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10 things you need to know today: February 7, 2023

Earthquake death toll rises in Turkey and Syria, toxic chemicals released from derailed train in Ohio to prevent explosion, and more


Turkey, Syria earthquake death toll surpasses 5,000

The death toll from a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook southern Turkey and war-torn neighboring Syria rose to more than 5,000 on Monday. Thousands of others were injured when the quake destroyed thousands of buildings. Rescue crews searched for survivors in the rubble but were hampered by snow. Hours after the temblor, a second, 7.5 magnitude quake hit about 60 miles away from the epicenter of the first one. Tens of thousands of survivors were driven out of their homes, with many forced to spend the night outside in the cold. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared a week-long national mourning period. The White House said it was sending search-and-rescue teams to help look for survivors.


Toxic chemicals released from rail cars in Ohio to prevent explosion

A rail operator on Monday released toxic chemicals from five rail cars on a Norfolk Southern train that derailed over the weekend in eastern Ohio near the Pennsylvania state line. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said the controlled release of vinyl chloride, a flammable gas used to produce vehicle interiors and PVC piping, was necessary to prevent a possible explosion that could have resulted in the "deadly disbursement of shrapnel and toxic fumes." The controlled burn-off of the chemicals also resulted in the potential exposure to toxic fumes for people living nearby. The Ohio National Guard was deployed to the area to go door to door to urge people to leave, and DeWine said Monday he believed all stragglers had left.


Ukrainians brace for new Russian offensive as Moscow sends reinforcements

Residents and soldiers in eastern Ukraine are bracing for a new Russian offensive that the local governor says could start as soon as next week. Russia has been dispatching reinforcements into the region. "There are so many," Serhiy Haidai, the Ukrainian governor of the largely Russian-occupied Luhansk region, said of the Russian recruits. "These are not professional soldiers, but it is still 200,000 people who are shooting in our direction." British intelligence said Tuesday Russia's reinforcements might not give it enough troops for a new offensive for weeks. That would still allow it to attack around the anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine last year.


Pair charged in alleged neo-Nazi plot to destroy Baltimore power grid

Federal authorities have arrested two suspects accused in an alleged neo-Nazi plot to "completely destroy Baltimore" by disrupting its power grid. Prosecutors said in a complaint filed Monday in a federal court that Sarah Clendaniel, 27, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Russell, 34, of Orlando, Florida, conspired to cause "maximum harm" in a racist scheme to take out the predominantly Black city's power grid. There was no immediate evidence of any link between the case and recent attacks on electrical networks in North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington state. Russell allegedly is an active member of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen that was linked to talk in 2017 of possible attacks on electrical and nuclear facilities in Florida.


U.S. general says Pentagon didn't spot previous China spy balloons

Gen. Glen VanHerck, the head of U.S. Northern Command, said Monday that the Pentagon did not detect Chinese spy balloons that flew through U.S. airspace when former President Donald Trump was in office. "We did not detect those threats," VanHerck told reporters. A U.S. warplane over the weekend shot down a 200-foot-tall suspected Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina after it spent days in U.S. airspace. Republicans have criticized President Biden for not ordering the balloon destroyed earlier, when it was over land. Trump said in a post on his Truth Social site the report of previous balloon flights was "disinformation" intended to "take the 'heat' off the slow moving Biden fools."


Biden to acknowledge problems but encourage optimism in SOTU address

President Biden on Tuesday will deliver his second State of the Union address. The speech will be Biden's first to a divided Congress. The address comes in an atmosphere of economic uncertainty, Ukraine's ongoing effort to fight off a Russian invasion, and tensions with China that returned to focus last weekend after the shooting down of a suspected Chinese spy balloon. With three-quarters of Americans saying in a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research that the country is on the wrong track, Biden is expected to acknowledge the "economic anxiety is real," but encourage people to "feel optimism," Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, told AP.


Poll: Majority of U.S. adults think Biden hasn't accomplished much

Just 36 percent of U.S. adults who participated in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll said President Biden had accomplished a "great deal" or "a good amount" since taking office. Sixty-two percent said Biden had accomplished "not very much" or "little to nothing," according to the poll, which was released Monday. The perceptions were split along partisan lines. Seventy-seven percent of Democrats said Biden had accomplished a great or good amount, while 93 percent of Republicans said he had accomplished not much or little to nothing. "The dynamic arguably raises the stakes of Biden's prime time speech on Tuesday," when he delivers his second State of the Union address and touts the accomplishments of his first two years in office, The Washington Post said.


U.K. health service workers walk out demanding higher pay

Thousands of nurses and ambulance service staff walked off the job in the United Kingdom on Monday in the largest strike in the 75-year history of Britain's National Health Service. The state-run health service's medical director, Stephen Powis, said more walkouts were expected in "the most disruptive" week the NHS has ever faced. The NHS strike is the latest in a massive wave of protests the U.K. in recent days, as public sector workers demand higher pay to help them keep up with the rising cost of living. Teachers, train drivers, airport workers, border officers, postal workers, and others have participated in the wave of strikes.


Scandal-plagued 'National Enquirer' sold 

A360 Media has agreed to sell the National Enquirer to WIP Ventures, the companies announced Monday. The two sides didn't reveal the price in the cash deal. The Enquirer has come under intense scrutiny in recent years after a series of scandals, including its arrangement to pay $150,000 in hush money to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who claimed to have had an affair with Donald Trump, to keep her quiet during his 2016 presidential campaign. After buying the rights to her story, the Enquirer didn't publish it. WIP, a joint venture between the digital media company Vinco Ventures and the newly created Icon Publishing, also will acquire the National Examiner and Globe tabloids as part of the deal.


Report: Thousands of U.S. plants, animals face extinction threat

The conservation research group NatureServe released a report Monday saying that 40 percent of animals and 34 percent of plants in the United States face the threat of extinction. The animals and plants at risk of disappearing include crayfish, half of all U.S. cactus species, and the Venus flytrap, the report said, citing data from more than 1,000 scientists from the U.S. and Canada. The reasons cited include "habitat degradation and land conversion, invasive species, damming and polluting of rivers, and climate change." Forty-one percent of ecosystems face possible collapse. "We're almost in triage mode trying to keep our natural systems in place," commented Wesley Knapp, the chief botanist at NatureServe.


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