This morning, the National Science Foundation announced that the Federal agency has agreed to provide a humanitarian medical evacuation flight for an ailing visitor from its Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to McMurdo Station on the Antarctic coast and then to New Zealand.
The patient is Buzz Aldrin, who, in 1969, became the second man to walk on the Moon, as part of the two-man lunar landing crew of Apollo 11.
The request to the National Science Foundation, which manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, came on Dec. 1 (local time, U.S. stations in Antarctica keep New Zealand time) from White Desert, a private tourism firm.
Ski-equipped LC-130 cargo planes flown by the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard provide the air bridge between the South Pole and McMurdo. The flight to New Zealand will be scheduled as soon as possible.
National Science Foundation officials stated that the Foundation will make additional statements regarding Aldrin’s medical condition only as conditions warrant.
CHARLESTON — For 400 years Maryland and Virginia have disputed control of the Potomac and its North Branch, since both states’ original colonial charters grant the entire river rather than half of it as is normally the case with boundary rivers.
In its first state constitution adopted in 1776, Virginia ceded its claim to the entire river but reserved free use of it, an act disputed by Maryland.
Both states acceded to the Compact of 1785 which grants Maryland the river bank-to-bank from the low water mark on the Virginia side, while permitting Virginia full riparian rights short of obstructing navigation.
When the State of West Virginia was founded in 1863, the new government in Wheeling inherited this age old fight with “The Old Line State” and the battle has continued for over a century and a half.
In fact, sensing the level of chaos taking place in the nation during the mid-1860s to be the perfect time to strike, the State of Maryland actually laid claim to lands in the new state that had long been held by Virginia — land north of the South Branch (all of Mineral and Grant Counties and parts of Hampshire, Hardy, Tucker and Pendleton Counties).
Maryland’s persistence in claiming the lands eventually forced the Supreme Court to take up the issue in 1910, ruling that Maryland did not have a claim to the counties in question.
For over 85 years, the battle fell largely silent, as the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) routinely issued permits applied for by Virginia and West Virginia entities concerning use of the Potomac.
However, in 1996 the MDE denied a permit submitted by the Fairfax County Water Authority to build a water intake 725 feet (220 m) offshore, citing potential harm to Maryland’s interests by an increase in Virginia sprawl caused by the project – and so the fight was reignited.
After years of failed appeals within the Maryland government’s appeal processes, in 2000 Virginia took the case to the Supreme Court of the United States, which exercises original jurisdiction in cases between two states. Maryland claimed Virginia lost its riparian rights by acquiescing to MDE’s permit process for 63 years (MDE began its permit process in 1933). A Special Master appointed by the Supreme Court to investigate recommended the case be settled in favor of Virginia, citing the language in the 1785 Compact and the 1877 Award. On December 9, 2003, the Court agreed in a 7-2 decision.
Unfortunately, the court’s ruling did not consider West Virginia’s case and in recent years, the State of West Virginia has found itself increasingly at odds with its neighbor to the northeast.
Things have in fact gotten so bad that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent a letter to the neighboring state threatening to sue Maryland if its leaders continued to “limit West Virginia’s access to the Potomac River.”
The initial letter argued Maryland’s time-consuming and costly permit process hinders population growth and commercial development in the Eastern Panhandle – growth that is projected to increase the region’s daily demand for water by approximately 2 million gallons.
“It is believed new development, already under construction, will spur other companies to consider locating in the Eastern Panhandle, creating additional jobs and increasing residential demand for water,” said Morrisey.
Today, Morrisey announced that the State of Maryland has stated that it intends to cease a permitting process that restricted West Virginia’s use of the Potomac River, “an unlawful procedure that hinders economic growth in the Eastern Panhandle.”
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Secretary of the Environment Benjamin H. Grumbles signed a letter that acknowledged West Virginia’s right to the Potomac River and agreed to cease further review and issuance of water appropriation and use permits for West Virginia users.
“I welcome Maryland’s willingness to cease its efforts to regulate West Virginia’s use of the Potomac River,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “Its unequivocal acknowledgement of West Virginia’s right to the river represents an important step in protecting residential and commercial development in a rapidly-growing part of our state. My office continues to review the matter and will evaluate what next steps, if any, are necessary.
“Given Maryland’s admission of West Virginia’s rights, we no longer believe litigation is necessary at this time. Instead, we intend to work cooperatively with stakeholders both in West Virginia and Maryland to determine logistically what steps might be necessary to guarantee West Virginia’s permanent autonomy over additional construction and use of water on our side of the Potomac. It has always been our goal to ensure that there is an adequate amount of water available for our citizens, while at the same time protecting and conserving this valuable resource for future generations. Our next steps will seek to achieve this balance,” Attorney General Morrisey added.
