Hurricane Michael’s death toll could rise as Florida searches intensify

First responders and residents walk along a main street following Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Devika Krishna Kumar

PORT ST. JOE, Fla. (Reuters) – Rescuers used heavy equipment to clear debris in the Florida Panhandle towns hit hardest by Hurricane Michael, searching for survivors amid expectations the death toll of 12 from the powerful storm likely will climb.

Rescuers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) used dogs, drones and global positioning satellites in the search.

Bianna Kelsay is consoled by member of rescue personnel after being saved from her business damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Bianna Kelsay is consoled by member of rescue personnel after being saved from her business damaged by Hurricane Michael in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

So far, no counties along the devastated northwest Florida coast have reported deaths related to the storm. That could change, as efforts to assess damage and look for casualties in the worst-hit communities have been hampered by downed utility lines and roads blocked by debris and fallen trees.

“I think you’re going to see it climb,” FEMA Administrator Brock Long said of the death count at a news conference. “We still haven’t gotten into some of the hardest-hit areas.”

Michael charged ashore on Wednesday near the small Florida Panhandle town of Mexico Beach as one of the most powerful storms in U.S. history, with top sustained winds of 155 miles per hour (250 km per hour). It pushed a wall of seawater inland and caused widespread flooding.

Many of the houses in Mexico Beach were reduced to naked concrete foundations or piles of debris.

Aerial photo shows boats laying among the debris from homes destroyed after Hurricane Michael smashed into Florida's northwest coast in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018. Chris O'Meara/Pool via REUTERS

Aerial photo shows boats laying among the debris from homes destroyed after Hurricane Michael smashed into Florida’s northwest coast in Mexico Beach, Florida, U.S., October 11, 2018. Chris O’Meara/Pool via REUTERS

Although weaker as it pushed over the southeastern United States, the storm carried high winds and delivered drenching rains to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia. It killed at least 12 people in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, officials said.

In Virginia, the remnants of the hurricane swept away four people in floodwaters. A firefighter also was killed when hit by a truck as he was trying to help an accident victim, the Washington Post reported.

About 1.5 million homes and businesses were without power from Florida to Virginia early on Friday, according to utility companies.

It could be weeks before power is restored to the most damaged parts of Florida, such as Panama City.

Long urged communities such as Mexico Beach, where many homes were obliterated by 12 to 14 feet (3.7 to 4.3 meters) of storm surge, to rebuild to withstand future storms.

“It’s OK if you want to live on the coast or on top of a mountain that sees wildfires or whatever but you have to build to a higher standard,” he said. “If we’re going to rebuild, do it right.”

By early Friday morning the remnants of Michael had moved into the Atlantic Ocean northeast of Norfolk, Virginia, the National Hurricane Center said.

A collapsed building damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Callaway, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

A collapsed building damaged by Hurricane Michael is pictured in Callaway, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

HOSPITAL PROBLEMS

The storm, which came ashore as a Category 4 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, tore apart entire neighborhoods in the Panhandle.

Many of the injured in Florida were taken to Panama City, 20 miles (32 km) northwest of Mexico Beach.

Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center treated some people but the hospital evacuated 130 patients as it was dealing with its own hurricane effects.

The hospital was running on generators after the storm knocked out power, ripped off part of its roof and smashed windows, according to a spokesman for the hospital’s owner, HCA Healthcare Inc.

Much of downtown Port St. Joe, 12 miles (19 km) east of Mexico Beach, was flooded by Michael, which snapped boats in two and hurled a large ship onto the shore, residents said.

“We had houses that were on one side of the street and now they’re on the other,” said Mayor Bo Patterson, estimating that 1,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed in his town of 3,500 people.

The number of people in emergency shelters was expected to swell to 20,000 across five states by Friday, said Brad Kieserman of the American Red Cross. The Coast Guard reported rescuing 129 people.

Michael severely damaged cotton, timber, pecan, and peanut crops, causing estimated liabilities as high as $1.9 billion and affecting up to 3.7 million crop acres (1.5 million hectares), said Brad Rippey, a meteorologist for the U.S. Agriculture Department.

Michael also disrupted energy operations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as it approached land, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by nearly a third as offshore platforms were evacuated.

It was the third strongest storm on record to hit the continental United States, behind only Hurricane Camille on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 1969 and the Labor Day hurricane of 1935 in the Florida Keys.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar in Port St. Joe, Fla.; Additional reporting by Rod Nickel in Panama City, Fla., Gina Cherelus and Scott DiSavino in New York, Gary McWilliams and Liz Hampton in Houston, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Storm Florence’s drenching rains kill 23 in the Carolinas

Members of the Coast Guard launch rescue boats into the neighborhood of Mayfair in the flood waters caused by Hurricane Florence in Lumberton, North Carolina, U.S. September 16, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

By Ernest Scheyder and Patrick Rucker

WILMINGTON/FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Reuters) – Deeper flooding loomed in the hours and days ahead from rivers in the Carolinas swollen by Tropical Depression Florence, which has killed 23 people, even if rain-weary residents got a brief glimpse of sunshine on Monday.

The slow-moving storm, a hurricane when it hit the North Carolina coast, has dumped up to 36 inches (91 cm) of rain on the state since Thursday, displacing thousands. The flooding could persist for several weeks in some areas.

The coastal city of Wilmington remained cut off by floodwaters from the Cape Fear River on Monday. Further inland, the same river, running through Fayetteville, a city of 200,000, was expected to reach major flood levels later on Monday, and would not crest until Tuesday.

Florence was headed through Virginia and toward New England and flash flood watches extended from Maryland through New York and southern New England.

In the Carolinas, the National Weather Service continued to warn people the floods were worsening.

“The worst is yet to come,” as river levels rise to historic levels, said Zach Taylor, an NWS meteorologist. “The soil is soaked and can’t absorb any more rain so that water has to go somewhere, unfortunately.”

Major rivers are expected to remain flooded for the next two to three weeks, said Steve Goldstein, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration liaison to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The death toll from Florence, which came ashore in North Carolina on Friday, rose to 23 on Monday.

The dead included a 1-year-old boy who was swept away from his mother as they tried to escape their car amid floodwaters. The woman had driven around barricades to get on a closed road, the sheriff’s office in Union County, near North Carolina’s border with South Carolina, said on Facebook.

North Carolina officials reported 1,200 road closures, including a stretch of Interstate 95, a major transportation artery running the length of the U.S. East Coast.

About 509,000 homes and businesses were without electricity on Monday in North and South Carolina and surrounding states.

POWER OUTAGES, BLOCKED ROADS

The sun appeared in some areas for the first time in days, allowing some people who had been forced to leave their homes to return home to assess damage.

Eric Tryggeseth, 59, found his home in Leland, North Carolina, without power and with a tree lying in his front yard. He had been evacuated a day before by troops in a truck.

“The floodwaters were rising so I figured I better get out of there,” he said. “I can’t thank the first responders enough.”

There were currently 2,000 federal workers working on storm response, supporting state efforts, said Tom Fargione, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, during a press conference.

Sean Adams, 29, a contractor from Leland, said his home suffered only minor damage but he had no idea when power might be restored.

With so many roads in and out of the region flooded, he could not access supplies to help start rebuilding.

“We really can’t get much done right now. It’s getting frustrating,” he said.

The storm killed 17 people in North Carolina, including a mother and child hit by a falling tree, state officials said. Six people died in South Carolina, including four in car accidents and two from carbon monoxide from a portable generator.

(Reporting by Patrick Rucker and Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Miami; Jessica Resnick-Ault and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Anna Mehler Paperny in North Carolina; and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing by Bill Trott; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Frances Kerry)

Hurricane Florence makes landfall, set to inundate Carolinas

Water from Neuse River floods houses as Hurricane Florence comes ashore in New Bern, North Carolina, September 13, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

By Ernest Scheyder

WILMINGTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hurricane Florence, weakened but still dangerous, crashed into the Carolinas on Friday as a giant, slow-moving storm that stranded residents with floodwaters and swamped part of the town of New Bern at the beginning of what could be a days-long deluge.

The center of the hurricane’s eye came ashore at about 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT) near Wrightsville Beach close to Wilmington, North Carolina, with sustained winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Flood waters are seen in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Courtesy of Ben Johnson/via REUTERS

Flood waters are seen in Belhaven, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018 in this still image from video obtained from social media. Courtesy of Ben Johnson/via REUTERS

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said Florence was set to cover almost all of the state in several feet of water.

