Trump administrations words, deeds on Africa are colliding

AP Photo
AP Photo/Ben Curtis

NAIROBI NATIONAL PARK, Kenya (AP) — On the outskirts of a sprawling reserve of Kenyan grasslands where endangered animals roam wild, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lavished praise on an American-funded forensics lab that tracks down elephant-poachers for prosecution, and urged aggressive action in Africa on conservation.

Yet earlier this month, the Trump administration quietly lifted the U.S. ban on importing African elephant trophies, to the dismay of environmental groups who said it sends precisely the wrong message.

U.S. words and deeds are colliding as Tillerson travels across Africa. On trade policy, HIV/AIDS and humanitarian aid, the United States at times seems at odds with itself, muddying efforts to show it wants the continent to flourish and is here to help.

In the case of the elephants, conservationists appeared to have a powerful ally in President Donald Trump, who personally intervened last year to stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from lifting the Obama-era ban on tusks imported from Zambia and Zimbabwe. Trump took to Twitter to call the practice a “horror show.”

At the forensics lab at Nairobi National Park, the only such lab in east and central Africa, Tillerson agreed Sunday when famed conservationist Richard Leakey warned that the “huge interest” in wildlife products such as elephant and rhinoceros parts was fueling the international trafficking trade.

“That’s really the key, is to shut it all down,” Tillerson said.

But three months after Trump’s move to keep the ban in place, his administration reversed course again, saying elephant trophies could be imported on a “case-by-case basis.” The U.S. agency said it chose that course of action to comply with a court ruling that said the Obama administration failed to follow proper procedure in enacting the original ban.

In Kenya, where the elephant population has plummeted to roughly one-fifth of what it was in the 1970s, the new Trump policy fell flat.

“The whole world is against it,” said Paula Kahumbu, an elephant expert and CEO of Wildlife Direct, a leading Kenyan environmental group. She said past U.S. support for banning the ivory trade has pushed China and other nations to act as well. “To then say, ‘Oh, but we have a special case for some of our people, they should be allowed to have ivory,’ it totally undermines the U.S. leadership role.”

American leadership has been repeatedly questioned since Trump took office in January 2017 as Washington pulls back from past commitments to NATO, to the United Nations and to aid programs that form the core of U.S. “soft power” diplomacy.

Tillerson’s trip to Kenya was designed in part to highlight the success of PEPFAR, the 15-year-old HIV/AIDS program that has saved millions of lives and helped see the continent through an epidemic that once threatened to wipe out a whole generation. More than 13 million people with HIV in Africa are on lifesaving antiretroviral drugs thanks to PEPFAR, the U.S. has said.

“It’s a very proud moment for us and a very proud moment for the American people,” Ambassador Deborah Birx, the U.S. global AIDS coordinator, said this past week.

So HIV/AIDS advocates are scratching their heads at why Trump has repeatedly proposed cutting hundreds of millions of dollars from PEPFAR. The nonprofit ONE Campaign warned that the cut would lead to hundreds of thousands more people dying of AIDS each year.

The Trump administration has said despite those reductions, it believes there’s enough money left “to maintain all current patient levels” – meaning to not cut off anyone’s lifesaving medications. But public health groups say they can’t understand why U.S. would pull back from the President George W. Bush-era program at the very moment when Tillerson says the world “can actually now see a future free of HIV/AIDS.”

Visiting the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia earlier in his trip, Tillerson urged officials not to go ahead with a plan to impose a 0.2 percent tariff on imports. The goal is to help the AU become financially self-sufficient, but the U.S. is concerned the plan runs afoul of the World Trade Organization, thus keeping U.S. companies out of the African market.

The timing for Tillerson’s push was inauspicious: Trump is in the midst of going ahead with steep trade penalties on aluminum and steel imported to the U.S.

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Trump administrations words, deeds on Africa are colliding
Trump administrations words, deeds on Africa are colliding

Stephen Hawking, tourist of the universe, dead at 76

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AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

PARIS (AP) — In his final years, the only thing connecting the brilliant physicist to the outside world was a couple of inches of frayed nerve in his cheek.

As slowly as a word per minute, Stephen Hawking used the twitching of the muscle under his right eye to grind out his thoughts on a custom-built computer, painstakingly outlining his vision of time, the universe, and humanity’s place within it.

What he produced was a masterwork of popular science, one that guided a generation of enthusiasts through the esoteric world of anti-particles, quarks, and quantum theory. His success in turn transformed him into a massively popular scientist, one as familiar to the wider world through his appearances on “The Simpsons” and “Star Trek” as his work on cosmology and black holes.

Hawking owed one part of his fame to his triumph over amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, a degenerative disease that eats away at the nervous system. When he was diagnosed aged only 21, he was given only a few years to live.

But Hawking defied the normally fatal illness for more than 50 years, pursuing a brilliant career that stunned doctors and thrilled his fans. Even though a severe attack of pneumonia left him breathing through a tube, an electronic voice synthesizer allowed him to continue speaking, albeit in a robotic monotone that became one of his trademarks.

He carried on working into his 70s, spinning theories, teaching students, and writing “A Brief History of Time,” an accessible exploration of the mechanics of the universe that sold millions of copies.

By the time he died Wednesday at 76, Hawking was among the most recognizable faces in science, on par with Albert Einstein.

As one of Isaac Newton’s successors as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, Hawking was involved in the search for the great goal of physics – a “unified theory.”

Such a theory would resolve the contradictions between Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which describes the laws of gravity that govern the motion of large objects like planets, and the Theory of Quantum Mechanics, which deals with the world of subatomic particles.

For Hawking, the search was almost a religious quest – he said finding a “theory of everything” would allow mankind to “know the mind of God.”

“A complete, consistent unified theory is only the first step: our goal is a complete understanding of the events around us, and of our own existence,” he wrote in “A Brief History of Time.”

In later years, though, he suggested a unified theory might not exist.

He followed up “A Brief History of Time” in 2001 with the sequel, “The Universe in a Nutshell,” which updated readers on concepts like supergravity, naked singularities and the possibility of an 11-dimensional universe.

Hawking said belief in a God who intervenes in the universe “to make sure the good guys win or get rewarded in the next life” was wishful thinking.

“But one can’t help asking the question: Why does the universe exist?” he said in 1991. “I don’t know an operational way to give the question or the answer, if there is one, a meaning. But it bothers me.”

Hawking often credited humor with helping him deal with his disability, and it was his sense of mischief that made him game for a series of stunts.

He made cameo television appearances in “The Simpsons,” ”Star Trek,” and the “Big Bang Theory” and counted among his fans U2 guitarist The Edge, who attended a January 2002 celebration of Hawking’s 60th birthday.

His early life was chronicled in the 2014 film “The Theory of Everything,” with Eddie Redmayne winning the best actor Academy Award for his portrayal of Hawking. The film focused still more attention on Hawking’s remarkable life.

Some colleagues credited that celebrity with generating new enthusiasm for science.

His achievements, and his longevity, also helped prove to many that even the most severe disabilities need not stop patients from achieving.

Richard Green, of the Motor Neurone Disease Association – the British name for ALS – said Hawking met the classic definition of the disease, as “the perfect mind trapped in an imperfect body.” He said Hawking had been an inspiration to people with the disease for many years.

Hawking’s disability did slow the pace of conversation, especially in later years as even the muscles in his face started to weaken. Minutes could pass as he composed answers to even simple questions. Hawking said that didn’t impair his work, even telling one interviewer it gave his mind time to drift as the conversation ebbed and flowed around him.

His near-total paralysis certainly did little to dampen his ambition to physically experience space: Hawking savored small bursts of weightlessness in 2007 when he was flown aboard a jet that made repeated dives to simulate zero-gravity.

Hawking had hoped to leave Earth’s atmosphere altogether someday, a trip he often recommended to the rest of the planet’s inhabitants.

“In the long run the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet,” Hawking said in 2008. “I just hope we can avoid dropping the basket until then.”

Hawking first earned prominence for his theoretical work on black holes. Disproving the belief that black holes are so dense that nothing could escape their gravitational pull, he showed that black holes leak a tiny bit of light and other types of radiation, now known as “Hawking radiation.”

“It came as a complete surprise,” said Gary Horowitz, a theoretical physicist at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It really was quite revolutionary.”

Horowitz said the find helped move scientists one step closer to cracking the unified theory.

Hawking’s other major scientific contribution was to cosmology, the study of the universe’s origin and evolution. Working with Jim Hartle of the University of California, Santa Barbara, Hawking proposed in 1983 that space and time might have no beginning and no end. “Asking what happens before the Big Bang is like asking for a point one mile north of the North Pole,” he said.

In 2004, he announced that he had revised his previous view that objects sucked into black holes simply disappeared, perhaps to enter an alternate universe. Instead, he said he believed objects could be spit out of black holes in a mangled form.

That new theory capped his three-decade struggle to explain a paradox in scientific thinking: How can objects really “disappear” inside a black hole and leave no trace when subatomic theory says matter can be transformed but never fully destroyed?

Hawking was born Jan. 8, 1942, in Oxford, and grew up in London and St. Albans, northwest of the capital. In 1959, he entered Oxford University and then went on to graduate work at Cambridge.

