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Susan Smith-Harmon

Susan Smith-Harmon

Kennedy in Japan tsunami zone, highlights US ties

Monday, 25 November 2013 02:08 Published in National News

   ISHINOMAKI, Japan (AP) — Just days after arriving in Japan as the new U.S. ambassador, Caroline Kennedy is making a two-day visit to areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami to meet survivors and highlight America's commitment to supporting its ally.

   The daughter of President John F. Kennedy tried her hand at calligraphy, exchanged high-fives with schoolchildren and got an early birthday greeting Monday as she toured the northeastern region, about 340 kilometers (210 miles) north of Tokyo.

   Rebuilding in the region has barely begun. Makeshift stores, restaurants, car washes and laundries have been set up in areas flattened by the tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude-9 earthquake. The disaster left more than 18,000 people dead or missing, and tens of thousands of people remain in temporary, prefabricated housing more than 2 1/2 years later.

   Residents of the industrial port city of Ishinomaki stood in the wind and pouring rain waiting for a glimpse of Kennedy. She visited a park with a wide vista of the city's ravaged waterfront before heading to the Mangokuura Elementary School.

   The students performed skits in English and sang "Happy Birthday" to Kennedy, who turns 56 on Wednesday. Kennedy presented 112 books to the school, donated in memory of Taylor Anderson, an American who died in the tsunami while teaching at Mangokuura and other schools in Ishinomaki.

   Kennedy brushed in black ink the Japanese character for the word "tomo," or friend. She then sat down to read "Where the Wild Things Are," the classic children's book by American author Maurice Sendak, to a sixth-grade class.

Report due on Sandy Hook shooting investigation

Monday, 25 November 2013 01:59 Published in National News

   HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Investigators are planning to release a long-awaited report on the Newtown school shooting, nearly a year after the massacre of 20 children and six women inside Sandy Hook Elementary School.

   The summary report by the lead investigator, State's Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, could provide some of the first official answers to questions about the history of the gunman and the police response to one of the worst school shootings in American history.

   The Dec. 14 shooting plunged the small New England community into mourning, elevated gun safety to the top of the agenda for President Barack Obama and led states across the country to re-evaluate laws on issues including school safety.

   The report expected Monday afternoon will not include the full evidence file of Connecticut State Police, which is believed to total thousands of pages. The decision to continue withholding the bulk of the evidence is stirring new criticism of the secrecy surrounding the investigation.

   Dan Klau, a Hartford attorney who specializes in First Amendment law, said the decision to release a summary report before the full evidence file is a reversal of standard practice and one of the most unusual elements of the investigation.

   "What I found troubling about the approach of the state's attorney is that from my perspective, he seems to have forgotten his job is to represent the state of Connecticut," Klau said. "His conduct in many instances has seemed more akin to an attorney in private practice representing Sandy Hook families."

   Sedensky said he could not comment.

   Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother inside their Newtown home before driving to his former elementary school, where he fired off 154 shots with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle within five minutes. He killed himself with a handgun as police arrived.

   Warrants released in March detailed an arsenal of weapons found inside the Lanza home. But authorities have not provided details on the police response to the shooting, any mental health records for Lanza and whether investigators found any clues to a possible motive for the rampage.

   Sedensky has gone to court to fight release of the 911 tapes from the school and resisted calls from Connecticut's governor to divulge more information sooner.

   The withholding of 911 recordings, which are routinely released in other cases, has been the subject of a legal battle between The Associated Press and Sedensky before the state's Freedom of Information Commission, which ruled in favor of the AP, and now Connecticut's court system. A hearing is scheduled Monday in New Britain Superior Court on whether the judge can hear the recordings as he considers an appeal.

Joplin tornado study seeks improved building codes

Friday, 22 November 2013 03:51 Published in Local News

   ST. LOUIS (AP) - A federal review of the 2011 Joplin tornado is calling for stronger building codes and more storm shelters in vulnerable areas.

   The National Institute of Standards and Technology released its 492 page draft report Thursday at a Joplin news conference. The U.S. Department of Commerce agency calls the study the first to take a systematic look at how communities across the country can better prepare for twisters.

   The study's recommendations include improved emergency communication systems to better warn residents of approaching danger. But institute officials emphasized that most of the power to make such changes rests with state and local governments and private businesses.

   The May 2011 Joplin tornado destroyed 8,000 buildings and killed 161 people, making it the country's deadliest single tornado since records have been kept.

 

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