Storms pelt Midwest with rain, winds, hail
CHICAGO - A massive line of storms packing hail, lightning and tree-toppling winds began rolling through the Midwest Wednesday evening and could affect more than one in five Americans from Iowa to Maryland before subsiding.
Small tornadoes were reported in parts of Iowa and in Illinois. Authorities in Iowa said at least two businesses and a home were "completely damaged" by severe weather, and tens of thousands of people from Iowa to Indiana had lost power.
In addition to tornadoes, lightning and large hail, meteorologists were warning about the possibility of a weather event called a derecho, which is a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles. The storms are also likely to cause power outages that will be followed by oppressive heat, said Russell Schneider, director of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Flash flooding was also a concern in some areas.
The center was using its highest alert level for parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
FEMA denies aid in fertilizer blast
HOUSTON - The Federal Emergency Management Agency is refusing to provide additional money to help rebuild the small Texas town where a deadly fertilizer plant explosion leveled numerous homes and a school, and killed 15 people.
According to a letter obtained by The Associated Press, FEMA said it reviewed the state's appeal to help but decided that the explosion "is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration."
FEMA already has provided millions of dollars in aid to the town of West and its residents, but the decision prevents them from getting some of the assistance typically available to victims of tornadoes, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The decision likely means less money to pay for public repairs to roads, sewer lines, pipes and a school that was destroyed.
Workers rescued near top of skyscraper
NEW YORK - Two maintenance workers were left dangling from a collapsed scaffold near the top of a skyscraper for more than an hour on Wednesday before rescuers cut open windows to pull them inside to safety.
The men were stuck in wind gusts outside the 45th floor of the 600-foot-tall Hearst Building in midtown Manhattan, just steps from Central Park.
Fire Department officials said workers cut open the glass on the 44th floor to reach the men. The maintenance workers, helped by firefighters, moved slowly from the scaffolding, lowered using safety ropes attached to the 46-story building's roof.
Judge OKs fed plan for morning-after pill
NEW YORK - President Obama's administration can go forward with its new plan to make the morning-after pill available to buyers of any age without prescriptions, but it needs to do it promptly or face potential sanctions in the long-running dispute over access to the emergency contraceptives, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
The finding by U.S. District Judge Edward Korman came in response to a Department of Justice decision this week to ditch rules barring over-the-counter sales to girls younger than 15 and to comply with his April order to make the pills available to buyers of any age.
Parade-crash victim is accused of lying
ATLANTA - An ex-police officer from Georgia who was injured in a train accident during a veterans parade in Texas is accused of lying about receiving a Purple Heart and was arrested Wednesday, Cherokee County sheriff's officials said.
Former Holly Springs police Officer Shane Ladner, 40, was never awarded a Purple Heart and is charged with four counts of theft by deception, false swearing and giving a false statement to police, Cherokee County sheriff's Lt. Jay Baker said.
Ladner and his wife, Meg, were among those injured in a mid-November train crash in Midland, Texas, that killed four people.
One of Meg Ladner's legs had to be amputated.