New Orleans doctors scramble as coronavirus deaths, cases soar

By Brad Brooks

(Reuters) – Emergency room doctor Thomas Krajewski stopped at the hospital room door at 2 a.m. to glance at the chart. He knew instantly the long odds faced by the patient inside: A man in his 70s, with a fever, short of breath.

“Do you mind calling my son?” the patient asked him. “My two grandsons tomorrow morning are going to crawl in my bed because they wake me up on the weekends, and if I’m not there, they will wonder.”

Twelve hours later, the man needed a ventilator. After a day, his kidneys started to fail. In three days, he was dead – one of 151 people who had succumbed to COVID-19 in Louisiana by late Sunday. The state has confirmed 3,540 cases since March 9 – among the world’s fastest-growing infection rates. That pace, Governor John Bel Edwards has said, signals that the state could become the next Italy, with overwhelmed hospitals forced to turn patients away.

Frontline health workers scrambled to prepare for that grim prophecy as patients started to stream through their doors last week. The governor said on Face the Nation Sunday that the state has only a tiny fraction of the about 13,000 ventilators it will need, and that it has yet to receive federal approval to tap a national stockpile. In New Orleans, the state’s epicenter, authorities are setting up a field hospital to handle the expected overflow of patients at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center – the same site where thousands of Hurricane Katrina refugees suffered in 2005.

Then as now, many doctors fear they won’t get enough supplies and support to keep up with the deluge of victims. This time they are fighting a pathogen that threatens them – and their families – every time they extend a hand to help a patient.

Krajewski, a 31-year-old Cincinnati native who is just two years out of residency, works the overnight shift at St. Bernard Parish Hospital, in a working class suburb just east of the city. After work, Krajewski comes home to his newborn son, Cal, just three weeks old, and his wife Genevieve. He strips off his clothes on the porch before entering his house. He drops his glasses and phone into a small UV light sterilizer and heads straight to the shower.

“I come home – and I’m horrified,” Krajewski said. “I’m wearing an N95 respirator-level face mask anytime I’m near my child, and that is after I’ve fully decontaminated.”

Doctors across New Orleans are calling colleagues in New York and Seattle, sharing intelligence on the virus. They trade suggestions on how to hook two patients up to a single respirator. Some health workers are renting out apartments to quarantine themselves from their families, said Joseph Kanter, an emergency room physician and lead public health official for the New Orleans area.

“They’re using all these stop-gap measures” to protect themselves, said Kanter, calling it a “damning indictment” of the nation’s lack of preparedness for such a pandemic.

‘IT CAN HAPPEN TO ME’

With more than 141,000 infected and nearly 2,500 dead in the United States, health workers in hard-hit places like New Orleans are feeling the strain of taking in hundreds of contagious patients who often deteriorate quickly.

While older patients are by far the most at-risk, some Louisiana doctors say they have been shocked at the severity of some cases in which younger people have just one underlying condition, such as hypertension or diabetes. Some patients in their 30s or 40s have been quickly put on life support, said Jeff Elder, an emergency physician at University Medical Center in downtown New Orleans.

Such cases are worrisome because doctors are still struggling to understand why certain younger patients are hit so much harder than others – and because they make younger caregivers fear for their own safety.

“You treat them and think, ‘If it is happening to him, it can happen to me,’” said Elder, who is 40.

EXPONENTIAL RISE

Louisiana’s soaring infection rates mean some hospitals will have to start turning away patients in the next week unless statewide efforts to curtail social contact start to show an impact, Governor Edwards has said. The governor’s pleas for residents to stay home in daily news conferences have become increasingly laced with anger and frustration.

“It’s not that hard to understand!” Edwards said on Friday, talking about what awaits New Orleans. “The trajectory we’re on right now takes us to a place where we cannot meet the demands on our health care system.”

Even as fears rise inside overtaxed hospitals, caregivers are working in an unsettling silence. Many have bans or severe limitations on visiting family members, who normally fill their hallways with conversation, comforting loved ones and waiting on scraps of news.

Patients with COVID-19 suffer quietly, too. In survival mode, they focus almost solely on breathing. Fevers make them sweat through their hospital gowns as they sit upright in bed, the position that makes it easiest to breathe. Ventilators hum in the background.

