La Palma evacuees see no end to ordeal after month of volcanic eruption

By Guillermo Martinez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) -One month after the Cumbre Vieja volcano erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma spewing red-hot lava and ash, Culberta Cruz, her husband and their dog are living in a tiny caravan on a parking lot and see no end of the ordeal in sight.

“I’m tired, so tired … but who are we to fight against nature?,” the 56-year-old hospital kitchen worker said, sitting on a camping chair.

Her husband, banana grower Tono Gonzalez, was pulling electric cables and water hoses to connect to the vehicle, with their French bulldog looking on. The couple have been living in the small camping car for a month, constantly brushing off volcanic ash from the vehicle.

“One day it’s exploding there, the other a vent opens here, it’s just anguish and living in fear, waiting and praying for it to stop erupting,” Cruz said. “And it’s a lot of sadness for those who lost their homes.”

Streams of red-hot lava have engulfed almost 800 hectares (2000 acres) of land, destroying about 2,000 buildings and many banana plantations since the eruption started on Sept. 19. More than 6,000 people have had to leave their homes.

Carmen del Fresno, from the National Geographic Institute’s volcano monitoring department, told Reuters the eruption was unlikely to stop for at least another week, but there was no way to predict how long it would last.

“Historical records show eruptions lasting 24 to 84 days … It would be logical to assume something within those bounds, but we cannot risk (predicting) anything.”

After being ordered to evacuate, Cruz and Gonzalez first stayed at a relative’s farm and then took the caravan to the parking lot where they could get fresh water and a bit of electricity. They are now looking into renting an apartment that accepts pets.

“We don’t know when it’s going to stop, that’s the problem. This is nature and we have to deal with it, it’s bigger than us,” said Gonzalez.

Added Cruz: “The future is to try to remove what (belongings) we had and to wait for it to end, then get back to the lives we had before, even if it will be more difficult.”

(Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo in Madrid, writing by Inti Landauro and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Peter Graff)

At least 112 dead in India as rains trigger floods, landslides

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI (Reuters) -At least 112 people have died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, authorities said on Friday, after torrential monsoon rains caused landslides and flooded low-lying areas, cutting off hundreds of villages.

Parts of India’s west coast received up to 594 mm (23 inches) of rainfall over 24 hours, forcing authorities to evacuate people from vulnerable areas as they released water from dams that were threatening to overflow.

“Unexpected very heavy rainfall triggered landslides in many places and flooded rivers,” Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who heads Maharashtra’s state government, told journalists.

“Dams and rivers are overflowing. We are forced to release water from dams, and, accordingly, we are moving people residing near the river banks to safer places.”

The navy and army were helping with rescue operations in coastal areas, he added.

At least 38 people were killed in Taliye, 180 km (about 110 miles) southeast of the financial capital Mumbai, when a landslide flattened most of the small village, state government officials said.

In nine other landslides in other parts of Maharashtra 59 people died and another 15 were killed in accidents linked to the heavy rainfall, they said.

A few dozen people were also feared to have been trapped in landslides in Satara and Raigad districts, said a state government official who asked not to be named.

“Rescue operations are going on at various places in Satara, Raigad and Ratnagiri. Due to heavy rainfall and flooded rivers, we are struggling to move rescue machinery quickly,” he said.

Thousands of trucks were stuck on a national highway linking Mumbai with the southern technology hub of Bengaluru, with the road submerged in some places, another Maharashtra government official said.

Meanwhile, hundreds of villages and towns were without electricity and drinking water, he said.

Rivers were also overflowing in the neighboring southern states of Karnataka and Telangana where authorities were monitoring the situation, government officials there said.

Seasonal monsoon rains from June to September cause deaths and mass displacement across South Asia every year, but they also deliver more than 70% of India’s rainfall and are crucial for farmers.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Joe Bavier and Giles Elgood)

Belgium sets day of mourning as flood deaths hit 20

By Bart Biesemans

TROOZ, Belgium (Reuters) -Belgium declared a national day of mourning next week as the death toll from burst rivers and flash floods in the south and east of the country rose to 20 on Friday, with another 20 people missing.

“What should have been beautiful summer days suddenly turned into dark and extremely sad days for our fellow citizens,” Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference. “These are exceptional circumstances that our country has not seen before.”

A week of rain finally came to an end after reaching levels in some places normally expected once in 200 years. But several communities across parts of Belgium were nervously watching as the river Meuse, which flows through the city of Liege in eastern Belgium, continued to rise and threatened to overflow.

Others were trying come to terms with disaster.

“We did work, we renovated everything, we’re losing everything we’ve got. Now we have to start from zero and work at it little by little to put it back in order.” said Sylvia Calvo Lorente, 33, surveying damage in her home in the small town of Trooz near Liege.

In the eastern town of Verviers, the swollen river was still rushing through neighboring streets, where people gingerly tried to salvage ruined shops, homes and cars.

“We made it through COVID, we were hoping we’d get back on our feet and now look!” a shopkeeper said through tears in a pause from his work.

Several towns and villages were submerged, including Pepinster near Liege, where around 10 houses collapsed. Belgium’s king and queen visited the town on Friday, wading through flooded streets.

The government set next Tuesday as a day of mourning and decided to tone down festivities for Belgian National Day the day after.

Interior minister Annelies Verlinden said 20 people had lost their lives, with a further 20 missing.

The crisis center, which is coordinating rescue efforts, urged people in the affected areas to avoid all travel.

Belgium has called on the European Union’s civil protection mechanism, resulting in contributions from France, Austria and Italy, principally boats, helicopters and rescue personnel.

It also received help from Luxembourg and the Netherlands, despite these countries also suffering from flooding. More than 250 foreigners, including helicopter pilots and divers, have come to aid the search.

Over 20,000 people in the southern region Wallonia were without electricity. Others lacked clean water. Large parts of the rail network in southern Belgium were unusable, with certain sections of track swept away.

(Additional reporting and writing by Philip Blenkinsop; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

Rare tornado rips through southern Czech Republic, killing five

By Jason Hovet

HRUSKY, Czech Republic (Reuters) -Emergency workers and residents combed through wreckage in southern Czech Republic on Friday after a tornado ripped roofs off buildings and sent cars flying through the air, killing at least five people and injuring hundreds.

The tornado, which hit towns and villages around Hodonin along the Slovak and Austrian borders on Thursday evening, may have reached windspeeds above 332 kph (206 mph), a Czech Television meteorologist said.

“It was terrible what we went through,” said Lenka Petrasova in Hrusky who recounted taking shelter with her 11-year old-son after spotting the tornado minutes before it hit. “It was unbelievable. I saw a car fly, and dogs flying.”

Firefighters searched the rubble on Friday while the army sent in a team with heavy engineering equipment to deal with the aftermath of the strongest storm in the central European nation’s modern history and its first tornado since 2018.

In the village of Hrusky with a population of 1,600, a deputy mayor estimated that a third of the houses were destroyed and many needed inspections before people could safely return.

“Part of the village is levelled, only the perimeter walls without roofs, without windows remain,” Marek Babisz told news site iDNES.

“The church has no roof, it has no tower, cars were hurled at family houses, people had nowhere to hide. The village from the church down practically ceased to exist,” he said.

South Moravia regional administration chief Jan Grolich said that five people had died in the storm, and regional hospitals treated some 150 injured while others were sent elsewhere.

Emergency crews from neighboring Poland, Austria and Slovakia fanned out across the region, 270 km (167 miles) southeast of Prague, to assist.

Officials said thousands of homes had been destroyed and appealed to people not to drive to the affected areas so rescue services could work, urging them to send donations instead.

More than 100 residents of a home for the elderly in Hodonin had to be evacuated.

Prime Minister Andrej Babis cut short his attendance at the European Council summit in Brussels to visit the area where electricity and water remained shut off in a number of villages.

Speaking on his return, Babis said the government’s priority was to tap the European Union’s solidarity fund in which around 1.3 billion euros are put aside for such situations in member countries.

“The footage I saw is absolutely catastrophic,” said Babis, who also toured damaged homes in Hrusky. “We have offers of help from across Europe and many prime ministers have approached me to offer assistance.”

Czech TV reported as many as seven small towns were “massively” damaged, citing an emergency services spokesperson.

Residents on Friday surveyed the damage.

“There used to be two rooms above this,” Mikulcice resident Pavel Netopilik said pointing to the rubble surrounding his house where the upstairs floors collapsed. “Now they are not here. The ceiling collapsed.”

