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It’s another step toward boosting safety at sea, as a result of the sinking of Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro, which killed 33 people in 2015. The House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has unanimously passed what they’re calling the Maritime Safety Act of 2018. Lawmakers say they worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard, maritime unions, the NTSB, El Faro’s surveyor the American Bureau of Shipping, and El Faro’s owner TOTE Maritime in coming up with the package of changes, which now heads to the full House.  “The loss of this US-flagged cargo vessel, its 33-member crew ranks as one of the worst maritime disasters in US history,” said Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who introduced the legislation.  A Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation was convened to investigate the sinking, which happened when the ship encountered Hurricane Joaquin, while heavily loaded and transiting from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico. The Board held three two-week public hearing sessions in Jacksonville, resulting in recommendations that were issued two years after the vessel sank. The Coast Guard Commandant then reviewed that report and issued his Final Action Memo last December, outlining changes the Coast Guard could control, as well as ones that required collaboration from other parties.  FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro This bill largely reflects what was outlined in the FAM, including steps the Coast Guard says they’re already taking.  One of the notable differences from what is directly included in the FAM- but well in line with what was made clear during the MBI testimony- is an order in the bill that the Coast Guard Commandant determine the time and funding it would take to triple the current size of the traveling inspector staff. Testimony during the MBI hearing showed inspectors were becoming increasingly reliant on third-party surveyors, like the American Bureau of Shipping, and weren’t supervising as many inspections, in part because of diminishing resources and in part because of holes in communication between the parties. This was also leading to a drop off in knowledge and experience among the Coast Guard inspectors. The bill further addresses this by instructing the Coast Guard to boost training at many levels, including for prospective sector commanders and inspectors. The training would also be required to be available to third party surveyors that do work under the Coast Guard’s Alternate Compliance Program, according to the bill.  ACP is something that was heavily reviewed by the MBI- it’s a program that allows alternate class societies like ABS to perform work on behalf of the Coast Guard, in order to avoid duplication of work and maximize available resources. This bill would establish advanced training on oversight of these third parties, which some of the lawmakers involved say is a step in the right direction, although maybe not the full solution.  “I have concerns about the conflicts with these certification societies. You’re out there in the free market, you want to sell your services, I guess maybe you don’t want to be too tough on people, but you know, that’s not the way this should work. So, we need more oversight of those certification authorities, maybe more, maybe some liability or fiscal responsibility in the future, when it’s noted that they passed a ship that shouldn’t have been passed for numerous reasons,” said ranking Committee member Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) during a meeting this week when the bill was passed.  GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew ACP also features what is called the Supplement, which addresses any area of conflict between guidelines among the different parties, or anything that is left out. Testimony showed the Coast Guard is lagging substantially in keeping various Supplements up to date, with each alternate class society having overlaps which need to be addressed. While the MBI had recommended eliminating the use of supplements outright, the FAM ordered working with the alternate class societies to create one unified Supplement. That is the option favored in this legislation.  DeFazio was among those saying this is positive movement, but far from the end of their work. Committee member Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) noted that with the ask for more work, must come more resources.  “The Coast Guard is, in fact, doing less with less. According to the Marine Board of Investigation report, we now know that the Coast Guard’s internal marine safety and inspection functions was one of those missions that did less with less,” he said.  Funding could dictate some of the equipment changes outlined in the bill. Through this legislation, the Committee would be requiring all personnel on these vessels be outfitted with distress signaling that has location technology. Search and rescue operations following the sinking of El Faro were initially hampered by weather, but even after the skies cleared, crews had difficulty locating any possible survivors in the water.  There was one set of remains located by search and rescue crews, but they did not immediately recover it, because that would have forced them to return to land immediately- and they had just received a report of a possible waiving survival suit, so they needed to search for that possible survivor. While the crew put a locator beacon on the remains, it did not work, and they were not able to locate the remains again. Subject to appropriations, the bill is requiring the Coast Guard Commandant to work on an effective beacon for items that are not able to be immediately retrieved, although the FAM indicated the beacons that were in use at that time have already been phased out for more effective ones.  “If you’re floating in the ocean in 2018, you can find your iPhone, but we can’t find you. We’re gunna change that,” Hunter said.  The weather was a factor leading up to the sinking as well, with testimony showing that the Captain was working off some outdated weather information, because of a one-time glitch in one of the ship’s on-board systems leading to a duplicated storm track being used without the Captain and crew’s knowledge. Even the other weather packages through this system- the Bon Voyage System- featured data that was hours old, because of the amount of processing and transposing that was done in order to get it to show in map form with overlays. This bill urges negotiations to create rules requiring ships receive “synoptic and graphical chart weather forecasts” in a timely manner.   “The importance of timely weather forecasts sounds simple, but the El Faro crew was making decisions based on forecasts that were many hours old, despite significant changes in the forecasted storm trajectory,” Hunter said.  The FAM found the primary cause of El Faro’s sinking to be the Captain’s decision to navigate too close to the path of Hurricane Joaquin, although there were contributing factors as well. The FAM says some blame lies on ABS’s failure to uncover and fix longstanding deficiencies, the Coast Guard’s failure to properly oversee inspections, and TOTE Services’ ineffective safety management system.  AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain calls in “marine emergency” The Committee is further seeking to boost transparency, through requiring information on vessel compliance to be documented and available publicly. They also want to require an audit of the effectiveness of safety management plans, with findings and recommendations presented to lawmakers. That report would then become public as well.  The bill is also looking at requiring companies to keep records of incremental weight changes, in order to track those over time. Those records would be kept both on the vessel and on shore. This reflects some concern that was raised over work that was taking place on El Faro, to convert her to the Alaskan trade. There was testimony at the MBI hearings about possible changes in weight distribution as a result of this conversion work, which was not being documented and considered from a stability perspective. Records retention is another concern, since some documents that could have further assisted the investigation in to the sinking were lost on the vessel when it went down.  El Faro had previously undergone a work, which investigators determined with hindsight should have been deemed a “major conversion”. That classification would have likely led to the ship being forced in to some more modern safety standards that were in effect in 2005-06 when the work was done. The Commandant ordered a review in the FAM for how the major conversion determination is made and documented, and the Committee now- in this bill- is ordering a similar review and full briefing on the findings.  Some of what is outlined in this bill can be implemented by the Coast Guard, but some would have the Commandant enter in to negotiations with other parties.  First, lawmakers want to require high-water alarm sensors in each cargo hold, with both audible and visual alarms located on the bridge. This reflects findings about the series of flooding which is believed to have taken place on the vessel. In conjunction with the flooding, lawmakers are ordering a review of whether current regulations and rules are effective in addressing openings and closures on vessels, and the impact those have in stability standards. The MBI believes water for in to a cargo area of El Faro through an open scuttle that should have been closed. Investigators think cargo was then able to break loose because of the flooding, potentially damaging the fire system on board and leading to more flooding. Water is also believed to have entered through open vents, which served a dual purpose.  Following the initial flooding and resulting list, investigators believe the Captain overcorrected with ballast and other measures, leading to a substantial list on the other side. From there, the lube oil system lost suction, leading to a loss of propulsion as the hurricane bared down.  Another area that would have to be negotiated is requiring all Voyage Data Recorders- or black boxes- to have an emergency position indicating radio beacon, and to be installed in a “float-free” arrangement, meaning they would break loose from the vessel as the ship sank. El Faro’s VDR went down with the ship, and it took two missions to locate it and a third to recover it, which in the end provided investigators with valuable information about what happened in the final moments on board.  FULL DETAILS: El Faro’s VDR captures final moments on board What the VDR captures is another area of change. Under this bill, lawmakers would task the Commandant to do a cost-benefit analysis on requiring VDRs capture internal ship telephone conversations from both sides, not only from the bridge. While the investigators were able to recover more than a day’s worth of audio from the bridge El Faro that had been recorded on the VDR, that audio was only what could be heard from the bridge, so it’s unclear what engineers and other parties were saying in conversations with the Captain and the crew who were on watch.  Additionally, following on a recommendation from the FAM, the bill would require the Coast Guard to have “full and timely” access to the VDR data and audio. The NTSB led the missions to locate and recover the VDR, and then held custody of the device. While we have been told the NTSB and MBI worked in close cooperating throughout the fact-finding process, this would codify the Coast Guard’s access to the data.  “The loss of life and the exhaustive investigation that revealed significant safety deficiencies in both the vessels and in those individuals charged in their safe operation should be motivation enough for us to enact this purposeful reforms,” says Garamendi.  While the NTSB and MBI collaborated through much of the investigation, including the NTSB sitting in and participating in the MBI’s public hearings, both agencies worked independently on their final reports and recommendations. The NTSB issued its own report late last year, and has since been lobbying for change.  While this bill now heads to the full House, there is no companion in the Senate at this time. Florida Senator Bill Nelson’s office tells us they’re working on a bill that is even more wide reaching, which deals with NTSB recommendations as well. He intends to introduce that soon, according to his office.

