'Merciless abyss' of Aleppo

Syrian government forces continued their push into rebel-held districts of Aleppo on Thursday as international officials issued dire warnings of an ongoing humanitarian disaster in Syria's largest city.

United Nations humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien told the Security Council that conditions in eastern Aleppo, which is besieged and assaulted on all sides by government forces, had descended into the "merciless abyss of humanitarian catastrophe."

Speaking to the Security Council via video link from Geneva, O'Brien painted a grim picture of the conditions in the war-wracked eastern part of the city, where at least 320 civilians including 100 children have been killed in the past week. An additional 765 have been wounded.

O'Brien's report noted that the U.N. now calculates that 861,200 Syrians are trapped in sieges — a nearly 50 per cent increase from the last estimate of 586,200. The new figure reflects the government's protracted blockade around eastern Aleppo, where an estimated 250,000 people or more live.

Most of the besieged citizens, divided across at least 18 locations around the country, are trapped by government forces, and international observers are beginning to accuse both Damascus and its close ally Moscow of war crimes.

The U.N. embarked on an ambitious plan early this year to establish regular humanitarian access to Syrians living under various sieges but was reportedly stymied by the government as well as a restrictive covenant between rebels and the government to limit assistance to 60,000 of the most distressed, divided among four towns. At that time, a total of 487,000 Syrians were estimated to be living under siege.

O'Brien said certain Security Council members bore responsibility for global inaction on Syria and ended his address saying it was time to "place the blame."

In Aleppo, rescue crews were working for the third straight day to clear the rubble and search for survivors of presumed Russian or Syrian government airstrikes on the eastern al-Shaar and al-Mashhad neighbourhoods that flattened residential buildings and killed at least 23 civilians, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Germany and Turkey condemned what they called "blatant breaches of international humanitarian law" and renewed calls for a cease-fire.


Rosetta set for comet crash

Scientists began saying their final farewells to the Rosetta space probe Thursday, hours before its planned crash-landing on a comet, but said that data collected during the mission would provide discoveries for many years to come.

The spacecraft, launched in 2004, took a decade to reach comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, where it released a smaller probe called Philae that performed the first comet landing in November 2014.

With almost two dozen scientific instruments between them, Rosetta and its lander gathered a wealth of data about 67P that has already given researchers significant new insights into the composition of comets and the formation of celestial bodies.

"The best thing is we still haven't gone through all our data," said Mohamed El-Maarry, a researcher at the University of Bern, Switzerland.

El-Maarry said OSIRIS, the main camera on board the probe, had captured some 80,000 images, many of which have yet to be analyzed fully.

A few more will be added during Rosetta's final hours, as the European Space Agency steers the probe toward the comet so it can take unprecedented close-up images before colliding with the icy surface.

Other instruments were used to 'sniff' for molecules on the comet and examine its insides with radar. Among the key findings was the discovery of molecular oxygen on the comet, forcing scientists to reconsider previous assumptions guiding the search for alien life.

The mission also found that the type of water on 67P is different from that on Earth. This challenges the idea that the bulk of the water on our planet was "delivered" by comets crashing into it.

Hotel home to fat feline

Guests at a hotel in New Hampshire can be forgiven for thinking a raccoon is lounging out front.

The huge ball of fur on the sidewalk of the Best Western Silver Fox Inn at the Waterville Valley Resort is actually a fat cat. A really fat cat.

The eight-year-old tabby is named Logan and weighs 31 pounds — nearly three times the size of a normal cat. Often found wandering through the hotel or stretched out on the sidewalk, Logan has become a huge hit with visitors and is an internet sensation. Guests have posted photos of Logan sitting in a chair, and a Facebook video that's been viewed 29 million times, shows it waddling through the parking lot.

Susan and Tor Brunvand adopted Logan from a Meridith, New Hampshire, shelter six years ago. Logan arrived as a normal sized cat but soon was gobbling up food from the bowls of the couple's two other cats and finding a way to sneak into the stash of food. Logan slowly put on weight.

Susan Brunvand said she once had a 20-pound cat, but that cat was big because it was part Maine Coon.

The couple took Logan to a vet and had his blood tested. Nothing was found. He even had stretches — once after a fight with a feral cat — where he barely ate for several weeks. Still, nothing reduced the size of the obese feline.

