California wildfires ravage wine country as death toll rises to 40

SONOMA, California — California wildfires raced toward wineries and the historic town of Sonoma on Saturday, chasing hundreds more people from their homes and threatening to roll back firefighters’ modest gains against fires that stretched across a 100-mile swath of northern California, killing at least 40 people.

Propelled by stiff winds, the fires damaged or destroyed several buildings in the middle of the night before crews halted their advance at the edge of Sonoma, where firefighters spent days digging firebreaks to keep flames from reaching the city’s historic central plaza built centuries ago when the area was under Spanish rule.

Nearly a week after the blazes began, the fires have left 40 people dead and destroyed at least 5,700 homes and businesses, making them the deadliest and most destructive group of wildfires in California history. The death toll rose from 35 on Saturday and authorities expect it to continue to climb.

Some 300 people remain unaccounted for, though officials think they’ll locate most of those people alive.

Most of the deceased are believed to have died late on October 8 or early October 9, when the fires exploded and took people by surprise in the dead of night. Most of the victims were elderly, though they ranged in age from 14 to 100.

“It’s a horror that no one could have imagined,” Gov. Jerry Brown said, after driving past hundreds of “totally destroyed” homes with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

For those living in the huge fire zone, it was another night spent watching, waiting and fearing the worst.

John Saguto said he awoke several hours before dawn at his home east Sonoma to see flames “lapping up” 300 to 500 yards away. He and his neighbors evacuated as firetrucks raced up and down the streets and hot embers flew over their heads.

The fire made “a strong run” into Sonoma and damaged or destroyed additional buildings before firefighters stopped it, said Dave Teter, deputy director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Several homes and other structures near a vineyard east of downtown were in smoldering ruins. Firefighters hosed down embers and knocked down walls that could topple over.

As of Saturday afternoon, Teter said crews did not expect any more losses in that area. But gusts up to 25 mph were forecast for the rest of the day.

In all, 17 large fires still burned across the northern part of the state, with more than 10,000 firefighters attacking the flames using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.

Throughout the day, fires continued to flare and burn through forested areas, engulfing extremely dry vegetation. Air tankers streamed red retardant to halt the spread of flames while other planes and helicopters made targeted water drops.

Signs posted in Sonoma thanked the firefighters. One declared them “heroes among us.”

From the sky, large subdivisions that burned to the ground looked like black and white photos. Each neatly outlined lot is full of ashen rubble. Cars are burned a darker gray. Trees still standing are charred black. Only streets look unscathed.

Brown, 79, and Feinstein, 84, said the fires were the worst of their lifetimes. The two veteran politicians reminded people that the blazes remain a threat and that people need to leave their homes when told to go.

No causes have been determined for the fires, though power lines downed by winds are seen as a possibility.

Some evacuees weary from nearly a week on the run demanded to return home or to see if they still have homes. Plans were in the works to reopen communities, but they were not ready to be put into effect, Teter said.Although some evacuees were returning home in Mendocino County, the latest estimates were that about 100,000 people were under evacuation orders as the fires burned for a sixth day.

Douglas and Marian Taylor stood outside their apartment complex Saturday in Santa Rosa with their two dogs and a sign that said “End evacuation now.”

Their building was unharmed at the edge of the evacuation zone with a police barricade set up across the street. The couple said they are spending about $300 per day to rent a motel and eat out, and they want to return home because the fire does not appear to threaten their home.

At an evacuation center at the fairgrounds in the Sonoma County city of Petaluma, volunteers sorted through mounds of donated baby wipes, diapers, pillows, shoes and clothing.

Randy Chiado and his wife, Barbara, evacuated Monday from the Oakmont section of Santa Rosa. They stayed for several days with a friend in Santa Rosa but left Saturday when flames approached again and sought refuge at the fairgrounds.
“After so many times of ‘It’s coming, get ready. It’s coming, get ready,’ it just gets nerve-wracking,” Barbara Chiado said.

Life away from home has been difficult and dangerous. Randy Chiado said a man who may have suspected he was a looter tried to punch him through his car window and yelled for a friend to get a gun when the Chiados turned onto a residential street after they evacuated their home. He said he was able to push the man off and drive away.

The couple planned to spend the night with other evacuees in a room set up with cots. “It’s like jail,” he said.


Ireland on alert as freak hurricane barrels toward British Isles

LISBON, Portugal — Hurricane Ophelia strengthened to a Category 3 storm as it passed near the Portuguese Azores archipelago on Saturday en route for Ireland.

“We have informed the American hurricane center that Ophelia has become Category 3, but that doesn’t change our levels of alert,” said Elsa Vieira, from the Portuguese Meteorological Institute’s (IPMA) regional service.

Ophelia, packing winds in excess of 180 kilometers per hour (110 miles per hour), passed some 150 kilometers (93 miles) south east of the Azores island of Santa Maria Saturday evening without making landfall, according to the US’s National Hurricane Center.

The storm, which has strengthened to Category 3 on a five category scale, is now expected to head northwest towards Ireland.

Philip Klotzbach, a hurricane specialist at Colorado State University, said Ophelia was “now a major hurricane” and was traveling the farthest east of any Atlantic hurricane on record.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Friday that Ophelia was forecast to produce total rain accumulations of two to four inches (51 to 101 millimeters) over the southeastern Azores through Saturday.

The rainfall could trigger flooding, it warned.

Seven of the nine islands that make up the Azores were placed on red alert by the regional civil protection services between Saturday night due to expected rainfall of 40 millimeters per hour.

The local population, which totals 245,000, was told to stay home if possible during the passage of the hurricane.

All 17 firefighting units on the archipelago were on standby to intervene, a spokeswoman for the security services told AFP.

The authorities imposed traffic restrictions on the islands of Sao Miguel and Santa Maria, which were expected to see the worst of the hurricane.

Ophelia should no longer be a hurricane by the time it reaches Ireland, but will still whip up a powerful storm, the US hurricane center predicted.

Five counties in the west of Ireland will be placed on red alert for “severe” weather conditions from Monday morning to early Tuesday, the Irish Meteorological Service said.

People in those counties are advised “to take action to protect themselves” and their property.

Mean wind speeds in excess of 80 kilometers per hour (50 miles per hour) and gusts in excess of 130 kilometers per hour (80 miles per hour) are expected, potentially causing structural damage and disruption, with dangerous marine conditions due to high seas and potential flooding, the service said.

Parts of the UK, meanwhile, have been placed on yellow alert for Monday and Tuesday, the lowest warning level triggered by “serious” weather conditions.

Wildfires Burn Out of Control Across Northern California; 17 Are Dead


NAPA, Calif. — With roads still blocked by the police and fires still raging across broad swaths of Northern California, Matt Lenzi hiked through smoke-choked vineyards and waded the Napa River to reach the home his father lived in for 53 years. In its place, he found only blackened debris, blackened earth, and ash.

“Every piece of vegetation was gone,” said Mr. Lenzi on Tuesday, after going back in the vain hope of finding the pet cat that his father, Carl Lenzi, who is in his 80s, left behind when he fled for his life. “Even the barbecue melted, and that’s built to take heat.”

