Frozen harvest leaves bitter taste for U.S. sugar beet farmers

By Rod Nickel

HALLOCK, Minn. (Reuters) – Weather during harvest season in the U.S. Red River Valley, a fertile sugar beet region in Minnesota and North Dakota, has to farmers felt like a series of plagues.

Rain and snow pelted crops in September and October. That was followed by a blizzard, and then warm temperatures that left fields a boggy mess. Next came a deep freeze, ruining the underground sugar beet crop, and dealing a harsh blow to farm incomes.

“I can take a couple of perils from Mother Nature and after that I’m on my knees,” said Dan Younggren, 59, who was unable to harvest 500 acres (200 hectares) of sugar beets, or 40% of his plantings near Hallock, Minnesota. “We’ve never had a situation like this.”

Extreme weather has hampered planting and harvesting of corn, soybeans, and other crops throughout 2019 across the United States and Canadian farm belts.

But in Minnesota and North Dakota, which accounted for 56% of the U.S. sugar beet acres this year, the freeze is a double whammy.

Sugar beet growers’ contracts with processors, which operate as farmer-owned cooperatives, require those who leave unharvested acres to pay a fee to the cooperative so it can pay its bills in leaner years.

Younggren’s five-generation farm must pay American Crystal Sugar a fixed cost of $343 for every unharvested acre, totaling roughly $171,500 to be docked from payments for beets he did harvest.

On Monday, the U.S. government authorized the import of an additional 100,000 short tons of Mexican refined sugar due to the harvest issues. The United States is the world’s third-largest sugar importer after Indonesia and China, buying 2.8 million tonnes in 2018-19, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Producers Western Sugar Cooperative and United Sugars Corp issued force majeure notices this month. Other processors also face a difficult winter.

At American Crystal Sugar’s factory in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, farmer David Thompson circled the yard in his pickup, surveying snow-covered mounds of sugar beets.

“Normally this time of year you would see piles everywhere,” said Thompson, who left 170 acres unharvested. “This is heart-wrenching for me to see the yards this empty.”

American Crystal, the largest U.S. sugar beet processor, did not respond to requests for comment.

Cargill Inc, one of the largest U.S. refined sugar suppliers, has adequate supply of cane sugar for its Louisiana refinery, but may import more sugar if customers need it due to the poor beet harvest, said Chad Cliff, the company’s global sugar product line lead.

Crop insurance will compensate farmers for some of their yield loss, but there is no program that will allow them to recoup the fixed cost fees, said Thompson.

It is too soon to know the extent of crop damage, said Luther Markwart, executive vice-president of Washington-based American Sugarbeet Growers Association. Farmers could potentially seek assistance under the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program, which farmers have not used before for field crops damaged by rain and cold, he said.

In towns across the Red River Valley, the sugar farm disaster has left few people untouched.

“It’s going to affect everyone from the grocery store to the restaurant to the liquor store,” said Chip Olson, the part-time mayor of Drayton, North Dakota, population 760.

Many of the town’s residents work in its Crystal Sugar plant, and usually have seasonal jobs until late spring. This year the work will likely run out months earlier, Olson said.

The combination of rains, thaws and the freeze made the beets unusable. Wade Hanson, who grows sugar beets with his family near Crookston, Minnesota, was unable to harvest half of the farm’s plantings, or 500 acres, this year.

“My dad always told me, ‘we always get the beet crop off.’ This year it didn’t happen and that was pretty shocking.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Hallock, Minnesota; Editing by David Gaffen and Marguerita Choy)

Death toll from Kenya landslides rises to 56 as heavy rains lash country’s north west

People walk in the mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

 

MOMBASA (Reuters) – The death toll from landslides in northwestern Kenya triggered on Saturday by unusually heavy rains has risen to at least 56 people, a local official said.

The downpour began on Friday in West Pokot County, which borders Uganda, and worsened overnight, causing flooding and mudslides that swept away four bridges and left villages inaccessible by road.

Samuel Poghisio, a senator from the county, told Reuters by phone on Sunday that 56 people were confirmed dead and an unknown number were missing. By Saturday afternoon, local officials had reported 36 dead.

“Rescue operations are frustrated by more rain and fog,” Poghisio wrote in a text message, adding that police helicopters were struggling to reach the flooded areas.

Kenya’s president on Saturday deployed rescue personnel from agencies including the army and the police to try and prevent the “further loss of lives”.

Houses are seen covered by mud after heavy rains caused landslides in the village of Parua, West Pokot County, Kenya November 23, 2019. REUTERS/Moses Lokeris

Researchers have warned that warming oceans are causing unpredictable weather patterns in East Africa.

