At least 25 dead in Chinese province’s heaviest rains in 1,000 years

By Ryan Woo and Stella Qiu

BEIJING (Reuters) – At least 25 people have died in China’s flood-stricken central province of Henan, a dozen of them in a subway line in its capital that was drenched by what weather officials called the heaviest rains for 1,000 years.

About 100,000 people have been evacuated in Zhengzhou, the capital, where rail and road transport have been disrupted, while dams and reservoirs have swelled to warning levels while thousands of troops launched a rescue effort in the province.

City authorities said more than 500 people were pulled to safety from the flooded subway, as social media images showed train commuters immersed in chest-deep waters in the dark and one station reduced to a large brown pool.

“The water reached my chest,” a survivor wrote on social media. “I was really scared, but the most terrifying thing was not the water, but the diminishing air supply in the carriage.”

The rain halted bus services in the city of 12 million people about 650 km (400 miles) southwest of Beijing, said a resident surnamed Guo, who had to spend the night at his office.

“That’s why many people took the subway, and the tragedy happened,” Guo told Reuters.

At least 25 people have died in the torrential rains that have lashed the province since last weekend, with seven missing, officials told a news conference on Wednesday.

Media said the dead included four residents of the city of Gongyi, located on the banks of the Yellow River like Zhengzhou, following the widespread collapse of homes and structures because of the rains.

More rain is forecast across Henan for the next three days, and the People’s Liberation Army has sent more than 5,700 soldiers and personnel to help with search and rescue.

From Saturday to Tuesday, 617.1 mm (24.3 inches) of rain fell in Zhengzhou, almost the equivalent of its annual average of 640.8 mm (25.2 inches).

The three days of rain matched a level seen only “once in a thousand years”, meteorologists said.

“Such extreme weather events will likely become more frequent in the future,” said Johnny Chan, a professor of atmospheric science at City University of Hong Kong.

“What is needed is for governments to develop strategies to adapt to such changes,” he added, referring to authorities at city, province and national levels.

‘FLOOD PREVENTION DIFFICULT’

Many train services have been suspended across Henan, a major logistics hub with a population of about 100 million. Highways have also been closed and flights delayed or cancelled.

By Wednesday, media said food and water supplies had run out for hundreds of passengers stranded on a train that had stopped just beyond the city limits of Zhengzhou two days earlier.

Roads were severely flooded in a dozen cities of the province.

“Flood prevention efforts have become very difficult,” President Xi Jinping said in a statement broadcast by state television.

Dozens of reservoirs and dams breached danger levels.

Local authorities said the rainfall had caused a 20-metre breach in the Yihetan dam in the city of Luoyang west of Zhengzhou, and that the dam “could collapse at any time”.

In Zhengzhou itself, where about 100,000 people have been evacuated, the Guojiazui reservoir had been breached but there was no dam failure yet.

A raft of Chinese companies, insurers and a state-backed bank said they had offered donations and emergency aid to local governments in Henan amounting to 1.935 billion yuan ($299 million).

SCHOOLS, HOSPITALS CUT OFF

Taiwan’s Foxconn, which operates a plant in Zhengzhou assembling iPhones for Apple, said there was no direct impact on the facility.

China’s largest automaker, SAIC Motor, warned of short-term impact on logistics at its plant in the city, while Japan’s Nissan said production at its factory had been suspended.

Schools and hospitals were marooned, and people caught in the floods flocked to shelter in libraries, cinemas and even museums.

“We’ve up to 200 people of all ages seeking temporary shelter,” said a staffer surnamed Wang at the Zhengzhou Science and Technology Museum.

“We’ve provided them with instant noodles and hot water. They spent the night in a huge meeting room.”

After the First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou, the city’s largest with more than 7,000 beds, lost all power, officials raced to find transport for about 600 critically ill patients.

The neighboring province of Hebei issued a storm alert for some cities, including Shijiazhuang, its capital, warning of moderate to heavy rain from Wednesday.

