Heavy rain batters South Korea, flooding Seoul neighborhoods and killing at least 10

Photography by Keith Getter (all rights reserved)/Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Heavy rain with thunder and lightning has battered South Korea’s central areas for two straight days, causing damage, injuries and deaths.

Ten people have died and seven more have been reported missing in the heavy rain in the last two days, according to South Korea’s Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. A family of three living in a semi-basement apartment died when their home flooded, in Gwanak-gu, Seoul, officials said.

The heaviest-ever rainfall since South Korea began tracking precipitation data has flooded subway stations and submerged roads and homes.

Korea Meteorological Administration said the rainfall was a result of a strong collision between dry cold air coming from the North and hot humid air from the South.

Thousands of vehicles were submerged in Seoul on Monday night, forcing drivers to abandon their cars on the flooded road to get home. Muddy water brimmed over the river onto the streets and into the vehicles. Public sewers overflowed, not being able to hold the amount of rain that poured fast and hard.

“It rained 140 millimeters (5.5 inches) Monday night in the Dongjak district, Seoul, in just one hour. Seoul city’s annual precipitation is 1,400 millimeters (55 inches), which means that in just one hour, one-tenth of Seoul city’s yearly rainfall poured in just one part of the city in a very short period,” Lee Young-joo, professor of fire prevention science at the University of Seoul, told ABC News.

Hundreds of people living in mountainous areas in Seoul were evacuated to prevent damage from landslides Monday night. Civil service workers relocated residents living in lower-level homes and near mountains to temporary shelters. The heavy rain that poured after 6 p.m. Monday was especially harsh on people commuting from work to their homes.

“When I got off work, water was up to my knees and children were struggling to wade through the flooded water,” Seoul citizen Dong-Ug Yoon told ABC News about his difficult commute home. “The subway station was full of dirt. The shopkeeper of the underground convenience store was visibly emotional, trying to hold off the water gushing from the station stairs into her store.”

Gangnam district, well known for its posh streets and office buildings, was hit aggressively by the rain due to its topographical traits. The Gangnam subway station area is known to be 30 feet lower than the neighboring subway stations, making it more vulnerable to heavy rain and flood.

“Cars and buses were submerged in the flood so I had to park my car on a relatively safe side of the road and walk home. It took almost two hours trying to find roads that weren’t underwater yet,” Yewon Lee, an organist living in Seoul, told ABC News. “When I returned early this morning, I found other vehicles that floated down and collapsed into my car.”

The Seoul Metropolitan Government repaired the drainage facility in Gangnam after the area flooded from heavy rain in 2010.

Lee, the professor, said at the amount of rain that poured since Monday was way over the scale a reasonable drainage system could handle.

President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered officials during an emergency meeting Tuesday to “respond all-out with a sense of alertness.” He ordered officials to put in place preemptive entry restrictions in areas prone to landslides and flooding and for swiftly communicating the measures to the public.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Stolen artifacts sold to US collectors will be repatriated to Cambodia, officials say

Aaron Katersky

(NEW YORK) — Cambodian artifacts will return to their home country after being smuggled and sold to U.S. collectors and institutions.

The 10th Century Khmer sandstone statue “Skanda on a Peacock” was among the Cambodian antiquities looted from Angkor Wat, Koh Ker and other archeological sites during Cambodia’s periods of civil war and civil unrest that stretched from the 1960s to the 1990s.

“Skanda on a Peacock” is largely viewed as a masterpiece of artistic achievement and an important part of the Cambodian cultural heritage, according to experts.

On Monday, authorities announced “Skanda on a Peacock” and 30 other items will be repatriated to Cambodia after they were seized by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan and the New York field office of the Department of Homeland Security.

The ancient works of art, more than 1000 years old, were “ripped from their country,” said Ricky Patel, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, adding that the works were treated like ordinary commodities rather than the treasures they are.

All the pieces were sold to U.S. collectors and institutions by Douglas Latchford, who was indicted in 2019 for his lengthy involvement in illegal trafficking of looted Cambodian antiquities.

