Powerful storm sweeps across northern U.S. plains bringing snow, high winds

(Reuters) – A powerful snowstorm swept across parts of the central and northern U.S. plains in unseasonably cold temperatures and high winds on Thursday, forcing school closures and dozens of vehicle crashes on slick roads across the region.

The system was expected to produce up to 2 feet (61 cm) of snow in parts of central and eastern North Dakota and up to 10 inches of snow in portions of Nebraska, South Dakota and Montana through Saturday evening, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“It is significant, historic amounts for this time of year” in North Dakota, said NWS meteorologist Renee Wise.

The heavy, wet snow was accompanied by sleet and ice, making road travel treacherous if not impossible in some areas, the weather service said.

“It makes it more difficult to shovel and travel in. Some people were saying that with the snow on the roads this morning it was little bit like wet concrete mix,” Wise said.

Temperatures were forecast to dip into the teens while wind gusts were expected to reach 40 mph (65 kph) in parts of the region, the NWS said.

A blizzard warning was issued for communities in northern North Dakota from 10 a.m. Friday until 1 p.m. Saturday. The NWS said it expected three feet of snow and wind gusts to reach 60 mph, causing whiteout conditions and impassable drifts.

Winter storm, high wind and freeze warnings were also in effect for much of the U.S. Plains, from North Dakota south through Kansas and into Oklahoma and into northern Texas as of Thursday afternoon, with some warnings extending into Saturday.

In the Denver metro area, icy roads on Thursday caused dozens of crashes and semi-trucks to jackknife, closing some highways. Conditions were expected to worsen throughout the day as the city was expecting three inches of snow, the Denver Post reported.

“Tons of cars sliding everywhere, even trucks – really scary and unsafe!!,” said a Twitter user named Mehgan Russell, who said they lived in Denver.

The snowstorm forced schools to close in Denver on Thursday after schools were closed in Spokane, Washington, on Wednesday.

Some 136 flights were delayed and another 24 were canceled at Denver International Airport due to snow and ice, the online tracking site FlightAware.com reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago)

Blizzard clobbers Plains and Midwest after blanketing the U.S. Rockies

A bicyclist exits the Midtown Greenway bicycle and pedestrian trail during the spring snowstorm in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Annabelle Marcovici

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A powerful blizzard slammed the U.S. Plains and Midwest on Thursday with heavy snow and fierce winds that caused power outages and closed highways while raising fears of more flooding in the Midwest after a deluge last month.

The system was dumping more than a foot (0.3 m) of heavy snow and winds were gusting up to 65 miles (105 km) per hour from northeast Colorado north to northern Wisconsin, the National Weather Service said in multiple advisories.

Whiteout conditions on roadways were making “travel extremely dangerous,” according to the weather service. Blizzard and winter storm warnings would remain in effect across the region through Friday morning, it said.

“Conditions will continue to deteriorate the rest of the afternoon and overnight,” said Dan Effertz, a NWS meteorologist in Minnesota. “This is a very potent storm.”

Local media reported dozens of crashes and cars in ditches as several major highways and roads were shut down in parts of the U.S. Plains and Midwest. Some counties issued “no travel” advisories, warning drivers to stay off the roads.

“Blizzard, day two. Not even the pack of sled dogs can handle these roads,” said Minnesota crime novelist Anthony Neil Smith on Twitter.

More than 30,000 homes and businesses were without power in Minnesota, 14,200 in Iowa and 22,700 in Michigan by midday on Thursday, according to PowerOutages.us, a website that tracks power outages.

The storm beginning on Wednesday has already dumped more than 2 feet of snow on parts of South Dakota and more than about a foot of snow in communities in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.

The storm caused officials to close schools and governmental offices in dozens of communities.

In addition to snow, the storm was bombarding the region with rain, sleet, freezing rain and thunderstorms.

“You can probably even throw in the kitchen sink at this point,” the weather service said in a Tweet.

The blizzard, dubbed a “bomb cyclone” because of its rapidly intensifying funnel shape, is the second one to hit the region over the past month.

In March, another “bomb cyclone” triggered heavy rain over the region and combined with melting snow to cause flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. Damages and losses to property, cattle and crops in Nebraska and Iowa alone were estimated at more than $3 billion.

Officials in Nebraska on Thursday were cautiously watching the forecast and river levels to the north, said Jodie Fawl, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency.

“We are waiting to see what happens when the snow melts,” she said, noting that warm temperatures since then have thawed the ground and could result in less flooding. “We are just going to have to wait and see.”

