Briefs: Apocalypse now? Donald Trump's last minute pitch

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at The Villages Polo Club in The Villages, Fla. Trump is painting an apocalyptic portrait of American life if Democrat Joe Biden gets elected. The president claims that if the Democrat takes over, the suburbs wouldn’t be the suburbs anymore, the economy would slump into its worst depression ever and police departments would cease to exist. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Associated Press

Joe Biden has framed his closing argument to voters on responsible management of the COVID-19 pandemic

The Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — President Donald Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden are set to chase votes in Florida, a state all but essential to the Republican's pathway to another term as both nominees turn their focus to encouraging voters to turn out on Election Day.

More than 73 million Americans have already voted, absentee or by mail, and Trump and Biden are trying to energize the millions more who will vote in person on Tuesday. While the Election Day vote traditionally favors Republicans and early votes tend toward Democrats, the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States, has injected new uncertainty about the makeup of the electorate.

Trump and Biden will appear in Tampa hours apart on Thursday, visiting the western end of the state's Interstate 4 corridor, the area known for its rapid residential growth, sprawling suburbs and status as an ever-changing, hard-fought battleground during presidential elections.

The visit comes as Biden has framed his closing argument to voters on responsible management of the COVID-19 pandemic and Trump promises that the nation is on course to "vanquish the virus" even as it sets records for confirmed new infections.

"Even if I win, it's going to take a lot of hard work to end this pandemic," Biden said Wednesday during a speech in Wilmington, Delaware. "I do promise this: We will start on day one doing the right things." 

Letters, texts, caravans, parades: Advocates mobilize voters

Sometimes her hand hurt, but Nancy Gehman kept writing. Every evening from July until mid-October, the 85-year-old retiree sat with a gel pen, writing notes imploring fellow Americans to find a way to vote.

Then she mailed them: All 1,260 letters.

"It was comforting to know that I was doing something productive," she says.

Gehman, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is one of 182,000 people who have participated in Vote Forward, a 50-state letter-writing campaign to more than 17.5 million homes. The grassroots effort is one of countless ways in which individuals and organizations are working to get people to the polls in an election where, it's safe to say, nothing is normal.

In the best of times, it's a massive logistical challenge to get millions out to vote. In 2020, the difficulty has been compounded: by fear of the coronavirus, by complications and confusion over mail-in ballots, by palpable anxiety over the bitter divisions in the country.

Zeta barrels northeast after battering storm-weary coast

NEW ORLEANS — A fast-moving Zeta weakened to a tropical storm as it barreled northeast Thursday morning after ripping through Louisiana and Mississippi where storm-weary residents were advised to stay indoors overnight while officials assessed the havoc the storm had wrought.

The storm raged onshore Wednesday afternoon in the small village of Cocodrie in Louisiana as a strong Category 2 and then moved swiftly across the New Orleans area and into neighboring Mississippi, bringing with it both fierce winds and storm surge. There was heavy rain at times but since the storm was so fast-moving, rain related flooding wasn't as much of a concern.

Zeta weakened over central Alabama but its strong winds continued across portions of the state and the Florida Panhandle. The storm was about 65 miles west northwest of Atlanta, Georgia, with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. Zeta is moving quickly toward the northeast at 39 mph.

The storm killed at least one person, a 55-year-old man who a Louisiana coroner said was electrocuted by a downed power line in New Orleans, and officials said life-threatening conditions would last into Thursday.

Before dawn Thursday, about 1.8 million customers across Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia were without power, according to the website PowerOutage.us.

Waveland Mayor Mike Smith told WLOX-TV that his Mississippi Gulf Coast city, which was part of the area most heavily damaged by 2005's Hurricane Katrina has maybe taken the worst hit since then from Zeta.

"We're going to see a whole lot of damage in the morning," Smith said. Among the many trees blown down was one that fell on Smith's own house. "It was my next-door neighbor's and he wanted to give it to me, apparently," Smith said.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards was expected Thursday to tour the coastal regions hardest hit by the storm. During a radio interview Wednesday evening, Edwards said the wind had caused extensive structural damage. And as neighbors and church groups started reaching out to help those affected, he also highlighted the need to protect against the coronavirus at the same time.

"Offer the help but do it with a mask on," he said.

Much of New Orleans and the surrounding area was without power Wednesday night. The storm packed a punch as it whipped through the city. Signs outside bars and restaurants swayed back and forth in the wind and palm trees along Canal Street whipped furiously. 

