Gas explosion rocks Pa. block, leaving 5 dead

ALLENTOWN, Pa. —A thunderous gas explosion devastated a rowhouse neighborhood, killing five people, and suspicion fell on an 83-year-old cast-iron gas main. The fiery blast was the latest natural-gas disaster to raise questions about the safety of the nation's aging, 2.5 million-mile network of gas and liquid pipelines.

The explosion, which flattened a pair of rowhouses and set fire to a block of homes late Wednesday night, occurred in an area where the underground gas main lacked shut-off valves. It took utility workers five hours in the freezing cold to punch through ice, asphalt and concrete and seal the 12-inch main with foam, finally cutting off the flow of gas that fed the raging flames.

Teen holding hostage shot dead by police

CARY, N.C. —A teenager who detained several people inside a suburban bank Thursday emerged from the building holding a gun to the head of one of his captives and was shot dead by police after three hours of tense negotiations helped by a hidden hostage who was feeding authorities information.

The gruesome final scene in the quiet suburban town played out live on television during the dinner hour. None of the hostages nor any of the officers involved were injured, authorities said.

"This is absolutely not how we wanted this to end," Cary Police Chief Pat Bazemore said.

Calif. merchants can't ask for ZIP codes

SAN FRANCISCO — The California Supreme Court ruled Thursday that merchants can no longer ask for the ZIP codes of customers who make purchases with credit cards because such requests violate a state consumer-protection law.

The high court's unanimous decision, which says a ZIP code can be used as "personal identification information," overturned two lower court decisions tossing out the lawsuit. It delivered retailers in California a setback that an attorney for one national chain said would likely lead to additional lawsuits.