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Driving in the FEMA car is . . .

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has achieved status that other government agencies can only dream about: Its logo appears on the hood of a NASCAR Winston Cup car.

In a new partnership with BellSouth, FEMA has put its "Project Impact" logo on the neon-colored car of driver Kenny Irwin.

Project Impact is a FEMA program that encourages homeowners to reinforce their houses to prepare for hurricanes and other disasters.

Under the partnership with BellSouth, which is paying for the logo and other promotional activities, Irwin will give speeches about disaster prevention and will honor people and businesses that are building disaster-resistant communities.

The promotion is targeted for NASCAR-loving Southern states because they've suffered the worst hurricane damage.

"Prevention," said Irwin, "is the key to surviving any disaster."

Help on the way

This could be good news for military retirees.

On Thursday, the House voted 355-63 to authorize prescription drug coverage for military retirees 65 and over, including those who are eligible for Medicare.

If the Senate agrees with the measure, it would take effect April 1, 2001 _ allowing an estimated 800,000 Medicare-eligible retirees to participate in the Defense Department's mail-order prescription drug benefit program.

Rep. Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon, hailed the vote as long overdue.

"Without final passage of this legislation, many military retirees will continue to effectively lose their prescription coverage at age 65 because they must rely on Medicare, which does not provide a prescription drug benefit," Thurman said. "We have an obligation to truly thank these men and women who served our country by providing quality health care that's effective, accessible and affordable and that includes prescription drug coverage."

Importing diamonds

Diamonds may no longer be a revolutionary's best friend.

The military construction appropriations bill passed by the Senate last week included an amendment introduced by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., that would prohibit diamonds from African nations including Sierra Leone, Liberia, the Ivory Coast and Angola from passing through U.S. Customs.

Gregg said Sierra Leone's Revolutionary United Front is "brutalizing people simply to maintain their grip on diamond-rich lands." The diamonds, he said, are used to buy weapons and narcotics for the RUF.

High-priced diamonds from this area are known for their clarity and large size.

Although it will "ultimately take more than cutting off the diamond trade to crush the RUF the road to victory has to start somewhere," Gregg said.

In the House, similar legislation has been introduced by Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, and Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va.

The Diamond Manufacturers and Importers Association has said "the end of continued conflict in Africa is a foremost objective of our industry."

_ Compiled by staff writers Bill Adair, Sara Fritz and Vanita Gowda.