk areas ahead of Hurricane Sandy. The city's subway, bus and train services will be suspended from 7pm this evening. Mr Bloomberg said that areas of the city from City Island to Coney Island to Battery Park City were under mandatory evacuation because of approaching Hurricane Sandy. He said during a press conference that the mandatory evacuation applies to people in Zone A, which covers coastal areas. Weather forecasters have warned that Hurricane Sandy will affect a large area of the US east coast. However, forecasters said it was too early to pinpoint where the storm, which has the potential to be the biggest to hit the mainland, would make landfall. Residents have scrambled to buy supplies before the storm arrives on Monday night. On its current projected track, Sandy is most likely to make US landfall between Delaware and the New York/New Jersey area, forecasters said. However, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said it could not yet predict the precise point. "It is still too soon to focus on the exact track ... both because of forecast uncertainty and because the impacts are going to cover such a large area," the NHC said. While Sandy's winds are not overwhelming for a hurricane, its width is what has made it exceptional. Hurricane force winds extend 165km from its centre, while its lesser tropical storm-force winds reach across 1,125km. Sandy could have a brutal impact on major cities in the target zone, including Boston, New York, Baltimore, Washington DC and Philadelphia. The storm could cause the worst flooding Connecticut has seen in more than 70 years, said the state's governor, Dannel P Malloy. Sandy was located about 420km south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with top sustained winds of 120km/h early this morning. Forecasters said Sandy is a rare, hybrid "super storm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly causing up to 30cm of rain in some areas, as well as heavy snowfall inland. Sandy killed at least 66 people as it made its way through the Caribbean, including 51 in Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides. The White House said US President Barack Obama took part in a call with US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate to discuss preparations for Sandy. The approaching storm forced a change of plans for both presidential candidates ahead of the election on Tuesday 6 November. Mr Obama has cancelled a campaign appearance in Virginia tomorrow and another stop in Colorado on Tuesday, and will instead monitor the storm from Washington. Republican challenger Mitt Romney cancelled a trip to Virginia set for today, when the state is expected to begin feeling Sandy's impact, and will go instead to Ohio. Some flights to US from Ireland cancelled The Dublin Airport Authority has said a number of transatlantic flights have been cancelled on Monday and Tuesday. Passengers with plans to travel stateside in the next two days are advised to contact their airline or airline's website before travelling to Dublin Airport. Aer Lingus has cancelled its flights to and from New York on Monday due to the severe weather anticipated. The following flights have been cancelled: EI-105 Dublin to New York and EI-104 New York to Dublin EI-111 Shannon to New York and EI-110 New York to Shannon EI-109 Dublin to New York and EI-108 New York to Dublin The airline has apologised for the disruption and has asked those scheduled to travel to visit its website.

Video: Mayor Bloomberg Announces Evacuations Ahead of Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy expected to bring massive power outages

Utility companies are positioning workers for expected outages from the superstorm along the East Coast. Hurricane Sandy: Utility companies prepare for powerful storm By Adrienne LaFrance Digital First Media WASHINGTON - Utility companies along the East Coast had thousands of workers ready to respond late Sunday as Hurricane Sandy headed north packing rain and winds that were expected to knock out power to millions of people. Speaking from the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington on Sunday, President Barack Obama said people in the storm's path will have to be "vigilant for a couple of days," according to a White House transcript. "Don't anticipate that just because the immediate storm has passed that we're not going to have some potential problems in a lot of these communities going forward through the week," Obama said. Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, which provides power for some nine million people in and around New York City, was prepared to shut down service in some areas to minimize damage from possible flooding. "We expect a lot of outages because of the wind and rain knocking trees into power lines," ConEd spokesman Michael Clendenin said. "But also, because of the expected storm surge, the low-lying areas that have underground electrical equipment could be susceptible. If we see flooding going on with seawater, de-energizing will make for a faster restoration. If we didn't do it, you could be looking at weeks." In New Jersey, officials said residents should be prepared to live without electricity for more than a week. Gov. Chris Christie cautioned those who are flouting warnings, urging citizens not to be cynical about the forecasted severity of the storm. "We have to be prepared for the worst here," he said. "We're in for a bit of a haul." Officials in New Jersey, which is expected to be hit hard when the storm makes landfall Monday, said the state is better prepared to respond to Hurricane Sandy after improvements made in the wake of last year's Hurricane Irene. Public Service Electric and Gas says it spent $28 million trimming trees near power lines, and more than doubled voltage capacity so that power lines can better withstand lightning strikes and storm damage. The utility now has 1,000 workers in the state, ready to hunker down for the duration of the storm, according to a spokesman. "That's split between linemen for restoration of lines and tree removal workers," PSE&G spokesman Paul Rosengren said. "That's probably the largest contingent we're ever had hunkered." A PECO spokeswoman in Philadelphia said the utility had called up hundreds of back-up workers from Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. "We do expect, given the severity of all the forecasts, that this is going to be a multi-day event," PECO's Karen Muldoon Geus said. "Safety is absolutely paramount. We tell our customers, 'Please stay away from downed wires. Always assume that PECO's equipment is energized, even if there's an outage.'" In Washington, D.C., Potomac Electric Power Co. said it is "aggressively executing" its emergency response plan and anticipating potentially "devastating damage" and outages lasting several days. Officials in the district also began distributing sandbags at area high schools. By Sunday afternoon, 400 additional crews were en route to Washington, a spokesman for PEPCO said. Officials in Delaware don't expect Hurricane Sandy to be as devastating in their region as it could be in New Jersey and New York, but they're still anticipating major disruption. "We're basically on standby waiting for something to happen," Delaware Electric Cooperative spokesman Jeremy Tucker said. "We're ready. We're just waiting."

New York subway to shut down as Sandy nears

The subway in the city that never sleeps will shut down Sunday night as officials brace for the impact of Hurricane Sandy.
New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority will suspend subway service at 7 p.m., Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The last commuter railroad trains will also leave at that time. And bus service will stop at 9 p.m., he said. "The storm is coming ... and now it is time to take action," Cuomo told reporters. "A situation like this, you don't want to be overly panicked and overly prepared, but you want to be prudent and you want to do what is necessary." It's rare for New York's massive transit network -- the largest in North America, with nearly 4.3 million people every day riding the subway alone -- to grind to a halt.
But Cuomo said the move was a necessary step, because it isn't safe to operate trains in high winds, and equipment could also become damaged. "We don't want to encourage people being up and about," he said. "We want people staying in their homes. Be prepared and stay at home." The storm is expected to cause massive flooding and widespread power outages when it hits the East Coast, in full, late Sunday and into next week. But before that happens, transportation companies and government officials are allowing -- and, in some cases, urging -- people to plan for the worst. A number of airlines, for example, are allowing customers to change their flight plans without paying any fees due to Sandy. Delta will let those ticketed to fly between Sunday and Wednesday, in and out of airports in 15 states and the District of Columbia, to reschedule by November 4. United's offer applies to travel to-and-from 29 airports, for the same dates. East Coast braces for 'superstorm' Other airlines, such as American, are offering a similar process, with slight variations. And at least in U.S. Airways' case, the weather is already keeping airlines busy: The airline apologized to customers on its Twitter feed for long waits to get through to agents due to a high call volume tied to Sandy. Amtrak announced Saturday that it will cancel some of its train runs on Sunday to and from Richmond and Newport News, Virginia; Chicago and Washington; Miami and New York; and Washington and New York. In addition, a train scheduled to run Monday between Washington and Chicago will also remain in the station. "Passengers are encouraged to travel on earlier available trains on Sunday," Amtrak said in a news release. "Additional cancellations might be necessary in the coming days as this major storm moves north." Meanwhile, New Jersey is taking steps to shut down NJ Transit bus, rail and Access Link service on Monday -- much as it did last year for 36 hours due to Hurricane Irene. "By beginning this important process, NJ Transit will be better able to support the state's response to Hurricane Sandy by freeing up buses or other resources that may be needed for hurricane relief," Department of Transportation Commissioner James Simpson said in a press release. For all the potential headaches at airports, train stations and bus terminals, the type of transportation affected first and most directly by Sandy may be boating. All along the East Coast, meteorologists and officials have warned people to steer clear of the seas because of potentially perilous high winds and large waves tied to the storm. Pam and Bob Haigh, a Rhode Island couple, were surprised -- given how late it is in the hurricane season -- that Sandy has delayed their plans to sail from Maryland to the Florida Keys. But they know that this isn't the first time that Mother Nature has affected travel plans -- nor will it be the last. "We've got a surprise, so we'll just ride it out," Pam Haigh said. "There's not much else we can do."

