- - Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mississippi opens to ship traffic

CHICAGO — The Mississippi River reopened Saturday for water navigation after much of it was closed for nearly a month owing to the worst flooding in 15 years.

“As far as navigation, the river is open,” said Steve Farkas, an engineer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis office. Lock 25 near Winfield, Mo., north of St. Louis, became the final lock to reopen Saturday morning, Mr. Farkas said.

At the height of the flooding, which began in early June, nearly 300 miles of the Mississippi River was closed to barge traffic, disrupting shipments of grain, coal, and petroleum products.

Taller river traffic will continue to be impeded until a railroad drawbridge, which spans the river about 60 miles upriver of St. Louis, is repaired, the Kansas City Southern railroad said. Those repairs were to scheduled be made late Saturday.

Water levels have been dropping, but remain above flood stage. Near St. Louis, the Mississippi River was 7.1 feet above flood stage Saturday morning, which was down from Monday when it crested at 8.3 feet above flood level. “Everything is going down,” Mr. Farkas said of the water.

Veterans group plan ads on war

Republican Sen. John McCain, who has made support for President Bush’s troop buildup in Iraq the centerpiece of his presidential campaign, is getting help from a veterans group that’s launching a national TV ad campaign next week.

Vets for Freedom is spending $1.5 million on ads that will run on national cable television in five states in July — the first set of ads in a multimillion-dollar campaign in coming months touting the troop buildup, Pete Hegseth, the 25,000-member group’s chairman, said in a phone interview Saturday.

Aimed at “informing the American people about the truth regarding progress in Iraq and Afghanistan,” the issue ads will feature veterans of the war describing the accomplishments they’ve seen since the buildup began in early 2007.

“We need to finish the job, no matter who is president,” the ads say, according to Mr. Hegseth. The five states being initially targeted are Colorado, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Virginia.

Vets for Freedom also said it would send its members to about a dozen swing states as part of a four-month education campaign that will “call for victory in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The group will announce the formal start of its campaign and show the first ads at a news conference Wednesday.

Extreme road rage draws 13-20 years

JACKSON, Mich. — A Detroit man whose driver’s license has been suspended 22 times has been sentenced to 13 to 20 years in prison in what authorities describe as an extreme case of road rage.

Jackson County Circuit Court Judge John McBain exceeded sentencing guidelines in imposing the sentence on 30-year-old Phillip Alexander on Thursday in Jackson, Mich.

Authorities say Alexander forced 10 vehicles off the road before crashing at Mason, Mich., in July 2007. Judge McBain called it “the worst case of road rage” in Michigan history.

Alexander was convicted in May of charges including assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder. He blamed the violence on the hallucinogenic drug PCP.

Bertha set to be year’s first hurricane

MIAMI — Tropical Storm Bertha was expected to become the 2008 Atlantic storm season’s first hurricane as it steamed toward the U.S. over open waters east of the Caribbean, U.S. weather forecasters said Saturday.

The second tropical storm of what is predicted to be an above-average hurricane season had not strengthened from Friday, when its top sustained winds reached 50 miles per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

But sea-surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions were expected to be “more conducive” in about 72 hours for Bertha to reach hurricane strength, with winds of at least 74 mph, the Miami-based center said.

The storm’s projected path remained uncertain so far out Saturday morning, when Tropical Storm Bertha was about 1,705 miles east of the northern Leeward Islands.

Gospel singer hurt in auto crash

LOGANTON, Pa. — Gospel singer Timothy Wright was critically injured in a crash in central Pennsylvania that killed his wife and a wrong-way driver who hit their vehicle, police said.

Mr. Wright, 61, was injured Friday night along with his 14-year-old grandson, D.J. Wright, and both were taken to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, according to a hospital spokesman.

Betty Wright, 58, of Roosevelt, N.Y., died in the three-vehicle crash on Interstate 80 in Greene Township, state police said. The driver of the wrong-way car, John Pick, 44, of Lewisburg, also died. A passenger in the third vehicle is in fair condition.

Mr. Wright has released more than a dozen gospel recordings, and his latest album, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,” came out last year. He is the pastor at Grace Tabernacle Christian Center in New York City.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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