Hurricane Laura slams Louisiana, kills six, but less damage than forecast

By Elijah Nouvelage and Ernest Scheyder

LAKE CHARLES, La. (Reuters) – Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on Thursday, killing six people and flattening buildings across a wide swatch of the state before moving into Arkansas with heavy rains.

Laura’s powerful gusts uprooted trees – and four people were crushed to death in separate incidents of trees falling on homes. The state’s department of health said late Thursday that there were two more fatalities attributed to the hurricane – a man who drowned while aboard a sinking boat and a man who had carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator in his home.

In Westlake, a chemical plant caught fire when hit by Laura, and the flames continued to send a chlorine-infused plume of smoke skyward nearly 24 hours after landfall.

Laura caused less mayhem than forecasts predicted – but officials said it remained a dangerous storm and that it would take days to assess the damage. At least 867,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas remained without power on Thursday afternoon.

“This was the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in Louisiana,” Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference. “It’s continuing to cause damage and life-threatening conditions.”

Laura’s maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) upon landfall easily bested Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005, and arrived with wind speeds of 125 mph.

The NHC said Laura’s eye had crossed into southern Arkansas late Thursday afternoon and was heading to the northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). The storm could dump 7 inches (178 mm) of rain on portions of Arkansas, likely causing flash floods.

Laura was downgraded to a tropical depression by the NHC at 10 p.m., and the forecaster said it will move to the mid-Mississippi Valley later on Friday and then to the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.

CHEMICAL PLUME

Laura’s howling winds leveled buildings across a wide swath of the state and a wall of water that was 15 feet (4.6 m) high crashed into tiny Cameron, Louisiana, where the hurricane made landfall around 1 a.m.

A calamitous 20-foot storm surge that had been forecast to move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

Tropical-force winds were felt in nearly every parish across Louisiana – and Edwards warned that the death toll could climb as search and rescue missions increase.

CLEANUP BEGINS

Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 mph and gusts up to 128 mph in the hour after landfall.

National Guard troops cleared debris from roads in Lake Charles on Thursday afternoon. There were downed power lines in streets around the city, and the winds tipped a few semi-trucks onto their sides.

The windows of the city’s 22-story Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the flooded streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxious about his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he said in a telephone interview.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Lake Charles, La., Ernest Scheyder in Starks, La., Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver, Timothy Ahmann, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Quake hits Zagreb, PM urges social distancing as residents flee buildings

By Igor Ilic

ZAGREB (Reuters) – A large earthquake struck near the Croatian capital Zagreb on Sunday, critically injuring a teenager caught in a collapsed building in the city center and prompting appeals for social distancing after people rushed out onto the streets.

Sixteen other people were injured, including another minor who was badly hurt, and the 5.3 magnitude quake caused fires and power blackouts in parts of the capital, hospital and emergency services said.

People ran from their apartment buildings to their cars as pieces of the facades started falling off. Dozens of cars were also damaged by debris which fell off buildings.

Authorities said around 70 buildings were damaged.

Damages on Zagreb’s cathedral and debris are seen following an earthquake, in Zagreb, Croatia March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Ministers warned people not to walk close to buildings and beware of falling debris due to a strong wind. They also urged them to stay apart from one another as the country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“We are fighting two enemies at the moment, one is invisible and the other is unpredictable,” Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.

So far, Croatia has reported 254 cases of the virus and one death.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the government would provide accommodation in the students’ dormitory in Zagreb for up to 1,800 people whose homes were damaged.

He said the quake was the biggest to hit Zagreb in 140 years. It struck 6 km (4 miles) north of the city and was felt across the Western Balkans.

Zarko Rasic, head of the Zagreb Emergency Medicine Institute, a children’s hospital, said a 15-year-old was in a critical condition after being found by an emergency services team under a collapsed building and another minor had been admitted with head injuries from a falling roof.

The Zagreb Fire Department said firefighting and rescue operations were ongoing at several locations.

Plenkovic said the army had been called in to help clean up debris in Zagreb and urged citizens to “stay outside and keep your distance”.

“We are facing two crises now,” Plenkovic told a news conference. “Let us not forget the coronavirus epidemics … Individual discipline and responsibility is of utmost importance.”

Women walk past ruins of a building following an earthquake, in Zagreb, Croatia March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Local media reported that many people had headed out of Zagreb, prompting police to organize checkpoints on the highway to check if they were violating self-isolation.

