NY, NJ governors say aid is coming as Ida death toll rises to 46

By Maria Caspani and Julia Harte

(Reuters) – The governors of New York and New Jersey said on Friday they expected to receive significant funding and assistance from the federal government after flash flooding from Hurricane Ida left a trail of destruction, killing at least 46 in the Northeast.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy announced $10 million in state grants to help small businesses that suffered damage and flagged expected federal aid after U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state.

“This was a deadly and dangerous storm and we continue to face its after-effects,” Murphy told a news conference in Millburn, a suburban town west of Newark that was hit hard by flooding. “Help is coming.”

Murphy said there had been 25 fatalities in the state, up 2 from Thursday, and that at least 6 people remain missing. A total of 16 people have been confirmed dead in New York state.

Officials have also confirmed four deaths in Pennsylvania and the death of a state trooper in Connecticut.

In a separate briefing, New York Governor Kathy Hochul also said federal assistance was on the way after Biden approved her request to declare a federal emergency.

Like several other leaders in New Jersey and New York, Hochul stressed the need for better preparation for extreme weather events, which are increasing in frequency due to climate change.

Hochul said she would convene a task force that will submit an after-action report discussing shortcomings in New York’s response to Ida and suggest improvements.

“Some people have called this a 500-year event. I don’t buy it,” she said. “No longer will we say, that won’t happen again in our lifetime. This could literally happen next week.”

Biden was scheduled to travel to Louisiana on Friday to meet with Governor John Bel Edwards and survey damage wrought by Ida, which left residents there scrambling for water, food and basic services, with more than 800,000 households still without power.

The hurricane, which made landfall in Louisiana on Sunday, may ultimately claim more lives in the Northeast, where flash flooding caught residents off guard, causing some to perish in their basements and others to drown in their cars.

(reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Julia Harte in Washington and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut)

Biden to visit Louisiana to see Hurricane Ida damage, New Jersey death toll rises

By Steve Holland and Devika Krishna Kumar

WASHINGTON/NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) -U.S. President Joe Biden travels to Louisiana on Friday to get a first-hand look at the destruction wrought by Hurricane Ida, the monster storm that devastated the southern portion of the state and left 1 million people without power.

Biden is to meet Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and local officials about the hurricane, which is providing the president with a tough test just after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

Hurricane Ida struck the Gulf coast last weekend and carved a northern path through the eastern United States, culminating in torrential rains and widespread flooding in New York, New Jersey and surrounding areas on Wednesday.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on Friday said the state had confirmed an additional two deaths overnight, bringing its total to 25. He said at least six people were still missing, meaning the death toll would likely climb higher.

“We’re still not out of the woods,” he told NBC News’ “Today” program, adding that his biggest concern following the wreckage was grappling with remaining high waters and damage. “We’re going to clean up … but it may be a long road.”

The fifth most powerful hurricane to strike the United States came ashore in southern Louisiana on Sunday, knocking out power for more than a million customers and water for another 600,000 people, creating miserable conditions for the afflicted, who were also enduring suffocating heat and humidity.

At least nine deaths were reported in Louisiana, with at least another 46 killed in the Northeast.

“My message to everyone affected is: ‘We’re all in this together. The nation is here to help,'” Biden said on Thursday.

Biden will tour a neighborhood in LaPlace, a small community about 35 miles west of New Orleans that was devastated by flooding, downed trees and other storm damage, and deliver remarks about his administration’s response.

He will take an aerial tour of hard hit communities, including Laffite, Grand Isle, Port Fourchon and Lafourche Parish, before meeting with local leaders in Galliano, Louisiana, the White House said.

Officials who have flown over the storm damage reported astounding scenes of small towns turned into piles of matchsticks and massive vessels hurled about by the wind.

Edwards said he would present Biden with a long list of needs including fuel shipments as most of the area’s refining capacity was knocked offline and mile-long lines have formed at gas stations and emergency supply distribution centers.

At Biden’s direction, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Thursday authorized an exchange of 1.5 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) to Exxon Mobil to relieve fuel disruptions in the wake of the hurricane.

Several refineries remained cut off from crude and products supplies from the south via ship and barge after portions of the Mississippi River were closed by several sunken vessels.

“This is the first such exchange from the SPR in four years and demonstrates that the president will use every authority available to him to support effective response and recovery activities in the region,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said late on Thursday.

