Rain grounds Mozambique aid flights as cyclone death toll hits 38

Residents wade through a flooded road in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Pemba, Mozambique, April 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

By Mike Hutchings

PEMBA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Rains grounded aid flights in northern Mozambique for a second day on Monday, hampering efforts to reach survivors of Cyclone Kenneth as the death toll there jumped to 38.

Rescuers managed to use a brief break in the downpours to send one helicopter packed with aid to the island of Ibo, where hundreds of homes were flattened by the second cyclone to hit the country in less than six weeks.

But rains started again and conditions were too dangerous for the next flight to take off, the United Nations said. Roads to rural districts further north were swamped and impassable after torrential rains on Sunday.

Aid workers load food onto a truck as flooding spreads in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Pemba, Mozambique, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

Aid workers load food onto a truck as flooding spreads in the aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth in Pemba, Mozambique, April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

“Unfortunately the weather conditions are changing too fast and threatening the operation,” said Saviano Abreu, a spokesman for the United Nations’ humanitarian arm OCHA.

Cyclone Kenneth slammed into the Comoros and then Mozambique’s province of Cabo Delgado on Thursday with storm surges and winds of up to 280 kph – stretching resources in a region still recovering from Cyclone Idai which struck further south in March.

The storm knocked out power and communications. Some rural communities were reduced to mounds of jumbled wood, with only the occasional structure and coconut tree left standing.

Four people died in the Comoros, the United Nations said. Mozambique’s National Institute of Disaster Management said its death toll stood at 38 on Monday – up from an earlier estimate of five – and just over 168,000 people had been affected.

After the first hit, heavy rains pounded Mozambique’s north, an area prone to floods and landslides. Information about the scale of the flooding in more remote districts remains scant.

In the port city of Pemba at least, waters had started to recede, OCHA’s Abreu said. Water was still waist-deep in some neighborhoods. One man ferried residents in a wooden boat. Others just waded through the deluge, some carrying belongings on their heads.

The aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth is seen in Macomia District, Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique April 27, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on April 28, 2019. OCHA/Saviano Abreu/via REUTERS

The aftermath of Cyclone Kenneth is seen in Macomia District, Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique April 27, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on April 28, 2019. OCHA/Saviano Abreu/via REUTERS

Idai destroyed the port city of Beira and submerged entire villages, vast swathes of land and 700,000 hectares of crops. It killed more than 1,000 people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

Forecasters have said Kenneth could drop twice as much rain as Idai on Mozambique’s north. Authorities urged people living near rivers to move to higher ground over the weekend.

The United Nations said it had released $13 million in emergency funds for Mozambique and the Comoros to provide food and water and repair infrastructure.

(Additional reporting by Emma Rumney and Mfuneko Toyana in Johannesburg; Writing by Emma Rumney; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

Rescuers race to find survivors after Philippine earthquake kills 16

Rescuers are seen at a collapsed four-storey building following an earthquake in Porac town, Pampanga province, Philippines, April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

By Peter Blaza and Eloisa Lopez

PORAC, Philippines (Reuters) – Rescue teams in the Philippines searched for signs of life beneath the tangled debris from a collapsed four-storey commercial building on Tuesday after a strong earthquake shook the country’s biggest island, killing at least 16 people.

Heavy equipment and search dogs were used as dozens of firefighters, military and civilian rescuers shifted through mangled metal and lumps of concrete in Porac, a town 110 km (68 miles) north of Manila, where 12 people were killed by a 6.1 magnitude earthquake that struck on Monday.

Two people were rescued and carried out on stretchers on Tuesday, adding to seven found alive and four found dead overnight after higher levels caved in on a ground-floor supermarket in Porac, killing five people. Seven were killed elsewhere in the town.

Another, stronger earthquake with a magnitude of 6.5 struck in Samar island in the central Philippines on Tuesday afternoon, but there were no reports of injuries or major damage.

The national disaster agency said the Monday earthquake injured 81 people and damaged 29 buildings across Luzon island, with 14 people reported missing.

An investigation was underway into why the supermarket building collapsed so easily when most structures suffered only superficial damage from a quake that officials said was the biggest the town had ever felt.

