Canada floods force thousands from their homes

The Saint Lawrence and other rivers burst their banks from the area around Lake Ontario, in the center, to the province of Quebec in the east, flooding 171 towns and villages, and prompting authorities to declare a state of emergency in 10 municipalties.

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Some 3000 homes and public buildings were damaged by the rising waters. 

The rising waters hit their peak on Monday near the capital Ottawa, and severe flooding was reported around the town of Rigaud. 70 kilometers west of Montreal, where the waters have now begun to level off.  Hundreds of homes have been swamped in Rigaud in the past three weeks.

Quebec’s prime minister Philippe Couillard said that the levels had begun easing off on Tuesday.

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“We are now entering a period of falling water levels,” he said, but warned that this did not mean flooded areas would be easily accessible again even in the coming days. 

Montreal declared a 48-hour state of emergency on Sunday but has extended it to five days.

Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said the situation was serious, noting that “Quebec and Ontario have asked for military aid” and that 1650 members of the armed forces had been deployed to the stricken areas. 

“Naturally the federal government will cover all the costs linked to this aid for Quebec and Ontario,” he said. 

Devastating floods

In Pierrefonds, one of the hardest-hit regions near Montreal, Johanne Aubin spent the morning pumping water from her basement using a pump from her backyard swimming pool.

The flooding took her and most others here by surprise, and she barely had time to erect a small sandbag wall around her property.

After days of fighting an exhausting battle to hold back the waters, often in vain, despair has started to set in.

Most of the streets here are flooded, forcing locals to travel by canoe or other small boat.

Resident David Swidzinsky has been ferrying neighbors to safety, or back to their homes to collect precious belongings that had been missed in the rush to get out when a state of emergency was declared.

A Canadian Forces LAV, light armoured vehicle, passes a couple in their canoe on the flooded streets. (AAP)AAP

People “broke out in tears [seeing the devastation] when I brought them home to fetch their bags,” he said.

A few streets over, a dozen soldiers tirelessly filled sandbags. Across eastern Canada, hundreds of thousands of sandbags have been used and Ottawa has asked suppliers for up to four million more, said officials.

Pierrefonds resident John Parker spent his day hauling wet furniture and personal belongings to the curb, as a pump and hose sputtered water from his flooded basement over another wall of sandbags.

“It just kind of tires you out. You move around, get one window fixed and the next window gets full of water,” he told AFP. “It’s surrounded the whole house now, and it’s coming into the garage.

“It will get better, because it can’t get any worse,” he said.

‘Dealing with imponderables’

“With this kind of a disaster, it’s not where there’s a singular event like a dam bursting or a building exploding or a bridge collapsing,” commented Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale.

“This is the gradual building of precipitation where circumstances physically on the ground can change dramatically without notice in a very short span of time. So everybody was dealing with imponderables.”

Goodale called it the worst Canadian flood in “50 years” but added that the situation was improving in Ontario, where high water levels in Lake Ontario threatened coastal communities including parts of Toronto, Belleville to the east and the Thousand Islands region, which is home to fabled 19th century mansions and cottages.

“I have never seen so much water between Ottawa and Montreal,” Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, the wife of the prime minister, told broadcaster RDI.

The day before, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau accompanied by his two young children, had traveled to the town of Terrasse Vaudreuil west of Montreal to help locals fill sandbags.

There are “exceptional circumstances” behind the flooding, explained Quebec Environment Minister David Heurtel, pointing to a month of rain coming on the heels of a spring thaw after a “severe winter.”

Although it is unlikely to get any worse as of Monday, “the situation will last a few weeks,” said Coiteux.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said the recovery and cleanup from this “historic flood” will take time. 

Sunday evening, a 37-year-old man and his two-year-old daughter were reported missing after their car veered into a river and was swept away near Sainte-Anne-des-Monts in the Gaspe region of eastern Quebec.

In British Columbia, on the opposite side of the country, the same combination of rain and snowmelt has caused flooding and mudslides that left at least two people missing, including the fire chief of the village of Cache Creek who had been out checking water levels.

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Day sets sights on dominant Johnson

On the eve of his Players Championship title defence, Jason Day has set himself the considerable task of reeling in runaway world No.

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1 Dustin Johnson in 2017.

Physically-gifted, long-hitting Johnson has cleared out at the top of the world rankings since capitalising on Day’s mediocre season start, which has yielded a best finish of fifth place at Pebble Beach.

The 32-year-old American’s past four starts include three consecutive victories, including two World Golf Championships, before a runner-up finish at last week’s Wells Fargo Championship on return from the freak injury that put him out of the Masters.

After ending Day’s 47-week reign as No.1 in February, Johnson has increased his rankings lead over world No.2 Rory McIlroy to a whopping five points, with Day now at No.3.

Speaking at TPC Sawgrass in Florida on Tuesday, Day admitted catching reigning US Open champion Johnson would be a tall order in his current majestic form.

“Dustin is playing pretty well. It’s pretty hard to keep up when (he) hits it 350 yards, flicks it on with a wedge and holes all the putts,” said Day.

“But I’m trying to focus on getting back to that winning form, the practice workload I was doing (as No.1) and hopefully the results will come after that.”

Day believes a reboot of his mental approach will be key to returning to the top, having been heavily distracted previously due to his mother’s cancer diagnosis.

“For a moment, I lost the desire to be world No.1; I was mentally burnt out. Now, I’m in a rebuilding stage to try and get back to the top,” he said.

“I would do anything in the world to get back because there’s no better feeling than being the best.”

Day believes the good memories of last year’s win at the Players Championship could be the tonic he needs to kickstart his misfiring season, despite TPC Sawgrass undergoing several design changes.

“It’s obviously pretty special to come back as defending champion,” said Day.

“This feels like a major to me, so my expectation is heightened when when I come into an event like this.”

Day is joined at TPC Sawgrass by fellow Australians Adam Scott and recent Zurich Classic of winner Cameron Smith, as well as Rod Pampling, Greg Chalmers and Aaron Baddeley.

Starting Thursday (Friday AEST), the Players Championship has earned the reputation as the fifth major for its high-calibre field and $US1.8 million winner’s prize.

US to arm Kurdish fighters in Syria

The weapons are being delivered for use by Kurdish fighters ahead of the upcoming offensive to recapture Raqa, the last major bastion for IS in Syria and the capital of their supposed “caliphate.

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President Donald Trump on Monday “authorised the Department of Defence to equip Kurdish elements of the Syrian Democratic Forces as necessary to ensure a clear victory over ISIS in Raqa,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

“The SDF, partnered with enabling support from US and coalition forces, are the only force on the ground that can successfully seize Raqa in the near future.”

The Kurdish elements of the SDF are from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) and they have been the main faction fighting IS on the ground in Syria.

But Turkey says YPG fighters are linked to Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) separatists inside Turkey, who have waged an insurgency since 1984 that has killed over 40,000 people.

Turkish war planes carried out strikes on YPG forces in Syria on April 27 and also hit Kurdish forces in neighbouring Iraq in what Ankara described as “terrorist havens”.

Turkey’s concerns

Tuesday’s announcement comes ahead of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Washington next week to meet with Trump.

Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said it is unclear how Washington can soothe Turkey’s concerns over the arming of the Kurds.

He noted that the US government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center previously labelled the YPG as the PKK’s Syrian affiliate, but scrapped that description once the US began working with them in late-2014.

“There really cannot be any ignoring the fact that the YPG is the official affiliate of a terrorist organization that Turkey has been fighting for over 30 years,” Lister told AFP.

“We have many reasons to be very frustrated with the Turks, but Ankara has a justified reason for being infuriated by our support for the YPG.”

Pentagon chief Jim Mattis, who arrived in Vilnius late Tuesday as part of a Europe trip, earlier attended a summit in Copenhagen for senior leaders from the top 15 countries in the anti-IS coalition, including Turkey.

Though Mattis met with Turkish officials, he did not tell them of the decision to arm the Kurds, a US official said.

Still, Mattis gave a positive assessment of the role Turkey will play in the lead up to the Raqa fight.

“Our intent is to work with the Turks, alongside one another to take Raqa down,” Mattis said.

Anti-IS coalition

The US-led coalition fighting IS in Iraq and Syria discussed the campaign’s next steps as the jihadists’ “caliphate” around Raqa is collapsing.

Though officials warn that military action will continue for some time, they are generally upbeat about the progress and quickening momentum of the fight.

“We examined the enemy situation and discussed the next steps to make sure we are all on the same sheet of music. We are going to further accelerate this fight,” Mattis said.

After months of brutal, street-by-street combat, IS has now lost control of most of its stronghold of Mosul in Iraq, while the jihadists have become largely isolated in Raqa.

Several coalition countries are keeping a nervous eye on the region as IS-held territory diminishes.

Thousands of foreign fighters remain in Iraq and Syria, and coalition nations — particularly in Europe — are bracing for a possible wave of battle-hardened jihadists returning home.

