Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output after freeze

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather and power outages.

Brent crude futures were down 66 cents, or 1%, at $63.27 a barrel by 12:27 p.m. (1727 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell 99 cents, or 1.6%, to $59.53.

For the week, Brent was on track for a 1.3% gain while WTI was largely flat.

This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.

“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.

Oil prices fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles last week, before the big freeze hit. Inventories fell 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday.

“Vaccines and the impressive rollouts we’ve seen have delivered strong gains, as have the efforts of OPEC+ – Saudi Arabia, in particular – and the big freeze in Texas, which gave oil prices one final kick this week,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA said.

“With so many bullish factors now priced in, it seems we’re seeing some of these positions being unwound.”

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

Ford latest automaker to shut North American plants on U.S. winter weather

By Sharay Angulo

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Freezing weather that interrupted gas supplies in the southern United States and Mexico was wreaking havoc on Thursday with car manufacturing plants on both sides of the border, with Ford saying several of its assembly plants have been shut.

The cold snap has overwhelmed Texas’ power grid, while natural gas supplies to Mexico from Texas were interrupted, leaving millions without power in Mexico’s industrial northern states earlier in the week.

Mexico generates most of its power from natural gas, largely imported from the United States. The two countries also require intricate supply chains to be functional to supply auto and other industrial operations on both sides of the border.

Ford Motor Co. on Thursday said adverse weather had led to the temporary closure of plants in Kansas City, Flat Rock and Ohio, as well as a plant in Hermosillo in the northern Mexican border state of Sonora.

Late on Wednesday, Volkswagen said it would suspend some production in Mexico on Thursday and Friday due to a limited natural gas supply in the country. The cut in supply also affected Audi as well as General Motors’ plant in the central city of Silao, where work was stopped on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

Ford’s Kansas City plant’s operations have been canceled from Feb 13-22, the company said in a statement to Reuters.

Ford said it plans to run double shifts in its plants in Chicago, Dearborn and Oakville.

Mexico, Latin America’s second-largest economy, has reeled as gas imports via pipeline from Texas dropped by about 75% over the last week, causing billions of dollars of losses on power outages and factory closures.

(Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and David Gregorio)

Storm Gloria leaves eight dead, ruins rice paddies in Spain

MADRID (Reuters) – At least eight people have been killed as Storm Gloria has rampaged across eastern Spain, unleashing winds of up to 144 kmh (90 mph) and waves up to 13.5 meters (44 feet) high, officials said on Wednesday.

Three people remained missing four days after Gloria began pummeling the region with torrential rain and heavy snowfall alike. Rescue officials said the missing included a 25-year-old Briton on the island of Ibiza and a man who fell into the Mediterranean as he tried to moor his boat in Palamos port.

The storm began receding on Wednesday after leaving more than 200,000 people without power at times, destroying rice paddies in the Ebro river delta and triggering weather alerts for three dozen provinces.

Gloria ranks as the worst sea storm since 2003 “and likely of this century”, Dani Palacios, head of beach services for Barcelona in the northeast, told local broadcaster BETEVE.

Spanish police said they had found the body of a person in an Alicante river while a source at rescue services said another person died after a building collapsed in nearby Alcoy, likely due to heavy rainfall.

A man working in a greenhouse was killed as hail pounded the structure, a mayor in the province of Almeria told Efe news agency, while authorities in Valencia province blamed the death of a homeless person on frigid cold brought by the storm.

Sea water poured into the Ebro delta, one of Spain’s most important wetlands, inundating thousands of hectares of rice plants. “We can’t remember anything similar ever happening,” local mayor Lluis Soler told Cadena Ser radio.

“It’s dramatic to see how the river has overflowed and the sea has traveled kilometers inland.”

Waves in the western Mediterranean hit a record-breaking height of 13.5 meters (44.5 feet), port authorities said, slamming into seafront shops flooding municipalities.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted his “support and solidarity for the families of the victims of Storm Gloria and those suffering its the fatal consequences.”

