Veterans at Revolutionary battlefield dig find camaraderie

By MICHAEL HILL for the Associated Press

STILLWATER, N.Y. (AP) — Military veterans who carefully dug and sifted through clumps of dirt this month at a Revolutionary War battlefield in New York did more than uncover artifacts fired from muskets and cannons.

Veteran Tim Madere sifts through dirt as part of an archeological dig at the site of the Second Battle of Saratoga, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021, in Stillwater, N.Y. Veterans with American Veterans Archaeological Recovery are searching for Revolutionary War artifacts at the Saratoga National Historical Park this month. (AP Photo/Michael Hill)

The meticulous field work gave the veterans — some dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries — a familiar sense of camaraderie and mission.

So while the archaeological dig at the Saratoga National Historical Park produced evidence from the tide-turning Second Battle of Saratoga, the teamwork behind the finds also benefited the veterans.

“We can all come together, share your battle stories, your deployment stories, and share your love for the history of what you’re digging,” said Bjorn Bruckshaw, of Laconia, New Hampshire, during a break on a recent hazy morning.

Bruckshaw, 38, was part of a three-person crew that spent the morning digging small holes at spots that set off metal detectors, then searching though the damp clumps to uncover … old nails, mostly.

But the self-described Revolutionary War buff was loving it.

Bruckshaw, an Army veteran injured in a roadside bombing in Iraq, is among 15 veterans taking part in the dig through American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, an organization that helps service members transition into the civilian world. While the group deals mostly with vets with disabilities, their focus is on what participants can do in the field instead of any injuries, said AVAR’s Stephen Humphreys.

“In the military you’re trained to be on time for everything,” Bruckshaw said. “So transitioning into the civilian world is a little bit harder for a lot of people. For me, it was a little bit difficult suffering from TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD from my combat injuries. But you have support groups like these.”

National Park Service archaeologist William Griswold said the team is looking for artifacts that shed more light on the Battle of Bemis Heights, or the Second Battle of Saratoga, on Oct. 7, 1777. The American victory over British and German soldiers is credited with persuading France to lend crucial support the fight for independence.

The battle also burnished the heroic resume of future traitor Benedict Arnold, who was wounded in the leg and is memorialized here with a monument to his boot.

While maps and journal accounts from the time describe troop movements during that fateful battle, artifacts can pinpoint movements and provide a reality check.

For instance, historians know the British at Saratoga loaded their cannons with tin canisters packed with iron balls, or “case shot,” that spread out like shotgun blasts. Locations of the buried iron balls found here are being used to deduce more precisely where the cannons fired from.

“It’s a good way to check a lot of these textual sources because in the fog of battle, people often make mistakes or embellish things,” Griswold said.

Field work was first conducted here in 2019, with supervision from the National Park Service’s regional archaeology program. The American Battlefield Trust is a sponsor. Work was interrupted by the pandemic last year, but crews with shovels and metal detectors were back this month and wrapping up this week.

“It’s partially about the chase,” said veteran Megan Lukaszeski. “You never know what you’re going to find. You could dig and you could find nothing, or you could dig and find the most amazing things.”

After retiring from the Air Force, Lukaszeski went to school to study archaeology. The 36-year-old from New York has already taken part in AVAR excavations to recover remains at WWII crash sites in England and Sicily through the group’s partnership with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. She plans to get her master’s degree and pursue archaeology professionally.

For others, the work is more a chance to learn about archaeology while having some fun.

Former Army Col. Tim Madere once hunted for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This month, the 68-year-old sifted dirt through a screen in a hunt for artifacts and shared laughs with other workers. The Savannah, Georgia-area resident said he has gotten over most of his PTSD, but believes you can never totally get rid of it.

He sees this sort of field work as a good way for people to manage it.

“You hear their stories and then you tell yours so that we kind of get a better appreciation of what all these Americans did to protect the United States,” he said. ”So it’s good to see other people, and they’re doing well.”

Naval officer wins praise for Portugal’s vaccine rollout

By BARRY HATTON for the Associated Press

OEIRAS, Portugal (AP) — As Portugal closes in on its goal of fully vaccinating 85% of the population against COVID-19 in nine months, other countries in Europe and beyond want to know how it was accomplished.

Rear Admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo shares a joke with a military nurse during a visit to a vaccination center in Lisbon, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. As Portugal nears its goal of fully vaccinating 85% of the population against COVID-19 in nine months, other countries want to know how it was able to accomplish the feat. A lot of the credit is going to Gouveia e Melo. (AP Photo/Armando Franca)

A lot of the credit is going to Rear Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo. With his team from the three branches of the armed forces, the naval officer took charge of the vaccine rollout in February — perhaps the moment of greatest tension in Portugal over the pandemic.

Now, the county could be just days away from hitting its target. As of Wednesday, 84% of the total population was fully vaccinated, the highest globally, according to Our World in Data.

Along with the rising number of shots, the COVID-19 infection rate and hospitalizations from the virus have dropped to their lowest levels in nearly 18 months. Portugal could end many of its remaining pandemic restrictions in October — a coveted development for many countries still in the grip of the highly infectious delta variant and lagging in their own vaccination rollouts.

Previously unheralded outside the military, Gouveia e Melo is now a household name in Portugal, having made a point of going on television regularly to answer public concerns about the vaccination program.

Easily recognizable even behind a face mask due to his blue eyes, close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and 1.93-meter (6-foot-3-inch) height, he’s often greeted in the street by people wanting to thank him.

“People are very nice,” he says. But the 60-year-old officer also is quick to insist he is just “the tip of the iceberg” in the operation and that many others share the credit.

Military involvement in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine is not uncommon elsewhere, but Portugal has given it the leading role.

It turned out to be an inspired choice: Although Gouveia e Melo’s team works hand-in-hand with health authorities, police and town councils, the military’s expertise has proven invaluable.

“People in the military are used to working under stress in uncertain environments,” he said at his office in a NATO building near Lisbon that commands a view of the Atlantic. “They’re organized, have a good logistics set-up … and are usually very focused on the mission.”

Gouveia e Melo set the tone of the rollout with his no-nonsense approach and emphasis on discipline. His straight-talking style endeared him to many who worried they might not get vaccinated in time.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he admitted that replacing a political appointee who quit after only three months was “intimidating.”

At the time, Portugal was in the worst phase of the pandemic, when it was among the hardest-hit countries with public hospitals near collapse. Promised vaccine deliveries weren’t arriving. And jockeying for shots was threatening to undermine public trust in the rollout.

“I felt like I had the eyes of 10 million people on me,” Gouveia e Melo said, referring to Portugal’s population.

His 42-year military career helps explain how he handled the pressure.

He was a submarine commander, and at one point was in charge of two of the vessels at the same time — returning to base with one, eating a meal on shore and then taking another out to sea.

Gouveia e Melo also captained a frigate, led Euromarfor, the European Union’s Maritime Force, and has logged the most hours at sea of any serving Portuguese naval officer.

He is unapologetic about couching the vaccine rollout as a battle and has worn combat fatigues ever since taking over the effort. He said he wanted to send a message that it was a call to arms.

“This uniform … was symbolic for people to comprehend the need to roll up our sleeves and fight this virus,” he says.

Gouveia e Melo did away with Portugal’s initial efforts to piggyback on established vaccination strategies, such as those used annually for flu shots in usually small, public health centers. The demands of scale and speed to address COVID-19 required a very different approach.

Portugal began using large sports facilities around the country to set up what Gouveia e Melo called a “production line”: a reception and processing area; a waiting room; cubicles where injections are given; and a recovery area. He used soldiers as guinea pigs at the Lisbon military hospital to figure out the fastest flow of people through a building.

A major push came with what he described as a “tsunami” of vaccine deliveries in mid-June, which allowed a shift into a higher gear.

Tiago Correia, an associate professor in international public health at Lisbon’s New University Institute of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, reckons that the public view of Gouveia e Melo as the principal factor in the successful rollout is an “exaggeration” of his role.

A key factor, Correia says, is the traditional consenting attitude in Portugal toward national vaccination programs. Its vaccination rate for measles, mumps and rubella, for example, is 95% — one of the EU’s highest – and there is no significant anti-vaccination movement.

Even so, Gouveia e Melo’s military background meant he was able to “cut through all the politics” and ensure public trust in the rollout, Correia told AP.

These days, Gouveia e Melo is often greeted with spontaneous applause from the public when he visits vaccine centers and poses for selfies. He has been the subject of TikTok videos and poems.

Framed on the wall behind his desk is a drawing given to him by a child who wrote “Obrigado” — “Thank you” — in capital letters.

On a visit Tuesday to a vaccine center at the Lisbon University campus, Gouveia e Melo strode around in his combat fatigues and handed out a cloth crest he designed for the rollout to those waiting for their shots. The emblem, worn by many in the effort, depicts a three-headed hydra lunging at two virus cells, with a green border representing the more than 4,700 people who have worked at Portugal’s vaccine centers.

Claudia Boigues, a 53-year-old waiting in the recovery area with her 15-year-old son who had just been vaccinated, said she marveled at the swift rollout.

“I never thought we’d reach 85%,” she said. “But now we deserve congratulations.”

Other countries, which Gouveia e Melo declined to identify because their requests have not been made public, have asked Portugal about its effort.

Gouveia e Melo will soon be able to say “mission accomplished” for his immediate goal. But with significant vaccination hesitancy in some wealthier countries and many poorer countries without sufficient doses, he’s under no illusion that virus variants could come back to torment Portugal.

“We’ve won a battle,” he says. “I don’t know if we’ve won the war against the virus. This is a world war.”

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Wildfire victims left with nothing get hope from donated RVs

By NOAH BERGER for the Associated Press

QUINCY, Calif. (AP) — Clutching a bag full of duct tape and snacks, Woody Faircloth climbs aboard a motorhome complete with carpet and drapes. At his side, his 9-year-old daughter, Luna, quizzes a family who has just donated the recreational vehicle, appropriately called Residency. In the distance, above hills dotted with sagebrush, smoke billows from the second-largest wildfire in California history.

Woody Faircloth hugs Sheri Roen as her family donates their motorhome to EmergencyRV.org on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Sierra County, Calif. Accompanied by daughter Luna, left, Faircloth delivered it to a Dixie Fire victim later that day, (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

Father and daughter drive west an hour where they deliver the 35-foot (11-meter) RV to its new owner — a volunteer firefighter who lost his home in August when the Dixie Fire leveled most of historic downtown Greenville, a tiny Northern California mountain town dating to the gold rush era.

The vehicle is the 95th that Faircloth has delivered to wildfire victims. Run entirely on volunteer efforts and donated RVs, the nonprofit EmergencyRV.org fills a gap for victims who often wait months for emergency housing, Faircloth said.

“We’re grassroots; we can move a lot faster than that. It’s people helping people. … We can get there almost immediately,” he said.

And Faircloth has a long list of people who need help. Thousands of wildfires have burned in California and the U.S. West this year as a historic drought makes the flames harder to fight.

His mission began Thanksgiving week in 2018. Recently divorced and home in Denver with Luna, then 6, Faircloth watched news coverage of a man fleeing in an RV as the nation’s deadliest wildfire in a century — the Camp Fire — burned his California home. Despite losing his house, the man was grateful to have the RV to call home for Thanksgiving. That struck Faircloth.

He had never been in an motorhome before, but he turned to Luna and asked, “Why don’t we get an RV and drive it out there and give it to a family that lost their home? What do you think about that?”

Her reply: “Aw, Dad, God and Santa Claus are gonna be proud of us.”

“That kinda sealed the deal,” Faircloth said.

Within three days, with Luna riding shotgun, Faircloth steered west from Denver in a $2,500 motorhome he found on Craigslist. They celebrated Thanksgiving on the road and delivered the vehicle the next day to a victim of the Camp Fire, which nearly destroyed the town of Paradise and killed 85 people.

As social media posts about the trip spread, donors started offering Faircloth their RVs. Some offered to deliver the vehicles themselves, but Faircloth makes many of the drops personally.

He tries to schedule the trips on weekends but often dips into vacation time from his full-time job at telecom company Comcast. Faircloth has traversed thousands of miles over the past three years, often with Luna at his side. Last year, she joined him more often as COVID-19 precautions had her going to school remotely.

While those who are given RVs own them outright, Faircloth estimates 5% to 10% return them once they’re on their feet so they can be donated to other fire victims.

Faircloth and Luna spent three weekends in the last two months making the 20-hour drive from Denver to rural Northern California, where the more than 1,500-square-mile (3,898-square-kilometer) Dixie Fire has destroyed 1,329 homes, businesses and other buildings since mid-July. They have delivered three RVs to firefighters and one to a sheriff’s deputy.

One of them was firefighter George Wolley. He was battling the Dixie Fire on Aug. 4 when the flames, whipped by strong winds and bone-dry vegetation, descended from the hills and leveled most of central Greenville, including Wolley’s house.

“We fought the fire until we couldn’t fight it no more. We couldn’t stop it. We did our best,” he said.

Wolley parks the RV near an air base where he’s still helping load fire retardant into air tankers to battle the blaze.

“Before I got that RV, I felt like I was a burden on everybody that helped me,” Wolley said. “I slept a lot in tents and in my car. It gave me a place to go.”

Faircloth and Luna recently delivered their 95th motorhome to John Hunter. An assistant chief with the Indian Valley Fire Department, Hunter has been fighting blazes for 46 years. The same day Wolley’s house burned, flames destroyed Hunter’s home and Hunter Ace Hardware, the Greenville store his family has operated since 1929. It also gutted a building he owned next door, a former medical clinic where the 69-year-old was born.

Hunter and his girlfriend, Kimberly Price, 57, will call the RV home as they decide whether to rebuild or start over elsewhere.

“It’s been really hard because our town’s gone, and this is all John’s known all his life,” Price said, wiping away tears as she watched a video of the family who donated the motorhome.

Price said they will park in a lot near Greenville Junior/Senior High School, one of the few buildings still standing in the town center. That will allow her to keep visiting ruined homes each day to feed cats that were left behind as owners evacuated.

Although Faircloth said it’s challenging to balance work, family and his nonprofit, he hopes to expand the volunteer effort. He envisions staging RVs in hurricane and fire zones in the future to respond even faster during disasters.

For now, there are more than 100 families on EmergencyRV.org’s waitlist. He plans to drive to California in the next two weeks to make his next delivery.

IT phoned home: Storytelling box foils kindergarten thief

From the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — German police say they have solved a burglary case at a kindergarten after a storytelling gadget the suspect had swiped revealed his location.

Police said Tuesday that the 44-year-old suspect had stolen various items during a break-in at a kindergarten in the western town of Halver in April.

Among them were a laptop, picture books, cups and glasses, some fish sticks, pasta and a smart speaker for playing children’s stories.

When the man tried to download new stories onto the device a month later it sent his home location to the manufacturers, who informed police.

Police said the device has since been returned in working condition to the kindergarten, where it was eagerly received by the children.

There was no fairytale ending for the suspect, however.

“He faces criminal charges,” district police spokesman Christof Huels told The Associated Press.

COVID has killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 flu

By CARLA K. JOHNSON for the Associated Press

COVID-19 has now killed about as many Americans as the 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic did — approximately 675,000.

The U.S. population a century ago was just one-third of what it is today, meaning the flu cut a much bigger, more lethal swath through the country. But the COVID-19 crisis is by any measure a colossal tragedy in its own right, especially given the incredible advances in scientific knowledge since then and the failure to take maximum advantage of the vaccines available this time.

FILE – This photo made available by the Library of Congress shows a demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington during the influenza pandemic of 1918. Historians think the pandemic started in Kansas in early 1918, and by winter 1919 the virus had infected a third of the global population and killed at least 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans. Some estimates put the toll as high as 100 million. (Library of Congress via AP, File)

“Big pockets of American society — and, worse, their leaders — have thrown this away,” medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan said of the opportunity to vaccinate everyone eligible by now.

Like the Spanish flu, the coronavirus may never entirely disappear from our midst. Instead, scientists hope it becomes a mild seasonal bug as human immunity strengthens through vaccination and repeated infection. That could take time.

“We hope it will be like getting a cold, but there’s no guarantee,” said Emory University biologist Rustom Antia, who suggests an optimistic scenario in which this could happen over a few years.

For now, the pandemic still has the United States and other parts of the world firmly in its jaws.

While the delta-fueled surge in infections may have peaked, U.S. deaths are running at over 1,900 a day on average, the highest level since early March, and the country’s overall toll topped 675,000 Monday, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University, though the real number is believed to be higher.

Winter may bring a new surge, with the University of Washington’s influential model projecting an additional 100,000 or so Americans will die of COVID-19 by Jan. 1, which would bring the overall U.S. toll to 776,000.

The 1918-19 influenza pandemic killed 50 million victims globally at a time when the world had one-quarter the population it does now. Global deaths from COVID-19 now stand at more than 4.6 million.

The Spanish flu’s U.S. death toll is a rough guess, given the incomplete records of the era and the poor scientific understanding of what caused the illness. The 675,000 figure comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The ebbing of COVID-19 could happen if the virus progressively weakens as it mutates and more and more humans’ immune systems learn to attack it. Vaccination and surviving infection are the main ways the immune system improves. Breast-fed infants also gain some immunity from their mothers.

Under that optimistic scenario, schoolchildren would get mild illness that trains their immune systems. As they grow up, the children would carry the immune response memory, so that when they are old and vulnerable, the coronavirus would be no more dangerous than cold viruses.

The same goes for today’s vaccinated teens: Their immune systems would get stronger through the shots and mild infections.

“We will all get infected,” Antia predicted. “What’s important is whether the infections are severe.”

Something similar happened with the H1N1 flu virus, the culprit in the 1918-19 pandemic. It encountered too many people who were immune, and it also eventually weakened through mutation. H1N1 still circulates today, but immunity acquired through infection and vaccination has triumphed.

Getting an annual flu shot now protects against H1N1 and several other strains of flu. To be sure, flu kills between 12,000 and 61,000 Americans each year, but on average, it is a seasonal problem and a manageable one.

Before COVID-19, the 1918-19 flu was universally considered the worst pandemic disease in human history. Whether the current scourge ultimately proves deadlier is unclear.

In many ways, the 1918-19 flu — which was wrongly named Spanish flu because it first received widespread news coverage in Spain — was worse.

Spread by the mobility of World War I, it killed young, healthy adults in vast numbers. No vaccine existed to slow it, and there were no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. And, of course, the world was much smaller.

Yet jet travel and mass migrations threaten to increase the toll of the current pandemic. Much of the world is unvaccinated. And the coronavirus has been full of surprises.

Markel said he is continually astounded by the magnitude of the disruption the pandemic has brought to the planet.

“I was gobsmacked by the size of the quarantines” the Chinese government undertook initially, Markel said, “and I’ve since been gob-gob-gob-smacked to the nth degree.” The lagging pace of U.S. vaccinations is the latest source of his astonishment.

Just under 64% of the U.S. population has received as least one dose of the vaccine, with state rates ranging from a high of approximately 77% in Vermont and Massachusetts to lows around 46% to 49% in Idaho, Wyoming, West Virginia and Mississippi.

Globally, about 43% of the population has received at least one dose, according to Our World in Data, with some African countries just beginning to give their first shots.

“We know that all pandemics come to an end,” said Dr. Jeremy Brown, director of emergency care research at the National Institutes of Health, who wrote a book on influenza. “They can do terrible things while they’re raging.”

COVID-19 could have been far less lethal in the U.S. if more people had gotten vaccinated faster, “and we still have an opportunity to turn it around,” Brown said. “We often lose sight of how lucky we are to take these things for granted.”

The current vaccines work extremely well in preventing severe disease and death from the variants of the virus that have emerged so far.

It will be crucial for scientists to make sure the ever-mutating virus hasn’t changed enough to evade vaccines or to cause severe illness in unvaccinated children, Antia said.

If the virus changes significantly, a new vaccine using the technology behind the Pfizer and Moderna shots could be produced in 110 days, a Pfizer executive said Wednesday. The company is studying whether annual shots with the current vaccine will be required to keep immunity high.

One plus: The coronavirus mutates at a slower pace than flu viruses, making it a more stable target for vaccination, said Ann Marie Kimball, a retired University of Washington professor of epidemiology.

So, will the current pandemic unseat the 1918-19 flu pandemic as the worst in human history?

“You’d like to say no. We have a lot more infection control, a lot more ability to support people who are sick. We have modern medicine,” Kimball said. “But we have a lot more people and a lot more mobility. … The fear is eventually a new strain gets around a particular vaccine target.”

To those unvaccinated individuals who are counting on infection rather than vaccination for immune protection, Kimball said, “The trouble is, you have to survive infection to acquire the immunity.” It’s easier, she said, to go to the drugstore and get a shot.

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AP Health Writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Trudeau’s party wins Canada vote but fails to get majority

By ROB GILLIES for the Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party secured victory in parliamentary elections but failed to get the majority he wanted in a vote that focused on the coronavirus pandemic but that many Canadians saw as unnecessary.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau greets supporters prior to his victory speech at Party campaign headquarters in Montreal, early Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP)

Trudeau entered Monday’s election leading a stable minority government that wasn’t under threat of being toppled — but he was hoping Canadians would reward him with a majority for navigating the pandemic better than many other leaders. Still, Trudeau struggled to justify why he called the election early given the virus, and the opposition was relentless in accusing him of holding the vote two years before the deadline for his own personal ambition.

In the end, the gamble did not pay off, and the results nearly mirrored those of two years ago. The Liberal Party was leading or elected in 158 seats — one more than they won 2019, and 12 short of the 170 needed for a majority in the House of Commons.

The Conservatives were leading or elected in 119 seats, two less than they won in 2019. The leftist New Democrats were leading or elected in 25, while the Bloc Québécois were leading or elected in 34 and the Greens were down to two.

“You are sending us back to work with a clear mandate to get Canada through this pandemic,” Trudeau said. “I hear you when you say you just want to get back to the things you love and not worry about this pandemic or an election.”

Hours after the results came in, Trudeau greeted commuters and posed for pictures at a subway stop in his district in Montreal on Tuesday morning — a post-election tradition for the prime minister.

But experts noted that it was not the victory Trudeau had hoped for.

“Trudeau lost his gamble to get a majority so I would say this is a bittersweet victory for him,” said Daniel Béland, a political science professor at McGill University in Montreal.

“Basically we are back to square one, as the new minority parliament will look like the previous one. Trudeau and the Liberals saved their skin and will stay in power, but many Canadians who didn’t want this late summer, pandemic election are probably not amused about the whole situation,” he said.

Trudeau bet Canadians didn’t want a Conservative government during a pandemic, playing up his own party’s successes. Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and Trudeau’s government spent hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up the economy amid lockdowns. Trudeau argued that the Conservatives’ approach, which has been skeptical of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, would be dangerous.

Trudeau supports making vaccines mandatory for Canadians to travel by air or rail, something the Conservatives oppose.

And he has pointed out that Alberta, run by a Conservative provincial government, is in crisis. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province might run out of beds and staff for intensive care units within days. Kenney apologized for the dire situation and is now reluctantly introducing a vaccine passport and imposing a mandatory work-from-home order two months after lifting nearly all restrictions.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, meanwhile, didn’t require his party’s candidates to be vaccinated and would not say how many were not. O’Toole described vaccination as a personal health decision, but a growing number of vaccinated Canadians are increasingly upset with those who refuse to get the shot.

“The debate on vaccination and Trudeau taking on the anti-vaccination crowd helped the Liberals to salvage a campaign that didn’t start well for the party,” Béland said.

Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the Conservatives were hurt by the situation in Alberta.

“The explosion of the pandemic in Alberta in the past 10 days undermined O’Toole’s compliments of the Alberta Conservatives on how they had handled the pandemic and reinforced Trudeau’s argument for mandatory vaccinations,” he said.

The 49-year-old Trudeau channeled the star power of his father, the Liberal icon and late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, when he first won election in 2015 and has led his party to the top finish in two elections since.

A Conservative win would have represented a rebuke of Trudeau by a politician with a fraction of his name recognition. O’Toole, 47, is a military veteran, former lawyer and a member of Parliament for nine years.

“Canadians did not give Mr. Trudeau the majority mandate he wanted,” O’Toole said. Conservative campaign co-chair Walied Soliman earlier said holding Trudeau to a minority government would be a win.

O’Toole said he was more determined than ever to continue but his party might dump him as it did the previous leader who failed to beat Trudeau in 2019.

O’Toole advertised himself a year ago as a “true-blue Conservative.” He became Conservative Party leader with a pledge to “take back Canada,” but immediately started working to push the party toward the political center.

O’Toole’s strategy, which included disavowing positions held dear by his party’s base on issues such as climate change, guns and balanced budgets, was designed to appeal to a broader cross section of voters in a country that tends to be far more liberal than its southern neighbor.

Whether moderate Canadians believed O’Toole is the progressive conservative he claims to be and whether he alienated traditional Conservatives became central questions of the campaign.

Regina Adshade, a 28-year-old Vancouver software developer, said she was bothered that an election was called early, during a pandemic and with wildfires burning in British Columbia. But it didn’t stop her from voting Liberal because the party represents her values.

“I don’t love there was an election right now, but it wasn’t going to change my vote,” she said.

Trudeau’s legacy includes embracing immigration at a time when the U.S. and other countries closed their doors. He also legalized cannabis nationwide and brought in a carbon tax to fight climate change. And he preserved free trade deal with the U.S. and Mexico amid threats by former U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap the agreement.

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Associated Press writer Jim Morris in Vancouver, British Columbia, contributed to this report.

Chris Rock says he has COVID-19, urges vaccination

From the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Chris Rock on Sunday said he has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent a message to anyone still on the fence: “Get vaccinated.”

FILE – In this March 30, 2019 file photo, Chris Rock presents the award for outstanding comedy series at the 50th annual NAACP Image Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Chris Rock on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021 said he has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and sent a message to anyone still on the fence: “Get vaccinated.” (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

The 56-year-old comedian wrote on Twitter: “Hey guys I just found out I have COVID, trust me you don’t want this. Get vaccinated.”

Rock has previously said he was vaccinated. Appearing on “The Tonight Show” in May, he called himself “Two-shots Rock” before clarifying that he received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“You know, I skipped the line. I didn’t care. I used my celebrity, Jimmy,” he told host Jimmy Fallon. “I was like, ‘Step aside, Betty White. Step aside, old people. … I did ‘Pootie Tang.’ Let me on the front of the line.’”

Lava from Spanish volcano heads toward sea; no injuries

By ARITZ PARRA and BARRY HATTON for the Associated Press

EL FUERTE, Spain (AP) — Giant rivers of lava tumbled slowly but relentlessly toward the sea Monday after a volcano erupted on a Spanish island off northwest Africa, destroying everything in their path while prompt evacuations helped avoid casualties.

Lava flows from an eruption of a volcano near El Paso on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain, Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. Lava continues to flow slowly from a volcano that erupted in Spain’s Canary Islands off northwest Africa. The head of the islands’ regional government says Monday he expects no injuries to people in the area after some 5,000 were evacuated. (Europa Press via AP)

The eruption occurred Sunday on the island of Palma, in the volcanic Canary Islands, along a ridge called Cumbre Vieja, where two fissures belched bright red magma into the air and set the glowing lava rivers in motion.

Scientists had been monitoring the area in recent days amid a surge in mostly small earthquakes, and authorities evacuated around 5,000 people.

The lava was moving at 700 meters (2,300 feet) per hour, according to the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute. Officials said they expected it to reach the Atlantic Ocean around sunset.

The lava left black swathes of destruction through the sparsely populated, green countryside and destroyed around 100 houses, officials said.

Authorities told people in areas where volcanic ash was falling to stay indoors with their doors and windows closed.

The lava crept into the town of Los Llanos de Aridane, which lies close to the volcano. Town Mayor Noelia García said people had been evacuated from houses all the way down to the shoreline.

Mariano Hernández, head of the island’s government, described the scene in the area affected by the lava as “bleak.”

He said a wall of lava six meters (20 feet) high “is consuming houses, infrastructure, crops in its path to the coast,” state news agency Efe reported.

Scientists monitoring the lava measured it at more than 1,000 C (more than 1,800 F). When it hits the Atlantic Ocean, explosions and clouds of acidic steam were expected. Merchant shipping was halted around La Palma.

Scientists say the lava flows could last for weeks or months, but the immediate danger to local people appeared to be over.

Daniel Álvarez, a bar owner in Las Manchas, one of the closest villages to the volcano, was evacuated with his family on Sunday and was staying at the El Fuerte military barracks with some other 300 evacuees. He didn’t know whether the lava had consumed his home.

“For now,” he said, “it seems like it’s safe, but the lava is opening many paths. We have all of our lives inside (our house). We would need to start over again.”

Canary Islands government chief Ángel Víctor Torres said officials weren’t expecting any more eruptions, adding that air traffic in the area wasn’t affected.

“There will be considerable material damage,” Torres told SER radio. “We hope there won’t be any personal injuries.”

No further evacuations were expected, officials said.

“The lava probably won’t take any lives, but it will destroy everything it encounters,” Nemesio Pérez, scientific coordinator at the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute, told SER.

The eruption opened two fissures, about 200 meters (650 feet) apart. Officials said the lava streams would likely merge before reaching the sea.

The Military Emergencies Unit was increasing its deployment on La Palma to 180 soldiers and 57 vehicles, backed up with three water-dropping aircraft due to arrive later Monday.

People on La Palma largely live from farming.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez visited the affected area Monday after canceling his trip to New York to attend the U.N. General Assembly.

He praised scientists for monitoring the eruption, saying their work was “fundamental” in avoiding casualties, and promised that his government would help local people rebuild their lives.

The Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported the initial eruption shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday near the southern end of the island, which saw its last eruption in 1971.

A 4.2-magnitude quake was recorded before the eruption, which took place in an area known as Cabeza de Vaca on the western slope as the ridge descends to the coast.

Huge red plumes topped with black-and-white smoke shot out along the Cumbre Vieja ridge, which scientists had been monitoring following the accumulation of molten lava below the surface and days of small earthquakes.

La Palma, with a population of 85,000, is one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago off Africa’s western coast. At their nearest point, the islands are 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Morocco.

Authorities closed seven roads.

Hernández, the head of the island’s government, asked people to stay away from the eruption.

“People should not come near the eruption site where the lava is flowing,” he said. “We are having serious problems with the evacuation because the roads are jammed with people who are trying to get close enough to see it.”

The last eruption on La Palma 50 years ago lasted just over three weeks. The last eruption on all the Canary Islands occurred underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011. It lasted five months.

___

Barry Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal.

___

A previous version of this story was corrected to show that Mariano Hernández is the head of the island’s government, not the mayor.

‘We were them:’ Vietnamese Americans help Afghan refugees

By AMY TAXIN for the Associated Press

WESTMINSTER, Calif. (AP) — In the faces of Afghans desperate to leave their country after U.S. forces withdrew, Thuy Do sees her own family, decades earlier and thousands of miles away.

A 39-year-old doctor in Seattle, Washington, Do remembers hearing how her parents sought to leave Saigon after Vietnam fell to communist rule in 1975 and the American military airlifted out allies in the final hours. It took years for her family to finally get out of the country, after several failed attempts, and make their way to the United States, carrying two sets of clothes a piece and a combined $300. When they finally arrived, she was 9 years old.

Abdul, right, who worked as a mechanic before he left Kabul, Afghanistan with his family about a month ago, shows his family a donated tea kettle as they stand in the kitchen of a rental house, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, that has been provided as a place for them to stay in Seattle. The home is owned by Thuy Do, who was nine years old when her family arrived in the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s. Now Do and her husband have offered their vacant rental home to refugee resettlement groups to house newly arriving Afghans in need of a place to stay. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

These stories and early memories drove Do and her husband Jesse Robbins to reach out to assist Afghans fleeing their country now. The couple has a vacant rental home and decided to offer it up to refugee resettlement groups, which furnished it for newly arriving Afghans in need of a place to stay.

“We were them 40 years ago,” Do said. “With the fall of Saigon in 1975, this was us.”

Television images of Afghans vying for spots on U.S. military flights out of Kabul evoked memories for many Vietnamese Americans of their own attempts to escape a falling Saigon more than four decades ago. The crisis in Afghanistan has reopened painful wounds for many of the country’s 2 million Vietnamese Americans and driven some elders to open up about their harrowing departures to younger generations for the first time.

It has also spurred many Vietnamese Americans to donate money to refugee resettlement groups and raise their hands to help by providing housing, furniture and legal assistance to newly arriving Afghans. Less tangible but still essential, some also said they want to offer critical guidance they know refugees and new immigrants need: how to shop at a supermarket, enroll kids in school and drive a car in the United States.

Since the Vietnam War, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese have come to the United States, settling in communities from California to Virginia. Today, Vietnamese Americans are the sixth-largest immigrant group in the United States. Many settled in California’s Orange County after arriving initially at the nearby Camp Pendleton military base and today have a strong voice in local politics.

“We lived through this and we can’t help but feel that we are brethren in our common experience,” Andrew Do, who fled Saigon with his family a day before it fell to communism and today chairs the county’s board of supervisors, said during a recent press conference in the area known as “Little Saigon.”

The U.S. had long announced plans to withdraw from Afghanistan after a 20-year war. But the final exit was much more frantic, with more than 180 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members killed in an attack on the Kabul airport.

In the last two weeks of August, the U.S. evacuated 31,000 people from Afghanistan, three-quarters of them Afghans who supported American military efforts during the extensive operations. But many Afghan allies were left behind with no clear way out of the landlocked nation under strict Taliban control.

Similarly, many Vietnamese Americans recall how they couldn’t get out before the impending fall of Saigon to communism. They stayed behind and faced long spells in reeducation camps in retaliation for their allegiance to the Americans who had fought in their country. Once they were allowed to return to their families, many Vietnamese left and took small boats onto the seas, hoping to escape and survive.

For some families, the journey took years and many failed attempts, which is why many Vietnamese Americans view the departure of the U.S. military from Afghanistan not as the end of the crisis, but the beginning.

“We have to remember now is the time to lay a foundation for a humanitarian crisis that may last long past the moment the last U.S. help leaves the Afghan space,” said Thanh Tan, a Seattle filmmaker who started a group for Vietnamese Americans willing to house arriving Afghans. Her own family, she said, made the trip four years after the U.S. left Vietnam. “We have to be prepared because people will do whatever it takes to survive.”

Afghans arriving in the United States may have a special status for those who supported U.S. military operations, or may have been sponsored to come by relatives already here. Others are expected to arrive as refuges or seek permission to travel to the United States under a process known as humanitarian parole and apply for asylum or other legal protection once they are here.

For parole, Afghans need the support of a U.S. citizen or legal resident, and some Vietnamese Americans have signed up to sponsor people they have never met, said Tuấn ĐinhJanelle, director of field at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center. He said a coalition of legal and community groups has secured sponsors for 2,000 Afghans seeking parole. His sister, Vy Dinh, said she’s sponsoring a family of 10 including women in danger for working in medicine and teaching. “As soon as he called, I said, ‘Yes, I am in,’” she said.

Other efforts have focused on fundraising for refugee resettlement groups. Vietnamese and Afghan American artists held a benefit concert this month in Southern California to raise money to assist Afghan refugees. The event titled “United for Love” was broadcast on Vietnamese language television and raised more than $160,000, according to Saigon Broadcasting Television Network.

It also aired on Afghan American satellite television, said Bilal Askaryar, an Afghan American advocate and spokesperson for the #WelcomeWithDignity campaign aimed at supporting asylum seekers. “They saw the need. They saw the parallels,” Askaryar said. “It’s really powerful to see that they saw that link of common humanity between the Afghan community and the Vietnamese community. We’ve been really touched and inspired.”

Thi Do, an immigration attorney in Sacramento, California, said he is also doing what he can to help. He was a boy when Saigon fell and his father, who served in the South Vietnamese army, was sent to a reeducation camp. When he returned, the family set out by boat into the ocean, hoping to reach a country that would take them.

Do remembers how the boat bumped up against dead bodies floating on the water and how his father apologized for putting him and his siblings in danger before throwing overboard his ID and keys from Vietnam. “’He said, ‘I would rather die here than go back there,’” Do said. They eventually reached Thailand and Malaysia, both countries that forced them back out to sea until they got to Indonesia and were processed at a refugee camp.

Decades later, Do said he has helped people fleeing persecution in his work as a lawyer, but until now nothing that has reminded him so much of Vietnam. He’s working with Afghan families who are filing petitions to bring their relatives here, but what happens next is complicated with no U.S. embassy in Kabul to process the papers and no guarantee the relatives will make it to a third country to get them.

“I see a lot of myself in those children who were running on the tarmac at the airport,” he said.

At 101, she’s still hauling lobsters with no plans to stop

By PATRICK WHITTLE and ROBERT F. BUKATY for the Associated Press

ROCKLAND, Maine (AP) — When Virginia Oliver started trapping lobster off Maine’s rocky coast, World War II was more than a decade in the future, the electronic traffic signal was a recent invention and few women were harvesting lobsters.

Nearly a century later, at age 101, she’s still doing it. The oldest lobster fisher in the state and possibly the oldest one in the world, Oliver still faithfully tends to her traps off Rockland, Maine, with her 78-year-old son Max.

Virginia Oliver, age 101, works as a sternman, measuring and banding lobsters on her son Max Oliver’s boat, Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, off Rockland, Maine. The state’s oldest lobster harvester has been doing it since before the onset of the Great Depression. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Oliver started trapping lobsters at age 8, and these days she catches them using a boat that once belonged to her late husband and bears her own name, the “Virginia.” She said she has no intention to stop, but she is concerned about the health of Maine’s lobster population, which she said is subject to heavy fishing pressure these days.

“I’ve done it all my life, so I might as well keep doing it,” Oliver said.

The lobster industry has changed over the course of Oliver’s many decades on the water, and lobsters have grown from a working class food to a delicacy. The lobsters fetched 28 cents a pound on the docks when she first starting trapping them; now, it’s 15 times that. Wire traps have replaced her beloved old wooden ones, which these days are used as kitsch in seafood restaurants.

Other aspects, though, are remarkably similar. She’s still loading pogeys — lobster-speak for menhaden, a small fish — into traps to lure the crustaceans in. And she’s still getting up long before dawn to get on the boat and do it.

She was destined for this life, in some ways. Her father was a lobster dealer, starting around the turn of the century, and instilled a love of the business in Oliver, who would join him on trips.

Wayne Gray, a family friend who lives nearby, said Oliver had a brief scare a couple of years ago when a crab snipped her finger and she had to get seven stitches. She never even considered hanging up her lobster traps, though.

“The doctor admonished her, said ‘Why are you out there lobstering?’” Gray said. “She said, ‘Because I want to’.”

After all these years, Oliver still gets excited about a lobster dinner of her own and typically fixes one for herself about once a week. And she has no plans to quit lobstering any time soon.

“I like doing it, I like being along the water,” she said. “And so I’m going to keep on doing it just as long as I can. ”

Nuclear submarine deal will reshape Indo-Pacific relations

By NICK PERRY for the Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The U.S., Britain and Australia have announced they’re forming a new security alliance that will help equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. The alliance will see a reshaping of relations in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Here’s what it might mean for various players:

Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, center, appears on stage with video links to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden at a joint press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. The leaders are announcing a security alliance that will allow for greater sharing of defense capabilities — including helping equip Australia with nuclear-powered submarines. (Mick Tsikas/AAP Image via AP)

THE UNITED STATES

Ten years ago under President Barack Obama, the U.S. began discussing the need to focus more attention on the Indo-Pacific region while pivoting away from conflicts in the Middle East. Under President Joe Biden, the U.S. has now withdrawn its troops from Afghanistan while finding that tensions with China have only grown. In the Pacific, the U.S. and others have been concerned about China’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea and its antipathy toward Japan, Taiwan and Australia. In announcing the deal, none of the three leaders mentioned China, although the alliance was seen as a provocative move by Beijing. The U.S. had previously only shared the nuclear propulsion technology with Britain. Biden said it was about ensuring peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific over the long term.

