California wildfire evacuees allowed home as crews search for bodies

A firefighter tries to extinguish a fire in Cabanoes near Louzan as wildfires continue to rage in Portugal on October 16, 2017. (File photo by AFP)
Updated 17 October 2017
0

California wildfire evacuees allowed home as crews search for bodies

SANTA ROSA, California: More evacuees were expected to return home on Tuesday in Northern California where the state’s deadliest wildfires have killed at least 41 people and destroyed thousands of homes.
Officials said they expected the death toll to rise as 88 people were unaccounted for in Sonoma County alone and search-and-rescue teams combed through gutted homes looking for bodies.
Lighter winds have allowed the 11,000 firefighters battling the flames, which have consumed more than 213,000 acres (86,200 hectares), to gain control of two of the deadliest fires in wine country’s Napa and Sonoma counties.
The Tubbs fire was 75 percent contained and the Atlas fire 70 percent contained on Monday night, said Cal Fire, the state’s firefighting agency, which was hopeful the blazes would be fully contained by Friday.
Tens of thousands of people who fled the flames in Sonoma County and elsewhere have been allowed to return home, with about 40,000 still displaced.
Daniel Mufson, 74, a retired pharmaceutical executive and one of scores of Napa Valley residents who lost their homes in the fires, described his sense of bewilderment.
“Now we’re just trying to figure out what the next steps are. We’re staying with friends, and dealing with the issues of dealing with insurance companies and getting things cleaned up,” Mufson, president of a community-activist coalition called Napa Vision 2050, told Reuters.
CONSUMED
At least 5,700 homes and businesses have been destroyed by the wildfires that erupted a week ago and consumed an area larger than that of New York City. Entire neighborhoods in the city of Santa Rosa were reduced to ashes.
The wildfires are California’s deadliest on record, surpassing the 29 deaths from the Griffith Park fire of 1933 in Los Angeles.
Most of the 1,863 people so far listed in missing-persons reports have turned up safe, including many evacuees who failed to alert authorities after fleeing their homes.
Hopes for victims known to have been in the direct path of the flames will dwindle as each day passes, Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said on Monday.
About 30 vintners sustained some level of fire damage to wine-making facilities, vineyards, tasting rooms or other assets, the Napa Valley Vintners association said. But only about a half dozen reported significant losses, spokeswoman Patsy McGaughy said.
Vineyards, which mainly occupy the valley floor, appear to have been largely unscathed as the fires in Napa County burned mainly in the hillsides, McGaughy said. About 90 percent of Napa’s grape harvest had been picked and escaped potential exposure to smoke that could have tainted the fruit.
Still, the toll taken on the region as a whole has thrown the wine industry into disarray, and McGaughy said the 2017 Napa vintage will likely be smaller than it otherwise would have been.
“This is a human tragedy, there are people who have lost their lives, lost their homes, lost their business,” McGaughy said, adding Napa’s celebrated viniculture would recover.


Trump urges Republicans to fix family separation crisis

Updated 7 min 5 sec ago
0

Trump urges Republicans to fix family separation crisis

  • Criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party.
  • House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the priority of ending the separations has been slotted into a compromise bill currently under consideration and favored by GOP moderates.

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump told Republican lawmakers Tuesday he backed their efforts to craft an immigration solution that ends the politically toxic practice of separating families on the US-Mexico border.
Just hours after doubling down on his administration’s much-derided policy that triggers separations of migrant children from their parents, Trump braved frustrated and in some cases angry fellow Republicans to assure he wanted their swift resolution to the crisis.
While top officials have stood by Trump’s “zero tolerance” approach, insisting children are being held in humane conditions, criticism has swelled from international rights groups, Christian evangelicals, former US first ladies and the president’s own Republican Party.
Democrats who have visited minors in detention in Texas and California describe crying children held in cage-like conditions behind chain-link fencing, with no idea when they will see their parents again.
An audio recording purported to feature Central American children separated from their parents sobbing and wailing has also struck a nerve.
With emotions running high, a handful of House Democrats protested the Trump meeting, yelling out at Trump in a rare face-to-face demonstration against a president by sitting members of Congress.
“Quit separating the kids!” Juan Vargas, a Democrat from southern California, shouted as Trump exited the meeting. “Mr President, don’t you have kids?“
Republican lawmakers emerged from the 45-minute huddle energized that Trump was giving his backing to legislation that House leaders expect to bring to a vote this week.
It contains several of Trump’s main priorities, including border wall funding, protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants who were brought to the country as children and curbs on legal immigration programs such as an end to the visa lottery.
House Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said the priority of ending the separations has been slotted into a compromise bill currently under consideration and favored by GOP moderates.
“Not only does he support the compromise bill, but he backs it all the way,” Diaz-Balart said of Trump.
But even after the meeting, it was unclear whether Trump favored that bill over a more hard-line measure supported by conservatives.
White House spokesman Raj Shah said Trump “endorsed both House immigration bills” during the meeting, adding that they “solve the border crisis and family separation issue by allowing for family detention and removal.”
“I’m with you 100 percent,” Trump said, according to Shah.
Several Republicans have said the more conservative plan is doomed, and that Trump’s address was helpful in unifying the divided caucus.
“We’re going to have work to do” to get the compromise across the finish line, said number three House Republican Steve Scalize.


Unfazed and defiant
Earlier in the day, a defiant Trump sounded unfazed by the mounting pressure to alleviate the situation before it ruptures into a public relations disaster for his party.
“I don’t want children taken away from parents,” he told a gathering of small business owners, before adding: “When you prosecute the parents for coming in illegally, which should happen, you have to take the children away.”
Trump has accused Democrats of provoking the current crisis by blocking legislation to combat illegal immigration.
But Democratic leaders have pushed back. Senator Chuck Schumer said the president “continues to try to use these separated families as hostages in the legislative process.”
Calling for an immediate fix, Schumer added: “The president can end this crisis with the flick of his pen, and he needs to do so now.”
Senate Republicans are also moving to block Trump’s policy.
A group led by Senator Orrin Hatch wrote Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding a pause in separations, while Senator John Cornyn was drafting “emergency” legislation to allow families to remain intact while their cases are adjudicated.
The United Nations has slammed the separation practice as unconscionable, while Amnesty International blasted it as “nothing short of torture.” Mexico’s foreign minister condemned it as “cruel and inhuman.”
The issue risks becoming a political nightmare several House Republicans who face tough re-election fights in November. Some may worry that public outrage over the family separations could hurt their chances.

Children used as pawns
Democrats say the crisis is of Trump’s own making, and accuse him of using children as pawns.
“This has caused an outcry throughout the country,” said Senator Chris Van Hollen, who visited a detention facility in McAllen, Texas over the weekend where some 1,500 children are being held.
US officials say more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents or guardians since early May, when the administration announced its “zero tolerance” push to arrest and charge anyone illegally crossing the US-Mexico border, regardless of whether they were seeking asylum.
Since children cannot be sent to the facilities where their parents are held, they are separated from them.
Separated children make up a minority of immigrant minors in US custody.
The Department of Health and Human Services said there are currently 11,700 children under its care in 100 shelters across 17 states.
Most crossed the border without their parents.
US public opinion appears divided along partisan lines on the family separations, with two thirds of all voters opposed, but 55 percent of Republicans supporting the policy, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll.