3,000-acre Fire now burning in Tennessee

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

Important Takeaways:

  • Tennessee wildfire now 3K acres and is only 5% contained, evacuations remain in place
  • A mandatory evacuation was issued in Tennessee as a more than 3,000-acre fire rages near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
  • “It was surreal,” resident Robert Goodhue told Knox News. “I could see the smoke coming off of Walden’s Creek back there, and I was like, ‘That’s coming from where I live.’”
  • The fire had grown to about 1,000 acres Wednesday evening and jumped to about 3,700 acres by Thursday, according to Lt. Gov. Rand McNally and state Sen. Art Swan.
  • High winds and dry conditions reportedly sparked the brush fire, Knox News reported.
  • More than 70 fire departments have been deployed to area.

Read the original article by clicking here.

Biden visits tornado-stricken Kentucky bringing federal aid, empathy

By Jarrett Renshaw

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden flew to Kentucky on Wednesday to survey the areas hardest hit by one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in recent U.S. history, a system that killed at least 74 people in the state and at least 14 elsewhere.

Biden, no stranger to tragic personal losses, will reprise his familiar role as consoler in chief, while promising to bring the might of the federal government to rebuild devastated communities that suffered billions of dollars in damage.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear offered a grim update on Tuesday, saying the dead included a dozen children, the youngest of whom was a 2-month-old infant. He added that he expected the death toll to rise in the coming days, with more than 100 still missing.

Biden will visit the Army installation at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, for a briefing on the storm before continuing on to Mayfield and Dawson Springs, two towns separated by roughly 70 miles (112 km) that were largely flattened by the twisters.

The president will be “surveying storm damage firsthand, (and) making sure that we’re doing everything to deliver assistance as quickly as possible in impacted areas to support recovery efforts,” White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has sent search-and-rescue and emergency response teams to Kentucky, along with teams to help survivors register for assistance, Psaki said.

FEMA has also sent dozens of generators into the state, along with 135,000 gallons (511,000 litres) of water, 74,000 meals and thousands of cots, blankets, infant toddler kits and pandemic shelter kits.

Biden has approved federal disaster declarations for Kentucky and the neighboring states of Tennessee and Illinois, offering residents and local officials increased federal aid.

Credit ratings agency DBRS Morningstar said the tornadoes were likely the most severe in the United States since 2011. Insurers are sufficiently prepared to cover claims without significant capital impact, it said in a report.

The trip marks one of the few that Biden, a Democrat, has taken to areas that tilt heavily toward the Republican Party, many of whose voters and leaders have embraced Donald Trump’s fraudulent claims that he won the 2020 election. The White House has been careful not to bring politics into the disaster relief efforts, including not focusing on what role, if any, climate change may have played in the tragic events.

“He looks at them as human beings, not as people who have partisan affiliations,” Psaki said. “And in his heart, he has empathy for everything that they’re going through.”

“The message he will send to them directly and clearly tomorrow is: ‘We’re here to help, we want to rebuild, we are going to stand by your side and we’re going to help your leaders do exactly that,'” she added.

Biden lost his first wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash, and his older son, Beau, died in 2015 after a fight with brain cancer.

(Reporting by Jarrett Renshaw, additional reporting by Rod Nickel; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Heather Timmons, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Death toll now 74 from weekend tornadoes, expected to rise -Kentucky governor

(Reuters) – The death toll from a string of tornadoes that tore through six states rose to 74 with at least 109 people still missing, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said on Monday. He said the number of fatalities would likely rise in the coming days.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chris Reese

 

By Gabriella Borter

MAYFIELD, Ky. (Reuters) – At least 64 people, including six children, lost their lives in Kentucky after a raft of tornadoes tore through six states, with power still out for thousands and strangers welcoming survivors who lost everything into their homes.

While the toll from the deadly twisters was lower than initially feared, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said he expects it to increase as searchers continue to sift through a flattened landscape of twisted metal, downed trees and homes reduced to rubble.

