Earthquakes ease on Spain’s La Palma as volcano alert remains

By Borja Suarez

LA PALMA, Spain (Reuters) – A surge in seismic activity on the Spanish Canary Island of La Palma has slowed in the past day but could return at any moment, authorities said on Friday, as they kept almost half the island’s population on yellow alert for an eruption.

“The decrease in seismic activity may be transient and does not necessarily imply a halt to the reactivation,” the regional emergency services said in a statement after a meeting with politicians, volcano experts and civil defense authorities.

Scientists have recorded more than 4,000 tremors in the Cumbre Vieja national park in the south of the island, prompting authorities to declare a yellow alert for eruption on Tuesday, the second of a four-level alert system.

The yellow alert affects some 35,000 people in the regions of Fuencaliente, Los Llanos de Aridane, El Paso y Mazo.

Authorities on Friday advised people in those areas to prepare an emergency backpack with vital supplies and a mobile phone in case an evacuation is ordered.

So-called “earthquake swarms” are common on volcanic island chains such as the Canaries, said Eduardo Suarez, a volcanologist with Spain’s National Geographic Institute on neighboring Tenerife.

“What is noteworthy this time is that normally they occur between the crust and the mantle, at a depth of around 20 kilometers, now in some zones they are between 1km-3km from the surface,” he said.

More than 11 million cubic meters (388 million cubic feet) of magma have seeped into Cumbre Vieja, around a quarter of the amount expelled during the last major eruption in 1971.

(Reporting by Borja Suarez in La Palma and Nathan Allen in Madrid; Additional reporting by Emma Pinedo; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Over 10,000 mostly Haitian migrants sleeping under Texas bridge, more expected

By Alexandra Ulmer

CIUDAD ACUÑA, Mexico (Reuters) – Haitians fleeing a country hammered by political turmoil and two natural disasters made up most of over 10,000 migrants sleeping on the ground and desperate for food in a squalid camp under a bridge in southern Texas on Friday, in a growing humanitarian and political challenge for U.S. President Joe Biden.

The Haitians were joined by Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans under the Del Rio International Bridge connecting Mexico to south Texas. They slept under light blankets. A few pitched small tents.

More migrants were expected after long and harrowing journeys through Mexico and Central and South America. Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border said most of the migrants were Haitians.

Several Haitians told Reuters they followed instructions shared on WhatsApp by other Haitians looking for a safe route to avoid being caught by Mexican authorities.

James Pierre, a 28-year-old Haitian interviewed in Del Rio, Texas, shared a WhatsApp list of 15 stops through Mexico – culminating in Ciudad Acuña, just across from Del Rio – that he said was circulating among migrants.

“Those ahead sent directions by phone. I helped people coming behind me,” Pierre said. Still, he said he got lost for days in the mountains and survived on little but water and fruit.

Haiti’s president was assassinated in July and that was in August battered by both a 7.2 magnitude earthquake and a powerful storm.

Del Rio Mayor Bruno Lozano said the number of migrants under the bridge that crosses into Mexico had jumped by around 2,000 during the day on Thursday, from 8,200 in the morning to 10,503 by the evening.

Most of the migrants at the camp appeared to be men, but women nursing or carrying kids also could be seen.

HUNDREDS WADE THROUGH RIO GRANDE

Reuters witnessed hundreds of migrants wading through the shallow Rio Grande River, which divides the two countries, back into Mexico to stock up on essentials they say they are not receiving on the American side.

Two Haitian migrants said a hot meal was provided by U.S. officials on Thursday night but Haitian migrant Paul Marie-Samise, 32, said he missed it.

Temperatures were forecast to stay above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in coming days.

The U.S. Border Patrol said in a statement on Thursday it was increasing staffing in Del Rio and providing drinking water, towels and portable toilets as migrants wait to be transported to U.S. facilities.

Biden, a Democrat who took office in January, pledged a more humane approach to immigration than that of former President Donald Trump, whose fellow Republicans seized on the camp as evidence Biden’s policies were drawing more migrants.