Obama Hurricane Response: President Balancing Storm With Campaigning

President Barack Obama has spent months trying to balance his re-election bid with running the government.
Now, just when his campaign needs him the most, with little more than a week before the election, his official job is beckoning. Republican challenger Mitt Romney, too, faces questions about how to conduct his campaign as a superstorm charges toward the East Coast. But as president, it's Obama who oversees the federal government's preparations for the looming storm and it's Obama who will bear the responsibility for any missteps. With that in mind, Obama scrapped campaign events Monday night and Tuesday morning. He planned to return to the White House late Monday to monitor the storm and the government's response. "This is an example, yet again, of the president having to put his responsibilities as commander in chief and as leader of the country first, while at the same time he pursues his responsibilities as a candidate for re-election," Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, told reporters traveling with Obama to a campaign event Saturday in New Hampshire. Still, ripping up Obama's strategically planned travel schedule was something his Chicago-based campaign was loath to do unless absolutely necessary. In the tight race, the candidates have few opportunities left to blitz through the most competitive states, trying to build momentum and make a final pitch to undecided voters. The president's handling of the storm could sway those late-breaking voters. If Obama is perceived as a strong leader who shows command in a crisis, some undecided voters may be compelled to back the president. But a botched response or a sense that he's putting politics over public safety could weaken his support at a point in the race where there's little chance to reverse course. "I think that the president of the United States is the commander in chief. The American people look to him, and I'm sure he will conduct himself and play his leadership role in a fine fashion. So I would imagine that might help him a little bit," said Arizona Sen. John McCain, who lost to Obama in 2008. "But I'm not sure it will affect votes. People have been exposed to this very long campaign," he said on CBS' "Face the Nation." Obama advisers say they've learned the lessons from President George W. Bush's widely criticized response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush was seen as ineffective and out of touch, and his presidency never recovered. That's why Obama's team has moved quickly throughout the year to avoid the impression that the president was shirking his responsibilities, even as the campaign ramped up. When separate crises struck Colorado this summer – destructive wildfires and a mass shooting at a movie theater – Obama hastily arranged trips to meet with victims and their families. When a hurricane barreled through the Gulf Coast ahead of the Democratic Convention, the president added a stop in New Orleans to his preconvention itinerary. But those decisions were far easier than what's facing Obama's team. Back then, there was time to add or reschedule trips. Now, with just nine days until Election Day, time is a precious commodity and canceling trips may mean never having the chance to make them up. Hurricane Sandy was expected to hit the East Coast late Monday, then combine with two winter weather systems as it moves inland, creating a hybrid superstorm. At least four battleground states are likely to be hit: New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia. Obama plans to spend every day between now and Nov. 6 on the road in most of those states and others, though his schedule does call for him to be back in Washington some nights. In canceling Obama's event Monday in Virginia, aides also considered the optics of urging thousands of people to venture out to a political rally in the midst of a raging storm. Still, it was clear Obama's team was working hard to ensure that the president could keep campaigning as long as possible before he was needed back in Washington. His departure for Florida, where he'll hold an event with Bill Clinton, was moved up from Monday morning to Sunday night in order to get ahead of the storm. Even though Monday's late event in Virginia was scrapped, Obama and Clinton planned to squeeze in an evening rally in Youngstown, Ohio, before the president was to return to the White House. Romney canceled three events in Virginia on Sunday and planned to spend the day campaigning with running mate Paul Ryan in Ohio. If bad weather keeps people in hard-hit battleground states from going to the polls, it could mess up the campaigns' carefully crafted get-out-the-vote efforts. Jennifer Psaki, Obama's campaign spokeswoman, said the Democratic ticket was urging people to vote early when they can, especially if it helps them get to the polls before the storm. "Safety comes first," she said. "And that's the case with early voting as well." ____

Films from Afghanistan on social issues screened at South Asian Film Festival in Goa

Films from Afghanistan, based on the life of women and children in the country, were screened at the ongoing seventh South Asian Film Festival here over the weekend.With an aim to bring together all the nations and to promote peace and harmony through the medium among the countries, South Asia Foundation screened films from Afghanistan, which showcased the plight of the women and children of Afghanistan. A film 'We Are Postmodernism' was also screened at the festival. The film is based on the life of a 14-year-old girl, who begs for money on the street with her mother. A boy about the same age gives them a coin every day he passes by, pushing his bicycle. One day the mother dies. The girl now begs alone for money, wearing her mother's burqa. The young boy passing by this time gives the girl a flower instead of a coin. A the director of 'We Are Postmodernism', Alka Sadat said such platforms give them the opportunity to showcase the real picture of their country to the world and they also get the chance to interact with filmmakers from other nations. "We can speak about my country to a lot of people through this festival. In Afghanistan, people saw or watch terrible things on their television about Taliban, tourists being attacked. So, it's good for us to make film and speak about what's going on in Afghanistan, about the real things in Afghanistan. We get the opportunity to meet filmmakers and other people and listen about the situation of other country," said Sadat. Enthralled by the films, Sanjay, a visitor, described it as a good experience and the movie depicted the pathetic condition of children and women in Afghanistan. "The movie was very interesting. It's very sad to see how people are treated in Afghanistan, the kids specially and it's a pathetic state. The way the director has actually focused on the kids and the way the kids are living a sad life. It's very shocking to see such images," said Sanjay. During the extravaganza, more than 40 films from South Asian countries will be screened including 'Singham', 'Rajneeti' and 'Ye Saali Zindagi'. Films from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka will also screened. Famous personalities from the entertainment world as well as political leaders are attending the ongoing film festival. The seventh edition of festival commenced in Panaji city on October 24 and it concludes on October 30.

British woman, held in Pakistan on drug charges, has baby

A British woman, held in Pakistan on charges of drug smuggling, has been sent back to prison with her newborn daughter after giving birth in a hospital, a British legal group said Sunday. Khadija Shah, 25, is being held on charges of trying to smuggle heroin worth nearly $5 million onto a flight to Britain. She gave birth to her baby girl Malaika a few weeks ago but was returned from hospital to Adiala prison near the capital Islamabad. The birth was not reported until Sunday. The baby has had no immunizations and has already had to be hospitalized when she developed severe diarrhoea in the unsanitary prison, said British legal group Reprieve. "To keep a baby behind bars is truly barbaric. Baby Malaika is weak and suffering from terrible health problems while Khadija faces execution. No mother would wish this scenario on their worst enemy," Reprieve investigator Sultana Noon said in a statement. Shah has two other young children. After a period of incarceration when their mother was arrested in May this year, they were freed into the care of a relative. Mothers are frequently imprisoned with their children while their cases are heard in Pakistan's congested legal system. Criminal cases can take years to complete.

