Ticker tape parade live updates: COVID-19 heroes honored at NYC celebration

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(NEW YORK) — Wednesday is a day of celebration as New York City gears up for a ticker tape parade honoring the heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Hometown Heroes Parade starts at 11 a.m. along the Canyon of Heroes in lower Manhattan, about 16 months after New York City became the nation’s first COVID-19 epicenter.

The parade is a way “to celebrate and appreciate the heroes who often go unsung,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said last month.

“Floats for health care workers, first responders, educators, municipal workers, transportation workers, grocery and bodega workers, delivery people, you name it,” the mayor said. “All the essential workers who made it happen.”

Here is how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Jul 07, 7:53 am
Ceremony scaled back due to heat

The City Hall ceremony at the end of the parade will be “a much smaller, stripped down version” than originally planned due to the heat, Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday.

“We will be greeting the marchers at the end of the parade and thanking them,” de Blasio said. “Not a big ceremony, but the parade itself of course will be the central salute to our heroes.”

“We will be adding additional cooling centers and water stations along the route,” the mayor added.

Jul 07, 7:24 am
New York to hold first ticker tape parade in two years

Ticker tape parades along the Canyon of Heroes are a historical part of New York City. These parades have honored people from Amelia Earhart in 1932 to Winston Churchill in 1946. The most recent ticker tape parade was in 2019 for the U.S. women’s national soccer team after they won the World Cup.

“Ticker tape parades up the Canyon of Heroes, they’ve happened for generations,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said last month. “But this one will have a special spirit to it, a special heart and soul, because it’s about celebrating everyday New Yorkers who did something heroic and need our thanks.”

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Haitian President Jovenel Moise killed in attack at his home, official says

Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit

(LONDON) — Haitian President Jovenel Moise was killed in an attack at his home before dawn on Wednesday, the country’s interim premier said.

A group of unidentified individuals, some of whom spoke Spanish, raided Moise’s private residence in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, at around 1 a.m. local time. They gunned down the head of state and wounded his wife, Martine Moise, who remains hospitalized, according to a statement from Haitian interim Prime Minister Claude Joseph.

Joseph, who condemned what he described as a “hateful, inhumane and barbaric act,” said the Caribbean country’s national police force and military had the situation under control.

The Toussaint Louverture International Airport near Port-au-Prince has been closed in the wake of the deadly attack.

Story developing…

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Surfside building collapse: Eight more bodies recovered from rubble, bringing death toll to 36

Eva Marie Uzcategui Trinkl/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(SURFSIDE, Fla.) — At least 36 people, including three children, have been confirmed dead and 109 others remain unaccounted for after a 12-story residential building partially collapsed in South Florida’s Miami-Dade County last month.

The disaster occurred on June 24 around 1:15 a.m. local time at the Champlain Towers South condominium in the small, beachside town of Surfside, about 6 miles north of Miami Beach. Approximately 55 of the oceanfront complex’s 136 units were destroyed, according to officials. Since then, hundreds of first responders have been carefully combing through the pancaked piles of debris in hopes of finding survivors.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava announced Tuesday morning that four more bodies were recovered from the rubble. In the evening, she announced another four bodies had been recovered, bringing the official death toll to 36. Twenty-six of the victims have been identified.

Meanwhile, investigators have confirmed that 70 of the 109 people who are still missing were in fact inside of the condominium at the time of the partial collapse. Another 191 people who were living or staying in the building at that time have been accounted for and are safe, according to Levine Cava, who has stressed that the figures are “very fluid” and “will continue to change” as detectives continuously audit the list.

Although officials wouldn’t say when the search and rescue operation will formally transition into a recovery mission, Levine Cava told reporters that the crews will “continue as now to thoroughly, carefully sift through these piles,” looking for “bodies and belongings.” The process is a “very thorough and exhaustive” one, she said.

Crews have hauled away nearly 5 million pounds of concrete from the vast scene of wreckage, but large piles of rubble still remain. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Alan Cominsky said the rescue workers have been “aggressively” searching for any voids or “liveable spaces” within the debris where there could be trapped survivors but that they are “not coming across that.” No survivors have been discovered in the wreckage of the building since the morning it partially collapsed.

“We’re not seeing anything positive,” Cominsky told reporters on Tuesday morning.

The massive search and rescue mission is now in its 13th day, as teams are able to operate at full capacity and search in areas that were previously inaccessible.

