Wednesday morning news: March 6, 2019

Recovery in Alabama continues » Search teams continued to comb through rubble in Alabama Tuesday looking for victims of a deadly tornado that tore through Beauregard.

Opelika Fire Chief Byron Prather said his men were carefully assessing every pile of twisted metal and wood.

PRATHER: They’re searching not mainly for somebody but searching areas that have large piles of debris, searching through that debris to make sure that we missed nobody.

In a bit of good news, the number of people missing dropped from several dozen to fewer than 10. The death toll stands at 23. The coroner identified the victims as ranging in age from 6 to 89. One family lost seven members.

The National Weather Service classified the tornado as an EF4 with winds estimated at 170 miles per hour. It left a path of destruction nearly a mile wide and almost 27 miles long.

Alabama Emergency Management Director Brian Hastings called the damage unbelievable.

HASTINGS: When you see the devastation, it’s just hard to fathom, that something could be this powerful and track through Lee County. So we’re sorry for everyone’s loss.

At least 18 tornadoes struck Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina as part of the storm system that rolled over the area Sunday.

President Trump called the situation tragic and announced plans to visit the area on Friday.

States sue over Planned Parenthood defunding rule » The American Medical Association has joined the nation’s largest abortion provider in a suit against the Trump administration.

The federal lawsuit challenges a rule announced last week that would prohibit family planning centers from making abortion referrals if they get federal Title X funds. The Title X program helps provide free or low-cost family planning services for low-income women.

Twenty-one states led by Democratic attorneys general filed a similar suit on Monday.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said the Trump administration rule would interfere with the practice of medicine.

BECERRA: Make no mistake, this is a systematic effort by this administration to end access to birth control and safe, legal abortion.

Pro-life advocates have long argued that taxpayer funding for groups like Planned Parenthood helps pay for abortions, even if that money can’t directly fund the procedure.

Rather than abide by the new restrictions, Planned Parenthood said it would leave the Title X program if the proposed rule takes effect.

Masterpiece Cake Shop owner gets reprieve » The Colorado Civil Rights Commission announced Tuesday it will abandon its latest effort to force baker Jack Phillips to make custom cakes that violate his religious beliefs.

Attorney Jim Campbell said he hoped Phillips will now be free to work in peace.

CAMPBELL: We hope the state is done going along with obvious efforts to harass Jack. He shouldn’t be driven out of business just because some people disagree with his religious beliefs and his desire to live consistently with them.

The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled the state commission showed hostility toward religion when it first investigated Phillips for declining to make a cake for a same-sex wedding. Phillips also refused to bake a cake celebrating a gender transition, sparking the second complaint and commission investigation.

Phillips sued the state over that second investigation. During the discovery process for that lawsuit, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys found commission members had made public, derogatory comments about Phillips and his Christian faith. One commissioner called him a “hater” in a Twitter post.

Surge of migrant families overwhelms processing facilities » Record numbers of migrant families are again coming to the U.S. border with Mexico.

On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said 76,000 migrants crossed the border last month. That’s more than double the number that crossed during the same time period last year.

MCALEENAN: While we will continue to do all that we can to address these increases in traffic safely and humanely, the fact is that these solutions are temporary and this situation is not sustainable.

McAleenan said the government will construct a new processing center in El Paso, Texas, to help handle the increased need.

Border patrol agents apprehend about 400,000 people crossing the border every year. That’s down from a high of 1.6 million in 2000.

Most of today’s migrants are families seeking asylum. They typically don’t try to evade U.S. officials but turn themselves in as soon as they cross the border.

Gas tax hike in Michigan » Driving in Motor City could soon get a whole lot more expensive. Newly elected Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced plans on Tuesday to nearly triple the state’s gas tax. The proposal would raise the per-gallon tax from 26 cents by an additional 45 cents—that would make it the highest in the nation.

Whitmer said the $2.5 billion plan will go a long way to fixing the state’s deteriorating roads, part of her campaign platform.

WHITMER: This problem is going to get precipitously worse if we don’t take bold action now.

Republican lawmakers who control the state legislature called the plan “completely unrealistic,” making it unlikely the tax hike will pass. Michigan already has the ninth-highest combined local, state, and federal gas taxes in the nation.

(AP Photo/Vasha Hunt) K-9 emergency personnel work in storm damaged areas on Lee County Road 166, Monday, March 4, 2019, in Beauregard, Ala, following deadly tornados that hit the area Sunday. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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