‘Fierce’ Tropical Depression Expected This Week In Atlantic

MIAMI — People in the Eastern Caribbean don’t expect severe tropical weather in August, but the Atlantic Basin could have a new tropical depression later this week.

Satellite observations show a fierce tropical disturbance has emerged off the western coast of Africa and is moving west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph across the tropical Atlantic.

This disturbance has been dubbed Invest 97L by the National Hurricane Center. An invest is simply a naming convention used by the NHC to identify an area of weather that it is investigating for possible development into a tropical depression or tropical storm within the next five days.

'Fierce' Tropical Depression Expected This Week In Atlantic

The NHC is giving Invest 97L a 40 percent chance of development and says a tropical depression could form during the second half of the week ahead.

Computer forecast models suggest that dry air and upper-level winds could diminish enough for the disturbance to slowly organize and gain a center of circulation. Once a center is evident and winds are sustained at 30 to 35 mph, the NHC will declare the disturbance a tropical depression.

Whether or not the disturbance organizes into a tropical storm remains to be seen, but FOX Weather meteorologists say the one aspect guaranteed with the system is that it will stay harmlessly out over the open waters for at least a week.

'Fierce' Tropical Depression Expected This Week In Atlantic

“For now, we’re just keeping our eyes on it to see if anything comes together,” said FOX Weather meteorologist Jane Minar. “This is likely not going to have too much of an impact, but we will continue to watch it very closely.”

Fire at Cuba Oil Facility Spreads as 3rd Tank Ignites

HAVANA — A deadly fire that began at a large oil storage facility in western Cuba spread today after flames enveloped a third tank that firefighters had tried to cool as they struggle to fight the massive blaze.

At least one person has died and 125 are injured, with another 14 reported missing ever since lighting struck one of the facility’s eight tanks on Friday night. A second tank caught fire on Saturday, triggering several explosions at the facility, which plays a key part in Cuba’s electric system.

“The risk we had announced happened, and the blaze of the second tank compromised the third one,” said Mario Sabines, governor of the western province of Matanzas where the facility is located.

Fire at Cuba Oil Facility Spreads as 3rd Tank Ignites
A helicopter carrying water flies over the Matanzas Supertanker Base, as firefighters try to quell the blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, August 6, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, causing a fire that led to four explosions which injured more than 50 people. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Firefighters had sprayed water on the remaining tanks over the weekend to cool them and try to stop the fire from spreading.

The governments of Mexico and Venezuela have sent special teams to help extinguish the fire, with water cannons, planes and helicopters fighting the fire from several directions as military constructions specialists erected barriers to contain oil spills. Local officials warned residents to use face masks or stay indoors given the billowing smoke enveloping the region that can be seen from the capital of Havana, located more than 65 miles away. Officials have warned that the cloud contains sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide and other poisonous substances.

Fire at Cuba Oil Facility Spreads as 3rd Tank Ignites
Firefighters move in a truck inside the Matanzas supertanker base to douse a fire that started during a thunderstorm, in Matanzas, Cuba, Sunday, August 7, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a fire that sparked four explosions that injured more than 121 people, one person dead and 17 missing. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The majority of those injured were treated for burns and smoke inhalation, and five of them remain in critical condition. A total of 24 remain hospitalized. Over the weekend, authorities found the body of one firefighter as relatives of those still missing gathered at a hotel to await news about their loved ones.

Sabines and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said it was impossible to search for the missing firefighters given the roiling temperatures.

The blaze at the Matanzas Supertanker Base in Matanzas city prompted officials to evacuate more than 4,900 people, most of them from the nearby Dubrocq neighborhood. The facility’s eight huge tanks hold oil used to generate electricity, although it wasn’t clear how much fuel has been lost as a result of the flames. The first tank that caught fire was at 50 percent capacity and contained nearly 883,000 cubic feet (25,000 cubic meters) of fuel. The second tank was full.

Fire at Cuba Oil Facility Spreads as 3rd Tank Ignites
A sunbather gets out of the water as a huge column of smoke rises from the Matanzas supertanker base, as firefighters work to put out a fire that started during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matanzas, Cuba, on Sunday, aug. 7, 2022. Cuban authorities say lightning struck a crude oil storage tank at the base, sparking a fire that sparked four explosions that injured more than 121 people, with one person dead and 17 missing. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean Energy Program at the University of Texas, said officials should inspect the walls of tanks that aren’t on fire to ensure they weren’t affected. He also warned that the government must be careful before bringing the system back online once the fire is extinguished.

“If not, there’ll be another catastrophe,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is going to take time.”

