Thursday, February 14, 2008


Spacewalking astronauts hook up new tank to space station

CAPE CANAVERAL — Two spacewalking astronauts, one of them a German who was too sick to venture outside a few days ago, supplied the International Space Station with a fresh tank of nitrogen gas yesterday.

Never before in 27 years of space shuttle history was an astronaut replaced on a spacewalk and then given a second chance.

Looking and sounding fit, Hans Schlegel and Rex Walheim completed their primary job halfway through the nearly seven-hour spacewalk: removing a depleted nitrogen tank from the space station and installing a full one weighing 550 pounds. The high-pressure nitrogen gas is needed to flush ammonia through the station’s cooling lines.

Mr. Schlegel, 56, was supposed to go out on the first spacewalk to help hook up Europe’s space station lab, but he became ill.


Sturgeon-spearing season ends with huge catch

FOND DU LAC — The sturgeon-spearing season on Lake Winnebago ended after just four days with a mammoth catch.

Ed Blatz bagged a 172-pounder that measured 78 inches in length, the third-largest sturgeon taken from the lake since record-keeping began in the 1950s. The only larger ones were a 180-pounder caught in 1953 and a 188-pounder caught in 2004.

Wisconsin shuts down the season after a certain number of fish are taken. This year, spearers had bagged 528 adult female sturgeon through Monday, more than 90 percent of the harvest cap of 556, so the season closed at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Mr. Blatz, of Fond du Lac, caught his fish Tuesday, one of 43 sturgeon speared this year that weighed 100 pounds or more.


Lake could go dry by 2021

PHOENIX — Changes in climate and strong demand for Colorado River water could drain Lake Mead by 2021, triggering severe shortages across the region, scientists warned.

Researchers at San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography said Tuesday the West’s largest storage reservoir faces increasing threats from human-induced climate change, growing populations and natural forces like drought and evaporation.

There is a 50 percent chance Lake Mead will run dry by 2021 and a 10 percent chance it will run out of usable water by 2014, if the region’s drought deepens and water use climbs, the researchers said.

Currently, Lake Mead — located in Nevada and Arizona — is half-full, as is Lake Powell. Both lakes help manage water resources for more than 25 million persons in seven states.


Land for sale near Hollywood sign

LOS ANGELES — A mountaintop property located near the Hollywood sign and once owned by Howard Hughes is up for sale.

A group of Chicago investors is putting the 138 acres of land just west of the “H” in the sign on the market yesterday.

The asking price: $22 million.

The property atop the 1,820-foot Cahuenga Peak offers a stunning 360-degree panorama of the Los Angeles Basin and the San Fernando Valley, said Fox River Financial Resources, which acquired the land in 2002 for $1,675,000.

Mr. Hughes once planned to build a love nest on the land for his then-paramour Ginger Rogers. Their relationship didn’t last, and the property remained undeveloped and in the eccentric billionaire’s trust for decades.


Woman locked out, takes ax to home

DURANGO — Accidentally locked out of her home and stuck in the bitter cold, Geraldine Palmer took matters into her own hands.

An ax, to be more specific.

Miss Palmer, who turns 90 this weekend, said a sliding-glass door locked behind her Saturday after she went outside to rearrange some things that had gotten wet on the patio. Snow had formed a pile about 7 feet high between her and the yard, so she had no escape.

So she picked up an old ax she had once used to chop wood and broke into her home.


Laid-off worker gets $250,000 surprise

BAD AXE — Donald Ertman got a little agitated when he found out he’d have to make the 150-mile trip to Lansing to collect his lottery winnings. All that for $150, he complained.

Then Eli Kabban, the owner of the store that sold Mr. Ertman the $1 Mega Millions ticket, set him straight: It was worth not $150, but a cool quarter of a million.

“I didn’t believe him — not at first,” Mr. Ertman told the Bay City Times.

“We’re the typical poor senior citizens, and our income from Social Security is not a lot,” his wife, Rosalie Ertman, said.

The 71-year-old laid-off factory worker bought the ticket in late December at the Bad Axe Party Store & BP gas station.

The Ertmans are investing the money, and Mr. Ertman also said he plans to buy his wife a new car and spend some of the money making home improvements.


Laws’ exemptions allow secret records

JACKSON — A father fights for access to information about his son’s death during a law enforcement chase, only to find that Mississippi’s sunshine laws don’t require the public release of investigative records.

A rural newspaper editor tries to report on disputes between county officials and trustees of a publicly owned hospital. Russell Turner, editor of the weekly Greene County Herald, finds repeatedly that decisions that should have been made in public meetings were hashed out in private.

Open access to public meetings and records is essential to government accountability. Yet Mississippi’s laws — like those in many other states — are full of exemptions that perpetuate a culture of secrecy.

Mississippi is one of 38 states that got an “F” in the 2007 study by the Better Government Association and the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Legislation being filed in the state this year seeks to tighten exemptions and give taxpayers more access to public information.


Storm hinders travel on East Coast

ALBANY — A powerful winter storm spread more than a half-foot of snow across parts of the Northeast yesterday, closing hundreds of schools and switching off the lights for thousands of homes and businesses.

The Maine Legislature called off its session for the day, and federal agencies opened two hours late in Washington. The Army’s Fort Drum in northern New York state canceled all outdoor physical-fitness training.

The National Weather Service reported 10 inches of snow in Maine at Auburn and Lisbon Falls, 8.5 inches at Fitchburg, Mass., and up to 6 inches in eastern New York state, where ice was up to a half-inch thick. Winter storm warnings were in effect for much of New England and northern New York state, along with flood warnings in wide areas as heavy rain combined with melting snow.

The storm system had been blamed for at least 15 deaths since Monday.

Many flights in and out of Portland International Jetport were canceled yesterday morning. Ice and freezing rain shut down Connecticut’s Bradley International Airport at Hartford for nearly five hours in the morning. Weather-related delays averaged nearly five hours during the morning at the New York area’s La Guardia Airport, said Arlene Salac-Murray, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.


Three children die in house fire

SIDNEY — A house fire killed three children, and their bodies were buried inside when part of the structure collapsed into the basement, a fire official said yesterday.

Five other persons escaped when the fire broke out late Tuesday, Fire Chief Stan Crosley said.

The fire department did not release specific ages of the children who died, saying only that all were younger than 18.

The house was already completely engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, and sections began collapsing a short time later, officials said. Several passers-by tried but were unable to enter the house, the officials said.

Two girls, ages 14 and 12, jumped from a second-floor window and three other persons — two adults and a 9-year-old boy — fled through a back door, according to the fire department.

The cause of the fire had not been determined.


Nightclub fire inspector retires

PROVIDENCE — The fire inspector who failed to detect flammable soundproofing foam blamed for a deadly nightclub fire in 2003 has retired, a fire official said yesterday.

Denis Larocque retired, effective Feb. 3, on occupational disability, said West Warwick Fire Chief Gerard Tellier.

“He’d been out on a medical leave for some time, and that’s all I can comment on,” Chief Tellier said.

Mr. Larocque’s inspections of the Station nightclub in West Warwick failed to note that flammable polyurethane foam was installed illegally on the walls and ceiling. The foam was ignited by pyrotechnics during a rock show by the band Great White on Feb. 20, 2003. The burning foam spread toxic smoke and flames throughout the wooden building, killing 100 persons.

Mr. Larocque had told a grand jury that his inspections had focused on fire extinguishers, exit signs and emergency lighting.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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