In Brief: May 24, 2020

  • First responders battle a massive fire that erupted at a warehouse early Saturday, May 23, 2020 in San Francisco. Arriving crews were confronted with towering flames engulfing the warehouse. (KPIX-TV CBS-Viacom via AP)

Holiday amid pandemic: Americans divided on how to respond

NEW YORK — President Donald Trump played golf at one of his courses Saturday during the Memorial Day weekend as he urged U.S. states to reopen after coronavirus-related lockdowns. Yet many Americans remained cautious as the number of confirmed cases nationwide passed 1.6 million.

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In California, where many businesses and recreational activities are reopening, officials in Los Angeles County said they would maintain tight restrictions until July 4. Some religious leaders took issue with Trump’s declaration that houses of worship are “essential” and should resume in-person services this weekend.

“Being at the epicenter of this pandemic and in order to protect our flock, we advise that congregations remain closed until more accurate and uniform information is provided,” said Bishop Paul Egensteiner, who oversees the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s congregations in the hard-hit New York City region.

Statewide, New York reported its lowest number of daily coronavirus deaths — 84 — in many weeks in what Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as a critical benchmark. The daily death tally peaked at 799 on April 8.

“For me, it’s a sign that we’re making real progress,” Cuomo said.

Taliban, Ghani declare three-day cease fire for Eid holiday

ISLAMABAD — The Taliban and Afghanistan’s president announced late Saturday a three-day cease-fire ahead of a major Islamic holiday that begins Sunday to mark the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.

The Taliban order, which was soon followed by an announcement via Twitter from Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announcing the government “extends the offer of peace,” comes just days after U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was in Kabul and Doha.

Khalilzad on his trip urged both the Taliban and the Afghan government to reduce violence and move ahead with intra-Afghan negotiations, a key pillar of a U.S. peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow American troops to leave Afghanistan. The deal was also touted at the time as Afghanistan’s best chance for peace after nearly four decades of war.

The Taliban’s cease-fire announcement follows an Eid al-Fitr message from the Taliban leader which said the insurgent group was committed to the peace deal, was not seeking to monopolize power and promised to guarantee the rights of women and men under an Islamic system.

The directive ordered Taliban fighters not to fight but also not to fraternize with Afghan national security forces. The instructions seemed intended to avoid images that circulated during the last cease-fire in 2018, also during Eid celebrations, including Taliban fighters sharing ice cream and laughing with Afghan national security force soldiers.

Fire destroys warehouse on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf

SAN FRANCISCO — A fire engulfed a warehouse on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf early Saturday, sending a thick plume of smoke over the waterfront and threatening to spread to a historic World War II-era ship before firefighters brought the flames under control.

One firefighter sustained a hand injury while battling the fire at the warehouse the size of a football field on Pier 45, San Francisco Fire Lt. Jonathan Baxter said.

Baxter said after the fire subsided, investigators scoured the building to determine whether homeless people were inside.

“That is something of grave concern. That is why we’re actively trying to confirm if anybody saw anybody in this building,” he told KGO-TV.

“To our knowledge … nobody is supposed to be in the building and we are hoping … that there is no victim,” he said.

From wire sources

Turbulence, warnings before Pakistan plane crash killed 97

KARACHI, Pakistan — When the plane jolted violently, Mohammad Zubair thought it was turbulence. Then the pilot came on the intercom to warn that the landing could be “troublesome.”

Moments later, the Pakistan International Airlines flight crashed into a crowded neighborhood near Karachi’s international airport, killing 97 people, all of whom are believed to be passengers and crew members. Zubair was one of just two surviving passengers.

From wire sources

Meeran Yousaf, the provincial Health Department spokeswoman, said only 21 of the bodies from Friday’s crash have been identified and that most of the bodies were badly burned. Eight people on the ground were injured. Three remained hospitalized and all residents are accounted for, she said.

The plane crashed at 2:39 p.m. near Jinnah International Airport, in the poor and congested residential area known as Model Colony. PIA spokesman Abdullah Hafiz Khan said the aircraft destroyed or heavily damaged 18 homes.

Civil Aviation Authority spokesman Abdul Sattar Kokhar said the Airbus A320 was carrying 91 passengers and eight crew members. The only other survivor of the crash was Zafar Masood, a bank executive.

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First commercial space taxi a pit stop on Musk’s Mars quest

It all started with the dream of growing a rose on Mars.

That vision, Elon Musk’s vision, morphed into a shake-up of the old space industry, and a fleet of new private rockets. Now, those rockets will launch NASA astronauts from Florida to the International Space Station — the first time a for-profit company will carry astronauts into the cosmos.

It’s a milestone in the effort to commercialize space. But for Musk’s company, SpaceX, it’s also the latest milestone in a wild ride that began with epic failures and the threat of bankruptcy.

If the company’s eccentric founder and CEO has his way, this is just the beginning: He’s planning to build a city on the red planet, and live there.

“What I really want to achieve here is to make Mars seem possible, make it seem as though it’s something that we can do in our lifetimes and that you can go,” Musk told a cheering congress of space professionals in Mexico in 2016.

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Trump plays golf for 1st time since the coronavirus pandemic

STERLING, Va. — President Donald Trump played golf Saturday for the first time since he declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency more than two months ago, leading to the shutdown of much of American society. His return to the course was the latest sign that he wants the country back to pre-outbreak times, even as the U.S. death toll from the virus nears 100,000, twice what he once predicted it would be.

Trump also planned Memorial Day visits to Arlington National Cemetery and the Fort McHenry national monument in Baltimore, followed by a trip to Florida’s coast on Wednesday to watch to U.S. astronauts blast into orbit.

The golf outing came a day after Trump said houses of worship are “essential” and he demanded that governors allow them to reopen during the holiday weekend. It also followed guidance from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, that it was OK for people to be outdoors this weekend as long as they took appropriate safety precautions.

Trump pulled away from the White House on a sunny morning wearing a white polo shirt, white cap and dark slacks. Photographs that appeared later on Twitter showed him swinging a golf club and driving alone in a cart on the course at his private Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia.

The White House had no comment on the president’s activities at the club, but said he and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had discussed the pandemic’s effect on the global economy on Saturday.

Police: Miami mom faked son’s abduction, faces murder charge

MIAMI — A Miami woman faked her son’s abduction after trying to drown him twice, with witnesses rescuing the boy from a canal the first time, and the second attempt ending in the boy’s death, officials said Saturday.

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said Patricia Ripley, 45, is facing attempted and premeditated murder charges and being held in jail with no bond.

The boy, Alejandro Ripley, 9, was autistic and nonverbal. He was found floating in a canal Friday.

In an interview Saturday, Fernandez Rundle said Ripley apparently tried to drown her son an hour earlier at a different canal but nearby residents heard yelling and rescued him. Then, Fernandez Rundle said, Ripley drove her son to another canal.

“Unfortunately when she took him to the second canal, and there was no one there,” Fernandez Rundle said in an interview with The Associated Press. “She tried it once, and people rescued him. He was alive. He could have stayed alive. She intended, from all the facts of the case, to kill him.”

Alabama coronavirus outlook worsening amid state reopening

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — With Alabama’s coronavirus caseload worsening while casinos, churches and more reopen, the state’s most recognizable person had some stern words about bringing COVID-19 under control.

“You need to be staying 6 feet away from me, and haven’t I told you you have to wear a mask when you’re in this building?” University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban, himself wearing a mask emblazoned with “Roll Tide,” scolded the school’s elephant mascot in a video released as the state reopened more.

Perhaps Saban’s rant — which tied the prospects of fall football to disease control in a football-crazy state — will be the thing that makes people see a need for renewed vigilance in a place where life is largely back to normal despite a deepening health crisis.

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From the Gulf Coast to the lush Tennessee Valley, Alabama’s political leaders and health experts are struggling to make many residents see the continued need for social distancing, crowd limitations and wearing masks after Gov. Kay Ivey reopened much of the economy.

Cases are on the increase, but health officials say it’s impossible to determine whether the rise is linked to additional testing or an actual increase in disease. Yet state statistics also show hospitalizations are up since early April, which has some health officials worried.

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