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AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EDT

Maui residents had little warning before flames overtook their town.

Maui residents had little warning before flames overtook their town. At least 55 people died

LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Maui residents who made desperate escapes from oncoming flames, some on foot, asked why Hawaii’s famous emergency warning system didn’t alert them as fires raced toward their homes.

Hawaii emergency management records show no indication that warning sirens were triggered before a devastating wildfire killed at least 55 people and wiped out a historic town, officials confirmed Thursday.

Hawaii boasts what the state describes as the largest integrated outdoor all-hazard public safety warning system in the world, with about 400 sirens positioned across the island chain to alert people to various natural disasters and other threats. But many of Lahaina’s survivors said in interviews at evacuation centers that they didn’t hear any sirens and only realized they were in danger when they saw flames or heard explosions nearby.

Thomas Leonard, a 70-year-old retired mailman from Lahaina, didn’t know about the fire until he smelled smoke. Power and cell phone service had both gone out earlier that day, leaving the town with no real-time information about the danger.

He tried to leave in his Jeep, but had to abandon the vehicle and run to the shore when cars nearby began exploding. He hid behind a seawall for hours, the wind blowing hot ash and cinders over him.


Judge Chutkan to hear arguments in protective order fight in Trump's 2020 election conspiracy case

WASHINGTON (AP) — The federal judge overseeing the 2020 election conspiracy case against Donald Trump will hear arguments Friday over a request by prosecutors for a protective order seeking to bar the former president from publicly disclosing evidence shared by the government.

The protective order sought by special counsel Jack Smith's team has become an early flashpoint in the case accusing the Republican of illegally scheming to subvert the will of voters and cling to power after he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

Protective orders aren’t unusual in criminal cases, and they're different from “gag orders" that bar parties from talking publicly about an ongoing case outside the courtroom. But lawyers for Trump — who has railed against prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan on social media and during campaign events — say the proposed protective order goes too far and would restrict Trump's free speech rights.

In seeking the protective order, prosecutors pointed to a post on Trump’s Truth Social social media platform in which the former president promised he would be “coming after” those who “go after” him. Prosecutors expressed concern that Trump might share secret grand jury information that could have a “harmful chilling effect on witnesses.”

The hearing in Washington's federal court will be the first time the lawyers appear before Chutkan, an appointee of President Barack Obama who has a reputation for being one of the toughest punishers of defendants charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump is not expected to attend the hearing.


With hundreds lost in the migrant shipwreck near Greece, identifying the dead is painfully slow

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Nearly two months after a dilapidated fishing trawler crammed with people heading from Libya to Italy sank in the central Mediterranean, killing hundreds, relatives are still frantically searching for their loved ones among the missing and the dead.

Many questions remain about Greek authorities' response and exactly how and why the boat, carrying an estimated 500-750 people mostly from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt, capsized and sank in the early hours of June 14 in what became one of the deadliest migrant shipwrecks in the Mediterranean.

Only 104 people were pulled from the sea alive — all men and boys. Eighty-two bodies, only one of them a woman, were recovered. The rest, including women and children, sank in one of the deepest parts of the Mediterranean. With depths of around 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) in that area, any recovery of the vessel or its victims are all but impossible.

Identifying the dead and determining exactly who was on board is a slow, meticulous, heart-wrenching process.

By Aug. 7, around 40 of the recovered bodies were identified through a painstaking process combining DNA analysis, dental records, fingerprints and interviews with survivors and relatives, police Lt. Col. Pantelis Themelis, commander of Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification Team, told The Associated Press.


Two years after fall of Kabul, tens of thousands of Afghans languish in limbo waiting for US visas

ISLAMABAD (AP) — When the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, Shukria Sediqi knew her days in safety were numbered. As a journalist who advocated for women's rights, she'd visited shelters and safe houses to talk to women who had fled abusive husbands. She went with them to court when they asked for a divorce.

According to the Taliban, who bar women from most public places, jobs and education, her work was immoral.

So when the Taliban swept into her hometown of Herat in western Afghanistan in August 2021 as the U.S. was pulling out of the country, she and her family fled.

First they tried to get on one of the last American flights out of Kabul. Then they tried to go to Tajikistan but had no visas. Finally in October 2021, after sleeping outside for two nights at the checkpoint into Pakistan among crowds of Afghans fleeing the Taliban, she and her family made it into the neighboring country.

The goal? Resettling in the U.S. via an American government program set up to help Afghans at risk under the Taliban because of their work with the U.S. government, media and aid agencies.


Ecuador arrests 6 Colombians in slaying of presidential candidate as violence weighs on nation

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — Ecuador’s transformation into a major drug trafficking hub and the ensuing three-year surge of violence is weighing on the nation following the killing of a presidential candidate whose life’s work was to fight crime and corruption.

Six Colombian men were arrested Thursday in connection with the fatal shooting of Fernando Villavicencio a day earlier in the capital, Quito. He was not a front-runner in the race, but his assassination in broad daylight less than two weeks before the special presidential election underscored the challenge Ecuador’s next leader will face in any attempt to curb gangs and cartels whose activities have claimed thousands of lives.

A report of the men's arrest reviewed by The Associated Press showed the men were captured hiding in a house in Quito. Law enforcement officers, according to the report, seized four shotguns, a 5.56-mm rifle, ammunition and three grenades as well as a vehicle and one motorcycle.

Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata described the killing as a “political crime of a terrorist nature” aimed at sabotaging the Aug. 20 election. The police report doesn’t say whether the Colombians are members of a criminal group. But Zapata, who confirmed the arrests of some foreigners without giving their nationalities, said the suspects were linked to organized crime.

