[Updated at 11:10 p.m. ET] Storm-battered Joplin, Missouri, continued search-and-rescue efforts Wednesday, three days after a killer tornado tore through the city of 50,000 people.
Even as cleanup crews with frayed nerves sifted through the rubble, twisters and severe weather churned through America's heartland. More than 60 Oklahoma counties were under a state of emergency Wednesday due to a tornado watch.
The power of a top-scale EF5 tornado, with winds of 200 mph, was nowhere more evident than in Joplin, a city at the intersection of Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.
On Tuesday, residents and business owners literally picked up the pieces as they reflected on the twister that has killed at least 125 people and left more than 1,500 unaccounted for.
[Updated at 9:23 p.m. ET] A storm responsible for a tornado warning for Memphis, Tennessee, has moved northeast of the downtown area and no longer poses a threat, according to the National Weather Service.
A tornado was spotted near midtown Memphis, Tennessee, at 7:03 p.m. CT, the weather service said. No reports of damage were immediately made.
In what amounted to political theater rather than legislative action, the Senate rejected Wednesday a House budget plan that included a controversial provision to overhaul Medicare.
The measure was expected to fail due to overwhelming opposition by majority Democrats, as well as wavering support for the Medicare overhaul among Republicans who recognize the provision's unpopularity with senior citizens enrolled in the government-run health insurance program.
The final vote on the proposal originated by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was 40-57, mostly along party lines. Republicans who joined the majority Democrats in opposing the measure were Scott Brown of Massachusetts, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine.
A homeless street preacher who abducted, raped and kept a 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart captive for nine months was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison.
Brian David Mitchell was found guilty in December of kidnapping Smart from her Utah home in 2002 and transporting her across state lines with the intent to engage in sexual activity. Jurors rejected the insanity defense mounted by his lawyers.
After Mitchell was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Salt Lake City, Utah, Smart told reporters that she was "thrilled with the results that came out today."
"The life sentence – I couldn’t be happier,” she said outside the court building.
Smart, now 23, said she thanks everyone who ever prayed for her or made an effort to bring her home.
"As I said during court, and I'll say it again now, I absolutely 100% believe that Brian David Mitchell knew exactly what he was doing when he kidnapped me, and all the events that followed. ... Today is the ending of a very long chapter, and the beginning of a very beautiful chapter for me," she said.
Police stopped Smart, Mitchell and Mitchell's wife on March 12, 2003, after a tipster spotted them outside a Walmart in Sandy, Utah, just a few miles from Smart's home.
Comment of the day:
"I find it convenient that I'm friends with my ex-girlfriend's former boyfriend's brother's aunt's uncle's husband whom I have never met." –Ents
Limiting online friends
Ex-Facebook employee Dave Morin has developed a new mobile personal network called Path that limits users' friends to 50. He says digi-friend overload led him to create an app-based social network with the goal of promoting intimate and memorable sharing.
For CNN.com readers, his limited social network raised interesting questions about our digital “friends.”
DTakes said, “No one says you need to have 130 friends or more. I limit my friends to people I actually know I'm going to keep in touch with. I politely decline the rest of them.” HJCihak said, “This whole Facebook ‘friends’ concept is ridiculous. A real friend is someone who'll help you move. Anyone else is just a person taking up valuable space in your life.” MDMick said, “What constitutes a friend? I've run into old friends from high school or college and we pick right back up as if no time had passed. So are they still friends? In many cases, if I or they were in trouble I know the other would help.” indy1337 said, “I don't have friends. Only people I stalk.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it has begun closing some bays of Louisiana's Morganza Spillway, which was opened earlier this month to divert excess Mississippi River water from heavily populated areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
The opening of 14 bays sent the excess water to the Atchafalaya River basin - a less populated area of south-central Louisiana. More than 3,000 people were evacuated in the St. Landry and St. Martin parishes because of the spillway's opening.
Jared Lee Loughner is not competent to stand trial on charges of trying to assassinate U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.
The judge said his ruling is based on the results of court-ordered medical evaluations of Loughner at a federal hospital in Springfield, Missouri. Two medical professionals did separate evaluations of Loughner.
The U.S. attorney general will take custody of Loughner for a period not to exceed four months, during which he will be taken to a hospital for further evaluation to determine if he will become competent to stand trial.
Loughner, 22, of Tucson, Arizona, is charged with killing six people and wounding 13 more, including Giffords, D-Arizona, who was holding a meet-and-greet with constituents in Tucson at the time of the January 8 shooting.
During Wednesday's hearing in Tucson to determine Loughner's competency, marshals removed Loughner from the courtroom after an outburst in which one reporter heard him say, "Thank you for the freak show. She died right in front of me," and "You're changing ..."
Click to watch video
After crawling and climbing over mangled wooden debris, a couch and a water heater blocking the staircase, we made it, to what used to be the second floor of Frank Wood's home in Piedmont, Oklahoma.
"This is it," Wood said, looking out over his 12-acre lot. "We used to have a beautiful view."
Frank Wood and his two children survived a direct hit on their home by a tornado that ripped across Oklahoma on Tuesday afternoon.
The Woods' home was originally three stories tall, but the top floor is nowhere to be found. Frank Wood's pickup truck is a mangled mess, sitting in a ditch 300 yards from the driveway.
The family survived because of a "safe room" built into the garage. Frank Wood rushed into the safe room and locked it.
Roxie, the Wood family
He says the room is so fortified that he had no idea how bad the damage was until he walked out and realized the top two floors of the house had been blown off.
As the family rushed into the safe room, they weren't able to grab their dog, Roxie. After the storm passed, the kids rushed out to find the tan boxer, but she was gone.
But Wednesday morning, Frank Wood finally got some good news. An oil rig worker almost two miles away had found Roxie wandering around in a field, unscathed except for a small scratch on a front leg.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency Wednesday in 68 Oklahoma counties due to tornadoes and severe weather.
Only nine counties in the state were not declared to be under a state of emergency.
Editor's Note: CNN's Ashley Fantz, who grew up in Missouri, is on the ground in Joplin talking with residents who survived the tornado.
As a little girl growing up in Missouri my parents rushed me into our basement several times when the tornado sirens went off. They always did a good job of making it seem fun, like we were going to play down there. Each time we emerged, luckily there was no damage. I don't recall anything terrible happening.
So as I got older and the sirens sounded, I usually went outside to watch the night sky light up. Dark clouds always pass, I figured. I rarely thought about getting hurt. Like a lot of people who grow up here, I figured the odds were on my side.
I heard the same refrain from folks in tornado-ravaged Joplin, Missouri.
It was just going to be a big awful storm and it would pass. Everything would be fine - that's what survivors told me over and over as they stood on the splinters of their homes.
Trees on one block were decapitated. A car door hung 30 feet in the air from one of the huge old sycamores that had refused to give up its thickest limb.
An older man, looking dazed, stood on a swath of insulation. Charles Richardson - with red suspenders neatly holding his Carhartt jeans in place - wore a backpack oxygen tank, the tubes running into his nose. His beige work shirt was covered with dry patches of blood. As I got a few feet from him, I saw he was crying. I stopped.
"Come on now, come on," he said.
Interview me if you need to, his tone said, just ask your questions and leave me alone because this is hard enough.
He blew his nose with a pink handkerchief and told me he had lived in Joplin his whole life.
"I've seen tornadoes come and go," he said. "This one came when I happened to be in my garage. It came so fast and I went and ran from my house but it was there and it was on me."
NASA to Mars rover: Phone home or else.
The space agency said it will reach out to contact the Mars rover Spirit a final time Wednesday after a series of unanswered attempts.
NASA speculates that an extreme Martian winter may have frozen the rover’s communication apparatus or weakened its energy level, hindering its ability to communicate.
In a press release Tuesday, NASA said, in essence, what we have here is a failure to communicate.
"We no longer believe there is a realistic probability of hearing from Spirit," Dave Lavery, NASA’s program executive for solar system exploration, said in the release.
Created for a three-month mission, Spirit landed on Mars in January 2004 and exceeded its intended life span by several years, giving scientists an in-depth look at the surface conditions of the red planet.
But there have been obstacles – namely massive dust storms, paralyzing sandboxes and plain ol' feisty weather that has challenged the rover's functionality.
Over most of the past seven years though, despite various violent conditions, Spirit has always managed to re-establish connection.
Not this time.
The last transmission received by the rover was March 22, 2010, NASA said.
The rover program will now focus its energies on Spirit’s twin rover, Opportunity, which landed 21 days after Spirit. Also, NASA is prepping the November launch of Curiosity, a bigger, more-tricked out rover (six 20-inch wheels?) slated to arrive on Mars in mid-2012.
As for Spirit, NASA said any communication from the rover will basically be relegated to voice mail.
“The Deep Space Network may occasionally listen for any faint signals when the schedule permits," Lavery is quoted in the release.
