Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Oil Rig Explodes Off Louisiana Coast; 11 Missing

Rescuers in helicopters and boats searched the Gulf of Mexico for 11 missing workers Wednesday after a thunderous explosion rocked a huge oil drilling platform and lit up the night sky with a pillar of flame. Seventeen people were injured, four critically.

The blast Tuesday night aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig 50 miles off the Louisiana coast could prove to be one of the nation's deadliest offshore drilling accidents of the past half-century.

The Coast Guard held out hope that the missing workers escaped in one of the platform's covered lifeboats.

Nearly 24 hours after the explosion, the roughly 400-by-250-foot rig continued to burn, and authorities could not say when the flames might die out. A column of boiling black smoke rose hundreds of feet over the Gulf of Mexico as fireboats shot streams of water at the blaze.

Adrian Rose, vice president of rig owner Transocean Ltd., said the explosion appeared to be a blowout, in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe and smashes the equipment. But precisely what went wrong was under investigation.

Crews were doing routine work before the explosion and there were no signs of trouble, Rose said.

A total of 126 workers were aboard the rig when it blew up. The Coast Guard said 17 were taken by air or sea to hospitals. Four were reported in critical condition. Others suffered burns, broken legs and smoke inhalation.

Nearly 100 other workers made it aboard a supply boat and were expected to reach the Louisiana shore by evening.

According to Transocean's website, the Deepwater Horizon is about twice the size of a football field. Built in 2001 in South Korea, it is designed to operate in water up to 8,000 feet deep, drill 5½ miles down, and accommodate a crew of 130. It floats on pontoons and is moored to the sea floor by several large anchors.

IATA: Airlines Lost Over $1.7B In Ash Chaos

Airlines have lost at least $1.7 billion due to travel disruptions caused by the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland, an industry group said Wednesday as hundreds of planes finally landed or took off from airports around Europe.

The head of the International Air Transport Association called the situation "devastating" and urged European governments to examine ways to compensate airlines for lost revenues, as the U.S. government did following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Airlines lost revenues of $400 million each day during the first three days of grounding, IATA chief executive Giovanni Bisignani told a news conference in Berlin. At one stage, 29 percent of global aviation and 1.2 million passengers a day were affected by the airspace closure ordered by European governments, who feared the risk that volcanic ash could pose to airplanes.

Flights resumed in many areas, but the situation was anything but normal as airlines worked through an enormous backlog after canceling over 95,000 flights in the last week.

Air traffic control agency Eurocontrol said it expected at least 15,000 of the continent's 28,000 flights to go ahead Wednesday across Europe, and possibly much more.

But severe delays were still expected across Europe, as airlines pressed to patch together normal flights with airplanes and crews scattered all over the globe.

McAfee Antivirus Program Goes Berserk, Freezes PCs

Computers in companies, hospitals and schools around the world got stuck repeatedly rebooting themselves Wednesday after an antivirus program identified a normal Windows file as a virus.

McAfee Inc. confirmed that a software update it posted at 9 a.m. Eastern time caused its antivirus program for corporate customers to misidentify a harmless file. It has posted a replacement update for download.

McAfee could not say how many computers were affected, but judging by online postings, the number was at least in the thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands.

McAfee said it did not appear that consumer versions of its software caused similar problems. It is investigating how the error happened "and will take measures" to prevent it from recurring, the company said in a statement.

The computer problem forced about a third of the hospitals in Rhode Island to postpone elective surgeries and stop treating patients without traumas in emergency rooms, said Nancy Jean, a spokeswoman for the Lifespan system of hospitals. The system includes Rhode Island Hospital, the state's largest, and Newport Hospital. Jean said patients who required treatment for gunshot wounds, car accidents, blunt trauma and other potentially fatal injuries were still being admitted to the emergency rooms.

In Kentucky, state police were told to shut down the computers in their patrol cars as technicians tried to fix the problem. The National Science Foundation headquarters in Arlington, Va., also lost computer access.

Intel Corp. appeared to be among the victims, according to employee posts on Twitter. Intel did not immediately return calls for comment.

Peter Juvinall, systems administrator at Illinois State University in Normal, said that when the first computer started rebooting it quickly became evident that it was a major problem, affecting dozens of computers at the College of Business alone.

"I originally thought it was a virus," he said. When the tech support people concluded McAfee's update was to blame, they stopped further downloads of the faulty software update and started shuttling from computer to computer to get the machines working again.

In many offices, personal attention to each PC from a technician appeared to be the only way to fix the problem because the computers weren't receptive to remote software updates when stuck in the reboot cycle. That slowed the recovery.

