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The Latest: Metro resuming limited rail, bus service

Metro_do_Porto_Flexity_Outlook_Eurotram_TrindadeJackie Demcher, left, and Lisa Lindenmuth, of St. Clair, Pa., slide down a hill in Saint Clair on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. ((David McKeown/Republican-Herald via AP)

NEW YORK (AP) — The latest on recovery efforts following the blizzard that slammed a large swath of the United States (all times local):

10:45 a.m.

Washington’s Metro is resuming limited rail and bus service, and the rides are free for the day.

Rail service re-opened at 7 a.m. Monday with limited underground service on the red, orange and green lines. Metro said that as of 11 a.m. it intended to restore some above ground service on segments of the red, orange and green lines. That was to include all but one station in the District of Columbia.

Metro says trains are running every 20 to 25 minutes and that may be upgraded as conditions allow. Trains will run until midnight.

Bus service was scheduled to start at noon and run until 5 p.m. Monday on some two dozen routes.

Both rail and bus service did not operate Saturday

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9:30 a.m.

South Dakota and North Dakota enjoyed a relatively balmy weekend, yet some students from those states got caught up in the paralyzing blizzard that hit much of the East Coast.

More than 250 students had gone to Washington, D.C., for an anti-abortion rally on Friday. On their return trip, several buses carrying the students got stuck for as long as 22 hours on Pennsylvania highways, which were clogged with snow and vehicles.

Dan Specht, who chaperoned students from Yankton, told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan newspaper: “You could see 30 vehicles in front of us and about 100 vehicles behind us,” said Dan Specht, who chaperoned students from Yankton, told the Yankton Daily Press & Dakotan newspaper.

Other students were from Sioux Falls and Aberdeen in South Dakota and Fargo, Minot, Dickinson and Bismarck in North Dakota. Students from the University of Mary in Bismarck also were stranded.

Students found various ways to spend the time, including singing, conversing, playing games and celebrating Mass outdoors.

Some of the students were to return home late Sunday, while others were expected to be on the road into Monday.

8:30 a.m.

The mid-Atlantic region is working to return to normal after a crushing blizzard.

Officials continue to ask people to stay off roads as the cleanup continues Monday. Maryland officials say many major highways have at least one lane clear.

Schools and government offices are closed in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Monday. Federal offices in the Washington region are also closed. Delaware State offices are opening at 10 a.m.

Reagan National Airport tweeted that it saw its first flights Monday. Dulles International Airport expects to resume flights Monday. Flights resumed at Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport on Sunday.

Metrorail started limited service for free Monday morning after shutting down for the entire weekend. Amtrak is offering modified service between Boston and Washington, with reduced service into Virginia.

7:45 a.m.

Officials are beginning to assess the beach erosion and flood damage caused by a major nor’easter snowstorm that churned the surf and caused tides to swell in southern New Jersey.

Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin on Monday plan to visit the Ortley Beach section of Toms River, the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, Stone Harbor and North Wildwood.

Many homes were flooded on North Wildwood’s west side. Cape May, Stone Harbor and Ocean City saw record flooding.

Harvey Cedars police are warning people about a significant dune drop off at 68th Street. Parts of a bulkhead were damaged along the South Inlet section of Atlantic City.

Gov. Chris Christie said the flooding wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

7:20 a.m.

Gov. Jack Markell has lifted Delaware’s state of emergency and driving warning.

State offices will open at 10 a.m. Monday. Officials say the two-hour delay will keep more people off the roads during morning rush as cleanup efforts continue.

State transportation officials say primary roads are clear and secondary roads are passable, with a minor amount of snow or ice. They say many subdivision streets have yet to be plowed, but they expect that that work to start Monday.

DART plans to operate regular service with some exceptions.

7:15 a.m.

Pennsylvanians are digging out from the major snowstorm that crippled a stretch of the turnpike and finding many offices and schools closed.

The Capitol complex in Harrisburg and the Philadelphia and Reading state office buildings are closed Monday for non-essential employees.

Many schools are closed because crews are still clearing local roads.

Motorists are advised to be cautious because of slick spots, especially on exit ramps. Commuters who ride buses can expect delays along snow-covered streets.

Forecasters say 31.9 inches fell in Allentown, breaking the 1996 two-day snowfall record of 25.6 inches.

There was 22.4 inches in Philadelphia, matching the average snowfall for the season.

