Wisconsin city lifts evacuation order after refinery explosion

Dark smoke rises from Husky Energy oil refinery following an explosion in Superior, Wisconsin, U.S., April 26, 2018. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of residents of a northern Wisconsin city were cleared to return to their homes on Friday, the day after a blast at a Husky Energy Inc refinery injured at least 15 people, a local official said.

Investigators searched for the cause of the massive Thursday morning explosion at the refinery, capable of processing up to 38,000 barrels of oil a day, which shook the city of Superior, Wisconsin, home to about 27,000 people.

“All indications are that the refinery site is safe and stable and the air quality is clean and normal,” Superior Mayor Jim Paine said in a Facebook posting, noting that the evacuation order was lifted as of 6 a.m. local time (1100 GMT). “Welcome home.”

A black liquid pours from a ruptured tank following an explosion at Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

A black liquid pours from a ruptured tank following an explosion at Husky Energy oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin. REUTERS/Robert King/Duluth News Tribune

At least 15 people were injured, local media reported, and at least 10 people – one seriously injured – were taken to area hospitals, said a spokeswoman for Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center, which operates hospitals in Superior and nearby Duluth, Minnesota.

What ignited the blast was not clear. After an initial blaze was extinguished, a storage tank was punctured, and a second fire erupted, Husky Energy spokesman Mel Duvall said.

Another tank caught fire at 3:15 p.m., a local ABC affiliate reported, citing Douglas County authorities.

“Our focus in the days ahead will turn to the investigation and understanding the root cause of the incident,” Husky Energy said in a late Thursday Twitter post.

Thick black smoke billowed from the facility and hung over Superior throughout the day on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands to flee homes and businesses.

Friday classes were canceled in Superior and nearby Maple school districts.

There were no reports of fatalities, and all of the refinery’s workers have been accounted for, Husky Energy’s Duvall said.

The refinery had additional workers on site preparing for a plant-wide overhaul when the blast occurred, he said. It produces asphalt, gasoline, diesel and heavy fuel oils, largely using heavy crude oil imported from Canada.

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board has sent a four-person team to investigate. The non-regulatory federal agency investigates serious chemical accidents such as refinery fires.

Husky purchased the refinery from Calumet Specialty Products Partners LP last year.

(Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Scott Malone)

Storm barrels through U.S. Midwest with snow and frigid temperatures

Satellite image from the National Weather Service. 2-9-18

By Brendan O’Brien and Suzannah Gonzales

MILWAUKEE, Wis./CHICAGO (Reuters) – A major winter storm barreled into Chicago and Milwaukee early on Friday, dumping heavy snow and dropping temperatures well below freezing as it forced schools to close and threatened to leave travel at a stand still across the Midwest.

The storm system stretches from western Montana across the Dakotas and parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, and reaches as far east as southern Michigan. The storm could drop up to 14 inches (36 cm) of snow in some areas, the National Weather Service said.

Chicago was anticipating six to 12 inches of snow early on Friday morning with more snow expected over the weekend, according to the service’s weather forecast.

“The city is ready for this,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said during a news conference about the city’s preparedness on Thursday. “Make no mistake though, this is a heavy snow, heavier than we’ve seen in a number of winters.”

City officials announced school closures in Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee because of the weather.

Wind chill temperatures were expected to drop below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 C) in many areas across the region, and officials warned of limited visibility on roads.

Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway international airports canceled more than 200 flights on Thursday before the storm hit, and several airlines were also anticipating delays or cancellations.

United Airlines said on Twitter that waivers were in effect for snow-hit areas this week allowing travelers to change flights without charges, and Delta Air Lines offered to rebook flights on Friday for 18 Midwest cities.

Winter weather across the United States this week killed several people in accidents in the Midwest, including six in Iowa, two in Missouri and one in Montana, local media in those states reported.

(Editing by Peter Graff)

Listeria risk prompts Meijer to recall produce in six U.S. states

Listeria risk prompts Meijer to recall produce in six U.S. states

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Retailer Meijer Inc said it was recalling packaged vegetables in six U.S. states because of possible contamination from Listeria monocytogenes bacteria, which can cause fatal food poisoning in young children, pregnant women and elderly or frail people.

Meijer, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said there were no illnesses reported as of Sunday.

The recall affects 35 products and includes vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus as well as party trays sold in Meijer-branded plastic or foam packaging in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin between Sept. 27 and Oct. 20, the company said on Saturday.

