Colombia starts to bury 273 landslide victims, search continues

New coffins for reburials, are seen in a cemetery after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

MOCOA, Colombia (Reuters) – Scores of decomposing cadavers were being released for burial on Monday as rescuers continued to search for victims of weekend flooding and landslides that devastated a city in southern Colombia, killing at least 273 people.

Desperate families queued for blocks in the heat to search a morgue for loved ones who died when several rivers burst their banks in the early hours of Saturday, sending water, mud and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.

Bodies wrapped in white sheets lay on the concrete floor of the morgue as officials sought to bury them as soon as possible to avoid the spread of disease. The government has begun vaccination against infection.

“Please speed up delivery of the bodies because they are decomposing,” said Yadira Andrea Munoz, a 45-year-old housewife who expected to receive the remains of two relatives who died in the tragedy.

But officials asked for families to be patient.

“We don’t want bodies to be delivered wrongly,” said Carlos Eduardo Valdes, head of the forensic science institute.

The death toll has ticked up during the day as rescuers searched with dogs and machinery in the mud-choked rubble.

Aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Aerial view of a neighborhood destroyed after flooding and mudslides caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Many families in Mocoa have spent days and nights digging through the debris with their hands despite a lack of food, clean water and electricity.

President Juan Manuel Santos, who made a third visit to the area on Monday, blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night, causing the rivers to burst their banks.

Others said deforestation in surrounding mountains meant there were few trees to prevent water washing down bare slopes.

More than 500 people were staying in emergency housing and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents. As many as 43 children were killed.

Families of the dead will receive about $6,400 in aid and the government will cover hospital and funeral costs.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared with recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 100 people.

Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000 people.

Santos urged Colombians to take precautions against flooding and continued rains.

Flooding in Peru last month killed more than 100 people and destroyed infrastructure.

(Reporting by Andres Rojas, Helen Murphy Luis Jaime Acosta and Jaime Saldarriaga; Editing by James Dalgleish and Lisa Shumaker)

Two people killed in Louisiana mobile home hit by tornado

A trailer home where two people were killed after a possible tornado, is damaged in Breaux Bridge, St. Martin Parish, Louisiana, U.S.,

By Letitia Stein and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – A tornado flipped over a mobile home in south-central Louisiana on Sunday, killing a toddler and her mother, as forecasters warned of a dangerous weather system bringing twisters, fierce straight-line winds and hail to the Gulf Coast region.

Neville Alexander, 3, and Francine Gotch, 38, were inside the mobile home in the town of Breaux Bridge, just outside Lafayette, Louisiana, when the storm slammed into the dwelling, causing “significant damage,” the St. Martin Sheriff’s Office said on its Facebook page.

Video posted on the page showed the remnants of a mobile home with its walls and roof collapsed and furniture and other household belongings upended and scattered. Nearby houses and vehicles appeared unscathed.

The National Weather Service (NWS) later confirmed the demolished trailer was upended by a tornado packing winds of around 100 miles per hour (161 kph) and ranked as a category EF-1 on the five-point Enhanced Fujita Scale. An EF-5 is the highest rating.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the Weather Service had issued a “high risk” advisory for central and northern Louisiana, warning residents to be vigilant of the threat of severe weather.

Other parts of Louisiana were under “moderate and enhanced” alerts for severe weather, he said, adding, “This is a statewide weather event.”

In addition to tornado threats, thunderstorms were bringing hurricane-force, straight-line winds and large hail to the region, the governor said.

Television station WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, the state capital, reported more than 4,500 lightning strikes across the state by late afternoon.

Edwards called for members of the public to remain indoors and avoid unnecessary travel, while urging mobile homes residents to stay with friends or relatives in more solid structures overnight if possible.

The NWS posted tornado watches for a portion of eastern Texas and most of the two neighboring Gulf states of Louisiana and Mississippi. A flash-flood warning was in effect for a large swath of east Texas and Louisiana.

Tornado sightings were reported in central Texas and north-central Louisiana, while high winds were snapping trees and causing other damage, the NWS reported.

