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Monthly Archives: August 2017

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2 explosions rock flooded Houston-area chemical plant

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DALLAS (AP) — A Houston-area chemical plant that lost power after Harvey engulfed the area in extensive floods was rocked by two explosions early Thursday, the plant’s operator said.

Arkema Inc. said in a statement on its website that the Harris County Emergency Operations Center reported two explosions and black smoke coming from the plant at about 2 a.m.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office said in a tweet that a deputy was taken to the hospital after inhaling fumes. Nine other deputies drove themselves to the hospital as a precaution.

The Harris County Fire Marshal’s Office said there had been “a series of chemical reactions” at the plant and advised people to stay away from the area.

A spokeswoman for the plant in Crosby, Texas, said late Wednesday that the flooded facility had lost power and backup generators due to the flooding, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises. The plant is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Houston.

“The fire will happen. It will resemble a gasoline fire. It will be explosive and intense in nature,” spokeswoman Janet Smith told The Associated Press late Wednesday.

There was “no way to prevent” the explosion, chief executive Rich Rowe said earlier Wednesday.

The CEO of a chemical plant northeast of Houston says the site is at risk of exploding due to floodwaters and loss of power stemming from Tropical Storm Harvey. Officials evacuated the plant and homes within 1.5 miles of the site Wednesday. (Aug. 30)

Arkema manufactures organic peroxides, a family of compounds used for making a variety of products including pharmaceuticals and construction materials.

“As the temperature rises, the natural state of these materials will decompose. A white smoke will result, and that will catch fire,” Smith said. “So the fire is imminent. The question is when.”

Harvey struck Southeast Texas last week, slamming into the coast as a Category 4 hurricane, then weakening to a tropical storm that dumped record amounts of rain on the state, in particular the Houston area. The storm was downgraded to a tropical depression late Wednesday.

The company shut down the Crosby site before Harvey made landfall last week, but a crew of 11 had stayed behind. That group was removed and residents living within a 1.5-mile (2.4-kilometer) radius were told to evacuate Tuesday after the plant lost power.

The plant falls along a stretch near Houston that features one of the largest concentrations of refineries, pipelines and chemical plants in the country.

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Associated Press writer Claudia Lauer in Dallas contributed to this report.

Federal judge blocks Texas’ tough ‘sanctuary cities’ law

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge late Wednesday temporarily blocked most of Texas’ tough new “sanctuary cities” law that would have let police officers ask people during routine stops whether they’re in the U.S. legally and threatened sheriffs with jail time for not cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

The law, known as Senate Bill 4, had been cheered by President Donald Trump’s administration and was set to take effect Friday. It was widely viewed as the toughest immigration measure in the nation since Arizona passed what critics called a “Show Me Your Papers” law in 2010, which was later partially struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia in San Antonio was handed down as anxieties about immigration enforcement in Texas have again flared in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey. Houston officials have sought to assure families fleeing the rising floodwaters in the nation’s fourth-largest city that shelters would not ask for their immigration status.

Houston police Chief Art Acevedo, an outspoken critic of the law, got word of the decision while standing inside a downtown convention center where about 10,000 people have sought shelter. He high-fived another officer.

“We needed a break. That’s a break for us,” said Acevedo, whose department has conducted thousands of high-water rescues and lost one officer who died in floodwaters as he tried to drive to work.

The measure sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature despite months of protests and opposition from business groups, which worried that it could cause a labor-force shortage and send a negative economic message. Leading the lawsuit were Texas’ largest cities — including Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin — in a state where the Hispanic population has grown at a pace three times that of whites since 2010.

Garcia wrote in his 94-page ruling that Texas’ law was pre-empted by existing federal statute and therefore unconstitutional.

The judge noted that when it was being considered in public legislative hearings, only eight people testified in favor of it while 1,600 “showed up to oppose it.” He also wrote there “is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe” while adding that “localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, will harm the state of Texas.”

“The court cannot and does not second guess the Legislature,” Garcia wrote. “However, the state may not exercise its authority in a manner that violates the United States Constitution.”

Garcia’s order suspends the law’s most contentious language while suggesting that even parts of the law that can go forward won’t withstand further legal challenges.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who signed the law in May, said Texas would appeal immediately and expressed confidence that the state would eventually prevail. He also again took a swipe at the elected Democratic sheriff of Travis County, Sally Hernandez, who had announced on the day of Trump’s inauguration that her Austin jails would no longer automatically honor all detainer requests made by U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

“Today’s decision makes Texas’ communities less safe. Because of this ruling, gang members and dangerous criminals, like those who have been released by the Travis County Sheriff, will be set free to prey upon our communities,” Abbott said in a statement.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which has made “sanctuary cities” a new priority under the Trump administration, had joined Texas is defending the law in court. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has threatened to pull federal money from jurisdictions that hinder communication between local police and immigration authorities and has praised Texas’ law.

The law had sought to fine law enforcement authorities who fail to honor federal requests to hold people jailed on offenses that aren’t immigration related for possible deportation. It also would have ensured that police chiefs, sheriffs and constables could face removal from office and even criminal charges for failing to comply with such federal “detainer” requests.

Opponents of the law told Garcia that his ruling could determine if other states pursue copycat measures, while the Texas attorney general’s office argued that the new law had fewer teeth than the Arizona measure.

Since January, the bill has elevated political tensions in Texas, and it boiled over in May when Republican state Rep. Matt Rinaldi told Democrats that he had called federal immigration agents to report protesters in the Capitol who he said were holding signs that said they were not legal citizens. A Democrat whose district is near the U.S.-Mexico border admitted confronting and pushing Rinaldi, who has acknowledged telling him that he would “shoot him in self-defense.”

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Associated Press Writer Nomaan Merchant in Houston contributed to this report.

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Follow Paul J. Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/pauljweber

US flies bombers, fighters in show of force against N.Korea

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The United States flew some of its most advanced warplanes in bombing drills with ally South Korea on Thursday, a clear warning after North Korea launched a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry nuclear bombs over Japan earlier this week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries said. North Korea hates such displays of U.S. military might at close range and will likely respond with fury.

Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35B stealth fighter jets joined four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North’s “core facilities,” according to the U.S. Pacific Command and South Korea’s Defense Ministry. The B-1Bs were flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35Bs came from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan.

The North, which claims Washington has long threatened Pyongyang by flaunting the powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal, describes the long-range B-1Bs as “nuclear strategic bombers” although the United States no longer arms them with nuclear weapons. A strong North Korean reaction to the drills is almost certain.

The dueling military displays open up the risk that things will get worse as each side seeks to show it won’t be intimidated.

North Korea has made it clear that it sees its weapons program, which demands regular testing to perfect, as the only way to contest decades of U.S. hostility, by which it means the huge U.S. military presence in South Korea, Japan and the Pacific. Washington, in turn, seeks with its joint drills with Seoul and bomber flights to show that it will not be pushed from its traditional role of supremacy in the region. More missile tests, more bomber flyovers and three angry armies facing each other across the world’s most heavily armed border raises the possibility that a miscalculation could lead to real fighting.

The U.S. Pacific Command said the exercises were conducted in direct response to North Korea’s recent missile launch. Over the course of a 10-hour mission, the B-1Bs, F-35Bs and two Japanese F-15 fighters first flew together over waters near Kyushu, Japan. The U.S. and South Korean warplanes then flew across the Korean Peninsula and participated in the live-fire training before returning to their respective home stations, according to the Pacific Command.

“North Korea’s actions are a threat to our allies, partners and homeland, and their destabilizing actions will be met accordingly,” Gen. Terrence J. O’Shaughnessy, commander of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, said in a statement. “This complex mission clearly demonstrates our solidarity with our allies and underscores the broadening cooperation to defend against this common regional threat. Our forward-deployed force will be the first to the fight, ready to deliver a lethal response at a moment’s notice if our nation calls.”

In Beijing, North Korea’s ally China warned that war is not an option in finding a solution to Pyongyang’s growing nuclear capabilities.

Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Ren Guoqiang told reporters that all parties should exercise restraint and avoid words and actions that escalate tension.

The bombing exercise came as the United States and South Korea wrapped up their annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint military drills that involved tens of thousands of soldiers. North Korea condemns the annual U.S.-South Korea war games as rehearsals for an invasion and described Tuesday’s launch over Japan as a countermeasure against the drills. Washington and Seoul faced calls to postpone or downsize this year’s drills.

The United States often sends its warplanes to South Korea, mostly for patrols, when animosity rises on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty.

North Korea on Tuesday flew a potentially-nuclear capable Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile over northern Japan and later called it a “meaningful prelude” to containing the U.S. territory of Guam. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the launch was a “curtain-raiser of its resolute countermeasures” against the U.S.-South Korea war games and called for his military to conduct more ballistic missile launches targeting the Pacific Ocean.

North Korea has been maintaining a torrid pace in weapons tests this year as it openly pursues an arsenal of nuclear-armed, intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching deep into the U.S. mainland. Experts say Kim wants a real nuclear deterrent against the United States to ensure the survival of his government and likely believes that it will strengthen his negotiating position when North Korea returns to talks.

Pyongyang had earlier threatened to fire a salvo of Hwasong-12s toward Guam, which is home to key U.S. military bases and strategic long-range bombers the North finds threatening. It also flight tested a pair of developmental ICBMs in July.

South Korean analysts said that the North’s threat against Guam and the launch over Japan on Tuesday are likely attempts to make launches over Japan an accepted norm and win itself greater military space in a region dominated by enemies.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries say the Hwasong-12 the North fired over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido flew for about 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles). South Korea’s Vice Defense Minister Suh Choo-suk told lawmakers on Thursday that the North might have fired the missile at about half its maximum range.

Another Brexit week: little progress, more acrimony

BRUSSELS (AP) — Diplomats in Brussels involved in the latest negotiating session on Britain’s exit from the European Union say discussions have become more acrimonious.

Officials from both sides, who were on Thursday wrapping up four days of talks at EU headquarters, say the discussions have yielded little amid bickering over everything from arrangements for health protection after Brexit actually takes place in March 2019 to Britain’s divorce bill.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier have complained that Britain has still not produced sufficient information for the talks to move onto trade matters.

Meanwhile, British diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said some EU papers, including those on Britain’s outstanding bill, were too flimsy for decisive debate.

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TOKYO (AP) — British Prime Minister Theresa May sought to reassure Japanese business leaders about Brexit on Thursday, saying she is laying the foundation to take the bilateral trade and investment relationship to “a whole new level” as the U.K. leaves the European Union.

“This is a formative period in shaping the future of my country,” she said in remarks to a Japan-U.K. business forum.

She pledged that Britain would deepen trade relations and become even more outward-looking post-Brexit. “There are few places where the opportunities of doing so are greater than Japan, the third-largest economy in the world,” she said.

Some Japanese companies with factories in the United Kingdom are worried about their ability to export to the rest of Europe after Brexit. Britain voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, and triggered the formal two-year exit process in March.

