AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EDT

Floods trap many in Florida as Ian heads to South Carolina

FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Rescue crews piloted boats and waded through inundated streets Thursday to save thousands of Floridians trapped amid flooded homes and shattered buildings left by Hurricane Ian, which crossed into the Atlantic Ocean and churned toward South Carolina.

Hours after weakening to a tropical storm while crossing the Florida peninsula, Ian regained hurricane strength Thursday evening over the Atlantic. The National Hurricane Center predicted it would hit South Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane Friday.

The devastation inflicted on Florida came into focus a day after Ian struck as a monstrous Category 4 hurricane, one of the strongest storms ever to hit the U.S. It flooded homes on both the state’s coasts, cut off the only road access to a barrier island, destroyed a historic waterfront pier and knocked out electricity to 2.67 million Florida homes and businesses — nearly a quarter of utility customers.

Four people were confirmed dead in Florida. They included two residents of hard-hit Sanibel Island along Florida’s west coast, Sanibel city manager Dana Souza said late Thursday. Three other people were reported killed in Cuba after the hurricane struck there on Tuesday.

In the Fort Myers area, homes had been ripped from their slabs and deposited among shredded wreckage. Businesses near the beach were completely razed, leaving twisted debris. Broken docks floated at odd angles beside damaged boats and fires smoldered on lots where houses once stood.

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Russia to annex more of Ukraine on Friday at the Kremlin

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia planned to annex more of Ukraine on Friday in an escalation of the seven-month war that was expected to isolate the Kremlin further, draw more international punishment and bring Ukraine extra military, political and economic support.

The annexation — and planned celebratory concerts and rallies in Moscow and the occupied territories — would come just days after voters supposedly approved Moscow-managed “referendums” that Ukrainian and Western officials have denounced as illegal, forced and rigged.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that four regions of Ukraine — Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia — would be folded into Russia during a Kremlin ceremony attended by President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to give a major speech. Peskov said the regions’ pro-Moscow administrators would sign treaties to join Russia in the Kremlin’s ornate St. George’s Hall.

In an apparent response, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called an emergency meeting Friday of his National Security and Defense Council.

Zelenskyy also sought to capitalize on anti-war sentiment in Russia by issuing a special video directed at Russia’s ethnic minorities, especially those in Dagestan, one of the country’s poorer regions in the North Caucasus.

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Russia opens more border draft offices amid call-up exodus

Russian authorities are opening more military enlistment offices near Russia’s borders in an apparent effort to intercept some of the Russian men of fighting age who are trying to flee the country by land to avoid getting called up to fight in Ukraine.

A new draft office opened at the Ozinki checkpoint in the Saratov region on Russia’s border with Kazakhstan, regional officials said Thursday. Another enlistment center was set to open at a crossing in the Astrakhan region, also on the border with Kazakhstan.

Earlier this week, makeshift Russian draft offices were set up near the Verkhny Lars border crossing into Georgia in southern Russia and near the Torfyanka checkpoint on Russia’s border with Finland. Russian officials said they would hand call-up notices to all eligible men who were trying to leave the country.

Over 194,000 Russian citizens have fled to neighboring Georgia, Kazakhstan and Finland — most often by car, bicycle or on foot — since Russian President Vladimir Putin last week announced a partial mobilization of reservists. In Russia, the vast majority of men under age 65 are registered as reservists.

The Kremlin has said it plans to call-up some 300,000 people, but Russian media reported that the number could be as high as 1.2 million, a claim that Russian officials have denied.

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1/6 chairman: Ginni Thomas reiterates false election claims

WASHINGTON (AP) — Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, stood by the false claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent during an interview Thursday with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, the panel’s chairman said.

“It’s a work in progress,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters after the more than four-hour interview ended. “At this point, we’re glad she came.”

The committee — comprised of seven Democrats and two Republicans — has for months sought an interview with Thomas in an effort to know more about her role in trying to help former President Donald Trump overturn his election defeat. The conservative activist texted with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and contacted lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin in the weeks after the election.

Thomas answered some of the questions from congressional investigators Thursday as she sought to portray herself as among the many Americans who still believe the baseless claim that the 2020 election was stolen, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to discuss it publicly.

But she did not provide any evidence or specific reasoning to back up her belief, the person said.

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Hurricane Ian sweeps away homes, memories on barrier islands

FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. (AP) — On the road into Fort Myers Beach, cars are left abandoned in the roadway, where they stalled when Hurricane Ian’s storm surge flooded their engines and their drivers couldn’t continue. Broken trees, boat trailers and other debris litter the road.

It’s even worse in the seaside tourist town, much of which was flattened by the fierce winds and powerful storm surge generated by the Category 4 hurricane.

The barrier islands along the southwest Florida coast, famed for their seashells, fishing and laid-back lifestyle, took major hits from Ian when it came ashore Wednesday. Sanibel and Captiva are both cut off from vehicle traffic because the only bridge to the mainland partially collapsed. Nearby Pine Island was also ravaged.

At the Cottage Point mobile home park in Fort Myers Beach, William Goodison and his son, Kurtis, wheeled two garbage cans filled with what was left of his belongings through knee-high water Thursday. A portable air conditioner. Some tools. And a baseball bat.

