Morning Updates: New York City Floods, The Supreme Court On Texas' Abortion Law And More

Published September 2, 2021 at 7:44 AM EDT
A stranded car in flood water is seen on Lester Street on Thursday in Passaic City, N.J.
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A stranded car in flood water is seen on Lester Street on Thursday in Passaic City, N.J.

Apartments, streets and subways are flooded in the New York City area today. New England residents are bracing for more rain from storm Ida.

We'll keep you updated on the latest there and have our eyes on these other top stories:

Supreme Court weighs in: The Supreme Court declined to block the restrictive Texas abortion law Wednesday night. Here's what the justices said.

Afghan evacuees: A U.S. air base in Germany is serving as a processing center for more than 25,000 evacuees from Afghanistan. This is what one NPR reporter saw and heard.

Labor Day travel: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging unvaccinated people not to travel over the long weekend (and says even vaccinated people should be thoughtful about the risks).

🎧 Also on Up First, our daily podcast, the family at the center of the deadly opioid epidemic has been granted legal immunity.

— The Morning Edition live blog team

(Dana Farrington, Nell Clark, Rachel Treisman and Scott Neuman)

Must Listen

Technicolored And Super-Powered, These Sea Slugs Deserve Your Respect

Posted September 2, 2021 at 11:03 AM EDT
Two sea slugs float in blue water. They have colorful appendages in red and orange shooting off from their bodies. They look a little like a sea anemone.
TARIK TINAZAY/AFP via Getty Images
Two sea-slugs (Godiva banyulensis) swim in the Mediterranean Sea, 29 July 2004, near the town of Kas, Turkey.

If you haven't heard, this is host Maddie Sofia's last week on NPR's Shortwave.

We know, that means big tears from us too. Maddie's pretty much in the daily science podcast's DNA. She's helped us understand the new pandemic world and horrified us with news of the mites who live on our faces and party at night. Remember when she told us vegetables are made up?

We're sad to see Maddie go, but so happy that she's going out in true-to-form Maddie Sofia fashion: Straight up nerding out about some beautiful, awe-inspiring ... sea slugs.

Check your preconceived slug notions at the play button because the podcast's new episode is a deep dive all about an incredible group of sea slugs called 'nudibranchs.'

Yes, they live underwater. And yes, they look like slimy confetti. But these 'nudis' are much more complex than you might think.

They aren't just eye-catching (look at them more here!), they're also adaptive little invertebrates who are able to co-op traits from their food.

Some charismatic nudibranchs have evolved to "steal" abilities from other organisms, like the power of photosynthesis or the ability to use the stinging cells of their venomous predators.

Listen to the episode to find out why these sea critters deserve your complete and total admiration, or at least your begrudging respect, for their beautiful colors and skills. Some little ones looks like they're going to a sea slug rave, notes the incredible Emily Kwong.

She will be taking the podcasting Bunsen Burner over from Maddie with another host to join soon. Tune in tomorrow for Maddie's official sendoff from the Shortwave team.


The Taliban Takeover Could Threaten Saffron Exports -- And The Farmers Who Grow It

Posted September 2, 2021 at 10:30 AM EDT
A person grabs a fistful of purple flowers from a red bucket full of them.
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A worker plucks saffron flowers on a farm on November 2010 in Herat, Afghanistan.

For another perspective on the turmoil in Afghanistan, NPR's Steve Inskeep spoke with an ex-interpreter for the U.S. military whose company grows saffron for the U.S. market.

We're using only his first name, Mohammad, because he fears for the safety of his family in Afghanistan. He himself is now a U.S. citizen living in Chicago, though says the beauty of the delicate purple fields stays with him.

Mohammad runs a co-op with more than two-dozen family farmers, working to export saffron — a highly valued spice used for seasoning and coloring — to the U.S. Since the Taliban returned to power, there have been a series of signs that his business could be in trouble.

Western Union and MoneyGram, two money transfer companies, halted their services and closed all of their Afghanistan offices. Mohammad called FedEx only to learn that they don't have the capabilities to take any products out of Afghanistan. So he told his business partner to close the facility for safety reasons and bring all the saffron to a safe place.

Mohammad says he's worried not just about the safety of his family members in Afghanistan, but about all of the farmers he works with who are increasingly uncertain about their livelihoods.

