Major Storms Hit the South East

2 Timothy 3:1 “But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Deadly storms leave trail of destruction across southern US
  • Tornadoes and severe storms touched down across several states, leaving at least one person dead.
  • A major outbreak of tornadoes is causing significant damage across much of the South – including Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina.

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Mounting Fears as Moldova and Georgia Apply to be Part of EU

Matthew 24:6 “And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Moldova officially applies for EU membership
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has triggered fears among ex-Soviet countries that they may be next.
  • Moldova has officially applied for membership of the European Union, a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.
  • The announcement came after the European Parliament expressed backing for a similar move by Kyiv.
  • The application will be sent to Brussels in the coming days, the president said.
  • Fellow ex-Soviet republic Georgia also formally applied for membership
  • The West has expressed concerns that Moldova and Georgia risk becoming possible targets for the Kremlin after Ukraine.
  • “We stand with Moldova and Georgia to defend their sovereignty and security,” French President Emmanuel Macron said last week

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Russia demands rescinding of NATO promise to Ukraine and Georgia

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia demanded on Friday that NATO rescind a 2008 commitment to Ukraine and Georgia that they would one day become members and said the alliance should promise not to deploy weapons in countries bordering Russia that could threaten its security.

The demands were spelt out by the Russian foreign ministry in its fullest statement yet on the security guarantees that President Vladimir Putin says he wants to obtain from the United States and its allies.

“In the fundamental interests of European security, it is necessary to formally disavow the decision of the 2008 NATO Bucharest summit that ‘Ukraine and Georgia will become NATO members’,” the ministry said in a statement.

Ukraine is at the center of a crisis in East-West relations as it accuses Russia of massing tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a possible large-scale military offensive.

Russia denies planning any attack but accuses Ukraine and the United States of destabilizing behavior, and has said it needs security guarantees for its own protection.

The ministry statement followed a video call between Putin and U.S. President Joe Biden this week that was dominated by discussion of Ukraine.

The foreign ministry said Moscow was proposing a series of steps to reduce tensions, including to agree safe distances between Russian and NATO warships and planes, especially in the Baltic and Black Seas.

Moscow called for the renewing of a regular defense dialogue with the United States and NATO and urged Washington to join a moratorium on deploying intermediate-range nuclear forces in Europe.

(Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Frances Kerry)

Three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia

By Jonathan Allen and Rich McKay

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (Reuters) – Three white men were convicted of murder on Wednesday for chasing and shooting a Black man named Ahmaud Arbery as he ran in their neighborhood, with a Georgia jury rejecting a self-defense claim in a trial that once again probed America’s divisive issues of race and guns.

The verdict was delivered by the jury, consisting of one Black man and 11 white men and women, after about a two-week trial in the coastal city of Brunswick in a case that hinged on whether the defendants had a right to confront the unarmed 25-year-old avid jogger last year on a hunch he was fleeing a crime.

Gregory McMichael, 65, his son Travis McMichael, 35, and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, 52, were charged with murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal intent to commit a felony. They face a minimum sentence of life in prison with the possibility of parole.

Jurors reached their verdict on the second day of deliberations.

There was never any dispute that the younger McMichael fired his pump-action shotgun three times at Arbery at close range on Feb. 23, 2020, in the suburban community of Satilla Shores. It was captured on a graphic cellphone video made by Bryan, stoking outrage when it emerged more than two months later and the public learned that none of the three men had been arrested.

Lawyers for the McMichaels argued that the killing was justified after Arbery ran past the McMichaels’ driveway in a neighborhood that had experienced a spate of property thefts. Both McMichaels grabbed their guns and jumped in their pickup truck in pursuit, with Bryan, unarmed, joining moments later.

Prosecutors said the defendants had “assumed the worst” about a Black man out on a Sunday afternoon jog. He was chased by the defendants for about five minutes around the looping streets.

The three men face a federal trial next year on hate-crime charges, accused in an indictment of violating Arbery’s civil rights by embarking on the fatal chase because of his “race and color.”

Some Black Americans used a despairing phrase to describe a case seen as another example of Black people falling under suspicion while innocently doing an everyday activity: “running while Black.” Arbery’s name was added to those invoked in nationwide anti-racism protests in 2020 that erupted after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, both of whom were Black.

The prosecution was widely seen as another test case in how the U.S. justice system handles instances of unarmed Black people killed by white people. During the trial, there was almost no evidence presented or discussion of race as a motive.

The issue of race hung over the trial. A nearly all-white jury was selected, and one of the defense lawyers repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, sought the removal of Black pastors and civil rights leaders including the Rev. Jesse Jackson from the courtroom.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley said he was required to accept the “race-neutral” reasons defense lawyers gave for the removal of all but one potential Black juror. Black activists said it showed again how the justice system was skewed against Black Americans.

CITIZEN’S ARREST

Defense lawyers cited a Georgia law codified during the 19th century U.S. Civil War that allowed anyone to make a citizen’s arrest of someone they have reasonable suspicion is fleeing a serious crime they committed. The law was repealed in the wake of Arbery’s killing.

The elder McMichael’s lawyer, Laura Hogue, told jurors the defendants had a duty to catch Arbery, who she portrayed as a frightening burglar with “long dirty toenails,” using a description from the autopsy report.

Lead prosecutor Linda Dunikoski chided the defense for aiming to “malign the victim,” calling that “offensive.”

No evidence ever emerged connecting Arbery to any Satilla Shore thefts.

Travis McMichael, a former U.S. Coast Guard mechanic and the only defendant to take the witness stand, tearfully testified that he fired in self defense as Arbery grabbed the shotgun he was carrying while chasing him in the truck.

Under cross-examination by a prosecutor, he conceded he told the police hours after the shooting he could not say for sure if Arbery actually grabbed the gun.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Brunswick; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. coronavirus hospitalizations hit eight-month high over 100,000

By Anurag Maan

(Reuters) -The number of coronavirus patients in U.S. hospitals has breached 100,000, the highest level in eight months, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, as a resurgence of COVID-19 spurred by the highly contagious Delta variant strains the nation’s health care system.

A total of 101,433 COVID patients were hospitalized, according to data published on Friday morning.

U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations have more than doubled in the past month. Over the past week, more than 500 people with COVID were admitted to hospitals each hour on average, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The United States reached its all-time peak for hospitalizations on Jan. 14 when there were over 142,000 coronavirus-infected patients in hospital beds, according to HHS.

As the vaccination campaign expanded in early 2021, hospitalizations fell and hit a 2021 low of 16,000 on in late June.

However, COVID-19 admissions rose suddenly in July as the Delta variant became the dominant strain. The U.S. South is the epicenter of the latest outbreak but hospitalizations are rising nationwide.

Florida has the highest number of COVID-19 hospitalized patients, followed by Texas and California, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 95% of intensive care beds are currently occupied in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.

The Delta variant, which is rapidly spreading among mostly the unvaccinated U.S. population, has also sent a record number of children to hospital. There are currently over 2,000 confirmed and suspected pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations, according to HHS.

Three states – California, Florida and Texas – amount to about 32% of the total confirmed and suspected pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States.

Children currently make up about 2.3% of the nation’s COVID-19 hospitalizations. Kids under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine.

The country is hoping for vaccine authorization for younger children by autumn with the Pfizer Inc vaccine.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said this week that the nation could get COVID-19 under control by early next year if vaccinations ramp up.

The United States has given at least one dose of vaccine to about 61% of its population, according to the CDC.

The United States, which leads the world in the most deaths and cases, has reported 38.5 million infections and over 634,000 deaths since the pandemic began last year, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry)

Georgia wins 8-year water fight with downstream neighbor Florida

By Rich McKay and Sebastien Malo

ATLANTA (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday sided with Georgia in ending its eight-year battle with Florida over water that runs through Atlanta’s thirsty metro region and downstream past cotton and peanut fields to Apalachicola Bay and its depleted oyster fisheries.

The high court tossed out claims by Florida that Georgia is using too much water from the Chattahoochee River, a tributary of the Apalachicola River basin downstream, driving up salinity levels in the estuary it feeds and causing the once-rich oyster population there to collapse.

In the eyes of Michael Dasher, a fourth-generation Florida oysterman counting on a different outcome in legal bids to wrestle back more freshwater supplies for his vanishing way of life, it’s over.

“We thought the court would finally do what’s right and help us out, send more water,” said Dasher, 54. “We know Atlanta and them all in Georgia need it too, but they’ve about run the river dry. This is pretty much the end for us.”

In a unanimous 9-0 decision, the court ruled that Florida did not prove that its proposed water diversion caps on Georgia were warranted, given the balance between the needs of Georgia’s population and agricultural needs versus the needs of Florida. Nor did the court accept that water depletion was the cause of the Florida’s declining oyster beds.

Georgia has argued over-harvesting by its southern neighbor in recent years and a 2012 drought were to blame for the oyster crash.

Florida had also neglected to “reshell” its oyster bars, a management practice that gives young oysters greater habitat, the justices wrote.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection was not immediately available to comment, but the agency has said that it had hoped the court would restore the historic flows of the Apalachicola River.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp touted the court win as a “resounding victory for Georgia and a vindication of years-long effort by multiple governors and attorneys general here in the Peach State to protect our citizens’ water rights.”

According to federal precedent dating back 100 years, both states have a claim to a share of the water in question, but it’s “not a 50-50 split,” Santa Fe attorney and water rights expert John Draper, previously told Reuters.

Thursday’s ruling was not unexpected, given that a state water rights expert named “special master” in the case by the high court, had recommended that the justices side with Georgia.

Georgia officials and farmers say they are already conserving more water than ever. The Atlanta Regional Commission said the nine-county greater metropolitan area around the state capital now uses 10% less water than it did 20 years ago, even though the population has climbed by 1.2 million.

Katie Byrd, a spokeswoman with the office of Georgia’s attorney general, said the ruling “affirmed what we have long known to be true: Georgia’s water use has been fair and reasonable.”

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Sebastien Malo in New York; Editing by Steve Gorman and Grant McCool)

Witnesses recount deadly tornadoes in Alabama: ‘It came and it took them’

By Elijah Nouvelage

OHATCHEE, Ala. (Reuters) – A day after violent tornadoes killed at least five people in Alabama and left residents sorting through the destruction on Friday, storm forecasters issued another “severe weather risk” warning for the U.S. South this weekend.

In the wake of reports of 24 tornadoes striking Alabama and Georgia on Thursday, rough weather on Saturday could stir more tornadoes in Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and the surrounding area, according to the National Weather Service.

Five people were killed in Alabama, NWS reported, although it could be days before the death count is finalized. Dozens of others were injured and entire neighborhoods destroyed.

A sixth death was tied to a tornado in Georgia.

In northern Alabama, the five confirmed fatalities were in Ohatchee, a town of about 1,200 people, according to the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency.

Survivors described harrowing scenes of seeking cover from the twisters.

As she searched through a mountain of debris that a day earlier had been her father’s Alabama home, Rebecca Haynes Griffis recounted how her brother’s fast thinking helped both men survive the disaster.

“He saw it coming and he put my dad into a big bearhug and held onto him until things stopped moving,” Griffis told Reuters.

“The whole house started to contort around them. There was no roof all of a sudden. It came and it took them,” said Griffis, a COVID-19 travel nurse who was in Georgia when disaster struck in Ohatchee Thursday afternoon.

Her father, Mac Haynes, 78, and brother Philip Haynes, 50, landed in a cow pasture about 40 feet (12 meters) away from the foundation that once supported their trailer home, which was reduced to shreds.

Both men were hospitalized, with her father expected to be released on Friday. Her brother, who suffered fractures to his spine, ribs, shoulder and cheek, will remain hospitalized, said Griffis, as she sifted through the mountain of debris in search of family mementos.

“I found their wedding rings!” she said, clutching velvet boxes containing marriage bands worn by her father and his wife, now deceased.

Griffis, 48, said she has been frantically calling her father and brother from Georgia on Thursday to urge them to seek shelter in a neighbor’s home that has a basement.

“By the time they answered, it was on them,” Griffis said.

For three hours, the fire department cut through debris to reach the injured men in the field when suddenly winds started swirling again, possibly from a nearby tornado.

The fire department grabbed the men and fled to the nearby home’s basement, seeking refuge until they could safely transport the injured to a local hospital, Griffis said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Barbara Goldberg in New York, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

Georgia state lawmakers approve new restrictions on voting

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – Georgia’s Republican-led House of Representatives passed a sweeping elections bill on Thursday that would impose new restrictions on voting in the state that helped Democrats win the White House and narrow control of the U.S. Senate.

Republicans say the measure, approved in a 100-75 vote, would make voting more secure. Democrats and voting rights activists decry it as among the most damaging attempts to limiting access to the ballot box in the country.

The 94-page bill would add a new ID requirement for absentee ballots; limit ballot drop boxes, including eliminating them on the last four days of an election; and make it a misdemeanor crime to give food or drinks to voters waiting in long lines.

It also would also set up a fraud hotline, forbid local county elections offices from taking any breaks while counting ballots and shorten the runoff election cycle from nine weeks to four weeks.

Early versions of the bill sought to limit Sunday voting, a provision that would have curtailed traditional “Souls to the Polls” voter turnout programs popular in Black churches. Those days were restored after Democrats pushed back, and additional Saturday voting days also were included.

The bill must now be reconciled with a similar measure in the state Senate before it goes before Republican Governor Brian Kemp for his consideration.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

Teachers may play role in in-school COVID-19 transmission: U.S. CDC

(Reuters) – Teachers may play an important role in the transmission of COVID-19 within schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday, citing a study conducted in elementary schools in a Georgia school district.

The report comes after researchers from the agency last month said there was little evidence that schools were spreading COVID-19 infections in the country – based in part on a study of schools in Wisconsin – easing concerns about allowing in-person learning. The Wisconsin study found significantly lower virus spread within schools compared with transmission in the surrounding communities.

An investigation involving about 2,600 students and 700 staff members of a Georgia school district’s elementary schools showed nine clusters of COVID-19 cases involving 13 educators and 32 students at six elementary schools, the CDC said.

Of these, two clusters involved probable teacher-to-teacher transmission that was followed by teacher-to-student transmission in classrooms, the agency said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Transmission from teachers resulted in about half of 31 school-related cases, according to the investigation.

The study was subject to some limitations including difficulty in determining whether coronavirus transmission happened in school or out in the local community, the agency noted.

Distinguishing between the two types of transmission was particularly challenging when the 7-day average number of cases per 100,000 persons exceeded 150, the agency said.

The CDC said COVID-19 vaccination of educators should be considered as an additional mitigation measure to be added when available, although not required for reopening schools.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Why the winners in Georgia runoffs might not be known for days

By Jason Lange and Brad Heath

(Reuters) – The outcome of two Senate runoff races in Georgia might not be known for days after polls close on Tuesday.

Public opinion polls show Republican incumbents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have about the same level of support as their Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff.

Following are key facts on the vote-counting process and what to expect as election returns start to come in Tuesday night.

WHY MIGHT THIS DRAG ON?

Slow counting of Georgia’s mail ballots in November’s presidential election kept the world in the dark about who won the state until three days after polls closed. Biden ended up winning the state by less than 12,000 votes out of about 5 million cast.

A similar delay could unfold after Tuesday’s contests if the races are really close, said Walter Jones, a spokesman for the office of Georgia’s top election official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

“We may be looking at several days,” Jones said, adding that the delay would mostly come from mail ballots returned on Election Day.

Election officials cannot start counting ballots until 7 p.m. on Tuesday, though they have started processing them, such as checking that voter signatures on mail ballots match those on record.

Nearly 1 million mail-in ballots have been processed through Sunday, state data shows. These ballots, as well as more than 2 million cast in person at early voting centers, will likely be counted quickly on Election Night.

But for the mail votes that arrive on Election Day, officials will still need to open envelopes, check signatures and load the ballots in counting machines. They will also need to process hundreds of thousands of votes expected to be cast in person that day.

RED MIRAGE?

In November, mail ballots heavily favored Biden in Georgia and other swing states, while President Donald Trump led in votes cast in person. If more Democrats again vote by mail this time, initial results could similarly show Republicans in a lead that gives way to Democrats catching up.

The slow counting of mail ballots was a key reason why Trump took an early lead on Election Night on Nov. 3, only to trail Biden in the days that followed as more mail ballots were counted.

In the end, about a quarter of Georgia’s ballots in November were cast by mail and Biden won about two-thirds of them, state data shows. The rest were cast in person, with about 55% going to Trump.

“Initial results will generally reflect the state of the race but probably will be a little redder than what they will end up being,” said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

RECOUNTS

Georgia did two recounts of November’s presidential contest: a hand recount of paper ballots ordered by the state’s top election official, and a subsequent recount using computer scanners that was requested by the Trump campaign.

Georgia allows a losing candidate to force a recount if the margin of victory is less than or equal to 0.5% of the total vote in the race. A recount must be requested within two days of the results being certified by election officials.

Candidates can also request a recount if they think there has been an error in the tabulation; in that case it’s up to the secretary of state to decide whether to conduct one. Local election officials also have the power to recount results in their county before the results are certified.

(Reporting by Jason Lange and Brad Heath; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Dan Grebler)