A freak thunderstorm that triggered widespread asthma attacks in Australia’s second-largest city claimed a sixth victim on Sunday, local officials said. The severe weather event had triggered respiratory problems for at least 8,000 people in Melbourne on Monday, overwhelming the city’s emergency services. According to the BBC, an asthma thunderstorm occurs when heavy rains and winds break rye grass pollen into even smaller pieces, thereby allowing it to more easily enter the human lung. State and federal Australian officials vowed to strengthen the region’s emergency response services amid complaints of slow response times and overburdened facilities.
—Former Cuban President Fidel Castro died Saturday. More here.
—Swiss voters rejected a rapid phase-out of the country’s nuclear industry.
—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).
'Thunderstorm Asthma' Kills 6 in Australia
Francois Fillon Wins French Center-Right Primary
Former French Prime Minister Francois Fillon handily defeated Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé in Sunday’s center-right presidential primary, making him the frontrunner to become France’s next president. Fillon won 69 percent of the vote to Juppé’s 31 percent, according to early results. Fillon ran as a staunch conservative who has vowed to cut 500,000 public-sector jobs, while Juppé ran as a more centrist candidate. With incumbent President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, facing historic levels of unpopularity and the French left fractured, Fillon is well-positioned to survive the first round of voting this spring and face far-right Front National leader Marine Le Pen in the second round.
Swiss Voters Back Nuclear Power
A Swiss referendum on the country’s nuclear power plants headed for defeat on Sunday, with 55 percent of voters rejecting an initiative that would have phased out five plants by the 2030s. The Swiss government opposed the initiative, arguing it would force the alpine country to rely on coal-powered plants in Germany for its energy needs. Government officials instead called for phasing out Swiss nuclear plants over a longer timetable and gradually replacing them with wind, solar, and other renewable-energy sources.