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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Storms kill at least two in Alabama (Reuters)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) – Search and rescue team combed through debris in Alabama after powerful thunderstorms pummeled the state early Monday, killing at least two people and leaving heavy damage just hours after tornadoes struck portions of Arkansas.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency after the predawn storms struck the Birmingham area, with the towns of Center Point and Trussville just to the northeast of the city hit particularly hard.

Two people were confirmed dead, according to Pat Curry, Jefferson County's chief deputy coroner, one in Clay, a city of roughly 10,000 people, and another in the western part of the county.

Earlier, an emergency management official had reported three deaths.

"We have major, major damage," said Bob Ammons, a Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency official, referring to Center Point, Trussville and some unincorporated areas of the county.

About 100 people were treated for injuries, said Jefferson County EMA spokesman Mark Kelly.

Last April, massive tornadoes tore through Alabama killing more than 240 people including 64 fatalities in the Jefferson and Tuscaloosa areas.

On Monday, in St. Clair County, Alabama, spokeswoman Katie Reese said a local fire department estimated some 36 homes were damaged, and some of them were destroyed.

The possibility for sporadic thunderstorms in the region lingered, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Henry Margusity, but overall the severe weather was calming down.

Clean-up and recovery efforts were under way across Alabama Monday afternoon.

Food safety inspectors had been dispatched to assess damage and power outages at retail food establishments, state officials said, adding that any compromised products would be taken off shelves.

Search and rescue efforts were ongoing, according to Matt Angelo of the Center Point fire department. The injury count in that area northeast of Birmingham remained at about 12, he said.

At nearby Parkway Veterinary Clinic animals were being transported to a safe location after the structure sustained a direct hit during the storm, a spokeswoman said.

Earlier, rescue crews were dispatched to investigate reports of an overturned mobile home with people trapped inside, said Debbie Orange, city clerk for the city of Clanton, about midway between Birmingham and Montgomery. No injuries could be confirmed.

A preliminary report from the weather service's storm prediction center indicated a radio station in Clanton, Alabama was destroyed and a 302-foot transmission tower "toppled" due to the severe weather.

A tornado is suspected, but not yet confirmed, in the radio station destruction, according to the National Weather Service.

In Tennessee, the worst storm damage was in the middle of the state, with downed trees and power lines. In western Tennessee, structural damage resulted from winds whipping up to 65 miles per hour, meteorologists said.

These were the latest in a series of powerful January storms to have torn through the Southeast.

On Sunday, twisters downed trees and powerlines in Arkansas leaving thousands without power.

A tornado ripped into an area outside of Fordyce, some 70 miles south of state capital Little Rock, damaging houses and felling trees and power lines as it moved, according to Accuweather.com.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock rated the Fordyce area tornado as an EF2, on a scale that ranges from EF0 to EF5, the most severe. The town of just under 5,000 people was one of the hardest hit areas in a series of storms that struck Arkansas Sunday night.

Significant damage occurred to houses northwest of the small town, the city's country club and a set of transmission towers, it said in a statement.

The weather service has reported as many as eight possible tornadoes may have touched down Sunday night in Arkansas, which was pelted by soft-ball sized hailstones and buffeted by winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour.

By Monday, less than 8,000 customers across Arkansas were still without power, according to utility provider Entergy Arkansas, Inc.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Suzi Parker in Little Rock and Kelli Dugan in Mobile, Alabama; Writing by Dan Burns and Lauren Keiper; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Greg McCune)


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Strong storms hit Alabama, kill two (Reuters)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Reuters) – Search and rescue team combed through debris in Alabama after powerful thunderstorms pummeled the state early on Monday, killing at least two people and leaving heavy damage just hours after tornadoes struck portions of Arkansas.

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency after the predawn storms hit the Birmingham area, with the towns of Center Point and Trussville just to the northeast of the city hit particularly hard.

Two people were confirmed dead, according to Pat Curry, Jefferson County's chief deputy coroner; one in Clay, a city of roughly 10,000 people, and another in the western part of the county.

Earlier, an emergency management official had reported three deaths.

"We have major, major damage," said Bob Ammons, a Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) official, referring to Center Point, Trussville and some unincorporated areas of the county.

About 100 people were treated for injuries, said Jefferson County EMA spokesman Mark Kelly.

Last April, massive tornadoes tore through Alabama killing more than 240 people, including 64 in the Jefferson and Tuscaloosa areas.

On Monday, in St. Clair County, Alabama, spokeswoman Katie Reese said a local fire department estimated some 36 homes had been damaged, and some of them destroyed.

The possibility for sporadic thunderstorms in the region lingered, according to AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist Henry Margusity, but overall the severe weather was calming down.

THOUSANDS WITHOUT POWER

Clean-up and recovery efforts were under way across Alabama on Monday afternoon.

Food safety inspectors had been dispatched to assess damage and power outages at retail food establishments, state officials said, adding that any compromised products would be taken off shelves.

Search and rescue efforts were ongoing, according to Matt Angelo of the Center Point fire department. The injury count in that area northeast of Birmingham remained at about 12, he said.

At nearby Parkway Veterinary Clinic animals were being transported to a safe location after the structure sustained a direct hit during the storm, a spokeswoman said.

Earlier, rescue crews were dispatched to investigate reports of an overturned mobile home with people trapped inside, said Debbie Orange, city clerk for the city of Clanton, about midway between Birmingham and Montgomery. No injuries could be confirmed.

A preliminary report from the weather service's storm prediction center indicated a radio station in Clanton, Alabama was destroyed and a 302-foot (92-meter) transmission tower "toppled" due to the severe weather.

A tornado is suspected, but not yet confirmed, in the radio station destruction, according to the National Weather Service.

In Tennessee, the worst storm damage was in the middle of the state, with downed trees and power lines. In western Tennessee, structural damage resulted from winds whipping up to 65 mph, meteorologists said.

These were the latest in a series of powerful January storms to have torn through the Southeast.

On Sunday, twisters downed trees and powerlines in Arkansas leaving thousands without power.

A tornado ripped into an area outside of Fordyce, some 70 miles south of state capital Little Rock, damaging houses and felling trees and power lines as it moved, according to Accuweather.com.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock rated the Fordyce area tornado as an EF2, on a scale that ranges from EF0 to EF5, the most severe. The town of just under 5,000 people was one of the hardest hit areas in a series of storms that struck Arkansas on Sunday night.

Significant damage occurred to houses northwest of the small town, the city's country club and a set of transmission towers, it said in a statement.

The weather service has reported as many as eight possible tornadoes may have touched down on Sunday night in Arkansas, which was pelted by soft-ball sized hailstones and buffeted by winds gusting up to 70 miles per hour.

By Monday, almost 8,000 customers across Arkansas were still without power, according to utility provider Entergy Arkansas, Inc.

(Additional reporting by Tim Ghianni in Nashville, Suzi Parker in Little Rock and Kelli Dugan in Mobile, Alabama; Writing by Dan Burns and Lauren Keiper; Editing by Greg McCune and Sandra Maler)


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Japan's first trade deficit since 1980 raises debt doubts (Reuters)

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan first annual trade deficit in more than 30 years calls into question how much longer the country can rely on exports to help finance a huge public debt without having to turn to fickle foreign investors.

The aftermath of the March earthquake raised fuel import costs while slowing global growth and the yen's strength hit exports, data released on Wednesday showed, swinging the 2011 trade balance into deficit.

Few analysts expect Japan to immediately run a deficit in the current account, which includes trade and returns on the country's huge portfolio of investments abroad. A steady inflow of profits and capital gains from overseas still outweighs the trade deficit.

But the trade figures underscore a broader trend of Japan's declining global competitive edge and a rapidly ageing population, compounding the immediate problem of increased reliance on fuel imports due to the loss of nuclear power.

Only four of the country's 54 nuclear power reactors are running due to public safety fears following the March disaster.

"What it means is that the time when Japan runs out of savings -- 'Sayonara net creditor country' -- that point is coming closer," said Jesper Koll, head of equities research at JPMorgan in Japan.

"It means Japan becomes dependent on global savings to fund its deficit and either the currency weakens or interest rates rise."

That prospect could give added impetus to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's push to double Japan's 5 percent sales tax in two stages by October 2015 to fund the bulging social security costs of a fast-ageing society.

The biggest opposition party, although agreeing with the need for a higher levy, is threatening to block legislation in parliament's upper house in hopes of forcing a general election.

Japan logged a trade deficit of 2.49 trillion yen ($32 billion) for 2011, Ministry of Finance data showed, the first annual deficit since 1980, after the economy was hit by the shock of rising oil prices.

Were Japan to run a current account deficit, it would spell trouble because it would mean the country cannot finance its huge public debt -- already twice the size of its $5 trillion economy -- without overseas funds.

Japanese investors currently hold about 95 percent of Japan's government bonds, which lends some stability to an otherwise unsustainable debt burden.

Domestic buyers are less likely to dump debt at the first whiff of economic trouble, unlike foreign investors, as Europe's debt crisis has shown.

The trade data helped send the yen to a one-month low against the dollar and the euro on Wednesday.

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Graphic on 2011 trade data http://link.reuters.com/mev26s

Dec trade balance http://link.reuters.com/vyq65s

Exports by destination http://link.reuters.com/far65s

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

"HOLLOWING OUT," AGEING POPULATION

Total exports shrank 2.7 percent last year while imports surged 12.0 percent, reflecting reduced earnings from goods and services and higher spending on crude and fuel oil. Annual imports of liquefied natural gas hit a record high.

In a sign of the continuing pain from slowing global growth, exports fell 8.0 percent in December from a year earlier, roughly matching a median market forecast for a 7.9 percent drop, due partly to weak shipments of electronics parts.

Imports rose 8.1 percent in December from a year earlier, in line with a 8.0 percent annual gain expected, bringing the trade balance to a deficit of 205.1 billion yen, against 139.7 billion yen expected. It marked the third straight month of deficits.

Japan managed to sustain annual trade surpluses through the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s and the post-Lehman Brothers global recession that started in late 2008, which makes the 2011 dip into deficit all the more dramatic.

A generation ago, Japan was the world's export juggernaut, churning out a stream of innovative products from the likes of Sony and Toyota.

Much like China today, Japan's bulging trade surplus became a source of friction with the United States and other advanced economies, who pressed Tokyo to allow the yen to rise more rapidly in order to reduce the imbalance.

A 1985 agreement between Japan, the United States and Europe's big economies -- known as the Plaza Accord after the New York hotel where it was signed -- pushed the yen higher against the U.S. dollar.

Many economists argue that sowed the seeds of Japan's current debt woes. After the Plaza Accord, Japan's economy weakened and its central bank slashed interest rates, which contributed to a credit boom that eventually spawned a financial crisis and led to two decades of economic stagnation.

Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said on Tuesday he did not expect trade deficits to become a pattern, and did not foresee the country's current account balance tipping into the red in the near future.

But Japan's days of logging huge trade surpluses may be over as it relies more on fuel imports and manufacturers move production offshore to cope with rising costs and a strong yen, a trend that may weaken the Japanese currency longer term.

A fast-ageing population also means a growing number of elderly Japanese will be running down their savings.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government wants to closely watch the trend of exports and imports.

"There are worries that the yen's strength is driving Japanese industry to go abroad," said Fujimura. "We have to create new industries ... implement comprehensive steps to boost growth. It is important to secure employment within the nation."

($1=77.71 yen)

(Additional writing by Leika Kihara; Editing by Linda Sieg and Emily Kaiser)


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Friday, January 27, 2012

Rare January Tornado Kills Two in Alabama (ContributorNetwork)

The Associated Press reports two people have died in Alabama due to a fast-moving line of severe storms. Officials have seen damage patterns that are concurrent with an EF2 tornado, although that has not been determined by National Weather Service officials at this point. If a tornado did touch down, it is a rare weather phenomenon in January for the U.S.

Tornadoes don't normally form in the winter, yet over the past three years winter time severe storms have made headlines.

Data

The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center states an average of 17 tornadoes struck the U.S. in January over the past three years. There were six in 2009, 30 in 2010 and 16 in 2011. Preliminary data in 2012 indicate there have been 13 possible tornadoes this year as of Jan. 17. No deaths have been reported in the previous three years until the streak was broken this year.

Outbreak of 2008

Fox News reported in early January 2008 that eight people died due to severe storms that struck the Midwest. Heavy flooding swept away three people in Indiana when five inches of rain melted snow that contributed to the massive flooding. A tornado in central Arkansas killed one resident and a separate tornado killed two people in Missouri.

