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Hopes Of Survival Fade For Missing U.S. Ship Crew As Search Goes On

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) – The U.S. Coast Guard resumed a search-and-rescue effort for a U.S. cargo ship on Wednesday, but hopes for the mostly American crew were fading six days after it sank in the Bahamas after running into Hurricane Joaquin.

A decision on how much longer the search for the El Faro will continue could be announced on Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard said.

Officials have acknowledged that chances of finding survivors are remote, given that the 790-foot (240-meter) container ship disappeared in the middle of a ferocious storm with winds of 130 miles (215 km) per hour.

So far, the body of only one presumed crew member has been found, amid two large debris fields strewn with life jackets, cargo containers and white polystyrene packing foam.

Safety officials began their investigation on Tuesday into the sinking, with deep seas likely to hamper attempts to find the ship and its 28 American crew members and five Polish contractors.

U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Vice Chairman Bella Dinh-Zarr said her team would look at everything from marine logs to why the ship was caught in a hurricane.

“We will be studying the meteorological conditions and all of the factors that went into the decision-making to sail on that day and to continue to sail,” Dinh-Zarr told a news conference late on Tuesday.

Maritime experts have called the sinking of Tote Maritime Puerto Rico’s El Faro on its weekly run from Jacksonville to San Juan, Puerto Rico, the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than 30 years.

Dihn-Zarr earlier told reporters the probe promised to be difficult since the ship sank in an unknown location, possibly in waters 15,000 feet (4,750 meters) deep. Its last known location was off Crooked Island in the southern Bahamas.

Locating the wreckage would allow investigators to retrieve the vessel’s black box voyage data recorder, which preserves the last 12 hours of engine orders and communications from the bridge and has a 30-day battery life.

Tote Inc Chief Executive Officer Anthony Chiarello and other company officials say they believe an engine problem left the ship disabled in the path of Joaquin just as it was reaching a potentially catastrophic Category Four on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity.

The ship was piled high with containers and also was weighed down with trailers and automobiles below deck, the company said.

(Reporting by David Adams in Miami; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

Debris is seen in the water from the El Faro search area in this handout photo provided by the US Coast Guard, October 6, 2015.  REUTERS/US Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters 

Fourteen Dead As South Carolina Gripped By Historic Flooding

By Colleen Jenkins

(Reuters) – South Carolina grappled with the damage wrought by record rainfall, as the death toll from widespread flooding rose to 14 on Tuesday and residents braced for more evacuations in areas near swollen waterways and dams across the state.

Predictions of sunny skies in coming days provided only small comfort. More than 800 people were living in shelters after floodwater forced them from their homes, and officials said new evacuations were likely as several rivers remained above flood stage and dams were being monitored for breaches.

“We are still in the mode that the next 36 to 48 hours will be volatile,” Governor Nikki Haley told a news conference. “Don’t let the sunshine fool you.”

Officials said about 300 state-maintained roads and 160 bridges remained closed. Haley stressed the need for motorists to mind police barricades on flooded roads after reports of people moving the barricades or driving around them.

The governor said she could not yet estimate the cost of the devastation but noted “the damage is going to be heartbreaking for a lot of people.”

More than 2 feet (60 cm) of rain have fallen since Friday in parts of South Carolina, which avoided a hit from Hurricane Joaquin but experienced historic rainfall and flooding due to a combination of weather conditions mostly unrelated to that storm.

Of the 14 people who died, eight drowned and six were killed in weather-related car crashes, the state Department of Public Safety said. The extended rainstorm also was blamed for two deaths in North Carolina.

In the South Carolina capital of Columbia, which experienced its wettest days on record over the weekend, the University of South Carolina announced it was cancelling classes through Friday due to the flooding.

Though floodwater was receding in some places, officials warned people to remain vigilant. Early Tuesday, emergency responders in Orangeburg County pulled three people to safety in a boat after they were surrounded by rushing water from the North Edisto River, the State newspaper reported.

The highest recorded amount of rain in South Carolina was 26.8 inches (68 cm), which fell over several days in an area just east of Charleston, National Weather Service meteorologist Carl Barnes said.

On Tuesday, Barnes said brighter days were ahead.

“The worst has passed us, in terms of rainfall,” he said. “We’ll definitely have sun and some very welcome drying out for the rest of the week.”

(Reporting by Colleen Jenkins in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Beech)

South Carolina Hit By Torrential Rainfall, Eight Dead

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) – Torrential rainfall that South Carolina’s governor called a once-in-a-millennium downpour triggered flooding in the southeastern U.S. state on Sunday, causing at least eight deaths in the Carolinas.

The storm had dumped more than 18 inches (45 cm) of rain in parts of central South Carolina by early Sunday. The state climatologist forecast another 2 to 6 inches (5 to 15 cm) through Monday as the rain began to slacken.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said parts of the state were hit with rainfall that would be expected to occur once in 1,000 years, with the Congaree River running at its highest level since 1936.

“If you are in your house, stay in your house,” Haley, holding a news conference, told state residents. “This is not something to be out taking pictures of.”