According to a senior US administration official, Interpol has identified 14,000 foreign fighters it knows have travelled to Syria and are still alive.

The campaign against IS began in autumn 2014 and has seen the Iraqi security forces -– backed with coalition training and air power –- reverse humiliating losses and recapture several key cities including Ramadi and Fallujah.

Iraq’s second city Mosul is now mainly back under Iraqi control, though IS continues to hold the Old City on the west side, where its fighters are preparing for a bloody last stand.

Trump came to power on a pledge to destroy IS.

Though much of the groundwork had already been laid and the coalition had conducted thousands of strikes, US military leaders credit him with delegating them greater authority, enabling a quickening pace of operations.

But critics say the additional strikes have accelerated the rate of civilian deaths.

Greens disrupt Senate to slam budget

The Greens have disrupted the Senate’s schedule to decry the federal budget’s treatment of young Australians.

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The upper house was set to debate legislation for the government’s youth internship program on Wednesday morning but Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson moved to suspend proceedings to decry the impact of Tuesday’s budget on young people.

“The budget is screwing young Australians,” he told parliament.

The government was creating political roadblocks for young Australians, making it harder for them to pay university fees and unable to afford their first home, he said.

“I counted 14 different initiatives in the budget speech last night relating to housing affordability but none of them will tackle the structural issues.”

Greens colleague Sarah Hanson-Young accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of selling out.

“He swapped the leather jacket for the Tony Abbott blue tie,” she said.

Greens senator Nick McKim took issue with the government’s plan to drug-test unemployed job seekers, suggesting politicians should also be tested.

“What about a breathalyser on the front door of this place where if you blow over 0.05 you can’t come in here and vote,” he said.

“But of course we’re not going to have that, we’re going to pick on the vulnerable.”

Attorney-General George Brandis accused the Greens of grandstanding.

“You will have, every honourable senator will have, plenty of opportunity to debate the budget at the appropriate time and in the appropriate order provided for by the Senate program,” he said.

Labor agreed the Greens stunt was inappropriate, given the amount of work before the Senate.

“Any attempt to have a long debate on the budget that was handed down last night prior to a formal response from the leader of the opposition seems to me to be merely attempting to frustrate the program,” Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said.

Painkillers could raise heart attack risk

Routinely taking common anti-inflammatory painkillers could put people at a heightened risk of heart attack, Canadian research has found.

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Experts have drawn a link between taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are used to treat pain and inflammation, and an increased risk of heart attacks.

Doctors should consider the “risks and benefits” before dishing out the commonly prescribed drugs, particularly at higher doses, the authors cautioned.

The study published in journal The BMJ adds to growing evidence that suggests NSAIDs, including ibuprofen and naproxen, are potentially dangerous in some patients with cardiac risk factors, says Professor John McNeil, head of the Monash University School of Public Health & Preventive Medicine.

However, he says, these drugs can provide substantial relief to many patients.

“The longstanding advice to take the lowest effective dose for the shortest time is sound, especially in those whose risk of heart disease is already high. There was no substantial difference in risk between any of the commonly used NSAIDS,” Prof McNeil said.

Researchers from Canada, Finland and Germany conducted an analysis of previous studies, which held data on almost 450,000 people – 61,460 of whom had suffered a heart attack.

They found that taking any dose of NSAIDs for one week, one month, or more than a month was associated with an increased risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), according to the study.

They said there was a “a rapid onset of risk” for heart attack within the first week of use, while risk was highest during the first month of taking the painkillers.

Using the drugs for longer than one month did not increase risk more than with shorter use, the researchers found.

Risk was higher among users on high doses of the painkillers.

Use for between eight and 30 days at a high dose was “particularly harmful” when people were taking more than 1200mg a day of ibuprofen, 750mg a day of naproxen and more than 25mg a day of rofecoxib, they wrote.

Overall, the increased risk of suffering a heart attack was between 24 per cent and 58 per cent if taking celecoxib, ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen and rofecoxib, compared with not using these medications.

“Compared with non-use of NSAIDs in the preceding year, we documented that current use of all studied NSAIDs, including naproxen, was associated with an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction,” the authors wrote.

Although they did stress that conclusions should not be drawn about cause and effect.

“Given that the onset of risk of acute myocardial infarction occurred in the first week and appeared greatest in the first month of treatment with higher doses, prescribers should consider weighing the risks and benefits of NSAIDs before instituting treatment, particularly for higher doses.”