Posts Tagged ‘Hurricane Harvey’

Oil Resurrection Sets Stage for Another OPEC-Shale Clash in 2018

December 29, 2017


By Heesu Lee

 Updated on 
  • WTI, Brent up more than 11% this year; set for 2nd annual gain
  • OPEC curbs drive price gain as threat of U.S. output persists

Oil’s revival from the biggest crash in a generation persisted, with prices set for a second annual gain after weathering everything from hurricanes and Middle East conflict to the tussle between OPEC and U.S. shale.

Benchmark futures are up more than 11 percent in 2017, after going into a bull market in September. While gains were driven by glut-shrinking output cuts by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, geopolitical tensions in the Middle East as well as pipeline disruptions from the North Sea to Canada and Libya have also helped. In 2018, investors will watch if U.S. output undermines OPEC’s curbs.

Speculation is rising that American drillers will put more rigs to work as oil strengthens, with shale growth driving forecasts of record U.S. supply in 2018. That could act counter to plans by producers including Saudi Arabia, who have pledged to extend production curbs through end-2018 to wipe out a global glut. After Hurricane Harvey shut Gulf Coast refiners at the end of August and hurt prices, violence in Iraq and a pipe crack in the U.K. have helped buoy crude.

“The key driver for the oil market this year has been that the OPEC and Russian production cuts were introduced, complied with and extended,” said Ric Spooner, a Sydney-based analyst at CMC Markets. “This has allowed the market to reduce inventory despite production increases in the U.S., Libya and Nigeria.”

West Texas Intermediate for February delivery was at $60.22 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, up 38 cents, at 7:31 a.m. in London. Total volume traded was about 50 percent above the 100-day average. Front-month prices are 12 percent higher this year, after rising 45 percent — the most since 2009 — in 2016.

See also: Five Oil Signals to Watch as 2018 Pits OPEC Against Shale

Brent for March settlement added 42 cents to $66.58 a barrel on the London-based ICE Futures Europe exchange. The February contract expired Thursday, after rising 28 cents to $66.72. The benchmark for more than half the world’s oil has gained 17 percent this year, after climbing 52 percent in 2016. It was at a premium of $6.34 to March WTI.

Oil’s trading at the highest level since mid-2015 after WTI breached above $60 a barrel for the first time in more than two years. The benchmark traded at an average price of about $51 this year. Nationwide stockpiles fell 4.6 million barrels last week to the lowest level since October 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration Thursday. That beat the 3.75 million average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

“The tug-of-war between OPEC and the U.S. will continue to pressure oil from trading above $60 a barrel in 2018,” said Kim Kwangrae, a Seoul-based commodities analyst at Samsung Futures Inc. “Like we’ve seen this year, geopolitical risks will be the key factor going forward for oil to breach $60.”

Following an explosion on Tuesday, Waha Oil Co. is working to repair the pipeline that carries crude to Libya’s Es Sider port, the North African nation’s biggest export terminal, while a major U.K. North Sea pipeline is nearing a return to full service after an outage this month.

Oil-market news:

  • Jobs are returning to the shale patch, albeit at a more subdued pace compared with the go-go days of 2014.
  • The Trump administration is rolling back offshore drilling rules put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Shortage of Florida Insurance Adjusters Could Stall Recovery Efforts

September 14, 2017

Insurers are vying for adjusters after many of them headed to Texas after Hurricane Harvey

After Irma, Florida residents are lacking in many necessities. One of the more frustrating is the paucity of insurance adjusters, which is threatening to anger policyholders and potentially delay the state’s rebuilding efforts.

Many of the state’s adjusters are 1,000 miles away, working on claims made after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas.

Insurers are scrambling to get more adjusters to Florida, creating a bidding war for those who are available. Some Florida home insurers have increased fees paid to adjusters by about 30%, insurers and adjusters say.

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., a state-run insurer of last resort, has boosted adjuster compensation by 18% to 20% and said it expects additional increases to keep up with rivals.

While higher fees for adjusters often only modestly impact the cost of a claim, the bigger worry is that damage to buildings will worsen from mold and other problems. In addition, claims that could have been resolved amicably may end up in costly litigation as homeowners get angry waiting.

“An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” said Randy Maniloff, an insurance-industry defense lawyer at Williams and White LLP.

Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.
Adjuster Lee Vorcheimer has been receiving calls from companies seeking to recruit him.PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Insurance companies are vying for the nation’s independent claims adjusters, who total 57,200 as of July, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. ​Florida also says it is easing the process of appointing insurance adjusters, which may help expand the number.

“Our Department has taken steps to make the adjuster-appointment process as simple ​[as] ​possible for insurance companies, and our team is processing appointments at a rapid-fire pace” in an effort “to ensure that Floridians get swift handling of their post-storm claims,” said a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Financial Services. In addition, many insurance companies employ adjusters full-time and a lot of those will be on the ground, among other types of adjusters who could be available.

Lee Vorcheimer, a longtime adjuster in south Florida, said that “every day for the last two weeks, there have been 10 or 15 emails” from independent-adjuster firms seeking to recruit him to travel to Texas or handle claims for local insurers. He has been offered bonuses, including money for temporary housing.

Independent insurance adjusters are paid according to the size of a claim they assess for a company. For Irma claims, they are earning from about $500 to about $30,000 for policyholder claims of $1,000 to $1 million, respectively, according to two fee schedules from private insurers reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Some adjusters can make $65,000 to $100,000 in the first month after a major hurricane, people in the industry say.

