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News Wrap: Heavy Rain, Flooding After Latest Gulf Coast Storm

September 5, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Labor Day got rained out along much of the U.S. Gulf Coast by the latest storm to make landfall. At least 16,000 customers were left with no power as the slow-moving system moved inland today with downpours all along its path.

People in Slidell, La., near New Orleans waded into flooded neighborhoods today, after Tropical Storm Lee dropped more than 14 inches of rain on them over the weekend.

WOMAN: I have never seen water come up that high. People are wading through. It’s up to their knees.

MAN: It feels almost like Katrina again, but not just as bad. It’s kind of scary. It’s a shock.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Parts of Mississippi and Alabama got eight to 10 inches of rain. And the storm also spawned nearly 20 tornadoes.

WOMAN: I heard the television say tornado warning. And about that time, you heard an ungodly clap of lightning, I mean, just lit up the whole house.

HARI SREENIVASAN: To the west, drought-stricken Texas badly needed the rain. Instead, it got winds from Tropical Storm Lee that fueled wildfires.

MAN: It’s just not me. I mean, we’re talking about an entire neighborhood gone now. And all those people, they were racing out of that neighborhood from the back. And they were the first ones to get it. And you could hear those houses as the roofs collapsed.

HARI SREENIVASAN: That fire southeast of Austin destroyed about 300 homes, charred 17,000 acres, and was still burning out of control.

JUDGE RONNIE MCDONALD, Bastrop County, Texas: This fire is not over. It’s not contained at this time. And it’s probably going to get better — it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Meanwhile, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee moved on, bringing heavy rain and flooding to parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. As it slogs northeast, it could also threaten new downpours in areas still cleaning up from Hurricane Irene.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Are you OK?

WOMAN: Yes.

BARACK OBAMA: Oh, ma’am, I’m so sorry.

HARI SREENIVASAN: President Obama got a firsthand look at the damage from that storm in New Jersey on Sunday.

And yet another system, Hurricane Katia, was already kicking up heavy surf in Florida. It was still 500 miles south of Bermuda, but may veer out to sea.

The worst typhoon to hit Japan in seven years has killed 34 people, with 55 others still missing. Typhoon Talas lashed coastal areas with high winds and record-setting rain over the weekend. The storm washed out entire roads, bridges and railways, and nearly 200,000 homes lost power. More heavy rain was forecast for Tuesday, which could trigger more mudslides and floods there.

In Egypt, the first witnesses took the stand against ousted President Hosni Mubarak. A police general surprised prosecutors when he said there were no official orders to shoot protesters during the uprising against Mubarak’s rule. They had expected him to name names. Outside, activists and relatives of the shooting victims threw rocks at metal barricades, trying to get into the courthouse. Police charged the crowd to block their entry.

Rebels in Libya converged on one of Moammar Gadhafi’s last strongholds today in their continuing manhunt. They massed at Bani Walid, about 90 miles southeast of Tripoli. It is believed several leaders of the ousted regime are hiding there.

We have a report from Bill Neely of Independent Television News.

BILL NEELY: The big guns and the young rebels are moving forward again. But this is a show of force. They’re heading for a town they don’t want to attack, the Gadhafi stronghold of Bani Walid, which is defying deadlines to surrender, inviting a battle.

We followed the rebels across the desert closer to the town, but they stopped well short. The circle around it is tightening, but Gadhafi’s men won’t go. Talks with them failed.

The chief negotiator, a doctor who lived in Britain for 10 years:

Gadhafi’s men want to fight.

ABDULLAH KAMSHIL, negotiator: Yes.

BILL NEELY: How strong are they?

ABDULLAH KAMSHIL: We don’t know too much, but we know the estimation. It’s about 60 to 100 die-hards. But they have low ranks and volunteers with them.

BILL NEELY: So, hard-core, dangerous people?

ABDULLAH KAMSHIL: Yes, 100, maybe 100 people.

BILL NEELY: And you are worried about what, a massacre?

ABDULLAH KAMSHIL: We are worried about massacre of the civilians of the city.

BILL NEELY: The revolution may appear to be won, but as long as roads like this and the town at the end of it remain in Gadhafi’s hands, these rebels worry that, somehow, the regime could hold out and even return. There is a stalemate in three towns, and the revolution isn’t over.

It’s a victory chant, but they know they have no victory while 70,000 people remained trapped, many of them families of the rebels. Their overall commander here told me that’s exactly what’s stopping them attacking. “We’re not afraid of Gadhafi’s men,” he says, “just that they will use civilians as human shields.”

MAN: We gave them enough chances. And now do or die. Come out and face the consequence, you silly bugger.

BILL NEELY: He is from East Sussex. Words are easy, but many here are uneasy. Gadhafi’s men massacred townspeople in May. The hard-core might repeat it.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Also today, Chinese officials confirmed that representatives of the Gadhafi government visited China in July, trying to buy weapons. They denied charges by Libyan rebels that Chinese state firms offered to sell weapons to Gadhafi’s forces. That would have been a violation of U.N. sanctions.

Soldiers in Syria carried out raids in several cities today, looking for a provincial attorney general. Adnan Bakkour appeared in a YouTube video last week. He said he had defected and he denounced the regime’s crackdown on dissent. Protest leaders claimed Bakkour is now safely out of Syria.

Meanwhile, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited a Damascus prison today. It was the first such visit since the uprising began five months ago.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.