Signs of illness appeared in his first year of graduate school, and he was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease after the New York Yankee star who died of it. The disease usually kills within three to five years.

According to John Boslough, author of “Stephen Hawking’s Universe,” Hawking became deeply depressed. But as it became apparent that he was not going to die soon, his spirits recovered and he bore down on his work. Brian Dickie, director of research at the Motor Neurone Disease Association, said only 5 percent of those diagnosed with ALS survive for 10 years or longer. Hawking, he added, “really is at the extreme end of the scale when it comes to survival.”

Hawking married Jane Wilde in 1965 and they had three children, Robert, Lucy and Timothy.

Jane cared for Hawking for 20 years, until a grant from the United States paid for the 24-hour care he required.

He was inducted into the Royal Society in 1974 and received the Albert Einstein Award in 1978. In 1989, Queen Elizabeth II made him a Companion of Honor, one of the highest distinctions she can bestow.

He whizzed about Cambridge at surprising speed – usually with nurses or teaching assistants in his wake – traveled and lectured widely, and appeared to enjoy his fame. He retired from his chair as Lucasian Professor in 2009 and took up a research position with the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Hawking divorced Jane in 1991, an acrimonious split that strained his relationship with their children. Writing in her autobiographical “Music to Move the Stars,” she said the strain of caring for Hawking for nearly three decades had left her feeling like “a brittle, empty shell.” Hawking married his one-time nurse Elaine Mason four years later, but the relationship was dogged by rumors of abuse.

Police investigated in 2004 after newspapers reported that he’d been beaten, suffering injuries including a broken wrist, gashes to the face and a cut lip, and was left stranded in his garden on the hottest day of the year.

Hawking called the charges “completely false.” Police found no evidence of any abuse. Hawking and Mason separated in 2006.

Lucy Hawking said her father had an exasperating “inability to accept that there is anything he cannot do.”

“I accept that there are some things I can’t do,” he told The Associated Press in 1997. “But they are mostly things I don’t particularly want to do anyway.”

Then, grinning widely, he added, “I seem to manage to do anything that I really want.”

Hawking’s website:

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Stephen Hawking, tourist of the universe, dead at 76
Stephen Hawking, tourist of the universe, dead at 76

Hurricane Harvey's toxic impact deeper than public told

HOUSTON (AP) — A toxic onslaught from the nation’s petrochemical hub was largely overshadowed by the record-shattering deluge of Hurricane Harvey as residents and first responders struggled to save lives and property.

More than a half-year after floodwaters swamped America’s fourth-largest city, the extent of this environmental assault is beginning to surface, while questions about the long-term consequences for human health remain unanswered.

County, state and federal records pieced together by The Associated Press and The Houston Chronicle reveal a far more widespread toxic impact than authorities publicly reported after the storm slammed into the Texas coast in late August and then stalled over the Houston area.

Some 500 chemical plants, 10 refineries and more than 6,670 miles of intertwined oil, gas and chemical pipelines line the nation’s largest energy corridor.

Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged out of just one chemical plant in Baytown, east of Houston on the upper shores of Galveston Bay.

Benzene, vinyl chloride, butadiene and other known human carcinogens were among the dozens of tons of industrial toxins released into surrounding neighborhoods and waterways following Harvey’s torrential rains.

In all, reporters catalogued more than 100 Harvey-related toxic releases – on land, in water and in the air. Most were never publicized, and in the case of two of the biggest ones, the extent or potential toxicity of the releases was initially understated.

Only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators, reporters found.

Texas regulators say they have investigated 89 incidents, but have yet to announce any enforcement actions.

Testing by state and federal regulators of soil and water for contaminants was largely limited to Superfund toxic waste sites.

Based on widespread air monitoring, including flyovers, officials repeatedly assured the public that post-Harvey air pollution posed no health threat. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official in charge now says these general assessments did not necessarily reflect local “hotspots” with potential risk to people.

Regulators alerted the public to dangers from just two, well-publicized toxic disasters: the Arkema chemical plant northeast of Houston that exploded and burned for days, and a nearby dioxin-laden federal Superfund site whose protective cap was damaged by the raging San Jacinto River.

Samuel Coleman, who was the EPA’s acting regional administrator during Harvey, said the priority in the immediate aftermath was “addressing any environmental harms as quickly as possible as opposed to making announcements about what the problem was.”

In hindsight, he said, it might not have been a bad idea to inform the public about the worst of “dozens of spills.”

Local officials say the state’s industry-friendly approach has weakened efforts by the city of Houston and surrounding Harris County to build cases against and force cleanup by the companies, many of them repeat environmental offenders.

“The public will probably never know the extent of what happened to the environment after Harvey. But the individual companies of course know,” said Rock Owens, supervising environmental attorney for Harris County, home to Houston and 4.7 million residents.

The chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Bryan Shaw, declined when asked by lawmakers in January to identify the worst spills and their locations. He told a legislative subcommittee hearing he could not publicly discuss spills until his staff completed a review.

The amount of post-Harvey government testing contrasts sharply with what happened after two other major Gulf Coast hurricanes. After Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008, state regulators collected 85 sediment samples to measure the contamination; more than a dozen violations were identified and cleanups were carried out, according to a state review.

In Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina’s floodwaters ravaged New Orleans in 2005, the EPA and Louisiana officials examined about 1,800 soil samples over 10 months, EPA records showed.

“Now the response is completely different,” said Scott Frickel, an environmental sociologist formerly at Tulane University in New Orleans.

Frickel, now at Brown University, called the Harvey response “unconscionable” given Houston’s exponentially larger industrial footprint.

Reporters covered some environmental crises as they happened, such as AP’s exclusive on the flooding of toxic waste sites and the Chronicle’s Arkema warnings before fires broke out. But the sheer quantity of spills was impossible to document in real time.

Academic researchers are now trying to fill in the gaps in environmental monitoring, helped by grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. One project, a Harvey-related public health registry for Houston, was funded just this month but is not yet underway.

“People are left in a state of limbo of not knowing if they were exposed or not – or if they were, what the implications are for their health,” said Dr. Nicole Lurie, who oversaw federal public health responses to the Superstorm Sandy and Deepwater Horizon disasters while at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Scientists say the paucity of data also could hamstring efforts to prepare for and mitigate damage from future violent weather events that climatologists predict will happen with increasing frequency.


When it meets moisture, hydrogen chloride gas becomes hydrochloric acid, which can burn, suffocate and kill.

Between lulls in Harvey’s pounding torrents on Aug. 28, an 18-inch pipeline leak at Williams Midstream Services Inc. unleashed a plume of the chemical near the intersection of two major highways in La Porte, southeast of Houston, where the San Jacinto River meets the 50-mile ship channel. It’s the petrochemical corridor’s main artery that empties into Galveston Bay.

A toxic cloud spread about a quarter-mile in an industrial sector as firefighters and police rushed to shut down roads, blared neighborhood sirens and robo-dispatched phone and text messages warning people to stay indoors.

Two hours ticked by before a county hazardous materials response unit – lucky to find a road not under water – arrived and ended the danger with the help of a crew from a nearby plant.

The spill was among dozens barely noticed at the time, records show. A county pollution control inspector, Johnathan Martin, wrote in his report that he could not safely monitor the toxic plume but believed it did not reach homes less than a mile away. There were no reports of injuries.

On land, the deluge – five feet of rain in some spots – appears to have scoured the top soil, according to separate testing efforts by scientists from Texas A&M and Rice universities.

The Texas A&M collection of 24 samples – taken in September from lawns mainly in a neighborhood near Valero Energy Corp.’s refinery – turned up only low traces of petroleum and petrochemical-related compounds.

“As expected the rains washed most things out,” said Texas A&M research leader Anthony Knap.

Rice researchers tested soil at a school and park in Baytown, east across Upper Galveston Bay, where residents said floodwaters rushed in from the 3,400-acre ExxonMobil refinery and chemical plant. They also sampled in Galena Park, a community of 11,000 hemmed in by heavy industry along the ship channel, just east of downtown.

Only one of the nine samples collected by Rice researchers showed elevated levels of petroleum-related toxins, according to an independent chemical analysis funded by the AP-Chronicle collaboration. Collected in Galena Park, it showed the presence of benzo(a)pyrene, a known carcinogen, at levels just above what the EPA deems a cancer risk.

Jessica Chastain lives a block away.

During Harvey’s three-day downpour, the nearby Panther Creek swallowed Chastain’s home, forcing the 36-year-old mother and four of her children to swim across the street to the safety of her parents’ two-story house, through slimy brownish-black water that smelled like a “rotten sewer,” said Chastain. “It had a coat of film over it. I’m not sure what it was. It was probably oil.”

Her children – 15, 11, 9 and 6 – all developed skin infections and strep throat, she said.

Her youngest still “cries when it rains hard,” she said. “‘Is it going to flood?’ he asks.”

The creek, which empties into the nearby ship channel, had backed up from flooded chemical plants and tank farms.