(Reporting by Sameer Manekar in Bengaluru, Josh Horwitz and Jing Wang in Shanghai, and Stella Qiu, Roxanne Liu, Cheng Leng, Yilei Sun, Judy Hua and Ryan Woo in Beijing; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei, Beijing Newsroom and Kanupriya Kapoor in Singapore; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Clarence Fernandez)

‘Wither away and die:’ U.S. Pacific Northwest heat wave bakes wheat, fruit crops

By Julie Ingwersen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – An unprecedented heat wave and ongoing drought in the U.S. Pacific Northwest is damaging white wheat coveted by Asian buyers and forcing fruit farm workers to harvest in the middle of the night to salvage crops and avoid deadly heat.

The extreme weather is another blow to farmers who have struggled with labor shortages and higher transportation costs during the pandemic and may further fuel global food inflation.

Cordell Kress, who farms in southeastern Idaho, expects his winter white wheat to produce about half as many bushels per acre as it does in a normal year when he begins to harvest next week, and he has already destroyed some of his withered canola and safflower oilseed crops.

The Pacific Northwest is the only part of the United States that grows soft white wheat used to make sponge cakes and noodles, and farmers were hoping to capitalize on high grain prices. Other countries including Australia and Canada grow white wheat, but the U.S. variety is especially prized by Asian buyers.

“The general mood among farmers in my area is as dire as I’ve ever seen it,” Kress said. “Something about a drought like this just wears on you. You see your blood, sweat and tears just slowly wither away and die.”

U.S. exports of white wheat in the marketing year that ended May 31 reached a 40-year high of 265 million bushels, driven by unprecedented demand from China.

But farmers may not have as much to sell this year.

“The Washington wheat crop is in pretty rough shape right now,” said Clark Neely, a Washington State University agronomist. The U.S. Agriculture Department this week rated 68% of the state’s spring wheat and 36% of its winter wheat in poor or very poor condition. A year ago, just 2% of the state’s winter wheat and 6% of its spring wheat were rated poor to very poor.

On top of the expected yield losses, grain buyers worry about quality. Flour millers turn to Pacific Northwest soft white wheat for its low protein content, which is well-suited for pastries and crackers.

But the drought is shriveling wheat kernels and raising protein levels, making the some of the crop less valuable. “The protein is so high that you can’t use (it) for anything but cattle feed,” Kress said.

Low-protein “soft” wheats have lower gluten content than the “hard” wheats used for bread, producing a less-stretchy dough for delicate cakes and crackers.

The Washington State Agriculture Department said it was still too early to estimate lost revenue from crop damage.

The heat peaked in late June, in the thick of the harvest of cherries. Temperatures reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit (48 Celsius) on June 28 at The Dalles, Oregon, along the Washington border, near the heart of cherry country.

Scientists have said the suffocating heat that killed hundreds of people would have been “virtually impossible” without climate change and such events could become more common.

The National Weather Service posted weekend heat advisories for eastern Washington.

NIGHTTIME CHERRY HARVEST; SUN NETS FOR APPLES

On the hottest days last month, laborers who normally start picking cherries at 4 a.m. began at 1 a.m., armed with headlamps and roving spotlights to beat the daytime heat that threatened their safety and made the fruit too soft to harvest.

The region should still produce a roughly average-sized cherry harvest, but not the bumper crop initially expected, said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers, a grower-funded trade group representing top cherry producer Washington and other Western states.

“We think we probably lost about 20% of the crop,” Thurlby said, adding that growers simply had to abandon a portion of the heat-damaged cherries in their orchards.

The heat wave’s impact on Washington’s $2 billion apple crop – the state’s most valuable agricultural product – is uncertain, as harvest is at least six weeks away. Apple growers are used to sleepless nights as they respond to springtime frosts, but have little experience with sustained heat in June.

“We really don’t know what the effects are. We just have to ride it out,” said Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.

