Facility where chemicals spilled into W.Va. river flew under regulatory radar

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The facility whose chemical spill contaminated the water supply for 300,000 West Virginia residents was barely scrutinized, flying largely under the radar of government regulators who viewed it as a low-risk operation -- but in reality, a problem at a key holding wall went undetected and unreported at Freedom Industries Inc.

The chemicals stored at Freedom’s facility near the Elk River are not considered hazardous enough by regulators to prompt routine inspections. As a result, the chemical storage terminal was a low priority for regulators, who must pick and choose how to allocate scarce manpower when enforcing environmental laws.

"I think that the loophole that this facility fell into is because it was not a hazardous material, it flew under the radar," said Randy Huffman, cabinet secretary of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces environmental laws.

Freedom’s storage terminal holds millions of pounds of chemicals -- including some used in coal processing -- just a mile and a half upstream from pipes that take in water for a public drinking supply. The distance left little opportunity for chemicals to dilute in the event of a spill.

And those chemicals were stored behind a brick-and-concrete block dike that seems to have had structural problems -- an issue the company apparently was aware of. A state official says the president told regulators that Freedom had put $1 million into an escrow account to fix the wall that ultimately failed to hold Thursday’s spill, which resulted in a five-day ban on tap water. The ban was lifted for some areas Monday afternoon.

Pilots who landed at wrong airport are grounded while authorities investigate

DALLAS (AP) -- The pilots of a Southwest Airlines flight that mistakenly landed at the wrong Missouri airport were grounded Monday, less than a day after they touched down at a small airfield that gave them only half as much room as normal to stop the jet.

Southwest Flight 4013 was traveling Sunday evening from Chicago’s Midway Airport to Branson Airport but instead landed at tiny Taney County Airport seven miles away.

No one was hurt, but after the 124 passengers were let off the plane, they noticed the airliner had come dangerously close to the end of the runway, where it could have tumbled down a steep embankment if it had left the pavement.

"As soon as we touched down, the pilot applied the brake very hard and very forcibly," said Scott Schieffer, a Dallas attorney. "I was wearing a seatbelt, but I was lurched forward because of the heavy pressure of the brake. You could smell burnt rubber, a very distinct smell of burnt rubber as we were stopping."

Branson Airport has a runway that is more than 7,100 feet long -- a typical size for commercial traffic. The longest runway at Taney County is only slightly more than 3,700 feet because it is designed for small private planes.

Blockade of rebel-held Palestinian area of Damascus causes death of at least 40

BEIRUT (AP) -- Children, the elderly and others displaced by Syria’s civil war are starving to death in a besieged camp where women brave sniper fire to forage for food just minutes from the relative prosperity of Damascus.

The dire conditions at the Yarmouk camp are a striking example of the catastrophe unfolding in rebel-held areas blockaded by the Syrian government. U.S. and Russian diplomats said Monday the warring sides are considering opening humanitarian corridors to let in aid and build confidence ahead of an international peace conference on Syria.

Interviews with residents and U.N. officials, as well as photos and videos provided to The Associated Press, reveal an unfolding tragedy in the sprawling camp, where tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees and displaced Syrians are trapped under an intensifying yearlong blockade.

Forty-six people have died since October of starvation, illnesses exacerbated by hunger or because they couldn’t obtain medical aid, residents said.

"There are no more people in Yarmouk, only skeletons with yellow skin," said 27-year-old resident Umm Hassan, the mother of two toddlers.

Nigerian president signs law banning
gay marriage,
groups, meetings

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- A new law in Nigeria, signed by the president without announcement, has made it illegal for gay people to even hold a meeting. The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act also criminalizes homosexual clubs, associations and organizations, with penalties of up to 14 years in jail.

The act has drawn international condemnation from countries such as the United States and Britain.

Some Nigerian gays already have fled the country because of intolerance of their sexual persuasion, and more are considering leaving, if the new law is enforced, human rights activist Olumide Makanjuola said recently.

Nigeria’s law is not as draconian as a Ugandan bill passed by parliament last month which would punish "aggravated" homosexual acts with life in prison. It awaits the president’s signature.

But Nigeria’s law reflects a highly religious and conservative society that considers homosexuality a deviation. Nigeria is one of 38 African countries -- about 70 percent of the continent -- that have laws persecuting gay people, according to Amnesty International.

’Octomom’ accused of failing to report income, charged with welfare fraud in California

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Nadya Suleman, who gained fame as "Octomom" after giving birth to eight babies, has been charged with welfare fraud after failing to report $30,000 in earnings while she collected public assistance, authorities said Monday.

Suleman, whose real name is Natalie Denise Suleman, was ordered to appear in court on Friday, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office said in a statement. She was not immediately taken into custody.

Suleman was charged Jan. 6 with one count of aid by misrepresentation and two counts of perjury by false application. If convicted, she could face up to five years and eight months in jail.

Since their birth, the single mother has tried to support her huge family in a variety of ways, including endorsing birth control for pets, making a pornographic video, posing for semi-nude photo shoots and participating in celebrity boxing matches.

Last year she spent several weeks in a rehabilitation center for what her former publicist said was anxiety, exhaustion and stress

Ford’s new F-150, built mostly of aluminum, could radically change pickup truck market

DETROIT (AP) -- Some call it a game-changer. Some just shake their heads. Either way, Ford’s new aluminum-clad F-150 is such a radical departure from past pickup trucks that it dominated talk at the opening of the Detroit auto show.

Ford Motor Co. unveiled the 2015 F-150, whose body is 97-percent aluminum, on Monday. The lighter material shaves as much as 700 pounds off the 5,000-pound truck, a revolutionary change for a vehicle known for its heft and an industry still reliant on steel. No other vehicle on the market contains this much aluminum.

"It’s a landmark moment for the full-size pickup truck," said Jack Nerad, editorial director for Kelley Blue Book.

The change is Ford’s response to small-business owners’ desire for a more fuel-efficient and nimble truck -- and stricter government requirements on fuel economy. It sprang from a challenge by Ford’s CEO to move beyond the traditional design for a full-size pickup.

"You’re either moving ahead and you’re improving and you’re making it more valuable and more useful to the customer or you’re not," Chief Executive Alan Mulally told The Associated Press in a recent interview.