Four people killed, thousands evacuated as floods hit southeast Spain

By Jon Nazca and Marco Trujillo

PILAR DE LA HORADADA/ORIHUELA, Spain (Reuters) – Four people have been killed and over 1,500 evacuated in two days of torrential rains in southeastern Spain, with many roads, train networks and an airport closed on Friday and emergency services rescuing people stuck in flooded highway tunnels.

Floods swept away cars and debris in the regions of Valencia, Murcia and eastern Andalucia. Motorway tunnels in some areas were flooded almost up to the tunnel lighting, with some vehicles partly or fully submerged.

A man was found dead in Granada province on Friday after his car was swept off a motorway and another died in Almeria after trying to drive through a flooded tunnel, rescue services said. Two siblings died on Thursday when torrential rain dragged their car away.

A total of 74 roads were closed, as was the whole Murcia regional railway service, and the Murcia airport. The railway link between Alicante and Spain’s two main cities – Madrid and Barcelona – was shut, acting Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska said.

Some affected areas saw record daily rainfall for the month of September.

“The situation is critical, all the municipality is full of water,” Mario Cervera, mayor of the town of Alcazares, one of the most affected in Murcia, told Spain’s state-run TVE channel.

Rescue workers were using a helicopter and boats in various areas, he said.

“This man was holding onto a traffic sign… the officer and I jumped to take him out,” one emergency worker told Reuters.

In addition to people already evacuated, some 2,000 residents of the town of Santomera in Murcia were being removed from their homes due to a planned controlled release from a local dam to avoid its overflowing, the interior minister said.

“The forecasts do not point to a worsening of the situation, but we have to be cautious,” he told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting before heading to the affected areas.

The rain appeared to be easing but rivers were still at risk of overflowing, including the Segura, which has already flooded the town of Orihuela in Alicante and could flood in the city of Murcia, the local water management authority said.

Authorities have recommended citizens stay at home in the affected areas and avoid using their cars.

Tourists were left stranded in Alicante airport as many flights were delayed or canceled.

“We’ve been in the queue here four or five hours, it’s very difficult to get to the toilet, impossible to get anything to eat,” Haydn Harding, a 78-year old diabetic tourist from Northern Ireland, said at the airport.

(Additional reporting by Jose Rodriguez, Paola Luelmo, Emma Pinedo and Jesus Aguado; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Death toll in South Africa rains approaching 70, official says

Family members speak to a police officer after one of their family member's body was recovered from under the mud after heavy rains caused by flooding in Mariannhill near Durban, South Africa, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

DURBAN/JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Almost 70 people have been killed in South Africa after torrential rains along the eastern coast, an official said on Thursday, and rescuers are still recovering bodies.

KwaZulu-Natal province, where most of the deaths occurred after the downpours led to flooding and mudslides, has heavy rain every year, but they rarely kill so many people in such a short space of time.

A wreckage of a vehicle remains after a body was recovered from under the mud after heavy rains caused by flooding in Marianhill near Durban, South Africa, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

A wreckage of a vehicle remains after a body was recovered from under the mud after heavy rains caused by flooding in Marianhill near Durban, South Africa, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

The number of people killed was “approaching 70”, Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department, said by phone.

“I don’t recall that in history,” he said, attributing the severity of the storm and its impact on the population to climate change.

A Reuters witness saw rescuers come to collect the body of a woman who had been dug out of the mud by locals. Mabaso said a more precise death toll would be given later on Thursday.

Eyewitnesses recounted on Wednesday how flood waters and mudslides crashed through houses, many with people inside, and destroyed roads and other infrastructure.

The rains carved chunks out of hills and roads in the region, with cars, tin roofs and other rubble swept into the deep muddy trenches left behind.

In other places, people buried their dead on muddy hillsides churned up by the storm, marking their resting place with simple wooden crosses.

Vanetia Phakula, a senior forecaster at the South African Weather Service, said the storm was not currently seen as unusual, though the level of rainfall might have been higher than normal.