Piñon noted that the facility receives Cuban crude oil — operating an oil pipeline that crosses the center of the country — to be transferred via small tankers to the thermoelectric plants that produce electricity. It is also the unloading and transshipment center for imported crude oil, fuel oil and diesel, with Cuba producing only half of the fuel required to keep its economy afloat.

Fire at Cuba Oil Facility Spreads as 3rd Tank Ignites
Members of the Cuban Red Cross wait to be transported to the Matanzas Supertanker Base, where firefighters work to quell a blaze which began during a thunderstorm the night before, in Matazanas, Cuba, Saturday, August 6, 2022. The fire at an oil storage facility raged uncontrolled Saturday, where four explosions and flames injured nearly 80 people and left over a dozen firefighters missing, Cuban authorities said. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The blaze comes as Cuba struggles through a deep economic crisis and faces frequent power outages amid a sweltering summer, issues that helped unleashed unprecedented anti-government protests last year. Officials have not provided a preliminary estimate of damages.

___By ANDREA RODRIGUEZ/Associated Press To follow Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

Coast Guard Rescues Man From Capsized Vessel 69 Miles East of Smyrna Beach

JACKSONVILLE — The Coast Guard rescued a 60-year-old man, Friday, after his sail vessel capsized and sank 69 miles east of Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Rescued was: Steven Hicks.

The Coast Guard Cutter SkipJack crew rescued the man from a life raft and brought him back ashore in stable condition.

Coast Guard Rescues Man From Capsized Vessel 69 Miles East of Smyrna Beach
U.S. Coast Guard photo

“It’s important for mariners to keep their life-saving equipment in good working order because it can save a life,” said Chief Petty Officer Matthew Barker, Coast Guard Cutter Skipjack officer in charge.” This case demonstrates how a registered emergency position indicating radio beacon is a lifesaving piece of equipment.” 

Coast Guard Sector Jacksonville watchstanders received an emergency notification sent from Hicks’s EPRIB with his location. Coast Guard 7th District watchstanders diverted the launch of an Air Station Clearwater MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew to assist the boater in distress.

Tropical Wave Now Has A 40% Chance of Becoming Severe Weather: NHC

MIAMI — With the peak of hurricane season approaching the tropics may have woken up from their weeks-long slumber.

The National Hurricane Center began projecting the formation a potential tropical system in the eastern Atlantic Ocean as a tropical wave is forecast to move off the west coast of Africa over this weekend.

The NHC said today that the tropical wave has moved off the African west coast.

Tropical Wave Now Has A 40% Chance of Becoming Severe Weather: NHC

As of the NHC’s 8 a.m. tropical outlook, forecasters give the system a 40 percent chance of formation in the next five days.

“Environmental conditions are expected to be conducive for some gradual development of this system while it moves westward across the eastern and central tropical Atlantic during the early to middle part of next week,” said NHC Hurricane Specialist Brad Reinhart.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration just released its mid-season forecast update this week still expecting and above-average number of storms, which it had predicted ahead of the season’s start, with a range of 14 to 21 named storms expected.

The hurricane season, which runs from June 1-November 30, has so far produced three named systems: Tropical Storm Alex, Bonnie and Colin.

The last two years have been among the busiest in recorded history with 2020 producing a record 30 named systems and 2021 running through all 21 of the NHC’s standard hurricane season of named systems.

The next name of the 2022 name list is Danielle. This season, the NHC has had to issue advisories on systems ahead of official naming, referring to what became Tropical Storm Alex, for instance, as Potential Tropical Cyclone One. That un-named system dumped rain on Florida in as it passed over the peninsula in June leaving many parts of Miami under nearly a foot of water.

The NHC has not issued a tropical advisory since Tropical Storm Colin fizzled on July 3.

When House Hunting In St. Croix, Watch Out For The Paint Pony On The Front Porch

CHRISTIANSTED  — Two people went searching for the best place to live on the Big Islands and ended up in our “only in St. Croix” feature.

DeAnna Stewart of Christiansted shared on Twitter that when she and a friend went house hunting on St. Croix recently — a common theme kept coming up — animals in strange places!

“Rhonda and I had an awesome day driving around looking at houses … along the way we kept seeing animals…weird, different situations with animals…ha!!

“I mean, everyone needs a paint pony on their front porch with the refrigerator…right!?”

