Sandy kills at least 30 in U.S.


Hurricane Sandy killed at least 30 people and left 8 million without electricity on the East Coast of the United States, while risk analysts said that damage from the "super storm" could run as high as $20 billion.

Eighteen of the fatalities were in New York.

California-based EQECAT Inc estimated insured losses from Sandy of around $5 billion and economic losses of $10 billion, less than what the risk-modeling firm originally forecast.

If the $10 billion figure turns out to be correct, it would place the economic impact from Sandy on a par with that from Hurricane Irene, which battered the Northeast in August 2011.

A much more pessimistic appraisal was offered by Jan Vermeren of Maryland's Kinetic Analysis, who told EFE the economic losses from Sandy could climb to $25 billion.




Colombian ex-VP met 3 times with militia chiefs, tape indicates


Francisco Santos, who was Colombia's vice president from 2002-2010, met with leaders of the AUC rightist militia federation on three occasions in the 1990s, paramilitary chiefs are heard to say in an audio broadcast by Caracol Radio.

The recording is of a conversation among former AUC military commander Salvatore Mancuso, two other senior militia leaders, an unnamed attorney and an Argentine adviser to the paramilitaries, Caracol said.

The meetings with Santos took place in 1996-1997 in Bogota and in the northern provinces of Cesar and Cordoba, both then AUC strongholds, the voices on the tape say.




Michael Phelps gives swimming classes to kids in Brazil slum


U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps gave a swimming class to Brazilian tots and teens in a rough Rio de Janeiro neighborhood that until two years ago was occupied by drug-trafficking gangs.

Phelps, winner of 22 Olympic medals, visited the Olympic Center in Complexo do Alemão, a group of shantytowns seized in November 2010 from drug traffickers in a vast operation of soldiers and police.

The Olympic champion showed some 20 youths a series of warming-up exercises during a half-hour sesson sponsored by a credit-card company.

Phelps has a foundation in the United States that promotes swimming as well as healthy living habits in general.




Spain's southern coast dealing with massive immigrant arrivals


Spain's southern coast is experiencing the massive arrival of Sub-Saharan immigrants in open boats, a situation that the secretary-general of immigration and emigration linked to the good weather in the region.

Since Sunday, 95 immigrants traveling in 16 open boats have been rescued in the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Spain's Andalusia region.

At a press conference in the autonomous city of Ceuta on the North African coast, Marina del Corral said that the continuing arrival of boatloads of immigrants is due to the prevailing good weather, adding that the Spanish government has not activated any special plan for dealing with the matter.




Halloween also haunts Spain


Halloween, an Anglo tradition, is becoming more and more popular in Spain, as seen by the growing number of activities and sales of articles for its celebration.

Businesses are jumping on the Halloween bandwagon, promoting "terror" with a wide choice of products.

Masks, costumes, candies, makeup, parties, trips and theme menus are being offered these days to all kinds of customers.

"This is probably the only celebration on a upward cycle" despite the economic situation, Vicente Pizcueta, spokesman for the Noche Madrid association of nighttime pleasure and entertainment concerns, told Efe.

Halloween has burst powerfully into the Spanish holiday calendar, and in recent years "the theme of terror" has taken its place in the recreation sector with some ever more extravagant ideas.




Torture cases surge in Mexico under Calderon, rights groups say


Torture cases have increased by 500 percent in the past six years as President Felipe Calderon's administration has battled drug traffickers, human rights groups said in a report.

The report, titled "The Torture Situation in Mexico," will be presented on Tuesday to the U.N. Committee Against Torture, which oversees compliance with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

Mexico signed the treaty in 1986.




FARC kills 6 police officers in Colombia


Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrillas ambushed a police patrol in the southern part of the country, killing six officers and wounding one, a police spokesman told Efe.

The attack occurred on Monday in a rural area between the towns of Padilla and Villa Rica in Cauca province.

The officers - a second lieutenant and seven patrolmen - belonged to a special traffic unit and were riding motorcycles.

The ambush occurred as the government and the FARC prepare for the second round of a dialogue in Havana.




2 NATO soldiers killed in southern Afghanistan


Two NATO soldiers serving with the International Security Force were gunned down in the southern province of Helmand by an individual wearing an Afghan police uniform, ISAF said.

"An individual wearing an Afghan National Police uniform turned his weapon against ISAF forces in southern Afghanistan, killing two soldiers," the ISAF spokesman, Gen. Hagen Messer, said.

He added that ISAF has launched an investigation to determine exactly what happened.

NATO does not normally specify the nationality of soldiers who are slain, a responsibility that is left up to each member country, though the fact is that Helmand has a large presence of British and American troops.




Crash kills 6, injures 17 in southern Mexico


At least six people were killed and 17 others injured in a traffic accident in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, officials said.

The accident happened on Monday when a truck hauling steel to a construction site lost its brakes and hit a line of vehicles waiting at a checkpoint outside Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas, emergency services and state officials said.