Bond market braces for impact of New York’s free tuition plan

Graduates celebrate receiving a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University during the year's commencement ceremony in New York in this May 18, 2005 file photo. REUTERS/Chip East/Files

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Little known private colleges that are already struggling to grow their revenues are facing a new threat that could further weaken their finances and make borrowing harder: free tuition at public universities.

The State of New York passed in April a bill that will by 2019 offer free tuition at community colleges and public universities in the state to residents whose families make less than $125,000 per year. At least six other states are considering similar laws, to ease the burden of student debt that has doubled since 2008 to over $1.3 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Fund managers expect that such initiatives, combined with other pressures that have long been building up, will cause bonds issued by smaller private colleges to fare far worse than the broader market if interest rates continue to rise.

So far the bond market has largely ignored such a threat as historically low rates encourage many investors to take on greater risks in search for better yields.

“There are many schools that are going to be losers in this game,” said R.J. Gallo, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors in New York.

Gallo, who owns debt issued by well-known institutions such as Northeastern University in Boston and Northwestern University in suburban Chicago, said that bonds of lower-rated schools yield only about 1.3 percentage points more than AAA-rated ones. That, for him, is not enough to compensate for the additional risk.

Nearly 80 percent of college-age students in New York qualify for the scholarship, according to state estimates. While the state has yet to say how many new students it expects to take advantage of the plan, analysts say that they expect a significant number forgoing private colleges located in the Northeast and opting for public options instead.

RECORD HIGH ‘DISCOUNT RATES’

The prospect of competition from free public programs comes at a time when many private colleges are already forced to offer incoming students discounts because of stagnant personal incomes and years of above-inflation tuition hikes.

The proportion of gross tuition revenue that is covered by grant-based financial aid averaged a record 49.1 percent for full-time freshmen in the current school year, according to a May 15 report by the National Association of College and University Business Officers.

The average U.S. private non-profit four year institution charges $45,370 per year in tuition, room and board, a 12 percent increase over the last five years, according to the College Board. Graphic: http://tmsnrt.rs/2qHVUBj

Moody’s forecasts that financial pressures will triple the number of schools that close their doors nationwide from today’s rate of two to three schools per year. Free public education will add to those pressures, said Christopher Collins, an analyst at Moody’s.

“It’s a highly competitive sector and there’s also now the fact that these really small schools are competing with public colleges and universities with a much lower price,” he said.

Given that there are more than 1,000 private colleges and universities nationwide, closures are rare.

Earlier this year, Connecticut’s Sacred Heart University and St. Vincent’s College announced plans for a potential consolidation. Last November, Dowling College in Long Island, New York, filed for bankruptcy after defaulting on $54 million in debt issued through local government agencies.

New York’s scholarship plan alone is unlikely to cause any private school to go under, said college financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, the president of consulting service Cerebly Inc. Instead, regional private schools that tout their small class sizes may lose their appeal if the competition from free programs forces them to lower tuition and they try to offset that by increasing enrollment.

“These colleges justify their costs by saying that you will get a more personal education, but will increasingly start to fail,” he said, adding that he expects to see more private colleges closing their doors over the next decade.

Nicholos Venditti, a bond fund manager at Thornburg Investment Management in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said he has been cutting his funds’ exposure to private college debt in part because other states could soon emulate New York’s model.

“If free tuition becomes a widespread phenomenon, it puts pressure on every higher education model throughout the country,” he said.

(Reporting by David Randall; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Tomasz Janowski)

United says cockpit door codes may have been published online

FILE PHOTO: A United Airlines aircraft taxis as another lands at San Francisco International Airport, San Francisco, California, U.S., February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Louis Nastro/File Photo

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Codes to gain access to United Airlines cockpits may have been made public, the carrier said on Monday, but it stopped short of confirming a report that a flight attendant inadvertently published the codes online in a potential threat to air security.

The airline still could keep its flight decks secure through other measures, Maddie King, a spokeswoman for United Continental Holdings Corp, said in an email. She declined to specify the other safeguards because of security considerations.

“We are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible,” she said.

