Arbolillo, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — A day after authorities in the Mexican state of Veracruz announced the recovery of at least 166 skulls in mass clandestine graves, journalists who arrived at the site Friday discovered it was the same location where officials reported finding 47 bodies in 2017.
Veracruz state prosecutor Jorge Winckler had said Thursday that authorities had been working at the site for 30 days and in that time found 32 burial pits containing 166 skulls. He said the burials were at least two years old, but made no mention that he had announced previous discoveries at the very same site in March 2017.
An Associated Press photographer walked to the site with other journalists thinking they would be stopped at a security perimeter, but instead they found themselves in the middle of active excavations. All around them 40 to 50 people worked at grave sites, setting remains on white sheets and eventually placing them in red plastic bags. Many other still unopened graves were taped off.
The site is on a narrow isthmus between the Gulf of Mexico and the Alvarado Lagoon about an hour southeast of the port city of Veracruz. The nearest community is Arbolillo, a tiny fishing village.
Access required a 20-minute walk through tropical vegetation and mangroves. The graves were spread out under palm trees in a site that was possibly accessed by boat by those burying the victims.
Only days before his 2017 announcement of the discovery of 47 skulls, Winckler said at another mass grave site, "There are pits where we are not working because we don't have space to put the bodies that we might find."
It was not immediately clear if that was why authorities did not return to Arbolillo until last month. The state prosecutor's office did not respond to The Associated Press' request for comment.
Under pressure from collectives of relatives of the state's disappeared, authorities began Friday afternoon to show families the photo albums of clothing, IDs and other items recovered from the site to see if they recognized something belonging to a loved one. Such access had originally been offered for next week.
Mexico's National Human Rights Commission said Friday that the latest Veracruz discovery brought to 696 the number of corpses found in mass graves since the beginning of 2017. The government agency said 163 clandestine burial pits had been found, mainly concentrated in states like Veracruz, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Zacatecas and Jalisco.
The commission said the existence of such burial pits shows the lack of effective law enforcement. The mass graves are often dug by drug and kidnapping gangs to dispose of the bodies of their victims or rivals.
The pace of such discoveries does not appear to have slowed much since the height of Mexico's drug war. The commission said that between 2007 and 2016, 3,230 bodies were found in mass graves.
On Friday, as the journalists were shooed from the grave site authorities began taping off a security perimeter.
Atsuma, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — The toll from an earthquake that rocked Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido rose to 20 on Friday, and 19 others remained unaccounted for in one small town after an entire mountainside collapsed on their homes.
The region was slowly restoring transport links and power, with lights back in about half of the homes on the island of 5.4 million people after a day of region-wide blackouts. Officials said they hoped to have the generating capacity close to normal by the weekend, though full repairs to Hokkaido's main power plant could take up to a week.
Rescuers were using search dogs, backhoes and shovels as they dug through tons of mud and debris from the landslides triggered by the magnitude 6.7 quake that struck before dawn Thursday.
After more than a day of digging there were no reports of survivors being pulled from their crushed homes in the outskirts of the town of Atsuma, not far from the quake's epicenter.
There were scant signs of damage inside Atsuma itself, a seaside community of about 4,600 that advertises itself as a destination for surfing and a great lifestyle. But by late Friday, the power still had not been restored and stores were closed.
"There are no supplies, so the shop simply cannot function. It's tough," said Yasuhiro Kurosaki, a young father whose wife was cradling their infant son outside the small supermarket owned by his father. Shelves inside the darkened shop were bare aside from a few boxes of potato chips.
Most residents sought meals, water and shelter at the local social services office.
Farther inland, unharvested rice fields stretched before a long expanse of hillside that had collapsed all at once, bringing earth and timber down on homes that had been tucked along the edge of the mountain.
Of the 20 people confirmed or presumed dead, 17 were from Atsuma.
In the regional capital, Sapporo, lights and water were restored to many areas a day after the entire island saw power cut off. Bullet train services resumed and the city's airport at Chitose reopened.
Some parts of the city were severely damaged, with houses atilt and roads crumbled or sunken. A mudslide left several cars half buried, and the ground subsided in some areas, leaving drainpipes and manhole covers protruding by more than a meter (yard) in some places.
"This is shocking. I was always walking on this street and I had never imagined this road could collapse in such a way," said resident Noriyuki Sumi. "But, if you think positively, imagine if I was walking here when this took place. I might have lost my life. So, I try to think I am lucky in this unfortunate situation."
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said it would take at least a week to fully restore power to all communities due to damage at a thermal power plant at Tomato-Atsuma that supplies half of Hokkaido's electricity.
