Saturday, March 3, 2012

Published:

Crews search for survivors after storms leave at least 38 people dead in Midwest, South

WEST LIBERTY, Ky. (AP) -- Rescue workers with search dogs trudged through the hills of Kentucky, and emergency crews in several states combed through wrecked homes in a desperate search Saturday for survivors of tornadoes that killed dozens of people.

But amid the flattened homes, gutted churches and crunched up cars, startling stories of survival emerged, including that of a baby found alone but alive in a field near her Indiana home, a couple who were hiding in a restaurant basement when a school bus crashed through the wall, and a pastor nearly buried in his church's basement.

The storms, predicted by forecasters for days, killed at least 38 people in five states -- Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich proclaimed an emergency. President Barack Obama offered Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance as state troopers, the National Guard and rescue teams made their way through counties cut off by debris-littered roads and knocked down cellphone towers.

The landscape was littered with everything from sheet metal and insulation to crushed cars and, in one place, a fire hydrant, making travel difficult.

No building was left untouched in West Liberty, a small eastern Kentucky farming town in the foothills of the Appalachians. Two white police cruisers had been picked up and tossed into city hall, and few structures were recognizable.

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GOP presidential rivals vie for delegates in Washington caucuses, prelude to Super Tuesday

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and their Republican presidential rivals vied for delegates Saturday in Washington state caucuses, a quiet prelude to 10 Super Tuesday contests next week in all regions of the country.

Romney, Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul all campaigned in the first West Coast state to vote in the Republican presidential race, but a minimal television ad campaign turned it into a relatively low-key contest.

There were 40 delegates at stake, and a likelihood that two or perhaps more of the contenders for the nomination to oppose President Barack Obama would add to their totals.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had 173 delegates at the beginning of the day, according to an Associated Press count that includes party officials who will vote on the selection of a nominee, but are not selected at primaries or caucuses. Santorum had 87, Gingrich 33 and Paul 20. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention next summer in Tampa.

Romney wrapped up his Washington campaigning on Friday night, where he told a large crowd he would focus on creating jobs if he wins the White House.

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BP settles with people, businesses affected by spill but still must deal with government

NEW YORK (AP) -- BP's settlement deal with thousands of victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is a major step toward putting the worst oil spill in U.S. history behind it.

BP says it will not have to increase the $37.2 billion it has set aside to pay for the spill, and analysts say the settlement could allow BP to quickly resolve outstanding claims by states and the federal government.

If approved by a federal court in New Orleans, Friday's deal would settle lawsuits filed by some 100,000 individuals and businesses affected by the spill. They include fishermen who lost work, cleanup workers who got sick and others who claimed harm from the oil giant's April 20, 2010, disaster.

The accident destroyed a drilling rig called the Deepwater Horizon, killed 11 workers, spilled an estimated 200 million gallons of oil and disrupted thousands of Gulf Coast lives. The spill soiled sensitive tidal estuaries and beaches, killed wildlife and closed vast areas of the Gulf to commercial fishing.

The momentous settlement announced late Friday will have no cap to compensate the plaintiffs, though BP PLC estimated it would have to pay out about $7.8 billion, making it one of the largest class-action settlements ever.

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Fresh assault on Homs as Red Cross seeks access to bloodied Baba Amr district

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syrian forces launched a fresh assault on Homs on Saturday as the Red Cross pressed forward with efforts to deliver badly needed aid to thousands of people stranded in a besieged neighborhood despite warnings from regime troops of land mines and booby traps.

Two days after they fought their way into the rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, government forces shelled several other neighborhoods of the city, the country's third largest with about 1 million people. They included districts where many of Baba Amr's residents had fled, activists said.

The Syrian regime has said it was fighting "armed gangs" in Baba Amr, which has become a symbol of the nearly year-old uprising against President Bashar Assad's authoritarian rule. The revolt has killed more than 7,500 people, according to the U.N.

The Local Coordination Committees activist network said mortars slammed into the districts of Khaldiyeh, Bab Sbaa and Khader.

Abu Hassan al-Homsi, a doctor at a makeshift clinic in Khaldiyeh, said he treated a dozen people who were wounded, most lightly.

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AP Sources: Pentagon officials consider handing over Afghan war to CIA-led special operations

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Top Pentagon officials are considering putting elite special operations troops under CIA control in Afghanistan after 2014, just as they were during last year's raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, sources told The Associated Press.

The plan is one of several possible scenarios being debated by Pentagon staffers. It has not yet been presented to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, the White House or Congress, the sources said.

If the plan were adopted, the U.S. and Afghanistan could say there are no more U.S. troops on the ground in the war-torn country because once the SEALs, Rangers and other elite units are assigned to CIA control, even temporarily, they become spies.

No matter who's in charge, the special operations units still would target militants on joint raids with Afghans and keep training Afghan forces to do the job on their own.

The idea floated by a senior defense intelligence official comes as U.S. defense chiefs try to figure out how to draw down troops fast enough to meet the White House's 2014 deadline. Pentagon staffers already have put forward a plan to hand over much of the war-fighting to special operations troops. This idea would take that plan one step further, shrinking the U.S. presence to less than 20,000 troops after 2014, according to four current and two former U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the program involves classified operatives.

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Campaigning Sarkozy excludes special consideration for Muslims like halal meat in schools

PARIS (AP) -- The issue of France's Muslims moved front and center into the presidential campaign with the incumbent, Nicolas Sarkozy, excluding on Saturday any special indulgences for halal meat or separate swimming hours for Muslim women in public pools.

Echoing his 2007 campaign, Sarkozy insisted that French civilization must prevail in France. He created France's first Ministry of Immigration and National Identity after being elected, but has since done away with it.

Muslims, and immigration, are constant themes in recent French presidential races, but the topic is rising to the fore with vehemence as the April 22 first-round vote nears -- 50 days from now. The final round is May 6.

Critics say Sarkozy is ogling supporters of extreme-right candidate Marine Le Pen, who is third in polls after front-runner Francois Hollande, a Socialist, and the conservative president. Le Pen, who succeeds party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, her father, has worked to erase the image of the party as anti-Semitic -- but now castigates what she says is the profile of Islam in France.

There are an estimated 5 million Muslims in France, the largest such population in Western Europe, and the latest generation is making increasing demands that the country accommodate needs set out by their religion or their customs.

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In appeal to female voters, Obama seeks to recast contraception debate on his own terms

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is casting the contraception controversy as an issue of women's rights, not religious freedom, seizing on what backers see as a political gift from Rush Limbaugh to firm up support from women and young voters, groups essential to his re-election hopes.

He dove deep into the culture wars of American politics by rushing to defend a female law student verbally attacked by the conservative commentator, making a telephone call of support to Georgetown University's Sandra Fluke. It was nothing short of an election-year appeal to a crucial voting bloc.

It also had the political benefit of forcing Republicans to choose between siding with the president and taking what critics view as an extreme position to counter him. Limbaugh, who has an enormous following on the political right, called Fluke a "slut" because the 30-year-old student has been a vocal supporter of access to contraception.

The president's involvement in the debate over contraception, and whether insurers should be required to cover it, helped reignite a political battle from the 1960s and 1970s, and the birth of the religious right. By the 1980s, Christian conservatives were being elected to school boards and city councils. That success formed a foundation for what by the 1990s and 2000s were being called America's "values voters."

Now, as then, the country is trying to determine the government's role in morality.

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Girls asking, 'Am I pretty?' in online videos face thousands of vitriolic responses

NEW YORK (AP) -- The young girl shows off her big, comfy koala hat and forms playful hearts with her fingers as she drops the question on YouTube: "Am I pretty or ugly?"

"A lot of people call me ugly, and I think I am ugly. I think I'm ugly, and fat," she confesses in a tiny voice as she invites the world to decide.

And the world did.

The video, posted Dec. 17, 2010, has more than 4 million views and more than 107,000 anonymous, often hateful responses in a troubling phenomenon that has girls as young as 10 -- and some boys -- asking the same question on YouTube with similar results.

Some experts in child psychology and online safety wonder whether the videos, with anywhere from 300 to 1,000 posted, represent a new wave of distress rather than simple self-questioning or pleas for affirmation or attention.

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Reba McEntire shares painful memories of '91 crash that killed her band, details of new sitcom

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- More than 20 years after a plane crash killed seven members of her band and her tour manager, Reba McEntire can still clearly see the hotel room she was in when she got the news.

The emotion comes flooding back when she revisits that tragic day in 1991 on "Oprah's Master Class" on the OWN network Sunday night. It's a rare break in composure from the queen of country music.

"I don't guess it ever quits hurting," she says on the show, recalling how she tearfully followed husband-manager Narvel Blackstock room to room as he called people to let them know. "It's the worst thing that's ever happened in my life."

From that tragedy, she learned to make each day count and not to put anything off until tomorrow. However, McEntire said after the crash, she built up a wall so she would not get close to anybody, and it took time for her to open up to members of her touring family again. She accepted support from industry friends like Dolly Parton, who helped her put a new band together, and she took solace in her strong work ethic.

"I had a huge organization, and I needed to continue working, because that's their paycheck also," she told The Associated Press in a phone interview from just outside Dublin on Thursday. "I had to take care of the people who are still here. So it wasn't a thing where I could quit. I had to go on with my life, my career for them, for my family, for my sanity."

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Jim Calhoun returns 5 days after back surgery to coach UConn to 74-65 win over Pitt

STORRS, Conn. (AP) -- Jim Calhoun was advised not to return to the bench so soon after back surgery, and was supposed to take it easy if he did.

So much for following doctor's orders.

Calhoun, who was out on medical leave for more than a month, was back pacing the sidelines and screaming Saturday, leading Connecticut to a 74-65 win over Pittsburgh.

"He was there to be our backbone when they was making runs," Huskies guard Ryan Boatright said." It was just a whole 'nother vibe with him back on the sidelines.

The surgeon who performed spinal surgery on the coach Monday was watching from the stands, said associate coach George Blaney who handled postgame media duties for the exhausted Calhoun.