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‘We will never take these people out of our prayers’; man thankful for help provided after crash in Orangeburg County

A Florida man is thanking the “angels” in Orangeburg County who saved his life last month.

“Wonderful people stopped. Twelve people stopped. Three were nurses and one of them held my head together. They were on the way to work. I told them they got an early start,” David Strauss of Delray Beach said.

Strauss, 71, was driving a 2015 Jeep on Sunday, July 19 when he crashed on Interstate 26 eastbound around mile marker 165.

The collision happened around 7 a.m., about six miles north of Bowman, according to S.C. Highway Patrol Lance Cpl. Tyler Tidwell.

Strauss was wearing a seatbelt when his vehicle traveled off the road to the right, struck a guardrail and hit a base pole of a bridge, Tidwell said.

Strauss said he blacked out, but noted he likely dozed off for just a brief moment as he headed from Brevard, N.C. back to his southern Florida home that he and his wife share.

By the time he woke up, Strauss was bleeding profusely from his head and his hand.

A moment later, one of the 12 “angels” managed to get him out of his vehicle and helped him walk away from it.

That helper smelled gasoline and didn’t want the vehicle to catch fire if the fuel tank ruptured, he said.

Strauss said he doesn’t know how he had the presence of mind to do it, but he managed to look back at his mangled Jeep and snapped a few photos before others arrived to help.

He said some of those helpers had gauze and bandages, so they stabilized his injuries until Orangeburg County EMS arrived a few minutes later.

Another of the helpers asked him, “May I pray with you?”

He told her, “Yes.”

He recalled that helper saying, “God saved your life and all of the guardian angels around you have.”

Once medics transported him to the Regional Medical Center, Emergency Department medical staff immediately began to treat him.

“I have nothing but accolades for them,” he said.

They cleaned his wounds, sewed dozens of sutures and took numerous CAT scans to check for internal bleeding or injuries.

He was amazed that the collision didn’t damage him internally.

One of the nurses asked him if he would like for her to call his wife.

“She told my wife that I was in a catastrophic car accident,” he said.

His wife, Beverly Strauss, remembers receiving that call.

She asked the nurse, “May I speak to him?”

A moment later, she heard him say weakly, “I’m OK.”

She was then faced with a dilemma. She wanted to see her husband as soon as possible, but they were 9-1/2 hours apart from each other.

She called people she knew in various places in the Carolinas to see how far they were from Orangeburg and to see if they could stay with her husband until she arrived.

Finally, she made contact with a friend she hadn’t spoken with in a while.

He and his wife live in Charleston.

They had a brief conversation and the friend said, “I’m on the way” before the call ended.

After medical staff determined that David Strauss was free of internal injuries and they got him stitched up, they discharged him.

He went outside to a park bench, he said.

About five or six minutes later, the Charleston friend arrived and Beverly Strauss met up with them in Charleston.

Beverly Strauss has worked for years as a trauma and ICU nurse, but when she finally saw her husband, it caused her to feel weak in her knees.

She was just thankful to see him and thankful he was going to be OK.

After taking a few days to recuperate in Charleston, the Florida couple safely made it back home.

And they took a bit of Orangeburg with them, they said.

“We will never take these people out of our prayers because they saved his life,” said Beverly Strauss.

“The Orangeburg, South Carolina people are wonderful. I wish the rest of the world was like them,” added David Strauss.

Negotiators report progress in COVID-19 aid talks

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers participating in rare weekend talks on a huge coronavirus relief measure reported progress on Saturday, as political pressure mounts to restore a newly expired $600-per-week supplemental unemployment benefit and send funding to help schools reopen.

“This was the longest meeting we had and it was more productive than the other meetings,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We're not close yet, but it was a productive discussion — now each side knows where they’re at."

Schumer spoke alongside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after meeting for three hours with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

The Democratic duo is eager for an expansive agreement, as are President Donald Trump and top Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But perhaps one half of Senate Republicans, mostly conservatives and those not facing difficult races this fall, are likely to oppose any deal.

Prior talks yielded little progress. The administration is willing to extend the $600 jobless benefit, at least in the short term, but is balking at other Democratic demands like aid for state and local governments, food stamp increases, and assistance to renters and homeowners.

Pelosi mentioned food aid and funding for voting by mail after the negotiating session was over. She and Schumer appeared more upbeat than they have after earlier meetings.

“We have to get rid of this virus so that we can open our economy, safely open our schools, and to do so in a way that does not give a cut in benefits to American workers," Pelosi said. She pressed her case for additional food aid and funding to facilitate voting by mail this fall as the pandemic rages on.

Mnuchin said restoring the $600 supplemental jobless benefit is critically important to Trump.

“We’re still a long ways apart and I don’t want to suggest that a deal is imminent because it is not," Meadows said afterward. “There are still substantial differences, but we did make good progress.

The additional jobless benefit officially lapsed on Friday, and Democrats have made clear that they will not extend it without securing other relief priorities. Whatever unemployment aid negotiators agree on will be made retroactive — but antiquated state systems are likely to take weeks to restore the benefits.

Republicans in the Senate had been fighting to trim back the $600 benefit, saying it must be slashed so that people don't make more in unemployment than they would if they returned to work. But their resolve weakened as the benefit expired, and Trump abruptly undercut their position by signaling he wants to keep the full $600 for now.

Meanwhile, Mexico now has the third most COVID-19 deaths in the world, behind Brazil and the United States.

