Remnants of Hurricane Laura drench Arkansas as storm heads east

(Reuters) – The remnants of Hurricane Laura were dousing Arkansas on Friday morning and due to bring rain to the East Coast over the weekend.

Now a tropical depression, Laura had proved less damaging than feared, despite arriving in Louisiana this week as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the United States.

The storm killed at least six people in Louisiana, including four who were killed when trees fell into homes, damaged buildings in Louisiana and Texas and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to head to the Gulf Coast over the weekend to survey the damage.

The storm was forecast to drop heavy rain over Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky as it headed out to the East Coast, the National Weather Service said.

At its peak upon making landfall on Thursday morning, Laura had maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 km per hour), faster than even Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005 after arriving with wind speeds of 125 mph.

What would have been a dangerous 20-foot (6-m) storm surge that forecasters had predicted could move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Hurricane Laura slams southwestern Louisiana, but less damage than forecast

By Elijah Nouvelage and Ernest Scheyder

LAKE CHARLES, La. (Reuters) – Hurricane Laura ripped through southwestern Louisiana on Thursday, destroying buildings in towns across the southwestern corner of the state and killing a 14-year-old girl after making landfall as one of the most powerful storms to hit the area.

Still, the damage Laura has inflicted so far is far less than what forecasters predicted.

The hurricane’s first reported U.S. fatality was the teenage girl in Leesville, Louisiana, who died when a tree fell on her house, a spokeswoman for Governor John Bel Edwards said.

“We do expect that there could be more fatalities,” the spokeswoman, Christina Stephens, said on Twitter.

A chemical plant caught fire in Laura’s wake on Thursday morning in Westlake, Louisiana, 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Lake Charles, sending thick black smoke billowing into the sky over the wind-torn landscape near Interstate 10.

Edwards warned residents in the area to shelter in place, close doors and windows and turn off air conditioners as authorities investigated. Traffic was blocked on the interstate and Highway 90.

“Stay inside and wait for additional direction from local officials,” Edwards wrote on Twitter.

CLEANUP BEGINS

Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds howling and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour) and gusts up to 128 mph (206 kph) in the hour after landfall.

National Guard troops cleared debris from roads in Lake Charles on Thursday afternoon. There were downed power lines in streets around the city, and the winds tipped a few semi-trucks onto their sides.

The windows of the city’s 22-floor Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the flooded streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxiously anticipating his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he said in a telephone interview.

In the small town of Starks, about 25 miles northwest of Lake Charles, pine trees strewn across roads and homes were the biggest challenge in cleaning up.

Rev. Karl Smith carefully inspected the damage done to buildings around his First Pentecostal Church. He rode out the storm in the cellar of his house – and had to cut through trees so that he and his wife could get out.

“We just had trees thrown everywhere,” Smith said. “It’s a big mess.”

HIGH WATERS, TORNADO THREATS

Laura made landfall just before 1 a.m. (0600 GMT) as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It rapidly weakened to a Category 1 storm on Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), and has since become a tropical storm.

The NHC warned that high water levels would persist along the Gulf Coast for several hours as Laura moved north and then northeast.

Besides threatening life, the storm slammed the heart of the U.S. oil industry, forcing oil rigs and refineries to shut down production.

The Port of Lake Charles remained closed as workers were unable to enter or exit the facility due to downed power lines and trees.

The port avoided significant flooding but power was out as of Thursday morning, manager of security and safety Ed Manint said. The harbor police were assessing the damage, he said.

‘LESS SURGE THAN WE THOUGHT’

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Pete Gaynor told Fox News that the agency would make storm damage assessments on Thursday and had the resources to respond to the storm now, adding he expected to see significant damage from wind and building damage.

“I think we’re generally fortunate – less surge than we thought,” Gaynor said.

The NHC on Wednesday predicted storm surge would be “unsurvivable” and could penetrate up to 40 miles inland. While the worst projections had not materialized, damaging winds and flooding rainfall would continue spreading inland later on Thursday, the NHC said.

Laura could spawn tornadoes on Thursday over Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi, and was expected to drop 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) of rain across portions of that region, the NHC said.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Lake Charles, La., Ernest Scheyder in Starks, La., Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver, Timothy Ahmann, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Tex.; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis)

Hurricane Isaias heads toward Florida with 75-mph winds – Hurricane Center

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Heavy rains from Hurricane Isaias could hit Florida late Friday night before the powerful storm moves up the East Coast into early next week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned, prompting the closure of COVID-19 testing sites.

The hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 miles (120.7 km) per hour, is currently lashing the southeastern part of the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the Miami-based forecaster posted on its Twitter feed on Friday.

“Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect south and east-Central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas” the NHC said on its website.

Miami-Dade County officials closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for COVID-19. Public beaches, parks, marinas, and golf courses were also set to close on Friday as Isaias strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane and forecasters predicted it would reach Category 2.

Broward County Mayor Dale V.C. Holness had on Thursday also announced testing sites would close, with plans to reopen on Wednesday morning.

