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/ stuck in read-only mode. can't mount or remount any fs as root

I have a very strange problem with a system running debian 2.4.27
I did not build the system or the kernel. And, I is a bit of a
newbie with linux and sys admin in general.

I had some disk errors and shutdown to reseat cables.
The system, as-is, has been running and reboot more than once
with no problems before now.  Perhaps the shutdown wasn't

On boot up the / partition came up read-only and /var /proc etc.
all are unmounted.  fsck is run on all the disks and the
system disk is clean for all 3 partitions hda1 (/)  hda2 (/var)
and hda3 (/t0) fsck not run on hda5 (should be swap).  All of
my filesystems appear to be ext2.

2 other disks on a PCI controller are giving DMA errors and
interrupt errors.  I don't think this is related.

boot sequence drops me to a maint. root login prompt and
I log in.  But, trying to mount /var or anything else fails
with this error:  "mount: only root can do that"
Same error when I try to remount / rw.

If I go to a normal user level login prompt neither root nor any other
user can login.  Only at the maint prompt can I get logged in.

I can boot from a knoppix CD and get to all the filesystems and edit
/etc/fstab but nothting seems to help.
Any help is greatly appreciated.
thank you,

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