National briefs (11/25/12)

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Gas blast ruins 40 structures

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Preliminary investigations show more than 40 buildings were damaged in a natural gas explosion in Massachusetts that injured 18 people, building inspectors said Saturday.

A strip club was flattened and a day care center was heavily damaged in the massive explosion Friday night in Springfield, one of New England's biggest cities.

No one was killed in the explosion.

Investigators were trying Saturday to figure out what caused the blast, which left a large hole in the ground where the multistory brick building housing Scores Gentleman's Club once stood and scattered debris over several blocks.

Officials already had evacuated part of the entertainment district after responding to a gas leak and odor reported about an hour before the explosion. Gas workers venting a gas leak got indications that the building was about to explode and they ducked for cover behind a utility truck -- along with firefighters and police officers -- just before the blast, said Mark McDonald, president of the New England Gas Workers Association.

Most of the injured were in that group, and the truck that saved their lives was essentially demolished, he said.

Black Friday results

NEW YORK -- Thanksgiving shopping took a noticeable bite out of Black Friday's start to the holiday season, as the latest survey found retail sales in stores fell slightly from last year.

Saturday's report from retail technology company ShopperTrak finds consumers spent $11.2 billion at stores across the U.S. That is down 1.8 percent from last year's total.

This year's Friday results appear to have been tempered by hundreds of thousands of shoppers hitting sales Thursday evening while still full of Thanksgiving dinner. Retailers including Sears, Target and Wal-Mart got their deals rolling as early as 8 p.m. on Turkey Day.

Obama goes shopping

ARLINGTON, Va. -- President Barack Obama made a quick trip to a Virginia bookstore for some Christmas shopping Saturday afternoon.

The president took his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to One More Page Books in Arlington.

The White House said Mr. Obama was promoting an effort called "small business Saturday" to encourage shoppers to patronize mom-and-pop businesses after Thanksgiving.

D.C. homicides plummet

WASHINGTON -- The crack epidemic that began in the 1980s ushered in a wave of bloodletting in the nation's capital and a death toll that ticked upward daily.

But after approaching nearly 500 slayings a year in the early 1990s, the annual rate has gradually declined to the point that the city is now on the verge of a once-unthinkable milestone. The number of 2012 killings in the District of Columbia stands at 78 and is on pace to finish lower than 100 for the first time since 1963, police records show.

Fog causes freeway pileup

LOS ANGELES -- A seven-car pile-up on the 22 Freeway south of the city overnight Friday was blamed on dense fog, which forecasters said would remain a problem through today.

The crash occurred about 2:35 a.m. on Saturday near the Magnolia exit in Orange County. At least four people, including a motorcyclist, were transported to local hospitals for treatment, officials said.

Mail arrives 70 years late

ELMIRA, N.Y. -- A postcard mailed nearly 70 years ago has finally arrived at the former upstate New York home of the couple who sent it.

The postcard was sent July 4, 1943, from Rockford, Ill., to sisters Pauline and Theresa Leisenring in Elmira.

Their brother, George Leisenring, was stationed at Rockford's Medical Center Barracks at Camp Grant, an Army post during World War II. Their parents were visiting him when they mailed the postcard home.

-- Compiled from news services

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