It's shaping up to be one of the year's most riveting trials and it's just getting started. Casey Anthony's defense attorneys didn't waste any time, immediately going on the attack during opening statements. With bombshell allegations of sexual abuse and an accidental drowning, this capital murder trial may become the year’s most watched.
You’ve gotta watch the most compelling elements of Casey Anthony’s trial.
Egbert, an 83-year-old anesthesiologist, is being called "The New Doctor Death" by Newsweek. Egbert told The Baltimore Sun he's helped in the deaths of over 300 patients with illnesses ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's.
Egbert, who runs a right-to-die nonprofit called Final Exit Network, faces charges in Georgia, according to The Daily Beast, and was just acquitted in Phoenix in a case involving the death of a woman.
"I never thought of myself as having done anything that I should feel guilty of," he told the Sun. "I don't feel any conflict about helping someone stop suffering."
The group says it will help those who "have an incurable condition which causes intolerable suffering," according to its website . The group says there is a full and rigorous evaluation to decide whether to approve an applicant. When a person is accepted, FEN assigns “exit guides” who offer advice on how to "hasten death," though physically they will not do anything to help.
Veteran CNBC anchor Mark Haines, 65, died suddenly Tuesday night, according to the CNBC website.
"With his searing wit, profound insight and piercing interview style, he was a constant and trusted presence in business news for more than 20 years," CNBC President Mark Hoffman said in a statement to employees. "From the dotcom bubble to the tragic events of 9/11 to the depths of the financial crisis, Mark was always the unflappable pro.."
Haines was the founding anchor of "Squawk Box," as well as a co-anchor of the CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
The United States and Britain remain committed to supporting the so-called "Arab spring" - the series of uprisings sweeping the North African and Middle East region - and turning up the heat on embattled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, President Barack Obama said Wednesday.
His comments came after meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Obama said he intends to discuss support for democracy movements at the upcoming G8 summit Thursday.
"We will continue to strongly oppose the use of violence against protesters," said Obama at a joint news conference following talks with Cameron at his office, 10 Downing Street.
"That is one of the reasons we are working together in Libya," Obama said. "I do think we have made enormous progress in Libya. We have saved lives. Gadhafi and his regime need to understand there will not be a letup in the pressure we are applying."
The two men spoke before Obama was scheduled to address both houses of Britain's Parliament later Wednesday, the second day of a state visit blending pomp, ceremony and diplomacy. Obama's speech was described by a top aide as an anchor for his European trip.
Watch CNN.com Live for the latest on the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma and Missouri.
Today's programming highlights...
9:00 am ET - Casey Anthony trial - Testimony continues in the trial of Casey Anthony, the Florida woman accused of killing her young daughter.
Fleet Week: New York's City annual salute to the nation's military begins Wednesday. Thousands of military personnel will be in the Big Apple for the Fleet Week event, which was first held in 1984.
Highlighting this year's event will be a visit by the USS New York. The amphibious transport ship, which was constructed with 7 1/2 tons of steel salvaged from the wreckage of the World Trade Center destroyed in the September 2001 terrorist attacks, returns to New York City for the first time since being commissioned there on November 7, 2009.
The ship will be open for public visits during Fleet Week, which concludes June 1.
Obama address: President Barack Obama will address both houses of the British Parliament on Wednesday.
Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, told reporters on Tuesday that Obama would reaffirm that the U.S.-British alliance and NATO are "the cornerstone of global security and the extension of the democratic values that we share."
"The United States and the United Kingdom, along with our allies, are the ones who shoulder particular burdens for global security," Rhodes said. "We see that in Afghanistan. We see that in our efforts against al Qaeda. We see that of course today in Libya."
CNN television coverage begins at 10 a.m. ET. The president’s speech will be live-streamed on CNN.com and on the CNN Apps for iPhone, iPad and Android. CNNPolitics.com will feature in-depth reporting on what to expect and The Political Ticker will incorporate live blogging during the speech.
On Twitter, follow CNN anchors for additional live commentary during the address: @wolfblitzercnn, @suzannemalveaux, @richardquest and @zainverjeecnn.
Extreme weather: The National Weather Service says Wednesday could bring more severe storms in parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.
The weather pattern that brought Tuesday's tornado outbreak in the Plains is moving into those states Wednesday, forecasters said.
"Conditions will once again be favorable for the development of long-lived rotating thunderstorms that could produce strong, fast-moving tornadoes," the weather service said.
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