‘Schools are survival’: U.S. coronavirus closures put homeless students at risk

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For U.S. student Samantha Kinney, high school is about more than education: It has also given her a support network, a sense of accomplishment — and, at times, even access to daily necessities like food and hygiene products.

Kinney, 18, has dealt with homelessness and housing instability for years, including a time when she lived out of a car with her parents and dropped out of school altogether.

She currently lives with relatives in Kansas City, Missouri – having not seen her parents in a few years – and has restarted school, where she has found a surprisingly nurturing community.

“There were even times when families would ‘adopt’ me for Christmas, when they would buy me gifts before break,” Kinney told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has thrown that support system into flux.

Like most schools across the country, Kinney’s school is closed, probably through the end of the school year in June, leaving students in unstable housing situations without the everyday help they rely on, warn homelessness groups.

For many students, those closures have removed a key source of stability, safety, access to food and other resources, as well as the opportunity to gain the skills or a job that could secure their future.

“Schools are survival for children experiencing homelessness,” said Barbara Duffield, executive director of SchoolHouse Connection, a nonprofit that works on the issue nationally.

“Now that schools aren’t there, and the organizations that schools referred (homeless students) to are closing down or short-staffed, a lot of the most vulnerable populations are more likely to fall through the cracks,” she said.

Kinney is one of at least 1.5 million homeless public school students across the country, according to federal statistics released in January for the 2017-2018 school year, the latest available.

That figure is a record high, according to SchoolHouse Connection, up 11% in just a year, and includes a doubling of the number of students in “unsheltered” situations, such as living in cars or on the street.

Those who work with homeless students worry that the pandemic will have an outsized impact on many of them, now and into the future.

More than 90% of schools in the United States have been affected by closures to some degree due to the pandemic, according to trade publication Education Week.

So far, Kinney said she is coping with the changes. She has a computer and stable internet connection at her relatives’ house, and has stayed on top of her studies.

Still, the high school senior said she feels the disruption even more starkly than her peers, including the possible cancellation of landmark events such as prom and a formal graduation.

“I really wanted the satisfaction of being able to walk across that stage and being handed my diploma,” she said.

SOURCE OF STABILITY

Schools have long played a critical, but poorly recognized, role in helping homeless students in the United States, said social workers and activists.

As well as providing homeless students with an education, many public schools “offer other basic supports, including showers, laundry, and even clothing,” said Matt Smith of Washington state’s Homeless Student Stability Program.

But Dana Bailey, chief operating officer at nonprofit Homeless Youth Connection in Avondale, Arizona, said that homeless youths are more likely to drop out of school – and that the coronavirus outbreak has “turned our organization upside-down”.

In Arizona, schools started closing on March 16 for what was going to be two weeks, but has been extended to the rest of the school year.

During the first few weeks of the closure, Bailey and her colleagues focused on the immediate needs of the nearly 290 students they work with.

For students who usually get food through schools, the group dropped off groceries or gift cards that can be used for food and other supplies.

Then, as the schools prepared to start remote learning, Homeless Youth Connection began trying to source essentials like computers and internet hotspots for students who didn’t have them.

“Our students come into our program with no stability,” said Kayla McCullough, a program manager at the non-profit.

“They don’t have what we think of as a home, housing is temporary, food is unreliable and family members are overburdened by trauma caused by homelessness.”

Students who face problems at home are often safer at school, McCullough said.

“If there’s any danger at home, they get to escape that by going to school … It’s a light at the end of the tunnel for many,” she said.

Some community advocates say the public fear surrounding the pandemic is exacerbating homelessness issues, sometimes resulting in people being kicked out of their living situation.

“We’re starting to hear from (homeless) parents that there’s fear on the part of their hosts, (who are) saying, ‘You’ve been here for six months, and I’m too scared to have you’,” said Debra Albo-Steiger, a director at the Project UP-START homeless programme in Miami’s public school system.

DORMS SHUTTERED

School closures don’t affect only younger students: As colleges and universities across the country have shut classrooms and dorms, many have been confronted with students who have nowhere else to go.

Nearly half of college students are housing insecure, and 16% are homeless, according to Marissa Meyers, a researcher with the Hope Center for College, Community and Justice at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Amid the pandemic, “colleges and universities don’t know what to do — they’re paralyzed,” she said, with most seeing major holes opening in their budgets.

