Live Coverage

Today's News: Nov. 29, 2016

Deadly wildfires in Tennessee, plane crash in Colombia, Donald Trump’s cabinet picks, and more from the United States and around the world.


—At least three people have died in the fires that have engulfed eastern Tennessee, officials announced Tuesday. More here

—Colombia's civil aeronautics agency, Aeronáutica Civil, has retrieved two flight recorders from the site of Monday night’s plane crash in Medellín, which killed 75 of the 81 passengers on board. More here

—President-elect Donald Trump has tapped Elaine Chao, the former secretary of labor under George W. Bush, as his new transportation secretary.

—We’re live-blogging the news stories of the day below. All updates are in Eastern Standard Time (GMT -5).


This live blog has concluded

North Carolina Lawmakers Ordered to Redraw Districts

Gerry Broome / Reuters

North Carolina is getting new legislative districts. A federal court on Tuesday ruled lawmakers have until March 15 to redraw district lines and hold new elections by the end of 2017. The court found that some of the current districts were drawn using race as a major factor, which is unconstitutional. The state has 120 state House districts and 50 state Senate districts. “This gives the State a total of seven months from the time the districts were held to be unconstitutional, which is longer than it took the 2011 legislature to redistrict the entire state,” the order said, according to WRAL. Republicans have been able to use the current legislative map to dominate the state legislature. Democrats could make up ground with the new map and elections next fall. Opponents have already appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, which hears a similar case involving the state’s congressional map on Monday.

The Next U.S. Secretary of Transportation

Elaine Chao is heading back to the executive branch. As my colleague Nora Kelly reports, President-elect Donald Trump has tapped the former secretary of labor under George W. Bush as his new transportation secretary. Announcing the selection, Trump noted that Chao will serve a vital role in rebuilding infrastructure, one of his campaign promises. Chao had previously served as the deputy transportation secretary under George H.W. Bush. She is also married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. More on the Chao pick from Nora here.   

Newly-Elected UKIP Leader Calls for an Immediate Brexit

Neil Hall / Reuters

After being elected leader of the U.K.’s Independence Party on Monday, Paul Nuttall called for a “quick and clean Brexit” on Tuesday, advocating for the immediate repeal of the European Communities Act of 1972. In October, Prime Minister Theresa May expressed her plan to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon at the end of March, thereby initiating two years of Brexit negotiations with the EU. Repealing the European Communities Act of 1972 would instead allow for a more immediate succession. While repealing the act would likely receive support from conservatives in parliament, May has argued that the U.K. is not yet secure or stable enough for an immediate repeal. Nevertheless, Nuttall issued a strong call to action for an expedited Brexit following his victory speech on Monday. “We must hold the government’s feet to the fire on leaving the EU,” he said. UKIP’s Brexit spokesperson, Gerard Batten, echoed this statement on Monday. “I want UKIP to stop talking about Brexit and to start talking about exit,” he said. “Theresa May and her Tory government cannot be trusted to deliver our withdrawal from the EU.”

Three Dead in Tennessee Wildfires, Officials Say

Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers help evacuate residents after a mandatory evacuation was ordered in Gatlinburg, Tennessee on November 29, 2016. (Reuters)

At least three people have died in the fires that have engulfed eastern Tennessee, officials announced Tuesday, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel. No additional details about the deaths were given. Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said Monday that the fire, which has destroyed more than 150 buildings and displaced more than 14,000 people, is unprecedented for the area, adding that “the worst is definitely over with.” The wildfire was first reported to have covered 50 acres Sunday in Great Smoky Mountain National Park, though it quickly spread, engulfing approximately 500 acres by Monday. Neighborhoods affected by the blaze, including the mountain resort city of Gatlinburg, received evacuation orders. Here’s what the blaze looked like from Gatlinburg:

Thousands Protest at Airports and Fast-Food Restaurants Across the Country

Hundreds of protesters call for higher hourly wages in front of a McDonald's restaurant in New York City on November 29, 2016. (Mark Lennihan / AP)

Thousands of workers across the country gathered at some major airports and fast-food chains Tuesday to advocate for raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. The strikes are part of a larger campaign known as Fight for $15, which began four years ago in New York City. Since the campaign’s launch in November 2012, low-wage workers have received $61.5 billion in annual raises. Fight for $15 has dubbed Tuesday, the day of its four-year anniversary, a "Day of Disruption" in 340 cities and 20 airports nationwide. Protesters are also demanding union rights and better working conditions.

