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)

Powerful, ‘abnormal’ rains lash Rio de Janeiro, at least six dead

Firefighters work at the site of a mudslide after a heavy rain at the Babilonia slum in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

By Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Torrential rains doused Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday, killing at least six people and sowing chaos in Brazil’s second largest city, which declared a state of emergency after a storm that the mayor described as “absolutely abnormal.”

A bus is seen underneath trees uprooted by heavy rains in the Leblon neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A bus is seen underneath trees uprooted by heavy rains in the Leblon neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A woman and her 7-year-old granddaughter were buried in a mudslide as they rode in a taxi, and the driver’s body was also found inside the vehicle, police detective Valeria Aragao told O Globo newspaper. Two adult sisters died when their home in a slum was buried in a mudslide, while a man drowned in another part of the city, the mayor’s office said in a statement.

The rains began around Monday evening and had not let up by midday Tuesday, with a heavy downpour forecast through the end of the day. More than 34 cm (13 inches) of rain fell on parts of the city in the last 24 hours, according to the mayor’s office.

Videos on local news showed normally calm residential streets turned into raging torrents that dragged people and cars. A coastal bike path meant to be a legacy of the 2016 Olympics that had been weakened by previous storms suffered more damage, with chunks of the path falling into the sea.

“These rains are absolutely abnormal for this time of year; none of us expected so much rain at this time,” Mayor Marcelo Crivella told an early morning news conference.

The mayor’s office declared a state of emergency on Monday night. Major roads were closed, and the mayor’s office said 785 places were without power.

Emergency services acted to rescue people trapped in cars and on the streets. TV images on Tuesday showed divers examining a car submerged in a flooded underpass.

A truck is seen stuck on a flooded street during heavy rains in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

A truck is seen stuck on a flooded street during heavy rains in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes

Rio’s streets were quieter than usual on Tuesday, as nearly all schools shut and people worked from home to avoid the risk of being trapped at work.

It was the second major storm in two months to batter Rio. A violent tempest that hit the city in February killed at least seven people.

(Reporting by Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro; Additional reporting by Gabriel Stargardter in Rio and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

Death toll in Mozambique cyclone, floods could surpass 1,000: president

Flooding caused by Cyclone Idai is seen in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 16, 2019 in this still image taken from social media video obtained March 17, 2019. Tony Saywood via REUTERS

MAPUTO/HARARE (Reuters) – The number of people killed in a powerful storm and preceding floods in Mozambique could exceed 1,000, the president said on Monday, putting the potential death toll greatly more than current figures.

Only 84 deaths have been confirmed so far in Mozambique as a result of Cyclone Idai, which has also left a trail of death and destruction across Zimbabwe and Malawi, with vast areas of land flooded, roads destroyed and communication wiped out.

Speaking on Radio Mocambique, President Filipe Nyusi said he had flown over the affected region, where two rivers had overflowed. Villages had disappeared, he said, and bodies were floating in the water.

“Everything indicates that we can register more than one thousand deaths,” he said.

The cyclone has also killed 89 people in Zimbabwe, an official said on Monday, while the death toll in Malawi from heavy rains and flooding stood at 56 as of last week. No new numbers had been released following the cyclone’s arrival in the country.

Caroline Haga, a senior International Federation of the Red Cross official who is in Beira, said the situation could be far worse in the surrounding areas, which remained completely cut off by road and where houses were not as sturdy.

Nyusi flew over areas that were otherwise accessible, and some of which had been hit by flooding before Cyclone Idai.

RESCUE EFFORT

In Beira, Mozambique’s fourth-largest city and home to 500,000 people, a large dam had burst, further complicating rescue efforts.

Large swathes of land were completely submerged, and in some streets people waded through knee-high water around piles of mangled metal and other debris.

In the early hours of Monday morning, rescuers launched dinghies onto chest-high waters, navigating through reeds and trees – where some people perched on branches to escape the water – to rescue those trapped by the flooding.

Meanwhile, rescuers were struggling to reach people in Zimbabwe’s Chimanimani district, cut off from the rest of the country by torrential rains and winds of up to 170 km per hour that swept away roads, homes and bridges and knocked out power and communication lines.

Zimbabwean information ministry official Nick Mangwana told Reuters the number of confirmed deaths throughout the country was now 89. The body count is expected to rise.

Many people had been sleeping in the mountains since Friday, after their homes were flattened by rock falls and mudslides or washed away by torrential rains.

The Harare government has declared a state of disaster in areas affected by the storm. Zimbabwe, a country of 15 million people, was already suffering a severe drought that has wilted crops.

