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In brief: Five climbers killed by volcano eruption

MANILA, Philippines – One of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes spewed huge rocks and ash after daybreak today, killing at least five climbers and trapping more than a dozen others near the crater in its first eruption in three years, officials said.

Rescue teams and helicopters were sent to Mayon volcano in the central Philippines to bring out the dead. At least seven were injured from a group of about 20 mountaineers who were caught by surprise by the sudden eruption, Albay provincial Gov. Joey Salceda said. Clouds have cleared over the volcano, which was quiet later in the morning.

The climbers who died were struck by huge rocks, guide Kenneth Jesalva told ABS-CBN TV network by cellphone from a camp near the crater. They included a German, an Austrian and a Filipino.

The injured included foreigners and Filipino guides.

The head of the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, Renato Solidum, said today’s eruption was normal for the restive Mayon, about 212 miles southeast of Manila. It has erupted about 40 times during the last 400 years.

Agency wants PG&E to pay $2.25 billion

SAN FRANCISCO – California regulators recommended Monday that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. pay a record $2.25 billion fine for decades of negligence that led to a deadly gas pipeline explosion that leveled a San Francisco Bay Area neighborhood.

The penalty would be the largest ever imposed on a utility company by a state regulator, officials said.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s investigators said the fine was an appropriate remedy for dozens of safety violations extending back several decades, and said the company’s shareholders should shoulder the cost, not the utility’s customers.

“This is going to send a very strong deterrent message to PG&E that this kind of conduct and culture will not be tolerated,” said Brig. Gen. Jack Hagan, director of the commission’s Safety and Enforcement Division.

The 2010 pipeline rupture in San Bruno sparked a gas-fueled fireball that killed eight people, injured dozens more and consumed 38 homes in the quiet bedroom community.

PG&E will file its proposal later this month, and a judge from the utilities commission is expected to make a final decision about how much to fine the company later this year.

Ammonium nitrate blamed for blast

AUSTIN, Texas – A store of ammonium nitrate is what exploded April 17 at a Central Texas plant, killing 14 people, injuring hundreds and devastating an adjoining town.

The finding was expected, and officials had said they were focusing their investigation on the explosive chemical used in many fertilizers, said Rachel Moreno, spokeswoman for the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office. A spot where the ammonium nitrate was stored is now a 90-foot-wide crater, Moreno said Monday.

However, the ignition source for the explosive chemical remained undetermined Monday. Findings on the cause of the blast on the outskirts of the small town of West initially had been expected Friday.

However, the investigation will take one to two extra weeks to complete, with dozens of investigators combing through plant wreckage and the adjoining wrecked neighborhood, Moreno said.

Taliban take credit for rally explosion

PARACHINAR, Pakistan – A bomb blast tore through a political rally held by an Islamist party in northwest Pakistan on Monday, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban that killed 16 people and underscored an increase in violence ahead of the Saturday vote.

The explosion, at a rally held in the village of Sewak in the northwest Kurram tribal area, was the latest attack on candidates, political offices and election-related events as the vote approaches.

Much of the violence is believed to have been carried out by the Taliban against three liberal and secular parties. But Monday’s blast targeted a gathering of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, which generally has a more favorable relationship with the militant group.

The bomb, which was apparently planted near the main stage of the rally, killed 16 and left 44 wounded, said Umar Khan, a doctor at the nearby Sada hospital where many of the wounded were initially taken.

Two party leaders who were speaking at the event escaped unharmed.


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Syria says capital is free of militants after defeat of IS

new  Syria’s military said Monday it has retaken the last neighborhoods in southern Damascus held by the Islamic State group and declared the Syrian capital and its surroundings “completely safe” from militants for the first time in nearly seven years.