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Nation and World briefs for September 19

Mattis: No need yet to shoot down NKorean missiles

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. has seen no need to shoot down North Korean missiles test-fired in Japan’s direction, but a future missile launch that threatens U.S. or Japanese territory will “elicit a different response from us,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Monday.

He also said, without elaboration, that the Trump administration has military options against North Korea that would not put Seoul at risk. He would not say whether he was referring to overt combat action, a cyberattack or something more covert.

“I will not go into details,” he said.

Mattis also confirmed that he and his South Korean counterpart had recently discussed the possibility of putting U.S. nuclear weapons back into South Korea, an option that has been raised publicly by some South Korean politicians. U.S. nuclear weapons were withdrawn from the Korean peninsula in the early 1990s at the close of the Cold War.

“We discussed the option, but that’s all … I want to say,” he said.

Hurricane Maria grows, threatens storm-battered Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Maria grew into an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm Monday as it barreled toward a potentially devastating collision with islands in the eastern Caribbean, and forecasters warned it was likely to become even stronger.

The storm’s eye was expected to pass near Dominica later in the day on a path that would take it near many of the islands already wrecked by Hurricane Irma and then on toward a possible direct strike on Puerto Rico on Wednesday.

“This storm promises to be catastrophic for our island,” said Ernesto Morales with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan. “All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane force winds.”

The U.S. territory imposed rationing of basic supplies including water, milk, baby formula, canned food, batteries and flashlights.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Maria had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) in late afternoon. It was centered about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northeast of Martinique and 45 miles (70 kilometers) east-southeast of Dominica, and was heading west-northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Floods, fires, other disasters add stress to state budgets

ATLANTA (AP) — A summer of natural catastrophes, from epic hurricanes to scorching wildfires, has exposed another peril in disaster-prone states: How to pay for the rescues, repairs and rebuilding.

The combined tab from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma is expected to hit $200 billion or more. While the federal government is expected to pay most of that, the affected state and local governments have to start paying for recovery now and eventually could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars or more.

States vary on how prepared they are to weather such costs. Florida and South Carolina, both hit by Hurricane Irma, are among the dozen or so states that do not have dedicated disaster funds and opt to cover the expenses after the fact, potentially by dipping into reserves or shifting money from other state agencies.

Experts say such pay-as-you-go disaster funding can be risky. Add an economic downturn when reserves are low and budgets are tight, and state and local officials could easily find themselves struggling to pay for recovery and rebuilding.

Even putting money into a dedicated disaster fund may not be enough.

Senate GOP musters final push to erase Obama health care law

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans revved up a final push Monday to scuttle President Barack Obama’s health care law, an effort that faces low odds of success and just a two-week window to pass. Adding more risk, senators would be in the dark about the bill’s impact on Americans, since the Congressional Budget Office says crucial estimates won’t be ready in time for a vote.

Democrats backed by doctors, hospitals, and patients’ groups mustered an all-out effort to finally smother the GOP drive, warning of millions losing coverage and others facing skimpier policies. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer went further, saying the partisan measure threatened the spirit of cooperation between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders embodied in a recent budget deal and progress on immigration.

“After two weeks of thinking bipartisanship, that flickering candle, might gain some new light, this is the last thing we need,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor.

Two months after one of the GOP’s top priorities crashed on the Senate floor, the revived attempt to uproot Obama’s law is being led by GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Louisiana’s Bill Cassidy.

Their 140-page bill would replace much of that statute with block grants to states and give them wide leeway on spending the money. It would let states ease coverage requirements under that 2010 law, end Obama’s mandates that most Americans buy insurance and that companies offer coverage to workers, and cut and reshape Medicaid.

Protesters make good on threat to disrupt St. Louis business

ST. LOUIS (AP) — When a former police officer was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a black suspect, protesters vowed to show their disdain by disrupting business in downtown St. Louis. They quickly succeeded.

The unrest that followed Friday’s ruling closed large corporate offices, shut down restaurants and bars and even forced U2 to call off a concert that would have drawn 50,000 fans into the heart of the city. And protest organizers may not be done.

The demonstrations engulfed the St. Louis region after a judge acquitted Jason Stockley of first-degree murder in the 2011 death of 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith. Within hours, downtown came to a standstill as marching protesters blocked traffic. The demonstrations went on through the weekend, with protest crowds swelling to thousands of people and spilling into a posh area of restaurants and bars in western St. Louis, the hip Delmar Loop area of nearby University City and even into two shopping malls.

More than 140 people were arrested.

The protests forced U2 to cancel a concert at the Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis’ largest venue. Police said they could not provide normal protection because of the unrest, the band and concert promoter Live Nation said in a statement.

Evidence of spills at toxic site during floods

PASADENA, Texas (AP) — The U.S. government received reports of three spills at one of Houston’s dirtiest Superfund toxic waste sites in the days after the drenching rains from Hurricane Harvey finally stopped. Aerial photos reviewed by The Associated Press show dark-colored water surrounding the site as the floods receded, flowing through Vince Bayou and into a ship channel.

The reported spills, which have been not publicly detailed, occurred at U.S. Oil Recovery, a former petroleum industry waste processing plant contaminated with a dangerous brew of cancer-causing chemicals. On Aug. 29, the day Harvey’s rains stopped, a county pollution control team sent photos to the Environmental Protection Agency of three large concrete tanks flooded with water. That led PRP Group, the company overseeing the ongoing cleanup, to call a federal emergency hotline to report a spill affecting nearby Vince Bayou.

Over the next several days, the company reported two more spills of potentially contaminated storm water from U.S. Oil Recovery, according to reports and call logs obtained by the AP from the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates the National Response Center hotline. The EPA requires that spills of oil or hazardous substances in quantities that may be harmful to public health or the environment be immediately reported to the 24-hour hotline when public waterways are threatened.

The EPA has not publicly acknowledged the three spills that PRP Group reported to the Coast Guard. The agency said an on-scene coordinator was at the site last Wednesday and found no evidence that material had washed off the site. The EPA says it is still assessing the scene.

The AP reported in the days after Harvey that at least seven Superfund sites in and around Houston were underwater during the record-shattering storm. Journalists surveyed the sites by boat, vehicle and on foot. U.S. Oil Recovery was not one of the sites visited by AP. EPA said at the time that its personnel had been unable to reach the sites, though they surveyed the locations using aerial photos.

 

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