Latchford, a dual citizen of Thailand and the United Kingdom, was charged with wire fraud, smuggling, conspiracy and related charges. The indictment was dismissed after he died on Aug. 2, 2020, in Thailand.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said Latchford trafficked in works that are culturally valuable to the Cambodian people and he said the U.S. was “delighted” to return them.

“It’s like a return of the souls of our culture,” Keo Chhea, Cambodian ambassador to the U.S, said in a statement.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Pentagon announces new $1 billion military aid package

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 08, 1:30 PM EDT
Pentagon announces new $1 billion military aid package

The Pentagon has announced a new $1 billion military aid package for Ukraine.

The package includes more missiles for the HIMARS advanced rocket systems; 1,000 more Javelin anti-tank weapons; 55,000 rounds of artillery for 155mm howitzers; and armored vehicles.

“This package provides a significant amount of additional ammunition, weapons, and equipment that Ukrainians are using so effectively to defend themselves and will bring total U.S. security assistance to Ukraine to approximately $9.8 billion since the beginning of this Administration,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

The Treasury Department also announced Monday another $4.5 billion in direct economic assistance to help support Ukraine’s government, including paying salaries and keeping hospitals and schools open.

Aug 08, 9:49 AM EDT
More ships leave Ukraine, raising hopes for peace

Two dry cargo ships loaded with export grain were scheduled to leave the Ukrainian ports of Chornomorsk and Pivdenne on Monday after a busy weekend that saw four additional cargo vessels sail through Ukrainian waters.

The vessel Sakura, carrying 11,000 tonnes of soy, was the first to leave the Ukrainian port of Pivdenne on Monday as part of an initiative to export grain from Ukraine, local media reported.

The ship set course for Italy in the company of another dry cargo carrier — Arizona — which left Chornomorsk, another Ukrainian Black Sea port, with 50,000 tonnes of corn on Monday. The Arizona vessel is bound for Turkey.

Another four-ship convoy left Ukraine on Sunday morning, carrying 170,000 tons of agricultural produce, Ukraine’s Infrastructure Ministry said over the weekend.

Pope Francis welcomed the safe departure of the ships on Sunday while speaking at the noon-day Angelus prayer. “This event can be seen as a sign of hope,” the Pope said, adding that the export deal charts the path forward toward peace. “I sincerely hope that, following this path, we can put an end to the fighting and arrive at a just and lasting peace.”

So far, around 250,000 tonnes of corn, as well as 11,000 tonnes of soybeans, 6,000 tonnes of sunflower oil and 45,000 tonnes of sunflower meal have been exported from Ukraine on 10 ships since the first departure on Aug. 1, when the deal to establish safe corridors for ships to pass through was struck, according to a Reuters data tally.

Ukraine is planning to send up to five cargo ships a day from three Black Sea Ports in the following weeks, the local Sea Ports Authority said on Monday. Local authorities are also working to ensure that Ukrainian ports can receive at least three to five ships per day within two weeks, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Saturday.

The resumption of grain exports is being overseen by a Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul, comprised of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. personnel.

Meanwhile, the very first ship with Ukrainian grain that left the port of Odesa on Aug. 1 has been delayed in Tripoli, Lebanon, according to Ihor Ostash, the Ukrainian Ambassador to Lebanon.

“We are waiting for the conclusion of the negotiation process. Following this vessel, 20 others are already ready to leave Odesa,” the ambassador said on Sunday.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yuriy Zaliznyak, Fidel Pavlenko and Max Uzol

Aug 07, 1:35 PM EDT
Jessica Chastain meets with Zelenskyy

Actress Jessica Chastain was photographed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday in Kyiv following a meeting in which the Oscar winner expressed support for the country under siege by Russia.

“For us, such visits of famous people are extremely valuable,” Zelenskyy wrote on his verified Telegram account. “Thanks to this, the world will hear, know and understand the truth about what is happening in our country even more.”

In the post, Zelenskyy thanked Chastain for her support and published several photos of Chastain sitting at a table with Zelenskyy and two of his advisers.

