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Nation in brief

1,500 flee after fire threatens toxic smoke

By wire services
Published January 3, 2005

EL DORADO, Ark. - A fire at a hazardous waste incineration plant forced hundreds of residents to evacuate Sunday, officials said.

No injuries were reported and officials were monitoring air quality as thick smoke rose from the Teris plant in southern Arkansas, said Union County Sheriff Ken Jones.

Police estimated about 1,500 people within a few miles of the plant were evacuated, including some in El Dorado, a city of about 23,000.

After Environmental Protection Agency officials tested air and soil in the area, many of those evacuated were allowed to return to their homes Sunday night. But about 500 people had to spend the night elsewhere, El Dorado police Chief David Smith said.

Teris disposes of hazardous waste from industries and government operations, including spent solvents, waste oils, chlorinated hydrocarbons, herbicides and insecticides, as well as dirt, residues and contaminated water from cleanup activities from other sites.

US Airways volunteers keep baggage moving

PHILADELPHIA - More than 100 US Airways executives and other employees volunteered to serve coffee and snacks, sort and move bags and help passengers find their way Sunday at Philadelphia International Airport to try to avoid a repeat of the bankrupt carrier's Christmas weekend debacle.

The airline reported no problems by late Sunday afternoon, when about half the day's expected 38,000 passengers had boarded their flights or claimed their bags. The volume was comparable with the Christmas and Thanksgiving travel peaks.

Around Christmas, hundreds of flights were canceled and thousands of bags piled up in what the airline's chief executive, Bruce Lakefield, called an "operational meltdown" that stranded holiday travelers and prompted a federal investigation.

The baggage pileup was cleared by the end of last week after the company took the step of asking employees around the country if they would travel to Philadelphia as unpaid volunteers.

Rep. Robert Matsui, D-Calif., dies at 63

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Rep. Robert T. Matsui of California, who spent time in an internment camp for Japanese-Americans as an infant during World War II and went on to serve 26 years in Congress, has died of complications from a rare disease, his family said Sunday.

The 63-year-old died Saturday night (Jan 1, 2005) at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., outside Washington.

Mr. Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where he was his party's point man on Social Security legislation. He also recently chaired the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In a statement announcing Mr. Matsui's death, his office said he had been diagnosed several months ago with myelodysplastic disorder, an often-fatal form of bone marrow cancer. His family said he entered the hospital Dec. 24 with pneumonia.

Mr. Matsui was re-elected with ease to his 14th term in November. His wife, Doris, was until 1998 a deputy director of public liaison in the Clinton White House.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will call a special election to fill Mr. Matsui's seat. Analysts said Mr. Matsui's successor will almost certainly be a Democrat, most likely a member of the Sacramento City Council or state lawmaker.

Mr. Matsui is survived by his wife and a son, Brian.

[Last modified January 3, 2005, 02:20:23]


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