Macron administration warns of ‘great violence’ in Paris from hard core ‘yellow vests’

Trash bins burn as youths and high-school students clash with police during a demonstration against the French government's reform plan in Marseille, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

By Richard Lough and Marine Pennetier

PARIS (Reuters) – French authorities warned another wave of “great violence” and rioting could be unleashed in Paris this weekend by a hardcore of ‘yellow vest’ protesters, as senior ministers sought to defuse public anger with conciliatory languages on taxes.

Despite capitulating this week over plans for higher fuel taxes that inspired the nationwide revolt, President Emmanuel Macron has struggled to quell the anger that led to the worst street unrest in central Paris since 1968.

Rioters torched cars, vandalized cafes, looted shops and sprayed anti-Macron graffiti across some of Paris’s most affluent districts, even defacing the Arc de Triomphe. Scores of people were hurt and hundreds arrested in battles with police.

French police stand guard as youth and high school students burn a trash container during a protest against the French government's reform plan, in Bordeaux, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

French police stand guard as youth and high school students burn a trash container during a protest against the French government’s reform plan, in Bordeaux, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

An official in Macron’s office said intelligence suggested that some protesters would come to the capital this Saturday “to vandalize and to kill.”

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 65,000 security personnel would be deployed across the country on that day to keep the peace.

In a bid to defuse the three-week crisis, Philippe had told parliament late on Wednesday that he was scrapping the fuel-tax increases planned for 2019, having announced a six-month suspension the day before.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told a conference he was prepared to bring forward tax-cutting plans and that he wanted workers’ bonuses to be tax-free.

But he added: “In this case, it must go hand-in-hand with a decrease in spending.”

He also said France would impose a tax on big internet firms in 2019 if there was no consensus on a European Union-wide levy, seeking to appeal to the “yellow vests'” anti-business sentiment.

SOCCER MATCHES CANCELED

The threat of more violence poses a security nightmare for the authorities, who make a distinction between peaceful ‘yellow vest’ protesters and violent groups, anarchists and looters from the deprived suburbs who they say have infiltrated the movement.

On Facebook groups and across social media, the yellow vests are calling for an “Act IV”, a reference to what would be a fourth weekend of disorder.

“France is fed up!! We will be there in bigger numbers, stronger, standing up for French people. Meet in Paris on Dec. 8,” read one group’s banner.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer urged people to stay at home during the coming weekend. Security sources said the government was considering using troops currently deployed on anti-terrorism patrols to protect public buildings.

Several top-league soccer matches on Saturday have been canceled and the Louvre museum said it and others were awaiting word from Paris officials on whether to close their doors.

The protests, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes. Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes-violent rebellion against Macron, with no formal leader.

Their demands are diverse and include lower taxes, higher salaries and Macron’s resignation.

France’s hard-left CGT trade union on Thursday called on its energy industry workers to walk out for a 48 hours from Dec. 13, saying it wanted to join forces with the yellow vests. The movement, with no formal leader, has so far not associated itself with any political party or trade union.

A French riot policeman stands next to a burning car as youth and high school students protest against the French government's reform plan, in Nantes, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

A French riot policeman stands next to a burning car as youth and high school students protest against the French government’s reform plan, in Nantes, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

STREET POLITICS

The fuel-tax volte-face was the first major U-turn of Macron’s 18-month presidency.

The unrest has exposed the deep-seated resentment among non-city dwellers that Macron is out-of-touch with the hard-pressed middle class and blue-collar laborers. They see the 40-year-old former investment banker as closer to big business.

Trouble is also brewing elsewhere for Macron. Teenage students on Thursday blocked access to more than 200 high schools across the country, burning garbage bins and setting alight a car in the western city of Nantes.

Meanwhile, farmers who have long complained that retailers are squeezing their margins and are furious over a delay to the planned rise in minimum food prices, and truckers are threatening to strike from Sunday.

Le Maire said France was no longer spared from the wave of populism that has swept across Europe.

“It’s only that in France, it’s not manifesting itself at the ballot box, but in the streets.”

