Wilma eyes Florida, prompts evacuations

The governor declared a state of emergency Thursday ahead of approaching Hurricane Wilma, but the state got a little breathing room when the storm’s slower pace postponed its likely landfall.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield said the slowdown could weaken the hurricane from a Category 4 storm to a Category 3 or less before it strikes Florida’s southwest coast sometime Sunday, a day later than previously thought.

He said weather conditions will be less favorable for storm strengthening once Wilma enters the Gulf of Mexico.

Across Florida’s southwest coast, people put up shutters, bought canned goods and bottled water and waited in ever-growing lines at gas stations. Officials began clearing tourists out of the low-lying Florida Keys but postponed the evacuation of island residents.

Wilma weakened slightly Thursday, but was still had 145 mph winds by late morning. That was down from 150 mph earlier in the day and 175 mph Wednesday. On Wednesday when its intensity, measured by internal barometric pressure, dropped to a record low.

Seven Florida gas stations accused of price gouging

State consumer services regulators are seeking $22,000 in combined fines from seven gas stations that they say gouged customers during this year’s hurricanes.

The stations unlawfully raised their prices by between 17 cents and 34 cents a gallon during Hurricanes Dennis and Katrina, Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Charles H. Bronson said Wednesday.

Under state law, it is illegal to charge excessive or exorbitant prices for essential items such as gasoline, housing, food, water, ice and lumber during a state of emergency except to reflect the retailer’s additional costs.

“We will not tolerate anyone exploiting our citizens and hope that these series of actions send a strong message that we will fully investigate and go after any instances of price-gouging that we find,” Bronson said.

Bronson said the state’s price-gouging hot line, has received more than 10,000 calls and more than 3,000 complaints during this hurricane season.

NationalSenate Judiciary Committee to commence Miers’ confirmation hearings Nov. 7

Confirmation hearings for White House counsel Harriet Miers, President Bush’s choice to succeed Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, will commence the first week of November.

Democrats have been pushing to start the hearing later in the month, saying there is no need to rush the White House counsel’s confirmation since O’Connor has promised to stay on the court until her replacement is approved by the Senate.

Republicans are pushing to have Miers confirmed and on bench before Thanksgiving. O’Connor has cast the pivotal vote in a string of 5-4 rulings in recent years that sustained

InternationalSaddam argues with judge at start of trial for 1982 massacre of Shiites

A defiant Saddam Hussein pleaded innocent to charges of murder and torture as his long-awaited trial began Wednesday with the one-time dictator arguing about the legitimacy of the court and scuffling with guards.

The first session of the trial lasted about three hours, and the judge ordered an adjournment until Nov. 28.

Saddam and his seven co-defendants could face the death penalty if convicted for the 1982 massacre of nearly 150 Shiites in the town of Dujail. They are being tried in the former headquarters of Saddam’s Baath Party.

Saddam replied quietly, “I said what I said. I am not guilty,” referring to his arguments earlier in the session.