Alaskans brace for volcanic eruption

After 19-year break, Redoubt could roar back to life in days, scientists say

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - A volcano just 100 miles from Alaska's largest city has stirred back to life after nearly 20 years of tranquility, sparking a round-the-clock eruption watch, seismologists said Thursday.

The fresh wave of seismic activity at Mount Redoubt suggests that the eruption could occur within days or weeks, the Alaska Volcano Observatory reported.

Redoubt's renewed tremors sparked worries about potential ashfall in Anchorage, where city officials advised residents to stock up on supplies ranging from extra food and water to respirators, plastic bags and windshield washer fluid.

Volcanic ash and mudflows spewed from Redoubt during its last eruptive episode — a five-month stretch that began in December 1989. Those eruptions created health hazards and cleanup headaches for surrounding communities. The mudflows caused partial flooding at an oil terminal facility, and the ash plumes disrupted international air traffic.

The long hiatus at the 10,197-foot peak came to an end last fall, when seismic instruments registered an increase in activity. On Jan. 23, the levels increased markedly, leading the observatory to raise the alert level for aircraft and emergency officials.

On Thursday, the observatory reported that the activity was "largely unchanged with several volcanic earthquakes occurring every hour."

The observatory's seismologists said the most probable outcome would be an eruption "similar to or smaller than the one that occurred in 1989-90 ... within days or weeks." A more explosive eruption could send threatening mudflows or landslides down the Drift River and other drainages, but that scenario was "much less likely," the observatory said.

Observatory staff members are checking instrument readings and satellite images around the clock to watch for temperature changes, said volcanologist Dave Schneider. A Webcam was installed about 7.5 miles from the summit, and additional seismic equipment will be installed at the volcano as weather permits.

Observers will also look to weather radar scanners near the Kenai airport for help. Those scanners send data in six-minute intervals. These scanners will be able to detect an ash plume should one appear, Schneider said.


PGMA to honor outstanding PNP officers and support units

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will present awards to outstanding officers and support units of the Philippine National Police (PNP) during its 18th anniversary celebration on Monday (Jan. 26).

The President, as the guest of honor and speaker during the occasion, will deliver a message on Monday morning at the PNP multi-purpose center in Camp Crame, Quezon City where the ceremony will be held.

Among those who will welcome the President are top officials led by Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno and PNP Director- General Jesus Versoza.

Leading the awardees is rookie cop PO1 Carl Marc Jopillo who will receive the coveted Medalya ng Katapangan award for his bravery and heroism in defending the Libertad, Negros Oriental municipal police station against heavily armed New People’s Army (NPA) rebels last Nov. 2.

To be posthumously awarded is PO2 Allan Ruiz for making the ultimate sacrifice during an encounter with a notorious gang leader in Compostela Valley last Dec. 12.

The Medalya ng Katangi-tanging Asal would be received by Barangay Captain Anastacio delos Santos for single-handedly defending his family and community against 10 NPAs who attacked his residence in Cagayan last Dec. 15.

The President would also bestow the Medalya ng Pambihirang Paglilingkod to P/Chief Supt. Luisito Palmera and PO2 Jay Macutay for their commendable and invaluable service in the conduct of the search, rescue and retrieval operations in the sinking of the M/V Princess of the Stars and M/B Maejan last Dec. 14.

The Medalya ng Katangi-tanging Gawa goes to P/Chief Supt. Arturo Cacdac, P/Chief Supt. Constante Azares, and Sr. Supt. Cesar Hawthorne Binag.

Others who performed best in 2008 are the PNP Headquarters Support Unit as Best National Administrative Support Unit; Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) as Best National Operational Support Unit; Quezon City Police District as Best NCRPO District Police Office; Davao del Norte Police Provincial Office as Best Provincial Police Office of the Year; Davao City Police Office as Best City Police Office of the Year; Pagadian City Police Station as Best City Police Station of the Year; Marikina City Police Station as Best NCRPO City Police Station of the Year; Ayungon Municipal Police Station in Negros Oriental as Best Municipal Police Station of the Year;

Regional Mobile Group-Cordillera as Best Regional Mobile Group of the Year; 201st Provincial Mobile Group Cagayan as Best Provincial Mobile Group of the Year; Police Regional Office 3 as Best Police Regional Office Women and Children Protection Center of the Year; Davao del Norte PPO as Best Police Provincial Office Women and Children Protection Center of the Year; Legazpi City Police Station as Best Urban Women and Children Protection Center of the Year; and Cabiao Municipal Police Station in Nueva Ecija as Best Rural Women and Children Protection Center of the Year.

