Thunderstorms batter Chicago area, leave thousands in the dark

(Reuters) -Severe thunderstorms tore through the Chicago area on Sunday night after the National Weather Service said a “confirmed large and extremely dangerous tornado” had touched down in a western suburb of the city, causing damage.

Chicago-area utility Commonwealth Edison’s (ComEd) website showed that more than 22,000 customers were without power as the thunderstorms swept through the region, near Lake Michigan in the north of the U.S. state of Illinois.

The tornado touched down near Route 53/75th Street in Woodridge, DuPage County, around 11 p.m. ET on Sunday. About a dozen homes were damaged, and four people were rushed to area hospitals with minor injuries, CBS Chicago reported.

A CBS Chicago reporter tweeted that six people were injured in total and some residents were evacuated to nearby shelters. The news outlet added that there were no fires, but there were lots of gas breaches.

Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said that anyone who was displaced from their homes could go to Ranchview Elementary School, which was designated as a place of shelter, according to CBS Chicago.

The website of ComEd, a unit of Exelon Corp, showed about 12,000 customers were without power in DuPage County alone while about 8,000 customers were in the dark in Cook County, which includes Chicago.

“The severe threat has diminished/ended for most of the Chicago metro area. Severe T-storm Watch remains in effect for a bit longer for Will, Kankakee, Ford, Iroquois, and northwest Indiana counties,” NWS Chicago said on TwitterQ.

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Mark Heinrich)

Ford outlines further production cuts due to global chip shortage

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co on Wednesday outlined another series of plant shutdowns due to the global semiconductor chip shortage, with five facilities in the United States and one in Turkey affected.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker did not outline how many vehicles would be lost in the latest actions, and reiterated it intends to provide an update of the financial impact of the chip shortage at its quarterly earnings on April 28.

The firm this month announced production cuts at plants in Chicago, Flat Rock, Michigan, and Kansas City, as well as implementing a reduced schedule at its Ohio Assembly Plant, the latest in a string of chip-related curtailments.

Ford said in March it expected the semiconductor shortage to cost between $1 billion and $2.5 billion.

The company said in addition to the chip shortage, other factors driving the shutdowns included the previously reported fire at Renesas Electronics Corp’s chip-making factory in Japan, and prior severe winter storms in Texas.

Industry officials have previously said the shortage would be worse in the second quarter than in the first.

It was not clear if supplies would recover in the third quarter and whether automakers could make up all the lost production later this year.

Many North American automakers cancelled chip orders after plants were shut for two months during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, while demand surged from the consumer electronics industry as people worked from home and played video games.

That has now left carmakers competing for chips.

Semiconductors are used extensively in cars, including to monitor engine performance, manage steering or automatic windows, and in sensors used in parking and entertainment systems.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Chris Reese and Jan Harvey)

Chicago school district cancels some in-person classes as labor dispute flares

By Brendan O’Brien

CHICAGO (Reuters) – In-person classes in Chicago for pre-kindergarten and special education students were canceled again on Thursday as a labor dispute between teachers and school officials over the district’s COVID-19 safety plan remained unresolved.

Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), representing 28,000 public school educators, has been locked in negotiations with Chicago Public Schools for months over a plan to gradually reopen schools for in-person learning, including pandemic-related safety protocols.

With the nation’s third-largest school district aiming to reopen in-person classes for some elementary and middle students on Monday, the two sides have yet to come to an agreement. Rank and file members voted last week 71% in favor of staying remote and not going back into their schools until their demands are met.

Elementary and middle school teachers were due to report in person on Wednesday to prepare for Monday’s reopening, but only about a third of them showed up, the district said. It was uncertain how many reported to classrooms on Thursday.

“I am protesting the inequitable and unfair treatment of teachers, staff and scholars by CPS,” said Dwayne Reed, a fourth and firth grade teacher on the city’s South Side, who has not been in his classroom this week.

Earlier, CTU had warned that teachers will be ready to picket if the district disciplined any of those who failed to report to work on Wednesday.

In all, about 67,000 elementary and middle school students remain on the list to take at least some of their classes in-person, down from 77,000 who initially signed up for the option, according to CPS.

Similar labor disputes have unfolded across the country, pitting teacher unions against district officials over conditions for reopening, almost a year after the virus shut down schools for 50 million students nationwide.

