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Tens of thousands flee lava

TAGAYTAY, Philippines — Red-hot lava spewed from a volcano near the Philippine capital of Manila on Monday as tens of thousands of people fled through heavy ash and frightening tremors, and authorities made plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands more for fear of a bigger eruption. Clouds of ash from the Taal volcano reached Manila, 40 miles to the north, on Sunday, forcing the shutdown of the country’s main airport, with more than 500 flights canceled. The airport partially reopened Monday after the ashfall eased. There were no immediate reports of any deaths or major damage directly blamed on the eruption. A truck, however, skidded out of control on an ash-blanketed road, killing the driver and injuring three companions in Laguna province in an accident police said may have been linked to slippery conditions. The government’s disaster-response agency and other officials reported more than 30,000 villagers fled their homes in the hard-hit province of Batangas and nearby Cavite province. Officials expected the number to swell. Some residents could not immediately flee their ash-blanketed villages because of a lack of transportation and poor visibility. Others refused to leave their homes and farms. Taal suddenly rumbled back to life on Sunday, blasting steam, ash and pebbles up to 6 to 9 miles into the sky, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology. On Monday, the ash and steam column reached a height of about a mile, with lava fountains spurting less than half of that height before falling into the lake waters surrounding the main crater. Lava also spurted from another vent north of the main crater, said Renato Solidum, who heads the institute. Frequent tremors and a buildup of pressure of the 1,020-foot olcano, one of the world’s smallest, however, indicated a major and much more dangerous eruption could still happen.

Model among potential jurors

NEW YORK — Supermodel Gigi Hadid is in the running to be a juror in Harvey Weinstein’s rape trial after telling a judge Monday that she thinks she would be able to “keep an open mind on the facts.” Hadid, who lives in Manhattan, turned heads as part of the latest pool of 120 potential jurors summoned for the case. Hadid, 27, disclosed that she has met Weinstein and actress Salma Hayek, a potential witness, but said that she could remain impartial. She was asked to return Thursday for additional questioning. Surrounded by photographers as she left the courthouse, Hadid said: “I’m not allowed to talk about jury duty. I’m sorry.”

Children swept into the sea

PORTLAND, Ore. — Joanne Cornelius had just finished taking photos of the breathtaking waves and extreme high tide outside her home on the Oregon coast when a frantic woman pounded on her window and asked her to call 911. Children had been washed out to sea by a wave, the woman said. A family visiting from Portland had been storm-watching on the remote beach Saturday when a powerful wave caught them by surprise, sweeping the father, his 4-year-old son and his 7-year-old daughter into the surf. A police officer pulled the girl from the waves, but she died at a hospital. The boy’s body has not been found, and the U.S. Coast Guard has stopped searching for him. The father, Jeremy Stiles, 47, survived and is recovering from hypothermia at a hospital. “It’s a dangerous beach. It’s a thing that people have to be aware of in winter at the beach at the Oregon coast. There’s dangerous waves, and when the signs are up, people have a tendency to walk right by,” said Cornelius, who recalled seeing the family heading toward the beach a few minutes earlier as she returned from photographing the waves. It was tragic, just absolutely tragic.”

Miners block coal train

PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Some Kentucky coal miners and their families stood on train tracks Monday to prevent a train loaded with coal from leaving, saying they had worked since Dec. 16 without being paid. The tracks lead from Quest Energy in Pike County. A CSX crew went to the tracks to get the engine and left the loaded train cars there, WYMT-TV reported. Miners told the station they expected to be paid Friday, then were told to wait until Monday, when the date was pushed back again. Miners at the tracks told the Lexington Herald-Leader about 50 miners are owed for three weeks of work. “They won’t get their coal until we’re paid,” said Kenny Collins, who operates a shuttle car at the underground mine. He said his power was cut off, and he is owed more than $3,000.

In hot water over Hitler lookalike

BERLIN — German police say they are considering disciplinary proceedings against an officer who failed to step in when an Adolf Hitler lookalike showed up at a motorbike meeting in the eastern state of Saxony. State police said the incident is being investigated because the man dressed as the Nazi leader — sitting in a Wehrmacht-style sidecar — may have broken German laws on the use of illegal symbols. A video posted on social media shows laughing bystanders, including an officer in a police van, photographing the biker and his pencil-mustached passenger. In a post on Twitter, Saxony’s governor Michael Kretschmer said “the appearance as a mass murderer is more than tasteless.” Kretschmer said he hoped the biker meeting in Augustusburg, near the eastern city of Chemnitz, would take place again next year but that “first it needs to be clear: such behavior is unacceptable and won’t happen again.” Authoritiesave struggled to combat the state’s image as a hive of neo-Nazi activity.

