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Volcano erupts off New Zealand

This aerial photo shows White Island after its volcanic eruption in New Zealand Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. The volcano on a small New Zealand island frequented by tourists erupted Monday, and a number of people were missing and injured after the blast. (George Novak/New Zealand Herald via AP)

WHAKATANE, New Zealand — Unstable conditions hampered rescue workers Tuesday from searching for at least eight people missing and feared dead after a volcano off the New Zealand coast erupted in a towering blast of ash and scalding steam while dozens of tourists explored its moon-like surface. Five deaths have been confirmed. After Monday afternoon’s eruption, helicopter crews had landed on White Island despite the danger and helped evacuate many survivors, some of them suffering critical burns. But officials said Tuesday they were still working with scientific experts to determine when it would be safe to return to the island to search for the missing. Aircraft have flown over the island repeatedly, and “no signs of life have been seen at any point,” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. Russell Clark, an intensive care paramedic worker, said the scene looked like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, “just blanketed in ash. The eruption sent a plume of steam and ash an estimated 12,000 feet into the air. One of the rescue boats that returned from the island was covered with ash half a meter (yard) thick, Ardern said. “It was quite an overwhelming feeling. There was a helicopter on the island that had obviously been there at the time, with its rotor blades off it,” Clark told New Zealand broadcaster TVNZ. “I can only imagine what it was like for the people there at the time — they had nowhere to go. We didn’t find any survivors on the island. It would’ve been quite traumatic for them.” White Island, also known by the indigenous Maori name Whakaari, is the tip of an undersea volcano some 30 miles off mainland New Zealand. Scientists had noted an uptick in volcanic activity in recent weeks, and questions were being raised about why tourists were still being allowed on the island. Many of the 47 visitors on the island at the time of the eruption were Australian, and Ardern said New Zealanders and tourists from the United States, China, Britain and Malaysia were also affected. Some of the visitors were passengers from the Royal Caribbean cruise ship Ovation of the Seas. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 11 Australians are unaccounted for and 13 were hospitalized. Three Australians were suspected to be among the initial five confirmed dead, he told reporters in Sydney. “I fear there is worse news to come,” Morrison said.

Dem announcement expected

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leaders preparing articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump are expected to announce next steps early Tuesday, lawmakers said. Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened the House chairmen leading the impeachment inquiry in her office after a daylong Judiciary Committee hearing that laid out the case against Trump as Democrats warned of the risk his actions toward Ukraine now pose to U.S. elections and national security. Chairmen left the meeting late Monday at the Capitol some saying an announcement would come in the morning. “I think there’s a lot of agreement,” Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, the Democratic chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee, told reporters. “You’ll hear about about some of it tomorrow.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee and others have not disclosed how many articles of impeachment are being prepared, but Democrats are expected to put forward charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. What remains uncertain is whether Pelosi will reach beyond the Ukraine probe to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings of Trump’s actions in the report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Pensacola gunman got around ban

Generally, foreigners are not allowed to buy guns in the United States. But there are exceptions written into federal law, which may explain how the Saudi flight student who shot three servicemen to death at the Pensacola naval base was able to purchase a weapon. For example, a foreigner who manages to obtain a state hunting license and can show proof of residency in that state can legally buy a gun. “It seems every day we find a new loophole,” said Adam Winkler, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law and an expert on gun laws and politics. Authorities have not disclosed precisely how 21-year-old Mohammed Alshamrani, a Royal Saudi Air Force officer undergoing months of flight training at the Florida military base, obtained the Glock 9 mm handgun he used in the attack Friday that ended with him being killed. But the FBI said it was purchased legally in Florida. In the aftermath of the rampage, which the FBI is treating as a terrorist attack, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis questioned whether foreigners should be allowed to buy guns. The Republican governor said he supports the Second Amendment but it “does not apply to Saudi Arabians.”

