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The Buzz

The latest on the week's biggest stories

Issue: "Rita: Strike 2," Oct. 1, 2005

HURRICANES The worst storm in U.S. history found its evil twin in the very next hurricane to follow it across the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Rita gathered fury offshore-moving from a Category 2 to Category 5 hurricane in just 14 hours-and appeared poised to douse the Texas coastline and areas already suffering from Katrina's ravaging. Even before making landfall, Rita peaked as the third-strongest Atlantic hurricane of all time, clocking winds of 186 mph.

Rita's reprise flipped even the clearly outwitted New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin into record reversal. After announcing a plan to reopen the city to 180,000 residents in three sections, including the popular French Quarter, storm warnings forced him to withdraw the plan less than 48 hours later, sending weary residents into a tailspin of re-re-evacuation.

Before Rita showed up, emergency management officers were calling the mayor's open-door policy "extremely problematic." New Jersey police on loan for door-to-door search and rescue found five people dead, with hundreds of homes left to search, in one of the sectors Mr. Nagin planned to open. New Jersey State Trooper Michael White, a veteran of search and rescue in New York City following 9/11 attacks, told WORLD, "At least at the World Trade Center the destruction was confined to a couple of city blocks. But this is just everywhere you go, all over the city" (see "Long haul, slow crawl").

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COURT Democratic divisions over Judge John Roberts' suitability to become the next chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court could not keep his nomination from moving out of committee to the full Senate. With Mr. Roberts' confirmation widely expected, Beltway attention last week turned to the next nomination to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The question: Would President Bush nominate an originalist or a "healer" acceptable to Democrats (see "Next in line")?

GERMANY Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel scored a victory over incumbent German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder-but not victory enough. The Sept. 18 elections ended with a stunning stalemate: Ms. Merkel's CDU garnered only a percentage point more of the vote than Mr. Schroeder and his Social Democrat Party. Each side claimed victory, and the virtual deadlock created a mad Bush-Gore 2000-like scramble, in this case to build parliamentary coalitions among each lead party. For Germany, the leadership crisis means needed economic reforms likely will be put off-bad news for Europe's largest economy, where unemployment runs at almost 12 percent.

U.S. ELECTIONS A private bipartisan commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III handed President Bush a sweeping proposal to overhaul U.S. election procedures. The Commission on Federal Election Reform, responding to flaws in state voter systems exposed during 2000 and 2004 elections, recommended putting states-not local jurisdictions-in charge of voter registration. It would also require states to institute controversial voting law changes, like mandating free voter ID cards for voters without driver's licenses, encouraging mobile registration, and voting by mail or internet. "We should have an electoral system," the commission report declared, "where registering to vote is convenient, voting is efficient and pleasant, voting machines work properly, fraud is deterred, and disputes are handled fairly and expeditiously."

NORTH KOREA It was the breakthrough that wasn't: Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament produced a joint statement Sept. 19 that affirmed North Korea's commitment to dismantling its weapons program. A day later the Stalinist state backtracked, however, demanding it receive a light-water nuclear reactor for "energy" purposes before it begins dismantlement, dimming prospects for talks set to resume in November and casting U.S. negotiators in the mold of Clinton negotiators who made a similar deal with the regime a decade ago. Under the radar, North Korea announced plans to stop emergency food aid shipments from the World Food Program by the end of 2005, a move that could jeopardize some of its vulnerable citizens while allowing the regime to operate under less international scrutiny (see "Window of lost opportunity").

TERRORISM Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahri said in a statement broadcast Sept. 18 that his terror network carried out the July 7 London bombings, marking the group's first direct claim of responsibility for the attacks that killed 52 people. "The blessed London attack was one which al-Qaeda was honored to launch against the British Crusader's arrogance and against the American Crusader aggression on the Islamic nation for 100 years," Mr. Zawahri said in the tape aired on al-Jazeera.


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