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2021’s First Snowfall
Storm brings heavy flurries to area

The first snow covering of the new year arrived in pair of heavy flurries on Monday.

The first dusting blew through the Crossroads area in the early morning hours while a second snow shower blanketed Corinth around lunch time. Each storm brought around a quarter to a half inch with total accumulations around an inch in some areas of the county. The conditions made travel questionable mostly on bridges and overpasses.

Alcorn County schools called it an official “snow day” with no virtual learning options available to provide students and faculty a true day off to enjoy the white stuff.

While much of the snow melted throughout the afternoon hours, signs remained overnight on roof tops, bushes and cars. With low temperatures in the 20s, slick roadways continued to be a problem.

Oxford, Starkville, Clarksdale, Vicksburg and Jackson all saw snow between 2 to 4 inches. While communities further south in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama missed the snow, but got rain or sleet.

According to the National Weather, as many as 6 inches of snow fell across parts of southern Texas on Sunday causing power outages in some locations. While as much as 2.5 inches of snow fell northwest of Birmingham, forecasters said, and bridges were icy in spots. Snowfall totals of about 4 inches occurred in areas between Center, Texas, and Natchitoches, Louisiana.

More than 110,000 customers in Texas and over 50,000 customers in Louisiana were without power early Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us, a utility tracking website.

The remaining week’s forecast will get a little warmer for Corinth.

Daytime highs will hover around 50 and overnight lows will remain in the 20s and 30s through the weekend. Sun and mostly clear skies will return, according to the National Weather Service.

Jobless rate falls to 4.6%

Area jobless rates are getting back to pre-pandemic levels, although new filings for assistance continue to be above average, according to the latest state labor market report.

Alcorn County posted a jobless rate of 4.6 percent in November, level with the rate a year earlier, ahead of the onset of COVID. The rate is down from 5.1 percent in October. Mississippi’s unemployment rate was down a full percentage point over the month in not seasonally adjusted figures.

Alcorn County ranked 9th for the month among the 82 counties. Tishomingo County, at 4.3 percent, ranked 4th; Prentiss County, at 5 percent, ranked 14th; and Tippah County, at 4.8 percent, ranked 13th. Rates ranged from 3.7 percent in Lafayette and Lamar counties to 16.4 percent in Jefferson County.

New claims for unemployment insurance in the county numbered 185 in November, compared to 39 a year earlier, while continued claims totaled 1,171, compared to 199 a year ago. Regular benefits paid out in the county totaled $135,205, up from $34,940 a year earlier. Benefits through all programs totaled $457,800.

The county had 740 unemployed for the month, nearly unchanged from 730 a year earlier.

The nation’s not seasonally adjusted rate for November was 6.4 percent, down from 6.6 percent in October and up from 3.3 percent a year earlier.

Unemployment rates were lower in November in 25 states and the District of Columbia, higher in seven states, and stable in 18 states, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Forty-eight states and the District had jobless rate increases from a year earlier, and two states had little change.

Mississippi governor signs law for flag without rebel sign

JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed a bill Monday that gives the state a new flag that no longer carries the Confederate battle emblem.

The bill signing happened just over six months after legislators retired the last state flag in the U.S. that included the rebel symbol.

During a signing ceremony, Reeves said the old flag was “a prominent roadblock to unity.”

The new flag has a magnolia and the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Reeves called it “one small effort to unify, but it is done in good faith.”

Momentum to change the Mississippi flag built quickly in June as protests against racial injustice were happening across the nation. Legislators created a commission to design a new flag, specifying that the banner could not include Confederate imagery and that it must include “In God We Trust.”

The public submitted more than 3,000 proposals, and the commission chose the design that has a magnolia blossom encircled by white stars representing Mississippi as the 20th state, plus a single gold star representing Native Americans. The gold star is made of diamond shapes that are significant to the Choctaw culture. The flag also has gold stripes representing the artistic heritage of state that has produced blues great B.B. King, and Nobel Prize-winning novelist William Faulkner.

The law retiring the old flag also specified that the commission’s proposed new flag would go on the Nov. 3 ballot for a yes-or-no vote. The magnolia design was the only flag proposal on the ballot, and more than 71 percent of people who voted that day said yes.

Putting it into law is the final step in making the magnolia flag an official state symbol. The state House and Senate last week passed the bill that Reeves signed Monday.

The Confederate battle emblem – a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars – was put on the upper left corner of the Mississippi flag in 1894 by white supremacists in the state Legislature a generation after the South lost the Civil War. The flag was part of the backlash against political power that Black people had attained during Reconstruction. Critics had long said the flag was a racist symbol that failed to represent a state with the largest percentage of Black residents in the nation.

The Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups have waved the Confederate battle flag for decades. Georgia put the battle emblem prominently on its state flag in 1956, during a backlash to the civil rights movement. That state removed the symbol from its banner in 2001.