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  • A Florida Uber driver allegedly refused to let her fare out of the car Wednesday, forcing the female passenger to jump from the window of the moving vehicle, police said.  Destiny Racquel Green, 30, is charged with kidnapping to commit or facilitate a felony and false imprisonment. Leon County Jail records showed Green remained in jail Friday afternoon.  Tallahassee police officers were called early Wednesday morning to a Walgreens parking lot following a 911 call in which the victim -- who identified herself on social media as Brooke Adkins, 19, a college student from St. Petersburg -- could be heard screaming for help in the background, according to WTXL in Midway. When the officers arrived, they found Adkins with torn jeans, soaked through with blood, and scrapes on her hands.  Adkins told officers she had been hanging out with friends at a Tallahassee club when she called for an Uber to take her home, the news station reported. She showed officers the app on her cellphone, which showed Green as the driver assigned to her.  Police officials said that, on the way to Adkins’ home, Adkins asked Green to instead drop her off at The Edge, an apartment complex near Florida State University. Things started getting weird at that point, Adkins said in Twitter posts.  “I was already at my destination and she asked me if I could ride around more with her,” Adkins wrote. “I told her she could take me around the block but to keep the meter on (just in case), and after that she would not let me get out of the car.” Adkins, who was seated in the back seat of the vehicle, wrote that the child lock was on the doors of Green’s car.  As the two women drove around, Green was pulled over near Florida State University by a state trooper. WTXL reported that, during the stop, Green asked Adkins to put her hands on the center console and hold it down.  Adkins found the request odd, but did as Green asked.  >> Read more trending news The Tampa Bay Times reported that Green told her passenger she was taking her to the hospital. Adkins told her she did not need to go to a hospital, but Green refused to stop. “Adkins said she asked Green to let her out of the vehicle at almost every stoplight, and Green continuously said ‘no’ and nothing else,” police officials said, according to the Times.  Adkins called 911. About 25 minutes after Green passed Adkins’ drop-off spot, Adkins made her move. She rolled down the window, holding the button down so Green couldn’t roll it back up, and jumped, police said.  Investigators caught up with Green at her home later that day, WTXL reported. Before they could say anything, Green told them she’d quit working for Uber because of “the girl” to whom she had given a ride, the news station said.  Green said Adkins had wanted to go to the hospital, but did not say why, police said. She told them Adkins jumped from the car on the way to Capital Regional Medical Center, WTXL reported. Investigators wrote in police reports that Green made several comments that were non sequiturs and seemed paranoid during questioning, the news station said.  An Uber spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that what Adkins reported to police is “troubling.” “We have removed the driver from the app and stand ready to support the police investigation,” the spokesperson said.  Adkins took to social media Wednesday to warn other young women of the dangers surrounding them. The initial tweet, which included photos of her torn jeans and battered legs, has since been retweeted more than 91,000 times.  “Tonight, I realized that being kidnapped from an Uber driver is 100 (percent) real,” Adkins wrote. “I’m so thankful that I got out OK, but jumping out a moving car window and running for help has to be the scariest thing I’ve ever gone thru (sic).” She wrote that she wanted girls to be aware and to always remain safe.  “Kidnapping has been happening more recently than ever and I want to raise awareness that everyone just needs to be safe and aware of your surroundings, and also who you are with,” Adkins wrote. 
  • After posting a schedule for a Monday morning vote on the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court, unable to work out an agreement for testimony from a woman who accused the judge of sexual misconduct back when they were teenagers, Republicans gave extra time to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford to consider testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. “It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) tweeted late Friday night from his home state of Iowa, as he tried to both press ahead with a vote on President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, and hold open the possibility of testimony from Ford. The late night change of heart created an odd mixture of reaction, as even after Grassley said he was giving more time to Ford’s legal team, Democrats were still churning out news releases after midnight criticizing Republicans for their treatment of the allegations against Kavanaugh. “By blocking both an FBI investigation and a hearing where all three witnesses present during the assault could answer questions under oath, the Senate will fail in its duty to the American people,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Judge Kavanaugh I just granted another extension to Dr Ford to decide if she wants to proceed w the statement she made last week to testify to the senate She shld decide so we can move on I want to hear her. I hope u understand. It’s not my normal approach to b indecisive — ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 22, 2018 With all the extensions we give Dr Ford to decide if she still wants to testify to the Senate I feel like I’m playing 2nd trombone in the judiciary orchestra and Schumer is the conductor — ChuckGrassley (@ChuckGrassley) September 22, 2018 As the sun rose on Saturday morning, it still wasn’t clear whether Ford would testify. “Dr. Blasey Ford has been clear in her desire to testify following an independent, thorough investigation by the FBI,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL). But Republicans were still suspicious of the allegations brought by Ford, who says she was sexually attacked by Kavanaugh at a high school party in the 1980’s. “Their decision to reveal this allegation at the most politically damaging moment reeks of opportunism,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). Under the timeline originally unveiled by the Judiciary Committee on Friday night, Republicans scheduled a vote for Monday morning on a list of judges, with one prominent name at the top of the list: “Brett M. Kavanaugh, to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States,” it read. The recalcitrance, stubbornness and lack of cooperation we’ve seen from Republicans is unprecedented. And candidly, the dismissive treatment of Dr. Ford is insulting to all sexual assault survivors. — Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) September 22, 2018 Ford’s lawyers wanted her to testify next Thursday – Grassley and Republicans were offering Wednesday. There was also talk of Ford talking directly to investigators in California, instead of traveling to Washington, D.C.
  • The East Coast is no stranger to hurricanes and the destruction that follows. The Saffir-Simpson scale was developed to help determine damage and flooding before it strikes.   What is a hurricane?  A hurricane is a rotating low-pressure weather system that converts the energy of warm air into winds and waves. Hurricanes have “warm core” centers, meaning the center of the storm is warmer than the surrounding air. Warm ocean temperatures and wind patterns that spiral air inward are necessary for a hurricane to form.>>How to use the internet during the storm when your internet is down The “eye” of the storm is produced as the warm air rises in the storm’s center and a center of low pressure is created. When the pressure in that area drops, more air is pulled in, creating a sort of heat-pump effect that causes the storm to repeat the process and grow in intensity. The storm will continue to do so until it’s supply of warm water is interrupted. Thunderstorms spiral out from the eye and the water is pushed ahead of the storm, building what is called a 'storm surge.' The storm surge forms to the east of the eye. >>What is a storm surge and why is it dangerous? When a system has sustained winds of 39 mph, it is classified as a tropical depression. When the winds reach 39 mph or higher, the depression becomes a tropical storm and is given a name.  At 74 mph, the system is a hurricane.  What is the Saffir-Simpson scale and what does it have to do with hurricanes?  The tropical system is assigned a category depending on its wind speed. Here are the categories, the wind speeds and what those winds will likely do once the system makes landfall: >>What is the Saffir-Simpson scale; how does it work; is there a Category 6?  Category 1 -- 74 to 95 mph: Very dangerous winds will produce some damage. Well-constructed frame homes could have damage to the roof, shingles, vinyl siding and gutters. Large branches of trees will snap and shallowly rooted trees may be toppled. Extensive damage to power lines and poles likely will result in power outages that could last a few to several days.  Category 2 -- 96 to 110 mph: Extremely dangerous winds will cause extensive damage: Well-constructed frame homes could sustain major roof and siding damage. Many shallowly-rooted trees will be snapped or uprooted and block numerous roads. Near-total power loss is expected with outages that could last from several days to weeks.  Category 3 -- 111-129 mph: Devastating damage will occur: Well-built framed homes may incur major damage or removal of roof decking and gable ends. Many trees will be snapped or uprooted, blocking numerous roads. Electricity and water will be unavailable for several days to weeks after the storm passes. Category 3 storms and above are considered major hurricanes.  Category 4 -- 130-156 mph: Catastrophic damage will occur. Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.  Category 5 -- 157 mph or higher: Catastrophic damage will occur. A high percentage of framed homes will be destroyed, with total roof failure and walls collapsing. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last for weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.   Here is a video that shows the increasing level of damage in each category.  
