Officials: Second breach concern in Florida phosphate reservoir
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A drone discovered a possible second breach in a large Florida wastewater reservoir as more pumps were headed to the site to prevent a catastrophic flood, officials said Monday.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican, toured the area by helicopter Monday and said federal resources were committed to assisting the effort to control the 77-acre Piney Point reservoir in Manatee County, just south of the Tampa Bay area.
Among those are the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, Buchanan said at a news conference.
“I think we are making some progress,” Buchanan said. “This is something that has been going on too long. Now, I think everybody is focused on this.”
Fears of a complete breach at an old phosphate plant led authorities to evacuate more than 300 homes, close portions of a major highway and move several hundred jail inmates nearby to a second floor of the facility.
The primary concern is that a total breach of the reservoir would cause major flooding to nearby homes and businesses, officials said. The pumps are meant to slowly drain the water and divert it to Tampa Bay, which could lead to negative environmental consequences such as fish kills and algae blooms.
Melissa Fitzsimmons lives with her husband and 19-month-old daughter in Palmetto, Florida, on the edge of the evacuation zone. Fitzsimmons said that for the past four days she has been terrified since she found out about the leak. While her house is on a hill and may not be directly affected by the water if the leak continues to grow, Fitzsimmons said her family is preparing for the worst.
“Within 24 hours it escalated to like a catastrophic evacuation, and we really didn’t know anything until we saw that there was an evacuation and then suddenly an evacuation within the block of our house,” Fitzsimmons said. “We’re not in the full on evacuation zone so we didn’t make the decision to leave, but we are certainly ready to go, I would say within like a 10-second notice, we can be out the door.”
Scott Hopes, the Manatee County administrator, said the additional pumps should increase the capacity for a controlled release of the water from about 35 million gallons a day to between 75 million and 100 million gallons a day.
“This has become a very focused local, state and national issue,” Hopes said.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the water in the pond is primarily salt water mixed with wastewater and storm water. It has elevated levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and is acidic, but not expected to be toxic, the agency says.
European countries scramble to tamp down the latest virus surge
BOCHNIA, Poland — European countries scrambled Monday to tamp down a surge in COVID-19 cases and ramp up vaccinations, hoping to spare hospitals from becoming overwhelmed by the pandemic’s latest deadly wave of infections.
The crush of coronavirus patients has been relentless for hospitals in Poland, where daily new infections hit records of over 35,000 on two recent days and the government ordered new restrictions to prevent large gatherings over the long Easter weekend. France’s health minister warned that the number of intensive care unit patients could match levels from a year ago.
But in a sign of the disparities from one country to the next, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that barbers, gyms and outdoor bar and restaurant patios would be able to open next week after the country reported progress with vaccines and its recent lockdown. Meanwhile, the U.S. vaccination campaign kept accelerating, with 40 percent of the nation’s adult population receiving at least one dose.
On Sunday, coronavirus patients filled almost all of the 120 beds at the County Hospital of Bochnia, 25 miles east of the southern city of Krakow. One patient, 82-year-old Edward Szumanski, voiced concern that some people still refuse to see the virus that has killed over 2.8 million people worldwide as a threat. About 55,000 of those deaths have occurred in Poland.
“The disease is certainly there, and it is very serious. Those who have not been through it, those who do not have it in their family, may be deluding themselves, but the reality is different,” he said.
After new law, McConnell warns CEOs: ‘Stay out of politics’
WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell says it’s a “big lie” to call the new voting law in Georgia racist and he warned big business to “stay out of politics” after major corporations and even Major League Baseball distanced themselves from the state amid vast public pressure.
McConnell particularly slammed President Joe Biden’s criticism that the Georgia bill was restrictive and a return to Jim Crow-era restrictions in the Southern states aimed limiting ballot access for Black Americans.
“It’s simply not true,” McConnell told reporters Monday.
The choice by the GOP leader to dive into voting politics lends heft to efforts nationwide to install strict new voting laws after Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud that cost him the election to Biden. The new laws are aimed at scaling back early voting and other options that became wildly popular during the pandemic.
Even more, McConnell’s warning to big business not to get involved shows the scramble Republicans face as progressive groups are shining a spotlight on corporate America to live up to its brands and values as Congress takes on voting rights, gun violence and other issues Republicans have resisted.
Vaccine skepticism runs deep among white evangelicals in US
The president of the Southern Baptist Convention, America’s largest evangelical denomination, posted a photo on Facebook last week of him getting the COVID-19 vaccine. It drew more than 1,100 comments — many of them voicing admiration for the Rev. J.D. Greear, and many others assailing him.
Some of the critics wondered if worshippers would now need “vaccine passports” to enter The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, where Greear is pastor. Others depicted the vaccines as satanic or unsafe, or suggested Greear was complicit in government propaganda.
The divided reaction highlighted a phenomenon that has become increasingly apparent in recent polls and surveys: Vaccine skepticism is more widespread among white evangelicals than almost any other major bloc of Americans.
In a March poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 40% of white evangelical Protestants said they likely won’t get vaccinated, compared with 25% of all Americans, 28% of white mainline Protestants and 27% of nonwhite Protestants.
By wire sources