The Associated Press

Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting.

Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics, nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

"This is a huge decline," said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. "You have to go back to World War II, the 1940s, to find a decline like this." 

Other health experts say it shows the profound impact of COVID-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.

"What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year ... I would expect that these numbers would only get worse," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco.

US needs to brace itself for more deadly storms, experts say

WASHINGTON — Deadly weather will be hitting the U.S. more often, and America had better get better at dealing with it, experts said as Texas and other states battled winter storms that blew past the worst-case planning of utilities, governments and millions of shivering citizens.

This week's storms — with more still heading east — fit a pattern of worsening extremes under climate change and demonstrate anew that local, state and federal officials have failed to do nearly enough to prepare for greater and more dangerous weather.

At least two dozen people have died this week, including from fire or carbon monoxide poisoning while struggling to find warmth inside their homes. In Oklahoma City, an Arctic blast plunged temperatures in the state capital as low as 14 degrees below 0 (-25 Celsius). 

"This is a different kind of storm,'' said Kendra Clements, one of several businesspeople in Oklahoma City who opened their buildings to shelter homeless people, some with frostbite, hypothermia and icicles in their hair. It was also a harbinger of what social service providers and governments say will be a surge of increased needs for society's most vulnerable as climate and natural disasters worsen.

Other Americans are at risk as well. Power supplies of all sorts failed in the extreme cold, including natural gas-fired power plants that were knocked offline amid icy conditions and, to a smaller extent, wind turbines that froze and stopped working. More than 100 million people live in areas under winter weather warnings, watches or advisories, and blackouts are expected to continue in some parts of the country for days.

Power outages linger for millions as another icy storm looms

 AUSTIN, Texas — Millions of Americans endured another frigid day without electricity or heat in the aftermath of a deadly winter storm as utility crews raced to restore power before another blast of snow and ice sowed more chaos in places least equipped to deal with it.

Nearly 3.4 million customers around the U.S. were still without electricity, and some also lost water service. Texas officials ordered 7 million people — a quarter of the population of the nation's second-largest state — to boil tap water before drinking it following days of record low temperatures that damaged infrastructure and froze pipes.

The latest storm front was certain to complicate recovery efforts, especially in states that are unaccustomed to such weather — parts of Texas, Arkansas and the Lower Mississippi Valley.

"There's really no letup to some of the misery people are feeling across that area," said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service, referring to Texas.

The system was forecast to move into the Northeast on Thursday. More than 100 million people live in areas covered by some type of winter weather warning, watch or advisory, the weather service said.

'Horrible': Witnesses recall massacre in Ethiopian holy city

NAIROBI, Kenya — Bodies with gunshot wounds lay in the streets for days in Ethiopia's holiest city. At night, residents listened in horror as hyenas fed on the corpses of people they knew. But they were forbidden from burying their dead by the invading Eritrean soldiers.

Those memories haunt a deacon at the country's most sacred Ethiopian Orthodox church in Axum, where local faithful believe the ancient Ark of the Covenant is housed. As Ethiopia's Tigray region slowly resumes telephone service after three months of conflict, the deacon and other witnesses gave The Associated Press a detailed account of what might be its deadliest massacre.

For weeks, rumors circulated that something ghastly had occurred at the Church of St. Mary of Zion in late November, with estimates of several hundred people killed. But with Tigray cut off from the world and journalists blocked from entering, little could be verified as Ethiopian and allied fighters pursued the Tigray region's fugitive leaders.

The deacon, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he remains in Axum, said he helped count the bodies — or what was left after hyenas fed. He gathered victims' identity cards and assisted with burials in mass graves.

He believes some 800 people were killed that weekend at the church and around the city, and that thousands in Axum have died in all. The killing continues: On the day he spoke to the AP last week he said he had buried three people.

Biden and congressional Democrats to unveil immigration bill

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's administration is joining Democrats on Capitol Hill to unveil a major immigration overhaul that would offer an eight-year pathway to citizenship to the estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status.

The legislation, to be released in detail Thursday morning, will reflect the broad priorities for immigration reform that Biden laid out on his first day in office, including an increase in visas, funding to process asylum applications and new technology at the southern border. 

But while the plan offers one of the fastest pathways to citizenship of any proposed measure in recent years, it does so without offering any enhanced border security, which past immigration negotiations have used as a way to win Republican votes. Without enhanced security, it faces tough odds in a closely divided Congress.

The bill would immediately provide green cards to farm workers, those with temporary protected status and young people who arrived in the U.S. illegally as children. For others living in the U.S. as of Jan. 1, 2021, the plan establishes a five-year path to temporary legal status, if they pass background checks, pay taxes and fulfill other basic requirements. Then, after three years, they can pursue citizenship.

The plan would raise the current per-country caps for family and employment-based immigrant visas. It would eliminate the penalty barring those immigrants who live in the U.S. without authorization and who then leave the country from returning for three to 10 years. It also would provide resources for more judges, support staff and technology to address the backlog in processing asylum seekers.

In surprise move, Facebook blocks news access in Australia

CANBERRA, Australia — In a surprise retaliatory move Thursday, Facebook blocked Australians from sharing news, a milestone in the increasingly frantic jockeying between governments, media and powerful tech companies.

Australia's government condemned the step, which also blocked some government communications, including messages about emergency services, and some commercial pages. 

The digital platforms fear that what's happening in Australia will become an expensive precedent for other countries as governments revamp laws to catch up with the fast changing digital world. 

Facebook acted after the House of Representatives passed legislation that would make it and Google pay for Australian journalism, said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. He said he was given no warning before Facebook acted. The legislation must be passed by the Senate to become law.

Australian news organizations could not post stories and people who tried to share existing news stories got notifications saying they were blocked from doing so .

Even without listening, US lives in Limbaugh's media world

NEW YORK — You didn't have to like or even listen to Rush Limbaugh to be affected by what he did.

Conservative talk radio wasn't a genre before him. Without Limbaugh, it's hard to imagine a Fox News Channel, or a President Donald Trump, or a media landscape defined by shouters of all stripes that both reflect and influence a state of political gridlock.

To his fans, Limbaugh's death Wednesday of lung cancer at the age of 70 was an occasion for deep mourning. For his foes, it was good riddance. Somewhere, Rush could surely appreciate it.

He left a legacy.

"He was the most important individual media figure of the last four decades," said Ian Reifowitz, professor of historical studies at the State University of New York and author of "The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump."

Seiko Hashimoto takes over as Tokyo Olympic president

TOKYO — Seiko Hashimoto has appeared in seven Olympics, four in the winter and three in the summer — the most by any "multi-season" athlete in the games.

She made even more history on Thursday in Japan, where women are still rare in the boardrooms and positions of political power.

The 56-year-old Hashimoto was named president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee after a meeting of its executive board, which is 80% male. She replaces 83-year-old Yoshiro Mori, a former Japanese prime minister who was forced to resign last week after making sexist comments about women.

Essentially, he said women talk too much.

"Now I'm here to return what I owe as an athlete and to return back what I received," Hashimoto told the board, according to an interpreter.