USA

Packing winds of 145 m.p.h. as it approached the US Gulf Coast, hurricane Dennis was being called "extremely dangerous" by forecasters, and authorities warned more than 1 million people in Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi to get out of its way. The storm was expected to make landfall Sunday afternoon in an area still recovering from the effects of hurricane Ivan last September. Dennis was blamed for at least 32 deaths in Haiti and Cuba as its roared over those islands early Saturday.

The countdown for the first space shuttle launch in almost 2-1/2 years was to begin Sunday night at Cape Canaveral, Fla., after the seven-member crew arrived early to avoid the possible effects of hurricane Dennis. NASA plans extensive inspections via film, videotape, and still-photo cameras; sensors; radar; and spy satellite imagery of the launch of Discovery and its first three days in flight to try to detect any damage to its heat shield of the type that caused the destruction of Columbia on reentry in 2003. Discovery is due to lift off at 3:51 a.m. Wednesday to test the safety improvements as well as to deliver fresh supplies to the International Space Station and remove trash and junk that have accumulated aboard it since the last shuttle visit, in 2002.

More than $16 million will be paid by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco to settle lawsuits that allege sexual abuse by a priest, reports said. The settlement was announced Friday and was the second in the state since last December, when the Diocese of Orange agreed to pay $100 million to 87 abuse victims. Meanwhile, the chairman of a lay reform group, Voice of the Faithful, predicted over the weekend that such settlements ultimately will cost the Catholic Church in the US as much as $3 billion.

At least 150 residents fled subdivisions in southern Colorado over the weekend as hot, dry winds propelled a wildfire at which crews were trying "to throw everything we've got." Identical conditions were expected Sunday, and authorities said more than 1,500 acres already had been scorched. In the town of Greenwood, flames were within 100 yards of homes. It was one of two blazes in the state. A dozen others were burning in seven other states. In all, more than 700,000 acres have been burned to date.

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