U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?

SAN ANTONIO HUISTA, Guatemala — An American contractor went to a small town in the Guatemalan mountains with an ambitious goal: to ignite the local economy, and hopefully even persuade people not to migrate north to the United States.

Half an hour into his meeting with coffee growers, the contractor excitedly revealed the tool he had brought to change their lives: a pamphlet inviting the farmers to download an app to check coffee prices and “be a part of modern agriculture.”

Pedro Aguilar, a coffee farmer who hadn’t asked for the training and didn’t see how it would keep anyone from heading for the border, looked confused. Eyeing the U.S. government logo on the pamphlet, he began waving it around, asking if anyone had a phone number to call the Americans “and tell them what our needs really are.”

soared in 2019 and is on the upswing once more.

have risen, malnutrition has become a national crisis, corruption is unbridled and the country is sending more unaccompanied children to the United States than anywhere else in the world.

That is the stark reality facing Ms. Harris as she assumes responsibility for expanding the same kind of aid programs that have struggled to stem migration in the past. It is a challenge that initially frustrated her top political aides, some of whom viewed the assignment from Mr. Biden as one that would inevitably set her up for failure in the first months of her tenure.

Her allies worried that she would be expected to solve the entire immigration crisis, irked that the early reports of her new duties appeared to hold her responsible for juggling the recent surge of children crossing the border without adults.

linked to drug traffickers and accused of embezzling American aid money, the leader of El Salvador has been denounced for trampling democratic norms and the government of Guatemala has been criticized for persecuting officials fighting corruption.

Even so, Ms. Harris and her advisers have warmed to the task, according to several people familiar with her thinking in the White House. They say it will give her a chance to dive squarely into foreign policy and prove that she can pass the commander-in-chief test, negotiating with world leaders on a global stage to confront one of America’s most intractable issues.

critics denounced as unlawful and inhumane. Moreover, members of the current administration contend that Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze a portion of the aid to the region in 2019 ended up blunting the impact of the work being done to improve conditions there.

But experts say the reasons that years of aid have not curbed migration run far deeper than that. In particular, they note that much of the money is handed over to American companies, which swallow a lot of it for salaries, expenses and profits, often before any services are delivered.

Record numbers of Central American children and families were crossing, fleeing gang violence and widespread hunger.

independent studies have found.

“All activities funded with U.S.A.I.D.’s foreign assistance benefit countries and people overseas, even if managed through agreements with U.S.-based organizations,” said Mileydi Guilarte, a deputy assistant administrator at U.S.A.I.D. working on Latin America funding.

But the government’s own assessments don’t always agree. After evaluating five years of aid spending in Central America, the Government Accountability Office rendered a blunt assessment in 2019: “Limited information is available about how U.S. assistance improved prosperity, governance, and security.”

One U.S.A.I.D. evaluation of programs intended to help Guatemalan farmers found that from 2006 to 2011, incomes rose less in the places that benefited from U.S. aid than in similar areas where there was no intervention.

Mexico has pushed for a more radical approach, urging the United States to give cash directly to Central Americans affected by two brutal hurricanes last year. But there’s also a clear possibility — that some may simply use the money to pay a smuggler for the trip across the border.

The farmers of San Antonio Huista say they know quite well what will keep their children from migrating. Right now, the vast majority of people here make their money by selling green, unprocessed coffee beans to a few giant Guatemalan companies. This is a fine way to put food on the table — assuming the weather cooperates — but it doesn’t offer much more than subsistence living.

Farmers here have long dreamed of escaping that cycle by roasting their own coffee and selling brown beans in bags to American businesses and consumers, which brings in more money.

“Instead of sending my brother, my father, my son to the United States, why not send my coffee there, and get paid in dollars?” said Esteban Lara, the leader of a local coffee cooperative.

But when they begged a U.S. government program for funding to help develop such a business, Ms. Monzón said, they were told “the money is not designed to be invested in projects like that.”

These days, groups of her neighbors are leaving for the United States every month or two. So many workers have abandoned this town that farmers are scrambling to find laborers to harvest their coffee.

One of Ms. Monzón’s oldest employees, Javier López Pérez, left with his 14-year-old son in 2019, during the last big wave of Central American migration to the United States. Mr. López said he was scaling the border wall with his son when he fell and broke his ankle.

“My son screamed, ‘Papi, no!’ and I said to him, ‘Keep going, my son,’” Mr. López said. He said his son made it to the United States, while he returned to San Antonio Huista alone.

His family was then kicked out of their home, which Mr. López had given as collateral to the person who smuggled him to the border. The house they moved into was destroyed by the two hurricanes that hit Guatemala late last year.

Ms. Monzón put Mr. López in one of her relatives’ houses, then got the community to cobble together money to pay for enough cinder blocks to build the family a place to live.

While mixing cement to bind the blocks together, one of Mr. López’s sons, Vidal, 19, confessed that he had been talking to a smuggler about making the same journey that felled his father, who was realistic at the prospect.

“I told him, ‘Son, we suffered hunger and thirst along the way, and then look at what happened to me, look at what I lost,’” Mr. López said, touching his still-mangled ankle. “But I can’t tell him what to do with his life — he’s a man now.”

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US Grants Temporary Protection Status to Thousands of Haitians

The Biden administration on Saturday extended special protections to Haitians living temporarily in the United States after being displaced by a devastating 2010 earthquake, reversing efforts by the previous administration to force them to leave the country.

The decision, announced by the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro N. Mayorkas, makes good on President Biden’s campaign promise to restore a program that shields thousands of Haitian migrants from the threat of deportation under the restrictive policies put in place under President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Mayorkas said the new 18-month designation, known as temporary protected status, would apply to Haitians already living in the United States as of Friday.

“Haiti is currently experiencing serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources, which are exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” Mr. Mayorkas said in a statement on Saturday.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The Obama administration granted the temporary protected status to Haitians living in the United States illegally after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake in January 2010.

Senator Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the new designation could protect as many as 150,000 Haitians from having to return to the political and security crisis in their home country.

“The last thing our country should be doing is forcing an entire community in the U.S. to decide between packing up their lives and tearing their families apart by self-deporting, or becoming undocumented and forced into the shadows of our society,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement on Saturday.

As part of its hard-line efforts to curb legal and illegal immigration, the Trump administration sought to end protections for about 400,000 immigrants living in the United States, including Haitians. Officials at the time said that the emergency conditions that had compelled the immigrants to flee their countries — earthquakes, hurricanes, civil war — had occurred long ago and that most of the immigrants no longer needed the haven provided by the United States.

Lawsuits blocked the cancellations, but in September a federal appeals court sided with the Trump administration, putting hundreds of thousands of immigrants on notice that they would have to leave the country or face deportation. Many of the people affected had been living in the United States for years. The Trump administration agreed to keep the protections in place at least through early 2021, meaning a new administration could decide to continue the policy.

wrote on Twitter.

In March, the Biden administration issued special protections for as many as 320,000 Venezuelans living in the United States, citing the extraordinary humanitarian crisis in the country under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro.

But some said more needed to be done to give many of those immigrants permission to live in the United States permanently.

“Haitians have been living in uncertainty for the past several months,” Erika Andiola, the chief advocacy officer for the nonprofit organization Raices, said in a statement. “In the future, that uncertainly could be solved by a permanent fix through legislation that puts T.P.S. holders on the path to citizenship,” she added, using the abbreviation for the program.

This month, the House passed a bill that would create a path to citizenship for an estimated four million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, including those granted temporary protected status for humanitarian reasons. The bill passed mostly along party lines, and getting it through the more evenly divided Senate is likely to be a challenge.

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Mozambique Mints a New National Park — and Surveys Its Riches

When you stand in the Chimanimani Mountains, it’s difficult to reconcile their present serenity with their beleaguered past. From the valleys below, enormous walls of gray stone rise above dense deciduous forests. Hidden among various crevices are ancient rock paintings, made in the late Stone Age by the San people, also known as Bushmen; they depict dancing men and women, and hunting parties chasing after elephants. There’s even a painting of a crocodile so enormous that it may forever deter you from the riverbank.

As you climb higher, toward Mount Binga, Mozambique’s highest peak, the forests flatten into expanses of montane grasslands. Wild, isolated, lost in time, it’s a place where rich local traditions live on, where people still talk about ancestral spirits and sacred rituals. A local guide there once told me about a sacred mountain, Nhamabombe, where rainmakers still go to make rain.

Gorongosa, Mozambique’s most famous national park, Chimanimani National Park marks the latest triumph in an environmental renaissance for a country where, just 30 years ago, armies were still funding wars with the blood of poached wildlife.

BIOFUND, a nonprofit dedicated to conservation, and Fauna & Flora International, an international wildlife conservation organization. The expeditions involved scientists from seven countries, including several from Mozambique.

As a doctoral student completing my field research in Gorongosa, I participated as the mammal expert on the annual biodiversity surveys. After finishing my Ph.D. in 2018, I shifted to a career in photojournalism. I went on my last two biodiversity surveys in 2018 and 2019 — first in Chimanimani’s buffer zone, then in the heart of Chimanimani — as the photographer.

These surveys are like biological treasure hunts. Scientists, each with a different specialty, are let loose in the landscape to unearth as many species as they can.

The mammalogists set camera traps for large mammals like antelope, live traps for small mammals like rodents, and mist nets for bats. The ornithologists arm themselves primarily with binoculars, their ears and an astonishing memory for bird songs. By day, the entomologists sweep their butterfly nets in the grassland and, by night, often stand at a light surrounded by clouds of insects, picking them out of their hair and waiting for something interesting to land.

The herpetologists, or reptile and amphibian specialists, shoot rubber bands to temporarily stun lizards, dive into knee-high water after agile frogs, and generally avoid being bitten by venomous snakes while far away from medical care.

By contrast, the botanists have a tranquil task: there’s something relaxing and almost elegant about strolling across the mountainside, inspecting beautiful flowers and pressing some in paper for posterity.

Biodiversity surveys are not for the faint of heart, and they cast more than a little doubt on the idea that scientists are all boring nerds in lab coats.

Through the years, I myself have been bitten by a tarantula, several bats, a mouse, countless insects and even a (nonvenomous) snake. Once, back in New Jersey after a survey, a doctor flushed my ears when I complained of muffled hearing. Out poured dozens of tiny, wax-entombed insects in various shapes and sizes. (The experts often wear plugs in their ears while standing at the insect light for this exact reason.)

There’s something about this change of pace that I’ve always found immensely appealing. In the cool Chimanimani mornings, the scientists who didn’t have to be up before dawn chasing their species would lounge, sipping instant coffee from plastic mugs and watching the clouds cast shadows onto the giant rock dome.

Featuring a diverse set of rare and endemic avian species, Chimanimani is a bird-watcher’s paradise. At Rio Nyahedzi, a camp some 4,000 feet above sea level, the survey’s ornithologists found the bokmakierie, a bird that was last seen in Mozambique in the 1970s. (Nyahedzi is close to Mount Binga, which lies directly on the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe.)

As the park gets more attention, it will also attract hikers and rock climbers. Some of the park’s most beautiful waterfalls are 15 miles from the nearest road, and you can hike for days without seeing another human being. The park vibrates with solitude, adventure and discovery.

At the end of the two surveys, scientists in Chimanimani had found more than 1,400 species: 475 plants, 43 mammals, 260 birds, 67 amphibians and reptiles, and at least 582 species of insects. Some are new to science.

“It was amazingly productive as a rapid survey,” said Rob Harris, of Fauna & Flora International’s Mozambique program, emphasizing that the discoveries took place in a relatively short period of time.

The incredible diversity uncovered by the surveys is only a part of what’s known. As a whole, the Chimanimani Mountains are known to contain almost 1,000 plant species alone. Seventy-six plant and animal species are endemic to the Chimanimani Mountains, meaning they exist nowhere else on Earth.

Like all wild places, Chimanimani’s future is anything but certain. Endemic species are particularly threatened by climate change; because of their restricted range, they don’t have anywhere else to go as conditions become unsuitable. And human population growth will continue to jeopardize the fringes of the park. “The deforestation outside the park and in the buffer zone was alarming,” said Zak Pohlen, an ornithologist.

But as I reflect on these surveys and my time in Mozambique, I can’t help but feel full of hope. I am inspired every day by the passion of young Mozambican conservationists to safeguard their country’s disappearing wilderness. And most of all, I’m inspired by their optimism.

One of the goals of these surveys is to train young Mozambicans to take over leadership roles in conservation. Ana Gledis da Conceição, a Mozambican mammalogist, for example, spent several years assisting me in surveying mammals; by 2019, she was co-leading the mammal team with Mnqobi Mamba, a master’s student at the University of Eswatini.

Ms. da Conceição says she’s exactly where she’s supposed to be — a young scientist who fights for the conservation of biodiversity. “I want to invite young people like me to embrace this cause for the good of all of us,” she said.

“In spite of everything,” she added, “Mozambique has much to contribute to the future of conservation.”

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Social Media as ‘Godsend’: In India, Cries for Help Get Results

NEW DELHI — Rajni Gill woke up with a slight fever in mid-April, the first warning that she had Covid-19. Within a few days, she was breathless and nearly unconscious in a hospital.

Desperate to arrange plasma treatment for Ms. Gill, a gynecologist in the city of Noida, her family called doctors, friends, anyone they thought could help. Then her sister posted a plea on Facebook: “I am looking for a plasma donor for my sister who is hospitalized in Noida. She is B positive and is 43.”

The message, quickly amplified on Twitter, flashed across the phone of Srinivas B.V., an opposition politician in nearby Delhi, who was just then securing plasma for a college student. He deputized a volunteer donor to rush to the blood bank for Ms. Gill.

“The administration and systems have collapsed,” Mr. Srinivas said. “I have never seen so many people dying at the same time.”

tuk-tuk drivers, who have mobilized online to help the sick, some of them hundreds of miles away. Collectively, they have formed grass-roots networks that are stepping in where state and national governments have failed.

It is a role that Mr. Srinivas, 38, has played before in times of crisis.

As the president of the opposition Indian National Congress party’s youth league, he has provided support after natural disasters, including earthquakes and floods. He has worked to get textbooks to underprivileged children and medicine to people who couldn’t afford it.

India locked down, Mr. Srinivas galvanized young volunteers across the country who distributed food for stranded migrants, along with more than 10 million masks. He now heads a team of 1,000 people, including 100 in Delhi, the center of the current outbreak.

84-second video explaining his techniques so that others can use them.

got a lot of attention, given the intense criticism of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the pandemic. (The commission said its appeal had been “misinterpreted, for which we are sorry.”)

Mr. Srinivas’s volunteers use direct messaging to collect data on people needing help, then classify them by risk profile. They work with people on the ground to arrange hospital beds and plasma donations for the most serious cases. Others are put in touch with doctors who can provide remote consultations.

Often, the system’s deficiencies are too great to overcome.

Mahua Ray Chaudhuri frantically tagged Mr. Srinivas looking for oxygen for her sick father. His team found some, but that wasn’t enough: No I.C.U. beds were available.

“At least I could get him oxygen, and he died breathing,” Ms. Chaudhuri said by telephone, breaking down. “This help from strangers on Twitter was like a balm for our disturbed minds and souls.”

But Mr. Srinivas’s team was able to get plasma for Ms. Gill, the gynecologist, just in time. She is now recuperating in a hospital on the outskirts of Delhi.

“I feel choked with emotions,” she said. “Coming out of such a fatal time, I realize I have been helped selflessly by complete strangers.”

She recently called Mr. Srinivas to thank him. “Though I have never met her, it was a humbling experience hearing her voice,” he said. “I am so relieved she made it.”

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With the U.S. Asylum System Closed to Many, Some Find Sanctuary in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — Record numbers of asylum seekers are applying for sanctuary in Mexico — some after arriving at the southwest border of the United States hoping to find a safe haven under President Biden, but hitting a closed door.

In March, the Mexican government received asylum petitions from more than 9,000 people, the highest monthly tally ever, officials said. And they predicted that the surging demand, evident in recent month, would continue, possibly reaching a total of 90,000 asylum requests by the end of the year, which would also be an all-time high.