The part of the building that remained standing was cleared of any people or pets before it was demolished on Sunday night, due to concerns about its structural integrity. However, it was too dangerous for surviving residents to enter the building to retrieve their belongings, officials said.

Video released by the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue on Monday night showed crews working atop the piles, braving the elements as Tropical Storm Elsa approached the Sunshine State.

The incoming storm, which has weakened from a hurricane, initiated the discussion about demolishing the rest of the building and fast-tracked the process, according to Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett. Elsa made landfall in Cuba on Monday and by Tuesday morning the storm’s center was moving through Key West with maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, according to the National Weather Service.

Prior to the demolition, the search and rescue operation was halted for almost an entire day last week due to safety concerns for the crews regarding the remaining structure. Poor weather conditions have also forced them to temporarily pause working.

The cause of the partial collapse to a building that has withstood decades of hurricanes remains unknown and is under investigation. Built in the 1980s, the Champlain Towers South was up for its 40-year recertification and had been undergoing roof work — with more renovations planned — when it partially collapsed, according to officials.

“The whole world wants to know what happened here,” Levine Cava told reporters on Tuesday morning. “I look forward to learning the truth, as do we all, but I think it’ll be a while before it is understood.”

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Delta is now the dominant coronavirus variant in the US, CDC says

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(NEW YORK) — A highly contagious variant of the novel coronavirus that was initially identified in India is now the dominant strain in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Data updated by the CDC on Tuesday evening shows the so-called delta variant, also known as B.1.617.2, was estimated to account for 51.7% of all new cases of COVID-19 across the country as of July 3.

The variant, which has been detected in all 50 states, was also estimated to account for more than 50% of new cases in five of the 10 regions into which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services divides the country. HHS Region 7 — compromising Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska — had the highest at 80.7%.

“Variant proportions are dynamic and difficult to predict due to reporting delays, the presence of multiple variants, and changing incidence,” the CDC told ABC News in a statement on Tuesday evening.

A little over a month ago, CDC data showed the delta variant was estimated to account for just 3% of all new cases in the U.S..

Health officials and experts alike have warned that the delta variant is a more infectious version of the disease, and preliminary data indicates it may increase the risk of hospitalization. The variant has also shown to be particularly dangerous to those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated against COVID-19.

However, current evidence suggests that the full dosage of a COVID-19 vaccine is highly effective in preventing hospitalizations and serious illness.

After being initially identified in India in October, the delta variant has since been reported in at least 98 countries around the globe, according to the World Health Organization. It was first detected in the U.S. in March.

The WHO declared delta a “variant of concern” in May, and the CDC upgraded its classification of the strain last month from “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern.” Both the WHO and the CDC say that variants of concern have shown to spread more easily than others and cause more severe disease.

During a press briefing on July 2, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus warned that the delta variant is “spreading quickly in countries with low and high vaccination coverage.” He noted that the variant continues to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and “careful adjustment of the public health response.”

“We are in a very dangerous period of the pandemic,” Tedros said.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky said health officials are concerned about the delta variant mutating to a point where it evades the existing COVID-19 vaccines.

“That’s really what we’re actively trying to prevent, which is why we’re really encouraging people to get vaccinated,” Walensky told ABC News in an interview last month. “I will say, as worrisome as this delta strain is with regard to its hyper-transmissibility, our vaccines work. Right now, they are working and they require actually two doses or to be fully vaccinated to work. So I would encourage all Americans to get your first shot and when you’re for your second, get your second shot and you’ll be protected against this delta variant.”

Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. has reported more than 33.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and over 605,000 deaths from the disease, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

More than 182 million people in the U.S. have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, including over 157 million — 47.5% of the population — who are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

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Afghan troops flee across border as Taliban make swift gains in alarming offensive

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(WASHINGTON) — Hundreds of Afghan troops fled across the country’s northern border to safety, as the Taliban continue a swift offensive to seize districts amid the U.S. military withdrawal.

The rapidly deteriorating security situation has alarmed U.S. officials in Washington, D.C. and Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, where the government of President Ashraf Ghani is trying to project calm and regroup its forces.

But the Taliban, the militant group that has been at war with the U.S. and Afghan government since the 2001 American invasion, is gaining more territory by the day, ignoring calls for a ceasefire or resumed negotiations.

