March 15, 2007 in Nation/World

Nation in brief: Corps blasted for bad pumps

The Spokesman-Review
 

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco lashed out at the Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday for installing defective pumps at three major drainage canals just before the start of last summer’s hurricane season.

“This could put a lot of our people in jeopardy,” Blanco said. “It begs the question: Are we really safe?”

She and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana called for a congressional investigation into how the Corps allowed it to happen.

Citing internal documents, the Associated Press reported Tuesday that the Corps installed the 34 pumps last year in a rush to fix the city’s flood defenses, despite warnings from one of its experts that the machinery was defective and likely to fail in a storm.

At the same time, the Corps, the White House and state officials were telling residents that it was safe to come back to New Orleans.

On Wednesday, Donald Powell, the administration’s Gulf Coast hurricane recovery czar, said that he was never shown the memo, and that assurances he made that New Orleans was as safe as or safer than it was before Katrina were based on information he got from the Corps.

MIAMI

Child killer’s jury backs execution

A jury decided Wednesday that a convicted sex offender should get the death penalty for the kidnapping, rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford, who was buried alive in trash bags just yards from her home.

The jury, on a 10-2 vote, brushed aside pleas for mercy and a life sentence from defense lawyers based on claims that John Evander Couey, 48, is mentally retarded and suffers from chronic mental illness. Jurors deliberated for about one hour.

The final decision on Couey’s fate will be made in several weeks by Circuit Judge Richard Howard, who is not bound by the jury’s recommendation but is required to give it “great weight.”

CHAPEL HILL, N.C.

Edwards staffers evacuate HQ

The campaign headquarters of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was evacuated Wednesday after a staff member opened a letter containing white powder, a campaign official said.

“The authorities have asked us to evacuate while they run tests on the substance, and we have done so,” said Jonathan Prince, deputy campaign manager.

Chapel Hill police spokeswoman Jane Cousins said the campaign worker who opened the legal-size envelope containing the powder has been interviewed by health officials and has shown no health problems.

Police contacted the regional hazardous materials response team, the FBI and the fire department, Cousins said. Hazardous materials experts were testing the substance, she said.

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