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Jan. 9, 2013 at 12:07 PM   |   Comments

Flu season in full swing

ATLANTA, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Federal health officials report influenza has broken out in 41 of the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, straining local health services.

In the worst flu season in a decade, many Chicago hospitals had to send ambulances elsewhere because of too many flu cases, health officials said Tuesday, and in Boston, Mayor Thomas Menino Wednesday declared apublic health emergency.

"Flu season hit early and it has hit hard," Dr. Bechara Choucair, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

Throughout Tuesday, four to eight hospitals across Illinois were on bypass at any given point -- they could not handle any more non-critical patients and ambulances with non-emergency cases were directed to other hospitals, while Monday, 11 Chicago-area hospitals were on bypass status, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health reported 18 flu-related deaths so far this season.

University of Massachusetts Memorial Medical Center is banning visits from children younger than 16, the Boston Globe reported.


53 injured as ferry hits N.Y. pier

NEW YORK, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- At least 53 people were reported injured, seven seriously, in a ferry accident Wednesday at a pier in lower Manhattan.

Fire officials said the accident occurred about 8:50 a.m. at Pier 11 when a commuter ferry hit a dock, WCBS, New York, reported. WABC-TV, New York, reported a large gash was torn on the starboard side of the craft, which can carry 400 passengers.

The vessel, the Sea Streak Ferry, provides daily service between the pier and Atlantic Highlands and Conners Highlands, Moriches Daily reported.

"Nothing seemed like it was going to be out of the ordinary," passenger Chris Avore told WABC. "There was once or twice where I was talking with a colleague where we actually thought it was coming in a little hot near Brooklyn, where we're not used to seeing it. Then the next thing we knew, you feel the jolt and then everybody goes flying."

One man standing on the upper deck fell down a staircase, WABC said.

None of the injuries was believed life-threatening although several passengers were removed from the vessel on stretchers.


Rare winter storm batters Israel, Lebanon

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- A winter storm packing high winds, heavy rain and snow continued to batter both Israel and Lebanon for the third day in a row Wednesday, forecasters said.

At least four deaths in Lebanon have been blamed on the storm that has triggered widespread power problems, property damage and severe flooding, The (Beirut) Daily Star reported.

In some regions of the country restoration of power was hampered by electricity workers who went on strike to protest bonus and allowance cuts in the latest budget.

South of Beirut emerged as one of the hardest-hit areas as the nearby Ghadir River burst its banks sending floodwaters into densely populated neighborhoods.

In Israel the storm paralyzed cities across the country, causing power outages and forcing the closure of major highways, Haaretz reported.

The Ayalon River near Tel Aviv flooded and police asked drivers to stay out of central Tel Aviv and to avoid driving if possible.

Palestinian rescue workers in the West Bank said the bodies of two women were found after their car was swept away by flooding in Tul Karm.

For Israel, the storm was the biggest in a decade.


Union Jack protests continue in Belfast

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Loyalists pelted police with bottles and stones during a sixth consecutive night of violence in east Belfast, authorities in Northern Ireland said Wednesday.

Demonstrations over the city council's decision last month to restrict the number of days the British flag is flown have resulted in more than 1,000 arrests and the injury of dozens of police officers, The Guardian reported.

Theresa Villiers, Northern Ireland secretary, said the province is being "held to ransom by protesters" and has called for an end to all street demonstrations over the Union Jack.

Unionist politicians involved in trying to defuse the dispute hope that the reappearance of the Union Jack Wednesday to mark the Duchess of Cambridge's birthday will halt the protests.

However, loyalists told the Guardian further protests are planned for the end of the week, including a demonstration outside the Irish parliament in Dublin on Saturday.


Wife of dead lottery winner questioned

CHICAGO, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- A Chicago woman whose husband apparently died of cyanide poisoning weeks after winning $1 million in the lottery has nothing to hide, her attorney said.

Steven Kozicki said his client, Shaba-na Ansari, was interviewed by Chicago detectives for more than four hours and answered all their questions, the Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.

The death of her husband Urooj Khan, 47, in July was re-classified a homicide after toxicology tests showed he had ingested a lethal amount of cyanide.

Authorities said they plan to go to seek court approval to exhume Khan's remains.

"I feel a complete autopsy is needed for the sake of clarity and thoroughness," said Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina.

Ansari, 32, told the Chicago Sun-Times that she had nothing to do with her husband's death and was eager for investigators to dig up his body to learn the truth.

She also said she's given investigators access to the chemicals used in the family's dry cleaning business which doesn't include cyanide.

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