As of Friday morning, Atlantic Beach, a town on North Carolina’s Outer Banks barrier island chain, already had received 30 inches (76 cm) of rain, the U.S. Geological Service said.

On the mainland in New Bern, authorities said more than 100 people had to be saved from floods and that the downtown area was underwater. The town’s public information officer, Colleen Roberts, told CNN 150 more people were awaiting rescue and that citizens were going out in their

boats to help, despite blowing waters and swift currents.

“WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU,” New Bern city officials said on Twitter. “You may need to move up to the second story, or to your attic, but WE ARE COMING TO GET YOU.”

There were no immediate reports of storm-related deaths or serious injuries but more than 60 people, including many children and pets, had to be evacuated from a hotel in Jacksonville, North Carolina, after strong winds caused parts of the roof to collapse, local officials said.

National Weather Service forecaster Brandon Locklear predicted Florence would drop up to eight months’ worth of rain in two or three days.

More than 440,000 homes and businesses were without power in North and South Carolina early on Friday, utility officials said. Utility companies said millions were expected to lose power and that restoring it could take weeks.

The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The roof of a house is seen affected by winds from Hurricane Florence as it hits the town of Wilson, North Carolina, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

Florence had been a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds on Thursday but dropped to Category 1 before coming ashore. But forecasters said its extreme size meant it could batter the U.S. East Coast with hurricane-force winds for nearly a full day.

It is expected to move across parts of southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, then head north over the western Carolinas and central Appalachian Mountains early next week, the NHC said. Significant weakening is expected over the weekend.

About 10 million people could be affected by the storm and more than 1 million were ordered to evacuate the coasts of the Carolinas and Virginia.

Almost 20,000 people had taken refuge in 157 emergency shelters, Cooper said.

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

Still, some residents ignored calls to evacuate.

“I had a lot of fear initially but I’m glad to be inside and safe,” said Zelda Allen, 74, a retired tax accountant from Hampstead, North Carolina, who was riding out the storm at Wilmington’s Hotel Ballast with her husband.

“I’m worried about what I might find when I go home, though,” she said.

 

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Additional reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Nick Zieminski)

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)

Evacuations in North Carolina as hurricane Florence roars closer

A photo taken from the International Space Station by astronaut Ricky Arnold shows Hurricane Florence over the Atlantic Ocean in the early morning hours of September 6, 2018. Courtesy @astro_ricky/NASA/Handout via REUTERS

By Rich McKay and Letitia Stein

(Reuters) – North Carolina officials on Monday ordered residents to evacuate the state’s Outer Banks barrier islands beginning on Monday ahead of Hurricane Florence, the first major hurricane to threaten the eastern United States this year.

With winds of 115 miles per hour (185 kph), the storm had reached Category 3 strength on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale by 11 a.m. on (1500 GMT) on Monday, according to the National Weather Service.

It warned the storm would be “an extremely dangerous major hurricane” by the time it made landfall, forecast in the Carolinas on Thursday.

The hurricane was gaining strength as it traveled over warm Atlantic waters, about 1,240 miles (2,000 km) east-southwest of Cape Fear, North Carolina, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory.

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

A beachfront home is boarded up ahead of Hurricane Florence, at Holden Beach, North Carolina, U.S., September 10, 2018. REUTERS/Anna Driver

All of Hatteras Island was under mandatory evacuation order and other parts of the Outer Banks will have to evacuate by 7 a.m. EDT (1100 GMT) on Tuesday, Dare County Emergency Management said in a statement.

Hurricane-force winds could buffet the Carolinas by Wednesday night with landfall likely in South Carolina and North Carolina on Thursday, followed by heavy rains that could cause flooding in much of the U.S. Southeast, the NHC said.

The governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina all declared states of emergency.

Residents as far north as Virginia were warned that Florence could bring a life-threatening coastal storm surge, as well as inland flooding from “prolonged and exceptionally heavy rainfall,” the NHC said.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper urged his state’s residents to get ready, noting the storm was generating swelling waves and dangerous currents.

NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said historically, 90 percent of fatalities from hurricanes, tropical storms, and tropical depressions have been caused by water. Some 27 percent of the deaths have come from rain-driven flooding, sometimes hundreds of miles inland.

The NHC also was tracking two other hurricanes farther out in the Atlantic.

Isaac strengthened into the fifth hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic season on Sunday, the NHC said, and as of early Monday, it was about 1,230 miles east 1,305 miles (1,985 km) east of the Windward Islands with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph).

Hurricane Helene was spinning in the Atlantic off West Africa’s Cape Verde islands with 85-mph (140-kph) winds on Monday but did not appear to pose an immediate threat to land.

As Florence gathered strength far out in the Atlantic, Wall Street was trying to pick winners and losers from any havoc it might cause.

Generac Holdings Inc, building materials maker Owens Corning and roofing supplier Beacon Roofing Supply Inc, which were up between 4 percent and 8 percent. Retailers Lowe’s Companies Inc and Home Depot Inc gained more than 2 percent.

On the downside, several insurers that are seen vulnerable to potential claims losses slipped, led by a 1.8 percent drop in Allstate Corp and a 1.7 percent decline in Travelers Companies Inc.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Editing by Alison Williams and Bill Trott)

Washington white nationalist rally sputters in sea of counterprotesters

Counter-protesters march in front of white nationalists being escorted by police to a rally, marking the one year anniversary of the 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Washington, D.C. August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

By Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A white nationalist rally in the heart of Washington drew two dozen demonstrators and thousands of chanting counterprotesters on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A large police presence kept the two sides separated in Lafayette Square, in front of the White House. After two hours and a few speeches, the “Unite the Right 2” rally ended early when it began to rain and two police vans took the demonstrators back to Virginia.

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville "Unite the Right" protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyde

Demonstrators hold hands at the site where Heather Heyer was killed, on the one year anniversary of 2017 Charlottesville “Unite the Right” protests, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Sunday’s events, while tense at times, were a far cry from the street brawls that broke out in downtown Charlottesville a year ago when a local woman was killed by a man who drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.

“Unite the Right 2” had been denied a permit in Charlottesville this year but did secure one for Washington. Organizers had planned for up to 400 protesters.

At the head of the white nationalist group was Virginia activist Jason Kessler, who helped organize last year’s event in Charlottesville. He emerged with a handful of fellow demonstrators from a subway station holding an American flag and walked toward the White House ringed by police, while counterprotesters taunted the group and called them Nazis.

Dan Haught, a 54-year-old computer programmer from Washington, was attending his first protest at the White House holding a sign that said: “Back under your rocks you Nazi clowns.”

“We wanted to send a message to the world that we vastly outnumber them,” Haught said.

Police said that as of 6 p.m. ET (2200 GMT) they had made no arrests and would not give a crowd estimate. Late in the day, a small group of counter-protesters clashed with police in downtown Washington.

The violence last year in Charlottesville, sparked by white nationalists’ outrage over a plan to remove a Confederate general’s statue, convulsed the nation and sparked condemnation across the political spectrum. It also was one of the lowest moments of President Donald Trump’s first year in office.

At the time, Trump said there were “very fine people” on both sides, spurring criticism that he was equating the counter-protesters with the rally attendees, who included neo-Nazis and other white supremacists.

On Saturday, Trump condemned “all types of racism” in a Twitter post marking the anniversary.

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

People gather at Freedom Plaza to protest the white supremacist Unite the Right rally held in front of the White House on the one year anniversary of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, in downtown Washington, U.S., August 12, 2018. REUTERS/ Leah Millis

ANTI-FASCISTS AND FAMILIES

Kessler said Sunday’s rally was aimed at advocating for “free speech for everybody,” and he blamed last year’s violence in Charlottesville on other groups and the media.

He thought Sunday’s rally went well in comparison.

“Everybody got the ability to speak and I think that was a major improvement over Charlottesville,” Kessler told Reuters. “It was a precedent that had to be set. It was more important than anything.”

The counterprotest which began earlier in the day was a smattering of diverse groups – from black-clad anti-fascists to supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement to families who brought children in strollers. Tourists took pictures and both protesters and observers zoomed around on electric scooters.

Sean Kratouil, a 17-year-old who lives in Maryland, was wearing a vest with “Antifa” on the back and said he was there to help start a movement of peaceful anti-fascists. He said he was concerned that when rallies turn violent, it makes his side look bad. “Public perception is key,” he said.

In the picturesque college town of Charlottesville, hundreds of police officers had maintained a security perimeter around the normally bustling downtown district throughout the day on Saturday. Vehicular traffic was barred from an area of more than 15 city blocks, while pedestrians were allowed access at two checkpoints where officers examined bags for weapons.

Hundreds of students and activists took to the streets on Saturday evening. Many of the protesters directed their anger at the heavy police presence, with chants like “cops and Klan go hand in hand,” a year after police were harshly criticized for their failure to prevent the violence.

On Sunday morning, activist Grace Aheron, 27, donned a Black Lives Matter T-shirt and joined hundreds of fellow Charlottesville residents who gathered at Booker T. Washington Park to mark the anniversary of last year’s bloodshed.

“We want to claim our streets back, claim our public space back, claim our city back,” Aheron said at the park.

Charlottesville authorities said four people had been arrested on Sunday.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in Charlottesville and David Shepardson and Michelle Price in Washington; Writing by Dan Wallis and Mary Milliken; Editing by Grant McCool, Cynthia Osterman, and Susan Thomas)

Charlottesville confronts identity one year after clashes

A U.S. flag flies from the back of a car, ahead the one-year anniversary of the fatal white-nationalist rally, in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By Joseph Ax

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Reuters) – For many residents of Charlottesville, Virginia, last year’s white nationalist rally shattered the city’s carefully curated reputation as a progressive, idyllic place to live.

But for Nikuyah Walker, an activist who was elected mayor just three months later, the violent clashes only underscored deep racial and economic inequities that have long divided this picturesque college town. In her view, the rally has forced Charlottesville to confront its own complicated legacy.

“You can have three or four generations who are struggling, and that family has not been able to move out of poverty wages – that’s a significant portion of Charlottesville,” Walker, the city’s first black female mayor, told Reuters outside City Hall. “And then you have this very wealthy community that loves and raves about it.”

As Charlottesville prepares for the one-year anniversary this weekend, it is still agonizing over clashes last year in which one woman was killed when an Ohio man drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was killed during the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, stands at the memorial at the site where her daughter was killed in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Some residents have argued that the vast majority of the marchers last year were from out of town, but Walker said that narrative ignores the city’s broader problems.

She noted that the main instigators of the “Unite the Right” rally, Richard Spencer, who coined the term “alt-right” to describe the loose coalition of white nationalists, and Jason Kessler, a local blogger, graduated from the University of Virginia on the western side of town.

The rally was billed as a protest over the city council’s plan to remove two Confederate statues from downtown parks. Last year, a judge blocked the city from taking down the statues, which are encircled by orange plastic fencing and are off-limits to residents.

Several officials including the police chief, the city manager, and the city attorney left their positions after widespread criticism that Charlottesville had been ill-prepared to manage the hundreds of white nationalists who descended upon it, many armed with shields, clubs and other weapons.

“We recognize that we have to earn the community’s trust,” said Brian Wheeler, the city’s chief spokesman. “The way that we can best do that this year is learn from the mistakes.”

Local and state police have vowed to have zero tolerance for any violence this weekend, in stark contrast with last year when some officers did not intervene to break up fights. Virtually the entire downtown will be closed to vehicles.

Police have said that they are preparing for the worst, even though Kessler, who organized last year’s event, lost a bid to get a permit this year. Instead, he has received permission to rally outside the White House on Sunday and has said he will focus on Washington.

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A boy passes tributes written at the site where Heather Heyer was killed during the 2017 white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S., August 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A CITY AT ODDS WITH ITSELF

The effects of last year’s violence are still felt every day in Charlottesville.

City council meetings have frequently devolved into shouting matches. At a recent community outreach meeting where police officials detailed security plans for this weekend, residents asked one after another how they were supposed to trust the police after 2017.

“Charlottesville has had a tendency to self-congratulation; it’s constantly in the magazines as the best place to live,” said Reverend Will Peyton, who oversees St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“The violence was perpetrated by outsiders, yes, but the response from the black community is like, ‘Really, this isn’t us? We don’t have a problem here?’ Because, of course, there’s entrenched inequality and entrenched structural racism,” Peyton said.

At the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in downtown Charlottesville, an exhibit documents the struggle of black residents who fought for equal access to public education.