BIG ISLAND, Hawaii — Wednesday afternoon, the National Weather Service in Honolulu, Hawaii, issued a flash flood watch for the entire Big Island.
The flash flood watch will remain in effect from Thursday afternoon through Friday.
According to meteorologists, a low moving front will move over the area, destabilizing the atmosphere and “a surge of moisture moving in from the southeast could lead to heavy rain for the Big Island. Brief Heavy rain and thunderstorms are also possible across much of the state… but the greatest threat for widespread heavy rain is expected over the Big Island.”
A flash flood watch means that conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding. Flash flooding is very dangerous. The National Weather Service is advising residents of Big Island to monitor later forecasts and be prepared to take action should flash flood warnings be issued.
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Prosecutors in North Carolina announced Wednesday morning that no charges will be filed against the police officer who shot and killed Keith Lamont Scott in September.
Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot on September 20, 2016, in Charlotte, North Carolina by Brentley Vinson, an African-American city police officer.
Police officers had arrived at Scott’s apartment complex to search for an unrelated man with an outstanding warrant. According to police, officers saw Scott exit a vehicle in the parking lot while carrying a handgun, and he refused to comply with their orders. Scott’s wife was also present and disputes that account.
A video recording shot by Scott’s wife of the incident has been released to the public and show the dramatic standoff in the moments prior to Officer Vinson opening fire.
The shooting prompted investigations by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of Justice. As is customary for the department, Vinson was placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation.
The shooting sparked both violent riots in Charlotte over two nights. One person was killed by a civilian, and multiple officers and civilians were injured in the unrest.
Attached to the letter was a report, detailing key findings in the investigation. These “key findings” include:
“All of the credible, available and believable evidence supports the conclusion that Scott was armed with a gun. That evidence includes DNA, an admission by the seller who illegally sold Scott the gun that was recovered at the scene, and pre-incident radio in which officers can be heard discussing that they saw Scott with a gun. Investigators also located convenience store surveillance footage taken just minutes before the shooting that corroborates Scott’s possession of a holster and weapon.”
According to the evidence presented, Scott drew a gun from his ankle holster when confronted by officers. Scott then exited his vehicles with the gun in his hand. Video evidence shows that officers commanded Scott to drop the gun at least 10 times. Scot failed to comply with those commands.
The SBI found no evidence that Scott was reading or possessed a book when he encountered law enforcement. The SBI also found no credible indication that evidence had been planted or altered.
A police officer or any other person is justified in using deadly force if he reasonably believed, and in fact believed, that he or another person was in imminent danger of great bodily injury or death. Someone with a gun in his hand who does not comply with police commands to drop the gun can be reasonably considered to be an imminent deadly threat to officers, and reaction-time studies show that a person can raise his gun and harm or kill officers before an officer could react to the threat. It is lawful for an officer to take action before it is too late to repel a deadly attack.
This morning, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency provided members of the media with an update as to the ongoing fires that have devastated the community of Gatlinburg.
A Level III State of Emergency is in place due to the ongoing drought conditions and wildfire threats in Tennessee.
State emergency officials say thousands of residents and visitors were evacuated overnight in Sevier County and that hundreds of structures were either damaged or destroyed by the wildfires.
Presently, there are hundreds of firefighters, and local and state personnel, directly responding to the wildfire situation or coordinating to help those who are.
State agencies and local officials evacuated likely thousands of residents and visitors from Sevier County last night due to devastating wildfires in-and-around the cities of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It is very likely 14,000+ residents and visitors evacuated from Gatlinburg alone.
At a peak, an estimated 1,300 people occupied six Red Cross or independently-operated shelters. The latest estimate is 1,100 people in four shelters. Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers (up to 52 at peak) have conducted door-to-door canvassing to assist with notifications and evacuations.
“The Chimney Top Fire, which began in the Great Smoky Mountains, spread very rapidly yesterday evening as high winds pushed flames onto private property. Even with the rain that is currently falling there, the fires continue to burn and structures remain engulfed with little hope that the rainfall will bring immediate relief,” stated an emergency official.
A temporary flight restriction is in place to prevent aircraft from complicating the response.
Three persons with severe burns were transferred form University of Tennessee’s Knoxville (UTK) hospital to Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville overnight. A fourth with burns to their face continues to be evaluated at UTK. Currently, there are no reports of fatalities.
Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines. State Hwy. 441 heading into Gatlinburg is closed, except for emergency traffic. State Hwy. 441 leaving Gatlinburg is open to evacuating traffic.
Sevier County reports 11,595 people without power and schools in Green and Sevier County are closed today. Cocke County schools are running two hours late.
Showers and thunderstorms after 1 p.m., Eastern, today with winds 5 to 15 mph, and gusts to 20 mph. High near 69. Precipitation chance 80 percent.
Tonight, a chance of showers and thunderstorms, then showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm after 10 p.m., Eastern. Mostly cloudy with a low around 59. Breezy, with a south wind 5 to 10 mph increasing to 15 to 20 mph after midnight. Winds could gust as high as 35 mph. Chance of precipitation is 70 percent.
Rumors on Facebook had alleged that Ober Gatlinburg was destroyed in the wildfire last night; however, Ober Gatlinburg posted video this morning on its Facebook page, indicating all is well at the facility.
There were numerous reports that the employees at Ripley’s Aquarium were forced to abandon the facility, leaving behind 10,518 animals. As of this morning, there are no updates to provide as to the status of these animals.
TEMA is asking residents in Sevier County to stay off mobile devices unless it is for emergency calls to prevent taxing the mobile system.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam stated, “The state is proving a coordinated response, including the National Guard, to help all those affected by the devastating wildfires burning in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and throughout the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.”
Residents of Eastern Tennessee are waking up to the unthinkable this morning, as the city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, has suffered unimaginable destruction following an out of control wildfire that breached the community’s town-limits yesterday.
The fire, the result of suspected arson, started inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park, over the weekend. Unfortunately, strong winds and historic dry conditions made it impossible for fire crews to contain the blaze and the raging inferno made its way to the community Monday evening.
At 3 a.m. Tuesday, the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency provided a report to members of the media, stating that the fire had impacted 30 structures in Gatlinburg, including a 16-story hotel on Regan Drive and the Driftwood Apartments reported fully-involved near the Park Vista Hotel.
Additionally, Sevier County officials estimated about 100 homes had been impacted in the county with 10 homes impacted in Gatlinburg from the fire and more that 12,500 residents were without electricity.
Further complication emergency efforts, first responders were having difficulty communicating via cell phone due to the cell phone system being over ran.
“Just got off the phone with Drew. He defended Park Vista. Some of it is burnt but he thinks it might be ok but Gatlinburg is gone. I said ‘so overall, how is Gatlinburg?’ He paused for a second and said ‘mom it’s gone’ I said ‘literally gone?’ He said yea there is a few shops left on the strip and he said he thought the aquarium was ok but it’s all burnt.Westgate (between Gatlinburg & Pigeon Forge) is all gone and both sides of the spur are burnt (the road from Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge) He said [the fire] surrounded them and it was like the gates of hell opened up. He said there are no words to explain what he saw. The mountains in Gatlinburg towards Pigeon Forge are still burning please keep the prayers coming. This by far is not over.”
Please note: The “entire town” of Gatlinburg is not destroyed. Both ends of town has damage, downtown Gatlinburg mostly spared.
There are numerous posts being made on social media claiming that the Park Vista Hotel in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is on fire and that individuals are actually trapped inside the burning building.
Though there have been no confirmations made as to the reliability of these claims, video, reportedly shot from inside the Park Vista Hotel, shows the out of control forest fires at the main entrance of the multi-story inn.
Sharing a Facebook live video from inside the hotel, one social media user stated, “Please pray for these people in the Park Vista resort. With only one way down the mountain, they are trapped and can’t get out…”
Another user stated, “Park Vista Hotel in Gatlinburg the largest Hotel up there is on fire. They have lost the front of the building people are trapped inside… My son just sent this to me…”
The Park Vista Hotel is a newly renovated Doubletree brand hotel featuring 300 guestrooms and suites.
Other reports are claiming that at least fourteen structure fires are ongoing in downtown Gatlinburg.
This evening’s fire began earlier this past weekend near Chimney Rocks in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and expanded into the city limits of the tourism community due to strong wind gusts and historic drought conditions.
Though emergency officials have been strongly advising residents and tourists to leave the area throughout much of the day, shortly after 8 p.m. those voluntary evacuations had been changed to mandatory evacuations.
In addition to mandatory evacuations taking place in Gatlinburg, evacuations are also in the early stages in Pigeon Forge and Wears Valley.