Indonesia quake kills at least 42, injures hundreds

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake killed at least 42 people and injured hundreds on Indonesia’s island of Sulawesi on Friday, trapping several under rubble and unleashing dozens of aftershocks as authorities warned of more quakes that could trigger a tsunami.

Thousands of frightened residents fled their homes for higher ground when the magnitude 6.2-quake struck 6 km (4 miles) northeast of the town of Majene, at a depth of just 10 km, shortly before 1.30 a.m.

The quake and aftershocks damaged more than 300 homes and two hotels, as well as flattening a hospital and the office of a regional governor, where authorities told Reuters several people have been trapped under the rubble.

“Praise be to God, for now OK, but we just felt another aftershock,” said Sukri Efendy, a 26-year-old resident of the area.

As many as 42 people have been killed, mostly in Mamuju and the rest in the neighboring district of Majene, the country’s national disaster mitigation agency said in a situation report on Friday evening. More than 820 people were injured, it said.

The heightened seismic activity set off three landslides, severed electricity supplies, and damaged bridges linking to regional hubs, such as the city of Makassar. Heavy rain was also worsening conditions for those seeking shelter.

No tsunami warning was issued but the head of Indonesia’s Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), Dwikorita Karnawati, told a news conference that aftershocks could follow, with a possibility that another powerful quake could trigger a tsunami.

There had been at least 26 aftershocks, she said, with Friday’s quake preceded by a quake of 5.9 magnitude the previous day.

Mamuju resident Muhammad Ansari Iriyanto, 31, told Reuters that everyone panicked and sought refuge in the nearby hills and mountains.

“Mamuju is now empty, everyone went to the mountains,” he said. “Lots of buildings collapsed and people are afraid of a tsunami.”

Another resident Syahir Muhammad said: “It’s raining and we need help.”

Videos shared on social media showed residents fleeing to higher ground on motorcycles, and a young girl trapped under rubble as people tried to shift debris with their hands. Rescue workers used cutting and lifting equipment to free survivors and find the dead.

President Joko Widodo offered condolences to the victims, urging people to stay calm and authorities to step up search efforts.

Emerging workers are now trying to restore telecoms and bridge links and ensure the delivery of tents, food and medical supplies, said West Sulawesi provincial government spokesman Safaruddin.

About 15,000 people have fled their homes since the quake, the disaster agency has said, with the coronavirus pandemic likely to complicate the distribution of aid.

“It is certainly one of the most challenging, this (disaster) was one of our fears and now we are putting all of that planning and protocols into place,” said Jan Gelfand, head of the International Federation of Red Cross in Indonesia.

Straddling the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, Indonesia is regularly hit by earthquakes.

In 2018, a devastating 6.2-magnitude quake and subsequent tsunami struck the city of Palu, in Sulawesi, killing thousands.

A 9.1-magnitude quake off the north of Sumatra island triggered a tsunami on Boxing Day in 2004 that lashed coastal areas of Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and nine other nations, killing more than 230,000 people.

(Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Additional reporting by Yishu Ng in Singapore added as Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Clarence Fernandez and Alison Williams)

American Airlines begins return of workers after payroll relief

By Tracy Rucinski

CHICAGO (Reuters) -American Airlines is beginning the phased return of furloughed workers after the U.S. Congress passed a pandemic aid package with $15 billion in payroll support for airlines, its executives said in a staff memo on Tuesday.

“While pay and benefits will be restored right away, people will be asked to return to the operation in phases,” Chief Executive Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in the memo, released by American.

Air passenger traffic is down by about 70% versus a year ago as the coronavirus pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the travel industry. U.S. airlines furloughed tens of thousands of employees when an initial $25 billion in federal payroll support that banned job cuts expired in October.

United Airlines executives warned on Monday that its recall of furloughed employees after the fresh aid would be “temporary,” saying “we just don’t see anything in the data that shows a huge difference in bookings over the next few months.”

American said the relief would help airlines serve passengers once the pandemic subsides, and in the nearer term, aid in the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and other critical supplies.

Airlines have said they do not expect a robust travel recovery until vaccines or effective treatments are widely available.

American, which has furloughed nearly 19,000 employees since October, stands to receive roughly $3 billion from the payroll package, one person briefed on the matter said.

The new aid package includes similar conditions as the previous one, such as caps on executive compensation and share buybacks, and requires airlines to repay 30% of the payroll grants over time, offer the government warrants, and restore some routes.

