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AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Last Updated Aug 31, 2017 at 11:20 pm EDT

Rescuers seek anyone _ alive or dead _ left in floodwaters

HOUSTON (AP) — Rescuers began a block-by-block search of tens of thousands of Houston homes Thursday, pounding on doors and shouting as they looked for anyone — alive or dead — who might have been left behind in Harvey’s fetid floodwaters, which have now damaged more than 87,000 homes and destroyed nearly 7,000 statewide.

Elsewhere, the loss of power at a flood-crippled chemical plant set off explosions and a fire, and the city of Beaumont, near the Texas-Louisiana line, lost its public water supply. The remnants of the storm pushed deeper inland, raising the risk of flooding as far north as Kentucky.

More than 200 firefighters, police officers and members of an urban search-and-rescue team fanned out across the Meyerland neighbourhood for survivors or bodies. They yelled “Fire department!” as they pounded with closed fists on doors, peered through windows and checked with neighbours. The streets were dry but heaped with soggy furniture, carpet and wood.

“We don’t think we’re going to find any humans, but we’re prepared if we do,” said District Chief James Pennington of the Houston Fire Department.

The confirmed death toll stood at 39, though it is expected to rise. But by midday, the temporary command centre in a J.C. Penney parking lot had received no reports of more bodies from the searches, which are expected to take up to two weeks.

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Explosions rock flood-crippled chemical plant near Houston

HOUSTON (AP) — At least 2 tons of highly unstable chemicals used in such products as plastics and paint exploded and burned at a flood-crippled plant near Houston early Thursday, sending up a plume of acrid black smoke that stung the eyes and lungs.

The blaze at the Arkema Inc. chemical plant burned out around midday, but emergency crews continued to hold back because of the danger that eight other trailers containing the same compound could blow, too.

No serious injuries were reported. But the blast added a new hazard to Hurricane Harvey’s aftermath and raised questions about the adequacy of the company’s master plan to protect the public in the event of an emergency in the flood-prone Houston metropolitan area of 5.6 million people.

“This should be a wake-up call (for) all kinds of plants that are storing and converting reactive chemicals in areas which have high population densities,” said Nicholas Ashford, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Texas environmental regulators called the health risks minimal in Crosby but urged residents downwind to stay indoors with windows closed to avoid inhaling the smoke.

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10 Things to Know for Friday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday:

1. BLOCK-BY-BLOCK SEARCH IN STORM’S WAKE

Rescuers begin a search of tens of thousands of Houston homes, looking for anyone — alive or dead — who might have been left behind in Harvey’s fetid floodwaters.

2. EXPLOSIONS ADD TO FLOOD HAZARD

Explosions and fires rock a flood-crippled chemical plant near Houston, sending up a plume of acrid, eye-irritating smoke.

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‘Don’t touch me. I’m dying.’ Harrowing Harvey stories emerge

One man used his last words to save a friend’s life, warning him away from a live electrical wire. Another died checking on his uncle. Several others were last seen helping people out of floodwaters.

They’re among Harvey victims who lost their lives trying to save others. Others died doing their best to survive the catastrophic disaster.

They range from 6 years old to 89. Their stories are emerging as the death toll from the storm continues to mount.

Twenty-five-year-old Andrew Pasek was on a mission to check on his beloved older sister’s cat when he stepped on a live electrical wire in ankle-deep water Tuesday, his parents said through sobs Thursday.

Pasek then fell into the lamppost attached to the live wire. Pasek’s friend moved closer to help, but Pasek warned him away.

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Doctors call victims of New Mexico library shooting heroes

Alexis Molina took a bullet to the chest, just above her heart, and was shot once in each leg as a gunman opened fire inside a public library in New Mexico. But trauma surgeons at the Texas hospital where she is recovering said Thursday that all she could think about was making sure her little brother was safe.

The doctors told reporters that Molina, 20, is expected to make a full recovery, and they described her and fellow library patron Howard Jones as heroes.

Jones, who was at the library with his granddaughter, was shot in the arm. The bullet travelled from his forearm along his radial nerve before lodging in the back of his arm, the doctors said.

Dr. Sharmila Dissanaike, assistant medical director of the trauma centre at Lubbock’s University Medical Center, said she was able to talk with both Molina and Jones after they were stabilized. They were not worried about their own futures but more about their loved ones making it to safety, she said.

“They really are heroes. They both saved the lives of other young people who were in that library,” Dissanaike said, without going into detail.

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Immigrants battle deportation fears in Harvey’s aftermath

HOUSTON (AP) — Alain Cisneros walked past thousands of cots filled with storm victims at the Houston convention centre holding up a poster with the words, “Do you have questions?” written in Spanish in bold black letters.

He pulled up a chair next to a woman from Honduras and tried to deliver a reassuring message as the 23-year-old recounted in an exhausted voice how waters rose to her chest in her Houston apartment, forcing her to wade to safety with her three young children.

Ricxy Sanchez listened to Cisneros’ assurances that although she is in the country illegally she shouldn’t worry about being deported if she asks for help and that she should consider applying for disaster relief. With almost everything she owns destroyed in the storm, she’s thinking about moving back to violence-ravaged Honduras.

“Stay here to suffer with our children?” Sanchez asked, shaking her head.

The encounter illustrates the complexity of responding to a disaster on the magnitude of Harvey in a city where an estimated 600,000 residents are in the country illegally and immigrants have been on edge amid stepped-up immigration enforcement under the new White House. Authorities have gone out of their way to tell jittery immigrants that they will not be arrested for seeking help, and outreach workers like Cisneros have been delivering that message in person at shelters like the George R. Brown Convention Center and on social media and Spanish-language media outlets.

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Escalating tit for tat, US orders Russian consulate closed

WASHINGTON (AP) — Escalating a diplomatic tit-for-tat, the United States abruptly ordered Russia on Thursday to shutter its San Francisco consulate and close offices in Washington and New York, intensifying tensions between the former Cold War foes. Washington gave Moscow 48 hours to comply.

The Trump administration described its action as retaliation for the Kremlin’s “unwarranted and detrimental” demand earlier this month that the U.S. cut its diplomatic staff in Russia. But Moscow declared it a major escalation, with a top Russian lawmaker saying the move heralded “the hot phase of diplomatic war.”

“The United States is prepared to take further action as necessary and as warranted,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. Still, she said the U.S. hoped both countries could now move toward “improved relations” and “increased co-operation.”

It was a harsh welcome to Washington for new Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov, who arrived only hours after the U.S. announcement. At the airport, Antonov cited a maxim of former Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin as he urged caution and professionalism.

“We don’t need hysterical impulses,” Russian news agencies quoted Antonov as saying.

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Iraq says Tal Afar ‘fully liberated’ from Islamic State

BAGHDAD (AP) — The northern town of Tal Afar has been “fully liberated” from the Islamic State group, Iraq’s prime minister said Thursday, further shrinking the territory controlled by the extremists who overran nearly a third of the country three years ago.

The militants have suffered a series of major defeats in recent months, including the loss of Mosul, the second-largest city, in July.

Iraqi troops “eliminated and smashed” the militant group in al-Ayadia district, northwest of Tal Afar, where they had fled last week, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement.

“To Daesh criminals we say: Wherever you are we will come to liberate and you have to choose only death or surrender,” al-Abadi added, using an Arabic acronym for the group.

With the fall of Tal Afar, all of Ninevah province is “in the hands of our brave troops,” he said. The ethnically mixed province was the first to fall to the Islamic State when its militants swept across large parts of Iraq and Syria in the summer of 2014.

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Mattis begins sending additional troops to Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon has begun sending additional troops to Afghanistan to carry out President Donald Trump’s new war strategy, which will stick to his predecessor’s approach of supporting the Afghans’ fight against the Taliban rather than doing the fighting for them, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said Thursday.

“Yes, I’ve signed orders, but it’s not complete,” Mattis told reporters in an impromptu news conference at the Pentagon.

He would not say how many additional troops are deploying or what their exact roles will be. Trump’s decision to deepen the American military commitment was taken after months of debate within the administration over whether the risk was worth the potential reward of eventually stabilizing Afghanistan to the point where its own forces can prevent a Taliban takeover and contain other militant threats.

Mattis stressed that Afghan forces will remain in the lead, with the extra U.S. troops taking a support role.

“By and large this is to enable the Afghan forces to fight more effectively,” Mattis said. “It’s more advisers, more enablers,” such as “fire support” teams, which he declined to specify but could be artillery units. He said the additional U.S. troops have not yet arrived in Afghanistan.

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Trump administration slashes funds for health care sign-ups

WASHINGTON (AP) — Affirming its disdain for “Obamacare,” the Trump administration on Thursday announced sharp cuts in programs promoting health care enrolment under the Affordable Care Act for next year.

Advertising will be cut from $100 million spent on 2017 sign-ups to $10 million, said Health and Human Services officials.

Funding for consumer helpers called “navigators” will also be cut about 40 per cent, from $62.5 million for 2017, to $36.8 million for next year. That change reflects a new performance-based ethic that penalizes navigator programs failing to meet their sign-up targets, administration officials said.

About 12.2 million people signed up for subsidized private health insurance under Barack Obama’s signature law this year, many in states that President Donald Trump carried in November. Current enrolment is estimated to be around 10 million, due to attrition also seen in prior years.

Top Democrats accused the administration of malice.

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