Storms snarl U.S. Thanksgiving travel, stranding cars and planes

Storms snarl U.S. Thanksgiving travel, stranding cars and planes
By Jane Ross

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Two winter storms blasted the United States on Wednesday, stranding motorists and causing thousands of flight delays as Americans jammed highways and airports to visit family and friends for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Scores of vehicles got stuck on Interstate 5 after a “bomb cyclone” – a supercharged winter storm caused by a rapid drop in atmospheric pressure – dumped up to four feet (1.2 meters) of snow in mountainous areas of the Pacific Northwest.

“We’ve been white knuckling it for the last four hours and sliding around the road,” said Lisa Chadwick after she stopped in Bend, Oregon, driving north from San Francisco. She had snowchains for her two-wheel drive car, but did not know how to put them on.

The U.S. Midwest was also hit hard by a storm that clobbered Denver on Tuesday, with airports in Minneapolis and Chicago suffering hundreds of delays and cancellations.

The storms hit on one of the busiest travel days of the year, with a near-record 55 million Americans set to journey at least 50 miles (80 km) for Thanksgiving on Thursday, according to the American Automobile Association.

After parts of Colorado got up to 30 inches (75 cm) of snow on Tuesday, Minneapolis was expected to get as much as 12 inches as the system slid east, said Brian Hurley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

The storm, which is packing high winds, will move across upper Michigan and upstate New York toward central Maine, which could get 6 to 10 inches of snow, the Weather Service forecast.

“LOTS OF HONKING”

On the West Coast, heavy rain threatened flash floods from San Diego to Los Angeles.

Los Angeles International Airport told domestic passengers to arrive three hours early as it expected 238,000 passengers and 113,000 vehicles on Wednesday.

“There has been definitely lots of honking, lots of near accidents that I’ve seen, for sure,” Daniel Julien, a 24-year-old paralegal from Pasadena, said after making it to the airport.

A silver lining was that rain doused the Cave Fire in Santa Barbara County, which charred 7 square miles (1,810 hectares) of brush and woodlands. But it brought evacuation warnings to thousands of residents in Santa Barbara suburbs for possible mudslides on fire-charred hills.

Across the country, 4,083 flights were delayed, and 148 were canceled into or out of the United States by 6.30 p.m. ET, with Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport tallying the most, according to FlightAware.com.

“There are apocalyptic storms all over the country and 50mph winds! Why would things not be the worst. Anyway pray 4 me,” said a Twitter user going by the name of Abigail H., who was leaving O’Hare on Wednesday.

The East Coast was largely unscathed, but wind gusts of up to 40 mph (64 km) forecast for Thursday morning threatened to sideline the Macy’s New York City Thanksgiving parade’s 16 giant balloons for safety reasons. Organizers have said they will make the decision on Thursday whether to go ahead.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Andrew Hay in Taos and Jane Ross in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Sonya Hepinstall)

Hong Kong airport grinds to halt as China likens protests to terrorism

Anti-extradition bill protesters rally at the departure hall of Hong Kong airport in Hong Kong, China August 12, 2019. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

By Greg Torode and Vimvam Tong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s airport canceled all flights on Monday, blaming demonstrators for the disruptions, while China said the anti-government protests that have roiled the city through two summer months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.

The airport authority said it was working with airlines to resume flights from 6 a.m. on Tuesday, but the developments raise the stakes after a weekend of skirmishes during which both activists and police toughened their stances.

Some Hong Kong legal experts say official descriptions of some protesters’ actions as terrorism could lead to the use of extensive anti-terror laws and powers against them.

China’s People’s Armed Police also assembled in the neighboring city of Shenzhen for exercises, the state-backed Global Times newspaper said.

People in the Asian financial hub responded by taking to the streets again, picketing a police station and returning in their hundreds to a metro station where police had hit activists with batons, to protest against the heavy-handed tactics.

The increasingly violent demonstrations have plunged the Chinese-ruled territory into its most serious crisis in decades, presenting Chinese leader Xi Jinping with one of his biggest popular challenges since he came to power in 2012.

“Hong Kong has come to a critical juncture,” said Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office spokesman Yang Guang in Beijing.

“Protesters have been frequently using extremely dangerous tools to attack the police in recent days, constituting serious crimes with sprouts of terrorism emerging.”

The protests began in opposition to a bill allowing extradition to the mainland but have widened to highlight other grievances, winning broad support.

The precise trigger for the airport’s closure was not clear, since protesters occupying the arrivals hall for four days have been peaceful.

