Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

WARSAW (Reuters) – Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.

Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.

“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.

“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”

In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.

“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”

The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.

(Writing by Alan Charlish; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Oil companies evacuate workers as storm heads for U.S. Gulf of Mexico

HOUSTON (Reuters) -Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron on Thursday began evacuating non-essential personnel from offshore U.S. Gulf of Mexico platforms ahead of a storm expected to enter the Gulf this weekend.

A storm brewing in the Caribbean Sea could become a major hurricane this weekend and strike the U.S. Gulf Coast by Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricanes with winds of up to 111 miles per hour (178 km) are classified as major and can bring devastating damage onshore.

“This storm has the potential for rapid increases in intensity before it comes ashore” because of extremely warm waters off Louisiana, said Jim Foerster, chief meteorologist at DTN, which provides weather information to offshore oil and transportation companies.

Shell said evacuations covered all eight of its Gulf of Mexico properties and a floating production and storage vessel was being moved out of harms way. Chevron said its Gulf of Mexico oil and gas production remained at normal levels.

“Water temperatures are 85 degrees to 88 degrees Fahrenheit (29-31 C), that’s anomalously high, 3 to 5 degrees higher than it normally would be,” said DTN’s Foerster. A projected path over warm waters will result in heavy rains and flooding as it nears the central Gulf Coast, he said.

(Reporting by Gary McWilliams; editing by David Evans and David Gregorio)

Schools shut, supplies affected as Madrid clears record snow

By Cristina Sanchez and Belén Carreño

MADRID (Reuters) – Schools in Madrid were shut and some supermarkets ran out of fresh produce or were shuttered on Monday but most trains and flights had resumed operations after a huge snow storm hit the Spanish capital and several other regions over the weekend.

While many people enjoyed the rare snowfall, skiing in the very center of Madrid and holding mass snowball fights, a further cold spell was set to turn the snow into ice this week and authorities rushed to clear more streets, though they said the efforts could take one or two weeks.

Residents of Madrid, which has seen its heaviest snowfall in at least 50 years, helped police open paths through deep banks of snow using plywood boards or trays, and poured salt on the underlying ice. With rooftops enveloped in snow, authorities cordoned off some pavements due to the risk of accidents.

The storm, which dumped up to 20 inches on Madrid, has hampered Spain’s efforts to increase the pace of its coronavirus vaccination program amid rising infections.

A new batch of vaccines meant to land in Madrid was diverted on Monday to Vitoria in the north, but city authorities said vaccinations in care homes and hospitals continued as planned.

Renfe train operator said all fast train lines were operating except for Madrid-Barcelona connections, which are likely to resume early in the afternoon. Most Madrid suburban lines were working on Monday, but with fewer trains than usual.

“COMPLICATED SITUATION”

Two runways at the Barajas international airport re-opened. The airport operator said that of around 400 flights scheduled to fly in and out on Monday, 117 had been cancelled.

A Reuters reporter saw a number of empty shelves at several central Madrid supermarkets.

The Spanish supermarket association urged customers to behave responsibly in the wake of a “complicated situation” in many storm-affected areas. But it said supplies had resumed in the early hours on Monday and were gradually increasing.

After staying closed in the morning, Mercamadrid, the city’s main wholesale food market, said convoys of trucks which had been stranded in the snow since Friday had started arriving and that it was preparing to resume activity from Monday night.

About 85% of Madrid’s bars and restaurants are still closed, with a return to normal expected on Thursday, the Hosteleria de España association said, estimating lost revenues over the period at 70 million euros ($85 million)

Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said the situation on the roads was improving but was still “extraordinary” and many remained closed.

The cold wave, with temperatures as low as -10 degrees Celsius in central Spain, will last until Thursday, the Aemet meteorological agency said.

($1 = 0.8223 euros)

(Reporting by Guillermo Martinez, Elena Rodriguez, Ingrid Melander, Cristina Sanchez, Belen Carreno, Inti Landauro, Clara-Laeila Laudette, Emma Pinedo, Andrei Khalip; Writing by Ingrid Melander and Andrei Khalip; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Gareth Jones)

Oil markets flat as restarts begin at storm-hit energy operations

By Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – Energy companies on Friday continued efforts to restore operations at U.S. Gulf Coast offshore platforms and refineries shut by Hurricane Laura as oil markets largely shrugged off the storm’s impact.

Some 300 offshore production facilities and half-dozen refineries halted ahead of a Category 4 storm that hit the coast of Louisiana early Thursday with winds of 150 mile per hour (240 kph). The destructive winds cut a narrow path through the area, sparing facilities not directly in its path.

However, Citgo Petroleum’s 418,000-barrel per day Lake Charles, Louisiana, plant was on the storm’s path, and repairs could take four to six weeks, according to Mizuho Securities. The company did not reply to requests for comment.

Motiva Enterprises, operator of the largest U.S. refinery, and Valero Energy Corp on Friday began restarting their Port Arthur, Texas, refineries.

U.S. crude futures traded at $43.08 per barrel at midday, up four cents, up slightly from $42.34 a week ago. U.S. gasoline futures were up 2 cents, less than 2% higher than they were a week ago.

About 84%, or 1.56 million barrels per day, of U.S. Gulf of Mexico crude output and 60% of natural gas offshore production were shut on Thursday, the U.S. Department of Interior reported.

Exxon Mobil Corp said its 369,024 bpd Beaumont, Texas, refinery, about 50 miles (80 km) west of the storm’s landfall, required “minor repairs,” a spokesman said. The company was taking steps to restart once power and port operations were restored.

Cheniere Energy Inc’s and Cameron LNG’s Cameron liquefied natural gas plants in Louisiana took almost no pipeline gas early on Friday, according to preliminary data from Refinitiv.

“Refiners may be reluctant to quickly return to production when the product they make is a money losing proposition,” Robert Yawger, director of energy futures at Mizuho Securities, wrote on Friday.

The ports of Beaumont, Orange and Sabine, Texas, and Cameron and Lake Charles, Louisiana, remained closed on Friday, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Houston, the United States’ largest energy export port, restarted operations on Thursday and had nearly halved the list of 53 vessels waiting on Thursday to reenter the port.

One-way movement and other restrictions were in place on Friday at points along the Houston Ship Channel, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

(Reporting by Erwin Seba; writing by Gary McWilliams; Editing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

Hurricane Laura slams Louisiana, kills six, but less damage than forecast

By Elijah Nouvelage and Ernest Scheyder

LAKE CHARLES, La. (Reuters) – Hurricane Laura tore through Louisiana on Thursday, killing six people and flattening buildings across a wide swatch of the state before moving into Arkansas with heavy rains.

Laura’s powerful gusts uprooted trees – and four people were crushed to death in separate incidents of trees falling on homes. The state’s department of health said late Thursday that there were two more fatalities attributed to the hurricane – a man who drowned while aboard a sinking boat and a man who had carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator in his home.

In Westlake, a chemical plant caught fire when hit by Laura, and the flames continued to send a chlorine-infused plume of smoke skyward nearly 24 hours after landfall.

Laura caused less mayhem than forecasts predicted – but officials said it remained a dangerous storm and that it would take days to assess the damage. At least 867,000 homes and businesses in Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas remained without power on Thursday afternoon.

“This was the most powerful storm to ever make landfall in Louisiana,” Governor John Bel Edwards told a news conference. “It’s continuing to cause damage and life-threatening conditions.”

Laura’s maximum sustained winds of 150 miles per hour (241 kph) upon landfall easily bested Hurricane Katrina, which sparked deadly levee breaches in New Orleans in 2005, and arrived with wind speeds of 125 mph.

The NHC said Laura’s eye had crossed into southern Arkansas late Thursday afternoon and was heading to the northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). The storm could dump 7 inches (178 mm) of rain on portions of Arkansas, likely causing flash floods.

Laura was downgraded to a tropical depression by the NHC at 10 p.m., and the forecaster said it will move to the mid-Mississippi Valley later on Friday and then to the mid-Atlantic states on Saturday.