Despite the severe weather, crew members at Denver International Airport worked through the night to remove snow from runways, and only about 180 flights were canceled on Thursday morning, down from more than 700 a day earlier, according to FlightAware.come, a flight tracking service, and airport officials.

(Additional writing and reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Gina Cherelus in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Bernadette Baum and Phil Berlowitz)

Blizzard moves towards Plains and Midwest after waning in the U.S. Rockies

A general view of the blizzard in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. March 13, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Mandatory credit TWITTER @PHOTOWILLG/via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A powerful storm bringing heavy snowfall and strong winds was churning across the U.S. Plains and Midwest on Thursday, a day after a blizzard in the Rocky Mountains grounded flights, caused power outages and raised fears of further Midwest flooding after a deluge last month.

Warm spring temperatures on Tuesday, upwards of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver, gave way to frigid 20s, heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions through Thursday, the National Weather Service said.

David Roth, a meteorologist with the weather service’s Weather Prediction Center, said that while the Rockies were expected to receive constant precipitation until Saturday, the center of low pressure of the blizzard was spinning into the U.S. Plains and Midwest.

Roth said the storm system will turn northeast into Minnesota late on Thursday and then slowly move into Lake Superior by Friday night.

Heavy snow with blizzard conditions was expected through Thursday night in southeastern South Dakota and southwestern Minnesota, the weather service said.

Despite the severe weather, crew members at Denver International Airport worked through the night to remove snow from runways, and only about 180 flights were canceled on Thursday morning, down from more than 700 a day earlier, according to FlightAware.come, a flight tracking service, and airport officials.

“Some cancellations and delays are expected today, so be sure to check your flight status with your airline!” airport officials wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Residents throughout the north-central United States could expect downed trees, widespread power outages, road closures and treacherous driving through Friday, the NWS said.

More than 10,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Dakota and about another 10,000 in Minnesota early Thursday.

Officials in Colorado ordered state government offices in 54 counties to be closed on Thursday, according to a statement posted on Facebook. Government offices in Denver were closed on Wednesday afternoon due to weather conditions, according to a statement on the state’s website.

Brian Hurley, another meteorologist with the weather service, had previously described the powerful blizzard as a “bomb cyclone,” the second one to hit the area in two months.

“This is like a slow-moving snowstorm inside a hurricane,” Hurley said, adding that wind gusts were upwards of 100 mph on Wednesday in eastern Colorado.

In March, another “bomb cyclone,” which involves a rapidly intensifying cyclone, triggered heavy rain over the region and combined with melting snow to cause flooding along the Missouri River and its tributaries. Damages and losses to property, cattle and crops in Nebraska and Iowa alone were estimated at more than $3 billion .

This week’s weather system is expected to weaken and move to the Great Lakes area on Friday, bringing rain and snow to that region, the Weather Service said.

“All that snow is going to melt sooner rather than later, and it’ll all flow into the Missouri River basin,” Hurley said.

(Additional writing and reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; additional reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Gina Cherelus in New York and Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; editing by Larry King and Bernadette Baum)

Millions in central U.S. brace for ‘life-threatening’ blizzards, potential floods

Floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A blizzard hitting the U.S. Rockies on Wednesday was forecast to move eastward over the next day, threatening to bring new flooding to the Plains states including parts of South Dakota and Missouri that are still recovering from last month’s inundation.

High spring temperatures will give way to heavy snow, gale-force winds and life-threatening conditions across a swathe of the central United States running from the Rockies to the Great Lakes, according to the National Weather Service.

“This is potentially a life-threatening storm,” Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the NWS’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, said Wednesday.

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A sign for shops is seen as floodwaters flow along a street in Pullman, Washington, U.S. in this still image taken from April 9, 2019 social media video. ELLIE STENBERG/via REUTERS

A cyclone last month dropped heavy rains over that region, causing extensive flooding along the Missouri River and more than $3 billion in damage to property and crops in Nebraska and Iowa.

Pueblo, Colorado, hit 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius) on Tuesday, but will drop down to 25F (minus 4C) by early Thursday. Similar temperatures are forecast in Denver.

The storm is expected to bring blinding, heavy wet snow across the region, likely downing trees and causing widespread power outages, widespread road closures and making driving treacherous, Burke said.

“It’s slow moving. It won’t push farther east until Friday,” he said.

Some areas of western Minnesota and southeast South Dakota were expected to get up to 30 inches of wet, heavy snow, the NWS said.

