YOUR MONEY: Renovating after a natural disaster? Planning is key

FILE PHOTO: Damage caused by Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For the Parkers of Houston, Texas, there will be no summer vacation this year because they are still paying off the dent in their finances left by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.

The couple joins a growing list of people forced to renovate or completely rebuild their homes after a natural disaster, as severe weather events wreak damage throughout the country and spending in their wake drags out over multiple years.

Fixing up homes after a natural disaster barely used to register in home renovation data. A new survey released June 5 by the home site Houzz.com shows that 6% of home renovators in 2018 were addressing damage from a natural disaster, which jumps to 12% for such renovations over the past five years.

Regionally, those numbers are continuing to climb, said Nino Sitchinava, Houzz principal economist, particularly for California, Texas and Florida.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has also been looking into the impact of natural disasters on the home renovation market.

“We’ve been studying home improvement for 25 years and losses from national disasters haven’t been on the radar. Suddenly, we’re seeing this pop up as a significant share,” said Kermit Baker, director of the remodeling future program at the Harvard center.

In 2016-2017, the most recent year reported by the center, spending on disasters repairs exceeded $27 billion in the United States, against $14 billion in 1996-1997.

Preparing for a disaster is drastically different than paying for a planned kitchen makeover.

“You have to prepare, prepare, prepare. Whatever that means, to you – do it,” warned William Begal, an independent consultant based in the Washington, D.C. area who ran a renovation company for 18 years.

PAYING THE PRICE

The Parkers now know all of this first hand. When their house in the Linkwood neighborhood flooded, there were some things they needed to do right away, yet they are still spending two years later.

The presence of water means you have to move fast. They had to rip out carpet and drywall themselves, and then hire a crew out-of-pocket before any insurance adjustor came around.

They also could not live in their house while it was being fixed, so they forked out $3,000 a month for a rental.

Once the insurance kicked in, they received a small sum from an escrow account a few weeks after the flood, and then had to wait for the project to be 50% complete before they got more. They did not get the final payment until the project was done.

“It was key we had stashed away an emergency fund so we were not spiraling downward,” said Angie Parker, 38, who is a personal fitness trainer in the Houston area.

Parker said she spent many hours on the phone with the insurance company, crying sometimes, being aggressive when she had to be.

Luckily, the family had flood insurance, which was a requirement for their mortgage in a flood-prone neighborhood.

Most people, however, do not have flood insurance, and this further delays rebuilding efforts.

Yet, there were still issues. An inadvertently checked box on a form meant the contents of their house were not covered. So they were out more than $100,000 for furniture, clothing and housewares, and lost all their appeals to have those covered.  

Jerry Linebaugh, an investment advisor representative who owns JLine Financial near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had a similar experience when his office flooded after a rain event in 2018 that was not even a named storm – just heavy rain over three days.

“You have to have a cash reserve, you have to have your insurance in line, you have to do disaster drills,” said Linebaugh, who had planned for the worst ever since Hurricane Katrina hit nearby.

Linebaugh had a system set up to transfer his office lines to cell phones and keep his operations going from hotel rooms and his employees’ homes.

He had six months of operating expenses to float his business. And he needed all it, because he did not have flood insurance.

It was four months before Linebaugh won an appeal with his business insurance policy to cover losses based on an inland marine clause, which worked for him because the damage started with water coming in through a bathroom drain.

“Probably thousands of people didn’t get that claim check because they didn’t know about that,” said Linebaugh.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum)

Indonesian divers find crashed Lion Air jet’s second black box

FILE PHOTO - Wreckage recovered from Lion Air flight JT610, that crashed into the sea, lies at Tanjung Priok port in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 29, 2018. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan/File Photo

By Cindy Silviana

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian authorities on Monday said they will immediately begin to download contents of a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) from a Lion Air jet that crashed into the sea near Jakarta more than two months ago, killing all 189 people on board.

The crash was the world’s first of a Boeing Co 737 MAX jet and the deadliest of 2018, and the recovery of the aircraft’s second black box from the Java Sea north of Jakarta on Monday may provide an account of the last actions of the doomed jet’s pilots.

“We have our own laboratory and personnel to do it,” Haryo Satmiko, deputy chief of the transportation safety committee, told Reuters.

Satmiko said it had in the past taken up to three months to download, analyze and transcribe the contents of recorders.

Contact with flight JT610 was lost 13 minutes after it took off on Oct. 29 from the capital, Jakarta, heading north to the tin-mining town of Pangkal Pinang.

A preliminary report by Indonesia’s transport safety commission focused on airline maintenance and training, as well as the response of a Boeing anti-stall system and a recently replaced sensor, but did not give a cause for the crash.

A group of relatives of victims urged the transportation safety committee to reveal “everything that was recorded” and to work independently.

Navy Lieutenant Colonel Agung Nugroho told Reuters a weak signal from the recorder was detected several days ago and it was found buried deep in soft mud on the seafloor in water about 30 meters (98 ft) deep.

“We don’t know what damage there is but it has obvious scratches on it,” Nugroho said.

Pictures supplied by an official from the transportation agency showed chipped bright orange paint on the CVR memory unit, but no major dents.

Nurcahyo Utomo, an investigator at the safety committee, told reporters it should take no more than five days to download the data, but if there was a problem the CVR would be sent to the manufacturer.

“We hope it can be done as soon as possible because all the Boeing operators are waiting,” said Utomo, adding that investigators hoped to complete the full report within a year of the crash.

With the recovery of the CVR, officials said there was no plan to continue searching for other parts of the wrecked plane, including an angle of attack sensor that was suspected to have been faulty.

The navy’s Nugroho said human remains had been found near the location of the CVR, about 50 meters from where the crashed jet’s other black box, the flight data recorder (FDR), was found three days after the crash.

Investigators brought in a navy ship last week after a 10-day, 38 billion rupiah ($2.70 million), an effort funded by Lion Air failed to find the recorder. Bureaucratic wrangling and funding problems hampered the initial search.

The L3 Technologies Inc CVR was designed to send acoustic pings for 90 days after a crash in water, according to an online brochure from the manufacturer.

That would mean that after Jan. 27, investigators could have faced a far bigger problem in finding the CVR buried along with much of the wreckage deep in mud on the sea floor..

Boeing said in a statement on Monday that it was taking “every measure” to fully support this investigation.

“As the investigation continues, Boeing is working closely with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board as a technical advisor to support Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee,” the planemaker said in a statement.

Since the crash, Lion Air has faced scrutiny over its maintenance and training standards, and relatives of victims have filed at least three lawsuits against Boeing.

(Additional reporting by Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Fergus Jensen and Tabita Diela; Editing by Robert Birsel and Darren Schuettler)

Magnitude 4.8 earthquake in Sicily causes damage, injuries

St. Agata church is seen damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

CATANIA, Italy (Reuters) – An earthquake with a magnitude of 4.8 hit an area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily early on Wednesday, damaging buildings and injuring about 30 people, officials said.

Fire fighters are seen next to a house damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

Fire fighters are seen next to a house damaged by an earthquake, measuring magnitude 4.8, at the area north of Catania on the slopes of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy, December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Antonio Parrinello

It occurred two days after Etna, Europe’s highest and most active volcano, erupted, sending a huge column of ash into the sky and causing the temporary closure of Catania airport on Sicily’s eastern coast.

The earthquake hit at 3:19 a.m. (0219 GMT), prompting many people to run out of their homes and sleep in cars. It was felt strongly because its epicenter was a relatively shallow one kilometer deep, officials said.

Television footage showed damage to older buildings in the towns of Santa Venerina and Zafferana Etnea. Several of the area’s centuries-old churches appeared to suffer the most damage. They were empty at the time of the quake.

About 30 people suffered injuries, mostly from falling masonry as they fled from their homes, officials said. About 10 were taken to hospital by ambulances, the others were taken by friends and family members. None of the injuries were serious.