Here’s a protest at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport:

As of Tuesday afternoon, over 100 protesters have been arrested, including 39 in Detroit, 40 in Los Angeles, and 25 in New York City. Many cities are anticipating further mass arrests throughout the day. “We won’t back down until we win an economy that works for all Americans, not just the wealthy few at the top,” Naquasia LeGrand, a McDonald’s worker from North Carolina, said in a press release. “Until politicians and corporations hear our voices, our Fight for $15 is going to keep on getting bigger, bolder, and ever more relentless.”

Two Flight Recorders Found at Site of Colombia Plane Crash

The inside of the Bolivian Lamia airlines plane, which crashed into the Colombian jungle on November 29, pictured near Medellín, Columbia on October 4, 2016. (Reuters)

Colombia's civil aeronautics agency, Aeronáutica Civil, has retrieved two flight recorders from the site of Monday night’s plane crash in Medellín, which killed 75 of the 81 passengers on board. Among the deceased were members of a Brazilian soccer team headed to play in the finals of the Copa Sudamericana tournament in Medellín. The flight recorders, or “black boxes,” retrieved from the crash site may contain important insight into the possible electrical failure that caused the British Aerospace 146 to crash. Aeronáutica Civil tweeted around 2:20 p.m. ET on Tuesday that the boxes were found in “perfect condition”:

The Victims of Colombia's Plane Crash

A flower is pictured in a net of the Arena Conda stadium in tribute to the players of Chapecoense soccer team in Chapeco, Brazil, on November 29, 2016. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters)

The airplane that crashed in Colombia Monday night was carrying members of a Brazilian soccer team, coaches, staff, and journalists, Reuters reports, citing Colombia’s civil aviation authority. The chartered plane was transporting the Chapecoense de Brasil club from Bolivia to the city of Medellín to play in the first game of a two-part final of the Copa Sudamerican tournament on Wednesday. Seventy-two passengers and nine crew members were on board, along with coaches, team staff, and 21 journalists traveling with the team. Seventy-five people were killed in the crash, including many of the players. Six people survived the crash, including three soccer players, a journalist, a flight attendant, and a flight technician. Atletico Nacional, the Medellín-based team Chapecoense was scheduled to face in the final, said Tuesday the trophy should be awarded to Chapecoense in honor of the victims. This was the first time Chapecoense, which is based in the Brazilian town of Chapeco, had reached the final of a major South American tournament. The cause of the crash is believed to be an electrical failure.

Dutch Lawmakers Approve a Partial Burqa Ban

Toussaint Kluiters / Reuters

Lawmakers in the Netherlands’s lower house of parliament approved Tuesday legislation that would ban people from wearing full-face veils like the burqa in some public spaces, Deutsche Welle reports. The ban, approved by 132 of the chamber’s 150 members, extends to all face-covering garments in places such as schools, government buildings, and public transportation. Articles used for protection, like helmets, are excluded. If approved by the senate and signed into law, those violating the rule could face a 410 euro ($430) fine, which is considerably higher than penalties in France ($205) and Belgium ($197), whose governments have imposed similar bans. It is unclear how many people will be affected by the law—Muslims only make up 6 percent of the Netherlands’s 16-million person population, and fewer than 100 of them are believed to wear the burqa. Though the Dutch government said the proposal is for safety and described it as “religion neutral,” Geert Wilders, the head of the far-right Party of Freedom who is vocally anti-Islam, praised the legislation and said he would implement a full ban if elected in next year’s general election.

