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World  

Warriors to skip WH visit

The Golden State Warriors say they will not go to the White House when they visit Washington early next year, announcing the decision hours after President Donald Trump tweeted he was withdrawing the invitation.

Warriors star Stephen Curry had said he was not interested in the traditional event American championship teams usually have with the president. That raised Trump's ire, with the president citing what he called Curry's hesitation to accept.

The Warriors say they're "disappointed that we did not have an opportunity during this process to share our views or have open dialogue on issues impacting our communities that we felt would be important to raise."



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Crisis in Puerto Rico

A humanitarian crisis grew Saturday in Puerto Rico as towns were left without fresh water, fuel, power or phone service following Hurricane Maria's devastating passage across the island.

A group of anxious mayors arrived in the capital to meet with Gov. Ricardo Rossello to present a long list of items they urgently need. The north coastal town of Manati had run out of fuel and fresh water, Mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez said.

"Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It's at capacity," he said, crying. "We need someone to help us immediately."

The death toll from Maria in Puerto Rico stood at seven after a body found in a river was reported Saturday, and the toll was likely to rise.

Authorities in the town of Vega Alta on the north coast said they had been unable to reach an entire neighbourhood called Fatima, and were particularly worried about residents of a nursing home.

"I need to get there today," Mayor Oscar Santiago told The Associated Press. "Not tomorrow, today."

Federal officials said a dam upstream of the towns of Quebradillas and Isabela in northwest Puerto Rico was cracked but had not burst by Saturday afternoon. Video from a helicopter flight showed water pouring from the Guajataca dam. Federal officials said Friday that 70,000 people were being evacuated, but Javier Jimenez, mayor of the town of San Sebastian, said he believed the number was far smaller.

He said only several hundred families were told to leave the banks of the Guajataca River. San Sebastian is to the west of the dam and outside the worst flood zone.

The discrepancy could not immediately be explained



Life for raping, killing nurse

A Tennessee man has avoided a possible death penalty by agreeing to a sentence of life in prison plus 50 years for the kidnapping, rape and killing of nursing student Holly Bobo.

Judge C. Creed McGinley told a jury Saturday that Zachary Adams made a deal with prosecutors just minutes ahead of his sentencing hearing. Adams was convicted Friday of murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape after an 11-day jury trial in Savannah, Tennessee.

Under the agreement, Adams received a term of life without parole for Bobo's killing. He was sentenced to consecutive terms of 25 years for both the kidnapping and rape convictions.

Bobo was 20 when she disappeared from her home in rural Parsons on April 13, 2011. Her remains were found in September 2014.



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Grass carp in Lake Erie

Researchers have fresh evidence that invasive grass carp are swimming and spawning near the mouth of a river that flows into Lake Erie.

Their next step is figuring out how to stop it from gaining a foothold and devouring wetland plants along the shoreline and underwater vegetation in the lake that shelters native fish.

Grass carp are one of four Asian carp species threatening the Great Lakes, but they're not as worrisome as the bighead and silver carp, which could devastate fish populations in the lakes.

While environmental groups and scientists have put much of their attention on preventing the bighead and silver carp from reaching the lakes, the grass carp already have been found in Lakes Erie, Michigan and Ontario.

Brought to the U.S. more than 50 years ago to control weed growth, they're still sold to pond owners. Some states now require that they be sterilized before being released. But recent surveys have found grass carp eggs in Great Lakes waterways. Some made their way into the lakes via rivers, while others were dumped into the waterways. The fish feed on aquatic plants, eating up to 90 pounds a day and damaging areas used by spawning fish and migrating birds. What is not known is how many are in the lakes and where they've spread.

It's believed there are still only a small number of grass carp in the lakes. But a report released by U.S. and Canadian researchers warned this year that if effective steps aren't taken, it's likely that the invasive fish will be established in lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Ontario within 10 years.



Trump would fire players

President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he's encouraging spectators to walk out in protest.

In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent.

"They're ruining the game," he complained.

