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AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Last Updated Aug 5, 2020 at 12:16 am EDT

Massive Beirut blast kills more than 70, injures thousands

BEIRUT (AP) — A massive explosion rocked Beirut on Tuesday, flattening much of the city’s port, damaging buildings across the capital and sending a giant mushroom cloud into the sky. More than 70 people were killed and 3,000 injured, with bodies buried in the rubble, officials said.

It was not clear what caused the blast, which struck with the force of a 3.5 magnitude earthquake, according to Germany’s geosciences centre GFZ, and was heard and felt as far away as Cyprus more than 200 kilometres (180 miles) across the Mediterranean. Lebanon’s interior minister said it appeared that a large cache of ammonium nitrate in the port had detonated.

The sudden devastation overwhelmed a country already struggling with both the coronavirus pandemic and a severe economic and financial crisis.

For hours after the explosion, the most destructive in all of Lebanon’s troubled history, ambulances rushed in from around the country to carry away the wounded. Hospitals quickly filled beyond capacity, pleading for blood supplies, and generators to keep their lights on.

For blocks around the port, bloodied residents staggered through streets lined with overturned cars and littered with rubble from shattered buildings. Windows and doors were blown out kilometres (miles) away, including at the city’s only international airport. Army helicopters helped battle fires raging at the port.

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

BOSTON (AP) — 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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Tropic storm Isaias whips up eastern US, killing at least 6

WINDSOR, N.C. (AP) — At least six 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. Another person died in Pennsylvania when their vehicle was overtaken by water and swept downstream. Two others were killed by falling trees toppled by the storm in Maryland and New York City, and a sixth person died in Delaware when a tree branch fell on them, authorities said.

Isaias sustained top winds of up to 65 mph (105 kph) more than 18 hours after coming ashore, but it was down to 45 mph max winds as of 10:50 p.m. EDT Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm’s centre was about 45 miles southeast of Montreal, moving northeast into Canada at about 38 mph (61 kph).

As Isaias sped northward, flooding threats followed. The Schuylkill River in Philadelphia was projected to crest early Wednesday at 15.4 feet (4.7 metres), its highest level in more than 150 years. By Tuesday night, the river had already topped its banks in low-lying Manayunk, turning bar-lined Main Street into a coffee-colored canal.

Aerial video by WRAL-TV showed fields of debris where rescue workers in brightly colored shirts picked through splintered boards and other wreckage of the Windsor, North Carolina, mobile home park where two people were killed. Emergency responders searching the area Tuesday afternoon 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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Chasm grows between Trump and government coronavirus experts

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the early days of the coronavirus crisis, President Donald Trump was flanked in the White House briefing room by a team of public health experts in a seeming portrait of unity to confront the disease that was ravaging the globe.

But as the crisis has spread to all reaches of the country, with escalating deaths and little sense of endgame, a chasm has widened between the president and the experts. The result: daily delivery of a mixed message to the public at a moment when coherence is most needed.

Trump and his political advisers insist that the United States has no rival in its response to the pandemic. They point to the fact that the U.S. has administered more virus tests than any other nation and that the percentage of deaths among those infected is among the lowest.

“Right now, I think it’s under control,” Trump said during an interview with Axios. He added, “We have done a great job.”

But the surge in infections, hospitalizations and deaths tells a different story. And it suggests that the president is increasingly out of step with the federal government’s own medical and public health experts.

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Progress slow as urgency grows on virus relief legislation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Frustrated Senate Republicans re-upped their complaints Tuesday that Democratic negotiators are taking too hard a line in talks on a sweeping coronavirus relief bill, but an afternoon negotiating session brought at least modest concessions from both sides, even as an agreement appears far off.

Top Democrats emerged from a 90-minute meeting with Trump administration officials to declare more progress. The Trump team agreed with that assessment and highlighted its offer to extend a moratorium on evictions from federally subsidized housing through the end of the year.

“We really went down, issue by issue by issue slogging through this. They made some concessions which we appreciated. We made some concessions that they appreciated,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re still far away on a lot of the important issues but we’re continuing to go back.”

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said Tuesday’s session was “probably the most productive meeting we’ve had to date.” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the two sides set a goal of reaching an agreement by the end of the week to permit a vote next week.

“I would characterize concessions made by Secretary Mnuchin and the administration as being far more substantial than the concessions that had been made by the Democrat negotiators,” Meadows said.

