MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — First the ring tone echoed outside the barbed-wire-topped walls of the Ebola clinic. Then came the wails of grief, as news spread that 31-year-old Rose Johnson was dead just days after she was brought here unconscious by relatives.
Soon her mother's sorrow became so unbearable, her body so limp and heavy, that even her two other daughters could no longer help her stand.
There had been no official confirmation of Rose's death from hospital officials, no time for someone to explain her final moments, just word from a family acquaintance inside who said her bed had been cleared that morning to make way for a new patient.
Her grieving husband stood in a daze outside the hospital, scratching air time cards so he could use his mobile phone to notify other family members.
"I've been here every day, every day, every day," says David Johnson, 31, now left with the couple's 18-month-old daughter Divine. "Up till now there has been no information. How can I believe she is dead?"
As the death toll from Ebola soars, crowded clinics are turning over beds as quickly as patients are dying. This leaves social workers and psychologists struggling to keep pace and notify families, who must wait outside for fear of contagion. Also, under a government decree, all Ebola victims must be cremated, leaving families in unbearable pain with no chance for goodbye, no body to bury.
"People are standing around for weeks. Nobody is coming to them. There should be a system in place for disseminating information but there is nothing," says Kanyean Molton Farley, a 39-year-old community leader in one of Monrovia's hardest-hit neighborhoods.
At least 1,830 people are believed to have died from the disease here in Liberia, and many fear the actual toll is far higher and rising fast. A recent update from the World Health Organization showed that more than half the cases in Liberia happened in the preceding 21 days.
Doctors Without Borders in Monrovia has three phone lines to answer calls from worried families. The group asks relatives to come in person for updates on their loved ones inside the 160-bed facility, but sometimes they get news from friends or family inside instead, says Athena Viscusi, a clinical social worker.
"We encourage them to come and meet with a counselor," says Viscusi. She notes that Doctors Without Borders hopes eventually to photograph the dead before cremation to help with identification.
Dozens of family members show up each day at the gates of the city's Ebola clinics, anxiously clutching cell phones and desperate for any update on their loved ones inside. They pace back and forth, leaving only to buy more phone credit. All the while, they keep a safe distance from those stricken with Ebola who huddle by the gates in hopes of gaining a coveted bed inside and a chance at life.
Linda Barlea, 32, is desperate to know what has become of her boyfriend of 13 years. One by one his family has been decimated by Ebola: First his brother, then his mother, then a sister, then another brother. Only the 7-year-old niece Miamu has survived, and then was chased from Barlea's home by fearful neighbors.
Barlea's mother called the clinic's official hotline for patient information and was told his name appeared on the list of the dead. Barlea says she needs to hear it for herself. But every time she calls now, she gets a busy signal. So she has shown up here, demanding answers before she will leave.
The lack of official confirmation has led to disastrous misinformation in some cases: Julius Prout's family held two wakes for him after being told by a security guard at the clinic that he was dead. Family members gathered first for several days at his parents' home, then at his uncle's.
Instead, health workers had merely moved him to another section of the hospital and burned his cell phone along with his belongings for fear of contamination.
When the 32-year-old nurse regained his strength almost a week later, the first thing he saw was a Bible given to him by a nurse. He says it is no coincidence that he opened it randomly to John 11, when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
Prout then borrowed a phone to call the family. All he could hear was the deafening sound of loved ones yelling and cheering in the background.
"We rejoiced and were so grateful that he was alive," says his uncle, Alexander Howard, 57.
Rumors only intensify the hellish wait for those like Alieu Kenneh, who took his 24-year-old pregnant wife to four different hospitals before they finally found a place for her at Island Clinic, the capital's latest Ebola treatment center.
Several days after Mandou was admitted, word spread that a pregnant women inside had died. Surely, though, there was more than one. Could it be her?
The last image he has of her, replaying in his mind, is as they slammed the ambulance door shut, telling him there wasn't enough room for him to join her on the ride. Then a disinfection team sprayed the bewildered man left watching it drive away.
Kenneh held vigil outside her clinic for seven days.. One week after she was admitted, the phone finally rang. The doctor said she had died five days earlier after going into labor. The baby had not made it.
Kenneh, who met his wife when the two were teenagers living in a refugee camp in neighboring Guinea, now can't bear to go back to the apartment they shared. Her photos and clothes are everywhere, along with the blankets they had bought for the baby.
On top of it, Monday was her birthday. She should have turned 25, he says in tears. She was so excited to become a mother, and didn't know the sex of the child she was carrying. A nurse told her husband it was a boy.
"We give them to God and we cannot say anything more than that," he says.