In February, Meijer recalled its Meijer-branded Colby and Colby Jack cheese sold through its deli counters because of potential contamination with Listeria monocytogenes.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 1,600 people develop a serious form of infection known as listeriosis each year, and 260 die from the disease, making it the third most deadly form of food poisoning in the United States.

“The infection is most likely to sicken pregnant women and their newborns, adults aged 65 or older and people with weakened immune systems,” the CDC said on its website. Symptoms include fever and diarrhea and can start the same day of exposure or as much as 70 days later.

(Reporting by Alwyn Scott; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Peter Cooney)

Wisconsin company offers employees microchip implants

Tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) computer chips with the needles used to implant them under the skin are pictured in New York January 4, 2006. REUTERS/Chip East

By Taylor Harris

(Reuters) – A Wisconsin vending machine company is offering its employees a chance to have a microchip implanted in their hands that they could use to buy snacks, log in to computers or use the copy machine.

About 50 employees at Three Square Market have agreed to the optional implant of the chips, which are the approximate size and shape of a grain of rice, said Tony Danna, vice president of international sales at the River Falls-based company.

The company, which employs 85, said it was the first in the United States to offer staff the technology which is similar to that used by contactless credit cards and chips used to identify pets.

The implants made by Sweden’s BioHax International are part of a long-term test aimed to see if the radio-frequency identification chips could have broader commercial applications, Danna said.

“We’ve done the research and we’re pretty well educated about this,” Danna said in an interview.

The company is holding an Aug. 1 “chip party” where employees will have the device inserted between their forefinger and thumb using a syringe-like instrument.

The RFID chips use electromagnetic fields to communicate and can be read at a distance of no more than 6 inches (15 cm), Danna said.

Critics of using chips in humans include Nevada State Senator Becky Harris, who in February introduced legislation that would make forced installation of microchips illegal.

“It is possible to hack the information that is contained within the chips,” Harris told a state Senate Judiciary Committee meeting at the time.

The company’s CEO Todd Westby in a statement predicted the technology could become popular among companies.

“Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.,” he said.

(Reporting by Taylor Harris in New York; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Trump vows to back U.S. dairy farmers in Canada trade spat

FILE PHOTO: An old tractor sporting a Canadian national flag is seen parked in the rural township of Oro-Medonte, Ontario July 26, 2015. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File Photo

By Rod Nickel

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump promised on Tuesday to defend American dairy farmers who have been hurt by Canada’s protectionist trade practices, during a visit to the cheese-making state of Wisconsin.

Canada’s dairy sector is protected by high tariffs on imported products and controls on domestic production as a means of supporting prices that farmers receive. It is frequently criticized by other dairy-producing countries.

“We’re also going to stand up for our dairy farmers,” Trump said in Kenosha, Wisconsin. “Because in Canada some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others.”

Trump did not detail his concerns, but promised his administration would call the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and demand an explanation.

“It’s another typical one-sided deal against the United States and it’s not going to be happening for long,” Trump said.

Trump also reiterated his threat to eliminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico if it cannot be changed.

U.S. dairy industry groups want Trump to urge Trudeau to halt a pricing policy that has disrupted some U.S. dairy exports and prioritize dairy market access in NAFTA renegotiation talks.

“A WTO complaint would be a last resort because it would take five or six years to come to any resolution,” said Jaime Castaneda, senior vice president for the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Canada’s dairy farmers agreed last year to sell milk ingredients used for cheese-making to Canadian processors, which include Saputo Inc and Parmalat Canada Inc [PLTPRC.UL] at prices competitive with international rates. The pricing agreement was a response to growing U.S. exports of milk proteins that were not subject to Canada’s high tariffs.

Canada’s envoy to Washington on Tuesday sent a letter to the governors of New York and Wisconsin – both major dairy states – saying U.S. producers’ problems stemmed from overproduction rather than Canadian policy.

In the letter, released by Ottawa, ambassador David MacNaughton said Canada’s dairy industry was less protectionist than its U.S. counterpart.

Industry groups in New Zealand, Australia, the European Union, Mexico and the United States complained the new prices for Canadian milk ingredients under-cut exports to Canada.

“President Trump’s reaction is not surprising. He is defending his domestic dairy industry,” said Jacques Lefebvre, CEO of Dairy Processors Association of Canada. “Further communications with the Canadian government will broaden his perspective.”

The Dairy Farmers of Canada said it was confident Ottawa would “continue to protect and defend” the dairy industry.

