Deadly Los Angeles wildfire burns with subdued fury after change in weather

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters have tightened their grip on a deadly Los Angeles wildfire burning with subdued fury on Sunday after extremely dry desert winds that had stoked the flames gave way to moister, gentler breezes blowing in from the Pacific.

The so-called Saddleridge fire, which erupted Thursday night and raced across the northern edge of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, had scorched nearly 8,000 acres (3,237 hectares) by Sunday but was mostly confined to foothills and canyons away from populated areas, fire officials said.

As of Sunday morning, firefighters had managed to carve containment lines around 41% of the fire’s perimeter, more than double the containment level reported a day earlier as authorities lifted all remaining evacuation notices.

At the height of the blaze on Friday, authorities had ordered the evacuation of some 23,000 homes, comprising about 100,000 people, as flames invaded several communities in northern Los Angeles.

One man who stayed put in an effort to defend his own property from the flames suffered a fatal heart attack, and three firefighters out of some 1,000 assigned to the blaze sustained minor injuries, authorities said.

Thirty-two homes and other structures were destroyed or damaged.

The last two of several emergency evacuation shelters set up during the blaze were closed on Sunday, the American Red Cross said.

A shift in wind patterns was a key factor in the improved fire outlook over the weekend.

Initially stoked by gale-force Santa Ana winds blowing in from the desert east of the city, the blaze had raced through dry brush and chaparral at the rate of 800 acres per hour at the outset.

On Saturday, however, lighter winds laden with greater moisture began blowing in from the ocean, helping fire crews to halt advancing flames and extend containment lines, city fire spokesman Nicholas Prange said.

“With the winds being reduced, fire behavior is less severe, so firefighters are advancing around the perimeter,” he told Reuters by phone. “We can make more headway with containment than before.”

Smoke from the blaze lingered over much of Los Angeles, leading the South Coast Air Quality Management District to issue an advisory for unhealthy air quality for the San Fernando Valley, as well as the Santa Clarita Valley to the west and the San Gabriel Mountains to the north.

The cause of the blaze was under investigation. Fire officials said they were investigating witness reports in local media linking the fire to a power transmission line.

The Saddleridge was the largest among a spate of wildfires across California that burned a total of nearly 160,000 acres (64,000 hectares) and destroyed 134 structures in recent days, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

A separate, smaller fire east of Los Angeles in Riverside County killed two people and destroyed dozens of homes last week. That blaze began when burning refuse dumped by a garbage truck ignited dry vegetation on the ground.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Daniel Wallis)

Large parts of Bermuda plunged into darkness as Hurricane Humberto whips island

FILE PHOTO: The eye of Hurricane Humberto is seen as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Hunter flies across it, September 16, 2019, in this still image from video obtained via social media. NOAA/Lisa Bucci/via REUTERS

By Don Burgess

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) – Hurricane Humberto knocked out power lines in Bermuda on Wednesday night, plunging nearly the whole Atlantic archipelago into darkness, as the storm whipped the British territory with powerful winds and heavy rain.

Even as Hurricane Humberto was moving away, Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast a prolonged period of dangerous winds through Thursday and warned that dangerous breaking waves could lead to coastal flooding overnight.

More than 28,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early evening, according to electricity company Belco. Flights were canceled and some residents in the capital, Hamilton, covered windows with wooden planks and metal sheeting.

Belco said it would begin restoring power on Thursday morning.

Bermudan officials warned residents to stay off roads and prepare for possible tornadoes as the hurricane picked up forward speed and weather conditions worsened.

The officials also reported that people who had sought refuge in an emergency housing shelter at a public high school had to be relocated after windows were damaged.

James Dodgson, director of the Bermuda Weather Service, said conditions were already worsening.

“I can’t even rule out some isolated tornadoes. … We have a very serious situation as we have a very big hurricane moving by to our north,” he told a news conference.

On Wednesday, the storm’s eye was located to the west of the archipelago, which lies about 650 miles (1,050 km) east of the United States.

The storm packed 120 mile-per-hour (193 kph) winds and picked up speed during the afternoon, moving at 20 mph (31 kph). Humberto was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, the NHC said.

Bermuda National Disaster Coordinator Steve Cosham warned that the storm could topple trees and rip down power lines, while tornadoes could damage buildings.

Resident Saivo Goater placed boards across the sliding glass doors of his two-story dwelling, remembering back-to-back hurricanes in 2014 that ripped off parts of his roof.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” Goater said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Officials ended government ferry services and were closing a major road leading to the airport on Wednesday evening. They also opened a shelter at a high school with room for 100 people.

Schools were closed and ambulances on standby, a witness said.

The Atlantic storm season has picked up pace in recent weeks.

The Bahamas is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, and the remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda have moved inland across the Gulf coast of Texas and southeastern Louisiana as it weakened, bringing warnings of flash floods and heavy rains.

(Reporting by Don Burgess in Hamilton, Bermuda; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Daina Beth Solomon and Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City; Editing by Dan Grebler, Peter Cooney and Himani Sarkar)

China issues ‘red alert’ as super typhoon approaches mainland

Workers unload seafood from fishing boats before super typhoon Lekima makes landfall in Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, China August 8, 2019. Picture taken August 8, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

SHANGHAI/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China’s weather bureau issued a red alert early on Friday as super typhoon Lekima approached Zhejiang province on the eastern coast, after forcing flight cancellations in Taiwan and shutting markets and businesses on the island.

The National Meteorological Center (NMC) said the typhoon, the strongest since 2014, was expected to hit the mainland in early on Saturday and then turn north. It has issued gale warnings for the Yangtze river delta region, which includes Shanghai.

Taiwan has already cancelled flights and ordered markets and schools to close on Friday as the typhoon heads northwest, cutting power to more than 40,000 homes and forcing the island’s high speed rail to suspend most of its services.

The island’s authorities issued landslide warnings after an earthquake of magnitude 6 struck its northeastern coast on Thursday, hours before the typhoon approached, which was forecasted to bring rainfall of up to 900 mm (35 inches) in its northern mountains.

More than 300 flights to and from Taiwan have been cancelled and cruise liners have been asked to delay their arrival in Shanghai.

Some trains from Shanghai have also suspended ticket sales over the weekend, and Beijing also said it would cancel several trains heading to and from typhoon-hit eastern regions in the Yangtze delta region.

Heavy rain and level-10 gales are expected to hit Shanghai on Friday and continue until Sunday, with 16,000 suburban residents set to be evacuated, the official Shanghai Daily reported.

The NMC warned that 24-hour rainfall levels across eastern China could reach around 250-320 millimetres from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. Port authorities have already been ordered to take action, with ships set to be diverted to Hong Kong to help prevent accidents and collisions.

China’s Ministry of Water Resources has also warned of flood risks in the eastern, downstream sections of the Yangtze and Yellow rivers until Wednesday.

China is routinely hit by typhoons in its hot summer months but weather officials said last week they have been relatively infrequent so far this year.

(Reporting by David Stanway and Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Beijing newsroom; Editing by Paul Tait and Michael Perry)

Tornadoes kill three, hit U.S. Plains state capital

Damage is seen on a street after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this image taken from social media. Tyler Thompson/via REUTERS T

By Rich McKay

(Reuters) – Tornadoes killed at least three people in southwest Missouri and slammed into the state capital just before midnight on Wednesday, with rescue workers in Jefferson City searching into the morning for the injured, officials said.

The St. Louis office of the National Weather Service confirmed that reported twisters hit near Joplin, Mo., late Wednesday, and local media including the Joplin Globe reported at least three dead.

No other information about the deaths was immediately available from officials early Thursday.

The NWS reported that a “massive” twister also hit the southeastern part of Jefferson City, damaging buildings, toppling trees and power lines and tossing around parked cars.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities in the city as of early Thursday, said Jared Maples, a meteorologist with the NWS St. Louis office.