When House Hunting In St. Croix, Watch Out For The Paint Pony On The Front Porch
Photo by DeAnna Stewart

#VIFreep #HouseHunters #lovestx

Cuba Fire Rages at Fuel Storage Port; Mexico, Venezuela Sending Help

HAVANA — A massive oil-fed fire burned for a second day on Saturday near Cuba’s supertanker port in Matanzas, as Mexico and Venezuela sent teams to help fight the inferno and Cuba accepted a U.S. offer of unspecified “technical advice.”

On Friday evening, lightning struck one of eight storage tanks at the facility 60 miles east of Havana. Heat from the blaze reached a second tank on Saturday and the wind blew flames dangerously close to a third.

“We express deep gratitude to the governments of Mexico, Venezuela, Russia, Chile … which have promptly offered material aid in the face of this complex situation,” tweeted Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

“We also appreciate the offer of technical advice from the US,” he said.

Cuba Fire Rages at Fuel Storage Port; Mexico, Venezuela Sending Help

Cuban authorities said at least 121 people were injured in the second blast, of which 36 remained hospitalized, five in critical condition. One person was listed as dead and 17 firefighters were unaccounted for. More than 1,000 civilians were evacuated from the area.

“There was a very big explosion yesterday around 8 p.m. and today at 5 a.m. a second explosion so big it lit up the area like the sun,” local resident Alfredo Gonzalez said.

Diaz-Canel visited the scene around midnight, then returned to spend Saturday coordinating the response as state-run television broadcast live coverage of the unfolding disaster.

Before the second blast, Diaz-Canel posted on Twitter that first responders were “trying to avert the spread of the flames and any spill of fuel” into the Matanzas bay.

Cuba Fire Rages at Fuel Storage Port; Mexico, Venezuela Sending Help

Military helicopters were dumping seawater on nearby storage tanks as smoke reached Havana and residents were warned to avoid acid rain.

Cuba has been suffering daily blackouts and fuel shortages. The loss of fuel and storage capacity is likely to aggravate the situation which has led to small local protests in the last few months.

Jorge Pinon, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s Latin America and Caribbean Energy and Environment Program, said the area had eight big tanks each with a capacity of 300,000 barrels.

“The area is a transshipment point for fuel to various thermo-electric plants, not just the one nearby, so this could be very bad news for the power grid,” he said.

Cuba Fire Rages at Fuel Storage Port; Mexico, Venezuela Sending Help
Disaster comes at a time when the island has faced mounting difficulties in meeting increased energy demands amid severe summer heat. (AFP)

REUTERS

Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Reuters television; Editing by Mike Harrison and Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Former Puerto Rican Governor Vazquez Arrested For Accepting Political Favors

SAN JUAN  — Authorities announced criminal charges against former Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez, who was in office from 2019 to 2021, for alleged corruption during her 2020 election campaign.

The former governor is charged with conspiracy, federal programs bribery and honest services wire fraud, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement.

Vazquez told reporters she was innocent following her initial hearing on Thursday afternoon.

“I have not committed any crime,” she said. “They have committed a great injustice by filing these charges.”

According to authorities, a Venezuelan-Italian bank owner and a former FBI agent paid some $300,000 to political consultants supporting Vazquez’s campaign in exchange for political favors.

Authorities allege that the owner of the bank Bancredito, which was under investigation by the island’s regulatory authority, indirectly asked Vazquez to replace the regulator’s head with a hand-picked leader to head off the audit.

Bancredito’s owner, Julio Martin Herrera Velutini, allegedly coordinated with one of Vazquez’s campaign workers, former FBI agent Mark Rossini, to carry out the bribe. Both have been charged alongside Vazquez.

Investigators say that after Vazquez’s primary election loss in 2020, Herrera then attempted to bribe her successor, named in the indictment only as “Public Official A.”

Puerto Rico’s current governor, Pedro Pierluisi, is not under investigation, authorities said.

Herrera’s attempts to bribe the current governor to end the audit of Bancredito were unsuccessful, authorities say, as his contact allegedly representing the governor was actually acting on behalf of the FBI.

Two others pleaded guilty for their involvement in the scheme in March. Frances Diaz, former president and chief executive officer of Bancredito, conspired with Herrera and others to bribe the current governor, officials say.

Meanwhile, another of Vazquez’s campaign coordinators, John Blakeman, conspired with Herrera and Rossini to bribe Vazquez and with Herrera to bribe her successor, according to the Department of Justice.

The two face up to five years in prison, though their sentencing hearings have not yet been scheduled.

Vazquez, as well as Herrara and Rossini, could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Stephen Muldrow said.

In Vazquez’s first appearance in court, U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Puerto Rico Camille Velez-Rive ruled the former governor could be released on $50,000 bail on the condition she hand over her passport.

 — REUTERS

Reporting by Ivelisse Rivera and Kylie Madry; Editing by Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Tropical Wave Coming Off Africa Has A 30% Chance of Becoming A Tropical Storm: NHC

MIAMI — The 2022 Atlantic hurricane season may have started slow — there have only been three named storms so far — but forecasters warned activity is still expected to be above normal.

The National Hurricane Center currently is watching three tropical waves, including one in the Caribbean. Another tropical wave is expected to move off Africa’s coast later today.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an updated forecast for the season Thursday, revising its prediction slightly downward, with six to 10 hurricanes expected.

Tropical Wave Coming Off Africa Has A 30% Chance of Becoming A Tropical Storm: NHC

An average Atlantic season spawns seven hurricanes and peaks in August, September and October.

Overall, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 14 to 20 named storms will develop in the Atlantic basin, which includes storms in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In May, the organization predicted 21 named storms.

A tropical wave is forecast to move off the west coast of Africa tonight and early Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Environmental conditions are expected to be conducive for gradual development of this system, according to the NHC.

The system is expected to move westward to west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph as it pushes forward.

The wave is forecast to pass the eastern and central tropical Atlantic during the early to middle part of next week.

Forecasters give the system a zero percent chance of forming into severe weather within the next 48 hours.

And the chance of forming into severe weather in the next five days is put at 30 percent.

VIDOJ To Host DADS Take Your Child to School Day On St. Thomas

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The Virgin Islands Justice Department’s Access and Visitation Program and Paternity and Child Support Division is partnering with the Department of Education in the national initiative for fathers to take their children to school on Monday.

The DADS Take Your Child to School Day initiative highlights and supports fatherhood engagement in education by helping schools foster this vital connection with fathers and father figures.

“Fathers and significant male caregivers are invited to accompany their child or children to the school campuses,” according to organizers. “The goal is to encourage or increase father involvement in education on the first day and throughout the school year.”

VIDOJ To Host DADS Take Your Child to School Day On St. Thomas

Research indicates engaging dads, brothers, uncles, father figures, other significant male role models, and male mentors increases student success in numerous ways. Dads Take Your Child to School Day assist schools with building capacity in fatherhood engagement.

“I would like to encourage all father and male caregivers to take their children to school on the first day because supportive and committed families can determine the successful trajectory of our children’s lives,” V.I. Attorney General Denise George said. “We are excited to continuously support families through our Access and Visitation Program which uses evidence-based parenting education and visitation services to help fathers and mothers stay engaged and connect with their children while assisting them with the tools necessary to strengthen the roles they play in their children’s lives.”

There will be 300 hundred t-shirts given to the Department of Education from the AVP which is a federally funded program under Title IV Section D of the Social Security Act.

Each year, the federal Office of Child Support Enforcement (OSCE) provides mandatory grant funding to states and territories to operate the Access and Visitation Program designed to fund services to help noncustodial parents spend more time with their children and strengthen parental and family relationships.

According to the OSCE, researchers have found that financial and emotional support is interrelated.

For more information on the initiative, please see the attached flyer and call the Access and Visitation Program, DOJ Paternity and Child Support Division at 340-775-3070 on St. Thomas and St. Croix at 340-778-5958. Additionally, you can email the team at viaccess@vi.gov.

VIDOJ To Host DADS Take Your Child to School Day On St. Thomas

FBI, VIPD and VIDOJ Investigate Data Breach At OMB

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — VIPD detectives, Virgin Islands Department of Justice agents, alongside an FBI Digital Forensic Team were at the Office of Management and Budget in furtherance of a VIPD-VIDOJ led investigation into a possible digital breach.

The VIPD-VIDOJ presence at OMB was at the request of OMB Director Jenifer O’Neal with the intention of protecting the Governments financial information, according to the Virgin Islands Police Department.

The overarching investigation was launched in May when several unauthorized covert monitoring devices were found in government offices, according to the VIPD.

“VIPD is confident that all covert monitoring devices have been located, removed, or destroyed, however we continue to scan networks and systems to protect against digital and covert monitoring incursions,” Police Commissioner Ray A. Martinez said. “The individuals who placed these devices for nefarious reasons underestimated local law enforcement’s ability to discover them. We will not idly stand by and allow these individuals to trample our civil rights and intentionally interfere with the effective and orderly operation of our government. They underestimated our dedication and access to advanced digital forensic capabilities. Make no mistake we have only just scratched the surface of this investigation. We will continue to keep the public informed as we progress with this investigation. The investigation is ongoing and federal law enforcement has been engaged to support the full investigation of these actions.”