Energy Transfer digs in on North Dakota pipeline expansion despite oil slump, sources say

By Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. pipeline company Energy Transfer has taken the rare step of invoking force majeure – normally used in times of war or natural disaster – to prevent oil firms from walking away from a proposed expansion of the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Energy Transfer wants to nearly double the size of the line, and some companies that signed up say it is no longer necessary due to the sharp fall in U.S. oil production after the coronavirus pandemic. North Dakota is one of the costliest spots in the United States to produce crude, and its output has dropped by about one-third from last year, more than most other oil-producing states.

DAPL is the largest pipeline running out of North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin. It has capacity to ship 570,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude to its endpoint in Illinois. Users say an expansion to 1.1 million bpd is unlikely to be filled because the state’s production is not expected to rebound soon.

“Honestly, DAPL is not needed,” said one customer who committed to space on the expanded line, speaking on condition of anonymity. “They’re trying to build a house that all these people signed up for. Even if there’s no longer a need for the house, you can’t really walk away from it. Would I like to get out? Yes, for sure.”

Energy Transfer, however, has invoked force majeure because it could not get the permits by a certain date, according to one shipper on the line and another familiar with the declaration. That buys the company more time to get regulatory approvals and prevents customers from walking away from their commitments.

The company declined to comment on the force majeure. Energy Transfer spokeswoman Lisa Coleman reiterated previous company statements that it has received enough interest to increase the pipeline’s capacity.

Pipelines are generally built after companies find customers willing to commit to shipping oil. That helps pipeline builders to line up financing for such projects, which take years to complete. Contracts to use future pipeline space usually allow customers to walk away from those agreements when substantial delays occur.

In an April filing with Illinois regulators, Energy Transfer said that “not one shipper has sought to withdraw from an existing agreement” despite the oil downturn and that demand exceeds DAPL’s current capacity. The company said in legal filings that the downturn is temporary.

North Dakota’s production has dropped by 450,000 bpd, down from a peak of nearly 1.5 million bpd reached last year, according to the Energy Information Administration’s data.

The expanded line is currently expected to enter service in late 2021.

At least a half-dozen U.S. oil pipeline projects have been put on hold indefinitely so far this year, according to U.S. Energy Department data. U.S. production has dropped from a record 12.9 million bpd in late 2019 to roughly 11 million bpd.

OPPOSITION IN ILLINOIS

DAPL drew thousands of people to North Dakota in 2016 in support of Native American tribes and environmental groups protesting the line’s initial construction. It eventually started in mid-2017 after months of delays.

To expand the line, Energy Transfer needs approval from regulators in North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Illinois.

The first three have said yes, but environmental groups brought numerous legal challenges in Illinois starting a year ago. They argued the application was improperly filed and that an expansion increases the risk of large-scale leaks. The challenges may force the company to resubmit its application.

“They’re in force majeure right now because they did not get the permits,” one source with direct knowledge of the matter said.

An administrative law judge in Illinois could issue findings on the legal dispute as early as this month, though there is no timeline for that report. Once those findings are released, and both Energy Transfer and the opposition respond, the Illinois Commerce Commission will vote on whether the expansion can go forward. That vote has not been scheduled.

Even if producers wanted to fight Energy Transfer’s declaration of force majeure, they may be hesitant to initiate legal action due to the time and cost involved, said Ted Borrego, who has practiced oil and gas law for over 45 years and teaches at the University of Houston Law Center.

“Rarely will you see a shipper trying to bail out of a contract,” he said.

DAPL customers such as Hess Corp and refiner Marathon Petroleum, which invested in the original DAPL project, declined to comment specifically on any contractual agreements on DAPL or on the proposed expansion. Continental Resources, another large Bakken producer, did not respond to requests for comment.

“Hess believes that DAPL has and will continue to be a critical piece of U.S. energy infrastructure, which allows for transportation of crude oil into expanded domestic markets in the U.S. and abroad,” company spokesman Rob Young said.

Bakken crude producers generally break even on drilling at a price of about $46.50 a barrel, according to Deutsche Bank analysts, higher than other parts of the country. The U.S. crude oil benchmark is trading just below $40, after averaging just $17.50 in April and $33.70 in May.

While output in North Dakota has rebounded somewhat from its fall in May to less than 1 million bpd, production is expected to remain lower than its peak.