Two factors may limit the flooding effect, forecasters said. Thawed ground will be able to absorb more precipitation than last month’s frozen ground and a fall of heavy snow rather than rain will slow the runoff process.

Nearly 500 flights were canceled at Denver International Airport on Wednesday, about a quarter of its total schedule, according to FlightAware.com, an airline tracking website.

Airport officials said they had snow-removal crews in place.

The coming storm was expected to exacerbate flooding along the Missouri River in areas where dozens of levees were breached in March, exposing communities to future surges. The river was not expected to crest in areas of Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri until between three to five days after the storm.

The storm is expected to weaken and push off into the Great Lakes area and northern Michigan on Friday, bringing more rain and snow, the weather service said.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

U.S. farmers face devastation following Midwest floods

By Humeyra Pamuk, P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek

WINSLOW, Neb./CHICAGO (Reuters) – Midwestern farmers have been gambling they could ride out the U.S.-China trade war by storing their corn and soybeans anywhere they could – in bins, plastic tubes, in barns or even outside.

Now, the unthinkable has happened. Record floods have devastated a wide swath of the Farm Belt across Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and several other states. Early estimates of lost crops and livestock are approaching $1 billion in Nebraska alone. With more flooding expected, damages are expected to climb much higher for the region.

As river levels rose, spilling over levees and swallowing up townships, farmers watched helplessly as the waters consumed not only their fields but their stockpiles of grain, the one thing that can stand between them and financial ruin.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Tom Geisler, a farmer in Winslow, Nebraska, who said he lost two full storage bins of corn. “We had been depending on the income from our livestock, but now all of our feed is gone, so that is going to be even more difficult. We haven’t been making any money from our grain farming because of trade issues and low prices.”

The pain does not end there. As the waters began to recede in parts of Nebraska, the damage to the rural roads, bridges and rail lines was just beginning to emerge. This infrastructure is critical for the U.S. agricultural sector to move products from farms to processing plants and shipping hubs.

The damage to roads means it will be harder for trucks to deliver seed to farmers for the coming planting season, but in some areas, the flooding on fields will render them all-but-impossible to use.

The deluge is the latest blow for the Farm Belt, which has faced several crises in the last five years, as farm incomes have fallen by more than 50 percent due to a global grain glut. President Donald Trump’s trade policies cut off exports of soybeans and other products, making the situation worse.

Soybeans were the single most valuable U.S. agricultural export crop and until the trade war, China bought $12 billion worth a year from American farmers. But Chinese tariffs have almost halted the trade, leaving farmers with crops they are struggling to sell for a profit.

CORN AND SOYBEANS DESTROYED

As prices plummeted last year amid the ongoing trade fight, growers, faced with selling crops at a loss, stuffed a historic volume of grain into winding plastic tubes and steel bins. Some cash-strapped families piled crops inside their barns or outside on the ground.

Farmers say they are now finding storage bags torn and bins burst open, grain washed away or contaminated. Jeff Jorgenson, a farmer and regional director for the Iowa Soybean Association, said he has seen at least a dozen bins that burst after grains swelled when they became wet.

Under U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, flood-soaked grain is considered adulterated and must be destroyed, according to Iowa State University.

Some farmers had been waiting for corn prices to rise just 10 cents a bushel more before making sales, which would earn them a few extra thousand dollars, Jorgenson said.

“That’s the toughest pill to swallow,” Jorgenson said. “This could end their career of farming and the legacy of the family farm.”

As of Dec. 1, producers in states with flooding – including South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois – had 6.75 billion bushels of corn, soybeans and wheat stored on their farms – 38 percent of the total U.S. supplies available at that time, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

Iowa suffered at least $150 million in damage to agricultural buildings and machinery, and 100,000 acres of farmland are under water, said Keely Coppess, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship.

Jorgenson surveyed more than two dozen local farmers to assess the damage and tallied about 1.25 million bushels of corn and 390,000 bushels of soybeans lost just in Fremont County, Iowa, worth an estimated $7.3 million.

EXTENT OF DAMAGE UNCLEAR

The record flooding has killed at least four people in the Midwest and left one person missing. The extent of damage is unknown as meteorologists expect more flooding in the coming weeks.

Early estimates put flood damage at $400 million in losses for Nebraska’s cow-calf industry and another $440 million in crop losses, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The water came so fast,” said John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union. “We know our farmers didn’t have enough time to move all the cattle or empty all their grain bins.”

