USA

The government continues to squander millions of dollars in post-hurricane Katrina disaster aid, according to an audit released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office. While $17 million has been spent on rental payments made to people already housed in free trailers and apartments, less than 1 percent of $1 billion in fraudulent assistance has been recovered, investigators said. A spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that during the past year FEMA has worked to upgrade the registration process to prevent payment errors.

The cause of a warehouse explosion in downtown Milwaukee that injured about 30 people Wednesday morning was not immediately known, a fire official said. The blast, which was felt a mile-and-a-half away, destroyed several buildings in a gearfactory complex.

A federal advisory panel drafting voting guidelines for the US Election Assistance Commission approved a proposal Tuesday that encourages states to use electronic voting machines that produce a paper verification trail.

New York declared war on artificial trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) by becoming the first US city to ban restaurants from using the ingredient. Health officials, who also have called for posting calorie counts on menus, said the ban addresses health concerns. Restaurants have until mid-2008 to make any necessary changes.

In advance of a US Army Corps of Engineers report Wednesday about a controversial Louisiana shipping channel, a coalition of scientists, environmentalists, and politicians called for closing this shortcut to New Orleans. The channel, the group contends, has caused widespread degradation to wetlands and contributed to the devastating deluge of parts of eastern New Orleans.

New York unveiled a new permanent emergency command center Tuesday to replace the old one that was destroyed during the World Trade Center's 9/11 collapse. The 65.000-square-foot building, which ends the need for interim headquarters, is located at the end of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some rural areas of Illinois aren't expected to have power restored until Friday, a week after an ice storm wreaked havoc across the Midwest, a utility official said. Sixteen deaths in Illinois and Missouri have been blamed on the storm and its aftermath. Frustrated by prolonged power outages, regulators in Missouri told utility executives may have spent "too much time on Wall Street and not enough time worrying about Main Street."

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