“At the moment I don’t think the demand is there from shippers for more DAPL, given the decline in Bakken output,” said Sandy Fielden, director of oil and products research at Morningstar in Austin, Texas.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney and Devika Krishna Kumar; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Coronavirus stay-at-home directives multiply in major U.S. states

By Steve Gorman and Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – New Jersey’s governor was expected on Saturday to follow four other states – California, New York, Illinois and Connecticut – demanding that millions of Americans close up shop and stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus infections.

The sweeping state-by-state public health restrictions, unprecedented in breadth and scope, added to the distance being experienced among ordinary Americans.

“I know people want to hear it’s only going to be a matter of weeks and then everything’s going to be fine,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference on Saturday. “I don’t believe it’s going to be a matter of weeks. I believe it is going to be a matter of months.”

Meanwhile, the global pandemic seemed to close in on the highest levels of power in the nation’s capital.

An aide to U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, leading the White House task force formed to combat the outbreak, tested positive for the virus, but neither President Donald Trump nor Pence have had close contact with the individual, Pence’s press secretary, Katie Miller, said in a statement late on Friday.

Pence’s office was notified of the positive test on Friday evening, and officials were seeking to determine who the staffer might have exposed, Miller said.

The aide was not publicly identified, and the vice president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for further details of the diagnosis or whether Pence would be tested.

“He’s recovering and has very, very mild symptoms,” Pence’s chief of staff Marc Short told CNN on Saturday.

The White House said last week that Pence did not require testing after dining with a Brazilian delegation, at least one member of which later tested positive for the respiratory illness. Trump has tested negative for the virus, his doctor said last week.

Two members of the U.S. House of Representatives tested positive on Wednesday, becoming the first members of Congress known to have contracted the disease, which has killed 266 people in the United States.

The total number of known U.S. coronavirus cases has risen exponentially in recent days, climbing past 19,000 in a surge that health officials attributed in large part to an increase in diagnostic testing. More than 270 Americans have died.

Click  for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

Cuomo said New York state was sending 1 million N95 respirator masks to New York City on Saturday. He said the state has identified 6,000 ventilators for purchase, which he described as a major step, but added that it needs 30,000.

“We are literally scouring the globe for medical supplies,” the governor said. New York state has recorded 10,356 cases, he said, 6,211 of them in New York City.

SOCIAL-DISTANCING GOES STATEWIDE

Expanding on social-distancing measures increasingly adopted at the local level, California Governor Gavin Newsom instituted the first statewide directive requiring residents to remain indoors except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

Newsom’s order, announced late on Thursday, made allowances for the state’s 40 million people to venture outside for exercise so long as they kept their distance from others.

On Friday, his counterparts in New York state, Illinois and Connecticut followed suit, and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to issue similar directives on Saturday.

The five states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and press residents to stay inside are home to 84 million people combined, about a quarter of the entire U.S. population and account for nearly a third of the nation’s economy.

The state directives were for the most part issued without strict enforcement mechanisms to back them up.

“What we want is for people to be in compliance and we’re going to do everything that we can to educate them,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said at a briefing on Saturday. Police officers would “admonish” those found to be on non-essential outings to go home, she said.

“That’s what we hope is the end of any kind of contact that anyone might have with the police department,” Lightfoot said.

Cuomo said there will be a civil fine and mandatory closure for any business that is not in compliance.

Even before the flurry of statewide stay-at-home orders, the pandemic had virtually paralyzed parts of the U.S. economy and upended lifestyles over the past week, as school districts and colleges canceled classes and many companies were shuttered, either voluntarily or by local government mandates.

Washington state, which documented the first known U.S. coronavirus case in January and now accounts for the greatest number of deaths – 83 as of Friday – has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants, recreation venues and entertainment facilities, while banning all gatherings of more than 50 people.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Caroline Spezio in New York; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Daniel Wallis)

Stay-at-home orders in major states mark next phase of U.S. coronavirus crisis

By Lisa Richwine and Gabriella Borter

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York and Illinois on Friday followed California in telling tens of millions of people to stay at home in the most sweeping measures the United States has taken so far to try to contain the coronavirus crisis.

The moves, which impact more than 70 million people or about a fifth of the U.S. population, close all but essential businesses and require people to stay inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations and other “essential businesses.”

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he planned to give similar orders shutting down all but essential businesses within the next 24 hours.