President Joe Biden has also shown no second thoughts about his decision to withdraw all 2,500 remaining U.S. forces, except for 650 troops that will stay to protect the U.S. embassy and, at least initially, Kabul’s international airport.

That withdrawal is now 90% complete, according to the Pentagon. But although most troops have left, the Department of Defense said the withdrawal won’t be finished until late August.

Amid the Taliban offensive, there’s growing concern about the safety of the U.S. embassy in Kabul, which said it has “well-developed security plans to safely protect our personnel and facilities,” but has “no plans to close.”

There’s also deep concern for the Afghan interpreters, guides and other contractors who worked for the U.S. and now say their lives are at risk from the Taliban. The Biden administration has said it will relocate a group of them out of Afghanistan, but it’s unclear how many, when and to where.

A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News on Friday that the group may be moved to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan — three of Afghanistan’s northern neighbors in Central Asia — but stressed that the planning was still early and no decisions had been made yet.

There are approximately 18,000 Afghans seeking a Special Immigrant Visa, which gives those who worked for the U.S. military or diplomatic mission in Afghanistan and Iraq the chance to move themselves and their families to the U.S. In recent years, the surge in interest and a years-long backlog has put these Afghans’ lives at risk, according to U.S. lawmakers and advocates, who have urged an evacuation to a safe location while their applications are processed.

A senior U.S. administration official declined to provide details on numbers or timing, but told ABC News on Thursday that they had “identified a group of SIV applicants … to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September.”

Before those plans get moving, however, more than 1,300 Afghan border police and soldiers crossed the border to Tajikistan to escape the Taliban in recent days, according to local Afghan security sources. The Taliban have seized dozens of districts since Biden’s withdrawal announcement in April and their offensive among northern provinces has resulted in hundreds of Afghan forces surrendering or being killed.

In the last six days, the Taliban have taken control of nearly 10% of Afghanistan’s districts, with nearly half of them now in Taliban control and another third contested between the militants and the government, according to the war monitor the Long War Journal.

Afghan national security adviser Hamdullah Mohib said Tuesday during a press conference that those Afghan forces that fled “are coming back and are once again going to be in the service of the people and in the defense of Faizabad,” the capital of Badakhshan province.

While some of those returns may begin, the rush of refugees across the border alarmed several governments in the region, who have feared a refugee crisis and regional upheaval as the U.S. exits and the Taliban seizes territory and possibly targets Kabul.

Tajikistan mobilized 20,000 military reservists to strengthen security on its southern border with Afghanistan, according to state media, while its president Emomali Rakhmon called both Ghani and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss the “alarming” situation. Russia pledged assistance, according to the Kremlin, including from its enormous and well-armed military base in Tajikistan.

Much of the Afghan-Tajik border is now controlled by the Taliban, which has been collecting revenue from cross-border commerce at their own mobile customs checkpoints on major highways, according to local Afghan security sources.

But despite the Taliban’s major gains on the battlefield, the Biden administration is still refusing to address the declining security situation.

Asked about a Taliban takeover, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Tuesday, “That’s a big ‘if,’ that’s a hypothetical and I don’t think it’s helpful for anybody right now to engage in hypothesizing about what might happen months and years from now.”

Over at the State Department, spokesperson Ned Price told reporters, “I am not going to offer an assessment or any sort of feedback of our reaction from here.”

Price also declined to speak to what contingency plans are in place at the U.S. embassy, including shutting down the massive compound and evacuating its 1,400 U.S. staffers. Two former U.S. officials told ABC News that the embassy would be reviewing its emergency evacuation plans with a daily review based on ever-evolving intelligence assessments, especially as more U.S. forces leave Afghanistan and the embassy with a smaller reactionary force to come assist.

“The State Department, the Department of Defense — these are planning organizations. We’re always planning for any contingency,” Price said, declining to offer more details.

Despite growing Taliban control, Price added that it seemed the militant group “understands that only through diplomacy can they garner any sort of legitimacy, can they expect to be accepted by the international community.”

But talks between the Taliban and Afghan government delegations, which met for the first time last September, have yet to yield anything but an agenda. And while some meetings in Doha, Qatar, continue, the peace process is all but dead despite committed paper statements from both sides.

Pressed on that, Price said Tuesday, “Believe me, I’m not out here to offer false hope when it comes to what the Taliban may seek or what they’re up to now.”

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Memphis community celebrates after crude oil pipeline proposal scrapped

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(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — They were called the “path of least resistance” by energy giants proposing a new crude oil pipeline. Now, after months of activism and resistance, a Black community in Memphis, Tennessee is celebrating the announcement that construction of the pipeline has been called off.

“This is a significant victory for our community, and for all people who have been pushed to the margins of our society,” Justin J. Pearson, a local resident and one of the co-founders of the grassroots group Memphis Community Against the Pipeline (MCAP), told ABC News on Tuesday, adding that the community responded to the news by erupting in “jubilation.”

“It’s an extraordinary feat for people who were called the path of least resistance to have pushed back and beat back two billion-dollar crude oil pipeline companies,” he added. “You can walk through the neighborhood and see all these signs and the spirit that endures, showing that we really are the path of resilience.”

Plans for the Byhalia Connection pipeline, a joint venture from Plains All American and Valero Energy, were officially called off last Friday. The proposed 49-mile crude oil conduit faced mounting community opposition, and lawmakers and celebrities also added their voices to the resistance movement.

Brad Leone, the director of communications at Plains All American, said in a statement posted to the Byhalia Connection’s website that the company was no longer pursuing construction of the project “primarily due to lower U.S. oil production resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“We value the relationships we’ve built through the development of this project, and appreciate those that supported the project and would have shared in its ongoing benefits including our customers, communities, energy consumers, landowners, area contractors and suppliers,” the statement added.

The pipeline initially threatened to cut through predominantly Black communities that have historical significance to those who live there — such as Boxtown, an area in Southwest Memphis that got its name after formerly enslaved people built their homes there out of train boxcars.

A representative of the pipeline company initially told the community the route was chosen because it was the “path of least resistance.” A company spokesperson later clarified to ABC News that, “What should have been said is that we looked for the path with the fewest collective impacts.”

Still, community members protesting the project said they were tired of bearing the brunt of industrial projects and potential pollutants in their backyard.

Former Vice President Al Gore, who attended anti-pipeline rallies, reacted to the cancellation news on Twitter. Gore congratulated MCAP and the community, “who made their voices heard to stop this reckless, racist ripoff!”

Actor Danny Glover, of the Lethal Weapon franchise, also sent well-wishes on Twitter to the community, calling the news a “huge win.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center, which represented MCAP and other community organizations as they fought state and federal permits for the project, applauded the news as “a victory for the people of Southwest Memphis, for the city’s drinking water, and perhaps most monumentally, it is a triumph for environmental justice,” according to a statement from Amanda Garcia, the group’s Tennessee office director.

Pearson, who was at the forefront of the pipeline resistance movement over the past several months, said the battles for environmental justice for all are not over. Still, he said he hopes others can see this victory as inspiration to fight for what they believe in.

“There’s no power more powerful than people power,” Pearson told ABC News. “Even when we don’t have as much money or clout as these billion-dollar businesses, we have our bodies, we have our voices, we have our time. We have our spirits, which cannot be broken.”

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Baby monitor captures oak tree crash onto crib as 5-month-old baby sleeps

Courtesy Kale and Courtney Buchholtz

(NEW YORK) — Courtney and Kale Buchholtz had just put their 5-month-old son Cannon to bed and sat down on the couch the night of July 2 when a loud bang shook the walls of their Prairieville, Louisiana, home.

The couple said they thought lightning had struck their house until Courtney Buchholtz looked down at the baby monitor and saw debris flying into Cannon’s room.

Thinking a window had busted open, the couple ran to their son’s room and discovered that instead, a giant oak tree had fallen through the roof.

“When I saw the tree I almost couldn’t even comprehend what was happening, that there was a tree in our house,” Courtney Buchholtz told ABC News’ Good Morning America. “And the thought of it being on top of Cannon, I felt physically ill.”

The Buchholtzes said they heard Cannon crying in his crib, which they took as a good sign that he was at least alive.

Courtney Buchholtz weaved through the debris in the room to pull Cannon out of his crib and handed him to her husband, who checked the infant for injuries.

“I just turned him over and checked him really well to make sure there was nothing wrong with him,” said Kale Buchholtz. “He had been crying, but as soon as I got him in my hands, he was laughing as I was turning him.”

Cannon escaped the incident without a scratch, according to the Buchholtzes, who said he only had to be washed clean of debris from the fallen ceiling.

