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News Wrap: Philippine government signs peace accord ending conflict with Muslim rebel group

March 27, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The number of deaths in the Washington State mudslide will only get worse, according to officials at the scene.

With at least two dozen bodies already counted, but at least 90 people still missing, Jeffrey Brown reports, the recovery is a long way from being over.  

TRAVIS HOTS, Snohomish County Fire District 21: What you’re going to see in the next 24 to 48 hours, as the medical examiner’s office catches up with the difficult work that they have to do, you’re going to see these numbers increase substantially.  

JEFFREY BROWN: Fire Chief Travis Hots warned this morning they’re far from done finding all of the dead. But he insisted they’re looking for survivors as well.

TRAVIS HOTS: We’re going to exhaust all options to try to find somebody alive. All of these resources that we have had here since Saturday, if we just find one more person that’s alive, to me, that’s worth it.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s now six days since tons of mud buried the community of Oso. The U.S. Geological Survey says two major slides hit about four minutes apart. No one has been found alive since Saturday, when Mac McPherson was among those pulled from his shattered home.

MAC MCPHERSON, Mudslide Survivor: I was all balled up, but this one hand was free, and I had a stick. So I just kept digging and digging and digging with the stick until a see a little light. And I shoved that sucker up there and started waving it back and forth.

JEFFREY BROWN: Rescuers saved McPherson, but his wife, Linda, was killed.

Others waited longer to learn the fate of loved ones. Summer Raffo’s brothers found her body yesterday still in her car.

Meanwhile, as families confront their losses, the search teams face more long, slow days of digging.

TRAVIS HOTS: It is so wet and mucky, it’s like a — it’s like a swamp. If we were to try to put big machinery out there, we would lose it. It would disappear in the muck.

JEFFREY BROWN: And with more rain forecast in the coming days, the job isn’t likely to get any easier.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jeff will talk with a top National Guard official involved in the search right after the news summary.

The White House is touting a win in its campaign to sign up Americans under the new health care law. President Obama made the announcement today as he traveled in Italy. He said more than six million people have enrolled through the federal Web site and state exchanges. The deadline for signing up this year is just four days away, although extensions are being granted.

Two of the world’s most powerful people, the president and the pope, came together today at the Vatican, but they emerged with decidedly different takes. Mr. Obama said they talked mostly about poverty and inequality; the Vatican said the emphasis was on objections to contraceptive coverage under the new health care law. We will have a full report on the papal audience later in the program.

The search for the lost Malaysian airliner was cut short again because of bad weather over the Southern Indian Ocean. Australian authorities pulled back 11 planes, while several others went out, but had to suspend operations after just a couple of hours.

CAPT. MIKE MACSWEEN, Royal Canadian Air Force: The weather was the biggest factor for today. It was definitely not ideal for visual search conditions. Ceilings were anywhere from 600 feet down to the surface, with visibility anywhere between five miles and — and basically zero.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, Japanese satellite images taken yesterday showed about 10 objects that could be debris from the plane in roughly the area where the search is under way. Other satellite images released by Thailand showed about 300 objects floating 125 miles to the southwest. Those pictures were taken on Monday.

In the Philippines, the government signed a peace accord with the country’s largest Muslim rebel group, ending decades of conflict. Officials sat down with leaders of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in Manila. The agreement they signed creates an autonomous Muslim region in the South.

Ukraine drew new international support today. The U.N. General Assembly condemned the referendum in Crimea that led to its annexation by Russia. And the International Monetary Fund pledged $18 billion in loans to Ukraine over the next two years.

In Kiev, acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk presented Parliament with financial reforms that he said are hard, but necessary.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Interim Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): The Ukrainian government won’t allow bankruptcy of the country. That’s why we came to the Parliament with this package of very unpopular, very difficult and very tough reforms that should have been conducted not yesterday or the day before yesterday, but 20 years ago. And we’re offering this package to the Parliament of Ukraine.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Back in this country, the House and Senate easily passed legislation giving aid to Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia. The two bills differ somewhat and will have to be reconciled.

The House also voted today for another temporary Medicare fix. Without it, doctors faced a 24 percent cut to their payments under the program starting Monday. The House bill delays that for another year. The Senate is expected to concur, but not before Monday.

The Air Force has fired nine mid-level commanders and will discipline dozens of junior officers in a cheating scandal at a nuclear missile base. It involved exams for missile launch officers at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James suggested today the culture there encouraged cheating.

DEBORAH LEE JAMES, Air Force Secretary: I certainly felt that the testing and training environment was unhealthy. The drive to always soar 100 percent on exams, when 90 percent was the standard, and the use of these scores in some cases as the sole differentiator on who got promoted and who didn’t, just seemed inappropriate to me.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Air Force announced plans to modernize three nuclear missile bases and upgrade training on core values and leadership.

The Secret Service is also under new scrutiny over alleged misconduct. The issue resurfaced after an agent turned up drunk at a Dutch hotel just before President Obama’s visit this week. Today, The Washington Post reported two officers suspected of drinking had a car accident this month in Miami during a presidential visit there.

In economic news, a bill restoring jobless benefits for more than two million Americans cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate. It’s not expected to survive in the House.

And Wall Street failed to gain any traction. The Dow Jones industrial average lost four points to close at 16,264; the Nasdaq fell 22 points to close at 4,151; and the S&P 500 was down three to finish at 1,849.

There’s word today that James Schlesinger, who served Republican and Democratic presidents, has died. Schlesinger was a blunt-spoken intellectual who became CIA director and then defense secretary under President Nixon. After Nixon resigned, he stayed at the Pentagon under President Ford until being fired in 1975. Later, under President Carter, he became the first secretary of energy. James Schlesinger was 85 years old.