Latest look at new moon rocket

NEW ORLEANS — NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine and the media got an up-close look Monday at a huge, newly completed rocket for the program aimed at putting a man and woman on the moon as early as 2024. Bridenstine was in New Orleans to see the first of the “core stage” rockets for NASA’s Space Launch System at the Michoud Assembly Center, where it was built for NASA’s Artemis program. The rocket, 212 feet tall and more than 27 feet in diameter, is to be loaded on a barge by year’s end for transport to the Stennis Space Center in neighboring coastal Mississippi. There, it will undergo tests before being transported to Cape Canaveral, Florida. According to NASA, the first non-reusable rocket is to be launched for a test flight carrying a spacecraft without a crew, a mission known as Artemis I. A second would later send a crewed spacecraft into space. The third mission, Artemis III, would put a man and woman on the south pole of the moon, with an eye toward a continued presence that would lead eventually to a trip to Mars. “We are making significant progress towards achieving that Artemis III mission and getting our first woman and next man to the south pole of the moon in 2024,” Bridenstine said.

Major faces child porn charge

SAVANNAH, Ga. — An Army officer who holds a top-secret security clearance shared nude photos of a teenage girl online and discussed plans to drug the girl and have sex with her. Army Maj. Jason Musgrove was arrested and charged with distributing child pornography after an FBI agent monitoring online groups devoted to child pornography and discussions of child sex traced the photos to a computer in Musgrove’s home in Georgia. Musgrove is assigned to the Army Cyber Command at Fort Gordon in Augusta, where he works as an integrated threats operations officer with a top-secret security clearance.

Backcountry skier killed

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A 29-year-old woman has died in an avalanche while skiing in northern Colorado, where communities along the Rocky Mountains have seen record or near-record snowfall since September. The unidentified woman from Fort Collins was buried in the powerful slide Sunday. Other members of her ski party dug her from the snow, but found that she wasn’t breathing. The avalanche happened at Diamond Peak just north of Rocky Mountain National Park. A 2- to 3-foot sheet of snow, ice and rock plummeted 500 vertical feet over a wide area.

To review grizzly protections

BILLINGS, Mont. — Federal officials will review whether enough is being done to protect grizzly bears in the contiguous U.S. states after environmentalists sued the government to try to restore the fearsome animals to more areas, according to a court settlement approved Monday. The review must be completed by March 31, 2021, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ordered. Grizzly bears have been protected as a threatened species in the U.S. — except in Alaska — since 1975, allowing a slow recovery in a handful of areas. An estimated 1,900 of the animals live in portions of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington state. Tens of thousands of grizzlies once populated western North America before hunting, trapping and habitat loss wiped out most by the early 1900s.

Finns’ new PM breaks the mold

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Finland’s next government is breaking the mold in multiple ways. Sanna Marin, the 34-year-old transport minister, was tapped over the weekend by the ruling Social Democratic Party to be Finland’s new prime minister. When she takes the reins of the country, most likely on Tuesday, she will become the world’s youngest sitting head of government. In another unusual development, Marin will head a coalition with four other parties that are all led by women — three of whom are in their early 30s. Her own biography also breaks the mold: Raised by a single mother, she has described feeling discriminated against in Finland when her mother was in a relationship with another woman.

Buy a ticket, media outlets told

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — The Miss America Organization has denied credentials to at least three media outlets seeking to cover this year’s competition, including its longtime hometown newspaper, The Press of Atlantic City. Others who received denials in recent days include The Washington Post and Bravura, a lifestyle magazine. No reasons were given for the denials, which were communicated by email to the media outlets. The emails also suggested representatives of affected outlets attend events that are open to the public. In a statement, the Miss America Organization,which moved this year’s competition from the Atlantic City boardwalk in New Jersey to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, defended its right to decide who should be credentialed. W.F. Keough, executive editor of The Press of Atlantic City, said his newspaper is reapplying for credentials. “The Press of Atlantic City has been covering Miss America for nearly 100 years, so we’re disappointed to have been arbitrarily excluded from this year’s finals,” he said in a statement. If the paper remains barred, Keough said it will do its best to report on the competition anyway. The Press and the Washington Post had both covered criticism of the Miss America Organization from numerous state groups unhappy with how the competition was being run. Changes brought about by the group’s new leadership included the elimination of the swimsuit competition.