“This is about our freedom,” said one of the thousands of protesters who remained there, a 24-year-old wearing a mask, who gave his name only as Yu. “Why should we leave?”

GROUNDED

Hong Kong is the world’s busiest air cargo port and the 8th busiest by passenger traffic, says the Airports Council International (ACI), a global association. It has been filled with anti-government protesters for four days.

The mostly young black-clad protesters have chanted slogans such as “No rioters, only tyranny!” and “Liberate Hong Kong!” while approaching travelers with flyers describing their demands and explaining the unrest.

Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement enshrining some autonomy for Hong Kong when China took it back from Britain in 1997.

The activists at the airport have been polite and passengers mostly unperturbed. “I was expecting something, given all the news,” one arrival, Gurinda Singh, told Reuters.

“I’m just pleased my plane arrived and the protests here seem peaceful.”

Some activists moved to the departure area and caused disruptions, police told a news conference as the cancellations were announced.

Police declined to say if they would move to clear the demonstrators. There was no visible police presence in either the departure or arrivals area.

“Airport operations at Hong Kong International Airport have been seriously disrupted as a result of the public assembly at the airport today,” the city’s airport authority said in a statement, without elaborating.

About 190 flights were hit, Chinese aviation data firm VariFlight said, though planes already en route to Hong Kong were allowed to land.

RESTIVE WEEKEND

Demonstrators threw up barricades across the city at the weekend, as police fired tear gas into crowded underground train stations as well as rubber bullets and pepper pellets at close range.

In response, protesters have sought to channel a Bruce Lee maxim: “Be water,” employing a flash-mob strategy to frustrate authorities and stretch their resources.

Still, scores of protesters were arrested, sometimes after being beaten with batons and bloodied by police. One young female medic was hospitalized after being hit by a pellet round in the right eye.

Hundreds of people returned on Monday to the scene of some of the clashes to protest against the use of force.

“We are completely disappointed with Hong Kong police,” said Terry Ng, 30, a social worker protesting outside Wan Chai police station. “The weight of their shots caused a young girl to lose one eye. Do they still have a conscience?”

Authorities have called the citywide demonstrations illegal and dangerous, while highlighting their impact on the already-faltering economy and residents’ activities.

Beijing says criminals and agitators are stirring violence, but its use of the word “terrorism” on Monday was its starkest warning yet, possibly paving the way for a national-security response to the crisis.

China has used the threat of terrorism to justify tough measures in its regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, which have been criticized by rights groups and Western governments. It warned them off on Monday as well.

“Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong and Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement.

China has also put pressure on big companies, such as Cathay Pacific Airways, whose shares tumbled to a 10-year low on Monday, after it was told to suspend staff engaged in illegal protests.

Police, who have arrested more than 600 people since the unrest began more than two months ago, demonstrated a water cannon.

(Reporting by Greg Torode, Vimvam Tong, Clare Jim, Felix Tam, Noah Sin, Brenda Goh, Twinnie Siu, James Pomfret, Farah Master, Felix Tam, Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Writing by Tom Westbrook; Editing by James Pomfret and Clarence Fernandez)

China issues ‘red alert’ as super typhoon approaches mainland

Workers unload seafood from fishing boats before super typhoon Lekima makes landfall in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China August 8, 2019. Picture taken August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s weather bureau issued a red alert early on Friday as super typhoon Lekima approached Zhejiang province on the eastern coast, after forcing flight cancellations in Taiwan and shutting markets and businesses on the island.

The National Meteorological Center (NMC) said the typhoon, the strongest since 2014, was expected to hit the mainland in early on Saturday and then turn north. It has issued gale warnings for the Yangtze river delta region, which includes Shanghai.

Taiwan has already cancelled flights and ordered markets and schools to close on Friday as the typhoon heads northwest, cutting power to more than 40,000 homes and forcing the island’s high speed rail to suspend most of its services.

The island’s authorities issued landslide warnings after an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck its northeastern coast on Thursday, hours before the typhoon approached, which was forecasted to bring rainfall of up to 900 mm (35 inches) in its northern mountains.

More than 300 flights to and from Taiwan have been cancelled and cruise liners have been asked to delay their arrival in Shanghai.

Some trains from Shanghai have also suspended ticket sales over the weekend, and Beijing also said it would cancel several trains heading to and from typhoon-hit eastern regions in the Yangtze delta region.

Heavy rain and level-10 gales are expected to hit Shanghai on Friday and continue until Sunday, with 16,000 suburban residents set to be evacuated, the official Shanghai Daily reported.