BRITAIN

Leaving the European Union under Brexit has left Britain seeking to reassert its global position. Part of that has been an increased focus — or tilt — toward the Indo-Pacific. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new alliance would allow the three nations to sharpen their focus on an increasingly complicated part of the world. He said that perhaps most significantly, it would bond the three nations even more closely together.

AUSTRALIA

Under the arrangement, Australia will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines using U.S. expertise, while dumping a contract with France for diesel-electric subs. Experts say the nuclear subs will allow Australia to conduct longer patrols and give the alliance a stronger military presence in the region.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had called the leaders of Japan and India to explain the new alliance. Japan, India, Australia and the U.S. already have a strategic dialogue known as “the Quad.” Biden is set to host fellow Quad leaders at the White House next week.

FRANCE

Australia told France it would end its contract with state majority-owned DCNS to build 12 of the world’s largest conventional submarines. The contract was worth tens of billions of dollars. France is furious, demanding explanations from all sides.

“It was really a stab in the back. We built a relationship of trust with Australia, and this trust was betrayed,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on France-Info radio.

CHINA

China said the alliance would severely damage regional peace and stability, and jeopardize efforts to halt nuclear weapon proliferation. It said it was “highly irresponsible” for the U.S. and Britain to export the nuclear technology, and that Australia was to blame for a breakdown in bilateral relations.

“The most urgent task is for Australia to correctly recognize the reasons for the setbacks in the relations between the two countries, and think carefully whether to treat China as a partner or a threat,” said Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Beijing has been unhappy with the Biden administration calling it out over human rights abuses in the Xianjing region, the crackdown on democracy activists in Hong Kong, and cybersecurity breaches. Biden spoke by phone with China’s President Xi Jinping last week. After the call, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that Xi expressed concerns that U.S. government policy toward China has caused “serious difficulties” in relations.

NEW ZEALAND

Left out of the new alliance is Australia’s neighbor New Zealand. It has a longstanding nuclear-free policy that includes a ban on nuclear-powered ships entering its ports. That stance has sometimes been a sticking point in otherwise close relations with the U.S. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand wasn’t asked to be part of the alliance and wouldn’t have expected an invitation. Still, it leaves New Zealand out of a deal to share a range of information including artificial intelligence, cyber and underwater defense capabilities.

Idaho rations health care statewide as COVID surge drags on

From the Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho public health leaders on Thursday expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization.

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement after St. Luke’s Health System, Idaho’s largest hospital network, on Wednesday asked state health leaders to allow “crisis standards of care” because the increase in COVID-19 patients has exhausted the state’s medical resources.

FILE – In this Sept. 10, 2021 file photo an emergency department sign is photographed at Kootenai Health, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Idaho’s public health leaders have expanded health care rationing statewide amid a massive increase in the number of coronavirus patients requiring hospitalization. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare made the announcement Thursday Sept. 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Young Kwak,File)

Idaho is one of the least vaccinated U.S. states, with only about 40% of its residents fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Only Wyoming and West Virginia have lower vaccination rates.

Crisis care standards mean that scarce resources like ICU beds will be allotted to the patients most likely to survive. Other patients will be treated with less effective methods or, in dire cases, given pain relief and other palliative care.

Thursday’s move came a week after Idaho officials started allowing health care rationing at hospitals in northern parts of the state.

“The situation is dire – we don’t have enough resources to adequately treat the patients in our hospitals, whether you are there for COVID-19 or a heart attack or because of a car accident,” Idaho Department of Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said in statement.

He urged people to get vaccinated and wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.

“Our hospitals and healthcare systems need our help. The best way to end crisis standards of care is for more people to get vaccinated. It dramatically reduces your chances of having to go to the hospital if you do get sick from COVID-19,” Jeppesen said.

One in every 201 Idaho residents tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The mostly rural state ranks 12th in the U.S. for newly confirmed cases per capita. More than 1,300 new coronavirus cases were reported to the state on Wednesday, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

Hospitalizations have skyrocketed. On Sept. 13, the most recent data available from the state showed that 678 people were hospitalized statewide with coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care unit beds has stayed mostly flat for the last two weeks at 70 people each day — suggesting the state may have reached the limit of its ability to treat ICU patients.

Though all of the state’s hospitals can now ration health care resources as needed, some might not need to take that step. Each hospital will decide how to implement the crisis standards of care in its own facility, public health officials said.

Kootenai Health in the city of Coeur d’Alene was the first hospital in the state to officially enter crisis standards of care last week.

At the time, chief of staff Dr. Robert Scoggins said some patients were being treated in a conference center that had been converted into a field hospital. Others received treatment in hallways or in converted emergency room lobbies. Urgent and elective surgeries are on hold across much of the state.

On Wednesday, nearly 92% of all of the COVID-19 patients in St. Luke’s hospitals were unvaccinated. Sixty one of the hospital’s 78 intensive care unit patients had COVID-19.

Public health officials have warned Idaho residents for weeks to take extra care to ensure they don’t end up in hospitals. Last week, Jeppesen said residents should take their medications as prescribed, wear seatbelts and reconsider participating in any activities like cycling that could lead to injuries.

A U.S. Marine, a curious Afghan boy, an unfathomable moment

By JAMES LAPORTA for the Associated Press

One day not long ago, I watched my soon-to-be 3-year-old son jump up and down to the sound of “ho” and “hey.”

Associated Press investigative reporter James LaPorta and his son Joel, 5, sit at their home, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021, in Boca Raton, Fla. LaPorta recalls a boy he encountered in Afghanistan back in 2013 while serving as a Marine. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

It’s a song by the Lumineers, an American folk-rock band. The lyrics and stomp reverberate throughout the kitchen and into the house. My son jumps on each verse that ends with a shout.

“So show me, family. Hey!” He jumps.

“All the blood that I will bleed. Ho!” He jumps.

“I don’t know where I belong. Hey!” He jumps.

“I don’t know where I went wrong. Ho!”

He jumps. And then, so do I.

___

This is a story about a curious boy with no name — at least, no name that I ever came to know. It was 2013, more than a decade after the 9/11 attacks. I was a Marine then, back in Afghanistan for a second time.

At the time, I was working to stop a Taliban cell that specialized in making improvised explosive devices. In that effort, a video emerged. I watched it.

I remember him. I cannot forget him. I remember watching a minute-long video showing a static video camera aimed down a narrow path between two mud hut walls, common in the small hamlets often surrounded by opium-poppy fields. On the screen, not much was moving.

I remember the wind from the east kicking up the moon-like dust to the west. The tree and its shadow moved across the ground as the branches and leaves broke up the rays of sunlight to make abstract art patterns on the desert floor.

I remember the boy, full of energy and life, running into the frame and then out of it. From left to right.

With little boys like him — with little boys like mine — the curiosities of life can be palpable. And so the curious boy with no name wandered slowly back into the frame. From right to left.

He is an Afghan and, given the province we’re in — Helmand, to be exact — he maybe speaks Pashto. His small size places him somewhere between 3 and 5 years old. Maybe he’s 6, a feat in itself; it’s said one in 10 children in Afghanistan die before they turn 5.

As his curiosity runs rampant, I know what he does not. When he ran into the frame and then out of it, he had stepped on a soft spot in the ground — a patch different from the rest of the hard-packed dirt. He wanted to know why. I did not.

Slowly he walks back to mid-frame, studying the ground closely. Like a newly discovered toy, he starts to stomp on the soft spot in the dirt. Over and over again, he stomps. I wait, knowing what I know.

___

Victim-operated improvised explosive devices, known as VOIEDs, have various switches known as pressure plates. The idea is that the bomb is detonated by an unsuspecting individual by completing the circuit when pressure is applied or removed to the switch.

A power source supplies electricity between the switch and the detonator and by completing the circuit, the main charge explodes. Gas heats up and expands rapidly under pressure sending shock waves and shrapnel outward.

In short: Step on the IED and, if you weigh enough, the bomb goes off.

None of this is known to the curious boy with no name who continues to stomp on the bomb that won’t go off — the bomb that he does not know is a bomb.

The reason for this is perhaps even more insidious than the bomb itself: He is too malnourished and does not weigh enough to set off the bomb that will surely kill him. So he continues to stomp.

I remember all of it. I remember wanting to yell at him through the computer screen to stop being a curious 5-year-old boy, to stop, to PLEASE STOP stomping on that soft spot in the ground. I remember wanting to scream. I remember standing silent and watching the screen. I remember being powerless.

The curious boy with no name jumps one last time. He disappears into a dust cloud of fire and ripped flesh.

The video ends with a simple question: “Replay?”

Inside my head, I have no control over the answer.

___

My mental replays of the video continue, year after year, as if in perfect harmony with the Afghan war itself. In many ways, the war became a monster in my life. Everything was defined by who I was before it and who I was after.

The monster took my friends in gun battles — or later, via their own hands. I could blame it for my anger and depression. My sleepless nights and unhealthy eating habits and weight gain. My failed marriage. The pills from the VA. The ringing in my ear and shortness of breath in my lungs. How long until cancer develops from toxic burn pits, I wonder.

Afghanistan is my sucking chest wound, and always will be because — despite what we’ve seen these recent weeks — wars do not end with a withdrawal or retreat or retrograde or the signing of a peace treaty.

Instead, they ebb and flow within the memories of those who were there and the ones who received an unfortunate knock on the door one day from people in uniforms. On those battlegrounds, there is a permanent shattering. It’s the real “forever war.”

The skepticism about America’s longest running war — and, now, its chaotic and bloody conclusion — is bolstered by recent history. It reminds us that President Trump said he would have the troops home by Christmas, and how that didn’t happen. Less than a year before I would watch the curious boy live through his final moments, President Obama tweeted out then-Vice President Biden’s words: “We are leaving in 2014. Period.” We did not.

After years of statements from Washington about “turning a corner” in Afghanistan, Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in December that the United States had only achieved a “modicum of success” after nearly two decades of war that have left both American and Afghan families permanently devastated.

I look around me. What do my people know of this war, of its blood spilled and treasure lost, of me?

In 2009, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, “Whatever their fond sentiments for men and women in uniform, for most Americans the wars remain an abstraction, a distant and unpleasant series of news items that do not affect them personally.”

Around me, around you, America’s newest generation of combat veterans transition to civilian life. They look for jobs, and only find them sometimes. They look for healthcare, and find they need more.

They are sometimes noticed, sometimes ignored — combatants still, this time in a deepening divide between the small slice of Americans who bore the brunt of war, and those for whom the wars are only, as Gates said, “an abstraction.”

___

I am in my house again, far from Helmand province, far from my jumbled days in Afghanistan, far from the anguish that is unfolding right now. It is years after the curious boy jumped on the soft patch of Afghan earth one final time. In my house, The Lumineers sing. My son dances.

“All the blood that I will bleed. Ho!” He jumps.

“I don’t know where I belong. Hey!” He jumps.

“I don’t know where I went wrong. Ho!”

He jumps once more. And keeps on dancing.

___

James LaPorta is a reporter on the AP’s Global Investigations Team, covering national security and military affairs. He is a former U.S. Marine infantryman and a veteran of the Afghanistan War. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Jimlaporta

Prison guards union asks court to review vax-or-test mandate

By MARK SCOLFORO and MICHAEL RUBINKAM for the Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The union that represents corrections officers in Pennsylvania prisons wants a state court to intervene over the governor’s recent mandate that they all get coronavirus vaccines or submit to weekly testing.

The six-page Commonwealth Court complaint over a rule Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced last month requests that the court issue a preliminary injunction to end mandatory testing unless inmates, visitors and outside vendors are also subject to the requirement.

“The entry of a preliminary injunction is necessary in order to maintain the equity” between members of the Pennsylvania State Corrections Officers Association “and all other participants in the commonwealth controlled congregate settings, and to further ensure the intent of the order itself,” which is to protect the public from COVID-19, according to the lawsuit filed Friday.

“The commonwealth’s failure to apply the ‘vaccinate or weekly test’ rule to all individuals in the congregate setting unnecessarily increases the risk to the health and safety” of union members, the lawsuit claims.

Wolf a month ago announced that about 25,000 employees of Pennsylvania’s prisons and state health care and congregate care facilities would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Sept. 7 or take weekly tests for the virus. In addition to the Corrections Department, it applies to state hospitals, veterans’ homes, community health centers and homes for those with intellectual disabilities.

Wolf press secretary Lyndsay Kensinger declined to comment on the specifics of the lawsuit but called the union’s opposition to the pandemic mitigation “extremely disappointing.”

“This is an initiative that incentivizes employees who work with our most vulnerable populations to protect themselves, their families and those they work amongst. Our corrections officers work hard every day to ensure the public’s safety and this initiative gives them the tools to protect themselves and their families and coworkers,” Kensinger said in a statement.

The union noted it also filed a labor grievance over the policy last week, charging that the Wolf administration implemented the policy unilaterally and that it took “discriminatory/disparate” actions that are creating unsafe working conditions. The grievance will take until at least early next year to get to a hearing, the filing said.

In a memo to staff Sept. 3, the Corrections Department said requests for religious or medical exceptions can be submitted through the agency’s employee self-service system. Unvaccinated workers will have to be tested until decisions are made on their exemption requests.

The prison system only permits visitors for inmates who are vaccinated, although the visitors are not required to have a vaccine or to be tested.

The union says more than 3,700 of its members have been infected with the virus since the pandemic began.

Starting Oct. 1, all state workers under Wolf’s jurisdiction who prove they are fully vaccinated will also be given an extra day off of work as an incentive to increase the vaccination rate.

Last week, a Wolf administration mandate went into place requiring that students, staff and visitors at K-12 schools and child care facilities wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Some 67% of Pennsylvania adults were fully vaccinated as of Monday, according to federal data, with nearly 15,000 people per day getting their shots — not enough to prevent a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Pennsylvania is averaging about 4,000 new, confirmed infections per day, around 25 times the daily rate two months ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The average number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 is up more than sevenfold since July, to about 2,000. COVID-19 is killing about 24 Pennsylvania residents daily.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania on Monday:

___

INFECTIONS IN CHILDREN

School-aged children in Pennsylvania are becoming infected with the coronavirus at much greater rates than at this time last year, according to data released by the state Health Department.

Nearly 5,400 children between the ages of 5 and 18 tested positive in the first week of September — nearly 10 times as many children who tested positive in the year-ago period, according to health officials.

The delta variant of the coronavirus is far more transmissible than earlier versions, and children under 12 remain ineligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. Moreover, mask-wearing at schools has been a hot-button issue as the academic year gets underway, with some districts allowing students to avoid a statewide mask mandate with a parent’s signature.

Health officials said they can’t break down where the infected children were exposed to the virus, and caution it wasn’t necessarily in school or at day care.

Cumulatively, more than 13,500 school-age children have tested positive since mid-August, according to the Health Department. About 2,700 younger children, from infancy through age 4, gave been infected since Aug. 16.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tropical Storm Nicholas threatens Gulf Coast with heavy rain

By JUAN A. LOZANO for the Associated Press

HOUSTON (AP) — Tropical Storm Nicholas strengthened just off the Gulf Coast and could blow ashore in Texas as a hurricane Monday as it brings heavy rain and flooding to coastal areas from Mexico to storm-battered Louisiana.

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Tropical Storm Nicholas in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for coastal Texas and the northeast coast of Mexico. Nicholas is expected to produce storm total rainfall of 5 to 10 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches, across portions of coastal Texas into southwest Louisiana Sunday, Sept. 12 through midweek. (NOAA via AP)

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami said top sustained winds reached 60 mph (95 kph). It was traveling north at 12 mph (19 kph) on a forecast track to pass near the South Texas coast later Monday, then move onshore along the coast of south or central Texas by late Monday afternoon or evening.

Several schools in the Houston and Galveston area were closed Monday because of the incoming storm.

Nicholas was centered roughly 45 miles (72 kilometers) northeast of the mouth of the Rio Grande River in deep South Texas, and 140 miles (225 kilometers) south of Port O’Connor, Texas, as of Monday morning.

As of 10 a.m. CDT, the storm was “moving erratically” just offshore of the southern coast of Texas, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane watch was issued from Port Aransas to San Luis Pass, Texas. Nearly all of the state’s coastline was under a tropical storm warning as the system was expected to bring heavy rain that could cause flash floods and urban flooding.

Rainfall totals of 8 to 16 inches (20 to 40 centimeters) were expected along the middle and upper Texas coast with isolated maximum amounts of 20 inches (50 centimeters) possible. Other parts of Texas and southwest Louisiana could see 5 to 10 inches (12.5 to 25 centimeters) of rain over the coming days.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the state has placed rescue teams and resources in the Houston area and along the Texas Gulf Coast.

“This is a storm that could leave heavy rain, as well as wind and probably flooding, in various different regions along the Gulf Coast. We urge you to listen to local weather alerts, heed local warnings,” Abbott said in a video message.

Nicholas is headed toward the same area of Texas that was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. That storm made landfall in the middle Texas coast then stalled for four days, dropping more than 60 inches (152 cm) of rain in parts of southeast Texas. Harvey was blamed for at least 68 deaths.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards on Sunday night declared a state of emergency ahead of the storm’s arrival in a state still recovering from Hurricane Ida and last year’s Hurricane Laura and historic flooding.

“The most severe threat to Louisiana is in the southwest portion of the state, where recovery from Hurricane Laura and the May flooding is ongoing. In this area heavy rain and flash flooding are possible. However, it is also likely that all of south Louisiana will see heavy rain this week, including areas recently affected by Hurricane Ida,” Edwards said.

The storm was expected to bring the heaviest rainfall west of where Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana two weeks ago. Although forecasters did not expect Louisiana to suffer from strong winds again, meteorologist Bob Henson at Yale Climate Connections predicted rainfall could still plague places where the hurricane toppled homes, paralyzed electrical and water infrastructure and left at least 26 people dead.

“There could be several inches of rain across southeast Louisiana, where Ida struck,” Henson said in an email.

Across Louisiana, just under 120,000 customers remained without power Monday morning, according to the utility tracking site poweroutage.us.

The storm is projected to move slowly up the coastland and could bring torrential rain over several days, said meteorologist Donald Jones of the National Weather Service in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

“Heavy rain, flash flooding appears to be the biggest threat across our region,” he said.

While Lake Charles received minimal impact from Ida, the city saw multiple wallops from Hurricane Laura and Hurricane Delta in 2020, a winter storm in February as well as historic flooding this spring.

“We are still a very battered city,” Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter said.

He said the city is taking the threat of the storm seriously, as it does all tropical systems.

“Hope and prayer is not a good game plan,” Hunter said.

In Cameron Parish in coastal Louisiana, Scott Trahan is still finishing repairs on his home damaged from last year’s Hurricane Laura that put about 2 feet of water in his house. He hopes to be finished by Christmas. He said many in his area have moved instead of rebuilding.

“If you get your butt whipped about four times, you are not going to get back up again. You are going to go somewhere else,” Trahan said.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said via Twitter that Nicholas is the 14th named storm of 2021 Atlantic hurricane season. Only 4 other years since 1966 have had 14 or more named storms by Sept. 12: 2005, 2011, 2012 and 2020.

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Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed to this report.

Florida man fed up with potholes plants banana tree in road

From the Associated Press

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — A man fed up with a private road in poor condition near his southwest Florida business has a novel solution: plant a banana tree in a pothole to warn motorists away.

Last week, Bryan Raymond planted the tree in a stubborn pothole along Honda Drive just off U.S. 41 in south Fort Myers. Raymond, who owns Progress and Pride Fitness Group, said the idea of planting a banana tree ripened in his mind after having to fill holes in the street with cement multiple times.

Because Honda Drive is a private street, county officials said, it’s up to the business owners to maintain the street.

For Raymond, the banana tree is an attention-grabbing repair.

“If we have to maintain it and make sure nobody gets hurt, we are going to put something obvious there to make sure nobody gets in the hole,” Raymond told television station WBBH.

For some time, Raymond’s security cameras have caputured problems along the street, including a pothole damaging cars and floodwaters causing his trash bin to float away.

Some who work along the road say anything is better than potholes.

“I love it, I think it’s hilarious. We should have more of these,” said Scott Shein, who works at a nearby business, told WBBH. “I think it is sending a message.”

He’s seen so many cars hit a pothole on the street and “bottom out” that it’s a real concern.

Charlie Lopez, who lives in nearby Cape Coral, agrees.

“It messes up your tire, messes up the rim and then it basically messes up your day,” he said.

For some, though, the sight of a tree brings disbelief.

“I pulled up and I’m like, is that really a tree in the middle of the road?” said John Hulker, who lives in Fort Myers, speaking with WINK-TV.

Post-Ida recovery in New Orleans: Beer and beignets are back

By STACEY PLAISANCE and JAY REEVES for the Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Supply trucks are once again delivering beer on Bourbon Street and the landmark Cafe Du Monde is serving beignets, fried pastries covered with white sugar, even though there aren’t many tourists or locals around to partake of either.

With almost all the power back on in New Orleans nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ida struck, the city is showing signs of making a comeback from the Category 4 storm, which is blamed for more than two dozen deaths in the state. More businesses are opening daily, gasoline is easier to find and many roads are lined with huge debris piles from cleanup work.

A mule pulling a carriage ambles through the heart of the French Quarter in hurricane-tossed New Orleans on Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021. With nearly all the power back on in New Orleans nearly two weeks after Ida stuck, the city is showing signs of making a comeback from the Category 4 killer. (AP Photo/Stacey Plaisance)

Thousands are still struggling without electricity and water outside the metro area, and officials say oppressive heat is contributing to both health problems and the misery. It could still be weeks before power is restored in some areas, and many residents who evacuated haven’t returned.

“It is not lost on anybody here at the state level and certainly not on our local partners just how many people continue to suffer,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said Thursday. “While things are getting better and we can be thankful for that … this is going to be a very long-term recovery.”

Around New Orleans, residents are seeing signs that life is getting back to normal after Ida. Philip Palumbo, who lives in the French Quarter and works at a bar that remains shuttered, said the citywide curfew being lifted should help restaurants and bars struggling to reopen get more customers.

“There’s not a lot around yet, but they’ll be back,” he said.

Power crews reached a “major milestone” in the New Orleans area by restoring electricity to the vast majority of customers, Phillip May, chief executive of the state’s largest power provider, Entergy Louisiana, said in a conference call with reporters Thursday. About 201,000 of Entergy’s 205,000 customers, or 98% percent, now have power, the company said, and those that don’t had more severe damage.

But more than 270,000 homes and businesses remained without power, according to the Louisiana Public Service Commission. In Jefferson Parish, 46,000 homes and businesses are still without electricity, May said, but progress is being made in hard-hit places including LaPlace, a town in St. John the Baptist Parish where service has been restored to a hospital.

Other parts of the state’s health care network, which was slammed with COVID-19 cases even before Ida, are struggling. Executives of Ochsner Health System, Louisiana’s largest care provider, estimate it will take about four weeks to get two of its damaged hospitals fully operational.

Across the system, “heat illness is a big concern,” said Dr. Robert Hart, Ochsner’s chief medical officer. Hart said emergency rooms have also seen several patients stricken by carbon monoxide, a common problem after big storms as people use gas-powered generators for electricity, sometimes indoors.

“Many of those have not had to be admitted, thank goodness. But it certainly is a good reason to keep reminding people that they’ve got to be careful with their generators,” he said. “We had one family say they put the generator in their house because they were afraid it would get stolen.”

In one bright spot, Ochsner said the number of people being treating for COVID-19 is down significantly. Ochsner had 486 COVID-19 patients Thursday, down from 1,074 a month ago, chief executive Warner Thomas said.

“We’ve continued to see a decline pretty much every day over the past couple of weeks,” Thomas said.

Around New Orleans, progress is showing up both in lights that are back on and piles of debris that line multiple streets. As residents return home they are stacking up wet mattresses, fractured lumber, tree limbs and other storm refuse along curbs. In the French Quarter, a big pile sat beneath balconies with decorative ironwork.

In the New Orleans suburb of Gretna, Tiffany Scott and her family had a long pile of debris along the sidewalk outside her home. Scott said it has slowly gotten easier to get gas, ice and other supplies that were scarce immediately after the hurricane.

“We’ve been through this before, so most of us are used to knowing that we have to go drive and sit in a line,” she said. “But it’s a lot easier to find the things you need.”

Still, there is evidence the city has a ways to go before it is fully recovered.

Sid Padil, visiting from San Francisco to check on gas stations and convenience stores he owns in Louisiana and Mississippi, said he was surprised by the devastation and swaths of blue-tarped roofs visible upon landing in New Orleans on Monday. He had a hard time finding a place to eat, and when he did, it was mostly locals and what appeared to be recovery workers, said Padil.

“I don’t see many tourists right now,” he said.

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Reeves reported from Birmingham, Alabama. Associated Press reporters Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, contributed to this report.

Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans

By ZEKE MILLER for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Speaking at the White House Thursday, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

Republican leaders — and some union chiefs, too — said Biden was going too far in trying to muscle private companies and workers, a certain sign of legal challenges to come.

In this photo provided by the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service, U.S. Army Capt. Corrine Brown, a critical care nurse, administers an anti-viral medication to a COVID-19 positive patient at Kootenai Health regional medical center during response operations in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on Sept. 6, 2021. Roughly 11,000 kids in Coeur d’Alene were getting ready for their first day of school when Idaho public health officials announced this week that northern hospitals were so crowded with coronavirus patients that they would be allowed to ration health care. Kootenai Health has had to move some patients into a conference room and get help from the military to deal with the flood of coronavirus patients. (Michael H. Lehman/DVIDS U.S. Navy/via AP)

Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said in a statement that “Biden and the radical Democrats (have) thumbed their noses at the Constitution,” while American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley insisted that “changes like this should be negotiated with our bargaining units where appropriate.”

On the other hand, there were strong words of praise for Biden’s efforts to get the nation vaccinated from the American Medical Association, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — though no direct mention of his mandate for private companies.

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.

Just two months ago Biden prematurely declared the nation’s “independence” from the virus. Now, despite more than 208 million Americans having at least one dose of the vaccines, the U.S. is seeing about 300% more new COVID-19 infections a day, about two-and-a-half times more hospitalizations, and nearly twice the number of deaths compared to the same time last year. Some 80 million people remain unvaccinated.

“We are in the tough stretch and it could last for a while,” Biden said.

After months of using promotions to drive the vaccination rate, Biden is taking a much firmer hand, as he blames people who have not yet received shots for the sharp rise in cases killing more than 1,000 people per day and imperiling a fragile economic rebound.

In addition to the vaccination requirements, Biden moved to double federal fines for airline passengers who refuse to wear masks on flights or to maintain face covering requirements on federal property in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

He announced that the government will work to increase the supply of virus tests, and that the White House has secured concessions from retailers including Walmart, Amazon and Kroger to sell at-home testing kits at cost beginning this week.

The administration is also sending additional federal support to assist schools in safely operating, including additional funding for testing. And Biden called for large entertainment venues and arenas to require vaccinations or proof of a negative test for entry.

The requirement for large companies to mandate vaccinations or weekly testing for employees will be enacted through a forthcoming rule from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that carries penalties of $14,000 per violation, an administration official said.

The rule will require that large companies provide paid time off for vaccination.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will extend a vaccination requirement issued earlier this summer — for nursing home staff — to other healthcare settings including hospitals, home-health agencies and dialysis centers.

Separately, the Department of Health and Human Services will require vaccinations in Head Start Programs, as well as schools run by the Department of Defense and Bureau of Indian Education, affecting about 300,000 employees.

Biden’s order for executive branch workers and contractors includes exceptions for workers seeking religious or medical exemptions from vaccination, according to press secretary Jen Psaki. Federal workers who don’t comply will be referred to their agencies’ human resources departments for counseling and discipline, to include potential termination.

An AP-NORC poll conducted in August found 55% of Americans in favor of requiring government workers to be fully vaccinated, compared with 21% opposed. Similar majorities also backed vaccine mandates for health care workers, teachers working at K-12 schools and workers who interact with the public, as at restaurants and stores.

Biden has encouraged COVID-19 vaccine requirements in settings like schools, workplaces and university campuses. On Thursday, the Los Angeles Board of Education v oted to require all students 12 and older to be fully vaccinated in the the nation’s second-largest school district.

Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer, said in late July it was requiring all workers at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, as well as its managers who travel within the U.S., to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 4. But the company had stopped short of requiring shots for its frontline workers.

CVS Health said in late August it would require certain employees who interact with patients to be fully vaccinated by the end of October. That includes nurses, care managers and pharmacists.

In the government, several federal agencies have previously announced vaccine requirements for much of their staffs, particularly those in healthcare roles like the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Pentagon moved last month to require all servicemembers to get vaccinated. Combined, the White House estimates those requirements cover 2.5 million Americans. Thursday’s order is expected to affect nearly 2 million more federal workers and potentially millions of contractors.

Biden’s measures should help, but what’s really needed is a change in mindset for many people, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

“There is an aspect to this now that has to do with our country being so divided,” said Sharfstein. “This has become so politicized that people can’t see the value of a vaccination that can save their lives. Our own divisions are preventing us from ending a pandemic.”

More than 177 million Americans are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but confirmed cases have shot up in recent weeks to an average of about 140,000 per day with on average about 1,000 deaths, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the spread — and the vast majority of severe illness and death — is occurring among those not yet fully vaccinated. So-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people occur, but tend to be far less dangerous.

Federal officials are moving ahead with plans to begin administering booster shots of the mRNA vaccines to bolster protection against the more transmissible delta variant. Last month Biden announced plans to make them available beginning Sept. 20, but only the Pfizer vaccine will likely have received regulatory approval for a third dose by that time.

Officials are aiming to administer the booster shots about eight months after the second dose of the two-dose vaccines.

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This story corrects the organization of the union official in the 5th paragraph.

Associated Press writers Anne D’Innocenzio, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Hannah Fingerhut contributed.

Louisiana residents thankful for small miracles after Ida

By MATT SEDENSKY and AARON MORRISON for the Associated Press

MARRERO, La. (AP) — Amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, there was at least one bright light Sunday: Parishioners found that electricity had been restored to their church outside of New Orleans, a small improvement as residents of Louisiana struggle to regain some aspects of normal life.

In Jefferson Parish, the Rev. G. Amaldoss expected to celebrate Mass at St. Joachim Catholic Church in the parking lot, which was dotted with downed limbs. But when he swung open the doors of the church early Sunday, the sanctuary was bathed in light. That made an indoor service possible.

A man prays during Mass in the gymnasium at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in LaPlace, La., Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. ​(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

“Divine intervention,” Amaldoss said, pressing his hands together and looking toward the sky.

A week after Hurricane Ida struck, many in Louisiana continue to face food, water and gas shortages as well as power outages while battling heat and humidity. The storm was blamed for at least 17 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

On Sunday, state health officials announced that the death toll in Louisiana has climbed to 13, including a 74-year-old man who died of heat during an extensive power outage. In the Northeast, Ida’s remnants dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut.

As Mass began Sunday, Amaldoss walked down the aisle of the church in his green robe, with just eight people spread among the pews. Instead, the seats brimmed with boxes of donated toothpaste, shampoo and canned vegetables.

“For all the people whose lives are saved and all the people whose lives are lost, we pray for them,” he said. “Remember the brothers and sisters driven by the wind and the water.”

Through the wall of windows behind the altar, beyond the swamp abutting the church, the floodgates that saved the building could be seen. The Gospel was the story of Jesus bringing sight to a blind man, and throughout the tiny church, stories of miracles were repeated.

Wynonia Lazaro gave thanks for newly restored power in her home, where the only casualties of Ida were some downed trees and loosened shingles.

“We are extremely blessed,” she said.

Some parishioners suffered total losses of their homes, or devastating damage. Gina Caulfield, a 64-year-old retired teacher, has been hopping from relative to relative after her cousin’s trailer, where she’d been living, was left uninhabitable. Still, she was grateful to have survived the storm.

“It’s a comfort to know we have people praying for us,” she said.

Some parishes outside New Orleans were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more, and Ida damaged or destroyed more than 22,000 power poles, more than hurricanes Katrina, Zeta and Delta combined.

More than 630,000 homes and businesses remained without power Sunday across southeast Louisiana, according to the state Public Service Commission. At the peak, 902,000 customers had lost power.

Fully restoring electricity to some places in the state’s southeast could take until the end of the month, according Phillip May, president and CEO of Entergy, which provides power to New Orleans and other areas in the storm’s path.

Entergy is in the process of acquiring air boats and other equipment needed to get power crews into swampy and marshy regions. May said many grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses are a high priority.

“We will continue to work until every last light is on,” he said during a briefing Sunday.

In Jean Lafitte, a small town of about 2,000 people, pools of water along the roadway were receding and some of the thick mud left behind was beginning to dry.

At St. Anthony Church, the 4 feet (about 1.2 meters) of water once inside had seeped away, but a slippery layer of muck remained. Outside, the faithful sat on folding metal chairs under a blue tent to celebrate Mass. Next door, at the Piggly Wiggly, military police in fatigues stood guard.

“In times such like these, we come together and we help one another,” the Rev. Luke Nguyen, the church’s pastor, told a few dozen congregants.

Ronny Dufrene, a 39-year-old oil field worker from Lafayette, returned to his hometown to help.

“People are taking pictures of where their houses used to be,” he said. “But this is a chance to get together and praise God for what we do have, and that’s each other.”

In New Orleans, many churches remained closed due to lingering power outages.

But First Grace United Methodist Church opened its doors and held service without power. Sunlight from large windows brightened the sanctuary, where about 10 people sat.

“Whatever situation you’re in, you get to choose how you see it,” said Pastor Shawn Anglim, whose first time pastoring the congregation was after the church recovered from Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. “You can see it from a place of faith, a place of hope and a place of love, and a place of possibility.”

Jennifer Moss, who attended service with her husband, Tom, said power had been restored to their home on Saturday.

“We’ve been blessed throughout this entire ordeal,” she said. “That storm could have been a little closer to the east, and we wouldn’t have a place to come and worship.”

In Lafitte, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of New Orleans, animal control officer Koby Bellanger experienced his own little blessing after he heard the sounds of an animal crying as he rode through the flooded streets with a sheriff’s deputy.

Bellanger waded through the water and found a tiny, green-eyed black kitten clinging to the engine of a car outside a devastated house. He hoisted the animal up, to the delight of Lafayette Parish Deputy Rebecca Bobzin.

“Bring him!” Bobzin screamed in delight.

Louisiana’s 13 storm-related deaths included five nursing home residents evacuated ahead of the hurricane along with hundreds of other seniors to a warehouse in Louisiana, where health officials said conditions became unsafe. On Saturday, State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter ordered the immediate closure of the seven nursing facilities that sent residents to the warehouse.

Edwards was briefed Sunday about a cluster of thunderstorms near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but said forecasters “don’t see much potential at all for it developing into a storm of any real significance and we’re very, very thankful for that.”

He said it does have the potential to bring some rain to coastal Louisiana and southeast Louisiana.

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Morrison reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, contributed.

US faith groups unite to help Afghanistan refugees after war

By LUIS ANDRES HENAO, PETER SMITH and MARIAM FAM for the Associated Press

America’s major religions and denominations, often divided on other big issues, have united behind the effort to help receive an influx of refugees from Afghanistan following the end of the United States’ longest war and one of the largest airlifts in history.

Among those gearing up to help are Jewish refugee resettlement agencies and Islamic groups; conservative and liberal Protestant churches; and prominent Catholic relief organizations, providing everything from food and clothes to legal assistance and housing.

FILE – In this Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, file photo, Berny Lopez, an operations specialist for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, moves donated diapers at the organization’s drop-off site for items to help refugees from Afghanistan, in Baltimore. Many different religion groups across the U.S. are gearing up to assist the thousands of incoming refugees. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)

“It’s incredible. It’s an interfaith effort that involved Catholic, Lutheran, Muslim, Jews, Episcopalians … Hindus … as well as nonfaith communities who just believe that maybe it’s not a matter of faith, but it’s just a matter of who we are as a nation,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.

The U.S. and its coalition partners have evacuated more than 100,000 people from Afghanistan since the airlift began Aug. 14, including more than 5,400 American citizens and many Afghans who helped the U.S. during the 20-year war.

The effort by faith groups to help resettle them follows a long history of religious involvement in refugee policy, said Stephanie Nawyn, a sociologist at Michigan State University who focuses on refugee issues.

Decades before the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program was created in 1980, faith organizations advocated for the resettlement of Jewish refugees during World War II. Religious groups also helped receive people who fled wars in Vietnam, the Balkans and elsewhere.

Besides helping distribute government resources, the groups mobilize private assets such as donations and volunteers and work with other private entities to provide supplies and housing, Nawyn said.

U.S. resettlement agencies were gutted under former President Donald Trump, who slashed refugee admissions yearly until they reached a record low. Now agencies are scrambling to expand capacity so they can handle the influx from Afghanistan.

“It’s a historic effort, and there are and have been challenges — especially after rebounding from four years of what was a war on immigration, which decimated the refugee resettlement infrastructure,” O’Mara Vignarajah said.

“Some of our local offices might have resettled 100 families throughout the entirety of last year, and they may now be looking at 100 families in the next few weeks,” she said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities and other agencies have been welcoming Afghan families at U.S. military bases where they’re being housed temporarily.

A major challenge is finding affordable housing in areas where Afghans have typically resettled, including California and the Washington, D.C., region.

“I’m very concerned about children, getting them into schools,” said Bill Canny, executive director of the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services program.

World Relief, a global Christian humanitarian organization, has helped resettle about 360 Afghans in the past month and is expecting many more, said Matthew Soerens, the group’s U.S. director of church mobilization.

“These are individuals in many cases who have put their lives at risk and their families’ lives at risk for the people of the United States of America,” he said. “Now that they’re facing the risk of retribution and retaliation from the Taliban … I think most Americans of all religious traditions see it as a moral imperative for us to keep our promise.”

Among the evacuees are Afghans who obtained special immigrant visas after working with the U.S. or NATO as interpreters or in some other capacity; people who have applied for the visas but not yet received them; and those who might have been particularly in danger under the Taliban.

But thousands of others who also qualified for visas have been left behind because of a backlog of applications, and faith-based groups have called on President Joe Biden’s administration to get them safely to the U.S.

“Some of the cases we are involved with have gotten out, but many have not,” said Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Jewish refugee agency HIAS, one of nine groups that contract with the State Department on resettlement.

“We have a girl who was literally shot by the Taliban and is now severely disabled who can’t get out,” he said. “We are aware of many, many others who are trapped — and the U.S. has left them behind.”

Biden says he has tasked Secretary of State Antony Blinken to coordinate with international partners to hold the Taliban to their promise of safe passage for those who want to leave in the days ahead.

The president has historically supported receiving refugees, co-sponsoring legislation that created the government’s program in 1980. This June, for World Refugee Day, Biden said that “resettling refugees helps reunite families, enriches the fabric of America and enhances our standing, influence and security in the world.”

Ardiane Ademi, director of the Refugee Resettlement Program for Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said it recently resettled several families who left Afghanistan before the airlift and is bracing for hundreds more.

John Koehlinger, executive director of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, said his agency has received two families through the special immigrant visa program and has begun receiving additional evacuees. But other families the agency had been expecting have not yet arrived.

“Hopefully some or all of them are on a U.S. military base being processed,” he said.

Ademi and Koehlinger said individuals and local congregations have volunteered to help with resettlement. Some have worked with refugees before, while others are newcomers motivated by the desperate news out of Afghanistan.

“It’s a huge response,” Ademi said.

The humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been providing personal hygiene items, underwear, sandals and toys to refugees at an air base in Qatar, church spokesman Doug Anderson said.

Widely known as the Mormon church, it has also been distributing supplies to the thousands of Afghans temporarily sheltered at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. And it is working with the U.S. military to provide aid to the 10,000 refugees expected to arrive at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, from where they will be relocated in communities across the country.

