Category: Sirennet Blog

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.