Over 7K-strong, migrant caravan pushes on; still far from US

The caravan’s numbers have continued to grow. (Reuters)
Updated 23 October 2018
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Over 7K-strong, migrant caravan pushes on; still far from US

  • The caravan is at least 1,140 miles (1,830 kilometers) from the nearest border crossing
  • No one is capable of organizing this many people: aid worker

TAPACHULA, Mexico: Thousands of Central American migrants resumed an arduous trek toward the US border Monday, with many bristling at suggestions there could be terrorists among them and saying the caravan is being used for political ends by US President Donald Trump.
The caravan’s numbers have continued to grow as they walk and hitch rides through hot and humid weather, and the United Nations estimated that it currently comprises some 7,200 people, “many of whom intend to continue the march north.”
However, they were still at least 1,140 miles (1,830 kilometers) from the nearest border crossing — McAllen, Texas — and the length of their journey could more than double if they go to Tijuana-San Diego, the destination of another caravan earlier this year. That one shrank significantly as it moved through Mexico, and only a tiny fraction — about 200 of the 1,200 in the group — reached the California border.
The same could well happen this time around as some turn back, splinter off on their own or decide to take their chances on asylum in Mexico — as 1,128 have done so far, according to the country’s Interior Department.
While such caravans have occurred semi-regularly over the years, this one has become a particularly hot topic ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm elections in the US, and an immigrant rights activist traveling with the group accused Trump of using it to stir up his Republican base.
“It is a shame that a president so powerful uses this caravan for political ends,” said Irineo Mujica of the group Pueblo Sin Fronteras — People Without Borders — which works to provide humanitarian aid to migrants.
Some have questioned the timing so close to the vote and whether some political force was behind it, though by all appearances it began as a group of about 160 who decided to band together in Honduras for protection and snowballed as they moved north.
“No one is capable of organizing this many people,” Mujica said, adding that there are only two forces driving them: “hunger and death.”
Earlier in the day Trump renewed threats against Central American governments and blasted Democrats via Twitter for what he called “pathetic” immigration laws.
In another tweet, he blamed Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for not stopping people from leaving their countries. “We will now begin cutting off, or substantially reducing, the massive foreign aid routinely given to them,” he wrote.
A team of AP journalists traveling with the caravan for more than a week has spoken with Hondurans, Guatemalans and Salvadorans, but has not met any Middle Easterners, who Trump suggested were “mixed in” with the Central American migrants.
It was clear, though, that more migrants were continuing to join the caravan.
Ana Luisa Espana, a laundry worker from Chiquimula, Guatemala, joined the caravan as she saw it pass through her country.
Even though the goal is to reach the US border, she said: “We only want to work and if a job turns up in Mexico, I would do it. We would do anything, except bad things.”
Denis Omar Contreras, a Honduran-born caravan leader also with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, said accusations that the caravan is harboring terrorists should stop.
“There isn’t a single terrorist here,” Contreras said. “We are all people from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. And as far as I know there are no terrorists in these four countries, at least beyond the corrupt governments.”
The migrants, many of them with blistered and bandaged feet, left the southern city of Tapachula in the early afternoon Monday under a burning sun bound for Huixtla, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.
In interviews along the journey, migrants have said they are fleeing widespread violence, poverty and corruption. The caravan is unlike previous mass migrations for its unprecedented large numbers and because it largely sprang up spontaneously through word of mouth.
Carlos Leonidas Garcia Urbina, a 28-year-old from Tocoa, Honduras, said he was cutting the grass in his father’s yard when he heard about the caravan, dropped the shears on the ground and ran to join with just 500 lempiras ($20) in his pocket.
“We are going to the promised land,” Garcia said, motioning to his fellow travelers.
Motorists in pickups and other vehicles have been offering the migrants rides, often in overloaded truck beds, and a male migrant fell from the back of one Monday and died.
“It is the responsibility of the driver, but it is very dangerous, and there you have the consequences,” Mexican federal police officer Miguel Angel Dominguez said, pointing to a puddle of blood around the man’s head.
Police started stopping crowded trucks and forcing people to get off.
Caravan leaders have not defined the precise route or decided where on the US border they want to arrive, but in recent years most Central American migrants traveling on their own have opted for the most direct route, which takes them to Reynosa, across from McAllen.
Late Sunday, authorities in Guatemala said another group of about 1,000 migrants had entered that country from Honduras.
Red Cross official Ulizes Garcia said some injured people refused to be taken to clinics or hospitals.
“We have had people who have ankle or shoulder injuries, from falls during the trip, and even though we have offered to take them somewhere where they can get better care, they have refused, because they fear they’ll be detained and deported,” Garcia said.
Roberto Lorenzana, a spokesman for El Salvador’s presidency, said his government hopes tensions over the caravan decrease after the US elections.
“We have confidence in the maturity of United States authorities to continue strengthening a positive relationship with our country,” Lorenzana said.
Asked if he thinks Trump will follow through on his threat to cut aid to El Salvador, he said, “I don’t know. Of course the president has a lot of power, but they will have to explain it there to the different government structures.”
Lorenzana added that El Salvador has significantly reduced violence, a key driver of migration, and that the flow of Salvadoran migrants has dropped 60 percent in two years.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said large numbers of migrants were still arriving in Mexico and were “likely to remain in the country for an extended period.”
The first waves of migrants began arriving in the southern town of Huixtla after an exhausting eight-hour trek and quickly staked out grassy spots in the town square to bed down overnight.
Marlon Anibal Castellanos, a 27-year-old former bus driver from San Pedro Sula, Honduras, roped a bit of plastic tarp to a tree to shelter his wife, 6-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.
Castellanos said the family walked for six hours until they could go no farther. They saw the dead man who fell from the truck, and the danger of being on the road was troublesome, out in the middle of the countryside far from an ambulance or medical care should the kids to pass out in the heat.
“It’s hard to travel with children, Castellanos said.”