The fires ravaging California’s wine country since Sunday night — part of an outbreak of blazes stretching almost the entire length of the state — continued to burn out of control Tuesday, as the toll rose to at least 17 people confirmed dead, hundreds hospitalized, and an estimated 2,000 buildings destroyed or damaged. But state and local officials warned that with many people still missing and unaccounted for, and some areas still out of reach of emergency crews, those figures are almost certain to rise.

The two biggest and most destructive fires consumed more than 52,000 acres in Napa and Sonoma Counties, propelled on Sunday night and Monday by 50-mile-per-hour winds and threatening cities that included Santa Rosa, Napa and Calistoga. The winds died down on Tuesday, but were forecast to pick up again later in the week, and Chief Ken Pimlott of Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, described the two fires, and a smaller one nearby, as “zero percent contained.”

About 20,000 people heeded evacuation warnings, fleeing on foot and by car as the fires overtook their towns. In Sonoma County alone, 5,000 people took shelter in evacuation centers on Monday night, the county reported, and new evacuation orders were issued on Tuesday. Survivors told of narrow escapes from walls of flame that seemed to erupt from nowhere on Sunday night and Monday morning, forcing them to run even before text messages and other alerts were sent out by emergency warning systems.

“We always thought the alert system would give us time, but there was no notice, no warning,” said Maureen Grinnell, 77, who lived in the hills north of Napa with her husband, Sheldon, 89, who uses a walker. “I was watching a movie with my 19-year-old granddaughter and I smelled smoke, and I looked out the window to see flames approaching.”

From that moment, they stayed with the house seven to 10 minutes, she said — just long enough to load the three of them, a dog and a handful of belongings into a car.

Before and After Photos: Fires Tear Through California’s Wine Country
Images, including before and after views, reveal the scale of the devastation.

“By the time I started to back the car out of the garage, the house was already on fire,” Ms. Grinnell said. “I drove down the road through smoke with flames on both sides. It almost looked like the burning of Atlanta in ‘Gone With the Wind.’”

Pamela Taylor, 66, at first watched the fire from the mobile home park in Santa Rosa where she lived, thinking it was not near enough to pose a threat — and then, suddenly, it was. “A gigantic fireball jumped across the freeway to the trees around the trailer park,” she said, and within minutes, trailers and cars were ablaze, and people were fleeing.

“There was no turning the gas off. There was just running,” she said.

James Harder and his friends managed to save his business, James Cole Winery, a small-scale maker of high-priced cabernets, even as the nearby Signorello Estate winery burned. Mr. Harder said he saw a wall of flame 20 to 30 feet high descending a hillside toward his property, embers whipping toward him, and formed a bucket brigade with six other people, working through the night, scooping water from a 10,000-gallon tank meant to irrigate his vines.

“We just thought, ‘Keep working, keep working,’” he said. “We would have lost everything if not for our friends.”

All around them, in some of the most expensive real estate in the country, they could see neighbors’ houses going up in flames, their propane tanks exploding with ground-shaking force.

Next door, the gate to the Signorello property was open on Tuesday and a sign said “Open,” but no one was there. The reception area was destroyed, fires still burned from gas pipes there, and ash covered an infinity pool with a commanding view of the valley. But in the bar area, a refrigerator held a wheel of manchego cheese, beer bottles and soda cans, still intact.

How much of the season’s grape harvest was destroyed remains unclear.

Across the state, 17 large wildfires were still burning Tuesday, covering 115,000 acres, Chief Pimlott said. An unusually wet winter produced ample brush, and the state’s hottest summer on record dried it to tinder, setting the stage for a rough October, a month usually marked by dry air and high winds from the north and east.
The entire American West has experienced a particularly brutal wildfire season, even as people in the Southeast have suffered the floods and winds of hurricanes. As of Oct. 6, wildfires had raced through 8.5 million acres, well above the last decade’s average of six million per year.

Most of the current California wildfires are in the north, including a large one in Mendocino County and several others in the Sierra Nevada, the north coast and the San Joaquin Valley. But in Southern California, a fire that broke out Monday in the Anaheim Hills burned through thousands of acres and about a dozen homes, sending smoke pouring into Orange County and closing the 91 freeway, the main route into the county from the east.

The winds whipping the flames in the area north of San Francisco Bay came from the north, and thousands of firefighters labored to build fire breaks on the southern flanks of the blazes to hold them back from populated areas. Supported by aircraft dropping water and fire retardant — ranging from helicopters to a Boeing 747 tanker — fire crews used bulldozers, chain saws and shovels to clear trees and brush, hoping to create fire breaks and starve the blazes of fuel.

A thick layer of smoke shrouded the region, and the Environmental Protection Agency rated the air quality as “unhealthy,” “very unhealthy,” and even “hazardous” in places. Many of the people taken to area hospitals were treated for smoke inhalation, and people walked through their neighborhoods and evacuation centers wearing paper masks, in hopes of protecting their lungs.
Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday visited the California Office of Emergency Services near Sacramento to announce that President Trump had approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s request for a major disaster declaration and ordered federal aid to help the state in recovery efforts.

Mr. Pimlott said that the cause of the fires was still unclear and would be investigated. He pointed out that 95 percent of fires in the state were caused by humans in some manner, and said that even a small spark in windy, dry conditions could grow quickly into a large fire.

Fires interrupted utilities in and around wine country, including cellular service, which ranged from spotty to nonexistent, making it harder for people to reach family and friends and for emergency workers to search for the missing. Mark Ghilarducci, director of the state Office of Emergency Services, said that about 77 cellphone sites were damaged or destroyed.
Ramon Gallegos Jr., who works in the wine industry, said he had no electricity at home and had been unable to contact friends and co-workers.

“Who’s O.K.?” he asked. “Who’s not O.K.? We don’t know, we can’t get in touch with anybody.”

With large areas still under evacuation orders, frustrated residents congregated at roadblocks on Tuesday, pleading with police officers to let them through to their homes. At a roadblock near the Silverado Trail, the famed Napa wine route, a sheriff’s deputy chased after a car that had bolted through a vineyard in an effort to bypass the roadblock.

“We’re getting some chest-to-chest instances now,” said John Robertson, the Napa County sheriff.
Megan Condron, 37, of Santa Rosa, said she and her husband were able to save their wedding album, children’s baby books, some clothes and a case of wine before their home burned to the ground.

Soon after they left the house, a neighbor who was out of town called them, and asked them to save some letters from his house before it went up in flames. His wife, who died of cancer this year, had written the letters to their two sons, to open on their birthdays for years to come.
The Condrons turned around, but a police officer refused to let them through.

Now many people in the region must decide how, and where, to reconstruct their lives. Mr. Lenzi, who trekked overland to the remains of his father’s home, asked about rebuilding when his father, Carl, went to an insurance office on Tuesday to discuss damages.

“I’m not going to do it,” the elder Mr. Lenzi said. “This is your problem now.”