The teachers’ union in Chicago says classrooms lack proper ventilation and that the district has failed to provide cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. The district says ventilation meets industry standards for classroom learning and that it would provide schools with adequate PPE.

The union has urged school and city officials to move quickly to vaccinate teachers. Inoculations are expected to begin in mid-February.

The district said on Wednesday in its latest proposal that it has offered to make accommodations for those teachers who have family members with medical conditions, and that it has expanded testing and prioritized vaccines for staff working in the hard-hit areas of the city.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Chicagoans told to stay home, Detroit moves school online as COVID-19 cases surge

By Brendan O’Brien and Maria Caspani

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Chicago issued a stay-at-home advisory and Detroit stopped in-person schooling on Thursday to staunch the coronavirus outbreak as more than a dozen states reported a doubling of new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks.

Officials in the Midwestern cities along with New York, California, Iowa and other states were re-imposing this week restrictions that had been eased in recent months. The moves were driven by surging infection rates and concern that the onset of winter, when people are more likely to gather indoors, will worsen the trends.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Thursday issued a 30-day advisory calling upon residents to stay at home and have no visitors, even during Thanksgiving festivities. The third- largest city in the United States could see 1,000 more COVID-19 deaths by the end of 2020 if residents do not change behaviors to stop the spread of the virus, Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot set a 10-person limit on gatherings, including indoor and outdoor events, and said travelers from out of the state needed to quarantine for 14 days or submit a negative coronavirus test.

“None of us can keep maintaining the status quo in the face of this very stark reality,” the mayor told reporters, noting the average number of cases have gone from 500 to 1,900 per day over the last month and the city’s positivity rate shot up to 15% from 5%.

Illinois has emerged as the pandemic’s new epicenter in the region as well as across the country. In the past two weeks, the state reported about 130,000 cases, the highest in the country and more than hard-hit Texas and California.

A Reuters tally showed coronavirus cases more than doubling in 13 states in the past two weeks.

In Michigan, the Detroit public school system – the state’s largest – said on Thursday it would suspend of in-person education until Jan. 11, with the infection rate in the city rising rapidly. The district will hold all classes online starting Monday.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday that the country’s largest school system was preparing for a possible shutdown but closure might still be averted.

“We’re not there yet, and let’s pray we don’t get there,” de Blasio told reporters. De Blasio has said schools will close if the percentage of city residents testing positive, now at a seven-day average of 2.6%, surpasses 3%.

Total COVID-19 cases across the United States hit an all-time daily high for a second day in a row on Wednesday at 142,279 and crossed the 100,000 mark for an eighth consecutive day, Reuters data showed.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus surged to at least 64,939 by late Wednesday, the highest ever for a single day during the pandemic, increasing by more than 41% in the past two weeks. The death toll rose by 1,464 to a total of 241,809.

Vaccine developers have offered some good news this week, with Pfizer and BioNTech trumpeting successful early data from a large-scale clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine.

Health experts are hopeful that a vaccine might become available in the coming months for the most vulnerable populations and for healthcare providers.

But with a more lengthy timeline for the general public, many are urging strict adherence to well-known virus mitigation measures like wearing a face covering, washing hands and maintaining a safe social distance.

“We hope that by the time you get into the second quarter, end of April, early May, May-June – somewhere around that time, the ordinary citizen should be able to get it,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top U.S. health official, told the ABC “Good Morning America” program on Thursday.

“What we need to do is what we’ve been talking about for some time now but really doubling down on it.”

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller and Cynthia Osterman)

Chicago mayor loosens COVID-related capacity restrictions for businesses including bars, restaurants

(Reuters) – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Monday loosened COVID-19-related capacity restrictions for businesses such as bars, restaurants and health clubs, a move that will go into effect later this week.

The new guidelines, which will take effect on Thursday, will increase indoor capacity to 40% for certain businesses, reopen bars for indoor service and increase maximum group sizes for fitness classes and after-school programming, a statement from the mayor’s office said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Government health experts warn U.S. cities of ‘trouble ahead’

By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House health experts are warning of an uptick in the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 in U.S. cities including Boston, Chicago and Washington, urging local leaders to maintain health safety measures to avoid a surge.

“This is a predictor of trouble ahead,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday.

Fauci was asked on CNN about comments made by his White House coronavirus task force colleague, Dr. Deborah Birx, identifying new areas of concern in major cities, even as authorities see encouraging signs across the South.

Baltimore and Atlanta remain at a “very high level,” as well as Kansas City, Portland, Omaha and California’s Central Valley, Birx told state and local officials in a telephone call Wednesday. A recording of the call was obtained by the journalism nonprofit Center for Public Integrity.

White House data shows small increases in the percentage of positive COVID-10 tests in Chicago, Boston and Detroit and those places need to “get on top of it”, Birx said.

Even in cities and states where most people are doing things right, Fauci said, a segment of people not wearing masks or following social distancing remains vulnerable to infection and can keep the virus smoldering in U.S. communities.

“Unless everybody pulls together, and gets the level way down over baseline, we’re going to continue to see these kind of increases that Dr. Birx was talking about in several of those cities,” Fauci said.

White House coronavirus experts have in recent days sent regular warnings to cities and states not to relax anti-coronavirus measures too much before the virus is under sufficient control.

On average, 1,000 people are dying each day nationwide from COVID-19. The U.S. death toll is now over 157,000, with 4.8 million known cases.

President Donald Trump, in contrast, has played down the staying power of the virus, saying on Wednesday “it will go away like things go away” as he urged U.S. schools to reopen on time for face-to-face lessons.

Trump also said children are “almost immune” from COVID-19, prompting Facebook Inc on Wednesday to take down a post by the Republican president containing a Fox News video clip in which he made the statement. Facebook said it violated its rules against sharing misinformation about the virus.

Chicago’s mayor said on Wednesday that school would be online-only in September, after the teachers’ union and many parents in the city objected to a plan to allow students the option of attending class twice a week in pods of 15.

Chicago is the third-largest school district in the United States behind New York and Los Angeles, with 350,000 students.

Los Angeles has already announced that students will be kept home, while New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he expects to have children attend classes part of the time.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

On Chicago’s South Side, some violence-weary residents open to federal investigators

By Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Many Chicagoans vehemently oppose President Donald Trump’s pledge to send federal officers to the third-largest U.S. city, after seeing camouflaged agents deployed in Portland club and tear-gas anti-racism protesters.

But in South and West Side neighborhoods hit hardest by a recent spike in gang violence, some Chicago residents welcomed the move and said federal agents may be able to help solve crimes.

“I appreciate it and I like it,” said Cedrick Easterling, a former gang member, who was shoveling garbage scattered in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood as part of his work clearing vacant lots.

“If you sit at that park, you will hear shots all over Englewood,” said Easterling, who was once shot himself, pointing south toward Ogden Park. Like most in Chicago, Easterling is not a fan of Trump, who won just 51 of the city’s 2,069 precincts in the 2016 presidential election.

Easterling, 54, has lived in Englewood since he was seven. He said crime is particularly bad this year and Trump should consider bringing in the National Guard and using drones to record evidence of crimes as they occur

Others were more cautious, saying they feared an increased federal presence would erode civil liberties in a city that has had long-standing problems with police brutality in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods.

Trump said last week that hundreds of officers from the FBI and other federal agencies would help fight crime in Chicago. The city is suffering a spike in violent crime, including a drive-by shooting by suspected gang members at a funeral last week that wounded 15 people.

Trump has sought to project a law-and-order stance as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3, targeting cities controlled by Democrats who he says are soft on criminals. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Eight of 10 people Reuters interviewed in wealthier and safer areas on Chicago’s North Side opposed any form of intervention from Trump, saying federal officers could fan tensions in the city and would not address underlying issues such as unemployment.

“I don’t see how the feds are going to help with anything,” said Michael Flaherty, a 53-year-old architect who lives in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

“They’re violent. Violence doesn’t fix violence.”

The view was often more nuanced on the South and West Sides, where a much higher proportion of residents have experienced violent crime.

Junior Jaber, 28, recalled the day four years ago when his friend Paul Hamilton, then 47, was killed by a stray bullet while walking his dog in Ogden Park.

“I was mad. He had nothing to do with anything,” said Jaber, who runs Englewood Food Mart, where Hamilton worked as a butcher. “We got to do something. It’s almost like a war zone out here.”

Jaber said he was all for it when he learned of Trump’s plan to send in federal agents.

“They should clean it all up. Just do their job,” said the 28-year-old father of two as he sold sodas, lottery tickets and pints of liquor.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has said the reinforcements to Chicago do not involve the type of forces that were deployed to Portland and have been accused of civil rights violations and using excessive force.

Protesters said uniformed personnel without name tags or agency badges snatched young people off the streets into unmarked vans before eventually releasing them.

Protests have continued around the United States since the May 25 death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody. The U.S. Justice Department said on Thursday it would investigate the use of force in Portland and whether federal agents had proper identification.

Black Lives Matter activists, who have led protests against police brutality in Chicago, are suing federal officials to try to ensure agents do not violate civil rights. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has told residents all new federal resources would be “investigatory in nature” and vowed to pursue all available legal options if federal officers go beyond that.

‘INNOCENT BYSTANDERS’

While Chicago’s murder rate had been falling in recent years, there were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200% compared with the same period in 2019, police department data shows.

Some residents of East Garfield Park, a poor neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side, support federal intervention after gang shootings hit unintended targets, said Damien Morris, director of violence prevention initiatives for local nonprofit Breakthrough.

“When you have women and kids getting shot – innocent bystanders – you have residents that feel like something needs to happen,” Morris said.

Trump sent a smaller number of special agents and law enforcement researchers to Chicago in 2017 after a spike in violent crime.

Phil Bridgeman, 49, said he opposes all federal law enforcement in Chicago. Even if the federal agents could help solve high-profile cases, he said, they will not solve the root causes of violent crime.

“It’s not going to help, it’s going to agitate,” said Bridgeman as he sold “Black Lives Matter” T-shirts in the middle of a busy boulevard.

Vaughn Bryant, executive director of anti-violence group Metropolitan Peace Initiatives, was concerned by “a greater threat to people’s freedom,” with the arrival of more agents.

In Englewood, a man who goes by the name Joe Pug sat in a lawn chair with several other people on a sidewalk opposite a small police station. The 49-year-old, who has lived in the neighborhood for most of his life, supports federal agents investigating shootings.

He said the South and West Sides also need massive investments in education and job creation, especially for young Black men.

“There is nothing here, nothing for them,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Daniel Wallis)

Trump says sending federal agents to more U.S. cities to fight violent crime

By Jeff Mason and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump announced a plan on Wednesday to send federal agents to more U.S. cities to crack down on violent crime as he emphasizes a “law and order” mantra going into the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump, joined by Attorney General William Barr, unveiled an expansion of the “Operation Legend” program to include cities such as Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a further effort by federal officials to tackle violence.

“Today I’m announcing a surge of federal law enforcement into American communities plagued by violent crime,” said Trump.

Trump said “we have no choice but to get involved” with a rising death toll in some major cities.

“This bloodshed must end, this bloodshed will end,” he said.

The program involves deploying federal law enforcement agents to assist local police in combating what the Justice Department has described as a “surge” of violent crime.

A Justice Department official said the initiative is not related to the use of federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to quell unrest in Portland, Oregon.

The Republican president has sharply criticized Democratic leaders for presiding over cities and states that are experiencing crime waves, using the issue as part of a “law and order” push he hopes will resonate with his political base. Trump is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in national opinion polls.

It is not unusual for federal law enforcement to work alongside local partners. The Justice Department official said “Operation Legend” would provide additional resources to cities suffering from “traditional” violent crime.

Trump has emphasized a robust policing and military approach to the protests across the United States about racial inequality after the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis police custody.

The White House has sought to focus on city crime even as Trump’s approval numbers plummet in response to his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The “Operation Legend” program involves federal agents form the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service and other agencies, partnering with local law enforcement.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said federal intervention was not required to help with violence in New York City, and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has also urged Trump not to send unidentified federal agents to her city.

“Operation Legend” is named for LeGend Taliferro, a 4-year-old boy who was shot and killed while he slept early June 29 in Kansas City, Missouri, according to the Department of Justice’s website.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Sarah Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

As federal deployment looms, Chicago mayor calls for end of violence

By Nathan Layne

(Reuters) – Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday called on witnesses to come forward with information about an overnight gunfight at a funeral, a day after she said she would welcome help from the FBI and other federal agencies, but not a “Portland-style deployment” of “unnamed agents” to her city’s streets.

Lightfoot spoke a day after gang members opened fire at a funeral on Chicago’s South Side and attendees fired back, injuring 15 people. Two of those shot are in critical condition, while the other 13 are expected to recover.

The mayor, a Democrat, also detailed a separate shooting on Tuesday of a 3-year old girl by two men who fired into the car she was in with her parents. The girl was shot in the head but is in stable condition, police superintendent David Brown told the same news conference.

The violent flare-up could provide fodder to President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, who have sought to promote a law-and-order message ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election. Critics say the administration is seeking to divert attention away from its widely criticized response to the coronavirus pandemic, one of the reasons he is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden in opinion polls.

Trump threatened earlier this week to send FBI and other federal agents to Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, to help local authorities crack down on a surge in violence in recent weeks. Earlier this month, U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr announced a program known as Operation Legend to provide federal help to law enforcement officials in Kansas City, Missouri, where murders have spiked.

The launch of that program has coincided with the deployment of agents drawn from other federal agencies to Portland, Oregon, to protect a courthouse from weeks of protests over racial justice. In that action, unidentified federal agents have been accused of pulling protesters into unmarked vans, a possible violation of their civil rights.

Trump was scheduled to deliver remarks about Operation Legend later on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Lightfoot said she would take Trump to court if he sent unidentified federal agents to her city.

“The Trump administration is not going to foolishly deploy unnamed agents to the streets of Chicago,” she said as she outlined plans for an influx of identified agents from the FBI and other agencies to combat crime. “We have information that allows us to say, at least at this point, that we don’t see a Portland-style deployment coming to Chicago.”

Chicago has seen an explosion in violence this summer. There were 116 murders over the 28 days through July 19, an increase of nearly 200 percent, police department data shows.

Police superintendent Brown blamed turf battles among the roughly 117,000 gang members in the city of 2.7 million people, where one shooting begets another in an endless cycle of revenge.

“This same cycle repeats itself over and over and over again. This cycle is fueled by street gangs, guns and drugs,” he said. “Too many people in Chicago have been touched by gun violence.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Wednesday that he told Trump that his state was able and prepared to handle a spike in crime in New York City, noting that he had not declared a public safety emergency.

“And since the state hasn’t made a declaration, I don’t see why there’s any reason why the federal government should take action,” Cuomo said in a call with reporters, adding that Trump agreed with his assessment.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Maria Caspani in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Trump to send federal forces to more ‘Democrat’ cities

By Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Monday said he would send law enforcement to more U.S. cities, as a federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in Oregon with unmarked cars and unidentified forces angered people across the country.

Trump, a Republican, cited New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland, California, as places to send federal agents, noting the cities’ mayors were “liberal Democrats.” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot frequently blasts Trump on Twitter.

“We’re sending law enforcement,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “We can’t let this happen to the cities.”

State and local leaders in Oregon, as well as members of Congress, have called for Trump to remove Department of Homeland Security secret police forces from Portland, Oregon, after videos showed unidentified federal personnel rounding up people and whisking them away in black minivans.

“Not only do I believe he is breaking the law, but he is also endangering the lives of Portlanders,” the city’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, tweeted, having previously called the federal presence “political theater” in an election year.

Trump, trailing in opinion polls behind Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, in June declared himself “president of law and order” and threatened to send the U.S. military into cities after sometimes violent protests and looting in the aftermath of African American ‘s death in police custody in Minneapolis.

Federal agents last week began cracking down on Portland protests against police brutality and systemic racism, using tear gas to defend federal buildings and taking some activists into custody without explanation.

“They grab a lot of people and jail the leaders. These are anarchists,” Trump said of federal agents sent to the historically liberal city to quell often unruly protests.

Despite a national outcry over the tactics, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials on Monday said they would not back down and would not apologize.

The state of Oregon and the American Civil Liberties Union have sued the Trump administration for unlawfully detaining Oregon residents, and some Republicans spoke out against its tactics on Monday.

“There is no place for federal troops or unidentified federal agents rounding people up at will,” tweeted U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

The Chicago Tribune reported that Homeland Security was making plans to deploy around 150 agents in the city this week where police defending a statue clashed with protesters on Friday.

The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

(Reporting by Steve Holland, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Deborah Bloom in Portland; Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)