The family of three quickly evacuated the house and drove to a family member’s nearby home. When Kale Buchholtz returned that night, he found the weight of the tree had destroyed nearly the entire house, aside from Cannon’s crib.

“It was just kind of like a little bubble around him,” he said. “The hallway on one side of his room was where most of the tree was, and around his crib it was just wood and sheetrock and everything else.”

When Courtney Buchholtz re-watched the footage of the tree falling, as captured by the baby monitor app on her phone, she described it as being like there was a “shield” protecting Cannon.

She said she immediately thought of her late son Kasen, who died in 2016, one month after he was born prematurely.

“We always say that he’s watching over his little brother, so my immediate thought was that Kasen was protecting his brother and keeping him safe,” she said. “Losing one child and the thought of anything happening to another child is gut-wrenching.”

The Buchholtzes, who had to rebuild after water flooded their home in 2016, are now trying to salvage whatever they can from their home and prepare to rebuild again.

“It’s been a pain but, you know what, we can deal with that. We’ll clean up a mess any day,” said Courtney Buchholtz, adding, “It could have been so much worse.”

“It makes you realize a house is just a house and the material things can be replaced,” said Kale Buchholtz. “Family is what matters.”

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Trevor Reed’s dad protests outside White House, says he’s ‘hopeful’ for his son’s release after Biden-Putin summit

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(WASHINGTON) — On one of the hottest days of the summer, Joey Reed stood alone outside of the White House, holding a sign with a picture of his son that said in bold type: “Free Trevor Reed.”

“Former U.S. Marine Presidential Guard wrongfully imprisoned by Russia for almost 2 years! Innocent & being used as a bargaining chip by Russia,” the message on the sign continued. “Mr. President, our son protected you. Please bring him home. Please meet with me.”

The plea was written next to images of his son in uniform, including two taken of him with former President Barack Obama.

U.S. officials said the Marine veteran, has been held for nearly two years in Russia on charges that U.S. officials said were fabricated in an effort to use him as bargaining chips in a potential prisoner swap between the two countries.

Joey Reed told ABC News on Tuesday that he hopes that more Americans learn that his son is one of two former U.S. Marines being held there.

The elder Reed, who has met with several White House officials, said that he hopes to meet with President Joe Biden but until then he plans on standing outside of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

“We’re really surprised at how many Americans don’t know what’s happening with our son,” he said.

He added, that he “just wanted to be here and then also just raise attention with the president who’s already doing a great job for our son.”

Trevor’s saga started in Moscow in August 2019, the younger Reed, while visiting his girlfriend in the city, and studying Russian, was taken to a police station to sober up after a drunken party. He would later be questioned by agents from Russia’s FSB intelligence service, and suddenly charged with assaulting an officer according to his father.

During Biden’s June meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the president spoke about Reed and another Marine veteran, Paul Whelan, who has also been held in Russia for two years. The Kremlin during the June meeting signaled it might be prepared to discuss a deal for their release.

In response to ABC News on Tuesday, a White House spokesperson said, “The president raised the case of Trevor Reed directly to President Putin in Geneva. He was very clear about the need to resolve his and other cases and see him freed.”

“The welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad is one of the highest priorities of the U.S government,” the statement continued. “We will continue to speak on his behalf until Russia does the right thing and returns him to his family in the United States. Trevor has been deprived of his freedom for far too long. We continue to engage with Russia on this case, as well as other U.S. citizens wrongfully imprisoned in Russia.”

Joey Reed, a Texas native told ABC News on Tuesday, that his life revolves around freeing his 30-year-old son, who followed in his father’s footsteps to become an elite Marine. He even uprooted his life to move to Russia for 14 months in an effort to free him.

He said after the meeting between Biden and Putin he was “hopeful,” but he wants other Americans to know that his son is “innocent and he didn’t do any of the things that they say he was doing.”

Trevor “received the longest sentence in modern Russian history for assaulting police officers when no one was hurt, and the only evidence that shows that he didn’t do anything,” he added.

He said he’s spoken to several Biden officials about his son, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, earlier in the year for nearly two hours. Reed said he gets weekly updates from the State Department and that “they try and keep us informed and find out if there’s anything we need. And they tell us what they do.”

Reed said Russia is a beautiful country however, he’s warning other Americans thinking of traveling to Russia to think again.

“If we didn’t have this problem with their — with their government and or their law enforcement, you know I would — I would tell everyone to go there, but I recommend the opposite. No American should go there,” he said.

