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Dispatches The Buzz

HURRICANE KATRINA "This is a nightmare I hope we wake up from," said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin after receiving his first briefing with federal officials to assess Hurricane Katrina's damage to his city. The Category 4 storm veered east in time for New Orleans to avoid a direct hit Aug. 29 but the Gulf Coast region could not escape devastation from the largest natural disaster in U.S. history.

Mr. Nagin and other officials believe the death toll will be in the thousands, as flooding, power outages, and downed communications kept residents across Mississippi and Louisiana from knowing the fate of loved ones (see "Unnatural disaster").

President Bush headed to the region after launching a coordinated federal response that includes military relief and tapping into the nation's strategic petroleum reserve (see "Money: Slower but steady"). Other pledges of support came from private charities (see "Helping hands") and a dozen nations, including Canada, and the UN. Undersecretary-general Jan Egelund, who coordinated UN disaster response for the 2004 tsunami, said economic costs of Katrina-expected to reach $25 billion-dwarf the tsunami's $10 billion price tag.

IRAQ The war's worst single-day death toll came not from insurgent attacks but a stampede during a Shiite religious procession on Aug. 31. About 1,000 mostly women and children died on Baghdad's Imams bridge when a rumor of a suicide bomber sparked panic in the million-strong crowd. Earlier in the day, a rocket and mortar attack killed seven of the pilgrims marching to Kadhimiyah shrine. The shrine is named after one of the 12 imams revered by many Shiites.

FAITH-BASED RECOVERY Two weeks after WORLD first reported that USDA was withholding food stamps from faith-based recovery program Teen Challenge, Agriculture secretary Mike Johanns and Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt declared those programs eligible for food stamp participation. The cabinet officials sent an Aug. 26 letter to all 50 governors reversing the previous policy (see "Stamp of approval").

SUPREME COURT After seven Democratic U.S. senators launched a website taking questions for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts, more than 40,000 have piled up. They range from serious ("What past Supreme Court decisions do you admire and why?") to snide (Do oligarchies "make you feel all warm and gooey inside?"). The senators plan to submit some queries to Mr. Roberts, whose confirmation hearing is set to begin Sept. 6 (see "Roberts Roast: Field guide to the inquisition"). It will be the first Supreme Court confirmation since the internet opened doors to public participation.

SUDAN After a three-week delay due to the death of Vice President John Garang, Sudan's new parliament met for the first time Aug. 31 after ending 21 years of civil war. Garang successor Salva Kiir was sworn in as vice president, and the south Sudan SPLM he represents will hold 28 percent of the seats in parliament. National Congress, formerly the National Islamic Front, allocated itself 52 percent of the seats, a formulation Mr. Kiir has contested.

CHINA Allen Yuan, one of the founders of China's unofficial Protestant house church, died Aug. 16 at age 91. His wife and six children survive him.

Mr. Yuan grew prominent as one of China's most faithful Christian leaders for refusing to join the state-sponsored Three-Self Patriotic Movement. In 1958, as Mao Tse-Tung purged supposed "rightists," authorities arrested Mr. Yuan. He spent almost 22 years in a series of labor camps. In one icy camp in northeastern Heilongjiang Province, he marched up and down during prisoners' smoking breaks singing "The Old Rugged Cross" to rally his spirits.

Upon his release, he continued to evangelize and disciple Chinese, holding annual mass baptisms as late as 2003. Asked to pastor churches in other countries, he reportedly said, "Why should I go abroad? I was called to serve God in China, and He will make a way for me."

Ahead of a Sept. 5-8 summit with President Bush in Washington, Chinese President Hu Jintao released a government report critical of U.S. military support for Taiwan. The document reiterated China's pledge to avoid first use of nuclear weapons and to downsize its military. Growing defense expenditures, it said, result from rising salaries. Mr. Hu's White House visit is his first since becoming president in 2003.

CRIME Investigators in Fannin County, Texas, are probing four Aug. 28 deaths in the tiny community of Sash, 95 miles northeast of Dallas. In what seemed at first to be a church shooting with an anti-Christian motive, Frederick Cranshaw, 54, crossed the street from his yard onto the property of the Sash Assembly of God Church and confronted Pastor Wayne Armstrong, 42, who stood talking with his wife and others. After an argument, Mr. Cranshaw pulled a .38 and opened fire, killing Mr. Armstrong and his friend Ernest Brown, 61.

He then chased Debbie and Kenneth Wolfe into nearby woods, hunting them briefly before leaving the scene. He jumped into a pickup truck and drove away, shooting and killing two women at a stop sign. After a nine-hour standoff with police, he committed suicide. Witnesses said he may have believed people in the churchyard were making fun of him. Sheriff's investigator George Robinson told WORLD Mr. Cranshaw had neither a criminal record nor a history of disagreements with the church. The shootings appeared to have "nothing to do with religion," he said, but were more likely the random acts of an angry man.