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Around the Nation

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2007

Storm runoff hampers divers at bridge site

MINNEAPOLIS — Divers' operations to find five persons still missing since the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge were hampered yesterday because heavy rain strengthened current in the Mississippi River.

Overnight thunderstorms dropped as much as 2 inches of rain on the region, making the river dangerous for divers around the twisted bridge wreckage, a Navy spokesman said.

They were back in the water by 11 a.m., but coordinators had a wary eye on the skies, with more storms possible later in the day.

"If they feel they're not safe anymore or conditions change, they'll stop again," said Randy Mitchell, an Army spokesman working with the Navy team.

The delay came after a two-day period in which the military divers recovered three bodies. That brought the confirmed death toll to eight, and reduced the list of known missing to five.

Same-sex relationships OK for Lutheran clergy

CHICAGO — Homosexual Lutheran clergy who are in sexual relationships will be able to serve as pastors, the largest U.S. Lutheran body said yesterday.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a resolution at its annual assembly urging bishops to refrain from disciplining pastors who are in "faithful committed same-gender relationships."

The resolution passed by a vote of 538-431.

"The Church ... has just said 'Do not do punishments'," said Phil Soucy, spokesman for Lutherans Concerned, a homosexual rights group within the church. "That is huge."

The ELCA, which has 4.8 million members, had previously allowed homosexuals to serve as pastors so long as they abstained from sexual relations.

The conference also instructed a committee that is developing a social statement on sexuality to further investigate the issue.

2 officers, 1 suspect killed in shootout

BASTROP, La. — A shootout at a hotel on the main square of a small northeastern Louisiana city left two police officers and one suspect dead Friday. Authorities were searching for another suspect, officials said.

Two paramedics were also hit by gunfire when they arrived at the scene, said Trooper Mark Dennis, a spokesman for the Louisiana State Police. One was in stable condition and the other was not seriously hurt, Trooper Dennis said.

It was not immediately clear what sparked the shooting, or whether the suspect was killed in the initial shootout or by officers who arrived later, Trooper Dennis said.

The slain officers were identified by state police as Bastrop police detectives: John Smith, 40, who had been with the agency for 18 years, and Charles "Chuck" Wilson, 34, who had 11 years with the department.

NASA plans inspection of shuttle's heat shield

HOUSTON — A pair of rookie spacewalkers floated outside the International Space Station yesterday to bolt an extension onto the orbital outpost's frame while NASA made plans to inspect potentially troublesome damage to Space Shuttle Endeavour's heat shield.

Shuttle crew members Rick Mastracchio and Dave Williams left the station's U.S. airlock yesterday afternoon. Their main job was to bolt a two-ton, 11-foot-long aluminum extension onto a solar array support beam installed during NASA's last space station construction mission in June.

NASA engineers on the ground, meanwhile, tweaked plans for an additional inspection today of the shuttle's heat shield. Photographs taken by the station crew before the shuttle docked Friday revealed a small but possibly deep gash in the center of one of the ship's belly tiles.

Hurricane Flossie likely to pass over Hawaii

HONOLULU — Hurricane Flossie strengthened to a Category 4 storm yesterday as it spun more than 1,000 miles south of Hawaii.

By yesterday afternoon, Flossie had intensified with maximum sustained winds near 132 mph, and was about 1,100 miles southeast of Hilo, Hawaii. Flossie was upgraded overnight from a Category 1 to Category 3.

The storm was expected to weaken as it passed over cooler waters. It was traveling west at about 12 mph.

Jeff Powell, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service in Honolulu, said Flossie hadn't changed its course and was expected to pass the Hawaiian Islands early Wednesday with rough surf. A "ramp up" of surf on the Big Island was expected late tomorrow.

From staff reports and wire dispatches