Krajewski decided early in college to become a doctor, in part because of a self-described hero complex. In his young career, he has thrived on seeing patients get well in response to his treatments.

That’s all changed in the last few days. He has put about a dozen patients on life support, and only one has come off. Five have died.

“There is a sense of gravity when you know you are one of the last people that will talk to somebody,” Krajewski said. “Those conversations are happening more often.”

(Reporting by Brad Brooks; Editing by Brian Thevenot)

Pentagon eyes Chicago, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana as coronavirus spreads

By Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military is watching coronavirus infection trends in Chicago, Michigan, Florida and Louisiana with concern as it weighs where else it may need to deploy, after boosting aid to New York, California and Washington, a top general said on Friday.

Air Force General John Hyten, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military was doing its own analysis as well as looking at data on infections compiled elsewhere in the government.

“There’s a certain number of places where we have concerns and they’re: Chicago, Michigan, Florida, Louisiana,” Hyten told a group of reporters, when asked where field hospitals could head next.

“Those are the areas that we’re looking at and trying to figure out where to go next.”

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States reached 100,040 on Friday, the highest number in the world, a Reuters tally showed.

The Army Corps of Engineers said on Friday it was aiming to provide facilities for 3,000 people with the coronavirus at Chicago’s McCormick Place convention center by April 24 for about $75 million.

Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, the Corps’ commander, said the Corps was looking at potentially converting 114 facilities in the United States into hospitals.

Asked about Hyten’s remarks, Semonite said he continued to be concerned about Michigan, Florida and Louisiana and had spoken with the governor of Louisiana. He said there could be a high demand for medical resources in Florida because of the aging population and added the Corps was developing options for the state.

STRAINS ON MILITARY

The military is already deploying field hospitals to Seattle and New York. A Navy hospital ship arrived on Friday in Los Angeles and another one is expected to reach New York City on Monday, where Hyten said the city was still dredging the harbor to allow the massive ship to dock.

Each ship has a capacity of about 1,000 beds and would not treat coronavirus patients, instead taking pressure off overwhelmed civilian hospitals.

But Hyten cautioned that the U.S. military only had limited medical capacity in the United States and, at some point, it would have to tap the reserve forces — while guarding against drawing medical staff away from civilian facilities.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed an executive order authorizing the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to call up reservists.

“We made a decision about five or six years ago that we would downsize our military (health care) capabilities in the United States … to only really focus on our deployed requirements,” Hyten said.

He estimated that the military only had 1,329 adult hospital beds staffed at any one time in the United States.

“We’re digging into the active duty force really heavily,” he said. “So the next thing that we’re going to need is to look into the reserves.”

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

U.S. has most coronavirus cases in world, next wave aimed at Louisiana

By Maria Caspani and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of U.S. coronavirus infections climbed above 82,000 on Thursday, surpassing the national tallies of China and Italy, as New York, New Orleans and other hot spots faced a surge in hospitalizations and looming shortages of supplies, staff and sick beds.

With medical facilities running low on ventilators and protective masks and hampered by limited diagnostic testing capacity, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the virus, rose beyond 1,200.

“Any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the healthcare system,” New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told a news conference. He described the state’s projected shortfall in ventilators – machines that support the respiration of people have cannot breathe on their own – as “astronomical.”

“It’s not like they have them sitting in the warehouse,” Cuomo added. “There is no stockpile available.”

At least one New York City hospital, New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center in Manhattan, has begun a trial of sharing single ventilators between two patients.

While New York was the coronavirus epicenter in the United States this week, the next big wave of infections appeared headed for Louisiana, where demand for ventilators has already doubled. In New Orleans, the state’s biggest city, Mardi Gras celebrations late last month are believed to have fueled the outbreak.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said New Orleans would be out of ventilators by April 2 and potentially out of bed space by April 7 “if we don’t flatten the infection curve soon.”

“It’s not conjecture, it’s not some flimsy theory,” Edwards told a press conference. “This is what is going to happen.”

Nurse Tina Nguyen administers a nasal swab at a coronavirus testing site outside International Community Health Services in the Chinatown-International District during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

About 80% of Louisiana’s intensive care patients are now on breathing machines, up from the normal rate of 30-40%, said Warner Thomas, chief executive of Ochsner Health System, the state’s hospital group.