Hala Halabi, national director of refugee facilitation for the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA, said Muslim Americans have been flooding the group with calls, emails and text messages offering to make donations, mentor refugees or prepare welcome boxes.

The nonprofit recently furnished three apartments in the Dallas area with everything from the “doormat to the food in the fridge,” Halabi said, and is collecting supplies from pots and microwaves to pasta, sugar and cleaning agents as it prepares for additional arrivals.

Beyond the response from Muslim Americans, Halabi said she is heartened by how different faith groups have mobilized to help refugees: “It’s amazing from everybody.”

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Associated Press journalists Sophia Eppolito in Salt Lake City and Jessie Wardarski and Emily Leshner in New York contributed to this report.

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

First responders nationwide resist COVID vaccine mandates

By STEFANIE DAZIO for the Associated Press

March 11, 2021. It was supposed to be a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic for Erin Tokley, a longtime Philadelphia police officer, Baptist minister and 47-year-old father of three. It was supposed to be the day of his vaccine appointment.

Amethyst, Erin “Toke” Tokley’s five year old daughter, holds a photo of her father, on Aug. 29, 2021, in Secane, Pa. Tokley — “Toke” to his friends and family — died on March 3, becoming the Philadelphia Police Department’s sixth confirmed COVID-19 death. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

Instead it was the date of his funeral.

Tokley — “Toke” to his friends and family — died on March 3, becoming the Philadelphia Police Department’s sixth confirmed COVID-19 death.

Philadelphia officers first became eligible for their shots in late January and Tokley was eager to get it as soon as he could. But he fell ill in early February, before it was his turn to roll up his sleeve.

The resurgence of COVID-19 this summer and the national debate over vaccine requirements have created a fraught situation for the nation’s first responders, who are dying in larger numbers but pushing back against mandates.

It’s a heartbreaking situation for Tokley’s widow, Octavia, as the 21st anniversary of their first date approaches on Sept. 10. She said she has moved beyond her anger at other police officers who are refusing the vaccine, and is now disappointed. Her husband’s life couldn’t be saved, but theirs still can.

“I don’t want to have to be there to support your family for this,” she said. “Nobody deserves this, especially when it can be prevented.”

Her husband is one of 132 members of law enforcement agencies who are known to have died of COVID-19 in 2021, as of Monday, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. In Florida alone last month, six people affiliated with law enforcement died over a 10-day period.

In the first half of 2021, 71 law enforcement officials in the U.S. died from the virus — a small decrease compared to the 76 who died in the same time period in 2020, per data compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Last year, the total figure was 241 — making the virus the the leading cause of law enforcement line-of-duty deaths.

Despite the deaths, police officers and other first responders are among those most hesitant to get the vaccine and their cases continue to grow. No national statistics show the vaccination rate for America’s entire population of first responders but individual police and fire departments across the country report figures far below the national rate of 74% of adults who have had at least one dose.

Frustrated city leaders are enacting mandates for their municipal employees — including police officers and firefighters — as the delta variant surges. The mandates’ consequences range from weekly testing to suspension to termination. It’s a stark contrast from the beginning of the vaccine rollout when first responders were prioritized for shots.

“It makes me sad that they don’t see it as another safety precaution,” Octavia Tokley said. “You wear masks, you wear bulletproof vests. You protect each other. That’s what you do, you protect and you serve.”

Nearly 3,000 miles (4,828 kilometers) away, San Francisco firefighter Christopher Salas offers his condolences to Tokley’s family. “I feel for her, I feel for her husband,” he said.

Salas, 58, has nearly 28 years on the job — 21 of them in the city’s tough Tenderloin district. He wears a mask and washes his hands and sanitizes himself. But he stops short at getting the shot — and plans to retire early instead of acquiescing to the city’s ultimatum of get vaccinated or get terminated.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer,” he said. “I have all my other vaccines. I’m just not taking this one.”

He considered it, just to be able to finish out his career with three decades of service. But after praying about it with his wife, he remains concerned about the efficacy and side effects of the vaccine.

“I don’t think I’d be comfortable with myself if I did something that went against my belief,” he said of getting the vaccine. “It’s about liberty and having your own choice to be your own person.”

Public health professionals and elected officials, however, contend that it’s bigger than that.

Dr. Jennifer Bryan, a family physician and member of the Mississippi State Medical Association’s Board of Trustees, says she’s working to change minds a half-hour appointment at a time in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country. With first responders, she reminds them that they can become patients, too.

“It’s harder when you want to protect those who are on the front lines,” she said. “When you share air with someone, there’s a risk. If you share more air with sick people and your job is more public-facing, then you are at risk.”

“This vaccine really is about not just protecting yourself but protecting your coworkers, your community, people who go to your church, people in your kids’ school,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose city requires all employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18 or face termination.

Unions across the country are fighting back. Shon Buford, president of San Francisco Firefighters Local 798, is urging city leaders to delay their Oct. 13 vaccinate-or-terminate deadline.

Twenty workers who did not disclose whether they had received a shot by a previous deadline may receive 10-day unpaid suspensions. One firefighter has sued San Francisco, which was the first major U.S. city to adopt a vaccine mandate for its workers. The overwhelming majority of the city’s workforce of 36,000 is vaccinated, according to The San Francisco Chronicle.

Buford, who is vaccinated, says he needs more time to educate his hesitant members, and he’s disappointed that San Francisco took such a harsh stance from the beginning. Firefighters like Salas have threatened to retire, and others say they will risk termination.

“To me, they deserve more than an ultimatum,” Buford said.

In Los Angeles, over 3,000 employees in the police department have been infected by the virus and the numbers continue to climb. Ten LAPD workers have died, as well as three spouses.

The Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file officers, has proposed required weekly testing for cops— like the New York City Police Department — in lieu of the mandate signed by Mayor Eric Garcetti on Aug. 20 that makes vaccinations part of city workers’ job conditions.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said 51% of the department has been vaccinated as of Aug. 31 and more than 100 personnel got their shots in the last week and a half.

In California’s state prisons, a federal judge could order all correctional employees and inmate firefighters to be vaccinated under a class-action lawsuit. In mid-July, 41% of correctional officers statewide had at least one dose of a vaccine, compared to 75% of inmates.

Officials fear a repeat of last summer’s outbreak at San Quentin State Prison north of San Francisco, which sickened 75% of the prison’s incarcerated population. Twenty-nine people, including a correctional officer, died.

“Every minute, every day, every week we delay, it’s putting our clients at greater and greater risk,” said Rita Lomio, a staff attorney at the nonprofit Prison Law Office, which is representing the state’s incarcerated people in the lawsuit.

Octavia Tokley, the 41-year-old Philadelphia widow, got her first dose just three days after her husband died, collapsing in a stranger’s arms in grief as they waited in line. Her 5-year-old daughter, Amethyst, constantly asks why her father didn’t get one, too.

He tried, her mother says, but the shot wasn’t ready for him yet.

Every night, their child struggles to fall asleep.

“I miss Daddy, I miss Daddy,” she cries. “I feel so lonely, I miss Daddy.”

___

Associated Press Writer Claudia Lauer in Philadelphia contributed.

Official: Several US Marines killed in Kabul airport attack

By SAYED ZIARMAL HASHEMI, LOLITA C. BALDOR and JOSEPH KRAUSS for the Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A U.S. official says several Marines were killed and a number of other American military were wounded Thursday in an attack on Kabul’s airport.

U.S. officials have said that information is still coming in and they are trying to determine exact numbers of casualties.

Smoke rises from a deadly explosion outside the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. Two suicide bombers and gunmen have targeted crowds massing near the Kabul airport, in the waning days of a massive airlift that has drawn thousands of people seeking to flee the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon)

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations.

The Pentagon would not say what troops were involved but acknowledged that “a number of U.S. service members were killed.”

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds of Afghans flocking to Kabul’s airport Thursday, transforming a scene of desperation into one of horror in the waning days of an airlift for those fleeing the Taliban takeover. At least 13 people were killed and 15 wounded, Russian officials said.

One of the bombers struck people standing knee-deep in a wastewater canal under the sweltering sun, throwing bodies into the fetid water. Those who moments earlier had hoped to get on flights out could be seen carrying the wounded to ambulances in a daze, their own clothes darkened with blood.

A U.S. official said the complex attack was believed to have been carried out by the Islamic State group. The IS affiliate in Afghanistan is far more radical than the Taliban, who recently took control of the country in a lightning blitz and condemned the attack.

Western officials had warned of a major attack, urging people to leave the airport, but that advice went largely unheeded by Afghans desperate to escape the country in the last few days of an American-led evacuation before the U.S. officially ends its 20-year presence on Aug. 31.

At least 13 people died and 15 were wounded, according to Russia’s Foreign Ministry, which gave the first official casualty count. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby also confirmed the blasts and said there were casualties but gave no figure. He said one explosion was near an airport entrance and another was a short distance away by a hotel.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing operations, said members of the American military were among the wounded.

Even as the area was hit, the official said evacuation flights continued to take off from Kabul airport.

Adam Khan was waiting nearby when he saw the first explosion outside what’s known as the Abbey gate. He said several people appeared to have been killed or wounded, including some who were maimed.

The second blast was at or near Baron Hotel, where many people, including Afghans, Britons and Americans, were told to gather in recent days before heading to the airport for evacuation.

A former Royal Marine who runs an animal shelter in Afghanistan says he and his staff were caught up in the aftermath of the blast near the airport.

“All of a sudden we heard gunshots and our vehicle was targeted, had our driver not turned around he would have been shot in the head by a man with an AK-47,” Paul “Pen” Farthing told Britain’s Press Association news agency.

Farthing is trying to get staff of his Nowzad charity out of Afghanistan, along with the group’s rescued animals.

He is among thousands trying to flee. Over the last week, the airport has been the scene of some of the most searing images of the chaotic end of America’s longest war and the Taliban’s takeover, as flight after flight took off carrying those who fear a return to the militants’ brutal rule. When the Taliban were last in power, they confined women largely to their home and widely imposed draconian restrictions.

Already, some countries have ended their evacuations and begun to withdraw their soldiers and diplomats, signaling the beginning of the end of one of history’s largest airlifts. The Taliban have insisted foreign troops must be out by America’s self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 — and the evacuations must end then, too.

In Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden spent much of the morning in the secure White House Situation Room where he was briefed on the explosions and conferred with his national security team and commanders on the ground in Kabul.

Overnight, warnings emerged from Western capitals about a threat from IS, which has seen its ranks boosted by the Taliban’s freeing of prisoners during its advance through Afghanistan.

Shortly before the attack, the acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Ross Wilson, said the security threat at the Kabul airport overnight was “clearly regarded as credible, as imminent, as compelling.” But in an interview with ABC News, he would not give details.

Late Wednesday, the U.S. Embassy warned citizens at three airport gates to leave immediately due to an unspecified security threat. Australia, Britain and New Zealand also advised their citizens Thursday not to go to the airport.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied that any attack was imminent at the airport, where the group’s fighters have deployed and occasionally used heavy-handed tactics to control the crowds. After the attack, he appeared to shirk blame, noting the airport is controlled by U.S. troops.

Before the blast, the Taliban sprayed a water cannon at those gathered at one airport gate to try to drive the crowd away, as someone launched tear gas canisters elsewhere.

Nadia Sadat, a 27-year-old Afghan, carried her 2-year-old daughter with her outside the airport. She and her husband, who had worked with coalition forces, missed a call from a number they believed was the State Department and were trying to get into the airport without any luck. Her husband had pressed ahead in the crowd to try to get them inside.

“We have to find a way to evacuate because our lives are in danger,” Sadat said. “My husband received several threatening messages from unknown sources. We have no chance except escaping.”

Aman Karimi, 50, escorted his daughter and her family to the airport, fearful the Taliban would target her because of her husband’s work with NATO.

“The Taliban have already begun seeking those who have worked with NATO,” he said. “They are looking for them house-by-house at night.”

The Sunni extremists of IS, with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, have carried out a series of brutal attacks, mainly targeting Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority, including a 2020 assault on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which they killed women and infants.

The Taliban have fought against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan, where the Taliban have wrested back control nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion. The Americans went in following the 9/11 attacks, which al-Qaida orchestrated while being sheltered by the group.

Amid the warnings and the pending American withdrawal, Canada ended its evacuations, and European nations halted or prepared to stop their own operations.

“The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed. The Taliban have tightened the noose. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point,” Canadian General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defense Staff, said ahead of the attack.

Lt. Col. Georges Eiden, Luxembourg’s army representative in neighboring Pakistan, said that Friday would mark the official end for U.S. allies. But two Biden administration officials denied that was the case.

A third official said that the U.S. worked with its allies to coordinate each country’s departure, and some nations asked for more time and were granted it.

“Most depart later in the week,” he said, while adding that some were stopping operations Thursday. All three officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the information publicly.

Danish Defense Minister Trine Bramsen bluntly warned earlier: “It is no longer safe to fly in or out of Kabul.”

Denmark’s last flight has already departed, and Poland and Belgium have also announced the end of their evacuations. The Dutch government said it had been told by the U.S. to leave Thursday.

But Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said some planes would continue to fly.

“Evacuation operations in Kabul will not be wrapping up in 36 hours. We will continue to evacuate as many people as we can until the end of the mission,” he said in a tweet.

The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the deadline next week, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants. Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said talks were underway between his country and the Taliban about allowing Turkish civilian experts to help run the facility.

___

Baldor reported from Washington and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London; Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Sylvie Corbet in Paris; Jan M. Olsen from Copenhagen, Denmark; Tameem Akhgar and Andrew Wilks in Istanbul; James LaPorta in Boca Raton, Florida; Mike Corder at The Hague, Netherlands; Philip Crowther in Islamabad; Colleen Barry in Milan; and Aamer Madhani and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

Capitol Police officers sue Trump, allies over insurrection

By COLLEEN LONG and MICHAEL BALSAMO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. Capitol Police officers who were attacked and beaten during the Capitol riot filed a lawsuit Thursday against former President Donald Trump, his allies and members of far-right extremist groups, accusing them of intentionally sending a violent mob on Jan. 6 to disrupt the congressional certification of the election.

FILE – In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo President Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as President in Washington. U.S. Capitol Police officers who were attacked and beaten during the Capitol riot filed a lawsuit Thursday, Aug. 26, against former President Donald Trump, his allies and members of far-right extremist groups, accusing them of intentionally sending insurrectionists to disrupt the congressional certification of the election in January. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

The suit in federal court in Washington alleges Trump “worked with white supremacists, violent extremist groups, and campaign supporters to violate the Ku Klux Klan Act, and commit acts of domestic terrorism in an unlawful effort to stay in power.”

The suit was filed on behalf of the seven officers by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It names the former president, the Trump campaign, Trump ally Roger Stone and members of the extremist groups the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who were present at the Capitol and in Washington on Jan. 6.

Two other similar cases have been filed in recent months by Democratic members of Congress. The suits allege the actions of Trump and his allies led to the violence siege of the Capitol that injured dozens of police officers, halted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s electoral victory and sent lawmakers running for their lives as rioters stormed into the seat of American democracy wielding bats, poles and other weapons.

A House committee has started in earnest to investigate what happened that day, sending out requests Wednesday for documents from intelligence, law enforcement and other government agencies. Their largest request so far was made to the National Archive for information on Trump and his former team.

Trump accused the committee of violating “long-standing legal principles of privilege” but his team had no immediate comment on Thursday’s lawsuit.

“Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of my Administration and the Patriots who worked beside me, but on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our Nation,” Trump said.

The suit names as defendants several people who have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. They are alleged to have “conspired to use force, intimidation, and threats to prevent Joe Biden and Kamala Harris from taking office, to prevent Congress from counting the electoral votes, and to prevent the Capitol Police from carrying out their lawful duties.”

The filing provides vivid accounts of the injuries the officers sustained while trying to fend off the mob as rioters pushed past lines of overwhelmed law enforcers and barged into the Capitol. One officer, Jason DeRoche, was hit with batteries and sprayed with mace and bear spray until his eyes were swollen shut. A second officer, Governor Latson, was inside the Senate chamber when the rioters broke through the doors and beat him as they shouted racial slurs, according to the suit.

“We joined the Capitol Police to uphold the law and protect the Capitol community,” the group of officers said in a statement released by their lawyers. “On Jan. 6 we tried to stop people from breaking the law and destroying our democracy. Since then our jobs and those of our colleagues have become infinitely more dangerous. We want to do what we can to make sure the people who did this are held accountable and that no one can do this again.”

The documents requested by the House committee this week are just the beginning of what is expected to be lengthy, partisan and rancorous congressional investigation into how the mob was able to infiltrate the Capitol and disrupt the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s presidential victory, inflicting the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries.

Committee members are also considering asking telecommunications companies to preserve phone records of several people, including members of Congress, to try to determine who knew what about the unfolding riot and when they knew it. With chants of “hang Mike Pence,” the rioters sent the then-vice president and members of Congress running for their lives and did more than $1 million in damage, and wounded dozens of police officers.

The demands were made for White House records from the National Archives, along with material from the departments of Defense, Justice, Homeland Security and Interior, as well as the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The committee so far has heard from police officers who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6. In emotional testimony, those officers spoke of how afraid and frustrated they were by the failure of law enforcement leaders to foresee the potential for violence and understand the scope of planning by the Trump backers.

A Capitol Police officer who fatally shot protester Ashli Babbitt was cleared months ago of criminal wrongdoing and was cleared internally by the department this week, and was planning to reveal his identity in an NBC interview to air Thursday.

___

AP Congressional Correspondent Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

West Virginia mayor seeks $500 for vaccinated workers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The mayor of West Virginia’s largest city wants to give $500 to all city workers in Charleston who are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin announced Tuesday that she sent a letter to the City Council requesting approval for either a cash payment or a $500 health savings account contribution to eligible employees. Workers must have at least two doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the city said in a statement.

The payment would come from the city’s allocation of American Rescue Plan funding, the statement said. Goodwin anticipates the cost would be $450,000 if all city employees participate.

Kanawha County currently has 842 active coronavirus cases, up from 478 a week earlier.

“We serve the public every day and it is not only our job to keep the public safe — but we need to keep our employees safe,” Goodwin said.

___

Tech exec sentenced to 2 years for $1.8 million COVID fraud

From the Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — A Washington state tech executive has been sentenced to two years in prison after fraudulently obtaining nearly $1.8 million in federal COVID-19 disaster relief loans.

Mukund Mohan, of Clyde Hill, previously worked for Microsoft and Amazon and was making more than $200,000 a year as the chief of technology for the Canadian e-commerce company BuildDirect when he was arrested in July 2020.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said he submitted eight fraudulent Paycheck Protection Program loan applications seeking $5.5 million for companies he purportedly ran, and he actually received almost $1.8 million.

Mohan’s attorneys sought a six-month sentence, noting Mohan had no criminal history and had spent only $16,500 of the money. They said his actions, possibly triggered by mental health issues, were such an aberration for him that he fainted when federal agents knocked on his door.

Federal authorities were able to seize the money from Mohan’s accounts. He paid back the amount he had spent and was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine.

As part of the scheme, Mohan submitted fake and altered documents, including phony federal tax filings and altered incorporation documents. He said one of his companies had dozens of employees when in reality it had none.

In a news release, Corinne Kalve, acting special agent in charge of IRS Criminal Investigation, attributed the crime to Mohan’s greed, saying that when people abuse such benefit programs “they are stealing from those that are most vulnerable.”

Filly escapes racetrack, runs on Kentucky highway

From the Associated Press

HENDERSON, Ky. (AP) — A 2-year-old filly got loose before a race at a Kentucky track and ran onto a highway alongside cars before being apprehended Saturday.

The filly named Bold and Bossy got loose on her way to the starting gate at Ellis Park. Jockey Miguel Mena was thrown off.

She then ran off the track and over a levee heading to U.S. 41. Bold and Bossy ran briefly onto Interstate 69 and Veterans Memorial Parkway, with a posse of trainers chasing her in their vehicles. Police and the sheriff’s department also showed up.

“Thank god for all the people who jumped in to go find her because she left town,” her owner-trainer Michael Ann Ewing said from Lexington.

Ewing said Bold and Bossy lost two shoes and a hind hoof knocked some flesh off the heel of a front foot during her escapade, but she wasn’t seriously injured. The trainer said the filly was cramping from dehydration when she was finally corralled by a man and his wife.

Bold and Bossy was wearing her saddle and blinkers to restrict her vision as she galloped down the highway close to vehicles in other lanes. The blinkers probably made it harder to stop her, said Jack Hancock, a trainer who gave chase.

“She couldn’t see anything beside her, so that made it a little worse trying to catch her,” he said. ”I’ve been here all my life and I’ve never seen one to do a run like this, not that far and not that much highway.”

Horses that get loose on a racetrack often run back to the familiar setting of their barn, but Bold and Bossy had shipped in from Lexington to run in a race for the first time.

“She didn’t know where to go home,” Hancock said.

Oregon, once a virus success story, struggles with surge

By ANDREW SELSKY and SARA CLINE for the Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon was once the poster child for limiting the spread of the coronavirus, after its Democratic governor imposed some of the nation’s strictest safety measures, including mask mandates indoors and outdoors, limits on gatherings and an order closing restaurants.

But now the state is being hammered by the super-transmissible delta variant, and hospitals are getting stretched to the breaking point. The vast majority of hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

Two visitors peer into the room of a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit at Salem Hospital in Salem, Oregon, on Friday, Aug. 20, 2021, as a nurse dons full protective gear before going into the room of another patient. The hospitalization rate of unvaccinated COVID-19 is breaking records and squeezing hospital capacity, with several running out of room to take more patients. (AP Photo/Andrew Selsky)

The intensive care unit at Salem Hospital in Oregon’s capital city is completely full, with 19 of the 30 beds occupied last week by COVID-19 patients, the youngest only 20 years old. It’s the same at a hospital in Roseburg, a former timber town in western Oregon. A COVID-19 patient died in its emergency room last week while waiting for an ICU bed to open, an event that was deeply distressing to the medical staff.

“We need your help, grace and kindness,” the staff of CHI Health Medical Center said on Facebook. They are reeling “from the extraordinary onslaught of new cases and hospitalizations.”

Oregon is among a handful of states, including Florida, Arkansas and Louisiana, that have more people hospitalized with COVID-19 than ever before.

“This is really a dire situation,” said Jeff Absalon, chief physician executive for St. Charles Health System in Bend. National Guard troops were deployed to the mountain town’s hospital last week to assist medical workers.

Some 1,500 guard troops have been dispatched to hospitals around the state by Gov. Kate Brown, who warned of the “seriousness of this crisis for all Oregonians, especially those needing emergency and intensive care.”

Oregon keeps breaking records for the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, reaching 937 on Monday. That’s a 50% increase over last year’s record, when vaccines were not yet available. More than 90% of Oregon’s adult hospital and ICU beds are currently full.

And on Monday Legacy Health, a hospital system in Portland that includes six hospitals, said it was pausing all non-urgent surgical procedures for two weeks to create bed capacity.

Lisa, a nurse in Salem Hospital’s ICU, told a small group of visiting journalists Friday that she is both frustrated and sad to see a record number of COVID-19 patients, even though vaccines are widely available. She spoke on the condition that her last name not be used, because the pandemic and how to fight it have become highly politicized.

“We’ve been dealing with the second wave when we thought — I guess we hoped — it wouldn’t come. And it’s come. And it’s harder and worse, way worse, than before,” she said. Hours earlier, a COVID-19 patient died in the ICU.

As she spoke, a patient’s heart monitor beeped. A mechanical ventilator occasionally added a higher-pitched tone. Fifteen of the COVID-19 patients were on ventilators. The hospital’s wellness department, which normally recommends yoga and deep breathing for relaxation, recently set up a booth and filled it with dinner plates for a different kind of stress relief.

“We put on safety glasses,” Lisa said. “And we took plates and we shattered them. And I kept going back. I kept going back, and they told me I had enough turns.”

She said one advantage over last year’s surge is that she’s vaccinated, so she is not as scared of dying. Another improvement is that there are plenty of masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment.

Other than the beeping monitors, the ICU was quiet. The COVID-19 patients are heavily sedated and behind closed doors. Outside their rooms stand poles draped with IV bags, the tubes running through a crack in the door so nurses can change the bags without exposing themselves to the virus.

Beds outside the unit can be upgraded to ICU-level care by adding monitors and life-support machines, said Martin Johnson, the ICU medical director. A rapid-response team composed of an ICU nurse and an ICU-level respiratory therapist provide backup support, he said, stressing that the hospital can still take in patients.

After conferring on each patient’s medical status, ICU team members, who have spent a year and a half trying to keep COVID-19 patients alive, stand in a circle, sometimes holding hands, and try to come up with positive things to say.

“Sometimes it’s, ‘Their oxygen needs are less, or their fever is gone,’” Johnson said. “At other times, it’s ‘The patient opened his eyes and squeezed my hand.’”

When there is no improvement, staff will instead express gratitude for each other or for the support of patients’ relatives.

Oregon’s early success against the virus may have helped fuel the delta variant’s toll on the state, because the aggressive measures to curb the first surge left many population pockets with no immunity. And though some 72% of adults statewide are at least partially vaccinated, that number drops to less than 50% in 10 of Oregon’s 36 counties.

Oregon’s low immunity level, considering previous infection rates and the number of unvaccinated people, creates a high risk for new infections, said Renee Edwards, chief medical officer at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

Compounding the problem: Oregon has, along with Washington state, the lowest per-capita supply of hospital beds in the nation. The two states each have only 1.7 beds per 1,000 residents, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on national health issues. South Dakota ranks first, with 4.8 beds per 1,000.

It will be a race against time to see if Oregon’s health care system can withstand the current surge before it eases off. Oregon Health & Science University predicts the peak will be Sept. 7.

___ Cline reported from Portland, Oregon. Cline is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

Proud Boys leader who burned BLM flag gets 5 months in jail

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER for the Associated Press

The leader of the Proud Boys extremist group was sentenced to more than five months in jail on Monday for burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn down from a historic Black church in downtown Washington and bringing two high-capacity firearm magazines into the nation’s capital days shortly before the Jan. 6 riot.

Enrique Tarrio told the court he was “profusely” sorry for his actions, calling them a “grave mistake.”

FILE – In this Sept. 26, 2020, file photo, Proud Boys leader Henry “Enrique” Tarrio wears a hat that says The War Boys during a rally in Portland, Ore. Tarrio, has been sentenced to five months in jail. Tarrio was convicted of burning a Black Lives Matter banner that was torn down from a historic Black church in downtown Washington and for bringing two high-capacity firearm magazines into the nation’s capital two days before the Jan. 6 riot. (AP Photo/Allison Dinner, File)

“What I did was wrong,” Tarrio said during the hearing held via videoconference.

Tarrio, from Miami, was arrested as he arrived in Washington two days before thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump — including members of the Proud Boys — descended on the U.S. Capitol and disrupted the certification of the Electoral College vote. Tarrio was ordered to stay away from Washington, and law enforcement later said Tarrio was picked up in part to help quell potential violence.

Authorities say Proud Boys members stole the banner that read #BLACKLIVESMATTER from the Asbury United Methodist Church on Dec. 12 and then set it ablaze using lighter fluid and lighters. Tarrio posted a picture of himself holding an unlit lighter to his Parler account and admitted days later in an interview with The Washington Post that he joined in the burning of the banner.

Rev. Dr. Ianther Mills, senior pastor of the church, told the judge it was an “act of intimidation and racism” that caused “immeasurable and possibly irreparable harm” on the community.

“His careless act of violence and hatred, targeted at a congregation of individuals with a lived history of social and racial injustice, had the presumably desired effect,” she said. “Asbury was forced to reckon with the very tangible evidence that we continue to live in a world where people radicalize hate based upon race and skin color.”

When police pulled Tarrio over on Jan. 4 on the warrant for vandalizing the sign, officers found two unloaded magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo in his bag. Tarrio said, according to a police report, that he sells the clips and the ones he was carrying were purchased by a customer.

Tarrio pleaded guilty last month to destruction of property and attempted possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device.

A police spokesman told The Associated Press in December that investigators were probing the events as potential hate crimes, but no hate crime charges were filed against Tarrio.

The judge said Tarrio deserved even more time behind bars than the three months that prosecutors had sought. Judge Harold Cushenberry blasted the Proud Boys leader for claiming that he didn’t know that the banner came from a church even though there was a video of Tarrio standing near the church when it was stolen.

“Mr. Tarrio has clearly — intentionally and proudly — crossed the line from peaceful protest and assembly to dangerous and potentially violent criminal conduct,” the judge said.

Proud Boys members describe themselves as a politically incorrect men’s club for “Western chauvinists.” Its members frequently have engaged in street fights with antifascist activists at rallies and protests.

Authorities have narrowed in on the Proud Boys and other extremist groups, like the Oath Keepers, in their investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol that sent lawmakers running and injured dozens of law enforcement officers.

Nearly 600 people have been charged in the Capitol insurrection, but some of the most serious charges — involving accusations of planning to block the certification of the vote — have been filed against members of the extremist groups.

About three dozen people charged have been identified by federal authorities as Proud Boys leaders, members or associates. In one case, four group leaders have been charged with conspiring to impede the certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Tarrio hasn’t been charged in the Capitol attack.

It was revealed in court records recently that Tarrio had worked undercover and cooperated with investigators after he was accused of fraud in 2012. After Tarrio’s 2012 indictment for participating in a scheme involving the resale of diabetic test strips, he helped the government prosecute more than a dozen other people, the records show.

RELATED TOPICS

Paw patrol: German police revive girl’s dropped Chihuahua

From the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — No job is too small for Hamburg police.

Officers in the German city found themselves having to perform CPR on a Chihuahua last week after a distraught girl came rushing into a police station saying her pet had stopped breathing after she accidentally dropped it.

After checking its vitals, officers cupped the dog’s nose to provide mouth-to-snout resuscitation and massaged its tiny heart all the way to a nearby veterinary clinic.

In a statement Friday, Hamburg police said vets later called the precinct to say the dog was in a stable condition.

‘Bracing for the worst’ in Florida’s COVID-19 hot zone

By KELLI KENNEDY and CODY JACKSON for the Associated Press

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — As quickly as one COVID patient is discharged, another waits for a bed in northeast Florida, the hot zone of the state’s latest surge. But the patients at Baptist Health’s five hospitals across Jacksonville are younger and getting sick from the virus faster than people did last summer.

In this photo provided by Impact Church, a man gets his temperature taken during a vaccination event held by Impact Church on Aug. 8, 2021, in Jacksonville, Fla. The church has lost seven members in the last few weeks, according to Pastor George Davis. (Impact Church via AP)

Baptist has over 500 COVID patients, more than twice the number they had at the peak of Florida’s July 2020 surge, and the onslaught isn’t letting up. Hospital officials are anxiously monitoring 10 forecast models, converting empty spaces, adding over 100 beds and “bracing for the worst,” said Dr. Timothy Groover, the hospitals’ interim chief medical officer.

“Jacksonville is kind of the epicenter of this. They had one of the lowest vaccination rates going into July and that has probably really came back to bite them,” said Justin Senior, CEO of the Florida Safety Net Hospital Alliance, which represents some of the largest hospitals in the state.

Duval County, which consists almost entirely of Jacksonville, is a racially diverse Democratic bastion, won by Joe Biden. The overwhelmingly white rural counties that surround it went firmly for Donald Trump.

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But all had lower than average vaccination rates before the highly contagious delta variant swept through this corner of Florida, driving caseloads in a state that now accounts for one in five COVID patients hospitalized nationwide.

Nearly one-third of Jacksonville’s population is African American, and racial tensions here date back to the Civil Rights era, when 40 young Black people sat down at a whites-only department store lunch counter and were attacked with axes and baseball bats by 150 white men. That 1960 conflict was a turning point for equal rights in the city, but mistrust of government officials still lingers.

The city is just a five hour drive from the home of the infamous “Tuskegee syphilis study,” in which the government used unsuspecting Black men as guinea pigs in a study of a sexually transmitted disease. Groover, who is Black, understands why people are wary, even though his hospital system promises the highest quality of care to its community, using the most advanced technologies.

The system is working overtime to get a pro-vaccine message out, but it’s competing against rumors that filter through social media feeds to local BBQs and church congregations. Black leaders in the community told The Associated Press they’ve heard everything, including that the government is using the vaccine to implanttracking devices.

“A whole lot of rumors,” said Dr. Rogers Cain, a Black primary care doctor with a predominantly Black practice, who said his elderly patients are easier to persuade to get the vaccine than his younger ones. “We’ve done a massive effort at educating. But it hasn’t really came through.”

“The people that actually were closer to the Tuskegee incident are the ones who got the vaccine the quickest,” he said.

While Duval’s vaccination rate of 56% is in the middle among Florida counties, it has jumped 17% since early July, one of the largest increases in the state.

Vaccine skepticism also is high among the Hispanics who represent 10% of Duval’s population, said Dr. Leonardo Alfonso. He rotates between emergency rooms at two other Jacksonville hospitals, working on his days off because they are so desperate for staff. One typically has around 50 patients, but some days it treats 100 or more.

“The ICUs are brimming. They’re running out of ventilators,” Alfonso said with frustration. “People are dying. It’s so preventable.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis recently ordered a rapid response unit to help deliver monoclonal antibody therapy to a wider range of higher-risk patients who become infected, in hopes of relieving “some of the pressure” on local hospitals.

Alfonso says vaccinations could have blunted this surge, but when he asks patients if they got their shots, “I get this deer in the headlights headlights look, kind of just a blank stare, like they didn’t give it importance or they just blew it off or they thought they were young and healthy.”

Persuading the hesitant to protect themselves and the people around them is a ground game, experts say.

“We’re getting out in front of every audience we possibly can,” said Dr. Groover.

His father pastors one of the area’s large predominantly Black churches, where Groover says some of the parishioners told him they don’t need a vaccine because God would protect them. The doctor spoke to the congregation at a recent Sunday service, trying to dispel myths and describing how he’s seen families devastated by infection and deaths that vaccines could have prevented.

“I got about 10 texts later that day from people who went out to Publix that same day and got the shot,” he said. “A large majority of the membership now is vaccinated.”

Across town at Impact Church, Pastor George Davis buried six church members under the age of 35 in just 10 days. All had been healthy, all unvaccinated. Friends he’s lost include a 24-year-old man Davis had known since he was a toddler, a young woman on the worship team who celebrated her first wedding anniversary just weeks before her death, and another man in his early 30s that Davis had mentored for years.

The predominantly young, Black megachurch of 6,000 has a hipster vibe, with contemporary music, and jeans and sneakers welcome. Davis has partnered with community health officials to work through misconceptions about the delta variant’s impact after officials said for months that the disease couldn’t hurt them much.

Now, his church members can simply walk across the hall each Sunday and talk with a medical expert about their vaccine concerns. Davis also hosted two vaccination drives, where more than 1,000 got shots.

“As a pastor, honestly we really don’t have much time to lick our wounds,” he said. “Like a police officer, if somebody they know has been shot, they still have to reach for their weapon to protect those that are left.”

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Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale. Terry Spencer contributed to this report.

The Latest: Pentagon says 7,000 civilians taken out of Kabul

By The Associated Press

In this photo made available by Britain’s Ministry of Defence, a civilian charter flight arrives at a British midlands airport (exact location withheld) from Kabul on Wednesday Aug. 18, 2021. The flight carried eligible Afghans under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy Programme along with British Nationals who were based in Afghanistan. (SAC Samantha Holden RAF via AP)

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the U.S. military is ramping up evacuations out of Afghanistan, and that 7,000 civilians have been taken out of the country since August 14.

Army Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters that 12 C-17 aircraft departed with 2,000 evacuees over the past 24 hours. Speaking at a Pentagon briefing Thursday, Taylor said the military now has enough aircraft to get 5,000-9,000 people out a day, depending on how many have been processed and other factors, such as weather.

There are now about 5,200 U.S. troops at the airport, a number that has been steadily increasing in recent days.

“We are ready to increase throughout,” said Taylor. His comments came amid ongoing chaos at the Kabul airport as Afghans and other civilians desperately try to get on flights out of the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover on Sunday.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said there has been no Taliban violence against U.S. personnel, and that the U.S. hasn’t seen the group obstruct American citizens trying to leave. There have been widespread reports of Taliban violence against Afghans, including efforts to prevent them from getting to the airport.

He declined to say whether Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin believes it will be necessary to continue the operation beyond August 31. And he said there have been no discussions with the Taliban for an extension.

President Joe Biden has said he will continue military evacuations of Americans until all those who want to leave are evacuated.

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

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LONDON — Police say a five-year-old boy who fell to his death from a hotel in the north England city of Sheffield was an Afghan refugee.

South Yorkshire Police have appealed for information following the boy’s death in what was reported to be a fall from the ninth floor of Sheffield’s Metropolitan Hotel at around 2.30pm on Wednesday.

The boy’s family are being supported by specially trained officers and no formal identification has taken place yet. According to local media, the family had arrived in Sheffield just four days ago.

The hotel has been used to accommodate Afghan refugees who had assisted the British authorities in Afghanistan.

Like others, Britain is trying to evacuate its own nationals as well as Afghan allies after the Taliban seized control 20 years after being driven from power by a U.S.-led international force following the 9/11 attacks.

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ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi and Russian President Vladimir Putin have together analyzed the “situation on the ground” in Afghanistan as well as its regional implications, Draghi’s office said.

During Thursday’s phone call, the two leaders “also assessed guidelines that could inspire action of the international community” in various contexts with the aim to “restore Afghanistan’s stability, fight terrorism and illegal trafficking and protect women’s rights,” a statement from the office said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to meet with Draghi and with his Italian counterpart next week in Rome, with Afghanistan high on the geo-political matters on the agenda.

Draghi on Thursday also discussed the Afghan crisis with French President Emmanuel Macron, including “management of the migration flows and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms” in the country.

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PARIS — French non-governmental groups, lawyers and activists are asking President Emmanuel Macron take bold action to welcome Afghan migrants fleeing their Taliban-run country.

“We demand simplification of the immigration procedure, a faster reunion of families, a broad and long-term resettling of Afghan families seeking asylum, and the end of all expulsions toward Afghanistan,” Henry Masson, the president of La Cimade, a French NGO advocating for undocumented people, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

La Cimade is among six NGOs and unions circulating a petition to make those demands heard. It has been signed by more than 11,000 people so far.

France, which withdrew its military from Afghanistan in 2014, has brought out about 400 people from Kabul on three evacuation flights this week, primarily Afghans who worked with the French government or French groups in Afghanistan. But many more are trying to flee, fearing reprisals from the Taliban for their work with Western organizations.

Macron said Monday that France would “do its duty to protect those who are most at risk,” but also said Europeans must “protect ourselves against significant irregular migratory flows.”

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ISLAMABAD — A delegation of prominent Afghan leaders and officials has warned that a Taliban government will not survive for long if it repeats past mistakes.

The delegation, headed by Afghan parliament speaker, Mir Rehman Rehmani, spoke to reporters in Islamabad on Thursday, after meeting Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and other government and military officials this week. The Afghans arrived in the Pakistani capital on Monday, a day after the Taliban swept into Kabul and took over Afghanistan.

A former Afghan vice president, Mohammad Younis Qanooni, said the future government in Afghanistan should be inclusive, with the participation of all ethnic groups.

“We oppose a rule by one party or group,” he said.

Khalid Noor, a prominent politician, said the Taliban cannot rule by force in Afghanistan. He says they have taken power by force, but warned their rule would be short-lived if they didn’t respect the rights of the people.

Other members of the Afghan delegation include Salahud-din-Rabbani, Ahmad Zia Massoud and Ahmad Wali Massoud.

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MOSCOW — Russia has blamed Afghanistan’s president for precipitating the Taliban takeover of the country by dragging his feet on negotiating a comprehensive peace deal.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had “every opportunity over the past three years to ensure the success of an inter-Afghan peace process and help a gradual formation of an inclusive government involving all ethnic and political factions.”

