Another blast rocks Austin, but unrelated to other bombings
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Emergency teams rushed Tuesday night to another reported explosion in Austin — this one at a Goodwill store — but police and federal authorities said the blast wasn’t related to recent bombings that have killed and injured people and caused panic across Texas’ capital for weeks.
Police and emergency response teams said an “incendiary device” exploded, injuring a man in his 30s. Nearby stores, shopping centres and restaurants were evacuated. But police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said a short time later that it was unrelated to the previous blasts.
Gary Davis, president and CEO of Goodwill Texas, stood outside a police barrier huddling with other Goodwill employees. He said the device was contained in a bag and detonated when a worker moved it.
“We put all the donations we get in a big cardboard box. He pulled something out in a bag, completely normal, and the device went off,” Davis said.
He added: “In this town, if an incendiary device goes off, everybody just scatters and panics. We’re all on edge.”
10 Things to Know for Wednesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Wednesday:
1. DATA FIRM’S CEO SUSPENDED
The head of the Trump-affiliated data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica is suspended, while government authorities bear down on both the firm and Facebook over allegations the firm stole data from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate elections.
2. WHY FELLOW REPUBLICANS ARE CHIDING TRUMP
The president calls Putin to congratulate him on his re-election, drawing bruising criticism from members of Trump’s own party, including a leading senator who scorns the Russian election as a “sham.”
Emails show FEMA silent amid chaos after Hurricane Maria
WASHINGTON (AP) — As hundreds of people stood in line for food and many went hungry during the days and weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, Walmart Inc. and local supermarkets threw out tons of spoiled meat, dairy and produce.
Emails and text messages made public Tuesday in a letter sent by the top Democrat on the House oversight committee describe frantic efforts by officials at Walmart and the Puerto Rican government to get fuel for generators to prevent food from going bad.
From the Federal Emergency Management Agency came only silence.
Within a three-hour time span, Walmart officials were able to connect, through email and text messages, with a congressman’s office and local Puerto Rican government officials. They passed on their urgent request for help, just two days after the hurricane made landfall.
Meanwhile, the letter states, FEMA remained unresponsive for days.
APNewsBreak: Key design change stymied bridge cost, schedule
MIAMI (AP) — Construction of the pedestrian bridge that collapsed and killed six people in the Miami area was behind schedule and millions over budget, in part because of a key change in the design and placement of one of its support towers.
Documents obtained by The Associated Press through a public-records request show that the Florida Department of Transportation in October 2016 advised Florida International University and its contractors to move one of the bridge’s main support structures 11 feet (3 metres) north to the edge of a canal, widening the gap between the crossing’s end supports and requiring some new structural design.
The span’s signature, 109-foot-tall (33-meter-tall) pylon was to be built atop a base at the span’s northern end. It was designed for basic support and to contribute to the esthetics of the bridge, which was touted as an architectural marvel that would connect the rapidly growing university to the nearby community of Sweetwater. In their winning 2015 proposal, designers said the bridge provided “spectacular views” for both pedestrians using the bridge and drivers passing beneath it. They added that the tower could serve as a safety feature because it would have an “eagle-eyed location” for additional lighting and security cameras.
Videos of Thursday’s collapse show that the concrete, prefabricated segment of the bridge started crumbling on the same end of the span where the tower redesign occurred, two days after an engineer on the project reported cracks in the same location. The segment that failed had been placed atop the pylon’s footing, and the taller tower section was to be installed later.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has ordered her department’s inspector general to conduct an audit of the bridge, according to a news release Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The agency awarded millions of dollars to the project.
Zuckerberg asked to testify; data firm’s CEO suspended
LONDON (AP) — The head of Trump-affiliated data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica has been suspended, while government authorities are bearing down on both the firm and Facebook over allegations the firm stole data from 50 million Facebook users to manipulate elections.
Cambridge’s board of directors suspended CEO Alexander Nix pending an investigation after Nix boasted of various unsavoury services to an undercover reporter for Britain’s Channel 4 News.
Channel 4 News broadcast clips Tuesday that also show Nix saying his data-mining firm played a major role in securing Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential elections.
Nix said the firm handled “all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting” and said Cambridge used emails with a “self-destruct timer” to make its role more difficult to trace.
“There’s no evidence, there’s no paper trail, there’s nothing,” he said.
Missouri inmate gets 2nd stay of execution from high court
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay of execution for the second time in four years on Tuesday to a Missouri inmate who has a rare medical condition that he says could cause blood-filled tumors to burst inside his head during the lethal injection.