Tennessee Wildfires Threaten Aquarium With Thousands of Animals

Smoke plums rise from the Great Smokey Mountains near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, on November 28, 2016. (Reuters)

Wildfires that erupted in Tennessee on Monday continued to blaze Tuesday, destroying some structures and threatening many others. Along the path of fire is Ripley’s Aquarium in Gatlinburg, which evacuated its employees on Monday, leaving over 10,000 animals behind, including a number of endangered species. "As long as we have fuel in our generators, that aquarium can run on its own," said Ryan DeSear, the General Manager of Tennessee Ripley Attractions, who estimates that the animals can survive 24 hours without their human caretakers. As of late Monday night, DeSear said that the flames were about 50 yards away from the aquarium. “We need to be one of the first people allowed back in when it’s safe,” DeSear told WBIR. “I hope the people manning the checkpoint hear our plea.”

Another popular attraction, the Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, has also evacuated its guests, but remains free from damage. Emergency officials said Tuesday that about 100 homes have been damaged or destroyed and about 14,000 Gatlinburg residents have been evacuated from the town. As of this writing, no injuries or fatalities have been reported.

Damaged Chernobyl Reactor Gets a Massive Metal Shield

Gleb Garanich / Reuters

Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, held a ceremony on Tuesday to celebrate the completion of a giant metal dome placed around Reactor Number 4 at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident. The structure took years to build, is 530 feet long and 350 feet tall, and contains 36,000 tons of steel—making it one of the world’s heaviest movable buildings—and looks like an enormous half-circle airplane hangar. The structure was moved into place over weeks and is meant to prevent radiation leaks from the former nuclear reactor site, which melted down in 1986. The explosion at Chernobyl immediately killed 50 people, and is believed to have led to the early deaths of 4,000 others. Thousands more have suffered health effects from the radiation. A 20-mile exclusion zone has been in place since the meltdown, where people are prohibited to live. The Soviets hastily built a cement “sarcophagus” around the melted reactor after the accident, but it has been regarded as unstable, and fear of a collapse prompted the new structure. The dome is designed to last 100 years.

Dakota Access Pipeline Protesters Sue Police for Excessive Force

Police use a water cannon on protesters near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota on November 20, 2016. (Stephanie Keith / Reuters)

Protesters against the construction of an oil pipeline in North Dakota are suing county police for allegedly using excessive force during demonstrations. A class-action lawsuit was filed against Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier and other department officials Monday by the Water Protector Legal Collective on behalf of nine protesters who claim to have been injured during violent clashes with police on November 20 at demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The claim seeks a court injunction to prevent authorities from using certain impact munitions such as rubber bullets, explosive grenades, and sound and water cannons. The lawsuit cites several examples of injuries caused by these kind of munitions, including an explosion that caused 21-year-old Sophia Wilansky to nearly lose her arm. Protesters said the blast was caused by a concussion grenade thrown by police, but authorities say Wilansky’s injuries are “inconsistent with any resources utilized by law enforcement.” Kirchmeier, who said he had not yet received formal notice of the lawsuit, told the Bismarck Tribune Monday the munitions are “lawful tools” used to prevent officers from “being overrun by numbers of people.” People have been protesting the pipeline near Cannon Ball, North Dakota, for eight months.

South Korean President Says She’s Willing to Resign

South Korean President Park Geun-hye bows during a national address in Seoul, South Korea, on November 29, 2016. (Jeon Heon-Kyun / Reuters)

South Korean President Park Geun-hye announced Tuesday that she is open to resigning before the end of her term in February 2018 at the request of the nation’s Parliament. Park is accused of helping her close friend, Choi Soon-sil, extort tens of millions of dollars from South Korean businesses. Park has also been accused of giving Choi access to confidential government documents, allowing Choi to potentially meddle in state affairs. “I will abide to whatever arrangement the ruling and the opposition parties work out,” Park said on Tuesday. Opposition lawmakers have already dismissed the offer, saying they will continue to call for her impeachment on Friday. “This is nothing but a sly trick to avoid impeachment,” said a spokesman for South Korea’s Democratic Party. If allowed to resign, Park will be the first South Korean president to do so since Syngman Rhee, who fled to Hawaii in 1960 to escape civil opposition of his regime.

