Families struggle with how to hold 2nd pandemic Thanksgiving

(AP) — Back in the spring, Pauline Criel and her cousins talked about reuniting for Thanksgiving at her home near Detroit after many painful months of seclusion because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the virus had a different plan. Michigan is now the nation's hot spot. Hospitals there are teeming with patients, and schools are scaling back in-person learning. A resurgent virus has pushed new infections in the U.S. to 95,000 daily, hospitals in Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are also under pressure, and health officials are pleading with unvaccinated people not to travel.

Criel's big family feast was put on hold. She is roasting a turkey and whipping together a pistachio fluff salad — an annual tradition — but only for her, her husband and two grown boys.

“I’m going to wear my stretchy pants and eat too much — and no one’s going to care," she said.

Her story reflects the Thanksgiving dilemma that families across America are facing as the gatherings become burdened with the same political and coronavirus debates consuming other arenas.


Their own words may have doomed men who killed Ahmaud Arbery

The video of Ahmaud Arbery's shotgun death was a shocking piece of evidence that suddenly brought the Black man's killing into the national consciousness.

But the murder convictions of the three white men who chased him may have been secured as much by their own words to investigators the day of the shooting.

Greg McMichael, who was in the bed of a pickup truck when his son killed Arbery, told police the Black man "was trapped like a rat" and he told Arbery: "Stop, or I’ll blow your f---ing head off!”

Statements like that allowed prosecutors to give context to the short video that didn't show the entire shooting and had little of the five minutes that the men chased Arbery.

“It’s those statements that screwed the defense more than the video. If they had never talked to police and they said we saw him taking something from the property and running — there’s an OK shot the jury might have acquitted them," said appellate attorney Andrew Fleischman, who followed the trial from Atlanta.


Ahmaud Arbery's mom: Thankful for justice and son's legacy

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Ahmaud Arbery's mother woke up Thursday with a new, very important blessing on Thanksgiving Day.

But there will still be an empty chair at the family's celebrations. It is a reminder that while she feels justice was served when the three white men who helped shoot her son were convicted Wednesday for cornering and killing him as he ran through a coastal Georgia neighborhood, she will never be made whole again because her son is gone.

“This is the second Thanksgiving we’ve had without Ahmaud. But at the same time I’m thankful. This is the first Thanksgiving we are saying we got justice for Ahmaud,” Arbery's mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

The three white men who chased and killed Arbery in Brunswick in February 2020 were all convicted of murder Wednesday. They cornered Arbery after finding out he had been seen on a surveillance camera at a nearby house under construction and wanted to question him about recent burglaries in the area.

Arbery ran through the neighborhood and other areas near his home to clear his head. He had nothing in his hands and ran from the men for five minutes before one of them shot three times at him at close range with a shotgun. The men face life in prison when they are sentenced later and a federal hate crimes trial for them is scheduled for February.


Russia: Death toll in Siberian coal mine blast raised to 52

MOSCOW (AP) — A devastating explosion in a Siberian coal mine Thursday left 52 miners and rescuers dead about 250 meters (820 feet) underground, Russian officials said.

Hours after a methane gas explosion and fire filled the mine with toxic fumes, rescuers found 14 bodies but then were forced to halt the search for 38 others because of a buildup of methane and carbon monoxide gas from the fire. Another 239 people were rescued.

The state Tass and RIA-Novosti news agencies cited emergency officials as saying that there was no chance of finding any more survivors in the Listvyazhnaya mine, in the Kemerovo region of southwestern Siberia.

The Interfax news agency cited a representative of the regional administration who also put the death toll from Thursday's accident at 52, saying they died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It was the deadliest mine accident in Russia since 2010, when two methane explosions and a fire killed 91 people at the Raspadskaya mine in the same Kemerovo region.


France calls for European aid after 27 migrant deaths at sea

CALAIS, France (AP) — Helicopters buzzed above the waves and vessels were already scouring the cold waters when French maritime rescue volunteer Charles Devos added his boat to the frantic search for a flimsy migrant craft that foundered in the English Channel, killing at least 27.

What Devos found was gruesome. But not, he later sorrowfully acknowledged, wholly unexpected. With migrants often setting off by the hundreds in flotillas of unseaworthy and overloaded vessels into the busy shipping lane crisscrossed by hulking freighters, and frequently beset by treacherous weather, waves and currents, Devos had long feared that tragedy would ensue.

That came this week, with the deadliest migration accident to date on the dangerous stretch of sea that separates France and Britain.

“We picked up six floating bodies. We passed by an inflatable craft that was deflated. The little bit of air remaining kept it afloat,” Devos told reporters.

“I’d been somewhat expecting it because I’d say, ‘It’s going to end with a drama,’” he said.



