Heat wave sweeps Pacific Northwest, U.S. Southeast

(Reuters) – More than 60 million Americans across the Pacific Northwest and the U.S. Southeast were under a heat advisory on Friday, facing temperatures well into the 100s and near-record high temperatures in parts of Idaho and Washington.

The temperature in Spokane, Washington, could climb to 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9° C) on Friday, tying a record high from 1929, while Lewiston, Idaho, could see a near-record of 108 F, National Weather Service forecaster Bob Oravec said.

High-temperature records were shattered across the Pacific Northwest last month when a days-long heat wave killed hundreds of people and paralyzed a region accustomed to temperate summers, and where many residents do not have air conditioning.

The cities of Portland and Salem in Oregon, and Seattle in Washington all set new temperature records above 110 F in late June.

A study published earlier this month found that the region’s devastating heat wave would have been “virtually impossible” without the impact of climate change.

Such record-smashing heat waves may become two to seven times more frequent around the world over the next few decades, scientists found in another study published this month.

While summer heat waves are more common in the U.S. Southeast and the parts of the Great Plains that were experiencing high temperatures on Friday, the National Weather Service warned that the high heat index – a combined effect of high temperature and humidity – could lead to dangerous conditions.

“Extreme heat and humidity will significantly increase the potential for heat related illnesses, particularly for those working or participating in outdoor activities,” the National Weather Service’s Mobile, Alabama, office said in a Friday advisory.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Beirut blast judge to question top politicians, security officials

By Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) -The judge in charge of the investigation into the Beirut port blast will seek to question top politicians and security officials, Lebanon’s national news agency said on Friday, almost a year after the explosion that devastated the capital.

The blast in August, blamed on a huge quantity of chemicals left for years in poor storage conditions, deepened a political and economic crisis in the heavily indebted country.

Ordinary Lebanese have grown increasingly angry that no senior officials have been held to account for the explosion that killed hundreds of people, injured thousands and ruined whole neighborhoods in the center of Beirut.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who became the lead investigator into the blast after his predecessor was removed in February, will call in caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and others, the agency said, although it said no dates had yet been set.

He has also written to parliament asking to lift immunity from former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, former Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter and former Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk as a first step towards charging them.

Zeaiter, a parliamentary deputy from speaker Nabih Berri’s bloc, and Khalil issued a statement later on Friday saying they would cooperate with the investigator to help determine those responsible for the blast, even before permission was issued. Machnouk declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

The caretaker prime minister and others listed as targets for questioning by the judge could not immediately be reached for comment.

Diab and the same ex-officials were charged last year by judge Fadi Sawan, who previously led the probe, but they refused to be questioned as suspects, accusing him of overstepping his powers.

Judge Bitar also asked for permission from caretaker Interior Minister Mohamed Fahmy to question Lebanon’s security chief Abbas Ibrahim, the agency said.

Fahmy told Reuters he had not been notified yet about the process but would take all legal steps required once he was.

Bitar’s list included another former public works minister, Youssef Finianos, and Tony Saliba, the head of state security.

Sawan was removed from the investigation in February by the court of cassation after a request by Khalil and Zeaiter, a major setback for the families of victims seeking justice.

Sawan accused the three ex-ministers and caretaker prime minister of negligence. The court of cassation cited “legitimate suspicion” over Sawan’s neutrality, partly because his house was damaged in the blast.

(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam; Editing by Edmund Blair and Cynthia Osterman)