Citing a pilot who was briefed on the matter, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that United, the world’s third-largest airline by revenue, had alerted pilots that access codes to unlock cockpit doors were mistakenly posted on a public website by a flight attendant.

Cockpit security emerged as a top priority for airlines in September 2001, when hijackers took control of United and American Airlines planes and crashed them into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. A third airliner commandeered by jihadists crashed in a western Pennsylvania field.

The United unit of the Air Line Pilots Association said in a statement that the accidental leak of information showed the need for stronger protections for flight deck doors.

The union has long backed secondary barriers, which it said would cost $5,000 each, and called on Congress to mandate them.

“The installation of secondary barriers on all passenger aircraft is a simple and cost effective way to bolster the last line of flight deck defense,” the union said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Bill Trott)

New York mayor criticized for proposed limits on legal aid to immigrants

People rally on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan, New York, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City public defenders on Thursday criticized a proposal by Mayor Bill de Blasio to deny free legal counsel to immigrants in deportation hearings if they had been convicted of serious crimes in the past, saying the plan would deny them due process.

In his proposed annual budget, De Blasio allocated $16.4 million to legal services for immigrant New Yorkers, citing concern about U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally.

Lawyers, local lawmakers and civil rights activists welcomed the funding proposal, which sharply increases legal aid for immigrants. But they gathered on the steps of City Hall to criticize a provision they said would unfairly deprive some people of the right to due process under the law.

De Blasio’s proposal would deny city-funded lawyers to immigrants previously convicted of one of 170 crimes that the city considers serious or violent.

Jennifer Friedman, who runs the immigration practice at Bronx Defenders, said the mayor’s plan would create a “two-tier system that treats people different based on their criminal history.”

The funding be in addition to the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP), which has been funded by the City Council since 2013 and provides free lawyers to immigrants facing deportation hearings at the federal immigration court.

In the United States, the right to a lawyer does not extend to federal immigration hearings which are civil, not criminal, proceedings.

The plan contradicted de Blasio’s description of New York as a “sanctuary city” for immigrants, the public defenders said.

Seth Stein, a City Hall spokesman, wrote in an email that “the public should not be expected to foot the bill” for immigrants convicted of dangerous crimes. “The vast majority of immigrants have not been convicted of violent crimes,” he wrote.

More than 2,000 immigrants have received free lawyers under the council-funded program, which provides free lawyers regardless of an immigrant’s criminal record, in the four years since it began, Legal Aid said.

In New York City, immigrants without lawyers managed to overturn a removal order in court only 3 percent of the time, while those with lawyers were able to remain in the country 30 percent of the time, Legal Aid said.

(Editing by Frank McGurty and Cynthia Osterman)

Heavy rain, wind disrupts travel for New Yorkers

A motorcycle is seen in water on the West Side Highway after heavy rain in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., May 5, 2017.REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Peter Szekely

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Heavy, wind-driven rain soaked the New York City area on Friday afternoon, causing local flooding and an array of transportation delays across the heavily populated region.

The National Weather Service issued flash flood warnings for much of New York City and several suburban counties as a weather system that stretched across much of the Eastern Seaboard dumped three inches of rain on the metropolitan region in three hours.

The rain forced the closure of Manhattan’s West Side Highway, a major thoroughfare along the Hudson River, for at least 10 blocks, and caused extensive traffic delays citywide, New York City’s Office of Emergency Management said.

While the intensity of rainfall had diminished shortly before the evening rush hour, water in flood-affected areas was expected to take several hours to recede.

The weather service received reports of flooding across all five boroughs of New York City, prompting some vehicle rescues, spokesman Tim Morrin said.

“The problem was the rain came down so heavy and so fast that the drainage couldn’t keep up,” Morrin said. “Roads became quickly impassible.”

Many flights in and out of New York airports experienced long delays and there were many cancellations. Hardest hit was LaGuardia Airport, where more than 34 percent of departing flights were delayed and 14 percent canceled, according to FlightAware, a website that tracks air travel.

The PATH rail service that connects New Jersey to Manhattan suspended service on two lines on Friday, citing a power problem.

Flooding forced the temporary closure of the main entrance to Manhattan’s Pennsylvania Station, according to local media. The reports could not be immediately confirmed by Reuters.

The weather-related disruption was especially aggravating for commuters from New Jersey and Long Island suburbs who have endured hours-long delays in recent weeks after derailments and other incidents at Penn Station.

Claire Jones, 19, who commutes from her home in New Jersey to New York, said her New Jersey Transit line running in and out of Penn Station was delayed at least six times this month.

“It’s difficult,” Jones said. “The main thing about time transit is that it’s convenient so you know if you get on this train at this time, you’ll get where you need to go, and when that doesn’t happen, it’s extremely inconvenient.”

Amtrak, which owns and operates New York’s Penn Station and leases tracks and space to NJ Transit and the Long Island Railroad, is planning to close some tracks for weeks and months at a time as it undertakes repairs

The station, with its decaying, century-old rail tunnels extending underneath the Hudson River, is a chokepoint on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, which runs from Washington to Boston.

The storm also caused inconvenience at the New York’s Oculus transportation hub in lower Manhattan, which opened only last August. Its roof began leaking, scattering hundreds of travelers, a Twitter-posted picture showed.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the Oculus at the World Trade Center complex, could not immediately confirm the leak.

(Reporting by Laila Kearney, Gina Cherelus and Jonathan Allen; Writing by Peter Szekely; Editing by Leslie Adler)

New Yorkers to greet Trump’s first visit home with protests

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures to the media after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas left the White House in Washington, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Dave Graham and David Ljunggren

MEXICO CITY/OTTAWA (Reuters) – From launching a data-mining drive aiming to find supply-chain pressure points to sending officials to mobilize allies in key U.S. states, Mexico and Canada are bolstering their defenses of a regional trade pact President Donald Trump vows to rewrite.

Trump has blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs and has threatened to tear it up if he fails to get a better deal.

Fearing the massive disruptions a U.S. pullout could cause, the United States’ neighbors and two biggest export markets have focused on sectors most exposed to a breakdown in free trade and with the political clout to influence Washington.

That encompasses many of the states that swept Trump to power in November and senior politicians such as Vice President Mike Pence, a former Indiana governor or Wisconsin representative and House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Prominent CEOs on Trump’s business councils are also key targets, according to people familiar with the lobbying push.

Mexico, for example, has picked out the governors of Texas, Arizona and Indiana as potential allies.

Decision makers in Michigan, North Carolina, Minnesota, Illinois, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, California and New Mexico are also on Mexico’s priority list, according to people involved in talks.

Mexican and U.S. officials and executives have had “hundreds” of meetings since Trump took office, said Moises Kalach, foreign trade chief of the Mexican private sector team leading the defense of NAFTA. (Graphic:http://tmsnrt.rs/2oYClp2)

Canada has drawn up a list of 11 U.S. states, largely overlapping with Mexico’s targets, that stand to lose the most if the trade pact enacted in 1994 unravels.

To identify potential allies among U.S. companies and industries, Mexican business lobby Consejo Coordinador Empresarial (CCE) recruited IQOM, a consultancy led by former NAFTA negotiators Herminio Blanco and Jaime Zabludovsky.

In one case, the analysis found that in Indiana, one type of engine made up about a fifth of the state’s $5 billion exports to Mexico. Kalach’s team identified one local supplier of the product and put it touch with its main Mexican client.

“We said: talk to the governor, talk to the members of congress, talk to your ex-governor, Vice President Pence, and explain that if this goes wrong, the company is done,” Kalach said. He declined to reveal the name of the company and Reuters could not immediately verify its identity.

Trump rattled the two nations last week when his administration said he was considering an executive order to withdraw from the trade pact, which has been in force since 1994. He later said he would try to renegotiate the deal first and Kalach said the lobbying effort deserved much credit for Trump’s u-turn.

“There was huge mobilization,” he said. “I can tell you the phone did not stop ringing in (Commerce Secretary Wilbur) Ross’s office. It did not stop ringing in (National Economic Council Director) Gary Cohn’s office, in the office of (White House Chief of Staff Reince) Priebus. The visits to the White House from pro-NAFTA allies did not stop all afternoon.”

Among those calling the White House and other senior administration officials were U.S. Chamber of Commerce chief Tom Donohue, officials from the Business Roundtable and CEOs from both lobbies, according to people familiar with the discussions.

PRIME TARGET

Mexico has been the prime target of NAFTA critics, who blame it for lost manufacturing jobs and widening U.S. trade deficits. Canada had managed to keep a lower profile, concentrating on seeking U.S. allies in case of an open conflict.

That changed in late April when the Trump administration attacked Ottawa over support for dairy farmers and slapped preliminary duties on softwood lumber imports.

Despite an apparently weaker position – Canada and Mexico jointly absorb about a third of U.S. exports, but rely on U.S. demand for three quarters of their own – the two have managed to even up the odds in the past by exploiting certain weak spots.

When Washington clashed with Ottawa in 2013 over meat-labeling rules, Canada retaliated by targeting exports from the states of key U.S. legislators. A similar policy is again under consideration.

Mexico is taking a leaf out of a 2011 trucking dispute to identify U.S. interests that are most exposed, such as $2.3 billion of yellow corn exports.

Mexico is also targeting members of Trump advisory bodies, the Strategic and Policy Forum and the Manufacturing Council, led by Blackstone Group LP’s Stephen Schwarzman and Dow Chemical Co boss Andrew Liveris respectively.

Senior Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers in charge of trade, agriculture and finance committees also feature among top lobbying targets.

Canada has spread the task of lobbying the United States among ministries, official say, and is particularly keen to avoid disruption to the highly-integrated auto industry.

A core component of Mexico’s strategy is to argue the three nations have a common interest in fending off Asian competition and exploring scope to source more content regionally.

The defenders of NAFTA also say that it supports millions of jobs in the United States, and point out that U.S. trade shortfalls with Canada and Mexico have declined over the past decade even as the deficit with China continued to climb.

Part of IQOM’s mission is to identify sectors where NAFTA rules of origin could be modified to increase regional content.

For example, U.S., Canadian and Mexican officials are debating how the NAFTA region can reduce auto parts imports from China, Japan, South Korea or Germany, Mexican officials say.

“The key thing is to see how we can get a win-win on the products most used in our countries, and to develop common manufacturing platforms that allow us just to buy between ourselves the biggest amount of inputs we need,” said Luis Aguirre, vice-president of Mexican industry group Concamin.

Graphic: Trade battles – http://tmsnrt.rs/2pAdPcp

(Additional reporting by Michael O’Boyle Alexandra Alper, Ana Isabel Martinez, Ginger Gibson and Adriana Barrera; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

Federal spending plan reimburses New York City for Trump security

New York City Police Department (NYPD) officers stand guard outside the entrance of Trump Tower in New York City, U.S., April 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Segar

By Hilary Russ

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A federal spending agreement reached late on Sunday will reimburse New York City for money spent securing U.S. President Donald Trump and his family at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Altogether, New York City and other state and local governments that have hosted the president would receive $61 million in the latest federal budget deal.

Officials in Florida’s Palm Beach County, home to Trump’s private club Mar-a-Lago, have also asked for help in paying security costs.

“We are getting what we are owed,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement on Monday. “That’s good news for our city and the hardworking police officers faced with this unprecedented security challenge.”

He and Police Commissioner James O’Neill worked for several months with New York’s congressional delegation to have the funds included in the deal, he said.

Congress is expected to approve the legislation by the end of the week.

The deal includes $20 million for costs incurred between Election Day in November and Inauguration Day in January, as well as $41 million after Trump was sworn in.

The funding, which must be shared with other local governments, is on top of the $7 million allocated last fall.

The city spends on average $127,000 to $146,000 a day for the New York Police Department to protect First Lady Melania Trump and the couple’s young son when President Trump is not in town.

Those costs are expected to swell to a daily average of $308,000 when Trump is in the city, the mayor’s office said.

Their home atop the 58-story skyscraper on Fifth Avenue near Central Park is the site of regular protests and is in an area popular with tourists.

When outlining his $84.9 billion executive city budget for fiscal 2018 on Wednesday, de Blasio said the city normally handles occasional visits from Presidents, but not ongoing costs to keep the First Family secure in Trump Tower.

“We’re not budgeting for something that’s a federal responsibility,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks.

“It is ridiculous to expect local law enforcement… to bear the extraordinary and ongoing costs of protecting the President of the United States,” Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who helped lead the state’s congressional delegation in making the reimbursement request, said in a statement on Monday.

(Reporting by Hilary Russ; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

New York girds itself for Trump’s first visit as president

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to staffers setting up for the Commander in Chief's trophy presentation in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York is bracing for President Donald Trump’s first trip back to his hometown since taking office in January in a Thursday visit that is expected to draw protests and snarl traffic in the United States’ most populous city.

The trip could mark a repeat of the chaotic 2-1/2 months between the real estate developer’s Nov. 8 election and Jan. 20 swearing-in, when crowds of protesters and admirers flocked outside his home in the gold-metal-clad Fifth Avenue Trump Tower.

The early days of the Trump administration have brought aggressive rhetoric and moves to crack down on immigration as well as roll back environmental regulations, much of which has ruffled feathers in the liberal northeast city.

Anti-Trump activists, some of whom have organized marches across the country since Trump’s stunning election victory, are planning loud protests to mark the native son’s return.

“A very hot welcome is being planned for Mr. Trump,” said Alexis Danzig, a member of Rise and Resist, an informal group of activists which formed as Trump came to power. “We’ll be out in full force to voice our grievances.”

Trump’s business dealings and romantic fallouts were constant city tabloid fodder in the 1980s and 1990s. His television show, “The Apprentice,” broadcast Trump to the world as the ultimate Big Apple dealmaker during the 2000s.

While the Trump brand is internationally associated with New York, fewer than one in five city residents voted for him.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo, both Democrats, have said his stance on immigrants has put him at odds with a city where nearly a third of residents are foreign-born.

Protesters plan to gather Thursday near the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum, a decommissioned aircraft carrier where Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are to have their first in-person meeting. One of the pair’s last exchanges was an acrimonious phone call in January.

New York police declined to provide details of their preparations for Trump’s tour and the protests planned around it.

One lingering issue from the transition period, that of the costs of protecting the president-elect’s building was resolved earlier this week in a proposed federal budget including $61 million to reimburse New York and other local governments for providing Trump-related security.

“That’s good news for our city and the hardworking police officers faced with this unprecedented security challenge,” de Blasio said in a statement.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Andrew Hay)

Messages show New York police surveillance of Black Lives Matter

People participate in a Black Lives Matter protest in front of Trump Tower in New York City, U.S. January 14, 2017. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Documents released by the New York Police Department and published by a newspaper on Tuesday shed new light on how undercover officers surveilled organizers from the Black Lives Matter movement who were protesting police tactics.

The documents include brief internal messages between officers that track demonstrators’ movements during “die-in” protests at New York City’s Grand Central Terminal in 2014 and 2015, as well as photographs and a video of the protests.

They also include two photographs of text messages on the screen of an unknown person’s cellphone that appear to be instructions sent by organizers telling protesters where to gather.

“TONIGHT 8PM Die In & Community Convergence at Grand Central,” one of the messages reads in part.

A New York judge ordered the release of the documents in February after a protester, James Logue, successfully sued the NYPD under freedom of information laws, arguing that the police may have inappropriately interfered with the right to protest peacefully.

The city released the documents to Logue last month, and they were published on Tuesday by the Guardian. The NYPD did not respond to questions, although it has acknowledged its use of undercover officers in the protests.

David Thompson, a lawyer representing Logue, said he was concerned by the photographs of the two organizing text messages because they were shared among only a small group of people.

“So we think this means that at least one police officer managed to get him or herself into this core group of organizers and might still be there for all we know,” he said in an interview. “And that’s disturbing.”

