Cambodian catches world’s largest recorded freshwater fish

By JERRY HARMER for the Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — The world’s largest recorded freshwater fish, a giant stingray, has been caught in the Mekong River in Cambodia, according to scientists from the Southeast Asian nation and the United States.

In this photo provided by Wonders of the Mekong taken on June 14, 2022, a man touches a giant freshwater stingray before being released back into the Mekong River in the northeastern province of Stung Treng, Cambodia. A local fisherman caught the 661-pound (300-kilogram) stingray, which set the record for the world’s largest known freshwater fish and earned him a $600 reward. (Chhut Chheana/Wonders of the Mekong via AP)

The stingray, captured on June 13, measured almost 4 meters (13 feet) from snout to tail and weighed slightly under 300 kilograms (660 pounds), according to a statement Monday by Wonders of the Mekong, a joint Cambodian-U.S. research project.

The previous record for a freshwater fish was a 293-kilogram (646-pound) Mekong giant catfish, discovered in Thailand in 2005, the group said.

The stingray was snagged by a local fisherman south of Stung Treng in northeastern Cambodia. The fisherman alerted a nearby team of scientists from the Wonders of the Mekong project, which has publicized its conservation work in communities along the river.

The scientists arrived within hours of getting a post-midnight call with the news, and were amazed at what they saw.

“Yeah, when you see a fish this size, especially in freshwater, it is hard to comprehend, so I think all of our team was stunned,” Wonders of the Mekong leader Zeb Hogan said in an online interview from the University of Nevada in Reno. The university is partnering with the Cambodian Fisheries Administration and USAID, the U.S. government’s international development agency.

Freshwater fish are defined as those that spend their entire lives in freshwater, as opposed to giant marine species such as bluefin tuna and marlin, or fish that migrate between fresh and saltwater like the huge beluga sturgeon.

The stingray’s catch was not just about setting a new record, he said.

“The fact that the fish can still get this big is a hopeful sign for the Mekong River, ” Hogan said, noting that the waterway faces many environmental challenges.

The Mekong River runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. It is home to several species of giant freshwater fish but environmental pressures are rising. In particular, scientists fear a major program of dam building in recent years may be seriously disrupting spawning grounds.

“Big fish globally are endangered. They’re high-value species. They take a long time to mature. So if they’re fished before they mature, they don’t have a chance to reproduce,” Hogan said. “A lot of these big fish are migratory, so they need large areas to survive. They’re impacted by things like habitat fragmentation from dams, obviously impacted by overfishing. So about 70% of giant freshwater fish globally are threatened with extinction, and all of the Mekong species.”

The team that rushed to the site inserted a tagging device near the tail of the mighty fish before releasing it. The device will send tracking information for the next year, providing unprecedented data on giant stingray behavior in Cambodia.

“The giant stingray is a very poorly understood fish. Its name, even its scientific name, has changed several times in the last 20 years,” Hogan said. “It’s found throughout Southeast Asia, but we have almost no information about it. We don’t know about its life history. We don’t know about its ecology, about its migration patters.”

Researchers say it’s the fourth giant stingray reported in the same area in the past two months, all of them females. They think this may be a spawning hotspot for the species.

Local residents nicknamed the stingray “Boramy,” or “full moon,” because of its round shape and because the moon was on the horizon when it was freed on June 14. In addition to the honor of having caught the record-breaker, the lucky fisherman was compensated at market rate, meaning he received a payment of around $600.

Officials try to deliver aid to flooded South Asia villages

By JULHAS ALAM and WASBIR HUSSAIN for the Associated Press

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Authorities in India and Bangladesh struggled Monday to deliver food and drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes in days of flooding that have submerged wide swaths of the countries.

A man stands at the doorway of his flooded shop in Sylhet, Bangladesh, Monday, June 20, 2022. Floods in Bangladesh continued to wreak havoc Monday with authorities struggling to ferry drinking water and dry food to flood shelters across the country’s vast northern and northeastern regions. (AP Photo/Mahmud Hossain Opu)

The floods triggered by monsoon rains have killed more than a dozen people, marooned millions and flooded millions of houses.

In Sylhet in northeastern Bangladesh along the Surma River, villagers waded through streets flooded up to their knees. One man stood in the doorway of his flooded shop, where the top shelves were crammed with items in an effort to keep them above water. Local TV said millions remained without electricity.

Enamur Rahman, junior minister for disaster and relief, said up to 100,000 people have been evacuated in the worst-hit districts, including Sylhet. About 4 million are marooned, the United News of Bangladesh said.

Flooding also ravaged India’s northeastern Assam state, where two policemen involved in rescue operations were washed away by floodwaters on Sunday, state officials said. They said about 200,000 people were taking shelter in 700 relief camps. Water in all major rivers in the state was above danger levels.

Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said Monday his administration is using military helicopters to airlift food and fuel to badly affected parts of the state.

Assam has already been reeling from massive floods after torrential rains over the past few weeks caused the Brahmaputra River to break its banks, leaving millions of homes underwater and severing transport links.

The Brahmaputra flows from Tibet through India and into Bangladesh, with a nearly 800-kilometer (500-mile) journey through Assam.

Major roads in affected regions of Bangladesh were submerged, leaving people stranded. In a country with a history of climate change-induced disasters, many expressed frustration that authorities haven’t done more locally.

“There isn’t much to say about the situation. You can see the water with your own eyes. The water level inside the room has dropped a bit. It used to be up to my waist,” said Muhit Ahmed, owner of a grocery shop in Sylhet.

Bangladesh called in soldiers on Friday to help evacuate people, but Ahmed said he hasn’t seen any yet.

“We are in a great disaster. Neither the Sylhet City Corporation nor anyone else came here to inquire about us,” he said. “I am trying to save my belongings as much as I can. We don’t have the ability to do any more now.”

The national Flood Forecasting and Warning Center said on Sunday that flooding in the northeastern districts of Sunamganj and Sylhet could worsen. It said the Teesta, a major river in northern Bangladesh, may rise above danger levels. The situation could also deteriorate in other northern districts, it said.

Officials said floodwaters have started receding in the northeast but are posing a threat to the central region, where water flows south to the Bay of Bengal.

Media reports said villagers in remote areas are struggling to obtain drinking water and food.

BRAC, a private nonprofit group, opened a center Monday to prepare food as part of plans to feed 5,000 families in one affected district, but the arrangements were inadequate, senior director Arinjoy Dhar said. In a video posted online, Dhar asked for help in providing food for flood-affected people.

Last month, a pre-monsoon flash flood triggered by water from upstream in India’s northeastern states hit Bangladesh’s northern and northeastern regions, destroying crops and damaging homes and roads.

Bangladesh is mostly flat and low-lying, so short-term floods during the monsoon season are common and are often beneficial to agriculture. But devastating floods hit the country every few years, damaging its infrastructure and economy. Almost 28% of the nation’s 160 million people live in coastal regions, according to the World Bank.

One of the worst floods took place in 1988, when much of the country was under water. In 1998, another devastating flood inundated almost 75% of the country. In 2004, more prolonged flooding occurred.

Scientists say flooding in Bangladesh has been worsened by climate change. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 17% of the population will need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate.

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Hussain reported from Gauhati, India. Associated Press writer Al-Emrun Garjon in Sylhet, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.

Judge resets trial to Oct. 24 for 2 ex-cops in Floyd killing

By STEVE KARNOWSKI and AMY FORLITI for the Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A judge on Tuesday rescheduled the state trial for two former Minneapolis police officers in George Floyd’s killing to Oct. 24 to resolve dueling requests for a new trial date after the state sought to start it as soon as this summer while a defense lawyer asked to delay it to next spring.

Community members lay flowers down near gravestone markers at the ‘Say Their Names’ cemetery Wednesday, May 25, 2022, in Minneapolis. The intersection where George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers was renamed in his honor Wednesday, among a series of events to remember a man whose killing forced America to confront racial injustice. (Aaron Lavinsky/Star Tribune via AP)

Tou Thao and J. Alexander Kueng are charged with aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the May 2020 killing of Floyd. Their trial was supposed to start this month, but Judge Peter Cahill earlier this month postponed it until Jan. 5, saying that would improve prospects for a fair trial. He settled on the October date during a brief hearing Tuesday.

The killing of Floyd, who was Black, sparked immediate protests in Minneapolis that spread around the U.S. and beyond in a reckoning over police brutality and discrimination involving people of color. Derek Chauvin, a white police officer who pinned Floyd’s neck to the pavement with his knee for more than 9 minutes as Floyd said he couldn’t breathe and eventually grew still, was convicted last year of murder.

Thao held back onlookers at the scene. Kueng helped restrain Floyd.

State prosecutor Matthew Frank on Friday had requested a speedy trial on behalf of Floyd’s family, which under Minnesota law could have meant mid-August. Kueng’s defense attorney, Tom Plunkett, followed with a request Sunday for a longer delay — until April — because of a scheduling conflict.

Attorneys for all sides told Cahill they agreed to the Oct. 24 start date for jury selection. The judge also scheduled a hearing on pretrial motions for Sept. 26-27.

Frank told the court that it would have been “traumatic” for the Floyd family to push the trial date out farther. Not only was their loved one killed by police officers, he said, they’ve had to watch the video of his dying minutes “time and time again in the media and throughout the trial process.”

Thao and Kueng have already been convicted of federal counts of violating Floyd’s rights. Their former colleague, Thomas Lane, was also convicted on a federal count and pleaded guilty in May to a state charge of aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter. All three are free pending their federal sentencing hearings, which have not been set.

Cahill also presided over last year’s trial of Chauvin, who was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 22 1/2 years. Chauvin has been in prison since that conviction. He also pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge.

Danish-Canadian deal ends 49-year-old feud over Arctic isle

From the Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A territorial dispute between Denmark and Canada over a barren and uninhabited rock in the Arctic that has led to decades of friendly friction has come to an end, with the two countries agreeing to divide the tiny island between them.

A decades-old dispute between Denmark and Canada over a tiny, barren and uninhabited rock in the Arctic has come to an end.

Under the agreement, to be signed later Tuesday, a border will be drawn across the 1.3-square-kilometer (half-square-mile) Hans Island, in the waterway between the northwestern coast of the semi-autonomous Danish territory of Greenland and Canada’s Ellesmere Island. The rock has no mineral reserves.

“It sends a clear signal that it is possible to resolve border disputes … in a pragmatic and peaceful way, where the all parties become winners,” said Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod. He said it was “an important signal now that there is much war and unrest in the world.”

Canada and Denmark agreed in 1973 to create a border through Nares Strait, halfway between Greenland and Canada. But they were unable to agree which country would have sovereignty over Hans Island, which lies about 1,100 kilometers (684 miles) south of the North Pole. In the end, they decided to work out the question of ownership later.

In the following years, the territorial dispute — nicknamed the “whisky war” by media — raised its head multiple times.

In 1984, Denmark’s minister of Greenland affairs raised a Danish flag on the island, buried a bottle of Danish schnapps at the base of the flagpole and left a note saying, “Welcome to the Danish island.” Canadians then planted their own flag and left a bottle of Canadian brandy. Since then, the countries have in turns hoisted their flags and left bottles of various spirits in tit-for-tat moves.

In 2002, Nana Flensburg was part of a Danish military crew that stood on the cliff to perform a flag-raising ceremony. The Politiken newspaper on Tuesday quote her as saying in her diary that “among the stones in the cairns were lots of bottles, glasses, etc. with documents that informed about previous visits to the island.”

The agreement enters into force after the two countries’ internal procedures have been completed. In Denmark, the Parliament must first give its consent to the agreement.

Texas shooting records could be blocked by legal loophole

By ACACIA CORONADO for the Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — As public pressure mounts for more information on the deadly Uvalde school shooting, some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block records from being released — even to the victims’ families — once the case is closed.

FILE – A Texas Department of Public Safety officer keeps watch on June 3, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, near a memorial outside Robb Elementary School created to honor the victims killed in last a school shooting. As public pressure mounts for more information on the deadly Uvalde school shooting, some are concerned that Texas officials will use a legal loophole to block records from being released — even to the victims’ families — once the case is closed. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Since the May 24 shooting at a Texas elementary school that left 19 kids and two teachers dead, law enforcement officials have provided little or conflicting information, sometimes withdrawing statements hours after making them. State police have said some accounts were preliminary and may change as more witnesses are interviewed.

A number of questions remain unanswered by authorities: Why did police take more than an hour to enter the classroom and confront the gunman? What do their body cameras show? How did law enforcement officers communicate with one another and the victims during the attack? What happened when dozens of officers gathered outside the classroom, yet refrained from pursuing the shooter?

Officials have declined to release more details, citing the investigation. In a letter received Thursday by The Associated Press and other media outlets, a law firm representing the City of Uvalde asked for the Texas attorney general’s office to rule on records requested in relation to the shooting, citing 52 legal areas — including the section containing the loophole — that they believe exempt the records from being released. Amid the growing silence, lawyers and advocates for the victim’s families are beginning to fear they may never get the answers, that authorities will close the case and rely on the exception to the Texas Public Information law to block the release of any further information.

“They could make that decision; they shouldn’t have that choice,” said Democratic state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, who since 2017 has led several efforts to amend the loophole. “To understand what our government is doing should not be that difficult — and right now it is very difficult.”

The law’s exception protects information from being released in crimes for which no one has been convicted. The Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled that it applies when a suspect is dead. Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old man who police say was responsible for the mass killing at Robb Elementary School, was fatally shot by law enforcement.

The loophole was created in the 1990s to protect those wrongfully accused or whose cases were dismissed, according to Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “It is meant to protect the innocent,” Shannon said. But she said that in some cases “it is being used and misused in a way that was never intended.”

Following the shooting, Texas House of Representatives Speaker Dade Phelan, a Republican, took to Twitter to voice his continued support for closing the loophole during the Texas Legislature’s next session, which begins in January 2023.

“More than anything, the families of the Uvalde victims need honest answers and transparency,” Phelan tweeted. He said it would be “absolutely unconscionable” to deny information based on the “dead suspect loophole.”

Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said the organization was opposed and “will always be opposed” to a loophole amendment proposed in previous years that he said would have allowed the release of records pertaining to law enforcement officers, even those falsely accused of wrongdoing. He said that would negatively affect the officers’ ability to keep working. But Wilkison said he would be willing to participate in future discussions in an attempt to find a middle ground.

Public focus in the Uvalde shooting has been on school district police Chief Pete Arredondo. Steven McCraw, head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said recently that Arredondo believed the active shooting had turned into a hostage situation, and that he made the “wrong decision” to not order officers to breach the classroom more quickly to confront the gunman.

Arredondo has not responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press. In an interview with The Texas Tribune published Thursday, however, he said he did not consider himself in charge of the law enforcement response and assumed someone else had taken control.

The New York Times reported Thursday that it obtained documents showing police waited for protective equipment as they delayed entering the campus, even as they became aware that some victims needed medical treatment.

If efforts to amend the public information loophole fail and law enforcement continues to refuse to release information, families could turn to any involved federal agencies. In one case in Mesquite, Texas, the parents of an 18-year-old who died after being arrested received records from federal authorities showing that police had used more force against their son than they had originally understood. The police had refused to turn over any information under the legal loophole.

“If someone dies in police custody, this is when we would want to open all of our records,” the father, Robert Dyer, said as he testified before the legislature in 2019 in favor of amending the legal exception.

Mayra Guillen said she and her family were stymied by the state loophole when they tried to get details on a case involving her sister Vanessa Guillen. Authorities say the 20-year-old soldier was killed at a Texas military base by fellow soldier Aaron Robinson, who then disposed of her body.

Military officials and law enforcement said Robinson pulled a gun and shot himself as police were trying to make contact with him. But local police wouldn’t allow Vanessa Guillen’s family to view the officers’ body camera footage of the confrontation because the suspect hadn’t been convicted, Mayra Guillen said.

“We were honestly just trying to receive closure and see if what was being said was true,” Guillen said. “It is only right to have these records be public to some extent. It is so hard to tell whether there will be justice or not.”

Flooding pummels Yellowstone region, leaves many stranded

By AMY BETH HANSON and MATTHEW BROWN for the Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Raging floodwaters that pulled houses into rivers and forced rescues by air and boat began to slowly recede Tuesday across the Yellowstone region, leaving tourists and others stranded after roads and bridges were knocked out by torrential rains that swelled waterways to record levels.

The flooding across parts of southern Montana and northern Wyoming forced the indefinite closure of Yellowstone National Park just as a summer tourist season that draws millions of visitors annually was ramping up.

In this photo provided by Sam Glotzbach, the fast-rushing Yellowstone River flooded what appeared to be a small boathouse in Gardiner, Mont., on Monday, June 13, 2022, just north of Yellowstone National Park. (Sam Glotzbach via AP)

Just north of the park, hundreds of people remained isolated after the Yellowstone River and its tributaries washed away the only roadways in and out of the area.

Near Gardiner, Montana, campground manager Marshall Haley said some people had evacuated before the roads washed out after being warned that the river was rising. But others stayed behind and now couldn’t leave, he said. There was no word on when the roads could be repaired and re-opened.

“We’re on an island so to speak,” said Haley. “Most of the motels were full, and the store’s going to run out of food pretty soon probably because no truck can get down here.”

The towns of Cooke City and Silvergate, just east of the park, were also isolated by floodwaters.

Numerous homes and other structures were destroyed, but there were no immediate reports of injuries or fatalities.

Heavy rain on top of melting mountain snow pushed the Yellowstone, Stillwater and Clarks Fork rivers to record levels Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

Officials in Yellowstone and in several southern Montana counties were assessing damage from the storms that also triggered mudslides and rockslides. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster.

In Livingston, low-lying neighborhoods were evacuated and the city’s hospital was evacuated as a precaution after its driveway flooded.

It was unclear how many visitors to the region remained stranded or have been forced to leave Yellowstone, or how many people who live outside the park were rescued and evacuated.

Some of the worst damage happened in the northern part of the park and Yellowstone’s gateway communities in southern Montana. National Park Service photos of northern Yellowstone showed a mudslide, washed out bridges and roads undercut by churning floodwaters of the Gardner and Lamar rivers.

Officials in Park County, which includes Gardiner and Cooke City, said extensive flooding throughout the county had made drinking water unsafe in many areas.

The Montana National Guard said Monday it sent two helicopters to southern Montana to help with the evacuations.

In south-central Montana, flooding on the Stillwater River stranded 68 people at a campground. Stillwater County Emergency Services agencies and crews with the Stillwater Mine rescued people Monday from the Woodbine Campground by raft. Some roads in the area are closed because of flooding and residents have been evacuated.

“We will be assessing the loss of homes and structures when the waters recede,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

Cory Mottice, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Billings, Montana, said rain is not in the immediate forecast, and cooler temperatures will lessen the snowmelt in coming days.

“This is flooding that we’ve just never seen in our lifetimes before,” Mottice said.

Scientists say climate change is responsible for more intense and more frequent extreme events such as storms, droughts, floods and wildfires, although single weather events usually cannot be directly linked to climate change without extensive study.

The Yellowstone River at Corwin Springs crested at 13.88 feet (4.2 meters) Monday, higher than the previous record of 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) set in 1918, according the the National Weather Service.

At a cabin in Gardiner, Parker Manning got an up-close view of the water rising and the river bank sloughing off in the raging Yellowstone River floodwaters just outside his door.

“We started seeing entire trees floating down the river, debris,” Manning, who is from Terra Haute, Indiana, told The Associated Press. “Saw one crazy single kayaker coming down through, which was kind of insane.”

On Monday evening, Manning watched as the rushing waters undercut the opposite riverbank, causing a house to fall into the Yellowstone River and float away mostly intact.

Floodwaters inundated a street in Red Lodge, a Montana town of 2,100 that’s a popular jumping-off point for a scenic, winding route into the Yellowstone high country. Twenty-five miles (40 kilometers) to the northeast, in Joliet, Kristan Apodaca wiped away tears as she stood across the street from a washed-out bridge, The Billings Gazette reported.

The log cabin that belonged to her grandmother, who died in March, flooded, as did the park where Apodaca’s husband proposed.

“I am sixth-generation. This is our home,” she said. “That bridge I literally drove yesterday. My mom drove it at 3 a.m. before it was washed out.”

On Monday, Yellowstone officials evacuated the northern part of the park, where roads may remain impassable for a substantial length of time, park Superintendent Cam Sholly said in a statement.

But the flooding affected the rest of the park, too, with park officials warning of yet higher flooding and potential problems with water supplies and wastewater systems at developed areas.

The rains hit just as area hotels have filled up in recent weeks with summer tourists. More than 4 million visitors were tallied by the park last year. The wave of tourists doesn’t abate until fall and June is typically one of Yellowstone’s busiest months.

Yellowstone got 2.5 inches (6 centimeters) of rain Saturday, Sunday and into Monday. The Beartooth Mountains northeast of Yellowstone got as much as 4 inches (10 centimeters), according to the National Weather Service.

The flooding happened while other parts of the U.S. burned in hot and dry weather. More than 100 million Americans were being warned to stay indoors as a heat wave settles over states stretching through parts of the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes and east to the Carolinas.

Elsewhere in the West, crews from California to New Mexico are battling wildfires in hot, dry and windy weather.

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Associated Press writers Thomas Peipert in Denver, Mead Gruver in Fort Collins, Colorado, and Lisa Baumann in Bellingham, Washington, contributed to this report.

Hurricane Agatha sets May record, then weakens over Mexico

By JOSÉ MARÍA ÁLVAREZ from the Associated Press

SAN ISIDRO DEL PALMAR, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Agatha made history as the strongest hurricane ever recorded to come ashore in May during the eastern Pacific hurricane season, making landfall on a sparsely populated stretch of small beach towns and fishing villages in southern Mexico.

This satellite image made available by NOAA shows Hurricane Agatha off the Pacific coast of Oaxaca state, Mexico on Monday, May 30, 2022, at 8:30 a.m. EDT. (NOAA via AP)

The storm hit Oaxaca state Monday afternoon as a strong Category 2 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165kph), then quickly lost power as it moved inland over the mountainous interior.

Remnants of Agatha were moving northeast Tuesday into Veracruz state, with sustained winds down to 30 mph (45 kph). The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm should dissipate by the evening, but warned that the system’s heavy rains still posed a threat of dangerous floods for Mexico’s southern states.

Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat told local media that the state’s emergency services office had no reports of deaths. Several municipalities near the coast remained without power Tuesday and mudslides blocked a number of the state’s highways.

San Isidro del Palmar, only a couple miles inland from the coast, was swamped by the Tonameca river that flows through town.

Residents waded through neck-deep water to salvage what items they could from their homes, walking gingerly with piles of clothing atop their heads and religious figures in their arms.

Argeo Aquino, who had lived in the town his whole life, could recall only two other occasions when he saw such flooding.

“The houses are totally flooded, so they are getting everything out,” Aquino said Monday as he watched his neighbors. “There are stores, houses. More than anything else, we have to try to save all the good material, because everything else is going to be washed away.”

The Tonameca’s brown waters reached the windows of parked cars and the minibuses used for local transportation.

Nearby, heavy rain and big waves lashed the beach town of Zipolite Monday, long known for its clothing-optional beach and bohemian vibe.

“There is a lot of rain and sudden gusts of strong wind,” said Silvia Ranfagni, manager of the Casa Kalmar hotel in Zipolite. Ranfagni, who decided to ride out Agatha at the property, said as the storm approached, “You can hear the wind howling.”

Agatha formed on Sunday and quickly gained power. It was the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in May in the eastern Pacific, said Jeff Masters, meteorologist with Yale Climate Connections and the founder of Weather Underground.

Washington police say drivers aren’t stopping for them

From the Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — The Washington State Patrol says drivers are increasingly refusing to stop for troopers – and other law enforcement agencies also say this is becoming a common occurrence.

The Northwest News Network reports that from January 1 to May 17 of this year, the agency logged 934 failure-to-yield incidents. While the patrol didn’t track this in the past, veteran troopers say there’s been a dramatic uptick in drivers fleeing traffic stops.

“Something’s changed. People are not stopping right now,” said Sgt. Darren Wright, a WSP spokesperson with 31 years on the job. “It’s happening three to five times a shift on some nights and then a couple times a week on day shift.”

Local police departments are also seeing this behavior. The Puyallup Police Department logged 148 instances of drivers fleeing from officers from July 26, 2021 to May 18, 2022.

Asked if that represents a significant increase, Chief Scott Engle wrote in an email, “I could 1,000,000% say this is completely absolutely emphatically totally unusual.”

In Lakewood, another small city in Pierce County, Chief Mike Zaro said drivers are refusing to stop for his officers on average once a day.

“A lot of times they’re stolen cars; sometimes we don’t know what the deal is,” Zaro said.

Steve Strachan, the executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, and others in law enforcement connect the increase in failures-to-yield to passage last year of House Bill 1054, a sweeping police tactics law that, among other things, barred high-speed pursuits except in very limited circumstances.

The law was part of a package of police reforms majority Democrats passed in response to the murder by police of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other high-profile police killings — reforms aimed at addressing racial disproportionality in policing.

Minority Republicans in the Legislature criticized many of the changes, including the pursuit law, and said they jeopardized public safety.

Strachan said he doesn’t dispute the need for statewide rules governing police pursuits, but thinks the new law went too far.

Under the new law, police officers can’t give chase unless there’s reasonable suspicion to believe the driver is impaired or the higher standard of probable cause to believe they’re an escaped felon or have committed a violent crime or a sex crime.

Even then there are restrictions on when officers can pursue. Officers must balance whether the person poses an “imminent threat” and whether the safety risks of the person getting away outweigh the danger of engaging in a high-speed chase.

This year both the Washington House and Senate passed a bill with bipartisan votes that would have amended the new pursuit law in response to concerns from police that it was too restrictive. But a final version of the measure died in the state Senate. Advocates for police reform opposed the change.

“Why is it we are so concerned about hot pursuits,” asked Martina Morris with the group Next Steps Washington at a February rally at the Capitol. “Because they are dangerous. They are the number two cause of deaths during encounters with police.”

The prime sponsor of House Bill 1054, Democratic state Rep. Jesse Johnson, also opposed lowering the threshold for pursuits.

“I just do not believe pursuits in a 21st century policing system are needed,” Johnson said in a March interview on TVW’s “Inside Olympia” program.

Probe could shed light on police time lapse in Uvalde deaths

By LINDSAY WHITEHURST for the Associated Press

Since the Columbine High School massacre more than 20 years ago, police have been trained to quickly confront shooters in the horrific attacks that have followed.

People visit a memorial outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Monday, May 30, 2022. On May 24, 2022, an 18-year-old entered the school and fatally shot several children and teachers. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

But officers in Uvalde, Texas, took more than an hour to kill a shooter who massacred 19 children, a lapse of time that will likely be a key part of a Justice Department probe into the police response.

The rare federal review comes amid growing, agonized questions and shifting information from police. Authorities now say that several officers entered the elementary school just two minutes after alleged gunman Salvador Ramos and exchanged fire with him, but he wasn’t stopped until a tactical team entered a classroom more than an hour later.

That’s a confounding timeline for law enforcement experts like Jarrod Burguan, who was the police chief in San Bernardino, California, when the city was hit by a terrorist attack that killed 14 people in 2015. Officers entered that facility, a training center for residents with developmental disabilities, within two minutes of arriving.

“Columbine changed everything,” Burguan said Monday. Officers are now trained to form up and enter buildings to confront shooters as quickly as possible to prevent them from killing more people. “This has been drilled into this industry for years now.”

Justice Department officials probing the Texas slayings will examine a host of questions about the police response in Uvalde. A similar review that largely praised the response to the San Bernardino mass shooting was over 100 pages long.

In announcing the review, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said it would be conducted in a fair, impartial and independent manner and the findings would be made public. It could take months. Handling the review is the department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

One key question for Maria Haberfeld, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is why a school district police chief had the power to tell more than a dozen officers to wait in a hallway at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary.

“The key question for me is, who designated him to be in charge?” she said.

Officials have said he believed the suspect was barricaded inside adjoining classrooms and there was no longer an active threat. But school police officers don’t typically have the most experience with active shooters, and Haberfeld questioned why people with more specialized training didn’t take the reins.

A U.S. Border Patrol tactical team finally used a janitor’s key to unlock the classroom door and kill the gunman, raising more questions about the choice of entry.

“It’s not some fortified castle from the Middle Ages. It’s a door,” she said. “They knew what to do. You don’t need the key.”

The Justice review won’t investigate the crime itself, or directly hold police civilly or criminally liable. What it will likely do is examine things like how police communicated with each other, said Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association. It’s not yet known why the school chief, Pete Arredondo, thought the shooter was barricaded and he hasn’t commented.

“I think we need to be a little patient on that and wait to ensure we understand what that mindset was,” Eells said. “It goes back to communication. What information did they have?”

The review will also likely examine how well officers were prepared with gear like weapons and body armor. The shooter wore a tactical vest and was armed with an AR-15-style rifle, a powerful weapon capable of piercing basic bulletproof vests.

In previous shootings reviewed by the Justice Department, non-specialized law enforcement units did not have the kind of body armor needed to fully protect themselves.

At the 2016 massacre that killed 49 people and hurt dozens more in the LGBT community at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, a detective on the scene exchanged gunfire with the suspect, knowing his handgun was “no match” for the weapon being fired in the club. Despite that, the first officers on the scene formed up in a team to enter the club quickly and begin searching for the shooter, according to the report.

In San Bernardino, meanwhile, only one of the first officers on scene had a shotgun and several did not have body armor. But they still used their training on active shooter situations to form up in a four-officer team to immediately enter the complex.

Moving quickly is important not only to stop a shooter from killing more people, but to help the wounded. In San Bernardino and Orlando, the Justice Department reviews credited the quick response in getting the wounded transported to treatment within a “golden hour” where victims are mostly likely to survive.

It is unclear what impact the delayed entry into the Texas classroom might have had on any of the children who were wounded and needed treatment more than an hour away in San Antonio.

Police do have to quickly analyze the risks to themselves and others in a violent, quickly changing situation — but they’re also trained to stop people from getting hurt, Eells said.

“Making an entry into that room is very, very, very dangerous,” he said. “But we are going to incur that risk, knowingly and willingly, because our priorities are to help those that cannot help themselves.”

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Whitehurst reported from Salt Lake City. Associated Press writer Gary Fields in Washington contributed to this report.

Firefighters rescue ‘Cinder’ the elk calf from fire’s ashes

MORGAN LEE for the Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Firefighters have rescued an abandoned newborn elk calf found amid the ashes of the nation’s largest wildfire as calving season approaches its peak in New Mexico and fires rage across the American West.

In this photo provided by Nate Sink, a newborn elk calf rests alone in a remote, fire-scarred area of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Mora, N.M., on Saturday, May 21, 2022. Sink says he saw no signs of the calf’s mother and helped transport the baby bull to a wildlife rehabilitation center to be raised alongside a surrogate gown elk. (Nate Sink via AP)

Missoula, Montana-based firefighter Nate Sink said Tuesday that he happened upon the motionless elk calf on the ground of a fire-blackened New Mexico forest as he patrolled and extinguished lingering hot spots.

“The whole area is just surrounded in a thick layer of ash and burned trees. I didn’t think it was alive,” said Sink, who was deployed to the state to help contain a wildfire that by Wednesday had spread across 486 square miles (1,260 square kilometers) and destroyed hundreds of structures.

It’s is one of five major uncontained fires burning in New Mexico amid extremely dry and windy conditions. More than 3,000 firefighters battling the biggest blaze have made significant progress halting its growth in recent days ahead of more dangerous fire conditions forecast to return into the weekend, crew commanders said Wednesday night.

Wildlife officials in general discourage interactions with elk calves that are briefly left alone in the first weeks of life as their mothers forage at a distance. Sink says he searched diligently for traces of the calf’s mother and found none.

The 32-pound (14.5-kilogram) singed bull calf, dubbed “Cinder,” was taken for care to a nearby ranch and is now regaining strength at a wildlife rehabilitation center in Espanola, north of Santa Fe.

Veterinarian Kathleen Ramsay at Cottonwood Rehab says she paired Cinder with a full-grown surrogate elk to be raised with as little human contact as possible.

“They do elk things, they don’t do people things,” said Ramsay, noting Cinder arrived at a tender days-old age with his umbilical cord still attached.

Ramsay said the calf hopefully can be released into the wild in December after elk-hunting season. The strategy has worked repeatedly with elk tracked by tags as they rejoined wild herds.

The calf’s rescue was reminiscent of events 70 years ago in New Mexico involving a scalded black bear cub and the fire prevention mascot “Smokey Bear.”

The U.S. fire-safety campaign took on new urgency in 1950 with the rescue by firefighters of a black bear cub that was badly burned by wildfire in southern New Mexico. The cub — named Smokey Bear after the mascot — recovered and lived at the National Zoo until its death in 1976.

Wildfires have broken out this spring in multiple states in the West, where climate change and an enduring drought are fanning the frequency and intensity of forest and grassland fires.

Crews battling the biggest U.S. fire in northern New Mexico took advantage of one last day of favorable weather Wednesday before hotter, drier and windier conditions are forecast to return late Thursday and continue to worsen into next week.

“All across the fire, we’re making a lot of really good progress over the last few days,” incident commander Carl Schwope said at a briefing Wednesday night.

“We do have some more critical fire weather moving in … starting now and getting warmer and drier throughout the weekend. (But) feeling real confident that we are ahead of the curve on that,” he said.

Bruno Rodriguez, an inter-agency meteorologist assigned to the fire, said gusts should continue to increase by about 5 mph (8 kph) per day, from 25 mph (40 kph) Thursday to as strong as 50 mph (80 kph) by Monday.

“It’s definitely going to be a critical fire weather pattern and unfortunately it’s going to be fairly prolonged and persistent,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno, Nevada.

Police face questions over response to Texas school shooting

By JAKE BLEIBERG, JIM VERTUNO and ELLIOT SPAGAT for the Associated Press

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced mounting questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed a Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday’s shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Investigators were also unable to say with any certainty whether an armed school district security officer outside Robb Elementary in the town of Uvalde exchanged fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, when Ramos first arrived on Tuesday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a U.S. Border Patrol team burst in and shot the gunman to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

But a department spokesman said Thursday that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home.

“Right now we do not have an accurate or confident timeline to provide to say the gunman was in the school for this period,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN.

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.

“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.

But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Olivarez said investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school when he heard about the shooting, arriving while police were still gathered outside.

Upset that police were not moving in, he raised the idea of charging into the school with several other bystanders.

“Let’s just rush in because the cops aren’t doing anything like they are supposed to,” he said. “More could have been done.”

“They were unprepared,” he added.

Carranza had watched as Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured.

Olivarez told CNN that the school security officer outside was armed and that initial reports said he and Ramos exchanged gunfire, “but right now we’re trying to corroborate that information.”

As Ramos entered the school, two Uvalde police officers exchanged fire with him, and were wounded, according to Olivarez. Ramos went into a classroom and began to kill.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner.

“There were more of them. There was just one of him,” he said.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared.

Neighbor Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

States divided on gun controls, even as mass shootings rise

By RACHEL LA CORTE and ANDREW DEMILLO for the Associated Press

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee was quick to react to this week’s carnage at a Texas elementary school, sending a tweet listing the gun control measures the Democratic-controlled state has taken. He finished with: “Your turn Congress.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses the recent mass shooting in Texas, during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, May 25, 2022. Flanked by lawmakers from both houses of the state legislature, Newsom said he is ready to sign more restrictive gun measures passed by lawmakers.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

But gun control measures are likely going nowhere in Congress, and they also have become increasingly scarce in most states. Aside from several Democratic-controlled states, the majority have taken no action on gun control in recent years or have moved aggressively to expand gun rights.

That’s because they are either controlled politically by Republicans who oppose gun restrictions or are politically divided, leading to stalemate.

“Here I am in a position where I can do something, I can introduce legislation, and yet to know that it almost certainly is not going to go anywhere is a feeling of helplessness,” said state Sen. Greg Leding, a Democrat in the GOP-controlled Arkansas Legislature. He has pushed unsuccessfully for red flag laws that would allow authorities to remove firearms from those determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

After Tuesday’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, Democratic governors and lawmakers across the country issued impassioned pleas for Congress and their own legislatures to pass gun restrictions. Republicans have mostly called for more efforts to address mental health and to shore up protections at schools, such as adding security guards.

Among them is Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who has repeatedly talked about mental health struggles among young people and said tougher gun laws in places like New York and California are ineffective. In Tennessee, GOP Rep. Jeremy Faison tweeted that the state needs to have security officers “in all of our schools,” but stopped short of promising to introduce legislation during next year’s legislative session: “Evil exists and we must protect the innocent from it,” Faison said.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has repeatedly clashed with the GOP-controlled Legislature over gun laws. He has called for passage of universal background checks and “red flag” laws, only to be ignored by Republicans. Earlier this year, the Democrat vetoed a Republican bill that would have allowed holders of concealed carry permits to have firearms in vehicles on school grounds and in churches located on the grounds of a private school.