It's not uncommon for antivirus programs to misidentify legitimate files as viruses. Last month, antivirus software from Bitdefender locked up PCs running several different versions of Windows.

Woman Gets Probation For Starving Son With Cult

A woman who starved her 1-year-old son to death at the behest of a religious cult leader was given a sentence Wednesday that won't require her to serve any more jail time.

Ria Ramkissoon, 23, pleaded guilty last year to child abuse resulting in the death of Javon Thompson. She admitted denying food and water to the 16-month-old child when he did not say "Amen" before a meal. Javon wasted away over the course of a week before his heart stopped beating.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Timothy J. Doory suspended the balance of Ramkissoon's 20-year sentence and ordered her to report to a residential treatment facility for young women. The treatment program includes Bible study, and Ramkissoon will be required to complete the program, which doesn't have a specified length, before she can live on her own.

Ramkissoon, who has been in jail since her August 2008 arrest, also was given five years of probation.

At the time of Javon's death, Ramkissoon was living with a small religious cult led by a woman who calls herself Queen Antoinette. She told Ramkissoon that the child had "a spirit of rebellion" inside him and that denying him food would cure him.

After Javon died in late 2006 or early 2007, Antoinette told her followers to pray for his resurrection, and Ramkissoon spent weeks with her son's body. She testified in February at Antoinette's trial that she still believes her son will be resurrected, and her plea deal contained an extraordinary provision: If Javon comes back to life, the plea will be withdrawn.

Balloon Boy Parents To Pay $36,000

The parents who pleaded guilty in the balloon boy hoax have agreed to pay about $36,000 in restitution to authorities who responded to the incident.

Larimer County Chief Judge Stephen Schapanski accepted the agreement that prosecutors reached with Richard and Mayumi Heene, who weren't at Tuesday's hearing.

The Larimer County sheriff's office and other agencies had sought $48,000 for responding to the Oct. 15 incident. The Heenes reported their 6-year-old son had floated away in a homemade UFO-shaped helium balloon, touching off a scramble of dozens of emergency responders and two Colorado National Guard helicopters.

The boy wasn't on the balloon and was later found at his home in Fort Collins, about 60 miles north of Denver. Authorities accused the Heenes of staging a hoax to get publicity for reality TV shows they were trying to pitch.

The Heenes' attorneys had argued the couple should pay only a small amount in compensation. Richard Heene's attorney, David Lane, said in January that it appeared authorities wanted to make money on the episode.

Camera Captures Huge Runaway Saw Blade

A home security camera has captured a runaway saw blade shooting through a northern Ohio yard and into the side of a house.

Video from the camera shows a large blade spinning off a saw being used to cut through a street. The blade then rolls through a yard and leaves a 3-foot gash in the side of an empty house in Lorain, a town about 25 miles west of Cleveland.

Rachel Gayhart says she and her husband checked their video Monday to see why the street work wasn't finished. She says the blade missed a gas meter on the side of the neighboring house by two feet.

The video shows a construction worker retrieving the runaway blade and putting it back on the saw. Lorain officials say the firm doing the work under contract for the city is investigating.

Facebook Widens Reach To Tailor Broader Web

Facebook is spreading its wings to the broader Web with new tools that will allow users to see personalized versions of websites they visit elsewhere.

The move could change the way people experience the online world, though it could come with deeper privacy implications. By accessing Facebook's tools, websites will be able to customize the experience based on the list of friends, favorite bands and other things users have shared on their Facebook profiles.

"The Web is at a really important turning point now," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at a conference for Web and software developers in San Francisco. "Most things aren't social and they don't use your real identity. This is really starting to change."

It already has, with Facebook among its earliest pioneers. The world's largest online social network has long insisted, with varying success, that its users go by their real identities when they sign up for the service, offering a contrast to the culture of pseudonyms common elsewhere online.

And Facebook has sometimes transported those identities beyond its own service.

The latest changes take this a step further. It means Facebook users will be able to see a Web tailored to them based on their interests and social connections, as long as they are already logged in to Facebook. So when visiting a news site for the first time, they could see which of their Facebook friends liked recent articles. A music site such as Pandora, meanwhile, could start playing music from the user's favorite bands.

Users will also be able to share items on their Facebook profiles without leaving the other websites, simply by clicking "like" buttons next to the news article or other items they are reading.

AP; Reuters; International Air Transport Association;Wall Street Journal; WEWS-TV, Cleveland, Ohio; Facebook.

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