USA

Churning toward Texas with top winds of 175 m.p.h., hurricane Rita was being rated as potentially one of the most powerful in US history, and more than 1 million residents of the state's coastal communities were under orders to get out of its way. Operators of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico were evacuating their crews, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said preparations were being made to shut down the reactors at the South Texas Project even though the plant is built to withstand hurricane-force winds and flooding. Rita's size - 370 miles in diameter - was threatening virtually the entire western end of the gulf. Meanwhile, worry about the impact of the storm on the nation's energy needs sent oil futures prices up $1.90 a barrel to $68.10 even before trading opened on the New York Mercantile Exchange Thursday.

Judge John Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee to become chief justice of the US appeared headed for certain confirmation by the Senate, despite the declaration of another Judiciary Committee member that she'll vote "no." Dianne Feinstein of California joined colleague Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts in vowing to oppose the referral of Roberts to the full Senate, although the Democratic resistance was seen as largely symbolic. The Judiciary Committee vote was expected as the Monitor went to press. The full Senate will vote next week.

In a tense drama captured on live TV, 140 passengers aboard a JetBlue flight watched their own plane skid to a safe stop in Los Angeles Wednesday with its front wheels engulfed in sparks and flames. No one was hurt in the episode, which began when a faulty landing gear was discovered on take-off from Burbank, Calif., on a flight to New York. For three hours, the plane circled over southern California to burn off fuel before attempting the landing.

By 2010, half of the new vehicles built by Ford Motor Co. will have hybrid engines that run on electricity as well as gasoline, the company announced Wednesday. Ford currently produces about 2,500 hybrid engines a year, all of which are installed in two sport/utility vehicle models. The company also said engines that will burn ethanol-based fuel, currently available only in the Explorer SUV and Taurus, will be installed in four more models next year.

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