US scambling to help Puerto Rico

The Pentagon has appointed a senior general to oversee military relief operations in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, even as President Donald Trump’s administration faced calls from lawmakers for a far more robust response to the disaster.

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The US territory of 3.4 million people is reeling from Hurricane Maria, which struck on September 20 as the most powerful storm to hit the island in nearly 90 years, causing widespread flooding, completely cutting power and heavily damaging homes, roads and other infrastructure.

The storm claimed more than 30 lives across the Caribbean, including at least 16 in Puerto Rico. Governor Ricardo Rossello has called the scope of the island’s devastation unprecedented.

The US military, which has poured some 4400 troops into the relief effort, including the Puerto Rico National Guard, named Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan to oversee its response on the island.

Buchanan, Army chief for the military’s US Northern Command, was expected to arrive in Puerto Rico on Thursday. He will be the Pentagon’s main liaison with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US government’s lead agency on the island, and focus on aid distribution, the Pentagon said in a statement.

FEMA has placed the US Army Corps of Engineers in charge of rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid.

Even as FEMA and the US military have stepped up relief efforts, many residents in Puerto Rico have been frustrated over the prolonged lack of electricity, drinking water and other essentials.

Radamez Montanez, a building administrator from the municipality of Carolina, east of capital city San Juan, said he had been without water and electricity at home since Hurricane Irma grazed the island two weeks before Maria. “It’s chaos, total chaos,” he said.

Defending the relief effort, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said 10,000 federal relief workers had arrived in Puerto Rico, including troops, and that 44 of the island’s 69 hospitals were now fully operational.

The Trump administration earlier lifted restrictions for 10 days on foreign shipping from the US mainland to Puerto Rico. While that measure might help speed cargo shipments, Puerto Rico is struggling to move supplies around the island once they arrive.

Tree rodent found in Solomon Islands

People living on the Solomon Islands had spoken of a big, tree-dwelling rat called vika that inhabited the rainforest, but the remarkable rodent managed to elude scientists – until now.

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After searching for it for years with cameras mounted in trees and traps, scientists said they finally caught up with the rat on Vangunu Island, part of the Solomon Islands, spotting one as it emerged from a tree felled by loggers.

It instantly joined the list of the biggest rats in the world, weighing about four times more than an ordinary rat and measuring about half-a-metre long.

“Vika lives in a very thick, complex forest, and it is up in the canopy so it is difficult to find. It is also a rare species. It is likely there are not many of these rats left,” mammalogist Tyrone Lavery of the Field Museum in Chicago, who led the research, said on Thursday.

The orange-brown rat dines on nuts and fruit, has short ears, a smooth tail with very fine scales and wide feet that allow it to move through the forest canopy.

The rat is reputed to chew holes in coconuts to eat the inside. “I haven’t found proof of this yet, but I have found that they can eat a very thick-shelled nut called a ngali nut,” Lavery said.

A small number of rat species around the world rival vika’s size. Lavery said a vika relative also inhabiting the Solomon Islands, called Poncelet’s giant rat, is twice the size.

The world’s largest rodent is not a rat, but rather South America’s barrel-shaped capybara.

A phenomenon called the “island effect” may help account for the size of Vika and other big rat species in the Solomon Islands.

“The island effect, or island syndrome, relates to the effects living on an island has on the evolution of body size. On islands, small species such as rats, evolve to have larger body size, they attain higher population densities and they produce fewer offspring,” Lavery said.

The research was published this week in the Journal of Mammalogy.

Internationals lose opening Cup session

Marc Leishman says the Internationals have been backed into a must-win second session after they squandered a chance to lead the first day of the Presidents Cup.

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The US continued their dominance in the biennial teams event, having led after every session since the final day of their 2005 Cup win.

On Thursday, a star-studded 10-man American outfit demonstrated their potency by taking a 3.5-1.5 lead in the foursomes at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey.

Chasing their first Cup victory since Royal Melbourne in 1998, Internationals star Leishman is confident of chasing down the deficit in the four-ball (best ball) session on day two.

“Fourball, we’ve been stronger at in the past,” said Leishman of Friday’s format.

“If we have a good day, there’s no reason why we can’t be leading at the end. That has to be our goal.”

The three Australians contributed just half a point in the alternate shot format.

Leishman and playing partner Jason Day led opponents Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner by one hole late in the match before an errant Leishman tee shot saw them lose the 17th.

They appeared likely to lose the 18th hole and therefore the match but Mickelson missed a short putt to gift the Australian duo half a point.

“We just need to think about what that half a point could mean at the end of the week; how much we would have paid for that extra point in Korea,” said Leishman, referring to the Internationals’ one-point loss in 2015.

“One match here and there, and that could make a difference.”

Fellow Australian Adam Scott and partner Jhonattan Vegas also led at the halfway point of their clash with world No.1 Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar but several errors on the back nine handed the Americans a one-up victory.