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; additional reporting by Steve Holland in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Karl Plume in Chicago,; Ayesha Rascoe in Washington; and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Police officer, three others killed in Wisconsin shooting: reports

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A police officer and three other people were killed in a string of shootings, including at a bank and a law firm, in central Wisconsin following what police referred to as domestic incident, media reported on Wednesday.

A suspect was taken into custody by police at an apartment building in Weston, a community of 15,000 about 90 miles (140 km) west of Green Bay, in the wake of the shootings, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper reported.

The incident began with a “domestic situation,” the Journal Sentinel reported, citing a press release from the Rothschild Police Department.

At about 12:30 p.m. central time shots were reported fired at the Marathon Savings Bank in the nearby town of Rothschild, Todd Baeten, police captain for Wausau, Wisconsin, told an afternoon press conference. Police found two people shot at the bank and that the suspect fled, the Journal Sentinel reported.

Shots were then reported at a law firm in Schofield, Wisconsin at about 1:10 p.m. About 20 minutes later, police received a call from an apartment building in Weston. Police converged on the apartment complex and took the suspect into custody about an hour later after more shots were fired, the Journal Sentinel reported.

It is unclear where the police officer was shot and killed. Police did not disclose the identities of the suspect and the four people who were killed. Wausau police and the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigations declined to confirm the casualties to Reuters.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting and writing by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

U.S. reports low pathogenic bird flu outbreak in Wisconsin: OIE

PARIS (Reuters) – The United States reported an outbreak of avian flu on a farm in Wisconsin, the second in the country in less than a week although the virus found this time is considered less virulent, the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) said on Tuesday.

A strain of low pathogenic H5N2 avian flu has been discovered in a flock of 84,000 turkeys in Barron County, Wisconsin, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) said in a report posted on the website of the Paris-based OIE.

The USDA said the turkey flock was tested after birds showed signs of depression and the infected premises were quarantined.

The new outbreak comes after the detection of highly pathogenic H7 bird flu last week in a chicken breeder flock in Tennessee farm contracted by U.S. food giant Tyson Foods Inc.

As opposed to highly pathogenic strains which can cause high mortality rates among poultry, low pathogenic ones typically cause few or no clinical signs in birds.

In 2014 and 2015, during a widespread outbreak of highly pathogenic avian flu, primarily of the H5N2 strain, the United States killed nearly 50 million birds, mostly egg-laying hens. The losses pushed U.S. egg prices to record highs.

The USDA said tests had shown that the H5N2 virus detected in Wisconsin was of North American wild bird origin and distinct from the H5N2 viruses found in 2015.

The risk of human infection in poultry outbreaks is low, although in China more than 110 people died this winter amid an outbreak of the H7N9 virus in birds.

The detection of a first case of bird flu in the United States this year prompted several Asian countries, including South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong, to limit imports of U.S. poultry.

(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide and Gus Trompiz, editing by David Evans)

Wisconsin man, Virginia man each get prison for trying to join Islamic State

FILE PHOTO: An Islamic State flag is seen in this picture

(Reuters) – A Wisconsin man and a Virginia man were sentenced separately to federal prison on Friday for attempting to travel abroad to join Islamic State, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Joshua Van Haften, 36, of Madison received a 10-year sentence from a federal court in Wisconsin after pleading guilty in October to attempting to support a terrorist organization.

Van Haften, who posted an oath of allegiance to Islamic State’s leader online, traveled to Turkey in 2014 and tried to cross the border into Syria, according to prosecutors.

He also attempted to aid another American interested in joining the militant group, Leon Davis, who was sentenced to 15 years in 2015 after federal agents arrested him at an Atlanta airport on his way to Turkey.

Meanwhile, Haris Qamar, 26, from Burke, Virginia, was sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison on Friday by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. Like Van Haften, Qamar pleaded guilty in October to a terrorism charge.

U.S. prosecutors said Qamar helped a confidential witness working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation take photographs of landmarks in Washington, D.C., for what he believed would be a propaganda video for Islamic State to encourage attacks.

Qamar also told the witness he bought a plane ticket to Turkey in 2014 so he could join Islamic State but was stymied when his parents confiscated his passport, prosecutors said.

Federal agents also arrested two acquaintances of Qamar on Wednesday and charged them with lying to investigators about the case.

The Justice Department has prosecuted more than 100 Islamic State-related cases since 2014.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Meteor lights up the night sky over Illinois and Wisconsin

National Weather Service tweet about meteor

(Reuters) – (This February 6th story has been refiled to correct location of Lisle to west of Chicago in paragraph three.)

A meteor plummeted in a fireball over Lake Michigan early on Monday, lighting up the night sky in bright blue just before scattering over the lake in many pieces, according to a police video and an expert’s description.

Lisle, Illinois, police officer Jim Dexter recorded the meteor’s descent on the dash camera of his patrol car at 1:25 a.m.

Aside from Lisle, which is less than 30 miles (48 km) west of Chicago, and other parts of Illinois; witnesses reported seeing the meteor from Wisconsin, Michigan and as far away as New York state and the Canadian province of Ontario, according to a description on the website of the American Meteor Society.

The meteor’s fiery descent is likely to rank as one of the most spectacular events of its kind anywhere in the world this year, Mike Hankey, operations manager for the society, said by telephone.

The meteor broke apart into pieces of rock and metallic dust that descended in a cloud onto Lake Michigan, Hankey said. No one is reported to have been injured by debris, he said.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Bar rises for Milwaukee police review after latest shooting

police standing guide after police shooting

By David Ingram

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Milwaukee, shaken by two nights of violence after a shooting by police, is one of a few U.S. cities to have volunteered for federal government review of its police force and may now be held to higher standards for how it responds.

Beginning in December, the review included a public “listening session” that, according to Milwaukee media, drew 700 people to a library auditorium to air their frustrations to U.S. Department of Justice officials.

Some community leaders said the weekend violence should result in a tougher review and real change.

“I would hope that the cries of the unheard … are now being heard around the country out of Milwaukee,” said Rev. Steve Jerbi, the lead pastor at All Peoples Church in the Wisconsin city of about 595,000 people.

The Obama administration has promoted a $10 million nationwide voluntary review program as a way to improve policing amid nationwide complaints of racial profiling and targeting. Milwaukee has become the latest U.S. city to experience discord after high-profile police killings of black men over the past two years.

The review in Milwaukee will look at issues such as use of force, the disciplinary system and diversity in hiring. The city was 45 percent white in the 2010 Census, while the police department is 68 percent white.

“Expectations of the report itself and of departmental compliance with the report are going to be raised,” said David Harris, a University of Pittsburgh law professor who studies police behavior.

There is skepticism of how Milwaukee authorities will respond to federal recommendations, after past responses fell short of demands.

Fred Royal, president of the NAACP’s Milwaukee branch, noted that the recommendations would not be legally binding, unlike those for cities such as Cleveland, Ohio, where police use of deadly force and other practices were being scrutinized under so-called consent decrees – settlements without a final ruling by a judge.

“They don’t have the teeth that a consent decree has,” Royal said.

Businesses were torched and gunfire erupted in Milwaukee after the shooting on Saturday of a black man, Sylville K. Smith, 23. Police said he refused to drop a handgun when he was killed, and on Monday, the city imposed a curfew.

“My experience with the Milwaukee Police Department has been that it is a department in desperate need of fundamental change,” said Flint Taylor, a Chicago civil rights lawyer who has sued Milwaukee over police tactics.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee Police Department said officials were not available for an interview. Police Chief Edward Flynn has said previously that his department has made progress and can withstand scrutiny. A Justice Department spokeswoman said officials there declined an interview request.

The Justice Department is expected to release its findings within about two months. Milwaukee could then receive outside assistance and monitoring for up to two years.

Making the challenge tougher are deep problems of poverty and segregation in Milwaukee, the 31st largest city in the United States. Milwaukee was ranked as the most segregated city in America by the Brookings Institution last year, and in the neighborhood where the rioting took place more than 30 percent of people live in poverty.

Residents have protested past police shootings, such as a 2014 killing in which an unarmed, mentally ill black man, Dontre Hamilton, was shot 14 times. An officer was dismissed but no one was charged.

In 2011, another black man, Derek Williams, died in the back of a Milwaukee police car after he told officers he could not breathe and needed help, according to a lawsuit his family filed. The city has not responded to the lawsuit.

And in January this year, Milwaukee officials approved a $5 million settlement with 74 black men who said they had been subjected to illegal strip and cavity searches.

Las Vegas, which volunteered for the same federal program after a series of shootings there in 2011, was handed a list of 75 findings and recommendations by the Justice Department, and 18 months later it had completed 90 percent of the recommendations, the department said. Philadelphia and San Francisco are among other cities under review.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Julia Harte in Washington; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou Contini and Grant McCool)