Major quake shakes Miami and the Caribbean, tsunami threat passes

(Reuters) – A powerful magnitude 7.7 earthquake struck the western Caribbean on Tuesday, triggering evacuations as buildings shook across the Cayman Islands, in Jamaica, and in downtown Miami, but with no initial reports of significant damage.

The epicenter of the quake was in the sea between Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and Cuba, at a shallow depth of 6.2 miles (10 km).

The International Tsunami Information Center said an earlier threat of a tsunami wave had largely passed. Minor sea level fluctuations up to 1 feet (30 cm) were still possible, it said.

In Miami, Florida, several buildings downtown had groups of people standing outside who said they had been evacuated.

The Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue department said it responded to multiple calls about high rise buildings swaying.

“As of now, there are no injuries or structural damages. Residents/visitors are advised to stay calm,” the department said on Twitter.

Officials across the region had no initial reports of major damage, despite the size of the quake.

Angie Watler, a spokeswoman for police on Cayman Brac, the island nearest the epicenter of the quake, said members of the public had reported some damage to buildings and to a swimming pool at the Carib Sands resort on the south of the island.

Videos on social media, apparently from Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, showed water sloshing out of pools during the quake.

Watler said there were no reports so far of injuries but that authorities were still making checks on the area.

A Cayman Islands official said there had been some reports of sinkholes following the quake.

The quake was also felt in several provinces across Cuba, the government said. It was not strongly felt in the capital of Havana, according to a Reuters witness.

(Reporting by Dave Graham and Lizbeth Diaz in Mexico City and Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Additional reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington and Sarah Marsh in Havana; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Rosalba O’Brien)

Gunman shouting anti-Trump slogans arrested at Miami resort

By Zachary Fagenson

DORAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A gunman railing against U.S. President Donald Trump opened fire in one of the Republican’s Florida golf resorts early on Friday, exchanging gunshots with Miami police who wounded and arrested him, officials said.

Neither Trump nor any of his immediate family members were at the Trump National Doral Miami at the time, according to the Secret Service. The golf club is about 70 miles (113 km) south of the Palm Beach resort that Trump has visited regularly during his term.

The man “was trying to lure our officers … into this gunfight. He did succeed, and he did lose. That’s the bottom line,” Miami-Dade Police Director Juan Perez said at a news briefing, adding it was not clear what motivated his actions.

The man lowered a flag that was flying outside the Miami-area club, went into the lobby at about 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT) and draped it over the counter. He pointed a gun at people in the lobby, fired at the ceiling and a chandelier and waited to attack responding officers, Perez said.

The gunman, identified as Jonathan Oddi, 42, of Doral, was shouting anti-Trump remarks during the incident, Perez said. He said he did not know specifically what Oddi had said.

Police shot Oddi in the legs and took him into custody, and he was in hospital in stable condition.

Social media pages that appeared to be created by Oddi said that he owned a gemstone company, was a real estate investor and had been a volunteer Santa Claus at a Miami hospital in 2013.

Guests at the golf resort said they were awakened by the sound of gunshots and emergency vehicles. They were not apprised of any details of the incident by the hotel and only learned of it through news reports, they said.

“We’re staying near the lobby and my husband said he thought he heard shots,” said Ana Marta Fernandez, 49, who was visiting from Uruguay.

She said the hotel had said little more than that the golf courses were closed for the day.

“So far they’ve offered us nothing as compensation,” Fernandez said.

A resort representative was not immediately available to comment.

The U.S. Secret Service, which guards the president and his family, said in a statement that no one under its protection was in the Miami area at the time. The agency does not protect the club, but is working with police who are investigating the shooting, it said.

A Doral police officer suffered a broken arm that was not related to gunfire. Police have not said what kind of weapon the suspect had.

Authorities are trying to find out how Oddi gained entry to the 800-acre (323-hectare) Doral golf club.

Trump National Doral Golf Club is home to four championship golf courses. Trump bought the property for $150 million in 2012.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami, additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Miami among cities at risk from yellow fever spread : study

FILE PHOTO: The downtown skyline of Miami, Florida is seen on Nov 5, 2015. REUTERS/Joe Skipper/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Miami is at risk of a deadly yellow fever outbreak because the disease could thrive there but the city has no checks on travelers arriving from endemic zones, a study to be published by the World Health Organization showed.

Yellow fever is spread by the same mosquito that causes Zika virus, which spread through the Americas after being detected in Brazil in 2015 and has been reported in southern Florida and southern Texas.

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control advises that yellow fever is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America, and is a very rare cause of illness in U.S. travelers.

But the study, “International travel and the urban spread of yellow fever”, showed that almost 2.8 million people flew to the United States from endemic yellow fever areas in 2016.

Unlike some countries, the United States does not require travelers from such places to show proof of yellow fever vaccination.

“At a time when global yellow fever vaccine supplies are diminished, an epidemic in a densely populated city could have substantial health and economic consequences,” the researchers based in Canada, the United States and Britain wrote in the study.

Around 9.5 million people live in U.S. urban areas such as Miami that are ecologically suitable for an outbreak, they wrote in the study, issued online ahead of its publication in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization.

They said climate change, mobility, urbanization and a vaccine shortage had increased the risk of yellow fever globally and they called for a review of vaccination policies.

The study found 472 cities suitable for an outbreak in 54 countries, but many, such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Karachi, Manila and Guangzhou, required vaccination certificates on arrival from endemic countries.

WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said the need for vaccination certificates was at each country’s discretion.

The researchers said a substantial proportion of the world’s yellow fever vaccine stocks had been used up by recent epidemics in Africa and Brazil, and further depleted by manufacturing difficulties. Preventive campaigns could cause shortages.

“Should another urban epidemic occur in the near future, vaccine demand could easily exceed the available supply,” they said.

Yellow fever, which can be hard to diagnose, causes symptoms including muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, and about 15 percent of cases lead to a more toxic phase within 24 hours, potentially experiencing jaundice, abdominal pain, deteriorating kidney function and bleeding from the mouth, nose, eyes or stomach.

Half of severe sufferers die within a week or two, but the rest recover without significant organ damage, according to WHO.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

Cars, bodies remain trapped out of reach after Florida bridge collapse

First responders are shown as rescue efforts continue after a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Rescue workers combed through the rubble of a pedestrian bridge that collapsed onto several lanes of traffic at Florida International University in Miami, but hopes of finding more survivors were fading early on Friday, police said.

Six people were confirmed dead after the newly built 950-ton bridge crushed vehicles on one of the busiest roads in South Florida on Thursday. With at least eight vehicles buried and out of reach beneath the rubble, the death toll could rise, Juan Perez, the Miami-Dade Police Department director, said on Friday.

“There must be some others in the vehicles,” Perez told Miami’s NewsRadio 610 WIOD. “We know there’s bodies down there and we can’t get to them. It’s terrible.”

Emergency personnel with sniffer dogs searched for signs of life overnight.

At least 10 people were taken to hospitals and two remained in critical condition, officials and local media reported.

Witnesses told local media the vehicles were stopped at a traffic light when the bridge collapsed on top of them at around 1:30 p.m. ET (1730 GMT).

At one point, police urged television helicopters to leave the area so that rescuers could hear any cries for help from those trapped beneath the collapsed structure, CBS Miami television said.

Uncertainty over the stability of remaining sections of the bridge hampered rescue efforts, officials said.

Aerial view shows a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Aerial view shows a pedestrian bridge collapsed at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, U.S., March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

INSTALLED ON SATURDAY

The 174-feet (53-meter) long bridge connects the university with the city of Sweetwater and was installed on Saturday in six hours over the eight-lane highway, according to a report posted on the university’s website.

“If anybody has done anything wrong, we will hold them accountable,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said at a news briefing late Thursday.

His office earlier issued a statement saying a company contracted to inspect the bridge was not pre-qualified by the state.

The bridge was intended to provide a walkway over the busy street where an 18-year-old female FIU student from San Diego was killed as she attempted to cross it in August, according to local media reports.

Students at FIU are currently on their spring break vacation, which runs from March 12 to March 17.

To keep the inevitable disruption of traffic associated with bridge construction to a minimum, the 174-foot portion of the bridge was built adjacent to Southwest 8th Street, using a method called Accelerated Bridge Construction. It was driven into its perpendicular position across the road by a rig in only six hours on Saturday, according to a statement released by the university.

