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Communities Watch, Wait as Miss. River Flood Threat Looms

May 12, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: Thousands of people along the Mississippi River spent another day trying to hold back the water or trying to get out of the way. And President Obama signed a disaster declaration for 14 more counties in Mississippi.

The river kept growing today, with more and more homes in small towns in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana being swallowed by the floodwaters, and thousands more in jeopardy. People in Butte LaRose, La., were told to evacuate before the Army Corps of Engineers decides whether to open a major spillway and relieve pressure on the river before it reaches the city of Baton Rouge further downstream.

MAN: We’re giving you time to do that. Knowing that the Morganza Spillway is going to be opened, you have time to do that now.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Opening the spillway means homes and farms might be lost to the river, news that’s hard to hear.

SUSAN MONCRIEFF, Louisiana: It’s just the unknown, it’s everything. You know, we finally — work hard for our stuff. It’s just hard.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There were also renewed concerns that flooding could impact oil refineries along the lower Mississippi.

KEN DILLARD, Ergon Refining, Inc.: We have many customers that are sole-source and depend on our oil. It would have an effect downstream at these — at these manufacturing facilities if they were to lose, if we were to shut down and not be able to supply them with — with product.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Mississippi is flowing so swiftly that, by Monday, the Coast Guard could close it to ship traffic, all the way from Baton Rouge, La., to the Gulf of Mexico.

In the meantime, the flooding also forced wildlife populations to move.

JAMES MEDLING, Dyer County Emergency Management director: Well, normally, you don’t see this many deer or turkeys in this area. You really have to look at the tree lines and things during normal seasons where the land — where it’s dry. You really have to — to look for them. And now they’re — here on this levee, they’re just — you know, they’re very easy to run across.

HARI SREENIVASAN: While animals fled, people kept sandbagging, hoping to hold back the flood tide in the days ahead.

In economic news, the recovery struggled to gain momentum in April. Retail sales were up again, but by the smallest amount in nine months. And first-time claims for unemployment benefits were down, but remained at relatively high levels.

On Wall Street, stocks closed higher today. The Dow Jones industrial average gained nearly 66 points to close at 12,696. And the Nasdaq was up 18 points to close at 2,863.

FBI Director Robert Mueller may be staying on the job for two more years. His term expires in September, but President Obama asked Congress today to grant an extension. In a statement, the president said it is critical to have continuity and stability at the FBI right now. Mueller went to work just a week before the 9/11 attacks.

Two more protesters were shot dead in Yemen today and 47 were wounded. Security forces in the city of Taiz sprayed crowds with machine gun fire from military vehicles. The deaths came a day after 13 protesters were killed, and they raised concerns of a broader conflict.

In Libya, a fresh round of NATO airstrikes rocked Moammar Gadhafi’s compound in Tripoli. The barrage hit hours after the Libyan leader appeared on state television for the first time in nearly two weeks. Later, Libyan officials showed the destruction to reporters. They said Gadhafi and his family had moved away from the fortified complex some time ago.

Meanwhile, rebels said they were advancing west from Misrata, after breaking a long siege by government troops and tanks.

ABDEL-HAFIDH GHOGA, Libyan opposition spokesman (through translator): Misrata is now completely liberated from Gadhafi and his forces. The airport in Misrata was the launching zone for Gadhafi’s forces, and, praise be to God, it is now under the control of our revolutionary forces.

The rest of the area east and west of the city are now completely void of any Gadhafi loyalist troops, for an area approximately 25 miles in each direction.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In another development, Libyan opposition leaders planned to meet with U.S. officials in Washington tomorrow. There were no plans for President Obama to join the meetings.

A German court convicted John Demjanjuk today of aiding in the murder of 28,000 people as a Nazi death camp guard. Demjanjuk is a retired autoworker from Detroit, but he was born in the Ukraine. German prosecutors charged that he worked as a low-ranking guard at the Sobibor camp in Poland in 1943 during World War II.

Today, the 91-year-old defendant sat in a wheelchair as the verdict was read. He showed no reaction. But relatives of death camp victims welcomed the verdict.

CORNELIUS NESTLER, attorney for Sobibor victims’ families: He was part of a killing machine. And he is an accessory to murder. There is absolutely no doubt about the evidence. And the relatives, they think it is absolutely necessary that everybody who participated in murdering their family has to face his responsibility until the end of his life.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In the 1980s, an Israeli court convicted Demjanjuk of being a notorious guard at a different death camp, but it turned out he had been misidentified, and the conviction was overturned. Today’s conviction carried a five-year prison sentence, but Demjanjuk remains free, pending appeal.

Former U.S. Sen. John Ensign now faces a Justice Department investigation. The Senate Ethics Committee made the referral today, nine days after Ensign resigned his seat. The committee charged, the Republican obstructed its investigation and made false statements to the Federal Elections Commission. The probe stems from Ensign’s affair with the wife of a top aide and payments to her family.

The Obama administration laid out a plan to beef up U.S. cyber security efforts. It called for a new law that would mandate better protection for the electrical grid, nuclear power plants and financial systems. Just last month, authorities exposed a hacking ring that broke into more than two million computers around the world, stealing more than $100 million.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.