The past two years have been hard — he said his wife has crying spells and “sometimes I break down.”

“I see a movie or something related to what my son’s going through it hits home all of a sudden.”

However, he also said he takes each day at a time and is hopeful because he knows, “nothing’s gonna happen immediately, but you know there’s hope on the horizon with President Biden.”

ABC News’ Patrick Reevell, Tanya Stukalova and Molly Nagle contributed to this report.

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Elsa strengthens to Category 1 hurricane before Florida landfall: Latest forecast

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Elsa has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday night just southwest of Tampa Bay with sustained winds of 75 mph.

Landfall is expected around 8 or 9 a.m. Wednesday near the Big Bend region along Florida’s west coast.

Storms with winds of 74 mph or higher are considered hurricanes.

Elsa’s path is sparing Miami, where rescuers are still searching for victims of the deadly Surfside condo collapse.

Search and rescue efforts continued through the rain and wind overnight, pausing only briefly for lightning as per the law, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said Tuesday. The wind has also hampered large cranes from moving heavy debris, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said.

A hurricane warning is in effect along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast while a tornado watch has been issued from Miami to Tampa through 11 p.m.

The University of Florida in Gainesville has canceled all classes for Wednesday as Elsa closes in.

Tampa International Airport is suspending operations from 5 p.m. Tuesday until 10 a.m. Wednesday while the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport is stopping operations from 6:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.

Storm surge could reach 3 to 5 feet along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Rainfall totals may climb to 6 to 8 inches across Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas through Thursday.

The ground in many parts of the Sunshine State is already saturated after a 300% rain increase over the last two weeks, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said Tuesday.

Residents should be prepared to be without power for the next few days, but widespread evacuations aren’t expected, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said.

After barreling through Florida, Elsa will weaken to a tropical storm or tropical depression as it moves through Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

By the end of the week, Elsa will bring rain and wind to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.

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Will the military make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory?

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(WASHINGTON) — Nearly 70% of all military personnel have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but a debate has begun to swirl about whether the Pentagon should make vaccinations mandatory for the ranks should the Food and Drug Administration formally approve the vaccine in the future.

While COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. military are taking place under the same emergency use authorization that has allowed vaccinations to take place in the general population, Pentagon officials have said publicly that they would consider whether to make the vaccinations mandatory, as is done with more than a dozen other vaccines, should the FDA formally approve the vaccine.

The issue blew up over the weekend when Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., tweeted that he had been contacted by members of the military who told him they would “quit” if ordered to take the vaccine.

The tweet generated both positive and negative responses, with some pointing out that because military personnel sign enlistment contracts they cannot quit. Others noted that the U.S. military requires as many as 17 vaccinations for military service.

Massie later tweeted “NO ONE should be forced or coerced by ANYONE to take the COVID vaccine. The fact that policy discussions in the US are centered around “proof of vaccine” instead of ‘evidence of immunity’ shows that science and reason have been drummed out by politics, profits, and superstition.”

According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, three in 10 American adults said they have not gotten a coronavirus vaccine and definitely or probably will not get one.

Earlier this week the Army Times obtained an internal Army memo that said commanders should “prepare for a directive to mandate COVID-19 vaccination for service members (on or around) 01 September 2021, pending full FDA licensure,” the order said.

“As a matter of policy we do not comment on leaked documents. The vaccine continues to be voluntary,” Maj. Jackie Wren, an Army spokesperson told ABC News. “If we are directed by DOD to change our posture, we are prepared to do so.”

At a Pentagon briefing on Tuesday the Pentagon’s top spokesman emphasized the success that the U.S. military has had in recommending the use of the vaccines.

“It is not FDA approved, and therefore, it is still a voluntary vaccine,” said John Kirby. “I would like to add that as we speak, almost 69% of DOD personnel have received at least one dose. That’s not bad.”

However he added that should the FDA fully approve one of the vaccines “then I am certain that Pentagon leadership — we’ll take a look at what our options are going forward, including the potential option of making mandatory but I’m not going to get too far ahead of process right now,” he added.

Kirby acknowledged that there had been “some preliminary discussions at senior levels within the department to think about what the next logical steps would be if and when FDA approval comes in.”

“I don’t think that should surprise anybody that we’re trying to think about what the implications would be and what how we would, how would react to that but I don’t have any decisions to announce today or specific procedures and protocols to speak to,” said Kirby.

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