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Saturday, July 21, 2018
 
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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Several clusters of thunderstorms are threatening the eastern U.S. on Saturday, with rain expected much of the day and the possibility for severe weather.

One cluster is over Arkansas early Saturday and moving toward Mississippi, while another is over eastern Tennessee and moving toward Georgia. Parts of the south are under a severe thunderstorm watch through the morning, with damaging winds and large hail serving as the main threats.

Along the coastline, a disturbance is developing and pushing an onslaught of thunderstorms and rain up the East Coast toward the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. A flash flood watch has been issued for parts of the greater Philadelphia region, including much of New Jersey.

There is a slight risk for severe weather across much of the Southeast on Saturday, including Atlanta; Birmingham, Alabama; and Charlotte, North Carolina. Damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes are possible.

On Sunday, this threat slides slightly southeast, with the possibility for severe thunderstorms from Jacksonville, Florida, to Charleston, South Carolina.

Meanwhile, two systems interacting in the eastern U.S. will force rain toward the mid-Atlantic and Northeast late Saturday. Heavy rain will last into early Sunday for parts of the mid-Atlantic, especially Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. After the initial rain, numerous scattered thunderstorms will persist in the region on Sunday.

It looks increasingly likely that widespread rainfall totals over 3 inches will fall across parts of Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania overnight Saturday into Sunday. The rain could cause flash flooding, while winds will increase as the storm approaches on Saturday night, with high wind gusts over 30 mph along the shoreline from Delaware to Long Island.

Locally, strong thunderstorms with heavy downpours are possible from North Carolina to New Hampshire the entire weekend, and isolated flash flooding will remain a concern.

Dangerous heat wave

A record-breaking, dangerous heat wave is gripping the southern U.S., and concern is growing for major heat in the Southwest next week. Heat alerts have been issued from western Florida all the way to California.

Waco, Texas, hit 109 degrees on Friday, tying the record high for the entire month of July. Dallas hit 107 degrees, a new record for the date. Arkadelphia, Arkansas, had a heat index topping 120 degrees on Friday. Oklahoma City hit 109 degrees on Friday, tying the record from 2012.

On Saturday, the heat index will once again jump well past 100 degrees across much of Texas and Oklahoma, all the way to Alabama. Heat-index values could exceed 110 degrees in Dallas and Shreveport, Louisiana, on Saturday.

Saturday will be the last day of peak heat, but triple-digit heat will persist into Monday for parts of this region.

Meanwhile, in the Southwest, the heat is going to build. A major heat wave is coming to parts of the region with temperatures in Phoenix; Palm Springs, California; and Las Vegas soaring past 110 degrees for consecutive days next week.

Temperatures in Death Valley, California, will head past 120 degrees by Tuesday and Wednesday. The heat will also grip Southern and Central California with widespread triple-digit heat from Burbank all the way to Redding.

In addition to the heat coming to the Southwest, the fire season continues across the entire western U.S.

The Substation Fire in Oregon is now over 70,000 acres and remains the nation's top wildfire priority. The fire is 15 percent contained.

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peangdao/iStock/Thinkstock(WILMINGTON, Del.) -- The pool employee who allegedly told children wearing hijabs that they could not go into a public pool has been reassigned as tensions over accusations in Delaware continue to make waves.

The leaders of a Muslim children's summer camp joined with an advocacy group to sent a cease and desist letter to the Wilmington mayor's office over what their attorney called conduct that "contravenes basic standards of decency."

The cease and desist letter was the latest move in a weeks-long saga over whether the Muslim children were appropriately treated at the pool, the fallout from which included a public apology from the city's mayor and a postponed meeting between the camp leaders and the mayor.

The letter was written by attorney Juvaria Khan, who works with the civil rights group Muslim Advocates and is representing the staff of Darul Academy, which runs the summer camp.

Khan wrote that the staffers at the pool "the staff has consistently used derogatory terms to refer to these children, creating a hostile environment and, on several occasions, preventing them from accessing the pool altogether."

When "pushed for an explanation," the staff allegedly pointed to an unwritten policy banning cotton in the pool, which presented a problem based on the children's religious clothing.

"In reality, the staff can point to no such written policy, and these purported explanations are merely pretext for the true motivation behind their conduct: discrimination against these children on the basis of their race, religion, and/or socio-economic status," Khan wrote in the cease and desist letter.

John Rago, the deputy chief of staff for Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki, released a statement saying that the letter and the allegations are "being taken very seriously."



The manager at the Foster Brown pool has been reassigned, Rago said in the statement, and noted that the investigation into the allegations is ongoing.

"For the remaining 15 days or so of this pool season, there will be a very liberal policy in place regarding proper swimwear without restrictions on the types of fabrics worn. During the off-season, the City will review its pool regulations to strike an appropriate balance among several factors, include religious expression and the safety of the swimmers," Rago said in the statement.

Purzycki apologized on July 14 for one of the alleged incidents that happened on June 25, saying that officials used "poor judgment" in the situation.

"We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident," he said in his July 14 statement.

Khan told ABC News that the camp leaders, including principal Tahsiyn A. Ismaa’eel, “felt the mayor’s initial response… trivialized what they experienced and what they’re still going through.”

“What they want out of this is to be treated equally and to know that they can show up at Foster Brown or any other pool and know they can use it like anybody else,” Khan said.

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aijohn784/iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Houston police are searching for the suspect who fatally shot the prominent cardiologist who treated former President George H.W. Bush.

Dr. Mark Hausknecht was riding his bike Friday when he was shot and killed, according to Houston Methodist Hospital.

The former president released a statement about his doctor's death through his spokesman.

"Mark was a fantastic cardiologist and a good man," President George H.W. Bush said in his statement. "I will always be grateful for his exceptional, compassionate care. His family is in our hearts."

In a statement from the hospital, Hausknecht was prasied for his "kind bedside manner" and his compassion.

Police are searching for a white or Hispanic male suspect who was wearing a dark jacket and fled the scene, according to ABC station KTRK.

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Evgen_Prozhyrko/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A teen and his family accused Indiana police of excessive force for how they restrained the boy during an altercation at a festival where police accused him of slapping away an officer’s arm.

"He didn't try to swipe away their arm,” the boy’s mother, Elizabeth Montejano, told ABC Chicago station WLS-TV. “When the officer grabbed him right here from his shirt, Dominic grabbed him. He’s just like, 'What are you doing.’”

In Facebook video posted Thursday by his aunt, Dominic Garibay, 15, can be seen being held on the ground by multiple officers. Montejano can be heard in the background screaming “that’s my son” at officers.

ABC News has been unable to reach Montejano.

Officers had been breaking up a fight between two teenage girls Wednesday when Garibay “attempted to get through the area being blocked off by officers,” according to a statement the Hammond Police Department posted on its Facebook page.

“One officer, told the young man three times to step back away from the area. In an attempt to block access to the fight, the officer extended his arm to keep back the young man attempting to get through the line,” according to the statement. “The young man slapped away the arm of the officer protecting the scene.”

That’s when officers attempted to arrest him for disorderly conduct, police said, adding that he subsequently “began to yell and resist arrest” before Garibay, who had been handcuffed by then, was “taken to the ground” a second time.

He also yelled profanities throughout the encounter, police said.

But Garibay and his family said police went too far, accusing the officers of choking him to the point where he thought he “was going to die,” the teen told WLS.

"Once he started choking me, I was trying to break free because I couldn't breathe,” he added. “I was just trying to get air.”

An investigation is underway, police said, which will include an examination of body camera footage.

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mrdoomits/iStock/Thinkstock(WEST HAVEN, Conn.) -- A 4-year-old died and his 2-year-old brother was hospitalized after they were found in a hot car at a Connecticut apartment complex Thursday afternoon, officials said.

Many details in the deadly tragedy remain unknown, including how long they were inside the car, the West Haven Police Department said Friday. Police obtained surveillance from the complex and hoped to determine that from the footage.



It also doesn't appear the children were left in the car, according to the police.

The boys' father had called police, authorities said, adding that he is cooperating.

The 2-year-old remains in the hospital, police said Friday. His condition was unknown.

No one has been charged in the case, police said.

The temperature climbed to 79 degrees in nearby New Haven on Thursday.

Children's bodies can heat up much faster than adults' and their internal organs begin to shut down after their core body temperature reaches 104 degrees, according to a report from the National Safety Council. On an 86-degree day, for example, it would take only about 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach a dangerous 105 degrees.

A boy also died in a hot bus incident in Texas on Thursday, bringing the total number of child hot car deaths this year to 27, according to the advocacy group kidsandcars.org.

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Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images(BRANSON, Mo.) -- Investigators are working to find out what caused a duck boat in Missouri to capsize on a lake Thursday night, killing 17 passengers and injuring seven others.

How the weather impacted the conditions on the water and what the tour boat operators knew before heading out are priorities for investigators.



Here's what we know about the timeline of the accident.