Over 100 millimeters of rain was recorded as falling at numerous stations within the area between Monday morning and Tuesday, she said.

Phakula said the high death toll could instead be explained by the flooding and mudslides occurring in more highly populated areas.

“Hence the death toll is what it is today,” she said.

While more rain was expected on Thursday it was not expected to be heavy, and the service was forecasting dry weather in most areas by Friday, she added.

(Reporting by Rogan Ward in Durban and Emma Rumney in Johannesburg; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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)

North Carolina feels first bite of mammoth Hurricane Florence

A man walks his dogs before Hurricane Florence comes ashore on Carolina Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Coastal North Carolina felt the first bite of Hurricane Florence on Thursday as winds began to rise, a prelude to the slow-moving tempest that forecasters warned would cause catastrophic flooding across a wide swath of the U.S. southeast.

The center of Florence, no longer classified as a major hurricane but still posing a grave threat to life and property, is expected to hit North Carolina’s southern coast Friday, then drift southwest before moving inland on Saturday, enough time to drop feet of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Businesses and homes in the storm’s path were boarded up and thousands of people had moved to emergency shelters, officials said, urging anyone who remained near the coast to flee. Millions were expected to lose power, perhaps for weeks.

“There is still time to leave,” North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told “CBS This Morning” on Thursday. “This is an extremely dangerous situation.”

Florence’s maximum sustained winds were clocked on Thursday at 110 miles per hour (175 kph) after it was downgraded to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, according to the NHC. The storm was about 170 miles (275 km) east of Wilmington, North Carolina.

Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 miles per hour (63 kph) extended outward up to 195 miles (315 km) from its center and were due to begin raking North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier islands around 8 a.m. (1200 GMT) before stretching over low-lying areas reaching from Georgia north into Virginia.

The rain posed a greater danger, forecasters warned, with some spots getting as much as 40 inches (1 m) of precipitation, enough to cause devastating flash floods miles from the coast.

In all, an estimated 10 million people live in areas expected to be placed under a hurricane or storm advisory, according to the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. More than one million people had been ordered to evacuate the coastlines of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Besides inundating the coast with wind-driven storm surges of seawater as high as 13 feet (four meters) along the Carolina coast, Florence could dump 20 to 30 inches (51-76 cm) of rain over much of the region.

If it stalls over land, downpours and flooding would be especially severe. Heavy rains were forecast to extend into the Appalachians, affecting parts of Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia.

 

TEST FOR TRUMP

The storm will be a test of President Donald Trump’s administration less than two months before elections that will determine control of Congress. After facing severe criticism for its handling of last year’s Hurricane Maria, which killed some 3,000 people in Puerto Rico, Trump has vowed a vigorous response.

“We are completely ready for hurricane Florence, as the storm gets even larger and more powerful. Be careful!” Trump said on Twitter.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of disaster response, has come under investigation over his use of government vehicles, Politico reported on Thursday.

Emergency declarations were in force in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Emergency preparations included activating more than 2,700 National Guard troops, stockpiling food, setting up shelters, switching traffic patterns so major roads led away from shore, and securing 16 nuclear power reactors in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Some in Wilmington could not resist getting one last look at their downtown before the storm hit.

“We just thought we’d go out while we still can,” said Amy Baxter, on a walk near the city’s waterfront with her husband, two sons, and dog.

Baxter, a 46-year-old homemaker, and her family plan to ride out Florence at home with board games and playing cards.

“We live in a house that’s more than 100 years old,” Baxter said. “We feel pretty safe.”

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

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Scott Malone)

Anger at Italy bridge operator as hunt for survivors goes on

Firefighters and rescue workers stand at the site of a collapsed Morandi Bridge in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 15, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Ilaria Polleschi

GENOA, Italy (Reuters) – Italian rescuers searched for survivors among towering slabs of concrete wreckage in Genoa on Wednesday after a bridge collapse killed 39 people and sparked a furious government reaction against the viaduct’s operator.

The 50-year-old bridge, part of a toll motorway linking the port city of Genoa with southern France, collapsed during torrential rain on Tuesday, sending dozens of vehicles crashing onto a riverbed, a railway and two warehouses.

Eye-witness Ivan, 37, evacuated on Tuesday from the nearby building where he works, described the collapse as unbelievable.

“To see a pylon come down like papier-mâché is an incredible thing,” he said. “It’s been a lifetime that we’ve known there were problems. It is in continual maintenance.”

“In the ’90s they added some reinforcements on one part, but also underneath you can see rust.”

As cranes moved in to shift truck-sized chunks of broken concrete, hundreds of firefighters searched for survivors, while public shock and grief turned to anger over the state of the 1.2 km-long bridge, completed in 1967 and overhauled two years ago.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared a state of emergency for Genoa, one of Italy’s busiest ports, whose mainland corridor with France has effectively been severed.

Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli, visiting the disaster scene, said bridge operator Autostrade per l’Italia would have to contribute to the cost of its reconstruction as well as pay heavy fines.

But Autostrade, a unit of Milan-listed Atlantia group, said it had done regular, sophisticated checks on the structure before the disaster, relying on “companies and institutions which are world leaders in testing and inspections” and that these had provided reassuring results.

“These outcomes have formed the basis for maintenance work approved by the Transport Ministry in accordance with the law and the terms of the concession agreement,” it said.

A source close to the matter said Autostrade per l’Italia would hold an extraordinary board meeting next week following the disaster.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

WEIGHT OF TRAFFIC

The bridge’s condition and its ability to sustain large increases in both the intensity and weight of traffic over the years have been a focus of public debate since Tuesday’s collapse when an 80-meter (260-foot) span gave way at lunchtime as cars and trucks streamed across it.

Salvatore Lorefice, 58, a pensioner who lives a few hundred meters (yards) from the bridge, said cement had fallen off the structure as early as the 1980s when he worked at a warehouse directly under the bridge.

He recalled a visit by a team of Japanese technicians who “came to find out how the structure had deteriorated in such a short time”.

Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said the private sector manager of the bridge had earned “billions” from tolls but “did not spend the money they were supposed to” and its concession should be revoked.

He was apparently referring to Autostrade.

“Imposing the highest penalties possible and making sure that those responsible for the dead and the injured pay up for any damages and crimes is the very least,” he said.

The Pope offered a prayer for the victims and their loved ones in a public address at St Peter’s Basilica.

Fire brigade spokesman Luca Cari said 400 firefighters were at the site, helped by cranes that cleared away large rubble and created spaces for rescue teams to check for survivors.

In Paris, France’s foreign ministry said four French nationals were among the dead.

Toninelli earlier said he had begun a process to strip Autostrade of its concession and he demanded top managers at the firm resign.

“Autostrade per l’Italia was not able to fulfill its obligations under the contract regulating management of this infrastructure,” Toninelli said on RAI 1 state TV, adding he would seek to levy heavy fines against the company that could reach up to 150 million euros.

Autostrade’s top two officials have no plans to resign, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

STRUCTURAL INSPECTIONS

The Morandi Bridge, named after the engineer who designed it, forms part of the A10 motorway run by Autostrade. The 55-km (34 mile) stretch of the A10 accounts for around 1.7 percent of total network traffic for Italy’s biggest toll road operator, according to one analyst’s estimate.

Autostrade’s parent, Atlantia, also runs toll-road concessions in Brazil, Chile, India, and Poland.

Firefighters carry a body at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Firefighters carry a body at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

“The top management of Autostrade per l’Italia must step down first of all,” Toninelli said in a Facebook post.

He also said the government would inspect the structure of aging bridges and tunnels across the country with a view to launching a program of remedial works if required.

Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government that took office in June said the collapse showed Italy needed to spend more on its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

Genoa police put the death toll at 39, with 16 injured.

(Additional reporting by Stefano Rallendini, Mark Bendeich, Valentina Za, Stefano Bernabei and Sarah White in Paris, Editing by William Maclean and John Stonestreet)

Italy motorway bridge collapses in heavy rains, killing at least 35

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

By Stefano Rellandini

GENOA, Italy (Reuters) – At least 35 people were killed when a motorway bridge collapsed in torrential rains on Tuesday morning over buildings in the northern Italian port city of Genoa, Italy’s ANSA news agency cited fire brigade sources as saying.

A 50-meter high section of the bridge, including one set of the supports that tower above it, crashed down in the rain onto the roof of a factory and other buildings, crushing vehicles below and plunging huge slabs of reinforced concrete into the nearby riverbed.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

“People living in Genoa use this bridge twice a day, we can’t live with infrastructures built in the 1950s and 1960s,” Deputy Transport Minister Edoardo Rixi said on SkyNews24, speaking from Genoa.

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy, August 14, 2018. Local Team via Reuters TV/REUTERS

The collapsed Morandi Bridge is seen in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy, August 14, 2018. Local Team via Reuters TV/REUTERS

Within hours of the disaster, the anti-establishment government which took office in June said it showed Italy needed to spend more to improve its dilapidated infrastructure, ignoring EU budget constraints if necessary.

“We should ask ourselves whether respecting these (budget) limits is more important than the safety of Italian citizens. Obviously, for me it is not,” said Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who leads the right-wing League which governs with the 5-Star Movement.

A crushed truck is seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

A crushed truck is seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Helicopter footage on social media showed trucks and cars stranded on either side of the 80-meter long collapsed section of the Morandi Bridge, built on the A10 toll motorway in the late 1960s. One truck was shown just meters away from the broken end of the bridge.

Motorist Alessandro Megna told RAI state radio he had been in a traffic jam below the bridge and seen the collapse.

“Suddenly the bridge came down with everything it was carrying. It was really an apocalyptic scene, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said.

BRIDGE ‘CONSTANTLY MONITORED’

Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli told Italian state television the disaster pointed to a lack of maintenance, adding that “those responsible will have to pay.”

But Stefano Marigliani, the motorway operator Autostrade’s official responsible for the Genoa area, told Reuters the bridge was “constantly monitored and supervised well beyond what the law required.”

Rescue workers are seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Rescue workers are seen at the collapsed Morandi Bridge in the Italian port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

He said there was “no reason to consider the bridge was dangerous.”

Restructuring work was carried out in 2016 on the 1.2 km-long bridge, first completed in 1967. The motorway is a major artery to the Italian Riviera and to France’s southern coast.

Autostrade, a unit of Atlantia, said work to shore up its foundation was being carried out at the time of the collapse.

But the head of the civil protection agency, Angelo Borrelli, said he was not aware that any maintenance work was being done on the bridge.

Borrelli said there were 30-35 vehicles on the bridge when the middle section came down, including three lorries. He said 13 people had been hospitalized, including five in a critical condition.

Some 200 firefighters were on the scene, the fire service said, and Sky Italia television said four people had been pulled from the rubble.

Police footage showed firemen working to clear debris around a crushed truck, while other firemen nearby scaled some of the huge broken slabs of reinforced concrete that had supported the bridge.

Firefighters inspect a crushed car at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

Firefighters inspect a crushed car at the collapsed Morandi Bridge site in the port city of Genoa, Italy August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

The government has pledged to increase public investments and lobby the European Commission to have the extra spending excluded from EU deficit calculations.

“The tragic facts in Genoa remind us of the public investments that we so badly need,” said Claudio Borghi, the League’s economy spokesman.

The office of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he was heading to Genoa in the evening and would remain there on Wednesday. Defense minister Elisabetta Trenta said the army was ready to offer manpower and vehicles to help with the rescue operations.

Train services around Genoa have been halted.

Shares in Atlantia, the toll road operator which runs the motorway, were suspended after falling 6.3 percent.

(Reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio; Additional reporting by Angelo Amato; Writing by Gavin Jones and Steve Scherer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)