Chastain has been vocal on social media regarding the plight Ukrainians are experiencing. In March, she tweeted photos published by Vogue Ukraine that highlighted the women being forced to give birth in bomb shelters are the start of the invasion.

-ABC News Christine Theodorou

Aug 05, 4:05 PM EDT
Russia shelled nuclear plant, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Friday.

Zelenskyy said forces twice struck the plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory in the southeast, and called the action “an act of terror,” in a statement released on Telegram.

“Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant,” he said in the statement.

The facility is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The Russian military, however, claimed it was a Ukrainian artillery strike that led to the reduction of activities of one power unit, and power falling at another.

They claimed 20 shells were fired at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant.

“Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency officials said the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “out of control” as routine safety checks had not been observed. IAEA officials have appealed for access to the Russian-controlled plant.

Aug 05, 6:33 AM EDT
3 more ships carrying Ukrainian grain leave Odesa-area ports

Another three commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain have departed from Odesa-area ports under a wartime deal, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

The vessels are bound for Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a combined total of 58,000 tons of Ukrainian corn onboard. All three ships will undergo inspection in Istanbul, as is required under the grain exports deal, according to the ministry.

The United Nations confirmed Thursday that three more grain ships — two from the port of Chornomorsk and one from Odesa — were cleared to depart through the designated “maritime humanitarian corridor.”

On Monday, the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from Odesa’s port under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called “a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.”

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

“This marks the conclusion of an initial ‘proof of concept’ operation to execute the agreement,” the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It’s the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia’s ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni’s journey a “significant step” but noted that “this is only a first step.”

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports “are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops,” but didn’t provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine — often referred to collectively as Europe’s breadbasket — produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world — particularly in Africa and the Middle East — are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee ‘hell’ in Ukraine’s east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine’s east “hell.”

“It cannot be described with words,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet “completely break the Russian army’s advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting,” he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

“The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that “it still needs to be done.”

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

US moves to seize Russian oligarch’s $90 million private jet

Photo courtesy of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York

(NEW YORK) — Federal prosecutors have moved to seize the $90 million Airbus A319 used as a private jet by a Russian businessman and parliamentarian known as the “richest man in the Duma.”

Andrei Skoch has been a member of Russia’s national parliament since 1999 and under U.S. sanctions since 2018 because of his “longstanding ties to Russian organized criminal groups, including time spent leading one such enterprise,” according to the Treasury Department.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. issued further sanctions against Skoch and his assets for “support[ing] the Kremlin’s efforts to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

“Once again US law enforcement has demonstrated that international shell games will not suffice to hide the fruits of corruption and money laundering,” said Andrew Adams, director of the Justice Department’s KleptoCapture task force that has been moving to seize assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs.

Skoch came to own the Airbus through a series of shell companies and trusts tied to his romantic partner, according to a seizure warrant issued by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

U.S. dollar transactions were made to pay for the registration of the Airbus in Aruba and for aviation insurance premiums, each of which was a necessary expense to maintain and operate the Airbus, the document said.

Skoch is part owner of the steel company Lebedinsky Mining, which is now part of the conglomerate Metalloinvest.

The Justice Department’s KleptoCapture task force is targeting sanctioned Russian oligarchs and their assets over their support for Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine.

“The sanctions levied by the U.S. government and the work of this task force demonstrate to these offensively wealthy oligarchs who support Russia’s military aggression that they are not untouchable, and we are dramatically impacting their way of life,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Michael Driscoll.

Skoch, 56, is currently worth $6.2 billion, according to Forbes’ World’s Billionaires List.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Secretary Blinken to arrive in Congo, Rwanda amid international tensions

Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

(NAIROBI, Kenya) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken is scheduled to meet with officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda this week, arriving in the middle of an ongoing conflict between militias and officials in the region.

His trip coincides with a recent surge of deadly violence along the borders between Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Local officials will expect Blinken to play the part of mediator between the three countries.

The Department of State said Blinken will send the message that “African countries are geostrategic players and critical partners on the most pressing issues of our day, from promoting an open and stable international system, to tackling the effects of climate change, food insecurity and global pandemics to shaping our technological and economic futures.”