Multiple washouts and high water on BNSF Railway Co’s main lines have caused major disruption across parts of the Midwest, the company warned on its website. The flooding also has disrupted part of Hormel Foods Corp’s supply chain, the company told Reuters.

The roads are so bad that Nebraska’s National Guard on Wednesday will push hay out of a military helicopter to feed cattle in Colfax County stranded by floodwaters, Major General Daryl Bohac said. It is the first time in at least half a century that such an airdrop has been conducted, he said.

Cattle carcasses have been found tangled in debris or rotting in trees, while tractors and other expensive machinery are stuck in mud, unable to be moved. At Geisler’s farm in Winslow, Nebraska, two trucks and a tractor were seen buried in mud in wooden barns where water pooled.

“We should have been getting into planting for next season, but now all of our equipment is flooded and it’s going to take at least three to four weeks to bring back that equipment into shape,” said Geisler.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Tom Polansek in Chicago and Humeyra Pamuk in Winslow, Nebraska; Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen and Mark Weinraub in Chicago; Editing by David Gaffen and Matthew Lewis)

Mike Pence to visit Nebraska amid deadly floods

Lanni Bailey and a team from Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue enter a flooded house to pull out several cats during the flooding of the Missouri River near Glenwood, Iowa, U.S. March 18, 2019. Passport Aerial Photography/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will visit Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the devastation left by floods in the Midwest which have killed at least four people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The floods, the result of last week’s ‘bomb cyclone,’ a term used by meteorologists to describe the powerful winter hurricane, inundated stretches of Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River. It swamped homes, covering about a third of the U.S. Air Force Base that is home to the United States Strategic Command, and cut off road access to a nuclear power plant.

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

Farms were deluged and rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes.

About 74 Nebraska cites had declared states of emergency by Monday evening, according to Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). More than 600 residents were evacuated and taken to American Red Cross-operated shelters.

“Heading to Nebraska today to survey the devastating flood damage. To the people of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, all regions impacted: we are with you,!” Pence said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday. He will tour the zone with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

The flood waters are the result of snowmelt following heavy rains last week and warm temperatures, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Most of the snowpack in Nebraska is now gone, but upriver in North and South Dakota, there’s significant snowpack of up to 20 plus inches (51 cm) and it’s melting,” he said.

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City.

The river was expected to crest at more than 47 feet (14.5 meters) on Tuesday, breaking the previous record, set in 2011, by more than a foot (30 cm), NEMA said.

At least one person was missing on Monday. The four reported deaths included one person in Iowa who was rescued from flood waters but later succumbed to injuries, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history,” in terms of size, Governor Ricketts told reporters Monday.

Damage to the state’s livestock sector was estimated at about $400 million, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The state’s highway system suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, said Kyle Schneweis, director of the state Department of Transportation.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

Blizzard threatens U.S. central plains with two feet of snow

A woman walks down the street during a blizzard in Long Beach, New York, U.S. January 4, 2018.

By Peter Szekely

(Reuters) – A late-winter storm this week could dump up to two feet (60 cm) of snow in the U.S. central Plains states, potentially snarling travel and bringing flooding to the Upper Midwest, U.S. forecasters said on Tuesday.

The storm, now brewing as low-pressure center in the southwest, will quickly move into the Rocky Mountains and deliver one to two feet of snow with blizzard conditions in much of Colorado and parts of Wyoming, Nebraska and South Dakota, the National Weather Service predicted.

The biggest air travel hub likely to be affected by the snow is Denver International Airport, but cross-continental air travel lanes could be disrupted as well as the system brings a line of rain squalls eastward, forecasters said.

“The snow will really start picking up by later tonight into the day on Wednesday,” meteorologist Mark Chenard said in a Tuesday phone interview from the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

The storm will also bring heavy rain to areas of eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota that already have a good deal of snow on the ground, the NWS said.

“We could have the potential for major river flooding, given the rain and the snow melt,” Chenard said.

An earlier round of heavy, wet snow caused several roofs to collapse in the Upper Midwest last weekend, including those of a church and a hotel.

By Thursday, the storm system will weaken as it moves over the Tennessee River Valley, bringing mostly rain from Michigan southward to the Gulf Coast and some remaining snow only in the far northern parts of the country, he added.

 

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

‘We know how to survive,’ but U.S. shutdown cut deep for Native Americans

Lynn Provost stands in front of her trailer on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, U.S. January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

By Stephanie Keith and Andrew Hay

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D./TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) – The Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma used a GoFundMe page and its own money to feed its many members who were furloughed or worked without pay during the U.S. government shutdown.