Biden has also urged private insurance companies to pay homeowners who left in advance of the storm but not necessarily under a mandatory evacuation order.

“Don’t hide behind the fine print and technicality. Do your job. Keep your commitments to your communities that you insure. Do the right thing and pay your policy holders what you owe them to cover the cost of temporary housing in the midst of a natural disaster. Help those in need,” he said.

While Louisiana tried to recover from the storm, the New York area was still dealing with crippling floods from Ida.

People across large swaths of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut spent Thursday coping with water-logged basements, power outages, damaged roofs and calls for help from friends and relatives stranded by flooding.

At least 16 have died in the state of New York, officials said, including 13 in New York City where deaths of people trapped in flooded basements highlighted the risk of increasingly extreme weather events.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC on Friday that there would be a need to implement travel bans and evacuations more frequently ahead of storms. He said he was putting together a new task force to tackle the issue.

“We’ve got to change the whole way of thinking” in how to prepare for storms, de Blasio said. “We’re going to need them to do things differently.”

Biden approved an emergency declaration in New Jersey and New York and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local response efforts, the White House said late on Thursday.

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Devika Krishna Kumar; additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Kanishka Singh and Susan Heavey, editing by Ross Colvin, Michael Perry and Steve Orlofsky)

‘Historic’ New York-area flooding in Ida’s wake leaves at least 14 dead

By Barbara Goldberg and Maria Caspani

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Flooding killed at least 14 people, swept away cars, submerged subway lines and temporarily grounded flights in New York and New Jersey as the remnants of Hurricane Ida brought torrential rains to the area.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told a Thursday news conference there were nine confirmed fatalities in New York caused by what he had described as a “historic weather event.”

Countless rescues were made overnight of motorists and subway riders who became stranded in the flood waters, de Blasio said. “So many lives were saved because of the fast, courageous, response of our first responders,” he said.

Images posted on social media overnight showed water gushing over subway platforms and people wading through knee-deep water in their buildings.

Streets turned to rivers as flooding swept away cars in videos captured by stunned residents.

Four residents of Elizabeth, a city in New Jersey, perished in flooding at Oakwood Plaza, a public housing complex that was “flooded out with eight feet of water,” city spokesperson Kelly Martins told Reuters.

“Sadly, more than a few folks have passed as a result of this,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said without elaborating on the death toll at a briefing in Mullica Hill in the southern part of the state where a tornado had ripped apart several homes.

The hit to the Middle Atlantic region came three days after Ida, one of the most powerful hurricanes to strike the U.S. Gulf Coast, devastated southern Louisiana. Reconnaissance flights revealed entire communities destroyed by wind and floods.

Ida’s remnants brought six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm) of rain to a swath of the Northeast from Philadelphia to Connecticut and set an hourly record of 3.15 inches for Manhattan, breaking the previous one that was set less than two weeks ago, the National Weather Service said.

The 7.13 inches of rain that fell in New York City on Wednesday was the city’s fifth highest daily amount, it said.

The number of disasters, such as floods and heat waves, driven by climate change has increased fivefold over the past 50 years, according to a report released earlier this week by The World Meteorological Organization, a U.N. agency.

One person died in Passaic, New Jersey, due to the flooding and the search continued for others, the city’s mayor, Hector Lora, said in a video posted to Facebook on Thursday.

“We are presently still making efforts to identify and try to locate other individuals that have not been accounted for,” Lora said.

NBC New York reported at least 23 fatalities, including a toddler and said that most “if not all” deaths were flood-related.

The governors of New York and New Jersey, who had declared emergencies in their states on Wednesday, urged residents to stay home as crews worked to clear roadways and restore service to New York City subways and commuter rail lines serving millions of residents.

“Right now my street looks more like a lake,” said Lucinda Mercer, 64, as she peered out her apartment window in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York.

Mercer, who works as a crisis line fundraiser, said flood waters were lapping halfway up the hub caps of parked cars.

Subway service in New York City remained “extremely limited” while there was no service at all on commuter rail lines to the city’s northern suburbs on Thursday morning, the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) said. Janno Lieber, the MTA’s acting chair and CEO, told local media it was going to take until later in the day to restore full service.

The Long Island Railroad, which is also run by the MTA, said early on Thursday that services on most of its branches had been restored but commuters should expect systemwide delays of up to 30 minutes.

‘HUMBLED BY MOTHER NATURE’

Michael Wildes, mayor of Englewood, a city in New Jersey located just across the Hudson River from Manhattan, said the city’s central business district was under water and some residents had to be evacuated to the library overnight.

“We are being humbled by mother nature in this last year and a half,” Wildes told Reuters by phone.

He said there were no known deaths in Englewood, although police, fire and other emergency responders had extracted several people trapped in their cars.

Mark Haley of Summit, New Jersey, said getting back home after a 15-minute drive to a bowling alley to celebrate his daughter’s sixth birthday on Wednesday night became a six-hour slog through flood waters that often left him trapped.

“When we got out, it was a war zone,” said Haley, 50, a fitness trainer, who got home to find almost two feet (0.6 m) of water in his basement.

All New Jersey Transit rail services apart from the Atlantic City Rail Line were suspended, the service said on its website.

Amtrak said on Thursday morning that it canceled all passenger rail service between Philadelphia and Boston.

New Jersey’s Newark Liberty Airport warned about flight disruptions and said about 370 flights were canceled as of Thursday morning.

More than 200,000 electricity customers were without power early on Thursday in five northeastern states that got most of the rains overnight, mostly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, according to PowerOutage.US, which gathers data from utility companies. There were also outages in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts, it said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Maria Caspani and Peter Szekely in New York, Barbara Goldberg in Maplewood, New Jersey, and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington, Ann Maria Shibu and Akriti Sharma in Bengaluru and Sarah Morland in Gdansk; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Shri Navaratnam, Hugh Lawson, Frances Kerry and Steve Orlofsky)

New York governor reveals 12,000 more COVID-19 deaths than previously counted

By Anurag Maan and Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul revealed 12,000 more people died of COVID-19 than was reported under her predecessor, making good on her promise for greater transparency on just her second day leading the state.

The state is now reporting a total of 55,400 people died in New York from coronavirus, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hochul said in a statement.

That’s an increase of 12,000 over the 43,400 reported by Andrew Cuomo as of his last day in office before resigning in disgrace amid a sexual harassment scandal.

“We’re using CDC numbers, which will be consistent. And so there’s no opportunity for us to mask those numbers,” Hochul told National Public Radio on Wednesday.

Even with the additional 12,000 deaths, it does not change how New York state ranks nationally. New York still has the third highest total number of COVID deaths in the country, behind California and Texas. And New York still ranks second for deaths per capita, behind New Jersey, according to a Reuters tally.

Hochul is a Democrat who assumed the top job on Tuesday after serving as Cuomo’s lieutenant governor.

The number reported by Cuomo was incomplete because it focused only on confirmed COVID-19 deaths and it excluded those who died at their own homes and other places.

The revised count is based on death certificate data submitted to the CDC, which includes any confirmed or suspected COVID-19 deaths in any location in New York, Hochul said in the statement.

“These are presumed and confirmed deaths. People should know both,” Hochul told NPR.

The revelation came on Hochul’s second day on the job as governor, the first woman to hold New York’s top office. After being sworn in on Tuesday, Hochul made a point of promising the public greater transparency to ensure that New Yorkers “believe in their government again.”

Immediately shining a spotlight on the numbers the Cuomo administration chose to report, Hochul became only the latest official to raise questions about whether he was massaging data to improve his image during the pandemic that once gripped New York as the U.S. epicenter.

According to a New York attorney general’s report released in January, Cuomo was criticized for undercounting coronavirus deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%.

In February, Cuomo acknowledged that his office should not have withheld data on COVID-19 nursing home deaths from state lawmakers, the public and press but fell short of apologizing.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan in Bengaluru and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

New York Governor Cuomo resigns

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resigned on Tuesday following an inquiry that found he sexually harassed 11 women, mounting legal pressure and demands for his departure by President Joe Biden and others, a startling downfall for a man once seen as a possible U.S. presidential contender.

Cuomo, a Democrat who had served since 2011 as governor of the fourth most-populous U.S. state, made the announcement after New York Attorney General Letitia James on Aug. 3 released the results of a five-month independent investigation that concluded he had engaged in conduct that violated U.S. and state laws.

The investigation, detailed in a 168-page report, found that Cuomo groped, kissed or made suggestive comments to women including current and former government workers – one a state trooper – and retaliated against at least one woman who accused him of sexual misconduct. Cuomo denied wrongdoing.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat from western New York, will take over as governor of the state of more than 19 million people until the end of Cuomo’s term in December 2022 as outlined in the state’s constitution, becoming the first woman to hold the post.