The $14.2 million bridge was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, the most dangerous measure by the National Hurricane Center, and built to last 100 years, the university said. (http://bit.ly/2tQ2ARg)

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board were on the scene early on Friday to investigate why it collapsed.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus, Joseph Ax, Daniel Wallis, Jonathan Allen and Andrew Hay in New York, Scott Malone in Boston, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, James Oliphant in Washington, Keith Coffman in Colorado and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Bernadette Baum)

Death toll from overheated Florida nursing home rises to 10

FILE PHOTO: The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity/File Photo

(Reuters) – A 10th elderly patient at a Miami-area nursing home has died after she was exposed to sweltering heat in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, police said on Thursday.

The resident of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died on Wednesday, police in Hollywood, Florida, said in a statement, without giving details.

Police have opened a criminal investigation into the deaths at the center, which city officials have said continued to operate with little or no air conditioning after power was cut off by Irma, which struck the state on Sept. 10.

Julie Allison, a lawyer for the nursing home, did not respond to a request for comment. Calls to the Rehabilitation Center went unanswered.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the center’s license on Wednesday and terminated its participation in Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program for the poor, disabled and elderly.

Medical personnel at the home had delayed calling 911 and residents were not quickly transported to an air-conditioned hospital across the street, the agency said in a statement.

Patients taken to the hospital had temperatures ranging from 107 Fahrenheit to 109.9 Fahrenheit (41.7 Celsius to 43.3 Celsius), it said. Average human body temperature is 98.6 Fahrenheit (37 Celsius).

Staff at the center also made many late entries to patients’ medical records that inaccurately depicted what had happened, the agency’s statement said.

One late entry said a patient was resting in bed with even and unlabored breathing, even though the person had already died, the statement said.

Last week, the agency ordered the center not to take new admissions and suspended it from taking part in Medicaid.

Irma was one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record and killed at least 84 people in its path across the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Marcy Nicholson)

Criminal probe opens into eight deaths at Florida nursing home after Irma

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills is seen in Hollywood, north of Miami, Florida, U.S., September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Innerarity

By Andrew Innerarity

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. (Reuters) – Eight elderly patients died after being left inside a stifling South Florida nursing home that lost power during Hurricane Irma, officials said on Wednesday, prompting a criminal probe and adding to the mounting loss of life from the storm.

The overall death toll from Irma climbed to 81 on Wednesday, with several hard-hit Caribbean islands accounting for more than half the fatalities, and officials continued to assess damage inflicted by the second major hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland this year.

Irma killed at least 31 people in Florida, plus seven more in Georgia and South Carolina combined, authorities said.

One of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, Irma bore down on the Caribbean with devastating force as it raked the northern shore of Cuba last week before barreling into the Florida Keys island chain on Sunday, packing sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour).

It then plowed north up the Gulf Coast of the state before dissipating.

In addition to severe flooding across Florida and extensive property damage in the Keys, residents faced widespread power outages that initially plunged more than half the state into darkness.

Some 4.3 million homes and businesses were still without power on Wednesday in Florida and neighboring states, down from 7.4 million customers on Monday.

Three elderly residents were found dead on Wednesday inside a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida, north of Miami. The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hill had been operating with little or no air conditioning, officials said.

Four more patients died at or en route to a nearby hospital and a fifth was later identified as having died the night before.

Governor Rick Scott called the tragedy “unfathomable,” and police said they had opened a criminal investigation, sealing off the building after the remaining patients were transferred to hospitals.

City officials described the interior as “excessively hot,” despite portable air coolers and fans that, according to state records, had been placed throughout the facility.

The eight who died ranged in age from 71 to 99, according to the Broward County medical examiner’s office. The cause of their deaths has yet to be determined.

But most of the survivors were treated for “respiratory distress, dehydration and heat-related issues,” Memorial Regional Hospital’s emergency medical director, Dr. Randy Katz, told reporters.

Representatives of the for-profit nursing home, which had received a “below average” grade from Medicare’s rating system for such facilities, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The physician listed in state records as its manager, Jack Michel, previously ran afoul of state and federal regulators over assisted-living facilities that he partially owned.

In 2006, he and three co-defendants paid $15.4 million to settle Medicare and Medicaid fraud claims against them, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Flood waters engulf a car after Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela

Flood waters engulf a car after Hurricane Irma in Jacksonville, Florida, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Makela

TRUMP TO VISIT KEYS

Florida Power & Light provided electricity to parts of the nursing home but the facility was not on a county top-tier list for emergency power restoration, the utility said.

