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An abomination: Jon Stewart blasts Rand Paul for blocking 9/11 victims bill

62 0 18 Jul 2019

Comedian Jon Stewart, an outspoken advocate for 9/11 first responders, blasted Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., for his objection Wednesday to a bipartisan bill to ensure a compensation fund for victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks never runs out of money.

Speaking to Fox News host Bret Baier on Wednesday, Stewart called Paul’s objection to the bill, which the libertarian-aligned senator said should be offset by spending cuts, was “outrageous” and “an abomination.”

“Pardon me if I’m not impressed in any way by Rand Paul’s fiscal responsibility virtue signaling,” Stewart said, noting that Paul supported President Donald Trump’s tax cut that “added hundreds of billions of dollars to our deficit.” He accused Paul of trying to “balance the budget on the backs of the 9/11 first responder community.”

“At some point, we have to stand up for the people who have always stood up for us, and at this moment in time maybe cannot stand up for themselves due to their illnesses and their injuries,” Stewart said. “And what Rand Paul did today on the floor of the Senate was outrageous.”

Earlier Wednesday, Paul and Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, objected to a request from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., to approve the legislation by unanimous consent, which would have fast-tracked its approval.

Paul questioned the bill’s 70-year time frame and called for the spending to be offset with cuts, pointing to the government’s $22 trillion debt. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the compensation bill would result in about $10.2 billion in additional payments over the next decade.

“Not blocking the 9/11 bill — simply asking for a vote on an amendment to offset the cost,” Paul tweeted Wednesday.

A spokesman for Paul responded to Stewart by reiterating that “Sen. Paul is not blocking anything. He is simply seeking to pay for it.” A spokesman for Lee said that the senator “believes authorizing an infinite amount of money for any program is not conducive to good government.”

The legislation has 74 Senate co-sponsors and passed the House by a wide margin last week. It’s expected to pass the Senate before lawmakers leave for an August recess.

“This is unacceptable,” Gillibrand tweeted. “9/11 first responders are suffering and dying for their heroism, and my Republican colleagues can’t get it together to help them. I ask you: What are you even doing here?”

Associated Press contributed.

Jeffrey Epstein denied bail, must remain behind bars until sex trafficking trial

49 0 18 Jul 2019

A New York federal judge on Thursday ordered Jeffrey Epstein held without bail, siding with prosecutors who argued the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker posed a flight risk.

Epstein, 66, was arrested July 6 at a New Jersey airport after arriving from Paris and accused of sex trafficking and conspiracy.

He faces up to 45 years in prison on allegations that he sexually abused dozens of underage girls at his homes in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005. He has pleaded not guilty.

U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman sided with prosecutors who said agents unearthed a “pile of cash, diamonds” and “a passport from a foreign country” in a safe belonging to Epstein.

And prosecutors had said Wednesday that Epstein used a foreign passport with a fake name to enter several countries in the 1980s including the United Kingdom, Spain and Saudi Arabia.

The questionable travel document was found inside a safe — along with $70,000 in cash and 48 loose diamonds — in the New York City home of the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker. It contained a photo of Epstein with a different name and listed his place of residence as Saudi Arabia, according to prosecutors.

Epstein’s lawyers said he obtained the Austrian passport in 1982 for “personal protection” to be presented to “potential kidnappers, hijackers, or terrorists.” The lawyers said Epstein’s Jewish faith and substantial wealth made him a target while traveling in the Middle East.

Epstein’s attorneys also said that the government provided no evidence that he ever used the passport.

But Wednesday, prosecutors did just that, writing in court papers: “In fact, the passport contains numerous ingress and egress stamps, including stamps that reflect use of the passport to enter France, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s.”

During a 2-hour-long hearing on Monday, two women testified they were victims of Epstein and asked that he remain jailed.

“I was 16 years old when I had the misfortune of meeting Mr. Epstein here in New York,” said Annie Farmer, adding she was there to voice her support for the prosecution’s move to keep Epstein locked up.

When Berman asked if she was sexually abused, the witness responded: “He was inappropriate with me. I would prefer not to get into the details at this time.”

Another woman, Courtney Wild, said she was sexually abused by Epstein.

“Hi, your honor, my name is Courtney Wild and I was sexually assaulted by Jeffrey Epstein at the age of 14,” she told the court.

Wild also asked that Epstein not be released before his trial.

“He is a scary person to have walking the street,” she said.

Defense lawyer Martin Weinberg argued that Epstein wasn’t going anywhere and looked forward to clearing his name: “He’s going to defend this case.”

The charges come more than a decade after he signed a controversial non-prosecution deal in 2008 that allowed him to dodge a federal indictment alleging he abused several underage girls.

Epstein ultimately pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting minors for prostitution and served a 13-month sentence in a Florida county jail. He was forced to register as a sex offender under that deal.

Thousands protest at mass rally in San Juan, demanding Puerto Rico governors resignation

57 0 17 Jul 2019

With chants of “Ricky, renuncia!” (“Ricky, resign!”) thousands of Puerto Ricans marched and rallied in Old San Juan in a massive protest calling for the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

Puerto Ricans from across the island gathered in the U.S. commonwealth’s capital, joined by high-profile stars such as Ricky Martin, reggaeton stars Bad Bunny and Residente, award-winning actor Benicio Del Toro and beloved island celebrities like Tommy Torres, Karla Monroig and PJ Sin Suela, who rallied the crowd amid a sea of Puerto Rican flags, bullhorns and signs.

“I’m here in support of the people of Puerto Rico,” Del Toro said during the rally.

Thousands have been protesting for five consecutive days, urging for Rosselló’s resignation in the wake of corruption investigations and the leaking of 889 pages of a private chat between the governor and some of his officials and close associates. The messages included profanity-laced, misogynistic and homophobic comments as well as barbed and cynical remarks about different topics, including the deaths following Hurricane Maria. The officials who were in the chat and were still in the administration have submitted their resignations.

Rosselló said the chats were private remarks made as a way to blow off steam after long days, but top island officials, including members of his own party, have been highly critical and have given the governor a deadline to “reflect” and prove he can stay in office.

“Fortunately the chat came out, because it unmasked everyone’s real face,” Martin said in a social media video in his native Spanish, summoning people to rally at the Capitol building. “They made fun of our bodies, they mocked women, the LGBTT community, people with physical and mental disabilities, they made fun of obesity… Enough.”

“They made fun of our dead! Not even in the chats that I’m in with my friends I talk about the people in my country like that,” René Pérez Joglar, better known as the multiple Grammy-winning artist Residente, told NBC News in Spanish ahead of Wednesday’s rally. “People are angry with the things that the people in this Cabinet have done… The people don’t want him there!”

“If he does not leave now, this is going to get worse,” Residente said.

Demonstrations started with hundreds of people, then grew to the thousands. The growth was reflected on Twitter as the hashtag #RickyRenuncia (Resign Ricky), a shortened version of his name, Ricardo, and it was trending worldwide Monday.

The rallies have been largely peaceful, but Monday night, about two dozen police officers were injured during an evening protest and at least five protesters were arrested, authorities said.

Residente joined forces with Benito Martinez Ocasio, better known as Bad Bunny, and Grammy-winning artist Ileana Cabra Joglar, artistically known as iLe, to release an explosive song slamming Rosselló prior to Wednesday’s protests.

Martin and the other artists asked participants to show up and protest in peace.

“Puerto Rico, say present without fear. Let’s march in peace and remain firm and assertive,” he said. “When Puerto Rico unites, we accomplish wonderful things and we can change the course of history.”

Protests have been taking place in U.S. cities including Miami, Orlando, Philadelphia and Nashville. In New York City on Wednesday, “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda joined hundreds of protesters in Union Square Park.