The tiny baby's body was cremated before Kenneh even knew his son had been born.
TOKYO (AP) — Huge boulders falling from the sky. Billowing gray smoke that cast total darkness over the mountain. Volcanic ash piling on the ground and fumes filling the air.
Some survivors of the eruption of Mount Ontake made a split-second decision to hide behind big rocks or escaped into lodges that dot the mountain's slopes. Outdoors, other hikers fell, hit by rocks or possibly suffocated by gases, and quickly buried in ash. At least 36 people were killed in Saturday's surprise eruption.
For survivors such as mountain guide Sayuri Ogawa, it was a near-death experience. The experience she recalled on Tuesday and the accounts of others suggest that luck and instinct made the difference between life and death for the hikers who were in harm's way.
Despite its impressive plume, the eruption was not a major one with lava flow. Yet, it proved deadly, because so many people were at the summit on a perfect day to enjoy hiking and the autumn leaves.
The eruption caught hikers by surprise. Seismologists had detected signs of increased seismic activity at Mount Ontake, one of Japan's 110 active volcanos, but nothing signaled a fatal eruption.
One moment, the hikers were enjoying the panoramic view at 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. Some of them were taking off their shoes and resting their feet after the morning climb. Others were cooking ramen noodles on portable stoves. The next moment, they were scrambling for shelter and running for their lives.
Ogawa, 43, was near the summit by herself, rehearsing an upcoming tour she was to escort. She was just starting the "bowl tour" around the crater when she heard an explosion, something like the noise of big fireworks, right above her head.
Some people were taking pictures of the plume rising, but she started running down. She saw big rocks shoot up high into the sky, their shape visible. Already down a bit from the summit, there was no building in sight, so she found a big rock to protect her from falling rocks. In the next moment, she smelled the powerful odor of sulfur.
"I couldn't breathe, and rocks kept falling down like rain," she said. "I thought I was going to die."
What must have been a few minutes seemed like forever. Then she felt a cool breeze in her face and could breathe. She moved to a place with better protection, ducking between two big rock formations where only part of her right leg was exposed. Smoke repeatedly blacked out any sights, and falling rocks smashed against the formation where she was hiding, some of them bruising her leg and hip. In the dark, rocks as big as a minivan, or a refrigerator, flew past her. The ash had accumulated to knee-high by the time she stood and ran to a lodge, to inform authorities of a woman with a leg injury she saw along the way.
Dozens of people were crammed inside the buildings as the rocks pelted, some penetrating the ceilings and walls and shattering the windows.
Ontake Summit lodge owner Tatsuo Arai, 70, knew the right escape. He was in town for shopping when the eruption occurred but remotely instructed two of his younger staff.
About 40 people took refuge at Arai's lodge for about an hour and a half, all of them staying on the first floor of the two-story building. He told them not to go near the windows because of the flying rocks.
Speaking briefly to save phone batteries, he gave crucial advice that probably saved dozens of lives: Avoid the area known as "Haccho darumi" near one of the craters, because he was worried about gasses. More than a dozen victims were found in the area. "It was my experience and gut feeling," he said.
A sixth sense seemed to help Hidenari Hayashi, a tour guide specializing in the central Japan mountains. His group of about 40 hikers who are mostly senior citizens, started early and by midmorning they had left the summit. But walking around the crater, he noticed an unusually strong smell of sulfur that he hasn't noticed in previous visits. Some of the hikers in his group complained about headaches from the gas. Just as a cable car carrying his group departed the station closest to the summit, an explosion sounded, which Hayashi thought was thunder at first.
"If we were two hours later, we were the first ones to have been hit," Hayashi said. "I'm grateful I'm still alive."
Ogawa was shocked when she returned to her home in the Nagao prefecture and saw footage of the eruption on TV.
"It was intense, it was almost surreal," she said. "I have to remind myself that anything can happen at the mountains."
WASHINGTON (AP) — The next time some nasty storms are heading your way, the National Weather Service says it will have a better forecast of just how close they could come to you.
The weather service on Tuesday started using a new high resolution computer model that officials say will dramatically improve forecasts for storms up to 15 hours in advance. It should better pinpoint where and when tornadoes, thunderstorms and blizzards are expected, so people could take cover.
"This will translate into lives saved and better decision-making on the part of the public," said Geoffrey DiMego, branch chief of the weather service's Environmental Modeling Center in College Park, Maryland.
While day-to-day weather forecasts have improved in accuracy quite a bit over the years, detailed and accurate predictions of individual storms has still been a problem, he said.
The new computer model has four times more resolution and instead of updating every hour, it will update every 15 minutes.
