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Phony phone repairman steals birth certificates

A man posing as a telephone repairman stole 700 blank birth certificates at gunpoint from the county Office of Vital Statistics, police said.

The numbered certificates, stamped with gold seals, cost Palm Beach County about $1.50 each but could have far greater value on the black market. They could be used to set up false identities for driver's licenses or passports or establish citizenship for illegal immigrants.

The holdup man showed up at the office Thursday morning, saying he had come to fix a broken telephone, police spokeswoman Dena Peterson said.

He went into a room where blank birth certificates are kept and pulled a gun, stuffed the certificates into a bag and fled, Peterson said.

BellSouth spokesman Andy Feeney said the man was not an employee, and "right now, we have no idea how he got the uniform."

Officials said a man fitting the same description visited the Broward County Office of Vital Statistics last week but did not try to steal birth certificates.

Biologists hope recount

firms up manatee numbers

Biologists will scan Florida's coastal waters again in January to get a more accurate manatee count to help them come up with another plan to save the endangered creature.

Fifteen counts during the past decade place the number of manatees anywhere from 2,200 to nearly 3,000. But no one knows how many of the marine mammals there are.

What is known is that the watercraft death toll on the manatee population may rival last year's record of 82, which prompted more than a dozen conservation groups to sue state and federal agencies for failing to enforce laws aimed at protecting manatees.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed new sanctuaries and slow-speed zones along the coasts of Florida and southern Georgia to curtail the increasing number of manatees falling victim to power boats.

Gasoline tanker burns,

closing I-95 for hours

MIAMI _ A gasoline tanker burst into flames when it was sideswiped by a small car, shutting down Interstate 95 in both directions for most of the night and backing traffic up for miles, police said.

No one was seriously injured.

The accident happened shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday and sent a spectacular ball of fire 100 feet in the air. The fire created a smoky atmosphere so thick that drivers could barely see.

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Ernest Duarte said the tanker was hit by a Honda Civic driven by an 18-year-old man driving without a license. The Civic's driver had been trying to get past the truck and a van, Duarte said.

The truck caught fire, which spread to the van, Duarte said. Both drivers escaped the blaze.

Duarte said the driver of the Civic will be charged with unlawful change of lanes and driving without a license.

I-95 reopened in both directions shortly before 7 a.m. Friday.

Alligator rescued after

month in drainage pipe

BOCA RATON _ After spending at least a month stuck in a drainage pipe, "Draino" the alligator is safe and sound in an Everglades park.

Three state-certified trappers spent a half-hour Friday morning pulling the animal out of the pipe, which is under a west Boca Raton neighborhood. Later, one of the trappers delivered him to the Everglades Holiday Park.

The rescue wasn't easy. The trappers got help from the county's water utilities department, which sent a jet-propelled machine that is used to clean drainage pipes. The machine raised the water level in the pipe, elevating the alligator so trappers could put a rope around its head and pull it upward to safety.

Nicknamed "Draino" by neighborhood children, the alligator has been the center of attention.

One of the trappers, Rick Kramer, said he decided to give "Draino" to the Everglades Holiday Park rather than harvest the animal for its meat and hide, which can yield as much as $300.

"I promised one of the ladies who didn't want me to kill the alligator," Kramer said. "I'm a man of my word."

_ Compiled from Times wires.

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