Washington, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump is circling back to his claim that the death toll from Hurricane Maria last year was inflated and says the number rose to 3,000 "like magic."
He also complained Friday that the Puerto Rican government commissioned an independent study by researchers from a Washington-based university to determine how many people died in the storm. He says, "This method was never done with previous hurricanes because other jurisdictions know how many people were killed."
Trump tweeted that the number of dead climbed from 16 to 64 "over many months." He says, "Then, like magic, '3000 PEOPLE KILLED.'"
He wrote: "FIFTY TIMES LAST ORIGINAL NUMBER - NO WAY!"
Trump's latest grumbling on the Maria death toll comes as Tropical Storm Florence inundates the Carolinas, killing at least four people.
Wilmington, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — One city in North Carolina has picked up more than 23 inches (58 centimeters) of rain in two days from Tropical Storm Florence.
The National Weather Service said on Twitter on Friday night that Morehead City had received 23.04 inches of rain with more heavy rain coming.
Forecasters have issued what they call a a flash flood emergency , saying areas of surrounding Carteret County are flooding that have never flooded before.
Forecasters say it is especially dangerous after dark because people trying to escape may not realize how deep flood water is on roads.
Officials recommend anyone whose home starts to flood get to the highest point they can and call 911.
About 500 people had to be rescued in flooding early Friday in New Bern, which is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Morehead City.
Forecasters say an additional 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain is possible through the night.
Honolulu, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — The vast majority of Hawaii's state-regulated dams are considered to have "high hazard potential," according to a 2017 infrastructure report by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
One of the 124 dams given that classification is one in Honolulu that prompted an evacuation warning Thursday amid heavy rains. Later in the day, officials said the century-old reservoir wasn't in immediate danger of collapsing.
Hawaii has 132 state-regulated dams.
The hazard potential isn't an indication of the condition of a dam, but that the consequences if it failed would cause deaths or significant property damage, said Mark Ogden, a member of the report committee and a technical specialist with the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
"Our dams are aging and deteriorating, while downstream populations are increasing," the association said in a Hawaii dam safety performance report . "Thousands of U.S. dams have the potential to fail with tragic consequences."
The last time there was a fatal dam failure in Hawaii was in 2006, when seven people were killed after the Ka Loko dam on the island of Kauai collapsed and hundreds of gallons of water rushed downhill. Ogden said as far as he knows that's the last fatal dam failure in the United States.
Hawaii's Legislature expanded the state's dam safety program after the Ka Loko breach, said Edwin Matusda, who heads Hawaii's flood control and dam safety program. The infrastructure report noted that 98 percent of Hawaii's state-regulated dams have an emergency action plan.
Workers plan to keep pumping water throughout the weekend and into next week as needed from the dam in Nuuanu, a residential neighborhood near downtown Honolulu, said Kathleen Elliot-Pahinui, a spokeswoman for the Honolulu Board of Water Supply. The dam was built in 1905.
Water levels in the dam rose 4 to 5 feet (nearly 1.5 meters) overnight as heavy rains from a tropical storm dumped 7.3 inches (18 centimeters) of rain in the area.
The Board of Water Supply, the agency that manages the dam, said plans call for a mandatory evacuation if the water reaches 1 foot (30 centimeters) under the top of the dam.
The water was 5 feet (1.52 meters) below the top of the dam at midday Thursday. It was also 18 inches (45 centimeters) below a spillway. Areas downstream would flood if water goes over the spillway, said Ernie Lau, the agency's chief engineer.
The water was 6.5 feet (1.98 meters) below the top Friday, Elliot-Pahinui said. "We always siphon to keep the water levels low ... well before any storm hits," she said in an email.
There was intermittent rain in the area Friday morning. Meteorologists said there will be passing showers in the coming days, but heavy rains aren't likely.
There's not much that can be done to reduce the number of high-hazard dams— other than removing them, Matsuda said. The rise of development downstream of dams is especially true in Honolulu, where people live on a small island.
Climate change is also a concern.
"We are noticing that the hydrology in the islands is starting to change due to climate change, and so it's becoming more frequent that you have these ... rainfall events," Matusda said.
Some dams are being retrofitted to increase the spillway, he said.
Matsuda noted that while dams may have high hazards, they are also valuable resources for the islands including for hydropower and recharging aquifers.
The Nuuanu dam was built for hydroelectricity, but it isn't currently being used for anything, Elliot-Pahinui said. Officials hope to repurpose it as a part of a hydroelectric project, she said.
Tuguegarao, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — Philippine officials were assessing damage and checking on possible casualties as Typhoon Mangkhut on Saturday pummeled the northern breadbasket with ferocious wind and rain that set off landslides, damaged an airport terminal and ripped off tin roofs.
There are no immediate deaths reported but Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said officials in northeastern Cagayan province, where the typhoon slammed ashore before dawn, were verifying the drownings of two children. Authorities were also checking what happened to about 70 men who reportedly returned to their coastal village to check on their homes during dangerous storm surges that saw walls of seawater whipped inland.
Mangkhut's sustained winds weakened to 170 kilometers (105 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 260 kph (161 mph) after it sliced across Luzon Island's flood-prone rice plains and mountain provinces toward the South China Sea, aiming at southern China and Hong Kong, where residents braced for the worst.
"It's still a life and death situation," Lorenzana said by telephone, citing past drownings in swollen rivers in mountain provinces.
Storm warnings remained hoisted in 10 northern provinces, including Cagayan, which could still be lashed by devastating winds, forecasters said. Tens of thousands of people on the typhoon's path had been evacuated.
At daybreak in Cagayan's capital, Tuguegarao, Associated Press journalists saw a severely damaged public market, its roof ripped apart and wooden stalls and tarpaulin canopies in disarray. Outside a popular shopping mall, debris was scattered everywhere and government workers clearing roads of fallen trees.
Many stores and houses were damaged but most residents remained indoors as occasional gusts sent small pieces of tin sheets and other debris flying dangerously.
Tuguegarao airport terminal was badly damaged, its roof and glass windows shattered by strong wind, which also sent chairs, tables and papers flipping about inside, Lorenzana said.
The typhoon struck at the start of the rice and corn harvesting season in Cagayan, a major agricultural producer, prompting farmers to scramble to save what they could of their crops, Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba said.
A government damage assessment was underway except in areas still being battered by wind and rain. Two air force C-130 cargo planes and 10 helicopters were on standby in Manila to help transport rescuers and aid supplies.
More than 5 million people were at risk from the storm, which the Hawaii-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center downgraded from a super typhoon but one that's still punching powerful winds and gusts equivalent to a category 4 Atlantic hurricane.
In Hong Kong, Security Minister John Lee Ka-chiu urged residents to prepare for the worst as Mangkhut barreled toward the southern Chinese city.
Cathay Pacific said all flights will be canceled between 2:30 a.m. local time on Sunday and 4 a.m. Monday.
"Because Mangkhut will bring winds and rains of extraordinary speeds, scope and severity, our preparation and response efforts will be greater than in the past," Lee told a briefing on Friday. "Each department must have a sense of crisis, make a comprehensive assessment and plan, and prepare for the worst."
In nearby Fujian province, 51,000 people were evacuated from fishing boats and around 11,000 vessels returned to port on Saturday morning.
China's National Meteorological Center issued an alert saying Mangkhut would make landfall somewhere on the coast in Guangdong province on Sunday afternoon or night, packing strong winds and heavy rains.
Ferry services in the Qiongzhou Strait in southern China were halted on Saturday and helicopters and tugboats dispatched to Guangdong to transfer offshore workers to safety and warn ships about the typhoon, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.
Mangkhut, the Thai word for mangosteen fruit, is the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines, which is hit by about 20 a year and is considered one of the world's most disaster-prone countries.
Typhoon Haiyan left more than 7,300 people dead or missing, flattened villages, swept ships inland and displaced more than 5 million in the central Philippines in 2013.
Los Angeles, Sept 15 (AP/UNB) — A Colombian drug kingpin who participated in a violent ring that used planes, speedboats and submarines to smuggle hundreds of millions of dollars in cocaine faced federal trafficking charges Friday in a Los Angeles courtroom, prosecutors said.
Victor Hugo Cuellar-Silva is among nearly four dozen defendants charged in a vast conspiracy to ship tons of cocaine from South America through Mexico to the U.S.
The indictment unsealed Thursday was unique in targeting people throughout the drug distribution chain from the source of where the coke was produced in Colombia to investors in Mexico, transportation coordinators, houses where the drugs were stashed and to large scale distributors in the U.S., federal prosecutors said.
Cuellar-Silva, who was extradited Thursday from Colombia, was a high-ranking member of the drug ring headed by Mexican fugitive Angel Humberto Chavez-Gastelum, who is one of the most-wanted drug traffickers in the world, prosecutors said.
Chavez-Gastelum and his son, Alonso Jaime Gastelum-Salazar, are also charged in the indictment with two counts of murder in Mexico. One of the victims was tortured and dismembered, and the grisly act was shot on video obtained by investigators, prosecutors said.
"This drug ring has spread death and misery across the Americas and to other parts of the world, which makes this case among the most significant drug trafficking cases ever brought in this district," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said.
Authorities seized more than 7,700 pounds (3,500 kilograms) of cocaine with a street value over $500 million during the three-year investigation.
The seizures included cocaine recovered after a plane was shot down by the Venezuelan military and crashed in the Caribbean, Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Barron said.
Other drugs seized included nearly a ton of cocaine (833 kilograms) floating in bales off the coast of Tumaco, Colombia, and more than 1,500 pounds (700 kilograms) of cocaine and over 60 pounds (30 kilograms) of methamphetamine seized in a Tijuana, Mexico, house.
The indictment charged 47 people in the drug operation. Seven defendants were arrested in the U.S. on Thursday, four were in custody in Thailand and about a half-dozen were facing extradition from Colombia. The others remained at large.
Cuellar-Silva pleaded not guilty and was held in custody, Barron said. A defense lawyer representing him said he had no comment.
If convicted of the charges, Cuellar-Silva and Chavez-Gastelum face up to life in prison, prosecutors said.