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Mass. town worried dam won’t hold

Taunton, Mass. Engineers struggled to ease pressure on a battered 173-year-old wooden dam Tuesday and prevent a collapse that could send a wall of water crashing through this town of 50,000.

Crews opened floodgates on the Whittenton Pond Dam, and also adjusted the flow on a second dam upstream on the rain-swollen Mill River.

The river fell by several inches, but an evacuation order remained in effect, and schools and highways were closed amid fears a dam break could send 6 feet of water surging through downtown Taunton, a working-class community about 40 miles from Boston.

With the dam buckling under heavy rains, Mayor Robert Nunes on Monday ordered about 2,000 residents who live near the river to evacuate. The situation worsened after some of the dam’s timbers washed away, and dive teams stood by in case rescues proved necessary.

But as the water level dropped in Lake Sabbatia, the body of water behind the dam, authorities were hopeful disaster could be avoided.

Officials exonerated in prison rape lawsuit

Wichita Falls, Texas Six prison officials were found not liable Tuesday in a federal lawsuit claiming they violated a gay convict’s constitutional right against cruel and unusual punishment by ignoring his pleas for protection from inmate rapes.

Roderick Keith Johnson, 37, had sought unspecified damages against the Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials at the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, where he was housed for 18 months for burglary.

“I think the trial will have made a difference even though it didn’t go our way,” said Johnson’s attorney, Margaret Winter. “I really think it’s been a wake-up call to public officials in Texas.”

Johnson, whose nearly four-year prison term ended in 2003, testified that prison gangs forced him to be their sex slave while the officials never investigated his reports of abuse or kept him in a safer area for vulnerable inmates.

The defendants and other prison employees testified they could not substantiate Johnson’s half a dozen or so rape claims because he changed his stories or there was no medical evidence. They said Johnson usually seemed upbeat in prison, wearing tight pants and flirting with a corrections officer.

Southern California loses some 911 service

Long Beach, Calif. An equipment problem knocked out long-distance telephone service and parts of the 911 system for tens of thousands of residential and business customers in several Southern California cities Tuesday, officials said.

The problem began around 2:20 a.m. at Verizon Communications’ central office in Long Beach, Verizon spokesman Bill Kula said. Service was out in cities including Long Beach, Huntington Beach, Laguna Beach, Artesia, Downey, Bellflower and Westminster, he said.

Service in many areas, including all of Orange County, was restored by midafternoon and all service was expected to be restored by the end of the day, Verizon said.


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Early exit polls show strong support to lift Ireland ban on abortion

UPDATED: 3:05 p.m.

Ireland’s referendum Friday represented more than a vote on whether to end the country’s strict abortion ban. It was a battle for the very soul of a traditionally conservative Roman Catholic nation that has seen a wave of liberalization in recent years.