Coronavirus fuels historic legal battle over voting as 2020 U.S. election looms

By Joseph Ax

(Reuters) – The Nov. 3 contest between President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden has generated an unprecedented wave of election-related litigation, as both sides seek to shape the rules governing how votes are tallied in key states.

With 40 days left, the court clashes have spread to every competitive state amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has fueled pitched battles over seemingly mundane issues such as witness signatures, U.S. mail postmarks and the use of drop boxes for ballots.

Trump’s unfounded attacks on voting by mail and delivery delays amid cost-cutting measures at the U.S. Postal Service have only intensified the urgency of the litigation.

A Reuters analysis of state and federal court records found more than 200 election-related cases pending as of Tuesday. Overall, at least 250 election lawsuits spurred by the coronavirus have been filed, according to Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor who has been tracking the litigation.

The pandemic has turned what were once minor hurdles, such as witness signature requirements, into potentially major obstacles, while exacerbating existing concerns.

“In the past, long lines would be disenfranchising or deterring, but in this case they can be deadly,” said Myrna Perez, who directs the voting rights and elections program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice.

Democrats generally have sought to ease restrictions on mail ballots, which are surging as voters want to avoid the risk of visiting in-person polling sites.

“The Biden campaign has assembled the biggest voter protection program in history to ensure our election runs smoothly and to combat any attempt by Donald Trump to interfere in the democratic process,” Mike Gwin, a Biden spokesman, said.

Republicans say they are trying to prevent illegal voting, although experts say voter fraud is exceedingly rare.

“Democrats are working to shred election integrity measures one state at a time, and there’s no question they’ll continue their shenanigans from now to November and beyond,” said Matthew Morgan, general counsel for the Trump campaign.

A flurry of court decisions this month have delivered several Democratic wins, although many remain subject to appeal. In the key states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and North Carolina, officials will count ballots that arrive after Nov. 3, as long as they were sent by Election Day.

Several pending cases, including in competitive Texas, Pennsylvania and Michigan, could have a major impact on those states’ elections.

In Pennsylvania, for instance, Republicans will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to step in after the state’s highest court rejected their bid to limit drop boxes and disqualify late-arriving ballots. The Trump campaign is pursuing a separate federal lawsuit over some of the same issues.

In Texas, state Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, has sued officials in Harris County to stop them from sending absentee ballot applications to all voters. The county, which includes Houston, is the state’s most populous, with nearly 5 million residents.

Republicans prevailed in several earlier cases.

In Florida, a federal appeals court blocked hundreds of thousands of ex-felons from voting in November. In Texas, where only those 65 years and older can vote by mail without having to provide a valid reason such as disability, a series of court rulings have stymied Democratic efforts to extend that right to all residents.

SUPREME COURT BATTLE TO COME?

The influx of cases may also be a preview of what is to come after Nov. 3, when new fights could arise over which ballots should be counted.

Both campaigns have assembled armies of lawyers in preparation.

The Biden campaign has lined up hundreds of attorneys and has brought in top lawyers like former U.S. Solicitors General Donald Verrilli and Walter Dellinger and former Attorney General Eric Holder as advisers.

Marc Elias, the Democratic attorney who has coordinated many election lawsuits this year on behalf of left-leaning groups, is heading a team focused on state-by-state voter protection.

Trump’s campaign, for its part, has filed multiple challenges to states like Nevada and New Jersey that plan to mail a ballot to every voter.

Some Democrats are concerned that if Republicans succeed in getting a successor to the late liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court before the election, it will ensure Trump wins any dispute that ends up at the high court.

The Supreme Court’s decision in 2000 to stop the Florida recount handed the presidency to Republican George W. Bush, the only time the high court has decided the outcome of a U.S. presidential election.

Trump has seemingly laid the groundwork for a post-election fight, repeatedly asserting without evidence that voting by mail will yield a “rigged” result.

On Wednesday, the president said explicitly that he wanted to have Ginsburg’s successor in place because he expects the election to end up at the Supreme Court.

Levitt, the law professor tracking the cases, said he still trusted that judges would reject challenges not backed by evidence.

“Filing a case costs a few hundred dollars and a lawyer, and can often be useful for messaging,” he said. “But courts of law demand evidence that the court of public opinion doesn’t.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Disha Raychaudhuri; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Peter Cooney)

Billionaire Bloomberg raises millions to help restore Florida felon voting rights

By Trevor Hunnicutt

(Reuters) – Billionaire Michael Bloomberg has raised over $16 million to help former felons restore their voting rights in the critical battleground state of Florida, a person familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.

The fundraising tally comes just over a week after Bloomberg aides said the former New York City mayor, who made an unsuccessful 2020 bid for the Democratic nomination, would spend at least $100 million to help Democrat Joe Biden’s campaign against President Donald Trump in Florida.

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and no American should be denied that right,” Bloomberg said in an emailed statement, adding that he is working with a group that has been helping former felons’ pay fines and access the ballot box.

In-state voting by mail starts on Thursday in Florida, which will be the biggest prize among competitive states on Nov. 3’s Election Day, offering 29 of the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win.

Florida voters in 2018 approved an amendment to the state’s constitution to grant voting rights to felons who served their time and were not convicted of murder or sex crimes.

Republicans later backed a law requiring people with past felony convictions to pay court fines and fees before being able to vote. A federal appeals court upheld that law this month, reversing a lower court ruling that held the measure unconstitutional.

Voting rights advocates and Democrats have accused Republicans in a number of states of passing laws aimed at suppressing the voting ability of groups who tend to support Democratic candidates.

Bloomberg promised to be a political force even after spending $1 billion of his own money to unsuccessfully compete with Biden for the Democratic Party presidential nomination.

He sees an opportunity to make a difference in the closing weeks of the race in Florida, a state Trump won by 113,000 votes in 2016, or 1.2 percentage points.

The president has since adopted the state as his residence and visits regularly. Recent polls have shown Biden with a very slim margin there.

U.S. surpasses grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of the coronavirus in the United States exceeded 200,000 on Tuesday, by the far the highest number of any nation.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and were closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 42,000 new infections on average each day and saw cases last week rise on a weekly basis after falling for eight weeks in a row.

Deaths rose 5% last week after falling for four weeks in a row, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 137,000 fatalities. India has had the world’s highest daily death rate over the last week with total deaths now approaching 100,000.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. to surpass grim milestone of 200,000 COVID-19 deaths

By Sangameswaran S

(Reuters) – The death toll from the spread of coronavirus in the United States was approaching over 200,000 lives on Monday, more than double the number of fatalities in India, the country reporting the second-highest number of cases in the world.

The United States, on a weekly average, is now losing about 800 lives each day to the virus, according to a Reuters tally. That is down from a peak of 2,806 daily deaths recorded on April 15.

During the early months of the pandemic, 200,000 deaths was regarded by many as the maximum number of lives likely to be lost in the United States to the virus.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield recently told Congress that a face mask would provide more guaranteed protection than a vaccine, which would only be broadly available by “late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

The CDC currently predicts that the U.S. death toll will reach as high as 218,000 by Oct. 10.

The University of Washington’s health institute is forecasting coronavirus fatalities reaching 378,000 by the end of 2020, with the daily death toll skyrocketing to 3,000 per day in December.

Over 70% of those in the United States who have lost their lives to the virus were over the age of 65, according to CDC data.

The southern states of Texas and Florida contributed the most deaths in the United States in the past two weeks and was closely followed by California.

California, Texas and Florida – the three most populous U.S. states – have recorded the most coronavirus infections and have long surpassed the state of New York, which was the epicenter of the outbreak in early 2020. The country as a whole is reporting over 40,000 new infections on average each day.

As it battles a second wave of infections, the United States reported a 17% increase in the number of new cases last week compared with the previous seven days, with deaths rising 7% on average in the last, according to a Reuters analysis.

Six out of every 10,000 residents in the United States has died of the virus, according to Reuters data, one of the highest rates among developed nations.

Brazil follows the United States in the number of overall deaths due to the virus, with over 136,000 fatalities.

(Reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. Gulf Coast tourism, already stung by pandemic, slammed by Hurricane Sally

By Devika Krishna Kumar

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on the U.S. Gulf Coast this week, dealing a blow to a popular tourist destination already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. In the storm’s aftermath, many bar and restaurant owners were breathing a sigh of relief the damage was not worse.

Sally bulled its way through this stretch of beach towns and condos in Alabama and Florida, making landfall on Wednesday as a powerful Category 2 hurricane and bringing extensive floods that destroyed numerous piers and caused two riverboat casinos under construction to break free of their moorings.

Max Murphy, general manager of Crabs, a seafood and steak restaurant in Pensacola Beach, Florida, said the hurricane’s late eastward turn left residents unprepared.

“Everyone in the community expected it to keep going straight west to New Orleans or Gulfport (Miss.), but it took that turn so we weren’t really prepared,” Murphy said. “I didn’t even get the plywood up on my windows, because I wasn’t expecting it to come here.”

The damage from Hurricane Sally could range 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 costs of their damage. The hit to tourism revenues may not be fully known for months.

The U.S. leisure and hospitality industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. The Gulf region is a popular driving destination for the entire Southeast and Texas, peppered with restaurants, casinos and amusement parks.

Baldwin County, Alabama, where the hurricane made landfall, was the state’s most-visited county in 2019, according to the state tourism bureau, bringing in $1.7 billion in travel-related revenue.

In the Pensacola region, approximately 22,900 people were employed in that industry in August, a 13% drop from March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mike Bose, a manager at the Flora-Bama beach bar in Perdido Key, Florida, which hugs the Alabama state line, said the damage was still being assessed. More than 24 hours after the storm made landfall, parts of the restaurant were still flooded.

“We got quite a bit of water damage throughout, which we’re working on today,” Bose said. “There’s no telling at this point what the cost is to get back on track.”

Some tourists and visitors say the hurricane has scared them away from a return visit. Toni Galloway from Kansas City, Missouri, was visiting the Gulf area when Sally struck.

“This was my first hurricane. I wouldn’t want to weather another one. It’s frightening. I will have to think long and hard about returning to the Gulf Coast,” she said.

Murphy, the Crabs general manager, said the damage from this hurricane was less extensive than others like Hurricane Ivan, which hit 16 years ago at Category 5 strength. “That’s enough damage for the season. We don’t want anymore. We got lucky, we really did.”

John Perkins, 71, got to Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Sunday night from Tennessee to attend a wedding. Instead, he found himself hunkering down with his wife as the winds blew for hours.

“I told my wife – we can mark this off our bucket list. We rode out a hurricane,” he said.

(Reporting By Devika Krishna Kumar in Pensacola, Florida; additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Timothy Gardner)

Around 295,000 without power from Hurricane Sally in Alabama, Florida

(Reuters) – Around 295,000 homes and businesses were still without power on Friday in Florida and Alabama after Hurricane Sally smashed into the Gulf Coast early Wednesday, according to local utilities.

That is down from a total of more than 614,000 customers affected by the storm in Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

NextEra Energy Inc’s Gulf Power utility in Florida said it has already restored service to about 158,000 customers. The utility still has about 126,500 without power.

In Louisiana, which was not hit by Sally, about 40,000 customers were still without power in the southwestern part of the state since Hurricane Laura hit the coast in late August.

Entergy Corp, which still has about 25,600 out in Louisiana, said it expected to restore service to most customers by Sept. 23. In the Hackberry area where the Cameron LNG export plant is located, Entergy has said it expects to restore service by Sept. 20.

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino)

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)

Sally weakens to tropical depression, leaves massive floods on U.S. Gulf Coast

By Devika Krishna Kumar and Catherine Koppel

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally moved northeast on Thursday, where it was expected to bring more than a foot of rain to some areas, one day after it flooded streets and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Sally made landfall early on Wednesday near Gulf Shores, Alabama, with winds clocked at 105 mph (169 kph), making it a Category 2 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

As of late Wednesday, it was moving north at 12 mph (19 km per hour) after being downgraded to a tropical depression, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, with maximum winds of 30 mph (50 kmh).

The storm is believed to have killed one person in Alabama.

“We had a body wash up. We believe it was hurricane-related, but we have no definitive proof of that right now,” said Trent Johnson, a police lieutenant in Orange Beach, Alabama.

Some parts of the coast were inundated with more than two feet (60 cm) of rain, as the slow-moving storm flooded communities. The coastal city of Pensacola, Florida, experienced up to 5 feet (1.5 m) of flooding, and travel was cut by damaged roads and bridges. More than 570,000 homes and businesses across the area were without power.

Several residents along the Alabama and Florida coasts said damage from the storm caught them off guard. By late Wednesday, the floodwaters had started to recede in some areas, though the National Weather Service warned that extensive river flooding would be a concern through the weekend.

