Floods in China kill almost 130, wipe out crops

SHANGHAI Severe flooding across central and southern China over the past week has killed almost 130 people, damaged more than 1.9 million hectares of crops and led to direct economic losses of more than 38 billion yuan ($5.70 billion), state media said on Tuesday.Premier Li Keqiang traveled on Tuesday to Anhui, one of the hardest-hit provinces, where he met residents and encouraged officials to do everything they could to protect lives and livelihoods. Li was also to visit Hunan province.Heavy rainfall had killed 128 people across 11 provinces and regions and 42 people are missing, state news agency Xinhua reported.More than 1.3 million people have been forced out of their homes, it said.Weather forecasts predicted more downpours during what is traditionally China's flood season.Xinhua said more than 1.9 million hectares (4.7 million acres) of cropland had been damaged and another 295,000 hectares had been destroyed, resulting in direct economic losses of 38.2 billion yuan. More than 40,000 buildings have also collapsed, it added.It was not clear how that would affect the summer grain harvest, which was expected to reach 140 million tonnes this year. The stormy weather also took a toll on farm animals.In Anhui, the flooding killed some 7,100 hogs, 215 bulls and 5.14 million fowl, the China News Service reported.In the southern province of Hunan, torrential rain and flooding had forced more than 100 trains to stop or take detours since midnight on Sunday, Xinhua reported. In one city, about 3 tonnes of gasoline and diesel leaked from a petrol station on Monday, contaminating floodwater that flowed into a river, it said.Water in 43 rivers in the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River had exceeded warning levels and patrols were monitoring dykes, Xinhua quoted Chen Guiya, an official with the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, as saying. (Reporting by John Ruwitch; Addititional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel) Read more

'Walkers on water' overwhelm Italian lake installation

SULZANO, Italy A yellow fabric walkway floating on Lake Iseo in northern Italy has attracted twice as many visitors as expected and has been forced to close at night for essential repairs and cleaning.Last Saturday, Bulgarian-born artist Christo opened "The Floating Piers", a 3 km (two mile)-long walkway from Sulzano on the mainland to the Monte Isola and San Paolo islands, usually accessible only by boat.Authorities in the area 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Milan had expected around 40,000 visitors a day and to keep the walkway open around the clock. But after 97,000 came on Wednesday alone, they decided to close it between midnight and 0400 GMT. Made of some 220,000 high-density polyethylene cubes covered with shimmering yellow fabric, the piers have suffered more wear and tear than expected. The linked cubes are anchored to the bed of the lake, forming a 16 meter-wide, 35 centimeter-high surface designed to move gently with the waves.Admission is free. Volunteers are on hand in case anyone falls into the water. The installation closes on July 3. (Writing by Isla Binnie; editing by Andrew Roche) Read more