Heavy rains and floods have killed more than 50 people and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes in the region since October, aid groups said earlier this month.

Kenya is experiencing a heavier than usual rainy season, the Kenya Meteorological Department said in early November.

(Reporting by Joseph Akwiri; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

Torrential Imelda rains kill 2, flood homes, snarl travel around Houston

A car passes through a flooded street as storm Imelda hits Houston, Texas, U.S., September 19, 2019 in this screen grab obtained from social media video. @kingjames.daniel/via REUTERS

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Imelda dumped torrential rains over the Houston-area, killing at least two people, while rescuers in boats pulled hundreds from flooded cars, the airport temporarily halted flights and tens of thousands of people lost power.

Heavy rains had abated by Thursday evening, although flash flood watches remained in effect through Friday morning and rescuers were still working to reach stranded motorists and those trapped in homes late into the night as floodwaters were slow to drain off.

The National Hurricane Center said in a late Thursday bulletin that up to 45 inches of rain will have fallen in some areas by the time the storm blows off on Friday afternoon.

Ed Gonzalez, sheriff for Harris County, which includes Houston, confirmed the second death from the storm.

He tweeted on Thursday that he was at the scene where first-responders tried to save a man who had driven his white van headlong into deep waters.

“The water level was about 8′ (8 feet) high,” Gonzalez wrote, describing the incident. “The driver paused briefly, then accelerated into it the water, causing his van to go under.”

Gonzalez said the man driving the van was pulled from the vehicle after some 20 minutes underwater and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

The other victim of the storm was electrocuted southeast of Houston while trying to move his horse to safety, according to a statement on the Facebook page of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. No other details were provided.

George Bush Intercontinental Airport halted all flights for about two hours, and Governor Greg Abbott declared a state of disaster covering more than a dozen counties.

Hundreds of motorists were stranded in their vehicles as some of Houston’s main roadways flooded, submerging cars. Firefighters, police and ordinary citizens were out in boats and all-terrain vehicles to pick up people trapped in their homes by the rising waters.

The storm knocked out power to around 100,000 people in Houston and southeast Texas, according to reports from energy companies, while work at oil refineries in the area was slowed or halted.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said the city was better prepared to rescue stranded residents and deal with flooding than when Hurricane Harvey hit in 2017, leading to dozens of deaths in Houston and billions of dollars in damage.

The small town of Winnie, about 60 miles (100 km) east of Houston, was also badly hit. Officials there evacuated Riceland Hospital and tried to rescue people marooned in their vehicles after roads turned into lakes.

Parts of Interstate 10, a major east-west highway, were closed near Winnie.

Imelda made landfall as a tropical storm near Freeport, Texas, on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams in Houston, Jonathan Allen in New York, Brad Brooks in Austin, Texas, and Liz Hampton in Denver; Editing by Scott Malone, David Gregorio and Tom Hogue)

Strengthening Hurricane Dorian takes aim at Bahamas and Florida

Hurricane Dorian is shown in this photo taken by NASA's Terra satellite MODIS instrument as it nears St. Thomas and the U.S. Virgin Islands as it continues its track toward Florida's east coast August 28, 2019. NASA Worldview, Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS)/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Hurricane Dorian took aim at the Bahamas and the Florida coast on Thursday, spurred on by warm Atlantic waters as it threatens to strengthen into a dangerous Category 3 storm.

Dorian earlier sideswiped the Caribbean without doing major damage but is expected to strengthen and slam the Bahamas and the southeastern United States with rain, strong winds and life-threatening surf over the next few days, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

U.S. President Donald Trump urged Floridians to heed official warnings. Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Wednesday and asked residents along the state’s east coast to stock up with at least seven days worth of supplies such as food and water.

“Hurricane Dorian looks like it will be hitting Florida late Sunday night,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Be prepared and please follow State and Federal instructions, it will be a very big Hurricane, perhaps one of the biggest!”

The U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday said that all pleasure boats at the Port of Key West should seek safe harbor before the Labor Day weekend begins and ocean-going vessels should make plans to leave the port ahead of the storm.

Dorian, currently a Category 1 storm, is expected to grow into a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, with winds greater than 111 mph (178 km/h) by the time it makes landfall, most likely on Florida’s eastern coast on Monday, before lingering over central Florida on Tuesday, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said.

Early on Thursday, the hurricane center said Dorian was packing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour) some 150 miles (240 km) north-northwest of San Juan, and about 425 miles (685 km) east-southeast of the southeastern Bahamas.

“On this track, Dorian should move over the Atlantic well east of the southeastern and central Bahamas today and on Friday,” forecasters said, “and approach the northwestern Bahamas on Saturday.”