Growers have been protecting their orchards with expansive nets that protect fruit against sunburn, and by spraying water vapor above the trees. Apples have stopped growing for the time being, Fryhover said, but it is possible the crop may make up for lost time if weather conditions normalize.

The state wine board in Oregon, known for its Pinot Noir, said the timing of the heat spike may have benefited grapes. Last year, late-summer wildfires and wind storms forced some West Coast vineyards to leave damaged grapes unharvested.

Washington’s wine grapes also seem fine so far, one vineyard manager said. “I think wine grapes are situated well to handle high heat in June,” said Sadie Drury, general manager of North Slope Management.

(Reporting by Julie Ingwersen in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)

Extreme weather to push property insurance higher -Hippo CEO

By Noor Zainab Hussain and Carolyn Cohn

(Reuters) – Extreme weather events and shortage of labor and materials for repairs will push property insurance rates higher in the next several years, the chief executive of U.S. home insurer Hippo said on Tuesday.

As homeowners stayed home during the pandemic, their properties suffered more damage due to issues such as bathroom leaks, and it was harder to get tradespeople in to mop up, Assaf Wand, chief executive officer and co-founder of Hippo said in an interview at the Reuters Future of Insurance USA conference.

“The severity of the claims increased quite significantly,” Wand said, pointing to higher rates charged by plumbers and to buy lumber.

Those prices were likely to normalize as the U.S. economy opens up following the vaccination roll-out, but hurricanes and wildfires are leading to increased damage as more people move to disaster-prone locations, he added.

“I expect to see rates increase over the next several years,” Wand said.

“Labor and materials keep on increasing…the severity of catastrophic events keeps on increasing.”

Insurers are taking increasing note of climate change, with many fearing the rapid changes could make some premiums unaffordable, especially for customers exposed to extreme weather events.

Insurers and banks are also facing stricter regulatory scrutiny over their response to global warming, with shareholders expecting better disclosures and transparency on climate-related risks.

One advantage of the pandemic, however, was that “the world has shifted three to five years forward on digitalization,” Wand added.

Hippo in March said it would go public through a $5 billion merger with a blank-check firm backed by Silicon Valley heavyweights Reid Hoffman and Mark Pincus, in a sign of rising interest in the fast-growing “insurtech” sector.

Founded in 2015, Palo Alto-based Hippo sells homeowners insurance online.

Home insurance products offered through Hippo are currently available in 32 U.S. states, covering more than 70% of the country’s population, and the company expects its products to be available to 95% of the population by the end of 2021.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the insurance sector to rely heavily on technology to reach customers, helping the “insurtech” sector, which uses artificial intelligence and big data.

Both insurance and technology need to do more on inclusion, Wand said.

“These two are industries that are just not diverse enough,” Wand said, adding that Hippo was hiring data scientists and customer agents from other sectors to help improve diversity.

“We are trying to push and nudge.”

Insurtech Tractable told Reuters earlier this month that it is keen to boost diversity in a typically male-dominated sector, adding that more than 20% of its software engineers are women, above the industry average.

(Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Carolyn Cohn in London; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Rare deep freeze leaves more than 2 million Texas customers without power

(Reuters) – A rare deep freeze in Texas that raised demand for power forced the U.S. state’s electric grid operator on Monday to impose rotating blackouts that left more than 2 million customers without power.

The PowerOutage.us website – an ongoing project created to track power outages – said 2,629,684 customers were experiencing outages at 9:44 a.m. ET (1444 GMT).

President Joe Biden declared an emergency on Monday, unlocking federal assistance to Texas, where temperatures on Monday ranged from minus 8 to 21 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 22 to minus 6 Celsius).

Apart from Texas, much of the United States from the Pacific Northwest through the Great Plains and into the mid-Atlantic states was in the grip of bone-chilling weather over the three-day Presidents Day holiday weekend.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) sought to cut power use in response to a winter record of 69,150 MW on Sunday evening, more than 3,200 MW higher than the previous winter peak in January 2018.

