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  • Mario Tama/Getty Images(SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico) -- Puerto Rico's official death toll from Hurricane Maria -- which slammed into the U.S. territory as a Category 4 storm in late September -- has risen to 64, the island's Department of Public Safety (DPS) announced Saturday.The announcement came the same day that the Federal Emergency Management Agency said federal assistance in Puerto Rico has topped $1 billion.The death toll increased after the government on Saturday attributed two additional deaths to the storm."These deaths that are certified today as indirect deaths related to Hurricane Maria are the result of investigations into cases that have been brought to our consideration," DPS secretary Hector M. Pesquera said in a statement.The official death toll remains heavily scrutinized by critics, who believe the figure is significantly higher.The New York Times on Friday published a review it conducted of daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau. It discovered that 1,052 more people than usual died on the island following Hurricane Maria’s landfall. Figures like this -- in addition to reports that there was an increase in cremations and bodies at morgues -- have many people questioning the official death toll.One of the two deaths certified Saturday occurred in Orocovis, located in the interior Central Mountain Range, the DPS said."The person died the day of the hurricane, and the body did not pass through the Department of Forensic Sciences (NCF) because a doctor in the death certificate certified as natural his death," according to the DPS statement. "The deceased had multiple health conditions and relied on an oxygen machine. In the early hours of the day of the hurricane, the power went out in the residence, and when the relatives went to see the person, they found him dead."The statement continued, "In a review of the case by the NCF and by the interview with the relatives, it was determined that the death is indirectly related to the hurricane."The other death was reported in Morovis, located in the island's central region. The individual died the day the hurricane hit the island, according to the DPS. A doctor initially certified the death as natural on the death certificate, but the NCF said it later evaluated the documentation to authorize the cremation requested by the family members."The person had health problems, but suffered complications during the day of the hurricane," reads the statement. "Due to the inclement weather conditions, the ambulance took a long time to reach the residence. This death is added as indirectly related to the hurricane."Also on Saturday, FEMA said federal assistance to Puerto Rico as a result of hurricanes Irma and Maria has topped $1 billion.FEMA said more than a million Puerto Rican residents registered for FEMA assistance. FEMA also said it has provided funds to more than 366,000 families in Puerto Rico, including:- More than $259 million in financial assistance for rental and repair, or to rebuild residences- More than $251 million for grants to repair or replace damaged personal property or to pay for disaster-related necessary expenses and other serious needsOther FEMA assistance provided also includes:- More than $39 million of low-interest disaster loans provided to more than 880 survivors and 50 business owners through the U.S. Small Business Administration- More than $58,000 approved for Disaster Unemployment Assistance to 12,000 residents- More than 19,000 Blue Roofs installed- More than $1 million in flood insurance claimsIn addition, more than $470 million has been obligated in FEMA Public Assistance grants to provide emergency generators for critical facilities, and to reimburse municipalities for debris removal and other necessary government expenses related to "life-safety missions."Puerto Rico's electrical grid remains problematic: Its electrical grid generation took a hit Friday into Saturday, dropping nearly 20 percent to just 49 pe
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Firefighters across Southern California made dramatic headway on Saturday to gain the upper hand in the week's battle against six major wildfires powered by brutal Santa Ana winds that have dragged the state's fire season well into Christmas.On Saturday, Gov. Jerry Brown surveyed the remains of Ventura's Thomas fire which has charred 148,000 acres and 231 square miles is now 15 percent contained, fire officials said.The governor advised that these fires and prolonged fire season stretching well into December is becoming the norm."[We're] facing a new reality in the state," he said. "It's a horror and a horror we need to recover from."He also noted that the years of drought and climate change the result, he said experts say is that "California is burning up."From here on in California, Brown noted, fires are going to be more "intense" and penetrate lives and property."Individuals need to come together to make our communities livable," he added.The breakdown of the blazes and shift in winds have afforded firefighters in the region with much-needed respite.The newest blazes, the Lilac fire in San Diego County and the Liberty fire in Riverside County which is 20 percent contained as of Saturday afternoon, are also being fueled by continued Santa Ana winds and low humidity, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.With the good news on the horizon, ABC News meteorologist Daniel Manzo stressed that the forecast for those fire-ravaged areas remains serious. Extreme fire danger will remain in the region through the weekend. Red Flag Warnings have remained