Hurricane Dorian gains strength as Florida braces for hit, Trump says Florida faces ‘absolute monster’

Shoppers wait in a long line for a Sam's Club store to open before sunrise, as people rushed to buy supplies ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Dorian in Kissimmee, Florida, U.S. August 30, 2019. REUTERS/Gregg Newton

By Zach Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian gained strength as it crept closer to Florida’s coast on Friday, raising the risk that parts of the U.S. state will be hit by strong winds, a storm surge and heavy rain for a prolonged period after it makes landfall early next week.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a hurricane watch for northwestern Bahamas, and said Dorian was likely to remain an extremely dangerous hurricane as it approaches Florida through the weekend.

“The biggest concern will be Dorian’s slow motion when it is near Florida, placing some areas of the state at an increasing risk of a prolonged, drawn-out event of strong winds, dangerous storm surge, and heavy rainfall,” the center said.

The storm began Friday over the Atlantic as a Category 2 but was already expected to be classified a Category 3 later in the day, with sustained winds of at least 110 miles per hour (175 km per hour).

The entire state of Florida was under a declaration of emergency, and Governor Ron DeSantis has activated 2,500 National Guard troops, with another 1,500 on standby.

Forecasters predicted the storm would grow more ferocious as it gained fuel from the warm waters off Florida, slamming into the state late on Monday or early Tuesday. Tropical storm winds could be felt in Florida as soon as Saturday.

No evacuations were ordered as of early Friday, but many were expected as the storm’s path becomes clearer before it makes landfall.

If, as expected, the storm reaches Category 4 over the weekend, its winds will blow at more than 130 mph (210 kph). There was concern that it could slow from its current 12-mph (9-kph) march across the map, giving it more time to draw fuel from warm seas.

Recent NHC weather models show Dorian smacking into the center of Florida. It was trending northwest in the latest advisory issued at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) on Friday.

The storm could roll inland toward Orlando on Tuesday or early Wednesday, weakening as it moves away from the sea. Other NHC weather models show it tracking south toward Miami before hitting the peninsula, or heading north to the Georgia coast.

Along with the dangerous winds, the storm was expected to drop 6 to 12 inches (15 to 30 cm) of rain on the coastal United States, with some areas getting as much as 15 inches (38 cm).

“This rainfall may cause life-threatening flash floods,” NHC forecasters said.

President Donald Trump on Thursday canceled a planned weekend trip to Poland, sending Vice President Mike Pence in his place, so he can make sure resources are properly directed for the storm.

“Now it’s looking like it could be an absolute monster,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter, adding that food and water were being shipped to Florida.

Governor DeSantis said Floridians need to take the storm seriously.

“Hurricane #Dorian is moving slowly & gaining strength,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter. “Now is the time to get prepared & have a plan.”

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency in 12 counties to assist with storm readiness, response and recovery.

‘NOT LOOKING GOOD’

Angela Johnson, a 39-year-old bar manager in South Florida, said on Thursday, “We’re worried. This is not looking good for us.”

“We woke up a lot more scared than we went to bed last night, and the news is not getting any better,” said Johnson, who manages Coconuts On The Beach, a bar and restaurant on the surfing beach in the town of Cocoa Beach.

Officials were making piles of sand available for Cocoa Beach residents to fill sandbags starting on Friday.

Dorian could churn across dozens of launchpads owned by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Air Force and companies such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Miami and Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Andrew Hay, Helen Coster in New York, Alexandra Alper, Joey Roulette and Eric Beech in Washington; writing by Paul Simao; editing by Jane Merriman and Jonathan Oatis)

YOUR MONEY: Renovating after a natural disaster? Planning is key

FILE PHOTO: Damage caused by Hurricane Michael is seen in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester/File Photo

By Beth Pinsker

NEW YORK (Reuters) – For the Parkers of Houston, Texas, there will be no summer vacation this year because they are still paying off the dent in their finances left by 2017’s Hurricane Harvey.

The couple joins a growing list of people forced to renovate or completely rebuild their homes after a natural disaster, as severe weather events wreak damage throughout the country and spending in their wake drags out over multiple years.

Fixing up homes after a natural disaster barely used to register in home renovation data. A new survey released June 5 by the home site Houzz.com shows that 6% of home renovators in 2018 were addressing damage from a natural disaster, which jumps to 12% for such renovations over the past five years.

Regionally, those numbers are continuing to climb, said Nino Sitchinava, Houzz principal economist, particularly for California, Texas and Florida.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University has also been looking into the impact of natural disasters on the home renovation market.

“We’ve been studying home improvement for 25 years and losses from national disasters haven’t been on the radar. Suddenly, we’re seeing this pop up as a significant share,” said Kermit Baker, director of the remodeling future program at the Harvard center.

In 2016-2017, the most recent year reported by the center, spending on disasters repairs exceeded $27 billion in the United States, against $14 billion in 1996-1997.

Preparing for a disaster is drastically different than paying for a planned kitchen makeover.

“You have to prepare, prepare, prepare. Whatever that means, to you – do it,” warned William Begal, an independent consultant based in the Washington, D.C. area who ran a renovation company for 18 years.

PAYING THE PRICE

The Parkers now know all of this first hand. When their house in the Linkwood neighborhood flooded, there were some things they needed to do right away, yet they are still spending two years later.

The presence of water means you have to move fast. They had to rip out carpet and drywall themselves, and then hire a crew out-of-pocket before any insurance adjustor came around.

They also could not live in their house while it was being fixed, so they forked out $3,000 a month for a rental.

Once the insurance kicked in, they received a small sum from an escrow account a few weeks after the flood, and then had to wait for the project to be 50% complete before they got more. They did not get the final payment until the project was done.

“It was key we had stashed away an emergency fund so we were not spiraling downward,” said Angie Parker, 38, who is a personal fitness trainer in the Houston area.

Parker said she spent many hours on the phone with the insurance company, crying sometimes, being aggressive when she had to be.

Luckily, the family had flood insurance, which was a requirement for their mortgage in a flood-prone neighborhood.

Most people, however, do not have flood insurance, and this further delays rebuilding efforts.

Yet, there were still issues. An inadvertently checked box on a form meant the contents of their house were not covered. So they were out more than $100,000 for furniture, clothing and housewares, and lost all their appeals to have those covered.  

Jerry Linebaugh, an investment advisor representative who owns JLine Financial near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, had a similar experience when his office flooded after a rain event in 2018 that was not even a named storm – just heavy rain over three days.

“You have to have a cash reserve, you have to have your insurance in line, you have to do disaster drills,” said Linebaugh, who had planned for the worst ever since Hurricane Katrina hit nearby.

Linebaugh had a system set up to transfer his office lines to cell phones and keep his operations going from hotel rooms and his employees’ homes.

He had six months of operating expenses to float his business. And he needed all it, because he did not have flood insurance.

It was four months before Linebaugh won an appeal with his business insurance policy to cover losses based on an inland marine clause, which worked for him because the damage started with water coming in through a bathroom drain.

“Probably thousands of people didn’t get that claim check because they didn’t know about that,” said Linebaugh.

(Editing by Lauren Young and Bernadette Baum)

Storm Michael expected to hit Florida as a hurricane midweek

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Michael taken Monday. NOAA/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael is on track to hit the Florida Panhandle midweek as a Category 2 hurricane packing 100 miles per hour (160 kmh) or stronger winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early Monday in an advisory.

The tropical storm is expected to swell into a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Monday night or early Tuesday as it rolls into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with winds of 70 mph, as of 5 a.m. eastern time, forecasters said, just shy of being named a hurricane.