"We're trying to do it faster, but it will likely take a week," Seko said. He urged residents to conserve power.
Japan has had a string of natural disasters in recent months. The quake came on the heels of a typhoon that lifted heavy trucks off their wheels and triggered major flooding in western Japan, and damaged the main airport near Osaka and Kobe. The summer also brought devastating floods and landslides from torrential rains in Hiroshima and deadly hot temperatures across the country.
Washington, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump says he can identify up to five people who could have written the anonymous New York Times opinion piece criticizing his leadership.
But he declined to name names when asked for them during an interview Friday with North Dakota television station KVLY. Trump was in Fargo to campaign for GOP Senate candidate Kevin Cramer.
Asked for his opinion on the identity of the senior administration official who the Times says wrote the piece, Trump says, "I could think of four or five, mostly people that either I don't like or don't respect."
He says the individual's identity will eventually become public.
Trump also claims the issue is "reverberating in the opposite direction." He says people think it's "disgusting" that the Times would publish such a piece.
Los Angeles, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — A pipeline company was convicted of nine criminal charges Friday for causing the worst California coastal spill in 25 years, a disaster that blackened popular beaches for miles, killed wildlife and hurt tourism and fishing.
A Santa Barbara County jury found Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline guilty of a felony count of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and eight misdemeanor charges, including killing marine mammals and protected sea birds.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement that Plains' actions were not only reckless and irresponsible but also criminal.
"Today's verdict should send a message: if you endanger our environment and wildlife, we will hold you accountable," he said.
Plains said in a statement that the jury didn't find any knowing misconduct by the company and "accepts full responsibility for the impact of the accident."
"We are committed to doing the right thing," the company said.
The company said its operation of the pipeline met or exceeded legal and industry standards, and believes the jury erred in its verdict on one count where California law allowed a conviction under a standard of negligence.
"We intend to fully evaluate and consider all of our legal options with respect to the trial and resulting jury decision," Plains said.
The company is set to be sentenced on Dec. 13. Because it's a company, and not a person, Plains only faces fines, though it's unclear how steep the penalties could be.
Plains had faced a total of 15 charges for the rupture of a corroded pipeline that sent at least 123,000 gallons (465,000 liters) of crude oil gushing onto Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, northwest of Los Angeles.
Plains pleaded not guilty to the charges and accused prosecutors of criminalizing an unfortunate accident.
But federal inspectors found that Plains had made several preventable errors, failed to quickly detect the pipeline rupture and responded too slowly as oil flowed toward the ocean.
Plains operators working from a Texas control room more than 1,000 miles (1,609 kilometers) away had turned off an alarm that would have signaled a leak and, unaware a spill had occurred, restarted the hemorrhaging line after it had shut down, which only made matters worse, inspectors found.
The spill, two weeks shy of Memorial Day, closed beaches with popular campgrounds for two months and put a crimp in the local tourist economy and fishing industry.
It also crippled the local oil business because the pipeline was used to transport crude to refineries from seven offshore rigs, including three owned by Exxon Mobil, that have been idle since the spill.
Last year, Denver-based Venoco, declared bankruptcy, in part because it wasn't able to operate its platform. The state is now responsible for plugging and decommissioning Veneco's wells at an estimated cost of $58 million. That doesn't include the eventual cost to remove the enormous structure.
Plains apologized for the spill and paid for the cleanup. The company's 2017 annual report estimated costs from the spill at $335 million, not including lost revenues.
It is seeking approval to repair or rebuild its corroded pipelines.
The company still faces possible fines from the U.S. government and also faces a federal class-action lawsuit by owners of beachfront properties, fishing boat operators, the petroleum industry and oil workers who lost jobs because of the spill.
The pipeline that spilled has been shuttered but Plains has applied to build a new one in the same location.
Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement that Plains can't be given "a second chance to spill again."
"It's time to get dirty, dangerous drilling out of our oceans, out of our coastal areas and out of our state," she said.
Las Vegas, Sept 8 (AP/UNB) — Authorities say former Disney star Orlando Brown has pleaded no contest in Las Vegas to reduced charges in two criminal cases and remains jailed pending trial in a misdemeanor domestic battery case.
Defense Attorney Yi Lin Zheng said Friday the 30-year-old Brown, who portrayed Eddie Thomas in "That's So Raven," plans to plead not guilty and fight charges of battery that were filed against him in March.
Zheng declined to comment about the case, which also lists Brown's name as Orlando Washington.
A court official says Brown was sentenced Wednesday to 37 more days in jail after pleading no contest to misdemeanor trespassing following his arrest last weekend in a break-in at a downtown restaurant and to misdemeanor drug possession stemming from a vehicle stop in June.