“Rosselló has lost the people’s trust in him and we are here to support that,” Miranda told the crowd.

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Massachusetts prosecutors drop sex assault case against actor Kevin Spacey

70 0 17 Jul 2019

A Massachusetts prosecutor on Wednesday asked for charges to be dropped against actor Kevin Spacey, who had been accused of groping the son of a former Boston TV news anchor at a Nantucket bar three years ago.

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe cited the “unavailability of the complaining witness” in filing for dismissal in Nantucket District Court.

The case against Spacey appeared to suffer a fatal blow last week when Spacey’s accuser invoked his Fifth Amendment rights after being questioned about his role in the deleting of text messages from a phone key to the case.

Spacey’s defense had demanded to examine the accuser’s cell phone that he had in the early morning hours of July 8, 2016, when the alleged incident happened at the Club Car restaurant and bar in Nantucket.

On the witness stand, the accuser said he had not altered or deleted any potential evidence off that iPhone he had in 2016. But when Spacey’s lawyer, Alan Jackson, reminded him it is a felony to alter evidence, the court took a break and then the young man told Nantucket District Court Judge Thomas Barrett — through a public defender assigned on the spot — he’d invoke his right against self-incrimination on the phone issue.

The young man and his family met with prosecutors this past Sunday and he decided not to waive his right to invoke the fifth.

“The complaining witness was informed that if he chose to continue to invoke his Fifth Amendment right, the case would not be able to go forward,” according to a statement issued by prosecutors.

“After a further period of reflection privately with his lawyer, the complaining witness elected not to waive his right under the Fifth Amendment.”

In theory, prosecutors could have granted the accuser immunity for testimony — but that would make a conviction virtually impossible with such a tainted witness.

“A grant of immunity compromises the witness to a degree which, in a case where the credibility of the witness is paramount, makes the further prosecution untenable,” according to prosecutors.

In court last week, Jackson said the case against his client was dead.

“This entire case is completely compromised. He is the sole witness,” Jackson said. “This case needs to be dismissed, and I believe it needs to be dismissed today.”

Judge Barrett seemed to agree, but put the matter off so prosecutors could discuss their next move. He ordered both sides back to court on July 31.

Heat wave expected to bake two-thirds of nation through weekend

51 0 17 Jul 2019

A “major heat wave” is expected to bake two-thirds of the nation through this weekend, with forecasters calling for temperatures to soar across much of the central and eastern United States, the National Weather Service said.

From the Plains to Chicago to New England, the hottest temperatures of the year are expected, thanks to a large dome of high pressure that will send temperatures climbing in the coming days, the weather service said.

On the East Coast, cities are already taking precautions. In New York City, where cooling stations were set up Wednesday and will remain in place through Sunday, temperatures are forecast to climb to “dangerously high levels by the weekend,” reaching the mid- to upper-90s by Friday. The heat index, which is the measure of how hot it feels when humidity is factored in with air temperature, is forecast to reach close to reach 107 degrees Saturday, the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the Health Department said Tuesday.

Boston’s mayor Tuesday warned residents to prepare for temperatures between 85 and 97 degrees, with the hottest forecast Saturday. With humidity, it could feel as hot as 105 degrees in Boston, the mayor’s office said.

In swampy Washington, D.C., heat indices of up to 100 to 115 degrees were forecast for the afternoons of Friday through Sunday, according to the weather service.

And the Midwest is staring down similar scorching temperatures.Detroit is expected to see an afternoon heat index of up to 105 degrees Friday and Saturday; Chicago is forecast to get much of the same.

The weather service is warning the Plains of a “major heat wave” that will grip the region starting Wednesday and into the weekend. Parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma and Illinois are under an excessive heat warning, with highs each afternoon expected to be in the mid- to upper-90s and with a heat index as high as 113 degrees.

People shouldn’t expect to catch a cool evening breeze, either.

“There also will be no relief at night, as low temperatures remain in the upper 70s and 80s,” the weather service said.

As temperatures steadily climb, officials across the country are warning of the dangers of excessive heat.

“Hot weather is dangerous and can kill. People with chronic physical and mental health conditions should use air conditioning if they have it, and get to a cool, air-conditioned place if they don’t,” Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said in a statement.

The weather service is advising people to stay hydrated, try to find air conditioning if possible, limit strenuous activity, and to never leave kids or pets in unattended vehicles.

In Missouri and parts of Illinois, a group called Cool Down St. Louis is partnering with local volunteers and the fire department to install air conditioning units in the homes of elderly residents.

The organizer, Gentry Trotter, says the group is working overtime in anticipation of the heat wave.

“We are trying to get ahead of the storm before the storm gets here. And by the storm, I mean the heat!” Trotter said. So far, they’ve installed around 600 units this summer. As the heat climbs, the group’s work will keep residents safe over the weekend.

An estimated 34 million people were already under heat advisories Tuesday evening, and another 21 million were under excessive heat warnings, according to the weather service.

Blayne Alexander contributed.

Ebola outbreak in Congo declared global health emergency

62 0 17 Jul 2019

The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo a global health emergency, citing the virus’s recent spread into Goma, one of the country’s most densely-populated cities.

Two million people reside in Goma, which sits just south of the epicenter of the outbreak, near the border of Rwanda.

Still, the WHO believes that the risk of the virus spreading beyond the region remains low.

“Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region remains very high, and the risk of spread outside the region remains low,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The WHO emergency committee chair, Robert Steffen, told reporters on a conference call that despite efforts by both the government and people in Congo to fight Ebola, “there is disappointment that there has been a recurrence of intense transmission.”

The outbreak in Congo has been ongoing for nearly a year, with 2,418 confirmed cases and 1,676 deaths. The WHO estimates 12 new cases are reported daily. It is the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever.

Controlling the outbreak means public health officials must overcome major obstacles: political and economic instability in Congo’s Ituri and North Kivu provinces, as well as continued violence among armed militia groups.

The WHO reports there have been nearly 200 attacks against healthcare workers and patients since January.

“The assassination of two Ebola workers demonstrates the continued risk to responders due to the security situation,” Steffen said.

Wednesday’s declaration included advice not to close any borders. The emergency status could help to increase funding and assistance from other countries.

The last time the WHO declared a global emergency related to Ebola was in August 2014, during the West Africa epidemic, the world’s deadliest.

Throughout that epidemic, which lasted from 2014 to 2016, at least 28,000 suspected cases of Ebola were reported, and more than 11,000 people died, according to the CDC. The vast majority of cases were in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. But cases also stretched into Italy, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The West Africa outbreak spurred work toward a safe and highly effective Ebola vaccine. The vaccine is now being used to help control the spread in Congo by vaccinating health care workers and people who have been in contact with Ebola patients, as well as the contacts of those contacts.

The Ebola virus is spread through contact with blood and other bodily fluids. It can cause massive internal bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea and death. An outbreak often starts with a “spillover event,” meaning the virus is transmitted from an animal — usually, a fruit bat or monkey — to a human. Then, the virus can spread from person to person.

There is no cure for Ebola. Doctors use supportive fluids and electrolytes to help counter the side effects of high fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

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GOP official says fixation with homosexual activities harming U.S. moral core

61 0 17 Jul 2019

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican contender in the 2020 U.S. Senate race, has set off a new controversy after saying Americans’ fixation with “homosexual activities” has, in part, caused the country’s moral decline.

Merrill, 55, is running to defeat Sen. Doug Jones, a Democrat who won the seat in 2017 after his Republican challenger Roy Moore was accused of soliciting sex from underage girls.

According to an April poll by Mason-Dixon, before Merrill entered the race, Moore was the top pick among Alabama voters.

“The foundational principles which we have grown up as a nation are no more,” Merrill said at a Fort Payne town hall over the weekend. “There are no more good TV shows on like ‘Gunsmoke,’ ‘Bonanza,’ ‘The Virginian,’ ‘Andy Griffith,’ ‘I Love Lucy.’ We don’t have those shows anymore. We’re too interested in homosexual activities.”

In a follow-up interview with NBC News on Wednesday, Merrill doubled down on his controversial remarks.

“What you have today is you have more interest in homosexual activities, you have interest in wife-swapping, and who’s dating who, and how this family is messing with this other family, and those things substitute for entertainment value,” Merrill said.

When sharing an example of what he called Americans’ preoccupation with “homosexuality activities,” Merrill cited media coverage of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s World Cup victory earlier this month.

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” he said. “What the national media chose to focus on is the fact that these young ladies’ sexual orientation was more significant than what they accomplished on the field of play,” which Merrill said “was to separate themselves from any other team like them in the history of the World Cup.”

“The national narrative began to be one of divisiveness, and if you can’t support these young ladies because they’re gay and because they want to wear the LGBT flag on their uniform, as opposed to just appreciating the great talent that they have, and the unbelievable athletic accomplishments that they produce, that’s a problem,” Merrill said.

A better kind of national conversation over athletics, Merrill added, took place almost 40 years ago when in 1980 the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in a game called the “miracle on ice.”

“When they won the gold medal, it was a national celebration of an international accomplishment,” he explained. “Those issues were not introduced at that time.”

Merrill said Megan Rapinoe, an out lesbian and co-captain of the World Cup-winning USWNT, is “in a position to represent our country — again you represent the entire country. Not just you and not just the team, but the entire country because you are the U.S. women’s soccer team.”

As for her status as an openly gay person, Merrill said, “A gay person can be gay, a straight person can be straight, that’s a decision for each individual to make.”

Asked if there is a message he would deliver to gay Republicans in Alabama who might be offended by his remarks about “homosexual activities,” Merrill said he would never be supportive of an effort to take away gay Alabamans’ right to be openly gay.

According to polling firm PRRI, a majority of people in every state support “broad nondiscrimination protections” for LGBTQ people — including Alabama, where 59 percent support them. But the state still faces challenges when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion.

Carson Jones, the openly gay son of Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, penned an op-ed to Alabama voters in April in which he decried the state’s anti-LGBTQ policies and asserted that “Politicians in Alabama are hell bent on holding Alabama back.”

Merrill’s remarks about gays come on the heels of several other controversial comments made by Alabama officials, including a mayor who suggested killing gay people and a police officer who mocked a gay teen’s suicide.

Perhaps the Alabama public figure who has been the most outspoken about gays is Moore, who’s also running for Senate. Moore blamed gays, liberals and socialists for the emergence of sexual misconduct allegations against him during his ill-fated first Senate run in 2017.

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Man might have killed 17-year-old Instagram star in upstate New York in jealous rage, prosecutor said

64 0 17 Jul 2019

The 21-year-old man accused of killing an upstate New York 17-year-old and posting pictures online of the grisly crime might have flown into a jealous rage after seeing her kiss another man hours earlier, a prosecutor said.

Suspect Brandon Clark and Bianca Devins, 17, who had over 170,000 followers on Instagram, attended a New York City show of Canadian singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger on Saturday night, and the pair argued during their approximately 250-mile drive back home, officials have said.

“The belief is that she kissed somebody at the concert and that’s what upset him,” Oneida County District Attorney Scott McNamara told WKTV, an NBC affiliate in Utica.

“I have a very hard time understanding how anybody can justify taking another young person’s life because they kissed somebody else,” McNamara said.

Bianca Devins, 17, was allegedly killed by an Instagram influencer in Utica, New York.Courtesy of the Devins Family

Utica police said they are investigating the murder thoroughly.

“In this case, a lot of it is background on both individuals. Speaking to people that knew them both,” Utica police Lt. Bryan Coromato told WKTV. “Trying to understand their relationship, what the mindset of each person in the relationship was.”

