Signs of the Times (10/9/26)

Hurricane Matthew Brings Record River Flooding & Power Outages

Record-breaking flooding has occurred in North Carolina after Hurricane Matthew dumped extreme amounts of rain on eastern parts of the state. Though the rain has ended, and it should remain dry for many days ahead, rivers will still be rising in some locations. That could lead to additional record flooding at some gauges. This flooding is the result of 6 to 16 inches of rain that fell in eastern North Carolina from Matthew. The top total was 15.65 inches at William O Huske Lock 3, followed by 14.82 inches in Fayetteville. Matthew left behind seven dead with 562 successful swift water rescues.

Rainfall from Matthew, as well moderate tidal flooding, has caused severe flooding in parts of Virginia. Several communities in southeast portions of the state were hit by street flooding Saturday after nearly a foot of rain fell as Hurricane Matthew began to pull away from the eastern seaboard. Heavy rain and strong winds affected the Norfolk and Virginia Beach areas Saturday night. Street closures are being reported in the communities of Virginia Beach, Franklin, Hampton and Isle of Wight, where the James River Bridge Southbound has been closed due to high water and downed power lines and trees have caused roadways throughout the county to become dangerous.

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, state energy provider South Carolina Energy & Gas reported that more than 825,000 were without power as of Saturday evening, Gov. Nikki Haley said in a Saturday evening press conference, but as of Sunday morning the number dropped to 191,000. The largest outages are in the Low Country areas. Hurricane Matthew began its strike on South Carolina early Saturday morning, leaving a major highway closed and more than 100 roads impassable in Charleston. Both directions of Interstate 95 were rendered impassible in South Carolina due to floodwaters and other obstructions. More than 370,000 in Georgia were without power Saturday with at least 3 dead.

Hurricane Matthew, in its destructive march along the Florida coast on Friday, caused widespread flooding, damage and power outages across the state. At least five people have died. Florida Power & Light’s latest report says it has restored power to 747,325 of the more than 1 million customers that lost power at the height of the storm. The electric company brought in 15,000 crews from all over the country to aid in the storm impacts, with workers coming from as far away as Massachusetts and Texas. Storm surge in St. Augustine engulfed city streets and pushed through residential areas. Jacksonville Beach residents were not allowed to return to the area Saturday. After surveying damages Friday night, Mayor Charlie Latham said it was not as bad as expected and began lifting the evacuation orders for some zones Sunday morning.

White House Puts Thousands of Deportation Cases on Hold

The Obama administration has delayed deportation proceedings against more than 56,000 Central American immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally since 2014, The New York Times reported Thursday. Federal officials told the Times that some deportation cases have been pushed as far back as 2023, creating what one retired immigration judge called “docket chaos.” Some of those whose cases have been delayed failed to report to government offices to be fitted with GPS ankle bracelets, the Times reports. Now, federal officials admit that many immigrants with delayed cases may never report for their court dates. In June 2014, the White House said it would work to process and deport illegal immigrants quicker after a surge of families and unaccompanied minors crossed the southern U.S. border over the previous months.

Immigration Agents Caught Barely Half of Illegal Border Crossers Last Year

Immigration authorities caught just over half of the people who illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico last year, according to a report commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security that offers one of the most detailed assessments of border security ever compiled. The report found that 54 percent of people who entered illegally between border crossings got caught in the 2015 fiscal year. That’s much lower than the 81 percent success rate that Homeland Security cited publicly using a different counting method, reports Fox News. The 98-page report was completed in May, and Homeland Security officials have declined to release it, despite urging from some members of Congress. The Associated Press obtained a copy from a government official involved in border issues who acted on condition of anonymity.

U.S. Admits Record Number of Muslim Immigrants

A recent study by Pew found that a record near-half of all refugees that entered the United States in FY2016 were Muslim, marking the highest number of Muslim refugees recorded since religious self-reporting data became available 14 years ago. According to Pew: A total of 38,901 Muslim refugees entered the U.S. in fiscal year 2016, making up almost half (46%) of the nearly 85,000 refugees who entered the country in that period, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center. That means the U.S. has admitted the highest number of Muslim refugees of any year since data on self-reported religious affiliations first became publicly available in 2002.” Pew added that “A slightly lower share of 2016’s refugees were Christian (44%) than Muslim, the first time that has happened since fiscal 2006, when a large number of Somali refugees entered the U.S.”

States that refuse to help resettle Syrian refugees are guilty of illegal discrimination, a federal appeals court ruled Monday, delivering a judicial rebuke to GOP vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, who, as Indiana’s governor, had tried to stop Syrians from being shipped into his state. “Federal law does not allow a governor to deport to other states immigrants he deems dangerous,” Judge Posner wrote. Posner added that there’s no evidence that Syrians are more dangerous than other refugees, and he said even if they are, allowing Indiana to refuse to resettle them would only foist the problem onto neighboring states.

