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Y2K Bug's Last Gasp

Only two months after the world braced for computer-chaos because of the millenium bug, software worldwide appeared to have survived the last part of the Y2K problem, Leap Day -- the 29th of February, which only falls during leap years -- virtually unscathed Tuesday.

Check-in congestion at Reagan National Airport was blamed on a curbside computer system used by skycaps. Passengers had to use regular check-in stations until the skycap system could properly recognize Feb. 29.

John Koskinen, President Clinton's Y2K czar, described the airport error and other scattered glitches around the world as minor. He said Leap Day was quieter than New Year's Day.

"At this juncture, as we expected, we have received no reports of any major problems,'' he told reporters in Washington. "This does not mean that no one has had a computer problem, but in many cases they are minor problems that can be fixed immediately.''

In addition to the problems at Reagan, Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska had problems with computers that track inventory of aircraft parts and vehicles, and some caller ID devices and pagers displayed tomorrow's date.

CBS News computer consultant Larry Magid says it is unclear whether the problems were Y2K related or whether they were caused by the date Feb. 29, a once-in-four-years occurrence that some computers may not be programmed to handle.

He said that computer systems that tested OK for Y2K compatibility were likely to experience few problems Tuesday.

Indeed, the North American Electric Reliability Council declared shortly after midnight ET that all power systems in the United States and Canada were "in green status."

Once March 1 comes and goes, government officials tell CBS News, the Y2K center in Washington will shut down for good. The Senate's Y2K advisory committee is also disbanding.

But even as the U.S. began to stand-down from its Y2K alert, other countries suffered slightly more serious Leap Day problems.

At a nuclear plant in Japan, a computer system that monitors employee work hours shut down but didn't affect operations. The Monju plant, 220 miles west of Tokyo, hasn't produced nuclear energy since 1995.

At Japan's Meteorological Agency, weather monitoring stations reported double-digit rainfall even though no rain fell outside on a sunny day, while computers at six observatories failed to recognize Feb. 29.

Also, seismographs at more than 20 sites in Japan considered Tuesday March 1, and the postal service had problems with receipt printers for registered mail and display screens for interest rates. In addition, 1,200 automated teller machines at post offices shut down, though officials were unsure whether Leap Day was to blame.

A computer in the Netherlands couldn't transmit weather to the media.

In New Zealand, merchants had trouble verifying banking transactions and government experts said as many as 4,000 money transfer terminals might have been ffected before the problem was fixed.

The Jakarta Stock Exchange was closed Tuesday as a precaution lest the automatic trading system encounter computer problems. The Singapore subway system rejected some riders' cards.

Computers have had difficulties in leap years before. Four years ago, for instance, Arizona Lottery players could not buy tickets because its computer failed to understand Leap Day.

Sony Corp. said older video cameras and word processors may fail to recognize Feb. 29, while Microsoft Excel 2000 users might have problems computing financial bonds if they failed to get an update.

This year is more troublesome because it is an exception to an exception. Normally, years that end in "00" are not leap years, but 2000 is because it is divisible by 400.

But many of the problems were caught long ago as Y2K experts tackled the larger Y2K risk: the use of two digits to represent a year, a glitch that could have thrown off computers that run the power grid, air traffic systems and traffic lights.

In a wrap-up report prepared for release Tuesday, the Senate's advisory committee identified more than 250 Y2K glitches in some 75 countries, including a nuclear power system failure in the Ukraine and a handful of 911-system breakdowns in the United States.

For the most part, the committee said, Y2K problems "have been quickly corrected and none have caused serious disruptions." It expects "continued reports of minor nuisances throughout 2000, but no major problems."

McConnell's International Y2K Cooperation Center also planned to close Tuesday, though members will monitor Leap Day developments for a few more days. Private businesses were handing Y2K responsibilities to regular maintenance teams.

"This is sort of closure on the Year 2000 efforts, like the final frontier here," said Dale Vecchio, research director in St. Louis for technology consulting firm Gartner Group.

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