Yes, the US Government Has Experimented With Controlling Hurricanes

United States of America — The 2017 hurricane season has wrought more damage on the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast of the United States than any season in the last decade. Tropical Storm Harvey smashed into the Gulf, temporarily swallowing Houston and other low lying areas. Meanwhile, Hurricane Irma caused millions of dollars in damage to Florida, Puerto Rico, and other Caribbean islands, leaving millions without power and water.

Along with the gusts of wind, property damage, and loss of life, this hurricane season also sparked a wide range of conspiracy theories regarding the possibility that the U.S. government or some other government could be manipulating the weather to strengthen hurricanes. These theories range from the idea that planes were spraying before and during the storms in order to help them grow and/or direct them at specific targets to others who believe the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), or a similar device, was used to heat up the ionosphere and “charge” the storms to cause more destruction.

There are dozens of YouTube channels where individuals focus specifically on weather manipulation and modification. They claim to have the expertise to study radar images and determine whether artificial elements were added to developing hurricanes. If you are interested in that type of research, see this. However, I will not be addressing the issue of whether or not the U.S. is currently manipulating hurricanes. I do not have the technical background to accurately report in that area. Instead, I will focus on the history of weather modification as it pertains to hurricanes. If you have limited knowledge on weather modification — or, perhaps, you even think it is a hoax — I encourage you to read on. If you are familiar with the history or science of weather modification, I also encourage you to read on, as I have included details I have not seen covered elsewhere.

The theories surrounding possible hurricane manipulation have grown to the point that the “mainstream” media has been forced to respond. In early September, released an article titled “No, We Can’t Control Hurricanes from Space,” which attempted to debunk these theories. “The short answer is that we can’t control weather at any scale, and hurricanes are no exception,” wrote. Nevertheless, if we go back to 2015, we find an article from Popular Mechanics matter-of-factly stating, “We Could Reduce the Number of Hurricanes By Injecting Particles Into the Atmosphere.” The article discusses research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that concluded sulfates could be spread into the Earth’s stratosphere to “dampen” hurricanes over the next 50 years. The scientists do not claim to be able to “steer” or direct hurricanes, but they do say they have the power to slow them down by 50 percent.

A (Brief) History of Weather Modification

Despite these modest statements, the history of weather modification and the desire to manipulate hurricanes has a history stretching back at least 100 years to people often known as “rainmakers.” The rainmakers were men who studied “pluviculture,” or the act of attempting to artificially create rain, usually to fight drought. Most of these men were seen as scammers, traveling salesman pitching fantasy ideas to the gullible about creating rain. However, one of the most successful rainmakers was Charles Hatfield. Born in 1875, Hatfield migrated to Southern California and studied pluviculture, eventually creating a secret mixture of 23 chemicals he said could induce rain. Using his secret mixture, Hatfield successfully created storms several times and began to find work creating rain.

In 1915, Hatfield began working for the San Diego city council to produce enough rain to fill the Morena Dam reservoir. Hatfield was told he would receive $10,000 once the reservoir was filled. In early January 1915, rain began pouring down over the dam, growing heavier with each day that passed. On January 20, the dam broke, causing mass flooding that led to an estimated 20 deaths. Hatfield told the press he was not to blame, stating the city should have taken precautions. The city refused to pay Hatfield unless he also accepted liability for the damage and deaths. After legal battles ensued, Hatfield was absolved of any wrongdoing when the storm was officially ruled an act of God. However, due to the ruling, Hatfield’s work was seen as a failure, and he was (mostly) relegated to forgotten pages of history.

Beginning in 1947, General Electric, the U.S. Army Corps, the U.S. Air Force, and the Office of Naval Research began attempting to modify hurricanes. The main scientist behind the research was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning chemist named Irving Langmuir. While working as a chemist with GE, Langmuir began to hypothesize about manipulating hurricanes. In October 1947, the researchers decided to seed a hurricane with ice pellets. The hurricane had been drifting to the northeast into the Atlantic Ocean, but after being seeded, the hurricane grew stronger and crashed into Savannah, Georgia.

There was a public backlash and threats of lawsuits against Langmuir and the research team. Despite Langmuir claiming responsibility for affecting the storm, researchers concluded his work did not cause the change in direction. The lawsuits were dropped, but Langmuir continued to work on weather modification. It’s not hard to imagine the U.S. military and General Electric wanting to distance themselves from the destruction by calling their own project a failure. Interestingly, Wikipedia references a 1965 article from the Sun-Sentinel titled “Betsy’s Turnaround Stirs Big Question.” (Betsy was another hurricane reported to have been modified.) The article, written more than a decade later, apparently reports that a hurricane in 1947 “went whacky” and that “[t]welve years later it was admitted the storm had in fact been seeded.” Unfortunately, there is not a digital copy of the article available to verify the claims on Wikipedia.

Most reports on Project Cirrus claim the 1947 hurricane was the only attempt, but a look at records maintained by General Electric indicate there were several more tests on hurricanes. The records list Albuquerque, New Mexico; Mt. Washington, New Hampshire; Burbank, California; and several locations in New York as test sites for cloud seeding with silver iodide. Another section lists cloud seeding attempts in Honduras by Langmuir. The report stated:

In 1948 and 1949, Langmuir visited Honduras, Guatemala, and Costa Rica to study tropical cloud formations, and particularly to learn what was being done by Joe Silverthorne, a commercial cloud seeder, in seeding clouds for the United Fruit Company. The work was being conducted for the purpose of testing out the possibility of controlling rainfall, and particularly in the hope of stopping blow-downs that result from winds associated with thunderstorms, which occasionally destroy large stands of fruit trees.”

The GE report is well worth your time and attention. It details the contracts between the U.S. military and GE, as well as other historical details regarding GE’s attempts to modify weather.

More recent examples of attempts at weather modification involve programs known as Project Stormfury, Project Cirrus, and Operation Popeye. Project Stormfury was a U.S. government project aimed at weakening Tropical Cyclones by seeding them with silver iodide. From 1961 to 1971, researchers sprayed silver iodide into hurricanes, believing the supercooled water might disrupt the structure of the storm. Officially, the project has been ruled a failure, but it was not the only attempt to manipulate weather in this time period.

One example of seeding a hurricane that may have actually been successful was Hurricane Betsy in 1965. As the Sun-Sentinel reported in 1965:

Hurricane Betsy was building strength; it looked like it was aiming for South Carolina, posing no threat to South Florida. But on Saturday, Sept. 4, the storm whirled to a stop, about 350 miles east of Jacksonville. When Betsy started moving again on Sunday, she had changed directions. The storm plowed through the Bahamas Monday night, then mauled South Florida a day later.”

