Strong earthquake prompts tsunami threat message in Caribbean, Mexico
By CNN Staff
Updated 10:51 PM ET, Tue January 9, 2018
(CNN)The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves were possible for several countries in the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Mexico, after a magnitude-7.6 earthquake struck 27 miles off the coast of Honduras.
“Tsunami waves reaching 0.3 to 1 meters above the tide level are possible for some coasts of Belize, Cuba, Honduras, Mexico, the Cayman Islands and Jamaica,” the agency said.
The earthquake was 44 kilometers east of Great Swan Island, Honduras, the US Geological Survey said.
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(OPED: PEOPLE LIKE APPLE’S TIM COOK WHO GO BEFORE CONGRESS AND LIE HIS -SS OFF SHOULD BE ARRESTED AT ONCE AND HELD WITHOUT BAIL. IF THE AVERAGE PERSON DID THESE SAME CRIMES THEY WOULD BE THROWN UNDER THE JAIL. IN MY OPINION, IT SHINES A LIGHT ON THE REAL WORLD OF POLITICAL CONTRIBUTIONS, IF YOU ARE A BIG MONEY GIVER TO THE POLITICIANS (BUYING THEM), YOU ARE ALLOWED TO BREAK THE LAWS AND STEAL BILLIONS THROUGH TAX FRAUD.) (TRS)
Apple’s cash mountain, how it avoids tax and the Irish link
Paradise Papers: Elite tax advisers help Apple and others skirt effects of ‘double Irish’ crackdown
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), use the example of a fictional fast-food chain, Snax Haven, in explaining how offshore tax avoidance systems work. Video: ICIJ
It was May 2013, and Apple Inc’s chief executive, Tim Cook, was angry. He sat before the United States Senate’s permanent subcommittee on investigations, which had completed an inquiry into how Apple avoided tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits into Irish subsidiaries that the subcommittee’s chairman called “ghost companies”.
“We pay all the taxes we owe, every single dollar,” Cook declared. “We do not depend on tax gimmicks . . . We do not stash money on some Caribbean island.”
Five months later Ireland bowed to international pressure and announced a crackdown on Irish firms, like Apple’s subsidiaries, that claimed that almost all of their income was not subject to taxes in Ireland or anywhere else in the world.
Now leaked documents shine a light on how the iPhone maker responded to this move. Despite its CEO’s public rejection of island havens, that’s where Apple turned as it began shopping for a new tax refuge.
Apple’s advisers at one of the world’s top law firms, the US-headquartered Baker McKenzie, canvassed one of the leading players in the offshore world, a firm of lawyers called Appleby, which specialized in setting up and administering tax-haven companies.
A questionnaire that Baker McKenzie emailed in March 2014 set out 14 questions for Appleby’s offices in the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey.
One asked that the offices “Confirm that an Irish company can conduct management activities . . . without being subject to taxation in your jurisdiction.”
Apple also asked for assurances that the local political climate would remain friendly: “Are there any developments suggesting that the law may change in an unfavorable way in the foreseeable future?”
In the end Apple settled on Jersey, the tiny island in the English Channel that, like many Caribbean havens, charges no tax on corporate profits for most companies. Jersey was to play a significant role in Apple’s newly configured Irish tax structure set up in late 2014. Under this arrangement, the MacBook maker has continued to enjoy ultralow tax rates on most of its profits and now holds much of its non-US earnings in a $252 billion mountain of cash offshore. The Irish Government’s crackdown on shadow companies, meanwhile, has had little effect.
The inside story of Apple’s hunt for a new avoidance strategy is among the disclosures emerging from a leak of secret corporate records that reveals how the offshore tax game is played by Apple, Nike, Uber and other multinational corporations – and how top law firms help them exploit gaps between differing tax codes around the world.
The documents come from the internal files of the offshore law firm Appleby and the corporate services provider Estera, two businesses that operated together under the Appleby name until Estera became independent in 2016.
The files show how Appleby played a cameo role in creating many cross-border tax structures. The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung obtained the records and shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners, including The Irish Times, the New York Times, Australia’s ABC, the BBC in the United Kingdom, Le Monde in France and CBC in Canada.
These disclosures come as the White House and Congress consider cutting the US federal tax on corporate income, pushing its top rate of 35 percent down to 20 percent or lower. President Donald Trump has insisted that American firms are getting a bad deal from current tax rules.
The documents show that, in reality, many big US multinationals pay income taxes at very low rates, thanks in part to complex corporate structures they set up with the help of a global network of elite tax advisers.
In this regard, Apple has led the field. Despite almost all design and development of its products taking place in the US, the iPhone maker has for years been able to report that about two-thirds of its worldwide profits were made in other countries, where it has used loopholes to access ultralow foreign tax rates.
Now leaked documents help show how Apple quietly carried out a restructuring of its Irish companies at the end of 2014, allowing it to carry on paying taxes at low rates on the majority of global profits.
Multinationals that transfer intangible assets to tax havens and adopt other aggressive avoidance strategies are costing governments around the world as much as $240 billion a year in lost tax revenue, according to a conservative estimate in 2015 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Documents reviewed by ICIJ and other media partners provide insight into how those strategies work. They show the creative methods that advisory firms devise in response to attempts by regulators to crack down on tax shelters.
“US multinational firms are the global grandmasters of tax-avoidance schemes that deplete not just US tax collection but the tax collection of most every large economy in the world,” said Edward Kleinbard, a former corporate lawyer who is now a professor of tax law at the University of Southern California.
The Trump administration and the United States Congress are considering whether to grant a one-time tax holiday that would allow big multinationals to bring home, at a sharply reduced tax rate, more than $2.6 trillion they have stowed in offshore subsidiaries.
