Kentucky weather man films tornado ‘ground zero’

The governor of the US state of Kentucky has said that more than 70 people were killed by tornadoes on Friday night.

Meteorologist Noah Bergren filmed the “utter devastation” of the tornadoes in the town of Mayfield and spoke to the BBC about what he saw.

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More than 70 killed in Kentucky’s worst ever tornadoes

The governor says the number of victims could rise above 100, in the deadliest event in state history.

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‘Extremely rare’ 17th-century painting of Black woman with White companion placed under export bar from UK

Written by Sana Noor Haq, CNN

A 17th-century painting showing a Black woman with her White companion has been placed under a temporary export bar to reduce the risk of the artwork leaving the United Kingdom.
The anonymous painting, described in a statement by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) on Friday as “extremely rare,” is valued at £272,800 ($362,060). The block lasts until March 9, 2022 after when it could leave the country unless a UK buyer purchases the work.

Titled “Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies, English School,” the painting presents a Black female sitter and her White companion as counterparts, as they sport similar clothing, hair, jewelry and makeup.

It was uncommon for a Black female sitter to be portrayed in a painting in the 1650s, especially an adult, as opposed to a child in a position of subordination, sparking an “important debate about race and gender during the period,” according to the press statement.

The painting is also unique because both women are shown wearing similar “beauty patches,” a kind of facial cosmetic adornment which was in fashion in the 17th century. The patterns on their faces marked “a sin of pride,” according to the statement.

The style of the work correlates with popular woodcut prints at the time, meaning the composition is allegorical and is linked to satirical verse, sermons and pamphlets.

UK Arts Minister Stephen Parkinson, known as Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, decided on the export bar with the help of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA) — an independent body that offers impartial advice on objects that are of national importance to the country.

“This fascinating painting has so much to teach us about England in the 17th century, including in the important areas of race and gender, which rightly continue to attract attention and research today,” Parkinson said.

“I hope a gallery or museum in the UK can be found to buy this painting for the nation, so that many more people can be part of the continuing research and discussion into it,” he added.

“This anonymous painting is a great rarity in British art, as a mid-seventeenth-century work that depicts a black woman and a white woman with equal status. It is not a portrait of real people, as far as we know, but the inscription reveals that it is in fact a sternly moralising picture that condemns the use of cosmetics, and specifically elaborate beauty patches, which were in vogue at the time,” RCEWA members Pippa Shirley and Christopher Baker said in the DCMS statement.

“Although not distinguished artistically, its imagery relates in fascinating ways to contemporary stereotypes of women, fashion, and, through the juxtaposition of the figures, race.

“The fact that it has only recently emerged, and only one other related painting is known so far, and that it could be used to explore important aspects of black culture in seventeenth-century Britain, makes it particularly important that it remains in this country so that its meaning can be widely studied and understood.”

Further research could show how the picture connected with contemporary artwork and texts and the purposes for which it might have been created and used, Shirley and Baker added.

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As Vaccines Trickle into Africa, Zambia’s Challenges Highlight Other Obstacles

NGWERERE, Zambia — Four people turned up at a health clinic tucked in a sprawl of commercial maize farms on a recent morning, looking for Covid-19 vaccines. The staff had vials of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stashed in the fridge. But the staff members apologetically declined to vaccinate the four and suggested they try another day.

A vial of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine holds five doses, and the staff was under orders not to waste a single one.

Ida Musonda, the nurse who supervises the vaccination effort, suspected that her team might have found more takers if they packed the vials in Styrofoam coolers and headed out to markets and churches. “But we have no fuel for the vehicle to take the vaccines there,” she said.

They did vaccinate 100 people on their last trip to a farm; the records from that trip sat in a paper heap in the clinic because the data manager had no internet connection to access an electronic records system.

For months, the biggest challenge to vaccinating Africans against Covid, and protecting both the continent and the world from the emergence of dangerous variants, has been supply: A continent of about 1.4 billion people has received just 404 million doses of vaccine, and only 7.8 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

But as supply has begun to sputter into something like a more reliable flow, other daunting obstacles are coming into focus. All of them are on view at and around Ngwerere.

Weak health care systems with limited infrastructure and technology, and no experience vaccinating adults, are trying to get shots into the arms of people who have far more pressing priorities. At the same time, the global flow of information, and deliberate misinformation, on social media is generating the same skepticism that has stymied vaccination efforts in the United States and other countries.

Some Zambians are hesitant, but others have an attitude that could better be described as vaccine indifference. This is a poor country where the economy has contracted sharply during the pandemic, and many unvaccinated people are more focused on putting food on the table.