He explains why he's disappointed in the situation as both an Afghan and an American, and shares a piece of advice from his mom that's helping him carry on.

🎧 Listen to the full conversation here.


Another Major Hurricane Is Now Forming Over The Atlantic

Posted September 2, 2021 at 10:19 AM EDT

Ida is still pummeling New England, but the next hurricane is already forming off the Atlantic coast.

Here's a satellite image of the brewing threat from Hurricane Larry from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

Follow Larry updates from NOAA here.


What Texas' New Law Means For The People Who Seek And Provide Abortions

Posted September 2, 2021 at 9:31 AM EDT
A person holds a hand-written sign reading "No Texas Abortion Ban!! Outraged!!" on the steps of a building where some other people are sitting with other signs.
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Debra Sweet holds up a sign as she joins people gathered for a reproductive rights rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on Wednesday in downtown Brooklyn in New York City.

Texas' new abortion law is one of the strictest in the country. It bans abortions after about six weeks, allows private citizens to sue anyone perceived to be helping patients obtain abortions and doesn't make exceptions for cases involving rape or incest.

Kathy Kleinfeld, an administrator with Houston Women's Reproductive Services, spoke to NPR's A Martínez about who the law impacts most, and how it's being felt already.

"There's been quite a bit of shock, desperation, frustration — a whole gamut of emotions," Kleinfeld says. "The devastation is just immeasurable at this point. And it continues daily, whether it's on the phone or email requests from desperate women trying to seek services."

Listen to their conversation here, and read highlights below.

The effects of the abortion ban won't be felt equally. People who have the means will always be able to obtain abortions, Kleinfeld says, noting the same was true even before Roe v. Wade. "This does not help the women who don't have the resources, who are not able to travel out of state, who don't have child care, who don't have jobs, don't have reliable transportation," she adds.

The law further shortens someone's required timeline for scheduling an abortion, provided they even know they're pregnant. Six weeks is essentially when a person finds out that they're expecting (after missing a period and having a test detect a pregnancy). Kleinfeld ticks through the list of things they would have to do in a matter of days: make a decision, schedule an appointment and — as Texas law requires — make two clinic visits no less than 24 hours apart. "So the clock is really ticking, and the reality is that women don't realize this until right at that point, with maybe just a few days to spare," she says.

Clinics will have to point people to other states. Kleinfeld notes the law pertains only to aiding and abetting people to obtain an abortion within Texas, so her clinic is telling people they will have to seek services in other states. There are national directories and various agencies that can help with that.

She's already seeing the law's impact on people seeking services. Kleinfeld says her clinic is already seeing fewer patients — and is no longer able to help many of them. Among the patients who have come in this week: A mother of three who traveled to Houston as part of a group evacuating from Hurricane Ida, sleeping in a hotel with 11 children and five adults, so she could obtain an abortion before Sept. 1.


How To Stay Safe During And After A Flood

Posted September 2, 2021 at 9:07 AM EDT
A man uses garbage bags to keep his pants and feet dry as he crosses a flooded Lester Street on Thursday in Passaic City, N.J.
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A man uses garbage bags to keep his pants and feet dry as he crosses a flooded Lester Street on Thursday in Passaic City, N.J.

States of emergency were declared in New York City, New York state and New Jersey because of the impact of Ida. Damage assessments and recovery efforts will begin, though the storm still poses a threat in some areas.

Here are some flood safety tips from the National Center for Environmental Health:

During a flood watch or warning (see full list here)

  • Gather emergency supplies, including food and water. Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. Store at least a 3-day supply.
  • Have immunization records handy (or know the year of your last tetanus shot).
  • If evacuation appears necessary, turn off all utilities at the main power switch and close the main gas valve.
  • Leave areas subject to flooding such as low spots, canyons, washes, etc.

The National Weather Service lays out the difference between a flash flood emergency and a flash flood warning here:

After flooding (see full list here)

  • Avoid driving through flooded areas and standing water. As little as 6 inches of water can cause you to lose control of your vehicle.
  • Do not drink flood water, or use it to wash dishes, brush teeth, or wash/prepare food. Drink clean, safe water.
  • If you evacuated, return to your home only after local authorities have said it is safe to do so.

