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News Brief: Hurricane Dorian's Path, Hong Kong Protests, West Texas Shooting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We cannot say for sure where Hurricane Dorian is going. And people who might be in its path can take warning from where it's been.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Videos on social media are showing us the Bahamas. The hurricane left behind wrecked homes, cars pushed around like toys. Hubert Minnis is prime minister of the Bahamas.

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PRIME MINISTER HUBERT MINNIS: This is probably the most saddened and worst day of my life to address the Bahamian people. And I just want to say that as a physician, I've been trained to withstand many things but never anything like this.

MARTIN: Dorian is now turning to possibly track the coastlines of Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. And the fact that it's moving so slowly - that in and of itself poses a particular kind of threat, one we could see more of in the future.

INSKEEP: Which we will talk through with Ray Hawthorne of the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network. Good morning.

RAY HAWTHORNE: Hey. Good morning there, Steve.

INSKEEP: I trust you're in a safe place.

HAWTHORNE: I am right now. That's for sure. We're a little bit inland in Gainesville.

INSKEEP: That's great. Well, how hard has it been to forecast the path of this storm over the last few days?

HAWTHORNE: It sure has been a challenge, Steve. What's been happening is there has been a ridge of high pressure to the north of Hurricane Dorian. And that has been steering the storm toward the west. But that steering ridge has been breaking down. And for that reason, the storm has stalled out. And so now we're kind of waiting for another steering mechanism to start to pick this thing up. And that is raising the anxiety of a lot of folks here in parts of Florida and certainly in the Bahamas, too, because it's just moving oh so slowly.

INSKEEP: And I'm just going to state the obvious here. So the people have a map in their heads. The hurricane is east of the East Coast of the United States. So when you talk about pushing it west, that's going to determine where it hits the United States, if it does at all - the mainland United States. It does look like South Florida may be safe for the moment, but who's not safe?

HAWTHORNE: Yeah. So hurricane warnings right now are in effect from, basically, the Palm Beach-Martin County line northward to the Brevard-Volusia County line. So that's essentially the Treasure Coast and the Space Coast areas that are under that hurricane warning. So areas like Vero Beach are under that warning right now, all the way up to the Melbourne area, the Kennedy Space Center. Those areas have to prepare for hurricane conditions. It only takes, as you mentioned, just a small deviation to the west or to the left of where the hurricane is forecast to bring those dangerous hurricane winds onshore. It would not take much at all. And at the very least, tropical storm force winds are anticipated, starting later on today.

INSKEEP: Now, Rachel referred to this as a slow-moving hurricane. You even used the phrase stalled out. What is it that makes a slow-moving hurricane more dangerous?

HAWTHORNE: It makes it more dangerous for a few reasons. First of all, the storm has been sitting over Grand Bahama Island now for the better part of six to 12 hours. And it will likely last another 12 hours. So storm surge will last for that much longer. Heavy rainfall is likely to last for a longer period of time, too. So it really prolongs the effects of this very powerful hurricane.

INSKEEP: And is a slow-moving hurricane of this type likely to become more common?

HAWTHORNE: Well, there's a lot of research that's going into that right now. It's difficult to say for sure, but we certainly have seen far more in the way of these slow-moving hurricanes as of late. We certainly remember that from Houston just a couple of years ago.

INSKEEP: And is there some connection between climate change and a slow-moving hurricane? Is there's something about warming oceans that would slow down hurricanes and make them more devastating once they do arrive?

HAWTHORNE: So climate change is something that's also under considerable study there, Steve. And that's something that's going to have to continue to be looked at. Certainly, sea level rise is making things worse along the east coast of Florida and for many parts of the United States and over the world where these hurricanes hit. But just how strong it makes these hurricanes is up for debate because there are many other factors, like wind shear, that also go into making these hurricanes.

INSKEEP: Yeah. But right now, of course, we have to worry about the immediate storm and where it goes. And, Ray, thanks for helping us to track it.

HAWTHORNE: You bet, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ray Hawthorne is a meteorologist with the Florida Public Radio Emergency Network.

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INSKEEP: Many students in Hong Kong are missing today's first day of the fall semester.

MARTIN: They're on strike for the next two weeks or until Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, listens to their demands. It's the latest protests by people who want to maintain their historic freedoms in Hong Kong and limit the power of their rulers in mainland China. The students want to end an extradition bill, which Hong Kong's chief executive has already said that she'd stop. And they have a powerful demand - direct elections for the next chief executive.

INSKEEP: NPR's Beijing correspondent, Emily Feng, has gone to Hong Kong. She's at a rally there. And, Emily, what are you seeing?

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: I am right now at one of the bigger universities in the city, called Chinese University. And I'm looking at a sea of black. There are just thousands of students here wearing the signature color of the protest so far. They're chanting things like free Hong Kong and demands for democracy. And there there's still rallies - keep going on behind me. Some of them are wearing gas masks to protest police brutality. And some are also waving flags that say Hong Kong - revolution of our time.

INSKEEP: Wow.