“We cannot accept that gun violence just happens,” Evers said in a tweet. “We cannot accept that kids might go to school and never come home. We cannot accept the outright refusal of elected officials to act.”

On Wednesday, a day after the Texas shooting, legislative Democrats asked that the Wisconsin gun safety bills be taken up again, apparently to no avail. Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos did not return messages seeking their response.

In Pennsylvania, an effort by Democratic lawmakers Wednesday in the GOP-controlled Legislature to ban owning, selling or making high-capacity, semi-automatic firearms failed, as House Republicans displayed their firm opposition to gun restrictions. The GOP-majority Legislature has rejected appeals by Democratic governors over the past two decades to tighten gun control laws, including taking steps such as expanding background checks or limiting the number of handgun purchases one person can make in a month.

The situation is similar in Michigan, which has a Democratic governor and Republican-controlled Legislature. On Wednesday, Democrats in the state Senate were thwarted in their efforts to advance a group of bills that would require gun owners to lock up their firearms and keep them away from minors.

“Every day we don’t take action, we are choosing guns over children,” said Democratic Sen. Rosemary Bayer, whose district includes a high school where a teen was charged in a shooting that killed four in November and whose parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of failing to lock up their gun. “Enough is enough. No more prayers, no more thoughts, no more inaction.”

Republican state Sen. Ken Horn responded by urging discussion about the other potential causes of gun violence.

“I would just point out that there are political solutions, but there are just as many spiritual solutions,” he said. “We don’t know what’s really happening in this world, what’s happening in this country, what’s happening to young men.”

Florida stands out as a Republican-controlled state that took action. The 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland that left 14 students and three staff members dead prompted lawmakers there to pass a law with a red flag provision that lets law enforcement officers petition a court to have guns confiscated from a person considered a threat.

Democrats now want that expanded to allow family members or roommates to make the same request of the courts, but there has been little appetite among Republicans to amend the law. Instead, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he wants lawmakers to allow people to carry handguns without a permit. The state currently requires a concealed weapons license.

While Republicans have supported red flag laws in some other states, most legislative action around gun control in recent years has been in states led by Democrats.

In Washington state, the governor earlier this year signed a package of bills related to firearm magazine limits, ghost guns and adding more locations where guns are prohibited, including ballot counting sites.

In California on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom and top Democratic legislative leaders vowed to fast-track gun legislation, identifying about a dozen bills they plan to pass this year. Newsom highlighted a bill that would let private citizens enforce a ban on assault weapons by filing lawsuits – similar to a law in Texas that bans most abortions through civil enforcement.

Oregon’s Democratically controlled Legislature has passed bills that require background checks, prohibit guns on public school grounds, allow firearms to be taken from those who pose a risk and ensure safe storage of firearms. On Wednesday, a group of six Democrats said more must be done after the mass shooting in Texas and the racially motivated massacre in Buffalo, New York. They pledged additional action next year.

“We ran for office to solve big problems and make life better for our constituents — and that includes taking on the gun lobby and politicians that place profits and political power over children’s lives,” they said in a joint statement.

But there are limits even in some Democratic-controlled states, underscoring the challenge of gaining consensus to combat the rising frequency of mass shootings in the U.S.

Rhode Island has passed restrictions in recent years that include measures to ban firearms from school grounds and close the “straw purchasing” loophole that had allowed people to buy guns for someone else. But bills that would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons have been bottled up in committee, in part because the overwhelmingly Democratic chamber includes many lawmakers who have opposed the measures, citing their support for the Second Amendment.

In Connecticut, gun violence legislation supported by both parties swiftly followed after 20 children and six staff members were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary Schoo l in 2012. But additional gun control measures stalled this year in the Democratic-led General Assembly, in large part because of a short legislative session and threats by Republicans to hold up legislation through a filibuster.

Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday he’s uncertain whether he will call a special session on the bills. They would put limits on bulk purchases of firearms and require the registration of so-called ghost guns, untraceable firearms that can be assembled at home.

“I think it’s become an incredibly partisan argument right now in our society,” Lamont said. “It wasn’t that way, you know, 30, 40 years ago. So that is disturbing, even in a state like Connecticut, where after Sandy Hook we had strong bipartisan support.”

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DeMillo reported from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press statehouse reporters from around the U.S. contributed to this report.

Rain brings relief to massive, record-wildfire in New Mexico

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN for the Associated Press

Lightning sparked a few new small fires in the drought-stricken Southwest Monday but the thunderstorms brought welcome rain to the monster blaze that’s been churning for a month in New Mexico and is now the state’s largest in recorded history.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows the active fire lines of the Hermits Peak wildfire, in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. Wildfire in the West is on a furious pace early this year. Wind-driven flames tearing through vegetation that is extraordinarily dry from years-long drought exacerbated by climate change has made even small blazes a threat to life and property. (Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies via AP)

“We haven’t seen rain in a really long time so that’s exciting,” San Miguel County Sheriff Chris Lopez said Monday might at a briefing on the biggest active fire in the U.S. burning east of Santa Fe.

“It gave us a little bit of a breather,” he said at one of the command posts in Las Vegas, New Mexico, on the southeast flank of the blaze that’s charred 465 square miles (1,204 square kilometers).

More than 2,000 fire personnel remain on the lines in the Sangre de Cristo mountain range south of Taos. The fire now covers an area nearly one-quarter the size of Delaware.

More than 260 homes have burned and more evacuations were prompted over the weekend as the blaze moved through dry — and in some cases dead — stands of pine and fir trees. Huge columns of smoke could be seen from miles away, and fire officials and weather forecasts continue to refer to it as an unprecedented situation.

Stepped up aerial attacks also helped about 1,000 firefighters continue to make progress Monday on a big fire west of Santa Fe.

Richard Nieto, wildland fire manager officer for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, said Monday night authorities were preparing to relax the status of evacuation alerts as crews were pushing back the flames about 3 miles (5 km) southwest of the lab’s federal boundary.

New lightning-sparked fires Monday included one about 2.5 miles (4 km) from Sedona, Arizona, but fire officials said Monday night it had burned less than an acre and the growth potential was low.

Forecasters said the weather will remain unstable throughout the week with shifting winds and rising humidity. But crews should enjoy at least another day of more favorable fire conditions.

It should be a “good work day for the crews,” fire behavior specialist Stewart Turner said Monday night. “Not suspecting big growth at all.”

Monday’s reprieve allowed ground crews to move into position to capitalize on retardant drops from airtankers and water spilled from helicopter buckets to expand contingency plans for back-up fire lines in the days ahead farther south of Santa Fe and to the northeast toward the Colorado line.

“We’re trying to think bigger box, bigger picture,” Nickie Johnny, an incident commander from California who is helping with the fire, said about efforts to find places miles ahead of the flames where crews can cut fire lines and mount a defense.

Fires also were burning elsewhere in New Mexico and in Colorado as much of the West has marked a notably hot, dry and windy spring. Predictions for the rest of the season do not bode well, with drought and warmer weather brought on by climate change worsening wildfire danger.

Colorado Springs enacted a fire ban after a series of fires have spread quickly due to hot and dry conditions, including a fatal one caused by smoking. Under a ban taking effect Monday, smoking and grilling will be prohibited in parks in Colorado’s second-largest city and people grilling at home will be allowed to use only gas or liquid fuel, not charcoal or wood.

Burn bans and fire restrictions also have been put in place in cities and counties around New Mexico in recent weeks, with officials warning that any new fire starts would further stress firefighting resources.

Nationwide, about 2,030 square miles (5,258 square kilometers) have burned so far this year — the most at this point since 2018, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

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Associated Press writer Colleen Slevin in Denver and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.

Hungary’s military finds mission in life for abused dog

By JUSTIN SPIKE for the Associated Press

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungary’s military has found a new mission in life for a talented dog who was rescued from abusive owners, recruiting 2-year-old Logan to serve in counterterrorism operations for an elite bomb squad.

Sgt. 1st Class Balazs Nemeth and his bomb sniffer dog Logan are seen together at the garrison of Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Warship Regiment of the Hungarian Defense Forces in Budapest, Hungary, April 28, 2022. Logan, a two-year-old Belgian shepherd, has received a second chance after being rescued from abusive owners and recruited to serve in an elite military bomb squad. Logan is undergoing intensive training as an explosive detection dog for the Hungarian Defense Forces. (AP Photo/Bela Szandelszky)

The Belgian shepherd is undergoing intensive training as an explosives detection dog for the explosive ordnance disposal and warship regiment of the Hungarian Defense Forces.

At the unit’s garrison on the Danube River in the capital Budapest, Logan receives daily socialization and obedience exercises, and is trained to recognize the smell of 25 different explosive substances.

“He has already started to learn how to smell explosives in a completely homogeneous environment, and he has also started to learn how to search motor vehicles and ships,” said Logan’s trainer, Sgt. 1st Class Balazs Nemeth.

Logan’s new role as a bomb sniffer came only after an early life full of hardships. In 2021, animal welfare officers received a tip that a dog was being abused and held in inhumane conditions at a rural residence in northeastern Hungary. During an on-site inspection, the officers found Logan confined to a one-meter (3-foot) chain and suffering from malnourishment.

Several weeks later, Nemeth, the regiment’s training officer, visited the shelter where Logan was housed and began assessing his suitability for becoming a professional bomb sniffer.

“The moment we met him the first impressions were very positive. We saw a well-motivated dog in relatively good condition and we immediately had confidence in him,” Nemeth said.

In a demonstration at the unit’s garrison, Nemeth opened a case containing two dozen vials of mock explosive materials like C-4, TNT, ammonium nitrate and others, which Logan is trained to detect.

After concealing a small package of explosive in a hidden crevice on one of the regiment’s river boats, Nemeth brought Logan to the training area where he went immediately to work sniffing for the package, which he found within seconds. The dog’s body tensed as he pointed with his nose at the source of the smell, alerting his handler.

The regiment’s commanding officer, Col. Zsolt Szilagyi, said that the increased use of improvised explosive devices by extremist cells since the turn of the millennium have made it necessary to employ new methods for detecting potential bombs.

“This was a challenge to which the military had to respond, and one of the best ways to detect these devices is to use explosive detection dogs,” Szilagyi said. “These four-legged comrades have been supporting the activities of our bomb disposal soldiers.”

Logan, he said, will serve as an inspector of important sites in Hungary, and could be sent along with the country’s military to NATO missions abroad.

While rescued dogs often present challenges in training given their often traumatic backgrounds, Nemeth said he is confident that Logan will be successful and make a valuable addition to the unit.

“Logan is very valuable because about one out of 10,000 rescued dogs is fit for military service, both medically and psychologically,” he said.

Recruiting rescued dogs often reveals their undiscovered capabilities, and allows for them to find a new home where they can thrive, Szilagyi said.

“There are dogs that have great potential but for some reason they have been pushed to the margins,” he said. “We can give these dogs a new opportunity to be placed in a family, so to speak, where they can live a proper life in loving, competent hands and be useful.”

Nearly 43,000 people died on US roads last year, agency says

By TOM KRISHER for the Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home.

FILE – The scene of a fatality car crash, June 2, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla. Nearly 43,000 people were killed on U.S. roads last year, the highest number in 16 years as Americans returned to the highways after the pandemic forced many to stay at home. The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975. (Tanner Laws/Tulsa World via AP, File)

The 10.5% jump over 2020 numbers was the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began its fatality data collection system in 1975.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said America faces a crisis on its roads. The safety administration urged state and local governments, drivers and safety advocates to join in an effort to reverse the rising death trend.

Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the agency show that 42,915 people died in traffic crashes last year, up from 38,824 in 2020. Final figures will be released in the fall.

Americans drove about 325 billion miles last year, 11.2% higher than in 2020, which contributed to the increase.

Nearly 118 people died in U.S. traffic crashes every day last year, according to the agency’s figures. The Governors Highway Safety Association, a group of state traffic safety officials, blamed the increase on dangerous behavior such as speeding, driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs, and distracted driving, as well as “roads designed for speed instead of safety.”

The combination, the group said, “has wiped out a decade and a half of progress in reducing traffic crashes, injuries and deaths.”

Deaths last year increased in almost all types of crashes, NHTSA reported. Fatalities in urban areas and deaths in multi-vehicle crashes each rose 16%. Pedestrian deaths were up 13%, while fatalities among drivers 65 and older rose 14%.

Fatalities involving at least one big truck were up 13%, while motorcycle deaths were up 9% and deaths of bicyclists rose 5%. Fatalities involving speeding drivers and deaths in alcohol-related crashes each were up 5%.

Government estimates show the rate of road deaths declined slightly from 2020. Last year there were 1.33 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, compared with 1.34 in 2020. The fatality rate rose in the first quarter of last year, but declined the rest of the year, NHTSA said.

Traffic deaths began to spike in 2019. NHTSA has blamed reckless driving behavior for increases during the pandemic, citing behavioral research showing that speeding and traveling without a seat belt have been higher. Before 2019, the number of fatalities had fallen for three straight years.

Deputy NHTSA Administrator Steven Cliff, the Biden administration’s nominee to run the agency, said the roadway crisis is urgent and preventable. “We will redouble our safety efforts, and we need everyone — state and local governments, safety advocates, automakers and drivers, to join us,” Cliff said in a statement. “All of our lives depend on it.”

Buttigieg pointed to a national strategy unveiled earlier this year aimed at reversing the trend. He said earlier that over the next two years his department will provide federal guidance as well as billions in grants under President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure law to spur states and localities to lower speed limits and embrace safer road design such as dedicated bike and bus lanes, better lighting and crosswalks. The strategy also urges the use of speed cameras, which the department says could provide more equitable enforcement than police traffic stops.

In Tuesday’s statement, the department said it opened up its first round of applications for the program, which will spend $6 billion over five years on local efforts to cut crashes and deaths.

The Transportation Department is moving in the right direction to stem the increase in deaths, but it will take years for many of the steps to work, said Michael Brooks, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.

NHTSA, for instance, has regulations pending to require electronic automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection systems on all new light vehicles, and to require automatic emergency braking on heavy trucks, he said. Automatic emergency braking can slow or stop a vehicle if there’s an object in its path.

The agency also is requiring automakers to install systems that alert rear-seat passengers if their safety belts aren’t buckled.

“Responding to this is difficult,” Brooks said. “It takes a lot of work on a lot of different strategies to address these issues. They’ve got a lot of work on their hands.”

K-9 named Zorro captures Florida man after high-speed chase

From the Associated Press

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — A 20-year-old man drove a stolen Mercedes SUV as fast as 178 mph (286 kph) during a chase Monday night through six counties along Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 95, authorities said.

Deputies deployed stop sticks to flatten the vehicle’s tires and a K-9 named Zorro then helped secure the fleeing suspect, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said in a Facebook post. The chase began near Orlando and ended some 150 miles (241 kilometers) later near Hobe Sound.

“The danger to innocent lives related to this crime cannot be overstated,” the release said.

Deputies in Martin County, which is north of West Palm Beach, were alerted to the chase through an alert from the Florida Highway Patrol. Video footage from a sheriff’s office aircraft showed the car speeding along without headlights after deputies attempted to stop it.

The sheriff’s office said the ground pursuit was terminated because of the dangerous speeds, but the aircraft continued to track the stolen SUV. Deputies were able to deploy the stop sticks to deflate the vehicle’s tires.

The driver ran from the vehicle and into a wooded area.

“Multiple deputies followed along with K-9 Zorro,” the release said. After he ignored multiple commands to surrender, deputies unleashed the dog “into the woods ending this dangerous criminal joyride.”

The South Florida suspect faces multiple charges including grand theft of a motor vehicle, fleeing with a disregard for safety, and obstruction. His 28-year-old passenger was also arrested.

The sheriff’s office commended “every agency and every person on-shift” for ending the pursuit with no injuries or loss of life.”

Bus video gives more info about Pittsburgh bridge collapse

By MARK SCOLFORO for the Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Video footage from a bus of the bridge collapse in Pittsburgh this year shows one end of the structure had already fallen when an expansion joint at the other end was pulling apart, federal investigators said Thursday.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says this image is from the forward-facing camera on the bus that was involved in the collapse of the Fern Hollow Bridge in Pittsburgh and shows the bridge deck separating at the east expansion joint (the red oval highlights the expansion joint). The image is from video provided by NTSB in a report issued, Thursday, May 5, 2022, pertaining to the Jan. 28 2022, collapse of the bridge. (National Transportation Safety Board via AP)

The National Transportation Safety Board issued an update on the Fern Hollow bridge collapse, saying the video is giving them more information about the sequence of events.

So far there’s no evidence of “widespread deficiencies” in the “rigid K-frame superstructure types” that form the bridge’s basic structure, the report said.

The investigative update said that all aspects of the disaster are still being looked at and that the cause has yet to be determined. Investigators plan mechanical and chemical testing on material samples and will examine plate dimensions and weld quality.

preliminary report issued less than two weeks after the Jan. 28 collapse had found the collapse began at the structure’s west end and noted there had been no primary fractures in sections of welded steel girders considered “fracture critical.” A fracture critical area in a beam is the part most likely to show damage if the bridge has suddenly given way.

When the Forbes Avenue bridge gave way, it sent a city bus and four passenger cars down some 100 feet (30 meters) to a ravine carved by Fern Hollow Creek. Another vehicle drove off the east bridge abutment and landed on its roof.

Although the preliminary report had said a total of 10 vehicle occupants had been injured, the agency has now concluded that there were nine people in six vehicles. Two were injured seriously, two had minor injuries, four were not hurt, and the injury status of one person is uncertain, the agency said Thursday. No one was killed.

Natural gas lines ruptured and required the evacuation of nearby homes.

The 447-foot-long (136-meter) bridge, about 50 years old, showed some deterioration during an inspection in September, but not enough to require its closure. The bridge has had a 26-ton (24,000 kilogram) weight limit since 2014.

The future of the bridge is the topic of a virtual meeting Thursday night in which city officials and neighbors are expected to participate.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has said up to $25.3 million in National Highway Performance Program funds is being used to rebuild the structure. The contractor began gearing up for construction last month, and early foundation work is about to begin, PennDOT spokesperson Alexis Campbell said Thursday.

The state agency has posted images of the replacement bridge’s “overall design concept.”

Defenders inside Ukrainian steel mill refuse to surrender

By JON GAMBRELL and CARA ANNA from the Associated Press

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian fighters battling Russian forces in the tunnels beneath Mariupol’s immense steel plant refused to surrender in the face of relentless attacks, with the wife of one commander saying they had vowed to “stand till the end.”

The gutted remains of an Antonov An-225, the world’s biggest cargo aircraft, destroyed during recent fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces, at the Antonov airport in Hostomel, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, May 5, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

The fight in the last Ukrainian stronghold of the strategic port city reduced to ruins by the Russian onslaught appeared increasingly desperate amid growing speculation that President Vladimir Putin wants to present the Russian people with a battlefield triumph — or announce an escalation of the war — in time for Victory Day on Monday.

“They won’t surrender,” Kateryna Prokopenko said Thursday after speaking by phone to her husband, a leader of the steel plant defenders. “They only hope for a miracle.”

She said her husband, Azov Regiment commander Denys Prokopenko, told her he would love her forever. “I am going mad from this. It seemed like words of goodbye,” she said.

The Ukrainian military’s General Staff said Friday that “the blockade of units of the defense forces in the Azovstal area continues” and that the Russians, with aviation support, had resumed assault operations to take control of the sprawling plant.

Monday’s Victory Day is the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar, marking the Soviet Union’s triumph over Nazi Germany. But as long as Ukrainians resist the takeover of the plant, “Russian losses will continue to build and frustrate their operational plans in southern Donbas,” the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment.

Some 2,000 Ukrainian fighters, by Russia’s most recent estimate, were holed up in a maze of tunnels and bunkers beneath Azovstal steelworks. A few hundred civilians were also believed trapped there.

“There are many wounded (fighters), but they are not surrendering,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. “They are holding their positions.”

“Just imagine this hell! And there are children there,” he said. “More than two months of constant shelling, bombing, constant death.”

The Russians managed to get inside the plant Wednesday with the help of an electrician who knew the layout, said Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry.

“He showed them the underground tunnels which are leading to the factory,” Gerashchenko said in a video.

Zelenskyy said the attack was preventing evacuation of the remaining civilians, even as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said another attempt was underway. “We must continue to do all we can to get people out of these hellscapes,” Guterres said.

The Kremlin denied its troops were storming the plant and has demanded the Ukrainians surrender. They have refused. Russia has also accused the fighters of preventing the civilians from leaving.

The fall of Mariupol would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern industrial region that the Kremlin says is now its chief objective.

Capt. Sviatoslav Palamar, deputy commander of the Azov Regiment, pleaded on Ukrainian TV for the evacuation of civilians and wounded fighters from the steelworks, saying soldiers were “dying in agony due to the lack of proper treatment.”

More than 100 civilians were rescued from the steelworks over the weekend. But many previous attempts to open safe corridors from Mariupol have fallen through, with Ukraine blaming shelling and firing by the Russians.

Meanwhile, 10 weeks into the devastating war, Ukraine’s military claimed it recaptured some areas in the south and repelled other attacks in the east, further frustrating Putin’s ambitions after his abortive attempt to seize Kyiv. Ukrainian and Russian forces are fighting village by village.

The General Staff in Kyiv said Russian forces were conducting surveillance flights, and in the hard-hit areas of Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian forces repulsed 11 attacks and destroyed tanks and armored vehicles. Russia gave no immediate acknowledgement of those losses.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Russian forces are making only “plodding” progress in the Donbas.

There are growing suggestions that Ukraine might try to widen its push to seize more territory from Russia outside of Kharkiv, its second-largest city.

Ukrainian chief of defense, Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said Thursday that a counteroffensive could begin to push Russian forces away from Kharkiv and Izyum, which has been a key node in Russia’s control of the eastern cauldron. Ukraine in recent days has driven Russian troops some 40 kilometers (25 miles) east of Kharkiv, which has been repeatedly struck by Russian shelling.

Additional Ukrainian advances may spare the city from artillery strikes, as well as force Moscow to divert troops from other areas of the front line.

On Thursday, an American official said the U.S. shared intelligence with Ukraine about the location of a Russian flagship before the mid-April strike that sank it, one of Moscow’s highest-profile failures in the war.

The U.S. has provided “a range of intelligence” that includes locations of warships, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. The official said the decision to target the missile cruiser Moskva was purely a Ukrainian decision.

Fearful of new attacks surrounding Victory Day, the mayor of the western Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk urged residents to leave for the countryside over the long weekend and warned them not to gather in public places.

And the southeastern city of Zaporizhzhia, a key transit point for evacuees from Mariupol, announced a curfew from Sunday evening through Tuesday morning.

Mariupol, which had a prewar population of over 400,000, has come to symbolize the misery inflicted by the war. The siege of the city has trapped perhaps 100,000 civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

As the battle raged there, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Russian bombardment Thursday hit dozens of Ukrainian military targets, including troop concentrations in the east, an artillery battery near the eastern settlement of Zarozhne and rocket launchers near the southern city of Mykolaiv.

The war has devastated Ukraine’s medical infrastructure, Zelenskyy said in a video link to a charity event in the U.K. Nearly 400 health care facilities have been damaged or destroyed, he said.

“There is simply a catastrophic situation regarding access to medical services and medicines,” in areas occupied by Russian forces, he said. “Even the simplest drugs are lacking.”

With the challenge of mine-clearing and rebuilding after the war in mind, Zelenskyy announced the launch of a global fundraising platform called United24.

At the same time, Poland hosted an international donor conference that raised $6.5 billion in humanitarian aid. The gathering was attended by prime ministers and ambassadors from many European countries, as well as representatives of other nations and some businesses.

In addition, a Ukrainian cabinet body began to develop proposals for a comprehensive postwar reconstruction plan, while Zelenskyy also urged Western allies to put forward a program similar to the post-World War II Marshall Plan plan to help Ukraine rebuild.

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Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

St. Paul mayor names interim police chief

From the Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The mayor of St. Paul has picked a new interim police chief.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday that Deputy Chief Jeremy Ellison will take over as interim chief after Todd Axtell steps down on June 1.

Former Mayor Chris Coleman appointed Axtell, who has clashed with Carter over department budgets and officer salaries. Axtell announced in October he wouldn’t seek reappointment to another six-year term.

Carter said he hopes to name a new chief by late summer or early fall.

Ellison has worked for the police department since 2000, including stints on patrol and traffic safety as well as narcotics and special investigations.

Ukraine repels some attacks but combat rages at steel mill

By JON GAMBRELL and CARA ANNA from the Associated Press

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian forces said Thursday they repelled Russian attacks in the east and recaptured some territory, even as Moscow moved to obstruct the flow of Western weapons to Ukraine by bombarding rail stations and other supply-line targets across the country.

FILE – Debris covers the inside of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theatre following a March 16, 2022, bombing in Mariupol, Ukraine, in an area now controlled by Russian forces, Monday, April 4, 2022. The bombing of the theater that was used as a shelter stands out as the single deadliest known attack against civilians to date in the war. (AP Photo/Alexei Alexandrov, File)

Heavy fighting also raged at the Azovstal steel mill in Mariupol that represented the last stronghold of Ukrainian resistance in the ruined southern port city, the Ukrainian military reported. A Russian official earlier denied that troops were storming the plant, but the commander of the main Ukrainian unit inside said Russian soldiers had pushed into the mill’s territory.

“With the support of aircraft, the enemy resumed the offensive in order to take control of the plant,” the General Staff in Kyiv said, adding that the Russians were “trying to destroy Ukrainian units.”

To the west of Mariupol, Ukrainian forces made some gains on the border of the southern regions of Kherson and Mykolaiv, where Russian troops were reportedly trying to launch a counteroffensive, and repelled 11 Russian attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the military said.

Five people were killed and at least 25 more wounded in shelling of several eastern cities over the past 24 hours, Ukrainian officials said.

The Russian military said it used sea- and air-launched missiles to destroy electric power facilities at five railway stations across Ukraine on Wednesday. Artillery and aircraft also struck troop strongholds and fuel and ammunition depots. Videos on social media suggested a bridge there was attacked.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba accused Russia of “resorting to the missile terrorism tactics in order to spread fear across Ukraine.”

Responding to the strikes in his nightly video address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: “All of these crimes will be answered, legally and quite practically – on the battlefield.”

The flurry of attacks comes as Russia prepares to celebrate Victory Day on May 9, marking the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. The world is watching for whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will use the occasion to declare a victory in Ukraine or expand what he calls the “special military operation.”

A declaration of all-out war would allow Putin to introduce martial law and mobilize reservists to make up for significant troop losses.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the speculation as “nonsense.”

Meanwhile, Belarus, which Russia used as a staging ground for its invasion, announced the start of military exercises Wednesday. A top Ukrainian official said the country will be ready to act if Belarus joins the fighting.

The British Defense Ministry said it does not anticipate that the drills currently posed a threat to Ukraine, but that Moscow will likely use them “to fix Ukrainian forces in the north, preventing them from being committed to the battle for the Donbas,” the eastern industrial heartland that is Russia’s stated war objective.

The attacks on rail infrastructure were meant to disrupt the delivery of Western weapons, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu complained that the West is “stuffing Ukraine with weapons.”

A senior U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that while the Russians have tried to hit critical infrastructure around the western city of Lviv, specifically targeting railroads, there has been “no appreciable impact” on Ukraine’s effort to resupply its forces. Lviv, close to the Polish border, has been a major gateway for NATO-supplied weapons.

Weaponry pouring into Ukraine helped its forces thwart Russia’s initial drive to seize Kyiv and seems certain to play a central role in the growing battle for the Donbas.

Ukraine has urged the West to ramp up the supply of weapons ahead of that potentially decisive clash.

In addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Europe and the U.S. have sought to punish Moscow with sanctions. The EU’s top official called on the 27-nation bloc on Wednesday to ban Russian oil imports, a crucial source of revenue.

“We will make sure that we phase out Russian oil in an orderly fashion, in a way that allows us and our partners to secure alternative supply routes and minimizes the impact on global markets,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

The proposal needs unanimous approval from EU countries and is likely to be debated fiercely. Hungary and Slovakia have already said they won’t take part in any oil sanctions. They could be granted an exemption.

The EU is also talking about a possible embargo on Russian natural gas. The bloc has already approved a cutoff of coal imports.

Russia’s economy is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports.

In Mariupol, Mayor Vadym Boychenko said that Russian forces were targeting the already shattered Azovstal plant with heavy artillery, tanks, aircraft, warships and “heavy bombs that pierce concrete 3 to 5 meters thick.”

“Our brave guys are defending this fortress, but it is very difficult,” he said.

Ukrainian fighters said Tuesday that Russian forces had begun storming the plant. But the Kremlin denied it. “There is no assault,” Peskov said.

Denys Prokopenko, commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment that’s defending the plant, said in a video that the incursions continued “and there are heavy, bloody battles.”

“The situation is extremely difficult, but in spite of everything, we continue to carry out the order to hold the defense,” he added.

His wife, Kateryna Prokopenko, told The Associated Press: “We don’t want them to die. They won’t surrender. They are waiting for the bravest countries to evacuate them.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations announced that more than 300 civilians were evacuated Wednesday from Mariupol and other nearby communities. The evacuees arrived in Zaporizhzhia, about 140 miles (230 kilometers) to the northwest, where they were receiving humanitarian assistance.

Over the weekend, more than 100 people — including women, the elderly and 17 children — were evacuated from the plant during a cease-fire in an operation overseen by the U.N. and the Red Cross. But the attacks on the plant soon resumed.

The Russian government said on the Telegram messaging app that it would open another evacuation corridor from the plant during certain hours on Thursday through Saturday. But there was no immediate confirmation of those arrangements from other parties, and many previous such assurances from the Kremlin have fallen through, with the Ukrainians blaming continued fighting by the Russians.

It was unclear how many Ukrainian fighters were still inside, but the Russians put the number at about 2,000 in recent weeks, and 500 were reported to be wounded. A few hundred civilians also remained there, the Ukrainian side said.

Mariupol, and the plant in particular, have come to symbolize the misery inflicted by the war. The Russians have pulverized most of the city in a two-month siege that has trapped civilians with little food, water, medicine or heat.

The city’s fall would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, allow Russia to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014, and free up troops to fight elsewhere in the Donbas.

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Anna reported from Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists Yesica Fisch in Zaporizhzhia, Inna Varenytsia and David Keyton in Kyiv, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.

Survivor found almost 6 days after China building collapse

From the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Rescuers in central China have pulled a woman alive from the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, state media reported Thursday.

In this photo released by Xinhua News Agency, rescue workers evacuate the 10th survivor pulled alive after being trapped 132 hours from the debris of a self-built residential structure that collapsed in Changsha in central China’s Hunan Province on Thursday May 5, 2022. Rescuers in central China have pulled the woman alive from the rubble of a building that partially collapsed almost six days earlier, state media reported Thursday. (Shen Hong/Xinhua via AP)

The unidentified woman is the 10th survivor of the disaster in the city of Changsha, in which at least five people have died and an unknown number, possibly dozens, are still missing.

She was rescued shortly after midnight on Thursday, about 132 hours after the rear of the six-story building suddenly caved in on April 29, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The woman was conscious and advised rescuers on how to pull her out without causing further injury, Xinhua said. Teams had used dogs and hand tools as well as drones and electronic life detectors in the search.

All the survivors were reportedly in good condition after having been treated in a hospital. Intermittent rain showers in recent days may have increased their chances of survival without food or water.

At least nine people have been arrested in relation to the collapse of what Xinhua has described as a “self-built building,” including its owner, on suspicion of ignoring building codes or committing other violations.

Also held were three people in charge of design and construction and five others who allegedly gave a false safety assessment for a guest house on the building’s fourth to sixth floors.

The building also held a residence, a cafe and shops.

An increase in the number of collapses of self-built buildings in recent years prompted Chinese President Xi Jinping to call last month for additional checks to uncover structural weaknesses.

Poor adherence to safety standards, including the illegal addition of extra floors and failure to use reinforcing iron bars, is often blamed for such disasters. China also suffers from decaying infrastructure such as gas pipes that has led to explosions and collapses.

Police: Florida woman threatened to bomb hungry son’s school

From the Associated Press

COCOA, Fla. (AP) — A woman has been arrested months after threatening to blow up her son’s high school unless cafeteria workers started giving him more food, officials said.

The threat was left Feb. 3 in a voicemail to Cocoa High School on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, according to police and court records. The 41-year-old woman was arrested on Wednesday and charged with making a false bomb threat and disruption of a school.

She did not leave her name on the voicemail, but the school’s caller ID recorded the number, an arrest report said.

Staff members at the school listened to the message the next morning and contacted Cocoa police.

The school was evacuated, but no weapons or explosive devices were found.

Investigators located the woman’s phone number in school records and a resource officer confirmed that her child had gotten into an argument Feb. 3 with a cafeteria worker because he wanted more food.

The state attorney’s office filed paperwork ordering the woman’s arrest on April 7. Officials arrested her Wednesday.

Biden pardons former Secret Service agent and 2 others

By AAMER MADHANI for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden has granted the first three pardons of his term, providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of federal bribery charges that he tried to sell a copy of an agency file and to two people who were convicted on drug-related charges but went on to become pillars in their communities.

President Joe Biden speaks Friday, April 22, 2022, at Green River College in Auburn, Wash., south of Seattle. President Joe Biden is announcing that he has granted the first three pardons of his term. In one case he is providing clemency to a Kennedy-era Secret Service agent convicted of trying to sell a copy of an agency file. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The Democratic president also commuted the sentences of 75 others for nonviolent, drug-related convictions. The White House announced the clemencies Tuesday as it launched a series of job training and reentry programs for those in prison or recently released.

Many of those who received commutations have been serving their sentences on home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several were serving lengthy sentences and would have received lesser terms had they been convicted today for the same offenses as a result of the 2018 bipartisan sentencing reform ushered into law by the Trump administration.

“America is a nation of laws and second chances, redemption, and rehabilitation,” Biden said in a statement announcing the clemencies. “Elected officials on both sides of the aisle, faith leaders, civil rights advocates, and law enforcement leaders agree that our criminal justice system can and should reflect these core values that enable safer and stronger communities.”

Those granted pardons are:

— Abraham Bolden Sr., 86, the first Black Secret Service agent to serve on a presidential detail. In 1964, Bolden, who served on President John F. Kennedy’s detail, faced federal bribery charges that he attempted to sell a copy of a Secret Service file. His first trial ended in a hung jury.

Following his conviction in a second trial, key witnesses admitted lying at the prosecutor’s request. Bolden, of Chicago, was denied a retrial and served several years in federal prison. Bolden has maintained his innocence and wrote a book in which he argued he was targeted for speaking out against racist and unprofessional behavior in the Secret Service.

— Betty Jo Bogans, 51, was convicted in 1998 of possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine in Texas after attempting to transport drugs for her boyfriend and his accomplice. Bogans, a single mother with no prior record, received a seven-year sentence. In the years since her release from prison, Bogans has held consistent employment, even while undergoing cancer treatment, and has raised a son.

— Dexter Jackson , 52, of Athens, Georgia, was convicted in 2002 for using his pool hall to facilitate the trafficking of marijuana. Jackson pleaded guilty and acknowledged he allowed his business to be used by marijuana dealers.

After Jackson was released from prison, he converted his business into a cellphone repair service that employs local high school students through a program that provides young adults with work experience. Jackson has built and renovated homes in his community, which has a shortage of affordable housing.

Civil rights and criminal justice reform groups have pushed the White House to commute sentences and work harder to reduce disparities in the criminal justice system. Biden’s grants of clemency also come as the administration has faced congressional scrutiny over misconduct and the treatment of inmates in the beleaguered federal Bureau of Prisons, which is responsible for inmates serving sentences of home confinement.

Biden, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, helped shepherd through the 1994 crime bill that many criminal justice experts say contributed to harsh sentences and mass incarceration of Black people.

During his 2020 White House run, Biden vowed to reduce the number of people incarcerated in the U.S. and called for nonviolent drug offenders to be diverted to drug courts and treatment.

He also has pushed for better training for law enforcement and called for criminal justice system changes to address disparities that have led to minorities and the poor making up a disproportionate share of the nation’s incarcerated population.

Inimai Chettiar, federal director of the criminal justice reform advocacy group Justice Action Network, called Biden’s first pardons and commutations “just modest steps” and urged Biden “to meet the urgency of the moment.”

“President Biden ran on a promise to help end mass incarceration, and he has broad public support for that promise,” Chettiar added.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, granted 143 pardons and clemency to 237 during his four years in office.

