U.S. southeast braces for ‘days and days’ of floods from Florence

Hurricane Florence is seen from the International Space Station as it churns in the Atlantic Ocean towards the east coast of the United States, September 10, 2018. NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Anna Driver

HOLDEN BEACH, N.C. (Reuters) – The powerful Hurricane Florence threatened to bring “days and days” of rain and potentially deadly flooding to the U.S. southeast coast, North Carolina’s governor warned on Tuesday, as some 1 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes.

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Vehicles travel westbound on Interstate 26 ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence near Orangeburg, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

The storm threatened to hit coastal North and South Carolina with 130 mile per hour (210 kph) winds and massive waves when it makes landfall on Friday, and its rains will take a heavy toll for miles inland, the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s an extremely dangerous, life-threatening, historic hurricane … the forecast shows Florence stalling over North Carolina, bringing days and days of rain.”

Cooper and his counterparts in neighboring South Carolina and Virginia ordered about 1 million people to evacuate coastal homes, including along the Outer Banks barrier islands that protect North Carolina’s shore. Officials in South Carolina reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so that all major roads led away from the sea to speed evacuations.

The slow-moving storm, the most severe hurricane to threaten the U.S. mainland this year, was rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and located about 905 miles (1,455 km) east-southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina, at 11 a.m. EDT, according to the NHC.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for both North Carolina and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and resources for storm response. Officials have declared states of emergency in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

In addition to flooding the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 12 feet (3.7 m), Florence could drop 20 inches to as much as 30 inches (51 cm to 76 cm) of rain in places, forecasters said.

GRAPHIC: Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas – https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v


“This storm is going to be a direct hit on our coast,” said Jeff Byard, associate administrator for response and recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “We are planning for devastation.”

Not everyone was in a hurry to leave. Charles Mullen, 81, a longtime resident of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, said he had ridden out many storms and that most locals were planning to stay unless Florence took aim at Hatteras.

“If it decides to come here, we’re gone,” he said.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stripping grocery stores bare of food, water and supplies. Some gas stations also ran low on fuel.

“This is still a very dangerous storm,” South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster said at a Tuesday news conference. “We are in a very deadly and important game of chess with Hurricane Florence.”

McMaster lifted an earlier evacuation order for parts of three southern coastal counties but left them in effect for the state’s northern coast and urged residents to flee.

Wall Street was sniffing out companies that could gain or lose at the storm’s hands. Generator maker Generac Holdings Inc rose 2.2 percent and reached its highest price since April 2014.

Insurers Allstate Corp and Travelers Companies Inc were up slightly in early trade after falling sharply on Monday on worries about claims losses.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesman Roger Hannah said all nuclear power plants in the area were preparing but that Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick and Harris plants in North Carolina were most likely to be affected and, if Florence turns north, Dominion Energy Inc’s Surry plant in Virginia.

Plants in the storm’s path are shut down about 12 hours in advance of being hit.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Alden Bentley in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski and Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone)

Recovery of U.S. troops’ remains in North Korea hindered by cash, politics

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un leave after signing documents that acknowledge the progress of the talks and pledge to keep momentum going, after their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

By Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed in June to help return the remains of American troops killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, it was seen as one of the more attainable goals to come out of his summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.

American officials expect North Korea to hand over around 50 sets of remains in coming weeks, but the drawn-out process of negotiations to get to this point highlights the complications involved in the issue.

At the heart of the difficulty, former officials involved in previous recovery missions say, are likely demands from North Korea for cash compensation, as well as the unsolved tensions over North’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenal.

More than 7,700 U.S. troops who fought in the Korean War remain unaccounted for, with about 5,300 of those lost in what is now North Korea, according to the Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the U.S. military agency tasked with tracking down prisoners of war and troops missing in action.

The Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, leaving the United States and North Korea still technically at war.

Soon after the June summit, Trump announced North Korea had returned the remains of 200 soldiers that had already been found. However, negotiations over the actual handing over of the remains have dragged on.

“The North Koreans are using the remains issue as a bargaining chip,” said Bill Richardson, a former U.S. diplomat with experience negotiating with North Korea, including during the recovery of the remains of seven Americans in 2007.

“They’re stalling,” he told Reuters in an interview by phone. “I think in the end the North Koreans will turn over the majority of the remains that they have – but it will have a price. Not just a financial price.”


Between the 1990 and 2005, more than 400 caskets of remains found in North Korea were returned to the United States, and the bodies of some 330 Americans were accounted for, according to the DPAA.

Decades-old remains that North Korea has handed over in the past have not always been identifiable as U.S. troops.

The U.S. and North Korea worked together on so-called joint field activities (JFAs) to recover remains from 1996-2005 until Washington halted operations expressing concerns about the safety of its personnel.

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report said the United States paid $28 million to North Korea for assistance in the effort.

“To the best of my knowledge, it was never based on a per body calculation. Payments were made in support of each field mission – each joint recovery operation,” said Frank Jannuzi, a former Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer focusing on East Asian and Pacific affairs. Payments were to compensate North Korea for direct expenses incurred such as fuel costs, disruption of agricultural planting, or equipment costs, he said.

In 2011, Barack Obama’s administration agreed with Pyongyang to restart recovery missions, offering to pay $5,669,160 in “compensation” for services provided by North Korea.

Those planned missions never happened, however, as Washington called off the deal after North Korea tested a rocket in early 2012, said Paul M. Cole, author of ‘POW/MIA Accounting’.

“If the past is any indicator, the (North Koreans) are demanding up-front deliveries of food, fuel and at least $5 million in cash,” Cole told Reuters. “In the era of ‘maximum pressure,’ the dilemma for the Trump administration is whether to give the (North Koreans) massive amounts of food, fuel, trucks, SUVs and millions in cash, or cancel the deal.”

Former officials say typically North Korea has not asked for compensation when it unilaterally returns remains it recovers, such as the roughly 200 currently being discussed.

But if the United States hopes to send its own teams into North Korea, there will likely be a cost.

Asked whether the cost of future joint field activities would be similar to what was paid in the past, the Pentagon’s DPAA Public Affairs Office said: “As of yet, there are no JFAs scheduled in North Korea so we cannot speculate on what such activities may cost.”

The U.S. State Department did not have an immediate comment on the negotiations, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on June North Korea had made a commitment to unilateral return the first remains “in the next couple weeks”.

According to CRS, the United States also paid for recovery operations in Vietnam. As with North Korea, critics complained the Vietnamese government charged “extraordinarily high fees for providing support… and that the services received are by no means as lavish as the bills presented indicate”.

South Korea’s former Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Kim Sung-han said Pyongyang would likely want to use the return of remains to improve its relations with Washington while avoiding addressing more touchy subjects such as denuclearization.

“North Korea wants the war declared ended sooner rather than later so trust can be built and progress on its international standing can be made,” he said, adding that any “reimbursements” were likely to violate sanctions.

Besides being politically sensitive, however, handing the North Korean government stacks of cash offers no guarantee that authenticated U.S. servicemen’s remains would be recovered, Jannuzi said.

“We might spend a million dollars and come up with nothing.”

(Additional reporting by Jeongmin Kim and Josh Smith in SEOUL, Arshad Mohammed and Daphne Psaledakis in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)