The long-simmering disputes between the three countries and various militias have complex histories, but some of the most recent violence has stemmed from the fallout of a series of official contracts issued in 2020 for access or rights to lucrative mines in Congo. Since then, militia groups have taken up arms in hopes of expelling rivals and controlling disputed areas.

Congolese President Felix Tshisekedi signed a deal in 2020 with Uganda’s Dott Services Company. The agreement was to construct a road that would give Uganda access to Congo’s tin-rich mining province of Maniema.

But the following year, Felix also signed a mining agreement with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Dither Ltd., a company alleged to be under the management of Rwanda’s army. That deal is alleged by Uganda to have given Rwanda control over the entire mining supply chain.

After the Rwanda agreement, the Ugandan army immediately moved in to protect Dott Services assets and staff from crashes instigated by the March 23 Movement, a rebel militia. Uganda accused the Rwandan government of funding M23, which Rwanda vehemently denies.

In June 2022, the Congolese government suspended all agreements with Rwanda.

M23 has been behind the string of violence against civilians in Bunagana, an open cross-border trade area located between Uganda, Rwanda and Congo that has served as a hub for the militia since March. Members of the group have been accused by officials and international observers of raping women, killing residents, destroying property and stealing civilian livestock.

Thomas Fessy, a senior Congo researcher at Human Rights Watch, said that “since the M23 took control of several towns and villages in North Kivu in June, they’ve committed the same kind of horrific abuses against civilians that we’ve documented in the past. The government’s failure to hold M23 commanders accountable for war crimes committed years ago is enabling them and their new recruits to commit abuses today.”

According to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, thousands of people have fled to neighboring Uganda.

The M23 movement formed in 2012 when former members of National Congress for the Defense of the People, another militia, turned against the Congolese government by taking control of Goma, a city of over a million people and the capital of the eastern North Kivu province.

The United Nations Stabilization Mission in Congo had been working to quell the conflict until July, when U.N. peacekeepers allegedly shot and killed two civilians and injured others. The killings sparked a civilian protest where 36 people died, including four U.N. peacekeepers, officials said.

The Congolese government expelled U.N. spokesperson Mathias Gillman on Aug. 3, blaming him for the deadly protest. Congolese Foreign Minister Christophe Lutundula also said state officials were reassessing the U.N. mission’s scope after the deadly protests.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement that he was “outraged” by the incident, adding that he welcomed Congo’s decision to detain U.N. “personnel involved in the incident and to immediately open an investigation.”

As Blinken lands in Congo on Tuesday, local officials are expecting him to discuss the advancement of peace in the Congo and the broader Great Lakes region and ensuring free, inclusive and fair general elections of 2023.

Blinken is also expected to use his visit to Rwanda on Thursday to discuss Paul Rusesabagina’s trial and conviction.

The 67-year-old permanent U.S. resident has been detained in Kigali since August 2020. He was convicted in September of multiple terrorism-related charges and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of State determined that Rusesabagina has been “wrongfully detained.” State Department spokesperson Ned Price has said that U.S. officials were “concerned” about whether Rusesabagina was given a fair trial.

Rwanda released a statement saying, “We look forward to further strengthen the bilateral relationship between Rwanda and United States, and discussing our partnership in areas including peacekeeping, global health (notably the upcoming Global Fund replenishment) global food and energy security, trade and investment, counterterrorism and climate action.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

People in Beirut reflect on what they’ve lost two years after port blasts: Reporter’s notebook

Ibtissem Guenfoud/ABC News

(BEIRUT, Lebanon) — An explosion of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate in Lebanon’s biggest seaport in 2020 has left deep trauma in the Lebanese psyche.

Opera singer Michel Bou Rjeilly says Beirut will never be the same.

“It was all gone,” he said. “The café shops, the boutiques, the little scribbles on the walls, the old men fighting over who cheated while playing cards … Smashed, dead and unrecognizable.”

Bou Rjeilly who was injured in the explosion, said he remembers the immediate aftermath with clarity. “All my things were scattered on the floor, my brother was in front of me trying to remove the glass from my hair and head, telling me not to worry and that we will fix the house together … outside people screaming, ambulances going off, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing,” he recalled.

