April showers. In Florida, people clambered onto rooftops or climbed into their attics on Wednesday to escape nearly 2 feet of rain that dropped on the panhandle area in the span of about 24 hours. The flooding damaged roads and inundated neighborhoods with water, making rescues difficult for hundreds of people who called for help after they were caught off guard. A car and truck plummeted 25 feet when portions of a scenic highway collapsed, and one Florida woman died when she drove her car into high water, officials said.
Oil spill. A train carrying oil-tanker cars derailed Wednesday in Lynchburg, Va., spilling thousands of gallons of oil into the James River. It was the latest in a string of crashes involving oil trains that has safety experts pushing for better oversight. There have been eight other significant accidents in the United States and Canada in the past year involving trains hauling crude oil, according to The National Transportation Safety Board. “This is another national wake-up call,” Jim Hall, a former NTSB chairman said of the crash. “We have these oil trains moving all across the United States through communities and the growth and distribution of this has all occurred, unfortunately, while the federal regulators have been asleep.”
On the phone. German Chancellor Angela Merkel again called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday morning on behalf of Germans held captive in Ukraine. Pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine are detaining seven observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Eight observers were taken hostage earlier this month, and one has been released. The seven still being held include three German officers and a German interpreter. Germany has decried Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal. The Kremlin said Putin stressed in the call that the main thing was for Ukraine to withdraw its troops from southeastern Ukraine and begin work on constitutional reform.
Time for a break. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally agreed to take a leave of absence after getting caught on tape for the second time apparently smoking crack cocaine. The first video surfaced nearly a year ago, but, until Wednesday, Ford refused to take time off or admit publicly that he has a substance abuse problem. In a statement Wednesday, Ford said he would take leave for an unspecified amount of time from both his mayoral post and his campaign for re-election. “I have a problem with alcohol, and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time,” Ford said in a statement. “I have tried to deal with these issues by myself over the past year. I know that I need professional help, and I am now 100 percent committed to getting myself right.”