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December 24, 2018

AUSTRALIAN APARTMENT BUILDING EVACUATED AFTER CRACKING NOISES HEARD

SYDNEY (AP) — A 33-story apartment high-rise near central Sydney has been evacuated after residents reported hearing cracking noises.

More than 140 residents of the Opal Tower in Sydney’s Olympic Park were forced from their homes along with occupants of nearby houses.

Train stations and roads near the building have been closed while New South Wales state fire and rescue personnel assess the structural integrity of the building. Aerial footage showed firefighters setting up tents around the building and redirecting pedestrians.

New South Wales Police said in a statement that several residents left the building this morning after hearing “cracking noises.”

Opal Tower has 392 apartments and opened only recently.

CHINESE - CHRISTMAS

SHANGHAI (AP) — At least four Chinese cities and one county have ordered Christmas decorations banned this year. The Associated Press has found that churches were warned to keep minors away from Christmas, and at least ten schools nationwide have curtailed Christmas on campus.

Christmas remains a shopping festival across most of China, but an emphasis on traditional culture from the highest levels of China’s ruling Communist Party and systematic suppression of religion under President Xi Jinping are imperiling Santa Claus.

It’s difficult to get a comprehensive view of how widespread Christmas bans are, but scholars say they are intensifying under Xi. They don’t appear to be a centrally organized purge of Santa Claus, but rather an accumulating resistance to foreign festivals by local authorities seeking to align themselves with growing cultural nationalism.

FORCED SCIENTOLOGY?

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A former employee of a Wyoming occupational therapy office alleges the owner of the business pressured her to take Scientology courses as a condition of her employment.

Julie A. Rohrbacher filed suit in federal court Dec. 17 against Teton Therapy, a group of physical and occupational therapy offices in four Wyoming locations.

The Casper Star-Tribune reports Rohrbacher worked at an office in Lander.

Rohrbacher claims in court documents that owner Jeff McMenamy declined to promote her and then forced her to resign in 2013, after she refused to enroll in Church of Scientology courses.

Rohrbacher sued under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits religious harassment at work.

McMenamy said neither he nor his attorney had seen filings in the case and could not comment on the lawsuit.

COMMERCIAL SIGN NEARLY HITS CAR

SAYVILLE, N.Y. (AP) — A man pulled his young daughter out of her car seat and to safety just as a commercial sign fell onto the top of their vehicle.

Newsday reports Brian Pullan was taking 2-year-old Layla out of his pickup truck Saturday in Sayville, New York, when he heard a noise.

He says he looked up to see the large store sign falling over — and jumped out of the way with Layla in his arms.

The sign hit Pullan’s truck and the car parked next to it. No one was injured.

Emergency responders came to the scene, as well as a man in a Santa costume who’d been doing a holiday event with firefighters.

Police say wind was likely responsible for the sign toppling over.

SCHOOL BUS DRIVER SHORTAGE

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — School districts throughout the U.S. are struggling to find school bus drivers, a challenge that has worsened with low unemployment and a strong economy.

The problem has become so severe that some districts are offering sign-up bonuses for new drivers, while others rely on mechanics, custodians and other school employees to fill the gap. For parents and students, the shortage can mean longer waits for a ride to school and more crowded buses.

The shortage stems from a variety of factors, including limited hours to work and high barriers to entry. Drivers generally need a commercial driver’s license, which requires training, sometimes without pay.

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