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News Wrap: Guinean authorities say Ebola outbreak has grown into ‘unprecedented epidemic’

March 31, 2014 at 6:02 PM EST
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GWEN IFILL: From the coasts to the heartland, people everywhere are feeling the effects of global warming, from economic damage to health threats. That’s the conclusion a global group of scientists reach in an extensive new report issued today. They urged world governments to respond by curbing carbon emissions. We will have a full report, and analysis, after the news summary.

General Motors’ troubles took another turn for the worse today. The automaker recalled 1.3 million Chevrolets, Saturns and Pontiacs because the power steering assist can stop working. It’s the latest in a string of recalls that began last month with faulty ignition switches. The company faces a congressional hearing tomorrow over that very issue.

Crews trying to find the missing in the Washington state mudslide are now confronting a new danger, toxic sludge. Officials said today the mud and debris contain sewage, propane, and household chemicals, and possibly germs carrying dysentery and tetanus.

STEVE HARRIS, Division Supervisor: Everybody that goes out to the incident scene that gets out of the vehicle has to be decontaminated when they leave the scene. So there’s procedures set in place. The military department has a decontamination unit set up, so we don’t bring any bad stuff back out.

GWEN IFILL: The confirmed death toll in the mudslide rose late today to 24, with 30 people still unaccounted for.

Thousands of Americans spent this day trying to enroll for health insurance. The federal exchange, healthcare.gov, had 1.2 million visitors by midday, amid some new technical problems. This was the deadline to sign up without paying a penalty, but many people will be eligible for extensions — more on all of this later in the program.

An outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus has grown into an unprecedented epidemic in West Africa. That warning came today from authorities in Guinea, where the disease has killed 78 people. Neighboring Liberia reports one death. Nurses have struggled to help the victims. Ebola kills nine out of 10 people with severe bleeding, but there is no vaccine or specific treatment.

The small fleet of planes and ships searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet came up empty again today. A cluster of orange objects in the Southern Indian Ocean turned out to be fishing gear. Ten planes and 11 ships are now involved in the search.

And, in Perth, Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told air crews that officials are far from throwing in the towel.

TONY ABBOTT, Prime Minister, Australia: It’s very important that we do whatever we reasonably can to solve this extraordinary mystery. And you are our investigators. You are the people upon whom the hopes of so many people around the world are resting.

GWEN IFILL: The airliner disappeared more than three weeks ago.

Russia put out the word today that it’s pulled several hundred troops back from the border with Ukraine. But thousands remained, and the Ukrainian government said it’s still worried. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited newly annexed Crimea with promises of economic aid. We will get more from Margaret Warner, who’s just back from Ukraine, later in the program.

The government of France has resigned after the ruling Socialists took a drubbing in municipal elections. Sunday’s results showed deep dissatisfaction with President Francois Hollande and his handling of the economy. Instead, voters turned to conservative and anti-immigrant parties. This evening, in a televised address, Hollande named a new prime minister and acknowledged public discontent.

PRESIDENT FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, France (through interpreter): I came here today to tell you that I heard your message: not enough change, not enough speed, not enough jobs, too much unemployment. Social justice needs to be improved. Still too much uncertainty over our capacity as a country, despite our many assets.

GWEN IFILL: The Socialists did hold on to city hall in Paris, which elected its first woman mayor.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been convicted of taking bribes when he was mayor of Jerusalem. The announcement came in a Tel Aviv court. It followed a sweeping corruption probe that forced Olmert from the prime minister’s office in 2009.

And, in Pakistan, former military ruler Pervez Musharraf was indicted for treason for suspending the constitution in 2007. He pleaded not guilty.

North Korea and South Korea got into an artillery duel today, fighting — firing hundreds of shells into the Yellow Sea near the disputed maritime boundary. The North opened fire first, and the South answered. No one was hurt, but the South Korean Defense Ministry warned it better not happen again.

KIM MIN-SEOK, Spokesman, South Korean Defense Ministry (through interpreter): Our military believes that North Korea’s maritime shelling is a planned provocation, an attempt to take the initiative in the South-North relationship. If North Korea provokes our islands and waters using our fair counter shooting as an excuse, our military will firmly punish them.

GWEN IFILL: The shelling came a day after North Korea threatened to conduct another nuclear test.

On Wall Street, stocks moved higher, after the Federal Reserve chair, Janet Yellen, played down any prospect of raising interest rates. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 134 points to close at 16,457. The Nasdaq rose 43 points to close just short of 4,199. The S&P 500 added 14 to finish at 1,872.