“When you have a hurricane like Harvey and a hurricane like Irma, everybody loves you,” said Mr. Vorcheimer, who settled on adjusting Irma claims for Tampa-based HCI GroupInc., in part because he likes their technology.

This week, Mr. Vorcheimer began inspections as early as 7:30 a.m., looking at up to 15 properties a day. In Broward County on Monday, he found trees on roofs, missing shingles, rain damage, and blown-over pool screens and fences. Damage ranged up to about $65,000, he said. He hauled ladders from his pickup truck and climbed on every roof. He finished his day just after 7 p.m.

Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma.
Lee Vorcheimer processes insurance adjustment claims after Irma. PHOTO: MATTHEW RIVA FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Mr. Vorcheimer, 51 years old, got into adjusting in 2005 after selling a bakery and a neighbor recruited him to help with Hurricane Wilma claims. His wife, Cheryl, handles administrative matters for the business, Perfect Reliable Independent Claim Services Inc.​. Like many other adjusters, the couple uses a 45-foot recreational vehicle when traveling to inspect long-distance claims. The couple is living there temporarily as their home in Pompano Beach has no power.

Though Irma didn’t strike Miami, the state’s largest city, as feared, damages from the storm could be large enough to displace Sandy as the nation’s third most-expensive hurricane ever. That 2012 storm left $20 billion in losses, in today’s dollars, mostly in the northeast. On Wednesday, catastrophe-risk modeling firm Karen Clark & Co. estimated Irma’s U.S. damage at $18 billion.

The adjuster issues are especially acute in Florida because its home-insurance market is heavily dependent on small and midsize insurers. Over the past 25 years, many of the brand-name national insurers have shrunk their presence in the state to reduce their exposure to hurricanes.

Smaller insurance companies typically rely heavily on independent adjusters, said Joseph Burtone, an insurance analyst with ratings firm A.M. Best. The smaller insurers “have to figure out a way to handle that the best they can,” he said. “It will be a challenge.”

By comparison, the national insurers employ fleets of adjusters and can send people to Florida from other states. Many big names, such as American International Group Inc. and ​Liberty Mutual Insurance, also contract with independent-adjuster firms as needed when disasters occur. Chubb Ltd. said it relies predominantly on its own staff.

On Tuesday, Tim Barziza, a Texas-based “claim leader” for Chubb, was on the last leg of a drive to Miami to oversee a command center there. It is one of several such centers Chubb has set up across the state for taking care of well-to-do policyholders’ homes, fine art, boats and vehicles, as well as business clients.

Roughly 400 Chubb employees are expected to handle claims and adjusting, either in the state or from call centers. Chubb adjusters are arriving “from all corners of the U.S.,” Mr. Barziza said, taking a break from driving and watching as utility-truck convoys and vehicles with children, dogs and suitcases returned home. By Wednesday, Chubb had received just over 1,000 Irma claims, the overwhelming majority tied to home policies.

In addition to private insurers, many Florida claims will be processed by Citizens, which at about 450,000 policyholders is one of the state’s biggest insurers. It expects about 150,000 claims, a spokesman said. As of 1 p.m. Tuesday, about 7,000 had arrived.

“A stale claim is an expensive claim,” said John Rollins, an executive with Cabrillo Coastal General Insurance Agency LLC in Gainesville, Fla., and a former chief risk officer of Citizens. “The key in a situation like this is getting to the policyholder and getting some money in their hands so they can begin the recovery process.”

As Florida’s market gets stretched, insurance executives said the fee increases being paid to adjusters in Florida are spilling over to Texas.

“There’s a tug of war for adjusters” between the two states, said James Warren, who works as an adjuster for Crawford & Co., which handles claims for insurance companies.

Some adjusters who would ordinarily stay for two months or longer to adjust claims for a hurricane like Harvey are already heading to Florida, he said.

Mr. Warren is currently adjusting Harvey claims in south Texas, and opted not to go to Florida because he wants to stay close to his home in the Lone Star state.

“Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” Mr. Warren said. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

Mr. Warren’s firm, Crawford, is running an orientation program in Atlanta to get hundreds of longtime adjusters up to speed on protocols of clients with claims to adjust in Florida. The firm is moving adjusters from Canada and the U.K. to Florida as well, said Chief Executive Harsha Agadi.

This week, HCI, the Tampa-based insurer, signed up adjusters from Massachusetts to augment its Florida team. “Everybody is pressing into service everybody and anybody they can get,” CEO Paresh Patel said.

Typically, insurers have contingency plans for hurricanes, “but we watched all of our contingency resources go to Houston” after Harvey, he said.

Write to Leslie Scism at and Nicole Friedman at

Economic cost of Harvey, Irma could be $290 bn

September 11, 2017


© AFP | Members of the Olson family remove debris and damaged items from their father’s home in the Twin Oaks Estate after Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding in Houston, Texas

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The combined economic cost of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could reach $290 billion, equivalent to 1.5 percent of the US gross domestic product, US forecaster AccuWeather said in a report Sunday.”We believe the damage estimate from Irma to be about $100 billion, among the costliest hurricanes of all time,” said the firm’s CEO and founder Joel Myers.

Harvey, which battered Texas and parts of Louisiana in late August, will be “the costliest weather disaster in US history at $190 billion or one full percentage point of GDP” which stands at $19 trillion.

