Tornadoes damage homes across South
PRATTVILLE — Homeowners, utility crews and others worked yesterday to clear wreckage and restore services after the latest round of winter tornadoes that have slashed the Southeast.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley toured part of Prattville and said he was impressed by the community’s response to the twister that struck the town.
“One of the great things about living in Alabama — and I say this after every major emergency we have — it truly is amazing to see what’s happening out there with all the families in this state,” he said.
At least 29 persons were injured in Prattville Sunday, and Mayor Jim Byard said about 200 homes and 50 to 100 businesses were damaged. No deaths were reported.
The tornado was part of a storm system that swept across the Southeast Sunday, damaging homes elsewhere in Alabama and in parts of Georgia and the Florida Panhandle.
Early yesterday, a tornado ripped apart a house in Hookerton, N.C., injuring three persons.
Oil refinery explosion closes highway; 4 injured
BIG SPRING — An explosion rocked an oil refinery yesterday in a violent blast that shook buildings miles away and injured at least four persons, the mayor said.
All workers were accounted for about an hour after the explosion, said Blake Lewis, spokesman for refinery owner Alon USA.
Big Spring Mayor Russ McEwen said one of the workers was sent to a burn unit.
The fire sparked by the blast was under control yesterday morning, Mr. Lewis said. The Dallas-based company does not know what caused the explosion, he said.
The blast sent black smoke billowing into the sky, closed schools, shut down a major interstate and left residents rattled.
“It was extremely scary. You shook you were so scared,” said Laura McEwen, the mayor’s wife, who lives about two miles from the refinery.
Reagan undergoes tests after falling
SANTA MONICA — Former first lady Nancy Reagan was undergoing tests yesterday at a hospital after spending a precautionary night there for a fall she took in her Bel Air home, her spokeswoman said.
Mrs. Reagan, 86, was doing well after falling on Sunday morning, spokeswoman Joanne Drake said.
“She’s doing fine. She had a good breakfast this morning. She’s in good spirits,” Miss Drake said.
It wasn’t clear when Mrs. Reagan would be released from St. John’s Health Center, where doctors determined she did not break a hip as feared, Miss Drake said.
Mrs. Reagan spent the night in the same room where former President Ronald Reagan stayed after he broke his hip at home in 2001. He died June 5, 2004, after a 10-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease. The two were married for 52 years.
Castro-signed map goes to auction
MIAMI — Bernardo Viera Trejo still remembers the sweltering summer day in 1955 when he and his then-friend Fidel Castro met up shortly after the would-be revolutionary’s release from prison.
Mr. Castro had attempted to overthrow Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with an assault on a military barrack. The attack failed and Mr. Castro spent two years behind bars. Mr. Viera said that while they chatted, Mr. Castro drew a map of the doomed attack and signed it for him with a flourish.
Mr. Viera, of Miami, is putting up the map for auction Thursday at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.
“I believed he was an important person and would become even more so,” said the former journalist who interviewed luminaries including Ernest Hemingway and Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. “But Fidel, he couldn’t understand why I wanted it.”
After Mr. Castro won power, Mr. Viera, 75, like many early supporters, soon became disillusioned with the new government’s frequent executions, Soviet advisers and attacks on the same press that had heralded Mr. Castro’s arrival.
Mr. Viera said he is auctioning the map because of its historic value and because he needs the money.
Spot on steer’s side looks like state
SPAULDING TOWNSHIP — One steer’s unique hide may save it from someone’s dinner table.
The animal is named Michigan, and for a good reason: The brown spot on its side resembles the state’s mitten shape.
The pattern on its other side is shaped like a U.
It’s one of 30 cattle on Jacob and Georgia Kessler’s family-run farm in Spaulding Township, about 80 miles northwest of Detroit.
Cattle from the farm are eventually sold for beef, but the owners are willing to sell the steer for promotional or mascot use instead of shipping it to the slaughterhouse.
Center will treat cancer, heart disease
CAPE GIRARDEAU — The St. Francis Medical Center plans to begin work here this spring on an $84 million center for cancer and heart disease.
Officials said the 180,000-square-foot facility will expand and consolidate services, so patients won’t need to travel to St. Louis or Memphis, Tenn., for many aspects of cancer or heart disease treatment.
The center is expected to open by fall 2011.
New jail menu bland, but healthy
NEW YORK — Spending time behind bars in New York City might turn out to be good for your health.
