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The largest surge in the producer price index in 15 years - 1.9 percent - was reported by the Labor Department for September. But it said the index would have been relatively unchanged except for the cost of energy and food. Economists had expected the index to rise by 1.1 percent. Over the past year, producer prices have increased 6.9 percent, largely due to the energy sector.

Storms and their impacts were a major concern again across much of the US:

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• Residents of Gulf Coast states watched intently as tropical storm Wilma grew to hurricane strength in the Caribbean, and forecasters said it could make landfall in Florida this weekend. In storm-weary New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin (D) warned residents to prepare for another evacuation if Wilma's path should change.

• In Taunton, Mass., the rain-swollen Mill River threatened to burst a century-old wooden dam, sending a wall of water six or more feet high through the city. Thousands of residents were evacuated as engineers searched for ways to relieve pressure on the structure.

• At least 140,000 customers lost electricity in southern California as thunderstorms and hail pounded the area Monday. Mudslides caused a mountainous stretch of I-5 to be closed in both directions.

US Rep. Tom DeLay (R) of Texas rejected a plea bargain before his recent indictment on money-laundering and conspiracy charges, according to a letter made public by his lawyer Monday. In the letter, Dick DeGuerin urged Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D) to dismiss the case, which DeGuerin claims was brought spitefully to inflict political damage against DeLay for not admitting to lesser charges. Meanwhile, Earle's office, according to reports, admitted it did not have an accurate list of political candidates who allegedly benefited from the crimes with which DeLay is charged. DeLay is scheduled to be arraigned Friday.

The Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, which carries traffic on the main East Coast highway, was closed by authorities Tuesday as a "security precaution." But they provided no specifics on what prompted the move, which caused long lines of backed-up traffic in both directions. CNN reported the closure was due to an unspecified threat.


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