SOUTHEASTERN AFRICA GATEWAY

Beira, which sits at the mouth of the Pungwe River, is also home to Mozambique’s second-largest port, serving as gateway for imports to landlocked countries in southeast Africa.

The director of a company that jointly manages the port, Cornelder, based in the Netherlands, said the port had been closed since last Wednesday but would hopefully resume operations on Tuesday.

Two cranes would be working and the company had two large generators and enough fuel for now, though damage to access routes and roads further inland was more likely to cause a problem, said the director, who asked not to be named.

The fuel pipeline running from Beira to Zimbabwe was believed to be intact, the person said, though communication was still very patchy and therefore the situation at the port remained uncertain.

In February 2000, Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique when it was already devastated by its worst floods in three decades. It killed 350 people and made 650,000 homeless across southern Africa, also hitting Zimbabwe.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe in Zimbabwe and Manuel Mucari in Mozambique; Additional reporting by Emma Rumney in Johannesburg; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Snowstorm kills one, thousands without power in U.S. southeast

Snow hits a porch in Banner Elk, North Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from a time-lapse video obtained from social media. Rod Wilbourn/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay

ATLANTA (Reuters) – An intense snowstorm was easing up on Monday after it dumped up to two feet of snow in Virginia, left one motorist dead in North Carolina and cut off power for more than 300,000 people in the U.S. southeast.

The storm headed out to sea but the region will stay cold this week, the U.S. National Weather Service said.

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

A man cuts a fallen tree blocking a road in Landrum, South Carolina, U.S., December 9, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Off-Road Adventures/via REUTERS

Motorists in northern Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia can expect snow and ice to taper off on Monday, NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

“It’s fairly light and some of it is actually mixing with rain in North Carolina, so it won’t be as bad as it was in the last 24 hours,” Oravec said.

The storm dropped its heaviest snow in the appropriately named Whitetop, Virginia, tucked in the Appalachian Mountains along the western end of the Virginia-North Carolina border, the NWS said. Whitetop received two feet (60 cm) of snow, while Greensboro, North Carolina saw 16 inches (41 cm) and Durham, North Carolina got 14 inches (36 cm).

“Some of the higher totals occurred in higher elevations, but there were high totals in the more populated area of North Carolina as well,” Oravec said.

A motorist died and a passenger was injured in Matthews, North Carolina, on Sunday when a tree fell on their vehicle as it was traveling, causing the driver to plow through the front lawn of a church and slam into the building, Matthew police officials said in a statement.

In Kinston, North Carolina, divers searched for a driver whose 18-wheeler was found in a river, an NBC affiliate in Raleigh reported.

More than 300,000 customers were without power in the Carolinas, Tennessee and Virginia, Poweroutage.us reported.

The storm prompted more than 1,000 flight cancellations at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, the sixth-busiest airport in the country, and other airports across the region, according to flight-tracking website FlightAware, early Monday.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said on Sunday a state of emergency would remain in effect and the North Carolina National Guard had been activated to help with the response.

(Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus and Maria Caspani in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone and Steve Orlofsky)

Heavy snow hammers U.S. Midwest after holiday weekend

A driver clears the snow off his car during an early season snowfall in the Boston suburb of Medford, Massachusetts, U.S., November 15, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

(Reuters) – Commuters in Chicago and across the Midwest faced inches of heavy, wet snow as they headed back to work on Monday after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, with the storm knocking out power, icing roads and canceling some flights.

The National Weather Service ended blizzard warnings early on Monday in northeast Missouri through the Chicago metropolitan area and northeast into Michigan, but noted strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph) would continue to blow around drifts of the snow accumulated overnight.

“Snow will continue to taper off to flurries and then end this morning,” the service’s Chicago office said in a statement, warning drivers to take extra caution on slippery roads in low visibility.

“The drive into work was NASTY,” Diane Pathieu, an ABC7 Chicago news anchor, wrote on Twitter of her pre-dawn commute. “Roads barely plowed, wind blowing snow everywhere. Proceed with caution!”

North of Chicago, the city of Evanston’s police department said in a statement its power had been knocked out by the storm, although it was still able to receive 911 calls.

Dozens of school districts in Illinois, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas canceled classes due to the weather. Chicago public schools were expected to open.

The storm canceled 1,270 flights on Sunday, a busy day for travelers trying to get home after the Thanksgiving weekend.

That included about 900 flights to and from Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Chicago Midway Airport and almost 200 flights at Kansas City International Airport.

