Crane collapses on Dallas apartment building, killing one, injuring six

A construction crane collapses amidst high winds in Dallas, Texas, U.S., June 9, 2019 in this still image taken from a social media video. Sophie Daigle via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A construction crane, apparently toppled by high winds, collapsed onto an apartment house in Dallas on Sunday and sliced through five floors of the building, killing at least one person and injuring six others, a city fire and rescue spokesman said.

The building’s parking garage was also heavily damaged, and authorities planned a thorough search of the entire structure for anyone else who may have been trapped or killed inside, the spokesman, Jason Evans, told reporters at the scene.

“We’re hoping that what we have at this point is where it ends” in terms of casualties, Evans said during the televised news briefing.

The collapse occurred just before 2 p.m. CDT as a bout of severe weather blew through the city, according to Evans and a number of eyewitness accounts reported in the news media.

A nearby resident identified as Abbey Kearney told CNN that she and her husband saw the crane come down on the Elan City Lights apartment building in downtown Dallas just as extremely high winds kicked up in the area.

“It just sliced through the building … like a hot knife through butter,” she said.

Evans said one person was found dead in a residential portion of the five-story building hardest hit by the fallen crane, and six others were taken to hospitals, two of them in critical condition.

Local media reports said the person who died was a woman.

While the precise cause of the accident was not immediately determined, Evans said there was a “strong possibility that yes, the wind did play some role in the collapse of the crane itself.”

The crane broke into several pieces that fell into different portions of the apartment building, located across the street from a large construction site, Evans said. He said did not know whether the crane was in operation at the time.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Self-driving trucks begin mail delivery test for U.S. Postal Service

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

By Heather Somerville

(Reuters) – The U.S. Postal Service on Tuesday started a two-week test transporting mail across three Southwestern states using self-driving trucks, a step forward in the effort to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology for hauling freight.

San Diego-based startup TuSimple said its self-driving trucks will begin hauling mail between USPS facilities in Phoenix and Dallas to see how the nascent technology might improve delivery times and costs. A safety driver will sit behind the wheel to intervene if necessary and an engineer will ride in the passenger seat.

If successful, it would mark an achievement for the autonomous driving industry and a possible solution to the driver shortage and regulatory constraints faced by freight haulers across the country.

The pilot program involves five round trips, each totaling more than 2,100 miles (3,380 km) or around 45 hours of driving. It is unclear whether self-driving mail delivery will continue after the two-week pilot.

“The work with TuSimple is our first initiative in autonomous long-haul transportation,” USPS spokeswoman Kim Frum said. “We are conducting research and testing as part of our efforts to operate a future class of vehicles which will incorporate new technology.”

TuSimple and the USPS declined to disclose the cost of the program, but Frum said no tax dollars were used and the agency relies on revenue from sales of postage and other products. TuSimple has raised $178 million in private financing, including from chipmaker Nvidia Corp and Chinese online media company Sina Corp.

The trucks will travel on major interstates and pass through Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

The TuSimple self-driving truck is pictured in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters May 20, 2019. TuSimple/Handout via REUTERS

“This run is really in the sweet spot of how we believe autonomous trucks will be used,” said TuSimple Chief Product Officer Chuck Price. “These long runs are beyond the range of a single human driver, which means today if they do this run they have to figure out how to cover it with multiple drivers in the vehicle.”

The goal is to eliminate the need for a driver, freeing shippers and freight-haulers from the constraints of a worsening driver shortage. The American Trucking Associations estimates a shortage of as many as 174,500 drivers by 2024, due to an aging workforce and the difficulty of attracting younger drivers.

A new safety law requiring truck drivers to electronically log their miles has further constrained how quickly and efficiently fleets can move goods.

TuSimple’s tie-up with the USPS marks an achievement for the fledgling self-driving truck industry, and follows Swedish company Einride’s entry into freight delivery using driverless electric trucks on a public road, announced last week.

The developments contrast with retrenching efforts by robotaxi companies such as General Motors Co unit Cruise, Uber Technologies Inc and startup Drive.ai, which have stumbled in building self-driving cars that can anticipate and respond to humans and navigate urban areas, an expensive and technologically challenging feat.

Price said self-driving trucks have advantages over passenger cars, including the relative ease of operating on interstates compared with city centers, which reduces mapping requirements and safety challenges involving pedestrians and bicyclists.

(Reporting by Heather Somerville in San Francisco; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

High Risk for Dangerous Storms, Flooding and Tornadoes In Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas

Severe Weather outbreak potential. May 20,2019

By Kami Klein

A dangerous and potent spring weather system is expected to bring severe weather to parts of the plains today bringing hail, damaging winds, flash flooding, and large, violent tornadoes.  According to the National Weather Service, these strong tornadoes are possible from western portions of Texas into western and central Oklahoma. A major threat of flash flooding is expected from northwest Texas into Oklahoma, Kansas, western Missouri, and northwest Arkansas.

Many school systems, including Oklahoma University in Norman, Oklahoma canceled classes for the day due to the strong possibilities of this weather system. Since the disastrous 2013 F5 tornado that hit Moore Oklahoma killing 23 and injuring 337 people, school authorities have taken a very cautious approach when advised by the National Weather Service.  

“We believe this is the best decision for our students, staff and families as their health and safety are priority,” Moore Public Schools officials posted to Facebook. “Please ensure safety plans are in place for your family in case needed for severe weather.”

According to the Weather Channel, this highest threat level of severe weather was last issued by SPC just over two years ago on May 18, 2017.

There have been 545 tornadoes nationally through May 6, according to NOAA. Historically, an average of 321 tornadoes occur in the U.S. through the end of April, based on a 25-year average.

These warnings are rare both for the flooding potential and chances of very powerful tornadoes. Please stay tuned to weather alerts and take appropriate action by staying away from windows and seeking shelter in basements, closets or bathrooms in the middle of your home or in storm shelters.   

 

 

Heavy rain and widespread power outages hit southeast Texas, Louisiana

Rainfall and flooding for 5-10-19 - 5-11-19 National Weather Service

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Hailstones the size of golf balls accompanied by as much as four inches of rain pelted the U.S. Gulf coast from Texas to Louisiana, flooding highways, downing power lines and closing some schools, officials said.

About 150,000 homes and businesses in Texas were without electricity early Friday and another 15,000 customers were in the dark in Louisiana, local power companies said.

“Most of this storm developed right over Houston Thursday evening,” said Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Some of the rainfall was outlandishly fast,” Burke said. “Several of our reliable rain-spotters reported seeing multiple inches of rain in under an hour. That much water in a short time just accelerates the amount of damage that can happen.”

There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes overnight, but the rain comes atop several days of heavy precipitation. Some southeastern Texas communities received a total of 10 inches of rain since Tuesday, according to AccuWeather meteorologists.

Houston’s 209,000 public school students got the day off as the city’s Independent School District, the state’s largest school system, said it was shutting down its 280 campuses on Friday because of inclement weather.

Police did not have an assessment of damage or injuries early Friday, but the Houston Chronicle reported that parts of the U.S. Interstate 10 highway in the city was closed late Thursday in east Houston, stranding at least 40 motorists.

The Houston Fire Department rescued two people from a submerged car that flipped into a rain-filled ditch late Thursday, the Chronicle and other media reported.

Burke said the worst of the storm had pushed off eastward early Friday.

“The only good news is that the storm didn’t linger,” he said. “But Louisiana, Mississippi, western Alabama and southern Tennessee are all under the gun today.”

Flash flood warnings and flood watches were in effect from east Texas to Knoxville, Tennessee.

Danger persists from additional flooding along the southern Mississippi River and its tributaries, officials said.

More rain is in the forecast for the area this weekend, Burke said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Peter Graff and Steve Orlofsky)

Trucker in deadly Colorado crash charged with 40 criminal counts

Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos appears in a Lakewood Police booking photo after he was arrested for suspicion of multiple counts of vehicular homicide following a crash on the I-70 in Lakewood, Colorado, U.S. April 26, 2019. Lakewood Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Keith Coffman

DENVER (Reuters) – A Texas truck driver who police say caused a fiery multi-vehicle crash near Denver last week that killed four people and injured four was charged on Friday with 40 criminal counts including vehicular manslaughter, prosecutors said.

Police in Lakewood, Colorado said they arrested 23-year-old Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos after he lost control of his tractor-trailer truck during the evening rush hour on April 25 and caused a crash on Interstate 70 that involved at least 28 vehicles.

The district attorney for Jefferson County, where the crash took place, charged Aguilera-Mederos with 40 counts on Friday, including four counts of vehicular homicide, six of first-degree assault and 24 of attempted first-degree assault.

The tractor-trailer, which was carrying lumber, rammed into several cars, causing a pile-up that became a raging inferno, authorities said. The four men who died were all single occupants in their vehicles, according to a local TV station.

“The carnage was significant,” police spokesman Ty Countryman said at the time. “Just unbelievable.”

There was no initial indication that Aguilera-Mederos intentionally caused the crash, or that he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Countryman said.

(Reporting by Keith Coffman in Denver; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Second wave of twisters in U.S. South turns deadly as storm pushes east

4-19-2019 Twitter photograph of Macron, MS twitter - Bryce Jones

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – A second wave of tornadoes and thunderstorms to hit the U.S. South and Midwest this week turned deadly on Thursday with three people reported killed, as the storms pushed eastward on Friday, officials and media accounts said.

One person was killed after a tree fell on his vehicle in Neshoba County, Mississippi, Thursday afternoon, the local paper, the Neshoba Democrat, reported.

A second death was reported in St. Clair County, Mississippi, after a tree fell on a home, late Thursday, according to AccuWeather.

A third death was reported late Thursday in the Wattsville community, north of Pell City, Alabama, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported, after a tree fell on a home.

The deaths come in the wake of at least five people, including three children, who were killed last weekend in a storm system that drove more than three dozen tornadoes across the U.S. South.

Communities in central Texas and western Louisiana, already hit by flash floods and twisters in the first round last weekend, were hit once more by high winds, twisters, egg-sized hail and intense rain Thursday and Friday, according to AccuWeather and the NWS.

In the latest storm system, multiple possible tornadoes hit southwest and central Mississippi Thursday night and early Friday, the NWS said, but the damage will have to be surveyed before confirmation of twisters.

“We’re still under some severe storm warnings, tornado watches and flood warnings into this morning and the afternoon across a broad swipe of the U.S.,” said NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec early Friday.

“The severe thunderstorms will impact the deep South and southeastern U.S., through Georgia and the Florida panhandle, before it heads up the Atlantic Coast,” he said.

Flash flooding could remain a threat in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts on Saturday, the weather service said.

The storm system will lose much of its punch late in the weekend, but the East Coast should expect a soggy Easter, Oravec said.

Power outages were reported early Friday in Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee, affecting a total of about 91,800 homes and businesses, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.Us.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Mark Potter)

Deadly storms leave thousands without power in eastern U.S

A view of clouds, part of a weather system seen from near Franklin, Texas, U.S., in this still image from social media video dated April 13, 2019. TWITTER @DOC_SANGER/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – Tornadoes, wind gusts of up to 70 mph and pounding hail remained threats early on Monday from eastern New York and into New England, as the remnants of a deadly storm push out to sea, the National Weather Service said.

More than 79,000 homes and businesses were without power in Virginia, according to the tracking site PowerOutage.US, with 89,000 more outages reported across Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Maryland and New York.

The affected areas will get heavy rains, winds with gusts of up to 70 mph (110 kph) and the possibility of hail, NWS Weather Prediction Center in Maryland said.

“This is an ongoing threat,” said Brian Hurley, from the center.

“There are short spin-ups, pockets of heavy rain and damaging winds that can still hit before this pushes off shore.”

The weekend’s storm brought tornadoes that killed at least five people, including three children, in the U.S. South, officials said.

The massive storm system sped from Texas eastward with dozens of twisters reported as touching down across the South from Texas through Georgia into Pennsylvania.

Nearly 2,300 U.S. flights were canceled by Sunday evening, more then 90 percent of them at airports in Chicago; Houston, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; Columbus, Ohio and a dozen major airports on the Eastern Seaboard, according to FlightAware.com.

But no major flight delays were reported on the east coast before 6 a.m. Monday.

The storm’s cold front brought snow to Chicago on Sunday, with 1 to 3 inches (2.5-7.6 cm) reported in central Illinois.

Two children, siblings aged three and eight, were killed on Saturday when a tree fell on the car in which they were sitting in Pollok, Texas, said a spokeswoman for the Angelina County Sheriff’s Department.

A third child, Sebastian Omar Martinez, 13, drowned late on Saturday when he fell into a drainage ditch filled with flash floodwaters near Monroe, Louisiana, said Deputy Glenn Springfield of the Ouachita Parish Sheriff’s Office.

In another storm death nearby, an unidentified victim’s body was trapped in a vehicle submerged in floodwaters in Calhoun, Louisiana, Springfield said.

In Mississippi, Governor Phil Bryant said one person was killed and 11 injured over the weekend as tornadoes ripped through 17 counties and left 26,000 homes and businesses without electricity.

In addition, three people were killed when a private jet crashed in Mississippi on Saturday, although Bryant said it was unclear whether it was caused by the weather.

Soaking rains could snarl the Monday morning commute on the East Coast before the storm moves off to sea.

“The biggest impact rush hour-wise probably will be Boston, around 7 to 8 o’clock in the morning, and around New York City around 5 or 6 o’clock, before sunrise,” NWS meteorologist Bob Oravec said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, and Barbara Goldberg and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alison Williams)

More U.S. states push ahead with near-bans on abortion for Supreme Court challenge

Anti-abortion marchers rally at the Supreme Court during the 46th annual March for Life in Washington, U.S., January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

(Reuters) – North Dakota Republican Governor Doug Burgum signed legislation on Wednesday making it a crime for doctors to perform a second-trimester abortion using instruments like forceps and clamps to remove the fetus from the womb.

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

FILE PHOTO:Governor Doug Burgum (R-ND) speaks to delegates at the Republican State Convention in Grand Forks, North Dakota, U.S. April 7, 2018. REUTERS/Dan Koeck

The move came the same day that Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature passed one of the nation’s most restrictive abortion bans – outlawing the procedure if a doctor can detect a heartbeat. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Mike DeWine, who is expected to sign it.

Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature in March also passed a ban on abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can often occur before a woman even realizes she is pregnant.

Activists on both sides of the issue say such laws, which are commonly blocked by court injunctions, are aimed at getting a case sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, where conservatives hold a 5-4 majority, to challenge Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.

The North Dakota bill, which Burgum’s spokesman, Mike Nowatzki, confirmed in an email that the governor signed, followed similar laws in Mississippi and West Virginia.

Known as HB 1546, it outlaws the second-trimester abortion practice known in medical terms as dilation and evacuation, but which the legislation refers to as “human dismemberment.”

Under the North Dakota legislation, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony but the woman having the abortion would not face charges.

Similar legislation exists in Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas, but is on hold because of litigation, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights group.

Abortion-rights groups challenging such bans argue they are unconstitutional as they obstruct private medical rights.

North Dakota has one abortion provider, the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo. Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker did not immediately respond to a request for comment. She previously said her clinic would wait for a decision in a case involving similar legislation in Arkansas before deciding on a possible legal challenge to HB 1546.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

U.S. investigators to begin hunt for cause of Texas petrochemical disaster

FILE PHOTO: A petrochemical facility is shown after Hurricane Ike hit in Deer Park, Texas September 13, 2008. REUTERS/David J. Phillip

By Collin Eaton and Erwin Seba

HOUSTON (Reuters) – U.S. investigators hope this week for the first time to enter the site of a massive fuel fire and chemical spill outside Houston to begin the hunt for a cause and to determine whether the operator followed safety regulations.

The blaze, at Mitsui & Co’s Intercontinental Terminals Co (ITC) storage facility in Deer Park, Texas, began March 17 and released toxic chemicals into the air and nearby waterways. Shipping along the largest oil port in the United States remained disrupted on Monday, as did operations at two nearby refineries.

Fumes from benzene-containing fuel and fear of another fire have prevented investigators from going into the tank farm’s “hot zone,” officials said Monday. Three tanks holding oils remain to be emptied this week, and responders continue to sop up fuels on the tank farm grounds.

Investigators from the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) and Environmental Protection Agency, as well as state and local authorities, plan to enter the site once it is safe.

Access to the site, along the Houston Ship Channel, will help determine what happened and how a fire at one tank holding tens of thousands of barrels of naphtha spread quickly to 10 other giant tanks.

“The escalation of the event, looking at how the fire spread from a single tank to others in the tank battery, is certainly something we’re interested in,” said CSB lead investigator Mark Wingard, who arrived in Houston last week.

Before CSB investigators enter the site, possibly later this week, they will focus on interviewing ITC personnel and witnesses of the fire, and collecting documentation on the facility and its tanks. The CSB’s investigation will also examine the “outside impacts” of the fires, Wingard said.

“There’s huge public interest in this case,” he said. “People in this community want to know what happened and what they were exposed to.”

Access also could provide officials with information critical to state and local lawsuits accusing the company of improperly releasing tons of volatile organic compounds into the surrounding air and water.

“We need to get to what was the root cause of this event and then begin to understand any aspect of negligence or obstruction that led to the event,” Harris County Commissioner Adrián García said in an interview.

The county last week filed a lawsuit against ITC seeking to recoup the costs of emergency responders and healthcare clinics set up in response to pollution from the fire. The county has not yet estimated the cost, which Garcia said is “going to be very significant.”

An ITC spokeswoman declined to comment, citing pending litigation. In the past, a company official said ITC responded immediately to the fire and had no lack of resources to put out the fire.

Asked how long it would take for investigators to get onto the grounds, ITC Senior Vice President Brent Weber said he hoped it would be days not weeks. “They have been on the site,” Weber said on Monday. “They’re staying out of the hot zone right now.”

Fumes and clean-up efforts continued to affect shipping for a third week. Twenty-two cargo vessels were able to transit the area near the ITC tank farm on Sunday, the Coast Guard said, between 40 percent and 50 percent of normal.

Another 64 were in a queue waiting to pass on Monday. In total, 118 ships were anchored outside the port, said U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Derby Flory.

In addition to the state and county lawsuits, seven members of a Houston family have filed suit, claiming injuries from air pollution caused by the fire. Their lawsuit, which seeks $1 million in damages, alleges ITC failed to prevent the fire and did not adequately warn residents of the dangers once it began.

The seven were exposed to toluene, xylene, naphtha and benzene “causing them severe injuries and damages,” according to the lawsuit.

“The warnings were too little, too late,” said Benny Agosto Jr., who represents the family and whose firm is among at least four working to bring cases against the company.

(Reporting by Collin Eaton in Houston and Erwin Seba in Pasadena, Texas; editing by Gary McWilliams and Steve Orlofsky)

Trump threatens to close U.S. border with Mexico next week

U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to speak at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S., March 28, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

By Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON/LAKE OKEECHOBEE, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump threatened on Friday to close the U.S. border with Mexico next week, potentially disrupting millions of legal border crossings and billions of dollars in trade if Mexico does not stop immigrants from reaching the United States.

“We’ll keep it closed for a long time. I’m not playing games. Mexico has to stop it,” Trump said on a visit to Florida. Asked if he would close the Mexican border to all trade, Trump told reporters: “It could be to all trade.”

Trump has repeatedly vowed to close the U.S. border with Mexico during his two years in office and has not followed through. But this time the government is struggling to deal with a surge of asylum seekers from countries in Central America who travel through Mexico.

Department of Homeland Security officials warned that traffic with Mexico could slow as the agency shifts 750 border personnel from ports of entry to help process asylum seekers who are turning up between official crossing points.

“Make no mistake: Americans may feel effects from this emergency,” Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement. Nielsen said the personnel shift would lead to commercial delays and longer wait times at crossing points.

Nielsen and other U.S. officials say border patrol officers have been overwhelmed by a dramatic increase in asylum seekers, many of them children and families, fleeing violence and economic hardship in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, the highest monthly number in more than a decade, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said on Wednesday. Some 90,000 will be able to remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, he said.

Mexico played down the possibility of a border shutdown.

“Mexico does not act on the basis of threats. We are a great neighbor,” Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

It is not clear how shutting down ports of entry would deter asylum seekers, as they are legally able to request help as soon as they set foot on U.S. soil.

But a border shutdown would disrupt tourism and commerce between the United States and its third-largest trade partner, which totaled $612 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

“We’d be looking at losses worth billions of dollars,” said Kurt Honold, head of CCE, a business group in Tijuana, Mexico, in response to Trump’s threat. “It’s obvious he’s not measuring what he says.”

U.S. ports of entry recorded 193 million pedestrian and vehicle-passenger crossings last year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

As president, Trump has legal authority to close particular ports of entry, but he could be open to a legal challenge if he decided to close all of them immediately, said Stephen Legomsky, a former chief counsel at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services under Democratic President Barack Obama.

Trump is trying to convince Congress to sign off on a revised trade agreement with Mexico and Canada that his administration negotiated last year.

“Mexico has for many years made a fortune off of the U.S., far greater than Border Costs. If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States through our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week,” he said on Twitter.

Trump launched his presidential bid in June 2015 with a promise to crack down on illegal immigration, saying Mexico was sending rapists and drug runners into the United States.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that tackling illegal immigration is an issue chiefly for the United States and the Central American countries to address.

Trump has so far been unable to convince Congress to tighten asylum laws or fund a proposed border wall, one of his signature policies. Trump has declared a national emergency to justify redirecting money earmarked for the military to pay for its construction.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by David Alexander, Anthony Esposito, Lizbeth Diaz and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Grant McCool)