May, on the second day of a three-day visit to Japan, boarded a Japanese warship to underscore her country’s deepening security ties with Japan.

She and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera met on the Izumo at a naval base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo.

“My visit today is a sign of the growing cooperation and partnership that we have on defense matters,” May said in comments broadcast on Japanese TV.

She later attended a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council.

May is visiting Japan for the first time as prime minister.

She met Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. The two agreed to urge China to step up pressure on North Korea to end its nuclear weapons development, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

Late Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that unlike its critics, Beijing sought not only to impose sanctions on North Korea but also to promote talks aimed at preserving peace on the peninsula.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday. The test, which was met with wide condemnation, came less than a month after the U.N. Security Council imposed its toughest-yet sanctions on North Korea.

Business: Global stocks mixed after China factory, Wall Street gains

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed Thursday after Wall Street rose on a stronger estimate of U.S. economic growth and Chinese factory activity improved.

KEEPING SCORE: In early trading, Germany’s DAX rose 0.6 percent to 12,075.51 and London’s FTSE 100 added 0.5 percent to 7,401.66. France’s CAC 40 gained 0.4 percent to 5,077.40. On Wednesday, the DAX and the CAC 40 both rose 0.5 percent while the FTSE 100 added 0.4 percent. On Wall Street, futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 0.2 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: The Shanghai Composite Index was unchanged at 3,360.81 while Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 0.7 percent to 19,646.24. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.4 percent to 27,970.30 and Seoul’s Kospi lost 0.4 percent to 2,363.19. Sydney’s S&P-ASX 200 advanced 0.8 percent to 5,714.50 and India’s Sensex was unchanged at 31,644.30. Taiwan, New Zealand and Singapore rose while Bangkok and Jakarta retreated.

WALL STREET: U.S. stocks climbed as investors cheered a report of stronger economic growth. Investor concerns about tensions between the U.S. and North Korea appeared to ease and stocks moved higher as the day progressed. Along with technology companies and consumer-focused firms, health care companies and banks finished higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index climbed 0.5 percent to 2,457.59. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 0.1 percent to 21,892.43. The Nasdaq composite gained 1.1 percent to 6,368.31 as technology companies rose for a third day in a row.

US UPGRADE: The Commerce Department raised its estimate for second-quarter economic growth to 3 percent from 2.6 percent, the fastest pace in two years. The estimate is much better than the first quarter, when growth was 1.2 percent. Meanwhile, private businesses added 237,000 jobs in August with broad gains across several industries including construction, manufacturing and leisure and hospitality, according to a survey by payroll processor ADP.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Market sentiment was given a lift by an upward revision to 2Q17 U.S. GDP growth driven by consumer spending,” Rob Carnell of ING said in a report. He also pointed to a rise in August employment numbers and an upward revision in July data. “Although economic data are positive for markets, politics, both domestic and international, continues to cast an ugly cloud,” Carnell said. He cited the Trump administration’s threat to shut the government and its stance toward North Korea. “But with a wall of money looking for somewhere to park, the economic news is likely to trump geopolitics for the moment unless the situation worsens.”

CHINA MANUFACTURING: An official gauge of Chinese factory activity improved for a 13th straight month in August. The preliminary version of the purchasing managers’ index from the China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing and the National Bureau of Statistics rose to 51.7 from July’s 51.4 on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 show activity expanding. An index of new orders rose to 53.1 from July’s 52.8.

HARVEY’S IMPACT: Gasoline prices spiked to two-year highs and oil prices fell as the damage on the U.S. Gulf Coast became more apparent after Hurricane Harvey. The storm knocked out significant oil drilling and refining capacity, and on Tuesday, the largest U.S. oil refinery shut down and the operator of a major pipeline carrying fuel to the East Coast said it was running at a reduced rate. A record amount of rain left extensive flooding in Houston, the fourth-largest U.S. city, and the storm’s slow movement to the north and east was raising flood risks elsewhere in Texas and in other states.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude rose 11 cents to $46.07 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 48 cents on Wednesday to close at $45.96. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 2 cents to $50.75 in London. It plunged 93 cents the previous session to $51.73.

CURRENCY: The dollar rose to 110.49 yen from Wednesday’s 110.24 yen. The euro edged up to $1.1887 from $1.1885.

Forecast brings hope as new shelters open, death toll rises

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HOUSTON (AP) — The latest weather forecast delivered hope to Houston after five days of torrential rain submerged the nation’s fourth-largest city: Less than an inch of rain and perhaps even sunshine.

But the dangers remain far from over Wednesday. With at least 18 dead and 13,000 people rescued in the Houston area and surrounding cities and counties in Southeast Texas, others were still trying to escape from their inundated homes. Weakened levees were in danger of failing and a less-ferocious but still potent Harvey returned to shore, making landfall in southwestern Louisiana.

The situation was dire early Wednesday in Port Arthur, Texas, near the Louisiana border, where homes were starting to fill with rising floodwaters and residents were unsure of how to evacuate the city, KFDM-TV reported. Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens said county resources could not get to Port Arthur because of the flooding.

Port Arthur Mayor Derrick Freeman said on his Facebook page that the “city is underwater right now but we are coming!” He also urged residents to get to higher ground and to avoid becoming trapped in attics.

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Federal and local agencies say they have rescued more than 13,000 people in the Houston area as well as in surrounding cities and counties in Southeast Texas since Tropical Storm Harvey inundated the area with torrential rain. At least 18 deaths are confirmed. (Aug. 30)

Authorities expected the human toll to continue to mount, both in deaths and in the tens of thousands of people made homeless by the catastrophic storm that is now the heaviest tropical downpour in U.S. history. In all, more than 17,000 people have sought refuge in Texas shelters, and that number seemed certain to increase, the American Red Cross said.

Houston’s largest shelter housed 10,000 of the displaced — twice its initial intended capacity — as two additional mega-shelters opened Tuesday for the overflow. Louisiana’s governor offered to take in Harvey victims from Texas, and televangelist Joel Osteen opened his Houston megachurch, a 16,000-seat former arena, after critics blasted him on social media for not acting to help families displaced by the storm.

In an apparent response to scattered reports of looting, a curfew was put into effect from midnight to 5 a.m., with police saying violators would be questioned, searched and arrested.

A much-weakened Tropical Storm Harvey steered into new territory, coming ashore again early Wednesday just west of Cameron, Louisiana, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (72 kph), the National Hurricane Center said.

Harvey is expected to weaken, but will slog through Louisiana for much of the day before taking its downpours north. Arkansas, Tennessee and parts of Missouri are on alert for Harvey flooding in the next couple of days.

“Once we get this thing inland during the day, it’s the end of the beginning,” said National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen. “Texas is going to get a chance to finally dry out as this system pulls out.”

But Feltgen cautioned: “We’re not done with this. There’s still an awful lot of real estate and a lot of people who are going to feel the impacts of the storm.”

Still, the reprieve from the rain in Houston was welcome.

Eugene Rideaux, a 42-year-old mechanic who showed up at Osteen’s Lakewood Church to sort donations for evacuees, said he had not been able to work or do much since the storm first hit, so he was eager to get out of his dark house and help.

“It’s been so dark for days now, I’m just ready to see some light. Some sunshine. I’m tired of the darkness,” Rideaux said. “But it’s a tough city, and we’re going to make this into a positive and come together.”

The city has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for more supplies, including cots and food, for an additional 10,000 people, said Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who hoped to get the supplies no later than Wednesday.

Four days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities and family members reported at least 18 deaths from Harvey. They include a former football and track coach in suburban Houston and a woman who died after she and her young daughter were swept into a rain-swollen drainage canal. Two Beaumont, Texas, police officers and two fire-rescue divers spotted the woman floating with the child, who was holding onto her mother.

Authorities acknowledge that fatalities from Harvey could soar once the floodwaters start to recede from one of America’s largest metropolitan centers.

A pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston and a levee in a suburban subdivision began overflowing Tuesday, adding to the rising floodwaters.

Engineers began releasing water from the Addicks and Barker reservoirs Monday to ease the strain on the dams. But the releases were not enough to relieve the pressure after the relentless downpours, Army Corps of Engineers officials said. Both reservoirs are at record highs.

The release of the water means that more homes and streets will flood, and some homes will be inundated for up to a month, said Jeff Linder of the Harris County Flood Control District.

Officials in Houston were also keeping an eye on infrastructure such as bridges, roads and pipelines that are in the path of the floodwaters.

Water in the Houston Ship Channel, which serves the Port of Houston and Houston’s petrochemical complex, is at levels never seen before, Linder said.

The San Jacinto River, which empties into the channel, has pipelines, roads and bridges not designed for the current deluge, Linder said, and the chance of infrastructure failures will increase the “longer we keep the water in place.”

Among the worries is debris coming down the river and crashing into structures and the possibility that pipelines in the riverbed will be scoured by swift currents. In 1994, a pipeline ruptured on the river near Interstate 10 and caught fire.

After five consecutive days of rain, Harvey set a new continental U.S. record for rainfall for a tropical system.

The rains in Cedar Bayou, near Mont Belvieu, Texas, totaled 51.88 inches (132 centimeters) as of Tuesday afternoon. That’s a record for both Texas and the continental United States, but it does not quite surpass the 52 inches (133 centimeters) from Tropical Cyclone Hiki in Kauai, Hawaii, in 1950, before Hawaii became a state.

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Associated Press writers Frank Bajak and Michael Graczyk in Houston, Diana Heidgerd and David Warren in Dallas, Seth Borenstein in Washington and Tammy Webber in Chicago contributed to this report.

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NKorea leader urges more missile launches targeting Pacific

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for more weapons launches targeting the Pacific Ocean to advance his country’s ability to contain Guam, state media said Wednesday, a day after Pyongyang for the first time flew a ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload over Japan.

Tuesday’s aggressive missile launch — likely the longest ever from North Korea — over a close U.S. ally sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct annual military drills. The Korean Central News Agency said the launch was a “muscle-flexing” countermeasure to the Ulchi Freedom Guardian joint exercises that conclude Thursday. Pyongyang views the drills as invasion rehearsals and often conducts weapons tests and escalates its rhetoric when they are held.

The KCNA report said the missile was an intermediate-range Hwasong-12, which the North first successfully tested in May and threatened to fire into waters near Guam earlier this month.

Kim expressed “great satisfaction” over the launch that he called a “meaningful prelude” to containing Guam and said North Korea would continue to watch the U.S. demeanor before it decides future actions, KCNA said. The U.S. territory is home to key U.S. military bases that North Korea finds threatening.

Kim also said it’s “necessary to positively push forward the work for putting the strategic force on a modern basis by conducting more ballistic rocket launching drills with the Pacific as a target in the future.”

The launch seemed designed to show that North Korea can back up a threat to target Guam, if it chooses to do so, while also establishing a potentially dangerous precedent that could see future missiles flying over Japan.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

President Donald Trump said North Korea had signaled its “contempt for its neighbors” and that “all options are on the table” in terms of a U.S. response. Trump said in his statement that “threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world.”

The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the launch, which came less than a month after the council imposed its toughest-yet sanctions on North Korea. The statement released after a meeting Tuesday evening in New York doesn’t mention any potential new sanctions but calls for strict implementation of existing ones.

Any new test worries Washington and its allies because it presumably puts North Korea a step closer to its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. Tuesday’s test, however, looks especially aggressive to Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

North Korea has conducted launches at an unusually fast pace this year — 13 times, Seoul says — and some analysts believe it could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of Trump’s first term in early 2021.

Seoul says that while North Korea has twice before fired rockets it said were carrying satellites over Japan — in 1998 and 2009 — it has never before used a ballistic missile, which is unambiguously designed for military strikes.

North Korea also chose not to fire its most recent missile at a lofted angle, as it did in previous launches to avoid other countries, and Seoul’s spy service said the North launched from an unusual spot: the international airport in its capital, Pyongyang. The North still claimed on Wednesday that its recent launch “had no impact on the security of the neighboring countries.”

Some outside observers said launching a road-mobile missile from an airport runway could demonstrate the North’s ability to fire its missiles from anywhere in the country.

The launch is also another rebuke to Trump, who suggested last week that his tough approach to North Korea, which included threats to unleash “fire and fury,” meant Kim “is starting to respect us.”

Tuesday’s missile landed nowhere near Guam, but firing a Hwasong-12 so soon after the threat may be a way for North Korea to show it could follow through if it chose to do so. Guam is 3,400 kilometers (2,110 miles) away from North Korea, but South Korea’s military said the North may have fired the missile at a shorter range.

Guam’s civil defense office said the missile was determined to not be a threat. Residents said they were not worried, for now. Eddie Cruz, 60, said he is concerned that with each missile launch, North Korea is getting better. “They’re practicing, and that’s exactly what I’m worried about,” he said.

North Korea will no doubt be watching the world’s reaction to see if it can use the same flight path for future launches.

Japanese officials made their usual strongly worded condemnations of the launch.

“We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”

Tokyo said there was no reported damage from the missile. Residents on Hokkaido were warned by loudspeakers, phone alerts and an email that told them to stay indoors.

The launch was also condemned by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and a number of other countries.

Tuesday’s launch came days after North Korea fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, and a month after its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

In an unusual move, the South Korean military released videos of missile tests it conducted last week. They showed two types of new missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers (500 miles) and 500 kilometers (310 miles) being fired from truck-mounted launchers.

South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development said the launches represented the last flight test for the longer-range missile before it is operationally deployed. Such missiles, which would be the latest additions to South Korea’s Hyumoo family of missiles, are considered key components of the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability that South Korea is pursuing to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.

South Korea also said its air force conducted a live-fire drill involving four F-15 fighter jets dropping eight MK-84 bombs that accurately hit targets at a military field near the country’s eastern coast. Yoon Young-chan, chief press secretary of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the exercise was conducted after Moon directed the military to “display a strong capability to punish” North Korea if need be.

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Associated Press writers Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo, Jennifer Peltz at the United Nations and Grace Garces Bordallo in Hagatna, Guam, contributed to this report.

More than 1.7 million Muslims gather for start of hajj

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MECCA, Saudi Arabia (AP) — In Saudi Arabia, more than 1.7 million pilgrims are marking the start of the hajj pilgrimage on Wednesday by circling the cube-shaped Kaaba in Mecca — Islam’s holiest site — and performing a series of rites that trace the footsteps of the Prophet Muhammad.

Muslims believe the rites also trace the footsteps of the prophets Ibrahim and Ismail — Abraham and Ishmael in the Bible.

The Kaaba represents the metaphorical house of God and the oneness of God in Islam. Observant Muslims around the world face toward the Kaaba during the five daily prayers.

The hajj is required of all Muslims once in a lifetime. The physically demanding journey tests pilgrims’ patience as they withstand long waits and thick crowds on their path to achieving spiritual purification and repentance.

Egyptian pilgrim Ahmed Ali, on his first hajj, said he was grateful to be in Mecca.

“It’s an indescribable feeling, a spiritual feeling. Thanks to God, I feel great,” he said.

A 104-year-old Indonesian woman is among those performing the hajj this year, according to Saudi authorities. Ibu Mariah Marghani Muhammad is joining more than 220,000 pilgrims from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country.

The journey of the five-day-long pilgrimage begins for many when they depart from their countries dressed in “ihram.” For men, that entails wearing only terrycloth, seamless white garments meant to represent unity among Muslims and equality before God. Women wear loose clothing, cover their hair and forgo makeup and nail polish to achieve a state of humility and spiritual purity.

After prayers in Mecca, pilgrims will head to an area called Mount Arafat on Thursday where the Prophet Muhammad delivered his final sermon. From there, pilgrims will head to an area called Muzdalifa, picking up pebbles along the way for a symbolic stoning of the devil and a casting away of sins that takes place in the Mina valley for three days.

Over the years, the Saudi government has spent billions of dollars to improve the safety of the pilgrimage, particularly in Mina where some of the deadliest incidents have occurred, including a stampede and a collision of two crowds that crushed people under the force in 2015 that killed more than 2,400 people.

Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told reporters in a news conference that a more than 100,000-strong security force is on the ground in and around Mecca to secure the hajj and assist pilgrims. He said the number of pilgrims at the hajj, including those from within Saudi Arabia, could reach 2 million.

“Everything is prepared,” he said. “We have our plans, we have people trained to enforce those plans, but this cannot be done only by infrastructure and by what we do. Pilgrims have their own responsibility, and we hope they comply with the schedule plans and the flow of direction.”

Health officials said they are also prepared to deal with any injuries or accidents, and have more than 100 ambulances deployed across the hajj sites.

Bangladeshi pilgrim Mohammad Nasser, 53, said the Grand Mosque housing the Kaaba is congested and busy, but believes overall the Saudi government has managed the crowds well so far.

“Thank God it is going very nice and smooth. I’m very happy that I’m here,” he said.

Hamas makes demands as UN chief arrives in Gaza for visit

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BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers welcomed U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to the isolated territory Wednesday by demanding he work to lift the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the strip and save it from a humanitarian crisis.

In a statement issued upon Guterres’ arrival, Hamas also demanded he approve relief and development programs and pressure Israel about the Palestinian prisoners it holds.

Guterres is on his first visit to the region since taking office at the beginning of the year. His meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders are aimed at encouraging the resumption of peace talks.

Prior to arriving in Gaza, he took a helicopter tour of the Israel-Gaza border with Israeli officials, visited a tunnel Hamas dug into Israel to carry out attacks and met local residents living along the volatile front.

Guterres was accompanied by Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, and Aviv Kochavi, Israel’s deputy military chief. Danon warned Guterres that Gaza’s Hamas rulers have been exploiting international humanitarian aid to dig the tunnels aimed at harming Israel.

“Instead of working to ensure a better future for their children, Hamas has turned the residents of Gaza into hostages,” he said. “At the same time, the Israeli residents of the border communities have stood strong in the face of terror threats, as they build prosperous communities and help further develop the region for the betterment of the next generation.”

Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has ruled Gaza with an iron fist since seizing control of the coastal area in 2007. It has since fought three wars with Israel, firing thousands of rockets into its territory and digging a network of elaborate offensive tunnels. Hamas has largely observed a truce with Israel since the last battle, in 2014, though more radical groups in the territory have carried out occasional attacks.

Egypt and Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover that has crippled the local economy. In recent years, Egypt has also cracked down on the once-vibrant tunnel trade along the border. Israel began construction of an underground anti-tunnel barrier along the border last year.

Mattis freezes transgender policy; allows troops to continue serving, pending study

(PhatzNewsRoom / USA Today)    —-    WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Jim Mattis late Tuesday announced that transgender troops will be allowed to continue serving in the military pending the results of a study by experts.

The announcement follows an order from President Trump — first announced in a tweet — declaring that transgender service members can no longer serve in the military, effectively reversing an Obama administration policy. The order also affects the Department of Homeland Security, which houses the Coast Guard.

“Once the panel reports its recommendations and following my consultation with the secretary of Homeland Security, I will provide my advice to the president concerning implementation of his policy direction,” Mattis said in the statement. “In the interim, current policy with respect to currently serving members will remain in place.”

Mattis’ move buys time for the Pentagon to determine how and if it will allow thousands of transgender troops to continue to serve, whether they will receive medical treatment, or how they will be discharged.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pauses during a news conference at the Pentagon.© AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pauses during a news conference at the Pentagon.

As Defense Secretary, Mattis has emphasized that he has little tolerance for policies that detract from military readiness or the Pentagon’s effectiveness on the battlefield. At the last moment in June, he delayed the Pentagon’s plan to accept new transgender troops. His reasoning: He demanded more study to determine the effect of recruiting them on the Pentagon’s ability to fight and win wars.

Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon rescinded a longstanding ban on transgender troops from serving. It also outlined how those troops could receive medical treatment, including gender reassignment surgery, if it was deemed medically necessary.

Trump’s order by tweet on July 26 caught the Pentagon by surprise. The tweets said there was no room in the ranks for transgender troops and that the government would no longer pay for their medical treatment.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded by saying that the Pentagon would not change its policy until it was notified officially by the White House.

The president issued that notification Friday night. It directed Mattis to study the issue and determine how to implement Trump’s direction. It was assailed by advocates for transgender troops who called it discriminatory, and the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit against it.

Last year, the Pentagon commissioned a study by the non-partisan RAND Corp. to examine the effects on military readiness of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and the cost of providing them medical treatment. The study estimated that a few to several thousand transgender troops are on the active duty force of 1.3 million. Researchers found that paying for their health care needs would amount to about $8 million per year and their effect on readiness would be negligible.

Business: Global stocks higher as investors shrug off Korea tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Global stocks were higher Wednesday as investors hunted for bargains and shrugged off geopolitical tensions a day after North Korea fired a missile that flew over northern Japan.

KEEPING SCORE: European markets opened higher. Britain’s FTSE 100 advanced 0.4 percent to 7,363.12 in early trading and France’s CAC 40 was up 0.4 percent at 5,053.99. Germany’s DAX gained 0.6 percent to 12,014.66. Futures showed Wall Street was due to open with moderate gains. S&P futures rose 0.1 percent and Dow futures added 0.2 percent.

ASIA’S DAY: Asian markets finished mostly higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.7 percent to 19,506.54 and South Korea’s Kospi was up 0.3 percent to 2,372.29. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng jumped 1.2 percent to 28,094.61 while Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.1 percent to 3,363.63. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was flat at 5,669.70. Stocks were higher in Taiwan and Singapore but lower in Indonesia.