About 10,500 MW of customer load was shed at the highest point, enough power to serve approximately two million homes, it said, adding that extreme weather caused many generating units across fuel types to trip offline and become unavailable.

As of early Monday, it said over 30,000 MW of generation had been forced off the system, and rotating outages would likely last throughout the morning and could be initiated until the weather emergency ended.

“Every grid operator and every electric company is fighting to restore power right now,” ERCOT President and CEO Bill Magness said in a statement.

The storms knocked out nearly half the state’s wind power generation capacity on Sunday. Wind generation ranks as the second-largest source of electricity in Texas, accounting for 23% of state power supplies, ERCOT estimates.

Of the 25,000-plus megawatts of wind power capacity normally available in Texas, 12,000 megawatts were out of service on Sunday morning, an ERCOT spokeswoman said.

A level three emergency notice was issued by the regulator, urging customers to limit power usage and prevent an uncontrolled systemwide outage.

The National Weather Service said an Arctic air mass had spread southwards, well beyond areas accustomed to freezing weather, with winter storm warnings posted for most of the Gulf Coast region, Oklahoma and Missouri.

The spot price of electricity on the Texas power grid spiked more than 10,000% on Monday. [NGA/]

(Reporting by Aishwarya Nair and Diptendu Lahiri in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum, David Goodman and Howard Goller)

California firefighters make stand to save famed observatory, homes

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews fought on Tuesday to defend homes and the famed Mount Wilson Observatory from California’s biggest and most dangerous wildfire, standing their ground at a major highway between the flames and populated areas.

The Bobcat Fire, which broke out Sept. 6 in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles, has already blackened an area larger than the city of Atlanta and its rapid spread prompted worried law enforcement officials to call for new evacuations on Monday evening.

Once home to the largest operational telescope in the world, the Mount Wilson Observatory, which sits on a peak of the San Gabriel mountains near vital communications towers, said in an update that almost all the forest around it had burned.

Firefighters overnight kept the Bobcat from breaching containment lines near the observatory and were preventively burning vegetation ahead of the fire along state Highway 2, which runs northeast from Los Angeles.

This summer California already has seen more land charred by wildfires than in any previous full year, with some 3.4 million acres burned since mid-August.

The fires, stoked by extreme weather conditions that some scientists call evidence of climate change, have destroyed some 6,100 homes and other structures and killed 26 people, three of them firefighters.

Another 2 million acres have burned in Oregon and Washington during an outbreak of wildfires, destroying more than 4,400 structures and claiming 10 lives. But rain showers across the western Cascade mountain range helped fire crews in the Pacific Northwest gain control of those conflagrations.

Although California has seen little rain in September, bouts of high temperatures and gale-force winds have given way in recent days to cooler weather, enabling firefighters to gain ground.

But forecasters predict rising temperatures, lower humidity and a return of strong, erratic winds around midweek in Southern California and by the weekend across the state’s northern half, lending urgency to the firefight.

The Bobcat Fire has now scorched more than 109,000 acres to become one of the largest wildfires in recorded Los Angeles County history and was only 17% contained on Tuesday afternoon.

The flames came perilously close to the Mount Wilson Observatory last week before they were driven back by crews using air support.

Several more areas, including Pasadena, a city of 140,000 people, remained under evacuation warnings.

California’s fire season historically has run through October. Five of the state’s 20 largest blazes on record have occurred this year.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

2019 was second-hottest year ever, more extreme weather coming: World Meteorological Organization

GENEVA (Reuters) – Last year was the second-hottest year since records began, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, warning that heat was likely to lead to more extreme weather events like the Australian bushfires in 2020 and beyond.

The data from the Geneva-based WMO crunches several datasets including from NASA and the UK Met Office. It showed that the average global temperature in 2019 was 1.1 degree Celsius (34°F) above pre-industrial levels.

