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Residents and holidaymakers in Florida have been warned not to be complacent, as storm-in-a-century Hurricane Ian’s 140mph winds are expected to affect the whole state.

After making landfall in Cuba as a powerful Category 3 storm, it is now feared it will be upgraded to Category 4 as it intensifies while crossing the Gulf’s warm waters and barrels towards Florida.

At an emergency briefing at the White House on Tuesday, Deanne Criswell, spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), said: “The storm surge is going to be significant, and you put 20 inches of rain on top of that….

“Take this very seriously, do not underestimate the potential this storm can bring.

“We are talking about impacts in parts of Florida that haven’t seen a major direct impact in nearly 100 years.”

Evacuation orders have been issued for more than 300,000 people in Tampa Bay along Florida’s west coast, but the entire state is expected to be impacted to some degree, with 2.5 million evacuated from homes in total.

News crews, tourists and local residents take images as high waves from Hurricane Ian crash into the seawall at the Southernmost Point buoy, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, in Key West, Fla. Ian was forecast to strengthen even more over warm Gulf of Mexico waters, reaching top winds of 140 mph (225 kmh) as it approaches the Florida...s southwest coast. (Rob O'Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)
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People in Key West – and wider Florida – have been told to take the warnings seriously and shelter. Pic: AP

Ian is heading towards the Florida Keys, a popular holiday destination, made up of many islands, some less than a mile wide.

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Joe Biden, the US president, cancelled a planned trip on Tuesday and called mayors in three Florida cities to assure them federal support is ready to deploy food, fuel and shelter.

A total of 29 emergency shelters have already been set up by Fema personnel sent to the state on Monday.

A vintage car passes by debris caused by the Hurricane Ian as it passed in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, September 27, 2022. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini
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One of Cuba’s famed vintage cars is stopped in its tracks by Ian

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Hurricane Ian: ‘This is no joke’

Florida emergency declared with Ian set to strengthen

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Hurricane Ian as seen from space

The US National Hurricane Centre said the storm made landfall early on Tuesday in the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.

Daniel Brown, the centre’s senior specialist, said it came with “extreme hurricane-force winds, also life-threatening storm surge and heavy rainfall”.

Officials there set up 55 shelters, rushed in emergency personnel, and took steps to protect crops in Cuba’s main tobacco-growing region.

Traffic builds along Interstate 4 in Tampa, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, as Hurricane Ian approaches. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel via AP)
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Traffic builds along the interstate out of Tampa as people try to escape before the hurricane approaches. Pic: AP

Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, has declared a state of emergency throughout the state and urged residents to prepare.

He warned of “broad impacts throughout the state” and said the weather system brought with it a risk of a “dangerous storm surge, heavy rainfall, flash flooding, strong winds, hazardous sea, and isolated tornadic activity”.

Flooding is predicted for much of the Florida peninsula midweek, and then heavy rainfall is possible for the southeast of the US later this week.

Empty shelves

In some parts of Florida, supermarket shelves have been emptied and many residents have placed sandbags around their homes.

The last time Tampa Bay, expected to be in the eye of Ian, was hit by a major storm was 25 October 1921.

The National Hurricane Centre is predicting storm surge in Tampa Bay and surrounding waters of between 5ft and 10ft (1.5m and 3m) above normal tide conditions because of Hurricane Ian.

Pic: AP
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Pic: AP

“That’s a lot of rain. That’s not going to drain out quickly,” Cathie Perkins, emergency management director in Pinellas County, where St Petersburg and Clearwater are, said.

This is no joke. This is life-threatening storm surge.”

The extreme weather event sparked NASA to shelter its Artemis 1 lunar rocket, the third time it has been postponed.

While BP and Chevron have shut down their offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico due to the expected hurricane.

The British embassy in Washington DC advised Britons to “closely monitor local and international weather updates and follow the advice of local authorities and/or your tour operator, including any evacuation orders”.

It added: “If you’re in Florida, Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands and you need urgent help, call +1 305 400 6400. If you’re in the UK and worried about a British person in the USA, call 020 7136 6857 (24/7, 365 days a year).”

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Jeffrey Epstein’s estate agrees to pay $105m to US Virgin Islands

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Jeffrey Epstein's estate agrees to pay 5m to US Virgin Islands

Jeffrey Epstein’s estate has agreed to pay the US Virgin Islands more than $105m (£86.8m) as part of a settlement in a sex trafficking and child exploitation case.

As part of the agreement, the estate will also pay the US territory half the proceeds from the sale of Little St James, Epstein’s private island which he bought in 1998 and allegedly used for many of his sexual crimes.

It will pay a further $450,000 (£372,000) to address damages on a separate island owned by the disgraced financier – with NBC quoting the US Department of Justice as saying he had “razed the remains of centuries-old historical structures of enslaved workers to make room for his development” there.

The settlement – which does not include any admission of wrongdoing – includes the return of more than $80m ($66m) in economic development tax benefits that Epstein and others had “fraudulently obtained to fuel his criminal enterprise”.

Virgin Islands Attorney General Denise George said in a news release: “This settlement restores the faith of the people of the Virgin Islands that its laws will be enforced, without fear or favour, against those who break them.

“We are sending a clear message that the Virgin Islands will not serve as a haven for human trafficking.”

In a statement reported by NBC, Epstein estate lawyer Daniel Weiner said: “The co-executors ultimately concluded that the settlement is in the best interests of the estate, including its creditors and claimants, to avoid the time, expense and inherent uncertainties of protracted litigation.

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“The settlement is consistent with the co-executors’ stated intent and practice since their appointments to those roles – to resolve claims related to any misconduct by Jeffrey Epstein in a manner sensitive to those who suffered harm.”

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Little St James Island, one of the properties of financier Jeffrey Epstein
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Little St James Island

Mr Weiner also said the estate intends to “wind down its remaining activities” in the islands “as soon as practicable” and that $121m (£100m) had been paid in compensation to 136 people over Epstein’s activities.

The Virgin Islands brought a civil claim against Epstein’s estate in 2020, alleging he was behind a criminal enterprise through which young women and girls were trafficked, raped, sexually assaulted and held captive at Little St James.

Epstein was 66 when he killed himself in a Manhattan jail in 2019, a month after his arrest on sex trafficking charges.

That came more than a decade after his conviction for soliciting prostitution from a minor, for which he became a registered sex offender.

Last year, his former partner Ghislaine Maxwell was convicted of recruiting teenage girls for him to sexually abuse between 1994 and 2004.

She was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

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Lecanemab: New Alzheimer’s drug slows decline in memory – fuelling hope doctors will one day cure dementia

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Lecanemab: New Alzheimer's drug slows decline in memory - fuelling hope doctors will one day cure dementia

Doctors have hailed a “new era” of medicine after a study showed for the first time that a drug can slow the debilitating symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

Results from the clinical trial also revealed that the drug lecanemab cleared clumps of a protein called amyloid – thought to be a key cause of the most common form of dementia – from patients’ brains.

The data, published at a conference in San Francisco, led to an outpouring of optimism from scientists, many of whom had spent decades trying to understand what leads to the disease and find a treatment.

Rob Howard, professor of old age psychiatry at University College London, said the results were “wonderful and hope-filled” – adding: “At long last we have gained some traction on this most terrible and feared disease and the years of research and investment have finally paid off.

“It feels momentous and historic. This will encourage real optimism that dementia can be beaten and one day even cured.”

The manufacturers of the drug released top-line results in a news release earlier in the autumn, but many doctors held back from celebrating until full results were released at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference.

They showed that lecanemab slowed the decline in memory and mental agility by 27% in patients with mild Alzheimer’s.

A new drug has been found to reduce cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients

‘Doctors are optimistic’

Critically, the drug removed so much of the amyloid protein that the patients wouldn’t have had enough evidence of Alzheimer’s disease on their brain scans to actually qualify for entry to the trial.

The study strongly suggests that the drug only starts to have a clinical effect once amyloid is reduced to low levels in the brain.

Results after 12 months of treatment suggested it was ineffective – but after 18 months, the effect was significant.

Doctors are optimistic that continued treatment will lead to even better results.

Professor Nick Fox, director of the Dementia Research Centre at University College London, said: “It confirms a new era of disease modification for Alzheimer’s disease, an era that comes after more than 20 years of hard work by many, many people, with many disappointments along the way.”

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Lecanemab is not a cure. But even slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease would be game changing, delaying the need for specialist care and allowing people to spend more time with their families.

However, the drug has side effects.

One in eight patients given lecanemab suffered brain swelling and other changes, probably as a result of removing the amyloid protein. But most only had evidence of problems on brain scans. Fewer than one in 30 had actual symptoms such as headaches or confusion.

Some patients had bleeding in the brain, though deaths were no higher in those receiving treatment than those given a dummy drug.

Nevertheless, it underlines the need for careful monitoring of those on treatment.

Prof Fox said: “Any risk is clearly important, but I believe that many of my patients would be very willing to take such a risk.

Hospital

‘Massive challenge for the NHS’

Doctors warned that lecanemab will be a massive challenge for the NHS, not just because the drug is given through an intravenous infusion every two weeks.

Most Alzheimer’s patients are currently diagnosed when they have moderate symptoms – too late for treatment with lecanemab. And just 1% have their diagnosis confirmed by a brain scan or lumbar puncture, a biopsy of their spinal fluid.

Susan Kohlhaas, director of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK said: “It’s safe to say that the NHS is not ready for a new era of dementia treatment.

“We estimate that unless there are drastic changes in how people access specialist diagnostic tests for Alzheimer’s disease, only 2% of people eligible for drugs like lecanemab will be able to access them.”

Until now there have only been drugs that treated symptoms rather than the underlying cause. But if lecanemab is licensed for use on the NHS then delays in treatment will result in brain cells dying and the disease progressing.

Prof John Hardy, from the UK Dementia Research Institute in London said the drug had been “a long time coming”.

He added: “I truly believe it represents the beginning of the end.

“The first step is the hardest, and we now know exactly what we need to do to develop effective drugs. It’s exciting to think that future work will build on this, and we will soon have life-changing treatments to tackle this disease.”

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Landmark legislation to protect same-sex marriages passes US Senate

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Landmark legislation to protect same-sex marriages passes US Senate

Landmark legislation to protect same-sex marriages has passed the US Senate in a significant show of bipartisan co-operation.

The bill, which ensures same-sex and interracial marriages are enshrined in federal law, was approved 61-36 on Tuesday, including support from 12 Republicans.

The bill’s passage is a sign of shifting politics on same-sex marriages and will provide a measure of relief for the hundreds of thousands of couples who have married since the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision that legalised gay marriage nationwide.

The bill has gained momentum since the Supreme Court’s decision in June that overturned the federal right to an abortion – a ruling that included a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas that suggested same-sex marriage could also come under threat.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., joined from left by Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., speaks to reporters before a vote on legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation was ‘a long time coming’. Pic: AP

President Joe Biden praised the bipartisan vote and said he will sign the bill “promptly and proudly” if it is passed by the House of Representatives, which the Republicans won back in the midterm elections earlier this month.

He said the bill will ensure that LGBTQ youth “will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own”.

Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said the legislation was “a long time coming” and part of America’s “difficult but inexorable march towards greater equality”.

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The legislation will not force any state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

However it will require states to recognize all marriages that were legal where they were performed, and protect current same-sex unions, if the Supreme Court’s 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision were to be overturned.

Republicans voting for the legislation included: Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Rob Portman from Ohio, Todd Young of Indiana, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Mitt Romney of Utah, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Roy Blunt of Missouri, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan of Alaska.

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