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macon.com Midday Update: Hurricane Ike churns toward Texas; Pentagon chief cites caution on U.S. troop pullout; Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney among CMA nominees

As Hurricane Ike charged into the Gulf’s fueling waters and toward the Texas coast, officials prepared today to evacuate the first of 1 million residents who could be in the way of the storm's path.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center predicted Ike, which has already raked the Caribbean and Cuba, would feed on the Gulf's warm waters and intensify before slamming into Texas somewhere near Corpus Christi early Saturday morning.

If Texas officials order a mandatory exodus, it would be the first large-scale evacuation in south Texas history. State and county officials let people decide for themselves whether to leave a hurricane area until just before Hurricane Rita struck the Gulf Coast in 2005. Now county officials can order people out of harm's way.

Gov. Rick Perry has already declared 88 coastal counties disaster areas to start the flow of state aid, activated 7,500 National Guard troops and began preparing for an evacuation, lining up "buses rather than body bags."

Associated Press

Pentagon chief cites caution on U.S. troop pullout

Improved security in Iraq will give the U.S. military the flexibility to do more in Afghanistan in the coming months, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Congress Wednesday, after years of setting a lower priority for the Afghan fight.

But even as Gates hinted at possible further troop cuts in Iraq next year, he said that a go-slow approach is justified by several worrisome circumstances, including slow progress on the political front.

"I worry that the great progress our troops and the Iraqis have made has the potential to override a measure of caution born of uncertainty," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. "Our military commanders do not yet believe our gains are necessarily enduring — and they believe that there are still many challenges and the potential for reversals in the future."

Gates also warned that '‘we should expect to be involved in Iraq for many years to come, although in changing and increasingly limited ways."

Gates said that sectarian tensions still exist in Iraq, and have the potential to undo recent security progress.

The Pentagon chief was testifying one day after President Bush announced that he has approved a plan to withdraw about 8,000 U.S. troops by February. Some troops will leave this fall, but the number of combat brigades in Iraq will remain at the current 15 until late January or early February.

Associated Press

Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney among CMA nominees

Carrie Underwood, Kenny Chesney and Alan Jackson were each nominated for two or more Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday, including album of the year.

Underwood's "Carnival Ride," Chesney's "Just Who I Am: Poets & Pirates," and Jackson's "Good Time" were nominated for album of the year along with George Strait's "Troubadour" and Brooks & Dunn's "Cowboy Town."

Jackson grew up in Newnan.

Other CMA nominees included Taylor Swift and Rascal Flatts, who were on hand to reveal the some of nominees during a live announcement on Wednesday's ABC's "Good Morning America." The 18-year-old Swift, who last year won CMA's Horizon award for upcoming acts, giggled excitedly when her name was read as a nominee for female vocalist of the year, a category that included Alison Krauss, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride and Underwood, who won the award last year.

Swift was one of several nominees who picked up trophies at last year's ceremony. Nominees for male vocalist of the year included Chesney, Jackson, Strait, Keith Urban, and Brad Paisley, last year's winner. Rascal Flatts was nominated for vocal group of the year, an award they claimed last year. Other nominees in that category included the Eagles, Emerson Drive, Lady Antebellum, and Little Big Town.

Associated Press

WHAT'S COMING UP ON MACON.COM

- We'll tell you more about the contested $130,000 that the Federal Emergency Management Agency says Macon still owes from 1994- Robins Air Force Base is holding its annual Freedom Walk today to recognize those who gave their lives on 9/11.

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We invite you to check out our Web site again tomorrow for the Midday Update. Monday through Friday, 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@macon.com

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