Trump’s fate rests with McConnell

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump needs Mitch McConnell more than ever. With Trump finally facing his impeachment trial, this promises to be a defining moment for both men, They started their relationship unevenly three years ago when Trump stunned Washington with his sweep to power but have since fallen into an easy partnership that will be put to its biggest test. The leader of the Republican-majority Senate has already put his imprint on virtually every aspect of the upcoming trial. He corralled the GOP senators behind his strategy to brush back Democratic demands for new witnesses and testimony. On Monday, McConnell and Senate Republicans were trying to decide whether to include a motion to simply dismiss the charges against Trump outright, as the president wants, in the organizing resolution for the trial, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it. The Kentucky Republican is working hand in hand with the White House. He doesn’t pretend to be an impartial arbiter. “The House has done enough damage,” McConnell said Monday as he opened the chamber. “The Senate is ready to fulfill our duty.”

30 years for Zombicon shooting

FORT MYERS, Fla. — The man who shot several people, killing one, at a zombie-themed festival in Florida more than four years ago was sentenced on Monday to 30 years in prison. Jose Raul Bonilla, 24, was sentenced after pleading no contest to second-degree murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a delinquent as part of a deal with Lee County prosecutors. Zombicon was one of the most popular celebrations in southwest Florida, attracting about 20,000 people in October 2015. Investigators said the event was winding down when Bonilla began shooting into the downtown Fort Myers crowd. Expavious Tyrell Taylor, 20, died at the scene, while David Perez, Tyree Hunter, Isaiah Knight, Kyle Roberts and John Parsons were wounded. The city paid $40,000 to settle a lawsuit with Taylor’s estate. Roberts and Tyree received $7,499 each from the city. No motive was ever reported, but Bonilla’s arrest followed interviews with hundreds of witnesses, as well as reviewing surveillance video and collecting tips through the region’s Crime Stoppers program. The city cut ties with Zombicon organizers shortly after the shooting, ending the event’s nine-year run.

US troops in Iraq got warning

AIN AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — American troops were informed of an impending missile barrage hours before their air base in Iraq was struck by Iran, U.S. military officials said Monday, days after the attack that marked a major escalation between the longtime foes. At 11 p.m. on Jan. 7, U.S. Lt. Col. Antoinette Chase gave the order for American troops at Ain al-Asad air base in western Iraq, to go on lockdown. Military movements froze as her team, responsible for emergency response at the base, sent out alerts about the threat. At 11:30 p.m., she gave the order to take cover in bunkers. The first strike landed sometime after 1:35 a.m. on Jan. 8 and the barrage continued for nearly two hours. Half way through the attack, Chase learned the missiles were being launched from Iran. No American soldiers were killed or wounded, the U.S. has said, although several troops were treated for concussions from the blast and are being assessed, said Col. Myles Caggins, a spokesman at the base for the U.S. coalition fighting the Islamic State group. “The reason why we pushed it at 2330 is because at that point in time all indications pointed to something coming,” she told reporters touring the base. “Worst case scenario — we were told was it’s probably going to be a missile attack. So we were informed of that.”

Design could derail gun charges

DALLAS — A subtle design feature of the AR-15 rifle has raised a technical legal question that is derailing cases against people who are charged with illegally buying and selling the gun’s parts or building the weapon. At issue is whether a key piece of one of America’s most popular firearms meets the definition of a gun that prosecutors have long relied on. For decades, the federal government has treated a mechanism called the lower receiver as the essential piece of the semiautomatic rifle, which has been used in some of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings. Prosecutors regularly bring charges based on that specific part. But some defense attorneys have recently argued that the part alone does not meet the definition in the law. Federal law enforcement officials, who have long been concerned about the discrepancy, are increasingly worried that it could hinder some criminal prosecutions and undermine firearms regulations nationwide. “Now the cat is out of the bag, so I think you’ll see more of this going on,” said Stephen Halbrook, an attorney who has written books on gun law and history. “Basically, the government has gotten away with this for a long time.”

Anger in Iran over jet’s downing

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner and the government’s attempt to conceal its role in the tragedy, as online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets. Iranians, already suffering under crippling U.S. sanctions, expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people. They also decried the misleading statements from top officials, who only admitted responsibility three days later in the face of mounting evidence. The country began last week engulfed in mourning after a U.S. drone strike killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s regional military interventions. Then on Jan. 8, it responded with a ballistic missile attack on two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, although there were no casualties. Hours after that barrage, as it braced for a U.S. counterattack that never came, Iranian forces accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people aboard shortly after it took off from Tehran for Kyiv. For a growing number of critics — from ordinary citizens to notable athletes and artists — the events have revealed a government that is incapable of following through on its incendiary rhetoric and willing to mislead its own people about a national tragedy in order to avoid embarrassment.

‘Star Wars’ record returned

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — The Force was strong enough at an Arizona store to reunite Luke Skywalker with his long-lost vinyl record. Actor Mark Hamill is praising workers at Bookmans Entertainment Exchange in Flagstaff for returning the “Star Wars: A New Hope” soundtrack that had been a gift from film composer John Williams. Hamill said in a tweet Saturday that it felt “totally unexpected & positively surreal” to get back the record he hadn’t seen since the early 1990s. He commended the store about 145 miles orth of Phoenix for being honest and not selling it. “I happily offered to sign any (“Star Wars“) items they sent me,” the actor wrote. Williams had written on the vinyl’s sleeve: “Dear Mark Hamill, May the force always be with us.” The record was one of numerous “Star Wars” items brought in by a woman after her father’s death in 2018. Employees at the Arizona-based chain that sells used books, movies and CDs tried to verify the signature. Micheil Salmons, the store’s general manager, said they eventually tried reaching out to Hamill via social media. The actor confirmed it was genuine, and the vinyl was sent back to him. Salmons said Hamill signed a DVD of “Star Wars: A New Hope” and two medals that are replicas of those given to his character and Han Solo, played by Harrison Ford, in the film.

US sends home Saudi cadets

WASHINGTON — The U.S. sent home 21 Saudi military students following an investigation into a deadly shooting last month by one of their fellow trainees at the Pensacola Naval Air Station, an attack that Attorney General William Barr said was an act of terrorism driven by some of the same motivations of the Sept. 11 plot. The trainees who were removed had jihadist or anti-American sentiments on social media pages or had “contact with child pornography,” including in internet chat rooms, officials said. None is accused of having had advance knowledge of the shooting or helped the 21-year-old gunman carry it out. The Justice Department reviewed whether any of the trainees should face charges, but concluded that the conduct did not meet the standards for federal prosecution, Barr said. The Dec. 6 shooting at the base in Pensacola in which Saudi Air Force officer Mohammed Alshamrani killed three U.S. sailors and injured eight other people focused public attention on the presence of foreign students in American military training programs and exposed shortcomings in the screening of cadets.

US drops designation on China

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is dropping its designation of China as a currency manipulator in advance of the signing Wednesday of a Phase 1 U.S.-China trade agreement. The preliminary pact that the two sides are set to sign this week includes a section that’s intended to prevent China from manipulating its currency to gain trade advantages. The action announced Monday comes five months after the Trump administration had branded China a currency manipulator — the first time that any country had been so named since 1994 during the Clinton administration. Even while removing China from its currency black list, the Treasury Department does name China as one of 10 countries it says require placement on a watch list that will mean their currency practices will be closely monitored. In addition to China, the countries on that list are Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Switzerland and Vietnam. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the administration had dropped China’s designation as a currency manipulator because of commitments in the Phase 1 trade agreement that President Donald Trump is to sign with China on Wednesday at the White House.

Merry Christmas with meth

MACON, Ga. — A man sent some illegal holiday cheer to a woman in jail and he ended up getting arrested himself Timothy Lee Snow, 40, sent the woman a Christmas card filled with drugs. Bibb County Jail inmate Mary Beth Odum, 40, had told Snow over the phone how to put meth and other drugs into a card to send to her in jail, county sheriff’s officials said Monday. Deputies intercepted a contraband-filled card filled with methamphetamine and Suboxone and began investigating Snow. On Jan. 9, deputies followed Snow as he left his residence and found him with meth, Xanax and a revolver. When they searched his home, deputies found more meth, Suboxone, marijuana, steroids, packing materials, a shotgun and a rifle.

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