Until now, forecasts — not radar — would project storms as green blobs over half a state, such as northern New Jersey, said modeling center meteorologist Geoffrey Manikin. With the new computer model, "you can say there's a good chance of a thunderstorm in Trenton or Morristown" so instead of a giant swath of green, the forecast shows circles of projected storms. Trenton is almost 50 miles south of Morristown.
The 15 hours in-advance forecasts will look more similar to radar images people watch as storms arrive, Manikin.
And it will be for the entire Lower 48 of the United States on "an almost neighborhood scale," DiMego said.
While not a huge leap, this new model is "an important step" in making better forecasts, said Jeff Masters, meteorology chief for the private Weather Underground service.
Officials said two new supercomputers and five years of research make it possible for the upgrade in forecasts.
KIRKUK, Iraq (AP) — When Sunni militants captured Mosul, Iraq's second largest city, in June, Abu Sara and his family feared their town of Taza, located some 50 kilometers southeast of the city, would inevitably be next. Government soldiers had dropped their weapons and abandoned their posts — forcing residents to fend for themselves.
It wasn't before long before the gas was cut, then the water, ahead of the imminent onslaught. The family was left with little choice but to flee to the closest city that could offer them safe haven — Kurdish-dominated Kirkuk.
But life has been filled with hardship for Abu Sara and the tens of thousands of Iraqi Arabs who escaped one opponent only to face another. Displaced Arabs who fled to oil-rich Kirkuk say tensions with the local Kurdish population have surged amid fears that Arabs are linked to the Islamic State militant group that has seized a third of the country. Local and displaced Arabs complain of discrimination and attack from Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga, accusing them of trying to assert a Kurdish majority through intimidation.
"When we walk in the streets we are looked at with suspicion," Abu Sara said from his temporary residence at the home of Sheik Abdulrahman Menshed al-Assi, the head of the Sunni Obeid tribe in Kirkuk. "They assume we are all Daesh," he added, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, "and so they treat us like terrorists."
Kurdish forces claimed control of long-disputed city just days after the Islamic State group advanced across northern Iraq, seizing major cities including Mosul and Tikrit. Kirkuk, located along the fluid line that separates Kurdish northern Iraq from the rest of the country, is home to Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen, and all have competing claims to the oil-rich area. The Kurds have long wanted to incorporate the city into their semi-autonomous region, but Arabs and Turkmen are opposed.
In the courtyard alongside Abdullah Khalel Ibrahim's family home in southern Kirkuk, the sound of a car bomb a few blocks away prompts a brief, disinterested pause in his conversation with displaced relatives staying with him. A lifelong resident of Kirkuk, Ibrahim said discrimination against Arabs is not new, but is on the rise.
"Kidnappings, killings, difficulties finding jobs, difficulties moving around freely," he began, "all of that has doubled now. I lived in Kirkuk all my life and I feel unwelcome here."
Oum Hakem, his relative from Tikrit, said peshmerga soldiers almost denied her family entrance into the city when they were fleeing violence at home. "I have three college-age sons," Oum Hakem said, preferring to provide only her nickname. "They did not want to let them in, but it was very important for them to settle someplace to take their (annual) exams."
At government buildings across the city, pictures of Jalal Talibani, Iraq's former president, decorate private offices, conference halls and corridors, underlying the overwhelming loyalty of many in Kirkuk to his People's Union of Kurdistan.
Calls for Kurdish independence however have intensified since the militants began their lightening advance across northern Iraq. But to do so, the region would need a clear Kurdish majority, a status currently being undermined by a wave of refugees. At least 60,000 Arab and Turkmen displaced by the fighting have flooded into Kirkuk since June, according to Rakkan Ismail Ali, the province's deputy governor, and more than a million have fled to northern Iraq this year. The influx is prompting major security concerns.
"The city is not ready," said Ali, himself an Arab. "We don't know how the security forces are dealing with the situation. With the current mess, (we can't tell) if those who are coming to Kirkuk are Daesh or not," he said.
The Islamic State militants have looked to capture a number of oil fields, power plants, dams and factories in Iraq and Syria and have made an effort to push toward Kirkuk itself, which is home to over 10 billion remaining barrels of proven oil reserves, making it an appealing prize.
U.S. airstrikes began on Aug. 8 to support Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces taking on the Islamic State, and a number of countries have moved to support the Kurds with newer, more sophisticated weapons to boost their capabilities on the battle field. U.S. Central Command has reported a number of airstrikes near Kirkuk, including an attack on an Islamic State convoy this week.