For updates and more tips, follow your local National Weather Service branch on social media. You can search yours here.


Catch Up On Back-To-School News And Trends From NPR's Education Team

Posted September 2, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT
Two folding signs display a colorful banner reading "Welcome Back!" on the ground outside of a school building where several adults and children are standing.
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A "Welcome Back" hangs at the front of Long Branch Elementary School on Monday in Arlington, Virginia.

Students are heading back — and settling in — to campuses and classrooms around the country, amid rising COVID-19 cases and political battles over safety precautions.

NPR's Education Team has been paying close attention to these stories, and you can find them all in its back-to-school collection. Here are some of the latest developments:


New York Extends Its Eviction Moratorium

Posted September 2, 2021 at 8:20 AM EDT
Housing activists and community members march toward the New York City office of Gov. Kathy Hochul calling for a stop to evictions on Tuesday in New York City. The state extended its eviction moratorium on Wednesday.
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Housing activists and community members march toward the New York City office of Gov. Kathy Hochul calling for a stop to evictions on Tuesday in New York City. The state extended its eviction moratorium on Wednesday.

Renters in New York will have protection from evictions until at least Jan. 15, 2022, after New York state lawmakers voted to extend an eviction moratorium.

New York's protections are now some of the most expansive in the nation, where many people are struggling to keep their homes amid a disrupted pandemic economy and ongoing health threats from the coronavirus.

Renters have been sporadically covered by a patchwork of protections since the pandemic began, many of which have expired, been reupped, and worked their way through court challenges.

New York puts the new eviction protections in place shortly after the Supreme Court struck down the Biden administration's temporary eviction ban on Aug. 26.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul ordered an extraordinary session of the state's legislature to address the eviction crisis, calling the Supreme Court's decision "heartless."

"Under my watch, here in the State of New York we are not going to exacerbate what is already a crisis," she said. "We are not going to abandon our neighbors in need, especially since the State of New York failed in its responsibility to get the money that was allocated by Congress out to the people in need earlier this summer."

Renters behind on rent should have another form of assistance to stay in their homes: Federal aid — but the distribution has been spotty in some places.

International Dispatch
Afghan Evacuees

Scenes From The Air Base In Germany Processing Afghans En Route To The U.S.

Posted September 2, 2021 at 7:55 AM EDT
A woman wearing a brown tunic and patterned headscarf stands with her arms crossed, looking at the camera. Behind her are rows of people sitting and standing in a large room with fences and portable toilets.
Rob Schmitz/NPR
Afghan evacuee Zarifa Ahmadi waits in a fenced-in enclosure for the next flight to the United States in a hangar at the Ramstein US Air Base in Germany.

The largest airlift in U.S. history continues as thousands of Afghans are on their way to new homes, fleeing Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers.

The Ramstein Air Base in western Germany, one of the largest U.S. bases outside the United States, has served as a makeshift processing center for more than 25,000 evacuees; a place where they are medically screened and their biometric data collected before they can get on outgoing commercial flights to the United States.

Cots covered in blue paper are lined up on a basketball court, with a hoop at the end of the room.
Rob Schmitz/NPR
More than 25,000 Afghans have traveled through Ramstein to get to the United States.

While they wait, evacuees are housed in rows upon rows of massive beige tents that line the 2-mile-long runway at Ramstein. That’s where Col.Adrienne Williams, who is helping manage the airlift, waves goodbye to a busload of Afghan families about to board a Delta flight to Dulles International Airport.

“If you saw that bus that left as they were going to load the aircraft, you see smiles,” she says. “It warms your heart … you see all the young children and young families and you know that they have a future ahead of them.”

🎧 More here on Afghan evacuees' hopes for life in the U.S.


Taking Stock Of A Night Of Historic Rainfall And Deadly Floods On The East Coast

Posted September 2, 2021 at 7:49 AM EDT
A close-up of water on a city sidewalk, pouring in through an open basement, with the lights of a fast food restaurant and street lights reflected in the puddle.
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Rainfall floods the basement of a Kennedy Fried Chicken fast food restaurant on Wednesday in the Bronx borough of New York City.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida brought heavy winds and record levels of rain to the East Coast overnight, triggering massive floods and killing at least 10 people across New York City, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

The storm blew through the Mid-Atlantic yesterday, carrying dangerous flash flooding, heavy winds and tornado warnings from Maryland to New Jersey. It's worth noting the role that climate change plays in all this: Storms hold more moisture and end up dropping more rain as the Earth gets hotter.

As NPR's Jaclyn Diaz reports, New York and New Jersey were hit especially hard last night. Read the full story here.

Another day for the record books in New York City

The storm dumped 6 to 10 inches of rain on New York over the course of several hours. Central Park got 3.15 inches of rain in a single hour, breaking a record set just last month during Tropical Storm Henri.

The National Weather Service issued its first-ever "flash flood emergency" for the city. Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a state of emergency and issued a ban on nonessential vehicles until 5 a.m. local time.

Floodwaters inundated subway stations, stranding commuters and suspending train lines. Gothamist from New York Public Radio has more dramatic videos.

As NPR's Jasmine Garsd reports from Brooklyn, there were several reported tornado touchdowns, and thousands lost power in New York and New Jersey. How did the storm compare to Henri, the region's last big weather event?

"It felt really similar in intensity, but the difference is that last night was pretty unexpected ... I don't think people were as prepared for this one," she said. Hear more from Garsd onMorning Edition.

Reproductive Health

What The Supreme Court Justices Said About The Texas Abortion Law

Posted September 2, 2021 at 7:40 AM EDT

The Texas law that bans abortions after 6 weeks remains in effect after the Supreme Court last night declined to block it, as reproductive rights groups had demanded.

The decision to stand back — and allow groups to continue the appeals process in lower courts — split the court 5-4, with the conservative justices in the majority and Chief Justice John Roberts joining the three liberal justices in dissent. One of the key factors at play was the unique structure of the law, which puts individuals — rather than the government — in charge of enforcement.

Here’s what the justices said (read the full decision and dissents here):

The conservative majority (Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett) said their unsigned ruling was not on the constitutionality of the law, but rather about procedural questions that abortion providers had not addressed.

"In reaching this conclusion, we stress that we do not purport to resolve definitively any jurisdictional or substantive claim in the applicants' lawsuit," the decision said. "In particular, this order is not based on any conclusion about the constitutionality of Texas's law, and in no way limits other procedurally proper challenges to the Texas law, including in Texas state courts."

Chief Justice Roberts, in dissent, said he would have temporarily blocked the law from going into effect in order to give the lower courts adequate time to hear and decide "whether a state can avoid responsibility for its laws" by "essentially delegat[ing] enforcement to ... the populace at large."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor used bolder language than the three other dissenters (Roberts, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan).

"The court's order is stunning," she wrote. "Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights and evade judicial scrutiny, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand. ... Because the court's failure to act rewards tactics designed to avoid judicial review and inflicts significant harm on the applicants and on women seeking abortions in Texas, I dissent."


CDC Recommends Unvaccinated People Don’t Travel Over Labor Day Weekend

Posted September 2, 2021 at 7:32 AM EDT

If you’re not vaccinated, you shouldn’t travel over the long Labor Day weekend.

That’s the bottom line, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

"First and foremost, if you are unvaccinated, we would recommend not traveling," Walensky said at a White House COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday.

Since the start of the pandemic, long holiday weekends have been a special concern for health officials because they increase the chances that the virus can spread widely and quickly. Last year, before vaccines were available to the public, the Transportation Security Administration screened more than 3 million passengers over the Labor Day holiday.

Despite the wide availability of vaccines this year, the delta variant of the coronavirus and an unwillingness on the part of many Americans to get vaccinated, has caused a major spike in infections and hospitalizations.

Speaking at Tuesday’s briefing, White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said that ahead of Labor Day weekend, “it's critical that being vaccinated is part of their pre-holiday checklist."

If you are not fully vaccinated and decide to travel within the U.S. anyway, the CDC recommends that you take the following precautions:

  • Get tested 1-3 days before travel.
  • Get tested 3-5 days after travel and self-quarantine for 7 days. Self-quarantine for 10 days if you don’t get tested.
  • Self-monitor for symptoms.
  • Wear a mask and take other precautions during travel.

"People who are fully vaccinated, and who are wearing masks, can travel," Walensky said. "Although, given where we are with disease transmission right now, we would say that people need to take these risks into their own consideration as they think about traveling."