“We’re not that far behind,” said world No.6 Day.

“We’ve got to regroup. The American side is obviously stacked but I think our team is ready to rally.”

The Internationals’ top-ranked player Hideki Matsuyama and playing partner Charl Schwartzel were smashed 6-and-4 by Rickie Fowler and FedEx Cup champion Justin Thomas.

Internationals rookies Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo were spanked 5-and-4 by dream pairing Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.

Standouts for the Internationals were South African duo Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who were clinical in their 3-and-1 win against US Open champion Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

“Louis and I stuck to the guns. We made the clutch things when we had to,” said Grace.

“Hopefully we inspire a little bit of the team.”

U.S. lead International team after first day at Presidents Cup

The U.

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S. won three of five foursomes matches, and halved another, to enjoy a 3-1/2 to 1-1/2 advantage in strong and gusty winds that made club selection difficult.

It could have been even worse for the International team as American veteran Phil Mickelson missed a six-foot putt at the final hole as he and partner Kevin Kisner halved with Australians Jason Day and Marc Leishman.

The International team, comprised of players from the rest of the world excluding Europe, have now lost the opening session six consecutive times at the biennial event.

“We’re one point better off then we were two years (ago),” Price said. “It was a brutal day to play golf. We got behind the eight-ball early with a few of our teams being two-down, three-down at the turn.

“But the guys rallied back great. Even though we’re two points behind, it was one of our strongest starts in foursomes on Thursday.

“So the team is not discouraged at all. We have a resilient team. They are raring to go tomorrow.”

The American pair Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler set the tone in the first match, thrashing Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel 6&4.

The Americans also had an emphatic victory in match three as Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed thumped South Korean Kim Si-woo and Argentine Emiliano Grillo 5&4.

The International team suffered another disappointment when Australian Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela were edged one-up by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar.

The result leaves Scott with more foursomes defeats, nine, than any player in Presidents Cup history. He is 4-9-1 in the alternate shot format. Scott also joins South African Ernie Els with a record 18 losses over all formats.

STELLAR PARTNERSHIP

The International team did manage to salvage something from the other two matches as South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace continued their stellar partnership with a 3&1 win over Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger.

Oosthuizen and Grace paired up to win four matches at the 2015 event.

In the final match, Day and Leishman recovered from a big early deficit to take the lead against Mickelson and Kisner.

But the Australians opened the door with bogeys at the final two holes, and were fortunate to escape with 1/2 a point.

U.S. captain Sticker was pleased with the day overall.

“There’s still a long, long ways to go. But we very much liked the day and the way it started,” he said.

The International team has only one overall victory (1998) and one tie (2003) in 11 stagings of the event.

The Cup continues on Friday with five four-ball (better ball) matches.

Price will rest rookies Kim and Grillo, while U.S. captain Steve Stricker opted to leave out Matt Kuchar and Daniel Berger.

Four-ball matches at Presidents Cup on Friday (U.S. named first):

11.35 a.m. ET (1535 GMT) – Jordan Spieth/Patrick Reed v Hideki Matsuyama/Adam Hadwin

11.50 a.m. ET – Rickie Fowler/Justin Thomas v Louis Oosthuizen/Branden Grace

12.05 p.m. ET – Phil Mickelson/Kevin Kisner v Jason Day/Marc Leishman

12.20 p.m ET – Kevin Chappell/Charley Hoffman v Charl Schwartzel/Anirban Lahiri

12.35 p.m. ET – Dustin Johnson/Brooks Koepka v Adam Scott/Jhonattan Vegas

(Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Ken Ferris)

Man poisons supermarket food in Germany

A man has slipped a potentially lethal poison into food, including baby food, on sale in some German supermarkets in an extortion scheme aimed at raising millions of euros, police say.

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No cases of poisoning had been reported so far.

Police say the alleged perpetrator had alerted them by email after placing quantities of poison in products for sale in some southern German supermarkets earlier in September, and was now threatening to do so nationwide and elsewhere in Europe unless given a pay-off of many millions.

“We are taking the threat very seriously,” Uwe Stuermer, deputy chief of police in the southern lakeside city of Konstanz, told a news conference on Thursday.

“There is no reason for panic or hysteria,” he added, while warning consumers to be on the look-out for packaging that had been tampered with when buying their groceries.

Police were looking for a suspect who could be seen in security video footage from one of the supermarkets in a town near Konstanz and appeared to be a man of about 50 years old.

The footage was made public to help in the search.

Police said they had found some baby food spiked with ethylene glycol, a colourless, odourless liquid used in the manufacture of antifreeze, which can be deadly if consumed.

Authorities in the southwestern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said they would intensify checks of food on sale, but warned that identifying contaminated items would be a challenge.

“The case is difficult because the blackmailer did not say which food will be targeted or what poison he will use,” a consumer protection official said.