An EF3 tornado hit northern Illinois, the first tornado to hit Illinois in January since 1950. The storm track of the 2008 tornado was 13.2 miles long and about 100 yards wide.

Wisconsin also had a tornado spawned by the same storm system that struck Illinois. It was the first January tornado in Wisconsin since 1967. Two tornadoes formed in southeast Wisconsin as a stationary front helped produce a lot of moisture.

Why January Tornadoes?

If the weather is right, temperatures can rise across the contiguous 48 states in January. South winds and sunny skies are usually needed for such conditions to form ahead of colder temperatures coming from the north and west.

In the 2008 outbreak, tornado warnings and severe weather happened across portions of eight states. Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana and Oklahoma. Cities in several northern states such as New Jersey and New York ahead of the storm front moving through those areas. Cities that had severe weather also saw record high temperatures.

In 2010, a tornado passed over Huntsville, Ala. Southern states are more likely to see winter time tornadoes as temperatures are higher in places like Louisiana, Alabama and Florida. Sometimes warm winds and weather systems in the Gulf of Mexico and tropical Atlantic Ocean can blow up into the U.S. mainland and increase temperatures. Then colder air comes from Canada to cause a sudden temperature drop that can form tornadoes.

William Browning is a research librarian.


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Radiation, rusty metal seen in tsunami-hit reactor (AP)

TOKYO – Radiation-blurred images taken inside one of Japan's tsunami-hit nuclear reactors Thursday showed steam, unidentified parts and rusty metal surfaces scarred by 10 months' exposure to heat and humidity.

The photos that were the first inside look since the disaster found none of the reactor's melted fuel or its cooling water but confirmed stable temperatures and showed no major damage or ruptures caused by the earthquake last March, said Junichi Matsumoto, spokesman for the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Pipes and grates inside the reactor's containment vessel were seen in some images. Other photos were dark and blurry, resembling abstract paintings. Experts are studying the most obscured photos to identify which reactor parts are there. Radiation was visible as static, or electronic interference with the equipment being used.

The photos also showed the inner wall of the container had been heavily deteriorated by the high temperatures and humidity, Matsumoto said.

TEPCO workers inserted the endoscope — an industrial version of the kind of endoscope doctors use — through a hole in the beaker-shaped container at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant's No. 2 reactor, hoping the first look inside since the crisis would help them better assess reactor conditions and make repairs.

High temperatures and radiation leaks had prevented the close-up view until now. Results of the 70-minute operation were mixed.

"Given the harsh environment that we had to operate, we did quite well. It's a first step," Matsumoto said. "But we could not spot any signs of fuel, unfortunately."

He said it would take more time and a better technology to get to the melted fuel, most of which has fallen straight down into the area that the endoscope could not reach. TEPCO hopes to use the endoscope to look inside the two other reactors that had meltdowns but that also would require customization of the equipment and further reduction of radiation levels.

The endoscope failed to find the water surface, indicating less-than-expected levels inside the primary containment vessel and questioning the accuracy of water monitors, Matsumoto said.

Radiation-tainted cooling water has been leaking from all three damaged reactors, pooling in massive amounts around the nuclear plant. Determining the No. 2 reactor's water levels could have helped locate cracks or damage causing some of the leaks.

Better assessment will help workers know how best to plug holes and cracks in the containment vessel — a protective chamber outside the core — to contain the radiation leaks and gradually work toward dismantling the reactors.

Three of six reactors at the Fukushima plant melted down after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out the plant's cooling systems and set off the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.

TEPCO and nuclear officials have said that melted fuel probably fell to the bottom of the core in each unit, most likely breaching the bottom of the core and falling into the primary containment vessel, some dropping to its concrete floor.

Experts have said those are simulation results and that exact location and condition of the fuel could not be known until they have a first-hand observation inside.

The probe Thursday successfully recorded the temperature inside the containment vessel at 44.7 Celsius (112 F), confirming it stayed below the boiling point and qualifying a "cold shutdown state," the stable condition that the government had declared in December despite skepticism from experts.

The government has said that it would take 40 years until the Fukushima plant is fully decommissioned.


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Offshore quake causes panic, no tsunami in Chile (AP)

SANTIAGO, Chile – A magnitude-6.2 earthquake struck Monday just off the shore of south-central Chile, the same area devastated by a massive temblor two years ago. But there were no immediate reports of damage and authorities said it would not cause a tsunami.

Monday's quake was centered 31 miles (50 kilometers) northwest of Concepcion, and relatively shallow at 12 miles (20 kilometers) deep. But Chile's navy announced that it wasn't the kind of quake to generate a deadly tsunami of the kind that ravaged nearby coastal cities when an magnitude-8.8 quake devastated Chile in 2010.

The U.S. Geological Service said this quake struck at 1:04 p.m. local time (1604 GMT) with a magnitude of 6.2. Chilean seismologists measured it as a less-powerful 5.8.

Chile's national emergency office said there were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Cellphone service was briefly interrupted as people tried to reach loved ones, and radio stations and social networks lit up with comments, including many who said the shaking made them panic. Light fixtures swayed in many homes, but the power remained on.

The much-stronger quake that struck on Feb. 27, 2010, killed 524 and caused 31 disappearances, wrecking 220,000 homes and leaving $30 billion in damage. The disaster agency and the navy shared the blame for a botched tsunami warning then that gave some coastal dwellers a false sense of security.


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Irene flooding left Vt. home on unexpected island (AP)

BETHEL, Vt. – June Tierney and Kellie Burke never envisioned island living in the Vermont woods, but Tropical Storm Irene had other ideas.

Their home, a two-story, natural-sided saltbox, was a rural idyll on a wooded 10-acre lot off a dirt road, with a stairway leading from their backyard down a steep bank to Gilead Brook, a small stream.

When Irene blew through Vermont on Aug. 28, the brook became a raging torrent. After the storm, the main part of it had moved around to the other side of the house, leaving a smaller stream still flowing along its old bed.

Now Tierney, a 47-year-old lawyer who works for the state board that regulates utilities, and Burke, 48-year-old high school librarian, have to cross a ford — a new, narrow road that dips into the old stream and has no guardrails — to get home, and face an uncertain future. They wonder if they should cut their losses and move.

Their biggest worry is whether the next time the river runs wild, it will take the house with it.