Scarcities of protective masks, gloves, gowns and eyewear for doctors and nurses – reports abound of healthcare workers recycling old face masks, making their own or even using trash bags to shield themselves – have emerged as a national problem.

“Our nurses across the country do not have the personal protective equipment that is necessary to care for COVID patients, or any of their patients,” Bonnie Castillo, head of the largest U.S. nurses union, National Nurses United, told MSNBC.

In an ominous milestone for the United States as a whole, at least 82,153 people nationwide were infected as of Thursday, according to a Reuters tally from state and local public health agencies. China, where the global pandemic emerged late last year, had the second highest number of cases, 81,285, followed by Italy with 80,539.

At least 1,204 Americans have died from COVID-19, which has proven especially dangerous to the elderly and people with underlying chronic health conditions, Reuters’ tally showed.

MORE BEDS NEEDED

For New York state, Cuomo said a key goal was rapidly to expand the number of available hospital beds from 53,000 to 140,000.

New York hospitals were racing to comply with Cuomo’s directive to increase capacity by at least 50%. At Mount Sinai Hospital’s Upper East Side location, rooms were being constructed within an atrium to open up more space for beds.

At Elmhurst Hospital in New York’s borough of Queens, about a hundred people, many wearing masks with their hoods pulled up, lined up behind barriers outside the emergency room entrance, waiting to enter a tent to be screened for the coronavirus.

The city coroner’s office has posted refrigerated trucks outside Elmhurst and Bellevue Hospital to temporarily store bodies of the deceased.

Deborah White, vice chair of emergency medicine at Jack D. Weiler Hospital in the city’s Bronx borough, said 80% of its emergency room visits were patients with coronavirus-like symptoms.

A ventilator shortfall and surge in hospitalizations has already raised the prospect of rationing healthcare.

Asked about guidelines being drafted on how to allocate ventilators to patients in case of a shortage, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told reporters such bioethical discussions “haunted him” but were unavoidable.

Outside New York and New Orleans, other hot spots appeared to be emerging around the country, including Detroit.

Brandon Allen, 48, was buying groceries in Detroit for his 72-year-old mother, who has tested positive and was self-quarantining at home.

“It’s surreal,” Allen said. “People around me I know are dying. I know of a couple people who have died. I know a couple of people who are fighting for their lives. Everyday you hear of another person who has it.”

RECORD UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Desperate to slow virus transmissions by limiting physical contact among people, state and local governments have issued stay-at-home orders covering about half the U.S. population. A major side effect has been the strangulation of the economy, and a wave of layoffs.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Thursday the number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits last week soared to a record of nearly 3.28 million – almost five times the previous weekly peak of 695,000 during the 1982 recession.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said warmer weather may help tamp down the U.S. outbreak as summer approaches, though the virus could re-emerge in the winter.

“We hope we get a respite as we get into April, May and June,” Fauci said on WNYC public radio.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said he may extend a stay-at-home order tentatively set to expire April 6, encouraged by what he called a “very modest improvement” in the Seattle area.

Washington experienced the first major U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 and has been among the hardest-hit states. As of Thursday the state reported about 3,200 cases and 147 deaths.

In California’s Coachella Valley, a region rife with retirees who are especially vulnerable, 25 members of the state’s National Guard helped a non-profit distribute food to people stuck in their homes, as most of the regular volunteers are senior citizens.

More than 10,000 troops have been deployed in 50 states to provide humanitarian aid during the pandemic.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani in New York and Daniel Trotta in Milan; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Catherine Koppel, Lucia Mutikani, Doina Chiacu, Susan Heavey, Nathan Layne, Lisa Lambert, Michael Martina, Rebecca Cook, Barbara Goldberg, Rich McKay and Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Will Dunham and Steve Gorman; Editing by Howard Goller, Bill Tarrant, Cynthia Osterman and Daniel Wallis)

Coronavirus impact spreads across U.S. as Congress readies aid

By Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The burden caused by the fast-spreading coronavirus accelerated across the United States on Wednesday beyond the hot spots of New York, California and Washington state as Louisiana and others faced a severe crush on their healthcare systems.

