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A tough hurricane recovery job: Making kids feel safe again

When Tiffany Harris and her two children emerged from their hotel after Hurricane Michael roared past, her 3-year-old son pointed to a sea of fallen trees and shattered buildings.

"It's broken. It's broken, Mommy, fix it," she recalls her little boy Amari begging.

Harris, who lives with her boyfriend, two children, plus her sister and her four children near Panama City, soon learned their town house was uninhabitable. Everything was a total loss after Michael powered inland across the Florida Panhandle as a Category 4 monster on Oct. 10.

"All their toys are just gone. Even shoes and clothes," Harris said, tears welling in her eyes. "All we have is what's left in our car."

The two families, with six children between them, were forced because of mold to leave the hotel where they went for a time. They ended up about four hours away in Gainesville, north Florida. Finding food and shelter each night was a struggle. Often they had to sleep in their car.

Hurricanes and the daily challenges that come with surviving what follows can be especially troubling for children, who may be too young to understand what's happening around them. It's been especially hard on Harris' two toddlers.

Sometimes the toddlers refuse to eat. Getting them to use the bathroom has again become a struggle. The children are irritable, constantly asking why they can't go home. And Harris' normally happy 2-year-old daughter, Ayla, cries all the time.

"It's the worst feeling as a mother. To not be able to help or do anything or change anything," said the 25-year-old mother. "I can't fix it."

After Michael's rampage, some children in the Panhandle hurricane zone had to wait weeks for schools to reopen. Others had to remain for a time in temporary living quarters. And experts say children are undergoing severe stress as they watch their parents attempt to rebuild their lives.

"That loss of safety, loss of innocence and that loss of routine and the ability to really enjoy play. You particularly see that in children in shelters," said Sarah Thompson, director of U.S. emergencies for Save the Children.

The organization hosted therapeutic play areas in three shelters impacted by Michael. Those programs are staffed by experts who work on "listening to them and saying, 'it's OK to feel angry and it's OK to be fearful in this situation,'" said Thompson.

After a traumatic event, experts note, some children become hyperactive, while others withdraw and become quiet. For some, the stress affects sleeping, eating and bathroom patterns.

"What we saw after (Hurricane) Katrina, and it might happen here, is that many families say they're going to relocate because they lost their homes. That adds additional challenges and stress to children who have to go to a new place, make new friends and are surrounded by strangers," Thompson added.

Children will look for cues from parents as to how to cope.

"If they see parents kind of falling apart at the seams, that's going to create anxiety for the children," said David Murphey, a research scientist at Child Trends, a national non-profit seeking to bolster children's outcomes.

When a massive tree fell on the home of Lilly Langworthy during Michael, her family lost power for eight days. At first, her boys ages 3, 6, and 7 didn't want to be apart from their parents. Then all three started sleeping in the same room. Sometimes they'd awake with nightmares.

"They hear winds and they immediately ask if the trees are going to knock over," said Langworthy, of Chipley.

The 33-year-old mother has been proactive in talking about the storm, constantly reassuring her children they are safe and loved. The family prayed during the hurricane and Langworthy said she often hears the boys praying on their own now.

"I told the boys, 'It's OK to be sad when you see something that bothers you and it's OK to get angry too.' I want them to know those are healthy emotions," she said.

Sharife Gacel remembers huddling in the hallway of her Miami home with her parents during Hurricane Andrew and listening to the walls vibrating as the storm roared by in 1992.

Her home was spared but destruction was everywhere. But in an instant, everything changed for the fifth grader.

She wasn't in school for the rest of the year. Gacel lived on government issued meals as her family waited weeks for power and water to be restored. They were on curfew with military checkpoints and armed guards flanking her neighborhood.

Remarkably, Gacel, now 36, channeled her pain into a career and works today as a therapist helping others through trauma and anxiety.

Said Gacel: "Somehow Miami fought through and that resilience and what we were capable of, that's what stuck with me."