The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) downgraded the magnitude of the quake to 5.3 from an initial reading of 6.0. Croatia’s state seismology service said there had been 30 aftershocks.

The government said it would estimate the damage in the coming weeks and ask the European Commission for aid.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 5.4, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported 5.3 magnitude, followed by another 5.1 magnitude earthquake.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Sam Holmes/Christopher Cushing/Susan Fenton/Philippa Fletcher)

Investigators seek answers to chopper crash as NBA star, eight others mourned

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Investigators will continue after sunrise Tuesday to sift through the wreckage of Kobe Bryant’s ill-fated helicopter that crashed in California, killing the former NBA star, his daughter and seven others on board, as they try to answer both the why and how of the accident.

An 18-member National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) team, assisted by FBI forensic specialists, began mapping the wreckage site Monday with drone aircraft and examining debris scattered across the hillside where Bryant’s chopper went down on Sunday.

Los Angeles County coroner’s investigators, working alongside aviation NTSB inspectors, said they had recovered the first three bodies collected from the crash site and were searching for more remains.

Officials said that they would be on the scene for about five days collecting perishable evidence and would not draw any conclusions in the near term, also noting that the craft was not equipped with a flight data recorder called a “black box.”

In a sign limited visibility was of particular interest to investigators as reports indicated foggy conditions, NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy appealed to the public to come forward with any photographs that might help document local weather conditions at the time of the crash.

But Homendy told reporters that weather was just one factor.

“We take a broad look at everything in an investigation – man, machine and the environment. And weather is just a small portion of that,” she said at a late-afternoon news conference in Calabasas, California, about mile from the crash site, roughly 40 miles (65 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Bryant, who won five National Basketball Association championships in his 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers, was known since his playing days to travel frequently by helicopter to avoid the Los Angeles area’s glacial traffic.

In addition to the charismatic 41-year-old and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, three other families linked to the Mamba Sports Academy perished on their way to a girls’ basketball tournament: a husband and wife with their 13-year-old daughter; a mother and her 13-year-old daughter; and a basketball coach who was also a mother.

The ninth victim was the pilot, Ara Zobayan, an experienced former flight instructor who was instrument-rated, or qualified to fly in fog, according multiple media accounts.

The company that owns the chopper, Island Epress Helicopters, said the pilot had more than 10 years experience and has logged more than 8,000 flight hours.

Witnesses recounted thick fog over the foothills where the helicopter went down. The fog was so bad that both the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department grounded their helicopter fleets, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing officials.

Air traffic controllers gave the pilot “Special Visual Flight Rules,” or clearance to fly in less than optimal weather around the Burbank airport.

A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official noted a pilot “does not get a general, or blanket, clearance from the FAA to fly in these conditions. A pilot is responsible for determining whether it is safe to fly in current and expected conditions.”

The NBA canceled a game scheduled for Staples Center on Tuesday between the Lakers and their crosstown rivals, the Clippers, as fans mourned.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

Fog likely to figure prominently in probe of Kobe Bryant’s fatal helicopter crash

By Steve Gorman

CALABASAS, Calif. (Reuters) – Weather conditions appear likely to come under the scrutiny of investigators probing the helicopter crash that killed former NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others near Los Angeles on Sunday, when overcast skies and fog grounded other aircraft.

A Sikorsky S-76 chopper owned by Bryant slammed into a steep hillside outside the town of Calabasas, California, about 40 miles (65 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, igniting a brush fire and spreading debris over a quarter-acre (1,000 square meters) of grassy terrain.

Hours later, Los Angeles County authorities said all nine people aboard the helicopter died in the crash.

The deaths of Bryant, 41, and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were confirmed by the National Basketball Association, as expressions of disbelief and grief poured in from fans, fellow athletes and politicians.

Bryant and his entourage were reported by local media to have been on their way to a sports academy in the nearby city of Thousand Oaks, where he was to have coached his daughter’s basketball team in a youth tournament.

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board began arriving in the area on Sunday to launch separate crash investigations.

Among the factors expected to be at the forefront of the probe are weather conditions, given that forecasters reported low clouds and limited visibility in the vicinity at the time of the crash, and various eyewitnesses recounted thick fog over the foothills where the helicopter went down.