(Reporting by Richard Lough and Marine Pennetier; additional reporting by Leigh Thomas, Michel Rose and Myriam Rivet; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Three fast-moving California blazes cause thousands to flee

Wind-driven ambers are seen during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

By Stephen Lam

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Three fast-moving wildfires burned in California on Friday morning, including one that spurred the evacuation of 75,000 homes near a city that was still reeling from a mass shooting.

An inmate firefighter crew work to create a defensible space while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

An inmate firefighter crew work to create a defensible space while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Voluntary evacuations of 75,000 homes were called for because of the Woolsey Fire that included parts of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles, the site of a mass shooting incident this week in which 12 people were killed.

The Woolsey blaze was also burning in parts of Los Angeles County.

Also burning in Ventura County was the Hill Fire, which had torched 10,000 acres (4047 hectares) by Thursday night, fire officials said.

In Northern California, the Camp Fire advanced rapidly to the outskirts of the city of Chico early on Friday, forcing thousands to flee after it left the nearby town of Paradise in ruins, California fire officials said.

Evacuation notices were set for homes on the east side of Chico, a city of about 93,000 people situated about 90 miles (145 km) north of Sacramento.

The Chico Fire Department said: “Firefighters continue to actively engage the fire in order to protect life and property.”

Firefighters battle to save structures while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Firefighters battle to save structures while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Flames from the unchecked, 20,000-acre (8,100-hectare) Camp Fire were being driven westward by 35-mile-per hour (56 km-per-hour) winds, fire officials said.

The blaze earlier ripped through Paradise, about 20 miles east of Chico.

“The town is devastated, everything is destroyed. There’s nothing much left standing,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) spokesman Scott Maclean.

“This fire moved so fast and grew so fast a lot of people got caught by it.”

Maclean said an as-yet unspecified number of civilians and firefighters had been injured, and it could be days before authorities would know whether anyone had died.

Paradise, located on a ridge, has limited escape routes. Traffic accidents turned roads into gridlock and residents abandoned vehicles and ran from the flames, carrying children and pets, officials said. One woman who was stuck in traffic went into labor, the Enterprise-Record newspaper reported.

A Cal Fire firefighter hoses a smoldering home while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

A Cal Fire firefighter hoses a smoldering home while battling the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

“It’s very chaotic,” said Officer Ryan Lambert of the California Highway Patrol.

Rescuers used a bulldozer to push abandoned cars out the way to reach Feather River Hospital and evacuate patients as flames engulfed the building, Butte County Supervisor Doug Teeter told reporters.

The hospital was totally destroyed, Mike Mangas, a spokesman for operator Dignity Health, told Action News Now.

The fire, which began early on Thursday, was the fiercest of several wind-driven blazes across California, during what has been one of the worst years for wildfires in the state.

In Ventura County, “Strong Santa Ana winds (are) expected to continue through this morning,” the National Weather Service in Los Angeles said on Twitter on Friday. That helped double the size of the Woolsey Fire to 8,000 acres (3238 hectares), fire officials said.

Wind gusts of 50 to 70 mph (80 to 113 kph) were expected in the mountains of Ventura County and up to 50 mph in the valleys and coastal areas of the county, the NWS said.

Travel was limited on U.S. Highway 101 in Ventura County, state highway patrol troopers said.

A former U.S. Marine combat veteran opened fire in a bar packed with college students in Thousand Oaks on Wednesday, killing 12 people in an incident that stunned a bucolic community with a reputation for safety.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and Brendan O’Brien; editing by John Stonestreet and Bernadette Baum)

Regulator ties pipeline work to deadly Massachusetts gas explosion

FILE PHOTO: A burnt Columbia Gas of Massachusetts envelope sits on the sidewalk outside a home burned during a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Liz Hampton

HOUSTON (Reuters) – A NiSource Inc affiliate failed to require contract repair crews to relocate pressure sensors during natural-gas pipeline work, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said on Thursday, resulting in overpressured lines that caused explosions and fires in three Massachusetts communities last month.