U.S. President Donald Trump issued the latest major federal disaster declarations for Louisiana and Iowa late on Tuesday, freeing up federal funds to help states cope with the increasing number of cases of the dangerous respiratory disease caused by the virus that threaten to overwhelm state and local resources.

That brings to five the number of states receiving major disaster declarations from the Republican president. New York – the state with by far the most infections and deaths – was given such status last weekend as well as California and Washington state.

Louisiana, where large crowds recently celebrated Mardi Gras in New Orleans and other locations, has reported a spike in infections with 1,388 total confirmed cases and 46 deaths as of midday Tuesday, according to the Louisiana Department of Health.

“I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of state and local governments,” the state’s governor wrote the White House this week in seeking the declaration.

It was not immediately clear why Trump granted Iowa federal disaster relief and not some other states with many more cases. Iowa, where officials announced the state’s first death from the coronavirus on Tuesday, has reported 124 confirmed cases. (https://tmsnrt.rs/2w7hX9T)

A number of other U.S. states have also applied for major disaster relief status in recent days including Florida, Texas and New Jersey.

Nationwide, more than 53,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that is particularly perilous to the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, with at least 720 deaths. World Health Organization officials have said the United States could become the global epicenter of the pandemic, which first emerged late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The governors of at least 18 states have issued stay-at-home directives affecting about half the U.S. population of roughly 330 million people. The sweeping orders are aimed at slowing the spread of the pathogen but have upended daily life as schools and businesses shutter indefinitely.

Trump on Tuesday said he wanted to re-open the country by Easter Sunday, but later told reporters he would listen to recommendations from the nation’s top health officials.

The closures have rocked the U.S. economy with global markets rattled by the pandemic. Wall Street on Wednesday extended its gains from the previous session as lawmakers and the Trump administration reached a deal for a $2 trillion stimulus package to help businesses and millions of Americans hit by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The measure in Congress would provide a massive infusion of aid, including $150 billion in state and local governments to fight the outbreak, and could be passed by the Senate later on Wednesday. The measure would still have to pass the House of Representatives before Trump could sign it into law.

The plan also includes loan programs for hard-hit industries and small businesses, direct payments of up to $3,000 to millions of U.S. families, expanded unemployment aid and billions of dollars for hospitals and health systems.

National Guard troops have been activated to assist with the virus fight, while two U.S. Navy hospital ships have been directed to head to Los Angeles and New York City to help relieve the strain on local hospitals. The U.S. military is preparing field hospitals in New York and Seattle.

NEW YORK UNDER SIEGE

With more than 8 million people densely packed in New York City, New York has become the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak as the number of COVID-19 cases threatens to overwhelm its healthcare system.

The White House on Tuesday advised anyone who has visited or left New York to isolate themselves as the number of cases in the state swelled to more than 25,600 confirmed infections and 210 deaths.

Officials from the state have pleaded for more equipment and hospital beds and lamented a lack of urgency by federal officials in recent weeks as the threat grew increasingly dire.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and Trump have clashed in recent days over the federal government’s response. Cuomo has called for thousands of new ventilators and urged the president to utilize his federal powers to speed up manufacturing for critical health equipment.

Trump, in a Fox News interview on Tuesday, defended his response, adding: “It’s a two-way street. They have to treat us well also.”

On Wednesday, Trump fired back against the reported tensions, tweeting: “I am working very hard to help New York City & State. Dealing with both Mayor & Governor and producing tremendously for them, including four new medical centers and four new hospitals. Fake News that I won’t help them because I don’t like Cuomo (I do). Just sent 4000 ventilators!”

A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted from March 18-24 showed that 68% of U.S. adults agreed that the coronavirus was a serious existential threat, up 14 percentage points from a similar poll from a week earlier. This includes majorities of Democrats and Republicans, whites, minorities, young, old, urban, suburban and rural residents. The poll found that 33% now said they think it is very or somewhat likely they will be infected within the next year, up 5 percentage points from last week.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Will Dunham)

Ohio, Louisiana become latest U.S. states to declare coronavirus lockdowns

By Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As U.S. cases of coronavirus spiked on Sunday, Ohio and Louisiana became the latest states to announce broad lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus with nearly one in three Americans under orders to stay at home.

