Merrit Kennedy

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for The Two-Way, NPR's breaking news blog. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.

Merrit joined NPR in Washington, D.C., in December 2015, after seven years living and working in Egypt. She started her journalism career at the beginning of the Egyptian uprising in 2011 and chronicled the ouster of two presidents, eight rounds of elections and numerous major outbreaks of violence for NPR and other news outlets. She has also worked as a reporter and television producer in Cairo for The Associated Press, covering Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Sudan.

She grew up in Los Angeles, the Middle East and places in between, and holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from Stanford University and a master's degree in international human rights law from The American University in Cairo.

Back-to-school season didn't last long this year in Puerto Rico. First Hurricane Irma and then Maria forced schools to close and turned the lives of students and their families upside down.

Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, says that of the U.S. territory's 1,113 public schools, 22 reopened last week and another 145 this week. They're hoping that the majority will be open by Oct. 23. Some are still functioning as emergency shelters.

Café Hacienda San Pedro, a trendy coffee shop in San Juan, is buzzing. A long line snakes through it. People are chatting; dogs sit snoozing. Everything looks normal.

But in a few months, it probably won't.

Updated at 8:23 p.m. ET

In central San Juan, Puerto Rico, a policeman waves cars away from a closed freeway at about the time that President Trump landed at the airport.

Rain is pouring straight through the bare wooden beams that used to be Angel Joel Alvarez Lopez's roof.

Hurricane Maria razed off half of the tin roof, and blasted all but three of his windows clean out of the wooden walls. A supporting wall fell off and has been hastily pounded back into place.

Over a San Juan freeway overpass, near the low-income Playita community, there's a sign that reads, "SOS Playita Needs Water and Food."

It was a cry for help put up by residents who say they waited more than a week after the storm without receiving any outside aid.

There was a feeling, says 21-year-old Edison Rodriguez, that his community was "running out of time. That you can only have so much water, so much food [between] each other. That's why they put out those signs outside."

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Updated at 5:10 p.m. ET

Saudi Arabia has reversed its long-standing and widely criticized ban against women driving.

Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud issued an order on Tuesday that paves the way for women to obtain driver's licenses, according to Saudi state media.

It might surprise you that Australia doesn't already have a space agency.

The country has been involved in the space field for decades — in 1967, it was among the first countries to launch a satellite. Two years later, a NASA tracking station in Australia received and transmitted the first TV images of Neil Armstrong taking the first steps on the Moon.

For the first time, a female Marine has completed the grueling Infantry Officer Course.

The 13-week course is considered one of the toughest in the U.S. military, and one-third of the class dropped out before graduation.

Residents of Iraq's Kurdish region cast their votes today in a controversial independence referendum seen as a way to signal the ethnic minority's desire for self-determination, despite strong opposition from regional and international powers.

The historic poll, which is nonbinding, took place in three northern Kurdish provinces of Iraq, as well as in disputed areas such as the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

A federal judge has sentenced disgraced former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner to 21 months in prison for sending obscene messages to a 15-year-old girl last year.

The sexting case played a role in the 2016 presidential election. Weiner's wife, Huma Abedin, who has filed for divorce, was a top aide to Hillary Clinton.

Berliners have voted to keep the centrally located Tegel Airport open, in a nonbinding referendum that has starkly divided the city.

The margin of victory in Sunday's vote was narrow, with 56 percent of voters supporting the plan. Tegel was built during the Cold War, when Berlin was a divided city, and has been scheduled to close after the opening of a new international airport called Berlin Brandenburg, farther from the city center.

After a cyberattack that potentially exposed the personal information of 143 million people, the credit reporting agency Equifax set up www.equifaxsecurity2017.com, a website to help people determine whether they had been affected.

However, on multiple occasions over the span of weeks, the company's official Twitter account responded to customer inquiries by apparently directing them to a fake phishing site called www.securityequifax2017.com.

Fossilized dinosaur feces are challenging some basic assumptions about dinosaur eating habits.

Hadrosaurs, a kind of duck-billed dinosaur, are among the most common herbivores of the Cretaceous period. But new research suggests that actually, these animals also chowed down on crustaceans. The prehistoric snacking was likely intentional and linked to mating behaviors.

The scientists found tell-tale crustacean shell pieces in samples of fossilized dinosaur feces about 75 million year old from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah.

A dispute over a $75 speeding ticket has climbed through the levels of Iowa's court system, reaching the lofty heights of the Iowa Supreme Court for oral arguments.

Marla Leaf got a speeding ticket because a camera allegedly caught her driving 68 mph in a 55-mph zone on an interstate freeway through the city of Cedar Rapids in February 2015.