As of Friday morning the storm was predicted to most impact Florida’s central, eastern region before moving north.

At full capacity Florida had 162 test sites in all but two of the state’s 67 counties. Some counties will continue testing through their individual health departments.

“We have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again,” Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said in a virtual news conference on Friday morning.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jonathan Oatis)

Hanna pummels Texas coast with strong winds, heavy rain

By Adrees Latif

PORT MANSFIELD, Texas (Reuters) – Hanna, the first hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic season, left a trail of destruction along the Texas coast on Sunday, downing power lines, flooding streets and toppling 18-wheeler trucks as torrential rains threatened the area.

Hanna came ashore on Padre Island on Saturday afternoon as a Category 1 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity and later made a second landfall in Kenedy County, Texas. It swept through a part of the state hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. By Sunday, it had weakened to a tropical depression.

Powerful winds from Hanna knocked over at least three 18-wheeler trucks and a recreational vehicle, with tow trucks trying to right the toppled vehicles on Sunday, shutting down a 2-mile (3.2-km) stretch of U.S. Route 77 in Sarita, Texas, near the Mexican border.

In Port Mansfield, 150 miles (240 km) south of Padre Island, winds flattened sugarcane fields and leveled trees. Deer roamed the streets, stopping to nibble downed branches in the yards of homes, some that lost their roofs.

Heavy downpours of more than a foot (30 cm) of rain flooded roadways and swelled streams and rivers across south Texas, the National Weather Service said.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“You could hear the wind blowing and the rain blowing and you looked outside you could see sheets of water blowing down the street,” said Sharon Pecce, 75, a resident of Port Mansfield, whose roof was ripped off her house on Saturday night.

“It’s scary to go through this at my age, a lot could have happened … we could have been killed,” added Pecce, who was at a friend’s home with her 70-year-old husband when the damage occurred. “We are lucky we weren’t there.”

Roderick Kise, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in the Rio Grande Valley, told the Caller Times newspaper in Corpus Christi that his agency was looking into a report that winds toppled a newly constructed portion of the border wall built between the United States and Mexico.

At one point, more than 283,000 homes and businesses were without electricity. But that figure fell to 98,000 by Sunday night, according to poweroutage.us.

The storm was not expected to affect offshore oil-and-gas production. Energy companies have not evacuated workers or shut down production from their Gulf of Mexico platforms because of Hanna.

Some residents took advantage of the wild weather, with Alejandero Carcano, 16, and Jesse Garewal, 18, both of Galveston, surfing the high swells whipped up by Hanna.

Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on Sunday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the storm a federal emergency and would help fund evacuation and shelter efforts.

“I continue to urge Texans to heed the guidance from their local leaders and follow best practices to keep themselves and their loved ones safe as severe weather continues to move through our communities,” he said.

The Texas area struck by Hanna has struggled to contain outbreaks of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Cases along the state’s coast have soared into the tens of thousands.

More than 440 people in the Corpus Christi area were hospitalized with the illness, according to the state health department.

STILL A THREAT

Weakening as it headed west over land, Hanna’s center on Sunday was about 35 miles (55 km) from Monterrey, Mexico, as it moved 9 miles per hour (15 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin posted at 4 p.m. (2100 GMT).

The storm’s top sustained winds were around 35 mph (56 kph), the center said.

The storm was forecast to lose more steam as it moved across Texas and northeastern Mexico. On Sunday, weather watch officials canceled a storm surge warning they had issued for the Texas coast.

Hanna still posed a threat, forecasters said, noting it could dump upward of 18 inches (45 cm) of rain in isolated areas of southern Texas through Monday.

“This rain will produce life-threatening flash flooding, rapid rises on small streams, and isolated minor-to-moderate river flooding,” the NHC said.

In the Pacific, Hurricane Douglas was churning near Hawaii on Sunday, with torrential rains and damaging winds.

(Reporting by Adrees Latif; Additional reporting by Raissa Kasolowsky, Barbara Goldberg and Brendan O’Brien; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)

Heavy rains bring both relief and new dangers to bushfire-hit Australia

By Sonali Paul and Jonathan Barrett

MELBOURNE/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A four-day downpour across Australia’s east coast has brought relief after months of devastating bushfires and years of drought, but also widespread storm damage and forecasts of more wild weather to come.

The weekend drenching represented the biggest sustained run of rainfall in Sydney and surrounding areas for 30 years, dousing some bushfires and replenishing depleted dams across New South Wales, the country’s most populous state.

Some rural areas received more rain in recent days than they had in the entirety of the past year – a startling and swift turnaround from the bushfires that have killed 33 people and ravaged large parts of the east coast.

“It’s amazing what the smell of the rain can do to people’s spirits,” Ben Shields, the mayor of the inland city of Dubbo, told Reuters on the phone.

Like many other rural towns, Dubbo has been beset by duststorms and subjected to water restrictions on the back of a three-year drought.

James Jackson, a sheep and cattle farmer in the drought-hit Guyra district some 500 kilometers (311 miles) north of Sydney, told Reuters the region was starting to turn green again.

