Lightning strikes gas tank, closing interstate highways

Lightning struck a large gasoline tank early Sunday in North Carolina, igniting a blaze that closed sections of two interstate highways in both directions for several hours, authorities said.

The closed stretches of Interstates 40 and 73 through Greensboro were reopened Sunday morning, the North Carolina Department of Transportation said. The tank’s owner, Colonial Pipeline Co., said Sunday that the burning gasoline was extinguished by firefighters using special foam, but crews were still on the scene to put out any flare-ups.

Authorities said lightning struck the tank at the Colonial Pipeline Tank Farm near I-40 shortly after midnight. No injuries or evacuations were reported.

The company said the 43,000-barrel tank was about half full when it ignited, and crews are working to pump the rest of the fuel out of it.

Officials were putting water on two nearby tanks as a precaution. Greensboro Assistant Fire Chief David Douglas told the News-Record newspaper of Greensboro that those tanks were nearly empty with only 3,000 barrels inside.


California teen sailor says she’s awed by rescue effort

The California teenager who was plucked from her disabled sailboat says she is in awe of the effort to rescue her and thought it might take much longer before she was saved.

Writing on her blog Sunday, Abby Sunderland said she had only hoped for a ship to pass her by within a few weeks.

Instead, a coordinated international response was launched and a French fishing vessel rescued her three days after she set off her emergency beacons.

Her boat, Wild Eyes, was disabled when a wave smashed down its mast and knocked out her satellite communications.

Sunderland also said she has started writing about her adventures, possibly for a book.


Doctors start seeing pay cut for their Medicare patients

Doctors with Medicare patients will start seeing a 21 percent pay cut this week after Congress failed to defer the cuts by two more years.

The Senate had until June 1 to avert the cuts. It is not expected to vote by Tuesday, when the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ temporary hold on Medicare claims expires.

Some members of the American Medical Association signed white lab coats instead of a petition to voice their displeasure Sunday at the group’s annual meetings in Chicago. The coats will be delivered to lawmakers in Washington on Friday, a spokeswoman said.

“The Senate’s failure to act before June 1 made the 21 percent cut the law of the land,” AMA President James Rohack said. “Physicians will start seeing a 21 percent cut in Medicare payments this week that will hurt seniors’ health care as physicians are forced to make practice changes to keep their practice doors open.”

Legislation to restore doctor’s pay — known as the “doc fix” — is part of a broader aid package that includes jobless benefits and more financial aid for the states. In his Saturday radio address, President Obama called on lawmakers to avert the pay cuts, faulting Republicans for the delay. “After years of voting to defer these cuts, the other party is now willing to walk away from the needs of our doctors and our seniors,” Obama said.

Republicans call the package fiscally irresponsible and said it would add $80 billion to a bloated federal deficit. Some moderate Republicans say they will vote for the package if the cost is offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

Lawmakers work to blend House, Senate banking bills

A few contentious issues could upend a delicate political equilibrium as lawmakers try to blend House and Senate bills into a single rewrite of banking regulations.

The final measure, which President Obama wants on his desk by July 4, is intended to prevent another financial crisis like the 2008 meltdown, which triggered a deep recession.

Rep. Barney Frank, chairman of a panel resolving differences in the two bills, and Sen. Christopher Dodd, who shepherded the Senate’s measure, must fend off industry efforts to dilute the final legislation while holding together a Senate coalition that included only four Republicans.

Typically, legislation gets watered down in the Senate. This time, the Senate version emerged tougher than the House bill. Frank, D-Mass., agreed to make the Senate bill the base.

“Throughout this process you have seen a desire by members not wanting to be seen voting with the banks,” said Edward Mills, a financial policy analyst at FBR Capital markets.

At least 56 industry lobbyists have served on the personal staffs of the 43 Senate and House members who will have a hand in shaping the bill over the next two weeks, according to an analysis by Public Citizen and the Center for Responsive Politics, two government watchdogs.

What’s more, the center found that lawmakers on the committee settling differences between the competing House and Senate versions have received more than $112 million over two decades from political action committees or employees of industries affected by the legislation.