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Kansas GOP picks Rep. Marshall for Senate seat over Kobach

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Republicans on Tuesday nominated Rep. Roger Marshall for the Senate instead of polarizing conservative Kris Kobach, heeding the party establishment’s advice for keeping a normally safe seat out of play in what could be a difficult year for the GOP.

Marshall prevailed in a crowded primary field with the backing of major farm, business and anti-abortion groups but without a pre-election endorsement from President Donald Trump sought by Senate Majority Mitch McConnell and others for the two-term congressman for western and central Kansas. Marshall overcame Kobach’s reputation as a conservative firebrand and informal adviser to Trump.

Marshall will face Democratic state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a former lifelong moderate Republican who received national attention at the end of 2018 by switching parties.

Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, is nationally known for advocating restrictive immigration policies and alienated independent and moderate GOP voters in losing the Kansas governor’s race in 2018. Marshall and his allies made that loss a key issue as he and Kobach battled atop the GOP field.

Bob and Debbie Rosenberger said Kobach’s loss in 2018 was on their minds as they cast their Republican primary ballots for Marshall at a southwest Topeka church. The retired 62-year-old postal worker and his wife, a retired, 63-year-old nursing home supervisor, said they are Trump supporters and believe Marshall will help him in the Senate.

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US sending highest rep to Taiwan since 1979 break in ties

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — The U.S. says Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar will visit Taiwan in coming days in the highest-level visit by an American Cabinet official since the break in formal diplomatic relations between Washington and Taipei in 1979.

The visit will likely create new frictions between the U.S. and China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be annexed by force if necessary. Taiwan is a key irritant in the troubled relationship between the world’s two largest economies, who are also at odds over trade, technology, the South China Sea and China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. maintains only unofficial ties with Taiwan in deference to Beijing, but is the island’s most important ally and provider of defence equipment.

The American Institute in Taiwan, which operates as Washington’s de facto embassy on the island, said Wednesday that Azar’s “historic visit will strengthen the U.S.-Taiwan partnership and enhance U.S-Taiwan co-operation to combat the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

Azar would be the first HHS secretary to visit Taiwan and the first Cabinet member to visit in six years. In 2014, then-Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy visited Taiwan, sparking a protest from China’s foreign ministry, which accused the U.S. of betraying commitments made to it about maintaining only unofficial links with Taipei.

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Questions being raised after Kodak’s stock has a big moment

Eastman Kodak’s potentially lucrative deal to help the U.S. government make more generic drugs domestically is threatening to turn into a regulatory headache for the fallen photography giant.

Kodak’s depressed stock price surged last week before the company announced its plans to work with President Donald Trump’s administration in exchange for a $765 million loan. That prompted Sen. Elizabeth Warren to send a Monday letter asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate whether insider trading laws have been broken.

The SEC is now in the early stages of a probe, according to a report published Tuesday by The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper cited unidentified people familiar with the matter.

The SEC declined to comment on the report.

Kodak said Tuesday that the Rochester, New York, company intends to co-operate with any potential inquiries, without saying whether it has been contacted by the SEC.

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Worries about 2020 census’ accuracy grow with cut schedule

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — 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 colour 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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Disney to release ‘Mulan’ on streaming service, for a price

“Mulan” is no longer headed for a major theatrical release. The Walt Disney Co. said Tuesday that it will debut its live-action blockbuster on its subscription streaming service, Disney+, on Sept. 4.

But this is no “Hamilton”: Customers will have to pay an additional $29.99 on top of the cost of the monthly subscription to rent “Mulan.” The company plans to release it in theatres in areas where Disney+ is not available.

“In order to meet the needs of consumers during this unpredictable period, we thought it was important to find alternative ways to bring this exceptional family-friendly film to them in a timely manner,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said on the company’s earnings call. “We see this as an opportunity to bring this incredible film to a broad audience currently unable to go to movie theatres.”

The live-action remake of the animated film was one of the first major films to be affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Originally set for a March 27 release, “Mulan” moved to late July, then late August and was then pulled from the calendar all together as COVID-19 cases spiked through the U.S.

Along with Warner Bros.’ “Tenet,” “Mulan” was going to be one of the first major movies to open in theatres since the shutdown. Exhibitors, most of which have been closed for over four months, have been desperate for new films that would help draw wary audiences back to theatres.

The Associated Press