HARI SREENIVASAN: A flood disaster in the Australian Outback worsened today, cutting off a coastal city of 75,000 people. Rockhampton was the latest of 22 cities and towns in Queensland state to be inundated.
Heavy rain that began before Christmas has triggered flooding over an area that's roughly the size of France and Germany combined. Officials today ordered military flights to deliver food and medical supplies into Rockhampton.
In Egypt, police pursued a possible al-Qaida role in the bombing of a Coptic Christian church during New Year's mass. The explosion in Alexandria killed 21 people and wounded nearly 100 others. Within hours, protesters confronted police for failing to protect Christians. There were more protests in Cairo Sunday and today. Christians make up only 10 percent of Egypt's mostly Muslim population of 80 million people.
The U.S. military has suffered its first deaths in Iraq for 2011. Two American soldiers were killed late Sunday in the central part of the country. Meanwhile, three NATO troops have died in Afghanistan since the new year began. More than 700 were killed in 2010.
The men and women who want to lead the Republican Party faced off today in Washington. They're challenging the incumbent chairman, who has come under intense criticism.
Republicans officially take over the U.S. House this week. But, today, an internal fight was in full public view over who will lead the party's charge to take back the White House in 2012.
The embattled Republican national chairman, Michael Steele, defended his record against four challengers at the National Press Club in Washington.
MICHAEL STEELE, Chairman, Republican National Committee: My record stands for itself. We won. I was asked to win elections. I was asked to raise money, $192 million over the last two years. We won. And the fact that we're here right now celebrating that win I think says a lot about the record.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Still, party leaders now appear poised to replace Steele. His two years on the job have been marked by repeated gaffes.
And, just this morning, The Washington Times reported the Republican National Committee is more than $20 million in debt. The current leader in committed votes from the RNC's 168 members is Wisconsin State Chairman Reince Priebus.
REINCE PRIEBUS, Wisconsin Republican Party Chairman: And we need a lot of money. We need a chairman that's going to put his or her head down and spend literally five, six hours every day making major donor calls, major donor visits, literally working like an absolute dog for the next two years, getting our fiscal house in order.
HARI SREENIVASAN: Others, like the former Missouri Party Chair Ann Wagner, also criticized Steele's tenure.
ANN WAGNER, Republican National Committee Chair Candidate: It is time for some tough love at the Republican National Committee. How can an organization that has lost its credibility, is $20 million in debt, is steeped in mismanagement, distractions, and drama actually lead us into the next election cycle of 2012 and offer change?
HARI SREENIVASAN: The RNC will vote on a new chairman when it holds its winter meeting next weekend.
The Navy will investigate the captain of the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise over homemade videos shown on board. Owen Honors was second in- command when he helped make the videos in 2006 and 2007. On Sunday, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper released these clips. They show Honors and others acting out suggestive shower scenes, using gay slurs, and mimicking sexual acts. The Navy called the videos clearly inappropriate.
A new blood test can detect a single cancer cell in the human blood stream, and it could be available in several years. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston unveiled the screening method today. The Johnson & Johnson company will help bring it to market. The test could help doctors decide which treatments will work and help them gauge results much faster.
Scientists began avian autopsies today after more than 3,000 blackbirds fell dead from the sky in Arkansas on New Year's Eve. Residents and cleanup crews in the town of Beebe spent the weekend picking up the carcasses. The head of one lab said the birds may have been caught in a violent thunderstorm. One hundred miles away, 100,000 drum fish washed up dead near Ozark. Wildlife officials said it is unlikely the fish kill is related to the bird deaths.
In economic news, U.S. factory activity rose in December by the most since last spring. And construction spending was up in November for the third month in a row. The two reports helped get Wall Street off to a good start for 2011. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 93 points to close above 11670. The Nasdaq rose more than 38 points to close at 2691.
Those are some of the day's major stories.