Peshmerga soldiers who spoke to The Associated Press acknowledged that practices of exclusion take place at many of the checkpoints across the city, but insisted that it is strictly a security precaution.
"Peshmerga are now surrounding the borders of Kirkuk," and we have to pick out civilians from militants every day, said peshmerga Lt. Gen. Asso Ali, adding that sometimes that requires screening certain people in times of uncertainty. "It's our responsibility to keep the city safe."
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Lauren Swann pulled out her iPhone and posed for a selfie. Her boyfriend, John Servati, a swimmer for Alabama, leaned over her left shoulder. The only light in the basement allowed the camera to frame their smiles.
For that split second, everything was perfect.
The image captures the beginning of young love. Swann and Servati had been dating for exactly a month when the picture was snapped last April. It also captured the final moments of Servati's life.
The two huddled together in Swann's basement and sought shelter from the tornadoes that ripped through Mississippi and Alabama.
The photo was taken at 10:14 p.m. It's the moment that began a story the world soon would know: Servati saved Swann's life. In the process, he lost his.
Five months later, Swann is ready to tell the story of what happened after the smiles.
"It's such a crazy story that it's just like, it still kind of shocks you every single time," Swann said. "You're like, 'What? That really happened to me? How did this even happen?' "
Servati sat in Alston Hall taking a Management 300 test as an EF-3 tornado devastated his hometown of Tupelo, Mississippi. Swann saw the destruction on TV. She immediately called Servati's family. Everyone was safe, but the storm cells were moving east, toward Tuscaloosa.
When Servati finished his exam, Swann drove the couple back to her house. They would wait out the storm from her basement.
"We were thinking, 'Oh, there's a basement. That's where you go when there's a tornado,' " Swann said. "And my mom kept asking, 'I just want you to come home. I don't like this. My baby's away.' "
Swann, a native of Tuscaloosa, and Servati had dealt with tornadoes in the past. They decided against the five-minute drive to Swann's parents' house, which had a storm shelter. Instead, they stayed at her house.
They listened to the sirens from her front porch. They watched the lightning brighten the dark clouds.
The front door was left open, which allowed the sound from the TV to reach the patio. Servati heard the broadcast instruct anyone around Alabama's campus to take shelter immediately.
Swann avoided the basement. Despite the safety it was supposed to ensure, her instincts told her otherwise.
"His thought was basement," Swann said. "And I don't know why, but I was like 'No. No. No.' I was procrastinating like no other. I just didn't want to go. And I didn't know why."
The storms outside her green, three-bedroom house were getting stronger. Down in the basement, Servati grabbed Swan from behind, pulled her up and screamed, "Get up!"
She stood up only to have a concrete wall pin her against another.
"If he wouldn't have been paying attention," Swann said, "I would have just been crushed."
Water seeped into the basement. The cause is still unknown, but at the time it created a mini-mudslide. One of the concrete walls in Swann's basement gave way as the bottom flushed out first, pinning their legs as they stood. The top followed.
They were alive but couldn't move, pinned in a 4-foot hallway in Swann's basement. Servati's 6-foot frame allowed his head to extend beyond the walls. The weight of the collapsed wall pressed against Swann's head.
"It got to the point here I stopped breathing," Swann said. "That's when he looked at me and he said, 'I'm going to make sure you're OK whether I am OK or not.' "
Swann tried to respond but only gasped for air.
"I was like 'Oh, my gosh. I'm about to die,' " Swann said. "I honestly thought I was going to die."
Servati used his back for leverage. In one motion, he separated the collapsed walls by extending his legs perpendicular to his body, grabbed Swann and threw her out of the hallway. The wall then fell back on his chest.
"I guess adrenaline rush and the fact that God wanted me alive — I don't know," Swann said.
Swann found her phone and called 911. Then she called again as more water poured into the basement. She called again when the floor became quicksand and again when she began to sink. She was trapped again. Swann called 911 nine times. No one came.
"Who has to watch, sit there and watch somebody die and 911 doesn't respond to your phone call because you're freaking out?" Swann said. "The lady literally told me, I'm not sending anyone to your house until you calm down."
Throughout the chaos, one thought calmed Swann — if only for a second — a mission trip Servati planned in Lake Tahoe.
"When I was in the basement and everything was happening, I literally stopped. I stopped crying; I stopped everything," Swann said. "I was like, 'I'm going to Lake Tahoe.' "
Swann realized even then how odd the thoughts were.
"Then I thought to myself, 'No, I'm not. What?' " Swann said. "And then it just kept hitting me. At random times it would just hit me. And then I would snap back into it and be all upset again. I just felt like it was God pulling me towards it."