6:30 p.m. local time

The National Weather Service outpost in Springfield, Missouri, issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the area including Branson and Table Rock Lake, where the accident happened. The warning predicted winds of up to 60 miles per hour and penny-sized hail.

Severe weather warnings are typically sent to phones for tornadoes, flash floods or hurricanes, but those alerts are not issued for thunderstorm warnings. Boat operators would have known about the warning if there was a radio on board, or if they got a Twitter alert on their phone, though any tour boat company likely would have some kind of communication in place.

7 p.m.

The area was hit with a severe thunderstorm with winds of 63 miles per hour.

7:09 p.m.

The first call to 911 about the boat going under water was received shortly after 7 p.m., according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

Between 7:16 p.m. and 7:44 p.m.

Local emergency dispatchers field calls about the rescue operation, requesting boats to help make water rescues and responding to reported injuries.

Friday July 20, 6:06 a.m. local time

In a phone interview with CBS This Morning, the president of the company that owned the duck boat said that “no one was expecting” the storm but the boat “shouldn’t have been in the water if what happened happened.”

7:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump shared his thoughts and sympathies with the victims and their families.

“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!” he wrote on Twitter.

1 p.m.

The first investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive on the scene.

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Investigators are working to find out what caused a duck boat in Missouri to capsize on a lake Thursday night, killing 17 passengers and injuring seven others.
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How the weather impacted the conditions on the water and what the tour boat operators knew before heading out are priorities for investigators.

Here's what we know about the timeline of the accident.

6:30 p.m. local time

The National Weather Service outpost in Springfield, Missouri, issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for the area including Branson and Table Rock Lake, where the accident happened. The warning predicted winds of up to 60 miles per hour and penny-sized hail.

Severe weather warnings are typically sent to phones for tornadoes, flash floods or hurricanes, but those alerts are not issued for thunderstorm warnings. Boat operators would have known about the warning if there was a radio on board, or if they got a Twitter alert on their phone, though any tour boat company likely would have some kind of communication in place.

7 p.m.

The area was hit with a severe thunderstorm with winds of 63 miles per hour.

(MORE: Missouri duck boat accident leaves 13 dead, including children)

PHOTO: A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.Courtesy Trent Behr
A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.

7:09 p.m.

The first call to 911 about the boat going under water was received shortly after 7 p.m., according to Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader.

PHOTO: A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.Courtesy Trent Behr
A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.

Between 7:16 p.m. and 7:44 p.m.

Local emergency dispatchers field calls about the rescue operation, requesting boats to help make water rescues and responding to reported injuries.

PHOTO: A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.Courtesy Trent Behr
A video grab shows a tourist duck boat taking on water in a lake near Branson, Mo., July 20, 2018.

Friday July 20, 6:06 a.m. local time

In a phone interview with "CBS This Morning," the president of the company that owned the duck boat said that “no one was expecting” the storm but the boat “shouldn’t have been in the water if what happened happened.”

PHOTO: Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious duck boat capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Mo., July 19, 2018. Southern State County Fire Protection District/Reuters
Rescue personnel are seen after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Mo., July 19, 2018.
more

7:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump shared his thoughts and sympathies with the victims and their families.

“My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri. Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!” he wrote on Twitter.

1 p.m.

The first investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board are expected to arrive on the scene.

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iStock/Thinkstock(BRANSON, Mo.) -- Nine people in one family were among the 17 killed when a tourist duck boat capsized in a Missouri lake Thursday night, the governor's office said. Two other members of that family survived.

Seven others were injured when the boat plunged into Table Rock Lake, officials said.

"Our thoughts and prayers right now are with these family members," Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said Friday morning, calling the accident a "tragedy."

A total of 29 passengers and two crew members were on board the amphibious craft when it plunged into 80 feet of water and landed upright on its wheels, Stone County Sheriff Doug Rader said.

It appeared there were life jackets on board, Rader said, but it was not yet clear how many people were wearing them.

Severe evening thunderstorms, including winds in excess of 60 mph, struck the area at the time. Eyewitness video showed the craft, which travels on land and water, taking on water as waves lashed at its sides.

We're a community of smiles," Branson Mayor Karen Best told ABC News on Friday. "But for the past 16, 17, 18 hours, we've been a town of tears and a town of comfort, and just making sure that we can give them everything they need."

Counselors are on-hand to help survivors cope and also just be there for the "little things," she said. One counselor took a survivor with wet socks to the bathroom to help him dry them out, she said.

"While they're investigating, the thing to do is we're keeping our focus on the families, and once again keeping them in our thoughts and our prayers," Best said. "We're very resilient."