The report said it arrived at the figure by calculating disruptions to business, increased unemployment rates for significant periods of time, damage to transport and infrastructure, crop loss including a 25 percent drop of orange crop, increased costs of fuels including gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, household damages and loss of valuable documentation.

Only a fraction of the losses would be covered by insurance, said Myers.

Irma struck the Florida Keys archipelago earlier Sunday and is now bearing north, bearing down on the city of Tampa on the west coast of the Florida peninsula.

Harvey made landfall in Texas in late August, causing severe damage to property and paralyzing the country’s fourth-largest city, Houston, with major flooding.

North Korean nuclear crisis bings Asian markets down — Dollar hit by rate talk

September 6, 2017


© KCNA via KNS/AFP/File | The North Korean nuclear crisis is sending investors to safe-haven assets, sending gold to near one-year highs and the yen flying

HONG KONG (AFP) – The North Korean nuclear crisis dragged Asian markets further into the red on Wednesday as world powers struggled to agree how to deal with the isolated state, while doubts about further US interest rate hikes dragged the dollar.With few other catalysts to deflect attention from the face off with Pyongyang, investors continue to flock to safe-haven assets, sending gold to near one-year highs and the yen flying.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned against “confrontational rhetoric” towards Kim Jong-Un’s regime and called for a single strategy to address the crisis issue following Sunday’s apparent test of a massive nuclear device.

While the heated rhetoric of the previous two days has cooled, there are fears of a fresh flare up as the North is feared to be preparing another missile launch to mark its foundation day on Saturday.

US markets returned from their long Labor Day weekend on Tuesday to finish sharply lower and US Treasury yields are at one-year lows.

In Asia on Wednesday Seoul shed 0.3 percent, Tokyo ended the morning session 0.3 percent lower and Hong Kong gave up 0.9 percent.

Shanghai was 0.4 percent lower and Sydney gave up 0.1 percent, while Singapore, Wellington and Taipei were also lower.

The dollar, already down against the safe-bet yen on geopolitical concerns, took another hit from comments by Federal Reserve officials playing down the chances of a third rate hike of the year.

Fed governor Lael Brainard said the central bank had continued to miss its two percent inflation target for the past year and added: “My view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target.”

In early trade Wednesday the dollar was at 108.70 yen, heading towards its weakest levels of the year.

Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA, said that while the North Korea crisis was clearly weighing on the dollar, “an unabashedly dovish Fed Brainard was unquestionably the reason for the deeper USDJPY move into the 108s”.

Adding to the sense of unease is concern about President Donald Trump’s chances of pushing through his tax-reform plans, with Capitol Hill already struggling with a crammed legislative calendar.

And Trump’s decision Tuesday to end an amnesty programme for 800,000 people brought to the United States illegally as young children will add to the backlog.

On oil markets both main contracts eased in Asia after surging Tuesday — WTI jumped around three percent and Brent put on two percent — on reports Russia and Saudi Arabia were considering extending a production cut.

Also refineries shut down by Hurricane Harvey began to come back online in the US Gulf Coast, helping clear a backlog of the commodity.

Eyes are now on the release of crude data from industry group the American Petroleum Institute later in the day followed by the US Energy Information Administration Thursday.

– Key figures around 0230 GMT –

Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 19,325.87 (break)

Seoul – Kospi: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,320.02

Hong Kong – Hang Seng: DOWN 0.9 percent at 27,494.01

Shanghai – Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,370.04

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1922 from $1.1914 at 2040 GMT on Tuesday

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3036 from $1.3031

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.70 yen from 108.79 yen

Oil – West Texas Intermediate: DOWN nine cents at $48.57

Oil – Brent North Sea: DOWN 25 cents at $53.13 per barrel

New York – DOW: DOWN 1.1 percent at 21,753.31 (close)

London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 percent at 7,372.92 (close)

Mnuchin Says Debt Limit Hike Should Be Linked to Harvey Aid — “We need to help people in Texas and we need to get that done.”

September 3, 2017


By Laura Litvan and Mark Niquette

September 3, 2017, 9:53 AM EDT September 3, 2017, 10:48 AM EDT
  • White House has asked for almost $8 billion in hurricane aid
  • Relief funding could affect debate on raising debt ceiling

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Congress should combine an initial package of relief for victims of Harvey with a boost in the nation’s debt limit, saying lawmakers need to “put politics aside” to ensure that those trying to recover from the storm get the help they need.

“The president and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding,” Mnuchin said of the debt-limit increase on “Fox News Sunday.” He said it should be a so-called clean increase in the borrowing authority that doesn’t have any other provisions tied to it. “We need to help people in Texas and we need to get that done.”

President Donald Trump visited storm-ravaged Texas Saturday, saying he hopes for a “quick process” to get Congress to approve almost $8 billion in initial Harvey relief. Trump will meet with congressional leaders of both parties this week to discuss the aid package, Mnuchin said.

Image result for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, photos
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (FILE photo)

In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan requesting the storm aid, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Friday stopped short of explicitly asking for the aid to be tied to raising the debt ceiling. But the letter makes clear that the emergency spending will move forward the deadline for raising the limit and conveys the idea that failure to lift it could imperil essential government services at a time when residents in Texas need the help.

The White House disaster aid request includes $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $450 million for the Small Business Administration. The request is intended primarily to cover funding demands through the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.

Read More: Trump Seeks $7.85 Billion for Harvey, Action on Debt Limit

The efforts to link the two measures is intended to avoid a standoff over the issue that could rattle financial markets. Mnuchin has repeatedly said that it’s “critical” that Congress raise the debt ceiling by Sept. 29.

The House of Representatives plans to vote this week on Trump’s request in initial disaster relief funding but GOP leaders don’t plan to include a U.S. debt-limit increase in that legislation, two GOP congressional aides said before Mulvaney’s letter was sent.

The Senate could attach the increase in U.S. borrowing authority to the hurricane relief package when it considers the legislation, and then send it back to the House. Neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor Ryan have indicated whether they would be supportive of that approach.

“Working closely with the President and the House of Representatives, the Senate stands ready to act quickly to provide this much-needed assistance to those impacted communities, and support first responders and volunteers,” McConnell said in a statement late Friday.

The debate over the package will kick-start Congress’s work this fall, as lawmakers also seek to extend the government’s spending authority past the Sept. 30 fiscal year and prevent a government shut down.

Read More: Trump’s Tax-Cut Bid Hits Obstacle: Hurricane Harvey’s Costs

Trump has threatened to shut down the government if Congress does not include his request for $1.6 billion for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border in a spending bill. Asked about that threat Sunday, Mnuchin said the president’s top priority was the Harvey aid. The White House late last week assured GOP leaders that Trump won’t pick that fight right now, said two people familiar with the conversations.

The administration and Republican leaders in Congress also continue to craft an overhaul of the tax code, which Mnuchin insisted can be completed before year’s end.

“The objective is to get this passed and get it to the president this year,” Mnuchin said of the tax plan. He reiterated the administration’s position that the loss of federal revenues due to cuts in individual and corporate taxes can be offset by increased economic growth. McConnell has insisted that any package be “deficit neutral,” and he has not said higher growth projections could meet his test.

But the costs of Harvey could undercut the political support from some Republicans in Congress for a tax overhaul that would increase the budget deficit.

More than 311,000 Texans had already applied for federal disaster relief funds as of Thursday morning and more than $530 million already has been granted, Vice President Mike Pence said. About 100,000 homes were damaged by the storm, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert said.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that $120 billion was needed to respond to Hurricane Katrina and that he expects the damage from Harvey will require more funding.

— With assistance by Margaret Talev, Erik Wasson, Jennifer Epstein, Justin Sink, and Toluse Olorunnipa


Steven Mnuchin says he’s drafting sanctions against North Korea

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he’s drafting new sanctions to put economic pressure on North Korea.

His words came after the isolated Asian nation carried out what is believed to be its most powerful nuclear test yet.

“I am going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration that anybody that wants to do trade or business with them would be prevented from doing trade or business with us,” Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday. “People need to cut off North Korea economically. This is unacceptable behavior.”

It’s not yet clear how exactly the U.S. would go about implementing those sanctionseither through unilateral action or in another coordinated international effort.

The U.S. has taken recent steps to pressure those who work with North Korea.

In June, the Treasury moved to block a Chinese bank with alleged illicit financial ties to North Korea from gaining access to the U.S. banking system.

But Mnuchin said Sunday that the U.S. can do more, and plans to work with its allies and China to squeeze North Korea.

“China has a lot of trade with them,” Mnuchin said. “There’s a lot we can do to cut them off economically — much more than we’ve done already.”

China has served as an economic lifeline for North Korea through decades of international sanctions, letting fuel and coal to cross their shared border, providing huge amounts of food aid and allowing its companies to trade with the isolated state.

China, which accounts for over 90% of North Korea’s international trade, recently joined in United Nations sanctions of the rogue nation.

Related: Trump says appeasement ‘will not work’ after N.K. nuclear test

The nuclear weapon test on Sunday was the sixth-ever for North Korea, and the first since Trump took office. The country claimed that it has developed an advanced hydrogen bomb that can fit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Earlier Sunday, Trump called Pyongyang’s words and actions “hostile and dangerous.” He tweeted that South Korea has found that their “talk of appeasement will not work.”

When asked if the U.S. will consider a military response, Mnuchin said Sunday that the administration is “not going to broadcast” its planned course of action.

But he added that Trump has made it clear that “this isn’t the time for just talk.”

–CNN’s Angela Dewan and Taehoon Lee and CNNMoney’s Jethro Mullen and Charles Riley contributed to this report.


Donald Trump visits Harvey victims as environmentalists berate urban sprawl

September 3, 2017

Houston’s flood devastation should be a “wake up” call to better plan its urban sprawl, environmentalists have said as President Trump again visits the region. He’s boosted federal funding for the hurricane clean-up.

USA Präsident Trump besucht erneut Überschwemmungsgebiete (Getty Images/AFP/N. Kamm)

US President Trump visited flood victims in flood-soaked Houston, Texas, and Lake Charles in Louisiana Saturday as experts reiterated calls that local authorities rethink construction that leaves ground impervious.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) climate-change expert Joel Scata said Houston and its surrounding Harris County had been impacted hard by Hurricane Harvey because of shortfalls in urban planning.

“I am hoping that Harvey will be a wake-up call for how the US in general handles development,” said Scata. “We don’t have zoning restrictions in place so you don’t have the best planning.”

Researchers at Texas A&M [Agricultural and Mechanical] University said rapid urbanization of swamp lands since 1995 had drastically reduced the ability of local soils to absorb rainwater.

