PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — NORAD says its Santa-tracking operation broke its own records for phone calls, emails and Facebook and Twitter followers on Christmas Eve.
The North American Aerospace Defense Command said Thursday that volunteers answered nearly 102,000 phone calls and more than 7,720 emails asking about Santa’s location.
NORAD Tracks Santa had nearly 1 million followers on Facebook and more than 101,000 on Twitter.
Its website had 18.9 million unique visitors in December, also a record.
A free smart phone app available for the first time this year was downloaded a combined 1.4 million times from the Apple Store and Android Market.
More the 1,200 volunteers participated at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., which is NORAD’s headquarters.
The Santa-tracking operation has run every year since 1955.
Poll: Americans anticipate a better year in 2012
LOS ANGELES — Break out the New Year’s bubbly because a new poll shows that almost two-thirds of Americans believe that 2012 will be a better year than the one now ending.
The Associated Press-GfK poll also found that 68 percent of Americans described 2011 as a poor year and only 29 percent said it was good.
For many, 2011 was a year of continuing economic crisis. Jobs openings remained scarce and many once-secure professions such as education and public employment saw changes as states and cities tightened their fiscal belts. Prices for basic necessities such as health care, food and fuel rose throughout the year, squeezing even people who were able to keep working.
According to the poll, 62 percent of Americans said they were optimistic about what 2012 will bring the nation, and 78 percent said they were upbeat about the year’s potential impact on their immediate family.
About 37 percent said they see economic improvement in the next 12 months, compared with 24 percent who think the economy will worsen. On a personal level, 36 percent said they think their financial situation will improve; 11 percent said they think it will worsen.
The poll conducted Dec. 8-12 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications involved calls to 1,000 adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
2 dead, 61 hurt in 40-vehicle New Orleans pileup
NEW ORLEANS — Two men died and 61 other people were injured Thursday in a pre-dawn pileup involving about 40 cars, vans and other vehicles on a busy interstate that crosses New Orleans, closing the route for hours both ways, police said.
Drivers said they drove into thick smoke or fog that abruptly limited visibility on westbound lanes of Interstate 10 heading across eastern New Orleans. Those who came upon the scene said they heard injured motorists pleading for assistance.
A police spokesman would not talk about possible causes, including whether those may have included smoke or fog.
The highway’s westbound lanes were still closed late Thursday afternoon as the investigation continued, but eastbound lanes were reopened, letting commuters head home at rush hour.
Egypt crackdown escalates, with raids on 17 rights groups
CAIRO — Egyptian authorities on Thursday raided the offices of 17 domestic and international human rights and pro-democracy organizations, including several that receive U.S. government funding, in a sharp intensification of the military’s crackdown that recalled the tactics of the country’s ousted authoritarian president, Hosni Mubarak.
The raids in Cairo and other cities appeared to be an effort by the ruling military to intimidate nongovernmental organizations that it accuses of promoting a “foreign agenda” and supporting protests against its rule.
Dozens of police officers, military personnel and judicial officials held and interrogated staff members for several hours, confiscated computers and documents, and closed at least five of the offices, the agencies said. They said the searches were conducted without warrants.
DC touts lowest homicide rate in nearly 50 years
WASHINGTON — District of Columbia officials say the city is on course to record the lowest homicide rate in nearly half a century.
The decline mirrors a nationwide trend of falling rates in major American cities. But it’s startling in a city that was ravaged by the crack epidemic two decades ago and where homicides totaled 479 in 1991. There were 108 homicides as of Thursday. He says the number hasn’t been that low since the early 1960s.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told The Associated Press on Thursday that people feel safer in the city. He attributes the continued declines in part to community policing and to strong leadership in the traditionally more violent neighborhoods of southeast Washington.