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Tropical Storm Nicole sends beachfront homes into ocean

WILBUR-BY-THE-SEA, Fla. — Tropical Storm Nicole sent Florida homes toppling into the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday and threatened a row of high-rise condominiums in places where Hurricane Ian washed away the beach and destroyed seawalls only weeks ago.

The storm, which caused at least two deaths, was the first November hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 37 years and only the third on record. It delivered another devastating blow just weeks after Ian came ashore on the Gulf Coast, killing more than 130 people and destroying thousands of homes.

Although Nicole’s winds died down after it made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane at about 3 a.m. Thursday near Vero Beach, its storm surge slammed into the shoreline in the neighboring barrier island communities of Wilbur-by-the-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores, sending some homes crashing into the ocean.

Officials in Volusia County, which is northeast of Orlando, said Thursday evening that building inspectors had declared 24 hotels and condos in Daytona Beach Shores and New Smyrna Beach to be unsafe and had ordered their evacuations. At least 25 single-family homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had been declared structurally unsafe by building inspectors and also were evacuated, county officials said.

“Structural damage along our coastline is unprecedented. We’ve never experienced anything like this before,” county manager George Recktenwald said during a news conference earlier, noting that it’s unknown when it will be safe for evacuated residents to return home.

The county’s sheriff, Mike Chitwood, said in a social media post that multiple coastal homes in Wilbur-by-the-Sea had collapsed and that several other properties were at “imminent risk.” He said most bridges to the beachside properties had been closed to all but essential personnel and a curfew was in effect.

Krista Dowling Goodrich, who manages 130 rental homes in Wilbur-By-The-Sea and Daytona Beach Shores as director of sales and marketing at Salty Dog Vacations, witnessed backyards collapsing into the ocean just ahead of the storm.

In the aftermath, the backsides of about seven colorful houses along Highway A1A had disappeared. One modern house was missing two bedrooms and much of its living room as water lapped below its foundations. On a partially collapsed wall, decorations spelled out “Blessed” and “Grateful.” Goodrich burst into tears when she saw it.

“Half of the house is gone, but we did manage to get out family photos yesterday,” Goodrich said. “It is overwhelming when you see this. These are hard-working people who got to this point in their lives and now they lose it all.”

In Daytona Beach Shores, where beachfront bathrooms attached to the city’s Beach Safety Ocean Rescue building collapsed, officials deemed several multistory buildings unsafe and went door-to-door telling people to grab their possessions and leave.

“These were the tall high-rises. So the people who wouldn’t leave, they were physically forcing them out because it’s not safe,” Goodrich said.

The homeowners association at the Marbella condominiums in Daytona Beach Shores had just spent $240,000 to temporarily rebuild the seawall Ian destroyed in September, said Connie Hale Gellner, whose family owns a unit there. Live video from the building’s cameras showed Nicole’s storm surge washing the seawall away.

“We knew it wasn’t meant to stop a hurricane, it was only meant to stop the erosion,” Gellner said. But after Nicole, the building’s pool deck “is basically in the ocean,” Gellner said. “The problem is that we have no more beach. So even if we wanted to rebuild, they’ll probably condemn the building because the water is just splashing up against the building.”

Nicole was sprawling, covering nearly the entire weather-weary state of Florida while also reaching into Georgia and the Carolinas before dawn on Thursday. Tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 450 miles from the center in some directions as Nicole turned northward over central Florida.

Although Nicole’s winds did minimal damage, its storm surge was more destructive than might have been in the past because seas are rising as the planet’s ice melts due to climate change, said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. It adds up to higher coastal flooding, flowing deeper inland, and what used to be once-in-a-century events will happen almost yearly in some places, he said.

“It is definitely part of a picture that is happening,” Oppenheimer said. “It’s going to happen elsewhere. It’s going to happen all across the world.’’

A man and a woman were killed by electrocution when they touched downed power lines in the Orlando area, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said. Nicole also caused flooding well inland, as parts of the St. Johns River were at or above flood stage and some rivers in the Tampa Bay area also nearing flood levels, according to the National Weather Service.

Although Nicole made landfall near Vero Beach, it caused no significant damage there, officials said. Part of a fishing pier washed away in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, but the brunt of the storm hit north of its center. By 1 p.m., Nicole’s maximum sustained winds were down to 45 mph as it moved toward Tallahassee.

The rare November hurricane could dump as much as 6 inches of rain over the Blue Ridge Mountains by today, the hurricane center said. Flash and urban flooding will be possible as the rain spreads into the eastern Ohio Valley, Mid-Atlantic, and New England through Saturday.

Nicole was the first hurricane to hit the Bahamas since Hurricane Dorian, a Category 5 storm that devastated the archipelago in 2019. For storm-weary Floridians, it is only the first November hurricane to hit their shores since 1985 and only the third since recordkeeping began in 1853.

All 67 Florida counties were under a state of emergency. President Joe Biden also approved an emergency declaration for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, ordering federal help for the tribal nation. Many Seminoles live on six reservations around the state.

The skeletal remains of six people believed to be from a Native American burial ground were unearthed by Nicole’s wind and waves on a Hutchinson Island beach, according to the sheriff’s office in Martin County, which is about 160 miles south of Volusia County.

“Detectives are working diligently to preserve and carefully remove the remains that are exposed with the utmost care and respect,” the sheriff’s office said in a news release. The remains will be taken to a medical examiner and then to the state Bureau of Archaeological Research.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a Thursday news conference in Tallahassee that about 333,000 customers were without power at mid-morning, about 2.9 percent of the state’s total. He said there were 17,000 electricity linemen ready to begin restoring power and that numerous other assets including rescue boats and vehicles will be deployed as needed.

Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort announced they likely would not open as scheduled Thursday. Almost two dozen school districts closed schools and 15 shelters opened along Florida’s east coast, the governor said.

Parts of Florida were devastated by Hurricane Ian, which struck as a Category 4 storm. Ian destroyed homes and damaged crops, including orange groves, across the state — damage that many are still dealing with — and sent a storm surge of up to 13 feet onshore, causing widespread destruction.

Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press contributors include Terry Spencer in Vero Beach, Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, David Fischer in Miami and Seth Borenstein in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.


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Dems claim state House; GOP still in state Senate majority

The Pennsylvania General Assembly may be split between a Democratic majority in the state House and a Republican majority in the state Senate.

The Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee announced in Philadelphia Wednesday that all signs point to a flip of the state House from a Republican majority to the Democrats, something that hadn’t happened in 12 years.

If true, and House Republican leaders are disputing that, it would be a boost to Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro.

“Here, in the birthplace of our nation, in the birthplace of our democracy, it is much more than symbolic that we will finally have a woman that has the gavel in the Pennsylvania House,” House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said Wednesday.

On Thursday, the state Senate’s Republican bloc said their party would retain control of the Senate, where Democratic Lt. Gov.-elect Austin Davis would be presiding officer — continuing a situation that went on while Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, now U.S. Senator-elect, presided over the Senate.

“Tuesday’s results send a loud and clear message. Pennsylvanians are supportive of the state Senate Republican majority, and they expect us to be the firewall to the failed Biden-Democrat agenda here in the Commonwealth,” Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Hempfield Township, said Thursday. “Our candidates ran strong campaigns highlighting their accomplishments and plans for the future, and the results reflect that.”

If Democrats succeed in flipping 12 seats in the state House, McClinton would become the first Black woman to be named Speaker of the House. So far, it appears Democrats have picked up nine of those 12 seats, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State.

House Republican spokesperson Jason Gottesman cast doubt on McClinton’s prediction.

“We believe the Democrats claiming the majority at this time is premature, and we’re continuing to monitor several close races across the commonwealth,” Gottesman said.

With vote counting still underway, Democrats were facing a couple of potential losses in western Pennsylvania and one in Wilkes-Barre, while Republicans were trailing in key races outside Philadelphia and others near Harrisburg, the Poconos and the Pittsburgh area.

Factors in a possible flip include the remapping of legislative districts, which locally eliminated Indiana County portions of two districts with incumbents based in other counties, the 55th (which formerly included Saltsburg Borough) and the 60th (which formerly included Blacklick, Conemaugh and Young townships).

Also, the 54th District was moved from west-central Pennsylvania to Montgomery County near Philadelphia. It potentially brought together two incumbents, state Reps. Bob Brooks, R-Murrysville, the 54th District representative, and Jason Silvis, R-Washington Township (Westmoreland County), the 55th District representative.

Brooks chose not to seek re-election in the new 55th District, while Silvis lost a three-way Republican primary contest to Jill Nixon Cooper of Murrysville, who then won the general election over Democrat Scott Gauss, also of Murrysvile, by a margin of nearly 7,000 votes.

In that reapportionment, the 55th also lost communities it formerly covered in Armstrong County (Apollo, Leechburg and Parks Township) as well as Vandergrift area communities in Westmoreland County to a reworked 60th District, where Rep. Abby Major, R-Ford City, defeated Democrat Bob George, also of Ford City, by better than a 2-1 margin.

Ironically, Ward was one of four members of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission who voted for the remapping, along with McClinton and state Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Pittsburgh, as well as University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Emeritus Mark A. Nordenburg, who was appointed to the commission by the state Supreme Court. She later was quoted by The Associated Press as saying while the map was “imperfect,” she was confident that it is constitutional.

