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Search back on after rest of South Florida condo demolished

SURFSIDE, Fla. (AP) — Rescuers were given the all-clear to resume work looking for victims at a collapsed South Florida condo building after demolition crews set off a string of explosives that brought down the last of the building in a plume of dust.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told the Associated Press that the demolition went “exactly as planned” around 10:30 p.m. Sunday.

Crews immediately began clearing some of the new debris so rescuers could start making their way into parts of the underground garage that is of particular interest. Once there, they were hoping to get a clearer picture of voids that may exist in the rubble and could possibly harbor the 121 people believed to be trapped under the fallen wing of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside that collapsed June 24.

No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse. On Sunday, Miami-Dade police identified David Epstein, 58, as one of the 24 people known to have perished in the fallen tower. His remains were recovered Friday.

Shortly after the demolition, cranes were again in motion at the site, suggesting that crews were back in place in the wee hours of Monday morning to sift through the rubble from above and below.

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President Joe Biden meets with White House staff in the Oval Office of the White House Tuesday, April 27, 2021, to prepare for an off the record discussion with news anchors. (Official White House Photo of by Adam Schultz)

Biden: US 'coming back together,' but COVID not yet finished

WASHINGTON (AP) — Calling a vaccination “the most patriotic thing you can do,” President Joe Biden on Sunday mixed the nation’s birthday party with a celebration of freedom from the worst of the pandemic. He tempered the strides against COVID-19 with a warning that the fight against the virus wasn't over.

“Today, all across this nation, we can say with confidence: America is coming back together,” Biden declared as he hosted more than 1,000 service members, first responders and other guests for a July Fourth celebration on the South Lawn of the White House.

For Biden it was a long-awaited opportunity to highlight the success of the vaccination campaign he championed. The event was the largest yet of his presidency, the clearest indication yet that the U.S. had moved into a new phase of virus response. Shifting from a national emergency to a localized crisis of individual responsibility, the nation also moved from vaccinating Americans to promoting global health.

“This year the Fourth of July is a day of special celebration, for we’re emerging from the darkness of a year of pandemic and isolation, a year of pain fear and heartbreaking loss,” the president said before fireworks lit up the sky over the National Mall.

Noting the lockdowns that shuttered businesses, put millions out of work and separated untold numbers of families, Biden said: “Today we’re closer than ever to declaring our independence from a deadly virus. That’s not to say the battle against COVID-19 is over. We’ve got a lot more work to do.”

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FILE - In this June 6, 2021 file photo, Pope Francis speaks from the window of his studio overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican to a crowd of faithful and pilgrims gathered for the Sunday Angelus noon prayer. On Wednesday, June 30, 2021 Canada’s Catholic bishops said Pope Francis has agreed to meet in December with Indigenous survivors of the country’s notorious residential schools amid calls for a papal apology for Catholic Church’s role in the abuse and deaths of thousands of native children. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, file)

Pope convalescing in hospital after intestinal surgery

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis was spending his first morning convalescing on Monday in a Rome hospital following intestinal surgery under general anesthesia and reportedly doing well.

The Vatican has given scant details about the operation Sunday evening in Gemelli Polyclinic, a major Catholic hospital in the Italian capital, although it did say he responded “well” to the surgery.

An Italian cardinal told reporters he had been informed that the 84-year-old pope was doing well.

“Our prayer and our closeness are very great,” Cardinal Enrico Feroci said at Rome's airport where he was catching a flight. The Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying that he had heard earlier in the morning from another cardinal, Angelo De Donatis, “and he told me that the pope is well.” De Donatis is the vicar of the Rome diocese.

Francis is staying in special, 10th floor suite that the hospital keeps available for use by a pontiff, after Pope John Paul II stayed there several times for various medical problems.

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Japan searches for dozens missing in resort town mudslide

ATAMI, Japan (AP) — Rescue workers slogged through mud and debris Monday looking for dozens feared missing after a giant landslide ripped through a Japanese seaside resort town, killing at least three people.

Eighty people were still unaccounted for, according to Shizuoka prefectural disaster management official Takamichi Sugiyama. Officials were preparing to release their names, hoping to reach some who might not have been caught in the landslide.

Initially, 147 of those people were unreachable, but that number was revised downward after city officials confirmed some had safely evacuated or were away when the disaster struck, it said.

The disaster is an added trial as authorities prepare for the Tokyo Olympics, due to start in less than three weeks, while Japan is still in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told reporters that rescue workers, including police, self-defense troops, firefighters and coast guard personnel, are doing their utmost “to rescue those who may be buried under the mud and waiting for help as soon as possible."

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Tropical Storm Elsa headed to landfall on central Cuba coast

HAVANA (AP) — Tropical Storm Elsa swept along Cuba's southern coast early Monday, and forecasters said it could make landfall on the island's central shore by midafternoon.

By Sunday, Cuban officials had evacuated 180,000 people as a precaution against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people. Most of those evacuated stayed at relatives' homes, others went to government shelters, and hundreds living in mountainous areas took refuge in caves prepared for emergencies.

Elsa was forecast to cross over Cuba by Monday night and then head for Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including in Miami-Dade County, where a high-rise condominium building collapsed last week.

Late Sunday, Elsa's center was about 270 miles southeast of Havana and moving northwest at 15 mph. Its maximum sustained winds had strengthened a bit to about 65 mph, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The center said the storm was likely to gradually weaken while passing over central Cuba. “After Elsa emerges over the Florida Straits and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, some slight re-strengthening is possible,'' it said.