Harvey dumped an unprecedented 56 trillion liters, or 1.3 meters (51 inches) of rain over five days, inundating an estimated 136,000 buildings and led to the deaths of at least 44 people.

Boats ply Houston's Tidwell Road during the flooding (picture-alliance/AP Photo/D.J.Philips)Harvey was a ‘wake up’ call to mitigate urban sprawl, say experts

The storm’s remnants have reached Ohio where it is forecast to merge with other weather systems on Sunday.

Back to school?

Up to 12,000 students would have to attend classes elsewhere when school resumed on September 11, Houston’s school district Superintendent Richard Carranza announced Saturday while surveying damage as floodwaters receded.

Nearly a third, or 75, of the district’s schools had suffered major or extensive damage and would not be ready to reopen for months, Carranza said.

Another 115 schools examined could be cleaned and would be ready to go. Damage was spread equally throughout the low-lying city, he said.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, meanwhile, ordered evacuations of some 300 people remaining western city areas still inundated by water being released from reservoirs.

In a semblance of normalcy Saturday, the Houston Astros baseball team returned to their home stadium, where a moment of silence was held for at least 44 people killed during the storm.

Congress to foot bill for clean-up

From Washington, the White House said in a statement that Trump had authorized a boost in the federal share of funding for hurricane aftermath debris removal and emergency protective measures from 75 percent to 90 percent.

The president had on Friday asked Congress for a $7.9-billion (6.6 million-euro) down payment – expected to be approved – toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts. The private meteorological agency AccuWeather estimated that Harvey’s costs will exceed $190 billion, or about 1 percent of US gross domestic product.

Trump visits victims

Trump, who two weeks ago rescinded flood safety policy for federal infrastructure,  on Saturday visited a Houston shelter, alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott, and chatted with displaced residents, including children – defying criticism from his first visit last Tuesday when he failed to meet with victims.

Trump on Saturday helped pass out relief supplies provided by Feed the Children and Red Cross, remarking to a volunteer coordinator: “I like doing this,” and noting to first lady Melanie Trump, “This is good exercise.”

“Is he going to help? Can he help,” asked Devon Harris, 37, a construction worker sheltering at Houston’s NRG convention center. “I’ve lost my home. My job is gone. My tools are gone. My car is gone. My life is gone. What is Trump going to do?”

President visits neighboring Louisiana

Arriving later at Lake Charles, Louisiana, where Harvey also dumped heavy rain, Trump told reporters that he hoped his request for immediate aid would be quickly approved by Congress when it returned from its five-week recess on Tuesday.

As water levels receded, numerous residents of Beaumont, a city of 120,000 east of Houston remained without piped water and waited in long vehicle queues to receive cases of bottled water.

Residents were urged to boil water before consumption.

Engineers are trying to restore service after two intakes of Beaumont’s main water system were left damaged by the swollen Neches River.

Several hundred frustrated residents of Katy, a subdivision west of Houston, waved signs Saturday, demanding to be told when they would be able to return to their homes, which were still swamped because of reservoir releases of storm water.

The Associated Press quoted many as accusing authorities of sacrificing their homes to save others. Homeowner Sheetal Parwal, said her home was now a swamp and the family had less than when it immigrated from India 10 years ago.

Dioxin leaks from dump sites?

Focus also remained on more than a dozen petrochemical waste dumps outlying Houston, known as Superfund sites, designated as being among America’s most contaminated places.

At Crosby, northeast of Houston and near the San Jacinto River, Associated Press said a small neighborhood between two Superfund sites had virtually disappeared.

Only a single house from among a dozen was still standing. A sinkhole the size of a swimming pole had opened up and swallowed two cars. Creosote odor filled the air, AP reported.

A resident with dog on the leash walk through knee-high floodwaters (Reuters/J. Bachmann)Are the floodwaters contaminated?

Another site east of Houston – the San Jacinto Waste Pits near the town of Highlands – had been covered by floodwaters so intense that an adjacent Interstate highway bridge had been closed in case it collapsed.

AP cited a federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report of September last year which found that the riverbank site contained deposits of old paper mill waste containing dioxins and other long-lasting toxins that could become “highly mobile in a severe storm.”

The EPA assessment said intense flooding could damage the site’s protective cap, resulting in the “release of contaminants from the Site.”

“If floodwaters have spread the chemicals in the waste pits then dangerous chemicals like dioxin could be spread around the wider Houston area, warned Kara Cook-Schultz of the consumer health and safety advocacy group TexPIRG.

ipj/sms (dpa, Reuters, AP, AFP)

As Texans Return to Flood-Hit Homes, Many Say ‘Our House Is History’

September 3, 2017

HOUSTON — As flood waters recede from Hurricane Harvey, thousands are set to return to their homes on Sunday to survey damage from unprecedented flooding that devastated densely populated areas of Texas, as worries mount about health risks.

Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in 50 years, is expected to be one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, having displaced more than 1 million people and leaving wreckage in an area stretching for more than 300 miles (480 kms) which officials said would take years to repair.

Thirteen Superfund sites, heavily contaminated former industrial zones, in Texas were flooded or damaged by Hurricane Harvey, but the full impact on surrounding areas was not immediately clear, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said on Saturday.

Image result for debris from homes piles up, after harvey, houston, photos

The announcement came amid rising concern about the health risks posed by Harvey’s record floodwaters, which contain a toxic soup of chemicals, oil and bacteria from Houston’s notoriously leaky sewer system.