Six weather-related deaths were reported in South Carolina, four of them from traffic accidents. Officials reported another two deaths in North Carolina.

Overnight rains flooded highways along the South Carolina coast between Charleston and Georgetown, the National Weather Service said. Georgetown, population 9,000, was mostly under water, and the four major highways leading into it were closed.

“We have every ambulance in the county out responding to calls. People are being moved from their homes in boats,” Georgetown County spokeswoman Jackie Broach said.

Inland flooding also hit the state capital, Columbia, where the Congaree rose 10 feet (3 m) in 12 hours, according to local officials. Columbia posted a record 8.7 inches (22 cm) of rain in 24 hours ending Sunday afternoon, the weather service said.

State emergency officials urged residents not to travel due to unsafe roads, and curfews were imposed in eight cities or counties, including Columbia. Schools and universities canceled Monday classes.

A 70-mile (112-km) stretch of Interstate 95, a major East Coast highway, was closed because of high water.

The state Highway Patrol reported 315 collisions and 318 cases of roadway flooding. Eight water rescue teams were operating, with more coming from other states, South Carolina’s emergency management office said.

President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina on Saturday, making federal funds available.

Precipitation records fell in many places. In less than four days, Charleston broke its record for the greatest monthly rainfall for October.

Counties reported more than 200 flood rescues since Saturday night, and more are expected, the emergency management office said.

Amtrak, the passenger rail service, canceled its Virginia-to-Florida auto train and a passenger train from New York to Miami due to the flooding.

(Additional reporting by Gene Cherry on Hatteras Island, N.C., and Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Suzannah Gonzales and David Adams; Editing by Eric Walsh, Cynthia Osterman and Jonathan Oatis)

Clare Reigard of Georgetown, South Carolina, abandons her car after it stalled on Duke Street due to heavy rains in Georgetown, South Carolina October 4, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Ten Years After Katrina, Resilient New Orleans Honors Its Victims

By Kathy Finn and Edward McAllister

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) — From the Lower Ninth Ward to the Super Dome, New Orleans launched a day of events on Saturday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, paying tribute to its victims and homage to the city’s resilience in the face of disaster.

The day began with a somber ceremony led by Mayor Mitch Landrieu to remember the 83 “forgotten” victims whose unclaimed bodies now rest in mausoleums at the Hurricane Katrina Memorial, housed in one of the city’s historic above-ground cemeteries.

Katrina killed more than 1,500 people, mostly in flooding that left 80 percent of New Orleans under water. Thirty of the bodies remain unidentified a decade later.

“Though they are unnamed, they are not unclaimed because we claim them,” Landrieu said on a clear morning reminiscent of the calm before storm’s landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

“This has been 10 years of struggle,” said the mayor, who was joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other dignitaries. “But New Orleans is unbowed and unbroken.”

Across town, about 300 people gathered in the Lower Ninth Ward on a grass verge that abuts the Industrial Canal levee that was breached 10 years ago, causing some of the worst floods in the city. The mood was reflective but not downbeat.

Some local residents were in traditional Mardi Gras parade dress, with colorful headdresses. Vendors sold soft drinks and beer from large coolers.

“It is kind of bittersweet. We want to celebrate because we are still here, but a lot of people are not,” said Natasha Green, 36, who lived in the Lower Ninth at the time of the storm. “It is important to remember what we went through here.”

Saturday was the culmination of a week when New Orleans paused to remember the devastation inflicted by the costliest storm in U.S. history. About 130,000 people were displaced by the storm.

“A celebration would not be the right gesture for those who will never be made whole,” said Kristian Sonnier, an official at the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “This is more taking stock and recognizing what we have accomplished and that we have a lot more work to do,” he said.

But the city also wants to give thanks for what many residents see as a remarkable rebound over the past 10 years.

As the day progresses, thousands are expected to turn out as the city’s trademark “second line” parades snake through the streets and New Orleans puts its famous musical traditions on display.

Other hard-hit parts of Louisiana will host memorials as well. At Shell Beach, in lower St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans, public officials and residents gathered along a waterway that burst through a levee in 2005 and killed 127 people. The ceremony will feature a reading of the names of victims, now etched into a monument there.

Similarly, Lakeview, Broadmoor, Mid-City, and a host of other areas are looking back on 2005 with mixed emotions.

A march and hand-holding ceremony is scheduled at the Super Dome, the football arena that housed thousands of displaced people after the storm and became an emblem of the chaos and hardship that engulfed New Orleans after the flooding.

Adding to the mix of emotions, there was an undercurrent of anger in the air, especially in the Lower Ninth, whose recovery has lagged the robust rebound enjoyed in more affluent parts of town.

“We have got to come together,” Malcolm Suber, a veteran city organizer, told the crowd at the Lower Ninth ceremony. “Ten years have gone by and we have not benefited at all.”

(Writing by Frank McGurty; editing by Andrew Roche)

Photo: A brass band performs in Jackson Square one day before the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Louisiana, August 28, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman