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Winter storm churns up East Coast with deep snow, high winds

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Winter storm churns up East Coast with deep snow, high winds

By PHILIP MARCELO

BOSTON (AP) — People from New York City to Maine awakened Saturday to half a foot (15 centimeters) of snow, and forecasters warned that could more than quadruple as a powerful nor’easter kicked up blinding blizzard conditions with high winds and the potential for widespread power outages and coastal flooding.

Parts of 10 states and some major population centers — Philadelphia, New York and Boston — were in the path of the storm, which was expected to rage throughout the day.

Airlines canceled more than 4,500 flights at some of the nation’s busiest airports, according to FlightAware. Amtrak suspended or limited service on the Boston-to-Washington corridor.

In West Hartford, Connecticut, a tractor-trailer jacknifed on snow-slicked Interstate 84, closing several westbound lanes.

Officials from Virginia to Maine warned people to stay off the roads amid potential whiteout conditions. The storm’s saving grace: It was hitting on a weekend, with schools closed and few commuters.

Rhode Island, all of which was under a blizzard warning, banned all nonemergency road travel starting at 8 a.m.

“This is serious. We’re ready for this storm, and we also need Rhode Islanders to be ready,” Gov. Dan McKee said. “The best way to handle this storm is to stay home tomorrow.”

Delaware allowed only essential personnel to drive in two of its three counties. Massachusetts, where forecasters said some isolated pockets could get as much as 30 inches (76 centimeters) of snow, banned heavy trucks from interstate highways for most of Saturday.

Shoppers crammed stores Friday to stock up on food, generators and snowblowers ahead of the nor’easter, a type of storm so named because its winds typically blow from the northeast as it churns up the East Coast.

Many hardy New Englanders took the storm in stride.

Dave McGillivray, race director for the Boston Marathon, jokingly invited the public to his suburban Boston home on Saturday for a free snow shoveling clinic.

“I will provide the driveway and multiple walkways to ensure your training is conducted in the most lifelike situation,” he said.

Marc Rudkowski, 28, bought French bread and wine Friday at the Star Market in Cambridge, Massachusetts, along with balloons and toys for his dog, who turned 1 on Friday.

“He’s going to love it,” Rudkowski said. “He’s a snow dog.”

But there were some concerns about hoarding amid ongoing supply chain issues caused by the pandemic. New England supermarket giant Stop & Shop pleaded with customers to practice restraint.

“We ask shoppers to buy what they need and save some for their neighbors,” the chain said in a statement.

Parts of 10 states were under blizzard warnings: Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Areas closest to the coast were expected to bear the brunt of the storm, which could bring wind gusts as high as 70 mph (113 kph) in New England.

Coastal New Jersey was forecast to get as much as 18 inches (46 centimeters) of snow and eastern Long Island up to 17 inches (43 centimeters). Philadelphia, New York City, and parts of the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia could get 10 inches (25 centimeters) or more.

Virginia, where a blizzard this month stranded hundreds of motorists for hours on Interstate 95, did not hesitate to get resources at the ready. In Maryland, the governor mobilized the National Guard.

Washington and Baltimore were spared the worst of the storm.

Snow could fall as fast as 5 inches (nearly 13 centimeters) per hour in spots, including Connecticut, where officials worried about having enough snowplow drivers amid shortages caused by the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.

The worst of the storm was expected to blow by Sunday morning into Canada, where several provinces were under warnings.

One saving grace, at least in parts of Massachusetts: The snow should fall light and flaky because it is coming with cold weather that dries it out, said Judah Cohen, a winter storm expert for the commercial firm Atmospheric Environmental Research.

That means lousy snowballs — and snow that’s less capable of snapping tree branches and tearing down power lines.

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Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jeff McMillan in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Steve LeBlanc in Cambridge, Massachusetts; William J. Kole in Warwick, Rhode Island; David Klepper in Providence, Rhode Island; and Sarah Brumfield in Washington.

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Andrelton Simmons’ return provides the Chicago Cubs a timely boost with shortstop Nico Hoerner on the injured list

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Andrelton Simmons’ return provides the Chicago Cubs a timely boost with shortstop Nico Hoerner on the injured list

Andrelton Simmons’ return to the Chicago Cubs couldn’t have come at a better time.

Simmons endured a frustrating rehab from right shoulder soreness, something he never had experienced in his 11-year big-league career before it sidelined him during spring training.

But with second baseman Nick Madrigal already on the injured list, shortstop Nico Hoerner’s move to the IL on Sunday struck a big blow to the Cubs’ middle infield depth while costing them one of their best defensive players.

The Cubs activated Simmons from the IL as the corresponding move Sunday, and he entered as a defensive replacement at shortstop in the ninth inning and recorded the final out against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Simmons — who started at short in Monday’s series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field — indicated his shoulder feels pretty good but still has room to improve.

He didn’t need to wait long to collect his first hit as a Cub. With the bases loaded in the first inning, Simmons hit a soft roller down the third-base line that slowed to a stop halfway to the base without a play being made. The two-out RBI infield single was part of an eight-run first against the Pirates.

Hoerner’s stellar play at shortstop allowed Simmons to take the proper time to build up his shoulder and not feel pressured to join the Cubs before he was fully ready.

“He was holding (it down), so I’m like, all right, I’ve got some room to improve,” Simmons said. “Do I jump back in or do I try to keep getting better, as good as I can, so I’m close to my best?

“(The trainers) had my back the whole time. They made extra time for me and all that. So they want me out there. They’re doing everything to keep me on the field.”

Simmons was a little discouraged by how long the shoulder soreness lingered, but he’s happy to finally be around his teammates. All of his 1,190 major-league games in the field have come at shortstop, though he’s willing to play second base if needed.

Simmons likely will receive the bulk of playing time at shortstop for however long Hoerner is sidelined.

“I mean, I want to help the team any way I can,” Simmons said. “I know short is always going to be my forte, but Nico has been playing pretty good. So whatever they need, I’m here to help.”

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Defenders of Ukrainian steel mill declare mission complete

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Defenders of Ukrainian steel mill declare mission complete

By OLEKSANDR STASHEVSKYI and CIARAN McQUILLAN

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — The regiment that doggedly defended a steel mill as Ukraine’s last stronghold in the port city of Mariupol declared its mission complete Monday after more than 260 fighters, including some badly wounded, were evacuated and taken to areas under Russia’s control.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the evacuation to separatist-controlled territory was done to save the lives of the fighters who endured weeks of Russian assaults in the maze of underground passages below the hulking Azovstal steelworks. He said the “heavily wounded” were getting medical help.

“Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes to be alive. It’s our principle,” he said. An unknown number of fighters stayed behind to await other rescue efforts.

The steel mill’s defenders got out as Moscow suffered another diplomatic setback in its war with Ukraine, with Sweden joining Finland in deciding to seek NATO membership. And Ukraine made a symbolic gain when its forces reportedly pushed Russian troops back to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.

Still, Russian forces pounded targets in the industrial heartland of eastern Ukraine known as the Donbas, and the death toll, already many thousands, kept climbing with the war set to enter its 12th week on Wednesday.

Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said 53 seriously wounded fighters were taken from the Azovstal plant to a hospital in Novoazovsk, east of Mariupol. An additional 211 fighters were evacuated to Olenivka through a humanitarian corridor.

She said an exchange would be worked out for their return home. Officials also planned to keep trying to save the fighters who remained inside.

“The work to bring the guys home continues, and it requires delicacy and time,” Zelenskyy said.

Before Monday’s evacuations from the steelworks began, the Russian Defense Ministry announced an agreement for the wounded to leave the mill for treatment in a town held by pro-Moscow separatists. There was no immediate word on whether the wounded would be considered prisoners of war.

After nightfall Monday, several buses pulled away from the steel mill accompanied by Russian military vehicles. Maliar later confirmed that the evacuation had taken place.

“Thanks to the defenders of Mariupol, Ukraine gained critically important time to form reserves and regroup forces and receive help from partners,” she said. “And they fulfilled all their tasks. But it is impossible to unblock Azovstal by military means.”

The commander of the Azov Regiment, which led the defense of the plant, said in a prerecorded video message released Monday that the evacuation marked the end of the regiment’s mission.

“Absolutely safe plans and operations don’t exist during war,” Lt. Col. Denis Prokopenko said, adding that all risks were considered and part of the plan included saving “as many lives of personnel as possible.”

Elsewhere in the Donbas, the eastern city of Sievierdonetsk came under heavy shelling that killed at least 10 people, said Serhiy Haidai, the governor of the Luhansk region. In the Donetsk region, Gov. Pavlo Kyrylenko said on Facebook that nine civilians were killed in shelling.

The western Ukrainian city of Lviv was rocked by loud explosions early Tuesday. Witnesses counted at least eight blasts accompanied by distant booms, and the smell of burning was apparent some time later. An Associated Press team in Lviv, which was under an overnight curfew, said the sky west of the city was lit up by an orange glow.

But Ukrainian troops also advanced as Russian forces pulled back from around the northeastern city of Kharkiv in recent days. Zelenskyy thanked the soldiers who reportedly pushed them all the way to the Russian border in the Kharkiv region.

Video showed Ukrainian soldiers carrying a post that resembled a Ukrainian blue-and-yellow-striped border marker. Then they placed it on the ground while a dozen of the soldiers posed next to it, including one with belts of bullets draped over a shoulder.

“I’m very grateful to you, on behalf of all Ukrainians, on my behalf and on behalf of my family,” Zelenskyy said in a video message. “I’m very grateful to all the fighters like you.”

The Ukrainian border service said the video showing the soldiers was from the border “in the Kharkiv region,” but would not elaborate, citing security reasons. It was not immediately possible to verify the exact location.

Ukrainian border guards said they also stopped a Russian attempt to send sabotage and reconnaissance troops into the Sumy region, some 90 miles (146 kilometers) northwest of Kharkiv.

Russia has been plagued by setbacks in the war, most glaringly in its failure early on to take the capital of Kyiv. Much of the fighting has shifted to the Donbas but also has turned into a slog, with both sides fighting village-by-village.

Howitzers from the U.S. and other countries have helped Kyiv hold off or gain ground against Russia, a senior U.S. defense official said. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the U.S. military assessment, said Ukraine has pushed Russian forces to within a half-mile to 2.5 miles (1 to 4 kilometers) of Russia’s border but could not confirm if it was all the way to the frontier.

The official said Russian long-range strikes also appeared to target a Ukrainian military training center in Yavoriv, near the Polish border. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Away from the battlefield, Sweden’s decision to seek NATO membership followed a similar decision by neighboring Finland in a historic shift for the counties, which were nonaligned for generations.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said her country would be in a “vulnerable position” during the application period and urged her fellow citizens to brace themselves.

“Russia has said that that it will take countermeasures if we join NATO,” she said. “We cannot rule out that Sweden will be exposed to, for instance, disinformation and attempts to intimidate and divide us.”

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, a NATO member, ratcheted up his objection to their joining. He accused the countries of failing to take a “clear” stance against Kurdish militants and other groups that Ankara considers terrorists, and of imposing military sanctions on Turkey.

He said Swedish and Finnish officials who are expected in Turkey next week should not bother to come if they intend to try to convince Turkey of dropping its objection.

“How can we trust them?” Erdogan asked at a joint news conference with the visiting Algerian president.

All 30 current NATO members must agree to let the Nordic neighbors join.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow “does not have a problem” with Sweden or Finland as they apply for NATO membership, but that “the expansion of military infrastructure onto this territory will of course give rise to our reaction in response.”

Putin launched the invasion on Feb. 24 in what he said was an effort to check NATO’s expansion but has seen that strategy backfire. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the membership process for both could be quick.

Europe is also working to choke off funding for the Kremlin’s war by reducing the billions of dollars it spends on imports of Russian energy. A proposed EU embargo faces opposition from some countries dependent on Russian imports, including Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Bulgaria also has reservations.

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McQuillan reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, Mstyslav Chernov and Andrea Rosa in Kharkiv, Elena Becatoros in Odesa and other AP staffers around the world contributed.

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Trudy Rubin: Save Odesa to save the world from hunger and high food prices

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Trudy Rubin: Save Odesa to save the world from hunger and high food prices

When Russia sent hypersonic missiles into a shopping center in Ukraine’s elegant port city of Odesa last week, it was literally attacking the world.

Ukraine is known as the “breadbasket of Europe” and a global grain exporter. Eighty percent of its wheat used to ship from Odesa until Russia began blockading this major Black Sea port and targeting its civilians. Russia’s assault is the cause of soaring wheat prices that threaten starvation for many of the world’s poorest people, especially in the Middle East and Africa.

Moscow has already seized control of most of Ukraine’s coastline, including Mariupol’s port on the Sea of Azov. Smashing Odesa would virtually land-lock the country and destroy its international economy. With its maritime blockade of Odesa, Russia now controls nearly the entire northern coast of the Black Sea, contrary to international conventions.

“We didn’t have a plan for Mariupol and it fell,” retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, a former NATO commander, told me recently. “We still have time now to ensure Odesa doesn’t fall, leading to a landlocked Ukrainian nation. What is our plan?”

The answer to that question — what is the plan to save Odesa? — is essential to much of the world.

I put this question by WhatsApp to Oleksiy Goncharenko, Ukraine’s parliamentary representative in Kyiv, who is an Odesa native. It is essential, he said, to understand Vladimir Putin’s hypocrisy when it comes to Odesa.

“Vladimir Putin thinks the aim of his life is to protect Russian-speaking people,” Goncharenko told me, “but after Hitler, no one has killed so many Russian speakers as Putin has in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Odesa, and other Ukrainian cities.”

Never mind that the Kremlin leader seems willing to destroy Odesa — a stunning city of glorious architectural jewels — which was founded in 1794 on the orders of Russia’s Catherine the Great, who is a heroine of Putin’s.

“He realizes he can’t take Odesa by land (Ukrainian forces have successfully resisted), so he tries to destroy the infrastructure,” said Goncharenko. “Even as Putin was laying flowers on May 9 in Moscow, in honor of Odesa as a World War II hero city, he was putting a dagger in the back of Odesa with missiles.”

It boggles the mind that Putin still seems to believe some Russian speakers will welcome him in Odesa. The Russian leader attempted the same approach during his first invasion of Ukraine in 2014, when he tried to provoke unrest in Odesa. I was there at the time and witnessed the Russian-speaking inhabitants repel provocateurs from Moscow.

This time, said Goncharenko, it is the world’s moral responsibility “to secure the Black Sea (and Odesa) in order to secure world food supplies.”

“More and more people are suffering from hunger because of the Russian blockage of the Black Sea,” he continued. “It will get worse, along with prices. Hunger leads to unrest and riots.

“Russia has mined the Black Sea,” he also noted, causing insurance rates on commercial ships that enter the Black Sea to soar prohibitively.

The solution? “We need to have convoys under the flag of the United Nations which can take grain to those who need it,” contended Goncharenko. The best option “would be an international declaration of guarantee of safety for Black Sea ports.” He suggested that China (a big purchaser of Ukrainian grain), India, NATO, or a group of willing countries could guarantee the safety of the Odesa port and its export of agricultural goods.

Is this idea a pipe dream? No, said retired U.S. Adm. James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO. “A good model,” he said, “was Operation Earnest Will, when the United States conducted escort convoys to merchant ships in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.”

This time, Stavridis said, the idea would be to establish “a corridor from Istanbul across the Black Sea to Odesa.” He added he thinks “the Russians would hesitate to interfere, particularly if it was done by the U.S. or by three NATO members or put together by the International Maritime Organization.”

But in the meantime, it is essential to protect Odesa from Putin’s callous efforts to destroy the city from the air.

“We still need anti-ship missiles,” said Goncharenko. Yes, talented Ukrainians took out the Russian flagship Moskva with their own improvised Neptune missile, “but it would be very good to have Harpoons, a NATO missile.” Promised British anti-ship missiles will hopefully arrive soon. Yet there is no excuse for continued U.S. delay in helping Odesa fend off the Russian fleet with Harpoons.

And long-range anti-missile systems — either old Soviet systems or, even better, U.S. Patriot batteries, which Ukraine has begged for for months — are still not arriving. Nor are Poland’s MiG-29 planes or more modern aircraft.

The moment is now. Does the West want Odesa’s infrastructure to be destroyed, its food supplies blockaded? Or not?

Read the tweet of Charles Michel, president of the European Council, who was visiting Odesa the day the missiles hit: “I saw silos full of grain, wheat and corn ready for export. This badly needed food is stranded because of the Russian … blockade of Black Sea ports. Causing dramatic consequences for vulnerable countries. We need a global response.”

Where is the plan?

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer, P.O. Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101. Her email address is [email protected]

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