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Severe damage may leave parts of Yellowstone National Park closed for ‘substantial’ time

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Severe damage may leave parts of Yellowstone National Park closed for ‘substantial’ time

(CNN)While all entrances of Yellowstone National Park are temporarily closed because flooding has damaged roads and bridges, the park’s northern portion in particular may remain closed for “a substantial length of time,” park officials said Tuesday.”Many sections of road in (the park’s northern areas) are completely gone and will require substantial time and effort to reconstruct,” a news release reads. “… It is probable that road sections in northern Yellowstone will not reopen this season due to the time required for repairs.”Dangerous flooding caused by abundant rain and rapid snowmelt began to hit the park and several counties in southern Montana on Monday, washing out or eroding roads and bridges and inflicting widespread damage on homes and businesses. The park on Monday closed all five of Yellowstone’s entrances in Montana and Wyoming to inbound traffic — in part to prevent people from being stranded as conditions deteriorated — with no firm date for their reopening.And park officials told visitors already there to leave — more than 10,000 have left the park since Monday, park Superintendent Cam Sholly said Tuesday.Though cooler temperatures and drier weather have allowed some parts of swollen rivers to start receding, higher temperatures are expected later this week and into the weekend, which could cause more snow-melt runoff and therefore more flooding, CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. “There will be no inbound visitor traffic at any of the five entrances into the park, including visitors with lodging and camping reservations, until conditions improve and park infrastructure is evaluated,” the park’s release reads.Quickly deteriorating road conditions in Yellowstone created harrowing evacuations for some visitors, including the parents of CNN supervising producer Tim Carter, who had to exit over a bridge that had been compromised.”When we were going over it, it was really scary because the water was already violently swirling around the bridge,” Martha Carter said. “We did find out later that it had washed out.” Meanwhile, some surrounding communities in Montana were left without power or safe drinking water as flood conditions made it impossible or unsafe to travel and compromised water supplies. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte declared a statewide disaster Tuesday and announced he would seek an expedited presidential disaster declaration to help cover the cost of recovery. The dangerous flooding is just one of several extreme weather events bearing down on communities across the US, including a blistering heat wave affecting more than 100 million people, and severe storms that have knocked out power for hundreds of thousands in the Midwest and Ohio River Valley.

Dramatic flooding prompts evacuations and rescues

Rain and snowmelt flooded rivers including the Yellowstone River, which runs northwest through Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and then north and eastward through several nearby Montana communities. The flooding washed out parts of roads especially in the northern part of the park, and inundated south Montana homes, businesses and infrastructure Monday, forcing many families to evacuate. In the Montana city of Gardiner, a gateway to the park’s northern entrance, video from witnesses showed a building collapsing into the Yellowstone River on Monday.For some, roads and bridgs were rendered temporarily impassable by the flooding, leaving them trapped, at times without clean water or power. The Montana National Guard used four helicopters to help with evacuations in affected areas on Monday and Tuesday and also sent soldiers to the city of Red Lodge to establish a command center for search and rescue efforts, the force said. The Guard has evacuated at least a dozen people who were stranded in the communities of Roscoe, Fromberg and Cook City, it said Tuesday.A Montana helicopter company flew about 40 people out of Gardiner, which was temporarily isolated by flooding, Laura Jones with Rocky Mountain Rotors told CNN. In the south Montana community of Absarokee, situated along a Yellowstone River tributary, resident Tracy Planichek and her husband had just reached their long-awaited goal of having a new home when the flood threat forced them to evacuate. Now, she told CNN, she is desperately hoping it has avoided the destruction seen in other homes, some of which were swept away. “(We’ve) never been able to afford a new house,” she said. “It’s sitting at the top of the lane and we’re hoping that by some God miracle that our house will be there.” A road from Livingston into Gardiner was reopened Tuesday to local traffic, goods and services, but “significant damage” remains, Park County Sheriff Brad Bichler said.

Flood wave moves to Billings and further east

A wave of flooding still was moving east Wednesday along the Yellowstone River, threatening more trouble in south Montana.By early Wednesday, major flooding from the river was being reported in Billings, roughly a 175-mile drive east of Gardiner. The river in Billings rose above its previous record, 15 feet, around 4 p.m. Tuesday, said the National Weather Service.”Exactly how high the river is is a bit unsure with flood waters impacting the gauge a bit at these higher levels, but have not seen a downturn trend yet,” the service’s office in Billings tweeted early Wednesday.Fields and streets were flooded along the river Tuesday just outside Billings, images posted to Facebook by the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office show. One picture showed two people walking in calf-deep water in a neighborhood.The river should crest there Wednesday — though attention will turn to high temperatures that could cause more snow melt and more flooding in the region this weekend.Billings will approach record temperatures in the upper 90s Friday and Saturday, while the higher elevations will be in the 60s and 70s. This would be warm enough to melt the remaining snow pack and lead to additional river rises over the weekend. And more rain is possible in the area on Sunday.

A lot of rain and snow melt in only three days

What led to the flooding was substantial rainfall and snow runoff over the weekend in the Beartooth and Absaroka mountain ranges, which span across the Montana-Wyoming state line.The combination of rain and snow melt created a “total water event of at least 4 to 9 inches,” the National Weather Service in Billings said Tuesday.That amount of runoff is similar to the region receiving two to three times a normal June’s precipitation in only three days, according to CNN meteorologists. In the park, officials had all visitors move out of lodging and campgrounds and leave the park to prevent anyone from being stranded, the National Park Service said in a news release. The park averages between 15,000 and 20,000 visitors in June, Sholly said. The park has also closed the Yellowstone back country and has been in contact with groups in the area.”We have contacted or know the whereabouts of every back country user currently in Yellowstone,” Sholly said, noting that one group remained in the northern range. No helicopter evacuations have been necessary, he said. No known injuries or deaths occurred in the park because of the flooding, Sholly said, and officials do not believe the animals in the park have been significantly affected. The park’s southern loop “appears to be less impacted than the northern roads” and teams will try to determine when that loop can be reopened. But officials expect even that loop to stay closed at least through Sunday, the park’s release states.CNN’s Amanda Jackson, Judson Jones, Caroll Alvarado and Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.
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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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Donors pledge $160 million, Palestinian refugees need more

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UNITED NATIONS — Donors pledged about $160 million for the U.N. agency helping Palestinian refugees, but it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children and provide primary health care for close to 2 million people and emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees, the agency’s chief said Friday.

Briefing reporters on the outcome of Thursday’s donor conference, Philippe Lazzarini said the pledges when turned into cash will enable the U.N. Relief and Works Agency known as UNRWA to run its operations through September. But “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September,” he said.

“We are in an early warning mode,” Lazzarini said. “Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point, because if we cross the tipping point that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors, engineers, cannot be paid.”

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UNRWA was established to provide education, health care, food and other services to the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment in 1948.

There are now 5.7 million Palestinian refugees, including their children and grandchildren, who mostly live in camps that have been transformed into built-up but often impoverished residential areas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza, as well as in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. But UNRWA only helps the more than 500,000 in school and close to 2 million who have health benefits.

Lazzarini said the more than $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is about the same as the shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for almost a decade, but while income has stagnated costs have increased.

In past years, UNRWA has been able to absorb the shortfall through austerity and cost control measures, he said, but today it’s not possible because there is very little left to cut without cutting services.

“Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids,” the UNRWA commissioner-general said. “We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

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Lazzarini said UNRWA’s problem is that “we are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”

Funding the agency’s services has been put at risk today because of the “de-prioritization, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics,” he said.

Lazzarini said the solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.

He said UNRWA has a very strong donor base in Europe and last year the Biden administration resumed funding which was cut by the Trump administration, but he said the overall contribution from the Arab world has dropped to less than 3% of the agency’s income.

Donors have also faced financial difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, and now there’s a major effort to help Ukraine in its war with Russia, he said.

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“We will know better at the end of the year how much it will impact the agency,” Lazzarini said.

Some donors have already warned UNRWA “that we might not have the traditional top-up at the end of the year, which would be dramatic” for the agency, he said.

Ahead of Thursday’s donors conference, Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Erdan Calls on countries to freeze contributions until all UNRWA teachers that it claims support terrorism and murdering Jews are fired.

Lazzarini said UNRWA received a letter from Israel’s U.N. Mission Friday which he hadn’t read, but he said all allegations will be investigated and if there is a breach of U.N. values and misconduct “we will take measures in line with U.N. policies.”

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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Mexico climber dies scaling active, off-limits volcano

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MEXICO CITY — A woman mountain climber in Mexico died and a climbing companion was injured when they scaled the highly active, off-limits peak of the Popocatepetl volcano.

Mexico’s volunteer Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade confirmed Friday that the climbers fell into a gully about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the volcano’s crater, suggesting they had reached the crater or near it.

The crater of the 17,797-foot (5,426-meter) tall volcano has been belching toxic fumes, ash, and lumps of incandescent rock persistently for almost 30 years.

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Civil defense authorities have strictly prohibited climbers from going within 7.5 miles (12 kilometers) of the peak since it began erupting again in 1994.

Valentín Martínez Castillo, the mayor of the nearby town of Ozumba, identified the dead woman as a 22-year-old resident of the town.

Martínez Castillo wrote in his social media accounts that the climbers fell about 150 feet (50 meters) down a gully, and that the woman’s body and the surviving climbers had been successfully removed from the peak.

The Mountain Rescue and Assistance Brigade posted a notice on their social media Friday reading: “She shouldn’t have died. Don’t put your life or those of others at risk. The Popocatepetl volcano is closed.”

The country’s National Disaster Prevention Center said it “calls on people not to go near the volcano, especially the crater, due to the risk of falling ballistic fragments.”

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Popocatepetl is located 45 miles (72 kilometers) southeast of Mexico City, and occasionally showers ash on surrounding towns and some parts of the capital.

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

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Bill Clinton: Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision has ‘put our democracy at risk’

Former President Clinton is slamming the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, saying it contributes to putting “democracy at risk” and calling the high court “radical” and “activist.”

“This decision puts partisanship ahead of precedent, ideology ahead of evidence, and the power of a small minority ahead of the clear will of the people,” Clinton said in a statement on Friday.

“This jarring removal of rights that had long been guaranteed, along with decisions gutting the Voting Rights Act and abolishing any judicial remedy for admittedly unconstitutional gerrymandering by state legislatures and abuses of power by federal authorities, has put our democracy at risk in the hands of a radical, activist Court,” he added.

He said said voters should be electing people “who will defend, not deny, our cherished rights and liberties” in addition to confirming judges who put the importance of the Constitution over partisanship.

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His wife, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, called the decision “a step backward for women’s rights and human rights.”

The development comes as the high court ruled on Friday to eliminate federal-level abortion protections, which many anticipated after a leaked draft ruling last month. 

Several states, including Missouri, South Dakota, Louisiana and Kentucky, have now effectively banned abortion. More are expected to follow.

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