ANALYST’S TAKE: “Markets have made the judgment that the post-missile test reactions of the U.S., the U.N. and North Korea do not warrant a move to full ‘risk off’ mode in stock markets at this stage,” Ric Spooner, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, said in a commentary.

NORTH KOREA: Investors were not swayed by the latest developments in North Korea. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, called for more weapons launches targeting the Pacific Ocean to advance his country’s ability to contain Guam, a day after the North flew a ballistic missile over Japan. The missile launch jolted world markets when it took place Tuesday. U.S. President Donald Trump said North Korea had signaled its “contempt for its neighbors” and that “all options are on the table” in terms of a U.S. response. The U.N. Security Council strongly condemned the launch.

OIL: Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 26 cents to $46.18 per barrel in New York. The contract gave up 13 cents to close at $46.44 a barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 40 cents to $51.26 per barrel in London.

CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 109.95 yen from 109.67 yen while the euro fell to $1.1965 from $1.1974.

Analysis: Trump’s turn to face tricky politics of natural disasters

WASHINGTON (AP) — George W. Bush never recovered from his flyover of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation. Barack Obama got a bipartisan boost late in his re-election campaign for his handling of Superstorm Sandy.

Now, President Donald Trump confronts the political risks and potential gains that come with leading the federal government’s response to a deadly and destructive natural disaster. Hurricane Harvey, the massive storm that has dumped torrents of rain across Texas — flooding Houston and other cities — is the first major natural disaster of Trump’s presidency, and the yet-to-be-determined scope of the damage appears likely to require a years-long federal project.

Trump, who is suffering through a long stretch of low approval ratings, has been particularly eager to seize the moment. He will visit Texas Tuesday — and may return to the region again on Saturday. The White House announced the first visit even before Harvey made landfall. On Monday, Trump promised Texans will “have what you need” and that federal funding would come “fast.”

“We will come out stronger and believe me, we will be bigger, better, stronger than ever before,” Trump said Monday during a White House news conference.

President Donald Trump called the spirit of the people of Texas following Hurricane Harvey “incredible.” Trump plans to visit the state Tuesday. (Aug. 28)

The president’s unconventional style has still oozed out. Trump sent about two dozen tweets about the storm since Friday, marveling at the size of the hurricane and cheering on emergency responders: “You are doing a great job — the world is watching!”

Indeed, he argued Monday he specifically timed his controversial pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio to capitalize on all the viewers tuned into storm coverage. The Friday night pardon wasn’t an attempt to hide the news, he said: “I assumed the ratings would be higher.”

Trump advisers are well-aware that the hurricane poses a significant test for the White House, which has largely been mired in crises of its own making during Trump’s first seven months in office, including the president’s widely criticized response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump, who ran a real estate business and starred in a reality show before taking office, has no experience in the kinds of recovery efforts that will be required in Texas and has struggled at times to show competency in governing.

Administrations often tread carefully in planning visits to disaster-ravaged areas. Mobilizing a president, his staff and his security is an enormous logistical undertaking and can pull local law enforcement resources away from the disaster recovery efforts. But Trump hasn’t been cowed.

Aides said it was Trump who pushed for the White House to make his desire to travel to Texas known early. He won’t be visiting Houston, where flooding has wreaked havoc on the nation’s fourth-largest city. Instead, he is meeting with local leadership and relief organizations in Corpus Christi, then visiting the state’s emergency operations center in Austin.

“Conditions haven’t cleared in Houston yet so probably not appropriate for him to go up there, probably not safe for him to go up there,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas. “But I do think having your own eyes on the devastation that I have seen is important.”

The optics of a president’s initial response to a natural disaster can be long-lasting.

Bush was haunted by his now-infamous declaration that then-FEMA Director Michael Brown was doing “a heckuva job” — a statement that appeared wildly off base after the full scope of the devastation became clear. Images of Bush peering down at the flooding in New Orleans from Air Force One also furthered the impression that he was detached from the horrific conditions on the ground.

“He understands why that picture became a metaphor,” said Dana Perino, who was serving as deputy White House spokeswoman at the time.

Trump has played storm politics before. During his campaign, he rushed to Louisiana, in his signature “Make America Great Again” hat, to view damage from massive flooding. Trump made it to the battered neighborhoods before Democratic rival Hillary Clinton and while President Barack Obama was vacationing.

“We’re glad you’re not playing golf at Martha’s Vineyard,” one woman told him, a jab at Obama.

“Somebody is, somebody is that shouldn’t be,” Trump replied.

Over the weekend, Trump offered a sunny assessment of the response efforts while the rain was still pouring down on Houston and other Texas towns. He cited the “great coordination between agencies at all levels of government” and declared, “We have an all-out effort going, and going well!”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, has so far praised the federal response to Hurricane Harvey, which has been blamed for at least three confirmed deaths. But with nearly 2 more feet of rain expected, authorities worried whether the worst was yet to come.

On its own, a successful federal response to Hurricane Harvey is unlikely to reshape Trump’s presidency. But with his approval rating perilously low, it could help Trump convince some Americans that he has the capability to lead the nation through difficult moments.

Trump’s predecessors have also benefited from the political opportunities that can arise after natural disasters.

When Superstorm Sandy barreled across the East Coast days before the 2012 election, Obama paused his campaign to monitor the federal response from Washington. He traveled to hard-hit New Jersey, where Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a strong supporter of the president’s rival, lavished praise on Obama.

Obama advisers said at the time that while they didn’t believe the president’s Sandy efforts were a deciding factor in the election, the praise he received from Republicans was helpful in the midst of a highly partisan campaign.

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AP Polling Director Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Shooting that killed 2, wounded 4 at library shakes city

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CLOVIS, N.M. (AP) — A shooting inside a public library that killed two people and wounded four has deeply shaken an eastern New Mexico community.

The gunman surrendered after the shooting Monday and was taken into custody without incident after police entered the Clovis-Carver Public Library, authorities and elected officials with the city of Clovis said during a news conference. Warrants for his arrest were being prepared, but it’s wasn’t immediately clear what charges he would face.

Clovis Mayor David Lansford said things could have been much worse had it not been for the quick response, training and courage of police. He called the shooting tragic and senseless.

“This is a big blow to our community,” he said. “Our community is a community that places a high value on life and the sanctity of life. And each life that lives in this community is precious. So we’re all hurting right now as a result of what took place this afternoon.”

Clovis, a city of about 40,000, is about 200 miles east of Albuquerque, near the Texas state line. The area is home to Cannon Air Force Base. The nearby community of Portales is home to Eastern New Mexico University.

The injured included two men and two women, authorities said. Some were taken to a hospital across the state line in Lubbock, Texas. The extent of their injuries was not immediately known.

A shooting inside a public library killed two people and wounded four in Clovis, New Mexico on Monday. Authorities say the gunman surrendered without incident when officers entered the library. (Aug. 29)

One woman was seen being helped into an ambulance while a call for air ambulances could be heard over police radio traffic.

The names of the victims and the gunman were not released.

A woman who was in the library when the man started shooting said the man told her to run, the Eastern New Mexico News reported Monday night.

Lisa Baird told the newspaper (http://bit.ly/2wdMWOQ) that she was about 20 feet from the man as he opened fire inside the library.

“Run!,” he yelled at her. “Why aren’t you running? I’m shooting at you! Run!”

Baird talked to the newspaper through Facebook Messenger. She said she was talking with a library patron when she says she heard a “very loud bang.”

“My initial thought was why would someone throw a cherry bomb or M80 firecracker into the library? Then I saw a young man aim his hand, which had a handgun in it, to the ground/carpet about 6 feet in front of him and he fired like four or five shots into the carpet,” she said.

She dove under a nearby desk “and tried to squish up as small as possible,” Baird said.

From there, Baird said she could hear the man moving around the library and firing multiple shots.

“Then I heard his pants ‘shooshing’ as he approached the end of the reference desk. I heard a sound like a phone or something being put on the reference counter at the end of the desk, about 4 feet from my head,” she said.

Then police entered the library and began shouting for the man with the gun to “lay on the ground” repeatedly, Baird said.

Police Chief Doug Ford says the suspect did not resist after police arrived.

Police said they were still working to process the crime scene and piece together what happened. Ford could not immediately say what kind of gun was used in the attack.

Top elected officials from across New Mexico issued their condolences for the victims and their support for the community. Gov. Susana Martinez called it a “horrific attack.”

“In the coming hours and days we will learn more information about this despicable act, but for now I ask all New Mexicans to pray for the victims and their families, and for the entire Clovis community,” said Martinez, a former prosecutor.

Attorney General Hector Balderas said his office has reached out to the local district attorney to offer its help.

Sojung Her, a 26-year-old cashier at the Shogun Japanese Steakhouse within view of the library lawn, said the shooting left behind a sense of fear and vulnerability.

“It’s kind of a freak thing,” she said. “What if he just walked into our restaurant and started shooting?”

Police cars and tactical officers crowded the streets outside as she arrived to work at the restaurant late Monday afternoon.

“This kind of thing never happens here,” she said.

Vanessa Aguirre told The Eastern New Mexico News that she was in the library with her son when a man came in and started to shoot into the air.

“It all happened so fast,” she said. “We took off fast.”

Amid flooding, chief worried ‘how many bodies’ will be found

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HOUSTON (AP) — Crews overwhelmed by thousands of rescue calls during one of the heaviest downpours in U.S. history have had little time to search for other potential victims, but officials acknowledge the grim reality that fatalities linked to Harvey could soar once the devastating floodwaters recede from one of America’s most sprawling metropolitan centers.

More than three days after the storm ravaged the Texas coastline as a Category 4 hurricane, authorities had confirmed only three deaths — including a woman killed Monday when heavy rains dislodged a large oak tree onto her trailer home in the small town of Porter. But unconfirmed reports of others missing or presumed dead were growing.

“We know in these kind of events that, sadly, the death toll goes up historically,” Houston police Chief Art Acevedo told The Associated Press. “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”

One Houston woman said Monday that she presumes six members of a family, including four of her grandchildren, died after their van sank into Greens Bayou in East Houston, though Houston emergency officials couldn’t confirm the deaths. Virginia Saldivar told The Associated Press her brother-in-law was driving the van Sunday when a strong current took the vehicle over a bridge and into the bayou. The driver was able to get out and urged the children to escape through the back door, Saldivar said, but they could not.

Houston authorities continued to battle overwhelming flooding on Monday only comparable to scenes straight out of a Hollywood film. Officials said police had rescued at least 1,000 people in the last eight hours, bringing that to total of 3,052. (Aug. 28)

“I’m just hoping we find the bodies,” Saldivar said.

And a spokeswoman for a Houston hotel says one of its employees disappeared while helping about 100 guests and workers evacuate the building amid rising floodwaters.

The disaster is unfolding on an epic scale, with the nation’s fourth-largest city mostly paralyzed by the storm that has parked itself over the Gulf Coast. With nearly 2 more feet (61 centimeters) of rain expected on top of the 30-plus inches (76 centimeters) in some places, authorities worried the worst might be yet to come.

