Pacific Ocean storm intensifies into year’s first super typhoon

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Karen Lema

MANILA (Reuters) -Strong winds and high waves lashed the eastern Philippines on Monday as the strongest typhoon ever recorded in April barreled past in the Pacific Ocean, killing one man and triggering flooding in lower-lying communities, disaster officials said.

The national weather bureau issued a severe wind and heavy rainfall warning on Monday, saying “destructive typhoon-force winds extend outward up to 110 km (68.35 miles) from the center of the storm”.

More than 100,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas, according to provincial disaster agencies.

The core of Surigae, or Bising as the storm is known locally, is not expected to hit land. But with a diameter of 500 km and winds reaching 195 km per hour, parts of the eastern islands of Samar experienced flooding, while several communities lost power.

The first super typhoon of 2021 foreshadows a busy storm season for the region in the year ahead, experts say.

“Early indications are that the 2021 typhoon season will be at least average in activity, and possibly above average,” U.S. meteorologist Jeff Masters wrote in a post on Yale Climate Connections’ website, which reports daily on climate conditions.

Atmospheric scientists say data shows that storms, called typhoons, cyclones or hurricanes in different parts of the world, are getting stronger because of global warming.

“The fuel for these storms is warm oceans,” said Anne-Claire Fontan, a scientific officer at the World Meteorological Organization based in Geneva.

“The global trend is that they are getting stronger, and a higher percentage of total storms will be stronger.”

A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, allowing gale force winds to dump more rain. In particular, water temperature in the western Pacific Ocean is higher than the global average, making it fertile ground for mega storms like Surigae. The region sees more storms than any other part of the world, more than 70% of which develop at the peak of the season between July and October.

Disaster officials said a 79-year old man from Southern Leyte province in the Philippines was confirmed dead after he was hit by a fallen tree and one person was missing.

The Philippines sees around 20 tropical storms annually. Last year, the strongest typhoon of the year, Goni, hit the country with gusts of up to 310 km per hour, killing 25 people and forcing the evacuation of more than 345,000.

Taiwan, meanwhile, is hoping the storm brings much-needed rain to alleviate a drought, with people taking to social media to welcome it. However, it is expected to veer away from Taiwan out into the Pacific, bringing rain only to the northern part of the island later this week.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor in Singapore; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Over 10 million displaced by climate disasters in six months: report

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – About 10.3 million people were displaced by climate change-induced events such as flooding and droughts in the last six months, the majority of them in Asia, a humanitarian organization said on Wednesday.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said about 2.3 million others were displaced by conflict in the same period, indicating the vast majority of internal displacements are now triggered by climate change.

Though the figures cover only a six-month period from September 2020 to February 2021, they highlight an accelerating global trend of climate-related displacement, said Helen Brunt, Asia Pacific Migration and Displacement Coordinator for the IFRC.

“Things are getting worse as climate change aggravates existing factors like poverty, conflict, and political instability,” Brunt said. “The compounded impact makes recovery longer and more difficult: people barely have time to recover and they’re slammed with another disaster.”

Some 60% of climate-IDPs (internally displaced persons) in the last six months were in Asia, according to IFRC’s report.

McKinsey & Co consulting firm has said that Asia “stands out as being more exposed to physical climate risks than other parts of the world in the absence of adaptation and mitigation.”

Statistics from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) show that on average 22.7 million people are displaced every year. The figure includes displacements caused by geophysical phenomenon such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, but the vast majority are displaced by weather-related events.

Globally, 17.2 million people were displaced in 2018 and 24.9 million in 2019. Full-year figures are not yet available for 2020, but IDMC’s mid-year report showed there were 9.8 million displacements because of natural disasters in the first half of last year.

More than 1 billion people are expected to face forced migration by 2050 due to conflict and ecological factors, a report by the Institute for Economics and Peace found last year.

(Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Thirteen dead, thousands homeless in southern Africa after storm Eloise

By Kirthana Pillay and Emma Rumney

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The death toll from storm Eloise rose to at least 13 on Monday after heavy winds, rain and flooding destroyed buildings, drowned crops and displaced thousands in parts of southern Africa.

Eloise weakened from a cyclone to a tropical storm after making landfall in central Mozambique on Saturday, but continued to dump rain on Zimbabwe, eSwatini – formerly known as Swaziland – South Africa and Botswana.

Six people were killed in Mozambique, the country’s National Institute for Disaster Risk Management and Reduction (INGD) reported, while the number of displaced people rose to more than 8,000, with thousands of homes wrecked or flooded.

A five-year-old child was killed in South Africa’s eastern Mpumalanga province after being swept away, said George Mthethwa, head of communications for the provincial department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs.

In neighboring Limpopo, fast-flowing rivers destroyed a makeshift bridge, leaving people hoping to cross stranded on either side. Others waded through the knee-high flood waters.

The death toll stood at two in eSwatini, according to police. Three people had been reported killed in Zimbabwe and one in Madagascar.

“Rainfall is starting to ease off slowly,” said Puseletso Mofokeng, senior forecaster at the South African Weather Service, adding there was still a risk of localized flooding as more rain was expected on saturated ground.

Zimbabwe’s national water authority also warned that dams were spilling over and could cause floods further downstream.

Following Cyclone Idai in 2019, rainwater flowed from Zimbabwe back into Mozambique causing devastating floods. Over 1,000 people died across the region, with the impoverished coastal nation bearing the brunt.

Eloise struck an area still recovering from that devastation and already flooded in parts.

Evacuations, warnings and higher community awareness have led to a much lower death toll, but some temporary camps, where evacuees were taken, have been cut off.

Sergio Dinoi, head of the advisory team in Mozambique for the U.N.’s humanitarian arm, said groups were venturing out, in some cases via boat, on Monday to assess the damage.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Kirthana Pillay in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Manuel Mucari in Maputo, Macdonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Lunga Masuku in Mbabane, editing by Ed Osmond)

Storms that slammed Central America in 2020 just a preview

By Sarah Marsh and Sofia Menchu

HAVANA/GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) – Villagers in Guatemala’s Mayan hillside hamlet Sanimtaca had been about to harvest their cardamom crops that take three years to grow when waves of floodwater triggered by two tropical storms last month washed them away.

Now they have no way to support themselves or to build back the 25 homes – a third of the village – also destroyed in the flash floods that have yet to subside, said Raul Quib, a volunteer from a neighboring community.

“No one had ever seen flooding like it around here,” the 35-year-old who has been collecting food and clothing donations told Reuters. “The school is flooded, the cemetery is flooded.”

This week brought an official close to the most active Atlantic hurricane season ever recorded, with 30 named storms including 13 hurricanes.

And thanks to climate change, experts warn, Central America will have to brace for stronger storm impacts in the future – as well as higher economic damages, unless they prepare.

The region, which already has some of the highest poverty rates in Latin America, was particularly hard hit by hurricanes this year.

Two of the year’s strongest storms, Eta and Iota, ravaged swathes of Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize in unusually quick succession in November.

Altogether, more than 200 people were killed and more than half a million displaced. Hundreds of thousands are now unsure where their next meals will come from.

In Sanimtaca, villagers were able to flee to higher ground in time to escape the flooding. But elsewhere in the mountainous central Guatemalan region of Alta Verapaz, storm-triggered landslides buried dozens of houses with people inside.

Hurricane Eta alone caused up to $5.5 billion in damage in Central America, the Inter-American Development Bank said, while the impact of Iota has not yet been determined.

So far, only Nicaragua has provided official estimates of damage of both storms, putting it at more than $740 million, around 6.2% of gross domestic product.

“If we don’t manage to contain global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, we can expect an intensification of such natural disasters in the region with increasing costs,” said Luis Miguel Galindo, climate change expert and economics professor at Mexico’s UNAM university.

Currently, the world is on track to surpass 2°C of warming above pre-industrial temperatures.

If temperatures rise 2.5 °C by mid-century, the main costs of climate change could tally 1.5% to 5% of the annual GDP of Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a 2017 United Nations report that Galindo co-authored. It put the cost of adapting below 0.5% of GDP.

SLOWER STORMS, LONGER SEASON

Climate change overall is changing how hurricanes behave, scientists say, by warming up the ocean water through which they draw their power. Winds are blowing stronger. Storms are dropping heavier rains.

“We have more energy embedded in the oceans, and 90% from climate change,” said Belizean meteorologist Carlos Fuller, the lead climate change negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States.

And hurricanes are sometimes moving more slowly, stalling for longer on land or traveling farther before breaking up, recent research has shown.

That can mean even more rainfall, wind and destruction for communities in a storm’s path. In 2017, Hurricane Harvey turned Houston’s highways into tidal rivers after stalling for four days near or over the Texas coast. Scientists say Eta and Sally behaved this way, too, hence the unusual flooding in Sanimtaca.

“The evidence is building that there is a human fingerprint on this behavior,” said Jim Kossin, climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In a study published in June 2018 in the journal Nature, Kossin found that hurricane speeds had decreased worldwide by about 10% between 1949 and 2016.

This year’s storm count included six major hurricanes, twice the long-term average, said meteorologist Philip Klotzbach, who researches hurricanes at Colorado State University.

The year also saw nine storms that rapidly intensified, he said. Iota for example spun from a 70 mile-per-hour (113 km-per-hour) tropical storm to a 160-mph (257-kph) Category 5 hurricane in 36 hours. The only other years that saw so many such storms were 1995 and 2010.

That can be “a problem from the warning, preparation perspective,” Klotzbach said. “It is hard to prepare if it’s a tropical storm, and then a day later a Category 4 hurricane.”

More storms could also hit outside of the traditional hurricane season going forwards as ocean waters get warmer sooner, said Susan Lozier, an oceanographer and dean at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s College of Sciences. This year, a record-tying two tropical storms were swirling over the Atlantic in May, before the season’s June 1 start.

But it is still unclear if climate change is influencing the number of storms per year and played a role in the record 30 named storms in the Atlantic Ocean this season given natural variability. The number of hurricanes and major hurricanes for the Northern Hemisphere was near average due to a quieter Pacific.

BOLSTERING RESILIENCE

Communities devastated by a hurricane need to find ways to reduce the risk of damages should another hurricane hit, said World Bank regional sustainable development expert Anna Wellenstein.

Natural hazards “become disasters when we build in the wrong place or in the wrong way,” she said. “Countries need more than a few years to really increase their resilience. This is an effort of decades.”

Moving populations away from coastlines vulnerable to floods and storm surges or hillsides that see landslides could help prevent deaths, some experts suggest. Storm predictions and warning systems could be improved. And vulnerable crops can be swapped out for hardier species.

“Rice can survive (rain) water because it grows in water,” said Fuller, the meteorologist in Belize. “So maybe we need to shift to that sort of grain instead of maize for example which will fall.”

A dollar invested in more resilient infrastructure brings four dollars in economic benefits, said Wellenstein.

But many Central American and Caribbean countries, already confronted with poverty and debt, have struggled to prioritize this among so many other pressing needs.

“They don’t have the resources,” said Galindo. “And the pandemic is further reducing revenue and increasing expenses.”

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said last month Central America had been the worst affected region in the world by climate change and it would need help from them to stave off mass migration.

Quib, who volunteered to help Sanimtaca, said he expected most of the youth of the village to emigrate to Canada where they could lead a better life.

“If they were already doing it before this happened, they will do so even more now,” he said.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh in Havana and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Additional Reporting by Laura Gottesdiener in Monterrey, Mexico; Editing by Katy Daigle and Lisa Shumaker)

After the floods, assessing Hurricane Sally’s damage

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Jennifer Hiller

GULF SHORES, Ala./HOUSTON (Reuters) – As an Alabama resident, Toby Wallace has seen his fair share of hurricane damage working for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where he handles flood insurance claims.

But that did not prepare him for Hurricane Sally, which flipped his camper and pushed it into his home, breaking off the front steps. High winds drove water through vents and roof, flooding a room.