(Writing by Philip Pullella; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Gareth Jones)

U.S. Pacific islands brace for long recovery after ‘catastrophic’ typhoon

A downed power line sits on a damaged building after Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., October 25, 2018 in this image taken from social media. Brad Ruszala via REUTE

(Reuters) – Authorities in the Northern Mariana Islands called for urgent supplies and equipment on Friday and were preparing for weeks without power after being hit by their most powerful typhoon in half a century, killing one woman and causing widespread destruction.

Super Typhoon Yutu, a category five storm, struck the U.S. Western Pacific territory overnight on Wednesday, pulling down hundreds of electricity poles, damaging homes and commercial properties and the international airport on Saipan, located about 6,000 km (3,700 miles) west of Hawaii.

A damaged structure is seen at Saipan International Airport after Super Typhoon Yutu hit the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., October 25, 2018 in this image taken from social media. Brad Ruszala via REUTERS

A damaged structure is seen at Saipan International Airport after Super Typhoon Yutu hit the Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., October 25, 2018 in this image taken from social media. Brad Ruszala via REUTERS

On the island of Tinian, which took a direct hit from Yutu, the mayor asked for tools, machetes and chainsaws to help clear debris and urged residents to be patient and conserve fuel, food and water as emergency supplies had yet to arrive.

“Please be calm, help is on its way,” mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas said in a Facebook Live video.

“Our stores are not opening, restaurants have been destroyed and we are left with what we have in our refrigerators in our homes. We are anxiously awaiting the arrival of emergency of military aircraft.”

With winds of about 270 kph (168 mph), Yutu was the strongest typhoon seen in the archipelago of 52,000 people since 1968, according to governor Ralph Torres.

He said a long recovery period was ahead and he was pressing the central government for a major disaster to be declared and approved by U.S. President Donald Trump, so the Marianas could receive federal disaster assistance.

Torres said a 44-year-old woman in Saipan had been killed while sheltering in an abandoned building that collapsed.

“This is an unfortunate incident,” he said, adding that authorities were focusing on saving and preserving lives.

“Our first responders remain vigilant and (are) working around the clock.”

U.S. health secretary, Alex Azar, declared a public health emergency for the islands on Thursday to boost access to medical care after what he described as a “catastrophic” storm.

Water pipes were damaged and all flights to Saipan’s airport halted. Images on social media showed some buildings near the airport leveled by the storm, beneath them crushed vehicles and debris scattered over large areas.

Some 200-300 power poles had been toppled, and 400-500 were leaning. Authorities requested at least 700 replacements and transformers and said restoring power to pump water was top priority.

Yutu was traveling at 20 kph on Friday, with winds of 180 kph and gusts 220 kph and headed toward the northern Philippines, where the state weather agency said it could make landfall early on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Martin Petty in Manila; Editing by Michael Perry)

California wildfire close to becoming third largest ever in state

Thomas wildfire burns above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in this social media photo by Santa Barbara County Fire Department in Montecito, California, U.S. December 12, 2017. Courtesy Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A California wildfire was close on Saturday to becoming the state’s third largest blaze on record, with more devastation possible from a resurgence of the harsh winds that have fueled the deadly fire’s growth.

The so-called Thomas Fire has destroyed more than 1,000 structures, including about 750 homes, in coastal communities in Southern California since erupting on Dec. 4, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said in a statement.

It has cost $97 million to fight the 256,000-acre (103,600-hectare) blaze, with thousands of firefighters contending with it around the clock and helicopters and airplanes being used to drop retardant on the flames.

Firefighters continue to battle the Thomas fire, a wildfire near Fillmore, California, December 14, 2017.

Firefighters continue to battle the Thomas fire, a wildfire near Fillmore, California, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Gene Blevins

The vast landscape charred by the blaze, which is centered less than 100 miles (161 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, is approaching the 257,314 acres (104,131 hectares) destroyed by California’s Rim Fire in 2013. The Rim Fire is the third-largest blaze on record in the state.

The Thomas Fire is only 35 percent contained and it threatens 18,000 structures, officials said, including some in the wealthy enclave of Montecito just outside the city of Santa Barbara. The blaze is chewing up tall grass and brush as it expands along the scenic Pacific Coast.