Nearly 200 people were reported dead after the blasts on Aug. 4, 2020, and over 7,000 were injured. The blasts destroyed 77,000 apartments and displaced over 300,000 people, the United Nations said.

Four of the port’s silos collapsed on Thursday as a belated result of the blasts, two years to the day after the explosions. Beirut residents who had gathered near the port center for protests and in homage to victims watched their port once again engulfed in smoke on this national day of mourning.

On Wednesday, U.N. experts called on the Human Rights Council to launch an international investigation into the explosion, saying, “Victims must have justice and accountability.”

Yet two years after the blasts, no one has been arrested or faced consequences. “This tragedy marked one of the largest non-nuclear blasts in recent memory, yet the world has done nothing to find out why it happened,” U.N. experts said this week.

On the anniversary of the tragedy, some Beirut residents talk about it constantly, sharing where they were when it happened, and like Bou Rjeilly, sharing their survival stories.

Some of them say if the economic crisis had hit the Lebanese commercial area of Mar Mikhael; if COVID-19 restrictions had not drastically diminished the numbers on the streets that day. if children were still at school at the time of the explosion, perhaps the death toll would have been in the thousands rather than the hundreds.

The human toll is significant. My contact in Lebanon told me as I boarded the plane to head there to cover the explosion in September 2020 that I could call him anytime because he doesn’t “sleep since the blasts.”

Apparently, he is not alone in experiencing restless nights and anxiety since the blast. Local reports have also covered a shortage of antidepressants in Lebanon’s pharmacies — some believe due to the country’s financial crisis and the trauma from the explosions.

The explosions also led to an exacerbation of the food crisis in a country already hard-hit by a dire financial crisis. Lebanon imports up to 80% of its food and the blasts affected the country’s main entry point for food products, according to a local food bank.

Mona Keenan is vice president of the Lebanese Food Bank, a nongovernmental organization that distributed over 100,000 food boxes to people in need in the last year. More than 1.5 million people are currently suffering from food insecurity in Lebanon, she said.

“The food crisis since the explosions has doubled, tripled even, (so) the need is much more than before,” Keenan said. “The port was the main place where food came from.”

The blasts have become a symbol of the struggle of the Lebanese people. The shockwaves are still being felt, with nearly 80,000 people having fled the country in the last year alone, according to Sal, an independent consultancy firm based in Beirut.

During my September in Beirut, I spoke to those who were making plans to leave the country while claiming their love for Lebanon and pride in being from its capital.

A large number of Lebanese are fleeing country, according to the U.N.’s International Organization for Migration, so expatriation is far from a new phenomenon. What’s different this time, is that some told me they were not looking back once gone, and were planning on not returning.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Nuclear plant reportedly shelled

ANATOLII STEPANOV/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “special military operation” into neighboring Ukraine began on Feb. 24, with Russian forces invading from Belarus, to the north, and Russia, to the east. Ukrainian troops have offered “stiff resistance,” according to U.S. officials.

The Russian military has since launched a full-scale ground offensive in eastern Ukraine’s disputed Donbas region, capturing the strategic port city of Mariupol and securing a coastal corridor to the Moscow-annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Aug 05, 4:05 PM EDT
Russia shelled nuclear plant, Zelenskyy says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russian forces shelled the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant Friday.

Zelenskyy said forces twice struck the plant, which is in Russian-controlled territory in the southeast, and called the action “an act of terror,” in a statement released on Telegram.

“Russia should be responsible for the very fact of creating a threat to the nuclear power plant,” he said in the statement.

The facility is the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

The Russian military, however, claimed it was a Ukrainian artillery strike that led to the reduction of activities of one power unit, and power falling at another.

They claimed 20 shells were fired at the city of Enerhodar and the power plant.

“Fortunately, the Ukrainian shells did not hit the oil and fuel facility and the oxygen plant nearby, thus avoiding a larger fire and a possible radiation accident,” Russia’s defense ministry said, according to Reuters.