Debris and rubble are pictured inside the Santa Catalina de Alejandria Parish after an earthquake the day before in Porac town, Pampanga province, Philippines, April 23, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez

“We’re not sure how many people are trapped still,” Porac mayor Condralito dela Cruz told news channel ANC.

“We can still hear some voices, the voice of a woman.

The Philippines is prone to natural disasters and is located on the seismically active Pacific “Ring of Fire”, a horse shoe-shaped band of volcanoes and fault lines that arcs round the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Aurelia Daeng, 65, was in her family drug store in Porac when Monday’s quake struck, breaking windows, cracking the floor and destroying one wall of her home.

“It was very strong. It was our first time experiencing something like that,” she said.

“This one, it’s terrifying.”

The earthquake was felt strongly in business areas of Manila, with residential and office buildings evacuated after being shaken for several minutes.

Train services were halted and roads and sidewalks were clogged by the sudden exodus of workers.

One corner of a 17th century church in Pampanga partially collapsed and the province’s international airport in Clark was closed for repairs. It was expected to reopen on Thursday at the latest, the transport minister said, adding there was no damage to the runway or control tower.

The government declared Tuesday a holiday for civil servants in Metro Manila to allow for safety inspections of buildings. Foreign exchange trading was suspended and a treasury bond auction canceled.

Irene Consultado, a government official, said many buildings were evacuated after Tuesday’s quake in Samar and early information indicated minor damage to infrastructure and commercial and residential properties.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema in MANILA; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

Rescuers hope to reach more cyclone victims as roads reopen in Mozambique

Aid workers offload maize meal for victims of Cyclone Idai at Siverstream Estates in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By Emma Rumney

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Rescuers said they would reach hundreds of people on Monday still stranded more than a week after a powerful cyclone struck Mozambique and swathes of southeast Africa, as roads started to reopen.

Cyclone Idai lashed Mozambique’s port city of Beira with winds of up to 170 kph (105 mph) around midnight on March 14, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and killing at least 657 people across the three countries.

An evacuee from Buzi village carries her belongings as she arrives at a displacement center near the airport, after Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

An evacuee from Buzi village carries her belongings as she arrives at a displacement center near the airport, after Cyclone Idai, in Beira, Mozambique, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“We are more organized now, after the chaos that we’ve had, so we’re delivering food and shelter to more people today,” Mozambique’s Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia told reporters.

Correia said the number of people in makeshift camps had risen by 18,000 to 128,000 since Sunday, most of them in the Beira area.

Communities near Nhamatanda, around 100 km northwest of Beira and where some people haven’t received aid for days, would receive assistance on Monday, he added.

The cyclone and the heavy rains that followed hampered aid efforts and blocked deliveries of food and other essentials from Beira, which is an important gateway to landlocked countries in the region.

The water covering vast tracts of land west of the port has been receding, but the size of the disaster zone makes getting aid to the neediest difficult.

Aid workers distributed maize meal in the Chipinge district of eastern Zimbabwe – one of the areas where the cyclone wrought major destruction – while residents struggled without access to power or piped water.

“We lost all our perishables after Cyclone Idai,” Chipinge resident Kudakwashe Mapungwana said. “Since then we have no electricity at all and women are busy buying charcoal which is very expensive.”

Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said cases of diarrhea in Mozambique were increasing and they were keeping a close watch out for any outbreak of cholera.

“It’s a killer,” Rhodes Stampa said of cholera, naming the infection as one of his biggest concerns, alongside more flooding. But the weather for the next two weeks looked “pretty good” and dam releases were well-controlled, he added.

Correia said the death toll in Mozambique remained roughly unchanged at 447 on Monday. In Zimbabwe the tropical storm has killed at least 154 people, according to the government, while 56 died in Malawi.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira, and Philimon Bulawayo in Chipinge and MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens)

Rescue of Spanish boy trapped in well to take few more days

A man watches a TV screen showing a deep well which Julen, a Spanish two-year-old boy fell into four days ago when the family was taking a stroll through a private estate, at a bar in Totalan, Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

TOTALAN, Spain (Reuters) – Rescue workers will need at least two more days to reach a two-year-old boy who has been trapped in a deep well in southern Spain since Sunday, a mining expert taking part in the effort said on Thursday.

Officials said they were not losing hope to would find the boy alive. Rescuers were now digging tunnels to reach the child who, fell into the well which is just 25 cm (10 inches) wide and 100 meters (328 feet) deep.