"If we stay we're facing a huge expense to try to secure the property," Tierney said. And there's no long-term guarantee it will succeed. She quoted one stream-flow expert the couple consulted: "That river really wants your land."

The months since the storm have been a whirl of talks with their homeowners' and flood insurance companies, getting the ford built across the old stream bed, pricing what a real bridge would cost ($164,000), applying for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and accepting with gratitude an outpouring of help from neighbors and friends.

"People have been so helpful. It's been an inspiration," Burke said.

For a time, Tierney and Burke worried that their status as a lesbian couple married under Vermont law might cause a snag in getting assistance from a federal government that doesn't recognize such marriages. So far, they've had no problems.

When the brook swirled around the house, it undermined a barn, which had to be demolished. It turned what had been their wooded property into a wasteland of felled trees, root balls, boulders and silt. And it left a line of debris that came to within a few feet of the front porch.

The homeowners' insurance paid $20,000 on the barn. Flood insurance wasn't available because there was no damage to the house, Tierney said. They got the maximum emergency grant from FEMA — $30,200, half of which paid the cost of the ford — essentially a low-lying causeway across the old stream with culverts carrying water underneath — and to study the feasibility of building a new bridge.

Now the question is whether the couple will be eligible for grant money under a federally backed program that pays property owners living in the most flood-prone areas to abandon their homes and move.

They've been relying on their professional skills to work their way through the crisis.

Burke, the librarian, researched the program, while Tierney put her legal skills to researching the arcane federal regulations governing eligibility for the grants. Officials initially told her and Burke that they would get no help because their home was not harmed.

Tierney wrote in a long email to state and federal officials — she calls it her brief — that the category of eligible properties extends to one like hers that are at risk of future flooding because of how the storm changed the topography of the surrounding land.

Even if she and Burke lose in these arguments, she wants that to have been a just result, Tierney said. "When economic disaster follows natural disaster, we at least have to know it's because of the shortcomings of the program, and not because it's been misconstrued."

Tierney and Burke say it's very likely they'll have to leave the home they've shared for 13 of their 25 years together, but don't want to sell it, because that would just leave someone else facing the same risks.

"This is a potentially lethal setting," Tierney said. "It's not fit for human habitation."

Burke called the need to move "very sad." Since the flood, "it's not been easy to live here, but it's our home."

Tierney noted that like the town of Bethel, Gilead Brook takes its name from the Bible, where it's not a stream, but a mountain of testimony, of witness. Living in a home that now appears to have been built in the wrong place, she said, "We've literally been bearing witness to what it means to try to reconcile nature's intentions with those of human beings."


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NW storm cuts power, thousands try to stay warm (AP)

By MANUEL VALDES and JONATHAN J. COOPER, Associated Press Manuel Valdes And Jonathan J. Cooper, Associated Press – Sat Jan 21, 7:22 am ET

SEATTLE – Tens of thousands of Pacific Northwest residents faced the prospect of a chilly weekend after a powerful storm brought snow and ice and left a tangle of fallen trees and damaged power lines. Several Oregon counties saw their worst flooding in more than a decade.

The National Weather Service forecast more rain and winds gusting as high as 40 mph Saturday in Western Washington, a combination that could bring down even more snow-laden and ice-damaged trees.

Nearly 230,000 customers were without power late Friday night in Western Washington, about 220,000 of them Puget Sound Energy customers.

The utility has brought in repair crews from across the West and planned to field more than 800 linemen on Saturday, in addition to tree-trimming crews, spokesman Roger Thompson said.

"The wind is a wild card that could set us back," he said, adding PSE hoped to have the majority of the outages restored by Sunday, although some customers will probably be without power into early next week.

The Weather Service predicted weekend lows in the mid-30s.

Several warming shelters have been opened in the area to aid people whose homes are without heat.

Despite warnings from emergency officials, the first cases of possible carbon monoxide poisoning surfaced Friday night. Two families in the Seattle suburb of Kent were taken to hospitals after suffering separate cases of possible poisoning. Both had been using charcoal barbecues indoors for heat.

The storm was already blamed for three deaths. A mother and her 1-year-old son died after torrential rain on Wednesday swept away a car from an Albany, Ore., grocery store parking lot. An elderly man was fatally injured Thursday by a falling tree as he was backing an all-terrain vehicle out of a backyard shed near Seattle.

On Washington's Mount Rainier, a blizzard kept rescuers from searching Friday for two campers and two climbers missing since early this week. Just east of that region, about 200 skiers and workers were able to leave the Crystal Mountain ski resort after transportation officials reopened the area's main highway, closed two days earlier by fallen trees.

Near Tacoma, three people escaped unharmed Friday when a heavy snow and ice load on the roof of an Allied Ice plant caused the building to collapse. West Pierce Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief Hallie McCurdy said they heard loud noises and got out just in time.

As floodwaters receded, residents of Oregon's Willamette Valley began taking stock of damage in soaked cities.

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber paid a visit Friday to the hard-hit town of Turner, where 100 homes were damaged or still underwater.

Friday's mainly dry streets belied a morning of terror barely 24 hours earlier, when emergency crews conducted 55 boat rescues as water filled streets, homes and businesses.

"You just watch the water rise hour by hour, and there's nothing you can do about it," Mayor Paul Thomas said. "It's a long, slower sort of torture."

Kitzhaber said the state would work with local and federal officials to try and get disaster funding to Turner and other communities hard-hit by flooding.

The governor praised residents' strong sense of community as neighbors helped each other.

Nancy Ko saw that spirit first-hand. From the safety of higher ground, she watched a live feed from a security camera as water rose over the curb and lapped against the front door of the convenience store and cafe she owns just feet from Mill Creek.

Out of the blue, five strangers showed up and plopped sandbags in front of the door, preventing damage that she believes would have otherwise been far more severe.

"Just a godsend," said Ko, a Korean immigrant who has owned the store for six years. "Good person, amazing persons."

Elsewhere in the Willamette Valley, a 35-year-old woman who drove a Ford Mustang into 4 feet of floodwater was plucked from the roof Friday by deputies who arrived by boat to save her. It was one of a number of dramatic rescues in western Oregon, left sodden by as much as 10 inches of rain in a day and a half that has brought region's worst flooding in 15 years.

Interstate 5, the main road connecting Seattle and Portland, was briefly closed near Centralia so crews could remove fallen power lines.