Total insured losses from the storm are expected to run about $25 billion, including $18 billion in the United States and $7 billion in the Caribbean, catastrophe modeler Karen Clark & Company estimated on Wednesday.

The Florida Keys were particularly hard hit, with federal officials saying 90 percent of its homes were destroyed or heavily damaged. The remote island chain stretches nearly 100 miles (160 km) into the Gulf of Mexico from Florida’s southern tip, connected by a single highway and series of bridges.

On Key West, at the end of the archipelago, hundreds of residents who had refused evacuation orders lined up on Wednesday outside the island’s Salvation Army outpost for water and military-style rations after enduring days of intense heat with little water, power or contact with the outside world.

The stench of dead fish and decaying seaweed permeated the air.

Elizabeth Martinez, 61, said the ordeal, including losing part of the roof of her home, had convinced her it was time to leave the island. “I’m saving my money up and moving out of here,” she said.

But David Sheidy, a 58-year-old painter, predicted Key West would bounce back quickly.

“That’s what we do,” he said. “This is a small community where everybody knows each other and takes care of each other.”

President Donald Trump was due to visit Florida on Thursday.

Irma wreaked utter devastation on several of the northern Leeward Islands of the Caribbean, where at least 43 people have died. Irma hit Florida about two weeks after Hurricane Harvey plowed into Houston, killing about 60 and causing some $180 billion in damage, mostly from flooding.

(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Key West,; Daniel Trotta in Orlando, Florida; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Letitia Stein in Detroit, Keith Coffman in Denver,; Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina,; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Gina Cherelus, Peter Szekeley, Scott DiSavino and Joseph Ax in New York; Writing by Scott Malone and Steve Gorman; Editing by Diane Craft and Lisa Shumaker)

Floridians return to shattered homes as Irma crosses into Georgia

Residents walk through flood waters left in the wake of Hurricane Irma in a suburb of Orlando, Florida, U.S., September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

By Andy Sullivan and Robin Respaut

FLORIDA CITY/MARCO ISLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Shocked Florida residents returned to their shattered homes on Monday as the weakened Hurricane Irma pushed inland, flooding cities in the northeastern part of the state and leaving millions without power.

Downgraded to a tropical storm early on Monday, Irma had ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes recorded. It cut power to millions of people and ripped roofs off homes as it hit a wide swath of Florida on Sunday and Monday and moved into neighboring states.

Authorities said the storm had killed 39 people in the Caribbean and one in Florida, a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds on the Florida Keys over the weekend.

With sustained winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph), Irma had crossed into Georgia and was located about 47 miles (76 km)northeast of the Florida state capital Tallahassee, the National Hurricane Center said at 2 p.m. ET.

In Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood, people returned to the wreckage of trailers shredded by the storm after the city escaped the worst of Irma’s winds but experienced heavy flooding.

Melida Hernandez, 67, who had ridden out the storm at a nearby church, found her home split down the middle by a tree.

“I wanted to cry, but this is what it is, this is life,” Hernandez said.

High winds snapped power lines and left about 7.3 million homes and businesses without power in Florida and elsewhere in the U.S. Southeast, state officials and utilities said. They said it could take weeks to complete repairs.

Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday.

Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary. Fort Lauderdale police said they had arrested 19 people for looting.

Some residents who had evacuated the Florida Keys archipelago, where Irma roared ashore on Sunday with winds up to 130 mph (209 kph), grew angry as they tried to return to their homes on Monday.

A few dozen people argued with police who turned them away from the first of a series of bridges leading to the island chain, which officials warned still lacked power, water and cellphone service.

White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert said it might be weeks before many residents of the Keys were able to return. “The Keys are going to take a while,” Bossert told a regular White House briefing. “I would expect that the Keys are not fit for re-entry for regular citizenry for weeks.”

Irma hit Florida after powering through the Caribbean as a rare Category 5 hurricane. It killed 39 people there, including 10 in Cuba, which was battered over the weekend by ferocious winds and 36-foot (11-meter) waves.

A week earlier Hurricane Harvey flooded a wide swath of Houston. Nearly three months remain in the official Atlantic hurricane season.

Northeastern Florida cities including Jacksonville were flooding on Monday, with police pulling residents from waist-deep water.

“Stay inside. Go up. Not out,” Jacksonville’s website warned residents. “There is flooding throughout the city.”