A number of Harvey-related spills occurred near Chastain’s home, including the 460,000-gallon gasoline spill at a Magellan Midstream Partners tank farm and nearly 52,000 pounds of crude oil from a Seaway Crude Pipeline Inc. tank.

Samples taken in October at a Houston park upstream of the ship channel showed elevated levels of dioxins, PCBs and hazardous chemicals typically created in the burning of oil, coal and gas, said Jennifer Horney, an A&M epidemiology professor who conducted testing for the city.

Benzo(a)pyrene was among the chemicals found in sediment on the banks of Brays Bayou at the park, a popular recreation site with baseball diamonds, soccer pitches and bicycle pathways.

“It’s coal tar and it’s a known carcinogen and mostly you find it in industrial settings,” said Horney. “We know the ship channel – or the bayou – was (up) in that park.”

While worrisome, the levels at the park were not high enough to trigger a cleanup under EPA standards, she said. Neither Houston nor Texas A&M officials have publicly released those test results, which the city health department’s chief environmental science officer, Loren Raun, said showed “nothing of concern for human health risk.”

The surface soil scrubbing that scientists believe occurred during Harvey means contaminants likely migrated downstream, said Hanadi Rifai. The head of the University of Houston’s environmental engineering program, she has been studying pollution in the watershed for more than two decades.

“That soil ended up somewhere,” Rifai said. “The net result on Galveston Bay is going to be nothing short of catastrophic.”


Residents of the tidy, mostly Latino neighborhood off Old Industrial Road in Galena Park are accustomed to the foul odors that wind shifts can bring.

But no one told them about the gasoline spill at the Magellan terminal a mile away – one of more than a dozen Harvey-related releases in a two-mile radius. The release was initially reported to the Coast Guard at 42,000 gallons – and residents would only learn of it a week later through news reports. Not until 11 days after the spill did Magellan report that it was actually more than 10 times bigger.

Asked about the discrepancy, Magellan spokesman Bruce Heine said floodwaters prevented the company from accessing the ruptured tanks until Sept. 5. He said the company later removed 15 dump trucks of tainted soil.

The spill was reported to the Coast Guard on Thursday, Aug. 31 at 11:35 p.m. – six days after Harvey made landfall.

An explosion risk prompted workers to evacuate upwind as the nearly half-million gallons of gasoline gushed out failed storage tanks, state environmental and Coast Guard records show. The spill ranked as Texas’ largest reported Harvey-related venting of air pollutants, at 1,143 tons.

The local fire department put down foam to suppress the fumes, records revealed, and a police report described “a vapor cloud.”

Claudia Mendez, a 42-year-old housewife, said she later saw foam by the side of the road and wondered about its origin.

The fumes were so strong, Mendez said, “I thought my husband had brought the lawnmower gas can inside.”

Magellan has been cited for 11 environmental violations since 2002 by Texas regulators and fined more than $190,000, more than half in August 2012 for a single violation of air quality standards.

Its spill is among at least three post-Harvey releases about which Harris County officials have withheld information, saying they remain under investigation.

The second involves W&P Development Corp., owner of an industrial park where about 100,000 gallons of oily wastewater were reported to have spilled into the San Jacinto from Aug. 29 to Aug. 31. The site was formerly Champion Paper Mill and a landfill there received wastes including turpentine- and lead-contaminated soil and mercury until 2008. For most of 2015 and 2016, the property was in violation of federal anti-pollution laws, EPA records show.

A spokesman for W&P Development, Dennis Winkler, said the company later determined that a smaller amount – 30,000 gallons – had escaped from a water treatment plant when the river overtopped a berm.

The third site is Channel Biorefinery & Terminals, where some 80,000 gallons of methanol spilled from a tank rupture into Greens Bayou, which enters the ship channel just downstream of the Magellan terminal. Highly flammable and explosive, methanol can cause brain lesions and other disorders.

The property, once the site of the nation’s largest biofuels refinery, was in violation of federal hazardous waste-management rules the first half of 2017. Texas cited the property’s owners for failing to prove they could manage licensed wastes, including oily sludge and petroleum distillates, records show.

Dennis Frost, the on-site manager for Gulf Coast Energy, the tenant of Channel Biorefinery, said he and co-workers did their best to prevent the spills.

“They were impossible to contain,” he said. “The water here down by our facility was up over 20 feet.”


Companies are required under federal law to report spills to the state and federal government but not to counties, which are the first line of defense against industrial pollution.

Harris County pollution control investigators queried more than 150 plants on Harvey-related spills, but many did not provide estimates.

“Spill information is provided as a courtesy,” said Latrice Babin, deputy director of the county’s pollution control office. “Likewise, there is no requirement of notification of evacuation.”

The largest spill, by far, was at ExxonMobil Corp.’s Olefins Plant in Baytown, east of the ship channel. Two days after Harvey hit, some 457 million gallons of stormwater mixed with untreated wastewater, including oil and grease, surged into an adjacent creek.

The spill was not reported to the public. In a water quality report filed with the county and obtained through an open records request, ExxonMobil said “available information does not indicate any potential danger to human health or safety or the environment.”

It did not include results of third-party water testing that the company said had been done. The plant has a history of federal air pollution violations and reported emitting 228 tons of airborne pollutants during Harvey.

Other large spills found in official records include:

– More than 3,000 pounds of benzene from Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Deer Park complex on the ship channel’s south bank. Initially, the company reported a half ton of phenol, which can burn skin and be potentially fatal, was spilled. It later revised that downward to just two pounds.

-About 34,000 pounds of sodium hydroxide, or lye, which can cause severe chemical burns, and unpermitted airborne emissions, including 28,000 pounds of benzene, from the Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. plant in Baytown, near where thousands of residents live along Cedar Bayou. A spokesman, Bryce Hallowell, said a containment pond kept about 38 percent of the lye from escaping the facility.

– About 60,000 tons of what Dow Chemical Co. called “non-hazardous biosolids” at the company’s plant in Deer Park. The company now says that roughly 50 tons of that consisted of biosolids and that the rest was “primarily” stormwater.

Yvette Arellano of the advocacy group Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services surveyed the area by helicopter on Sept. 4.

She reported seeing flooded tank farms, fluorescent liquid streaming from Exxon’s outfalls, and refineries and chemical plants flaring gas intensely like giant candles.

“The entire skyscape looked like a birthday cake,” Arellano said.


As Harvey bore down on Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott’s administration decreed that storm-related pollution would be forgiven as “acts of God.” Days later, he suspended many environmental regulations.

On Sept. 1, just as residents in some areas of Houston started dragging soggy belongings to the curb, the city experienced Texas’ worst ozone pollution of the year.

A top city health official emailed the EPA on Sept. 1 with a request marked “urgent,” asking for help in determining whether spills and leaks at industrial and Superfund sites threatened the public. Three days later, after getting no response, she emailed again, records obtained in a public information act request show.

“We are finding alarming levels of benzene in the neighborhood next to Valero . Should EPA evacuate the residents?”

There was no record of an EPA email response, though the agency did send a mobile air-monitoring van on Sept. 5.

By then, Houston had done its own air monitoring, recording a high benzene level of 324 parts per billion – more than three times the level at which federal worker safety guidelines recommend special breathing equipment. The city was aided by the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, which dispatched a mobile van from California to track the toxic benzene plume.

On Sept. 7, state investigators took air samples near Valero and reported suffering headaches and dizziness, though they said they found pollutants “below levels of short-term health and/or welfare concern,” according to a state report.

The EPA said it also conducted 28 flights over 12 days beginning Aug. 31 using a plane equipped to evaluate “unreported or undetected” chemical releases. It flew over nearly 700 industrial sites, municipal wastewater treatment plants and other facilities, and EPA said it found no pollution exceeding state-permitted levels.

In at least seven “status reports” the EPA and TCEQ posted online from Sept. 3 and Oct. 6, they said all measurements “were well below levels of health concern.”

Coleman, who retired in January after 29 years with EPA, said he was comfortable with the advisories, saying they were general assessments. “Were there hotspots? Absolutely,” he said in a recent interview. “But on any given day, within some isolated area, there could be a problem.”

AP and Chronicle reporters asked the EPA and state regulators for a detailed accounting of any soil and water testing they did after Harvey, along with any investigations or sanctions.

The responses mostly cited online bulletins, in which the EPA said it had assessed all 43 Superfund cleanup sites in the hurricane-affected area and cleared all but one – the San Jacinto River Waste Pits, which was leaking dioxins. An examination of the 17 state Superfund sites found “no major issues,” regulators said.

State officials said they didn’t test any sediment that may have been deposited elsewhere by floodwaters. The EPA tested water at an unspecified number of industrial sites but did not disclose results.

Without elaborating, the state said it had a number of open investigations. The EPA refused to discuss whom it might be investigating, beyond Valero and Arkema.

With a few exceptions, companies with spills did not call local emergency responders, meaning the public was not informed in real time. Instead, the companies handled the spills in-house, the Chronicle and AP found in surveying local and county fire officials.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which handles countywide emergency response and routinely dispatches a special investigator to major spills, said it was not alerted to 22 of 23 spills that reporters asked about, based on size and potential toxicity.

