Images of flora and fauna fill Pacific journey

Fifty years ago, the viewing of the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal launched our tour of the capitals of South America, including Brasilia under construction.

In February, I joined a Lindblad Expeditions cruise on the 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Lion to transit the canal and follow the Pacific coasts of Panama and Costa Rica.

At Colon, we board the Sea Lion and it enters Gatun Locks at night, surrounded by dazzling lights under a full moon. The locks raise the ship 85 feet to the immense, artificial Gatun Lake.

January spending rises, but income growth weak

WASHINGTON (AP) – Personal spending jumped by a larger amount than expected in January but Americans' incomes barely budged as millions of Social Security recipients did not get their usual cost of living boost. The weak income growth could depress spending in the months ahead, acting as a further drag on the fragile economic recovery.

Coke to acquire bottler's North American business

NEW YORK (AP) – The Coca-Cola Co. plans to acquire the North American operations of its largest bottler in a move that mirrors similar deals by its main rival PepsiCo, as both try to gain more control of distribution to keep up with shoppers' changing tastes.

The deal calls for Coca-Cola to give up its 34 percent stake in Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., worth $3.4 billion, and assume $8.88 billion in debt.

Argenta ice sculptor returning with gold medal from Vancouver

ARGENTA – Ice sculptor Aaric Kendall will be wearing Olympic gold around his neck when he returns home today.

Kendall and his teammate, Benjamin Rand of Jupiter, Fla., were awarded the gold medal Sunday in the ice sculpting competition at the Cultural Olympiad that is part of the Vancouver Games.

"I was a little shocked," Kendall said. "I thought it could have gone either direction."

Teams from Japan received the silver and bronze medals. Kendall and Rand earned a score of 177.9 out of a possible 200 to win the gold medal.

350 get sick aboard cruise ship in Caribbean

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) – About 350 people were responding well to medicine after getting sick on a cruise to the Caribbean that departed from South Carolina, the cruise line said Tuesday.

Celebrity Cruise spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said 326 of the more than 1,800 passengers on the Celebrity Mercury began complaining Sunday of upset stomachs, vomiting and diarrhea. Martinez says 27 of the nearly 850 crew members also reported symptoms.

Iran leader praises rally turnout, rips West

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran's supreme leader praised the mass turnout at the government-backed rally marking the 1979 Islamic Revolution and warned the West to stop putting obstacles in his country's path, state Press TV reported Friday.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thanked the "tens of millions" across the country who celebrated Thursday's anniversary, saying the turnout at rallies reflected the nation's strength.

Updated: Fire reported at Vermilion Garden Apartments in Danville

Updated 10:50 a.m. DANVILLE — Officials are investigating a fire that damaged an eight-unit building in an apartment complex on the city’s northeast side early Friday morning.

Firefighters were called to the fire at Vermilion Garden Apartments, at 1213 Garden Dr., at 4:38 a.m. When they arrived, smoke was coming from the south side of Building 1230.

WILL weather cuts 'break my heart,' says general manager

A reorganization at Illinois Public Media will bring to an end its weather forecasting services and eliminate nine positions at the more than 50-year-old public broadcasting service based at the University of Illinois.

Facing six-figure losses in state funding and an uncertain funding outlook from the university, Illinois Public Media announced several changes on Thursday.

Among the most significant of those changes is the elimination of its weather department.

First-time jobless claims fall more than expected

WASHINGTON (AP) – The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits fell more than expected last week to the lowest total in a month, a hopeful sign the job market may be improving.

The Labor Department said that first-time claims for unemployment insurance dropped by 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 440,000. Wall Street economists expected a smaller decline of 15,000, according to a survey by Thomson Reuters.

C-U Haiti Relief holding fundraiser this week

The newly organized group C-U Haiti Relief will present an international forum and fundraiser for Haiti this week.

"I (Heart) Haiti" is scheduled for 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the University of Illinois Alice Campbell Alumni Center, 601 S. Lincoln, U. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.

Speakers with knowledge of Haiti will share their perspective about the country, and attendees will be given information on ways to paticipate in relief efforts, said organizer Melissa Pognon. The event will also feature musical performances by a West African ensemble.