Diggers and trucks remove sand at the area where Julen, a Spanish two-year-old boy fell into a deep well four days ago when the family was taking a stroll through a private estate, in Totalan, southern Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Diggers and trucks remove sand at the area where Julen, a Spanish two-year-old boy fell into a deep well four days ago when the family was taking a stroll through a private estate, in Totalan, southern Spain, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

“The most important here is to be able to get close to the boy. Either horizontally or vertically, in order to start the mining work to reach the place where the boy is at the moment,” mining engineer Juan Escobar told reporters at the site in Totalan, Malaga.

“It is very complicated (to complete) in less than two days”, added.

Among debris pulled out of the well, rescuers on Wednesday found hair, which DNA tests confirmed belonged to the child, though no signs of life have been detected.

“We will not stop until we’ve rescued the child. We’re confident that we can rescue him alive,” a government official in Malaga, Maria Gamez, told reporters gathered at the site.

The rescue of Julen, who was seen falling into the well as his family walked through a private estate in Totalan, has drawn huge media attention in Spain and the whole country is holding its breath for the outcome.

According to Spanish media, Julen’s parents lived another family tragedy in 2017 when their three-year-old son died suddenly while walking along a beach not far from Totalan.

Residents nearby gathered on Wednesday for a vigil to support the family, many holding homemade placards reading “All of Spain is with you”.

(Reporting by Miguel Pereira, writing by Jose Elias Rodriguez, editing by Andrei Khalip and Angus MacSwan)

Death toll from Philippine landslides, floods climbs to 85

Rescue workers carry a body bag containing remains of victims following a landslide at Cisolok district in Sukabumi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 1, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken January 1, 2019. Antara Foto/Nurul Ramadhan/ via REUTERS

MANILA (Reuters) – The death toll from landslides and devastating floods in the central Philippines triggered by a tropical depression climbed to 85, officials said on Wednesday, and 20 people were missing as rescuers slowly reached cut-off communities.

The casualties, including young children, were mostly killed when their homes collapsed in landslides after days of heavy rain in several provinces in the central Philippines, said Ricardo Jalad, executive director of the national disaster agency.

“If we don’t recover the missing or we recover them dead, that is 105 deaths, which we hope not,” Jalad said.

A resident carries his livestock following a landslide at Cisolok district in Sukabumi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 1, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken January 1, 2019. Antara Foto/Nurul Ramadhan/ via REUTERS

A resident carries his livestock following a landslide at Cisolok district in Sukabumi, West Java province, Indonesia, January 1, 2019 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Picture taken January 1, 2019. Antara Foto/Nurul Ramadhan/ via REUTERS

The tropical depression, which weakened into a low pressure system before leaving the Philippines on Sunday, brought heavy rain that triggered landslides and flooding in the Bicol and eastern Visayas regions.

Officials put three provinces under a “state of calamity” to give them access to emergency funds.

Bicol, with a population of 5.8 million, was the hardest hit, with 68 killed in intense rains and landslides. Damage to agriculture in Bicol, which produces rice and corn, was estimated at 342 million pesos ($6.5 million).

Rescuers, including the police and military, used heavy-lifting equipment to clear roads leading to landslide sites and entered flooded communities using rubber boats.

“The sun is already out, with occasional light rains. We hope floods will subside,” Ronna Monzon, a member of the operations personnel at the disaster agency in Bicol, told Reuters.

About 20 tropical cyclones hit the Philippines every year, with destroyed crops and infrastructure taking a toll on human lives and weighing down one of the fastest growing economies in Asia.

(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales and Karen Lema; Editing by Paul Tait)

Indonesian rescuers struggle against heavy rain to reach tsunami-hit villages

A man holding an umbrella watches as personnel search through the debris of his damaged house after a tsunami, in Sumur, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

By Fergus Jensen

SUMUR, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian rescue teams on Wednesday struggled to reach remote areas on the western coast of Java amid an “extreme weather” rain warning after a tsunami killed more than 400 people last week.

Heavy rain lashed fishing villages along the coast, muddying roads and holding up convoys delivering heavy machinery and aid to isolated areas while authorities urged residents to stay away from the shore in case of further waves.

