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Nation in brief

Shuttle searchers find more bits

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 24, 2003

LAS VEGAS -- Teams searching for parts shed by the space shuttle Columbia as it broke apart found more small metal fragments Sunday in a rural part of southeast Nevada.

Digital photographs of the material were sent to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston for analysis. Several small scraps of aluminum were also found Saturday.

NASA has not confirmed whether any debris west of Texas came from the shuttle.

E-MAILS TO BE STUDIED: NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe said Sunday an independent panel will decide the significance of e-mails by a NASA research engineer warning two days before Columbia broke apart that damage to the shuttle's insulating tiles might have left it in "marginal" condition.

"I'm going to live by that judgment from that independent group to tell us exactly what we could have, should have, might have, would have done had we known something differently," O'Keefe said on CNN's Late Edition.

It's worse at gas pump but may get better soon

CAMARILLO, Calif. -- Gas prices rose 7 cents per gallon over the past two weeks pushing pump prices to near record levels, but the upward pressure on prices may be easing, an analyst said Sunday.

The average weighted price for gas nationwide, including all grades and taxes, was approximately $1.70 per gallon Friday, according to the Lundberg Survey of 8,000 stations nationwide. That price is within 7 cents of $1.77, the all-time high recorded by the survey on May 18, 2001.

Gasoline cost about $1.63 a gallon on Feb. 7, the date of the last Lundberg Survey, an increase of 11 cents over the previous two-week survey.

"The pace of gas prices has already slowed," Trilby Lundberg said. "The other indicators show a possible decrease in prices."

Relatives mourn nightclub fire victims; toll hits 97

WEST WARWICK, R.I. -- On Sunday, for the first time, families of the dozens of victims who couldn't escape a burning nightclub were allowed to walk up to the charred rubble of the Station to pray and say goodbye.

Their visit came as the death toll from the tragedy was raised to 97. The governor announced that yet another body had been pulled from the debris Saturday.

The number of bodies identified, mostly by dental records, jumped Sunday night to 42. Names of only 19 victims have been released, however, until relatives are notified.

East Coast battered by high winds, rain

Flooding, high winds and fog hit swaths of the East Coast on Sunday, forcing evacuations and knocking Army skydivers off course at a North Carolina racetrack.

In Virginia, two people died over the weekend -- including a man who was rescued after his truck was swept away but tried to return to the vehicle.

Overflowing streams in Virginia and West Virginia forced evacuations after a week of heavy rain and snow that swamped much of the northeast quarter of the country. High wind and fog caused havoc elsewhere, closing roads from Kansas to New Jersey.

Governors split on changes in Medicaid

WASHINGTON -- Governors holding their annual winter meeting say the national program that guarantees health care for the poor bears much of the blame for their states' financial woes.

State leaders, however, disagreed Sunday on whether President Bush's proposed changes for Medicaid will help the situation or make it worse.

Ammonia leak forces evacuation of hotels

GULFPORT, Miss. -- A cloud of ammonia leaked from a chemical plant early Sunday, forcing tourists to evacuate eight hotels along the Gulf Coast. Authorities said it appeared someone had tried to steal the chemical, possibly to make illegal drugs.

Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport was also shut down for seven hours, and several churches canceled or postponed Sunday services. A couple of emergency workers had to be treated but no other injuries were reported, police Sgt. Joseph Ashmore said.

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