She added that Ghani, who fled the country just as the Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday in a lightning offensive, had missed the chance for a peaceful settlement and “bears responsibility for what happened.”

Moscow long has been critical of Ghani, accusing him of stonewalling proposals for an inclusive government during the protracted talks with the Taliban and other Afghan factions in the past.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on Thursday that more than 300 locally hired people, interpreters, employees of non-governmental organizations and family members have been evacuated from Afghanistan.

The 320 people have been flown to Islamabad, Pakistan, from where they will fly in two planes to Denmark on Friday. He declined to say what nationalities they were.

Earlier in the day, a plane with 84 people evacuated from Afghanistan landed in Copenhagen. Danish media said that those aboard the plane reportedly were locally hired people and interpreters who had worked for Denmark. No further details were available.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says the Taliban have not changed but are going through an “existential crisis” about whether they want legitimacy on the global stage as they’ve taken over Afghanistan.

In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Biden said that he’s “not sure” the Taliban want to be “recognized by the international community as being a legitimate government.”

He also said that the threat from al-Qaida and their affiliate organizations is “greater in other parts of the world than it is in Afghanistan, adding that it’s “not rational” to ignore the “looming problems” posed by al-Qaida affiliates in Syria or East Africa, where he said the threat to the U.S. is “significantly greater.”

“We should be focusing on where the threat is the greatest,” Biden said, in defense of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Biden also pushed back against concerns about the treatment of women and girls in the country, arguing that it’s “not rational” to try to protect women’s rights around the globe through military force. Instead, it should be done through “diplomatic and international pressure” on human rights abusers to change their behavior.

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MOSCOW — Russia has offered to provide its aircraft to fly Afghans willing to leave the country to any nations willing to host them.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that Moscow would be ready to offer its planes to airlift “any number of Afghan citizens, including women and children to any foreign countries that would be interested in accommodating them.”

Zakharova’s statement came as thousands of Afghans are desperate to flee the country fearing that the Taliban will reimpose a brutal rule after taking over Kabul on Sunday.

Afghans and aid organizations have said that people desperate to leave are having a hard time getting past the Taliban and into Kabul’s international airport. Military evacuation flights have continued at the airport, but Taliban militants fired shots in the air on Thursday to try to control the crowds.

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WARSAW, Poland — The Polish government says it has evacuated its last citizens from Afghanistan.

Marcin Przydacz, a deputy foreign minister, said on Thursday that “at the moment, all Poles with whom we had contact have left Afghanistan.” However, he also said he couldn’t exclude the possibility that others might still appear.

The evacuations being carried out so far by Polish authorities have included Poles and “people who actively worked for a democratic Afghanistan in cooperation with Poland,” Przydacz said.

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PRAGUE — The Czech leaders declared the country’s effort to evacuate the Czech nationals and the Afghans who have worked with them a mission accomplished.

Three Czech evacuation flights in three days transported almost 200 people from Kabul to Prague by Wednesday night.

Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says 170 Afghan nationals were among them, including all the local staffers at the Czech Embassy in Kabul and interpreters who helped the Czech armed forces during NATO missions and their families. Also, the Afghans who have a permanent residency in the Czech Republic were included.

Four Afghans were transported at the request of another European Union member state Slovakia. Czech embassy staff and two Polish nationals were also evacuated.

“We’ve saved everyone we wanted to,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday. “The mission has been accomplished.”

A Czech NGO that helps army veterans says several interpreters with families who have helped the Czechs still need to be rescued.

Foreign Minister Jakub Kulhanek says that a possible transport in such cases will be coordinated with the allies.

Kulhanek said the successful rescue operation was “a big miracle.” He described the situation in Afghanistan as “a total and unexpected collapse… a tragedy that nobody could be ready for.”

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ISTANBUL — A top Afghan official says he and other top officials left Kabul on Monday on board a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul with the help of the Turkish Embassy.

Babur Farahmand, deputy chief of Afghanistan High Council for National Reconciliation, told The Associated Press in Istanbul that other senior officials on board the flight included Second Vice President Sarwar Danish, Foreign Minister Hanif Atmar, intelligence chief Ahmad Zia Saraj, former foreign minister and politician Rangin Dadfar Spanta.

Farahmand said he and some other officials reached the Hamid Karzai International Airport’s military airfield in Kabul on Sunday evening. They spent the night inside the military compound waiting for the flight. Various countries facilitated the Afghan officials’ entry into airport but Turkish government facilitated the flight, he said.

Earlier, Turkey’s Hurriyet newspaper reported that as many as 40 Afghan officials arrived in Istanbul on Monday on board a Turkish Airlines flight. The plane with 324 passengers on board, took off from Kabul with several hours of delay due to the chaos at the airport.

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MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat on Thursday reiterated a call for a broad dialogue between all political forces in Afghanistan, noting that the Taliban do not control “the entire territory” of Afghanistan yet.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pointed to “reports … about the situation in the Panjshir Valley, where the resistance forces of Afghan Vice President (Amrullah) Saleh and Ahman Massod have been gathering.”

He said that it makes Moscow’s stance on the necessity of a dialogue between all rival forces and groups even more consistent. Russia has been calling for one when “all of Afghanistan was engulfed in a civil war,” and continues to urge it now, “when the Taliban have taken power in Kabul, in the majority of other cities, in the majority of Afghanistan’s provinces.”

“We support the same thing — a nationwide dialogue”″ that will lead to a representative government, Lavrov said. “”This, with the support of Afghan citizens, will work out agreements on the final make-up of this long-suffering country.”

Earlier this week, the minister stressed that Moscow was “in no rush” to recognize the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan. Russia had labeled the Taliban a terrorist organization in 2003, but has since hosted several rounds of talks in Afghanistan, most recently in March, that involved the group.

Moscow, which fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan that ended with Soviet troops’ withdrawal in 1989, has made a diplomatic comeback as a mediator, reaching out to feuding Afghan factions and cultivating ties with the Taliban as it has jockeyed with the U.S. for influence in the country.

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ROME — A plane carrying some 202 Afghans, including an activist and medical researchers affiliated with an Italian think-tank, have arrived in Rome in the latest airlift fleeing the country overtaken by the Taliban.

The Italian foreign ministry said Italy was committed to evacuating “those who collaborated with Italy and who are threatened, such as women and children.”

One of the passengers was Zahra Ahmadi, whose brother lives in Venice and apparently helped rally diplomatic efforts to get her out. Other passengers were affiliated with the Veronesi Foundation, which supports medical research, especially for women, and hosted Afghan doctors in the past.

Italy has been flying groups of Afghans out at a clip of two or more flights a day, transferring them to a plane in Kuwait and then onto Rome. The new arrivals are then tested for the coronavirus and placed in mandatory quarantine, as called for by current Italian health regulations.

Italy had one of the largest military contingents during the two-decade NATO and U.S.-led operation in Afghanistan.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary — More than two dozen Hungarian nationals evacuated from Kabul arrived in Frankfurt, Germany early Thursday, and will likely be transported to Hungary later in the day, deputy foreign minister Levente Magyar told reporters.

The air evacuation of the 26 Hungarians was carried out by Hungary’s military allies with a stopover in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The evacuees had worked as private security contractors at the Dutch embassy in Kabul before the city’s takeover by the Taliban. Magyar did not say which allies were involved in the operation.

A separate evacuation mission was launched from Hungary early Thursday, which will attempt to recover other Hungarians still in Afghanistan and some Afghan citizens who assisted Hungarian military forces, Magyar said. Not all of the Hungarian citizens awaiting evacuation have yet made it to Kabul airport, he added.

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LONDON — Britain’s foreign secretary is rejecting calls to resign for not interrupting his holiday on the Greek island of Crete to make a call to help translators flee Afghanistan.

According to the Daily Mail newspaper, Dominic Raab did not call his Afghan counterpart Hanif Atmar on Friday after officials suggested he “urgently” do so in order to arrange help for those who supported British troops.

Two days later, the Taliban captured Kabul and Raab cut short his holiday and headed back to the U.K. to deal with the crisis.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told BBC radio that the suggested phone call would not have made “any difference whatsoever” given the Afghan government was “melting away quicker than ice.”

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, said on Twitter: “Who wouldn’t make a phone call if they were told it could save somebody’s life?”

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson, was one of many to call for Raab’s resignation after what she described as “yet another catastrophic failure of judgment.”

On entering 10 Downing Street, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office, Raab was asked if he would resign. In response, he said “no.”

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BEIRUT — An al-Qaida-linked group in Syria is congratulating the people of Afghanistan for the “dear victory” achieved by the Taliban.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or the Levant Liberation Committee, compared the Taliban’s control of much of Afghanistan with the early Muslim conquests.

The group, also known as HTS, is the most powerful faction in rebel-held parts of northwest Syria. Over the past months it has been working on improving its image by distancing itself from extremist ideology.

Some of the founding members of the group — which used to be known as the Nusra Front — include Arab commanders who were close to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Many of them were killed in U.S. drone attacks in Syria over the past years.

In 2017, Brett McGurk, then top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the Islamic State group, said that Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib had become the largest al-Qaida haven since Afghanistan in bin Laden’s days.

In a statement released late Wednesday, HTS said “no matter how long it takes, righteousness will end up victorious.” It added: “Occupiers don’t last on usurped lands no matter how much they harm its people.”

HTS said it hopes that insurgents in Syria will be also victorious by learning from the experience of the Taliban to remove the government of President Bashar Assad, its adversary in the country’s 10-year conflict.

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — The first evacuation flight from Kabul organized by the Slovak government has landed in Slovakia.

Foreign Minister Ivan Korcok says a total of 20 passengers were onboard, 16 Slovak nationals and four Afghans among them, including a 10-month old baby. It was the full capacity of the military transport plane.

Four other Afghan nationals who were working with the Slovak armed forces were transported onboard of a Czech evacuation flight and flown to Slovakia overnight.

Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said the members of Slovak army’s special forces had to use weapons to secure the passengers’ safe transport to the plane. He cited a deteriorating situation at the airport but declined to give details.

Prime Minister Eduard Heger says his country is coordinating further steps with allies.

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WARSAW, Poland — A second airplane carrying people evacuated from Afghanistan has landed in Warsaw.

The plane landed on Thursday morning, following one that brought people late Wednesday.

Poland has deployed 100 soldiers to Afghanistan to help with the evacuations of Polish and Afghan citizens. Those evacuated are first transported to Uzbekistan by military transport and then brought to Poland on civilian airliners.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has shared images on Facebook of some of those being evacuated.

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ROME — Two more Italian C130s have brought nearly 200 Afghan citizens out of Kabul, as Italy continues its evacuation of people who worked with Italian forces and their families following the Taliban takeover of the country.

The Defense Ministry said the passengers aboard the two flights were transferring Thursday to other aircraft in Kuwait, and from there would continue onto Rome.

Italy has vowed to evacuate as many Afghans as it can, particularly those who worked with Italian forces during the nearly two-decade long NATO and U.S.-led operation in the country.

With the arrival in Rome later Thursday of the latest evacuees Italy says it will have airlifted out some 500 Afghans.

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KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghanistan’s steel factories’ association is concerned scrap metal smuggling abroad has increased and exhausted supplies, putting thousands of workers at risk of losing their jobs.

Abdul Nasir Reshtia, chief executive of the association says that with borders reopening, Afghanistan’s scrap metal is being smuggled once again to neighboring countries.

Reshtia warns that in next ten days, the smuggling will push factories to close as they cannot operate without scrap metal.

Former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had banned the export of scrap metal to support Afghan steel factories so they could compete with imported steel from neighboring countries.

Reshtia says that he has not been able to reach the Taliban leadership to share his concerns.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — Romania’s foreign ministry says that a military aircraft has evacuated a single Romanian citizen from Kabul airport to Islamabad.

It said in a statement that “the particularly difficult security conditions in Kabul meant that the access of other groups of Romanian citizens to the airport could not be achieved.”

The C-130 Hercules aircraft, which evacuated a NATO employee on Wednesday evening, had military personnel and a mobile consular team onboard ready to provide “specialized assistance.” It is set to return to Kabul airport to continue evacuating Romanian citizens, officials said.

Authorities said that at the time of the operation there were 33 Romanian citizens registered as present in Afghanistan.

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — A Dutch military transport plane has arrived in Amsterdam carrying people evacuated from Kabul.

The Ministry of Defense says that a C-17 plane landed late Wednesday night at Schiphol airport. On board were 35 Dutch nationals along with citizens from Belgium, Germany and the United Kingdom.

The government says it has now airlifted 50 Dutch nationals out of Kabul. A Dutch consular crisis team along with dozens of troops to protect the personnel flew into the Afghan capital on Wednesday.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union said Thursday that 106 staff members of EU delegations and their families had safely left Afghanistan but said that some 300 still remained behind.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Thursday that the first plane with EU staff had landed in Madrid, from where they will be relocated among the 27 EU member states.

“There are still 300 more Afghani staff of European Union delegations blocked on the streets of Kabul trying to reach the airport and trying to have a seat on some of the European Union member state flights,” Borrell told a EU parliament committee.

He insisted that “these people have loyally promoted and defended the union’s interests and values in Afghanistan over many years,” adding that it was the EU’s “moral duty to protect them and to have to save as many people as possible.”

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MADRID — Spain has evacuated 53 people from Afghanistan on its first flight to airlift Spanish citizens and Afghan workers and their families from Kabul.

The military cargo plane landed at an airport near Madrid on Thursday morning with five Spaniards and 48 Afghans on board. An unspecified number of children were included.

Spain has two more planes prepared to continue with the evacuation of Afghan workers and their families.

All the passengers received a COVID-19 test on arrival and were attended by police so that they could ask for “international protection,” the government said in a statement.

The airport also received a flight from the European Union External Action service with five Afghan families on board. Spain’s government has offered to take in additional evacuees from EU partners and care for them until they can be distributed to other countries of the bloc.

“We are still working to evacuate those Afghans who worked with Spain in the quickest manner possible and guarantee their security along with those people who have worked with the EU,” said Spanish Foreign Minister José Albares.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark says that a plane with 84 people who had been evacuated from Afghanistan has landed in Copenhagen and were now on “safe ground in Denmark.”

On Twitter, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod wrote Thursday that the evacuation “is still in full swing and we are working hard to evacuate the last local staff, interpreters and other groups from Kabul.”

Danish media said that those aboard the plane reportedly were locally hired people and interpreters who had worked for Denmark. No further details were available.

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WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president has approved the deployment of a 100-person military contingent to Afghanistan to help secure the evacuation of Polish citizens and the citizens of other countries in coordination with allies.

President Andrzej Duda signed the order late Wednesday for the mission, and which is to last until Sept. 16.

Meanwhile, a first plane carrying a group of people who were evacuated from Afghanistan landed at Warsaw’s military airport late Wednesday, said Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak. The group was first taken from Kabul by military plane to Uzbekistan and from there was transported on to Warsaw.

Since Tuesday, Polish forces have been carrying out an operation to evacuate Poles and Afghans who previously cooperated with the Polish military or diplomatic mission or who helped otherwise with western groups.

Those who arrived in Warsaw will have to go into quarantine.

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has suspended all arms sales to the government of Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country.

In a notice to defense contractors posted Wednesday, the State Department’s Political/Military Affairs Bureau said pending or undelivered arms transfers to Afghanistan had been put under review.

“In light of rapidly evolving circumstances in Afghanistan, the Directorate of Defense Sales Controls is reviewing all pending and issued export licenses and other approvals to determine their suitability in furthering world peace, national security and the foreign policy of the United States,” it said.

The notice said it would issue updates for defense equipment exporters in the coming days.

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says he’s committed to keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan until every American is evacuated, even if that means maintaining a military presence there beyond his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal.

In an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos on Wednesday, Biden said that the U.S. will do “everything in our power” to get Americans and U.S. allies in the nation out before the deadline. Pressed repeatedly on how the administration would help Americans left in the nation after Aug. 31, Biden finally affirmed, “if there’s American citizens left, we’re gonna stay till we get them all out.”

Up to 15,000 Americans remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban took full control of the nation. The Biden administration has received criticism for the scenes of violence and disorder in recent days as thousands attempted to flee while the Taliban advanced.

But during the same interview, Biden suggested there wasn’t anything the administration could’ve done to avoid such chaos. “The idea that somehow, there’s a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don’t know how that happens,” he said.

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WASHINGTON — The International Monetary Fund says that the new Taliban government in Afghanistan will not at the current time be allowed to access loans or other resources from the 190-nation lending organization.

In a statement Wednesday, the IMF said it would be guided by the views of the international community.

The statement said, “There is currently a lack of clarity within the international community regarding recognition of a government in Afghanistan, as a consequence of which the country cannot access SDRs or other IMF resources.”

SDRs are special drawing rights which serve as a reserve that IMF member countries can tap into to meet payment obligations.

Hundreds gather for funeral of slain Chicago police officer

By DON BABWIN for the Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — Scores of police officers stood to attention as the casket containing the body of a Chicago police officer fatally shot this month was carried into a South Side church for her funeral Thursday morning.

A sea of officers in their dress blue uniforms formed outside St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel as mourners — including Mayor Lori Lightfoot, former Mayor Richard M. Daley, and top department officials and friends and family — filed slowly inside to remember Officer Ella French.

Chicago police officers salute as the body of slain Chicago police officer Ella French is carried into the St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for a funeral service Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in Chicago. French was killed and her partner was seriously wounded during an Aug. 7 traffic stop on the city’s South Side. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The leader of Chicago’s Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Cardinal Blase Cupich, was scheduled to give the homily at the funeral Mass.

Outside, a large American flag waved from atop the ladders of Chicago Fire Department trucks.

The line of mourners entering the church walked past a photo of the smiling French with her dress gloves and baton. The ceremony began about 30 minutes late to accommodate the hundreds of others still waiting in line when the scheduled start time, 10 a.m., arrived.

As happens whenever an officer is killed in the line of duty, the green uniforms of the Illinois State Police, the white hats worn by members of the Chicago Fire Department, and uniforms from departments across the state and beyond were in attendance.

The 29-year-old officer was killed and another officer was critically injured on Aug. 7 when a passenger in a vehicle opened fire during a routine traffic stop for an expired license plate

French is the first member of the department to be killed in the line of duty in nearly three years. She is the fifth female member of the department to die in the line of duty and the first since 1988 — three years before French was born.

Though she is the first officer to be fatally shot in Chicago this year, she was just one of nearly 40 officers who have been fired upon — 11 of whom have been struck by bullets.

The other officer who was shot, Carlos Yanez Jr., remains hospitalized. Though his condition, which was critical for several days, has improved, his father told the Chicago Sun-Times that doctors have thus far not removed two bullets lodged in his brain.

“They can’t,” Carlos Yanez Sr., a retired Chicago police officer, told the paper.

Yanez Jr.’s sister, Nicole Christina, a doctor who is coordinating her brother’s medical team, told the Sun-Times that he lost an eye and has “no movement on left side of his body or his right leg.”

The shooting suspect, 21-year-old Monty Morgan, was shot in the abdomen by a third officer. He has been arrested and is charged with first-degree murder of a peace officer and attempted murder.

His brother, 22-year-old Eric Morgan, who prosecutors say was driving the vehicle, was also arrested. He faces gun charges and an obstruction of justice charge. Both were being held in Cook County Jail without bail.

A third man accused of acting as a straw purchaser to buy the gun used in the shooting faces federal gun charges.

Police probing report of explosive in truck near Capitol

By ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man sitting in a pickup truck outside the Library of Congress told police on Thursday that he had a bomb, prompting a massive law enforcement response to determine whether it was an operable explosive device, people briefed on the matter said.

People are evacuated from the James Madison Memorial Building, a Library of Congress building, in Washington on Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, as law enforcement investigate a report of a pickup truck containing an explosive device near the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The truck had no license plates, and when law enforcement noticed it in the morning, authorities reported a possible bomb threat over police radios. Investigators were trying to determine whether the man was holding a detonator. They were communicating with him as he wrote notes and showed them to police from inside the truck, according to three people were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Police sent snipers to the area near the Capitol and Supreme Court and evacuated multiple buildings on the sprawling Capitol complex. Congress is in recess this week, but staffers were seen calmly walking out of the area at the direction of authorities.

The nation’s capital has been tense since the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

Fencing that had been installed around the Capitol grounds had been up for months but was taken down this summer. A day before thousands of pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol, pipe bombs were left at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee in Washington. No one has been arrested yet for placing the bombs.

The RNC, not far away from where the truck was parked Thursday, was also evacuated over the threat.

The area was blocked off by police cars and barricades, and multiple fire trucks and ambulances were staged nearby. Also responding were the District of Columbia’s Metropolitan Police, FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Capitol Police said officers were “responding to a suspicious vehicle near the Library of Congress,” and that it was an “active bomb threat investigation.”

The White House said it was monitoring the situation and was being briefed by law enforcement.

Winds drive nation’s largest wildfire toward California city

From the Associated Press

SUSANVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Firefighters faced more dangerously windy weather Tuesday as they struggled to keep the nation’s largest wildfire from moving toward a Northern California county seat and other small mountain communities.

A home burns on Jeters Road as the Dixie fire jumps Highway 395 south of Janesville, Calif., on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. Critical fire weather throughout the region threatens to spread multiple wildfires burning in Northern California. (AP Photo/Ethan Swope)

Forecasters issued red flag warnings of critical fire weather conditions including gusts up to 40 mph (64 kph) from late morning to near midnight.

Winds spawned by a new weather system arrived Monday afternoon and pushed the Dixie Fire within a few miles of Susanville, population about 18,000, and prompted evacuation orders for the small nearby mountain community of Janesville, fire officials said.

“The fire moved fast last night,” fire spokesman David Janssen said early Tuesday.

Susanville is the seat of Lassen County and the largest city that the Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started, has approached since it broke out last month. The former Sierra Nevada logging and mining town has two state prisons, a nearby federal lockup and a casino.

Ash fell from the advancing fire and a Police Department statement urged residents “to be alert and be ready to evacuate” if the fire threatens the city, although no formal evacuation warning had been issued.

Bulldozers had cut fire lines in the path of the northward-trending blaze.

“We really had our fire lines challenged,” Janssen said. “This is a really big fire. It’s really hard to button up the perimeters.”

The weather forecast prompted Pacific Gas & Electric to warn that it might cut off power to 48,000 customers in portions of 18 California counties from Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon to prevent winds from knocking down or hurling debris into power lines and sparking new wildfires. Most of those customers are in Butte and Shasta counties, which have seen a number of deadly and devastating wildfires in recent years, including the Dixie Fire.

The Dixie Fire has scorched more than 900 square miles (2,331 square kilometers) in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades since it ignited on July 13 and eventually merged with a smaller blaze called the Fly Fire. It’s less than a third contained..

Investigations are continuing, but PG&E has notified utility regulators that the Dixie and Fly fires may have been caused by trees falling into its power lines. The Dixie Fire began near the town of Paradise, which was devastated by a 2018 wildfire ignited by PG&E equipment during strong winds. Eighty-five people died.

Ongoing damage surveys have counted more than 1,100 buildings destroyed, including 627 homes, and more than 14,000 structures remained threatened. Numerous evacuation orders were in effect.ADVERTISEMENT

The small lumber town of Westwood was still under evacuation orders and protective lines were holding but the blaze remained a threat.

California was dealing with several other massive fires, including one called the Caldor Fire that started on Saturday southeast of the Dixie Fire in El Dorado County that has grown to about 10 square miles (26 square kilometers).

About 2,500 people are under evacuation orders and warnings because of the Caldor Fire, which nearly tripled in size overnight, said Chris Vestal, a fire spokesman.

The Dixie Fire is the largest of nearly 100 major wildfires burning across more than a dozen Western states that have seen historic drought and weeks of high temperatures and dry weather that have left trees, brush and grasslands as flammable as tinder.

Two dozen fires were burning in Montana and nearly 50 more in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, according to the National Fire Interagency Center.

In Montana, a fire near the small community of Hays that began on Monday had burned about 8 square miles (20 square kilometers) and residents in and around the tiny enclave of Zortman were put on notice for possible evacuation.

The U.S. Forest Service said last week that it is operating in crisis mode, with more than double the number of firefighters deployed than at the same time a year ago. More than 25,000 firefighters, support personnel and management teams were assigned to U.S. blazes.

Climate change has made the U.S. West warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more destructive, according to scientists.

Wet and unwelcome, Fred spawns twisters and flooding in US

From The Associated Press

Tropical Storm Fred weakened to a depression and spawned several apparent tornadoes in Georgia on Tuesday as it dumped heavy rains into the Appalachian mountains along a path that could cause flash floods as far north as upstate New York.

One death was reported — a Las Vegas man whose car hydroplaned near Panama City, Florida, Monday night and overturned into a water-filled ditch, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

In a downpour, an SUV driver makes their way down Alligator Drive in Alligator Point, Fla., as waves crash onto the road during Tropical Storm Fred, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (Tori Lynn Schneider/Tallahassee Democrat via AP)

Fewer than 30,000 customers were without power in Florida and Georgia after the storm crashed ashore late Monday afternoon near Cape San Blas in the Florida Panhandle. Emergency crews were repairing downed power lines and clearing toppled trees in Fred’s aftermath. Some schools and colleges in Florida, Alabama and Georgia cancelled Tuesday’s in-person classes due to the storm.

The National Hurricane Center said Fred had top sustained winds of 35 mph (56 kph) as it crossed southeast Alabama into western and north Georgia. Senior hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said Tuesday that it could dump 5 to 7 inches (13-18 centimeters) of rain into parts of Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas — and possibly up to 10 (25 centimeters) of rain in isolated spots, causing flash flooding in mountainous areas.

At least three apparent tornadoes touched down in Georgia: One hit Americus, in the southwestern part of the state, one hit a rural area of Meriwether County, between Atlanta and Columbus, and one hit Jeffersonville, near Macon, according to the National Weather Service.

The storm hit Americus around 1:30 a.m., knocking over trees, with some falling on houses, and downing power lines, WRBL-TV reported.

An Academy Sports warehouse near Jeffersonville was hit by another likely tornado before 6 a.m., with metal siding torn off the building, a semi truck trailer tipped over and Twiggs County Sheriff Darren Mitchum telling WMAZ-TV that eight boats were scattered around by the storm. Weather officials warned of a tornado in the Jeffersonville area as well.

Heavy rains drenched parts of metro Atlanta just before dawn Tuesday, snarling commutes. About 2 inches of rain was recorded in Atlanta and Macon, with more than an inch falling overnight in Augusta and Columbus.

Meanwhile, reconnaissance aircraft found Grace regained tropical cyclone strength early Tuesday. Grace lashed earthquake-damaged Haiti as a tropical depression on Monday, dumping up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain that pelted people huddling under improvised shelters in the aftermath of Saturday’s 7.2 magnitude earthquake, now blamed for more than 1,400 deaths.

Grace’s sustained winds grew to 45 mph (75 kph) as it left Haiti on a westward path between southeastern Cuba and Jamaica. Forecasters said it could be near hurricane strength as it approaches Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula late Wednesday or early Thursday.

Tropical Storm Henri, meanwhile, was about 135 miles (215 kilometers) south-southeast of Bermuda. The small tropical cyclone had 50 mph (80 kph) winds and was expected to circle widely around the island, the hurricane center said.

Tropical storm feeds growing anger in quake-stricken Haiti

By MARK STEVENSON and EVENS SANON for the Associated Press

LES CAYES, Haiti (AP) — Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Grace forced a temporary halt Tuesday to the Haitian government’s response to the deadly weekend earthquake, feeding the growing anger and frustration among thousands who were left homeless.

Grace battered southwestern Haiti, which was hit hardest by Saturday’s quake, and officials warned some areas could get 15 inches (38 centimeters) of rain before the storm moved on. Heavy rain also drenched the capital of Port-au-Prince.

A man walks along a road in a slightly flooded area the morning after Tropical Storm Grace swept over the area in Trou Mahot, Haiti, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021, three days after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

The storm hit Haiti late Monday, the same day that the country’s Civil Protection Agency raised the death toll from the earthquake to 1,419 and the number of injured to 6,000, many of whom have had to wait for medical help lying outside in wilting heat.

As rains soaked the earthquake-damaged city of Les Cayes on Tuesday, patience was running out in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation. Haitians already were struggling with the coronavirus, gang violence, worsening poverty and the July 7 assassination of President Jovenel Moïse when the quake hit.

Bodies continued to be pulled from the rubble, and the smell of death hung heavily over a pancaked, three-story apartment building. A simple bed sheet covered the body of a 3-year-old girl that firefighters had found an hour earlier.

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Neighbor Joseph Boyer, 53, said he knew the girl’s family.

“The mother and father are in the hospital, but all three kids died,” he said. The bodies of the other two siblings were found earlier.

Illustrating the lack of government presence, volunteer firefighters from the nearby city of Cap-Hatien had left the body out in the rain because police have to be present before it could be taken away.

Another neighbor, James Luxama, 24, repeated a popular rumor at many disaster scenes, saying that someone was sending text messages for help from inside the rubble. But Luxama had not personally seen or received such a message.

A throng of angry, shouting men gathered in front of the collapsed building, a sign that patience was running out.

“The photographers come through, the press, but we have no tarps for our roofs,” said one man, who refused to give his name. The head of Haiti’s office of civil protection Jerry Chandler acknowledged the situation.

Earthquake assessments had to be paused because of the heavy rain, “and people are getting aggressive,” Chandler said Tuesday.

About 20 soldiers finally showed up to help rescuers at the collapsed apartment building.

The lack of adequate aid was made more apparent by the fact that the only help that arrived was from poorly equipped volunteers.

“All we have are sledgehammers and hands. That’s the plan,” said Canadian volunteer Randy Lodder, director of the Adoration Christian School in Haiti.

Sarah Charles, assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau of Humanitarian Affairs, said its disaster response teams were forced to suspend operations as the storm arrived Monday, but members were back Tuesday to assess its impact and continue helping.

“We do not anticipate that the death toll related to this earthquake will be anywhere near the 2010 earthquake, where more than 200,000 people were killed,” Charles told reporters.

The scale of the damage was not comparable to 2010, she said, adding: “That’s not what we’re seeing on the ground right now.”

John Morrison, public information officer for the Fairfax Co. (Va.) Urban Search and Rescue, said its team was still trying to find survivors. Two U.S. Coast Guard helicopters ferried searchers to six stricken communities Monday.

“The team reports that food, health care services, safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation and shelter are all priority needs,” Morrison said. He also noted, “we have not yet found any signs of persons alive trapped in buildings.”

The rain and wind raised the threat of mudslides and flash flooding as Grace slowly passed over southwestern Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula before heading toward Jamaica and southeastern Cuba. Forecasters said it could become a hurricane before hitting Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Officials said the magnitude 7.2 earthquake destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged nearly 5,000, leaving some 30,000 families homeless. Hospitals, schools, offices and churches also were demolished or badly damaged.

“We are in an exceptional situation,” Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry told reporters Monday as the tropical storm approached.

In Jeremie, Police Commissioner Paul Menard denied a social media report of looting after the quake.

“If it were going to happen, it would have been on the first or second night,” Menard said.

Structural engineers from Miyamoto International, a global earthquake and structural engineering firm, visited hard-hit areas Monday to help with damage assessment and search-and-rescue efforts. Chief among their duties was inspecting government water towers and the damaged offices of charities in the region, said Kit Miyamoto, the company’s CEO and president.

Miyamoto said he has seen places struck by earthquakes build back stronger. He said the destruction in Port-au-Prince from the devastating 2010 earthquake led masons and others to improve building practices. People there felt the Saturday morning quake, centered about 75 miles to the west, and rushed into the streets, but there were no reports of damage in the capital.

“Port-au-Prince building is much better than it was in 2010 — I know that,” Miyamoto said. “It’s a huge difference, but that knowledge is not widespread. The focus is definitely on Port-au-Prince.”

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Associated Press writers Trenton Daniel in New York and Christopher Sherman in Mexico City contributed.

Police: School shooting victim went to aid boy being bullied

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN and PAUL DAVENPORT for the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — It’s only a few days into the new school year, but New Mexico’s largest district is reeling from a shooting that left one student dead and another in custody after, according to police, the victim tried to protect another boy who was being bullied.

Students embrace after being released from school after a fatal shooting at Washington Middle School in Albuquerque, N.M., Friday, Aug. 13, 2021. New Mexico authorities say one student was killed and another was taken into custody following a shooting at a middle school near downtown Albuquerque during the lunch hour Friday. (Robert Browman/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

The gunfire at Washington Middle School during the lunch hour Friday marked the second shooting in Albuquerque in less than 24 hours. With the city on pace to shatter its homicide record this year, top state officials said they were heartbroken by what they described as a scourge.

“These tragedies should never occur. That they do tells us there is more work to be done,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said.

The boy who was killed, identified by police on Saturday as 13-year-old Bennie Hargrove, was a hero, Police Chief Harold Medina said Friday night in a brief statement.

“He stood up for a friend and tried to deescalate a violent confrontation between classmates,” Medina said. He said the incident was “a tragedy that has shaken our community.”

A probable-cause statement released Saturday said the 13 year-old boy was charged with one count each of open murder and unlawfully carrying a deadly weapon on school premises. The Associated Press does not generally identify juvenile crime suspects.

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A witness, a third 13-year-old boy, told detectives after the shooting that the shooting occurred after Hargrove approached the suspect to tell him to stop bullying and punching a smaller boy.

The witness said the suspect held a gun behind his leg so Hargrove couldn’t see it when he approached and the suspect then chambered a round and shot at Hargrove multiple times, according to the probable-cause statement.

A police officer assigned to the school heard the shooting, ran over to the boys and handcuffed the suspect to a fence before radioing for help and tending to the injured boy until medical personnel arrived, the statement said.

Police later learned that the suspect’s father right before the shooting had discovered that his gun was missing and went to the school, where he arrived to see his son in handcuffs, the statement said.

The 13-year-old witness also told police that the suspect had been a nice boy but recently picked on other boys and acted as if he was a gang member, the statement said.

It wasn’t immediately known whether the suspect has a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Friday marked the third day of classes for Albuquerque’s public school district. While students won’t return until Tuesday, Superintendent Scott Elder said the staff will be making preparations to ensure students have access to counseling and any other support services they need.

“Of course it’s extremely difficult,” he said of something like this happening so early in the school year. “There’s a lot of pressure in the community. People are nervous. It was a terrible incident that happened between two people. It should have never happened. … This shouldn’t happen in the community. It certainly shouldn’t happen at a school.”

Police said more officers will be present when students return, hoping to provide a sense of security and in case students have any more information about the shooting they want to share.

Gunfire also rang out Thursday night at a sports bar and restaurant near a busy Albuquerque shopping district. Police said one person was killed and three were injured after someone pulled out a gun during a fight.

No arrests have been made in that case. Investigators were reviewing surveillance video and interviewing witnesses.

Authorities identified the man who was killed as Lawrence Anzures, a 30-year old boxer from Albuquerque.

A makeshift memorial of flowers and candles grew Friday outside the restaurant, providing more evidence of the frustration that families having been feeling.

The shootings come as Mayor Tim Keller convened his latest session with other officials to talk about curbing violence and crime in the city. His administration is hoping to come up with recommendations for improving the criminal justice system and addressing the problem of repeat offenders. The mayor’s office noted that for most Albuquerque homicides this year, more than 45% of charged offenders and nearly 60% of suspects have criminal records.

“For low-level offenders, we need to bolster diversion programs and real access to resources to change their lives,” Keller said in a statement. “But for violent offenders, we have to stop the revolving door.”

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Davenport reported from Phoenix.

Man stabbed, reporter attacked at protest at LA City Hall

From the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man was stabbed and a reporter was attacked Saturday at a protest against vaccine mandates on the south lawn of Los Angeles’ City Hall after a fight broke out between the protesters and counterprotesters, the Los Angeles Police Department and local media said.

About 2 p.m., a group of several hundred people holding American flags, Trump memorabilia and signs calling for “medical freedom” arrived at City Hall around 2 p.m. for the rally, the Los Angeles Times reported. A small group of counterprotesters gathered nearby.

Los Angeles Police officer Gutierrez, left, puts pressure on the open wound of a demonstrator, who was stabbed during clashes between anti-vaccination demonstrators and counter-protesters during an anti-vaccination protest in front of the City Hall in Los Angeles on Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021. A man was stabbed and a reporter was attacked Saturday at a protest against vaccine mandates on the south lawn of Los Angeles’ City Hall after a fight broke out between the protesters and counter-protesters, the Los Angeles Police Department and local media said. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

About half an hour later, a fight broke out between the protesters and counterprotesters, the Times reported.

The LAPD said on its Twitter account that it is “aware of 1 male that was stabbed & is being treated by LAFD,” referring to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

The man was taken to a nearby hospital, where he is in serious condition, LAPD Officer Mike Lopez said.

“No arrests have been made but investigation is on going,” the department tweeted.

Counterprotesters could be seen spraying mace while members of the anti-vaccine rally screamed death threats, the Times reported.

KPCC radio reporter Frank Stoltze was seen walking out of the park near City Hall being screamed at by anti-mask protesters, the Times reported. One man was seen kicking him.

Stoltze told a police officer he had been assaulted while trying to conduct an interview, the Times reported.

Stoltze later tweeted: “Something happened to me today that’s never happened in 30 yrs of reporting. In LA. ⁦@LAist. I was shoved, kicked and my eyeglasses were ripped off of my face by a group of guys at a protest – outside City Hall during an anti-vax Recall ⁦@GavinNewsom Pro Trump rally.”

Stoltze added that he is in good condition.

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This story has been updated to correct the last name of a KPCC reporter who was attacked. His name is Frank Stoltze, not Stolze.

Chaos as thousands flee Afghanistan after Taliban takeover

By AHMAD SEIR, RAHIM FAIEZ, KATHY GANNON AND JOSEPH KRAUSS for the Associated Press

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Thousands of people packed into the Afghan capital’s airport on Monday, rushing the tarmac and pushing onto planes in desperate attempts to flee the country after the Taliban overthrew the Western-backed government. U.S. troops fired warning shots as they struggled to manage the chaotic evacuation.

Taliban fighters patrol inside the city of Kandahar, southwest Afghanistan, Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Sidiqullah Khan)

The Taliban swept into Kabul on Sunday after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, bringing a stunning end to a two-decade campaign in which the U.S. and its allies had tried to transform Afghanistan. The country’s Western-trained security forces collapsed or fled in the face of an insurgent offensive that tore through the country in just over a week, ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last American troops at the end of the month.

In the capital, a tense calm set in, with most people hiding in their homes as the Taliban deployed fighters at major intersections. There were scattered reports of looting and armed men knocking on doors and gates, and there was less traffic than usual on eerily quiet streets. Fighters could be seen searching vehicles at one of the city’s main squares.

Many fear chaos, after the Taliban freed thousands of prisoners and the police simply melted away, or a return to the kind of brutal rule the Taliban imposed when it was last in power. They raced to Kabul’s international airport, where the “civilian side” was closed until further notice, according to Afghanistan’s Civil Aviation Authority. The military was put in control of the airspace.

Videos circulating on social media showed hundreds of people running across the tarmac as U.S. soldiers fired warning shots in the air. One showed a crowd pushing and shoving its way up a staircase, trying to board a plane, with some people hanging off the railings.

In another video, hundreds of people could be seen running alongside a U.S. Air Force transport plane as it moved down a runway. Some climbed onto the side of the jet just before takeoff. That raised questions about how much longer aircraft would be able to safely take off and land.

Massouma Tajik, a 22-year-old data analyst, described scenes of panic at the airport, where she was hoping to board an evacuation flight.

After waiting six hours, she heard shots from outside, where a crowd of men and women were trying to climb aboard a plane. She said U.S. troops sprayed gas and fired into the air to disperse the crowds after people scaled the walls and swarmed onto the tarmac. Gunfire could be heard in the voice messages she sent to The Associated Press.

