The painstaking search for a missing mother and her baby continues in Sydney’s inner west, with firefighters going brick by brick through the rubble of a burnt-out building.

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Rescue workers are searching for Bianka O’Brien and her 12-month-old son Jude after fire engulfed a convenience store in Rozelle and adjoining units at 4am on Thursday.

It’s believed Ms O’Brien, 31, and her baby were asleep in a unit upstairs at the rear of the shop.

A 30-year-old man, who lived in a neighbouring unit, is also missing.

This image shows the Rozelle building hit by explosion. Its been completely destroyed. (Photo from @FRNSW) #SBSnews pic.twitter佛山桑拿,/8aECUL0P4b

— Antoinette Lattouf (@antoinette_news) September 4, 2014

NSW Fire and Rescue (NSWFR) Superintendent Paul Johnstone said rescue teams were going “brick by brick” for the safety of firefighters and anyone still trapped under the debris.

“We may be a quarter of the way through (a search of the area),” Supt Johnstone said.

He said rescue teams were preparing to work through the night.

“We are still working with the hope there is a response, but it is a dire situation,” he said.

Sniffer dogs, cameras, listening devices and cherry-pickers are all being used.

Emergency specialists have been shoring up the walls of the surrounding buildings.

The husband of the missing mother was not home when an explosion shook the street early on Thursday morning.

Supt Johnstone said the blast had blown out windows up to 100 metres away.

#Rozelle fire and explosion #today Before and after pics. Well done to the Fireys, Police and Ambos for their work pic.twitter佛山桑拿,/7m9GPQlcFj

— Andy (@anastasi_andy) September 4, 2014

Two residents jumped from the first storey of the burning building and another man was pulled out of the rubble by hand after being stuck under a refrigerator.

Police Superintendent Clive Ainley said there was a report of a car driving away from the scene when the explosion occurred.

“I don’t know what part that car plays in the investigation at this time,” he said.

Darling St is expected to remain closed for the rest of Thursday and possibly into Friday.

Neighbour Anthony Carroll, who lost everything in the fire, said he was asleep in a unit next door where he lived with his father when he heard a massive explosion.

“Within 30 seconds my room was full of smoke,” he said.

“I just grabbed what I’ve got on and got out of there.

“There were people screaming and yelling and people trapped in the place next door, so it was pandemonium.”

 

 


The Wallabies’ front row is bracing for a South African scrum hellbent on “making them hurt” after the Springbok pack was completely dominated by Argentina.

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The South Africans’ reputation as world class scrummagers took a fierce beating in their last start win against the Pumas in Salta, losing four of their six scrum feeds.

It’s a stat that hasn’t gone unnoticed by either side, with reserve prop Pek Cowan admitting the Wallabies were first cab off the rank to face a Boks’ backlash at Perth’s Patersons Stadium come Saturday.

“Clearly they’ll take that personally,” Cowan said.

“They’ll definitely be coming here to hurt us in that area.”

Yet the Springboks weren’t the only side to face issues at the scrum in their last start, with Cowan admitting it was also a problem area for the Wallabies in their 51-20 flogging from New Zealand.

“Once you have a bad game, you look at areas of improvement and the scrum for both of us is an area we’ll really want to improve on,” Cowan said.

“The South Africans haven’t been as dominant as they’d probably like to be, especially at scrum time, so they’ve clearly picked a scrummaging pack and they’ll definitely be coming here to rustle a few feathers.”

Boks coach Heyneke Meyer has beefed up his pack for the clash with four starting changes in the forwards – and three in the tight-five – bringing in Marcell Coetzee, lineout master Victor Matfield, Adriaan Strauss and Tendai “The Beast” Mtawarira.

Springboks hooker Strauss, who replaces rested rake Bismarck du Plessis, said they’d been hitting the scrummaging machine so relentlessly in the past fortnight that his neck had started to give him grief.

“I must say my neck is a bit stiff,” he said.

“We’ve really worked hard and we want to better our performance from Salta.

“It was a couple of technical things that we didn’t do well on the day. Luckily all of that we can fix.

“We just need to scrum better – and we’re excited to put things right again.”

The added focus on the two sides’ scrums means Wallabies’ hooker James Hanson will face a baptism of fire when he makes his run-on debut.

While Hanson is Australia’s fourth string hooker behind the injured Stephen Moore, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Nathan Charles, Strauss has no doubts his opposite will be more than up to the task.

“It’s dangerous to focus on your opponents too much, but of course we have done our homework – and Hanson’s a good scrummager,” Strauss said.


The way Anthony Griffin sees it, Brisbane’s must-win NRL clash in Melbourne on Friday night is not about him.

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But the man affectionately known as “Hook” will find it hard to stay out of the headlines if the Broncos win and pull off something Griffin’s bosses clearly doubted their coach could inspire – a top eight berth.

Players have made no secret of the fact they will be “doing it for Hook” when their season goes on the line against the Storm.

Especially in Griffin’s 100th game at the helm.

However, they may be tempted to say something else to the Broncos bosses who tapped Griffin on the shoulder in July if they notch a rare win in Melbourne – “I told you so”.

“A lot of players are here because of Hook,” Broncos forward Matt Gillett said.

“He stuck by us so we want to stick by him and do a good job for him.

“I am sure he doesn’t want us to be thinking that way but he is why a lot of players are around here – it’s because of him.”

Griffin could not avoid the spotlight on the eve of a match that could abruptly end his four-year Broncos tenure.

At first Griffin attempted to deflect it by finding the funny side of his “dead man walking” status.

