Dallas orders curfew after tornado shreds homes; thousands without power

Dallas orders curfew after tornado shreds homes; thousands without power
(Reuters) – Police declared a curfew on Monday in parts of Dallas where a powerful tornado tore apart homes and flipped cars, leaving tens of thousands without power for a second night.

Three people were reported hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries after the Sunday storm ripped through north Dallas with maximum wind speeds of 140 mph (225 kph), according to the National Weather Service.

Emergency management workers went door to door in areas such as Preston Hollow and Richardson, checking homes without roofs or crushed by fallen trees, tagging structures with orange spray paint.

“#DallasTornado you took my job! my school!” one Twitter user, Monica Badillo, posted, along with images of shattered windows and debris at Primrose School in Preston Hollow, where she said she worked.

The Dallas Police Department (DPD) asked residents to stay indoors between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m. and told non-residents to stay out of areas where the twister left a miles-long swath of destruction.

“DPD is urging residents to remain vigilant and not enter the impacted areas for their own safety,” the department said, adding it had received reports of looting that had so far turned out to be false.

Dozens of residents were expected to spend the night at a leisure complex turned into a shelter near Love Field Airport, city authorities said.

The winds were powerful enough to cave in a Home Depot <HD.N> do-it-yourself store, leaving a mangled mess of ceiling beams.

The tornado caused traffic chaos, with numerous roads blocked and dozens of stop lights out, transport authorities said.

Fire rescue officials said it would take another day to make a final assessment of the destruction, with less than half of the affected area checked by nightfall.

About 42,000 people were without power by Monday evening, according to utility firm Oncor, which pressed helicopters and drones into its effort to find and fix damaged lines.

Some residents should prepare for a possible multi-day outage as destroyed electric equipment is rebuilt, it added.

Although no fatalities were reported in the Dallas area, severe storms were blamed for at least three deaths in Oklahoma and one in Arkansas, state authorities said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Gabriella Borter in New York and Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Clarence Fernandez)

Homes destroyed, thousands without power after tornado rips through Dallas

Homes destroyed, thousands without power after tornado rips through Dallas
(Reuters) – Emergency responders on Monday were assessing damage from a tornado that plowed through parts of northern Dallas late on Sunday, knocking out power to more than 175,000 homes and businesses and delaying flights at regional airports.

The city’s emergency management department said on its website that 100 traffic lights were without power and several more were knocked down on Monday morning, and crews were still surveying the damage. There were no reports of fatalities.

Some 63,000 homes and businesses in Dallas county were still without power on Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.

The storm left a miles-long swath of destruction through Dallas, hitting near the Love Field airport in the city’s north, the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland said early on Monday.

Video footage on Twitter showed collapsed roofs, overturned cars and homes reduced to piles of debris in the wake of the twister in Richardson, Texas, a northeast suburb of Dallas. Images showed the roof and walls of a Home Depot <HD.N> store had caved in, exposing a mangled web of ceiling beams.

“It was exactly one tornado that hit at 9:02 p.m.,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Roth.

“We also saw golf ball- and baseball-sized hail in some areas and a narrow swath of north Dallas that got between one to three inches of rain,” Roth said, or the equivalent of 2.5 cm to 7.6 cm.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Alex Richardson and Steve Orlofsky)

‘How can this be?’ Victim’s father testifies in Dallas wrong-apartment murder trial

By Brad Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) – Texas prosecutors on Wednesday said a jury should sentence former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger to at least 28 years in prison for mistakenly entering a black neighbor’s apartment and shooting him to death as he ate ice cream.

The jury could sentence Guyger, 31, to life in prison or as little as five years behind bars for murdering 26-year-old Botham Jean on Sept. 6, 2018.

Jean’s father cried as he told the jury of his intense pain following the murder of his son, who he said brought joy to those around him.

“How could we lose Botham – such a sweet boy? He tried his best to live a good honest life. He loved God. He loved everyone,” Bertrum Jean said as he wept. “How can this be possible? I’ll never see him again. I want to see him!”

Jean’s slaying by a white police officer had provoked street protests, particularly after prosecutors initially opted to charge Guyger with manslaughter rather than murder.

