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)

Storm Gloria leaves eight dead, ruins rice paddies in Spain

MADRID (Reuters) – At least eight people have been killed as Storm Gloria has rampaged across eastern Spain, unleashing winds of up to 144 kmh (90 mph) and waves up to 13.5 meters (44 feet) high, officials said on Wednesday.

Three people remained missing four days after Gloria began pummeling the region with torrential rain and heavy snowfall alike. Rescue officials said the missing included a 25-year-old Briton on the island of Ibiza and a man who fell into the Mediterranean as he tried to moor his boat in Palamos port.

The storm began receding on Wednesday after leaving more than 200,000 people without power at times, destroying rice paddies in the Ebro river delta and triggering weather alerts for three dozen provinces.

Gloria ranks as the worst sea storm since 2003 “and likely of this century”, Dani Palacios, head of beach services for Barcelona in the northeast, told local broadcaster BETEVE.

Spanish police said they had found the body of a person in an Alicante river while a source at rescue services said another person died after a building collapsed in nearby Alcoy, likely due to heavy rainfall.

A man working in a greenhouse was killed as hail pounded the structure, a mayor in the province of Almeria told Efe news agency, while authorities in Valencia province blamed the death of a homeless person on frigid cold brought by the storm.

Sea water poured into the Ebro delta, one of Spain’s most important wetlands, inundating thousands of hectares of rice plants. “We can’t remember anything similar ever happening,” local mayor Lluis Soler told Cadena Ser radio.

“It’s dramatic to see how the river has overflowed and the sea has traveled kilometers inland.”

Waves in the western Mediterranean hit a record-breaking height of 13.5 meters (44.5 feet), port authorities said, slamming into seafront shops flooding municipalities.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted his “support and solidarity for the families of the victims of Storm Gloria and those suffering its the fatal consequences.”

(Reporting by Elena Rodriguez; Writing by Ashifa Kassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

‘Monster’ Hurricane Florence to pummel U.S. Southeast for days

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

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Florence, on track to become the first Category 4 storm to make a direct hit on North Carolina in six decades, howled closer to shore on Tuesday, threatening to unleash deadly pounding surf, days of torrential rain and severe flooding.

Sailors cast off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Jennifer Hunt/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Sailors cast off mooring lines to the Command hospital ship USNS Comfort as the ship evacuates Naval Station Norfolk in preparation for Hurricane Florence in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2018. Jennifer Hunt/US Navy/Handout via REUTERS

Fierce winds and massive waves are expected to lash the coasts of North and South Carolina and Virginia even before Florence makes landfall by early Friday, bringing a storm surge as much as 13 feet (4 meters), the National Hurricane Center in Miami warned. Catastrophic floods could follow if the storm stalls inland, it said.

Although Florence was still days from arrival, authorities took extraordinary measures to move people out of harm’s way. More than 1 million residents have been ordered to evacuate from the coastline of the three states, while university campuses, schools, and factories were being shuttered.

The U.S. Coast Guard closed ports in Wilmington and Morehead City, North Carolina and Hampton Roads, Virginia to inbound vessels greater than 500 tons and was requiring vessels of that size to leave if they did not have permission to be in the ports.

Packing maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour (225 km per hour), the storm ranked as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale and was expected to grow stronger and larger over the next few days, the NHC said.

“This storm is a monster,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said. “Even if you’ve ridden out storms before, this one is different. Don’t bet your life on riding out a monster.”

He cited forecasts showing Florence was likely to stall over North Carolina, “bringing days and days of rain.”

To hasten evacuations from coastal South Carolina, officials reversed the flow of traffic on some highways so all major roads led away from shore.

Kathleen O’Neal, a resident of Ocracoke Island in North Carolina’s Barrier Islands, said she, her husband and son would ride out the storm. “A lot of local people are staying,” she said of the island, which is reachable only by ferry or plane.

John Muchmore helps to lay sandbags at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

John Muchmore helps to lay sandbags at the Afterdeck condos ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Florence in Garden City Beach, South Carolina, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Randall Hill

LONG-TERM POWER OUTAGES POSSIBLE

Maps of Florence’s trajectory showed its center most likely to strike the southern coast of North Carolina. The last Category 4 hurricane to plow directly into North Carolina was Hazel in 1954, a devastating storm that killed 19 people and destroyed some 15,000 homes.

NHC forecasts showed the effects of Florence would be widely felt, with tropical storm-force winds extending nearly 300 miles across three states. A hurricane warning was posted for most of the Carolina coast north to the Virginia border.

In addition to wind-driven storm surges of seawater, Florence could dump up to 35 inches (89 cm) in some spots as it moves inland, forecasters said.

Communities in Florence’s path could lose electricity for weeks due to downed power lines and flooded equipment, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long said.

Utilities deployed crews and gear in advance, with workers en route to the region from at least 15 states, according to trade group, the Edison Electric Institute.

Crews also prepared 16 nuclear reactors in the three-state region for the storm. One power station, Duke Energy Corp’s Brunswick plant, the closest to the area where landfall is forecast, faced a likely shutdown as a precaution. Shutdowns also were possible at two more plants in the path of predicted hurricane-force winds.

The American Red Cross said more than 700 workers were headed to the region while shelters were set up to house those unable to flee. A hospital in Hampton, Virginia, was transferring patients to safer places.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed declarations of emergency for North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, freeing up federal resources for storm response.

“We are sparing no expense. We are totally prepared,” Trump said at the White House.

Trump faced severe criticism for his administration’s response to Hurricane Maria last year in Puerto Rico. Some 3,000 people died in the aftermath of that storm.

 

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

U.S. President Donald Trump holds an Oval Office meeting on hurricane preparations as FEMA Administrator Brock Long points to the potential track of Hurricane Florence on a graphic at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS

Days before its arrival, Florence was already disrupting commercial operations.

Boeing Co suspended work on Tuesday at the South Carolina plant where it assembles 787 widebody jetliners, and a Volvo automobile plant in South Carolina’s evacuation zone was also closed, company officials said.

Smithfield Foods Inc [SFII.UL] said it would shut down the world’s largest hog-slaughtering facility in Tar Heel, North Carolina, on Thursday and Friday due to the hurricane.

Residents prepared by boarding up their homes and stocking up on food, water and other essentials, stripping grocery store shelves of merchandise. Many gasoline stations were running low on fuel.

“I’m scared we’ll get 30 inches or more of rain,” said Carol Trojniar, 69, a longtime Wilmington resident and retired real estate agent who has never experienced a Category 4 hurricane. “What is flooding going to do to our home, our city?”

Trojniar said she and her husband were packing up belongings and plan to stack sandbags around their single-floor home in Wilmington’s eerily named Landfall neighborhood near the ocean before checking into a hotel to ride out the storm, with plenty of wine.

“Where else can we go? If we try to leave, we’ll just get stuck in the rain,” she said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Holden Beach, North Carolina, Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, Liz Hampton in Houston, Susan Heavey in Washington, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Scott DiSavino and Alden Bentley in New York, Nichola Groom and Alex Dobzinskis in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Nick Zieminski, Bill Trott and Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Lisa Shumaker and Michael Perry)

State of emergency, Evacuations, rescues as ‘historic’ floods hit northeastern U.S.

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

(Reuters) – New Jersey declared a partial state of emergency on Tuesday as forecasts for further heavy rainfall posed new danger in parts of that state, New York, and Pennsylvania, where rescuers hauled people from waterways, flooded cars, and homes.

Following several days of torrential rain throughout the northeastern United States, the National Weather Service issued new warnings for flooding in areas around Binghamton, New York, near the Pennsylvania border, and in New Jersey.

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

A road is submereged in flood water after heavy rains in Spring Lake, New Jersey, U.S., August 13, 2018, in this still image taken from a veideo obtained from social media. @TheWeatherMstr/via REUTERS

Federal forecasters warned that areas in the region could see as much as 4 inches (10 cm) more rain on Tuesday.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said in a statement five of the state’s 21 counties were under a state of emergency, where additional rainfall could further complicate flood cleanup.

“Parts of our state have received nothing less than historic amounts of rain, and some communities received an entire month’s worth in just a few hours,” said Murphy.

The police department in Brick, a town of 75,000 on the Atlantic coast, said on Facebook that residents were barred from returning to 105 homes without a security escort until township officials finished inspecting them.

In Seneca County, New York, emergency crews were evacuating some residents by boat and taking them to a nearby shelter, the sheriff’s office said in a statement.

“Flooding is one of the primary killers with regards to weather. It’s not tornadoes. It’s not wind damage,” said Brett Rossio, an Accuweather meteorologist. “It doesn’t take much. Even just a foot of water can pull you away very easily.”

More than 8,000 people had lost power in areas drenched by the storms and the Red Cross said it was operating shelters. It was not immediately clear how many people were in them.

“It’s Mother Nature so it’s a fluid situation, watching where the rain falls and if there’s additional evacuations necessary,” said Jay Bonafede, the Red Cross spokesman.

Both Pennsylvania and New York have already activated their emergency response centers for the storms, which started over the weekend.

Molly Dougherty, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said some people affected by the flooding had been recovering from deluges three weeks ago.

“People are looking at losses of most of their belongings and, in some cases, we’re still concerned about the safety of folks and making sure they’re able to stabilize,” said Dougherty.

(Reporting by Makini Brice; Editing by Scott Malone, Susan Thomas, and Bernadette Baum)