Thompson said the police surveillance of the protesters and the retention of photographs of them without any publicly known evidence of unlawful activity by the protesters was wrong.

Several of the protests in 2014 and 2015 were prompted by outrage over the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed black man selling loose cigarettes on New York’s Staten Island who died shouting “I can’t breathe!” as a police officer’s arm gripped his neck.

Some legal experts said in interviews it was difficult to tell from the limited information released whether the police department broke court-ordered rules that govern how New York City can police political activity, but that the surveillance seemed disproportionate.

“A ‘sit-in’ is not the same as an act of violence, and the police should not be engaged in maximal surveillance for non-violent activity,” said Arthur Eisenberg, the New York Civil Liberties Union’s legal director.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Dan Grebler)

U.S. Northeast braces for late winter blizzard

A woman is seen through a snow soaked car window walking in the snow at Cunningham Park in the borough of Queens in New York, U.S.

By Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Forecasters put the U.S. East Coast from New York City to Boston on a blizzard watch starting as early as Monday night, with authorities warning residents to prepare for the possibility of widespread power outages, road closures and flight disruptions.

Weather experts predicted the region could see 12 to 18 inches of wind-blasted snow from Monday to early Wednesday.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced preparations for the so-called Nor’easter storm, activating the state Emergency Operations Center as of Monday night while also directing state agencies to be on heightened alert.

“I encourage all New Yorkers in affected regions to plan ahead and avoid any unnecessary travel as the storm progresses,” Cuomo said in a statement, adding that commuters should expect road closures, delays and cancellations.

The storm also raised the potential for power outages with damaging winds across eastern Long Island and southeastern Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

Significant disruption to air travel in the region was also anticipated with the storm.

Blowing snow and strong winds could lead to whiteout conditions with visibility as poor as a quarter mile, the service said. Sub-freezing temperatures were forecast in the upper 20s Fahrenheit.

New York City issued a snow alert for Monday night into Tuesday, expecting snowfall rates of up to 2 to 4 inches per hour Tuesday morning and afternoon, with gusts of up to 50 mph.

Mayor Bill de Blasio warned New Yorkers that “besides the snow, it will be cold,” while officials recommended that people avoid driving and use mass transit when possible.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was installing hundreds of pieces of snow equipment at the three New York area airports. Thousands of tons of salt and sand were prepared for airport roads, parking lots, bridges and tunnels.

As some 50 million people along the Eastern Seaboard came under storm or blizzard watches, Washington, D.C., which often bogs down with even low levels of snow, was expecting 5 inches and twice that in outlying areas.

The storm comes near the end of an unusually mild winter along much of the East Coast, with below-normal snowfalls in some areas, including New York City and Washington. It was the warmest February on record in nearly the entire area, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

Last week in New York, temperatures hovered near 70 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Accuweather.com, hitting 60 or higher on six days in February.

Meanwhile, in the western United States, the weather service forecast potentially record-setting heat in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, where temperatures were expected into the 90s in some places.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Randy Fabi)

More than 100,000 customers without power in upstate New York

(Reuters) – More than 100,000 customers remained without power in upstate New York on Friday and were told that some outages could last for days after fierce winds toppled power lines and damaged homes and businesses.

Utilities companies reported that nearly 127,000 customers were without power as of 1 a.m. local time as crews continued to access the damage, remove trees and repair power lines after 70 mph (110 kph) wind gusts blew through the area on Wednesday.

“Due to the considerable damage, the companies continue to advise customers to plan for outages extending past the next 24 hours and in some areas may last for multiple days,” power companies NYSEG and RG&E said in a statement.

Homes and business owners throughout the area spent the day on Thursday cleaning up debris and assessing the damage to their structures while crews cleared downed trees and power lines that made some roads impassable.

“I’m alive, my daughter is alive … so I’m happy. Just pick up the pieces and start all over again, that is all I can do,” Twanna Lister said to TWC News in Rochester after a tree smashed through a home she was renting.

The Rochester City School District canceled classes on Friday for its 28,000 students in the hopes that classes will resume on Monday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Michael Perry)