Trump declares disaster over deadly California wildfire

Above, fire burns along canyons and ridges above Bella Vista Drive near Romero Canyon in Montecito, California. (AP)
Updated 03 January 2018
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Trump declares disaster over deadly California wildfire

VENTURA, California: President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared a major disaster in California over a wildfire that destroyed more than 1,000 buildings as fierce winds whipped it through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties last month.
The declaration makes federal funding available to state and local governments and some nonprofit organizations for emergency work in those counties and statewide for work to reduce hazards related to the fire, according to a White House statement.
The Thomas fire that began on December 4 is the largest recorded in the state. It was 92 percent contained on Tuesday. Firefighters were still putting out hot spots and smoldering areas.
The fire covered more than 1,140 square kilometers, killed two people, destroyed entire neighborhoods, threatened coastal foothill communities, ravaged wilderness areas and cast a pall of smoke that shuttered businesses in downtown Santa Barbara.
Firefighting costs alone have approached $200 million.
The disaster declaration means the federal government may cover 75 percent of those costs and the costs of recovering from the blaze, such as removing vast amounts of debris in fire-denuded areas that could be hit with flash floods and debris flows if winter rains arrive.
After a flight over the devastated area on Tuesday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen said the president’s declaration would help with rebuilding from the fire, which burned more than 700 homes along with other buildings.
“Seeing the devastation, I’m deeply moved,” she said. “My heart goes out to the survivors. We met with some of them today.”
On Wednesday, she was expected to visit Santa Rosa in Sonoma County. Wildfires in October swept through Sonoma, Napa and other counties in and around wine country, killing 44 people and destroying more than 5,000 homes. Insured damages alone topped $9 billion.
Trump already approved a major disaster declaration for California for that wildfire.
Gov. Jerry Brown requested the same declaration last month for San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties as devastating fires swept the state.
“It is expected many of the survivors in the impacted communities will have no insurance coverage or be underinsured,” Brown’s request said. “Even for those survivors who have insurance coverage, major challenges remain to obtain temporary housing and attempt to rebuild their lives.”
Although Tuesday’s declaration only covers Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, “damage assessments are continuing in other areas, and more counties and additional forms of assistance may be designated after the assessments are fully completed,” the White House statement said.


Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

Updated 39 min 57 sec ago
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Italy tells rescue ship to take migrants to the Netherlands

  • Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
  • Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs: “They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility.”

ROME: Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister accused a German charity on Thursday of ignoring coast guard orders when its Dutch-flagged ship picked up 226 migrants off Libya’s coast and he said they should be taken to the Netherlands not Italy.
Earlier this month Matteo Salvini pledged to no longer let charity ships offload rescued migrants in Italy, leaving the Gibraltar-flagged Aquarius stranded at sea for several days with more than 600 migrants until Spain offered them safe haven.
On Thursday, Mission Lifeline, a charity based in Dresden, Germany, pulled migrants off two rubber boats in international waters even though it was told by Italy that Libya’s coast guard was coming to get them, a spokesman for the charity said. They would not have been safe if taken back to Libya, he said.
Salvini, also leader of the anti-immigrant League party, addressed the charity in a Facebook video: “You have intentionally not listened to Italian or Libyan authorities. Good. Then take this load of human beings to the Netherlands.”
International maritime guidelines say that people rescued at sea should be taken to the nearest “place of safety.”
The United Nations and other humanitarian agencies do not deem Libya “a place of safety” because they say migrants there are subject to indefinite detention, physical abuse, forced labor and extortion.
A Lifeline statement indicated its vessel was heading northwards with the 226 migrants and called on “the competent authorities to swiftly react according to their obligation to designate a place of safety.”
“They have a Dutch flag, but they are not registered in the Netherlands, and therefore are not under Dutch state flag responsibility,” Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Lennart Wegewijs said in response, without elaborating.
Italian Transport Minister Danilo Toninelli said he had asked the coast guard to investigate state flag issue.
Lifeline spokesman Axel Steier said the migrants aboard its boat included 14 women and four small children. “We didn’t want to wait for the Libyan coast guard because people were in danger,” Steier told Reuters.
Waiting for the Libyans would have constituted allowing “an illegal pushback” of refugees to a country where they are not safe, he added.
With its hard line on rescue boats, Italy’s new populist government has thrust migration back onto the European Union agenda. Italy has seen more than 640,000 land on its shores since 2014 and is currently sheltering 170,000 asylum seekers.
Germany is also seeking to restrict asylum-seekers’ movement in the bloc. An emergency “mini-summit” has been called for Brussels on Sunday to discuss immigration ahead of a full, 28-state EU summit on June 28-29.
Toninelli, who oversees Italy’s ports and coast guard, had called last weekend on the Netherlands to recall Lifeline and another Dutch-flagged ship, Seefuchs. On Thursday, Toninelli said Lifeline was acting “outside of international law.”
“The transport minister is lying,” Steier shot back. “We always act in line with international law. Always.”
Salvini has denounced the charity ships as “deputy traffickers,” suggesting they profit from the rescues.
Earlier this week a tribunal in Palermo shelved an inquiry into whether German charity Sea Watch and Spain’s Proactiva Open Arms were in contact with smugglers, saying no evidence was found.