South African is Miss Universe

ATLANTA — South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe 2019, giving the country its second title in in three years in a pageant that also saw strong showings from contestants from Puerto Rico and Mexico. Tunzi, a 26-year-old gender violence activist, said she was forced to abandon her studies for a year because of her family’s economic difficulties, but her modeling work allowed her to continue her education. She studied public relations at Cape Peninsula University of Technology. Puerto Rico’s Madison Anderson was elected first finalist, and Miss Mexico Sofia Aragon second.

Inventor of ubiquitous UPC dies

WENDELL, N.C. — George J. Laurer, whose invention of the Universal Product Code at IBM transformed retail and other industries around the world, has died. He was 94. A funeral was held on Monday for Laurer, who died Thursday at his home in Wendell, North Carolina, a suburb of Raleigh. Sean Bannon with Strickland Funeral Home in Wendell said he had no information on Laurer’s cause of death. Laurer was an electrical engineer with IBM in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park in the early 1970s when he spearheaded the development of t he UPC, or bar code. The now-ubiquitous marking, composed of unique black bars and a 12-digit number, allowed retailers to identify products and their prices as they are scanned, usually at checkout. Laurer said in a 2010 interview that grocery stores in the 1970s were dealing with soaring costs and the labor-intensive requirements of putting price tags on all of their products. The bar code led to fewer pricing errors and allowed retailers to keep better account of their inventory.

Canada charges Volkswagen

OTTAWA, Ontario — The Canadian government said Monday that it is charging Volkswagen for importing cars into Canada that company executives knew violated emissions standards. The German automaker faces 58 charges of violating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act for bringing 128,000 cars into Canada with illegal emissions between 2008 and 2015. Canada’s case against Volkswagen comes more than four years after the company admitted to installing software on 11 million cars worldwide to trick emissions-testing equipment into concluding the cars ran more cleanly than they actually did. Volkswagen pleaded guilty to charges in the case in the U.S. in March 2017 and was fined $4.3 billion.

Teen runaway camping at BB&B

GREENVILLE, N.C. — Employees at a Bed, Bath & Beyond in North Carolina discovered an uninvited sleepover guest hiding in the store when they opened up. The employees called local police around 8:30 a.m. Monday and officers responded to a “breaking and entering in progress.” The intruder turned out to be a 14-year-old runaway who had “camped out” at the store overnight after leaving home. The teen wasn’t harmed.

FBI was justified in probe

WASHINGTON — The FBI was justified in opening its investigation into ties between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia and did not act with political bias, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog declared Monday, undercutting President Donald Trump’s repeated claims that he has been the target of a “witch hunt.” The long-awaited report rejected theories and criticism spread by Trump and his supporters, though it also found “serious performance failures” up the bureau’s chain of command that Republicans are citing as evidence that Trump was targeted by an unfair investigation. The affirmation of the investigation’s legitimacy, balanced by criticism of the way it was conducted, ensured that partisan battles would persist over one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history. Another review of the origins of the probe continues, and the prosecutor picked by Attorney General William Barr to lead that effort hinted Monday he’ll take a harder view of the FBI’s actions. Monday’s review by Inspector General Michael Horowitz knocked down multiple lines of attack against the Russia investigation, finding that it was properly opened and that law enforcement leaders were not motivated by political bias. Contrary to the claims of Trump and other critics, it said that opposition research compiled by an ex-British spy named Christopher Steele had no bearing on the decision to open the investigation known as Crossfire Hurricane. And it rejected allegations that a former Trump campaign aide at the center of the probe was set up by the FBI. It found that the FBI had an “authorized purpose” when it opened its investigation in July 2016 into whether the Trump campaign was coordinating with Russia to tip the election in his favor. The report said the FBI had cause to investigate a potential national security threat.

