Battle for Mariupol, April jobs report, no Griner for WNBA season: 5 things to know Friday

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As Mariupol battle trudges on, Putin may be desperate for V-Day win

The Ukrainian military says the Russian effort to seize the steel mill in the beleaguered coastal city of Mariupol goes on. In a statement Friday, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces said “the blockade of units of the defense forces in the Azovstal area continues.” It added that assault operations had resumed in some areas to take control of the plant. The two sides also engaged in fighting Thursday with signs pointing to an increasingly dire situation for the resistance. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Thursday in his nightly address the attack on the plant was preventing the evacuation of civilians remaining in its underground bunkers. The continued fighting comes amid growing speculation that Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to present the Russian people with a battlefield triumph — or announce an escalation of the war — in time for Victory Day Monday, the biggest patriotic holiday on the Russian calendar. It marks the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany. 

US hiring was likely strong again in April despite various issues

For the past year, America’s job market has run like a well-engineered machine adding an impressive average of 540,000 workers per month – and gains have topped 400,000 every month since May 2021 – despite a punishing inflation rate, Russia’s war against Ukraine, a still-risky pandemic, jittery financial markets and the prospect of much higher borrowing costs. And most economists think the winning streak has continued: The Associated Press reports that economists surveyed by the data provider FactSet expect the Labor Department’s April jobs report out Friday morning to show that employers added 400,000 jobs That number, while strong, would be a slight dip from the 431,000 jobs U.S. employers added in March. Economists have also forecast that the unemployment rate remained at 3.6%, a notch above a half-century low reached shortly before the pandemic struck in 2020 and a drop from the 3.8% rate in February.

South faces more threats of severe weather after recent tornadoes

Severe weather threats will continue Friday in parts of the South and over the weekend in the central Plains and Midwest, according to the National Weather Service. No serious injuries were reported from tornadoes that went through Wednesday, but severe thunderstorms brought flooding and “large and dangerous” tornadoes to Texas and Oklahoma Thursday, the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, said. In Seminole, Oklahoma, the second violent storm in a week tore through the town. Debris was seen scattered throughout the city and several downtown buildings had been “completely destroyed,” according to social media reports. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said he toured the area Thursday and said that no one was hurt. No deaths have been reported. More than 7,000 customers in Oklahoma and Texas remained without electricity as of early Friday morning, according to online tracker PowerOutages.Us. Over 46,000 were without power Thursday afternoon. 

One week later, escaped murder suspect, guard remain at large

A week after Assistant Director for Corrections Vicky White, 56, and inmate, Casey White, 38, departed from the Lauderdale County Detention Center in Florence, Alabama, together, the two individuals remain on the run and at large Friday. In what appears to be a well-orchestrated jailbreak, the officer said she was escorting the inmate to a courthouse appointment that turned out not to exist, according to Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton. An investigation revealed that the relationship between them extended out of Vicky White’s work hours and included special privileges for Casey White. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday the two fugitives, who are not related, are “regarded as extremely dangerous” and that anyone who spots them should not approach them. Garland added that the U.S. Marshals Service had taken over leading the search for the pair, but investigators have not yet come up with any solid leads to locate them.

WNBA season begins without one of its biggest stars: Brittney Griner

The WNBA season gets underway Friday, but the league’s biggest story remains star player Brittney Griner’s ongoing detention in Russia. Griner, the Phoenix Mercury’s All-Star center, has been held there since February after authorities said a cannabis-oil vape cartridge was found in her luggage at the Moscow airport. The U.S. State Department has since classified her as being “wrongfully detained.” The league plans to recognize Griner with on-court floor decals featuring her initials and her number 42. Other major storylines entering the WNBA’s 26th season include the return of Becky Hammon, who takes over as coach of the Las Vegas Aces after serving as an NBA assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs since 2014. It could also be a farewell tour for two other league legends: all-time rebounds leader Sylvia Fowles of the Minnesota Lynx and all-time assists leader Sue Bird of the Seattle Storm, both of whom have indicated they are likely to retire after this season. 

Contributing: The Associated Press

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