Several athletes, including a handful of NFL players, have refused to stand during "The Star-Spangled Banner" to protest of the treatment of blacks by police. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend last year when he played for the San Francisco 49ers, hasn't been signed by an NFL team for this season.

Trump says those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

"That's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect of everything that we stand for," he said, encouraging owners to act.

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired," Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who went through with his encouragement would become "the most popular person in this country" — at least for a week.

Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a decline in NFL ratings on the nation's interest in "yours truly" as well as what he described as a decline in violence in the game.

He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it's "not the same game."

Over the past several seasons, the NFL and college football have increased penalties and enforcement for illegal hits to the head and for hitting defenceless players. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the "old days" — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn't protect their heads when pushing them into squad cars.

It's also not the first time he's raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that Kaepernick hadn't been signed.

Television ratings for the NFL have been slipping since the beginning of the 2016 season. The league and observers have blamed a combination of factors, including competing coverage of last year's presidential election, more viewers dropping cable television, fans' discomfort with the reports of head trauma and the anthem protests.

Ratings have been down even more in the early 2017 season, though broadcasters and the league have blamed the hurricanes that hit Florida and Texas. Still, the NFL remains by far the most popular televised sport in the United States.

Trump said the anthem protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned.

"You know what's hurting the game?" he asked. "When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they're playing our great national anthem," he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

"I guarantee things will stop," he said



Another quake hits Mexico

A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the new, magnitude 6.1 temblor was centred about 18 kilometres south-southeast of Matias Romero in the state of Oaxaca, which was the region most battered by a magnitude 8.1 quake on Sept. 7.

It swayed buildings and set off a seismic alarm in the capital, promping civil defence officials to temporarily suspend rescue operations in the rubble of buildings downed by Thursday's magnitude 7.1 quake in central Mexico.

That quake dimmed activity in the stylish Condesa neighbourhood, where young revelers typically spill out from dimly lit bars and restaurants on a Friday night. But the first weekend since a 7.1 magnitude earthquake toppled buildings just blocks away began on a sombre note.

Instead of crowds gathered with beers, small handfuls of rescue workers still dressed in reflective vests took breaks from digging through rubble. Entire restaurants with white linen tables were empty. Metal gates shuttered others.

"It feels lifeless," said Mariana Aguilar, 27, a hostess at a bar and restaurant who stood waiting for guests yet to arrive. "I walk through these streets every day and you never imagine something like this would happen."

The upscale Mexico City neighbourhood was one of the hardest hit by the quake that killed at least 295 people, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week.

"The city is still quite tense," said Israel Escamilla, an engineer, as he sipped a plastic cup filled with Coke at an empty bar. "But as good Mexicans we have to keep lending support however we can."

As rescue operations stretched into Day 5, residents throughout the city held out hope that dozens still missing might be found alive. More than half the dead —157 — perished in the capital, while another 73 died in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico State, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.



'Face of evil'

A California man who killed eight people at a hair salon in 2011 was sentenced to life without parole Friday in a courtroom packed with sobbing victims' relatives, who shared vivid memories of their loved ones and wished the shooter a painful end in prison.

Scott Dekraai, a 47-year-old former tugboat operator, received eight consecutive life terms for the murders of his hairstylist ex-wife, her co-workers and others in the tight-knit seaside community of Seal Beach.

Paul Wilson, whose wife, Christy, was among those killed, said he would finally feel closure after six years of hearings. He wished a short life for the man who deprived his son of maternal support while battling cancer and his daughter the joy of her mother on her wedding day.

"It is so gut-wrenching, especially because this coward is still allowed to breathe the same air that I do in this courtroom," he told the judge, before turning to Dekraai and saying, "I can only hope your years in prison are rough."

The killings rocked the idyllic Orange County community known for its scenic pier and small-town feel, devastating hundreds of relatives, friends and community members.

Even though Dekraai pleaded guilty three years ago, his case has dragged on because of a long-running scandal over authorities' use of jailhouse snitches to cull information from him and others housed in the county's jails.

While authorities can receive information from informants, they can't have snitches deliberately seek out information from inmates with legal representation.

