Environmental, economic damage a concern now that fire out

HOUSTON — Businesses and residents expressed concern Monday about the environmental and economic fallout from a fire at a Houston-area petrochemical storage farm that sent huge plumes into the air for days and prompted the partial closure of one of the busiest commercial waterways in the U.S.

Officials said it could be several more days before a section of the Houston Ship Channel reopens. Investigators with Harris County, which includes Houston, said they have delivered a subpoena to Intercontinental Terminals Company — the firm that owns the facility — to preserve any evidence regarding the cause of the blaze. Students returned to class after the fire prompted school closures near the facility.

Here’s a look at what has happened and what to expect:


A massive fire started March 17 at the ITC plant in the suburb of Deer Park, southeast of Houston. It left several petrochemical tanks damaged or destroyed and thrust plumes of black smoke into the air and burned on and off for days.

It’s unclear how the blaze began.

On Thursday, residents were warned to stay inside for their own safety because of high levels of benzene in the air. The chemical evaporates quickly and can cause drowsiness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and headaches, with worse symptoms at higher levels of exposure.

Some of ITC’s tanks leaked oil products and a containment area was breached Friday, leading to the mixture reaching the ship channel, said company spokesman Brent Weber.

Authorities shut down part of the ship channel Friday to traffic to try and continue the cleanup and contain the spill.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kevin Oditt said Monday it could be several more days before that part of the channel reopens.

“The priorities remain ensuring the safety of our on-scene responders as well as mitigating any impact to the waterway or the environment and reopening the Houston Ship Channel,” Oditt said.

The San Jacinto River, a waterway leading into the ship channel and located north of ITC’s facility, was reopened to barge and tow traffic but only for about three hours on Monday.

Oditt said officials have performed several test runs with ships, letting them pass through the affected area to see if they don’t interfere with the cleanup and don’t get contaminated. Such test runs will help the Coast Guard determine when the channel can be fully opened.


The Port of Houston is the No. 1 in the U.S. in foreign tonnage and is …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News


Coaches, others plead not guilty in college admissions scam

BOSTON — Athletic coaches charged in a sweeping college admissions scam pleaded not guilty Monday to taking bribes from wealthy parents in exchange for helping students get into elite universities such as Georgetown.

They appeared in Boston’s federal court nearly two weeks after they were arrested in what authorities have described as the biggest college admissions scheme ever prosecuted by the U.S. Justice Department , which also ensnared prominent parents like actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin.

Authorities say the coaches were paid tens of thousands of dollars to help falsify student’s athletic credentials and get them admitted as recruits for sports they didn’t play.

They include longtime tennis coach Gordon Ernst, who’s accused of getting $2.7 million in bribes to designate at least 12 applicants as recruits to Georgetown, as well as former UCLA men’s soccer coach Jorge Salcedo, Wake Forest University women’s volleyball coach William Ferguson and former USC water polo coach Jovan Vavic.

One by one, the suit-clad coaches stood before the packed courtroom before leaning into the microphone to say “not guilty.”

Ernst, Salcedo, Vavic and their lawyers left the courthouse without commenting amid a crush of reporters shouting questions.

An attorney for Ferguson told reporters that his client is innocent and “does not belong in this indictment.” Ferguson is charged with taking a $100,000 bribe to recruit a student who had been placed on the wait list. He’s been suspended by Wake Forest.

“Two weeks ago, the U.S. attorney told you about a litany of abuses: phony test scores, unqualified students, falsified athletic profiles. Well I can’t speak to what happened at any other school, but not at Wake Forest University,” attorney Shaun Clarke said. “No one, no one was admitted to Wake Forest who didn’t earn it as a student and as an athlete,” he said.

Ernst, who also was the personal tennis coach for former first lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, left Georgetown in 2017 after an internal investigation found he violated admissions rules. He was later hired by the University of Rhode Island, which says it wasn’t told about the admissions rules violations. The school said Saturday that Ernst has resigned.

Salcedo, a former UCLA All-American and national champion, also resigned after being charged with getting $200,000 in exchange for helping one male and one female applicant into the school.

Authorities say Vavic, who won 16 national water polo titles at USC, was paid $250,000 to designate two students as recruits. …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News


Linked by pain: 2 school massacre survivors, dad kill selves

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Tragedies like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High and Sandy Hook Elementary school massacres eventually fade from view, blunted by other mass shootings and the passage of time. But for the survivors, the pain can never end.

The father of a Sandy Hook victim killed himself Monday, just days after two Stoneman Douglas students also took their lives. The Florida deaths have officials in Parkland and nearby Coral Springs renewing their communities’ focus on the suicide prevention and mental health resources that remain available 13 months after a gunman killed 17 people at the high school.

In Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 first-graders died along with six staff members six years ago, the body of 49-year-old Jeremy Richman was found outside his office Monday morning.

Richman’s daughter Avielle was fatally shot at Sandy Hook. He had visited Florida last week and met with the parents of Stoneman Douglas victims, said Lori Alhadeff, whose 14-year-old daughter Alyssa died there.

Richman and his wife oversaw The Avielle Foundation, a group they started dedicated to preventing violence by better understanding brain health.

“Our hearts are shattered, and our heads are struggling to comprehend,” the foundation said in a statement. “Tragically, his death speaks to how insidious and formidable a challenge brain health can be and how critical it is for all of us to seek help for ourselves, our loved ones and anyone who we suspect may be in need.”

Multiple suicides among mass shooting survivors can be alarming, but mental health experts said the Florida deaths are not surprising. They come amid a rising nationwide trend: More than 47,000 U.S. suicides occurred in 2017, at the highest rate in at least half a century — 14 per 100,000. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among U.S. teenagers.

“One of the big risk factors for suicide is exposure to violence,” said Dr. Louis Kraus, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

Even if they weren’t hit by bullets or didn’t see shots fired, “anyone who was at that school is at risk,” Kraus said, and should be screened.

“The scars simply don’t go away with a fresh coat of paint,” he said.

Psychologist April Foreman, a board member at the American Association of Suicidology, said survivors are more prone to suicide and thus must be vigilant about mental health check-ups just as if they had a family history of breast cancer or heart disease.

With …read more

Source:: Deseret News – U.S. & World News