“It may be weeks before we have counts on both deaths and levels of destruction,” Beshear told reporters, adding that the victims ranged in age from 5 months to 86 years old, and that 105 people were still unaccounted for.

On Monday, Beshear said officials were working to confirm that eight people had perished when a candle factory in Mayfield, a town of about 10,000 in the southwestern corner of Kentucky, was hit in the storm.

Out of the 110 workers who had been toiling at the Mayfield Consumer Products LLC factory, 94 were believed to have made it out alive, according to the owners of the business, the governor said.

“We feared much, much worse,” he said. “I pray that it is accurate.”

In the hard-hit small town, the tornado destroyed not only the candle factory but also the police and fire stations. Homes were flattened or missing roofs, giant trees uprooted and street signs mangled.

Kentucky’s emergency management director, Michael Dossett also at the briefing, said 28,000 homes and businesses remained without power.

More than 300 National Guard personnel and scores of state workers were distributing supplies and working to clear roads so that mountains of debris can be removed in the aftermath of the disaster, the governor said.

He added that authorities were coordinating an “unprecedented amount of goods and volunteers,” and President Joe Biden was expected to visit the state but no date had been set.

Beshear, at times chocking up, said the search, rescue and recovery process in the swath of destruction has been an emotional roller coaster for all those involved, including him.

“You go from grief to shock to being resolute for a span of 10 minutes and then you go back,” he said.

Biden on Sunday declared a major federal disaster in Kentucky, paving the way for additional federal aid, the White House said.

While Kentucky was hardest hit, six workers were killed at an Amazon.com Inc warehouse in Illinois after the plant buckled under the force of the tornado, including one cargo driver who died in the bathroom, where many workers told Reuters they had been directed to shelter.

A nursing home was struck in Arkansas, causing one of that state’s two deaths. Four were reported dead in Tennessee and two in Missouri.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in Mayfield, Kentucky; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Maria Caspani; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)

In U.S. Supreme Court case, the past could be the future on abortion

By Lawrence Hurley

OXFORD, Miss. (Reuters) – Just months before she was set to start law school in the summer of 1973, Barbara Phillips was shocked to learn she was pregnant.

Then 24, she wanted an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion nationwide months earlier with its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing a woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. But abortions were not legally available at the time in Mississippi, where she lived in the small town of Port Gibson.

Phillips, a Black woman enmeshed in the civil rights movement, could feel her dream of becoming a lawyer slipping away.

“It was devastating. I was desperate,” Phillips said, sitting on the patio of her cozy one-story house in Oxford, a college town about 160 miles (260 km) north of Jackson, Mississippi’s capital.

At the time of the Roe ruling, 46 of the 50 U.S. states had some sort of criminal prohibitions on abortion. Access often was limited to wealthy and well-connected women, who tended to be white.

With a feminist group’s help, Phillips located a doctor in New York willing to provide an abortion. New York before Roe was the only state that let out-of-state women obtain abortions. She flew there for the procedure.

Now 72, Phillips does not regret her abortion. She went on to attend Northwestern law school in Chicago and realize her goal of becoming a civil rights lawyer, with a long career. Years later, she had a son when she felt the time was right.

“I was determined to decide for myself what I wanted to do with my life and my body,” Phillips said.

U.S. abortion rights are under attack unlike any time since the Roe ruling, with Republican-backed restrictions being passed in numerous states. The Supreme Court on Dec. 1 is set to hear arguments in a case in which Mississippi is seeking to revive its law, blocked by lower courts, banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Mississippi has raised the stakes by explicitly asking the court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Such a ruling could turn back the clock in Mississippi, which currently has just one abortion clinic, and other states to the kind of environment on abortion access that Phillips experienced nearly a half century ago.