“I’d like to get it but I work Monday to Saturday, and I don’t know if they vaccinate on Sunday,” said Bernadette Kawango, who supports a large extended family with her wages from an auto-parts store in a low-income neighborhood on the edge of Lusaka, the capital. She has heard many rumors: that people who receive the vaccine will die in two years; that the vaccine is part of a plot by Europeans to kill Africans and take their land; that Bill Gates is on a campaign to reduce the world population.

Such stories make her roll her eyes. But Covid is not at the top of her list of health care worries. “It’s cholera season, and people have malaria, and there is H.I.V. and TB,” she said. She does not know anyone who has been diagnosed with Covid.

All these challenges create two major problems. First, the pace of vaccination is far too slow to prevent unnecessary deaths in a fourth wave, which is already beginning in southern Africa, or to prevent the emergence of new variants such as Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa late last month. The vaccines now in stock — many of them donations close to their expiration dates when they arrive — may not be used before they must be destroyed.

Second, the push to vaccinate against Covid is drawing resources from health systems that can hardly spare them, which could lead to disastrous consequences for the fight against other devastating health problems.

At the Ngwerere health clinic, the usual bustle and screeching at the mother-and-child health area, where babies are monitored for signs of malnutrition and given childhood immunizations, was absent because everyone on that staff had been repurposed as Covid vaccinators.

“Every time we have a wave here it really threatens the investments that have been made in H.I.V., maternal and child health, and TB and malaria, and it’s important that we protect those,” said Dr. Simon Agolory, who runs the large Zambia program of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Andrew Silumesii, the director of public health for Zambia’s health ministry, said there was already clear evidence that infant growth monitoring and childhood immunization had declined over the course of the pandemic. He worries that malaria, TB and H.I.V. infections will also increase.

So far, 7 percent of Zambians have been vaccinated against Covid, according to Dr. Silumesii. President Hakainde Hichilema has set a target of vaccinating another two million by Christmas, and 70 percent of the population by the third quarter of 2022, a goal that looks exceedingly ambitious.

Zambia’s vaccines come mostly from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing initiative, with additional donations from China and the African Union. The fact that Zambia is dependent largely on donations means that it must adapt its program to whatever shipments arrive — a bit like making a meal with whatever arrives in a farm subscription box. The country is managing distribution of five different vaccines, each with different dosing regimens, storage requirements and vial volumes.

That has created a huge additional administrative burden for skeleton staffs such as Ms. Musonda’s team. Her staff has no budget for cellphone calls to remind people about second shots, and the effect can be seen in the charts stapled on the vaccination room wall: Of the 840 people who received a first dose of AstraZeneca in April, only 179 came back for a follow-up shot in July.

When Zambia experienced a severe third Covid wave earlier this year, the media coverage of people dying in the parking lots of hospitals that ran out of oxygen rattled a population that had been thinking of the virus as something that affected only white or rich people. There were pre-dawn lineups outside vaccination sites that couldn’t keep shots in stock.

But when the wave abated, so did the demand.

Many people here recall the time when Zambians were dying of AIDS in huge numbers and Western pharmaceutical companies refused to produce affordable lifesaving medications. There is skepticism now that those same companies have come offering free solutions.

Vaccine misinformation spreads on TikTok and WhatsApp, and in evangelical churches where pastors warn that the shot “contains the mark of the beast.”

“No matter how educated people are, if their pastor says don’t trust the vaccine, they don’t trust,” said Dr. Morton Zuze, the clinical care coordinator at Chongwe District Hospital, where seven staff members sat idle in an empty vaccination tent.

As in the United States, there are false rumors in Zambia that the vaccine causes female infertility or erectile dysfunction. Zambians have heard AstraZeneca is not being used in many countries because of reports of blood clots in a very small number of people who received that shot. “It’s a global village and everyone can switch on CNN,” Dr. Zuze added.

Zambia normally vaccinates only small children, and it has no primary care practices. An adult goes to a clinic only when pregnant or receiving H.I.V. treatment, or in an emergency.

Dr. Lawrence Mwananyanda, an assistant professor with the Boston University School of Public Health and a special adviser to President Hichilema, said the government must balance between trying to create vaccine demand and not creating too much, when it can’t be sure if it will have the supply to deliver.

“To just walk up — and these health facilities are sometimes very far away, two, five, seven kilometers away and people don’t have cars, you have to be very motivated — sometimes people have gone to a health facility and then there is no vaccine,” he said. “All they are told is, ‘You can only vaccinate if there’s five or six people, so you can’t be vaccinated today’. How likely are you to come back?”