Black Friday Sees Record-Breaking Gun Sales

Elaine Thompson / AP

Gun sales after the election were expected to rise to new heights, but that was if Hillary Clinton won, sending gun owners in droves to the stores to buy up weapons they feared may soon be illegal, or at least harder to buy. But this Black Friday saw record gun sales, defying expectations, The Trace report. There is no single database for gun sales, so the most accurate estimates to track gun purchases is the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the system used to screen gun buyers. That figure put background checks on Friday at 185,713, Trace reported, slightly higher than last year’s total, but still counter to what was expected with the election of a Republican president. Thanksgiving weekend traditionally sees a huge spike in gun sales, as buyers are lured to stores by discounts. One reason for the climb in sales could be that gun stores had stocked up in case of a Clinton victory. When that didn’t happen, store owners pushed steep discounts to clear their inventory. There are also reported surges among nontraditional gun-owning groups, like black and Muslim buyers, which an NBC investigation tied to Trump’s election.

About 16,000 Syrians Flee Aleppo Under Government Bombardment

Abdalrhman Ismail / Reuters

The Syrian government’s recent advance into rebel-held districts in Aleppo has displaced thousands of people, and the rebels fighting there have lost more than a third of the territory they once controlled, the worst defeat since they took portions of the city in 2012. The government’s bombings the past two weeks have forced up to 16,000 people from their homes in eastern Aleppo, the United Nations humanitarian chief and relief coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said Tuesday. The Syrian government, backed by Russia and Iran, have beaten the remaining inhabitants back with constant air strikes, often targeting civilian buildings. More than 225 civilians have died since the government renewed its offensive in early November. All the hospitals in eastern Aleppo are believed to be destroyed, and food rations are dangerously low. Government ground troops are also sweeping the city, pushing rebels out to the east. The loss of Aleppo would mean the Syrian government controls the country’s five largest cities, and rebels will have been pushed back to the mostly rural areas and sparsely populated lands, where the Islamic State also controls territory.   

The Next U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services

The cabinet picks keep coming. My colleague Priscilla Alvarez reports President-elect Donald Trump has chosen Tom Price to be the next head of Health and Human Services, the department that includes health insurance programs for millions of Americans and agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. Price is a six-term Republican congressman from Georgia who has spent years criticizing the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature policy that Trump has vowed to repeal and replace, but has not said with what. More on the Price pick from Priscilla here.  

Classes Resume at Ohio State After Violent Attack

The car police say an attacker used to ram into pedestrians on campus Monday morning (Reuters)

Ohio State University students are returning to class Tuesday after a student allegedly attacked people with a car and a knife on campus a day earlier, injuring 11. The suspect, identified by the university as 18-year-old Abdul Razak Ali Artan, was shot and killed by a police officer within minutes of the attack. Police say Artan drove a car into pedestrians, then got out and began attacking them with a butcher knife. The assault put the school on lockdown for about two hours as police searched the grounds for any potential other suspects. University and police officials have not released any information about Artan, and a motive for the attack is not yet known.

Plane Crash in Colombia Kills 76

A chartered plane crashed in Colombia Monday night, killing 76 people, including members of a Brazilian soccer team, according to officials. Five people survived. The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane crashed near the city of Medellín at about 10 p.m. The cause was an electrical failure, according to aviation authorities, the AP reports. The plane was carrying members of the Chapecoense de Brasil soccer club, who were traveling from Bolivia to Medellín to play in the first match of a two-game final of the Copa Sudamericana tournament. The New York Times, citing Colombia's civilian aviation authority, reports six people were rescued: three players, two crew members, and a journalist traveling with the team. One of them later died.