Dallas, Jun 11 (AP/UNB) — Residents in North Texas began to come to grips Monday with the widespread damage left after a sudden thunderstorm bearing near hurricane-strength winds rolled through the area and collapsed a crane onto an apartment complex, killing one person and injuring five others.
Wind gusts measuring as high as 71 mph (114 kph) blew out the windows of high-rise buildings and tore trees apart, taking power and telephone lines with them, especially in Dallas and its northern suburbs. The electric utility Oncor reported that 140,000 customers had service restored by nightfall Monday, but 210,000 still remained in the dark. In a statement, Oncor said some customers may not have service restored until Thursday. Crews from across Texas and some other states have been brought in to help in the restoration process.
Kiersten Symone Smith, 29, was pronounced dead at a hospital, according to the Dallas County Medical Examiners' office, after the construction crane smashed into a five-story building near downtown. The crane destroyed many apartments at the Elan City Lights complex and reduced parts of an adjacent parking garage to a pile of concrete and mangled cars.
Smith was a resident of the apartment building, her sister, Toni Smith, told The Associated Press in a brief interview Monday. Toni Smith referred other questions to attorney Jonathan Cox, who said he could not immediately provide answers but that the family intends to issue a statement. The cause of her death has not been determined.
Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans said Monday that the five other people were hospitalized after the collapse and all are expected to recover. Two people were discharged Sunday; a 35-year-old man and 35-year-old woman remain hospitalized but have been upgraded from "critical" to "good" condition; and a 23-year old man remains in "serious" condition, Evans said.
Meanwhile, fire-rescue crews escorted residents of the apartment building briefly into their homes Monday to retrieve pets and some essentials as city workers and Occupational Safety and Health Administration officials ponder how to remove the crane embedded in the structure's east side. As of late Monday morning, almost 500 traffic signals were inoperable across Dallas, and about 170 were flashing red lights, according to the city.
Bigge Crane and Rigging Co., which owns the downed crane, had representatives in Dallas Monday to assist and cooperate with OSHA's investigation, said Randy Smith, the California-based equipment rental company's lawyer. He said the crane was "not in service" during the storm.
The crane fell around 2 p.m. Sunday as storms ripped across parts of Oklahoma and Texas, bringing high winds, heavy rain and hail that flooded streets and caused power outages. Wind gusts up to 71 mph (114 kph) were measured at Dallas Love Field airport, said National Weather Service meteorologist Patricia Sanchez.
Another woman, whose identity has not been released, died Sunday when the sailboat she was in overturned on Eagle Mountain Lake, a few miles northwest of Fort Worth.
Meanwhile, a tornado graded by the National Weather Service as an EF-2 struck Copperas Cove, about 55 miles (89 kilometers) southwest of Waco, on Sunday with winds estimated at 115 mph. A city fire official said about 200 homes were damaged and three of those are uninhabitable.
"The sun was out, and then all of a sudden a wind came in, it got dark, the lights went off, and once the lights got off then the wind started blowing," Copperas Cove resident Erasmus Julien told the Killeen Daily Herald.
Heavy rain and winds up to 80 mph (129 kph) also cut through the Austin area, blowing down tree branches and gas station canopies, said meteorologist Bob Fogarty.
New York, Jun 11 (AP/UNB) — A helicopter crashed on the roof of a rain-shrouded midtown Manhattan skyscraper Monday, killing the pilot and briefly triggering memories of 9/11, after an erratic trip across some of the nation's most restricted airspace. Authorities said they did not suspect terrorism.
The crash near Times Square and Trump Tower shook the 750-foot (229-meter) AXA Equitable building, sparked a fire, and forced office workers to flee on elevators and down stairs, witnesses and officials said.
The pilot was the only person aboard, and there were no other reports of injuries, authorities said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the crash, or why the Agusta A109E was flying in a driving downpour with low cloud cover and in the tightly controlled airspace of midtown Manhattan. A flight restriction in effect since President Donald Trump took office bans aircraft from flying below 3,000 feet (914 meters) within a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) radius of Trump Tower, which is less than a half-mile (0.8 kilometers) from the crash site.
"There's something mysterious here," Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN, saying officials were scrutinizing video of a "very erratic" flight and authorities needed to find out more about the pilot at the time he decided to take off.