New Pakistan outreach could aid Afghan peace deal

Pakistan has increased efforts to reach out to some of its biggest enemies in Afghanistan, a significant policy shift that could prove crucial to US-backed efforts to strike a peace deal in the neighboring country. The target of the diplomatic push has mainly been non-Pashtun political leaders who have been at odds with Pakistan for years because of the country’s historical support for the Afghan Taliban, a Pashtun movement. Many of the leaders fought against the Taliban when the fundamentalist Islamic group seized control of Afghanistan in the 1990s with Pakistan’s help, and have accused Islamabad of maintaining support for the insurgents following the US-led invasion in 2001, allegations denied by the government. Many experts agree that Pakistan continues to see the Taliban as an ally, albeit a shaky one, in countering the influence of archenemy India in Afghanistan. But they also say Islamabad no longer believes the insurgents can take over the country or wants them to, a common misperception in the West. ”A Taliban victory on the other side of the border would give a huge boost to domestic militants fighting the Pakistani state,” said Zahid Hussain, a journalist who has written extensively about Islamabad’s war against the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan is also worried that unrest in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of most foreign troops in 2014 could provide the Pakistani Taliban with greater space to establish sanctuaries across the border. The Afghan and Pakistani Taliban are allies but have focused on different enemies. The Afghan Taliban have battled local and foreign forces in Afghanistan, while the Pakistani Taliban have mainly waged war against Islamabad. Pakistan’s concerns have led it to conclude that a peace agreement that includes all Afghan groups is in its best interests, and contact with its traditional foes among the non-Pashtuns is necessary to achieve that goal, said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser for the United States Institute of Peace. ”I think the fundamental point here is that there is a serious realization among some people who matter in Pakistan that they can’t continue to put all their eggs in the Taliban basket because it is too shaky,” said Yusuf. ”This is a major shift, and a shift that I think everybody should welcome.” The outreach comes as Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US have stepped up efforts to breathe new life into the Taliban peace process, which has been hamstrung by distrust among all the parties involved. The US and Pakistan recently set up working groups to identify which Taliban leaders would be open to reconciliation and to ensure those holed up on Pakistani territory would be able to travel to the site of talks. Pakistan and Afghanistan have been in discussions to revive a joint commission set up to discuss the peace process. Pakistan is seen as key to a peace deal because of its ties with the Taliban, and there is hope that Islamabad’s increased engagement with non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan will facilitate the process. ”I think one of Pakistan’s realizations is that if you want to play a bigger role to reconcile all these groups, you need to reach out to every group,” said Rahimullah Yousufzai, a Pakistani journalist and expert on the Taliban. ”They will be pushing the Taliban to share power with all these people, but it won’t be easy because the Taliban aren’t known to share power and the US doesn’t want to give them a major share.” Islamabad’s historical support for the Taliban and other Pashtuns in Afghanistan, who make up about 40 per cent of the population of 30 million, is partly rooted in the sizable number of Pashtuns who live in Pakistan. The ethnic group has always been seen as the best bet for furthering Pakistan’s interests in the country. Pakistan first advertised its overtures to non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan in February when Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar met with a range of ethnic Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara leaders during a visit to Kabul. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf followed suit in July when he traveled to Afghanistan and invited the group to the opening of the new Pakistani Embassy in Kabul. There have also been less publicized contacts by Pakistan’s ambassador to Kabul, Mohammad Sadiq, and the country’s army and intelligence service, according to Pakistani and Afghan officials. Khar said the policy shift had been in the works for a while but was like a steering a large ship in a new direction. ”You’re not able to do it immediately,” said the foreign minister. Pakistan’s powerful army is the true arbiter of the country’s Afghan policy, but experts expressed doubt that the Foreign Ministry would have pushed ahead without the support of the generals, who have historically had the closest relationship to the Taliban. One key Afghan leader who has met with the Pakistanis, Abdullah Abdullah, said he appreciated the country’s recent attempt to reach out because it was done publicly. The influential politician, who was runner-up to Afghan President Hamid Karzai in the 2009 election, said Pakistani intelligence officials contacted him in previous years, but he refused to speak with them because he did not believe communication should be carried out in secret. ‘I see a lot of good in reaching out, in engagement, in dialogue,’ said Abdullah, who is half Pashtun but draws much of his support from the Tajik community. The outreach has rattled the Taliban, who have warned Pakistani officials that they can’t trust the non-Pashtuns, Yousufzai said. Pakistan will have to overcome significant distrust among the non-Pashtuns. The government has old ties to some of the leaders, who worked with Pakistan in the 1980s to push the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but Islamabad’s subsequent support for the Taliban created a huge amount of bad blood. Despite that, the Pakistanis are hopeful. ‘The Pakistani side’s view of Afghan negotiations is that you kill on one day and kiss on the next, so while this will be very tough, they think that it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility that they may actually get somewhere,’ said Yusuf, the South Asia analyst.

New India FM for stronger Pakistan ties

According to media reports, India's new External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid
said on Sunday that it would be his endeavour to reinforce the country's ties Pakistan. Interacting with media after his appointment as foreign minister, Khurshid said: "There are completely different perspectives on Pakistan and China. China is in that sense we are clearer about where we stand with China. We have had differences historically. I believe that with the passage of time and emergence of a new economic order in the world has brought China and India far closer together, working together but the potential of growth between China and India, I think is enormous." Earlier on Saturday, Khurshid's predecessor S.M. Krishna had observed that over the years he had seen a positive shift in the relationship of Pakistan and China with India. Khurshid also raised concerns over the political scenario in Pakistan. "As far as Pakistan is concerned, Pakistan has been an extremely troubled situation in a very troubled part of the world and it is a neighbour and that is a concern for us as well. I think the convergence between India and Pakistan today is on issues that for long we insisted, those issues which were a major concern to India both in terms of our security and our dignity. Many of those issues have now emerged in Pakistan itself and have become a concern for Pakistani establishment. So if there was ever, ever a convergent point on tackling these issues between India and Pakistan, it is there today," he said. Khurshid said: "We want to be able to look at possible roots towards being able to work more closely together, be able to understand each other's problems and to the extent that we can solve each other's problems mutually and by convergence of opinion on both our countries. I think it is something that we should work towards." The government announced a major cabinet reshuffle on Sunday, where 22 federal ministers, including junior ministers, were sworn in.

Aseefa Bhutto spends Eid with Malala

Aseefa Bhutto Zardari spent Eid with Malala’s family here on Friday.Accompanied by Pakistan High Commissioner for UK Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Aseefa travelled from Oxford Brooks University, where she is currently studying, to Birmingham to meet Malala’s parents and inquire after their daughter’s health.She spent about two hours with the family and hoped that Malala would soon recover.While strongly condemning the attack she said that this kind of brutal act could not be done by Muslims and those who had done it were not Muslims.On this occasion, Aseefa said that the whole of Pakistan was standing with Malala, who had become a symbol of peace, enlightenment and women empowerment. She also conveyed the full support of President Asif Ali Zardari to the family.During the meeting the senior officials of Queen Elizabeth Hospital were present while Medical Director Dr Dave Rosser briefed Aseefa about Malala’s health status.Malala’s father thanked Aseefa and the High Commissioner for being with his family on Eid Day.