The NMC warned that 24-hour rainfall levels across eastern China could reach around 250-320 millimetres from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. Port authorities have already been ordered to take action, with ships set to be diverted to Hong Kong to help prevent accidents and collisions.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources has also warned of flood risks in the eastern, downstream sections of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers until Wednesday.

China is routinely hit by typhoons in its hot summer months but weather officials said last week they have been relatively infrequent so far this year.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Southwest Airlines extends 737 MAX cancellations through October 1

FILE PHOTO: A number of grounded Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft are shown parked at Victorville Airport in Victorville, California, U.S., March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

(Reuters) – Southwest Airlines Co on Thursday said it was extending the cancellation of Boeing’s 737 MAX planes from its flying schedule until Oct. 1, a day after the Federal Aviation Administration warned it had uncovered a new issue that must be resolved before the plane can be ungrounded.

The airline had previously planned to keep the jet off its flying schedule through Sept. 2. Boeing Co’s MAX fleet has been grounded since March, following a second fatal crash in five months.

Southwest, the world’s largest MAX operator with 34 jets, said the delay will result in removing about 150 flights out of its total peak daily schedule of 4,000.

The FAA on Wednesday said it had identified a new potential risk that Boeing must address on the planes.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Boeing will not conduct a certification test flight until July 8, under a best-case scenario. The test is a necessary step before Boeing can submit a formal request for approval of a software upgrade for the planes.

Southwest said it “made this decision before any developments of the past few days.”

Once the FAA approves the MAX for flight, Southwest has said it would take about 30 days to get the jets up and running again.

American Airlines said on Thursday it did not “have any schedule announcement to make at this time.” United Airlines on Wednesday said it was extending cancellations into September.

Boeing shares were down 2.5% at $365.48 on Thursday.

(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Ankit Ajmera in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Berkrot)

Delta to cancel about 800 flights due to Irma

Empty runways and gates are see at Miami International Airport after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Miami, U.S. September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc said it would cancel about 800 flights on Monday as it braces for Tropical Storm Irma at its Atlanta hub.

“Hurricane Irma is expected to bring to the Atlanta hub strong crosswinds that exceed operating limits on select mainline and regional aircraft,” Delta said on Monday.

The No. 2 U.S. airline by passenger traffic, whose business is heavily dependent on operations at the Atlanta airport, said it was planning to resume service to airports in Florida.

Irma, ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, hit a wide swath of Florida over the past day. It is now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour).

Bigger rival American Airlines Group Inc said on Sunday it would not resume commercial flights at its Miami International Airport hub on Monday, but may operate flights to bring in staff and supplies.

 

(Reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

 

Tropical Storm Irma floods northern Florida cities after hammering south

A partially submerged car is seen at a flooded area in Coconut Grove as Hurricane Irma arrives at south Florida, in Miami, Florida, U.S., September 10, 2017.

By Zachary Fagenson and Daniel Trotta

MIAMI/KISSIMMEE, Fla. (Reuters) – Downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, Irma flooded several northern Florida cities with heavy rain and a high storm surge on Monday as it headed out of the state after cutting power to millions and ripping roofs off homes.

Irma, once ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, hit a wide swath of Florida over the past day, first making landfall on the Florida Keys archipelago and then coming ashore south of Naples before heading up the west coast.

Now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour), Irma was located about 35 miles (56 km) west of Gainesville and headed up the Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. ET (1200 GMT).

The Cuban government reported on Monday that 10 people had been killed after Irma battered the island’s north coast with ferocious winds and 36-foot (11-meter) waves over the weekend. This raised the overall death toll from Irma’s powerful rampage through the Caribbean to 38.

Northeastern Florida cities including Jacksonville were facing flash flooding, with the city’s sheriff’s office pulling residents from waist-deep water.

“Stay inside. Go up. Not out,” Jacksonville’s website warned residents. “There is flooding throughout the city and more rain is expected.”

 

HEART-POUNDING NIGHT

After what she called a terrifying night bunkered in her house in St. Petersburg, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with her children and extended family, Julie Hally emerged with relief on Monday. The winds had toppled some large tree branches and part of a fence, but her house was undamaged.

“My heart just pounded out of my chest the whole time,” said Hally, 37. “You hear stuff hitting your roof. It honestly sounds like somebody is just whistling at your window the whole night. It’s really scary.”

Governor Rick Scott said he would travel later on Monday to the Florida Keys. Irma first came ashore at Cudjoe Key as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 130 mph (215 kph.)

U.S. President Donald Trump in a ceremony at the Pentagon to remember the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks vowed a full response to Irma, as well as continued federal support for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Texas.