Fog in the area was so bad Sunday morning that both the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department grounded their helicopter fleets, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing officials.

“The weather situation did not meet our minimum standards for flying,” a Los Angeles police spokesman Josh Rubenstein told the Times.

The sheriff’s department also grounded helicopters on Sunday morning, “basically because of the weather,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva said, according to the Times.

The one-time star forward was known since his playing days to travel frequently by helicopter to avoid the Los Angeles area’s notorious traffic.

Bryant rocketed to fame as an 18-year-old rookie and played 20 years for the Los Angeles Lakers – 18 of them as an all-star – winning five NBA championships. He was the fourth-highest scorer in league history, with 33,643 career points.

Others aboard the ill-fated helicopter, in addition to the pilot, included a teammate from Bryant’s daughter’s basketball team Alyssa Altobelli, and the girl’s parents John and Keri Altobelli.

John Altobelli was just about to start his 28th season as baseball coach at Orange Coast College, having won his fourth state championship just last year, the college said in a news release on his death.

The same statement identified Keri and Alyssa Altobelli as victims of the crash.

The Altobellis are survived by two of Alyssa’s siblings, J.J. and Lexi, the college said.

Also killed on board was Christina Mauser, an assistant girls basketball coach at a private school in Orange County, Mayor Katrina Foley of Costa Mesa, California, said on Twitter.

Mauser was the wife of Matt Mauser, singer of the rock and party band Tijuana Dogs, who mourned his wife with a statement on Facebook.

“My kids and I are devastated. We lost our beautiful wife and mom today in a helicopter crash. Please respect our privacy. Thank you for all the well wishes they mean so much,” Mauser wrote.

Sarah Chester and her middle-school-aged daughter Payton were on also on board, according to a Facebook post by elementary school principal Todd Schmidt.

Several Southern California media outlets identified the pilot as Ara Zobayan, citing friends.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Calabasas, California; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Ukraine wants to search Iran plane crash site for possible missile debris

By Alexander Cornwell, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Natalia Zinets

DUBAI/KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine outlined four potential scenarios on Thursday to explain the deadly crash of one of its airliners in Iran, including a missile strike and terrorism, as Iranian investigators said the plane was on fire before it fell to the ground.

Kiev said its investigators wanted to search the site of Wednesday’s crash southwest of Tehran for possible debris of a Russian-made missile used by Iran’s military. An initial report by Iran’s civil aviation organization said the plane had experienced an unspecified technical problem.

The Ukrainian International Airlines Boeing 737-800, flying to Kiev and carrying mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians, crashed shortly after taking off from Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, killing all 176 people on board.

The Iranian report cited witnesses on the ground and in a passing aircraft flying at a high altitude as saying the plane was on fire while in the air.

It said the three-year-old airliner, which had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday, encountered a technical problem shortly after take-off and started to head toward a nearby airport before it crashed. The report said there was no radio communication from the pilot and that the aircraft disappeared from radar at 8,000 feet (2,440 m).

It is so far unclear if any technical issue could be related to a maintenance fault or defective part.

The disaster puts a renewed spotlight on Boeing, which faces a safety crisis over a different type of 737, though the plane that crashed in Iran does not have the feature thought to have caused crashes of the grounded 737 MAX.

The Iranian report referred to the crash as an accident.

Investigations into airliner crashes are complex, requiring regulators, experts and companies across several international jurisdictions to work together. It can take months to fully determine the cause and issuing an initial report within 24 hours is rare.

A Canadian security source told Reuters there was evidence one of the engines had overheated.

The crash happened hours after Iran launched missile attacks on U.S.-led forces in Iraq, leading some to speculate that the plane may have been hit.

The initial assessment of Western intelligence agencies was that the plane had suffered a technical malfunction and had not been brought down by a missile, five security sources – three Americans, one European and the Canadian – who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

UKRAINIAN THEORIES

Ukraine Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov said the country’s investigators wanted to search for possible Russian missile debris after seeing information on the internet.

He referred to an unverified image circulated on Iranian social media purportedly showing the debris of a Russian-made Tor-M1 surface-to-air missile of the kind used by the Iranian military.

Ukrainian investigators into the crash include experts who participated in the investigation into the 2014 shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Danylov said.

The Malaysian airliner was shot down on July 17, 2014, over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, killing all 298 people on board.

In a televised statement, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier asked people to refrain from speculation, conspiracy theories and hasty evaluations regarding the crash. He declared Thursday a day of national mourning.

Zelenskiy said he would speak by telephone with the Iranian president to step up cooperation in investigating the crash.

Ukraine is looking at various possible causes, including a missile attack, a collision, an engine explosion or terrorism.

Countries recognized under a UN-administered convention as participants should nominate who they wish to be involved in the Iran-led investigation, the Iranian report said.

Canadian Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called his Iranian counterpart to stress the need for Canadian officials “to be quickly granted access to Iran to provide consular services, help with identification of the deceased and take part in the investigation of the crash”, a Canadian statement said.

“Canada and Canadians have many questions which will need to be answered.”

Britain wants a transparent investigation, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said on Thursday following a call between the British leader and Zelenskiy.

“The prime minister said that there needed to be a full credible and transparent investigation into what happened,” the spokesman said.

As the country where the plane was designed and built, the United States would usually be allowed to be accredited but neither side has said whether U.S. investigators will be dispatched to Iran.

Iran’s aviation body could not be reached for comment to clarify its position.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen with the United States’ killing of a top Iranian general on Friday. Tehran retaliated with a missile strike on U.S. targets in Iraq.

The Ukrainian airliner took off at 6:12 a.m. local time and was given permission to climb to 26,000 feet, the report said. It crashed six minutes later near the town of Sabashahr.

Bodies and body parts recovered from the site of the crash have been taken to the coroner’s office for identification, the report said.

Smouldering debris, including shoes and clothes, was strewn across a field where the plane crashed on Wednesday. Rescue workers in face masks laid out scores of body bags.

Onboard were 146 Iranians, 10 Afghans, 11 Ukrainians, five Canadians and four Swedes, the report said, but said some may have held citizenship of other countries.

Ukrainian authorities have said those on board included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, and 11 Ukrainians.

The Tehran-Toronto via Kiev route was a popular for Canadians of Iranian descent visiting Iran in the absence of direct flights.

(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell & Babak Dehghanpisheh in Dubai, Natalia Zinets & Pavel Polityuk in Kiev; Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in Paris, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal, Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Laurence Frost in Paris, Matthias Williams in Kiev, Mark Hosenball in Washington and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Elizabeth Piper in London; Writing by Alexander Cornwell, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Catherine Evans and Nick Macfie)

Search for bodies continues in hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

Members of the Bahamian Defense Force remove bodies from the destroyed Abaco shantytown called Pigeon Peas, after Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

By Zachary Fagenson

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Rescue workers wearing white hazard suits continued their grim search for bodies and survivors in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas on Monday, as relief agencies worked to deliver food and supplies over flooded roads and piles of debris.

At least 43 people died when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1, flattening homes and tossing cars and planes around like toys.

Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days, becoming the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Large swaths of Greater Abaco Island were destroyed. Reuters journalists saw search crews using geotagging technology to mark the locations of bodies in the hard-hit Mudd section of Marsh Harbor on that island.

Thousands of people poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm shelters were straining to house evacuees from worse-hit areas. Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

The National Emergency Management Agency said late Sunday that 2,500 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most of them from Abaco.

Shelters are housing about 1,100 people, the agency said; more are staying with friends and relatives. The agency late Sunday was asking residents whose homes were intact to open them up to people displaced by the storm.

Some 90% of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbor were damaged, the World Food Programme said. Thousands of people were living in a government building, a medical center and an Anglican church that survived the storms, it said, but had little or no access to water, power and sanitary facilities.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases was high as drinking water may be tainted with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Scott Malone, editing by Larry King)

One dead, dozens hurt as tornadoes flatten buildings in Ohio

A family leaves their apartment complex in the morning after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

(Reuters) – Tornadoes pulverized western Ohio early on Tuesday, killing one person, injuring scores of others and requiring emergency officials to send out snowplows to clear debris from a major highway, officials and media reports said.

At least one tornado hit Dayton and at least two touched down near the city, including one near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, just east of the city, media reports said.

A child's toy car sits among debris from a tornado that touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

A child’s toy car sits among debris from a tornado that touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

An 81-year-old man was killed in Celina, a small city 65 miles (105 km) north of Dayton, after a tornado sent a vehicle crashing into his home, Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said at a news conference on Tuesday. Another seven people were injured in the storm, three of them seriously, he said.

