Biden to boost funds for COVID-19 tests in schools, shelters: White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration plans to provide $650 million to expand COVID-19 testing for elementary and middle schools, as well as homeless shelters and other underserved congregate settings, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday.

It will also spend $815 million to increase U.S. manufacturing of testing supplies and $200 million for virus genome sequencing, the statement said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

Trump to sign disaster declaration for quake-hit Puerto Rico – U.S. Congress representative

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a major disaster declaration for quake-hit Puerto Rico on Thursday, the island’s nonvoting representative to the U.S. Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, wrote in a tweet.

Puerto Rico officials and U.S. legislators have called on Trump to increase federal aid for the island after it was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake and powerful aftershocks that have collapsed hundreds of homes and sent nearly 8,000 residents fleeing to shelters.

Trump declared an emergency on the island after the Jan. 7 earthquake and his declaration of a major disaster would give Puerto Rico access to additional relief resources.

Gonzalez on Wednesday said Puerto Rico would be given an additional $8.2 billion in delayed disaster-aid to fund the U.S. territory’s recovery from 2017 hurricanes.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Bahamas’ count of missing people post-Dorian drops to 1,300 – official

NASSAU (Reuters) – The Bahamian government now believes there are 1,300 people missing after Hurricane Dorian plowed into the islands, a sharp decline from the 2,500 listed on the missing registry a day earlier, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday had warned the larger figure could include people staying at shelters.

“The number of people registered missing with the Bahamas government is going down daily,” NEMA spokesman Carl Smith told a news conference.

The official death count currently stands at 50 but Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis on Wednesday warned he expects that to significantly increase.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson, additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Scott Malone; Editing by Chris Reese)

Bahamas says 2,500 missing after Dorian; prime minister warns death toll to rise ‘significantly’

By Zachary Fagenson

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Some 2,500 people are still listed as missing in the Bahamas more than a week after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Caribbean island chain, although that number may include evacuees who fled to shelters, authorities said on Wednesday.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the nation in a televised address that the death toll from Dorian remained at 50, but conceded that the large number of people missing meant that number would rise.

“The number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” Minnis said, adding the government was being transparent and would provide “timely information on the loss of life as it is available.”

Emergency management officials told a separate news conference that the list of missing had not yet been checked against records of evacuees or the thousands of people staying in shelters.

“My friends are missing, a few of my cousins are missing over there, five in total, they lived in Marsh Harbour,” said Clara Bain, a 38-year-old tour guide, referring to the Abaco town where officials estimate that 90% of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.

“Everyone on the islands are missing someone, it’s really devastating,” she said.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to make a direct hit on land and packing top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kph).

“Our sympathies go out to the families of each person who died,” Minnis said. “Let us pray for them during this time of grief. We offer you our shoulders to cry on. You will never be forgotten.”

More than 5,000 people evacuated to New Providence, the island where the capital, Nassau, is located, in the face of the worst hurricane in the country’s history. But there has since been a significant reduction in the number now asking to be relocated, according to emergency management officials.

Some 15,000 people are still in need of shelter or food, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Officials have already put up large tents in Nassau to house those made homeless by the storm and plan to erect tent cities on Abaco capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people.

Minnis thanked U.S. President Donald Trump and the American people for mobilizing support and urged Bahamians to pitch in with relief efforts by volunteering or donating money to legitimate charities.

The White House said on Wednesday the United States would not give temporary protected immigration status to people fleeing the Bahamas after the hurricane.

The status would have allowed Bahamians to live and work in the United States while their country recovers.

Private forecasters estimated that Dorian destroyed or damaged some $3 billion in insured property in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Commercial flights to Abaco, one of the hardest-hit areas, resumed on a limited basis on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau, Maria Caspani in New York, Scott Malone in Boston and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angele; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

Texas Gulf gets more rain, threatens region with flooding

Residents make phone calls from high ground after heavy downpours unleashed flash floods in Mercedes, Texas, U.S., June 20, 2018. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

(Reuters) – Heavy showers drenched the Texas Gulf Coast on Thursday and flood waters continued to rise after residents fled their homes and crews conducted numerous water rescues in towns still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Flash flood warnings and watches were in effect for communities along the Gulf of Mexico coast and inland, where as much as 5 inches (13 cm) of rain was forecast, the National Weather Service said. More than a foot of rain has already fallen in parts of the region this week.

“If you are in the warned area move to higher ground immediately. Residents living along streams and creeks should take immediate precautions to protect life and property,” the weather service said early on Thursday.

The warning came after a deluge of rain flooded streets and expressways on Wednesday, forcing residents to wade through shoulder-deep waters to flee their homes and vehicles. Crews conducted dozens of water rescues in towns like Weslaco, Mercedes and McAllen near the Mexico border.

“It took everyone by surprise. No one was expecting this much rain. The only thing is that pretty much everywhere it’s already flooded and the roads are closed, so where would you go?,” Weslaco resident Kandy Marroquin told a local NBC affiliate.

Shelters were opened across the Rio Grande Valley where entire neighborhoods were flooded, local media reported.

“They’ve been coming with law enforcement officers, buses, all sorts of trucks bringing people in. At one point we had close to 100 people,” Steven Parker, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Weslaco told NBC affiliate KVEO-TV in Brownsville. “People have been trickling in all day. We’re here as long we’re needed.”

McAllen was already in the news this week for images of migrant children held in cages at a Border Patrol Processing Center in the city.

Flash flood watches were also in effect on Thursday for the area around Corpus Christi, where sewage water contributed to the flooding on Wednesday, local media reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Catherine Evans)

North Korean women suffer discrimination, rape, malnutrition: U.N.

Women wearing traditional clothes walk past North Korean soldiers after an opening ceremony for a newly constructed residential complex in Ryomyong street in Pyongyang, North Korea April 13, 2017.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korean women are deprived of education and job opportunities and are often subjected to violence at home and sexual assault in the workplace, a U.N. human rights panel said on Monday.

After a regular review of Pyongyang’s record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women also voiced concern at rape or mistreatment of women in detention especially those repatriated after fleeing abroad.

North Korean women are “under-represented or disadvantaged” in tertiary education, the judiciary, security and police forces and leadership and managerial positions “in all non-traditional areas of work”, the panel of independent experts said.

“The main issue is first of all the lack of information. We have no access to a large part of laws, elements and information on national machinery,” Nicole Ameline, panel member, told Reuters. “We have asked a lot of questions.”

North Korea told the panel on Nov. 8 that it was working to uphold women’s rights and gender equality but that sanctions imposed by major powers over its nuclear and missile programs were taking a toll on vulnerable mothers and children.

Domestic violence is prevalent and there is “very limited awareness” about the issue and a lack of legal services, psycho-social support and shelters available for victims, the panel said.

It said economic sanctions had a disproportionate impact on women. North Korean women suffer “high levels of malnutrition”, with 28 percent of pregnant or lactating women affected, it said.

“We have called on the government to be very, very attentive to the situation of food and nutrition. Because we consider that it is a basic need and that the government has to invest and to assume its responsibilities in this field,” Ameline said.

“Unfortunately I am not sure that the situation will improve very quickly.”

The report found that penalties for rape in North Korea were not commensurate with the severity of the crime, which also often goes unpunished. Legal changes in 2012 lowered the penalties for some forms of rape, including the rape of children, rape by a work supervisor and repeated rape.

This has led to reducing the punishment for forcing “a woman in a subordinate position” to have sexual intercourse from four years to three years, the report said.

It said women trafficked abroad and then returned to North Korea, are reported to be sent to labor training camps or prisons, accused of “illegal border crossing”, and may be exposed to further violations of their rights, including sexual violence by security officials and forced abortions.


(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Alison Williams)


No return home in sight for thousands of Californians sheltering from dam

Oroville Dam flooding in Calfornia

By Deborah M. Todd and Sharon Bernstein

OROVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Californians faced an indefinite stay in shelters as engineers worked for a second day on Tuesday to fix the United States’ tallest dam before more storms sweep the region.

After what looks set to be the wettest winter in Northern California following years of drought, more rain was forecast for as early as Wednesday and through Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.

Crews were working to shore up an overflow channel and drain the reservoir at the Lake Oroville Dam but authorities gave no indication of when it would be safe for people to go home.

Late on Sunday, about 188,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes in the Feather River valley below the dam, 65 miles (105 km) north of Sacramento.

Authorities say they had averted the immediate danger of a catastrophic failure at the dam that could unleash a wall of water three stories tall on towns below.

“We’re doing everything we can to get this dam in shape that they can return and they can live safely without fear. It’s very difficult,” California Governor Jerry Brown told reporters during a news conference on Monday evening.

