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Thursday, February 24, 2005; Page A08

As Destructive Rains Recede, Calif. Begins to Pick Up Pieces

LOS ANGELES -- The sun began poking through the clouds Wednesday as California emergency crews shifted into cleanup mode after a six-day drenching that killed at least nine people, destroyed dozens of houses, and flooded roads and airports.

The California Department of Transportation hurried to clear at least 20 major roads closed by mudslides and flooding. In Malibu, crews prepared to destroy a boulder the size of a house that dangled precariously above the Pacific Coast Highway, held back by only a retaining wall.

Engineers also fanned out across Los Angeles to assess whether houses on slipping soil were still habitable. Seven more homes were added to a list of dwellings that are considered too dangerous to enter, bringing the total to 106.

Rain fell early in the day across part of Southern California but was expected to taper off as the storm's center headed east along the California-Mexico border.

The storms began last Thursday, bringing 9.14 inches by Wednesday morning to a city where the average for an entire year is about 15 inches. Damage in Los Angeles County alone was estimated at $52.5 million.

• FORT STEWART, Ga. -- An Army hearing officer has recommended a court-martial for a soldier charged with desertion after he refused to deploy to Iraq. In a Feb. 16 report, Lt. Col. Linda Taylor recommended that Sgt. Kevin Benderman face a general court-martial, the most serious type. The procedure requires approval from Fort Stewart's general court-martial convening authority. Benderman, 40, said he became opposed to war after serving in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. If convicted, he would face as many as seven years in prison, reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge.

• MOORPARK, Calif. -- Authorities shot and killed a tiger that had been roaming for days in the hills near the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. The cat was shot several hundred yards from school soccer and baseball fields at the edge of a housing development, said Lorna Bernard, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game. Authorities still do not know who the tiger's owner is.

• KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- The first shipment of commercial reactor fuel made from the government's stockpile of weapons-grade uranium has arrived at a Tennessee Valley Authority nuclear station in Alabama, ready for loading this spring. The delivery comes more than seven years after TVA, the nation's largest public utility, struck a deal with the Department of Energy to put surplus Cold War weapons material to use in generating electricity for TVA's residential and business customers.

• DENVER -- Attorneys for the woman accusing Kobe Bryant of rape will get their first chance to question the basketball star under oath when they meet him Friday in Los Angeles. L. Lin Wood and John Clune will question Bryant during a seven-hour session, the attorneys said. Bryant spoke with sheriff's deputies the night after the June 2003 incident, but Friday's deposition will be the first time since the 20-year-old woman accused Bryant of attacking her that he will be under oath. The trial could begin this summer.

-- From News Services

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