Much of Washington's capital, Olympia, was without power.

Gov. Chris Gregoire's office, legislative buildings and other state agencies in Olympia lost electricity for several hours before power was restored. The governor thanked repair crews late Friday by hand-delivering peanut butter cookies.

The storm was "a constant reminder of who's in charge. Mother Nature is in charge, she gives us a wake-up call every once in a while, this is one of those," Gregoire said.

It was still snowing in the Cascades, with up to 2 feet possible in the mountains over the weekend.

At Sea-Tac Airport in Seattle, airlines were trying to accommodate passengers whose flights were canceled Thursday. The airport's largest carrier, Alaska Airlines, canceled 50 of its 120 daily departures Friday. On Thursday, Alaska and sister airline Horizon canceled 310 flights to and from Seattle, affecting 29,000 passengers.

In Seattle, Carly Nelson was negotiating an icy sidewalk on her way to Starbucks. Nelson has been frequenting her neighborhood coffee shop to avoid cabin fever.

"I'm pretty tired of it. It gets old pretty fast. All my friends are stranded in little pockets and you can't get together to go to yoga," she said. "I'm just looking forward to being able to go wherever I want to go."

___

Cooper reported from Oregon. Associated Press writers Doug Esser, Ted Warren, Rachel La Corte, Nigel Duara and Nicholas K. Geranios contributed to this report.


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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Magnitude-6.3 quake hits Pacific; no tsunami alert (AP)

SUVA, Fiji – A magnitude-6.3 earthquake has shaken the Pacific region south of the Fiji islands.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries, and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center did not issue any alerts or warnings after the quake.

The United States Geological Survey reported the earthquake struck Tuesday afternoon 472 miles (759 kilometers) south of Fiji, at a depth of 362 miles (583 kilometers).


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January Tornadoes Turn Deadly in Alabama (ContributorNetwork)

A severe line of storms that started in Arkansas and Missouri moved eastward, leaving a trail of destruction from high winds and tornadoes in the Midwest and the South. According to MSNBC, at least three people are dead in Alabama, and homes and businesses were destroyed in several states and thousands without power late Sunday and early Monday.

* The Storm Prediction Center of the National Weather Service posted preliminary data from the overnight storms and it included 22 tornado reports.

* In Arkansas, the SPC reported tornadoes were spotted near Fordyce, Coy, Slovak, Lodge Corner, DeWitt and Burks. The counties were Cleveland, Dallas, Lonoke, Prairie, Arkansas and Crittendon.

* In Mississippi, tornadoes were spotted near Trebloc and Lauderdale.

* In Tennessee, there was a possible tornado report in Dickson.

* MSNBC reported that in Alabama, the three deaths occurred near Birmingham. Center Point was hit especially hard. Tuscaloosa, which saw death and destruction from tornadoes in April, suffered damage.

* Accuweather.com reported a fourth fatality had occurred in Alabama.

* Accuweather also reported damage in the Paradise Valley, Millbrook and Clanton areas in Alabama. In Clanton, a tornado is believed to be behind the destruction of a radio station and transmission tower. A report from Millbrook stated winds knocked down trees and power lines and tore apart fences and metal buildings.

* There were reports of severe damage, downed trees, snapped power lines and debris blocking roads in several areas around Alabama, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. The SPC received numerous reports of high winds and wind damage, lightning and power outages across parts of these states.

* In Arkansas and Tennessee, there were reports of tractor-trailers and signs blown over on Interstates, according to the SPC.

* Large hail was reported to the SPC from several states, with multiple reports of quarter-sized hail in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois and Kentucky. Some locations reported hail that was half-dollar in size and larger. There was a report of hail the size of a hen's egg in Calloway County, Ky., and at least one report of hail the size of softballs in Jefferson County, Ark.

* Following overnight high winds, the ferry at Cave-in-Rock, Ill., was closed temporarily, as reported by WPSD-TV. The ferry transports travelers the Ohio River between Illinois and Kentucky but high winds that continue in the region on the heels of Sunday night's storm system are still creating dangerous conditions in the area and the decision was made to close the ferry until weather conditions improve.

Tammy Lee Morris is certified as a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) member and is a trained Skywarn Stormspotter through the National Weather Service. She has received interpretive training regarding the New Madrid Seismic Zone through EarthScope -- a program of the National Science Foundation. She researches and writes about earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, weather and other natural phenomena.


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The Jewish Community of Japan Aids Its Home in the Rebuilding Process (ContributorNetwork)

The earthquake and subsequent tsunami in northern Japan devastated the physical landscape, but as the aftermath unfolds, time has proven that it cannot kill the spirit of a proud people such as the Japanese. The Jewish Community of Japan (JCJ) has a history spanning over sixty years in Tokyo, and the members of that community, along with foreign partners, have already been doing their part to help rebuild the country they call home.

Within 24 hours of the quake, The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) contacted the JCJ to assist with relief efforts. The board members of the JCJ identified NGO-JEN (http://www.jen-npo.org/en/index.html) as a great way to channel supplies and workers to those who needed it most on the ground in northern Japan, so they set up a fund to funnel money from the JDC directly to NGO-JEN. To date, the JDC and the JCJ together have raised more than $60,000 for the cause. The immediate response of the JDC has been a gratifying experience for the community, and has helped NGO-JEN to work more efficiently to put the aid and supplies where they are needed most.

Some members of the Jewish community are setting up deliveries to go without having the auspices of an organization. One member was able to get a truck and supplies out to Miyagi Prefecture within a week of the disasters. He organized food, blankets, medical supplies and even shoes to the victims. Culturally, most Japanese people who are in their homes do not wear shoes, so when the earthquake and tsunami occurred, they fled in stocking feet. Beyond blankets and coats to combat cold weather, shoes are also good items for donation.

Another board member of the JCJ has been working with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as they have set up a field hospital in Minamisanriku to help those affected by the disaster who need on-site medical attention. This is a wonderful contribution from the State of Israel to the people of Japan. The JCJ member who has been in touch with the group helped with obtaining necessary items on the ground for the Israeli team, such as Kosher food and other Japanese supplies. If they stay through the Jewish holiday of Passover in mid-April, he will assist in getting them ready for the holiday as they deem necessary.