Tony Burkhart posted a video on Twitter showing the stormy conditions on the lake before the boat capsized. He said he and his wife decided not to take the tour because of the weather.

Allison Lester, who was on a nearby boat, told Good Morning America Friday that the waters "were rough.”

"The wind really picked up bad and debris was flying everywhere,” she said.

Lester's boyfriend, Trent Behr, added: "We actually heard the captain say the boat flipped or the boat was sinking.”

Behr said he saw a woman lying in the water.

"We eventually did pull her up onto the boat," Behr said. "She was unconscious. I was about ready to start CPR and the EMT did show up at that time."

Suzanne Smagala-Potts of Ride the Ducks Branson, the company involved in the accident, said in a statement, "We are deeply saddened by the tragic accident."

"This incident has deeply affected all of us," Smagala-Potts said. "We will continue to do all we can to assist the families who were involved and the authorities as they continue with the search and rescue. The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority."

President Trump and the First Lady "extend their deepest sympathies to all those affected by yesterday’s boating accident on Table Rock Lake," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Friday. "Our prayers are with the victims and their loved ones. We are thankful for the brave first responders and dive crews, whose quick and decisive actions have saved many lives, and we continue to pray for their safety as their search, rescue, and recovery operations continue."

“Since the incident occurred, the Administration has been in contact with Governor Parson and other State and local officials, and the President will continue to monitor and receive regular updates on the situation,” the statement added.

President Trump also expressed his condolences for the victims Friday morning on Twitter.

"My deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those involved in the terrible boat accident which just took place in Missouri," President Trump said in a tweet. "Such a tragedy, such a great loss. May God be with you all!"

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it is sending a team to investigate.

Authorities said the duck boat would not be pulled out of the water on Friday, but that they expect to do so next week.

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ABC News(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Iowa, which usually averages about seven tornadoes in the month of July, saw 27 reported twisters rip through the state Thursday night, damaging buildings, overturning cars and rupturing gas lines.

Marshalltown, Iowa, suffered major damage, while the Vermeer Plant in Pella took a direct hit from an apparent tornado.

"Devastated to see the destruction from today's severe storms & tornadoes," Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds tweeted. "Praying for all Iowans impacted & for the emergency management crews responding tonight."

The governor is set to tour damaged towns on Friday.

Since the severe weather outbreak began on Wednesday, there have also been two reported tornadoes in South Dakota and a reported tornado in Minnesota.

The National Weather Service will be conducting storm surveys on Friday to confirm these tornadoes and issue an intensity rating.

Friday marks the third day of the multiday severe weather outbreak.

More than 35 million Americans are at risk for severe weather, which is expected to be concentrated in the South and Midwest, including major cities such as Birmingham, Alabama; Nashville, Tennessee; Louisville, Kentucky; Indianapolis; and Detroit.

Storms are expected to fire up in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys Friday afternoon and evening, and any slow-moving storms could produce flash flooding.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The bites that a 13-year-old boy sustained in the waters around the barrier island off Long Island's South Shore resulted from a shark attack, New York state officials confirmed on Friday.

But experts have been unable to determine the species based on the size and condition of a tooth fragment recovered from the boy, authorities said, adding that the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will return it to the teen at his request.

The beaches on Fire Island had reopened Thursday morning, a day after the boy and a 12-year-old girl suffered large fish bites in the area.

Lifeguards were on duty from 11 a.m. at Atlantique Beach, where the 13-year-old boy, Matthew Donaldson, was bitten. The National Park Service surveyed Sailors Haven Beach, where the 12-year-old girl, Lola Pollina, was bitten, and reopened that beach. The two beaches are fewer than 5 miles apart.

The DEC made no mention of Lola's bites.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had dispatched Basil Seggos, the DEC commissioner, to Suffolk County to investigate whether it was indeed a shark that had bitten the two children.

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iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- A 3-year-old boy left unattended in a blistering-hot daycare bus for more than three hours has died.

The child was unresponsive when discovered inside the vehicle by police, who said the temperature inside the vehicle at the time was 113 degrees. The bus was parked outside a daycare facility following a field trip, according to a statement from the Harris County Constable's Office.

Twenty-eight students from the Discovering Me Academy went to a local park earlier in the day and returned between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m., according to the statement. The boy who was left in the van wasn't discovered until his father arrived around 6:30 p.m. to pick him up.

"It's just tragic," Constable Alan Rosen said.

