Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

A car passes through a flooded street as storm Imelda hits Houston, Texas, U.S., September 19, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from social media video. @kingjames.daniel/via REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

U.S. south ‘still under the gun’ after deadly storms

A storm cloud formation is seen in Collinsville, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on May 21, 2019. BRI'ANNE WALTON/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A storm system that blasted the U.S. South was weakening on Tuesday but another was on its way after thunderstorms and tornadoes left a swath of destruction, killed at least two people and tore up a NASCAR grandstand.

More than 30 tornadoes struck on Monday and Tuesday from Texas, Oklahoma and across the southern plains into Missouri, said meteorologists with the National Weather Service.

While this weakening storm system is expected to roll into the Great Lakes region early Wednesday, another system is brewing Wednesday night into Thursday, said Brian Hurley, a forecaster with the NWS Weather Prediction Center.

“The Southern Plains can’t catch a break,” Hurley said. “More storms will develop overnight into Thursday morning.”

Rainfalls are predicted to be about 2 inches across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localized spots getting up to 5 inches, he said.

“That whole area is still under the gun,” Hurley said.

In Wheatland, Missouri, at the Lucas Oil Speedway, a reported tornado injured 7 people, flipped over cars, toppled campers and damaged the grandstands, with local media images showing piles of twisted metal and upside down vehicles.

The Memorial Day weekend “Lucas Oil Show-Me 100” races at the speedway, about 120 miles southeast of Kansas City, were canceled indefinitely. A crowd topping 3,000 fans of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) had been expected, track officials said on Tuesday.

Dozens of people were rescued from rising floodwaters and felled trees that smashed homes and blocked roadways in Oklahoma on Tuesday.

Crews using boats pulled at least 50 people from rising water as heavy downpours inundated roads and homes, Oklahoma Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Keli Cain said.

Two deaths from a traffic accident on a rain-slicked Missouri highway were reported by police late Monday.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency on Tuesday for the state, out of concern for floods from cresting rivers and streams, with forecasts of more rain on the way.

Forecasters said the Missouri River is expected to crest on Thursday at more than 32 feet at the state capital of Jefferson City. Local media including NBC News said that is two feet higher than the city’s levees.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Graff)

Lockdown lifted at North Carolina university after shooter kills two, wounds four

Trystan Andrew Terrell in a booking photo released by the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office. REUTERS/MCSO/Handout

By Greg Lacour

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – The University of North Carolina at Charlotte lifted a campus lockdown on Wednesday morning, a day after a gunman killed two people and wounded four on the school’s last day of classes for the semester.

Police in Charlotte charged UNC Charlotte student Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, with two counts of murder and four of attempted murder. Three of the four people he wounded were in a critical condition on Wednesday.

They offered no hints as to the suspect’s motive and did not identify the victims.

Students on the campus spent a harrowing night as police searched door-to-door for any other suspects, not giving people the all-clear to move around till almost dawn.

“This is the saddest day in UNC Charlotte’s history,” the school’s chancellor, Phil Dubois, said in a letter to the community posted on the school’s website. “Families of the deceased victims are being notified and university staff are with those who are injured.”

The shooting started at about 5:40 p.m. on Tuesday police said, in a classroom. Tristan Field, a student who witnessed the shooting, told CBS News as many as 50 students tried to escape through two doors.

“A chair fell in front of the door, so people were tripping over that, like, trying to climb over it,” he said. “Some people fell down. It was like water through a funnel but wasn’t fast enough.”

The gunman was disarmed by two or three campus police officers who entered the building after responding to an emergency call, campus Police Chief Jeff Baker said.

A vigil was planned at the school for Wednesday, CBS news reported.

Sandy D’Elousa, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, which is leading the investigation, said the gunman was believed to have acted alone.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper called the incident a tragic day for the university and the state just a few days before graduation. “But I know the people in this community, and they will be here for each other,” he said at a news conference.

According to its website, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte has more than 26,500 students.

The deadliest mass shooting on a higher education campus in the United States took place at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, in April 2007, when a student killed 32 people and then himself.

(Reporting by Greg Lacour in Charlotte; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

Former Hurricane Michael heads northeast after trashing Florida

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

By Rod Nickel

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael took its drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday after battering Florida’s Panhandle as the third most powerful hurricane ever to strike the U.S. mainland and killing at least two people.

Michael shattered houses and buildings, downed power lines and ripped up trees when it crashed ashore on Wednesday afternoon, carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and causing deep seawater flooding.

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Residents and officials were taking stock of the damage on Thursday.

“I think everything from Panama City down to Mexico Beach is way worse than anybody ever anticipated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel. Michael’s eye came ashore near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Panama City.

“This is going to be a long recovery but Florida is resilient, we help each other, and we survive,” Scott said. “We worked all night in endangered circumstances.”

It was not yet known what had happened to about 280 residents of Mexico Beach who authorities said had ignored evacuation orders as the storm approached the state’s northwest. The area is known for its small beach towns, wildlife reserves and the state capital, Tallahassee.

Michael was a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale, just shy of a rare Category 5, when it came ashore. It weakened steadily as it traveled inland over the Panhandle.

By 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) Thursday it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 50-mph (85-kph) winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said.

Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could get as much as 9 inches (23 cm) of rain and life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

The two people killed in the storm were a man who died when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl who died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials and local media said.

More than 830,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama and Georgia early Thursday.

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A McDonald’s sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

‘SURREAL’ WIND

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

“The wind that came through here was surreal. It destroyed everything,” Jason Gunderson, a member of a group of rescue workers that calls itself the Cajun Navy, told CNN early on Thursday from Callaway, a suburb of Panama City.

“It’s unlivable. It’s heartbreaking.”

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week’s end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. Wind damage was also evident.

“There are so many downed power lines and trees that it’s almost impossible to get through the city,” Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane’s force, it ranked as the third strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, freeing federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Scott said.

Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Tallahassee, Florida; Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Liz Hampton in Houston, Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Writing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

Police seek motive in shooting at Florida video game contest

Police officers cordon off a street outside The Jacksonville Landing after a shooting during a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Reuters) – Police on Monday were trying to determine why a gunman opened fire at a Jacksonville, Florida, video game tournament, killing two people and injuring 11 others before fatally shooting himself.

The Sunday shooting immediately became an issue in Florida primary elections set for Tuesday when voters choose candidates for governor and the U.S. House of Representatives. Some Democrats called for stricter gun laws while other candidates canceled events.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office identified the shooter as David Katz, 24, of Baltimore, and said they found his body near those of his two alleged victims at The Landing, a popular riverside shopping and dining location. The shooting broke out during a regional qualifier for the Madden 19 online football game tournament at the GLHF Game Bar and witnesses told local media Katz was angry because he lost the tournament.

It was not clear if Katz knew his victims.

Local media identified the dead victims as Eli Clayton, 22, of Woodland Hills, California, and Taylor Robertson, 27, of Ballard, West Virginia. Both had been competitors in the tournament, local media reported, citing family of the victims.

Robertson, a husband and father, won the tournament last year and Katz won it the year before, the Miami Herald reported, citing family and friends posting on the Internet.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s office said nine people were wounded by gunfire and at least two others were injured while fleeing the scene. Officials did not respond to calls seeking updated information on Monday.

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

Taylor Poindexter speaks to reporters after witnessing a gunman open fire on gamers participating in a video game tournament outside The Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, Florida August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Joey Roulette

FLORIDA HISTORY OF SHOOTINGS

Six months ago 17 students and educators were gunned down at a high school in Parkland, Florida, an incident that inflamed the United States’ long-running debate over gun rights.

In 2016 a gunman killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, in the second-deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history.

The Sunday attack drew immediate statements from two Democratic candidates for governor – former U.S. Representative Gwen Graham and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

“We need to end these mass shootings – and the only way to do that is to vote out the politicians complicit in this cycle of death,” Graham said on Sunday on Twitter. Levine sounded a similar note, saying, “It’s time for new leaders.”

Graham and Levine are seeking the office currently held by Republican Governor Rick Scott, who in turn is challenging Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson.

The leading contenders for the Republican nomination for governor, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, canceled campaign events and urged cooperation with law enforcement.

The bar was livestreaming the gaming competition when the gunfire started, according to video shared on social media. In the video, players can be seen reacting to the shots and cries can be heard before the footage cuts off.

Taylor Poindexter and her boyfriend, Marquis Williams, who had traveled from Chicago to attend the tournament, fled when the gunfire erupted. She said she saw Katz take aim at his victims.

“We did see him, two hands on the gun, walking back, just popping rounds,” Poindexter told reporters. “I was scared for my life and my boyfriend’s.”

Another gamer, Chris “Dubby” McFarland, was hospitalized after a bullet grazed his head. “I feel fine, just a scratch on my head. Traumatized and devastated,” he wrote on Twitter.

Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is treating three people wounded in the attack, said spokesman Peter Moberg. All were listed in good condition and one was expected to be discharged later on Monday, he said.

(Reporting by Joey Roulette in Jacksonville Fla., Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Two dead in North Carolina landslide as Alberto no longer a storm

Subtropical Storm Alberto is pictured nearing the Florida Panhandle in this May 27, 2018 NASA handout photo. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Two people were killed after floods triggered a landslide in North Carolina, as Alberto was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone with diminished rainfall by the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) on Thursday.

Rescue workers found two bodies after being alerted late Wednesday that the landslide had destroyed a home in Boone, North Carolina, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, said Jeff Virginia, spokesman for Watauga County Emergency Management.

Local media reported that heavy rains caused the landslide which triggered a gas explosion.

Video images posted to Twitter by the Boone Police Department showed an apparently charred home reduced to rubble.

Alberto has becomes a post-tropical cyclone as it attempts to exit northeastern lower Michigan, and a heavy rainfall threat is fading near its center, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest advisory.

The system is located about 20 miles (30 km) west south-west of Alpena, Michigan with maximum sustained winds of 30 miles per hour (45 km/h), the weather forecaster said.

“Flash flood watches remain in effect for the western Carolinas, northwest Virginia, and far eastern west Virginia,” the NHC added.

(Reporting by Arpan Varghese and Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru, and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bernadette Baum)