He said investigators are trying to determine if the killing “was preplanned or if it’s something that just happened.”

Clark faces charges of second-degree murder.

McNamara told WKTV that his department is preparing for any possible defense, such as “something called extreme emotional disturbance” under the law.

“It doesn’t negate the crime, but it mitigates it,” the prosecutor said. “What I mean by that is it doesn’t make it so you’re not guilty, it just reduces the level of crime, so it would knock it from a murder second to manslaughter in the first degree.”

Clark, who allegedly met Devins over Instagram, called 911 Sunday morning and “made incriminating statements,” police said.

His location was traced by cellphone signals and he was eventually found lying on the ground next to a black SUV on a dead end street in Utica. He used his cellphone to take selfies while lying atop of Devins’ body, which he covered with a tarp, police said.

He also allegedly posted some grisly images of the murder on the messaging platform, Discord, before his arrest.

Dollanganger has pleaded with people to stop sharing those graphic photos.

“While I know some of u are very well-intentioned, I ask that U PLEASE STOP sharing the horrific content her murderer distributed,” the singer tweeted earlier this week. “My deepest condolences to Bianca’s family & friends.”

House to vote today on impeachment resolution against Trump

76 0 17 Jul 2019

The House will vote on Wednesday on a resolution to impeach President Donald Trump, marking the first time the Democrat-controlled chamber has weighed in on the divisive issue.

It’s unclear whether the House will vote to send the resolution to committee, to table it — effectively killing the measure — or vote to proceed forward with it.

In addition, the House will vote Wednesday to hold U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in criminal contempt of Congress for withholding information about the administration’s failed bid to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

The House scheduled the vote after Barr and Ross withheld documents that had been subpoenaed by the Oversight and Reform Committee as part of its probe into origins of the now-scuttled citizenship question.

On impeachment, Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, forced the vote by reading the articles of impeachment on Tuesday night; he told reporters a vote will happen Wednesday afternoon. A Democratic leadership aide confirmed to NBC News the vote would occur.

Green cited Trump’s recent racist remarks about four Democratic congresswoman of color, which the House voted to condemn yesterday, as cause for seeking his removal from office.

“President Donald Trump’s racist comments that have legitimatized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color,” Green said Tuesday night on the House floor. “Donald John Trump, by causing such harm to the society of the United States, is unfit to be president and warrants impeachment, trial and removal from office.”

Green told reporters on Wednesday that he hoped the House would vote for impeachment, not to table or refer it to committee. He said “bigotry” qualified as a “high crime and misdemeanor,” incorrectly claiming that President Andrew Johnson was impeached for his bigotry. (Johnson warred with Congress over reconstruction and the rights for freed slaves, but was impeached for violating a law surrounding the appointment of Cabinet officials.)

Green rejected questions about whether he should hold on impeachment proceedings until after the testimony of former special counsel Robert Mueller next week.

“The Mueller testimony has nothing to do with his bigotry. Nothing. Zero. Nada,” Green said. “We cannot wait. As we wait, we risk having the blood of somebody on our hands — and it could be a member of Congress.”

Green has been gunning to impeach Trump for years — his latest effort is his third attempt. He most recently offered articles of impeachment when Republicans controlled the House back in January 2018, after the president derided immigrants from Haiti and some African countries. The House voted to table that resolution, with 121 Democrats joined 234 Republicans to effectively kill the measure.

More than 80 members of the House have called for opening an impeachment inquiry, but some Democratic leaders have resisted, fearing that it would distract from the party’s policy agenda, could rally Trump’s base, isn’t popular with the public and is doomed to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that enthusiasm for impeachment may be waning: The July survey found 21 percent of registered voters say that there is enough evidence for Congress to begin impeachment hearings now. In June, 27 percent in the poll the same thing, a 6-point drop in one month — though that survey was of Americans, not registered voters.

National Weather Service will debut new flood warning system to get people to listen

77 0 17 Jul 2019

A pregnant woman and her son died in a flash flood in southeastern Pennsylvania last Thursday after the National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for the region. She was on the phone with 911 as her car was swept away by the sudden rush of water.

Just days later, Tropical Storm Barry dropped 5-6 inches of rain on the Gulf Coast — far less than the 15-20 inches originally forecast to top the already swollen Mississippi River. Though flooding damaged homes and knocked out power to 153,000 people in Louisiana, the storm’s effect was not nearly as devastating as expected.

There’s a clear need for residents to take emergency alert warnings for flash floods and other disasters seriously, but with a shaky track record of predictions, forecasters are questioning how best to provide warnings that will not be met with skepticism.

The NWS, which sends out approximately 12,000 flash flood warnings every year, hopes that a new emergency alert system is the answer.

Preliminary numbers suggest that the new system — with a planned rollout beginning Sept. 16 — would pare down the number of warnings by about 80 percent, Mary Mullusky, chief of the agency’s Water Resources Services Branch, said. The aim is to emphasize the most dangerous floods, as well as simplify the warnings so that they are easily understood and relatable for the people who receive them.

“People are becoming desensitized to the warning,” Mullusky said. “There were just too many and we were getting complaints about them. We wanted to be responsive to that and help people readily understand what the warning is and take the appropriate actions.”

Experts warn that flooding is the top weather-related killer in the United States. Approximately 6,000 people in the U.S. died in flooding or tropical cyclone-related flooding between 2004 and 2018, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The cost of damage for those storms topped $825 billion.

The biggest killer, experts say, are people choosing to drive their cars through flooded areas.

One-year-old Oliver Kelly cries as he is carried off the sheriff’s airboat during his rescue from rising flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Leland, North Carolina, on Sept. 16, 2018.Jonathan Drake / Reuters file

The impact-based warnings will fall into three categories: base, considerable and catastrophic. The latter two, considerable and catastrophic, which warn of floodwaters that could severely impact lives and property, will be the approximately 20 percent of warnings that the NWS will push out to people’s phones.

“There’s been a discussion going on in the weather community for at least five years now of the number and complexity of the warnings that go out,” said Rebecca Morss, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist who studies decision making in hurricane and flood risk communications and evacuations.

“There are different ways they are trying to simplify the system so that people can really identify the most important threat that they need to respond to,” she added. “It’s especially important in a flash flood that can evolve really quickly.”

Residents wade through flood waters from Tropical Storm Harvey in Beaumont Place, Houston on Aug. 28, 2017.Jonathan Bachman / Reuters file

The NWS interviewed local leaders and storm survivors to best grasp how flood warnings helped or hurt communities.

Kim Klockow McClain, a scientist and researcher at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Oklahoma, spoke to storm survivors to better learn how they had reacted to warnings in the past. She said the challenge still is to break down the information in a way that people can quickly understand and trust to use in their decision making.

“There’s a lot of challenge still in trying to communicate how flooding is going to evolve in ways that people can understand and relate to it,” Klockow McClain said. “They have to understand and personalize it. They need to know where it’s going to occur, what it will look like and how it will unfold and evolve.”

Another issue that some worry about is that people who receive these warnings still won’t all react the same.

That was seen when Washington, D.C., recently received enough rain for the NWS to categorize the storm as a once-in-100-year event, causing massive flooding and triggering more than 70 water rescues between Washington and northern Virginia.

The new warning system aims to get the largest number of people to react safely to a disaster.

“How do you provide information that is succinct, easily available, accurate, and reflects the uncertainties of our ability to predict the future but still meets the needs of all people?” Morss asked. “It’s a really difficult question.”

It’s one that will need to be answered, as climate change continues to affect the movement of water and weather forecasting.

“Flooding is absolutely not going away,” Klockow McClain said. “It’s something we expect to continue to be a problem pretty much everywhere.”