“Australia had its hottest, driest year on record in 2019, setting the scene for the massive bushfires which were so devastating to people and property, wildlife, ecosystems and the environment,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Unfortunately, we expect to see much extreme weather throughout 2020 and the coming decades, fuelled by record levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”

The hottest year on record was in 2016, the WMO said, due to the warming impact of a strong El Nino event.

(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Cyclone batters southwestern India coast killing 14, many missing

Cyclone batters southwestern India coast killing 14, many missing

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Cyclone Ockhi barrelled into the Lakshwadeep islands in southwestern India on Saturday after drenching the neighboring states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu, claiming so far around 14 lives with many fishermen still feared trapped at sea.

Authorities including the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), India’s Coast Guard and Navy have rescued about 223 fishermen and evacuated thousands of people from cyclone hit areas, officials said, as they continued their operations on Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken to the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, assuring him of support operations including necessary funds, according to local media.

Ockhi is expected to travel north towards Mumbai and Gujarat in the next 48 hours, according to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) Director S. Sudevan in Trivandrum, though it is likely to lose intensity.

“The intensity of the wind may come down and the cyclone could change into depression,” Sudevan said adding fishermen have been warned not go to the sea for the next few days as waves are likely to be 3-5 meters (12-15 feet) high.

(Reporting by D Jose in KERALA and Suvashree Dey Choudhury in MUMBAI; Editing by Michael Perry)

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

Greeks in mourning and disbelief after flood that killed at least 15

MANDRA, Greece (Reuters) – Greeks voiced despair and disbelief on Thursday after a flash flood killed at least 15 people and left hundreds homeless, with many blaming a system that allowed houses to be built on dried up river beds.

In the towns of Nea Peramos and Mandra west of the capital Athens, crumpled cars and mangled furniture lay on roads caked in the thick mud left behind by a raging torrent that smashed through homes on Wednesday morning. [nL8N1NL22V]

“We are ruined. My tavern and my house are gone,” said Paraskevas Stamou, a restaurant owner in Mandra. “Everything is gone, the road is gone, the water is still flowing and we were flooded again last night and this morning.

“We are expecting another downpour tonight. It’s like God hates us,” he told Reuters.

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Maria Kriada is comforted outside her destroyed house following flash floods which hit areas west of Athens on November 15 killing at least 15 people, in Nea Peramos, Greece, November 16, 2017. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

To escape the lethal floodwaters, residents took desperate measures.

“We had nowhere to sleep. We slept on the roof, we found carpets to cover ourselves,” said a man in Mandra whose house was gutted by the flood but remained standing.

Between sobs, his mother added: “Everything went. We don’t have anyone to help us. I don’t have help from anyone.”

Bad weather continued on Thursday. Officials said they were waiting for conditions to improve before giving a clearer picture of the damage. Five people were still missing.

Flags flew half-mast from state buildings and the Acropolis on Thursday as the government declared three days of national mourning.

Newspapers expressed anger. “A Crime,” was the headline in Ta Nea daily, superimposed on a picture of a woman being comforted next to an overturned car. “The Deeds of Man,” wrote the leftist Avgi, referring to unlicensed constructions.

Experts blamed haphazard construction which the natural path for water runoff, and soil erosion on a mountain range hit by fires.

Both towns were built along an old motorway linking Athens to the Peloponnese city of Corinth. As building crept closer to the road, streams that would have drained runoff from the nearby Pateras mountains were blocked.

“Of course the state wasn’t prepared … we cannot compete with nature,” said Christos Zeferos, head of the research center for Atmospheric Physics and Climatology Academy of Athens, adding that climate change meant people should expect more weather-related disasters.

“We should be prepared for more frequent, and different phenomena,” he told Reuters.

Many of the victims were elderly. The youngest was a 36-year old truck driver who called his mother as the floodwaters rose around his lorry. The line went dead soon afterwards.