Authorities were interviewing the bus driver and a chaperone from the field trip, according to the statement. The boy who died was listed as accounted for on a roll sheet for students who returned to the daycare.

The Houston Police Department said it will be investigating the case, and the Harris County District Attorney's Office will decide whether to file criminal charges.

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hawkfromnorwalk/Twitter(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Tornadoes have touched down in central Iowa, displacing families and causing destruction across multiple counties.

At least 10 people were injured and sent to the hospital. They were later released after suffering minor injuries, police said.

Injuries were reported at the Vermeer Corporation facilities in Pella, according to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The city of Marshalltown declared a state of emergency Thursday afternoon after reports of tornadoes in the area, city officials told ABC News.

UnityPoint hospital said a tornado damaged a portion of their facility in Marshalltown. Forty patients, who were being treated inside when the tornadoes touched down, were moved to other hospitals in the area, UnityPoint Health spokeswoman Amy Varcoe told ABC News.

Ten patients who suffered injuries as a result of the tornadoes were treated by hospital staff, but the extent of those injuries remains unclear, officials said.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning this afternoon for eastern Marshall County and southwestern Tama County.

At 4:37 p.m. local time, a "large and destructive" tornado was observed over Marshalltown, about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, moving at an estimated 25 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

A large tornado was also reported on the ground in Bondurant in Polk County. Emergency services are on scene. Six homes are said to have extensive damage.

Several homes suffered damage, including roofs blown off and numerous gas leaks, Lt. Rick Blaylock of the Polk County Sheriff's Department told ABC News.

About 15,000 customers were without power early Friday morning, an Alliant Energy spokesperson told ABC News.

About 14,000 customers are without power in Iowa as a result of the weather, according to outage maps for Alliant Energy and MidAmerican Energy.

There may also be communication issues because a large wireless company in the area, Racom, has been hit, according to Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds posted on Twitter that she's praying for all those impacted by the tornadoes.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New York may have been the site of two suspected shark attacks on Wednesday, but attacks by the creatures in these waters are so rare that there have been only 10 documented cases confirmed in nearly 150 years.

The worst place in America for shark attacks? Florida. Statistics from The International Shark Attack File, a database of shark attacks from around the world, show that Florida's coast has witnessed a total of 812 confirmed and unprovoked shark attacks since 1837, at least those that have been recorded.

That's because most sharks prefer warmer waters, said George Burgess, director the International Shark Attack File maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History. "The waters near the East Coast, in the northern states like New York are cool for most months of the year, and so it's only in the summertime when a few sharks arrive."

Which states are more vulnerable to attacks varies widely along the American coastline. Maine has one attack on record since 1837. California has 122. But the pattern is not random, says Burgess. The more coast, the more people and the warmer the waters, the more the attacks.

Still, despite how few attacks New York's coast has seen, there are enough species of sharks in these waters to prompt a few sightings, Burgess of The International Shark Attack File said.

Not all of them bite humans, not all are even big enough, but here's a list of the species shark-watchers in the state are more likely to encounter, ranked by how much of a threat they are to humans.

The list is not based on the actual number of attacks these species have already carried out, because that number is too small to analyze. Instead, it's based on the potential each species has to be a threat to humans along the coats of New York.

"Almost any shark that can grow to about six feet or two metres in length is a potential danger to humans," Burgess explains. "That's only because once they get to that size their teeth are sharp and they can cause damage"

1) High Threat: The 'surf zone' sharks

The Sandbar shark (up to about 6 feet long) and the Dusky shark (up to about 10 feet long) are both species that are much more comfortable in cooler water than other species of sharks, and they like to stay in the 'surf zone' - the part of the sea next to the shore within which waves break, and where beachgoers tend to stay. The Sand Tiger shark (up to about 10 feet long) swims a little further off but still in rleatively shallow waters, where divers often come across them in wrecks.

2) Medium Threat: The offshore sharks

"The south shore of Long Island faces an ocean, and so some species that can travel a little further north sometimes wander in from deeper waters to areas where humans are," said Burgess. The first of these species is the infamous White shark, better known as the Great White shark (up to about 23 feet in length). The other is the Blue shark (up to about 12 feet in length).

3) Low threat: The vegetarian shark and the sharks that are too small


Every once in a while, a Basking shark (up to about 30 feet in length) will be seen on the coastline or will wash up on the shore, and a lot of attention will be drawn to it because of its size, said Burgess. But this species couldn't hurt humans if it wanted to. Its teeth are flattened due to a sort of a plate-like surface, as it only feeds on plankton, and it is not at all aggressive, said Burgess. On the other end of the spectrum, the Spiny Dogfish shark (up to about 3 feet long) and the Smooth Dogfish shark (up to about 4 feet long) are both species that love cool waters, but are too small to cause any harm to humans.

