Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: August 15, 2021

Taliban surrounds Kabul, negotiating with Afghan government, Death toll surpasses 300 after Haiti earthquake, and more

1

Taliban surrounds Kabul, negotiating with Afghan government

The Taliban surrounded Kabul on Sunday and are reportedly in talks with the Afghan government to secure a peaceful transfer of power after a rapid, country-wide offensive. The group said it has instructed its fighters to hold steady and offer safe passage to anyone who wishes to leave Kabul while the negotiations are underway. The United States, meanwhile, has ramped up its evacuation efforts; the goal is to pull all embassy personnel from Kabul within the next 72 hours, CNN reports. President Biden, who on Saturday defended his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan despite the Taliban's quicker-than-expected takeover, ordered a total of 5,000 troops to the capital region to ensure a safe evacuation process for Americans.

2

Death toll surpasses 300 after Haiti earthquake

At least 304 people were killed following a major 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti on Saturday, according to the country's Office of Civil Protection. More than 1,800 people were reportedly injured. The casualty toll is expected to grow, and the United States Geological Survey estimated fatalities could reach into the thousands. Jerry Chandler, the head of Haiti's disaster response, said many structures, including houses, have collapsed or been damaged. Haiti is still recovering from a major earthquake in 2010 that killed more than 300,000 people, and the country is still dealing with a political crisis after President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated last month.

3

Man stabbed at anti-vaccine protest in Los Angeles

Violence broke out on Saturday outside Los Angeles City Hall, where anti-vaccine protesters had gathered. They clashed with counter protesters, and a man was eventually stabbed. Police didn't immediately reveal information about the victim, who was treated at the scene by the Los Angeles Fire Department and remains in serious condition. No arrests had been made as of Saturday afternoon, but an investigation is ongoing. Journalists at the scene said they were attacked by some of the protesters, many of whom were reportedly members of the far-right Proud Boys.

4

Utah blaze prompts mandatory evacuations

Around 10,000 people in Utah were subject to mandatory evacuations on Saturday night as the Parleys Canyon Fire, which had burned more than 2,500 acres since it started Saturday afternoon, threatens at least 6,000 homes. The blaze has slowed, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands said, but it hasn't been contained. The cause of the fire is believed to be sparks from a catalytic converter. The western United States has dealt with a series of major fires this summer, including California's Dixie Fire, the nation's largest blaze which continues to grow. As of Saturday, when it was reportedly "extremely active," Dixie has burned through 552,589 acres. It's 31 percent contained, officials said. 

5

At least 20 killed in Lebanon fuel tanker explosion

At least 20 people have been killed and 79 more injured after a fuel tanker exploded in northern Lebanon on Sunday morning, the Lebanese Red Cross announced. A military source told Reuters the explosion took place after the Lebanese army distributed gasoline from a hidden fuel storage tanker it had confiscated, prompting fights between residents who gathered around the tank to fill up since the country is dealing with a fuel shortage amid a severe economic crisis. The army reportedly left the area before the explosion, the cause of which was not immediately clear. One source said the arguments led to gunfire which hit the tank, while a local television channel heard from eyewitnesses that it occurred after an individual ignited a lighter. Many of the victims were taken to hospitals, but had to be turned away because medical centers are not currently equipped to treat severe burns.

6

Tropical storm warnings in place for Florida, Caribbean

A tropical storm warning has been issued for much of the Caribbean region, including Haiti. Tropical Storm Grace may affect recovery efforts in the country, which was hit by a major earthquake on Saturday. The storm is expected to hit Haiti and its neighbor, the Dominican Republic, on Monday and Tuesday, with winds likely around 40-50 miles per hour. It is also forecast to bring heavy rain to Puerto Rico, putting the island on alert for flash floods and mudslides. Another system, Gulf Storm Fred, is on the verge of strengthening into a tropical storm over the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said. It's expected to bring wind and rain to parts of Florida, starting on Sunday.

7

Musk says first orbital stack of Starship ready for flight within weeks

Elon Musk said Saturday that the first orbital stack of SpaceX's Starship rocket should be ready for flight in the next few weeks, pending regulatory approval. Starship is a reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, which Musk hopes will eventually carry astronauts and large cargo payloads to the moon and Mars. An orbital flight is planned for the end of the year, and Musk said Saturday he's optimistic Starship will be ready for a lunar mission with humans aboard before 2024.

8

Biden calls, praises school superintendents for mask mandates

President Biden called school district superintendents in Florida and Arizona after their boards implemented mask requirements despite pushback from the states' governors amid a rise in COVID-19 infections, the White House said in a Saturday statement. Biden, the statement said, commended the "leadership and courage" of Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright and Phoenix Union High School District Superintendent Chad Gestson. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has banned schools and other local authorities from imposing mask mandates, while Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed a state budget proposal that prohibits school districts from requiring mask-wearing.

9

Zambian opposition leader poised for presidential victory

Zambian opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema is nearing victory in the country's presidential election. He's reeled in 63 percent of the vote with 62 of 156 constituencies tallied, but incumbent President Edgar Lungu, who's currently a distant second, has said the election was "not free and fair," claiming officials from his party had been chased from polling stations. However, Hichilema said Lungu's statement was a "desperate final act of an outgoing administration," and the European Union's observation mission said that Lungu actually had the advantage of a lopsided playing field during the campaign because of a misuse of state resources and one-sided media reporting.

10

Rookie throws no-hitter in first MLB start

Tyler Gilbert, a 27-year-old rookie for the Arizona Diamondbacks, threw a no-hitter in his first major league start on Saturday, shutting out the San Diego Padres. Gilbert had made a few relief appearances earlier this season, but Saturday was the first time he toed the rubber in the first inning. He's just the fourth pitcher in baseball history to throw a no-hitter in his first start, and the first since Bobo Holloman in 1953. Gilbert walked San Diego outfielder Tommy Pham three times during the game, so he fell short of a perfect game. It was the record-tying eighth no-hitter of the 2021 season.

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