The brunt of the storm system, also a concern for southern Arkansas, was expected to track eastward into Mississippi after dark, and possibly into Alabama on Monday morning.

The warnings come after severe weather killed at least 21 people in the South earlier this year, many in mobile homes demolished by tornadoes in Georgia and Mississippi.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by McGurty in New York; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Sandra Maler)

Rescuers, locals dig for Colombia flood victims, 254 die

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia

By Jaime Saldarriaga

MOCOA, Colombia (Reuters) – Families and rescuers searched desperately on Sunday through mud-plastered rubble for victims of flooding and landslides in Colombia that have killed 254 people, injured hundreds and devastated entire neighborhoods.

Several rivers burst their banks near the southwestern city of Mocoa in the early hours of Saturday, sending water, mud and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.

Volunteers and firefighters tended to 82 bodies downstream in the town of Villagarzon and said many corpses were still caught in debris.

“We had to recover them ourselves. We think we’ll find more,” Villagarzon Mayor Jhon Ever Calderon told Reuters. He said the town had no coffins or sanitary storage.

Many families in Mocoa stayed up through the night to search through the debris, despite the lack of electricity in the city.

“I need to know where they are, if they are injured or where to find them,” sobbed Maria Lilia Tisoy, 37, looking through the rubble for her two daughters, one pregnant, and a 4-year-old granddaughter.

“If they are dead, please God deliver them to me,” she said.

President Juan Manuel Santos made a second visit to the area on Sunday. He said water and energy services would be restored as soon as possible.

Santos blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night, causing the rivers to burst their banks.

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

There was disagreement over the death toll for most of Sunday but, late in the evening, the government’s total was increased to match the 254-person figure released by the army. Just over 200 were injured.

Disaster officials said more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents.

The disaster came after deadly flooding in Peru killed more than 100 people and destroyed infrastructure.

Families of the dead will receive about $6,400 in aid and the government will cover hospital and funeral costs.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 100 people.

Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000 people.

Santos urged Colombians to take precautions against flooding and continued rains.

The president also thanked China and the Inter-American Development Bank for donating $1 million and $200,000 respectively toward relief efforts.

(Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Nelson Bocangra and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Andrea Ricci, Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

Army assesses damage after storm ‘absolutely smashes’ north Australia

A damaged building is seen behind a boat that was pushed onto a bank due to Cyclone Debbie in the township of Airlie Beach, located south of the northern Australian city of Townsville, March 29, 2017. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Benjamin Weir

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Cyclone Debbie wrought widespread but moderate damage in Australia’s northeast, authorities said on Wednesday, as flooding rain and fallen trees slowed troops and emergency workers reaching the worst-hit areas.

No deaths were reported a day after Debbie smashed tourist resorts, flattened canefields and shut down coal mines in tropical Queensland state as a category four storm, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

“It’s looking promising in terms of being able to rebuild promptly with most of the major infrastructure intact,” Queensland state police deputy commissioner Steve Gollschewski told Australian Broadcasting Corporation television.

“We’re still struggling to get in there, however,” he said, adding planes and boats were being used to bring army personnel and emergency workers to places cut-off by road.

And as poor weather persisted and several Bowen Basin collieries stayed shut, analysts said Debbie could push coking coal prices higher – while tourism operators, even in unaffected regions, reported canceled bookings.

Resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef and coastal areas bore the brunt of the storm with wind gusts stronger than 260 kph (160 mph).

One family near Airlie Beach, over which the eye of the storm passed, had a particularly dramatic night. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the family welcomed a baby girl who was born inside the Whitsunday Ambulance Station as the storm raged outside.

Pictures from Hamilton Island and Airlie Beach showed streets stacked with snapped trees, roof tiles and furniture, with wrecked yachts washed ashore.

“Nature has flung her worst at the people of Queensland,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull told reporters at the Crisis Coordination Centre in Canberra.

Electricity was cut for more than 63,000 people, and Wilmar said its sugar mills were stilled at Proserpine and Sarina.

Hundreds of hectares of sugarcane crops had been flattened, Dan Galligan, chief executive of industry body Canegrowers, said in a statement.