Clouds of ash spewed from the nearby Anak Krakatau, or child of Krakatau, almost obscuring the volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide on Saturday sent waves up to 5 meters (16 feet) high smashing into the coast on the Sunda Strait, between Java and Sumatra islands.

Evacuees walk to a shelter with supplies they collected, after a tsunami, near Sumur, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Evacuees walk to a shelter with supplies they collected, after a tsunami, near Sumur, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Indonesia’s meteorology agency (BMKG) said the rough weather could make the volcano’s crater more fragile.

“We have developed a monitoring system focused specifically on the volcanic tremors at Anak Krakatau so that we can issue early warnings,” said BMKG head Dwikorita Karnawati, adding that a two-kilometer exclusion zone had been imposed.

The confirmed death toll is 430, with at least 159 people missing. Nearly 1,500 people were injured and over 21,000 people have evacuated to higher ground.

A state of emergency has been declared until Jan. 4, which authorities hope will make it easier to deploy assistance, said Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, spokesman for the national disaster mitigation agency.

Search and rescue teams were focused on the town of Sumur near the southwest tip of Java, but “the roads are damaged and clogged” and helicopters had to be deployed to carry out assessments and evacuations, he added.

Volunteers were having to piece together makeshift bridges out of concrete blocks after the waves washed away infrastructure along the coast.

Debris is seen along a beach after a tsunami, near Sumur, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Debris is seen along a beach after a tsunami, near Sumur, Banten province, Indonesia December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Indonesia is a vast archipelago that sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”. This year, the country has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

The latest disaster, coming during the Christmas season, evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

The Saturday evening tsunami followed the collapse of an area of the volcano island of about 64 hectares (222 acres), or about 90 soccer fields.

The waves engulfed fishing villages and holiday resorts, leaving a coast littered with the matchwood of homes, crushed vehicles and fallen trees. Children’s toys and rides at a seaside carnival in Sumur were left scattered along a swampy beach.

The surge of seawater also left dozens of turtles, weighing several kilograms, stranded on land, and some volunteer rescuers worked to carry them back to the sea.

On Sebesi Island in the middle of the Sunda Strait, helicopters had been dispatched to evacuate residents.

Along the coast, thousands of people are staying in tents and temporary shelters like mosques or schools, with dozens sleeping on the floor or in crowded public facilities. Rice and instant noodles have been delivered to many shelters, but clean water, wet weather gear, fresh clothes, and blankets are in short supply, some evacuees said.

Ade Hasanah, 45, staying in an emergency center with her children, said people were being told not to return to their homes.

“It’s safe here,” she said. “We hope if the children are safe and the situation is stable, we can go home quickly. We’re restless.”

In 1883, the volcano then known as Krakatoa erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunamis and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash.

Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927 and has been growing ever since.

(Additional reporting by Bernadette Christina Munthe, Tabita Diela, Fanny Potkin, Nilufar Rizki, Wilda Asmarini in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor,; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Indonesia hunts for survivors as volcano tsunami toll nears 400

Rescue team members search for victims among debris after a tsunami hit at Rajabasa district in South Lampung, Indonesia, December 23, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

By Fergus Jensen

LABUAN, Indonesia (Reuters) – Indonesian military and rescue teams fanned out across a stretch of coastline on Monday, hoping to find survivors of a tsunami triggered by a landslide from a volcano that killed at least 373 people.

Thick clouds of ash spewed from Anak Krakatau, a volcanic island where a crater collapse at high tide late on Saturday set off waves that smashed into coastal areas on both sides of the Sunda Strait between the islands of Sumatra and Java.

Rescuers used heavy machinery and bare hands to dig bodies out of mud and wreckage along a 100 km (60 mile) stretch of Java’s west coast.

Residents, who lived at coast of Bandar Lampung, rest at government building after they evacuated following a tsunami hit Sunda strait in Lampung, Indonesia, in this December 24, 2018 photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

Residents, who lived at coast of Bandar Lampung, rest at government building after they evacuated following a tsunami hit Sunda strait in Lampung, Indonesia, in this December 24, 2018 photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Ardiansyah/ via REUTERS

More than 1,400 people were injured, and about 12,000 residents had to move to higher ground, with a high-tide warning extended to Wednesday.

The vast archipelago, which sits on the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, has suffered its worst annual death toll from disasters in more than a decade.