A section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike near Pittsburgh reopened Sunday, days after more than 500 vehicles were stranded.

Officials apologized and are investigating what went wrong.

7 a.m.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City says partial train service has been restored on the Long Island Rail Road.

Babylon, Ronkonkoma and Huntington branches are running with express trains making local stops until they’re filled.

Diesel train service is restored in diesel territory on the Oyster Bay and Port Jefferson branches between Greenport and Ronkonkoma and west of Speonk on the Montauk branch.

Service remains suspected on the Port Washington, Far Rockaway, Hempstead, Long Beach and West Hempstead branches and east of Speonk on the Montauk branch.

There is no service between Jamaica Station and Atlantic Terminal. Those tickets will be cross-honored by NYC Transit on the 2 and 3 trains between Brooklyn and Penn Station.

New York City subways, buses and Metro-North Railroad service have been restored.

6:15 a.m.

New Jersey Transit has resumed regular weekday rail service after a major snowstorm shut the system down.

Rail, light rail and Access Link services are operational Monday with the exception of the Gladstone Branch, where buses are running between Gladstone and Summit.

Bus passengers can expect delays due to local road conditions.

NJ Transit is cross-honoring system-wide.

PATH trains are running. But there is no PATH service between Newark and Journal Square. NJ Transit is cross-honoring.

Amtrak is operating on a modified schedule.

AP sources: Bomb in San Bernardino attack was poorly built

bobmFILE – In this July 27, 2014 file photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection shows Tashfeen Malik, left, and Syed Farook, as they passed through O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. A homemade bomb left behind by the husband and wife who perpetrated a mass shooting at a California social services center didn?t detonate because it was poorly constructed, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection via AP, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two law enforcement officials say a bomb left behind by the couple responsible for the December attack in San Bernardino, California, failed because it was poorly constructed.

One official says 28-year-old Syed Rizwan Farook and 29-year-old Tashfeen Malik (tahsh-FEEN’ mah-LEEK’) drove around San Bernardino after the shootings at the social services center. They stayed close to the site of the shooting, apparently trying to detonate the remote-controlled bomb.

The officials were briefed on the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the case publicly. The attack left 14 people dead.

One official says the couple’s two cellphones were so badly crushed that investigators haven’t been able to conduct a forensic examination. Their computer hard drive hasn’t been found.

Portugals president blocks laws on gay adoption, abortion

 

Portugal_Grunge_Flag_by_think0LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal’s president has vetoed bills recently passed by Parliament that granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples and removed abortion restrictions.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva says the legislation granting gay couples the same adoption rights as heterosexuals is a radical change that requires broader public consultation. He says Parliament has failed to demonstrate it is in the best interest of children.

The head of state is also blocking Parliament’s decision to waive mandatory counselling for women seeking an abortion. He says such counselling is a common requirement in other European countries and eliminating it would diminish the right to information.

The presidential vetoes announced Monday can be overturned by a two-thirds majority in Parliament. It was not immediately clear whether the bills’ backers could muster that many votes.

Russia says it has no plans to set up another base in Syria

russiaA pair of Russian bombers being readied for action at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on Wednesday Jan. 20, 2016. Russian warplanes have flown over 5,700 combat missions since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, 2015.(AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Defense Ministry says it has no plans to create another air base in Syria.

The ministry’s statement Monday follows media reports claiming that Russia could be preparing to set up another base in Qamishli in northeastern Syria near the border with Turkey.

The ministry’s spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said that the military has no intention to set up any additional air bases or advance airfields in Syria.

Russian warplanes have flown nearly 6,000 combat missions since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30. The Russian warplanes are based at Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia.

The Russian air blitz has helped Syrian President Bashar Assad’s army to launch offensives and seize some key areas from the opposition in recent weeks.

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Things to know about police shootings and mental illness

police-forcesIn this Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016 photo, Barbara Noel, mother of Michael Noel, discusses the fatal shooting of her son in St. Martinville, La. A State Police report says Michael was killed during a struggle when he resisted deputies’ efforts to take him into protective custody and drive him to a hospital. (AP Photo/Paul Kieu)

ST. MARTINVILLE, La. (AP) — The killing of a mentally ill man in his south Louisiana home during a struggle with sheriff’s deputies last month appears to fit a troubling, tragic pattern. Michael Noel, 32, struggled for years to get treatment for his paranoid schizophrenia. The deputies who confronted Noel last month were carrying out a protective custody order so he could be involuntarily hospitalized. Experts see evidence suggesting the problem of deadly confrontations between law enforcement officers and people with mental illness has worsened as governments dismantle networks of health care services.