“These are storms of catastrophic severity and we are marshalling the full resources of the federal government to help our fellow Americans,” Trump said. “When Americans are in need, Americans pull together and we are one country.”

The state’s largest city, Miami, was spared the brunt of the storm but still saw heavy flooding. Utility crews were already on the streets there clearing downed trees and utility lines. All causeways leading to Miami Beach were closed by police.

As it traveled through the center of the state early on Monday, Irma brought gusts of up to 100 mph (160 kph) and torrential rain to areas around Orlando, one of the most popular areas for tourism in Florida because of its cluster of theme parks, the National Weather Service said.

A piece of a McDonald’s “golden arch” sign hung in a tree near the fast-food restaurant in the central Florida city of Kissimmee on Monday morning. Valerie Gilleece, 55, had ridden out the storm in the city because her wheelchair-bound husband insisted on it, she said.

“I’m just thanking God to be alive,” Gilleece said. “I wanted to go from the start but he’s stubborn as hell.”

Over the weekend, Irma claimed its first U.S. fatality – a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds in the town of Marathon, in the Florida Keys, local officials said.

During its passage through the Caribbean en route to Florida, Irma was ranked at the rare top end of the scale of hurricane intensity, a Category 5, for days. It carried maximum sustained winds of up to 185 mph (295 kph) when it crashed into the island of Barbuda on Wednesday.

Ahead of Irma’s arrival, some 6.5 million people in southern Florida, about a third of the state’s population, were ordered to evacuate their homes. Some 200,000 were housed in shelters during the storm, according to federal officials.

 

DAMAGE ESTIMATES

The storm did some $20 billion to $40 billion in damage to insured property as it tore through Florida, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated.

That estimate, lower than earlier forecasts of up to $50 billion in insured losses, drove insurance company shares higher on Monday. Florida-based insurers Federated National, HCI Group and Universal Insurance were all up more than 12 percent. Meanwhile, Europe’s insurance index was the biggest sectoral gainer, up 2 percent and set for its best day in more than four months.

High winds snapped power lines and left about 5.8 million Florida homes and businesses without power, state data showed.

Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday. According to the FlightAware.com tracking site, a total of 3,582 U.S. flights were canceled on Monday, mostly as a result of the storm.

Irma was forecast to cross the eastern Florida Panhandle and move into southern Georgia later in the day, dumping as much as 16 inches (41 cm) of rain, government forecasters said.

Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary.

 

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall, Ben Gruber and Andy Sullivan in Miami, Letitia Stein in Detroit, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason in Washington, Scott DiSavino in New York and Marc Frank in Havana; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frances Kerry and Paul Simao)

 

Delta Air Lines to cancel nearly 300 flights on Tuesday

Members of the mission group Adventures In Missions wait to find out if their flight to Guatemala is on time or cancelled after Delta Air Lines' computer systems crashed on Monday, grounding flights around the globe, at Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.

(Reuters) – Delta Air Lines ┬ásaid it was canceling some 300 flights on Tuesday morning, higher than an earlier estimate of 250, as the carrier worked to restore operations after a power outage hit its computer systems on Monday.

The company, which has not yet given details about the financial impact of the outage, said it expected additional delays and cancellations.

The airline canceled around 1,000 flights on Monday, stranding passengers at airports around the globe.

“We were able to bring our systems back on line and resume flights within a few hours yesterday but we are still operating in recovery mode,” Delta, the No.2 U.S. airline by passenger traffic, said on Tuesday.

Customers traveling on Tuesday should check the status of their flight at delta.com or the Fly Delta App, the company said.

Delta Chief Executive Ed Bastian apologized to customers on a video posted on the company’s website and said the company was working round the clock to restore its systems.

The problems arose after a switchgear – which helps control and switch power flows like a circuit breaker in a home – malfunctioned for reasons that were not immediately clear, according to Georgia Power, a unit of Southern Co, which provides electricity to most counties in Georgia.

Atlanta-based Delta said it would offer compensation to customers affected by significant delays or cancellations. The company said it would provide $200 in travel vouchers to all customers who experienced a delay of greater than three hours or a canceled flight.

Delta shares were little changed at $37.75 in premarket trading on Tuesday.

Rivals Southwest Airlines Co <LUV.N> and American Airlines Group Inc <AAL.O> have also suffered flight disruptions earlier due to data system malfunctions.

(Reporting by Rachit Vats and Sayantani Ghosh in Bengaluru; Editing by Kirti Pandey)