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Nation in brief

Heavy rain collapses roofs burdened by record snow

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 23, 2003

LANHAM, Md. -- The roof of a Toys "R" Us store collapsed Saturday, injuring at least eight people, as heavy rain soaked an area stressed by the weight of snow from the Washington's Birthday blizzard, authorities said.

Fire Chief Ronald Blackwell said the injured people, including a 3-year-old, were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.

Authorities had feared others were trapped inside the 45,000-square-foot building, but rescuers found no one in an initial search and Prince George's County Police reported no missing-person calls, officials said.

Firefighters were planning another search, but Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson said he remained "cautiously optimistic" that everyone in the store was able to escape.

In Virginia, the roof of an elementary school in Herndon also collapsed during Saturday's rain, Fairfax County officials said. The school was empty.

A Wal-Mart store in Leesburg, about 20 miles west of the Toys "R" Us, was evacuated as a precaution after the roof sagged, said Mary McGuire, spokeswoman for Loudon County fire and rescue.

About 90 percent of the Toys 'R' Us roof fell in, all the way from the cash registers to the back of the store, Prince George's County Fire Department spokesman Mark Brady said.

Doretea Burton was with her mother and two children, a 1-year-old boy and 7-year-old girl, shopping for a high chair when she heard "a roaring sound."

"You could see the sky beams falling and beams bent," said Burton, 29. "For a moment we all thought we were going to die."

Burton said she and her family had to walk circles around the rubble to get out. "The roof was coming down as we ran. It was like it was following us," she said.

The heavy rain added to the weight of the heavy snowpack on many buildings, said Don Lumpkins, operations officer at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

State emergency officials received scattered reports of collapses of retail buildings, barns and garages throughout the area, Lumpkins said. Only the Toys R' Us accident caused human injuries, he said.

On Monday, a record 28.2 inches fell at nearby Baltimore-Washington National Airport and more than 16 fell at Washington's Reagan National Airport.

Brady said the combination of the flat roof on the free-standing toy store and all the snow and rain created a "disaster waiting to happen."

Bush: Democrats stalling nomination

CRAWFORD, Texas -- President Bush charged Saturday that Democratic senators are stalling Miguel Estrada's nomination to a federal appeals court. Democrats said Estrada's unwillingness to be more open has made it impossible for them to evaluate him.

Democrats have held up a final vote on Estrada, the president's choice to be the first Hispanic on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which often decides important government cases.

"I call on the Senate Democratic leadership to stop playing politics, and permit a vote on Miguel Estrada's nomination," Bush said in his weekly radio address. "Let each senator vote as he or she thinks best, but give the man a vote."

Democrats say Estrada, a Washington lawyer, lacks the judicial experience to serve on that court.

Elsewhere . . .

EARTHQUAKE ROCKS CALIFORNIA: A magnitude-5.4 earthquake shook Southern California early Saturday, jarring residents awake as far south as San Diego and rattling buildings in Los Angeles. There were no immediate reports of injuries or serious damage.

SCHOOL TO BE NAMED 'COLUMBIA': A new elementary school in Las Cruces, N.M., is being named for the lost space shuttle Columbia.

The name was chosen Friday by students, parents and staff after a review of more than 200 suggested names for the new school, principal Jennifer Terrazas said.

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