The Houston metro area covers about 10,000 square miles (25,900 sq. kilometers), an area slightly bigger than New Jersey. It’s crisscrossed by about 1,700 miles (2735.76 kilometers) of channels, creeks and bayous that drain into the Gulf of Mexico, about 50 miles (80.46 kilometers) to the southeast from downtown.

The storm is generating an amount of rain that would normally be seen only once in more than 1,000 years, said Edmond Russo, a deputy district engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, which was concerned that floodwater would spill around a pair of 70-year-old reservoir dams that protect downtown Houston.

Rescuers meanwhile continued plucking people from inundated neighborhoods. Mayor Sylvester Turner put the number by police at more than 3,000. The Coast Guard said it also had rescued more than 3,000 by boat and air and was taking more than 1,000 calls per hour.

Chris Thorn was among the many volunteers still helping with the mass evacuation that began Sunday. He drove with a buddy from the Dallas area with their flat-bottom hunting boat to pull strangers out of the water.

“I couldn’t sit at home and watch it on TV and do nothing since I have a boat and all the tools to help,” he said.

A mandatory evacuation was ordered for the low-lying Houston suburb of Dickinson, home to 20,000. Police cited the city’s fragile infrastructure in the floods, limited working utilities and concern about the weather forecast.

In Houston, questions continued to swirl about why the mayor did not issue a similar evacuation order.

Turner has repeatedly defended the decision and did so again Monday, insisting that a mass evacuation of millions of people by car was a greater risk than enduring the storm.

“Both the county judge and I sat down together and decided that we were not in direct path of the storm, of the hurricane, and the safest thing to do was for people to stay put, make the necessary preparations. I have no doubt that the decision we made was the right decision.”

He added, “Can you imagine if millions of people had left the city of Houston and then tried to come back in right now?”

By Monday night, 7,000 people had arrived at the city’s largest shelter set up inside the George R. Brown Convention Center — which originally had an estimated capacity of 5,000.

Red Cross spokesman Lloyd Ziel said that volunteers made more space inside the center, which also was used to house Hurricane Katrina refugees from New Orleans in 2005, in part by pushing some cots closer together. A shortage of cots means some people will have to sleep on chairs or the floor.

The center settled down at night, after an occasionally chaotic day that saw thousands of evacuees arrive in the pouring rain. Officers and volunteers at times rushed to attend to those with medical needs.

At the Addicks and Barker reservoirs, the Army Corps started releasing water Monday because water levels were climbing at a rate of more than 6 inches (15 centimeters) per hour, Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said.

The move was supposed to help shield the business district from floodwaters, but it also risked flooding thousands more homes in nearby subdivisions. Built after devastating floods in 1929 and 1935, the reservoirs were designed to hold water until it can be released downstream at a controlled rate.

In the Cypress Forest Estates neighborhood in northern Harris County, people called for help from inside homes as water from a nearby creek rose to their eaves. A steady procession of rescue boats floated into the area.

Harvey increased slightly in strength Monday as it drifted back over the warm Gulf, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Forecasters expect the system to stay over water with 45 mph (72 kph) winds for 36 hours and then head back inland east of Houston sometime Wednesday. The system will then head north and lose its tropical strength.

Before then, up to 20 more inches (51 centimeters) of rain could fall, National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini said Monday.

That means the flooding will get worse in the days ahead and the floodwaters will be slow to recede once Harvey finally moves on, the weather service said.

Sometime Tuesday or early Wednesday, parts of the Houston region will probably break the nearly 40-year-old U.S. record for the biggest rainfall from a tropical system — 48 inches — set by Tropical Storm Amelia in 1978 in Texas, meteorologists said.

The amount of water in Houston was so unprecedented that the weather service on Wednesday had to update the color charts on its official rainfall maps to indicate the heavier totals.

In Louisiana, the images of the devastation in Houston stirred painful memories for many Hurricane Katrina survivors.

“It really evoked a lot of emotions and heartbreak for the people who are going through that now in Houston,” Ray Gratia said as he picked up sandbags for his New Orleans home, which flooded during the 2005 hurricane.

In Washington, President Donald Trump’s administration assured Congress that the $3 billion balance in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund was enough to handle immediate needs, such as debris removal and temporary shelter for displaced residents.

The White House said Monday night that the president and first lady will visit Corpus Christi and Austin on Tuesday. They will receive briefings on the relief efforts by local leaders and organizations.

Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961′s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

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Associated Press writers Juan Lozano and Nomaan Merchant in Houston and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.

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In a 1st, NKorea fires missile over Japan in aggressive test

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — In a first, North Korea on Tuesday fired a midrange ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear payload that flew over Japan and splashed into the northern Pacific Ocean, officials said. The aggressive missile launch — likely the longest ever from North Korea — over the territory of a close U.S. ally sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile traveled around 2,700 kilometers (1,677 miles) and reached a maximum height of 550 kilometers (341 miles) as it traveled over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The distance and type of missile tested seemed designed to show that North Korea can back up a threat to target the U.S. territory of Guam, if it chooses to do so, while also establishing a potentially dangerous precedent that could see future missiles flying over Japan.

Any new test worries Washington and its allies because it presumably puts North Korea a step closer to its goal of an arsenal of nuclear missiles that can reliably target the United States. Tuesday’s test, however, looks especially aggressive to Washington, Seoul and Tokyo.

South Korea’s military released video of missile tests it says were conducted last week after the North’s latest launch over Japan. A spokesman said President Moon Jae-in told the military to “display a strong capability to punish” Pyongyang. (Aug. 29)

North Korea has conducted launches at an unusually fast pace this year — 13 times, Seoul says — and some analysts believe it could have viable long-range nuclear missiles before the end of U.S. President Donald Trump’s first term in early 2021.

Seoul says that while North Korea has twice before fired rockets it said were carrying satellites over Japan — in 1998 and 2009 — it has never before used a ballistic missile, which is unambiguously designed for military strikes. North Korea also chose not to fire its most recent missile at a lofted angle, as it did in previous launches to avoid other countries, and Seoul’s spy service said the North launched from an unusual spot: the international airport in its capital, Pyongyang. The South Korean military was analyzing whether North Korea had launched a Hwasong-12, a new intermediate-range missile that it recently threatened to fire into waters near Guam, which hosts a major U.S. military base that the North considers a threat.

The launch is also another rebuke to Trump, who suggested last week that his tough approach to North Korea, which included threats to unleash “fire and fury,” meant leader Kim Jong Un “is starting to respect us.”

Tuesday’s missile landed nowhere near Guam, but firing a Hwasong-12 (Hwasong is Korean for Mars, or Fire Star) so soon after the Guam threat may be a way for North Korea to show it could follow through if it chose to do so. Guam is 3,400 kilometers (2,110 miles) away from North Korea, but South Korea’s military said the North may have fired the most recent missile at a shorter range.

Associated Press Japan/Koreas News Director Ken Moritsugu on North Korea’s latest missile launch (AP Video)

South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers in a closed-door briefing that North Korea fired the missile from an airfield at Pyongyang’s international airport. Some outside observers said launching a road-mobile missile from an airport runway could demonstrate the North’s ability to fire its missiles from anywhere in the country. It was not immediately clear what the launch meant for the few civilian flights that use the airport.

The National Intelligence Service also told lawmakers it was unclear whether the missile’s warhead survived atmospheric re-entry, according to the office of Kim Byung-kee, a lawmaker in attendance.

Separately, the spy agency said North Korean leader Kim’s third child was born in February, but provided no other details.

North Korea will no doubt be watching the world’s reaction to see if it can use Tuesday’s flight over Japan as a precedent for future launches. Japanese officials made their usual strongly worded condemnations of the launch. There were no immediate tweets from Trump.

“We will do our utmost to protect people’s lives,” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said. “This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat.”

Tokyo said there was no reported damage from the missile, which Japan’s NHK TV said separated into three parts. Residents on Hokkaido were warned of a North Korean missile launch by an alert on their cellphones, with loud alarms and an email that told people to stay indoors. Speakers broadcast an alert saying “missile is passing, missile is passing.”

A U.S. congressman visiting Seoul said Washington is now pressuring North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions by shutting down the impoverished country’s access to hard currency, the lifeblood of its expensive weapons program.

The goal is to offer international banks that do business with North Korea a choice between bankruptcy and freezing North Korean accounts, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in an interview after meeting with South Korean leaders.

Tuesday’s launch comes days after North Korea fired what was assessed as three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, and a month after its second test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, which analysts say could reach deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.

In an unusual move, the military in Seoul released videos of three South Korean missile tests conducted last week. They showed two types of new missiles with ranges of 800 kilometers (500 miles) and 500 kilometers (310 miles) being fired from truck-mounted launchers.

South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development said the launches represented the last flight test for the longer-range missile before it is operationally deployed. Such missiles, which would be the latest additions to South Korea’s Hyumoo family of missiles, are considered key components of the so-called “kill chain” pre-emptive strike capability that South Korea is pursuing to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat.

South Korea also said its air force conducted a live-fire drill involving four F-15 fighter jets dropping eight MK-84 bombs that accurately hit targets at a military field near the country’s eastern coast. Yoon Young-chan, chief press secretary of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the exercise was conducted after Moon directed the military to “display a strong capability to punish” North Korea if need be.

The North’s launch over Japan shouldn’t be a total surprise. Earlier this month, when threatening to lob four Hwasong-12s into the waters near Guam, North Korea specifically said they would fly over Japanese territory. North Korea in June also angrily reacted to the launch of a Japanese satellite it said was aimed at spying on the North and said Tokyo was no longer entitled to fault North Korea “no matter what it launches or whether that crosses the sky above Japan.”

North Korea typically reacts with anger to U.S.-South Korean military drills, which are happening now, often testing weapons and threatening Seoul and Washington in its state-controlled media. But animosity is higher than usual following threats traded between Trump and the North.

North Korea regularly says U.S.-South Korean military drills are a rehearsal for invasion, and North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, Ja Song Nam, wrote recently that the exercises are “provocative and aggressive” at a time when the Korean Peninsula is “like a time bomb.”

Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean military official who is now an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, said early flight information suggests the North Korean missile was likely a Hwasong-12. Other possibilities, he said, include a midrange Musudan, a missile with a potential 3,500-kilometer (2,180-mile) range that puts much of the Asia-Pacific region within reach, or a Pukguksong-2, a solid-fuel missile that can be fired faster and more secretly than weapons using liquid fuel.

North Korea first fired over Japanese territory in August of 1998 when a multistage rocket that outside experts called “Taepodong-1” flew about 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) before landing in the Pacific Ocean. The North later said it had launched a satellite; after initially saying North Korea had launched a ballistic missile, South Korea years later said it was a space launch attempt.

