Rescuers, locals dig for Colombia flood victims, 254 die

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia

By Jaime Saldarriaga

MOCOA, Colombia (Reuters) – Families and rescuers searched desperately on Sunday through mud-plastered rubble for victims of flooding and landslides in Colombia that have killed 254 people, injured hundreds and devastated entire neighborhoods.

Several rivers burst their banks near the southwestern city of Mocoa in the early hours of Saturday, sending water, mud and debris crashing down streets and into houses as people slept.

Volunteers and firefighters tended to 82 bodies downstream in the town of Villagarzon and said many corpses were still caught in debris.

“We had to recover them ourselves. We think we’ll find more,” Villagarzon Mayor Jhon Ever Calderon told Reuters. He said the town had no coffins or sanitary storage.

Many families in Mocoa stayed up through the night to search through the debris, despite the lack of electricity in the city.

“I need to know where they are, if they are injured or where to find them,” sobbed Maria Lilia Tisoy, 37, looking through the rubble for her two daughters, one pregnant, and a 4-year-old granddaughter.

“If they are dead, please God deliver them to me,” she said.

President Juan Manuel Santos made a second visit to the area on Sunday. He said water and energy services would be restored as soon as possible.

Santos blamed climate change for the disaster, saying Mocoa had received one-third of its usual monthly rain in just one night, causing the rivers to burst their banks.

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia

A man walks among the ruins after flooding and mudslides, caused by heavy rains leading several rivers to overflow, pushing sediment and rocks into buildings and roads, in Mocoa, Colombia April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

There was disagreement over the death toll for most of Sunday but, late in the evening, the government’s total was increased to match the 254-person figure released by the army. Just over 200 were injured.

Disaster officials said more than 500 people were staying in emergency housing and social services had helped 10 lost children find their parents.

The disaster came after deadly flooding in Peru killed more than 100 people and destroyed infrastructure.

Families of the dead will receive about $6,400 in aid and the government will cover hospital and funeral costs.

Even in a country where heavy rains, a mountainous landscape and informal construction combine to make landslides a common occurrence, the scale of the Mocoa disaster was daunting compared to recent tragedies, including a 2015 landslide that killed nearly 100 people.

Colombia’s deadliest landslide, the 1985 Armero disaster, killed more than 20,000 people.

Santos urged Colombians to take precautions against flooding and continued rains.

The president also thanked China and the Inter-American Development Bank for donating $1 million and $200,000 respectively toward relief efforts.

(Additional reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb, Nelson Bocangra and Luis Jaime Acosta in Bogota; Editing by Andrea Ricci, Sandra Maler and Paul Tait)

California faces more rain, snow as deadly storm moves south

People with umbrellas walk along street in Los Angeles

(Reuters) – California was bracing on Saturday for another wave of torrential rain as well as heavy snow as a massive storm triggered flooding, mudslides and power outages and killed two people, officials said.

The National Weather Service warned that rain totals could reach 10 inches (25 cm) in parts of southern California and 2 feet (60 cm) of snow in higher areas to the east as the storm continues to roll through the region.

The severe storm has brought California its heaviest rainfall in six years and comes after months of wet weather that has dramatically eased a years-long drought in the key agricultural state.

The rain and melting snowpack also are threatening to undermine a spillway at one of the largest dams in the country. Some 188,000 residents were evacuated from the area earlier this week.

Utility crews were working to restore electricity to more than 78,000 customers affected by power outages throughout the Los Angeles area.

Early on Saturday, an evacuation order remained in effect for 180 homes in Duarte, a city about 20 miles (32 km) east of Los Angeles, because of fears of mudslides.

One man died after he was electrocuted by a downed wire, the Los Angeles Fire Department said, adding that it had responded to 150 reports of downed wires on Friday. Another person was found dead in a submerged vehicle in Victorville, about 100 miles east of Los Angeles, fire officials said on Twitter.