Trump sought the advice of prison reform advocate Alice Johnson, a Black woman whose life sentence for a nonviolent drug offense he commuted in 2018. He was also lobbied by celebrity Kim Kardashian as well as advisers inside the White House, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, as he weighed applications for clemency.

The Republican used his pardon authority to help several political friends and allies, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Republican operative Roger Stone and Charles Kushner, the father-in-law of Ivanka Trump.

Among Trump’s final acts as president was pardoning his former chief strategist Steve Bannon and Al Pirro, the husband of Fox News host and Trump ally Jeanine Pirro.

Prosecutors alleged that Bannon, who had yet to stand trial when he was pardoned, had duped thousands of donors who believed their money would be used to fulfill Trump’s chief campaign promise to build a wall along the southern border. Instead, Bannon allegedly diverted more than $1 million, paying a salary to one campaign official and personal expenses for himself. Pirro was convicted in 2000 on tax charges.

With the slate of pardons and commutations announced Tuesday, Biden has issued more grants of clemency than any of the previous five presidents at this point in their terms, according to the White House.

In addition to the grants of clemency, Biden announced several new initiatives that are meant to help formerly incarcerated people gain employment — an issue that his administration is driving home as key to lowering crime rates and preventing recidivism.

The Labor Department is directing $140 million toward programs that offer job training, pre-apprenticeship programs, digital literacy training and pre-release and post-release career counseling and more for youth and incarcerated adults.

The $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress last year includes a trio of grant programs that the administration says promote hiring of formerly incarcerated individuals. And the Labor and Justice Departments announced on Tuesday a collaborative plan to provide $145 million over the next year on job skills training as well as individualized employment and reentry plans for people serving time in the Bureau of Prisons.

Biden said the new initiatives are vital to helping the more than 600,000 people released from prison each year get on stable ground.

“Helping those who served their time return to their families and become contributing members of their communities is one of the most effective ways to reduce recidivism and decrease crime,” Biden said.

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Associated Press writer Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

Wildfires tear across several states, driven by high winds

By MARGERY A. BECK and SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN for the Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Firefighters across the country are battling multiple wildfires as tinder-dry conditions and high winds whip up flames from Arizona to Florida — including a prairie fire in rural southwestern Nebraska that has killed one person, injured at least 15 firefighters and destroyed at least six homes.

This image provided by the Nebraska State Patrol shows smoke from a wildfire, Saturday, April 23, 2022 near Cambridge, Neb. Several small towns, including Cambridge, Bartley, Indianola and Wilsonville, in Nebraska’s southwest and Macy in its northeast, were forced to temporarily evacuate because of the wind-driven wildfires. (Nebraska State Patrol via AP)

A break in the weather in parts of the Midwest and West allowed crews to make progress Monday on some of the nearly dozen new large fires that were reported in recent days across the nation — four in New Mexico, three in Colorado and one each in Florida, Nebraska, South Dakota and Texas.

With more than 1,350 square miles (3,496 square kilometers) burned so far this year, officials at the National Interagency Fire Center said the amount of land singed to date is outpacing the 10-year average by about 30%.

Hotter, drier weather has combined with a persistent drought to worsen fire danger across many parts of the West, where decades of fire suppression have resulted in overgrown and unhealthy forests and increasing development have put more communities at risk.

In northern New Mexico, evacuations remained in place for several communities Monday and conditions were still too volatile for authorities to assess the damage caused Friday and Saturday. The blaze has has grown into the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., charring more than 88 square miles (228 square kilometers).

Members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation joined Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on a call Monday with officials from the White House and federal agencies to appeal for more federal ground resources ahead of another blast of strong fire-fueling winds expected later in the week.

Thanks to lighter winds in the Midwest on Monday, firefighters made significant progress on the fire that’s burned about 70 square miles (181 square km) of mostly grasslands and farmland near the Nebraska-Kansas state line. It’s now estimated to be about 47% contained.

They made the most of the opportunity Monday to dump water in dry creeks and draws filled with cottonwoods where dense fuels and brush has built up ahead of the return of more dangerous conditions expected on Tuesday, said Jonathan Ashford, spokesman for the Rocky Mountain Complex Incident Management Team.

“It’s supposed to be about 20 degrees warmer tomorrow, lower humidity and increased wind,” he said Monday night.

In Arizona, firefighters also took advantage of lighter winds to boost containment of a more than 33-square-mile (85 square-kilometer) blaze that has been burning outside of Flagstaff for more than a week. Strong winds that had fueled the fire are expected to return later this week. Meanwhile, hundreds of evacuated residents were given the go-ahead on Sunday to return home.

About 160 firefighters, emergency management personnel and others — twice as many as the day before — were helping fight the fire in Nebraska by Monday evening.

Known as the Road 702 Fire, it has destroyed at least six homes and threatened 660 others, along with 50 commercial or farm buildings, Ashford said.

A retired Cambridge, Nebraska, fire chief who was helping as a fire spotter in Red Willow County died Friday night after his truck went off the road in a blinding haze of smoke and dust. The body of John Trumble, 66, of Arapahoe, was recovered around early Saturday.

Trumble was the second person in a month to die while fighting a wildfire in southwest Nebraska. Elwood Volunteer Fire Chief Darren Krull, 54, was killed in a collision with a water tanker on April 7 in Furnas County as smoke cut visibility to zero.

Nebraska remains critically dry, said Ashford, who urged residents to use caution when doing anything that could spark a fire.

“The last thing we need is to have another fire started that we have to then fight,” he said.

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Susan Montoya Bryan reported from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Associated Press writer Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno, Nevada.

Czechs provide free shooting training for local Ukrainians

By KAREL JANICEK for the Associated Press

BRNO, Czech Republic (AP) — Of the first four shots Olha Dembitska fired from an AK-47 assault rifle in her life, one hit the target.

“It’s pretty difficult the first time,” the 22-year-old Ukrainian woman acknowledged.

Instructors train Ukrainian national at a shooting range in Brno, Czech Republic, Sunday April 10, 2022. Since Russia launched its brutal attack against Ukraine, Ukrainians living across Czech Republic have been arriving in the second largest Czech city of Brno. They have come for courses designed to teach them skills to safely handle lethal rifles while being able to inflict damage on their enemy. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

On this occasion, the target was the shape of a human body at a shooting range in the Czech Republic. Next time, it might be for real, in Ukraine, and the target could be one of the Russian troops who have invaded her homeland.

Dembitska is one of at least 130 men and women who have so far undergone free-of-charge training for Ukrainians living in the Czech Republic who want to learn how to fight the aggressor.

“I might return to Ukraine if they need me,” she said.

Almost none of the participants had any experience with weapons before war struck their homeland.

Since Russia launched its brutal attack, Ukrainians from all parts of the country and elsewhere have been arriving in the Czech Republic’s second-largest city, Brno, attracted by courses designed to teach them essentials and skills to safely handle lethal rifles while being able to inflict damage on their enemy.

Beside learning to shoot, the courses give them the basics about guns, movement around the battlefield and a lesson in providing first aid, something that can save lives if they‘re mobilized by their embattled country or decide to return home as volunteers to join the Ukrainian army.

They are all motivated.

“It’s horrible,” Dembitska said about the situation in her homeland. She gets her news from social media and from phone calls with a friend based in the southern city of Kherson, seized by Russian troops in the early stages of the invasion.

“She tells me everything. They haven’t received humanitarian aid. It’s a horror what the Russian soldiers are doing, I’m sick of it.”

Michal Ratajsky, the owner of CS Solutions, a security company that offers the training program at its base on the outskirts of Brno, located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Prague, called it “our contribution to the help for Ukrainians.”

“We view it as a morale boost we’re giving them in this situation, an effort to show we’re supporting them and that we will do for them what we can at the given moment,” Ratajsky said. “That was our motivation and goal.”

A crowdfunding campaign helped secure enough money for the ammunition, while his company provides the rest, including experienced instructors, weapons and the shooting range.

Ratajsky said the brief, three-hour training can’t do miracles but should be enough to introduce the Ukrainians to new, unfamiliar skills.

“We know that we don’t make soldiers of them in those three hours,” he said. “We try to do the maximum for them in the time, with the focus on their safety.”

Some of the participants have returned for repeated lessons. Some have come from as far away as Vienna. in neighboring Austria. Some took the course on their way back to Ukraine from Western Europe, Ratajsky said.

He said the Ukrainians are united by anger about the Russian aggression, and determined to end it.

“They take it seriously and want to do something about it.”

He said that because some 80% percent of troop losses in a war like the one in Ukraine are caused by artillery and missiles, a sense of self-preservation and knowledge of first aid might be more useful for survival than shooting.

“We’re aware of the limits of what we can get them ready for and make no secret of it,” Ratajsky said.

Yehor Nechyporenko, 38, who had traveled some 260 kilometers (160 miles) from the town of Mlada Boleslav to Brno for the second time said he is helping Ukrainian refugees who have arrived in the Czech Republic but wants to be ready to go back home to fight.

“It’s very useful for me,” he said of the training. “I really like it. I need to learn those things because I didn’t do military service.”

Nechyporenko said he was sure the Russians have no chance of taking the entire country.

“I think the war will be over in a couple of months,” he said. “And if we see we’re losing, we’ll all travel home.”

Activists stand by fired suburban Denver police chief

By COLLEEN SLEVIN for the Associated Press

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — Community leaders and activists on Monday rallied around a suburban Denver police chief who was fired last week despite her community work, including efforts to rebuild trust with residents following the 2019 death of Elijah McClain.

Vanessa Wilson, who was just dismissed as the chief of police in Aurora, Colo., last week, speaks at a rally in support of her efforts to insure police reforms on the steps of the municipal building Monday, April 11, 2022, in the east Denver suburb of Aurora, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Pastor Topazz McBride said the firing of Vanessa Wilson by the city of Aurora sent a message that supporting justice, communities of color, victims, families and those without homes can result in you losing your job.

“She has showed up when others wouldn’t,” McBride said of Wilson, standing among other supporters, including some city council members, outside the Aurora Municipal Center, near police headquarters.

City Manager Jim Twombly has said Wilson was fired because of concerns about her leadership and management, although he credited her for her outreach work.

Wilson said her firing was part of a “political agenda.” She did not elaborate but after she was fired her lawyers said members of the city council’s new conservative majority had engaged in a campaign to smear her reputation and did not support her efforts to reform the department and eradicate systemic racism f ound by the state attorney general’s office last year.

The attorney general’s office is also prosecuting three police officers and two paramedics indicted in McClain’s death. He got into a struggle with police officers who confronted him as he was walked down the street and was then injected with ketamine, a powerful sedative. He later died at the hospital.

“It’s not about me. It’s about making sure that we have leaders in police departments in this city, in this state and across the country that are willing to stand up to the unions, that are willing to stand up to people that are doing it wrong, and are willing to fire officers that are doing it wrong,” said Wilson, who did not rule out filing a lawsuit over her firing.

Wilson was quick to fire officers accused of misconduct, posting the results of investigations online for the public to read. Some were fired for using excessive force but some lost their jobs for lying about the hours they worked or wrongly claiming overtime.

Then in February, Wilson fired the president of one of police department’s two police unions for an email he sent to over 200 department employees criticizing diversity provisions the city had agreed to under a consent decree with the state attorney general’s office and disparaging the city’s residents.

“To match the ‘diversity’ of ‘the community’ we could make sure to hire 10% illegal aliens, 50% weed smokers, 10% crackheads, and a few child molesters and murderers to round it out. You know, so we can make the department look like the ‘community,’” Doug Wilkinson wrote in the email.

Last fall, Wilson received an overwhelming vote of no confidence from members of both unions after she called for an investigation of officers previously cleared of wrongdoing in a controversial traffic stop of a Black man, Sentinel Colorado reported.

Aurora Sgt. Paul Poole said it appears that Wilson’s “transparent disciplinary decisions” drew the wrath of police unions and some politicians. Poole, who is Black, said he believes that there are people in the department’s unions that agree with Wilkinson’s email but said he wanted to speak out against Wilson’s firing despite fears he could be retaliated against.

Dustin Zvonek, one of the new conservative council members who was endorsed by the police union during last year’s campaign, said he deplored Wilkinson’s email.

Zvonek blamed Wilson for poor morale in the department, calling her an insecure and insular leader more focused on community relations than in managing the police department. He blames her for an increase in retirements and resignations, which he said were even worse than other departments have been experiencing, leaving the department without enough staff to respond to less-violent crimes.

He said he did not object to Wilson’s firings of police officers over misconduct and did not think they contributed to the poor morale in the department. Instead, they were concerned that her efforts to heal the rift with the community might prevent her from standing by them even if they acted correctly but it looked bad to the public.

“I would also expect the new chief to be willing to stand unapologetically with any officer who does everything right even if the optics draw concern because we owe it to officers,” he said.

Gunman opens fire on Brooklyn subway; at least 10 shot

By KAREN MATTHEWS, JIM MUSTIAN and MICHAEL R. SISAK for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — There are no life-threatening injuries among the 10 people shot in Tuesday morning’s Brooklyn subway attack, NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell said. At least six more people were injured.

New York City Police Department personnel gather at the entrance to a subway stop in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Multiple people were shot and injured Tuesday at a subway station in New York City during a morning rush hour attack that left wounded commuters bleeding on a train platform. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

There was no known link to terrorism, the commissioner said, adding that there were no known explosive devices. Five people were in critical condition, but stable, according to the New York Fire Department commissioner.

The gunman sought in the attack “is still on the loose” and dangerous, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said at a press conference shortly after noon.

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

NEW YORK (AP) — A gunman filled a rush-hour subway train with smoke and shot multiple people Tuesday, leaving wounded commuters bleeding on a Brooklyn platform as others ran screaming, authorities said. Police were still searching for the shooter.

Officials said the gunfire wounded at least eight people, and at least 16 in all were injured in some way in the attack at the 36th Street station in the borough’s Sunset Park neighborhood.

A train rider’s video shows smoke and people pouring out of a subway car. Wails erupt as passengers run for an exit as a few others limp off the train. One falls to the platform, and a person hollers, “Someone call 911!” In other video and photos from the scene, people tend to bloodied passengers lying on the platform, some amid what appear to be small puddles of blood, and another person is on the floor of a subway car.

“My subway door opened into calamity. It was smoke and blood and people screaming,” eyewitness Sam Carcamo told radio station 1010 WINS, saying he saw a gigantic billow of smoke pouring out of the N train once the door opened.

According to multiple law enforcement sources briefed on the investigation, preliminary information indicated that the gunman who fled was wearing a construction vest and a gas mask.

Investigators believe the gunman deployed a smoke device before opening fire, one of the law enforcement officials said. Investigators are examining whether he may have used that device in an effort to distract people before shooting, the official said.

Fire and police officials were investigating reports that there had been an explosion, but the police department tweeted that there were “no active explosive devices at this time.” Multiple smoke devices were found on the scene, said mayoral spokesperson Fabien Levy, who confirmed the initial shooting injury count.

At least 11 people were being treated at two local hospitals. No MTA workers were physically hurt, according to a statement from the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

Juliana Fonda, a broadcast engineer at WNYC-FM, told its news site Gothamist she was riding the train when passengers from the car behind hers started banging on the door between them.

“There was a lot of loud pops, and there was smoke in the other car,” she said. “And people were trying to get in and they couldn’t, they were pounding on the door to get into our car.”

President Joe Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland were briefed on the incident, as was Gov. Kathy Hochul. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who is isolating following a positive COVID-19 test on Sunday, was briefed at the mayor’s residence.

The incident happened on a subway line that runs through south Brooklyn in a neighborhood — predominantly home to Hispanic and Asian communities — about a 15-minute train ride to Manhattan. Local schools, including Sunset Park High School across the street, were locked down.

Danny Mastrogiorgio of Brooklyn had just dropped his son off at school when he saw a crush of passengers, some of them wounded, running up the subway stairway at the nearby 25th Street station in panic. At least two had visible leg injuries, he said.

“It was insane,” he told The Associated Press. “No one knew exactly what was going on.”

Allan Lee was running his business, Cafe Nube, when a half-dozen police cars and fire vehicles suddenly converged on the block that contains the 36th Street station.

“Then they started ushering people that were on the block to the adjacent block and then closed off the subway entrance” near the cafe’s door, he told the AP. When he noticed bomb squad officers and dogs, he was certain it was no everyday subway problem.

A sea of emergency lights was visible from at least a dozen blocks away, where a police cordon was set up.

New York City has faced a spate a shootings and high-profile incidents in recent months, including on the city’s subways. One of the most shocking was in January when a woman was pushed to her death in front of a train by a stranger.

Adams, a Democrat a little over 100 days into his term, has made cracking down on crime — especially on the subways — a focus of his early administration, pledging to send more police officers into stations and platforms for regular patrols. It wasn’t immediately clear whether officers had already been inside the station when the shootings occurred.

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Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo in Washington and Michelle L. Price and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

Biden to nominate new ATF director, release ghost gun rule

By MICHAEL BALSAMO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is nominating an Obama-era U.S. attorney to run the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as his administration unveils its formal rule to rein in ghost guns, privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up at crime scenes, six people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press.

FILE – This Nov. 27, 2019, file photo shows “ghost guns” on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in San Francisco. The Biden administration is expected to come out within days with its long-awaited ghost gun rule. The aim is to rein in privately made firearms without serial numbers. They’re increasingly cropping up at crime scenes across the U.S. Three people familiar with the matter tell The Associated Press the rule could be released as soon as Monday, April 11,2022. They could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity. (AP Photo/Haven Daley, File)

Biden is expected to make the announcement nominating Steve Dettlebach, who served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016, at the White House on Monday, the people said. They were not authorized to discuss the nomination publicly and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The administration will also release the finalized version of its ghost gun rule, which comes as the White House and the Justice Department have been under growing pressure to crack down on gun deaths and violent crime in the U.S.

Dettlebach’s confirmation is likely to be an uphill battle for the Biden administration. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first ATF nominee, gun-control advocate David Chipman, after the nomination stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.

Both Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to get nominees for the ATF position through the politically fraught process since the director’s position was made confirmable in 2006. Since then, only one nominee, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed. Jones made it through the Senate in 2013 but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2013.

The Biden administration’s plan was first reported by Politico.

For nearly a year, the ghost gun rule has been making its way through the federal regulation process. Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to finish the rule for months. It will probably be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks.

On Sunday, the Senate’s top Democrat, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, implored the administration to move faster.

“It’s high time for a ghost gun exorcism before the proliferation peaks, and before more people get hurt — or worse,” Schumer said in a statement. “My message is a simple one: No more waiting on these proposed federal rules.” Ghost guns are “too easy to build, too hard to trace and too dangerous to ignore.”

Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. It is hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t contact the government about the guns because they can’t be traced.

The rule is expected to change the current definition of a firearm under federal law to include unfinished parts, like the frame of a handgun or the receiver of a long gun.

In its proposed rule released last May, the ATF said it was also seeking to require manufacturers and dealers who sell ghost gun parts to be licensed by the federal government and require federally licensed firearms dealers to add a serial number to any unserialized guns they plan to sell.

The rule would also require firearms dealers to run background checks before they sell ghost gun kits that contain parts needed to assemble a firearm.

For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for homemade, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. As well as turning up more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns have been increasingly encountered when federal agents buy guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.

Some states, like California, have enacted laws in recent years to require serial numbers to be stamped on ghost guns.

The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80-percent receiver” — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.

Police across the country have been reporting spikes in ghost guns being recovered by officers. The New York Police Department, for example, said officers found 131 unserialized firearms since January.

A gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California in 2017 had been prohibited from owning firearms, but he built his own to skirt the court order before his rampage. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade handgun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.

US Navy intends to decommission some of its newest warships

By DAVID SHARP for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The Navy that once wanted smaller, speedy warships to chase down pirates has made a speedy pivot to Russia and China — and many of those recently built ships could be retired.

FILE – The USS Detroit, a Freedom-class of littoral combat ship, arrives Friday, Oct. 14, 2016, in Detroit. The Navy that once wanted smaller, speedy warships to chase down pirates has made a speedy pivot to Russia and China and many of those ships, like the USS Detroit, could be retired. The Navy wants to decommission nine ships in the Freedom-class, warships that cost about $4.5 billion to build. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

The U.S. Navy wants to decommission nine ships in the Freedom-class of littoral combat ships — warships that cost about $4.5 billion altogether to build.

The Navy contends in its budget proposal that the move would free up $50 million per ship annually for other priorities. But it would also reduce the size of the fleet that’s already surpassed by China in sheer numbers, something that could cause members of Congress to balk.

Adm. Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, defended the proposal that emphasizes long-range weapons and modern warships, while shedding other ships ill equipped to face current threats.

“We need a ready, capable, lethal force more than we need a bigger force that’s less ready, less lethal, and less capable,” he said Monday at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space symposium in Maryland.

All told, the Navy wants to scrap 24 ships, including five cruisers and a pair of Los Angeles-class submarines, as part of its cost-cutting needed to maintain the existing fleet and build modern warships. Those cuts surpass the proposed nine ships to be built.

Most of them are older vessels. However, the littoral combat ships that are targeted are young. The oldest of them is 10 years old.

The Navy envisioned fast, highly maneuverable warships capable of operating in near-shore, littoral waters when it announced the program a few months after Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The ships topped 50 mph (80 kph) — fast enough to chase down pirates — and utilized steerable waterjets instead of conventional propellers.

The ships were supposed to be made versatile through plug-and-play mission modules for surface combat, mine-sweeping operations or anti-submarine warfare. But those mission modules were beset by problems, and the anti-submarine capability was canceled in the new budget.

And what about that speed? The fastest ship can’t outrun missiles, and firing up those marine turbines for an extra burst of speed turned the ships into gas guzzlers, analysts said. Early versions also were criticized as too lightly armed and armored to survive combat.

The speedy Freedom-class ships proposed for decommissioning feature a traditional steel hull. That entire class of ships suffers from a propulsion defect that will be costly repair. The Navy proposes keeping a second variant, the aluminum Independence class.

Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said the program was plagued by troubles from the start, and that “moving forward the Navy must avoid similar acquisition disasters.”

U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia, was more blunt, tweeting that it “sucks” to be decommissioning so many ships, especially newer ones.

“The Navy owes a public apology to American taxpayers for wasting tens of billions of dollars on ships they now say serve no purpose,” she said.

Some detractors proclaimed littoral combat ships to be the Navy’s “Little Crappy Ship,” but that’s not fair, said defense analyst Loren Thompson.

“It’s not a little crappy ship. It does what it was supposed to do. What it was supposed to do isn’t enough for the kind of threats that we face today,” said Thompson, from the Lexington Institute.

In the Navy’s defense, threats shifted swiftly from the Cold War to the war on terror to the current Great Power Competition in which Russia and China are asserting themselves, he said.

In the end, the Navy may be content with smaller numbers of Freedom-class ships for maritime security and small surface combatant operations, said Bryan Clark, defense analyst at the Hudson Institute.

Congress must sign off on the Navy’s proposal to decommission ships ahead of their projected service life.

The House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday grilled Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Army Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the proposal.

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Virginia, suggested the ship cuts were “grossly irresponsible” when the U.S. Navy has dipped from 318 ships to 297, while the Chinese fleet has grown from 210 to 360 ships over the past two decades.

Milley said it’s important to focus on the Navy’s capabilities rather than the size of its fleet.

“I would bias towards capability rather than just sheer numbers,” he said.

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This story has been corrected to show that Jim Inhofe is the ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, not the chairman.

Michigan police investigate theft of sasquatch lawn ornament

From the Associated Press

PARK TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Police are investigating the theft of a 7-foot-tall (2.13 meter-tall) metal sasquatch lawn ornament from a home in southern Michigan.

The item crafted from sheet metal was stolen from a home in St. Joseph County’s Park Township on or after March 22, Michigan State Police said.

It has a rusty brown color with various sharp edges to resemble the fur of the mythical, ape-like bigfoot.

It appeared the sasquatch was cut away from a steel post with a pair of bolt cutters or a similar instrument, police said.

A white panel van with dark driver- and passenger-side windows was observed parked in the area on March 22, police said.

Firefighters in south Mississippi get new equipment

From the Associated Press

BILOXI, Miss. (AP) — Biloxi firefighters are getting new gear aimed at making their jobs safer.

Firefighters are being fitted the new equipment this week, WLOX-TV reported.

The Biloxi Fire Department purchased 82 new air packs with 183 masks. The equipment cost more than $600,000 and was purchased through a federal grant awarded to the agency last fall, the station reported.

The new compression system will convert outside air into the tanks on firefighters’ backs, WLOX reported. The new masks are also equipped with a display indicating several things like how much air is left in the tank.

The new equipment also features a voice amplifier, which makes it easier for fire crews to communicate during a fire.

Fox bites man, putting Capitol Hill on high alert

By KEVIN FREKING from the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Capitol Hill has a fox problem. And that’s not the lead-in to a joke.

Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., learned firsthand Monday evening while walking to the Capitol for votes. Now he’s undergoing a series of four rabies shots out of an abundance of caution.

In his image provided by U.S. Capitol Police, a fox looks out from a cage after being captured on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday, April 5, 2022, in Washington. (U.S. Capitol Police via AP)

Bera said he felt something lunge at him from behind as he walked near one of the Senate office buildings. He turned and used his umbrella to fend off what he thought would be a small dog, but he soon realized he was tangling with a fox.

Bera said the encounter lasted about 15 seconds. A bystander yelled to alert others and the fox fled as U.S. Capitol Police officers ran up on the scene. A medical doctor, Bera looked for puncture wounds. He didn’t see evidence of any, but there was some abrasion, so he consulted the Capitol physician, who told him not to take any chances and to get treated.

He said he went to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center after votes for the first of a series of four shots.

“I would say it’s the most unusual day on the Hill in 10 years,” Bera said of his experience.

Of course, there were many joking references to Fox News at the Capitol on Tuesday. But the House Sergeant at Arms was serious when telling lawmakers and their staffs Tuesday afternoon that there had been multiple recent fox encounters and that the animals should not be approached.

The warning noted that there are possibly several fox dens on the Capitol grounds and that animal control personnel would be seeking to trap and locate any that they find.

In at least one case, they were successful. Capitol Police tweeted pictures of one fox safely captured in a cage.

Bera harbored no ill will toward the culprit.

“Hopefully, the animal can be relocated,” he said.

Man arrested in Sacramento shooting had recently left prison

By ADAM BEAM from the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A wounded man arrested in connection with a Sacramento shooting that killed six people and injured a dozen more had been released from prison weeks earlier and was rejected for even earlier release after prosecutors argued he “clearly has little regard for human life,” documents show.

Smiley Martin, 27, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person and possession of a machine gun. Hours before Sunday’s attack, Martin had posted a live Facebook video of himself brandishing a handgun, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

Dandrae Martin makes his first court appearance in Sacramento County Superior Court, in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, April 5, 2022. Martin is facing charges connected to the shooting that killed and injured multiple people in Sacramento days earlier. He was arrested as a “related suspect,” on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and being a convict carrying a loaded gun. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Police were trying to determine if a stolen handgun found at the crime scene was used in the massacre. It had been converted to a weapon capable of automatic gunfire. They also were trying to determine whether the gun Martin brandished in his video was used, the official told the AP. He was briefed on the investigation but was not authorized to publicly discuss details and spoke on condition of anonymity.A

Martin and his brother were among those wounded when gunfire erupted near the state Capitol at about 2 a.m. Sunday as bars were closing and patrons filled the streets. More than 100 shots were unleashed in rapid-fire succession as hundreds of people scrambled to find safety. Authorities were trying to determine if a street fight outside a nightclub may have sparked the shooting.

The Sacramento County coroner identified the women killed as Johntaya Alexander, 21; Melinda Davis, 57; and Yamile Martinez-Andrade, 21. The three men killed were Sergio Harris, 38; Joshua Hoye-Lucchesi, 32; and De’vazia Turner, 29.

Martin remained hospitalized and will be booked on the charges when his condition improves enough for him to be jailed, a police statement said.

His brother, Dandrae Martin, 26, was arrested Monday as a “related suspect” on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and being a convict carrying a loaded gun. He was not seriously wounded and made a brief appearance on the gun possession charge Tuesday in Sacramento Superior Court wearing orange jail scrubs.

Investigators believe both brothers had stolen guns and are trying to determine how they got them, the law enforcement official told the AP.

A 31-year-old man who was seen carrying a handgun immediately after the shooting was arrested Tuesday on a weapons charge, though police said his gun was not believed to be used in the crime.

Smiley Martin has a criminal history dating back to 2013. He was released from state prison in February on probation after serving two years of a 10-year sentence for punching a girlfriend, dragging her from her home by her hair and whipping her with a belt, prosecutors said.A

Martin might have been released sooner, but a Parole Board rejected his bid for early release in May after prosecutors said the 2017 felony assault along with convictions for possessing an assault weapon and thefts posed “a significant, unreasonable risk of safety to the community.”

Martin “clearly has little regard for human life and the law,” and has displayed a pattern of criminal behavior from the time he was 18, a Sacramento County deputy district attorney wrote in a letter last year to the Board of Parole Hearings.

It wasn’t clear if Smiley Martin had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

Dandrae Martin, who was held without bail, was freed from an Arizona prison in 2020 after serving just over 1 1/2 years for violating probation in separate cases involving marijuana and aggravated assault.

Defense lawyer Linda Parisi said she doesn’t know enough about the California case yet and whether she will seek his Martin’s release will depend on whether prosecutors bring stiffer charges.

“If it turns out that the evidence demonstrates that this was mere presence at a scene that certainly argues more for a release,” Parisi said. “If it shows some more aggressive conduct then it would argue against it. But we don’t know that yet.”

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Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio, Brian Melley and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, Don Thompson in Sacramento, Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix and News Researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York City contributed to this story.

Cops corral slippery seal on jaunt through Long Island town

From the Associated Press

RIVERHEAD, N.Y. (AP) — A wayward seal has been captured after an early morning foray through a Long Island, New York, town.

Police in Southampton said they received a call at approximately 6:30 a.m. Sunday from a person who saw the roving mammal, later identified as a phocid, or earless seal, in the parking lot of a beverage store about 500 feet (150 meters) from the Peconic River in Riverhead.

When officers arrived, the seal fled southwest toward a motel but eventually was corralled and taken into custody.

The seal was handed over to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation for evaluation, according to police.

California may empower citizens to sue over illegal firearms

By DON THOMPSON for the Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — For all California’s nation-leading attempts to regulate firearms, the state has not found a way to deter those happy to skirt the laws with stolen or homemade and increasingly prevalent “ghost” guns.

A person passes a memorial near the location of a mass shooting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 4, 2022. Multiple people were killed and injured in the shooting a day earlier. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In just two recent examples, police say the first weapon recovered after gunmen killed six people and wounded 12 in downtown Sacramento early Sunday had been stolen. The homemade assault weapon a father used a month ago and a few miles away to kill his three daughters, their chaperone and then himself was unregistered.

“People argue that we’ve got the toughest gun laws in the nation. But they’re clearly not tough enough,” Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg said Monday.

The latest mass shooting in a nightclub area blocks from the state Capitol renewed calls for tougher firearms laws from President Joe Biden. Biden called for Congress to take many of the steps nationwide that California already has in place — imposing background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and outlawing ghost guns.

The most populous state will consider an innovative new approach Tuesday when Hertzberg, at the urging of Gov. Gavin Newsom, expects to take the first step to advance a bill allowing private citizens to sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to build weapons, guns without serial numbers, or .50 caliber rifles.

The penalty: at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorneys fees.

But the bill would not bar anyone from possessing or using the weapons, though they’re illegal under other laws. And it would not include stolen weapons unless they are otherwise made illegal, for instance by filing off the serial number.

“It’s going to have hopefully a chilling effect on folks with ghost guns or assault weapons,” Hertzberg said. “You’ve got to have millions of eyeballs looking for these guns. If someone flashes one, talks about it, all of a sudden there’s an incentive among the public in a way that there’s never been before to try to pull them off the street.”

Yet, Hertzberg’s bill is patterned after a similar Texas law allowing citizens to go after those who provide or assist in providing abortions. And even if it becomes law, Hertzberg’s bill will automatically be invalidated if the Texas law is eventually ruled unconstitutional.

“This is tit for tat political gamesmanship, which is the worst reason to be passing some kind of a bill,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and an attorney who wrote a book about California’s complicated gun laws. “You’re going to deputize a bunch of amateurs — non-lawyers, non-cops — to judge a neighbor’s actions and then give them the right to drag them into court over it.”

Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which generally favors firearms restrictions, hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

The center’s state policy director, attorney Ari Freilich, said it “would essentially bring more enforcement oversight to some specific criminal laws in California.”

“It’s not something that’s really been tried before,” Freilich said.

He wouldn’t predict if it would be effective, but said the proposal has some “potential challenges.” Among them is encouraging civil actions to punish crimes, and establishing “a bounty” to be collected by those who haven’t been directly harmed.

His organization is backing other bills, including one that would make it easier for people to sue gun companies for liability in shootings that cause injuries or death. Two other bills also target firearm parts and guns without serial numbers, and those made with 3D printers.

Legislative analysts also raised concerns, including that California’s bill might be seen as legitimizing Texas’ approach.

Much like the Texas law, the analysts said Hertzberg’s legislation is written so broadly that it might ensnare, for instance, “a taxi driver that takes a person to a gun shop,” though Hertzberg said that is not the intent.

Parts use to make weapons are not themselves illegal, but a California law taking effect July 1 will require that they be sold only through licensed firearms dealers.

Sen. Tom Umberg, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democrat like Hertzberg and Newsom, said he expects Hertzberg’s bill to clear his committee “in order to continue the conversation about the absurdity of the Texas law.”

Umberg said he supports Hertzberg’s goal, though he recognizes that “the enforcement mechanism is susceptible to challenge.”

The bill would then have to clear two other committees before getting a full Senate vote. It would also have to pass the Assembly before going to Newsom.

Hertzberg said he thinks his bill could also help root out dangerous domestic abusers like David Mora. Investigators said Mora used a homemade semiautomatic rifle-style weapon with an illegal 30-round ammunition magazine to kill his daughters at a Sacramento church Feb. 28 despite a restraining order barring him from possessing weapons.

“I think this will have bigger teeth, sharper teeth than a court order,” Hertzberg said. “This goes to somebody’s bank account. You win this case, you seize their bank account. Their world changes.”

Democrats deny police-aid plan answers anti-crime criticism

By JOHN O’CONNOR for the Associated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Democrats in the General Assembly, under pressure from a law enforcement community that feels unappreciated in a time of rising crime, introduced a package of legislation Monday to bolster support, from pinning badges on top candidates to allowing retirees to keep their service revolvers.

Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, speaks at a news conference about an anti-crime package from Illinois Democrats, Monday, April 4, 2022, in Springfield, Ill. The plans are aimed at supporting law enforcement with money for recruiting and training, body cameras, mental health resources and more. (AP Photo/John O’Connor)

The plan would provide unspecified funding for local police departments to recruit and train candidates; to buy body cameras and storage capacity for video; to create off-hours daycare for single parents to advance careers despite the job’s unusual hours; and to expand mental health resources for first responders to deal with the trauma that can lead to an early exit from the field.

“We are all experiencing across the nation an uptick in violence,” said the mental health program’s sponsor, Rep. Lindsey LaPointe, a Chicago Democrat, adding that survivors and first responders “are carrying the biggest burden of this crisis.”

With four days left in the spring session, this is the second crime-reduction package to come from Democrats in four days. The first focused on support services for victims. Monday’s measures aim to support police communities that complained they were demonized 15 months ago when the Black Caucus-led policing overhaul was signed into law. Known as the -T Act, the overhaul came amid a spate of police-involved shootings in Chicago and nationwide.

SAFE-T set standards for police use of force, set a schedule to require all police to wear body cameras, eliminated cash bail for criminal suspects and more.

Presenters at the Democrats’ state Capitol news conference Monday were overwhelmingly white. Rockford Democratic Rep. Dave Vella said members of the Black Caucus were meeting on other issues but had worked on and endorsed the package. He rebuffed a question about whether the the plan is an “antidote” to ease the discomfort police feel about SAFE-T.

“This isn’t an antidote to anything,” Vella said. “This is us trying to make the streets safer and get more police on the street. That’s it.”

Some Republicans have gone so far as to blame rising crime on the SAFE-T Act, despite virtually none of it having taken effect. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican, continued the campaign Monday.

“Democrats in Illinois have repeatedly attacked our police and justice system,” Durkin said in a statement. “Today, they are trying to rewrite history. Until they wake up and repeal their pro-criminal SAFE-T Act, there will be no safe communities in Illinois.”

Portland expands unarmed emergency response program

From the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — People across Portland, Oregon, looking to help someone experiencing a mental health crisis have a new option: They can call 911 and ask for the Portland Street Response.