Earlier this week, the International Atomic Energy Agency officials said the situation at Zaporizhzhia was “out of control” as routine safety checks had not been observed. IAEA officials have appealed for access to the Russian-controlled plant.

Aug 05, 6:33 AM EDT
3 more ships carrying Ukrainian grain leave Odesa-area ports

Another three commercial ships carrying Ukrainian grain have departed from Odesa-area ports under a wartime deal, the Turkish Ministry of National Defense said Friday.

The vessels are bound for Turkey, the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a combined total of 58,000 tons of Ukrainian corn onboard. All three ships will undergo inspection in Istanbul, as is required under the grain exports deal, according to the ministry.

The United Nations confirmed Thursday that three more grain ships — two from the port of Chornomorsk and one from Odesa — were cleared to depart through the designated “maritime humanitarian corridor.”

On Monday, the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from Odesa’s port under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative, bound for the Lebanese port of Tripoli. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

Aug 04, 10:24 AM EDT
Ukrainian fighting tactics endanger civilians, Amnesty International says

Ukrainian forces attempting to repel the Russian invasion have put civilians in harm’s way by establishing bases and operating weapons systems in populated residential areas, including in schools and hospitals, Amnesty International said Thursday.

The London-based international human rights group published a new report detailing such tactics, saying they turn civilian objects into military targets.

“We have documented a pattern of Ukrainian forces putting civilians at risk and violating the laws of war when they operate in populated areas,” Amnesty International Secretary-General Agnès Callamard said in a statement. “Being in a defensive position does not exempt the Ukrainian military from respecting international humanitarian law.”

Between April and July, Amnesty International researchers spent several weeks investigating Russian airstrikes in the Kharkiv, Donbas and Mykolaiv regions of Ukraine. The organization inspected strike sites, interviewed survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims of attacks, as well as carried out remote-sensing and weapons analysis. Throughout the probe, researchers found evidence of Ukrainian forces launching strikes from within populated residential areas as well as basing themselves in civilian buildings in 19 towns and villages in the regions, according to Amnesty International.

The organization said most residential areas where Ukrainian soldiers located themselves were miles away from front lines, with viable alternatives that would not endanger civilians, such as nearby military bases or densely wooded areas, and other structures further away. In the cases documented, Amnesty International said it is not aware of the Ukrainian troops asking or assisting civilians to evacuate nearby buildings in the residential areas, which the organization called “a failure to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians.”

Amnesty International, however, noted that not every Russian attack it documented followed this pattern. In certain other locations in which the organization concluded that Russia had committed war crimes, including in some areas of the city of Kharkiv, the organization did not find evidence of Ukrainian forces located in the civilian areas unlawfully targeted by the Russian military.

Aug 03, 11:21 AM EDT
Inspectors in Turkey clear 1st grain ship from Ukraine, but no sign of more

The first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain under a wartime deal has safely departed the Black Sea, the United Nations said Wednesday.

The Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni set sail from the Ukrainian port city of Odesa on Monday, with more than 26,000 tons of Ukrainian corn on board. The vessel docked off the coast of Istanbul late Tuesday, where it was required to be inspected before being allowed to proceed to its final destination, Lebanon.

A joint civilian inspection comprising officials from Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and the U.N. inspected the Razoni on Wednesday morning, checking on the cargo and crew. After three hours, the team cleared the ship to set sail for Lebanon, according to the U.N. said.

“This marks the conclusion of an initial ‘proof of concept’ operation to execute the agreement,” the U.N. said in a statement Wednesday.

It’s the first commercial vessel carrying Ukrainian grain to safely depart the Black Sea since the start of Russia’s ongoing offensive, and the first to do so under the so-called Black Sea Grain Initiative. Last month, Russia and Ukraine signed separate agreements with Turkey and the U.N. to allow Ukraine to resume its shipment of grain from the Black Sea to world markets and for Russia to export grain and fertilizers.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Razoni’s journey a “significant step” but noted that “this is only a first step.”

No other grain shipments have departed Ukraine in the last two days and officials on all sides have offered no explanation for that delay.

