News Brief: Brett Kavanaugh, Hurricane Florence And Typhoon Mangkhut

Sep 17, 2018
Originally published on September 17, 2018 10:24 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some senators say they should take some time before voting on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Right. They want time to learn more about this allegation made by Christine Blasey Ford. Today she is a clinical psychology professor. In the early 1980s, she was a high school student. And she says another student, Brett Kavanaugh, sexually assaulted her while at a party. Her anonymous allegation, which was made in a letter, surfaced last week. And now she is on the record in an interview with The Washington Post. Democrats - and a few Republicans, even - now want to delay a committee vote on Kavanaugh.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Scott Horsley is covering this story.

Scott, good morning.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good to be with you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why did Christine Blasey Ford step forward now?

HORSLEY: Well, just to recap the timeline a little bit - she first stepped forward back in July. She contacted her local representative and also Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. We now know that she also reached out to The Washington Post through a tip line.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

HORSLEY: That was before Brett Kavanaugh was actually nominated to the Supreme Court but once his name had surfaced as being on a shortlist. At the time, Christine Blasey Ford was not willing to go public. So Senator Feinstein did not raise this allegation during Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing. She did not raise it during a closed session of the Judiciary Committee, which is sort of designed for this kind of sensitive topic. She did last week, though, refer the issue to the FBI. And that's when the story began to leak out.

On Friday, we had the story in The New Yorker with the details but not Christine Blasey Ford's name. Reporters, though, began contacting her. And it began to look as if, with or without her consent, the story was going to get out. That's when she decided to go on the record.

INSKEEP: I want to be clear. You said there was a closed session of the Judiciary Committee where, in theory, Feinstein could have raised this issue but did not necessarily have the permission of Ford herself to do that at that point.

HORSLEY: She did not raise the issue.

INSKEEP: How is the White House responding now that she is on the record?

HORSLEY: On Friday, before the accuser's name became public, the White House issued a blanket denial from Brett Kavanaugh. And they have not elaborated since Christine Blasey Ford's name became public yesterday. Now, allies have noted that nothing like this allegation came up during half a dozen FBI background checks of Brett Kavanaugh stretching back to the 1990s. They suggested late last week that this was sort of an eleventh hour stalling tactic by Democrats.

But now that there is a name and a real person attached to these allegations, the Republicans have to at least make a show of doing their due diligence. You have the committee chairman, Chuck Grassley, his office was scrambling yesterday to arrange staff telephone calls both with Christine Blasey Ford and with Kavanaugh. But Senator Feinstein is saying that's not good enough. She wants an FBI investigation. She says the staff calls are not the way to deal with this kind of situation.

INSKEEP: So we've been through so many of these stories that we understand. Very often, a woman will wait years or decades before making an allegation, particularly if it's going to be very public like this. And yet the question is going to be asked of Ford - why did she wait until now to go public? What has she said in this interview with The Washington Post?

HORSLEY: Well, we - there is some corroborating evidence. She did talk about this during a couples counsel - therapy session. There is some documentation of that. But there are also some discrepancies in there. We also understand, through her lawyer, that this summer she took and passed a polygraph test.

INSKEEP: So she's been thinking about this for a while but now feeling her civic obligation, I think was the quote in the paper.

HORSLEY: And the big question mark is, how will Republicans on the committee and in the full Senate respond?

INSKEEP: Could there still be a committee vote on Kavanaugh on Thursday as expected?

HORSLEY: It's possible. But we now have Senator Flake, the lone Republican on the committee, saying that he thinks it might have to be delayed.

INSKEEP: Scott, thanks very much.

HORSLEY: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Scott Horsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: All right, the biggest danger from the remnants of Hurricane Florence is simply its slow speed.

MARTIN: Yeah. Florence has lingered over the southeast of the U.S., dumping massive amounts of rain. At least 17 people have been killed in this storm. Thousands of people remain in shelters.

INSKEEP: NPR's Brian Mann is in Lumberton, N.C., where he spent the weekend as the storm passed over.

Hi there, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's this weekend been like?

MANN: Yeah, it's a mess here - crazy rain, monsoon-like downpours that just kept coming in waves all through the weekend. And that's meant thousands of homes flooded; hundreds of thousands of people still without power; a lot of communities cut off or feel cut off; road travel is really difficult down here; and people in dangerous situations needing rescue. I spoke to a guy named Billy Flagel (ph) from Houston, Texas. He's been volunteering, brought his boat to help people trapped in flooded neighborhoods. And here's what he saw.

BILLY FLAGEL: A lot of different people's houses flooded and a lot of stranded people; a lot of cars in ditches; military convoys washed off the roads.

MANN: And then late yesterday, Steve, to cap it off, there were tornadoes here in North Carolina.

INSKEEP: Wow. And I'm thinking about - as this storm moves inland, it dumps even more rain. The rain goes into the rivers. The rivers go back to the coastal area where you are. There's going to continue to be flooding.

MANN: Yeah, this isn't close to over. Forecasters say there could be up to 15 inches additional rain coming at us. That will make the river flooding that we're already seeing - it's really high here in lots of places. That's going to make it worse.

INSKEEP: Is it possible, at this early time, to understand how vast the damage may be?

MANN: You know, I haven't seen a reliable estimate yet for the dollar cost of Florence, but it's going to be huge. What I have heard is that this storm, along with Hurricane Matthew - remember, that hit just a couple of years ago? - it's really threatening the future of some of these communities and some of these neighborhoods. I talked with a guy named Leroy Rising. He's a town councilman in Lumberton, N.C., where the Lumber River reached 12 feet above flood stage. He says hundreds of homes in his town are still abandoned because of the last big storm, and now people in those same parts of town are getting slammed again.

LEROY RISING: I have already been contacted - some of the folks have already been flooded out again. They don't want to come back into their same neighborhood. They want to relocate. This is very sad and very overwhelming for everybody.

MANN: And a lot of those homes, Steve, are in low-income, working-class neighborhoods. So these folks really do face a really difficult future.

INSKEEP: OK. It's no longer a hurricane. It's no longer a tropical storm. It is still a storm. It is still raining. Where's it going next?

MANN: Yeah. So it's aimed at the southern Appalachian Mountains - West Virginia, western Virginia. A lot of the communities around where I am are still facing more rain and more high water. But up in the mountains, you know, the National Park Service has ordered hikers off parts of the Appalachian hiking trail. And with flash floods and power outages now, there's also potential for landslides up higher in that steeper terrain.

INSKEEP: You just alluded to power outages, and we heard of some of them over the weekend. And I'm thinking of Puerto Rico, when the hurricane hit there and people were without power for weeks and then for months in many cases. How much of the region you're in seems to have electricity, as best you can tell?

MANN: It's really spotty. And I'll tell you what a big difference is, is that here, the rescue trucks and the repair trucks are everywhere. As we've been driving through high water trying to get to communities to see what's happening, those power line trucks and crews are there ahead of us. They're working really hard. The hotel where we are, there are people parked here ready to head out again this morning. So there is a big effort already underway to try to get power back to these communities. But again, as the rain continues to fall, heavy trees, sodden ground - it just makes it that much more difficult for people to make progress here.

INSKEEP: Brian, thanks very much.

MANN: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Brian Mann.

Now, on the other side of the world, another massive storm brought damaging winds and massive amounts of rain to Southeast Asia.

MARTIN: Yeah. It's being called Typhoon Mangkhut. And over the weekend, it reached sustained winds of more than 120 mph when it made landfall in the Philippines. It left dozens of people there dead. The storm has now moved north into China. In Hong Kong, there are these videos that were posted to social media showing buildings swaying, roofs of buildings torn off, scaffolding collapsing, windows blown out by fierce winds. This thing is really serious.

INSKEEP: Wow. NPR's Julie McCarthy, who is now based in Manila in the Philippines, experienced a little bit of this hurricane.

Hi there, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where did this storm strike near you?

MCCARTHY: Well, the eye of the storm moved over the northernmost tip of Luzon, the biggest island in the Philippines, where I'm sitting. That's where Manila is. The storm, unlike Florence, was very fast-moving, but it was also 500 miles wide. And the winds brought down major transmission lines and damaged bridges, and rain fell nonstop for hours. And of course homes are flooded, and it triggered flash floods.

And there was a lot of nail-biting over a cluster of little towns that bore the brunt of this thing first. They lost total communication. But evidently, rescuers made it in today. And they found evacuation centers bulging and houses destroyed and 90 percent of the fields wiped out.

INSKEEP: Wow.

MCCARTHY: We're talking about the biggest rice-producing region in the Philippines. So a big knock-on effect of the storm could be the food supply.

INSKEEP: Do people in your region and that region build buildings and build infrastructure to withstand typhoons?

MCCARTHY: Well, increasingly, they are doing that. But you know, this is a poor country. And many, many homes, thousands of homes and buildings, are built with light material. We still don't have a count on how many of those houses have been destroyed. But what we do know is that nearly 200,000 people evacuated to government schools and gyms. And they crammed in at the last minute, but they heeded the government's warning.

INSKEEP: What are you hearing from people there, Julie?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, this depends on where you stand. People who are stuck in evacuation centers desperate to go back home and there's no home to go back to, they're very disappointed. And then again there's tragedy. Landslides have been the biggest hazard here. Up in the mountainous central area, dozens have been buried. Bodies of miners who panned for gold are being pulled out from the mud. They sought shelter in a bunkhouse that collapsed underneath them.

Now, the government has an impressive system of tracking victims and the number of homes flooded and how deep they're flooded. But what's been done on the ground after all of these damage assessments is the big question. And we spoke with one farmer today, 37-year-old Nelson Lapusan (ph), who's lost five acres. All of them are underwater. I stood in the fields near him, and there's nothing but a huge lake. He said he's lost everything, and no one from the government has come to see how the farmers are doing. Here he is.

NELSON LAPUSAN: (Foreign language spoken).

MCCARTHY: He says, "I'm dismayed because officials haven't come to our situation. And that's made it all a lot harder for us."

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks very much.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPIQUE'S "EARTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.