The soaring numbers of asylum petitions in Mexico are in part a reflection of the turmoil at the American border, where the Biden administration is struggling to deal with a surge in undocumented migration and has prevented many asylum seekers from presenting their cases to immigration officials.

Mexico has also become an increasingly attractive destination in its own right for refugees, who have generally found asylum easier to achieve in Mexico than in the United States. Some have also been drawn by the opportunity to reunite with family and friends, and by possibilities of work and a degree of safety that they lacked at home.

has become a more attractive destination for migrants.

Mr. Trump accelerated this process with aggressive efforts to restrict both legal and illegal immigration, including strategies to discourage asylum seekers by making it more difficult for them to secure sanctuary. Among those efforts was a widely criticized policy called Migration Protection Protocols, or M.P.P., that forced those seeking asylum in the United States to wait in Mexico while their cases were processed in American courts.

slowdown in global migration, the number of asylum petitioners dropped to about 41,200 last year. But in the past several months, the volume has risen sharply once again.

This spike has dovetailed with a surge of migrants to the southwest border of the United States driven in part by economic misery that has deepened during the pandemic, two devastating hurricanes that wrecked swaths of Central America and an abiding hope, sometimes fostered by smugglers, that the new administration in Washington would loosen restrictions at the border.

But many migrants and refugees have arrived in Mexico only to find that access to the United States is not as easy as they were led to believe.

are being detained, processed and released into the U.S.

But American officials have continued to use an emergency rule, implemented by the Trump administration, to rapidly expel single adults, who have made up the majority of those caught at the border. Migrants’ advocates say the use of the rule has blocked many asylum seekers from applying for sanctuary.

Once again a tent encampment has cropped up near an official crossing in Tijuana, sheltering migrants hoping for a chance to present their cases to the American authorities.

Fray Matías Human Rights Center, a migrants’ advocacy group in the southern city of Tapachula. “It’s not a second option.”

Some refugees inclined to stay in Mexico are seeking to reunify with relatives and friends who arrived earlier and put down roots, said Mr. Ramírez, director of the Mexican asylum agency, the Mexican Commission for Refugee Assistance, or Comar.

Some are also drawn by Mexico’s enormous demand for low-income labor, a need that the government has advertised.

“If they compare the type of life they have in their own countries, at the end of the day they have it better here,” in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said.

And the country’s approval rate for asylum is high: During the first three months of this year it reached 73 percent, with another 7 percent receiving other sorts of humanitarian protection.

Hondurans — fleeing a toxic mixture of economic distress, government corruption and ineptitude, violence and natural disasters — have been far and away the single largest population of asylum seekers in Mexico since 2019. Approval rates for Honduran petitions concluded during the first three months of this year hit 86 percent.

“We don’t know if it’s their first or their second intention” to remain in Mexico, Mr. Ramírez said of asylum petitioners. “What we can tell you is that more and more people are coming to us.”

The historic number of people filing new asylum petitions in March came despite a decision by the Mexican government last month to close the nation’s southern border to nonessential traffic. The continuing flows of refugees arriving from the south has further exposed the extreme porousness of that border and, migration experts say, the weakness of Mexico’s immigration enforcement efforts.

“These are people who clearly don’t want to go back home,” said Cris Ramón, an immigration consultant based in Washington. “And they’re going to find a mechanism to stay in Mexico or in the United States.”

Oscar Lopez and Natalie Kitroeff contributed reporting

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Floods and Mudslides in Eastern Indonesia Leave at Least 41 Dead

The fatal alchemy of mud, water and sheer force struck in eastern Indonesia at an hour past midnight on Sunday, killing at least 41 people, disaster-relief officials said.

Flash flooding and landslides submerged entire neighborhoods in East Nusa Tenggara Province, which includes more than 560 islands. Seven villages were badly affected, according to Raditya Jati, a spokesman for Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency. Twenty-seven people were missing, and nine were injured, he said.

Some of the worst damage was on the remote island of Adonara, where many residents were preparing to celebrate Easter Sunday. Torrential rain and strong winds had churned since the day before. The damage left dozens of houses under mud and water. Five bridges were severed, Mr. Raditya said.

