AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on February 9, 2013 at 6:03 AM

Massive storm blankets Northeast with 2 feet of snow, darkens 600,000-plus homes, businesses

BOSTON (AP) — A massive storm packing hurricane-force winds and blizzard conditions is sweeping through the Northeast, dumping nearly 2 feet of snow on New England and knocking out power to more than a half a million customers.

More than 23 inches of snow had fallen in parts of central Connecticut by early Saturday, and more than 21 inches covered Randolph in southeastern Massachusetts.

The National Weather Service says up to 3 feet of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches.

Throughout the Northeast, more than 600,000 homes and businesses lost electricity. Airlines canceled more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.

The storm is being blamed on at least four deaths in New York and Canada.

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Not quite a superstorm, newest system brings echoes of Sandy along with snow and cold

NEW YORK (AP) — For many in the Northeast, the warnings were eerily familiar: Stock up on food and water. Stay off the roads. Be prepared to lose power.

The snowstorm sweeping through the region brought with it echoes of Superstorm Sandy, if not in intensity, in the dread of residents waiting to see what a new storm would bring.

The snowy, windy system that bore down on the Northeast on Friday was expected to drop 8 to 16 inches on the areas hardest hit by Sandy, a swath including New Jersey, New York City, Long Island and Connecticut.

A moderate storm surge was possible, too — but nothing like the waves that drowned much of the region in late October. Still, the prospect frightened Eddie Malone, a resident of Lindenhurst on Long Island whose house has been under renovation since Sandy's flooding wiped out his first floor.

"I'm not afraid of the snow — instead, the sea surge, it may be 7 feet," Malone said. "I think Sandy was 12 or 13 feet, but 7 feet scares me. ... We had no power for two weeks, and now I'm afraid we are going to lose it again."

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APNewsBreak: Report casts doubt on US missile shield in Europe protecting America

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secret Defense Department studies cast doubt on whether a multibillion-dollar missile defense system planned for Europe will ever be able to protect the U.S. from Iranian missiles as intended, congressional investigators say.

Military officials say they believe the problems can be overcome and are moving forward with plans. But proposed fixes could be difficult. One possibility has already been ruled out as technically unfeasible. Another, relocating missile interceptors planned for Poland and possibly Romania to ships on the North Sea, could be diplomatically explosive.

The studies are the latest to highlight serious problems for a plan that has been criticized on several fronts. Republicans claim it was hastily drawn up in an attempt to appease Russia, which had opposed an earlier system. But Russia is also critical of the plan, which it believes is really intended to counter its missiles. A series of governmental and scientific reports has cast doubt on whether it would ever work as planned.

At a time that the military faces giant budget cuts, the studies could prompt Congress to reconsider whether it is worthwhile to spend billions for a system that may not fulfill its original goals.

The classified studies were summarized in a briefing for lawmakers by the Government Accountability Office, Congress' nonpartisan investigative and auditing arm, which is preparing a report. The GAO briefing, which was not classified, was obtained by The Associated Press.

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China reduces fireworks to ease pollution, cancels banquets for Leaner New Year celebrations

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese New Year is traditionally a time for colorful and noisy displays of fireworks and generous-portioned banquets. This year, the festivities are likely to be a little more austere.

Authorities have asked the public to set off fewer fireworks in Beijing to reduce pollution, a new anti-extravagance drive has prompted government officials and state-owned companies to cancel their banquets at high-end hotels and a campaign against food waste is leading to half-portions in restaurants. Even ads for luxury goods were pulled ahead of Saturday's opening of the seven-day holiday.

All in all, China's Lunar New Year is shaping up to be a Leaner New Year.

Following a call by China's new leader Xi Jinping to oppose waste, a village just outside of Beijing has canceled its mass dumpling festival that has been taking place for the past 30 years, involves hundreds of people and draws television cameras.

"We planned to make about 50,000 dumplings and now the plan has been canceled," said a woman surnamed Wang from the Liuminying village committee's tourist office. "The flour bought for the festival will be distributed to the villagers and we haven't bought the meat yet. Villagers will make dumplings at home with their own families and they may feel like this is a new experience for them since they haven't done it that way for such a long time."

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Obama takes liberal positions in domestic matters but follows Bush's path in war on terror

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, President Barack Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror.

From deadly drones to secret interrogations to withholding evidence in terror lawsuits, Obama's Democratic White House has followed the path of his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open, despite Obama's pledge to close it, and his administration has pursued leaks of classified information to reporters even more aggressively than Bush's.

"They have maintained momentum in a lot of important areas that we were focused on, and they've continued to build in those areas," said Ken Wainstein, the White House homeland security adviser and a top Justice Department lawyer under Bush. "You can see an appreciation for the severity of the threat, the need to stand up to it, and the need to go on offense at times."

John Brennan's confirmation hearing this week to be CIA director showed just how much Washington — and especially Democrats — has come to accept the same counterterrorism policies that drew such furor in the first years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Brennan refused to call waterboarding a form of torture but called it "reprehensible" and, if CIA director, said he would not allow it. He also said he didn't know whether any valuable information was gleaned as a result. His more than three hours of testimony was received by a mostly friendly panel of senators, and his confirmation is expected to move forward soon.

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Snowy Calif. mountain manhunt imperils police as wanted ex-police officer knows their tactics

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif. (AP) — The hunt for Christopher Dorner in the snow-covered San Bernardino Mountains is expected to resume at daybreak Saturday, when authorities hope clearer skies will allow airplanes to help them in their search.

Relentless snowfall on Friday grounded helicopters with heat-sensing technology and hampered their effort to find the former Los Angeles police officer suspected of going on a deadly rampage to get back at those he blamed for ending his career.

After they found his burned-out pickup truck near at this ski resort town Thursday afternoon, SWAT teams in camouflage started scouring the mountains, aware to the reality they could be walking into a trap set by the well-trained former Navy reservist who knows their tactics and strategies as well as they do.

"He can be behind every tree," said T. Gregory Hall, a retired tactical supervisor for a special emergency response team for the Pennsylvania State Police. "He can try to draw them into an ambush area where he backtracks."

As authorities weathered heavy snow and freezing temperatures in the mountains, thousands of heavily armed police remained on the lookout throughout California, Nevada, Arizona and northern Mexico for a suspect bent on revenge and willing to die.

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Hacker gains access to private Bush family emails and photos; criminal investigation launched

HOUSTON (AP) — Turns out even former presidents can fall prey to hackers.

A mysterious email hacker apparently accessed private photos and messages sent between members of the Bush family, including both retired commanders in chief.

The Secret Service is investigating the breach, which appeared to yield little more than a few snapshots and some family discussions. But the incident illustrated how easily hackers can pry into private lives, even those of one of the nation's most prominent and closely guarded political clans.

The Smoking Gun website displayed photos it said came from the hacker, including one that purported to show the elder Bush during his recent stay in a Houston hospital, where the 88-year-old spent almost two months undergoing treatment for complications from a bronchial infection.

The website said the hacker, who went by the online moniker "Guccifer," gained access to the material through Bush family members and friends.

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The worst of the flu season could be over, after earlier-than-usual start

NEW YORK (AP) — The worst of the flu season appears to be over.

The number of states reporting intense or widespread illnesses dropped again last week, and in a few states there was very little flu going around, U.S. health officials said Friday.

The season started earlier than normal, first in the Southeast and then spreading. But now, by some measures, flu activity has been ebbing for at least four weeks in much of the country. Flu and pneumonia deaths also dropped the last two weeks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

"It's likely that the worst of the current flu season is over," CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said.

But flu is hard to predict, he and others stressed, and there have been spikes late in the season in the past.

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Golden Globe winner Kiefer Sutherland is Harvard University's Hasty Pudding Man of the Year

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Golden Globe-winning actor Keifer Sutherland has been awarded the pudding pot after being honored as Man of the Year by Harvard's Hasty Pudding Theatricals.

The roast for the actor took place despite a massive snowstorm hitting the Boston area. The Friday evening event, including presentation of the traditional pudding pot, was moved to the Charles Hotel in Cambridge.

The 46-year-old Sutherland has been in dozens of films. He's perhaps best known for his role as Jack Bauer in the television series "24," for which he won Golden Globe and Primetime Emmy awards. He is currently starring in the television show "Touch."

Last year's Man of the Year was Jason Segel.

The 2013 Woman of the Year, Marion Cotillard (koh-tee-YAR'), was honored last week.

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Pro and college teams rearranging travel plans as snowstorm blows through Northeast

Several professional and college sports teams were forced to rearrange their travel plans as a massive storm swept through the Northeast.

The NBA's New York Knicks were stuck in Minnesota after playing the Timberwolves on Friday night, hoping to try to fly home sometime Saturday. The San Antonio Spurs were also staying overnight in Detroit after seeing their 11-game winning streak end against the Pistons, awaiting word on when they might be able to fly to New York for their game Sunday night at Brooklyn.

Airlines canceled more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.

The New Jersey Nets planned to take a train home instead of flying from Washington D.C. after losing to the Wizards on Friday night.

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