WACO, Texas – President Obama consoled a rural Texas community rocked by a deadly fertilizer plant explosion, telling mourners Thursday they are not alone in their grief and they will have the nation’s support to rebuild from the devastation.
“This small town’s family is bigger now,” Obama said during a memorial service at Baylor University for victims of last week’s explosion in nearby West, Texas, that killed 14 and injured 200.
Nearly 10,000 gathered to remember the first responders killed in the blast, a crowd more than triple the size of West’s entire population of 2,700.
“To the families, the neighbors grappling with unbearable loss, we are here to say you are not alone. You are not forgotten,” Obama said to applause. “We may not all live here in Texas, but we’re neighbors too. We’re Americans too, and we stand with you.”
The April 17 explosion left a crater more than 90 feet wide and damaged dozens of buildings. Crews were sifting the rubble to search for clues to what caused the explosion or whether foul play was involved.
Senate reaches deal to end flight delays
With flight delays mounting, the Senate approved hurry-up legislation Thursday night to end air traffic controller furloughs blamed for inconveniencing large numbers of travelers.
A House vote on the measure was expected as early as today, with lawmakers eager to embark on a weeklong vacation.
Under the legislation, the Federal Aviation Administration would gain authority to transfer up to $253 million from accounts that are flush into other programs, to “prevent reduced operations and staffing” through the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.
Poison letter probe moves to new house
Authorities on Thursday searched another home in the investigation of poisoned letters sent to the president and others, while the Mississippi man whose home was previously searched has apparently gone into hiding.
Everett Dutschke, 45, had his home and former business in Tupelo searched in connection with the letters, which allegedly contained ricin.
Charges were initially filed against a celebrity impersonator but then dropped. Attention then turned to Dutschke, who has ties to the former suspect and those who received the letters.
On Thursday, investigators looked through the home of Kirk Kitchens, a friend of Dutschke, about 20 miles away in Saltillo. Kitchens told The Associated Press that he and Dutschke stayed at the home for a while Wednesday before leaving to meet with someone who drove Dutschke elsewhere.
Kitchens said Dutschke was just trying to escape the news media. Dutschke’s attorney said he is cooperating and the FBI knows how to get in touch with him.
Fuel barges explode in Mobile; 3 injured
Firefighters in Mobile, Ala., on Thursday extinguished a huge blaze that erupted hours earlier when two fuel barges exploded on the Mobile River east of downtown.
The fire left three people with critical burns and forced the evacuation of crew from a nearby cruise ship.
The cause of the explosions remained under investigation, but investigators believe it was likely from a spark caused by a crew cleaning the barges, Coast Guard Lt. Mike Clausen said.
Experimental shots not preventing HIV
The latest bad news in the hunt for an AIDS vaccine: The government halted a large U.S. study Thursday, saying the experimental shots aren’t preventing HIV infection.
Nor did the shots reduce the amount of the AIDS virus in the blood when people who’d been vaccinated later became infected, the National Institutes of Health said.
“It’s disappointing,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. But, “there was important information gained from this” study that will help determine what to try next.
Hormone found that could help diabetics
Scientists have identified a hormone that can sharply boost the number of cells that make insulin in mice, a discovery that may someday lead to a treatment for the most common type of diabetes.
People have their own version of this hormone, and the new research suggests that giving diabetics more might one day help them avoid insulin shots.
Experts unconnected with the work cautioned that other substances have shown similar effects on mouse cells but failed to work on human ones. But Harvard University researcher Douglas Melton, senior author of the report, said this hormone stands out because its effect is unusually potent and confined to just the cells that make insulin.
Country singer faces boat rage charges
Police suspect country singer Billy Currington may have videotaped himself chasing a 70-year-old tour boat captain along a coastal Georgia creek and threatening to “finish him off” in a tirade filled with profanities, according to court documents filed Thursday.
The boat captain, Charles Harvey Ferrelle, and his two passengers told police Currington was holding a camera when he became outraged and made the threats April 15 after they passed him on the dock of a $3.5 million waterfront home near Tybee Island.
Currington, 39, turned himself in Thursday afternoon at the county jail, where he was booked on charges of making terroristic threats and abuse of an elderly person.
Officer delivers 2nd freeway baby
Honolulu police Officer Stephen Keogh jokes that he didn’t receive obstetrics training while in the academy, but he’s been getting a lot of practice delivering babies.
Keogh, a traffic motorcycle officer with seven years on the force, delivered a baby girl during Thursday morning’s rush-hour commute on Honolulu’s H-1 freeway. He helped with a birth on the same highway last year.