'Excruciating:' Florida collapse search stretches to Day 6

SURFSIDE, Florida (AP) — The slow work of sifting through the remnants of a collapsed Florida condo building stretched into a sixth day Tuesday, as families desperate for progress endured a wrenching wait for answers. 

"We have people waiting and waiting and waiting for news," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told reporters Monday. "We have them coping with the news that they might not have their loved ones come out alive and still hope against hope that they will. They're learning that some of their loved ones will come out as body parts. This is the kind of information that is just excruciating for everyone."

The work has been deliberate and treacherous. Just two additional bodies were found Monday, raising the count of confirmed dead to 11. That leaves 150 people still unaccounted for in the community of Surfside, just outside Miami.

Authorities are meeting frequently with families to explain what they're doing and answer questions. They have discussed with families everything from how DNA matches are made to help identify the dead, to how will next of kin be contacted, to going into "extreme detail" about how they are searching the mound, the mayor said.

Armed with that knowledge, she said, families are coming to their own conclusions. 


In collapsed building's twin, most residents are staying put

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — About a block from the Miami-area beachfront condominium tower that collapsed sits its sister building, erected a year later by the same company, using the same materials and a similar design. It has faced the same tides and salty air. 

This has made some residents of Champlain Towers North worried enough to leave, though most have remained, saying they are confident their almost 40-year-old, 12-story building is better maintained. They say their building doesn't have the same problems with cracking in support beams and in the pool area that 2018 engineering reports show the south tower had.

The collapse of Champlain Towers South in the town of Surfside on Thursday has drawn attention to older high-rise buildings throughout South Florida and prompted Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava to order a 30-day audit of whether such buildings under her jurisdiction are complying with a required recertification of structural integrity at 40 years. She said she wants any issues raised by inspections to be immediately addressed. She's also urged municipalities within the county to follow suit. Miami, for example, has launched a 45-day audit of buildings six stories and higher that are 40 years old or older.

Inspectors performed a quick-hit examination of the north building and Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said nothing was found that indicates the tower is in danger of collapse. 

That didn't reassure everyone. 


NASA looks at Louisiana delta system, eyes global forecasts

MIKE ISLAND, La. (AP) — Erosion, sinking land and sea rise from climate change have killed the Louisiana woods where a 41-year-old tribal leader played as a child. Not far away in the Mississippi River delta system, middle-school students can stand on islands that emerged the year they were born.

NASA is using high-tech airborne systems along with boats and mud-slogging work on islands for a $15 million, five-year study of these adjacent areas of Louisiana. One is hitched to a river and growing; the other is disconnected and dying.

Scientists from NASA and a half-dozen universities from Boston to California aim to create computer models that can be used with satellite data to let countries around the world learn which parts of their dwindling deltas can be shored up and which are past hope.

"If you have to choose between saving an area and losing another instead of losing everything, you want to know where to put your resources to work to save the livelihood of all the people who live there," said lead scientist Marc Simard of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

While oceans rise because of climate change, the world's river deltas — home to seafood nurseries and more than 300 million people -- are sinking and shrinking.


Biden taking bipartisan infrastructure deal on the road

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden will look to sell voters on the economic benefits of the $973 billion infrastructure package while in Wisconsin on Tuesday, hoping to boost the bipartisan agreement that is held together in large part by the promise of millions of new jobs.

Biden will travel to La Crosse, population 52,000, and tour its public transit center, followed by a speech about the infrastructure package announced last week.

The president presented his message to Democratic donors on Monday that the agreement was a way for the United States to assert the principles of democracy and the economic might that can come from dramatic investments in the country's economic future.

"This infrastructure bill signals to the world that we can function, we can deliver," Biden said. "We can do significant things, show that America is back." 

White House officials issued an internal memo that highlights how the largest investment in transportation, water systems and services in nearly a century would boost growth. The memo notes that the total package is four times the size of the infrastructure investment made a dozen years ago in response to the Great Recession and the biggest since Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal in the 1930s.


It's imminent: After nearly 20 years US to leave Bagram

BAGRAM, Afghanistan (AP) — For nearly 20 years, Bagram Airfield was the heart of American military power in Afghanistan, a sprawling mini-city behind fences and blast walls just an hour's drive north of Kabul. Initially, it was a symbol of the U.S. drive to avenge the 9/11 attacks, then of its struggle for a way through the ensuing war with the Taliban.

In just a matter of days, the last U.S. soldiers will depart Bagram. They are leaving what probably everyone connected to the base, whether American or Afghan, considers a mixed legacy.

"Bagram grew into such a massive military installation that, as with few other bases in Afghanistan and even Iraq, it came to symbolize and epitomize the phrase 'mission creep'," said Andrew Watkins, Afghanistan senior analyst for the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

U.S. Central Command said last week that it's well past 50% done packing up Bagram, and the rest is going fast. American officials have said the entire pullout of U.S. troops will most likely be completely finished by July 4. The Afghan military will then take over Bagram as part of its continuing fight against the Taliban — and against what many in the country fear will be a new eruption of chaos.

The departure is rife with symbolism. Not least, it's the second time that an invader of Afghanistan has come and gone through Bagram.