The unarmed emergency response program began serving people citywide on Monday, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“The expansion is an integral part of modernizing our public safety system into a community safety system that works for all,” Mayor Ted Wheeler said on Twitter Monday.

The program, housed within the city’s fire bureau, dispatches a firefighter paramedic, a mental health crisis therapist and two community health workers to calls in which a person is potentially experiencing a mental health crisis or is intoxicated and doesn’t have a visible weapon.

It was designed to provide better outcomes for people and reduce the call load for the city’s public safety bureaus. The program started a Southeast Portland neighborhood a year ago and has been expanding since. Portland Street Response took over 1,000 calls in its first year.

UK police issue 20 fines over ‘partygate’ virus scandal

By JILL LAWLESS for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — British police have issued 20 fines over illegal parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his staff during coronavirus lockdowns — though the recipients don’t yet include Johnson, whose hold on power has been threatened by the illicit gatherings.

FILE – An anti-Conservative Party protester holds a placard with an image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words “Now Partygate” backdropped by the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. British police are getting ready to issue a first batch of fines on over parties held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s staff during coronavirus lockdowns. The Metropolitan Police declined to confirm reports multiple U.K. media outlets that fines would come as soon as Tuesday, March 29, 2022, saying it would not give “a running commentary” on its probe. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, File)

The Metropolitan Police force said Tuesday it wouldn’t identify the recipients of the fixed penalty notices, but Johnson’s office said it would reveal if he gets one. It wasn’t clear whether 20 people received fines or whether some individuals got more than one.

Opponents, and some members of the governing Conservative Party, have said that Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking rules he imposed on the rest of the country during the pandemic.

The “partygate” scandal had left Johnson’s tenure on a knife-edge before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities and pushed the scandal from the headlines.

But the police have continued their investigation of dozens of politicians and officials over allegations that the government flouted its own pandemic restrictions. Officers sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.

Confirming that it had authorized 20 fines, the police force said officers were working through a “significant amount of investigative material” and more people could face penalties later.

Johnson’s government was shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions. Thousands of people were fined between 60 pounds ($79) and 10,000 pounds ($13,200) by police for rule-breaking social gatherings.

Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police. He has acknowledged attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown, but insisted he believed it would be a work event.

In January, civil servant Sue Gray published a report into some of the gatherings, the ones not under criminal investigation. She said “failures of leadership and judgment” in Johnson’s government allowed events to occur that should not have happened.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the opposition Labour Party, said the party revelations were “a slap in the face” to millions who had followed the national coronavirus restrictions.

“The culture is set from the very top,” she said. “The buck stops with the prime minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go.”

Hannah Brady, a spokeswoman for the group COVID-1919 Bereaved Families for Justice, said Johnson “should have resigned months ago over this.”

“By dragging it out longer, all he is doing is pouring more salt on the wounds of those who have already suffered so much,” she said.

Johnson spokesman Max Blain declined to say whether the prime minister would quit if he is fined.

“It’s a hypothetical situation,” he said.

___

Russia says it will scale back near Kyiv as talks progress

By NEBI QENA and YURAS KARMANAU for the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia announced Tuesday it will “fundamentally” scale back military operations near Ukraine’s capital and a northern city, as talks to end the grinding war brought the outlines of a possible deal into view.

Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, top military commander in charge of the defense of the Ukrainian capital, walks in a trench at a position north of the capital Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 29, 2022. The first face-to-face talks in two weeks between Russia and Ukraine began Tuesday in Turkey, raising flickering hopes there could be progress toward ending a war that has ground into a bloody campaign of attrition. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Deputy Defense Minister Alexander Fomin said the change on the battlefield was meant to increase trust at the talks after several rounds of negotiations failed to halt what has devolved into a bloody campaign of attrition.

The announcement was met with skepticism from the U.S. and others.

While Moscow portrayed it as a goodwill gesture, its ground troops have become bogged down and taken heavy losses in their bid to seize Kyiv and other cities. Last week and again on Tuesday, the Kremlin seemed to lower its war aims, saying its “main goal” now is gaining control of the mostly Russian-speaking Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had not seen anything indicating talks were progressing in a “constructive way,” and he suggested Russian indications of a pullback could be an attempt by Moscow to “deceive people and deflect attention.”

“There is what Russia says and there is what Russia does, and we’re focused on the latter,” Blinken said in Morocco. “And what Russia is doing is the continued brutalization of Ukraine.”

He added, “If they somehow believe that an effort to subjugate only the eastern part of Ukraine or the southern part of Ukraine … can succeed, then once again they are profoundly fooling themselves.”

Western officials say Moscow is reinforcing troops in the Donbas in an attempt to encircle Ukraine’s best-trained and best-equipped forces, which are concentrated in the east.

Even as negotiators from the two sides assembled in Istanbul, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces hit an oil depot in western Ukraine late Monday and blasted a gaping hole Tuesday morning in a nine-story government administration building in the southern port city of Mykolaiv. At least seven people were killed in that attack, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

“It’s terrible. They waited for people to go to work” before striking the building, said regional governor Vitaliy Kim. “I overslept. I’m lucky.”

Fomin said Moscow has decided to “fundamentally … cut back military activity in the direction of Kyiv and Chernihiv” to “increase mutual trust and create conditions for further negotiations.” He did not immediately spell out what that would mean in practical terms.

Ukraine’s military said it has noted withdrawals of some forces around Kyiv and Chernihiv. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told CNN “we haven’t seen anything to corroborate” reports of Russia pulling back significant forces from around Kyiv. “But what we have seen over the last couple of days is they have stopped trying to advance on Kyiv.”

Rob Lee, a military expert at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, tweeted: “This sounds like more of an acknowledgment of the situation around Kyiv where Russia’s advance has been stalled for weeks and Ukrainian forces have had recent successes. Russia doesn’t have the forces to encircle the city.”

The meeting in Istanbul was the first time negotiators from Russia and Ukraine talked face-to-face in two weeks. Earlier talks, held in person in Belarus or by video, made no progress toward ending the more than month-long war that has killed thousands and driven over 10 million Ukrainians from their homes, including almost 4 million who have fled the country.

Ukraine’s delegation set out a detailed framework for a peace deal under which the nation would remain neutral but its security would be guaranteed by a group of third countries, including the U.S., Britain, France, Turkey, China and Poland, in an arrangement similar to NATO’s “an attack on one is an attack on all” principle.

Ukraine said it would also be willing to hold talks over a 15-year period on the future of the Crimean Peninsula, seized by Russia in 2014.

The Kremlin has demanded among other things that Ukraine drop any hope of joining NATO.

Vladimir Medinskiy, the head of the Russian delegation, said on Russian TV that the Ukrainian proposals are a “step to meet us halfway, a clearly positive fact.” He cautioned that the parties are still far from reaching an agreement, but said: “We know now how to move further toward compromise. We aren’t just marking time in talks.”

Fomin likewise suggested there had been progress, saying “negotiations on preparing an agreement on Ukraine’s neutrality and non-nuclear status, as well as on giving Ukraine security guarantees, are turning to practical matters.”

In other developments:

— In what appeared to be a coordinated action to tackle Russian espionage, the Netherlands, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland and North Macedonia expelled scores of Russian diplomats.

— The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency arrived in Ukraine to try to ensure the safety of the country’s nuclear facilities. Russian forces have taken control of the decommissioned Chernobyl plant, site in 1986 of the world’s worst nuclear accident, and of the active Zaporizhzhia plant, where a building was damaged in fighting.

— Russia has destroyed more than 60 religious buildings across the country in just over a month of war, with most of the damage concentrated near Kyiv and in the east, Ukraine’s military said.

— In the room at the Istanbul talks was Roman Abramovich, a longtime Putin ally who has been sanctioned by Britain and the European Union. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Chelsea soccer team owner has been serving as an unofficial mediator approved by both countries. But mystery about his role has been deepened by news reports that he may have been poisoned during an earlier round of talks.

Over the past several days, Ukrainian forces have mounted counterattacks and reclaimed ground on the outskirts of Kyiv and other areas. They retook Irpin, a key suburb northwest of the capital, Zelenskyy said Monday. But he warned that Russian troops were regrouping to take the area back.

Ukrainian soldiers gathered in a trench for photos with Col. Gen. Oleksandr Syrskyi, who said that Ukraine controls a vast majority of Irpin.

“We defend our motherland because we have very high morale,” said Syrskyi, the top military commander in charge of defense of Kyiv. “And because we want to win.”

Ukrainian forces also seized back Trostyanets, south of Sumy in the northeast, after weeks of Russian occupation that left a devastated landscape.

Arriving in the town Monday shortly afterward, The Associated Press saw the bodies of two Russian soldiers in the woods, and Russian tanks sat burned and twisted. A red “Z” marked a Russian truck, its windshield fractured, near stacked boxes of ammunition. Ukrainian forces on top of a tank flashed victory signs. Dazed residents lined up amid charred buildings, seeking aid.

Putin’s ground forces have been thwarted not just by stronger-than-expected Ukrainian resistance, but by what Western officials say are Russian tactical missteps, poor morale, shortages of food, fuel and cold weather gear, and other problems.

Reinforcing what the military said last week, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Tuesday that “liberating Donbas” is now Moscow’s chief objective.

While that presents a possible face-saving exit strategy for Putin, it has also raised Ukrainian fears the Kremlin aims to split the country and force it to surrender a swath of its territory.

___

Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Residents return home after fleeing latest Colorado wildfire

From the Associated Press

Nearly 20,000 people who were forced to flee a wildfire in northern Colorado were back home Monday after firefighters were able to stop the spread of the fire at 190 acres (77 hectares).

The fire that broke out Saturday in the rolling hills near Boulder burned to within 1,000 yards (914 meters) of homes on the west end of the college town, near the area where more than 1,000 homes were destroyed by a wildfire pushed by strong winds in late December. This time, winds did not prevent aircraft from being used and they were able to lay down lines of fire retardant near homes.

Firefighters’ vehicles sit as a wildfire burns near the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Sunday, March 27, 2022, in Boulder, Colo. The fire, which started Saturday, is 35 percent contained and most evacuation orders have been lifted for the residents of nearby housing developments in the south end of Boulder. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Containment lines surrounded 35% of the fire Monday. Those lines were expected to hold despite winds caused by a shift in the weather that is forecast to bring rain Tuesday, incident commander Brian Oliver said.

Firefighters were trying to extinguish embers in the burned area, working them into the soil which is moist from recent snowfall, he said. The grass which burned, however, was still dormant and dry. Pockets of smoke hung over some trees in the burn area, which would likely continue for some weeks and be monitored, Oliver said.

Previously a summer staple, wildfires are becoming a year-round occurrence in the West, as drier weather and extreme temperatures grow across much of the region.

Winter precipitation helped ease the severity of the dry fall that preceded December’s destructive fire in Colorado. However, a heat wave engulfed Western states in recent days. In Boulder County, the temperature hit 78 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius), more than 20 degrees above average highs. Meanwhile, temperatures in southern Arizona and across Texas shot into the 90s.

In Texas, firefighters were battling several wildfires, the largest of which has burned 85 square miles (220 square kilometers) and was 90% contained.

Another fire, burning near the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base in Texas, prompted evacuations of about 200 homes Sunday, but residents were allowed to return home later in the day. That fire has burned about 27 square miles (70 square kilometers).

Many areas of Texas were under red flag warnings Monday because of the dry, windy conditions.

Feds: Man smuggled 1,700 reptiles from Mexico, Hong Kong

By STEFANIE DAZIO from the Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Southern California man is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles — including baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards — into the U.S. since 2016, authorities said Thursday.

FILE – This February 2022 photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows snakes in bags found hidden under and in a man’s clothes by CBP officers at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry. A Southern California man is accused of smuggling more than 1,700 reptiles, including baby crocodiles and Mexican beaded lizards, into the U.S. since 2016, authorities said Thursday, March 24, 2022. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP, File)

Jose Manuel Perez, also known as “Julio Rodriguez,” was taken into custody on Feb. 25 at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico.

Border patrol agents found about 60 lizards and snakes tied up in small bags, “which were concealed in the man’s jacket, pants pockets, and groin area,” authorities said last month. Perez allegedly told the agents that the animals were his pets.

Perez, 30, of Oxnard, has been in federal custody since then and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles on Thursday announced additional charges on a superseding indictment that also includes Perez’s sister as a defendant.

Perez is scheduled to be arraigned in Los Angeles on Monday. His federal attorney in San Diego declined to comment Thursday. Some of the smuggled reptiles were protected and endangered species, authorities said.

Beginning January 2016, Perez and his sister, as well as others, are accused of using social media to buy and sell wildlife in the U.S. The animals, including Yucatan and Mexican box turtles, were allegedly imported from Mexico and Hong Kong without permits.

The reptiles were initially taken to Perez’s home in Missouri but later shipped to Oxnard when he moved to California, authorities said. His sister assisted him in the smuggling business, prosecutors alleged, especially during times when Perez was incarcerated in the U.S.

FBI sees growing Russian hacker interest in US energy firms

By ERIC TUCKER and JAKE BLEIBERG for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI is warning that it has seen increased interest by Russian hackers in energy companies since the start of Russia’s war against Ukraine, though it is offering no indication that a specific cyberattack is planned.

Anne Neuberger, Deputy National Security Advisor for Cyber and Emerging Technology, speaks alongside White House press secretary Jen Psaki during a press briefing at the White House, Monday, March 21, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

An FBI advisory obtained by The Associated Press on Tuesday says Russian hackers have scanned at least five energy companies for vulnerabilities and at least 18 other companies in sectors including the defense industrial base and financial services. The advisory does not identify any of the companies.

Scanning a network for flaws or vulnerabilities is common and does not indicate that an attack is forthcoming, though the activity can sometimes be a precursor of one. Still, the warning by the FBI, dated Friday, underscores the Biden administration’s heightened cybersecurity concerns due to Russia’s war with Ukraine.

On Monday, the White House said there was “evolving intelligence” indicating that Russia was considering launching cyberattacks against critical infrastructure in the U.S. Anne Neuberger, the White House’s deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, expressed frustration at a White House press briefing that some critical infrastructure entities have failed to fix known software flaws that could be exploited by Russian hackers.

Meanwhile, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency convened a call Tuesday with more than 13,000 industry stakeholders to warn about the potential for future cyberattacks and to reinforce the need to act now to protect themselves.

The FBI advisory shares 140 internet protocol, or IP, addresses that it says have been previously associated with the scanning of critical infrastructure in the U.S. since at least March 2021. That scanning has increased since the start of the war last month, the alert says, “leading to a greater possibility of future intrusions.”

The advisory says that though the FBI recognizes that scanning activity is common, the IP addresses are associated with cyber actors who have previously “conducted destructive cyber activity against foreign critical infrastructure.” In this instance, the advisory said, the scanning activity “likely indicates early stages of reconnaisance.”

____

Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

Dialing up pressure, North Korea tests long-range missile

By KIM TONG-HYUNG and MARI YAMAGUCHI for the Associated Press

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea test-fired possibly its biggest intercontinental ballistic missile toward the sea Thursday, according to its neighbors, raising the ante in a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to accept it as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions.

A woman walks along a sidewalk past a TV displaying a news program on North Korea’s missile launch Thursday, March 24, 2022, in Tokyo. North Korea has fired a suspected long-range missile toward the sea in what would be its first such test since 2017, raising the ante in a pressure campaign aimed at forcing the United States and other rivals to accept it as a nuclear power and remove crippling sanctions. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

The launch, which extended North Korea’s barrage of weapons tests this year, came after the U.S. and South Korean militaries said the country was preparing a flight of a new large ICBM first unveiled in October 2020.

South Korea’s military responded with live-fire drills of its own missiles launched from land, a fighter jet and a ship, underscoring a revival of tensions as nuclear negotiations remain frozen. It said it confirmed readiness to execute precision strikes against North Korea’s missile launch points as well as command and support facilities.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North’s ICBM fired from the Sunan area near capital Pyongyang traveled 1,080 kilometers (670 miles) and reached a maximum altitude of over 6,200 kilometers (3,850 miles). The missile was apparently fired on high angle to avoid reaching the territorial waters of Japan.

Japan’s Deputy Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said flight details suggested a new type of ICBM.

“It’s an unforgivable recklessness. We resolutely condemn the act,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said after arriving in Belgium for the Group of Seven meetings.

The missile flew 71 minutes before possibly landing near Japanese territorial waters off the island of Hokkaido, said Tokyo’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. Japan may search for debris inside its exclusive economic zone to analyze the North’s technology, he said.

Japan’s coast guard issued a warning to vessels in nearby waters, but there were no immediate reports of damage to boats or aircraft. A Japanese fisheries organizations released a statement denouncing the launch as a “barbaric act” that puts fishermen’s lives and livelihoods at risk.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in during an emergency National Security Council meeting criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for breaking a self-imposed moratorium on ICBM tests and posing a “serious threat” to the region and the broader international community.

The United States strongly condemns the North’s launch, said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, calling it a “brazen violation” of U.N. Security Council resolutions that risks destabilizing the region’s security.

“The door has not closed on diplomacy, but Pyongyang must immediately cease its destabilizing actions. The United States will take all necessary measures to ensure the security of the American homeland and Republic of Korea and Japanese allies,” she said, referring to South Korea’s formal name.

In Brussels, Kishida and President Joe Biden discussed the North’s launch on the sidelines of the G-7 summit, stressed the need for diplomacy and agreed to continue working together to hold Pyongyang responsible, the White House said.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said flight details suggest the missile could reach targets 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles) away when fired on normal trajectory with a warhead weighing less than a ton. That would place the entire U.S. mainland within striking distance.

Following a highly provocative streak in nuclear explosive and ICBM tests in 2017, Kim Jong Un suspended such testing in 2018 ahead of his first meeting with then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

North Korea’s resumption of nuclear brinkmanship reflects a determination to cement its status as a nuclear power and wrest badly needed economic concessions from Washington and others from a position of strength, analysts say.

Kim may also feel a need to trumpet his military accomplishments to his domestic audience as he grapples with a broken economy worsened by pandemic border closures.

“Despite economic challenges and technical setbacks, the Kim regime is determined to advance its missile capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Seoul’s Ewha Womans University. “It would be a mistake for international policymakers to think the North Korean missile threat can be put on the back burner while the world deals with the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

The Biden administration’s passive handling of North Korea so far, while it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an intensifying rivalry with China, is allowing more room for the North to dial up its testing activity, some experts say. The administration’s actions on North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed over its recent tests and offers of open-ended talks that were rejected by Pyongyang.

It was North Korea’s 12th round of weapons launches this year and came after it fired suspected artillery pieces into the sea on Sunday.

The North has also tested a variety of new missiles, including a purported hypersonic weapon and its first launch since 2017 of an intermediate range missile with a potential of reaching Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the Pacific.

It also conducted two medium-range tests in recent weeks from Sunan, home to the country’s main airport, that the U.S. and South Korean militaries assessed to have involved components of the North’s largest ICBM. The allies had said the missile, which the North calls Hwasong-17, could be tested at full range soon.

Those tests were followed by another launch from Sunan last week. But South Korea’s military said the missile likely exploded shortly after liftoff.

North Korea’s official media insisted that the two successful tests were aimed at developing cameras and other systems for a spy satellite. Analysts say the North is attempting to simultaneously advance its ICBMs and acquire some level of space-based reconnaissance capability under the pretense of a space launch to reduce international backlash to those moves.

That launch may possibly come around a major political anniversary in April, the birthday of state founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current leader Kim.

The North’s previous ICBMs demonstrated potential range to reach the American homeland during three flight tests in 2017. The development of the larger Hwasong-17, which was first revealed in a military parade in October 2020, possibly indicates an aim to arm it with multiple warheads to overwhelm missile defenses.

In North Korea’s last test of an ICBM in November 2017, the Hwasong-15 flew about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) for about 50 minutes at a maximum altitude of 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles). It wasn’t immediately clear whether the missile from the latest test was the Hwasong-17.

Denuclearization talks with the U.S. have been stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

Kim presided over a ruling Workers’ Party meeting on Jan. 19, where Politburo members issued a veiled threat to end his moratorium on ICBM and nuclear tests, citing U.S. hostility.

South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea was possibly restoring some of the tunnels at its nuclear testing ground that were detonated in May 2018, weeks ahead of Kim’s first meeting with Trump.

___ Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.

US states seek to ease inflation burden with direct payments

By PATRICK WHITTLE from the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — With inflation raging and state coffers flush with cash, governors and lawmakers across the U.S. are considering a relatively simple solution to help ease the pain people are feeling at the gas pump and grocery store — sending money.

Wayne Holly, the owner of Rio Rancho T-Shirts, poses for a portrait at the family-owned shop in Rio Rancho, N.M., Monday, March 21, 2022. Holly said the small business he and his wife have operated for more than 20 years is feeling the pinch of inflation and that tax rebates offered by state governments won’t be enough to combat rising prices or ongoing economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

At least a dozen states have proposed giving rebate checks of several hundred dollars directly to taxpayers, among them California, Kansas and Minnesota. Critics, including many Republican lawmakers, say those checks won’t go far enough given the pace of inflation and are pushing instead for permanent tax cuts.

A proposal from Maine Gov. Janet Mills is among the most generous in a state where the cost of food and fuel has skyrocketed in recent months. The Democratic governor wants to send $850 to most residents as part of the state’s budget bill.

The rebate “will help Maine people grapple with these increased costs by putting money directly back into their pockets,” Mills said.

But Wendell Cressey, a clamdigger in Harpswell, said the soaring cost of fuel for people in his business means the check will provide just temporary relief.

“It might help a little, but it would have to be a lot more because we’re paying for gas. Most of us have V-8 trucks,” Cressey said. “I just don’t think it’s going to help as much as they think it is.”

In addition to the direct rebates, lawmakers and governors across the country are considering cuts to sales taxes, property tax relief and reducing or suspending state gas taxes.

The proposals come at a time when many states actually have too much money on their hands because of billions of dollars in federal pandemic aid and ballooning tax revenue. It’s also happening as the war in Ukraine has compounded soaring prices for fuel and other essentials.

It’s also no coincidence that the relief is being floated during an election year, said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. Maine’s governor’s race is one of many closely watched contests at the state level this year.

“There’s some real policy reason to do this,” Brewer said. “But at the same time, it’s also clear that this is an election year, and in an election year there are few things as popular as giving voters what voters see as free money from the state.”

The states are moving toward sending people money as consumer inflation has jumped nearly 8% over the past year. That was the sharpest spike since 1982.

Inflation boosted the typical family’s food expenses by nearly $590 last year, according to the Penn Wharton Budget Model, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Overall, the average family had to spend $3,500 more last year to buy the same amount of goods and services as they purchased in previous years.

In New Mexico, some have questioned whether Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan for a $250 rebate goes far enough given how much consumer prices have risen.

Wayne Holly and his wife, Penny, were among the small business owners in the state who were forced to shut their doors early in the COVID-19 pandemic because of the governor’s public health orders.

Their T-shirt and screen-printing business narrowly weathered that storm but is now feeling the pinch again as the cost of materials skyrockets and customers look to keep their own bank accounts from being drained.

“Do we get customers who are angry and irate because things have changed? Yes, we sure do,” Wayne Holly said. “Do we get customers who say ‘I never used to pay that before?’ I say ‘Yeah, I’ve never paid $4.50 for a gallon of gas.’”

The rebate plan in New Mexico, and concerns about how much it will help, reflects a growing trend among states as they try to find some relief for their residents amid criticism that they could do more.

Many states are awash with record amounts of cash, due partly to federal COVID-19 relief funding. Measures enacted by presidents Donald Trump in 2020 and Joe Biden last year allotted a combined total of more than $500 billion to state and local governments. Some of that is still sitting in state coffers waiting to be spent.

Those federal pandemic relief laws also provided stimulus checks to U.S. taxpayers, which helped boost consumer spending on goods subject to state and local sales taxes. From April 2021 to January 2022, total state tax revenues, adjusted for inflation, increased more than 19% compared to the same period a year earlier, according to a recent Urban Institute report.

“Overall, the fiscal condition of states is strong, and much better than where we thought states would be at the start of the pandemic,” said Erica MacKellar, a fiscal policy analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That’s given state officials greater confidence to consider tax rebates or direct payments to residents. But some financial experts are urging caution, noting that inflation also could drive up state expenses and wages.

“State legislatures should not rush into enacting permanent tax cuts based on what very well might be temporary growth in real revenues,” Lucy Dadayan, senior research associate at the Urban Institute, wrote in a recent analysis.

The relief plans vary by state. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, released a plan for spending the state’s budget surplus that included a proposal for income tax rebate checks of $1,000 per couple. In California, Democratic lawmakers have released separate proposals to send rebates of $200 to $400 to each taxpayer, while Gov. Gavin Newsom said he wants to distribute fuel debit cards of up to $800 to help ease the burden on residents paying the highest gas prices in the nation.

Democratic governors in other states have proposed other approaches. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf is seeking a one-time property tax subsidy for lower-income homeowners and renters. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has proposed halting a 2.2-cent increase in the motor fuel tax, suspending a 1% grocery sales tax for a year and providing a property tax rebate of up to $300.

New Jersey got out front early. Gov. Phil Murphy and the Democrat-led Legislature included cash checks of up to $500 to about 1 million families as part of a budget deal last year, when the governor and lawmakers were up for election.

The state’s rosy financial picture, fueled by healthy tax receipts and federal funds — as well as higher taxes on people making $1 million — has continued this year. But Murphy’s fiscal year 2023 budget doesn’t call for additional cash rebates.

Proposals for relief haven’t gone so smoothly in other states. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, a Republican, has proposed returning half of a $90 million surplus in the state Education Fund to the state’s property taxpayers with a check of between $250 and $275, but the Democrat-controlled Legislature has shown little interest.

“Typically, when you overpay for something, you get some of that money back,” Scott said when he made the proposal earlier this month.

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Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Mike Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey; David A. Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri; Wilson Ring in Montpelier, Vermont; and Business Writer Christopher Rugaber in Washington contributed to this report.

29 hospitalized after London Olympic pool chlorine gas leak 

From the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Authorities said 29 people were taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties on Wednesday after a “high quantity of chlorine gas” leaked in a swimming pool at the London sports complex that hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Emergency services near the Aquatics Centre, at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, following a gas-related incident causing the area to be evacuated and cordoned off, in London, Wednesday March 23, 2022. A swimming pool in London’s Olympic park has been evacuated and several people were treated by ambulance workers after an incident involving a “release of gas.” The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London was built for the 2012 Games in London. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

The London Fire Brigade said around 200 people were evacuated after the chlorine gas was discharged inside the Aquatics Center at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London due to a “chemical reaction.”

The brigade said it took 29 people to the hospital and assessed another 48 people at the scene. Most of those affected reported minor breathing difficulties, it said.

The fire service declared a “major incident” and sent a large team of emergency workers including 13 ambulance crews and members of its hazardous area response team. Surrounding roads were cordoned off and members of the public were denied access to the park.

Local residents were asked to close their doors and windows while workers ventilated the affected area.

While the chlorine that is added to swimming pools to kill bacteria is safe, chlorine in gas form is highly toxic.

The Aquatics Center’s management said the chlorine gas release occurred “when the facilities management company that operates the plant room took delivery of pool chemicals.”

It added that it was waiting for guidance on when the pool building can safely reopen.

Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, which was built for and hosted the 2012 Olympic Games, first opened to the public in 2014.

Western Nebraska police officer accused of stealing guns

From the Associated Press

GERING, Neb. (AP) — A western Nebraska police officer has been arrested and accused of stealing and pawning guns from his department.

Bryan Martinez, 32, of Gering, was arrested at his home Tuesday by Nebraska State Patrol investigators, the Scottsbluff Star-Herald reported. He’s charged in Scotts Bluff County with three counts of theft and one count of passing a bad check.

The investigation into Martinez began in January when a local store reported that he had written a bad check, the patrol said. Investigators then learned that several guns were missing from the Minatare Police Department.

Investigators believe that Martinez stole the guns and sold three of them to a local pawn shop.

The patrol said Martinez has served with other law enforcement agencies in the area and is also employed by the Sioux County Sheriff’s Office.

No attorney was listed for Martinez on Wednesday in online court records.

Louisiana digging out after tornadoes plow through homes

By GERALD HERBERT and REBECCA SANTANA for the Associated Press

ARABI, La. (AP) — Residents in the New Orleans area were digging out and assessing damage Wednesday after tornadoes lashed the region, flipping vehicles, ripping off rooftops and depositing a house with a family inside in the middle of their street.

In this aerial photo, people walk amidst destruction from a tornado that struck Tuesday night in Arabi, La., Wednesday, March 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Other tornadoes spawned by the same system caused so much damage in Texas that the governor declared a disaster in 16 counties. Buildings were shredded in Alabama, where torrential rainfall was recorded.

Two people were killed and multiple others were injured as the storm front blew across the South. The dead included a woman north of Dallas and a person in St. Bernard Parish, next to New Orleans. Authorities didn’t immediately describe how they were killed.

Planning to fly over damaged areas later Wednesday, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared an emergency in St. Bernard, Orleans, Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes.

There were “no injuries, casualties or significant damage reported in Orleans Parish,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said Wednesday, but tornadoes touched down in Arabi, just east of the city, and further east in Lacombe, across Lake Pontchartrain.

In Arabi, debris hung from electrical wires and trees amid destroyed houses. Power poles were down, forcing emergency workers to walk slowly through darkened neighborhoods checking for damage early Wednesday.

“I wasn’t mentally prepared to see what I was seeing,” said Amy Sims, who jumped into her car when the tornado warning sounded and drove to the Arabi Heights area to check on relatives. She said emergency medics, some crying, were dodging live wires as they went door-to-door through shattered homes.

“A bomb looked like it had gone off,” she said, adding that her cousin’s home and family were OK, but houses all around them were flattened.

The National Weather Service said the Arabi damage had been caused by a tornado of at least EF-3 strength, meaning it had winds of 158-206 mph (254-332 km/h), while the Lacombe-area twister was an EF-1, with winds as strong as 90 mph (145 km/h).

Television stations broadcast live images as the storm damaged an area about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) long and a half-mile (0.8 kilometer) wide in St. Bernard Parish, where Ochsner Health said eight patients were treated in an emergency department.

Collin Arnold, director of homeland security and emergency preparedness in neighboring New Orleans, described “incredible devastation” in Arabi, where he said a state team including fire, EMS and police officers from across Louisiana was doing searches and damage assessments.

Louisiana activated 300 National Guard personnel to clear roads and provide support. They joined firefighters and others searching door-to-door to make sure no one had been left behind, said John Rahaim Jr., the parish’s homeland security director.

Residents of severely damaged or destroyed homes in Arabi swept up broken glass and tried to salvage their belongings. The community next to the city’s Lower 9th Ward was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and hit hard again when Hurricane Ida swept through last year.

Stacey Mancuso’s family had just finished repairing the damage from Ida, which ripped off the roof and caused extensive water damage. Huddling in the laundry room with her husband, two children and dogs, they all survived as the tornado blew away part of their new roof.

“We’re alive. That’s what I can say at this point,” said Mancuso. Still, the twister was the third time they’ve had major weather damage since Katrina.

Entergy reported that about 3,700 of its customers remained without electricity Wednesday. A strong smell of natural gas was in the air, and downed power lines forced emergency workers to walk slowly through the wreckage.

Michelle Malasovich was texting relatives from her home in Arabi when “all of a sudden the lights started flickering.” Her husband saw the twister approaching.

“It just kept getting louder and louder,” Malasovich said. After it passed, they saw some columns were blown off their porch, and her Jeep’s windows were blown out. Others fared worse: “Our neighbor’s house is in the middle of the street right now.”

The couple inside that home emerged from the wreckage seeking help to rescue their daughter, who was on a breathing machine and trapped inside, neighbors and authorities said.

“A young girl was on a ventilator, her father was looking for firefighters to come help,” St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis said. “And they were already in there taking care of the young lady and she’s doing fine.”

Gene Katz said he, his wife and their two children hid in a closet as the tornado pushed their home off its slab and caved in the part where they took shelter.

“By the time we closed the door, the roof came off, and that was it,” he said.

As the storm front moved eastward, an apparent twister shredded a metal building and shattered windows east of Mobile Bay. The weather service reported more than 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rainfall in the central Alabama city of Sylacauga overnight. The roofs of several homes were damaged in Toxey, Alabama, where tornado warnings were issued.

The Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said a dozen counties had damage to homes and two injuries were reported.

The vicious weather hit Texas on Monday, with several tornadoes reported along the Interstate 35 corridor. In Elgin, broken trees lined the rural roads and pieces of metal hung from the branches as residents stepped gingerly through the mess.

J.D. Harkins, 59, said he saw two tornadoes pass by his Elgin home.

“There used to be a barn there,” Harkins said, pointing to an empty plot on his uncle’s property, covered with debris.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said 10 people were injured by storms in the Crockett area, while more than a dozen were reportedly hurt elsewhere. The Grayson County Emergency Management Office said a 73-year-old woman was killed in Sherwood Shores, about 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Dallas, but provided no details.

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Associated Press journalists Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Kimberly Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Ken Miller in Oklahoma City; Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas; Terry Wallace in Dallas; Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans; and Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.

Leaders respond after police sickout in Mississippi city

From the Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Police officers in a northeast Mississippi city tell a newspaper that that they blame the police chief for low morale attributable that led to a sickout earlier this month when an entire five-officer shift called in sick.

Four Columbus officers and a supervisor didn’t appear for work on the morning of March 11, all calling in sick. Police Chief Fred Shelton and other officers covered the shifts.

Officers speaking anonymously to The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus say that Chief Fred Shelton and other city officials are to blame for unhappiness. Shelton said he may be able to address some officer concerns, but said others are “sour grapes.”

A longtime officer, Shelton said the complaints did not surprise him.

“I’ve been through eight chiefs, and some of the stuff they’re complaining about is stuff I complained about,” he said.

The department has had a history of officer unrest, dating back at least to the 2015 shooting of Ricky Ball, a Black man, by white officer Canyon Boykin. The officer was indicted for manslaughter in Ball’s death, but Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch dropped the charges after taking office in 2020.

Complaints allege a culture of favoritism and retaliation, which along with low pay drives officers to leave. They also say Mayor Keith Gaskin has allowed the problems to persist.

Officers also complain about selective discipline, lack of equal access to training and promotion, commanders and poor equipment.

The department if budgeted for 64 officers but has fewer than 50 now. Officers say even then, there aren’t enough patrol cars to go around.

Gaskin said he and Shelton had talked about “probably every issue that has been brought up.”

“Officers tell me it’s not so much pay but morale,” the mayor said. “It’s a young staff and they’re having to deal with a lot of pressures, and the city doesn’t have a plan of training them or a clear path to higher salaries or promotion.”

Gaskin said the city is trying to buy more cars, but said improving equipment is hard because of limited money.

Shelton said training decisions are made by supervisors, but said he doesn’t want officers to load up on training only to seek work elsewhere.

“You bring that training back to benefit the police department,” Shelton said. “If someone wants to be a firearms instructor, I’m not going to send him to 40-hour training if he’s going to leave.

Shelton said if officers feel they are being retaliated against or discipline is improper, they can file a grievance. However, he said no officers have filed grievances. Shelton said he’s also trying to accelerate promotional exams.

Gaskin and Shelton agreed that a recent anonymous survey of police officers would help provide a road map for bettering the department.

“(Shelton) and I have to bring morale up,” Gaskin said. “That’s the main thing. We know we can’t give pay raises right now.”

“I wish I could write a check and cover it all, but I can’t,” Shelton said. “We’ve got to be able to sustain it.”

Weighty case: Alabama man charged in theft of 70-ton crane

From the Associated Press

CHILTON, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama man who called a wrecker service asking to have a 70-ton crane pulled out of the woods is now charged with stealing the heavy machinery, sheriff’s officials said.

This photo provided by the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office in Clanton, Ala., shows a 70-ton crane that was allegedly stolen on Monday, March 14, 2022. A man was arrested after calling a towing service asking to have it removed from woods, authorities said. (Chilton County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

The owner of a towing service contacted the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, saying the man had called claiming someone gave him the crane, and he wanted it removed so he could sell it for scrap, the agency said in a statement.

The wrecker service owner recalled moving the same crane a few years before and contacted its owner, who denied having given it away. The towing operator then called law enforcement. The man who wanted the crane moved fled before officers arrived, driving the rig into a ditch where it became stuck.

The 26-year-old Clanton man was arrested Tuesday on a probation violation and first-degree theft charges. Court records didn’t include the name of a defense attorney who could speak on Mims’ behalf.

“We have worked a lot of theft cases over the years, but this one definitely takes first place in the heavyweight category,” Sheriff John Shearon’s office said in a statement, thanking the wrecker service.