On Monday morning, about 500 flights to and from O’Hare had been canceled, about 17 percent of all scheduled flights, according to the FlightAware flight tracking service.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Sunil Nair, Louise Heavens and Frances Kerry)

Former Hurricane Michael heads northeast after trashing Florida

Waves crash on stilt houses along the shore due to Hurricane Michael at Alligator Point in Franklin County, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius

By Rod Nickel

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael took its drenching rains to Georgia and the Carolinas on Thursday after battering Florida’s Panhandle as the third most powerful hurricane ever to strike the U.S. mainland and killing at least two people.

Michael shattered houses and buildings, downed power lines and ripped up trees when it crashed ashore on Wednesday afternoon, carrying winds of up to 155 miles per hour (250 kilometers per hour) and causing deep seawater flooding.

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Emergency crews work to clear a street of debris during Hurricane Michael in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Residents and officials were taking stock of the damage on Thursday.

“I think everything from Panama City down to Mexico Beach is way worse than anybody ever anticipated,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told the Weather Channel. Michael’s eye came ashore near Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (32 km) southeast of Panama City.

“This is going to be a long recovery but Florida is resilient, we help each other, and we survive,” Scott said. “We worked all night in endangered circumstances.”

It was not yet known what had happened to about 280 residents of Mexico Beach who authorities said had ignored evacuation orders as the storm approached the state’s northwest. The area is known for its small beach towns, wildlife reserves and the state capital, Tallahassee.

Michael was a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale, just shy of a rare Category 5, when it came ashore. It weakened steadily as it traveled inland over the Panhandle.

By 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) Thursday it had been downgraded to a tropical storm with 50-mph (85-kph) winds as it pushed through Georgia into the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said.

Parts of North Carolina and Virginia could get as much as 9 inches (23 cm) of rain and life-threatening flash floods, the NHC said. The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

The two people killed in the storm were a man who died when a tree toppled onto his house in Florida and a girl who died when debris fell into a home in Georgia, officials and local media said.

More than 830,000 homes and businesses were without power in Florida, Alabama and Georgia early Thursday.

A McDonald's sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A McDonald’s sign damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Panama City Beach, Florida, U.S. October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

‘SURREAL’ WIND

The hurricane, the fiercest to hit Florida in 80 years, pummeled communities across the Panhandle and turned streets into roof-high waterways.

“The wind that came through here was surreal. It destroyed everything,” Jason Gunderson, a member of a group of rescue workers that calls itself the Cajun Navy, told CNN early on Thursday from Callaway, a suburb of Panama City.

“It’s unlivable. It’s heartbreaking.”

Thousands of people hunkered down in shelters overnight after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm.

An estimated 6,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters, mostly in Florida, and that number was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by week’s end, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross.

Twenty miles (32 km) south of Mexico Beach, floodwaters were more than 7 feet (2.1 meters) deep near Apalachicola, a town of about 2,300 residents, hurricane center chief Ken Graham said. Wind damage was also evident.

“There are so many downed power lines and trees that it’s almost impossible to get through the city,” Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said.

Michael had rapidly intensified as it churned north over the Gulf of Mexico in recent days, growing from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours and catching many by surprise.

With a low barometric pressure recorded at 919 millibars, the measure of a hurricane’s force, it ranked as the third strongest storm on record to make landfall in the continental United States. Only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the so-called Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys were more intense.

U.S. President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, freeing federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Governor Scott said.

Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Florida; Additional reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Tallahassee, Florida; Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Gina Cherelus and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Liz Hampton in Houston, Andrew Hay in New Mexico; Writing by Steve Gorman and Bill Trott; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

‘I should have left’ – Hurricane Michael terrified those who stayed

JW and Helen Neal sit in a hotel one mile from their beachfront house due to Hurricane Michael, in Panama City, Florida, U.S., October 10, 2018. REUTERS/Rod Nickel

By Rod Nickel

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Andrew Lamonica, 64, a retired power company worker and lifelong Panama City Beach resident, ignored orders to evacuate ahead of Michael, one of the strongest hurricanes ever to hit the United States and waited out the storm in his rented bungalow.

With a mighty crack, a tall pine crashed onto his house, drenching the interior as rain leaked through the shattered roof. Two other trees on his property came down, but his 2011 Cadillac – “my baby” – survived without a scratch.

“I’ve lived here all my life and the storm brought things I’ve never seen,” Lamonica said. “There were several times I thought maybe I should have left.”

Lamonica was lucky. In the first fatality related to Wednesday’s arrival of Hurricane Michael, local authorities reported a “male subject” was killed by a tree toppling onto his house in the Tallahassee area.

Michael inflicted damage to Panama City unevenly, impaling some businesses with sign poles while leaving others virtually unscathed. By nightfall, the city was under curfew, darkened without power, its streets littered with downed power lines, fallen trees and debris.