BEARING THE BURDEN

Advocates for the mentally ill say too many people who belong in mental health treatment wind up in jail cells instead.

A 2014 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center of Arlington, Virginia, estimates that 15 percent of inmates in state prisons have a serious mental illness. The center estimates that the number of people with serious mental illness in jails and state prisons is roughly 10 times greater than those in state hospitals.

Mentally ill people also account for a disproportionate percentage of the people whom police officers encounter.

The Treatment Advocacy Center says severe mental illness is believed to be a factor in up to half of all deadly law enforcement encounters, while people with severe mental illness generate no less than 10 percent of calls for police service.

HOW BIG IS THE PROBLEM?

No one keeps track of how many people are killed and wounded by police each year, much less how many are mentally ill and whether the problem has been getting worse in recent years, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit formed to reduce barriers to treatment of mental illness.

A 2015 report by the center said official undercounting of fatal police shootings has received attention, but the role of severe mental illness has been “barely noted.”

It noted that The Washington Post and The Guardian compiled databases suggesting that mental illness was involved in about one-quarter of the cases of people killed by police or in police custody. The Center’s own 2013 review of academic journals, media reports and other sources agreed with “published speculation” that the mentally ill make up at least half of all people shot and killed by U.S. police.

When police kill someone with mental problems, it reflects a failure of the mental health system, said Laura Usher, crisis intervention training program manager for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

WHAT’S HAPPENED TO MENTAL HOSPITALS?

Although the U.S. population has doubled since the 1950s, the number of psychiatric beds has fallen more than 90 percent, the report said.

A 2012 report by the same group said that just between 2005 and 2010, the number of state hospital beds available for psychiatric patients fell from 50,509 nationwide to 43,318. That worked out to about 14.1 beds per 100,000 people — about the same level as in 1850.

WHY?

Mental institutions had been overcrowded and psychiatric medicine became more effective. Both developments contributed to the philosophy that, when possible, people should be treated at home or in community centers rather than in overcrowded institutions.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Recommendations in the Treatment Advocacy Center’s 2015 report:

BY POLICE

—Establish a clear policy about use of deadly force and how to avoid using it.

—Programs to get help for people whose mental problems put them in the most frequent contact with police.

—Intensive training to teach police how to deal with mental patients.

—Team trained officers with mental health professionals for psychiatric emergency calls.

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BY OTHERS:

—Courts can order supervised treatment to make sure patients take medication and see therapists.

—Governments can open more mental treatment beds

—Governments can make involuntary hospitalization for mental illness less difficult.

Undocumented Flint residents fear receiving water

Undocumented Flint residents fear receiving water

FLINT, MI (WLNS)- Members of Cristo Rey Church loaded up and hit the road with the goal of reaching a population that is still very much in need of help.

6 News took the journey with them to Flint today as they work to reach the undocumented immigrants and spread the word that help is available for everyone who needs it.

“Come on its time to go” Lupe Castillo said.

The trunk of a truck filled with baby wipes closes, as Lansing’s Cristo Rey Church packs a truck filled with baby wipes, and a semi filled with water.

This is all in an effort to help undocumented families in Flint.

“I understand they are asking for documentation. Well those that are not, undocumented, have a fear of, oh what immigration is going to come tomorrow and pick me up and deport me. And, and that should not happen!” John Castillo of Cristo Rey Church said.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Flint is the destination for Cristo Rey’s supplies.

Volunteers there have been handing out water, filters, and test kits to all families in need but say there are at least a thousand undocumented residents in Flint, and some are afraid to take any hand-outs.

“They hear the knock on the door or see the police or somebody of authority and they’re afraid to open the door. They’re not even going to open the door, you know I put myself in their shoes and I think how would I react, I think I’d be the same way” Our Lady of Guadalupe Church member Mary Mosqueda said.

Victoria Arteaga agrees, Arteaga recalls a story a woman told her; The said she visited her friends who were undocumented, and a situation involving people dropping off water occurred while she was there.

“She said, they knocked on the door and they said “Police, water!”. Well they didn’t hear “water” all they heard was “police” and everyone went in the kitchen and everyone was arguing and not going to the door. She said “Look I’m just visiting I’m going to the door.” She went to the door gave them her name, they gave her a filter, and off they went.” Arteaga shared.

Victoria Arteaga is an immigration attorney in Flint.

According to Arteaga, even though state officials have announced that ID’s are not required, and everyone is entitled to resources, that’s hasn’t really been the case.

“While the policy is that anyone can get a filter it is not happening in practice” Victoria Arteaga said.

“I have been to an office where I’ve said I need water. They said, I need a state ID, a valid state ID, and proof that you are a resident of the city of Flint. Before I can give you a filter.” Arteaga said.

According to Red Cross officials, that’s not the norm and they want all residents in Flint to know, if someone knocks on your door, they are only there to help.

“Red Cross is here to serve everyone documented, undocumented” Yanna Saunders, Red Cross volunteer said.

According to the Red Cross, the city of Flint is working to get every home a water filter regardless of immigration status, and they’re hoping everyone will open their door and accept the help.

Former UK minister Cecil Parkinson dies of cancer at age 84

Former UK minister Cecil Parkinson dies of cancer at age 84FILE – This is a July 7, 1988 file photo of the then British Energy Secretary Cecil Parkinson outside 10 Downing Street in London. The family of former British Cabinet minister Cecil Parkinson said Monday Jan. 25, 2016 that he has died after a long battle with cancer. He was 84. The family said he died Friday Jan. 22. (Tony Harris/PA, File via AP) UNITED KINGDOM OUT NO SALES NO ARCHIVE

LONDON (AP) — Cecil Parkinson, who held senior posts in the British government under Margaret Thatcher until forced to resign amid a sex scandal, has died. He was 84.

Parkinson’s family said he died Friday after a long battle with cancer.

Parkinson served former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a number of senior positions. He managed the Conservative Party’s successful 1983 election campaign and became a trusted confidant of Thatcher.

He was made Secretary of State for Trade and Industry but stepped down after it was revealed that he had got his former secretary pregnant. She claimed he had promised to marry him and that he had pressured her to have an abortion, but she refused.

Thatcher brought him back to another Cabinet post four years later but by then his career had peaked and was widely viewed as in decline.

Parkinson served in the House of Lords until he retired last year after he became ill.

He began his career in Parliament in 1970 and also had a successful career in business.

The Latest: EU urged to do more to protect child migrants

The Latest: EU urged to do more to protect child migrantsAmnesty International activists protest against the ongoing migrant crisis with a boat filled with mannequins wearing life vests outside the Maritime Museum, rear, during an informal meeting of EU Justice and Home Affairs ministers at the Maritime Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. European Union justice and interior ministers have started urgent discussions on how to tackle the migrant crisis amid the stream of new arrivals and continuing disagreements over how to seal off borders.(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The latest developments in Europe’s immigration crisis (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

Children’s rights advocates are urging the European Union to do more to protect young migrants, warning that if they survive risky boat journeys they often face “malnutrition, physical and mental suffering, health and welfare problems, lack of information and insecurity.”

In an open letter to senior European officials Monday, the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children urged senior European officials to better protect the fundamental rights of children who are part of the migrant surge.

Dutch children’s ombudsman Marc Dullaert says he was shocked by the risks they face. He says, “I thought, and many people are thinking, that when you are in Europe, then you are safe. Well, on the contrary.”

As well as poor living conditions in camps, they face the possibility of being sexually abused or exploited by traffickers or smugglers during their trek.

4:50 p.m.

Swedish police say that a female worker at a shelter for youth and unaccompanied minors was stabbed to death at the center in southwestern Sweden.

Police spokesman Christer Fuxborg says that two people were holding down the male suspect when police arrived on the scene. He said the 22-year-old woman, who wasn’t named, died of her wounds later Monday when taken to hospital. The suspect was arrested by police.

Fuxborg said there were signs of a violent fight at the home, which houses about a dozen 16- to 18-year-old migrants and other youth in Molndal, near the port city of Goteborg. He couldn’t give further details pending a police investigation.

2:30 p.m.

The Belgian government says that because Greece is too weak to guard its own borders, it should face an EU “sanction mechanism” under which the rising number of refugees entering the country would effectively be forced to stay there.

Belgian Migration State Secretary Theo Francken told the VRT network that “the Greeks now need to bear the consequences” if internal border controls within the Schengen area, which is supposed to be a passport free zone, are extended for two years, as is currently discussed.

Francken said the Greek “state structure is just too weak to do it themselves – apparently.”

Francken raised the specter of setting up “closed facilities” for up to 300,000 people in Greece to be overseen by EU nations. More than 850,000 migrants arrived in Greece last year and almost all try to move on to the European heartland.

2:15 p.m.

Police say a group of five men have stabbed a Pakistani man to death and wounded two others near Greece’s border with Macedonia.

Police say the incident occurred in the early hours of Monday in the Evzones area where thousands of refugees cross into Macedonia to continue their journey toward other, more prosperous, European countries.

Police said the five men, believed to be Afghans, fatally stabbed one Pakistani man in the abdomen, and wounded the other two while also taking money and a mobile phone from one of them.

The two wounded men are being treated in a local hospital.

1:55 p.m.

A Greek minister has angrily blamed European Union member states for failing to send Athens enough manpower and ships to help it tackle the migrant crisis and for not living up to pledges to relocate migrants.

Immigration Minister Ioannis Mouzalas told reporters on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Amsterdam on Monday that sending officers from the EU border protection force known as Frontex to neighboring Macedonia in an attempt to halt migrants there would be illegal.

It has been suggested that EU border guards would be more effective on the Greek-Macedonian border, but Mouzalas said sending them there is “not a good idea,” insisting: “We need Frontex in Greece.”

Mouzalas says Greece is doing all it can to protect its sea borders from boatloads of migrants heading from Turkey to nearby Greek islands, but has not been sufficiently helped by fellow EU members. He says Athens wanted 1,800 Frontex officers, but has got only 800.

1:35 p.m.

The European Union and Turkey have committed to step up their cooperation to stem the relentless flow of migrants into the continent.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini met with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara Monday. In a joint statement after the meeting, the two sides acknowledged there is a “need to exert huge effort” to counter the flow and that Ankara needs to do more to fight smuggling networks and the influx of migrants who are not eligible for asylum.

In return, the EU committed to make the promised 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) available to help deal with the refugee crisis in Turkey. So far, the EU nations and institutions have been bickering over how to share the cost.

Cavusoglu warned that the delay was obstructing efforts to improve refugee conditions in Turkey, especially in education and health care. However, Mogherini said she was confident that “the amount will be there.” She added that the EU was still preparing how the money would be spent.

12:15 p.m.

Germany’s vice chancellor is dismissing a proposal by a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party to manage the migrant influx by setting up centers at borders from which refugees would be allowed into the country according to daily quotas.

Julia Kloeckner, a deputy leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats, floated her “plan A2″ over the weekend. Kloeckner hopes to become governor of Rhineland-Palatinate state in a mid-March election, ousting the center-left Social Democrats.

The Christian Democrats and Social Democrats are traditional rivals but currently govern Germany in a “grand coalition.”

Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, the Social Democrats’ leader, said Monday that Kloeckner’s idea is a “campaign action” and is “not practicable.”

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert responded cautiously to Kloeckner’s proposal. He said that “some of it complements the government’s policy, some overlaps with it.”

09:30 a.m.

European Union justice and interior ministers have started urgent discussions on how to tackle the migrant crisis amid the stream of new arrivals and continuing disagreements over how to seal off borders.

Monday’s meeting comes days after EU President Donald Tusk warned that Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as Schengen, could break apart if the migrant strategy is not sorted out within two months.

Ministers will be seeking to stem the flow through Greece, where authorities are struggling to contain the crossings by boat from Turkey.

Belgium’s interior minister, Jan Jambon, says that Greece “has to do what it has to do — namely, controls. And if that is not the case, we need to look closely into that.”

EU figures show more than 2,000 people are still arriving daily.

Map: Travel warning issued due to Zika virus

Map: Travel warning issued due to Zika virusImage Courtesy: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

(WWLP) – Some popular travel destinations are among the places that the Centers for Disease Control are telling pregnant women to avoid, as the Zika virus continues to spread. The virus is spread through mosquito bites, and can cause fever, rash, and joint pain. While severe cases are rare, the disease has been known to cause a severe birth defect known as microcephaly if a pregnant woman becomes infected. Microcephaly is a condition in which a baby’s head is much smaller than normal, leading to the development of a smaller brain.

The CDC lists 22 locations where Zika has been found, including some very popular vacation spots: Puerto Rico, Mexico, Saint Martin, Barbados, and Brazil. Most locations are in the Caribbean and Latin America, however the disease has also been found in the South Pacific (Samoa) and off the African coast (Cape Verde).

The CDC recommends pregnant women in all trimesters avoid traveling to these countries and territories if possible, but if they must go, they should see a doctor first, and take special precautions to avoid getting bitten by mosquitoes.

Here is a complete listing of countries and territories under the travel advisory:

  • Barbados
  • Bolivia
  • Brazil
  • Cape Verde
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • French Guiana
  • Guadeloupe
  • Guatemala
  • Guyana
  • Haiti
  • Honduras
  • Martinique
  • Mexico
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Puerto Rico
  • Saint Martin
  • Samoa
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela

Learn more about the Zika virus from the Centers for Disease Control’s website.

Dominican economy lures Puerto Ricans in crisis

Dominican economy lures Puerto Ricans in crisisIn this Jan. 23, 2016, Puerto Rican Virginia Correa waits for taxi service in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Correa traveled half a day via ship from San Juan to the Dominican capital to visit her son, who is studying medicine at a Dominican university. Officials say it’s hard to quantify exactly how many Puerto Ricans have moved to the Dominican Republic in recent years because they fall under the general category of U.S. citizens, but they say the trend is undeniable. (AP Photo/Ezequiel Abiu Lopez)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) — Carlos Gonzalez already had noticed the growing number of empty chairs and increasingly quiet slot machines at the Puerto Rico casino where he worked as he mulled a job offer in the Dominican Republic.

It was 2013, and Puerto Rico’s economy had been in a downward slide for nearly a decade. Gonzalez didn’t know it at the time, but the once-popular casino where he worked as a marketing manager would soon close.

He thought of his family and friends and the reasons he moved back to Puerto Rico in the first place after spending more than 20 years in New Jersey. It took him several months to make a decision — “It’s not easy to leave your land,” the Puerto Rico native said — but he finally did.

“I never imagined it. Never!” Gonzalez said with a laugh. “I even asked myself 2,000 times whether I really was moving to the Dominican Republic. I told myself it was crazy.”

The flow of migrants through the 80 miles (130 kilometers) of churning waters that separate Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic has typically moved in one direction for more than half a century: toward the U.S. territory. But the island’s deep economic crisis is reversing this trend, with a growing number of financially strapped Puerto Ricans moving to the neighboring Caribbean country to open businesses and escape economic chaos that has scared away even many Dominican migrants.

Officials say it’s hard to quantify exactly how many Puerto Ricans have moved to the Dominican Republic in recent years because they fall under the general category of U.S. citizens, but they say the trend is undeniable.

“It used to be extremely rare for a Puerto Rican to stop by and seek a work visa,” said Franklin Grullon, the Dominican consul in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. “There’s been a surge in all types of visas, and we believe this flow will only increase.”

The majority of Puerto Ricans seeking business visas are young to middle-aged men, and many request permission to work in the tourism sector because they speak English and find it easy to get a job, Grullon said. They are drawn by the Dominican Republic’s robust economy, which grew 7 percent in 2015 for the second consecutive year, making it the strongest in the Latin American and Caribbean region. The government has credited vigorous performances in banking, construction and tourism, noting that a record 5.6 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic last year.

There’s also been a big increase in Puerto Rican professionals such as architects and engineers traveling to the Dominican Republic to work because of that country’s booming construction sector, said German Monroig, executive director of the office of Puerto Rican affairs.

“There’s been a considerable change in the last two years,” he said.

It’s hard for Puerto Rican professionals to find steady jobs given the island’s economy, which has stagnated for nine years as the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people struggles with a 12 percent unemployment rate and a $72 billion public debt load the governor has said is unpayable and needs restructuring. About a third of people born in Puerto Rico now live on the U.S. mainland, seeking to escape tax increases, higher utility bills and dwindling job opportunities.

“Puerto Rico became very, very difficult for the casino sector,” the 48-year-old Gonzalez said. “I left just in time. All my friends tell me that the best thing I did was to leave, that Puerto Rico’s situation is crazy.”

Puerto Ricans aren’t the only ones leaving.

Grullon said Dominicans are increasingly moving back to their country, and he noted that the flow of Dominicans entering the U.S. territory illegally also has decreased dramatically: The U.S. Coast Guard detained 1,565 Dominicans in 2004, compared with 133 in 2014.

“What’s surprising about this trend is that up until now, the migration had been from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, and the main motive was a difference in salary and more jobs,” said Jorge Duany, an anthropology professor at Florida International University who has long studied migration patterns between the two.

In the early 1900s, Puerto Ricans were moving to the Dominican Republic to work in the country’s thriving sugar industry until the Great Depression hit. Then Dominican migrants began moving to Puerto Rico in the 1960s and 70s because of the island’s booming industrial sector. Roughly 200,000 Dominicans are now estimated to live in the U.S. territory, though there are no precise figures because many live on the island illegally.

Now, it’s the lure of more jobs and a powerful economy in the Dominican Republic that is attracting Puerto Ricans, including 51-year-old Francisco Perez.

He worked more than 20 years for an insurance company in Puerto Rico, but began to see his income shrink as car sales on the island plummeted. When a job opportunity presented itself in late 2014 to work for a Puerto Rican company in the Dominican Republic that paid in U.S. dollars, he took it.

“I told myself I had to do what I had to do given the importance I have as my family’s provider,” said the father of four. “When I got here and saw that it was like Puerto Rico back in the 90s, that the economy was doing well, I stayed. I know there are a lot of Puerto Ricans looking over this way to grow their businesses.”

Among them is Gonzalez.

He originally moved to the Dominican Republic to work as a marketing manager for a Hard Rock Cafe in the popular beach resort of Punta Cana, but he quit nearly two months ago to open his own tour company there.

“We’re at full blast,” he said, noting that he already has several contracts with large hotels in the region. “This is on the up and up.”

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Obama contrasts Clinton idealism

Obama contrasts Clinton idealismFILE – In this Jan. 20, 2016, file photo, President Barack Obama speaks in Detroit. During an interview with Politico posted on its website Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, Obama was extremely cautious in discussing the presidential campaign to avoid showing explicit favor in the Democratic race. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is casting the Democratic primary to replace him as a contest between Hillary Clinton’s pragmatism and experience versus Bernie Sanders’ idealism and liberalism.

Obama, in his most extensive assessment to date of the 2016 Democratic primary, said Clinton is “wicked smart,” but that her strengths are also her weaknesses. Praising her extensive preparation for the Oval Office, Obama said Clinton’s experience had taught her to “campaign more in prose than poetry.”

“I think Hillary came in with both privilege and burden of being perceived as the front-runner,” Obama said in an interview with Politico posted on its website Monday. “And as a consequence, you know, where they stood at the beginning probably helps to explain why the language sometimes is different.”

Asked repeatedly about the 2016 race, the president was extremely cautious to avoid showing explicit favor in the Democratic race. White House officials have said Obama will not endorse in the primary, which pits his 2008 primary opponent and former secretary of state against a liberal independent senator from Vermont who many Democrats feel embodies the upstart, idealistic nature of Obama’s own campaign.

Obama said there was no doubt Sanders had tapped into a “running thread” in Democratic politics that questions why people should be scared to talk bluntly about inequality and “be full-throated in our progressivism.”

“You know, that has an appeal,” Obama said. “And I understand that.”

Turning to the Republican primary, Obama said Donald Trump and Ted Cruz exploit an anger and frustration that is real within the Republican Party. But he said his hope was that when voting began, Republicans “will settle down and say, ‘Who do we want actually sitting behind the desk, making decisions that are critical to our future?'”

One week from now, Iowa voters will kick off the 2016 presidential contest with its caucuses. In the interview, Obama reflected on his own victory in Iowa eight years ago as the most satisfying of his political career, praising the process as a true expression of the way American democracy is supposed to work.

And he acknowledged his own weaknesses as an untested national candidate in 2008 in the high-stakes campaign in Iowa.

“I was too wonkish. I wasn’t crisp in my presentation, and that was true for a while,” Obama said. He said in his own primary campaign against Clinton, his supporters and staff “got too huffy” about legitimate questions that Clinton and her campaign had raised.

“There were times where I think the media probably was a little unfair to her and tilted a little my way in calling her out when she was tough, and not calling some of our folks out as much when we were tough in ads,” Obama said.

Reach Josh Lederman on Twitter at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP

Yemen Saudi airstrikes kill civilians

Yemen Saudi airstrikes kill civiliansFILE – In this Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2016 file photo, a man stands on the rubble of the Chamber of Trade and Industry headquarters after it was hit by a Saudi-led airstrike in Sanaa, Yemen. Within hours of ascending to the Saudi throne, King Salman announced sweeping changes that would recast the kingdom?s line of succession, and rework its security and economic decision-making processes. It marked the start of what would be a tumultuous year for King Salman, who completes one year as monarch on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemeni officials say the country’s prime minister has returned to the volatile southern city of Aden, months after being targeted in a suicide bombing that forced him to leave the country.

