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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In a city called Adana, Turkey, there's a row of apartment buildings.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Most are still standing after an earthquake. One has collapsed like a missing tooth. People stand nearby as rescuers dig for survivors.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock was at that scene and joins us now from the earthquake zone. Ruth, hello.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Hi.

INSKEEP: What was it like to go there?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, I flew into Adana city on this plane where many of the passengers were Turkish citizens. And, Steve, they were returning home to a destroyed city, to a destroyed area, destroyed lives. One of the men, two rows away from me, had just heard that his wife and brother were killed in the earthquake. His children are still missing. The airport itself was full of rescue workers arriving from countries all around the world. They flew in with rescue dogs and equipment, and Adana city itself has been spared from the worst of the devastation. But it's strange to say that because even here, 11 buildings have collapsed in the shocks, I'm told. I went to one building, the one you mentioned, and that was this residential high-rise of some 15 floors that had collapsed to rubble. People were gathered at a playground near the building, watching rescue efforts in the near-freezing temperatures. And many of those that were watching had loved ones still under the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: So here there's two elderly women and a man, and they were hugging and talking about a daughter that had died. She was so happy, one said. We couldn't imagine that it would end like this, another one said.

INSKEEP: What else did you see and hear?

SHERLOCK: Well, look at this site. At this one site, there were 10 bulldozers clawing at the rubble. And every time they thought they'd come across someone, all the machines would stop and fall silent, and everybody would look with kind of bated breath as rescuers would move the debris with their bare hands and listen for signs of life. Often, though, this was a false alarm. It happened again and again. And I spoke to one man. He didn't want to be named, but he'd been watching the efforts for over 10 hours.

Do you know people inside this?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yes. We have some relatives. There are still ones who are under.

SHERLOCK: Still missing.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Yeah, missing.

SHERLOCK: So he's saying, you know, it's his brother-in-law's family. He says one person was pulled out alive in the morning, but then three others relatives were pulled out dead. Two more are still missing. Now, of course, the big fear is aftershocks. It's cold here, near freezing temperatures at night, but people are sleeping in the cars, in the streets and burning debris to keep warm.

INSKEEP: Ruth, you mentioned you're in one of the less damaged cities. What are you hearing from elsewhere?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, in other parts of the country, the roads are impenetrable. Supplies are already running thin. And even - if you can imagine it, Steve, the situation's even worse across the border in Syria. This - that is a country that's in the midst of a civil war. And there are parts of the country that are even lacking the machinery to help dig people out of the rubble. The Syrian government is calling on the United Nations to help with everything from rescue efforts to food aid, and in opposition-held parts of the north where there's over 4 million people, whole streets have been flattened. Hospitals are overwhelmed. And like I said, you know, rescue workers have very little equipment to work with.

INSKEEP: NPR's Ruth Sherlock is in Adana, Turkey. Thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Tonight, President Biden stands before Congress.

FADEL: He performs his constitutional duty to update lawmakers on the State of the Union, and the cameras at the back of the chamber mean the event will be seen by more voters than any other speech he gives this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Today I want to talk to the American people and let them know the state of affairs, what's going on, why I - what I'm looking forward to working on and what's going on, what we've done and just have a conversation with the American people.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith will now have a conversation with us. Tam, good morning.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the president's challenge tonight?

KEITH: Well, any president would like to stand up and say the State of the Union is strong, and they all more or less do say that.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

KEITH: But there are a lot of Americans who aren't so sure right now. A recent ABC News-Washington Post poll found 40% of Americans say that they are worse off now than they were when President Biden took office. Inflation is no doubt a big driver of that feeling, and it's been falling recently, but it's still uncomfortably high. So Biden has to show Americans that he feels their pain while also talking about what he feels are very real accomplishments. Brian Deese, a top economic adviser at the White House, said the president's message will be that there is more work to do, but there has been progress, and that's a reason to, quote, "continue down the path of progress that we've made."

INSKEEP: Ah, when you hear continue down the path, people will perceive a point toward reelection there.

KEITH: Yes, it does sound like a reelection pitch. And in many ways, this speech is an unofficial launch for a message that we can expect to hear a lot of. If President Biden follows through on his stated plan to run for reelection, this is a primetime preview, if you will, of the campaign we're expecting. So that's why he was hunkered down over the weekend with his top advisers at Camp David. And he ended up returning to the White House yesterday afternoon, hours later than originally planned.

INSKEEP: Tam, as you know very well, it's a tradition, going back at least to Ronald Reagan, that presidents bring in guests to point out during the speech. It's almost like casting for a play because the people are there to illustrate different themes. So who's invited for this speech?

KEITH: Yeah, and we have some news on this. On the list of invitees are the mother and stepfather of Tyre Nichols. That's the man who was fatally beaten by police in Memphis. So it is a safe bet that Biden is going to call on Congress to pass policing reform. There's a man who disarmed the shooter in Monterey Park, Calif. We know Biden wants a ban on assault weapons. There's a woman who nearly died because of a delay in getting abortion care due to the Texas abortion ban. There's a New Hampshire dad who lost one of his daughters to a fentanyl overdose, several people who have had cancer touch their lives.

There are also people benefiting from the big spending bills on infrastructure and semiconductors, a Holocaust survivor, a DACA program participant who was brought to the U.S. by her parents when she was 3. As you can tell, these speeches often take on something of a list form because there are so many different stories and different things that the president is calling for - also, famous people like Bono from the band U2, who's been involved with work on HIV and AIDS, and Paul Pelosi, the husband of former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was the victim of a politically motivated violence.

INSKEEP: Quite a list of casting credits. Tam, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith with some news on who will appear at the State of the Union.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Not far from the border between Ohio and Pennsylvania, a freight train went off the tracks.

FADEL: The crash led to fire, and authorities said they drained hazardous chemicals to avoid an explosion. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, and schools and businesses shut down in East Palestine. Residents are still being told to stay away until the fire dies down.

INSKEEP: Julie Grant is covering this for The Allegheny Front. Good morning.

JULIE GRANT, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the trouble here?

GRANT: Well, there's a mess of smoldering train tanker cars crashed around the tracks. There's 50 cars in all. The focus was on five of them, those filled with chemical, vinyl chloride. In at least one car, temperatures were rising, and officials from Norfolk Southern were concerned that it would blow up. They conducted what they called a controlled release on Monday. They cut a small hole in the cars so the chemicals could slowly leak into a trench that was filled with flares, kind of like a controlled burn. And there was an explosion. Scott Deutsch of Norfolk Southern said that was the safest way to proceed.

SCOTT DEUTSCH: So this was for us to control the reaction that was taking place and not the cars doing it on their own. That's very important. That makes it safe.

GRANT: So the plan was about controlling the explosion when it occurred, where train parts landed and limiting fumes in the air. And the company says it was a success.

INSKEEP: You know, Julie, when I look at the pictures of this, it's not even like the train cars are still close to the tracks. They're just scrambled in all directions. It's really stunning. You get a sense of the incredible momentum of these many-tons-heavy cars being thrown around. What could have caused that?

GRANT: Yeah, it's a real scene there. The National Transportation Safety Board was on site over the weekend. The agency's Michael Graham said videos of the scene indicate mechanical issues with one of the rail car axles, but that's only preliminary. They used drones to map the derailment, and they were able to secure video and audio recordings. And Graham says they'll create a timeline.

MICHAEL GRAHAM: The data will then be sent to the NTSB's vehicle data recorder lab in Washington, D.C., for a complete evaluation and analysis.

GRANT: So it'll take four to six weeks to produce a preliminary report and up to two years for a final report.

INSKEEP: You know, I just looked up at a television just now, and there was an image - there was video of a fire there being seen within sight of homes. Granting that people have been evacuated, is there still concern about health effects here?

GRANT: Well, the immediate health effects of breathing in these chemicals can be extreme, from skin burns, lung damage and even death. And this is why Governor DeWine of Ohio was so adamant that people evacuate the area. Authority says they didn't see any harmful air quality measurements yesterday. The Ohio EPA is monitoring air quality. And officials say that now cleanup and remediation at the site can continue safely.

INSKEEP: How widespread is the evacuation, for how long?

GRANT: Well, the order from Governor DeWine and from Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro meant about 5,000 people had to evacuate their homes. Those were people who live within a 1-to-2-mile area around the derailment site, straddling either side of the state line. I spoke with a number of residents over the weekend. They were at a community center. They were looking for help and for information. Some of them were scared and confused, and many are anxious to return home, but that might not happen for a while. Schools are closed for at least a week.

INSKEEP: Julie, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

GRANT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Julie Grant is a reporter with The Allegheny Front who covers environmental issues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.