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News Wrap: At Least 9 Dead After Tornadoes Sweep Midwest

February 29, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: At least nine people were killed in the Midwest early today as an outbreak of tornadoes ripped across the region. More than 30 others were hurt, and a series of small towns suffered heavy damage.

The view from the air over Harrisburg, Ill., was one of near-total devastation. Entire roofs were stripped off homes, some walls caved in on others, and yet other buildings were unrecognizable, just piles of shredded lumber.

ERIC GREGG, mayor of Harrisburg, Ill.: It’s a horrific event that’s happened to us here in Harrisburg. And the loss of life, the injuries, the devastation is just — it’s very profound and it’s heartbreaking, to tell you the truth.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Crews were already at work clearing debris while stunned residents searched through what was left of their homes. The community of 9,000 had taken a direct hit from a storm with peak winds of 170 miles an hour.

MAN: It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe the measure of damage it did to this building. It’s like there was just no structure and it just took it completely out. I mean, as you can tell, it’s total devastation.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The deadly string of storms trekked steadily eastward as the day wore on, beginning in small towns in Kansas, and moving through Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. In all, the National Weather Service reported at least 16 tornado sightings.

One of them hit the well-known music theater town of Branson, Mo.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

GOV. JAY NIXON, Missouri: There’s eight- to nine-mile track of significant damage all the way, as the tornado late last night between 1:00 and 3:00 bounced along here and did the significant damage that you all can very clearly see.

HARI SREENIVASAN: But, in neighboring Kansas, nearly 40 percent of the town of Harveyville was damaged.
The storms were spawned when a broad cold front coming off the Rocky Mountains slammed into warm, humid air over the eastern half of the U.S.

In Syria, government troops and tanks pushed into a rebel-held area in the battered city of Homs. It appeared to herald a ground offensive to recapture the neighborhood of Baba Amr. That section of the city has been under heavy bombardment for more than three weeks. The U.N. now estimates that more than 7,500 people have died in Syria since the uprising began one year ago.

Egypt has lifted a ban on allowing seven Americans employed by pro-democracy groups to leave the country. The seven were charged with using illegal foreign funding to incite unrest against Egypt’s military leaders. In response, the U.S. threatened to cut off nearly $1.6 billion in aid. Nine other Americans were also charged. They’ve already left Egypt.

The U.S. economy is doing better than the Federal Reserve expected. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a House hearing today that the drop in unemployment has exceeded projections. At the same time, he said the Fed expects that trend to slow as the year progresses.

BEN BERNANKE, Federal Reserve chairman: Notwithstanding the better recent data, the job market does remain far from normal. The unemployment rate remains elevated. Long-term unemployment is still near record levels, and the number of persons working part-time for economic reasons is very high.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Bernanke left open the possibility of upgrading the Fed’s economic outlook.

Wall Street saw it as a signal that the Central Bank will take no further action to boost growth, and that sent stock prices falling. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 53 points to slide back under 13,000. It finished at 12,952. The Nasdaq fell nearly 20 points to close below 2,967.

There was more today on disclosures that remains of some victims from the 9/11 Pentagon attack ended up in a landfill. A 2002 memo showed the disposal was based on written guidance from David Chu.

He was Pentagon personnel chief at the time, under Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. All indications are that unidentified remains were incinerated, then taken to a landfill. Pentagon officials say the practice ended in 2008.

For the first time, a high-value detainee at Guantanamo has reached a plea deal. A Pakistani man, Majid Khan, admitted today that he helped plot al-Qaida attacks. U.S. military prosecutors said he had talked of trying to blow up fuel tanks in the U.S., and of assassinating Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan.

Khan has been held for nearly a decade. He has agreed to testify against other detainees in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Singer Davy Jones, who starred with The Monkees in the 1960s, died today, of a heart attack, in Indiantown, Fla. Jones and three others were recruited in 1966 for a TV show about the adventures of a pop band. It lasted two years. The Monkees had a string of hits, including “Last Train to Clarksville” and “Daydream Believer.”
Davy Jones was 66 years old.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.