On their reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, the Cheyenne River Sioux used third-party funds and dipped into tribal funds to provide food assistance.

The 35-day partial government shutdown affected 800,000 federal workers, but Native Americans were especially vulnerable because they rely mostly on federal contracts for services and jobs in the Bureau of Indian affairs for incomes.

Ivan Looking Horse, a spiritual leader at the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, said they had prepared for an even longer shutdown in the midst of a harsh South Dakota winter along the Cheyenne River.

A worker places packaged food onto a counter inside of a food distribution center on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, U.S. January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

A worker places packaged food onto a counter inside of a food distribution center on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, U.S. January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

“We are the First Nations’ people. We know how to survive,” he said after President Donald Trump announced an end to the 35-day partial government shutdown.

Federal workers caught a reprieve after Trump agreed to reopen the government until Feb. 15, without getting the $5.7 billion he had demanded for a border wall. Over the next 18 days lawmakers in the ideologically divided Congress will try to craft a border security bill acceptable to Trump.

For American Indian tribes and federal workers, that amounts to a period in limbo while they wait to see if a deal will be reached by the Feb. 15 deadline – or if another government shutdown will again take their paychecks hostage.

Looking Horse was cautiously optimistic. “I think they’ll come to a conclusion,” he said. “This country is based on democracy and consensus and good things will come out.”

HUNDREDS OF TREATIES

Native Americans elsewhere were not so sure.

A Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) worker in the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico, said the agency would work fast to obtain federal grants for contracts to run basic services like road maintenance and land management.

Tracy Lawrence (R), 51, a furloughed Bureau of Indian Affairs worker, holds his grandson while attending a high school basketball game on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, U.S. January 26, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

Tracy Lawrence (R), 51, a furloughed Bureau of Indian Affairs worker, holds his grandson while attending a high school basketball game on the Cheyenne River Reservation in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, U.S. January 26, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie Keith

“Everyone is going to be working like mad for the next 2-1/2 weeks in case he shuts it down again,” said the employee, who did not want to be identified.

BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said in an email, “Indian Affairs is excited to resume our work towards fulfilling our trust responsibility and treaty obligations for the 573 federally recognized tribes.”

While stress from the shutdown – including missed home and car payments, food handouts and burning through savings – affected all federal workers and contractors, it cut much deeper for American Indians.

Generations ago, tribes negotiated hundreds of treaties with the U.S. government guaranteeing funds for things like education, public safety, basic infrastructure and health in exchange for vast amounts of their land.

The services are administered directly by federal agencies or through the tribes and contractors by means of grants.

With BIA offices closed by the shutdown, families receiving federal royalty payments for oil and gas drilling and grazing on former tribal lands did not receive checks that can be their main source of income.

About 9,000 Indian Health Service employees, delivering health care to about 2.2 million Native Americans and Alaska Natives, worked without pay, according to the Health and Human Services Department’s shutdown plan.

“When our funding gets cuts, all these people are getting put on hold for the healthcare they need,” said Terri Parton, president of the Anadarko, Oklahoma-based Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Like the Cheyenne River Sioux in South Dakota, the Wichita dipped into tribal funds to prop up social services.

ERODED FAITH

After enduring government shutdowns in the 1990s, the Cherokee Nation changed its operating model from the government’s running many of its facilities to administering services themselves with federal money, said Chuck Hoskin, secretary of state for the Cherokee Nation.

The latest stoppage, the 10th with furloughs since 1976, has further eroded Native American confidence in the federal government, tribal leaders say.

At the Pawnee Nation in Oklahoma, the GoFundMe drive was launched to provide baskets of groceries to federal workers, even those who were not tribe members, struggling to put food on the table, said Jim Gray, executive director of the nation. In 16 days – the drive is no longer accepting donations – it raised $6,343, out of a goal of $10,000.

“We had to give up 99 percent of our land to hang onto this 1 percent and then, in turn, they were supposed to provide these kinds of services as part of that treaty agreement,” Gray said.

 

(Reporting by Stephanie Keith in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, and Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; additional reporting by Lenzy Kreihbul-Burton in Pawnee, Oklahoma; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)

Nebraska regulators approve Keystone XL pipeline route

A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Nebraska March 10, 2014.

By Kevin O’Hanlon and Valerie Volcovici

LINCOLN, Nebraska/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Nebraska regulators voted on Monday to approve a route for TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline through the state, lifting the last big regulatory obstacle for the long-delayed project that U.S. President Donald Trump wants built.