At least 35 people in and around Dayton went to hospitals with injuries, most of them minor, according to Elizabeth Long, a spokeswoman for the Kettering Health Network.

“We’ve had injuries ranging from lacerations to bumps and bruises from folks being thrown around in their houses due to the storms,” she said.

The latest storm follows tornadoes and floods killed at least six people in Oklahoma during the previous week, including two people in El Reno on Saturday.

More than 60,000 homes and businesses in Ohio were left without power on Monday morning, according to the PowerOutage.US tracking service, and officials advised people to boil water after water plants and pumps went out of service.

Some media outlets reported that rescue workers were going door-to-door in parts of Dayton.

Twitter users posted images of debris flying in the air and damaged mobile homes and cars.

Media images online showed snowplows from the Ohio Department of Transportation clearing debris from U.S. Interstate 75 just north of the city.

The National Weather Service said multiple tornadoes were reported in the Dayton area between 11 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. Tuesday.

A car is covered with debris that was ripped from an apartments building after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

A car is covered with debris that was ripped from an apartments building after a tornado touched down overnight in Trotwood near Dayton, Ohio, U.S. May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Aaron Josefczyk

“The storm system is weakening as it pushes into West Virginia and Virginia, but along with the winds, it has dropped about two or three inches 3 inches (5-8 cm)of rain in just two hours,” said Zack Taylor, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

Seven people were reported injured in the storm in Pendleton, Indiana, on Monday, about 100 miles (160 km) west of Dayton, according to media reports. More damage was reported in Celina, Ohio, about 78 miles (125 km) north of Dayton.

Flooded areas of Arkansas and Oklahoma were bracing for more rain that will feed the already swollen Arkansas River, forecasters said on Monday. Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri have all activated National Guard units to respond to the storms.

Early on Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump expressed his support for Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, a Republican. Trump promised support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Millions of Americans were under flood warnings on the Memorial Day holiday. Deluges hit Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois.

In Tulsa, officials were monitoring the Arkansas River after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers raised the flow at the upriver Keystone Dam by 65% since last week to 275,000 cubic feet per second. The heavier flow is testing two aging levees in Tulsa, the city said.

In Missouri, tornadoes and severe storms killed three people and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes last week.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jonathan Allen and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)

Ethiopian plane smoked and shuddered before deadly plunge

Ethiopian Federal policemen stand at the scene of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight ET 302 plane crash, near the town of Bishoftu, southeast of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

By Duncan Miriri

GARA-BOKKA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – The Ethiopian Airways plane that crashed killing 157 people was making a strange rattling noise and trailed smoke and debris as it swerved above a field of panicked cows before hitting earth, according to witnesses.

Flight 302 took off from the Ethiopian capital on Sunday morning bound for Nairobi with passengers from more than 30 countries. All on board the Boeing 737 MAX 8 died.

The pilot had requested permission to return, saying he was having problems – but it was too late.

(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2CdCVUi)

Half a dozen witnesses interviewed by Reuters in the farmland where the plane came down reported smoke billowing out behind, while four of them also described a loud sound.

“It was a loud rattling sound. Like straining and shaking metal,” said Turn Buzuna, a 26-year-old housewife and farmer who lives about 300 meters (328 yards) from the crash site.

“Everyone says they have never heard that kind of sound from a plane and they are under a flight path,” she added.

Malka Galato, 47, a barley and wheat farmer whose field the plane crashed in, also described smoke and sparks from the back. “The plane was very close to the ground and it made a turn… Cows that were grazing in the fields ran in panic,” he said.

Tamirat Abera, 25, was walking past the field at the time. He said the plane turned sharply, trailing white smoke and items like clothes and papers, then crashed about 300 meters away.

“It tried to climb but it failed and went down nose first,” he said. “There was fire and white smoke which then turned black.”

CHILDREN’S BOOKS, PERFUME AT CRASH

As the plane had only just taken off, it was loaded with fuel.

At the site, Red Cross workers in masks sifted gently through victims’ belongings. Children’s books – Dr Seuss’s “Oh The Thinks You Can Think” and “Anne of Green Gables” – lay near a French-English dictionary burnt along one edge.

A woman’s brown handbag, the bottom burnt, lay open next to an empty bottle of perfume.

The aircraft was broken into small pieces, the largest among them a wheel and a dented engine. The debris was spread over land roughly the size of two soccer fields.