“It’s gonna be a lot of cleaning,” said Wallace, 49.

Wallace and thousands of other residents along the U.S. Gulf Coast are just starting to tally the damage from Hurricane Sally, which could come in anywhere from $8 billion to $10 billion, well above earlier estimates of $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the cost of their damage.

Hurricanes are normally associated with massive wind gusts and rains on the coast, but inland rains causing floods over a vast region can make a storm even worse, as rivers and streams over spill, flooding communities along the way and causing the damage to as much as double.

The storm made landfall at Gulf Shores, Alabama on Wednesday morning as a Category 2 hurricane but continued carrying heavy rain inland as far north as Virginia on Thursday, according to the National Weather Service.

Sally’s immediate impact likely caused around $5 billion in damage and cleanup costs, Watson said. The storm has moved away from the coast but will bring several more inches of rain to the U.S. Southeast before dissipating.

“If you’re sitting on a river five miles inland, you’ve got the wind and two feet of rain dumped on you, then four to six days later a few feet of water comes down the river,” Watson said. Inland rains also could affect cotton and peanut harvesting, as five counties in central Georgia had radar totals over 10 inches in 12 hours, Watson said.

Several rivers in Alabama and Florida have not yet crested and are not expected to reach “major flood” stages until Saturday, according to the National Weather Service.

Evidence of water damage was rampant as the floods receded along the coast. The facade of an eight-floor apartment building in Gulf Shores was completely blown off, and damaged kitchens and bedrooms were visible, with furniture soaked from the torrential rains that pelted the area on Wednesday.

Wallace of FEMA said that more recently built homes were constructed with some elevation from the ground, so their damage is wind-related.

Numerous buildings had their roofs torn off, and rebuilding electrical, sewage and water systems will cost money.

In Gulf Shores, Paula Hendrickson, 70, evacuated her home near the water and came slightly more inland to her sister’s, thinking it would be safer.

But the wind ripped a fan off the front balcony of her sister’s home and damaged the roof, and Hendrickson’s car ended up flooded by saltwater and is likely a total loss.

“If you’ve been in an airplane that hits turbulence, that’s exactly how it felt. On and off, on and off. All night long,” Hendrickson said, adding, “I’ll never go through it again.”

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller and Devika Krishna Kumar; editing by Steve Orlofsky)

U.S. energy firms tally damages from Hurricane Sally, begin restarts

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Storm-tossed U.S. offshore energy producers and exporters began clearing debris on Thursday from Hurricane Sally and booting up idle Gulf of Mexico operations after hunkering down for five days.

The storm toppled trees, flooded streets and left almost 500,000 homes and businesses in Alabama and Florida without power. Sally became a tropical depression on Thursday, leaving widespread flooding along its path with up to a foot (30 cm) of rain falling in parts of Florida and Georgia.

Crews returned to at least 30 offshore oil and gas platforms. Chevron Corp began restaffing its Blind Faith and Petronius platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, following Murphy Oil Corp.’s restart.

Bristow Group, which transports oil workers from a Galliano, Louisiana, heliport, resumed crew-change flights to facilities in the west and central Gulf of Mexico.

“We are making flights offshore and experiencing a slight increase in outbound passengers,” said heliport manager Lani Moneyhon.

The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, a deep water oil port that handles supertankers, reopened its marine terminal after suspending operations over the weekend.

Sally had shut 508,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil production and 805 million cubic feet of natural gas, more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico output, and halted petrochemical exports all along the Gulf Coast.

About 1.1 million bpd of U.S. refining capacity were offline on Wednesday, according to the U.S. Energy Department, including two plants under repair since Hurricane Laura and another halted by weak demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Crude weakened early Thursday with U.S. futures down a fraction and trading below $40 a barrel. Gasoline futures inched higher in early trading, continuing gains this week.

Phillips 66, which shut its 255,600-bpd Alliance, Louisiana, oil refinery ahead of the storm, said it was advancing planned maintenance at the facility and would keep processing halted.

Royal Dutch Shell’s Mobile, Alabama, chemical plant and refinery reported no serious damage from an initial survey, the company said. Chevron said is a Pascagoula, Mississippi, oil refinery operated normally through the storm.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; Writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Hanna pummels Texas coast with strong winds, heavy rain

By Adrees Latif

PORT MANSFIELD, Texas (Reuters) – Hanna, the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season, left a trail of destruction along the Texas coast on Sunday, downing power lines, flooding streets and toppling 18-wheeler trucks as torrential rains threatened the area.

Hanna came ashore on Padre Island on Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity and later made a second landfall in Kenedy County, Texas. It swept through a part of the state hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. By Sunday, it had weakened to a tropical depression.

Powerful winds from Hanna knocked over at least three 18-wheeler trucks and a recreational vehicle, with tow trucks trying to right the toppled vehicles on Sunday, shutting down a 2-mile (3.2-km) stretch of U.S. Route 77 in Sarita, Texas, near the Mexican border.

In Port Mansfield, 150 miles (240 km) south of Padre Island, winds flattened sugarcane fields and leveled trees. Deer roamed the streets, stopping to nibble downed branches in the yards of homes, some that lost their roofs.

Heavy downpours of more than a foot (30 cm) of rain flooded roadways and swelled streams and rivers across south Texas, the National Weather Service said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“You could hear the wind blowing and the rain blowing and you looked outside you could see sheets of water blowing down the street,” said Sharon Pecce, 75, a resident of Port Mansfield, whose roof was ripped off her house on Saturday night.

“It’s scary to go through this at my age, a lot could have happened … we could have been killed,” added Pecce, who was at a friend’s home with her 70-year-old husband when the damage occurred. “We are lucky we weren’t there.”

Roderick Kise, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Rio Grande Valley, told the Caller Times newspaper in Corpus Christi that his agency was looking into a report that winds toppled a newly constructed portion of the border wall built between the United States and Mexico.

At one point, more than 283,000 homes and businesses were without electricity. But that figure fell to 98,000 by Sunday night, according to poweroutage.us.

The storm was not expected to affect offshore oil-and-gas production. Energy companies have not evacuated workers or shut down production from their Gulf of Mexico platforms because of Hanna.

Some residents took advantage of the wild weather, with Alejandero Carcano, 16, and Jesse Garewal, 18, both of Galveston, surfing the high swells whipped up by Hanna.

Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the storm a federal emergency and would help fund evacuation and shelter efforts.

“I continue to urge Texans to heed the guidance from their local leaders and follow best practices to keep themselves and their loved ones safe as severe weather continues to move through our communities,” he said.

The Texas area struck by Hanna has struggled to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Cases along the state’s coast have soared into the tens of thousands.

More than 440 people in the Corpus Christi area were hospitalized with the illness, according to the state health department.

STILL A THREAT

Weakening as it headed west over land, Hanna’s center on Sunday was about 35 miles (55 km) from Monterrey, Mexico, as it moved 9 miles per hour (15 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin posted at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT).

The storm’s top sustained winds were around 35 mph (56 kph), the center said.

The storm was forecast to lose more steam as it moved across Texas and northeastern Mexico. On Sunday, weather watch officials canceled a storm surge warning they had issued for the Texas coast.

Hanna still posed a threat, forecasters said, noting it could dump upward of 18 inches (45 cm) of rain in isolated areas of southern Texas through Monday.

“This rain will produce life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor-to-moderate river flooding,” the NHC said.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Douglas was churning near Hawaii on Sunday, with torrential rains and damaging winds.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif; Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky, Barbara Goldberg and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

From New York to Houston, flood risk for real estate hubs ramps up

By Kate Duguid and Ally Levine

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of properties in the United States in danger of flooding this year is 70% higher than government data estimates, research released on Monday shows, with at-risk hot spots in Houston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The higher risk identified could have implications for property values as well as insurance rates, municipal bonds and mortgage-backed securities, according to investors and researchers at First Street Foundation, which released the data. (http://www.floodfactor.com)

“This could change the calculus on whether a given property is resalable, or what price you sell it at,” said Tom Graff, head of fixed income at Brown Advisory.

The data, which covers the contiguous United States, found that around 14.6 million properties, or 10.3%, are at a substantial risk of flooding this year versus the 8.7 million mapped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

FEMA maps are currently used to determine rates on government flood insurance and underpin risk assessments done by mortgage lenders, investors and home buyers. The maps, however, only account for coastal flooding – not rain or rivers – and do not incorporate the ways climate change has made storms worse.

A FEMA spokesperson said that First Street’s maps build on those created by the agency and the two are not incompatible.

Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, New York and Cape Coral, Florida top First Street’s list of cities with the most number of properties at risk. At the state level, Florida, Texas, California, New York and Pennsylvania have the most to lose. Florida and Texas also top FEMA’s list, but with significantly fewer properties estimated to be at risk.

Washington, D.C., has the greatest deviation from FEMA’s numbers, 438.4% more properties at risk, because First Street accounts for potential flooding from the Potomac and Anacostia rivers and a drainage basin under the city. Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho have the next highest deviations, all between three to four times greater than FEMA estimates.

Commercial mortgage-backed securities (CMBS), investments that pool loans for office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and more, are among the securities most exposed to flood risk because of the concentration of cities on the U.S. coasts.

“There is a moral hazard within the investment community of not pricing in the risk of something like this happening,” said Scott Burg, chief investment officer at hedge fund Deer Park Road.

Nearly 20% of all U.S. commercial real estate value is located in Houston, Miami and New York, according to CoStar data, each of which has been hit by hurricanes in the last decade.

Hurricane Harvey, which slammed Houston in 2017 and caused $131 billion damage, affected over 1,300 CMBS loans, 3% of the CMBS market in 2017, according to BlackRock research. Hurricane Irma in 2017 affected 2%.

The BlackRock report concluded that 80% of the commercial property damaged by those two storms was outside of FEMA flood zones, indicating that many of the buildings hit may not have been appropriately insured.

Any floods this year could compound the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has sent more than $32 billion of commercial loans into special servicing – negotiations for relief in the event of a default – according to Moody’s.

“For property owners that’s like getting your arm amputated and then your head lopped off,” said Jacob Hagi a professor of finance at the University of North Carolina and a First Street research partner.

(Reporting by Kate Duguid; editing by Megan Davies and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump declares state of emergency as Michigan floodwaters recede

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT (Reuters) – Floodwaters that breached two dams in central Michigan began to recede on Thursday after displacing thousands of people while spreading to a Dow Chemical plant and an adjacent hazardous waste cleanup site.

U.S. President Donald Trump, acting at the request of Governor Gretchen Whitmer, issued an emergency declaration authorizing federal disaster relief to victims of severe storms that struck Michigan this week in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

Flooding unleashed by two dam failures on Tuesday plunged parts of the riverfront city of Midland, about 120 miles (193 km) northwest of Detroit, under several feet of water and forced the evacuation of about 11,000 residents.

The torrent also posed a potential environmental hazard as floodwaters spilled into a Dow Chemical Co plant, mixing with the contents of a containment pond there, and swept a Superfund toxic cleanup site located just downstream.

Dow, a unit of Dow Inc <DOW.N>, said in a statement on Thursday that the brine solution in the pond posed no risk to residents or the environment, and no “product releases” from the plant were known to have occurred.

The rain-engorged Tittabawassee River rose to historic levels on Wednesday before starting to recede the next day, leaving a ravaged landscape of mud and debris. No deaths or serious injuries were reported.

“This is unlike everything we’ve seen before. The damage is truly devastating,” Whitmer told a news conference on Thursday.

Trump, visiting a newly reopened Ford Motor Co <F.N> automobile factory in Detroit on Thursday, said a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team was on the scene of the dam breaks to help assess damage and bring the situation under control.

Mark Bone, a Midland County commissioner, said floodwaters must ebb further before it was safe for evacuees to return home.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission directed Boyce Hydro LLC, operator of the stricken dams, to establish an independent investigation of the breaches. The agency in 2018 revoked the hydropower-generating license for one of the dams, accusing Boyce of deficiencies.