Earthquakes flattened parts of the island of Lombok in July and August, and a double quake-and-tsunami killed more than 2,000 people on a remote part of Sulawesi island in September.

“At least 373 people have died, while 128 people are currently missing,” Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the disaster mitigation agency, said on Monday evening.

Saturday’s tsunami destroyed more than 700 buildings, from small shops and houses to villas and hotels. It took just 24 minutes after the landslide for waves to hit land, and there was no early warning for those living on the coast.

Police officers search for victims among rubble of a destroyed beach front hotel which was hit by a tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Police officers search for victims among rubble of a destroyed beach front hotel which was hit by a tsunami in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

“EVERYTHING IS DESTROYED”

Vehicles were crushed by waves that lifted chunks of metal, felled trees, wooden beams and household items and deposited them on roads and rice fields.

Nurjana, 20, ran uphill after the tsunami hit. Her beachside snack stall was washed away.

“I opened the door straight away and saved myself. I jumped over the wall,” she said. “Everything is destroyed.”

Out in the strait, Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatau) was still erupting on Sunday night, belching white smoke and ash into the sky.

The meteorology agency that an area of about 64 hectares, or 90 soccer pitches, of the volcanic island had collapsed into the sea.

In 1883, the volcano then known as Krakatoa erupted in one of the biggest blasts in recorded history, killing more than 36,000 people in a series of tsunami, and lowering the global surface temperature by one degree Celsius with its ash. Anak Krakatau is the island that emerged from the area in 1927, and has been growing ever since.

The high waves isolated hundreds of people on Sebesi island, about 12 km from the volcano.

“We are completely paralyzed,” Syamsiar, a village secretary on the island, told Metro TV, calling for food and medicine.

President Joko Widodo, who is running for re-election in April, told disaster agencies to install early warning systems, but experts said that, unlike with tsunami caused by earthquakes, little could have been done to alert people that waves were coming.

MEMORIES OF 2004

“Tsunamis from volcanic flank collapse are generated right at the coast and often close to populations,” said Eddie Dempsey, lecturer in structural geology at Britain’s University of Hull.

“The interval between the volcanic collapse and the arrival of the waves is minimal.”

The timing of the disaster over the Christmas season evoked memories of the Indian Ocean tsunami triggered by an earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004, which killed 226,000 people in 14 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Families streamed out of the area on Monday for fear of further tsunami, jamming roads already blocked by debris.

Fishermen told how a light breeze was followed by a huge wave that smashed together wooden fishing boats moored off the coast and pulled down the trees they were tied to.

Excavators were being used to move debris including piles of steel roofing tangled like spaghetti. Medics were sent in with the military, while groups of police and soldiers reached remote areas.

One team used sniffer dogs to search for survivors at the beach club where a tsunami washed away an outdoor stage where the Indonesian rock band Seventeen were performing at a party for about 200 guests. They had already pulled out nine bodies that day.

At a village 20 km away, district chief Atmadja Suhara said he was helping to care for 4,000 refugees, many of them now homeless.

“Everybody is still in a state of panic,” he said. “We often have disasters, but not as bad as this.”

“God willing,” he said, “we will rebuild.”

(Additional reporting by Johan Purnomo and Adi Kurniawan in PANDEGLANG and Fanny Potkin, Tabita Diela and Wilda Asmarni in JAKARTA; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor and Martin Petty; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Lack of power, phones hampering rescue efforts after Hurricane Michael

A search and rescue team works in homes destroyed by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Brian Snyder

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – A lack of power and phone service in the areas of Florida flattened by Hurricane Michael last week was hindering efforts on Wednesday to distribute food and water and to contact residents not heard from since the storm plowed through the state’s Panhandle.

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

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

The hurricane, one of the most powerful storms on record to hit the continental United States, killed at least 27 people. It packed top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour) and unleashed a surge of seawater that demolished homes.

Florida officials have not said how many people are missing. Many people may not be able to call friends and family or may be staying elsewhere and are not necessarily presumed dead. Debris, downed trees and power lines have hampered access to stranded people.

Teams made up of hundreds of volunteers with the Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue organization were searching for more than 1,135 people in Florida who lost contact with friends and family, Matthew Marchetti, co-founder of Houston-based CrowdSource Rescue.