Colleges and universities are projecting a $23 billion decline in revenue next school year due to the coronavirus-related drop in enrolment, according to the American Council on Education industry group.

The federal government recently allotted $14 billion to struggling colleges and universities, half of which must be used to help students pay for things like food, housing, school materials and health care.

Some schools have found a way to keep some of their dorms open for students, at least temporarily.

Middle Tennessee State University spokesman Jimmy Hart said the school has made exceptions for those who can’t go anywhere else, including international students and those without reliable internet connections at home.

Berea College in Kentucky, which caters solely to low-income students, is also maintaining housing for about 150 students who could not vacate, according to president Lyle Roelofs.

“No student who had no home to go to or another viable option was asked to leave campus,” he said in emailed comments.

Yet Roelofs expressed concern about the longer-term effects of coronavirus-related closures, particularly for poor students.

“My larger fear is that … the extra curveballs they are facing as a result of the pandemic may seriously degrade their already discouraging prospects,” he said

That’s a sentiment expressed by many, at all levels of schooling.

“We know (the pandemic) isn’t just affecting health, but also our economy,” said Dana Bailey of Homeless Youth Connection.

Ahead of the next school year, she said, “we’re already anticipating a greater number of students needing our services”.

(Reporting by Carey L. Biron, Editing by Jumana Farouky and Zoe Tabary. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Cubans cast aside coronavirus fears to search for scarcer food

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – From the seafront capital Havana to the foothills of the Sierra Maestra mountains, Cubans are defying fear of the new coronavirus to search for food as global trade disruptions worsen shortages of basic goods on the Caribbean island.

Residents of all ages are trudging from store to store in the country to locate scarce goods despite recommendations from health experts to stay at home and respect social distancing guidelines to avoid contracting the highly contagious disease.

Communist-run Cuba imports more than 60% of its food, but the pandemic has forced its government to close the borders, denying it the hard currency from tourism needed to pay for goods from overseas. The leisure industry accounts for 25% of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.

With shortages biting, many residents are using apps to swarm shops when coveted products arrive – from chicken and cheese to powdered milk and tomato sauce – creating long lines on the streets of Havana where police attempt to keep order.

While Cuba has faced scattered shortages ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union began in 1989, they have worsened since a decline in aid from socialist ally Venezuela and a tightening of decades-old U.S. sanctions under U.S. President Donald Trump.

Now they are intensifying as the pandemic compounds Cuba’s cash crunch and disrupts international trade and food prices.

“There is a queue for everything, products are scarce,” Havana resident Luis Alberto said as he waited in a line for chicken that stretched for more than 100 meters (330 ft).

Since the first coronavirus cases were logged on the island last month, authorities have closed the borders to people and called on Cubans to only go out if strictly necessary, always wearing face masks. Disinfectant has been included on the ration cards that residents use to obtain goods.

“No one is walking around except the family doctor and nurse,” Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser, said from a medium-sized town in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra in eastern Granma province.

“But when some ground meat finally arrived the other day everyone emerged from their homes in masks and lined up with a policeman keeping order,” she said.

A soldier organizes a line of people to buy food amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in downtown Havana, Cuba, April 3, 2020. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

‘PERFECT STORM BREWING’

President Miguel Diaz-Canel recently warned citizens they would be consuming less imported food “due to the current situation.”

When ships arrived last week with corn and rice, it was big news in the state-run media.

Cuba is not a member of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank or other multilateral lending institutions it could turn to for emergency funds.

Economy Minister Alejandro Gil has said the only solution is to “find in agriculture the main source of food for the people” but the sector is suffering an intensifying lack of inputs – like fertilizer and pesticides – partly due to U.S. sanctions.

“There is a perfect storm brewing. By May, the food situation here will be much worse,” a local agricultural expert said, requesting anonymity due to restrictions on talking with foreign journalists.

FOOD PRODUCTION IN TROUBLE

Cuba is famous for fighting epidemics and infamous for its centralized and unproductive Soviet-style agricultural system long since jettisoned by other Communist-run countries.

Many express faith in the former and not the latter.

“Cuba has the virus under control and I am sure it will stay that way,” said Emandez Maseo, a teacher in eastern Cuba. “At the same time, we are going into a critical situation, there is nothing in the markets and it is getting worse.”

Cuba has reported 396 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths, all but a few linked to travelers entering from abroad.

Much of the economy not related to tourism remains open, but it is hard to see agricultural production making up for lower imports.

Just 40% of normal fuel supplies and even less fertilizer and pesticides were used for the winter crop, according to the government. Planting began before the pandemic in November and harvesting ended in March.

The government has not reported on the results of Cuba’s most important growing season. Agriculture ministry official Yojan García Rodas told local radio that farmers were able to plant less than half the planned acreage of beans – a local staple – because they had to use oxen to till the land due to lack of fuel.

Speaking about a plague that wiped out much of the crop, Rodas said only 15% of the 22,000 hectares (54,000 acres) planted could be protected by chemical pesticides.

Luis Enrique Plutin, a farmer working the fields under a hot sun with fellow cooperative members on the outskirts of Havana, was phlegmatic.

“Through sacrifice and work we can produce something, but not much, for the population,” he said. “And we can continue to produce more, but imagine the difficulties we have.”

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Paul Simao)

Target says shoppers stocking up on essentials over coronavirus fears

Target says shoppers stocking up on essentials over coronavirus fears
(Reuters) – Target Corp said on Tuesday it was seeing a surge in U.S. store traffic as people stockpile disinfectants and food amid fears of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We’ve certainly seen a U.S. consumer that’s starting to stock up on household essentials, disinfectants, food and beverage items, all those staple items that the CDC has recommended…,” Chief Executive Brian Cornell said on a post-earnings call with analysts.

“We’ve seen aggressive shopping across the country in our stores.”

However, the company said the epidemic has not so far impacted its business.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)

Khamenei says Iran should give up hope of European help against U.S. sanctions

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Thursday European countries were unlikely to help Iran against U.S. sanctions, and Tehran “should give up all hope” in that regard, according to his official website.

Britain, France and Germany, parties to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, have tried to set up a trade mechanism to barter humanitarian and food goods with Iran after the United States withdrew from the deal last year and re-imposed sanctions. But the mechanism is still not operational.

Iran has repeatedly said it will ramp up its nuclear activities unless the European countries do more to protect its economy from the impact of the U.S. sanctions.

“Despite their promises, the Europeans have practically adhered to America’s sanctions and have not taken any action and are unlikely to do anything for the Islamic Republic in the future. So one should give up all hope on Europeans,” Khamenei was quoted as saying.

“There should be no trust in countries that have held the banner of hostility to (Iran’s) Islamic system, led by the United States and some European countries, because they are openly hostile to the Iranian people,” Khamenei said.

“The road to interaction and negotiations is open to all countries other than America and the Zionist regime (Israel),” Khamenei told members of a powerful clerical body.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

Search for bodies continues in hurricane-ravaged Bahamas

Members of the Bahamian Defense Force remove bodies from the destroyed Abaco shantytown called Pigeon Peas, after Hurricane Dorian in Marsh Harbour, Bahamas September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Zach Fagenson

By Zachary Fagenson

MARSH HARBOUR, Bahamas (Reuters) – Rescue workers wearing white hazard suits continued their grim search for bodies and survivors in the hurricane-ravaged Bahamas on Monday, as relief agencies worked to deliver food and supplies over flooded roads and piles of debris.

At least 43 people died when Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas on Sept. 1, flattening homes and tossing cars and planes around like toys.

Dorian was one of the most powerful Caribbean storms on record, a Category 5 hurricane with winds of 200 miles per hour (320 kph). It rampaged over the Bahamas for nearly two days, becoming the worst disaster in the nation’s history.

Large swaths of Greater Abaco Island were destroyed. Reuters journalists saw search crews using geotagging technology to mark the locations of bodies in the hard-hit Mudd section of Marsh Harbor on that island.

Thousands of people poured into the capital, Nassau, where a week after the storm shelters were straining to house evacuees from worse-hit areas. Hundreds more have fled to the United States in search of safety and resources.

The National Emergency Management Agency said late Sunday that 2,500 people had been evacuated from the archipelago’s several islands, most of them from Abaco.

Shelters are housing about 1,100 people, the agency said; more are staying with friends and relatives. The agency late Sunday was asking residents whose homes were intact to open them up to people displaced by the storm.

Some 90% of the homes, buildings and infrastructure in Marsh Harbor were damaged, the World Food Programme said. Thousands of people were living in a government building, a medical center and an Anglican church that survived the storms, it said, but had little or no access to water, power and sanitary facilities.

Some 70,000 people were in need of food and shelter, the WFP estimated. Private forecasters estimated that some $3 billion in insured property was destroyed or damaged in the Caribbean.

The risk of outbreaks of diarrhea and waterborne diseases was high as drinking water may be tainted with sewage, according to the Pan American Health Organization.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein and Scott Malone, editing by Larry King)

UK faces food, fuel and drug shortages, says contested leaked document

FILE PHOTO: A line of trucks is seen during a trial between disused Manston Airport and the Port of Dover of how road will cope in case of a "no-deal" Brexit, Kent Britain January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

By Kate Holton and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will face shortages of fuel, food and medicine if it leaves the European Union without a transition deal, according to leaked official documents reported by the Sunday Times whose interpretation was immediately contested by ministers.

Setting out a vision of jammed ports, public protests and widespread disruption, the paper said the forecasts compiled by the Cabinet Office set out the most likely aftershocks of a no-deal Brexit rather than the worst-case scenarios.

But Michael Gove, the minister in charge of coordinating “no-deal” preparations, challenged that interpretation, saying the documents did set out a worst-case scenario and that planning had been accelerated in the last three weeks.

The Times said up to 85% of lorries using the main Channel crossings may not be ready for French customs, meaning disruption at ports would potentially last up to three months before the flow of traffic improved.

The government also believes a hard border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, will be likely as plans to avoid widespread checks will prove unsustainable, the Times said.

“Compiled this month by the Cabinet Office under the codename Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier offers a rare glimpse into the covert planning being carried out by the government to avert a catastrophic collapse in the nation’s infrastructure,” the Times reported.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said it did not comment on leaked documents. But Gove said it was an old document that did not reflect current preparedness.

“It is the case, as everyone knows, that if we do have a no-deal exit there will inevitably be some disruption, some bumps in the road. That’s why we want a deal,” Gove told reporters.

“But it is also the case that the UK government is far more prepared now than it was in the past, and it’s also important for people to recognize that what’s being described in these documents… is emphatically a worst-case scenario,” Gove added.

A government source blamed the leak on an unnamed former minister who wanted to influence negotiations with the EU.

“This document is from when ministers were blocking what needed to be done to get ready to leave and the funds were not available,” said the source, who declined to be named. “It has been deliberately leaked by a former minister in an attempt to influence discussions with EU leaders.”

NO TURNING BACK

The United Kingdom is heading toward a constitutional crisis and a showdown with the EU as Johnson has repeatedly vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the Brexit divorce.

Yet after more than three years of Brexit dominating EU affairs, the bloc has repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said on Twitter he had signed a piece of legislation which set in stone the repeal of the 1972 European Communities act – the laws which made Britain a member of the organization now known as the EU.

Though his move was largely procedural, in line with previously approved laws, Barclay said in a statement: “This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back (from Brexit).”

A group of more than 100 lawmakers wrote to Johnson calling for an emergency recall of parliament to discuss the situation.

“We face a national emergency, and parliament must now be recalled in August and sit permanently until October 31 so that the voices of the people can be heard, and that there can be proper scrutiny of your government,” the letter said.

Johnson will this week tell French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the Westminster parliament cannot stop Brexit and a new deal must be agreed if Britain is to avoid leaving the EU without one.

Merkel said during a panel discussion at the Chancellery: “We are prepared for any outcome, we can say that, even if we do not get an agreement. But at all events, I will make an effort to find solutions – up until the last day of negotiations.”

Johnson is coming under pressure from politicians across the political spectrum to prevent a disorderly departure, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to bring down Johnson’s government to delay Brexit.

It is, however, unclear if lawmakers have the unity or power to use the British parliament to prevent a no-deal departure, likely to be the UK’s most significant foreign policy move since World War Two.

(Editing by Gareth Jones and David Holmes)

Preparing for disasters. Yes, it can happen to you.

Hurricane Michael survivor Yvette Beasley stands in her front yard during a wellbeing check by a 50 Star Search and Rescue team in Fountain, Florida, U.S., October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Kami Klein

The statistics on a recent emergency preparation survey commissioned by the National Ad Council stated that 60 percent of Americans believe that preparation for natural or man-made disasters is of great importance to them, yet only an astounding 17 percent claim to be completely prepared for an emergency situation.  

Regardless of how many massive catastrophes people have seen on the news or heard of from friends or relatives, despite the ad campaigns on preparedness by communities and state governments, the common sense notion of preparing for an emergency gets pushed aside. This can and does have great consequences for whole communities.  

In 2016 the US Navy, Coast Guard, and Washington state’s National Guard created a full-scale, nine-day drill to test how well they could respond to a massive earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone. That area covers Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland through northern California.

The 83-page report comes to many deeply concerning conclusions. The authors admit the systems are not ready, infrastructure would collapse, and they’d have a full-blown humanitarian crisis in ten days.

In the summations it was written:

“Through the two-year ramp-up and the culminating functional and full-scale exercises, the following overall conclusions can be drawn:  There is an urgent need for residents to prepare.  Despite the ongoing public education efforts and community preparedness programs, our families, communities, schools, hospitals, and businesses are not prepared for the catastrophic disaster that a worst-case earthquake would cause.”

According to the World Health Organization, every year natural disasters kill around 90,000 people and affect close to 160 million people worldwide. Natural disasters include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, landslides, hurricanes, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts.

Emergency management professionals say people do understand that they should prepare for disasters but when it comes to something in life that creates fear and when you have never experienced a disaster situation personally, the human mind will rationalize and think “Those bad things won’t happen to me.” There are others who will also put the thoughts out of their minds and believe that rescue groups will bring what they need to their family in the event that they are in an emergency situation.  The reality of mass disasters proves over and over again that there is never enough help and many times it can be impossible to get to those that are affected because of great damage to roads and infrastructure.

Recently the massive flooding in our country’s breadbasket, caused by incredible storms and mountain snowmelt created islands of muddied silt instead of acres of farmland.  It has been weeks since this event and yet many communities have been without electricity and their water systems because crews are still having trouble getting to them. Worse yet, there have been round after round of intense storms, tornadoes and heavy rains contributing to the flooding of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers which is impeding the recovery efforts.

Facts are best for combating fear. The weather is an unpredictable force. In the United States alone, we average, 8 hurricanes a year, 2 that are major.  Last year we experienced a whopping 66,535 earthquakes that average at a  2.5 and above. Every season, the U.S. will be pounded by at least 1,154 tornados. In 2018 alone there were 58,083 wildfires. The likelihood that at some time you and your family could be involved in a disaster situation is higher than any of us want to believe.

The responsibility of preparing belongs to every family. There are basics to have on hand that not only will help you survive the worst but give you security when those panicked moments arrive with little time to respond.  Food and water are top on the list along with flashlights, and a source to cook meals. While some emergency personnel recommends only a 72 hour supply, that number is quickly changing due to the increased knowledge found in experiencing these catastrophes to having “at the very least” a two week supply on hand.  

A very good resource for what you need for your emergency kits and supplies can be found at Ready.gov.  Professional emergency management teams encourage you to look at the posted guidelines in the same way as you do with your insurance policies.  Become “matter of fact” about the possibilities and simply begin. By taking one step at a time there will be no reason to feel overwhelmed.

If you need inspiration, please read the testimony “It can happen to you” by Evonne Richard. whose family survived the deadly storm April 27th, 2011 in Apison, Tennessee. This town had been home to her for over 30 years with never a tornado or disaster.  The community was wiped out, many dead and the aftermath quite chaotic. But only weeks before the storm, Evonne observed a billboard regarding “How to Prepare” and felt compelled to act on it.  Her story will inspire you to do the same.

We cannot count on government offices nor rescue groups to help us in times of disaster. Most will be overwhelmed.  These unexpected events will continue to come. Together we must learn to count on ourselves to have on hand what we need for survival.  It isn’t a whim, nor is it something to put off. With the statistics of the possibilities that can and will happen to most of us in a lifetime, it makes common sense!!   

Morningside believes strongly in the practice of preparing.  We want you to be ready for anything to help your family and your community. In order to stay on the air and support this ministry, Morningside does have special offers of survival items including food, generators, water filtration, and other great items. These items are well researched and in most cases at a reduced price from items you can find online.  Don’t forget that you can also check out PTLshop.com YOUR faith-based shopping network!

Start Preparing!  It is one of the few things in life you will never regret.  

 

Trump supports plan for humanitarian food aid to North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at an event to celebrate the anniversary of first lady Melania Trump's “Be Best” initiative in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., May 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – South Korea said that U.S. President Donald Trump supports the country’s plan to provide humanitarian food aid to North Korea, Yonhap reported on Tuesday.

Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke for 35 minutes earlier on Tuesday, during a call in which the two leaders also discussed ways to continue dialogue with Pyonyang, the South Korean news agency reported.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asked by reporters in April whether he was prepared to ease some sanctions on North Korea, Trump said he and Moon were discussing “certain humanitarian things” and the possibility of South Korea helping North Korea with food.

Nearly half of North Koreans suffer from severe food insecurity and meager official rations are expected to be cut further after dry spells, heat waves and flooding have led to the worst harvest in a decade, the United Nations said on Friday.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have met twice, but talks between the two leaders have stalled. On Saturday, North Korea fired projectiles off its coast, but Trump and his administration have played down the weapons tests.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu)

Factbox: Cyclone Idai’s death toll rises to 847, hundreds of thousands displaced

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, water and shelter after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As of Sunday, at least 847 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. Following is an outline of the disaster, according to government and United Nations officials.

MOZAMBIQUE

Cyclone Idai landed on the night of March 14 near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.

People killed: 602

People injured: 1,641

Houses damaged or destroyed: 239,682

Crops damaged: 715,378 hectares

People affected: 1.85 million

Confirmed cholera cases: 2,424

Confirmed cholera deaths: 5

ZIMBABWE

On March 16 the storm hit eastern Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

People killed: 185, according to government. The U.N. migration agency puts the death toll at 259.

People injured: 200

People displaced: 16,000 households

People affected: 250,000

MALAWI

Before it arrived, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in Malawi’s south. The rains continued after the storm hit, compounding the misery of tens of thousands of people.

People killed: 60

People injured: 672

People displaced: 19,328 households

People affected: 868,895

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira, Tom Miles in Geneva, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Frank Phiri in Blantyre; Writing by Alexandra Zavis, Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Goodman)

U.S. border agents redeployed to handle migrant humanitarian needs

FILE PHOTO: Migrants from Central America are seen escorted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials after crossing the border from Mexico to surrender to the officials in El Paso, Texas, U.S., in this pictured taken from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico December 3, 2018. REUTERS/Jose Luis Gonzalez/File Photo

By Julio-Cesar Chavez

(Reuters) – U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will pull around 750 officers off ports of entry and redeploy them to process record numbers of migrant families entering the United States at the Mexico border, the head of the agency said on Wednesday.

The agency is also redirecting service personnel and expanding food, transportation and medical contracts to meet migrants’ humanitarian needs while maintaining border security, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said at a news conference in El Paso, Texas.

“There will be impacts to traffic at the border. There will be a slowdown in the processing of trade,” he said.

March is on track for the highest number of monthly border crossings in over a decade, with more than 100,000 apprehensions and encounters of people deemed inadmissible at U.S. ports of entry, McAleenan said.

Apprehensions and encounters of families were expected to reach over 55,000 people in March, McAleenan said, the highest level for any month on record, according to CBP data.

In recent years, there has been a shift in border crossings from mainly single, adult Mexicans trying to evade capture to Central American families and unaccompanied minors turning themselves in to border agents to seek asylum. Because of limits on how long children can be held in detention, most families are released to pursue their claims in U.S. immigration courts, a process that can take years.

McAleenan said up to 40 percent of CBP personnel in sectors like El Paso were now working to care for migrants’ humanitarian needs. Smugglers are using the distraction of large groups of asylum seekers to traffic drugs and migrants seeking to evade capture, he said.

For the first time in over a decade, CBP is directly releasing migrants into the United States when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unable to provide bed space to relieve overcrowding, McAleenan said.

“We are doing everything we can to simply avoid a tragedy in a CBP facility,” said McAleenan. “With these numbers, with the types of illnesses we’re seeing at the border, I fear that it’s just a matter of time.”

Border Patrol agents on Monday located a two-year-old Honduran child near Quemado, Texas, who appeared to be suffering from seizures and convulsions. The child was taken to the Children’s Hospital of San Antonio for more advanced care, the agency said in a statement.

The hospital declined to comment on the child’s condition, due to patient privacy. Border Patrol officials were not immediately available to comment.

Two Guatemalan minors died while in U.S. Border Patrol custody in December.

The president has taken aim at the asylum system and earlier this year began sending a small number of migrants back to Mexican border towns to wait out their U.S. hearings.

As of March 26, around 370 migrants had been returned to Mexico under the program, according to a Mexican immigration official.

(Reporting by Julio-Cesar Chavez in San Antonio; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City; Editing by Mica Rosenberg, Leslie Adler and Rosalba O’Brien)