• Kentucky warns of more severe weather after storms kill 14
    on May 27, 2024 at 8:59 am

    (Reuters) – Kentucky governor Andy Beshear declared a state emergency early on Monday after tornado-spawning thunderstorms swept the U.S. Southern Plains and Ozarks, killing at least 14 people and wrecking hundreds of buildings as forecasters warned of more severe weather. “Severe weather continues to move through the commonwealth with multiple reports of wind damage and tornadoes,” Beshear said in a post on X. At least seven people perished and nearly 100 were injured on Saturday night when a powerful tornado struck communities in north Texas near the Oklahoma border, Governor Greg Abbott said at a news conference the next day. On Sunday, as storms shifted to the northeast, unleashing more extreme weather across the U.S. heartland, a landscaper was killed by a tree toppled in winds that gusted to 80 miles per hour in Louisville, Kentucky, police said. The Weather Service warned of additional storms moving through the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, bringing a mix of damaging winds, large hail and more tornadoes, as well as heavy downpours capable of triggering flash floods. The latest bout of extreme weather came just days after a powerful tornado ripped through a rural Iowa town, killing four people, and more twisters touched down in Texas last week. (Reporting by Surbhi Misra in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Potter) Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • World Health Assembly hopes to reinforce pandemic preparedness after bold treaty project stalls
    on May 27, 2024 at 8:18 am

    GENEVA (AP) — The World Health Organization opened its annual meeting on Monday with government ministers and other top envoys hoping to reinforce global preparedness for the next pandemic in the devastating wake of COVID-19. But the most ambitious project, to adopt a pandemic “treaty,” has been shelved for now after 2 1/2 years of work failed to produce a draft that countries could unite behind by Friday, as originally hoped. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus insists it’s not a failure, and acknowledged an “immense” task faced by negotiators on a “very ambitious timeline” — alluding to the many years it usually takes for U.N. countries to reach global treaties. When diplomats, health officials and activists were still attempting to produce a draft pandemic treaty, he had predicted the assembly could be one of the most significant in WHO’s 76-year history. Not anymore. “Of course, we all wish that we had been able to reach a consensus on the agreement in time for this health assembly and cross the finish line,” Tedros said in his opening remarks. “But I remain confident that you still will — because where there is a will, there is a way.” “It’s now for this World Health Assembly to decide what that way is — meaning the solution is in your hands,” he added. WHO officials and others have been eager to build on the momentum of concern from the coronavirus pandemic, with the risk that the more it fades into history, the less the public — and policymakers — will be interested in preparing for a future pandemic. The basic premise is that pathogens that have no regard for national borders require a united response from all countries. But decision-makers have struggled to balance national interest with the call from WHO officials to think more broadly in the interest of humanity and equity. So health ministers will now have to take up the work and try to overcome deep-set differences, including how the world can share information on emerging pathogens and scarce resources like vaccines and masks when demand skyrockets. Other high-profile participants, including International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, also addressed the gathering of the U.N. health agency’s 194 member states. Guterres, speaking by video, called the pandemic accord a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to make sure the global health systems respond faster and more equitably in the next outbreak and urged delegates to back amendments to the international health as a way to boost the response to emergencies, “Amidst the legal arguments and endless negotiation for the pandemic treaty, let us remember that the heart of the health care is not just policies and programs, it is about our shared humanity,” Thailand’s Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said via a video feed. Envoys will discuss global health concerns including the fallout from wars in places like the Middle East, Sudan and Ukraine. Instead of a pandemic treaty, the best shot now for bulking up the international health architecture to fight such cross-border outbreaks is through amendments to the nearly two-decades-old International Health Regulations, which countries have “in principle” agreed to, Tedros said last week. Those regulations focus on helping countries detect and respond to health emergencies. For example, envoys to the assembly could establish the concept of a “pandemic emergency” to build on and refine the cumbersome category of Public Health Emergency of International Concern, which is currently WHO’s highest level of alert for dangerous epidemics. Such a term could help inform the public at a time when, as with COVID-19, confusion and uncertainty are widespread. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Military labs do the detective work to identify soldiers decades after they died in World War II
    on May 27, 2024 at 4:18 am

    OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. (AP) — Generations of American families have grown up not knowing exactly what happened to their loved ones who died while serving their country in World War II and other conflicts. But a federal lab tucked away above the bowling alley at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha and a sister lab in Hawaii are steadily answering those lingering questions, aiming to offer 200 families per year the chance to honor their relatives with a proper burial. “They may not even have been alive when that service member was alive, but that story gets carried down through the generations,” said Carrie Brown, a Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency lab manager at Offutt. “They may have seen on the mantle a picture of that person when they were little and not really understood or known who they were.” Memorial Day and the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 are reminders of the urgency of Brown’s work. The forensic anthropologists, medical examiners and historians who work together to identify lost soldiers are in a race against time as remains buried on battlefields around the globe deteriorate. But advances in DNA technology, combined with innovative techniques including comparing bones to chest X-rays taken by the military, mean the labs can identify more of the missing soldiers every year. Some 72,000 World War II soldiers remain unaccounted for, along with roughly 10,000 more from all the conflicts since. The experts believe about half of those are recoverable. The agency identified 59 servicemembers in 2013, when the Offutt lab first opened. That number has steadily risen — 159 service members last year, up from 134 in 2022 — and the labs have a goal of 200 identifications annually. The labs’ work allowed Donna Kennedy to bury her cousin, Cpl. Charles Ray Patten, with full military honors this month in the same Lawson, Missouri, cemetery where his father and grandfather are buried. Patten died 74 years ago during the Korean War, but spent decades buried as an unknown in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. “I just I ached. I mean, it hurt. You know, I just felt so bad. Even though I didn’t know him, I loved him,” Kennedy said. Patten’s funeral was a simple affair with just a few family members. But often when veterans who fought decades earlier are identified, people waving flags and holding signs line the streets of their hometowns to herald the return of their remains. “This work is important first and foremost because these are individuals that gave their lives to protect our freedom, and they paid the ultimate sacrifice. So we’re here holding that promise that we’ll return them home to their families,” Brown said. “It’s important for their families to show them that we’ll never stop, no matter what,” she said. Often there are compelling details, Brown said. One of her first cases involved the intact remains of a World War I Marine found in a forest in France with his wallet still in his pocket. The wallet, initialed G.H., contained a New York Times article describing plans for the offensive in which he ultimately died. He also had an infantryman badge with his name and the year he received it on the back. Before leaving France with the remains, the team visited a local cemetery where other soldiers were buried and learned there were only two missing soldiers with the initials G.H. Brown had a fair idea who that soldier was before his remains even arrived in the lab. That veteran was buried in Arlington National Cemetery and Brown often visits his grave when she is in Washington D.C. Most cases aren’t that easy. The experts who work at the lab must piece together identities by looking at historical records about where the remains were found and which soldiers were in the area. They then consult the list of possible names and use the bones, objects found with them, military medical records and DNA to confirm their identities. They focus on battles and plane crashes where they have the greatest chance of success because of available information. But their work can be complicated if soldiers were buried in a temporary cemetery and moved when a unit was forced to retreat. And unidentified soldiers were often buried together. When remains are brought to the lab, they sometimes include an extra bone. Experts then spend months or even years matching the bones and waiting for DNA and other test results to confirm their identities. One test even can identify if the soldier grew up primarily eating rice or a corn-based diet. The lab also compares specific traits of collar bones to the chest X-rays the military routinely took of soldiers before they were deployed. It helps that the military keeps extensive records of all soldiers. Those clues help the experts put together the puzzle of someone’s identity. “It’s not always easy. It’s certainly not instantaneous,” Brown said. “Some of the cases, we really have to fight to get to that spot, because some of them have been gone for 80 years.” Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • Latest deadly weather in US kills at least 18 as storms carve path of ruin across multiple states
    on May 27, 2024 at 4:18 am

    VALLEY VIEW, Texas (AP) — Powerful storms killed at least 18 people, injured hundreds and left a wide trail of destruction across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where dozens sought shelter during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S. The storms inflicted their worst damage in a region spanning from north of Dallas to the northwest corner of Arkansas, and the system threatened to bring more violent weather to other parts of the Midwest. By Monday, forecasters said, the greatest risk would shift to the east, covering a broad swath of the country from Alabama to near New York City. Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency early Monday in a post on social media platform X, citing “multiple reports of wind damage and tornadoes.” Seven deaths were reported in Cooke County, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, where a tornado Saturday night plowed through a rural area near a mobile home park, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said at a news conference Sunday. The dead included two children, ages 2 and 5. Three family members were found dead in one home, according to the county sheriff. Storms also killed two people and destroyed houses in Oklahoma, where the injured included guests at an outdoor wedding, eight people in Arkansas and one person in Kentucky. Tens of thousands of residents were without power across the region. In Texas, about 100 people were injured and more than 200 homes and structures destroyed, Abbott said, sitting in front of a ravaged truck stop near the small agricultural community of Valley View. The area was among the hardest hit, with winds reaching an estimated 135 mph (217 kph), officials said. “The hopes and dreams of Texas families and small businesses have literally been crushed by storm after storm,” said Abbott, whose state has seen successive bouts of severe weather, including storms that killed eight people in Houston earlier this month. Abbot signed an amended severe weather disaster declaration on Sunday to include Denton, Montague, Cooke and Collin on a list of counties already under a disaster declaration sparked by storms and flooding in late April. Hugo Parra, who lives in Farmers Branch, north of Dallas, said he rode out the storm with 40 to 50 people in the bathroom of the truck stop. The storm sheared the roof and walls off the building, mangling metal beams and leaving battered cars in the parking lot. “A firefighter came to check on us and he said, ‘You’re very lucky,’” Parra said. “The best way to describe this is the wind tried to rip us out of the bathrooms.” Multiple people were transported to hospitals by ambulance and helicopter in Denton County, also north of Dallas. No more deaths are expected and nobody was reported missing in Texas, Abbott said, though responders were doing one more round of searches just in case. Eight people died statewide in Arkansas, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in a news conference Sunday evening. An emergency official said two of the deaths were attributed to the circumstances of the storm but not directly caused by weather, including a person who suffered a heart attack and another who was deprived of oxygen due to a loss of electricity. The deaths included a 26-year-old woman who was found dead outside a destroyed home in Olvey, a small community in Boone County, according to Daniel Bolen of the county’s emergency management office. One person died in Benton County, and two more bodies were found in Marion County, officials said. In Oklahoma, two people died in Mayes County, east of Tulsa, officials said. In Kentucky, a man was killed Sunday in Louisville when a tree fell on him, police said. Louisville Mayor Craig Greenburg confirmed on social media it was a storm-related death. The destruction continued a grim month of deadly severe weather in the nation’s midsection. Tornadoes in Iowa last week left at least five people dead and dozens injured. The deadly twisters have spawned during a historically bad season for tornadoes, at a time when climate change contributes to the severity of storms around the world. April had the second-highest number of tornadoes on record in the country. Meteorologists and authorities issued urgent warnings to seek cover as the storms marched across the region late Saturday and into Sunday. “If you are in the path of this storm take cover now!” the National Weather Service office in Norman, Oklahoma, posted on X. Harold Brooks, a senior scientist at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, said a persistent pattern of warm, moist air is to blame for the string of tornadoes over the past two months. Residents awoke Sunday to overturned cars and collapsed garages. Some residents could be seen pacing and assessing the damage. Nearby, neighbors sat on the foundation of a wrecked home. In Valley View, near the truck stop, the storms ripped the roofs off homes and blew out windows. Clothing, insulation, bits of plastic and other pieces of debris were wrapped around miles of barbed wire fence line surrounding grazing land in the rural area. Kevin Dorantes, 20, was in nearby Carrollton when he learned the tornado was bearing down on the Valley View neighborhood where he lived with his father and brother. He called the two of them and told them to take cover in the windowless bathroom, where they rode out the storm and survived unharmed. As Dorantes wandered through the neighborhood of downed power lines and devastated houses, he came upon a family whose home was reduced to a pile of splintered rubble. A father and son were trapped under debris and friends and neighbors raced to get them out, Dorantes said. “They were conscious but severely injured,” Dorantes said. The severe weather knocked out power for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the path of the storms. On Monday, more than 187,000 customers were without power in Kentucky, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us. Some 84,000 customers were without power in Alabama; 74,000, West Virginia; 70,000, Missouri; and 63,000, Arkansas. Inaccessible roads and downed power lines in Oklahoma also led officials in the town of Claremore, near Tulsa, to announce on social media that the city was “shut down” due to the damage. The system causing the latest severe weather was expected to move east over the rest of the holiday weekend. The Indianapolis 500 started four hours late after a strong storm pushed into the area, forcing Indianapolis Motor Speedway officials to evacuate about 125,000 race fans. More severe storms were predicted in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee. The risk of severe weather moves into North Carolina and Virginia on Monday, forecasters said. To follow the progress of the storm system, see The Associated Press Tornado Tracker. ___ Associated Press reporters Sophia Tareen in Chicago, Kathy McCormack in Concord, New Hampshire, Acacia Coronado in Austin, Texas, Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina, Sara Cline in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Jesse Bedayn in Denver contributed to this report. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com

  • China has threatened trade with some countries after feuds. They’re calling ‘the firm’ for help
    on May 27, 2024 at 4:18 am

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Business is good at “the firm.” The eight-person team at the State Department is leading Washington’s efforts to ease the economic blowback for countries targeted by China. It emerged in the scramble to help Lithuania during a spat with China over Taiwan two years ago. Today, “the firm” is helping growing numbers of nations cope with what diplomats call economic coercion from Beijing. Countries “knock on the door, they call,” Undersecretary of State Jose Fernandez told The Associated Press in a recent interview. “We run a consulting firm that does not have to advertise for clients, as they come.” Led by State Department senior adviser Melanie Hart, the group reviews vulnerabilities and develops responses for countries that are cut off or fear losing trade with global powerhouse China. Since the group’s launch with Lithuania, more than a dozen countries have approached the Biden administration for assistance, Fernandez said. The effort comes as Washington is stepping up its campaign to push back at China’s global influence and tensions grow between the rivals. The Chinese Embassy in Washington took issue with the notion that Beijing is using economic pressure on other countries, calling it “completely unfounded.” The United States, it said, was the one bullying China economically by abusing export controls, treating Chinese companies unfairly and labeling Beijing as a perpetrator of economic coercion. Fernandez said that is a tactic China “is using over and over. They believe that intimidation works. That’s why we got into the act. The time had come to stop this thing.” For example, when a Norwegian committee in 2010 awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese dissident, Beijing stopped buying salmon from the Nordic country. Two years later, China rejected banana imports from the Philippines over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea. In 2020, Beijing responded to Australia’s call for an investigation into the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic by raising tariffs on Australian barley and wines. Then came Lithuania. In late 2021 and early 2022, Lithuanian businesses saw their cargo shipments to and from China stranded, and they were warned by major European businesses that Lithuanian-made auto parts would be barred from products for the Chinese market. That came after Lithuania allowed Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in Vilnius to bear the name Taiwan, instead of Taipei — Taiwan’s capital city — as preferred by Beijing. China considers the self-governed island to be part of Chinese territory and protested the use of Taiwan. Instead of caving in, the northern European country asked for help. The U.S. and its allies stepped up. American diplomats sought new markets for Lithuanian goods. The Export-Import Bank in Washington provided Vilnius with $600 million in export credit, and the Pentagon signed a procurement agreement with the country. And “the firm” kept at it. The State Department works as the first line of response and can coordinate with other U.S. agencies to reach “every tool that the U.S. government has,” according to a department official who asked not to be named to discuss details of the team. While it takes years to reorient global supply chains to reduce reliance on countries such as China, the team tries to offer a quicker way to ease a crisis, the official said, comparing the team to ambulance services that “help you get past that scary emergency time.” For example, the U.S. might try to work with partners to help a country quickly divert agricultural products to new markets, build more cold storage so products can reach farther markets or improve product quality to gain entry into more markets, the official said. The assistance is confidential, the official said, declining to discuss the tools at the team’s disposal or name the countries that have sought help. Shay Wester, director of Asian economic affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute, said it was “a significant and much-needed initiative.” “China’s growing use of economic coercion to pressure countries over political disputes is a significant challenge that requires a concerted response,” said Wester, who co-authored an April report on the issue. The responses from other countries show that demand is high for this kind of support, Wester said. This month, Lithuania hosted a conference on resisting economic pressure, and Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the aim of that action “is to crush the victims by forcing reversal and public renunciation of its policies.” Liu Pengyu, the Chinese Embassy spokesman, said the problem with Lithuania was “a political not an economic one. They were caused by Lithuania’s acts in bad faith that hurt China’s interests, not China’s pressure on Lithuania.” Fernandez, who attended the conference, applauded Lithuania for standing up to China. “Lithuania gave us the opportunity to prove that there were alternatives to the coercion,” he said. Brought to you by www.srnnews.com