Shafi Arifi, who had a ticket to travel to Uzbekistan on Sunday, was unable to board her plane because it was packed with people who had raced across the tarmac and climbed aboard, with no police or airport staff in sight.

“There was no room for us to stand,” said the 24-year-old. “Children were crying, women were shouting, young and old men were so angry and upset, no one could hear each other. There was no oxygen to breathe.”

After another woman fainted and was carried off the plane, Arifi gave up and went back home.

The U.S. Embassy has been evacuated and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to aid with the evacuation. Other Western countries have also closed their missions and are flying out staff and nationals.

Afghans are also trying to leave through land border crossings, all of which are now controlled by the Taliban. Rakhmatula Kuyash, 30, was one of the few people with a visa allowing him to cross into Uzbekistan on Sunday. He said his children and relatives had to stay behind.

“I’m lost and I don’t know what to do. I left everything behind,” he said.

The speed of the Taliban offensive through the country appears to have stunned American officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.

The rout threatened to erase 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan that saw more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops killed as well as tens of thousands of Afghans. The initial invasion drove the Taliban from power and scattered al-Qaida, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while being sheltered in Afghanistan. Many had hoped the Western-backed Afghan government would usher in a new era of peace and respect for human rights.

As the U.S. lost focus on Afghanistan during the Iraq war, the Taliban eventually regrouped. The militants captured much of the Afghan countryside in recent years and then swept into cities as U.S. forces prepared to withdraw ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.

Under the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution. The insurgents have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.

Suhail Shaheen, a Taliban spokesman, tweeted that fighters had been instructed not to enter any home without permission and to protect “life, property and honor.” The Taliban have also said they will stay out of the upscale diplomatic quarter housing the U.S. Embassy complex and the posh villas of U.S.-allied former warlords who have fled the country or gone into hiding.

Those assurances are part of an effort by the Taliban to “shape the narrative that their accession to power is legitimate — a message for both inside Afghanistan and beyond its borders,” the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote.

“The speed of the Taliban’s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and security force struggling with flagging morale.”

When the Taliban last seized Kabul in 1996, it had been heavily damaged in the civil war that broke out among rival warlords after the Soviet withdrawal seven years earlier. The city was then home to around a million people, most traveling on dusty roads by bicycle or aging taxi.

Today Kabul is a built-up city home to 5 million people where luxury vehicles and SUVs struggle to push through endemic traffic jams.

Wahidullah Qadiri, a resident of the city, said he hoped for peace after decades of war that have claimed the lives of two of his brothers and a cousin.

“We haven’t seen anything but catastrophes and fighting,” he said, “so we always live with hope for a long-lasting peace.”

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Faiez reported from Istanbul, Krauss from Jerusalem and Gannon from Guelph, Canada. Associated Press writers Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Samya Kullab in Baghdad and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed.

US to send 8.5 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Mexico

By FABIOLA SÁNCHEZ for the Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The United States will send Mexico 8.5 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine as the delta variant drives the country’s third wave of infections, Mexican officials said Tuesday.

Wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, a patient looks out of a window at the Ignacio Zaragoza general hospital in the Iztapalapa borough of Mexico City, Monday, August 9, 2021. Mexico will ask the United States to send at least 3.5 million more doses of COVID-19 vaccine as the country faces a third wave of infections, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

Foreign Affairs Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said the U.S. government will send AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccines, though the latter hasn’t yet been approved by Mexican regulators.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris informed Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the new shipments during a call Monday, Ebrard said. On Tuesday, however, White House press secretary Jen Psaki was less definite. “We don’t have anything confirmed at this point in time in terms of the numbers or the timeline on that decision,” she said.

As Mexico’s third wave started, hospitalizations and deaths lagged significantly. But hospitalizations are starting to rise in parts of the country as infections expand rapidly and the health system grows more stressed.

“The appearance of new cases is much greater than what we saw in the first and second waves,” said public health specialist Miguel Betancourt. The much more contagious delta variant is likely responsible. “With this velocity that we are seeing, the risk of saturation of the hospitals is very high.”

Mexico has received 91.2 million doses of five different vaccines, about 73 million of which have been applied. Some 51 million people have received at least one dose and 27 million have been fully vaccinated.

In June, the U.S. government sent Mexico more than 1.3 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a visit by Harris to the country.

Assistant Health Secretary López-Gatell compared the first 50 days of the second and third waves Tuesday, noting that the number of deaths this time are a fraction of what was seen at the end of last year.

Another change between the two waves is that the bulk of the new infections this time are not in those 60 years and up, but rather people 20 to 50 years old. Mortality was less in all age groups.

Betancourt said the focus of infections in younger age groups is because a lower proportion are vaccinated, they are working age so more likely to be out and they are more tired of restrictions and ready to return to some semblance of normal life.

Mexico has seen more than 244,000 test-confirmed deaths, but the country does little testing and studies of death certificates indicate the real toll is nearly 370,000.

Federal health officials placed Mexico City on red alert Friday, a level determined by case loads, hospital bed availability and the rate of change in those and others factors. Mexico City’s Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has so far resisted reimposing restrictions that could curtail economic activity, arguing instead that the rate of vaccinations should be increased.

Betancourt said the possibility of closing restaurants and bars or limiting public transportation is now unlikely. He said officials should re-emphasize the measures that have proven to reduce transmission: wearing masks, maintaining distance and only gathering in well-ventiliated areas.

“I hope I’m wrong, but I believe now that we’re seeing in some places where the hospital saturation is around 70%, we could start to see an increase in deaths because they won’t have the capacity to quickly attend to the people who become serious and require attention,” Betancourt said.

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Associated Press journalists Alexis Triboulard in Mexico City and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.

Wildfires in Algeria leave 42 dead, including 25 soldiers

From the Associated Press

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — At least 25 soldiers died saving residents from wildfires ravaging mountain forests and villages east of Algeria’s capital, the president announced Tuesday night as the civilian toll rose to at least 17.

A man flees a village near Tizi Ouzou some 100 km (62 miles) east of Algiers following wildfires in this mountainous region, Tuesday, Aug.10, 2021. Firefighters were battling a rash of fires in northern Algeria that have killed at least six people in the mountainous Kabyle region, the interior minister said Tuesday, accusing “criminal hands” for some of the blazes. (AP Photo/Fateh Guidoum)

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that the soldiers were “martyrs” who saved 100 people from the fires in two areas of Kabyle, the region that is home to the North African nation’s Berber population. Eleven other soldiers were burned fighting the fires, four of them seriously, the Defense Ministry said.

Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane later said on state TV that 17 civilians had lost their lives, raising the count of citizens from seven previously and bringing the total death toll to 42. He provided no details.

The mountainous Kabyle region, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algeria’s capital of Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages and with temperatures rising has had limited water. Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. The region has no water-dumping planes.

The deaths and injuries Tuesday occurred mainly around Kabyle’s capital of Tizi-Ouzou, which is flanked by mountains, and also in Bejaia, which borders the Mediterranean Sea, the president said.

The prime minister told state television that initial reports from security services showed the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronized,” adding that “leads one to believe these were criminal acts.” Earlier, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud traveled to Kabyle to assess the situation and also blamed the fires there on arson.

“Thirty fires at the same time in the same region can’t be by chance,” Beldjoud said on national television, although no arrests were announced.

There were no immediate details to explain the high death toll among the military. A photo pictured on the site of the Liberte daily showed a soldier with a shovel dousing sputtering flames with dirt, his automatic weapon slung over his shoulder.

Dozens of blazes sprang up Monday in Kabyle and elsewhere, and Algerian authorities sent in the army to help citizens battle blazes and evacuate. Multiple fires were burning through forests and devouring olive trees, cattle and chickens that provide the livelihoods of families in the Kabyle region.

The Civil Protection authority counted 41 blazes in 18 wilayas, or regions, as of Monday night, with 21 of them burning around Tizi Ouzou.

A 92-year-old woman living in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said the scene Monday night looked like “the end of the world.”

“We were afraid,” Fatima Aoudia told The Associated Press. “The entire hill was transformed into a giant blaze.”

Aoudia compared the scene to bombings by French troops during Algeria’s brutal independence war, which ended in 1962.

“These burned down forests. It’s a part of me that is gone,” Aoudia said. “It’s a drama for humanity, for nature. It’s a disaster.”

An opposition party with roots in the Kabyle region, the RCD, denounced authorities’ slow response to the rash of blazes as citizens organized local drives to collect bottled water and other supplies. Calls for help, including from Algerians living abroad, went out on social media, one in English trending on Twitter with the hashtag #PrayforAlgeria. Photos and videos posted showed plumes of dark smoke and orange skies rising above hillside villages or soldiers in army fatigues without protective clothing.

Climate scientists say there is little doubt climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms. A worsening drought and heat — both linked to climate change — are driving wildfires in the U.S. West and Russia’s northern region of Siberia. Extreme heat is also fueling the massive fires in Greece and Turkey.

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Pacific Northwest braces for another multiday heat wave

By GILLIAN FLACCUS for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People in the Pacific Northwest braced for another major, multiday heat wave starting Wednesday, just over a month after record-shattering hot weather killed hundreds of the region’s most vulnerable when temperatures soared to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 Celsius).

In a “worst-case scenario,” the temperature could reach as high as 111 F (44 C) in some parts of western Oregon by Friday before a weekend cooldown, the National Weather Service in Portland, Oregon, warned this week. It’s more likely temperatures will rise above 100 F (38 C) for three consecutive days, peaking around 105 F (40.5 C) on Thursday.

FILE – In this June 30, 2021 file photo Missoulians cool off in the Bitterroot River as temperatures crested 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Missoula, Mont. The Pacific Northwest is bracing for another major, multi-day heat wave in mid-August 2021 just a month after temperatures soared as high as 116 F in a record-shattering heat event that killed scores of the most vulnerable across the region. (AP Photo/Tommy Martino, File)

Those are eye-popping numbers in a usually temperate region and would have come close to — or broken — all-time records if it weren’t for the late June heat wave, meteorologist Tyler Kranz said. Seattle will be cooler than Portland, with temperatures in the mid-90s, but it still has a chance to break records, and many people there, like in Oregon, don’t have air conditioning.

“We’ll often hear people say, ‘Who cares if it’s 106 or 108? It gets this hot in Arizona all the time.’ Well, people in Arizona have air conditioning, and here in the Pacific Northwest, a lot of people don’t,” Kranz said. “You can’t really compare us to the desert Southwest.”

Gov. Kate Brown has declared a state of emergency over the heat and activated an emergency operations center, citing the potential for disruptions to the power grid and transportation. City and county governments are opening cooling centers and misting stations in public buildings, extending the hours of public libraries and waiving bus fare for those headed to cooling centers. A statewide help line will direct callers to the nearest cooling shelter and offer tips on how to stay safe.

The back-to-back heat waves, coupled with a summer that’s been exceptionally warm and dry overall, are pummeling a region where summer highs usually drift into the 70s or 80s. The heat comes amid a historic drought across the American West, both of which are tied to climate change.

The June heat in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia killed hundreds of people and was a wake-up call as climate change makes weather more extreme in the historically temperate region. The heat wave was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change, a scientific analysis found.

In Oregon, officials say at least 83 people died of heat-related illness, and the hot weather is being investigated as a possible cause in 33 more deaths. Washington state reported at least 91 heat deaths, and officials in British Columbia say hundreds of “sudden and unexpected deaths” were likely due to the soaring temperatures.

The toll exposed huge blind spots in emergency planning in a region unaccustomed to dealing with such high temperatures, said Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation at Portland State University.

Most of those who died in Oregon were older, homebound and socially isolated, and many were unable, or unwilling, to get to cooling centers.

The call center designed to provide information about cooling centers was unstaffed during part of the peak heat, and hundreds of callers got stuck in a voicemail menu that didn’t include a prompt for heat-related help. Portland’s famed light-rail train also shut down to reduce strain on the power grid, eliminating a transportation option for low-income residents seeking relief.

“We knew a week in advance. What would happen if we knew an earthquake was going to hit us a week in advance?” Shandas said. “That’s the kind of thinking we need to be aligned with. We know something disastrous is coming, and we need to get all hands on deck and focus on the most vulnerable.”

Yet even younger residents struggled with the heat in June and dreaded this week’s sweltering temperatures.

Katherine Morgan, 27, has no air conditioning in her third-floor apartment and can’t afford a window unit on the money she makes working at a bookstore and as a hostess at a brewery.

She estimated that it hit 112 F (44 C) in her apartment in June. She tried to keep cool by taking cold showers, dousing her hair with water, eating Popsicles and sitting immobile in front of a fan for hours.

Morgan, who doesn’t have a car, got ill from the heat after walking 20 minutes to work when it was 106 F (41 C). She took the following two days off rather than risk it again. The heat from the sidewalk, she said, felt like it was “cooking my ankles.”

This week, she’ll have to walk to work Thursday, the day when temperatures could again soar just as high.

“All my friends and I knew that climate change was real, but it’s getting really scary because it was gradually getting hot — and it suddenly got really hot, really fast,” Morgan said. “It’s eye-opening.”

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Follow Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus.

5 things to know about the new UN report on climate change

From the Associated Press

FILE – In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 file photo, a floating dock sits on the lakebed of the Suesca lagoon, in Suesca, Colombia. The lagoon, a popular tourist destination near Bogota that has no tributaries and depends on rain runoff, has radically decreased its water surface due to years of severe droughts in the area and the deforestation and erosion of its surroundings. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara, File)

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.-appointed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a new report Monday summarizing the latest authoritative scientific information about global warming. Here are five important takeaways.

BLAMING HUMANS

The report says almost all of the warming that has occurred since pre-industrial times was caused by the release of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane. Much of that is the result of humans burning fossil fuels — coal, oil, wood and natural gas.

The authors say global temperatures have already risen by 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the 19th century, reaching their highest in over 100,000 years, and only a fraction of that increase can have come from natural forces.

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PARIS GOALS

Almost all countries have signed up to the 2015 Paris climate accord, which aims to limit global warming to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial average by the year 2100. The agreements says that ideally the increase would be no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).ADVERTISEMENT

But the report’s 200-plus authors looked at five scenarios and concluded that all will see the world cross the 1.5-degree threshold in the 2030s — sooner than in previous predictions. Three of those scenarios will also see temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius.

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DIRE CONSEQUENCES

The 3,000-plus-page report concludes that ice melt and sea level rise are already accelerating. Wild weather events — from storms to heat waves — are also expected to worsen and become more frequent.

Further warming is “locked in” due to the greenhouse gases humans have already released into the atmosphere. That means even if emissions are drastically cut, some changes will be “irreversible” for centuries, the report said.

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SOME HOPE

While many of the report’s predictions paint a grim picture of humans’ impact on the planet and the consequences that will have going forward, the IPCC also found that so-called tipping points, like catastrophic ice sheet collapses and the abrupt slowdown of ocean currents, are “low likelihood,” though they cannot be ruled out.

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BIG CATCH

Although temperatures are expected to overshoot the 1.5-degree-Celsius target in the next decade, the report suggests that warming could be brought back down to this level through what are known as “negative emissions.” That means sucking more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than is added, effectively cooling the planet again. The panel said that could be done staring about halfway through this century but doesn’t explain how, and many scientists are skeptical it’s possible.

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Read more of AP’s climate coverage at http://www.apnews.com/Climate

Pentagon to require COVID vaccine for all troops by Sept. 15

By LOLITA C. BALDOR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon will require members of the U.S. military to get the COVID-19 vaccine by Sept. 15, according to a memo obtained by The Associated Press. That deadline could be pushed up if the vaccine receives final FDA approval or infection rates continue to rise.

FILE – In this July 21, 2021 file photo, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin speaks at a press briefing at the Pentagon in Washington. Austin has said he is working expeditiously to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for military personnel and is expected to ask Biden to waive a federal law that requires individuals be given a choice if the vaccine is not fully licensed. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf, File)

“I will seek the president’s approval to make the vaccines mandatory no later than mid-September, or immediately upon” licensure by the Food and Drug Administration “whichever comes first,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin says in the memo to troops, warning them to prepare for the requirement.

He added that if infection rates rise and potentially affect military readiness, “I will not hesitate to act sooner or recommend a different course to the President if l feel the need to do so. To defend this Nation, we need a healthy and ready force.”

The memo is expected to go out Monday.

Austin’s decision comes a bit more than a week after President Joe Biden told defense officials to develop a plan requiring troops to get shots as part of a broader campaign to increase vaccinations in the federal workforce. It reflects similar decisions by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not see since the peaks last winter.

Austin said in his memo says that the military services will have the next few weeks to prepare, determine how many vaccines they need, and how this mandate will be implemented. The additional time, however, also is a nod to the bitter political divisiveness over the vaccine and the knowledge that making it mandatory will likely trigger opposition from vaccine opponents across the state and federal governments, Congress and the American population.

It also provides time for the FDA to give final approval to the Pfizer vaccine, which is expected early next month. Without that formal approval, Austin would need a waiver from Biden to make the shots mandatory.

Troops often live and work closely together in barracks and on ships, increasing the risks of rapid spreading. And any large outbreak of the virus in the military could affect America’s ability to defend itself in any national security crisis.

The decision will add the COVID-19 vaccine to a list of other inoculations that service members are already required to get. Depending on their location around the world, service members can get as many as 17 different vaccines.

Austin’s memo also said that in the meantime, the Pentagon will comply with Biden’s order for additional restrictions on any federal personnel w

According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million troops are fully vaccinated and another 237,000 have received one shot. But the military services vary widely in their vaccination rates.

The Navy said that more than 74% of all active duty and reserve sailors have been vaccinated with at least one shot. The Air Force, meanwhile, said that more than 65% of its active duty and 60% reserve forces are at least partially vaccinated, and the number for the Army — by far the largest service — appears to be closer to 50%.

Military officials have said the pace of vaccines has been growing across the force, with some units — such as sailors deploying on a warship — seeing nearly 100% of their members get shots. But the totals drop off dramatically, including among the National Guard and Reserve, who are much more difficult to track.

Some unvaccinated service members have suggested they’d get the shot once it’s required, but others are flatly opposed. Military officials have said that once the vaccine is mandated, a refusal could constitute failure to obey an order, and may be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Army guidance, for example, includes counseling soldiers to ensure they understand the purpose of the vaccine and the threat the disease poses. The Army also notes that if a soldier “fails to comply with a lawful order to receive a mandatory vaccine, and does not have an approved exemption, a commander may take appropriate disciplinary action.”

Military service officials have said they don’t collect data on the number of troops who have refused other mandated vaccines, such as anthrax, hepatitis, chicken pox or flu shots over the past decade or more. And they weren’t able to provide details on the punishments any service members received as a result of the refusal.

Officials said they believe the number of troops refusing other mandated vaccines is small. And the discipline could vary.

Also, service members can seek an exemption from any vaccine — either temporary or permanent — for a variety of reasons including health issues or religious beliefs. Regulations involving the other mandatory vaccines say, for example, that anyone who had a severe adverse reaction to the vaccine can be exempt, and those who are pregnant or have other conditions can postpone a shot.

Some have argued that those who have already had the virus — and have antibodies — are immune and thus should not have to get the shot. It’s not clear how the military will act on those types of assertions.

According to defense officials, some senior military leaders have expressed support for making the vaccine mandatory believing it will help keep the force healthy. Military commanders have also struggled to separate vaccinated recruits from unvaccinated recruits during early portions of basic training across the services in order to prevent infections. So, for some, a mandate could make training and housing less complicated.

Navy officials said last week that there has been only one case of COVID-19 hospitalization among sailors and Marines who are fully vaccinated. In comparison, the Navy said there have been more than 123 hospitalizations “in a similarly sized group of unvaccinated sailors and Marines.” It said fewer than 3% of its immunized troops have tested positive for COVID-19.

The other military services did not provide similar data.

Skies clear, allowing aircraft to help fight California fire

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER and JONATHAN J. COOPER from the Associated Press

Thick smoke that held down winds and temperatures in the zone of the largest single wildfire in California history cleared Monday from scenic Northern California forestlands, allowing firefighting aircraft to rejoin the battle to contain the massive Dixie Fire.

The newly clear skies will allow more than two dozen helicopters and two air tankers that have been grounded to fly again and make it safer for ground crews to maneuver.

A fire truck drives through central Greenville, which was largely leveled by the Dixie Fire, Friday, Aug. 6, 2021, in Plumas County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

“With this kind of weather, fire activity will pick up. But the good thing is we can get aircraft up,” said fire spokesman Ryan Bain.

Winds were not expected to reach the ferocious speeds that helped the blaze explode in size last week. But they were still a concern for firefighters working in unprecedented conditions to protect thousands of threatened homes.

Fueled by powerful gusts and bone-dry vegetation, the fire incinerated much of the small community of Greenville last Wednesday and Thursday. At least 627 homes and other structures had been destroyed by Monday and another 14,000 buildings were still threatened in the northern Sierra Nevada.

Damage reports are preliminary because assessment teams can’t get into many areas, officials said.

The Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started nearly four weeks ago, grew to an area of 765 square miles (1,980 square kilometers) by Sunday evening and was just 21% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It had scorched an area more than twice the size of New York City.

With smoke clearing out above eastern portions of the fire, crews that had been directly attacking the front lines would be forced to retreat and build containment lines farther back, said Dan McKeague, a fire information officer from the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze became the largest single fire in California’s recorded history, surpassing last year’s Creek Fire in the the state’s central valley agricultural region.

The Dixie Fire is about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 fires across seven counties that were fought together and that state officials consider California’s largest wildfire overall.

The fire’s cause was under investigation. The Pacific Gas & Electric utility has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines. A federal judge ordered PG&E on Friday to give details by Aug. 16 about the equipment and vegetation where the fire started.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveyed the damage in Greenville over the weekend, writing on Twitter that “our hearts ache for this town.”

“These are climate-induced wildfires and we have to acknowledge that we have the capacity in not just the state but in this country to solve this,” Newsom said on CNN.

Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists have said climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Northwest of the Dixie Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, hundreds of homes remained threatened by the McFarland and Monument fires. About a quarter of the McFarland Fire was contained and about 3% of the Monument Fire was contained.

South of the Dixie Fire, firefighters prevented further growth of the River Fire, which broke out Wednesday near the community of Colfax and destroyed 68 homes.

Smoke from wildfires burning in the U.S. West continues to flow into parts of Colorado and Utah, where the air quality in many areas was rated as unhealthy. Denver’s air quality improved on Sunday, but the smoke wafting into Colorado and Utah has made the air there and in Salt Lake City among the worst in the world.

California’s fire season is on track to surpass last year’s season, which was the worst in recent recorded state history.

Since the start of the year, more than 6,000 blazes have destroyed more than 1,260 square miles (3,260 square kilometers) of land — more than triple the losses for the same period in 2020, according to state fire figures.

California’s raging wildfires were among 107 large fires burning across 14 states, mostly in the West, where historic drought conditions have left lands parched and ripe for ignition.

Thick smoke that held down winds and temperatures in the zone of the largest single wildfire in California history cleared Monday from scenic Northern California forestlands, allowing firefighting aircraft to rejoin the battle to contain the massive Dixie Fire.

The newly clear skies will allow more than two dozen helicopters and two air tankers that have been grounded to fly again and make it safer for ground crews to maneuver.

“With this kind of weather, fire activity will pick up. But the good thing is we can get aircraft up,” said fire spokesman Ryan Bain.

Winds were not expected to reach the ferocious speeds that helped the blaze explode in size last week. But they were still a concern for firefighters working in unprecedented conditions to protect thousands of threatened homes.

Fueled by powerful gusts and bone-dry vegetation, the fire incinerated much of the small community of Greenville last Wednesday and Thursday. At least 627 homes and other structures had been destroyed by Monday and another 14,000 buildings were still threatened in the northern Sierra Nevada.

Damage reports are preliminary because assessment teams can’t get into many areas, officials said.

The Dixie Fire, named for the road where it started nearly four weeks ago, grew to an area of 765 square miles (1,980 square kilometers) by Sunday evening and was just 21% contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. It had scorched an area more than twice the size of New York City.

With smoke clearing out above eastern portions of the fire, crews that had been directly attacking the front lines would be forced to retreat and build containment lines farther back, said Dan McKeague, a fire information officer from the U.S. Forest Service.

The blaze became the largest single fire in California’s recorded history, surpassing last year’s Creek Fire in the the state’s central valley agricultural region.

The Dixie Fire is about half the size of the August Complex, a series of lightning-caused 2020 fires across seven counties that were fought together and that state officials consider California’s largest wildfire overall.

The fire’s cause was under investigation. The Pacific Gas & Electric utility has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of its power lines. A federal judge ordered PG&E on Friday to give details by Aug. 16 about the equipment and vegetation where the fire started.

Gov. Gavin Newsom surveyed the damage in Greenville over the weekend, writing on Twitter that “our hearts ache for this town.”

“These are climate-induced wildfires and we have to acknowledge that we have the capacity in not just the state but in this country to solve this,” Newsom said on CNN.

Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists have said climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make the weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

Northwest of the Dixie Fire in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, hundreds of homes remained threatened by the McFarland and Monument fires. About a quarter of the McFarland Fire was contained and about 3% of the Monument Fire was contained.

South of the Dixie Fire, firefighters prevented further growth of the River Fire, which broke out Wednesday near the community of Colfax and destroyed 68 homes.

Smoke from wildfires burning in the U.S. West continues to flow into parts of Colorado and Utah, where the air quality in many areas was rated as unhealthy. Denver’s air quality improved on Sunday, but the smoke wafting into Colorado and Utah has made the air there and in Salt Lake City among the worst in the world.

California’s fire season is on track to surpass last year’s season, which was the worst in recent recorded state history.

Since the start of the year, more than 6,000 blazes have destroyed more than 1,260 square miles (3,260 square kilometers) of land — more than triple the losses for the same period in 2020, according to state fire figures.

California’s raging wildfires were among 107 large fires burning across 14 states, mostly in the West, where historic drought conditions have left lands parched and ripe for ignition.

China pledges 2 billion vaccines globally through year’s end

By HUIZHONG WU for the Associated Press

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged 2 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be supplied to the world through this year, increasing China’s commitment as the largest exporter of the shots.

Xi’s announcement was delivered at the International Forum on COVID-19 Vaccine Cooperation, state media reported Wednesday, which China hosted virtually.

FILE – In this June 9, 2021, file photo, a man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus browses his smartphone lining up with masked residents to receive their vaccine at a vaccination point at the Central Business District in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged 2 billion doses of Chinese vaccines would be supplied to the world through this year and $100 million would be donated to a U.N.-backed distribution program, state media reported. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

That figure likely includes the 770 million doses China has already donated or exported already since September last year, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most of the Chinese shots have been exported under bilateral deals. It is unclear if the figure also includes the agreements with the COVAX mechanism where two Chinese vaccine manufacturers will provide up to 550 million doses.

Xi also promised to donate $100 million to the UN-backed COVAX program, which aims to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, the official Xinhua News Agency said Wednesday night.

Vaccine distributions have been starkly unequal, as wealthy countries now consider issuing booster shots to their citizens and poorer nations struggle to get enough vaccines for a first dose.

“Over 4 billion vaccines have been administered globally, but more than 75% of those have gone to just 10 countries,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director General, at the vaccine forum.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese shots, the vast majority of which are from Sinopharm and Sinovac, have already been administered to people in many countries across the world, as many were desperate for access to any vaccine.

However the vaccines have been followed with questions and concerns, especially as the highly transmissible delta variant spread and caused the number of COVID-19 deaths to climb again.

In Indonesia, which has relied heavily on Sinovac’s shot, the government said it was planning boosters for health workers, using some of the newly delivered Moderna doses, after reports that some of the health workers who had died since June had been fully vaccinated with the Chinese shot.

Access to vaccines have not only been plagued by inequality, but also been dominated by geopolitics.

China has been accused of using vaccines as leverage in diplomatic dealings. In June, diplomats told The Associated Press that China threatened to withhold vaccines to pressure Ukraine into withdrawing from a statement calling for more scrutiny about how China was treating ethnic and religious minorities in the Xinjiang region.

President Joe Biden had made a point to say vaccine donations would come without “pressure for favors or potential concessions” when announcing U.S. donation plans in June.

The White House said Tuesday the U.S. had donated 110 million doses, most of which was through COVAX coordinated by Gavi, a vaccine alliance.

Japan has also stepped up its donations in the region, pledging 30 million doses of vaccine through COVAX and other channels. It has already donated several million vaccines through bilateral deals.

Taiwan was one such beneficiary of Japan’s aid, after the island faced an outbreak which stressed its health system in May and June. Taiwan had accused China, which claims the self-governing island as its own territory, of interfering in deals to buy the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Potential military vaccine mandate brings distrust, support

By JULIE WATSON for the Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Since President Joe Biden asked the Pentagon last week to look at adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the military’s mandatory shots, former Army lawyer Greg T. Rinckey has fielded a deluge of calls.

His firm, Tully Rinckey, has heard from hundreds of soldiers, Marines and sailors wanting to know their rights and whether they could take any legal action if ordered to get inoculated for the coronavirus.

“A lot of U.S. troops have reached out to us saying, ‘I don’t want a vaccine that’s untested, I’m not sure it’s safe, and I don’t trust the government’s vaccine. What are my rights?’” Rinckey said.

Retired Army Col. Arnold Strong poses for a portrait Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Long Beach, Calif. President Joe Biden asked the Pentagon last week to look at adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the military’s mandatory shots. “I think the majority of service members are going to line up and get vaccinated as soon as it is a Department of Defense policy,” Strong said. He has lost five friends to the virus, three of whom were veterans. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Generally, their rights are limited since vaccines are widely seen as essential for the military to carry out its missions, given that service members often eat, sleep and work in close quarters.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said he is working expeditiously to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for military personnel and is expected to ask Biden to waive a federal law that requires individuals be given a choice if the vaccine is not fully licensed. Biden has also directed that all federal workers be vaccinated or face frequent testing and travel restrictions.

Lawyers say the waiver will put the military on firmer legal ground so it can avoid the court battles it faced when it mandated the anthrax vaccine for troops in the 1990s when it was not fully approved by the federal Food and Drug administration.

The distrust among some service members is not only a reflection of the broader public’s feelings about the COVID-19 vaccines, which were quickly authorized for emergency use, but stems in part from the anthrax program’s troubles.

Scores of troops refused to take that vaccine. Some left the service. Others were disciplined. Some were court martialed and kicked out of the military with other-than-honorable discharges.

In 2003, a federal judge agreed with service members who filed a lawsuit asserting the military could not administer a vaccine that had not been fully licensed without their consent, and stopped the program.

The Pentagon started it back up in 2004 after the FDA issued an approval, but the judge stopped it again after ruling the FDA had not followed procedures.

Eventually the FDA issued proper approvals for the vaccine, and the program was reinstated on a limited basis for troops in high-risk locations.

Military experts say the legal battles over the anthrax vaccine could be why the Biden administration has been treading cautiously. Until now, the government has relied on encouraging troops rather than mandating the shots. Yet coronavirus cases in the military, like elsewhere, have been rising with the more contagious delta variant.

If the military makes the vaccine mandatory, most service members will have to get the shots unless they can argue to be among the few given an exemption for religious, health or other reasons.

According to the Pentagon, more than 1 million service members are fully vaccinated, and more than 237,000 have gotten at least one shot. There are roughly 2 million active-duty, Guard and Reserve troops.

Many see the COVID-19 vaccine as being necessary to avoid another major outbreak like the one last year that sidelined the USS Theodore Roosevelt and resulted in more than 1,000 crewmember cases and one death.

An active-duty Army officer said he would welcome the vaccine among the military’s mandatory shots. The soldier, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said he worries unvaccinated service members may be abusing the honor system and going to work without a mask.

He recently rode in a car with others for work but didn’t feel like he could ask if everyone was vaccinated because it’s become such a political topic. Commanders have struggled to separate vaccinated and unvaccinated recruits during early portions of basic training across the services to prevent infections.

Accommodating unvaccinated troops would burden service members who are vaccinated since it would limit who is selected for deployment, according to active-duty troops and veterans.

“The military travels to vulnerable populations all over the world to be able to best serve the U.S.,” said former Air Force Staff Sgt. Tes Sabine, who works as a radiology technician in an emergency room in New York state. “We have to have healthy people in the military to carry out missions, and if the COVID-19 vaccine achieves that, that’s a very positive thing.”

Dr. Shannon Stacy, who works at a hospital in a Los Angeles suburb, agreed.

“As an emergency medicine physician and former flight surgeon for a Marine heavy helicopter squadron, I can attest that COVID-19 has the potential to take a fully trained unit from mission ready to non-deployable status in a matter of days,” she said.

The biggest challenge will be scheduling the shots around trainings, said Stacy, who left the Navy in 2011 and did pre-deployment, group immunizations.

Army Col. Arnold Strong, who retired from the military in 2017, said he believes it’s not anything the U.S. military cannot overcome: Troops working in the farthest corners of the Earth have access to medical officers. Given that most people sign up to follow orders, he thinks this time will be no different.

“I think the majority of service members are going to line up and get vaccinated as soon as it is a Department of Defense policy,” he said.

Strong has lost five friends to the virus, three of whom were veterans.

His hope is that the military can set the example for others to follow.

“I would hope if people see the military step up and say, ‘Yes, let’s get shots in arms,’ it will set a standard for the rest of country,” he said. “But I don’t know because I think we face such a strong threat of disinformation being deployed daily.”

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Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

Town burns to ashes in raging Northern California wildfire

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER and NOAH BERGER for the Associated Press

GREENVILLE, Calif. (AP) — Eva Gorman says the little California mountain town of Greenville was a place of community and strong character, the kind of place where neighbors volunteered to move furniture, colorful baskets of flowers brightened Main Street, and writers, musicians, mechanics and chicken farmers mingled.

Now, it’s ashes.

Homes and cars destroyed by the Dixie Fire line central Greenville on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in Plumas County, Calif. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

As hot, bone-dry, gusty weather hit California, the state’s largest current wildfire raged through the Gold Rush-era Sierra Nevada community of about 1,000, incinerating much of the downtown that included wooden buildings more than a century old.

The winds were expected to calm and change direction heading into the weekend but that good news came too late for Gorman.

“It’s just completely devastating. We’ve lost our home, my business, our whole downtown area is gone,” said Gorman, who heeded evacuation warnings and left town with her husband a week and-a-half ago as the Dixie Fire approached.

She managed to grab some photos off the wall, her favorite jewelry and important documents but couldn’t help but think of the family treasures left behind.

“My grandmother’s dining room chairs, my great-aunt’s bed from Italy. There is a photo I keep visualizing in my mind of my son when he was 2. He’s 37 now,” she said. “At first you think, ‘It’s OK, I have the negatives.’ And then you realize, ‘Oh. No. I don’t.’”

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Officials had not yet assessed the number of destroyed buildings, but Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns estimated on Thursday that “well over” 100 homes had burned in and near the town.

“My heart is crushed by what has occurred there,” said Johns, a lifelong Greenville resident.

About a two-hour drive south, officials said some 100 homes and other buildings burned in the fast-moving River Fire that broke out Wednesday near Colfax, a town of about 2,000. There was no containment and about 6,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Placer and Nevada counties, state fire officials said.

The three-week-old Dixie Fire was one of 100 active, large fires burning in 14 states, most in the West where historic drought has left lands parched and ripe for ignition.

The Dixie Fire had consumed about 565 square miles (1,464 square kilometers), an area larger than the size of Los Angeles. The cause was under investigation, but Pacific Gas & Electric has said it may have been sparked when a tree fell on one of the utility’s power lines.

The blaze exploded on Wednesday and Thursday through timber, grass and brush so dry that one fire official described it as “basically near combustion.” Dozens of homes had already burned before the flames made new runs.

No deaths or injuries were reported but the fire continued to threaten more than 10,000 homes.ADVERTISEMENT

On Thursday, the weather and towering smoke clouds produced by the fire’s intense, erratic winds kept firefighters struggling to put firefighters at shifting hot spots.

“It’s wreaking havoc. The winds are kind of changing direction on us every few hours,” said Capt. Sergio Arellano, a fire spokesman.https://interactives.ap.org/wildfire-tracker

“We’re seeing truly frightening fire behavior,” said Chris Carlton, supervisor for Plumas National Forest. “We really are in uncharted territory.”

Heat waves and historic drought tied to climate change have made wildfires harder to fight in the American West. Scientists say climate change has made the region much warmer and drier in the past 30 years and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.

The blaze hit Greenville from two angles and firefighters already were in the town trying to save it but first they had to risk their lives to save people who had refused to evacuate by loading people into cars to get them out, fire officials said.

“We have firefighters that are getting guns pulled out on them, because people don’t want to evacuate,” said Jake Cagle, an incident management operations section chief.

The flames also reached the town of Chester, northwest of Greenville, but crews managed to protect homes and businesses there, with only minor damage to one or two structures, officials said.

The fire was not far from the town of Paradise, which was largely destroyed in a 2018 wildfire sparked by PG&E equipment that killed 85 people, making it the nation’s deadliest in at least a century.

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Weber reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco contributed to this report.

Missouri governor pardons gun-waving St. Louis lawyer couple

By JIM SALTER for the Associated Press

O’FALLON, Mo. (AP) — Missouri Gov. Mike Parson announced Tuesday that he made good on his promise to pardon a couple who gained notoriety for pointing guns at social justice demonstrators as they marched past the couple’s home in a luxury St. Louis enclave last year.

Parson, a Republican, on Friday pardoned Mark McCloskey, who pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was fined $750, and Patricia McCloskey, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was fined $2,000.

FILE – In this June 28, 2020 file photo, armed homeowners Mark and Patricia McCloskey, standing in front their house confront protesters marching to St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson’s house in the Central West End of St. Louis. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson has made good on his promise to pardon the couple. The Republican governor announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021 that he pardoned the McCloskeys, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in June. (Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

“Mark McCloskey has publicly stated that if he were involved in the same situation, he would have the exact same conduct,” the McCloskeys’ lawyer Joel Schwartz said Tuesday. “He believes that the pardon vindicates that conduct.”

The McCloskeys, both lawyers in their 60s, said they felt threatened by the protesters, who were passing their home in June 2020 on their way to demonstrate in front of the mayor’s house nearby in one of hundreds of similar demonstrations around the country after George Floyd’s death. The couple also said the group was trespassing on a private street.

Mark McCloskey emerged from his home with an AR-15-style rifle, and Patricia McCloskey waved a semiautomatic pistol, according to the indictment. Photos and cellphone video captured the confrontation, which drew widespread attention and made the couple heroes to some and villains to others. No shots were fired, and no one was hurt.

Special prosecutor Richard Callahan said his investigation determined that the protesters were peaceful.

“There was no evidence that any of them had a weapon and no one I interviewed realized they had ventured onto a private enclave,” Callahan said in a news release after the McCloskeys pleaded guilty.

Several Republican leaders — including then-President Donald Trump — spoke out in defense of the McCloskeys’ actions. The couple spoke on video at last year’s Republican National Convention.

Mark McCloskey, who announced in May that he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Missouri, was unapologetic after the plea hearing.

“I’d do it again,” he said from the courthouse steps in downtown St. Louis. “Any time the mob approaches me, I’ll do what I can to put them in imminent threat of physical injury because that’s what kept them from destroying my house and my family.” He echoed those comments in a statement issued Tuesday by his campaign and added: “Today we are incredibly thankful that Governor Mike Parson righted this wrong and granted us pardons.”

Because the charges were misdemeanors, the McCloskeys did not face the possibility of losing their law licenses or their rights to own firearms.

The McCloskeys were indicted by a grand jury in October on felony charges of the unlawful use of a weapon and evidence tampering. Callahan later amended the charges to give jurors the alternative of convictions of misdemeanor harassment instead of the weapons charge.

Parson’s legal team has been working through a backlog of clemency requests for months.

He hasn’t yet taken action on longtime inmate Kevin Strickland, who several prosecutors now say is innocent of a 1978 Kansas City triple homicide. Parson could pardon Strickland, but he has said he’s not convinced he is innocent.

Missouri’s Democratic leader contrasted Parson’s treatment of Strickland’s case with the McCloskeys in bitter denunciations of the governor’s action.

“It is beyond disgusting that Mark and Patricia McCloskey admitted they broke the law and within weeks are rewarded with pardons, yet men like Kevin Strickland, who has spent more than 40 years in prison for crimes even prosecutors now say he didn’t commit, remain behind bars with no hope of clemency,” Missouri House Democratic Minority Leader Crystal Quade said in a statement.

Democratic state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley said, “The governor’s stunt ominously underscores that under his watch, justice belongs only to the privileged elite in this state.”

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Associated Press writer Summer Ballentine contributed to this story from Columbia, Missouri.

Pentagon IDs officer killed in violence outside building

By LOLITA C. BALDOR, ERIC TUCKER and MICHAEL BALSAMO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon police force on Wednesday identified the officer who was fatally stabbed at a transit center outside the Pentagon.

This undated photo provided by the Pentagon Force Protection Agency shows Pentagon Police Officer George Gonzalez. On Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, Gonzalez died after being stabbed during a burst of violence at a transit center outside the Pentagon building, and a suspect was shot by law enforcement and died at the scene. (Pentagon Force Protection Agency via AP)

The Pentagon Force Protection Agency said Officer George Gonzalez was a New York native and Army veteran who served in Iraq. He’d been on the police force for three years. He died after being stabbed during a burst of violence at a transit center outside the building, and a suspect was shot by law enforcement and died at the scene.

The Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. military, was temporarily placed on lockdown Tuesday after a man attacked the officer on a bus platform shortly after 10:30 a.m. The ensuing violence, which included a volley of gunshots, resulted in “several casualties,” said Woodrow Kusse, the chief of the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, which is responsible for security in the facility.

The suspect was identified by multiple law enforcement officials as Austin William Lanz, 27, of Georgia.

The officer was ambushed by Lanz, who ran at him and stabbed him in the neck, according to two of the law enforcement officials. Responding officers then shot and killed Lanz. Investigators were still trying to determine a motive for the attack and were digging into Lanz’s background, including any potential history of mental illness or any reason he might want to target the Pentagon or police officers.

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The officials could not discuss the investigation publicly and spoke to The AP on condition of anonymity.

Lanz had enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in October 2012 but was “administratively separated” less than a month later and never earned the title Marine, the Corps said in a statement.

Lanz was arrested in April in Cobb County, Georgia, on criminal trespassing and burglary charges, according to online court records. The same day, a separate criminal case was filed against Lanz with six additional charges, including two counts of aggravated battery on police, a count of making a terrorist threat and a charge for rioting in a penal institution, the records show.

A judge reduced his bond in May to $30,000 and released him, imposing some conditions, including that he not ingest illegal drugs and that he undergo a mental health evaluation. The charges against him were still listed as pending. A spokesman for the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that Lanz had been previously held at the agency’s detention center but referred all other questions to the FBI’s field office in Washington.

An attorney who represented Lanz in the Georgia cases didn’t immediately respond to a phone message and email seeking comment, and messages left with family members at Lanz’s home in the Atlanta suburb of Acworth, Georgia, were not immediately returned.

Tuesday’s attack on a busy stretch of the Washington area’s transportation system jangled the nerves of a region already primed to be on high alert for violence and potential intruders outside federal government buildings, particularly following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

At a Pentagon news conference, Kusse declined to confirm that the officer had been killed or provide even basic information about how the violence had unfolded or how many might be dead. He would only say that an officer had been attacked and that “gunfire was exchanged.”

Kusse and other officials declined to rule out terrorism or provide any other potential motive. But Kusse said the Pentagon complex was secure and “we are not actively looking for another suspect at this time.” He said the FBI was leading the investigation.

“I can’t compromise the ongoing investigation,” Kusse said.

The FBI confirmed only that it was investigating and there was “no ongoing threat to the public” but declined to offer details or a possible motive.

Later Tuesday, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency issued a statement confirming the loss of the officer, and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin expressed his condolences and said flags at the Pentagon will be flown at half-staff.

“This fallen officer died in the line of duty, helping protect the tens of thousands of people who work in — and who visit — the Pentagon on a daily basis,” Austin said in a statement. “This tragic death today is a stark reminder of the dangers they face and the sacrifices they make. We are forever grateful for that service and the courage with which it is rendered.”

The attack occurred on a Metro bus platform that is part of the Pentagon Transit Center, a hub for subway and bus lines. The station is steps from the Pentagon building, which is in Arlington County, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington.

An Associated Press reporter near the building heard multiple gunshots, then a pause, then at least one additional shot. Another AP journalist heard police yelling “shooter.”

A Pentagon announcement said the facility was on lockdown, but that was lifted after noon, except for the area around the crime scene.

Austin and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were at the White House meeting with President Joe Biden at the time of the shooting. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Austin returned to the building and went to the Pentagon police operations center to speak to the officers there.

It was not immediately clear whether any additional security measures might be instituted in the area.

In 2010, two officers with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency were wounded when a gunman approached them at a security screening area. The officers, who survived, returned fire, fatally wounding the gunman, identified as John Patrick Bedell.

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Associated Press writers Colleen Long and Michael Biesecker in Washington and Matthew Barakat and Sagar Meghani in Arlington, Virginia, contributed to this report.

Hundreds of lightning bolts hit dry Oregon, start new fires

By ANDREW SELSKY for the Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Lightning bolts struck the parched forests of southern Oregon hundreds of times in 24 hours, igniting some 50 new wildfires even as the nation’s largest wildfire continued to burn less than 100 miles (161 kilometers) away, officials said on Monday.

State, federal and contracted firefighters, augmented by helicopters and planes dropping fire retardant, pounced on the new wildfires in national forests in southwest Oregon before they could spread out of control. The largest one was estimated at up to 5 acres (2 hectares).

Thunderstorms unleashed some 700 lightning bolts that hit the ground and also brought rain to some places, but left others dry while triggering multiple fires, said Margueritte Hickman, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service.

Firefighters and support personnel worked through the night to locate and extinguish fires.

“After a storm like this, it’s important to quickly and efficiently suppress these fires when they’re small, not only to protect our communities, but to free up firefighting resources to provide aggressive initial attack on the next fire,” says Dan Quinones, fire staff officer for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

The Oregon Department of Forestry estimated the number of new fires at 50. No towns or homes were immediately threatened.

The Bootleg Fire, at 647 square miles (1,676 square kilometers) the nation’s largest, was 84% contained Monday, though it isn’t expected to be fully contained until Oct. 1. Such megafires don’t usually burn out until late fall or early winter when moisture increases and temperature decreases.

Firefighters driving bulldozers straightened the ragged edge of a fire line that had been gouged out by firefighters to keep the Bootleg Fire from spreading further east, the firefighting command center said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will travel to Oregon and attend a briefing Tuesday with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on wildfire response, prevention and preparedness efforts.

Vilsack is co-chair of the Biden Administration’s Wildfire Resilience Interagency Working Group and Interagency Drought Relief Working Group.

Tanks but no tanks! German fined for WWII weapons arsenal

From the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — A German court on Tuesday convicted an 84-year-old man of illegal weapons possession for having a personal arsenal that included a tank, a flak cannon and multiple other items of World War II-era military equipment.

The state district in the northern city of Kiel handed the man a suspended prison sentence of 14 months and ordered him to pay a fine of 250,000 euros ($300,000), the German news agency dpa reported.

It also ordered the defendant, whose name was not given in line with German privacy laws, to sell or donate the 45-ton tank and the anti-aircraft cannon to a museum or a collector within the next two years.

FILE – In this May 28, 2021 file photo a 84-year-old, accused of possession of a tank, waits in the courtroom for the start of the trial in Kiel, Germany. A German court has convicted a 84-year-old man for illegal weapons possession of a Panther tank, a flak canon and multiple other World War II-era military weapons to a suspended prison sentence of one year and two months. (Axel Heimken/dpa via AP)

Authorities discovered the illegal military arsenal during a 2015 raid of the collector’s storage facility in northern Germany in an investigation into black market Nazi-era art that turned up two bronze horse statues which once stood in front of Adolf Hitler’s chancellery. Those items were in another man’s possession.

During the raid of the defendant’s property, authorities also seized machine guns, automatic pistols and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition.

Local media reported at the time that the man made no secret of his weapons collection and even brought the tank out during a bad winter to use as a snow plow.

Before the court’s verdict was announced, the defendant’s lawyer read out a confession on his client’s behalf, dpa reported.

More than 110M COVID vaccines sent to 60 countries, US says

By ZEKE MILLER and DARLENE SUPERVILLE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has donated and shipped more than 110 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to more than 60 countries, ranging from Afghanistan to Zambia, the White House announced Tuesday.

President Joe Biden was expected to discuss that milestone and more later Tuesday in remarks updating the public on the U.S. strategy to slow the spread of coronavirus abroad.

President Joe Biden arrives at the White House in Washington, Monday, Aug. 2, 2021, after spending the weekend at Camp David. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The announcement comes amid a rise in infections in the U.S., fueled by the highly contagious delta strain of the virus, which led U.S. public health officials last week to recommend that people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 resume wearing face coverings in some public indoor settings.

Biden has promised that the U.S. will be the “arsenal of vaccines” for the world, and it has shipped the most vaccines abroad of any donor nation.

But while notable, the 110 million doses the U.S. has donated largely through a global vaccine program known as COVAX represent a fraction of what is needed worldwide.

The White House said in a statement Tuesday that U.S. at the end of August will begin shipping 500 million doses of Pfizer vaccine that it has pledged to 100 low-income countries by June 2022.

The 110 million donated doses came from U.S. surplus vaccine stock as the pace of domestic vaccinations slowed amid widespread vaccine hesitancy in the country.

Roughly 90 million eligible Americans aged 12 and over have yet to receive one dose of vaccine.

Biden had pledged to ship more than 80 million doses overseas by the end of June, but had only been able to share a fraction of that due to logistical and regulatory hurdles in recipient countries.

The pace of shipments picked up significantly through July.

Under Biden’s sharing plan, about 75% of U.S. doses are shared through COVAX, which aims to help lower- and middle-income nations, with the balance being sent to U.S. partners and allies.

The White House insists that nothing is being sought in return for the shots, contrasting its approach to Russia and China, which it alleges have used access to their domestically produced vaccines as a tool of geopolitical leverage.

Florida breaks record for COVID-19 hospitalizations

By MIKE SCHNEIDER for the Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A day after it recorded the most new daily cases since the start of the pandemic, Florida on Sunday broke a previous record for current hospitalizations set more than a year ago before vaccines were available.

The Sunshine State had 10,207 people hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to data reported to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Raquel Heres gets a COVID-19 rapid test to be able to travel overseas, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in North Miami, Fla. Federal health officials say Florida has reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic. The state has become the new national epicenter for the virus, accounting for around a fifth of all new cases in the U.S. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The previous record was from July 23, 2020, more than a half-year before vaccinations started becoming widespread, when Florida had 10,170 hospitalizations, according to the Florida Hospital Association.

Florida is now leading the nation in per capita hospitalizations for COVID-19, as hospitals around the state report having to put emergency room visitors in beds in hallways and others document a noticeable drop in the age of patients.

In the past week, Florida has averaged 1,525 adult hospitalizations a day, and 35 daily pediatric hospitalizations. Both are the highest per capita rate in the nation, according to Jason Salemi, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

The hospitalizations and increasing cases have come as the new, more transmittable delta variant has spread throughout Florida, and residents have returned to pre-pandemic activities.

“The recent rise is both striking and not-at-all surprising,” Salemi said in an email late Saturday.

Federal health data released Saturday showed that Florida reported 21,683 new cases of COVID-19, the state’s highest one-day total since the start of the pandemic. The latest numbers were recorded on Friday and released on Saturday on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website. The figures show how quickly the number of cases is rising in the Sunshine State: only a day earlier, Florida reported 17,093 new daily cases.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has resisted mandatory mask mandates and vaccine requirements, and along with the state Legislature, has limited local officials’ ability to impose restrictions meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. DeSantis on Friday barred school districts from requiring students to wear masks when classes resume next month.

Florida’s Democratic agriculture commissioner, Nikki Fried, who is seeking to run against DeSantis for governor, on Sunday urged unvaccinated Floridians to get the shots. She said she was heartened by a recent uptick in vaccinations in the state.

“We are already behind the curve and in a worse spot every time the numbers come out,” Fried said at a news conference in Tallahassee. “This surge is and will impact every single one of us.”

Throughout Florida, from Jacksonville to Miami to Tampa, hospitals have become overwhelmed.

Barry Burton, the Pinellas County administrator, told the Tampa Bay Times that some local hospitals are already having to divert ambulances to different locations because of capacity concerns.

There has been a startling rise in the number of children with the virus at hospitals in Miami, many of them requiring intensive care.

Memorial Health’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Hollywood had seven patients with COVID-19. At Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, there were 17 patients with COVID-19 on Friday, including six in the ICU and one who needed a ventilator, Dr. Marcos Mestre, vice president and chief medical officer, told the Miami Herald.

About half of the patients were under 12, Mestre said, and the rest were older and eligible for the vaccine. But none of the patients with COVID-19 at Nicklaus Children’s on Friday were vaccinated. Most children who get COVID-19 do not need hospitalization, Mestre said.

In the state capital, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached 70 patients on Sunday at Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare, a jump of 11 people in two days.

“This is the most we’ve ever had,” Stephanie Derzypolski, a hospital spokeswoman, told the Tallahassee Democrat.

The Mayo Clinic hospital in Jacksonville said it had exceeded its capacity of 304 licensed beds due to COVID-19 cases and asked the Agency for Health Care Administration for permission to operate overcapacity until the current surge ends, First Coast News in Jacksonville reported Sunday.

At the UF Health North hospital emergency room in Jacksonville, COVID-19 patients once again were being put in beds in hallways due to a surge in visits.

For many hospital workers, up until a month ago, it looked like there was light at the end of the tunnel, as people got vaccinated and hospitalizations decreased. But then the summer surge, powered by the new delta variant, hit Florida in July.

“That light did turn out to be a train in this case,” Marsha Tittle, a nursing manager at UF Health North, told The Florida Times Union. “We’re taking more patients than we normally would take. … My staff is wonderful. You walk out there, they’re going to have smiles on their faces and they’re doing a great job. But there’s a sense of defeat, like they’re just defeated.”

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This story has been corrected to reflect hospitalizations broke 10,000-person threshold, not 1,000-person threshold.

At an extraordinary Olympics, acts of kindness abound

By SALLY HO for the Associated Press


TOKYO (AP) — A surfer jumping in to translate for the rival who’d just beaten him. High-jumping friends agreeing to share a gold medal rather than move to a tiebreaker. Two runners falling in a tangle of legs, then helping each other to the finish line.

FILE – In this July 27, 2021, file photo, Claire Michel of Belgium is assisted by Lotte Miller of Norway after the finish of the women’s individual triathlon competition at the 2020 Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan. In an extraordinary Olympic Games where mental health has been front and center, acts of kindness are everywhere. The world’s most competitive athletes have been captured showing gentleness and warmth to one another — celebrating, pep-talking, wiping away each another’s tears of disappointment. (AP Photo/David Goldman, File)

In an extraordinary Olympic Games where mental health has been front and center, acts of kindness are everywhere. The world’s most competitive athletes have been captured showing gentleness and warmth to one another — celebrating, pep-talking, wiping away one another’s tears of disappointment.

Kanoa Igarashi of Japan was disappointed when he lost to Brazilian Italo Ferreira in their sport’s Olympic debut.

Not only did he blow his shot at gold on the beach he grew up surfing, he was also being taunted online by racist Brazilian trolls.Brazil’s Italo Ferreira, center, gold medal, Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi, right, silver medal, and Australia’s Owen Wright, bronze medal, pose for photographers. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

The Japanese-American surfer could have stewed in silence, but he instead deployed his knowledge of Portuguese, helping to translate a press conference question for Ferreira on the world stage.

The crowd giggled hearing the cross-rival translation and an official thanked the silver medalist for the assist.

“Yes, thank you, Kanoa,” said a beaming Ferreira, who is learning English.

Days later, at the Olympic Stadium, Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy and Mutaz Barshim of Qatar found themselves in a situation they’d talked about but never experienced — they were tied.

Both high jumpers were perfect until the bar was set to the Olympic-record height of 2.39 meters (7 feet, 10 inches). Each missed three times.o, Gianmarco Tamberi, of Italy, embraces fellow gold medalist Mutaz Barshim, of Qatar,. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, File)

They could have gone to a jump-off, but instead decided to share the gold.

“I know for a fact that for the performance I did, I deserve that gold. He did the same thing, so I know he deserved that gold,” Barshim said. “This is beyond sport. This is the message we deliver to the young generation.”

After they decided, Tamberi slapped Barshim’s hand and jumped into his arms.

“Sharing with a friend is even more beautiful,” Tamberi said. “It was just magical.”

Earlier, on the same track, runners Isaiah Jewett of the U.S. and Nijel Amos of Botswana got tangled and fell during the 800-meter semifinals. Rather than get angry, they helped each other to their feet, put their arms around each other and finished together.Jewett, left, and Nijel Amos, right, shake hands after falling in the men’s 800-meter semifinal. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Many top athletes come to know each other personally from their time on the road, which can feel long, concentrated, and intense — marked by career moments that may be the best or worst of their lives.

Those feelings have often been amplified at the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games, where there is an unmistakable yearning for normalcy and, perhaps, a newfound appreciation for seeing familiar faces.

Restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have meant Olympians can’t mingle the way they normally do.

After a hard-fought, three-set victory in the beach volleyball round-robin final on Saturday at Shiokaze Park, Brazilian Rebecca Cavalcanti playfully poured a bottle of water on American Kelly Claes’ back as she did postgame interviews.

The U.S. team had just defeated Brazil but the winners laughed it off, explaining that they’re friends.

“I’m excited when quarantine’s done so we can sit at the same table and go to dinner with them. But it’s kind of hard in a bubble because we have to be away,” said Sarah Sponcil, Claes’ teammate.

For fellow American Carissa Moore, the pandemic and its accompanying restrictions brought her closer with the other surfers.

The reigning world champion said she typically travels to surfing competitions with her husband and father. But all fans were banned this year, and Moore admitted she struggled without their reassuring presence in the initial days of the Games.

Moore had flown to Japan with the U.S. team 10 days before the first heat, and soon adjusted to living in a home with the other surfers, including Caroline Marks, whom Moore considered the woman to beat.

Moore said she didn’t know Marks well before the Tokyo Games but on the night she was crowned the winner and Marks came in fourth, her rival was the first to greet her.

“Having the USA Surf team with me, it’s been such a beautiful experience to bond with them,” Moore said. “I feel like I have a whole another family after the last two weeks.”

After the punishing women’s triathlon last week in Tokyo, Norwegian Lotte Miller, who placed 24th, took a moment to give a pep talk to Belgium’s Claire Michel, who was inconsolable and slumped on the ground, sobbing.

Michel had come in last, 15 minutes behind winner Flora Duffy of Bermuda — but at least she finished. Fifty-four athletes started the race but 20 were either lapped or dropped out.

“You’re a (expletive) fighter,” Miller told Michel. “This is Olympic spirit, and you’ve got it 100%.”

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Associated Press reporters Pat Graham, Jimmy Golen and Jim Vertuno contributed.

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Turkey battles wildfires for 6th day; 10,000 are evacuated

By MEHMET GUZEL and SUZAN FRASER for the Associated Press

BOZALAN, Turkey (AP) — Selcuk Sanli set his two cows lose, put his family’s most treasured belongings in a car and fled his home as a wildfire approached his village near Turkey’s beach resort of Bodrum, one of thousands fleeing flames that have coated the skies with a thick yellow haze.

People run away from the fire-devastated Sirtkoy village, near Manavgat, Antalya, Turkey, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021. More than 100 wildfires have been brought under control in Turkey, according to officials. The forestry minister tweeted that five fires are continuing in the tourist destinations of Antalya and Mugla. (AP Photo)

For the sixth straight day, Turkish firefighters battled Monday to control the blazes that are tearing through forests near Turkey’s beach destinations. Fed by strong winds and scorching temperatures, the fires that began Wednesday have left eight people dead. Residents and tourists have fled vacation resorts in flotillas of small boats or convoys of cars and trucks. Many villagers have lost their homes and farm animals and have had trouble breathing amid the heavy smoke.

Overall, some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Mugla province alone, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Monday.

Sanli returned to check on his house Monday in Bozalan only to find that the fire had flared.

“Property is an important part of life but life itself comes first,” he said as he prepared to leave once again.

Agriculture and Forestry Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said crews were still tackling seven fires in the coastal provinces of Antalya and Mugla that are popular tourist areas. Other active fires were in Isparta, 380 kilometers (236 miles) northeast, and in Denizli province in southwest Turkey.

Another fire in Tunceli, in southeast Turkey, was contained on Monday, the minister said. In all, 129 fires that broke out in over 30 provinces since Wednesday have been extinguished.

“We are going through days when the heat is above 40 C (104 degrees Fahrenheit), where the winds are strong and humidity is extremely low,” Pakdemirli said. “We are struggling under such difficult conditions.”

In Bozalan, Esra Sanli sobbed as she pointed at a fire raging near the village.

“There’s no plane, there’s no helicopter, there’s no roads. How is this going to be extinguished? How?” she said.

Firetrucks, with their sirens on, drove toward Bozalan, while villagers were seen herding cows away from the area.

On Sunday, residents were forced to evacuate the nearby village of Cokertme as flames neared. Some got on small boats and others left by cars as the fire got closer and closer — scenes that Ahmet Aras, the mayor of the nearby resort of Bodrum, described as “hell.” Precautions were taken to protect two nearby thermal power plants.

An evacuation order was also issued for the town of Turunc, near the seaside resort of Marmaris in Mugla province. People carrying suitcases fled on small boats.

The EU said it helped mobilize firefighting planes from Croatia and Spain to help Turkey. Planes from Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran have also been fighting the blazes. Spain said it was sending two water-dumping aircraft and one transport plane as well as 27 soldiers to help.

The EU announcement followed allegations that the Turkish government was compromising firefighting efforts by refusing help from Western nations. Pakdemirli refuted that, saying that the government had only refused offers for planes whose water-dumping capacities were less than 5 tons. A total of 16 planes, 51 helicopters and more than 5,000 personnel were tackling the fires, he said.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government has also been widely criticized for failing to purchase state-of-the-art firefighting planes.

In Marmaris, Mayor Mehmet Oktay said fires were still burning in two locations and estimated that 11,000 hectares (28,000 acres) of forest had been incinerated. On Monday, a fire reached the edge of the village of Hisaronu, burning a number of homes and descending down a mountainside toward a road as police evacuated ambulance crews and journalists.

“Our lungs have been burning for the past five days,” Oktay told Haberturk television.

The health minister, Fahrettin Koca, said at least 27 people affected by the fires were still being treated in hospitals while hundreds of others had been treated and released.

Soylu, the interior minister, said authorities were investigating the cause of the fires, including human “carelessness” and possible sabotage by outlawed Kurdish militants. He said one person was detained over allegations that he may have been paid by the group to start a fire.

Experts however, mostly point to climate change as being behind the fires, along with accidents caused by people. Erdogan has said one of the fires was started by children.

A heat wave across southern Europe, fed by hot air from North Africa, has led to wildfires across the Mediterranean, including in Italy and Greece, where people had to be evacuated by sea to escape the flames.

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Fraser reported from Ankara, Turkey. Ayse Wieting in Istanbul and Barry Hatton in Lisbon contributed.

Cocaine disguised as cake seized from vehicle in Maine

From the Associated Press

A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges over cocaine disguised as a cake that was seized from their vehicle, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency said Wednesday.

This undated photo provided by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency shows a marble cake which contained about 2 pounds of cocaine, and cash, seized from a vehicle in Gardiner, Maine. A New York man and a Maine woman are facing charges, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, after the cocaine disguised as a cake was seized from their vehicle, authorities said. (Maine Drug Enforcement Agency via AP)

Acting on a tip, police stopped the car on Interstate 295 in Gardiner on Tuesday, and a drug-sniffing dog found 4 pounds (2 kilograms) of cocaine worth $200,000 on the street, the MDEA said. Also seized was $1,900 in cash.

About 2 pounds of the cocaine was disguised as a marble cake with coffee grounds used to cover up the scent, officials said.

The two were released on bail and were expected in court on Wednesday. It was unknown if they had a lawyer.

Agents believe the drugs were to be distributed in Kennebec and Somerset counties. The MDEA was assisted in the investigation by the Winslow Police Department, Maine State Police and Homeland Security Investigations.

Biden admin stepping up community grants from COVID bill

By ZEKE MILLER and JOSH BOAK for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is beginning to make $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities — a tenfold increase in the program paid for by this year’s COVID-19 relief bill.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said her agency on Thursday will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and help struggling cities and towns make long-term investments to drive development for years to come.

FILE – In this May 5, 2021, file photo, Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo participate in a roundtable with women-led small business owners in Providence, R.I. President Joe Biden’s administration says it is making $3 billion in economic development grants available to communities. Raimondo tells The Associated Press her agency will begin accepting applications for the competitive grants, which officials hope will create hundreds of thousands of jobs. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

“This is about real help for communities across the country as they rebuild,” Raimondo said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “It’s about longer-term investments to help communities build themselves back from the bottom up in the ways that work best for them.”

The grants will be targeted at supporting local infrastructure, job training programs and developing new industries. Recipients will be selected on the basis of the anticipated return on investment to taxpayers. Raimondo was set to appear at Thursday’s White House press briefing to promote the new program.

“These are taxpayer dollars we are investing in communities, so we want to help them get recovery right,” said Raimondo. “These investments can help ensure they can rebuild more sustainably and more equitably in the ways that work best for them.”

The administration hopes that the competitive nature of the program will also coax private businesses and philanthropies to focus on rehabilitating their communities by making their own development commitments. There will be $1 billion available in a competitive process for 20 to 30 regions to spend on projects that would rebuild their economies, as well as $750 million in grants targeted for travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.

Fully 10% of the total will be earmarked for coal communities, which have struggled for decades amid the nation’s shift away from fossil fuels and are set to bear the economic brunt of the Biden administration’s even more aggressive efforts to move toward clean energy technologies.

“This is not hypothetical,” Raimondo said. “This is about real good-paying jobs today and investments needed to keep them coming.”

Man with coronavirus disguises as wife on Indonesian flight

By RANDI BASRI for the Associated Press

TERNATE, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian man with the coronavirus has boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a niqab covering his face and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result.

But the cover didn’t last long.

In this July 18, 2021, photo, a man who used a fake identity arrives at the Sultan Babullah airport in Ternate, Indonesia. The man with the coronavirus boarded a domestic flight disguised as his wife, wearing a niqab covering his face and carrying fake IDs and a negative PCR test result. He was arrested upon landing and tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Harmoko)

Police say a flight attendant aboard a Citilink plane traveling from Jakarta to Ternate in North Maluku province on Sunday noticed the man change the clothes in the lavatory.

“He bought the plane ticket with his wife’s name and brought the identity card, the PCR test result and the vaccination card with his wife’s name. All documents are under his wife’s name,” Ternate police chief Aditya Laksimada said after arresting the man upon landing. He was only identified by his initials.

Police took him for a COVID-19 test, which came back positive.

The man is currently self-isolating at home and police said the investigation will continue.

Indonesia is in the grip of the worse coronavirus surge in Asia with 33,772 new confirmed cases and 1,383 deaths in the last 24 hours. The total number of reported cases is 2.9 million with 77,583 fatalities.

Restrictions on nonessential travel, including a mandatory negative coronavirus test, and public gatherings have been toughened over the Eid al-Adha holiday this week.

Olympic athletes test positive in Tokyo days before Games

By GRAHAM DUNBAR for the Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — A third athlete at the Olympic Village in Tokyo has tested positive for COVID-19, with the Czech Republic team reporting the case Monday of a beach volleyball player who could miss his first game.

Czech beach volleyball player Ondřej Perušič could miss his opening game on Monday after a PCR test confirmed his infection. Perušič and his playing partner are due to the begin their Olympic program against a team from Latvia.

The Olympic athletes from the United States arrive at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, on July 1, 2021. Tens of thousands of visiting athletes, officials and media are descending on Japan for a Summer Olympics unlike any other. There will be no foreign fans, no local fans in Tokyo-area venues. A surge of virus cases has led to yet another state of emergency. (Kyodo News via AP)

Czech team leader Martin Doktor said in a statement they would ask to postpone the game until the infected player is cleared to play.

Perušič, who said he has been vaccinated, is the second member of the Czech delegation to test positive in Tokyo after a team official’s case was reported Saturday.

He is the third athlete who was staying at the village to test positive. Two South African men’s soccer players had their COVID-19 cases announced Sunday.

Also Monday, the personal coach for U.S. gymnast Kara Eaker confirmed that the 18-year-old alternate had tested positive in an Olympic training camp in Japan. The coach, Al Fong, said the 18-year-old Eaker was vaccinated against the novel coronavirus two months ago. Eaker, the first American athlete to test positive after arriving in Japan, had been rooming with other alternates, with the competitive team rooming with fellow competitors.

The South African players and a team video analyst who tested positive one day earlier were moved to the “isolation facility” managed by the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee.

Their 21 close contacts around the South Africa team now face extra scrutiny before their first game Thursday against Japan in Tokyo. The monitoring regime includes daily testing, traveling in a dedicated vehicle, training separately from teammates not affected and being confined to their rooms for meals.

“Although you are a close contact, you are able to do the minimum that you need to do so that you can continue your preparation for the Games while you are being monitored,” said Pierre Ducrey, the Olympic Games operations director.

Earlier Monday, before the Czech case was reported, Tokyo Olympic organizers confirmed three new COVID-19 cases, including a media worker arriving in Tokyo and a Games staffer or official in the Chiba prefecture.

Both people, who were not identified, went into a 14-day quarantine, organizers said.

The Tokyo metropolitan authority reported 727 new COVID-19 cases Monday, which was the 30th straight day the tally was higher than the previous week. The count was 502 last Monday.

The games open Friday with no fans in nearly all event venues, including at the opening ceremony, amid a state of emergency in Tokyo, and a slower than hoped for vaccine rollout. Japanese authorities said Monday 21.6% of the nation’s 126 million population is fully vaccinated.

The total of Games-related infections was officially 58 since July 1 before the two new cases were announced. They should be added to the official tally on Tuesday.

These resulted from 22,000 people arriving in Japan since July 1 with 4,000 of those staying in the village, Ducrey said. About 11,000 athletes are scheduled to compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

Virus surge fears, UK leader’s quarantine, mar ‘Freedom Day’

By UROOBA JAMAL and JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Corks popped, beats boomed out and giddy revelers rushed onto dancefloors when England’s nightclubs reopened Monday as the country lifted most remaining coronavirus restrictions after more than a year of lockdowns, mask mandates and other pandemic-related curbs on freedom.

People drink on the dance floor shortly after the reopening, at The Piano Works in Farringdon, in London, Monday, July 19, 2021. Thousands of young people plan to dance the night away at ‘Freedom Day’ parties after midnight Sunday, when almost all coronavirus restrictions in England are to be scrapped. Nightclubs, which have been shuttered since March 2020, can finally reopen. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

For clubbers and nightclub owners, the moment lived up to its media-given moniker, “Freedom Day.” But the big step out of lockdown was met with nervousness by many Britons and concern from scientists, who say the U.K. is entering uncharted waters by opening up when confirmed cases are not falling but soaring.

As of Monday, face masks were no longer legally required in England, work-from-home guidance ended and, with social distancing rules shelved, no limits existed on the number of people attending theater performances or big events.

Nightclubs were allowed to open for the first time in almost 18 months, and from London to Liverpool, thousands of people danced the night away at “Freedom Day” parties starting at midnight.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” clubgoer Lorna Feeney said at Bar Fibre in the northern England city of Leeds. “That’s my life, my soul — I love dancing.”

At The Piano Works in London, patrons packed the area around the cordoned-off dance floor on Sunday as a host led a countdown to midnight.

Once a ceremonial ribbon was cut, the crowd ran toward the dance floor as confetti canons went off and a disco ball spun above. Soon, unmasked clubgoers dancing to a live band’s rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” filled the floor.

But while entertainment businesses and ravers are jubilant, many others are deeply worried about scrapping restrictions at a time when COVID-19 cases are on a rapid upswing because of the highly infectious delta variant first identified in India. Cases topped 50,000 per day last week for the first time since January. Deaths remain far lower than in the winter thanks to vaccines, but have risen from less than 10 a day in June to about 40 a day in the past week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has dialed down talk of freedom in recent weeks, urged the public to “proceed cautiously” and “recognize that this pandemic is far from over.”

Or, as Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam put it at a televised news conference: “Don’t tear the pants out of this.”

In a reminder of how volatile the situation is, the prime minister was spending “Freedom Day” in quarantine. Johnson and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak are both self-isolating for 10 days after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Johnson initially said he would take daily tests instead of self-isolating — an option not offered to most people — but U-turned amid public outrage.

The prime minister is among hundreds of thousands of Britons who have been told to quarantine because they have been near someone who tested positive. The situation is causing staff shortages for businesses including restaurants, car manufacturers and public transport.

Globally, the World Health Organization says cases and deaths are climbing after a period of decline, spurred by the delta variant. Like the U.K., Israel and the Netherlands both opened up widely after vaccinating most of their people, but had to reimpose some restrictions after new infection surges. The Dutch prime minister admitted that lifting restrictions too early “was a mistake.”

In the U.S., many areas abandoned face coverings when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fully vaccinated people didn’t need to wear them in most settings. Some states and cities are now trying to decide what to do as cases rise again.

British officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that the U.K.’s vaccine rollout — 68.5% of adults, or more than half the total population, has received two doses — will keep the threat to public health at bay. But 1,200 scientists from around the world backed a letter to British medical journal The Lancet criticizing the Conservative government’s decision.

“I can’t think of any realistic good scenario to come out of this strategy, I’m afraid,” said Julian Tang, a clinical virologist at the University of Leicester. “I think it’s really a degree of how bad it’s going to be.”

Tang said nightclubs in particular are potent spreading grounds, because they increase close physical contact among a core customer base — people 18 to 25 — that hasn’t yet been fully vaccinated.

“That’s the perfect mixing vessel for the virus to spread and to even generate new variants,” he said.

The government wants nightclubs and other crowded venues to check whether customers have been vaccinated, have a negative test result or have recovered from the disease.

“I don’t want to have to close nightclubs again, as they have elsewhere, but it does mean nightclubs need to do the socially responsible thing,” Johnson said.

There is no legal requirement for them to do so, however, and most say they won’t. Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said many owners accuse the government of “passing the buck” to businesses.

“Either mandate it or don’t mandate it,” Kill said. “This is putting an inordinate amount of pressure on us.”

Soon they may have no choice. Johnson said that from the end of September, full vaccination will become a condition of entry to nightclubs and other venues with big crowds. He said by that time, everyone 18 and over will have had the chance to get both doses of a vaccine.

Johnson’s decision to scrap the legal requirement for face masks in indoor public spaces — while recommending people keep them on — has also sowed confusion.

Some retailers said they would encourage customers to keep their masks on, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan said they remain mandatory on the capital’s subways and buses — though police can no longer be called in to enforce the rule.

Khan said Monday that more than 90% of passengers appeared to be wearing masks, “and what I think that shows is that people are carrying on their great habits.”

The end of restrictions in England is a critical moment in Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 128,000 people nationwide, the highest death toll in Europe after Russia. Other parts of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking slightly more cautious steps out of lockdown and keeping mask requirements for now.

Psychologist Robert West, who sits on a science panel that advises the government, said telling people to be careful without giving them thorough knowledge of risks was “like putting someone out on the road without having taught them to drive.”

At London’s Egg nightclub, clubber Alex Clark acknowledged feeling “a bit of apprehension and uncertainty.”

Fellow clubgoer Kevin Ally felt no such qualms.

“There’s zero concern,” he said. “The only concern is why we haven’t been here for a year and a half. It’s been a very long time since we’ve been out.

“It’s good to be back, and we’re here to dance.”

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Sylvia Hui and Jo Kearney contributed to this story.

German officials defend their actions on devastating floods

By GEIR MOULSON for the Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — German officials defended their actions ahead of last week’s severe floods that caught many towns by surprise and killed 196 people in Western Europe, but they conceded that more lessons can be learned from the disaster.

Two brothers weep in each other’s arms in front of their parents’ house, which was destroyed by the flood in Altenahr, Germany, Monday, July 19, 2021. Numerous houses in the town were completely destroyed or severely damaged, there are numerous fatalities. (Boris Roessler/dpa via AP)

As floodwaters receded Monday, authorities continued searching for more victims and intensified their efforts to clean up a sodden swath of western Germany, eastern Belgium and the Netherlands.

So far, 117 people have been confirmed dead in the worst-affected German region, Rhineland-Palatinate, while 47 were killed in the neighboring state of North Rhine-Westphalia, and at least one in Bavaria, parts of which saw heavy rain and flooding over the weekend. The death toll in Belgium was 31.

Authorities said they were likely to find more victims among destroyed homes.

Weather officials had forecast the downpours that led to even small rivers swelling rapidly, but warnings of potentially catastrophic damage didn’t appear to have made it to many people in affected areas — often in the middle of the night.

Federal and state authorities faced criticism from some opposition politicians over the disaster, which comes as a national election looms in September. But Interior Minister Horst Seehofer dismissed suggestions that federal officials had made mistakes and said warnings were passed to local authorities “who make decisions on disaster protection.”

“I have to say that some of the things I’m hearing now are cheap election rhetoric,” Seehofer said during a visit to the Steinbach Reservoir in western Germany, where authorities say they no longer fear a dam breach. “Now really isn’t the hour for this.”

Seehofer underlined that message during a visit Monday to Bad Neuenahr, in the worst-hit area, but said authorities will have to draw lessons once the immediate relief phase is over.

“Wherever we can improve anything — in alarms, in equipment … we must do so,” he said. “We owe that to the families who have been affected, and above all to the victims.”

The head of Germany’s civil protection agency said the weather service had “forecast relatively well” and that the country was well-prepared for flooding on its major rivers.

But, Armin Schuster told ZDF television Sunday night, “half an hour before, it is often not possible to say what place will be hit with what quantity” of water. He said 150 warning notices had been sent out via apps and media.

He said “we will have to investigate” where sirens sounded and where they didn’t.

Officials in Germany’s Rhineland-Palatinate state said they were well-prepared for flooding, and municipalities were alerted and acted.

But the state’s interior minister, Roger Lewentz, said after visiting the hard-hit village of Schuld with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Sunday that “we, of course, had the problem that the technical infrastructure — electricity and so on — was destroyed in one go.”

Local authorities “tried very quickly to react,” he said. “But this was an explosion of the water in moments. … You can have the very best preparations and warning situations (but) if warning equipment is destroyed and carried away with buildings, then that is a very difficult situation.” Cellphone networks also were knocked out by flooding.

Broader questions about Germany’s emergency warning system had arisen after a nationwide test in September 2020, the first in 30 years, largely failed. Sirens didn’t sound in many places, or had been removed after the end of the Cold War, and push alerts from the national warning app arrived late or not all.

Schuster, the head of the civil protection agency, noted that a program to reform civil protection was launched earlier this year, including a drive to encourage local authorities to install more sirens. Germany doesn’t have a text messaging system for disaster warnings, but Schuster told Deutschlandfunk radio it is exploring the possibility.

As local communities face the huge task of rebuilding smashed homes and infrastructure such as bridges and water systems, Merkel’s Cabinet is set to draw up a package of immediate and medium-term financial aid Wednesday.

At the Steinbach Reservoir, North Rhine-Westphalia state governor Armin Laschet said the dam was designed for a risk that might occur once in 10,000 years.

“This was exceeded in the last few days,” he said. “It was a likelihood nobody had foreseen.”

Clark County Jail reaches agreement on handling deaf inmates

From the Associated Press

VANCOUVER, Wash. (AP) — The Clark County Jail and the U.S. Department of Justice have reached a settlement to ensure that people who are deaf or hard of hearing have equal access to services.

“When a person with communication disabilities has their liberty restrained by incarceration, the ability to effectively communicate is of critical importance,” Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa Gorman said in a press release. “They must be able to provide and receive information about medical care, legal rights, and their basic human needs.”

The settlement stemmed from a complaint filed by a woman who was deaf and was denied aids or services while held in the jail for two days in 2019, Gorman said. There have been multiple lawsuits against the jail by inmates with hearing impairments since 2014.

An investigation determined that jail staff were not trained on how to assess an inmate’s communication needs despite the fact that the jail deals with many people with hearing impairments.

Under the settlement, the jail must provide interpreter services for things like medical appointments, educational classes, classification reviews and religious services. The jail must also modify its restraint and handcuffing policy so inmates can communicate with sign language or writing.

The jail will pay the woman involved $25,000.

Hawaii teenager recycles to help students reach college

By JESSIE WARDARSKI and LUIS ANDRES HENAO from the Associated Press

In the beginning, Genshu Price recycled for his own sake — his father said it would be a good way to save money for his college tuition.

In this May 2021 photo provided by Maria Price, Genshu Price stands on the back of a truck after loading it with recyclable cans and bottles from Kualoa Ranch in Kāne’ohe, Hawaii, for his fundraiser, Bottles4College. (Bottles4College Price via AP)

But then, he came up with grander idea: Why not recycle thousands of bottles and cans to help other students in Hawaii reach their college dream.

“That way, it would be able to help a lot more local families, help a lot more people throughout the generations,” Price said.

The 13-year-old from Oahu launched Bottles4College three years ago. The goal is to collect and recycle 2 to 4 million cans and bottles annually to fund college tuition for up to two students. Price said his project “gained traction” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“People saw this as a way to give an opportunity back to local families, especially since the pandemic has hit everyone so hard, especially the kids,” he said. At the same time, they would protect the environment and keep their island clean.ADVERTISEMENT

His mother, Maria Price, recalled how he began going around to beaches, Little League baseball games and parks, “just asking people if they’re done with their drinks,” to collect their bottles and cans, which he sorted with his parents’ help.

Since then, he has collected more than 100,000 bottles and cans and has received support from businesses and schools, setting up drop-off depots at places like Mililani Uka Elementary School, the Kualoa Ranch nature reserve and S.W. King Intermediate School, which he attends.

“Hawaii already has very high living costs. COVID made that even harder,” he said. “I want to give a way for students who may not … have been able to go to college by themselves.”

Bottles4College, he said, is based on four pillars: education, environment, community and lifestyle. “We’re helping the environment by recycling,” he said. “We’re helping education by providing scholarship funds for Hawaii kids and inspiring them to want to get a good education. And then you’re bringing communities together.”

It’s a lifestyle, he said, because the other pillars become a part of your life.

The soon-to-be eighth grader is also an aspiring filmmaker; he created a documentary highlighting his work. He also posts videos on YouTube, including tips on how to sort cans and bottles and encouraging others to recycle.

“We still have a little bit to go to get to the place where we want to be, but it’s definitely exciting. Every can counts, it’s one can or bottle at a time,” he said.

Caring about others, he said, is even more important during challenging times.

“In school they teach you how to treat other people how you want to be treated,” he said. “And especially at a time like during the pandemic, that phrase really comes into play.”

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“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing

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Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Rescuers rush to help as Europe’s flood toll surpasses 120

By FRANK JORDANS from the Associated Press

This image provided on Friday, July 16, 2021 by the Cologne district government shows the Blessem district of Erftstadt in Germany. Rescuers were rushing Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole. (Rhein-Erft-Kreis via AP)
This image provided on Friday, July 16, 2021 by the Cologne district government shows the Blessem district of Erftstadt in Germany. Rescuers were rushing Friday to help people trapped in their homes in the town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed due to subsidence, and aerial pictures showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole. (Rhein-Erft-Kreis via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Emergency workers in western German and Belgium rushed Friday to rescue hundreds of people in danger or still unaccounted for as the death toll from devastating floods rose to more than 120 people.

Authorities in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate said 63 people had died there, including 12 residents of an assisted living facility for disabled people in the town of Sinzig who were surprised by a sudden rush of water from the nearby Ahr River. In neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia state officials put the death toll at 43, but warned that the figure could increase.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was “stunned” by the devastation caused by the flooding and pledged support to the families of those killed and to cities and towns facing significant damage.

“In the hour of need, our country stands together,” Steinmeier said in a statement. “It’s important that we show solidarity for those from whom the flood has taken everything.”

Rescuers sought to save people trapped in their homes in the German town of Erftstadt, southwest of Cologne. Regional authorities said several people had died after their houses collapsed when the ground beneath them sank suddenly. Aerial photos showed what appeared to be a massive sinkhole.

“We managed to get 50 people out of their houses last night,” county administrator Frank Rock said. “We know of 15 people who still need to be rescued.”

Speaking to German broadcaster n-tv, Rock said authorities had no precise number yet for how many had died in the flash floods that turned roads into wild raging torrents, ripping up cobblestones, collapsing homes and flipping parked cars into piles of rubble.

“One has to assume that under the circumstances some people didn’t manage to escape,” he said.

Authorities were still trying to account for hundreds of people listed as missing, but cautioned that the high number could be due to duplicated reports and difficulties reaching people because of disrupted roads and phone service.

After Germany, where more than 100 people have died, Belgium was the hardest hit by the floods that caused homes to be ripped away. Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden told the VRT network Friday that the country’s official confirmed death toll had grown to 20, with 20 other people still missing.

Water levels on the Meuse Rriver that runs from Belgium into the Netherlands remains critical, and several dikes were at risk of collapsing, Verlinden said. Authorities in the southern Dutch town of Venlo evacuated 200 hospital patients due to the looming threat of flooding from the river.

Flash floods this week followed days of heavy rainfall in Western Europe. Thousands of people remained homeless in Germany after their houses were destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities.

The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, who is hoping to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel as the nation’s leader after Germany’s election on Sept. 26, said the disaster had caused immense economic damage to the country’s most densely populated state.

“The floods have literally pulled the ground from beneath many people’s feet,” Gov. Armin Laschet said at a news conference. “They lost their houses, farms or businesses.”

Federal and state officials have pledged financial aid to the affect areas, which also includes the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where at least 60 people died and entire villages were destroyed.

Malu Dreyer, the governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state, said the disaster showed the need to speed up efforts to curb global warming. She accused Laschet and Merkel’s center-right Union bloc of hindering efforts to achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy and a major emitter of planet-warming gases.

“Climate change isn’t abstract anymore. We are experiencing it up close and painfully,” she told the Funke media group.

Steinmeier, the German president, echoed her calls for greater efforts to combat global warming.

“Only if we decisively take up the fight against climate change will we be able to limit the extreme weather conditions we are now experiencing,” he said.

Experts say such disasters could become more common in the future.

“Some parts of Western Europe … received up to two months of rainfall in the space of two days. What made it worse is that the soils were already saturated by previous rainfall,” World Meteorological Organization spokesperson Clare Nullis said.

While she said it was too soon to blame the floods and preceding heat wave on rising global temperatures, Nullis added: “Climate change is already increasing the frequency of extreme events. And many single events have been shown to be made worse by global warming.”

Defense Ministry spokesman Arne Collatz said the German military had deployed over 850 troops to help with flood effeorts but the number is “rising significantly because the need is growing.” He said the ministry had triggered a “military disaster alarm.”

Italy sent a civil protection officials, firefighters and rescue dinghies to Belgium to help in the search for missing people from the devastating floods.

In the southern Dutch province of Limburg, which also has been hit hard by flooding, troops piled sandbags to strengthen a 1.1-kilometer (0.7 mile) stretch of dike along the Maas River and police helped evacuate low-lying neighborhoods.

Caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the government was officially declaring flood-hit regions a disaster area, meaning businesses and residents are eligible for compensation. Dutch King Willem-Alexander visited the region Thursday night and called the scenes “heart-breaking.”

Meanwhile, sustained rainfall in Switzerland has caused several rivers and lakes to burst their banks. Public broadcaster SRF reported that a flash flood swept away cars, flooded basements and destroyed small bridges in the northern villages of Schleitheim und Beggingen late Thursday.

Erik Schulz, the mayor of the hard-hit German city of Hagen, 50 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Cologne, said there had been a wave of solidarity from other regions and ordinary citizens to help those affected by the floods.

“We have many, many citizens saying ‘I can offer a place to stay, where can I go to help, where can I registered, where can I bring my shovel and bucket?’,” he told n-tv. “The city is standing together and you can feel that.”

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Associated Press writers Geir Moulson and Emily Schultheis in Berlin, Raf Casert in Brussels, Nicole Winfield in Rome, Angela Charlton in Paris, Mike Corder in The Hague and contributed to this report.

Dutch COVID-19 infections soar by 500% in a week

By MIKE CORDER for the Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands skyrocketed by more than 500% over the last week, the country’s public health institute reported Tuesday. The surge follows the scrapping of almost all remaining lockdown restrictions and the reopening of night clubs in late June.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, June 24, 2021. At their summit in Brussels, EU leaders are set to take stock of coronavirus recovery plans, study ways to improve relations with Russia and Turkey, and insist on the need to develop migration partners with the countries of northern Africa, but a heated exchange over a new LGBT bill in Hungary is also likely. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

The weekly update showing that nearly 52,000 people in the Netherlands tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week came a day after caretaker Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte apologized for the June 26 lockdown relaxation and called it “an error of judgment.”

Rutte backtracked Friday and reintroduced some restrictions in an attempt to rein in the soaring infection rate. Bars again have to close at midnight, while discotheques and clubs were shuttered again until at least Aug. 13.

The Netherlands, along with other European nations, is facing a rise in infections fueled by the more contagious delta variant just as governments hoped to greatly ease or eliminate remaining pandemic restrictions during the summer holiday season.

With infections rising around France, President Emmanuel Macron on Monday cranked up pressure on people to get vaccinated and said special COVID passes would be required to go into restaurants and shopping malls starting next month.

The Dutch public health institute said that of the infections that could be traced to their source, 37% happened in a hospitality venue such as a bar or club. Infections among people ages 18-24 surged by 262%, followed by a 191% rise in 25-29 year-olds.

Despite the alarming rise in confirmed cases, hospital admissions increased by a modest 11%, or 60 COVID-19 patients, over the week, the institute said. Twelve of the admissions were to intensive care units.

More than 46% of the Netherlands’ adult population is fully vaccinated, and more than 77% of the country’s adults have had at least one shot. Health authorities said more than 1.3 million people would receive their first or second doses this week.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said Monday that the late June loosening of restrictions combined with a lack of social distancing and the delta variant “has had, of course, an accelerating effect. You can unfortunately see that with hindsight.”

Other countries in Europe are scrambling to accelerate coronavirus vaccinations in the hope of outpacing the spread of the more infectious delta variant.

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Follow all AP stories on the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

5 killed in crane collapse at residential tower in Canada

From the Associated Press

KELOWNA, British Columbia (AP) — Five people died when a crane toppled off a 25-story residential tower in Canada, police said Tuesday.

A worker looks on as a police officer investigates a collapsed crane resting on the building it damaged in Kelowna, Brith Columbia, Monday, July 12, 2021. Five people died when a crane toppled off a 25-story residential tower in Canada, police said Tuesday. (Alistair Waters/The Canadian Press via AP)

Four construction workers on the ground were killed in the accident Monday in Kelowna, 241 miles (390 kilometers) east of Vancouver, police Insp. Adam MacIntosh said.

The crane operator hasn’t been found but police believe his body is buried in the rubble, MacIntosh said.

The upper portion of the crane smashed into a neighboring building.

Jonathan Friesen, head of the Mission Group, the development company building the structure, said he doesn’t know what caused the crane to fall.

The collapse knocked out power for most of the city’s downtown core and forced an evacuation of the surrounding area.

Big cats, bears, ferrets get COVID-19 vaccine at Oakland Zoo

From the Associated Press

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — A San Francisco Bay Area zoo is inoculating its big cats, bears and ferrets against the coronavirus as part of a national effort to protect animal species using an experimental vaccine.

Tigers Ginger and Molly were the first two animals at the Oakland Zoo to get the vaccine this week, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Saturday. The doses were donated and developed by veterinary pharmaceutical company Zoetis in New Jersey.

In this Thursday, July 1, 2021, image released by the Oakland Zoo, a tiger receives a COVID-19 vaccine at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, Calif. Tigers are trained to voluntarily present themselves for minor medical procedures, including COVID-19 vaccinations. The Oakland Zoo zoo is vaccinating its large cats, bears and ferrets against the coronavirus using an experimental vaccine being donated to zoos, sanctuaries and conservatories across the country. (Oakland Zoo via AP)

Alex Herman, vice president of veterinary services at the zoo, said none of the animals have gotten the virus, but they wanted to be proactive. Tigers, black and grizzly bears, mountain lions and ferrets were the first to receive the first of two doses. Next are primates and pigs.

In a press release, she said the zoo has used barriers for social distancing and staff have worn protective gear to protect susceptible species. “We’re happy and relieved to now be able to better protect our animals with this vaccine,” she said.

Zoetis is donating more than 11,000 doses for animals living in nearly 70 zoos, as well as more than a dozen conservatories, sanctuaries, academic institutions and government organizations located in 27 states, according to the press release.

The San Diego Zoo started inoculating primates in January after a COVID-19 breakout among a troop of gorillas at its Safari Park.

Great apes share 98% of their DNA with humans and are especially susceptible, as are felines. Confirmed coronavirus cases include gorillas, tigers and lions at zoos, and domestic cats and dogs.

Deputy helps hoof wayward cows home along Michigan road

For the Associated Press

MASON, Mich. (AP) — A sheriff’s deputy hoofed it for 3 miles along a two-lane Michigan road to help guide eight wayward cows back to a farm.

The Ingham County sheriff’s office transport unit responded Friday to a report of cattle blocking a road near Mason, WLNS-TV reported Monday.

The deputy and two other men spent about two hours rounding up and herding the bovine back home. Part of the trek was recorded by a dashcam in a sheriff’s office vehicle.

The sheriff’s office said on its Facebook page that the effort was “all in a day’s work.”

Mason is about 88 miles (141 kilometers) northwest of Detroit.

France rushes to get vaccinated after president’s warning

From the Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — Nearly 1 million people in France made vaccine appointments in a single day, after the president cranked up pressure on everyone to get vaccinated to save summer vacation and the French economy.

A medical technician administers nasal swabs at a mobile testing site in Paris, Monday, July 12, 2021. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a top-level virus security meeting Monday morning and then giving a televised speech Monday evening, the kind of solemn speech he’s given at each turning point in France’s virus epidemic.(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

An app that centralizes France’s vaccine and other medical appointments, Doctolib, announced Tuesday morning that 926,000 people had made appointments Monday, a daily record since the country rolled out coronavirus vaccines in December. People under age 35 made up 65% of the new appointments.

President Emmanuel Macron announced Monday that vaccination would be obligatory for all health care workers by Sept. 15, and held out the possibility of extending the requirement to other parts of the population.

With infections on the rise again around France, expectations had mounted in recent days that Macron would announce some kind of vaccination requirement, driving new demand for appointments.

Around 41% of the French population has been fully vaccinated, though the pace of vaccination waned as summer vacations approached.

Health Minister Olivier Veran welcomed the renewed vaccine interest, saying on BFM television Tuesday: “That’s thousands of lives saved.”

More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France.

Biden to talk crime with city, police leaders nationwide

MICHAEL BALSAMO, COLLEEN LONG and JONATHAN LEMIRE for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will host New York City’s Democratic mayoral candidate and other city and law enforcement leaders from around the country to talk about reducing crime.

President Joe Biden walks from the Oval Office to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 9, 2021. Biden is heading to Delaware for the weekend. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Eric Adams, Brooklyn borough president and the likely next mayor of New York, plus Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser and San Jose, California, Mayor Sam Liccardo are among those expected to attend the meeting Monday, according to the White House. Biden will also host Memphis Police Chief C.J. Davis, Chief David Brown of Chicago, Lt. Anthony Lima of the Newark, New Jersey, police, and Chief Robert Tracy of the Wilmington, Delaware, Police Department.

Shootings and killings are up around the nation, with local politicians and police struggling to manage the violence that has ballooned since the coronavirus pandemic. But there is a continued push for police reform, revived nationwide after the death of George Floyd, and Biden is trying to work on both simultaneously.

The president recently announced new efforts to stem the tide of violence, but the federal government is limited in what it can do to help localities reduce the spike. His plan focuses on providing funding to cities that need more police, offering community support and cracking down on gun violence and supplying illegal firearms.

But much of Biden’s effort is voluntary — centered on encouraging cities to invest some of their COVID-19 relief funds into policing and pushing alternative crime reduction steps such as increased community support and summer jobs for teenagers — often both targets and perpetrators of violence.

Biden will be joined Monday by Attorney General Merrick Garland and other anti-violence experts. The president is expected to talk through the work federal law enforcement is doing to stop the flow of illegal guns, including new strike forces in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington to help take down illegal gun traffickers and a new “zero tolerance” policy for dealers who sell guns illegally.

A federal effort is underway to expand and enhance community violence interruption programs in 15 cities.

Adams, a former New York Police Department captain, is the prohibitive favorite in the general election against Curtis Sliwa, the Republican founder of the Guardian Angels. Democrats outnumber Republicans 7-to-1 in New York City.

Adams won a crowded primary after appealing to the political center and promising to strike the right balance between fighting crime and ending racial injustice in policing.

Police investigate racist abuse of three England players

By FRANK GRIFFITHS and PAN PYLAS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — British police opened investigations Monday into the racist abuse of three Black players who failed to score penalties in England’s shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final.

Ed Wellard, from Withington, tapes bin liners across offensive wording on the mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford on the wall of the Coffee House Cafe on Copson Street, which appeared vandalised the morning after the England soccer team lost the Euro 2021 final against Italy, in Withington, Manchester, England, Monday, July 12, 2021. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the racist abuse directed at three Black England players who missed their penalties in the team’s shootout loss to Italy in the final of the European Championship on Sunday. Johnson tweeted that “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.” Marcus Rashford’s penalty hit the post and spots kicks from Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were saved by Italy’s goalkeeper. (Peter Byrne/PA via AP)

The Metropolitan Police condemned the “unacceptable” abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, and said they will be investigating the “offensive and racist” social media posts published soon after Italy won Sunday’s shootout 3-2 following a 1-1 draw. A mural of Rashford on the wall of a cafe in south Manchester was also defaced with graffiti in the wake of the match.

The racist abuse, which was condemned as “unforgivable” by England coach Gareth Southgate, has led to calls for social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to do more in hunting down the perpetrators of the abuse.

All three players targeted are part of a young England squad that has been widely praised for its diversity and social conscience. Rashford, for one, has been at the forefront of a campaign against child poverty, which convinced the British government to restore free lunches for thousands of poor children amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue,” Southgate said Monday.

The abuse was widely condemned, with Prince William, the president of the English Football Association, saying he was “sickened” by the racism aimed at the England players.

“It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour,” he wrote on Twitter. “It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”

Although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he has faced criticism for emboldening those booing the England team for taking a knee before their matches to protest against racial injustice.

Last month, Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister is “more focused on action rather than gestures.” That comment led to widespread criticism that Johnson was effectively encouraging those booing to carry on. Three days later, his spokesman changed tack, saying the prime minister “respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices” and that he wanted them to cheer the team and “not boo.”

Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of a failure of leadership for not calling out the booing of the England team.

“The prime minister failed to call that out and the actions and inactions of leaders have consequences, so I’m afraid the prime minister’s words today ring hollow,” he said.

Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player and now a TV commentator, said he wasn’t surprised that the three players who failed to convert their penalties were targeted for racist abuse and also called out Johnson.

“The prime minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who are trying to promote equality and defend against racism,” he said on Sky News. “It starts at the very top and so for me I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that I woke up this morning to those headlines.”

In recent years, soccer authorities in England have joined with the players in trying to tackle racism both within the sport — at every level — and in society as a whole.

The English FA said it will give the players affected what support it can and will press on authorities for the “toughest punishments possible” for anyone found to have been responsible for the abuse.

“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real life consequences,” it said.

Social media companies, it said, need to “step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms” to ensure that their platforms are “free from this type of abhorrent abuse.”

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said Monday it tried to remove harmful content as quickly as possible and encouraged people to use the tools it offers to block abuse.

“We quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules,” it said in a statement.

Twitter said the “abhorrent racist abuse” has no place on its platform, adding it removed more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating its rules.

“We will continue to take action,” Twitter said, “when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate our policies.”

The British government is planning new laws to enshrine a new legal duty of care on online companies to protect users from harm, including people receiving abusive comments, threats and harassment.

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Wildfires rage as US West grapples with heat wave, drought

By CHRISTOPHER WEBER for the Associated Press

Firefighters were working in extreme temperatures across the U.S. West and struggling to contain wildfires, the largest burning in California and Oregon, as another heat wave baked the region, straining power grids.

A firefighter sprays water while trying to stop the Sugar Fire, part of the Beckwourth Complex Fire, from spreading to neighboring homes in Doyle, Calif., Saturday, July 10, 2021. Pushed by heavy winds amid a heat wave, the fire came out of the hills and destroyed multiple residences in central Doyle. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

The largest wildfire of the year in California — the Beckwourth Complex — was raging along the Nevada state line and has burned about 134 square miles (348 square kilometers) as state regulators asked consumers to voluntarily “conserve as much electricity as possible” to avoid any outages starting Monday afternoon.

In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire exploded to 224 square miles (580 square kilometers) as it raced through heavy timber in the Fremont-Winema National Forest, near the Klamath County town of Sprague River. The fire disrupted service on three transmission lines providing up to 5,500 megawatts of electricity to neighboring California.

A wildfire in southeast Washington grew to almost 60 square miles while in Idaho, Gov. Brad Little has mobilized the National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

The blazes come as the West is in the midst of a second extreme heat wave within just a few weeks and as the entire region is suffering from one of the worst droughts in recent history. Extreme heat warnings in California were finally expected to expire Monday night.

On Sunday, firefighters working in temperatures that topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) were able to gain some ground on the Beckwourth Complex, doubling containment to 20%.

Late Saturday, flames jumped U.S. 395, which was closed near the small town of Doyle in California’s Lassen County. The lanes reopened Sunday, and officials urged motorists to use caution and keep moving along the key north-south route where flames were still active.

“Do not stop and take pictures,” said the fire’s Operations Section Chief Jake Cagle. “You are going to impede our operations if you stop and look at what’s going on.”

Cagle said structures had burned in Doyle, but he didn’t have an exact number. Bob Prary, who manages the Buck-Inn Bar in the town of about 600 people, said he saw at least six houses destroyed after Saturday’s flareup. The fire was smoldering Sunday in and around Doyle, but he feared some remote ranch properties were still in danger.

“It seems like the worst is over in town, but back on the mountainside the fire’s still going strong,” Prary said.

A new fire broke out Sunday afternoon in the Sierra Nevada south of Yosemite National Park and by evening covered more than 6 square miles (15.5 square kilometers), triggering evacuations in areas of two counties. Containment was just 5% but the highway leading to the southern entrance of the park remained open early Monday.

In Arizona, a small plane crashed Saturday during a survey of a wildfire in rural Mohave County, killing both crew members.

The Beech C-90 aircraft was helping perform reconnaissance over the lightning-caused Cedar Basin Fire, near the tiny community of Wikieup northwest of Phoenix.

Officials on Sunday identified the victims as Air Tactical Group Supervisor Jeff Piechura, 62, a retired Tucson-area fire chief who was working for the Coronado National Forest, and Matthew Miller, 48, a pilot with Falcon Executive Aviation contracted by the U.S. Forest Service. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the crash.

A wildfire in southeast Washington had burned almost 60 square miles (155 square kilometers) as it blackened grass and timber while it moved into the Umatilla National Forest.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region.

Recovery workers vow not to let up in Florida condo collapse

By TERRY SPENCER for the Associated Press

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors in the rubble of a Florida condominium collapse vowed Thursday to keep up their search for victims until they cleared all the debris at the site.

Rescuers walk away from the rubble of the Champlain Towers South collapse, during a shift change, in Surfside, Fla. on Thursday, July 8, 2021. Rescue workers now focused on finding remains instead of survivors in the rubble of the Florida condominium collapse vowed to keep up their search for victims until they cleared all the debris at the site. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald via AP)

Earlier, a fire official told family members at a meeting that crews “will not stop working until they’ve gotten to the bottom of the pile and recovered every single of the families’ missing loved ones,” Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said at an evening news conference. He did not identify the official, but said the families were grateful.

“This is exactly the message the families wanted to hear,” he said.

As the search continued, a Paraguayan official disclosed late Thursday that rescuers had found in the rubble the bodies of Sophia López Moreira, the sister of Paraguay’s first lady Silvana Abdo, and López Moreira’s husband Luis Pettengill and the youngest of their three children.

That South American nation’s foreign minister, Euclides Acevedo, told Paraguay’s ABC Cardinal radio station that the two other children and the family assistant are still missing.

“We ask people for their solidarity and a prayer,” he said. “In the face of a tragedy, Paraguayan people must show their traditional solidarity.”

During the day, the death toll rose to 64, with another 76 people unaccounted for, Miami Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said earlier. Detectives are still working to verify that each of those listed as missing was actually in the building when it collapsed.

Levine Cava said teams paused briefly atop the pile to mark the two-week anniversary of the disaster, but there was no let-up in the pace or number of rescuers at the site.

“The work continues with all speed and urgency,” she said. “We are working around the clock to recover victims and to bring closure to the families as fast as we possibly can.”

The painstaking search for survivors shifted to a recovery effort at midnight Wednesday after authorities said they had come to the agonizing conclusion that there was “no chance of life” in the rubble of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Surfside.

“When that happened, it took a little piece of the hearts of this community,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, whose congressional district includes Surfside.

Michael Stratton, whose wife, Cassie, has not officially been confirmed dead, said friends and family had accepted “the loss of a bright and kind soul with an adventurous spirit.” He was talking on the phone with his wife right when the building collapsed, and she described shaking before the phone went dead, he has told Denver’s KDVR-TV.

“This wasn’t the miracle we prayed for, but it was not for lack of trying by rescue crews whose tireless bravery will never be forgotten,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Wasserman Schultz and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis pledged financial assistance to families of the victims, as well as to residents of the building who survived but lost all their possessions.

In addition to property tax relief for residents of the building, DeSantis said, the state government will work toward channeling an outpouring of charitable donations to families affected by the collapse. Levine Cava said crews were also collecting and cataloguing numerous personal items, including legal documents, photo albums, jewelry, and electronic goods that they would seek to reunite families with.

The Rev. Juan Sosa of St. Joseph Catholic Church met with other spiritual leaders at the collapse site, where heavy machinery worked in the rubble and mourners left flowers and photos. He said faith leaders hope to bring peace to the grieving families.

“I’m hoping that they have some closure as we continue to pray for them,” he said.

The change from search and rescue to recovery was somber. Hours before the transition Wednesday, rescue workers stood at solemn attention, and clergy members hugged local officials, many of them sobbing.

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said Wednesday he expects the recovery effort will take several more weeks. He added crews are now using heavier equipment, expediting the removal of debris.

“We are expecting the progress to move at a faster pace,” he added.

Hope of finding survivors was briefly rekindled after workers demolished the remainder of the building, allowing access to new areas of debris.

Some voids where survivors could have been trapped did exist, mostly in the basement and the parking garage, but no one was found alive. Instead, teams recovered more than a dozen additional victims.

No one has been pulled out alive since the first hours after the 12-story building fell on June 24.

Meanwhile, authorities are launching a grand jury investigation into the collapse. And at least six lawsuits have been filed by families.

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Associated Press writers Stacey Plaisance in Surfside, Florida; Kelli Kennedy and Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Ian Mader and Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami; Pedro Serving in Asuncion, Paraguay, and Sudhin Thanawala in Atlanta contributed to this report.

52 dead in Bangladesh factory fire as workers locked inside

By JULHAS ALAM for the Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — A fire engulfed a food and beverage factory outside Bangladesh’s capital, killing at least 52 people, many of whom were trapped inside by an illegally locked door, fire officials said Friday.

The blaze began Thursday night at the five-story Hashem Foods Ltd. factory, in Rupganj, just outside Dhaka, sending huge clouds of black smoke billowing into the sky. Police initially gave a toll of three dead, but then discovered piles of bodies on Friday afternoon after the fire was extinguished.

Firefighters carry the body of a victim at a food and beverage factory in Rupganj, outside Dhaka, Bangladesh, Friday, July 9, 2021. At least 52 people died in a huge blaze that engulfed a food and beverage factory outside Bangladesh’s capital, fire officials said Friday, in the latest industrial disaster to hit the South Asian nation. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

So far 52 bodies have been recovered, but the top two floors of the factory have yet to be searched, said Debasish Bardhan, deputy director of the Fire Service and Civil Defense.

He said the main exit of the factory was locked from the inside and many of those who died were trapped.

Many workers jumped from the upper floors of the factory, and at least 26 suffered injuries, the United News of Bangladesh agency reported.

Information about how many people were in the factory and how many were missing was not immediately available.

“For now, we only have these details. After searching the top floors we will be able to get a complete picture,” Bardhan said.

Bangladesh has a tragic history of industrial disasters, including factories catching fire with the workers locked inside. Continuing corruption and lax enforcement have resulted in many deaths over the years, and big international brands, which employ tens of thousands of low-paid workers in Bangladesh, have come under heavy pressure to improve factory conditions after fires and other disasters killed thousands of people.

The factory that caught fire Thursday was subsidiary of Sajeeb Group, a Bangladeshi company that produces juice under Pakistan’s Lahore-based Shezan International Ltd., said Kazi Abdur Rahman, the group’s senior general manager for export.

According to the group’s website, the company exports its products to a number of countries including Australia, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Bhutan, Nepal and nations in the Middle East and Africa.

Rahman told The Associated Press by phone that the company is fully compliant with international standards, but he was not certain whether the exit of the factory was locked. According to Bangladesh’s factory laws, a factory cannot lock its exit when workers are inside during production hours.

“We are a reputed company; we maintain rules,” he said. “What happened today is very sad. We regret it.”

As the recovery effort was carried out Friday, victims in white body bags were piled in a fleet of ambulances as relatives wailed. As the heavy smoke continued to rise from the still smoldering factory, weeping family members of missing workers waited anxiously for news of loved ones outside the charred site.

Earlier, family members clashed with police as they waited overnight without any word of the fate of their loved ones.

The government ordered an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Past industrial tragedies have often been attributed to safety lapses that still plague the South Asian country despite its rapid economic growth.

In 2012, about 117 workers died when they were trapped behind locked exits in a garment factory in Dhaka.

The country’s worst Industrial disaster came the following year, when the Rana Plaza garment factory outside Dhaka collapsed, killing more than 1,100 people.

Authorities imposed tougher safety rules after that disaster and the country’s garment industry has since become largely compliant under domestic and global watchdogs. But many other local industries fail to maintain safety compliance and the disasters have continued.

In February 2019, a blaze ripped through a 400-year-old area cramped with apartments, shops and warehouses in the oldest part of Dhaka and killed at least 67 people. Another fire in Old Dhaka in a house illegally storing chemicals killed at least 123 people in 2010.

The International Labor Organization said in a 2017 report that Bangladesh’s regulatory framework and inspections “had not been able to keep pace with the development of the industry.”

2 US men, ex-Colombia soldiers held in Haiti assassination

By EVENS SANON, DÁNICA COTO and JOSHUA GOODMAN for the Associated Press

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Seventeen suspects have been detained so far in the stunning assassination of Haiti’s president, and Haitian authorities say two are believed to hold dual U.S.-Haitian citizenship and Colombia’s government says at least six are former members of its army.

Suspects in the assassination of Haiti’s President Jovenel Moise are displayed to the media at the General Direction of the police in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Thursday, July 8, 2021. Moise was assassinated in an attack on his private residence early Wednesday. (AP Photo/Joseph Odelyn)

Léon Charles, chief of Haiti’s National Police, said Thursday night that 15 of the detainees were from Colombia.

The police chief said eight more suspects were being sought and three others had been killed by police. Charles had earlier said seven were killed.

“We are going to bring them to justice,” the police chief said, the 17 handcuffed suspects sitting on the floor during a news conference on developments following the brazen killing of President Jovenel Moïse at his home before dawn Wednesday.

Colombia’s government said it had been asked about six of the suspects in Haiti, including two of those killed, and had determined they were retired members of its army. It didn’t release their identities.

The head of the Colombian national police, Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas Valencia, said President Iván Duque had ordered the high command of Colombia’s army and police to cooperate in the investigation.

“A team was formed with the best investigators … they are going to send dates, flight times, financial information that is already being collected to be sent to Port-au-Prince,” Vargas said.

The U.S. State Department said it was aware of reports that Haitian Americans were in custody but could not confirm or comment.

The Haitian Americans were identified by Haitian officials as James Solages and Joseph Vincent. Solages, at age 35, is the youngest of the suspects and the oldest is 55, according to a document shared by Haiti’s minister of elections, Mathias Pierre. He would not provide further information on those in custody.

Solages described himself as a “certified diplomatic agent,” an advocate for children and budding politician on a website for a charity he started in 2019 in south Florida to assist people in the Haitian coastal town of Jacmel. On his bio page for the charity, Solages said he previously worked as a bodyguard at the Canadian Embassy in Haiti.

Canada’s foreign relation department released a statement that did not refer to Solages by name but said one of the men detained for his alleged role in the killing had been “briefly employed as a reserve bodyguard” at its embassy by a private contractor. He gave no other details.

Calls to the charity and Solages’ associates at the charity either did not go through or weren’t answered.

Meanwhile, Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Haitian police had arrested 11 armed suspects who tried to break into the Taiwanese embassy early Thursday. It gave no details of the suspects’ identities or a reason for the break-in.

“As for whether the suspects were involved in the assassination of the President of Haiti, that will need to be investigated by the Haitian police,” Foreign Affairs spokesperson Joanne Ou told The Associated Press in Taipei.

Police were alerted by embassy security guards while Taiwanese diplomats were working from home. The ministry said some doors and windows were broken but there was no other damage to the embassy.

Haiti is one of a handful of countries worldwide that maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan instead of the rival mainland Chinese government in Beijing.

In Port-au-Prince, witnesses said a crowd discovered two suspects hiding in bushes, and some people grabbed the men by their shirts and pants, pushed them and occasionally slapped them. An Associated Press journalist saw officers put the pair in the back of a pickup and drive away as the crowd ran after them to a police station.

“They killed the president! Give them to us! We’re going to burn them,” people chanted outside Thursday.

The crowd later set fire to several abandoned cars riddled with bullet holes that they believed belonged to the suspects. The cars didn’t have license plates, and inside one was an empty box of bullets and some water.

Later, Charles urged people to stay calm and let his officers do their work. He cautioned that authorities needed evidence that was being destroyed, including the burned cars.

Officials have given out little information on the killing, other than to say the attack was carried out by “a highly trained and heavily armed group.”

Not everyone was buying the government’s description of the attack. When Haitian journalist Robenson Geffrard, who writes for a local newspaper and has a radio show, tweeted a report on comments by the police chief, he drew a flood of responses expressing skepticism. Many wondered how the sophisticated attackers described by police could penetrate Moïse’s home, security detail and panic room and escape unharmed but then be caught without planning a successful getaway.

A Haitian judge involved in the investigation said Moïse was shot a dozen times and his office and bedroom were ransacked, according to the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste. It quoted Judge Carl Henry Destin as saying investigators found 5.56 and 7.62 mm cartridges between the gatehouse and inside the house.

Moïse’s daughter, Jomarlie Jovenel, hid in her brother’s bedroom during the attack, and a maid and another worker were tied up by the attackers, the judge said.

Interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph, who assumed leadership of Haiti with the backing of police and the military, asked people to reopen businesses and go back to work as he ordered the reopening of the international airport.

Joseph decreed a two-week state of siege after the assassination, which stunned a nation already in crisis from some of the Western Hemisphere’s worst poverty, widespread violence and political instability.

Haiti had grown increasingly unstable under Moïse, who had been ruling by decree for more than a year and faced violent protests as critics accused him of trying to amass more power while the opposition demanded he step down.

The U.N. Security Council met privately Thursday to discuss the situation in Haiti, and U.N. special envoy Helen La Lime said afterward that Haitian officials had asked for additional security assistance.

Public transportation and street vendors remained scarce Thursday, an unusual sight for the normally bustling streets of Port-au-Prince.

Marco Destin was walking to see his family since no buses, known as tap-taps, were available. He was carrying a loaf of bread for them because they had not left their house since the president’s killing out of fear for their lives.

“Every one at home is sleeping with one eye open and one eye closed,” he said. “If the head of state is not protected, I don’t have any protection whatsoever.”

Gunfire rang out intermittently across the city hours after the killing, a grim reminder of the growing power of gangs that displaced more than 14,700 people last month alone as they torched and ransacked homes in a fight over territory.

Robert Fatton, a Haitian politics expert at the University of Virginia, said gangs were a force to contend with and it isn’t certain Haiti’s security forces can enforce a state of siege.

“It’s a really explosive situation,” he said.

___

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Goodman reported from Miami. AP videographer Pierre-Richard Luxama in Port-au-Prince and Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, contributed to this report.

Australia’s largest city Sydney locks down for third week

By ROD McGUIRK for the Associated Press

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Sydney’s two-week lockdown has been extended for another week due to the vulnerability of an Australia population largely unvaccinated against COVID-19, officials said on Wednesday.

“The situation we’re in now is largely because we haven’t been able to get the vaccine that we need,” New South Wales state Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

A normally busy shopping area in Sydney is nearly empty of people, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. Sydney’s two-week lockdown has been extended for another week due to the vulnerability of an Australia population largely unvaccinated against COVID-19, officials said. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

The decision to extend the lockdown through July 16 was made on health advice, state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“The reason why we’ve extended the lockdown is because of a number of cases still infectious in the community and we extended the lockdown to give us the best chance of not having another lockdown,” Berejiklian said.

The extension of the lockdown, which covers Australia’s largest city and some nearby communities, means most children will not return to school next week following their midyear break.

Of 27 new infections of the delta variant reported in latest 24-hour period on Wednesday, only 13 had been in isolation while infectious, officials said. The delta variant is considered more contagious than the original coronavirus or other variants.

Only 9% of Australian adults are fully vaccinated, heightening fears that the delta variant could quickly spread beyond control.

Berejiklian expected lockdowns would no longer be necessary once a large majority of Australians were vaccinated.

There have been more than 300 infections linked to a limousine driver who tested positive on June 16. He is thought to have been infected while transporting a U.S. flight crew from Sydney airport.

Last week, almost half Australia’s population was locked down with cities on the east, west and north coasts tightening pandemic restrictions due to clusters. Some of those lockdowns were as short as three days.

Sydney and its surrounds are the only part of Australia still in lockdown.

Australia has been relatively successful in containing clusters throughout the pandemic, registering fewer than 31,000 cases and 910 deaths total.

Australia has recorded a single COVID-19 death since October: an 80-year-old man who died in April after being infected overseas and diagnosed in hotel quarantine.

But now there are 37 COVID-19 cases in Sydney hospitals. Of those, seven are in intensive care, the youngest in their 30s.

Dutch crime reporter shot, badly wounded in Amsterdam street

From the Associated Press

AMSTERDAM (AP) — One of the Netherlands’ best known crime reporters was shot Tuesday evening in a brazen attack in downtown Amsterdam and was fighting for his life in a hospital, the Dutch capital’s mayor said.

Peter R. de Vries, who is widely lauded for fearless reporting on the Dutch underworld, was shot after making one of his regular appearances on a current affairs television show. It was an unusually brutal attack on a journalist in the Netherlands.

FILE – In this Thursday Jan. 31, 2008 file photo, Dutch crime reporter Peter R. de Vries arrives for a live TV show in Amsterdam, Netherlands. De Vries, one of the Netherlands best known crime reporters was shot Tuesday evening July 6, 2021, and taken to a hospital with serious injuries, police said.(AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

“Peter R. de Vries is for all of us a national hero, an unusually courageous journalist, tirelessly seeking justice,” Mayor Femke Halsema said at a hastily convened news conference at the city’s police headquarters.

“Today, justice in our country appears a long way off. A brutal, cowardly crime has been committed,” Halsema added.

Police Chief Frank Paauw said two suspects were detained, “including a possible shooter” in a suspected getaway car stopped on a highway some 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of the city. A third suspect was detained in Amsterdam, he said.

There was no immediate word on a motive.

De Vries had long been considered a possible target of the criminals he doggedly reported on. Police and prosecutors declined Tuesday night to comment on whether the 64-year-old reporter received police protection.

Caretaker Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the shooting “shocking and incomprehensible”

“An attack on a courageous journalist and also an attack on the free journalism that is so essential for our democracy, our constitutional state, our society,” Rutte said

De Vries had recently been acting as an adviser and confidant to a witness in a major trial of the alleged leader of a crime gang police described as an “oiled killing machine.”

The suspected gangland leader, Ridouan Taghi, was extradited to the Netherlands from Dubai in 2019. He is currently in jail while he stands trial along with 16 other suspects.

King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima tweeted a message of support and said that “journalists must be free to carry out their important work without threats.”

De Vries won an International Emmy in 2008 for a television show he made about the disappearance of U.S. teenager Natalee Holloway while she was on holiday in the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba in 2005.

Elsa weakens to a tropical storm as it takes aim at Florida

By CURT ANDERSON for the Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Elsa weakened to a tropical storm as it threatened Florida’s northern Gulf Coast on Wednesday after raking past the Tampa Bay region with gusty winds and heavy rain.

The storm was moving northward, almost parallel to the west coast of the state, according to forecasters.

Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets as heavy winds and rain associated with Tropical Storm Elsa passes Key West, Fla., on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The weather was getting worse in southern Florida on Tuesday morning as Tropical Storm Elsa began lashing the Florida Keys, complicating the search for survivors in the condo collapse and prompting a hurricane watch for the peninsula’s upper Gulf Coast. (Rob O’Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)

Gov. Ron DeSantis said forecasts called for the cyclone to come ashore sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. A tropical storm warning was in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River.

“We ask that you please take it seriously,” the Republican governor told reporters Tuesday in Tallahassee. “This is not a time to joyride because we do have hazardous conditions out there.”

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the Tampa Bay area, which is highly vulnerable to storm surge. The most powerful winds were forecast to remain just offshore from the beach towns west of St. Petersburg.

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 65 mph (100 kph) early Wednesday. Its core was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) south southwest of Cedar Key. It was moving north at 14 mph (22 kmh), according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters said Elsa would slice across inland north Florida as a tropical storm with strong rains and wind, then move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean by Friday.

Schools and government offices in the Tampa area were closed and most public events postponed as Elsa approached Tuesday. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, however, predicted hockey’s Stanley Cup finals game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens would be played as scheduled Wednesday night.

“We’re fairly confident,” she said.

Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday and planned to resume flights at 10 a.m. Wednesday following a check for any storm damage, according to its website.

Duke Energy, the main electric utility in the Tampa Bay area, said in a statement it had about 3,000 employees, contractors, tree specialists and support personnel ready to respond to power outages in the storm’s aftermath. Additional crews were being brought in from other states served by Duke.

“We’re trained and prepared, and we want to ensure our customers are safe and prepared for any impacts from the storm,” said Todd Fountain, the utility’s Florida storm director.

Earlier Tuesday, Elsa swept past the Florida Keys but spared the low-lying island chain a direct hit. Still, there were heavy rains predicted in the Keys through Wednesday, along with strong winds.

The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on June 24. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s southeast coast.

In Georgia, a tropical storm warning was posted along the portion of the coast of Brunswick, with the National Hurricane Center saying tropical storm conditions with sustained winds of up to 50 mph (80 kph) are expected in parts of southeast Georgia.

“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy and windy day,” Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News on Tuesday. “I feel confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts. Hopefully.”

To the north in South Carolina, emergency officials were watching Elsa, but no evacuations were ordered during the peak summer beach tourism season.

The storm was expected to track inland, but coastal forecasters noted the worst weather was on the east side of the storm and could dump up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain and bring wind gusts up to 55 mph (88 kph) in places like Hilton Head Island, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Earlier, Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

___

Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina contributed to this story.

Philippine volcano belches dark plume, villagers evacuated

By JIM GOMEZ for the Associated Press

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — A small volcano near the Philippine capital belched a dark plume of steam and ash into the sky in a brief explosion Thursday, prompting officials to start evacuating thousands of villagers from high-risk areas.

Government experts said magmatic materials came into contact with water in the main crater of Taal Volcano in Batangas province, setting off the steam-driven blast with no accompanying volcanic earthquake. They said it’s unclear if the volcanic unrest could lead to a full-blown eruption.

In this image made from video from Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology – Department of Science and Technology, a plume of steam and ash is seen from Taal Volcano, Batangas province, Philippines on Thursday July 1, 2021. A tiny volcano near the Philippine capital belched a plume of steam and ash into the sky in a brief explosion Thursday, prompting an alert level to be raised due to heightened risks to nearby villages. (Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology – Department of Science and Technology via AP)

“It’s just one explosive event; it’s too early to tell,” Renato Solidum of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said at a news conference. Three smaller steam-driven emissions occurred Thursday night, he said.

The agency raised the alarm at 1,020-foot (311-meter) Taal, one of the world’s smallest volcanoes, to the third of a five-step warning system, meaning “magma is near or at the surface, and activity could lead to hazardous eruption in weeks.”

Alert level 5 means a life-threatening eruption that could endanger communities is underway.

Mark Timbal, a spokesman for the government’s disaster-response agency, said officials started to pre-emptively evacuate residents from five high-risk villages. Up to 14,000 residents may have to be moved temporarily away from the restive volcano, he said.

Officials reminded people to stay away from a small island in a scenic lake where Taal is located and is considered a permanent danger zone along with a number of nearby lakeside villages.

The ABS-CBN network broadcast videos of some residents with their belongings in cars and motorcycles forming a line at a gasoline station. Residents said they did not feel any tremors but reported a volcanic sulfur smell.

Batangas Gov. Hermilando Mandanas said evacuation camps, trucks, food packs and face masks were ready in case the volcanic unrest escalated and more people needed to be moved to safety. There were concerns that crowding in evacuation camps might spread the coronavirus in a region that has seen a spike in cases in recent months.

Taal erupted in January last year, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and sending clouds of ash to Manila, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) to the north, where the main airport was temporarily shut down.

The Philippines lies along the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” a region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. A long-dormant volcano, Mount Pinatubo, blew its top north of Manila in 1991 in one of the biggest volcanic eruptions of the 20th century, killing hundreds of people.

Wildfire threatens British Columbia village that hit 121 F

From the Associated Press

LYTTON, British Columbia (AP) — A wildfire amid a record heat wave in western Canada has forced authorities to order residents to evacuate a village in British Columbia that smashed the country’s record for hottest temperature three days in a row this week.

Mayor Jan Polderman of Lytton issued the evacuation order Wednesday, saying on Twitter that the fire was threatening structures and the safety of residents of the community, which is 95 miles (153 kilometers) northeast of Vancouver.

“All residents are advised to leave the community and go to a safe location,″ Polderman said.

In an interview with CBC News, the mayor said the situation was dire for the community of 250 people.

“The whole town is on fire,” he said. “It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to, all of a sudden, there being fire everywhere.”

Erica Berg, a provincial fire information officer, said the evacuation order was issued about an hour after the blaze began but she did not know the size of it.

Highways north and south of the village reported were closed as firefighters also dealt with two other wildfires in the area.

Lytton’s temperature hovered around 102 degrees Fahrenheit (39 Celsius) Wednesday. That was down from Tuesday, when the village recorded a new Canadian high of 121.2 F (49.6 C), breaking the previous highs of 118.2 F (47.9 C) it reached Monday and 115 F (46.1 C) on Sunday.

Roughly 15 kilometers (10 miles) to the south in the First Nations community of Kanaka Bar, Jean McKay said she and her 22-year-old daughter, Deirdre McKay, started to panic as the smell of smoke grew stronger.

“I was still sitting there and wondering what to pack, emotionally walking out my door but thinking ‘I’m leaving all this behind.’ It’s hard. Very hard. When my girlfriend told me her house was burning it really hit home,” McKay said.

“My daughter phoned before we lost services and stuff, she’s telling us, ‘Get out of there, get out of there.’”

There was one memento her daughter couldn’t leave behind: “She grabbed my dad’s picture off the wall,” McKay said. “I’m telling her, ‘We’re walking out and this is the home we built forever and that you guys grew up in.’ It’s harsh.”

Safety concerns halt rescue efforts at condo collapse site

By TERRY SPENCER for the Associated Press

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Rescue efforts at the site of a partially collapsed Florida condominium building were halted Thursday out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column, officials said.

The stoppage that began shortly after 2 a.m. threatened to keep search teams off the rubble pile for an unknown period and dim hopes for finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came down.

A parked crane sits beside the still standing section of Champlain Towers South, which partially collapsed last Thursday, as rescue efforts on the rubble below were paused out of concern about the stability of the remaining structure, Thursday, July 1, 2021, in Surfside, Fla. Scores of residents are still missing one week after the seaside condominium building partially collapsed. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The rescue operations were called off on the same day that President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden visited the devastated community.

The collapse of the 12-story Champlain Towers South beachfront condominium killed at least 18 people and left 145 missing. Hundreds of search-and-rescue personnel have painstakingly searched the pancaked rubble for potential signs of life, but no one has been rescued since the first hours after the collapse.

“This is life and death,” Biden said during a briefing. “We can do it, just the simple act of everyone doing what needs to be done, makes a difference.”

“There’s gonna be a lot of pain and anxiety and suffering and even the need for psychological help in the days and months that follow,” he said. “And so, we’re not going anywhere.”

The president was expected to meet later with first responders and family members of those affected by the collapse before delivering remarks Thursday afternoon.

Rescue work was halted after crews noticed several expansions in cracks they had been monitoring. They also observed 6 to 12 inches of movement in a large column hanging from the structure “that could fall and cause damage to support columns” in the underground parking garage, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said.

In addition, they noticed movement in the debris pile and slight movement in some concrete floor slabs “that could cause additional failure of the building,” he said.

Officials will work with structural engineers and other experts to “develop options” to continue rescue operations, Cominsky said.

Peter Milián is a cousin of Marcus Guara, who died along with his wife, Anaely Rodriguez, and their two children, 10-year-old Lucia Guara and 4-year-old Emma Guara. Milián said he understands why the rescue work had to be temporarily halted and is confident search efforts will continue.

“I mean, they’ve done everything they can. But we trust the people that are on the ground. And obviously, they’ve got to do what’s best for their people, right? Because it is a dangerous situation,” he said.

Biden’s visit “will have no impact on what happens at the site,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference.

“The search-and-rescue operation will continue as soon as it is safe to do so. The only reason for this pause is concerns about the standing structure,” she said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said state engineers, the fire department and county officials are exploring options on how to deal with the structural concerns.

“Obviously, we believe that continuing searching is very, very important,” DeSantis said, adding that the state will ”provide whatever resources they need” to allow the search to continue.

Cominsky confirmed Thursday that workers tried to rescue a woman shortly after the building collapsed when they heard a voice in the rubble.

“We were searching for a female voice … we heard for several hours, and eventually we didn’t hear her voice anymore,” he said.

Cominsky said they continued searching. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have success on that,” he said.

The cause of the collapse is under investigation. A 2018 engineering report found that the building’s ground-floor pool deck was resting on a concrete slab that had “major structural damage” and needed extensive repairs. The report also found “abundant cracking” of concrete columns, beams and walls in the parking garage.

Just two months before the building came down, the president of its board wrote a letter to residents saying that structural problems identified in the 2018 inspection had “gotten significantly worse” and that major repairs would cost at least $15.5 million. With bids for the work still pending, the building suddenly collapsed last Thursday.

___

Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.

Venomous snake on the loose in North Carolina capital

From the Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Officials in North Carolina are warning people to be on the lookout for a venomous snake on the loose.

The Raleigh Police Department sent out a notice early Tuesday urging anyone who sees the missing zebra cobra to stay away and 911. They say the venomous snake could spit and bite if cornered.

An animal control officer was called to a home in northwest Raleigh on Monday evening for a report of a live snake spotted on a resident’s porch, police said. But when the officer arrived, the snake had slithered away. Then they learned that a zebra cobra was missing from a home in the area.

Venomous snakes are legal to own in North Carolina, but they must be kept in an escape-proof, bite-proof enclosures and owners must notify law enforcement if one escapes.

The African Snake Bite Institute classifies zebra cobras as “very dangerous,” but says fatalities are not common. The nocturnal snakes found in Namibia and Angola are black to brown with light cross bars, and average 4 feet (1.2 meters) in length.

Rolling blackouts for parts of US Northwest amid heat wave

By GENE JOHNSON and NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS for the Associated Press

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The unprecedented Northwest U.S. heat wave that slammed Seattle and Portland, Oregon, moved inland Tuesday — prompting a electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to warn that people will face more rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand.

A parking garage sign shows the temperature at 96 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade, Monday, June 28, 2021, in downtown Seattle. Seattle and other cities broke all-time heat records over the weekend, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius). (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The intense weather that gave Seattle and Portland consecutive days of record high temperatures far exceeding 100 degrees (37.7 degrees Celcius) was expected to ease in those cities. But inland Spokane was likely to surpass Monday’s high temperature — a record-tying 105 Fahrenheit (40.6 Celsius).

About 8,200 utility customers in parts of Spokane lost power on Monday and Avista Utilities warned that there will be more rolling blackouts on Tuesday in the city of about 220,000 people with the high temperature predicted at 110 F (43.3C), which would be an all-time record.

Avista had planned for much higher than normal demand but hit its limit quicker than anticipated because of the intense heat, said Heather Rosentrater, the company’s senior vice president for energy delivery, said Monday night.ADVERTISEMENT

Temperatures in other eastern Washington and Oregon communities could reach about 115 degrees F (45.6 C) Tuesday, a day after Seattle and Portland shattered all-time heat records.

Seattle hit 108 degrees Fahrenheit (42 Celsius) by Monday evening — well above Sunday’s all-time high of 104 F (40 C). Portland, Oregon, reached 116 F (46.6 C) after hitting records of 108 F (42 C) on Saturday and 112 F (44 C) on Sunday.

The temperatures have been unheard of in a region better known for rain, and where June has historically been referred to as “Juneuary” for its cool drizzle. Seattle’s average high temperature in June is around 70 F (21.1 C), and fewer than half of the city’s residents have air conditioning, according to U.S. Census data.

The heat forced schools and businesses on Monday to close to protect workers and guests, including some places like outdoor pools and ice cream shops where people seek relief from the heat. COVID-19 testing sites and mobile vaccination units were out of service as well.

The Seattle Parks Department closed one indoor community pool after the air inside became too hot — leaving Stanlie James, who relocated from Arizona three weeks ago, to search for somewhere else to cool off. She doesn’t have AC at her condo, she said.

“Part of the reason I moved here was not only to be near my daughter, but also to come in the summer to have relief from Arizona heat,” James said. “And I seem to have brought it with me. So I’m not real thrilled.”

The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.

Zeke Hausfather, a scientist at the climate-data nonprofit Berkeley Earth, said that the Pacific Northwest has warmed by about 3 degrees F (1.7 degrees C) in the past half-century.

That means a heat wave now is about 3 degrees warmer than it would have been before — and the difference between 111 degrees and 114 is significant, especially for vulnerable populations, he noted.

“In a world without climate change, this still would have been a really extreme heat wave,” Hausfather said. “This is worse than the same event would have been 50 years ago, and notably so.”

The blistering heat exposed a region with infrastructure not designed for it, hinting at the greater costs of climate change to come.

“We are not meant for this,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said in an interview on MSNBC.

He added that “we have to tackle the source of this problem, which is climate change.”

In Portland, light rail and street car service was suspended on Monday as power cables melted and electricity demand spiked.

Heat-related expansion caused road pavement to buckle or pop loose in many areas, including a Seattle highway. Workers in tanker trucks hosed down drawbridges with water twice daily prevent the steel from expanding in the heat and interfering with their opening and closing mechanisms.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said in a statement that the Northwest heat illustrated an urgent need for the upcoming federal infrastructure package to promote clean energy, cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect people from extreme heat.

“Washington state was not built for triple digit temperatures,” she said.

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Johnson reported from Seattle

Tragedy becomes personal for Miami-Dade rescue crews

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN and RUSS BYNUM for the Associated Press

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Search and rescue teams from Miami-Dade are considered among the best and most experienced in the world, dispatched to epic disaster scenes far beyond their Florida base — from the rubble of the World Trade Center to earthquake-ravaged Haiti, Mexico and the Philippines.

This time disaster struck at home.

The rescuers are searching urgently for the scores of souls buried beneath the fallen 12-story wing of the Champlain Towers condo building. As of Tuesday morning, more than five days after the collapse, the death toll stood at 11, with 150 people unaccounted for.

FILE – In this June 28, 2021, file photo, workers search the rubble at the Champlain Towers South Condo in Surfside, Fla. Search and rescue teams from Miami-Dade have been described as among the best and most experienced in the world. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

“It’s personal,” said Miami-Dade County’s former fire chief, Dave Downey, a 37-year veteran of the department who retired two years ago but joined in the search.

“I’d much rather be giving help than asking for help, but right now it’s in our own backyard,” he said from a command trailer near the pile of broken concrete and twisted metal.

Crews from across Florida and from Mexico and Israel have descended on Surfside to join the effort. More than 400 rescue workers are at the scene, rotating in and out from the rubble every 45 minutes during 12-hour shifts. At any given time, six or seven squads — each with six members — tramp over the mountain of debris or tunnel into it.

The search for survivors continued amid anguished pleas from family for rescuers to work more quickly. On-and-off downpours have not stopped the crews. Nor did a smoky fire smoldering deep within the ruins. The oppressive Florida heat hasn’t helped either.

Joseph A. Barbera, an expert at George Washington University on search and rescue, crossed paths with a team from Miami-Dade in 1990 while advising rescuers in the Philippines.

“They have a very strong reputation,” said Barbera, noting that the Miami-Dade search and rescue task force predates many of the other teams put in place in the United States and internationally. “I’m very confident that they will continue to do a great job.”

They’ve had lots of practice.

In 1985, a Miami-Dade team rushed to Mexico City, where an 8.1-magnitude earthquake crumbled homes and buildings, killing some 5,000 people. A decade later, the department sent personnel to Oklahoma City after the truck bombing at a federal building that killed 168 people.

Then on to earthquakes in Turkey, Taiwan and Colombia.

The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 sent Florida crews to the World Trade Center, an especially emotional assignment. Many of the dead pulled from the debris were first responders who had rushed in to save lives.

But there were episodes of hope in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — devastated by an earthquake in 2010 — whenever rescuers pulled out a survivor. A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor recounted witnessing a Miami-Dade crew going into a collapsed building to save three children, ages 5, 7 and 14, while a frantic mother looked on from the street.

There have been other tragedies at home, including the collapse in 2012 of a parking structure under construction at Miami Dade College that killed four workers. But perhaps nothing has hit as hard as this most recent disaster.

No one has been pulled out alive from the ruins since the first hours after the building fell. Rescue workers have had to move cautiously amid the precarious pile of debris.

Alfredo Lopez, who lived on the sixth floor of the condominium complex, in a portion that remained standing, bristled at complaints that crews weren’t working hard enough or fast enough.

“When we got out there that night, I could see nothing but ambulances and fire trucks and police cars,” he said. “Perhaps they didn’t get in there soon enough because they didn’t know what the hell was going on, like none of us.”

A seven-member search and rescue team from Mexico’s Jewish community is using for the first time a $23,000 suitcase-size device that uses microwave radar to see through 40 feet of shattered concrete and can detect signs of breathing and heartbeats. The team has also used dogs to sniff for victims.

“We are hopeful for a miracle,” said Ricardo Aizenman, one of the rescuers from Cadena International. It’s happened before, he said. “People can live up to 15, 16 days with only water, drops of water.”

Dr. Howard Lieberman also believes survivors might still be found.

“As a trauma surgeon, the one thing that I’ve learned is never count someone out. I’ve made that mistake once or twice,” Lieberman said. “And you know what? They proved me wrong.”

Lieberman was on the scene hours after Thursday’s collapse and now leads a five-person medical team attached to Miami-Dade’s search and rescue unit. He has found himself treating rescue workers for blisters and injured feet, heat exhaustion and fatigue from toiling in heat approaching 90 degrees.

“These guys work 12-hour cycles. I see them coming off the pile at 12 noon and they are spent, and they’re working their way back down to their tents,” said Downey, the former Miami-Dade fire chief who now chairs the Urban Search and Rescue Committee of the International Association of Fire Chiefs

“They get cleaned up. They get a little bit of food. A few hours later, I’m talking to my guys. They say, ‘We’re ready to go, chief. Put us in. We want to get to work.’”

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Calvan reported from Tallahassee. Associated Press writers Mike Schneider in Orlando, Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale, and Adriana Gomez Licon and Terry Spencer in Surfside contributed to this report.

‘Scary’ Sydney virus cluster blamed on delta variant grows

From the Associated Press

SYDNEY (AP) — Sydney was going through one the “scariest” times of the pandemic as a cluster of the highly contagious delta variant infects more people, an Australian state leader said on Thursday.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she tested negative for the coronavirus after her Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall tested positive Thursday. Health Minister Brad Hazzard is self-isolating as a close contact of a suspected COVID-19 case in Parliament House.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian prepares to address a press conference in Sydney, Thursday, June 24, 2021. Berejiklian says Sydney is going through one the “scariest” times of the pandemic as a cluster of the highly-contagious Delta variant continues to spread. (Dean Lewins/AAP Image via AP)

Sydney tightened pandemic restrictions on Wednesday, but Berejiklian said Australia’s largest city did not yet need to lock down further.

“Since the pandemic has started, this is perhaps the scariest period that New South Wales is going through,” Berejiklian told reporters.

“It is a very contagious variant but at the same time we are at this stage comfortable that the settings that are in place are the appropriate settings,” she added.

Authorities say the cluster spread from a Sydney airport limousine driver who tested positive last week. He was not vaccinated, reportedly did not wear a mask and is suspected to have been infected while transporting a foreign air crew. The cluster had grown to 36 cases by Thursday.

Police were considering charging the driver and his employer with a range of offenses, Police Force Deputy Commissioner Gary Worboys said.

Marshall tested positive after dining with three government colleagues on Monday at a Sydney restaurant after an infected diner.

All four lawmakers had been attending Parliament as recently as Tuesday.

Several government ministers, lawmakers and staff were told to get tested and isolate until July 6 after a positive case attended a political party dinner in Sydney on Tuesday. Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce also attended the dinner, but was allowed to attend Parliament in the national capital Canberra on Thursday after taking medical advice.

Australian states have closed their borders to travelers either from parts of Sydney or from anywhere in New South Wales. And New Zealand has stopped quarantine-free travel from New South Wales for at least three days.

Victoria state said it would continue to ease pandemic restrictions in its capital Melbourne following a fourth lockdown despite a Melbourne resident testing positive after returning from Sydney on Sunday.

Australia has been relatively successful in containing coronavirus clusters, although the delta variant first detected in India is proving more challenging.

The pandemic has claimed 910 deaths in Australia, which has a population of 26 million. The only COVID-19 death since October was an 80-year-old man who became infected overseas and was diagnosed in hotel quarantine.

Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated

By CARLA K. JOHNSON and MIKE STOBBE for the Associated Press

Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine.

Karen McKnight stands in her backyard on Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Sammamish, Wash., holding two books written by her brother Ross Bagne of Cheyenne, Wyo. Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the United States now are in people who weren’t vaccinated like Bagne, a staggering demonstration of how effective the vaccines have been (AP Photo/John Froschauer)

An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May shows that “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 0.1%.

And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8%, or five deaths per day on average.

The AP analyzed figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC itself has not estimated what percentage of hospitalizations and deaths are in fully vaccinated people, citing limitations in the data.

Among them: Only about 45 states report breakthrough infections, and some are more aggressive than others in looking for such cases. So the data probably understates such infections, CDC officials said.

Still, the overall trend that emerges from the data echoes what many health care authorities are seeing around the country and what top experts are saying.

Earlier this month, Andy Slavitt, a former adviser to the Biden administration on COVID-19, suggested that 98% to 99% of the Americans dying of the coronavirus are unvaccinated.

And CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Tuesday that the vaccine is so effective that “nearly every death, especially among adults, due to COVID-19, is, at this point, entirely preventable.” She called such deaths “particularly tragic.”

Deaths in the U.S. have plummeted from a peak of more than 3,400 day on average in mid-January, one month into the vaccination drive.

About 63% of all vaccine-eligible Americans — those 12 and older — have received at least one dose, and 53% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC. While vaccine remains scarce in much of the world, the U.S. supply is so abundant and demand has slumped so dramatically that shots sit unused.

Ross Bagne, a 68-year-old small-business owner in Cheyenne, Wyoming, was eligible for the vaccine in early February but didn’t get it. He died June 4, infected and unvaccinated, after spending more than three weeks in the hospital, his lungs filling with fluid. He was unable to swallow because of a stroke.

“He never went out, so he didn’t think he would catch it,” said his grieving sister, Karen McKnight. She wondered: “Why take the risk of not getting vaccinated?”

The preventable deaths will continue, experts predict, with unvaccinated pockets of the nation experiencing outbreaks in the fall and winter. Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said modeling suggests the nation will hit 1,000 deaths per day again next year.

In Arkansas, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the nation, with only about 33% of the population fully protected, cases, hospitalizations and deaths are rising.

“It is sad to see someone go to the hospital or die when it can be prevented,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson tweeted as he urged people to get their shots.

In Seattle’s King County, the public health department found only three deaths during a recent 60-day period in people who were fully vaccinated. The rest, some 95% of 62 deaths, had had no vaccine or just one shot.

“Those are all somebody’s parents, grandparents, siblings and friends,” said Dr. Mark Del Beccaro, who helps lead a vaccination outreach program in King County. “It’s still a lot of deaths, and they’re preventable deaths.”

In the St. Louis area, more than 90% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated, said Dr. Alex Garza, a hospital administrator who directs a metropolitan-area task force on the outbreak.

“The majority of them express some regret for not being vaccinated,” Garza said. “That’s a pretty common refrain that we’re hearing from patients with COVID.”

The stories of unvaccinated people dying may convince some people they should get the shots, but young adults — the group least likely to be vaccinated — may be motivated more by a desire to protect their loved ones, said David Michaels, an epidemiologist at George Washington University’s school of public health in the nation’s capital.

Others need paid time off to get the shots and deal with any side effects, Michaels said.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration this month began requiring health care employers, including hospitals and nursing homes, to provide such time off. But Michaels, who headed OSHA under President Barack Obama, said the agency should have gone further and applied the rule to meat and poultry plants and other food operations as well as other places with workers at risk.

Bagne, who lived alone, ran a business helping people incorporate their companies in Wyoming for the tax advantages. He was winding down the business, planning to retire, when he got sick, emailing his sister in April about an illness that had left him dizzy and disoriented.

“Whatever it was. That bug took a LOT out of me,” he wrote.

As his health deteriorated, a neighbor finally persuaded him to go to the hospital.

“Why was the messaging in his state so unclear that he didn’t understand the importance of the vaccine? He was a very bright guy,” his sister said. “I wish he’d gotten the vaccine, and I’m sad he didn’t understand how it could prevent him from getting COVID.”

Wing of Miami-area condo collapses; many feared dead

By WILFREDO LEE, TERRY SPENCER and DAVID FISCHER for the Associated Press

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — A wing of a 12-story beachfront condo building collapsed with a roar in a town outside Miami early Thursday, killing at least one person and trapping residents in rubble and twisted metal. Rescuers pulled dozens of survivors from the tower during the morning and continued to look for more.

This aerial photo shows part of the 12-story oceanfront Champlain Towers South Condo that collapsed early Thursday, June 24, 2021 in Surfside, Fla. (Amy Beth Bennett /South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett warned that the death toll was likely to rise, saying the building manager told him the tower was quite full at the time of the collapse around 1:30 a.m., but the exact number of people present was unclear.

“The building is literally pancaked,” Burkett said. “That is heartbreaking because it doesn’t mean, to me, that we are going to be as successful as we wanted to be in finding people alive.”

Authorities did not say what may have caused the collapse. Work was being done on the building’s roof, but Burkett said he did not see how that could have been the cause.

About half of the building’s roughly 130 units were affected, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told a news conference. Rescuers pulled at least 35 people from the wreckage by mid-morning, and heavy equipment was being brought in to help stabilize the structure to give them more access, Raide Jadallah of Miami-Dade Fire and Rescue said.

Sally Heyman, of the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners, said that 51 people who were thought to be in the building at the time of the collapse were unaccounted for by mid-morning — but there was a possibility that some weren’t at home. The tower has a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, and while the building keeps a log of guests staying, it does not keep track of when owners are in residence, Burkett said.

Earlier, Burkett said two people were brought to the hospital, one of whom died. He added that 15 families walked out of the building on their own.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said officials were “bracing for some bad news just given the destruction that we’re seeing.”

The collapse, which appeared to affect one leg of the L-shaped tower, tore away walls and left a number of homes in the still-standing part of the building exposed in what looked like a giant dollhouse. Television footage showed bunk beds, tables and chairs still left inside. Air conditioner units hung from some parts of the building, where wires now dangled.

Piles of rubble and debris surrounded the area, and cars up to two blocks away were coated with with a light layer of dust from the debris.

Barry Cohen, 63, said he and his wife were asleep in the building when he first heard what he thought was a crack of thunder. The couple went onto their balcony, then opened the door to the building’s hallway to find “a pile of rubble and dust and smoke billowing around.”

“I couldn’t walk out past my doorway,” said Cohen, the former vice mayor of Surfside. “A gaping hole of rubble.”

He and his wife made it to the basement and found rising water there. They returned upstairs, screamed for help and were eventually brought to safety by firefighters using a cherry-picker.

Cohen said he raised concerns years ago about whether nearby construction might be causing damage to the building after seeing cracked pavers on the pool deck.

At an evacuation site set up in a nearby community center, people who live in buildings neighboring the collapse gathered after being told to flee. Some wept. Some were still dressed in pajamas. Some children tried to sleep on mats spread on the floor. When a news conference about the collapse appeared on the TV, the room went silent.

Jennifer Carr was asleep in a neighboring building when she was awakened by a loud boom and her room shook. She thought it was a thunderstorm but checked the weather app on her phone and saw none. The building’s fire alarms went off, and she and her family went outside and saw the collapse.

“It was devastation,” Carr said. “People were running and screaming.”

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue said in a tweet that more than 80 units were “on scene with assistance from municipal fire departments.”

Teams of firefighters walked through the rubble, picking up survivors and carrying them from the wreckage.

Nicolas Fernandez waited early Thursday for word on close family friends who lived in the collapsed section of the building.

“Since it happened, I’ve been calling them nonstop, just trying to ring their cellphones as much as we can to hep the rescue to see if they can hear the cellphones.”

The seaside condo development was built in 1981 in the southeast corner of Surfside. It had a few two-bedroom units currently on the market, with asking prices of $600,000 to $700,000 in an area with a neighborhood feel that provides a stark contrast to the glitz and bustle of nearby South Beach.

The area has a mix of new and old apartments, houses, condominiums and hotels, with restaurants and stores serving an international combination of residents and tourists. The main oceanside drag is lined with glass-sided, luxury condominium buildings, but more modest houses are on the inland side. Among the neighborhood’s residents are snowbirds, Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews.

Patricia Avilez considered spending the night in her brother-in-law’s vacant condo on Wednesday but didn’t, only to awake to news of the collapse.

“And then I came here, and it’s gone,” she said. “Everything is disaster.”

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This story has been corrected to show that Sgt. Marian Cruz works for the Surfside Police Department, not Miami Dade Fire Rescue.

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Associated Press writers Tim Reynolds and Ian Mader in Miami; Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale; Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee; and Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama, contributed to this report.

UAE’s capital apparently offering COVID vaccines to tourists

By ISABEL DEBRE for the Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The capital of the United Arab Emirates has apparently started offering free coronavirus vaccines to tourists flying into the emirate, a move that could entice travelers and help revive the country’s struggling tourism industry.

FILE – In this Feb. 8, 2021 file photo, a man receives his Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine from a medical staffer at Guru Nanak Darbar temple in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, has apparently started offering free coronavirus vaccines to tourists flying into the emirate, a move that could entice travelers and help revive the country’s struggling tourism industry. While no official announcement was made on the matter, the health authority’s phone application showed updated criteria for vaccine access on Tuesday, June 22, 2021, saying visitors to the capital could now get the COVID-19 shot by presenting their passports. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili, File)

While Abu Dhabi has made no official announcement on the matter, the health authority’s phone application showed updated criteria for vaccine access on Tuesday, saying visitors to the capital could now get the COVID-19 shot by presenting their passports.

Passport holders must be eligible for entry visas on arrival, the guidelines said, without offering further information. Previously, vaccine recipients in the emirate had to show proof of Emirati residency. The UAE’s government-run media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Abu Dhabi will lift mandatory quarantine measures on travelers from an approved list of countries starting July 1.

The federation of seven sheikhdoms boasts among the fastest vaccination campaigns in the world, with 14.6 million doses administered to its population of over 9 million. The country has relied heavily on China’s state-backed Sinopharm shot and even started manufacturing Sinopharm earlier this year. Abu Dhabi and the nearby emirate of Dubai also offer the Pfizer-BioNtech shot. Since March, everyone over age 16 in the country has been eligible to get the vaccine.

With its small population and ample vaccine supply, the UAE has sent free vaccine shipments to places that need them, such as Egypt, the Gaza Strip and the Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles.

As vaccination inequality grows increasingly stark worldwide, Abu Dhabi’s expanded vaccine access could prove a major draw for those frustrated by the sluggish pace of inoculation campaigns in their surge-stricken home countries. But medical tourism for vaccines has also raised ethical concerns over access being limited to those with the means to travel far afield while others remain vulnerable and exposed.

Throughout the year, Abu Dhabi has kept strict anti-COVID measures in place, even shuttering its border with Dubai. In its reopening, the capital announced a new “green pass” system this month that limits access to public places to those who can show proof of vaccination or a recent negative virus test.

Dubai, the regional financial hub home to long-haul carrier Emirates, has not unveiled plans to vaccinate tourists.

How Big Tech created a data ‘treasure trove’ for police

By MATT O’BRIEN and MICHAEL LIEDTKE for the Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — When U.S. law enforcement officials need to cast a wide net for information, they’re increasingly turning to the vast digital ponds of personal data created by Big Tech companies via the devices and online services that have hooked billions of people around the world.

FILE – This Aug. 11, 2019, file photo an iPhone displays the apps for Facebook and Messenger in New Orleans. When U.S. law enforcement officials are fishing for information, they increasingly know where to go — in the vast digital ponds of personal data that Big Tech companies have created in their devices and online services that have hooked billions of people around the world. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

Data compiled by four of the biggest tech companies shows that law enforcement requests for user information — phone calls, emails, texts, photos, shopping histories, driving routes and more — have more than tripled in the U.S. since 2015. Police are also increasingly savvy about covering their tracks so as not to alert suspects of their interest.

That’s the backdrop for recent revelations that the Trump-era U.S. Justice Department sought data from Apple, Microsoft and Google about members of Congress, their aides and news reporters in leak investigations — then pursued court orders that blocked those companies from informing their targets.

In just the first half of 2020 — the most recent data available — Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft together fielded more than 112,000 data requests from local, state and federal officials. The companies agreed to hand over some data in 85% of those cases. Facebook, including its Instagram service, accounted for the largest number of disclosures.

Consider Newport, Rhode Island, a coastal city of 24,000 residents that attracts a flood of summer tourists. Fewer than 100 officers patrol the city — but they make multiple requests a week for online data from tech companies.

That’s because most crimes – from larceny and financial scams to a recent fatal house party stabbing at a vacation rental booked online – can be at least partly traced on the internet. Tech providers, especially social media platforms, offer a “treasure trove of information” that can help solve them, said Lt. Robert Salter, a supervising police detective in Newport.

“Everything happens on Facebook,” Salter said. “The amount of information you can get from people’s conversations online — it’s insane.”

As ordinary people have become increasingly dependent on Big Tech services to help manage their lives, American law enforcement officials have grown far more savvy about technology than they were five or six years ago, said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group.

That’s created what Cohn calls “the golden age of government surveillance.” Not only has it become far easier for police to trace the online trails left by suspects, they can also frequently hide their requests by obtaining gag orders from judges and magistrates. Those orders block Big Tech companies from notifying the target of a subpoena or warrant of law enforcement’s interest in their information — contrary to the companies’ stated policies.

Of course, there’s often a reason for such secrecy, said Andrew Pak, a former federal prosecutor. It helps prevent investigations getting sidetracked because someone learns about it, he said —“the target, perhaps, or someone close to it.”

Longstanding opposition to such gag orders has recently resurfaced in the wake of the Trump-era orders. Apple in 2018 shared phone and account data generated by two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, but the politicians didn’t find out until May, once a series of gag orders expired.

Microsoft also shared data about a congressional aide and had to wait more than two years before telling that person. Brad Smith, Microsoft’s president, last week called for an end to the overuse of secret gag orders, arguing in a Washington Post opinion piece that “prosecutors too often are exploiting technology to abuse our fundamental freedoms.”

Critics like Cohn have called for revision of U.S. surveillance laws drawn up years ago when the police and prosecutors typically had to deliver warrants to the home of the person being targeted for searches. Now that most personal information is kept in the equivalent of vast digital storehouses controlled by Big Tech companies, such searches can proceed in secret.

“Our surveillance laws are really based on the idea that if something is really important, we store it at home, and that doesn’t pass the giggle test these days,” Cohn said. “It’s just not true.”

Many tech companies are quick to point out that the majority of the information they are forced to share is considered “non-content” data. But that can include useful details such as the basic personal details you supply when you register for an account, or the metadata that shows if and when you called or messaged someone, though not what you said to them.

Law enforcement can also ask tech companies to preserve any data generated by a particular user, which prevents the target from deleting it. Doing so doesn’t require a search warrant or any judicial oversight, said Armin Tadayon, a cybersecurity associate at advisory firm the Brunswick Group.

If police later find reasonable grounds for conducting a search, they can return with a warrant and seize the preserved data. If not, the provider deletes the copies and “the user likely never finds out,” Tadayon said.

In Newport, getting a search warrant for richer online data isn’t that difficult. Salter said it requires a quick trip to a nearby courthouse to seek a judge’s approval; some judges are also available after hours for emergency requests. And if a judge finds there is probable cause to search through online data, tech companies almost always comply.

“Most of the companies do play ball,” Salter said. “We can speak with people, get questions answered. They’re usually pretty helpful.”

Nearly all big tech companies — from Amazon to rental sites like Airbnb, ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft and service providers like Verizon — now have teams to respond to such requests and regularly publish reports about how much they disclosed. Many say they work to nar