Rains pile misery on India’s flooded Kerala state as toll rises to 164

A man rescues a drowning man from a flooded area after the opening of Idamalayr, Cheruthoni and Mullaperiyar dam shutters following heavy rains, on the outskirts of Kochi, India August 16, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

By Sivaram Venkitasubramanian and Gopakumar Warrier

KOCHI/BENGALURU, India (Reuters) – The worst floods in a century in the Indian state of Kerala have killed 164 people and forced more than 200,000 into relief camps, officials said on Friday, with more misery expected as heavy rain pushed water levels higher.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to visit the southwest state later on Friday and its chief minister said he was hoping the military could step up help for the rescue effort, which is already using dozens of helicopters and hundreds of boats.

“I spoke to the defense minister this morning and asked for more helicopters,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told a news conference in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram, adding that he planned to send 11 more helicopters to the worst-hit places.

“In some areas, airlifting is the only option … thousands are still marooned,” said Vijayan.

The floods began nine days ago and Vijayan said 164 people had been killed – some in landslides – with about 223,000 people forced into 1,568 relief camps.

A Reuters witness on board a relief helicopter in Chengannur town in the south of the state said people stranded on roof tops were seen waving desperately at navy aircraft.

“The town looked like an island dotted with houses and cars submerged in muddy flood waters and downed coconut trees,” said the witness.

People wait for aid on the roof of their house at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

People wait for aid on the roof of their house at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Two navy helicopters circled as people on roofs of flooded homes waved clothing to call for help.

The helicopters dropped food and water in metal baskets and airlifted at least four people, including a three-year-old child, from roofs, the witness said.

Elsewhere, a man with a cast on his leg was seen lying on the roof of a church as he awaited rescue.

Anil Vasudevan, the head of the Kerala health disaster response wing, said his department had geared up to handle the needs of victims.

“We’ve deployed adequate doctors and staff and provided all essential medicines in the relief camps, where the evacuees will be housed,” he said.

But a big worry was what happens after the flood waters fall. People going home will be susceptible to water-borne diseases, he said.

“We are making elaborate arrangements to deal with that,” he said.

PLANES, TRAINS DISRUPTED

Kerala is a major destination for both domestic and foreign tourists.

The airport in its main commercial city of Kochi has been flooded it has suspended operations until Aug. 26 with flights being diverted to two other airports in the state. Rail and road traffic has also been disrupted in many places.

“Water levels continue to overflow on track and surpassing danger level of bridges at different places,” Southern Railway said in a statement, adding it had canceled more than a dozen trains passing through Kerala.

The office of the chief minister said heavy rain was falling in some places on Friday. More showers are expected over the weekend.

Modi said on Twitter that he would travel to Kerala “to take stock of the unfortunate situation”.

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

An aerial view shows partially submerged houses at a flooded area in the southern state of Kerala, India, August 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V

Kerala has been hit with 37 percent more rainfall than normal since the beginning of this monsoon, the Meteorological Department said.

Some plantations have also been inundated. The state is a major producer of rubber, tea, coffee and spices such as black pepper and cardamom.

“It’s very scary. I can still see people on their roofs waiting to be rescued,” said George Valy, a rubber dealer in Kottayam town.

(Reporting by Sivaram Venkitasubramanian in Kochi and Gopakumar Warrier in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Jose Devasia in Kochi and Swati Bhat and Rajendra Jadhav in Mumbai; Writing by Euan Rocha and Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Hospitals scrap surgeries, Venezuelans forgo showers as taps run dry

A woman carries a container filled with water coming from a mountain, in a road at Plan de Manzano slum in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Andreina Aponte

CARACAS (Reuters) – At one of Caracas’ biggest public hospitals, most bathrooms are closed. Patients fill jugs from a tiny tap on the ground floor that sometimes has a trickle of water. Operations are postponed or canceled.

The Central Venezuelan University hospital, once a Latin American leader, is reeling as taps run dry.

“I have gone to the operation block and opened the tap to wash my hands, as you must do before a surgery, and nothing comes out,” said gynecologist Lina Figueria.