South African scientists detect new virus variant amid spike

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country's most populous province, Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced Thursday.

The coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.

South Africa has seen a dramatic rise in new infections, Phaahla said at an online press briefing.

“Over the last four or five days, there has been more of an exponential rise,” he said, adding that the new variant appears to be driving the spike in cases. Scientists in South Africa are working to determine what percentage of the new cases have been caused by the new variant.

Currently identified as B.1.1.529, the new variant has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from South Africa, he said.


Biden wishes Americans happy, closer-to-normal Thanksgiving

NANTUCKET, Mass. (AP) — President Joe Biden on Thursday wished Americans a happy and closer-to-normal Thanksgiving, the second celebrated in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, in remarks welcoming the resumption of holiday traditions by millions of U.S. families — including his own.

“As we give thanks for what we have, we also keep in our hearts those who have been lost and those who have lost so much,” the president said in a videotaped greeting recorded with first lady Jill Biden at the White House before their trip to Nantucket, Massachusetts, for the holiday.

On the island, the Bidens visited the Coast Guard station at Brant Point to meet with personnel there and virtually with U.S. service members from around the world. “I’m not joking when I say I’m thankful for these guys,” the president said when asked what he was thankful for, referring to the Coast Guard members standing ramrod straight before him on the grounds as he departed.

Reporters were kept out of the room for Biden’s virtual remarks, apparently because of tight space in the building. Well-wishers waved and cheered as Biden's motorcade navigated the island's narrow paved and cobblestone streets to and from the Coast Guard compound.

Biden, whose late son Beau was a major in the Delaware Army National Guard, said he has watched U.S. service members in action around the world, from the South China Sea and Iraq and Afghanistan to South America. He said when foreigners wonder what America is, “they don't see us here,” meaning civilians. “They see them,” he said of members of the Coast Guard and the other branches of the U.S. military. “It makes me proud.”


Macy's Thanksgiving parade returns, with all the trimmings

NEW YORK (AP) — Giant balloons once again wafted through miles of Manhattan, wrangled by costumed handlers. High school and college marching bands from around the country were back, and so were the crowds at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

After being crimped by the coronavirus pandemic last year, the holiday tradition returned in full Thursday, though with precautions.

“It really made Thanksgiving feel very festive and full of life,” Sierra Guardiola, a 23-year-old interior design firm assistant, said after watching the spectacle in a turkey-shaped hat.

Thousands of marchers, hundreds of clowns, dozens of balloons and floats — and, of course, Santa Claus — marked the latest U.S. holiday event to make a comeback as vaccines, familiarity and sheer frustration made officials and some of the public more comfortable with big gatherings amid the ongoing pandemic.

To President Joe Biden, the parade's full-fledged return was a sign of renewal, and he called NBC broadcaster Al Roker on-air to say so.


Holiday season moves into high gear but challenges remain

NEW YORK (AP) — Buoyed by solid hiring, healthy pay gains and substantial savings, shoppers are returning to stores and splurging on all types of items.

But the big question is: How much will supply shortages, higher prices and staffing issues dampen their mood this holiday season?

Americans, already fatigued with pandemic-induced social distancing policies, may get grumpy if they can't check off items on their holiday wish lists, or they may feel disappointed by the skimpy holiday discounts. Exacerbating their foul moods is the fact that many frustrated workers called it quits ahead of the holidays, leaving businesses short-handed during their busiest time of the year.

Shoppers are expected to pay on average of between 5% to 17% more for toys, clothing, appliances, TVs and others purchases on Black Friday this year compared with last year, according to Aurelien Duthoit, senior sector advisor at Allianz Research. TVs will see the highest price spikes on average, up 17% from a year ago, according to the research firm. That's because whatever discounts available will be applied to goods that are already expensive.

Such frustrations could mute sales for the holiday season that are supposed to break records.


Raiders beat Cowboys 36-33 in OT on field goal after penalty

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Derek Carr and the Las Vegas Raiders got the third-down help they needed from Dallas cornerback Anthony Brown.

Daniel Carlson kicked a 29-yard field goal in overtime after Brown's fourth pass-interference penalty kept the drive alive, and the Raiders ended a three-game losing streak by beating the Cowboys 36-33 on Thursday.

Carlson's career-best fifth field goal came after Brown was called for interference on Zay Jones on third-and-18. All four of Brown's interference penalties came on third-down incompletions.

“The penalties obviously helped,” said Carr, whose 373 yards passing included a 56-yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson for the first points. “If they weren’t holding, we probably would have hit those plays.”

The Raiders had just two third-down conversions total the previous two games and were 3 of 13 in this one. But Brown topped that total all by himself.

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