Joey Morrison, a 30-year-old glass worker, said Michael beat so hard on his apartment door in Panama City Beach with its 155 mile-per-hour (250 km-per-hour) winds that he had to reinforce it by drilling in screws – and still had to sit against the door to keep it shut.

“I got scared enough that I was thinking, ‘I should have left.’ Because this isn’t like anything that ever happened here,” Morrison recounted.

Some of those who did evacuate from Panama City Beach were no less terrified.

“My God, it’s scary. I didn’t expect all this,” said Bill Manning, 63, a grocery store clerk who left his camper in Panama City to move into a hotel.

He watched through a window as trees and poles swayed.

“Panama City, I don’t know if there will be much left,” Manning said.

Michael crashed ashore at Mexico Beach, about 20 miles (30 km) east of Panama City, as a Category 4 storm before charging inland across the Southeast. Its rapid intensification in the warm waters of the Gulf took many by surprise. As recently as the weekend, Michael was expected to hit the Panhandle as a tropical storm.

Mandatory evacuation orders were largely heeded by the 50,000 residents of Panama City Beach and Panama City, a pair of towns dotted with attractions designed like shipwrecks and volcanoes to amuse the thousands of tourists who flock there during the warm months.

Bill Bryant, a Navy veteran, moved his family into one of the few hotels that remained open.

“The smart thing would have been to evacuate farther inland,” said Bryant, 48.

All but a few businesses had closed and were boarded up by Tuesday evening, leaving streets empty. Even the local Waffle House restaurant was shuttered. The diner chain is famous for its 24-hour service 365 days a year and the “Waffle House Index” – whether it is open or closed – has become an indicator to gauge the severity of a disaster.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City Beach, Florida; editing by Bill Tarrant and Lisa Shumaker)

Storm Michael expected to hit Florida as a hurricane midweek

A satellite image of Tropical Storm Michael taken Monday. NOAA/via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Jon Herskovitz

(Reuters) – Tropical Storm Michael is on track to hit the Florida Panhandle midweek as a Category 2 hurricane packing 100 miles per hour (160 kmh) or stronger winds, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said early Monday in an advisory.

The tropical storm is expected to swell into a Category 1 hurricane as soon as Monday night or early Tuesday as it rolls into the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, with winds of 70 mph, as of 5 a.m. eastern time, forecasters said, just shy of being named a hurricane.

A storm is designated a Category 1 hurricane if it reaches speeds of 74 mph (119 km) or more, and a Category 2 hurricane at 96 mph (154 km) or more on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties along the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend on Sunday and has put more than 5,000 National Guard soldiers on alert.

“Our state understands how serious tropical weather is and how devastating any hurricane of tropical storm can be,” Scott said in a statement.

He advised Gulf Coast residents to prepare for possible evacuation orders.

Michael battered parts of Mexico and Cuba with powerful winds and drenching rains on Sunday and into early Monday as it churned in the Caribbean.

The storm moved north on a path between Cozumel in southeastern Mexico and the western tip of Cuba, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

A hurricane watch has been issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to the Suwanee River, Florida.

Outer bands from Michael are expected produce as much as 4 inches (10 cm) of rain through Tuesday in the Florida Keys, one of several areas in the state devastated by Hurricane Irma last year.

After hitting Florida, the storm is then forecast to move northeast along the Atlantic Coast and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. That hurricane killed at least 50 people and caused billions of dollars in damage.

The Commodity Weather Group said on Sunday some oil rigs in the gulf area may be evacuated as a precaution, which may slow down operations but was not likely cause much interruption.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of U.S. crude oil and 5 percent of natural gas output daily, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

More than 45 percent of the nation’s refining capacity is located along the U.S. Gulf Coast, which also is home to 51 percent of total U.S. natural gas processing capability.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Carolina coast battening down, boarding up as hurricane nears

Caitie Sweeney of Myrtle Beach texts her family while visiting the beach ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. REUTERS/Randall Hill

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Beach communities in North and South Carolina emptied out on Wednesday as Hurricane Florence threatened to unleash pounding surf and potentially deadly flooding as the most powerful storm to make a direct hit on the southeastern states in decades.

Florence had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour) and was on a trajectory that showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Updated NHC forecasts showed the storm lingering near the coast, bringing days of heavy rains that could bring intense inland flooding from South Carolina, where some areas could see as much as 40 inches (1m) of rain, to Virginia.

Florence is rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Jeff Byard of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) invoked a former boxing champion to warn residents that it would bring “a Mike Tyson punch to the Carolina coast.”

“The time to prepare is almost over,” said North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper at a Wednesday morning news conference. “Disaster is at the doorstep and it’s coming in.”

More than 1 million people have been ordered to evacuate the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools and factories were being shuttered.

The NHC said the first tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) would hit the region early on Thursday with the storm’s center reaching the coast Friday. At 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) on Wednesday the storm was located about 530 miles (855 km) southeast of Cape Fear, North Carolina.

The storm surge, or wind-driven seawater, poses a huge danger, FEMA Administrator Brock Long warned on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“People do not live and survive to tell the tale about what their experience is like with storm surge,” he said. “It’s the most deadly part of the hurricane that comes in.”

FEMA FUNDS MOVED

MSNBC reported the Trump administration had diverted nearly $10 billion from FEMA to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which leads border enforcement. But that has not affected the response to Florence, Byard told a news conference.

He said there was “well over $20 billion” in FEMA’s disaster relief fund.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Twitter warned of the storm’s dangers and praised his administration’s handling of past hurricanes, rejecting criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

“Hurricane Florence is looking even bigger than anticipated,” Trump said. “We got A Pluses for our recent hurricane work in Texas and Florida (and did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico, even though an inaccessible island with very poor electricity and a totally incompetent Mayor of San Juan). We are ready for the big one that is coming!”

State and federal officials have frequently urged residents in the target zone to evacuate but there was resistance along the coast.

“I’m not approaching Florence from fear or panic,” said Brad Corpening, 35, who planned to ride out the storm in his boarded-up delicatessen in Wilmington. “It’s going to happen. We just need to figure out how to make it through.”

The last hurricane rated a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson to plow directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people.

Emergency preparations in the area included setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so that all major roads led away from shore and getting 16 nuclear reactors ready in the three-state region for the storm.

(For graphic on Hurricane Florence heads toward Carolinas, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZ5m1v)

(For graphic on forecast rainfall in inches from Hurricane Florence, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2oZFKSb)

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Scott Malone and Nick Zieminski)

Families of Missouri ‘duck boat’ sinking victims sue tour company

Rescue personnel work after an amphibious "duck boat" capsized and sank, at Table Rock Lake near Branson, Stone County, Missouri, U.S. July 19, 2018 in this still image obtained from a video on social media. SOUTHERN STONE COUNTY FIRE PROTECTION DISTRICT/Facebook/via REUTERS

By Diana Kruzman

(Reuters) – The families of four of the 17 people killed when a World War Two-style tourist “duck boat” sank on a Missouri lake during a storm this month have sued the tour operator, saying it recklessly allowed the vessel out in dangerous weather.

On Sunday, relatives of Ervin Coleman, 76, and 2-year-old Maxwell Ly, his great-nephew, both of Indianapolis, sued tour operator Ripley Entertainment Inc, which operates under the name Ride the Ducks, and vessel manufacturer Amphibious Vehicle Manufacturing LLC, a Ripley unit, alleging they “recklessly risked the lives of its passengers for purely financial reasons.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Kansas City, Missouri, seeks $100 million in damages.

A separate lawsuit filed on Monday in Taney County, Missouri, on behalf of the children of William and Janice Bright names Ripley Entertainment, Ride the Ducks and the two operators of the boat, and seeks at least $25,000 in damages.

Ripley Entertainment declined comment on the lawsuits, but said it was “deeply saddened” by the incident.

There were 31 passengers aboard the duck boat on Table Rock Lake, outside Branson, Missouri, on July 19 when hurricane-strength winds churned up the water and sank the craft, causing one of the deadliest U.S. tourist tragedies in recent years.

The boats, modeled on the amphibious landing craft used in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, have a checkered history involving more than three dozen fatalities on water and land, including the Branson sinking, according to the complaint.

“This tragedy was the predictable and predicted result of decades of unacceptable, greed-driven, and willful ignorance of safety by the Duck Boat industry in the face of specific and repeated warnings that their Duck Boats are death traps for passengers,” the federal complaint said.

Robert Mongeluzzi, an attorney for the families of Coleman and Ly, told a news conference on Monday: “The quest for justice includes doing everything within our power to ban duck boats once and for all,” according to a statement.

Mongeluzzi represented the families of two people killed when a duck boat crashed into a barge and sank in Philadelphia in 2010, resulting in a $17 million settlement.

The federal suit alleges that Ride the Ducks endangered passengers by letting the boat out on the water after the National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for the area, and that passengers were not told to put on life jackets. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the accident.

A duck boat sank in Arkansas in 1999, killing 13 people and prompting the NTSB to recommend changes to duck boats’ design to make them less prone to capsizing. The federal lawsuit alleges that Ride the Ducks ignored those warnings because of cost.

(Reporting by Diana Kruzman in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney)