AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EDT
'Nothing left in the bucket': Wildfire resources run thin
Justin Silvera came off the fire lines in Northern California after a grueling 36 straight days battling wildfires and evacuating residents ahead of the flames. Before that, he and his crew had worked for 20 days, followed by a three-day break.
Silvera, a 43-year-old battalion chief with Cal Fire, California’s state firefighting agency, said he’s lost track of the blazes he’s fought this year. He and his crew have sometimes been on duty for 64 hours at a stretch, their only rest coming in 20-minute catnaps.
“I’ve been at this 23 years, and by far this is the worst I’ve seen,” Silvera said before bunking down at a motel for 24 hours. After working in Santa Cruz County, his next assignment was to head north to attack wildfires near the Oregon border.
His exhaustion reflects the situation up and down the West Coast fire lines: This year's blazes have taxed the human, mechanical and financial resources of the nation’s wildfire fighting forces to an extraordinary degree. And half of the fire season is yet to come. Heat, drought and a strategic decision to attack the flames early combined with the coronavirus to put a historically heavy burden on fire teams.
“There’s never enough resources," said Silvera, one of nearly 17,000 firefighters in California. "Typically with Cal Fire we’re able to attack — air tankers, choppers, dozers. We’re good at doing that. But these conditions in the field, the drought, the wind, this stuff is just taking off. We can’t contain one before another erupts.”
Politics creates economic illusion in Houdini’s hometown
APPLETON, Wis. (AP) — Nothing can shake Scott Rice’s faith that President Donald Trump will save the U.S. economy — not seeing businesses close or friends furloughed, not even his own hellish bout with the novel coronavirus.
Rice reveres the president the way Wisconsin loves the Green Bay Packers. He has painted “T-R-U-M-P” on his lawn, spelled it out with Christmas lights on his roof and painted it on his steel-toed shoes.
He was also a virus skeptic, believing it was a hoax meant to hurt Trump and the economy. But then the disease seeped into the paper mill where he works, and he was stricken, suddenly losing his appetite, even for his favorite Taco Bell. He lay in bed, feverish, drenched in sweat. Two air-conditioner units didn’t cool him. His body seemed at war with itself.
After 16 days at home, Rice told his co-workers that the disease was scary and real. But Trump held onto his vote for one reason: The stock market was climbing.
“The 401(k)s, just the economy,” Rice said. “He got jobs going. Just accumulated a lot of jobs, being a businessman.”
Resurgent Sally threatens drenching in Alabama, Florida
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) — A newly strengthened Hurricane Sally pummeled the Florida Panhandle and south Alabama with sideways rain, beach-covering storm surges, strong winds and power outages early Wednesday, moving toward shore at an agonizingly slow pace that promised a drawn out drenching and possible record floods.
Some 150,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early Wednesday, according to the poweroutage.us site. A curfew was called in the coastal Alabama city of Gulf Shores due to life-threatening conditions. In the Panhandle's Escambia County, Chief Sheriff's Deputy Chip Simmons vowed to keep deputies out with residents as long as physically possible. The county includes Pensacola, one of the largest cities on the Gulf Coast.
“The sheriff’s office will be there until we can no longer safely be out there, and then and only then will we pull our deputies in,” Simmons said at a storm briefing late Tuesday.
This for a storm that, during the weekend, appeared to be headed for New Orleans. “Obviously this shows what we’ve known for a long time with storms – they are unpredictable,” Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson IV said.
Hurricane Sally’s northern eyewall is raking the Gulf Coast with hurricane-force winds and rain from Pensacola Beach, Florida westward to Dauphin Island, Alabama, the National Hurricane Center said.
5M people infected, India's virus outbreak still soaring
NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s confirmed coronavirus infections passed 5 million on Wednesday, still soaring and testing the feeble health care system in tens of thousands of impoverished towns and villages.
The world's second-most populous country has added more than 1 million cases this month alone and is expected to become the pandemic's worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 6.6 million people have been infected.
India's Health Ministry reported 90,123 new cases in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 5,020,359, about 0.35% of the nation's nearly 1.4 billion people. Its record daily high of 97,570 cases was reported on Sept. 11.
The ministry said 1,290 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 82,066, which is the third-highest toll in the world. Experts warned that India’s fatality rate could increase in coming weeks with lockdown restrictions relaxed except in high-risk areas.
But authorities ruled out imposing a second countrywide lockdown as recoveries were growing at more than 78%. Its fatality rate is 1.6%, far lower than 3% in the United States and Brazil, according to tallies by Johns Hopkins University.
Panel's report blasts Boeing, FAA for crashes, seeks reforms
A House committee issued a scathing report Wednesday questioning whether Boeing and government regulators have recognized the problems that caused two deadly 737 Max jet crashes and whether either will be willing to make significant changes to fix them.
Staff members from the Democrat-controlled Transportation Committee blamed the crashes that killed 346 people on the “horrific culmination” of failed government oversight, design flaws and a lack of action at Boeing despite knowing about problems.
The committee identified many deficiencies in the Federal Aviation Administration approval process for new jetliners. But both the agency and Boeing have said certification of the Max complied with FAA regulations, the 246-page report said.
“The fact that a compliant airplane suffered from two deadly crashes in less than five months is clear evidence that the current regulatory system is fundamentally flawed and needs to be repaired,” the staff wrote in the report released early Wednesday.
The report highlights the need for legislation to fix the approval process and deal with the FAA’s delegation of some oversight tasks to aircraft manufacturer employees, said Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon.
Japan's new PM Yoshihide Suga, self-made and strong-willed
TOKYO (AP) — Before he got Japan's top government job officially, Yoshihide Suga was known as a “shadow" prime minister and the right-hand man for his long-serving predecessor.
When Shinzo Abe announced last month he would resign due to ill health, his chief Cabinet secretary Suga said he would come forward to pursue Abe's unfinished work.
The self-made politician was elected by Parliament on Wednesday as Japan's new prime minister, two days after he succeeded Abe as leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
Suga's low-key image from government briefings contrast with his behind-the-scenes work at managing bureaucrats and pushing policies.
As the chief Cabinet spokesman under Abe, the straight-faced Suga offered bland commentary at twice-daily televised news briefings highlighted last year when he became known as “Uncle Reiwa” in unveiling Emperor Naruhito’s imperial era name.
Trump denies downplaying virus, casts doubt on mask usage
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fielding compelling questions about voters’ real-world problems, President Donald Trump denied during a televised town hall that he had played down the threat of the coronavirus earlier this year, although there is an audio recording of him stating he did just that.
Trump, in what could well be a preview of his performance in the presidential debates less than two weeks away, cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings and seemed to bat away the suggestion that the nation has racial inequities.
“Well, I hope there’s not a race problem,” Trump said Tuesday when asked about his campaign rhetoric seeming to ignore the historical injustices carried out against Black Americans.
Face-to-face with everyday voters for the first time in months, Trump was defensive but resisted agitation as he was pressed on his administration's response to the COVID-19 pandemic and why he doesn't more aggressively promote the use of masks to reduce the spread of the disease.
“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” Trump said, though his own Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urges their use.
Biden courts Latino voters in 1st trip to Florida as nominee
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — Joe Biden made his first trip to Florida as the Democratic presidential nominee on Tuesday with an urgent mission to boost support among Latinos who could decide the election in one of the nation's fiercest battleground states.
“More than any other time, the Hispanic community, Latino community holds in the palm of their hand the destiny of this country,” Biden said during a Hispanic Heritage Month kickoff event in Kissimmee. “You can decide the direction of this country.”
A win for Biden in Florida would dramatically narrow Trump’s path to reelection. But in a state where elections are often decided by a percentage point, there are mounting concerns that Biden may be slipping, particularly with the state’s influential Latino voters.
An NBC-Marist poll released last week found Latinos in the state about evenly divided between Biden and Trump. Democrat Hillary Clinton led Trump by a 59% to 36% margin among Latinos in the same poll in 2016 — and Trump won Florida by about 1 percentage point.
To regain lost ground, Biden made the case Tuesday night that he would be a better president for Hispanics than Trump, touting his commitment to immigration reform and a new plan to support Puerto Rico's economy.
Apology, no firing: Official said US scientists hurt Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Trump health appointee who is accused of trying to muzzle an important scientific publication in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic apologized Tuesday for a separate video in which he reportedly says scientists battling the virus are conspiring against President Donald Trump and warns of shooting in America if Trump loses the election.
Michael Caputo, the top spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, apologized to his staff for the Facebook video, said an administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
The department is standing by Caputo so far in the face of calls by congressional Democrats for his dismissal — and for the resignation of his boss, HHS Secretary Alex Azar. But Caputo, a Trump loyalist and former New York political operative, has become a significant new problem for a White House that has struggled all year with its coronavirus response.
He can be heard on an HHS podcast asserting that Democrats don't want a coronavirus vaccine before the election in order to punish Trump. Although Trump has made the same assertion, with no evidence to support it, such broadsides are not in a department spokesman's normal portfolio.
News reports alleged last week that Caputo's office tried to take over and muzzle a scientific weekly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that publishes what is supposed to be authoritative, unvarnished information about disease-fighting efforts, including, most importantly at present, COVID-19.
After Beirut blast, a young surgeon finds new sense of duty
BEIRUT (AP) — It was a night Dr. Bassam Osman says changed his life. At around 6 p.m. on Aug. 4, the 27-year-old surgical resident was about to leave his daily hospital shift. Then a massive explosion shook Beirut.
The floodgates opened and hundreds of wounded poured into the American University of Beirut Medical Center, one of Lebanon’s best hospitals.
The medical staff of around 100 doctors, nurses and aides juggled priorities and space in treating the torn-up and bloodied men, women and children. They sutured wounds by mobile phone lights when electricity conked out. The wounded kept streaming in because several other hospitals closer to the port were knocked out of service by the blast.
Veteran doctors who had worked through Lebanon’s civil war said they’d never seen anything like it. In six hours, they used up a year and a half’s worth of emergency supplies.
Osman ended up working the next 52 hours straight. He treated more than two dozen patients. He lost one.