CHEMICAL PLUME

Laura’s howling winds leveled buildings across a wide swath of the state and a wall of water that was 15 feet (4.6 m) high crashed into tiny Cameron, Louisiana, where the hurricane made landfall around 1 a.m.

A calamitous 20-foot storm surge that had been forecast to move 40 miles (64 km) inland was avoided when Laura tacked east just before landfall, Edwards said. That meant a mighty gush of water was not fully pushed up the Calcasieu Ship Channel, which would have given the storm surge an easy path far inland.

Tropical-force winds were felt in nearly every parish across Louisiana – and Edwards warned that the death toll could climb as search and rescue missions increase.

CLEANUP BEGINS

Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 mph and gusts up to 128 mph in the hour after landfall.

National Guard troops cleared debris from roads in Lake Charles on Thursday afternoon. There were downed power lines in streets around the city, and the winds tipped a few semi-trucks onto their sides.

The windows of the city’s 22-story Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the flooded streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxious about his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he said in a telephone interview.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Lake Charles, La., Ernest Scheyder in Starks, La., Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas, Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver, Timothy Ahmann, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Gabriella Borter and Brad Brooks; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)

Hurricane Laura slams southwestern Louisiana, but less damage than forecast

By Elijah Nouvelage and Ernest Scheyder

LAKE CHARLES, La. (Reuters) – Hurricane Laura ripped through southwestern Louisiana on Thursday, destroying buildings in towns across the southwestern corner of the state and killing a 14-year-old girl after making landfall as one of the most powerful storms to hit the area.

Still, the damage Laura has inflicted so far is far less than what forecasters predicted.

The hurricane’s first reported U.S. fatality was the teenage girl in Leesville, Louisiana, who died when a tree fell on her house, a spokeswoman for Governor John Bel Edwards said.

“We do expect that there could be more fatalities,” the spokeswoman, Christina Stephens, said on Twitter.

A chemical plant caught fire in Laura’s wake on Thursday morning in Westlake, Louisiana, 4 miles (6.4 km) west of Lake Charles, sending thick black smoke billowing into the sky over the wind-torn landscape near Interstate 10.

Edwards warned residents in the area to shelter in place, close doors and windows and turn off air conditioners as authorities investigated. Traffic was blocked on the interstate and Highway 90.

“Stay inside and wait for additional direction from local officials,” Edwards wrote on Twitter.

CLEANUP BEGINS

Residents of Lake Charles heard Laura’s winds howling and the sound of breaking glass as the storm passed through the city of 78,000 with winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour) and gusts up to 128 mph (206 kph) in the hour after landfall.

National Guard troops cleared debris from roads in Lake Charles on Thursday afternoon. There were downed power lines in streets around the city, and the winds tipped a few semi-trucks onto their sides.

The windows of the city’s 22-floor Capital One Tower were blown out, street signs were toppled and pieces of wooden fence and debris from collapsed buildings lay scattered in the flooded streets, video footage on Twitter and Snapchat showed.

Lake Charles resident Borden Wilson, a 33-year-old pediatrician, was anxiously anticipating his return home after evacuating to Minden, Louisiana.

“I never even boarded up my windows. I didn’t think to do that. This is the first hurricane I’ve experienced. I just hope my house is fine,” he said in a telephone interview.

In the small town of Starks, about 25 miles northwest of Lake Charles, pine trees strewn across roads and homes were the biggest challenge in cleaning up.

Rev. Karl Smith carefully inspected the damage done to buildings around his First Pentecostal Church. He rode out the storm in the cellar of his house – and had to cut through trees so that he and his wife could get out.

“We just had trees thrown everywhere,” Smith said. “It’s a big mess.”

HIGH WATERS, TORNADO THREATS

Laura made landfall just before 1 a.m. (0600 GMT) as a Category 4 storm packing winds of 150 mph in the small town of Cameron, Louisiana, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It rapidly weakened to a Category 1 storm on Thursday morning with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), and has since become a tropical storm.

The NHC warned that high water levels would persist along the Gulf Coast for several hours as Laura moved north and then northeast.

Besides threatening life, the storm slammed the heart of the U.S. oil industry, forcing oil rigs and refineries to shut down production.

The Port of Lake Charles remained closed as workers were unable to enter or exit the facility due to downed power lines and trees.

The port avoided significant flooding but power was out as of Thursday morning, manager of security and safety Ed Manint said. The harbor police were assessing the damage, he said.

‘LESS SURGE THAN WE THOUGHT’

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Pete Gaynor told Fox News that the agency would make storm damage assessments on Thursday and had the resources to respond to the storm now, adding he expected to see significant damage from wind and building damage.

“I think we’re generally fortunate – less surge than we thought,” Gaynor said.

The NHC on Wednesday predicted storm surge would be “unsurvivable” and could penetrate up to 40 miles inland. While the worst projections had not materialized, damaging winds and flooding rainfall would continue spreading inland later on Thursday, the NHC said.

Laura could spawn tornadoes on Thursday over Louisiana, Arkansas and western Mississippi, and was expected to drop 4 to 8 inches (10-20 cm) of rain across portions of that region, the NHC said.

(Reporting by Elijah Nouvelage in Lake Charles, La., Ernest Scheyder in Starks, La., Jennifer Hiller and Gary McWilliams in Houston, Liz Hampton in Denver, Timothy Ahmann, Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Gabriella Borter and Peter Szekely in New York and Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Tex.; Writing by Gabriella Borter; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis)

Trump approves emergency aid for Iowa after storm

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said he approved federal disaster aid for Iowa after a hurricane-force storm hit last week, causing widespread damage in towns and farms and leaving thousands without power.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds said on Sunday she requested about $4 billion in emergency funds following the Aug. 10 storm.

The destruction compounded troubles for a U.S. agricultural economy already battered by extreme weather, the U.S.-China trade war and disruptions to labor and food consumption from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I just approved an emergency declaration for Iowa,” Trump told reporters at the White House before departing on a trip to the Midwest. “It really did a lot of damage,” he said of the storm.

Trump, who is scheduled to speak on Monday in Minnesota and Wisconsin, said he aimed to visit Iowa.

“I’ll be going very soon and maybe today,” he said.

Media reports said the storm caused at least three deaths in Iowa. Winds as high as 100 miles per hour (160 kph) hit eastern Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and parts of Illinois.

The storm impacted 37.7 million acres of farmland across the Midwest, including 14 million in Iowa, the Iowa Soybean Association said on Friday, citing estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I’ve never seen the corn flattened as much as it has from this terrific windstorm,” U.S. Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa told reporters on Monday. “The number of grain bins flattened is humongous.”

The storm affected 58,000 holders of crop-insurance policies with a liability of around $6 billion in Iowa, according to the Iowa Soybean Association.

Grassley said crop insurance covers about 90% of Iowa farmland. It is too early to determine whether there will be enough storage space for the autumn harvest, he said.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Steve Holland; in Washington; and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Nick Macfie and Dan Grebler)

Thousands without power in Western Australia after once in a decade storm

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Wild weather downed trees and left tens of thousands of people without power in Western Australia, as emergency services began cleaning up in Perth on Monday after some of the worst weather in a decade.

Wind speeds of up to 132 km/hour (82 mph) were registered at Cape Leeuwin, one of the state’s most south-westerly points early on Monday, the strongest May gusts in 15 years, according to the Australia Broadcasting Corp.

“Some wild weather has affected large parts of WA, causing widespread damage and large scale power outages. Please listen to the advice of emergency services and stay safe everyone,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on social media.

Around 50,000 customers were without power on Monday due to storm-related outages, utility Western Power said, as the remnants of Cyclone Mangga hit a cold front and brought squalling rain and emergency level storm warnings to the south of the state.

“New damage from the windborne debris has meant the overall number of impacted homes and businesses remains high,” it said on Twitter.

More than 390 calls for assistance were made to the state’s emergency services since Sunday, mostly from the Perth metropolitan area, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services Chief Superintendent Danny Mosconi told ABC Radio.

