Hurricane Grace strengthens, bears down on Mexico’s Gulf coast

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Hurricane Grace gathered strength as it barreled towards Mexico’s Gulf coast on Friday morning, threatening to lash the oil-producing state of Veracruz and central Mexico with strong winds and heavy rains.

Grace, a Category 1 Hurricane, is forecast to strengthen further before it plows into the coast of Veracruz late on Friday or in the early hours of Saturday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

It should then weaken rapidly as it dissipates over land during the weekend, the Miami-based NHC said.

Veracruz and its waters are home to several oil installations including Petroleos Mexicanos’ Lazaro Cardenas refinery in Minatitlan in the south of the state. Current forecasts showed Grace expected to hit Veracruz well to the north of the city.

Through Sunday, the NHC said Grace would dump 6-12 inches (15-30 cm) of rain over large swathes of eastern and central Mexico, and up to 18 inches in some areas. The heavy rainfall would likely cause areas of flash and urban flooding, it added.

“We ask the population to be very alert,” Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection authority, told a regular news conference with President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Grace pounded Mexico’s Caribbean coast on Thursday, downing trees and causing power outages for nearly 700,000 people, but without causing loss of life, authorities said. Earlier in the week, it doused Jamaica and Haiti with torrential rain.

By Friday morning, Grace was about 185 miles (298 kilometers) east-northeast of the city of Veracruz, blowing maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour (137 km per hour), and moving west at 15 mph (24 kph), the NHC said.

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Residents flee as winds fan massive wildfire in southern Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) – A massive forest fire in southern Turkey spread to the town of Manavgat as the flames were fanned by strong winds on Wednesday, according to the local mayor, and TV footage showed residents running for their cars as streets were engulfed in smoke.

Footage showed plumes of black smoke rising from the forest around Manavgat, 75 km (45 miles) east of the resort city of Antalya, and Mayor Sukru Sozen said flames had spread as far as the town center, where many buildings were being evacuated.

“The fire has spread to the town center. It’s growing even more with the wind. It’s impossible for us to determine the size of the damage, there is damage in the villages too. We have not seen anything like this,” Sozen told broadcaster Haberturk.

Antalya Mayor Muhittin Bocek said the fire had started at four different points. He told Haberturk four neighborhoods had been evacuated but there were no reports of casualties yet.

Authorities could not immediately say what caused the fire.

Agriculture Minister Bekir Pakdemirli said authorities were battling the flames with a firefighting plane, 19 helicopters, 108 vehicles and some 400 personnel.

Turkey’s AFAD disaster agency said emergency teams from nearby provinces were also called into action, while authorities evacuated settlements near the forest.

Antalya, a popular destination for both foreign and local tourists, is known for its scorching summer heat. Bocek said the extreme heat and strong winds were fanning the fire as it swept through the pine forest.

The fire comes as Turkey battles with a series of disasters caused by extreme weather conditions in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, flash floods in the Black Sea provinces of Rize and Artvin damaged homes and property. The floods killed six people in Rize, according to AFAD.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Southern Europe battles wildfires as north cleans up after floods

ATHENS (Reuters) – Wildfires burned in regions across southern Europe on Monday, fueled by hot weather and strong winds, as some northern countries cleaned up after a weekend of torrential rain and flooding.

In Greece, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said firefighters had battled around 50 fires during the past 24 hours and it was likely there would be more with meteorologists warning that a further heatwave was in prospect.

“I want to emphasize that August remains a difficult month,” he said. “That is why it is important for all of us, all state services, to be on absolute alert until the firefighting period is formally over.”

Fire service officials said negligence on farms and construction sites had been behind several incidents, many of which were in the southern Peloponnese region. No casualties were reported.

Conditions in southern Europe were in sharp contrast to the torrential rainstorms that lashed northern countries from Austria to Britain following the catastrophic flooding in Germany and neighboring countries last week.

On the Italian island of Sardinia, firefighting planes from France and Greece reinforced local aircraft battling blazes across the island where more than 4,000 hectares of forest were burnt and more than 350 people evacuated.

In Sicily, fires broke out near the western town of Erice.

In Spain, the northeastern region of Catalonia saw more than 1,500 hectares destroyed near Santa Coloma de Queralt, forcing dozens to be evacuated, although the blazes were 90% stabilized on Monday, firefighters and authorities said.

In Lietor, in the central east region of Castilla-La Mancha, more than 2,500 hectares burned during the weekend before being brought under control, authorities said.

So far this year, wildfires have burned across 35,000 hectares in Spain, still some way off the 138,000 hectares burned in 2012, the worst year of the past decade.

(Reporting by Emma Pinedo Gonzalez in Madrid, Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou in Athens and Emily Roe in Rome; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Fire sweeps through Southern California canyon, residents flee

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A blaze that ignited overnight in a single-family home injured two firefighters and forced residents of a rustic Southern California canyon to flee their homes on Thursday, as flames tore across some 4,000 acres of dry brush and wooded hillsides.

The Bond Fire, which broke out at about 10 p.m. on Wednesday night, was driven through Silverado Canyon in Orange County by gusty Santa Ana winds. Authorities issued evacuation warnings to thousands of people.

“There were two firefighters that were injured while battling the Bond Fire this afternoon,” the Orange County Fire Authority said on Twitter. “They were treated by firefighter paramedics and transported to a hospital for further care.”

The woodsy canyon, miles from Southern California’s suburban sprawl and reached by a single winding road, is home to an eclectic mix of residents including artists, horse owners and ranchers.

Some 500 firefighters aided by water-dropping aircraft battled the flames, which sent smoke drifting across Orange and Los Angels counties, but had not achieved any containment as of mid-afternoon on Thursday.

Fire managers said they believed homes and other structures had been damaged by the blaze but could not yet provide details. Power was knocked out to some 50,000 homes across the region.

The Red Cross set up an evacuation point at a community college near the mouth of the canyon.

Since the start of the year, wildfires have scorched more than 6,500 square miles (17,000 square km) of California land according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The state has grappled with fires of record-breaking intensity and size in recent years and 2020 has been particularly difficult.

“We’re in December and we now have active wildfires still in our state,” California Governor Gavin Newsom said at a press briefing. “These Santa Ana winds have been quite intense.”

The yearly land area burned by severe wildfires in the western United States has grown eight times larger in less than four decades, the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station said in research published last month.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Diane Craft and Tom Brown)

Severe storm in Arlington, Texas causes damage to property

(Reuters) – Authorities in Arlington, Texas were responding to reports of collapsed buildings and flying debris after strong winds swept through the southern U.S. state on Tuesday night.

“Our units are currently assessing the structures, triaging potential patients, and moving to other reported locations,” the city’s fired department said, while the police were determining the extent of damages.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Earlier, the National Weather service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for parts of Texas, along with Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma.

Tornado warnings were in place for areas in Dallas, Tarrant, Denton and Arlington but have since been lifted.

(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Quake hits Zagreb, PM urges social distancing as residents flee buildings

By Igor Ilic

ZAGREB (Reuters) – A large earthquake struck near the Croatian capital Zagreb on Sunday, critically injuring a teenager caught in a collapsed building in the city center and prompting appeals for social distancing after people rushed out onto the streets.

Sixteen other people were injured, including another minor who was badly hurt, and the 5.3 magnitude quake caused fires and power blackouts in parts of the capital, hospital and emergency services said.

People ran from their apartment buildings to their cars as pieces of the facades started falling off. Dozens of cars were also damaged by debris which fell off buildings.

Authorities said around 70 buildings were damaged.

Damages on Zagreb’s cathedral and debris are seen following an earthquake, in Zagreb, Croatia March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Ministers warned people not to walk close to buildings and beware of falling debris due to a strong wind. They also urged them to stay apart from one another as the country struggles to contain the spread of coronavirus.

“We are fighting two enemies at the moment, one is invisible and the other is unpredictable,” Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic said.

So far, Croatia has reported 254 cases of the virus and one death.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said the government would provide accommodation in the students’ dormitory in Zagreb for up to 1,800 people whose homes were damaged.

He said the quake was the biggest to hit Zagreb in 140 years. It struck 6 km (4 miles) north of the city and was felt across the Western Balkans.

Zarko Rasic, head of the Zagreb Emergency Medicine Institute, a children’s hospital, said a 15-year-old was in a critical condition after being found by an emergency services team under a collapsed building and another minor had been admitted with head injuries from a falling roof.

The Zagreb Fire Department said firefighting and rescue operations were ongoing at several locations.

Plenkovic said the army had been called in to help clean up debris in Zagreb and urged citizens to “stay outside and keep your distance”.

“We are facing two crises now,” Plenkovic told a news conference. “Let us not forget the coronavirus epidemics … Individual discipline and responsibility is of utmost importance.”

Women walk past ruins of a building following an earthquake, in Zagreb, Croatia March 22, 2020. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic

Local media reported that many people had headed out of Zagreb, prompting police to organize checkpoints on the highway to check if they were violating self-isolation.

The German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) downgraded the magnitude of the quake to 5.3 from an initial reading of 6.0. Croatia’s state seismology service said there had been 30 aftershocks.

The government said it would estimate the damage in the coming weeks and ask the European Commission for aid.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake measured 5.4, while the European Mediterranean Seismological Centre (EMSC) also reported 5.3 magnitude, followed by another 5.1 magnitude earthquake.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Igor Ilic in Zagreb and Maja Zuvela in Sarajevo; Editing by Sam Holmes/Christopher Cushing/Susan Fenton/Philippa Fletcher)

Three die in Spain’s Storm Gloria

MADRID (Reuters) – Three people have died in strong winds, heavy snowfall and low temperatures from Storm Gloria’s sweep across Spain on Sunday and Monday, officials said.

With more than 30 provinces on bad weather alert, Valencia on the Mediterranean coast and the Balearic Islands were bearing the brunt of the storm on Monday.

In the central province of Avila, a 63-year-old man died at home after being hit by roof tiles lifted by a gust of wind, said David Segovia, mayor of the town of Pedro Bernardo.

Unusually cold weather was blamed for the death of a 54-year-old homeless woman in Gandia, near Valencia, a municipal official told Reuters.

And one man in northwest Asturias region was killed by a vehicle on a snowbound road, reportedly struck while fitting chains to his car, an emergency services spokesman said.

The storm also forced the closure of Alicante airport, leading to the cancellation of nearly 200 flights.

National weather agency Aemet reported winds of up to 115 km per hour (71 mph) and eight-meter (26-feet) high waves in the province of Valencia. At least 120 councils there decided to suspend school and hundreds of kilometers of roads were cut off.

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Andrew Cawthorne)

Australia’s ‘columns of fire’ force mass evacuation, claim ninth life

By Swati Pandey and Sonali Paul

SYDNEY/MELBOURNE (Reuters) – A volunteer firefighter was killed battling Australian bushfires on Monday as “columns” of flames generating their own dangerous weather systems bore down on a tourist region, prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.

The firefighter, and two others who suffered burns, were working on a fire about 70 km (45 miles) east of Albury in New South Wales (NSW) when, it is believed, their truck rolled after being hit by strong winds, authorities said on Twitter.

The incident took the death toll from the country’s raging bushfires to nine and added pressure on authorities to reconsider New Year celebration plans for the city of Sydney.

Around 100 fires are burning across Australia, with as many as 14 “emergency” warnings in place for Victoria while fires are also threatening homes and infrastructure in South Australia and Tasmania.

Tens of thousands were evacuated as “columns of fire” fuelled by extreme heat and high winds bore down on the popular tourist region of East Gippsland in Victoria state in Australia’s southeast.

Wildfires that have plagued the country’s eastern coast for weeks flared again to danger levels in East Gippsland, an area encompassing two national parks, lakes and coastal plains that is half the size of Belgium.

By late afternoon, officials warned holiday makers to stay off the roads because of thick smoke and unpredictable, fast-moving fires, adding that it was now too late for people who had not left the region to do so.

“Leaving now would be deadly,” authorities said.

The state’s Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said “columns of fire” were punching into the atmosphere and generating their own erratic weather systems.

“There’s lightning coming out of these columns,” Crisp told reporters. “It is unpredictable, it’s dangerous out there.”

With some firefronts stretching more than 1,000 km (620 miles) and temperatures reaching as high as 43 Celsius (109 Fahrenheit), Crisp said the danger will remain high into the evening.

Bushfires have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (10 million acres) – an area the size of Japan — across Australia in recent weeks.

At the Wallagaraugh River Retreat in Mallacoota, a coastal town in East Gippsland, owner Lynette Sykes told Reuters her property was evacuated this morning.

“We were not going to take any risks with people’s lives,” Sykes said.

A video posted on social media site Facebook showed tourist Nicholas Costanzo escaping from the Victorian bushfire on a narrow two-way road dotted with fire trucks as thick smoke blurred vision. “Please pray for us,” he said.

DRY LIGHTNING

Authorities across Australia’s south, including fire-ravaged South Australia, warned that dry lightning could spark further flare-ups overnight even as the temperature is forecast to cool.

Dry lightning occurs when a storm forms from high temperatures, but the much-needed rain evaporates before reaching the ground.

Large parts of Australia have suffered through several years of drought that has created tinder dry conditions, leaving bushland ready to ignite.

The heat wave in Australia’s south even pushed up the mercury in Tasmania, the country’s closest point to Antarctica, to 40.8 Celsius (105.4 Fahrenheit). That was the hottest ever December temperature recorded in the state capital city of Hobart, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

In New South Wales state, temperatures are forecast to spike on New Year’s Eve, when hundreds of thousands of people are expected to gather around the harbour in Sydney to watch the city’s world-famous firework celebrations.

Authorities said they are planning to push ahead with the celebrations, despite some calls for the fireworks to be cancelled.

“If regional areas have had fireworks banned, then let’s not have two classes of citizens,” tweeted New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who represents a rural district affected by drought and fire.

An online petition calling for the Sydney spectacle to be cancelled and the money given to farmers and firefighters had attracted close to 275,000 signatures by late Monday.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul and Swati Pandey; Additional reporting by Wayne Cole and Paulina Duran; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Richard Pullin, Jane Wardell, William Maclean)

‘Leave now’: Australians urged to evacuate as ‘catastrophic’ fires loom

‘Leave now’: Australians urged to evacuate as ‘catastrophic’ fires loom
By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Authorities declared a state of emergency across a broad swath of Australia’s east coast on Monday, urging residents in high risk areas to evacuate ahead of looming “catastrophic” fire conditions.

Bushfires burning across New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland states have already killed three people and destroyed more than 150 homes. Officials expect adverse heat and wind conditions to peak at unprecedented levels on Tuesday.

Bushfires are a common and deadly threat in Australia’s hot, dry summers but the current severe outbreak, well before the summer peak, has caught many by surprise.

“Everybody has to be on alert no matter where you are and everybody has to be assume the worst and we cannot allow complacency to creep in,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

The country’s most populous city has been designated at “catastrophic fire danger” for Tuesday, when temperatures as high as 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit) are forecast to combine with powerful winds for potentially deadly conditions. It is the first time Sydney has been rated at that level since new fire danger ratings were introduced in 2009.

Home to more than 5 million people, Sydney is ringed by large areas of bushland, much of which remains tinder dry following little rain across the country’s east coast in recent months.

“Tomorrow is about protecting life, protecting property and ensuring everybody is safe as possible,” Berejiklian said.

Lawmakers said the statewide state of emergency – giving firefighters broad powers to control government resources, force evacuations, close roads and shut down utilities – would remain in place for seven days.

On Monday afternoon, the fire service authorised use of the Standard Emergency Warning Signal, an alarm and verbal warning that will be played on radio and television stations every hour.

NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons urged people to evacuate before conditions worsened, warning that new fires can begin up to 20km (12 miles) ahead of established fires.

“Relocate while things are calm without the pressure or anxiety of fires bearing down the back door,” he said.

Authorities stressed that even fireproofed homes will not be able to withstand catastrophic conditions, which Fitzsimmons described as “when lives are lost, it’s where people die”.

More than 100 schools will be closed on Tuesday.

On Monday afternoon, rescue services were moving large animals from high risk areas, while health officials warned that air quality across NSW will worsen as winds blow smoke from the current mid-north coast bushfires south.

The fires have already had a devastating impact on Australia’s wildlife, with about 350 koalas feared dead in a major habitat.

CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE

Australia’s worst bushfires on record destroyed thousands of homes in Victoria in February 2009, killing 173 people and injuring 414 on a day the media dubbed “Black Saturday”.

The current fires, however, come weeks ahead of the southern hemisphere summer, sharpening attention on the policies of Australia’s conservative government to address climate change.

Environmental activists and opposition lawmakers have used the fires to call on Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a supporter of the coal industry, to strengthen the country’s emissions targets.

Morrison declined to answer questions about whether the fires were linked to climate change when he visited fire-hit areas in the north of NSW over the weekend.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on Monday accused climate activists of politicising a tragedy at the expense of people in the danger zones.

“What we are doing is taking real and meaningful action to reduce global emissions without shutting down all our industries,” McCormack told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city greenies at this time, when they’re trying to save their homes.”

(Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Lincoln Feast and Jane Wardell)

California wildfires force evacuations, cause power outages

California wildfires force evacuations, cause power outages
By Subrat Patnaik and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – California emergency officials on Thursday ordered hundreds of people to evacuate a historic wine country town north of San Francisco, and nearly 200,000 were without power, as a growing wildfire spread in Sonoma County.

Driven by strong winds, the Kincade fire engulfed some 10,000 acres (4,047 hectares) by Thursday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The Sonoma County Sheriff issued a mandatory evacuation order for the town of Geyserville, home to almost 900 people.

A video posted on social media by a local reporter showed a glowing blaze against the still-dark backdrop of an early morning sky and a strong wind buffeting into the microphone.

Large parts of California were under red-flag alerts this week, suggesting a heightened risk of fire, amid high temperatures and powerful winds, officials said.

About 185,000 customers were without power in the state on Thursday morning, according to poweroutage.us.

More than half a million homes and businesses in the state could lose power this week as utilities, including Pacific Gas & Electric <PCG.N> and Southern California Edison <SCE_pe.A>, cut off electricity as a preventive measure against wildfires.

Over 308,000 customers in seven counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura in southern California, were under consideration for Public Safety Power Shutoffs, Southern California Edison said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Marc Chenard said the worst of the winds would arrive later in the day and into Friday.

“It looks like at its worst, southern California will see wind gusts of 55 miles per hour (89 kph). Down in some of the coastal areas, the winds could reach 75 miles per hour (121 kph) later today,” he said.

Power lines could be knocked down, potentially igniting fires among arid trees and vegetation, according to earlier forecasts.

Bankrupt Californian power producer PG&E cut off electricity to more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California earlier this month to try to reduce the risk of wildfires amid extremely windy and dry weather.

Chenard added that northern California could experience dangerous wind gusts of up to 45 mph.

“This is not going to abate until at least this weekend,” he said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta, additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)