Chinese airliner crashes with 132 aboard in country’s south

By KEN MORITSUGU for the Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade.

In this photo taken by mobile phone released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of wreckage of the China Eastern’s flight MU5735 are seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday, March 21, 2022. A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, officials said, setting off a forest fire visible from space in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade. (Xinhua via AP)

More than seven hours after communication was lost with the plane, there was still no word of survivors.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement that the crash occurred near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region. The flight was traveling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to the industrial center of Guangzhou along the east coast, it added.

China Eastern flight 5735 had been traveling 455 knots (523 mph, 842 kph) at around 30,000 feet when it entered a steep dive around 2:20 p.m. local time, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds later.

Local villagers were first to arrive at the forested area where the plane went down and sparked a blaze big enough to be seen on NASA satellite images. Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighboring Guangdong province.

The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, correcting earlier reports that 133 people had been on board.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort” by the rescue operation, as well as for an investigation into the crash and to ensure complete civil aviation safety.

State media reported all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were ordered grounded. Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model.

Boeing 737-800s have been flying since 1998, and Boeing has sold more than 5,100 of them. They have been involved in 22 accidents that totaled the planes and killed 612 people, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network, an arm of the Flight Safety Foundation.

“There are thousands of them around the world. It’s certainly had an excellent safety record,” the foundation’s president, Hassan Shahidi, said of the 737-800.

China’s air-safety record has improved since the 1990s as air travel has grown dramatically with the rise of a burgeoning middle class. Before Monday, the last fatal crash of a Chinese airliner occurred in August 2010, when an Embraer ERJ 190-100 operated by Henan Airlines hit the ground short of the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire. All 44 people on board were killed. Investigators blamed pilot error.

Aviation experts said they expect that China will ask the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board for help, although a safety board spokesman said Monday that had not happened yet. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the 737-800 in the 1990s, said it was ready to help in the investigation if asked.

Crash investigations are usually led by officials in the country where the crash occurred, but they typically include the airplane’s manufacturer and the investigator or regulator in the manufacturer’s home country.

Shahidi said he expects investigators to comb through the maintenance history of the plane and its engines, the training and records of the pilots, air traffic control discussions and other topics.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it was aware of reports of the crash and was trying to gather more information. Boeing shares fell more than 4% in afternoon trading in New York.

Headquartered in Shanghai, China Eastern is one of the country’s top three airlines, operating scores of domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.

The aircraft was delivered to the airliner from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for more than six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as a workhorse of its fleet — the airline has more than 600 planes, and 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

Chinese broadcaster CCTV said China Eastern set up nine teams to deal with aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.

The CAAC and China Eastern both said they had sent officials to the crash site in accordance with emergency measures.

China Eastern online made its website have a black-and-white homepage after the crash.

The accident quickly became a leading topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with 1.34 billion views and 690,000 discussions. Many posts expressed condolences to the families of victims, while others questioned the planes’ safety.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 in various versions has been flying for more than 50 years and is one of the world’s most popular planes for short and medium-haul flights.

The 737 Max, a later version, was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after two crashes in 2018 and 2019 killed 346 people. China’s aviation regulator cleared the Max to return to service late last year, making the country the last major market to do so.

The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 came in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.

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Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and news assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing, researcher Si Chen in Shanghai, writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, video producer Penny Wang and writer Adam Schreck in Bangkok and airlines writer David Koenig in Dallas also contributed.

Senate approves bill to make daylight saving time permanent

By FARNOUSH AMIRI for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate unanimously approved a measure Tuesday that would make daylight saving time permanent across the United States next year.

Sunlight shines on the U.S. Capitol dome on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

The bipartisan bill, named the Sunshine Protection Act, would ensure Americans would no longer have to change their clocks twice a year. But the bill still needs approval from the House, and the signature of President Joe Biden, to become law.

“No more switching clocks, more daylight hours to spend outside after school and after work, and more smiles — that is what we get with permanent Daylight Saving Time,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, the original cosponsor of the legislation, said in a statement.

Markey was joined on the chamber floor by senators from both parties as they made the case for how making daylight saving time permanent would have positive effects on public health and the economy and even cut energy consumption.

“Changing the clock twice a year is outdated and unnecessary,” Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida said.

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Americans want more sunshine and less depression — people in this country, all the way from Seattle to Miami, want the Sunshine Protection Act,” Sen. Patty Murray of Washington added.

Nearly a dozen states across the U.S. have already standardized daylight saving time.

Daylight saving time is defined as a period between spring and fall when clocks in most parts of the country are set one hour ahead of standard time. Americans last changed their clocks on Sunday. Standard time lasts for roughly four months in most of the country.

Members of Congress have long been interested in the potential benefits and costs of daylight saving time since it was first adopted as a wartime measure in 1942. The proposal will now go to the House, where the Energy and Commerce Committee had a hearing to discuss possible legislation last week.

Rep. Frank Pallone, the chairman of the committee, agreed in his opening statement at the hearing that it is “time we stop changing our clocks.” But he said he was undecided about whether daylight saving time or standard time is the way to go.

Markey said Tuesday, “Now, I call on my colleagues in the House of Representatives to lighten up and swiftly pass the Sunshine Protection Act.”

9 dead in Texas crash involving U. of Southwest golf teams

By JILL BLEED for the Associated Press

Nine people died in a fiery, head-on collision in West Texas, including six students and a coach from a New Mexico university who were returning home from a golf tournament, authorities said.

Emergency responders work the scene of a fatal crash late Tuesday, March 15, 2022 in Andrews County, Texas. A vehicle carrying members of the University of the Southwest’s golf teams collided head-on with a pickup truck in West Texas, killing multiple people, authorities said. (NewsWest 9 KWES-TV via AP)

A pickup truck crossed the center line of a two-lane road in Andrews County, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) east of the New Mexico state line on Tuesday evening and crashed into a van carrying members of the University of the Southwest men’s and women’s golf teams, said Sgt. Steven Blanco of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Six students and a faculty member were killed in the crash along with the driver and a passenger in the pickup truck, Blanco said. Two students were taken in critical condition by helicopter to a hospital in Lubbock, about 110 miles (180 kilometers) to the northeast.

Family members confirmed freshman Laci Stone was among those who died in the crash. Stone graduated from Nocona High School in Texas in 2021, where she played golf, volleyball and softball.

“She has been an absolute ray of sunshine during this short time on earth,” her mother, Chelsi Stone, said on Facebook. “… We will never be the same after this and we just don’t understand how this happened to our amazing, beautiful, smart, joyful girl.”

Laci Stone was majoring in global business management, according to her biography on the golf team’s website.

The National Transportation Safety Board will send a 12-member “go team” to the crash site, including experts in human performance, vehicle and motor carrier factors and accident reconstruction, agency spokesman Eric Weiss said. The team is expected to arrive later Wednesday, he said.

“We’ll try to find out not only what happened, but why it happened, so we can possibly prevent things like this from happening in the future,” he said.

The golf team was traveling in a 2017 Ford Transit van that was towing a box trailer when it collided with a 2007 Dodge pickup truck, Weiss said. Both vehicles caught fire after the collision, he said, calling it a “high-energy event.”

The crash happened on a two-lane asphalt highway where the speed limit is 75 mph (120 kph), though investigators have not yet determined how fast either vehicle was traveling, Weiss said.

The University of the Southwest is a private, Christian college located in Hobbs, New Mexico, near the state’s border with Texas.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said on Facebook that she is “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.

“This is a terrible accident. As we await additional information from authorities, my prayers are with the community and the loved ones of all those involved,” she said.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott also expressed sympathy.

“We grieve with the loved ones of the individuals whose lives were horrifically taken too soon in this fatal vehicle crash near Andrews last night,” Abbott said.

The teams were taking part in a golf tournament at Midland College, about 315 miles (505 kilometers) west of Dallas.

“We are still learning the details about the accident but we are devastated and deeply saddened to learn about the loss of our students’ lives and their coach,” University President Quint Thurman said in a statement.

The university said on Twitter that it was working to notify family members of those involved in the crash, and that counseling and religious services would be available on campus.

Midland College, which hosted the golf tournament, said Wednesday’s play would be canceled because of the crash. Eleven schools were participating in the event.

“All of the players and their coaches from the participating schools met together early this morning,” Midland College athletic director Forrest Allen said in a statement Wednesday. “We were all shocked to learn of this tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with USW as they grieve this terrible loss.”

Biden sending more anti-aircraft systems, drones to Ukraine

By LISA MASCARO for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy summoned the memory of Pearl Harbor and the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks in appealing Wednesday to the U.S. Congress to do more to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia. President Joe Biden said the U.S. is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons and drones.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivers a virtual address to Congress by video at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (Sarah Silbiger, Pool via AP)

Zelenskyy, livestreamed to a rapt audience of lawmakers on a giant screen, acknowledged the no-fly zone he has sought to “close the sky” to airstrikes on his country may not happen. Biden has resisted that, as well as approval for the U.S. or NATO to send MiG fighter jets from Poland.

Instead, Zelenskyy pleaded for other military aid to stop the Russian assault.

Biden, describing help he was already prepared to announce, said the U.S. will be sending an additional $800 million in military assistance, making a total of $2 billion in such aid sent to Kyiv since he took office more than a year ago. About $1 billion in aid has been sent in the past week. Biden said the new assistance includes 800 Stinger anti-aircraft systems, 100 grenade launchers, 20 million rounds of small arms ammunition and grenade launchers and mortar rounds and an unspecified number of drones.

“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,” Biden said.

Biden spoke hours after Zelenskyy delivered a video address to members of U.S. Congress in which he made an impassioned plea for the U.S. and West to provide more help to save his young democracy than world leaders have so far pledged to provide.

For the first time in a public address to world leaders, he showed a packed auditorium of lawmakers a graphic video of the destruction and devastation his country has suffered in the war, along with heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties.

“We need you right now,” Zelenskyy said. “I call on you to do more.”

Lawmakers gave him a standing ovation, before and after his short remarks, which Zelenskyy began in Ukrainian through an interpreter but then switched to English in a heartfelt appeal to help end the bloodshed.

“I see no sense in life if it cannot stop the deaths,” he said.

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelenskyy has used the global stage to implore allied leaders to help stop the Russian invasion of his country. The young actor-turned-president often draws from history, giving weight to what have become powerful appearances.

Biden has stopped short of providing a no-fly zone or the transfer of military jets from neighboring Poland as the U.S. seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

The White House has been weighing giving Ukraine access to U.S.-made Switchblade drones that can fly and strike Russian targets, according to a separate person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly. It was not immediately clear if the new drones that Biden said would be delivered to Ukraine include the Switchblades.

Zelenskyy has emerged as a heroic figure at the center of what many view as the biggest security threat to Europe since World War II. Almost 3 million refugees have fled Ukraine, the fastest exodus in modern times.

Wearing his now trademark army green T-shirt, Zelinskyy began the remarks to his “American friends” by invoking the destruction the U.S. suffered in 1941 when Japan bombed the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by militants who commandeered passenger airplanes to crash into the symbols of Western democracy and economy.

“Remember Pearl Harbor? … Remember September 11?” Zelenzkyy asked. “Our countries experience the same every day right now.”

Biden said he listened to Zelenskyy’s “significant” speech but did not directly address the Ukrainian’s critique that the U.S. and West could be doing more. The U.S. president said Zelenskyy’s speech reflected Ukrainians “courage and strength” shown throughout the crisis.

“We are united in our abhorrence of Putin’s depraved onslaught and we’re going to continue to have their backs as they fight for their freedom, their democracy, their very survival.”

Sen. Angus King, the Maine independent. said there was a “collective holding of the breath” in the room during Zelenskyy’s address. Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said, “If you did not look at that video and feel there is an obligation for not only the United States but but the free countries of the world to come together in support of Ukraine, you had your eyes closed.” Majority Whip Dick Durbin called the address heartbreaking and said, “I’m on board with a blank check on sanctions, just whatever we can do to stop this Russian advance.”

Outside the Capitol demonstrators held a large sign lawmakers saw as they walked back to their offices. “No Fly Zone=World War 3.”

The Ukrainian president is no stranger to Congress, having played a central role in Donald Trump’s first impeachment. As president, Trump was accused of withholding security aid to Ukraine as he pressured Zelenskyy to dig up dirt on political rival Biden. Zelenskyy spoke Wednesday from a giant screen to many of the same Republican lawmakers who declined to impeach or convict Trump, but are among the bipartisan groundswell in Congress now clamoring for military aid to Ukraine.

He thanked the American people, saying Ukraine is grateful for the outpouring of support, even as he urged Biden to do more.

“You are the leader of the nation. I wish you be the leader of the world,” he said “Being the leader of the world means being the leader of peace.”

It was the latest visit as Zelenskky uses the West’s great legislative bodies in his appeals for help, invoking Shakespeare’s Hamlet last week at the British House of Commons asking whether Ukraine is “to be or not to be” and appealing Tuesday to “Dear Justin” as he addressed the Canadian Parliament and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. He often pushes for more help to save his young democracy than world leaders have so far pledged to provide.

To Congress, he drew on the image of Mount Rushmore and told the lawmakers that people in his country want to live their national dreams just as they do.

“Democracy, independence, freedom.”

Biden has insisted there will be no U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine and has resisted Zelenskyy’s relentless pleas for warplanes as too risky, potentially escalating into a direct confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia.

“Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III,” Biden has said.

Zelenskyy appeared to acknowledge the political reality.

“Is this to too much to ask to create a no fly zone over Ukraine?” he asked, answering his own question. “If this is too much to ask, we offer an alternative,” he said, calling for weapons systems that would help fight Russian aircraft.

Already the Biden administration has sent Ukraine more than 600 Stinger missiles, 2,600 Javelin anti-armor systems, unmanned aerial system tracking radars, grenade launchers, 200 shotguns, 200 machine guns and nearly 40 million rounds of small arms ammunition, along with helicopters, patrol boats, satellite imagery and body armor, helmets, and other tactical gear, the U.S. official said.

Congress has already approved $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid for Ukraine, and the newly announced security aid will come from that allotment, which is part of a broader bill that Biden signed into law Tuesday.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Aamer Madhani, Ellen Knickmeyer, Farnoush Amiri, Kevin Freking, Alan Fram, Nomaan Merchant and Chris Megerian and Raf Casert in Brussels, Jill Lawless in London, Aritz Parra in Madrid and videojournalist Rick Gentilo contributed to this report.

Average US gas price rises 22% in two weeks to record $4.43

From the Associated Press

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline shot up a whopping 79 cents over the past two weeks to a record-setting $4.43 per gallon (3.8 liters) as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is contributing to already-high prices at the pump.

FILE – A California street sign is shown next to the price board at a gas station in San Francisco, on March 7, 2022. The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline shot up a whopping 79 cents over the past two weeks to $4.43 per gallon. Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey says Sunday, March 13, the new price exceeds by 32 cents the prior record high of $4.11 set in July 2008. Lundberg said gas prices are likely to remain high in the short term as crude oil costs soar amid global supply concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Nationwide, the highest average price for regular-grade is in the San Francisco Bay Area, at $5.79. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey said Sunday the new price exceeds by 32 cents the prior all-time high of $4.11 set in July 2008. But that’s still quite a ways from the inflation-adjusted record high of about $5.24 per gallon.

The price at the pump is $1.54 higher than it was a year ago.

Lundberg said gas prices are likely to remain high in the short term as crude oil costs soar amid global supply concerns following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Prices at the pump were rising long before Russia invaded Ukraine as post-lockdown demand has pushed prices higher. Crude prices plummeted in early 2020 as economies around the world shut down because of COVID-19 — the price of futures even turned negative, meaning some sellers were paying buyers to take oil. Prices rebounded, however, as demand recovered faster than producers pulled oil out of the ground and inventories dried up.

Then, the price increase accelerated after war began.

Energy prices are also contributing to the worst inflation that Americans have seen in 40 years, far outpacing higher wages.

Nationwide, the highest average price for regular-grade gas is in the San Francisco Bay Area, at $5.79 per gallon. The lowest average is in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at $3.80 per gallon.

According to the survey, the average price of diesel also spiked, up $1.18 over two weeks, to $5.20 a gallon. Diesel costs $2.11 more than it did one year ago.

NC top court decision keeps domestic violence ruling intact

From the Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s Supreme Court has upheld a lower court’s ruling that said domestic violence protection orders in the state must apply to same-sex dating cases .

The state’s highest court on Friday affirmed and altered a Court of Appeals decision from December 2020 that had involved a woman who ended her relationship with another woman in 2018 and feared for her safety.

The appeals panel had ruled that the state law laying out how protection orders are issued had treated LGBT people differently and therefore violated both the North Carolina and U.S. constitutions.

The law allowed protection orders to be issued between former and current spouses and couples who live or have lived in the same household. But North Carolina appears to have been the only state that expressly prevented protection orders for people in same-sex relationships who are not spouses or former spouses and who are not current or former household members.

A divided Court of Appeals panel had reversed a local judge’s decision that denied the protection order to the Wake County woman on the basis on the limitations for granting one. The judge did issue a civil no-contact order to the woman, identified in the opinion only by her initials for privacy, but such orders are considered to provide fewer protections.

Several outside groups and individuals had filed legal briefs in the case, including Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein and Gov. Roy Cooper, who both favored Friday’s decision.

“Our state constitution provides robust protections against sex-based discrimination, including discrimination arising from sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Irena Como, an attorney with American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, which helped represent the woman seeking the order.

The state’s three registered Republicans on the seven-member court joined a separate dissenting opinion Friday. The court’s majority, Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr. wrote, had ignored rules of civil procedure in part to “allow reverse engineered arguments based on sympathies and desired results.”

Liberal US cities change course, now clearing homeless camps

By SARA CLINE for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Makeshift shelters abut busy roadways, tent cities line sidewalks, tarps cover broken-down cars, and sleeping bags are tucked in storefront doorways. The reality of the homelessness crisis in Oregon’s largest city can’t be denied.

Workers carry a tent used by people experiencing homelessness to a garbage truck, Friday, March 11, 2022, during the clearing and removal of several tents at an encampment in Westlake Park in downtown Seattle. Increasingly in liberal cities across the country — where people living in tents in public spaces have long been tolerated — leaders are removing encampments and pushing other strict measures to address homelessness that would have been unheard of a few years ago. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

“I would be an idiot to sit here and tell you that things are better today than they were five years ago with regard to homelessness,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said recently. “People in this city aren’t stupid. They can open their eyes.”

As COVID-19 took root in the U.S., people on the street were largely left on their own — with many cities halting sweeps of homeless camps following guidance from federal health officials. The lack of remediation led to a situation that has spiraled out of control in many places, with frustrated residents calling for action as extreme forms of poverty play out on city streets.

Wheeler has now used emergency powers to ban camping along certain roadways and says homelessness is the “most important issue facing our community, bar none.”

Increasingly in liberal cities across the country — where people living in tents in public spaces have long been tolerated — leaders are removing encampments and pushing other strict measures to address homelessness that would have been unheard of a few years ago.

In Seattle, new Mayor Bruce Harrell ran on a platform that called for action on encampments, focusing on highly visible tent cities in his first few months in office. Across from City Hall, two blocks worth of tents and belongings were removed Wednesday. The clearing marked the end of a two and a half week standoff between the mayor and activists who occupied the camp, working in shifts to keep homeless people from being moved.

In Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser launched a pilot program over the summer to permanently clear several homeless camps. In December, the initiative faced a critical test as lawmakers voted on a bill that would ban clearings until April. It failed 5-7.

In California, home to more than 160,000 homeless people, cities are reshaping how they address the crisis. The Los Angeles City Council used new laws to ban camping in 54 locations. LA Mayoral candidate Joe Buscaino has introduced plans for a ballot measure that would prohibit people from sleeping outdoors in public spaces if they have turned down offers of shelter.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed declared a state of emergency in December in the crime-heavy Tenderloin neighborhood, which has been ground zero for drug dealing, overdose deaths and homelessness. She said it’s time to get aggressive and “less tolerant of all the bull—- that has destroyed our city.”

In Sacramento voters may decide on multiple proposed homeless-related ballot measures in November — including prohibiting people from storing “hazardous waste,” such as needles and feces, on public and private property, and requiring the city to create thousands of shelter beds. City officials in the area are feeling increasing pressure to break liberal conventions, including from an conservation group that is demanding that 750 people camping along a 23-mile (37-kilometer) natural corridor of the American River Parkway be removed from the area.

Advocates for the homeless have denounced aggressive measures, saying the problem is being treated as a blight or a chance for cheap political gains, instead of a humanitarian crisis.

Donald H. Whitehead Jr., executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said at least 65 U.S. cities are criminalizing or sweeping encampments. “Everywhere that there is a high population of homeless people, we started to see this as their response.”

Portland’s homeless crisis has grown increasingly visible in recent years. During the area’s 2019 point-in-time count — a yearly census of sorts — an estimated 4,015 people were experiencing homelessness, with half of them “unsheltered” or sleeping outside. Advocates say the numbers have likely significantly increased.

Last month Wheeler used his emergency powers to ban camping on the sides of “high-crash” roadways — which encompass about 8% of the total area of the city. The decision followed a report showing 19 of 27 pedestrians killed by cars in Portland last year were homeless. People in at least 10 encampments were given 72 hours to leave.

“It’s been made very clear people are dying,” Wheeler said. “So I approach this from a sense of urgency.”

Wheeler’s top adviser — Sam Adams, a former Portland mayor — has also outlined a controversial plan that would force up to 3,000 homeless people into massive temporary shelters staffed by Oregon National Guard members. Advocates say the move, which marks a major shift in tone and policy, would ultimately criminalize homelessness.

“I understand my suggestions are big ideas,” Adams wrote. “Our work so far, mine included, has … failed to produce the sought-after results.”

Oregon’s Democratic governor rejected the idea. But Adams says if liberal cities don’t take drastic action, ballot measures that crack down on homelessness may emerge instead.

That’s what happened in left-leaning Austin, Texas. Last year voters there reinstated a ban that penalizes those who camp downtown and near the University of Texas, in addition to making it a crime to ask for money in certain areas and times.

People who work with the homeless urge mayors to find long-term solutions — such as permanent housing and addressing root causes like addiction and affordability — instead of temporary ones they say will further traumatize and villainize a vulnerable population.

The pandemic has added complications, with homeless-related complaints skyrocketing in places like Portland, where the number of campsites removed each week plummeted from 50 to five after COVID-19 hit.

The situation has affected businesses and events, with employers routinely asking officials to do more. Some are looking to move, while others already have — notably Oregon’s largest annual golf tournament, the LPGA Tour’s Portland Classic, relocated from Portland last year due to safety concerns related to a nearby homeless encampment.

James Darwin “Dar” Crammond, director at the Oregon Water Science Center building downtown, told the City Council about his experience working in an area populated with encampments.

Crammond said four years ago the biggest security concerns were vandalism and occasional car break-ins. Now employees often are confronted by “unhinged” people and forced to sidestep discarded needles, he said.

Despite spending $300,000 on security and implementing a buddy system for workers to safely be outdoors, the division of the U.S. Geological Survey is looking to move.

“I don’t blame the campers. There are a few other options for housing. There’s a plague of meth and opiates and a world that offers them no hope and little assistance,” Crammond said. “In my view, where the blame squarely lies is with the City of Portland.”

In New York City, where a homeless man is accused of pushing a woman to her death in front of a subway in January, Mayor Eric Adams announced a plan to start barring people from sleeping on trains or riding the same lines all night.

Adams has likened homelessness to a “cancerous sore,” lending to what advocates describe as a negative and inaccurate narrative that villainizes the population.

“Talk to someone on the street and literally just hear a little bit about their stories — I mean, honestly, homelessness can happen to any one of us,” said Laura Recko, associate director of external communications for Central City Concern in Portland.

And some question whether the tougher approach is legal — citing the 2018 federal court decision known as Martin v. City of Boise, Idaho, that said cities cannot make it illegal for people to sleep or rest outside without providing sufficient indoor alternatives.

Whitehead, of the National Coalition for the Homeless, thought the landmark ruling would force elected officials to start developing long-term fixes and creating enough shelter beds for emergency needs. Instead, some areas are ignoring the decision or finding ways around it, he said.

“If cities become as creative about solutions as they are about criminalization, then we could end homelessness tomorrow,” he said.

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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.

New York City man rescued twice in 2 days on Arizona hikes

For the Associated Press

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — A New York City man who needed to be rescued twice on consecutive days while hiking in a northern Arizona mountain range is urging others to pay more attention to winter weather than he did.

“Warning: Unless you are an experienced alpine mountaineer, DO NOT attempt Humphreys Peak in the winter. There is so much snow that it’s difficult to follow the trail and very easy to fall off of it. Moreover, the wind is absolutely brutal,” Phillip Vasto said in an online post.

The 28-year-old Brooklyn man first called 911 last Wednesday at about 7 p.m. to say he got lost while hiking on Humphreys Trail in the San Francisco Peaks overlooking Flagstaff, the Coconino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

The statement didn’t identify Vasto by name but he spoke to the Arizona Daily Sun, telling the newspaper in a story published Tuesday that he was an experienced hiker but had underestimated the difficult conditions.

“I was thinking if I start early in the morning, I’ll have all the time in the world to reach the summit,” Vasto said of his second attempt.

The trail runs through some 5.5 miles (8.9 kilometers) of steep, rocky terrain between the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort and Humphreys Peak, the state’s highest point with an elevation of 12,633 feet (3,851 meters).

During the first rescue, tracked vehicles from the ski resort that travel on snow drove Vasto off the mountain and he declined medical attention.

But at 5 p.m. the next day, Vasto called 911 to say he needed help after injuring himself in a fall near a ridge on the Humphreys Trail.

An Arizona Department of Public Safety rescue helicopter was sent to pick up Vasto and another hiker who had stopped to help him.

Vasto was “provided with preventative search and rescue education about the conditions on the trail and the approaching winter storm and encouraged to not attempt the hike again,” the Sheriff’s Office statement said.

The other hiker who stopped to help Vasto, Phillip Wyatt, said it was “very apparent that he wasn’t prepared for the climate that he had gotten himself into.”

Wyatt decided to stay with Vasto and provided his number to the search and rescue team so that they could make contact in the likely scenario that Vasto’s phone ran out of battery life because he had been using it to check his route on a trail locater app.

“I really respect Phil’s perseverance,” Wyatt told the Daily Sun. “I hope that he’s able to make it to the top sometime.”

Border authorities find 52 reptiles hidden in man’s clothing

For the Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A man who tried to slither past U.S. border agents in California had 52 lizards and snakes hidden in his clothing, authorities said Tuesday.

This February 2022 photo provided by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows snakes in bags found hidden under and in a man’s clothes by CBP officers at the San Ysidro, Calif., port of entry. An alleged smuggler who tried to slither past U.S. border agents in California had dozens of lizards and snakes hidden in his clothing, authorities said Tuesday, March 8, 2022 (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP)

The man was driving a truck when he arrived at the San Ysidro border crossing with Mexico on Feb. 25 and was pulled out for additional inspection, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

Agents found 52 live reptiles tied up in small bags “which were concealed in the man’s jacket, pants pockets, and groin area,” the statement said.

Nine snakes and 43 horned lizards were seized. Some of the species are considered endangered, authorities said.

“Smugglers will try every possible way to try and get their product, or in this case live reptiles, across the border,” said Sidney Aki, Customs and Border Protection director of field operations in San Diego. “In this occasion, the smuggler attempted to deceive CBP officers in order to bring these animals into the US, without taking care for the health and safety of the animals.”

The man, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen, was arrested.

US citizens seek to join foreign fighters in Ukraine

By BEN FOX for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the smaller nation’s embassy in Washington an unexpected role: recruitment center for Americans who want to join the fight.

Major General Borys Kremenetskyi, Defense Attache with the Embassy of Ukraine, listens to Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova as she speaks during a news conference at the Embassy of Ukraine in Washington, on Feb. 24, 2022. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given the smaller nation’s embassy in Washington an unexpected role: recruitment center for Americans who want to join the fight. Diplomats working out of the embassy, in a townhouse in the Georgetown section of the city, are fielding thousands of offers from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Diplomats working out of the embassy, in a townhouse in the Georgetown section of the city, are fielding thousands of offers from volunteers seeking to fight for Ukraine, even as they work on the far more pressing matter of securing weapons to defend against an increasingly brutal Russian onslaught.

“They really feel that this war is unfair, unprovoked,” said Ukraine’s military attaché, Maj. Gen. Borys Kremenetskyi. “They feel that they have to go and help.”

U.S. volunteers represent just a small subset of foreigners seeking to fight for Ukraine, who in turn comprise just a tiny fraction of the international assistance that has flowed into the country. Still, it is a a reflection of the passion, supercharged in an era of social media, that the attack and the mounting civilian casualties have stirred.

“This is not mercenaries who are coming to earn money,” Kremenetskyi said. “This is people of goodwill who are coming to assist Ukraine to fight for freedom.”

The U.S. government discourages Americans from going to fight in Ukraine, which raises legal and national security issues.

Since the Feb. 24 invasion, the embassy in Washington has heard from at least 6,000 people inquiring about volunteering for service, the “vast majority” of them American citizens, said Kremenetskyi, who oversees the screening of potential U.S. recruits.

Half the potential volunteers were quickly rejected and didn’t even make it to the Zoom interview, the general said. They lacked the required military experience, had a criminal background or weren’t suitable for other reasons such as age, including a 16-year-old boy and a 73-year-old man.

Some who expressed interest were rejected because the embassy said it couldn’t do adequate vetting. The general didn’t disclose the methods used to screen people.

Kremenetskyi, who spoke to The Associated Press just after returning from the Pentagon for discussions on the military hardware his country needs for its defense, said he appreciates the support from both the U.S. government and the public.

“Russians can be stopped only with hard fists and weapons,” he said.

So far, about 100 U.S. citizens have made the cut. They include veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with combat experience, including some helicopter pilots, the attaché said.

They must make their own way to Poland, where they are to cross at a specified point, with their own protective gear but without a weapon, which they will get after they arrive. They will be required to sign a contract to serve, without pay, in the International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government says about 20,000 foreigners from various nations have already joined.

Borys Wrzesnewskyj, a former Liberal lawmaker in Canada who is helping to facilitate recruitment there, said about 1,000 Canadians have applied to fight for Ukraine, the vast majority of whom don’t have any ties to the country.

“The volunteers, a very large proportion are ex-military, these are people that made that tough decision that they would enter the military to stand up for the values that we subscribe to,” Wrzesnewskyj said. “And when they see what is happening in Ukraine they can’t stand aside.”

It’s not clear how many U.S. citizens seeking to fight have actually reached Ukraine, a journey the State Department has urged people not to make.

“We’ve been very clear for some time, of course, in calling on Americans who may have been resident in Ukraine to leave, and making clear to Americans who may be thinking of traveling there not to go,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters recently.

U.S. citizens aren’t required to register overseas. The State Department says it’s not certain how many have entered Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

Under some circumstances, Americans could face criminal penalties, or even risk losing their citizenship, by taking part in an overseas conflict, according to a senior federal law enforcement official.

But the legal issues are only one of many concerns for U.S. authorities, who worry about what could happen if an American is killed or captured or is recruited while over there to work for a foreign intelligence service upon their return home, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security matters.

The official and independent security experts say some of the potential foreign fighters may be white supremacists, who are believed to be fighting on both sides of the conflict. They could become more radicalized and gain military training in Ukraine, thereby posing an increased danger when they return home.

“These are men who want adventure, a sense of significance and are harking back to World War II rhetoric,” said Anne Speckhard, who has extensively studied foreigners who fought in Syria and elsewhere as director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism.

Ukraine may be getting around some of the potential legal issues by only facilitating the overseas recruitment, and directing volunteers to sign their contracts, and receive a weapon, once they arrive in the country. Also, by assigning them to the territorial defense forces, and not front-line units, it reduces the chance of direct combat with Russians, though it’s by no means eliminated.

The general acknowledges the possibility that any foreigners who are captured could be used for propaganda purposes. But he didn’t dwell on the issue, focusing instead on the need for his country to defend itself against Russia.

“We are fighting for our existence,” he said. “We are fighting for our families, for our land. And we are not going to give up.”

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

Ukrainian drone enthusiasts sign up to repel Russian forces

By MATT O’BRIEN for the Associated Press

In better times, Ukrainian drone enthusiasts flew their gadgets into the sky to photograph weddings, fertilize soybean fields or race other drones for fun. Now some are risking their lives by forming a volunteer drone force to help their country repel the Russian invasion.

This 2022 aerial image provided by Ukrainian security forces, taken by a drone and shown on a screen, shows a blown-up building near the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine. The exact date and time of the image are unknown. In better times, Ukrainian drone enthusiasts flew their gadgets into the sky to photograph weddings, fertilize soybean fields or race other drones for fun. Now some are risking their lives by forming a volunteer drone force to help their country repel the Russian invasion. (Ukrainian Security Forces via AP)

“Kyiv needs you and your drone at this moment of fury!” read a Facebook post late last week from the Ukrainian military, calling for citizens to donate hobby drones and to volunteer as experienced pilots to operate them.

One entrepreneur who runs a retail store selling consumer drones in the capital said its entire stock of some 300 drones made by Chinese company DJI has been dispersed for the cause. Others are working to get more drones across the border from friends and colleagues in Poland and elsewhere in Europe.

“Why are we doing this? We have no other choice. This is our land, our home,” said Denys Sushko, head of operations at Kyiv-based industrial drone technology company DroneUA, which before the war was helping to provide drone services to farmers and energy companies.

Sushko fled his home late last week after his family had to take cover from a nearby explosion. He spoke to The Associated Press by phone and text message Friday after climbing up a tree for better reception.

“We try to use absolutely everything that can help protect our country and drones are a great tool for getting real-time data,” said Sushko, who doesn’t have a drone with him but is providing expertise. “Now in Ukraine no one remains indifferent. Everyone does what they can.”

Unlike the much larger Turkish-built combat drones that Ukraine has in its arsenal, off-the-shelf consumer drones aren’t much use as weapons — but they can be powerful reconnaissance tools. Civilians have been using the aerial cameras to track Russian convoys and then relay the images and GPS coordinates to Ukrainian troops. Some of the machines have night vision and heat sensors.

But there’s a downside: DJI, the leading provider of consumer drones in Ukraine and around the world, provides a tool that can easily pinpoint the location of an inexperienced drone operator, and no one really knows what the Chinese firm or its customers might do with that data. That makes some volunteers uneasy. DJI declined to discuss specifics about how it has responded to the war.

Taras Troiak, a dealer of DJI drones who started the Kyiv retail store, said DJI has been sending mixed signals about whether it’s providing preferential access to — or disabling — its drone detection platform AeroScope, which both sides of the conflict can potentially use to monitor the other’s flight paths and the communication links between a drone and the device that’s controlling it.

DJI spokesperson Adam Lisberg said wartime uses were “never anticipated” when the company created AeroScope to give policing and aviation authorities — including clients in both Russia and Ukraine — a window into detecting drones flying in their immediate airspace. He said some users in Ukraine have reported technical problems but DJI has not disabled the tool or given preferential access.

In the meantime, Ukrainian drone experts said they’ve been doing whatever they can to teach operators how to protect their whereabouts.

“There are a number of tricks that allow you to increase the level of security when using them,” Sushko said.

Sushko said many in the industry are now trying to get more small drones — including DJI alternatives — transported into Ukraine from neighboring European countries. They can also be used to assist search-and-rescue operations.

Ukraine has a thriving community of drone experts, some of whom were educated at the National Aviation University or the nearby Kyiv Polytechnic University and went on to found local drone and robotics startups.

“They’ve got this homebuilt industry and all these smart people who build drones,” said Faine Greenwood, a U.S.-based consultant on drones for civic uses such as disaster response.

Troiak’s DJI-branded store in Kyiv, which is now shuttered as city residents take shelter, was a hub for that community because it runs a maintenance center and hosts training sessions and a hobby club. Even the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, once paid a visit to the store to buy a drone for one of his children, Troiak said.

A public drone-focused Facebook group administered by Troiak counts more than 15,000 members who have been trading tips about how to assist Ukrainian troops. One drone photographer who belongs to the Ukrainian Association of Drone Racing team told The Associated Press he decided to donate his DJI Mavic drone to the military rather than try to fly it himself. He and others asked not to be named out of fear for their safety.

“The risk to civilian drone operators inside Ukraine is still great,” said Australian drone security expert Mike Monnik. “Locating the operator’s location could result in directed missile fire, given what we’ve seen in the fighting so far. It’s no longer rules of engagement as we have had in previous conflicts.” In recent days, Russian-language channels on the messaging app Telegram have featured discussions on ways to find Ukrainian drones, Monnik said.

Some in Ukraine’s drone community already have experience deploying their expertise in conflict zones because of the country’s long-running conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Monnik’s firm, DroneSec, has tracked multiple instances just in the past year of both sides of that conflict arming small drones with explosives. One thing that Ukrainians said they’ve learned is that small quadcopter drones, such as those sold at stores, are rarely effective at hitting a target with explosive payloads.

“It would seem somewhat short-sighted to waste one,” said Greenwood, the consultant based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I assume the chief goal would be recon. But if things are getting desperate, who knows.”

DJI also has experience in responding to warfighters trying to weaponize its drones and used so-called “geofencing” technology to block drone movements during conflicts in Syria and Iraq. It’s not clear yet if it will do the same in Ukraine; even if it does, there are ways to work around it.

Small civilian drones are no match against Russian combat power but will likely become increasingly important in a protracted war, leaving drone-makers no option to be completely neutral. Any action they take or avoid is “indirectly taking a side,” said P.W. Singer, a New America fellow who wrote a book about war robots.

“We will see ad-hoc arming of these small civilian drones much the way we’ve seen that done in conflicts around the world from Syria to Iraq and Yemen and Afghanistan,” Singer said. “Just like an IED or a Molotov cocktail, they won’t change the tide of battle but they will definitely make it difficult for Russian soldiers.”

——

AP video journalist Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.

Indiana boy rescued after getting stuck in tree rescuing cat

From the Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A teenager who scaled a tree at an Indianapolis park to rescue a cat he spotted high up in the branches ended up stuck himself and in need of a rescue, officials said.

This photo provided by the Indianapolis Fire Department shows firefighters on Saturday, March 5, 2022 at Holliday Park in Indianapolis. A teenager who scaled a tree at an Indianapolis park to rescue a cat he spotted high up in the branches ended up stuck himself and in need of a rescue, officials said. (Indianapolis Fire Department via AP)

The 17-year-old boy was at Holliday Park on Indianapolis’ north side Saturday afternoon when he saw the cat and decided to rescue it by climbing 35 feet (10.7 meters) into the tree, the Indianapolis Fire Department said in a news release.

The teen, identified in the release only as “Owen,” told firefighters “he was trying to do a good deed and bring the cat to safety,” wrote Rita Reith, battalion chief and the department’s spokeswoman.

“While Owen had no trouble climbing up the tree –- his positioning did not allow the same ease for getting down,” she added.

Firefighting crews were called to the park and they used a rope system to lower the boy safely to the ground about two hours later. The department also released video of the rescue.

The teen was checked out by medics, found to have only a few scrapes, and was released to his parents, although the cat remained in the tree.

“The cat seemed to enjoy the commotion but made no effort to climb down the tree,” Reith wrote.

Reith said Monday that a 21-year-old woman who was the cat’s owner ended up hiring a private company to retrieve the feline.

Pentagon to shut down leaking fuel tank facility in Hawaii

By LOLITA C. BALDOR for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Defense Department will permanently shut down the Navy’s massive fuel tank facility in Hawaii that leaked petroleum into Pearl Harbor’s tap water, and will remove all the fuel, the Pentagon said Monday.

FILE – In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy’s acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor’s tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP, File)

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the decision by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is based on a new Pentagon assessment, but also is in line with an order from Hawaii’s Department of Health to drain fuel from the tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

The tanks, built into the side of a mountain during World War II to protect them from enemy attack, had leaked into a drinking water well and contaminated water at Pearl Harbor homes and offices.

Nearly 6,000 people, mostly those living in military housing at or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam were sickened, seeking treatment for nausea, headaches, rashes and other ailments. And 4,000 military families were forced out of their homes and are in hotels.

Lauren Wright remembers her skin peeling, feeling nauseous and vomiting. Her symptoms disappeared only when she stopped drinking, showering and washing dishes with her home’s water.

Since early December, Wright, her sailor husband and their three children ages 7 to 17 have been among the thousands of military families living in Honolulu hotels paid for by the Navy so they can have clean water.

“I am happy because it is a step in the right direction. It should have happened a long time ago,” Wright said. “Hopefully, they don’t drag their feet and it moves quickly so another spill or leak doesn’t happen again.”

She said her water at home still has a sheen and smell. The Wright family hopes to find a new home and said she and her family won’t be drinking the water, even after officials sign off on its safety.

“My plan is not to use the water, or if we have to use it very, very little. I will not be drinking it, cooking with it,” she said. ”We’ve been looking at home filtration systems that we could use, but I don’t trust it. I don’t even want to bathe in it. I don’t want to brush our teeth with it because I don’t trust the water.”

Austin spoke with Hawaii government leaders on Monday to inform them of the decision, which he said will protect the population and the environment, and will also lay the groundwork for a more secure military fueling system.

“This is the right thing to do,” Austin said in a statement. “Centrally-located bulk fuel storage of this magnitude likely made sense in 1943, when Red Hill was built. And Red Hill has served our armed forces well for many decades. But it makes a lot less sense now.”

Hawaii Gov. David Ige called it “great news for the people of Hawaii.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said she has been encouraging the Pentagon to make the shutdown decision for weeks.

“I have said from day one that ensuring the health and safety of the residents of Oahu is my top priority and I share the community’s big sigh of relief with this news,” said Hirono, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Pentagon said it will move to a more dispersed fueling system for military ships and aircraft in the Indo-Pacific. Based on the new assessment, the expanded system will be more cost effective and provide greater security by spreading the fuel supply more broadly across the region.

The new plan, laid out in recommendations delivered to Austin by a study group, would increase the fuel contracts that the U.S. has with other territories and nations in the Indo-Pacific, and add several more tanker ships that are based at sea. There are currently less than a dozen tanker ships, so several more would have to be built.

An assessment team that had been studying how to make the tanks safe to operate will now determine how to shut the tanks down and remove the fuel in an environmentally safe way. The team must report back to Austin by the end of April with recommendations.

After the facility can operate again, the defueling will begin and the process is expected to take about a year, meaning it would be finished some time next year. Austin has asked the Navy secretary to plan a budget for all necessary corrective action for any prior fuel releases from the facility.

Austin said the department will also work with state, national and local leaders to clean up the contamination and consider other uses for the property after the fueling plant is closed. And the military will also provide health care to the families and workers affected.

U.S. Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele said the military must also make sure it cleans up the contaminated aquifer underneath the fuel tanks. The Navy’s water system and Honolulu’s municipal water utility use that aquifer.

“At this point, the extent of contamination and environmental damage is not yet known. We know fuel continues to drip, as we speak, from the rock formations into our fresh water aquifer right now,” the Hawaii Democrat said in a statement.

Carmen Hulu Lindsey, chair of the board of trustees for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, commended Austin’s decision, but said officials must continue to monitor the situation as the facility is drained.

“Being good stewards of Hawai’i’s natural resources is the expectation for all that use Hawaiian lands and water,” Lindsey said in a statement.

The tanks can hold 250 million gallons (1.1 billion liters) of fuel, and they are at less than half capacity right now. Officials said that 13 of the 20 tanks have fuel in them, two are permanently closed and five are being repaired.

The Navy hasn’t determined how the petroleum got in the water. Officials are investigating a theory that jet fuel spilled from a ruptured pipe last May and somehow entered a fire suppression system drain pipe. They suspect fuel then leaked from the second pipe on Nov. 20, sending it into the drinking water well.

Weeks after the leak was discovered, Hawaii state officials and members of Congress began to demand the shutdown of the facility.

The Navy in early February appealed the state’s closure order, and at the time Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said the appeal would give the military time “to make evidence-based and transparent decisions.”

Lawyers representing the Sierra Club of Hawaii, which intervened in the case, said the Navy must now drop its appeals lodged in state and federal court.

Kirby on Monday said the department realizes the closure of the fuel complex will not be a quick fix.

“We have work to do,” he said. “But we do believe that this decision by the Secretary today marks a significant first step in the path forward.”

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said political leaders will need to make that the military follows through on its plans.

“In order to implement this decision, we’re going to have to provide additional resources and hold (the Department of Defense’s) feet to the fire through congressional oversight,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Caleb Jones and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report from Honolulu.

Refugee count tops 1 million; Russians besiege Ukraine ports

By JIM HEINTZ, YURAS KARMANAU, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA for the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, in the swiftest refugee exodus this century, the United Nations said Thursday, as Russian forces kept up their bombardment of the country’s second-biggest city, Kharkiv, and laid siege to two strategic seaports.

The tally the U.N. refugee agency released to The Associated Press was reached Wednesday and amounts to more than 2% of Ukraine’s population being forced out of the country in less than a week. The mass evacuation could be seen in Kharkiv, where residents desperate to escape falling shells and bombs crowded the city’s train station and pressed onto trains, not always knowing where they were headed.

Passengers rush to board a train leaving to Slovakia from the Lviv railway station, in Lviv, west Ukraine, Wednesday, March 2, 2022. Russian forces have escalated their attacks on crowded cities in what Ukraine’s leader called a blatant campaign of terror. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Overnight, Associated Press reporters in Kyiv heard at least one explosion before videos started circulating of apparent strikes on the capital. The targets were not immediately clear.

A statement from the general staff of Ukraine’s armed forces didn’t address the strikes, saying only that Russian forces were “regrouping” and “trying to reach the northern outskirts” of the city.

“The advance on Kyiv has been rather not very organized and now they’re more or less stuck,” military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told the AP in Moscow.

In a videotaped address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called on Ukrainians to keep up the resistance. He vowed that the invaders would have “not one quiet moment” and described Russian soldiers as “confused children who have been used.”

Moscow’s isolation deepened when most of the world lined up against it at the United Nations to demand it withdraw from Ukraine. And the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court opened an investigation into possible war crimes.

Felgenhauer said with the Russian economy already suffering, there could be a “serious internal political crisis” if Russian President Vladimir Putin does not find a way to end the war quickly.

“There’s no real money to run to fight this war,” he said, adding that if Putin and the military “are unable to wrap up this campaign very swiftly and victoriously, they’re in a pickle.”

With fighting going on on multiple fronts across Ukraine, Britain’s Defense Ministry said Mariupol, a large city on the Azov Sea, was encircled by Russian forces, while the status of another vital port, Kherson, a Black Sea shipbuilding city of 280,000, remained unclear.

Ukraine’s military said Russian forces “did not achieve the main goal of capturing Mariupol” in its statement, which did not mention Kherson.

Putin’s forces claimed to have taken complete control of Kherson, which would be the biggest city to fall yet in the invasion. A senior U.S. defense official disputed that.

“Our view is that Kherson is very much a contested city,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Zelenskyy’s office told the AP that it could not comment on the situation in Kherson while the fighting was still going on.

The mayor of Kherson, Igor Kolykhaev, said Russian soldiers were in the city and came to the city administration building. He said he asked them not to shoot civilians and to allow crews to gather up the bodies from the streets.

“We don’t have any Ukrainian forces in the city, only civilians and people here who want to LIVE,” he said in a statement later posted on Facebook.

The mayor said Kherson would maintain a strict 8 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew and restrict traffic into the city to food and medicine deliveries. The city will also require pedestrians to walk in groups no larger than two, obey commands to stop and not to “provoke the troops.”

“The flag flying over us is Ukrainian,” he wrote. “And for it to stay that way, these demands must be observed.”

Mariupol Mayor Vadym Boychenko said the attacks there had been relentless.

“We cannot even take the wounded from the streets, from houses and apartments today, since the shelling does not stop,” he was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.

Russia reported its military casualties for the first time in the war, saying nearly 500 of its troops have been killed and almost 1,600 wounded. Ukraine did not disclose its own military losses but said more than 2,000 civilians have died, a claim that could not be independently verified.

In a video address to the nation early Thursday, Zelenskyy praised his country’s resistance.

“We are a people who in a week have destroyed the plans of the enemy,” he said. “They will have no peace here. They will have no food. They will have here not one quiet moment.”

He said the fighting is taking a toll on the morale of Russian soldiers, who “go into grocery stores and try to find something to eat.”

“These are not warriors of a superpower,” he said. “These are confused children who have been used.”

Meanwhile, the senior U.S. defense official said an immense Russian column of hundreds of tanks and other vehicles appeared to be stalled roughly 25 kilometers (16 miles) from Kyiv and had made no real progress in the last couple of days.

The convoy, which earlier in the week had seemed poised to launch an assault on the capital, has been plagued with fuel and food shortages, the official said.

On the far edges of Kyiv, volunteers well into their 60s manned a checkpoint to try to block the Russian advance.

“In my old age, I had to take up arms,” said Andrey Goncharuk, 68. He said the fighters needed more weapons, but “we’ll kill the enemy and take their weapons.”

Around Ukraine, others crowded into train stations, carrying children wrapped in blankets and dragging wheeled suitcases into new lives as refugees.

In an email, U.N. refugee agency spokesperson Joung-ah Ghedini-Williams told the AP that the refugee count surpassed 1 million as of midnight in central Europe, based on figures collected by national authorities.

Shabia Mantoo, another spokesperson for the agency, said that “at this rate” the exodus from Ukraine could make it the source of “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”

Russian forces pounded Kharkiv, Ukraine’s biggest city after Kyiv, with about 1.5 million people, in another round of aerial attacks that shattered buildings and lit up the skyline with flames. At least 21 people were killed over the past day, said Oleg Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv regional administration.

Several Russian planes were shot down over Kharkiv, according to Oleksiy Arestovich, a top adviser to Zelenskyy.

“Kharkiv today is the Stalingrad of the 21st century,” Arestovich said, invoking what is considered one of the most heroic episodes in Russian history, the five-month defense of the city from the Nazis during World War II.

From his basement bunker, Kharkiv Mayor Igor Terekhov told the BBC: “The city is united and we shall stand fast.”

Russian attacks, many with missiles, blew the roof off Kharkiv’s five-story regional police building and set the top floor on fire, and also hit the intelligence headquarters and a university building, according to officials and videos and photos released by Ukraine’s State Emergency Service. Officials said residential buildings were also hit, but gave no details.

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Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow; Karmanau reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergei Grits in Odesa, Ukraine; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Jamey Keaten in Geneva; Lynn Berry, Robert Burns and Eric Tucker in Washington; Edith M. Lederer and Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

New Zealand protest ends, investigation and cleanup begin

By NICK PERRY for the Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand police said Thursday they will review hours of cellphone footage taken by themselves, the media and the public to identify lawbreakers, while crews begin the cleanup of Parliament’s grounds after a protest there against coronavirus vaccine mandates ended in violence.

A day earlier, police moved in on several hundred protesters who had been camped out on the grounds and surrounding streets for more than three weeks. As protesters retreated, they set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs, and hurled stones and wood at officers.

Workers start the clean up of Parliament lawn’s following Wednesday’s violent end to protests opposing coronavirus vaccine mandates in Wellington, New Zealand, Thursday, March 3, 2022. Since the beginning of the pandemic, New Zealand has reported fewer than 100 virus deaths among its population of 5 million, after it imposed strict border controls and lockdowns to eliminate earlier outbreaks. (Mike Scott/New Zealand Herald via AP)

The protest is also prompting a rethink of security at the grounds, which have been the site of many peaceful protests in the past, as well as a favored spot for workers and families to walk through or eat lunch.

House Speaker Trevor Mallard said on Twitter he thought a wall was needed, with gates that could be closed when they were confronted by groups like the unruly protesters.

“I love the openness and accessibility of our House and grounds,” he said. “I want to retain that but have a way of keeping people safe.”

Hundreds of officers were involved in the operation to break up the camp. They wore riot gear and used pepper spray and water hoses after protesters sprayed fire extinguishers and threw objects at them.

Protesters had blocked the streets around Parliament with hundreds of cars and trucks after being inspired by the convoy protests in Canada.

Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters eight officers were admitted to a local hospital after the confrontation, suffering injuries like broken bones and lacerations. All had since been released.

Chambers said about 100 protesters had been arrested since Wednesday — suspected of crimes like trespassing, causing damage and theft — and a significant investigation would follow.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took a tour of the damage, saying the grounds looked and smelled like a dump.

“But I have every confidence it will be restored, and quickly,” she told reporters.

Ardern said she’d been quite upset about the damage to a children’s slide and play area after a fire had been set there, but said after viewing it that it would be okay, despite some fire damage.

New Zealand is experiencing its biggest outbreak since the pandemic began as the omicron variant spreads. On Thursday, health authorities reported a record 23,000 new daily cases.

Ardern has said she plans to begin easing virus mandates and restrictions after the peak of the omicron outbreak has passed.

Tainted water ‘shatters’ Native Hawaiians’ trust in military

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER for the Associated Press

HONOLULU (AP) — A well-known adage in Hawaiian, ola i ka wai, means “water is life.”

A group of demonstrators gather at the Hawaii state capitol for a rally over water contamination by the U.S. Navy near Pearl Harbor on Feb. 11, 2022, in Honolulu. Native Hawaiians who revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of a Hawaiian god say the Navy’s acknowledgement that jet fuel leaked into Pearl Harbor’s tap water has deepened the distrust they feel toward the U.S. military. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Native Hawaiians revere water in all its forms as the embodiment of one of the Hawaiian pantheon’s four principal gods.

The resource is so valuable that to have it in abundance means prosperity. The Hawaiian word for water — wai — is repeated in the word for wealth — waiwai.

So when the Navy confirmed petroleum from one of its fuel tank facilities had leaked into Pearl Harbor’s tap water, many Native Hawaiians were not just concerned, they were hurt and offended.

“This has been the most egregious assault on a public trust resource in the history of Hawaii,” said Kamanamaikalani Beamer, a former trustee of the Commission on Water Resource Management.

Nearly 6,000 people, mostly those living in military housing at or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, got sick after petroleum-laced water came pouring out of their taps late last year. Residents worry fresh water for broader Oahu also is in danger because the aging tank system sits above an aquifer that provides drinking water to most of the island and has a history of leaks.

The Navy is working to address the problem. But many say it has deepened a distrust in the military that dates to at least 1893, when a group of American businessmen, with support from U.S. Marines, overthrew the Hawaiian kingdom. More recently, Native Hawaiians fought to stop target practice bombing on the island of Kahoolawe and at Makua Valley in west Oahu.

“The military has a long history of poor stewardship of Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources,” Carmen Hulu Lindsey, chair of the board of trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said in an email in response to questions. “Time after time the people of Hawaii have been left to clean up after the military ravages our sacred lands — from unexploded ordnance and toxic waste to the loss of cultural and historic sites and endangered species — without even appropriating resources to finance these efforts.”

For some, the water contamination was the last straw.

The crisis has “shattered people’s trust in the military,” said Kawenaʻulaokalā Kapahua, a Native Hawaiian political science doctoral student and one of the activists pushing to shut down the tank facility.

“I think this is really pushing people to the edge because we all need water to live,” Kapahua said. “And I think it’s a very scary thought for people that their children or their grandchildren may never be able to drink the water that comes out of the tap.”

Navy officials seemed aware of the distrust when they announced to members of Congress in January the Navy wouldn’t continue fighting Hawaii’s order to defuel the tanks.

“I understand the deep connection that the people of Hawaii, particularly the Native Hawaiian community, have with the lands and waters of Hawaii,” Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said while noting he lived in Hawaii off and on for more than eight years.

Rear Adm. John Korka, commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, also noted his connection to the islands, sharing which church he worshipped in and the Catholic school his children attended while living in Hawaii. “This is a personal issue for me, and I’m sorry.”

Using 2019 Census data, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs estimates that 3,439 Native Hawaiians across the United States serve in the armed forces, which is 0.8% of the total Native Hawaiian adult population in the U.S.

Many see value in the state’s relationship with the military, which also provides civilian jobs that are considered desirable alternatives to service work in the tourism industry.

Native Hawaiian Vietnam War veteran Shad Kane said he is troubled by the contaminated water, but it hasn’t tested his faith in the military. His trusty pickup truck bears special Hawaii license plates indicating he’s a combat veteran. He plans to transfer the plates to his new Toyota Tacoma.

“Yes, I’m bothered by that, but I also know the Navy has a greater responsibility,” Kane said. “The Navy wants to do the right thing.”

The Navy hasn’t determined how petroleum got in the water. Officials are investigating a theory that jet fuel spilled from a ruptured pipe last May and somehow entered a fire suppression system drain pipe. They suspect fuel then leaked from the second pipe Nov. 20, sending it into the drinking water well.

The Navy has been trying to clear petroleum from the contaminated well and pump it out of the aquifer. Officials are also flushing clean water through the Navy’s water system — which serves 93,000 people in military homes and offices in and around Pearl Harbor. In the meantime, the Navy put up affected military families in Waikiki hotels.

Beamer, the former water commission trustee, had been calling for the decommissioning of the tanks since 2014, when more than 27,000 gallons (102,200 liters) of fuel leaked from one of tanks.

The Navy “promised us nothing like this would possibly happen,” he recalled. “They would never risk the lives of their own. … They drink out of the same aquifer.”

After initially resisting, the Navy said in January it would comply with Hawaii’s order to remove fuel from the tank facility, which is used to power many U.S. military ships and planes that patrol the Pacific Ocean. But in February, the Navy lodged an appeal in court.

Rear Adm. Tim Kott, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said in a statement this week that Navy officials will continue to work with, listen to and learn from the Native Hawaiian community.

“We know we have a lot of work ahead of us to gain the trust of the communities across the island, and in particular Native Hawaiians,” he said. “We will continue to work tirelessly to restore community trust and the safe drinking water of our families and neighbors.”

U.S. Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele, a combat pilot who serves as an officer in the Hawaii National Guard, has invoked the Hawaiian word hewa, which can mean sinful or wrong, to describe the Navy water contamination. He has also called it “crisis of astronomical proportions.”

He traces his Native Hawaiian family’s roots to a small fishing village near the southern tip of Hawaii’s Big Island where there’s no running water and residents rely on catching rain.

Elders instilled in him that every drop is precious.

“All life originated through having healthy, fresh water,” Kahele said.

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Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

Massive cargo ship carrying cars sinks in mid-Atlantic

From the Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A large cargo vessel carrying cars from Germany to the United States sank Tuesday in the mid-Atlantic, 13 days after a fire broke out on board, the ship’s manager and the Portuguese navy said.

FILE – In this undated photo provided by the Portuguese Navy on Feb. 18, 2022, smoke billows from the burning Felicity Ace car transport ship as seen from the Portuguese Navy NPR Setubal ship southeast of the mid-Atlantic Portuguese Azores Islands. A large cargo vessel carrying cars from Germany to the United States has sunk in the mid-Atlantic, 13 days after a fire broke out on board. The ship’s manager and the Portuguese navy said the Felicity Ace sank Tuesday, March 1 about 400 kilometers (250 miles) off Portugal’s Azores Islands as it was being towed.(Portuguese Navy via AP, file)

The Felicity Ace sank about 400 kilometers (250 miles) off Portugal’s Azores Islands as it was being towed, MOL Ship Management in Singapore said in a statement. A salvage team had put out the fire.

The 200-meter-long (650-foot-long) vessel listed to starboard before going under, the ship’s manager said.

The Portuguese navy confirmed the sinking, saying it occurred outside Portuguese waters. A Portuguese Air Force helicopter evacuated the 22 crew members when the fire first broke out, setting the ship adrift.

Ocean-going tugboats with firefighting equipment had been hosing down the ship’s hull to cool it.

It wasn’t clear how many cars were onboard the ship, but vessels of the Felicity Ace’s size can carry at least 4,000 vehicles.

European carmakers declined to discuss how many vehicles and what models were on board, but Porsche customers in the United States were being contacted by their dealers, the company said.

“We are already working to replace every car affected by this incident and the first new cars will be built soon,” Angus Fitton, vice president of PR at Porsche Cars North America, Inc., told The Associated Press in an email.

The ship was transporting electric and non-electric vehicles, according to Portuguese authorities. Suspicion on what started the fire on Feb. 16 has fallen on lithium batteries used in electric vehicles, though authorities say they have no firm evidence about the cause.

Authorities feared the ship could pollute the ocean. The ship was carrying 2,000 metric tons (2,200 tons) of fuel and 2,000 metric tons (2,200 tons) of oil. It can carry more than 17,000 metric tons (18,700 tons) of cargo.

The Portuguese navy said in a statement that only a few pieces of wreckage and a small patch of oil was visible where the ship went down. The tugboats were breaking up the patch with hoses, it said.

A Portuguese Air Force plane and a Portuguese navy vessel are to remain at the scene on the lookout for signs of pollution.

Russian forces step up attacks on Ukraine’s civilian areas

By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA from the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces escalated their attacks on crowded urban areas Tuesday, bombarding the central square in Ukraine’s second-biggest city and Kyiv’s main TV tower in what the country’s president called a blatant campaign of terror.

A view of the central square following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. Russia on Tuesday stepped up shelling of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, pounding civilian targets there. Casualties mounted and reports emerged that more than 70 Ukrainian soldiers were killed after Russian artillery recently hit a military base in Okhtyrka, a city between Kharkiv and Kyiv, the capital. (AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy)

“Nobody will forgive. Nobody will forget,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy vowed after the bloodshed on the square in Kharkiv.

Ukrainian authorities said five people were killed in the attack on the TV tower, which is a couple of miles from central Kyiv and a short walk from numerous apartment buildings. A TV control room and power substation were hit, and at least some Ukrainian channels briefly stopped broadcasting, officials said.

Zelenskyy’s office also reported a powerful missile attack on the site of the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial, near the tower.

At the same time, a 40-mile (64-kilometer) convoy of hundreds of Russian tanks and other vehicles advanced slowly on Kyiv in what the West feared was a bid by Russian President Vladimir Putin to topple Ukraine’s government and install a Kremlin-friendly regime.

Russian forces pressed their assault on other towns and cities across the country, including the strategic ports of Odesa and Mariupol in the south.

Day 6 of the biggest ground war in Europe since World War II found Russia increasingly isolated, beset by tough sanctions that have thrown its economy into turmoil and left the country practically friendless, apart from a few nations like China, Belarus and North Korea.

Many military experts worry that Russia may be shifting tactics. Moscow’s strategy in Chechnya and Syria was to use artillery and air bombardments to pulverize cities and crush fighters’ resolve.

The bombing on the TV tower came after Russia announced it would target transmission facilities in the capital used by Ukraine’s intelligence agency. It urged people living near such places to leave their homes.

Overall death tolls from the fighting remained unclear, but a senior Western intelligence official estimated that more than 5,000 Russian soldiers have been captured or killed.

Britain’s Defense Ministry said it had seen an increase in Russian air and artillery strikes on populated urban areas over the past two days. It also said three cities — Kharkiv, Kherson and Mariupol —were encircled by Russian forces.

In Kharkiv, with a population of about 1.5 million, at least six people were killed when the region’s Soviet-era administrative building on Freedom Square was hit with what was believed to be a missile.

The attack on Freedom Square — Ukraine’s largest plaza, and the nucleus of public life in the city — was seen by many Ukrainians as brazen evidence that the Russian invasion wasn’t just about hitting military targets but also about breaking their spirits.

The bombardment blew out windows and walls of buildings that ring the massive square, which was piled high with debris and dust. Inside one building, chunks of plaster were scattered, and doors, ripped from their hinges, lay across hallways.

“People are under the ruins. We have pulled out bodies,” said Yevhen Vasylenko, an emergency official.

Zelenskyy pronounced the attack on the square “frank, undisguised terror” and a war crime. “This is state terrorism of the Russian Federation,” he said.

In an emotional appeal to the European Parliament later, Zelenskyy said: “We are fighting also to be equal members of Europe. I believe that today we are showing everybody that is what we are.”

He said 16 children had been killed around Ukraine on Monday, and he mocked Russia’s claim that it is going after only military targets.

“Where are the children? What kind of military factories do they work at? What tanks are they going at?” Zelenskyy said.

Human Rights Watch said it documented a cluster bomb attack outside a hospital in Ukraine’s east in recent days. Local residents also reported the use of the weapons in Kharkiv and the village of Kiyanka, The Kremlin denied using cluster bombs.

If the allegations are confirmed, that would represent a new level of brutality in the war and could lead to even further isolation of Russia.

Unbowed by Western condemnation, Russian officials upped their threats of escalation, days after raising the specter of nuclear war. A top Kremlin official warned that the West’s “economic war” against Russia could turn into a “real one.”

Inside Russia, a top radio station critical of the Kremlin was taken off the air after authorities threatened to shut it down over its coverage of the invasion. Among other things, the Kremlin is not allowing the fighting to be referred to as an “invasion” or “war.”

More than a half-million people have fled the country, and countless others have taken shelter underground. Bomb damage to water pipes and other basic services have left hundreds of thousands of families without drinking water, U.N. humanitarian coordinator Martin Griffiths said.

“It is a nightmare, and it seizes you from the inside very strongly. This cannot be explained with words,” said Kharkiv resident Ekaterina Babenko, taking shelter in a basement with neighbors for a fifth straight day. “We have small children, elderly people, and frankly speaking it is very frightening.”

The U.N. human rights office said it has recorded 136 civilian deaths. The real toll is believed to be far higher.

A Ukrainian military official said Belarusian troops joined the war Tuesday in the Chernihiv region in the north, without providing details. But just before that, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said his country had no plans to join the fight.

In Kharkiv, explosions burst one after another through a residential area in a video verified by The Associated Press. In the background, a man pleaded with a woman to leave, and a woman cried.

Hospital workers moved a Kharkiv maternity ward to a bomb shelter. Amid mattresses piled up against the walls, pregnant women paced the crowded space, accompanied by the cries of dozens of newborns.

Russia’s goals in hitting central Kharkiv were not immediately clear. Western officials speculated that it is trying to pull in Ukrainian forces to defend the city while a larger Russian force encircles Kyiv.

Russian troops continued to press toward the capital, a city of nearly 3 million. The leading edge of the convoy was 17 miles (25 kilometers) from the center of the city, according to satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies.

A senior U.S. defense official described the long convoy as “bogged down,” saying Russia appeared to be pausing and regrouping to re-evaluate how to retake the momentum in the fighting.

Overall, the Russian military has been been stalled by fierce resistance on the ground and a surprising inability to completely dominate Ukraine’s airspace.

The immense convoy, packed together along narrow roads, would seemingly be “a big fat target” for Ukrainian forces, the senior Western intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.

“But it also shows you that the Russians feel pretty comfortable being out in the open in these concentrations because they feel that they’re not going to come under air attack or rocket or missile attack,” the official said.

Ukrainians used whatever they had to try to stop the Russian advance. On a highway between Odesa and Mykolaiv in southern Ukraine, residents piled tractor tires filled with sand and topped with sandbags to block convoys.

___

Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Mstyslav Chernov in Mariupol, Ukraine; Sergei Grits in Odesa, Ukraine; Robert Burns and Eric Tucker in Washington; Francesca Ebel, Josef Federman and Andrew Drake in Kyiv; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and other AP journalists from around the world contributed to this report.

___

Driver rescued after tractor-trailer plunges into river

From the Associated Press

WESTON, Mass. (AP) — A tractor-trailer veered off the road and plunged into a river in Massachusetts on Saturday, state police said.

The truck went down a long embankment near an exit from Interstate 95 to the Massachusetts Turnpike at around noon and ended up in the Charles River.

The driver, who police said can’t swim, was standing atop the truck when first responders arrived.

Weston Fire Department firefighters brought the driver to safety and he was taken to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston by a Newton Fire Department unit.

Authorities said the driver was conscious and alert and didn’t appear to sustain any injuries.

State police told the Boston Herald the truck had been carrying mail, but it wasn’t clear if it was an official U.S. Postal Service truck or one operated by a contractor.

The Newton Fire Department advised drivers to avoid the area as the State Police dive team was assisting in the removal of the truck from the river.

It’s a bear battalion! Hank the Tank turns out to be 3 bears

From the Associated Press

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Hank the Tank is actually a three-bear battalion.

DNA evidence now shows that the 500-pound black bear the public had nicknamed “Hank the Tank” is, in fact, at least three not-so-little bears who have damaged more than 30 properties around Lake Tahoe in recent months.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife on Thursday said it will soon begin trapping bears in the South Lake Tahoe area to tag the animals and collect evidence for genetic analysis. The bears will be released in a “suitable habitat” and the agency said no trapped animals will be euthanized as part of the project.

The bears are responsible for more than 150 incident reports in the region straddling Northern California and Nevada, including a break-in at a residence in the Tahoe Keys neighborhood last week.

One of the Hanks smashed a window Friday and squeezed into the house on Catalina Drive while the residents were at home, CBS Sacramento reported. Police responded and banged on the outside of the house until Hank exited out the back door and disappeared into the woods.

Also known as Jake or Yogi or simply Big Guy, the then-solo bear was what one wildlife official described as a “severely food habituated bear” that has “lost all fear of people” and thinks of them as a food source.

“What’s problematic about this bear is how large it is,” Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told SF Gate on Sunday. “It’s learned to use that size and strength to break into a number of occupied residences, bursting through the garage door or front door.”

Once the trapping efforts begin, the three Hanks — at least — may well form a brigade.

Waiting, fearing, singing: A night sheltering in Ukraine

By YURAS KARMANAU and MSTYSLAV CHERNOV from the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — When the children start crying, the adults start playing Ukrainian folk songs, or make up fairy tales to chase away the fear. Food and water are sometimes scarce. Everyone hopes for peace.

People sleep in the Kyiv subway, using it as a bomb shelter in Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. In Ukraine’s capital, many residents hurried underground for safety overnight Thursday and Friday as Russian forces fired on the city and moved closer. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

These are the vagaries of life in makeshift shelters around Ukraine, where families try to protect the young and old and make conditions bearable amid the distant clatter of bullets, missiles or shells outside.

Hundreds of thousands of citizens rushed to spend yet another night in Kyiv’s subway network as air raid sirens howled Sunday. Among those taking refuge in shelters are some Associated Press journalists bearing witness to how Ukrainians are coping with the war tearing their country apart, like piano teacher Alla Rutsko.

“A terrible dream … It seems to me that all this is not happening to me. The eyes see, but the mind refuses to believe,” said Rutsko, 37, sitting on an air mattress in Kyiv’s Pecherskaya subway station.

“On the fourth night, I can even sleep and dream,” she said. “But waking up is especially hard.”

She focused her thoughts on her grand piano and her fears of losing it – “an excellent instrument, inherited from my grandfather, survived the last war.”

The fighting is still raging in the southeastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, where Ukrainian forces have so far thwarted the Russian military from taking the strategic stronghold on the Azov Sea.

“God forbid that any rockets hit. That’s why we’ve gathered everyone here,” said local volunteer Ervand Tovmasyan, who helped organize a shelter in the basement of a city gym. His young son clung to him.

The workout equipment lining the walls contrasts sharply with the gym’s revised purpose. The shelter has seen shortages in drinking water, food and gasoline for generators since the fighting began last week, so residents are bringing what they can to stock up.

Many at the shelter remembered shelling in 2014, when Russia-backed separatists briefly captured the city. Anna Delina survived that, and went on to have two children. Now she’s doing the best she can to comfort them with soothing words and caresses as they cuddle under blankets on a cold gym floor.

“Now the same thing is happening, but now we’re with children,” she said.

Countless human moments shaped by war are playing out across Ukraine.

In Kramatorsk in the country’s east, a couple embraces on a station platform before the woman boards a train heading west, hoping for safetyRefugees slump from exhaustion after crossing into Poland.

While Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, waits for the expected Russian onslaught, the platform at Kyiv’s Pecherskaya subway station where residents sleep is lined with baby carriages interspersed with pet carriers.

At first, authorities barred pets, but then they turned a blind eye. Anxious cats and dogs now huddle alongside their owners.

Denis Shestakov, a 32-year-old architect, made up a fairy tale to ease his 5-year-old daughter Katya’s fears.

“But how can you explain it to a dog? He began to lose his fur from stress,” he said.

“You can get used to a nightmare,” he said, trying to shrug the pressure off. “And this is also a nightmare.”

Despite the shortages, the lack of privacy and all the challenges that come with life on an underground railway platform, complaining comes hard to families.

“It’s much harder for soldiers at the front. It’s embarrassing to complain about the icy floor, drafts and terrible toilets,” said 74-year-old Irina, who would not give her last name. Her grandson Anton is among those fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The internet mostly works and everyone reads the news. The potential participation of Belarus in the war on the side of Russia has become one of the most discussed topics.A couple embrace prior to the woman boarding a train carriage leaving for western Ukraine, at the railway station in Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Andriyenko)

“Oh, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Russians can hardly be called brothers now,” said Dmitro Skorobogaty, a 69-year-old engineer. Then he added, “though you can’t choose your relatives.”

Citizens are constantly warned about Russian saboteurs reportedly trying to provoke panic in Kyiv.

Police squads descend into the subway station, check documents, distribute water, and, among other things, advise people whether it’s safe to step out.

Amid the din of parents singing folk songs to their children, foreign students from Africa joined some Ukrainians in singing the melodic national anthem: “Ukraine has not died yet, Glory to Ukraine!”

A flicker of hope is still nurtured by those taking shelter.

“There is hope (for negotiations) because everyone wants peace, and some kind of result so that civilians aren’t being killed,” said Delina, the mother of two small children.

___

Chernov reported from Mariupol, Ukraine.

Corrections sergeant assisting Arkansas police fatally shot

From the Associated Press

MAUMELLE, Ark. (AP) — An Arkansas Department of Correction sergeant was fatally shot Monday morning while assisting local law enforcement in central Arkansas, authorities said.

The Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office says deputies were responding to a residential disturbance at a home in Maumelle, just outside Little Rock. The Department of Correction sergeant was part of a K9 team assisting the deputies.

Police believe someone fled from the home and the tracking dog led authorities to a nearby trailer.

The sheriff’s office says a person opened fire on the officers from underneath the trailer. Lt. Cody Burk tells Little Rock TV station KTHV that the sergeant was struck and killed.

Authorities have surrounded the trailer but no one is in custody yet. Several nearby schools were locked down as a precaution.

Oregon’s COVID emergency declearation to be lifted in April

By SARA CLINE for the Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said Thursday she will rescind her statewide COVID-19 emergency declaration on April 1.

In addition, Oregon’s mask requirement for indoor public places and schools will be lifted on March 19, officials said. Both announcements come as COVID-19 hospitalizations and case numbers continue to decrease in the state.

“Lifting Oregon’s COVID-19 emergency declaration today does not mean that the pandemic is over, or that COVID-19 is no longer a significant concern,” Brown said.

The emergency declaration, which was first announced in March 2020, has been the legal underpinning for the executive orders the governor has issued throughout the pandemic — including orders surrounding reopening the state, vaccine mandates, childcare, liability protections for schools and higher education operations.

While many of Brown’s coronavirus-related executive orders were lifted in June 2021, the declaration has also been used to provide help to overwhelmed healthcare systems, by activating the Oregon National Guard and providing volunteer medical providers in hospitals and at vaccination clinics, during the omicron surge.

Oregon officials also announced that indoor mask requirements will be lifted on March 19, nearly two weeks ahead of the state-set March 31 deadline.

Officials say that the reasoning behind lifting the mask requirement earlier is due to decreasing hospitalizations. Health officials predict that by March 20, there will be 400 or fewer people per day hospitalized with the virus in Oregon — a level the state experienced prior to the arrival of the omicron variant.

Daily COVID-19 hospitalizations have declined 48% since peaking in late January. Over the past two weeks, hospitalizations have fallen by an average of more than 30 a day. Yesterday, there were 579 people hospitalized with COVID-19 across the state.

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.

Russia attacks Ukraine; peace in Europe ‘shattered’

By YURAS KARMANAU, JIM HEINTZ, VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and DASHA LITVINOVA for the Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending troops and tanks from multiple directions in a move that could rewrite the world’s geopolitical landscape. Ukraine’s government pleaded for help as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee.

President Vladimir Putin ignored global condemnation and cascading new sanctions as he unleashed the largest ground war in Europe in decades, and chillingly referred to his country’s nuclear arsenal. He threatened any foreign country trying to interfere with “consequences you have never seen.”

A woman holds her baby inside a bus as they leave Kyiv, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 24, 2022. Russia launched a wide-ranging attack on Ukraine on Thursday, hitting cities and bases with airstrikes or shelling, as civilians piled into trains and cars to flee. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

Ukrainian officials said their forces were battling Russians on a multiple fronts, and had lost control of the decommissioned Chernobyl nuclear power plant, scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

“Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself and won’t give up its freedom,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted.

Later, he offered Russia an end to the hostilities.

“It wasn’t Ukraine that chose the path of war, but Ukraine is offering to go back to the path of peace,” he said.

Zelenskyy, who earlier cut diplomatic ties with Moscow and declared martial law, described Russian forces advancing on a series fronts, including a “difficult situation” developing in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, just over 20 kilometers away from the eastern border with Russia, and Russian troops slowly advancing from the north on the city of Chernihiv. He said a Russian airborne unit at an airport just outside Kyiv, the capital, was being destroyed.

He appealed to global leaders, saying that “if you don’t help us now, if you fail to offer a powerful assistance to Ukraine, tomorrow the war will knock on your door.”

Both sides claimed to have destroyed some of the other’s aircraft and military hardware, though little of that could be confirmed.

Hours after the invasion began, Russian forces seized control of the zone around the now-unused Chernobyl plant after a fierce battle, Zelenskyy adviser Myhailo Podolyak told The Associated Press.

A Ukrainian official said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

A nuclear reactor at the plant 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, exploded in 1986, sending a radioactive cloud across Europe. The damaged reactor was covered by a protective shelter several years ago to prevent radiation leaks.

“This is one of the most serious threats to Europe today,” Podolyak said.

The chief of the NATO alliance said the “brutal act of war” shattered peace in Europe, joining a chorus of world leaders who decried the attack, which could cause massive casualties, topple Ukraine’s democratically elected government and upend the post-Cold War security order. The conflict was already shaking global financial markets: Stocks plunged and oil prices soared amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket.

Condemnation rained down not only from the U.S. and Europe, but from South Korea, Australia and beyond — and many governments readied new sanctions. Even friendly leaders like Hungary’s Viktor Orban sought to distance themselves from Putin. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he aimed to cut off Russia from the U.K.’s financial markets as he announced sanctions in response to the invasion.

A senior U.S. official said the U.N. Security Council was expected to vote Friday on a resolution condemning Russia for the attack and demanding the immediate withdrawal of its forces. The vote will proceed even though the legally binding measure will almost certainly be vetoed by Russia, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

While some nervous Europeans speculated about a possible new world war, the U.S. and its NATO partners have so far shown no indication they would join in a war against Russia. They instead mobilized troops and equipment around Ukraine’s western flank — as Ukraine pleaded for defense assistance and help protecting its airspace.

In Washington, President Joe Biden convened a meeting of the National Security Council on Ukraine as the U.S. prepares new sanctions. Biden administration officials have signaled that two of the measures they were considering most strongly include hitting Russia’s biggest banks and slapping on new export controls meant to starve Russia’s industries and military of U.S. semiconductors and other high-tech components.

The attacks came first from the air. Later Ukrainian authorities described ground invasions in multiple regions, and border guards released footage showing a line of Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukraine’s government-held territory. European authorities declared the country’s airspace an active conflict zone.

It wasn’t until late Thursday afternoon that Russia confirmed that its ground forces had moved into Ukraine, saying they’d crossed over from Crimea, the southern region that Russia annexed in 2014.

In a worrying development, Zelenskyy said Russian forces were trying to seize the Chernobyl plant, and a Ukrainian official said Russian shelling hit a radioactive waste repository and an increase in radiation levels was reported. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter.

Other governments did not immediately corroborate or confirm the claims.

The plant was the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident when a nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, spewing a radioactive cloud across Europe. The plant lies 130 kilometers (80 miles) north of the capital of Kyiv.

After weeks of denying plans to invade, Putin launched the operation on a country the size of Texas that has increasingly tilted toward the democratic West and away from Moscow’s sway. The autocratic leader made clear earlier this week that he sees no reason for Ukraine to exist, raising fears of possible broader conflict in the vast space that the Soviet Union once ruled. Putin denied plans to occupy Ukraine, but his ultimate goals remain hazy.

Ukrainians who had long braced for the prospect of an assault were urged to shelter in place and not to panic.

“Until the very last moment, I didn’t believe it would happen. I just pushed away these thoughts,” said a terrified Anna Dovnya in Kyiv, watching soldiers and police remove shrapnel from an exploded shell. “We have lost all faith.”

With social media amplifying a torrent of military claims and counter-claims, it was difficult to determine exactly what was happening on the ground.

Associated Press reporters saw or confirmed explosions in the capital, in Mariupol on the Azov Sea, Kharkiv in the east and beyond. AP confirmed video showing Russian military vehicles crossing into Ukrainian-held territory in the north from Belarus and from Russian-annexed Crimea in the south.

Russian and Ukrainian authorities made competing claims about damage they had inflicted. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had destroyed scores of Ukrainian air bases, military facilities and drones, and confirmed the loss of a Su-25 attack jet, blaming it on “pilot error.” It said it was not targeting cities, but using precision weapons and claimed that “there is no threat to civilian population.”

Ukraine’s armed forces They reported at least 40 soldiers dead, and said a military plane carrying 14 people crashed south of Kyiv.

Poland’s military increased its readiness level, and Lithuania and Moldova moved toward doing the same. Border crossings increased from Ukraine to Poland, which has prepared centers for refugees.

Putin justified his actions in an overnight televised address, asserting that the attack was needed to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine — a false claim the U.S. had predicted he would make as a pretext for an invasion. He accused the U.S. and its allies of ignoring Russia’s demands to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and for security guarantees.

He called the military action a “forced measure” stemming from rising security risks for Russia.

Anticipating international condemnation and countermeasures, Putin issued a stark warning to other countries not to meddle.

In a reminder of Russia’s nuclear power, he warned that “no one should have any doubts that a direct attack on our country will lead to the destruction and horrible consequences for any potential aggressor.”

Among Putin’s pledges was to “denazify” Ukraine. World War II looms large in Russia, after the Soviet Union suffered more deaths than any country while fighting Adolf Hitler’s forces.

Kremlin propaganda paints members of Ukrainian right-wing groups as neo-Nazis, exploiting their admiration for WWII-era Ukrainian nationalist leaders who sided with the Nazis. Ukraine is now led by a Jewish president who lost relatives in the Holocaust and angrily dismissed the Russian claims.

Putin’s announcement came just hours after the Ukrainian president rejected Moscow’s claims that his country poses a threat to Russia and made a passionate, last-minute plea for peace.

___

Isachenkov and Litvinova reported from Moscow. Angela Charlton in Paris; Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin; Raf Casert and Lorne Cook in Brussels; Nic Dumitrache in Mariupol, Ukraine, Inna Varennytsia in eastern Ukraine; and Robert Burns, Matthew Lee, Aamer Madhani, Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Ellen Knickmeyer, Zeke Miller, Chris Megerian and Darlene Superville in Washington contributed.

Massachusetts man tries to enter zoo’s tiger cage, arrested

From the Associated Press


BOSTON (AP) — A Worcester man was arrested Monday for trying to enter a tiger enclosure after breaking into Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo.

The Massachusetts State Police said that when questioned, the man only said he was very interested in tigers.

Visitors to the Franklin Park Zoo walk past the signs advising safe distancing near an entrance to the zoo, May 28, 2020, in Boston. A Worcester man has been arrested, Monday, Feb. 21, 2022 for trying to enter a tiger enclosure after breaking into Boston’s Franklin Park Zoo. When questioned by Massachusetts State Police, the man only said that he was very interested in tigers. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, file)

Matthew Abraham, 24, allegedly climbed over a gate into the zoo at around 9 a.m., scaled several fences and ignored warning signs but was unable to gain access to the tiger enclosure, investigators said.

Zoo New England, which operates the 72-acre Boston zoo, said in a statement that the man was in an area behind the tiger exhibit not meant for the public. When approached by staff, he ran off but was quickly located by security officials.

He was arrested and charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct.

It was not immediately known if Abraham had a lawyer.

2 firefighters injured in explosion at illegal pot operation

From the Associated Press

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Two firefighters were injured in an explosion during a fire at an illegal marijuana extract operation hidden at a commercial building in Southern California, authorities said.

The blast occurred while fire crews were battling the blaze Sunday at the single-story structure in Anaheim, fire officials said.

One firefighter suffered minor burns to his face, said Anaheim Fire & Rescue spokesman Stephen Peña. The other hurt his back when he was knocked back several feet by the explosion and fell onto his oxygen tank, he said. Both are expected to recover.

Firefighters rescued one person in the building who was taken to a hospital with life-threatening injuries, according to the Orange County Register.

A 37-year-old man found uninjured at the scene of the fire was arrested on suspicion of producing a controlled substance and crimes related to the fire, Peña said.

The man told authorities he had been in the unit that caught fire, and that a concentrated extract of marijuana known as honey oil was being produced inside, the Register reported. Flammable chemicals like butane are often used to make the substance.

The fire spread to other parts of the building, Peña said. Two people in an adjacent unit that was damaged took themselves to a nearby hospital with unspecified injuries.

New law lets EMTs treat and transport injured police dogs

From the Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) — First responders in Massachusetts will be allowed to treat and transport injured police dogs to veterinary hospitals under legislation signed in to law Tuesday by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Nero’s bill was named for the K9 partner of slain Yarmouth Police Sgt. Sean Gannon.

Gannon was fatally shot in 2018 while serving an arrest warrant. Nero was also shot, but because of state law, EMTs weren’t allowed to treat or transport him.

Nero had to be rushed to the animal hospital in the back of a police cruiser and survived the shooting.

The new law will permit emergency personnel to treat injured police dogs and bring them to veterinary facilities, as long as there are no injured people still requiring a hospital transport.

“This law will help ensure the wellbeing of working dogs who risk their lives every day to keep us safe,” Sen. Mark Montigny, lead sponsor of the bill, said in a statement Tuesday.

“I hope this provides some comfort to the Gannon family who fought tirelessly for this moment that will forever honor Sean and his fearless partner Nero,” he added.

Supporters had argued that police dogs face danger from guns, narcotics, and even explosives and that letting emergency personnel provide basic treatment and transport is one way to honor that service.

NYC subway safety plan gets going after a violent weekend

By JENNIFER PELTZ for the Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s latest plan to tackle both crime and homelessness in subways was rolling into action Monday after police logged more than a half-dozen attacks in trains and stations over the holiday weekend.

FILE — People ride the subway, in New York, on Jan. 28, 2022. New York’s latest plan to tackle both crime and homelessness in subways was rolling into action Monday, Feb. 21, after police logged more than a half-dozen attacks in trains and stations over the holiday weekend. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey, File)

Mayor Eric Adams’ plan, announced Friday, involves sending more police, mental health clinicians and social service outreach workers into the subways. Adams spokesperson Fabien Levy said Monday that a “phased-in” implementation was beginning.

The plan notes that many people who use the subways for shelter need help, not handcuffs, but says police will crack down on sleeping, littering, smoking, doing drugs or hanging out in the system. It calls for clearing all passengers out of trains at the ends of their lines, an approach that has waxed and waned over the years.ADVERTISEMENT

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the subways, “knows that there are people in the subway system who need help and must and will be helped. But they can’t stay in the subway system,” spokesperson Aaron Donovan said Monday.

Adams, a Democrat and onetime transit police officer who took office last month, said Friday that allowing people to live on subways is “cruel and inhumane” to them and unfair to other riders and transit workers.

“The days of turning a blind eye to this growing problem are over,” said Adams, who campaigned on improving public safety.

But Shelly Nortz, a deputy executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, cautioned against “criminalizing homelessness and mental illness” and suggested the city was falling back on policing strategies that had failed in the past.

In recent years, the city has veered between responding to concerns about crime in the subways and complaints about heavy-handed policing there. The last mayor, Democrat Bill de Blasio, at times deployed more police into the system. So did Adams, just last month.

But in the weeks since, a woman was pushed in front of a train and killed under Times Square, a man was shoved onto the tracks and injured at a major hub in lower Manhattan, and even the mayor said he didn’t feel entirely safe riding the nation’s busiest subway system. It carried more than 5 million riders on an average weekday before the coronavirus pandemic; the weekday average is now about 3 million.

Since Adams and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the new safety plan Friday, six people were stabbed or slashed in subway stations or trains, according to the New York Police Department. Two female teenagers were arrested in one of those attacks, accused of slashing a 74-year-old man in the face, pushing him to the ground and taking his cell phone on Saturday afternoon after he argued with them while they smoked on a train.

On Monday, the Presidents Day holiday, a 58-year-old man was arrested on charges of going after another man with a hatchet around 12:30 a.m. in a Brooklyn subway stop where police were stationed. The victim, who managed to dodge the swinging hatchet, had asked why the attacker was staring at him, police said.

About two hours later, a man hit a woman in the face with a metal pipe aboard a subway train in the Bronx, police said. The woman, who declined medical care, told officers the man lashed out after asking her to stop talking with a friend of hers. No arrest has been made in that case.

Donovan, the MTA spokesperson, said that although investigations into the weekend attacks are in early stages, they “underscore the urgent need” for the new safety plan.

Levy, however, advised New Yorkers not to conflate “isolated acts of violence on the subways” with “the issues of aiding those experiencing homelessness that the mayor’s plan directly addresses.”

Danish police seek info on apparent escaped kangaroo

From the Associated Press

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — Police in southeastern Denmark on Monday appealed for public help to track down what appeared to be a kangaroo that was filmed hopping across a field.

Police said on Facebook that a driver saw the marsupial “hopping around” near Øster Ulslev, a village 16 kilometers (10 miles) from the port city of Rødbyhavn where ferries connect to northern Germany. They said the driver, whom they didn’t identify, had the presence of mind to film the animal, although they acknowledged the three-second video they posted was “short and grainy.”

Nobody has reported a kangaroo missing.

The South Zealand and Lolland-Falster Police requested any sightings or information on the animal’s whereabouts to be reported using non-emergency number 114. The animal is not considered to be dangerous.

Despite the fact that kangaroos are not common in northern Europe, it is the second time the same police district has reached out for help in finding one: in 2014, a kangaroo escaped from a private animal farm in the same area.

And in July 2018, a kangaroo was on the run elsewhere in Denmark for half a day before its owner found it.

Issues reported before California police helicopter crash

From the Associated Press

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) — A pilot reported mechanical issues shortly before a police helicopter crashed nose first along the Southern California coast, killing one officer, authorities said Sunday.

A crane is used to lift a Huntington Beach Police helicopter out of the water in Newport Beach, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022. Authorities were investigating the cause of a police helicopter crash along the Southern California coast that killed Huntington Beach Officer Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran of the force, and sent another officer to the hospital with critical injuries. (Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register via AP)

A Huntington Beach officer who was injured in the crash Saturday was released from a hospital Sunday morning, police said. Authorities haven’t identified the officer or detailed his injures, but police spokeswoman Jennifer Carey told the Orange County Register that officials “are optimistic about his recovery.”

Nicholas Vella, a 14-year veteran, died in the crash, police Chief Eric Parra said Saturday night. Vella, 44, leaves behind behind a wife and daughter.

The two officers were responding to a disturbance in the neighboring city of Newport Beach around 6:30 p.m. Saturday when the aircraft crashed in a narrow strip of water in Newport Bay between Lido Isle and the Balboa Peninsula. Witnesses said boaters rushed to pull the officers out of the helicopter, which landed upside down in shallow water.

The pilot made a brief call to report that the helicopter was experiencing mechanical issues, before calling again to say that they were going to crash, said National Transportation Safety Board spokesperson Elliott Simpson during a Sunday news conference.

Simpson said preliminary reports are that the helicopter made “a nose-down descent into the water,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Crews used a crane to hoist the damaged helicopter from the shallow water on Sunday.

The cause of the crash will be determined at the end of the NTSB’s investigation, which could take 12 to 18 months, the agency said.

It wasn’t immediately clear which officer was piloting the helicopter.

Dozens of officers and first responders formed a line Saturday night outside the hospital to salute Vella’s casket as it was escorted to the Orange County coroner’s office.

Vella “was truly dedicated to his job and was doing what he loved doing,” the chief said.

“This is a difficult night for all of us and I would ask for your prayers and support as we support our officers’ families.”

The Huntington Beach Police Department has three helicopters and typically keeps one in operation 24 hours a day. The two other aircraft will be grounded pending an inspection and the preliminary investigation, Parra said.

At least 6 more deaths as 2nd major storm hits north Europe

By DANICA KIRKA for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The second major storm in three days smashed through northern Europe on Friday, killing at least six people as high winds felled trees, cancelled train services and ripped sections off the roof of London’s O2 Arena.

Waves crash against the sea wall and Porthcawl Lighthouse in Porthcawl, Bridgend, Wales, Britain, as Storm Eunice makes landfall Friday, Feb. 18, 2022. Millions of Britons are being urged to cancel travel plans and stay indoors Friday amid fears of high winds and flying debris as the second major storm this week prompted a rare “red” weather warning across southern England. ( Jacob King/PA via AP)

The U.K. weather service said a gust provisionally measured at 122 mph (196 kph), thought to be the strongest ever in England was recorded on the Isle of Wight as Storm Eunice swept across the country’s south. The weather system, known as Storm Zeynep in Germany, is now pushing into the European mainland, prompting high wind warnings in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany.

The storm caused mayhem with travel in Britain, shutting the English Channel port of Dover, closing bridges linking England and Wales and halting most trains in and out of London.

A woman in her 30s died in London when a tree fell on a car, police said, and firefighters said three people were killed by falling trees in and around Amsterdam. In County Wexford, Ireland, a local government worker was killed as he responded to the scene of a fallen tree, the local council said.ADVERTISEMENT

In Belgium, one elderly man died when high winds pushed him into a canal in Ypres. Police said he was quickly pulled out, but his life could not be saved.

Eunice is the second named storm to hit Europe this week, with the first storm killing at least five people in Germany and Poland. Peter Inness, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in England, attributed the storms to an unusually strong jet stream over the eastern Atlantic Ocean, with winds close to 200 mph (321 kph) at high altitudes.

“A strong jet stream like this can act like a production line for storms, generating a new storm every day or two,” Inness said. “There have been many occasions in the recent past when two or more damaging storms have passed across the U.K. and other parts of Europe in the space of a few days.”

The forecast led British authorities to take the unusual step of issuing ”red” weather warnings — indicating a danger to life — for parts of southern England, including London, and Wales that lasted through early afternoon. A lower level amber warning for gusts up to 80 mph covers the whole of England from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Even before Britain was hit by the full force of the storm, Eunice disrupted travel across southern England and Wales with many train services interrupted and numerous flights and ferry services cancelled. A number of tourist attractions in England, including the London Eye, Legoland and Warwick Castle, closed ahead of the storm, as were all of London’s Royal Parks.

In the town of Wells in southwest England, the wind toppled the spire of a 19th-century church. In London, high winds ripped sections of roofing from the 02 Arena, a landmark on the south bank of the River Thames that was originally known as the Millennium Dome. Firefighters evacuated 1,000 people from the area.

“I urge all Londoners to stay at home, do not take risks, and do not travel unless it is absolutely essential,″ Mayor Sadiq Khan said before the storm.

The Environment Agency issued 10 severe flood warnings, another indicator of life-threatening weather conditions.

The storm was expected to hit northern Germany later Friday and sweep eastward overnight. A flood warning was issued for Germany’s North Sea coast on Friday. Meteorologists warned Friday’s storm could cause more damage than the earlier weather system, which triggered accidents that killed at least three people, toppled trees and damaged roofs and railroad tracks.

Germany’s biggest rail operator, Deutsche Bahn, cancelled all train services in the north of the country on Friday due to the storm.

In the Netherlands, authorities sent a push alert to mobile phone users on Friday afternoon, warning them to stay indoors.

The Dutch weather institute earlier issued its highest warning, code red, for coastal regions and code orange for much of the rest of the low-lying nation. The country’s rail company said it would halt all trains nationwide from 2 p.m. (1300 GMT). The airline KLM cancelled dozens of flights at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.

In The Hague, high winds tore off part of the roof of soccer club ADO The Hague’s stadium. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

At Scheveningen beach in The Hague, authorities built walls of sand to protect beachfront bars from the storm, even as dozens of surfers braved the weather in search of storm-driven waves.

In Denmark, strong winds prompted authorities to ban light vehicles from crossing the Storebælt tunnel and bridge linking the central island of Funen to Zealand, home to the capital, Copenhagen.

Storm Eunice produced heightened concern because it had the potential to produce a “sting jet,” a small area of intense winds that may exceed 100 mph.

One example of such a phenomenon occurred during what’s known as the Great Storm of 1987, which killed 18 people and knocked down 15 million trees across the U.K., according to the Met Office.

Liz Bentley, chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, described the phenomenon as being akin to a scorpion in the sky.

“It’s often referred to as a sting-jet because it’s like it’s the sting in the tail as the storm moves through,″ she said. “And that’s usually the bit where the strong winds are — right on the tip of that curl of cloud.”

Train operators across Britain urged passengers to avoid traveling on Friday and many services shut down. Airlines warned of delays and cancelled flights at airports in southern England, including London Heathrow, where hundreds of flights were canceled.

Friederike Otto, a climate scientist at Imperial College who is an expert in extreme weather events, said there is no evidence climate change is leading to more violent storms in Europe.

But she said the damage caused by such storms has increased because rainfall has become more intense as a result of human-caused climate change.

“The second thing is that sea levels have risen,” said Otto, who is part of World Weather Attribution, which investigates the link between extreme weather and global warming. “This means that storm floods, which also occur during such storms, (are) higher and therefore lead to greater damage than there would be without climate change.”

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Associated Press reporters Mike Corder in The Hague, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Jill Lawless in London, Raf Casert in Brussels and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed.

Strip-search optional: Volunteers to test new Swiss jail

By JAMEY KEATEN for the Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — Would you willingly live like a prisoner for a day or two — or four? Hundreds of people have jumped at just such a chance in the Swiss city of Zurich, volunteering to take part in an open house of sorts for a new jail before the facility accepts its first inmates.

Prison cells are under construction in a new jail and detention center as part of the police and justice complex in Zurich, Switzerland, June 9, 2021. Corrections officials in the Swiss city of Zurich says hundreds of people have jumped at the chance to volunteer as pretend inmates for a novel open house of sorts for a sprawling at the new jail and detention center before it starts taking in detainees for real in April. (Gaetan Bally/Keystone via AP)

Details of the March 24-27 test run are still being worked out. But Zurich corrections authorities said Thursday they received 832 applications for an as-yet undecided number of spots.

The selected volunteers, who must live locally and be at least 18 years old, are in store for an experience that borders on a reality TV plot when they enter “Gefaegnis Zurich West” — Zurich West Prison — to test the pre-trial detention and jail services.

The facility, located west of the city’s main train station, is expected to house up to 124 people who are under provisional arrest and to have 117 places for individuals held in pre-trial detention.

Their temporary stand-ins won’t have to pay or get paid to participate in the jail’s dress rehearsal, and they will be treated like inmates in some regards: testing food, undergoing intake procedures, walking the yard, etc.

The volunteers can’t bring cellphones or other electronic devices inside. Every participant will require security clearance, and need to undergo checks similar to airport screenings. Strip-searches upon entry, however, will be optional.

The stunt doubles also will receive a “safe word” they can give the staff to bail out immediately if they get cold feet or start to crack under the conditions.

Next month’s trial run will enable corrections officials to test the jail’s capacity, services and operations, as well as to review their cooperation and communication with other authorities, such as police and prosecutors.

They also hope the drill will help clear up what they consider misconceptions about how guards, wardens and other employees operate in such facilities.

“There are so many penny dreadfuls about life in prison and about the demanding work the prison staff does every day that we wanted to use this opportunity to show how we really work — and how much professionalism and experience is needed to work with inmates,” Marc Eiermann, head of prison management at Zurich West Prison, said in an email.

He was referring to a mostly 19th-century genre of sensationalist crime literature known as “penny dreadfuls” that helped caricature prison life.

Elena Tankovski, a spokeswoman for the Zurich region’s corrections and rehabilitation services department, said, by phone: “A lot of our wardens, they have a lot of social skills. They know how treat people right. It’s more like they want to be on the same eye level with them (the inmates) …. They are actually more a carer than a guard.”

California bill would allow citizens to enforce weapons ban

By JULIE WATSON and ADAM BEAM for the Associated Press

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A new bill in California would allow private citizens go after gun makers in the same way Texas lets them target abortion providers.

FILE – California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2022. On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced legislation aimed at letting private citizens file lawsuits to enforce a ban on assault weapons. The bill is modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday backed legislation that would let private citizens enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons. It’s modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce that state’s ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“If Texas can use a law to ban a woman’s right to chose and to put her health at risk, we will use that same law to save lives and improve the health and safety of the people in the state of California,” Newsom said at a news conference Friday.

Texas and other conservative-led states have tried for years to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, at around six weeks of pregnancy, which is sometimes before the person knows they are pregnant. But the states’ attempts have been blocked by the courts.

But Texas’ new abortion law is unique in that it bars the government from enforcing the law. The idea is if the government can’t enforce the law, it can’t be sued to block it in court. That hasn’t stopped abortion providers from trying to block the law. But so far, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority has allowed the abortion law to stay in place pending a legal challenge.

That decision incensed Newsom and his Democratic allies in the state Legislature. California has banned the manufacture and sale of assault weapons for decades. But last year, a federal judge overturned that ban. The law is still in place while the state appeals the decision.

But the decision inspired Newsom and Democrats in the state Legislature to copy Texas’ abortion law, but make it apply to gun makers instead of abortion providers.

“Our message to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the author of the proposal. “I look forward to rushing a new bill to the governor’s desk to take advantage of that United States Supreme Court guidance.”

The proposal fulfills fears from some gun rights groups, who have opposed the Texas abortion law because they worried liberal states like California would use the same principle to on guns.

“If Texas succeeds in its gambit here, New York, California, New Jersey, and others will not be far behind in adopting equally aggressive gambits to not merely chill but to freeze the right to keep and bear arms,” attorney Erik Jaffe wrote in a legal brief on behalf of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for gun rights.

California’s bill has not been filed yet in the state Legislature. But a fact sheet provided by Hertzberg’s office said the bill would apply to those who manufacture, distribute, transport, import into California, or sell assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns or ghost gun kits.

Ghost guns are weapons bought online and assembled at home. They don’t have serial numbers, making them difficult to trace.

The bill would let people seek a court order to stop the spread of these weapons and recover up to $10,000 in damages for each weapon, plus attorney’s fees.

Brazil mudslides from torrential rains kill at least 58

By DIARLEI RODRIGUES and DAVID BILLER for the Associated Press

PETROPOLIS, Brazil (AP) — The death toll from devastating mudslides and floods that swept through a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state has reached 58, local authorities said Wednesday.

Residents and volunteers remove the body of a mudslide victim in Petropolis, Brazil, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Extremely heavy rains set off mudslides and floods in a mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state, killing multiple people, authorities reported. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

The city of Petropolis was slammed by a deluge on Tuesday, and Mayor Rubens Bomtempo said the number of dead could rise as searchers pick through the wreckage. Twenty-one people had been recovered alive.

Civilians joined the official recovery efforts early Wednesday. Among them were Priscila Neves and her siblings, who looked through the mud for any sign of their disappeared parents, but found only clothing. Neves told The Associated Press she had given up hope of finding her parents alive.

And Rosilene Virgilio, 49, was in tears as she recalled the desperate pleas from someone she couldn’t save.

“There was a woman screaming, ‘Help! Get me out of here!’ But we couldn’t do anything; the water was gushing out, the mud was gushing out,” Virgilio told The Associated Press. “Our city unfortunately is finished.”

Petropolis is a German-influenced city named for a former Brazilian emperor. Nestled in the mountains above the coastal metropolis, for almost two centuries it has been a refuge for people escaping summer heat and tourists keen to explore the so-called “Imperial City.”

Petropolis was among the nation’s first planned cities and features stately homes along its waterways. But its population has grown haphazardly, climbing mountainsides now covered with small residences packed tightly together. Many are in areas unfit for structures and rendered more vulnerable by deforestation and inadequate drainage.

The stricken mountain region has seen similar catastrophes in recent decades, including one that caused more than 900 deaths. In the years since, Petropolis presented a plan to reduce risks of landslides, but works have been advancing only slowly.

Gov. Claudio Castro told reporters on Wednesday that the situation “was almost like war” and that he was mustering all the state government’s heavy machinery to help dig out the buried area.

The state fire department said late Tuesday the area received 25.8 centimeters (just over 10 inches) of rain within three hours Tuesday — almost as much as during the previous 30 days combined. Petropolis’ civil defense authority said moderate rain was expected Wednesday afternoon and evening.

Video posted on social media Tuesday showed cars and houses being dragged away by landslides, and water swirling through Petropolis and neighboring districts.

The Globo television network on Wednesday showed houses buried beneath mud in areas firefighters hadn’t yet been able to access. Several streets remained inaccessible as cars and household goods piled up, blocking access to higher parts of the city.

“The neighbors came down running and I gave them shelter,” bar owner Emerson Torre, 39, recalled.

But under torrents of water, his roof collapsed. He managed to get his mother and three other people out of the bar in time, but one neighbor and the person’s daughter were unable to escape.

“It was like an avalanche, it fell all at once. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Torre told the AP as rescue helicopters hovered overhead. “Every neighbor has lost a loved one, has lost two, three, four members of the same family, kids.”

Petropolis’ city hall declared three days of mourning. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro expressed solidarity while on a trip to Russia, as did his counterpart Vladimir Putin.

“May God comfort their family members,” Bolsonaro said Wednesday in a press conference in Moscow.

Southeastern Brazil has been punished with heavy rains since the start of the year, with more than 40 deaths recorded between incidents in Minas Gerais state in early January and Sao Paulo state later the same month.

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AP reporters Biller and Diane Jeantet contributed from Rio de Janeiro.

Police ticketing, warning truckers to leave Canada’s capital

By ROB GILLIES and WILSON RING for the Associated Press

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Ottawa police trying to break the nearly three-week siege of the capital by truckers protesting Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions began handing out leaflets Wednesday warning drivers to leave immediately or risk arrest.

A police officer speaks with a trucker as he distributes a notice to protesters, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022 in Ottawa. Ottawa’s police chief was ousted Tuesday amid criticism of his inaction against the trucker protests that have paralyzed Canada’s capital for over two weeks, while the number of blockades maintained by demonstrators at the U.S. border dropped to just one. (Adrian Wyld /The Canadian Press via AP)

Authorities in yellow “police liaison” vests went from rig to rig, knocking on the doors of the trucks parked outside Parliament, to serve notice to the truckers that they could also lose their licenses and see their vehicles seized under Canada’s Emergencies Act.

Police also began ticketing vehicles.

Some truckers ripped up the order, and one protester shouted, “I will never go home!” Some threw the warning into a toilet put out on the street. Protesters sat in their trucks and defiantly honked their horns in a chorus that echoed loudly downtown.

At least one trucker pulled away from Parliament Hill.

There was no immediate word from police on when or if they might move in to clear the hundreds trucks by force. But protest leaders braced for action on Wednesday.

“If it means that I need to go to prison, if I need to be fined in order to allow freedom to be restored in this country — millions of people have given far more for their freedom,” said David Paisley, who traveled to Ottawa with a friend who is a truck driver.

Marie Eye, of Victoriaville, Quebec, who has been making soup for the protesters, said the warnings were “just a piece of paper” and doubted police had the manpower to remove the rigs or the protesters.

The warnings came just days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the emergency law.

Since late January, protesters in trucks and other vehicles have jammed the streets of the capital and obstructed border crossings, decrying vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers and other COVID-19 precautions and condemning Trudeau’s Liberal government.

The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists and have been cheered on and received donations from conservatives in the U.S., triggering complaints in some quarters about America being a bad influence on Canada.

As the crisis appeared to heat up in Ottawa, the premiers of two Canadian provinces and 16 U.S. governors sent a letter to Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden calling on them to end their nations’ requirements that truckers crossing the border be vaccinated.

Just one blockade remained at the U.S. border, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they expected the last remaining demonstrators to leave the site at Emerson, Manitoba, opposite North Dakota, by early Wednesday afternoon, with the Mounties escorting the vehicles out.

In Ottawa, the bumper-to-bumper demonstrations by the so-called Freedom Convoy have infuriated many residents, who have complained of being harassed and intimidated on the clogged streets.

Police in Ottawa were optimistic they could gain control in the coming days after Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Monday.

Over the past weeks, authorities have hesitated to move against the protesters, citing in some cases a lack of manpower and fears of violence.

Trudeau’s decision came amid growing frustration with government inaction. Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly lost his job this week after he failed to move decisively against the demonstrators.

Interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell said Tuesday he believes authorities have reached a turning point: “I believe we now have the resources and partners to put a safe end to this occupation.”

But protesters in the capital appeared to be entrenched. On Tuesday, Ottawa officials said 360 vehicles remained involved in the blockade in the city’s core, down from a high of roughly 4,000.

“They don’t want to give this up because this is their last stand, their last main hub,” said Michael Kempa, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

Even after the warnings, a few protesters roasted a pig on the street in front of Parliament, and a child played with blocks in a small playground area on a road lined with trucks.

An Ottawa child welfare agency advised parents at the demonstration to arrange for someone to take care of their children in the event of a police crackdown. Some protesters had their youngsters with them.

Police in the capital appeared to be following the playbook that authorities used over the weekend to break the blockade at the economically vital Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit. Police there handed out leaflets informing protesters they risked arrest.

After many of those demonstrators left and the protest had dwindled, police moved in and made dozens of arrests. The blockade there had disrupted the flow of goods between the two countries and forced the auto industry on both sides to curtail production.

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Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press writer Robert Bumsted in Ottawa contributed to this report.

First responders rescue baby born, left on Omaha sidewalk

For the Associated Press

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — First responders rescued a baby who was born on an Omaha sidewalk and left there by the woman who had just given birth to him in sub-freezing temperatures.

The woman gave birth to the baby around 10 a.m. Sunday on a pile of blankets on the sidewalk in southeast Omaha, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The temperature at the time was around 16 degrees, with wind chills in the single digits.

Firefighters called to the scene found the newborn boy being attended by two passersby and took the baby to a hospital. Witnesses told officials that the woman who had given birth to the baby wrapped herself in a black coat and wandered off. Firefighters found her a short distance away and also took her to a hospital.

Officials have not released the name of the woman or the medical conditions of the woman or the baby.

Police arrest man suspected of stabbing 11 in Albuquerque

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN for the Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Police in Albuquerque arrested a man suspected of stabbing 11 people as he rode a bicycle around the city over the weekend, leaving two victims critically injured, authorities said.

Albuquerque Police crime talk with bystanders after multiple people were stabbed near Central and Wyoming NE on Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

The suspect was identified as Tobias Gutierrez, a 42-year-old man with a criminal history that includes felony offenses that range from burglary to battery and possession of a controlled substance.

He was booked into jail on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, police in New Mexico’s largest city said in a statement Monday. Booking documents said he was homeless.

The stabbings appeared to have been committed at random within hours along Central Avenue, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. One of the crime scenes included a homeless encampment and another was near a smoke shop where the suspect asked a victim for money and yelled obscenities before swinging a knife, according to a criminal complaint.

“There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason” to the attacks, police spokesman Gilbert Gallegos said.

There was no immediate information on whether Gutierrez had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

New Mexico court records show Gutierrez also had been charged over the years with drug possession and driving while intoxicated.

In 2014, Gutierrez failed to appear in court for driving on a revoked license, records show. He responded to the court with a handwritten note saying that he was in federal custody in another county and that he was making an effort to better himself while incarcerated.

His federal prison sentence stemmed from a case in which he entered a tribal casino north of Albuquerque while carrying a revolver and ammunition.

Authorities said Gutierrez got into an altercation with a casino security officer, dropped the revolver, got into a vehicle and led police on a chase through a suburb until he crashed and was found hiding.

Records show he was released from federal custody in 2020.

Records also show that police were called to his mother’s home twice last September for domestic altercations, including one in which he was accused of stabbing her husband. No charges were filed.

Sunday’s attacks began around 11:15 a.m., when officers responded to a crime scene downtown and found a man suffering a laceration to his hand. About an hour later, another call came in about the stabbing outside a smoke shop near the University of New Mexico a couple miles away.

Police were called to two more stabbings along Central Avenue over the next two hours before another call came in at 2 p.m. about a man trying to stab people outside a convenience store. Arriving officers found two victims with neck wounds.

Within the next 20 minutes, two more calls came in — and the final one involved a victim stabbed outside of a restaurant along another busy street less than a mile away.

The witnesses identified a man on a bike armed with a large knife. Some described the man as acting strangely and said he appeared to be upset.

According to the criminal complaint, an officer saw a suspect who fit the description and saw him toss something into a trash can before the officer stopped the suspect. A search warrant was issued, and a knife was found.

The victims were taken to different hospitals. While two suffered critical injuries, all of those hospitalized were in stable condition, police said. Some were treated for their injuries and released.

Canada’s Trudeau invokes emergency powers to quell protests

By ROB GILLIES and TED SHAFFREY for the Associated Press

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked emergency powers Monday to quell the paralyzing protests by truckers and others angry over Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions, outlining plans not only to tow away their rigs but to strike at their bank accounts and their livelihoods.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attends news conference on Monday, Feb. 14, 2022 in Ottawa. Trudeau says he has invoked the Emergencies Act to bring to an end antigovernment blockades he describes as illegal and not about peaceful protest. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

“These blockades are illegal, and if you are still participating, the time to go home is now,” he declared.

In invoking Canada’s Emergencies Act, which gives the federal government broad powers to restore order, Trudeau ruled out using the military.

His government instead threatened to tow away vehicles to keep essential services running; freeze truckers’ personal and corporate bank accounts; and suspend the insurance on their rigs.

“Consider yourselves warned,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said. “Send your rigs home.”

Freeland, who is also the finance minister, said the government will also broaden its anti-money-laundering regulations to target crowd-funding sites that are being used to support the illegal blockades.

Trudeau did not indicate when the new crackdowns would begin. But he gave assurances the emergency measures “will be time-limited, geographically targeted, as well as reasonable and proportionate to the threats they are meant to address.”

For more than two weeks, hundreds and sometimes thousands of protesters in trucks and other vehicles have clogged the streets of Ottawa, the capital, and besieged Parliament Hill, railing against vaccine mandates for truckers and other COVID-19 precautions and condemning Trudeau’s Liberal government.

Members of the self-styled Freedom Convoy have also blockaded various U.S.-Canadian border crossings, though the busiest and most important — the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit — was reopened on Sunday after police arrested dozens of demonstrators and broke the nearly week-long siege that had disrupted auto production in both countries.

“This is the biggest, greatest, most severe test Trudeau has faced,” said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor and national security expert.

Invoking the Emergencies Act would allow the government to declare the Ottawa protest illegal and clear it out by such means as towing vehicles, Wark said. It would also enable the government to make greater use of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police agency.

One of the protest organizers in Ottawa vowed not to back down in the face of pressure from the government.

“There are no threats that will frighten us. We will hold the line,” Tamara Lich said.

Cadalin Valcea, a truck driver from Montreal protesting for more than two weeks, said he will move move only if forced: “We want only one thing: to finish with this lockdown and these restrictions.”

Trudeau met virtually with leaders of the country’s provinces before announcing the crackdown.

Doug Ford, the Conservative premier of Ontario, which is Canada’s most populous province and includes Ottawa and Windsor, expressed support for emergency action, saying: “We need law and order. Our country is at risk now.”

But the leaders of other provinces warned the prime minister against taking such a step, some of them cautioning it could inflame an already dangerous situation.

“At this point, it would not help the social climate. There is a lot of pressure, and I think we have to be careful,” said Quebec Premier François Legault. “It wouldn’t help for the polarization.”

The protests have drawn support from right-wing extremists and armed citizens in Canada, and have been cheered on in the U.S. by Fox News personalities and conservatives such as Donald Trump.

Some conservatives pushed Trudeau to simply drop the pandemic mandates.

“He’s got protests right around the country, and now he’s dropping in the polls, desperately trying to save his political career. The solution is staring him in the face,” said opposition Conservative lawmaker Pierre Poilievre, who is running for the party’s leadership.

Millions in donations have poured in supporting the protests, including a big chunk from the U.S.

Hackers who apparently infiltrated one of fundraising websites, GiveSendGo.com, dumped a file online that showed a tally of nearly 93,000 donations totaling $8.4 million through Thursday, an Associated Press analysis of the data found.

Roughly 40% of the money raised came from the U.S. while slightly over half was from Canada.

In other developments, the Mounties said they arrested 11 people at the blockaded border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, opposite Montana, after learning of a cache of guns and ammunition.

Police said a small group within the protest was said to have a “willingness to use force against the police if any attempts were made to disrupt the blockade.” Authorities seized long guns, handguns, body armor and a large quantity of ammunition.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney also said protesters in a tractor and a heavy-duty truck tried to ram a police vehicle at Coutts on Sunday night and fled. He said some protesters want to “take this in a very dangerous and dark direction.”

Over the past weeks, authorities have hesitated to move against the protesters. Local officials cited a lack of police manpower and fears of violence, while provincial and federal authorities disagreed over who had responsibility for quelling the unrest.

An earlier version of the Emergencies Act, called the War Measures Act, was used just once during peacetime, by Trudeau’s late father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, to deal with a militant Quebec independence movement in 1970.

The demonstrations have inspired similar convoys in France, New Zealand and the Netherlands. U.S. authorities have said that truck convoys may be in the works in the United States.

Invoking emergency powers would be a signal to Canadians and allies like the United States and around the world “who are wondering what the hell has Canada been up to,” Wark said.

Also Monday, Ontario’s premier announced that on March 1, the province will lift its requirement that people show proof of vaccination to get into restaurants, restaurants, gyms and sporting events. The surge of cases caused by the omicron variant has crested in Canada.

“We are moving in this direction because it is safe to do so. Today’s announcement is not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor but despite it,” Ford said.

The Ambassador Bridge, which carries 25% of all trade between the two countries, reopened to traffic late Sunday night. The interruption forced General Motors, Ford, Toyota and other automakers to close plants or curtail production on both sides of the border. Some of them have yet to get back to full production.

The siege in Ottawa, about 470 miles (750 kilometers) away, has infuriated residents fed up with government inaction. They have complained of being harassed and intimidated by the protesters who have parked their rigs bumper to bumper on the streets.

“It’s stressful. I feel angry at what’s happening. This isn’t Canada. This does not represent us,” Colleen Sinclair, a counter-protester who lives in Ottawa.

Many of Canada’s COVID-19 restrictions, such as mask rules and vaccine passports for getting into restaurants and theaters, are already falling away as the omicron surge levels off.

Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter in Canada than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. The vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated.

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Gillies reported from Toronto. Associated Press writers Ted Shaffrey in Ottawa, Ontario, Larry Fenn in New York, Frank Bajak in Boston and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Indonesia frees croc from tire stuck on its neck for 6 years

By MOHAMMAD TAUFAN for the Associated Press

PALU, Indonesia (AP) — A wild crocodile with a used motorcycle tire stuck around its neck for six years has finally been freed by an Indonesian bird catcher in a tireless effort that wildlife conservation officials hailed as a milestone Wednesday.

Rescuers hold a crocodile after removing a tire from its neck, in Palu, Central Sulawesi, on Feb. 7, 2022. The wild crocodile with the used motorcycle tire stuck around its neck for six years has finally been freed by an Indonesian bird catcher in a tireless effort that wildlife conservation officials hailed as a milestone. (AP Photo/Mohammad Taufan)

The 4.5-meter (14.8-foot) saltwater female crocodile has become an icon to the people in Palu, the capital city of Central Sulawesi. The beast was seen on the city’s river with the tire around its neck becoming increasingly tighter, running the risk of choking her.

Conservation officials were racing to rescue the crocodile since residents spotted the reptile in 2016, generating sympathy among residents and worldwide. In 2020, Australian crocodile wrangler Matthew Wright and American wildlife biologist Forrest Galante tried and failed to free the reptile.

In early January, 35-year-old bird catcher and trader Tili, who recently moved to the city, heard about the famous crocodile from his neighbors and determined to rescue the reptile after he saw her frequently sunbathing at a nearby estuary.

“I have experiences and skills in catching animals, not only birds, but farm animals that are released from the cage,” Tili, who goes by a single name, told The Associated Press. “I believe I can rescue the crocodile with my skills.”

He stringed ropes of various sizes into a trap tied to a tree near the river, and laid chickens, ducks and birds as bait. After three weeks of waiting and several failed attempts, the crocodile finally fell into the trap Monday night. With the help of two of his friends, Tili pulled the trapped crocodile ashore and sawed through the tire, which was 50 centimeters (1.6 feet) in diameter.

A video that circulated widely on the internet showed a crowd cheering nearby as Tili and his friends broke the crocodile free. Other residents then contacted firefighters and a wildlife conservation agency to help them release the animal back into the wild.

“For all of the efforts Tili has done for protected wildlife and being the kind of animal lover he is, that’s a great milestone,” said Haruna Hamma who heads Central Sulawesi province’s conservation agency.

He said it was unclear how a used motorcycle tire got stuck around the crocodile neck. Conservationists have said that it was likely deliberately placed by people in a failed attempt to trap it as a pet or skin it for sale, but crocodiles and other swimming reptiles often travel into garbage-studded waters with nothing to stop a tire from encircling them, Hamma said.

Government data recorded 279 crocodile attacks in Indonesia, the world’s largest archipelago nation with more than 17,000 islands, between 2007 and 2014. Of these, as many as 268 cases of attacks were carried out by saltwater crocodiles, of which 135 were fatal.

Despite the attacks, the saltwater crocodile is protected under Indonesian law.

Puerto Rico firefighters secure wage increase after protests

From the Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico’s governor on Thursday announced a $500 monthly salary increase for firefighters a day after they joined thousands of public employees in a protest to demand higher wages and improved pensions.

The money will temporarily come from federal funds that run out in 2026 until officials identify a local source to make the increase permanent, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said.

Firefighters in the U.S. territory earn a base salary of $1,500 a month but were seeking $2,500 plus an improved pension plan.

Pierluisi noted that the $500 increase goes into effect July 1, the same day firefighters also would receive an additional $125 increase previously approved by a federal control board that oversees the island’s finances.

Earlier this week, Pierluisi also announced a $1,000 monthly increase for teachers, school principals, regional superintendents and others. That announcement came after 70% of public school teachers left their classrooms last week and took to the streets to demand higher wages.

Their salary increase is dependent on federal funds that run out in 2024.

The recent announcements come as the island of 3.2 million people tries to emerge from a deep economic crisis and restructure a portion of its more than $70 billion public debt load as part of a bankruptcy process.

Head of London police resigns after string of scandals

By SYLVIA HUI for the Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — The head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said she is resigning Thursday after a string of controversies that undermined public confidence in the force and prompted a falling out between her and the capital’s mayor.

FILE – London Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick in London, April 10, 2017. The head of London’s Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said she is resigning Thursday Feb. 10, 2022, after a string of controversies that undermined public confidence in the force and prompted a falling out between her and the capital’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File)

Mayor Sadiq Khan had recently threatened to oust Dick from her role, saying she wasn’t doing enough to reform the Metropolitan Police, Britain’s largest police force, and tackle growing accusations of misogyny and racism within her ranks.

Khan said late Thursday it was clear the only way to overhaul the force urgently was to have “new leadership right at the top of the Metropolitan Police.”

Dick, who has headed the force since 2017 and is the first woman to lead Scotland Yard, said it was with “huge sadness” that it has become clear that Khan “no longer has sufficient confidence in my leadership to continue.”

“He has left me no choice but to step aside as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service,” she said in a statement.

Dick, 61, added that she will stay in her role for a short period to ensure the force’s stability while a replacement is found.

A report last week by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the police watchdog, condemned misogyny, bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment among a dozen officers, most of them based in central London’s Charing Cross police station.

The report cited officers joking about rape and using other offensive language in social media messages, and said the incidents were part of a wider culture that can’t be blamed on a few “bad apples.”

Khan said last week he was “not satisfied” with Dick’s response to calls for change following scandals including the killing of a woman by a serving police officer and the behavior of officers cited by the police watchdog.

“Last week, I made clear to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the scale of the change I believe is urgently required to rebuild the trust and confidence of Londoners in the Met and to root out the racism, sexism, homophobia, bullying, discrimination and misogyny that still exists,” Khan said.

He thanked Dick for her 40 years of policing service.

Dick faced intense pressure to quit last year after a police officer, Wayne Couzens, was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering a woman, Sarah Everard, who was walking home at night in London. Everard’s slaying by a serving officer shocked the nation, and the police force’s subsequent handling of vigils and protests against Everard’s slaying also came under heavy fire.

Dick acknowledged Thursday that the Everard case and others had “damaged confidence” in her force.

Working conditions for Border Patrol getting more attention

By BEN FOX for the Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A strained Border Patrol is getting increased attention from the Biden administration after tense meetings between senior officials and the rank and file while the agency deals with one of the largest spikes in migration along the U.S.-Mexico border in decades.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Chris Magnus poses for a photograph during an interview in his office with The Associated Press, Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022, in Washington. A strained Border Patrol is getting increased attention from the Biden administration after tense meetings between senior officials and the rank-and-file while the agency deals with one of the largest spikes in migration along the U.S.-Mexico border in decades. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees the Border Patrol, laid out 19 ways to address working conditions after frosty receptions by agents, said Magnus. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who oversees the Border Patrol, laid out 19 ways to address working conditions after frosty receptions by agents, said Chris Magnus, the new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection.

Mayorkas also pledged in a memo to push for more prosecutions of people accused of assaulting CBP personnel in the course of their duties, an issue raised at a recent meeting in Laredo, Texas, and elsewhere, Magnus said Tuesday.

“That’s something that agents in the field want to hear because assaults are on the uptick,” Magnus told The Associated Press. “We are not just seeing folks who are fleeing to the U.S. to get away from conditions. We are seeing smugglers, members of cartels, and drug organizations that are actively engaged in doing harm.”

Efforts to deal with working conditions for agents come as President Joe Biden has been criticized across the political spectrum over immigration. He has sought to reverse many hardcore policies of his predecessor but has come under fire over the situation at the border that could cause trouble for Democrats in the midterm elections.

CBP encountered migrants from all over the world about 1.7 million times along the U.S.-Mexico border last year. The total, among the highest in decades, is inflated by repeated apprehensions of people who were turned away, without being given a chance to seek asylum, under a public health order issued at the start of the pandemic.

Immigration advocates have condemned the administration for not repealing the public health order, known as Title 42, while critics, including many Border Patrol agents, say a Biden policy of allowing children and families to stay in the country and pursue asylum has encouraged irregular migration.

Magnus said the agents, and the administration, are just trying to manage a complicated situation.

“We’re seeing folks that are encountering political conditions and violence, unsafe conditions to live and work, at unprecedented levels,” the former police chief of Tucson, Arizona, said in an interview, the first since he was sworn in Friday. “We’ve seen, for example, in places, earthquakes or other environmental conditions. We’re seeing unprecedented levels of poverty. All of these are things that are in many ways, you know, pushing migrants again at high levels to this country.”

The administration has sought to address the cause of migration, including by increasing aid to Central America and re-starting a visa program that was ended under President Donald Trump. It has also sought assistance from other countries, including Mexico, to do more to stop or take in migrants.

As the overall numbers have increased, and the administration has decided to allow many families to stay and seek asylum in a process that can take years, some Border Patrol agents have grown disenchanted as they spend their shifts processing and transporting people, not out in the field.

That frustration boiled over in Laredo as agents met late last month with Mayorkas and Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz, who acknowledged morale was at an “all-time low,” according to a leaked video published by the Washington Examiner. One agent complained about “doing nothing” except releasing people into the United States, referring to the practice of allowing migrants to remain free while their cases wind through immigration court.

At another meeting, in Yuma, Arizona, Mayorkas told agents he understood that apprehending families and children “is not what you signed up to do” and that their jobs were becoming more challenging amid an influx of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans, according to video published by the conservative website Townhall. One of the agents turned his back on the secretary.

Magnus has heard similar concerns raised in meetings. “I think it has been difficult for many of them who spent most of their careers or anticipated that their careers would be largely working in the field, on the border,” he said.

The commissioner declined to specify the 19 areas where Mayorkas “wants to see improvement,” because they have not been publicly released. But another official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said they include expanding the role of a new class of civilian employees to add tasks such as transporting migrants to medical facilities so agents can return to other duties.

Another point calls for faster decisions on asylum cases at the border. Agents have expressed frustration that asylum-seekers are freed in the U.S., often for years, while their claims make their way through a system backlogged with about 1.6 million cases.

Magnus said he hopes to expand mental health services for agents and provide additional resources to help them and their families cope with a stressful job that requires them to move often.

“There is never one simple solution to addressing morale at any organization, but I absolutely appreciate the very challenging conditions that the men and women of the Border Patrol and CBP in general have been have been working under,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

Canadian provinces lift COVID restrictions, protests remain

By ROB GILLIES for the Associated Press

TORONTO (AP) — A rapidly growing list of Canadian provinces moved to lift their COVID-19 restrictions as protesters decrying virus precautions kept up the pressure with truck blockades Wednesday in the capital and at key U.S. border crossings, including the economically vital bridge to Detroit.

A small line of semi-trailer trucks line up along northbound I-75 in Detroit as the Ambassador Bridge entrance is blocked off for travel to Canada on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Canadian lawmakers are expressing increasing worry about the economic effects of disruptive COVID-19 demonstrations. They spoke Tuesday after the busiest border crossing between the U.S. and Canada became partially blocked by truckers protesting vaccine mandates and other coronavirus restrictions. The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, carries 25 percent of trade between the two countries. (Ryan Garza/Detroit Free Press via AP)

Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Prince Edward Island announced plans this week to roll back some or all measures, with Alberta, Canada’s most conservative province, dropping its vaccine passport for places such as restaurants immediately and getting rid of masks at the end of the month.

Alberta opposition leader Rachel Notley accused Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of allowing an “illegal blockade to dictate public health measures.”

Protesters have been blocking the border crossing at Coutts, Alberta, for more than a week and a half. About 50 trucks remained there Wednesday.

Also, more than 400 trucks have paralyzed downtown Ottawa, Canada’s capital, in a protest that began late last month.

And a blockade by people mostly in pickup trucks entered its third day at the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario. Traffic was prevented from entering Canada, while some U.S.-bound traffic was still moving.

The bridge carries 25% of all trade between Canada and the U.S., and Canadian lawmakers expressed increasing worry about the economic effects.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens said police had not removed people for fear of inflaming the situation and causing a larger protest. Police said the demonstration involved 50 to 74 vehicles and about 100 protesters.

“When this bridge is closed for an hour, the auto sector notices,” Dilkens said, referring to the auto industry in and around Windsor and Detroit. “When it is closed for a number of days, people start demanding action, and we hear you. We’re not going to let this happen for a prolonged period of time.”

Some of the protesters say they are willing to die for their cause, he said.

“I’ll be brutally honest: You are trying to have a rational conversation and not everyone on the ground is a rational actor,” the mayor said. “Police are doing what is right by taking a moderate approach, trying to sensibly work through this situation where everyone can walk away, nobody gets hurt, and the bridge can open.”

The “freedom truck convoy” has been promoted by Fox News personalities and attracted support from many U.S. Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, who called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a “far left lunatic” who has “destroyed Canada with insane Covid mandates.”

Some demonstrators are protesting a rule that took effect Jan. 15 requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully immunized against the coronavirus. But the protests have also encompassed grievances about masks and other COVID-19 restrictions and a hatred of Trudeau.

Protesters have been calling for the removal of his government, although most of the restrictive measures were put in place by provincial governments.

Pandemic restrictions have been far stricter in Canada than in the U.S., but Canadians have largely supported them. Canada’s COVID-19 death rate is one-third that of the U.S.

“We’re all tired, yes, we’re all frustrated, but we continue to be there for each other. We continue to know that science and public health rules and guidance is the best way through this pandemic,” Trudeau said on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill.

Ontario, Canada’s largest province with almost 40% of Canada’s population, is sticking to what it calls a “very cautious” approach to the pandemic and not backing down from a phased approach to lifting restrictions.

“We have no plans currently to drop the passport vaccination situation or masking. We believe that masking is going to be important for sometime to come,” said Ontario Deputy Premier and Health Minister Christine Elliott, who added her government takes the advice of medical experts.

“We’ve always said we’re going to take a very cautious, phased, prudent approach to opening up and that’s the path we’re going to follow.” she said.

The latest COVID-19 wave fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant has crested in Canada, which is one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. More than 84% have received at least one dose.

Despite Alberta’s plans to scrap the public health measures, the protest there continued.

“We’re here for the big picture. It started with the border thing, it started with Trudeau, and until Trudeau moves, we don’t move,” said John Vanreeuwyk, a feedlot operator from Coaldale, Alberta.

About 90% of truckers in Canada are vaccinated, and trucker associations and many big-rig operators have denounced the protests. The U.S. has the same vaccination rule for truckers entering the country, so it would make little difference if Trudeau lifted the restriction.

“The protests in Ottawa Canada and the Ambassador Bridge are less and less about vaccines and more and more about political extremism and desires to disrupt the Canadian government and economy (done with external radical influences and money),” Bruce Heyman, a former U.S. Ambassador to Canada, tweeted.

When Kenney, the Conservative Alberta premier, announced late Tuesday the lifting of restrictions, he likened the stigmatization the unvaccinated face to how people with the AIDS virus were treated in the 1980s. Kenney apologized Wednesday.

The impasse in Alberta has stranded travelers and cross-border truckers, disrupted millions of dollars in trade and impeded access to basic goods and medical services for area residents.

“We’ve got guys here — they’ve lost everything due to these mandates and they’re not giving up and they’re willing to stand their ground and keep going until this is done,” Vanreeuwyk said.

Garrett Buchanan drove 10 hours from High Prairie in northern Alberta to join the protest and said he is staying until their demands are met.

“Yeah — until the mandates get dropped, and if they can work on getting (Trudeau) out, I’d stay longer for that, too,” he said.

Coutts Mayor Jim Willett said he had hoped the provincial government would go further in its announcement and isn’t expecting things to return to normal any time soon.

“Leaving masking until March 1 is not going to make anybody happy,” he said.

Lucky dog: Colorado deputy rescues pup from burning SUV

From the Associated Press

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (AP) — A sheriff’s deputy is being praised for smashing the windows of a burning SUV and rescuing a frightened dog in a neighborhood south of Denver.

An image taken from Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Gregorek’s body camera video shows a dog in the back of a vehicle in Castle Rock, Colo., on Jan. 22, 2022. Gregorek is being praised for smashing the windows of a burning SUV and rescuing a frightened dog in a neighborhood south of Denver. (Douglas County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Douglas County Deputy Michael Gregorek’s body camera video from Jan. 22, which was released Thursday, shows him arriving on the scene as smoke pours from the driver’s side window of the SUV. The owner frantically yells that his dog Hank is somewhere inside the locked vehicle.

Gregorek uses his retractable baton to smash a side window and then the rear window before pulling Hank out and quickly carrying him to a nearby snowbank.

“I just went in there and grabbed on. And his body had already kind of started to tense up, so I knew he was really in a bad way. … Nothing else really mattered at that point other than getting Hank out of the car,” Gregorek said in an interview released by the sheriff’s department.

A neighbor told the deputy his wife was a veterinarian, but by the time she got home, Hank was already sprinting around and ready to play.

“I’m a dog parent. My only child is my dog, so I would have done the same thing, whether it be baby, human, dog, cat. A life is a life, and you kind of treat it as such in a situation like that,” Gregorek said.

Oregon firefighter dies after explosion at fire in barn

By ANDREW SELSKY for the Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Firefighters responding to a fire at a barn in rural Oregon early Thursday were hit by an explosion, killing one of them, and investigators haven’t yet determined the cause.

Some 12 hours after the predawn blast it was still too dangerous for investigators to approach, Sgt. Jeremy Landers of the sheriff’s office said.

In this provided by Sgt. Jeremy Landers of the Marion County Sheriff’s office, the wreckage of a Barn near St. Paul, Ore., smolders on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, after a fire and explosion destroyed it. A firefighter was critically injured in the explosion and has been airlifted to a hospital. Investigators were at the scene to determine the cause of the fire and explosion. (Sgt. Jeremy Landers, Marion County Sheriff’s Department via AP)

The blast occurred soon after firefighters arrived at the burning barn near the tiny town of St. Paul, located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) southwest of Portland. The fire was reported to authorities around 4 a.m.

The explosion critically injured volunteer firefighter Austin Smith. Paramedics already at the scene provided first aid and Smith was flown by a medical evacuation helicopter to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland, but he did not survive, Chief Bryan Lee of the St. Paul Rural Fire Protection District told reporters.

Smith, 30, of St. Paul, had been with the St. Paul Fire District since 2015.

“We in the community are absolutely heartbroken over this loss,” Lee said.

St. Paul has barely 400 residents, but hosts a rodeo every summer that attracts thousands of spectators. One of Smith’s relatives, Bill Smith, was the first president of the rodeo, first held in 1936. Lee spoke with reporters on the rodeo grounds.

Landers said it may be several days before information about the cause of the fire and explosion are released.

A farm that raises turkeys is located on the same gravel road where the barn was located, but it was unclear if the farm owned the barn. No one picked up the phone at Champoeg Farm or responded to a message.

Police trainer testifies against officers in Floyd’s death

By STEVE KARNOWSKI for the Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minneapolis police officer who oversaw medical training for two of the three former officers charged with violating George Floyd’s civil rights is scheduled to resume testifying in their federal trial Tuesday about what they were taught.

FILE – This combination of photos provided by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office in Minnesota on June 3, 2020, shows, from left, former Minneapolis police officers J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao. The former policer officers are on trial in federal court accused of violating Floyd’s civil rights as fellow Officer Derek Chauvin killed him. Judge Paul Magnuson abruptly recessed on Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022 after one of the defendants tested positive for COVID-19. (Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Officer Nicole Mackenzie, the department’s medical support coordinator, testified Monday that J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane were in a police academy “emergency medical responder” class that she taught, which covered first aid, ethics in care and how to hand people off to paramedics.

Lane and Kueng were rookies, just a few days out of field training, when they were dispatched to a call alleging that Floyd had tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a neighborhood market in April of 2020. They were soon joined by two more experienced officers, Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, and the ensuing confrontation led to Floyd’s death.

On Thursday, a lung specialist testified that Floyd could have been saved if the officers had moved him into a position in which he could breathe more easily, and that his chances of survival would have “doubled or tripled” if they had performed CPR as soon as his heart stopped.

Floyd died because his upper airway was compressed by Chauvin’s knee, while his position on hard asphalt with his hands cuffed behind his back — as Kueng and Lane helped hold him down while Thao held back the crowd — did not allow his lungs to expand, said Dr. David Systrom, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Kueng, Lane and Thao are accused in this case of depriving Floyd, 46, of his rights when they failed to give him medical aid as Chauvin knelt on the Black man’s neck for 9 1/2 minutes. Kueng and Thao are also accused of failing to intervene in the killing, which triggered protests worldwide and a reexamination of racism and policing.

Mackenzie testified that cadets are taught on their very first day about the need to roll subjects into the “side recovery position” so they can breathe instead of keeping them them prone on their stomachs. Their first day also would have included training on ethics, she said, including how responders have a duty of care to people in medical emergencies. And she went through excerpts from a textbook that she said they would have been required to read before class.

Systrom, who is also an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, testified that video from Kueng’s body camera shows him holding Floyd’s wrist while pressing it down on Floyd’s back, which would have prevented Floyd from being able to relieve the pressure. In video from Lane’s body camera, it looks like Kueng’s knee is putting pressure on Floyd’s abdomen, Systrom said. He said “it’s difficult to know” if Floyd would have died without the pressure Kueng applied.

He said Lane’s restriction of Floyd’s legs also would have prevented Floyd from getting into a position to breathe properly.

Prosecutor Manda Sertich asked what could have been done before Floyd lost consciousness. Systrom responded that it “could have been as simple as removal of pressure on the upper airway by a knee” or letting Floyd sit up.

When asked about Floyd’s chances of survival if officers had immediately begun CPR after his cardiac arrest, Systrom replied: “They would have been doubled or tripled.”

Dr. Andrew Baker, Hennepin County’s chief medical examiner, testified last week that Floyd died after police “subdual, restraint and neck compression” caused his heart and lungs to stop.

While Baker did not rule asphyxiation as a cause of Floyd’s death, Systrom agreed under cross-examination by Thao’s attorney, Robert Paule, that his opinion was “entirely different.” He noted that Baker has said he would defer to a pulmonologist and other experts on some issues.

Systrom acknowledged under questioning by Kueng’s attorney, Tom Plunkett, that it’s difficult to tell from videos how much pressure Kueng is applying to Floyd. But he said all the pressure points on Floyd’s body “added up.”

Systrom also said he reviewed multiple videos, Floyd’s medical records, Baker’s grand jury transcripts and testimony from experts at Chauvin’s murder trial last year to assemble a “big picture” view. When Plunkett suggested that Systrom had a lot more information available to him than Kueng did, Systrom pushed back.

“From my opinion, counsel, Mr. Kueng had a front-row seat as to what was going on,” Systrom said.

Lane’s attorney, Earl Gray, got Systrom to acknowledge that Lane asked Kueng to check Floyd’s pulse after not being able to find one in Floyd’s ankle and that Lane got into the ambulance with paramedics to try to help resuscitate Floyd.

Kueng, who is Black, Lane, who is white, and Thao, who is Hmong American, are charged with willfully depriving Floyd of his constitutional rights while acting under government authority. The charges allege that the officers’ actions resulted in Floyd’s death.

Chauvin was convicted of murder and manslaughter in state court last year and was sentenced to 22 1/2 years. He pleaded guilty in December to a federal civil rights charge.

Lane, Kueng and Thao also face a separate state trial in June on charges alleging that they aided and abetted murder and manslaughter.

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Find AP’s full coverage of the killing of George Floyd at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-george-floyd

Florida man steals car; train sends it crashing into house

From the Associated Press

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man says he jumped from a stolen car seconds before it was hit by a train and sent flying into a nearby home. The sleeping residents were unharmed and the man was later arrested, authorities said.

This photo provided by the Martin County Sheriff’s Office shows a car destroyed after a collision with a train in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022. A Florida man says he jumped from the stolen car seconds before it was hit by a train and sent flying into a nearby home. The sleeping residents were unharmed and the man was later arrested, authorities said. (Martin County Sheriff’s Office via AP)

Police said the man claimed he stole the car in a “good faith effort” to search for his own vehicle after leaving a bar early Saturday in Martin County, around 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of West Palm Beach. Instead, he got stuck on the railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train.

After the crash, the man tried to steal a forklift from a nearby fruit stand, which he also vandalized, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement. He was arrested after flagging down responding deputies “to let them know he was still looking for his car,” the statement said.

The homeowners were fine, but “the explosive sound of a driverless car smashing into the side of their home was clearly jolting,” the sheriff’s office said.

The 38-year-old faces charges of grand theft and criminal mischief, and additional charges are expected.

In describing the episode, the sheriff’s office said, “No title could explain this case, but the details will… well, it’s best to just read on.”

Moroccans in mourning after trapped boy’s death

By MOSA’AB ELSHAMY and TARIK EL-BARAKAH for the Associated Press

IGHRAN, Morocco (AP) — An eerie silence fell on a Moroccan village on Sunday after the death of a 5-year-old boy who had been trapped in a well for four days.

A view of the village of Ighran and the hill in which the rescue mission of 5-year-old Rayan had been taking place after he was stuck for several days, in Morocco’s Chefchaouen province, Sunday, Feb. 6, 2022. Morocco’s king says a 5-year-old boy has died after rescuers pulled him out of a deep well where he was trapped for four days. Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the boy’s parents in a statement released by the palace. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

For days — and nights — the community of Ighran, a village in a mountainous area in northern Morocco, had gathered along the edges of the well, cheering on the rescue workers and volunteers digging deep into difficult terrain to reach the hole where the boy, Rayan, was trapped. They offered support to Rayan’s parents. Millions watched the rescue operation on state TV.

The boy was pulled out Saturday night by rescuers after a lengthy operation that captivated global attention. Convinced that Rayan was alive, the crowd was cheering as the child was rushed to an ambulance where his parents had been waiting.

Just minutes after the ambulance pulled away, a statement from the royal palace said the boy has died. Moroccan King Mohammed VI expressed his condolences to the boy’s parents, Khaled Oram and Wassima Khersheesh.

Messages of support, concern and grief for the boy and his family poured in from around the world as the news of Rayan’s death spread overnight Saturday.

Pope Francis on Sunday described as “beautiful” how people had rallied around efforts to save Rayan’s life. Francis expressed thanks to the Moroccan people as he greeted the public in St. Peter’s Square. He praised people for “putting their all” into trying to save the child.

The palace statement said Morocco’s king had been closely following the frantic rescue efforts by locals authorities, “instructing officials to use all means necessary to dig the boy out of the well and return him alive to his parents.” The king hailed the rescuers for their relentless work and the community for lending support to Rayan’s family.

Rayan fell into a 32-meter (105-feet) well located outside his home on Tuesday evening. The exact circumstances of how he fell are unclear.

For three days, search crews used bulldozers to dig a parallel ditch. Then on Friday, they started excavating a horizontal tunnel to reach the trapped boy. Morocco’s MAP news agency said that experts in topographical engineering were called upon for help.

Rescuers used a rope to send oxygen and water down to the boy as well as a camera to monitor him. By Saturday morning, the head of the rescue committee, Abdelhadi Temrani, said: “It is not possible to determine the child’s condition at all at this time. But we hope to God that the child is alive.”

The work had been especially difficult because of fears that the soil surrounding the well could collapse on the boy.

The village of about 500 people is dotted with deep wells, many used for irrigating the cannabis crop that is the main source of income for many in the poor, remote and arid region of Morocco’s Rif Mountains. Most of the wells have protective covers.

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El-Barakah reported from Rabat.