Troops, volunteers dig through China earthquake debris – National

LUDIAN, China – About 10,000 troops used pickaxes and backhoes to clear roads and dig residents from collapsed homes Tuesday after an earthquake in southwest China that killed 410 people. Groups of volunteers, meanwhile, used their bare hands.

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Jackson Zeng joined about two dozen classmates who headed to Yunnan province’s Ludian county, where Sunday’s 6.1-magnitude earthquake collapsed thousands of homes in an impoverished region of mountainous farmland.

“I grew up around here and these are my people. I’m not sure what I can do, but I will help any way that I can,” said Zeng, a third-year student at Kunming University of Science and Technology.

READ MORE: Death toll from strong earthquake in southern China rises to 398

Zeng’s black T-shirt contrasted with the scores of green fatigue-clad troops along the main road into the quake zone. Paramilitary personnel with a backhoe and other heavy equipment pushed earth from a stretch of road affected by a landslide, while Zeng and other students used their hands to push rocks over a cliff.

Rescue workers search for survivors amongst the remains of collapsed buildings in the epicenter of an earthquake that struck the town of Longtoushan in Ludian county in southwest China\’s Yunnan province Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

AP Photo

Many hundreds of volunteers have converged on the nearby city of Zhaotong en route to the quake-hit areas – a typical phenomenon during disasters in China. Many came empty-handed, but some were formed into company-sponsored units complete with uniforms and their own relief aid to distribute.

The government also has sent thousands of tents, quilts, sleeping bags and cotton coats to the region, as well as folding beds, chairs and tables, and mobile toilets.

The quake struck an area of steep hills and narrow roads not suited to all the traffic of the massive relief effort, and heavy rain Tuesday added to the complications. Much of the damage was due to landslides.

Ambulances, bulldozers and trucks filled with water and noodles and the squads of volunteers clogged the main road heading to the hardest-hit town of Longtou, about 370 kilometres (230 miles) northeast of Kunming. Helicopters hoisted supplies to the most remote areas.

VIDEO: Rescuers work to find, free those left trapped by China earthquake (Aug. 4)

The Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said Tuesday that 410 people had been killed and 2,373 injured, with 12 people still missing about 48 hours after the quake. Rescuers pulled dozens of trapped people from the debris in the first couple of days.

A 5-year-old boy was dug from a collapsed home Monday, and on Tuesday, state media released a photo taken in a hospital of two pregnant women who comforted each other while trapped in the rubble before they, too, were rescued.

Many of the homes in Ludian, which has a population of about 429,000, were rudimentary mud-brick structures that collapsed easily in the quake.

Cai Jiangping, a 46-year-old corn farmer, pointed to where he and seven members of his extended family had lived on the other side of a river valley just south of Longtou.

“The house is a complete write-off. But we’ll throw some plastic over it and then talk to the insurance company,” he said.

Cai was sheltering with a group of friends, his motorcycle his only surviving possession.

Further from the worst-hit areas, landslides created barrier lakes where water levels were rising Tuesday to pose a new threat to about 800 residents and seven power stations downstream, where sudden flooding could prompt power outages, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The region is prone to earthquakes. In 1970, a magnitude-7.7 earthquake in Yunnan killed at least 15,000 people. In September 2012, a series of quakes killed 81 people.

In May 2008, a powerful quake in Sichuan province left nearly 90,000 people dead.

©2014The Canadian Press

World War I: 100 years later, cause remains a mystery – National

WATCH ABOVE: The battle of Vimy Ridge was the first time Canadian soldiers fought together as a unified force instead of being dispersed through the ranks of the British Army. Global’s Stuart Greer traveled to Vimy and explains why it’s not just Canadians who are making the pilgrimage this year.

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  • Harper marks 100th anniversary of World War I

  • Grandfather’s diaries open a window on First World War for defence chief

  • 100th anniversary of World War 1 commemorated in Edmonton

TORONTO –  It’s been 100 years since Europe’s major powers, Canada and their other colonies and dominions went to war, but the passage of time has done little to settle the debate about who or what was responsible for the First World War.