Fearing COVID, struggling Malawian women forgo prenatal care

BLANTYRE, Malawi (AP) — Prenatal services at the health clinic were free, but the motorcycle taxi fare cost more than Monica Maxwell could afford. Just four weeks before delivering her baby, she cobbled together 1,400 kwacha ($1.75) for the 50-kilometer (31-mile) round trip. It was only her third visit -- fewer than her first two pregnancies. The money she made selling tomatoes at the local market dried up due to the pandemic. Her husband's income selling goat meat also dwindled.

"It was the most difficult period of our lives. We had no money for our daily survival," Maxwell, 31, said as she waited outside with other women to be seen by a medical midwife. "Mostly we stayed home."

In a country where hospitals are so bare that women are expected to bring their own razor blades for cutting their babies' umbilical cords, the deepening poverty brought on by the pandemic is further imperiling women's lives. 

Officials say far fewer pregnant women in Malawi are getting the health care they need amid the pandemic, with many forgoing medical visits and relying solely on traditional birth attendants, who provide emotional support and administer traditional herbal treatments but are technically banned by the government from delivering babies because of their lack of formal training. Many families can't afford clinic visits, or, like Maxwell, the transportation to get there; they also fear they'll catch coronavirus in a medical facility. 

At risk are the gains that Malawi — a largely rural sliver of a country, with 18 million people — has made over the past decade to combat its poor record of maternal deaths. Malawian women face a 1-in-29 lifetime risk of death related to a pregnancy or birth, according to the United Nations Population Fund. The country has 439 such deaths per 100,000 live births — a figure it had worked to reduce from 984 per 100,000 in 2004, as women got better access to medical care, especially in emergencies. 


Virus outbreak in Fiji batters economy, tests health system

SUVA, Fiji (AP) — A growing coronavirus outbreak in Fiji is stretching the health system and devastating the economy. It has even prompted the government to offer jobless people tools and cash to become farmers.

The Pacific nation got through the first year of the pandemic without any significant outbreaks and just two virus deaths. 

But an outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant two months ago has grown to the point where Fiji is adding about 250 new cases each day. 

The government has so far resisted calls for a lockdown, in part to try and protect an economy which had already shrunk by 19 percent last year after international tourism evaporated.

Nearly half of all jobs were connected to tourism in the island nation that's known for its white-sand beaches, clear water and welcoming people. 


Ethiopia declares immediate, unilateral cease-fire in Tigray

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia's government declared an immediate, unilateral cease-fire Monday in its Tigray region after nearly eight months of deadly conflict as Tigray fighters occupied the regional capital and government soldiers retreated in a region where hundreds of thousands are suffering in the world's worst famine crisis.

The cease-fire could calm a war that has destabilized Africa's second most populous country and threatened to do the same in the wider Horn of Africa, where Ethiopia has been seen as a key security ally for the West. It comes as the country awaits the results of national elections that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promoted as the centerpiece of reforms that won him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Abiy's transformation from making peace to waging war has appalled many observers since the fighting in Tigray erupted in November. Since then, the world has struggled to access much of the region and investigate growing allegations of atrocities including gang rapes and forced starvation. Thousands of people in the region of 6 million have been killed.

Ethiopia's statement was carried by state media shortly after the Tigray interim administration, appointed by the federal government, fled the regional capital, Mekele, and called for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds so that desperately needed aid can be delivered. 

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement that he had spoken with the prime minister and "I am hopeful that an effective cessation of hostilities will take place."


House to vote on bill launching probe of Jan. 6 insurrection

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new committee to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol would have 13 members and the power to subpoena witnesses, according to legislation released by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday. The House is expected to vote on the bill this week. 

The effort comes after Senate Republicans blocked the formation of an independent, bipartisan commission to probe the attack, in which hundreds of former President Donald Trump's supporters violently broke into the Capitol and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. 

The new, partisan House panel would have eight members appointed by Pelosi and five appointed "after consultation with" Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. A Pelosi aide said the speaker is considering including a Republican among her appointments, which would bring the likely partisan split to 7-6. The aide was granted anonymity to discuss her thinking. 

Pelosi said in a statement that Jan. 6 was "one of the darkest days in our nation's history" and that the committee will seek the truth about it. 

"The Select Committee will investigate and report upon the facts and causes of the attack and report recommendations for preventing any future assault," she said. 


AP PHOTOS: The rise and fall of Hong Kong's July 1 protests

HONG KONG (AP) — In 2003, public opposition to a proposed national security law for Hong Kong swelled an annual protest held on July 1 to hundreds of thousands of marchers.

A few months later, the Hong Kong government dropped the legislation, and the idea remained largely dormant for more than 15 years. Then last year, the central government in Beijing unveiled a surprise: a national security law it had drafted and quickly imposed on the semi-autonomous city. It took effect on the eve of July 1. 

Since then, Hong Kong authorities have used the law and COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings to stifle major protests. The organizer of the annual march said it wouldn't try to hold one this year; three smaller groups applied for police permission to do so, but it has been denied.

July 1 is a glorious day in the eyes of China's long-ruling Communist Party, marking the date that Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997. Protests on that day have varied in size over the years, as public grievances against the government waxed and waned.

The 2019 protest was a large one. Hundreds of thousands of people marched against a proposal that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China for trial. That same day, a group of hard-line protesters broke into and vandalized the legislature.

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