The fifth panel member, House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, voted no on both preliminary and final plans and later challenged the effort unsuccessfully in the state Supreme Court.

In addition to the reapportionment, there were Republican retirements (such as that by Brooks) and wins by Democrats in high-profile races for governor and U.S. Senate.

“Redistricting had an effect, but I mean the biggest thing was having fair districts,” said Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee. “Pennsylvania, it’s a purple state and everybody knows that. It’s absurd to think our state House shouldn’t be competitive, and it was very competitive (Tuesday) night.”

PHDCC’s claim was backed up by allies such as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

PBPC claimed that, for the last 20 years, gerrymandered legislative districts have enabled the Republicans to control the state House even though, in most of those years, a majority of votes for state House seats went to Democrats.

It said GOP control of the state House stood in the way of legislation that had broad support, often bipartisan, including proposals to raise the minimum wage, reform the criminal justice system and a tax system PBPC called unfair, in which families in the top 1% pay taxes at half the rate as families in the middle, and “fully and fairly funding” education from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

On the other side of the state Capitol, Ward said, “our Senate majority is ready to get to work to help Pennsylvanians struggling through high inflation, rising energy costs, and rampant crime.”

Part of that majority is state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, whose district was remapped to remove Butler County municipalities but with the addition of more Westmoreland County municipalities and the Punxsutawney area in Jefferson County.

Indiana County’s Board of Commissioners asked those involved in reapportionment to keep Indiana and Armstrong counties in the same state Senate and U.S. House districts.

The Indiana commissioners got their wish in the state Senate remapping but the U.S. House remapping split two-thirds of the county off into the multi-county 14th District, with the remaining northern third of the county being kept along with all of Armstrong in the 15th District, also covering multiple counties.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


A woman passed with a bicycle Thursday as a local resident worked to clean the debris from a damaged house after Russian shelling in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. 


Deaths

Obituaries on Page A-4

BRESSLER, Gertrude Mae, 62,

Delmont, formerly of Cookport

HARRIS, Twila (Carnahan), 95, Shelocta

McCONNELL, Lester “Les” Ralph, 82, Indiana


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Directors appoint Koren as substitute superintendent

EAST WHEATFIELD TOWNSHIP — Directors in the United School District on Tuesday appointed a former superintendent from Homer-Center to serve as a substitute for the top administrator role for the district.

The board approved Charles J. Koren, Ed.D., to substitute for Teresa Young on an as-needed basis when Young is on approved leave of absence.

Koren will work 20 hours per week, with additional hours to be approved by the school board president, at a rate of $50 per hour, with two paid holidays and no fringe benefits.

Koren previously was employed as superintendent at Homer-Center School District for seven years, retiring in 2019. He was hired in 2020 as acting superintendent at Blairsville-Saltsburg School District.

In other business Tuesday, the board voted to approve:

• The contract with ARIN IU 28 to provide emotional support services to the district beginning Nov. 9 through June 30, 2023, at a fee not to exceed $81,500

• Activity requests from Francine Ressler and Julie VanScoyoc to attend the PA PBS Implementers’ Forum from Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Hershey, at a cost of $764.18 each. Budgeted funds are available through the Targeted Program Grant

• An activity request from Jennifer Charney to attend the National Cheerleading Competition from Feb. 8-15 in Orlando, Fla., with eligible students, at no cost to the district

• An activity request from Acey Gongaware to attend District Ill Chorus from Feb. 23-25 at West Shamokin School District, with eligible students, at a cost of $1,425

• Activity requests from Robert Penrose and Tara Oleksa to attend the State Cross Country Championships, retroactive to Nov. 4-5, in Hershey with eligible students, at a cost of $1,930

• The Tuition Agreement with New Story to provide services for an elementary student for the 2022-23 school year in the amount of $330 per day and any other related service costs as needed

• The Planned Maintenance Agreement with Cummins Sales and Service for the maintenance of generators located at the elementary and high schools and athletic stadium at a cost of $1,815.04, for a one-year term beginning Dec. 1 through Nov. 30, 2023

• Acey Gongaware as extracurricular vocal director with compensation of $1,171.65

• The termination of Christopher Johnson as head soccer coach effective immediately

• The donation of $1,000 to Tri-M from the United Music Boosters

• The donation of two trombones to the United Music Department from Vonda Bowers

• Jeffrey Harding, Hailey Hood and Jamilyn Sombronski as Act 91 classroom monitors


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Local agencies partner to provide teen mental health resources

The United Way of Indiana County, Indiana Area School District, and ARIN Intermediate Unit are pleased to announce that the county’s collection of youth mental health services will soon get a new addition, thanks to the leadership and support issued by the Armstrong-Indiana Behavioral and Developmental Health Program.

