AlabamaFire destroys church, service held outside

MOULTON, Ala. — Fire investigators are probing a blaze that has destroyed a church in northern Alabama.

The fire was reported Saturday afternoon at the Pine Grove Holy Church of Christ in Moulton. When firefighters arrived, they found flames shooting through the roof of the sanctuary.

Authorities say no one was inside and the main building is a total loss. Pastor Ed King said services would be held outside the charred building on Sunday. Moulton is about 20 miles southwest of Decatur.

FloridaHarmful algae bloom plagues Fla. estuary

INDIAN RIVER, Fla. — Indian River officials are worried about a harmful brown algae bloom they fear will harm the local economy, leaving oyster bars and clam farmers, fishermen and boat builders in trouble.

One of the largest estuaries on the East Coast has recently been choked by a thick, brown sludge. As the brown tide lingers, fish and sea grass are disappearing. Manatees, dolphins and pelicans are also dying in the same area from unexplained causes.

Officials from the St. Johns River Water Management District are launching a major research project on the issue.

GeorgiaS. Ga. school system takes $5 million in cuts

TIFTON, Ga. — The Tift County Board of Education has passed a budget requiring classroom days and funding for libraries to be reduced in response to more than $5 million in budget cuts.

Board members voted to adopt a budget for Fiscal Year 2014 that includes about $5.3 million in funding cuts from the state. Superintendent Patrick Atwater said officials don’t want to cut programs that could impact students and faculty but must respond to financial restrictions.

The budget has moved school system officials to cut four days from the instructional calendar. Faculty and staff are also being asked to take six furlough days next school year.

KentuckyFree HIV testing events scheduled this month

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Some community-based organizations and local health departments are hosting free test events for HIV this month, as National HIV Testing Day is marked on June 27.

The goal is to let individuals learn their status and be linked to services if needed. Kentucky Department for Public Health Commissioner Stephanie Mayfield says testing is one of the best ways to prevent transmission, ensure good health outcomes, keep costs down and keep infected people healthy.

LouisianaWorld traveler hippo settling down at zoo

MONROE, La. — The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo has a young companion for its 22-year-old hippopotamus, Penelope. The 400-pound, 7-month-old baby hippo doesn’t have a name, but he’s already a world traveler.

He was born in Poland and was taken shortly afterward to a zoo in Serbia. From there he was trucked to Istanbul and flown from Turkey to Houston. He arrived in Monroe on Saturday.

It’s time Penelope had a friend, said zoo director Joe Clawson said. “She’s been alone here for about 22 years,” Clawson said.

A contest will be held to name the baby.

MississippiMicrodistillery change in ordinance sought

NATCHEZ, Miss. — Natchez businessman Doug Charboneau and his son want to open a rum micro-distillery in the building that formerly housed King’s Tavern bar.

First, Charboneau must get the city to amend its ordinances to allow for micro-distilleries. Charboneau said that if the change can be made, he’d like to open the micro-distillery in early 2014.

Charboneau will ask the commission to add micro-distillery and micro-winery to the definition of micro-brewery and allow the businesses in the city. Micro-breweries are allowed in the city.

North CarolinaHatteras-Ocracoke Ferry resumes route

MANNS HARBOR, N.C. — The shifting sands along the Outer Banks have been cleared away from a ferry channel between Hatteras and Ocracoke islands, allowing the ships to resume their regular route for the first time in five months.

North Carolina’s transportation department says the original Hatteras-to-Ocracoke route was ready to resume Sunday.

A storm pushed sand into the ferry channel on Jan. 18, making it too shallow for ferries to travel safely. An alternate route was in use since Jan. 22. The Army Corps of Engineers had been dredging out a 12-foot deep path for ferry travel since May 31, work that wrapped up Saturday.

The return of the original route means there will be 32 daily trips in each direction, starting at 5 a.m. from both Hatteras and Ocracoke.

TennesseeNew labor chief says job searches easier

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The state labor chief says cutting services at state jobless service centers shouldn’t make it harder for out-of-work Tennesseans to find jobs.

Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips told the legislative Fiscal Review Committee last week that coming changes should make it easier to search for jobs.

Phillips said the ability to post open jobs over the Internet should simplify searches for work. He also said local nonprofit partners across the state are working with the department. But House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said shutting state-run services at 34 centers and firing 125 state employees decimates career centers.

VirginiaPencil incident leads to revised Suffolk policy

SUFFOLK, Va. — The suspensions of two students who pretended pencils were guns have prompted the Suffolk school board to revise its weapons policy. The old weapons policy was zero tolerance.

Under the revised policy, school administrators can look at factors such as intentions of harm and whether the object is listed as a weapon to determine the punishment.

Last month, two 7-year-old Driver Elementary School students were suspended for pointing pencils and making gun noises. One of the boys reportedly said he was impersonating his father, who is a former Marine.

Associated Press