Kleinbard said the prospect of a big corporate tax holiday “simply begs companies to ramp up their tax-avoidance strategy still further in anticipation of more holidays in years to come. And it removes pressure for genuine reform.”
An Apple spokesperson declined to answer a list of questions about the company’s offshore tax strategy, except to say it had informed US, Irish and European Commission regulators of its reorganization at the end of 2014. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” the spokesman said.
He added: “At Apple, we follow the laws, and if the system changes we will comply. We strongly support efforts from the global community toward comprehensive international tax reform and a far simpler system, and we will continue to advocate for that.”
By quietly transferring trademarks, patent rights, and other intangible assets to offshore companies, many other global businesses have also been able to cut their tax bills dramatically.
The leaked papers show how the ownership of prized assets – including rights to Nike’s Swoosh trademark, Uber’s taxi-hailing app and medical patents covering such treatment options as Botox and breast implants – could all be traced to a five-story office block in Bermuda occupied by Appleby and Estera.
Ownership of Facebook’s user database for most countries outside the United States, as well as rights to use its platform technology – together worth billions of dollars – has been held through companies at a similarly unassuming address on Grand Cayman used by Appleby and Estera. And Apple’s money trail has been traced to a building used by Appleby and Estera in Jersey, 30km off the coast of northern France.
Addresses shared by the two offshore firms on tax-haven islands have played host to secretive shell companies buried deep within the corporate architecture of many of the largest multinationals. Despite moves by governments to phase out loopholes, tax shelters remain as popular as ever.
Governments around the world have challenged some of the tax structures maintained by Appleby and Estera clients – though not always successfully. Nike triumphed over the US Internal Revenue Service a year ago. A dispute between Facebook and US tax authorities continues to play out in court. Apple, meanwhile, is being pursued €13 billion in Irish back taxes after European regulators ruled that Ireland had granted illegal state aid by approving Apple’s tax structure.
The leaked documents help explain how three small jurisdictions – the Netherlands, Ireland, and Bermuda – have become go-to destinations for big corporations looking to avoid taxes on their overseas earnings. Among them, these three spots hold less than one-third of 1 per cent of the world’s population – but they accounted for 35 per cent of all profits that US multinationals reported earning overseas last year, according to analysis by Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley.
Over three decades US multinationals have been growing bolder, shifting vast chunks of profits into tax havens. Concerns about their tactics were largely ignored until government finances around the world came under pressure in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Beginning in the autumn of 2012, the issue came to a head in a welter of government inquiries, tax-inspector raids, investigative reporting and promises of reform.
By the time the US Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations released 142 pages of documents and analysis for its public hearing on Apple’s tax avoidance in May 2013, the world was paying attention. The subcommittee found that Apple was attributing billions of dollars of profits each year to three Irish subsidiaries that declared “tax residency” nowhere in the world.
Under Irish law, most firms incorporated in Ireland are required to pay taxes locally on their profits. But if the directors are able to convince the Irish tax authorities that a company is “managed and controlled” abroad, it can often escape all, or almost all, Irish tax
For more than two decades the directors of Apple’s three Irish companies – including, for many years, Tim Cook – did just that. By running these Irish subsidiaries from group headquarters in California they avoided Irish tax residency.
At the same time, the directors knew that their Irish companies would not qualify for tax residency in the United States because American tax law worked differently. Under US rules a company has American tax residency only if it is incorporated there.
“Apple sought the holy grail of tax avoidance: offshore corporations that it argues are not, for tax purposes, resident anywhere in any nation,” Carl Levin, then a Democratic senator for Michigan, and chairman of the Senate subcommittee, said at the 2013 hearing.
Ireland’s minister for finance at the time, Michael Noonan, at first defended his country’s policies, saying, “I do not want to be the whipping boy for some misunderstanding in a hearing in the US Congress.” But by October 2013, in response to growing international pressure, he announced plans to require Irish companies to declare tax residency somewhere in the world.
At that time Apple had accumulated $111 billion in cash almost entirely held by its Irish shadow companies, beyond the reach of US tax authorities. Each year the pile grew higher and higher as billions of dollars in profits poured into these low-tax subsidiaries.
Company officials wanted to keep it that way.
So Apple sought alternatives to replace the tax-shelter arrangements that Ireland would soon shut down. At the same time, however, the iPhone maker wanted its interest in the offshore world kept quiet.
As Cameron Adderley, global head of Appleby’s corporate division explained in an email to other senior partners: “For those of you who are not aware Apple [officials] are extremely sensitive concerning publicity . . . They also expect the work that is being done for them only to be discussed amongst personnel who need to know.”
For Appleby, Adderley explained, this was “a tremendous opportunity for us to shine on a global basis with Baker McKenzie”.
Baker McKenzie’s role in setting up offshore structures for multinationals, and then defending them when challenged by tax regulators, is legendary. The law firm has also been involved in lobbying against proposals to crack down on tax avoidance by technology giants. It has 5,000 attorneys in 77 offices around the world. Former partners include Christine Lagarde, the former French finance minister and now managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Behind closed doors, Apple decided that two of its Irish companies should, with the help of Appleby, claim tax residency in Jersey, one of the largest island shelters with strong links to the UK banking system, where Apple’s Irish subsidiaries already held accounts. Jersey is a crown dependency of the United Kingdom, but it makes its own laws, sets its own tax rates and is not subject to most European Union legislation, making it a popular tax haven.
As Apple’s plans to use an offshore tax haven progressed another potential problem emerged. In mid-2014, again under pressure from other governments, Ireland had begun exploring a ban on the tax shelter known as the double Irish, an avoidance strategy used by scores of companies, including Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, other tech companies and drugmakers such as Abbott Laboratories.
The double Irish allows companies to collect profits through one Irish unit that actually employs people in Ireland and is tax resident there, then route those profits to a second Irish subsidiary that claims tax residency in a low-tax island such as Bermuda, Grand Cayman or the Isle of Man.