Charity Machika was vaccinated recently at a rural health center in Chongwe District. She went to the clinic for a prenatal checkup and then was encouraged to head to the next building, where the H.I.V. treatment center was repurposed for vaccinations. “I was scared because people say a lot of stories, that I will faint, that I will not be able to walk, that I will die,” she said. “I took the risk to come and protect myself and my baby.”

She is the only vaccinated person in her family. Her husband tried twice but the sites he went to never had vaccines in stock, and it was difficult for him to find the time to make the four-kilometer walk to try again, she said.

Felix Mwanza, a veteran H.I.V. activist in Lusaka, said the government had yet to tap into the vast network of H.I.V. and TB treatment activists in the country. “We seem not to learn from our past,” he said, recalling how testing and treatment for H.I.V. only reached critical mass when care was delivered in bars, at schools and on doorsteps.

“If they don’t use the structures we already have, donors will keep sending the vaccines and they’ll pile up here and expire and then they won’t send us anymore,” he said.

Dr. Mwananyanda said the key strategy for the planned rapid scale-up in vaccination was to do exactly that, taking vaccines to people in malls and at bus stops.

Amid the scramble, no one is thinking about what happens next. “We’re really just addressing the vaccination problems for now — but we don’t have a system for the long run,” said Dr. Agolory with the C.D.C. “And what are we going to do when boosters are needed or if there’s some new variants that escape the vaccine altogether, and we need to start from zero and give people more vaccines?”

Zambia will need help procuring more, and it will need funding to help bring on temporary health care workers to administer vaccines so that existing programs, like the Ngwerere mother-and-child clinic, are not abandoned, Dr. Agolory said.

Even with a huge boost in vaccination rates, the country won’t have enough coverage to blunt the coming wave, or, most likely, the one after it.

“I am hoping that we keep receiving vaccines so that we don’t get into a situation where people need vaccines and they can’t get them,” said Dr. Silumesii of the health ministry. “The flip side, which is something that I would really hate to see happen, is where we have brought in vaccines and we don’t have enough demand and vaccines go to waste. These are vaccines that cost a lot. Definitely that pinch would sting so badly.”

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‘Deadliest tornado system to ever run through Kentucky’

The governor of Kentucky has said Friday’s tornado system was “the deadliest to ever run through” the US state.

Andy Beshear said more than 70 people were killed by the tornadoes, and the figure could rise to more than 100.

Mr Beshear has declared a state of emergency in Kentucky.

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Around 20,000 demonstrators have poured into the streets of Vienna, protesting the Austrian government’s plans to make Covid vaccination mandatory early next year.

Groups opposing the nationwide Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which is due to be introduced in February 2022, advertised the event as a “mega-demo for freedom and against chaos and coercion.”

Vienna police have deployed 1,400 officers, including reinforcements from other regions, to prevent major disturbances and ensure that people are wearing masks.

Demonstrators marched with signs featuring slogans such as ‘No to compulsory vaccination’ and ‘Hands off our children’. Others called on the government to step down.

Austria’s right-wing Freedom Party is among the groups behind the biggest anti-mandate protest being held on Saturday. Activists notified the authorities in Vienna this week about the 32 planned rallies, though not all of them are anti-mandate protests. A total of eight demonstrations were prohibited for various reasons.

Ahead of Saturday’s rally, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, Herbert Kickl, called on demonstrators to behave peacefully. A similar rally attracted more than 40,000 people last week.

Last month, then-Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg announced that all Austrians, except those with medical exemptions and children under 14, must be vaccinated by February 1. He has since resigned, but his successor, Karl Nehammer, has said the policy will remain in place.

The conservative government announced on Thursday that those refusing to be vaccinated will face a €3,600 fine ($4,071) every three months until January 2024. If approved by parliament, which is likely, Austria will be the first EU member state to put in place a sweeping vaccine mandate.

Around 68% of Austrians have already been fully vaccinated against Covid – a rate notably lower than in most Western European nations. Austria has been struggling to contain a massive Covid outbreak since November, with doctors warning that the healthcare system is strained to the max in some regions. 

Around 68% of Austrians have already been fully vaccinated against Covid – a rate notably lower than in most Western European nations. Austria has been struggling to contain a massive Covid outbreak since November, with doctors warning that the healthcare system is strained to the max in some regions. 

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Colossal winged reptile is the largest known flying animal ever to live on the planet

But increasingly, you don’t have to be a professional astronaut to go to space (Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa soared into orbit this week) and space agencies are, in some cases, rethinking what astronaut training means.
The European Space Agency is, for example, exploring whether it’s possible to train a person with physical disabilities. Here’s to a future when us ordinary mortals can experience space travel.

This is Katie Hunt, filling in for Ashley Strickland, in this edition of Wonder Theory.