Containers filled with water are seen next to the bed of a patient at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) hospital in Caracas, Venezuela August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Containers filled with water are seen next to the bed of a patient at the Central University of Venezuela (UCV) hospital in Caracas, Venezuela August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Water cuts are the latest addition to a long list of woes for Venezuelans hurting from a fifth year of an economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation, and emigration.

Malfunctions in the capital’s water network due to lack of maintenance have taken a turn for the worst in recent months, depriving many in this city of 3 million people of regular running water.

Caracas is nestled in a verdant valley perched at around 900 meters (2,953 feet) and its water is pumped from much lower sources. But the pumps have not been maintained, spare parts are scarce and President Nicolas Maduro’s administration is short of cash.

“For many years this deterioration process was not noticeable. But now the water transport systems are very damaged,” said Jose De Viana, former president of Hidrocapital, the state-run utility in charge of Caracas’ water supply.

Venezuela’s socialist government typically says water cuts are due to sabotage by right-wing “terrorists.”

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez in July announced a “special plan” to fix the issues but did not provide details. The Information Ministry and Hidrocapital did not respond to a request for information.

People fill containers with water coming from a mountain, in a road at Plan de Manzano slum in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2018. Picture taken July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bell

People fill containers with water coming from a mountain, in a road at Plan de Manzano slum in Caracas, Venezuela July 20, 2018. Picture taken July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Lack of water – and taps that sometimes spurt out brown liquid – have triggered health concerns in a country lacking basic antibiotics and vaccines.

About 75 percent of Caracas residents said they do not receive water regularly, according to a survey published by two Venezuelan non-governmental organizations this month. Around 11 percent said they thought dirty water had caused skin and stomach problems. The survey does not have comparative figures.

Medical consequences are hard to gauge as the Health Ministry no longer releases once-weekly data, but doctors say scabies and diarrhea are on the rise.

Water shortages have also made some basic daily activities untenable. Poor residents say they take fewer showers.

In the low-income neighborhood of Catia, university professor Mariangela Gonzalez, 64, has 127 bottles, gas containers and pots clogging the entrance to her house.

“When the water comes on, we have to run,” said Gonzalez.

(Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Dan Grebler)

Death toll from Indonesia quake climbs over 320

An aerial view of the collapsed Jamiul Jamaah mosque where rescue workers and soldiers search for earthquake victims in Pemenang, North Lombok, Indonesia August 8, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Zabur Karuru/ via REUTERS

By Angie Teo

PEMANANG, Indonesia (Reuters) – The death toll from a huge 6.9 magnitude earthquake in Indonesia’s Lombok island has climbed to more than 320, officials said on Friday, even as relief efforts picked up pace.

The national disaster mitigation agency said it had verified 321 deaths and that over 270,000 people had been forced to flee their homes because of a series of tremors over the past two weeks.

On Thursday, the death toll from Sunday’s quake jumped to 259.

A fresh 5.9 magnitude aftershock prompted fresh panic in the north of the popular holiday destination on Thursday.

Nearly 75 percent of residential structures have been destroyed in northern Lombok because of poor construction unable to withstand strong tremors, the agency said in a statement.

“Aid is being distributed as quickly as possible upon arrival,” Sutopo Nugroho, spokesman for the agency said in a statement, adding that hundreds of volunteers were assisting the efforts.

Mobile kitchens have started distributing much-needed food and water to thousands of evacuees in the worst-hit areas, he said, after several days’ delay due to poor access and communications.

President Joko Widodo on Friday said he was delaying plans to visit Lombok until next week, citing concerns over continuing aftershocks.

“After the emergency period is over, the government will undertake rehabilitation, reconstruction, repairs to residential areas and public facilities,” the cabinet secretariat website quoted Widodo as saying.

Widodo visited the island after a 6.4 magnitude quake on July 29 killed 17 people and injured dozens more.

The quakes have prompted tourists to flee during what is otherwise the peak season for the island destination famous for its beaches.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana in Jakarta; Writing by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Alison Williams)

Once oil wealthy, Venezuela’s largest state struggles to keep the lights on

Elizabeth Altuve climbs the stairs at the occupied building where she lives in Maracaibo, Venezuela July 26, 2018. Picture taken July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bell

By Mayela Armas

MARACAIBO, Venezuela (Reuters) – Across Maracaibo, the capital of Venezuela’s largest state, residents unplug refrigerators to guard against power surges. Many only buy the food they will consume the same day. Others regularly sleep outside.

Judith Palmar holds her mother Sibilina Caro hand after feeding her at their home in Maracaibo, Venezuela July 25, 2018. Picture taken July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Judith Palmar holds her mother Sibilina Caro hand after feeding her at their home in Maracaibo, Venezuela July 25, 2018. Picture taken July 25, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The rolling power blackouts in the state of Zulia pile more misery on Venezuelans living under the fifth year of an economic crisis that has sparked malnutrition, hyperinflation and mass emigration. OPEC member Venezuela’s once-thriving socialist economy has collapsed since the 2014 fall of oil prices.

“I never thought I would have to go through this,” said bakery worker Cindy Morales, 36, her eyes welling with tears. “I don’t have food, I don’t have power, I don’t have money.”

Zulia, the historic heart of Venezuela’s energy industry that was for decades known for opulent oil wealth, has been plunged into darkness for several hours a day since March, sometimes leaving its 3.7 million residents with no electricity for up to 24 hours.

In the past, Zulians considered themselves living in a “Venezuelan Texas”, rich from oil and with an identity proudly distinct from the rest of the country. Oil workers could often be seen driving new cars and flew by private jet to the Dutch Caribbean territory of Curacao to gamble their earnings in casinos.

Once famous for its all-night parties, now Maracaibo is often a sea of darkness at night due to blackouts.

The six state-owned power stations throughout Zulia have plenty of oil to generate electricity but a lack of maintenance and spare parts causes frequent breakdowns, leaving the plants running at 20 percent capacity, said Angel Navas, the president of the national Federation of Electrical Workers.

Energy Minister Luis Motta said this month that power cuts of up to eight hours a day would be the norm in Zulia while authorities developed a “stabilization” plan. He did not provide additional details and the Information Ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

The Zulia state government did not respond to a request to comment.

People block a street in protest during a blackout in Maracaibo, Venezuela July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

People block a street in protest during a blackout in Maracaibo, Venezuela July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Although Caracas has fared far better than Maracaibo, a major outage hit the capital city on Tuesday morning for around two hours due to a fault at a substation. The energy minister said “heavy rains” had been reported near the substation.

Venezuelans were forced to walk or cram into buses as much of the subway was shut. Long lines formed in front of banks and stores in the hopes power would flick back on. The fault also affected some phone lines and the main Maiquetia airport just outside the capital.

“This is terrible. I feel helpless because I want to go to work but I am in this queue instead,” said domestic worker Nassari Parra, 50, as she waited in a line of 20 people in front of a closed bank.

MARACAIBO “GHOST TOWN”

Retiree Judith Palmar, 56, took advantage of having power to cook one afternoon last week in Maracaibo.

When the lights do go out, Palmar wheels her paralyzed mother outside because the house becomes intolerably hot. One power cut damaged an air conditioning unit, which Palmar cannot afford to replace on her pension of about $1.50 a month due to inflation, estimated by the opposition-run Congress in June at 46,000 percent a year.

Outages are taking a toll on businesses in Zulia.

Zulia used to produce 70 percent of Venezuela’s milk and meat but without power to milk cows and keep meat from spoiling, the state’s production has fallen nearly in half, according to Venezuela’s National Federation of Ranchers.

Zulia’s proportion of Venezuela’s total oil production has also slipped over the past 10 years from 38 percent to 25 percent, figures from state oil company PDVSA show.

Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city, seems like a “ghost town,” said Fergus Walshe, head of a local business organization. He said businesses had shortened their operating hours due to the lack of power.

“Before, business activity here was booming,” he said.

Small businesses are also affected. In an industrial park in Maracaibo’s outskirts, 80 percent of the 1,000 companies based there are affected by the power cuts, according to another business association in Zulia.

Sales at Americo Fernandez’ spare parts store are down 50 percent because card readers, which are crucial because even the cheapest goods require unwieldy piles of banknotes, cannot be used during power cuts.

“I have had to improvise to stay afloat. I connect the car battery to the store so that the card readers can work,” Fernandez said during a power outage at his home, surrounded by candles.

(Reporting by Mayela Armas in Maracaibo, additional reporting by Andreina Aponte and Shaylim Castro in Caracas; Writing by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Alistair Bell)

Laos scrambles for food, medicines, coffins three days after dam burst

Rescuers work at a flooded site after a hydropower dam collapse in Attapeu Province, Laos July 24, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. Picture taken July 24, 2018. Mime Phoumsavanh via REUTERS

KHOKONG, Laos (Reuters) – Troops searched for survivors in the remote southern tip of Laos on Thursday, three days after the collapse of a hydropower dam sent a torrent of water charging across paddy fields and through villages, as rescuers rushed aid to thousands of homeless.

The scale of the disaster was still unclear, in part because of the inaccessibility of the area but also because reports from the communist country’s state media have been scant and sketchy.

The official Laos News Agency said that 27 people were confirmed dead and 131 were missing following the failure of the dam on Monday, a subsidiary structure under construction as part of a hydroelectric project in the province of Attapeu.

Earlier reports had suggested the death toll would be much higher, and on Wednesday the Vientiane Times had said more than 3,000 people were waiting to be rescued from swirling floodwaters, many of them on trees and the rooftops of submerged houses.

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

Aerial view shows the flooded area after a dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 25, 2018 in this image obtained from social media. MIME PHOUMSAVANH/via REUTERS

In the village of Khokong, a sea of mud oozed around the stilt houses that were still standing and dead animals floated in the water.

“Seven villages were hit, two very badly. There were 200 houses and only about 10 are left standing,” said a medical official, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

“We retrieved one body today. I suspect there will be more as the water goes down and the road becomes easier to access.”

He said villagers were warned about three to four hours before the dam burst, but few had expected the water to rise as high as it did.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said roads and bridges were damaged, and boat and helicopter were the only means of transport in the worst-affected areas.

Schools in safe areas were being used as evacuation centers, and about 1,300 families needed tents for shelter, it said.

On a road to the small town of Sanamxai, Reuters saw trucks carrying aid, including freshwater and blankets, for those made homeless. The government put their number at 3,060.

Phra Ajan Thanakorn, a Buddhist monk returning from Sanamxai, said he had delivered food and medicine in four pick-up trucks that had come from Vientiane, the capital some 800 km (500 miles) to the north, and he was heading back there to load up with more.

“The situation is really bad,” he told Reuters. “All the relief efforts are at Sanamxai. There are volunteers distributing food and medicine for survivors every day there. They are still lacking food, medicine, and coffins.”

Rescue and relief teams from around Asia have headed into Attapeu, a largely agricultural province that borders Vietnam to the east and Cambodia to the south.

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Parents carry their children as they leave their home during the flood after the Xepian-Xe Nam Noy hydropower dam collapsed in Attapeu province, Laos July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

“BATTERY OF ASIA” AMBITIONS

Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, has ambitions to become the “battery of Asia” through the construction of multiple dams.

Its government depends almost entirely on outside developers to build the dams under commercial concessions that involve the export of electricity to more developed neighbors, including power-hungry Thailand.

Laos has finished building 11 dams, says Thai non-government group TERRA, with 11 more under construction and dozens planned.

Rights groups have repeatedly warned against the human and environmental cost of the dam drive, including damage to the already fragile ecosystem of the region’s rivers.

The dam that collapsed was part of the $1.2 billion Xe-Pian Xe-Namnoy power project, which involves Laotian, Thai and South Korean firms. Known as “Saddle Dam D”, it was part of a network of two main dams and five subsidiary dams.

The project’s main partner, South Korea’s SK Engineering & Construction, said part of a small supply dam was washed away and the company was cooperating with the Laos government to help rescue villagers.

The firm blamed the collapse on heavy rain. Laos and its neighbors are in the middle of the monsoon season that brings tropical storms and heavy downpours.

In Cambodia’s northern Strung Treng province, nearly 1,300 families that were also affected by the flooding from the dam in Laos were moved to higher ground.

“These people will be affected for about seven to 10 days and once all the water flows into the Mekong, we will be fine,” said Keo Vy, a spokesman for the National Centre for Disaster Management.

An official at SK Engineering & Construction said fractures were discovered on the dam on Sunday and the company ordered the evacuation of 12 villages as soon as the danger became clear.

Laotian Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath told a news conference in the capital that the company could not deny responsibility for the destruction of livelihoods and property. The Vientiane Times cited him as saying that all compensation would be “borne by the project developer 100 percent”.

(Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Japan struggles to restore water to flood-hit towns

Local residents try to clear mud and debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Mari Saito

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Municipal workers in western Japan struggled on Friday to restore water supplies a week after floods caused by a record downpour killed more than 200 people in the worst such disaster in 36 years.

Communities that grappled with rising floodwaters last week now find themselves battling scorching summer temperatures well above 30 degrees Celsius (86°F), as foul-smelling garbage piles up in mud-splattered streets.

“We need the water supply back,” said Hiroshi Oka, 40, a resident helping to clean up the Mabi district in one of the hardest-hit areas, the city of Kurashiki, where more than 200,000 households have gone without water for a week.

“What we are getting is a thin stream of water, and we can’t flush toilets or wash our hands,” he added, standing over a 20-liter (4.4-gallon) plastic tank that was only partly filled after almost four hours of waiting.

Water has been restored to some parts of the district, a city official told Reuters, but he did not know when normal operations would resume, as engineers were trying to locate pipeline ruptures.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters have fanned out to tackle the aftermath of the floods. There have been 204 deaths, the government said, with dozens missing.

Large piles of tatami straw mats, chairs and bookcases could be seen all over Mabi. The smell of leaked gasoline, mixed with a sour smell of mud and debris, filled the air.

The weather has fueled concerns that residents, many still in temporary evacuation centers, may suffer heat stroke or illness as hygiene levels deteriorate.

Shizuo Yoshimoto, a doctor making the rounds at evacuation centers, said an urgent challenge was to bring necessary drugs to patients with diabetes and high blood pressure who were forced from their homes or whose clinics are closed.

“There are quite a few cases where patients are unable to get a hold of drugs,” he said. “So one issue is how to maintain treatment for those with chronic illness. Another is acute illness, as heatstroke is on the rise.”

A submerged car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A submerged car is seen in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Public broadcaster NHK has spread advice on coping with high temperatures and maintain hygiene, such as a video tutorial on how to make a diaper from a towel and plastic shopping bag.

More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters have fanned out to help with the rescue operation.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government spokesman, urged people in flood-hit areas to guard against thunderstorms.

“People still need to be aware of the possibility of further landslides,” he told reporters.

Severe weather has increasingly battered Japan in recent years, including similar floods last year that killed dozens of people, raising questions about the impact of global warming.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who canceled a scheduled overseas trip to deal with the rescue effort, visited Kurashiki on Thursday, and said he aimed to visit other flood-damaged areas on Friday and over the weekend.

(Additional reporting by Kaori Kaneko; Writing by Tim Kelly and Elaine Lies; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Japan PM visits flood disaster zone, promises help as new warnings issued

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe meets local residents staying at an evacuation center in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo July 11, 2018. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KUMANO, Japan (Reuters) – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited flood-stricken parts of Japan on Wednesday as the death toll from the worst weather disaster in 36 years reached 176 and health concerns rose amid scorching heat and the threat of new floods.

Torrential rain caused floods and triggered landslides in western Japan last week, bringing death and destruction to neighborhoods built decades ago near steep mountain slopes.

At least 176 people were killed, the government said, with dozens missing in Japan’s worst weather disaster since 1982.

