Puerto Rico’s governor: Cancel Whitefish contract

The governor of Puerto Rico wants the island’s power authority to “immediately” cancel its controversial contract with a small Montana-based utility company.

At issue is a $300 million contract that was awarded to Whitefish Energy to help restore power to parts of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Whitefish is only two years old and had few employees before Hurricane Maria hit. The multimillion-dollar deal with Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, marked the largest contract to be awarded since recovery efforts began more than a month ago.

Whitefish is also based in the small hometown of U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, which has raised questions. Zinke has said he had nothing to do with the contract.

A White House spokesman told CNN the decision to give the contract to Whitefish was made exclusively by PREPA.

“The White House is not aware of any federal involvement in the selection,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló on Sunday said questions raised around the contract are “interfering with everything” and the distractions are not helping Puerto Rico rebuild.

To help ensure transparency going forward, Rosselló said that he will appoint a finance official to PREPA who will oversee the contracting process. He also asked Puerto Rico’s Office of the Comptroller to conduct a review of how the emergency contract was awarded.

In the meantime, Rosselló said his team is working with the governors of Florida and New York to bring energy workers from those states to help Puerto Rico as quickly as possible.

The controversy surrounding the Whitefish contract has spurred a probe by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, who will also be looking at how the firm was selected.

Last week, Rosselló indicated he would be willing to move forward with the Whitefish contract if there was no evidence of misconduct. He also asked the inspector general to complete the review by Monday.

“If there is no wrongdoing, if it has been done correctly then we will push forward,” Rosselló told CNN at the time. “If there is wrongdoing in this process or any process there will be hell to pay.”

Puerto Rico’s already frail power infrastructure was all but destroyed after Maria tore through the island. As of Sunday, only about 30% of Puerto Rico’s power generators were back online, according to PREPA data.

–CNN’s Donna Borak, Rene Marsh and Greg Wallace contributed to this report.

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Hurricanes dealt corporate America a major blow

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria dealt a big blow to corporate America.

More than 40 percent of companies in the S&P 500 that have reported third-quarter earnings so far mentioned the hurricanes on investor calls, according to a Sentieo analysis. Flights were grounded, stores were closed, manufacturing production was halted and customers didn’t go out to eat.

Corporate profits still surged, led by strong consumer spending. But Harvey and Irma cost companies around $20 billion in lost business, estimated Gus Faucher, chief U.S. economist at PNC. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, put losses as high as $22.5 billion in the U.S. and $30 billion from Maria’s staggering toll on Puerto Rico.

By comparison, Hurricane Katrina cost the country $30.9 billion in lost output, Zandi told CNNMoney.

“This was an unprecedented quarter when it comes to natural disasters,” AT&T CFO John Stephens said on an investor call Tuesday. The world’s biggest telecom company blamed the hurricanes for a dip in video subscriptions this quarter. (AT&T is buying CNN parent Time Warner.)

Big losses for travel

Nearly every industry in the country has a major footprint in Texas and Florida, areas battered by Harvey and Irma. Many have locations in Puerto Rico as well. But cruise lines and airlines were hit particularly hard, Bank of America economists said in an October research note.

Hurricanes upended insurance companies too. The industry has posted $6.9 billion of losses so far, said John Butters, an analyst at FactSet. Travelers alone reported it could suffer $700 million in losses from payout claims.

Airline earnings were also weaker. United Airlines estimated $210 million in lost sales, while JetBlue said this week that the storms would cost it $90 million in revenue.

On Thursday, Expedia reported $20 million in pre-tax losses due to fewer hotel bookings, while Goodyear Tires said Friday that it lost $23 million in sales.

Widespread impact

The hits landed in unexpected places too: Budweiser and Bud Light sales were down at retail stores because of the storms, Anheuser-Busch InBev reported, and Harley-Davidson said the hurricanes cut motorcycle sales between 1.5 and 2 percent.

Storms somewhat slowed economic growth in the third quarter, since companies produced and sold fewer goods and services. The economy still grew at an impressive 3 percent from July through September, but it could have been even higher without the hurricanes.

“If not for the hurricanes, the GDP would have been 3.5 percent,” said Zandi.

The economic rebound is already underway from the disasters and the impact should be short-lived, economists agree.

“Most of the negative impact appears to be behind us,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics. “There’s no reason to believe that it would be anything more than a short-term hit.”

Zandi said lost activity from the hurricanes will be made up in the final months of 2017 and into next year.

“If people didn’t buy cars or go on vacation because of the storms, they’ll spend that money later,” he said. “Factories will eventually produce most of the output that they didn’t make because of the storms.”

Auto sales rose 6.1 percent in September from the previous year, helped by GM’s 12 percent spike and Ford’s 9 percent increase.

The home improvement and construction industries even got a lift from the hurricanes, as people started rebuilding damaged homes and replacing flooded cars.

Home Depot and Lowe’s reported upticks in September. United Rentals, the largest construction rental equipment company in the country, cited hurricane recovery efforts this week to raise its outlook for the rest of the year.

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Cold front hits South Florida after Tropical Storm Philippe’s rain

Put away your umbrellas and rain boots and pull out your sweaters and closed-toe shoes. After Tropical Storm Philippe, a cold front will bring down temperatures Sunday afternoon. 

There will be a high of 80 degrees and then temperatures will start to drop to the 70s. There will be a low of 63 degrees on Sunday night and temperatures will be in the 50s by Monday morning. 

Philippe’s tornadoes left some damage in Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties. For a few, Philippe was worst than Hurricane Irma. Restaurateur Robert Graziano said the tornado was loud. 

“There was a lot of rattling of the doors,” Graziano said. “When [the tornado] was gone, we came out and we saw what happened.” 

A downed tree damaged two cars. Fences were damaged and the power was down. There was minimal flooding in Miami Beach and more downed trees in Southwest Miami-Dade. There was also some damage at a mobile home park in Palm Beach County. 

Residents of the Parry Trailer Village in suburban Boynton Beach were repairing their homes Sunday morning after strong winds made homes shake and ripped out roofs and fences Saturday night, The Palm Beach Post reported

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Fierce winds and heavy rain expected to hit New York on Sandy anniversary

Near hurricane-force wind gusts and heavy rain are set to batter the Northeast on Sunday — the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Tropical Storm Philippe formed near western Cuba a few days ago and was racing up the Atlantic Ocean off the East…

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Fierce winds and heavy rain expected to hit New York on Sandy anniversary

Near hurricane-force wind gusts and heavy rain are set to batter the Northeast on Sunday — the five-year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Tropical Storm Philippe formed near western Cuba a few days ago and was racing up the Atlantic Ocean off the East…

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Driver loses control on wet Kendall road, firefighters say

A driver lost control of a car and crashed in Kendall Saturday afternoon, according to the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department. 

Lt. Felipe Lay said the road was wet and rain was “most likely” a factor in this Southwest 137th Avenue and 152nd Street single-vehicle crash.

Miami-Dade firefighters had to remove a door to rescue a woman who was trapped inside. Lay said they took her to Jackson Memorial Hospital South. 

With a tropical system approaching South Florida, authorities were asking drivers to slow down when dealing with wet roads and to avoid flooded streets. 

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