Ominous rumblings: A 10,200-foot-tall Alaskan volcano is rumbling and spewing tons of abrasive ash across communities near Anchorage, and seismologists are warning that massive mud and lava flows could soon follow. Mount Redoubt, about 100 miles southwest of Anchorage, erupted six times this week, its first cluster of eruptions in 20 years. Residents who live near the volcano were advised to stay indoors or wear a mask if they went outside. “My eyes are itching really bad,” said Rita Jackson of Willow, before running outside to drape a tarp over a snowmobile. Seismologists say that a lava dome is forming atop Mount Redoubt. If the dome collapses, it could trigger mudslides and lava flows stretching more than 20 miles.
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Police officers killed: A routine traffic stop in Oakland erupted into a two-hour-long firefight, leaving three police officers and the suspect dead. A fourth officer was declared brain-dead and was being kept alive pending organ transplants. The incident started when officers Mark Dunakin and John Hege pulled over a car driven by Lovell Mixon, a convicted felon wanted for parole violations. Mixon fired an automatic weapon, killing Dunakin and grievously wounding Hege. Mixon then fled to his sister’s nearby apartment, where he later ambushed SWAT officers Ervin Romansa and Daniel Sakai, killing them both. Mixon died in the firefight. The killings ratcheted up tensions in Oakland, already on edge after police fatally shot an unarmed subway rider on New Year’s Eve.
Plane crash mystery: A single-engine plane carrying three families to a Montana ski resort crashed at the edge of a Butte cemetery, killing all 14 people on board, including seven children. The flight originated in Redlands, Calif., making two stops to pick up passengers before heading for Bozeman, home of the Yellowstone Club ski resort. But for unknown reasons, the pilot diverted the plane to Butte, crashing just short of the local airport. Because the plane had no flight recorder, investigators say their investigation could take months. They want to know if the plane was overloaded and if ice built up on the wings as it descended. It’s the third major plane crash in the U.S. since January.
Obama apologizes: President Obama has apologized for a remark about his bowling skills that drew sharp criticism from advocates for the mentally disabled. Appearing on The Tonight Show last week, Obama joked to host Jay Leno that his bowling was “like the Special Olympics or something.” After taping the show, Obama telephoned Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver to apologize, but that didn’t placate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose son Trig has Down syndrome. “This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people,” Palin said. Several other Republicans complained that Obama had demeaned his office by cracking jokes during a national economic crisis.
Flood fears: Thousands of volunteers raced to fill sandbags this week as rising water threatened several towns along the Missouri River in North Dakota. The river is swollen with melting snow and choked with ice that’s causing water to back up and spread over the river’s banks. Blizzards forecast for the weekend could further raise river levels that are already above flood stage. Bismarck Mayor John Warford said the city might use 1,800 pounds of salt to melt ice that’s jamming the river just north of town, and Gov. John Hoeven said the state might dynamite the ice. President Obama has declared the state a disaster area, meaning the federal government will pay 75 percent of the costs of fighting the flood.
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Ruling on Plan B: A federal court has ordered the Food and Drug Administration to loosen its rules for the sale of the Plan B emergency contraceptive to women 18 and older, and ordered that the pills be made available to 17-year-olds without a prescription. The court said the FDA had used “political considerations, delays, and implausible justifications” to restrict access to the drug, which can prevent conception up to 72 hours after intercourse. Plan B is currently available without a prescription to women 18 and older, but it must be kept behind the counter—forcing customers to ask the pharmacist for the pills. Women 17 and younger currently need a prescription to obtain the pill. Some conservative groups expressed concern that wider availability would promote sexual promiscuity.
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