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video.     NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

General aerial view of a flooded area following flash floods in Mandra, West Attica, Greece November 15, 2017 in this still image taken from social media video. NATIONAL AND KAPODISTRIAN UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS/via REUTERS

(Reporting By Michele Kambas, Renee Maltezou, Alkis Konstantinidis and Lefteris Papadimas; Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Tiny Montana firm’s Puerto Rico power deal draws scrutiny

A pick up from Montana-based Whitefish Energy Holdings is parked as workers (not pictured) help fix the island's power grid, damaged during Hurricane Maria in September, in Manati, Puerto Rico October 25, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

By Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan and Scott DiSavino

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Federal emergency officials raised “significant concerns” on Friday about a $300 million contract between Puerto Rico’s storm-hit power utility and a tiny Montana firm, as Democratic lawmakers stepped up calls for an investigation of the deal.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement that after its initial review it “has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable” under the agreement between Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and Whitefish Energy Holdings, a two-year-old firm with just two full-time employees.

The contract between PREPA and Whitefish was awarded without a competitive bidding process.

Whitefish spokesman Ken Luce said the deal was secured when its chief executive and co-owner, Andy Techmanski, flew to Puerto Rico on Sept. 26, six days after Hurricane Maria tore into the bankrupt U.S. territory and knocked out power to all 3.4 million residents.

The contract, and the slow restoration of power on the island, has raised questions about who is effectively managing PREPA’s response to the hurricane, as about 75 percent of homes and businesses still lack electricity after several weeks.

Jose Roman, interim chairman of Puerto Rico’s Energy Commission, said the commission is looking into how Whitefish got the contract as part of a larger investigation to “determine the prudence of the actions of PREPA; not just the Whitefish contract,” he said.

PREPA did not respond to requests for comment.

Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board earlier this week said it would appoint an emergency manager to oversee PREPA, though that has met with pushback from Governor Ricardo Rossello, who may challenge such an effort in court.

It took more than a week after Maria hit the island for a damage assessment to be completed by PREPA, the chronically underfunded state utility. Eventually, FEMA put the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in charge of short-term power restoration.

 

ZINKE: I HAD “NOTHING TO DO” WITH CONTRACT

A growing number of U.S. lawmakers have raised questions about the contract, the slow pace of power restoration, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s connections with Whitefish.

Representative Raul Grijalva, the senior Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, and Representative Peter DeFazio, the top Democrat on the Transportation Committee, asked the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general in a letter to investigate the contract’s execution, its terms, and “whether there was any political impetus behind the contract.”

The representatives noted that Whitefish is based in Zinke’s hometown and that Zinke’s son once worked for Whitefish. The letter also stated that a Whitefish financial backer, HBC Investments, was founded by Joe Colonnetta, a contributor to President Donald Trump’s campaign, as well as “many other Republican candidates.”

Zinke said in a release that “I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico.” After the initial contract was awarded, “I was contacted by the company, on which I took no action,” he said.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said that the administration’s “understanding” was that the contract was awarded solely by PREPA, and they are “not aware of any federal involvement” in the deal.

U.S. Senate Democrats urged FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a letter to unify efforts to restore power on the island.

They also called on FEMA and PREPA to name a top official to oversee all electrical contracts, and urged federal officials to more quickly clear crews from two companies, Fluor Corp <FLR.N> and PowerSecure, so they can begin restoration work.

Several utilities are involved in restoration, including Fluor, Whitefish, JEA, New York Power Authority, and others. Whitefish and its subcontractors have more than 300 people on the island, Luce said.

Techmanski first got in touch with PREPA following Hurricane Irma, during a bidding process to repair damages from that storm, which hit Puerto Rico two weeks before Maria, Luce said.

A copy of the contract surfaced online Thursday night, raising more questions, particularly over language blocking oversight of costs and profits.

“In no event shall PREPA, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the FEMA administrator, the Comptroller General of the United States or any other authorized representatives have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements,” said the document, published by several media outlets, whose authenticity was confirmed by Democratic staffers for the Natural Resources Committee.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi called for the immediate termination of the contract, saying “no federally-funded contract should be immune from routine oversight or circumvent a federal audit.”

Costs listed for hourly wages ranged in the hundreds of dollars and daily per diems of more than $330 for accommodations and nearly $80 for food, according to the “bid schedule” published online. The document put the cost of one-way airline flights for employees at $1,000.

Luce defended the deal, saying the company welcomed an audit or questions from Washington. “The contract was done in good faith with PREPA,” he said.

Rossello has also defended the contract, even as he ordered an audit. Initial results of the audit are expected to be released later on Friday, according to NBC News.

 

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Richard Cowan, Timothy Gardner; additional reporting by Scott DiSavino, Jessica Resnick-Ault and Nicholas Brown; editing by Tom Brown and Diane Craft)

 

Three dead as Storm Ophelia batters Ireland

Three dead as Storm Ophelia batters Ireland

By Clodagh Kilcoyne

LAHINCH, Ireland (Reuters) – Three people died as Tropical Storm Ophelia battered Ireland’s southern coast on Monday, knocking down trees and power lines and whipping up 10-metre (30-foot) waves.

Over 360,000 homes and businesses were without electricity with another 100,000 outages expected by nightfall, Ireland’s Electricity Supply Board said, describing it as an unprecedented event that would effect every part of the country for days.

Around 170 flights from Ireland’s two main airports at Dublin and Shannon were canceled.

Two people were killed in separate incidents when trees fell on their cars — a woman in her 50s in the south east and a man on the east coast. Another man in his 30s died while trying to clear a fallen tree in an incident involving a chainsaw.

The storm, downgraded from a hurricane overnight, was the worst to hit Ireland in half a century. It made landfall after 10:40 a.m. (0940 GMT), the Irish National Meteorological Service said, with winds as strong as 190 kph (110 mph) hitting the most southerly tip of the country. Coastal flooding was likely.

“This storm is still very active and there are still very dangerous conditions in parts of the country. Do not be lulled into thinking this has passed,” the chairman of Ireland’s National Emergency Coordination Group, Sean Hogan, told national broadcaster RTE.

The Galway Atlantaquaria National Aquarium of Ireland building is seen submerged in floodwater during Storm Ophelia in Galway, Ireland October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The Galway Atlantaquaria National Aquarium of Ireland building is seen submerged in floodwater during Storm Ophelia in Galway, Ireland October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

The armed forces were sent to bolster flood defenses, public transport services and hospitals were closed and schools across Ireland and Northern Ireland will remain shut for a second day on Tuesday.

Hundreds of roads were blocked by fallen trees, Hogan said. Photos on social media showed roofs flying off buildings, including at Cork City soccer club’s Turner’s Cross stadium where the roof of one stand had collapsed.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar advised people to stay indoors. The transport minister said it was not safe to drive.

The storm winds were due to peak between 1600 GMT and 1800 GMT in Dublin and Galway, two of Ireland’s most populous cities, and later on Monday in northern areas.

Britain’s meteorological service put an Amber Weather Warning into effect for Northern Ireland from 1400-2100 GMT, saying the storm posed a danger to life and was likely to cause transport cancellations, power cuts and flying debris.

It is expected to move towards western Scotland overnight and “impactful weather” is expected in other western and northern parts of the United Kingdom, it said.

British media are comparing Ophelia to the “Great Storm” of 1987, which subjected parts of the United Kingdom to hurricane strength winds 30 years ago to the day.

The Irish government said the storm was likely to be the worst since Hurricane Debbie, which killed 11 in Ireland in 1961.

It passed close to a western Ireland golf course owned by U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been planning a wall to protect its greens from coastal erosion.

Similar storms in the past have changed the shape of stretches of the Irish coastline, climatologists said.

(Additional reporting and writing by Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans)