U.S. southeast braces for ‘days and days’ of floods from Florence

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – The powerful Hurricane Florence threatened to bring “days and days” of rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. southeast coast, North Carolina’s governor warned on Tuesday, as some 1 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The storm threatened to hit coastal North and South Carolina with 130 mile per hour (210 kph) winds and massive waves when it makes landfall on Friday, and its rains will take a heavy toll for miles inland, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane … the forecast shows Florence stalling over North Carolina, bringing days and days of rain.”

Cooper and his counterparts in neighboring South Carolina and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands that protect North Carolina’s shore. Officials in South Carolina reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so that all major roads led away from the sea to speed evacuations.

The slow-moving storm, the most severe hurricane to threaten the U.S. mainland this year, was rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and located about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the NHC.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. Officials have declared states of emergency in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, forecasters said.

GRAPHIC: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v

‘PLANNING FOR DEVASTATION’

“This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We are planning for devastation.”

Not everyone was in a hurry to leave. Charles Mullen, 81, a longtime resident of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, said he had ridden out many storms and that most locals were planning to stay unless Florence took aim at Hatteras.

“If it decides to come here, we’re gone,” he said.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stripping grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. Some gas stations also ran low on fuel.

“This is still a very dangerous storm,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a Tuesday news conference. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”

McMaster lifted an earlier evacuation order for parts of three southern coastal counties but left them in effect for the state’s northern coast and urged residents to flee.

Wall Street was sniffing out companies that could gain or lose at the storm’s hands. Generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 2.2 percent and reached its highest price since April 2014.

Insurers Allstate Corp and Travelers Companies Inc were up slightly in early trade after falling sharply on Monday on worries about claims losses.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah said all nuclear power plants in the area were preparing but that Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick and Harris plants in North Carolina were most likely to be affected and, if Florence turns north, Dominion Energy Inc’s Surry plant in Virginia.

Plants in the storm’s path are shut down about 12 hours in advance of being hit.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alden Bentley in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone)

Hurricane Florence nears Carolinas, forcing 1.5 million in westward exodus

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – More than 1.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes along the U.S. southeast coast as Hurricane Florence, the most powerful to menace the Carolinas in nearly three decades, barreled closer on Tuesday.

Florence, a Category 4 storm packing winds of 130 miles per hour (210 kph), was expected to make landfall on Friday, most likely in southeastern North Carolina near the South Carolina border, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, a step that frees up federal money and resources for storm response.

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Storm Florence's descent in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @missgil/via REUTERS

Empty shelves are seen at a supermarket as residents prepare for Storm Florence’s descent in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018, in this still image taken from a video obtained from social media. @missgil/via REUTERS

Residents boarded up their homes and stripped grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. The South Carolina Highway Patrol sent “flush cars” eastbound on major highways to clear traffic, before reversing lanes on major roadways to speed the evacuation of the coast, state officials said on Twitter.

South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster ordered about 1 million residents along his state’s coastline to leave starting at noon on Tuesday, when the highways will become westbound only. He evoked the memory of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, which killed 27 people in the state, in urging people to comply.

“I’d rather be safe than sorry,” McMaster told ABC’s “Good Morning America” TV show on Tuesday. “We want people to get out and get safe.”

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam issued an evacuation order for about 245,000 residents in flood-prone coastal areas beginning at 8 a.m. local time.

GENERATOR, HOME REPAIR STOCKS UP

The storm was located about 950 miles (1,530 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 8 a.m. ET, according to the NHC, which warned it would be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” through Thursday night.

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, posing the risk of deadly flooding miles inland, forecasters said. They warned the storm could linger for days after making landfall, drenching an already saturated landscape.

Shares of generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 3 percent, adding to Monday’s more than 5-percent gain, in expectation that the company will benefit from increased demand as the storm knocks out power for residents in the storm’s path.

Anticipating a rush for home protection and repair materials, investors also pushed up the shares of Home Depot Inc and Lowe’s Cos Inc for the second day.

STAY OR FLEE?

Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Customers line up to buy propane at Socastee Hardware store, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, U.S. September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

At least 250,000 more people were due to be evacuated from the northern Outer Banks in North Carolina on Tuesday after more than 50,000 people were ordered on Monday to leave Hatteras and Ocracoke, the southernmost of the state’s barrier islands.

“We haven’t plywooded our house for several years but I am for this one,” said Tom Pahl, 66, by phone from Ocracoke Island. Pahl, who serves as a Hyde County commissioner, said he had not yet made up his mind about leaving the island, which is reachable only by ferry and plane.

Retired Maryland State Police pilot Paul Jones and his wife hit the road early on Tuesday to avoid traffic from Hatteras Island to their Maryland residence.

“I will not stay for a hurricane,” Jones, 68, said. “I have had enough excitement in my life.”

Classified as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane strength, Florence is the most severe storm to threaten the U.S. mainland this year.

The United States was hit with a series of high-powered hurricanes last year, including Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, and Hurricane Harvey, which killed about 68 people and caused an estimated $1.25 billion in damage with catastrophic flooding in Houston.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Susan Heavey in Washington and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Rigby)

Evacuations in North Carolina as hurricane Florence roars closer

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Letitia Stein

(Reuters) – North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands beginning on Monday ahead of Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane to threaten the eastern United States this year.

With winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph), the storm had reached Category 3 strength on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale by 11 a.m. on (1500 GMT) on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

It warned the storm would be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” by the time it made landfall, forecast in the Carolinas on Thursday.

The hurricane was gaining strength as it traveled over warm Atlantic waters, about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) east-southwest of Cape Fear, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

All of Hatteras Island was under mandatory evacuation order and other parts of the Outer Banks will have to evacuate by 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on Tuesday, Dare County Emergency Management said in a statement.

Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said.

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all declared states of emergency.

Residents as far north as Virginia were warned that Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as inland flooding from “prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall,” the NHC said.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged his state’s residents to get ready, noting the storm was generating swelling waves and dangerous currents.

NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions have been caused by water. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.

The NHC also was tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic.

Isaac strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said, and as of early Monday, it was about 1,230 miles east 1,305 miles (1,985 km) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

Hurricane Helene was spinning in the Atlantic off West Africa’s Cape Verde islands with 85-mph (140-kph) winds on Monday but did not appear to pose an immediate threat to land.

As Florence gathered strength far out in the Atlantic, Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers from any havoc it might cause.

Generac Holdings Inc, building materials maker Owens Corning and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc, which were up between 4 percent and 8 percent. Retailers Lowe’s Companies Inc and Home Depot Inc gained more than 2 percent.

On the downside, several insurers that are seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 1.8 percent drop in Allstate Corp and a 1.7 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Hurricane Florence to become major hurricane soon, forecasters say

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTER

By Rich McKay and Letitia Stein

(Reuters) – Hurricane Florence strengthened early on Monday, packing maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (170 kph), and forecasters warned that it is “expected to become a major hurricane very soon” as it churns toward the U.S. East Coast.

The category 2 hurricane was mustering might as it traveled over warm Atlantic waters, about 625 miles southeast of Bermuda at 5.am. ET, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in an advisory.

It is expected to pickup speed, moving between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Tuesday and Wednesday and could make landfall possibly as a category 3 or higher on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, forecasters said.

Landfall could be made between South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday, according to NHC predictions.

Storm-force winds could begin buffeting the Carolina coast by Wednesday night, forecasters said.

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

“Make your plans now,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster urged residents during a news conference on Sunday. “Presume that a major hurricane is going to hit right smack dab in the middle of South Carolina.”

McMaster said he had asked President Donald Trump to declare a federal emergency in South Carolina in anticipation of the storm’s arrival.

Residents as far north as Virginia were warned that Florence posed an increasing risk of generating a life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as flooding from heavy rainfall should the slow-moving storm stall over the southeast.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also urged his state’s residents to get ready, noting the storm already was generating swelling waves and dangerous currents along the coast.

