Factbox: Cyclone Idai’s death toll rises to 847, hundreds of thousands displaced

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, water and shelter after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As of Sunday, at least 847 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. Following is an outline of the disaster, according to government and United Nations officials.

MOZAMBIQUE

Cyclone Idai landed on the night of March 14 near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.

People killed: 602

People injured: 1,641

Houses damaged or destroyed: 239,682

Crops damaged: 715,378 hectares

People affected: 1.85 million

Confirmed cholera cases: 2,424

Confirmed cholera deaths: 5

ZIMBABWE

On March 16 the storm hit eastern Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

People killed: 185, according to government. The U.N. migration agency puts the death toll at 259.

People injured: 200

People displaced: 16,000 households

People affected: 250,000

MALAWI

Before it arrived, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in Malawi’s south. The rains continued after the storm hit, compounding the misery of tens of thousands of people.

People killed: 60

People injured: 672

People displaced: 19,328 households

People affected: 868,895

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira, Tom Miles in Geneva, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Frank Phiri in Blantyre; Writing by Alexandra Zavis, Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Goodman)

Nearly 2 million Mozambicans in need after cyclone: U.N.

School children and a man carrying food aid cross a river after Cyclone Idai at Coppa business centre in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26,2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Cyclone Idai’s deadly hit has left some 1.85 million people in need of assistance in Mozambique, the U.N. humanitarian agency said on Tuesday, as relief workers assess the scale of the disaster and determine what help is most urgently needed.

“Some will be in critical, life threatening situations,” Sebastian Rhodes Stampa, coordinator in the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs, said of the affected people.

“We’re now going out on the ground, dropping people off from helicopters to determine what the critical needs are.”

Idai flattened homes and provoked widespread flooding after slamming into Mozambique near the port of Beira on March 14. It then ripped through neighboring Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing at least 686 people across the three southern African countries.

Survivors of cyclone Idai cross a temporary bridge as they arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Survivors of cyclone Idai cross a temporary bridge as they arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Mozambique – which has a population of around 30 million – was hit hardest, with tens of thousands of homes destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people displaced across an area of some 3,000 square km (1,200 square miles) – roughly the size of Luxembourg.

Receding flood waters have allowed greater access and a greater sense of how much people have lost. Thousands of people, stranded for more than a week by the flooding, are now being moved to safer shelters.

Increasingly, the relief focus has turned to preventing or containing what many believe will be inevitable outbreaks of malaria and cholera.

Though no cholera cases have yet been confirmed, health workers on the ground have reported an upsurge in cases of diarrhea – a symptom of the disease.

“We are testing as we go,” said Rob Holden, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) incident manager in the capital Maputo. “But nonetheless we are treating acute watery diarrhea, it’s the same as treating cholera. That’s just the diagnosis.”

BIG, DENSE POPULATION

Dozens of people queued in front of a clinic in Beira’s Munhava district on Tuesday, as nurses wearing surgical masks out a chlorine solution to prevent the spread of diseases like cholera.

“There is a big population, dense population in Beira,” said Gert Verdonck, emergency coordinator for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). “Of course any spread of any kind of epidemic will be a lot quicker here.”

The WHO is dispatching 900,000 doses of oral cholera vaccine from a global stockpile. The shipment is expected to arrive within 10 days, and a first round of vaccinations will target 100,000 people.

Cholera is spread by feces in sewage-contaminated water or food, and outbreaks can develop quickly in a humanitarian crisis where sanitation systems are disrupted. It can kill within hours if left untreated.

Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) has designated Mozambique a level three emergency, placing it on a par with Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. The agency is preparing to feed 1.7 million people in Mozambique.

The U.N. is appealing for $282 million to fund the first three months of the disaster response in Mozambique, and a total of $337 million. So far, only 2 percent of that amount has been funded.

SEARCHING THROUGH RUBBLE

In Zimbabwe, where 179 people have died, another 329 people were still unaccounted for on Monday.