Villavicencio, 59, had said he was threatened by affiliates of Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, one of a slew of international organized crime groups that now operate in Ecuador. He said his campaign represented a threat to such groups.


Two rival robotaxi services win approval to operate throughout San Francisco despite safety concerns

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California regulators on Thursday approved an expansion that will allow two rival robotaxi services to operate throughout San Francisco at all hours, despite safety worries spurred by recurring problems with unexpected stops and other erratic behavior that resulted in unmanned vehicles blocking traffic, including emergency vehicles.

The state's Public Utilities Commission voted to approve rival services from Cruise and Waymo to operate around-the-clock service. It will make San Francisco first major U.S. city with two fleets of driverless vehicles competing for passengers against ride-hailing and taxi services dependent on humans to operate the cars.

It is a distinction that San Francisco officials didn’t want, largely because of the headaches that Cruise and Waymo have been causing in the city while testing their robotaxis on a restricted basis during the past year.

But it ended in a major victory for Cruise — a subsidiary of General Motors — and Waymo — a spinoff from a secret project at Google — after spending years and billions of dollars honing a technology that they believe will revolutionize transportation. Both companies view approval of their San Francisco expansions as a major springboard to launching similar services in other congested cities that would benefit from a technology that they contend will be more reliable, convenient and cheaper than ride-hailing and taxi services reliant on human drivers.

“We can’t wait for more San Franciscans to experience the mobility, safety, sustainability and accessibility benefits of full autonomy for themselves — all at the touch of a button,” Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana said in a blog post.


Millions of kids are missing weeks of school as attendance tanks across the US

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (AP) — When in-person school resumed after pandemic closures, Rousmery Negrón and her 11-year-old son both noticed a change: School seemed less welcoming.

Parents were no longer allowed in the building without appointments, she said, and punishments were more severe. Everyone seemed less tolerant, more angry. Negrón's son told her he overheard a teacher mocking his learning disabilities, calling him an ugly name.

Her son didn’t want to go to school anymore. And she didn’t feel he was safe there.

He would end up missing more than five months of sixth grade.

Across the country, students have been absent at record rates since schools reopened during the pandemic. More than a quarter of students missed at least 10% of the 2021-22 school year, making them chronically absent, according to the most recent data available. Before the pandemic, only 15% of students missed that much school.


More evacuations considered in Norway where the level in swollen rivers continues to rise

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — More evacuations were being considered Friday in southeastern Norway, where the level of water in swollen rivers and lakes continued to grow after days of torrential rain.

Huge amounts of water, littered with broken trees, debris and trash, were thundering down the usually serene rivers. It flooded abandoned houses, left cars coated in mud and swamped camping sites.

One of the most affected places was the town of Hoenefossen where the Begna river had gone over its banks and authorities were considering moving more people downstream for fear of landslides. Up to 2,000 people have already been evacuated.

“We constantly try to think a few steps ahead. We are ready to press an even bigger red button,” Magnus Nilholm, a local emergency manager in the Hoenefossen region, told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Ivar Berthling of Norway's Water Resources and Energy Directorate (NVE) told Norwegian news agency NTB that the water levels around Hoenefossen, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Oslo, were expected to continue rising and remain high until at least Monday. Up north, near the Strondafjorden lake, the water level was reported to be 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) above normal.


A rocket with a lunar landing craft blasts off on Russia’s first moon mission in nearly 50 years

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — A rocket carrying a lunar landing craft blasted off Friday on Russia’s first moon mission in nearly 50 years, racing to land on Earth’s satellite ahead of an Indian spacecraft.

The launch from Russia’s Vostochny spaceport in the Far East of the Luna-25 craft to the moon is Russia’s first since 1976 when it was part of the Soviet Union.

The Russian lunar lander is expected to reach the moon on Aug. 23, about the same day as an Indian craft which was launched on July 14. The Russian spacecraft will take about 5.5 days to travel to the moon's vicinity, then spend three to seven days orbiting at about 100 kilometers (62 miles) before heading for the surface.

Only three governments have managed successful moon landings: the Soviet Union, the United States and China. India and Russia are aiming to be the first to land at the moon’s south pole.

Roscosmos, Russia's space agency, said it wants to show Russia “is a state capable of delivering a payload to the moon,” and “ensure Russia’s guaranteed access to the moon’s surface.”


EPA weighs formal review of vinyl chloride, toxic chemical that burned in Ohio train derailment

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration says it could soon launch a formal evaluation of risks posed by vinyl chloride, the cancer-causing chemical that burned in a towering plume of toxic black smoke following the fiery train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to review risks posed by a handful of chemicals later this year, and is considering chemicals used for plastic production as a key benchmark. Vinyl chloride is among a range of chemicals eligible for review, and “EPA could begin a risk evaluation on vinyl chloride in the near future,'' the agency said in a statement to The Associated Press.

If selected, EPA would study vinyl chloride to determine whether it poses an "unreasonable risk to human health or the environment,'' a process that would take at least three years.

Environmental and public health activists cheered the development, saying EPA should have banned vinyl chloride years ago.

“If one positive thing can come out of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine — and I would argue nothing positive has come out of it so far — it is for the Biden administration to use their existing legal authority to start the process to ban vinyl chloride,″ said Judith Enck, a former regional EPA administrator and president of Beyond Plastics, an advocacy group that seeks to end plastic pollution.

The Associated Press