A storm is designated a Category 1 hurricane if it reaches speeds of 74 mph (119 km) or more, and a Category 2 hurricane at 96 mph (154 km) or more on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties along the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend on Sunday and has put more than 5,000 National Guard soldiers on alert.

“Our state understands how serious tropical weather is and how devastating any hurricane of tropical storm can be,” Scott said in a statement.

He advised Gulf Coast residents to prepare for possible evacuation orders.

Michael battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with powerful winds and drenching rains on Sunday and into early Monday as it churned in the Caribbean.

The storm moved north on a path between Cozumel in southeastern Mexico and the western tip of Cuba, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, Florida.

Outer bands from Michael are expected produce as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of rain through Tuesday in the Florida Keys, one of several areas in the state devastated by Hurricane Irma last year.

After hitting Florida, the storm is then forecast to move northeast along the Atlantic Coast and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. That hurricane killed at least 50 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The Commodity Weather Group said on Sunday some oil rigs in the gulf area may be evacuated as a precaution, which may slow down operations but was not likely cause much interruption.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More than 45 percent of the nation’s refining capacity is located along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which also is home to 51 percent of total U.S. natural gas processing capability.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Hurricane Lane lashes Hawaii with heavy rain, winds

A chicken hops through floodwaters in Hilo, Hawaii, U.S. August 23, 2018, in this still image from video obtained from social media. Kehau Comilla/via REUTERS

By Jolyn Rosa

HONOLULU (Reuters) – Hurricane Lane, a powerful Category 3 storm, lashed Hawaii on Thursday with high winds and torrential rain, causing flash floods, landslides and raging surf as residents hunkered down to ride out the storm.

The storm spun in the Pacific Ocean about 165 miles (260 km) southwest of Kailua-Kona and nearly 20 inches (51 cm) of rain had fallen on the eastern side of the Big Island of Hawaii, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“There’s lots and lots of rain, torrential rain, with a lot of moisture in the atmosphere,” NWS meteorologist Chevy Chevalier said, noting there were reports of 50 miles per hour (80 km/h) wind gusts. “We’re in it now.”

There were no reports of injuries, but roads were closed because of flash floods and landslides in the Pacific island state. Tourists were advised to stay away from a popular attraction on the island of Maui called the Seven Sacred Pools, a scenic cluster of waterfalls and grottos.

“Life threatening flash floods. This is a very dangerous situation. Avoid unnecessary travel,” Governor David Ige said on Twitter.

Evacuations were underway on parts of Molokai and Maui islands while power outages were being reported on social media.

The latest predictions showed the eye of the storm twisting west of the Big Island on Friday morning before glancing past Maui and several other islands later in the day on its way to Oahu. But authorities warned the islands could still expect to be hit hard.

Lane shifted from heading northwest and was headed north at 6 miles per hour as the Category 3 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale was packing winds of 120 mph (195 kph), the service said in an evening advisory.

“We’re telling everybody to take the storm seriously, make your final preparations, and be prepared to ride out what is going to be a prolonged rain event,” said Andrew Pereira, communications director for the city and county of the state capital Honolulu.

Incoming waves tower over bystanders in Kona, Hawaii, U.S. August 23, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Ryan Leinback/via REUTER

Incoming waves tower over bystanders in Kona, Hawaii, U.S. August 23, 2018, in this still image from video obtained from social media. Ryan Leinback/via REUTERS

REMEMBERING INIKI

The National Hurricane Center warned storm surges could raise water levels 3 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) above normal along the western shores of the Big Island and that extreme rainfall could mean “numerous evacuations and rescues.”

Ige has urged residents to set aside a 14-day supply of water, food, and medicine. All public schools, University of Hawaii campuses and non-essential government offices on the islands of Oahu and Kauai were closed at least through Friday.

“We are in our room at Alohilani Resort waiting for Hurricane Lane to arrive,” said Janina Ballali on Twitter. “Hopefully, the hurricane will have mercy with our beloved Oahu.”

Par Pacific Holdings Inc said it had shut its 93,500 barrel-per-day refinery in Kapolei due to the storm.

In Hanalei on Kauai, rain fell Thursday as residents and businesses prepared for the hurricane while tourists continued to shop and dine in places that were still open.

Dave Stewart, owner of Kayak Hanalei, had boarded up the windows on his shop by mid-afternoon and moved the company’s rental kayaks to high ground.

He said he wasn’t taking any chances, having lived through severe flooding on Kauai’s North Shore in April and through Hurricane Iniki in 1992.

“That was total destruction,” he said of Iniki. “Seven out of 10 telephone poles were down, so even if your house was OK, you couldn’t get out.”

Iniki was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit Hawaii, making landfall on Kauai island on Sept. 11, 1992, as a Category 4. It killed six people and damaged or destroyed more than 14,000 homes.

The shelves of a downtown Honolulu Walmart were stripped of items ranging from canned tuna to dog food, bottled water and coolers full of ice.

Video footage showed whipping palm trees and darkening skies in Maui. In the Manoa Valley neighborhood in Honolulu, sidewalks typically full of joggers and dog walkers were empty as residents stood outside their homes watching the skies and businesses closed early for the day.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for Hawaii and ordered federal authorities to help supplement state and local responses, the White House said on Thursday.

The Coast Guard has ordered all harbors to close to incoming vessels and the U.S. Navy moved most of its fleet out of Pearl Harbor, where ships could provide aid after the storm.

Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has made changes to how it works, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said at a briefing in Washington, making sure generators are in place so they can provide power to residents and quickly restart the water system.

“It’s not just providing food and water. If you fix the power first, you solve 90 percent of the problems,” he said.

(Reporting by Jolyn Rosa; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Doina Chiacu and Lisa Lambert in Washington and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Thousands told to flee ‘out of control’ California wildfire

Smoke from the Cranston Fire is shown from east of Lake Hemet in Riverside County, California, U.S., July 26, 2018. USFS/Handout via REUTERS

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – An “out of control” California wildfire prompted officials on Thursday to order thousands of residents to flee their homes as firefighters struggled to contain the blaze in a mountainous area near the city of Redding.

The Carr Fire, about 150 miles (240 km) north of Sacramento, had blackened about 20,000 acres (8,100 hectares) early Thursday, three times its last-reported size a day ago. Crews contained just 10 percent of it, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

The conflagration is one of about 75 major wildfires burning in the United States in an unusually active fire season that has already scorched about 3.98 million acres, mostly in western states.

That is above the 10-year average for the same period of 3.54 million acres, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

The Carr Fire is currently in a sparsely inhabited area, but Cal Fire spokesman Scott McLean warned in a phone interview that it was heading toward Redding, a city of about 90,000 people.

“If you live in West Redding start packing and be prepared!” the California Highway Patrol said on Twitter. “This fire is out of control!”

The western fires were being supercharged by extreme temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37 Celsius), erratic winds and low humidity, factors that were expected to remain on Thursday.

Further south, the Cranston Fire, believed to have been started by arson, had charred 4,700 acres around 90 miles east of Los Angeles in the San Jacinto Mountains. It was just 5 percent contained, Cal Fire officials said.

That blaze had forced 3,200 people to evacuate in resort communities including Idyllwild, Mountain Center and Lake Hemet as it destroyed five structures and threatened 2,100 homes, the agency said.

A suspect was arrested on Wednesday and accused of starting multiple fires including the Cranston Fire, fire officials said in a statement.

A third major blaze, the almost two-week-old, 43,300-acre Ferguson Fire, forced much of Yosemite National Park to close on Wednesday, as it poured thick smoke into the valley in the Sierra Nevada Mountains some 170 miles east of San Francisco.

A firefighter died and seven others have been hurt combating the blaze, which was 27 percent contained as of Thursday morning.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Tom Brown)