In hard-hit Chimanimani district, villagers used hoes and shovels to dig through debris on Tuesday and search for missing relatives believed buried by the mudslides unleashed by the cyclone.

One family has spent a week digging day and night for four relatives, in what was once a settlement of 500 people but has been reduced to rubble.

Large rocks, some more than two meters (six feet) high, which rolled from a nearby mountain at high speed are what remains after the storm swept away a police camp, houses and an open market.

“I am an orphan now and I am so much in pain because I lost my brother who looked after me. He was more of a father to me,” said Sarah Sithole, 32, whose policeman brother was washed away while on night duty at the police station.

“We will continue searching until we find him and bury him. We will not rest,” she said, her hands and feet covered with red soil.

Around 95 percent of roads in affected districts have been damaged, impeding access to rescuers with earth moving equipment. Zimbabwe has requested for search dogs from South Africa to help look for those missing, a local government official said.

The WFP said it will aim to distribute food assistance to 732,000 people in Malawi and 270,000 in Zimbabwe.

(Additional reporting by Gift Sukhala in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

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)

Hunger, disease stalk Africa cyclone survivors, U.N. sees 1.7 million affected

Survivors of Cyclone Idai, listen to a volunteer from Mozambique Red Cross, after arriving to an evacuation centre in Beira, Mozambique, March 21, 2019. Denis Onyodi/Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre/Handout via REUTERS

By Emma Rumney

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people scrambled for shelter, food and water across a swathe of southern Africa on Friday after a cyclone killed hundreds and swept away homes and roads, testing relief efforts for survivors facing a growing risk of cholera.

Cyclone Idai battered Beira, a low-lying port city of 500,000 residents, with strong winds and torrential rains last week, before moving inland to neighboring Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities, and Malawi.

Idai killed 242 people in Mozambique and 259 in Zimbabwe, and numbers were expected to rise, relief agencies said. In Malawi, 56 died in heavy rains before the onset of Idai.

As survivors gathered in informal camps and health officials warned of growing danger from measles and cholera, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said the situation on the ground was critical with no electricity or running water.

“Hundreds of thousands of children need immediate help” she said, estimating 1.7 million people were affected by the storm.

Around 45 km (28 miles) west of Beira, in Guara Guara village, the government set up a makeshift camp for people rescued nearby, with little water and no toilets.

Most people were outside in blazing sun, or on patches of shade cast by trees. At a nearby school, elderly women curled up on their side on the dirt floor, amongst bits of rubble.

“The help is coming, but it’s coming very slowly,” said Esther Zinge, 60, from near the town of Buzi, adding that what did arrive had to be given to children first.

“The conditions are terrible, and more people keep coming.”

On a beach in Beira, where the Red Cross estimated 90 of the city was damaged or destroyed, survivors clutching infants and bags disembarked from rescue boats beside a ship marooned on the sand by the storm, and began receiving Red Cross help.

A man looks on atop his house after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A man looks on atop his house after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

“CONDITIONS TERRIBLE”

In Zimbabwe’s Coppa Rusitu Valley, a township in Chimanimani, near the Mozambican border, hundreds of homes were flattened by large rocks and mudslide from a nearby mountain, burying some residents, who never stood a chance as the cyclone unleashed its fury at night when most were sleeping.

Relatives and rescuers were digging through the debris, hoping to find bodies, but some of the rocks were so big they need blasting, a Reuters witness said. Most people lost relatives, workmates or friends in the township, which also housed government workers, including police.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Thursday night said he had come face to face with horrific accounts of people grieving the loss of family and friends in Chimanimani.

Some survivors have taken refuge at churches and centers offering temporary shelter as they deal with the trauma of their losses while private citizens, international aid agencies and the government rushed humanitarian aid to affected areas.

Energy Minister Joram Gumbo said the pipeline bringing fuel from Beira had not been affected by the cyclone but the docking terminals at Beira port had been damaged.

He said Zimbabwe had 62 days supply of petrol and 32 days for diesel, which is in short supply and has led to long queues in the capital. In Mutare city, near Mozambique, diesel shortages were worse, according to a Reuters witness.

A girl stops to look as a man walks past carrying luggage on his head after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

A girl stops to look as a man walks past carrying luggage on his head after Cyclone Idai in Buzi district outside Beira, Mozambique, March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

FEW HELICOPTERS

In Beira, Saviano Abreu of the U.N. humanitarian arm OCHA, said the main problem with getting aid to relief camps outside of Beira is they could be reached only by helicopter, since floods had cut off roads, and helicopters were few.

Large parts of the city lacked running water, but everyone affected was getting 20 liters of water for washing, cooking and drinking.

Briefing his team late on Thursday night, Connor Hartnady, rescue operations task force leader for Rescue South Africa, said Beira residents were becoming fed up with shortages.

“There have been three security incidents today, all food related,” he told his team, without giving further details.

Commenting on Beira, U.N. humanitarian spokesman Jens Laerke said if people were desperate to get aid, that should be treated as part of the community response and not as a security matter.

“These are desperate people,” Laerke said. “I don’t think anybody would blame a desperate mother or father who have children who do not have clean water to drink or food to eat who grab it from wherever they find it in a shop.”

The storm’s rains caused the Buzi and Pungwe rivers, whose mouths are in the Beira area, to burst their banks.

Roads into Beira were cut off by the storm, and most of the city remains without power. The Red Cross has estimated 90 percent of the city was damaged or destroyed in the storm.

(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Additional reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Philimon Bulawayo in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe,; Editing by Tiisetso Motsoeneng, Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)

Trump pledges strong federal support for hurricane-stricken Carolinas

U.S. President Donald Trump greets people while distributing food after Hurricane Florence in New Bern North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Jeff Mason and Ernest Scheyder

HAVELOCK/WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday promised that North and South Carolina would have strong federal support as they recovered from the devastation of Hurricane Florence, whose floodwaters continue to threaten the region.

“We’re going to be there 100 percent,” Trump told officials at a briefing shortly after arriving at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Havelock, North Carolina. “… There will be nothing left undone. You’ll have everything you need.”

Trump, who has been criticized for his handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico last year, also thanked first responders for their work since Florence made landfall on Friday and recapped the efforts to get food to residents and restore power.

He was accompanied by Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long, Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Senators Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Supplies including bottled water are seen waiting to be loading into airplanes and be delivered to areas hit by Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a tropical depression, at the Raleigh Durham Airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Supplies including bottled water are seen waiting to be loading into airplanes and be delivered to areas hit by Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a tropical depression, at the Raleigh Durham Airport in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

More than 15,000 people remain in shelters and more than 200,000 customers are without power across North Carolina because of Florence, which came ashore as a Category 1 hurricane, according to state officials.

Although the storm is long gone, river flooding still poses a danger to the area. The Cape Fear River was expected to crest at 61.5 feet (19 meters), four times its normal height, on Wednesday in Fayetteville, a city of 200,000 near the Fort Bragg army base in the southern part of the state, according to the National Weather Service. That has disrupted efforts to restore power, clear roads and allow evacuated residents to go home.

“There is a strong potential that those who live within the 1-mile evacuation area of the Cape Fear River will be impacted by flooding,” the city said in a statement.

The city manager told CNN that 12,000 people are “in harm’s way.”

Florence has killed at least 36 people, including 27 in North Carolina, eight in South Carolina and one in Virginia. Two of the South Carolina victims were mental health patients who drowned on Tuesday when a van carrying them was swept away by floodwater.

A road is blocked by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a tropical depression, in Kinston, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

A road is blocked by flood waters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, now downgraded to a tropical depression, in Kinston, North Carolina, U.S., September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

SWOLLEN RIVERS

Thousands of rescues have taken place in the Carolinas. Fire and rescue crews were waiting to go into many areas to assist with structural damage resulting from Florence, which has dumped up to 36 inches (91 cm) of rain in parts of North Carolina since Thursday.

At least 16 rivers remained at a major flood stage, with three others set to crest in the coming days in North Carolina, the state said.

In the town of Fair Bluff, North Carolina, which has struggled to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Matthew in 2016, only about 50 residents remained on Tuesday, Fair Bluff Police Chief Chris Chafin told Reuters.

The town has largely been cut off by flooding from the still-rising Lumber River, which was expected to crest on Wednesday.

As Florence was bearing down on the Carolinas last week, Trump reignited the controversy over his handling of Maria by disputing the official death toll of 2,975 in the U.S. territory, which was compiled by public health experts at George Washington University. Trump said, without offering evidence, that Democrats had inflated the figure to make him look bad.

Maria also devastated the infrastructure of Puerto Rico, whose 3 million citizens are Americans but do not vote in presidential elections, and left much of the island without power for months. Critics said the Trump administration was slow to recognize the extent of the damage and slow to help.

Former basketball star Michael Jordan, a native of Wilmington, North Carolina, and the principal owner of the Charlotte Hornets of the National Basketball Association, donated $2 million to the Florence recovery effort, the team said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Patrick Rucker; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Miami; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Jessica Resnick-Ault and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Anna Mehler Paperny in North Carolina and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott; Editing by David Stamp and Paul Simao)

Laos scrambles for food, medicines, coffins three days after dam burst

Rescuers work at a flooded site after a hydropower dam collapse in Attapeu Province, Laos July 24, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken July 24, 2018. Mime Phoumsavanh via REUTERS

KHOKONG, Laos (Reuters) – Troops searched for survivors in the remote southern tip of Laos on Thursday, three days after the collapse of a hydropower dam sent a torrent of water charging across paddy fields and through villages, as rescuers rushed aid to thousands of homeless.

The scale of the disaster was still unclear, in part because of the inaccessibility of the area but also because reports from the communist country’s state media have been scant and sketchy.

The official Laos News Agency said that 27 people were confirmed dead and 131 were missing following the failure of the dam on Monday, a subsidiary structure under construction as part of a hydroelectric project in the province of Attapeu.

Earlier reports had suggested the death toll would be much higher, and on Wednesday the Vientiane Times had said more than 3,000 people were waiting to be rescued from swirling floodwaters, many of them on trees and the rooftops of submerged houses.

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

In the village of Khokong, a sea of mud oozed around the stilt houses that were still standing and dead animals floated in the water.

“Seven villages were hit, two very badly. There were 200 houses and only about 10 are left standing,” said a medical official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We retrieved one body today. I suspect there will be more as the water goes down and the road becomes easier to access.”

He said villagers were warned about three to four hours before the dam burst, but few had expected the water to rise as high as it did.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said roads and bridges were damaged, and boat and helicopter were the only means of transport in the worst-affected areas.

Schools in safe areas were being used as evacuation centers, and about 1,300 families needed tents for shelter, it said.

On a road to the small town of Sanamxai, Reuters saw trucks carrying aid, including freshwater and blankets, for those made homeless. The government put their number at 3,060.

Phra Ajan Thanakorn, a Buddhist monk returning from Sanamxai, said he had delivered food and medicine in four pick-up trucks that had come from Vientiane, the capital some 800 km (500 miles) to the north, and he was heading back there to load up with more.

“The situation is really bad,” he told Reuters. “All the relief efforts are at Sanamxai. There are volunteers distributing food and medicine for survivors every day there. They are still lacking food, medicine, and coffins.”

Rescue and relief teams from around Asia have headed into Attapeu, a largely agricultural province that borders Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south.

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“BATTERY OF ASIA” AMBITIONS

Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has ambitions to become the “battery of Asia” through the construction of multiple dams.

Its government depends almost entirely on outside developers to build the dams under commercial concessions that involve the export of electricity to more developed neighbors, including power-hungry Thailand.

Laos has finished building 11 dams, says Thai non-government group TERRA, with 11 more under construction and dozens planned.

Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the human and environmental cost of the dam drive, including damage to the already fragile ecosystem of the region’s rivers.

The dam that collapsed was part of the $1.2 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project, which involves Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms. Known as “Saddle Dam D”, it was part of a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams.

The project’s main partner, South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction, said part of a small supply dam was washed away and the company was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers.

The firm blamed the collapse on heavy rain. Laos and its neighbors are in the middle of the monsoon season that brings tropical storms and heavy downpours.

In Cambodia’s northern Strung Treng province, nearly 1,300 families that were also affected by the flooding from the dam in Laos were moved to higher ground.

“These people will be affected for about seven to 10 days and once all the water flows into the Mekong, we will be fine,” said Keo Vy, a spokesman for the National Centre for Disaster Management.

An official at SK Engineering & Construction said fractures were discovered on the dam on Sunday and the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon as the danger became clear.

Laotian Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told a news conference in the capital that the company could not deny responsibility for the destruction of livelihoods and property. The Vientiane Times cited him as saying that all compensation would be “borne by the project developer 100 percent”.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Two U.S. military bases in Texas to house immigrants: Mattis

Honduran families seeking asylum wait on the Mexican side of the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge after being denied entry by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers near Brownsville, Texas, U.S., June 24, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

By Phil Stewart

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (Reuters) – The U.S. military is preparing to house immigrants at two bases in Texas, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Monday, the latest sign of the military being drawn into a supporting role for President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.

Fort Bliss, an Army base in El Paso, Texas, and Goodfellow Air Base in San Angelo, Texas, would be used, Mattis said, but he added that he could not confirm any specifics.

“We’ll provide whatever support the Department of Homeland Security needs in order to house the people they have under their custody,” Mattis told reporters in Alaska before leaving on an Asia trip.

In the face of outrage at home and overseas over his crackdown on illegal immigration, Trump was forced last week to abandon his policy of separating children from parents who are apprehended for illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The U.S. military, and Mattis in particular, have stressed that it is simply providing logistical support to the Department of Homeland Security, which deals with immigration issues.

“We’re not going to get into the political aspect. Providing housing, shelter for those who need it is a legitimate governmental function,” Mattis said.

One U.S. official, speaking earlier on the condition of anonymity, said it was expected that one of the bases would house immigrant families and another immigrant children.

On Sunday, Mattis said the U.S. military was preparing to build temporary camps at two military bases to house immigrants but did not name the facilities.

Last week, the U.S. military said it had been asked by the government to get ready to house up to 20,000 immigrant children.

Trump has previously turned to the military to help with his border crackdown. Earlier this year, U.S. National Guard forces were dispatched to border states to help tighten security.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Grant McCool)

800 Venezuelans flee to Brazil daily to escape insecurity, hunger: UNHCR

Venezuelans line up to cross into Colombia at the border in Paraguachon, Colombia, Feb. 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – More than 800 Venezuelans stream into northern Brazil each day, the United Nations said on Friday, citing Brazilian government statistics on people fleeing the worsening crisis in the economically crippled nation.

More than 52,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil since the start of 2017, including an estimated 40,000 living in Boa Vista, capital of Roraima state, it said.

About 25,000 of the migrants are asylum seekers while 10,000 have obtained temporary resident visas and the rest are seeking to regularize their status, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

“We are stepping up our response in Brazil as the number of Venezuelan arrivals grows,” UNHCR spokesman William Spindler told a news briefing. “According to the government’s latest estimates, more than 800 Venezuelans are entering Brazil each day.”

Venezuelans have also fled to Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama, Argentina and Peru, while others have sought refugee status in the United States, Spain, Mexico and Costa Rica, according to the UNHCR.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas is faced with widespread discontent over hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicines during a fifth year of recession that he blames on Western hostility and the fall of oil prices.

Venezuelans report they are fleeing insecurity, violence and often a loss of income, Spindler said. Many are in desperate need of food, shelter and health care.

UNHCR is working with Brazilian authorities to register Venezuelans to ensure they have proper documentation that entitles them to work and access services, Spindler said.