Russell Bucklew was scheduled to die by injection Tuesday evening for killing a former girlfriend’s new boyfriend during a violent rampage in 1996. He would have been the first Missouri prisoner put to death since January 2017.
In a statement just before the lethal injection was set to begin, the Supreme Court said it granted the stay of execution. The four conservative justices disagreed — John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch — disagreed with the decision.
Bucklew, 49, was also within an hour of execution in May 2014 when the U.S. Supreme Court halted it over concerns about Bucklew’s rare medical condition, cavernous hemangioma. The ailment causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, tumors in his head and throat and on his lip, and vein problems.
His attorney, Cheryl Pilate, said Bucklew’s condition has only gotten worse since then.
Pritzker wins, Rauner leads in Illinois governor primaries
CHICAGO (AP) — Billionaire J.B. Pritzker won the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor on Tuesday, defeating a member of a famous political family and a self-described “middle-class candidate” to advance to what could be the most expensive governor’s race in U.S. history.
Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a wealthy former private equity investor who like Pritzker has bankrolled most of his campaign, led his primary opponent, conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, with more than 40 per cent of precincts reporting votes.
In an interview with The Associated Press after the race call, Pritzker called the victory “amazing” and said he’s “really excited.”
“We’ve got some work to do for the next eight months because we’re going to go out and beat Bruce Rauner,” he said.
Rauner and Pritzker combined to spend more than $120 million out of their own pockets so far on the contest, putting the race on pace to top California in 2010 as the nation’s costliest governor’s race, should the incumbent win the GOP nomination.
Northeast braces for wintry wallop on 1st day of spring
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Spring? What’s that?
Yet another powerful storm bore down on the Northeast on Tuesday, with wind-whipped snow falling in parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey as people grumbled and complained about a first day of spring that looked an awful lot like the last weeks of winter.
Landscaping crews along the New Jersey coast tended to shrubs and plants at oceanfront homes, then packed up their garden tools to get ready to plow. Shore towns positioned bulldozers, front-end loaders and other heavy equipment to deal with beach erosion from a system that could dump up to 18 inches of snow elsewhere. Airlines cancelled flights and schools cancelled classes in what has become a dreary March routine.
“It’s ridiculous,” Bob Burkhard of Toms River, New Jersey, said near the beach at Seaside Park. “First day of spring and we’re getting another snowstorm.”
The bulk of the snow and sleet was expected to wallop New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware and parts of eastern Pennsylvania Wednesday before heading toward Cape Cod early Thursday, the fourth nor’easter to slam the region in three weeks.
Border wall, tunnel tussle hold up sweeping spending bill
WASHINGTON (AP) — Talks over a $1.3 trillion government spending bill dragged Tuesday as congressional negotiators found themselves tangled in side issues ahead of a Friday deadline.
If lawmakers can agree on the bill, President Donald Trump will reap a huge budget increase for the military while Democrats will cement wins on infrastructure and other domestic programs that they failed to get under President Barack Obama.
First, though, Congress needs to vote. Leaders already missed Monday’s deadline to file legislation and progress slowed as negotiators struggled to resolve several sticking points.
Most battles over budget priorities in the huge bill were essentially settled, but a scaled-back plan for Trump’s border wall and a fight over a tunnel under the Hudson River still held up a final agreement.
Republican leaders had been hopeful a deal could be announced Tuesday evening, allowing for votes in the House and Senate this week. If a bill — or at least a stopgap measure to keep operations running — doesn’t pass Congress by midnight Friday, the government will shut down for a third time this year.
Trump congratulates Putin, gets backtalk from Republicans
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday to congratulate him on his re-election, drawing bruising criticism from members of his own party, including a leading senator who scorned the election as a “sham.” Trump also said he and Putin might meet “in the not too distant future” to discuss the arms race and other matters.
What they didn’t discuss on Tuesday was noteworthy as well: Trump did not raise Russia’s meddling in the U.S. elections or its suspected involvement in the recent poisoning of a former spy in England.
“An American president does not lead the free world by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and has pressed the Trump administration to respond aggressively to Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, a frequent Trump critic, called the president’s call “odd.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Trump “can call whomever he chooses” but noted that calling Putin “wouldn’t have been high on my list.”
At the State Department, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said it was “no surprise” that Putin was re-elected, commenting that some people were paid to turn out to vote and opposition leaders were intimidated or jailed. She also cited a preliminary report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that said Russia’s election took place in an overly controlled environment that lacked an even playing field for all contenders.