Lawyers for the victim’s family said they believed the verdict was the first time a white female police officer had been found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of an unarmed black man.

“This is a historic case and history provides us with a teachable moment,” said civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who also represented the family of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager shot and killed in 2012 by a civilian neighborhood watchman who was later cleared in court.

This case was unlike other recent high-profile killings, such as those of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota, since Guyger was not on duty or responding to a reported crime when she fired.

State prosecutors hammered at racist and violent text messages and social media posts that Guyger made in the months leading up to Jean’s killing.

One text Guyger wrote in January 2018 stated how she would like to use pepper spray on the crowd at a Martin Luther King Jr. parade in Dallas. In another she wrote that her black police colleagues “just have a different way of working and it shows.”

Prosecutor LaQuita Long told the jury that this past weekend marked the second birthday Jean’s family had mourned him since his death.

“I’m going to encourage you that the number you return with should be no lower than 28 years,” Long said. “That is what Botham would have celebrated on Sunday.”

Lawyers for Guyger called her mother, sister, a few fellow police officers and several acquaintances to the stand. They all said the former police officer had a caring personality.

LaWanda Clark, a longtime drug addict, told jurors how Guyger had ticketed her during a bust at a drug den a few years ago, but told the woman that she could “continue on the road that you’re on – or this can be your ticket out.”

Clark said she went through a rehab program, is now sober and employed, and credits Guyger with turning her life around.

“She let me know that I mattered,” Clark said. “That she didn’t just see me as an addict.”

Defense lawyer Toby Shook asked the jury to consider the unusual circumstances of this case, noting that Guyger “was not on duty. She just wanted to go home.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and David Gregorio)

Jury finds Dallas police officer guilty in shooting death of her neighbor

FILE PHOTO: Amber Guyger, who is charged in the killing of Botham Jean in his own home, arrives on the first day of the trial in Dallas, Texas, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jeremy Lock/File Photo

By Bruce Tomaso

DALLAS (Reuters) – A Dallas jury found former police officer Amber Guyger guilty on Tuesday of murder when she accidentally walked into a neighbor’s apartment thinking it was her own and shot him dead as he ate ice cream.

The Sept. 6, 2018, killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black PwC accountant, by a white officer sparked street protests, particularly when prosecutors initially opted to bring the lesser charge of manslaughter against Guyger, 31.

“We the jury unanimously find the defendant Amber Guyger guilty of murder as charged in the indictment,” Judge Tammy Kemp read aloud to the courtroom from the jurors’ statement. A sob, which sounded like it came from Guyger’s bench, cut the judge off and Kemp paused to address the courtroom: “No outbursts.”

Guyger, who spent four years on the force before the killing, faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the slaying. She took the rare step of testifying in her own defense during her trial, tearfully expressing regret for shooting Jean but saying she had believed her life was in danger when she pulled the trigger.

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I have to live with this every single day,” Guyger told the jury of eight women and four men.

In cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus asked her, “When you shot him twice, you intended to kill him, didn’t you?”

“I did,” Guyger responded, in a calm voice.

Prosecutors also argued that Guyger did little to help Jean even after realizing her mistake, calling the 911 emergency phone number for an ambulance but not administering first aid.

Hermus also told the jury that Guyger missed blatant clues that she was not in her own apartment – including the smell of marijuana smoke – because she was distracted after a 16-minute phone conversation on her commute with her former police partner. Guyger testified that the call was in relation to work.

The shooting stood in contrast to cases like the killings of Michael Brown in Missouri and Philando Castile in Minnesota. Guyger shot Jean while she was off duty, rather than while responding to a reported crime.

In her testimony, Guyger told jurors that the shooting “is not about hate; it’s about being scared.”

Neither prosecutors nor the defense focused on race during the trial.

(Reporting by Bruce Tomaso in Dallas, additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Austin; Editing by Scott Malone, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Crane collapses on Dallas apartment building, killing one, injuring six

A construction crane collapses amidst high winds in Dallas, Texas, U.S., June 9, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video. Sophie Daigle via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A construction crane, apparently toppled by high winds, collapsed onto an apartment house in Dallas on Sunday and sliced through five floors of the building, killing at least one person and injuring six others, a city fire and rescue spokesman said.

The building’s parking garage was also heavily damaged, and authorities planned a thorough search of the entire structure for anyone else who may have been trapped or killed inside, the spokesman, Jason Evans, told reporters at the scene.

“We’re hoping that what we have at this point is where it ends” in terms of casualties, Evans said during the televised news briefing.

The collapse occurred just before 2 p.m. CDT as a bout of severe weather blew through the city, according to Evans and a number of eyewitness accounts reported in the news media.

A nearby resident identified as Abbey Kearney told CNN that she and her husband saw the crane come down on the Elan City Lights apartment building in downtown Dallas just as extremely high winds kicked up in the area.

“It just sliced through the building … like a hot knife through butter,” she said.

Evans said one person was found dead in a residential portion of the five-story building hardest hit by the fallen crane, and six others were taken to hospitals, two of them in critical condition.

Local media reports said the person who died was a woman.

While the precise cause of the accident was not immediately determined, Evans said there was a “strong possibility that yes, the wind did play some role in the collapse of the crane itself.”

The crane broke into several pieces that fell into different portions of the apartment building, located across the street from a large construction site, Evans said. He said did not know whether the crane was in operation at the time.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

FAA to order inspections of jet engines after Southwest blast

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

By Alwyn Scott and Alana Wise

(Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said it will order inspection of about 220 aircraft engines as investigators have found that a broken fan blade touched off an engine explosion this week on a Southwest flight, killing a passenger.

The regulator said late on Wednesday it plans to finalize the air-worthiness directive within the next two weeks. The order, which it initially proposed in August following an incident in 2016, will require ultrasonic inspection within the next six months of the fan blades on all CFM56-7B engines that have accrued a certain number of takeoffs.

Airlines said that because fan blades may have been repaired and moved to other engines, the order would affect far more than 220 of the CFM56-7Bs, which are made by a partnership of France’s Safran &lt;SAF.PA&gt; and General Electric &lt;GE.N&gt;.

The CFM56 engine on Southwest &lt;LUV.N&gt; flight 1380 blew apart over Pennsylvania on Tuesday, about 20 minutes after the Dallas-bound flight left New York’s LaGuardia Airport with 149 people on board. The explosion sent shrapnel ripping into the fuselage of the Boeing 737-700 plane and shattered a window.

Bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43, was killed when she was partially pulled through a gaping hole next to her seat as the cabin suffered rapid decompression. Fellow passengers were able to pull her back inside but she died of her injuries.

On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the incident began when one of the engine’s 24 fan blades snapped off from its hub. Investigators found that the blade had suffered metal fatigue at the point of the break.

Sumwalt said he could not yet say if the incident, the first deadly airline accident in the United States since 2009, pointed to a fleet-wide problem in the Boeing 737-700.

Southwest crews were inspecting similar engines the airline had in service, focusing on the 400 to 600 oldest of the CFM56 engines, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. It was the second time this kind of engine had failed on a Southwest jet in the past two years, prompting airlines around the world to step up inspections.

A NTSB inspection crew was also combing over the Boeing &lt;BA.N&gt; 737-700 for signs of what caused the engine to explode.

Sumwalt said the fan blade, after suffering metal fatigue where it attached to the engine hub, has a second fracture about halfway along its length. Pieces of the plane were found in rural Pennsylvania by investigators who tracked them on radar. The metal fatigue would not have been observable by looking at the engine from the outside, Sumwalt said.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a plane window, almost sucking Riordan out.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo &lt;WFC.N&gt; banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the company said.

Videos posted on social media showed passengers grabbing for oxygen masks and screaming as the plane, piloted by Tammie Jo Shults, a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot, prepared for the descent into Philadelphia.

The airline expected to wrap up its inspection of the engines it was targeting in about 30 days.

The GE-Safran partnership that built the engine said it was sending about 40 technicians to help with Southwest’s inspections.