A crackdown on such arrangements could have interfered with Apple’s plans in Jersey before they had got off the ground. Although it was aimed at double-Irish structures the potential rule change would ban all Irish companies from claiming tax residency in a tax haven.
Although the iPhone maker was not in a position to protest loudly, others spoke up. California-based Terilea Wielenga, who was the international president of the Tax Executives Institute, wrote to Noonan in July 2014, warning that moves that would effectively ban double-Irish structures “may not be prudent”. And if Irish ministers did press ahead, she added, they would be well advised to incorporate “a substantial transition period”.
What her letter did not tell, but leaked Appleby papers now show, was that Wielenga was quietly orchestrating a long-standing double-Irish structure at Allergan, the maker of Botox, where at the time she worked as head of tax. For more than a decade the structure has shifted profits away from Ireland, where Allergan has a Botox factory, to Bermuda.
The ICIJ attempted to contact Wielenga but did not receive a response. Allergan did not answer specific questions about its tax affairs but said: “Allergan abides by all applicable tax laws and accounting rules and pays all taxes owed in all jurisdictions where it does business.”
The lobbying seemed to work.
Ireland included a generous grandfathering clause for Allergan and other multinationals using Irish tax structures. “For existing companies, there will be provision for a transition period until the end of 2020,” Noonan declared on October 14th, 2014.
More precisely, the fine print of policy documents revealed, the grandfathering provisions would apply not just to companies in existence when the finance minister spoke but also any new ones created up until the end of 2014.
That gave Apple just enough time. By the start of 2015, it had restructured its affairs in Ireland, including securing tax residency in Jersey for Apple Sales International and Apple Operations International, two of the three Irish shadow companies highlighted in the US Senate investigation a year earlier.
For the previous five years, Apple Sales International had been Apple’s biggest profit generator, churning out more than $120 billion, or close to 60 percent of Apple’s worldwide earnings.
Meanwhile, much of that profit was transferred as dividends to Apple Operations International, described by Cook as “a company set up to provide an efficient way to manage Apple’s cash”.
Before their move to Jersey, these two subsidiaries had played a leading role in helping Apple accumulate and hold $137 billion in cash – most of which came from non-US profits barely taxed by any government in the world.
The latest figures indicate that since Apple’s reorganization of its Irish companies this sum has increased 84 percent, although Apple won’t confirm which of its foreign subsidiaries own this cash.
This pile of money has inadvertently made Apple one of the biggest investment funds in the world, and its offshore cash reserves have been put to work in a portfolio that includes corporate bonds, government debt, and mortgage-backed securities.
Under the wire
Apple was not the only multinational that moved quickly to grab a final chance before 2015 dawned.
“At the end of 2014 a window of opportunity closes,” advisers from the big US law firm DLA Piper explained to CitiXsys, a retail software supplier based in New York. DLA Piper set out a frenetic schedule of incorporations and intellectual-property transfers to be rushed through before the new year to set up a double Irish.
As DLA Piper explained, this arrangement “must be managed and controlled in [a] 0% or low tax jurisdiction, such as the Isle of Man, where the bulk of profits are recognized”. That way the entire structure “produces a very low effective tax rate, approximately 5% to 7%”.
ICIJ contacted CitiXsys and other multinationals featured in this story. CitiXsys did not respond, and Uber declined to comment. Nike, Facebook, and Allergan declined to answer questions but provided general statements saying they fully complied with tax regulations in countries where they operate.
DLA Piper declined to comment, and Baker McKenzie said it does not discuss client matters. Appleby declined to answer questions but said on its website: “We are an offshore law firm who advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business.” Estera, the corporate-services company that split away from Appleby at the beginning of 2016 and continues to administer many offshore companies on behalf of clients, declined to comment.
While CitiXsys’s rapidly assembled structure mirrored the structures embraced by Facebook, Google and others using the double Irish, Apple’s reorganized Irish companies appear to function very differently.
The iPhone maker has declined to answer ICIJ’s questions about its new setup, but it appears to give a key role to another of Apple’s Irish subsidiaries, a company called Apple Operations Europe.
Together with Apple Operations International and Apple Sales International, the company made up the three Irish firms criticised by US senators in 2013 for being “ghost companies”, tax resident nowhere in the world.
By 2015 tighter Irish laws had caused all three to find a new tax home. But while the other two Irish companies took up residence in Jersey, Apple Operations Europe became tax resident in Ireland, the country of its incorporation.
A clue to why a multinational might want a subsidiary that was liable for taxes in Ireland can be found, once again, in Michael Noonan’s budget announcement in 2014.
While media headlines focused on his decision to crack down on double-Irish arrangements, less attention was paid to measures not mentioned in his budget speech but contained in accompanying policy documents. In particular, the paperwork revealed plans to expand an already generous tax regime for companies that bring the intangible property into Ireland.
The incentive, known as a capital allowance, offered Irish companies big tax deductions over many years if they spent money buying expensive intangible property.
Importantly for multinationals, however, it was also available to an Irish company that bought the intangible property from another company within the same group.
The arrangement was especially attractive to those multinationals that were in a position to sell their intangible property into Ireland from a subsidiary in a tax haven, where the gain from the sale would go untaxed.
In effect, even though the internal sale would cost the multinational nothing, such a move could nevertheless unlock huge tax breaks in Ireland.
Even before Noonan sweetened the terms of this capital allowance tax break, some experts suggested it could be used to achieve tax rates as low as 2.5 percent.
Apple declined to answer questions about whether it has taken advantage of this tax break by selling rights to use its intangible property from Apple Sales International in Jersey to Apple Operations Europe in Ireland.
