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Icy blast hits 200 mn. Americans

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Some 200 million Americans are feeling the icy grip of a massive winter storm that has been linked to at least 12 deaths ahead of the holiday weekend.

More than 1.5 million people lost power and thousands of flights were cancelled on Friday.

The vast storm extends more than 2,000 miles (3,200km) from Texas to Quebec.

A bomb cyclone, when atmospheric pressure plummets, has brought blizzard conditions to the Great Lakes on the US-Canada border.

In Canada, Ontario and Quebec were bearing the brunt of the Arctic blast, with power cut to hundreds of thousands.

Much of the rest of the country, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, was under extreme cold and winter storm warnings.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said its Friday map “depicts one of the greatest extents of winter weather warnings and advisories ever”.

Temperatures in Elk Park, Montana, dropped to -50F (-45C), while the town of Hell, Michigan, has frozen over.

It was 1F (-17C) in the snow-covered community on Friday night. Emily, a bartender at Smitty’s Hell Saloon, told the BBC: “It’s pretty cold here, but we’re having a hell of a time.”

In South Dakota, snowed-in Native Americans burned clothes for warmth after running out of fuel, said tribal officials.

Heavy snowfall was forecast in areas of Pennsylvania and Michigan. Buffalo, New York, was expecting at least 35in (89cm). More than eight million people remained under blizzard warnings, said the NWS.

Coastal flooding has been seen in New England, New York and New Jersey.

(BBC News)

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Putin arrives in North Korea

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Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in North Korea to a red carpet welcome on Tuesday night.

The two-day visit marks the first for a Russian leader in the last 24 years. Putin’s only previous visit to Pyongyang was in July 2000, two months after his presidential inauguration.

Mr Putin was met off his plane by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and – flanked by a military guard of honour – the pair talked animatedly for several minutes.

In Pyongyang, the streets had been decorated with Putin’s portraits and the flags of Russia and North Korea.

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Priyanka Gandhi to finally make electoral debut

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Priyanka Gandhi, sister of India’s main opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, is set to contest her first election, ending decades of anticipation by her supporters.

Ms Gandhi is a descendant of the Nehru-Gandhi family, India’s most famous political dynasty, and her electoral debut will be closely watched.

The 52-year-old will contest the Wayanad seat in the southern Indian state of Kerala after her brother relinquishes it.

A win for Ms Gandhi would mean the presence of all three Gandhi family members in the Indian parliament.

Her mother Sonia Gandhi, former president of the Congress party, is an MP in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament.

Her brother Mr Gandhi won the recent parliamentary elections from both Wayanad and Uttar Pradesh’s Rae Bareli seats.

Mr Gandhi, who has represented Wayanad as an MP since 2019, is giving it up as he can only retain one parliamentary seat under Indian law. On Monday, he thanked the people of Wayanad for their “love, affection and support”.

A date for the by-election is yet to be announced but Ms Gandhi says she is “not nervous at all”.

“I am very happy to be able to represent Wayanad and I will not let them feel his [Rahul Gandhi’s] absence,” she said on Monday. “I will work hard and I will try my best to make everyone happy and be a good representative.”

The by-election will mark the end of a decades-long wait by Congress supporters for Ms Gandhi’s involvement in electoral politics.

(BBC News)

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Railway collision in India kills 15, injures several

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A freight train smashed into the rear of a stationary passenger train in India’s West Bengal state on Monday, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens, police said, in an accident that railway authorities blamed on a disregarded signal.

Media showed images of the pile-up, with containers from the goods train strewn nearby, and one carriage left nearly vertical after the accident, which comes just over a year after a signalling error caused one of India’s worst rail crashes.

At least 15 bodies have been pulled from the mangled carriages, Abhishek Roy, a senior police official in the eastern state’s district of Darjeeling, the site of the accident, told Reuters.

Nearly 30 people were injured and rescue teams from the police and national disaster response force were working with doctors and residents of the area to clear debris from the derailed carriages, Roy added.

The goods train hit the Kanchanjunga Express travelling to Kolkata, the capital of West Bengal, from the northeastern state of Tripura, driving three carriages of the passenger train off the rails.

It was not immediately clear how many passengers were on board at the time.

Rescuers used iron rods and ropes to work free one carriage of the passenger train that had been swept upwards to lodge on the roof of the freight train by the impact of the collision.

The dead included the driver of the freight train and a guard on the passenger train, Jaya Varma Sinha, the head of the railway board that runs the countrywide network, told reporters.

The accident happened after the driver of the freight train disregarded a signal and hit the rear end of the express train, Sinha added.

Rescue work has been completed, Sinha said, while authorities were working to restore traffic, although the damage had been less extensive than initially feared.

“The guard’s compartment in the passenger train was badly damaged,” he added. “There were two parcel vans attached ahead of it which reduced the extent of damage to passengers.”

Nearby residents heard a loud crash and saw the pile-up upon going to investigate, several told the ANI news agency, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered condolences on the loss of life in the accident and said Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw was on his way to the site.

About 288 people died a year ago in the neighbouring state of Odisha, in India’s worst rail crash in more than two decades, caused by a signal failure.

(Reuters)

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