Mexican health officials on Friday reported 688 new deaths, pushing the country’s confirmed total to over 46,600. That put Mexico just ahead of the United Kingdom, which has more than 46,100, according to the tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Some countries are seeing hopeful signs: China reported a more than 50% drop in newly confirmed cases in a possible indication that its latest major outbreak in the northwestern region of Xinjiang may have run its course.

However, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, infections continue to surge. Hong Kong reported more than 100 new cases as of Saturday among the population of 7.5 million. Officials have reimposed dining restrictions and mask requirements.

Tokyo on Saturday saw its third day straight of record case numbers, the metropolitan government said. Nationwide, Japan's daily count of cases totaled a record 1,579 people Friday, the health ministry said.

And Vietnam, a former success story, is struggling to control an outbreak spreading in its most famous beach resort. A third person died there of coronavirus complications, officials said Saturday, a day after it recorded its first-ever death as it wrestles with a renewed outbreak after 99 days with no local cases.

South Africa on Saturday surpassed 500,000 confirmed cases, representing more than 50% of all reported coronavirus infections in Africa’s 54 countries. Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize announced 10,107 new cases Saturday night, bringing the country’s cumulative total to 503,290, including 8,153 deaths.

Back in the United States, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said Saturday he tested positive for the coronavirus days after he sat close to another member of the panel, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, who also tested positive.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., said in a statement that he has the virus but, like Gohmert, has no symptoms. He is at least the 11th member of Congress known to have tested positive for the coronavirus.

It's unclear where Grijalva, 72, caught the virus and whether it was from Gohmert, a Republican who has questioned the use of masks and often walked around the Capitol without one. Grijalva went into isolation after Gohmert tested positive on Wednesday, since the two had sat close to each other at a Natural Resources hearing the day before.

“While I cannot blame anyone directly for this, this week has shown that there are some members of Congress who fail to take this crisis seriously," Grijalva said in the statement.

Isaias weakens; may strengthen on path to virus-hit Florida

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and churned toward the Florida coast, threatening to complicate efforts to contain the coronavirus in places were cases are surging.

Isaias — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but was expected to regain hurricane strength overnight as it barrels toward Florida.

“We’ll start seeing impacts tonight," Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned during a news conference. "Don’t be fooled by the downgrade.”

Isaias is piling another burden on communities already hard-hit by other storms and sickness.

Florida authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they won't blow away. The governor said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week's supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian. Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas opened shelters for people in Abaco island to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.

The storm's maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were near 70 miles per hour at 5 p.m., when the U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded it its status. But the agency said it is expected to pick up strength overnight as it heads over warm water toward Florida.

The center of the storm is forecast to approach the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday morning and then travel along the state's east coast throughout the day. It is expected to remain a hurricane through Monday then slowly weaken as it climbs up the Atlantic. Heavy rain, flooding and high winds could batter much of the east coast this week.

Despite the approaching storm, NASA says the return of two astronauts aboard a SpaceX capsule is still on track for Sunday afternoon. Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are preparing to make the first splashdown return in 45 years, after two months docked at the International Space Station. They are aiming for the Gulf of Mexico just off the Florida Panhandle, and flight controllers are keeping close watch on the storm.

Isaias has already been destructive in the Caribbean: On Thursday, before it became a hurricane, it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.

Concerns about the coronavirus and the vulnerability of people who are still recovering from Dorian were adding to worries about the storm.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis relaxed a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the storm, but imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be open as long as weather permitted.

“The center of COVID-19 now is in Grand Bahama,” the island’s minister, Sen. Kwasi Thompson, told government-run ZNS Bahamas. “No one wanted to see a situation where we are now facing a hurricane.”

The Bahamas has reported more than 570 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 14 deaths. It recently barred travelers from the U.S. following a surge in cases after it reopened to international tourism.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that people on Grand Bahama were still standing in line for gas on Saturday ahead of the storm.

“People are doing the best they can to prepare, but a lot of businesses still have not fully repaired their roofs or their structures" since Dorian, said Miller. “Even a lower level storm could really set them back.”

As the storm moves now toward the southeast coast of Florida, a hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler county line, which lies about 150 miles north. A storm surge watch is in effect for Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach.

Coronavirus cases have surged in Florida in recent weeks, and the added menace of a storm ratcheted up the anxiety. State-run virus testing sites are closing in areas where the storm might hit because the sites are outdoor tents, which could topple in high winds.

Natalie Betancur, stocking up at a grocery in Palm Beach Gardens, said that the storm itself doesn't cause her a great amount of concern.

“The hurricane is not that serious, but I feel that the public is really panicking because it’s a hurricane and we’re in the middle of a pandemic," she said.

DeSantis, the governor, said Saturday that 16 counties have declared states of emergency, although no immediate evacuation orders have been given. The Republican also said that hospitals are not being evacuated of coronavirus or other patients.

Still, the pandemic forced officials to wrestle with social-distancing rules at the same time as disaster response.

At one of four shelters in Palm Beach County on Saturday afternoon, people had their temperatures checked at the door before entering. Public buses are transporting residents to the shelter as crews work to sanitize the buses between stops.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said each person in a shelter needed to have 40 square feet (nearly 4 square meters), and cafeteria-style dining would not be allowed. Any evacuees infected with the new coronavirus would be isolated in classrooms separate them from the general population, Giménez said.

Kevin Shelton, the owner of Causeway Mowers in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, said his store has been packed since Friday. Folks streamed in to buy generators, chain saws and other provisions. On Saturday morning, Shelton and his wife served at least 25 customers an hour, double the business they’d normally do on a weekend.

“We’ve been in the area almost 50 years. We keep an eye on every storm," he said. "It could shift in this direction at any moment.”