The war was considered a turning point in Canadian history, when the country shed its colonial mindset to become a nation in its own right.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper marked the centenary of the beginning of the First World War at a ceremony on Parliament Hill Monday morning, calling the occasion a time to “remember and honour the sacrifices and tremendous achievements of the more than 650,000 brave Canadians and Newfoundlanders who left their families and the comfort of their homes to serve their King and country, as well as to preserve the universal values of freedom, peace and democracy that we hold most dear.”

GALLERY: Global News’ Stuart Greer visits the WWI trenches, the Canadian and Commonwealth WWI cemetery, and the monument to the Canadians killed in and around Vimy, France.

The iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

The iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Global News cameraman Dan Hodgson at the iconic monument to Canadians killed in the First World War at Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

World War I trenches at Vimy, France.

Global News / Stuart Greer

As one of the best preserved WWI battlefields in Europe, Vimy, France gets hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Global News / Stuart Greer

The Canadian and Commonwealth World War I cemetery near Vimy, France.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Canadian historian and author Margaret MacMillan looks at the series of events that led to WWI in her new book.

Stuart Greer / Global News

Margaret MacMillan’s new book “The War That Ended Peace” looks at the series of events that led Europe and the world to war.

Stuart Greer / Global News

In all, about 620,000 Canadians enlisted during the war and about 419,000 went overseas. About 60,000 would never come home.

“It is a source of deep national pride that the bravery and courage of our service members helped ensure Allied victories in important battles at places like Vimy Ridge, Passchendaele and Amiens,” said Harper.

“These efforts played a vital role in finally bringing about the negotiation and conclusion of the Armistice, which ended the First World War at precisely 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918.”

Canadian historian and author Margaret MacMillan is one of the leading authorities on World War I. Her new book The War That Ended Peace looks at the series of events that led Europe and the world down the path of destruction.

MacMillan told Global News reporter Stuart Greer there are many possible causes, and no agreement on how those causes interacted to spur the war in 1914.

“We still don’t know how it started. And that’s rather frightening,” said MacMillan.

“If we don’t know how it started, can we hope to avoid similar catastrophes in the future?”

WATCH: Margaret MacMillan explains why the way World War I started remains a “puzzle” today.  

MacMillan said when Britain declared war, it did so without consulting parts of its empire such as Canada. This decision was accepted at the time, but proved to be a significant turning point, she said.

“A very important part of what happened to countries such as Canada … they became increasingly autonomous within the British Empire. They became increasingly willing and indeed insisting on taking control over their own affairs, including over foreign policy.”

WATCH: MacMillan on how Canada reacted to Britain’s declaration of war, and how Canada changed as a result.

When it comes to lessons learned, MacMillan suggested Ukraine is a potentially dangerous situation in today’s world, especially with what she calls Russia’s “strong feeling” that eastern Ukraine and Crimea should belong to Russia.

“What perhaps will prevent the situation in Ukraine from turning into the very dangerous situation before the First World War, is that so far, there’s only one power that is really making the running—and that’s Russia.”

WATCH: MacMillan weighs in on whether another major conflict could erupt in Europe today.

MacMillan doubts historians will ever settle the debate of what or who is to blame for the First World War, and that’s probably for the best.

“We shouldn’t be trying to tell even schoolchildren that there is just a simple explanation of the war,” she said.

“I think we should tell them that … there’s a discussion, and that it’s all right to have different views on what happened in history. Some things you just won’t get a consensus.”

WATCH: Global’s Stuart Greer takes us inside the trenches, bunkers, and craters at what was once the site of the battle of Vimy Ridge in the First World War.

With files from Global News’ Stuart Greer, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

Thousands flee as Lebanese army battles Syrian militants – National

LABWEH, Lebanon – Thousands of Lebanese civilians and Syrian refugees crammed into cars and pickup trucks fled Monday as Lebanese artillery pounded a border town that had been overrun by militants from neighbouring Syria.

The civilian exodus came in the early morning hours during a relative lull in fighting and just a few hours later the bombardment around the town of Arsal had reached an intensity of three shells every minute.

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READ MORE: Syria rebels raid Lebanese town, capture troops

The fighting is the most serious spillover of violence from Syria’s civil war into Lebanon, compounding fears that tiny Lebanon is fast becoming a new front in its neighbour’s conflict, now in its third year. The government has rushed reinforcements to scene, including dozens of armoured personal carriers and tanks.

The three days of clashes in Arsal, a predominantly Sunni town surrounded by Shiite villages, could worsen already bubbling sectarian tensions in Lebanon. The Syrian government, which is battling a largely Sunni insurgency, has the support of Lebanon’s premier Shiite militia, Hezbollah.

The town of 40,000, whose population has almost tripled because of the presence of Syrian refugees and rebels, is wedged between Syrian government-controlled territory and Lebanese Shiite villages sympathetic to Hezbollah.

A senior Lebanese security official said 17 soldiers have been killed in three days of fighting, including two lieutenant colonels, and 13 others were missing. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Lebanon’s state-run news agency said the rebels were looting homes and shops in Arsal and a resident on the outskirts told The Associated Press that the militants were committing “atrocities” and shooting at people attempting to flee.

“The rebels feel protected by the civilians there,” he said, confirming there was widespread looting with rebels taking over civilian homes to use as military posts.

Among those fleeing Monday was Aziza Rayed, in her 60s, who said her family was going to the nearby border town of Qaa.

“We are leaving to take these children to a safer place,” she said, her children and grandchildren in the back of a pickup truck.

Syrian refugees who had earlier fled the war at home for Arsal’s safety found themselves on the road again. Fatmeh Meshref from the Syrian central city of Homs, said she and her husband and five children were terrified.

“Our children were screaming and we had no place to hide,” she said.

The Syrian incursion and capture of Arsal came after the Lebanese army said its troops had detained Imad Ahmad Jomaa, who identified himself as a member of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front – one of the most powerful rebel groups fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s troops.

The state-run National News Agency reported on Saturday that Jomaa was detained as he was being brought to a hospital in Lebanon after being wounded while fighting Syrian troops.

Lebanese army chief Gen. Jean Kahwaji said on Sunday that the Syrian fighters in Arsal belonged to extremist Sunni groups, without naming them. He said the fighting was “more serious than what some people imagine” and called on Lebanese politicians to show unequivocal support for the military.

Associated Press writer Zeina Karam contributed reporting from Beirut.

©2014The Associated Press

‘Guardians’ blasts to top of weekend box office

LOS ANGELES – Guardians of the Galaxy blasted past expectations at the weekend box office.

The cosmic romp starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana as members of an intergalactic band of rebels earned $94 million in its debut weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday. Ahead of its Friday debut, box office analysts initially projected that the comic book adaptation would earn between $60 million and $75 million in North America.

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The launch gives Guardians the biggest opening for an August film, a record previously held by the $69.2 million debut of 2007’s The Bourne Ultimatum. It also makes Guardians the third largest opening of 2014, coming behind the $95 million inauguration of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and the $100 million launch of Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Guardians also features Bradley Cooper and Vin Diesel voicing the computer-generated characters Rocket Raccoon and Groot.

READ MORE: What the critics are saying about recent movies

In a distant second place, Lucy, starring Scarlett Johansson as a woman with mind-bending powers, nabbed $18.3 million in its second weekend, bringing the release’s domestic total to $80 million.

Meanwhile, James Brown biopic Get on Up featuring Chadwick Boseman as the soulful singer opened in third place with $14 million.

Hercules was fourth with $10.7 million and in fifth was Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, which added $8.7 million to its haul.

©2014The Associated Press