Katrina AP's choice for 2005's top story

Saturday, December 31, 2005

NEW YORK -- The onslaught of Gulf Coast hurricanes, notably Katrina and the deadly flooding which devastated New Orleans, was overwhelmingly picked by U.S. editors and news directors as the top story of 2005 in The Associated Press' annual vote.

The hurricanes received 242 first-place votes out of 288 ballots cast. No other story received more than 18 first-place votes.

The death of Pope John Paul II, and the election of Joseph Ratzinger to succeed him as Pope Benedict XVI, was the No. 2 pick, followed by the situation in Iraq, where news of violence and politics vied almost equally for attention throughout the year.

Iraq was voted the top story in 2002 and 2003, and was runner-up in 2004 to the U.S. election in which President Bush won a second term.

Here are 2005's top 10 stories, as voted by AP members:

1. HURRICANE KATRINA: Days in advance, America knew it was coming. But even though Hurricane Katrina weakened slightly from its frightening Category 5 strength, its impact was stunning. It killed more than 1,300 people in five states, ravaged the Mississippi Gulf Coast and set off flooding that submerged 80 percent of New Orleans, forcing the largest urban dislocation in U.S. history. Hurricanes Wilma and Rita also inflicted severe damage.

2: PAPAL TRANSITION: John Paul II's death marked the passing of the first non-Italian pope in 455 years and ended a 26-year pontificate, third-longest in history. In a remarkable show of affection, many millions attended services worldwide on the day of his funeral. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, expected to continue a conservative doctrinal approach, became the new pope and promptly waived the normal waiting period so John Paul could swiftly be considered for sainthood.

3: IRAQ: As in 2004, news from Iraq ranged from the grim, including a devastating wave of suicide bombings, to the promising -- Iraqis voting for new leaders and thrashing out differences on a new constitution. The U.S. military death toll surpassed 2,000, and President Bush estimated the Iraqi toll at 30,000, but he insisted U.S. forces would stay until Iraqi troops could contain insurgents on their own.

4: SUPREME COURT: Not since 1994 had a Supreme Court seat become vacant. Suddenly there were two openings due to Sandra Day O'Connor's retirement and Chief Justice William Rehnquist's death. John Roberts was smoothly confirmed to succeed Rehnquist, but President Bush's next nominee, Harriet Miers, had to bow out amid conservative complaints. The right liked the next choice, Samuel Alito, but he could face tough Democratic opposition at confirmation hearings in January.

5: OIL PRICES: Crude oil prices hit an all-time peak of almost $71 a barrel in August before subsiding. Costly gasoline prompted some motorists to rethink their driving habits; the beleaguered U.S. airline industry had to spend $9 billion more on jet fuel in 2005 than in 2004.

6: LONDON BOMBINGS: Attacks on three rush-hour subway trains and a bus killed 56 people on July 7, including four bombers with ties to Islamic militants. Authorities said three of the alleged bombers were born in Britain to immigrant parents from Pakistan; the fourth was from Jamaica.

7: ASIAN QUAKE: A massive earthquake near the Pakistan-India border killed more than 87,000, and left more than 3 million homeless. Worried relief officials appealed for more emergency aid as winter arrived in the stricken region.

8: TERRI SCHIAVO: A family feud escalated into a wrenching national debate as the husband of brain-damaged Terri Schiavo struggled and finally succeeded in getting clearance to remove the feeding tube that had kept her alive for 15 years. President Bush, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and members of Congress joined Terri Schiavo's parents in efforts to have the tube reinserted before she died.

9: CIA LEAK: Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, was indicted and several prominent journalists were entangled in complex offshoots as a special prosecutor investigated the Bush administration's leaking of Valerie Plame's CIA status to the news media in 2003. Plame's husband, a former U.S. diplomat, had accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence on Iraq.

10: BUSH'S STRUGGLES: Multiple factors, including public doubts about Iraq, a flawed response to Hurricane Katrina and a failed Supreme Court nomination, drove President Bush's national approval ratings below 40 percent, the lowest of his presidency.

Just missing out on the Top 10 was the start of toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's trial on charges of mass murder and torture.

Voters in the AP survey were invited to write in their own suggestions of top stories. Three cited the auto industry's woes, including layoffs at General Motors, and one suggested the revelation that former FBI official Mark Felt was the Watergate source "Deep Throat." Mark Bowden, editor of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, offered a general observation on his ballot.

"The world was wracked with pain in 2005, enduring a parade of natural disasters," he wrote. "And, of course some of the pain was self-inflicted -- war, terrorism, rebellion, violence, crime, drug abuse, business fraud. ... There is never a slow day in the news business."

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