The hot Santa Ana winds that have helped the fire grow, at times sending embers far ahead of its main flank, were forecast to remain strong through Saturday evening in the Santa Barbara County mountains, the National Weather Service warned. Gusts of up to 40 miles per hour (64 km/h) were expected.

From Saturday night through Sunday evening, the winds could lash neighboring Ventura County, the Weather Service said. That is where the Thomas Fire first began due to unknown causes, and where it was still burning.

Cal Fire engineer Cory Iverson, 32, died on Thursday while battling the flames near the Ventura County community of Fillmore. Fire officials said Iverson, the blaze’s first fatality, left behind a pregnant wife and 2-year-old daughter.

The Thomas Fire was one of several major blazes that broke out in Southern California this month, although the others have been contained.

The blazes forced many schools to close for days, shut roads and drove hundreds of thousands from their homes. The fires were also responsible for poor air quality throughout Southern California.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Mark Potter)

Quake hits southeast Iran, destroys homes; no fatalities reported

Quake hits southeast Iran, destroys homes; no fatalities reported

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – A strong earthquake of magnitude 6.0 struck southeastern Iran on Friday, injuring at least 42 people and destroying several homes in an area where most people live in villages of mud-walled homes. State media said no deaths had been reported.

Rescue workers, special teams with sniffer dogs and units of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Basij militia forces were sent to the quake-hit areas in Kerman province, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said.

State TV said many residents rushed out of houses in Kerman city and nearby villages and towns, fearing more tremors after some 51 aftershocks following the 6:32 a.m. (0232 GMT) quake.

“The quake destroyed some houses in 14 villages but so far there has been no fatalities,” a local official told state TV. “Fortunately no deaths have been reported so far.”

The quake struck less than three weeks after a magnitude 7.3 earthquake hit villages and towns in Iran’s western Kermansheh province along the mountainous border with Iraq, killing 530 people and injuring thousands of others.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake, at first reported as magnitude 6.3, was centered 36 miles (58 km) northeast of Kerman city, which has a population of more than 821,000. The quake was very shallow, at a depth of 6.2 miles (10 km), which would have amplified the shaking in the poor, sparsely populated area.

Head of Relief and Rescue Organization of Iran’s Red Crescent Morteza Salimi told state television that at least 42 people were injured. Iran’s state news agency IRNA said most of those hurt had minor injuries.

“Assessment teams are surveying the earthquake-stricken areas and villages in Kerman province,” IRNA quoted local official Mohammadreza Mirsadeqi as saying.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said the quake had caused heavy damage in Hojedk town and some villages were hit by power and water cuts.

State TV aired footage of damaged buildings in remote mountainous villages near Hojedk town, the epicenter of the earthquake with a population of 3,000 people. TV said coal mines in the area had been closed because of aftershocks.

Iran’s Red Crescent said emergency shelter, food and water had been sent to the quake-hit areas.

Criss-crossed by several major fault lines, Iran is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world. In 2003, a magnitude 6.6 quake in Kerman province killed 31,000 people and flattened the ancient city of Bam.

(Additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

Weakening Nate brings rain, tornado warnings to U.S. South

A man sits on a bench overlooking a beach covered in debris scattered by Hurricane Nate, in Biloxi, Mississippi, U.S.,

By Rod Nickel and Jessica Resnick-Ault

BILOXI/PASCAGOULA, Miss. (Reuters) – Hurricane Nate weakened to a tropical depression on Sunday after coming ashore in Mississippi, flooding roads and buildings but sparing the state from catastrophic damages.

Maximum sustained winds from Nate, the fourth major storm to hit the United States in less than two months, dropped to 35 miles per hour (55 km per hour) as it moved through Alabama and into Tennessee.

The remnants of the storm spawned tornado warnings in those states and the western portions of North Carolina and South Carolina. It is forecast to bring gusty winds and up to 4 inches (10 cm) of rain to parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York on Monday.

The storm made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest designation by the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Only a few hours earlier, its winds had been blowing at 70 mph (113 kph) but appeared to lack the devastating punch of its recent predecessors.

Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant told reporters there had been no deaths or reports of catastrophic damage. “We are very fortunate this morning and have been blessed,” he said.