The rescue effort has been hampered because the only access to Adonara is by sea, and waters are choppy because of the heavy rain, he said. But the priority is to ensure that survivors are moved to areas safe from further flooding or landslides.

plane crashes, boat accidents and other transportation lapses.

In January, landslides killed about 40 people on Java, Indonesia’s most populous island. There, a further mudslide hit after disaster management officials had gathered to help with search and rescue efforts. The chief of a local disaster relief agency and a captain in the Indonesian Army were among those killed.

Rampant deforestation in Indonesia has contributed to the risk of such disasters, leaving soil loose and at risk of coalescing into deadly mud flows when torrential rains come.

Before this weekend, the national meteorology department had warned of high rain intensity, Mr. Raditya said. But many residents of small, far-flung islands like Adonara have few safe places to shelter.

“I think the biggest challenge will be how to utilize heavy equipment,” Mr. Raditya said, referring to efforts to dig out people and homes in hopes of finding survivors.

But given the communications challenges, Mr. Raditya said he was not sure if adequate equipment was available on Adonara.

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Alabama tornadoes kill five as homes are destroyed and thousands lose power

At least five people have been killed and multiple injuries reported after a string of up to seven deadly tornadoes tore through Alabama, toppling trees, demolishing homes and knocking out power to thousands.

The confirmed deaths were in Calhoun County, in the eastern part of the state, where one of multiple twisters sprang from a “super cell” of storms that later moved into Georgia, said John De Block, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Birmingham.

Search and rescue efforts were complicated by strong weather that continued to hit the region. Radar “debris signatures” showed a tornado that formed in southwest Alabama traveled roughly 100 miles (161 km) and stayed on the ground for about an hour and 20 minutes, De Block said. He said on-sight investigations would determine the strength of the storms, but based on the debris signatures, “we’re pretty confident we will find at least seven tornadoes” passed through the state on Thursday.

The twisters ripped through towns from west to east. In the western city of Centreville, south of Tuscaloosa, Cindy Smitherman and her family and neighbors huddled in their underground storm pit as the twister passed over their home.

A tree fell on the shelter door, trapping the eight of them inside for about 20 minutes until someone came with a chain saw to remove the tree, said Smitherman, 62. The twister downed trees, overturned cars and destroyed a workshop on the property.
“I’m just glad we’re alive,” she said.

Firefighters said a family was able to safely escape their toppled home in the Eagle Point subdivision, near Birmingham. In the nearby city of Pelham,in Shelby county, authorities posted video and photos showing large trees blocking roads and damaged utility poles leaning menacingly over streets littered with debris from badly damaged homes. More than 20,000 customers were without power in the state.

“We can confirm local residential structures have been completely destroyed,” the sheriff of Shelby county, John Samaniego, told the Associated Press.

Search and rescue efforts were complicated as strong weather continued to rake across the region.

The storm inflicted extensive damage, including to numerous homes and a civic center, police said. Utility lines had also been downed along several highways, police said, warning people to stay off the road and away from tornado-damaged areas.

A firefighter surveys damage to a house in Eagle Point.
A firefighter surveys damage to a house in Eagle Point. Photograph: Butch Dill/AP

Maj Clay Hammac, of the Shelby county sheriff’s department, said they “have been told to be prepared for another round of storms”. Up to 4in (10cm) of rain with higher amounts possible is expected in northern Alabama, according to the National Weather Service in Huntsville.

The destruction was part of a broad swath of violent weather sweeping across the deep south. Forecasters had warned of dangerous thunderstorms, flash floods and possible twisters from eastern Mississippi into western Georgia, and northward into Tennessee and Kentucky. Flash flood warnings and watches extended to the western Carolinas.

Mississippi also had a storm-related death on Wednesday. Ester Jarrell, 62, died when a large tree toppled over onto her mobile home after heavy rain soaked the ground, a Wilkinson County official told the Associated Press.

Alabama’s governor, Kay Ivey, issued an emergency declaration for 46 counties as the severe weather approached, and officials opened shelters in and around Birmingham. Ivey said “significant and dangerous weather continues to impact portions of Alabama”, according to a statement on Twitter.

“Tragically, we are receiving reports of loss of life. Unfortunately the day is not over yet.”

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