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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ceiling at Theater in London Collapses on Audience

Dozens of people were injured, including at least five of them seriously, when part of the ceiling of the Apollo Theater in London’s West End collapsed onto the audience during a performance Thursday night, police and fire officials said.

A witness told Sky News International that part of the ceiling came crashing onto the balcony, where she was sitting, and fell onto the orchestra area below about 40 minutes into the performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” She described the chunk of plaster as measuring two meters by two meters, or about six feet by six feet. She said people were covered with dust and debris as they headed for the exits.

Another eyewitnesses told Channel 4 News in London that she initially thought noise and confusion was part of the play as debris rained down.

A witness to the ceiling collapse at the Apollo Theater talking to reporters.

More than 700 people were in the theater, which first opened its doors in 1901, at the time. Police and fire officials in London posted regular updates on Twitter, saying that everyone trapped inside had been freed and that the injured had been transported to area hospitals.

Other local theaters near Shaftesbury Avenue, where the Apollo Theater is located, were used for triage.

In other updates on Twitter, fire and police officials said:

The Aftermath of Drone Strikes on a Wedding Convoy in Yemen

An Al Jazeera report in Arabic this week on the drone attack on a wedding and the debate in Parliament.

Images from local media surfaced last week on Facebook and in other social media showing what were described as the graphic consequences of a drone-fired missile strike on a convoy that was part of a wedding party in a remote area of Yemen.

Since the Dec. 11 attack, criticism and debate online over the use of drones in Yemen has widened as the attack has been dissected. The Yemeni government provided compensation for the victims; Parliament this week approved a decree banning drones, while human rights groups and others criticized the United States for its drone policy and questioned its effectiveness in fighting terrorism.

As my colleague Robert F. Worth reported last week, at least 11 people were killed when missiles fired by drones hit the convoy in Bayda Province. The previous week, a multistage assault on Yemen’s Defense Ministry left 52 people dead. Al Qaeda’s Yemen-based affiliate claimed responsibility.

Most of the dead in the drone strike appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed, Mr. Worth reported.

Although it did not mention a specific attack in Yemen, the United Nations approved late on Wednesday a draft resolution to ensure that the use of “remotely piloted aircraft” complies with a country’s obligations under international laws, including those that deal with distinguishing the targets.

After the attack on the wedding convoy, Kenneth Roth, the executive director for Human Rights Watch, quoted previous remarks from the Obama administration about drone use and targeting.

Human Rights Watch linked to a recent report that examined six targeted drone killings in Yemen before the one on Dec. 11.

United States targeted airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen have killed civilians in violation of international law. The strikes, often using armed drones, are creating a public backlash that undermines US efforts against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Atiaf Alwazir, a researcher and blogger based in Sana’a who was a co-founder of a media advocacy group called SupportYemen, also highlighted a look at the background of the drone program in Yemen and the effect on civilians, which she referred to as the “invisible casualties.”

A Yemeni-born blogger for Global Voices wrote that opposition to the drone strikes should not be confused with support for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, using the group’s acronym AQAP.

The State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf, answering a question about the Dec. 11 drone attack during a briefing on Dec. 13 in Washington, reiterated the administration’s position while making it clear she was speaking about the policy in general. “Obviously, broadly speaking, we take every effort to minimize civilian casualties in counterterrorism operations - broadly speaking, without speaking to this one specifically.”

But the impact is in sharper focus on the ground. Iona Craig, a Times of London correspondent based in Yemen, visited the scene of the strike as well as the hospital facility and interviewed witnesses at both places, sharing at least one image of a child she was told had lost his father in the attack.

The Yemen Times reported this week that the Yemeni government had given guns and money to the families of the victims of the drone strike, in what was described as a “rare case of arbitration.”

And Parliament voted for a ban against the use of drones in Yemen, as Nasser Arrabyee, a reporter for The New York Times, noted on Twitter. But it was not clear to what extent it would affect the flights, if at all.

Adam Baron, a freelance journalist based in Yemen, also highlighted the outstanding questions.

Follow Christine Hauser on Twitter @christineNYT.

