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News Brief: Hurricane Michael, Kentucky House Race, New Saint


Hurricane Michael is now a tropical storm out in the Atlantic and moving away from us.


Michael drove its high winds and heavy rains across North Florida and Georgia and the Carolinas. At least six people are known to have died in this storm. Parts of the Florida Panhandle are flattened. It was the most powerful hurricane ever to hit that part of the state, and those who did not evacuate are now without power or cell service.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: This is a war zone. How are you going to get out of here? This city is destroyed. The whole area is going to get - they're going to tear down all these houses and rebuild it. You're not going to recognize Mexico Beach.

KING: NPR's Greg Allen was in Mexico Beach. That community was hit hardest by Hurricane Michael. Greg is with us now. Good morning, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Morning, Noel.

KING: So what does Mexico Beach look like now?

ALLEN: Well, you know, it's probably not an exaggeration to say it looks like a bomb went off there. Very few houses came through the storm unscathed. You know, this is right near the area where Michael made landfall, and when it came in, these high winds tore the roofs from houses, sometimes knocked down entire houses, sometimes entire walls. One house that sticks out in my memory, as we walk along, you look into the entire front kitchen. It's all exposed to the open air. You see the blender and the mixer there on the counter. It's open to the street.

You know, like all of North Florida, this area is heavily wooded, too, and it's the pine trees that did so much of the damage. These high winds knocked the falling trees over, and the falling trees did much of the damage. We saw houses that were crushed under trees. The wind (inaudible) power poles, putting wires onto the roads. And you had that big storm surge that came in and washed away almost all the sand dunes there and damaged the beach road in many places. So really a bad situation there in Mexico Beach.

KING: And this is extraordinary. You met residents who lived through this. They did not evacuate. What did they tell you? It must've been terrifying.

ALLEN: Right. Well, you know, I think, you know, the vast majority of people did evacuate from the evacuation zones, including Mexico Beach. But there were - you know, we met many people. Wasn't hard to find plenty of people who stayed. One man I spoke with, named Lance Hanson (ph), he stayed put along with his uncle and his 98-year-old grandmother. They live in a house, the family's house they've had for generations, just a block back from the beach.

And he told me they were sorry they stayed. He wouldn't ever do so again. He actually said the reason they stayed was because he thought it was a Category 3, and they had lived through those before, and he feels like forecasters kind of let him down by not alerting him early enough that the storm would be a much more powerful Category 4, almost Category 5 storm.

So it's that kind of thing, you know? For them, the storm blew off the roof, and then there was the fires they had there 'cause houses had left the gas on. And the houses caught fire. They were ready to evacuate a second - after because of the fire. They thought their house was going to burn down, but luckily they survived that. So that's kind of a typical story you hear there. You know, everybody has a different reason.

KING: And for the many people who did evacuate, do we know when they'll be allowed back?

ALLEN: That's not clear. When you arrive in the county, you get an alert telling you that only first responders and work crews are being allowed in. Even local residents are being turned away. They're being told it's not safe yet to return. People who did stay, you know, like Lance Hanson and others we met, aren't really able to leave unless they leave for good. So they're kind of afraid to go out and look for supplies.

But they're kind of hoping that - they've been told that FEMA should be arriving there soon. We saw plenty of crews on the way to the area last night when we were leaving. What people are hoping for is ice because they don't have any power. And the restoration to cellphone service, which is so vital because many say they haven't talked to anybody since the storm hit so they can't let their friends and their relatives know that they came through it all safely.

KING: My goodness. NPR's Greg Allen. Thanks so much, Greg, and stay safe.

ALLEN: Will do.


KING: President Trump will be campaigning for Republicans this weekend, and he will visit eastern Kentucky. The president will be in the congressional district from which a MORNING EDITION team is reporting this morning.

INSKEEP: Yeah. We're in Lexington, Ky., after spending days listening to voters, including Alan Halsey, who is editor of a rural newspaper called The Swift Creek Courier, and he will be at the Trump rally.

ALAN HALSEY: I was actually a Trump voter. I was. And I may vote for him again. I'm going to Richmond to see him this weekend.

INSKEEP: Are you really?

HALSEY: Maybe I won't get shot.

INSKEEP: Maybe I won't get shot, he says. Halsey is deciding if he will support the president's favorite congressional candidate, the incumbent Andy Barr. Now, Halsey is conservative, but says he also prefers divided government. Kentucky is a red state, but also a state where teachers protested a Republican governor this year. And Audrey Long is one of those who held up signs at the state capitol. We talked over dinner in Lexington.

Did those protests cause some teachers to become more politically active than they would have been?

AUDREY LONG: Heck yes. Heck yes. If I remember correctly, it's more teachers running for state office this year than ever before.

INSKEEP: Now, we've met dozens of people in three corners of this district - a poor, rural county, an upscale horse track - Keeneland - and a historic black neighborhood. Now we're going to talk over what we've found with Emily Beaulieu, who is a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

Good morning. Welcome.

EMILY BEAULIEU: Good morning.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should just mention we have a few friends with us here at Broomwagon Bikes and Coffee. Would you let the country know you're here, guys?

UNIDENTIFIED CAFE PATRONS: (Cheering and applauding).

INSKEEP: All right. And let's just ask about this district. We're in the Sixth District. What would make this district competitive in such a red state?

BEAULIEU: Well, that's interesting. So historically, Kentucky follows a pattern of other Southern states in that even as these states trended Republican at the national level, particularly for presidential elections, Democrats retained strong control at the state level. And so we've seen districts like the Sixth able to retain...

INSKEEP: They've flipped back and forth.


INSKEEP: You've got some more conservative Democrats. Something else going on here, as well. We are in a very modern and urban place, in a city and an increasingly diverse place. The teacher we heard from teaches English as a second language and gets students coming from all over the world to Lexington, Ky.


INSKEEP: Is there a divide between rural and urban in a place like this? If we just drive an hour to the east in the mountains, I feel like we're in a very different world.

BEAULIEU: It is. Well, you have different types of rural here in Kentucky, right? We have the horse industry, which brings a certain type of rural. And then we have, as you move further east, a more impoverished rural community.

INSKEEP: And that's places where you've got small hollows, as they call them, small farms, or nothing particularly going on. And tremendous problems with drugs and other issues. There's an economic divide, as well, right? This is a very prosperous city that we're in.


INSKEEP: And a place of education. How big a place does the University of Kentucky hold in this? Not that you're biased, or anything.

BEAULIEU: Not at all. The University of Kentucky is the largest industry here in Lexington, along with suppliers like Toyota, manufacturers like Toyota and Lexmark, and the bourbon industry.

INSKEEP: Now, the bourbon industry. That's really interesting. Isn't that industry being affected by tariffs, President Trump-imposed tariffs? And you now have Europeans imposing tariffs on Kentucky bourbon.

BEAULIEU: There are concerns about the tariffs, yes.

INSKEEP: So how are the candidates navigating these divides? We have Andy Barr, Republican. We have Amy McGrath, a Democrat, running for office for the first time.

BEAULIEU: So Amy McGrath is definitely appealing to that more centrist, democratic tendency that we see here, trying to emphasize some of the economic issues.

INSKEEP: And how does Andy Barr push back?

BEAULIEU: By questioning the extent to which McGrath is a centrist.

INSKEEP: OK. And one final question. How popular does it feel to you that President Trump is in the state of Kentucky?

BEAULIEU: It depends on who ask.

INSKEEP: (Laughter). Deeply divided, but he did receive 62 percent of the vote in this state and 68 percent of this congressional district, I think. Emily Beaulieu of the University of Kentucky, thanks so much.


KING: All right. Looking ahead to the weekend. On Sunday, nearly 40 years after he was assassinated while saying Mass, Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero will be canonized by the Vatican. Archbishop Romero constantly spoke against the violence that was tearing his native El Salvador apart in the 1970s. His radio broadcast demanding social justice reached hundreds of thousands of people, but his words also angered the country's military rulers. NPR's Danny Hajek is with me. He's one of our producers at MORNING EDITION, and he's been reporting on Romero. Good morning, Danny.


KING: What did you learn about Oscar Romero?

HAJEK: Well, he was a fighter for justice. And they called him the voice of the voiceless. This was a time when El Salvador's military regime, which was supported by the United States, killed, kidnapped and tortured civilians, many of them the poorest in society. And so Romero ran this commission that investigated human rights abuses. And every Sunday, during Mass, he named victims of murder and the countless who disappeared. And it was incredibly dangerous for him to do that. And his homilies were broadcast on the radio, and they became sort of, like, newscasts for the poor. I talked with Franciscan Brother Octavio Duran, and he used to work at the Catholic radio station in San Salvador.

OCTAVIO DURAN: Everybody. Everybody was listening, including his enemies.

HAJEK: And he had many enemies.

KING: Who were they?

HAJEK: El Salvador's oligarchy, the military. They were threatened by Romero because he openly talked about these injustices, and he empowered the poor to do something about it and he died for that. In March of 1980, while he was saying Mass at this little hospital chapel in San Salvador, he was shot at the altar by a gunman from a right-wing death squad.

KING: Why did it take almost 40 years for Romero to be canonized?

HAJEK: Well, Romero's always been controversial, especially within the Catholic Church. He supported the poor. He was critical of the government. So he was accused of being a Communist, which he was not, but his cause for sainthood was stalled by the Vatican for years because of that. Vatican officials said he was too aligned with a theology that promoted the cause for social justice. But Pope Francis finally changed that. And this is huge for El Salvador. It's a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world. So Oscar Romero's words are just as relevant now as they were 38 years ago.

KING: A fascinating man and some fascinating reporting. NPR's Danny Hajek. Danny, thanks so much.

HAJEK: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
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