Rescue workers and Japan Self-Defense Force soldiers search for missing people at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

In Kumano, a mountainside community in Hiroshima prefecture that was hit by a landslide last week, Ken Kirioka anxiously watched rescuers toiling through mud, sand and smashed houses to find the missing, including his 76-year-old father, Katsuharu.

“He is old and has a heart condition. I prepared myself for the worst when I heard about the landslide on Friday night,” he said, pointing at a pile of mud and rubble where he said his father was buried.

“He is an old-fashioned father who is hard-headed and does not talk much,” Kirioka said, adding he would stay until his father was found. “It would be too bad for him if a family member were not around”.

Rescuers working under a scorching sun combed through heaps of wood and thickly caked mud in a search for bodies, helped by sniffer dogs. In some cases only the foundation of homes remained as they cut through debris with chain saws.

With temperatures of 33 degrees Celsius (91 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher in the devastated areas in Okayama and Hiroshima prefectures, attention turned to preventing heat-stroke among rescue workers and in evacuation centers where thousands of people have sought shelter.

People sat on thin mats on a gymnasium floor in one center, plastic bags of belongings piled around them and bedding folded off to the side. Portable fans turned slowly as children cried.

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A family member of missing people watches search and rescue operations at a landslide site caused by a heavy rain in Kumano Town, Hiroshima Prefecture, western Japan, July 11, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

ABE PLEDGES SUPPORT

Abe, who canceled an overseas trip to deal with the disaster, was criticized after a photograph posted on Twitter showed Abe and his defense minister at a party with lawmakers just as the rains intensified.

After observing the damage from a helicopter flying over Okayama, one of the hardest-hit areas, Abe visited a crowded evacuation center. He crouched down on the floor to speak with people, many of them elderly, and asked about their health. He clasped one man’s hands as they spoke.

Later he told reporters the government would do everything it could to help the survivors.

“We’ll cut through all the bureaucracy to secure the goods people need for their lives, to improve life in the evacuation centers – such as air conditioners as the hot days continue – and then secure temporary housing and the other things people need to rebuild their lives,” he said.

Abe is up for re-election as party leader in September and has seen his popularity ratings edge back up after taking a hit over a cronyism scandal earlier this year.

His government pledged an initial $4 billion toward recovery on Tuesday, and a later special budget if needed.

Officials turned to social media to warn of the additional danger of food-borne illnesses, urging people to wash their hands and take other measures against food poisoning.

Evacuation orders were issued for 25 households in the city of Fukuyama after cracks were found in a reservoir.

Water accumulating behind piles of debris blocking rivers also posed a danger after a swollen river rushed into a Fukuyama residential area on Monday, prompting more evacuation orders.

The intensifying heat was expected to trigger thunderstorms on Wednesday, with authorities warning new landslides could be set off on mountainsides saturated with water.

Japanese media on Wednesday focused on the timing of evacuation orders issued in the hard-hit Mabi district of Kurashiki city just minutes before a levee broke and water poured into the residential area.

A number of the dead in Mabi were found in their homes, suggesting they did not have enough time to flee, media reports said.

(Additional reporting by Ritsuko Ando and Hideyuki Sano; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

Japan struggles to get help to victims of worst floods in decades

Local residents take rest at Okada elementary school acting as an evacuation center in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

By Kiyoshi Takenaka and Issei Kato

KURASHIKI, Japan (Reuters) – Japan struggled on Tuesday to restore utilities after its worst weather disaster in 36 years killed at least 155 people, with survivors facing health risks from broiling temperatures and a lack of water, while rescuers kept up a grim search for victims.

A local resident walks in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A local resident walks in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Torrential rain unleashed floods and landslides in western Japan last week, bringing death and destruction, especially to neighborhoods built decades ago near steep slopes. About 67 people are missing, the government said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has canceled an overseas trip to cope with the disaster, which at one point forced several million from their homes.

The premier faced some criticism after a photograph made the rounds on Twitter showing him and the defense minister at a dinner with lawmakers last Thursday, just as the rain was worsening.

Abe has seen his support rates rebound after slumping over a suspected cronyism scandal and is keen to prevent any declines ahead of a ruling-party leadership race in September.