Ten shelters have been opened in Boa Vista, each with 500 people, but some Venezuelans are living on the streets, he said.

Venezuelans willing to relocate from Roraima to other parts of Brazil are being flown to Sao Paulo and Cuiaba this week, as communities and services in Boa Vista are over-stretched, he said.

UNHCR’s $46 million appeal to help Venezuelans across the region is only 4 percent funded, Spindler said, and he called for more donations.

Within Venezuela, the economic crisis has limited people’s access to health services and medicines, World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said.

“WHO is working closely with the health authorities in order to fill those shortages. We are providing medicines for malaria and anti-retrovirals. We are equipping maternal hospitals with supplies that are needed for pregnant women and babies.”

Venezuela’s crisis has posed major challenges for governments in the region, who also worry that assistance to Venezuelans could increase the number of people leaving their country.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

People evacuated from Papua New Guinea island after volcano explodes

The remote island volcano of Kadovar spews ash into the sky in Papua New Guinea, January 6, 2018. SAMARITAN AVIATION/via REUTERS

By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) – About 1,500 people are being evacuated from an island off the northern coast of Papua New Guinea (PNG) after a nearby volcano erupted, the local Red Cross said on Sunday.

A volcano on the island of Kadovar, located about 24 km (15 miles) north of the Papuan mainland, began erupting on Jan. 5. That prompted the evacuation of 590 people on Kadovar to the nearby island of Blup Blup.

After venting ash for several days, the volcano exploded on Friday, blasting out glowing red rocks and sulphur dioxide, the Rabaul Volcanological Observatory said in a bulletin. The PNG government then decided to evacuate Blup Blup as well because of issues with supplying people on the island along with the danger from the eruption.

The evacuees are being moved to the mainland and the International Red Cross is providing about 87,000 kina ($26,274) in funding to help them, said PNG Red Cross Secretary General Uvenama Rova by telephone from the capital of Port Moresby.

“The people there, as the volcano erupted, they rushed immediately to escape. So they are in immediate need of food, water, shelter and clothing as well,” he said.

In the latest bulletin issued on Sunday, the Observatory said a dome of lava on Kadover was visible in the sea at the base of thick white steam clouds that are rising to 600 meters (1,969 feet) above sea level.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop announced on twitter that the Australian Government was contributing A$25,000 ($19,775) worth of humanitarian supplies for those affected.

There are no confirmed records of a previous eruption of Kadovar, said Chris Firth, a vulcanologist at Macquarie University, but scientists speculate it could have been one of two “burning islands” mentioned in the journals of a 17th-century English pirate and maritime adventurer, William Dampier.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

Deep freeze keeps grip on eastern United States; four die

Elena Barduniotis from Colorado waits in Times Square ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A record-shattering Arctic freeze kept its grip on much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday but temperatures everywhere except the Northeast were expected to warm within 24 hours.

Many school districts shut their classrooms due to the cold snap, which claimed four lives over the long New Year’s weekend.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings for Tuesday as dangerously low temperatures were due from eastern Montana across the Midwest into the Atlantic coast and the Northeast and down through the deep South.

School districts in Iowa, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina canceled or delayed the start of classes as bitterly cold temperatures, 20 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal, were expected across the eastern half of the United States.

“Just the bitter cold which is just too dangerous to put kids out on the street waiting for a bus that may not come,” Herb Levine, superintendent of the Peabody Public Schools, north of Boston, told a local CBS affiliate television station.

The cold was blamed for the deaths of two men in separate incidents in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A homeless man was found dead on a porch in Charleston, West Virginia, while another man was found dead outside a church in Detroit and police said he may have froze to death, local news outlets reported.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents to call the city if they saw people outside.

“We want every resident to have shelter and warmth,” she said in a tweet.

Many places across the United States experienced record low temperatures over the last few days. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20F (minus 29C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32F (minus 36C).

The cold should ease across most of the country after Tuesday, but the northeastern section of the country will see a repeat of the frigid weather on Thursday or Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

Private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)