Last Sept. 22, the President appointed Verzosa as the chief of the 125,000-strong police organization with marching orders to free streets of crime and help bring lasting peace in Mindanao.

Versoza said the PNP has initiated reforms and improved its capabilities to better address the needs of its personnel and respond to the concerns of the community.

For 2008, Versoza reported that the PNP ranked as the 6th best performing government agency and achieved a high 49 percent approval rating, according to various surveys.

The PNP was established on Dec. 13, 1990 through Republic Act No. 6975 and was activated on Jan. 29, 1991 under a reorganized Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).

Foremost among the PNP’s missions are to enforce the law, prevent and control crimes, maintain peace and order, and ensure public safety and internal security with the active support of the community.

Gottschalks files for bankruptcy protection

Gottschalks Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, saying it will use the Chapter 11 law to stay open while it seeks a buyer.

But the horrendous business climate, coupled with a squeeze on credit, will make potential buyers less likely to step forward in time. The Central Valley department store chain has a March 24 deadline to get a deal done.

"Even the buyers who want to buy can't buy," said New York retail consultant Burt Flickinger III. "Doing an auction in the depths of this retail recession is going to have a higher degree of difficulty."

The recession just claimed Mervyns and could soon force Circuit City Stores Inc., which is in Chapter 11, out of business as well. Goody's, a clothing chain in the Southeast that already said it would liquidate, filed for bankruptcy protection Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department said U.S. retail sales fell 9.8 percent in December, compared with a year earlier, and were down 2.7 percent from the previous month.

The Gottschalks bankruptcy filing capped a three-month struggle for the 104-year-old Fresno retailer, a mid-priced department store that serves many Central Valley towns. The company has lost money the past two years and warned in November that it could run out of cash by late January. Last month, a bailout plan collapsed.

"A bad day in Fresno," said Gottschalks board member Joseph Penbera. "A sad day for a lot of communities, if we don't save this."

But he dismissed the idea that Gottschalks can't survive. "Somebody could pick this company up relatively cheaply and have $600 million in (annual) sales," he said. "We feel there is real value in Gottschalks going forward."

The company, which employs 5,200 workers, obtained new financing and said it will operate business as usual. But under the terms of its new loan, it must have a sale completed by March 24, according to papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.

"We just have a very short window in which to work," Penbera said.

Penbera acknowledged that a buyer would likely close some of Gottschalks' existing 59 stores. The company also has three specialty stores called Village East. In court papers, Gottschalks said its debts total $197.1 million.

"Whoever buys them is going to shrink it down," said Jeff Green, a consultant in Mill Valley. "I question if they'll even be able to make a deal."

The company operates four stores in greater Sacramento, and things were quiet Wednesday morning at the store at Country Club Plaza. Promotional signs announced post-holiday markdowns of up to 80 percent off. Shoppers struggled with the news.

"We're some of their biggest customers," said Gloria Walloupe of Sacramento, who's shopped Gottschalks in Fresno and Sacramento for 30 years. "We hope it stays open. I can always find something."

Gottschalks' troubles, along with store closures recently announced by Macy's (none in Sacramento), were too much for Bonnie Riley of Sacramento.

"It's scary," she said. "It's scaring me to death."

The bankruptcy protection filing sent Gottschalks' stock down 3 cents a share, to 15 cents, on the electronic "pink sheets" market.

Although it went public in 1986, Gottschalks has retained a family, community-oriented culture, especially in its Fresno hometown. Joe Levy, the grand-nephew of founder Emil Gottschalk, remains a board member.

"The hope is that it's a reorganization and they haven't closed the doors," said Al Smith, president of the Fresno Chamber of Commerce. "Mervyns went away, and that's a shame, but there isn't the emotional attachment in this community. … A lot of people in this community were raised going to Gottschalks."

