The five most popular stories on CNN.com, according to NewsPulse.
Earl is now Category 2 hurricane: Larger than the state of California, Hurricane Earl prepared to take a swipe at the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday as residents scrambled to ready themselves.
She drops 100 pounds, gains new world: I come from a small-ish town in Oklahoma where we've never met a vegetable we couldn't fry and the only things more super-sized than our portions are the huge church complexes that alternate with fast-food restaurants along our roads.
There were "a lot of hugs" and "a lot of tears" among employees at Discovery Channel headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, on Thursday - one day after police shot and killed a man there who was holding three hostages.
"The healing process" has begun, said David Leavy, a company spokesman. "Yesterday knocked us off the horse. But we're back in the saddle today."
Leavy said the company's employees spent much of the day in a "town hall" with senior managers, and that over a dozen crisis counselors had been called in.
Wednesday's hostage crisis "was a scary situation," he said. "I don't think anyone walked into the building today with the same bounce in their step."
Former child actress Cammie King Conlon used to joke "that I peaked at age 5."
But what a peak.
Conlon was 4 years old when she portrayed the ill-fated Bonnie Blue Butler in the 1939 blockbuster film "Gone With the Wind." Three years later, she voiced the part of the doe Faline in "Bambi."
After that, she departed show business and eventually had a family and a new career. As she grew older, Conlon was a gracious link between the film and its millions of fans.
Those fans are mourning the passing of Conlon, who died of lung cancer Wednesday in Fort Bragg, California, where she lived for about 30 years, said friend and family spokesman Bruce Lewis. Conlon was 76.
Crews removed the cap from BP's ruptured Gulf of Mexico oil well late Thursday afternoon, a company spokeswoman said, an important step toward permanently sealing the well.
The operation was the first step in removing the blowout preventer, said BP spokeswoman Jessie Baker. That device failed spectacularly in April, triggering a deadly explosion and oil spill.
Officials planned to replace the blowout preventer with a new one, a major step toward a final fix.
The cap removal was "an important step in the process to remove and preserve the damaged BOP [blowout preventer]," said retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the oil disaster. He said work on removing the damaged blowout preventer was expected to commence Thursday night.
Larger than the state of California, Hurricane Earl prepared to take a swipe at the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday as residents scrambled to ready themselves ahead of its arrival.
The hurricane has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday night, but warned that "Earl is expected to remain a large and strong hurricane as it passes near the Outer Banks" of North Carolina.
Hurricane warnings and watches stretched from North Carolina to Delaware and into Massachusetts, where a hurricane warning was issued for Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket and the surrounding area. A hurricane watch was also issued for the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. Tropical storm watches and warnings were in effect for most other coastal areas between North Carolina and Nova Scotia.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for North Carolina on Wednesday evening. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts and makes federal funds available. Maryland's governor issued an emergency declaration earlier in the day.
A look at highlights from the day's business news.
Stocks drift higher ahead of jobs report
Stocks pushed higher at the end of a listless session Thursday, extending gains from the previous day, as investors prepare for a critical report on the U.S. job market on Friday.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 50 points, or 0.5 percent. The S&P 500 gained 9 points, or 0.9 percent, and the Nasdaq composite rose 23 points, or 1 percent.
[Updated at 9:36 p.m.] Earl has been downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane but is still dangerous, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. Thursday forecast.
As of 8 p.m., the center of Earl was about 160 miles (260 kilometers) south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and about 625 miles (1,005 kilometers) south-southwest of Nantucket. It was heading north at about 18 mph (30 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (165 kph).
"Even if the center of Earl remains offshore ... hurricane force winds are expected to occur in the Outer Banks overnight tonight," the center said Thursday.
[Updated at 2:14 p.m.] For continuing coverage of the incident involving a production platform on fire in the Gulf read the full story here.
[Updated at 2:08 p.m.] U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Elizabeth Bordelon tells CNN there is a sheen at the site of the production platform that measures approximately 1 mile by 100 feet. This information comes after Gov. Bobby Jindal who said there were reports of a mile-long sheen.
[Updated at 1:03 p.m.] Mariner Energy, owner of the production platform, said in a press release that no hydrocarbon spill has been reported after an initial flyover of the incident.
"Mariner has notified and is working with regulatory authorities in response to this incident," the statement said. "The cause is not known, and an investigation will be undertaken. During the last week of August 2010, production from this facility averaged approximately 9.2 million cubic feet of natural gas per day and 1,400 barrels of oil and condensate."
The company also said no injuries have been reported.
[Updated at 12:48 p.m.] David Reed, a paramedic on board a neighboring oil rig located 14 miles from the platform that exploded, told iReport he saw all thirteen workers rescued from the water.
“We were up here in the radio room and all of sudden we saw a whole bunch of smoke coming from the platform," Reed said. "Shortly after all the radios started lighting up like a Christmas tree. They called any helicopters in the area, any boats in the area to respond, they were saying there were people in the water. There were multiple people in the water.”