Power had been restored to all but 3,500 households but more than 200,000 people remain without water under scorching sun, with temperatures hitting 33 Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) in some of the hardest-hit areas, such as the city of Kurashiki.

“There have been requests for setting up air-conditioners due to rising temperatures above 30 degrees today, and at the same time we need to restore lifelines,” Finance Minister Taro Aso told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

Employees of a supermarket push trolleys and shelves, with muddy items, at their store in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Employees of a supermarket push trolleys and shelves, with muddy items, at their store in a flooded area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Roads caked in dried mud threw up clouds of dust when rescue vehicles or other cars drove by.

Stunned survivors recounted narrow escapes.

“It was close. If we had been five minutes later, we would not have made it,” said Yusuke Suwa, who fled by car with his wife early on Saturday when an evacuation order came after midnight.

“It was dark and we could not see clearly what was happening, although we knew water was running outside. We did not realize it was becoming such a big deal.”

A quarter of flood-prone Mabi district of Kurashiki, sandwiched between two rivers, was inundated after a levee crumbled under the force of the torrent.

The government has set aside 70 billion yen ($631 million) in infrastructure funds with 350 billion yen ($3.15 billion) in reserve, Aso said, adding that an extra budget would be considered if needed.

“When necessary amounts firm up … we would consider an extra budget later on if these funds prove insufficient.”

Japan issues weather warnings early, but its dense population means that almost every bit of usable land, including some flood plains, is built on in the mostly mountainous country, leaving it prone to disasters.

A local resident pauses as he tries to clean debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A local resident pauses as he tries to clean debris at a flood affected area in Mabi town in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, July 10, 2018. REUTERS/Issei Kato

‘DECADES WITHOUT DISASTER’

Some residents of Mabi had shrugged off the warnings given the area’s history of floods.

“We had evacuation orders before and nothing happened, so I just thought this was going to be the same,” said Kenji Ishii, 57, who stayed at home with his wife and son.

But they were soon marooned by rising flood waters and a military boat had to pluck them from the second floor of their house, where they had taken refuge.

Hundreds of residents of Mabi were taking refuge in a school on high ground.

“Everything was destroyed and both of our cars were totaled as well,” said a woman in her forties, who was taking shelter in the gym with her brother and parents.

“We don’t know how long we’re allowed to stay here. Finding a place to live in, even if it’s temporary, is our top priority.”

Most of the deaths in hard-hit Hiroshima were from landslides in areas where homes had been built up against steep slopes, beginning in the 1970s, said Takashi Tsuchida, a civil engineering professor at Hiroshima University.

“People have been living for 40 to 50 years in an area that had latent risk, but decades went by without disaster,” he said.

“But intense rainfall has become more frequent, and the hidden vulnerability has become apparent,” he said.

Though the weather has cleared up, the disaster goes on.

A new evacuation order went out on Tuesday in a part of Hiroshima after a river blocked by debris overflowed its banks, affecting 23,000 people.

Another storm, Typhoon Maria, was bearing down on outlying islands in the Okinawa chain but it had weakened from a super-typhoon and was not expected to have any impact on Japan’s four main islands.

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Linda Sieg; Writing by Elaine Lies; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

Venezuela begins power rationing as drought causes severe outages

Lisney Albornoz (2nd R) and her family use a candle to illuminate the table while they dine, during a blackout in San Cristobal, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

By Anggy Polanco and Isaac Urrutia

SAN CRISTOBAL, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuela imposed electricity rationing this week in six western states, as the crisis-hit country’s creaky power grid suffered from a drought that has reduced water levels in key reservoirs needed to run hydroelectric power generators.

The four-hour formal outages began on Thursday. But many residents scoffed at the announcement, wryly noting that they have been suffering far more extended blackouts during the last week.

“We have spent 14 hours without electricity today. And yesterday electricity came and went: for six hours we had no power,” said Ligthia Marrero, 50, in the western state of San Cristobal, noting that her fridge had been damaged by the frequent interruptions.

Crumbling infrastructure and lack of investments have hit Venezuela’s power supply for years. Now, the situation has been exacerbated by dwindling rains.