But despite the existence of these species of sharks in the waters near New York, Burgess points out that relatively speaking, there's very little to fear. For example, between 1959 and 2010, there were three shark attacks in New York. All three of the victims survived. In comparison, there were 139 people who died due to lightning strikes.

Even if a shark were to attack a human, it's usually because they mistook the human for a fish, and they let go immediately, Burgess said.

"The shark interprets the kicking and walking movements of the human body in the water to be activities of a normal prey item," he said. "And of course in the surf zone, where visibility is poor as a result of the breaking waves, it will bite at things it can't see well. But it's usually just one quick bite and then it's gone, and so we call these hit-and-run attacks."

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When New York State Police trooper Nicholas Clark responded to a reported suicidal person barricaded in a home this month, the suspect gunned him down before taking his own life.

"A 29-year-old trooper, a stellar trooper with an extraordinary record, his whole life before him," a grieving New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference hours later. "Great athlete. Well accomplished. He wanted to do one thing -- which was help people."

Clark was not alone. His death followed those of over 70 brothers and sisters in blue across the country already this year.

The number of U.S. law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty in the first six months of the year rose about 12 percent to 73 from 65, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said last week.

Guns overtake traffic as No. 1 cause of death

Gunfire was the leading cause of death among the 73 officers killed in the first half of the year, accounting for 42 percent of the deaths, according to the memorial fund.

What’s more, of the 129 total deaths last year, the number involving guns equaled the number of officers who died in work-related traffic incidents, which usually account for more deaths, the organization said.

The overall increase continued in that direction for the first half of this year, when 31 officers died in gun-related incidents, compared with 25 in the same period last year, a 24 percent jump for the six-month period, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said.

Eight of this year's 31 gun deaths resulted from an arrest attempt; six officers died responding to a domestic disturbance; and three officers died in an ambush, the memorial fund said.

"I think what you're starting to see is some of these suspects committing their crimes with much more impunity than they have," ABC News contributor and former Dallas police chief David Brown said. "And officers are continuing to be, I think, a little more cautious in the way that they interact with these folks, trying to wait for cover, trying to give a little bit more time and distance.

"That's a significant change in the dynamic of officer safety," he added. "And this becomes a psychological thing for cops when they experience it on their beat or when they hear about the data of more aggression towards cops by armed suspects."

'73 shattered police departments'

Facing an armed suspect's aggression is something Brown knows all too well.

Five law enforcement officers were gunned down by a sniper in Dallas in July 2016 -- the deadliest day for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11. Brown, who was the police chief at the time of the attack, retired several months later after 33 years with the department.

As with Dallas this time two years ago, police agencies across the country, from Maine to Florida to California, have mourned fallen colleagues this year.

And the deaths go beyond shootings.

Out of the 73 officers killed in the line of duty from January to June, 27 died from traffic-related incidents, while 15 died from other causes, like job-related illnesses, the fund said.

Of the 15 who died from other causes, six of the officers died as a result of an illness from 9/11, the fund said.

"A lot of officers patrol and work in pairs, so you spend a lot of time with your immediate co-workers,” Steve Groeninger, spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, told ABC News. “So for one of them to be killed in the line of duty, it does have a big impact on any department that loses an officer.

"For smaller departments and agencies it has even a greater impact," he continued, "because not only are you trying to help your patrol cope with the loss of life and you're trying to help that family who lost their loved one and process the tragedy, but then as the department head -- especially in a small department -- you've lost a significant amount of your workforce."

Groeninger stressed, "While we're throwing around a lot of numbers and percentages, we all must be mindful as a nation that these 73 officers represent 73 shattered families, 73 shattered police departments or agencies, and I would have to guess, 73 upstanding citizens no longer a part of these communities."

On average, the 73 slain officers in the first half of the year each left behind two children, according to the memorial fund.

"We're talking about loss of life," he said. "It goes far deeper than numbers and percentages."

Hours after state trooper Clark's July 2 death, New York Gov. Cuomo said, “This is one situation that I've gone through before. There's no answer. There's no point. It's just sad and painful."

Every day is dangerous for police, Cuomo said, from domestic violence incidents to storms to potential terrorism.

"We know the danger that you put yourself in every day when you leave the house," the governor said. "We know the fear that is in your families' heart when you're out there. And we truly and deeply appreciate the risk that you take to keep our families safe."