The three agencies, led by IASD Superintendent Michael Vuckovich, worked with Tammy Calderone, AIBDHP administrator, to make this programming available to students, pending board approval, in the following school districts: United, Homer-Center, Marion Center, Penns Manor, Purchase Line and Indiana Area.

This partnership aims to implement a Teen Mental Health First Aid program for high school students in the participating schools. All Indiana County school districts were invited to meet and discuss the program and to gauge whether or not they would like to participate in a systematic county-wide approach.

During the various meetings, the school officials and stakeholders recognized that the past several years have been especially tough on students. The participating schools spent time discussing the need for greater mental health services for youth in Indiana County and are hopeful that the program will provide one more tool that teens can use to improve their own well-being and help others in need, as well.

Teen Mental Health First Aid is an evidence-based training course that teaches participants how to identify, understand and respond to signs of mental health concerns, mental illnesses and substance use disorders like anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and addictions. Participants learn about local mental health resources, support groups and online tools, and gain the skills needed to reach out and provide help to someone who is experiencing a crisis or may be developing a mental health or substance use problem.

These issues are also being recognized by our students. At Indiana Area Senior High School, Vuckovich meets with students from the IHS Leadership group on a monthly basis to hear from them directly about some of the challenges and opportunities that students are facing, and mental health and well-being was one that echoed throughout the group. Thus, this opportunity is directly aligned with the needs and concerns brought forth by area students.

There is a second program, elements of which many schools are already incorporating. Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis.

Though the National Council for Mental Wellbeing brought MHFA training to the United States more than a decade ago, the programs initially focused on adults and those who worked directly with youth rather than the youth themselves. As part of this program, 10 percent of each school district’s high school staff will be trained in Youth Mental Health First Aid in addition to the Teen Mental Health First Aid, which the grant is funding.

Data from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing demonstrates that the need for youth mental health support and early intervention extends nationwide. In the U.S. alone:

  • 1 in 5 teens has had a serious mental health disorder at some point in their life;
  • 50 percent of all mental illnesses begin by age 14, 75 percent by the mid-20s; and
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15- to 24-year-olds.

This collaborative effort between the United Way of Indiana County, Armstrong-Indiana Behavioral and Developmental Health Program, ARIN IU, and six out of seven county schools has the potential to act as the catalyst to reduce emergency room and hospital visits for mental health care as well as provide young adults with the education and knowledge needed to take care of their own mental health and those around them.


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Penns Manor teachers authorize strike

KENWOOD — A day after Penns Manor Area School District officials said they wanted to resolve a contract dispute with the district’s teachers union in the best way possible, for the teachers, but also for the district and its taxpayers, the Penns Manor Area Education Association announced it had taken a strike authorization vote.

“Our goal is not to go on strike,” said PMEA President and Chief Negotiator Todd Shobert. “The goal is to get a contract that is fair for our teachers, our students and our community — a contract that will set Penns Manor apart as a district where talented teachers come to build their careers.”

However, the union said Penns Manor is the only school district in Indiana County that hasn’t reached a fair contract yet for their teachers.

“We are surprised and disappointed in light of our belief that negotiations were progressing,” PMASD Board Vice President Jill Eckenrode said Thursday night. “Our contract contains a no-strike and no-lockout clause.”

Eckenrode said she had conferred with Superintendent Daren K. Johnston and others on the board’s Negotiations Committee — Board President Robert Packer and School Directors John Hardesty Sr. and Wendy Williams.

The union represents more than 60 educators in the Clymer-Pine Township-Cherryhill Township district, who have been working without a contract since June 30.

“We’re facing the reality that more than half of our teachers haven’t seen a raise in seven of the last 10 years,” Shobert said. “It’s not feasible to expect our members to continue making sacrifices at a time when the district is operating with a surplus.”

No date has been given for a walkout, but the union said it is an important step in the process to exercise the right to strike if a contract settlement still is not reached.

“Thinking back to the last couple of school years that were impacted by COVID, our teachers made sacrifices in order to keep our schools opened every day for our students,” the PMEA president said.

“We taught kids who attended virtually, we taught kids who attended in person. We were all faced with unprecedented challenges, but we met those challenges head on and made sure when the world around us shut down, we stayed open for our kids.”

District and union negotiators held a lengthy meeting Monday, and are scheduled to meet again Thursday, Nov. 17.

“Our members think this would have been an easy contract to negotiate given all we’ve been through for the sake of the success of this district,” Shobert said.


Teddy

“Tiger got to hunt, bird got to fly;/Man got to sit and wonder ‘why, why, why?’/Tiger got to sleep, bird got to land;/Man got to tell himself he understand.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr., American writer, “Cat’s Cradle” (born on this date 1922-2007)


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