Mississippi voters chose to keep the Confederate-themed flag during a 2001 election, but all of the state’s public universities and several cities and counties stopped flying it in recent years. Several took it down after the June 2015 slayings of nine Black worshippers at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The white man charged in the shooting deaths had previously posed, in photos published online, holding the Confederate battle flag.

Supporters of the Confederate-themed Mississippi flag are starting an initiative that seeks to put four flag designs on the statewide ballot for another vote – the 1894 flag, the magnolia flag, one designed by a Jackson artist as an alternative to the 1894 flag and one designed for the state’s 2017 bicentennial. Getting that on the ballot is a long shot, though, because of the signature-gathering process that is made more challenging by the coronavirus pandemic.

US ramps up vaccinations to get doses to more Americans

The U.S. is entering the second month of the biggest vaccination drive in history with a major expansion of the campaign, opening football stadiums, major league ballparks, fairgrounds and convention centers to inoculate a larger and more diverse pool of people.

After a frustratingly slow rollout involving primarily health care workers and nursing home residents, states are moving on to the next phase before the first one is complete, making shots available to such groups as senior citizens, teachers, bus drivers, police officers and firefighters.

“It gives you hope,” said David Garvin, a New Yorker who turns 80 next weekend and got a vaccination at a city-run site in Brooklyn on Monday, the first day the state made people over 75 eligible along with various front-line workers. “I’ve been in my room for six months.”

In Southern California, 41-year-old nurse Julieann Sparks received a shot through her car window at a drive-thru vaccination site that opened in a parking lot near the San Diego Padres’ baseball stadium.

“It really truly was a hassle-free experience,” she said. After receiving a vaccination, drivers had to stay there for 15 minutes so that they could be watched for any reaction.

Similarly, in Britain, where a more contagious variant of the virus is raging out of control and deaths are soaring, seven large-scale vaccination sites opened Monday at such places as a big convention center in London, a racecourse in Surrey and a tennis and soccer complex in Manchester.

Across the U.S., where the outbreak has entered its most lethal phase yet and the death toll has climbed to about 375,000, politicians and health officials have complained over the past several days that too many shots were sitting unused on the shelves because of overly rigid adherence to the federal guidelines that put an estimated 24 million health care workers and nursing home residents at the front of the line.

About 9 million Americans have received their first shot, or 2.7 percent of the U.S. population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Experts say as much as 85 percent of the population will have to be inoculated to achieve “herd immunity” and vanquish the outbreak.

Many states are responding by throwing open the line to other groups and ramping up the pace of vaccinations, in some cases offering them 24-7.

In California, one of the deadliest hot spots in the U.S., the drive-thru operation outside the San Diego ballpark is gearing up to inoculate 5,000 health care workers a day. Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles will also be pressed into service by the end of the week, with officials saying it will be able to vaccinate 12,000 people per day when it is fully running.

At the same time, California hit another gloomy milestone, surpassing a death toll of 30,000. It took the state six months to record its first 10,000 deaths but barely a month to go from 20,000 to 30,000. Over the weekend, California reported a two-day record of 1,163 deaths. Hospitals are reaching the breaking point.

About 584,000 doses have been administered in California, or about 1.5 percent of the population.

Arizona, with the highest COVID-19 diagnosis rate in the U.S., began dispensing vaccinations Monday in a drive-thru, round-the-clock operation at the suburban Phoenix stadium that is home to the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals. Shots are being offered to people 75 and older, teachers, police and firefighters.

In Texas, vaccine megasites opened at the Alamodome in San Antonio and on the Texas state fairground in Dallas. Nearly 4,000 people were vaccinated Saturday at Minute Maid Park, the home of baseball’s Houston Astros.

The slow first stage of the U.S. campaign has been blamed in part on inadequate funding and guidance from Washington and a multitude of logistical hurdles at the state and local level that have caused confusion and disorganization.

Florida, the longtime retirement haven with one of the biggest concentrations of elderly people in the country, is using Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens to dispense shots.

Rather than wait for the first designated group of recipients under the federal guidelines to get their shots, Gov. Ron DeSantis has moved to open up vaccinations to people 65 and over.

That step has been met with huge demand, with senior citizens standing in line in the overnight chill or sleeping in their cars – a spectacle that has alarmed many people. DeSantis said drive-thru sites will be ramped up in the coming days.

Saad Omer, director of the Yale Institute for Global Health, said it is reasonable to speed things up and move on to the next group of people as long as health workers and nursing home residents continue being given shots at the same time.

“Our country should be able to walk and chew gum when comes to its immunization program,” he said.

Capitol police were overrun, little defense against rioters

WASHINGTON — Despite ample warnings about pro-Trump demonstrations in Washington, U.S. Capitol Police did not bolster staffing on Wednesday and made no preparations for the possibility that the planned protests could escalate into massive violent riots, according to several people briefed on law enforcement’s response.