See Reed's iReport of what he witnessed
WWL: Coast Guard reporting production platform incident
WDSU: Production platform explodes in Gulf
iReport: Did you see the explosion? Share images
Informed and prepared. They're the two things you want to be if you’re in the path of a hurricane.
Some preparations for storms like Hurricane Earl, the Category 2 storm making its way toward the eastern seaboard of the United States and parts of Canada, can begin (ideally) months ahead of time or within hours of its anticipated landfall.
But knowing how to react and whether to evacuate requires that you stay informed of the storm’s progress by tuning into local television and radio stations – preferably, with a battery-powered radio. You can purchase a battery-powered NOAA radio that tunes into special Weather Radio frequencies.
Mexican authorities have had significant successes against drug traffickers, President Felipe Calderon said in his fourth annual state-of-the-nation speech Thursday, noting that three major kingpins have been captured or killed in the past year.
In addition, Calderon said, authorities have arrested 125 cartel cell leaders or lieutenants and captured 5,108 hitmen since he took office in December 2006.
The war on organized crime he heightened after taking office also has led to the confiscation of $10 billion worth of drugs and the seizure of 34,000 motor vehicles, nearly 500 aircraft, 365 boats and 80,000 firearms, of which 50,000 were assault rifles, Calderon said.
University of Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini giddy after accepting an invitation to join the Big Ten.
Ohio State and Michigan fans can breathe a sigh of relief that the teams' epic end of season battle remains in tact after the Big Ten unveiled its new divisional breakdowns Wednesday night. With a focus on competitive parity rather than geography, the conference opted to include Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin in one division and Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern in another for the 2011-12 season.
While not everyone was happy about their new place in the Big Ten, particularly Wisconsin, SI.com's Stewart Mandel contends that the conference generally achieved its goals and maintained a healthy balance between promoting competitive fairness and maintaining traditional rivalries. But more than anything, the conference got one step closer to making the Big Ten Championship Game the season's marquee, be all and end all event.
But for college football fans, you won't have to wait much longer for the season to officially get underway as a batch of games are lined up for tonight, while tennis enthusiasts can bask in the glory of U.S. Open action.
U.S. Open: Second-round action in Flushing Meadows continues, as Caroline Wozniack and Maria Sharapova both take to the court.
Heavily armed officers stage in the driveway of the apartment complex.
[Update 1:10 p.m. ET] Four people were taken away in handcuffs and police were using a bullhorn to communicate with one or more people inside a Seattle, Washington, apartment after shots were fired from the balcony, KIRO reported.
[Original post] Police in Seattle, Washington, were hunting for a man who reportedly fired shots Thursday from an apartment building's balcony, CNN affiliate KIRO-TV reported.
Police closed off streets in the area, the man has left the balcony and no one has been shot, KIRO reported.
A witness told KIRO there were four shots, a pause and then four more shots.
The woman deported from the U.S. earlier this year as a Russian spy has been photographed and videotaped for a Russian magazine. ABC News says it's the first time any of the ten 'sleeper' agents have been reported on since they pled guilty and were sent back to Moscow in July.
Chapman may face a lawsuit from the magazine, Zhara, known in English as "Heat." While she'd granted the magazine exclusive access to the photos and video, she posted the images to her Facebook page, and they were subsequently picked up and publicized by a Russian tabloid.
Chapman did not allow the magazine to interview her, saying that Russian intelligence would not let her comment. Instead she posed for the photos and video in dresses that were her own.
ABC News: Russian spy surfaces in sexy magazine shoot
A healthy humpback whale jumping in the Pacific Ocean.
Explosives were reportedly used in Perth, Australia, to euthanize a terminally ill baby humpback whale that had been stranded for two weeks on the country's western coast.
The whale, about 30 feet long, was given a "lethal explosion" to the brain, according to local news reports.
"It's ugly but it's also a fast and one of the few ways to euthanize a whale that's stranded and in distress for too long," said Ken Balcomb, the executive director and research biologist for the Center for Whale Research since 1985. The Center, located on the Pacific Northwest's San Juan Island, is nonpolitical.
Balcomb, who has euthanized several whales, said there are essentially two ways to end the mammal's life if there is no hope of healing it and freeing it. One can either exact a controlled explosion or cut the throat.
"If a whale has been in that spot for two weeks, you have to assume that its brain is not functioning, that it's in a twilight zone, and isn't really aware of what's happening," Balcomb said.
The longer a whale is out of water the more pressure builds on the mammal's organs, he said. "These are sad things, but they happen and the public should know that there's nothing else sometimes that can be done."
The principal of a school in Australia sparked quite a firestorm on the web after asking students to stop using the word "gay" when singing the classic "Kookaburra" children's song - though he told media on Thursday he never intended to offend anyone.
