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macon.com MIDDAY UPDATE: Virginia Tech students make somber return to class; firefighters work to protect south Ga. town from wildfire

Thousands of Virginia Tech students and faculty filled the center of campus this morning to pay solemn tribute to the victims of the last week’s massacre — listening quietly as a bell tolled for the dead on the day classes resumed at the grief-stricken school in southwest Virginia.

An antique, 850-pound brass bell was installed on a limestone rostrum for the occasion, and 33 white balloons were released into the air in memory of the victims of the 32 victims and the gunman, Seung-Hui Cho. About 1,000 balloons in Virginia Tech colors — maroon and orange — were also released.

The bell rang at 9:45 a.m., around the time when Cho killed 30 students and faculty members in a classroom building before committing suicide. Monday’s tribute lasted 11 minutes, as the bell rang for each of the victims and Cho.

University officials were not sure how many students planned to be back today. Virginia Tech is allowing students to drop classes without penalty or to accept their current grades if they want to spend the rest of the year at their parents’ homes grieving last week’s campus massacre.

But whatever decisions they make academically, many students say they will do their mourning on campus — and that they can’t imagine staying away now.— Associated Press

FIREFIGHTERS WIDEN BREAKS TO PROTECT SMALL TOWN NORTH OF WILDFIRE

Firefighters worked this morning to widen fire breaks protecting the small community of Manor from a wildfire that has burned about 55,600 acres over the past week in southeast Georgia.

The fire, which started April 16 when a downed power line ignited tinder-dry trees near the Okefenokee Swamp in Ware County, was about 45 percent contained, officials said.

Today, the fire was burning about 10 miles southwest of Waycross and about five miles south of Manor, where firefighters were using bulldozers to broaden fire breaks from 6 feet to 20 feet wide.

‘‘It’s not directly a threat at this time,’’ said Byron Haire, a spokesman for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

No evacuations have been ordered since about 1,000 people near Waycross were forced to flee their homes last week. Another 5,000 people were urged to evacuate voluntarily because of possible health risks from smoke inhalation. Officials say 18 homes have been destroyed.

Ware County schools remained closed today because of concern that smoke-clouded roads were too treacherous for school buses. The schools have been closed since last Tuesday.About 360 firefighters from Georgia and neighboring states were helping fight the blaze.— Associated Press

WHAT'S ON TAP FOR TUESDAY

— United Way has pulls its funding for the Booker T. Washington Center — which could mean the end for the center. We'll tell you more about it.

— We'll take a closer look at the increasing health-care costs at the Bibb County Jail, which have been skyrocketing for years.

VISIT US AGAIN SOONWe invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, Day News/Online Editor Beth MacFadyen will bring you timely information about what Telegraph staffers are working on, plus news we think you need to know immediately. Send feedback to bmacfadyen@macontel.com

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