The Arkema plant was the exception. Impossible to go unnoticed, its containers of liquid organic peroxides exploded after floodwaters disabled backup generators. Sickened first responders have filed suit, as have Harris and Liberty counties, which claim the company violated numerous environmental and safety regulations.

Bob Royall, emergency operations chief for the county’s Fire Marshal office, said his agency was alerted to Arkema and the Williams’ hydrochloric acid leak but no one informed it at the time of the nearly half-million-gallon Magellan spill.

Like spills on land, unpermitted releases of air toxins are self-reported in Texas – a state that has long been friendly to heavy industry. As attorney general, prior to being elected governor, Abbott had sued the federal government more than a dozen times to challenge environmental regulations that he deemed over-reaching.

The governor’s Harvey disaster declaration suspended environmental reporting and record-keeping rules as well as liability for unauthorized emissions for the duration of the disaster declaration, which was most recently renewed on March 16. A spokesman for the state environmental agency said the suspensions only apply when rules would hinder disaster response.

An attorney for the nonprofit Austin-based Environmental Integrity Project said that while federal environmental laws remained in effect, the governor’s action essentially put state regulators on the sidelines and made it more difficult to hold polluters accountable. “The state tied its own hands before it knew the scope or the magnitude or any of the effects of the storm,” said attorney Ilan Levin.

The TCEQ itself has a long track record of industry tolerance. State auditors in 2003 found it was late in ordering and collecting fines, giving polluters $25 million a year in discounts. A study by Levin’s group found the agency penalized only 3 percent of air pollution incidents reported by all companies statewide from 2011 to 2016.

Two Texas laws enacted since mid-2015 have weakened counties’ ability to police polluters. The first caps at $2.15 million what they can collect from polluters in lawsuits. The rest must go to the state. The second law took effect Sept. 1. It obliges counties to give the state right of first refusal on any pollution enforcement cases, which local officials say could mean less punitive action.

“Every time we’ve been able to make something – you get a large judgment against one of these companies, get some significant process-changing injunctive relief – they come back around behind us to the legislature,” said Owens. “And they have clipped our wings.”

Houston Chronicle reporter Alex Stuckey contributed to this story. and and @chrondigger

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Hurricane Harvey's toxic impact deeper than public told
Hurricane Harvey's toxic impact deeper than public told

Keeping refugee families apart, reuniting others next door

AP Photo
AP Photo/Martha Irvine

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Sitting in apartment complexes on opposite sides of town, the women – one a former shopkeeper from Somalia, the other a teacher from Bhutan – waited for children to come home.

Only the teacher, Devi Gurung, was rewarded for her patience.

On the landing outside an apartment decorated with Buddhist prayer flags, she watched as a school bus turned down the block and the niece she had not seen in four years, hopped to the curb.

“I am lucky,” said Gurung, reunited with her sister’s family just a few days earlier after spending more than half her life in a refugee camp.

The next morning, Amina Olow smiled, too, but faintly, as she recalled the daughters she has not seen in nearly a decade. Then she unfolded a letter from U.S. immigration officials, dated more than a year ago, that seemed to promise the two girls would join her soon. She’s heard nothing since.

“My kids, they’re a part of my body,” Olow said, her voice breaking.

Olow and Gurung are both here, within 20 minutes of Ohio State University’s football horseshoe, because the U.S. government has granted them safe haven. But that’s where their stories diverge.

Starting early last year, the administration of President Donald Trump banned arrivals from several, mostly Muslim countries, cut the cap on refugee admissions and suspended a program to reunite families split in the resettlement pipeline.

For thousands of refugee families already building new lives in the U.S., the changes are playing out in decidedly unnerving and uneven ways. The restrictions have kept many families apart, while allowing some to reunite, sorting people by country, and effectively by religion.

When Somali refugee Fadumo Hussein and her daughters joined protesters at John Glenn Columbus International Airport last January to protest the administration’s restrictions on arrivals, they did so for very personal reasons. Weeks before the ban was announced, Hussein’s parents, who are 75 and 76, had been approved for entry to the U.S. Their arrival was scheduled for last February. More than a year later, they remain stuck in Uganda, their case on hold.

Watching Bhutanese neighbors welcome their own family members from a refugee camp in the months since, Hussein’s been “happy for them because they were able to reunite,” but also confused.

“What is different about us, like Somalis or the other countries that are being banned,” her daughter, Afnan Salem, asked, “when we are all coming for the same reasons?

In the mid-1800s, Ohio’s capital city became a stronghold of German immigrants, who settled in the red-brick blocks that now form a historic “village” just south of downtown.

But in recent years, Columbus has become a magnet for refugees from Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. They’re drawn by affordable rents, plentiful jobs in distribution centers that require little or no English – and, most importantly, family already here.

Low-rise apartment complexes on Columbus’ north side have become the center of the largest U.S. population of Bhutanese refugees, most who are Buddhist or Hindu and were expelled during a government-led ethnic cleansing campaign against ethnic Nepalis in the early 1990s.

More than 20,000 Bhutanese now live alongside the country’s second largest Somali refugee community – overwhelmingly Muslim, and from one of the countries whose arrivals have been most sharply reduced. They’ve been joined by a growing population of refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo, most of them Christian.

Today, shopping centers on or near Morse Road are speckled with Nepali groceries and African restaurants serving dishes with the staple cassava flour called fufu.

“Everybody has a dream that if I go, there will be a chance for my son to come or my mother to come,” said Jhuma Acharya, who came to Columbus as a refugee from Bhutan and now works for Community Refugee & Immigration Services, or CRIS, one of the city’s two resettlement agencies.

But for many, Trump’s policies have shaken those expectations.

“There’s certainly a pretty dramatic shift” in the mix and number of refugees being allowed in, said Kathleen Newland, a fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

The U.S. is on track to take in the smallest number of refugees since Congress passed a law in 1980 creating the modern resettlement system. At the current rate, the U.S. will take in about 21,000 refugees this fiscal year, well below the cap of 45,000 set by the administration and roughly a quarter those granted entry in the final year of Barack Obama’s presidency.

The administration is also cutting the resettlement system itself, telling executives of nine private agencies they must close any office expected to place fewer than 100 refugees this year.

In citing security concerns to exclude refugees from certain countries, Newland said, the administration has skewed the ethnic and religious makeup of the much smaller number allowed entry. About 15 percent of refugees admitted to the U.S. this fiscal year are Muslim, down from 47 percent a year ago, federal figures show.

U.S. officials say there is no preference for refugees of one religion over another: “The United States is committed to assisting people of all religions, ethnicities, and nationalities who are fleeing persecution, violence, and other drivers of displacement,” a State Department spokeswoman said in a written response to questions. The administration resumed the program to reunify refugee families in December, she said, responding to a judge’s injunction.

Trump’s policies have sharply cut refugee arrivals to many cities. In Toledo, for example, the resettlement agency US Together had taken in 180 Syrians since 2014. Since last July, though, there has not been a single new arrival from the country, program director Corine Dehabey said.

But renewed admissions of refugees from Bhutan and Congo, as well as from Ukraine, have made Columbus something of an anomaly, said Angie Plummer, executive director of CRIS.

Most Americans probably know little of either the tiny Himalayan kingdom or the country long known as Zaire. But Trump’s policy has left them as the two largest contributors to the dwindling pool of new refugees, accounting for 45 percent of the 8,600 arrivals since October, government figures show.

“We are not Muslims that they would hate to bring here … and we’re not from any of the listed countries,” said Sudarshan Pyakurel, who arrived as a refugee in 2010 and is now director of the Bhutanese Nepali Community of Columbus, a center offering English classes, wellness programs and walk-in assistance. “We don’t fit in any of those boxes.”

Authorities plan to close the camp housing Bhutanese this year, and relocate most of its last remaining inhabitants to the U.S. But early last year, “there was a rumor back in the refugee camp that America was not taking any more refugees,” Devi Gurung said. The Trump’s administration’s freeze on new admissions left her worrying if she’d ever again see her older sister, Harka, who was resettled in Columbus with her husband and daughter in 2014.

That was until last month, when Gurung and her parents learned they had been approved for entry. By then, her father, Til Bahadur Gurung, 59, said he had long given up hope of returning to the land in southern Bhutan where he had farmed rice and millet. The only planes they’d ever seen were the ones that crossed the sky over the refugee camp.

But after 18 hours in the air, the elder Gurung exited the vessel he calls “the big tube.” Eden, his 8-year-old granddaughter, was waiting to embrace him.

In recent months, far fewer Muslim families have experienced similar exaltation. In the first two months of this year, the U.S. accepted 49 refugees from Somalia, 19 from Iraq and five from Syria. That is down sharply from the 1,094 Somalis, 1,860 Iraqis and 1,991 Syrian refugees admitted in the first two months of 2017.

Just two years ago, CRIS assisted 15 to 30 new arrivals from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan each month.

They included Alizabet Yandem and four of her children. In July 2016 they joined her husband, Rifat Moustafa, a lawyer who said he fled his native Syria after he was jailed and beaten with an electric cable for criticizing the Assad regime’s record on human rights.