The program could stave off job reductions for the time being at Southwest Airlines, which has asked unions to accept pay cuts to prevent its first-ever furloughs next year.

A Southwest spokesman said the company had no updates on the potential furloughs and would closely examine the final terms and conditions of the program once the bill becomes law.

Among other large U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines avoided furloughs this year after reducing work hours for its largely non-union staff. Its unionized pilots agreed to pay cuts to avoid furloughs through 2021.

(Reporting by Tracy RucinskiEditing by Chris Reese; Philippa Fletcher and Bill Berkrot)

Pence gets COVID shot on TV as U.S. about to approve second vaccine

By Jeff Mason and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence received his COVID-19 vaccine live on television on Friday, seeking to shore up public support for vaccinations as U.S. regulators were on the cusp of approving a second vaccine for emergency use.

Pence said he “didn’t feel a thing” after he, his wife Karen Pence and Surgeon General Jerome Adams each rolled up their sleeves and took injections from white-coated medical staff, becoming the highest-profile recipients to receive the vaccine publicly.

After U.S. deaths from the coronavirus topped 3,000 for a third straight day, Pence called the vaccinations a sign of hope, with 20 million doses expected to be distributed nationwide before the end of December and hundreds of millions more going out in the first half of 2021.

“I also believe that history will record that this week was the beginning of the end of the coronavirus pandemic, but with cases rising across the country, hospitalizations rising across the country, we have a ways to go,” said Pence, leader of the White House coronavirus task force.

U.S. hospitalizations have set records on each of the past 20 days, approaching 114,000 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally.

The United States reported a record 239,903 new cases on Thursday, when the U.S. death toll surpassed 311,000.

The situation was especially dire in California, with more than 50,000 new cases each of the past two days and many hospitals reporting their intensive care units are at or near capacity. That has triggered a renewal of sweeping stay-at-home orders across much of the state.

“We expect to have more dead bodies than we have spaces for them,” Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti told a briefing on Thursday.

The Pences and Adams were injected with the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech SE, which was approved last week. A second vaccine, from Moderna Inc, was expected to win regulatory approval from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday, Pence said.

Those vaccines require two doses, given three or four weeks apart, while others under development may require only a single dose. All have been developed with unprecedented speed in less than a year, thanks to technological advances and the urgency of the global pandemic.

Beyond the logistical challenge of the most ambitious vaccination campaign in decades, health officials must convince a skeptical public they are safe and effective. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found only 61% of Americans were open to getting vaccinated.

Pence and Adams being vaccinated publicly “is symbolic to tell the rest of the country the time is now to step to the plate, and when your time comes, to get vaccinated,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.

Frontline healthcare workers, first responders and nursing home residents have been given priority, but a parade of high-profile jabs could soon follow. Fauci, who still sees patients, has said he might receive the vaccine within days.

Former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have volunteered for public inoculations, and Joe Biden will get his next week, his aides said.

President Donald Trump has encouraged people to get vaccinated and championed his administration’s Operation Warp Speed program to promote the development and distribution of vaccines.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Susan Heavey, Idrees Ali and Anurag |Maan; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Gareth Jones, Chizu Nomiyama and Dan Grebler)

Honduras hurricanes push thousands into homelessness

By Jose Cabezas

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Reuters) – Willian Castro and his family huddled on the roof of a banana packing plant for three days as Hurricane Eta raged last month, seeking to escape the torrential rains and floods that swept through his home and thousands of others.

His city of San Pedro Sula in northern Honduras was one of the areas worst hit by Eta and Hurricane Iota, which struck just two weeks later, deepening the economic hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic in Central America.

Castro, 34, worked as a barber from his home, which was destroyed in the storms. He is now considering following thousands of Hondurans before him who saw emigration north as a way out of poverty.

“We will have to start over,” he said. “We can’t do it alone. If not, I’ll have to think about what many have done in the past, go to the United States.”

For now, Castro is living in a friend’s house near San Pedro Sula. Private organizations have given his family food, and neighbors who receive remittances from relatives in the United States have also helped.

“The government has not given us anything,” Castro said.

Julissa Mercado, a spokeswoman for government disaster agency COPECO, said the area around San Pedro Sula received food aid, but that it was inevitable that some people would say they had not received assistance.

Nationwide, some 4.5 million people – half the Honduran population – have been impacted by the hurricanes and their aftermath, including landslides and rain that submerged entire communities, the government said. More than 85,200 homes were damaged and 6,100 destroyed.

