Gas explosion destroys 2 NYC buildings; at least 2 people killed, more than a dozen missing

NEW YORK (AP) -- A gas leak triggered an earthshaking explosion that flattened two East Harlem apartment buildings Wednesday, killing at least two people, injuring 36 and leaving more than a dozen others missing. One tenant said residents had complained repeatedly in recent weeks about "unbearable" gas smells.

By evening, rescue workers finally began the search for victims amid the broken bricks, splintered wood and mangled metal after firefighters spent most of the day dousing the flames. Heavy trucks arrived to clear the mountain of debris where the two five-story buildings stood.

The fiery blast on Park Avenue at 116th Street, not far from the edge of Central Park, erupted about 9:30 a.m., around 15 minutes after a neighboring resident reported smelling gas, authorities said. Con Edison said it immediately sent utility workers to check out the report, but they didn’t arrive until it was too late.

The explosion shattered windows a block away, hurled debris onto elevated commuter railroad tracks close by, cast a plume of smoke over the skyline, and sent people running into the streets.

"It felt like an earthquake had rattled my whole building," said Waldemar Infante, a porter who was working in a basement nearby. "There were glass shards everywhere on the ground, and all the stores had their windows blown out.


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Little-known CIA lawyer at center of computer snooping clash between senator, spy agency

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The top CIA lawyer accused by the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee of trying to intimidate the panel over its investigation into secret prisons and brutal interrogations of terrorism suspects was himself involved in the controversial programs, cited more than 1,600 times in the Senate’s unpublished investigative report, according to the panel’s chairwoman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

On Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that CIA acting general counsel Robert Eatinger also was one of two senior spy agency officials who informed administration lawyers earlier this year about plans to file a criminal complaint against Senate Intelligence Committee staffers. The CIA suspects the aides improperly gained access to a classified CIA report on the George W. Bush-era secret prisons and harsh interrogations overseen by the spy agency. Carney said CIA Director John Brennan also notified the White House about the decision.

Until Feinstein’s extraordinary Senate speech Tuesday in which she said the CIA was possibly trying to intimidate committee staff, Eatinger was little known outside a small cadre of highly specialized national security lawyers. He has maintained a low profile in a legal career that has spanned two decades at the CIA and in the Navy. But Feinstein’s remarkable accusations instantly made Eatinger famous -- or infamous -- over a simmering constitutional dispute that threatens to engulf two branches of the government.

Eatinger’s criminal complaint to Justice boomeranged when Feinstein rose in the Senate chamber Tuesday to lambaste the CIA for what she described as quietly removing documents the agency had earlier provided to Senate investigators, monitoring committee staffers and undermining congressional authority. Feinstein lashed out at Eatinger personally -- though not by name -- in accusing the CIA lawyer of "a potential effort to intimidate" committee aides and of providing "inaccurate information" to the Justice Department.

Eatinger did not return telephone calls from The Associated Press seeking comment Tuesday, and the CIA did not respond to questions about the counsel. CIA Director John Brennan said the agency was "not in any way, shape or form trying to thwart this report’s progression, release." But Brennan made no comments about Feinstein’s characterization of the agency’s top lawyer.

News agency: Chinese government website has images of suspected debris of missing plane.

BEIJING (AP) -- China’s official Xinhua News Agency says a government website has images of suspected debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

The report says the satellite images from the morning of March 9 appear to show "three suspected floating objects" of varying sizes.

The report includes coordinates of a location in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia.

The report says the largest of the suspected pieces of debris measures about 24 by 22 meters.

Last transmission from missing Malaysian plane was routine:
’All right, good night’

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The last message from the cockpit of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight was routine. "All right, good night," was the signoff transmitted to air traffic controllers five days ago.

Then the Boeing 777 vanished as it cruised over the South China Sea toward Vietnam, and nothing has been seen or heard of the jetliner since.

Those final words were picked up by controllers and relayed Wednesday in Beijing to anguished relatives of some of the 239 people aboard Flight MH370.

The search for the missing plane, which left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early Saturday, now encompasses 35,800 square miles of Southeast Asia and is expanding toward India.

After several days of sometimes confusing and conflicting statements, the Malaysian military officially disclosed why it was searching on both sides of country: A review of military radar records showed what might have been the plane turning back and crossing westward into the Strait of Malacca.

New Jersey honor student who sued parents for financial support returns home, asks for privacy

ROSELAND, N.J. (AP) -- The New Jersey honor student who sued to get her parents to support her after she moved out of their home has reunited with them, and the family is now asking for privacy.

Rachel Canning’s return does not involve any financial or other considerations, the lawyer for the 18-year-old’s parents said Wednesday. Angelo Sarno said that the dispute had been settled "amicably," but refused to comment further on the litigation.

Sarno said Rachel Canning moved back in with her parents on Tuesday night and said the notoriety surrounding the suit had damaged the family.

"This is a matter that should have been brought in some counselor’s office, not into a courtroom," Sarno said. "There’s a long road ahead, this is not something that’s going to happen overnight. The point of this process? The healing needs to begin."

A judge last week had denied the teen’s request for child support and to have her parents pay her remaining high school tuition. But the judge scheduled an April court date to consider the over-arching question of whether the Cannings are obligated to financially support their adult daughter.

Obama, in meeting with Ukraine’s leader, holds out hope for ‘rethinking’ on Crimea vote

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama expressed a glimmer of hope Wednesday that a referendum on the future of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula can be halted, as he met with the new leader of the former Soviet republic.

Sitting side by side in the Oval Office with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Obama said he hoped last-ditch diplomatic efforts might lead to a "rethinking" of Sunday’s Russian-backed referendum. If the vote does occur, Obama said, the U.S. will "completely reject" its results. And he warned that the international community would be "forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violation of international law."

"There’s another path available and we hope President Putin is willing to seize that path," Obama said, referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin. "But if he does not, I’m very confident that the international community will stand firmly behind the Ukrainian government."

As Obama and Yatsenyuk met, a U.S. Senate committee advanced a measure to impose significant sanctions on Russia -- a bid to pressure Putin to pull Russian troops out of Crimea. The measure, which now would go to the full Senate, would authorize $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine’s new government and allow the Obama administration to impose economic penalties on Russian officials responsible for the intervention in Crimea or culpable of gross corruption.

In the 14-3 vote, all Foreign Relations Committee Democrats supported the measure. Republican objections concerned how the U.S. would pay for the loan guarantees and provisions to expand the lending authority of the International Monetary Fund. Pistorius trial: Bullet-holed toilet door, cricket bat brought in for court reenactment

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) -- A South African police officer swung a cricket bat at Oscar Pistorius’ bullet-marked bathroom door during his murder trial on Wednesday, using two key pieces of evidence to re-enact the night he killed his girlfriend.

Police Col. J.G. Vermeulen faced tough questioning from Pistorius’ defense lawyer, who tried to discredit the police investigation of the shooting and alleged that Vermeulen, a forensic expert, made glaring missteps in his analysis.

Pistorius’ lawyers secured bail for him last year after contending that police contaminated or tampered with evidence from the home where he fatally shot Reeva Steenkamp, firing through the bathroom door as she cowered inside during the pre-dawn hours of Valentine’s Day 2013.

Pistorius says the killing was a mistake; the prosecution alleges the 27-year-old double-amputee intentionally shot Steenkamp after an argument.

The actual door that Pistorius shot through a year ago was erected in the Pretoria courtroom Wednesday, and the bat he used that night was used in the demonstrations. There was even a toilet cubicle behind the door, recreated to the exact specifications of the small area of Pistorius’ bathroom where the 29-year-old model was fatally shot, Vermeulen said.