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September 2010

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News September 2010

Caribbean storm dumps rain, eyes Florida, Sep 29, 2010

A tropical depression in the Caribbean Sea brought heavy rains early Wednesday to southern Florida after soaking Cuba, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

The system had top sustained winds near 35 mph and was expected to strengthen into Tropical Storm Nicole later on Wednesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

"The depression is very near becoming a tropical storm," the center said in a 5 a.m. ET advisory.

Tropical cyclones become named storms when their sustained winds reach 39 mph (63 km per hour).

The system was centered about 190 miles south of Miami and was moving north-northeast at 14 mph/22 kph, the Miami-based hurricane center said. It was expected to move over the Florida Straits later in the morning.

The storm was projected to stay well clear of the Gulf of Mexico, where U.S. oil and gas operations are concentrated. The heaviest rains were on the east side of the system, which would reduce the threat to the central Florida orange groves.

The system was not expected to strengthen beyond a minimal tropical storm and forecasters predicted it would dissipate into a wide blob of thunderstorms by the weekend.

The main threat was from flash flooding and mudslides. The depression was expected to dump 5 to 10 inches of rain in its path, including over the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and Cuba.

A tropical storm warning was in effect along the Florida eastern coast, the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba and the Bahamas. A warning means tropical storm conditions were expected between 12 to 24 hours.

Austin ranked sexiest city in U.S., Sep 16, 2010

New York, Las Vegas or Los Angeles may seem like more likely choices but Austin, Texas has been named the sexiest city in the United States in a magazine survey.

Dallas, Houston and San Antonio also scored high marks in the ranking by Men's Health Magazine that looked at birth rates, condom sales, rate of sexually transmitted diseases and sales of sex toys.

But cold-weather cities, including Portland, Maine which came in last and Burlington in Vermont, didn't do as well.

"One possibility is that in an area where's it's hotter, people need to dress lighter and that puts pressure on them to look better and keep in better shape," said Matt Marion, the deputy editor of the magazine.

Seven of the 15 sexiest cities in the poll of 100 urban areas were in Texas. In contrast, New England, with its freezing temperatures and parka-wearing populace, was home to many of the least libidinous cities.

The finding that amorous people tended to be more abundant in warmer cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina and Atlanta, contradicts the notion that sultry weather makes people lazy and want to avoid physical contact with others.

Some cities renowned for their singles bars and hook-up scenes were also low in the ranking. Las Vegas was No. 70, followed by New York at 73, San Francisco at 74 and Miami at 88, contradicting their reputations as randy metropolises.

"They could be having plenty of sex in Boston, San Francisco and New York, but just less than in other places," Marion said.

Yonkers, in New York, Charleston in West Virginia and Manchester, New Hampshire were also at the bottom of the list.

Gas blast engulfs neighborhood near San Francisco, Sep 10, 2010

A fiery natural gas explosion ripped through a residential neighborhood in a San Francisco suburb on Thursday, ravaging some 50 homes and killing at least one person, officials said.

As many as 22 people were injured by the blast and flames in San Bruno, a few miles (kilometers) from the San Francisco International Airport, and were taken to local hospitals and burn treatment centers. The local coroner's office reported one fatality.

"We have confirmed 53 structures have been severely damaged, 120 more have fire damage," San Bruno Fire Department Chief Dennis Haag told a news conference.

Most of the burned buildings were homes in the densely populated residential area, officials said.

Television footage showed a massive fireball and flames shooting skywards. Area residents said they first thought the blast's loud boom was the result of an earthquake or an airplane crash.

The gas Line belongs to the northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric Co (PCG.N), the company said in a statement.

"Though a cause has yet to be determined, we know that a PG&E gas transmission Line was ruptured. If it is ultimately determined that we were responsible for the cause of the incident, we will take accountability," the statement said.

The explosion of the high-pressure gas Line came at rush hour around 6 p.m. local time (0100 GMT on Friday) and flames spread quickly due to high winds.

Television footage showed a massive fireball and flames shooting skywards. Area residents said they first thought the blast's loud boom was the result of an earthquake or an airplane crash.

Water-dropping aircraft assisted 150 to 200 firefighters on the ground, whose work was made more difficult by the intense heat and broken water Lines.