It’s clear, though, that a large amount of intangible property landed abruptly in Ireland around the period when Apple reorganized its three Irish subsidiaries. In fact, the country’s gross domestic product for 2015 leaped by an incredible 26 per cent, boosted by close to $270 billion of intangible assets suddenly appearing in Ireland’s national accounts at the start of the year – more than the entire value of residential property in Ireland.
The Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman called the development “Leprechaun economics”.
The ICIJ showed the findings from its investigation to J Richard Harvey, a Villanova University law professor, and Stephen Shay, senior lecturer at Harvard Law School. In 2013 both of them gave detailed testimony on Apple’s previous Irish structure to the US Senate committee’s investigation. They both told the ICIJ it appeared likely the iPhone maker had transferred intangible assets to Ireland.
“While it is not 100 percent clear how Apple has restructured its Irish operations, one strong possibility is that they have transferred more than $200 billion of valuable intangible assets . . . to an Irish resident company, for example, Apple Operations Europe,” Harvey said.
Shay added: “By using Irish intangible property tax reliefs, Apple likely will pay little or no additional Irish tax for years to come on income at Apple Operations Europe.
The Department of Finance in Dublin told the ICIJ: “The Irish regime for capital allowances . . . is broadly similar to regimes available in other countries and does not confer any additional benefits to multinationals.”
However, in October 2017, Ireland reversed the sweetened terms Noonan had added to the tax break three years earlier.
Apple said that following its reorganization it pays more Irish tax than before. “The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country,” Apple said in a statement. “In fact, our payments to Ireland increased significantly and over three years [2014, 2015 and 2016] we’ve paid $1.5 billion in tax there – 7% of all corporate income taxes paid in that country.”
But the iPhone maker still won’t say how much profit it makes through its Irish companies – making it impossible to gauge whether $1.5 billion is a lot of tax to pay in three years or not.
Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School, said Apple was “determined not to be hurt” when it had to abandon its previous Irish structure. “This is how it usually works: You close one tax shelter, and something else opens up,” he said. “It just goes on endlessly.”
Jesse Drucker, a reporter with the New York Times, contributed to this story
Hurricane Maria’s destructive tear across the Caribbean is well underway, with the storm obliterating parts of Dominica and threatening “catastrophic” damage to Puerto Rico.
“No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe II in 1928,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday. “This is an unprecedented atmospheric system.”
He urged Puerto Ricans to find safe shelters immediately, as emergency workers “will not be available to help you once the winds reach 50 mph.”
“We need to keep in mind that we must also protect the lives of these first responders. It’s time to act and look for a safe place if you live in flood-prone areas or in wooden or vulnerable structures,” Rosselló said.
Maria has already has pounded Dominica with 160 mph (257 kph) winds and caused “widespread devastation,” Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Tuesday.
The Category 5 hurricane shredded the prime minister’s house overnight and left much of the island — population 73,000 — in ruins.
“So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace,” Skerrit posted on Facebook Tuesday. He said his greatest fear was “news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains.”
A few hours earlier, the Prime Minister posted, “My roof is gone. I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding.”
Hurricane Maria battered Guadeloupe and flooded a street in Pointe-a-Pitre.
Maria is now the strongest hurricane on record to make landfall in Dominica, a former French and British colony whose economy relies heavily on tourism and agriculture.
Now, Maria is taking aim on Puerto Rico and Islands already crippled by Hurricane Irma.
‘Don’t go out under any circumstances’
As of midday Tuesday, Maria was centered about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of St. Croix and was headed west-northwest at 10 mph.
While Maria moves closer to St. Croix, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, preparations against life-threatening storm surge, flooding and destructive winds “should be rushed to completion,’ the National Hurricane Center said.
Puerto Rico said its biggest airport, the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport near San Juan, will close at 7 p.m. ET Tuesday. Airports in Ponce and Aguadilla will close today at 6 p.m.
A hurricane warning is in effect Tuesday for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis, Montserrat, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Culebra, and Vieques.
“A dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves will raise water levels by as much as 7 to 11 feet above normal tide levels in the hurricane warning area near where the center of Maria moves across the Leeward Islands and the British Virgin Islands,” the hurricane center said.
Guadeloupe’s regional government tweeted a stern warning to residents Tuesday: “Don’t go out under any circumstances.”
Puerto Rico says Maria ‘will be catastrophic’
Maria will pummel the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Tuesday night and Wednesday as “an extremely dangerous Category 4 or 5 hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center said.
“This is an event that will be damaging to the infrastructure, that will be catastrophic,” Rosselló said. “Our only focus right now should be to make sure we save lives.”
The governor said 500 shelters are available on the island.
“We expect to feel storm winds, tropical storm winds, (from) Tuesday up until late on Thursday. That’s about two-and-a-half days of tropical storm winds,” Rosselló said.
“On Wednesday we will feel the brunt — all of the island will feel the brunt of sustained Category 4 or 5 winds.”
The Puerto Rico Convention Center in the capital San Juan to the north — which is still housing Hurricane Irma evacuees from other Caribbean islands — is preparing to accept thousands of residents as the worst of the storm is felt.
Maria is getting closer to islands devastated by Hurricane Irma
Hurricane Jose could bring “dangerous surf and rip currents” to the US East Coast
(CNN) Hurricane Maria was upgraded from a tropical storm Sunday afternoon as it takes aim at Caribbean islands devastated less than two weeks ago by Hurricane Irma.
As of Sunday afternoon, Maria was about 140 miles (225 kilometers) east northeast of Barbados, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane, hurling winds of 75 mph, and is forecast to continue moving toward the eastern Caribbean at 15 mph.
“Maria has strengthened to a hurricane and could be near major hurricane intensity which it affects portions of the Leeward Islands over the next few days, bringing dangerous wind, storm surge and rainfall hazards,” the hurricane center said.