'I pray for our cops every day'

Though officer deaths are on the rise this year, Brown said, "I don't believe this is sustainable. I don't think the spike will continue."

"One officer killed in the line of duty is one too many," Brown said. "We need them to continue their brave work and their sacrifice... and to know that people support them when they're doing the job the right way. Officers also need to hear that it's extremely important, as well, that they be held accountable when they make mistakes."

"Some of the bravest people you'll ever meet do this job. Every day, they don't know if they're coming home to their families. And every day, they strap up those guns and put the badges on and do great work," he said. "I pray for our cops every day. We need them to do the job in the right ways and to be safe and come home to their families."

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iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Federal prosecutors believe that Maria Butina, the Russian gun-rights activist who was recently arrested and charged with acting as a foreign agent, maintained a “duplicitous relationship” with an American political operative for the purposes of gaining access to U.S. political organizations.

Identified in court filings only as “U.S. Person 1,” a 56-year-old political operative, private messages exchanged between them and surveillance conducted by federal law enforcement paint a picture of this person as someone Butina, 29, could rely on. Butina lived, at times, with U.S. Person 1. She asked U.S. Person 1 for help with her homework. As she prepared to move out of her apartment, U.S. Person 1 helped her arrange to rent a U-Haul and purchase moving boxes.

But U.S. Person 1 appears to have done much more than help a expatriate graduate student adjust to life in the United States. He also, prosecutors say, “worked with Butina to arrange introduction to U.S. persons having influence in American politics,” including high-ranking members of the NRA and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast, “for the purposes of advancing the interests of the Russian Federation.”

Based on the prosecutors’ description, “U.S. Person 1” is believed to be Paul Erickson, a longtime GOP operative who is known to have had close ties to Butina. It is unclear whether he is cooperating with authorities in the case against Butina or whether he is under investigation himself, but he could be in serious trouble.

“He's got real exposure here,” one federal prosecutor told ABC News. “If he knew that he was helping [Butina], he may himself have a foreign agent problem.”

ABC News’ attempts to reach Erickson have been unsuccessful. Butina, meanwhile, pleaded not guilty in court on Wednesday, and her attorney, Robert Driscoll, called the charges against her “overblown.”

But the descriptions of the person believed to be Erikson’s alleged activities in the court filings have made him a fascinating character in an already twisted tale.

Erickson, 56, has a long and tangled record in Republican politics. In the 1980s, after graduating from Yale, Erickson served as Treasurer of the College Republican National Committee. Erickson then wrote a comedy sketch called “Fritzbusters” in 1984, which parodied Democratic presidential candidate Walter “Fritz” Mondale, the New York Times reported at the time.

After earning his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1988, Erickson embarked on a series of unconventional professional endeavors, including co-executive producing an anti-communism film starring Dolph Lundgren with Jack Abramoff called “Red Scorpion.” The Rapid City Journal, a South Dakota newspaper, has reported that Erickson then travelled to Nicaragua in 1990 to “observe U.S.-backed Contra rebels putting down their arms after Soviet-supported President Daniel Ortega agreed to abide by the results of a popular election.”

Erickson found his way back to Republican politics in the U.S. in 1992, joining conservative icon Pat Buchannan’s presidential campaign as a national political director. In the mid-1990s, Erickson and Abramoff joined forces again, opening up a lobbying firm whose clientele included Zairean strongman dictator Mobutu, the Washington Post reported at the time.

“I’ve enjoyed 33 years of wildly diverse business ventures all around the world in industries ranging from hotels to housing to entertainment to energy,” Erickson told the Rapid City Journal.

In 2007, Erickson was sued for $190,000 by conservative activist Brent Bozell, who claimed in the lawsuit that Erickson had failed to repay an investment, court documents showed. Bozell won a breach of contract judgment in 2008, though it’s unclear whether Erickson ever completed the payment.

According to the affidavit attached to the indictment, Butina first made contact with U.S. Person 1 around 2013. Within two years, Butina and U.S. Person 1 appear to have hatched a plan to improve U.S.-Russia relations through an unnamed gun-rights organization that had what Butina described as a “central place and influence” in an unnamed political party as “the largest sponsor of the elections to the US congress, as well as a sponsor of The CPAC conference and other events.”

Shortly after, U.S. Person 1 emailed Butina a list of potential media, business and political contacts, writing that “you could NOT do better than the list I just emailed you … YOU HAVE ALREADY MET ALL OF THE AMERICANS necessary to introduce you to EVERYONE on that list … I and your friends in America can’t make it any easier for you than that.”