The U.N. said Wednesday that three Ukrainian ports “are due to resume the export of millions of tons of wheat, corn and other crops,” but didn’t provide further details.

Since Russian forces invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24, the cost of grain, fertilizer and fuel has skyrocketed worldwide. Russia and Ukraine — often referred to collectively as Europe’s breadbasket — produce a third of the global supply of wheat and barley, but a Russian blockade in the Black Sea combined with Ukrainian naval mines have made exporting siloed grain and other foodstuffs virtually impossible. As a result, millions of people around the world — particularly in Africa and the Middle East — are now on the brink of famine.

Aug 03, 9:58 AM EDT
Thousands flee ‘hell’ in Ukraine’s east

Two-thirds of residents have fled eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast since the start of Russia’s invasion in late February, according to the regional governor.

Speaking to Ukrainian media on Tuesday, Donetsk Oblast Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said some 350,000 residents remain in the war-torn region.

During his Tuesday evening address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the hostilities in Ukraine’s east “hell.”

“It cannot be described with words,” Zelenskyy said.

Ukrainian forces cannot yet “completely break the Russian army’s advantage in artillery and manpower, and this is very noticeable in the fighting,” he added.

Last month, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said 200,000 civilians must be evacuated from the Donetsk Oblast before the weather gets colder, as there is no proper electricity or gas supply in the area for residents to heat their homes. Russian forces are also destroying heating equipment, according to Vereshchuk.

Zelenskyy has ordered the mandatory evacuation of Donetsk Oblast residents, urging them to leave as soon as possible. Those who comply will be compensated.

“The more people leave [the] Donetsk region now, the fewer people the Russian army will have time to kill,” he said.

Although many refuse to go, Zelenskyy stressed that “it still needs to be done.”

Mandatory evacuation from Donetsk Oblast began on Aug. 1. The first two trains evacuated 224 people to the central Ukrainian city of Kropyvnytskyi, according to local officials.

-ABC News’ Edward Szekeres, Yulia Drozd, Fidel Pavlenko and Yuriy Zaliznyak

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Expert explains Russian law behind Brittney Griner sentencing

ABC

(NEW YORK) — Brittney Griner is known for her game on the basketball court, but she’s now become embroiled in a much more dangerous game — a political gambit between Russia and the U.S.

William Pomeranz, the director of the Wilson Center Kennan Institute, is an expert on Russian law and the political developments within the country. He spoke to ABC News Live about the message behind Russia’s sentencing of Griner and what may come next.

He said that Griner’s conviction and nine-year sentence for drug charges Thursday “did not come as a surprise.”

“Russian criminal law treats drug offenses very harshly and I was not surprised that she got basically the maximum sentence,” Pomeranz said.

Griner has been detained in Russia for over five months after she was stopped at an airport for possessing vape cartridges containing hashish oil, which is illegal in the country. She faced a maximum of 10 years in prison, though she will be credited with five months time served.

Calls to free the WNBA star have escalated in the months since her detainment and put a considerable amount of pressure on the Biden administration to act. Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced discussions of a potential prisoner exchange.

He said the proposal includes exchanging Griner and former Marine Paul Whelan, who has been detained in Russia since 2019, for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.

President Joe Biden said in a brief comment on Friday that he was “hopeful” and his administration was “working hard” to bring Griner home.

Pomeranz said that whether Griner is a “political hostage” is “up for interpretation,” but the only way to get Griner out of Russia is through diplomacy.

“Diplomatic negotiations are ongoing, but, clearly, because the Biden administration has made the most overtures, the Russians are in the driver seat of when and how Brittney Griner gets home,” said Pomeranz.

Pomeranz added that Griner’s guilty conviction under Russian law may help.

“I think the Russians will be more inclined to negotiate. But how fast? I just don’t know,” said Pomeranz.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Ten miners remain trapped underground in flooded tunnel for nearly two days in Mexico

Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — Ten miners remain trapped underground in a flooded tunnel in northern Mexico on Friday after first becoming trapped nearly two days ago.