  • Hurricanes can leave behind tons of damage, including flooding. But did you know that treading through the wrong kind of water can cause illnesses or even death? Floodwaters and standing water are often contaminated, posing several risks, such as infectious diseases, chemical hazards and injuries. Here are six sicknesses you should beware of in the aftermath: Diarrheal diseases Drinking or eating anything that has come in contact with floodwaters can lead to cryptosporidiosis, E. coli or giardiasis. While cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis are brought on by parasites, E. coli is caused by bacteria. Symptoms from each include diarrhea, gas, nausea and vomiting. Cryptosporidiosis, however, can even be fatal for those with weakened immune systems, such as AIDS or cancer.  Wound infections Open wounds and rashes that are exposed to floodwater can cause tetanus or Vibrio vulnificus. Tetanus is a bacterial infection, and it can enter the body through breaks in the skin like a cut. >> 10 tips to stay safe when returning home after a natural disaster Vibrio vulnificus, another bacteria, can be contracted the same way. Many people become infected by consuming undercooked shellfish or exposing an injury to brackish or salt water. Other illnesses  People affected by flooded areas can also get trench foot. It occurs when your feet are wet for long periods of time. It can cause pain, swelling and numbness. >> Read more trending news  You should also be aware of chemical hazards from materials that may have spilled into the water. And be cautious of electrical hazards, since there are puddles that may be electrified due to fallen power lines. Curious about other diseases you can catch? Take a look at the full list at CDC’s official website. 
  • A hurricane leaves a path of destruction and many are left trying to figure out how to begin the chore of cleaning up and repairing their property.  >> Read more trending news  Insurance companies will send claims teams to the affected areas after the event so that customers can get the process of filing a claim started and get the money to repair their property in a timely manner.  Here is a step-by-step guide on how to file an insurance claim following a hurricane or flood:  1. It is important to file the claim with your insurer as soon as possible. Thousands of people will be filing claims, and you want to get yours as high as you can on the list.  2. The Insurance Information Institute, an organization that provides information on insurance issues, suggests you make temporary repairs to your home if they are needed to protect it from further damage. Save the receipts for supplies so you can turn them in for reimbursement.  3. Once you are able to speak to an insurer, you will need to ask these questions: Is the damage you described covered under the terms of your policy? How long do you have to file a claim? How long will it take to process the claim? Do you need estimates for repairs? 4. This step is very important: Once you make the claim, be sure to write down the claim number. Again, insurers will be dealing with thousands of people -- make it easy for them to communicate with you about your claim by having the claim number written down where you can find it. 5. When you speak to your insurer, record the day and time of the conversation and with whom you spoke. Take notes about what is said and if any monetary amounts are mentioned. 6. You need to be ready to provide an accurate description of damages to your insurer. If you can safely do it, walk around your home and make notes on what was damaged.  7. After you contact them, your insurance company with send you a “proof of loss” form to complete or will send an adjuster – a person trained to assess the damage to property – to your home to get the information on your losses. To speed this process along, start gathering information about your property and the items that were lost or destroyed. A proof of loss form will ask you to describe the items damaged or destroyed, provide the approximate date of purchase and estimate the cost to repair it or replace it. If you happen to be able to produce receipts for items, that would be a help as well. 8. Another step you can take to document what was damaged is to photograph or videotape the damage. Be sure to point out structural damage in the photos or video. 9. Do not throw out damaged items. You want an adjuster to see them first. 10. If you are unable to live in your home and must stay elsewhere, keep all receipts for any living expenses – hotel rooms, food, and other costs of evacuation. Most homeowner policies that cover windstorm damage will cover those costs. 11. Be wary of anyone who comes to your door offering to do repairs or claiming to be insurance adjusters.  12. If you have no insurance, you can register for federal disaster relief at DisasterAssistance.gov. You do that by downloading the FEMA mobile app or by calling 1-800-621-3362.  Disaster assistance can help with temporary housing, home repairs and other disaster-related expenses, including crisis counseling and legal assistance. Click here for more information on FEMA aid. Water vs. wind: What is covered? Hurricanes cause wind and water damage. Homeowners insurance covers these hazards in a different way.  >>Does insurance cover hail damage to your car, house? Homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage – including flooding that is caused by storm surge. You would have needed to have flood insurance to pay for damages caused by water beforehand. Structures or belongings that were damaged by flooding are covered only by flood insurance. Wind damage is not covered in some coastal states. You would have had to purchase a separate windstorm policy in advance, which is a common thing in those coastal states. Both North Carolina and South Carolina are states where insurance companies can charge special deductibles for wind damage. Damage to your car is generally covered by your automobile insurance. Finally, be patient. It may take a while for someone to get to you and assess your damages.    

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