Massive flooding in New Orleans and more than 50 deaths in Mississippi were caused by hurricane Katrina, which knocked out power Monday to more than three-quarters of a million people from Louisiana to Florida's Panhandle. It could be two months, authorities said, before electricity is fully restored across the region, which may have sustained $20 billion in damage, according to an early estimate. In Mississippi, most of the fatalities appeared to result from a massive storm surge along the coast.

New Orleans avoided the worst-case scenario some forecasters had predicted. No deaths were confirmed as of Tuesday morning, but Mayor Ray Nagin (D) estimated that 80 percent of the city was underwater. Meanwhile, President Bush pledged extensive assistance for victims. Government relief efforts rushed generators, water, baby formula, and other supplies to the hard-hit areas.

Bush also was expected to tap into the nation's emergency petroleum stockpiles to compensate for lost production from storm-battered refineries.

The national poverty rate rose to 12.7 percent in 2004, according to the Census Bureau. The finding means that 1.1 million more people were added to the poverty rolls, which now number 37 million.

In response to alleged religious bias at its academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., the Air Force released new guidelines for religious tolerance Monday. The document discourages prayer at public functions and urges commanders to refrain from outwardly sharing their religious beliefs. The guidelines apply to the entire Air Force.

The average SAT math score attained by high school seniors who graduated this year were the highest yet on the college entrance exam, according to results released by the College Board, which owns the test. In a finding that comes amid mixed signals about the progress of students, seniors scored 520 out of a possible 800 on the math section of the SAT, two points higher than the previous senior class.

Demand for manufactured products fell 1.9 percent in July, the largest drop in 18 months, the Commerce Department said. Even so, the Consumer Price Index compiled from a survey of US households by the Conference Board rose unexpectedly.

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