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News Wrap: Federal Reserve Reports Slight Improvement in U.S. Economy

October 19, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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KWAME HOLMAN: The Federal Reserve reported today the U.S. economy improved slightly in most regions in September and early October. And home building increased in September, by the most in 17 months.

But Wall Street had a down day. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 72 points to close at 11,504. The Nasdaq fell 53 points to close at 2,604.

Citigroup has agreed to pay $285 million in fines and repayments to investors to settle charges it committed civil fraud before the housing collapse. The Securities and Exchange Commission said Citigroup sold mortgage-backed investments of dubious quality, then secretly bet on their failure. Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase already resolved similar charges. Goldman paid the largest settlement so far, $550 million.

It was a long night and day around Zanesville, Ohio, after dozens of lions, bears and tigers escaped. In all, 56 exotic animals were let loose Tuesday by the owner of a wild animal park. Police said the man then committed suicide. Authorities launched an all-night hunt for the animals — 48 were killed and six were captured. By this afternoon, only two were still on the loose, a wolf and a monkey.

Sheriff Matt Lutz said deputies and veterinarians initially tried to capture the big predators. He described an encounter with a Bengal tiger.

MATTHEW LUTZ, Muskingum County, Ohio, sheriff: This veterinarian had more guts than I did, by far, with a dart gun got very, very close, probably from one side of this tent to the other, and tried to tranquilize this thing.

Think — think we hit it, but, as we did, got up, showed very aggressive behavior started towards her and then turned and started running away from us. At that point, we didn’t know for sure if the tranquilizer would work. We didn’t know for sure how far the animal was going to go. And we weren’t going to take any chances of that tiger getting loose. And we had to put it down.

KWAME HOLMAN: Schools in the area were closed for the day, and people were warned to stay inside their homes. And the danger may not be over. The monkey still on the loose likely is infected with herpes B, a virus dangerous to humans.

Turkey launched an incursion into Northern Iraq today after Kurdish guerrillas killed 24 Turkish soldiers and wounded 18. The Kurds attacked military outposts and police stations at two Turkish border towns early this morning, then fled back into Iraq. Hours later, Turkish helicopters and Air Force bombers crossed the border to attack Kurdish fighters. Armored vehicles also moved to join the hunt.

In Syria, activists reported security forces killed at least 10 people today. At the same time, thousands of people filled the streets of Aleppo for a rally in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. The crowds waved flags and pictures of the Syrian president as music and chanting rang out. Anti-government protesters, meanwhile, held rallies elsewhere across the country.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has arrived in Kabul, Afghanistan, on an unannounced visit. She flew in late this evening and was greeted by U.S. military and diplomatic officials. Clinton plans to press Afghan President Karzai to continue reconciliation efforts with the Taliban. In another development today, roadside bombs killed two NATO troops in Eastern Afghanistan.

Floods threatening Bangkok, Thailand, grew ever more critical today, and the prime minister admitted her government is overwhelmed. She insisted officials are doing all they can, but she urged reporters to stop asking if the city will be inundated.

We have a report from John Sparks of Independent Television News on the situation just north of Bangkok.

JOHN SPARKS: Some use shovels. Others use their hands. Students and teachers, secretaries and road sweepers, everyone digging furiously in the blistering heat, no time to lose on Bangkok’s northern boundary. There was an emergency barrier to build along the Hok Wa Canal by a volunteer army several thousand strong.

MAN (through translator): Everyone is worried sick, but you can’t feel scared. You have to fight.

JOHN SPARKS: Last week, the governor of Bangkok told us he could manage the flood risk to his city, but he’s not saying that now. Floodwaters from the north are approaching faster than anyone expected.

SUKHUMBHAND PARIBATRA, Bangkok governor: You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to say that there will be an overflow somewhere.

JOHN SPARKS: There will be floods in Bangkok?

SUKHUMBHAND PARIBATRA: No, we are trying our best to avoid it, but the situation is very — is drastically different from yesterday morning. That’s what I mean. And I have given warnings to people to make initial preparations.

JOHN SPARKS: The governor now directing a fighting retreat. On the city’s outskirts, dikes, canals and sandbag walls have been overwhelmed, main highways have been cut and communities and industrial parks inundated.

A great deal of effort and a lot of faith is being put in this wall, and it appears that it will soon be tested. We have been told that a large body of water lying 15 kilometers north of here is flowing in this direction, and these people are running out of time.

Tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated. And the authorities put the residents of seven city districts on notice today. And that large body of water? Due in 24 hours, we’re told. It’s going to be an anxious wait.

KWAME HOLMAN: Those are some of the day’s major stories.