Judge Thomas M. Goethals told a shackled Dekraai he likely would have faced a death sentence if not for the scandal, which he felt compelled him to remove execution as an option to ensure a fair trial.

"The gates of hell flew open, and you emerged as the face of evil in this community," Goethals told Dekraai. "Those rulings had nothing to do with you personally. Or the evil brutality that you inflicted on these people. The law required me to make those rulings."

Dekraai apologized to victims' relatives and acknowledged he could have found a peaceful solution to his problems. "I am to blame for the total loss of self-control," he said.

Dekraai had been locked in a bitter custody dispute with ex-wife Michelle Fournier over their then-8-year-old son when he entered Salon Meritage in October 2011 wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with three weapons.

He shot and killed Fournier before turning his guns on the salon owner, stylists and customers, and a man sitting in his car in the parking lot. Dekraai was arrested within minutes of the rampage.

Besides Fournier, killed were Randy Fannin, Victoria Buzzo, Lucia Kondas, Laura Elody, Christy Wilson, Michelle Fast and David Caouette.

Those who survived and those who lost family said they are still struggling to heal.

Lisa Powers, who hid inside the salon's bathroom while Dekraai was shooting, said she still remembers the smell of the gunpowder and walking over her friends' bloodied bodies when it was finally safe to emerge.

"I have nightmares every day. I can't even close the bathroom door when I go to the bathroom anymore," she said. "You have hurt so many people. You don't even know the devastation and the horrors people go through."

Many in the courtroom in Santa Ana wore buttons and T-shirts printed with photos of their loved ones. One had an image of two of the victims laughing and the message "love is louder."

Dekraai pleaded guilty to the eight counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, for which he received a term of seven years to life. He got 25 years to life for a gun enhancement on each of nine counts.

Goethals decided last month to remove capital punishment as an option after repeated failures by county authorities to furnish informant-related documents. The move came after he already had yanked the county district attorney's office from the case over the scandal.

The state attorney general's office, which took over the prosecution of Dekraai and had also recommended the death penalty, said Friday that California would not file an appeal.

Some victims' relatives said they wished Dekraai had faced a death sentence. Others were simply relieved the case was over.

"I never have to look at you again," said Butch Fournier, Michelle's brother. "Today that ends. You finally go away for the rest of your life."



Failing dam latest threat

Puerto Rican officials rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam and said they could not reach more than half the towns in the U.S. territory as the massive scale of the disaster wrought by Hurricane Maria started to become clear on Friday.

Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials had no communication with 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the Category 5 storm crossed the island, toppling power lines and cellphone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.

Officials said 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cell-phone towers had been downed, and 85 per cent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.

"We haven't seen the extent of the damage," Gov. Ricardo Rossello told reporters in the capital.

More than 15 inches (nearly 40 centimetres) of rain fell on the mountains surrounding the Guajataca Dam in northwest Puerto Rico after Maria left the island Wednesday afternoon, swelling the reservoir behind the nearly 90-year-old dam.

Authorities launched an evacuation of the 70,000 people living downstream, sending buses to move people away and sending frantic warnings on Twitter that went unseen by many in the blacked-out coastal area.

"This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the National Weather Service wrote. "All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER."

The 316-metre dam, which was built about 1928, holds back a manmade lake covering about five square kilometres.

An engineer inspecting the dam reported a "contained breach" that officials quickly realized was a crack that could be the first sign of total failure of the dam, said Anthony Reynes, a meteorologist with the U.S. National Weather Service.

"There's no clue as to how long or how this can evolve. That is why the authorities are moving so fast because they also have the challenges of all the debris. It is a really, really dire situation," Reynes said. "They are trying to mobilize all the resources they can but it's not easy. We really don't know how long it would take for this failure to become a full break of the dam."



Families holding out hope

Hope mixed with fear Friday on a 60-foot stretch of a bike lane in downtown Mexico City, where families huddled under tarps and donated blankets, awaiting word of their loved ones trapped in the four-story-high pile of rubble behind them.

On Day 4 of the search for survivors of the 7.1-magnitude earthquake that brought down the seven-floor office building and many others, killing at least 293 people, hope rose and fell on the small things. A change in the weather, word that Japanese rescuers — strangers from half a world away — had joined the recovery effort, officials' assurances that people remained alive inside, a call from a familiar number.

For Patricia Fernandez Romero, who spent the morning on a yellow folding stool under a handwritten list with the names of the 46 missing, it was remembering how badly her 27-year-old son, Ivan Colin Fernandez, sang and realizing how much she wanted to hear him again.

"There are moments when you feel like you're breaking down," Fernandez said. "And there are moments when you're a little calmer. ... They are all moments that you wouldn't wish on anyone."

The families have been camped out since the quake hit Tuesday. More than half of the dead —155 — perished in the capital, while another 73 died in the state of Morelos, 45 in Puebla, 13 in Mexico State, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.



Flaming pumpkin traffic jam

In an early Halloween highway horror, a truckload of burning pumpkins blocked traffic on a Florida interstate.

Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins said in a news release that a tractor-trailer hauling pumpkins struck a guard rail on southbound Interstate 75 near Tampa early Friday, sparking a fire. The truck then exploded, spilling the burning pumpkins onto the highway.

The 44-year-old woman who was driving the truck wasn't injured in the crash.

Gaskins says traffic on the interstate's southbound lanes was backed up for several miles. He says the roadway will have to be repaved to repair the damage.

Troopers are urging motorists to seek alternate routes to avoid delays.



Damage complicates rescue

The devastation wrought by hurricane Maria is hampering plans to evacuate more than 150 Canadian students from the storm-ravaged Caribbean island of Dominica.

Damaged infrastructure, non-functioning airports and a lack of communication are frustrating efforts to get the students home, said Omar Alghabra, parliamentary secretary to the minister of foreign affairs.

"The situation in Dominica continues to be difficult," Alghabra said Friday.

"The communications are down. Airports are dysfunctional, so we are unable to land any aircraft there."

About 150 Canadian students are stranded at the Ross University School of Medicine, with about a dozen more at a different post-secondary institution on the island, Alghabra said.

The Liberal government is in constant contact with school officials, he added.

"The universities are arranging for boats to transfer these students to St. Lucia, where our consular officials are waiting for them there," Alghabra said. "We will offer services or assistance when they arrive and then arrange for their return home."

Even that plan is taking some time, he noted, because debris around the island is making it difficult for boats to reach it.

Alghabra said he understands families are feeling anxious as they wait for their loved ones to get help.

"Obviously, the anxiety is justified, because their loved ones are still on the island, but we are doing everything we can to get them out of there as quickly as possible."



May tries to reboot Brexit

Britain is prepared to abide by European Union rules and pay into the bloc's coffers for two years after leaving the EU in March 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday in a conciliatory speech intended to revive foundering exit talks.

The proposal got a positive, if muted, reception from the EU's chief negotiator. But it raised hackles among pro-Brexit U.K. politicians, who accused May of delaying a divorce that is sought by a majority of British voters.

May travelled to Florence, Italy, in hopes of rebooting negotiations with the EU that have stalled over issues including the price the U.K. must pay to leave and the rights of EU citizens in Britain.

May's speech was intended to kick-start the process before talks resume next week in Brussels. But while it was strong on praise for the EU and for shared European values, the few concrete details were far from addressing Brussels' concerns.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the speech showed a "constructive spirit" but "must be translated into negotiating positions" to make real progress.

Standing in front of a backdrop reading "Shared History, Shared Challenges, Shared Future" in a hall at a Renaissance church, May said Britain and the EU share "a profound sense of responsibility" to ensure that their parting goes smoothly.

She urged the EU to be "creative" and forge a new economic relationship not based on any current trade model. She rejected both a free-trade deal like the one Canada has struck with the bloc and Norway-style membership in the EU's single market.

She called instead for "an ambitious economic partnership which respects the freedoms and principles of the EU, and the wishes of the British people."



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