Overpressurized gas poured through Columbia Gas Co of Massachusetts’ distribution system in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, flooding into homes and businesses and sparking explosions and fires that killed one person and injured 21.

Critical valves controlling the gas flow were not shut for nearly 3-1/2 hours after the first alarm was raised at Columbia Gas’s monitoring center, NTSB said in a preliminary report. The center had no ability to remotely open or close valves on its own, but did notify technicians, it added.

NiSource is fully cooperating with the NTSB, Chief Executive Joe Hamrock said in a statement on Thursday. However, it will not comment on the cause of the incident until the NTSB completes its work, he added.

The incident raised safety concerns about the sprawling U.S. networks of aging pipelines. The September explosions and fires damaged 131 homes and businesses as Columbia Gas was replacing cast-iron pipe with safer plastic lines when the accident occurred.

The NTSB laid out the timetable of events in a dry account of the company’s activities that day.

Crews were working for Columbia Gas in Lawrence, a city northwest of Boston, to replace an aged cast-iron main with a new plastic distribution main line. The abandoned main had regulator sensing lines used to detect pressure in the system.

After that main line was disconnected, the sensing lines lost pressure and the regulators fully opened, “allowing the full flow of high-pressure gas into the distribution system supplying the neighborhood,” the report said.

Columbia Gas had approved a “work package (that) did not account for the location of the sensing lines or require their relocation to ensure the regulators were sensing actual system pressure,” according to the NTSB.

Minutes before the explosion, Columbia Gas’ monitoring center in Columbus, Ohio, received high-pressure alarms for its South Lawrence gas pressure system. The company shut down the regulator at issue about 25 minutes later, around 4:30 p.m, the NTSB said.

September’s explosion was the largest U.S. natural gas pipeline accident since 2010 in terms of structures involved. Eight years ago, an interstate gas transmission line operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company ruptured in San Bruno, California, killing eight people, destroying 38 buildings and damaging 70 others, according to the NTSB.

Columbia Gas has said all cast iron and bare steel piping in affected neighborhoods will be replaced with high-pressure plastic mains that have regulators at each service meter.

(Reporting by Liz Hampton; Editing by Leslie Adler and Richard Chang)

Gas explosions drive thousands from homes in Boston suburbs

A police officer stands outside a home where a man died in a series of gas explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Ted Siefer

ANDOVER, Mass. (Reuters) – Some 8,000 people were prevented from returning home in Boston suburbs on Friday as investigators scrambled to find out the cause of dozens of gas explosions that killed at least one person and injured about 12 more.

The blasts on Thursday destroyed scores of homes and other buildings in Andover, North Andover and Lawrence, left more than 18,000 homes and businesses without power and forced thousands of people from their homes.

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A fire engine is seen near a building emitting smoke after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 still image from social media video footage by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

Investigators suspected “over-pressurization of a gas main” belonging to Columbia Gas of Massachusetts led to the series of explosions and fires, Andover Fire Chief Michael Mansfield said on Thursday.

Massachusetts State Police said around 70 fires, explosions or investigations of gas odor had been reported.

“This has been obviously an incredibly difficult day,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said in a news conference early on Friday.

Those driven from their homes “should expect that the restoration process will take several days or longer,” Andrew Maylor, the town manager of North Andover, said on Twitter.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Robert Sumwalt said it would likely take investigators some time to examine the pipeline’s design, maintenance, and upgrades.

“The truth of the matter is we really don’t have any factual information at this point to confirm,” Sumwalt said on Friday.

Columbia Gas, a unit of utility NiSource Inc, is investigating, NISource spokesman Ken Stammen said on Thursday. Before the explosions, Columbia Gas had said it would be upgrading gas lines in neighborhoods across the state, including the affected suburbs.

NiSource shares fell more than 9 percent on Friday morning.

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

A building burns after explosions in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States in this September 13, 2018 photo from social media by Boston Sparks. Boston Sparks/Social Media/via REUTERS

SAFETY CHECKS

Firefighters raced for hours from one blaze to another and utility crews rushed to shut off gas and electricity to prevent further explosions on Thursday. Fire and utility crews were still going door to door on Friday to conduct safety checks and shut off gas meters, officials said.

Eighteen-year-old Leonel Rondon died when his car was crushed by a falling chimney, a spokeswoman for the Essex County District Attorney’s office said. Lawrence General Hospital said it had treated 13 people for injuries ranging from smoke inhalation to blast trauma.

Guilia Holland, a 35-year-old mechanic in a wheelchair, said she had just gotten off a bus returning home when she saw “a big flash of light” at the house where she had been renting a room for a month.

“Good thing I wasn’t home or I wouldn’t be talking about it,” she said outside an elementary school in Lawrence that the Red Cross had converted into a shelter for about 170 people.

South Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera urged residents to stay away from their homes.

“There could be still a gas leak in your home,” Rivera said. “You can’t see it and in some cases you won’t be able to smell it, and God forbid you go to sleep and don’t wake up.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said it was sending a team to support the state’s emergency response efforts.

“At this time, the focus remains on ensuring the public safety,” Baker said. “Once that’s complete, we will work with federal government and others to investigate how this occurred and hold the appropriate parties accountable for their actions.”

(Additional reporting by Ross Kerber and Nate Raymond in Boston; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; editing by Larry King and Susan Thomas)

Powerful quake paralyzes Hokkaido in latest disaster to hit Japan

Police officers and rescue workers search for survivors from a building damaged by a landslide caused by a powerful earthquake in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN JAPAN.

By Kaori Kaneko and Chang-Ran Kim

TOKYO (Reuters) – A powerful earthquake paralyzed Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, killing at least seven people, triggering landslides and knocking out power to its 5.3 million residents.

The death toll from the 6.7-magnitude, pre-dawn quake was likely to rise as rescuers searched houses buried by landslides.

About 33 people were missing and 300 were injured, public broadcaster NHK said. Four people were in cardiopulmonary arrest, a term used before death is officially confirmed.

The quake was the latest in a string of natural disasters to batter Japan after typhoons, flooding, and a record-breaking heat wave within the past two months.

Aerial footage showed dozens of landslides exposing barren hillsides near the town of Atsuma in southern Hokkaido, with mounds of red earth and toppled trees piled at the edge of green fields.

The collapsed remains of what appeared to be houses or barns were strewn about.

A building damaged by a powerful earthquake is seen in Abira town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

A building damaged by a powerful earthquake is seen in Abira town in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

“It came in four big jerks – boom! boom! boom! boom!” one unidentified woman told NHK. “Before we knew it our house was bent and we couldn’t open the door.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said 25,000 Self-Defense Force troops would be deployed for rescue operations.

The island, a tourist destination about the size of Austria known for its mountains, lakes, and seafood, lost its power when Hokkaido Electric Power Co shut down of all its fossil fuel-fired power plants after the quake as a precaution.

It was the first time since the utility was established in 1951 that had happened.

Almost 12 hours later, power was restored to parts of Sapporo, Hokkaido’s capital, and Asahikawa, its second-biggest city.

The government said there was damage to Hokkaido Electric’s Tomato-Atsuma plant, which supplies half the island’s 2.95 million households. It could take a week to restore power fully to all residents, Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko said.

All trains across the island were halted.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party begins a leadership contest on Friday but said there would be no campaigning through to Sunday. Abe and rival Shigeru Ishiba both canceled campaign media appearances slated for Friday.

Landslides caused by an earthquake are seen in Atsuma town in Japan's northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Landslides caused by an earthquake are seen in Atsuma town in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 6, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

‘NOTHING I CAN DO’

Television footage from Sapporo showed crumbled roads and mud covering a main street. Police directed traffic because signal lights were out while drink-vending machines, ubiquitous in Japan, and most ATMs were not working.

“Without electricity, there’s nothing I can do except to write prescriptions,” a doctor in Abira, the town next to Atsuma, told NHK.

Media reported a baby girl at a Sapporo hospital was in critical condition after the power was cut to her respirator. It wasn’t clear if the hospital had a generator.

The quake hit at 3:08 a.m. (1808 GMT Wednesday) at a depth of 40 km (25 miles), with its epicenter about 65 km (40 miles) southeast of Sapporo, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. In Atsuma, it registered a 7 on Japan’s 7-point quake intensity scale, the agency said, revising an earlier measurement.

Hokkaido’s main airport was closed, at least for the day. Debris and water could be seen on the terminal floors.

Kyodo news agency said more than 200 flights and 40,000 passengers would be affected on Thursday alone.

The closure comes just days after Kansai Airport, another major regional hub, in western Japan, was shut by Typhoon Jebi, which killed 11 people and injured hundreds.

The storm, the most powerful to hit Japan in 25 years, stranded thousands of passengers and workers at the airport, whose operator said it would resume some domestic flights on Friday.

In July, torrential rain in west Japan caused flooding that killed more than 200 people and widespread destruction. That was followed by a heat wave that reached a record 41.1 Celsius and led to the deaths of at least 80 people.

FACTORIES HALTED

Farming, tourism and other services are big economic drivers on Hokkaido, which accounts for just 3.6 percent of Japan’s gross domestic product, but there is some industry. Kirin Brewery and Sapporo Breweries both said factories were shut by the power outage.

A series of smaller shocks followed the initial quake, the JMA said. Residents were warned to take precautions.

By the afternoon, backhoes and other earth-moving equipment in Atsuma had begun clearing debris.

Japan is situated on the “Ring of Fire” arc of volcanoes and oceanic trenches that partly encircles the Pacific Basin.

Northeast Japan was hit by a 9 magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, that triggered a tsunami that killed nearly 20,000 people and led to meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Hokkaido’s Tomari nuclear power station, which has been shut since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, suffered a power outage but officials said it was cooling its spent nuclear fuel safely.

Saturday marked the 95th anniversary of the Great Kanto earthquake, which had a magnitude of 7.9 and killed more than 140,000 people in the Tokyo area. Seismologists have said another such quake could strike the capital at any time.

(Reporting by Kaori Kaneko and Chang-Ran Kim; Additional reporting by William Mallard, Osamu Tsukimori, Aaron Sheldrick, Elaine Lies and Takaya Yamaguchi; Writing by Malcolm Foster; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Japan begins clean-up after typhoon kills 11; major airport closed

Vehicles damaged by Typhoon Jebi are seen in Kobe, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kaori Kaneko

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan began on Wednesday to clean up after a powerful typhoon killed 11 people, injured hundreds and stranded thousands at a flooded airport, though when the airport in an industrial and tourist hub might reopen was not clear.

Typhoon Jebi, or “swallow” in Korean, was briefly a super typhoon and was the most powerful storm to hit Japan in 25 years. It came after months of heavy rain, landslides, floods and record-breaking heat that killed hundreds of people this summer.

Passengers stranded at Kansai International Airport due to powerful typhoon Jebi queue outside the airport as they wait for the arrival of a special bus service to transport them out of the area, in Izumisato, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Passengers stranded at Kansai International Airport due to powerful typhoon Jebi queue outside the airport as they wait for the arrival of a special bus service to transport them out of the area, in Izumisato, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

About 3,000 tourists were stuck overnight at Kansai Airport in western Japan, an important hub for companies exporting semiconductors built on reclaimed land on a bay near Osaka and connected to the mainland by a bridge that was damaged when a tanker slammed into it during the storm.

But by afternoon many people had been rescued by bus or ferried by ship from the airport, where puddles still stood on the main runway after it was inundated on Tuesday.

“More than anything else, I really want to take a bath,” one woman told NHK public television.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Wednesday afternoon about 470 people were injured. It was uncertain when the airport would reopen and some roads and train lines in the affected areas were still closed, he said.

But the number of households without power had been roughly halved to 530,000.

“The government will continue to do everything possible to tackle these issues with utmost urgency,” Suga told a news conference earlier.

A bridge connecting Kansai airport, damaged by crashing with a 2,591-tonne tanker, which is sent by strong wind caused by Typhoon Jebi, is seen in Izumisano, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

A bridge connecting Kansai airport, damaged by crashing with a 2,591-tonne tanker, which is sent by strong wind caused by Typhoon Jebi, is seen in Izumisano, western Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo September 5, 2018. Kyodo/via REUTERS

Japan’s JXTG Nippon Oil Energy Corp shut at least one refining units at its 135,000 barrels-per-day Sakai refinery in Osaka due to typhoon damage to part of the cooling tower, the trade ministry said.

Many chip plants operate in the Kansai region. Toshiba Memory, the world’s second-largest maker of flash memory chips, was monitoring developments closely and may need to ship products from other airports if Kansai remains closed, a spokeswoman said.

She said the company was not expecting a major impact because its plant in Yokkaichi in central Japan had not been affected by the typhoon.

It could take several days to a week to reopen Kansai airport depending on the damage, the Yomiuri newspaper quoted an unidentified person in the airline industry as saying.

Winds that in many places gusted to the highest ever recorded in Japan, according to the Japanese Meteorological Agency, left a swathe of damage, with fruit and vegetables, many about to be harvested, hit especially hard.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was criticized in July for an initially slow response to devastating floods that month, posted updates on the rescue efforts at Kansai.

Jebi’s course brought it close to parts of western Japan hit by rains and flooding in July that killed more than 200 people, but most of the damage this time appeared to be from the wind.

(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori, Makiko Yamazaki, Chang-Ran Kim, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Italy motorway bridge collapses in heavy rains, killing at least 35

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Stefano Rellandini

GENOA, Italy (Reuters) – At least 35 people were killed when a motorway bridge collapsed in torrential rains on Tuesday morning over buildings in the northern Italian port city of Genoa, Italy’s ANSA news agency cited fire brigade sources as saying.

A 50-meter high section of the bridge, including one set of the supports that tower above it, crashed down in the rain onto the roof of a factory and other buildings, crushing vehicles below and plunging huge slabs of reinforced concrete into the nearby riverbed.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

“People living in Genoa use this bridge twice a day, we can’t live with infrastructures built in the 1950s and 1960s,” Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi said on SkyNews24, speaking from Genoa.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy, August 14, 2018. Local Team via Reuters TV/REUTERS

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy, August 14, 2018. Local Team via Reuters TV/REUTERS

Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government which took office in June said it showed Italy needed to spend more to improve its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

“We should ask ourselves whether respecting these (budget) limits is more important than the safety of Italian citizens. Obviously, for me it is not,” said Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the right-wing League which governs with the 5-Star Movement.

A crushed truck is seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A crushed truck is seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Helicopter footage on social media showed trucks and cars stranded on either side of the 80-meter long collapsed section of the Morandi Bridge, built on the A10 toll motorway in the late 1960s. One truck was shown just meters away from the broken end of the bridge.

Motorist Alessandro Megna told RAI state radio he had been in a traffic jam below the bridge and seen the collapse.

“Suddenly the bridge came down with everything it was carrying. It was really an apocalyptic scene, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said.

BRIDGE ‘CONSTANTLY MONITORED’

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Italian state television the disaster pointed to a lack of maintenance, adding that “those responsible will have to pay.”

But Stefano Marigliani, the motorway operator Autostrade’s official responsible for the Genoa area, told Reuters the bridge was “constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required.”

Rescue workers are seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Rescue workers are seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

He said there was “no reason to consider the bridge was dangerous.”

Restructuring work was carried out in 2016 on the 1.2 km-long bridge, first completed in 1967. The motorway is a major artery to the Italian Riviera and to France’s southern coast.

Autostrade, a unit of Atlantia, said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse.

But the head of the civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said he was not aware that any maintenance work was being done on the bridge.

Borrelli said there were 30-35 vehicles on the bridge when the middle section came down, including three lorries. He said 13 people had been hospitalized, including five in a critical condition.

Some 200 firefighters were on the scene, the fire service said, and Sky Italia television said four people had been pulled from the rubble.

Police footage showed firemen working to clear debris around a crushed truck, while other firemen nearby scaled some of the huge broken slabs of reinforced concrete that had supported the bridge.

Firefighters inspect a crushed car at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Firefighters inspect a crushed car at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The government has pledged to increase public investments and lobby the European Commission to have the extra spending excluded from EU deficit calculations.

“The tragic facts in Genoa remind us of the public investments that we so badly need,” said Claudio Borghi, the League’s economy spokesman.

The office of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was heading to Genoa in the evening and would remain there on Wednesday. Defense minister Elisabetta Trenta said the army was ready to offer manpower and vehicles to help with the rescue operations.

Train services around Genoa have been halted.

Shares in Atlantia, the toll road operator which runs the motorway, were suspended after falling 6.3 percent.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Additional reporting by Angelo Amato; Writing by Gavin Jones and Steve Scherer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Crews gain on California wildfire as milder temperatures prevail

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows the River fire at the Mendocino Complex wildfire in California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the largest wildfire in California history took advantage of milder overnight temperatures to gain considerable ground in containing the blaze on Wednesday, a day after officials it would take until September to snuff it out.

The Mendocino Complex fire, which has scorched an area of northern California almost the size of Los Angeles, was 47 percent contained on Wednesday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. A day earlier, the fire was 34 percent contained.

So far, two firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which has consumed more than 300,000 acres. While sprawling, the wildfire was less destructive than last week’s Carr Fire near Redding, destroying 75 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 23,000 people. The Carr Fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Overnight temperatures for Wednesday and Thursday should drop to a low of 64 degrees (18 Celsius) but highs were forecast to hit 98 degrees (36 Celsius) on Wednesday and 99 (37 Celsius) on Thursday, said National Weather Service meteorology intern Jennifer Guenehner.

Some 4,000 firefighters were working on Wednesday to stop the fire from reaching communities at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze is still threatening more than 10,000 structures, Cal Fire said.

The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires burning in California that have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people over the past month.

Cal Fire on Tuesday pushed back the date when it expected to bring the Mendocino fire under full control to Sept. 1, the fourth time the department has revised its timetable as the massive wildfire expanded.

The fire became the largest in California history on Monday, after officials began battling two separate blazes in the Mendocino area as a single event, according to Cal Fire.

Now, having scorched more than 300,000 acres, the blaze has surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in southern California last December, destroying more than 1,000 structures.

 

Climate change is widely blamed for the higher temperatures that have fueled wildfires in California, and further afield like in Portugal, Sweden, and Siberia.

The California fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and Republican leaders such as state Senator Ted Gaines to call for thinning forests and controlled burns to reduce fire danger. Environmentalists oppose such preventive burns, saying they kill wildlife.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

Texas pipeline blaze put out after seven hospitalized; explosions probed

A pipeline explosion erupts in this image captured from video by a field worker in Midland County, the home to the Permian Basin and the largest U.S. oilfield, in Texas, U.S., August 1, 2018. Courtesy Marty Baeza/Handout via REUTERS

By Gary McWilliams

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Authorities on Thursday were investigating what caused a fire and a series of natural gas pipeline explosions in Midland County, Texas, which sent seven people to the hospital on Wednesday and shut down five lines before being extinguished late in the evening.

Workers and firefighters were responding to a leak when the blast occurred, Midland County Fire Marshal Dale Little said on Thursday. The cause of the original explosions has not been determined, he said.

Five workers with critical injuries were airlifted to University Medical Center in Lubbock, Texas, and were being treated at the center’s burn unit.

One man remained in critical condition and three others were upgraded to serious condition, all with burn injuries, medical center spokesman Eric Finley said on Thursday.

The fifth pipeline worker, a Kinder Morgan Inc employee, was listed in stable condition at the hospital, a company spokeswoman said.

Two firefighters responding to the blaze also were taken to hospital on Wednesday for treatment of burn injuries, said Elana Ladd, public information officer for the city of Midland.

Ladd said the pipeline explosions occurred just outside the city of Midland on a rural road, FM 1379, about five miles (8 km) south of Highway 158.

Marty Baeza, a Fort Stockton, Texas oilfield worker who was working at a site about a half mile (0.8 km) from the explosion, said the blast shook the water-treatment unit where he was working.

“It felt like someone had bumped us,” said Baeza. He went outside and saw a large fireball that lit the sky for about five minutes. Firefighters arrived quickly, he said.

Kinder Morgan’s El Paso Natural Gas (EPNG) line was damaged by the blaze, but service impacts are expected to be minimal, spokeswoman Sara Hughes said in an email. The company believes the problem started with a nearby pipeline.

“There was a third-party pipeline involved that also experienced a failure, and preliminary indications are that the third-party line failure occurred before the EPNG line failure,” Hughes said.

Authorities on Thursday morning said they were not able to identify the operators of the other pipelines affected by the blast.

Oil and gas pipelines crisscross Midland County, which is located in the Permian Basin, the largest U.S. oilfield. The explosions affected five pipelines which share a transit channel and which were all shut in by operators, a Midland city official said on Wednesday.

Gas prices at the Waha hub, in the Permian basin, increased by 13 cents, or about 6 percent, on Wednesday to $2.23 per million British thermal units, although much of the trade that day would have occurred before the fire, which started at around 11:14 a.m. CDT (1614 GMT).

Thomson Reuters data showed that as of Thursday, the explosions had not affected overall flows of natural gas in Midland County, including on Kinder Morgan’s EPNG pipeline.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston and Scott DiSavino in New York; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

How do you sleep? After fire kills scores, Greece sees political recriminations

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Balta

By Michele Kambas

ATHENS (Reuters) – Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras accused the opposition on Tuesday of exploiting one of the country’s worst ever natural disasters for saying ministers should resign over the deaths of at least 91 people in a fire.

Greece has been stunned by the blaze which swiftly gutted the town of Mati east of Athens on July 23. Scores more people were injured and the death toll could still rise. There have since been recriminations over whether an evacuation order was issued and whether rescue services responded in a timely manner.

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Bal

People light candles outside the parliament building to commemorate the victims of a wildfire that left at least 91 dead, in Athens, Greece, July 30, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

“I really wonder how some people … can sleep today, and continue content in exercising their duties,” Kyriakos Mitsotakis, head of the Conservative New Democracy party, told a news conference.

“When someone undertakes political responsibility it should be accompanied by an act, and resignation is an act of personal responsibility,” said Mitsotakis, whose party is leading in opinion polls.

Though Mitsotakis did not name the prime minister, the comments appeared to be aimed at Tsipras, who has said he accepted full political responsibility for the disaster.

The prime minister’s office accused Mitsotakis of trying to “take advantage of dozens of citizens’ pain and loss”.

“Human lives cannot become an object of political exploitation,” Tsipras’s office said in a statement. “Citizens will judge those who judge.”

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at the flames as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

FILE PHOTO: A man looks at the flames as a wildfire burns in the town of Rafina, near Athens. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

Mitsotakis said those responsible for coordinating the fire response, including the civil protection and interior ministers and the fire brigade chief, should resign.

He also appeared to criticize Tsipras for failing to visit the scene of the disaster sooner. Tsipras traveled to the site on Monday a week after the blaze. Another government minister who visited earlier had a heated exchange with survivors on whether aid was sent in a timely manner.

“Anger, and sympathizing with another’s pain is something deeply personal,” Mitsotakis said. “But public figures have no right to hide during a crisis. (A leader) has an obligation to take a position, and be next to people in trying times.”

Tsipras has vowed to hold a thorough inquiry into how hundreds of people were left trapped by flames. He has pledged a series of changes, including a crackdown on unlicensed construction which is thought to have worsened the fire and blocked off escape routes for residents fleeing toward the sea.

(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)