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.


“I don’t want to remember the past by talking about it“

Updated 23 min 21 sec ago
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“I don’t want to remember the past by talking about it“

  • Indian national repatriated from Pakistan after spending six years in jail
  • Details ordeal during private meeting with top minister

DELHI: Some things are better left unsaid.
That’s the reasoning former Indian prisoner Hamid Ansari offered for refusing to divulge details of his experience after spending six years in jail in Pakistan.
He was finally repatriated to India on Tuesday. For now, he says he’s just happy to be back home.
On Wednesday, the 33-year-old engineer met India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, in New Delhi and narrated the trauma that he went through in the past six years.
Meanwhile, his family expressed their gratitude to Swaraj for facilitating Hamid’s repatriation to India.
“I am happy to be back in India,” Hamid told reporters after his return to Delhi. He refused to talk about his ordeal adding: “I don’t want to remember the past by talking about my experience.”

During his meeting with Swaraj, which lasted for half an hour, Hamid got emotional, saying he was “sorry” for the trouble he had caused his family and the government.
His mother, Fauzia Ansari, profusely thanked Swaraj for facilitating her son’s return. “My son has come back from the jaws of death. He has got a new life,” she said during her interaction with the foreign minister.
Swaraj, on her part, asked Hamid to “forget the past as a bad phase in your life and focus on the future”.
Hamid served three years in the Peshawar Central Jail after being sentenced by a military court in 2015 for possessing a fake identity card.
In search of a better livelihood, he had reportedly left his hometown of Mumbai in India to look for a job in Afghanistan.
In 2012, however, he allegedly entered Kohat, in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, to meet a girl he had befriended on social media.
Pakistan, however, said that Hamid was an Indian spy who had illegally entered the country while accusing him of being involved in anti-state crimes and forgery, prior to sentencing him to six years in jail.
His jail term ended on December 15 following which a Pakistani court gave the government a month’s time to complete formalities and deport him to India.
Hamid’s release attracted widespread media attention in India with several newspapers and TV channels headlining the story.