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In Other News, Oil Prices Plunge, General Motors Announces More Job Cuts

February 10, 2009 at 6:25 PM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: In other economic news today, the price of oil plunged after the Energy Department issued a new forecast of falling demand this year. In New York, oil was down 5 percent, to finish below $38 a barrel again.

General Motors announced it’s cutting 10,000 salaried jobs. That’s 14 percent of its white-collar workforce worldwide. That move came a week before G.M. must submit a restructuring plan to Congress to keep billions of dollars in federal loans.

And in more news of the day, the death toll from terrible fires in Australia climbed higher. Officials said the final tally could top 200.

We have a report on one of the hardest-hit towns from Libby Weiner of Independent Television News.

LIBBY WEINER: They’re hungry, they’re tired, and some are still in shock, but these are the lucky few, the residents of Kinglake who got out alive. As they waited to return today, police urged them to report back on who is safe and who is still missing.

OFFICIAL: So everyone up on the mound, if you know they’re OK, let Red Cross know so we can take people off the list who are not missing people.

LIBBY WEINER: The intensity of the fire is something all remark on and none can forget.

GEOFF EXTON, survivor: It was just unbelievable. There was no warning. It was miles away, the fire, and all of a sudden it was just smoke, and everyone just survived the best way they could.

LIBBY WEINER: Not far from the rescue center, volunteer firefighters were returning home from another day in the bush. Suspicions that arsonists may have started some of the fires are not well received here.

How do you, as a firefighter, react to that?

CHRIS EGGLESTONE, firefighter: I’m disgusted. And I believe the penalty should be a lot stricter for arsonists, a lot stricter. It’s absolutely disgusting. Perhaps it could be looked on as murder.

LIBBY WEINER: This is an operation on an unprecedented scale. Every 12 hours, some 1,500 men come on shift and take those engines out into the hills to fight the fires that have been burning there since Saturday. Although the threat is now much reduced, the area is far from safe.

In the face of terrible adversity, they’re determined to get the job done and help the people of Kinglake begin to rebuild their lives.

JIM LEHRER: Investigators said it will take months to identify all the bodies and to determine the cause of the fires.

National elections in Israel produced a surprise. Exit polls showed Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and her centrist party holding a narrow lead. But the Likud bloc and other conservative parties gained enough support to make the final outcome too close to call. It could be weeks before any new coalition government can be formed.

In Afghanistan, a roadside bomb killed two soldiers in a NATO convoy in the east. Most of the troops there are Americans.

Across the border, U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke talked to Pakistan’s foreign minister and others about al-Qaida and the Taliban.

SHAH MEHMOOD QURESHI, foreign minister, Pakistan: He very clearly spelt out that I’m not here with a proposal package for Pakistan. I’m not here to issue demarches against Pakistan. I’m here to listen to Pakistan. I’m here to understand what the ground of realities are, but that this administration has a different approach, and we want to start on a different footing. And that was a very pleasant change.

JIM LEHRER: In Washington, White House officials confirmed the president has ordered a full review of U.S. policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. And Defense Secretary Gates said he expects Mr. Obama to decide in the next few days on how many more troops to send to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Postal Service announced a new rate increase. The price of a first-class stamp will rise by 2 cents to 44 cents starting on May 11th. The rates for postcards, parcels, and other mailings are also going up. The Postal Service lost $2.8 billion last year.