On Monday, Brown sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump asking him to issue an emergency declaration, which would open up federal assistance for the affected communities, after an emergency overflow channel appeared on the brink of collapse.

Yolanda Davila, 62, of Thermalito, ended up at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, one of only five in the area taking people with pets. She left home without medicine and dog food in the rush to find shelter before the evacuation deadline.

She said that areas such as Sacramento had been issued flood warnings earlier in the week and that authorities should have warned residents near Oroville much sooner.

“We didn’t have a plan, all we knew is to head north toward Chico,” Davila said. “If I knew we had to get out earlier I would have went to the Bay Area.”

The earth-filled dam is just upstream and east of Oroville, a town of about 16,000 people. At 770 feet (230 meters) high, the structure, built between 1962 and 1968, it is more than 40 feet taller than the Hoover Dam.

On Monday afternoon, crews dropped large bags filled with rocks into a gap at the top of the emergency spillway to rebuild the eroded hillside.

The main spillway, a separate channel, is also damaged because part of its concrete lining fell apart last week. Both spillways are to the side of the dam itself, which has not been compromised, engineers said.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Louise Ireland)

Thousands still in shelters after record Louisiana floods

Louisiana Floods

By Sam Karlin

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – More than 3,000 Louisiana residents were still in emergency shelters as record flood waters receded on Monday, while government officials weighed options for temporary housing after the state’s worst disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

About 60,600 homes have been reported damaged or destroyed in flooding that swept through 20 parishes, or counties, in the southern part of the state after torrential rains earlier this month.

With swollen rivers, streams and bayous returning to normal, many people were going back to their homes and businesses, and state offices had reopened.

But the governor’s office said 3,075 residents were still living in shelters as of Monday, a day before President Barack Obama is due to tour the stricken area.

The extent of the damage prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend a grace period to renew lapsed flood insurance policies for parts of Louisiana for the first time since Katrina in 2005.

“We’ve seen major destruction to communities across the state,” Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator for FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, said in a statement about the extension.

Residents have already filed more than 25,600 flood insurance claims. But only 42 percent of Louisiana homes in high-risk areas had flood insurance, while only 12.5 percent of homeowners in low and moderate-risk zones were covered, according to FEMA estimates.

The agency has also already received some 110,500 applications for individual assistance, and $74 million in individual grants has been paid out.

“When it comes to a home that is lost, FEMA money is not designed to replace insurance or make people whole again,” said FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre. “It’s a life vest, not a life boat.”

So far, the number of people affected by the floods pales in comparison with the nearly 74,000 families forced out of homes after Katrina and the 11,000 displaced after Hurricane Rita, a storm that came a few weeks later in 2005.

In 2005, FEMA faced widespread criticism for what many considered a slow, inept response. But the agency appears to have benefited from experience.

“From the vantage point of a citizen, what we see is a much more coordinated state, federal and local partnership on the response,” said Adam Knapp, head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and a former deputy director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Katrina.

“That is a perhaps a hard-fought, hard-won experience for us since Katrina – when we learned how important it is to be coordinated in the immediate response.”

FEMA has formed a task force to identify temporary housing options for the thousands displaced by the floods, Lemaitre said. That may include manufactured housing units that meet or exceed government certifications, he said.

FEMA paid $6.6 billion to about 1.07 million households and individuals in the Gulf states after Katrina, $5.3 billion of which went to Louisiana alone.

In response to this month’s flooding, FEMA has issued more than $15 million in advanced flood insurance payments to Louisianans who sustained damages, the agency said in a statement on Monday.

(Additional reporting and writing by Chris Prentice in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

Typhoon Dujuan Slams into Taiwan

With wind gusts over 150 miles per hour Typhoon Dujuan has slammed into Taiwan.  Dujuan has been categorized as a Super-typhoon and has left 24 injured as the incredible winds and massive rain battered the Island on Monday evening.

Most of the 24 people hurt suffered minor injuries, the island’s Emergency Operation Center said, many of them hit by flying debris.

More than 7,000 people have been evacuated in anticipation of the storm. About 200 people staying in emergency shelters.   

So far, more than 330,000 home are without electricity and tens of thousands of troops are on standby.  

Rainfall amounts have already reached 30 inches in some areas spawning fears of mudslides in the mountains.  

China has issued its top alert as the storm approaches the mainland.