Ida downs New Orleans power on deadly path through Louisiana

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Ida knocked out power to all of New Orleans and inundated coastal Louisiana communities on a deadly path through the Gulf Coast that was still unfolding Monday, promising more destruction.

The heavy rain and storm surge has already had a catastrophic impact along the southeast coast of Louisiana, and life-threatening floods along rivers was continuing well inland as torrential rain kept falling, forecast to dump as much as two feet in places as Ida's center moved over Mississippi.

Ida made landfall on the same day 16 years earlier that Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi, and its 150 mph (230 kph) winds tied it for the fifth-strongest hurricane to ever hit the mainland. It was already blamed for on death, someone hit by a falling tree in Prairieville, outside Baton Rouge, deputies with the Ascension Parish Sheriff's Office confirmed on Sunday.

The power outage in New Orleans, meanwhile, heightened the city's vulnerability to flooding and left hundreds of thousands of people without air conditioning and refrigeration in sweltering summer heat.

The 911 system in Orleans Parish also experienced technical difficulties early Monday. Anyone needing emergency assistance was urged to go to their nearest fire station or approach their nearest officer, the New Orleans Emergency Communications Center tweeted.

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No cash or gas to run from Ida: 'We can't afford to leave'

Robert Owens was feeling defeated and helpless Sunday as he waited in Louisiana's capital city for landfall by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to strike the U.S. 

The 27-year-old had spent anxious days watching long lines of cars evacuating from Baton Rouge, bound for safer locations out of state as Hurricane Ida approached. He had hoped he and his wife, his mother-in-law, roommate and four pets would be among them. But leaving would have required money for gas and a hotel room — something they didn't have. 

Out of desperation, Owens went to ACE Cash Express on Saturday and submitted documents for a payday loan. He was denied, told he didn't have enough credit history. 

By Sunday, it was clear they would be riding out the storm at home in his family's duplex apartment. 

"Our bank account is empty – we can't afford to leave," he said. 

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Rockets fired at Kabul airport amid US withdrawal hit homes

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Rocket fire apparently targeting Kabul's international airport struck a nearby neighborhood on Monday, the eve of the deadline for American troops to withdraw from the country's longest war after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. It wasn't immediately clear if anyone was hurt. 

The rockets did not halt the steady stream of U.S. military C-17 cargo jets taking off and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in the Afghan capital. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Last week, the Islamic State group launched a devastating suicide bombing at one of the airport gates that killed at least 169 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

The airport repeatedly has been a scene of chaos in the two weeks since the Taliban blitz across Afghanistan that took control of the country, nearly 20 years after the initial U.S. invasion that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But since the suicide bombing, the Taliban have tightened their security cordon around the airfield, with their fighters seen just up to the last fencing separating them from the runway. 

In the capital's Chahr-e-Shaheed neighborhood, a crowd quickly gathered around the remains of a four-door sedan used by the attackers, which had what appeared to be six homemade rocket tubes mounted where the backseat should be. The Islamic State group and other militants routinely mount such tubes into vehicles and quietly transport them undetected close to a target. 

"I was inside the house with my children and other family members, suddenly there were some blasts," said Jaiuddin Khan, who lives nearby. "We jumped into the house compound and lay on the ground."

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White House: US has capacity to evacuate remaining Americans

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States has the capacity to evacuate the approximately 300 U.S. citizens remaining in Afghanistan who want to leave before President Joe Biden's Tuesday deadline, senior administration officials said, as rocket fire in Kabul and another U.S. drone strike against suspected Islamic State militants underscored the grave threat in the war's final days.

"This is the most dangerous time in an already extraordinarily dangerous mission these last couple of days," America's top diplomat, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, said Sunday not long before confirmation of the drone strike in Kabul.

The steady stream of U.S. military jets taking off and landing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan's capital continued Monday even after rocket fire apparently targeted the airport. No one claimed responsibility for the rockets, which hit a nearby neighborhood, and it wasn't immediately clear if anyone was hurt. The U.S. military did not respond to requests for comment, although the White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the rocket launch.

Biden's national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, said Sunday that for those U.S. citizens seeking immediately to leave Afghanistan by the looming deadline, "we have the capacity to have 300 Americans, which is roughly the number we think are remaining, come to the airport and get on planes in the time that is remaining."

Sullivan said the U.S. does not currently plan to have an ongoing embassy presence after the final U.S. troop withdrawal. But he pledged the U.S. "will make sure there is safe passage for any American citizen, any legal permanent resident" after Tuesday, as well as for "those Afghans who helped us." But untold numbers of vulnerable Afghans, fearful of a return to the brutality of pre-2001 Taliban rule, are likely to be left behind.

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Lake Tahoe threatened by massive fire, more ordered to flee

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (AP) — Fire officials ordered more evacuations around the Tahoe Basin as a two-week old blaze encroached on the threatened mountain towns surrounding glimmering Lake Tahoe.

By nightfall, all residents on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin were warned to evacuate the region, after fire officials had stressed for days that protecting the area was their top firefighting priority.

"Today's been a rough day and there's no bones about it," Jeff Marsoleis, forest supervisor for El Dorado National Forest, said Sunday evening. A few days ago, he thought crews could halt the Caldor Fire's eastern progress, but "today it let loose."

