Special Report: Auditing The Disaster Aid For 2013 Tornadoes And Storms

Federal public-assistance funds are paying for the rebuilding of Plaza Towers Elementary School, in which seven children died in the May 20, 2013, tornado. The school is expected to open next month.
Clifton Adcock Oklahoma Watch

The tornadoes and storms that devastated Oklahoma and killed 34 last year triggered the release of tens of millions of dollars in federal and state aid that will keep flowing for years.

To date, the federal government has approved up to $257 million in disaster assistance of various kinds to help re build damage and help victims of the winds and flooding that struck between May 18 and June 2, 2013, and to mitigate future risks.

The state has contributed an additional $10.5 million, and private insurers are paying about $1.1 billion. Charities also have pumped in aid.

The relief aid stemming from Disaster No. 4117, as it is called by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is arriving through several channels, heading ultimately to state and local agencies, contractors, businesses and individuals.

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The Two-Way
11:12 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Russia Recognizes Independent Crimea; U.S. And EU 'Stand Firm' With Ukraine

A pile of the votes cast Sunday in Simferopol, Ukraine, the regional capital of Crimea.
Dan Kitwood Getty Images

Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 2:28 pm

Updated at 3:10 p.m. ET.

Russia has officially recognized Crimea as a sovereign independent state, after President Vladimir Putin signed a decree to that effect late Monday, according to a release from the Kremlin. The decree takes effect immediately, naming "the Republic of Crimea, in which the city of Sevastopol has a special status."

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Oklahoma Watch
11:00 am
Mon March 17, 2014

OKC, Tulsa Superintendents Weigh In On Read-Or-Fail Law, Common Core, The Arts

Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, and Dave Lopez, interm superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, answer questions from the audience on a range of education issues at an Oklahoma Watch-Out forum on March 6.
Credit Carmen Forman / Oklahoma Watch

Third-grade reading, new education standards, teacher pay and the arts were among key issues addressed by superintendents from Oklahoma’s two largest public school systems during an education forum last week.

Dave Lopez, interim superintendent of Oklahoma City Public Schools, and Keith Ballard, superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, fielded questions from an audience of more than 50 during the forum, held at Kamp’s 1910 Café in Oklahoma City. The forum was sponsored by Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit journalism organization.

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The Two-Way
9:59 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Westboro Baptist Will Find Justification To Continue, Pastor's Son Says

Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps' followers believe "they're not going to feel the sting of death," one of his sons says. Phelps, who's now in hospice care, is seen here at the Topeka, Kan., church in 2006.
Charlie Riedel AP

Originally published on Mon March 17, 2014 10:44 am

Westboro Baptist Church founder Rev. Fred Phelps Sr. is in hospice care and near death, according to family and church members say. His estranged son says the longtime pastor's passing would put his followers in a crisis, because the church's members "think that death is a judgment from God."

"So far, that illusion has held because none of them has passed," Nathan Phelps continues in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

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Oklahoma Tornado Project
7:30 am
Mon March 17, 2014

Sounding The Social Media Alarm During Severe Weather

Harold Brooks, Rick Smith and Michelann Ooten speak about storm safety at The Oklahoma Tornado Project's March 12, 2014 forum.
Credit Kate Carlton / Oklahoma Tornado Project

With tornado season approaching, many Oklahomans will turn to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to stay informed of the latest hazards. 

Use of these outlets explodes during severe weather outbreaks, as people try to disseminate information, share pictures and update each other on the course of the storm. But despite their ability to quickly deliver breaking news, social media can often contribute to spreading outdated information. 

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Around the Nation
8:04 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Kansas Legislature Scolds Itself Over Slew Of Contentious Bills

Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick says it's not his job to discourage legislators from proposing bills. But if it were, he says, some of the recent legislation might not have come to the floor.
John Milburn AP

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 5:35 pm

Some Kansas lawmakers have been getting a lot of attention during this legislative session for controversial bills they've introduced. Some lawmakers argue that the initiatives are distracting from core issues, like the economy, and are casting a negative light on the state.

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Indian Times
5:16 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Caddo Nation, The NCAI And The Festival Of The Four Winds On Indian Times

Credit Native American Seals/Logos / Flickr.com

Caddo Nation Swears In New Chairman Amidst Protest

The Native American Times newspaper reports the Caddo Nation has sworn in a new chairman, Anthony Cotter, despite the claim from Brenda Edwards, via the tribe’s website, that she is the chairman of the Caddo Nation.

With two factions claiming to lead the 5,500 citizens of the Caddo Nation, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has called the tribe a “high risk contractor/grantee” at the end of last year.

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The Two-Way
1:13 pm
Sun March 16, 2014

Flight 370: Investigators Seek Help, Motive For Jet's Disappearance

Relatives of Chinese passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 met officials at a Beijing hotel Sunday. The flight disappeared from radar more than a week ago.
Mark Ralston AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 10:47 am

Malaysian officials are asking more than a dozen nations to help find the jetliner that went missing last weekend. The search area for the Boeing 777 was widely expanded Saturday; investigators are now looking for potential motives among the plane's crew and passengers to disrupt the flight.

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The Two-Way
8:54 am
Sun March 16, 2014

Crimea Overwhelmingly Supports Split From Ukraine To Join Russia

People in Simferopol, Ukraine, attend a pro-Russian rally in Lenin Square after a day of voting on whether to unite with Russia. Exit polls show strong approval for the move, according to Russian state-run media.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Sun March 16, 2014 8:59 pm

  • NPR's Gregory Warner on 'Weekend Edition Sunday'
This post will be updated throughout the day Sunday.

Russian news services are claiming overwhelming support in Crimea for the region's plan to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia, citing exit polls from Sunday's referendum. Russia's state news agency reports that afer 50 percent of the votes had been processed that more than 95 percent of voters said they were in favor of joining Russia.

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The Two-Way
2:54 pm
Sat March 15, 2014

Russia Vetoes U.N. Security Council Resolution On Crimea

Russia has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would invalidate Sunday's referendum in Crimea. In Moscow, demonstrators and military veterans march in support of the Kremlin Saturday; nearby, a large march was held to protest Russia's policies.
Alexander Zemlianichenko AP

Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 4:54 pm

One day before Crimea holds a referendum on leaving Ukraine, Russia has vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to affirm Ukraine's sovereignty and national borders. The measure would have declared the referendum in Crimea invalid.

Russia, a permanent member of the council, was the sole vote against the resolution, which had the support of 13 countries attending Saturday's emergency meeting. China abstained from voting.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports for our Newscast unit:

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The Two-Way
9:07 am
Sat March 15, 2014

Prime Minister: 'Deliberate Action' Disabled Missing Jet's Systems

A woman reads messages for passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Saturday.
Lai Seng Sin AP

Originally published on Sat March 15, 2014 7:51 am

Malaysia's prime minister says he is now certain that someone disabled the communication systems on the passenger jet that disappeared last week with 239 people aboard.

The missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flew more than six and a half hours after its last communication with air traffic control, Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a news conference early Saturday.

"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," he said.

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