But his furniture and family mementoes were gone, submerged when a 5-foot (1.5-meter) surge of water plowed across the 60-home community of retirees and working people. Goodison’s single-wide trailer that he called home for 11 years — he had only one payment left — was destroyed. Because of the location, he couldn’t get insurance.

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Trump records probe: Tensions flare over special master

WASHINGTON (AP) — The parallel special master process spawned by the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Florida estate has slowed the Justice Department’s criminal investigation and exposed simmering tensions between department prosecutors and lawyers for the former president.

As the probe into the presence of top-secret information at Mar-a-Lago continues, barbed comments in recent court filings have laid bare deep disagreements related to the special master’s work — not just among lawyers but judges, too. And the filings have made clear that a process the Trump team initially asked for has not consistently played to the ex-president’s advantage.

A look at where things stand:

WHO IS THE SPECIAL MASTER AND WHAT IS HIS ROLE?

A federal judge in Florida appointed at the Trump team’s request an independent arbiter to inspect the thousands of documents seized from Mar-a-Lago and to weed out from the investigation any that might be protected by claims of either attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

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S. Korea, US and Japan hold anti-N. Korean submarine drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea, U.S. and Japanese warships launched their first anti-submarine drills in five years on Friday, after North renewed ballistic missile tests this week in an apparent response to bilateral training by South Korean and U.S. forces.

The North’s recent five missiles launches, the first such tests in a month, also came before and after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited South Korea on Thursday and reaffirmed the “ironclad” U.S. commitment to the security of its Asian allies.

The one-day trilateral training off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast is meant to cope with a North Korean push to advance its ability to fire missile from submarines, according to a South Korean navy statement.

North Korea has been building bigger submarines including a nuclear-powered one and testing sophisticated missiles that can be fired from them in recent years. That’s an alarming development for its rivals because it’s harder to detect underwater-launched missiles in advance.

Friday’s drills involve the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan as well as U.S., South Korean and Japanese destroyers, the navy statement said. During the training, the navy ships from the three nations were to search and track a U.S. nuclear-powered submarine posing as a North Korean submarine while exchanging related information, according to media reports.

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Dolphins QB Tua stretchered off with head, neck injuries

CINCINNATI (AP) — Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained neck and head injuries after being slammed to the ground in Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals and was stretchered from the field.

The Dolphins said Tagovailoa was conscious, had movement in all his extremities and was taken to University of Cincinnati Medical Center for further evaluation.

Tagovailoa was chased down and sacked by 6-foot-3, 340-pound Josh Tupou with about six minutes left in the first half. He was spun around and thrown to the turf. While on the ground, his hands froze in front of his face. He remained down for more than seven minutes before being loaded on a backboard, stabilized and strapped to a stretcher after his facemask was removed.

Dolphins players gathered around as Tagovailoa was rolled off the field and the crowd chanted “Tua! Tua!.”

Reaction came swiftly from around the NFL. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Broncos QB Russell Wilson promptly tweeted with concern for Tagovailoa’s well-being.

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Study finds that climate change added 10% to Ian’s rainfall

Climate change added at least 10% more rain to Hurricane Ian, a study prepared immediately after the storm shows.

Thursday’s research, which is not peer-reviewed, compared peak rainfall rates during the real storm to about 20 different computer scenarios of a model with Hurricane Ian’s characteristics slamming into the Sunshine State in a world with no human-caused climate change.

“The real storm was 10% wetter than the storm that might have been,’’ said Lawrence Berkeley National Lab climate scientist Michael Wehner, study co-author.

Forecasters predicted Ian will have dropped up to two feet (61 centimeters) of rain in parts of Florida by the time it stopped.

Wehner and Kevin Reed, an atmospheric scientist at Stony Brook University, published a study in Nature Communications earlier this year looking at the hurricanes of 2020 and found during their rainiest three-hour periods they were more than 10% wetter than in a world without greenhouse gases trapping heat. Wehner and Reed applied the same scientifically accepted attribution technique to Hurricane Ian.

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Biden vows US commitment to Pacific Islands at summit

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday told visiting leaders from more than a dozen Pacific Island countries that the U.S. was committed to bolstering its presence in their region and becoming a more collaborative partner as they face the “existential threat” of climate change.

The president addressed the leaders who gathered in Washington for a summit as the White House looks to improve relations in the Pacific amid growing U.S. concern about China’s growing military and economic influence.

“A great deal of history of our world is going to be written in the Indo-Pacific over the coming years and decades,” Biden said at the start of a meeting with island leaders at the State Department. “And the Pacific Islands are a critical voice in shaping the future, and that’s why my administration has made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with your countries.”

Biden delivered his remarks as his administration unveiled its Pacific strategy, an outline of the White House’s plan to assist the region’s leaders on pressing issues like climate change, maritime security and protecting the area from overfishing. The administration also pledged that the U.S. would add $810 million in new aid for Pacific Island nations over the next decade, including $130 million on efforts to stymie the impacts of climate change.

“We’re seeing the consequences of climate change around the world very vividly, including in the United States right now, and I know your nations feel it acutely,” Biden said.

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