In the worst-hit western cities, business has all but ground to a halt at a time when the OPEC nation of 30 million is already suffering hyperinflation and a profound recession. Many Venezuelans are unable to eat properly on salaries of just a couple of dollars per month at the black market rate, sparking malnutrition, emigration and frequent sights of Venezuelans digging through trash or begging in front of supermarkets.

Maybelin Mendoza, a cashier at a bakery in Tachira state, said business has been further hit because points of sale stop working during blackouts – just as Venezuelans are chronically short of cash due to hyperinflation.

In the most dramatic cases, the opposition governor of Tachira state said three people, including a four-month-old, died this week because they failed to receive assistance during a power outage.

“Because of electrical failures, the machines weren’t able to revive the people and they died,” said Laidy Gomez.

Reuters was unable to confirm the report.

Authorities have acknowledged that interruptions will continue for at least two weeks, but they have not said whether they will spread to other states.

A worker tries to start the generator of the Padre Justo hospital during a blackout in Rubio, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

A worker tries to start the generator of the Padre Justo hospital during a blackout in Rubio, Venezuela March 14, 2018. Picture taken March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Eduardo Ramirez

“Of a possible 1,100 megawatts, we are only generating 150 right now,” Energy Minister Luis Motta told reporters referring to the Fabricio Ojeda dam, in the western Andean state of Merida.

Capital city Caracas and other major cities have not been hit by rationing yet. Two years ago, rationing there lasted five months when a drought hit the Guri dam, the country’s largest hydroelectric dam.

But because of the economic crisis, Venezuela has reduced electricity consumption to about 14,000 megawatts at peak hours, according to engineer and former electricity executive Miguel Lara. Two years ago, state-run Corpoelec put the figure at 16,000 megawatts.

(Writing by Andreina Aponte and Girish Gupta; Editing by Corina Pons, Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)

Quake-hit Taiwan city winds down rescue efforts, five still missing

A body of a Hong Kong Canadian is carried out from a collapsed building after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

By Fabian Hamacher and Natalie Thomas

HUALIEN, Taiwan (Reuters) – Rescue operations in Taiwan started to wind down on Friday after a devastating 6.4-magnitude earthquake rocked the tourist area of Hualien this week, taking a toll of 12 dead and five missing.

More than 270 people were injured when Tuesday’s quake hit the eastern coastal city just before midnight, toppling four buildings, ripping large fissures in roads and unleashing panic among the roughly 100,000 residents.

More than 200 aftershocks followed, hampering a round-the-clock rescue effort in which emergency personnel battled rain and cold to comb rubble in a search for survivors.

Efforts on Friday narrowed to finding five Chinese nationals still missing after rescuers pulled two bodies, identified as Canadian citizens from Hong Kong, out of a 12-storey residential building that had been left tilting at a 45-degree angle.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018.

An excavator demolishes collapsed Marshal hotel after an earthquake hit Hualien, Taiwan February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Authorities said they would focus their search on the single building where the five missing were believed to be.

“The military will continue to prioritize today rescuing the missing people in the Yun Men Tsui Ti residential building,” it said in a statement.

The building’s extreme displacement made the search tough, the government said in a statement, adding, “The space for our operations is small, so the progress of search and rescue can be slow.”

Power was restored to all affected areas in Hualien, although 8,500 homes are still without water.

The military will work with local government officials to develop a plan to demolish a hotel, a residential building and other dangerous buildings, it said in its statement.

The government vowed to redouble efforts to revise building regulations, aiming to limit damage in any future episodes.

Taiwan revised its building act on Jan. 30 to strengthen investigations of the structures of existing buildings and inspection of completed projects, the interior ministry said on Friday.

The revision, expected to be discussed by a cabinet meeting at the end of February, would also seek third-party views in building assessments, it said.

The government added that it would hasten reconstruction of old buildings to make them earthquake-resistant and work to boost the safety of other structures in affected areas.

“At every stage, the central government will fully assist local governments,” it added.

 

(Additional reporting by Tyrone Siu; Writing by Jess Macy Yu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Clarence Fernandez)