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AP News in Brief at 6:04 p.m. EDT

Massive Beirut blast kills more than 60, injures thousands

BEIRUT – A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.

Hours later, ambulances still carried away the wounded as army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and an economic crisis: Beirut hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies and generators to keep their lights on.

The cause of the blast, which sparked fires, overturned cars and blew out windows and doors, was not immediately known.

Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was confiscated from a ship some time ago and stored at the port. Local television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.

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‘Too many are selfish’: US nears 5 million virus cases

BOSTON – Fourth of July gatherings, graduation parties, no-mask weddings, crowded bars – there are reasons the U.S. has racked up more than 155,000 coronavirus deaths, by far the most of any country, and is fast approaching an off-the-charts 5 million confirmed infections, easily the highest in the world.

Many Americans have resisted wearing masks and social distancing, calling such precautions an overreaction or an infringement on their liberty. Public health experts say the problem has been compounded by confusing and inconsistent guidance from politicians and a patchwork quilt of approaches to containing the scourge by county, state and federal governments.

“The thing that´s maddening is country after country and state after state have shown us how we can contain the virus,” said Dr. Jonathan Quick of the Duke Global Health Institute. “It´s not like we don´t know what works. We do.”

Confirmed infections in the U.S. have topped 4.7 million, with new cases running at more than 60,000 a day. While that’s down from a peak of well over 70,000 in the second half of July, cases are on the rise in 26 states, many in the South and West, and deaths are climbing in 35 states.

On average, the number of COVID-19 deaths per day in the U.S. over the past two weeks has gone from about 780 to 1,056, according to an Associated Press analysis.

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Tropical Storm Isaias drives wild weather up Interstate 95

WINDSOR, N.C. – At least four people were killed as Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain Tuesday along the U.S. East Coast after making landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina, where it caused floods and fires that displaced dozens of people.

Two people died when Isaias spun off a tornado that struck a North Carolina mobile home park. Authorities said two others were killed by falling trees toppled by the storm in Maryland and New York City.

More than 18 hours after coming ashore, Isaias still had sustained top winds of 65 mph (105 kph). At 5 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the storm’s center was about 20 miles (35 kilometers) west of Albany, New York.

As Isaias sped northward at 40 mph (56 kph), the National Hurricane Center warned of flash flood threats in the New York’s Hudson River Valley and potential for minor to moderate river flooding elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region.

Two people died after a tornado demolished several mobile homes in Windsor, North Carolina. Emergency responders finished searching the wreckage Tuesday afternoon. They found no other casualties, and several people initially feared missing had all been accounted for, said Ron Wesson, chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners. He said about 12 people were hospitalized.

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Trump’s demand for US cut of a TikTok deal is unprecedented

NEW YORK – President Donald Trump’s demand that the U.S. government get a cut from a potential Microsoft purchase of TikTok is the latest unprecedented scenario in an unprecedented situation.

Microsoft is in talks to buy parts of TikTok, a forced sale after Trump threatened to ban the Chinese-owned video app, which claims 100 million U.S. users and hundreds of millions globally. The Trump administration says TikTok is a national-security concern. How a ban would have worked was not clear; that federal authority has never been used before with a consumer app. TikTok denies that it would send U.S. user data to the Chinese government.

Microsoft did not address a potential price when it confirmed the talks.

Trump said Monday to reporters that the U.S. “should get a very large percentage of that price because we´re making it possible,” adding that “we want and we think we deserve to have a big percentage of that price coming to America, coming to the Treasury.”

Trump sometimes floats ideas or actions that get set aside without follow-through. Appearing on the Fox Business Network Tuesday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow appeared to walk back the idea of a payment to the Treasury, saying “I don’t know if that’s a key stipulation.”

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Worries about 2020 census’ accuracy grow with cut schedule

ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. Census Bureau is cutting its schedule for data collection for the 2020 census a month short as legislation that would have extended the national head count’s deadlines stalls in Congress. The move is worrying researchers, politicians and others who say the change will miss hard-to-count communities, including minorities and immigrants, and produce less trustworthy data.

The Census Bureau said late Monday that the door-knocking and ability for households to respond either online, by phone or by mail to the questionnaire will stop at the end of September instead of the end of October so that it can meet an end-of-the-year deadline to turn in numbers used for redrawing congressional districts.

Census experts, academics and civil rights activists worry the sped-up count could hurt its thoroughness and produce inaccurate data that will have lasting effects through the next decade. The count determines how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is distributed and how many congressional districts each state gets.

“This move will rush the enumeration process, result in inadequate follow-up, and undercount immigrant communities and communities of color who are historically undercounted,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, wrote Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham in a letter Tuesday.

In the letter, Maloney, a Democrat from New York, requested interviews before her committee with eight Census Bureau officials, including two recent additions to the bureau’s leadership whose appointments by the Trump administration have been sharply criticized as politically driven.

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Minneapolis mayor: City seeks right mentors for new officers

MINNEAPOLIS – Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city is working to pair new police officers with “the right individuals” for field training following George Floyd’s death, in which a senior officer rejected a younger colleague’s question about how Floyd was being restrained.

In an interview with The Associated Press as part of its AP Newsmakers series, Frey said the city wants to make sure that the training new officers get isn’t undermined once they go into the field.

“We need to make sure that those who are in a supervisory role, those that are riding with new officers with new cadets, are the right individuals to be role models,” Frey said. “You learn from who your role models are, and that can be a good thing and that can also be a bad thing.”

Floyd, a 47-year-old Black man who was in handcuffs, died May 25 after Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee against Floyd´s neck for nearly eight minutes as Floyd pleaded for air. Chauvin, who is white, is charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers who were at the scene – Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J. Kueng – are charged with aiding and abetting.

Attorneys for Lane and Kueng have portrayed the two officers as rookies who deferred to the far more senior Chauvin. Body camera video shows as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn´t breathe, Lane asked Chauvin whether the officers should turn Floyd from his stomach to his side. Chauvin responded that they would keep Floyd as he was.

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Virus ravages poor California county along Mexican border

CALEXICO, Calif. – Dr. Tien Vo’s last stop of the night is the home of a 35-year-old woman who has diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and, now, the coronavirus. The virus killed her father six days earlier. The oldest of her four children, a 15-year-old boy, learned he had it that morning.

Tilted back in a reclining chair at her bedside using an oxygen device, Cynthia Reyes tells the doctor she can no longer stand up herself.

“I can´t catch my breath. It takes a long time to get to the restroom. I feel like I´m going to faint,” she says anxiously.

Vo, who exchanges text messages with Reyes every few hours and speaks with her almost daily, listens and nods.

“I’ve tried my best already, but sometimes, you know, we can’t do enough,” Vo says after leaving.

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Trump encourages mail voting in key battleground Florida

WASHINGTON – In an abrupt reversal, President Donald Trump now is encouraging voters in the critical swing state of Florida to vote by mail after months of criticizing the practice, and only days after threatening to sue Nevada over a new vote-by-mail law.

His encouragement follows a surge in Democratic requests to vote for mail in Florida. Democrats currently have about 1.9 million Floridians signed up to vote by mail this November, almost 600,000 more than the Republicans´ 1.3 million, according to the Florida Secretary of State.

In 2016, both sides had about 1.3 million signed up before the general election.

“Whether you call it Vote by Mail or Absentee Voting, in Florida the election system is Safe and Secure, Tried and True. Florida´s Voting system has been cleaned up (we defeated Democrats attempts at change), so in Florida I encourage all to request a Ballot & Vote by Mail!,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany rejected the notion that the president has changed his views. She said he supports absentee voting by mail for a reason, as opposed to states mailing out ballots to all voters regardless of whether they requested them. Most election officials say there is little effective difference between absentee voting and voting by mail.

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COVID-19 reshapes and reduces back-to-school spending

NEW YORK – For Michelle Lynn England, back-to-school shopping always meant heading to Target and the local mall with her two girls and dropping about $500 on each of them for trendy outfits.

Not this year.

The Charlotte, North Carolina, woman cut her spending on clothing in half for her 10-year-old and 14-year-old and instead spent more on masks and other supplies as a surge in coronavirus cases forced her school district to extend online learning through the fall.

“The kids always looked forward to getting something new,” said England, who spent $500 in total this time around. “It didn´t make any sense to buy any extra clothes that won´t be worn.”

As the pandemic drags into the new school year, it is wreaking havoc on reopening plans and the back-to-school shopping season, the second most important period for retailers behind the holidays.

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VIRUS DIARY: A friend dies but leaves something to hold onto

LONDON – My friend Greg died.

I am not alone in losing a friend to COVID-19. Some 46,000 people in this country have died, as have thousands more around the world. But none of them sat next to me at the office for the last decade.

None of them was Greg Katz.

So though I usually spend my time writing about other people, it´s time for me to do something I´ve always tried to avoid: tell a personal story. Please bear with me. I am not used to this.

There´s been a lot said in my circles about Greg since he died: his accomplishments, his fashion choices, his devotion to his wife, Bea, his pride in his daughter, Sophia.

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