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News Briefs I

Rescue Efforts following Columbian Quake Slowed by Rain, Aftershocks

Los Angeles Times
ARMENIA, Colombia

Rescue workers struggled through driving rain and a pair of aftershocks Tuesday as they searched for survivors of an earthquake that killed at least 500 people and injured thousands.

As night fell more than 24 hours after Monday's quake in western Colombia, the full extent of damage had not been assessed. Authorities feared the death toll could at least double.

Buildings on the central Plaza Bolivar were crushed in Armenia, a city of 300,000. One heavy concrete structure collapsed upon itself, leaving all five floors the height of a single story.

It was unclear whether the two aftershocks, one registering 2.8, caused any additional damage. But the plaza was evacuated on orders of Armenia's mayor, Alvaro Patino, because weakened buildings were in danger of collapse.

Rescue workers used picks, shovels and their bare hands in the ruins of collapsed buildings. Some earth-moving equipment was available, but crews did not want to use it for fear of crushing possible survivors trapped under tons of rubble.

Brazilian Currency Continues Wild Ride as Government Faces Debt

Los Angeles Times

Brazil's currency continued its chaotic ride Tuesday, tumbling to nearly 2 reals to the dollar before regaining some ground, as worries spread that the government may be buried under an avalanche of debt that gathers force as the currency slides.

The currency has now lost about 52 percent of its value against the dollar, significantly more than predicted, since Jan. 12 when it stood at 1.21 to the dollar. It closed Tuesday at 1.84, off another 4.5 percent.

The weaker currency increases Brazil's cost of paying its billions of dollar-linked or dollar-denominated debt, while higher interest rates at home are increasing the burden of its domestic real-based debt as well.

Brazil risks being sucked into "an unmanageable debt spiral," said Lacey Gallagher, a Latin American debt specialist with Standard & Poor's of New York. The real's ongoing devaluation reflects market doubts about how Brazil will resolve the crisis, she said.

New Study Finds that Parkinson's Disease is Rarely Inherited


Most cases of Parkinson's disease, a debilitating neurological condition that affects at least half a million Americans, are not inherited, a major new study of twins has found. Only a small percentage of cases, primarily those occurring before age 50, appear to be linked to genetics.

"For people with Parkinson's, the majority of whom develop the condition in late life, they can be assured it will not be passed on to their children," said Dr. J. William Langston, director of The Parkinson's Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Langston and his colleagues, led by Dr. Caroline M. Tanner, studied male twins who were part of a large World War II veterans database. By 1992, there were 19,842 individual twin brothers alive, and the scientists tracked down 17,125 to study the occurrence of Parkinson's.

Identical twins share the exact complement of DNA, while fraternal twins are genetically like ordinary siblings. Had genetics been the trigger, virtually all identical older twins would have shared the devastating condition.