Officially, the U.S. government says Hurricane Betsy was designated to be seeded but that apparently, that decision was changed at the last moment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recalled the event on the 50th anniversary:

Dr. Joanne Simpson, Project Director, had ordered the fleet of Navy and Weather Bureau research aircraft to deploy to Puerto Rico on August 28th.  Over the next two days, the planes monitored the storm’s slow progress toward the designated part of the ocean where they could carry out their weather modification experiments.  By August 31st, Betsy had just managed to crawl into the area as a hurricane, so a seeding experiment was scheduled for the next day.  The first aircraft had already taken off from Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station, PR the morning of September 1st when word came from the National Hurricane Center that overnight Betsy had completed a loop in its track and was now headed southward and out of the allowed seeding area.  The seeding experiments were called off and the mission changed to a ‘dry run’, where the same patterns were flown but no silver iodide was released into the storm.  Unfortunately, no one informed the press which had been alerted to STORMFURY’s seeding intentions the previous day.”

The press and the public blamed the researchers for the 138 mph winds and destruction from Betsy. Congress was skeptical of further programs until the researchers were able to smooth things over. “I was totally unaware of the level of emotion and hostility that was directed against anything that had to do with cloud seeding,”  Joanne Simpson, one time head of Project Stormfury, told NASA.  Simpson would go on to work on a cloud-seeding project called FACE (the Florida Area Cumulus Experiment).

With Hurricane Betsy and the 1947 hurricane, we have two situations where cloud-seeding was reportedly happening, and we have two disastrous outcomes. In both situations, the scientists claimed no responsibility, and no one was held accountable. Again, is it that hard to imagine a government official (or a scientist under government contract) lying about the nature of the work? Especially if that work resulted in millions of dollars in property damage and deaths?

The NOAA even acknowledges that “[s]ince no one at Project STORMFURY nor in the Weather Bureau had advised the public or the press that the actual seeding of the storm had been scrubbed, many people believed it had been carried out and the link to its odd path seemed plausible.  Although attempts to clarify the facts about STORMFURY and Betsy were made after the fact, the notion of a link persists to the present.”

Weather as a Weapon of War

Operation Popeye was a now-declassified attempt by the U.S. military to modify the weather in Southeast Asia from 1967 to 1972. The U.S. military conducted cloud-seeding operations over the Ho-Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam War. Cloud-seeding typically involves planes flying overhead and spraying silver iodide into the air. The goal in Vietnam was to extend monsoon season and flood out the enemy. It was reported that the operations were “tightly controlled” by Henry Kissinger, who was serving as Secretary of State at the time. Operation Popeye is the first modern example (that we know of) where attempts were made to use weather as a weapon of war.

In April 1976, the New York Times wrote about the situation and the challenges weather modification created:

Can a nation that tampers with natural balances deny responsibility for what follows? This question, together with recognition that United States policy condemns warfare aimed at civilians, prompted Senator Claiborne Pell in 1973 to introduce a resolution calling for an international treaty to prohibit environmental warfare ‘or the carrying out of any research or experimentation directed thereto.’ The Senate voted 82 to 10 to approve the resolution, which lacks force of law.”

The international treaty referred to is the Environmental Modification Treaty implemented and signed by the United States and other nations to halt global weather modification in the wake of the bad publicity. The Times noted:

Unfortunately it is far weaker than the Senate resolution. For example, it fails to prohibit military research or development of environmental‐modification techniques, and allows all ‘peaceful’ work on such things.”

So as long as a nation claims they are conducting peaceful weather modification, they are not violating the treaty. Further, there is no international body to enforce and punish violations of the treaty.

The Times also mentions the Department of Defense’s “Climate Dynamics” program, formerly known as Project Nile Blue. A 1976 report from Milton Leitenberg for the Federation of Scientists elaborates on the origins of Nile Blue. “Beginning in 1969, ARPA, the Advanced Research Projects Agency in the U.S. Department of Defense, began funding a project called “Nile Blue (Climate Modification Research),” Leitenberg wrote.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was the predecessor to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a secretive agency within the Department of Defense. DARPA is known for developing exotic and emerging technologies for the military. These reports listed above indicated that Project STORMFURY and Project Nile Blue were some of the earliest known military operations conducted in the name of manipulating the weather, including hurricanes.

Leitenberg also noted two examples of times the U.S. has been accused of using weather modification on other nations. The was first related to alleged cloud seeding over Cuba in 1969 and 1970 in an alleged effort to destroy the sugar crops. In the second case, the director of the geographical research center of the University of Mexico implied that the United States was to blame for the effects of Hurricane Fifi over Honduras in 1974. A story from The Naples Daily News on July 15, 1975, expanded upon this claim:

Dr. Jorge Vivo, director of the Geographic Research Center of the University of Mexico, said Monday the United States ‘artificially detoured’ the hurricane to Honduras to save Florida’s tourist industry. But Neil Frank, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Monday night U.S. officials did nothing to alter the hurricane’s path. Vivo told the newspaper El Sol de Mexico he held the United States responsible for 10,000 deaths and millions of dollars in damage caused by Fifi in the Central American nation. He said he believed U.S. weather authorities used silver iodide against Fifi as part of what he called ‘a systematic action’ to change its course.

More recently, we have seen accusations that the CIA is manipulating the weather. In February 2015, while speaking at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose, California, Professor Alan Robock discussed the possibility that the CIA is using the weather as a weapon of war. Robock has conducted research for the intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) in the past. Robock said he was phoned by two men claiming to be from the CIA and asking whether or not it was possible for hostile governments to use geoengineering against the United States. Geoengineering is another form of weather modification that involves a range of different proposals for combatting climate change.

Despite a lack of concrete evidence to back these claims, we know the military has a history of testing weather modification and has specifically mentioned using the weather as a weapon. For example, In a 1996 document entitled “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather by 2025”  the U.S. Air Force discussed a number of proposals for using the weather as a weapon.

Whatever view you take of these projects, the fact remains that they helped spur the movement towards using computer models to attempt to predict the weather. Quite simply, the history of computer model weather prediction is intertwined with the military’s attempts to modify the weather. Weather historian James Fleming writes that the two men largely responsible for computer modeling are Vladimir Zworykin, an RCA engineer noted for his early work in television technology, and John von Neumann, a mathematician with the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. In 1945, Zworykin was promoting the idea that electronic computers could process and analyze mass amounts of meteorological data and issue accurate forecasts.

The eventual goal to be attained is the international organization of means to study weather phenomena as global phenomena and to channel the world’s weather, as far as possible, in such a way as to minimize the damage from catastrophic disturbances, and otherwise to benefit the world to the greatest extent by improved climatic conditions where ­possible,” Zworykin wrote. According to Fleming, Neumann agreed with this outlook, stating, “I agree with you completely. This would provide a basis for scientific approach[es] to influencing the weather.

Modern Hurricane Modification

In 2005, following the destruction left by Hurricane Katrina, USA Today wrote:

In fact, military officials and weather modification experts could be on the verge of joining forces to better gauge, react to, and possibly nullify future hostile forces churned out by Mother Nature.”

On November 10, 2005, Dr. Joseph Golden, former manager of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and veteran of Project STORMFURY, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Disaster Prediction & Prevention, warning about the need for hurricane modification.