Things are getting back to normal in the community itself. The Rabbi of the JCJ, Rabbi Antonio DiGesu, plans to hold services as usual this Sabbath. The religious school, which boasts close to eighty children, will have classes this Sunday. Passover preparation continues in full force. On a normal year, the JCJ hosts upwards of 200 people for first and second night seders, celebrated at the start of Passover, and there is no reason for that to cease.

Most of the JCJ members are foreigners from across the US, Europe, Australia and other places. Most, if they left at all, are now returning to Tokyo - their adopted city. Time and time again the Japanese have proved their ability to recover from the wreckage of disaster, and this time will be no different. Throughout history, the Japanese have proven themselves a resilient group of people, as have the Jews. The Jewish Community of Japan is honored to assist this proud people and be part of their culture and society as they go through the rebuilding process.


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26 homes lost in Reno fire and 2,000 evacuated (AP)

By SCOTT SONNER and MARTIN GRIFFITH, Associated Press Scott Sonner And Martin Griffith, Associated Press – Fri Jan 20, 5:09 pm ET

RENO, Nev. – Reno hasn't seen a winter this dry in more than 120 years. So residents welcomed a forecast that a storm was due to blow across the Sierra Nevada this week.

Instead, as many as 10,000 found themselves fleeing their homes while howling winds gusting to 82 mph pushed a fire toward them, destroying 26 homes and torching thousands of acres.

As the fire eased Friday, residents faced another threat: the storm was expected to bring high winds and a burst of rain and snow that could cause flash flooding on the charred land.

"The weather poses a significant threat," fire commander Paul Washam said. "We've got a lot of work to do and a short time to do it. If it rains, we'll have flood concerns."

Emergency crews, meanwhile, escorted evacuees in two separate burn areas to see their houses. Officials said evacuation orders would continue — even in areas unaffected by the fire.

Connie Cryer went to the fire response command post on Friday with her 12-year-old granddaughter, Maddie Miramon, to find out if her house had survived the flames.

"We had to know so we could get some sleep," Cryer said, adding her house was spared but a neighbor's wasn't. She had seen wildfires before, but nothing on this scale.

"There was fire in front of me, fire beside me, fire behind me. It was everywhere," she said. "I don't know how more didn't burn up. It was terrible, all the wind and the smoke."

The blaze started shortly after noon Thursday and, fueled by the wind gusts, mushroomed to more than 6 square miles before firefighters stopped its surge toward Reno.

"The fire moved very, very fast," Washoe County Sheriff Mike Haley said. "Firefighters did an enormously good job of holding the number of structures down to 26."

The fire's cause isn't known. It started in a valley along a highway, which was closed because the heat destroyed some of the guardrails. Those rails will need to be replaced, state officials said.

Three schools were closed Friday and about 200 customers were without electricity.

The fire held steady around 3,900 acres and was 50 percent contained. Of the roughly 10,000 people ordered to leave their homes, about 2,000 of them remained under evacuation orders.

The high, erratic winds caused major challenges for crews evacuating residents, Sierra Front spokesman Mark Regan said. "In a matter of seconds, the wind would shift," he said.

Fire officials said Thursday's fire was "almost a carbon copy" of a blaze that destroyed 30 homes in Reno during similar summer-like conditions in mid-November.

State Forester Pete Anderson said he has not seen such hazardous fire conditions in winter in his 57 years in Nevada. Reno had no precipitation in December — the last time that happened was 1883.

An inch of snow Monday ended the longest recorded dry spell in Reno history, a 56-day stretch that prompted Anderson to issue an unusual warning about wildfire threats.

"We're usually pretty much done with the fire season by the first of November, but this year it's been nonstop," Anderson said.

Firefighters were taking advantage of a break in the weather Friday to make more progress against the fire. At least 700 people, including firefighters from California, were expected to fight the fire.

Reno Fire Chief Michael Hernandez said there was one fatality in the fire area but declined to provide more details, saying an autopsy would be needed to determine the cause of death.

Kit Bailey, U.S. Forest Service fire chief at nearby Lake Tahoe, said conditions are so dry that even a forecast calling for rain and snow might not take the Reno-Tahoe area out of fire danger.

"The scary thing is a few days of drying after this storm cycle and we could be back into fire season again," he said.

___

Associated Press writers Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas and Sandra Chereb in Carson City, Nev., contributed to this report.


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Mozambique: Storms, floods kill 22 (AP)

MAPUTO, Mozambique – Storms have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes and killed 22 in the southern African nation of Mozambique, disaster relief officials said Monday.

State TV on Monday reported that 12 people died Sunday in the central province of Zambezia. Ten deaths in southern areas had been reported earlier in the aftermath of a tropical depression that brought fierce rains and wind last week.

Storms have abated, but Dulce Chilundo, director of the national emergency office, told Radio Mozambique the government is feeding and housing more than 56,000 people whose homes and belongings were swept away.

The governor of Gaza, Raimundo Diomba, said several schools in his southern province were destroyed. Elsewhere, flooding has made stretches of highway impassable.


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Sun hurls strong geomagnetic storm toward Earth (Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The strongest geomagnetic storm in more than six years was forecast to hit Earth's magnetic field on Tuesday, and it could affect airline routes, power grids and satellites, the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center said.

A coronal mass ejection - a big chunk of the Sun's atmosphere - was hurled toward Earth on Sunday, driving energized solar particles at about 5 million miles an hour (2,000 km per second), about five times faster than solar particles normally travel, the center's Terry Onsager said.

"When it hits us, it's like a big battering ram that pushes into Earth's magnetic field," Onsager said from Boulder, Colorado. "That energy causes Earth's magnetic field to fluctuate."

This energy can interfere with high frequency radio communications used by airlines to navigate close to the North Pole in flights between North America, Europe and Asia, so some routes may need to be shifted, Onsager said.

It could also affect power grids and satellite operations, the center said in a statement. Astronauts aboard the International Space Station may be advised to shield themselves in specific parts of the spacecraft to avoid a heightened dose of solar radiation, Onsager said.

The space weather center said the geomagnetic storm's intensity would probably be moderate or strong, levels two and three on a five-level scale, five being the most extreme.

(Reporting By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment Correspondent; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)


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Storm blankets Northeast with a few inches of snow (AP)

PHILADELPHIA – A few inches of snow coated the Northeast on Saturday in a storm so rare this season in the East that some welcomed it.

