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Worker who herded people out before explosion is called hero
By ROBERT F. BUKATY and DAVID SHARP | Tue, September 17, 2019 10:20 EDT
FARMINGTON, Maine (AP) — A maintenance manager was credited Tuesday with saving lives by evacuating a building before an explosion that gravely injured him, while investigators began examining the rubble to determine the cause and the firefighter who died was saluted.
Larry Lord emptied the building of “at least a dozen or so employees” when the odor of propane gas was detected just minutes before the powerful blast destroyed the building and killed a firefighter, Police Chief Jack Peck said Tuesday.
“Without his quick actions, I think it would’ve been a much more horrific tragedy,” Peck told reporters.
Lisa Charles, who worked with LEAP but was not there at the time of the blast, said she is grateful Lord got her colleagues to safety.
“They got a warning from the maintenance guy,” she said Monday, calling him a hero.
Her colleagues told her that they were taken to a safe area but that Lord went back inside with firefighters before the blast occurred.
In addition to the death of Fire Capt. Michael Bell, Lord and seven other people were injured when Monday’s explosion leveled the two-story building that housed LEAP, a nonprofit that serves people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities.
Investigators from the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives began digging Tuesday through concrete, wood and debris for clues.
Part of the focus is on propane gas, which either caused the blast or must be ruled out, said Ken Grimes of the marshal’s office.
He predicted the work will take about a week.
Firefighters, paramedics and law enforcement officers paused Tuesday to salute the fallen Bell, who was 68, as his body was returned from the state medical examiner’s office with an escort.
Bell’s brother, Fire Chief Terry Bell, and five other firefighters were also injured, as was an ambulance worker, officials said.
Six people remained hospitalized Tuesday in Portland and Boston, with Lord and three firefighters in critical condition, officials said.
Acting Farmington Fire Chief Tim Hardy said his own department and the community will get past the tragedy, but he said it will take time.
“We will recover from this,” he said. “We’ll come together and conquer this together.”
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David Sharp reported from Portland.

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The Latest: Saudi minister: 50% of crude reduction restored
08:56 EDT
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on tensions in the Persian Gulf and the fallout after weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia (all times local):
10 p.m.
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister says 50% of the production cut by the attack on its oil processing plant has been restored.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman made the comments Tuesday night at a news conference in Jiddah.
The attack Saturday struck a Saudi oil field and the world’s largest crude oil processing plant, which knocked out 5.7 million barrels of crude oil production per day for the kingdom, or about 5% of the world’s daily production.
The prince added that within this month, production capacity will be up to 11 million barrels per day by the end of September. It had been around 9.6 milllion barrels per day before the attack.
Yemen’s Houthi rebels, whom a Saudi-led coalition have been fighting since March 2015, claimed the attack. However, U.S. and Saudi officials say they believe Iran carried out the assault, something denied by Tehran.
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7:40 p.m.
Egypt’s foreign minister says his country is standing by Saudi Arabia following the weekend attack on major oil sites in the kingdom.
Sameh Shoukry is calling on the international community to collectively back Saudi Arabia and identify who was responsible for the attacks on a Saudi oil field and the world’s largest crude oil processing plant.
He spoke Tuesday in a press conference in Cairo alongside France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
Shoukry says Egypt also backs efforts to de-escalate the situation and prevent a “border military confrontation that will have devastated consequences on the region.”
The attack, claimed by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels forced a suspension of 5.7 million barrels of Saudi crude a day and 2 billion cubic feet of gas.
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6:45 p.m.
Saudi Arabia has instructed clerics across the country to focus their upcoming Friday sermons on the recent attacks that struck key oil installations in the kingdom’s east.
The Islamic Affairs Ministry says the sermons should “emphasize the blessing of security and stability that God has bestowed upon the kingdom of Saudi Arabia” and the “need to rally around its wise leadership,” as well as to ask for God’s protection of the country and to respond to enemies where they are.
The ministry said its efforts are aimed at raising awareness about the dangers facing Saudi Arabia and the importance of supporting its rulers.
The ministry’s instructions were published Tuesday by the state-run Saudi Press Agency.
Saudi Arabia and the U.S. allege Iran was responsible for — charges that Tehran denies.
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5:30 p.m.
France’s foreign minister says his county does not have evidence on the source of the drones used in the weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia.
Jean-Yves Le Drian has told reporters in Cairo on Tuesday that: “Up to now, France does not have proof that would allow us to say where the drones came from.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that “emerging information indicates that responsibility lies with Iran.”
Iran has denied involvement.
Saudi Arabia has said its initial investigations indicate that Iranian weapons were used in attacks, and it “will invite U.N. and international experts to view the situation on the ground and to participate in the investigations.”
Le Drian says “the Saudi initiative to establish the facts is a good initiative.”
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4:55 p.m.
French President Emmanuel Macron’s office says France is not giving up its diplomatic efforts in the Persian Gulf crisis.
It says France is still working behind the scenes ahead of Macron’s visit to the U.N. General Assembly — but wouldn’t further comment.
French authorities did not comment on recent developments.
The French Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday to say that “France firmly condemns yesterday’s attacks on the Abqaiq and Khurais oil installations, and expresses its complete solidarity with Saudi Arabia. Such actions can only exacerbate the tensions and risks of conflict in the region. It is imperative that they stop.”
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4:35 p.m.
Saudi Arabia is calling on the international community “to shoulder its responsibility in condemning the perpetrators” and “clearly confronting” those behind an attack on the country’s oil facilities over the weekend.
The government’s statements were carried in state-run media following a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday that was overseen by King Salman, who was Quote: d saying Saudi Arabia is capable of defending against such “cowardly attacks.”
The Cabinet said the attacks on an Aramco oil field and major crude processing facility threaten international security and global energy supplies. The government reiterated its accusation that Iranian weapons were used in the attack, without elaborating further.
The attack, claimed by Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels, forced a suspension of 5.7 million barrels of Saudi crude a day and 2 billion cubic feet of gas.
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4:15 p.m.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she doesn’t see the attacks on Saudi Arabia as reason to end its ban on all arms exports to the nation.
An influential lawmaker in Merkel’s party had suggested that Germany should consider allowing the export of defensive weapons systems into the kingdom. But the chancellor said Tuesday she doesn’t “at the moment see any conditions for changing the stance of the German government.”
While condemning the attacks on Saudi Arabia, she said ban was put into effect partially due to Germany’s concerns over the conflict in Yemen, which hadn’t changed.
She says: “I think the events show more urgently that everything must be done to find a diplomatic solution to the Yemen conflict even if that looks very difficult the moment, we must continue to try.”
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3:10 p.m.
Pakistan’s foreign minister says Prime Minister Imran Khan will travel to Saudi Arabia this week for an important meeting with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi said the visit will take place on Thursday. He offered no further details in Tuesday’s televised remarks.
The announcement comes a day after the kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the crown prince received a call from Khan who “expressed Pakistan’s support” for Saudi Arabia and “fully stand with the kingdom … in confronting these sabotage acts which threaten global economy” and the kingdom’s security.
Khan contacted the crown prince following Saturday’s attack on key Saudi oil sites that U.S. alleged Iran was responsible for. Iran denies the charge.
Saudi Arabia is a close Pakistani ally and a leading supplier of oil to Islamabad.
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3 p.m.
Iraq’s prime minister has told NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg that Iraq seeks a balanced foreign policy that serves stability in the region and cannot possibly cause harm to any of its neighbors.
Adel Abdel-Mahdi made the remarks during a meeting in Baghdad on Tuesday with Stoltenberg, who is on a two-day visit to Iraq. That’s according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office following the meeting.
Abdel-Mahdi was apparently referring to a weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities that both Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Tehran.
U.S. officials earlier suggested the attack may have originated in Iran or Iraq, a claim denied by the Iraqi government. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later said the U.S. has information that supports the Iraqi government’s denial.
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2:55 p.m.
China has expressed concern about how last weekend’s attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia will affect oil markets.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying says that China is “of course very concerned about the impact of the attack on the stability and the security of the international crude oil supply market.”
Oil prices eased on Tuesday after soaring the previous day in the wake of the attack. China is a major importer of oil from the Mideast.
Hua said that China condemns the attacks on a crucial Saudi Aramco oil processing plant and a key oil field.
Chinese statistics bureau spokesman Fu Linghui said Monday that it was too early to gauge the impact on energy markets. He noted that oil prices had been weakening before the attack.
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11:40 a.m.
Syrian opposition activists say unknown aircraft have attacked posts of Iranian-backed fighters in an eastern town near the Iraqi border.
The activists said the airstrike took place early Tuesday in Boukamal, in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour. There was no immediate word on casualties.
Last week in Syria, unknown warplanes targeted an arms depot and posts of Iranian-backed militias in Boukamal, killing at least 18 fighters. A Syrian security official said Israeli jets were behind the attack but denied there were casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Deir Ezzor 24, an activist collective, said the strikes occurred near the border crossing with Iraq. The opening of the crossing, planned by Iraq and Syria, had been postponed several times in recent weeks.
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10:30 a.m.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says “there will be no talks with the U.S. at any level” — remarks apparently meant to end all speculation about a U.S.-Iran meeting at the U.N. later this month.
Iranian state TV on Tuesday Quote: s Khamenei as saying this is the position of the entire leadership of the country and that “all officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously believe” this.
There has been speculation about a possible meeting between President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly this month in New York.
Tensions roiling the Persian Gulf have escalated following a weekend attack on major oil sites in Saudi Arabia that U.S. alleged Iran was responsible for. Iran denies the charge.

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Hong Kong cancels China national day fireworks amid protests
09:13 EDT
HONG KONG (AP) — An annual fireworks display in Hong Kong marking China’s National Day on Oct. 1 was called off Wednesday as pro-democracy protests show no sign of ending.
The city issued a terse statement saying the show over its famed Victoria Harbour had been canceled “in view of the latest situation and having regard to public safety.”
Major protests are expected on Oct. 1, which will be the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party-governed People’s Republic of China.
Hong Kong has experienced often-violent demonstrations all summer as many residents fear the Chinese government is eroding the rights and freedoms the semi-autonomous territory is supposed to have under a “one country, two systems” framework.
The protests have divided the city. Dozens of supporters of China waved Chinese flags and sang the national anthem in a mall on Wednesday, while anti-government protesters booed them.
Plainclothes police escorted them out of the mall, and officers formed a human chain to prevent clashes with the other side. At a similar rally at a mall last weekend, what started as heckling turned violent as people traded blows, some using umbrellas to hit their opponents.
The anthem singing has sought to counter a newly penned protest song, “Glory to Hong Kong,” sung by democracy supporters in malls and other public spaces. Fans of rival soccer teams gathered Wednesday evening on soccer pitches in a large downtown park to sing the protest song while forming a human chain, in a show of the protest movement’s unity.
The protests also led the Hong Kong Jockey Club to cancel horse racing on Wednesday night. Some protesters had suggested targeting the club because a horse owned by controversial pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was due to run, public broadcaster RTHK reported.
“Our concerns are tied to potential social unrest in the vicinity tonight, the very real threat of a disturbance or possible violence at Happy Valley Racecourse, and uncertainty regarding transportation … for racegoers, jockeys and employees and horses throughout the evening,” the club said in a statement.
Beijing warned the U.S. not to get involved, a day after a group of activists including former student leader Joshua Wong and Hong Kong pop singer Denise Ho appealed to Washington to support their fight. They asked U.S. lawmakers to ban exports of police equipment used against demonstrators and step up monitoring of Chinese efforts to undermine civil liberties.
“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs. We urge the U.S. and other relevant parties not to meddle in China’s internal matters or interfere in China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily briefing in Beijing. “At the same time, we have to warn certain people who engage in anti-China activities to disrupt Hong Kong with foreign support that all their efforts are doomed to be futile and destined to fail.”

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Bermuda braces for approach of Category 3 Hurricane Humberto
Tue, September 17, 2019 11:17 EDT
MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Humberto grew into a powerful Category 3 storm Tuesday evening, and officials on Bermuda made plans for early shutdowns of schools, public transportation and government offices on the British Atlantic territory ahead of the storm’s likely close pass on Wednesday.
Tropical Storm Imelda, meanwhile, swept ashore on Texas’ Gulf coast and weakened into a tropical depression, but still threatened to deluge parts of Southwest Texas and southwestern Louisiana with up to 18 inches (46 centimeters) of rain over the next few days. It was the first named storm to hit the Houston area since Hurricane Harvey’s heavy rains flooded more than 150,000 homes around the city and caused an estimated $125 billion in damages in Texas
In Bermuda, National Security Minister Wayne Caines told reporters that schools, government offices and ferries on the island would close at noon Wednesday and bus service would end at 4 p.m. as officials got ready for Humberto.
Officials said tropical storm-force winds were expected to start hitting Bermuda, with hurricane-force gusts, starting about 3 p.m. Wednesday and lasting until about 4 a.m. Thursday. Humberto was predicted to pass just to the north of Bermuda, but a small shift in track could bring the storm over the island itself.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Humberto’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 115 mph (185 kph) and it would probably remain a Category 3 hurricane through Thursday though there could be some fluctuations in its winds. The storm was centered about 370 miles (595 kilometers) west of Bermuda and moving to the east-northeast at 12 mph (19 kph).
Bermuda was expected to see rainfall of up to 4 inches (10 centimeters), with large swells along the coast.
Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lorena formed off Mexico’s Pacific Coast, and forecasters predicted heavy rains and flooding by Thursday, likely without it reaching hurricane force.
Lorena had top winds of 50 mph (85 kph) Tuesday evening. It was centered about 185 miles (2955 kilometers) south of the resort town of Zihuatanejo and was moving northwest at 15 mph (24 kph).
A tropical storm warning was in effect for the coast between Zihuatanejo and Cabo Corrientes.
Two other tropical storms, Kiko and Mario, were farther out in the Pacific and posed no threat to land.
Tropical Depression Ten also formed far out in the Atlantic and could become a hurricane Friday as it nears the outermost Caribbean islands.

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US, Belarus mend diplomatic ties with return of ambassadors
Tue, September 17, 2019 12:23 EDT
MINSK, Belarus (AP) — A top U.S. diplomat says Washington and Belarus have agreed to return ambassadors to each other’s countries, mending an 11-year break.
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David hale made the announcement in a Tuesday visit to the Belarusian capital Minsk.
In 2008, Belarus ordered the staff of the U.S. Embassy to be sharply reduced, in response to sanctions imposed by Washington. Since then, both countries’ embassies had been led by charges d’affaires.
But President Alexander Lukashenko has pursued better relations with the West since Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Belarus is wary that Russia could try to absorb its small neighbor.
Lukashenko has won respect for easing pressure on Belarusian opposition and as a mediator in efforts to end the eastern Ukraine separatist war.

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