A woman was injured when the car she was in fell into a 20-foot sinkhole in Studio City on Friday night. A second car fell into the sinkhole after the woman was rescued, an ABC affiliate reported.

Local television news also showed video footage of a San Bernardino County fire truck tumbling over the side of a freeway as the road gave out.

“All firefighters confirmed safe. The lane under the fire engine has failed, and the engine has gone over the side,” the San Bernardino County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Amtrak railroad service was suspended for trains between the cities of Oxnard and San Luis Obispo in the central and southern areas of the state due to extreme weather conditions, according to the transportation service’s website.

In higher areas of eastern California and western Nevada, snowfall and wind gusts of up to 50 mph (80 kph) were in the forecast until Saturday night, the National Weather Service said.

“This will make travel hazardous or impossible,” the service said in an advisory.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee Editing by Ed Osmond and Paul Simao)

Snow, rain pummel parts of California, Nevada and Oregon

clearing snow from a driveway

(Reuters) – Heavy rain and snowfall hit parts of California, Nevada and Oregon early on Wednesday, causing roads to be closed, schools to cancel classes and widespread flooding along already swollen waterways.

A National Weather Service blizzard warning remained in effect until late on Wednesday morning for ski resort towns in the greater Lake Tahoe area, including Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, California, and neighboring Nevada enclaves of Stateline and Incline Village.

Snow accumulations of 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) were forecast above elevations of 7,000 feet, with fierce wind gusts reaching 100 miles (160 km) per hour along the ridge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the National Weather Service reported.

An avalanche warning was issued for much of the same mountain regions.

“Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented so persons in the warning area are advised to stay indoors,” the weather service said.

Roadways, including Interstate 80 near the border of California and Nevada, were closed on Wednesday morning.

Schools throughout the region canceled Wednesday classes, including the Portland Public Schools district in Oregon, attended by about 50,000 students.

Several flood warnings remained in effect until Wednesday morning for lower elevations in northern and central California and in western Nevada, where creeks and rivers were expected to overrun their banks.

Several communities in the region opened evacuation centers for people who heeded warnings from officials to move to higher ground to avoid flooding.

Heavy downpours sent a wall of mud down onto a house in Fairfax, California, trapping an elderly couple and their two granddaughters, according to local media. Firefighters rescued the couple and children and no one was injured, an ABC affiliate reported.

A series of floodgates on the Sacramento River, just upstream of California’s capital, were opened for the first time in 11 years on Tuesday to divert high water around the city and into a special drainage channel, said Lauren Hersh, a spokeswoman for the state Water Resources Department.

The cascade of rain and snow marked the fourth round of extreme precipitation unleashed during the past month by a weather pattern meteorologists call an “atmospheric river” – a dense plume of moisture flowing from the tropical Pacific into California.

The storms have brought some sorely needed replenishment to many reservoirs left low by five years of drought, while restoring California’s mountain snowpack to 135 percent of its average water-content level for this time of year as of Tuesday, state water officials said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Dominic Evans)

Powerful storms head for U.S. West after thousands flee floods

Partially submerged building in California

(Reuters) – Powerful storms packing heavy rain and snow will lash the U.S. West on Tuesday, a day after thousands of people fled their homes to escape floods, forecasters said.

A band of heavy downpours will drench northern California and heavy snow will fall in the Sierra Nevada mountains into Wednesday, exacerbating the threat of flooding, the National Weather Service said.

The storms are part of weather system called the “Pineapple Express” that has soaked a vast area from Hawaii to the typically drought-prone states of California and Nevada.

Just north of San Francisco, the Russian River in Sonoma County flooded early on Monday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 residents, officials said.

In Nevada, residents of about 400 homes in Reno were ordered to leave as rains swelled the Truckee River, which flows through the city, a county official said.

A woman died after she was struck by a falling tree in the San Francisco area, local officials and media reported.

Over the weekend, an ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel was toppled by floods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park just southeast of Sacramento.

