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News Wrap: March storm roars in, grounding more than 6,000 flights

March 14, 2017 at 6:50 PM EDT
In our news wrap Tuesday, you would never know there's less than a week to go before the start of spring. A late winter storm dropped snow and sleet on the East Coast at a furious pace with high winds. Also, the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps faced a grilling on Capitol Hill over a scandal involving photos shared online of female corps members in the nude.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There is less than a week to go before the official start of spring, but you wouldn’t have known it today in the Northeastern United States.

A blizzard grounded more than 6,000 passenger flights, shuttered schools and claimed at least one life.

John Yang has our report.

JOHN YANG: From Western Pennsylvania to New England, snow fell at a furious pace. This time-lapse video shows it piling up in New York state.

MAN: After Daylight Savings Time, I wouldn’t have expected a storm like this. It kind of feels more like January than it does March.

JOHN YANG: Wind gusts of more than 70 an hour sent waves pounding into the shore from Delaware to Massachusetts.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY, D-Conn.: Good day to make brownies and/or read a book.

JOHN YANG: Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy banned all but emergency travel, so plows could do their work in near white-out conditions.

GOV. DANNEL MALLOY: This is New England. We’re used to handling snow. But when you get predictions of 18 to 30 inches with potentially four-, five- and 6-inch snowfalls in an hour, that’s when you have to act.

JOHN YANG: Boston was on track for up to 18 inches. Schools there were closed, as they were in cities like Philadelphia and New York. That left thousands of kids with a day to play. Even four-legged frolickers got in the act.

For air travelers, it was anything but a holiday. Southwest Airlines, which flies more domestic passengers than any other carrier, canceled all flights at 14 airports from Portland, Maine, to Washington, D.C. Thousands of people were stranded, like this new bride from Britain.

LAURA BALDERSTONE, Traveler: We’re here on honeymoon, and we flew to New York and we got here fine, but now we’re stuck here on our way to Orlando. We can’t get a flight out until tomorrow now. We’re hoping to get a hotel room, but at the moment, there aren’t any.

JOHN YANG: NCAA Tournament-bound basketball teams and fans had to change plans to get to March Madness games later this week. Amtrak suspended or modified rail service along the busy Northeast Corridor. Nearly a quarter-million customers lost power.

New York City was spared the worst, as the arctic blast shifted north and west, bringing less snow and more pelting sleet.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, D-N.Y.: Mother Nature is an unpredictable lady sometimes. She was unpredictable once again today.

JOHN YANG: The nation’s capital got less than expected as well, allowing federal agencies to open on a three-hour delay.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m John Yang.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In the day’s other news: The commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps faced a grilling today over a scandal involving photos shared online of female Corps members in the nude.

General Robert Neller pledged to fix the problem and culture that led to the scandal. But women senators in particular said they’d heard it all before, including New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, D-N.Y.: When you say to us it’s got to be different, that rings hollow. I don’t know what you mean when you say that. Why does it have to be different? Because you all of a sudden feel that it has to be different? Who has been held accountable?

GEN. ROBERT NELLER, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps: I don’t have a good answer for you. I’m not going to sit here and duck around this thing. I’m not. I’m responsible. I’m the commandant. I own this. That’s a lame answer, but, ma’am, that’s all I — that’s the best I can tell you right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The general acknowledged the scandal may hurt the Marine Corps efforts to recruit women.

The European Union’s highest court ruled today that employers may bar Muslim women from wearing head scarves on the job. The ruling says that a ban is permitted, so long as it is part of a company policy, and not a sign of prejudice. It’s a response to cases brought by two women, one Belgian and one French. Both were fired for refusing to remove their head scarves at work.

The U.N. Human Rights Office is demanding that the Syrian government release tens of thousands of prisoners. In a statement today, the agency’s head said: “The entire country has become a torture-chamber, a place of savage horror and absolute injustice.”

In the past, Syria has denied allegations of systematic torture in its prisons. It had no direct response today.

In Iraq, government troops pushed deeper into Western Mosul, and killed a key Islamic State commander. Military leaders now say it’s only a matter of time before they crush the remaining ISIS fighters in Iraq’s second largest city.

John Irvine of Independent Television News reports from the front lines.

JOHN IRVINE: Rolling back the Islamic State has been tortuous. The fighting here is intense and brutal.

Advances made by the Iraqi army have been slow and the extent of the damage being wrought by this inch-by-inch battle for a city is simply appalling. In 2014, the Iraqi army lost Mosul in six hours. Getting it all back is going to take them at least six months.

The battle for Eastern Mosul lasted 100 days, and it cost the Iraqi army at least 500 dead. They want to limit the casualties this side of the river in Western Mosul. And, to that end, they’re using far more ordnance, artillery, and airstrikes, like the one you have just heard.

I.S. can also strike from the air. That was a grenade dropped close to us by one of their drones. This propaganda video appears to confirm the commitment of their fighters here in Mosul. It also shows they are far from running short on ammunition. No quarter is being given or asked for.

Are they good fighters?

MAJ. GEN. BAHAA AZZAWI, Iraqi Federal Police: Actually, they fight, they fight, they fight, they fight. But we have also good fighters.

JOHN IRVINE: (INAUDIBLE) in Mosul Museum today was rubble. This where I.S. sledgehammered history. And while much of what they bludgeoned was replica stuff, some priceless artifacts were destroyed here.

Now the museum is on the front line of more history being made. And the records will show that the battle of Mosul was one of the most brutal urban fights the world has ever seen. Much of the place is uninhabitable.

And, as the advance continues, more districts are being abandoned. As they fled today, they can only have been wondering, what will be left of Mosul to return to?

JUDY WOODRUFF: More than 200,000 Mosul residents have been displaced since the start of the Iraqi government offensive last October.

Off the coast of Somalia, pirates today seized an oil tanker, the first such hijacking since 2012. The Aris 13, manned by Sri Lankan sailors, was carrying fuel from Djibouti to the Somali capital of Mogadishu. The pirates forced it to sail to a port town near the country’s tip. European Union officials said the men demanded a ransom.

In Mexico, authorities say they have found more than 250 skulls in what appears to be a drug cartel burial ground. A prosecutor confirms that the hidden site was discovered on the outskirts of Veracruz. Only one-third of the site has been excavated, opening the possibility of more victims to be found.

Here in Washington, the new head of Medicaid and Medicare Services was sworn in today, as lawmakers grapple with the federal government’s role in health care. Vice President Pence administered the oath of office to Seema Verma. She had been working as a health care consultant in his home state of Indiana.

Meanwhile, the nominee to be U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, had his Senate confirmation hearing. He argued for an America-first trade policy.

On Wall Street today, another slide in oil prices pulled stocks lower again. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 44 points to close at 20837. The Nasdaq fell almost 19, and the S&P 500 slipped eight.

And Goodyear is saying goodbye to an icon. In pre-dawn darkness, the last of the company’s blimps was decommissioned and deflated in Carson, California. Goodyear began flying blimps more than 90 years ago. The tire company is shifting to semi-rigid dirigibles that are larger and faster in providing aerial television coverage at major sports and entertainment events.

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