The city of Houston ordered a mandatory evacuation on Sunday for about 4,600 residences in the western sector, where several hundred people have not left their homes and flooding is expected to last for another two weeks.

“Put your own personal safety above your property,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said, adding residents should consider the safety of first responders who would have to handle any emergencies.

The evacuations, put in force by shutting off of power, were set to take effect at 7 a.m. CDT.

Image result for debris from homes piles up, after harvey, houston, photos

The damage from the storm is also posing an economic and humanitarian challenge for U.S. President Donald Trump, who visited Houston on Saturday and met some of the thousands of people in evacuation shelters and rescue workers who have helped shuttle survivors to safety.

The visit gave Trump an opportunity to show an empathetic side, after some criticized him for staying clear of the disaster zone during a Texas visit on Tuesday. Trump said he did not want to hamper rescue efforts.

Late Saturday night, Trump tweeted “Just got back to the White House from the Great States of Texas and Louisiana, where things are going well. Such cooperation & coordination!”

The Trump administration on Friday asked Congress for a $7.85 billion appropriation for response and initial recovery efforts. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who accompanied the Trumps, has said his state may need more than $125 billion.


Image result for debris from homes piles up, after harvey, houston, photos

For many in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy as large as Argentina’s, losses to individual families were cataclysmic.

In a neighborhood in east Houston, streets were lined with 8-foot (2.4 meter) piles of soggy debris, including mattresses, carpets and other belongings ripped out of homes.

Adrian Rodriguez returned on Saturday to his flood-hit home there where he lives with his wife and three young boys.

“I lost everything. All my children’s pictures of them growing up. Their birthday pictures. Vacation pictures. Their school projects of what they wanted to be when they grow up,” he said.

“There is furniture on the sidewalk that I’m still paying for,” he said. “Everything in the house is history.”

Many areas were still battling floodwaters from swollen rivers that were expected to last for a week or more. In Beaumont, about 85 miles (140 km) east, officials were trying to repair a flood-damaged pumping station that caused the city of about 120,000 people to lose drinking water for days.

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As of Saturday morning, nearly 200,000 homes have suffered flood damage and about 12,600 were destroyed, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The storm shut about a fourth of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

Meanwhile a new storm, Irma, strengthened on Friday into a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale.

It remained more than 1,000 miles from the Leeward Islands, where residents were advised to monitor its progress. The National Hurricane Center said in an advisory late Saturday night it was still much too early to determine what direct impact it might have on the Bahamas and the continental United States.

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Ruthy Munoz, Ernest Scheyder, Daniel Trotta and Catherine Ngai and Emily Flitter in Houston, Steve Holland in Washington and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Writing by Jon Herskovitz, editing by Chris Michaud)

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Vice President Mike Pence helps with clean up.

In devastated Houston, ‘nobody hates anybody’ as people come together

September 2, 2017


© AFP / by Elodie CUZIN | Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association members remove flood damaged drywall from a home in the Westbury neighborhood of southwest Houston, Texas

HOUSTON (AFP) – The traffic jams are back on the vast highways lacing through the heart of Houston, and the sun is shining again.

Many Houstonians are still trying to salvage what they can from their flooded homes. But one word captures the mood in the most racially diverse US city: solidarity.

“Come on in!” calls Sarah Osborne without a moment’s hesitation, as she opens the door to her red brick home, a US flag planted on a tree near the entrance.

Standing before her — hammers in hand, dust masks around their neck — are four young men who introduce themselves as members of Ahmadiyya, of the Ahmadi sect, the oldest Muslim-American organization in the United States.

Since Hurricane Harvey struck Texas a week ago unleashing a deluge that flooded Houston, youths from the organization — which has some 700 members in Houston and 5,000 throughout the country — have gathered to help storm victims.

Wearing a work apron over his jeans, a cap and fluo sneakers, the dynamic Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association spokesman Rahman Nasir says that his members have rescued some 20 families by boat. As the flood waters recede they have also helped clear debris from 20 to 30 homes.

At Sarah and Robert Osborne’s house the youths use their hammers to tap open the bottom of the walls and pull out waterlogged drywall. With a wheelbarrow, they dump loads of debris onto the pavement in Houston’s Westbury neighborhood.

Ruined furniture, soggy carpet and cracked mirrors litter the neighborhood lawns — scenes repeated everywhere as neighbors, friends and previously unknown volunteers help carry out household items, either to dry in the sun or to be removed as trash.

– Texas stigma –

“That’s the spirit of this city, everybody is just helping everybody,” says Sarah Osborne. “People just help each other. That doesn’t matter, the color of your skin, or where you’re from, or what your religion is, or whatever.”

Her husband Robert adds: “There’s a stigma in Texas that we’re racists, we’re white, that we’re anti-Muslims or anti-homosexuals or just anti-everything, we’re Bible-thumping, shot-gun blasting — and it couldn’t be further from the truth about Houston, because our city is so diverse.”

Census figures show that Houston is the most racially diverse city in the United States, more even than New York and Los Angeles.

Nasir, a 23-year-old student who grew up in Houston, agrees with Robert.

“If we were to believe the news, I would get a slammed door in my face. But in reality people welcome us and welcome our service,” he said.

Beyond the expressions of solidarity, the trauma of sudden loss is also evident in this neighborhood.

Moved upon seeing her child’s artwork still attached to a cupboard about to be thrown out, Kelsey Johnson confides she wants to leave the house she shares with her husband DeAndre and their two children.

“How it hit Houston as a whole, I think is pretty overwhelming to a lot of people,” said Tom Cosgrove, 32, a property manager who arrived Friday morning from Austin, the state capital, to help his aunt.

“Driving around this neighborhood you can just see how many people get devastated, and honestly there are probably still people in their homes who just don’t know what to do yet,” he said.

Behind him, his aunt, 54-year-old Lisa Plack, is scrubbing metal dishes in a tub near wet chairs and sofas that are drying out on the lawn.

“We’re seriously exhausted,” she said. “But the way people come together, it’s very satisfying. Just the community spirit.”

“You hear nothing but bad press, you hear nothing but, you know, this group hates this group, and then you find out: nobody hates anybody. Everybody comes together.”

by Elodie CUZIN

Trump to Visit Victims of Unprecedented Floods in Texas and Louisiana

September 2, 2017

HOUSTON — President Donald Trump travels to Houston and Lake Charles, Louisiana on Saturday to meet victims of catastrophic storm Harvey, one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history that is presenting a test of his administration.

While Trump visits, attention will also be focused on Minute Maid Park, where baseball’s Houston Astros play their first home games since Harvey devastated the fourth-most populous U.S. city. The Saturday doubleheader with the New York Mets is expected to be wrought with emotion and punctuated with moments to honor the dozens who died as a result of Harvey.

The storm, one of the costliest to hit the United States, has displaced more than 1 million people, with 50 feared dead from flooding that paralyzed Houston, swelled river levels to record highs and knocked out the drinking water supply in Beaumont, Texas, a city of 120,000 people.

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Interstate 10 at Market is shown blocked by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017, in Houston.

Hurricane Harvey came ashore last Friday as the strongest storm to hit Texas in more than 50 years. Much of the damage took place in the Houston metropolitan area, which has an economy about the same size as Argentina’s.

Seventy percent of Harris County, which encompasses Houston, at one point was covered with 18 inches (45 cm) or more of water, county officials said.

For graphic on Harvey’s energy impact, click

For graphic on hurricane costs, click

For graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click

Trump first visited the Gulf region on Tuesday, but stayed clear of the disaster zone, saying he did not want to hamper rescue efforts. Instead, he met with state and local leaders, and first responders.

He was criticized, however, for not meeting with victims of the worst storm to hit Texas in 50 years, and for largely focusing on the logistics of the government response rather than the suffering of residents.

The White House said Trump will first travel to Houston to meet with flood survivors and volunteers who assisted in relief efforts and then move on to Lake Charles, another area hammered by the storm.

The Trump administration in a letter to Congress asked for a $7.85 billion appropriation for response and initial recovery efforts. White House homeland security adviser Tom Bossert has said aid funding requests would come in stages as more became known about the impact of the storm.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that his state may need more than $125 billion.

The storm, which lingered around the Gulf of Mexico Coast for days, dumped record amounts of rain and left devastation across more than 300 miles (480 km) of the state’s coast.

As water receded, many returned to survey the damage and left hundreds of thousands wondering how they can recover.

In Orange, Texas, about 125 miles (200 kms) east of Houston, Sam Dougharty, 36, returned on Friday where waist-high water remained in his backyard and barn.

His family’s house smelled like raw sewage and was still flooded to the ankles. A calf and a heifer from their herd of 15 were dead. The chickens were sagging on the top two roosts of their coop.

“We never had water here. This is family land. My aunt’s owned it for 40 years and never had water here,” he said.


Harvey came on the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which killed about 1,800 around New Orleans. Then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s administration was roundly criticized for its botched early response to the storm.

Some of the tens of thousands of people forced into shelters by Harvey will attend the Astros game where Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner will throw out the first pitch and a moment of silence in planned for those who perished.

Sports have helped other cities rebound from catastrophe, such as when the New York Mets played the first baseball game in their damaged city 10 days after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or when the New Orleans Saints returned to the Superdome in 2006 for football a year after Hurricane Katrina.

In the Harris County town of Clear Creek, the nearly 50 inches (127 cm) of rain that fell there equated to a once in a 40,000 year event, Jeff Lindor, meteorologist with the Harris County Flood Control District, said.

Some 440,000 Texans have already applied for federal financial disaster assistance, and some $79 million has been approved so far, Abbott said.

The storm shut about a fourth of U.S. refinery capacity, much of which is clustered along the Gulf Coast, and caused gasoline prices to spike to a two-year high ahead of the long Labor Day holiday weekend.

The national average for a gallon of regular gasoline has risen 17 cents since the storm struck, hitting $2.519 as of Friday morning, according to motorists group AAA.

Meanwhile a new storm, Irma, had strengthened on Friday into a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. It remained hundreds of miles from land but was forecast to possibly hit Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti by the middle of next week.

For graphic on Harvey’s energy impact, click

For graphic on hurricane costs, click

For graphic on storms in the North Atlantic, click

(Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis, Ernest Scheyder, Ruthy Munoz, Peter Henderson and Andy Sullivan in Houston, Steve Holland in Washington, David Gaffen in New York, Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Jon Herskovitz and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

The American Spirit Is Alive in Texas — Give Texas everything it needs, and do it right quick.

September 1, 2017

Give Texas what it needs. It has endured a disaster without precedent. Washington must move quickly, generously. There should be no “The relief bill must be offset by cuts in federal spending.” There should be no larding it up or loading it down with extraneous measures. This is an emergency.

This is no time to threaten government shutdowns. It’s no time to be dilating on debt ceilings. This is the time to know as never before that everything that holds us together as a nation must be strengthened wherever possible, and whatever sinks us in rancor avoided and shunned.

Give Texas everything it needs, and do it right quick.

Most Americans, including Texans, don’t have more than a few hundred dollars in available savings. Most live close to the edge, paycheck to paycheck. Most homeowners in Houston don’t have flood insurance. When they’re lucky enough to get out of the shelter, they’ll return to houses that are half-ruined—wet, moldy, dank, with no usable furniture—and with kids coming down with colds and stomach ailments from stress or from standing water that holds bacteria and viruses. It will be misery for months. When the trauma is over, there’ll be plenty of time for debate. Do we need to hold more in reserve for national disasters? Do local zoning laws need rethinking? All worthy questions—for later.

There is such a thing as tact. It has to do with a sense of touch—an ability to apprehend another’s position or circumstances, and doing or saying the right thing. There is, believe it or not, such a thing as political tact. It too involves knowing the positions of others, and knowing what time it is.

Politicians, don’t use this disaster to score points or rub your ideology in somebody’s face or make your donors smile by being small, not big.

Give Texas what it needs. Keep the government up and running. Don’t even consider doing otherwise.

Now another subject, which ties back to Houston. A lot of people this week were saying, “You should see that Mattis speech.” A frequent answer was: “I did. I play it over and over.”

A week or so ago, probably in Jordan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had an impromptu meeting with what looked like a few dozen U.S. troops. Someone taped it. This is what Mr. Mattis said: “Hold the line.”

“For those of you I haven’t met, my name’s Mattis,” he began. “Thanks for being out here, OK? I know at times you wonder if any of us know . . . but believe me, I know you’re far from home every one of you, I know you could all be going to college you young people, or you could be back on the block. [We’re] just grateful. . . .

“The only way this great big experiment you and I call America is gonna survive is if we’ve got tough hombres like you. . . . We don’t frickin’ scare, that’s the bottom line.

“You’re a great example for our country right now. It’s got some problems—you know it and I know it. It’s got problems that we don’t have in the military. And you just hold the line, my fine young soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines. You just hold the line until our country gets back to understanding and respecting each other and showing it, of being friendly to one another. That’s what Americans owe to one another—we’re so doggone lucky to be Americans.”

He ended: “I flunked retirement, OK? Only reason I came back was to serve alongside young people like you, who are so selfless and frankly so rambunctious.”

This was the voice of true moral authority, authority earned through personal sacrifice. Speeches like that come only from love.

But it was particularly poignant that Mattis’s speech, with its refrain—“Hold the line”—spread so far and fast this week.

And so, to selfless and frankly rambunctious Texas:

If you gave just a few minutes to the news, you saw it all—the generosity and courage, the sense of community, of people who really care about each other. You saw the pontoons and air mattresses and bass boats and rowboats and pool floats in which people were rescued. No one knows how many were saved or how many saved them. Every disaster at some point becomes a jumble, and people stopped counting. But surely tens of thousands were saved.

We all saw it, often live, on television and the internet because of excellent reporters and crews:

A mother with little children was marooned, the water in her home rising dangerously. “I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t know if it was going to be too late.” Suddenly, there were men outside the house coming for her. “It was just an angel,” she said as she wept from the back of their boat.

Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo honored Steve Perez, the 60-year-old cop who drowned in his patrol car. When Mr. Acevedo spoke to Perez’s widow, she told him she’d begged her husband not to go in but he’d told her, “We’ve got work to do.” The chief told her: You know who he was, if he had to die, he wouldn’t want it to be home in bed, he would have wanted it to be on the job and trying to help. “Because he has that in his DNA,” said Mr. Acevedo.

On one channel they were looking for what they’d heard was a group of abandoned horses being led through the streets by a guy in a jet ski. In Columbia Lakes a local man showed a reporter the homemade barrier he’d built to protect his neighbors in case the levee broke. He wasn’t afraid: “We don’t do drama.”

On Facebook there was the story of the woman who went into labor while the waters quickly rose. Word spread through the apartment complex. Soon a huge, heavy truck made its way to her door. Neighbors formed a human chain to help her out. She got to the hospital and gave birth to a girl.

There were a lot of human chains. And often when they showed people being pulled from houses the families were all ethnicities and races, the whole American mix—black mamas, white papas, mixed kids, an Asian child. On the national level America always sounds like a constant argument over race. On the local level, meantime, everybody has been happily integrating in the most personal possible ways.

The local ABC station caught a young Catholic priest, a French Canadian assigned to a Houston parish, out in a kayak in heavy rain looking for people who could use a Mass. “I guess this is how the Americas were evangelized as well with a canoe,” he said, “and this is a kayak. I hope that can bring a smile to a few people.” Noticing the TV cameras, he said: “I guess we’re live. The Lord is alive, and the Lord is always with us as well.”

And of course there was the Cajun Navy, from Louisiana, performing its own spontaneous Dunkirk. Texas had taken them in after Katrina. Now it was “Sam Houston, we are here.”

We are a great nation. We forget. But what happened in Texas reminded us. It said: My beloved America you’re not a mirage, you’re still here.

If they’d done only that, they’d deserve whatever they need.

They held the line.