Hurricane Maria is expected to keep strenghening as it heads toward the Caribbean.
Maria is one of three storms churning in the Atlantic Ocean, but it poses the most danger to the hurricane-battered Caribbean.
Maria has prompted a hurricane warning for Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat. A tropical storm warning is in effect for Martinique, Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Lucia. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.
The warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within 36 hours.
A hurricane watch is in effect for the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla — many of which were devastated when Irma blew through the Caribbean, killing 44 people. A hurricane watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.
“Maria is likely to affect the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico by mid week as a dangerous major hurricane,” the NHC said.
Torrential rainfall could cause deadly flash flooding and mudslides. Maria could dump 6 to 12 inches of rain across the Leeward Islands — including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands — through Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose intensified as it churned north on Sunday, threatening “dangerous surf and rip currents” along the US East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.
(CNN) Tropical Storm Maria formed Saturday in the western Atlantic Ocean, prompting a hurricane watch for areas battered by Hurricane Irma last week.
Maria is about 590 miles east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles and is packing maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. The storm is moving toward the Caribbean at 19 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical Storm Maria forms in the Atlantic.
Maria is expected to gain strength through the weekend and become a hurricane by late Monday, forecasters said.
Tropical storm watches are posted for Barbados, St. Lucia, Martinique, Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The hurricane watch covers Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Guadeloupe.
Tropical Storm Maria is expected to become a Category 1 hurricane as it impacts the Caribbean.
That means areas devastated by Irma could again be dealing with hurricane conditions by Tuesday or Wednesday.
Maria joins Tropical Storm Lee, which formed earlier Saturday in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.
Lee is spinning about 720 miles west-southwest of Cape Verde off northwest Africa and packing maximum sustained winds of 40 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Lee isn’t expected to gain much strength over the next 48 hours and will likely fade to a tropical depression by Wednesday without affecting land, the center said.
These new Atlantic systems join Hurricane Jose, a Category 1 storm spinning about 480 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Jose could bring rain and wind to the US Northeast early next week.
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As Hurricane Irma departed Antigua and Barbuda’s usually pristine reef-ringed beaches with the pink and white sand, islanders struggled to grasp the destruction to Barbuda’s schools, churches and the homes that many had used their life savings to build.
Irma somehow spared Antigua, which was open for business by Thursday morning. But on Barbuda, the smaller of the two islands, the ferocious and historic Category 5 hurricane had turned the typically gentle Caribbean winds into violent gusts that decimated Codrington, the sole town on the 62-square-mile island.
“Barbuda right now is literally a rubble,” Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.
Browne said nearly all of the government and personal property on Barbuda was damaged — including the hospital and the airport, which he said had its roof completely blown away. At least one person, a young child, was killed on the island — one of numerous deaths reported across the Caribbean in Irma’s horrific aftermath.
Now, these victims face yet another threat — a second hurricane, Jose, which appears to be coming for the same islands that are trying to dig out from Irma’s devastation.
The National Hurricane Center released an ominous bulletin Thursday about the new menace looming in the Atlantic: “JOSE EXPECTED TO BECOME A MAJOR HURRICANE BY FRIDAY … WATCHES ISSUED FOR THE NORTHERN LEEWARD ISLANDS.” By early afternoon, Jose had gained Category 2 status, and Antigua and Barbuda issued a new hurricane watch.
“We are very worried about Hurricane Jose,” Browne said Thursday in a phone interview with The Washington Post, adding that Irma left about 60 percent of Barbuda’s nearly 2,000 residents homeless and destroyed or damaged 95 percent of its property.
Browne will make a determination by Thursday night about whether to order a mandatory evacuation ahead of Jose’s potential landfall, but added that those who want to leave Barbuda now are being ferried to nearby Antigua.
As Irma continues its merciless churn toward the U.S. mainland, the first islanders left in its wake are only beginning to decipher the scope of the storm’s ravages.
Deaths have been reported throughout the Leeward Islands, a vulnerable, isolated chain arcing southeast from Puerto Rico, which reported at least three deaths of its own.
Officials throughout the Caribbean expect the body count to rise.
After first making landfall in Barbuda, then strafing several other Leeward Islands, Irma raked the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, leaving nearly 1 million people without any electricity. The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands are next in its path. Closer to Florida’s southern tip, the Bahamas remain in danger, and mass evacuations are underway.
The United Nations has said that Irma could affect as many as 37 million people. The majority are on the U.S. mainland, but the residents of tiny islands in the Eastern Caribbean were hit first — and hardest.
Browne, the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, told local media that Barbuda was left “barely habitable.”
Aerial footage showed homes with walls blown out and roofs ripped away.
“It was emotionally painful,” he told The Post. “It was sad to see such beautiful country being destroyed over a couple of hours.”
It is, he told The Post, “one of the most significant disasters anywhere in the world” on a per capita basis: Browne said it would take an estimated $100 million to rebuild — a “monumental challenge” for a small island government.
Ghastly images from St. Martin and St. Barthelemy (also known as St. Barts) showed cars and trucks almost completely submerged in the storm surge, and several buildings in ruin.
Witnesses on other islands described horrific destruction and a breakdown in public order: no running water, no emergency services, no police to stop looters — and a never ending tide of newly homeless people wandering the streets amid the devastation.
“It’s like someone with a lawn mower from the sky has gone over the island,” Marilou Rohan, a Dutch vacationer in Sint Maarten, which is part of the Kingdom of Netherlands, told the Dutch NOS news service. “Houses are destroyed. Some are razed to the ground. I am lucky that I was in a sturdy house, but we had to bolster the door, the wind was so hard.”
There was little sense that authorities had the situation under control, she said.
Supermarkets were being looted and no police were visible in the streets. Occasionally, soldiers have passed by, but they were doing little to impose order, she said.