“To avoid the loss of tens of thousands of lives we must order an immediate shelter-in-place,” Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said on Friday, using a term that has commonly referred to mass shootings. Illinois includes Chicago.

The four states where governors have banned or will soon ban non-essential businesses and ask residents to stay home account for about 30% of the U.S. economy, the world’s biggest.

In New York City’s Central Park, several bikers and joggers were on the pathways, mostly alone but a few in pairs.

“It’s real and it’s scary, I hate it,” said physical therapist Kerry Cashin, 49, of the stay-at-home order. “I feel like I always knew it was going to go this way, but it made me scared.”

Just two dozen people milled outside Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, the home of the Oscars, an area normally teeming with hundreds of tourists.

Zane Alexander, 27, said he was on his way to pick up his last paycheck “until lord knows when.” He had been working on a medical marijuana dispensary’s street team, a job that normally had him outside, but that team was disbanded until further notice.

“It’s totally understandable,” Alexander said, but added “I sure wish it weren’t the case.”

Retiree Jerry Rasmussen, 73, sat on a sunny public bench reading the San Francisco Chronicle in the city’s central neighborhood of Cole Valley, with hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask beside him.

“I figure being outdoors like this is pretty safe, as long as I’m not too close to anyone,” he said.

VENTILATORS NEEDED

Cuomo, in making his stay-at-home announcement, pleaded for more medical personnel and supplies such as ventilators and protective masks to treat coronavirus cases that could overwhelm the hospitals in his state of nearly 20 million.

“The ventilators are to this war what missiles were to World War Two,” Cuomo said. He said the state would “pay a premium” to companies that could provide more personal protective equipment, gloves and masks. He asked companies that might be capable of making these products to “get creative.”

Cuomo issued an executive order mandating all non-essential workforce to stay home and all non-essential businesses to close.

“Remain indoors, go outside for solitary exercise,” he said.

The pandemic that has swept the globe has also shattered lifestyles across much of the United States in the past week, shuttering schools and businesses, prompting millions to work from home, forcing many out of jobs and curtailing travel.

The health orders imposed on Thursday by California authorities on the state’s 40 million people allow for outside exercise as long as people stay six feet apart.

“We need to take it really seriously and prevent spread of the disease,” said venture capitalist Meredith Finn, 37, while walking her dog Brady in the affluent West Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood. “It’s definitely the right move.”

More than 1,000 cases have been confirmed in California, where 19 people have died. New York officials said the state has 7,102 confirmed cases and of those, 4,408 are in New York City, the most populous U.S. city with about 8.5 million people. Thirty-eight have died in the state.

Washington state, where the first U.S. coronavirus cluster emerged, has since March 16 closed bars, restaurants and recreation and entertainment facilities, and has banned all gatherings of more than 50 people.

More than 220 people have died in the United States and over 14,100 cases had been confirmed by Friday afternoon, the surge in cases reflecting an increase in testing. Health experts believe the actual number of COVID-19 cases to be far higher.

Click for a GRAPHIC on U.S. cases.

In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump and other officials told reporters the United States was working with Mexico to suspend non-essential travel at the border. The border with Canada already is closed to non-essential traffic.

With businesses closing and daily life grinding to a near halt, and the U.S. unemployment benefits program about to face its biggest test in more than a decade, the Trump administration announced more moves to give relief to workers and students. Tax filing day was moved to July 15 from April 15, while interest and payments on federal student loans were suspended for at least the next 60 days.

(Reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles and Gabriella Borter in New York; Additional reporting by Lucy Nicholson, Katie Paul, Nathan Layne, Bill Berkrot, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Nick Brown and Jonnelle Marte, Ann Saphir and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)

Planned Parenthood to open large secretly built Illinois clinic as Missouri readies abortion ban

By Gabriella Borter

(Reuters) – Women’s health provider Planned Parenthood is set to open a large facility in western Illinois this month that will provide abortion access for women in Missouri as officials there aim to shutter the state’s sole abortion clinic, the organization said on Wednesday.

Planned Parenthood has been secretly building the 18,000-square-foot clinic in Fairview Heights since August 2018, using shell companies to avoid attention and protests, CBS first reported.

The new healthcare center will provide abortion and other health services to women in western Illinois and eastern Missouri, and is located just 13 miles from Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis clinic. Missouri has declined to renew that facility’s license, citing its failure to meet state health department standards.

“While we continue the fight to maintain access in Missouri, we are excited to expand our abortion services in Illinois,” Colleen McNicholas, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood’s southwest regional chapter, said in a statement. “The new health center is a testament to the needs of the greater bi-state region and our commitment to provide, protect and expand access to healthcare, no matter what.”

A federal judge has allowed the Missouri clinic to stay open pending the decision of a state arbiter, who will weigh Planned Parenthood’s case against the state health department. If officials in Missouri succeed in closing the clinic, it would become the only U.S. state without a legal abortion facility.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious belief to declare it immoral.

Missouri is one of 12 states to pass laws restricting abortion access this year, some aimed at provoking a U.S. Supreme Court review of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

A U.S. federal judge in August temporarily blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks of pregnancy except in cases of a medical emergency.

Illinois has moved to protect women’s right to abortion as other states have tried to overturn it. The state passed the Reproductive Health Act in June to preserve the legality of abortion even if Roe v. Wade should be overturned. It has refused funding from the Title X family planning program because of President Donald Trump’s “gag rule,” which withholds federal funds from health providers who perform abortions or refer patients to abortion providers.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Some 156 people in 10 states infected with E. coli from ground beef: CDC

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A total of 156 people in 10 states have been infected with E. coli after eating tainted ground beef at home and in restaurants since the beginning of March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported but 20 people have been hospitalized after they were infected with the strain E. coli O103 since March 1, the CDC said on its website.

The agency said an investigation is ongoing to determine the source of the contaminated ground beef that was supplied to grocery stores and restaurants.

“At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified,” the CDC said.

The investigation began on March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of the outbreak. Since then, some 65 cases have been reported in Kentucky, 41 in Tennessee and another 33 in Georgia.

E. coli cases have also been reported in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

The CDC said that illnesses after March 26 may not have been reported yet because the lead time is two to three weeks.

People infected with the bacteria get sick two to eight days after swallowing the germ, and may sometimes develop a type of kidney failure.

Many of the infected people had bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and Sloppy Joes, the agency said.

The regulator said it is not recommending that consumers avoid eating ground beef at this time, but said that consumers and restaurants should handle ground beef safely and cook it thoroughly to avoid foodborne illnesses.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Matthew Lewis)

Deadly storms leave thousands without power in eastern U.S

A view of clouds, part of a weather system seen from near Franklin, Texas, U.S., in this still image from social media video dated April 13, 2019. TWITTER @DOC_SANGER/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and pounding hail remained threats early on Monday from eastern New York and into New England, as the remnants of a deadly storm push out to sea, the National Weather Service said.

More than 79,000 homes and businesses were without power in Virginia, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 89,000 more outages reported across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland and New York.

The affected areas will get heavy rains, winds with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) and the possibility of hail, NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland said.

“This is an ongoing threat,” said Brian Hurley, from the center.

“There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore.”

The weekend’s storm brought tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, in the U.S. South, officials said.

The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania.

Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled by Sunday evening, more then 90 percent of them at airports in Chicago; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio and a dozen major airports on the Eastern Seaboard, according to FlightAware.com.

But no major flight delays were reported on the east coast before 6 a.m. Monday.

The storm’s cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois.

Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, said a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department.

A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim’s body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather.

Soaking rains could snarl the Monday morning commute on the East Coast before the storm moves off to sea.

“The biggest impact rush hour-wise probably will be Boston, around 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning, and around New York City around 5 or 6 o’clock, before sunrise,” NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

U.S. prosecutors charge imposter who claimed to be missing Illinois boy

Timmothy Pitzen, missing since May 12, 2011, is shown in both an undated photo and a rendition of what he may look like at age 13 on a poster obtained by Reuters April 4, 2019. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children/Handout via REUTERS

By Gabriella Borter and Gina Cherelus

(Reuters) – Federal prosecutors on Friday charged a 23-year-old former convict with making false statements after he claimed to be Illinois teen Timmothy Pitzen, who went missing in 2011 after his mother committed suicide, according to court documents.

Brian Michael Rini was charged with lying to federal agents after he appeared in Newport, Kentucky on Wednesday and claimed he was 14-year-old Pitzen, telling them he had escaped from an eight-year ordeal at the hands of sex traffickers. Pitzen was last seen when he was six years old.

Brian Rini, 23, is seen in this prison photo from Belmont Correctional Institution in Clairsville, Ohio, U.S., obtained on April 4, 2019. Courtesy Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation & Correction/Handout via REUTERS

Brian Rini, 23, is seen in this prison photo from Belmont Correctional Institution in Clairsville, Ohio, U.S., obtained on April 4, 2019. Courtesy Ohio Dept. of Rehabilitation & Correction/Handout via REUTERS

Rini’s lawyer, Karen Savir, did not immediately return calls seeking comment on the charges against her client.

“False reports like this can be painful to the families of missing children and also divert law enforcement resources in order to investigate these untruthful claims,” said Herb Stapleton, the acting special agent in charge for the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Cincinnati.

Rini had twice before claimed to be a child sex trafficking victim, according to federal court documents released on Friday before officials held a press briefing to discuss the case.

Rini’s claim was debunked on Thursday after DNA test results conducted at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital confirmed he was not Pitzen.

Rini was released from the Belmont Correctional Institution on March 7 where he had been serving 14 months for burglary and vandalism, according to public records.

Pitzen was last seen in May 2011 with his mother, who pulled him out of school in Aurora, Illinois, a far-west suburb of Chicago, took him on a trip to a zoo and a water park, and then committed suicide in a motel room, leaving behind a cryptic note on her son’s whereabouts.

“Tim is somewhere safe with people who love him and will care for him,” she wrote in the note, according to reports by ABC7 Chicago. “You will never find him.”

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Scott Malone and Susan Thomas)

Thousands brave freezing cold in vigil for Illinois shooting victims

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

By Robert Chiarito

AURORA, Ill. (Reuters) – More than 2,000 people braved icy rain in sub-freezing temperatures in Illinois on Sunday for a vigil paying respects to five people killed and five police officers wounded by a factory worker who opened fire on Friday after losing his job.

Solemn mourners stood before five white crosses with the names of the dead that became a shrine to the victims bearing pictures and hand-written remembrances outside the factory where the shooting took place in Aurora, about 40 miles (64 km) west of Chicago.

“My heart is broken again for the family members of the victims,” said Mary Kay Mace, mother of the late Ryanne Mace, who was killed 11 years ago in a mass shooting at Northern Illinois University.

“I’m living proof that you can survive it, however. It’s a hard, difficult trek but it can be done,” said Mace, 55, who drove three hours from Petersburg, Illinois, and wore a university pin to honor shooting victim Trevor Wehner, a 21-year-old intern from NIU who was on his first day on the job.

The other fatal victims were Josh Pinkard, the plant manager; Clayton Parks, the human resources manager; Russell Beyer, a mold operator and union chairman; and Vicente Juarez, a stock room attendant and forklift operator.

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

Mourners attend a vigil for five people killed in a shooting incident at Henry Pratt Company in Aurora, Illinois, U.S. February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Robert Chiarito

A sixth employee and five police officers responding to the scene were wounded. The gunman himself was slain about 90 minutes later in a gunfight with police who stormed the building.

Friday’s bloodshed marked the latest outbreak of gun violence in a nation where mass shootings have become almost commonplace and came a day after the first anniversary of the massacre of 17 people by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Several local pastors spoke and the vigil drew people of many ages.

Barbara Fultz, a 72-year-old retired woman who has been living in Aurora for more than 50 years, said her church, Main Baptist Church in Aurora, had told members about the vigil and she has a cousin who works at the Henry Pratt Company factory, a maker of industrial valves.

“It’s a tragedy all over,” Fultz said. “We’ve never had anything like this here. It’s so sad.”

Michelle Lamos, a 40-year-old healthcare worker, stood with her 14-month-old daughter.

“We need to come together. This is awful,” Lamos said.

The gunman was a violent felon who obtained a state permit to buy a firearm despite being legally barred from owning one, officials said.

(Reporting by Robert Chiarito; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Midwest U.S. in brutal grip of colder-than-Antarctica deep freeze

A pedestrian stops to take a photo by Chicago River, as bitter cold phenomenon called the polar vortex has descended on much of the central and eastern United States, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Pinar Istek

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Frozen Arctic winds brought record-low temperatures across much of the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday, unnerving residents accustomed to brutal winters and keeping them huddled indoors as offices closed and even mail carriers halted their rounds.

Classes were canceled Wednesday and Thursday in many cities, including Chicago, home of the nation’s third-largest school system, and police warned of the risk of accidents on icy highways.

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

Man blows snow during a winter storm in Buffalo, New York, U.S., January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay Dedario

In a rare move, the U.S. Postal Service appeared to temporarily set aside its credo that “neither snow nor rain … nor gloom of night” would stop its work: it halted deliveries from parts of the Dakotas through Ohio.

Temperatures in parts of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes plunged to as low minus 42 Fahrenheit (minus 41 Celsius) in Park Rapids, Minnesota, and minus 31F in Fargo, North Dakota, according to the National Weather Service. The frigid winds were bound for the U.S. East Coast later on Wednesday into Thursday.

Andrew Orrison, a meteorologist with the service, said the some of the coldest wind chills were recorded in International Falls, Minnesota, at minus 55F (minus 48C). Even the South Pole in Antarctica was warmer, with an expected low of minus 24F (minus 31C) with wind chill.

The bitter cold was caused by a displacement of the polar vortex, a stream of air that normally spins around the stratosphere over the North Pole, but whose current was disrupted and was now pushing south.

An Illinois police department found a fictitious cause for the icy blast, posting on Facebook that its officers had arrested Elsa, the frosty character from the Disney movie “Frozen,” for bringing the arctic air to the Midwest.

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

Aftermath of an accident in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., January 29, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Picture taken January 29, 2019. JASON COFFELT/via REUTERS

The McLean Police Department shared a staged photo of officers putting a woman dressed in a blue princess gown in pink handcuffs and escorting her into a police car.

Officials opened warming centers across the region, and in Chicago, police stations were open to anyone seeking refuge from the cold. Five city buses were also deployed to serve as mobile warming centers for homeless people.

The Chicago Police Department said that at most, it could encourage people to get out of the cold.

“But we will never force someone,” police officer Michael Carroll said.

At least five deaths relating to cold weather have been reported since Saturday in Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota, local media reports said.

Hundreds of flights, more than half of those scheduled, were canceled on Wednesday out of Chicago O’Hare and Chicago Midway international airports, according to the flight tracking site FlightAware.

Train service Amtrak said it would cancel all trains in and out of Chicago on Wednesday.

Most federal government offices in Washington D.C. opened three hours late on Wednesday due to the frigid weather already impacting the area.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Illinois Church abuse survivors demand perpetrators’ names

Cindy Yesko is presented as a survivor of clergy sex abuse by a legal team of attorneys Jeff Anderson and Marc Pearlman, during a news conference in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

By Suzannah Gonzales

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Survivors and lawyers demanded on Thursday the Catholic Church make public the names of 500 priests or clergy members in Illinois accused of child sexual abuse, in the latest outcry of a global crisis.

They spoke out two weeks after Illinois state Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued a blistering report stating alleged abusers had not been publicly identified by the Church and many had not been properly investigated.

“We’re here to fight for the 500 that have been identified as the number of clergy offenders who the Catholic bishops … in Illinois know about who have not disclosed,” attorney Jeff Anderson said at a news conference standing alongside survivors.

Anderson said he and his colleagues will issue a report by next month that identifies every clergy offender accused of child sexual abuse who was brought to their attention.

Children cannot be protected unless the names are provided to police and the general public, Anderson said.

Knowing the names of the accused priests would also help victims who have not come forward, survivor Ken Kaczmarz said.

“If the priest that molested them is on a published list, those people that are currently suffering in silence will, I guarantee you, have the courage to seek help,” he said.

The Illinois dioceses of Rockford, Joliet and Belleville on Thursday stood by lists published on their websites of priests with substantiated allegations of sexual abuse of a minor and of clergy removed from ministry.

Representatives of the other three dioceses in Illinois did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Madigan, who opened her investigation in August and leaves office later this month, said the 500 priests and clergy members her office had identified were in addition to 185 publicly named by the six dioceses.

Facing accusations of sexual abuse and coverups by priests around the world, Pope Francis on Thursday accused U.S. bishops of failing to show unity in the face of the crisis.

Survivors gathered in downtown Chicago on Thursday as U.S. bishops met near the city for seven days of prayer and spiritual reflection ahead of a gathering at the Vatican in February to confront the global abuse crisis.

“There has to be more than 500. That’s just the start. We need a comprehensive list in order for the Church to feel safe again,” Cynthia Yesko, a survivor and plaintiff of a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of the names of clergy offenders in Illinois, said.

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Editing by Caroline Stauffer and Matthew Lewis)