Large swathes of America could return to an era in which women who want to end a pregnancy face the choice of undergoing a potentially dangerous illegal abortion, traveling long distances to a state where the procedure remains legal and available or buying abortion pills online.

Mississippi’s abortion law is not the only one being tested at the Supreme Court. The justices on Nov. 1 heard arguments in challenges to a Texas law banning abortion at about six weeks of pregnancy, but have not yet ruled.

TRIGGER LAWS

Mississippi is one of a dozen states with so-called trigger laws that would immediately ban abortion in all or most cases if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

Many are in the South, so a Mississippi woman would be unable to obtain an abortion in neighboring Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee or Alabama. The nearest states where abortion would remain legal, at least in the short term, would be Illinois and Florida.

The average distance a Mississippi woman would need to drive to reach a clinic would increase from 78 miles to 380 miles (125 to 610 km) each way, according to Guttmacher.

While some abortion rights advocates fear a return to grisly illegal back-alley abortions, there has been an important development since the pre-Roe era: abortion pills. Mississippi is among 19 states imposing restrictions on medication-induced abortions.

Mississippi officials are cagey on what a post-Roe world might look like. Republican Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who asked the court to overturn Roe, declined an interview request, as did Republican Governor Tate Reeves.

Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce Andy Gipson, who as a Republican state legislator helped shepherd the 2018 passage of the 15-week ban, called Roe v. Wade “antiquated, old law based on antiquated and old science.”

Gipson in an interview declined to answer questions about what Mississippi – or the southeastern United States – would be like without abortion rights, focusing on the specifics of the 15-week ban.

“It’s a false narrative to paint this as a picture of an outright ban throughout the southeast,” Gipson said, noting that the Supreme Court does not have to formally overturn Roe to uphold Mississippi’s law.

In court papers, Fitch said scientific advances, including contested claims that a fetus can detect pain early in a pregnancy, emphasize how Roe and a subsequent 1992 decision that reaffirmed abortion rights are “decades out of date.”

Abortion rights advocates have said any ruling upholding Mississippi’s law would effectively gut Roe, giving states unfettered power to limit or ban the procedure.

Phillips worries about a revival of dangerous, unregulated abortions that imperil women’s lives.

“I’m afraid that many more women and girls will be in back alleys,” Phillips said. “I’m worried we are going to find them in country roads, dead.”

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)

Tennessee supermarket shooting leaves 2 dead, including gunman, 12 injured

(Reuters) – One person was killed and at least 12 were injured when a lone gunman opened fire on Thursday at a supermarket in suburban Memphis, Tennessee, before the suspect was found dead from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound, the police chief said.

Law enforcement officers swarmed to the scene just after the shooting unfolded at a Kroger grocery store in Collierville, Tennessee, and began helping victims and others found hiding inside the supermarket, chief Dale Lane told reporters.

“We found people hiding in freezers and in locked offices,” Lane said.

The gunman, who was believed to have acted alone, was found dead in a parking lot outside the store, Lane said. Local media reported the suspect’s body was discovered inside his vehicle.

“We are waiting for some special equipment to search that vehicle as well as the property that is on him,” Lane said about two hours after the shooting, which erupted at about 1:30 p.m. local time.

He called the gun violence “the most horrific event that has occurred in Collierville history.” The town is located about 30 miles (50 km) east of Memphis in southwestern Tennessee.

No immediate explanation for a possible motive was offered by authorities.

Lane said some of the surviving victims sustained “very serious” injuries. All were taken to area hospitals, he said.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Sonya Hepinstall)

Tennessee flooding was more destructive than first estimated

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) -The weekend flooding in Tennessee that killed at least 21 people was more destructive than originally estimated, with about 120 homes washed off foundations, destroyed or simply “gone,” officials said Tuesday.

The scope of the damage came into sharper focus in hardest hit Humphreys County, as rescue teams continue to search house-to-house with trained dogs for dozens believed still missing.