Pilbara Ports Authority said port operations in the Pilbara had not been affected, but elevated swell led to some minor shipping schedule changes at the Port of Dampier, which is used by Rio Tinto.

The biggest oil and gas operators in WA, Chevron Corp, Woodside Petroleum and Santos, said there was no impact on their operations in the minerals-rich state.

BHP Group said their was no major impact to its operations. Rio Tinto Ltd declined to comment.

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Additional reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Richard Pullin)

Six killed as severe storms, tornadoes rip through U.S. South

(Reuters) – At least six people were killed on Sunday as a strong storm system swept across Mississippi and Louisiana, spinning off more than a dozen tornadoes and leaving behind a path of destruction, state and local authorities said.

The storms hit on Easter Sunday as residents across the U.S. South, like most Americans, were under strict “stay-at-home” orders by the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana due to the nationwide coronavirus pandemic.

Damaged planes and buildings are seen in the aftermath of a tornado in Monroe, Louisiana, U.S. April 12, 2020, in this still image obtained from social media. Courtesy of Peter Tuberville/Social Media via REUTERS.

All six fatalities were recorded in Mississippi, the state’s emergency management agency said on Twitter, and tornado warnings remained in place across several counties into the evening.

The National Weather Service said 13 tornadoes were believed to have touched down across the region.

Images on local media showed the devastation left behind by twisters, including destroyed homes, downed power lines, twisted billboards and overturned cars.

The city of Monroe, Louisiana, posted photos of wrecked buildings on social media and said that Monroe Regional Airport had canceled all flights until further notice due to debris on the runway and weather conditions.

“By the grace of God, early reports show only a few minor injuries. Pray for our city! Many neighbors & friends suffered catastrophic damage,” Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo said on Twitter.

Tornado warnings were also issued for parts of Texas into Sunday night.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

Flights axed and floods feared as Storm Ciara clobbers Europe

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON (Reuters) – Storm Ciara lashed Britain and northern continental Europe with heavy rain and wind speeds that reached more than 90 miles an hour (145 kph) in places on Sunday, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights, train services and sports matches.

More than 200 flood warnings were issued across Britain, which recorded a maximum wind speed of 93 miles an hour at Aberdaron in Wales. One severe flood warning was put in place in Yorkshire, northern England, where water was predicted to overflow flood defenses and potentially threaten lives.

The storm caused major disruption to transport across the region; in the Netherlands, around 240 flights to and from Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, one of Europe’s busiest, were canceled as Ciara roared in off the Atlantic with gusts of up to 74 mph (120 kph).

In Germany, where Ciara was named Sabine, about 180 flights to and from Frankfurt airport – about 15% of all planned flights – were axed. Lufthansa <LHAG.DE>, Germany’s largest carrier, said it would cancel short and long-haul flights from Munich airport on Monday until 1200 GMT and 1300 GMT, respectively.

Lufthansa’s budget unit Eurowings said it had suspended flight operations at Hamburg, Berlin, Hanover, Dortmund, Duesseldorf, Cologne and Stuttgart. Meanwhile, some British domestic and international flights were also canceled, from airports including Heathrow and Gatwick.

Train services also fell victim to Ciara’s wrath.

German railway operator Deutsche Bahn warned of severe disruptions and said it would stop long-distance train travel across Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, in the evening.

Britain’s Network Rail said the weather had caused problems across its network, with fallen power lines, trees and even trampolines blocking tracks, and warned people not to travel unless they had to.

SPORT DISRUPTED

All shipping movements in and out of Britain’s Port of Dover on the south coast were suspended and the Humber Bridge in northern England was closed to all traffic for only the second time since it opened in 1981.

London’s eight royal parks, home to more than 170,000 trees, were closed and even the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, a tourist draw, was also canceled.

Sporting events were also hit; Manchester City said its English Premier League soccer match against West Ham was postponed due to “extreme and escalating weather conditions”, while Scotland’s Women’s Six Nations rugby match against England was among the other matches canceled.

All professional Dutch soccer matches were canceled, along with most outdoor sporting events.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan in London, Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt and Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Editing by Pravin Char)