Boyce said in statements that it had been in conflict with federal and local authorities in recent years over how much water the dams should release and the levels of a nearby lake.

The company also said that since losing its license, it was unable to secure funding for dam improvements and received no government assistance.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in Chicago and Ben Klayman in Detroit; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Paul Simao and Lisa Shumamker)

Cyclone kills at least 82 in India, Bangladesh, causes widespread flooding

By Ruma Paul and and Subrata Nagchoudhury

KOLKATA/DHAKA (Reuters) – The most powerful cyclone to strike eastern India and Bangladesh in over a decade killed at least 82 people, officials said, as rescue teams scoured devastated coastal villages, hampered by torn down power lines and flooding over large tracts of land.

Mass evacuations organized by authorities before Cyclone Amphan made landfall undoubtedly saved countless lives, but the full extent of the casualties and damage to property would only be known once communications were restored, officials said.

In the Indian state of West Bengal, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said on Thursday that at least 72 people had perished – most of them either electrocuted or killed by trees uprooted by winds that gusted up to 185 km per hour (115 mph).

In neighboring Bangladesh, the initial toll was put at 10.

“I have never seen such a cyclone in my life. It seemed like the end of the world. All I could do was to pray… Almighty Allah saved us,” Azgar Ali, 49, a resident of Satkhira district on the Bangladesh coast told Reuters.

Mohammad Asaduzzaman, a senior police official in the area said the storm tore off tin roofs, snapped power lines and left many villages inundated.

When the cyclone barrelled in from the Bay of Bengal on Wednesday the storm surge of around five meters resulted in flooding across the low-lying coastal areas.

Reuters Television footage shot in West Bengal showed upturned boats on the shore, people wading through knee-deep water and buses crashed into each other. More images showed villagers trying to lift fallen electricity poles, fishermen hauling their boats out of a choppy sea, and uprooted trees lying strewn across the countryside.

Designated a super cyclone, Amphan has weakened since making landfall. Moving inland through Bangladesh, it was downgraded to a cyclonic storm on Thursday by the Indian weather office. And the storm was expected to subside into a depression later.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posted a tweet expressing concern over the people suffering in West Bengal.

“Have been seeing visuals from West Bengal on the devastation caused by Cyclone Amphan. In this challenging hour, the entire nation stands in solidarity with West Bengal,” he said.

Concern was growing over flooding in the Sundarbans, an ecologically-fragile region straddling the Indian-Bangladesh border, best known for thick mangrove forests and its tiger reserve.

“The tidal surge submerged some part of the forest,” said Belayet Hossain, a forest official on the Bangladesh side of the forest. “We have seen trees uprooted, the tin-roofs of the guard towers blown off,” he said.

Over on the Indian side of the Sundarbans, a village official said embankments surrounding a low-lying island, where some 5,000 people live, had been washed away, and he had been unable to contact authorities for help.

“We have not been able inform them about anything since last night, the official, Sanjib Sagar, told Reuters.

MASS EVACUATIONS

Authorities in both countries managed to evacuate more than three million people, moving them to storm shelters before Amphan struck. But the evacuation effort was focused on communities that lay directly in the cyclone’s path, leaving villages on the flanks still vulnerable.

The airport in Kolkata, West Bengal’s state capital, lay underwater and several neighborhoods in the city of 14 million people have had no electricity since the storm struck, according to residents.

After the storm passed people were trying to retrieve articles from the rubble of their shops in the city.

Pradip Kumar Dalui, an official in the state’s South 24 Parganas area, said that storm waters breached river embankments in several places, flooding over half a dozen villages, that were home for more than 100,000 people.

Electricity lines and phone connections were down in many places, but so far no deaths had been reported in this area, he said.

The cyclone came at a time when the two countries are battling to stop the spread of the coronavirus, and some evacuees were initially reluctant to leave their homes for fear of possible infection in the packed storm shelters.

 

(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi, Jatindra Dash in Bhubaneshwar, Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)