But their son, Hasib, remained in the Middle East after officials held up his petition. Moustafa suspected an objection to his son’s malformed left arm and hand, which need surgery. But the family expected approval within months. Then the new administration took office, and the case stalled.

Officially, Trump’s policies on refugees do not apply to Moustafa, who was granted political asylum after arrival in the U.S. But resettlement officials said they suspect the stepped up vetting and uncertainty under the new policies have caused widespread delays.

One recent afternoon, Moustafa chatted happily with his son via Facebook. But the father rushed out the door in sandals, ignoring the winter chill, as soon as the son began to sing of their five-year separation.

“I don’t want him to see that I am crying,” Moustafa said, lighting a Marlboro and wiping the back of a hand across his cheek. “I don’t want to lose my child.”

After years of working with many new arrivals, Firas Mousa, a former translator for the U.S. military in Iraq who works with refugees from the Middle East for CRIS, said he now has just a single active case. Those whose cases are stalled include his sister- and brother-in-law, who fled Iraq to Turkey in 2014. He said they were approved for refugee status by a UN surrogate agency in late 2016, but have heard nothing since.

“They said God will help us,” Mousa said. “Logic tells me if Trump is president I can’t expect any new refugees.”

For those already here, the changes are playing out in what can seem haphazard ways.

A few minutes before midnight, Esta Ausa peered down the concourse of the Columbus airport, ignoring friends’ teasing to relax and sit down. It had been 18 months since Ausa, 22, left her parents, brothers and sisters behind in a refugee camp in Tanzania to enter the U.S.

The family is among 675,000 Congolese the United Nations estimates have fled to neighboring countries, first to escape a brutal civil war and then renewed ethnic violence. After the U.S. put a temporary hold on new refugees last year, Ausa said, her parents’ approval to enter the U.S. was canceled twice.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” said Ausa, her words translated by Eric Rusingiza, a CRIS caseworker.

“They thought it was the end of their family coming,” Rusingiza said.

Then, the family’s American dream came true.

Ausa spotted a group of bewildered arrivals – their brand new red-yellow-and-blue winter jackets standing out in the brightly lit and nearly empty terminal.

“Mama?” she said. Then she danced toward the security perimeter, enfolding her mother, Mwavita Maulidi, in her arms.

“I thank God for everything,” said her father, Ausa Emedi, 46. In coming days, one of the first tasks would be seeking out a doctor who can ensure his treatment for epilepsy. But that would have to wait.

At 1:30 a.m., Emedi hauled bags into a bare two-bedroom apartment, paid for with aid the U.S. provides to covers refugees’ expenses during their first 90 days. One of his daughters, Machozi, 16, walked from room to room, opening closet and cabinet doors. Then they stood wide-eyed as the case worker demonstrated the workings of a flush toilet – like none they had ever seen before.

“They want to learn everything on the same day and it really can’t happen,” Rusingiza said. “It will take time.”

As the Ausas woke for their first morning in America, Olow, the Somali refugee, took a break from work to tell a decidedly different story.

When Olow last saw her daughters, 13-year-old Neemotallah and 10-year-old Nastexo, they were babies.

At the time, she was running a food shop in South Africa. After rioters attacked foreigners across that country in 2008 and looted her store, she took her daughters to live with their aunt in Kenya, and tried unsuccessfully to salvage her business. She was admitted to the U.S. in 2014.

U.S. officials eventually accepted DNA tests proving her kinship with the girls, said Olow, who now works in an apartment leasing office, the only staffer in a hijab. She unfolded the letter to her husband, a truck driver, from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, approving her older daughter’s petition and dated last March.

“We are a family. We have a right to be together,” she said. “And the president should have empathy for families that have been dislocated, just like mine. We need one another.”

As Olow walked back through the desks, site manager Janet Siford noticed her tears.

“Amina, I’m sorry,” said Siford, herself the mother of four. “We got you, we got you. One day at a time, OK?”

She leaned over, wrapping her arms around Olow and cradling the refugee’s scarfed head on her shoulder.

“We’re like sisters,” Siford said. “We hug. We laugh. We cry.”

Multimedia journalist Martha Irvine contributed to this report.

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Keeping refugee families apart, reuniting others next door
Keeping refugee families apart, reuniting others next door

NCAA Latest: Villanova-Michigan set for national title game

AP Photo
AP Photo/David J. Phillip

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Latest on the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament (all times local):

10:15 p.m.

The Final Four is down to two teams: Villanova will play for its second national championship in three years when the Wildcats face Michigan on Monday night.

Two years after Jalen Brunson and coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats triumphed in Houston, they’ll be the favorites to do it again in the Lone Star State.

Their final obstacle is a Wolverines team currently led by German center Moe Wagner, a nightmare matchup for most opponents.

But Villanova is a 3-point shooting machine that tests the depth and defense of every opponent. The Wolverines have scrapped and clawed for most of their victories during March Madness, but that resourcefulness should be fully tested by the No. 1-seeded Wildcats.

Michigan is in the title game for the second time under coach John Beilein, who has never won a national championship. His 2013 Wolverines lost to Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals in Atlanta.

10 p.m.

Villanova is going to play for another national championship.

Eric Paschall had 24 points, including four of the Wildcats’ record 18 3-pointers, in a 95-79 win over the Kansas Jayhawks. Jalen Brunson, the AP national player of the year added 18 points, while Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo each had 15.

The Wildcats set all kind of records while making all those long-range shots. They had the most made 3s in a Final Four game, and now have the most ever in a single NCAA tournament with 66 in their five games – and one more game to play. They also set the NCAA single-season record.

Villanova, the national champion two years ago when the Final Four was also in Texas, plays Michigan on Monday night.

The only time Kansas led was when Udoka Azubuike hit a jumper on the first shot of the game. The Wildcats then scored 11 straight points, including 3s by three different players in less than 90 seconds.

AP All-America guard Devonte’ Graham, the Big 12 player of the year, had 23 points for the Jayhawks. Malik Newman added 21.

Kansas won the last of its five national titles five years ago, the last time the Final Four was in San Antonio’s Alamodome.

9:40 p.m.

Kansas is running out of time to make a comeback in the national semifinal against Villanova.

The Jayhawks were with 71-57, the closest since the opening minute of the second half, when Malik Newman made a jumper. But they then missed their next five field goal attempts.

Villanova led 74-57, after its first free throw and a field goal, at the under-eight media timeout.

9:30 p.m.

Villanova went to the free throw line for the first time with 8:48 left in the game – after the Wildcats had already made 17-of-36 3-pointers.

Jalen Brunson made 1-of-2 free throws after being fouled by Silvio De Sousa.

9:20 p.m.

The Villanova Wildcats keep setting new records with all those 3-pointers they are making in the Final Four.

Their 17 3s so far against Kansas on way to a 67-47 lead are the most ever in a Final Four game. They had 13 before halftime to match the previous mark.

With four more 3s in the second half, the Wildcats have 65 in this NCAA Tournament, breaking VMI’s the previous record for a single tourney with 61 in 2011. Villanova earlier in the game broke VMI’s single-season record for 3s.

Eric Paschall has four of Villanova’s 3s so far.

8:55 p.m.

Villanova has already matched the record for the most 3-pointers in a Final Four game with 13 against Kansas. And the Wildcats still have a whole half left to play in the national semifinal.

Seven different players made 3-pointers for the Wildcats as they jumped out to a 47-32 halftime lead.

Jalen Brunson, the AP national player of the year, had three 3s for Villanova as part of his game-high 13 points. Four other players had also hit multiple 3s.

Kansas had 13 total made field goals in the first half. Big 12 player of the year and AP All-America guard Devonte’ Graham led the Jayhawks with 10 points.

8:40 p.m.

Those long-range shots keep going in for Villanova.

The Wolverines have made 13 3-pointers (out of 21 attempts) in the first 17 minutes against Kansas for a 43-28 lead . They came into the national semifinal only six made 3s shy of the NCAA single-season record.

Seven different players already had made 3s for Villanova. Five of those had multiple 3s, led by AP player of the eyar Jalen Brunson’s three.

The Wildcats were 4-of-24 on 3s in their East Region final, but had made 44 3-pointers in their previous three NCAA Tournament games.

Villanova now has 449 made 3s for this season, breaking the record VMI had set in 2007.

8:15 p.m.

Villanova is hitting its 3-pointers in the Final Four, matching an NCAA record and jumping out to a 22-4 lead over Kansas.

The Wildcats made six 3-pointers in the first 7 minutes of the national semifinal game.

Those early 3s gave the Wildcats have 442 this season, matching the NCAA single-season record set by VMI in 2007.

The Wildcats started 6-of-10 from long range. Five different players made 3-pointers.

After Kansas got the first basket of the game, three different Wildcats hit from 3-point range in a span of 1:24. Jayhawks coach Bill Self called timeout at the 17:13 mark after 3s by Eric Paschall, Mikal Bridges and Omari Spellman.

Villanova made only four 3-pointers in their 71-59 East Region final victory over Texas Tech, its second-lowest total of the season.

8 p.m.

It’s time to determine which No. 1 seed – Kansas or Villanova – will play against Michigan for the national championship.

The Jayhawks and Wildcats, who both have won multiple national titles, have tipped off in the second national semifinal game. Michigan beat Loyola-Chicago 69-57 earlier in the Alamodome.

Villanova won its second NCAA championship only two years ago in Houston – which is only about a 200-mile drive along Interstate 10 from San Antonio. The Wildcats got their first title since 1985 when Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat North Carolina.

Kansas has won five national championships, but its last was 10 years ago. That was also the last time the Final Four was played in the Alamodome.

7:15 p.m.

Michigan is moving on to the national championship game for the first time since 2013 after ending Loyola-Chicago’s incredible run in the NCAA Tournament.

Moe Wagner had 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Wolverines, who overcame a 10-point deficit early in the second half to beat Loyola 69-57. Charles Matthews added 17 points.

The Ramblers, the No. 11 seed in the South Region, were in their first Final Four since 1963 – the year they were national champions.

Freshman center Cameron Krutwig had 17 points and Clayton Custer 15 for Loyola, which finished the season 32-6. That was a school record for wins.

The Wolverines (33-7) will play Villanova or Kansas – a pair of No. 1 seeds meeting in the other semifinal game Saturday night in the Alamodome – in the championship game Monday.

Michigan has won 14 games in a row after ending Loyola’s 14-game winning streak.

7:05 p.m.

Loyola-Chicago is going to need some more answered prayers to have another game at the Final Four.

Moe Wagner and the Michigan Wolverines are trying to end the magical ride in the NCAA Tournament for the Ramblers and Sister Jean.

Wagner has 24 points and 15 rebounds for the Wolverines, who have overcome a 10-point deficit in the second half to lead 61-53 with 1:39 left in the first national semifinal game.

6:55 p.m.

Marques Townes is hobbled for Loyola-Chicago after coming down awkwardly on his left knee while missing badly on a 3-point shot.

Townes was on the bench when Michigan tied the game at 47 at the 6:56 mark, though he re-entered with 6:20 left after trying to stretch it out on the bench and convincing coach Porter Moses he was OK to get back in the game.

6:45 p.m.

Michigan fifth-year senior Duncan Robinson is the first player ever to score in a Division I and a Division III men’s basketball semifinal game.

And his two second-half 3-pointers in the second half could be a good sign for the Wolverines.

Michigan is 28-0 when Robinson scores six points or more. He was scoreless at half.

Before transferring to Michigan three years ago, Robinson played at Williams College in Massachusetts. He played for the Ephs in the 2014 Division III semifinals.

6:20 p.m.

Michigan started the second half against Loyola-Chicago with its biggest deficit in the NCAA Tournament since falling behind 10-0 in the first 4 minutes of its first-round game against Montana.

Loyola-Chicago, the No. 11 seed from the South Region, led the Wolverines 29-22 in the Alamodome. Then the Ramblers started the second half with a three-point play to make it 32-22.

The Wolverines, the No. 3 seed in the West Region, erased their deficit against Montana and led 31-28 at halftime of that game. This was the first time they have trailed at halftime in the NCAA Tournament.

6:10 p.m.

Ten of the 13 members of the Basketball Hall of Fame’s newest induction class have been introduced at halftime of Michigan’s game against Loyola Chicago at the Final Four.

The Alamodome crowd warmly welcomed the group of basketball luminaries, which includes Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Grant Hill, Ray Allen and Tina Thompson.

Their honor was announced earlier in the day, and they’ll be enshrined in Springfield, Massachusetts in September.

Even Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt joined in the cheers and applause for the honorees. From her seat two rows behind courtside, Loyola-Chicago’s 98-year-old superfan clapped the longest for Hill, Allen and Thompson, the WNBA great.

6:05 p.m.

Sister Jean and the Loyola-Chicago fans are feeling pretty good at halftime, with the Ramblers leading Michigan 29-22 in the first game at the Final Four.

Donte Ingram ended the half for Loyola-Chicago by grabbing an offensive rebound and making a short jumper just before the buzzer.

The Ramblers were down by as many as eight points early after missing eight of their first 10 shots. They made eight of 14 shots after that and have three players with eight points – Aundre Jackson, Marques Townes and Cameron Krutwig.

Moe Wagner has 11 points and 11 rebounds for Michigan, which is 9-of-31 shooting (29 percent). The Wolverines are 2-of-13 on 3-pointers.

5:50 p.m.

Michigan center Moe Wagner already has a double-double in the first half against Loyola-Chicago.

Wagner, the 6-foot-11 junior from Germany, had 11 points and 10 rebounds with 2:46 left in the half. He had five offensive rebounds, though the Wolverines had fallen behind 25-19.

5:35 p.m.

Loyola-Chicago has finally ended its long field-goal drought at the Final Four.

The Ramblers missed eight straight shots and went 7� minutes without a basket before Donte Ingram found Aundre Jackson for a layup inside at the 10:17 mark.

Loyola-Chicago started the game by missing nine of its first 11 shots. But Jackson got open inside, then Marques Townes hit a contested jumper over Jordan Poole at the 9:19 mark to beat the shot clock.

Michigan leads 12-10.

5:25 p.m.

Loyola-Chicago is off to a bad start in the Final Four, missing eight of its first 10 shots and going more than 5 minutes without a field goal.

The Ramblers are also getting out-rebounded 12-6 and have already given up seven second-chance points less than 8 minutes into the game.

Michigan was up 12-4 at the 12:38 mark.

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NCAA Latest: Villanova-Michigan set for national title game
NCAA Latest: Villanova-Michigan set for national title game

Vehicle crashes into German crowd, leaves 3 dead, 20 injured

BERLIN (AP) — A vehicle crashed into a crowd Saturday outside a popular bar in the western German city of Muenster, killing three people and injuring 20 others, police said.

Police spokesman Andreas Bode told reporters the driver of the vehicle killed himself after the crash. He said the driver’s identity was not yet known and that it was too early to speculate about his motive.

He also said six of the 20 injured people were in severe condition.

Police tweeted that residents should “avoid the area near the Kiepenkerl pub” in the city’s historic downtown area where a large-scale police operation was underway.

Police said a suspicious object was found in the van and they’re still examining it to see if it is dangerous. They told German news agency dpa that the object was the reason why a large area around the scene was sealed off after the crash.

Muenster Mayor Markus Lewe said the reason for the crash was still unclear.

German news Television n-tv showed a narrow street sealed off with red-and-white police tape. Dozens of ambulances were waiting near the cordoned-off downtown area. Helicopters were flying overhead.

Muenster, a major university city, has about 300,000 residents and an attractive city center rebuilt after World War II.

Lino Baldi, who owns an Italian restaurant in Muenster near the scene of the crash, told Sky TG24 that the city center was packed due to a Saturday market and summer-like temperatures, which had risen to 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) from just 12 degrees (low 50s) a day earlier.

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Vehicle crashes into German crowd, leaves 3 dead, 20 injured
Vehicle crashes into German crowd, leaves 3 dead, 20 injured

Trump shuffle: Suddenly trade guru Navarro takes spotlight

AP Photo
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the squabbling Trump White House, no insider is ever above rebuke and no one blacklisted beyond redemption. Trade adviser Peter Navarro, once barred from sending private emails and spotted skulking in West Wing hallways, has abruptly emerged from the chaos ascendant.

With his chief ideological rival, Gary Cohn, now headed for the exit, Navarro and his protectionist trade policies are taking center stage as President Donald Trump prepares to impose the steep tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that Navarro has long championed.

Navarro, a 68-year-old former economics professor whose ideas were once considered well outside the mainstream, joined the Trump campaign in 2016 after one of his books on China happened to catch the eye of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner during an internet search.

From the presidential campaign, Navarro made the leap to the new administration to head a new White House National Trade Council. But he was quickly sidelined by chief of staff John Kelly and closely managed by former staff secretary Rob Porter.

As alliances shifted and staffers departed, though, Navarro made his move, encouraging Trump to embrace a plan that many economists, lawmakers and White House aides warn could lead to a trade war and imperil U.S. economic gains.

The president and the combative Navarro share the same hard-line views on trade that were a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign. For decades, both men have accused China of unfair trade practices that have displaced American workers and hobbled the U.S. manufacturing base.

“Peter speaks the same language as Trump does on these issues,” said Stephen Moore, a former Trump campaign adviser who is now a visiting fellow at The Heritage Foundation. “He and Trump agree on an America First policy when it comes to trade and other issues, so he has emerged as a policy force in this administration.”

Like Stephen Miller on immigration, Navarro has now become the face of Trump’s trade plan. In interviews since Trump’s surprise promise to impose the sweeping tariffs, Navarro has forcefully defended his boss and minimized any potential negative impact on the U.S.

“There’s negligible-to-nothing effects,” he said dismissively on CBS, later accusing the media of hyping prospects of a trade war.

Navarro had limited contact with Trump world until early in the campaign, when Kushner was drawn to his book, “Death by China,” while researching China policy. Kushner reached out and Navarro quickly became an economic adviser.

Despite his credentials as a Harvard Ph.D. and former professor at the University of California, Irvine, Navarro was less an academic focused on research than a master of controversy writing books such as “The Coming China Wars.” He has professed views that go further even than academic peers who see China’s emergence in the global economy as hurting many U.S. workers.

“Trump has unconventional views on many issues. And here was an economist of some acclaim who was validating those positions,” Moore said.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, who has known Navarro for more than a decade, described him as “someone who certainly speaks his mind and is not afraid to present ideas and data that are contrarian. And I think way more often than not, he makes a very persuasive case.”

Persuasive to like-minded Trump, perhaps, but not to many free-trade-loving Republicans.

“I think he’s wrong on a lot of things,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah, who opposes the tariffs.

“We urge you to reconsider the idea of broad tariffs to avoid unintended negative consequences to the U.S. economy and its workers,” 107 House Republicans wrote in a letter to Trump on Wednesday.

A day away from the president’s expected official action, his spokeswoman did say Mexico, Canada or other countries may be spared under national security “carve-outs,” a possible move that could soften the tariff blow.

But Navarro is still riding high.

Early in Trump’s term, Navarro at first was outmaneuvered by Cohn, the Goldman Sachs president-turned-Trump economic adviser.

Cohn-Navarro discussions sometimes turned into shouting matches, occasionally in front of Trump.

Navarro, excluded from Trump’s trip to Asia last fall, was sometimes seen walking the West Wing halls at night. In an especially personal blow, he was required to copy in Cohn on all his emails after being accused of trying to circumvent West Wing processes, according to two people familiar with the policy. They spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss internal administration roles.

The White House regimen included a weekly trade policy meeting in the Roosevelt Room where aides with opposing views could talk through ideas to ensure recommendations brought to the president were fully vetted and legally sound. When Porter left, said one of the people, the process broke down and Navarro and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross made their move.

Asked on Fox whether he’d conducted “guerrilla warfare,” sneaking around the West Wing and trying to making an end-run around staffers, Navarro dismissed the narrative as a “cheap shot” spread by “all sorts of malicious” leakers.

Others said Navarro had bided his time, keeping his head down, persistently building his case. He waited as tariff decision deadlines set by Ross ticked closer, and the White House turned its attention back to trade after deciding to table the divisive issue while it worked on health care and taxes.

“For a long time, there were a lot of long knives out to get him,” said Paul, who served as a member of the White House Manufacturing Jobs Initiative before resigning last summer.

In the end though, said Paul, “I think it’s pretty clear that the president is siding with the economic nationalists.”

Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Trump shuffle: Suddenly trade guru Navarro takes spotlight
Trump shuffle: Suddenly trade guru Navarro takes spotlight

New headaches for Trump's Mideast hopes as Netanyahu visits

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AP Photo/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON (AP) — Under the best of circumstances, a Mideast peace deal is the Holy Grail of diplomacy, a goal that has eluded American presidents for generations.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set to visit Washington this coming week, the mix of politics, personalities and historical grievances that has stood in the way of Israeli-Palestinian peace is even more combustible than normal.

President Donald Trump’s point man for mediation, Jared Kushner, is in the middle of a political firestorm, his plan remains a mystery and the Palestinians aren’t even speaking to the White House. If that weren’t enough, Netanyahu and Trump are both distracted by mushrooming legal investigations at home.

It’s all contributing to an intensified pessimism in the U.S., Israel and the West Bank about prospects for a Trump-brokered initiative to succeed.

Kushner and a small team have spent the past year preparing a much-awaited blueprint for peace, but no details have emerged. Many in the region wonder whether the vaunted plan will ever come.

On the surface, Israel’s relationship with the White House has never been better, buoyed by the Jewish state’s thunderous support for Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and recognize the disputed city as Israel’s capital. The announcements only reinforced Palestinians impressions of Trump as biased against them.

“A mediator will have to mediate between two semi-equal parties. Otherwise it’s not a mediation process,” said Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to Washington, in a recent Associated Press interview. “You have to level the field and level your relationship between the two sides in order to be an honest mediator.”

The world may soon be able to judge for itself.

The Trump administration’s peace proposal is near completion, according to U.S. officials, but faces an uncertain future as Kushner, the Trump son-in-law leading the effort, recently lost his top-secret security clearance. Former negotiators say Kushner’s downgraded status probably will severely impair his ability to do the job.

Beneath the veneer of U.S.-Israeli unity, there is lingering disagreement and suspicion.

Israel is increasingly worried that Trump is backsliding on a pledge to “fix” or dismantle the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Israel also is concerned that behind Trump’s tough public stance toward Tehran is an acquiescence to Iran’s growing presence in Syria and influence in Lebanon – two Israeli neighbors.

“The Israelis now are undoubtedly sounding the alarm,” said Jonathan Schanzer, who researches Iran’s regional influence at the hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies. “The assets the Israelis see on the other side of the border to its north – they are not happy.”

Nevertheless, it’s in Netanyahu’s interest to keep such disputes out of the public eye, said David Makovsky, a former State Department official who worked on Mideast peace negotiations. The Israeli leader faces multiple investigations related to allegations of bribery and corruption.

“It’s important for him not to run afoul of Trump,” said Makovsky, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It’s necessary for him to show he’s not so engulfed by his own legal problems that he’s not functioning as a leader.”

Trump and Netanyahu are scheduled to meet Monday, in the middle of the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference, which brings thousands of pro-Israel officials, lawmakers, activists and academics to Washington.

Vice President Mike Pence, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Trump’s envoy to Israel, David Friedman, will give speeches, and each is likely to hammer away at Iran.

Israel views Iran as an existential threat and Netanyahu has repeatedly implored Trump to “fix it or nix it” when it comes to the nuclear deal. That agreement, negotiated by the Obama administration and other world powers, rewarded Iran with billions of dollars in sanctions relief for curbing its nuclear program.

Critics, including Netanyahu and Trump, say Tehran got too much for too little. Among the remedies they’re advocating: removal of several of the deal’s clauses that allow Iran to gradually resume advanced nuclear work starting in 2024.

Trump has said he won’t renew U.S. waivers for sanctions when they next expire on May 12 unless European countries agree to a new deal that would force them to punish Tehran if the Iranians resume advanced nuclear work. He wants tougher inspections and penalties for Iranian missile testing. He also wants Europe to punish Iran’s support for the anti-Israeli militant group Hezbollah, Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

Israeli officials are most immediately concerned about Iran’s missile work. They want U.S. and European commitments to punish Iran for work on medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel and Iran’s Arab rivals. The Europeans have balked, citing U.N. restrictions that focus only on longer-range projectiles. U.S. officials negotiating with Britain, France and Germany appear to agree with the Europeans, prompting the Israeli concern.

Trump’s Mideast peace aspirations aren’t any more certain. After winning praise in Israel for his Jerusalem proclamation, he made clear the Israelis would have to make concessions, too. He hasn’t said what those might be.

“You won one point, and you’ll give up some points later in the negotiation, if there’s ever a negotiation,” Trump said in January.

Reach Matthew Lee on Twitter at and Josh Lederman at

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New headaches for Trump's Mideast hopes as Netanyahu visits
New headaches for Trump's Mideast hopes as Netanyahu visits

A fertility doctor's secret, a special kinship decades later

ZIONSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Matt White remembers that day in September 2016 when a mystery began to unravel that would change his life.

It started when White read a news report that Dr. Donald Cline, a retired Indianapolis fertility specialist, faced charges for lying when he denied he’d inseminated unwitting patients with his own sperm decades earlier. He searched out Cline’s address online, recognizing it as the location of his mother’s former doctor. Then he Googled the doctor’s name. When a photo popped up, he was stunned: He looked like Cline.

“It was just too similar to be coincidental,” he says. White had long known he was a donor baby, but that day, he had an eerie feeling he was staring at the man who was likely his biological father.

Around the same time, Julie Harmon saw a TV news story about Cline. She’d discovered years earlier that her blood type indicated she was not the child of both her parents. She didn’t follow up to find out why, but the report about Cline, her mother’s fertility doctor, was unnerving.

“In the pit of my stomach,” she says, “I knew something was wrong.”

The TV story featured Jacoba Ballard, whose mother had also gone to Cline and whose complaint to the state helped launched an investigation. Harmon contacted Ballard through Facebook, and they traded photos. There were striking similarities.

“I looked at pictures of her, and I knew,” Harmon says. “We even part our hair the same.”

These two women and White recently crowded into an Indianapolis courtroom to hear Cline receive a one-year suspended sentence for lying to investigators when he denied wrongdoing; DNA tests determined he is the biological father of Ballard and another woman whose mother was his patient. Cline apologized “for the pain my actions have caused” but didn’t specify how often he used his own sperm in procedures – court documents say he told Ballard about 50 times.

Cline’s sentencing, though, was not the end of this story. Instead, in an extraordinary epilogue, three one-time strangers – White, Harmon and Ballard – have forged a kinship as brother and sisters, even as they wrestle with the revelation about their identities. They’ve also reached out to 21 other men and women, all in their 30s, who’ve been identified through DNA tests as half-siblings – evidence, they say, that Cline is likely their father, as well. About a half-dozen of them live in central Indiana.

