With hearses standing by, crews stepped up the search for bodies in the smoking ruins of Paradise — and relatives desperately looked for more than 100 missing loved ones — as wildfires raged Sunday on both ends of the state.
The statewide death toll stood at 25 and appeared certain to rise.
At least five search teams were working in Paradise — a town of 27,000 that was largely incinerated on Thursday — and in surrounding Northern California communities. Authorities called in a mobile DNA lab and anthropologists to help identify victims of the most destructive wildfire in California history.
By early afternoon, one of the two black hearses stationed in Paradise had picked up another set of remains.
WATCH: No major firefighter injuries in Woolsey fire: officials
People looking for friends or relatives called evacuation centers, hospitals, police and the coroner’s office.
Sol Bechtold drove from shelter to shelter looking for his mother, Joanne Caddy, a 75-year-old widow whose house burned down along with the rest of her neighbourhood in Magalia, just north of Paradise. She lived alone and did not drive.
Bechtold posted a flyer on social media, pinned it to bulletin boards at shelters and showed her picture around to evacuees, asking if anyone recognized her. He ran across a few of Caddy’s neighbours, but they hadn’t seen her.
As he drove through the smoke and haze to yet another shelter, he said, “I’m also under a dark emotional cloud. Your mother’s somewhere and you don’t know where she’s at. You don’t know if she’s safe.”
He added: “I’ve got to stay positive. She’s a strong, smart woman.”
Officials and relatives held out hope that many of those unaccounted for were safe and simply had no cellphones or other ways to contact loved ones. The sheriff’s office in the stricken northern county set up a missing-persons call center to help connect people.
WATCH: California governor says climate change deniers ‘contributing to tragedies’ from fires
Gov. Jerry Brown said California is requesting aid from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has blamed “poor” forest management for the fires. Brown told a press briefing that federal and state governments must do more forest management but said that’s not the source of the problem.
“Managing all the forests in everywhere we can does not stop climate change,” Brown said. “And those who deny that are definitely contributing to the tragedies that we’re now witnessing, and will continue to witness in the coming years.”
More than 8,000 firefighters in all battled three large wildfires burning across nearly 1,040 square kilometers in Northern and Southern California, with out-of-state crews continuing to arrive and gusty, blowtorch winds starting up again.
The worst of the blazes was in Northern California, where the number of people killed in that fire alone, at least 23, made it the third-deadliest on record in the state. Two people were also found dead in a wildfire in Southern California, where flames tore through Malibu mansions and working-class Los Angeles suburbs alike.
The two severely burned bodies were discovered in a driveway in celebrity-studded Malibu, where residents forced from their homes included Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian West and Martin Sheen. Actor Gerard Butler said on Instagram that his Malibu home was “half-gone,” and a publicist for Camille Grammer Meyer said the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star lost her home in the seaside enclave.
Flames also besieged Thousand Oaks, the Southern California city in mourning over the massacre of 12 people in a shooting rampage at a country music bar Wednesday night.
WATCH: ‘We thought we were going to die’ — California wildfire survivors recount close calls
In Northern California, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the county consulted anthropologists from California State University at Chico because, in some cases, investigators have been able to recover only bones and bone fragments.
The devastation was so complete in some neighbourhoods that “it’s very difficult to determine whether or not there may be human remains there,” Honea said.
Authorities were also bringing in a DNA lab and encouraged people with missing relatives to submit samples to aid in identifying the dead after the blaze destroyed more than 6,700 buildings, nearly all of them homes.
Firefighters gained modest ground overnight against the blaze, which grew slightly to 440 square kilometers from the day before but was 25 per cent contained, up from 20 per cent, according to the state fire agency, Cal Fire.
But Cal Fire spokesman Bill Murphy warned that gusty winds predicted into Monday morning could spark “explosive fire behavior.”
About 300,000 people statewide were under evacuation orders, most of them in Southern California.
Fire officials said Sunday morning that the larger of that region’s two fires, the one that hit Malibu, grew to 337 square kilometers and was 10 per cent contained. But the strong, dry Santa Ana winds that blow from the interior toward the coast returned after a one-day lull, fanning the flames.
WATCH: Stories of survival emerge from California wildfires
The count of lost structures in both Southern California fires climbed to nearly 180, authorities said. The large mobile home community of Seminole Springs, in the rugged Santa Monica Mountains north of Malibu, appeared devastated.
Brown’s request for a major-disaster declaration from Trump would make victims eligible for crisis counseling, housing and unemployment help, and legal aid.
Drought, warmer weather attributed to climate change, and the building of homes deeper into forests have led to longer and more destructive wildfire seasons in California. While California officially emerged from a five-year drought last year, much of the northern two-thirds of the state is abnormally dry.
WATCH: Death toll rises to 23 in California wildfires
“Things are not the way they were 10 years ago. … The rate of spread is exponentially more than it used to be,” said Ventura County Fire Chief Mark Lorenzen, urging residents to evacuate rather than stay behind to try to defend their homes.
One of the Northern California fire’s victims was an ailing woman whose body was found in bed in a burned-out house in Concow, near Paradise.
Ellen Walker, who was in her early 70s, was home alone when the fire struck on Thursday, according to Nancy Breeding, a family friend.
Breeding said Walker’s husband was at work and called a neighbour to tell his wife to evacuate, but she was on medication and might not have been alert. Authorities confirmed her death late Friday.
“A fireman took him to the house to confirm,” Breeding said. “This is a devastating thing, and it’s happening to so many people.”
Catholic Bishops react to military coup in Mali
Contrary to the expectations of the people, the leadership of the Episcopal Conference of Mali (CEM) has termed the Tuesday, August 18 military coup in the West African nation as “regrettable” and “a big failure for our democracy” and called for a change of mentality if the country has to put an end to coups.
In an interview with ACI Africa Wednesday, August 19, made available to RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA, the President of CEM, Bishop Jonas Dembélé said that the governance challenges the country is facing can be managed through dialogue.
“The military coup that led to the ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is regrettable because we are in a state of law and democracy. This is the second time that Mali has had a military coup as a result of the way in which the country is governed. It is a big failure for our democracy even if there were reasons for it,” Bishop Dembélé told ACI Africa.
“It is true that our country has serious challenges including bad governance, the poor management of the economy, corruption, insecurity and so on,” Bishop Dembélé said and probed, “Why is it that we Malians have not managed to engage in dialogue to be able to discuss these problems and face up to these challenges responsibly?”
“Our leaders, our people lack transparency, they hate those who speak the truth and advocate for good governance. This mentality must change for our country to move on,” the Prelate told ACI Africa August 19.
Bishop Dembélé who is a frontline member of RECOWA-CERAO urged the military officials “to ensure a return to democracy as promised but most especially ensuring the new leadership of the country put the people first and tackle the security challenges facing the nation.”
Asked about the role of the Church in the current crisis, the 57-year-old Prelate noted, “For us the Catholic Church in Mali, our role is to preach peace; our role is to preach dialogue. We shall continue in this path of dialogue for peace just like Cardinal Jean Zerbo and some religious leaders initiated.”
“In a state of law, power is not in the hands of certain individuals but to the people. The anger of our people led to this crisis, but we must work for peace and reconciliation in Mali,” Bishop Dembélé said.
He continued in recollections, “The Bishops in Mali have always issued messages before every election in our country sounding the alert and inviting the government to organize transparent elections, ensure good governance and better management of resources.”
“But it seems our messages are never taken into consideration that is why we find ourselves in this situation today,” the Local Ordinary of Kayes Diocese told ACI Africa and added, “If the opinion of the Episcopal Conference of Mali is needed to mediate in bringing back stability and peace in the country, then we are ready.”
As a way forward, the Bishop urged the people of God in Mali to “seek the path to conversion” and to accept dialogue in the spirit of truth and honesty.
“We all want change in our
country, but this change can only be possible if individually we seek the path to conversion. It is for Malians be they Muslims or Christians or members of traditional religion, to do an examination of conscience and accept personal and community conversion in order to engage in sincere dialogue,” he said.
The Malian Prelate added, “Now there is this coup d’état to demand change we really wonder where change should come from. As long as we don’t change our behavior, our mentality, we will always have a repeat of the current situation.”
On Tuesday, August 18, President Keita announced his resignation and dissolved parliament hours after mutinying soldiers detained him at gunpoint, Aljazeera reported.
“For seven years, I have with great joy and happiness tried to put this country on its feet. If today some people from the armed forces have decided to end it by their intervention, do I have a choice? I should submit to it because I do not want any blood to be shed,” President Keita said August 18 during the televised address to the nation.
Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu
RECOWACERAO NEWS AGENCY, RECONA
Harris accepts VP nomination
Senator Kamala Harris formally accepted the Democratic nomination for vice president on Wednesday following a scathing speech by former President Barack Obama, who said the fate of the nation” depends entirely on the outcome of this election.”
Both Mr. Obama and Harris stressed the importance of voting, with Harris saying “we’re all in this fight together.” Harris sounded an optimistic note by highlighting her personal history and the promise of America, saying she was “so inspired by a new generation.”
“Make no mistake, the road ahead will not be not easy,” she said. “We will stumble. We may fall short. But I pledge to you that we will act boldly and deal with our challenges honestly. We will speak truths. And we will act with the same faith in you that we ask you to place in us.” She called Mr. Trump a “predator” in a speech that came after Mr. Obama issued his most forceful rebuke of his successor to date, saying Mr. Trump “hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”
“This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism,” Mr. Obama said. “They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.
That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.”
Mr. Obama and Hillary Clinton, speaking earlier in the night, both said they had hoped Mr. Trump would rise to the occasion. But they both stressed what they called his failures while in office, with Mr. Obama saying Mr. Trump has shown “no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mali coup leaders vow to hold elections as history repeats itself
The Malian soldiers who forced President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign in a coup promised early Wednesday to organize new elections after their takeover was swiftly condemned by the international community.
In a statement carried overnight on state broadcaster ORTM, the mutinous soldiers who staged Tuesday’s military coup identified themselves as the National Committee for the Salvation of the People led by Colonel Major Ismael Wagué.
“With you, standing as one, we can restore this country to its former greatness,” Wagué said, announcing that borders were closed and that a curfew was going into effect from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m
The news of Keita’s departure was met with jubilation by anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Bamako, and alarm by former colonial ruler France and other allies and foreign nations.
The U.N. Security Council scheduled a closed meeting Wednesday August 19, 2020 afternoon to discuss the unfolding situation in Mali, where the U.N. has a 15,600-strong peacekeeping mission. Keita, who was democratically elected in a 2013 landslide and re-elected five years later, still had three years left in his term.
But his popularity had plummeted, and demonstrators began taking to the streets calling for his ouster in June.
West African regional bloc ECOWAS had sent mediators to try and negotiate a unity government but those talks fell apart when it became clear that the protesters would not accept less than Keita’s resignation.
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