USA

With floodwaters receding in northern California and the state's Central Valley after several days of rain, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) declared a state of emergency in seven counties, including Napa, Sonoma, and Sacramento as homeowners and businesses continued to dig out from mud and debris. The governor also pledged to seek federal assistance to reinforce bridges and levees so that they can withstand earthquakes, the Los Angeles Times said.

Government construction of schools, highways, and sewer systems in helped building activity hit an all-time high in November despite a slight dip in homebuilding, according to the Commerce Department. Through the first 11 months of 2005, the pace of construction spending was 9 percent higher than in 2004 and rose to an annual total of $1.146 trillion.

The Homeland Security Department is shifting to a competitive bidding process that will award federal grants to cities facing a wide range of threats, including natural disasters and public health crises, the department announced Tuesday. Until now, grants have generally gone to the nation's 50 largest cities strictly for terror-related security measures. The $765 million available in funds still must be used for programs and items that could help during a terror attack.

When it comes to safety for children, riding in a sport utility vehicle or a passenger car is basically the same, according to the findings of a study published in the journal Pediatrics. The higher risk of rollovers offsets any bigger-equals-safer advantages SUVs may have, the study found.

Efforts continued in Texas to battle wildfires that stretched for 25 miles in one area west of Dallas. High winds were expected to make fighting the fires from the air more difficult. Meanwhile, authorities went house-to-house in Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico searching for possible victims in drought-stricken towns hit by grass fires.

Independence Air, a 2,700-employee discount carrier that filed for bankruptcy in November, said it will shut down Thursday evening after less than 19 months in operation.

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