After the revelation that a cybersecurity breach at the international credit reporting agency Equifax exposed personal information of 143 million people, the company has confirmed an additional security incident with a payroll-related service in the months prior. It says the two are unrelated.

Updated at 5:30 a.m. ET Wednesday

Even though Maria has weakened to a Category 4 storm, it remains a dangerous hurricane. Maria's maximum sustained winds are near 155 mph. The National Hurricane Center says the storm should keep that intensity until it makes landfall. Puerto Rico has long been spared from a direct hit by a hurricane.

Updated at 2:20 a.m. ET Wednesday

Iraqi authorities have moved a group of more than 1,300 foreign women and children — the family members of suspected ISIS fighters — and a refugee agency is raising the alarm about their precarious situation and the specter of retribution.

"The families had been held in a camp in Kurdish-controlled territory while Iraq figures out what to do with them," NPR's Jane Arraf reports.

Systematically paying women less than men. Promoting them more slowly. And denying them opportunities.

These are the allegations in a lawsuit against Google filed Thursday in San Francisco on behalf of three female former employees.

They're seeking class-action status to sue on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the past four years. "The lawsuit appears to be the first to make class action sex bias claims against Google," according to Reuters.

San Diego has started washing its downtown streets with bleach in an effort to combat an outbreak of hepatitis A that has killed at least 15 people and infected nearly 400.

The infectious disease has largely infected homeless people in the coastal California city, and part of the issue is an apparent shortage of public restrooms in areas where the population congregates.

There's good news on three primary U.S. economic benchmarks: the poverty rate, income level and number of people covered by health insurance.

New figures released by the Census Bureau Tuesday show median household income in 2016 was $59,039 — more than 3 percent higher than in 2015.

And because last year also saw income growth, "these are two consecutive years of strong income gains," the Census Bureau's Trudi Renwick told reporters.

Crowds poured into the streets in major cities across France to protest changes that President Emmanuel Macron wants to make to the country's labor code, waving flares and brandishing signs with sarcastic slogans such as "slackers of all nations unite."

The show of opposition, led by the far-left union CGT, is seen as the first major test for the recently elected leader.

Pollinators such as bees play a key part of producing the beans that go into your morning cup of coffee.

In fact, they are responsible for about 20 to 25 percent of coffee production by increasing the plants' yield, Taylor Ricketts, the director of the University of Vermont's Gund Institute for Environment, tells The Two-Way. Bees actually increase the quality of the beans by making their size more uniform.

It sounds like a bit of a head-scratcher: Department store giant Nordstrom says its new concept store won't actually have any clothing in stock.

Instead, Nordstrom Local will focus on free consultations with personal stylists, who will advise customers and then have the merchandise brought in. People can also get manicures and curbside pickup.

Prospective customers will be able to make appointments "online, over the phone or in-person," the retailer says.

A Florida state attorney gained national attention when she announced last March that her office would no longer seek the death penalty, setting up a months-long legal battle with Florida Gov. Rick Scott.

That's a battle State Attorney Aramis Ayala of Orlando has now lost, following a decision Thursday from the Supreme Court of Florida that the governor does have the authority to reassign first-degree-murder cases to a different prosecutor.

Updated 10:10 p.m. ET

A Utah nurse and her attorney have released video footage showing an officer roughly arresting her at University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. They say it amounts to assault.

The video shows an officer aggressively handcuffing nurse Alex Wubbels after she refuses to allow him to draw blood from an unconscious patient.

At a time when the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs are facing unprecedented destruction, researchers in Australia have found a small ray of hope for the fish that make the reefs their home.

Fish are more resilient to the effects of ocean acidification than scientists had previously thought, according to research published Thursday in Scientific Reports.

What should you do when confronted by a floating raft of thousands of fire ants?

Among the many scenes of devastation coming out of areas flooded by Tropical Storm Harvey, images of floating rafts of these ants have gone viral on social media.

In flooded Houston, with scores of businesses closed and homes evacuated, authorities are sending a message to those thinking of looting or price gouging: Taking advantage of the situation won't be tolerated.

Police are beefing up security over reports of looting during and after Hurricane Harvey. That includes imposing a curfew and stiffening penalties for crimes committed in the stricken area.

Bernard Pomerance, who wrote the Tony Award-winning play The Elephant Man about the life of a seriously deformed man in Victorian England, has died at the age of 76, according to his agency.

His agent Alan Brodie told The Associated Press that Pomerance "died Saturday of complications from cancer at his home in Galisteo, New Mexico."

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