They say Khaled Bahah’s return on Monday is aimed at establishing a permanent government presence in Aden, even as the country is torn apart by civil war.

A Saudi-led coalition is fighting to force Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, to loosen their grip on the capital, Sanaa, and other parts of Yemen. Since the Saudi-led campaign began last March, more than 5,800 people have been killed.

Also Monday, security officials say a missile killed a judge’s family of eight in Sanaa’s neighborhood of Nahda.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren’t authorized to speak to reporters.

High court upholds governments energy conservation program

High court upholds governments energy conservation programFILE – In this June 30, 2014 file photo, the Supreme Court building in Washington. The Supreme Court has upheld a 4-year-old federal program that pays large electric customers to save energy during times of peak demand. The justices ruled 6-2 on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had the authority to issue directives aimed at conserving energy and preventing blackouts. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court has upheld a 4-year-old federal program that pays large electric customers to save energy during times of peak demand.

The justices ruled 6-2 on Monday that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had the authority to issue directives aimed at conserving energy and preventing blackouts.

The ruling is a win for the Obama administration, environmental groups and other supporters who said the plan saved billions in energy costs, improved reliability of the power grid and reduced air pollution since it was put in place in 2011. Utility companies challenging the rule argued it was too generous and trampled state rights over retail electricity sales.

A federal appeals court ruled 2-1 last year that the plan intrudes on state power over retail electricity sales.

Federal law gives the commission authority to regulate wholesale markets, while retail sales are governed by states.

Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said the commission acted within its authority and was not attempting to regulate retail sales.

The demand response program pays large electricity consumers to reduce energy consumption on hot summer days and other times of peak demand. The reduction in power use means electric utilities don’t need to turn on backup power plants, which cost more to run and boost electricity prices.

The rule won wide praise from environmental groups because it curbed the need for utilities to build expensive and air-polluting power plants. The demand response program saved customers in the mid-Atlantic region nearly $12 billion in 2013, according to PJM Interconnection, which manages the wholesale power supply for all or part of 13 states.

But the rule meant millions in lost profits for utilities. Those companies argued that the program impermissibly targets retail customers.

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas.

Justice Samuel Alito took no part in deciding the case. His most recent financial disclosure indicates he owns stock in Johnson Controls, Inc., which has a subsidiary, EnergyConnect, Inc., that is part of a group defending the commission’s regulation.

Tax changes ahead for 2016

Tax changes ahead for 2016

(NBC News) Filing your taxes this year will be different than years past.

You’re going to have four extra days to file this year. The deadline’s been moved to April 18th.

However, in Massachusetts the deadline is April 19th. Tax Day occasionally falls on Patriots’ Day, a civic holiday in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, or the preceding weekend. When this occurred for some time, the federal tax deadline was extended by a day for the residents of Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and the District of Columbia because the IRS processing center for these areas was located in Andover, Massachusetts and the unionized IRS employees got the day off.

The 1095 forms which you’ll have to file describing where you purchased your health insurance are also changing.

The penalty for not having health insurance goes up considerably, to $325 or two percent of taxable income, whichever is greater.

Also going up is the number of taxpayers who file electronically, which means those due a refund will get them quicker.

Read more: http://nbcnews.to/1K1pDuk

Video: Virginia Tech students use blizzard to their advantage for annual snowball fight

Video: Virginia Tech students use blizzard to their advantage for annual snowball fight(WSLS)

BLACKSBURG (WSLS 10) While mother nature can be troublesome, there are some who are taking the time to enjoy what she left behind.

Organizers said they hold the annual Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets versus civilian fight after a major snowstorm.

“The adrenaline is working right now so I can’t feel it at all, I mean we’re going to have to be better,” Ethan Parkhill, a sophomore with the cadets said.

Some civilians claimed this is what they were looking forward to.

“This is something I waited my whole life for,” Pat Rouleau a transfer student.

Another Virginia Tech student, Chase Parker, said he came ready to battle, but some underclassmen are dedicated to making sure, the civilians win.

African newswoman is free of charge abaft 10 months in penal institution

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