“Everyone in North Carolina needs to keep a close eye on Florence and take steps now to get ready for impacts later this week,” Cooper said in a statement on Sunday.

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina have all declared states of emergency.

The storm’s center was on track to pass between Bermuda and the Bahamas on Wednesday, the NHC said.

The NHC was also tracking two other storms farther out in the Atlantic.

Isaac, previously a tropical storm, strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said.

As of early Monday, Isaac was about 1,230 miles east 1,305 miles (1,985 km) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), the NHC said.

Hurricane Helene, was spinning in the Atlantic off West Africa’s Cape Verde islands with 85-mph (140-kph) winds on Monday, but did not appear to pose an immediate threat to land.

(This refiled version of the story corrects to show strength of hurricane as category 2 not category 1 in paragraph 2.)

(Reporting by Rich McKay and Letitia Stein; Editing by Alison Williams)

Tropical Storm Gordon hits southern Florida, spins toward U.S. Gulf Coast

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico in the Myrtle Grove Estates development in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, U.S. October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jessica Resnick-Ault/File Photo

By Jon Herskovitz and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A tropical storm whipped the southern tip of Florida with high winds and rain on Monday morning and was forecast to gain strength as it passed over the Gulf of Mexico toward Louisiana, officials said.

Tropical Storm Gordon was forecast to drop as much as 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in some areas of the U.S. South still reeling from hurricanes a year ago.

The storm was generating winds of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) on Monday as it steamed west-northwest at 17 miles an hour (27 km/h), National Hurricane Center Director Kenneth Graham said in a video briefing on Facebook.

“It looks like for the next three or four days we’re going to be having to really watch close,” Graham said, “and remember if you’re even inland you can get some of these heavy rainfall totals so now is the time to be prepared.”

Last year, hurricanes walloped Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, massive power outages and devastation to hundreds of thousands of structures.

The National Hurricane Center warned of high winds around parts of Florida as the storm passed over the southern tip of the state on Monday morning.

The storm was expected to strengthen over the Gulf of Mexico, and reach the central Gulf Coast states of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana late on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said.

At the mouth of the Mississippi River, around the area of New Orleans, the storm could generate a surge of up to 4 feet (1 meter) and smaller surges could hit coastland along other parts of the Gulf Coast, Graham said.

“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the National Hurricane Center said in a statement.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said on Sunday he had activated the state’s Crisis Action Team as a precaution.

There were no immediate indications that the storm had affected energy operations in the Gulf of Mexico area.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank McGurty and Andrea Ricci)

Hurricane Lane strengthens to Category 5 as it heads for Hawaii

Members of the Alapahoe outrigger canoe club move their canoes off the beach to higher ground as Hurricane Lane approaches Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hurricane Lane strengthened to a Category 5 storm on Tuesday as it charged toward Hawaii where residents braced for “life threatening” winds and flooding, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Forecasters said it was still uncertain whether the eye of the powerful hurricane would hit land in the U.S. island chain, whose Big Island is reeling from a three-month eruption of Kilauea volcano.

But “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the center said.

The center of the storm is expected to track “dangerously” close to or over the islands Thursday through Saturday, the NHC said.

Jaycee Sotello fills her truck up with gas as Hurricane Lane approaches Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

Jaycee Sotello fills her truck up with gas as Hurricane Lane approaches Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. August 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry

A direct hit anywhere in Hawaii “would be a worst-case scenario,” said Thomas Birchard, a meteorologist with the hurricane center.

The powerful hurricane was about 350 miles (565 km) south-southeast of Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, with maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour (260 km/h) at about 11:30 p.m. local time, the NHC said.

As of late Tuesday night, a hurricane warning was in effect for the Big Island and a hurricane watch was in effect for the rest of the state, the hurricane center said.

The storm, which was moving west-northwest near 9 mph (15 km/h), was expected to turn toward the northwest on Wednesday, followed by a turn to the north-northwest on Thursday, the center said.

Winds and rain from the storm are expected to hit the Big Island, then churn north over the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Moloka’i, which were all under hurricane and flash flood watches.

