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Isaias nears virus-hit Florida after lashing the Bahamas

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Early bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida’s east coast before dawn Sunday as authorities warily eyed the approaching storm, which threatened to snarl efforts to quell surging cases of the coronavirus across the region.

Isaias weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Saturday afternoon, but was expected to regain hurricane strength overnight as it barrelled toward Florida.

“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned during a news conference on Saturday after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.

Florida authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away. The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. The county has a voluntary evacuation order for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, or those who feel their home can’t withstand winds.

“We don’t anticipate many more evacuations,” she said, adding that the evacuees are physically distant from each other and are wearing masks, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Isaias is piling another burden on communities already hard-hit by other storms and sickness.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were near 70 mph (110 kph) at 5 p.m., when the U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded it its status. But the agency said it is expected to pick up strength overnight as it heads over warm water toward Florida.

The centre of the storm was forecast to regain strength and approach the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday morning, then travel up the state’s east coast throughout the day. It is expected to remain a hurricane through Monday then slowly weaken as it tracks up or just off the Atlantic seaboard. Heavy rain, flooding and high winds could batter much of the East Coast this week.

Despite the approaching storm, NASA says the return of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX capsule is still on track for Sunday afternoon. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are preparing to make the first splashdown return in 45 years, after two months docked at the International Space Station. They are aiming for the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle, and flight controllers are keeping close watch on the storm.

Isaias has already been destructive in the Caribbean: On Thursday, before it became a hurricane, it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.

Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and churned toward the Florida coast.

As the storm moves now toward the southeast coast of Florida, a hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler county line, which lies about 150 miles (240 kilometres) north. A storm surge watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach.

Coronavirus cases have surged in Florida in recent weeks, and the added menace of a storm ratcheted up the anxiety. State-run virus testing sites are closing in areas where the storm might hit because the sites are outdoor tents, which could topple in high winds.

Natalie Betancur, stocking up at a grocery in Palm Beach Gardens, said that the storm itself doesn’t cause her a great amount of concern.

“The hurricane is not that serious, but I feel that the public is really panicking because it’s a hurricane and we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” she said.

Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas opened shelters for people in Abaco island to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.

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Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Curt Anderson from St. Petersburg, and Cody Jackson in Palm Beach County, Florida, contributed.

Tamara Lush And DáNica Coto, The Associated Press

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General News

Cohen’s book foreword: Trump ‘wouldn’t mind if I was dead’

NEW YORK — Michael Cohen’s memoir about President Donald Trump will be released Sept. 8 by Skyhorse Publishing, which confirmed the news Thursday to The Associated Press. The book is called “Disloyal: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump.”

“‘Disloyal’ is the most devastating business and political horror story of the century,” according to a Skyhorse statement shared with the AP. “It is a story that you haven’t read in newspapers, or on social media, or watched on television. These are accounts that only someone who worked for Trump around the clock for a decade — not a few months or even a couple of years — could know.”

Earlier in the day, Cohen had released the book’s foreword, writing of his estranged former boss, “He wouldn’t mind if I was dead.” He did not list a publisher for the book and, as of midday Thursday, it was not listed on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com.

Cohen is completing the last two years of a three-year prison sentence at home after pleading guilty to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress. He was released from prison in May amid coronavirus fears, only to be returned in July after making it known that he planned to publish “Disloyal.” The U.S. government dropped its effort to silence Cohen late last month after an agreement was reached between government lawyers and Cohen attorney Danya Perry that lifted a ban on Cohen speaking publicly.

Cohen’s charges stemmed from his efforts to arrange payouts during the 2016 presidential race to keep the porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal from speaking out about their alleged extramarital affairs with Trump, who has denied the affairs. He has said that Trump directed him to make the payments.

Skyhorse has a history of taking on books by controversial public figures, including a memoir this spring by Woody Allen that had been dropped by Hachette Book Group.

Hillel Italie, The Associated Press

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General News

Prosecutors dispute Jeffrey Epstein’s ex-girlfriend’s claims

NEW YORK — Prosecutors on Thursday disputed claims by lawyers for a British socialite that they are too slowly releasing evidence and improperly withholding the names of women who were abused by financier Jeffrey Epstein while they were children.

In court papers, Manhattan prosecutors defended their handling of charges brought last month against Epstein’s ex-girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, while saying they are “deeply concerned” by the actions of Maxwell’s lawyers.

“To date, the defendant has yet to ask the Government a single substantive question” about evidence, prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Alison J. Nathan. “The Government is also prepared to engage in good faith discussions with the defence about an appropriate schedule for disclosure.”

Maxwell, 58, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she recruited three girls, including one who was 14, and joined Epstein in the abuse in the 1990s.

Her lawyers said earlier this week in a letter to the judge that they can’t properly investigate the charges against Maxwell because prosecutors won’t tell them the identities of the three accusers.

They also said Maxwell is being treated unfairly at a federal jail in Brooklyn, where “uniquely onerous conditions” are preventing her from adequately preparing for a trial scheduled for next July.

Prosecutors say they are protecting the identities of sexual assault victims and are under no legal obligation to immediately identify them.

The government said it has already given defence lawyers over 165,000 pages of evidence, including search warrant applications and subpoena returns, even though the deadline to turn over the material was still a week away.

And they suggested defence lawyers could figure out the identities of the three accusers since the indictment lists relevant time periods and events and references Maxwell’s conversations and interactions with victims, along with identifying where they occurred.

They also expressed doubts about the ability of the defence lawyers to adhere to rules about secrecy of evidence prior to trial, saying they were “deeply concerned” by recent actions by Maxwell’s lawyers.

They said the defence had “publicly claimed in a civil filing that they purportedly had received ‘critical new information’ from the criminal case that it could not disclose” because of its secrecy agreement regarding evidence in the criminal case.

Yet, prosecutors noted, Maxwell’s lawyers also said publicly that they want to modify their secrecy agreement to use materials from the criminal case in the civil case.

Prosecutors said the secrecy deal “expressly precludes” that.

Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press

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Canada

Pandemic motivating more parents to get their kids the flu shot, UBC study finds

VANCOUVER — A new study from the University of British Columbia suggests the COVID-19 pandemic may be motivating more parents to get their children a seasonal flu vaccine.

Published in the Journal of Pediatrics last week, the study surveyed 3,000 families from Canada, the United States, Japan, Israel, Spain and Switzerland.

The researchers found that 54 per cent of parents planned to vaccinate their children — up 16 percentage points from the previous year.

The study determined parents were more likely to get their child the flu shot if they thought there was potential for the child to catch COVID-19, and if their child was already up-to-date on other vaccinations.

Dr. Ran Goldman, the study’s lead author, notes that public health officials around the world are concerned about the potentially harmful combination of COVID-19 and flu season.

In a phone interview with The Canadian Press, Goldman says immunizing children will be “critical” in protecting the population from both infections.

He said his team was “very encouraged” by the results of the study, but still would like to see a slightly higher proportion of parents willing to give their children the flu shot.

Goldman said the magic threshold for a vaccine to be highly effective is about 70 per cent.

Although he believes that goal can be reached, Goldman said the media and the scientific community must work harder to help dispel myths and disinformation about vaccine use.

“Vaccination is the world’s greatest public health achievement,” Goldman said, stressing the impact vaccines have had on global mortality rates over the last century.

“If we reach 70 to 80 per cent of the population — not even 100 per cent — I’d be really thrilled.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published August 13, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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