The revelations shed new light on why Capitol Police were so quickly overrun by rioters. The department had the same number of officers in place as on a routine day. While some of those officers were outfitted with equipment for a protest, they were not staffed or equipped for a riot.

Once the mob began to move on the Capitol, a police lieutenant issued an order not to use deadly force, which explains why officers outside the building did not draw their weapons as the crowd closed in. Officers are sometimes ordered against escalating a situation by drawing their weapons if superiors believe doing so could lead to a stampede or a shootout.

In this instance, it also left officers with little ability to resist the mob. In one video from the scene, an officer puts up his fists to try to push back a crowd pinning him and his colleagues against a door. The crowd jeers “You are not American!” and one man tries to prod him with the tip of an American flag.

“They were left naked,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-California. said of the police in an interview with AP. She had raised security concerns in a Dec. 28 meeting of House Democrats and grilled Steven Sund, the Capitol Police chief, during an hourlong private call on New Year’s Eve. “It turns out it was the worst kind of non-security anybody could ever imagine.”

In an interview with The Washington Post, Sund said he had asked House and Senate security officials ahead of time for permission to request that the D.C. National Guard be placed on standby in case he needed quick backup. But he said he was turned down.

“If we would have had the National Guard we could have held them at bay longer, until more officers from our partner agencies could arrive,” he told the Post. He said his superiors had been uncomfortable with the “optics” of formally declaring an emergency ahead of Wednesday’s demonstration.

The Capitol Police’s lackluster response to the riots, poor planning and failure to anticipate the seriousness of the threat have drawn condemnation from lawmakers and prompted the ouster of the department’s chief and the Sergeants at Arms of both the House and Senate.

As the full extent of the insurrection becomes clear, the FBI is also investigating whether some of the rioters had plans to kidnap members of Congress and hold them hostage.

Investigators are particularly focused on why some of them were seen carrying plastic zip-tie handcuffs and had apparently accessed areas of the Capitol generally difficult for the public to locate, according to an official.

The official was among four officials briefed on Wednesday’s incident who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly.

Larry Rendell Brock, of Texas, and Eric Gavelek Munchel, of Tennessee, who both were photographed with plastic restraints as they broke into the Capitol, were arrested by the FBI on Sunday. Prosecutors said Brock also donned a green helmet, tactical vest and camouflage jacket.

The crowd that arrived in Washington on Wednesday was no surprise. Trump had been urging his supporters to come to the capital and some hotels had been booked to 100 percent capacity – setting off alarm bells because tourism in Washington has cratered amid the pandemic. Justice officials, FBI and other agencies began to monitor flights and social media for weeks and were expecting massive crowds.

Capitol Police leaders, however, had prepared for a free speech demonstration. No fencing was erected outside the Capitol and no contingency plans were prepared in case the situation escalated, according to people briefed.

Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Colorado, said Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy told lawmakers on Sunday that the Defense Department and law enforcement officials had prepared for a crowd similar to protests in November and December, in the “low thousands” and that they had been preparing for small, disparate violent events, like stabbings and fist fights. McCarthy also said Sund and Mayor Muriel Bowser had called for urgent reinforcements from the Defense Department as the crowd surged toward officers but were “unable to articulate what resources are needed and in what locations, due to chaos.”

Waters grilled Sund on exactly these kinds of questions – about the Proud Boys and other groups coming, about keeping them off the Capitol plaza. The police chief insisted they knew what they were doing.

“He kept assuring me he had it under control – they knew what they were doing,” she said. “Either he’s incompetent, or he was lying or he was complicit.”

Those decisions left the officers policing the Capitol like sitting ducks, the officials said, with little guidance and no cohesive plan on how to deal with the flood of rioters streaming into the building.

The department’s leaders were also scattered during the riots. The chief of police was with Vice President Mike Pence in a secure location, and other high-ranking officials had been dispatched to the scene of bombs found outside the nearby headquarters of the Republican and Democratic national committees.

The rioters had more equipment and they weren’t afraid to use it, said Ashan Benedict, who leads the Washington field division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and was there that day.

“They had apparently more bear spray and pepper spray and chemical munitions than we did,” Benedict said. “We’re coming up with plans to counteract their chemical munitions with some of our own less-than-lethal devices, so these conversations are going on as this chaos is unfolding in front of my eyes.”

Officers have been criticized for their actions after snippets of videos taken by the rioters showed some posing for selfies, acquiescing to demands by screaming rioters to move aside so they could stream inside the building.

One officer died in the riot and at least a dozen were injured. The officials wouldn’t reveal the specific number of officers on-duty over concerns about disclosing operational details, but confirmed that the numbers were on par with a routine protest and day where lawmakers would be present.