One lawmaker called for "non-essential" helicopter flights over Manhattan to be banned.
The pilot, identified by his employer as Tim McCormack, was a former fire chief in upstate Clinton, New York. With 15 years of experience flying helicopters and single-engine airplanes, he was certified as a flight instructor last year, according to Federal Aviation Administration records.
The East Clinton Volunteer Fire Department posted on Facebook that McCormack's "technical knowledge and ability to command an emergency were exceptional."
The 19-year-old helicopter was linked to a real estate company founded by Italian-born investor Daniele Bodini, according to FAA records.
The helicopter went down about 11 minutes after taking off from a heliport along the East River, a little more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) away. Police Commissioner James O'Neill said it may have been returning to its home airport in Linden, New Jersey.
The director at Linden Municipal Airport, Paul Dudley, described McCormack as "a highly seasoned" and "very well regarded" pilot who was a regular at the airfield.
He suspects that a mechanical problem or the weather "overwhelmed him and the helicopter," Dudley said. "I believe he tried to get on the roof and spare the people on the ground."
McCormack, 58, chronicled some of his helicopter flights on his Facebook page, including a 2014 emergency landing caused by a bird strike. He had been conducting a sightseeing tour over Manhattan when the bird penetrated the windshield of his Bell BHT 407, causing McCormack to land unexpectedly at the West 30th Street Heliport.
"It was pretty much like an explosion going off in your cockpit," McCormack told television station WABC at the time.
The crash happened shortly before 2 p.m. Monday, when clouds obscured the roof of the building. Rescue vehicles swarmed to the scene a few blocks from Rockefeller Center.
Pedro Rodriguez, a pastry line cook at Le Bernardin, a well-known restaurant in the AXA Equitable building, said workers got an announcement telling everyone to exit, and he later heard from people around him that there was a fire on the roof.
The evacuation was not chaotic, Rodriguez said, but he was rattled because he immediately thought of the Sept. 11 attacks.
"It's scary when something like this happens," he said.
Videos posted by onlookers showed emergency vehicles in the street, but no obvious damage to the skyscraper. The fire department later tweeted a photo of the helicopter's wreckage that showed piles of burned debris on the roof.
"If you're a New Yorker, you have a level of PTSD, right, from 9/11. And I remember that morning all too well. So as soon as you hear an aircraft hit a building, I think my mind goes where every New Yorker's mind goes," Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters.
Working for a bank on the building's seventh floor, Kendall Sawyer felt a shake — "jarring enough to notice," but workers weren't sure what it was, she said.
Then came an announcement that the situation was being looked into, and a few minutes later, an instruction to evacuate, without explanation, she said.
"It was a little bit crazy, a little bit scary" as workers walked down the stairs, she said.
A block south, lawyer Lance Koonce heard a loud sound he thought could be a low-flying helicopter. From his 21st-story window, he looked up and saw smoke.
"I couldn't tell if the smoke preceded the helicopter coming over, or if it was from the helicopter crashing into the building," he said.
Trump tweeted from Washington that he had been briefed on the crash. Cuomo's office said the president and governor had spoken.
The National Transportation Safety Board was sending an investigator.
In Washington, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, called on the Federal Aviation Administration to ban "non-essential" helicopter flights over Manhattan, as she did after a previous crash.
"Why should some tour guide be able to endanger the lives of people by flying over probably one of the most densely populated areas in the world?" she asked. "It doesn't make any sense at all, and it should have been banned long ago."
The city currently allows helicopters to take off and land from three heliports, one each on the East and West sides and in downtown Manhattan. All of the facilities border rivers.
It was once more common for helicopters to take off from private Manhattan rooftops, the most famous of which was on the tower then known as the Pan Am building. In 1977, four people waiting on the roof were killed when a helicopter toppled over and a rotor blade broke off and hit them. A fifth person, a pedestrian, was killed by falling debris.
That spurred a push to close down private helipads.
Still, the city has seen a string of helicopter accidents since. The most recent was just last month, when a chopper crash landed in the Hudson River near a busy Manhattan heliport. The pilot escaped mostly unscathed.
Five people died when a sightseeing helicopter crashed into the East River last year. Three people died in another crash into the same river in 2011. Back in 2009, a sightseeing helicopter collided with a small plane and killed nine people not far from the scene of Monday's mishap.
In 2006, New York Yankees pitcher Corey Lidle's single-engine plane slammed into the 20th floor of a building on Manhattan's Upper East Side, killing Lidle and his flight instructor. It was not clear which one was piloting the plane.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded the pilot misjudged a narrow U-turn before veering into the building.
Aboard The Uss Abraham Lincoln, Jun 9 (AP/UNB) — Under a starry sky, U.S. Navy fighter jets catapulted off the aircraft carrier's deck and flew north over the darkened waters of the northern Arabian Sea, a unmistaken signal to Iran that the foremost symbol of the American military's global reach is back in its neighborhood, perhaps to stay.
The USS Abraham Lincoln , with its contingent of Navy destroyers and cruisers and a fighting force of about 70 aircraft, is the centerpiece of the Pentagon's response to what it calls Iranian threats to attack U.S. forces or commercial shipping in the Persian Gulf region. In recent years, there has been no regular U.S. aircraft carrier presence in the Middle East.
U.S. officials have said that signs of heightened Iranian preparations to strike U.S. and other targets in the waters off Iran as well as in Iraq and Yemen in late April emerged shortly after the Trump administration announced it was clamping down further on Iran's economy by ending waivers to sanctions on buyers of Iranian crude oil.
The administration went a step beyond that on Friday, announcing penalties that target Iran's largest petrochemical company.
On Saturday the Lincoln was steaming in international waters east of Oman and about 200 miles from Iran's southern coastline. One month after its arrival in the region, the Lincoln has not entered the Persian Gulf, and it's not apparent that it will. The USS Gonzalez, a destroyer that is part of the Lincoln strike group, is operating in the Gulf.
Rear Adm. John F. G. Wade, commander of the Lincoln strike group, said Iran's naval forces have adhered to international standards of interaction with ships in his group.
"Since we've been operating in the region, we've had several interactions with Iranians," he said. "To this point all have been safe and professional — meaning, the Iranians have done nothing to impede our maneuverability or acted in a way which required us to take defensive measures."
The Lincoln's contingent of 44 Navy F-18 Super Hornets are flying a carefully calibrated set of missions off the carrier night and day, mainly to establish a visible U.S. "presence" that Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of Central Command, said Saturday seems to have caused Iran to "tinker with" its preparation for potential attacks.
He said on Friday that he thinks Iran had been planning some sort of attack on shipping or U.S. forces in Iraq. Two other officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details, said Iran was at a high state of readiness in early May with its ships, submarines, surface-to-air missiles and drone aircraft.
"It is my assessment that if we had not reinforced, it is entirely likely that an attack would have taken place by now," McKenzie said.
In an interview on the bridge, or command station, of the Lincoln with reporters who are traveling with him throughout the Gulf region, McKenzie said the carrier has made an important difference.
"We believe they are recalculating. They have to take this into account as they think about various actions that they might take. So we think this is having a very god stabilizing effect," he said.
"They are looking hard at the carrier because they know we are looking hard at them," McKenzie said.
He said earlier in the week that he had not ruled out requesting additional defensive forces to bolster the deterrence of Iran, whose economy is being squeezed hard by U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. last year from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. The U.S. already has announced plans to send 900 additional troops to the Mideast and extend the stay of 600 more as tens of thousands of others also are on the ground across the region.
Iran's influential Revolutionary Guard has said it doesn't fear a possible war with the U.S. and asserted that America's military might has not grown in power in recent years. "The enemy is not more powerful than before," the Guard spokesman, Gen. Ramazan Sharif, said in late May.
The U.S. has accused Iran of being behind a string of recent incidents, including what officials allege was sabotage of oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
McKenzie spent two days aboard the Lincoln to confer with naval commanders, observe both daytime and nighttime flight operations, and to thank crew members. Their deployment plans were disrupted when the White House approved McKenzie's request in early May that the Lincoln cut short its time in the Mediterranean Sea and sail swiftly to the Arabian Sea.
"I am the reason you are here," the general said in an all-hands announcement to the nearly 6,000 personnel on the Lincoln Friday night shortly after he flew aboard by Navy helicopter from Oman.
"I requested this ship because of ongoing tensions with Iran," he said. "And nothing says you're interested in somebody like 90,000 tons of aircraft carrier and everything that comes with it. Our intent by bringing you here was to stabilize the situation and let Iran know that now is not the time to do something goofy."
McKenzie also requested, and received, four Air Force long-range B-52 bombers. They were in the region 51 hours after being summoned and were flying missions three days later. They are now operating from al-Udeid air base in Qatar. There had been no U.S. bomber presence in the Gulf region since late February.
In an interview Friday after speaking with B-52 pilots at al-Udeid, McKenzie said it's hard to know whether that gap in a bomber presence had emboldened the Iranians.
"Cumulatively, the fact that we had drawn down in (the Mideast) may have had an effect on Iranian behavior," he said. "We do know that bringing stuff back in seems to have had an effect on their behavior," noting that there have been no Iranian attacks on U.S. forces.
On Saturday aboard the Lincoln, McKenzie was asked whether there have been any incidents between Iranian and American naval force in recent weeks.
"No, actually I think things are pretty quiet right now," he said.
Washington, Jun 9 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump's deal to avert his threatened tariffs on Mexico includes few new solutions to swiftly stem the surge of Central American migrants flowing over America's southern border.
But it delivers enough for Trump to claim a political win.
The decision — announced by tweet late Friday — ended a showdown that business leaders warned would have disastrous economic consequences for both the U.S. and one of its largest trading partners, driving up consumer prices and driving a wedge between the two allies. And it represented a win for members of Trump's own party who had flooded the White House with pleading calls as well as aides who had been eager to convince the president to back down.
But ultimately, it gives Trump the ability to claim victory on a central campaign promise that has been largely unfulfilled as he prepares to formally launch his 2020 campaign.
"In the face of naysayers, President Trump yet again delivered a huge victory for the American people," Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a statement, applauding the president for using "the threat of tariffs to bring Mexico to the table" and "showing that he is willing to use every tool in his toolbox to protect the American people."
Trump ran in 2016 pledging to crack down on illegal immigration, but instead has watched as the number of border crossings has spiked to its highest level in over a decade — with U.S. Border Patrol apprehending more than 132,000 people in May, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together. That surge has been straining federal resources, leaving officials struggling to provide basic housing and health care to families fleeing violence and poverty in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
With Trump overseas and an unproductive opening negotiating session with Mexican officials Wednesday, many at the White House had expected Trump to move forward with the 5% tariff he'd threaten to slap on all Mexican goods on Monday in an effort to strong-arm the country into action, according to people familiar with the deliberations. Aides including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were no personal fans of the policy, but they understood Trump's frustration and presented several suggestions to the Mexican delegation to walk him back. They also made clear that Trump was dead set on the tariffs without dramatic action.
U.S. officials were nonetheless surprised when talks resumed Thursday and Mexico agreed to some of the things Pence had put on the table, including an expansion of a program that forces some asylum-seekers to return to Mexico as they wait for their cases to be adjudicated. And while such a measure never made it into the agreement, Mexican officials also expressed an openness to discussing something they had long opposed: having Mexico become a "safe third country," which would make it harder for asylum-seekers who pass through the country to claim refuge in the U.S.
Conversations continued Friday during a marathon session at the State Department led by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, with Trump briefed by phone aboard Air Force One.
A final decision was made during an evening conference call once Trump return to the White House on Friday evening, and shortly thereafter he fired off his tweet announcing the deal.
The decision was a relief for Trump aides— nearly all of whom were united in opposition to the tariffs, disagreeing on principle and in practice. It also came as relief for Republican lawmakers and their allies in the business community, who'd spent the week burning up White House phones and personally nudging the president to back down. In a rare rebuke, several had threatened to block the effort, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying publicly there was little support.
Still, one Republican who discussed the situation on condition of anonymity said the outreach from Capitol Hill appeared to play far less a role than the concessions made by the Mexicans — particularly the agreement to expand the remain-in-Mexico policy.
Critics, meanwhile, pointed out that little announced on Friday appeared to be new.
A joint statement released by the State Department said Mexico had agreed to "take unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration," including the deployment of its new National Guard, with a focus on its porous southern border with Guatemala. Mexico, however, had already intended to deploy the National Guard to the southern border and had made that clear to U.S. officials.
The U.S. also hailed Mexico's agreement to embrace the expansion of a program under which some asylum-seekers are returned to Mexico as they wait out their cases. But the remain-in-Mexico program was implemented earlier this year and, from the start, U.S. officials have vowed to rapidly expand it, even without Mexico's public support. Indeed, officials from the Department of Homeland Security were working to spread the program, which has already led to the return of about 10,000 to Mexico, before the latest blowup, though it has been plagued with scheduling glitches and delays. Immigration activists also have challenged the program in court, arguing that it violates migrants' legal rights. An appeals court recently overturned a federal judge who had blocked the program as it makes its way through the courts.
Administration officials noted the deal leaves open the possibility of "further actions" if "the measures adopted do not have the expected results." And while the "third safe country" agreement did not make it into the deal, it is something officials plan to continue to discuss in the coming months.
The reversal nonetheless sparked mocking from Democrats, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who sarcastically declared Friday "an historic night!" after Trump claimed the deal would "greatly reduce, or eliminate, Illegal Immigration coming from Mexico and into the United States."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also weighed in, calling the tariff threat "reckless" and panning the remain-in-Mexico policy as a violation of migrants' legal rights.
"Threats and temper tantrums are no way to negotiate foreign policy," she said.
Tijuana, Jun 9 (AP/UNB) — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he was reluctantly prepared to slap retaliatory tariffs on U.S. goods if negotiators in Washington had failed to strike a deal, addressing a boisterous celebratory rally Saturday in the border city of Tijuana.
The president's comments came shortly after his foreign minister and chief negotiator, Marcelo Ebrard, told the rally the country had emerged from the high-stakes talks that avoided U.S. tariffs on Mexico's exports with its "dignity intact."
López Obrador said that as an admirer of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela he opposes retaliation but had been prepared to impose tariffs on U.S. goods. "As chief representative of the Mexican State I cannot permit that anyone attacks our economy or accept an unjust asymmetry unworthy of our government."
The rally in Tijuana, a short walk from the border, was originally scheduled as an act of solidarity in the face of President Donald Trump's threat to impose a 5% tariff on Mexico's exports if it did not stem the flow of Central American migrants crossing its territory toward the U.S.
But after Mexican and U.S. officials reached an accord late Friday that calls on Mexico to crackdown on migrants in exchange for Trump backing off his threat, officials here converted the rally into a celebration.
Ebrard, who helped negotiate the deal, said when he gave the president his report, he told López Obrador: "There are no tariffs, Mr. President, we emerged with our dignity intact."
Speaking about the migrants, Ebrard said, "while they are in Mexico, we are going to be in solidarity with them."
A series of speakers at the government-organized gathering spoke of the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship and applauded Mexico's negotiating team. The rally had the feeling of a campaign event with lots of paraphernalia from López Obrador's ruling Morena party.
Lopez Obrador spoke of the long and intertwined histories of the two countries, noting that they "are protagonists in the largest demographic exchange in the world."
Tijuana residents at the rally said they supported the terms of the agreement. But residents just a block away expressed concern the deal could mean more asylum seekers having to wait in Tijuana and other Mexican border cities for the resolution of their cases in the U.S. That process can take months or even years.
Critics of the deal in Mexico say that other than a vague reiteration of a joint commitment to promote development, security and growth in Central America, the agreement focuses almost exclusively on enforcement and says little about the root causes driving the surge in migrants seen in recent months.
The deployment of 6,000 National Guard troops appears to be the key commitment in what was described as "unprecedented steps" by Mexico to ramp up enforcement, though Interior Secretary Olga Sánchez Cordero said that had already been planned and was not a result of external pressure.
Another key element of the deal is that the United States will expand a program known as the Migrant Protection Protocol, or MPP. According to Mexican immigration authorities, since January there have been 10,393 returns by migrants to Mexico while their cases wend their way through U.S. courts.
Observers said a concern is that if the MPP rolls out on a mass scale along the United States' entire southern border, it could overwhelm Mexican border cities.