By 2016, Butina had set her sights on a bigger target. She emailed U.S. Person 1 in September, saying “we only have 2 month [sic] left before the US elections and it’s the time for building an advisors team on Russia for a new president.”

A month later, U.S. Person 1 emailed an an unnamed acquaintance touting his involvement in “securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin” and leaders of an unnamed political party through an unnamed gun rights organization.

Following Donald Trump’s election, Butina appears to have used U.S. Person 1 to get as close to the president as she had ever been. U.S. Person 1 arranged for Butina and a Russian delegation to attend the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast the following February, where President Trump was the keynote speaker.

U.S. Person 1 even helped Butina book a hotel, advising her to place $3,500 on “one of your Russian charge cards” to pay the deposit “to be safe.”

By then, Butina appears to have become a fixture in Erickson’s life. Butina attended events in South Dakota, where Erickson lived. Erickson established a mysterious South Dakota-based company with Butina called Bridges LLC. Neighbors at the South Dakota apartment complex where Erickson lived remember Butina. One of them, Elaine Ahlemeier, says the couple seemed nice and she suspected nothing.

What few people appeared to know, and what prosecutors now allege, was that despite appearances, Butina “appear[ed] to treat that relationship as simply a necessary aspect of her activities.”

“On at least one occasion,” prosecutors claim, “Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization. Further, in papers sized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.”

Agents moved to arrest her this week, prosecutors say, because they feared she might attempt to flee: Her lease was ending, she had wired money to an account in Russia, and she appeared to be packing up her belongings.

Butina’s attorney says that’s not true. She was preparing, he said in court on Wednesday, to move to South Dakota – with her boyfriend.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- An 86-year-old underground steam pipe exploded in New York City Thursday morning, spewing dangerous asbestos-tainted debris throughout the area and leaving a crater in a street the size of a city bus, officials said.

The blast occurred about 6:39 a.m. in Manhattan's Flatiron District, just blocks from the iconic Flatiron Building, according to the New York City Fire Department.

While only five people suffered minor injuries, asbestos contamination was the bigger concern, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

"There was asbestos in the steam line casing. That's obviously a real concern to us," de Blasio said at a Thursday afternoon news conference near the site of the blast at Fifth Avenue and 21st Street.

The steam pipe was installed in 1932, officials said.

The mayor spoke shortly after getting the results of tests conducted by Con Edison and the city Department of Environmental Protection.

A total of 49 buildings were evacuated, many of them containing residential units, and will require decontamination that could take a couple of days, the mayor said.

"There is real concern whether the debris entered buildings and air conditioners," de Blasio said.

He added: "We have also tested the air since the time of the incident. The air cleared fairly quickly after the incident. So the air in this area now is safe. There is no meaningful presence of asbestos in the air at this point."

De Blasio called it fortunate that the explosion occurred in the early-morning hours before the area was teeming with people and commuters headed to work.

"Thank God no one was seriously injured at that time," he said.

Aerial footage showed a vehicle covered in mud stopped just inches from the crater at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street. The crater measured roughly 32 feet in diameter, or about three traffic lanes wide.

"It was a loud boom and the building just shook," Byron Chavers, who works in the area, told ABC New York City station WABC-TV.

Five people suffered minor injuries but did not have to go to a hospital, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

"That's the good news for today," Nigro said at a news conference near the scene of the blast.

Twenty-eight of the 49 evacuated buildings were in what officials called "the hot zone" and will likely remain evacuated the longest, de Blasio said, adding that the buildings need to be scrubbed and closely examined for contamination.

The mayor also advised anyone who was in the area and got debris on their clothing to take the garments to a Con Ed center. The utility will compensate people for their clothing, he said.

At least 100 firefighters were being decontaminated and several civilians in the area at the time of the blast may also need to be decontaminated, Nigro said.

The explosion left a crater in the middle of the busy intersection of Fifth Avenue and 21st Street during the morning commute and prompted police to close off streets in the neighborhood.

The blast sent steam swirling into the air and rattled windows and nerves.

The cause of the explosion is under investigation but the age of the 20-inch steam pipe could be the reason for the rupture.

The explosion also disrupted a gas line, a water main and caused some electrical outages, Nigro said.

A similar steam pipe explosion occurred in midtown Manhattan almost 11 years to the date of Thursday's blast. The steam pipe rupture July 18, 2007, on Lexington Avenue at 41st Street, near Grand Central Terminal, killing a woman, injuring 20 people and creating a 25-foot crater that swallowed a tow truck.

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