Prior to the storms, Swann didn't plan to join Servati on the trip. On June 12 she began the 36-hour drive to Lake Tahoe without him. She returned to Tuscaloosa at the beginning of August. She worked at a boutique, a profession far from the finance major's comfort zone.
The point of the mission trip was to help the participants conduct spiritual conversations regarding their journeys through life.
Swann shared her story more than 60 times.
"It's hard. There are times that you just want to handle everything on your own," Swann said. "And then you realize, 'Whoa, I can't do this.' You have to step back and surrender your thoughts to God — just realizing that it's OK to do that; that it's OK to admit you can't do it on your own."
Swann slept through the night for the first time in Lake Tahoe. Prior to the trip, she couldn't sleep longer than 30 minutes.
"Every time I would go to sleep I would have a dream," Swann said. "I would relive it, so I wouldn't go to sleep."
Swann wanted to share that moment in the basement. She snapped the selfie to send to her friends. But the Snap Chat never sent. She didn't save it. As the phone flew through the air, fate time stamped the image and saved it in her phone.
She took the picture at 10:14 p.m. She dialed 911 for the first time at 10:16. There is fire station is across the street from her home, but no one arrived until 11 p.m.
"I can't do a pullup. Somehow, I did a pullup on this vent and wiggled my way out," Swann said.
She spent 45 minutes trapped in her basement, watching her boyfriend die. When rescue crews arrived, six firefighters couldn't remove the wall Servati elevated to save his girlfriend.
They cut a hole in the dining room floor to pull him out and rushed him to the hospital. Swann didn't see him again until his funeral.
"I've literally had to sit there and tell myself, 'Lauren, there's a reason this happened,' " Swann said. " 'There's a plan for you. It's OK. It's going to be OK.' "
Five months later, Swann tries to block out that night in April. Instead, she remembers the smiles. How Servati overheard talk of the Swanns' deer hunting house. How he forced the lifeguard at Indian Hills Country Club to introduce him to the Swann family. How he messaged Swann on Facebook two years later after sharing finance classes, which led to their relationship. She remembered being the one he leaned on after he had shoulder surgery, which ended his swimming career.
"He was one of those people you walk into a room with and you just smile," Swann said. "You can't help but smile. If he's laughing, you're laughing."
The smiles continue today for Swann. Some days are easier than others. In the difficult moments, Servati's not there for support. Instead she leans on God, a relationship he helped her strengthen.
"Why be mad? As hard as it is to think about, this really is all part of God's grand plan," Swann said. "He has a purpose for my life just like he had a purpose for John's."
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The mobile payment service PayPal is splitting from eBay and will become a separate and publicly traded company next year.
Almost a year after billionaire Carl Icahn opened a proxy fight and pressured eBay for a spinoff of PayPal, eBay President and CEO John Donahoe announced the split Tuesday.
Donahoe will step down as CEO of eBay after overseeing the separation of the two companies and will not have a management roll in either of the two afterward. He may have a seat on the board at one or both, along with eBay Chief Financial Officer Bob Swan.
EBay, based in San Jose, California, said that the separation was the best path for growth and shareholder value creation for each business.
EBay is an e-commerce site that connects sellers to buyers. PayPal, acquired by eBay in 2002 for $1.3 billion, has been its fastest growing segment.
In the most recent quarter, PayPal gained 4 million new, active registered accounts, up 15 percent, to 152 million.
Consumers who use PayPal can send and receive payments online, with all transactions backed by prepaid user accounts, bank accounts or credit cards. The service is available in 203 markets worldwide and is on track to process 1 billion mobile payments in 2014.
But major competitors are now getting into the mobile payment sector, including Apple.
Last month Apple Inc. announced a new digital wallet service called Apple Pay that is integrated with its Passbook credential-storage app and its fingerprint ID security system.
There is a push away from traditional credit cards, particularly after a string of high-profile data breaches that have ensnared major retailers like Target and Home Depot.
Citibank predicts that the mobile payments business will grow from $1 billion last year, to nearly $60 billion by 2017.
"A thorough strategic review with our board shows that keeping eBay and PayPal together beyond 2015 clearly becomes less advantageous to each business strategically and competitively," Donahoe said.
Shares of eBay jumped 8 percent to $57.06 before the opening bell, close to its high for the year.
Dan Schulman, an executive at American Express, will be the new president at PayPal, effective immediately. The 56-year-old will become PayPal's CEO once the separation takes place.
Devin Wenig, currently president of eBay Marketplaces, will become CEO of the new EBay Inc. He will lead the eBay Marketplaces and eBay Enterprise businesses.