Asked by a reporter on Thursday if it was a do or die clash, Griffin laughed: “That’s a real sharp question.

“You just need to replay (his response from) the last five weeks.”

But the biggest laugh from Griffin came when asked if he sensed that his players were “doing it for him”.

“No, mate, no,” said Griffin of a Brisbane side that had won three of their past four games to keep their finals hopes alive.

“It’s a great time of the year to be playing games like this – that’s my feeling.”

Then Griffin attempted his best impersonation of the man who will replace him next season – Wayne Bennett.

Brisbane must end a seven-game losing streak against the Storm and clinch their first win in Melbourne since round nine 2010 to scrape into the finals.

Still, Griffin tried to convince the media it was just another game.

“We have been in this spot for five weeks, it is nothing new for us,” he said.

The closest Griffin got to touching on his situation was when his 100th game was mentioned.

“I would have been happy with one (game) four or five years ago,” he said.

“It was always an ambition of mine to coach in the NRL. To think I got to 100 is a nice feeling.”


There are early signs the next set of official economic growth figures will be a little more upbeat.

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Consumers appear to have got over their post-budget blues, while exports are on the move again.

Economists believe new figures suggest the economy will be looking healthier in the second half of 2014 after June quarter growth figures proved a bit disappointing.

Retail spending grew 0.4 per cent in July to a record $23.3 billion, continuing a recovery in consumer confidence from the sharp negative reaction to the May budget.

Thursday’s numbers showed that even the ACT, which will bear the brunt of public service job cuts, enjoyed a 2.6 per cent retail surge in July – the first positive growth in the national capital since December 2013.

The strongest growth across the nation was in department stores, dining out and food retailing.

The result provided some optimism for retailers who believe consumers have got over their anxiety about the budget.

“This gives us hope that the trend will continue as the warmer months arrive,” National Retail Association chief Trevor Evans said.

That’s the spring fashion season and the lead-up to the vital pre-Christmas trading period.

Australian Retailers Association boss Russell Zimmerman isn’t getting too carried away, urging the Reserve Bank to keep interest rates low.

After being a large drag on economic growth in the June quarter, exports too rose in July to outpace flat imports.

It meant the monthly international trade deficit improved for a second month in a row to $1.36 billion, after topping $2 billion in May.

RBC Capital Markets strategist Michael Turner said while the trade figures are starting the September quarter on a better note, the ongoing slide in spot commodity prices – especially iron ore – suggest surpluses are unlikely in the near term.


Having already played the longest match of the tournament in the fourth round, a bruising four-hour 19-minute battle with Canadian Milos Raonic, Nishikori had enough left in the tank to get past third seed Stan Wawrinka 3-6 7-5 7-6 (7) 6-7 (5) 6-4 in a four-hour 15-minute test of wills to become the first Japanese man into the last four of a grand slam in 81 years.

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Bidding to reach the Flushing Meadows final for a fifth straight year, Djokovic did not need five sets to tame a valiant Andy Murray 7-6 (1) 6-7 (1) 6-2 6-4 but the big Serb did have to dig deep to see off his longtime rival who was in obvious distress at the end of what had been a wildly enthralling stadium court encounter.

While Murray and Djokovic battled their way through a 73 minute opening set, 32-year-old Williams needed just 63 minutes in total on a sultry evening to breeze past Italian Flavia Pennetta 6-3 6-2 and become the oldest player to reach the last four at Flushing Meadows since Martina Navratilova in 1991.

Russian left-hander Makarova, who will take on Williams for a spot in Sunday’s final, made her best mark in grand slam singles by outslugging Victoria Azarenka, the U.S. Open runner-up the last two years, 6-4 6-2 in a snappy 87 minutes.

While the day presented plenty of intriguing matchups it was the late night clash under the Arthur Ashe Stadium floodlights between Murray and Djokovic, in a rematch of the 2012 final won by the Scotsman, that was always going to be the showstopper.

The pair delivered on the promise, combining for some stunning long rallies until Murray struggled with his movement near the end and required a hot compress for his back midway through the fourth set.

But he produced arguably his best tennis since having back surgery 11 months ago and gave the top seed a real scare.

“I think we played a very physical match in the first two hours,” Djokovic said. “I am very glad to get through to another semi-final.

“We both gave our best. At times, the tennis was not that nice, we made a lot of unforced errors but that’s due to a very physical battle we had in the first two sets.

“I knew coming into the match that he was going to go for his shots and the one who was the most aggressive would win. I am glad I managed to stay fit in the end and pull through.”

UNBELIEVABLE FEELING

Next up for Djokovic will be the tireless Nishikori who is turning into the Flushing Meadows ironman having clocked up eight hours and 34 over his last two matches.

Nishikori arrived at sun-bathed Arthur Ashe Stadium looking fresh despite having played the latest finishing match ever at the U.S. Open a day earlier, when he walked off court on Tuesday morning at 2:26 a.m. local time.

“I don’t know how I finished the game, but I’m happy,” an exhausted Nishikori, who had a medical timeout in the third set to have his right foot taped, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

“I feel amazing. I’m very happy to come to my first semi. I hope I can recover again and hopefully I can play 100 percent tennis next round.”

Williams sleepwalked through the start of her quarter-final with Pennetta as the 11th seeded Italian broke twice on the way to a shock 3-0 lead.

But the 17-time grand slam winner awoke from her slumber, storming through the next six games and romping to an easy win.

“It feels so special to be back in the semi-finals for the first time this year,” Williams, yet to lose more than three games in any set this championship, told the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I’m so happy to have done it here.”

(Editing by Patrick Johnston)