“When you have open borders, this is what happens. This is not humane, this is not compassionate,” said Republican Senator Ted Cruz from Texas in a video on Twitter recorded under the bridge on Thursday.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott, whose administration has arrested migrants for trespassing and is planning to build its own wall on the border after Biden halted Trump’s signature project, said in a tweet on Thursday he would sign a law to increase border security funding in the state to $3 billion.

“We’re trying to fix Biden’s failure,” Abbott tweeted.

U.S. authorities arrested more than 195,000 migrants at the southwest border in August, according to government data released on Wednesday, a slight dip from the previous month but still around 20-year-highs.

While Biden rolled back many of Trump’s immigration actions early in his presidency, he left in place a sweeping pandemic-era expulsion policy that has allowed his administration to quickly turn around most migrants caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.

The policy issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been criticized by pro-migrant groups and some Democrats as cutting off legal access to asylum. On Thursday, a U.S. federal judge the policy could no longer be applied to families.

The judge’s order takes effect in 14 days and the Biden administration may appeal.

(Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer in Del Rio, Texas and Ciudad Acuña, Mexico; Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Donna Bryson and Howard Goller)

As California fire nears, crews protect world’s largest tree in special wrap

By Fred Greaves

THREE RIVERS, Calif. (Reuters) – Fire crews have resorted to wrapping the bases of some giant sequoias in fire-resistant coverings in a desperate effort to save the towering specimens, including the General Sherman, the world’s largest tree, the National Park Service said on Friday.

The blaze, one of dozens to erupt across several western states in a fire season that got off to an early start, forced the closing earlier this week of Sequoia National Park and left a dense layer of smoke in the area early on Friday.

Air quality was poor in the small town of Three Rivers, which is near a park entrance and about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, according to the town’s website.

The so-called KNP Complex fire, formed by the merger of two other wildfires, had grown to more than 9,000 acres (3,640 hectares) by late on Thursday, according to the federal Inciweb fire information system.

It was burning about a mile (1.6 km) from the park’s Giant Forest, home to the largest tree on earth by volume, dubbed General Sherman, before 115 employees evacuated the park earlier this week, the park service said.

“Crews are preparing the Giant Forest before the fire reaches that area, by removing fuel and applying structure wrap on some of the iconic monarch sequoias that characterize the most famous area of Sequoia National Park,” the park service said in a statement early on Friday.

The General Sherman tree towers over 2,000 other giant sequoias in the park at 275 feet (83 m) and is over 36 feet (11 m) in diameter at its base, according to the park service.

Crews of 482 firefighters, aided by aircraft, are battling the week-old blaze, which was started by lightning and is burning in difficult-to-reach steep canyons, fueled by dry timber and chaparral, the Inciweb system said.

Maximum wind gusts of about 40 miles per hour (65 kph) have been hampering firefighters, but a predicted cooling trend is expected to aid their battle, it said.

The KNP Complex is one of at least 28 fires in California and 129 across several western states that have erupted since June in a fire season that traditionally begins in late summer, according to Inciweb data.

Other steps the park service said it has taken to protect the sequoias are prescribed burns, which would reduce the amount of available fuel in case KNP complex reaches them.

(Writing and additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

COVID-19 victims remembered on Washington’s National Mall with 650,000 white flags

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An exhibition of white flags representing Americans who have died of COVID-19 opened on Friday, covering more than 20 acres of the National Mall in Washington.

Last year, artist Suzanne Brennan Firstenberg created an outdoor installation in Washington comprised of more than 267,000 white flags – one for every person in the United States who had died from COVID-19.

This year, she has reprised her work. Now, there are some 650,000 flags placed on the National Mall.

“When numbers get so large, it becomes difficult to really understand them, so I as a visual artist wanted to make the number physical,” she said as she oversaw its construction on Wednesday.

“Taken holistically, this is a physical manifestation of empathy,” said Firstenberg during the opening ceremony of the art installation on Friday.

The exhibition, entitled “In America: Remember,” will remain on display through Oct. 3, 2021.

It features 43 sections of white flags and 3.8 miles (6 km) of walking paths, as well as white benches where visitors can stop to reflect, according to the artist’s website.

People can also dedicate an individual flag to a loved one lost to COVID-19, either in person or online.

“Once you take one flag and think about all the grief that is embodied by that flag, then you lift your gaze. That’s the power of this art – understanding the immensity of our loss,” said Firstenberg, adding that the flags are meant to mimic the headstones at Arlington National Cemetery.

For days, teams of workers – including Firstenberg – spent hours under the hot sun installing the thousands of flags individually by hand.

She said she had been deeply moved and motivated by the public’s response.

“I was just so intent on planting all these flags and making people understand, that once people began laying on top of my art their own grief and experiences, it became truly overwhelming,” Firstenberg said.

Her website bills this year’s work as the largest participatory art exhibition on the National Mall since the presentation of the AIDS Quilt, which began in the 1980s.

Firstenberg hopes that this year’s exhibition will give Americans space to ponder the human toll of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There were times when I quested to just be alone with my flags last fall when I first did this iteration of the art,” she said. “Because I just had to find a quiet space to deal with all the pain that my art was representing.”

(Reporting by Vanessa Johnston and Gershon Peaks; Editing by Diane Craft)

Cuba struggles to keep the lights on given decrepit grid

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuban state media said on Friday that the intermittent blackouts that have plagued the island since June are caused by an aging power infrastructure and lack of proper maintenance and cautioned that residents should be prepared for more in the coming months.

The power outages reflect a deepening economic crisis that began with harsh new U.S. sanctions in 2019 and worsened with the pandemic, exposing such vulnerabilities as a decaying infrastructure and dependence on foreign currency from tourism and remittances to purchase food, medicine, raw materials and spare parts.

“No one should think the problem will be solved quickly,” Energy and Mining Minister Livan Arronte Cruz was quoted as stating during a discussion of the power grid with other officials broadcast by state-run television on Thursday evening.

The participants said Cuban power plants averaged 35 years of age, with a backup system of hundreds of smaller generators at least 15 years old and that just 5% of power came from alternative energy sources.

The blackouts bring back memories of the post-Soviet depression of the 1990s, when lights were off more than they were on due to fuel shortages. Nowadays, the outages are not a daily occurrence, rarely last longer than four hours and are due to infrastructure failure.

The minister and other energy officials have appeared frequently to explain the power situation since a day of protests over living conditions swept the country on July 11, sparked in part by blackouts.

The government explanations offered on Thursday included how and why power outages were carried out, details on specific neighborhoods and how citizens can help by doing little things like turning off a single light or opening their refrigerators less often.

Cuba’s economy declined 10.9% last year and 2% through June this year compared with the same period in 2020, after years of stagnation.

Cubans have withstood more than 18 months of pandemic lockdowns, food and medicine shortages, long lines to purchase scarce goods, high prices and more. With tourism hurting and other vital sources of jobs and funds closed down, the blackouts have only added to the pain and frustration.

Edier Guzman Pacheco, director of power plants on the Communist-run Caribbean island, was quoted as stating during Thursday’s broadcast that the crisis meant funds were scarce for maintenance and that work on two new generators was delayed after suppliers canceled contracts due to new Trump-era U.S. sanctions. This, he said, was leading to lower than capacity output and frequent breakdowns.

“Of the 20 thermo generators in the country, 18 are overdue for light or partial maintenance and 16 capital maintenance,” he said.

Minister Arronte Cruz made no promises as the broadcast concluded except that residents would be kept informed. He said the country was doing everything it could under the circumstances to avoid blackouts and that there were plans in the medium to long term to increase capacity and alternative energy sources.

“No one should think we are doing this intentionally to annoy the people,” he said.

(Reporting by Marc Frank in Havana; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Oil falls as storm-hit U.S. supply trickles back into market

By Stephanie Kelly

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Oil prices fell on Friday as energy companies in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico restarted production after back-to-back hurricanes in the region shut output.

