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News Brief: Hurricane Michael, Stock Prices, Missing Journalist


This morning, residents in Florida's Panhandle are waking up to a view of the devastation that was left behind by Hurricane Michael.


Yeah, this was quite a storm. Trees came down, roofs came off, homes were lifted off of their foundations, and parts of the shoreline appeared to be just swallowed up. So far, two people are confirmed dead. And as they start their Thursday morning, more than 400,000 power customers in Florida and southeastern Alabama are without electricity. This is the voice of Florida's Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday as he was trying to reassure Panhandle residents that they are going to see help.


RICK SCOTT: As soon as Michael passes, we will have a massive wave of response and support coming down and around the Panhandle.

GREENE: Now, Michael has been downgraded to a tropical storm, and it is moving across Georgia and into the Carolinas, which is a region already hard hit by Hurricane Florence just a few weeks ago.

MARTIN: All right. We've got meteorologist Jeff Huffman with Florida Public Radio on the line from Gainesville, Fla., where he has been monitoring all of the storm's machinations.

Hey, Jeff. Thanks for being here.

JEFF HUFFMAN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: What is the status of the storm this morning?

HUFFMAN: Oh, it is downgraded to a tropical storm. But it is still a rather stout tropical storm, moving from eastern Georgia into western South Carolina, winds of 50 mph. And it will continue to weaken steadily over the Carolinas. It's primarily a heavy rain producer now, but there's still some tropical-storm-force wind gusts that could cause some damage. And there will be a tornado risk in the Carolinas as well later today.

MARTIN: It felt, Jeff, like this hurricane - it probably didn't feel this way to you - but for the rest of us, laypeople, it felt like it sort of popped out of nowhere. We were still dealing with the residuals of Florence, and this storm just gained so much wind so quickly. What happened?

HUFFMAN: Well, it did. And Florence and both Irma last year traveled for, you know, thousands of miles across the Atlantic. We had days to prepare. When you get into the month of October, the central Atlantic is less favorable for tropical cyclones to develop, so these waves don't really develop until they get closer to land. And that's what happened here with Michael. And it has happened before. The Caribbean, especially, is a place where storms can rapidly intensify. And we had water temperatures in the Gulf 85 to 88 degrees, very little wind shear. And it was forecast by the hurricane center to rapidly intensify, and it certainly did. And unfortunately, it kept intensifying up until landfall.

MARTIN: Do we know what the storm surge ended up being? There were some concerns it was going to get up to 13 feet. Is that right?

HUFFMAN: Yeah. I think we have some confirmed reports right now of 8 1/2 feet over near Apalachicola. Of course, damage assessments will be done later to determine where some of the higher amounts may have been in between these reporting stations. The storm ended up, Rachel, to be a little more compact. Stronger hurricanes typically are more compact, so that did lessen the reach of the storm surge a bit. But we had reports all the way as far as Tampa of water flooding coastal roadways. And we had reports in Cedar Key of a storm surge of 2 to 5 feet. And those areas are 200 to 300 miles from where the storm tracked.

MARTIN: Overall, it lived up to expectations, though. This was a historic storm.

HUFFMAN: It was. And not always do they become the worst-case scenarios, where they come ashore. And unfortunately, this one did.

MARTIN: Jeff Huffman of Florida Public Radio giving us the latest on Hurricane Michael, now downgraded to a tropical storm that's moving inland.

Thanks so much for your reporting. We appreciate it.

HUFFMAN: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right, it wasn't exactly a full correction, but yesterday's drop in the Dow caught a whole lot of people off guard. It fell by more than 800 points, the largest drop in six months.

GREENE: You know, one reason people were surprised is because economic growth has been strong. Unemployment is at a record low. So the question is - what spooked investors here? President Trump is blaming the Federal Reserve, which sets interest rates, for the sell-off.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I think the Fed is making a mistake. They're so tight. I think the Fed has gone crazy.

GREENE: Well, whatever or whomever you blame, the Dow drop has markets in Asia and Europe reeling this morning as well.

MARTIN: All right. We've got NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner with us this morning.

Uri, what's going on? Why the drop?

URI BERLINER, BYLINE: Good morning. Well, there are a lot of things that are going on right now. One is that, you know, we've had a decidedly sour mood take over the market in the last few days. The S&P 500 has fallen five straight days. It got a lot worse yesterday. And on the Nasdaq, where a lot of the tech stocks are traded, it was even worse. It was down more than 4 percent. And a lot of this isn't really that surprising because the big technology companies, they've led this long rally. They've really powered it. You know, the names you know - Facebook; Amazon; Apple; Netflix...

MARTIN: Right.

BERLINER: ...Google; Alphabet, which is Google's parent company - they've led this rally. But since the beginning of the month, they've started to fall off. Some of those stocks are really struggling now.

MARTIN: So President Trump is blaming the Fed, presumably because they raised interest rates. Can you explain the connection here?

BERLINER: Right. Well - so the Fed has raised interest rates eight times in the last three years. It started from a very low base. Rates were basically zero for a long time. So it steadily started to raise rates as the economy improved, as it recovered with the intention of keeping inflation in check in this recovery and keeping the economy on an even keel. But that rise in interest rates makes borrowing costs more expensive for companies, for people. And it can have the effect of somewhat slowing the recovery.

MARTIN: And the president - as we heard him there say that he thinks the Fed has gone crazy - he clearly disagrees. He wants the Fed to prop up the economy by keeping interest rates low. Explain why that's not necessarily a great idea.

BERLINER: Well I mean it's not uncommon for for presidents to complain about the Fed or to be unhappy with the Fed. When they raise rates especially if it's any time close to an election what is unusual is for a president to say the Fed has gone crazy. That's really unusual. You know if the Fed has a policy where it's trying to keep this recovery going it's trying to keep inflation so it wants a steady economy. If you keep rates very low there's the potential the economy could overheat and fall back into recession.

MARTIN: Right now of course we know President Trump talks a lot about the stock market as an indicator of whether or not the overall economy is healthy. It is. It isn't necessarily the best indicator but as you mention the elections coming up. So it matters to him a lot.

BERLINER: It sure does. I mean, he's talked throughout his administration about how great the economy has been and how great the stock market has been. He's taking a lot of credit for that. Now, if the stock market does go into a downturn, it will be interesting to see how he explains that and what he thinks the cause is of it.

MARTIN: NPR senior business editor Uri Berliner for us.

Thanks, Uri.



MARTIN: All right we're learning more this morning about what might have happened to the missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He went inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, last week, and he has not been seen since.

GREENE: And here's one new thing we have learned. The Washington Post is reporting that at one point, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia ordered agents to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia from his home in the United States. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said yesterday that if if the Saudi government was behind Khashoggi's disappearance, that would be, quote, "a game changer."


LINDSEY GRAHAM: I've never been more disturbed than I am right now. If this did in fact happen - if this man was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, that would cross every line of normality in the international community. If it did happen, there would be hell to pay.

GREENE: Now, Saudi officials are continuing to deny any involvement in Khashoggi's disappearance.

MARTIN: All right, we have reached Kareem Fahim. He is The Washington Post correspondent in Istanbul who's been following this story closely.

Karim, can you just explain what exactly you have learned that U.S. intelligence officials knew?

KAREEM FAHIM: Hi. Yeah. Thanks for having me.

As my colleague Shane Harris reported today in our paper, the U.S. officials are citing intelligence intercepts of Saudi officials discussing this plot to lure Jamal back to Saudi Arabia. We don't know for what purpose exactly. And you know, Jamal had told friends over the last year about numerous attempts by either Saudi officials or people close to the Saudi government confirming some version of this story - that he was offered jobs or assured that he would be safe if he returns to the kingdom. So we're still learning more about this. But it adds detail to what we might know about what happened in the consulate here in Istanbul.

MARTIN: Because, we should just say, he has been a vocal critic of the Saudi government and had been living in the Washington, D.C., area. I mean, do we know if the U.S. intelligence officials gave him a heads-up that they knew that someone in Saudi was trying to get him back there, perhaps to do harm to him?

FAHIM: No, we don't. The details of this plot appear to have been widely circulated around the intelligence community. But we have no evidence yet that he was warned about this plot. And there's some debate about whether there was an obligation to tell him.

MARTIN: So you are reporting - you and your colleagues are reporting that basically what seems to have happened in Istanbul - his disappearance there at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul - may have been Plan B. If they couldn't lure him back from the U.S. to Saudi, a disappearance in Istanbul may have been the subsequent plan.

FAHIM: That's certainly one theory. I mean, Turkish officials, since the beginning of this case, have maintained that what happened inside looked to them like a premeditated killing. But others are saying now that some of the details from these intelligence intercepts make it seem possible that it also may have been an attempt to capture him and bring him back to Saudi Arabia.

MARTIN: I mean, this is clearly complicated for the Trump administration, which has very close ties to Saudi Arabia and Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, known as MBS. I mean, in particular, you report, he's got a really close relationship with Jared Kushner.

FAHIM: Absolutely. The Trump administration has had very close ties with Mohammed bin Salman, and they've really promoted his vision of transformation for the kingdom. And so this whole episode has highlighted the other part of Mohammed bin Salman's rule, which has been escalating repression of dissidents and silencing dissent.

MARTIN: So we'll see, if Salman is seen to be responsible for this plot, if the Trump administration would put sanctions on Saudi Arabia. We so appreciate you sharing your reporting. Kareem Fahim of The Washington Post, based in Istanbul.

Thank you so much.

FAHIM: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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