Nate killed at least 30 people in Central America before entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and bearing down on the U.S. South. It has also shut down most oil and gas production in the Gulf.

Nate follows hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, which have devastated areas of the Caribbean and southern United States.

The tropical depression’s center will move up through Alabama into Tennessee and Kentucky through Monday, the hurricane center said. Heavy rainfall and storm-surge flooding remained a danger across the region, and the hurricane center said Florida’s Panhandle and parts of Alabama and Georgia might feel tropical storm-force wind gusts.

The storm was expected to bring three to six inches of rain to parts of western North Carolina through midday Monday, with up to 10 inches possible in isolated spots. Power outages, damaged homes and roads closed by debris were all reported in the region.

Nate made its first U.S. landfall on Saturday evening near the mouth of the Mississippi River and then made a second one early on Sunday near Biloxi, Mississippi.

In Biloxi, water surged over roads during the storm and quickly receded on Sunday, leaving a boat that broke loose marooned on the beach. At a Waffle House restaurant, the storm surge deposited a dumpster in its parking lot.

Jeff Pickich, a 46-year-old wine salesman from D’Iberville, Mississippi, was counting his blessings. Heavy winds left only minor damage, blowing down part of a fence on his rental property in Biloxi.

“I’m just glad,” he said, digging fresh holes for fence posts. “I was afraid of the water. The water is Mother Nature. You can’t stop it.”

Water flowed through Ursula Staten’s yard in Biloxi, pushing over part of her fence and scattering debris, but did not breach her house.

“I have a mess,” the retired massage therapist said. “If we had got Irma, I would have lost everything.”

At the Golden Nugget Casino, one of eight Biloxi gaming establishments, workers rushed to clean up mud, debris and minor damage from 3 feet (1 m) of water sloshing into an entrance and the parkade. The gaming room stayed dry.

Three hundred guests remained in the hotel, some eager to try their luck after surviving Nate.

But dangers from the storm remain, with Florida Governor Rick Scott warning of tornadoes springing up in the Panhandle region and Alabama Governor Kay Ivey urging residents to prepare for strong winds and storm surges.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared federal emergencies in Alabama and Florida on Sunday, which provides additional funding for disaster relief.

Mississippi Power had restored electricity to 10,000 customers, but 4,800 were still without it. More than 1,000 people had arrived at shelters, the state Emergency Management Agency said.

Alabama Power said it had restored electricity to 58,000 of 146,000 customers who lost it.

Rainfall of 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 cm), with a maximum of 10 inches (25 cm), was expected east of the Mississippi River in Alabama and Tennessee, the hurricane center said.

Residents walk down a street covered in debris scattered by Hurricane Nate, in Biloxi, Mississippi, U.S., October 8, 2017.

Residents walk down a street covered in debris scattered by Hurricane Nate, in Biloxi, Mississippi, U.S., October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

NEW ORLEANS THREAT DOWNGRADED

Forecast at one point to make landfall in Louisiana, Nate headed farther east and spared many New Orleans parishes that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.

“I had prayed for this – that we would be spared,” said Amos Cormier, president of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana’s equivalent to a county.

Bernice Barthelemy, a 70-year-old Louisiana resident, died from cardiac arrest overnight after telling Reuters on Saturday that she did not mind having to evacuate, Cormier said on Sunday. He attributed her death to the stress of the move.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said he expected that evacuated residents could return home soon.

Vessel traffic and port operations at New Orleans resumed on Sunday afternoon, while the Port of Mobile in Alabama remained closed. Oil ports, producers and refiners in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were planning reopenings as the storm moved inland on Sunday.

Heavy rain is seen at Orange Beach, Alabama, U.S. as Hurricane Nate approaches, on October 7, 2017 in this still image taken from a video obtained via social media. Jacob Kiper, Owensboro, KY/Social Media via REUTERS

Heavy rain is seen at Orange Beach, Alabama, U.S. as Hurricane Nate approaches, on October 7, 2017 in this still image taken from a video obtained via social media. Jacob Kiper, Owensboro, KY/Social Media via REUTERS

The storm curtailed 92 percent of daily oil production and 77 percent of daily natural gas output in the Gulf of Mexico, more than three times the amount affected by Harvey.