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Record 45 million people across Southern Africa face hunger: U.N. food agency

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – The United Nations World Food Programme said on Thursday that a record 45 million people in the 16-nation Southern African Development Community faced growing hunger following repeated drought, widespread flooding and economic disarray.

Southern Africa is in the grips of a severe drought, as climate change wreaks havoc in impoverished countries already struggling to cope with extreme natural disasters, such as Cyclone Idai which devastated Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi in 2019.

Zimbabwe, once the breadbasket of southern Africa, is experiencing its worst economic crisis in a decade, marked by soaring inflation and shortages of food, fuel, medicines and electricity.

“This hunger crisis is on a scale we’ve not seen before and the evidence shows it’s going to get worse,” the WFP’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, Lola Castro, said in a statement.

“The annual cyclone season has begun and we simply cannot afford a repeat of the devastation caused by last year’s unprecedented storms.”

The agency plans to provide “lean season” assistance to 8.3 million people grappling with “crisis” or “emergency” levels of hunger in eight of the hardest-hit countries, which include Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Malawi.

To date, WFP has secured just $205 million of the $489 million required for this assistance and has been forced to resort heavily to internal borrowing to ensure food reaches those in need, it said.

In December, the United Nations said it was procuring food assistance for 4.1 million Zimbabweans, a quarter of the population of a country where shortages are being exacerbated by runaway inflation and climate-induced drought.

“Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst hunger emergency in a decade, with 7.7 million people – half the population – seriously food insecure,” the agency said.

In Zambia and drought-stricken Lesotho, 20% of the population faces a food crisis, as do 10% of Namibians.

Castro said that if the agency does not receive the necessary funding, it will have no choice but to assist fewer of those most in need and with less.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Jon Boyle and Giles Elgood)

U.S. winter storms cause 10 deaths, flight cancellations, power outages

(Reuters) – At least 10 people died, more than 1,000 flights were canceled and hundreds of thousands were without power in five states on Saturday as a massive winter storm system dumped snow, freezing rain and hail from Texas to Michigan.

Hurricane-force wind gusts, golf-ball-sized hail and 2 to 5 inches (5-13 cm)of snow fell on Friday night and early Saturday as storms pushed from Texas through the Southeast and Great Lakes into Maine, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

More snow with accumulations between 6 to 12 inches was expected through Sunday in parts of Illinois, Michigan, northern New York and New England.

“The real danger comes from the wind and ice accumulation,” said NWS forecaster Bob Oravec in College Park Maryland.

More than half an inch of ice was predicted to cake highways and roads across the South and Northeast from Saturday night to Sunday morning, he said.

“The ice and wind will make driving treacherous, and trees can snap and knock out power and do other damage,” he said.

Two people were killed when the storm destroyed a trailer home in northwestern Louisiana late Friday, according to the Bossier Parish Sheriff’s Office. Local media reported that a third person died after a tree fell on a home in that state.

A fourth person was killed Friday in the storms when a car slide off the road and into a creek in Dallas, NBC news reported.

A firefighter and a police officer in Lubbock, Texas, were killed Saturday after a car slid on ice-slicked U.S. Interstate Highway 27 as they were investigating a traffic accident, Lubbock Fire officials said.

Three more storm-related deaths occurred in Pickens County in western Alabama, CNN reported, but details were not immediately available.

A 10th person died in southeastern Oklahoma on Saturday morning after the 58-year-old man was swept away while his pickup truck was stalled in deep water on a flooded road, the Houston Chronicle reported.

More than 257,000 homes and businesses were without power across Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas according the tracking site PowerOutage.us. Heavy outages in Texas, Michigan and Illinois were largely repaired by late Saturday afternoon.

The bulk of the nation’s flight delays and cancellations were at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, with more than 1,000 flights canceled and hundreds more delayed, according to flightaware.com.

Tornadoes damaged or destroyed some buildings in Arkansas and Missouri, forecasters said.

NWS said more than 18 million people in Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma remained at risk of tornadoes and flooding rains. Oravec said that hurricane-force wind gusts of about 75 mph (120 kph) hit the southeast.

As the system pushes eastward, rain should end overnight in many southern states, but the Northeast and New England can expect severe weather to last for another day, he said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Cynthia Osterman)

‘Traumatized’ Puerto Ricans rocked by more strong quakes

By Ricardo Ortiz

YAUCO, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Two strong aftershocks collapsed homes and cracked walls in Puerto Rico on Friday as the Caribbean island tried to recover from its worst earthquake in more than a century.

The first quake of magnitude 5.2 struck at 6:26 p.m. (5:26 p.m. EST), followed by another of magnitude 4.8 about four hours later, both centered on the island’s southwest coast, the U.S. Geological Service (USGS) said.

The quakes were felt as far north as the capital San Juan, and a spokesman for the town of Guayanilla told the El Nuevo Dia newspaper they caused more homes and buildings to collapse in the hard-hit community.

Shaken residents in the south said the aftershocks were the strongest since Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude earthquake, which killed at least one person, destroyed or damaged about 300 homes and knocked out power across the island.

Ada Cedeño was among more than 1,000 residents of Yauco, around 4 miles (6.4 kms) west of Guayanilla, who spent the night in a stadium, fearful their homes would collapse after hundreds of quakes and tremors in the last 13 days.

“My nerves are on edge, we’re traumatized. I have a sister who is crying, she doesn’t want to go inside her house,” said Cedeño, 69, who with five other relatives set up camp beds among a sea of tents, canopies and blue plastic tarpaulin sheets.

The U.S. territory has been battered by hundreds of earthquakes and aftershocks since Dec. 28, causing structural damage to thousands of buildings and homes.

The island is trying to restore power to its nearly 3 million residents after Tuesday’s earthquake severely damaged its largest generating plant, Costa Sur.

The island’s electricity authority reported 83 percent of customers had power by Friday evening, adding that the 5.2 tremor had not caused blackouts.

Aftershocks are expected to continue for several more days following Tuesday’s major quake, the USGS said.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez and U.S. Senator Rick Scott on Friday toured the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla and spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone about recovery efforts.

They said Trump pledged his support for Puerto Rico after having approved an emergency declaration earlier in the week to mobilize resources. Scott said more than 6,000 people were in emergency shelters.

Vázquez on Thursday said she expected power to be fully restored by Monday.

The earthquakes have added to Puerto Rico’s woes as it recovers from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people, and goes through a bankruptcy process.

(Reporting by Ricardo Ortiz in Yauco, Puerto Rico, and Luis Valentin Ortiz in San Juan; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay in New Mexico and Marco Bello in San Juan; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Clarence Fernandez)

Massive fire in New Jersey leaves thousands without power: U.S. media

(Reuters) – A massive fire engulfed many buildings in Bound Brook, New Jersey, late on Sunday, causing more than 100 residents to be evacuated and leaving around 3,000 people without power, local authorities and U.S. media said.

There were no reported deaths or casualties in the fire, which started in a building and then spread to a residential complex under construction, a store and at least two houses, according to the New York Times.

The fire led to the NJ Transit rail service being suspended in the area along the Raritan Valley Line.

“Bound Brook Rail station will be closed the entire service day, Monday, January 13th. Raritan Valley Line service remains suspended between Bridgewater and Dunellen due to 6-alarm structure fire near NJ Transit tracks in Bound Brook,” according to the line’s statement on Twitter.

Local police described the fire as “disastrous”.

“This is a disastrous fire that is very difficult to contain and has the potential to spread to all nearby structures”, Bound Brook Police Department said on Facebook.

The cause of the fire was being probed, NBC News reported.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Alex Richardson)

After quake, Puerto Rico governor says power should be back by Monday

By Ricardo Ortiz

YAUCO, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez said power should be fully restored across the island by Monday after the worst earthquake in over a century knocked out the U.S. territory’s biggest generating plant and left nearly all its 3 million residents without electricity.

Two days after the earthquake, only half of the Caribbean island had power, Puerto Rico’s top energy executive, José Ortiz, said on Thursday.

The Caribbean island’s largest power plant, Costa Sur, could remain off line for a year or more due to earthquake damage, Ortiz told a news conference, evoking memories of lengthy power outages following back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

But power should be completely restored by Monday as other generating plants came back online, Ortiz, executive director of public power utility PREPA, and Vázquez said at the news conference.

“Our projection, as you have heard, is that during the weekend, or Monday, we will have 100% of customers with energy services,” said Vázquez, who took office in August.

Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude quake and 5.6 aftershock killed at least one person and destroyed or damaged about 300 homes in the south of the island.

The earthquake added to Puerto Rico’s woes as it continues to recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which killed nearly 3,000 people in 2017, and go through a bankruptcy process.

Utility crews scrambled to fix downed lines on Thursday while residents relied on backyard generators to power lights, refrigerators and phone chargers.

Many people on the south of the island set up house outside, fearful another quake could collapse their homes.

“We are here trying to survive the situation, you know?” said Luis Rodriguez Melendez, sitting on a bed set up under a camping canopy in the hard-hit town of Yauco.

The quake shut down Puerto Rico’s power system as generating plants automatically went off line and Costa Sur, which supplied up to a third of electricity, suffered severe damage.

Puerto Rico needs remaining plants to operate at or near capacity to meet peak demand, Ortiz said.

Vázquez initially said power would be fully restored within 24 to 48 hours, but additional damage to plants and infrastructure was discovered, slowing the process.

“It’s a difficult moment,” said Yauco resident Bethzaida Lopez Pacheco, also at the shelter. “The fact that there’s no electricity makes it difficult for the elderly with conditions to manage, to manage their food, for people to care for their children.”

Ortiz did not rule out building a new power plant to replace the ageing Costa Sur facility. He also raised the prospect of bringing in temporary generators with aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and said PREPA was looking for a company to supply them.

(Reporting by Ricardo Ortiz in Yauco, Puerto Rico; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Andrew Hay; Editing by Scott Malone, Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)

Most Puerto Ricans without power, many sleep outdoors after quakes

By Ricardo Ortiz

GUANICA, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – More than half of Puerto Rico’s 3 million people remained without power on Wednesday and thousands slept outdoors after earthquakes toppled homes on the Caribbean island and raised fears more could collapse.

Tuesday’s quakes, including the most powerful one to strike the U.S. territory in 102 years, killed at least one person and destroyed or damaged about 300 homes. A state of emergency was declared.

The south of the island was hardest hit, dozens of homes collapsing in towns like Yauco, Guanica and Guayanilla during a 6.4 magnitude earthquake and 5.6 aftershock.

Tremors shook the island on Wednesday and thousands slept outdoors or in their cars, fearful their homes would collapse in the event of another major event.

“Horrible, horrible, horrible, horrible, everything fell on top of us,” said Josefina Pacheco who ran out onto the street during the quakes. “It’s really hard to see so many houses around you on the ground.”

Power was not expected to be restored to the whole island until the weekend after quakes knocked out its main generating facility, the Costa Sur plant, and damaged other energy infrastructure.

It will take at least a year to repair Costa Sur, which up until Tuesday supplied about a quarter of Puerto Rico’s power, the head of the AEE electricity agency, Jose Ortiz, told El Nuevo Dia newspaper.

About 600,000 of the island’s 1.5 million customers had power on Wednesday, up from 100,000 on Tuesday night, and the island was generating 955 megawatts of electricity, well short of the 2,300 megawatts it needed, AEE said on Twitter.

The power outages brought back memories of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, when Puerto Ricans endured lengthy blackouts following a disaster that killed nearly 3,000 people.

On Wednesday, about 24% of the population still had no running water and more than 2,200 people left homeless had taken refuge in government shelters, said Carlos Acevedo, commissioner of disaster agency NMEAD.

In Guanica, supermarket owner Santo Manuel Ruiz Pietri began cleaning up collapsed shelves and surveying structural damage to his building.

“It was nearly complete devastation at our Guanica location, inside and outside,” said Ruiz Pietri, estimating the damage to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY

The earthquakes followed a series of natural and man-made disasters to afflict the U.S. territory in recent years. The island is also going through bankruptcy and its former governor resigned amid a political scandal and massive street protests last year.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared an emergency in Puerto Rico and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief with Puerto Rican officials.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency on the island to ensure hospitals had funding to meet needs.

More than 500 tremors occurred in the south of the island between Dec. 28 and Tuesday, including 32 greater than magnitude 4.

The 6.4 magnitude quake on Tuesday morning was the most powerful to hit Puerto Rico since 1918, when a 7.3 magnitude quake and tsunami killed 116 people, according to the Puerto Rican seismology institute, Red Sismica.

Puerto Rico is accustomed to hurricanes, but powerful quakes are rare.

(Reporting by Ricardo Ortiz, Luis Valentin Ortiz, Marco Bello, Daniel Trotta and Andrew Hay; Editing by Richard Chang, Robert Birsel)

Flood death toll rises to 26 in Jakarta, tens of thousands evacuated

By Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto

JAKARTA (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of people were evacuated in Indonesia’s capital Jakarta on Thursday after flash floods and landslides killed up to 26 people amid some of the heaviest rain in more than 20 years, with more deluges forecast, authorities said.

The flooding, among the deadliest in years, caused chaos in parts of Southeast Asia’s biggest city with train lines blocked and power outages in some areas. Swathes of Jakarta and nearby towns were inundated after heavy rain fell on Dec. 31 and into the early hours of New Year’s Day.

Social affairs ministry data showed 26 people were killed in the flooding, up from the earlier toll of 21.

As of Thursday morning, over 62,000 people were evacuated in Jakarta alone, disaster mitigation agency spokesman Agus Wibowo said, although later in the day he told news channel Metro TV the number of evacuees were down to around 35,000 people.

Rainfall at an airport in East Jakarta measured at 377 millimeters (15 inches) early on Jan. 1, the highest daily reading during major floods since at least 1996, according to the Meteorology, Clilmatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG).

Umar Dani, 52, and his family were evacuated overnight from his home in East Jakarta on a rubber boat after water levels rose up to his neck.

“It has not flooded for so long here. We didn’t have the chance to bring anything,” he said.

“I have to live on the streets now.”

President Joko Widodo told reporters evacuation and safety measures should be prioritized and called for more coordination between city administrations and the central government.

On his Twitter page, Widodo blamed delays in flood control infrastructure projects for the flooding. He said some projects have been delayed since 2017 due to land acquisition problems.

“EXTREME WEATHER” EXPECTED

Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan said authorities deployed hundreds of pumps to suck water from residential areas across the capital, which had allowed some people to return home.

“They want to return home immediately and start cleaning up their houses as soon as they are able to enter their houses as water recedes,” Baswedan told reporters during a visit to a densely populated area in East Jakarta affected by the flood.

Residents waddled through murky water to see the governor while workers pumped water out of the area into a nearby river.

The mitigation agency said on its Twitter page that water levels have come down in a few affected areas, showing pictures of streets covered by mud and littered with debris.

Authorities however warned people to remain vigilant as “extreme weather” is expected to continue until Jan. 7.

Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), told reporters separately that heavy rainfall may continue until mid February.

Television footage on Thursday showed rescuers in the nearby city of Tangerang evacuating residents, guiding them across a strong current by holding on to a rope.

Jakarta and its surroundings are home to more than 30 million people. More than 50 people died in one of the capital’s deadliest floods in 2007 and five years ago much of the centre of the city was inundated after canals overflowed.

The government announced last year that it is relocating the capital to East Kalimantan province on Borneo, though the planning ministry pledged that the government will invest $40 billion in modernizing Jakarta.

(Additional reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Matthew Tostevin, Kim Coghill, William Maclean)