Woman bailed in dramatic S African baby-snatching case

CAPE TOWN - A woman charged with stealing a newborn baby from its sleeping mother 17 years ago was granted bail by a South African court Friday in a case of wrenching emotional complexity and coincidence.

The kidnapped baby is now a few weeks away from her 18th birthday and in her final year of high school after reportedly being raised with love and kindness by the 50-year-old accused woman and her husband, who she believed were her real parents.

The biological parents of the baby they named Zephany - and whose birthday they marked every year of her absence - have told reporters their joy at finding her overwhelms desire for revenge.

Zephany, who had been renamed by her new family and cannot be publicly identified, is now living with a social worker until a decision can be made on her future.

The woman whom she believed to be her mother was freed on R5,000 (less than $500) bail on condition that she does not contact potential state witnesses - who include her husband and Zephany.

She faces a minimum of five years in jail if convicted of kidnapping, but prosecutors indicated that they could be open to a plea bargain after consultations with both sides.

Zephany's biological parents have said there would be no pressure on the girl to live with them.

"I want what she wants - whatever she thinks is best for her will be fine by us," Celeste Nurse has said.

The 50-year-old suspect, who cannot be named because that would identify the girl, had reportedly had a series of miscarriages before allegedly stealing Zephany from her mother at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town three days after her birth in April 1997.

She was arrested last week after an astonishing coincidence saw the stolen girl attending the same school as one of her biological sisters.

Pupils noticed a remarkable likeness between the 17-year-old final year student and her younger sister, Cassidy, who started at the school this year.

When Cassidy told her parents about the girl and they saw the likeness for themselves, they called the police.

DNA tests confirmed that she was Zephany.

Without knowing it, the Nurse family had been living within a couple of kilometres of their kidnapped daughter.

"All the time she has been right under my nose," the father said.

"It was seriously heartbreaking".

"Emotions are running very high in my family, it's actually good emotions," he said.

Winter storm moves away, eastern US to remain cold WASHINGTON, March 6 (Reuters) - A winter storm that dropped roughly two feet of snow (61 cm) on parts of the eastern United States is expected to move out to sea on Friday but the cold will remain.

The National Weather Service warned of flooding and told commuters from the lower Mississippi valley to the mid-Atlantic to be wary of dangerous road conditions created by the snow, ice and slush.

While forecasters predicted only pockets of scattered snow at most in the east, they said temperatures were expected to be 10 to 30 degrees below average across the region. "Arctic air settling in behind the boundary will make for a chilly end to the work week," the National Weather Service said.

In Kentucky, where cities were buried under as many as 23 inches (58 cm) of snow, Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of emergency on Thursday as traffic halted on interstate highways and motorists were left stranded.

A Delta Air Lines plane arriving in heavy snow at New York's LaGuardia Airport from Atlanta on Thursday slid off the runway and came to rest just feet from the frigid waters of Flushing Bay. No serious injuries were reported.

Just shy of 600 US flights had been cancelled as of early Friday morning, according to FlightAware.com, as compared to the 4,957 cancellations tallied on Thursday.

Parts of Massachusetts got up to 12 inches (19 cm) of snow, but Boston only received trace amounts, leaving intact its annual snowfall record at nearly 108 inches (274 cm), NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said. Two inches (5 cm) would break the city's record, which was set in 1995-96.