Pieces of the engine including its cowling – which covers its inner workings – were found about 60 miles (100 km) from Philadelphia airport, Sumwalt said. The investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the FAA to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

(editing by David Stamp)

U.S. inspectors probe deadly Southwest jet engine explosion

U.S. NTSB investigators are on scene examining damage to the engine of the Southwest Airlines plane in this image released from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 17, 2018. NTSB/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The National Transportation Safety Board on Wednesday was inspecting the wrecked engine of a Southwest Airlines Co jet that blew up in mid air, killing a passenger in the first deadly U.S. commercial airline accident in nine years.

NTSB officials retrieved the flight data recorder from the Boeing 737-700, which will be sent to Washington for review, as airlines around the world stepped up inspection of engines on that model of aircraft.

Southwest Flight 1380, which took off from New York for Dallas, Texas, with 144 passengers and five crew members aboard, made an emergency landing in Philadelphia on Tuesday after an engine on the plane ripped apart, killing bank executive Jennifer Riordan, 43.

Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to the Philadelphia International Airport this morning after the airline crew reported damage to one of the aircraft's engines, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

Emergency personnel monitor the damaged engine of Southwest Airlines Flight 1380, which diverted to the Philadelphia International Airport this morning after the airline crew reported damage to one of the aircraft’s engines, on a runway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania U.S. April 17, 2018. REUTERS/Mark Makela

It was the second incident involving a failure of the same sort of engine, the CFM56, made by a partnership of France’s Safran and General Electric, on a Southwest jet in the past two years.

Passengers described scenes of panic as a piece of shrapnel from the engine shattered a window on the aircraft, almost sucking a female passenger out.

“All I could think of in that moment was, I need to communicate with my loved ones,” passenger Marty Martinez told ABC’s Good Morning America on Wednesday. During the incident, he logged on to the plane’s in-flight WiFi service to send messages to his family.

“I thought, these are my last few moments on Earth and I want people to know what happened,” Martinez said.

Southwest Airlines experienced an unrelated safety incident early on Wednesday when a Phoenix-bound flight was forced to land at Nashville airport shortly after takeoff because of bird strike.

The airline said it would inspect the fan blades of CFM56 engines on all of its 737 jets within 30 days. Minimal flight disruptions may result, it said.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said on Tuesday at the Philadelphia airport that a preliminary investigation found an engine fan blade missing, having apparently broken off, and that there was metal fatigue at the point where it would normally be attached.

Sumwalt said the investigation could take 12 to 15 months to complete.

In August 2016, a Southwest flight made a safe emergency landing in Pensacola, Florida, after a fan blade separated from the same type of engine and debris ripped a hole above the left wing. That incident prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to propose last year that similar fan blades undergo ultrasonic inspections and be replaced if they failed.

Riordan’s death was the first in a U.S. commercial aviation accident since 2009, according to NTSB statistics.

Riordan was a Wells Fargo banking executive and well-known community volunteer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, according to a Wells Fargo official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Graff and Bernadette Baum)

Some Oklahoma teachers find the grass really is greener in Texas

Former Oklahoma teacher Chelsea Price, 34, helps a 2nd grade student with an assignment on an iPad in her classroom in Grapevine, Texas, U.S., April 4, 2018. Courtesy Chelsea Price/Handout via REUTERS

By Lisa Maria Garza

GRAPEVINE, Texas (Reuters) – After years of poor pay, supply shortages and overcrowded classes, former Oklahoma teacher Chelsea Price decided the best way to pursue the profession she loves was to leave her home state and head south to Texas.

The harsh economic realities of teaching in Oklahoma, where school salaries are some of the lowest in the United States, have created an exodus to neighboring states where wages are higher.

As a consequence, Oklahoma is grappling with a teacher shortage that has forced school districts to cut curricula and deploy nearly 2,000 emergency-certified instructors as a stop-gap measure.

“It just got to the point where it was really defeating,” said Price, 34, who last year moved to the Dallas suburb of Grapevine with her husband and 10-year-old daughter to start a job as a second-grade teacher.

Crossing the Red River that separates Oklahoma and Texas meant a salary increase of about 40 percent for Price, who has a master’s degree. She saw few prospects of improving the lot of her family by staying put.

Price earned around $30,000 a year when she began teaching in Oklahoma. When she left 11 years later, she was earning just under $40,000. At her new position, Price earns about $55,000.

The benefits transcend salary. There is a cap on class sizes and every student has an iPad, which Price said makes her job easier.

In Oklahoma, where educators statewide walked off the job this week to protest years of low pay and budget cuts to the school system, teacher complaints range from decaying infrastructure, students’ having to share worn-out textbooks and teachers’ having to dip into their own pockets to buy supplies for underfunded classes.

In contrast, the northern Dallas suburbs, an hour or less south of the Oklahoma border, enjoy increased spending on schools as population growth in recent years, which has outpaced nearly every area of the United States, has driven up local tax revenues.

Grapevine, with about 50,000 people, has a refurbished main street, a major resort hotel and easy commutes to major employers in Dallas and Fort Worth. Like many of the northern Dallas-area suburbs, new parks, schools and businesses are springing up in a region seen as a place of relatively low crime, good employment prospects and affordable housing.

Oklahoma City and Tulsa also have relatively low unemployment rates and spectacularly refurbished urban areas, but median household income and wages are far lower than in the northern Dallas suburbs.

Price and other teachers from Oklahoma have followed the money.

“If I can find a better situation for all of us, then why wouldn’t I?” she said.

Since 2010, Texas has seen about 3,500 teachers from Oklahoma apply for teaching certificates, the most of any state, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“LOSING OUR BEST, BRIGHTEST”

About 11 percent of Oklahoma teachers overall leave the state or profession every year, according to data from the Oklahoma State School Boards Association, an umbrella group.

More than 80 percent leave over low pay, according to the data. In constant dollar terms, the pay for Oklahoma teachers has dropped by about 15 percent over the last 25 years, federal data showed.

“Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been devastating for children. When schools can’t find qualified teachers, they either must increase class sizes or hire under-qualified, under-prepared teachers,” said Shawn Hime, executive director of the association.

Every state bordering Oklahoma offers higher wages for teachers, with mean wages in the neighboring states about $8,600 to $16,000 higher, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Striking teachers in Oklahoma are seeking a $10,000 raise.

Those leaving are often teachers who have several years of experience and generally hold a master’s degree or higher, according to a survey from Theresa Cullen, an associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Oklahoma. The average salary increase for those who fled to other states was about $19,000, the survey showed.

“We are losing our best, brightest and most prepared,” Cullen said.

Of neighboring states, Texas offers the highest mean wages. Ginny Duncan, 24, decided to relocate there two years after starting her teaching career at an elementary school in Tulsa.

“I’m moving to Texas this summer because I can’t afford to live here,” she said in a telephone interview.

Duncan, who holds degrees in both special education and regular education, earns about $32,000 a year as a teacher and needs to work three summer jobs to make ends meet. If she can land a similar teaching job in the Dallas area, she could earn about $20,000 a year more.

“I love teaching so much,” Duncan said. “I wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I have a special passion for special needs kids.” But her Oklahoma salary “makes it so hard to actually do it.”

(Additional reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Frank McGurty and Leslie Adler)

U.S. police deaths on duty spiked in 2016: FBI

New York Police officers take part in a procession carrying the body of Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, who was fatally shot in a shootout, at the Jacobi Medical Center in the neighborhood of Bronx in New York, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sixty-six police officers were killed on the job by felons in 2016, up about 61 percent from 41 deaths a year ago, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Monday.

The number was the second highest since 2011, when 72 officers were killed by felons, according to the FBI report.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement called the numbers “shocking” and “unacceptable,” and said the Justice Department would work toward reducing violent crime.

The findings bolster the so-called Blue Lives Matter movement, which advocates tougher hate-crime sentences for the murder of police officers. It was launched in response to Black Lives Matter, a campaign against police brutality toward black men, and gained momentum last year after police officers were killed in both Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Forty-one officers killed last year were employed by city police departments, and 30 officers were located in the U.S. South, the annual data show.

The most common circumstances involved ambushes, followed by responses to disturbance calls.

Accidental deaths of police officers in 2016 rose to 52 from 45 in 2015, mostly involving vehicles, the data show.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to develop strategies to better protect law enforcement officials and pursue legislation to increase penalties against those who kill or injure officers in the line of duty.

 

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Richard Chang)

 

Texas crews search for survivors in wake of Harvey’s floods

A Marine Corp vehicle patrols a flooded street as a result of Tropical Storm Harvey in Port Arthur, Texas, U.S., August 31, 2017.

By Emily Flitter and Andy Sullivan

PORT ARTHUR, Texas/HOUSTON (Reuters) – A week after Hurricane Harvey came ashore in Texas, rescuers kept up a marathon search for survivors on Friday as large pockets of land remained under water after one of the costliest natural disasters to hit the United States.

The storm has displaced more than 1 million people with 44 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of about 120,000 people.

Chemicals maker Arkema SA and public health officials warned of the risk of more explosions and fires at a plant owned by the company. On Thursday blasts rocked the facility, about 25 miles east of Houston and zoned off inside a 1.5-mile (2.4-km) exclusion zone, after it was engulfed by floodwater.

With the presence of water-borne contaminants a growing concern, the National Weather Service issued flood watches from Arkansas into Ohio on Friday as the remnants of the storm made their way through the U.S. heartland.

The Neches River, which flows into Beaumont and nearby Port Arthur, was forecast for a record crest from Friday well above flood levels. The flooding and loss of drinking water forced the evacuation of a hospital on Thursday.

Two of the last people remaining in their flooded home near the river, Kent Kirk, 58, and Hersey Kirk, 59, were pulled to safety late Thursday.

“They were the last holdouts, the last house,” said Dennis Landy, a neighbor who had spent the day in his airboat ferrying people from a small, remote group of houses near Rose City, Texas, close to the Neches’ banks, to safety.

It took an hour of coaxing by a rescuer but Hersey Kirk finally let herself be carried from her wheelchair to the airboat and then to a Utah Air National Guard helicopter.

“I’m losing everything again,” she said. “We got flooded in Ike, in Rita. My husband just got a new car – well it was new to him anyway. It’s sitting in 5 feet of water.”

Harvey roared ashore late last Friday as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in half a century. It dumped unprecedented quantities of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (482 km) in the southeast corner of the state.

 

COST OF UP TO $75 BILLION

Moody’s Analytics estimated the economic cost from Harvey for southeastern Texas at $51 billion to $75 billion, ranking it among the costliest storms in U.S. history. Much of the damage has been to Houston, the U.S. energy hub.

At least 44 people were dead or feared dead in six counties including and around Houston, officials said. Another 19 remained missing.

Some 779,000 Texans have been told to leave their homes and another 980,000 fled voluntarily amid dangers of new flooding from swollen rivers and reservoirs, according to federal estimates.

Tens of thousands crowded in evacuation centers across the region.

Evacuees affected by Tropical Storm Harvey take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S.  August 31, 2017

Evacuees affected by Tropical Storm Harvey take shelter at the George R. Brown Convention Center in downtown Houston, Texas, U.S. August 31, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A new hurricane, Irma, had strengthened into a Category 3 storm, the midpoint of the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, on Friday. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and neighboring Haiti by the middle of next week.

Seventy percent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston and has a population of about 4.6 million people, was covered with 18 inches (45 cm) or more of water, county officials said.

As signs of normal life returned to Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, there were concerns about health risks from bacteria and pollutants in floodwater.

The Houston Astros baseball team, forced to play away from the city due to the floods, will return and play at its home field on Saturday. It has invited shelter residents to attend its double header against the New York Mets, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said on his Twitter feed.

Flooding has shut some of the nation’s largest oil refineries and hit U.S. energy infrastructure, which is centered along the Gulf Coast. It has sent gasoline prices climbing and disrupted global fuel supplies. [O/R]

The national average for a regular gallon of gasoline rose to $2.519 as of Friday morning, the highest since August 2015, up 17 cents since before the storm hit, according to motorists advocacy group AAA.

The storm knocked out about a quarter of U.S. oil refining capacity and the signs of restarts were tentative.

In major Texas cities including Dallas, there were long lines at gas stations, prompting state regulators to tell people they were sparking a panic and saying there were ample fuel supplies.

Power outages had decreased from peaks of over 300,000 to about 160,000 homes and business in Texas and Louisiana as of Friday morning, data from utilities showed.

 

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Marianna Parraga, Ernest Scheyder, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, David Gaffen in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Scott Malone Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Trott)