Dorian is expected to become a major hurricane by Friday afternoon and continue to gain strength until it makes landfall.

Trump issued an emergency declaration on Wednesday night for the U.S. Virgin Islands, ordering federal assistance with disaster relief for the U.S. territory. On Tuesday, he made a similar declaration for Puerto Rico, and also renewed a feud with island officials over how disaster relief funds from previous hurricanes.

Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017 that killed about 3,000 people soon after the island filed for bankruptcy. On Wednesday, it escaped fresh disaster as Dorian avoided the territory and headed northwest toward Florida.

Preparations were mounting in the Bahamas, which could be hard hit.

Jeffrey Simmons, the country’s acting director of the Department of Meteorology, said severe weather could strike the southeast Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Friday.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez, Alex Dobuzinskis, Rebekah F Ward, Lisa Lambert and David Alexander; Editing by Will Dunham)

Millions stranded in India as early monsoon downpours bring flood havoc

A woman displaced by the recent flood sleeps inside a classroom of Shree Sarsawati Higher Secondary School at Bhalohiya village in Rautahat, Nepal, July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Riwaj Rai

By Zarir Hussain

GUWAHATI, INDIA (Reuters) – Millions of people are stranded by flooding in northeast India with concern growing about food and water supplies even though the impact of heavy, early monsoon rain appeared to be easing, the government said on Wednesday.

More than 4.7 million people have been displaced in the tea-growing state of Assam, with many thousands making do with only the most meagre food supplies and dirty water.

“We’ve just been surviving on boiled rice for almost seven days now,” said Anamika Das, a mother at Amtola relief camp in Assam’s Lakhimpur district.

She said she was having difficulty breastfeeding her baby boy.

A man uses a makeshift raft to move his paddy to a safer place in a flooded area in Morigaon district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

A man uses a makeshift raft to move his paddy to a safer place in a flooded area in Morigaon district in the northeastern state of Assam, India, July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika

Assam has been the worst-affected part of India. Floods have also hit neighboring Nepal and Bangladesh.

At least 153 people have been killed in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Parts of Pakistan have also seen flooding.

Subhas Bania, also sheltering at Amtola, said authorities had made no provision for the supply of drinking water.

“We’ve been forced to drink muddy water,” he said.

The rains in north India usually last from early June to October, with the worst of the flooding usually later in the season.

Assam is frequently swamped by floods when the Brahmaputra river, which flows down from the Himalayas through northeast India and Bangladesh, sweeps over its banks.

Water levels on the river and its major tributaries were beginning to fall, although they were still above the danger mark, the government said.

“We’re trying our best to reach out to the affected people in whatever way possible but yes, the situation is indeed very bad,” said Assam’s Social Welfare Minister Pramila Rani Brahma.

The government has yet to assess the impact of the floods that have battered thousands of settlements.

Bhabani Das, a village elder in Golaghat district, who has been living under a plastic sheet for four days, said the flood had swept away her home.

“Where do we go from here?”

In the state of Bihar, which has also been hit by severe flooding, beginning last week, officials said that floodwaters were beginning to recede after killing 33 people.

“Things are gradually becoming normal, people are returning home,” Bihar’s Disaster Management Minister Lakshmeshwar Roy said.

Water levels in four rivers in Bangladesh, including the Brahmaputra, were above the danger mark, with some northern parts of the low-lying country flooded.

Road and railway links between the capital city of Dhaka and at least 16 northern and northwest districts had been severed, officials said.

(Reporting Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI, Jatindra Dash in BHUBANESWAR, Serajul Quadir in DHAKA; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Robert Birsel)

Atop Manhattan skyscraper, investigators probe deadly helicopter crash

FILE PHOTO: A view of 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter was reported to have crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) were sifting through the wreckage of a helicopter atop a Manhattan skyscraper on Tuesday as they sought to determine why the aircraft crashed on the roof a day earlier, killing the pilot.

Tim McCormack, the pilot, was the only person aboard when he crashed onto the roof of 787 Seventh Avenue with enough force to jolt workers at the finance and law firms inside the 50-floor tower in midtown Manhattan.

Emergency vehicles are seen outside 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Emergency vehicles are seen outside 787 7th Avenue in midtown Manhattan where a helicopter crashed in New York City, New York, U.S., June 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Police and other officials believe it was an accident, but have yet to say why McCormack was flying over one of the country’s densest urban districts through rain and low clouds on Monday afternoon.

The crash stirred memories of the Sept. 11 attacks and sparked renewed calls for tightening restrictions for New York City’s airspace. U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney, who represents parts of Manhattan, said she wanted all “nonessential” flights banned.

McCormack was an experienced pilot who had taken off from a heliport on Manhattan’s east side to head to Linden Airport in New Jersey, according to Paul Dudley, the airport’s director.

He would have needed clearance from the air traffic control tower at New York City’s LaGuardia Airport to fly over that part of Manhattan, but it was unclear if that happened, Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on Monday.

The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, the state agency that manages the airport, did not respond to questions about the incident on Tuesday.

The Federal Aviation Administration said on Monday that controllers “did not handle” the flight, but it remained unclear whether there was any communication at all between the helicopter and air traffic authorities.

A spokesman for the NTSB, a federal agency that determines the causes of major transportation accidents, did not respond to questions on Tuesday about the status of the investigation.

The crash site is less than a half mile (0.8 km) from Trump Tower, where U.S. President Donald Trump maintains an apartment. The area has been under extra-tight flight restrictions since Trump’s election in 2016.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

‘I need a blanket’: Lebanon winter storm batters refugee tents

Syrian refugee children stand near tents at a makeshift camp at the Lebanese border town of Arsal, Lebanon January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Zeina Alhoujeyri

BEIRUT (Reuters) – At a makeshift camp in the Lebanese town of Arsal, refugees are burning their clothes trying to ward off the harsh cold as storms flood their tents.

“We have no fuel at all. People are tearing up clothes, burning plastic, whatever they can find to get warm,” Abdallah Mokdeh said in the border town.

“This is the worst we’ve seen in years.”

Since 2011, more than a million Syrians have fled the war at home to Lebanon, where aid agencies say most live in severe poverty. Tens of thousands are in Arsal near the hills at the border with Syria.

“The roads are blocked. We called an ambulance and it did not come,” said Mokdeh, a refugee who acts as a caretaker for the rows of tents pitched closely together on a patch of earth.

Floods ruined mattresses and destroyed tents, forcing some people to move in with their neighbors. Many were sick or elderly. Some tents already housed three families, he said.

“The snow, the cold have no mercy.”

Mahmoud Hakouk, a 60-year-old Syrian man at the same site, has struggled to stay dry. “I need a blanket,” he said, shivering. “I swear to God I don’t have enough to buy bread.”

The U.N. refugee agency said high winds, rain and snow had “heavily impacted” more than 150 informal settlements, including some that were fully flooded or collapsed. A child was reported missing, it said on Wednesday.

The heavy storm inundated hundreds of tented settlements across Lebanon and left youngsters stranded in freezing temperatures, the charity “Save the Children” said.

“It’s miserable here, we have tents that collapsed because of the intense wind,” said Radwan Raad, standing in the snow at another ramshackle camp in Arsal.

Many of the camp’s residents did not receive U.N. aid and could not afford food every day, he added.

Helem Amer, 85, wrapped herself in a blanket in her flimsy shelter at that camp. “I can’t get up on my own, there’s no fuel, nothing, nobody to help.”

(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Alison Williams)

Close to 1,000 still missing after deadliest California wildfire

Laura Martin mourns her father, TK Huff, during a vigil for the lives and community lost to the Camp Fire at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, California, November 18, 2018. Noah Berger/Pool via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

(Reuters) – Emergency services on Sunday sifted through the charred wreckage of California’s deadliest ever wildfire, searching for signs of nearly 1,000 people believed still missing as crews made progress in bringing the blaze under control.

The remains of 77 people have been recovered, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said late on Sunday, as it cut the number of missing to 993 from 1,276. It gave no other details.

The Camp Fire broke out in Northern California on Nov. 8 and last week all but obliterated Paradise, a mountain town of nearly 27,000 people around 90 miles (145 km) north of state capital Sacramento.

Officials said it had consumed about 150,000 acres and was 65 percent contained late on Sunday, up from 60 percent earlier in the day, as prospects of a heavy rainstorm from late Tuesday onwards raised hopes that percentage will rise as the week progresses.

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

They said full containment was not expected until Nov. 30, however.

Up to four inches (10 cm) of rain are forecast to fall north of San Francisco between late Tuesday and Friday, said Patrick Burke, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

“This weather system is locked in,” he said.

The rain would also make it harder for forensic teams sifting through ash and dirt looking for the bones of the dead. “The rain will easily disturb the soil where remains might be found,” Burke said.

Pathologists from the University of Nevada, Reno, worked through the weekend as firefighters peeled back debris, collecting bits of burned bones and photographing everything that might help identify the victims.

The storm, which is expected to carry moderate winds of 15-20 mph could also cause problems for evacuees, hundreds of whom are sheltering in tents and cars.