Video of Seattle Bus Passengers Tackling an Armed Man

A surveillance video taken on a Metro bus in Seattle shows several passengers tackling an armed man who was robbing people of their cellphones after sticking a gun in their face.

In the video from Nov. 25, the armed man approaches one passenger who appears to push the gun away and confront the man as several passengers jump on the suspect. They subdue him while other passengers flee the bus, including a small child and a woman hobbling off the bus on crutches.

The video was introduced Wednesday by prosecutors as evidence in the case against the suspect, Trevonnte Brown, 19, of Seattle. He pleaded not guilty on Monday to robbery charges. He is being held on $350,000 bail.

Tracking the Snowy Owl Migration in Real Time

A snowy owl at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City, N.J., on Dec. 4, 2013.Vernon Ogrodnek/The Press of Atlantic City, via Associated Press A snowy owl at the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge near Atlantic City, N.J., on Dec. 4, 2013.

Snowy owls are touching down in Maryland. They’ve been spotted in Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.

In what experts say is the largest migration south in two decades, the large predators with blizzard-like plumage that normally reside in the Arctic, have been showing up across the eastern United States and beyond. There’s even a report of a possible sighting in Bermuda.

To help quantify this year’s migration, eBird, a project of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, recently published a live tracker mapping sightings. The site harnesses the power of crowd sourcing, tapping amateur bird-watchers and biologists alike, to create real time reports, called “bits.”

Snowy owls are known to fly thousands of miles south during some years - an event known to ornithologists as an irruption. But Chris Wood, a researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the project leader for eBird, said this year’s migration is “unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetime in the Eastern United States.”

Mr. Wood added: “That it comes on the heels of several other big pushes raises significant questions about why this is happening. These snowy owls may well be sharing a message for us about conditions in the arctic. But there are many variables at work.”

The arrival of the snowy owls, familiar to most Harry Potter fans, have also created problems at some airports. Snowy owls were in the headlines in New York last week when it was reported that the Port Authority killed three at John F. Kennedy Airport. Airport officials said they were trying to keep the birds from colliding with arriving and departing aircraft. But after a public outcry, the Port Authority adjusted its protocols, creating a program to trap and relocate the birds rather than shooting them.

While the why of the mass migration remains a mystery, using technology to track sightings of snowy owls and other birds is giving scientists valuable information. Mr. Wood says that the database gets anywhere from three million to five million new bird sighting reports each month.

“It’s really been within the last five years that eBird has taken off,” Mr. Wood said.

At the moment, the site is running hot on the snowy owl. One report included footage of a pitched battle between a pair of resident peregrine falcons and two separate snowy owl invaders in Stone Harbor, N.J.

Snowy owls versus peregrine falcons on the Jersey Shore.

“What makes this really unusual is the magnitude,” Mr. Wood said.

Taking just the sample of data collected by eBird from New York, it’s easy to see why ornithologists and amateurs alike are so excited this year. Since the first snowy owl was reported on Nov. 21, there have been 693 sightings.

Of that total, 350 snowy owls were reported in the first week of December alone. For comparison, the previous 10 years of eBird data for the first week of December found a total of only 50 owls.

This marked increase puts the recent trouble at John F. Kennedy airport into some clearer context. Mr. Wood said the large numbers of owls arriving here find fewer familiar landing and hunting spots because of development and the abundance of more natural, thought still unfamiliar, terrain.

In the Arctic tundra, where the birds are born, there is little but open, treeless plains. But New England in particular has a lot less treeless land than it once did.

“The airport is an issue because even 50 years ago there was a lot more farming that took part in the northeast, Mr. Wood said.” And as the amount of farmland declined, the relative attractiveness of the airport increased. “You have really good habitat for them and a good prey base.”

Most urban airports are situated around marshlands with plenty of rodents and waterfowl to pick off.

Snowy OwlA snowy owl observed on Saturday at Spring Creek Park in Brooklyn.

The eBird database will give Cornell the ability to track not just the current owl inundation, but they will be able to compare it to those in the past to gauge change over time. That, Mr. Wood believes, may allow researchers to get at the root causes of these feathered animal waves. It may even help them figure out whether or not climate change is playing role behind the scenes.