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‘Unimaginable destruction after monster hurricane’

By Adam Arnold, news reporter

Large parts of Florida have suffered "unimaginable destruction" after the third-strongest hurricane in US history slammed into the sunshine state.

More than 900,000 homes and businesses are still without power in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

Winds up to 155mph uprooted trees and brought down power lines – with federal officials warning it may be several weeks before utilities are restored to some areas.

Search and rescue teams have fanned out across affected regions to reach trapped people.

Bu the full extent of the damage was only slowly becoming clear, with some of the worst areas difficult to reach.

An 80-mile stretch of Interstate 10, the main east-west route along the Florida Panhandle – the northwestern stretch of the state which bore the brunt of Michael's strength – was closed because of debris.

At least two people have lost their lives following the category four "monster" storm which brought torrential rain and destroyed properties.

Hurricane Michael was the strongest to hit Florida in decades
Image: Michael was the strongest to hit Florida in decades

One man died when a tree fell into his home on the Florida Panhandle, and an 11-year-old girl was killed after a tree fell onto her home in Georgia.

Florida governor Rick Scott said: "This morning, Florida's Gulf Coast and Panhandle and the Big Bend are waking up to unimaginable destruction.

"So many lives have been changed forever. So many families have lost everything… This hurricane was an absolute monster."

After making landfall on Wednesday afternoon in Florida, Michael's fierce winds and heavy rain struck Georgia, where it was downgraded to a tropical storm and later reached the Carolinas.

Trees and power lines down after Hurricane Michael came to Florida 0:41
Video: The Panama City Beach area of Florida was particularly heavily hit by the force of the hurricane as it moved inland.

North and South Carolina are both still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and caused billions of dollars in damage last month.

Michael was expected to leave the US east coast on Friday.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were ordered or urged to evacuate as Michael closed in, but it moved so fast that people did not have much time to prepare.

Red Cross officials said 7,800 people were in 100 shelters across Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

They said it was still not clear how many people stayed put and would need to be rescued.

At the centre of Hurricane Michael

At the centre of Hurricane Michael

Sky News US correspondent Greg Milam tells us what it was like

The category four storm – the second-highest on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale – made landfall near Mexico Beach in Florida and was just shy of a rare category five when it came ashore.

The US national guard has reached the town, dubbed "ground zero", and found 20 people who survived a direct hit from Michael.

A day after the storm hit, Mexico Beach remained very difficult to reach, with roads covered by fallen trees, power lines and other storm debris.

Aerial footage from a helicopter showed widespread devastation across the town of about 1,000 people.

Hurricane Michael rages through Florida 0:55
Video: Debris flies through the air in Florida as Hurricane Michael rages across the land.

Entire blocks of homes near the beach have been washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.

Rows and rows of other homes were smashed to pieces or crunched to the ground.

The town was under a mandatory evacuation order as the storm targeted the coast, but some people were determined to ride out the hurricane.

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Michael's intensification in the hours leading up to Wednesday caught many by surprise.

The hurricane strengthened due to the warmer than normal water temperature in the Gulf of Mexico.

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Jamal Khashoggi’s death exposes Saudi regime

Jamal Khashoggi was a gracious, polite and gentle man to meet.

Not the type to risk a fight with a bunch of goons behind closed doors in a consulate, or anywhere else for that matter.

For those who met and knew him, the latest storyline out of Riyadh is preposterous.

It also contradicts the shrill Saudi denials of the past two weeks that anything untoward happened in the consulate, leaving the credibility of the Saudi government in shreds.

The most likely explanation must remain Mr Khashoggi's killing was ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Khashoggi 1:43
Video: CCTV has captured journalist Jamal Khashoggi and his fiancee at their apartment on the day he disappeared.

Second most likely is an interrogation, intimidation or rendition operation, authorised or not by the prince, that went badly wrong.

If that was the case it is unthinkable the Crown Prince did not know what happened. He is after all Crown Prince and defence minister: intelligence agencies answer to him. He would have been told.

So he was either complicit in the killing and ordered it.

Or it was a botched operation which he soon learned about.

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If that was the case, inexplicably he waited two and a half weeks before letting the world know.

Two and a half weeks of damaging diplomatic fallout.

In that time his government, and supporters in the media angrily denied claims the writer died in the consulate. Claims they now say are true. The fortnight damaged both Saudi credibility and relations with allies.

Donald Trump says he believes the Saudi government's account of events is credible 7:07
Video: The White House reaction

That would make him incompetent.

So either a rash impetuous ruler who dispatches assassins to kill journalists or an inept one. Neither are what America or Britain seek as a partner in this crucial region.

Critics say this is the price America pays for giving the young prince free rein.

Video: Saudi Arabia said Mr Khashoggi was killed after a fight broke out.

Mr Trump's amoral foreign policy has led to an immoral one as the administration scrambles to give cover to its ally. A rogue ally that has caused considerable damage but is now too important to lose.

In his short time in office, MBS has presented himself as a twenty first century form of enlightened despot.

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An absolute ruler but one who wants to use his authoritarian power to reform and modernise his country.

That image may well have died with Jamal Khashoggi at considerable cost to his country and support from the west.

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US Mega Millions lottery jackpot hits record $1.6bn

Image copyright EPA

A record-breaking US lottery jackpot of $1.6bn (£1.2bn) is up for grabs after players failed to pick the winning ticket in a $1bn Mega Millions draw.

The competition, which saw 15 "second-tier" tickets scoop about $1m each, had people lining up at service stations and stores nationwide on Friday.

The odds of choosing the matching six numbers to win the Mega Millions prize are said to be one in 302,575,350.

Another draw for the huge US jackpot will be held on Tuesday.

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The Mega Millions draws, tickets for which are sold in 44 US states, the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, have failed to produce a top prize winner since July.

The competition was created in 2002 and has seen a number of changes to the rules over the years that have reduced the odds of winning, leading to larger jackpots.

Top five US jackpot wins

  • $1.58bn: A Powerball win in 2016. The prize was split three ways by ticket holders from California, Florida and Tennessee
  • $758.7m: Won in 2017 by mother-of-two Mavis Wanczyk from Massachusetts. She said she had picked the numbers based on relatives' birthdays
  • $656m: A Mega Millions top prize win in 2012, shared between three winners who purchased tickets in Maryland, Kansas and Illinois
  • $648m: Another Mega Millions win, this time in 2013 by two ticket holders; a woman in Georgia and a man in California
  • $590.5m: A Powerball jackpot won by an 84-year-old Florida woman

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Spain will NOT VETO final Brexit deal – Madrid DROPS Gibraltar demand

SPAIN has hinted it will not veto any final Brexit deal following negotiations between Madrid and London over Gibraltar this weekend, with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez accused of "wasting" the country’s powers to veto the UK’s exit from the EU.

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Sturgeon boycotts event in far-right row

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Steve Bannon left his White House job amid reports of a power struggle

Nicola Sturgeon has pulled out of a conference in Edinburgh next month because Donald Trump's ex-strategist Steve Bannon was also due to speak.

The first minister had been scheduled to take part in the three-day News Xchange event, which is being co-hosted by the BBC, on 13 November.

However, she said that giving Mr Bannon a platform risked "legitimising or normalising far-right, racist views".

Steve Bannon was one of Donald Trump's most trusted aides until August 2017.

He left the US government after losing his seat on the National Security Council amid claims of a power struggle among President Trump's top team.

'Balanced judgements'

Since leaving the White House, Mr Bannon has continued to champion right-wing political causes, although his appearance at events has proved controversial.

In September he was disinvited from the New Yorker Festival after a high-profile backlash by actor Jim Carrey, producer Judd Apatow and presenter Jimmy Fallon.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon said Steve Bannon's inclusion in the event risked normalising far-right views.

Nicola Sturgeon was due to be introduced by the BBC's Scotland editor Sarah Smith on the opening evening of the conference on 13 November.

Steve Bannon is expected to take part in a session the next morning, which is also due to be moderated by Sarah Smith at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

'Influential figure'

In a tweet, Ms Sturgeon said she regretted the position she had been put in by the BBC.

She said: "I believe passionately in free speech but as @ScotGovFM I have to make balanced judgments – and I will not be part of any process that risks legitimising or normalising far right, racist views. I regret that the BBC has put me and others in this position."

She also attacked the event's description of Mr Bannon as a "powerful and influential figure…promoting an anti-elite movement."

She added: "This kind of language to describe views that many would describe as fascist does seem to me to run the risk of normalisation."

Image caption The event is due to be moderated by BBC Scotland editor Sarah Smith

In a statement the BBC said Steve Bannon had been invited on behalf of the European Broadcasting Union's (EBU) News Xchange committee.

They added: "Good journalism in a world of fake news and disinformation is more vital than ever.

"Journalism is about asking tough questions and understanding what is happening in the world and why.

"A conference designed to analyse the big issues impacting that world isn't an endorsement of anyone or anything – it is a function of what journalism is."

'Relevant viewpoints'

Event organisers, the EBU, said the News Xchange event sought to explore industry trends and challenge delegates to understand the wider political and social context.

They said: "Steve Bannon is a key influencer in the rise of populism – one of the dominant political trends of our times.

"He has been invited to speak at News Xchange this year because his views are relevant to today's society at large and therefore to the media industry.

"We also consider it our journalistic responsibility to share and scrutinise a range of relevant viewpoints within the framework of a balanced debate.

"He will be interviewed about his views by a BBC journalist, followed by an open Q&A with delegates."

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Afghanistan polls: ‘Voting is an act of bravery’

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