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The week at a glance...United States

United States

Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma Deadly twisters: At least 59 tornadoes ripped through the Great Plains and Midwest last week, killing six and battering small towns, suburbs, and rural areas. Violent winds tossed vehicles and drove families into basements and shelters, as the twisters splintered their homes and communities. In some areas, witnesses reported baseball-size hail. All of the fatalities were reported in Woodward, Okla., a community of about 12,000 that lay in the path of a devastating EF-3 tornado, packing winds of up to 165 mph. Early predictions of “catastrophic” and “extremely dangerous” weather kept residents on alert, experts said, and limited deaths and injuries from this dangerous storm cluster. “We had more notice on this system than you normally do,” said Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. “You normally are looking at a couple of hours’ notice. Well, this one had almost two days’ notice.” 

Des Plaines, Ill. Killer swan: In a horrific reminder of nature’s lethal volatility, a married father of two was attacked and killed last week by an enraged swan. Anthony Hensley, 37, worked for a company that uses swans and dogs to keep geese away from properties. Paddling a kayak on a pond in the Bay Colony condominiums, Hensley was tending to his normally docile swans when, investigators believe, he came too close to a nesting area. One aggressive swan rushed Hensley, toppling him from his kayak and into the water. The bird continued to lunge at him as he struggled to swim to the shore. By the time rescue personnel arrived, Hensley’s lifeless body was underwater. An autopsy found that he died from drowning. “I can’t understand how this was possible,” said his father-in-law, George Koutsogiannis. “Maybe he didn’t fight back enough when the swan attacked him. Maybe he didn’t want to hurt the animal.”

Newark, N.J.Mayor to the rescue: Calling it his “come to Jesus moment,” Mayor Cory Booker rushed into a burning building last week and carried out a neighbor who was trapped in her smoke-filled second-floor bedroom. Booker, 42, arrived at his Newark home to discover his next-door neighbor’s house engulfed in flames. Pushing aside his security detail, he ran into the building following faint calls of “Help! I’m here.” Booker lifted Zina Hodge, 47, from her bed and carried her on his shoulders through the burning kitchen, while flames rolled over the roof. Booker, a 6-foot-3 former All-American tight end at Stanford, said he was not a hero. “I didn’t feel bravery, I felt terror,” he said. “I couldn’t breathe.” Booker was treated for second-degree burns and smoke inhalation.

Washington, D.C. GSA fraud probe: At the General Services Administration, the now-infamous $823,000, taxpayer-funded Las Vegas conference wasn’t an isolated event, lawmakers and investigators charged this week. In congressional testimony, the GSA’s in-house investigator reported that Jeff Neely—the executive who planned the wildly extravagant Vegas retreat for 300 colleagues at a four-star hotel, with a mind reader and clown for entertainment—also spent thousands on trips for himself and his wife, including a nine-day Hawaiian excursion to attend a one-hour ribbon-cutting ceremony. Neely, a GSA public buildings commissioner for the Pacific Rim region, is said to have also spent $40,000 on a four-day trip to California’s Napa Valley and $150,000 on an intern conference in Palm Springs. “Why not enjoy it while we have it?” Neely wrote in a 2010 email, according to investigators. Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) called the GSA’s lavish spending “a culture of fraud.” 

Chantilly, Va. Space shuttle’s last landing: The space shuttle Discovery made its final voyage this week, riding atop a specially outfitted Boeing 747 to its new home at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum annex. Discovery completed its last space mission in March 2011, and was retired last year, along with NASA’s two other surviving shuttles, after construction was finished on the $100 billion International Space Station. “It’s a very emotional, poignant, bittersweet moment,” said former astronaut Mike Mullane, who flew on three space shuttle missions. “When it’s all happening you think, ‘This will never end,’ but we all move on.” Discovery will now take its place at the Smithsonian, the nation’s official repository for space artifacts, trading places with the shuttle Enterprise, which will be transferred this month to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City.

Milledgeville, Ga.Kindergartner handcuffed: Police this week defended their actions in handcuffing a 6-year-old kindergartner after she threw a tantrum. Officials at Creekside Elementary School summoned the police last week to deal with Salecia Johnson, who they said was tearing items off the walls and throwing furniture in an outburst. The police cuffed the girl and took her to the local police station, where she remained until her parents retrieved her. Salecia’s mother said her daughter’s “mood swings” didn’t justify such harsh treatment, but police were unapologetic. “Our policy is that any detainee transported to our station in a patrol vehicle is to be handcuffed in the back,” said Milledgeville police chief Dray Swicord. “There is no age discrimination on that rule.” 

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