In our news wrap Thursday, crews searched for the more than 270 people still missing after a ferry disaster off the southern coast of South Korea. At least 20 deaths have been confirmed. Meanwhile, the coast guard is investigating reports that the ferry captain abandoned the vessel. Also, a U.N. report shows Tehran has cut its most sensitive nuclear stockpile by nearly 75 percent.
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Search-and-rescue crews spent a second day working to find more than 270 people missing in a ferry disaster off the coast of South Korea. At least 25 deaths have been confirmed since the vessel went down yesterday.
We have a report narrated by Lucy Watson of Independent Television News in Beijing.
They urge for a response, banging the hull of this stricken vessel, hoping to hear survivors, because this is still a rescue operation.
Remarkably, 24 hours earlier, as passengers phoned for help, there was an uneasy calm. They were unaware of how fast they were sinking. An announcement told them to stay where they were because it was less dangerous.
But it’s come to this, collective anguish as yet another body is brought in. And this man, who cowers from the cameras, was the captain, responsible for those on board, who could face a criminal investigation. He says he’s sorry, he’s ashamed, but he was one of the first to abandon his ship.
So this boat took many families to see it for themselves, to be close to where their children could be alive, trapped inside air pockets, such frustration as an operation hampered today by rough seas, even a watching president didn’t need the enormity of this disaster pointing out.
But it was too much for some. This was a relative who collapsed and was taken to hospital, and where this young girl is. She is 6 years old and remembers her ordeal, filmed here being rescued without her parents and without her brother. So, efforts must be made for the hundreds still missing, no matter how desperate it appears.
Three seagoing cranes are expected to arrive in the next two days to help salvage the sunken ferry.
There were new concerns today about the fate of 115 Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by Islamic militants. The students were kidnapped Tuesday from a boarding school in Borno state in the northeastern part of the country. Today, the school principal denied the Nigerian military’s claims that most of the girls had been freed. She said only 14 have returned.
The underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has narrowed. Authorities in Australia said today they have refined the target area after analyzing four pings heard 10 days ago. It was unclear how much longer the search will last, especially on the Indian Ocean’s surface, where nothing’s been found.
Malaysia’s defense minister spoke in Kuala Lumpur.
DATUK SERI HISHAMMUDDIN HUSSEIN, Defense Minister, Malaysia:
The intensive search in the areas where it is most likely to be — where we can find possible traces of the airplane or the black box, if at all, will be over the next few days. So all efforts and focus is being focused in that direction.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Navy deep-sea drone turned up nothing in its first full scan of the Indian Ocean floor. And officials ruled out the possibility that an oil slick in the area came from the plane.
Iran has now neutralized almost three-quarters of its most sensitive nuclear stockpile. The United Nations Atomic Energy Agency reported today that much of Tehran’s 20 percent enriched uranium has been converted to less potent forms. At the 20 percent level, it’s close to becoming fuel for nuclear weapons. The U.S. responded to the report by releasing another $450 million in frozen Iranian assets.
President Obama touted new numbers today on health care enrollments. He announced that at least eight million people have now signed up through insurance exchanges. About 35 percent are under the age of 35, which is key to making the law work. Younger, healthier people pay in more than they use in medical insurance. The president said the upshot is the repeal debate should be over.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:
This thing is working. I have said before, this law won’t solve all the problems in our health care system. We know we have got more work to do, but we now know for a fact that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, raise premiums for millions of Americans, and take insurance away from millions more.
Officials have not yet released figures on how many of the eight million enrollees had been uninsured.
The president also criticized House Republicans again today for blocking comprehensive immigration reform. They have argued for a more piecemeal approach. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported court-ordered deportations of unlawful immigrants actually dropped 43 percent between 2009 and 2013. Pro-immigration groups have sharply criticized the president over deportations.
The Congressional Budget Office today disputed White House claims about the size of deficits and tax hikes under President Obama’s proposed budget. The nonpartisan agency estimated red ink of $6.6 trillion over 10 years, instead of $5 trillion, as the budget forecasts. The CBO also said the tax hikes will total $1.4 trillion, significantly more than official estimates.
Wall Street closed out a short workweek on a quiet note. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 16 points to close at 16,408. The Nasdaq rose nine points to close at 4,095. And the S&P 500 added two to finish near 1,865.
Nobel-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez died today at his home in Mexico City. He had been ill for some time. Starting in 1947, Garcia Marquez gained world renown for his short stories and novels. They included “One Hundred Years of Solitude” And “Love In the Time of Cholera,” among many others. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was 87 years old.
On a happier note, Chelsea Clinton announced that she and her husband, Marc Mezvinsky, are expecting their first child. The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is 34. She serves as the vice chairman of her family’s foundation.