California’s Napa Valley vinyards largely escaped undamaged and the rain was expected to replenish water supplies after five years of drought, said Patsy McGaughy, Napa Valley Vintners spokeswoman.

California officially remains in a state of drought as water is still scarce in the south.

But northern California’s Lake Oroville, the principal reservoir for the State Water Project, has 2.25 million acre feet of water, more than double the amount it had a year ago, Michael Anderson, state climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources, said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)

More rain, snow forecast as U.S. storm brings floods to California

Flooded street in Calfornia

(Reuters) – Forecasters expect another half foot of rain to soak central and northern California and the Sierra Nevada mountains through early Tuesday, coming on the heels of powerful storms that walloped the state and other parts of the U.S. west on Sunday.

The drenching rains and blowing snow flooded rivers and shut down roads from mudslides in a state that has struggled with drought for years.

From 3 to 8 inches (7.6 to 20 cm) of rain is forecast in the region while several feet (1-2 metres) of snow are likely for higher elevations, said meteorologist Andrew Orrison at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

“We’re going to see heavy rain going into (Monday) evening and early morning,” he said.

Heavy snow is expected in Nevada and the northern Rocky Mountains could get several feet of snow over the next day or two.

The weather service said almost 40 rivers or creeks in Northern California and western Nevada were flooded or threatened to top their banks. But an emergency agency spokesman said there had been no reports of fatalities or serious damage.

Authorities said a section of Interstate 80 near Truckee, southwest of Reno, Nevada, was closed by a mudslide.

The upper Napa River north of San Francisco was expected to cause “extreme damage to all towns along the reach,” the California emergency agency said in a statement. Anticipated flooding brought voluntary evacuations in neighboring Sonoma County.

Residents of Cambria, near the famous Hearst Castle along California’s central coast, were advised to move to higher ground due a flash flood warning.

Several other California highways were closed from landslides or high water. In Washington state, high winds, ice and heavy snow shut roads and created hazardous driving conditions.

Iridium Communications said Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company had delayed Monday’s launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 10 of its satellites from Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles. The launch was now set for Saturday.

The storm is drawing strength from the interaction between an “atmospheric river,” a plume of water vapor flowing from the tropics toward the West Coast, and a low-pressure area near Oregon, the National Weather Service said.

After years of drought, the storm is the latest in a strong wet season for California that began in the autumn. Another front is expected on Tuesday.

In an encouraging sign, the U.S. Forest Service said the rain had restored moisture levels in Southern California vegetation to a seasonal normal for the first time in five years.

The eastern United States experienced low temperatures on Sunday, the day after a massive storm dumped snow from Georgia to Massachusetts.

(Editing by Chris Michaud)

Hurricane Matthew hammers Haiti and Cuba, bears down on U.S.

Damage from Hurricane Matthew

By Makini Brice and Sarah Marsh

LES CAYES, Haiti/GUANTANAMO, Cuba (Reuters) – Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in almost a decade, hit Cuba and Haiti with winds of well over 100 miles-per-hour on Tuesday, pummeling towns, farmland and resorts and forcing hundreds of thousands of people to take cover.

Dubbed by the U.N. the worst humanitarian crisis to hit Haiti since a devastating 2010 earthquake, the Category Four hurricane unleashed torrential rain on the island of Hispaniola that Haiti shares with the Dominican Republic.

As it barreled towards the United States, the eye of the storm had moved off the northeastern coast of Cuba by Tuesday night, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

At least four people were killed in the Dominican Republic by collapsing walls and mudslides, as well as two in Haiti, where communications in the worst-hit areas were down, making it hard for authorities to assess the scale of the damage.

“Haiti is facing the largest humanitarian event witnessed since the earthquake six years ago,” said Mourad Wahba, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Haiti.

Over 200,000 people were killed in Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, by the January 2010 earthquake.

Matthew was blowing sustained winds of 140 mph (230 kph) or more for much of Tuesday, though as night fell, the windspeed eased to about 130 mph, the NHC said.

Early reports suggested that Cuba had not been hit as hard as Haiti, where the situation was described as “catastrophic” in the port town of Les Cayes.

In the Cuban city of Guantanamo, streets emptied as people moved to shelters or inside their homes.

Matthew is likely to remain a powerful hurricane through at least Thursday night as it sweeps through the Bahamas towards Florida and the Atlantic coast of the southern United States, the NHC said. The storm is expected to be very near the east cost of Florida by Thursday evening, the center added.

The governor of South Carolina ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million people from Wednesday afternoon.

With communications out across most of Haiti and a key bridge impassable because of a swollen river, there was no immediate word on the full extent of potential casualties and damage from the storm in the poorest country in the Americas.

But Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook told reporters in Washington the U.S. Navy was considering sending an aircraft carrier and other ships to the region to aid relief efforts.

The United States has already offered Haiti the use of some helicopters, said Haitian Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph, who added that damage to housing and crops in the country was apparently extensive.

Twice destroyed by hurricanes in the 18th century, Les Cayes was hit hard by Matthew.

“The situation in Les Cayes is catastrophic, the city is flooded, you have trees lying in different places and you can barely move around. The wind has damaged many houses,” said Deputy Mayor Marie Claudette Regis Delerme, who fled a house in the town of about 70,000 when the wind ripped the roof off.

One man died as the storm crashed through his home in the nearby beach town of Port Salut, Haiti’s civil protection service said. He had been too sick to leave for a shelter, officials said. The body of a second man who went missing at sea was also recovered, the government said. Another fisherman was killed in heavy seas over the weekend as the storm approached.

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

As much as 3 feet (1 meter) of rain was forecast to fall over hills in Haiti that are largely deforested and prone to flash floods and mudslides, threatening villages as well as shantytowns in the capital Port-au-Prince.

The hurricane has hit Haiti at a time when tens of thousands of people are still living in flimsy tents and makeshift dwellings because of the 2010 earthquake.

“Farms have been hit really hard. Things like plantains, beans, rice – they’re all gone,” said Hervil Cherubin, country director in Haiti for Heifer International, a nonprofit organization that is working with 30,000 farming families across Haiti. “Most of the people are going to have to start all over again. Whatever they accumulated the last few years has been all washed out.”

Matthew was churning around 20 miles (32 km) northwest of the eastern tip of Cuba at 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT). It was moving north at about 8 miles per hour (13 kph), the NHC said.

Cuba’s Communist government traditionally puts extensive efforts into saving lives and property in the face of storms, and authorities have spent days organizing teams of volunteers to move residents to safety and secure property.

The storm thrashed the tourist town of Baracoa in the province of Guantanamo, passing close to the disputed U.S. Naval base and military prison.

The U.S. Navy ordered the evacuation of 700 spouses and children along with 65 pets of service personnel as the storm approached. U.S. President Barack Obama had earlier canceled a trip to Florida scheduled for Wednesday because of the potential impact of the storm, the White House said.

A hurricane watch was in effect for Florida from an area just north of Miami Beach to the Volusia-Brevard county line, near Cape Canaveral, which the storm could reach on Thursday, the hurricane center said.

Tropical storm or hurricane conditions could affect parts of Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina later this week, even if the center of Matthew remained offshore, the NHC said.

Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Florida on Monday, designating resources for evacuations and shelters and putting the National Guard on standby.

(Reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince and Makini Brice in Les Cayes; Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Cuba and Jorge Pineda in Dominican Republic; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel and Dave Graham; Editing by Simon Gardner, Sandra Maler and Nick Macfie)

Mudslides triggered by storm claim 40 in Eastern Mexico

A view of the house where three members of a family died after a mudslide following heavy showers caused by the passing of Tropical Storm Earl in the town of Temazolapa

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mudslides triggered by intense rainfall in eastern Mexico killed 40 people at the weekend as saturated hillsides collapsed onto modest homes in the wake of now-dissipated Tropical Storm Earl.

The death toll rose late on Sunday after state governors in the two most affected states confirmed two more deaths from a series of mudslides that struck hillside communities.

The head of national emergency services previously put the death toll at 38, the vast majority of whom were found in Puebla state, while the remainder died in neighboring Veracruz.

Rafael Morena Valle, governor of Puebla state, said canine units were searching for the missing, but the number of unaccounted for residents was unclear.

Images of the damage from Earl, broadcast on Mexican television, showed massive mudslides burying entire hillsides, trees felled and buildings creaking under collapsed walls and roofs.

On the Pacific coast, Mexico’s Baja California peninsula braced for another major storm to strike as early as Monday.

Tropical Storm Javier was generating maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour (80 kph) on Sunday night and was forecast to become a hurricane late Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a statement.

The center of the storm was expected to strike the southern tip of Baja, home to the beach resort of Los Cabos, by Monday night.

At least 25 of the deaths in Puebla state were confirmed on Sunday near the town of Huauchinango in the rugged Sierra Norte de Puebla mountains, site of the worst destruction so far.

Eleven people have died in Veracruz, buried in landslides after intense rainfall and flooding struck the Gulf coast state after Earl crossed the Yucatan peninsula.

“We continue to monitor rivers that are above critical levels,” Veracruz Governor Javier Duarte said in a post on Twitter on Sunday.

Before striking Mexico, Earl battered Belize last Thursday, smashing car windows and punching holes in the roofs of Belize City’s wooden houses. It also flooded parts of the coast.

(Reporting by Adriana Barrera and David Alire Garcia; Editing by David Gregorio, Bill Trott and Paul Tait)

Tropical storm Earl moves along Mexico’s Gulf coast

Bridge collapse because of Hurricane Earl

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Tropical storm Earl moved along Mexico’s Gulf coast on Friday, dumping large amounts of rain in southern states after battering Belize, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane center, in its 7 a.m. CDT (1100 GMT) update, said Earl was about 175 miles (282 kilometers) east southeast of Veracruz, with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour).

The storm will produce 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of rain in parts of the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco and Veracruz, the hurricane center said. It said the rains could result in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Earl, which briefly reached hurricane status on Wednesday but was downgraded on Thursday, was expected to start weakening on Saturday as it moves into mainland Mexico.

Before crossing Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Earl battered Belize earlier this week, smashing car windows and punching holes in the roofs of Belize City’s wooden houses. It also downed trees and flooded parts of the coast.

State-owned oil company Pemex said late on Thursday it was monitoring Earl but that so far it had not needed to evacuate its offshore platforms.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Bill Trott)

Hopes fade for over 130 feared buried in Sri Lanka landslides

A trishaw is seen stuck in the mud at Elangipitiya village in Aranayaka, Sri Lanka May 19, 2016.

By Ranga Sirilal

ARANAYAKA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Hopes faded on Thursday for the survival of about 130 people trapped under the mud and rubble of two landslides in Sri Lanka, as heavy rain hampered rescue operations and the death toll from the disaster rose to 58.

Days of torrential rains have forced around 300,000 people from their homes across the island nation, official data showed. Thirty bodies have been retrieved at the landslide sites.

That figure is likely to rise sharply as authorities battling muddy conditions begin to give up hope of reaching 132 people believed to be trapped beneath the landslides.

“I don’t think there will be any survivors,” Major General Sudantha Ranasinghe, the officer in charge of the rescue operation, told Reuters.

“There are places where the mud level is up to 30 feet. We will keep going until we can recover the maximum.”

Rescue efforts have focused on the town of Aranayaka, 100 km (60 miles) northeast of the capital, Colombo, where three villages with at least 66 houses were buried late on Tuesday in the central district of Kegalle.

Military officials used hoes and shovels to shift mud as they scrambled to find survivors amid heavy rain that made walking in the hilly terrain difficult.

Material from destroyed homes littered the area, including mud-swathed dog cages and water tanks, while a three-wheeler was seen partially buried.

The military pulled three bodies and parts of another two from rubble at the site of the second landslide that buried 16 people, Ranasinghe said.

H.P. Kamalawathi, 41, said she is still looking for her mother and two elder sisters, who were buried on Tuesday.

“We may get only the dead bodies,” the mother of two said as tears rolled down her cheeks. She and her family had sought safety in a nearly Buddhist temple.

“We can’t take any chance. We will dig and see,” Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadharshana Yapa told reporters in Colombo after briefing diplomats and international bodies. Sri Lanka is seeking assistance to deal with the worst landslides in its history.

Health officials said they are monitoring for water-borne disease outbreaks while Yapa said the government has sought foreign aid in the form of motors, boats and purifying tablets.

Aid agencies in Colombo canvassed for boats to rescue hundreds of people trapped by rising river waters. Disaster management authorities said around 300,000 people displaced across the country by the disaster had been sent to 610 safe locations.

Troops also used boats and helicopters in rescue operations. The torrential rains since Sunday have caused floods and landslides in nineteen of the country’s 25 districts.

Flooding and drought are cyclical in Sri Lanka, which is battered by a southern monsoon between May and September, while a northeastern monsoon runs from December to February.

(Additional reporting and writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Aftershocks bring Misery for Japan

Yuji Maeda cries as he watches search and rescue operation at a site where houses collapsed due to a landslide caused by an earthquake in Minamiaso town

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Aftershocks rattled survivors of deadly Japanese earthquakes on Wednesday, nearly a week after the first one struck, as the area braced for heavy rain and the possibility of more landslides.

Rescuers using backhoes and shovels to dig through crumpled houses swept away in a landslide found a woman’s body, one of several people still missing. Another death was confirmed later in the day, taking the toll to 48.

Hundreds of people in the Kumamoto area of southwestern Japan spent another night in their cars, afraid to return to damaged houses.

Medical experts warned of the danger of potentially fatal blood clots from sitting too long in cramped conditions after a 51-year-old woman died and at least 12 people were hospitalized.

Eleven people appear to have died of illnesses related to their prolonged stay in evacuation centers, NHK national television said. The first quake hit late last Thursday and the largest, at magnitude 7.3, some 27 hours later.

“I keep thinking the earthquakes will stop, but they just go on and on,” one woman at an evacuation center in Mashiki, one of the worst-hit areas, told NHK.

“It’s really scary.”

Of more than 680 aftershocks hitting Kyushu island since April 14, more than 89 have registered at magnitude 4 or more on Japan’s intensity scale, strong enough to shake buildings.

An earthquake of 5.8 magnitude struck off Japan’s northeast coast on Wednesday evening, the U.S. Geological Survey said, but there was no tsunami warning, nor were there any reports of damage or casualties.

The agency gave an initial magnitude of 6.1 for the quake that was centered 104 km (about 60 miles) southeast of Sendai, Honshu, near where a devastating quake and tsunami struck in March 2011, killing about 20,000 people.

On Kyushu, nearly 100,000 people were in evacuation centers, some huddling in blankets outside as night temperatures fell as low as 8 Celsius (46 Fahrenheit).

Heavy rain is expected over the area, raising fear that slopes weakened by the quakes could collapse.

Authorities have begun condemning buildings and other structures deemed unsafe. Hundreds, possibly thousands, of buildings collapsed, many brought down by their heavy roofs of traditional tiles.

Though public buildings must abide by stringent safety standards, the law is lax for private homes.

“When a big earthquake hits, structures may sustain damage that’s impossible to fix if there’s another quake within days,” said Akira Wada, professor emeritus at Tokyo Institute of Technology.

Most of those who were killed had returned to their homes after the first quake.

(Additional reporting by Kwiyeon Ha; Editing by Robert Birsel)