Flash flood risk in California wildfire zone as rain douses flames

Search and rescue crews dig through the burnt remains of a business as they search for human remains on November 21, 2018 in Paradise, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 22 November 2018
0

Flash flood risk in California wildfire zone as rain douses flames

  • Rain has helped extinguish fire that ravaged through the weekend in areas around the town of Paradise
  • The wildfire killed at least 81 people, and 869 are still unaccounted for

CHICO, California: The first significant rain in months in northern California helped firefighters battle the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history on Wednesday, but raised the risks of flash flooding that could hinder teams searching for human remains.
Between 4-6 inches (15 cm) of rain was expected to fall through the weekend in areas around the town of Paradise, the community of nearly 27,000 people 175 miles (280 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco that was largely incinerated by the Camp Fire. The blaze killed at least 81 people, and 869 are still unaccounted for.
The rain added to the misery of evacuees camped out in a Walmart parking lot in nearby Chico, where local residents donated freight pallets and tarps to help evacuees shelter from overnight temperatures just above freezing.
“I’ll get a pallet and get my tent up off the ground,” said Mitchell Manley, who evacuated from the village of Concow and managed to get his elderly mother out of nearby Magalia.
Warehouses were being opened up in Chico to provide evacuees protection from the cold and rain and to move them out of the Walmart car park, said Manley’s partner, Carol Daugherty.
Forecasters said the rains, which in some areas are likely to be accompanied by winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kph), raised risks of debris flows. The fire has burned across 153,000 acres (62,000 hectares) of the Sierra foothills.
“There’s no vegetation to hold the earth and there’s a risk it could just start moving, with mud carrying everything in its path,” said National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell in Sacramento.
Firefighters installed straw tubes known as wattles to stop hillsides being washed away and were hoping to have the fire fully contained by the weekend, said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman Erica Bain.
Mass evacuations since the fire erupted on Nov. 8 have removed most people away from any debris flow, National Weather Service (NWS) hydrologist Cindy Matthews said.
Authorities in Butte County, where Paradise is located, have been gradually allowing residents evacuated during the fire back to see what is left of their homes.
Lisa Knight found only ash and rubble when she returned to her house in Butte Creek Canyon, east of Chico.
“I mourn for everybody. It’s not just one personal loss, it’s the loss of my neighbors and my community,” Knight told KRCR-TV.
The remains of two more victims were found in Paradise on Tuesday, raising the death toll to 81. The Butte County Sheriff’s Office has tentatively identified 56 of the victims.
The number of missing persons has fluctuated widely over the past week, from some 1,200 people over the weekend to fewer than 700 on Monday, as more individuals were reported missing and some who initially were unaccounted for either turned up alive or were confirmed dead.
The number of residents needing temporary shelter was unclear, but as many as 52,000 people were under evacuation orders at the height of the firestorm last week.
The Camp Fire incinerated 13,503 homes in and around Paradise. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.


Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

Updated 5 min 26 sec ago
0

Millions malnourished in Pakistan despite abundance of food

  • In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months
  • This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry

KARACHI: A frantic mother cradling her seven-month-old baby rushes toward the special paediatric ward in a desolate Pakistan town, his eyes are blank and he is smaller than most newborns.
He is starving in a country that has no shortage of food, but which has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world and where malnutrition is rife.
The infant weighs just 2.5 kilograms — the average for a healthy child of that age is almost three times that.
His case is not unique for the doctors at the Mithi Civil Hospital in hunger-stricken Sindh province where millions survive on less than $1 a day.
Of the 150-250 patients who come in each day, roughly one fifth are suffering from malnutrition, Dr. Dilip Kumar, head of the paediatric department, tells AFP.
Inside the ward, nine other malnourished infants are crying inside glass incubators. A young mother, Nazeeran, clutches the hand of her toddler.
“Her weight is dropping, even though we consulted many doctors,” the 25-year-old says.
The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a poverty and hunger watchdog, estimates around one in five of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people are malnourished.
And yet, the nation is not short of food — in fact, according to the US Department of Agriculture, it is projected to export 500,000 tons of wheat from May 2018 until April 2019, and 7.4 million tons of rice in the same period.
Dawn, the English-language daily newspaper, even reported a potato glut earlier this month.

The issues, experts say, are socio-economic — that is, just because food is available, does not mean people can access it.
“There are four key pillars of food security in Pakistan: The first is availability, then accessibility, utilization and stability,” says Dr. Ambreen Fatima, senior research economist at the Applied Economic Research Center of the Karachi University.
In Tharparkar, where Mithi Civil Hospital is, all four are lacking, she explains, adding that in other parts of the country they are present only to varying degrees.
“Pakistan is quite well off in wheat production,” comments Dr. Kaiser Bengali, a veteran economist, who has done field research on poverty and hunger in the country, but adds that much of it is sold for export.
This means ordinary people in the country may not have access to it, and if they do they may not have the resources to pay for it.
“Affordability is the biggest challenge here in Pakistan,” he says.
Karachi is Pakistan’s financial capital, but Bengali says he has seen alarming examples of poverty and deprivation there.
“In our surveys we came across the kids who had never eaten an apple, and when we offered him an apple he was reluctant to take the bite wondering whether it was an edible thing or not,” Bengali reveals.
“In another case a family had never had eggs in their whole lives,” he adds.
A survey of the state-run Planning Division in 2017 found that 40 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in multi-dimensional poverty.
That means they are not just short of money, but are also facing a shortage of basic needs, including health, clean water, and electricity, among other factors — all of which can impact their access to food.

“Poor physical infrastructure, particularly in the remote rural areas throughout Pakistan is also a limitation on access to food and influences market prices,” according to a recent statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
“This is also linked to inadequate water and sanitation, education and health service delivery, which together with the lack of awareness of appropriate dietary intake contributes to greater food insecurity and malnutrition.”
Tharparkar district is frequently highlighted in Pakistan’s media because of its high rate of child deaths, with politicians blaming the situation on drought — but economists and physicians say that is not the sole explanation.
“Causes of malnutrition are multiple pregnancies, young-aged marriage, iron deficiency in mothers, (lack) of breastfeeding, weak immunization, and early weaning,” Dr. Kumar insists.
Bearing large numbers of children from a young age takes its toll on women’s health, but also impacts the well-being of the fetus and ability to breastfeed a newborn.
In Pakistan, only 38 percent of babies are fed breast milk exclusively during their first six months in line with UN recommendations.
This low figure is blamed on local traditions, the heavy workloads of mothers and powerful marketing by the milk industry.
Many mothers are told to feed their newborns tea, herbs, which can stunt growth. Some are unnecessarily persuaded to use formula instead of breastmilk by doctors.
This can introduce health problems if the water use to make it is unclean, or if poor families scrimp on the amount of powder to create the drink.
Sindh’s high number of child deaths are the result of a vicious poverty cycle that begins with malnourished mothers, agrees Bengali.
He adds: “An infant is not fed with wheat or solid food.”