Garry Martin, principal of Le Page Primary School, had instructed kids to sing the words "fun your life must be" instead of "gay your life must be."
Martin had said he changed the words because the meaning of the word "gay" had changed since the song was first penned about 75 years ago.
As soon as the first stories started coming out on the Internet, users took to comment sections of articles, Twitter and Facebook with ire that the school was seemingly trying to ban the use of the word gay. An Australian gay and lesbian advocacy group called the Also Foundation has called the ban absurd.
Now, Martin now wants to make clear - he was never trying to start any kind of trouble - or say that there was anything wrong with being gay.
"All I was doing, relatively innocently, was substituting one word because I knew if we sing 'Gay your life must be' the kids will roll around the floor in fits of laughter," Martin told Fairfax Radio.
Larger than the state of California, Hurricane Earl prepared to take a swipe at the Eastern Seaboard on Thursday as residents scrambled to ready themselves ahead of its arrival.
Hurricane warnings and watches stretched from North Carolina to Delaware, and covered parts of Massachusetts.
President Barack Obama signed a disaster declaration for North Carolina Wednesday evening. The action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate relief efforts, and also makes federal funds available to states. Maryland's governor issued an emergency declaration earlier in the day.
The monster storm is forecast to pass close to North Carolina's Outer Banks on Thursday night, the National Hurricane Center said. It is expected to take aim at southeastern New England on Friday night. The storm's track shifted slightly to the west, closer to North Carolina's Cape Hatteras. The National Hurricane Center has posted storm watches and warnings for areas as far north as Maine.
Don't focus on the skinny line. That's the advice often given by meteorologists as a tropical storm or hurricane approaches the coast line.
When looking at the forecast track of a particular tropical storm or hurricane you will notice a shaded area that falls to the left and right of the forecast track. This shaded area is called the "cone of uncertainty" and is the average error in the forecast tracks of tropical cyclones issued by the National Hurricane Center. As a hurricane approaches, the track could shift to the left or right within the shaded area. So it is important to monitor the forecasts of tropical cyclones until you fall outside of the cone.
Tropical cyclones (the all-encompassing term for tropical depressions, tropical storms and hurricanes) can have far-reaching effects far away from the forecast track. For example, Earl's tropical storm force winds extend outward from the center by up to 200 miles. The entire system is now the size of the state of California. If the storm is moving at an average speed of 20 miles per hour, you can do the math: tropical storm force winds could arrive in your location up to 10 hours in advance of the hurricane!
Click to watch video
Hurricane Earl – With North Carolina's Outer Banks in its sights, large and powerful Hurricane Earl prepared Thursday to take a swipe at the Eastern Seaboard. Hurricane warnings and watches stretched from North Carolina to Delaware as well as covering parts of Massachusetts.
President Obama signed a disaster declaration for North Carolina on Wednesday evening. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley also signed an emergency declaration earlier Wednesday. Hurricane models have the Category 4 storm passing close to the Outer Banks on Thursday night, the National Hurricane Center said. Check out the projected path, pictures, and video
T.I., wife arrested – Police arrested rapper T.I. and his wife in California after they were allegedly found in possession of a controlled substance. The couple was arrested late Wednesday during a traffic stop in Los Angeles, according to a police report.
The tubby Indonesian toddler who caused a sensation last spring by enthusiastically puffing on cigarettes in a widely viewed video has quit smoking, according to media reports.
Two-year-old Ardi Rizal of South Sumatra, who reportedly smoked 40 cigarettes a day, has broken his nicotine addiction through a 30-day rehabilitation program, the Jakarta Globe reported Thursday.
"He has stopped smoking and doesn't ask for cigarettes anymore," Arist Merdeka Sirait, chairman of Indonesia's National Commission on Child Protection, said, according to another publication, Earth Times. FULL POST
Ongoing coverage - Hurricane Earl tracker
7:45 am ET - Hurricane Earl preparations briefing - Officials in North Carolina brief reporters on the state's efforts in preparing for Hurricane Earl.
9:00 am ET - Financial crisis hearing - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Baer testify before a panel investigating the causes of the U.S. financial meltdown.
Salman Butt, left, Mohammad Asif, center, and Mohammad Amir are at the center of the allegations.
An update from the CNN newsdesk in London on the stories we're following on Thursday:
Cricket scandal - Three Pakistan cricketers at the center of a spot-fixing controversy will miss the rest of their tour of England, according to team manager Yawar Saeed. They are appearing before their country’s top cricket officials at the Pakistani High Commission in London. Scotland Yard may also be waiting to question the players as their investigations continue.
Cardinal has “moved on” - In a rare sit down interview Nic Robertson speaks with Cardinal Sean Brady, the head of the Irish Catholic Church and the man at the centre of the abuse scandal. Cardinal Brady feels enough has been done for the victims; he says that he has moved on, and sees no reason for the pope to travel to Ireland during his upcoming visit of the United Kingdom. Read the full story
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