"We've been very lucky, so we can't complain," said Gloria Fernandez of New York City, as she shoveled the sidewalk outside her workplace. "It's nice, it's fluffy and it's on the weekend," she said of the snow, which hadn't fallen in the city since a rare October storm that that dumped more than 2 feet of snow in parts and knocked out power to nearly 3 million homes and businesses in the region.

By midafternoon, 4.3 inches of snow had fallen in Central Park and 3.4 inches at LaGuardia Airport in New York. Most of eastern Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia, and central New Jersey saw about 4 inches of snow, with a few places reporting up to 8 inches. Flurries and freezing rain fell around Washington, D.C.

In Massachusetts, the National Weather Service says 11 inches fell in the Bristol County town of Acushnet. Cape Cod also saw high totals, including nearly 10 inches in Bourne, noteworthy in a season marked by a lack of snow throughout the Northeast.

The fast-moving storm left several inches of snow in Rhode Island, where the coastal areas took the hardest hit. More than nine inches fell in North Kingstown. Little Compton in Newport County was also hard hit, as eight inches fell there. The storm was expected to move out to sea overnight.

Road conditions were fair Saturday, officials said. Crews in Pennsylvania and New Jersey began salting roads around midnight and plowing soon after. By midmorning, the snow had turned to sleet in Philadelphia north through central New Jersey and had stopped falling altogether by early afternoon.

"It's a fairly moderate snowstorm, at best," said weather service forecaster Bruce Sullivan.

Few accidents were reported on the roads, helped by the weekend's lack of rush hour traffic, but New Jersey transportation spokesman Joe Dee cautioned drivers to build in more time for trips. Though temperatures will warm up this afternoon he said, forecasters expect the wet ground to freeze again overnight.

Flights arriving at Philadelphia Airport were delayed up to two hours because of snow and ice accumulation and about 35 flights had been canceled, but most departing flights were leaving on time, airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said.

New York City had 1,500 snow plows at the ready, each equipped with global positioning systems that will allow supervisors to see their approximate location on command maps updated every 30 seconds, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said at a morning news conference.

The equipment was installed last year following a post-Christmas storm in 2010 that left plows stuck and stranded in drifts and left swaths of the city unplowed for days. Bloomberg said the GPS system has already led to "vastly improved communication" between supervisors and plow operators.

In Connecticut, where the October storm did the most damage and some lost power for more than a week, the fast-moving storm left a foot of snow in North Haven, while Haddam in Middlesex County got 11 inches. The totals dropped significantly to the north, where Hartford got around two inches.

As always, some benefited from the snow. Enough accumulated through the week for snowmobiling and ice fishing in New Hampshire, where cross-country ski trails and snowshoeing were open at Bretton Woods and other places.


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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snow cancels flights, snarls traffic in Chicago (AP)

CHICAGO – Chicago officials worked Friday to prevent a repeat of last year's "snowmageddon," when a blizzard left hundreds of drivers stranded along one of the city's main thoroughfares for up to 12 hours overnight.

With the city getting socked by its first major snowstorm of the winter and drifts forming, officials detoured buses off icy Lake Shore Drive, the iconic road running along Lake Michigan. Bus service was partially restored by the end of rush hour except for the southern portion of the road.

Last year's storm, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow, brought Chicago to a standstill and caused serious embarrassment to a city known for its ability to keep working in some of the most severe winter weather. Transit spokesman Brian Steele said icy ramps and drifting snow led to the decision to move buses away from the lakefront Friday and onto roads where there was less wind and slower traffic.

No significant problems had developed yet, he said, adding, "The decision was made solely as a precaution."

More than 700 flights were cancelled at Chicago's airports, the bulk of them at O'Hare International Airport, the Chicago Department of Aviation said.

While the snow started in the morning, the worst of the storm hit just at rush hour. Eight inches of snow were expected by nightfall, and the National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning lasting until late Friday.

Chicago deployed its full fleet of 278 plows to push through the snow on main streets and Lake Shore Drive, but they had to inch along with commuters headed home in heavy traffic.

"The biggest challenge for us right now is congestion. We're caught in it just like everyone else," said Guy Tridgell, a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Transportation.

During last year's February blizzard, the city's third-worst storm on record, authorities had to remove 525 vehicles that got stuck on Lake Shore Drive, which was closed for 33 hours. City officials began work in November to create two turnaround points on the road to make it easier for cars to avoid getting stuck.


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The nations weather (AP)

By WEATHER UNDERGROUND, For The Associated Press Weather Underground, For The Associated Press – 2 hrs 19 mins ago

Weather Underground Forecast for Wednesday, January 25, 2012.

A stalled frontal zone in the Southern Plains will give rise to a new area of low pressure in eastern Texas and southern Oklahoma on Wednesday. The low will develop slowly, but due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, it will have a rich moisture source to bring heavy precipitation to the region. Heavy rains and thunderstorms will develop throughout the region, spreading north from their Gulf origins. Eastern Texas and Louisiana may experience severe weather conditions with damaging wind gusts and isolated tornadoes.

While the region is in dire need of rain, many of the thunderstorms will bring the rain in quick heavy bursts, leading to localized and urban flooding. In addition to this activity, cloud cover will spread north out of this low bringing cloudy to partly cloudy skies to much of the Northeast. The cloud cover should not produce any significant rain in the Northeast however.

To the north and west of the southern storm, a few areas of precipitation are expected in the Northern Plains along with some high clouds, but generally dry conditions will be most common.

The Northwest will see another shot of precipitation as another Pacific cold front pushes across the coast. Once again, heavy rain will fall along the coast, with high elevation areas expected to receive deep snowfall accumulations. Precipitation will spread eastward through the Northwest as this front pushes inland.

Elsewhere in the west, high pressure in the Great Basin should keep skies clear and allow temperatures to climb to near normal or above. Temperatures in the Lower 48 states Tuesday have ranged from a morning low of -20 degrees at West Yellowstone, Mont. to a high of 84 degrees at Plant City, Fla.


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Hope fades for four missing at Mount Rainier, Park Service says (Reuters)

SEATTLE (Reuters) – Chances are slim of finding four people alive who have been missing since last week on Mount Rainier in Washington state as rescue efforts were suspended on Tuesday due to a snow storm that hit the region, a Park Service official said.

The suspension of the search came a day after officials, taking advantage of a break between winter storms, conducted a major operation to look for the missing people.

An Army Chinook helicopter, a private helicopter and a Washington State Patrol plane with infrared capabilities were used in the latest unsuccessful search, along with seven ground teams, the U.S. National Park Service said in a statement.

But on Tuesday, a winter storm brought more snowfall to Mount Rainier, 50 miles southeast of Seattle, hindering further rescue efforts. Heavy snow blanketed Mount Rainier last week during an unusually strong winter storm that virtually paralyzed nearby Seattle.

The four missing people were in two separate parties. Mark Vucich, 37, of San Diego and Michelle Trojanowski, 30, of Atlanta had been planning to camp at Muir Snowfield at the mountain, the Park Service said. They had said they would exit the park on Sunday, January 15.

The second party consisted of two 52-year-old climbers. Sork Yang of Springfield, Oregon, and Seol Hee Jin of South Korea, were trying to reach the mountain's summit and planned to return on Monday, January 16, the Park Service said.

Patti Wold, a spokeswoman for the Park Service, said on Tuesday that the chances of finding the four people alive were "very minimal, minimum to none."

"We're not searching today," Wold said. "We are scaling back the operation."

The families of the four missing people have been told that the chances of finding them alive were small, she added.

(Reporting by Laura L. Myers: Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)


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Freezing rain, snow cover parts of Upper Midwest (AP)

MINNEAPOLIS – Freezing drizzle and rain made roads slick Sunday as a winter weather system moved across portions of the Upper Midwest, and the precipitation was expected to begin changing over into snow that could continue into Monday.

The National Weather Service issued winter weather advisories for most of Minnesota and South Dakota, nearly all of Wisconsin and parts of North Dakota and Iowa for late Sunday.

The precipitation was coming from a low pressure system expected to track east across Nebraska and Iowa and deepen as it moved northeast across Wisconsin, it said.

Snow was expected Sunday in Nebraska and the Dakotas with a few inches falling in parts before midnight, the weather service said.

In other states, rain was changing to snow and was expected to continue into Monday morning. Up to 2 inches of snow were possible by Monday in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota and parts of central Wisconsin, the weather service said.

In southeastern Minnesota, Rochester police responded to more than 70 crashes on slick roadways Sunday morning, Lt. Mike Sadauskis said.

"People probably need to take their time a little bit better, give themselves a little bit more space," he said.

In northwestern Minnesota, four people were injured in a two-car crash on an icy Interstate 94 just east of Moorhead on Sunday morning, the State Patrol reported, while a woman was injured when the car she was riding in lost control near a crash scene and slid into the rear of a parked fire truck on I-94 near Rothsay.

A teenager escaped injury when his SUV slid on an icy road and hit a snowplow Sunday morning on U.S. Highway 2 east of Wilton in Beltrami County. The snowplow driver was also unhurt.

Authorities closed Interstate 43 in both directions south of Green Bay, Wis. for over two hours after light rain turned to ice and made travel dangerous, leading to multiple crashes, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation said.

Glazing was reported Sunday across portions of northeastern Iowa and southwestern and central Wisconsin, the weather service said. In the Milwaukee area, freezing fog could reduce visibility to less than a quarter of a mile, it said.

North Dakota got freezing rain and snow Saturday into Sunday that left roads in the southern half of the state coated with ice.


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Tornado creates worries in bankrupt Ala. county (AP)

CENTER POINT, Ala. – Willie Williams Jr. was worried as he walked through his tornado-tossed neighborhood to his daughter's elementary school.

His home is in Jefferson County, which filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history in November, and Williams wonders how the county will rebuild the school as well as pay crews to clear debris and do other services.

"We're lacking. We need more help," Williams said. "Everybody just needs to pray."

After months of hearing how the county government is broke, residents are curious about how much local assistance is available to help them recover from tornadoes that killed two and wiped out scores of homes and businesses.

Touring the area, Gov. Robert Bentley promised the state will do everything it can to help Jefferson County, the state's largest county.

"We'll do whatever is necessary," Bentley said outside the mangled shell of Center Point Elementary School. As he spoke, chainsaws screamed in the distance.

Bentley wasn't specific about what help may be coming, but county emergency management coordinator Allen Kniphfer said the answer may be a combination of federal and state dollars, plus equipment and personnel loans from cities.

"If people want to donate to help us we'll take it," Kniphfer said.

The National Weather Service said at least six different tornadoes skipped across central Alabama, causing damage across a wide area. The strongest hit Jefferson County with winds up to 150 mph.

Jefferson County leaders have said they would likely use reserve money to pay for emergency assistance, but the state and federal governments could end up reimbursing part or all of the cost.

The director of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, Art Faulkner, said state troopers have provided traffic control and additional security to help Jefferson County.

"We are there to help the local government when they get to the point where they can't effectively respond," said Faulkner.

Jefferson County has reduced its payroll by more than 500 people through layoffs and attrition. With the county citing more than $4 billion in debt and in search of new revenue to replace a tax that was struck down by courts, leaders have closed satellite courthouses and curtailed operating hours in some offices.

Clara Carlin, 74, sat outside her home of 30 years as a Southern Baptist relief team removed fallen trees that punched holes in her roof. Carlin said she has a hard time trusting assurances of aid from Washington all the way down to City Hall.

"I don't think that it's anytime soon that the government can help anybody get over this," said Carlin, who plans to move in with her sister temporarily.

Monica Finley, a second-grade teacher at Center Point Elementary, had her own concerns about government response as she awaited Bentley's arrival at the school. She looked across a neighborhood that was heavily damaged by a twister and feared for the displaced residents. "They're going to need housing," she said.

During his visit to the school, Bentley received a report that included 20 suggestions from the Tornado Recovery Action Council, which he appointed after twisters killed about 250 people across the state last April. Bentley said he will immediately implement two of the suggestions, one for using $72 million in federal relief money to building community and individual shelters and safe rooms, and the other urging local governments to develop disaster plans.

Storms could hit the state again Thursday, although not with the ferocity of the system Monday. Weather service meteorologist Mark Linhares said while it was somewhat uncommon to have tornadoes in January, such storms are hardly rare.

The state is so close to the Gulf of Mexico that moist air moves inland year-round, helping create instability and bringing with it the possibility of storms.

"We can have severe weather any month of the year," Linhares said.

___

Associated Press writer Bob Johnson contributed to this report from Montgomery.


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