In Castro’s old neighborhood, the accumulated rainwater is a meter high in some areas, and downed power poles and trees, furniture and appliances still clutter the streets.

Some 95,000 people in San Pedro Sula have taken refuge in shelters. Thousands of others sleep each night in flimsy sheds made of wood and plastic sheets, on sidewalks or under bridges.

President Juan Orlando Hernandez has called for help from other nations. “It’s the worst disaster that we have experienced in the history of the Republic of Honduras,” he said on Thursday at an event recognizing first responders.

Even before the twin storms, which also killed 100 people, Honduras was expecting an economic contraction of 10.5% this year due to the pandemic.

“After losing their homes, assets and even their jobs, people who were already poor are now even worse off,” said Nelson Garcia, director of the Mennonite Social Action Commission (CASM), a human rights organization.

(Reporting by Jose Cabezas and Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Adriana Barrera, Editing by Daina Beth Solomon and John Stonestreet)

Texas asks U.S. Supreme Court to help Trump upend election

By Makini Brice

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The state of Texas, aiming to help President Donald Trump upend the results of the U.S. election, said on Tuesday it has filed suit against the states of Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin at the Supreme Court, calling changes they made to election procedures amid the coronavirus pandemic unlawful.

The lawsuit, announced by the Republican attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, was filed directly with the Supreme Court, as is permitted for certain litigation between states.

Republican-governed Texas in the lawsuit accused election officials in the four states of failing to protect mail-in voting from fraud, thus diminishing “the weight of votes cast in states that lawfully abide by the election structure set forth in the Constitution.”

State election officials have said they have found no evidence of such fraud that would change the results. There was a surge in voting by mail in the election due to the pandemic, as many Americans stayed away from polling places to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Texas is asking the Supreme Court to block the Electoral College votes in the four states – a total of 62 votes – from being counted. Texas also is asking the Supreme Court to delay the Dec. 14 deadline for Electoral College votes to be cast.

Paul Smith, a professor at Georgetown University’s law school, said Texas did not have a legitimate basis to bring the suit. “There is no possible way that the state of Texas has standing to complain about how other states counted the votes and how they are about to cast their electoral votes,” Smith said.

The Supreme Court is not obligated to hear the case and has said in previous decisions that its “original jurisdiction” that allows litigation between states to be filed directly with the nine justices, should be invoked sparingly.

(Reporting by Makini Brice, Jan Wolfe and Lawrence Hurley in Washington; Additional reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Will Dunham and Noeleen Walder)

Fire sweeps through Southern California canyon, residents flee

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A blaze that ignited overnight in a single-family home injured two firefighters and forced residents of a rustic Southern California canyon to flee their homes on Thursday, as flames tore across some 4,000 acres of dry brush and wooded hillsides.

The Bond Fire, which broke out at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, was driven through Silverado Canyon in Orange County by gusty Santa Ana winds. Authorities issued evacuation warnings to thousands of people.

“There were two firefighters that were injured while battling the Bond Fire this afternoon,” the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. “They were treated by firefighter paramedics and transported to a hospital for further care.”

The woodsy canyon, miles from Southern California’s suburban sprawl and reached by a single winding road, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including artists, horse owners and ranchers.

Some 500 firefighters aided by water-dropping aircraft battled the flames, which sent smoke drifting across Orange and Los Angels counties, but had not achieved any containment as of mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Fire managers said they believed homes and other structures had been damaged by the blaze but could not yet provide details. Power was knocked out to some 50,000 homes across the region.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation point at a community college near the mouth of the canyon.

Since the start of the year, wildfires have scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of California land according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The state has grappled with fires of record-breaking intensity and size in recent years and 2020 has been particularly difficult.

“We’re in December and we now have active wildfires still in our state,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing. “These Santa Ana winds have been quite intense.”

The yearly land area burned by severe wildfires in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said in research published last month.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Diane Craft and Tom Brown)

Mnuchin, Powell hone in on need to aid U.S. small businesses

By Howard Schneider

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Top U.S. economic officials on Tuesday urged Congress to provide more help for small businesses amid a surging coronavirus pandemic and concern that relief from a vaccine may not arrive in time to keep them from failing.

“These businesses cannot wait two or three months,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said during a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, urging lawmakers to repurpose funds he is clawing back from other Federal Reserve loan programs to put perhaps $300 billion into grants for struggling businesses.

Mnuchin’s decision to shut those emergency programs at the end of this month was the focus of partisan bickering at the hearing, with Republicans agreeing that other forms of help are more appropriate now that a vaccine is in view, and Democrats arguing the Fed programs should be left in place until the economic recovery is more complete.

But there was broader agreement that the next few weeks could be critical in determining whether the country’s better-than-expected recovery can be coaxed along until the impact of the vaccine is felt – or will weaken in the meantime as the virus spreads, and some families begin to run out of cash.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, speaking at the same hearing, said he agreed that grants would be more appropriate at this point to help at-risk businesses and families survive the winter.

“People that are in public-facing jobs, in public-facing industries – they may see the light at the end of the tunnel the middle of next year … They may need more help to get there,” Powell said, referring to restaurants, hotels and entertainment venues that have been the hardest hit by the pandemic.

Job losses in those industries have fallen most heavily on women and minorities.

“Some of these businesses – what they need is fiscal policy, a grant, to get through this last bit of the pandemic, rather than borrowing more,” Powell said.

The Fed chief’s comments shifted attention from the looming Dec. 31 end of Fed emergency programs established early in the pandemic to keep credit flowing to small businesses and local governments, and toward ways to fill the cracks beginning to show in the U.S. recovery.

In the medium term, with a vaccine on the horizon, there is “upside risk,” Powell said, but substantial uncertainty in the meantime about how much longer some families can hold out.

After weeks of deadlock over further government spending for pandemic relief, there may be renewed momentum towards some sort of deal.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Tom Brown, Chizu Nomiyama and Paul Simao)

Global luxury goods sales set for largest ever fall in Bain forecast

MILAN (Reuters) – Sales of luxury goods worldwide are set to fall by 23% to 217 billion euros ($258 billion) this year, their largest ever drop and first since 2009, due to the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, consultancy Bain said on Wednesday.

The expected decline, despite a strong sales recovery in China, is at the lower end of a 20% to 35% range which Bain’s closely followed industry forecast had predicted in May.

That is due to a bigger than expected rebound during the summer, when lockdown measures were lifted or eased across the world and stores selling high-end handbags, clothes, jewelry and watches were reopened.

However, a resurgence of the pandemic in Europe and the United States since October has led to new restrictions and shop closures while uncertainty linked to the U.S. elections also weighed on consumer sentiment.

The only bright spot is China, where sales have surged since it began to emerge from the health crisis in the spring. Sales in mainland China are seen growing by 45% at current exchange rates to 44 billion euros this year.

“We have a two-speed world, with Europe and the U.S. strongly hit by the second wave and by social and political uncertainty, while China is relentlessly accelerating day after day,” Federica Levato, a partner at Bain, said.

Fourth-quarter sales are expected to drop by 10%, although the decline could be bigger depending on how much the new shutdowns hit the crucial Christmas season.

Revenues for the likes of Louis Vuitton owner LVMH, Hermes and Prada should partly recover in 2021, although Bain says it will take until the end of 2022 or even 2023 to return to 2019 levels.

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated three trends, Bain said, with purchases online almost doubling from 12% in 2019 to 23% in 2020, and e-commerce set to become the leading channel for luxury purchases by 2025.

International travel curbs have led to people buying more in their home countries, while shoppers born from 1981 onwards now account for almost 60% of total purchases.

($1 = 0.8425 euros)

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi and Claudia Cristoferi; Editing by Alexander Smith)

Factbox: U.S. election: key tallies, undetermined states, certification deadlines

(Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden won the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, beating Republican President Donald Trump after a longer-than-usual process of counting mail-in ballots that a record number of Americans relied on during the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden, who surpassed the 270 Electoral College votes needed to clinch the presidency on Saturday, ended with 306, Edison Research projected on Friday. Trump closed out the race at 232 Electoral College votes, according to Edison’s tally.

Votes, however, still need to be certified in most states and tallies are being challenged in several, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. At the same time, the Trump campaign has signaled it may seek a recount in Wisconsin.

Here are the key counts in the White House race, as of 3:25 p.m. EST on Friday (2025 GMT), as well as vote certification deadlines.

ELECTORAL COLLEGE: Biden 306; Trump 232

POPULAR VOTE:

Biden – 77,973,369; Trump – 72,654,368;

Biden leads by 5,319,001, or 5.3 million votes.