Mexican officials said the incident was reported around 1:35 p.m. on Wednesday, when miners allegedly encountered a tunnel filled with water that then flooded the Sabinas mine.

There were 15 miners inside when the flooding began, but rescuers were able to extract five of them on Wednesday, according to officials.

The remaining miners are trapped between two 200-foot deep mine shafts, with half of the area flooded with water, authorities said.

Laura Velazquez, Mexico’s national coordinator of civil protection, said on Thursday that authorities are now working to pump water out of the flooded areas of the mine.

“We have not slept, we are working day and night, uninterrupted,” Velazquez said at a briefing Thursday.

Velazquez said officials are strategically using the pumps to extract the greatest amount of water and gain access to the miners inside as soon as possible.

No one has had contact with the 10 miners who remain trapped since Wednesday.

Six special force divers arrived from the National Guard on Thursday morning, but officials had not given updates on their mission as of Friday morning.

Gov. Miguel Riquelme of Coahuila and Zaragoza state visited the Sabinas mine, located about 75 miles southeast of the Texas border, on Thursday.

Riquelme tweeted that work was being done through three wells to extract water using eight specialized pumps. Seventeen additional pumping teams with more resources were being called in, he added.

Riquelme said 150 people were working on the rescue, with officials from the Mexican Office of National Defense, the National Guard and expert rescuers from the Carboniferous region adding to the effort.

“The rescue work at the Agujita coal mine continues without rest, #Sabinas,” Riquelme tweeted on Thursday evening.

This is the third mining incident in Sabinas since 2006; 65 people were killed that year in a mining blast, followed by another 14 miners that were trapped and confirmed dead after a different explosion in 2011.

Officials have not yet begun investigating this new incident’s cause.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in his daily press briefing on Thursday that investigations will have to come later.

“Those responsible — the permits, the inspections, everything, all of that — we are leaving until after. We already have the basic information. But let’s not talk about that now, let’s look to save the miners,” he said.

The specific mine shaft where 10 workers are now trapped only began operations in January 2022, the secretary of Labor and Social Welfare said in a statement. However, the agency said there has been “no history of complaints of any type of anomaly.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Little-known species are at even more risk of extinction, scientists say

Stephen Frink/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — The species scientists know least about are at an even higher risk of extinction because researchers are unable to tailor conservation efforts to their needs, according to researchers.

More than 4,300 species whose extinction risk cannot be assessed due to a lack of ecological data are likely at risk of extinction, according to study published in Communications Biology on Thursday.

Among the more than 26,000 species that have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), nearly 7,700 have been declared data deficient, meaning there is not enough data to make any sort of declaration on their extinction risk, Jan Borgelt, an ecologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and author of the study, told ABC News.

Calculations based on previously published data on the geographical areas the species live in, as well as factors known to affect biodiversity — such as climate change, land use by humans and threats posed by invasive species — were used to predict extinction risk for data deficient species, according to the study.

The researchers found that about 56% of data deficient species are likely threatened with extinction compared with 28% of species that have been assessed for the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.

This becomes a problem for those making conservation plans, Borgelt said.

“So in most cases, actually, these data deficiencies are just ignored in a lot of analysis simply because we don’t know how threatened they are, if they’re threatened at all,” he said.

Extinction risks for data deficient species varied between groups and geographic areas. About 85% of amphibians, 40% of ray-finned fish, 61% of mammals, 59% of reptiles and 62% of insects are likely at risk of extinction, the study said.

For land-dwelling species that are data deficient, risk of extinction is prevalent among those that occupy smaller geographical areas within regions such as central Africa, southern Asia and Madagascar, the researchers found.

Maintaining the earth’s biodiversity is critical because all life depends on the proper functioning of ecosystems — such as clean water and carbon sequestration to help mitigate climate change, Borgelt said.

“Ultimately, functioning ecosystems depend on the species that live in those ecosystems,” he said. “And once we lose species, we sort of distract these ecological networks.”

The findings highlight potential biases in current conservation priorities as well as the importance of conservation for many data deficient species that are likely threatened by extinction, the paper concluded.

These assessments are “the very foundation of all conservation-related actions,” Borgelt said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.