FENG: I should note that it's not just young kids who are protesting today. There are broad swaths of people out striking. Half an hour away from here, there are workers from all sectors who are rallying in support of the protesters, as well.

INSKEEP: Why is it significant that students, among all the people in Hong Kong, would go on strike for a couple of weeks?

FENG: It puts to the test a really important social issue, which are the - you know, the (unintelligible) of these secondary schools, as well, that train government officials, elementary schools, even. They're going to see if these institutions support the protest, which, so far, has always been on the streets on weekends. It wasn't clear that the start of the fall semester today would take the momentum out of protests. But as you can hear, that's not the case. They didn't say that they want to give the protest more longevity, as some of the more hardcore protesters - the ones going out and clashing with police every weekend - they're getting arrested. Joey (ph), a student union vice chair and one of the speakers at today's rally.

JOEY: We're losing our brothers and sisters. They're getting arrested, and they're no longer able to come out. So we are trying to find another way out for the movement assisting and to continue.

FENG: And like many of the university students I spoke to today, she was in high school when, five years ago, the Umbrella Movement, a pro-democracy movement, happened. And she told me she was inspired to step up and act in their footsteps today.

INSKEEP: Can you keep describing what you're seeing there, Emily? We keep hearing the sounds behind you.

FENG: Well, I'm standing on one of the main greens on the Chinese University campus. There are flags saying stand with Hong Kong and fight for freedom strewn across all of the university buildings. Students are standing on top of buildings in places, on the lawn (inaudible). And it's extremely peaceful and in contrast to what were really violent protests late Saturday night over the weekend.

INSKEEP: What were some of the things that happened over the weekend?

FENG: Well, I was there when protesters started ripping up bricks from the sidewalk and throwing gasoline bombs at the police headquarters. Police then ran in and began arresting people, pepper spraying and beating people in metro stations. Today, there are still several people in hospitals in serious condition. And that fuels some of the anger that I see from students today. But most of all, students are here just demanding what they see as political rights that were promised to them in 1997 when Hong Kong was given to China.

INSKEEP: Emily, we'll keep listening for your reporting. Thanks so much.

FENG: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Emily Feng in Hong Kong.

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INSKEEP: A gunman in West Texas committed a mass shooting while on the move.

MARTIN: He didn't attack a specific place or a specific building. Instead, he opened fire along a highway and along streets in Midland and Odessa, Texas. He killed seven people, injured many more before police killed him. Governor Greg Abbott spoke afterwards.

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GREG ABBOTT: Too many Texans are in mourning. Too many Texans have lost their lives. The status quo in Texas is unacceptable. And action is needed.

MARTIN: The comments by the governor came the same day a series of firearm laws that loosen gun restrictions came into effect.

INSKEEP: Mitch Borden is a reporter with Marfa Public Radio. He's on this story. Good morning.

MITCH BORDEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who were some of the victims?

BORDEN: Well, their ages of - so far, there have been 22 people that have come out as injured. And seven have died from their results this shooting. So far, of those dead, the age ranges from 15 to 57, the youngest being a 15-year-old high school student who was killed. And an even younger individual was shot but is still alive, and that is a 17-month-old toddler who was - sustained injuries in the chest. They had shrapnel on her face.

INSKEEP: We should mention - because it's so horrifying to hear of a toddler shot - the toddler's mother says that the kid's going to recover. Is that right?

BORDEN: That is right. Governor Greg Abbott, at the same meeting that you got the clip from at the top of our conversation - he read a text from the mom. And he's in contact with her. And it sounded like the - even though, the toddler was hurt, they wanted to play. And it seemed like she was going to bounce back and be OK.

INSKEEP: The gunman, who's been killed, was identified as Seth Aaron Ator, a name we're going to mention but not be saying a lot. But who was he, according to authorities?

BORDEN: We don't know a lot yet. They're not releasing a lot of details. He was 36. He lived in Odessa. And there are some reports coming out that he was a driver in the energy sector of some sort - I'm not sure what - and that he may have been let go from his job recently. But, you know, the police are saying right now they don't know a motive. They don't know why he would've done this. There's...

INSKEEP: Mr. Borden, there's one other aspect to this we've got to get into. And that's Texas loosening gun restrictions at this very moment. What are the laws that are changing and why? - a few of them anyway.

BORDEN: I mean, a lot of them, like, just make it easier to carry guns into places of worship, carrying them around during a disaster or on a rented property. And, you know, Governor Abbott was challenged about that today by reporters. And he said - he didn't specify all of them, but he did drill down on one that allows more school marshals to be able to carry guns in schools, which he says makes things safer.

INSKEEP: Oh, so this is just a different approach to guns - essentially arguing that good guys, as the proponents would say, should have easier access to guns in the event of a shooting.

BORDEN: I think he was saying that at that point with schools. That might be correct. But he didn't come out and say that directly.

INSKEEP: OK. Mitch Borden, thanks so much. He's with Marfa Public Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF LEAVV'S "VALLEY" Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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