Rainfall of 20 inches (51 cm) in some areas could lead to major flash flooding, landslides, and mudslides, the NHC said.

Devastation caused by winds and flooding may make locations uninhabitable for weeks and Hawaii residents to be prepared to evacuate their homes, local authorities warned.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Sandra Maler, and Andrew Heavens)

Officials urge patience as Florida towns re-open after Irma

Officials urge patience as Florida towns re-open after Irma

By Andy Sullivan and Robin Respaut

FLORIDA CITY/MARCO ISLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida began allowing some residents to return to their homes hammered by Hurricane Irma on Tuesday, but officials warned that it would take a long time to repair the damage wrought by high winds and pounding surf, particularly in the Keys archipelago.

Irma, which had rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Monday. It will likely dissipate from Tuesday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.

At its peak it prompted the evacuation of 6.5 million people, the largest evacuation in modern U.S. history.

Local authorities told around 90,000 residents of Miami Beach and from some parts of the Florida Keys they could go home but warned it may be prudent not to remain there.

“This is going to be a frustrating event. It’s going to take some time to let people back into their homes particularly in the Florida Keys,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told a morning press conference.

He noted that FEMA was continuing to rescue people stranded by flooding around Jacksonville, in the state’s northeast.

After leaving a trail of destruction on several Caribbean islands, killing nearly 40 people, Irma caused record flooding in parts of Florida. Only one Florida fatality has been confirmed so far, but a local official said there had been more deaths.

Irma became the second major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a little more than two weeks when it roared ashore on Key Cudjoe as a powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday. It followed Hurricane Harvey, which plowed into Houston late last month, killing about 60 and wreaking some $180 billion in damage, largely through flooding.

About 2-1/2 months remain in the official Atlantic hurricane season. The National Hurricane Center is monitoring another hurricane, Jose, which is spinning in the Caribbean, currently about 700 miles (1,130 km) from the mainland.

MILITARY AID

The U.S. aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln has arrived off Florida’s east coast and two amphibious assault ships will arrive on Tuesday to help in the Keys. The military will distribute food and help evacuate 10,000 residents who did not leave before the storm.

Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said Monday that people had been killed in the Keys, where nearly 80,000 permanent residents live, apart from one already known fatality. She did not have a count on how many.

“We are finding some remains,” she said in an interview with CNN. Video footage of the islands showed homes torn apart by sustained winds of up to 130 mph (210 kph).

Several major airports in Florida that halted passenger operations due to Irma began limited service on Tuesday, including Miami International, one of the busiest U.S. airports.

The scope of damage in Florida and neighboring states paled in comparison with the devastation left by Irma in parts of the Caribbean, where it razed islands and killed nearly 40.

RECORD FLOODS

The center of Irma moved into Alabama on Tuesday and will head into western Tennessee by Tuesday evening with maximum sustained winds of 25 mph.

In South Carolina, the Charleston Harbor area saw major flooding on Monday with water about 3 feet (1 meter) above flood stage and minor flooding is forecast for Tuesday, the National Weather Service said.

Miami Beach will allow residents to return home from 8 a.m. (1200 GMT), its mayor said. More evacuation orders are likely to be lifted on Tuesday.

Monroe County opened road access on Tuesday morning for residents and business owners from Key Largo, the main island at the upper end of the chain, as well as the towns of Tavernier and Islamorada farther to the south, fire officials said.

No timetable was given for reopening the remainder of the Keys.

MOST OF FLORIDA WITHOUT ELECTRICITY

Insured property losses in Florida from Irma are expected to run from $20 billion to $40 billion, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated.

Utilities reported some 7.4 million homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and neighboring states and said it could take weeks to fully restore service.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 utility workers from out of state, sent to inspect and repair power lines, were staying in Broward County in cramped conditions at BB&T Center, home to the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, said Gus Beyersdorf, 40, of De Pere, Wisconsin.

“Each one of us has a cot, a single foot apart,” Beyersdorf said on Monday afternoon. “I slept in the truck last night just to get a break from it.”