Traditional department stores have been hammered in recent years by competition from discounters and high-end retailers. Gottschalks also may have been stretched thin by the distribution costs associated with its extended footprint, with stores as far away as the Palm Springs area and Fairbanks, Alaska.

Although it was profitable through 2006, revenues have suffered in recent years. In the fiscal year that ends Jan. 31, Gottschalks expects to lose $12 million on a cash-flow basis, according to court papers. Revenue is expected to drop 11 percent, to $557 million.


Exclusive: Pirate tells how five drowned

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNN) -- One of the pirates who held a Saudi-owned oil supertanker off the coast of Somalia before releasing it for ransom over the weekend told CNN how five in his group drowned in an operation gone wrong.
A small aircraft drops a ransom payment during a flight over the Sirius Star on Friday.

Pirates seized the Sirius on November 15. A $3.5 million ransom payment -- down from the initial demand of $25 million -- was dropped by parachute onto the ship Friday, but the pirates delayed the vessel's release after the drownings.

"Other pirates on the shore wanted a tip from the pirates on the Sirius Star, so they started to fire in the air as our people approached the land," Libaan Jaama told CNN. "When our pirates heard the shots, they thought they would be robbed, so they tried to return to the tanker. In that quick turn the boat capsized."

Jaama said he was mourning his friends, who, along with other pirates on board, took 23 crew members hostage. The Kenya Seafarers Association said the crew -- which included citizens of Croatia, Great Britain, the Philippines, Poland and Saudi Arabia -- was in "good health and high spirits" when the vessel was released Saturday.

The supertanker, owned by Vela International Marine Ltd., a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabian-based Saudi Aramco, was the largest ship ever hijacked by pirates. The ship is a VLCC, or "very large crude carrier," and more than three times the tonnage of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, the U.S. 5th Fleet said.

The tanker's capture in November sparked fears for its enormous cargo. The Liberian-flagged tanker was carrying 2 million barrels of crude oil worth about $100 million when it was captured.

Andrew Mwangura of the Kenya Seafarers Association said it would have been a "disaster" if the pirates had fired guns aboard the ship, harming the cargo or igniting a fire.

Hijackings off East Africa are a cause of growing international concern, spurring a number of international navies to patrol the pirate-wracked Gulf of Aden.

Pirates attacked nearly 100 vessels and hijacked as many as 40 in the waters off the coast of Somalia in 2008, according to the International Maritime Bureau. See how pirate attacks peaked in 2008
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The Gulf of Aden links the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. About 20,000 oil tankers, freighters and merchant vessels pass along the crucial shipping route near the largely lawless Somalia each year.

The financial and human costs of piracy are extensive. Ships ranging from luxury yachts to the Saudi supertanker have been held for ransom. At least one major company pulled its ships from the Gulf of Aden region in 2008, meaning cargo bound for Europe had to round the African continent rather than use the Suez Canal.

The pirates are based in Somalia -- a land racked by poverty and conflict -- and say hijacking ships is all about the money and the lifestyle.

"We have the best way of life," Jaama said. "We drive in white SUVs, we enjoy driving them and there is absolutely no difficulty in our life."

Jaama warned the flotilla of coalition warships in the region ready and authorized to strike at Somali pirates to back off.

"Those foreign forces are making a mistake targeting pirates because we only hunt in our waters," he said. "If they come to our borders, we will think of steps to take against them."


Nazi demons haunt 'The Unborn'

A scary movie in every way except the ones that matter, "The Unborn" draws a dismaying line from the ghettos of the Holocaust to the Hollywood horror ghetto

"It has fallen on you to finish what started in Auschwitz," intones Sophie, the World War II survivor Jane Alexander plays, clutching a Star of David and a soupy German accent, and speaking the sort of dialogue that sounds like an opening line from a Judeo-digital video-game - "The Legend of Zelda Rubinstein."

In a movie bloated with Jewish kitsch, Rubinstein, that diminutive medium from those "Poltergeist" movies ("Carol Ann? Carol Ann?"), is conspicuous by her absence. Zelda, Casey Beldon needs you. Sophie explains that Casey and her friends (Meagan Good, Cam Gigandet) have been ensnared by a story of Nazi genetic experimentation and supernatural bunk that involves the dead twin brother Casey knew nothing about. Until just now. Is it him she's seeing all over her Chicago suburb or a long-lost concentration camp relative?

For almost 45 minutes, Odette Yustman, the woman playing young, dull Casey, cuts a gawkable figure for the camera. She can pivot in her panties, cock her head to one side, and yank open a medicine cabinet door like no one before her. And yet she seems less than human.

"Some people are doorways," Casey observes, in the midst of a metaphysical revelation. And where Yustman's acting is concerned, some people are doors.

The movie has what it thinks is a provocative idea: a Jewish "Beloved," perhaps. But it also has a heroine who appears to be getting in touch with her Judaic self in the least flattering ways. She learns of dybbuks and becomes the object of the rare kosher exorcism. The movie's writer and director, David S. Goyer (he wrote the "Blade" movies and "Batman Begins"), has spent most of his career with his head in the science-fiction, horror-thriller, comic-book clouds. Here he combines his interests into one gruesome exercise.

What begins as a disposable teen spookfest (Girl, don't go in there) ends in a nutty, barely Semitic bloodbath (Dude, don't go there). For good measure, Gary Oldman - as Rabbi Joseph Sendak - blows a shofar, and Idris Elba casts out demons before becoming one himself.

"The Unborn" joins a growing glut of Holocaust- and Nazi-themed material -- "Valkyrie," "Defiance" - that are long on posturing, suppositions, and righteousness, yet short on moral complexity. Nazism and its crimes have lately inspired theme parks more than actual movies. Too many rides on that roller coaster and I feel sick.


Macworld - what's new?

The crowd was expectant, the media throng hurtled into the hall at the Moscone Centre and fought for the best camera position, and the audience gave the speaker the usual warm welcome accorded to the keynote presenter at Macworld.

So why did an hour and a half spent listening to details of Apple's shiny new products leave me just slightly underwhelmed - at least until the last five minutes? I don't think it was entirely the fault of Steve Jobs' less than charismatic stand-in Phil Schiller. Sure, he didn't pepper his keynote with as many "awesomes" and "really cools" as his boss. But then he didn't have anything really awesome to unveil.

When he started with a slide promising Three New Things, I was mildly excited. An iPhone nano? A tiny notebook computer? A big price cut? Err, no.

First, we had nearly an hour on an upgrade to the iLife suite of software. Sure, the upgrades to iMovie and iPhoto looked great. Facial recognition and geo-tagging is a clever way or organising your photos, and iMovie's latest incarnation seriously impressed my cameraman who uses far more expensive professional video editing software. But, hey, we get an upgrade to iLife every year, don't we? Hardly really new, and we didn't need all the wearisome details.

Then another twenty minutes on an upgrade to iWork, Apple's productivity software. But does anyone really use this rival to Microsoft Office, apart from hardcore Mac devotees who wouldn't sully their hands with anything emanating from Redmond? Ah, but here was something really revolutionary - So Apple will now allow you to put your documents online in the "cloud" so that they can be accessed anywhere by anyone. But even though it will start off as a free beta, it will eventually become a paid-for service. Just a minute - Google offers something similar , if less sophisticated, for nothing. So is this really going to change the world.

The final "new" thing was a 17" Macbook Pro. So does an extra two inches really count as novel? Phil Schiller made great play of a battery life of up to eight hours. That sounds great - but it's achieved by embedding the battery in the laptop. So in the unlikely event that the power supply fails, you will end up being without your computer for days while it is repaired.

That was the point I got up and headed for the exit to tell my bosses in London that Macworld had produced nothing new. But luckily there was One More Thing - and it was pretty good.

The deal with the big four record labels to make every track on iTunes DRM-free may well be the day that marks the demise of the copy-protection software for music. It's also an important moment in the fractious relationship between Apple and the music industry. Each side has got a bit of what it wanted - Apple has the DRM-free music Steve Jobs called for nearly two years ago, while the labels have got some wriggle room on pricing, with three different prices for tracks.

So we were relieved to emerge at last with a story. But for me the highlight was the show's finale, Tony Bennett singing "The Best is Yet To Come." The only problem was that the Apple faithful emerged from the Moscone Centre wondering whether that was really true.