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News Briefs I

Southern Italian Town Digs Out

Special to The Washington Post
SARNO, Italy

The scene was apocalyptic - drying mud, dust, crumbled buildings, speeding ambulances and scores of frightened people wandering the streets. Many of them lost their homes on Wednesday when, following two days of torrential rains, fast-moving rivers of mud and topsoil came sliding down the mountain that rises behind Sarno and crashed into the town.

"This is a mess. I've never seen anything like it," said one young woman who stood for hours at one of the town's major intersections, peering into every car that passed in hopes of finding her father.

Sarno, a village of 2,000 people 17 miles east of Naples, was one of the towns hardest hit by Wednesday's landslides in the mountainous Campania region. Italy's civil protection ministry said at least 55 people were killed, 40 of them in Sarno, and about 125 others were believed missing. About 1,500 people lost their homes.

Among the victims in Sarno were two doctors, a nurse, a doorman and a patient, killed when an avalanche of mud swept through the local hospital early Wednesday.

About 3,000 firefighters, police officers and volunteers participated in the search and cleanup of the disaster area Thursday. Police helicopters circled above, sometimes flying low so rescue workers could grab people trapped on roofs of buildings.

Pepsi Sues Coke Over Distribution

Los Angeles Times

The cola wars escalated dramatically Thursday when PepsiCo Inc. accused market leader Coca-Cola Co. of trying to monopolize the independent distribution system that delivers soft-drink syrup to restaurants, movie theaters, sports venues and other locations.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages and was filed in U.S. District Court in New York, accuses Coca-Cola of illegally trying to force independent food service companies around the country to handle only its brands - and of withholding syrup from distributors who agree to deliver Pepsi's brands.

"Pepsi announced a year and a half ago that it would make a focused effort to gain business in the soda fountain business, and this lawsuit seems to be an important part of that intensified battle," said John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, a Bedford Hills, N.Y.-based trade publication.

Coca-Cola, in a prepared statement issued Thursday afternoon, called Pepsi's suit "totally without merit All facets of the soft-drink industry are highly competitive. But it appears that Pepsi would prefer to fight in the court rather than in the marketplace."

Tobacco Lawyers Defend Industry In Closing Arguments

Los Angeles Times
ST. PAUL, Minn.

A cadre of top tobacco industry lawyers vigorously defended the conduct of their clients Thursday, maintaining in closing arguments at a high stakes trial here that the nation's cigarette companies had spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to make their products safer. The also denied they marketed cigarettes to children.

Philip Morris attorney Peter Bleakley, who led off for the major defendants, also argued that even if the defendants committed wrongful acts, Minnesota and Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Minnesota - which are jointly suing the industry for $1.77 billion in damages incurred treating sick smokers - failed to prove that any industry conduct led to increased health-care costs for either plaintiff.

The veteran trial lawyer stressed that even though a fundamental element of the plaintiffs' case is that the cigarette companies perpetrated a vast fraud on the public over the past 40 years, the plaintiffs had failed to call a single witness to say he was fooled about the hazards of smoking.