The Associated Press

Happening Today: Arkema Inc., Korea, ‘Sanctuary Cities,' Leukemia, Kanye West

What to Know

  • Two explosions were reported at a flooded chemical plant near Houston, according to a statement from the French company
  • Health officials approved a treatment that genetically engineers own blood cells into an army of assassins to destroy childhood leukemia
  • An insurance company countersued Kanye West, insinuating his marijuana use resulted in the cancellation of a portion of his winter tour

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Reports of Explosions, Black Smoke at Texas Chemical Plant in Wake of Harvey, Officials Say

Two explosions and black smoke were reported at a flooded chemical plant in a small town outside of Houston, and the threat of additional explosions remained, according to a statement from the French company. The Arkema Inc. plant in Crosby, Texas, about 25 miles northeast of Houston, lost power and its backup generators amid Harvey's days-long deluge, leaving it without refrigeration for chemicals that become volatile as the temperature rises. There were no immediate details on the extent of the explosions or any damage, but spokeswoman Janet Smith had told The Associated Press earlier that a fire or explosion at the plant would "resemble a gasoline fire" and would be "explosive and intense in nature." Arkema released its statement through local NBC affiliate KPRC. Warning that the threat of additional explosions remained, Arkema told residents not to return to the evacuation zone until officials determined it was safe.

U.S. Flies Bombers, Fighters in Show of Force Against North Korea

The United States flew some of its most advanced warplanes to South Korea to take part in bombing drills aimed at intimidating North Korea, after Pyongyang fired a midrange ballistic missile over Japan earlier this week, South Korea's military said. Two U.S. B-1B supersonic bombers and four F-35 stealth fighter jets joined four South Korean F-15 fighters in live-fire exercises at a military field in eastern South Korea that simulated precision strikes against the North's "core facilities," an official from Seoul's Defense Ministry said. The B-1Bs were flown in from Andersen Air Force Base in Guam while the F-35s came from a U.S. base in Iwakuni, Japan, the official said. He didn't want to be named, citing office rules. The United States often sends its warplanes to South Korea when animosity rises on the Korean Peninsula, which is technically in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice, not a peace treaty. North Korea flew a potentially-nuclear capable Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile over northern Japan and later called it a "meaningful prelude" to containing the U.S. territory of Guam.

Federal Judge Blocks Texas' Tough “Sanctuary Cities” Law

A federal judge temporarily blocked most of Texas' tough new "sanctuary cities" law that would have allowed police to inquire about people's immigration status during routine interactions such as traffic stops. The law, SB 4, had been cheered by President Trump's administration but decried by immigrants' rights groups who say it could force anyone who looks like they might be in the country illegally to "show papers." The measure sailed through the Republican-controlled Legislature despite months of protests and opposition from business groups who worried that it could cause a labor-force shortage in industries such as construction. Opponents sued, arguing it violated the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia's ruling in San Antonio keeps it from taking effect as planned Friday -- allowing the case time to proceed. In a 94-page ruling, Garcia wrote that there "is overwhelming evidence by local officials, including local law enforcement, that SB 4 will erode public trust and make many communities and neighborhoods less safe" and that "localities will suffer adverse economic consequences which, in turn, will harm the state of Texas."

U.S. Clears Breakthrough Gene Therapy for Childhood Leukemia

Opening a new era in cancer care, U.S. health officials approved a breakthrough treatment that genetically engineers patients' own blood cells into an army of assassins to seek and destroy childhood leukemia. The Food and Drug Administration called the approval historic, the first gene therapy to hit the U.S. market. Made from scratch for every patient, it's one of a wave of "living drugs" under development to fight additional blood cancers and other tumors, too. Novartis Pharmaceuticals set the price for its one-time infusion of so-called "CAR-T cells" at $475,000, but said there would be no charge for patients who didn't show a response within a month. CAR-T treatment uses gene therapy techniques not to fix disease-causing genes but to turbocharge T cells, immune system soldiers that cancer too often can evade. Researchers filter those cells from a patient's blood, reprogram them to harbor a "chimeric antigen receptor" or CAR that zeroes in on cancer, and grow hundreds of millions of copies.

Insurance Company Counters Kanye West's $10M Tour Cancellation Suit

Lloyd's of London insurance company countersued Kanye West, insinuating the rapper's use of marijuana precipitated a widely publicized mental health crisis that resulted in the cancellation of a portion of his winter tour, according to court papers. West sued Lloyd's for $10 million earlier this month in Los Angeles federal court for allegedly refusing to pay out claims stemming from the cancellation. Lloyd's doesn't specifically argue in its countersuit that West was using drugs or alcohol, but contends some unspecified behavior activated the policy exclusions that refer to using substances and pre-existing psychological conditions. The cancellation was "not beyond (his) control," according to the document, filed this week. According to West's lawsuit, the rapper filed a claim with Lloyd's shortly after canceling the second leg of the "Saint Pablo" tour and checking himself into UCLA Medical Center in November. Lawyers for West allege the entertainer and his company Very Good Touring Inc. have not been paid -- and the insurance giant is intentionally stalling.

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