Bahrain police 'continue to torture detainees'

Human Rights Watch has accused Bahrain's police of continuing to beat and torture detainees, including minors. The report comes nearly six months after an independent inquiry prompted the government to pledge reforms. The country insists it is committed to putting the recommendations of its own report into the handling of protests in 2011 into practice. More than 40 people died in last year's unrest and 1,600 were arrested. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report policemen regularly take young men to secluded places and beat them for up to two hours before transferring them to a police station. Boy 'beaten' Some said they had been threatened with rape if they did not reveal where activists were hiding the petrol bombs that are regularly hurled at police. The report said treatment inside police stations had improved significantly in the last six months, but it also warned that unlawful police behaviour on the streets may well make young protesters even more desperate and determined to confront their government. The campaigning group said it had interviewed 14 young males, including seven children. It said five of the beatings had happened in April alone. "Bahrain has displaced the problem of torture and police brutality from inside police stations to the point of arrest and transfer to police stations," said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW. On Sunday, there were reports that a 13-year-old was being held in custody for assaulting a police officer and taking part in a street gathering in a village south of the capital, Manama. According to his lawyers, quoted by AFP news agency, the boy was "beaten and tortured" at a police station where he was still being held. The HRW report comes a few weeks after Amnesty International also warned that the country's reforms had only scratched the surface. In November, the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) report acknowledged numerous human rights abuses and systematic torture of detainees as security forces put down anti-government protests. In response, King Hamad promised lessons would be learned and laws would be reformed to protect freedom of speech and other basic rights.

Saudi Arabia takes bulldozer to Islam's history

Three of the world’s oldest mosques are about to be destroyed as Saudi Arabia embarks on a multi-billion-pound expansion of Islam’s second holiest site. Work on the Masjid an-Nabawi in Medina, where the Prophet Mohamed is buried, will start once the annual Hajj pilgrimage ends next month. When complete, the development will turn the mosque into the world’s largest building, with the capacity for 1.6 million worshippers. But concerns have been raised that the development will see key historic sites bulldozed. Anger is already growing at the kingdom’s apparent disdain for preserving the historical and archaeological heritage of the country’s holiest city, Mecca. Most of the expansion of Masjid an-Nabawi will take place to the west of the existing mosque, which holds the tombs of Islam’s founder and two of his closest companions, Abu Bakr and Umar. Just outside the western walls of the current compound are mosques dedicated to Abu Bakr and Umar, as well as the Masjid Ghamama, built to mark the spot where the Prophet is thought to have given his first prayers for the Eid festival. The Saudis have announced no plans to preserve or move the three mosques, which have existed since the seventh century and are covered by Ottoman-era structures, or to commission archaeological digs before they are pulled down, something that has caused considerable concern among the few academics who are willing to speak out in the deeply authoritarian kingdom. “No one denies that Medina is in need of expansion, but it’s the way the authorities are going about it which is so worrying,” says Dr Irfan al-Alawi of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. “There are ways they could expand which would either avoid or preserve the ancient Islamic sites but instead they want to knock it all down.” Dr Alawi has spent much of the past 10 years trying to highlight the destruction of early Islamic sites. With cheap air travel and booming middle classes in populous Muslim countries within the developing world, both Mecca and Medina are struggling to cope with the 12 million pilgrims who visit each year – a number expected to grow to 17 million by 2025. The Saudi monarchy views itself as the sole authority to decide what should happen to the cradle of Islam. Although it has earmarked billions for an enormous expansion of both Mecca and Medina, it also sees the holy cities as lucrative for a country almost entirely reliant on its finite oil wealth. Heritage campaigners and many locals have looked on aghast as the historic sections of Mecca and Medina have been bulldozed to make way for gleaming shopping malls, luxury hotels and enormous skyscrapers. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of the 1,000-year-old buildings in the two cities have been destroyed in the past 20 years. In Mecca, the Masjid al-Haram, the holiest site in Islam and a place where all Muslims are supposed to be equal, is now overshadowed by the Jabal Omar complex, a development of skyscraper apartments, hotels and an enormous clock tower. To build it, the Saudi authorities destroyed the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress and the hill it stood on. Other historic sites lost include the Prophet’s birthplace – now a library – and the house of his first wife, Khadijah, which was replaced with a public toilet block. Neither the Saudi Embassy in London nor the Ministry for Foreign Affairs responded to requests for comment when The Independent contacted them this week. But the government has previously defended its expansion plans for the two holy cities as necessary. It insists it has also built large numbers of budget hotels for poorer pilgrims, though critics point out these are routinely placed many miles away from the holy sites. Until recently, redevelopment in Medina has pressed ahead at a slightly less frenetic pace than in Mecca, although a number of early Islamic sites have still been lost. Of the seven ancient mosques built to commemorate the Battle of the Trench – a key moment in the development of Islam – only two remain. Ten years ago, a mosque which belonged to the Prophet’s grandson was dynamited. Pictures of the demolition that were secretly taken and smuggled out of the kingdom showed the religious police celebrating as the building collapsed. The disregard for Islam’s early history is partly explained by the regime’s adoption of Wahabism, an austere and uncompromising interpretation of Islam that is vehemently opposed to anything which might encourage Muslims towards idol worship. In most of the Muslim world, shrines have been built. Visits to graves are also commonplace. But Wahabism views such practices with disdain. The religious police go to enormous lengths to discourage people from praying at or visiting places closely connected to the time of the Prophet while powerful clerics work behind the scenes to promote the destruction of historic sites. Dr Alawi fears that the redevelopment of the Masjid an-Nabawi is part of a wider drive to shift focus away from the place where Mohamed is buried. The spot that marks the Prophet’s tomb is covered by a famous green dome and forms the centrepiece of the current mosque. But under the new plans, it will become the east wing of a building eight times its current size with a new pulpit. There are also plans to demolish the prayer niche at the centre of mosque. The area forms part of the Riyadh al-Jannah (Garden of Paradise), a section of the mosque that the Prophet decreed especially holy.. “Their excuse is they want to make more room and create 20 spaces in a mosque that will eventually hold 1.6 million,” says Dr Alawi. “It makes no sense. What they really want is to move the focus away from where the Prophet is buried.” A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs – and endorsed by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz al Sheikh – called for the dome to be demolished and the graves of Mohamed, Abu Bakr and Umar to be flattened. Sheikh Ibn al-Uthaymeen, one of the 20th century’s most prolific Wahabi scholars, made similar demands. “Muslim silence over the destruction of Mecca and Medina is both disastrous and hypocritical,” says Dr Alawi. “The recent movie about the Prophet Mohamed caused worldwide protests... and yet the destruction of the Prophet’s birthplace, where he prayed and founded Islam has been allowed to continue without any criticism.” Mecca and Medina in numbers 12m The number of people who visit Mecca and Medina every year 3.4m The number of Muslims expected to perform Hajj (pilgrimage) this year 60,000 The current capacity of the Masjid an-Nabawi mosque 1.6m The projected capacity of the mosque after expansion

Israeli PM praises extremely friendly ties with Saudi Arabia

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has revealed the existence of “friendly and strong” relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, APA reports quoting Press TV. In an interview published on YouTube, Netanyahu said there were friendly and strong relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia in different fields. The Israeli premier added that Tel Aviv and Riyadh have common economic and political interests in the Middle East. In May, a report by Tel Aviv University said Saudi Arabia was Israel’s last hope and defense line, describing the Saudis as Tel Aviv’s last chance to protect its political interests in the Arab world. The report said most of Israel’s allies in the region have collapsed and cannot play a significant role in the Arab world, adding that Saudi Arabia is the only country that stands against the Islamic Republic of Iran and thus it is Tel Aviv’s last line of defense against Tehran. The report noted that the Al Saud family is very important to Israel because Saudi Arabia is very actively working in countries such as Yemen, Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon to reduce Iran’s influence in those countries. Moreover, in emails leaked by WikiLeaks and obtained by the Beirut-based newspaper Al-Akhbar, it was revealed that Saudi Arabia had reached out to the Mossad, which assisted the kingdom with "intelligence collection and advice on Iran." According to a source quoted in the emails, "Several enterprising Mossad officers, both past and present, are making a bundle selling the Saudis everything from security equipment (to) intelligence and consultation."