“Our damage is much more massive than what we thought,” Humphreys County Sheriff Chris Davis told NPR in an interview Tuesday.

It was already believed that hundreds of homes were water-damaged and uninhabitable, officials said after the storm brought 17 inches of rain in just three hours.

Davis and other officials surveyed the damage from a helicopter late Monday, focusing largely on the hardest hit town of Waverly, about 55 miles west of Nashville.

“Yesterday we thought it was 20-something houses that had been removed from the foundations,” Davis said. “That’s not even close. Well over 100 – 120 houses have been moved, or are gone, no longer exist.”

Displaced residents found shelter with relatives, local churches and with housing provided by the American Red Cross, the sheriff said.

Officials who had been seeking federal aid were granted it late Monday as President Joe Biden declared a major disaster in the state of Tennessee and ordered federal aid, the White House said in a statement.

Local officials said that those killed in the flooding ranged in age from babies to the elderly. The Washington Post, citing family members, reported that 7-month-old twins died after they were swept away from their parents’ arms.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill and Chizu Nomiyama)

At least 21 dead, 50 missing in Tennessee flooding

(Reuters) – At least 21 people have died and 50 others are reported missing after heavy flooding hit parts of Tennessee, authorities said on Sunday.

A dispatcher at the Humphreys County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the number of those killed and missing and said authorities were working to conduct house-to-house searches of the area.

Record rainfall of up to 17 inches (43 cm) in some areas sparked massive flooding on Saturday afternoon and evening. Especially hard hit was the town of Waverly, about 55 miles (88 km) west of Nashville. Hundreds of homes were left uninhabitable.

Waverly Mayor Wallace Frazier told the Tennessean newspaper that those killed in flooding ranged in age from babies to the elderly. The Washington Post, citing family members, reported that 7-month-old twins died after they were swept away from their parents’ arms.

The flooding uprooted massive trees, tore through homes and tossed cars and pickup trucks into ditches and atop sheds and other structures.

Cindy Dunn, 48, told the Tennessean that she and her husband had been stranded in their attic for several hours after floodwaters rose to 6 feet (1.8 m) high in their home. The pair were saved by a rescue crew that raised the bucket of a bulldozer up to a window they could get through.

“Hell. That’s what we had to go through,” Dunn told the newspaper.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas; Editing by Peter Cooney)

One million Americans vaccinated for COVID; Tennessee new epicenter

By Gabriella Borter and Dan Whitcomb

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tennessee emerged alongside California on Wednesday as an epicenter of the latest COVID-19 surge even while more than 1 million Americans have been vaccinated as U.S. political leaders sought to guard against a highly contagious coronavirus variant sweeping across Britain.

Tennessee averaged nearly 128 new infections per 100,000 people over the last week, the highest of any U.S. state, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. California stood second at 111 new cases per 100,000 residents.

“Our state is ground zero for a surge in COVID-19 and we need Tennesseans to (do) their part,” Governor Bill Lee said on Twitter, urging residents to wear face masks and gather only with members of their own household over Christmas.

Some public health officials say Americans’ traveling and gathering for Thanksgiving contributed to the latest nationwide explosion in cases.

All told, 31 U.S. states have reported a grim record in new COVID-19 infections for December as hospitalizations and deaths also spiral. More than 194,600 new cases were confirmed on Tuesday alone.

The CDC said that as of Wednesday morning more than 1 million people nationwide had been given the first of the two doses required for the two coronavirus vaccines that have been approved. But most Americans have been told that it could be six months or more before they are eligible for the shots as priority is given to healthcare workers, nursing home residents and in some cases top government officials.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, received the Moderna vaccine on live television on Tuesday. Joe Biden was inoculated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in front of cameras on Monday.

CONCERN GROWS OVER MUTANT VARIANT

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, earlier this week criticized political leaders for putting themselves at the front of the line for the shot.

“We are not more important then frontline workers, teachers etc. who are making sacrifices everyday. Which is why I won’t take it,” Omar said on Twitter.

The Trump administration said on Wednesday it had reached a $2 billion deal with Pfizer to distribute 100 million additional doses of its vaccine by July.

But Americans who saw a ray of hope in the release of the two vaccines in December learned of an even more transmissible coronavirus variant spreading in the United Kingdom. Drug makers Pfizer and Moderna were testing their vaccines against the variant, but believed the drugs would be effective against the mutant virus.

The United States, unlike many nations worldwide, has not banned travelers from Britain.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would order international travelers to quarantine for 14 days on arrival and provide contact information to government officials. Sheriff’s deputies will make visits to enforce the order on those arriving from Britain, the mayor said.

Travelers found to violate those orders face fines of $1,000 per day, de Blasio said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked airlines to screen British travelers for COVID-19. The state was an early epicenter of the virus and has recorded more than 36,000 COVID deaths, far more than any other state.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee this week ordered a 14-day quarantine for travelers arriving from the UK, South Africa or other countries where the new variant had been detected.

In New York City, vaccination programs expanded to the Fire Department, where roughly 6,000 personnel have contracted the virus, Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro told reporters. Some 400 FDNY paramedics lined up to receive their first doses of the Moderna vaccine on Wednesday, including Verena Kansog, advanced life support coordinator for Manhattan, who got her shot at a training center on Randalls Island.

“I feel relieved,” Kansog, who worried about bringing the disease home to her elderly mother, told Reuters in a phone interview. “I was not one single bit nervous.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Dan Whitcomb; Additional reporting by Anurag Maan, Carlo Allegri, Jonathan Allen, Peter Szekely, Lisa Lambert, Susan Heavey and Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Leslie Adler)

Pfizer to start pilot delivery program for its COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states

(Reuters) – Pfizer Inc. has launched a pilot delivery program for its experimental COVID-19 vaccine in four U.S. states, as the U.S. drugmaker seeks to address distribution challenges facing its ultra-cold storage requirements.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which was shown to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on initial data, must be shipped and stored at -70 degrees Celsius (minus 94°F), significantly below the standard for vaccines of 2-8 degrees Celsius (36-46°F).

“We are hopeful that results from this vaccine delivery pilot will serve as the model for other U.S. states and international governments, as they prepare to implement effective COVID-19 vaccine programs,” Pfizer said in a statement on Monday.

It picked Rhode Island, Texas, New Mexico, and Tennessee for the program after taking into account their differences in overall size, diversity of populations, immunization infrastructure, and need to reach individuals in varied urban and rural settings.

The four states will not receive vaccine doses earlier than other states by virtue of the pilot, nor will they receive any differential consideration, Pfizer said.

The company expects to have enough safety data on the vaccine from the ongoing large scale late-stage trials by the third week of November before proceeding to apply for emergency use authorization (EUA).

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE have a $1.95 billion deal to supply 100 million doses of the vaccine to the U.S. government, which has an option to acquire up to an additional 500 million doses.

Earlier on Monday, rival Moderna Inc. said its experimental vaccine was 94.5% effective in preventing COVID-19 based on interim data from a late-stage trial, boosting hopes that vaccines against the disease may be ready for use soon.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a new technology called synthetic messenger RNA to activate the immune system against the virus.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Richard Pullin)

Remnants of Hurricane Laura drench Arkansas as storm heads east

(Reuters) – The remnants of Hurricane Laura were dousing Arkansas on Friday morning and due to bring rain to the East Coast over the weekend.

Now a tropical depression, Laura had proved less damaging than feared, despite arriving in Louisiana this week as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the United States.

The storm killed at least six people in Louisiana, including four who were killed when trees fell into homes, damaged buildings in Louisiana and Texas and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast over the weekend to survey the damage.

The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.

What would have been a dangerous 20-foot (6-m) storm surge that forecasters had predicted could move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)