“This one event won’t replenish the whole soil moisture profile. We’ll need a couple of these, but this is certainly a good start for those people who got it,” said Jackson, who is also the president of industry body NSW Farmers.

“I have two-year-old sheep who are seeing green grass for the first time.”

Bushfire warning signs were almost swamped by floods in several areas as the weekend rainfall cut power to tens of thousands of homes, caused travel chaos in Sydney and closed scores of schools for the start of the week.

Almost 400 millimeters (15.8 inches) of rain fell in the Sydney area and surrounding areas. The Warragamba Dam, which supplies about four-fifths of Sydney’s water, jumped from about 40% to above 60% full in just over a week, the state’s water authority said, shoring up water supplies for the city of 5 million.

The NSW Rural Fire Service’s Sydney headquarters has been reconfigured to respond to floods and storm damage because of the rapid shift in the weather threat.

WILDFIRES EXTINGUISHED

Parts of northern and inland NSW, along with southern Queensland, have been in drought since 2016, severely reducing river and dam levels while also creating the tinder-dry conditions that have fueled this season’s deadly bushfires.

The weekend rain extinguished some of the worst bushfires in NSW, including the Gospers Mountain ‘megafire’ in the Blue Mountains and the Currawon blaze on the south coast. Each burned for months, together razing more than 1 million hectares (2.5 million acres) of bushland and destroying hundreds of homes.

In contrast, flood evacuation warnings have now been ordered for parts of the Conjola region, authorities said, where deadly fires razed dozens of homes on New Year’s Eve. Thunderstorms are forecast for NSW and neighboring Victoria state in coming days.

The rain has put some much-needed moisture into parched land months out from the all-important wheat-planting season which is crucial to the fortunes of Australia’s biggest crop.

Phin Ziebell, agribusiness economist at National Australia Bank, said the rain would also encourage farmers in the north-east state of Queensland to rebuild their stock numbers now they had water and feed.

“Some of the driest parts of Queensland have received a drenching, which will help pasture growth,” Ziebell said.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Jonathan Barrett in Sydney; additional reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Peter Cooney and Jane Wardell)

African locust invasion deepens hunger crisis for Horn of Africa

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Climate change may be powering the swarms of desert locusts that have invaded eastern Africa, ravaging crops, decimating pasture and deepening a hunger crisis, locust and climate experts said.

Hundreds of millions of the insects have swept over the Horn of Africa in the worst outbreak in a quarter of a century, says the United Nations.

By June, the fast-breeding locusts – already devouring huge swathes of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia – could grow by 500 times and move into Uganda and South Sudan.

The hungry swarms threaten to exacerbate food insecurity in a region where up to 25 million people are reeling from three consecutive years of droughts and floods, say aid agencies.

Keith Cressman, senior locust forecasting officer at the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), said the swarms formed after cyclones dumped vast amounts of rain in the deserts of Oman – creating perfect breeding conditions.

“We know that cyclones are the originators of swarms – and in the past 10 years, there’s been an increase in the frequency of cyclones in the Indian Ocean,” said Cressman, adding that there were two cyclones in 2018 and eight in 2019.

“Normally there’s none, or maybe one. So this is very unusual. It’s difficult to attribute to climate change directly, but if this trend of increased frequency of cyclones in Indian Ocean continues, then certainly that’s going to translate to an increase in locust swarms in the Horn of Africa.”

The infestation from the Arabian peninsula has also hit countries such as India and Pakistan, with concern growing about new swarms forming in Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

Climate scientist Roxy Koll Mathew from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune said increased cyclones were caused by warmer seas, partly attributable to climate change.

“The West Indian Ocean, including the Arabian Sea, was warmer than usual during the last two seasons,” said Mathew.

“This is largely due to a phenomenon called Indian Ocean Dipole, and also due to the rising ocean temperatures associated with global warming.”

The swarms – one reportedly measuring 40 km by 60 km – have already devoured tens of thousands of hectares of crops, such as maize, sorghum and teff, and ravaged pasture for livestock.

If not contained, the potential for destruction is enormous – a locust swarm of a square kilometre is able to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people, says the FAO.

Authorities are responding with aerial spraying of pesticides, but experts say the scale of the infestation is beyond local capacity as desert locusts can travel up to 150 km in a day and multiply at terrifying speeds.

The U.N. has appealed to international donors for $70 million in emergency aid to tackle the infestation and help communities to recover after losing crops and cattle.

Aid workers said increasingly erratic weather in east Africa – which saw a prolonged drought followed by heavy rains in late 2019 – was aggravating the infestation.

“This outbreak was clearly worsened by unusually heavy rains in the region and there is an interaction with the unusual cyclonic activity,” said Francesco Rigamonti, Oxfam’s regional humanitarian coordinator.

“It’s difficult to say that it is due to climate change – but there is an interaction between the two. What we do know is that we are having a lot of extreme events like droughts, floods and now locusts in the region, so we need to be prepared.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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)