Flames churned through mountains just a few miles southwest of the Tahoe Basin, where thick smoke sent tourists packing at a time when summer vacations would usually be in full swing ahead of the Labor Day weekend.

"To put it in perspective, we've been seeing about a half-mile of movement on the fire's perimeter each day for the last couple of weeks, and today, this has already moved at 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) on us, with no sign that it's starting to slow down," said Cal Fire Division Chief Erich Schwab.

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IAEA: N Korea appears to have resumed nuke reactor operation

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea appears to have restarted the operation of its main nuclear reactor used to produce weapons fuels, the U.N. atomic agency said, as the North openly threatens to enlarge its nuclear arsenal amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy with the United States.

The annual report by the International Atomic Energy Agency refers to a 5-megawatt reactor at the North's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. The reactor produces plutonium, one of the two key ingredients used to build nuclear weapons along with highly enriched uranium.

"Since early July 2021, there have been indications, including the discharge of cooling water, consistent with the operation of the reactor," said the IAEA report dated Friday.

The report said there were indications of the operation of Yongbyon's radiochemical laboratory from mid-February to early July this year. It said this period of operation is consistent with previous reprocessing campaigns announced by North Korea of irradiated fuel discharged from the reactor. The laboratory is a facility where plutonium is extracted by reprocessing spent fuel rods removed from reactors.

"(North Korea's) nuclear activities continue to be a cause for serious concern. Furthermore, the new indications of the operation of the 5-megawatt reactor and the radiochemical laboratory are deeply troubling," the IAEA said.

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Abbas, Israel's Gantz hold new high-level talks, urged by US

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's defense minister has held talks with the Palestinian president in Ramallah, the first high-level meeting between the two sides in years, officials said.

Sunday's meeting between Benny Gantz and Mahmoud Abbas signaled a possible shift of direction after after the near-complete breakdown of communication between Abbas and Israeli leaders in recent years. 

It came two days after President Joe Biden urged Israel's new prime minister during a White House meeting to take steps toward improving the lives of Palestinians. 

Gantz's office said he told Abbas that Israel will take new measures to strengthen the Palestinian economy. It said they also discussed security issues and agreed to remain in touch. It was believed to be the highest level public meeting between the sides since 2014.

A Palestinian official said Gantz and Abbas discussed possible steps toward improving the atmosphere. He said this included Palestinian demands for a halt in Israeli military operations in Palestinian areas of the occupied West Bank, allowing unification of families with relatives inside Israel and allowing more Palestinian workers into Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the late-night meeting.

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Qatar emerges as key player in Afghanistan after US pullout

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar played an outsized role in U.S. efforts to evacuate tens of thousands of people from Afghanistan. Now the tiny Gulf Arab state is being asked to help shape what is next for Afghanistan because of its ties with both Washington and the Taliban, who are in charge in Kabul.

Qatar will be among global heavyweights on Monday when U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken hosts a virtual meeting to discuss a coordinated approach for the days ahead, as the U.S. completes its withdrawal from Afghanistan following the Taliban takeover of the country. The meeting will also include Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, the European Union and NATO. 

Qatar has also reportedly been asked by the Taliban to provide civilian technical assistance at Kabul's international airport, once the U.S. military withdrawal is complete on Tuesday. Authorities in Qatar have not commented on the reports. 

Meanwhile, international U.N. agencies are asking Qatar for help and support in delivering aid to Afghanistan.

Qatar's role was somewhat unexpected. The nation, which shares a land border with Saudi Arabia and a vast underwater gas field in the Persian Gulf with Iran, was supposed to be a transit point for a just a few thousand people airlifted from Afghanistan over a timeline of several months. 

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US aims start to Bali bombing war crimes case at Guantanamo

NAVAL STATION GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (AP) — Three prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention center are expected to get their first day in court after being held for 18 years in connection with the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and other plots in Southeast Asia.

Indonesian prisoner Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali, and two Malaysians are to be arraigned Monday before a military commission on charges that include murder, conspiracy and terrorism. It is merely the first step in what could be a long legal journey for a case that involves evidence tainted by CIA torture, the same issue that is largely responsible for causing other war crimes cases to languish for years at Guantanamo.

The hearing also comes as the Biden administration says it intends to close the detention center, where the U.S. still holds 39 of the 779 men seized in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and invasion of Afghanistan.

The three men charged in connection with the nightclub bombings were held in secret CIA confinement for three years, followed by 15 more at the isolated U.S. base in Cuba.

The decision to charge them was made by a Pentagon legal official at the end of the Trump administration, complicating the effort to close the detention center, said Brian Bouffard, a lawyer for Mohammed Nazir bin Lep, one of the Malaysian men.

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Some Indonesian students return to schools, at a distance

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — School bells in some parts of Indonesia's capital have rung again after classes closed by the coronavirus for more than a year were allowed to start reopening on Monday now that the daily count of new COVID-19 cases continues to decline.

A total of 610 schools that have passed the required tests by the Jakarta Education Agency reopened their doors for the first time since the pandemic started, though with many precautions still in place. 

The city administration had initially planned to reopen schools in June, but the plan was postponed as another wave of infections triggered by the highly contagious delta variant engulfed the country. 

"We had been past the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 infections," Jakarta Vice Governor Ahmad Riza Patria told reporters on Monday, adding that they hope to reopen all schools in January. 

There are about 5,341 schools in Jakarta, ranging from elementary to high school, according to government data.

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