in effect for much of Southern California with peak wind gusts of 30 to 50 mph. Low relative humidity –- as low as 5 percent -- is likely through this period, as well, Manzo said.Winds could exceed 50 mph in the mountains east of San Diego. This area will be of particular concern for fire growth on Saturday night and Sunday.Red flag warnings have been extended across much of Southern California through Saturday, and high wind warnings are in effect for mountain and valley areas in Los Angeles and Ventura counties.Winds gusted to over 60 mph in Ventura and Los Angeles counties on Thursday, causing embers to spread even more. Gusts were in the 30 to 50 mph range in San Diego County. Much of Southern California is also experiencing humidity levels in the teens or even single digits. Relative humidity in San Diego on Thursday afternoon was just 5 percent.As nearly 8,500 firefighters battled the first four large wildfires, two new ones erupted Thursday and spread rapidly, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.Overall, the six blazes have burned more than 175,000 acres and forced over 212,000 residents from their homes.A 70-year-old woman was identified Friday as the first victim of the fires. The Thomas fire in Ventura County, the first to ignite, has burned well over 100,000 acres and is expected to intensify because of the increasing winds. The Skirball fire is small, but its threat to heavily populated areas of Los Angeles has drawn widespread attention.All Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 schools on Los Angeles' west side were shuttered through Friday. At least 265 schools have been closed. UCLA canceled classes Thursday because of the Skirball fire.Thomas fireThe Thomas fire in Ventura County, the largest of the six blazes, started Monday night as a 50-acre brush fire in foothills east of Santa Paula and grew to 10,000 acres in just four hours, authorities said.The fire had burned 148,000 acres of land by Saturday morning and was just 15 percent contained, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.More than 88,000 residents were evacuated, and 15,000 structures are threatened by the flames, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.The Thomas fire spread to Santa Barbara County lat
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  • Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Metropolitan Opera conductor James Levine, who said on Thursday that recent allegations of sexual misconduct dating back decades in Illinois are "unfounded," will not face criminal charges, Illinois prosecutors said Friday.The famed New York City arts institution announced last Sunday that it had suspended Levine as it investigates what it says are "multiple allegations of sexual misconduct" from the 1960s to the 1980s."While we await the results of the investigation, based on these new news reports, the Met has made the decision to act now," said Peter Gelb, general manager at the Met. "This is a tragedy for anyone whose life has been affected."The Met Opera launched an investigation of the conductor based on a 2016 police report filed in Illinois by a man who alleges he was molested as a teenager by Levine 30 years ago.The New York Post first reported details of the police report.According to the police report, the alleged abuse occurred when Levine, now 74, was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Levine is now director emeritus at the Met Opera.The alleged victim, whose name was not published by The New York Post, filed a report with the Lake Forest Police Department in October 2016."I began seeing a 41-year-old man when I was 15, without really understanding I was really 'seeing' him," the alleged victim, now 48, said in a written statement to police. “It nearly destroyed my family and almost led me to suicide. I felt alone and afraid. He was trying to seduce me. I couldn’t see this. Now I can.”But the Lake County state's attorney's office said in a statement Friday, "At the conclusion of the investigation, considering the specific conduct disclosed by the complainant, the age of the complainant at the time, all of the evidence in the case, and the applicable law ... it is our decision that no criminal charges can be brought," it said.The statement notes the statutory age of consent in Illinois at the time of the alleged abuse was 16, though the state has since raised it to 17 and to 18 in cases where the accused was in a position of trust or authority over the victim."We are bound to apply the law that was in effect at the time the allegations occurred rather than the law as it currently exists," the statement said.The statement said none of the accuser's statements to investigators "included any allegations of force."The prosecutors' decision came a day after The New York Times published interviews with other alleged victims.Levine responded to the allegations on Thursday night in a statement to The New York Times."As understandably troubling as the accusations noted in recent press accounts are, they are unfounded," he said in the statement. "As anyone who truly knows me will attest, I have not lived my life as an oppressor or an aggressor."The Met Opera's general manager, Peter Gelb, said in a statement that the organization was aware of the accusations."This first came to the Met’s attention when the Illinois police investigation was opened in October of 2016,” Gelb said. “At the time, Jim said that the charges were completely false, and we didn’t hear anything further from the police. We need to determine if these charges are true and, if they are, take appropriate action. We will now be conducting our own investigation with outside resources.” Levine rose to prominence as the Met Opera's music director. The lauded maestro has been with the Met for 40 years and led "more than 2,500 performances of 85 different operas since his company debut in 1971 leading Puccini's Tosca."Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WELLSTON, Mo.) -- A manhunt is underway for the unknown assailant who shot and killed a Missouri father of 16 while washing his car in Wellston on Sunday.Steven Combs, 41, can be seen on surveillance video bent down washing his car in a driveway as the suspect walks by. The suspect, dressed in all black, then turns around and approaches Combs and shoots him as he stands up. Combs was shot six times, according to the North County Police Cooperative. The suspect walks away from the scene at first, then takes off running, the video shows. Investigators do not know his identity, police said.Minutes after he was shot, a man walks out to find Combs on the ground. The witness is seen running around the driveway and administering aid to Combs before flagging down a police car as it turns the corner with its siren on. North County Police Major Steve Runge described Combs' death as a "calculated murder," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.Combs had another child on the way in addition to his 16 children, police said. A GoFundMe campaign created for Combs by the police cooperative says he left behind a "wonderful loving family."The funeral procession for Combs will include tow trucks and at least one police car because he was a tow truck driver and friends with some officers, the Post reported. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/ Thinkstock(AZTEC, N.M)--  A 74-year-old substitute teacher and a custodian jumped into action and helped save lives during a shooting at a New Mexico high school Thursday that killed two students, authorities said today. Substitute teacher Kathleen Potter had 16 students in a classroom with her at Aztec High School in Aztec, about 180 miles northwest of Albuquerque, when she heard the shooting, according to police. She didn't have a key to lock the door so she put all of the students in a storage area and the barricaded the door with a couch, authorities said. The shooter -- a former Aztec High School student -- came in and started screaming and fired multiple rounds through the walls, hitting no one, authorities said. When Thomas Hill, a custodian, heard the shots, he saw the shooter and followed him and shouted at him authorities said. The custodian also warned others and yelled at teachers to lock down, police said. The suspect, identified as 21-year-old William Atchison, died after the shooting. A law enforcement source told ABC News that officers found the suspected gunman dead, a gun and multiple loaded magazines near him. Authorities today called Atchison a "coward" and said the shooting was a "planned event," which the suspect allegedly wrote out. Police said the suspect disguised himself as a student and went into the school as buses were letting people in. Authorities said he wanted to create "as much carnage as he possibly could." The 21-year-old went to a bathroom and was preparing to confront students, police said, and in that bathroom is where victim Francisco Fernandez was shot and killed; authorities said Fernandez had no chance to survive. The suspect then went to the hallway, where he encountered Casey Marquez and fatally shot her, police said. He then allegedly fired multiple rounds through the hallway. Authorities said Atchison lived in Aztec with his parents and worked at a local gas station. In March 2016, federal authorities learned of comments made by Atchison on an online gaming forum and he was interviewed, but the investigation was closed because no crime was committed, authorities said. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine) -- Lucky customers unknowingly picked up presents set aside for layaway that had already been paid off by one anonymous couple. A husband and wife walked into Toys "R" Us in South Portland, Maine, last Friday to pay it forward this holiday season. The store supervisor Jennifer Collins told ABC News she was unsure what the couple came to discuss when they approached her about a unique idea. The couple, who wish to remain anonymous, first asked Collins to speak in private, she said. "I was wondering what they wanted to discuss and they let me know they heard another story about a gentleman paying off layaways, which inspired them to do the same and be a blessing for more people," Collins explained. Collins worked with the generous pair to come up with a strategy and once they tallied up how much layaway inventory there was, Collins said they decided to pay $10,000 of the total amount. "They hoped to get the public to raise another $15,000 and offered to take care of the remainder after that too," Collins said. Collins said she was lucky enough to see a few of the shocked and excited recipients. "About 20 or so people have already come in to pick them up, some got emails and others found out on the spot. We've had people cry of happiness right here in the store," Collins said. "One woman I helped check out was in tears and was with her sister who also had toys on hold. They both had no idea before I told them what was going on and were so happy." Collins said more customers will continue to find out about the couple's good deed and they told her their hope is to spread their joy. "Their main thing is they believe they've been blessed by God in their life and they want other people to be blessed."Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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