"The fire is being contained at this point ... it is around 50 percent contained," Haag said.

About 100 people were spending the night at an evacuation center, he said.

California Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado, serving as acting governor while Arnold Schwarzenegger is on a trade mission to Asia, declared a state of emergency to free up state assistance for local government.

U.S. says not considering NATO Afghan troop request, Sep 9, 2010

The United States does not plan to contribute to a NATO request for 2,000 troops for the Afghan war, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, even as the head of the alliance held out the possibility of U.S. participation.

The NATO commander in Afghanistan submitted a request last week that alliance officials said called for another 2,000 soldiers, including 750 trainers.

Colonel Dave Lapan, a Pentagon spokesman, said the request referred to a long-standing NATO requirement focusing on training Afghan forces.

Last year, NATO allies failed to meet all NATO requests for trainers and Washington temporarily deployed 850 troops to help fill the gap. Those soldiers are due back in the United States this fall and no more were being considered, Lapan said.

"We would look for NATO to first fill that requirement," Lapan told reporters at the Pentagon.

U.S. forces count for 95,000 of the nearly 150,000 foreign troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, speaking earlier with reporters in Washington, said it was still unclear where the extra soldiers would come from and did not rule out the possibility that some might be U.S. troops.

"The composition of the 2,000 will very much depend on the force generation process. So here and now I don't know how many will be U.S., how many will be other allies and partners," Rasmussen said when asked how many might be U.S. troops.

"But in the past we have succeeded to keep it as a broad alliance mission and I expect that to continue."

President Barack Obama ordered a "surge" of 30,000 additional soldiers for the unpopular Afghan war last December but said those forces would start withdrawing in July 2011.

Any additional increases could undercut that drawdown, which supporters say conveys a needed sense of urgency to ramp up Afghan security forces for an eventual handover after nine years of war.

Critics say the July 2011 date has backfired, sending a signal that the United States is preparing to wind down at a time when NATO forces are suffering record casualties.

Rasmussen, who later met Obama at the White House, said he believed the July 2011 date fit into plans to start gradually passing security responsibility to Afghan forces next year.

But he decLined to set a date in 2011 for the transition to begin, saying it would depend on conditions on the ground.

"It's a clear military assessment that we can't do it this year," Rasmussen said. "But based on the reports that I have seen ... I find it realistic to start the process next year."

Rasmussen said he hoped to be able to make announcements "in broad terms" at a NATO conference in Lisbon in November about where in Afghanistan the transition might start.

"We have to make sure that we get conditions right before we start this process because a transition to lead Afghan responsibility should be irreversible," he said. "We'll not be in a position to take responsibility back afterwards. That would be a disaster."

Hurricane Earl heads for U.S. east, islands evacuated, Sep 1, 2010

Visitors and some residents evacuated from low-lying vacation islands off the North Carolina coast on Wednesday as Hurricane Earl bore down on the U.S. eastern seaboard, churning up dangerous swells.

Earl, still a major Category 3 hurricane, weakened slightly overnight but was on a track that could approach the North Carolina coast by Friday morning, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Packing top sustained winds of 125 mph, Earl was churning over the open Atlantic. The hurricane was expected to sideswipe the densely populated coast from North Carolina to New England on a forecast northward offshore path during the upcoming U.S. Labor Day holiday weekend marking the end of the summer vacation season.

This was expected to bring driving rain, high winds and pounding surf, but forecasters so far have not predicted a direct hit on the U.S. East Coast.

North Carolina's Dare County ordered the mandatory evacuation of all visitors from Hatteras Island, a popular picturesque vacation spot that draws large numbers of tourists each year. Officials said high waves striking the island could wash over the costal highway, impeding safe travel.

Vacationers and residents were also being evacuated from Ocracoke Island, also on North Carolina's Outer Banks that jut into the Atlantic Ocean.

At 8 a.m. EST (1200 GMT), Earl was moving across the Atlantic well to the east of the Bahamas and was located about 780 miles south southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

"Large swells from Earl should affect the Bahamas and the southeastern coast of the United States today (Wednesday). These swells will likely cause dangerous surf conditions and rip currents," the center said.

Hurricane Earl posed no threat to major U.S. oil and gas installations in the Gulf of Mexico.