Cuomo’s resignation marks the second time in 13 years that a New York governor has stepped down in scandal, after Eliot Spitzer quit in 2008 over his patronage of prostitutes. Cuomo also became the latest powerful man taken down in recent years following the rise of the #MeToo social movement against sexual abuse and harassment that has shaken politics, Hollywood, the business world and the workplace.

His resignation spared Cuomo from possible removal from office through impeachment proceedings in the state legislature. An ongoing impeachment investigation had only promised to intensify.

Cuomo, 63, was elected to three terms as governor, as was his late father, Mario Cuomo. He previously served as U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary from 1997 to 2001 under former President Bill Clinton.

Like his father, Andrew Cuomo never ran for president despite speculation about his possible national ambitions. He gained national prominence last year early in the COVID-19 pandemic after delivering daily news conferences as his state became the U.S. epicenter of the public health crisis.

The civil investigation found that the actions of Cuomo and his senior advisers violated multiple state and federal laws, but James did not pursue criminal charges. Local prosecutors are free to do so, meaning Cuomo still could face legal jeopardy.

Local prosecutors in Manhattan, Nassau County, Albany County and Westchester County said after the report’s release that they are looking into the matter and have requested evidence from the independent inquiry. New York City’s mayor said Cuomo should face criminal charges.

Cuomo had for months denied mounting allegations of sexual harassment – and renewed those denials after the investigative report was issued. But what was left of his political support crumbled after the findings were made public. Hours later, Biden – a friend of the governor for years – told reporters at the White House: “I think he should resign.”

Other prominent Democrats including the state’s two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi also lined up in calling on the party’s one-time star to resign.

Investigators concluded that Cuomo and his aides created a “toxic” and “hostile” workplace in an office gripped by bullying, fear and intimidation. The complaints about sexual harassment emerged after broader criticism by Democratic politicians in New York that Cuomo governed through intimidation.

Cuomo last year appeared to be a politician in ascent, presenting himself as an authoritative figure in televised news conferences on the pandemic. His image was burnished by television interviews with his younger brother, CNN host Chris Cuomo.

Shortly after James, a fellow Democrat, detailed the findings, Cuomo, the divorced father of three adult daughters, issued a video statement in which he said, “I never touched anyone inappropriately or made inappropriate sexual advances.”

“That is just not who I am,” Cuomo said in the video, as he argued that what women described as sexual advances were inoffensive gestures and comments inspired by a natural physical warmth arising from the culture in which he was raised. In the video, he indicated he had no plans to resign, mentioning specifically the fight against the pandemic.

A Marist Poll released a day after the report was issued showed that 59% of New Yorkers wanted Cuomo to resign, compared to 32% who said he should serve out his term and 9% who were unsure. Among Democrats, however, only 52% favored resignation.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen and Joseph Ax; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Howard Goller)

Florida COVID hospitalizations surge, New York urges business push on vaccines

(Reuters) – New York’s governor on Monday urged businesses to turn away unvaccinated customers while Florida is grappling with a surge in hospitalized COVID patients, both sparked by rising cases of the Delta variant that could result in new restrictions on daily life.

Florida, whose governor has resisted mask or vaccine mandates, has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation and about one-quarter of the country’s hospitalized COVID patients, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The head of Florida’s hospital association said the current surge sent COVID hospitalizations skyrocketing to 10,000 from 2,000 in less than 30 days, although deaths have remained well below the previous peak.

“It is a much younger population that is being hospitalized today,” Mary Mayhew told MSNBC on Monday. At one Jacksonville hospital, the average age is 42, she said. “We have 25-year-olds in the hospital in intensive care on ventilators,” she told the cable network. “We’ve got to convince 25-year-olds, 30-year-olds, that this is now life-threatening for them.”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also sounded the alarm, urging but not mandating bars, restaurants and other private businesses to require all customers be vaccinated before entering. The Democratic governor also said that vaccines could become mandatory for nursing home workers, teachers and healthcare workers if case numbers do not improve.

“Private businesses – I am asking them and suggesting to them to go to vaccine-only admission,” Cuomo told a briefing Monday. “I believe it’s in your best business interest. If I go to a bar and I want to have a drink and I want to talk to the person next to me, I want to know that that person is vaccinated.”

Cuomo also announced that all employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs the trains and subways, and all the workers from his state for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which oversees the region’s bridges, airports, and tunnels, would need to be vaccinated by Labor Day on Sept. 6 or submit to weekly testing.

“If you are unvaccinated the Delta variant should be a major concern to you and you should be worried about it,” Cuomo said.

The push by Cuomo marks the latest attempt by government leaders to spur reluctant Americans to get vaccinated as the Delta variant of the coronavirus surges nationwide, infecting mostly unvaccinated people.

Cuomo’s announcement comes on the heels of a decision by President Joe Biden to require millions of federal workers and contractors to show proof of vaccination or be subject to weekly or twice-weekly COVID-19 tests.

Even as cases have exploded, Governor Ron DeSantis has resisted mask mandates. Earlier this year, he and the Republican-controlled state legislature limited local officials’ ability to impose COVID-19 restrictions, and on Friday he issued an executive order barring schools from requiring face coverings when classes resume this month.

That order came days after the Broward County school board voted to require masks for students and staff. The superintendent of Miami-Dade schools had also said the district would reconsider whether to require masks in light of the surge.

Some local governments have also sought to impose public health measures despite DeSantis’ opposition. The village of Key Biscayne began requiring masks on Monday for all employees as well as any visitors to government buildings.

Both Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties last week said that all adults would be required to wear masks when inside county facilities. Orange County, home to Disney World, has ordered all employees to get vaccinated, with an Aug. 31 deadline for the first dose.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Smoke from U.S. West wildfires leaves Easterners gasping

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – Dozens of wildfires in the western United States and Canada, led by a massive blaze in Oregon, are sending smoke eastward, worsening air quality and causing colorful sunsets in some places.

More than 80 large wildfires in 13 western states charred nearly 1.3 million acres (526,090 hectares), an area larger than the state of Delaware, by Tuesday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho.

But due to the jet stream and other cross-continental air currents, the regional disasters were being felt nationally.

Wildfire smoke prompted an advisory from New York health and environmental authorities on Tuesday for fine particulate matter as the region’s Air Quality Index hit 118, which is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as people with breathing problems.

AQI readings well above 100 were also recorded in other Northeast cities, including Boston, Hartford and Philadelphia.

In Cleveland and Detroit, AQI topped 125, which NIFC meteorologist Nick Nauslar said was likely caused by smoke from Canadian wildfires in southeast Manitoba and southwest Ontario.

“Sunsets look prettier, redder, more colorful” said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Orevec of the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

While some smoke diffuses into the upper atmosphere after traveling thousands of miles, it still can lower air quality, Nauslar said.

Unhealthy AQI readings were recorded on Monday in parts of Idaho and Montana, which, along with Washington state, are in the wind-driven path of smoke from southern Oregon’s Bootleg fire, according to air resource adviser Margaret Key.

“Wildfire smoke exposure also increases susceptibility to respiratory infections including COVID, increases severity of such infections, and makes recovery more difficult,” Key said by email.

The Bootleg fire, already the country’s largest wildfire, grew by 24,200 acres overnight to nearly 388,600 acres (157,260 hectares), about half the size of Rhode Island. Some 2,200 personnel managed to contain 30% of it, officials said.

As of Tuesday, the fire had destroyed 67 homes and was threatening 3,400 more. An estimated 2,100 people were under evacuation orders or on standby alert to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

Rising smoke from the fire raging in and around the Fremont-Winema National Forest about 250 miles (400 km) south of Portland has already produced at least two pyrocumulonimbus clouds, an unusual phenomenon often called fire clouds, the NIFC’s Nauslar said.

“It can start to produce its own lightning, and essentially become a fire generated thunderstorm,” he said by phone. “This can cause rapid and erratic fire spread.”

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Commission proposes $117 billion to remake U.S. train corridor, cut travel times

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. government commission on Wednesday proposed a $117 billion plan to remake the Northeast Corridor – the Boston-to-Washington train route that is the nation’s busiest – by 2035, potentially cutting travel times and boosting capacity.

The route, which runs through major Northeastern cities including New York and Philadelphia, carried about 800,000 passengers a day before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Northeast Corridor Commission said in a statement.

Advocates argue the plan can help take more private cars off clogged American roads and eliminate some airplane trips, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

The commission – comprised of state, federal and Amtrak national passenger rail officials – said it had only identified $17 billion of the funding needed. It said the $100 billion in unmet costs would be shared between the federal government and states the route runs through.

The panel, created by Congress, said Northeastern state governments, the federal government, eight commuter rail agencies, and Amtrak worked “to develop a detailed and efficient sequencing of infrastructure investments covering 150 projects.”

The improvements would include repairs or upgrades to rail track, tunnels, bridges and stations and allow for a big jump in train service.

Much of the infrastructure along the heavily used corridor is aging and needs replacement. The crucial 111-year-old Hudson Tunnel, also known as the North River Tunnel, connecting New York and New Jersey, was damaged in 2012 during Superstorm Sandy.

By 2035, the proposed work would cut nearly half an hour from an average trip of nearly three hours on high-speed Acela trains from Washington to New York and from a little over 3-1/2 hours from New York to Boston. Amtrak also runs slower Northeast Regional trains along the corridor with lower-cost tickets.

The upgrades along the 457-mile (735-km) Northeast Corridor would allow trains to travel at 160 miles per hour (258 km) on 132 miles, up from the current 32 route miles (52 km) that can travel at 150 mph (240 kph).

The plan “supports new travel patterns as our economy returns to full strength,” said Amit Bose, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration and commission co-chair.

President Joe Biden – once dubbed “Amtrak Joe” for his custom of commuting from his home state of Delaware to Washington by train – has called for $80 billion in new spending on high-speed rail projects across the United States.

A bipartisan infrastructure deal being considered by Congress calls for $66 billion for passenger and freight rail to repair and expand existing rail networks, including the corridor.

Amtrak in April asked for $31 billion from Congress over five years to overhaul the Northeast Corridor.

Amtrak wants to expand across the country and by 2035 add as many as 39 new corridor routes and 166 cities.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

New York governor lifts remaining COVID-19 restrictions, calls it a ‘momentous day’

By Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -New York is lifting all state-mandated coronavirus restrictions after reporting that 70% of the state’s adults have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Tuesday.

“It is an important milestone, and we’re going to keep pushing to do more,” Cuomo told a news conference, adding that the state would continue to encourage more New Yorkers to get vaccinated.

Restrictions across commercial and social settings will be lifted immediately. Cuomo said some limitations based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would remain in place, with mitigation measures still required in public transit and healthcare settings.

Cuomo, whose state was the epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 public health crisis last year, also said individuals and businesses could still choose to adopt some precautions.

The governor, who won praise in the early days of the pandemic for his televised news conferences but later became entangled in accusations of sexual misconduct, abuse of power and allegations of mishandling nursing homes during the crisis, made a triumphant entrance at the World Trade Center in New York City on Tuesday to mark what he called a “momentous day.”

“New York State has fully vaccinated a larger share of adults than any other big state in the country,” he told a cheering crowd that included first responders and hospitality workers.

On Tuesday night, fireworks all across the state will celebrate the milestone, Cuomo announced, and the Empire State Building and other state landmarks will be lit in blue and gold, New York’s colors.

Most U.S. states have moved to ease or lift coronavirus restrictions as the virus abates and vaccinations progress.

New York joined California, where restrictions including physical distancing, mask requirements and capacity limits for restaurants, stores and other businesses that cater to consumers end on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani and Jonathan Allen in New York, Editing by Will Dunham, Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)

Giant drone sculpture menaces New York City, with intent

By Aleksandra Michalska

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A giant, white sculpture of a drone has appeared 25 feet (7.6 m) over Manhattan’s High Line park, unnerving New Yorkers – which was the creators’ intention.

Sam Durant, the artist behind the fiberglass “Untitled (drone),” said the work was designed to “remind the public that drones and surveillance are a tragic and pervasive presence in the daily lives of many living outside – and within – the United States.”

The white sculpture of the predator drone stands out against the blue summer skies, appearing to hover over 10th Avenue, and rotating on its pole when pushed by the wind.

“What we want to do with High Line Art is to bring to the public not just beautiful artworks, but also thought provoking artworks that can generate conversations,” said Cecilia Alemani, chief curator of High Line Art, which sponsored Durant’s work.

California resident Ariella Figueroa said the drone made her think about the future.

“It’s the same technology that we were using in Iraq and Afghanistan 10, 12 years ago that is now handheld and anyone can buy,” said Figueroa. “It’s a little intimidating, a little scary, especially here in New York City.”

(Reporting by Aleksandra Michalska, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Marguerita Choy)