U.S. Officially Accuses Russia of Hacking Attacks

The Obama administration on Friday officially accused Russia of attempting to interfere in the 2016 elections, including by hacking the computers of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations. The denunciation, made by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, came as pressure was growing from within the administration and some lawmakers to publicly name Moscow and hold it accountable for actions apparently aimed at sowing discord around the election. “The U.S. Intelligence Community is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations,” said a joint statement from the two agencies. “. . . These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the U.S. election process.” “Today was just the first step,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), a member of the Homeland Security Committee. “Russia must face serious consequences. The United States must upend Putin’s calculus with a strong diplomatic, political, ­cyber and economic response.”

N.S.A. Contractor Arrested in Theft of Classified Information

The F.B.I. secretly arrested a former National Security Agency contractor in August and, according to law enforcement officials, is investigating whether he stole and disclosed highly classified computer code developed by the agency to hack into the networks of foreign governments. The arrest raises the embarrassing prospect that for the second time in three years, a contractor for the consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton managed to steal highly damaging secret information while working for the N.S.A. In 2013, Edward J. Snowden, who was also a Booz Allen contractor, took a vast trove of documents from the agency that were later passed to journalists, exposing surveillance programs in the United States and abroad. The contractor was identified as Harold T. Martin III of Glen Burnie, Md., according to a criminal complaint filed in late August and unsealed Wednesday. According to court documents, the F.B.I. discovered thousands of pages of documents and dozens of computers or other electronic devices at his home and in his car, a large amount of it classified.

Persecution Update

An American missionary has been charged with violating Russia’s new anti-evangelism laws, and although he has appealed the charge, his appeal was rejected. According to The Christian Post, Pastor Donald Ossewaarde has been living in Oryol, a town 224 miles south of Moscow, for nearly 15 years and was recently accused of illegal missionary activity. “I was accused of gluing two Gospel tracts to a bulletin board at the entrance of an apartment building” he said, and “of conducting a religious service in a private home, which they said was a violation of the new anti-missionary law.” Russia’s new anti-evangelism laws are supposedly meant to prevent the spread of terrorism, but many Christians believe that they will allow the state greater control over religion.

Economic News

The economy added 156,000 jobs last month, a tad lower than the revised job gains for August, but significantly down from the 252,000 jobs added in July, the Labor Department said Friday. Counting September’s gains, the United States has added 15 million jobs since employment hit its low in February 2010. The unemployment rate ticked up to 5% from 4.9%. Wages grew 2.6% in September compared with a year ago. That’s not stellar, but it’s better than the growth of 2% or less seen for years during the recovery.

The International Monetary Fund says the U.S. economy is losing momentum. The IMF said the American economy will expand by only 1.6% this year, down from 2.6% in 2015. The latest forecast is 0.6 percentage points lower than what the fund predicted just three months ago. The world’s largest economy grew by just 1.4% between April and June compared to the same period last year, according to U.S. government data. The performance was well below economists’ expectations.

The U.S. economy has only grown 2% a year since it bottomed out in June 2009. That’s far below the typical growth in rosy times of over 4% a year that the U.S. has experienced since World War II. It’s even below the rather sluggish rebound during President George W. Bush’s tenure of 2.7%, making it the slowest U.S. recovery since WWII, reports CNN.

Oil returned back above the $50 level on Thursday for the first time since late June. Prices for crude oil have surged 12% since OPEC surprised the world last week in Algeria by reaching an understanding to cut output for the first time in eight years. The framework deal could still collapse and awaits formal approval at OPEC’s regular meeting in November, but it represents a reversal from the cartel’s recent strategy of flooding the world with oil.

The British pound slumped to its lowest level in 31 years on Tuesday on fears that the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union will be bad for the economy. Brexit plans have begun to emerge in the last few days: talks with the EU will begin in early 2017, the exit will happen two years later, and the U.K. will give priority to controlling immigration. European leaders have made clear that if Britain does not allow free movement of EU citizens across its borders, it will lose some of its rights to access the free trade area. British exporters may find it harder to compete in Europe, and the country’s banks could lose the ability to do business freely across the region.

Israel

A Palestinian motorist launched a shooting spree near the Israeli police headquarters in Jerusalem Sunday, killing two people and wounding five others before being shot dead, Israeli police and emergency services said. Police officers on motorcycles chased the assailant, who eventually stepped out of his vehicle and opened fire at them. A separate police force ultimately shot and killed the attacker. The suspect was identified as a 39-year-old man from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. Israeli media reported the man had previously served multiple sentences for violent acts and was due to report to prison Sunday for another sentence over assaulting a police officer. Israel Air Force (IAF) aircraft attacked Hamas terror targets in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday in response to a rocket fired by Palestinian terrorists at Israel’s civilian population earlier in the day. Palestinian sources report of two terror targets that were hit. The rocket, fired by an unknown faction, exploded in an open space, causing no casualties and some minor damage.

Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics published a report this week showing that the population in the 126 Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) had reached 385,900 by the end of 2015, totaling 4.5% of the overall population of the State. The vast majority of new residents of these communities were babies born to parents already living there. The report came out as the US State Department issued one of its sharpest ever rebukes of Israel over construction in West Bank settlement communities. The remarks by spokespersons from the State Department and the White House included references to the recently signed military assistance package for Israel and other elements of U.S. aid to the Jewish State, leading to statements of alarm from Israeli officials. The Obama administration on Wednesday issued unusually sharp criticism of Israel and strongly condemned its recent decision to advance a plan that would build some 100 housing units in the Shiloh area in Samaria, a compensation for Israeli families who are soon to lose their homes following a court ruling that their homes must be demolished because they were mistakenly built on privately owned Arab land.

Syria

Rival resolutions on Syria backed by the West and Russia were defeated in the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, offering no relief to the besieged city of Aleppo and leaving the key powers even more divided over a course of action in the war-ravaged country. Russia vetoed a French-drafted resolution demanding an immediate halt to the bombing campaign that the Syrian government and Russia are carrying out against rebel-held districts in Aleppo. The rival Russian draft which made no mention of a bombing halt was rejected because it failed to get the minimum nine “yes” votes needed for approval by the 15-member council. The votes reflected the deep divisions in the U.N.’s most powerful body which is charged with ensuring international peace and security but has totally failed to take action to end the more than 5-year Syrian conflict which has killed over 300,000 people and displaced millions.

Russia has deployed an advanced anti-missile system to Syria for the first time, three US officials tell Fox News, the latest indication that Moscow continues to ramp up its military operations in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. It comes after Russia’s actions led to the collapse of a cease-fire and the cut-off of direct talks with the U.S. While Moscow’s motives are not certain, officials say the new weapon system could potentially counter any American cruise missile attack in Syria. It is the first time Russia has deployed the SA-23 system outside its borders.

A barrel bomb struck a center used by Syria’s civil defense volunteers, known as the White Helmets, in the country’s capital of Damascus, the group said. The group tweeted that the center and vehicles at the scene were destroyed Wednesday, and some volunteers injured in the attack. White Helmets members describe themselves as a group of 3,000 volunteers whose goal is to save lives in Syrian communities. “We rush to the scene of attacks to save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property,” the group says on its website.

Belgium

Two police officers were stabbed in the Brussels district of Schaarbeek on Wednesday, a Federal Prosecutor’s Office spokesman said. The stabbings are being treated as a suspected terror attack. The city remains on a high terror alert at level three, one below the highest level. On March 22, suicide bombers struck at the city’s airport and a subway station, killing 32 people. Brussels has become a hotbed of terror in Europe. The alleged mastermind of the Paris attacks in November last year, which killed 130 people, was arrested in Belgium.

Germany

German police searched nationwide Sunday for a 22-year-old Syrian man believed to have been preparing a bombing attack, who slipped through their fingers as they were closing in on him, and were questioning a second Syrian man on suspicion he was involved in the plot. The man in custody was one of three apprehended in the eastern city of Chemnitz on Saturday. He was the renter of the apartment that police raided in their search for the main suspect, Jaber Albakr from the Damascus area of Syria.

Turkey

A bomb mounted on a motorcycle exploded Thursday not far from Istanbul’s Ataturk airport, wounding at least 10 people, Turkish officials said. The blast occurred outside a police station in the city’s Yenibosna district, northeast of the airport. The victims were civilians, and none of the injured was in serious condition. Police were searching for one person spotted leaving the area on a motorbike. No groups immediately claimed responsibility for the blast. Turkey has been rocked by a wave of terror attacks in the past year carried out by Kurdish rebels as well as Islamic State militants. Kurdish militants detonated a car bomb Sunday outside a military checkpoint in southeast Turkey, killing ten soldiers and eight civilians, the prime minister said. Turkey immediately launched a military operation against the rebels in response.

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up after refusing to surrender to police during an operation in the outskirts of the capital Ankara Saturday, a senior official said. No one else was killed or hurt. Governor Erkan Topaca said police, acting on a tip, launched an operation to catch a man and a woman who were suspected of planning a suicide car bombing in Ankara. They were hiding inside a hut at a horse farm in the district of Haymana, just outside of the capital. “They blew themselves up before we could intervene,” Topaca told reporters at the scene.