“When it was hovering, fire was following its tail, then it tried to lift its nose,” said another witness, Gadisa Benti. “When it passed over our house, the nose pointed down and the tail raised up. It went straight to the ground with its nose, it then exploded.”

Local resident Nigusu Tesema helped gather victims’ scattered identity papers to hand to police.

“We are shocked and saddened,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Kumerra Gemechu and Tiksa Negeri; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Thousands gather in Israeli desert for meteor shower

Cars drive through Ramon Crater during the Perseid meteor shower near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Ori Lewis

MITZPE RAMON, Israel (Reuters) – Thousands of star-gazers gathered overnight at one of the darkest spots in Israel hoping to be dazzled by the annual Perseid meteor shower, only to be left somewhat disappointed by the show.

Locals had the rare task of directing traffic on a moonless Monday night in Mitzpe Ramon in the heart of the Negev Desert, a spot surrounded by terrain described as similar to a lunar or Martian landscape.

The Feinberg family from the Tel Aviv region drove for two-and-a-half hours for the display but the number of meteors, about one or fewer per minute, failed to truly light up the Ramon Crater’s dark night sky as in previous years.

A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A meteor streaks across the sky in the early morning during the Perseid meteor shower in Ramon Crater near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, southern Israel, August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

“We are here waiting for the stars to fall, the children are very impatient,” said Eliran Feinberg, 42, who works for an air cargo company.

The Perseid meteors, which reach their peak every August, are produced by debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet that passes by the Earth every 133 years. It last passed in 1992.

Professor Rennan Barkana, head of the astrophysics department at Tel Aviv University, said this year’s shower was not as intense because the Earth had passed through a sparser part of the comet’s debris than previously and a smaller amount of particles had entered the atmosphere.

(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo, Writing by Ori Lewis. Editing by Patrick Johnston)

Asbestos from New York steam pipe blast forces evacuations

New York Fire Department watch as an emergency responder examines the scene near a steam pipe explosion in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, U.S., July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

By Peter Szekely and Tea Kvetenadze

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Residents and workers from 49 buildings near the site of an early-morning steam pipe explosion in Manhattan were evacuated, many for at least two days, on Thursday after lung-damaging asbestos was found on debris from the blast, officials said.

The findings raised concerns that asbestos, which had encased the 86-year-old ruptured pipe, may have spread to the street, buildings and ventilation systems, all of which would need to be decontaminated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“Now that we know there’s asbestos present, we’re not going to cut any corners,” de Blasio told reporters at the scene. “We’re going to be thorough.”

View of Midtown Manhattan's steam pipe explosion in New York City, U.S., July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

View of Midtown Manhattan’s steam pipe explosion in New York City, U.S., July 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

Street closings and the evacuations of 28 buildings in the “hot zone” near the explosion at Fifth Avenue and West 21 Street will probably last until the weekend while crews decontaminate the area, de Blasio said.

Some of the 49 buildings on the outer fringe of the explosion area may be reopened by Thursday evening, he said.

“People will not be let back into their apartments until we have cleared their building,” the mayor said.

Spokesmen for the Office of Emergency Management and the Fire Department said they had no estimate of how many residents were affected by the evacuation order.

The steam pipe, installed in 1932, blew up at the start of the morning rush hour near Manhattan’s sharply angled Flatiron Building, opening a giant crater in the street and creating an urban geyser that sent a vapor plume into the air for hours.

The only direct injuries from the blast were minor, officials said.

Dr. Herminia Palacio, deputy mayor of health and human services, said the main risks were from repeated exposure to asbestos fibers, rather than brief, temporary contact.

Officials urged anyone who may be contaminated to shower and remove their clothes, bag them and bring them to Consolidated Edison Inc, the power company that maintains the steam line.

The blast, the cause of which was under investigation, may have damaged other subterranean lines in the vicinity that carry water, gas and electricity, all which have been shut down until repairs are done, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said.

The steam pipes are part of a 136-year-old system that Con Ed said is the nation’s largest steam network, stretching from the southern tip of Manhattan to 96th Street.

Although the blast and the resulting street closings snarled vehicular traffic in the immediate area, other commuting disruptions were minimal.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Tea Kvetenadze; Editing by Scott Malone, Bernadette Baum and Jonathan Oatis)