A damaged sign is seen after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jared Sheneman/via REUTERS

A damaged sign is seen after a tornado in Jefferson City, Missouri, U.S. May 23, 2019, in this still image taken from video obtained from social media. Jared Sheneman/via REUTERS

The Jefferson City Fire Department was sending rescuers house-to-house searching for people in need, officials posted on social media, with reports of people trapped in debris.

“We’re doing okay but praying for those that were caught in damage, some still trapped,” Missouri Gov. Mike Parson said on Twitter early Thursday.

Maples said, “As of this morning, the main parts of the storms have pushed eastward, thank goodness,” leaving the region to deal with just another expected two inches of rain through Friday.

At least three other people have been killed since Monday in Oklahoma and Iowa in a string of at least 30 tornadoes, heavy rains and floods that hit a swath from Texas to Illinois since Monday.

Residents in sections of Jefferson were under orders to evacuate Thursday ahead of the expected crest of the Missouri River at least 2 feet above the 30-foot high levees.

Rainfall is predicted to be about 2 inches (5 cm) across eastern Kansas, Oklahoma, and into western Missouri, with localized spots getting up to 5 inches (13 cm), forecasters said.

(Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Editing by William Maclean)

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

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

By Rich McKay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Mark Potter)

Widening snowstorm, freezing rain to snarl travel in eastern U.S.

Pedestrians walk down the sidewalk as snow falls in the Times Square neighborhood of New York, U.S., February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A widening snowstorm with an encore of freezing rain iced over the U.S. Midwest on Tuesday and headed east, causing hundreds of flight cancellations and closing schools, and was expected to tangle New York and Boston’s evening rush hour.

As much as 1 foot (30 cm) of snow was predicted for inland parts of New England, as well as up to 4 inches (10 cm) in New York City and up to 5 inches (13 cm) in Boston before turning to freezing rain in the late afternoon, said meteorologist Dan Petersen with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland.

“The big cities along the coast are going to have a pretty quick changeover from snow to sleet and freezing rain and eventually rain,” Petersen said in a phone interview. “The danger of snow changing to freezing rain is people slip and slide quite a bit and that’s the cause of accidents when people lose control of their cars.”

The storm by early morning had iced over Illinois and Michigan and was moving through Wisconsin into northern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York state. The widening storm was expected to reach as far south as northern Delaware and Maryland, Petersen said.

More than 1,600 flights into and out of the United States were canceled on Tuesday, most of them at airports in Chicago, New York and Boston, according to FlightAware.com.

Ahead of the storm, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a state of emergency, and hundreds of schools were closed for the day.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Crews gain on California wildfire as milder temperatures prevail

FILE PHOTO: A satellite image shows the River fire at the Mendocino Complex wildfire in California, U.S., August 6, 2018. Satellite image ©2018 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Crews battling the largest wildfire in California history took advantage of milder overnight temperatures to gain considerable ground in containing the blaze on Wednesday, a day after officials it would take until September to snuff it out.

The Mendocino Complex fire, which has scorched an area of northern California almost the size of Los Angeles, was 47 percent contained on Wednesday morning, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) said. A day earlier, the fire was 34 percent contained.

So far, two firefighters have been injured fighting the blaze, which has consumed more than 300,000 acres. While sprawling, the wildfire was less destructive than last week’s Carr Fire near Redding, destroying 75 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 23,000 people. The Carr Fire destroyed more than 1,000 structures.

Overnight temperatures for Wednesday and Thursday should drop to a low of 64 degrees (18 Celsius) but highs were forecast to hit 98 degrees (36 Celsius) on Wednesday and 99 (37 Celsius) on Thursday, said National Weather Service meteorology intern Jennifer Guenehner.

Some 4,000 firefighters were working on Wednesday to stop the fire from reaching communities at the southern tip of the Mendocino National Forest, about 100 miles north of San Francisco. The blaze is still threatening more than 10,000 structures, Cal Fire said.