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In crosshairs of ransomware crooks, cyber insurers struggle

BOSTON (AP) — In the past few weeks, ransomware criminals claimed as trophies at least three North American insurance brokerages that offer policies to help others survive the very network-paralyzing, data-pilfering extortion attacks they themselves apparently suffered.

Cybercriminals who hack into corporate and government networks to steal sensitive data for extortion routinely try to learn how much cyber insurance coverage the victims have. Knowing what victims can afford to pay can give them an edge in ransom negotiations. The cyber insurance industry, too, is a prime target for crooks seeking its customers’ identities and scope of coverage.

Before ransomware evolved into a full-scale global epidemic plaguing businesses, hospitals, schools and local governments, cyber insurance was a profitable niche industry. It was accused of fueling the criminal feeding frenzy by routinely recommending that victims pay up, but kept many from going bankrupt.

Now, the sector isn't just in the criminals' crosshairs. It's teetering on the edge of profitability, upended by a more than 400 percent rise last year in ransomware cases and skyrocketing extortion demands. As a percentage of premiums collected, cyber insurance payouts now top 70 percent, the break-even point.

Fabian Wosar, chief technical officer of Emsisoft, a cybersecurity firm specializing in ransomware, said the prevailing attitude among insurers is no longer: Pay the criminals. It's likely to be cheaper for all involved.

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Tale of rescue after falling several floors in Fla. collapse

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — When 16-year-old rising volleyball star Deven Gonzalez was pulled from the rubble of her Miami condo building, her initial reaction amid the shock was to tell firefighters that she had to compete in a major tournament in a few days.

The teen's entire world revolved around volleyball. She played beach volleyball, on her high school team and with a competitive travel club team. From her hospital bed where she's undergone multiple surgeries for a broken femur, she apologized profusely to her coach for missing their final practice.

“I said, ‘Let’s focus on you right now and not volleyball,'” said club coach Amy Morgan, who described the teen as extremely determined, passionate and unrelenting in pursuing her goals.

Gonzalez lived with her parents on the ninth floor of Champlain Towers South. She and her mother, Andrea Gonzalez, fell several stories before being rescued on the fifth floor, she told her coach. Her mother was among the survivors pulled from the rubble and is still hospitalized with serious injuries, Morgan told The Associated Press.

At least two dozen were killed in the building's partial collapse Thursday. Deven's father, attorney Edgar Gonzalez, is among the more than 120 still missing. The family’s eldest daughter, Taylor, who was not in the building at the time of the collapse, has been a source of strength for her mom and sister, according to Morgan and Joslyn Varona, a family friend who has posted frequent updates on Facebook.

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Malaysians suffering amid lockdown fly white flag for help

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — When Mohamad Nor Abdullah put a white flag outside his window late at night, he didn’t expect the swift outpouring of support. By morning, dozens of strangers knocked on his door, offering food, cash and encouragement.

Malaysia's nationwide lockdown to curb a coronavirus surge was tightened further on Saturday, banning people in certain areas from leaving their homes except to buy food and necessities.

It lurched Mohamad Nor into desperation. He ekes out a living by selling packed nasi lemak, a popular dish of coconut milk rice with condiments, at a roadside stall every morning, but that income has vanished and government aid was insufficient.

The white flag campaign that emerged on social media last week aims to help people like Mohamad Nor, who is 29 and was born without arms. By chance, he saw the campaign on Facebook and decided to try to seek help.

“It was so unexpected. So many people reached out to help, support and also encouraged me,” Mohamad Nor said, sitting in his dingy room amid boxes of biscuits, rice, cooking oil and water that were swiftly donated to him. He said kind Samaritans offered to help pay his room rental and that the assistance should be enough to tide him through the next few months.

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Mired in crises, Lebanon hopes summer arrivals bring relief

NIHA, Lebanon (AP) — In a village in Lebanon’s scenic Chouf Mountains, 69-year-old Chafik Mershad pulls out a massive rectangular guestbook and reads out despairingly the date when he hosted his last visitor: Nov. 16, 2019.

A month earlier, anti-government protests had exploded across the country over taxes and a deteriorating currency crisis. Amid such uncertainty, few people visited his guesthouse. Then came the coronavirus and subsequent government-imposed lockdowns. The guesthouse officially closed its doors in February 2020. A year and a half later, he still has no plans to reopen amid the country’s current financial meltdown.

“Corona really affected us, but the biggest thing was the currency crisis,” Mershad said, speaking at his home above the guesthouse. “We used to offer meals for guests with Nescafe, tea, whatever they wanted for a cheap price. Now, one hamburger patty costs that much."

The dual shocks of the pandemic and a devastating financial crisis have gutted the hospitality sector of this Mediterranean nation, known for its beaches, mountain resorts and good food. Hundreds of businesses, including guesthouses like the Mershad Guesthouse, have been forced to close.

But as pandemic restrictions are being eased, the businesses that survived hope the dollars spent by visiting Lebanese expats and an increase in domestic tourism can get the wheels of the economy moving again.

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Southwest, American delays hint at hard summer for travelers

This summer is already shaping up to be a difficult one for air travelers.

Southwest Airlines customers have struggled with thousands of delays and hundreds of canceled flights this month because of computer problems, staffing shortages and bad weather.

American Airlines is also grappling with a surge in delays, and it has trimmed its schedule through mid-July at least in part because it doesn't have enough pilots, according to the pilots' union.

Travelers are posting photos of long airport lines and describing painful flights.

“It was ridiculously crowded,” Tracey Milligan said of airports after a round trip from her New Jersey home to Miami this week.

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