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Published:Tuesday | December 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Magnitude-6.6 earthquake hits off Panama coast

PANAMA CITY (AP):A strong earthquake struck off the Pacific coast of Panama yesterday, but local emergency officials said there were no reports of damage or injury.

The United States Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.6 quake struck at 3:54 a.m. (0854 GMT) about 12 kilometres (20 miles) east-southeast of Punta de Burica, close to the border with Costa Rica. It was centered about 12 miles (20 kilometres) beneath the surface.

While the quake was felt widely throughout the country, the director of Panama's National Civil Defence Service, José Donderis, sent Twitter messages indicating there was no reported damage.

A magnitude-5.8 quake struck in the same region on the weekend.

Norovirus sickens 200 people on New Zealand cruise

WELLINGTON (AP):Health authorities in New Zealand said yesterday that about 200 passengers on a cruise ship have been sickened by an outbreak of norovirus.

The passengers were among more than 1,500 aboard the Dawn Princess, which was due to leave for Australia yesterday as it completes a 13-day voyage. The ship is operated by Princess Cruises, a division of Miami-based Carnival Corp.

Dr Alistair Humphrey, the medical officer of health for Canterbury, said health officials conducted tests, which confirmed the illness is norovirus. He said the outbreak now appears to be waning.

The gastrointestinal illness typically lasts one to three days and can cause stomach pain, nausea, diarrhoea, and vomiting.

Princess Cruises said in a statement that affected passengers were isolated in their cabins until they were considered no longer contagious and that crew members had disinfected surfaces like railings, door handles, and elevator buttons. Crew members had also encouraged passengers to wash their hands correctly and to use sanitising gels, the cruise operator said.

US$16.4 billion needed to aid vulnerable

GENEVA (AP):The United Nations (UN) appealed yesterday for US$16.4 billion to pay for global humanitarian needs in 2015, saying it needs that money to help 57.5 million of the world's most vulnerable people.

More than 40 per cent of the appeal, US$7.2 billion, would go to help 18.2 million people suffering from the war in Syria.

The 2015 request on behalf of 455 aid organisations does not include money to help feed the millions facing hunger in Africa's Sahel region, which has seen repeated droughts and other crises. That appeal is being launched in February.

The UN agencies and their partners say the aid needs for 2014 swelled to US$17.9 billion in 31 countries but that they were only able to muster US$9.4 billion, or 52 per cent of it, from donors. That has left US$8.5 billion in unmet needs, many of which have been rolled over into 2015.

Valerie Amos, the UN's humanitarian chief and emergency coordinator, said aid in 2014 helped avert a famine in South Sudan, fed millions of Syrians each month, provided medical supplies to one million Iraqis, and paid for food for 903,000 people in Central African Republic.

But with 80 per cent of the needy in conflict-ridden countries, the demands for aid are outstripping the ability to pay for them, Amos said. As of November 30, there were an estimated 102 million people in need of aid around the world, of which 76 million are considered particularly vulnerable, she said.