Calif. forest fire moving closer to scenic Big Sur

BERKELEY, Calif. - Hundreds of firefighters worked Thursday to protect the scenic community of Big Sur from a lightning-sparked wildfire that inched closer to historic structures after burning 16 homes and threatening another 500 houses.

The blaze in the Los Padres National Forest was only 3 percent contained and had burned nearly 37 square miles near the coast about a mile south of Big Sur, officials said.

A popular tourist spot along the towering cliffs of the central California coast, Big Sur is also a storied destination for generations of American writers.

NY millionaire gets prison for forcing labor

CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. - A millionaire who inflicted years of abuse on two Indonesian housekeepers held as virtual slaves in her Long Island mansion was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison.

Varsha Sabhnani, 46, was convicted with her husband in December on a 12-count federal indictment that included forced labor, conspiracy, involuntary servitude and harboring aliens.

The trial provided a glimpse into a growing U.S. problem of domestic workers exploited in slave-like conditions.

Downpours keep residents from returning home

ST. LOUIS - Strong Midwestern downpours may force residents to wait even longer to return to homes they evacuated because of fears of flooding, emergency management officials said Thursday.

Parts of northeast Missouri and west-central Illinois got as much as an inch of rainfall overnight Wednesday after powerful downpours the night before. Weather systems rolling across Iowa were expected to produce more rain Thursday and today, the National Weather Service said.

The rain was bringing new river crests and fresh anxiety. As calls for sandbagging slowed in one community, they popped up in another.

Man guilty of 11 murders in 2005 Calif. rail disaster

LOS ANGELES - A man who claimed he was attempting suicide when he triggered a 2005 rail disaster was convicted Thursday of 11 counts of first-degree murder and could face the death penalty.

Two commuter trains collided into a tangled mass of smoking wreckage littered with victims after Juan Alvarez, 29, left a gasoline-drenched sport-utility vehicle on railroad tracks in Glendale, northeast of downtown Los Angeles.