At least one other possibly storm-related fatal car crash was reported on Sunday in Orange County, Florida. On Monday, two people were killed by falling trees in two Atlanta suburbs, according to local authorities.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in Orlando, Fla., Bernie Woodall, Ben Gruber and Zachary Fagenson in Miami, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Letitia Stein in Detroit, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, N.C., Harriet McLeod in Mt. Pleasant, S.C., Scott DiSavino in New York and Marc Frank in Havana; Writing by Scott Malone and Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Chizu Nomiyama)

Residents flee Texas coast ahead of Hurricane Harvey landfall

By Brian Thevenot

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (Reuters) – Businesses closed and lines of cars streamed out of coastal Texas as officials called for residents to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Harvey, expected to arrive about midnight as the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. mainland in more than a decade.

The hurricane is forecast to slam first near Corpus Christi, Texas, drop flooding rains along the central Texas coast and potentially loop back over the Gulf of Mexico before hitting Houston, some tracking models showed.

“My urgent message to my fellow Texans is that if you live in a region where evacuation has been ordered, you need to heed that advice and get out of harm’s way while you can,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a televised address.

The storm has so far shutdown 22 percent, or 377,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Gulf of Mexico oil production, the U.S. reported Friday afternoon, and halted 4.4 percent of U.S. refinery output. Some inland shale oil producers ceased operations as a precaution against expected flooding.

Gas stations and grocery stores in the region were packed as residents readied their cars and pantries for any shortages following the storm. Coldplay, the British rock band, canceled a Friday concert in Houston, telling fans it didn’t want to risk anyone’s safety.

At a Willis, Texas, station, about 50 miles (77 km) north of Houston, Corey Martinez, 40, was heading to Dallas from his Corpus Christi home.

“It has been pretty stressful. We’re just trying to get ahead of the storm,” he said. “We’ve never been through a hurricane before.”

Harvey became a Category 3 hurricane on Friday, the National Hurricane Center said, the third most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale with winds of 111-129 mile per hour (178-208 km/h) that can uproot trees, damage homes and disrupt utilities for days. That would make it the first major hurricane to hit the mainland United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

The storm was about 85 miles (140 km) off Corpus Christi and packing winds of 110 mph in early afternoon on Friday, the NHC said. It projected windspeeds could reach 120 mph just before landfall.

The NHC’s latest tracking model shows the storm sitting southwest of Houston for more than a day, giving the nation’s fourth most populous city a double dose of rain and wind.

“Now is the time to urgently hide from the wind. Failure to adequately shelter may result in serious injury, loss of life, or immense human suffering,” the National Weather Service said.

Up to 35 inches (97 cm) of rain are expected over parts of Texas, and sea levels may surge as high as 12 feet (3.7 meters). Louisiana could get 10 to 15 inches of rain. Flood warnings are in effect for Louisiana and northern Mexico.

“Life-threatening and devastating flooding expected near the coast due to heavy rainfall and storm surge,” the NHC said.

The storm’s approach triggered evacuations in south Texas communities and central coast residents were voluntarily leaving the area. Cities canceled classes on Friday and Monday at dozens of schools along the south Texas coast, home to 5.8 million people from Corpus Christi to Galveston.

David Ramirez left his home in Corpus Christi early on Friday to wait out the storm in San Antonio, Texas.

“With the level of storm surge they’re talking about, there isn’t a lot I could do to protect my house,” he said in an interview while awaiting directions to an emergency shelter.

Harvey also forced the cancellation or delay of at least 40 flights in and out of major airports in Texas on Friday, according to Flightaware.com, which tracks airline traffic.

Louisiana and Texas declared states of disaster, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare. President Donald Trump has been briefed and is ready to provide resources if needed, the White House said on Thursday.

The port of Houston, the nation’s busiest petrochemical port, closed its terminals at noon, and earlier halted inbound and outbound ship traffic on Friday. The city of Houston warned residents of flooding from close to 20 inches of rain over several days.

GASOLINE PRICES SPIKE

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore. Ports from Corpus Christi to Texas City, Texas, were closed to incoming vessels.

The U.S. government said 9.6 percent of crude output capacity was shut and 14.6 percent of natural gas production was halted.

Three refineries in Corpus Christi and one farther inland at Three Rivers were shutting down ahead of the storm. Two others reduced output as ports were closed.

Concern that Harvey could cause shortages in fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline prices to their highest in four months, before profit trading pulled back prices. Meanwhile, U.S. gasoline margins hit their strongest levels in 5 years for this time of year earlier in the day.

Prices for gasoline in spot physical markets on the Gulf Coast rose to a near three-year high.

The U.S. government has emergency stockpiles of crude available to plug disruptions, and has regularly used them to dampen the impact on energy supplies of previous storms.

The stockpiles in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve were last used in 2012, after Tropical Storm Isaac shut down 95 percent of oil output in the Gulf and hit Louisiana. The government has not yet said if it plans to use the reserve after Harvey.

Houston-based energy bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co said in a note not to expect significant or lasting production impacts from Harvey. But it said it would impact some production and disrupt refinery runs, imports and exports, “which will show up in the weekly inventory numbers for the next few weeks.”

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms in the storm’s path.

The potential for flooding at shale oil fields in south Texas that produce more than one million barrels of oil a day led several producers to curb operations. EOG Resources Inc said shut some production in the Eagle Ford shale region. Noble Energy Inc and Statoil ASA also said they were evacuating some staff from production facilities.

Union Pacific Corp, the No. 1 U.S. railroad, said it was moving rail cars in yards prone to flooding to high elevations and will curtail trains operating through areas likely to be hit by excessive winds and rain that will impact operations.

Union Pacific said changes could include locations from Brownsville near the border with Mexico north to Beaumont, Texas.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Brian Thevenot in Corpus Christi; Editing Meredith Mazzilli and Andrew Hay)

Hurricane Harvey strengthens, threatens U.S. with most powerful storm in 12 years

Hurricane Harvey strengthens, threatens U.S. with most powerful storm in 12 years

GALVESTON, Texas (Reuters) – Hurricane Harvey intensified early on Friday into potentially the biggest hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in more than a decade, as authorities warned locals to shelter from what could be life-threatening winds and floods.

Harvey is set to make landfall late Friday or early Saturday on the central Texas coast where Corpus Christi and Houston are home to some of the biggest U.S. refineries. Oil and gas operations have already been affected and gasoline prices have spiked.

“Now is the time to urgently hide from the wind. Failure to adequately shelter may result in serious injury, loss of life, or immense human suffering,” the National Weather Service said.

Harvey grew into a category 2 storm with winds of 105 mph (169 kph) as it moved northwest about 185 miles (295 km) off Port O’Connor, Texas, the National Hurricane Center said.

Up to 35 inches (97 cm) of rain are expected over parts of Texas, with winds up to 125 mph, and sea levels may surge as high as 12 feet (3.7 meters). Louisiana could get 10 to 15 inches of rain. Flood warnings are in effect for Louisiana and northern Mexico.

“Life-threatening and devastating flooding expected near the coast due to heavy rainfall and storm surge,” the hurricane center said.

The storm’s approach triggered evacuations and forced the cancellation of classes on Friday at dozens of schools along the south Texas coast, home to 5.8 million people from Corpus Christi to Galveston.

It also forced the cancellation or delay of at least 40 flights in and out of major airports in Texas on Friday, according to Flightaware.com, a site that tracks airline traffic.

Louisiana and Texas declared states of disaster, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare for the storm. President Donald Trump has been briefed and is ready to provide resources if needed, the White House said on Thursday.

Harvey is forecast to come ashore as a Category 3 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, the third most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale. That would make it the first major hurricane to hit the mainland United States since Hurricane Wilma struck Florida in 2005.

The NHC expects Harvey to move slowly over Texas and linger over the state for days. Houston, the nation’s fourth most populous city, warned residents of flooding from close to 20 inches of rain over several days.

GASOLINE PRICES SPIKE

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore. Ports from Corpus Christi to Texas City, Texas, were closed to incoming vessels.

The government said 9.6 percent of crude output capacity was shut and 14.6 percent of natural gas production was halted.

Three refineries in Corpus Christi and one farther inland at Three Rivers were shutting down ahead of the storm. Concern that Harvey could cause shortages in fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline prices to a three-week high.

One other refinery reduced output and others were considering shutting.

Prices for gasoline in spot physical markets on the Gulf Coast rose even more, hitting a one-year high.

Profit margins for refineries producing gasoline rose by more than 12 percent on Thursday, on course for their biggest daily percentage gain in six months, according to Reuters data.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Anadarko Petroleum Corp and Exxon Mobil Corp have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms in the storm’s path.

The storm could also bring flooding to shale oil fields in southern Texas that produce more than one million barrels of oil a day.

EOG Resources Inc said it had curtailed drilling and shut some production in the Eagle Ford shale region. Noble Energy Inc and Statoil ASA also said they were evacuating some staff from production facilities.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

U.S. gasoline prices rise, refineries shut as Texas braces for hurricane

Tropical Storm Harvey is seen approaching the Texas Gulf Coast,. NOAA/via Reuters

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – U.S. gasoline prices surged to a three-week high on Thursday as Hurricane Harvey moved across the Gulf of Mexico and threatened to slam oil refineries in Texas when it comes ashore this weekend.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) upgraded Harvey to a hurricane from a tropical storm on Thursday afternoon, and said it would strengthen into a Category 3 hurricane before hitting the Texas coast late on Friday or early on Saturday.

The storm is now expected hit the central Texas coast with a combination of winds of 115 miles (185 km) per hour and heavy rains, said John Tharp, a forecaster with Weather Decision Technologies in Norman, Oklahoma.

“With this system’s intensity and slow motion, it is the worst of both worlds,” he said referring to the expected winds and rains. “There will be major impacts along the coast and inland with periods of prolonged rain.”

Harvey will cause a storm surge that will flood parts of the Texas coast as it makes landfall and linger for days over the state, dumping up to 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain on some areas, the NHC said in an advisory on Thursday.

The mayor of Texas coastal city Corpus Christi warned on Wednesday that flooding was his biggest concern.

“I hope people will listen to forecasters when they say ‘beware of flash floods,'” Joe McComb said. “Flash floods can come quickly, and they can be deadly.”

The city, a major oil refining center, has not issued any evacuation orders, he told reporters at a news conference, but its emergency operations center has been activated.

Harvey has already disrupted U.S. oil supplies.

Energy companies including Royal Dutch Shell <RDSa.L>, Anadarko Petroleum <APC.N> and Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> have evacuated staff from offshore oil and gas platforms in the storm’s path.

Two oil refineries Corpus Christi were shutting down ahead of the storm, and concern that Harvey could cause shortages in fuel supply drove benchmark gasoline prices <RBc1> to a three-week high.

Prices for gasoline in spot physical markets on the Gulf Coast rose even more, hitting a one-year high.

Profit margins for refineries producing gasoline rose by over 12 percent on Thursday, putting margins on course for their biggest daily percentage gain in six months, according to Reuters data.

The two refineries that have shut have combined capacity to refine more than 450,000 barrels per day of crude.

The NHC expects the storm to come ashore along the central Texas coast, an area that includes Corpus Christi and Houston, home to some of the biggest refineries in the country.

More than 45 percent of the country’s refining capacity is along the U.S. Gulf Coast, and nearly a fifth of the nation’s crude oil is produced offshore in the region.

The storm could also bring flooding to inland shale oil fields in Texas that pump millions of barrels per day of crude.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster on Wednesday for 30 counties, authorizing the use of state resources to prepare for the storm.

Coastal cities and counties distributed sandbags to residents as some businesses boarded up windows, and residents flocked to grocery stores to stock up on supplies, local media reported.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi issued a mandatory evacuation to all students who live on campus and canceled events.

 

(Additional reporting by Jarrett Renshaw and Devika Krishna Kumar in NEW YORK, Erwin Seba and Ernest Scheyder in HOUSTON, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Simon Webb; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)