Afghanistan

Nearly four dozen Afghan troops training in the U.S. have vanished in less than two years, officials confirmed Thursday. At least 44 Afghan troops have left their assigned bases since January 2015, calling into question their training programs’ screening processes. Of those 44, 25 were reported Absent Without Leave, or AWOL, in 2015, and 19 have gone AWOL this year. One of the eight Afghan students who disappeared in September of this year turned up at the Canadian border, the Pentagon reported. A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the frequency of Afghan troops disappearing from military training was truly concerning, raising fears of terrorism in America.

Russia

Russia is currently conducting a drill that involves more than 40 million people and scenarios will cover biological, chemical, and nuclear emergencies. The huge four-day “civil defense” drill has set alarm bells ringing in Washington and London, with tensions already high over disagreements in Syria. Following a breakdown in communication between the USA and Russia, the Kremlin has now organized the huge emergency practice drill – either as a show of force or something more sinister. The drill will prepare Russian citizens for “large natural and man-made disasters”, according to the country’s Ministry for Civil Defense, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disaster.

Russia has backed out of a deal to convert 34 tons of weapons grade plutonium into nuclear fuel each year. In the year 2000 Russia and the United States agreed to end the arms race and each turn 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium into reactor fuel every year. The agreement was re-affirmed in 2010. In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the United states of creating “a threat to strategic stability, as a result of unfriendly actions towards Russia.”

A document released by the French Ministry of defense states that on September 22nd FOUR European countries scrambled fighter jets to head off two Russian Blackjack bombers. The bombers headed across the top of Scotland from Norway, before skirting Ireland’s west coast towards France and Spain. Norway, the UK, France and Spain all sent up fighters to intercept the jets.

Columbia

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people. Nobel judges conspicuously did not honor his counterpart, Rodrigo Londono, the leader of the rebels. The award came just days after Colombian voters narrowly rejected the peace deal that Santos helped bring about. “The referendum was not a vote for or against peace,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said, insisting the peace process wasn’t dead. “What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace,” rather a desire for more severe judgment against the rebels.

Volcanoes

The largest active volcano in Japan has erupted, sending a column of smoke and ash more than 11,000 meters (nearly 7 miles) into the air, the Japan Meteorological Agency reported early Saturday. It is extremely rare for an eruption column to exceed 10,000 meters, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Mount Aso, which stands 1,592 meters (a little over 5,200 feet) tall, is in Kumamoto Prefecture on the southwestern island of Kyushu. Images from the area showed a layer of volcanic ash coating streets, roofs and vehicles. No injuries have been reported. While the volcano is in its active phase, there is a “possibility” another eruption of the same scale could occur.

Weather

The number of people killed in Haiti by Hurricane Matthew has risen sharply, with coastal villages and towns beginning to make contact with the outside world, three days after being hit by the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade. A Reuters news agency tally of deaths reported by civil protection officials at a local level on Friday showed the storm killed at least 877 people. Rural clinics overflowed with patients whose wounds including broken bones had not been treated since the storm hit on Tuesday. Food was scarce, and at least seven people died of cholera, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage. “Devastation is everywhere,” said Pilus Enor, mayor of the town of Camp Perrin. “Every house has lost its roof. All the plantations have been destroyed. Haitian officials said more than 28,000 houses have been damaged so far but assessments are only in the initial stages.

Leaving Haiti in “total disaster,” Hurricane Matthew slammed into Cuba Tuesday night. At least 283 deaths have been attributed to the storm. Twenty-three of the deaths were reported in Haiti. Six other deaths were recorded in the neighboring Dominican Republic and one each in Colombia and in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. “It’s the worst hurricane that I’ve seen during my life,” Fidele Nicolas, a civil protection official in Nippes, told AP. “It destroyed schools, roads, other structures.” According to Haiti Libre, 14,530 people have been displaced, 2,703 families are affected and 1,885 houses are flooded. Major flooding was reported in several southern towns, including Petit Goave, where the Ladigue Bridge collapsed Tuesday, isolating southwest Haiti from the rest of the country.

Residents of Baracoa, Cuba, were digging out rubble that was left after Hurricane Matthew hit the eastern portion of the country Wednesday with heavy flooding and strong storm surge. Hit in some areas by 24-foot waves, Baracoa saw hundreds of homes were either damaged or destroyed when flooding and the storm surge overcame the city. Hundreds of people from Baracoa, Maisí and other territories to the east of Guantánamo have had their houses partially or completely destroyed. The road joining Guantanamo’s municipalities of Imías and Baracoa became flooded and impassable. Nearly 380,000 people were evacuated and strong measures were taken to protect communities and infrastructure.

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