After the horrendous devastation and loss of life from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I have been asked several times about the possibility of hurricane modification,” Golden stated. “I firmly believe that we are in a much better position, both with the science and the undergirding technology, than we were when Project STORMFURY was terminated. The need for a renewed national commitment and funding for weather modification research has become more urgent.”

Golden is also involved the Hurricane Aerosol and Microphysics Program (HAMP). In 2010, he gave a presentation discussing how the Department of Homeland Security asked the NOAA to organize a workshop on possible new scientific theory and approaches to hurricane modification in February 2008.

It seems likely that various agencies of the U.S. government began heavily investing in studying weather modification following the destructive hurricane seasons of 2005 and 2008. The idea that the U.S. government could be experimenting with controlling or steering hurricanes may sound like fantasy, but the fact of the matter is the government continues to invest in hurricane modification research. Is it possible that the U.S. government, under the direction of the CIA or the DOD, is working with private industries like General Electric to continue experimenting with weather modification technology? Should the public trust that government officials would fess up to secret experiments?

This article originally appeared on The Anti-Media.

Hurricane Nate roars ashore in central Gulf Coast

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Nate came ashore a sparsely populated area at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Saturday and pelted the central Gulf Coast with wind and rain as the fast-moving storm headed toward the Mississippi coast, where it was expected to make another landfall and threatened to inundate homes and businesses.

Nate was expected to pass to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. And its quick speed lessened the likelihood of prolonged rain that would tax the city’s weakened drainage pump system. The city famous for all-night partying was placed under a curfew, effective at 7 p.m., but the mayor lifted it when it appeared the storm would pass by and cause little problems for the city. Still, the streets were not nearly as crowded as they typically are on a Saturday night and Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked people to shelter in place.

Cities along the Mississippi coast such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated, and rain began falling on the region Saturday. Forecasters called for 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) with as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in some isolated places.

Nate weakened slightly and was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 85 mph (137 kph) when it made landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines Parish. Forecasters had said it was possible that it could strengthen to a Category 2, but that seemed less likely as the night wore on.

Storm surge threatened low-lying communities in southeast Louisiana, eastward to the Alabama fishing village of Bayou la Batre.

“If it floods again, this will be it,” said Larry Bertron as said as he and his wife prepared to leave their home in the Braithwaite community of vulnerable Plaquemines Parish. The hurricane veterans lost one home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and left the home they rebuilt after Hurricane Isaac in 2012.

Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared during this hectic hurricane season.

“This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said Saturday. “Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation.”

Officials rescued five people from two sailboats in choppy waters before the storm. One 41-foot sailboat lost its engine in Lake Pontchartrain and two sailors were saved. Another boat hit rocks in the Mississippi Sound and three people had to be plucked from the water.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards urged residents to make final preparations quickly and stressed that Nate will bring the possibility of storm surge reaching up to 11 feet in some coastal areas.

“It’s going to hit and move through our area at a relatively fast rate, limiting the amount of time it’s going to drop rain,” Edwards said. “But this is a very dangerous storm nonetheless.”

Streets in low-lying areas of Louisiana were already flooded. Places outside of levee protections were under mandatory evacuation orders and shelters opened there.

Some people worried about New Orleans’ pumping system, which had problems during a heavy thunderstorm on August 5. The deluge exposed system weaknesses – including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines – and caused homes and businesses to flood. Repairs have been made but the system remained below maximum pumping capacity.

On Alabama’s Dauphin Island, water washed over the road Saturday on the island’s low-lying west end, said Mayor Jeff Collier. The storm was projected to bring storm surges from seven to 11 feet near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Some of the biggest impacts could be at the top of funnel-shaped Mobile Bay.

With Nate marching to a second landfall on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, gauges showed tides are 4 feet above normal from Shell Beach, Louisiana, east of New Orleans, to Bayou La Batre, Alabama, southwest of Mobile. In Mississippi, Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said his agency received reports of rising water on low-lying streets facing the Mississippi Sound and the Bay of St. Louis. In Biloxi, authorities reported water from Biloxi Bay rising on some streets.

The window for preparing “is quickly closing,” Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate’s impact.

“Hurricane Nate is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges, strong winds and tornadoes that could reach across the Panhandle,” Scott said. The evacuations affect roughly 100,000 residents in the western Panhandle.

The Pensacola International Airport announced it will close at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed on Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.

At 8 p.m. EDT Saturday, Nate was about 10 miles (16 kilometers) southwest of the mouth of the Mississippi River. The storm was expected to quickly weaken as it cuts a path through the Southeast on its way to the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, which could see impacts from Nate early next week.

Nate killed at least 21 people after strafing Central America.

Waterside sections of New Orleans, outside the city’s levee system, were under an evacuation order. About 2,000 people were affected. But not everyone was complying.
Gabriel Black stayed behind because an 81-year-old neighbor refused to leave.

“I know it sounds insane, but he has bad legs and he doesn’t have anybody who can get to him,” Black said.

Ahead of Saturday night’s curfew, some bars were closed in the French Quarter but music blasted from others.

“We’re down here from Philly and we’re not going to just stay in our hotel room,” said Kelly Howell, who was drinking with friends at The Bourbon Street Drinkery.

In first since Katrina, Hurricane Nate makes landfall in Mississippi

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Hurricane Nate came ashore along Mississippi’s coast outside Biloxi early Sunday, the first hurricane to make landfall in the state since Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The storm had maximum sustained winds early Sunday near 85 mph (140 kph) with weakening expected as it moves inland, the US National Hurricane Center said. As of 2 a.m. local time, Nate was centered about 5 miles (10 kilometers) north of Biloxi and moving north near at 20 mph (31 kph).

At one point, Nate’s eye move over Keesler Air Force Base, where the National Hurricane Center’s hurricane hunter planes are kept, the center said.

It was Nate’s second US landfall. Saturday night, the storm came ashore along a sparsely populated area in southeast Louisiana. Nate brought stinging rain to the Gulf Coast and its powerful winds pushed water onto roads. No deaths or injuries were immediately reported.

Nate’s powerful winds pushed water onto roads and its winds knocked out power to homes and business. But Nate didn’t have the intensity other storms — Harvey, Irma and Jose — had during this busy hurricane season, and people didn’t seem as threatened by it.

“We left for Katrina, but we’re going to ride this one out,” Ed Nodhturft said from his Ocean Springs home.

He was hosting an impromptu family reunion after several relatives who were staying at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi were forced to leave the hotel and seek shelter at his home.

During Katrina, Nodhturft’s home took on 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water from a coastal bayou. He’s in a new house, and a little worried about flooding in the low-lying area where he lives.

Hurricane Katrina made its final landfall on the Mississippi coast on August 29, 2005, leveling many cities and buckling bridges. Casino barges were pushed into homes.

John Adams is a Massachusetts native who now lives on Belle Fontaine Beach, a narrow strip of land between the Mississippi Sound and a coastal marsh. Every house on the spit was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

“This is my first hurricane,” Adams said hours before the storm made landfall. “So far, it’s kind of a fizzle.”

Katrina was the last hurricane that made a landfall on the Mississippi coast, although both Hurricane Gustav in 2008 and Hurricane Isaac in 2012 affected parts of the coast.

Nate passed to the east of New Orleans, sparing the city its most ferocious winds and storm surge. Its quick speed lessened the likelihood of prolonged rain that would tax the city’s weakened drainage pump system. The city famous for all-night partying was placed under a curfew, effective at 7 p.m., but the mayor lifted it about an hour after it had begun when it appeared the storm would pass by and cause little problem for the city.

Still, the streets were not nearly as crowded as they typically are on a Saturday night and Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked people to shelter in place.

Some bars were closed in the French Quarter but music blasted from others.

“I don’t think it’s going to be that bad, as far as a hurricane,” said Michael Dennis of Atlanta.

Cities along the Mississippi coast such as Gulfport and Biloxi were on high alert. Some beachfront hotels and casinos were evacuated, and rain began falling on the region Saturday. Forecasters called for 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) with as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) in some isolated places.

Nate weakened slightly and was a Category 1 storm with maximum winds of 85 mph (137 kph) when it made its first landfall in a sparsely populated area of Plaquemines Parish.

Governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama declared states of emergency. The three states have been mostly spared during this hectic hurricane season.

“This is the worst hurricane that has impacted Mississippi since Hurricane Katrina,” Mississippi Emergency Management Director Lee Smithson said Saturday. “Everyone needs to understand that, that this is a significantly dangerous situation.”

Officials rescued five people from two sailboats in choppy waters before the storm. One 41-foot sailboat lost its engine in Lake Pontchartrain and two sailors were saved. Another boat hit rocks in the Mississippi Sound and three people had to be plucked from the water.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards urged residents to make final preparations quickly.

“It’s going to hit and move through our area at a relatively fast rate, limiting the amount of time it’s going to drop rain,” Edwards said. “But this is a very dangerous storm nonetheless.”

Some people worried about New Orleans’ pumping system, which had problems during a heavy thunderstorm on Aug. 5. The deluge exposed system weaknesses – including the failure of some pumps and power-generating turbines – and caused homes and businesses to flood. Repairs have been made but the system remained below maximum pumping capacity.

On Alabama’s Dauphin Island, water washed over the road Saturday on the island’s low-lying west end, said Mayor Jeff Collier. The storm was projected to bring storm surges from seven to 11 feet near the Alabama-Mississippi state line. Some of the biggest impacts could be at the top of funnel-shaped Mobile Bay.

Florida Governor Rick Scott warned residents of the Panhandle to prepare for Nate’s impact.

“Hurricane Nate is expected to bring life-threatening storm surges, strong winds and tornados that could reach across the Panhandle,” Scott said. The evacuations affect roughly 100,000 residents in the western Panhandle.

The Pensacola International Airport announced it was closing at 6 p.m. Saturday and remain closed Sunday. However, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport was open Saturday.

Nate killed at least 21 people in Central America.

Nate upgraded to a hurricane as it barrels toward flood-prone New Orleans

 Nate was upgraded to a hurricane late Friday as the central Gulf Coast braced for its landfall as early as Saturday evening, with damaging winds and storm surges forecast to hit a part of the coast that had largely been spared in this extraordinarily busy hurricane season.

In an update at 1:30 a.m. Saturday, the National Hurricane Center reported Nate had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, and was gaining force as it hurtled toward the Gulf Coast.

“An Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft just penetrated the center of Nate and reported hurricane-force winds,” the center said.

“Reports from Air Force aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 80 mph with higher gusts. Additional strengthening is expected through Saturday up until the time Nate makes landfall along the northern Gulf Coast.”

The storm, already blamed for at least 22 deaths in Nicaragua and Costa Rica this week, swelled as it crossed unusually warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans officials ordered mandatory evacuations of three low-lying areas of the city.

The National Weather Service put coastal Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama up to the Florida border under a hurricane warning, with a storm surge warning in effect from Morgan City, La. — west of New Orleans — to Walton County, Fla. Rain bands are likely to strike the coast as early as Saturday afternoon.

Here in the Crescent City, where memories of the 2005 Katrina catastrophe remain vivid, officials have acknowledged that their hobbled network of pumping stations could be overmatched by Nate’s downpours.

But Mayor Mitch Landrieu sounded upbeat and resolute in a news conference Friday afternoon, even as he announced a curfew starting at 7 p.m. Saturday and lasting until Sunday morning.

“We are ready for whatever Nate brings our way,” he said. “If we all stay informed, if we all stay alert, if we all stayed prepared, ultimately we will all be safe.”

The city’s drainage system has been challenged even by typical summer storms. Parts of New Orleans have flooded several times this year, including as recently as last week. The worst flooding ­occurred after torrential rains Aug. 5, when up to nine inches fell in just a few hours.

The city’s drainage system is “terribly underfunded,” Landrieu said.

“It’s old. It’s tired. It’s like your grandmother’s car that’s got 400,000 miles on it,” he said. “The pumping system in the city of New Orleans is as old as Calvin Coolidge.”

Landrieu said 109 of the city’s 120 drainage pumps were operational, with contractors working round-the-clock to repair the remainder. Inland flooding from rain is not the primary threat from Nate, he noted, but rather the storm surge along the coast, and most of all the wind, which he warned could turn objects left outdoors into dangerous projectiles.

He reminded residents that they should not drive through underpasses that flood readily. He said they can park their vehicles where they find higher ground without fear of parking tickets — enforcement of violations will be suspended starting at 8 a.m. Saturday.

By Saturday, the Port of New Orleans will be closed, and most of the 200 floodgates in the city and surrounding parishes will be closed. More than 350 members of the National Guard will be on the ground.

Friday morning, the city began providing 17,000 sandbags to residents at five locations across town. Police set up 146 barricades in flood-prone areas, and boats and high-water vehicles were lined up at fire and police stations.

Melonie Stewart, customer service director at Entergy, New Orleans’s sole energy provider, warned residents to be prepared for up to seven days without power from the grid.

Nate appears most likely to hit the Gulf Coast to the east of New Orleans. It could deliver a storm surge of four to seven feet above normally dry land, forecasters said. Wherever the storm makes landfall, areas east of the eye will experience stronger winds than those to the west.

Nate is then expected to weaken and travel northeast into the southern Appalachians, where flash floods Sunday and Monday are a serious risk. The storm’s remnants are then likely to head toward the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast.

The last hurricane to strike this part of the Gulf Coast directly was Isaac, also a Category 1, in August 2012. It left hundreds of thousands of utility customers without power.

Under sunny skies Friday, New Orleans did not appear to be in a state of alarm. Stores were cleaned out of bottled water, and residents filled sandbags provided by municipal authorities, but this was clearly not a city trembling in advance of Nate.

On Desire Street on Friday afternoon, François Robichaux, 45, lay on his belly on the sidewalk, his left arm elbow-deep in a hole. He was not clearing out a catch basin, but rather fidgeting with a broken water meter on the property of a house he is renovating.

Robichaux wasn’t doing much to prepare for the storm. “We usually evacuate, but this one came so fast,” he said. He was confident that he would be safe in his three-story home. “It’s a Category 1, so I’m not worried,” he said.

The forecast includes a significant chance of the storm’s growing into a significant hurricane — even a Category 3, one with sustained winds of up to 129 mph.

The storm Friday was moving north over very warm water, which drives intensification. But that trajectory also meant interaction with Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, with pockets of dry air and shearing winds that could enfeeble the storm.

The fast movement of the storm means it is unlikely to drop massive amounts of rain as Hurricane Harvey did while loitering in the Houston area of the Texas coast in August.

The National Weather Service’s hurricane warning, issued Friday, extends from Grand Isle, La. — which is due south of New Orleans — to the Alabama-Florida border.

US states declare emergency ahead of Tropical Storm Nate

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Tropical Storm Nate gained force as it sped toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula Friday after drenching Central America in rain that was blamed for at least 21 deaths. Forecasters said it was likely to reach the US Gulf Coast as a hurricane over the weekend.

Louisiana and Mississippi officials declared states of state of emergency and Louisiana ordered some people to evacuate coastal areas and barrier islands ahead of its expected landfall Saturday night or early Sunday. Evacuations began at some offshore oil platforms in the Gulf.

Mississippi’s government said it would open 11 evacuation shelters in areas away from the immediate coast, with buses available for people who can’t drive.

The US National Hurricane Center warned that Nate could raise sea levels by 4 to 7 feet (1.2 to 2.1 meters) from Morgan City, Louisiana, to the Alabama-Florida border. It had already caused deadly flooding in much of Central America.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph) by Friday morning and was likely to strengthen over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Friday before a possible strike on the Cancun region at the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula at near-hurricane strength. It could hit the US Gulf coast near New Orleans.

The storm was located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) east-southeast of the Mexican resort island of Cozumel and had accelerated its north-northwest movement to 21 mph (33 kph).

In Nicaragua, Nate’s arrival followed two weeks of near-constant rain that had left the ground saturated and rivers swollen. Authorities placed the whole country on alert and warned of flooding and landslides.

Nicaragua’s vice president and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, said that at least 11 people had died in that country due to the storm. Earlier Thursday she had said 15 people had died before later revising to say some of those were still counted as missing. She didn’t give details on all the deaths, but said two women and a man who worked for the Health Ministry were swept away by a flooded canal in the central municipality of Juigalpa.

Costa Rica’s Judicial Investigation Department blamed seven deaths in that country on the storm and said 15 people were missing. Flooding drove 5,000 residents into emergency shelters.

In Honduras, there were three dead and three missing, according to Oscar Triminio, spokesman for the country’s firefighters.

Damage caused by the storm prompted Costa Rican officials to postpone a World Cup qualifying soccer match between that country and Honduras, which had been scheduled for Friday night.

In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency and mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 headed to New Orleans to monitor the fragile pumping system there.

With forecasts projecting landfall in southeast Louisiana as a Category 1 hurricane, Edwards urged residents to ready for rainfall, storm surge and severe winds — and to be where they intend to hunker down by “dark on Saturday.”

Louisiana’s governor said Nate is forecast to move quickly, rather than stall and drop tremendous amounts of rain on the state. State officials hope that means New Orleans won’t run into problems with its pumps being able to handle the water.

Edwards warned, however, against underestimating the storm.

Officials ordered the evacuation of part of coastal St. Bernard Parish east of New Orleans ahead of the storm. Earlier Thursday, a voluntary evacuation was called in the barrier island town of Grand Isle south of New Orleans.

New Orleans officials outlined steps to bolster the city’s pump and drainage system. Weaknesses in that system were revealed during summer flash floods.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s New Orleans office said in a news release that as of midday Thursday, six production platforms, out of the 737 manned platforms in the Gulf, had been evacuated. No drilling rigs were evacuated, but one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path.

The agency estimated less than 15 percent of the current oil production in the Gulf of Mexico has been shut-in, which equates to 254,607 barrels of oil per day.

Israeli balloon helped protect Pope Francis on South America visit

RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Pope Francis’ security detail used an Israeli-made observation balloon to protect the pontiff during his visit to South America.

The balloon proved to be more reliable than the unmanned air vehicles typically used and cost only a fraction of the price to operate, Ynet reported Monday. Two of the three Masses led by the pope in Colombia two weeks ago were accompanied by the device, which is made by the Israeli company RT Aerostats Systems.

“We have recently added a few upgrades to the balloon that secured the pope,” an RT official told the Israeli news website. “In addition to advanced day and night cameras, the balloon can automatically identify suspicious movements, better zoom in on targets we want to follow, and maintain an overview of the entire area even while focusing on a specific target.”

The balloon, which is regularly used by the Israeli military and police, also helped secure the pope’s past trips to Africa and Israel. Police in Bogota and Medellin leased the device and transmitted its video footage directly to their headquarters. It helped scan the large crowds, the rooftops in the area and other spots that cannot be seen from the ground.

Puerto Rico entirely without power as Hurricane Maria hammers island with devastating force

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Maria delivered a destructive full-body blow to this U.S. territory on Wednesday, ripping off metal roofs, generating terrifying and potentially lethal flash floods, knocking out 100 percent of the island’s electrical grid and decimating some communities.

With sustained winds of 155 mph at landfall — a strong Category 4 storm and nearly a Category 5 — Maria was so powerful that it disabled radar, weather stations and cell towers across Puerto Rico, leaving an information vacuum in which officials could only speculate about property damage, injuries or deaths.

“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” Abner Gómez, director of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, said in a midday news conference here. “The information we have received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its path.”

The entire island experienced hurricane conditions, with 20 inches or more of rain falling, often at torrential rates of up to seven inches per hour, leading to reports of raging floodwaters and people seeking help to escape them.

The storm, having passed through the U.S. Virgin Islands earlier, made landfall on the Puerto Rican coast near Yabucoa at 6:15 a.m. It was the first Category 4 storm to strike the island directly since 1932. By midmorning, Maria had fully engulfed the 100-mile-long island.

Winds snapped palm trees, shredded homes and sent debris skidding across beaches and roads. Recreational boats sank in San Juan’s marinas. Across the island, residents reported trees downed and blocking roadways. Far inland, floodwaters inundated homes that had never before flooded.

In San Juan, the capital, Maria shook buildings and blew out windows. Residents of high-rise apartments sought refuge in bathrooms.

First responders, including a fire-rescue team deployed from Fairfax, Va., had to ride out the storm for hours before emerging to help people. In the meantime, calls to emergency services went in vain. A family in the southern coastal town of Guayama, for example, reportedly pleaded for help as they were trapped in their home with rising water. In Hato Rey, a San Juan business district, a woman sought assistance as she was experiencing labor pains. “Unfortunately, our staff cannot leave,” Gómez said at the news conference. “They will be rescued later.”

Macarena Gil Gandia, a resident of Hato Rey, helped her mother clean out water that had started flooding the kitchen of her second-floor apartment at dawn.

“There are sounds coming from all sides,” Gil Gandia said in a text message. “The building is moving! And we’re only on the second floor, imagine the rest!”

Farther west, in the community of Juana Matos, in the city of Catano, 80 percent of the structures were destroyed, the mayor of Catano told El Nuevo Día.

“The area is completely flooded. Water got into the houses. The houses have no roof,” the mayor said. “Most of them are made of wood and zinc, and electric poles fell on them.”

William “Brock” Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told The Washington Post that rescue and recovery operations are poised to help the U.S. territories — and had significant resources already deployed in the area as a result of Hurricane Irma, which hit the region just days ago.

“Right now we’re in wait-and-see mode,” Long said Wednesday afternoon. “We know that St. Croix took a tremendous hit, and we know obviously Puerto Rico took the brunt of the storm. Once the weather clears and the seas die down, we’ll be in full operation.”

Satellite images showed that Maria became disorganized, without a defined eye, and weakened as it moved slowly across the high terrain of Puerto Rico. Late Wednesday afternoon, the center of the vast storm exited the north coast of the island, its peak winds having dropped to 110 mph as a dangerous but less powerful Category 2 storm.

As Maria journeys across open Atlantic waters, it is expected to reorganize and gain strength. It is moving parallel to the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic, heading toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeast Bahamas.

The storm track and atmospheric conditions suggest it will stay offshore of the U.S. East Coast and eventually curve northeast and out to sea. But forecasters warn that it is too soon to say with certainty that the U.S. mainland is in the clear.

Southern New England already is dealing with pounding surf and powerful wind gusts from Hurricane Jose. That storm could help in keeping Maria away from the coast by drawing it to the northeast. If Jose weakens too quickly, Maria could drift closer to the East Coast by the middle of next week.

Maria was the most violent tropical cyclone to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years. It had raked St. Croix hours earlier, just two weeks after that island was the only major land mass in the U.S. Virgin Islands that was spared Hurricane Irma’s wrath. Maria also produced flooding in St. Thomas, an island that Irma hit.

In the French island of Guadeloupe, officials blamed at least two deaths on Maria, and at least two people were missing after a ship went down near the tiny French island of Desirade. At least seven deaths have been reported on the devastated island of Dominica.

Del. Stacey Plaskett, who represents the U.S. Virgin Islands in Washington, said St. Croix had been a staging ground for relief efforts after Hurricane Irma devastated other parts of her district before Maria’s eye skimmed the edge of St. Croix on Tuesday night as a Category 5 storm with winds of 175 mph.

The damage has yet to be fully assessed, but in a sign of the possible devastation, Plaskett said the roof of the local racetrack blew into the runway of the airport, complicating relief efforts.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Wednesday afternoon imposed a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for the general public, which will continue until Saturday.

“Resist, Puerto Rico,” the governor tweeted earlier as the storm blew in. “God is with us; we are stronger than any hurricane. Together we will lift up.”

Speaking on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday, Rosselló said, “This is clearly going to be the most devastating storm in the history of our island.”

Buildings that meet the island’s newer construction codes, established around 2011, should have been able to weather the winds, Rosselló said. But wooden homes in flood-prone areas “have no chance,” he predicted.

The last hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico was Georges in 1998. Just one Category 5 hurricane has hit Puerto Rico in recorded history, in 1928.

Puerto Rico’s vulnerability to tropical cyclones has been driven home in the past two weeks as first Irma and then Maria have howled into the Caribbean. The back-to-back nature of the storms has had one minor upside: Some 3,200 federal government staffers, National Guardsmen and other emergency personnel overseen already were in Puerto Rico when Maria approached.

President Trump praised FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security for “lifesaving and life-sustaining” work in the islands, and he sent his thoughts and prayers to “all those in harm’s way,” according to a White House statement. Late Wednesday, Trump issued a message on Twitter naming the Puerto Rican governor, adding: “We are with you and the people of Puerto Rico. Stay safe! #PRStrong.”

The federal recovery effort, FEMA administrator Long said, will attempt to restore power to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as quickly as possible but in a way that makes the grid less vulnerable to similar disruptions. The power grid, he said, “is a fragile system in both territories. It’s going to be a long and frustrating process to get the power grid up.”

In the lobby of Ciqala Luxury Home Suites in Miramar, a neighborhood in San Juan, Maria Gil de Lamadrid waited with her husband as the rain and wind pounded the hotel’s facade. The door of the hotel’s parking garage flopped violently in the wind.

Gil de Lamadrid had spent the night in the hotel after evacuating her nearby 16th floor waterfront apartment. But even in a luxury hotel room, Gil de Lamadrid could not evade flooding. On Wednesday morning, water began seeping into her room through the balcony doors.

“I’m feeling anxious,” she said.

Her husband shrugged.

“For me, it’s an adventure,” he said. “Something to talk about later.”

By midafternoon, the gusts had become less frequent, and lashing rains had eased. Soon residents emerged to survey the damage from a storm for the ages. Some walked their dogs.

“The hotels, they lost all the windows, they had structural damage even on concrete,” reported Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo, a freelance photographer working for The Washington Post, as he surveyed the tourist area of San Juan. “Trees are without a single leaf.”

In Miramar, residents began clearing the roads of larger trees. One man walked down the street wearing only a T-shirt, shorts and a fedora hat, beaming despite the rain. “I was bored,” he said.

The Nieves Acarón family decided to walk their dogs just before nightfall.

“He couldn’t last any longer,” Adriana Acarón said, pointing at her dog, Toffee.

She had been anxious throughout the storm. With cellphone reception down, she had not yet heard from her mother-in-law, who is 83 and lives in an area where a river reportedly overflowed its banks.

“It didn’t stop for hours,” she said of the storm. “I could feel everything. You could feel things flying at your window shutters.”

In the San Juan district of Santurce, residents used machetes to cut branches from trees blocking the road. The sidewalks were rendered impassable by downed trees, metal roofing and power lines.

Anton Rosarios, 81, looked over what remained of the front of his wooden house, the walls of which had collapsed, exposing the interior. He said he was hoping that FEMA would show up: “They are the only ones who can help fix this neighborhood. God willing, they will be coming to help us soon.”

The home of his neighbor, Vitin Rodriguez, 55, had lost its roof, and all of his belongings had been ruined by Maria. A tree had fallen and crushed his car, and he said he had no way to check on the status of family members.

Further down the block, a small crowd gathered at an emergency shelter, as residents checked on friends and neighbors, some of whom had ridden out the storm playing dominoes.

“It’s important to help, to give a life to people who don’t have homes because of the storm,” said Eudalia Sanata, 46, one of the four employees of the shelter. “Look, there are even a few dogs here. Dogs are part of the family, too, and no one wants to leave their family out in the rain.”

Achenbach and Somashekhar reported from Washington. Daniel Cassady in San Juan; Amy Gordon in Vieques, Puerto Rico and Brian Murphy, Jason Samenow and Angela Fritz in Washington contributed to this report.