Most of those missing are from Panama City and many are elderly, disabled, impoverished, or live alone, Marchetti said.

He said the search has been hindered by spotty cell phone coverage in the devastated area, though authorities are making progress in restoring communications.

Many residents have also expressed frustration at the slow pace of recovery of wireless networks. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Tuesday called for wireless carriers to waive bills for customers affected by the storm.

Mark Drake, 55, of Tallahassee, helps remove a stuffed blue marlin from a home damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Mark Drake, 55, of Tallahassee, helps remove a stuffed blue marlin from a home damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

The death toll includes 17 in Florida, one in Georgia, three in North Carolina and six in Virginia, according to a Reuters tally of official reports. Officials said medical examiners were determining whether another four deaths in Florida resulted from the storm.

About 35,000 Floridians have called the Federal Emergency Management Agency seeking help since and the agency has already approved $1 million in assistance for people in 12 counties, spokesman Ruben Brown in Tallahassee said.

FEMA has distributed about 4.5 million meals, more than 5 million liters of water and 9 million infant-and-toddler kits, he said.

The state government is distributing ice, water and about 3 million ready-to-eat meals, Governor Rick Scott’s office said.

In Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit, the number of people missing dropped to three on Tuesday, said Rex Putnal, a city councilor. The town of 1,200 residents had reported two fatalities as of Monday.

Nearly 155,000 homes and businesses remained without power in the U.S. Southeast, with residents of battered coastal towns forced to cook on fires and barbecue grills.

At least 70 percent of customers in four mainly rural Florida Panhandle counties were without electricity on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the federal government said that 61.5 percent of cell sites remained out of service in Bay County. Officials said it could be weeks before power returns to some.

Countless numbers of people in the region’s backcountry have struggled for days without running water or sanitation, awaiting help from authorities. Some have been camping in tents with the belongings they were able to salvage.

(Additional reporting by Terray Sylvester and Bernie Woodall in Florida, Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Andrew Hay in New Mexico, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen and Gabriella Borter in New York and David Shepardson in Washington; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

More dead expected in destroyed Florida Panhandle towns after Michael

A man carries food and water past a building damaged by Hurricane Michael in Parker, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

By Rod Nickel

MEXICO BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Dozens of people remained missing on Sunday in Florida Panhandle communities reduced to ruins by Hurricane Michael as rescuers said they expected the death toll to rise and survivors grappled with power outages and shortages of food and water.

A destroyed home is pictured following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A destroyed home is pictured following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Already at least 18 deaths in four states have been blamed on the hurricane as rescue crews using cadaver dogs and heavy equipment searched through collapsed homes in small towns such as Mexico Beach and Panama City for more victims.

So far one person has been confirmed killed in Mexico Beach, which took a direct hit from the massive storm, but rescuers have been hobbled by blocked roads and huge piles of rubble from searching much of the town.

“If we lose only one life, to me that’s going to be a miracle,” Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey told local media.

Cathey said more than 250 residents had stayed behind when Michael came ashore on Wednesday as a Category 4 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in the continental United States since records have been kept.

A man walks out of his home following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A man walks out of his home following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

The mayor told ABC News that 46 people out of the town of some 1,000 remained missing or unaccounted for as of Sunday. Search and rescue volunteers have already located hundreds of people initially reported missing last week across the Panhandle.

Florida Governor Rick Scott, who toured the devastated areas by helicopter with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)officials, said the top priority remained search and rescue efforts.

Scott said crews were also distributing food, water and fuel to residents who have faced long lines for supplies.

More than 1,700 search and rescue workers were deployed, Scott’s office said, including seven swift-water rescue teams and nearly 300 ambulances.

In Panama City, one of the hardest-hit communities, Fire Chief Alex Baird said search and rescue teams were now in “recovery mode” after largely giving up hope of finding any more survivors.

Electricity and telephone service were being slowly restored, but it could be weeks before power is restored to the state’s most damaged areas.

A destroyed boat is pictured following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A destroyed boat is pictured following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Two Florida prisons housing a total of nearly 3,000 inmates were evacuated and closed at least temporarily after suffering structural damage from Michael, the Florida Department of Corrections said.

The department said no staff or inmates were injured during the storm and all had access to sufficient food and water.