The storm doused Central America with heavy rains on Thursday, killing at least 16 people in Nicaragua, 10 in Costa Rica, two in Honduras and two in El Salvador.

 

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Biloxi, Miss. and Jessica Resnick-Ault in Pascagoula, Miss.; Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga, Erwin Seba and Gary McWilliams in Houston; Jonathan Allen in New York; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney)

 

Floridians return to shattered homes as Irma crosses into Georgia

Residents walk through flood waters left in the wake of Hurricane Irma in a suburb of Orlando, Florida, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

By Andy Sullivan and Robin Respaut

FLORIDA CITY/MARCO ISLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Shocked Florida residents returned to their shattered homes on Monday as the weakened Hurricane Irma pushed inland, flooding cities in the northeastern part of the state and leaving millions without power.

Downgraded to a tropical storm early on Monday, Irma had ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes recorded. It cut power to millions of people and ripped roofs off homes as it hit a wide swath of Florida on Sunday and Monday and moved into neighboring states.

Authorities said the storm had killed 39 people in the Caribbean and one in Florida, a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds on the Florida Keys over the weekend.

With sustained winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph), Irma had crossed into Georgia and was located about 47 miles (76 km)northeast of the Florida state capital Tallahassee, the National Hurricane Center said at 2 p.m. ET.

In Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, people returned to the wreckage of trailers shredded by the storm after the city escaped the worst of Irma’s winds but experienced heavy flooding.

Melida Hernandez, 67, who had ridden out the storm at a nearby church, found her home split down the middle by a tree.

“I wanted to cry, but this is what it is, this is life,” Hernandez said.

High winds snapped power lines and left about 7.3 million homes and businesses without power in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. Southeast, state officials and utilities said. They said it could take weeks to complete repairs.

Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday.

Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary. Fort Lauderdale police said they had arrested 19 people for looting.

Some residents who had evacuated the Florida Keys archipelago, where Irma roared ashore on Sunday with winds up to 130 mph (209 kph), grew angry as they tried to return to their homes on Monday.

A few dozen people argued with police who turned them away from the first of a series of bridges leading to the island chain, which officials warned still lacked power, water and cellphone service.

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said it might be weeks before many residents of the Keys were able to return. “The Keys are going to take a while,” Bossert told a regular White House briefing. “I would expect that the Keys are not fit for re-entry for regular citizenry for weeks.”

Irma hit Florida after powering through the Caribbean as a rare Category 5 hurricane. It killed 39 people there, including 10 in Cuba, which was battered over the weekend by ferocious winds and 36-foot (11-meter) waves.

A week earlier Hurricane Harvey flooded a wide swath of Houston. Nearly three months remain in the official Atlantic hurricane season.

Northeastern Florida cities including Jacksonville were flooding on Monday, with police pulling residents from waist-deep water.

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

The city also warned residents to be wary of snakes and alligators driven into the floodwater.

 

BILLIONS IN DAMAGE

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, helped spur a relief rally on Wall Street as fears eased that Irma would cut into U.S. economic growth.

Shares of insurance companies were among the big winners, with Florida-based Federated National, HCI Group and Universal Insurance all up more than 12 percent.

Some 6.5 million people, about one-third of Florida’s population, had been ordered to evacuate their homes ahead of Irma’s arrival. More than 200,000 people sought refuge in about 700 shelters, according to state data.

As shelters began to empty on Monday, some 7,000 people filed out of Germain Arena in Estero, south of Fort Myers. The crowd included Don Sciarretta, who rode out the storm with his 90-year-old friend, Elsie Johnston, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Sciarretta, 73, spent two days without sleep, holding up a slumped-over Johnston and making sure she did not fall out of her chair. He relied on other people in the shelter to bring the pair food, often after waiting in hours-long lines.

“For the next storm, I’ll go somewhere on my own like a hotel or a friend’s house,” Sciarretta said. “I’m not going through this again.”

Shelters across western Florida opened, filled up – and often closed because of overcrowding – after the storm made a western shift on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, attending a ceremony at the Pentagon on the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, vowed a full response to Irma as well as ongoing 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.

On Marco Island, where the storm made its second landfall on Sunday, residents were cleaning up damaged homes and dealing with the downed trees that knocked out power lines and crushed cars.

Salvatore Carvelli, Jr., 45, rode out the storm in DaVinci’s, his Italian restaurant.

“It sounded like a train going through,” Carvelli said.

The winds tore the air conditioner from his restaurant’s roof, he said, adding that the storm surge added to the danger.

“There was no road that you could see,” Carvelli said. “The parking lot was gone, you could fish.”

 

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Orlando, Bernie Woodall, Ben Gruber and Zachary Fagenson 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; Editing by Frances Kerry, Howard Goller and Paul Sim

Oil markets roiled as Harvey hits U.S. petroleum industry

An oil tank damaged by Hurricane Harvey is seen near Seadrift, Texas, August 26, 2017

By Ahmad Ghaddar

LONDON (Reuters) – Oil markets were roiled on Monday after Tropical Storm Harvey wreaked havoc along the U.S. Gulf Coast over the weekend, crippling Houston and its port, and knocking out several refineries as well as some crude production.

U.S. gasoline prices hit two-year highs as massive floods caused by the storm forced refineries in the area to close. In turn, U.S. crude futures fell as the refinery shutdowns could reduce demand for American crude.

Brent futures steadied as pipeline blockades in Libya slashed the OPEC state’s output by nearly 400,000 barrels per day .

Harvey is the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, killing at least two people, causing large-scale flooding, and forcing the closure of Houston port as well as several refineries.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Harvey was moving away from the coast but was expected to linger close to the shore through Tuesday. It said floods would spread from Texas eastward to Louisiana.

Texas is home to 5.6 million bpd of refining capacity, and Louisiana has 3.3 million bpd. Over 2 million bpd of refining capacity was estimated to be offline as a result of the storm.

Spot prices for U.S. gasoline futures surged 7 percent to a peak of $1.7799 per gallon, the highest level since late July 2015, before easing to $1.7341 by 1341 GMT.

U.S. traders were seeking oil product cargoes from North Asia, several refining and shipping sources told Reuters, with transatlantic exports of motor fuel out of Europe expected to surge.

“Global refining margins are going to stay very strong,” said Olivier Jakob, managing director of Petromatrix.

“If (U.S.) refineries shut down for more than a week, Asia will need to run at a higher level, because there’s no spare capacity in Europe.”

About 22 percent, or 379,000 bpd, of Gulf production was idled due to the storm as of Sunday afternoon, the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

There might also be around 300,000 bpd of onshore U.S. production shut in, trading sources said.

Brent crude futures were up 2 cents at $52.43 per barrel. U.S. West Texas Intermediate  crude futures  were down 50 cents at $47.37.

The price moves pushed the WTI discount versus Brent to as much as $5.24 per barrel, the widest in two years.

 

 

(Additional reporting by Henning Gloystein in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson and Edmund Blair)

 

More than 30 injured after tornado hits in Tulsa

Tornado damage from overnight storm in Tulsa 8-7-17

(Reuters) – More than 30 people were injured and dozens of buildings damaged when a tornado hit Tulsa early on Sunday, causing power outages to about 17,000 customers after powerful winds snapped utility poles and downed trees in the Oklahoma city, officials said.

The tornado flipped cars, ripped apart buildings and blew windows out of a high-rise building, images from local TV broadcaster KTUL showed.

Oklahoma emergency officials told local media there were no deaths from the tornado classified by the U.S. National Weather Service as an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning it had winds of about 125 miles per hour (200 kph).

Tornadoes coming in August and hitting at night are rare for Tulsa, the service said.

“The tornado that occurred did so suddenly and unexpectedly,” Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a Facebook post.

The Public Service Company of Oklahoma said as of Sunday afternoon, it had restored power to more than 11,000 customers.

 

 

 

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Richard Chang)