The overhauled menu at the city’s jails includes no sweets, no butter and only skim milk. The Department of Correction wants healthy alternatives to traditional jailhouse grub.
A breakfast might include fresh fruit, whole-wheat bread and wheat flakes. A sample dinner: pepper steak, rice and steamed carrots.
“These people are in our custody, and they don’t get to make their own choices,” said Department of Correction Commissioner Martin Horn. “We have a moral obligation to make sound choices for them.”
That means unsweetened muffins, which are expected to replace the wickedly sweet ones for the roughly 14,000 inmates in the jail system.
“We have no choice but to eat what they give us. It’s bland — so I guess that’s healthy,” said Christopher Alberici, a 40-year-old inmate.
The healthier menu costs the city as much as the previous one, which included white bread and sweetened drinks, Mr. Horn said, adding that it may cost the city less in the long run.
“The cost of an inmate having a stroke or going into diabetic shock is far greater than keeping people healthy to the extent we can,” he said.
Survivors reflect on fire anniversary
PROVIDENCE — Gina Russo’s head was seared down to the skull, her body pocked by third-degree burns, her future consumed by painful skin grafts and guilt over having survived the Station nightclub fire when her fiance had not.
Five years ago tomorrow, fire tore through the club in West Warwick, killing 100 persons and injuring more than twice that many. The blaze began when pyrotechnics used by the band Great White ignited flammable soundproofing foam that covered the walls and ceilings.
Survivors live with disfigurement, depression and steep medical bills, and victims’ relatives endure flashes of bitter anger and loneliness. However, they also have found ways to cope.
James Gahan has set up scholarships for youth sports programs in the name of his son, Jimmy, one of those who died, and has worked for stricter fire codes. Bonnie Hoisington still tears up when she hears “One Particular Harbour,” a Jimmy Buffett song that reminds her of her daughter, Abbie, but she finds comfort in her new grandchild, born to another daughter after Abbie died.
During her arduous rehabilitation, Miss Russo drew motivation from the need to care for her young sons, and from her faith that her fiance, Alfred Crisostomi, would have prodded her to recover.
Tornado toll rises as injured man dies
NASHVILLE — A man has died in Tennessee of injuries suffered in a deadly tornado outbreak earlier this month, bringing the death toll across the South to 57.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency said the unidentified Sumner County man died yesterday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. That raises Tennessee’s death toll from the storms Feb. 5 and 6 to 32.
Agency spokesman Jeremy Heidt said a couple of people remain hospitalized in critical condition.
Minister praised for slaying confession
HOUSTON — The youth minister who confessed to a 1994 killing is being widely forgiven by members of his former congregation, who say they admire his courage in finally surrendering to police.
Calvin Wayne Inman, 29, remains jailed without bail since he was charged Wednesday with capital murder in the stabbing death of a convenience store clerk during a robbery. He was 16 at the time.
During Sunday’s service at the 800-member Elim Church, congregants praised the recently ordained Mr. Inman as a born-again role model taking responsibility for his sin.
“He’s a hero, really,” said Kelley Graham, 24. “I don’t know how many people would do what he did. The Bible says you just need to confess to God. Calvin took an extra step.”
Mr. Inman went to authorities on Feb. 5 and admitted that he stabbed Iqbal Ahmed, 64, nearly 14 years ago in suburban Pasadena. Police said Mr. Inman told them that he and a 13-year-old friend planned to rob the convenience store. When Mr. Ahmed asked to see identification before giving them tobacco, Mr. Inman stabbed Mr. Ahmed in the chest with a kitchen knife, police said.
Mr. Inman resigned from the youth job in December.
Military man takes grenades into airport
YAKIMA — A 20-year-old member of the military was arrested after trying to get through airport security with two training grenades in a carry-on bag, police said.
Transportation Security Administration agents spotted the grenades using a belt scanner at Yakima Air Terminal about 11:15 a.m. Sunday, police Sgt. Tim Bardwell said.
The grenades contained live fuses but had no explosives packed around them, Sgt. Bardwell told the Yakima Herald-Republic. The man was released Sunday afternoon while prosecutors and the FBI looked into the incident.
Police locked down the small airport for a few minutes, then evacuated 30 to 35 people while explosives specialists from the Army’s Yakima Training Center dismantled the grenades. All scheduled incoming flights stayed on the ground at other airports. Normal operations resumed about 12:45 p.m.
Authorities said the man lives on a military base in California, but Sgt. Bardwell would not disclose his name, his branch of service or details about his questioning.
From wire dispatches and staff reports