North Korea flew another rocket over Japan again in April 2009 and said that, too, was carrying a satellite. The North claimed success, but the U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command said no satellite reached orbit. Some parts of a space launch vehicle reportedly flew over Okinawa last year after separating from the rocket.

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Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Afghan officials: Suicide bombing in Kabul kills 5 people

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A suicide bombing on Tuesday in a busy commercial area in Kabul, near a string of banks and not far from the U.S. Embassy, killed at least five people, Afghan officials said.

According to Basir Mujahid, spokesman for the Kabul police chief, the explosion likely targeted a branch of the privately owned Kabul Bank. The U.S. Embassy compound is located about 500 meters (yards) down the road from the bank.

At the site of the blast, debris and twisted metal lay scattered on the pavement. The front side of the Kabul Bank was completely shattered and there was much damage to the fronts of several adjacent businesses. A charred motorcycle with its parts mangled lay on the street.

Along with the five killed, the attack also wounded nine, said Mohammad Salim Rasouli, chief of Kabul hospitals at the Health Ministry. He warned that those were only initial reports and that the casualty toll could rise further.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, but the Taliban often target banks, especially at the end of the month when civil servants and military personnel line up to receive their salaries, or ahead of major Muslim holidays.

This week, the Kabul banks have been especially crowded as Muslims prepare for the celebration of Eid al-Adha or “feast of the sacrifice.” It’s the most important Islamic holiday that commemorates the willingness of the Prophet Ibrahim — also known as Abraham to Christians and Jews — to sacrifice his son before God stayed his hand.

During the holiday, Muslims slaughter livestock, distributing part of the meat to the poor. The holiday begins on the 10th day of the Islamic lunar month of Dhul-Hijja, during the hajj pilgrimage.

Two months ago, ahead of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, a Taliban suicide bomber targeted a Kabul Bank branch in southern Helmand province, killing at least 29 people, mostly civilians. At the time, the Taliban claimed there were no civilian deaths and said they had only targeted members of the Afghan security forces who had gone to the bank to collect their salaries.

Kabul has also seen a sharp increase in attacks lately.

Last week, 28 people, including women and children, were killed when Islamic State militants attacked a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers. In that attack, which went on for hours, more than 50 people were also wounded after two assailants blew themselves up. Another two attackers were shot dead by Afghan security forces.

In another development, at least 13 civilians, including women and children, were killed in an overnight airstrike by Afghan security forces that targeted the Taliban in western Herat province, according to Gelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Farhad told The Associated Press that the Monday night strike in Shindand district also wounded seven civilians. A Taliban base and a prison run by the insurgents were targeted, he said. The prison was destroyed and 19 prisoners — both military and civilians escaped. The civilians who were killed died in their homes just next to the Taliban base, he added.

According to the spokesman, the airstrikes also killed 16 Taliban militants. The Taliban have not commented on the Herat attack and Farhad’s information could not be independently verified.

Trump’s Cabinet struggles with whether to defend their boss

WASHINGTON (AP) — Some seek their distance, delicately taking issue with President Donald Trump’s most controversial remarks. Others decide it’s safer to stand by him. Most would rather say nothing at all.

Under intense pressure, members of Trump’s Cabinet are struggling to walk the line between rebuking their notoriously thin-skinned boss and defending comments that struck even many loyal Republicans as offensive. Though the friction has been building for months, Trump’s polarizing response to white nationalism in Charlottesville was a catalyst, with fallout that has continued to dog his administration more than two weeks later.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was the latest administration member forced to take a position on Trump’s handling of Charlottesville, in which he described people at a neo-Nazi rally as “very fine people.” The unenviable list also includes Trump’s treasury secretary, chief of the National Economic Council and defense secretary.

“They’re getting pressure from friends, colleagues, Capitol Hill, journalists,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican political strategist. “I think we’re at a point where Republicans are feeling more freedom and perhaps responsibility to speak out when Trump crosses the line. But there’s no handbook for this.”

Tillerson, questioned in a TV interview, tried to avoid a direct response. He pivoted and emphasized the values of equality that he said he’s been pushing at the State Department.

But asked directly whether Trump represented those values, Tillerson demurred.

“The president speaks for himself, Chris,” he told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace. “I’ve spoken. I’ve made my own comments as to our values, as well, in a speech I gave.”

Tillerson’s non-answer spread virally on social media, coming just as a growing number of Republicans have deemed the Charlottesville controversy the last straw. By the next morning, there were dramatic reports suggesting Tillerson’s job was on the line — some speculating he was on thin ice with Trump, others suggesting Tillerson was ready to quit.

But Tillerson had actually been trying to do the opposite: avoid causing a stir one way or another, according to individuals familiar with his preparations for the interview. After all, the adage that the president’s comments or tweets “speak for themselves” has been regularly deployed across Trump’s administration, including from the White House press secretary, as a standard dodge when faced with comments that can’t be easily defended.

“The secretary hasn’t been looking to re-litigate anything that’s been going on,” said R.C. Hammond, a senior Tillerson adviser.

And despite murmurings from Trump associates that the president was irked by the exchange, the White House defended Tillerson late Monday, calling him “a trusted and highly valued member” of Trump’s team.

“Rumors to the contrary are absolutely false,” said Michael Anton, the White House National Security Council spokesman. “We look forward to the secretary continuing to make vital contributions to the Trump administration and to American foreign policy long into the future.”

Within Trump’s team, other top officials have navigated the delicate situation differently, and with varying outcomes.

Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser and leader of his tax reform effort, sharply criticized the administration’s response to the racial violence in Charlottesville, saying in a Financial Times interview that they “can and must do better.”

Yet the former Goldman Sachs executive had voiced his discomfort to Trump beforehand and made clear he felt compelled to say so publicly, sparing the White House any surprise. Still, the public rebuke from a top aide frustrated Trump, said a person close to the White House, who, along others interviewed on the subject, demanded anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss private conversations. Cohn, who is Jewish, also considered stepping down.

And Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was captured on video, apparently in Jordan, telling U.S. troops they were a “great example” for a country he said has “got some problems.”

“You know it and I know it. It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military,” Mattis said in apparently unscripted remarks. Though it was unclear whether Mattis was directly referencing Charlottesville, the posting of the video on social media in the aftermath of Trump’s comments ensured it was widely viewed through that prism.

In contrast, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin chose an approach that emphasized fealty to Trump.

Implored to speak out by his former Yale classmates, Mnuchin issued an extraordinary statement saying Trump “in no way, shape or form believes that neo-Nazi and other hate groups who endorse violence are equivalent to groups that demonstrate in peaceful and lawful ways.” He added that he was proud to serve.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson likewise came to Trump’s staunch defense, arguing the president had “overtly disavowed any relationship with white supremacists.” In a series of Facebook posts, Carson, who is black, echoed Trump’s comments that there is hatred and bigotry “on all sides” and that it was “sad” that pundits were arguing about whether Trump had gone far enough.

Despite demanding loyalty from top aides, so far it’s not clear Trump is looking to make any immediate changes to his staff. The chaotic administration has seen significant turnover recently, with the departures of his first press secretary, chief of staff and chief strategist.

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AP National Security Writer Robert Burns contributed to this report.

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Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP and Catherine Lucey at http://twitter.com/catherine_lucey

Business: Global stocks fall, rattled by North Korean missile launch

TOKYO (AP) — Global shares were mostly lower Tuesday, as investors were rattled by North Korea’s launch of a midrange ballistic missile that crossed over northern Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean.

KEEPING SCORE: France’s CAC 40 dipped nearly 1.0 percent in early trading to 5,030.32, while Germany’s DAX fell 0.8 percent to 12,021.52. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost nearly 0.1 percent to 7,329.63. U.S. shares were also set to drift lower with Dow futures down 0.5 percent at 21,691. S&P 500 futures were also lower, down 0.6 percent, at 2,428.20.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 fell 0.5 percent to finish at 19,362.55, while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.7 percent to 5,669.00. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.2 percent to 2,364.74. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.1 percent to 27,828.67, while the Shanghai Composite inched up nearly 0.1 percent to 3,365.23.

MISSILE NEWS: North Korea fired a midrange ballistic missile into the northern Pacific Ocean early Tuesday. The aggressive missile launch — likely the longest ever from the North — over the territory of a close U.S. ally sends a clear message of defiance as Washington and Seoul conduct war games nearby.

STORM FEARS: U.S. trading had focused on the effects of Tropical Storm Harvey in the absence of other market-moving news. Large parts of the energy and petrochemical industries are based in the Houston area and companies with a lot of stores in the area stand to lose business. While gas price spikes will be temporary, other effects of the storm will last for years. The U.S. Federal Reserve might hesitate to raise interest rates if they think the storm will slow the economy significantly.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude added 26 cents to $46.83 a barrel. It fell $1.30 to $46.57 a barrel in New York Monday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 1 cent to $51.43 a barrel.

CURRENCIES: The euro rose to $1.2024 from $1.1926. The dollar fell to 108.66 yen from 109.18 yen late Monday in Asia.

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AP Markets Writer Marley Jay contributed to this report. He can be reached at http://twitter.com/MarleyJayAP

His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/marley%20jay

Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama

Battered by Harvey, Houston braces for even more flooding

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HOUSTON (AP) — Officials released more water from Houston-area reservoirs overwhelmed by Harvey early Monday in a move aimed at protecting the city’s downtown from devastating floods but that could still endanger thousands of homes, even as the nation’s fourth-largest city braced for more rain.

Harvey, which made landfall late Friday as a Category 4 hurricane and has lingered dropping heavy rain as a tropical storm, sent devastating floods pouring into Houston on Sunday. The rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground and overwhelmed rescuers who could not keep up with the constant calls for help.

Residents living near the Addicks and Barker reservoirs — that were designed to prevent flooding in downtown Houston — were warned Sunday that a controlled release from both reservoirs would cause additional street flooding that could spill into homes. Rising water levels and continuing rain was putting pressure on the dams that could cause a failure without the release. Harris and Fort Bend county officials advised residents to pack their cars Sunday night and wait for daylight Monday to leave.

“The idea is to prepare … pack up what you need and put it in your vehicle and when the sun comes up, get out,” said Jeff Lindner, a meteorologist for the Harris County Flood Control District. “And you don’t have to go far, you just need to get out of this area.”

Private boat owners from Houston and surrounding areas are using their vessels to assist first responders who are trying to rescue scores of people stranded by the floods from Tropical Storm Harvey. (Aug. 28)

The Army Corps of Engineers started the reservoir releases before 2 a.m. Monday — ahead of schedule — because water levels were increasing dramatically at a rate of more than six inches (15 centimeters) per hour, a Corps spokesman Jay Townsend said. The timetable was moved up to prevent more homes from being flooded, Townsend said.

Meanwhile, officials in Fort Bend County, Houston’s southwestern suburbs, late Sunday issued widespread mandatory evacuation orders along the Brazos River levee districts. County officials were preparing for the river to reach major flood stages late Sunday. County Judge Robert Herbert said at a news conference that National Weather Service officials were predicting that the water could rise to 59 feet (18 meters), three feet (90 centimeters) above 2016 records and what Herbert called an “800-year flood level.” Herbert said that amount of water would top the levees and carries a threat of levee failure.

On Sunday, incessant rain covered much of Houston in turbid, gray-green water and turned streets into rivers navigable only by boat. In a rescue effort that recalled the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, helicopters landed near flooded freeways, airboats buzzed across submerged neighborhoods and high-water vehicles plowed through water-logged intersections. Some people managed with kayaks or canoes or swam.

Volunteers joined emergency teams in pulling people from their homes or from the water. The flooding was so widespread that authorities had trouble pinpointing the worst areas. They urged people to get on top of their houses to avoid becoming trapped in attics and to wave sheets or towels to draw attention to their location.

Judging from federal disaster declarations, the storm has so far affected about a quarter of the Texas population, or 6.8 million people in 18 counties. It was blamed in at least two deaths.

As the water rose, the National Weather Service issued another ominous forecast: Before the storm that arrived Friday as a Category 4 hurricane is gone, some parts of Houston and its suburbs could get as much as 50 inches (1.3 meters) of rain. That would be the highest amount ever recorded in Texas.

Some areas have already received about half that amount. Since Thursday, South Houston recorded nearly 25 inches (63 centimeters), and the suburbs of Santa Fe and Dayton got 27 inches (69 centimeters).

“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.

Average rainfall totals will end up around 40 inches (1 meter) for Houston, weather service meteorologist Patrick Burke said.

The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, predicted that the aftermath of the storm would require FEMA’s involvement for years.

“This disaster’s going to be a landmark event,” Long said.

Rescuers had to give top priority to life-and-death situations, leaving many affected families to fend for themselves. And several hospitals in the Houston area were evacuated due to the rising waters.

It was not clear how many people were plucked from the floodwaters. Up to 1,200 people had to be rescued in Galveston County alone, said Mark Henry, the county judge, the county’s top administrative post.

Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center was quickly opened as a shelter. It was also used as a shelter for Katrina refugees in 2005.

Gillis Leho arrived there soaking wet. She said she awoke Sunday to find her downstairs flooded. She tried to move some belongings upstairs, then grabbed her grandchildren.

“When they told us the current was getting high, we had to bust a window to get out,” Leho said.

Some people used inflatable beach toys, rubber rafts and even air mattresses to get through the water to safety. Others waded while carrying trash bags stuffed with their belongings and small animals in picnic coolers.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said authorities had received more than 2,000 calls for help, with more coming in. He urged drivers to stay off roads to avoid adding to the number of those stranded.

“I don’t need to tell anyone this is a very, very serious and unprecedented storm,” Turner told a news conference. “We have several hundred structural flooding reports. We expect that number to rise pretty dramatically.”

The deteriorating situation was bound to provoke questions about the conflicting advice given by the governor and Houston leaders before the hurricane. Gov. Greg Abbott urged people to flee from Harvey’s path, but the Houston mayor issued no evacuation orders and told everyone to stay home.

The governor refused to point fingers on Sunday.

“Now is not the time to second-guess the decisions that were made,” Abbott, a Republican, said at a news conference in Austin. “What’s important is that everybody work together to ensure that we are going to, first, save lives and, second, help people across the state rebuild.”

The mayor, a Democrat, defended his decision, saying there was no way to know which parts of the city were most vulnerable.

“If you think the situation right now is bad, and you give an order to evacuate, you are creating a nightmare,” Turner said, citing the risks of sending the city’s 2.3 million inhabitants onto the highways at the same time.

The Coast Guard deployed five helicopters and asked for additional aircraft from New Orleans.

The White House announced that President Donald Trump would visit Texas on Tuesday. He met Sunday by teleconference with top administration officials to discuss federal support for response and recovery efforts.

The rescues unfolded a day after Harvey settled over the Texas coastline. The system weakened Saturday to a tropical storm. By early Monday, Harvey had shifted a little closer to Texas, hovering about 20 miles (30 kilometers) east of Victoria, with sustained winds of about 40 mph (65 kph). The National Hurricane Center said it continued to edge in a southeasterly direction at 3 mph (4.8 kph).

Harvey was the fiercest hurricane to hit the U.S. in 13 years and the strongest to strike Texas since 1961′s Hurricane Carla, the most powerful Texas hurricane on record.

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Associated Press writers Carla K. Johnson in Chicago; Juan Lozano, Josh Replogle and Robert Ray in Houston; Peter Banda in Dickinson, Texas; and Jamie Stengle and Claudia Lauer in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Trump expected to decide soon on fate of young immigrants

WASHINGTON (AP) — After months of delays, President Donald Trump is expected to decide soon on the fate of young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children as he faces a looming court deadline and is digging in on appeals to his base.

Advocates on both sides of the issue are bracing for the possibility that Trump will halt the issuance of new work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, a move that would effectively phase out a program that gave hundreds of thousands of young people a reprieve from deportation and the ability to work legally in the U.S.

The Trump administration faces a Sept. 5 deadline from a group of Republican state lawmakers hoping to force the president’s hand. The White House, however, insisted Sunday that it had no announcement on an issue the president has openly wrestled with for months.

The deliberations come as Trump has been under fire for his response to a white supremacists’ protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. Trump further fanned the flames of racial tension Friday when he pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Arizona’s Maricopa County, who had been found guilty of defying a judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos. The decision drew fury from Democrats and opposition from some Republicans, but was hailed by Trump’s most fervent base.

Trump has wavered back and forth on his plans for DACA, which he slammed during his campaign as “illegal amnesty.” Since taking office, however, Trump has softened his stance on the issue, at one point telling The Associated Press that the affected young immigrants could “rest easy.”

His administration, Trump said back in April, was “not after the dreamers, we are after the criminals.” All the while, the Department of Homeland Security has continued to grant two-year, renewable DACA work permits, to the dismay of immigration hard-liners.

But now, Trump is under pressure to make a final call: His administration is facing a September 5 deadline set by a group of Republican state lawmakers, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. The group, which successfully halted an Obama-era program that would have protected certain parents living in the country illegally, threatened to take on DACA if the administration does not rescind the order and stop issuing work permits by their deadline.

“It’s forced him,” said Roy Beck, the executive director of NumbersUSA, which advocates for lower immigration. “Inertia’s great until something gets in your way and you have to either rev up the engines to go through the barrier or just stop.”

Continuing to process work permits is one thing; defending a program Trump called illegal in court is another. And many, including Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly, the former head of DHS, believe that DACA is on dubious legal footing and would not stand up in court.

The president has several options.

He could order DHS to halt the issuance of new DACA work permits immediately — or at a future date — and perhaps call on Congress to come up with a legislative fix, as, Kelly has in the past. There have been conversations among lawmakers about ways to grandfather current DACA recipients, and such a measure could become part of the horse-trading over the budget and raising the debt ceiling when Congress returns from August recess.

The administration could also continue issuing DACA work permits, trigging the Republican court challenge, and then choose not to defend the measure in court.

Mark Krikorian, the executive director of the anti-immigration group Center for Immigration Studies, which also advocates a reduction in immigration, said that he is in favor of allowing the affected immigrants to stay, but believes the administration should use their imperiled status as a bargaining tool to push other priorities, like new limits on legal immigration.

“My fear is, and always has been, is that they’re going to give away DACA for peanuts,” he said, pointing to a deal that would only secure funding for Trump’s promised southern border wall in exchange for some sort of legal status for those covered by DACA.

“That’s the only bargaining chip they really have with the Democrats,” he said.

Meanwhile, those who are impacted by the program have been preparing for the worst, said Sergio Garcia, an immigration attorney in California who has handled thousands of DACA applications

There’s “a lot of anxiety. A lot of people nervous, trying to figure out what’s next and what’s going to happen to them,” he said, pointing to Trump’s Arpaio decision as a troubling sign.

“Every time we think there’s a line this president won’t cross, he’s crossing it,” Garcia said.

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Follow Colvin on Twitter at https://twitter.com/colvinj

Trump set to roll back limits on military gear for police

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is preparing to lift restrictions on surplus military equipment that can be passed on to local law enforcement agencies in spite of past concerns that armored vehicles and other gear were escalating confrontations with protesters.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate Trump was preparing to sign an executive order undoing an Obama administration directive that restricted police agencies’ access to grenade launchers, bullet-proof vests, riot shields, firearms, ammunition and other surplus military equipment.

Trump’s order would fully restore the program under which “assets that would otherwise be scrapped can be repurposed to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement better protect public safety and reduce crime,” according to the documents.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions could outline the changes during a Monday speech to the national conference of the Fraternal Order of Police in Nashville, Tennessee, a person familiar with the matter said. The person insisted on anonymity to discuss the plan ahead of an official announcement.

The changes would be another way in which Trump and Sessions are enacting a law-and-order agenda that views federal support of local police as a way to drive down violent crime.

National police organizations have long been pushing Trump to hold to his promise to once again make the equipment available to local and state police departments, many of which see it as needed to ensure officers aren’t put in danger when responding to active shooter calls and terrorist attacks. An armored vehicle played a key role in the police response to the December 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.

In 1990, Congress authorized the Pentagon to give surplus equipment to police to help fight drugs, which then gave way to the fight against terrorism.

Groups across the political spectrum have expressed concern about the militarization of police, arguing that the equipment encourages and escalates confrontations with officers. President Barack Obama issued an executive order in 2015 that severely limited the surplus program, partly triggered by public outrage over the use of military gear during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. Police responded in riot gear and deployed tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles. At times they also pointed assault rifles at protesters.

Obama’s order prohibited the federal government from providing grenade launchers, bayonets, tracked armored vehicles, weaponized aircraft and vehicles, and firearms and ammunition of .50-caliber or greater to police. As of December, the agency overseeing the program had recalled at least 100 grenade launchers, more than 1,600 bayonets and 126 tracked vehicles — those that run on continuous, tank-like tracks instead of wheels — that were provided through the program.

Trump vowed to rescind the executive order in a written response to a Fraternal Order of Police questionnaire that helped him win an endorsement from the organization of rank-and-file officers. He reiterated his promise during a gathering of police officers in July, saying the equipment still on the streets is being put to good use.

“In fact, that stuff is disappearing so fast we have none left,” Trump said.

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund said in a statement Sunday night that it is “exceptionally dangerous and irresponsible” for the administration to lift the ban.

“Just a few summers ago, our nation watched as Ferguson raised the specter of increased police militarization. The law enforcement response there and in too many places across the country demonstrated how perilous, especially for Black and Brown communities, a militarized police force can be,” the LDF said.

“The President’s decision to make this change in the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville and against a backdrop of frayed relations between police and communities of color further reflects this administration’s now open effort to escalate racial tensions in our country,” the organization said.

