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Feb. 15, 2013 at 8:16 AM   |   0 comments

Sweet Home Alabama': Passengers on land

MOBILE, Ala., Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Carnival Triumph passengers kissed the ground and sang "Sweet Home Alabama," finally on dry land after the ship, disabled by a fire, limped into port at Mobile.

"I'm just so blessed to be home," Kendall Jenkins, 24, crying and wearing a bathrobe to keep warm, told The New York Times shortly after the 14-story-high ship docked at the Alabama Cruise Terminal at 9:28 p.m. Thursday.

"I don't want to hear the word 'cruise' ever again," Jenkins said.

Buses took passengers to hotels in Galveston, Texas, where the ship was supposed to have docked, and to Houston and New Orleans.

Many passengers' families were on hand to greet loved ones.

It took 5 hours for all the passengers to disembark because only one elevator worked, officials said.

Carnival Chief Executive Officer Gerry Cahill said as the 101,000-ton disabled ship approached he planned to go aboard and personally apologize to the passengers.

"We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case," he said.

The passengers had left the Port of Galveston Thursday for what was to be a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. An engine fire Sunday that automatic systems extinguished left the vessel without power and propulsion.


Meteorite fragments injure 700 in Siberia

MOSCOW, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- A hail of meteorite fragments landed in a vast swath of western Siberia Friday, causing injuries to more than 700 people, emergency officials in Russia said.

The fragments came down after a boom felt in three regions of Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of homes in the Chelyabinsk region as a safety precaution and about 20,000 emergency response workers were called out.

Early reports indicated most of the injuries were caused by broken glass and flying objects.

Russia's national space agency, Roscosmos, confirmed that the strike involved one large meteorite and not several smaller ones.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations told The New York Times the meteorite broke apart and fell in several places.

"I saw a flash in the window, turned toward it and saw a burning cloud, which was surrounded by smoke and was going downward," said Maria Polyakova, 25, of the Park-City Hotel in Chelyabinsk, 90 miles east of Moscow.


Rebels near control of key Syrian province

HASAKA, Syria, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Syrian rebels with al-Qaida-linked fighters claimed nearly full control of an oil-rich northeast region Friday, the third big gain claimed by rebels this week.

The reported takeover of the hotly contested Hasaka province -- a fertile, rich area 375 miles northeast of Damascus near Iraq -- came with critical assistance from the Sunni Islamist and jihadi militant al-Nusra Front after three days of bitter fighting, the Britain-based opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Al-Nusra Front, also called Jabhat al-Nusra, is a 13-month-old extremist Islamic group with 6,000 to 10,000 fighters, known for its combat skills.

Washington designated it a terrorist group in December for suspected ties to al-Qaida in Iraq, which is reputed to want to marginalize Shiite Muslims and establish a "pure Islamic state." Assad's Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

Al-Nusra Front -- which claimed responsibility for 43 suicide attacks in Syria last year -- accounts for about 9 percent of the Free Syrian Army's total fighters, up from 3 percent in August 2012 and 1 percent at the beginning of last year, a non-governmental group tied to a more moderate FSA wing told the U.S. State Department in November.

The group's Nov. 30 message, cited by The Washington Post, warned the State Department of the extremists' rise.


Prosecutors to oppose bail for Pistorius

PRETORIA, South Africa, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- South African prosecutors planned Friday to oppose bail for Paralympic star Oscar Pistorius, who faces a murder charge in the shooting death of his girlfriend.

Police spokeswoman Brig. Denise Beukes did not elaborate on what prosecutors would argue before the state Magistrate's Court in Pretoria but she said Pistorius was involved in previous "allegations of a domestic nature."

She said neighbors had heard screaming and shouting before the predawn Thursday shooting of model and law school graduate Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in Pistorius' house in an upscale gated community on the outskirts of the country's administrative capital.

The neighbors called police when they heard gunshots, Beukes said.

Paramedics were unable to revive Steenkamp, who died of four gunshot wounds to the head and upper body, Beukes said. Officers recovered a 9mm pistol.

Early news reports indicated Pistorius, a gun enthusiast, had accidentally shot Steenkamp, thinking she was an intruder.

South Africa has one of the world's highest crime rates and many residents keep weapons to protect themselves against intruders. But gun ownership is strictly regulated and it is difficult to get a license, the BBC said.

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