US misled public on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government across three White House administrations misled the public about failures in the Afghanistan war, often suggesting success where it didn’t exist, according to thousands of pages of documents obtained by The Washington Post. The documents reveal deep frustrations about America’s conduct of the Afghanistan war, including the ever-changing U.S. strategy, the struggles to develop an effective Afghan fighting force and persistent failures to defeat the Taliban and combat corruption throughout the government. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. The interviews were conducted as part of a “Lessons Learned” project by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction over the past several years. SIGAR has produced seven reports so far from the more than 400 interviews, and several more are in the works. The Post sought and received raw interview data through the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits. The documents quote officials close to the 18-year war effort describing a campaign by the U.S. government to distort the grim reality of the war.

Russia, Ukraine to revive talks

PARIS — The presidents of Ukraine and Russia agreed Monday to revive the peace process on the bloody separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine and exchange all their prisoners, but they failed to resolve crucial issues such as a timeline on local elections and control of the borders in the rebel-held region. At the first meeting between new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the two leaders failed to find a compromise to bring an end to the 5-year-old war that has killed 14,000 people, emboldened the Kremlin and reshaped European geopolitics. But they did agree to try again in four months to find new solutions, said French President Emmanuel Macron, who mediated the talks along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and called them “fruitful” in that it brought all four leaders together. “There are disagreements, especially on timeline and next steps. We had a very long discussion on this,” Macron said at a news conference after the talks in the Elysee palace. The talks focused on reviving a largely stalled 2015 peace agreement intended to end fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Bloomberg on international stage

NEW YORK — New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg launched his campaign less than three weeks ago, but he is already making his first foreign trip as a presidential candidate. The Democrat will appear Tuesday at a United Nations global climate conference in Madrid, where he’ll share the results of his private push to organize thousands of U.S. cities and businesses to abide by the terms of a global climate treaty that the Trump administration is working to abandon. The appearance comes as Bloomberg, a former Republican whose dedication to the environment earned him the designation of special UN envoy for climate action, tries to find his footing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary election. It’s rare for a presidential candidate to step onto the international stage before securing the nomination, and virtually unheard of for a candidate to do so in the first month of his or her candidacy. Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders appeared in Canada to highlight his fight to lower prescription drug costs, while former candidate Beto O’Rourke met with asylum seekers in Mexico. Both men represented states that bordered those countries, however, and there were no formal talks with foreign leaders involved. Bloomberg shared his plan to appear at the global climate conference on social media on Monday.

Broadcast TV shut out of Globe nods

NEW YORK — The Golden Globe TV nominations were most striking not for what they included, but what they didn’t: The traditional broadcast networks were completely shut out in all 55 nominations. It was a crowning moment for Netflix, and not just for the jeweled one on Queen Elizabeth’s head. The streaming service, which dominated the Globe nominations overall, edged out HBO to win the most TV nods on Monday. Netflix got 17 TV nods, to go with its 17 on the movie side. HBO was a close successor at 15. Two Netflix shows got four nods: “The Crown,” in its new Olivia Colman incarnation, in the drama category, and “Unbelievable” in the limited series category, tying with HBO’s “Chernobyl.” The shutout, believed to be for the first time, of the broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, The CW and PBS — made for a seemingly awkward situation for NBC, which will host the awards ceremony Jan. 5 and covered the nominations live on “Today.” “It’s shocking and weird that NBC will still telecast the Globes even though voters decided that the network’s programs aren’t worthy to compete,” said TV analyst Tom O’Neil of goldderby.com, adding that a similar scenario has gradually been playing out at the Emmys.

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