(Additional reporting by Robert Muller in Prague, Writing by Michael Kahn; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Philippa Fletcher)

Delivering super-cooled COVID-19 vaccine a daunting challenge for some countries

By Matthias Inverardi and Ludwig Burger

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Getting a coronavirus vaccine from manufacturing sites to some parts of the world with rural populations and unreliable electricity supply will be an immense challenge, given the need to store some vials at temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Celsius (-112 Fahrenheit), Deutsche Post warned on Tuesday.

The German logistics firm said that distribution of an eventual vaccine across large parts of Africa, South America and Asia would require extraordinary measures to keep deliveries of so-called mRNA vaccines refrigerated at Antarctic-level temperatures.

Companies developing vaccines requiring exceptional cold storage, such as Moderna and CureVac, are working hard to make their injections last longer in transit.

The novel class of mRNA vaccines is among the furthest advanced in a field of 33 immunization shots currently being tested on humans globally, but they may need to be cooled at minus 80 degrees Celsius.

But upgrading cold storage infrastructure in regions outside the 25 most advanced countries, home to one third of the global population, will pose an immense challenge, said Deutsche Post in its study, conducted with consultancy firm McKinsey.

Vaccine developers Translate Bio and Moderna said in June they are working to produce evidence in time for the roll-out that their respective products can be shipped and stored at less extreme temperatures.

A spokesman for CureVac said its vaccine candidate is based on an experimental rabies vaccine which has already been shown to keep its molecular structure when stored in a regular fridge for months. Tests are underway to show the COVID-19 product has the same durability and the company is confident the data will be “competitive”, he added.

Deutsche Post said that even if the vaccine cold chain requires temperatures of only minus 8 degrees Celsius the share of the world’s population with reliable access to it increases only to about 70%, with substantial parts of Africa at risk of missing out.

“We anticipate 10 billion vaccine doses will have to be distributed across the world, and that includes regions that don’t have motorway access every five miles,” Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer of Deutsche Post’s DHL global forwarding unit, told Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein, editing by Louise Heavens)

Iraq is open for U.S. business, prime minister says; Trump eyes oil prospects

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday said U.S. companies were involved in many prospects in Iraq’s oil business, as Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi declared his country open for American business and investment.

Trump told reporters before a meeting with the Iraqi leader that the U.S. military had very few troops in Iraq and looked forward to the day when it did not have to be there, but would help the country if neighboring Iran should do anything.

Al-Kadhimi took office in April, becoming the third Iraq head of state in a chaotic 10-week period that followed months of deadly protests in the country, which has been exhausted by decades of sanctions, war, corruption and economic challenges.

The meeting comes amid a new spike in tensions between the United States and Iran after Washington said it would move to reinstate all U.S. sanctions on Iran at the United Nations.

Washington is pushing to extend a U.N.-imposed arms embargo against Iran that is due to expire in October under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Trump withdrew the United States from the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran.

Five U.S. firms, including Chevron Corp, signed agreements on Wednesday with the Iraqi government aimed at boosting Iraq’s energy independence from Iran.

The U.S. Department of Energy said in a statement that Honeywell International Inc, Baker Hughes Co, General Electric Co, Stellar Energy and Chevron signed commercial agreements worth as much as $8 billion with the Iraqi ministers of oil and electricity.

The agreements were signed following a meeting of the Iraqi ministers with U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, as well as a roundtable in Washington on Wednesday with the Iraqi prime minister and the U.S. energy industry.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; writing by Andrea Shalal; editing by Diane Craft and Dan Grebler)

Puerto Rico slowly brings back electricity after powerful earthquake

By Luis Valentin Ortiz

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s power grid crept back to service on Wednesday after it was shut down entirely as a safety measure on Tuesday amid a storm of earthquakes including the most powerful to strike the Caribbean island in 102 years.

The temblors including one of magnitude 6.4 killed at least one person and flattened homes across the southern coast, provoking a state of emergency on the island of 3 million people and the activation of the National Guard.

Nearly 500,000 of the island’s 1.5 million customers had service on Wednesday morning, up from 100,000 the night before, and the island was generating about 542 megawatts of electricity, the power authority AEE said, still short of the demand of some 2,000 megawatts.

The large Costa Sur plant suffered severe damage and remained out of service, though Governor Wanda Vazquez said on Tuesday power should be restored to most of the island within 48 hours provided there were no more earthquakes.

Puerto Ricans endured lengthy power outages in 2017 following devastating Hurricane Maria, one of a series of natural and man-made disasters to afflict the U.S. territory in recent years. The island is also going through bankruptcy and its former governor resigned amid a political scandal and massive street protests last year.

Vazquez ordered schools and other public offices closed while emergency responders searched crumpled buildings for possible victims and engineers inspected others for safety.

Some Puerto Ricans in the hard-hit south of the island moved beds outside on Tuesday night and slept outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit, Vazquez said.

Hundreds of quakes have touched the island, including 10 of magnitude 4 or greater, since Dec. 28, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Around 750 people spent the night in shelters in southern towns hit hardest, the government reported.

Bottled water, batteries and flashlights ran low at supermarkets in the capital San Juan and long lines formed outside gas stations. Backup generators kept the city’s international airport functioning.

Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with hurricanes but powerful quakes are rare.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, this is the first time this has happened to us,” said Patricia Alonso, 48, who lost power and water at her home and headed to her mother’s apartment building with her 13-year-old son as it had a generator.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Tuesday that aid had been made available for earthquake response efforts.

(Reporting by Luis Valentin Ortiz; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)

Power cut to millions as California faces heightened wildfire risks

Power cut to millions as California faces heightened wildfire risks
By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Electricity was shut off to nearly 750,000 California homes and workplaces on Wednesday as Pacific Gas and Electric Co (PG&E) imposed a string of planned power outages of unprecedented scale to reduce wildfire risks posed by extremely windy, dry weather.

The power cut knocked out traffic signals, forced school closures and shut businesses and government offices across northern and central California, said Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state Office of Emergency Services.

One key disruption was at the University of California at Berkeley, which canceled classes on Wednesday during the first phase of the “public safety power shutoff”, targeting more than 500,000 homes and businesses.

A second phase began at 3 p.m. Pacific time and extended the blackout to 234,000 more customers, said the utility, which was considering a third phase for 4,600 more dwellings and businesses.

Although PG&E said changing weather conditions and work-arounds had restored power to about 44,000 customers, its action was the largest precautionary electricity shutoff undertaken by California’s biggest investor-owned utility.

“It’s too bad that it is such a large area to be turned off,” said Matthew Gallagher, a resident of Vacaville, a town 60 miles (100 km) northeast of San Francisco, where everything, from the Walmart outlet to gasoline service stations, was closed for lack of power.

A similar cutoff was under consideration by neighboring utility Southern California Edison for nearly 174,000 of its customers, about 50,000 of them in Los Angeles County, should severe winds hit southern California on Thursday as forecast, SoCal Edison spokeswoman Taelor Bakewell said.

Some of California’s most devastating wildfires were sparked in recent years by damage to electrical transmission lines from recurring bouts of high winds that then spread the flames through tinder-dry vegetation into populated areas.

“We are entering into a two-, three- or four-day period of extreme fire danger in California,” Governor Gavin Newsom said at an event in San Diego on Wednesday.

‘RED FLAG’

Gale-force wind gusts, mostly in higher elevations, were expected to intensify late on Wednesday across northern and central California before gradually migrating into southern California overnight and Thursday, National Weather Service meteorologist Steve Anderson said. He said extremely low humidity levels added to the fire threat.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said “red-flag” warnings were posted across the state for what was shaping up to be the strongest wind event so far this season.

PG&E warned residents to prepare for outages that could last several days. But spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said it expected to restore supply to most customers within 24 to 48 hours after high winds abate, once power lines were inspected and any damage repaired.

Many customers live in areas where breezes were light on Wednesday, but some are served by transmission lines hit by high winds elsewhere and thus were part of a larger portion of the grid that was turned off, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said.

It urged customers to stock up on flashlights, fresh batteries, first-aid supplies and cash, and plan for healthcare needs, from refrigerated medicine to electrical devices.

The utility said it opened 28 community centers across the planned outage zone to provide restrooms, bottled water, battery charging and air-conditioned seating during the day.

PG&E has drawn increased scrutiny in recent years over maintenance of transmission wires and other equipment implicated in major wildfires.

In May, state fire investigators determined that PG&E transmission lines caused the deadliest and most destructive wildfire on record in California, last year’s wind-driven Camp Fire that killed 85 people in and around the town of Paradise.