The documents, first reported by USA Today, say Trump’s order would emphasize public safety over the appearance of the heavily equipment. They describe much of the gear as “defensive in nature,” intended to protect officers from danger.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the expected move.

Most police agencies rarely require military equipment for daily use but see a need to have it available, said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum.

“It is hard to imagine any situation where a grenade launcher or bayonet would be something that a major police department would need, but defensive shields and armored vehicles kept on reserve will be welcome,” he said.

Sessions has said he believes improving morale for local law enforcement is key to curbing spikes in violence in some cities. The plan to restore access to military equipment comes after Sessions has said he intends to pull back on court-enforceable improvement plans with troubled police departments, which he says can malign entire agencies and make officers less aggressive on the street. Consent decrees were a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to overhaul certain law enforcement agencies, sometimes after racially charged encounters like the one in Ferguson.

India, China to pull back troops from border confrontation

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NEW DELHI (AP) — India and China have agreed to pull back their troops from a face-off in the high Himalayas where China, India and Bhutan meet, signaling a thaw in the monthslong standoff, India’s government said Monday.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said India and China had diplomatic exchanges in recent weeks over the situation on Doklam plateau in the eastern Himalayas and both had agreed to “go back to the status quo” before the standoff.

Both India and China said their troops would continue to patrol in the Doklam area as they did before the face-off.

The breakthrough comes just days before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to travel to China for a meeting of BRICS leaders next month. The BRICS grouping comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that Chinese forces in the area had verified the Indian pullout and that China will “continue to exercise its sovereignty and uphold its territorial integrity in accordance with the historical conventions.”

Hua said Chinese border troops were continuing to patrol in the area, but made no mention of their road-building activities that had prompted India to send its forces across the border nearly three months ago.

An official of the Indian ministry said his country also planned to verify “in due course of time that Chinese troops have also moved back.”

“Both sides have acted maturely and have agreed to go back to the status quo,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

The confrontation, which began in June when Indian troops moved in to stop China from constructing a road in the Doklam region in Bhutan, was the worst in decades. India had insisted that the impasse would be resolved through diplomatic talks, while China demanded that India withdraw its troops from Doklam before any talks could take place.

Doklam is also claimed by the tiny kingdom of Bhutan, but Beijing says it belongs to China based on an 1890 Chinese-British treaty.

The area, also popularly referred to by Indians as the “chicken neck,” is a narrow corridor that links mainland India with its remote northeastern states.

New Delhi’s concerns about the Chinese presence in Doklam stemmed from fears that if China was able to block the corridor, it would isolate India’s northeast from the rest of the country.

Relations between the two Asian giants have often been strained, partly due to an undemarcated border.

China claims some 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) of territory in India’s northeast and cites the region’s cultural affinity with Tibet as evidence that the area is part of what it calls “southern” Tibet. India says China occupies 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory in the Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas.

Differences also remain over the presence of the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled China in 1959 during a failed uprising against Chinese rule. The Dalai Lama and the self-proclaimed Tibetan government-in-exile have since been based in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

China and India fought a brief war in 1962, leading to fears that the recent row could spiral out of control.

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Associated Press writer Chris Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.

Some in GOP consider supporting a primary challenge to Trump

NEW YORK (AP) — Mark Cuban isn’t ready to launch a formal campaign to challenge President Donald Trump.

Yet Cuban, an outspoken Texas billionaire who describes himself as “fiercely independent” politically, sees an opportunity for someone to take down the Republican president, who is increasingly viewed as divisive and incompetent even within his own party.

“His base won’t turn on him, but if there is someone they can connect to and feel confident in, they might turn away from him,” Cuban told The Associated Press. “The door is wide open. It’s just a question of who can pull it off.”

Indeed, just seven months into the Trump presidency, Republicans and right-leaning independents have begun to contemplate the possibility of an organized bid to take down the sitting president in 2020. It is a herculean task, some say a fantasy: No president in the modern era has been defeated by a member of his own party, and significant political and practical barriers stand in the way.

The Republican National Committee, now run by Trump loyalists, owns the rulebook for nominating the party’s standard-bearer and is working with the White House to ensure a process favorable to the president.

Yet Trump’s muddled response to a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, this month has emboldened his critics to talk about the once unthinkable.

GOP officials from New Hampshire to Arizona have wondered aloud in recent days about the possibility of a 2020 primary challenge from a fellow Republican or right-leaning independent. No one has stepped forward yet, however, and the list of potential prospects remains small.

Ohio’s GOP Gov. John Kasich has not ruled out a second run in 2020. Another Republican and frequent Trump critic, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, last month visited Iowa, which hosts the nation’s first presidential caucuses. And a handful of wealthy outsiders including Cuban and wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, are being encouraged to join the fray.

Trump’s comments about Charlottesville “frightened” many Republicans in New Hampshire, said Tom Rath, a veteran Republican strategist in the state that traditionally hosts the nation’s first presidential primary election.

“While he has support from his people, the party itself is not married to him,” Rath said of his party’s president.

Trump denounced bigotry after the Virginia protests, but he also said “very fine people” were on “both sides” of the demonstrations, which drew neo-Nazis, white nationalists and members of the Ku Klux Klan. One woman was killed when a man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Even before the divisive remarks, Trump’s public approval ratings were bad. Gallup found in mid-August that the president earned the approval of just 34 percent of all adults and 79 percent of Republicans. Both numbers marked personal lows. And as he lashes out at members of his own party with increasing frequency, frustrated Republican officials have raised questions about the first-term president’s political future.

On Monday, Maine Sen. Susan Collins said it’s “too early to tell” whether Trump would be the GOP presidential nominee in 2020. On Wednesday, Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake said Trump’s divisive governing style was “inviting” a primary challenge. And on Thursday night, former Sen. John Danforth, of Missouri, called Trump “the most divisive president in our history” in a Washington Post op-ed.

“There hasn’t been a more divisive person in national politics since George Wallace,” Danforth wrote.

Trump has also disappointed “The Rock,” a former Republican-turned-independent, who told Vanity Fair in May that he’d “like to see a better leadership” from the Republican president.

Trump’s response to Charlottesville “felt like a turning point” among those thinking about 2020, said Kenton Tilford, a West Virginia political consultant who founded “Run The Rock 2020.” He said the group has already organized volunteers in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“He’s vulnerable,” Tilford said of the president.

Yet there is good reason why no sitting president since Franklin Pierce in 1852 has been defeated by a member of his own party. As is almost always the case, the most passionate voters in the president’s party remain loyal. And in Trump’s case, activists across the country are starting to come around.

The president has personally installed his own leadership team at the Republican National Committee and in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, where new GOP chairmen are more devout Trump supporters than their predecessors.

As RNC members from across the country gathered in Tennessee this week, leaders had already begun focusing on protecting Trump in 2020.

RNC co-chairman Bob Paduchik, who ran Trump’s winning campaign for Ohio last year, was named to lead an RNC effort to review the presidential nominating process in conjunction with White House political advisers.

One possibility, last invoked during President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, would allow party officials in some states to decide primary contests in closed caucuses without voter input. Such a change could make it all but impossible for another Republican to run a successful nationwide primary challenge.

Two members of the RNC rules committee, Bill Palatucci of New Jersey and Henry Barbour of Mississippi, said they’ve heard nothing of such an effort.

RNC chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel suggested that the blowback for Trump’s Charlottesville comments only reminded his hardcore supporters what they like most about him.

“He’s not filtered. He’s not poll-testing everything. That’s part of the appeal he has,” McDaniel said. “He has a great understanding of the pulse of the grassroots Republicans right now.”

Other RNC members seemed more concerned about the president’s statement that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the white supremacist rally.

Palatucci said Trump “got it wrong” in his initial comments, but he stands by the president’s agenda, especially business deregulation and his recent decision to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Barbour said the confusion following Trump’s response to Charlottesville was “a huge distraction.” The president’s future will brighten, he said, if the GOP-controlled Congress overhauls the tax code and approves sweeping public building projects.

“If he doesn’t get those done, we’re going to have trouble,” Barbour said.

Yet few predicted a significant primary challenge in the most important early voting states.

New Hampshire RNC member Steve Duprey said he’s heard no serious talk of one. Said Iowa RNC committeewoman Tamara Scott, “I firmly stand behind my president.”

___

Beaumont reported in Nashville, Tennessee.

Business: World shares mostly fall on euro strength, US storm damage

HONG KONG (AP) — World stocks were mostly lower Monday as the euro’s gains sent European shares lower and investors waited for damage assessments from Tropical Storm Harvey, which battered Texas’ refinery-rich Gulf Coast and sent gasoline futures spiking.

KEEPING SCORE: European shares sank in early trading. France’s CAC 40 lost 0.2 percent to 5,094.29 and Germany’s DAX shed 0.5 percent to 12,109.07. Wall Street was poised to open lower. Dow futures lost 0.2 percent to 21,776.00 and broader S&P 500 futures dipped 0.1 percent to 2,439.90. British markets were closed for a holiday.

STORMY WEATHER: Incessant rain from Harvey, which slammed ashore as a strong hurricane late last week, has submerged much of Houston and shut down Texas’s oil and gas industry. It’s unclear how bad the damage is to facilities along the state’s Gulf Coast but preliminary signs indicate widespread losses, which will have big implications for the U.S. economy and oil and gas prices. Gasoline futures trimmed earlier gains but were still at their highest level this year, up 4.4 percent to $1.74 a gallon, while crude futures were mixed. S&P Global analysts said about 2.2 million barrels per day of refining capacity was down or being brought down by Sunday.

NO SURPRISES: The gatherings of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, was last week’s big economic event but investors found no surprises in speeches by Fed chief Janet Yellen and European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi. There was nothing to change investors’ expectations that the Fed will continue to gradually raise interest rates and prepare to trim its $4.5 billion balance sheet. Investors were now looking ahead to economic data releases due later this week, including China’s purchasing managers’ index on Thursday and U.S jobs data on Friday.

CURRENCIES: The euro was at $1.1936, off earlier highs that took the currency to its strongest level in more than two and a half years. The currency continued to rise after jumping Friday during Draghi’s speech. He didn’t address the financial health of the eurozone, but investors took that as a sign of confidence in the continent’s economy. A stronger euro makes European exports more costly for foreign buyers. The dollar fell to 109.19 Japanese yen from 109.36 yen on Friday.

MARKET VIEW: “All of this is bad news for European stocks, particularly the export-heavy DAX, and we could see further moderation for European stocks at the start of this week,” said Kathleen Brooks, research director at City Index.

ASIA’S DAY: Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index ended practically unchanged at 19,449.90 and South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.4 percent to 2,370.30. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose less than 0.1 percent to 27,863.29 and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China added 0.9 percent to 3,362.65. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.6 percent to 5,709.90. Taiwan’s benchmark rose and indexes in Southeast Asia were mixed.

ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude fell 42 cents to $47.45 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract added 44 cents to settle at $47.87 per barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 3 cents to $52.01 per barrel.

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