Central Europe sounds alarm as virus surges

KYJOV, Czech Republic  — Soldiers in Poland are giving coronavirus tests. American National Guard troops with medical training are headed to the Czech Republic to work alongside doctors there. A Czech university student is running blood samples to labs, and the mayor of the capital is taking shifts at a hospital.

With cases surging in many central European countries, firefighters, students and retired doctors are being asked to help shore up buckling health care systems. 

"This is actually terrifying," Dr. Piotr Suwalski, the head of the cardiac surgery ward at a Polish hospital said on a day when daily COVID-19 cases rose 20% nationwide. "I think if we continue to gain 20% a day, no system can withstand it."

Even before the pandemic, many countries in the region faced a tragic shortage of medical personnel due to years of underfunding in their public health sectors and an exodus of doctors and nurses to better paying jobs in Western Europe after the nations joined the European Union in 2004. Now, with the virus ripping through their hospitals, many health workers have been sickened, compounding the shortfall.

Over 13,200 medical personnel across the Czech Republic have been infected, including 6,000 nurses and 2,600 doctors, according to the doctors' union.

India's coronavirus cases cross 8 million, behind US

NEW DELHI — India's confirmed coronavirus caseload surpassed 8 million on Thursday with daily infections dipping to the lowest level this week, as concerns grew over a major Hindu festival season and winter setting in. 

India's trajectory is moving toward the worst-hit country, the United States, which has over 8.8 million cases. 

The Health Ministry reported another 49,881 infections and 517 fatalities in the past 24 hours, raising the death toll to 120,527.

Life in India is edging back to pre-virus levels with shops, businesses, subway trains and movie theaters reopening and the country's third-largest state of Bihar with a population of about 122 million people holding elections. 

But health experts warn that mask and distancing fatigue is setting in and can lead to a fresh wave of infections. 

Trump paints apocalyptic portrait of life in US under Biden

WASHINGTON — The suburbs wouldn't be the suburbs anymore, the economy would sink into its worst depression ever and police departments would cease to exist. Even America's older adults would be left to figure out how to get by without heat, air conditioning or electricity.

This is the apocalyptic version of American life that President Donald Trump argues would be the dire consequence of turning over the White House to Democrat Joe Biden. 

"He'll bury you in regulations, dismantle your police departments, dissolve our borders, confiscate your guns, terminate religious liberty, destroy your suburbs," Trump said in one of many over-the-top pronouncements about Biden in the campaign's final weeks. Trump typically makes his warning about the fate of suburbia as he showcases his own decision to end federal regulations that govern the placement of low-incoming housing in the suburbs.

Campaign rhetoric can often become heated and hyperbolic as candidates scrap for every last advantage before the votes are counted.

Experts say instilling fear in one's opponent is usually the primary motivating factor behind such talk as candidates seek to give voters a reason to put a checkmark next to their name on the ballot. 

Philly shooting brings policing, racism back into campaign

PHILADELPHIA — The fatal shooting of another Black man on America's streets by police — with subsequent unrest — has brought the fraught issues of policing and racism in the nation back to the fore of the presidential election in its closing days.

Philadelphia police say Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was shot earlier this week in the throes of a mental health crisis after he ignored officers' repeated orders to drop a knife. 

The encounter, caught on video, spurred violent unrest in Philadelphia, and now has both President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden calibrating how to address some of the same questions that roiled American cities — and the presidential campaign — earlier this year as they negotiate the end game for a race in which Pennsylvania is a critical battleground.

In Philadelphia and its suburbs, voters are weighing how to factor the issue into their election calculations.

Trump, while campaigning Wednesday in Arizona, expressed outrage over the violent protests in Philadelphia and attempted to use it to court suburban voters outside Philadelphia and elsewhere. 

Knife attack in French church; terrorism suspected

PARIS — French anti-terrorism prosecutors are investigating a knife attack at a church in the Mediterranean city of Nice that killed two people and wounded several others at a time when French authorities are on high alert for extremist violence.

The assailant was arrested after the Thursday morning attack at the Notre Dame Church and taken to a nearby hospital after being injured during his arrest, a police official said. He was believed to be acting alone and police are not searching for other assailants, the official said. She was not authorized to be publicly named.

The anti-terrorism prosecutor's office said an investigation was opened into an attack with a terrorist connection.

Images on French media showed the neighborhood locked down and surrounded by police and emergency vehicles. Sounds of explosions could be heard as sappers exploded suspicious objects.

The exact motive of the attack was unclear but comes as France is under alert for Islamic extremist acts amid tensions over caricatures of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad published by satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo, and after two other recent attacks in France with links to the cartoons.

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