Cal Fire likewise concluded that PG&E power lines had sparked a 2017 flurry of wildfires that swept California’s wine country north of San Francisco Bay.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January 2019, citing potential civil liabilities in excess of $30 billion from the fires.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Jim Christie in San Francisco, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

Blackouts threaten death blow to Venezuela’s industrial survivors

Men work on the only operative production line at a food packaging plant in Valencia, Venezuela, April 8, 2019. Picture taken April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Corina Pons and Mayela Armas

VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – The latest power outage kicked off another tough week for factory owner Antonello Lorusso in the city of Valencia, once Venezuela’s industrial hub.

For the past month, unprecedented nationwide blackouts have paralyzed the factory and the rest of the country, cutting off power, water and cell service to millions of Venezuelans.

Lorusso’s packaging plant, Distribuidora Marina, had already struggled through years of hyperinflation, vanishing client orders and an exodus of employees.

But now the situation was worse.

For the whole month of March, Lorusso said his company produced only its single daily capacity: 100 tonnes of packaged sugar and grains.

When Reuters visited on April 8, he was using a generator to keep just one of a dozen packaging machines running to fulfill the single order he had received. Power had been on for a few hours, but was too weak to work the machines.

“There is no information, we don’t know if the blackouts will continue or not,” said Lorusso, who has owned the factory for over 30 years. He said the plant had just a day’s worth of power during the previous week.

Power has been intermittent since early March, when the first major blackout plunged Venezuela into a week of darkness. Experts and the opposition have called the government incompetent at maintaining the national electrical grid.

President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition and the U.S. government of sabotage.

Venezuelan industry has collapsed during six years of recession that have halved the size of the economy. What is left is largely outside of the capital Caracas, the only major city that Maduro’s government has excluded from a power-rationing plan intended to restrict the load on the system.

In Valencia, a few multinational companies like Nestle and Ford Motor Co hang on. But according to the regional business association, the number of companies based there has fallen to a mere tenth of the 5,000 situated there two decades ago, when Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez became president.

‘THE GAME IS OVER’

The government said on April 4 that the power rationing plan meant Valencia would spend at most three hours a day without electricity.

But a dozen executives and workers there said outages were still lasting over 10 hours. Generators are costly and can only power a fraction of a business’s operations, they said, and many factories have shut down.

“The game is over. Companies are entering a state of despair due to their inviability,” said an executive of a food company with factories in Valencia, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Industrial companies this year are operating below 25 percent of capacity, according to industry group Conindustria. It estimated companies here lost about $220 million during the days in March without power, and would lose $100 million more in April.

Nestle’s factory, which produces baby food, halted production during the first blackout in early March and operations again froze two weeks later, with employees sent home until May, according to Rafael Garcia, a union leader at the plant.

He blamed the most recent stoppage on very low sales of baby food which cost almost a dollar per package, or about what someone earning minimum wage makes in a week.

“My greatest worry is the closure of the factory,” said Garcia, as he sat at a bus stop on Valencia’s Henry Ford Avenue, in the city’s industrial outskirts where warehouses sit empty and streets are covered in weeds.

Nestle, in a statement to Reuters, said it had “temporarily interrupted its manufacturing activities” at its Valencia factory due to a lack of demand and would resume production in May.

Ford’s plant had been operating at a bare minimum for several months, union leaders said. In December, the carmaker began offering buyouts to staff after it received no orders for 2019, they said. Ford had said in December it had “no plans to leave the country.”

The outages have idled more than just factories. In the countryside, lack of power has prevented farmers from pumping water to irrigate fields.

Since January, farmers have sown 17,500 hectares of crops – a third of the area seeded last year – and they fear losing the harvest due to the lack of water, according to agricultural associations.

In the central state of Cojedes, several rice growers have already lost their crops, farmers said.

“In the rural areas, the blackouts last longer,” said Jose Luis Perez, spokesman for a federation of rice producers.

Producers of cheese, beef, cured meats and lettuce told Reuters orders had dropped by half in March as buyers worried the food would perish once their freezers lost power in the next blackout.

Back in Valencia, Lorusso was preparing his factory for the new era of scarce power. He has converted one unused truck in his parking lot into a water tank. He plans to sell another to buy a second generator.

“We’ve spent years getting used to things. Then we were dealt this hard blow, and now we’re trying to find ways to cope,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Tibisay Romero in Valencia; writing by Angus Berwick; editing by David Gregorio and G Crosse)

Venezuela blackout drags into third day, Maduro announces ‘load management’

Locals gather outside a closed store during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela March 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ivan Alvarado

By Vivian Sequera and Tibisay Romero

CARACAS/VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido on Wednesday called on supporters to take to the streets this weekend to protest a nationwide power outage, while President Nicolas Maduro announced a “load management” plan for the coming days.

Residents scrambled to find food and water as businesses closed and school was canceled in the second major blackout this month. Power went out in much of the country on Monday afternoon, less than two weeks after electricity was restored following the worst blackout in Venezuela’s history.

“The time has come to agitate in every state, in every community, to get water back, get electricity back, get gas back,” said Guaido, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

Guaido, who invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, arguing President Nicolas Maduro’s May 2018 re-election was illegitimate, said the protest was scheduled for Saturday, without offering further details.

In an appearance by telephone on state television on Wednesday night, Maduro blamed the more recent blackout on a “terrorist attack” on the country’s Guri hydroelectric complex, which supplies power to most of the country, by the “perverse right-wing.”

“Thanks to Corpoelec workers we will be guaranteeing service,” Maduro said, referring to the state electricity company. “But we will need to apply a load management plan in the coming days.”

Maduro did not provide details of the plan. He said that school and work activities would be suspended on Thursday, and called on supporters to take to the streets on Saturday – the same day Guaido called a protest.

Guaido and opposition critics have said the outages are the result of a decade of corruption and mismanagement.

Power had returned to around half the country’s 24 states on Tuesday night, but went out again at dawn on Wednesday.

While blackouts have long been common in the OPEC member nation, particularly outside of capital Caracas, their increasing frequency and severity have left residents concerned that intermittent power may be the new normal.

“I think this is going to be worse than the first blackout,” said Julio Barrios, 60, an accountant in Caracas who was looking for open stores to buy food or ice. “A lot of people want to work but there’s no transportation, and if there’s nobody working the country will be paralyzed.”

In the western agriculture-heavy state of Tachira, more than 100,000 liters (26,000 gallons) of milk spoiled after 40 hours without electricity for refrigeration, according to Leonardo Figueroa, the head of the state ranchers’ association.

‘GET OUT’

In Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city, residents without electricity or gas in their homes cut wood off trees to cook food before it rotted.

“I am searching for wood because there is no gas in this oil-producing country, there are no public services,” said Morris de Castro, a lawyer. “It is impossible to live a normal life and we feel like we are falling backwards.”

Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by most Western and South American countries, and the United States has hit Maduro’s government with sanctions meant to cripple the Socialist Party’s sources of income.

But Maduro has held on thanks to continued loyalty by top military commanders and diplomatic support from Russia and China, who accuse the United States of seeking a coup against him. Two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 troops landed outside Caracas on Saturday, escalating tensions.

While hosting Guaido’s wife, journalist Fabiana Rosales, in the White House on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump said “Russia has to get out” and that “all options are open” as to how to make that happen.

Russia has said the visit is part of a military technical cooperation agreement with Venezuela.

The blackout has harmed the oil industry, the lifeblood of Venezuela’s struggling economy. The country’s main oil export port of Jose and four crude upgraders, needed to convert Venezuela’s heavy oil into exportable grades, have been halted since Monday, industry sources said.

“Power came back at around 10 a.m., but we still were not in a condition to restart,” a worker at one of the upgraders said, adding that workers would attempt to restart the facilities later on Wednesday.

Julio Castro of non-profit organization Doctors for Health said an 81-year-old woman died on Tuesday in a hospital in the central state of Aragua because the elevators were not functioning and she could not get to the area where she could receive treatment.

The group said 24 people died during the previous blackout in public hospitals due to problems caused by the lack of power.

(Reporting by Vivian Sequera and Deisy Buitrago in Caracas and Tibisay Romero in Valencia, Additional reporting by Diego Ore in Caracas, Anggy Polanco in San Cristobal and Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; writing by Brian Ellsworth and Luc Cohen; editing by Susan Thomas, Rosalba O’Brien & Simon Cameron-Moore)