The two states join New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut and New Jersey, home to 100 million Americans combined, as cases nationwide top 33,000 with at least 390 dead, according to a Reuters tally.

“Every piece of evidence that I can lay my hands on indicates that we’re at an absolutely crucial time in this war and what we do now will make all the difference in the world,” said Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. “What we do now will slow this invader. It will slow this invader so our health care system … will have time to treat casualties.”

Ohio has 351 cases and three deaths while Louisiana has 837 cases and 20 deaths, several in a senior care facility.

The mayor of New York City, the epicenter of the nation’s coronavirus epidemic, on Sunday described the outbreak as the biggest domestic crisis since the Great Depression and called for the U.S. military to mobilize to help keep the healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

“If we don’t get more ventilators in the next 10 days people will die who don’t have to die,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio, as the nation’s most populous city saw COVID-19 cases top 9,600 and deaths climbed to 63.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo urged the federal government to take over acquisition of medical supplies so states do not have to compete with each other for desperately needed resources. He also repeated a request for the Army Corps of Engineers to build temporary hospitals.

Help is not coming quickly enough, Cuomo said.

“Time matters, minutes count, and this is literally a matter of life and death,” he said. “At the same time, there is not going to be chaos, there is not going to be anarchy. Life is going to go on. Different. But life is going to go on.”

The number of cases of the highly contagious respiratory illness in the United States and Spain are exceeded only by China and Italy. Italy reported record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths last week.

“This is going to be the greatest crisis domestically since the Great Depression,” de Blasio told CNN, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. “This is why we need a full-scale mobilization of the American military.”

Around the globe, billions are adapting to a new reality, with countries like Italy, Spain and France on lockdown and several South American nations taking similar measures to try to stay ahead of the contagion, as global cases exceeded 315,000 and deaths top 13,000.

The lockdown affecting large segments of the American public to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus is likely to last 10 to 12 weeks, or until early June, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.

Lawmakers in Washington are nearing a deal that could pump a record $1 trillion into the economy to limit the economic damage from the coronavirus and will vote on the bill Monday.

Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Mnuchin said the package would give an average U.S. family of four a one-time payment of $3,000.

Republican U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on Sunday became the first member of the Senate to announce he had tested positive for coronavirus. At least two members of the House of Representatives previously said they tested positive.

MEDICAL CRISIS

De Blasio said the city is not getting needed medical supplies from the federal government to contend with the rapid spread of the sometimes deadly illness.

Hospitals are scrambling for protective equipment for healthcare workers and for ventilators as they brace for a wave of patients who will need help breathing as severe cases often lead to pneumonia and decreased lung function.

Over the past week, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing for aggressive steps to stem the economic hit, after Trump spent several weeks downplaying the virus’ risks.

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said the White House recognized the urgency of New York’s situation.

“Not only is New York trying to get resources themselves, but we’re going to be pouring it in from the federal government,” he told CBS News.

U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co Inc said it delivered 500,000 donated masks to New York City on Sunday morning.

Cuomo warned that 40% to 80% of New York state residents may eventually contract coronavirus. He chastised those who were still congregating in parks and other places and not practicing social distancing. He noted 53% of the cases in New York are between the ages of 18 and 49.

“It’s insensitive, arrogant, self-destructive … and it has to stop, and it has to stop now,” he said, adding he was giving New York City authorities 24 hours to come up with a plan to deal with the situation. “This is not a joke and I’m not kidding.”

(Reporting by Jonnelle Marte and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Lisa Shumaker; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Tornadoes sweep across southeastern U.S., killing at least three: officials

A tornado spins during stormy weather in Mangum, Oklahoma, U.S., May 20, 2019, in this still image taken from video from social media. Lorraine Matti via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes swept across swaths of the southeastern United States killing at least two people in northern Alabama and one person in Louisiana, tearing roofs off buildings, splintering trees and downing powerlines, officials said.

Most of the tornado and storm damage was reported in parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas starting early Monday, sheriff’s officials told local media.

Survey teams will be sent out at first light Tuesday to assess the extent of the damage, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

“Initial reports suggest first tornado was reported in Louisiana around 10:35 (a.m.) CST and first tornado fatality was somewhere around 11:18 a.m. CST,” said NWS meteorologist Jared Guyer.

More rain and wind is expected overnight and into Tuesday as the storms push off into southeastern Georgia, Florida’s panhandle and the Carolina coasts in the morning hours.

At least 28,300 people had power outages in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, according to the tracking site Poweroutage.Us.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; additional reporting and writing by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Tropical storm brewing off U.S. Gulf Coast, likely to hit Louisiana as hurricane

A flooded area is seen in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 10, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. David Mora via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A storm churning in the Gulf of Mexico and aimed at water-logged New Orleans was expected to make landfall as the first Atlantic hurricane of the 2019 season by late Friday or early Saturday, forecasters said.

A waterspout is seen on Lake Pontchartrain off New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. July 10, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Bryon Callahan via REUTERS

A waterspout is seen on Lake Pontchartrain off New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S. July 10, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. Bryon Callahan via REUTERS

The storm, which forecasters said might escalate to a tropical storm by late Thursday, had maximum sustained winds of 35 miles per hour (55 kph) as of Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologists predicted between 10 and 20 inches (25 and 50 cm) of rain would fall on the Gulf Coast on Friday and Saturday from West Texas through New Orleans and the Louisiana coast.

“The whole area is in for a soaking, the worst of it on Saturday,” said David Roth, a meteorologist from the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

The storm remained a tropical disturbance early on Thursday about 115 miles (185 km) south-southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm will be named Barry if it strengthens into a tropical storm with winds of 39 mph or more on the Saffir Simpson hurricane scale. It will become Hurricane Barry if it reaches wind speeds of 74 mph (119 km) as expected when it makes landfall near the mouth of the Mississippi River and just west of New Orleans.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Wednesday.

“The storm system will likely produce storm surge, hurricane-force winds,” he said at a news conference. “No one should take this storm lightly.”

 

A flooded area is seen in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 10, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. David Mora via REUTERS

A flooded area is seen in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., July 10, 2019 in this image obtained from social media. David Mora via REUTERSNational Guard troops were in place across the state, the governor said.

U.S. oil producers on Wednesday cut nearly a third of Gulf of Mexico crude output ahead of the storm.

Fifteen production platforms and four rigs were evacuated in the north-central Gulf of Mexico, according to a U.S. regulator as oil firms moved workers to safety.

New Orleans was already hit with widespread flooding on Wednesday from a weather system that might inundate the low-lying U.S. city.

The National Weather Service said the city had received 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 cm) of rain by Thursday morning, causing dramatic flooding in the area, including on Bourbon Street in the city’s historic French Quarter.

Officials advised residents on Wednesday to stock up on emergency supplies and ordered evacuations in some vulnerable residential areas.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Peter Sezekely and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bill Trott)

U.S. oil firms cut nearly a third of Gulf of Mexico output ahead of storm

FILE PHOTO: A massive drilling derrick is pictured on BP's Thunder Horse Oil Platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 150 miles from the Louisiana coast, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault/File Photo

By Collin Eaton and Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. oil producers on Wednesday cut nearly a third of offshore Gulf of Mexico crude output as what could be one of the first major storms of the Atlantic hurricane season threatened production.

Fifteen oil production platforms and four rigs were evacuated in the north central area of the Gulf of Mexico, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), ahead of a storm expected to become a hurricane by Friday.

Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and others withdrew staff, and some cut production from deepwater platforms as a safety precaution.

The withdrawals helped push U.S. oil futures up 4% to more than $60 a barrel, and lifted gasoline prices. The U.S. Gulf of Mexico produces 17% of U.S. crude oil and 5% of natural gas. Gasoline futures climbed more than 3.5% in New York trading.

A tropical depression is expected to form in the Gulf by Thursday, with the potential to strengthen to a hurricane by the weekend, according to the National Hurricane Center. The system could produce a storm surge and heavy rainfall from Louisiana to the upper Texas coast.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards on Wednesday declared a state of emergency, warning that the storm system could bring up to 15 inches of rain and hurricane-force winds to parts of Louisiana. A state of emergency allows for the activation of the state’s National Guard and the setting of curfews.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June through November.

BSEE said more than 600,000 barrels per day of Gulf oil production and 17% of the region’s natural gas production were shut by producers.

Exxon has evacuated nonessential staff from three platforms in the Gulf, but anticipates little effect on its production, spokeswoman Julie King said.

Anadarko, the third largest U.S. Gulf producer by volume, said it is stopping oil and gas production and removing workers from its four central Gulf facilities: the Constitution, Heidelberg, Holstein and Marco Polo platforms. It said it is also evacuating nonessential staff from eastern Gulf platforms.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc expanded an earlier offshore evacuation to seven platforms and shut more production, the company said on Wednesday.

Operations at the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, the only U.S. port where the largest crude tankers can load and unload, were normal on Wednesday morning, a spokeswoman said.

Oil refiners Motiva Enterprises and Marathon Petroleum Corp said they were monitoring the developing storm and prepared to implement hurricane plans.

Motiva’s Port Arthur, Texas, refinery was one of four refineries in east Texas inundated by more than 5 feet (1.52 m) of rain in a single day during 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.

Chevron, Phillips 66, Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell were preparing for heavy rain and wind at refineries along the Gulf Coast, company representatives said. Exxon reported operations at its Gulf Coast refineries were normal on Wednesday morning.

Chevron has shut production at five Gulf platforms – Big Foot, Blind Faith, Genesis, Petronius and Tahiti – and has begun to evacuate all workers at those offshore facilities, spokeswoman Veronica Flores-Paniagua said.

BP Plc, the second-largest oil producer in the Gulf by volume, is shutting all production at its four Gulf platforms – Thunder Horse, Atlantis, Mad Dog and Na Kika – which produce more than 300,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day.

BHP Group Ltd was also removing staff from its two offshore energy platforms, according to a company statement.

Two independent offshore producers, Fieldwood Energy LLC and LLOG Exploration Company LLC, declined to comment.

(Reporting by Collin Eaton and Erwin Seba in Houston; Editing by Gary McWilliams, Matthew Lewis and Leslie Adler)

Rains ease, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana still face flood of ‘historic magnitude’

A mattress and dresser drawer are among the debris scattered on a lawn near a damaged house after several tornadoes reportedly touched down, in Linwood, Kansas, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Nate Chute

By Alex Dobuzinskis and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Thousands of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana residents braced for more flooding on Thursday as swollen rivers continued to rise, although the threat of rain was expected to ease by the afternoon, officials said.

Many in the U.S. Southern states have already evacuated homes, as of further flooding drove fears that decades-old levees girding the Arkansas River may not hold.

There were no reports of major levee breaks early on Thursday, said Dylan Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s office in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“The rivers and tributaries are still rising from all that water flowing downstream from up north,” said Cooper.

“We call it the bathtub effect. There’s only so much water that the levees and reservoirs can hold before that water just spills over,” he said.

The only good news is that it looks like the area is going to have a dry few days into the weekend, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“They can use any dry weather they can get,” said Oravec.

More than a week of violent weather, including downpours and deadly tornadoes, has lashed the central United States, bringing record-breaking floods in parts of the states, turning highways into lakes and submerging all but the roofs of some homes.

Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson told a news conference on Wednesday, that the state is experiencing a “flood of historic magnitude.”

Flooding has already closed 12 state highways, he said, and 400 households have agreed to voluntary evacuations.

Hutchinson sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday asking for a federal emergency declaration for Arkansas.

The levee system along the Arkansas River “has not seen this type of record flooding” before, Hutchinson said in his six-page letter.

Hutchinson said Trump had promised assistance in an earlier conversation, several media outlets reported.

Rivers were expected to crest by early June to the highest levels on record all the way down to Little Rock, Arkansas, forecasters said.

“We’ve had river highs of 44.9 feet in places,” said Cooper of the Arkansas River. “We’re blowing through records.”

In Tulsa, Oklahoma’s second largest city, Mayor G.T. Bynum warned that the city’s levees were being tested “in a way that they have never been before.”

He said the 20-mile (32 km) levee system, which protects some 10,000 people, was working as designed so far and being patrolled around the clock by the Oklahoma National Guard.

At least six people have died in the latest round of flooding and storms in Oklahoma, according to the state’s Department of Health.

More than 300 tornadoes have touched down in the Midwest in the past two weeks. Tornadoes pulverized buildings in western Ohio on Monday, killing one person and injuring scores.

In Louisiana, the Mississippi River was also at record flood levels due to record-breaking rainfalls this spring, forecasters said.

Trump authorized emergency aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the state late on Wednesday.

In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Mississippi rose above flood stage in early January and has remained there since, forecasters said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Louisiana governor to sign ‘heartbeat’ ban, latest move to curb U.S. abortion rights

FILE PHOTO - Missouri Governor Mike Parson signs Bill 126 into law banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, alongside state House and Senate members and pro-life coalition leaders at his office in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S., May 24, 2019. Office of Governor Michael L. Parson/Handout via REUTERS.

By Gabriella Borter and Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Louisiana’s Democratic governor said on Wednesday he would sign a bill passed earlier in the day to ban abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, the latest legislation in a movement in mostly Southern and Midwest states to curb abortion rights.

Earlier on Wednesday, Missouri’s governor renewed his intention to close a Planned Parenthood clinic and become the first state without a medical facility that performs abortions.

The Louisiana bill was approved on Wednesday by a 79-23 vote of the Republican-controlled Louisiana House of Representatives and had already passed in the state Senate.

Louisiana would join at least four other conservative-leaning states that have passed measures this year to prohibit abortion as early as six weeks. Alabama has approved a stricter law that would ban nearly all abortions in the state.

The U.S. Supreme Court may eventually be called upon to rule on the various state laws, which challenge the high court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards would become the first Democrat this year to sign a ban on abortion when a heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks from conception before a woman realizes she is pregnant, lending bipartisanship to the measure. The bill’s sponsor, state Senator John Milkovich, is also a Democrat.

Other states that passed similar measures this year, including Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri, are led by Republican governors.

“As I prepare to sign this bill, I call on the overwhelming bipartisan majority of legislators who voted for it to join me in continuing to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone,” Edwards said in a statement on Wednesday.

The measure would allow a woman to have an abortion, after detection of an embryonic heartbeat, to prevent her death or if she risks serious injury.

The Louisiana legislation will not go into effect until a U.S. Appeals Court rules on whether to allow a similar measure in neighboring Mississippi to take effect. Last week, a U.S. district judge blocked the Mississippi law from taking effect, and the Appeals Court that is expected to review the ruling also has jurisdiction over Louisiana.

DECADES-LONG FIGHT

The Roe v. Wade decision allowed states to restrict abortion from the time a fetus can viably survive outside the womb, which the opinion placed at 24 to 28 weeks from conception.

Anti-abortion campaigners have sought to overturn the decision ever since, and they see an opportunity with the newly installed 5-4 conservative majority on the Supreme Court.

While some states have sought to ban abortion at six weeks from conception, at least three states have passed measures this year to ban abortion starting at some point between eight weeks and 18 weeks.

The Louisiana House on Wednesday rejected a proposed amendment that would have allowed exceptions to the ban if a woman became pregnant during a rape or through incest.

Other states that have passed abortion restrictions this year also declined to make exceptions for rape and incest, drawing criticism from Trump, who supports such exceptions.

Abortion rights groups this year are challenging a number of state restrictions in court.

The American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood obtained an injunction from a judge in March blocking Kentucky’s ban on abortions, which would apply as early as six weeks from conception.

On another front in the battle, Planned Parenthood sued the Missouri Department of health on Tuesday after the department told the state’s only abortion clinic it could not approve a license until it interviewed seven doctors that worked there.

The license for the clinic, which Planned Parenthood operates, is due to expire on Friday.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, on Wednesday, reiterated his intention to close the clinic for failing to meet state licensing standards.

Planned Parenthood said in a statement that Parson’s remarks were “not based on medicine, facts or reality,” and it will do “everything to ensure our patients get the best medical care available.”

Last week, Parson signed into law a measure banning abortion in Missouri after the eighth week of a woman’s pregnancy.

(Story was refiled to remove “Bel” from governor’s name in paragraph 8)

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter and Alex Dobuzinskis, Editing by Bill Tarrant and Grant McCool)