The 3-2 decision by the Nebraska Public Service Commission helps clear the way for the pipeline linking Canada’s Alberta oil sands to refineries in the United States, but is likely to be challenged in court by opponents who say the project is an environmental risk.

The commission’s approval was not for TransCanada’s preferred route, but for a slightly longer alternative that could prove more difficult and costly to build. It was unclear whether the company will decide to pursue the project as it considers the commercial viability.

TransCanada did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the commission’s vote.

TransCanda stock rose as much as 2 percent to the session’s high of C$63.80 after the decision, while the broader Canada stock index was up 0.2 percent.

Trump, a Republican, has made Keystone XL’s success a plank in his effort to boost the U.S. energy industry. Environmentalists, meanwhile, have made the project a symbol of their broader fight against fossil fuels and global warming.

The proposed line has been a lightning rod of controversy since it was first advocated nearly a decade ago. The administration of former President Barack Obama, a Democrat, considered the project for years before rejecting it in 2015 on environmental grounds, under pressure from activist groups.

Trump swiftly reversed that decision after coming into office this year, handing TransCanada a federal permit for the pipeline in March and arguing the project will lower fuel prices, boost national security, and bring jobs.

Nationwide, Trump has said Keystone XL would create 28,000 jobs. But a 2014 State Department study predicted just 3,900 construction jobs and 35 permanent jobs.

Trump’s decision placed the pipeline’s fate into the hands of the obscure regulatory body in Nebraska, the only state that had yet to approve the pipeline’s route. Permits along Keystone XL’s proposed 1,179-miles (1,897-km) path have been approved in Canada, Montana and South Dakota.

Opposition to the line in Nebraska has been driven mainly by a group of around 90 landowners whose farms lie along the proposed route. They have said they are worried spills could pollute water critical for grazing cattle, and that tax revenue will be short-lived and jobs will be temporary.

A lawyer for the landowners, Dave Domina, said the commission’s decision was a partial victory, because it denied TransCanada its preferred route. But he added: “We will carefully evaluate the Order and meet with our clients.”

Billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer denounced the commission’s decision. “We will not stop making our voices heard until this project is dead,” he said in a statement.

Just days ago, TransCanada’s existing Keystone system spilled 5,000 barrels in South Dakota and pipeline opponents said the spill highlighted the risks posed by the proposed XL expansion.

An aerial view shows the darkened ground of an oil spill which shut down the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States, located in an agricultural area near Amherst, South Dakota, U.S., in this photo provided November 18, 2017.

An aerial view shows the darkened ground of an oil spill which shut down the Keystone pipeline between Canada and the United States, located in an agricultural area near Amherst, South Dakota, U.S., in this photo provided November 18, 2017. Courtesy DroneBase/Handout via REUTERS

The project could be a boon for Canada, which has struggled to bring its vast oil reserves to market. But there are questions about demand for the pipeline after a surge in drilling activity in the United States.

 

(Reporting by Kevin O’Hanlon and Valerie Volcovici; additional reporting by Nia Williams and Ethan Lou in Calgary; Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Grant McCool)

 

U.S. meat company in ‘pink slime’ case launches fund for ex-workers

The Beef Products Inc (BPI) headquarters is pictured in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota November 19, 2012. REUTERS/Lane Hickenbottom

(Reuters) – The South Dakota meat processor that sued ABC News over the characterization of its top-selling product as “pink slime” in TV news reports has set up a $10 million fund to help former employees and communities affected by the plants it closed in 2012, it said on Wednesday.

The privately held Beef Products Inc sued ABC, a unit of Walt Disney Co <DIS.N>, in 2012, saying ABC defamed the company by using the term “pink slime” and accusing it of making errors and omissions in its reporting.

Walt Disney Co paid at least $177 million, in addition to insurance recoveries, to settle the case against ABC, according to a financial filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The settlement was reached in June after a 3-1/2-week trial.

BPI said in the lawsuit that after the ABC News stories ran, its revenue declined and it had to close three plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa.

BPI said on Wednesday it is working with former employees to apply for assistance with the help of the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce and other organizations in the affected communities.

The settlement proceeds were not needed or directly used for creating the fund, Rich Jochum, BPI’s general counsel, said in an interview. The company felt it could not launch this effort until after the lawsuit was settled, amid concerns over creating issues that could affect the case, he said.

(Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)