Both Brent and U.S. crude benchmarks were on track for weekly gains of 3.2% and 3.3%, respectively, owing to the recent supply tightness due to the hurricane outages.

Brent crude futures fell 42 cents to $75.25 a barrel by 12:48 p.m. EDT (1648 GMT). U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell 60 cents to $72.01 a barrel.

Friday’s slump came after five straight sessions of rises for Brent. On Wednesday, Brent hit its highest since late July, and U.S. crude hit its highest since early August.

“The reason oil prices reached such highs in the last few days was clearly supply disruptions and drawdowns in inventories, so now that U.S. oil production is returning, oil as expected trades lower,” said Nishant Bhushan, Rystad Energy’s oil markets analyst.

Gulf Coast crude oil exports are flowing again after hurricanes Nicholas and Ida took out 26 million barrels of offshore production. Restarts continued with about 28% of U.S. Gulf of Mexico crude output offline, Reuters reported on Thursday.

The dollar climbed to a multi-week high on Friday, making dollar-denominated crude more expensive for those using other currencies. The dollar got a boost from better-than-expected U.S. retail sales data on Thursday.

U.S. consumer sentiment steadied in early September after plunging the month before to its lowest level in nearly a decade, but consumers remain worried about inflation, a survey showed on Friday.

(Reporting by Stephanie Kelly in New York; additional reporting by Julia Payne in London, Sonali Paul in Melbourne and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore; Editing by David Goodman, Louise Heavens and David Gregorio)

Debt ceiling impasse? Fed’s ‘loathsome’ game plan for the ‘unthinkable’

By Ann Saphir

(Reuters) – Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says failure to raise the U.S. debt limit could lead to the unthinkable: a default on government payment obligations. That’s an outcome the White House on Friday warned could plunge the economy into recession.

If the impasse in Congress over the $28.5 trillion debt limit isn’t resolved before an October deadline, what would the Federal Reserve – the backstop for U.S. financial markets as the lender of last resort – be prepared to do?

As it turns out, Fed Chair Jerome Powell may already have something of a game plan. The country faced a similar crisis over the debt limit in 2011 and again two years later, and at an unscheduled October 2013 meeting, Fed policymakers – including Powell, who was then a Fed governor, and Yellen, who was the Fed’s vice chair – debated possible actions in response.

The plan included a process for managing government payments, given the Fed’s expectation that Treasury would prioritize principal and interest but would make day-by-day decisions on whether to cover other obligations.

Changes to the Fed’s supervision of banks were also planned. Banks would be allowed to count defaulted Treasuries toward risk-capital requirements, and supervisors would work directly with any bank experiencing a “temporary drop in its regulatory capital ratio.” The U.S. central bank would also direct lenders to give leeway to stressed borrowers.

Policymakers also mapped out an approach to managing market strains and financial stability risks stemming from a technical default.

They readily agreed to some measures, including expanding ongoing bond purchases to include defaulted Treasuries, lending against defaulted securities and through the Fed’s emergency lending window, and conducting repurchase operations to stabilize short-term financial markets.

Other actions sketched out in briefing notes and during the meeting were more controversial, including providing direct support to money markets by buying defaulted Treasury bills, or simultaneously selling Treasuries that are not in default and buying ones that are.

Powell described these approaches as “loathsome.”

“The economics of it are right, but you’d be stepping into this difficult political world and looking like you are making the problem go away,” he said at the time.

Powell added, however, that he wouldn’t rule it out in a catastrophic situation, a point also made by several of his colleagues, including Yellen and John Williams, who at the time was San Francisco Fed president and is now head of the New York Fed.

(Reporting by Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)

100 National Guard troops available for Saturday’s Capitol demonstration security -Pentagon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has put 100 National Guard troops on standby to help police protect the Capitol if needed, the Pentagon said on Friday, ahead of Saturday’s planned rally supporting people charged with taking part in the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

Hundreds of far-right demonstrators are expected in the District of Columbia for the “Justice For J6” rally, a reference to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump in an attempt to stop certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

A Pentagon spokesman said the request had been made by the Capitol police and the troops would be based out of the D.C. Armory.

They would be used after local, state and federal law enforcement capabilities had been tapped, the spokesman said.

“The task force will only be deployed upon request of the Capitol Police to help protect the U.S. Capitol Building and Congressional Office buildings by manning building entry points and verifying credentials of individuals seeking access to the building,” the spokesman said.

Police have ramped up security around the Capitol, mindful of the rioters on Jan. 6 who attacked police, smashed windows and climbed into the building, sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence running for safety.

Workers have reassembled a fence that was put up around the white-domed Capitol following that day but was taken down in July.

The fencing separated the lawns of the Capitol grounds from other government landmarks including the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, congressional office buildings and the Capitol Reflecting Pool just west of Capitol Hill, where protesters were scheduled to gather on Saturday.

Travelers arriving at the airport nearest Washington, D.C., will face increased security in the run-up to the rally, the Transportation Security Administration has said.

Police and congressional leaders have said they are prepared for Saturday’s protest. Most members of Congress will be out of town.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Franklin Paul and Dan Grebler)

White House warns of economic catastrophe without action on debt limit

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House warned on Friday that a failure by the U.S. Congress to extend the debt limit could plunge the economy into a recession and could lead to cuts in critical state services.

The government faces an October deadline on the debt limit, after which it may not be able to pay all of its bills without congressional approval.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, and his aides have been trying to broker a deal with Republicans to resolve a showdown over raising the $28.5 trillion federal borrowing limit.

The administration is warning lawmakers that the country risks a new financial crisis and a default on its payment obligations.

“Economic growth would falter, unemployment would rise, and the labor market could lose millions of jobs,” the White House said in a new fact sheet.

For months, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has urged Congress to act, saying cash and “extraordinary measures” being used to temporarily finance the U.S. government will run out in October.

But Republicans, who lost control of the White House in the 2020 election and do not hold the majority in the Senate or the House of Representatives, have balked and placed the potential crisis on Democrats’ shoulders.

“It’s absolutely unspeakable, unthinkable that we would allow the federal government to default on the obligations it has already made,” White House economic adviser Brian Deese told MSNBC on Friday.

“We’re confident that this is going to get done.”

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Steve Holland and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

Blinken: U.S. will help foster further Israeli ties with Arab states

By Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pledged on Friday to encourage more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel as he hosted a virtual meeting with Israeli and Arab counterparts to mark the first anniversary of a set of landmark diplomatic agreements.

The event – held with Blinken’s counterparts from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco – was the Biden administration’s highest-profile embrace of the so-called Abraham Accords, which were widely seen as a diplomatic success for Republican former President Donald Trump.

Democratic President Joe Biden has backed the deals since taking office in January, and senior aides have said they want more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel after decades of enmity. But the administration until now had been cool to the idea of commemorating the anniversary of the accords.

On Friday, however, Blinken hailed their diplomatic and economic benefits, saying: “This administration will continue to build on the successful efforts of the last administration to keep normalization marching forward.”

He said the Biden administration would help foster Israel’s growing ties with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco – as well as Sudan, which also reached a breakthrough with Israel last year – and would work to deepen Israel’s relationships with Egypt and Jordan, which have long-standing peace deals.

And Blinken said Washington would encourage more countries to follow their lead. “We want to widen the circle of peaceful diplomacy,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid agreed, saying: “This Abraham Accords club is open to new members as well.”

The leaders of Israel, the UAE and Bahrain signed the accords at the White House last September. Israel and Sudan announced in the following month that they would normalize relations, and Morocco established diplomatic ties with Israel in December, after Biden defeated Trump in the U.S. election.

Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.

Some critics said Trump had promoted Arab rapprochement with Israel while ignoring Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

But Blinken, who has sought to repair ties with the Palestinians badly damaged under Trump, said: “We all must build on these relationships and growing normalization to make tangible improvements in the lives of Palestinians, and to make progress toward the long-standing goal of advancing negotiated peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”

(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)