Many stay in touch through a private Facebook page, and several gathered last fall for a cookout with their spouses, children and three mothers who’d been Cline patients. Others have gone on social outings, shared childhood photos, taken note of similarities (most of the men are over 6 feet tall) and, at times, confided in one another private details of their lives.

“It’s a very surreal experience,” White says. “I’ve shared personal stories that I haven’t shared with anyone but my wife. You have almost this instant bond with people who are not only part of this horrible situation, but you can relate to them on an intimate level in a way you can’t with anyone else.”

White says they’ve joked about having a ready pool of possible bone marrow and transplant donors. But this DNA discovery has left emotional scars, too. For the three public faces of this unique club, it has been a wrenching experience.

Jacoba Ballard was angry when she sat in court in December, describing a three-year ordeal that determined Cline is her biological father.

“There has not been one part of my life that has not suffered,” she told the judge. “I find myself mentally drained by thinking of this constantly. I now have anxiety, panic attacks. … I isolate myself from family and friends.”

Ballard, 37, says Cline told her mother he used donor sperm from medical residents. She’d known since she was 10 that she was a donor child, but in 2014, Ballard grew curious about her family history and thought she might be able to track down some brothers and sisters. She took a DNA test from, a biotech company that uses saliva samples to determine ancestry and identify distant and close relatives, health risks and physical traits.

Clients can choose whether to be identified in a “DNA relatives tool” that connects them to others. When Ballard’s results came back, they listed seven half-siblings, all but one identified by name. Ballard and two others got together, assembled a family tree and realized one common thread: Their mothers had gone to Cline for fertility treatments.

Ballard and a half-sister arranged to meet with two of Cline’s adult children. At first, she says, they denied their father had been a donor, then said he’d done so in a small number of cases. About a month later, Ballard and a group of the half-siblings met with Cline himself, and she says he told conflicting stories, finally saying he’d donated sperm about 50 times to help unknowing patients who desperately wanted children.

When Ballard filed a complaint with the Indiana attorney general’s office, Cline responded in a letter that anyone accusing him of being a donor “was guilty of slander and/or libel.” At his sentencing, he acknowledged using his sperm. “I was foolish in my actions, and I should not have lied,” he said.

Ballard’s DNA match to Cline was 99.9997, court records show.

The case wasn’t the first of its kind. In Virginia, Dr. Cecil Jacobson was convicted in 1992 of fraud and perjury for using his sperm to impregnate patients without telling them. Cline was convicted of obstruction of justice for lying to investigators, but a measure pushed by Ballard and others was introduced in the Indiana Senate this year to make it a crime for doctors to treat patients for infertility by using their own sperm or egg without consent. The measure didn’t receive a hearing, so it’s dead for this session; its sponsor has not yet decided if he’ll reintroduce it.

“I feel like our mothers were violated,” Ballard says. “He has torn all of our lives apart.”

If there is any comfort, she says, it’s in the camaraderie that’s developed among several half-siblings. They’ve gotten together for concerts, an occasional softball game for one of their kids and a few Christmas celebrations. White and Harmon attended the high school graduation ceremonies of Ballard’s two children, and the two women speak every day. They laugh about their similar tastes; they even prefer the same order at McDonald’s – no onions.

But Ballard has regrets, too. “He cheated himself out of knowing his children. That’s what we are.”

As for her half-siblings: “We also feel cheated that we didn’t get to know each other growing up.”

Julie Harmon always believed she had a biological bond with her father.

“I grew up thinking I had these characteristics of my father – his eyes, his skin tone. I’m flat-footed; my dad was, too. But then, 35 years later, for that to be ripped away from you – it’s really hard. I see a counselor to help with it, but I still cry about it every day.”

Harmon’s mother, Dianna Kiesler, says that based on discussions with Cline, she thought her husband was her donor, and after many years of trying, she was able to conceive with the help of drugs Cline prescribed. After Julie’s birth, her mother was so thrilled she visited the doctor to show her off.

Then decades later, Harmon took a 23andMe test at Ballard’s urging. The results that identified her as a half-sibling were devastating.

“I’ve lost my entire identity,” says the 36-year-old nurse. “Everything that I’ve known up until this point is not there.”

Barry Starr, a Stanford University geneticist, says if two people are identified as half-siblings from a DNA test and they don’t have the same mother, they will share the same father, assuming they aren’t grandparent and grandchild, uncle and niece or, in rare cases, first cousins.

Harmon says her father was crushed by the news. “He doesn’t talk about it to me,” she says. “He was very worried my kids would think he wasn’t their grandpa anymore. He’s very angry.”

Her mother, though, says: “No matter what happened, our daughter is our daughter. I carried her for nine months. He has helped her for 36 years. … She knows who her real parents are.”

Harmon says whenever she receives an online notification that a DNA test has identified another half-sibling, either she, Ballard or White will check Facebook to see if they have mutual friends who can explain the situation. If not, one of the three will try.

“Most of these people who are taking these tests have no idea that they have just opened up Pandora’s box,” she says. “They have no idea how their lives have changed.'”

Some prefer no further contact, but Harmon has formed deep friendships with others.

“I consider all of them my brothers and sisters,” she says. “I have all these siblings that I can talk to and spend time with and rely on. I couldn’t imagine going through this on my own. At least we all have each other, because no one truly understands this unless you’ve been through it. … We’re all in this together.”

The day after Matt White first saw a photo of Cline, he embarked on his own search for answers.

He contacted Ballard and took a 23andMe test, constantly checking for results. He’d known since he was a teen that he was conceived through a donor and had no interest in finding his biological father. Cline, he says, had told his mother her donor was a medical student – the same explanation he’d offered to many fertility patients.

“I went from not having a care to wanting to know everything,” says the 34-year-old White. He tracked down a medical school graduation photo of Cline and studied photos of Cline’s son online, noticing similar facial traits – a round face and high forehead.

He’s also detected a strong resemblance to Ballard.

“When I first met Jacoba, even to this day, I have a hard time not staring at her,” he says. “I see so much of my face in her.”

The connection, though, goes beyond appearances. White says he clicked instantly with another half-sister who was a 99.998 DNA match to Cline. At their first meeting, White says, they talked for five hours, developing an instant rapport.

White, a biologist, says he’s been able to open up with his new half-siblings, even discussing his own infertility problems, something he’s spoken about with very few people. White and his wife have two children conceived through in vitro fertilization.

“I’ve pretty much given up all my life’s secrets,” he says.

For a time, White says everywhere he’d go in the Indianapolis area, he’d be searching for anyone who resembled him, wondering: “Are they my brother? Are they my sister?”

With DNA tests becoming more popular, White believes their group will grow. As recently as a few weeks ago, he learned of another half-sibling. All were born between 1979 and 1987, and considering that’s a long span, he says:

“To think we’ve found all of us in a two-year period? That’s not likely. There’s got to be many more children out there.”

Sharon Cohen, a Chicago-based national writer, can be reached at or

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A fertility doctor's secret, a special kinship decades later
A fertility doctor's secret, a special kinship decades later

Kids chained in Calif. house of horrors; parents arrested

PERRIS, Calif. (AP) — A 17-year-old girl called police after escaping from her family’s home where she and her 12 brothers and sisters were locked up in filthy conditions, some so malnourished officers at first believed all were children even though seven are adults.

The girl, who was so small officers initially believed she was only 10, called 911 and was met by police who interviewed her and then went to the family home in Perris, about 70 miles southeast of Los Angeles. They found several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark, foul-smelling surroundings, according to the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.

The children, ages 2 to 29, “appeared to be malnourished and very dirty,” according to a press release announcing Sunday’s arrest of the parents. “The victims were provided with food and beverages after they claimed to be starving.”

David Allen Turpin, 57, and Louise Anna Turpin, 49, each were held on $9 million bail and could face charges including torture and child endangerment.

It wasn’t immediately known if they had attorneys.

State Department of Education records show the family home has the same address as Sandcastle Day School, where David Turpin is listed as principal. In the 2016-17 school year it had an enrollment of six with one student in each of the fifth, sixth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 12th grades.

Neighbors said they were stunned by the arrests. Andrew Santillan, who lives around the corner, heard about the case from a friend.

“I had no idea this was going on,” he told the Press-Enterprise of Riverside. “I didn’t know there were kids in the house.”

Other neighbors described the family as intensely private.

A few years ago, Robert Perkins said he and his mother saw a few family members constructing a Nativity scene in the Turpins’ front yard. Perkins said he complimented them on it.

“They didn’t say a word,” he said.

The Turpins filed for bankruptcy in 2011, stating in court documents they owed between $100,000 and $500,000, The New York Times reported. At that time, Turpin worked as an engineer at Northrop Grumman and earned $140,000 annually and his wife was a homemaker, records showed.

Their bankruptcy lawyer, Ivan Trahan, told the Times he never met the children but the couple “spoke about them highly.”

“We remember them as a very nice couple,” Trahan said, adding that Louise Turpin told him the family loved Disneyland and visited often.

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Kids chained in Calif. house of horrors; parents arrested
Kids chained in Calif. house of horrors; parents arrested