“I don’t know that people understood that this narrative of progressive Charlottesville had flaws,” said Andrea Douglas, the center’s executive director. “Now those flaws have been exposed.”

When Mayor Walker, 38, announced her run for city council last spring after years of activism on behalf of low-income residents, she adopted the motto “Unmasking the Illusion,” aiming to dispel the notion that Charlottesville was a diverse, liberal utopia. She has focused her attention on issues like affordable housing and policing.

Last month, she joined residents on what they called a “civil rights pilgrimage” to the lynching museum in Montgomery, Alabama, bringing along soil from a site where a black Charlottesville man was lynched in 1898.

Reverend Tracy Howe Wispelwey, a local activist, said last year’s rally was eye-opening for many in Charlottesville.

“You have a lot of white liberals who have not grappled with our history and want to dismiss it,” she said. “That’s just not truth.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

Water rescues, flooded roads as rains hammer U.S. mid-Atlantic

National Weather Service Rain forecast map for 7-25-18

(Reuters) – Rescuers pulled people from inundated cars on flooded streets near Baltimore on Wednesday as heavy rain soaked the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast for a fifth day, swelling rivers, closing roads and imperiling homes.

Heavy rains fell overnight from central New York state south through eastern North Carolina, where the National Weather Service forecast that a fresh round of downpours could cause more flooding. Eastern Virginia and Pennsylvania were also hard hit.

Emergency workers around Baltimore pulled people from at least three vehicles stuck in floodwater as deep as 3 feet (0.9 meter), Baltimore County’s Police and Fire Department said on Twitter.

“NEVER go into flood waters,” the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center said on Twitter. “It doesn’t take much water to sweep away a person or vehicle, and water can damage or wash away the underlying road — creating unseen hazards.”

Authorities closed highways and roads in parts of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia because of flooding.

“With the rainfall we have seen over the last week, the ground is very saturated, so any additional rainfall we receive, especially heavy, really has nowhere to go, resulting in flooding,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Brandon Fling.

Up to 14 inches (36 cm) of rain has fallen along the U.S. East Coast since Saturday, swelling waterways well above flood levels.

Local news video showed water streaming into homes and businesses in some places and reaching the tops of automobiles as rescue crews worked to save motorists.

“It just happened out of nowhere, and next thing my car was just shut off, and I’m like, ‘What do I do now?'” Zachary Reichert told NBC News after being rescued from his flooded Jeep in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. “I can’t swim in the first place, so I wasn’t jumping into those waters.”

Hersheypark, the Pennsylvania amusement park, said it would be closed on Wednesday after the town surrounding it issued a disaster declaration. It also was closed on Monday.

Airports in New York and Philadelphia reported delays of more than an hour, according to Federal Aviation Administration.

The downpours were expected to continue as at least a chance of rain was in the forecast for the area for several more days.

Separately, parts of northwestern Colorado were drenched with rain on Wednesday morning, where officials warned of flash flooding and debris in an area recently scarred by wildfires.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

Trump joins mourners at funeral of U.S. evangelist Billy Graham

The casket is carried during the funeral service for U.S. evangelist Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Keane

By Jeff Mason and Greg Lacour

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – The faithful from small towns gathered on Friday with President Donald Trump and other powerful politicians in North Carolina for the funeral of evangelist Billy Graham, who preached to millions around the world in a 70-year career.

The service for Graham, who died on Feb. 21 at age 99, comes after he lay in honor at the U.S. Capitol in recognition of a clergyman who counseled presidents and became the first noted evangelist to take his message to the Soviet bloc during a time when its communist regimes were hostile to organized religion.

The North Carolina native will later be buried in a pine coffin made by a Louisiana prison inmate, and laid to rest next to his late wife, Ruth, at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte.

Ahead of the ceremony, a steady stream of mourners braved brisk winds, some of them sharing how Graham’s preaching enriched their lives.

India and Greg Keith, family friends of the Grahams, pray before the funeral service for the late U.S. evangelist Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

India and Greg Keith, family friends of the Grahams, pray before the funeral service for the late U.S. evangelist Billy Graham at the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Margaret Zook, 74, came with her husband Bob, 71, from Sterling, Virginia, to mourn the man who had been an inspiration since she was a little girl.

Bob Zook said what he valued most about Graham was “the unbridled joy he had, the joy he had in delivering the Word.”

The 90-minute funeral service is scheduled to start at 12 p.m. EST (1700 GMT). It will be held under a canvas tent emblematic of Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles revival that marked his breakthrough as an evangelist.

Trump, a Republican, will take his place among about 2,300 invited guests, along with first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen, organizers said. Ahead of the funeral, Trump met with Graham’s family, pool reports said.

Graham became the de facto White House chaplain to several U.S. presidents, most famously Richard Nixon. He also met with scores of world leaders and was the first noted evangelist to take his message behind the Iron Curtain.

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence attend the funeral of Rev. Billy Graham in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Karen Pence attend the funeral of Rev. Billy Graham in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. March 2, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Graham’s son, the Reverend Franklin Graham, will deliver the eulogy at the funeral service.

Graham’s headstone will carry his name, dates of birth and death and the inscription “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” above the Bible reference “John 14:6.”

According to his ministry, Graham preached Christianity to more people than anyone else in history.

But Graham found himself at times in controversy over his disapproving stand on gay rights, as well as over a secretly recorded conversation with Nixon in which the cleric complained that Jews had too much influence on the U.S. media.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Jeff Mason in Charlotte, North Carolina; writing by Ian Simpson and Jon Herskovitz; editing by Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Flooded streets and evacuations as storm pounds Boston and U.S. Northeast

By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) – Seawater on Friday flowed onto some coastal streets around Boston, where businesses set up flood barriers and piled sandbags around their doors as a powerful storm threatened to flood pockets of the U.S. coast from Maine to Virginia.

Over 700,000 homes and businesses were without power in the U.S. Northeast, hundreds of flights were canceled at New York’s three major airports and Boston’s Logan International, and the federal government closed offices in Washington.

It was the second time this year that Boston streets, including areas around the Long Wharf and the rapidly developing Seaport District, flooded in a winter storm.

“It’s crazy. I guess this is sea-level rise in action,” said Bob Flynn, 38, who had stepped out from his work at Boston’s Children’s Museum to survey a partially submerged walkway along the city’s Fort Point Channel.

Heavy rains, extreme high tides and a wind-driven storm surge could combine to cause several feet of water to flow onto streets in coastal Massachusetts, with government and private weather forecasters warning of a repeat of an early-January storm that drove a couple of feet of icy seawater onto Boston’s streets. High winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour (97 kph) could also bring extensive power outages.

“The winds are going to keep on increasing and the seas are going to go higher and higher for the next three high tide cycles,” said Bill Simpson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Taunton, Massachusetts. Floodwater surged in during high tide around 11 a.m. ET (1600 GMT), and forecasters warned that strong winds coming in off the ocean could keep levels high through the next two high tides.

Residents of coastal areas that regularly flood in storms, including the towns of Newburyport, Duxbury and Scituate had been encouraged to evacuate their homes and head to higher ground, said Chris Besse, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

He added that it is hard to predict where the storm will take its heaviest toll.

“It could be that the first high tide washes away dunes from one beach and the second washes away houses,” Besse said.

Sarah Moran, a 59-year-old mother of six, was fretting whether her family’s oceanfront home in Scituate, Massachusetts, south of Boston, would survive the storm.

“Every house south of mine has been washed away since the 1978 blizzard. That risk is part of the package – the house comes complete with ocean views, taxes, maintenance and risks,” she said in a phone interview from Burlington, Vermont, where she owns a catering business.

The National Weather Service had coastal flood watches and warnings in place from southern Maine through coastal Virginia, including New York’s eastern suburbs, and was also tracking a snowstorm heading east from the Ohio Valley that could drop significant amounts of snow in northern New York State. It forecast storm surges of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters) for eastern Massachusetts.

More than 700,000 homes and businesses were without power across the region, with the largest number of outages in New York, utilities said.

Federal offices closed on Friday in Washington, while dozens of schools throughout the region canceled classes. More than a quarter of flights into and out of New York’s three major airports and Boston’s airport were canceled, according to tracking service Flightaware.com.

Southern California was also facing weather dangers, with risks of rain-driven mudslides prompting mandatory evacuations ordered for some 30,000 people living near fire-scarred hills around the Santa Barbara coast.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg and Gina Cherelus in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; editing by Phil Berlowitz and Jonathan Oatis)