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A 31-year-old man was arrested Friday in connection with the fatal shooting of his grandfather at a home near Ocoee. Deputies said the victim was shot shortly before 7:15 a.m. in the Lake Florence subdivision near Good Homes Road.  Relatives said the victim was boxing icon Lucious 'Lou' Harris.  Deputies said they arrested Lucien Harris in connection with the shooting.  “My father was, like, an icon in the boxing world,' said Steve Harris, the victim's son and the suspect's uncle. 'Everybody knew him -- all across the world.'  He said he and his family almost expected something bad to happen.  'It's not a complete surprise. Not to me,' Harris said. 'It could have been me. It could have been my other brother in the car, my sister. We all knew something was going to happen eventually, but not my dad.'  Lou Harris owned Harris Boxing on Ivey Lane in Orlando and trained hundreds of fighters, including his grandson, relatives said.  'He took people from the street and took them right to the Olympics -- and (they won) gold medals, bronze medals. He did it all,' Steve Harris said of his father.  He said the suspect was living with his grandfather at his Florence Vista Boulevard home.  He said Lucien Harris was once a boxer, too, but was not successful and had resentment and jealousy because of it.  Records said Lucien Harris was arrested in October after he was accused of threatening to kill his uncle with a hammer and knife.  His uncle told investigators at the time that Lucien Harris has 'schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and does not take medications for his issues,' records said.  Lucien Harris was not prosecuted in that case.  Records said his arrest history dates back to 2004, when he was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.  Since then, he has also been arrested on charges of possessing a gun as a convicted felon, armed burglary and grand theft.  'His grandson had issues for many years,' Steve Harris said. 'He did time at an early age.'  Lucien Harris was booked into the Orange County Jail on charges of first-degree murder.
  • Who doesn't love food and drinks, especially when it comes to trying out a variety of kinds all in one visit? Thankfully, if you don't have any weekend plans, you can check out the annual Downtown Food and Wine Fest located in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola.  This year's celebration on Robinson Street features over 30 dishes from Orlando's premier restaurants, over 50 domestic and international wines, and of course, LIVE entertainment.  However, before you set out to enjoy the festival there's a few things you need to know:  - You can't bring any outside food or drink to the event.  - Pets are not allowed inside due to food health laws set by the City of Orlando.  - You can bring your own blanket and chairs to sit and enjoy the live music.  - Since its on the weekend, you can expect road closures. Here they are:  Southbound Eola Drive from Robinson Street to Washington Street at 10am  Northbound Eola Drive from Robinson Street to Washington Street until 2pm.  Broadway, Cathcart, Hillman from Ridgewood Street to Robinson Street until 2pm.  Robinson Street from Rosalind Avenue to Summerlin Avenue at 6am.   Ticket prices for the event vary, depending on what you want to do. You can check them out here:  https://downtownfoodandwinefest.radio.com/ticket-info  The events starts on Saturday, February 23rd from 12pm to 9pm and Sunday, February 24th from 12pm to 7pm.
  • Southeastern Grocers announced the closing of another eight Florida stores in coming months. Jacksonville based Southeastern Grocers, is the parent company to Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco y Mas grocery stores.  The company owns more than 550 stores throughout the southeast and declared bankruptcy last spring. The bankruptcy restructuring included closing 94 stores to help lower debt by about $600 million.  In addition to the eight stores closing in Florida, two of which are in Central Florida, another 14 are closing throughout the South.  The two in Central Florida include the Winn-Dixie at 7840 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy in Kissimmee and the Winn-Dixie at 5732 N. Hiawassee Road in Orlando.
  • Prosecutors in Illinois have filed 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against R&B musician R. Kelly, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Friday at a news conference. Foxx said the charges were related to incidents alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with four separate victims. >> Read more trending news Update 9:20 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly turned himself in to Chicago police after being charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. The 52-year-old singer, whose real name is Robert Kelly, arrived at the precinct in a van about 8:15 p.m. Friday. If taken into custody, he is expected to be held overnight and appear Saturday in bond court. Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg said he maintains his innocence and looks forward to being acquitted at trial. Update 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly’s attorney said the singer is “shell-shocked” by the aggravated sexual abuse indictment against him and plans to turn himself in to authorities Friday night. Steve Greenberg told The Associated Press that his client is “extraordinarily disappointed and depressed” by the 10 counts Chicago prosecutors filed against him. Update 3:15 p.m. EST Feb. 22: Authorities held a brief news conference Friday to announce the charges against Kelly. Foxx said the charges brought against Kelly involve four victims, three of which were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. The alleged sexual abuse took place between 1998 and 2010, she said. The charges are class 2 felonies which carry maximum sentences of seven years per charge, Foxx said. She added that they were “also probationable.” “We anticipate that Mr. Kelly will appear in bond court tomorrow afternoon,” Foxx said. Update 2:50 p.m. EST Feb. 22: The Chicago Tribune reported that the charges against Kelly involve four victims, at least three of which are underage. The incidents were alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with minors between the ages of 13 and 16, according to the Tribune. A judge on Friday approved of a no-bail arrest warrant for Kelly, the Sun-Times reported. Authorities are expected to provide more information on the case at a news conference Friday afternoon. Original report: Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, confirmed to The Associated Press that charges had been filed against the 52-year-old Grammy winner but declined to say the specific number. Media reports said there were 10 counts, all involving underage victims. >> New sex tape allegedly shows R. Kelly having sex with underage girl, according to reports The charges are felonies that carry maximum sentences of seven years each, if Kelly is convicted, WGN-TV reported. Kelly, one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, has several times over the years been accused of sexual misconduct, allegations that he’s consistently denied. Jurors acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges at a 2008 trial. Those charges stemmed from a video prosecutors alleged showed of Kelly having sex with a girl as young as 13. >> Report: R. Kelly being investigated by Atlanta-area DA after docuseries abuse allegations The latest charges were filed nearly two weeks after a man gave authorities new footage that purportedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual acts with an underage girl. The man's attorney, Michael Avenatti, told CNN last week that the man was a whistleblower. Avenatti said his client “worked for and has known R. Kelly for decades and he met the girl on a number of occasions.” On Friday, Avenatti seemed to announce the charges against Kelly with a two word tweet: “It’s over.” >> Who is R. Kelly? 7 things to know  “After 25 years of serial sexual abuse and assault of underage girls, the day of reckoning for R. Kelly has arrived,” he wrote in a subsequent tweet. Avenatti said he will provide more information about the case at a press conference Friday afternoon. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is also expected to hold a news conference Friday. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • The midnight deadline for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office to make recommendations about the sentencing for Paul Manafort passed Friday night, but the report was not publicly released as of Saturday morning. Manafort, President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to several charges last year.  >> Read more trending news Prosecutors may have sent the document to Judge Amy Berman Jackson under seal, with proposed redactions, CNN reported Saturday. It would then be up to Jackson to decide what happens next. Prosecutors were expected to file the sentencing memo in federal court in Washington, where Manafort pleaded guilty in September to charges including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice through witness tampering. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation  Manafort agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s team as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors; however, authorities later said Manafort lied to investigators. Prosecutors are not expected to recommend leniency for him. Manafort’s attorneys will have until midnight Monday to file their own sentencing memo. A judge is expected to hand down Manafort’s sentence March 13 at a 9:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. >> Judge rules Paul Manafort intentionally lied after agreeing to cooperate In a separate case that also stemmed from Mueller’s investigation, a jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty last summer of tax and bank fraud charges in a case related to work he and an associate did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. Prosecutors last week recommended Manafort serve between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison and be fined as much as $24 million for those crimes. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in that case during a 9 a.m. hearing March 8 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, according to a court filing. >> Mueller recommends Paul Manafort be sentenced to 19.5-24.5 years in prison and $24M fine Last month, defense attorneys said Manafort has been kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. He’s had severe gout for several months of his incarceration, according to his attorneys, and it’s sometimes been severe enough to require him to use a wheelchair. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Washington Insider

  • Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled their one page plan on Friday to overturn President Donald Trump's bid to funnel more money to a border wall by declaring a national emergency, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters said the House would vote next Tuesday to block the President's executive actions on funding for the wall. 'Members of Congress all swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution,' the Speaker said. 'The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated,' Pelosi wrote earlier this week in a letter to fellow Democrats. Democrats said they already have more than a majority of members signed on to the one page resolution to reject the Trump national emergency. 'We hope that enough of our normal Republican enablers will join us to stand up for the Constitution,' said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). 'If not, we’re ready to turn to the courthouse.' As of Friday, only one Republican in the House had signed on to the plan to reject the President’s national emergency, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “Trump’s absurd declaration of a “national emergency” undercuts the Constitution,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as approval in the House would send the plan to the Senate. Under special rules governing this process, GOP leaders would not be able to ignore the House action, as a vote must take place on the resolution. But even if it passes in the Senate, a veto is likely by President Trump, and at this point - it seems unlikely that Democrats could muster enough GOP votes for a two-thirds supermajority to override a veto.