In the Bowen Basin, the world’s single-largest source of coal used to make steel, BHP Billiton, Glencore, and Stanmore Coal all said work at mines there was halted until further notice.

But Glencore added its Collinsville and Newlands mines were not damaged and it anticipated production would resume within 48 hours, with no impact on annual targets. Prices lifted, but other factors also contributed.

Ports operator North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation also said it had no reports of significant damage.

Whitsunday Islands resorts were battered, running short on fresh water and closed to bookings until at least next week, but mostly intact.

Hoteliers hundreds of kilometers away at Cairns and Rockhampton were seeing cancellations for upcoming Easter holidays and operators worried that bad press would prolong the recovery, Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said.

“These are places that are entirely unaffected by these circumstances and that’s the kind of collateral damage we suffer sometimes in our industry,” he said.

Townsville Airport reopened, although airlines Qantas and Virgin said flights to Hamilton Island, Proserpine and Mackay were canceled.

Only two injuries were reported, police said.

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Thousands shelter as “screaming, howling” Cyclone Debbie hits north Australia

Strong wind and rain from Cyclone Debbie is seen effecting trees at Airlie Beach, located south of the northern Australian city of Townsville. AAP/Dan Peled/via REUTERS

By Tom Westbrook and Benjamin Weir

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Howling winds, heavy rain and huge seas pounded Australia’s northeast on Tuesday, damaging homes, wrecking jetties and cutting power to thousands of people as Tropical Cyclone Debbie tore through the far north of Queensland.

Wind gusts stronger than 260 km per hour (160 mph) were recorded at tourist resorts along the world-famous Great Barrier Reef as the storm made landfall as a category four, one rung below the most dangerous wind speed level.

It was later downgraded to category two. Forecasters said high winds would likely persist overnight, although the storm would then weaken rapidly and was expected to be downgraded to category one by dawn on Wednesday.

Police said one man was badly hurt when a wall collapsed at Proserpine, about 900 km (560 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital, Brisbane, and was taken to hospital.

But the weather was still too bad to assess damage fully or mount an emergency response.

“We will also receive more reports of injuries, if not deaths. We need to be prepared for that,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart told reporters in Brisbane.

As the storm forged slowly inland after nightfall, state premier Annastacia Palaszczuk urged people to stay indoors.

“It is a serious event and we do not want to see loss of life,” she told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.

“It will be a difficult night for people across our state.”

Cyclone Debbie made landfall at Airlie Beach, north of Proserpine, shortly after midday local time (0200 GMT), knocking out telephone services.

“It’s very noisy: Screaming, howling wind … sounds like a freight train,” Jan Clifford told Reuters by text from Airlie Beach as the cyclone made landfall.

“Still blowing like crazy,” she said four hours later.

Authorities had urged thousands of people in threatened areas to flee their homes on Monday, in what would have been the biggest evacuation seen in Australia since Cyclone Tracy devastated the northern city of Darwin on Christmas Day, 1974.

CATASTROPHE DECLARED

Torrential rain flooded streets and wind smashed windows, uprooted trees and tossed debris down streets, while jetties at Airlie Beach marina were wrecked, Nine Network television pictures showed.

Power was cut for 48,000 people in a wide area between the towns of Bowen and Mackay, north and south of Airlie Beach, Ergon Energy spokesman John Fowler said.

Ports at Abbot Point, Mackay and Hay Point were shut and Townsville airport was closed. Airlines Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia suspended flights to and from the region and said planes may also be grounded on Wednesday, although Townsville airport said it would reopen.

BHP Billiton and Glencore halted work at their coal mines in the storm’s path.

The Insurance Council of Australia declared Cyclone Debbie a catastrophe, making it easier to make claims, but said in a statement it was too early to estimate the cost of damage.

With an eye 50 km (30 miles) wide, the cyclone had earlier damaged tourist resorts, washed away beaches and tore boats from moorings as it swept through the Whitsunday islands, guests told Reuters by telephone.

Cyclone Debbie is the strongest storm to hit Queensland since Cyclone Yasi destroyed homes and crops and devastated island resorts in 2011.

Authorities had feared tidal surges in low-lying areas as the storm whipped up waves and currents and lifted sea levels, but said later that danger had eased.

Holidaymakers tried to make the best of it as they bunkered down in resort buildings. “Go to the Whitsundays they said, it’d be fun they said, beautiful weather over here,” holidaymaker Kurt Moore told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“I’m so glad we got evacuated out of the place we were staying at, I think we’d be pooping watermelons right now to be honest,” he said.

Despite issuing evacuation orders, police said they were not sure how many people had heeded their advice.

That did not deter some thrill-seeking bodyboarders who paddled out to surf in the heaving seas at Airlie Beach, television footage showed.

(Additional reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Paul Tait)

What is left when Peru’s flood waters recede

A chair stands in mud at the home of Francisco Coca after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru

By Mariana Bazo

CARAPONGO, Peru (Reuters) – On the outskirts of Lima, hundreds of householders salvage scant belongings in what is left of their homes after the Rimac River burst its banks in recent weeks amid Peru’s worst flooding disaster in decades.

Many of the hardest hit are those who can least afford it – poor Peruvians who built their homes on cheap land near the river, which runs from Peru’s central Andes to the Pacific coast.

Simeona Mosquera contemplates her uncertain future, standing in what once was her front room and is now a ruin of mud and debris.

A children's bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru,

A children’s bike leans against a wall covered in mud after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Carapongo Huachipa, Lima, Peru, March 24, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The 74-year-old market seller fled in the night after a neighbor told her the waters were rising dangerously, but did not think anything would happen to her house.

“When I returned the next day I saw my sofa to one side, part of the house on another side, everything all over the place, everything destroyed,” she says. “I thought, am I dreaming or is this happening?

“I lost my sofas, my bed, my cupboards, my children’s documents … there is nothing left.”

Furniture that can be recovered is perched precariously on parts of brick walls, among the only remnants of nearby homes.

Across Peru, dozens have been killed and tens of thousands displaced after sudden warming of Pacific waters off the coast unleashed torrential downpours in recent weeks. It is part of a localized El Nino phenomenon that is forecast to stretch into April.

In what’s left of Carlos Rojas’ house a pink sign reading ‘Baby Shower’ hangs on a wall, one of the few things not coated with mud. It was for a party a couple of months ago for his baby daughter, the mechanic says. He brushes down a salvaged mattress. Not much else is left.

“All the things that cost me a lot of effort to earn went in no time at all,” say Rojas. “There’s no choice but to start again.”

(Click on http://reut.rs/2o9h1JB to see a related photo essay)

(Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen

Residents do the laundry at a flooded Ramiro Priale highway, after rivers breached their banks due to torrential rains, causing flooding and widespread destruction in Huachipa, Lima, Peru, March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) – A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters off Peru has unleashed the deadliest downpours in decades, with landslides and raging rivers sweeping away people, clogging highways and destroying crops.

At least 62 people have died and more than 70,000 have become homeless as Peru’s rainy season has delivered 10 times as much rainfall than usual, authorities said Friday.

About half of Peru has been declared in emergency to expedite resources to the hardest hit areas, mostly in the north where rainfall has broken records in several districts, said Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

Peru is bracing itself for another month of flooding.

A local El Nino phenomenon, the warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific, will likely continue along Peru’s northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru’s El Nino committee.

Coastal El Ninos in Peru tend to be preceded by the El Nino phenomenon in the Equatorial Central Pacific, which can trigger flooding and droughts around the world, said Gutierrez. But this year’s event in Peru has developed from local conditions.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time – rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government’s response.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Chavez. “From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided.”

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

In Peru, apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media have broadened the sense of chaos.

A woman caked in mud pulled herself from under a debris-filled river earlier this week after a mudslide rushed through a valley where she was tending to crops.

Bridges have collapsed as rivers have breached their banks, and cows and pigs have turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.

“There’s no need to panic, the government knows what it’s doing,” President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said in a televised event, urging people to stay clear of rivers.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged – prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

“There’s no electricity, no drinking water…no transit because streets are flooded,” said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential “tropicalization” of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

“We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems,” said Chavez. “We can’t count on nature being predictable.”

(This story corrects to remove reference in first sentence to extreme weather in Peru being a sign of a potential El Nino; corrects sixth paragraph to show that Gutierrez said local El Ninos in Peru tend to be preceded, not followed by, the global El Nino pattern and that this year’s event in Peru has developed from local conditions)

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Abnormal El Nino in Peru unleashes deadly downpours; more flooding seen

People cross a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

By Mitra Taj

LIMA (Reuters) – A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters off Peru has unleashed the deadliest downpours in decades, with landslides and raging rivers sweeping away people, clogging highways and destroying crops in a potential sign of a global El Nino pattern this year.

At least 62 people have died and more than 70,000 have become homeless as Peru’s rainy season has delivered 10 times as much rainfall than usual, authorities said Friday.

About half of Peru has been declared in emergency to expedite resources to the hardest hit areas, mostly in the north where rainfall has broken records in several districts, said Prime Minister Fernando Zavala.

A woman and a child are evacuated with a zip line after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

A woman and a child are evacuated with a zip line after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

Peru is bracing itself for another month of flooding.

A local El Nino phenomenon, the warming of surface sea temperatures in the Pacific, will likely continue along Peru’s northern coast at least through April, said Dimitri Gutierrez, a scientist with Peru’s El Nino committee.

Local El Ninos in Peru tend to be followed by the global El Nino phenomenon, which can trigger flooding and droughts in different countries, said Gutierrez.

The U.S. weather agency has put the chances of an El Nino developing in the second half of 2017 at 50-55 percent.

While precipitation in Peru has not exceeded the powerful El Nino of 1998, more rain is falling in shorter periods of time – rapidly filling streets and rivers, said Jorge Chavez, a general tasked with coordinating the government’s response.

“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Chavez. “From one moment to the next, sea temperatures rose and winds that keep precipitation from reaching land subsided.”

Some scientists have said climate change will make El Ninos more frequent and intense.

A woman is assisted while crossing a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

A woman is assisted while crossing a flooded street after the Huayco river overflooded its banks sending torrents of mud and water rushing through the streets in Huachipa, Peru, March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Guadalupe Pardo

In Peru, apocalyptic scenes recorded on cellphones and shared on social media have broadened the sense of chaos.

A woman caked in mud pulled herself from under a debris-filled river earlier this week after a mudslide rushed through a valley where she was tending to crops.

Bridges have collapsed as rivers have breached their banks, and cows and pigs have turned up on beaches after being carried away by rivers.

“There’s no need to panic, the government knows what it’s doing,” President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski said in a televised event, urging people to stay clear of rivers.

In Lima, the capital, classes have been suspended and running water has been restricted after treatment systems were clogged – prompting a rush on bottled water that produced shortages at some supermarkets.

The vast majority of people affected by the extreme weather are poor, including many who built makeshift homes on floodplains that had been dry for 20 years, said Chavez.

“There’s no electricity, no drinking water…no transit because streets are flooded,” said Valentin Fernandez, mayor of the town Nuevo Chimbote.

Chavez said Peru must rethink its infrastructure to prepare for the potential “tropicalization” of the northern desert coast, which some climate models have forecast as temperatures rise.

“We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems,” said Chavez. “We can’t count on nature being predictable.”

(Reporting by Mitra Taj; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Thousands still forced from homes by flooding in California tech hub

Vehicles are seen partially submerged in flood water at William Street Park after heavy rains overflowed nearby Coyote Creek in San Jose, California. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The mucky water flooding a section of San Jose in Northern California forced officials on Wednesday to widen the area under mandatory evacuation orders, with about 14,000 people barred from returning to their homes following drenching rains.

San Jose, a hub of high-tech Silicon Valley, suffered major flooding on Tuesday triggering evacuation orders when Coyote Creek overran its banks, swamping the Rock Springs neighborhood. Water at some sites engulfed the entire first floor of residences while in other places it reached waist-high.

Officials said the city of about 1 million residents has not seen a flood approaching this magnitude since 1997.

The gush of water inundating San Jose flowed down from the Anderson Reservoir, which was pushed to overflowing by a rainstorm that pounded Northern California from Sunday to Tuesday, officials said.

The reservoir’s operators have been releasing water at maximum levels since Jan. 9 but it was not enough to avoid a spillover because of recent storms, Rachael Gibson, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara Valley Water District, said at a news conference.

Trash-strewn floodwaters inundated city blocks in California’s third-largest city, as firefighters in inflatable boats on Tuesday ferried stranded residents to dry ground.

Aside from 14,000 people whom officials said were placed under mandatory evacuation orders, with many taking up residence in emergency shelters, the city has issued a less severe evacuation advisory to 22,000 people, urging them to leave their homes as well.

“This is nothing you ever want to see in your community,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo told a news conference.

Residents of the flooded area, which is near downtown and is made up of apartment buildings and townhomes, would not be allowed to return to their properties on Wednesday, Liccardo said. “We’re not out of this yet,” he said.

The Weather Service forecasts light rain to resume this weekend in the area.

It was not immediately clear how many homes suffered flood damage.

A section of the 101 Freeway in San Jose and another strip of the thoroughfare south of the city were closed by flooding, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Coyote Creek crested at a record-breaking 14.4 feet (4.4 meters) on Tuesday evening, said National Weather Service forecaster Bob Benjamin.

The previous record was in 1922, at 12.8 feet (3.9 meters), Benjamin said.

“Quite possibly we won’t see a return to a flood this weekend because the (weather) system does not look terribly imposing,” Benjamin said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Sandra Maler)

Flooding forces hundreds from homes in San Jose, California

Rescuers from the San Jose Fire Department pilot boats while evacuating residents of Nordale Avenue after the Coyote Creek flooded parts of San Jose, California, U.S. February 21, 2017. Courtesy of Chris Smead/Csmeadphotography/Handout via REUTERS

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Murky, waist-high floodwaters swamped neighborhoods along a rain-swollen creek in the northern California city of San Jose on Tuesday, prompting authorities to issue evacuation orders or advisories for more than 1,000 homes, city officials said.

The state’s third-largest city, a hub of the high-tech Silicon Valley corridor south of San Francisco, has about 1 million residents and declared an emergency as Coyote Creek overflowed its banks from days of heavy showers.

The trash-strewn floodwaters inundated whole city blocks, submerging parked cars and lapping at the walls of apartments and townhouses, as firefighters in inflatable boats ferried stranded residents to dry ground.

About 300 homes were ordered evacuated in low-lying Rock Springs, and city officials urged residents of roughly 200 dwellings in the Williams Street neighborhood downstream to leave their homes, city spokesman David Vossbrink said.

After dark, fire department crews began going door to door advising residents of three creek-side mobile home parks, consisting of about 600 trailers, to move to higher ground, Vossbrink said, adding that the stream was continuing to rise.

At a news conference earlier in the day, Mayor Sam Liccardo acknowledged that municipal officials should have moved more quickly in evacuating the Rock Springs area.

“As I sit here today and I look out at a neighborhood that’s completely inundated with water … there’s no question in my mind there was a failure of some kind,” he said.

City officials had no reports of injuries, deaths or people missing, said Vossbrink, who estimated at least 300 homes were damaged by flooding.

The San Jose Fire Department advised a decontamination cleansing for those immersed in floodwaters to get rid of hazardous pollutants.

The latest series of downpours that swept northern California on Sunday and Monday weakened on Tuesday, the National Weather Service said. Meteorologists said the storms were spawned by an “atmospheric river” bringing moisture from the Pacific Ocean.

Last week a string of storms triggered a crisis near the Lake Oroville Dam about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of San Francisco, where damage to two spillways prompted an evacuation of more than 100,000 people downstream.

California is slowly recovering from five years of drought thanks to several months of unusually wet weather.

At least 3 inches (8 cm) of rain fell in many areas, though some received far more, such as the sparsely populated Big Sur region and outside the city of Santa Rosa, which got more than 8 inches (20 cm), the weather officials said.

The next heavy storm is expected to hit Northern California this weekend, they added.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Additional reporting and Writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by James Dalgleish and Clarence Fernandez)