Meet NASA’s Artemis generation.

The latest batch of astronaut candidates are an impressive bunch — the cream of some 12,000 applicants.

The six men and four women include a pilot who led the first all-woman F-22 formation in combat, a former member of the national and Olympic cycling teams, and an emergency medicine physician who served as a first responder during the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The grueling two-year training course includes developing robotics skills, flying NASA’s T-38 training jets, and training underwater for spacewalks. Among those who pass may be the next humans to lift off to the moon and, perhaps, the first to set foot on Mars.

The night sky

You don’t have to be an astronaut to be awed by space. Find a dark corner of your neighborhood and look up.

December offers the last chance to see a new, ultrafast comet swing by Earth — and it’s the best and brightest of the year.

The comet was first discovered in January by astronomer Greg Leonard. The celestial object has likely spent the last 35,000 years traveling toward the sun. Once it makes a close pass of our star on January 3, we won’t be seeing the comet ever again.

As the comet nears the sun, it brightens, which is why the weeks leading up to this event make the comet easier to see.

Mission critical

Once completed, this structure will collect and store information connected to the climate crisis.

A striking steel box perched on a granite plain in the Australian state of Tasmania will tell future civilizations how humankind created the climate crisis — and whether we failed or succeeded to address it.

Designed to have thick steel walls, battery storage and solar panels, the bus-size structure will be indestructible and is meant to outlive humans, the developers of “Earth’s Black Box” say. It will collect and store climate research, data sets, news reports and interactions relating to the health of our planet — even tweets.

While the box’s construction won’t be completed until next year, hard drives have been recording algorithm-based findings and conversations since the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.

Other worlds

A planet has been found orbiting in a double-star system that is so hot and massive that some astronomers didn’t think a planet could exist around it.

Ten times as big as Jupiter, it’s one of the most enormous planets ever found, and the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope in Chile was able to capture this image of it.

This exoplanet discovery is prompting a rethink of how planetary systems form. It turns out that our own solar system might not be that typical.

Fantastic creatures

That's one giant reptile. The pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus is depicted in this artist's illustration.

With a massive wingspan nearing 40 feet (12 meters), the pterosaur Quetzalcoatlus is the largest known airborne animal to have lived upon our planet.

Once memorably described to CNN as “giant flying murder heads,” the ancient reptiles took to the sky like a fighter jet off an aircraft carrier — punching 8 feet (2.4 meters) off the ground before flapping huge wings.
But figuring out exactly how these creatures flew has taken almost a half century. Their light, hollow bones — potato chip-like in texture — are very difficult to excavate without damaging them.

The wonder

More stories that wowed us this week:

— An exceedingly rare sea turtle ended up on a Welsh beach more than 4,700 miles (7,564 kilometers) from its home after getting caught in currents whipped up by Storm Arwen. It wasn’t the only marine creature displaced by the storm.
— A sleeping bag, developed in conjunction with outdoors outfitter REI, that pulls fluids away from the brain could help with one of the perils of long-haul space travel.
— A skeleton with a nail though its heel is the first example unearthed in northern Europe of the Roman practice of crucifixion, according to archaeologists.

Like what you’ve read? Oh, but there’s more. Sign up here to receive the next edition of Wonder Theory in your inbox. Say hello and tell us what you’d like to see more of in the newsletter at

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Sign carrier who caused Tour de France pileup fined 1,200 euros

The 31-year-old woman, who has not been identified, stepped onto the path holding a sign before TV cameras saluting her grandparents with her back facing the incoming cyclists. German rider Tony Martin bumped her and fell, causing a chain-reaction crash of other riders 28 miles from the end of the first stage, between Brest and Landerneau, in northwestern France.

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Manuel Santana, tennis champion and Spanish national hero, dies at 83

“Prior to his performances at Forest Hills … he was just a name — a guy who had somehow managed to trip up American Davis Cup hopes,” Christian Science Monitor sportswriter Alan Grayson noted. But after his victory, tennis fans would “know him as a little man … who can spin, flick, cut, cajole a tennis ball into all sorts of antics, who can lay it dead on a blade of grass. A man who can lure his opponents into a web of subtlety he weaves around them.”

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Biden calls deadly tornadoes ‘unimaginable tragedy’ – Times of India

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden said Saturday that a string of deadly tornadoes that ripped through Southern and Midwest states were an “unimaginable tragedy.”
“To lose a loved one in a storm like this is an unimaginable tragedy. We’re working with Governors to ensure they have what they need as the search for survivors and damage assessments continue,” Biden tweeted as a half dozen states worked to assess the damage and fatalities from the violent weather overnight Friday into Saturday.

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