Biden – 50.8%; Trump 47.4%

VOTE CERTIFICATION DEADLINES:

Arizona – Deadline is Nov. 30

Georgia – Deadline is Nov. 20

Michigan – Deadline is Nov. 23

North Carolina – Deadline is Nov. 24

Pennsylvania – Deadline is Nov. 23

Wisconsin – Deadline is Dec. 1

(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Biden moves forward, names longtime adviser chief of staff

By Trevor Hunnicutt and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden on Wednesday named longtime adviser Ron Klain as his White House chief of staff, his first major appointment, as he builds his administration regardless of whether President Donald Trump accepts the election results.

Klain, 59, served as Biden’s chief of staff when he was vice president under President Barack Obama and had been widely expected to be named to the post.

He also has experience battling a public health crisis, as he worked as Obama’s “Ebola Czar” in 2014 during an outbreak of that virus in Africa. A fierce critic of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, Klain is expected to be a key figure in Biden’s response to the health crisis.

As Biden moved toward assuming office, Trump’s campaign filed a federal lawsuit in Michigan as it continued its long-shot legal strategy of trying to overturn the election results in key states.

All week, Biden has paid little public attention to Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, instead focusing on transition issues as he prepares to be sworn in on Jan. 20.

Biden clinched victory last Saturday as he won a series of battleground states to exceed the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines who wins the presidency. Biden also was winning the national popular vote by more than 5 million ballots with a few states still counting votes.

Trump has refused to concede, and his administration has resisted cooperating with transition efforts.

Democrats and other critics have accused Trump of aiming to undermine public trust in the U.S. electoral system and delegitimize Biden’s victory through unproven and anecdotal claims of voter fraud as Trump, the first U.S. president to lose a re-election bid since 1992, desperately tries to cling to power.

In Klain, Biden brings in a trusted and experienced operative who also served as Vice President Al Gore’s top aide during Bill Clinton’s administration. He served as an outside adviser to Biden during the campaign and the two have a relationship dating back to Biden’s years as a U.S. senator from Delaware.

As Biden’s chief of staff during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, Klain helped oversee the implementation of the $787 billion Recovery Act that boosted the cratering economy.

In 2014, he earned plaudits from public health experts as the government’s Ebola response coordinator.

“Ron has been invaluable to me over the many years that we have worked together, including as we rescued the American economy from one of the worst downturns in our history in 2009 and later overcame a daunting public health emergency in 2014,” Biden said in a statement.

“His deep, varied experience and capacity to work with people all across the political spectrum is precisely what I need in a White House chief of staff.”

NO SURRENDER

Trump’s new lawsuit in Michigan appeared unlikely to alter the outcome in a state he won in 2016 but was losing by roughly 148,000 votes, or 2.6 percentage points, in unofficial Michigan vote totals, according to Edison Research.

The lawsuit made allegations of voting misconduct, with the focus on the Democratic stronghold of Wayne County, which includes Detroit. Jake Rollow, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of State, said the Trump campaign was promoting false claims to erode public confidence in the election.

“It does not change the truth: Michigan’s elections were conducted fairly, securely, transparently, and the results are an accurate reflection of the will of the people,” Rollow said in a statement.

Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced a hand recount of all ballots cast in the state’s 159 counties. He said it was expected to begin this week and would be finished in time to certify the results by a Nov. 20 deadline.

Biden became the election winner even without Georgia factored in. He held a lead of just over 14,000 votes, or 0.3 percentage point, in Georgia, a Southern state that Democrats have not carried in a presidential election since 1992.

Judges have tossed out several Trump lawsuits, and legal experts say the litigation has scant chance of changing the outcome.

The lawsuits are part of a broader effort to find evidence to back up Trump’s fraud allegations and forge a case that could end up at the Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority including three justices appointed by him.

One Republican strategist with ties to the White House said the legal maneuvers and push for recounts were aimed at coming up with support for Trump’s claims.

The strategist, like many others close to the effort, acknowledged the Trump campaign faced an uphill struggle.

“They’re looking at throwing up a hundred Hail Marys,” he said, using a football term referring to a desperation pass at the end of a game.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel, Andy Sullivan, Tim Reid, Noeleen Walder, Jarrett Renshaw, Steve Holland, Susan Heavey, Julia Harte, Jan Wolfe, Jason Lange and Tim Ahmann; Writing by Daniel Trotta, Paul Simao and James Oliphant; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)