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News briefs, part 2

Powerful Storm Hits California, Raising Hopes for Wet Winter

The Washington Post


A powerful storm battered California today, causing widespread damage and freeway closings but raising hope among water-agency officials that a wet winter may intrude on the state's unprecedented drought.

"We still have a long way to go to get out of the drought, but this has been a very productive storm," said Bill Mork, the state climatologist.

The storm dumped more than two feet of snow in the northern Sierra, the key to water storage in a state where the heaviest population concentrations are in the south and most major reservoirs are in the north.

After a November in which precipitation was only one-fifth of normal, the northern Sierra received a week's worth of rain and snow in two days. Precipitation totals through Sunday at eight northern Sierra stations averaged eight inches, about two-thirds of normal, since the new water year began Oct. 1.

The storm moved south Monday, raking the central coast and metropolitan Los Angeles with rain and high winds, causing at least one storm-related highway death and damaging businesses and mobile homes. Beach residents in Malibu sandbagged homes. Sepulveda Dam recreation area in the San Fernando Valley, where 40 motorists were stranded and a bicyclist killed by flash floods last February, was closed.

But most Californians welcomed the storm. The drought, which began in 1986, has reduced farm acreage, lowered water tables, killed fish and wildlife and caused residential and industrial water shortages from Marin County north of San Francisco to the Mexican border.

House Democrats Oust Whitten; GOP Taps Armey

The Washington Post


The post-election winds of change swept Capitol Hill Monday as House Democrats ousted the veteran chairman of the Appropriations Committee and Republicans moved an aggressive opponent of big government into their leadership.

The Democratic Steering and Policy Committee voted to oust Rep. Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), the ailing Appropriations chairman, and replace him with Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.) Since Whitten, 82, suffered a mild stroke in February, the committee has been torn by a struggle pitting Whitten against his longtime friend, Natcher, 83, who has waited nearly 40 years to gain a chairmanship.

With nearly 51 years of service, Whitten is the longest-serving House member in history, and he has led the Appropriations Committee since 1979. He reportedly is fighting to retain control of the rural development, agriculture and related agencies subcommittee, but some are arguing that Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the second-ranking member of the subcommittee, should be given the chance to take over.

While Democrats unanimously reconfirmed a slate of incumbent officials led by House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.), a fight over the Veterans Affairs Committee and a potential battle over the Budget Committee chairmanship were on their horizon.

Meantime, the GOP caucus, by an 88 to 84 vote, put Rep. Dick Armey (Tex.), an anti-establishment fifth-termer and free-market economist, into the No. 3 job in the leadership, chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Armey won over the incumbent chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis (Calif.), largely because of his big majority among the 47 House GOP freshmen.

Lewis was regarded as an ally, and potential successor, of House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.), while Armey has more of the confrontational style of House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). But Michel and Gingrich, both re-elected unanimously, joined Armey in asserting that the election turned more on the freshmen's desire for "change" than on any ideological or tactical splits among the minority.

On the Democratic side, the theme was harmony, with no challenges to Foley, Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), or others, and quick agreement to add Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), a Hispanic, to a leadership array that already included a black and a woman. Foley told a news conference that the Democrats were ready for the "heavy responsibility" the voters had laid on their party.

Northwest Cancels Aircraft Orders, Obtains Loans to Stay Afloat

Los Angeles Times

Struggling Northwest Airlines Monday canceled or delayed more than $6 billion worth of aircraft orders and obtained additional financing in the most recent moves to prop up the nation's fourth-largest airline.

Meanwhile, another ailing carrier -- Trans World Airlines -- finalized agreements with creditors and federal pension officials that will clear the way for the venerable carrier to emerge from bankruptcy court protection next month, TWA executives said.

In axing or putting off orders for nearly 120 passenger jets, Northwest joined other major U.S. carriers -- such as American, Delta and United -- that have cut or postponed billions of dollars worth of new jet craft orders as the airline industry struggles through its worst slump ever.

"Canceling and deferring these orders was difficult ...," said John Dasburg, president and chief executive officers of the Minneapolis-based airline, in a statement. "However, in today's competitive environment, an environment marked by overcapacity around the world, it is simply no longer possible to economically justify all of these aircraft investments."

Northwest's decision was particularly painful for Airbus Industrie, the European aircraft consortium that saw orders for 74 aircraft canceled. In addition, the airline delayed the delivery of 44 jets from Boeing Aircraft.