President Donald Trump is expected to visit both Florida and Georgia early this week to inspect the damage, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, and the White House said late on Saturday the president was fully committed to helping state and local agencies with the recovery.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Florida, Bernie Woodall in Florida, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Anger at Italy bridge operator as hunt for survivors goes on

Firefighters and rescue workers stand at the site of a collapsed Morandi Bridge in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Ilaria Polleschi

GENOA, Italy (Reuters) – Italian rescuers searched for survivors among towering slabs of concrete wreckage in Genoa on Wednesday after a bridge collapse killed 39 people and sparked a furious government reaction against the viaduct’s operator.

The 50-year-old bridge, part of a toll motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, collapsed during torrential rain on Tuesday, sending dozens of vehicles crashing onto a riverbed, a railway and two warehouses.

Eye-witness Ivan, 37, evacuated on Tuesday from the nearby building where he works, described the collapse as unbelievable.

“To see a pylon come down like papier-mâché is an incredible thing,” he said. “It’s been a lifetime that we’ve known there were problems. It is in continual maintenance.”

“In the ’90s they added some reinforcements on one part, but also underneath you can see rust.”

As cranes moved in to shift truck-sized chunks of broken concrete, hundreds of firefighters searched for survivors, while public shock and grief turned to anger over the state of the 1.2 km-long bridge, completed in 1967 and overhauled two years ago.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared a state of emergency for Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest ports, whose mainland corridor with France has effectively been severed.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, visiting the disaster scene, said bridge operator Autostrade per l’Italia would have to contribute to the cost of its reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.

But Autostrade, a unit of Milan-listed Atlantia group, said it had done regular, sophisticated checks on the structure before the disaster, relying on “companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections” and that these had provided reassuring results.

“These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the Transport Ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession agreement,” it said.

A source close to the matter said Autostrade per l’Italia would hold an extraordinary board meeting next week following the disaster.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

WEIGHT OF TRAFFIC

The bridge’s condition and its ability to sustain large increases in both the intensity and weight of traffic over the years have been a focus of public debate since Tuesday’s collapse when an 80-meter (260-foot) span gave way at lunchtime as cars and trucks streamed across it.

Salvatore Lorefice, 58, a pensioner who lives a few hundred meters (yards) from the bridge, said cement had fallen off the structure as early as the 1980s when he worked at a warehouse directly under the bridge.

He recalled a visit by a team of Japanese technicians who “came to find out how the structure had deteriorated in such a short time”.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the private sector manager of the bridge had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money they were supposed to” and its concession should be revoked.

He was apparently referring to Autostrade.

“Imposing the highest penalties possible and making sure that those responsible for the dead and the injured pay up for any damages and crimes is the very least,” he said.

The Pope offered a prayer for the victims and their loved ones in a public address at St Peter’s Basilica.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said 400 firefighters were at the site, helped by cranes that cleared away large rubble and created spaces for rescue teams to check for survivors.

In Paris, France’s foreign ministry said four French nationals were among the dead.

Toninelli earlier said he had begun a process to strip Autostrade of its concession and he demanded top managers at the firm resign.

“Autostrade per l’Italia was not able to fulfill its obligations under the contract regulating management of this infrastructure,” Toninelli said on RAI 1 state TV, adding he would seek to levy heavy fines against the company that could reach up to 150 million euros.

Autostrade’s top two officials have no plans to resign, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS

The Morandi Bridge, named after the engineer who designed it, forms part of the A10 motorway run by Autostrade. The 55-km (34 mile) stretch of the A10 accounts for around 1.7 percent of total network traffic for Italy’s biggest toll road operator, according to one analyst’s estimate.

Autostrade’s parent, Atlantia, also runs toll-road concessions in Brazil, Chile, India, and Poland.

Firefighters carry a body at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Firefighters carry a body at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

“The top management of Autostrade per l’Italia must step down first of all,” Toninelli said in a Facebook post.

He also said the government would inspect the structure of aging bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a program of remedial works if required.

Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government that took office in June said the collapse showed Italy needed to spend more on its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

Genoa police put the death toll at 39, with 16 injured.

(Additional reporting by Stefano Rallendini, Mark Bendeich, Valentina Za, Stefano Bernabei and Sarah White in Paris, Editing by William Maclean and John Stonestreet)