"We've tried everything," she said, attributing his girth to a slow metabolism.

Reaction to the cat has been a mix of amazement and concern about its health. After the video was posted, Brunvand said she got a call from someone wanting to bring her up on animal abuse charges for allowing the cat to get so big.

"I just wonder why a person would have a pet and let it get that heavy," said Janet Lynn, a hotel guest from Manchester, New Hampshire.

Brunvand insists there is little more she can do — or should do — to help the cat she calls her "little chubby boy, my little bear" shed the weight.

She laughed at the suggestion of putting Logan on a treadmill. Rather, she lets Logan act like her two other cats, spending the day outdoors.

"He is one of the happiest, easiest cats I've ever had," she said. "He doesn't think he's fat."

Train crashes into station

UPDATE: 2:10 p.m.

The mayor of a New Jersey city where a train crashed during the morning rush hour says the woman who died was from Hoboken.

Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer confirmed Thursday that the sole victim of the crash was a resident of Hoboken. More than 100 other people were injured, including nearly 75 who were sent to hospitals.

Zimmer says her thoughts and prayers go out to the victim's family. She says that she can't give any more information on the woman's identity but noted that "we're in great sadness over that loss."

Gov. Chris Christie said earlier that the woman had been standing on the platform and was hit by debris. But he says most of the people who were injured were on the train.

ORIGINAL: 7:10 a.m.

A commuter train from New York barrelled into a New Jersey rail station during the Thursday morning rush hour, causing an unknown number of injuries. Witnesses reported seeing one woman trapped under concrete and many people bleeding.

TV footage and photos from the scene show damage to the rail car and extensive structural damage to the Hoboken station. Images on social media show a train that appears to have gone through the bumper stop at the end of a track.

"The next thing I know, we are plowing through the platform," passenger Bhagyesh Shah told NBC New York. "It was for a couple seconds, but it felt like an eternity."

Nancy Bido, a passenger on the train, told WNBC-TV in New York that train didn't slow as it pulled into the station. "It just never stopped. It was going really fast and the terminal was basically the brake for the train," she said.

He said the train was crowded, particularly the first two cars, because they make for an easy exit into the Hoboken station and onto the PATH train. Passengers in the second car broke the emergency windows to get out.

"I saw a woman pinned under concrete," Shah told NBC New York. "A lot of people were bleeding; one guy was crying."

New Jersey Transit spokeswoman Jennifer Nelson said on Fox News that there are multiple injuries, but it wasn't immediately clear how many or how serious. She said about 250 passengers are usually on board the train around this time.

The train came to a halt in a covered area between the station's indoor waiting area and the platform. A metal structure covering the area collapsed.

"It simply did not stop," WFAN anchor John Minko, who witnessed the crash, told 1010 WINS. "It went right through the barriers and into the reception area."

The train had left Spring Valley, New York, at 7:23 a.m. and crashed into Hoboken Terminal at 8:45 a.m., said NJ Transit spokeswoman Nancy Snyder. She said authorities are investigating what might have caused the train to crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board was opening an investigation into the crash and will send a team of investigators to the scene, said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the board.

'Shocked and saddened'

The mother of a teen accused of killing his father and wounding two students and a teacher at a rural South Carolina elementary school says his family is "shocked and saddened."

In a statement that Pastor James South provided to local media outlets, Tiffney Osborne says the family "cannot express the devastation we feel at the loss of our beloved Jeff."

Authorities said the shooting began Wednesday afternoon at the teen's house about 2 miles from rural Townville Elementary School, where he gunned down his 47-year-old father, Jeffrey Osborne.

Authorities have not released the suspect's name or age beyond saying he's a teen. South says Tiffney Osborne found out about the shooting through media reports. Anderson County Sheriff John Skipper said earlier that she was at work at the time of the shooing.

Skipper said Jamie Brock, a 30-year veteran of the Townville Volunteer Fire Department, "just took him down" and stopped the teen before he could get inside the school. The sheriff said the fire station is close to the school, and Brock arrived before other officers responding to the dispatch.

Brock has said he doesn't want attention for his actions.

He "wants to remain humble and quiet about it" as he believes "he did nothing any of the other volunteer firefighters wouldn't have done," said Scott Stoller with Anderson County Emergency Management.

Regardless, he said, "Firefighter Brock is absolutely a hero."

The teacher wounded in the shooting, Meghan Hollingsworth, also was reluctant to talk.

"We are not interested in giving interviews or answering questions of any kind," a sign posted on the front door of her home Thursday morning read.

"We ask that you respect our privacy," the note said, while expressing appreciation for those concerned about her.

Sheriff's Lt. Sheila Cole said officers and forensic specialists were returning to the school Thursday morning to resume their investigation.

Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said the teen, crying and upset, called his grandmother's cellphone at 1:44 p.m. Wednesday, Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said. The grandparents couldn't understand what was going on, so they went to his home just 100 yards away. When they got there, they found Osborne dead and their grandson gone.

About one minute later, authorities received a 911 call from a teacher at the school in this rural town on the about 110 miles northeast of Atlanta near the Georgia-South Carolina border.

75,000 kids could starve

As many as 75,000 children will die over the next year in famine-like conditions created by Boko Haram if donors don't respond quickly, the United Nations Children's Fund is warning. That's far more than the 20,000 people killed in the seven-year Islamic uprising.

The severity of malnutrition levels and high number of children facing death make the humanitarian crisis confronting northeastern Nigeria perhaps the worst in the world, according to Arjan de Wagt, nutrition chief for UNICEF in Nigeria. He said children already are dying but donors are not responding.

Most severely malnourished children die of secondary illnesses like diarrhea and respiratory infections, de Wagt told The Associated Press. "But with famine, you actually die of hunger," and that is what is happening, he said.

Severe malnutrition is being found in 20, 30 and even 50 per cent of children in pockets of the region, he said.

"Globally, you just don't see this. You have to go back to places like Somalia five years ago to see these kinds of levels," de Wagt said. Nearly 260,000 people died in Somalia between 2010 and 2012 from severe drought aggravated by war. At the time, the United Nations said aid needed to be provided more quickly.

UNICEF on Thursday doubled the amount of its appeal for Nigeria, saying $115 million is needed to save children whose "lives are literally hanging by a thread." Only $24 million has been raised so far, the agency said.

The lack of money has meant some 750,000 people living in accessible areas could not be helped this year, spokeswoman Doune Porter told the AP.

Most of the estimated 2.6 million people who fled Boko Haram's insurgency are subsistence farmers who have been unable to plant for two years or more.

Of 4 million people in desperate need of food are about 2.2 million people trapped in areas where Boko Haram is operating or in newly liberated areas that still are too dangerous to reach by road, de Wagt said. Among them, 65,000 are living in famine-like conditions.

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Some evac orders lifted

Some evacuations were lifted as cooler weather gave firefighters a boost in their struggle with a wildfire burning through dry brush that is threatening hundreds of structures in a remote area of California's Santa Cruz Mountains.

Mandatory evacuations were lifted Wednesday for Santa Cruz County but evacuation orders remained in effect for neighbouring Santa Clara County, where most of the 300 threatened structures are located, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The wildfire had charred more than 4 square miles and was 22 per cent contained by Wednesday evening, said Cal Fire Battalion Chief Scott McLean.

A 10-degree drop in temperatures and increased humidity helped fire crews. The cooling trend was expected to last through the week.

"Tomorrow is expected to be much cooler and each day will get progressively better but we still have very active fire behaviour," McLean said.

The blaze won't be fully contained before next week, McLean estimated.

It was among three blazes burning in Northern California during a time of year when the drought-stricken state sees its largest and most damaging wildfires, state forestry officials said.

The blaze broke out Monday during a statewide heat wave that brought witheringly low humidity and temperatures in the upper 90s.

It gutted at least one home and threatened 300 buildings, though it was not clear how many were homes or smaller structures.

Officer guns down refugee

The fatal police shooting of a Ugandan refugee who drew something from his pocket and extended his hands in a "shooting stance" happened about a minute after officers in a San Diego suburb arrived where a distraught man was reportedly walking in traffic, a police spokesman said Wednesday.

It took police more than an hour to respond because of other calls, El Cajon Lt. Rob Ransweiler said. Officers arrived at a parking lot next to a Mexican fast-food restaurant about 2:10 p.m., and Alfred Olango, who was unarmed, was shot about a minute later, police said.

Mayor Bill Wells said he was concerned how quickly the shooting took place, though he said video taken by a bystander was enlightening and he didn't think it was "tremendously complicated to figure out what happened."

Police said the man had refused to comply with instructions to remove a hand from his pants pocket and paced back and forth before rapidly drawing an object from the pocket. The item turned out to be an electronic cigarette device, police said late Wednesday.

Some protesters said he was shot while his hands were raised in the air, though police disputed that and produced a single frame from the cellphone video to support their account.

The image showed the man in what police called a "shooting stance." His hands were clasped together and he was pointing directly at an officer who had assumed a similar posture a few feet away. That officer fired his handgun and a second officer, farther away, simultaneously fired his electric stun gun, Chief Jeff Davis said.

Wells was asked how he would feel if it was his child that had been shot.

"I saw a man who was distraught, and a man acting like he was in great pain," Wells said. "And I saw him get gunned down and killed. If he was my son, I would be devastated."

The FBI and the district attorney also are investigating.

An attorney for Olango's family said he was distraught over the recent death of his best friend and was having an emotional breakdown.

Olango, 38, had a history of brushes with the law, including selling cocaine, driving drunk and illegally possessing a 9mm semi-automatic handgun when he was arrested in Colorado in 2005 with pot and ecstasy in his car, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in federal court and was sentenced to nearly four years for being a felon in possession of a gun.

The single photo is all police released depicting the incident that sparked angry protests by demonstrators demanding more information and wanting to know how police could shoot an unarmed man.

School shooter killed father

A teenager who killed his father at their home Wednesday was stopped by a volunteer firefighter as he opened fire outside a South Carolina elementary school, wounding two students and a teacher, authorities said.

The teen was apprehended within minutes of the shooting in this rural town about 110 miles northeast of Atlanta. One student was shot in the leg and the other in the foot, Capt. Garland Major with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office said. Both students were male. The female teacher was hit in the shoulder.

"We are heartbroken about this senseless act of violence," said Joanne Avery, superintendent of Anderson County School District 4. She cancelled classes at the school for the rest of the week.

Authorities said the shooting spree began at the teen's house about two miles from the school, where he gunned down his 47-year-old father, Jeffrey Osborne. Authorities have not released the suspect's name or age beyond saying that he's a teen.

Crying and upset, the teen called his grandmother's cellphone at 1:44 p.m., Anderson County Coroner Greg Shore said. The grandparents couldn't understand what was going on, so they went to his home just 100 yards away. When they got there, they found Osborne had been shot and their grandson was gone.

About one minute later, authorities received a 911 call from Townville Elementary School.

Sheriff John Skipper said the shooter drove a vehicle into the school parking lot and immediately started firing a handgun as he got out and moved toward the school. He did not know who the vehicle was registered to, and he declined to say how many shots were fired.

The shooter never entered the school building, though, and was apprehended by firefighter Jamie Brock, a 30-year veteran of the Townville Volunteer Fire Department

Television images showed officers swarming the school after the report of an active shooter. Some were on top of the roof while others were walking around the building. Students were driven away on buses accompanied by police officers.

Skipper didn't have specifics on how Brock stopped the teen: "I think he just took him down."

32 people missing in China

At least 32 people were reported missing Thursday after rain-saturated hillsides collapsed onto villages in southeastern China following a typhoon.

A rescue operation was underway in Sucun village in China's Zhejiang province, south of the financial hub of Shanghai, after it was hit by a landslide on Wednesday evening, leaving 26 missing, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Another six people are missing in Baofeng village, also in Zhejiang, after a landslide destroyed their homes.

The landslides were triggered by torrential rain brought by Typhoon Megi, which lashed southeastern China on Wednesday. The storm had already killed at least five people in China and Taiwan, and forced the closure of schools and offices and the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

State broadcaster CCTV showed rescue crews, accompanied by sniffer dogs, combing through piles of mud and rock in the mountainous, forested areas.

Megi caused more than $10 million in damage as it swept across Taiwan before weakening into a tropical storm after hitting the coastal city of Quanzhou in China's Fujian province early Wednesday. At its height, it was packing winds of up to 118 kilometres (74 miles) per hour, China's National Meteorological Center said.

In Fuzhou, Fujian's capital, people were shown on state television walking through knee-deep waters that had swamped major roads. Rescue workers were seen pulling stranded residents through the streets on inflatable boats.

Taiwan's Central Emergency Operations Center reported that 625 people were injured by Megi, including eight Japanese tourists whose tour bus flipped on its side. Three people suffered fatal falls and a fourth person died in a truck crash, Taiwan's Central Emergency Operations Center said.

Megi dropped 300 millimeters (12 inches) of rain in the south and eastern mountains of Taiwan, and more than 220 flights were cancelled at Taiwan's Taoyuan International Airport.

It was the fourth typhoon to hit Taiwan this year and the third in two weeks.

Congress clears stopgap bill

WASHINGTON - Averting an election-year crisis, Congress late Wednesday sent President Barack Obama a bill to keep the government operating through Dec. 9 and provide $1.1 billion in long-delayed funding to battle the Zika virus.

The House cleared the measure by a 342-85 vote just hours after a bipartisan Senate tally. The votes came after top congressional leaders broke through a stalemate over aid to help Flint, Michigan, address its water crisis. Democratic advocates for Flint are now satisfied with renewed guarantees that Flint will get funding later this year to help rid its water system of lead.

The hybrid spending measure was Capitol Hill's last major to-do item before the election and its completion allows lawmakers to jet home to campaign to save their jobs. Congress won't return to Washington until the week after Election Day for what promises to be a difficult lame-duck session.

The bill caps months of wrangling over money to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus. It also includes $500 million for rebuilding assistance to flood-ravaged Louisiana and other states.

The White House said Obama will sign the measure and praised the progress on Flint.

The temporary spending bill sped through the House shortly after the chamber passed a water projects bill containing the breakthrough compromise on Flint. The move to add the Flint package to the water projects bill, negotiated by top leaders in both parties and passed Wednesday by a 284-141 vote, was the key to lifting the Democratic blockade on the separate spending bill.

The deal averts a potential federal shutdown and comes just three days before deadline. It defuses a lengthy, frustrating battle over Zika spending. Democrats claimed a partial victory on Flint while the GOP-dominated Louisiana delegation won a down payment on Obama's $2.6 billion request for their state.

The politicking and power plays enormously complicated what should have been a routine measure to avoid an election-eve government shutdown.

The temporary government-wide spending bill had stalled in the Senate Tuesday over Democrats' demands that the measure include $220 million in Senate-passed funding to help Flint and other cities deal with lead-tainted water. Democrats were initially unwilling to accept promises that Flint funding would come after the election, but relented after they won stronger assurances from top GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and agreed to address the city's crisis in the separate water development bill.

The Flint issue arose as the final stumbling block after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added the flood aid for Louisiana to the spending bill.

Trump resists new approach

Unmoved by harsh debate reviews, a defiant Donald Trump renewed his attacks against a former Miss Universe winner on Wednesday, showing no sign of making big changes to his message or debate preparation before his second face-off with Hillary Clinton.

The outspoken Republican nominee instead pressed ahead with an aggressive strategy focused on speaking directly to his white, working-class loyalists across the Midwest.

Democrat Clinton, meanwhile, pushed to improve her standing among younger voters with the help of the president, Sen. Bernie Sanders and other key allies, 48 hours after a debate performance that seemed to spark badly needed enthusiasm.

Those closest to Trump insisted the Republican presidential nominee was satisfied with Monday night's debate, even as prominent voices within his own party called for more serious preparation next time following an opening confrontation marked by missed opportunities and missteps.

"Why would we change if we won the debate?" former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a key Trump ally and travelling partner this week, told The Associated Press.

The next debate is 11 days away.

While his plan forward is far from set, Trump is not planning to participate in any mock debates, although he is likely to incorporate what one person described as "tweaks" to his strategy.

Specifically, Trump is likely to spend more time working on specific answers and sharpening his attacks after spending much of the first meeting on defence, said that person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign strategy.

That may not be enough to satisfy concerned Republicans.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Trump should have been better prepared and he recommended that the candidate work harder with skilled coaches. He said, "What you need is people who are professional debaters."

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said simply, "The only advice I could give him, and take it for what it's worth: Prepare better."

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