It isn’t clear how many people are in need of shelter but as many as 52,000 people had been ordered to evacuate

“While it isn’t an exceptionally strong storm, the recent burns make mudslides on hills and slopes a real danger,” Burke said.

South of Sacramento near Malibu, at least two inches of rain are expected to fall on a second fire, the Woolsey. Known to have killed three people, it was 88 percent contained on Sunday and full containment was expected on Thanksgiving Thursday.

The cause of both fires is under investigation, but electric utilities reported localized equipment problems around the time they broke out.

PG&E Corp has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by John Stonestreet)

Philippines evacuates coastal areas ahead of typhoon Yutu

A general view of the damage after Super Typhoon Yutu hit Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, U.S., October 25, 2018 in this picture taken through a cracked vehicle window, obtained from social media. Brad Ruszala via REUTERS

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines raised storm warning levels on Monday and began evacuating some coastal communities in the path of a typhoon that threatened storm surges, landslides and floods triggered by heavy winds and rain.

Typhoon Yutu, which caused havoc last week with a direct hit on the U.S. Northern Mariana islands, was set to make landfall on Tuesday morning and move across the main island of Luzon before leaving the Philippines 24 hours later, the state weather agency PAGASA said.

By mid-morning on Monday, Yutu was about 400 km (249 miles)east of the mainland and had weakened to sustained wind speeds of 150 km per hour (93 mph), with gusts of 185 kph, from 170 kph recorded a few hours earlier.

That was less intense than four days ago, when as a super typhoon with wind speeds of over 270 kph barreled through the Marianas, a U.S. Western Pacific archipelago of 52,000 people, tearing off roofs, overturning vehicles and cutting off power and water.

Authorities in Isabela and Cagayan provinces started moving residents in coastal towns to evacuation centers while the mountainous Cordillera region was put on red alert for landslides.

Three provinces in north Luzon were elevated to warning signal 3 on the severity scale of 5, and 28 more put on the earliest warnings of 1 and 2, with strong winds and rains expected later on Monday.

Known locally as Rosita, the typhoon will be the 18th to hit the Philippines this year and comes six weeks after super typhoon Mangkhut tore across Luzon, triggering landslides that killed dozens of people and damaged about $180 million of crops.

School classes were suspended in at least five provinces and fishermen in Luzon and the eastern seaboard advised not to go to sea, with warnings of storm surges of up to three metres in six provinces.

All boat services in the port city of Batangas, about 83 km (52 miles) south of Manila, were suspended on Monday.

About half of the Philippines’ 105 million population live in the Luzon region. The country is hit by an average 20 typhoons each year.

(Reporting by Martin Petty and Karen Lema; editing by Darren Schuettler)

U.S. southeast braces for ‘days and days’ of floods from Florence

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – The powerful Hurricane Florence threatened to bring “days and days” of rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. southeast coast, North Carolina’s governor warned on Tuesday, as some 1 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The storm threatened to hit coastal North and South Carolina with 130 mile per hour (210 kph) winds and massive waves when it makes landfall on Friday, and its rains will take a heavy toll for miles inland, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane … the forecast shows Florence stalling over North Carolina, bringing days and days of rain.”

Cooper and his counterparts in neighboring South Carolina and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands that protect North Carolina’s shore. Officials in South Carolina reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so that all major roads led away from the sea to speed evacuations.

The slow-moving storm, the most severe hurricane to threaten the U.S. mainland this year, was rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and located about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the NHC.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. Officials have declared states of emergency in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, forecasters said.

GRAPHIC: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v

‘PLANNING FOR DEVASTATION’

“This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We are planning for devastation.”

Not everyone was in a hurry to leave. Charles Mullen, 81, a longtime resident of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, said he had ridden out many storms and that most locals were planning to stay unless Florence took aim at Hatteras.

“If it decides to come here, we’re gone,” he said.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stripping grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. Some gas stations also ran low on fuel.

“This is still a very dangerous storm,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a Tuesday news conference. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”

McMaster lifted an earlier evacuation order for parts of three southern coastal counties but left them in effect for the state’s northern coast and urged residents to flee.

Wall Street was sniffing out companies that could gain or lose at the storm’s hands. Generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 2.2 percent and reached its highest price since April 2014.

Insurers Allstate Corp and Travelers Companies Inc were up slightly in early trade after falling sharply on Monday on worries about claims losses.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah said all nuclear power plants in the area were preparing but that Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick and Harris plants in North Carolina were most likely to be affected and, if Florence turns north, Dominion Energy Inc’s Surry plant in Virginia.

Plants in the storm’s path are shut down about 12 hours in advance of being hit.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alden Bentley in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone)