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Friday, September 06, 2013 - Updated: 10:49 AM

Explosion, fire destroys Southern California home

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) -- A fiery explosion caused by a possible gas leak leveled one Southern California home, damaged two others and shook the neighborhood before dawn Friday, jolting awake residents but causing no apparent injuries.

Authorities were called to the home in Riverside, about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, shortly after 4 a.m. after neighbors reported hearing the booming blast.

They found the house "completely blown up," fire Capt. Bruce Vanderhorst said. Eight fire engines were called in to deal with a blaze coming from a gas meter.

Television news reports showed the home on Cochise Drive reduced to nothing but twisted metal and blackened wreckage, with a tongue of fire flaring in the middle of it.

The home had been undergoing renovation for about a month and was vacant, Vanderhorst said. He added the explosion might have been caused by a gas leak.

Report: Ohio kidnapper called the mother of one victim

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro said he called the mother of one of his captives and told the woman her daughter was alive and had become his wife, according to interrogation videotapes.

Castro also told investigators that authorities missed opportunities to catch him while he held the three women captive for about a decade in a run-down house where they were repeatedly beaten and raped.

Castro says in the video -- obtained by NBC and first reported Friday on the "Today" show -- that he told Amanda Berry's mother that her daughter was OK. He says he made the call on Amanda Berry's cellphone.

"I think I said something ... that I have her daughter and that she's OK, and that she's my wife now -- something like that, you know, probably not the exact words," he told investigators.

When asked for the mother's response, Castro said: "I hung up so we didn't have a conversation."

Castro, 53, was a month into his life sentence when he hanged himself in his prison cell Tuesday night. His family collected his body from the Franklin County Coroner's office Friday.

Tropical storm Lorena moving parallel to Mexico's coast

MIAMI (AP) -- Tropical Storm Lorena is moving parallel to Mexico's Pacific coast as it approaches Baja California.

The storm had maximum sustained winds early Friday near 40 mph (65 kph) with little change in strength expected until landfall, which is expected either late Friday or on Saturday in southern Baja California. After making landfall, the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Lorena should weaken until dissipating on Sunday or Monday.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for southern Baja California from north of Agua Blanca to Santa Fe.

The storm is centered about 95 miles (155 kilometers) southeast of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and is moving northwest near 14 mph (22 kph).

Dallas Zoo welcomes 2 cheetah cubs ... and puppy

DALLAS (AP) -- Two male cheetah cubs have joined the Dallas Zoo population. Zoo officials have marked the occasion by providing them with a puppy.

The 8-week-old feline brothers, Winspear and Kamau, were born July 8 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va.

The zoo is providing them with an 8-week-old black Labrador retriever puppy named Amani. According to a zoo statement, Amani means "peace" in Swahili.

Since Labs are easygoing in public settings and since the pup will grow with the cubs, zoo experts believe he'll provide a calming influence for the cats.

Wal-Mart workers protest in N.Y. over job conditions

NEW YORK (AP) -- Three people participating in a New York City protest against Wal-Mart have been taken into police custody.

About 20 employees, former employees and supporters gathered Thursday outside a Manhattan building where a member of the company's board of directors has an office. They delivered a petition calling for improved working conditions and reinstatement of workers they say were fired for engaging in labor activities.

Police say one man and two women were charged with disorderly conduct for blocking the entrance to the building and trespassing.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is based in Bentonville, Ark. It calls the New York protest "a show" put on by union activists from other states. It says in a statement the "vast majority" of its workers don't share the opinions of the protesters.

Daughter: Televangelist Schuller has cancer

GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (AP) -- Crystal Cathedral founder and former televangelist the Rev. Robert H. Schuller has been diagnosed with cancer, his daughter said Thursday.

Carol Schuller Milner told The Associated Press that Schuller, 86, has a fist-sized tumor in his esophagus that has spread to his lymph nodes. Schuller's oncologists said the tumor was either at or near stage 4 -- the most serious cancer classification -- but it has yet to reach his vital organs and he has been strong enough for treatment.

Milner said her father "doesn't have a lot of energy" but has been "very reflective, very peaceful and truly beautiful."

"He's closer to heaven than he is to this tangible world," Milner said.

Another daughter, Sheila Schuller Coleman, first revealed news that Schuller was undergoing treatment in an Aug. 25 sermon at her new church, the Hope Center of Christ.

United States orders diplomats out of Lebanon

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department on Friday ordered nonessential U.S. diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns as the Obama administration and Congress debate military strikes on neighboring Syria.

In a new travel warning for Lebanon, the department said it had instructed nonessential staffers to leave Beirut and urged private American citizens to depart Lebanon.

The step had been under consideration since last week when President Barack Obama said he was contemplating military action against the Syrian government for its alleged chemical weapons attack last month that the administration said killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus.

"The potential in Lebanon for a spontaneous upsurge in violence remains," the department said.

     

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