76ers take Australian Simmons with top pick of Draft

NEW YORK The Philadelphia 76ers added to their youthful core with a versatile big man by taking Australian Ben Simmons from Louisiana State University with the first overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft on Thursday.The pick set the tone for a decidedly international night as a record 14 foreign-born players were selected in the first of the two-round draft at the Barclays Center, topping the previous record of 12 in 2013.The 19-year-old forward, an excellent rebounder who thrives in transition as a scorer or passer, joins a Philadelphia team that finished last overall with a 10-71 record during the NBA's 2015-16 season.Simmons, who becomes just the second Australian to be taken with the top pick after the Utah Jazz selected Andrew Bogut in 2005, averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists for LSU in his only college season."It's a weight off my chest," said the 6-10, 240-pound Simmons, who was widely expected to go first overall."I've been looking forward to this day for a while, so I'm glad I've made history, not only for myself but my family and Australian basketball."The Los Angeles Lakers had the second pick, the first of their post-Kobe Bryant era, and took shooting guard Brandon Ingram from Duke University. Ingram, a good passer and excellent three-point shooter at 6-9 with keen court awareness, scored 17.3 points a game for Duke along with 6.8 rebounds on average.Asked about concerns that he needs to bulk up to compete in the NBA, Ingram said: "I am only 18. The weight is going to come naturally. But I am focused on getting stronger right now."I have the inner strength that no one knows about and I am just continuing to get stronger each and every day." The Boston Celtics chose small forward Jaylen Brown of California third overall, while the Phoenix Suns used the fourth pick on Croatian power forward Dragan Bender, a 7-footer who has been playing for Ironi Ramat Gan in Israel.The Minnesota Timberwolves, who have four players under the age of 23 playing regularly, used the fifth pick on point guard Kris Dunn of Providence. The New Orleans Pelicans made Bahamian shooting guard Buddy Hield of Oklahoma the sixth choice before the Denver Nuggets took Canadian Jamal Murray, who averaged 20 points for Kentucky, at No. 7.Taken eighth by the Sacramento Kings was Marquese Chriss, a forward from Washington, with Jakob Poeltl, a center from Utah, going ninth to the Toronto Raptors as the first Austrian in the NBA. Rounding out the top 10 was Sudanese-born Australian 7-footer Thon Maker, who has been playing at Canada's Athlete Institute and was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks.The international flavor carried on the rest of the first round with eight more foreign players selected among the 30 picks, not counting Domantas Sabonis, son of Lithuanian hoops great Arvydas Sabonis, who was born in the United States and taken 11th by Orlando.Others selected were Georgios Papagiannis of Greece (13th-Phoenix); Spain's Juan Hernangomez (15th-Denver); France's Guerschon Yabusele (16th-Boston); Ante Zizic of Croatia (23rd-Boston); Timothe Luwawu of France (24th-Philadelphia); Turkey's Furkan Korkmaz (26th-Philadelphia); Pascal Siakam of Cameroon (27-Toronto), and Haitian Skal Labissiere (28th-Phoenix). (Editing by Frank Pingue/Peter Rutherford) Read more

Kershaw maintains hot pitching streak

Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is enjoying a red-hot stretch that is helping him keep pace with the rest of the National League's pitching dominance. Kershaw turned in another brilliant effort on Wednesday when he tossed 7 1/3 innings and struck out 11 batters to hurl the Dodgers past the Arizona Diamondbacks 3-2. It was a familiar sight for Kershaw (10-1) who has now won his last eight decisions and has not allowed more than two runs in any one of them. "There is something to being able to win games," Kershaw told reporters after his latest triumph. "There are starters out there that find ways to win, and there are starters out there, too, that find ways to lose games. (Some) guys know how to do that better than others at times." In a league that is being defined by pitching, Kershaw is hardly the only thrower turning heads. His victory on Wednesday clubbed him with San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto, Washington’s Stephen Strasburg and the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta as 10-win pitchers in the NL. But there is something uniquely authoritative about the way the three-time Cy Young winning Kershaw can impose his will on a game. Kershaw has just seven walks in 108 innings this season and leads all of baseball with his 1.58 ERA, 133 strikeouts and three shutouts. He has not lost since April 26. "When I look at the numbers in that context, it kind of baffles you and is kind of cartoonish," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "It doesn’t ever seem like the right decision to go take the ball from Clayton." (Writing by Jahmal Corner in Los Angeles; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty) Read more

Bill Gates to donate chickens to Africa's poor

JOHANNESBURG Bill Gates is launching his latest scheme to help sub-Saharan Africans living in extreme poverty: he's giving them chickens.Gates will donate 100,000 birds vaccinated against common diseases under a program he said would boost incomes because chickens are inexpensive to care for, a good investment and help provide nutrition for children."If I were living in extreme poverty, I'd want to raise chickens," the Microsoft founder and billionaire philanthropist said on his Twitter feed on Thursday.Gates said a farmer starting with five hens could earn $1,000 a year, compared with the extreme poverty line of $700 a year. Eventually Gates wants to help 30 percent of rural African families raise chickens, up from 5 percent now. Gates' wife Melinda, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said breeding chickens can also empower women by giving them a source of income, which they are more likely than men to spend on education and healthcare.Some critics said the program was a publicity stunt and wouldn't solve the underlying problems of poverty in Africa. "Our father, Who art Uncle Bill, Hallowed be thy whims ..." Nigerian satirist and author Elnathan John wrote on Twitter. Gates acknowledged that some might scoff at the plan, but insisted that he believes it will have an impact. "It sounds funny," Gates wrote on the project's website. "But I mean it when I say that I am excited about chickens." The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest private charities in the world, has invested heavily in Africa, tackling a wide range of issues in healthcare, education, women's rights and poverty alleviation. (Reporting by Pete Vernon; Editing by Joe Brock and Catherine Evans) Read more

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