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KUNR Today: Longtime Nevada Senator Harry Reid dies, Sisolak declares state of emergency

An image of former Nevada Senator Harry Reid looking at an earthquake simulation
National Science Foundation
Sen. Harry Reid looks at a table-top version of a shake table from the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) at the University of Nevada, Reno, in November 2009.

Read or listen to the morning news headlines for Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021.

Former US Senate majority leader Harry Reid dies at 82
By The Associated Press

Harry Reid, the former Senate majority leader and Nevada’s longest-serving member of Congress, has died at home in Henderson, Nevada. He was 82. Landra Reid says her husband died peacefully Tuesday after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

The combative former boxer-turned-lawyer was widely-acknowledged as one of toughest dealmakers in Congress. Over a 34-year career in Washington, Reid thrived on behind-the-scenes wrangling and kept the Senate controlled by his party through two presidents, a crippling recession and the Republican takeover of the House after the 2010 elections. He retired in 2016.

President Joe Biden said in a statement after the death of his longtime Senate colleague: “If Harry said he would do something, he did it."

Nevada Gov. Sisolak declares state of emergency due to winter weather
By Gustavo Sagrero

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has declared a State of Emergency due to dangerous road conditions from winter weather in Northern Nevada.

The declaration gives state officials the authority to order drivers to turn around and head back into the valley, in hopes of preventing folks from getting stuck in the snow. Drivers in the Tahoe region have already needed assistance from emergency services a couple times. Some have even taken backroads, only to end up stuck in the snow.

South Lake Tahoe officials urge non-essential drivers to stay away
By Noah Glick

The city of South Lake Tahoe has activated its emergency operations center to help manage the local effects from this latest round of winter storms.

In a statement, City Manager Joe Irvin is urging that people stay away from the area, as emergency resources are at or near capacity. He warns that anyone traveling in the area for non-essential purposes risks running out of gas or charge in their vehicle and becoming stranded on extremely congested roadways.

Tahoe area experiencing record levels of snow
By Gustavo Sagrero

Snowfall around the Tahoe region has broken several monthly snowpack records, including at the Central Sierra Snow Lab.

Scott McGuire with the National Weather Service said that just in the past seven days, the Central Sierra Snow Lab has received a little less than 10 feet of snow, helping set a new record for the month of December.

The same weather patterns that have created the Sierra storm have also had surprising effects in other parts of the country.

"Alaska set their warmest temperature ever recorded in December, two days ago, and here we have just, you know, setting [the] December snowfall record," McGuire said.

Extreme weather due to climate change isn't new to the region. McGuire said the effects of the ongoing drought are still lingering today.

"There's been a number of tree falls across area. The trees were weakened from the drought and they ended up snapping with the heavy snow loads, and the powerlines, trees, all kinds of stuff, has been down and over the roadways," he said.

As this storm subsides and New Year’s Day comes closer, McGuire warns of single-digit weather.

Affordable housing support could happen without Biden's federal spending package
By Bert Johnson, Mountain West News Bureau

The Build Back Better Act was supposed to provide more funding for affordable housing, but some experts say federal housing support will likely increase even without it.

Communities across our region are facing a critical shortage of affordable housing, so local governments and developers were excited to see expanded financial support in President Joe Biden’s signature legislation. That is, until West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin doomed the bill by announcing he wouldn’t vote for it. Brian Bonnenfant with the Center for Regional Studies in Nevada said all is not lost.

"Just because Build Back Better, the package, did not pass does not mean that much-needed spending in very specific and targeted areas cannot still move forward," he said.

Much of that spending comes through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, the nation’s most important resource for creating affordable housing. Bonnenfant said the housing crisis remains a top priority for many communities, so he expects Congress to increase funding for tax credits and other programs moving forward.

Rural residents dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate as rural residents
By Robyn Vincent, Mountain West News Bureau

Rural residents in our region who contract COVID-19 are dying at twice the rate of those living in urban areas. Keith Mueller is a professor of rural health policy at the University of Iowa. He points to multiple factors at play, including low vaccination rates.

"The best way to avoid the death rate is to avoid the case rate and bring the case rate down, and so that's helping people understand the importance of vaccination," he said.

Experts like Mueller are pointing out that getting vaccinated and boosted will help prevent the likelihood of severe illness and death from COVID-19.

California 1st state to top 5M cases amid omicron surge
By The Associated Press

California became the first state to record more than 5 million known coronavirus infections. The state dashboard reported the numbers Tuesday, which were delayed because of the holiday weekend.

The grim milestone, as reported by the California Department of Public Health, wasn’t entirely unexpected in a state with 40 million residents poised for a surge in new infections amid holiday parties and family gatherings forced indoors by a series of winter storms.

California’s caseload is ahead of other large states. Texas had more than 4.4 million and Florida topped 3.9 million as of Sunday. The state has recorded more than 75,500 deaths related to COVID-19.

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