Texas prepares for a gigantic Hurricane Ike

HOUSTON - Cars and trucks streamed inland and chemical companies buttoned up their plants Thursday as a gigantic Hurricane Ike took aim at the heart of the U.S. refining industry and threatened to send a wall of water crashing toward Houston.

Nearly 1 million people along the Texas coast were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm, which was expected to strike late Friday or early Saturday. But in a calculated risk aimed at avoiding total gridlock, authorities told most people in the nation's fourth-largest city to just hunker down.

Ike was steering almost directly for Galveston and, beyond that, Houston, where gleaming skyscrapers, the nation's biggest refinery and NASA's Johnson Space Center lie in areas vulnerable to wind and floodwaters. Forecasters said the storm was likely to come ashore as a Category 3, with winds up to 130 mph.

But the storm was so big, it could inflict a punishing blow even in those areas that do not get a direct hit. Forecasters warned that because of Ike's size and the state's shallow coastal waters, it could produce a surge, or wall of water, 20 feet high, and waves of perhaps 50 feet. It could also dump 10 inches or more of rain.

Fire injures 16 at complex for elderly, disabled

WATERBURY, Conn. - A fire broke out early Thursday at an apartment building for the elderly and disabled, forcing firefighters to use a ladder truck to rescue residents from upper floors and leaving 16 people injured, authorities said.

The fire in the Eastgate complex was reported shortly before 4 a.m. in a first-floor apartment and sent smoke throughout the four-story building. Four apartments were declared uninhabitable.

Two female residents were in critical condition at Bridgeport Hospital, and a man was in fair condition, hospital spokesman John Cappiello said. The man and one of the women were in the hospital's burn treatment center, and the other woman was in intensive care, he said.

O.J. Simpson jury pool down to final 40

LAS VEGAS - The O.J. Simpson armed robbery-kidnapping trial has taken a large step toward picking a jury in Las Vegas.

After four days, the pool of prospective jurors was narrowed to 40 finalists Thursday.

From those, prosecutors and defense lawyers are expected to quickly seat 12 jurors and six alternates.

Judge Jackie Glass wants to begin opening statements Monday.

NY judge drops steroid case against pharmacy

ALBANY, N.Y. - A New York judge threw out an indictment against five operators of a Florida pharmacy targeted almost two years ago in an investigation of illegal steroid sales over the Internet and by phone.

Albany County Judge Stephen Herrick faulted the disjointed, confusing way county prosecutors presented the case against Signature Pharmacy of Orlando to a grand jury. He dismissed the indictment Thursday against key figures at the center of the case: pharmacy owners Robert 'Stan' Loomis and Naomi Loomis, pharmacist Michael Loomis, and former business managers Kirk Calvert and Anthony Palladino.

SC opens public alligator hunt this weekend

CHARLESTON, S.C. - For the first time in almost a half century, South Carolina is holding a public alligator hunt.

The month-long gator season begins Saturday. A maximum 1,000 hunting permits will be available, although not every hunter is expected to catch an alligator.

The last time the public could hunt gators was in 1964.

FDA: Infant formula from China tainted

WASHINGTON - Tainted infant formula from China may be on sale at ethnic groceries in this country, even though it is not approved for importation, federal officials warned on Thursday.

However, the Food and Drug Administration stressed that the domestic supply of infant formula is safe.

FDA officials are urging U.S. consumers to avoid all infant formula from China, after several brands sold in that country came under suspicion of being contaminated with melamine, a chemical used in plastics. Officials said there have been reports from China of babies developing kidney stones as a result. There have been no reports of illnesses in the U.S.