“People feel powerless. They do not know what to do. You see the fear in their eyes,” she said.
Paul de Windt, the editor of the Daily Herald of Sint Maarten, told the Paradise FM radio station in Curaçao that “Many people are wandering the streets. They no longer have homes, they don’t know what to do.”
An image released Wednesday shows severe flooding in St. Martin. (AFP)
In Anguilla, part of the British West Indies, the local government is “overwhelmed” and desperate for help, Anguilla Attorney General John McKendrick told The Post late Wednesday. Officials were barely able to communicate among one another and with emergency response teams, he said. With most phone lines down, they were dependent on instant messaging.
It appears that at least one person died in Anguilla, he said.
“Roads blocked, hospital damaged. Power down. Communications badly impaired. Help needed,” McKendrick wrote in one message. In another, he said, “More people might die without further help, especially as another hurricane threatens us so soon.”
The Dutch government said that it was sending two military ships carrying smaller emergency boats, ambulances and emergency equipment to Sint Maarten.
French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said 100,000 rations — or about four days’ worth of food — are en route to the victims to St. Barts and St. Martin.
“It’s a tragedy, we’ll need to rebuild both islands,” Collomb told reporters Thursday, according to the Associated Press. “Most of the schools have been destroyed.”
Britain’s international development secretary, Priti Patel, announced Wednesday that the British navy, along with several Royal Marines and a contingent of military engineers, had been dispatched to the Caribbean with makeshift shelters and water purification systems. While some in England criticized the response, McKendrick told The Post that he’s worried that they, too, will quickly become overwhelmed by the amount of work that must be done to restore a sense of normalcy.
Around 7:30 a.m., the page broadcast a brief live video of the storm captured from inside an unidentified building. With rain pelting the windows and wind whipping the treetops, a narrator calmly described the scene outside. “Can’t see very far at all,” he said. “We’ve got whitecaps on the pool. Water is spilling out. And it’s quite a ride. But thought I’d check in and let everyone know we’re still good.”
Phone lines to the restaurant appeared to be down by the afternoon, and messages left with the Facebook page’s administrator were not immediately returned.
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About 1 p.m. Wednesday, the restaurant posted a panoramic photo on Facebook that appeared to show several buildings. The decking on one appeared to be ripped apart, and debris was scattered about the beach. One industrial building had a hole in its roof, but by and large everything was still standing.
“We made it through,” the caption read, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”
Destruction in a street in Gustavia on the French island of St. Barthelemy after Hurricane Irma. (Kevin Barrallon/AFP/Getty Images)
Michael Birnbaum and Annabell Van den Berghe contributed to this story from Brussels. Cleve Wootson and J. Freedom du Lac contributed from Washington. This post has been updated.
Irma was named as a tropical storm on Wednesday morning and by Thursday afternoon it had strengthened into a large Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 115 mph.
Hurricane Irma satellite image
Such explosive strengthening is known as “rapid intensification,” defined by the National Hurricane Center as having its wind speed increase at least 30 knots (35 mph) in 24 hours.
“Irma has become an impressive hurricane,” the National Hurricane Center said on Thursday, noting the rapid intensification, and saying “this is a remarkable 50 knot [58 mph] increase from yesterday at this time.”
Hurricane Harvey underwent rapid intensification last week, just before landfall, which brought it from a tropical storm to a Category 4 hurricane when it moved onshore near Corpus Christi.
Irma is a classic “Cape Verde hurricane,” a type of hurricane that forms in the far eastern Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands (now known as the Cabo Verde Islands) and tracks all the way across the Atlantic. Cape Verde storms frequently are some of the largest and most intense hurricanes. Examples are Hurricane Hugo, Hurricane Floyd, and Hurricane Ivan.
Hurricane Irma is forecast to continue to strengthen as it moves westward over the next five days and the official forecast from the National Hurricane Center puts a dangerous Category 4 Hurricane Irma on the doorstep of the Caribbean by the end of the five-day forecast on Tuesday afternoon.
A strong high-pressure ridge to the north of Irma, over the Atlantic, is steering the storm to the west and limiting the wind shear in the upper levels of the atmosphere, which has allowed the storm to grow so quickly. Wind shear is like hurricane kryptonite, and prevents storms from forming or gaining strength.
Unfortunately, Irma will remain in a low-shear environment for the next several days, so there isn’t much hope that Irma will weaken any time soon.
There is considerable confidence that Hurricane Irma will track to the west through the weekend and then take a slight jog to the southwest early next week in response “to a building ridge [of high pressure] over the central Atlantic.”
From there the forecast becomes a lot less clear, with some major differences among some of the key models meteorologists use to forecast hurricanes, differences so drastic that in one instance Irma slides harmlessly back out to sea and in another it makes multiple disastrous landfalls in the Caribbean and likely the United States after that.
The European model, or ECMWF, and the American GFS model have had some notable showdowns before, most notably with Hurricane Sandy.
With Sandy, the ECMWF correctly predicted a landfall in the northeast nearly a week ahead, while the GFS continually kept the storm offshore in what became a major black eye for the US weather modeling industry. There have been other examples where the GFS model has performed better than the European model, such as with a few major snowstorms in the northeast.
Right now, the GFS has Irma taking a more northerly track that curves to the north before it reaches the Caribbean, thus making a US landfall much less likely.
The European model keeps the storm tracking further west and into the Caribbean by the middle of next week.
European vs American weather models
Ryan Maue, a meteorologist with WeatherBell Analytics, said, “The ECMWF sees a much stronger ridge or Bermuda High [than the GFS] which forces Irma west, whereas the GFS has a weaker ridge and a more rightward, parabolic track.”
“The prospects for major impacts anywhere from Cuba to Carolinas is concerning for this very reliable model,” Maue said.
Irma is still more than 1,700 miles east of the Leeward Islands and any impacts from the storm shouldn’t be felt until Tuesday or Wednesday for the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico.
The forecast picture should become clearer after the weekend as we see which model correctly predicts Irma’s path.
Bottom line: Hurricane Irma is already a powerful hurricane and looks to only become more so. Those with interests in the Caribbean and southeast US coast should pay close attention to the forecast.
CNN Meteorologist’s Dave Hennen and Taylor Ward contributed to this piece.
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Otto is the latest-in-season Atlantic hurricane since 2005
Storm is expected to make landfall Thursday near the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border
Atlanta (CNN)The Atlantic hurricane season may be coming to an end, but not before one last storm brings some rare and significant impacts.
Hurricane season officially ends on November 30, and while the month of November can have named storms, the season is generally winding down. Impactful storms are infrequent occurrences, especially this late in November.
Peak of hurricane season in the Atlantic
Otto formed in the southern Caribbean early this week as the National Hurricane Center closely monitored the area. The storm has steadily strengthened and on Tuesday afternoon became the 7th hurricane of the season in the Atlantic basin. Otto is developing later in the season than any Atlantic basin hurricane since Hurricane Epsilon in 2005.
Additional strengthening is expected, and Otto could become a category 2 storm before making landfall near the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border on Thursday. While the Caribbean is one of the few areas with warm enough water to support a hurricane this late in the season, a storm making landfall this far south is extremely rare.
2016 Named storms of the Atlantic season
Otto is expected to be the southernmost hurricane landfall since Irene hit Nicaragua in 1971. If it makes landfall in Nicaragua it will be the first hurricane to do so since Ida in 2009.
And most impressively, if Otto makes landfall in Costa Rica, it will be that country’s first hurricane landfall in recorded history (since 1851).
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This portion of Central America is unaccustomed to hurricane landfalls. It also has steep terrain, which makes the area prone to flooding and landslides from a slow-moving storm.
CNN’s Judson Jones contributed to this story.
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Spanish Catholic Nun Who Spent Her Life Helping The Poor Murdered In Haiti
Published September 02, 2016
The body of slain Spanish nun Isabelle Sola Matas is carried away by morgue workers, after she was attacked while driving her car in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. Local judge Noel Jean Brunet said that two men on a motorcycle drove by and killed the 51-year-old Roman Catholic nun while she was driving. Matas worked at St. Joseph church where she directed a program providing people with prosthetic limbs. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)(The Associated Press)
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – A missionary from Spain who devoted her life to helping the poor in Haiti was fatally shot at a crowded intersection in the Caribbean country’s capital Friday.
Jean Bruner Noel, a justice ministry official at the scene, identified the woman as Isabel Sola Matas, 51. He said she was from Barcelona but had lived in Haiti for years.
Noel said her purse was stolen after assailants shot her twice in the chest as she sat at the wheel of her old SUV. She was attacked as she inched down a winding avenue filled with pedestrians and vehicles in Bel Air, a rough hillside neighborhood of shacks in downtown Port-au-Prince.
A Haitian woman who was a passenger in the car was also shot twice and taken to a hospital. Her condition was not immediately known.
At Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Rev. Hans Alexandre described Sola as a “tireless servant of God” who helped build houses, worked as a nurse, fed the hungry and created a workshop where prosthetic limbs were made for amputees injured in Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake.
“The loss is immense. In killing her they didn’t kill just one person, they killed the hopes of many people,” Alexandre said.
Sola invited Alexandre and four other priests to live at her two-story home for over a year after the previous church building and its rectory were toppled by the quake.
She helped raise tens of thousands of dollars to build a parish vocational school where Haitians could learn everything from catering to electrical wiring to music, Alexandre said.
One Haitian woman at Sola’s downtown home shouted in distress and anger when she heard about the killing.
“What a country this is! She did so very much for people here and this is what happens,” Suzie Mathieu said, covering her face with her hands.
Sola was a member of the Congregation of the Religious of Jesus and Mary, whose website describes it as a group of women from various countries who commit themselves to serving others.
Outside the home’s metal gate, a disheveled man in tattered clothes stared at the ground.
“She was the person who took care of people like me, helping with food and other things,” he said. “I am very sad today.”
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MEXICO CITY — More than a dozen conspirators gathered at the headquarters of the Honduran National Police just after 9:30 p.m. One of them clicked open a briefcase, and bundles of American dollars were distributed among the police officers — payment for the next day’s hit job.
After everyone else filed out of the room, the three highest-ranking officers stayed behind to make a call.
A day later, on Dec. 8, 2009, the top antidrug official in Honduras — the retired general Julián Arístides González Irías — dropped off his daughter at school and was heading to work when he found his usual route blocked. A motorcycle carrying two men pulled up to his Nissan SUV. The one riding at the back pulled out a gun, killing the general.
Outrage at the assassination swept Honduras. The country was still in turmoil after the coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya and turned Honduras into an international outcast. In a country riddled with corruption and division, the retired general was distinguished for his rectitude and efficiency. The authorities promised a swift investigation.
But the case quickly went cold.
At least that is how it appeared to the public. Behind the scenes, according to the case files, the police investigators took just three weeks to solve the murder. The chief suspects were a cell of high-ranking police commanders working hand-in-hand with drug traffickers. The conspiracy reached all the way to the chief of police.
The man at the other end of that evening’s phone call was Winter Blanco, the head of a drug cartel based on the Caribbean coast, according to the investigators’ files. Five months earlier, the antidrug czar had foiled the trafficker’s plan to use the police to steal 143 kilograms of cocaine from a rival. The assassination was payback, investigators concluded.
Two years later, the antidrug czar’s top adviser, Alfredo Landaverde Hernández, was assassinated in exactly the same way, days after he publicly accused police commanders of allowing criminal gangs to infiltrate the police force. Once again, an investigation concluded that the chief suspects were the same commanders, aided by lower-ranking officers. A full report was sent to the police chief. But in public, the case remained unsolved.
Now, the details of the investigations — witness testimony, descriptions of videos, and phone call records — are emerging in Honduras, shaking the country once again. In terse language, the documents paint a chilling portrait of impunity at the very top of Honduras’s police hierarchy: the unchallenged power to carry out assassinations and force a cover-up of the investigation.
The suspicion that the police were part of the murders has long nagged at Hondurans. But with the release of the case files — parts of which were published in the Honduran press before being obtained by The New York Times — the country is now confronted with a glaring example of top-level government corruption and collusion with drug traffickers.
The revelations come at a pivotal time in Honduras, just as an international commission backed by the Organization of American States is setting up in the country to help investigate corruption. At the same time, the Obama administration is in the process of sending about $750 million in aid to the region, hoping to address the chronic violence and lack of opportunity that has fueled a mass exodus of desperate people to the United States.
The effort to suppress the results of two of the country’s most high-profile murder cases came to light only this month, when the newspaper El Heraldo revealed parts of the investigation’s conclusions and published excerpts from the files, without naming any of the most powerful suspects.
Since then, the Honduran president, Juan Orlando Hernández, has vowed a mass purge of the police force in response to the evidence, which helps peel back the layers covering the deeply entrenched networks of corruption feeding the country’s violence and poverty.
Last year, Oscar Chinchilla, the Honduran attorney general, asked the United States for help in solving the assassinations and Washington provided advisers, Joseph Crook, a State Department spokesman, said.
But the newly obtained case files point to a cover-up. They include cover pages from the inspector general’s office of the Security Ministry, which oversees the National Police. So if Mr. Chinchilla carries out a wide-ranging investigation to show that the government is serious about fighting corruption, it could end up ensnaring some of the president’s allies in the National Party, which has been in office since the beginning of 2010.
“There was a type of pact of silence,” said Thelma Mejía, a Honduran journalist. “These files passed through various police chiefs and they did nothing. They were known by various security ministers and they did nothing.”
The early fallout of the scandal is beginning. Foreign Minister Arturo Corrales, who had also served as the country’s security minister, resigned late Thursday. The first announcements of police firings are expected as early as this weekend. A civilian commission in charge of weeding out corrupt officers has asked for background on the nine top-ranked active generals in the police force, including José Ricardo Ramírez del Cid, a former police chief in 2011 who is named in the case files as the mastermind behind the assassinations.
According to the documents, Mr. Ramírez del Cid was one of the three who stayed behind the night before the antidrug czar was killed in 2009 to place the call to the drug lord. Another was José Luis Muñoz Licona, who was appointed police chief in 2010.
In interviews broadcast after the El Heraldo report, both officials denied any involvement in the assassinations. So did the police chief at the time of the antidrug czar’s killing, Salomón Escoto Salinas, who is also named in the documents.
The case files leave little doubt that inside the police, at least, the results of the investigation were known. In May 2012, an official in the inspector general’s office sent a copy of documents to the police chief at the time, Juan Carlos Bonilla, noting that he was acting under the orders of the security minister. At the end of 2013, Mr. Bonilla’s replacement as police chief, Ramón Sabillón Pineda, ordered special guards to protect the case files on both assassinations, as well as documents on other high-profile killings.
In remarks to the Honduran news media, four of the security ministers in office since 2009 said that they were not aware of the documents. The fifth refused to comment.
Washington will be watching the police purge closely. It spent millions of dollars on the last effort to overhaul the Honduran police, which began in 2011, before finally giving up two years later when it was clear that only a handful of officers had been fired.
“Despite good intentions, I think our own officials, especially in the past, have sometimes been naïve in the way they have supported the Honduran government’s actions and inactions,” Senator Patrick Leahy, who follows events in Honduras closely, said in written responses to questions.
Mr. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, successfully pressed Congress to impose human rights and anticorruption conditions on aid to Central American governments this year.
“There is no doubt that our aid is well intentioned,” he wrote. “But despite some arrests of drug traffickers we’ve seen no real improvement in the Honduran justice system.” And, he promised: “It is not going to be business as usual. We can’t keep throwing money away.”
The current Honduran president, Mr. Hernández, has had his own approach to police corruption, creating a military police force that has supplanted much of the National Police force on the ground. The coming police purge is likely to strengthen its power.
The international anticorruption commission sponsored by the Organization of American States arrives this week to begin its work. Known by its Spanish initials, Maccih, it is a response to months of anticorruption protests last year across the country.
The demonstrators, who marched at dusk bearing torches in a challenge to the president, demanded a prosecutors’ commission modeled after the one in neighboring Guatemala, which uncovered a customs bribery ring that brought down that country’s president last year.
Mr. Hernández resisted an accord that would create a panel with the same powers, and the commission he agreed to will not have independent investigatory authority. But the president may find that his control is limited.
In an interview, the director of the incoming group said that it would be up to his team, not the Honduran government, to choose the cases it will work on alongside Honduran prosecutors.
“There should be no doubt that the mission will be involved in cases where there are networks of corruption that harm the country,” said Juan Jiménez Mayor, the former Peruvian justice minister who is leading the commission.
Within days, the commission will start work on its first case, the assassination last month of Berta Cáceres, a prominent environmental and indigenous rights activist who was fighting a powerful Honduran company over a dam project on community land. Facing an international uproar, the government turned to the commission for help.
Even Hondurans who had been skeptical of the limits on the commission were hopeful that it will ultimately lead to widespread investigation into the police and their protectors.
“It is a special time in the country,” said Mario Díaz, a judge and president of the Association of Judges for Democracy, a group that has been critical of the Hernández government. “A lot of expectations have been generated.”