“It was just constant rain and wind,” said Preity Patel, 41, a resident of Pensacola for two years. “The water drained pretty quickly, thankfully. It’s just cleanup now.”

The Pensacola Bay Bridge, known also as the “Three Mile Bridge,” was missing a “significant section,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference.

Electrical crews from other states arrived in Pensacola as utilities began restoring power to Alabama and Florida, according to local utilities.

“This year we’ve just got hurricane after hurricane,” said Matt Lane, 23, a member of a crew from New Hampshire Electric Coop, who arrived late on Tuesday directly from Hurricane Laura recovery efforts in Texas.

Sally was the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and the eighth of tropical storm or hurricane strength to hit the United States. There are currently three other named storms in the Atlantic, making it one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record.

Hurricanes have increased in intensity and destructiveness since the 1980’s as the climate has warmed, according to researchers at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Sally shut more than a quarter of U.S. Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas production.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna-Kumar and Catherine Koppel in Mobile, Alabama; Additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Stephanie Kelly and Scott DiSavino in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; 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)

Sally lumbers toward U.S. Gulf Coast, threatens ‘catastrophic rain’

By Jonathan Bachman and Jennifer Hiller

GULF SHORES, ALABAMA (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally made a slow-motion crawl towards the U.S. Gulf Coast on Tuesday, threatening historic floods and prolonged rainfall as officials in three states urged people to flee the coast.

Sally could wallop the Alabama, Florida and Mississippi coasts on Tuesday night or early Wednesday with massive flash flooding and storm surges of up to 7 feet (2 meters) in some spots, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Its languid pace recalls 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which dumped several feet of rain over a period of days on the Houston area.

More than 2 feet of rain expected in some areas, creating “extreme life-threatening flash flooding likely through Wednesday,” an NHC forecaster said. While Sally’s winds decreased to 80 miles (140 km) per hour at 1 p.m.(1800 GMT), it was moving at a glacial pace of two miles per hour.

Sally will slow even more after landfall, causing Atlanta, Georgia to see as much as six inches (15 cm) of rain through Friday, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, an energy, agriculture and weather data provider. “It’s going to be a catastrophic flooding event” for much of the southeastern U.S., Forester said, with Mobile, Alabama to the western part of the Florida panhandle taking the brunt of the storm.

Governors from Louisiana to Florida warned people to leave low-lying communities and Mobile County, Alabama Sheriff Sam Cochran warned residents of flood-prone areas that if they choose to ride out the storm, it will be “a couple of days or longer before you can get out.”

The causeway to Dauphin Island, Alabama, at the entrance to Mobile Bay was already flooded and impassable on Tuesday morning, the mayor said.

Coastal roads in Pascagoula, Mississippi, were flooding on Tuesday and some electrical wires were down, according to photos and social media posts from the police department, which asked people to respect road barricades and “refrain from joy riding.”

Nearly 11,000 homes are at risk of storm surge in the larger coastal cities in Alabama and Mississippi, according to estimates from property data and analytics firm CoreLogic.

Steady winds and bands of rain had started to arrive in Gulf Shores by Tuesday morning. Samantha Frederickson, who recently moved to Gulf Shores, Alabama, hit the beach early Tuesday to catch a view of the storm surf. “At the moment, we’re riding it out,” she said amid light rains and winds. “When it gets to the point we don’t feel comfortable, we’ll take off.”

President Donald Trump made emergency declarations for Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, which helps coordinate disaster relief.

At 1 p.m., storm was 60 miles (95 km) east of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the NHC said.

Ports, schools and businesses closed along the coast. The U.S. Coast Guard restricted travel on the lower Mississippi River from New Orleans to the Gulf, and closed the ports of Pascagoula and Gulfport, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama.

Energy companies buttoned up or halted oil refineries and pulled workers from offshore oil and gas production platforms. More than a quarter of U.S. offshore oil production was shut.

Sally is the 18th named storm in the Atlantic this year and will be the eighth tropical storm or hurricane to hit the United States – something “very rare if not a record” said Dan Kottlowski, senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, noting that accurate data on historic tropical storms can be elusive.

(Reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston and Jonathan Bachman in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Editing by Marguerita Choy, Jonathan Oatis and Timothy Gardner)