Puerto Rico closes schools, opens emergency shelters ready for Storm Dorian

A house boat is seen secured to a mangrove as Tropical Storm Dorian approaches Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Puerto Rico was bracing on Wednesday for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, closing schools and diverting cruise liners even as it is still struggling to recover from devastating back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

Those hurricanes killed about 3,000 people just months after the territory filed for bankruptcy to restructure $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

Having been criticized over the response to the 2017 storms, the White House said in a statement that President Donald Trump had approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, allowing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in coordination with ongoing disaster preparedness efforts.

“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said during a televised news conference.

Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of his predecessor, said preparations for the storm were more than 90% complete, culminating with the opening of emergency shelters.

Infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they had been in 2017, she added.

Dorian, which passed over Barbados on Tuesday, is expected to move near or over Puerto Rico on Wednesday before approaching the island of Hispaniola, which is shared between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

The Dominican Republic also ramped up storm preparations on Tuesday. Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations center, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.

In Puerto Rico, public schools will be closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.

Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner “Allure of the Sea” canceled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line also adjusted its itineraries, Vazquez said.

Carnival Cruise Line confirmed the changes. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond.

By Wednesday morning, the storm was located about 85 miles (140 km) southeast of St. Croix, in the Bahamas, carrying maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kmh), the NHC said.

Dorian is expected to dump 4 to 8 inches of rain on Florida when it reaches the state in the southeast United States, the NHC said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; additional reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez and Alex Dobuzinskis; Writing by Julia Love; Editing by Alison Williams)

California utility PG&E vows more power shutdowns to prevent wildfire

FILE PHOTO: A neighborhood destroyed by the Camp Fire is seen in Paradise, California, U.S., November 17, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – California utility PG&E Corp plans to increase the controversial practice of shutting off the power to communities at risk of wildfire when dangerous conditions such as high winds and dry heat are present.

In a report to state regulators, PG&E said it would also remove 375,000 trees near electricity lines, trim vegetation over 2,500 square miles (6,475 square km) and conduct thousands of inspections to prevent its equipment from sparking wildfires.

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: PG&E works on power lines to repair damage caused by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S. November 21, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage/File Photo

PG&E is under intense scrutiny for its role in sparking more than a dozen wildfires over the past two years. It filed bankruptcy last month, citing anticipated liabilities, including the possibility its equipment set off November’s deadly Camp Fire, which destroyed the Northern California town of Paradise and killed 86 people.

The San Francisco-based utility, which serves 16 million customers, said it would increase nearly tenfold its efforts to turn off the power to communities threatened by wildfire, increasing the number of households and businesses potentially affected by fire-prevention blackouts in 2019 to 5.4 million.

Such shutoffs were also used last year to keep live electricity in the lines from setting off a fire when high winds and heat hit extreme levels and nearby brush or trees could be ignited.

Mark Toney, who directs the utility consumer advocacy group the Utility Reform Network (TURN), said shutting off power would harm vulnerable people, including those who rely on electricity to power life-saving medical equipment.

“The fact that there is such a dramatic expansion of power shutoffs as a strategy to stop wildfires is a sign of PG&E’s failure and mismanagement when it comes to trimming the trees and taking care of the grid,” he said.

PG&E spokeswoman Kristi Jourdan said the company would only turn off the power to a community as a last resort to keep people safe.

“We understand and appreciate that turning off the power affects the operation of critical facilities, communications systems and much more,” she said.

The company is also on probation in relation to a criminal conviction in the deadly 2010 explosion of one of its natural gas lines in the city of San Bruno near San Francisco.

The judge, in that case, said he would consider the company’s wildfire plan in deciding whether PG&E should do more to prevent wildfire.

California law requires all investor-owned utilities to file wildfire mitigation plans annually.

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Half-a-million still without power after storm in U.S. Northeast

A worker clear debris from a tree that had fallen on to a house as a storm bringing high winds passes over Kensington, Maryland, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – Some 500,000 customers remained without power throughout the eastern United States on Sunday evening and New England coastal communities faced more flooding two days after a powerful storm snapped trees, downed wires and killed at least nine people.

The remnants of the storm, known as a nor’easter, lingered on Sunday, with the National Weather Service posting coastal flood advisories in effect until Monday morning in much of the U.S. Northeast even after the storm had passed.

Some half a million customers still lacked power, according to data provided by 10 major utilities in the Middle Atlantic, Midwest and Northeast. At one point, 2 million customers had lost power.

The brunt of the storm hit on Friday, packing hurricane-force winds in excess of 90 miles per hour (145 kph) and sending seawater churning into streets in Boston and nearby shore towns, marking the second time the area had been flooded this year.

Falling trees killed seven people in Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia, according to local media and police. Two others died in the storm, according to media reports, including a 41-year-old man in Andover, New Jersey, who came in contact with power lines.

Private forecasting service AccuWeather said the storm dumped as much as 18 inches (46 cm) of snow on parts of New York state and Pennsylvania. The Massachusetts town of East Bridgewater received nearly 6 inches (15 cm) of rain, the NWS said.

The storm also snarled transportation from the Middle Atlantic into New England, with more than a quarter of flights in and out of New York’s three major airports and Boston’s airport canceled on Friday, tracking service FlightAware.com reported.

The problems carried over into Saturday, with hundreds of flights canceled into and out of New York and Boston, according to the website.

One flight landing at Washington’s Dulles International Airport on Friday experienced turbulence so rough that most passengers became sick and the pilots were on the verge of becoming ill, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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)