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A re-energized Hurricane Dorian rakes the Southeast US coast

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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Re-energized at 115 mph, Hurricane Dorian raked the Southeastern U.S. coast with howling, window-rattling winds and sideways rain Thursday, knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses as it pushed northward toward North Carolina’s dangerously exposed Outer Banks.

Leaving at least 20 people dead in its wake in the devastated Bahamas, Dorian made its way up the Eastern Seaboard, sweeping past Florida on Wednesday at a relatively safe distance. From there, the Category 3 storm apparently grazed Georgia, then hugged the South Carolina coast with more serious effects.

An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas were warned to evacuate as the storm closed in with the potential for life-threatening storm surge. Navy ships were ordered to ride it out at sea, and military aircraft were moved inland.

At least two deaths were reported on the U.S. mainland, in Florida and North Carolina, both involving men who fell while getting ready for the storm.

The National Hurricane Center’s projected track showed Dorian passing near or over the Outer Banks on Friday, lashing the thin line of islands that stick out from the U.S. coast like a boxer’s chin. Dorian was then expected to peel away from the shoreline.

In an assault that began over Labor Day weekend, Dorian pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph (295 kph), obliterating entire neighbourhoods and triggering a humanitarian crisis. It weakened to a Category 2 before strengthening again late Wednesday.

About 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast alone.

More than 1,500 people sought refuge in 28 shelters in South Carolina, where rain began falling late Wednesday in the historic port city of Charleston, situated on a peninsula that is prone to flooding even from ordinary storms.

As Dorian crept dangerously closer, the wind picked up, sending sheets of rain sideways. Thunder boomed in the night sky, and power flickered on and off. More than two dozen blocks were closed by flooding in the city, where stores and restaurants downtown were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal.

Dorian remained a force to be reckoned with, its swirling circle of winds and rain wrapped around a large, gaping eye visible on photos taken from space.

At 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane was centred about 70 miles (115 kilometres) southeast of Charleston, moving north at 8 mph (13 kph) with winds of 115 mph (185 kph) extending about 60 miles (95 kilometres) outward.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for the coasts of both South and North Carolina.

Hundreds of shelter animals from coastal South Carolina arrived in Delaware ahead of the storm. The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, said 200 were airlifted early Tuesday from shelters in danger of flooding. About 150 more were expected to arrive via land.

Hundreds of thousands of people also were ordered off the Georgia coast. But the mayor of Tybee Island, Georgia, said Dorian inflicted little damage overnight on the small beach community. Jason Buelterman said the storm spared the 3,000 residents from flooding, with high tide about 3 feet lower than predicted.

The lone highway linking the island to Savannah on the mainland remained open throughout the night.

“If the worst that comes out of this is people blame others for calling evacuations, then that’s wonderful,” Buelterman said.

Tybee Islander Bruce Pevey went outside to take photos of unscathed homes to text to neighbours who evacuated. The storm, he said, turned out to be “a bunch of nothing.”

___

Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins in Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; Michael Schneider in Orlando, Florida; David Fischer in Miami; and Meg Kinnard in Charleston, South Carolina, contributed to this report.

Meg Kinnard, The Associated Press
















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Biden lauds NASA team for giving US ‘dose of confidence’

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday congratulated the NASA team responsible for last month’s successful landing of an unmanned rover on Mars and for giving the country a “dose of confidence” at a moment when the nation’s reputation as a scientific leader has been tattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden speaking in video conference call with the leadership of space agency’s jet propulsion laboratory team expressed awe over the Feb. 18 landing of Perseverance.

Perseverance, the biggest, most advanced rover ever sent by NASA, became the ninth spacecraft since the 1970s to successfully land on Mars, travelling some 300 million miles in nearly seven months, as part of an ongoing quest to study whether there was once life on the planet.

“It’s so much bigger than landing Perseverance on Mars,” Biden told members of the NASA team. “It’s about the American spirit. And you brought it back”

Biden watched on television as Perseverance’s touched down on Mars last month and called NASA’s Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk to pass on his congratulations to the Perseverance team. But Biden said he wanted to speak directly to the team, which he said deserved credit not only for the astronomical feat but also with boosting the United States’ reputation at a moment when it’s sorely needed.

He recalled that another nation’s leader recently told him that the U.S., once seen as competent, saw its standing fall with its response to coronavirus pandemic.

But Biden, who has made stemming a pandemic that has killed nearly 520,000 Americans his top priority, said that the Mars landing offered the nation a bit of inspiration at a moment when it’s sorely needed.

“We can land a rover on Mars, we can beat a pandemic,” Biden said. “And with science, hope and vision, there’s not a damn thing we can’t do as a country.”

The Perseverence landing comes amid a recent mad dash to Mars among rival space programs.

The NASA team landing on Feb. 18 marked the third visit to Mars in just over a week. Two spacecraft from the United Arab Emirates and China swung into orbit around Mars on successive days earlier in February. All three missions lifted off in July to take advantage of the close alignment of Earth and Mars.

NASA’s car-size, plutonium-powered vehicle arrived at Jezero Crater, hitting NASA’s smallest and trickiest target yet: a 5-by-4-mile strip on an ancient river delta full of pits, cliffs and rocks. Scientists believe that if life ever flourished on Mars, it would have happened 3 billion to 4 billion years ago, when water still flowed on the planet.

Over the next two years, the rover, nicknamed Percy, will use its 7-foot (2-meter) arm to drill down and collect rock samples containing possible signs of bygone microscopic life.

Three to four dozen chalk-size samples will be sealed in tubes and set aside to be retrieved eventually by another rover and brought homeward by another rocket ship.

Alexandra Jaffe And Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press


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Biden attempts bipartisan push for infrastructure package

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden tried to maintain bipartisan momentum for a new infrastructure program by meeting Thursday with Republican and Democratic lawmakers at the White House.

The meeting was about “what we’re gonna do to make sure we once again lead the world across the board on infrastructure,” Biden said. “It not only creates jobs, but it makes us a helluva lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure.”

Spending on infrastructure appears to be the next major priority for the Biden administration after its $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package clears the Senate, likely along hardened partisan lines. The prospect of funding roads, bridges, ports, broadband and other infrastructure is a chance for Biden to rebuild his relationship with Republicans. It also allows him notch a policy achievement that evaded both the Obama and Trump administrations.

Biden met Thursday with eight members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, a follow-up to a February 11 meeting with senators on infrastructure.

The president laid the groundwork for an infrastructure package during last year’s campaign by proposing $2 trillion in “accelerated” investments to shift to cleaner energy, build charging stations for electric vehicles, support public transit and repair roads and bridges. The plan emphasizes the importance of addressing climate change and creating unionized jobs.

There is a need for infrastructure spending. The American Society of Civil Engineers on Wednesday graded the nation’s infrastructure as a lacklustre “C-.” The group said $5.9 trillion must be spent over the next decade for safe and sustainable roads, bridges and airports. That recommendation is about $2.6 trillion more than what the government and private sector spend.

Republicans say they want to invest in infrastructure, but they appear to disagree with Biden’s focus on the environment and the possibility of financing any program with debt after the federal government has already borrowed heavily to combat the economic fallout from the pandemic. Their concern is that infrastructure would ultimately become a form of the Democratic-proposed “Green New Deal” that would move the country away from fossil fuels.

Missouri Rep. Sam Graves, the ranking Republican on the transportation committee, left the Thursday meeting with a series of markers for Biden to win bipartisan backing.

“First and foremost, a highway bill cannot grow into a multi-trillion dollar catch-all bill, or it will lose Republican support,” Graves said in a statement. “Second, a transportation bill needs to be a transportation bill that primarily focuses on fundamental transportation needs, such as roads and bridges. Republicans won’t support another Green New Deal disguising itself as a transportation bill.”

Still, the committee chairman, Oregon Democrat Pete DeFazio, described the meeting with Biden as productive and refreshing after conversations with former President Donald Trump led to minimal progress on infrastructure. DeFazio said they discussed paying for the plan, but he declined to go into specifics.

“The difference between talking to Joe Biden about infrastructure and what goes into it and how we’re going to get it done and Donald Trump is like, it’s just a whole different world,” DeFazio said. “It’s way better.”

Josh Boak And Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press


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