NC fertilizer plant still burning, could explode. Teacher shortage may persist long after pandemic. Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rule wreak havoc.
NC fertilizer plant continues to burn, threatens ‘one of the worst explosions in U.S. history’
A fire that started Monday evening at the Winston Weaver Company fertilizer plant near Winston-Salem, NC, continues to burn. When the fire started, the plant was storing at least 600 tons of ammonium nitrate, the same compound responsible for the massive 2020 explosion in Beirut. Firefighters soon left the scene of the blaze Monday evening due to the risk and began evacuating the surrounding area. They’ve since evacuated about 6500 people from 2500 homes within a one-mile radius of the facility.
Local authorities continue to monitor the fire using drones, and an automated fire truck remains at the scene to spray water on hotspots. Initially, authorities warned that there was a “36-hour window” during which an explosion could occur. But officials say the danger remains. Even after a midday shower suppressed some of the flames, firefighters say there is still active fires at the facility.
The rain brought on another hazard, push a cloud of toxic smoke closer to the ground. Winston-Salem Battalion Chief Patrick Grubbs said they are still urging anyone who has left the area to stay away and anyone still present to leave. Grubbs also confirmed that the low-lying smoke posed health risks to anyone nearby.
While local authorities are closely monitoring the scene and interviewing witnesses, there is no indication yet of how the fire started. An investigation will take place once the situation is stable.
Pandemic brings chronic teacher shortage to crisis point
The omicron wave has schools around the country struggling to keep doors open and kids in the classroom. With many educators and faculty calling in sick, districts are struggling with how to fill the vacancies. Many states have adopted stopgap measures to expand the pool of substitute teachers. States have variously called upon parents, police officers, state bureaucrats, National Guard members, and even recent high school graduates to plug the gap. Other states prioritizing professional teaching have turned to remote learning and reduced schedules.
But education experts say that the pandemic is merely the latest in a growing number of stressors teachers have been facing in recent years, and that its knock-on effects could be with us long after the pandemic passes. For years, low pay, politicized curriculums, standardized testing, inadequate resources and a lack of autonomy have shrunk the number of college graduates willing to become teachers. In most states, the number of newly-graduated teachers has been declining for years. And now, a survey of National Education Association members conducted in January shows that 55% of teachers are planning to leave the profession sooner than planned due to pandemic stressors. That’s up from 37% in August.
Canada: Truckers protesting vaccine rules wreak havoc in Ottawa
For almost a week, truckers in Canada have been amassing in Ottawa to protest a new rule that requires truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border to be vaccinated. The so-called “Freedom Convoy” has drawn criticism from most but also some public and political support. In addition to blocking border crossing points, protesting truckers have brought their rigs to the nation’s capital and parked up near federal buildings. The blare of big rig horns is heard day and night, and the city is filling with diesel exhaust fumes from idling trucks.
The protesters aren’t just a headache for the government; some of their number have also terrorized the city’s populace. Numerous businesses in central Ottawa have shut down. Some business owners say they fear for staff who’ve been threatened by the truckers when trying to enforce masking rules on their premises. The city’s mayor also blames the convoy and its supporters for acts of vandalism, including at a war memorial. Protesters have also carried out violent assaults, notably at a homeless shelter.
While the vast majority of protesters are peaceful, the protest has also attracted more radical elements, including QAnon supporters and militant white supremacists. Some have even been spotted flying the Nazi flag. Canada’s Conservative Party Leader ousted its leader Erin O’Toole after he initially voiced support for the protesters. During a televised interview with one of O’Toole’s MPs who was supporting the truckers, a swastika flag was visible in the background.
GoFundMe has suspended an online fundraiser for one of the protesting groups after the group’s extremist ties came to light.
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