Rain could hinder search for victims of California wildfire

Families lost their homes when killer wildfires ravaged California. (AP)
Updated 21 November 2018
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Rain could hinder search for victims of California wildfire

  • Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze
  • About 1,000 names remain on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began

PARADISE, California: The search for remains of victims of the devastating Northern California wildfire has taken on new urgency as rain in the forecast could complicate those efforts while also bringing relief to firefighters on the front lines.
Up to 400 people fanned out Sunday to search the ash and rubble where homes once stood before flames roared through the Sierra foothills town of Paradise and surrounding communities, killing at least 77 people in the deadliest US wildfire in a century.
Wearing white coveralls, hard hats and masks, teams of volunteers and search and rescue crews poked through the smoky debris for fragments of bone before rains can wash them away or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste. The so-called Camp Fire has destroyed more than 10,500 homes.
A team of 10 volunteers, accompanied by a cadaver dog, went from house to house in the charred landscape. They scrutinized the rubble in five-minute sweeps, using sticks to move aside debris and focused on vehicles, bathtubs and what was left of mattresses.
When no remains were found, they spray-painted a large, orange “0” near the house and moved on.
Robert Panak, a volunteer on a team from Napa County, said he tried to picture the house before it burned and think where people might have hidden. His morning search was fruitless, but he wasn’t deterred.
“I just think about the positives, bringing relief to the families, closure,” Panak said.
Sheriff Kory Honea said it was within the “realm of possibility” that officials would never know the exact death toll from the blaze. He also questioned whether the search for remains could be completed by midweek when rain is forecast.
“As much as I wish that we could get through all of this before the rains come, I don’t know if that’s possible,” Honea said.

About 1,000 names remain on a list of people unaccounted for more than a week after the fire began in Butte County about 140 miles (225 kilometers) north of San Francisco, authorities said.
Authorities don’t believe all those on the list are missing and the roster dropped by 300 on Sunday as more people were located or got in touch to say they weren’t missing.
On Sunday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims at First Christian Church in Chico, where a banner on the altar read, “We will rise from the ashes.”
People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first firefighters, rescuers and search teams: “We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now.”
Paul Stavish, who retired three months ago from a Silicon Valley computer job and moved to Paradise, placed a battery-powered votive candle on the altar as a woman played piano and sang “Amazing Grace.”
Stavish, his wife and three dogs managed to escape the fire, but the house is gone. He said he was thinking of the dead and also mourning the warm, tight-knit community.
“This is not just a few houses getting burned,” he said. “The whole town is gone.”
Hundreds of search and recovery personnel are involved in the effort, going to homes where they received tips that someone might have died.
But they are also doing a more comprehensive, “door-to-door” and “car-to-car” search of areas, said Joe Moses, a commander with the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, who is helping oversee the search and rescue effort.
The search area is huge, Moses said, with many structures that need to be checked.
The fire also burned many places to the ground, creating a landscape unique to many search-and- rescue personnel, he said.
“Here we’re looking for very small parts and pieces, and so we have to be very diligent and systematic in how we do your searches,” he said Friday.
The death count only grew by one Sunday and firefighters managed to expand containment to 65 percent of the 234 square mile (606 sq. kilometers) burn zone.
Rain was forecast for midweek in the Paradise area. The National Weather Service said the area could get 20 mph (32 kph) sustained winds and 40 mph (64 kph) gusts, which could make it hard for crews to keep making progress against the blaze.


Germany to compensate hundreds who fled Nazis as children

Updated 30 min 54 sec ago
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Germany to compensate hundreds who fled Nazis as children

  • About 1,000 survivors are thought to be alive today, with about half living in Britain
  • In all, about 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were taken to Britain

BERLIN: Germany has agreed to one-time payments for survivors, primarily Jews, who were evacuated from Nazi Germany as children, many of whom never saw their parents again, the organization that negotiates compensation with the German government said Monday.
The New York-based Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany said the government had agreed to payments of 2,500 euros ($2,800) to those still alive from among the 10,000 people who fled on the so-called “Kindertransport.”
This year is the 80th anniversary of beginning of the transport of the children to Britain from Nazi Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
About 1,000 survivors are thought to be alive today, with about half living in Britain, and the payment is seen as a “symbolic recognition of their suffering,” Claims Conference negotiator Greg Schneider said.
“In almost all the cases the parents who remained were killed in concentration camps in the Holocaust and they have tremendous psychological issues,” Schneider told The Associated Press.
Following the Nazis’ anti-Jewish pogrom in November 1938 known as Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, the British government agreed to allow an unspecified number of Jewish children as refugees from Nazi Germany or territories it had annexed.
Jewish groups inside Nazi Germany planned the transports, and the first arrived in Harwich on Dec. 2, 1938, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The last transport from Germany left Sept. 1, 1939 — the day World War II broke out with the Nazi invasion of Poland — and the final transport from continental Europe left the Netherlands on May 14, 1940, the same day Dutch forces surrendered to the Nazis.
In all, about 10,000 children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland were taken to Britain, about 7,500 of whom were Jewish, according to the museum. About half were placed with foster families, while the others stayed in hostels, schools or farms.
In addition to those who remained in Britain, many resettled in the US, Israel, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, Schneider said.
Today, survivors are at least in their 80s and most continue to look back on their escape as the defining moment of their lives as they were put alone onto trains into the unknown, saying goodbye to parents and siblings often for the last time, Schneider said.
“This money is acknowledgement that this was a traumatic, horrible thing that happened to them,” he said.
Some survivors already received small payments in the 1950s but that will not bar them from receiving the new benefit, the Claims Conference said.
The Claims Conference carries out continuous negotiations with Germany to expand the number of people eligible for compensation.
Since 1952, the German government has paid more than $80 billion to individuals for suffering and losses resulting from persecution by the Nazis.
In 2019, the Claims Conference will distribute approximately $350 million in direct compensation to more than 60,000 survivors in 83 countries, the organization says. In addition, it will provide some $550 million in grants to social service agencies that provide home care, food, medicine and other services for Holocaust survivors.