The city also warned residents to be wary of snakes and alligators driven into the floodwater.

 

BILLIONS IN DAMAGE

The storm did some $20 billion to $40 billion in damage to insured property as it tore through Florida, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated.

That estimate, lower than earlier forecasts of up to $50 billion in insured losses, helped spur a relief rally on Wall Street as fears eased that Irma would cut into U.S. economic growth.

Shares of insurance companies were among the big winners, with Florida-based Federated National, HCI Group and Universal Insurance all up more than 12 percent.

Some 6.5 million people, about one-third of Florida’s population, had been ordered to evacuate their homes ahead of Irma’s arrival. More than 200,000 people sought refuge in about 700 shelters, according to state data.

As shelters began to empty on Monday, some 7,000 people filed out of Germain Arena in Estero, south of Fort Myers. The crowd included Don Sciarretta, who rode out the storm with his 90-year-old friend, Elsie Johnston, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.

Sciarretta, 73, spent two days without sleep, holding up a slumped-over Johnston and making sure she did not fall out of her chair. He relied on other people in the shelter to bring the pair food, often after waiting in hours-long lines.

“For the next storm, I’ll go somewhere on my own like a hotel or a friend’s house,” Sciarretta said. “I’m not going through this again.”

Shelters across western Florida opened, filled up – and often closed because of overcrowding – after the storm made a western shift on Saturday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, attending a ceremony at the Pentagon on the 16th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, vowed a full response to Irma as well as ongoing federal support for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which flooded Texas.

“These are storms of catastrophic severity and we are marshalling the full resources of the federal government to help our fellow Americans,” Trump said.

On Marco Island, where the storm made its second landfall on Sunday, residents were cleaning up damaged homes and dealing with the downed trees that knocked out power lines and crushed cars.

Salvatore Carvelli, Jr., 45, rode out the storm in DaVinci’s, his Italian restaurant.

“It sounded like a train going through,” Carvelli said.

The winds tore the air conditioner from his restaurant’s roof, he said, adding that the storm surge added to the danger.

“There was no road that you could see,” Carvelli said. “The parking lot was gone, you could fish.”

 

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Orlando, Bernie Woodall, Ben Gruber and Zachary Fagenson in Miami, Letitia Stein in Detroit, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., Doina Chiacu and Jeff Mason in Washington, Scott DiSavino in New York and Marc Frank in Havana; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Frances Kerry, Howard Goller and Paul Sim

Delta to cancel about 800 flights due to Irma

Empty runways and gates are see at Miami International Airport after Hurricane Irma strikes Florida, in Miami, U.S. September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) – Delta Air Lines Inc said it would cancel about 800 flights on Monday as it braces for Tropical Storm Irma at its Atlanta hub.

“Hurricane Irma is expected to bring to the Atlanta hub strong crosswinds that exceed operating limits on select mainline and regional aircraft,” Delta said on Monday.

The No. 2 U.S. airline by passenger traffic, whose business is heavily dependent on operations at the Atlanta airport, said it was planning to resume service to airports in Florida.

Irma, ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, hit a wide swath of Florida over the past day. It is now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour).

Bigger rival American Airlines Group Inc said on Sunday it would not resume commercial flights at its Miami International Airport hub on Monday, but may operate flights to bring in staff and supplies.

 

(Reporting by Arunima Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

 

Irma knocks out power to nearly 6 million: authorities

A lifeguard hut is pictured as Hurricane Irma arrives in Hollywood, Florida. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Scott DiSavino

(Reuters) – Hurricane Irma knocked out power to about 5.8 million homes and businesses in Florida, even as the storm weakened as it crept up the state’s west coast, according to state officials and local electric utilities.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday morning as a dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the second-highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It gradually lost strength and weakened to a tropical storm by Monday morning as it headed toward Georgia, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT)..

Maximum sustained winds were at 70 miles (110 km) per hour, the forecaster said.

Power losses in Georgia, which were at about 152,000 as of 8:45 a.m. EDT, were expected to increase as the storm moved north.

In Florida, the state’s biggest electric company said its outages came to more than 3.6 million by 8:30 a.m. on Monday. A total of 4.2 million Florida Power & Light customers have been affected, with about 570,000 getting service restored, mostly by automated devices.

Full restoration of power could take weeks in many areas due to expected damage to FPL’s system, the NextEra Energy Inc unit said.

As the storm pushed north, outage figures were increasing at other large utilities, including units of Duke Energy Corp, Southern Co and Emera Inc.

Duke’s outages jumped to more than 860,000 overnight; the company said they could ultimately exceed 1 million. Emera’s Tampa Electric utility reported 300,000 homes and businesses lost power by Monday morning.

FPL said its two nuclear plants were safe. Both units at its Turkey Point facility, located about 30 miles (48 km) south of Miami, were shut by early Monday.

The company closed Turkey Point’s Unit 3 on Saturday as Irma approached the coast but decided not shut Unit 4 at that time because the hurricane track shifted away from the plant toward the western part of the Florida Peninsula. FPL, however, shut Unit 4 on Sunday night due to a possible valve issue that was probably not related to Irma, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials said on Monday.

At its St Lucie nuclear plant located about 120 miles (190 km) north of Miami, FPL started to reduce power at Unit 1 due to salt buildup from Irma in the switchyard, NRC spokesman Roger Hannah said. The plant’s other reactor, Unit 2, continued to operate at full power.

Duke’s retired Crystal River plant, about 90 miles (145 km) north of Tampa, has spent nuclear fuel, but Hannah said that was not a problem.

As the storm loomed and came ashore, gasoline stations struggled to keep up as people evacuated Florida. In the Atlanta metropolitan area, about 13.2 percent of stations were out of the fuel, according to information service Gas Buddy.

Irma is expected to sap demand for fuel for a time, Goldman Sachs analysts said in a note on Monday, but they cautioned that supply could remain strained due to refining capacity offline in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas two weeks ago.

 

(Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Jessica Resnick-Ault in New York; Additional reporting by Ruthy Munoz in Houston; Editing by Frances Kerry and Lisa Von Ahn)

 

Miami hospitals prepare for surge in births during Hurricane Irma

Miami hospitals prepare for surge in births during Hurricane Irma

By Julie Steenhuysen and Jilian Mincer

(Reuters) – While many Miami hospitals are shutting down as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida, some are offering shelter to their pregnant patients, bracing for the increase in births that often accompanies these large storms.

At least three of the city’s hospitals have plans in place to care for women with advanced or high-risk pregnancies.

They could be busy.

When Houston was hit by Hurricane Harvey, the number of women who gave birth spiked. According to a Memorial Hermann Health System representative, at least five of the not-for-profit system’s 11 Houston-area hospitals with labor and delivery units reported increases in the number of deliveries during Hurricane Harvey. In three, deliveries doubled.

The reason may have something to do with a drop in barometric pressure that accompanies a hurricane. A 2007 study published in the Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics noted a causal relationship between low barometric pressure and spontaneous delivery.

But overall, the evidence is inconclusive, said Dr. Shannon Clark, an associate professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, on the Gulf of Mexico.

“There’s some studies that show an association and some that don’t. It’s kind of mixed,” Clark said in a telephone interview.

Even so, she said, “It’s still worth it to forewarn pregnant women in areas that are going to get hit that there could be a potential complication.”

In Miami, Jackson Health System alerted women who are at least 34 weeks pregnant or who have a high-risk pregnancy that they may take shelter in one of three of its hospitals, as long as they have registered with the hospital in advance. These women are allowed to bring in one guest, but no pets.

Tania Leets, a spokeswoman for the public health system which serves Miami-Dade County, said they offered the same service last year during Hurricane Matthew.

Baptist Health South Florida offers shelter to women in Miami who are at least 36 weeks pregnant or who have a high-risk pregnancy in one of its four area hospitals. A pregnant woman and one adult companion can set up camp in a waiting room area; those who come must bring their own food, water and bedding. The shelter opens at 8 a.m. on Saturday and closes when the storm has passed, Baptist Health South said in a statement.

Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach will likewise shelter women who are at least 36 weeks pregnant or those with high-risk pregnancies, according to a statement on its website.

At Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital in Houston, deliveries started to soar two days before Hurricane Harvey arrived, requiring five managers to help with patient care.

“We all know in this business – full moons and storms are a problem,” said Kim Kendall, director of the hospital’s family birth center.

Staff made an effort to close the shades, redirect the conversation and focus on the delivery. “We tried to maximize the experience and minimize the hurricane,” said Kendall.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen and Jilian Mincer; Editing by Richard Chang and Jonathan Oatis)