Number of missing in California fire soars past 1,000 as Trump set to visit

Updated 23 min 17 sec ago
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Number of missing in California fire soars past 1,000 as Trump set to visit

  • Death toll is at 71, while missing jumped to 1011
  • The inferno erupted November 8, laying waste to the town of Paradise at the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains

PARADISE: The number of people listed as missing in a devastating northern California wildfire soared past 1,000 on Friday as the remains of eight additional victims were found by rescuers.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters that the number of people unaccounted for had jumped from 631 to 1,011 in the last 24 hours as authorities receive more reports of people missing and as emergency calls made when the fire broke out are reviewed.
“I want you to understand that this is a dynamic list,” he told reporters. He said that on a positive note, 329 people who had been listed as missing since the fire broke out had so far been accounted for.
“The information I am providing you is raw data and we find there is the likely possibility that the list contains duplicate names,” he said, adding that some people who had escaped may also be unaware that they have been listed as missing.
The eight additional sets of human remains found bring to 71 the total number of dead from the so-called Camp Fire, the deadliest and most destructive in California history.

The inferno erupted November 8, laying waste to the town of Paradise at the northern foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains and sending thousands fleeing.
President Donald Trump is set to visit the region on Saturday to survey the damage and meet victims of the fire that has devoured an area roughly the size of Chicago.
In an interview with Fox News ahead of his visit, Trump doubled-down on his earlier claim that mismanagement of California’s forests was to blame for the fires. But he acknowledged that climate change may have contributed “a little bit” to the wildfires.
“You need forest management. It has to be,” Trump told Fox. “I’m not saying that in a negative way, a positive — I’m just saying the facts.”
Authorities said the Camp Fire has burned 146,000 acres (59,000 hectares) and was 50 percent contained Friday.
They added that 47,200 people had been evacuated because of the fire and nearly 1,200 were living in shelters.

Smoke from the fire forced the closure of public schools in San Francisco on Friday and the shutdown of the city’s iconic cable cars as the Air Quality Index soared to 271, comparable to Dhaka, Bangladesh and worse than Kolkata, India.
“San Francisco’s air quality has moved from red or ‘unhealthy’ to purple or ‘very unhealthy’ due to local wildfires and weather patterns,” the SFMTA transport authority said on its website.
“The Department of Public Health highly recommends that everyone stay indoors and avoid exposure to the outside air.”
A blanket of haze enveloped the region and the Golden Gate Bridge was shrouded in thick smog.
“It’s bad,” said local resident Melvin Karsenti. “You have this constant haze over the city. The air feels thicker. I’ve never seen that many people wear (face) masks.”
Authorities said they expect air quality to remain poor until Sunday, when winds are supposed to pick up. Forecasters are also predicting rain from Wednesday, which should help the thousands of firefighters battling the flames.
Much of the rescue work is now focused on Paradise, a community that was home to many retirees who found themselves unable to get out in time.
Hundreds of rescuers, backed by sniffer dogs, have been conducting a painstaking house to house search, as authorities collect DNA from relatives of the missing to help with body identification.
“I’m still going to keep on looking and hope for the best,” Jhonathan Clark, who was hunting for his brother, sister-in-law and nephew, told AFP.
“My dad is starting to lose hope a little bit,” he added.
Three other people have died in southern California in another blaze dubbed the Woolsey Fire, which engulfed parts of Malibu, destroying the homes of several celebrities.

That inferno, which is about two-thirds the size of the Camp Fire, was close to 70 percent contained by Friday, as authorities predicted they would have it under control by Monday.
Many of the victims of the Camp Fire have been housed in temporary shelters and are facing homelessness as they try to rebuild their lives.
Adding to their misery, an outbreak of the highly contagious norovirus has been reported at several shelters.
Public health officials said 41 people had been sick with vomiting and diarrhea as of Wednesday evening and 25 had to be hospitalized.
While the cause of the Camp Fire is still under investigation, a lawsuit has been filed against the local power company, PG&E, by fire victims claiming negligence.