The Mendocino Complex is one of 17 major fires burning in California that have destroyed more than 1,500 structures and displaced tens of thousands of people over the past month.

Cal Fire on Tuesday pushed back the date when it expected to bring the Mendocino fire under full control to Sept. 1, the fourth time the department has revised its timetable as the massive wildfire expanded.

The fire became the largest in California history on Monday, after officials began battling two separate blazes in the Mendocino area as a single event, according to Cal Fire.

Now, having scorched more than 300,000 acres, the blaze has surpassed the Thomas Fire, which burned 281,893 acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in southern California last December, destroying more than 1,000 structures.

 

Climate change is widely blamed for the higher temperatures that have fueled wildfires in California, and further afield like in Portugal, Sweden, and Siberia.

The California fires are on track to be the most destructive in a decade, prompting Democratic Governor Jerry Brown and Republican leaders such as state Senator Ted Gaines to call for thinning forests and controlled burns to reduce fire danger. Environmentalists oppose such preventive burns, saying they kill wildlife.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Bernadette Baum)

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)

U.S. swelters with brutally hot temps on Fourth of July but relief in sight

FILE PHOTO: People sit in the shade and cool off in a fountain during a summer heat wave in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – Tens of millions of Americans from the Midwest to the East Coast faced brutally hot temperatures and stifling humidity on the Fourth of July holiday on Wednesday, but forecasters said cooler, drier air is on the way by the weekend.

Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings were in effect through Wednesday night, with heat index values – which combine temperature and humidity – in major U.S. cities such as New York and Chicago expected to reach well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32°C), the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Relief is on the way, but don’t expect it before Friday night,” said Richard Bann, a meteorologist with the NWS Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

“But it will cool off,” Bann said. “Instead of being in the 90s (Fahrenheit), it’ll dip into the mid-80s and with less humidity.”

“There’s a system of cool, dry air scooting across Canada and will dip down into the Midwest, parts of New York and New England by this weekend. And there’s a good chance for showers Friday night for much of the area.”

Until then, the dangerous heat wave will continue to sizzle a large swath of the U.S. Midwest and East Coast.

At least four people have died due to the heat over the last week, including a Pennsylvania woman who died while working in her garden on Saturday and a man who was running a race in New York on Sunday, CNN reported.

For the Fourth of July holiday, Dan Petersen, an NWS meteorologist, warned people celebrating outside to remain in the shade and drink plenty of fluids.

“Anyone outside in locations with expanded areas of heat is going to have to take precautions,” he said. “This is the peak of summer – the hottest time of the year.”

Later this week, a storm front is expected to roll through and cool down the Eastern Seaboard for the weekend, Petersen said. It is likely to provide relief to Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia on Friday night before heading down to the Carolinas.

In a reversal of normal patterns, Petersen said, the hot weather will head west, hitting the central United States late in the week before reaching Los Angeles and San Diego on Friday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Phil Berlowitz)

Heavy rains due to drench Texas Gulf Coast, Midwest

6-20-18 National Weather Service precipitation map

(Reuters) – Heavy downpours were expected to drench the Gulf Coast of Texas and the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday and could cause flooding especially along already swollen rivers and in low-lying areas, forecasters warned.

Up to 5 inches (13 cm) of rain was forecast for parts of the Texas coast along the Gulf of Mexico and in the Middle Mississippi Valley states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Kansas throughout the day and into Thursday, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Be prepared for water over roads due to rapid rises on creeks and streams or even water flowing from farm fields,” the NWS in Des Moines, Iowa, said in an advisory.

Authorities closed roadways early Wednesday in several communities along the Des Moines and Mississippi rivers in the Midwest where intense rains have already fallen over the last few days, according to the NWS.

Showers and thunderstorms were also expected for Rockford, Illinois, where five inches of rain fell in less than four hours on Monday night. Emergency crews rescued people from numerous submerged vehicles.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, where more than 2 inches of rain was forecast after more than a foot of rain has fallen, crews conducted several high-water rescues on Tuesday while police closed roadways, local media reported.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)