‘Saudi Arabia Funds Mossad Anti-Iran Operations’

An article posted by a former CBS News producer Barry Lando claims that none other than Saudi Arabia helps fund Israeli Mossad operations against Iran. "A Strange Alliance: Are the Saudis Bankrolling Israel's Mossad?" appears on his blog. Lando’s source is named only as “a friend, with good sources in the Israeli government.” He wrote, “The head of Israel's Mossad has made several trips to deal with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia-one of the results: an agreement that the Saudis would bankroll the series of assassinations of several of Iran's top nuclear experts that have occurred over the past couple of years. “The amount involved, my friend claims, was $1 billion dollars. A sum, he says, the Saudis considered cheap for the damage done to Iran's nuclear program.” Lando admitted that “the tale sounds preposterous” but added, “On the other hand. it makes eminent sense. The murky swamp of Middle East politics has nothing to do with the easy slogans and 30-second sound bites of presidential debates.” Israel and Saudi Arabia have at least one thing in common: neither country wants to allow Ahmadinejad to obtain nuclear capability. Lando noted that the claim of the strange alliance “also makes perfect sense, that, in retaliation for the cyber attacks on their centrifuges, the Iranians reportedly launched their own cyber attack on a Saudi state-owned target: Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company.” Aramco’s computer system suffered a massive cyber attack in August, and American intelligence officials have blamed Iran. “A report earlier this year by Tel Aviv University cites Saudi Arabia as the last hope and defense line for Israel,” Lando wrote. “With most of Israel’s traditional allies in the region sent packing or undermined by the Arab Spring, the Saudis are the Jewish State’s last chance to protect its political interests in the Arab world.” Lando has long experience on Iran. He recently wrote a book called "Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush.” He charged on Counterpunch earlier this year that Israel, the United States and Iran do not understand each other’s motives while “their advisors are engaged in an incredibly dangerous three-way game of blind man's bluff.” He said he personally ran into American ignorance in 1980 when he was producing '60 Minutes'. “I was struck by the total inability of Americans—even at the highest level—to understand the emotions and history that drove the hatred of all things American that had exploded in Iran with the fall of the Shah,” Lando wrote. “Just up West 57th street from CBS News, for instance, was a huge billboard with the diabolical image of Khomeini glowering down on New York. I suggested we do a report to give Americans a better idea of what was driving Iran’s revolutionaries and their violent feelings against the United States…. “I stitched together a tough report with Mike Wallace based on a series of interviews in New York and Washington.’ Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was charged by one interviewee “for turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Shah, and refusing to have any contact with the opposition groups.” Lando also reported that classified U.S. documents exposed by Iran “showed that American diplomats based in Teheran had warned Washington months earlier of the threat of a possible hostage-taking – particularly if the U.S. allowed the despised Shah to come to America for medical treatment, as the U.S. ultimately did. Those warnings had been completely ignored by Washington.” However, before the program was broadcast, President Jimmy Carter called the president of CBS News “to try to convince him not to broadcast the report. It would, he said, undermine U.S. negotiations with Iran at a very delicate time.” CBS did not agree to back down but agreed to change the report’s title from “Should the U.S. Apologize?” to a more neutral “The Iran File.” “It was difficult to understand how our report could upset the hostage negotiations,” wrote Lando. “We were not revealing any secrets to Iran. The Iranians already knew well the role of the U.S. in their own history. The people we were informing were 20 million Americans — who didn’t understand what was really roiling Iran. “And still don’t.”

Saudi women and IDs

My face is my existence
My face is my human identity, the proof of my very existence. Wake up, women of the Arab Peninsula, rebel against being non-existent,” Tweeted activist Lama al-Zahrani in support for the recent decision in Saudi Arabia making it compulsory for women to carry state IDs on them. “Unfortunately,” she told NOW, “when the Shura Council issued the ruling, some judges and other sheikhs who are well-known in media circles were opposed to it.” This is because an official ID would bear an actual photo of its female holder. However, Zahrani believes that the sheikhs’ objection to the photo IDs is merely a pretext, the main problem being fear that women will break free of their male dominance.
Nawwara, another Saudi activist, agreed, saying, “There are concerns regarding the autonomy of women, as they fear we will have more demands. Others, still, want to exploit women [who don’t have state picture IDs]. For instance, a father may take a loan or buy and sell stocks in his daughter’s name using the family [identification] card, and leave her to handle the repayment. In other cases, a brother may seize his sister’s inheritance by bringing in a woman wearing a niqab, claiming that she is his sister and having her sell her share of inheritance.” Zahrani says that she knows from personal experience that the law is not being implemented and that picture IDs are merely useful with regard to social matters when divorced and widowed women get alimony. As for other parts of life, an ID is not enough, as a woman is required to bring along a male “identifier” or guardian whenever she leaves the house. “The problem is that we mix customs, traditions and laws, and men’s opportunism plays a part in that,” says Saudi lawyer and legal counselor Abdullah al-Aazzaz. “Being a patriarchal society, we ban women from gaining their autonomy under the pretext of protecting them while, in truth, we seek to repress or dominate them. A brother or father may lie to a woman and tell her he cannot open a bank account using her ID and she’d believe that, whereas this is not true.” As for passports, a Saudi woman cannot obtain one or even travel if she is not accompanied by her guardian. Nawwara was luckier than others, as her father decided to grant her a license to travel for as long as her passport is valid. This is not the case for most guardians, who stipulate that any trip abroad should have their prior approval. “She who does not have an identifier is done for. It is truly a shame for a 15-year-old to have the right to be your identifier and guardian,” Nawwara says. This does not hold true for trips to Gulf countries. Saudi women are, at last, allowed to go to Gulf countries using their IDs rather than their passports and if any woman wants to go to any other state from there, she does not need the approval of an identifier or guardian. The state ID decision caused major turmoil on social media, as many hailed it as a gradual step toward granting Saudi women the right to travel. “Women are more aware of their rights thanks to the internet. Many issues pertaining to women’s rights are being discussed on Twitter, which is displaying a noticeable increase in female traffic,” Zahrani says. “Female jurists have a clear influence in raising Saudi society’s awareness and showing it what is happening, which induced change – no matter how small – in society’s vision of women.” “The concept of women has changed. Instead of being referred to as mothers and wives, they are now seen as a woman with their own existence and spirit.”

No Solution to Bahrain's Crisis as long as al-Khalifa Remains in Power

Member of Bahrain's Islamic Action Society Rashid al-Rashid said the critical conditions in his country would continue as long as the al-Khalifa rulers remain in power, noting the siege of the al-Akr town as an instance of aggravating conditions in Bahrain. Speaking to FNA on Sunday, al-Rashid said the siege of al-Akr and the brutal collective punishment of Bahrain's people by the al-Khalifa regime have made it impossible to settle the current crisis as long as the regime is in power. He described the siege of the town as a milestone in Bahrain Revolution and a dangerous development in the country. The Bahraini political activist also said that the current situation sends the signal that "talks between the nation and the al-Khalifa regime is impossible". The Al-Khalifa regime sponsored by the US and Persian Gulf neighboring states is struggling to force people to accept its legitimacy and has refused to take any step for a political solution, he added. Al-Akr, South of Manama, has been under siege for 10 days as the government is adopting collective punishment against the residents of the town and using bombs and poisonous gas against citizens passing along the streets. Bahrain's police and security forces have surrounded al-Akr and cut the roads and transfer of food supplies to the town after a bomb attack on October 18 allegedly killed one policeman and injured another one following clashes between protesters and the Saudi-backed security services. Bahrain's al-Vafa al-Islami stream has condemned the al-Akr siege, and underlined, "The Bahraini regime's story about the killing of a policeman in al-Akr village is an excuse to assume the extensive deracination of people as permitted." Anti-government protesters have been holding peaceful demonstrations across Bahrain since mid-February 2011, calling for an end to the al-Khalifa dynasty. Violence against the defenseless people escalated after a Saudi-led conglomerate of police, security and military forces from the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (PGCC) member states - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar - were dispatched to the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom on March 13, 2011, to help Manama crack down on peaceful protestors. Tens of protesters have been killed by the al-Khalifa's security forces, hundreds have gone missing and thousands of others have been injured since the start of the Islamic Awakening in the tiny Persian Gulf country.

Saudi Arabia must stop prosecuting protesters: HRW

Human Right Watch (HRW) has urged Saudi Arabia to stop prosecuting protesters, saying the Saudi government has punished the peaceful demonstrators instead of addressing their concerns.
Deputy Middle East director at HRW, Joe Stork, said on Sunday that the Saudi government uses the judicial systems against the protesters. “The sentences handed to these men are part of a wider effort to target and harass activists across the country,” Joe Stork said. HRW called on Saudi Arabia to end the Specialized Criminal Court, saying the lack of clear and predictable criminal law violates international human rights principles prohibiting arbitrary arrest and guaranteeing fair trials. “Saudi authorities detain and punish individuals for doing nothing more than peacefully expressing legitimate grievances,” Stork said. “The Saudi government should stop using the judicial system to punish peaceful dissidents, and recognize that peaceful assembly is not a crime.” Earlier Amnesty International had called on Saudi authorities to stop excessive use of force against anti-regime protesters in the country. “The Saudi authorities must end their repeated moves to stifle people’s attempts to protest against the widespread use of arbitrary detention in the country,” Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther said on October 16. “The right of people to peaceful protest must be respected and the security forces must refrain from detaining or using excessive force against people who exercise it.” On October 11, the Saudi Interior Ministry warned people against staging demonstrations in the kingdom in support of the prisoners and pledged to deal “firmly” with those participating in such protest rallies. Saudi authorities are facing a rise in protests against arbitrary detentions and widespread demands for the release of political prisoners. According to the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association, there are about 30,000 political prisoners in the kingdom. Since February 2011, protesters have held demonstrations on an almost regular basis in Saudi Arabia, mainly in the Qatif region and the town of Awamiyah in Eastern Province, primarily calling for the release of all political prisoners, freedom of expression and assembly, and an end to widespread discrimination. However, the demonstrations have turned into protests against the repressive Al Saud regime, especially since November 2011 when Saudi security forces killed five protesters and injured many others in the province.

Presidential debate: Romney endorses Obama

Monday's presidential debate, the third and last between President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney, featured a forceful and articulate defense of Obama's foreign policy. That was no surprise. What was surprising was that it came from Romney.
That seemed to annoy the president — who was prepared to rebut his opponent's previous, more bellicose pronouncements. But the ever-shifting Republican nominee tacked even closer to the moderate middle than he did in the debate devoted to economic policy. Once Romney intimated that he might keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan past NATO's 2014 deadline. No more. Now he agrees with Obama that it is feasible to transfer combat responsibilities to the Afghans by that point. On Iran, Romney emphasized economic sanctions rather than the threat of a military attack, effectively endorsing Obama's approach. On Syria, Romney disappointed some of his neoconservative supporters by forswearing direct U.S. military intervention or the establishment of a no-fly zone. There was no call for returning U.S. forces to Iraq, though Romney continued to accuse Obama of bungling negotiations aimed at keeping a small residual force there.Yes, there were nuances of difference. Obama says the U.S. won't allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, while Romney continued to describe the red line as "nuclear capability." And Romney didn't discard his more sweeping indictments of Obama's foreign policy. He dusted off his canard that the president had conducted an "apology tour" through the Middle East. To be clear: Obama has not apologized for American influence; every time Romney says otherwise, he reinforces the many reasons to distrust his honesty. Even Romney's rhetoric was less blustery in the debate than it has been on the campaign trail. A viewer who hadn't tuned into the campaign before Monday night might have wondered what all the shouting was about. Both candidates support withdrawal from Afghanistan, a careful courtship of Syrian opposition forces, the continued targeting of suspected terrorists by drones, and the leveraging of military aid to induce Egypt and other nations where Islamists are ascendant to respect the rights of women and religious minorities. Both want to engage China in trade, but press it to play fair. If Romney believes in a thoughtful and centrist foreign policy, which he hadn't until Monday night, it would argue for his candidacy. But if that vision is attractive — and it is — why not stick with the president who is already pursuing it?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Weekly Address: Protecting the American People with New Wall Street Reforms

Huge Hurricane Sandy bears down on East Coast

Hurricane Sandy could be the biggest storm to hit the United States mainland when it comes ashore on Monday night, bringing strong winds and dangerous flooding to the East Coast from the mid-Atlantic states to New England, forecasters said on Sunday. Sandy could have a brutal impact on major cities in the target zone like Boston, New York, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, one of the most densely populated regions of the country and home to tens of millions of people. "The size of this alone, affecting a heavily populated area, is going to be history making," said Jeff Masters, a hurricane specialist who writes a blog posted on the Weather Underground (
Forecasters said Sandy was a rare, hybrid "super storm" created by an Arctic jet stream wrapping itself around a tropical storm, possibly causing up to 12 inches of rain in some areas, as well as heavy snowfall inland. Government officials in several states in Sandy's path faced tough decisions on emergency plans, including mandatory evacuations in vulnerable coastal areas, and residents scrambled to buy supplies before the storm comes ashore on Monday night. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie ordered the state's casinos to close by 4 p.m. and began preparations in case the state had to shut down its bus and rail systems. On its current projected track, Sandy is most likely to make landfall between in the New York/New Jersey area and head inland to Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, forecasters said. EXCEPTIONALLY WIDE STORM Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said it was too early to predict precisely where the storm would make landfall but the impact would be felt far from the center. While Sandy's 75 mph winds were not overwhelming for a hurricane, its width made it exceptional. Hurricane-force winds extended 175 miles from its center while its lesser tropical storm-force winds spanned 1,040 miles in diameter. It was not expected to strengthen but was expected to broaden. In New York City, officials discussed whether to shut the subway system on Sunday in advance of the storm, which could bring the country's financial nerve center to a standstill. At high tide, the storm could bring a surge of seawater up to 11 feet above normal levels to Long Island Sound and New York Harbor. "Given the large wind field associated with Sandy, elevated water levels could span multiple tide cycles, resulting in repeated and extended periods of coastal and bayside flooding," the forecasters said. The storm could cause the worst flooding Connecticut has seen in more than 70 years, said the state's governor, Dannel P. Malloy. Sandy was centered about 260 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, early on Sunday, the hurricane center said. The storm was moving over the Atlantic parallel to the U.S. coast at 10 mph, but was forecast to make a tight westward turn toward the U.S. coast on Sunday night. Tropical storm conditions were spreading across the coast of North Carolina on Sunday morning and gale-force winds are forecast to begin affecting Washington, New York and southern New England by Monday. In Brussels, European air traffic control agency Eurocontrol warned of disruption to flights to and from Europe from Sunday evening. RECORD BREAKER Sandy could be the largest storm to hit the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) website. Sandy killed at least 66 people as it made its way through the Caribbean islands, including 51 in Haiti, mostly from flash flooding and mudslides, according to authorities. The approaching storm forced a change of plans for both presidential candidates ahead of the November 6 election. The White House said President Barack Obama canceled a campaign appearance in Virginia on Monday and another stop in Colorado on Tuesday, and will instead monitor the storm from Washington. Republican challenger Mitt Romney rescheduled campaign events planned for Virginia on Sunday and was flying to Ohio instead. All along the U.S. coast, worried residents packed stores, buying generators, candles, food and other supplies in anticipation of power outages. Some local governments announced schools would be closed on Monday and Tuesday. "They're freaking out," said Joe Dautel, a clerk at a hardware store in Glenside, Pennsylvania. "I'm selling people four, five, six packs of batteries - when I had them."

Pakistan: Writers, artists must help end human rights violations: HRCP

The Express Tribune
Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Secretary General IA Rehman has said that the writers and artists will have to play their role in efforts to end the human rights violations and to promote the philosophy of non-violence in the country. Addressing a seminar organised by the HRCP on Wednesday, Rehman said HRCP will host meetings on developing opinions on policies for safeguarding human rights, adding that the commission will engage writers and journalists in policy discussions on human rights situation in the country. He said that the planned conventions will see writers and media persons of divergent views engaged in dialogue on the parameters of human rights, as difference of opinion helps grow positive thinking.

Human Rights commission of Pakistan demands immediate release of Down’s syndrome child
The Human Rights commission of Pakistan demands immediate release and protection of 11-year old Christian girl who was accused of blasphemy. According to the some reports, the girl was carrying a shopping bag to dispose of used pages when she was stopped by someone who asked her to show what she was carrying. Burnt pages of Holy Quran were allegedly found in the bag. Local clerics alerted and soon a charged mob gathered outside the Rimsha’s house. The 11-year old girl who is suffering from Down’s syndrome is held in jail in Rawalpindi. Blasphemy laws have been misused against religious minorities and unfounded allegations have led to violent attacks against the minorities. This act will not only affect the safety of the minorities living in Pakistan but also create the great fear and panic in different religious sectors. The Human Rights commission appeal to take all the measures to provide security to the little girl who is seriously ill and to the minorities so that they feel secure living in a so-called independent country.

Magnitude 5.2 earthquake jolts parts of Pakistan

An earthquake of magnitude 5.2 on the Richter scale struck a number of areas across Pakistan including most of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Northwestern tribal region, and Punjab, Geo News reported Sunday. According to reports, the seismic activity shook the areas around 5:00 PM in the evening, spreading panic among the people, however no loss of life or property was reported. Meteorology Department said the epicenter was somewhere in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan-Tajikistan border area 300 kilometer from Gilgit Baltistan. The tremors were felt in the federal capital Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Sargodah, Chiniot, Mirpur Azad Kashmir, Hangu, Battagram, Rawalakot, Balakot, Khyber Agency, Dera Ismail Khan, Peshawar, Mardan, Lower Dir, North Waziristan, Nowshera, Charsadda, Swat and Hazara division.

Malala Yousafzai status updates

The medical team caring for Malala Yousufzai say they are pleased with her progress, almost two weeks after she arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. Malala is being looked after by staff from the Queen Elizabeth and Birmingham Children’s hospitals and remains in a stable condition.

Karachi factory fire intensifies

A fire that broke out in the chemical warehouse of a plastic bag manufacturing factory in Karachi’s Gulbai area engulfed the entire factory on Sunday as the intensity of blaze increased , DawnNews reported. Fire tenders reached the spot from across the city. Fire tenders of the Air force and Army had also been deployed and were making efforts to put the fire out. The fire that begun late on Saturday rendered the structure of the building hollow causing large portions of the five-story building to collapse and had spread to an adjoining factory in the vicinity. Two production units along with chemicals and other raw materials worth millions were reduced to ashes as a result of the fire. Fire brigade officials declared the fire as a third-degree hazard. Citizens Police Liaison Committee chief Ahmed Chinoy said that it was difficult to immediately bring the fire under control as there was a lack of equipment and resources, as the nature of fire was not normal. He added that water was not useful in extinguishing the fire and that additional fire retardant foam had been sought. Chinoy further said that the firemen were trying their best to contain the fire and to stop it from spreading to other areas. Rescue and fire teams were concerned about the fire spreading to the basement of the factory which contained drums of inflammable and explosive chemicals and were instructed to maintain a distance from the fire site keeping in view the fear of an explosion. Smoke billowing from the fire was visible from miles away. Some fire experts suggested that attempting to put out the fire with water was useless as chemical fires can only be extinguished using a special kind of a fire retardant foam. A large number of people had gathered to spectate the site of fire. In another unrelated incident a warehouse storing wooded goods caught fire in Orangi Town area of Karachi. Fire tenders were dispatched to the location to put out the fire.

Major fire in Karachi chemical factory

A major fire broke out at a chemical factory in Pakistan's port city of Karachi late Saturday night and was yet to be brought under control till Sunday afternoon, Geo News reported. Smoke billowing from the fire was visible from miles away. Over 15 fire tenders were pressed into service after the inferno was reported in the city's Gulbai area. The fire also engulfed two adjacent buildings. Many blasts were reported intermittently in the five-storey building due to storage of chemical while several parts of it were collapsed. Teams of Pakistan Air Force and Army have also been deployed to douse the fire, Dawn reported Sunday. No loss of life was reported in the incident till afternoon. Some fire experts suggested attempting to put out the fire with water was useless as chemical fires could only be extinguished using a special kind of a fire retardant foam.

Nowshera shrine blast kills at least 5

Emergency has been declared in District Headquarter Hospital of Nowshera. Five people killed while sixteen injured in an explosion outside a shrine of Ziarat Kaka Sahib located in district Nowshera. The injured people have been shifted to District Headquarter Hospital of Nowshera where emergency has been declared. According to Dunya TV, several injured people who were in critical condition were shifted to lady reading hospital of Peshawar. The SHO Nowshera Kalan said that it was a remote control bomb which was planted at about 30 feet away from the main gate of the shrine. Meanwhile, it is learnt that proper security arrangements were not made at Ziarat Kaka Sahib. The area was cordonned off soon after the incident and an investigation has been started.

Obama Cancels Some Campaigning to Monitor Storms

The White House has announced President Obama is cancelling some of his campaign travel Monday as Hurricane Sandy is expected to veer on to the East Coast. The president is getting out of Washington, D.C., Sunday, earlier than planned, to beat the disruptions expected in air travel. He is scheduled to speak at rallies in Orlando, Florida, and Youngstown, Ohio, two places outside the region braced for the impact. The White House says a Monday evening rally in Northern Virginia near Dulles airport is being cancelled. That area is expecting high winds and heavy rains. The President has also dropped Tuesday morning travel to Colorado Springs. Spokesmen for the White House and for the Obama campaign say campaigning is appropriate despite the approaching storm, but they said his roles as president and as commander in chief come first. President Obama has instructed federal emergency planners to offer assistance to states and local governments, but the White House emphasizes that during natural disasters, all decisions about preparedness and evacuations are made by local officials, not by the federal government.

Superstorm could impact 60 million people in US

Forget distinctions like tropical storm or hurricane. Don't get fixated on a particular track. Wherever it hits, the rare behemoth storm inexorably gathering in the eastern U.S. will afflict a third of the country with sheets of rain, high winds and heavy snow, say officials who warned millions in coastal areas to get out of the way. "We're looking at impact of greater than 50 to 60 million people," said Louis Uccellini, head of environmental prediction for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As Hurricane Sandy barrelled north from the Caribbean — where it left nearly five dozen dead — to meet two other powerful winter storms, experts said it didn't matter how strong the storm was when it hit land: The rare hybrid storm that follows will cause havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes. "This is not a coastal threat alone," said Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "This is a very large area." President Barack Obama was monitoring the storm and working with state and locals governments to make sure they get the resources needed to prepare, administration officials said. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie declared a state of emergency Saturday as hundreds of coastal residents started moving inland and the state was set to close its casinos. New York's governor was considering shutting down the subways to avoid flooding and half a dozen states warned residents to prepare for several days of lost power. Sandy weakened briefly to a tropical storm Saturday but was soon back up to Category 1 strength, packing 75 mph winds. It was about 275 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving northeast at 14 mph as of 2 a.m. Sunday. Forecasters said the storm was spreading tropical storm conditions across the coastline of North Carolina, and they were expected to move up the mid-Atlantic coastline late Sunday. Experts said the storm was most likely to hit the southern New Jersey coastline by late Monday or early Tuesday. Governors from North Carolina, where heavy rain was expected Sunday, to Connecticut declared states of emergency. Delaware ordered mandatory evacuations for coastal communities by 8 p.m. Sunday. Christie, who was widely criticized for not interrupting a family vacation in Florida while a snowstorm pummeled the state in 2010, broke off campaigning for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in North Carolina on Friday to return home. "I can be as cynical as anyone," Christie said in a bit of understatement Saturday. "But when the storm comes, if it's as bad as they're predicting, you're going to wish you weren't as cynical as you otherwise might have been." The storm forced the presidential campaign to juggle schedules. Romney scrapped plans to campaign Sunday in the swing state of Virginia and switched his schedule for the day to Ohio. First lady Michelle Obama cancelled an appearance in New Hampshire for Tuesday, and Obama moved a planned Monday departure for Florida to Sunday night to beat the storm. He cancelled appearances in Northern Virginia on Monday and Colorado on Tuesday. In Ship Bottom, just north of Atlantic City, Alice and Giovanni Stockton-Rossini spent Saturday packing clothing in the backyard of their home, a few hundred yards from the ocean on Long Beach Island. Their neighbourhood was under a voluntary evacuation order, but they didn't need to be forced. "It's really frightening," Alice Stockton-Rossi said. "But you know how many times they tell you, 'This is it, it's really coming and it's really the big one' and then it turns out not to be? I'm afraid people will tune it out because of all the false alarms before ... (but) this one might be the one." A few blocks away, Russ Linke was taking no chances. He and his wife secured the patio furniture, packed the bicycles into the pickup truck, and headed off the island. What makes the storm so dangerous and unusual is that it is coming at the tail end of hurricane season and the beginning of winter storm season, "so it's kind of taking something from both," said Jeff Masters, director of the private service Weather Underground. Masters said the storm could be bigger than the worst East Coast storm on record — the 1938 New England hurricane known as the Long Island Express, which killed nearly 800 people. "Part hurricane, part nor'easter — all trouble," he said. Experts said to expect high winds over 800 miles and up to 2 feet of snow as far inland as West Virginia. And the storm was so big, and the convergence of the three storms so rare, that "we just can't pinpoint who is going to get the worst of it," said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Officials are particularly worried about the possibility of subway flooding in New York City, said Uccellini. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to prepare to shut the city's subways, buses and suburban trains by Sunday, but delayed making a final decision. The city shut the subways down before last year's Hurricane Irene, and a Columbia University study predicted that an Irene surge just 1 foot higher would have paralyzed lower Manhattan. Up and down the Eastern Seaboard and far inland, officials urged residents and businesses to prepare in big ways and little. On Saturday evening, Amtrak began cancelling train service to parts of the East Coast, including between Washington, D.C., and New York. Airlines started moving planes out of East Coast airports to avoid damage and adding flights out of New York and Washington on Sunday in preparation for flight cancellations on Monday. The Virginia National Guard was authorized to call up to 500 troops to active duty for debris removal and road-clearing, while homeowners stacked sandbags at their front doors in coastal towns. At a Home Depot in Virginia Beach, employee Dave Jusino said the store was swamped with customers. "We have organized chaos, is what I call it," Jusino said. "We organize a group of 10 associates, give them certain responsibilities and we just separate the lines, organize four customers at a time, load up their cars and get them out the door and then take the next customers." Utility officials warned rains could saturate the ground, causing trees to topple into power lines, and told residents to prepare for several days at home without power. "We're facing a very real possibility of widespread, prolonged power outages," said Ruth Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Warren Ellis, who was on an annual fishing pilgrimage on North Carolina's Outer Banks, didn't act fast enough to get home. Ellis' 73-year-old father managed to get off uninhabited Portsmouth Island near Cape Hatteras by ferry Friday. But the son and his camper got stranded when high winds and surf forced the ferry service to suspend operations Saturday. "We might not get off here until Tuesday or Wednesday, which doesn't hurt my feelings that much," said Ellis, 44, of Amissville, Va. "Because the fishing's going to be really good after this storm." Last year, Hurricane Irene poked a new inlet through the island, cutting the only road off Hatteras Island for about 4,000. In Connecticut, the Naval Submarine Base in Groton prepared to install flood gates and pile up sandbags to protect against flooding while its five submarines remain in port through the storm. Lobsterman Greg Griffen in Maine wasn't taking any chances; he moved 100 of his traps to deep water, where they are less vulnerable to shifting and damage in a storm. "Some of my competitors have been pulling their traps and taking them right home," said Griffen. The dire forecast "sort of encouraged them to pull the plug on the season." In Muncy Valley in northern Pennsylvania, Rich Fry learned his lesson from last year, when Tropical Storm Lee inundated his Katie's Country Store. In between helping customers picking up necessities Saturday, Fry was moving materials above the flood line. Fry said he was still trying to recover from the losses of last year's storm, when he estimates he lost $35,000 in merchandise. "It will take a lot of years to cover that," he said. Christie's emergency declaration will force the shutdown of Atlantic City's 12 casinos for only the fourth time in the 34-year history of legalized gambling here. The approach of Hurricane Irene shut down the casinos for three days last August. Atlantic City officials said they would begin evacuating the gambling hub's 30,000 residents at noon Sunday, busing them to mainland shelters and schools. Tom Foley, Atlantic City's emergency management director, recalled the March 1962 storm when the ocean and the bay met in the centre of the city. "This is predicted to get that bad," he said. Eighty-five-year-old former sailor Ray Leonard said if he had loved ones living in the projected landfall area, he would tell them to leave. Leonard knows to heed the warnings. He and two crewmates in his 32-foot sailboat, Satori, rode out 1991's infamous "perfect storm," made famous by the Sebastian Junger bestseller of the same name, before being plucked from the Atlantic off Martha's Vineyard, Mass., by a Coast Guard helicopter. "Don't be rash," Leonard said in a telephone interview Saturday from his home in Fort Myers, Fla. "Because if this does hit, you're going to lose all those little things you've spent the last 20 years feeling good about."