IT40 News for 11/14/2018

#1 As days pass, hope dims: Evacuees wait in anguish amid search for the missing

PARADISE, Calif. - Paradise was once a place to escape to. Located in the Sierra foothills, the rural enclave and surrounding communities were getaways from the Sacramento Valley and the cities of Chico and Oroville. But what drew residents to Paradise - a place to disappear amid winding roads, hills and ravines above the Feather River and Butte Creek - has made the job of reconnecting with friends and relatives in the aftermath of the devastating Camp fire all the more challenging. Message boards put up at shelters, evacuation centers and churches listing the names of the missing are crowded with plaintive appeals, reminiscent of the postings found in Manhattan after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Spotty cell coverage and downed power lines blocking access to burn areas have made the task more difficult. For Blake Bellairs, the challenge of reconnecting with his brother, Josh, meant overcoming the years they had not spoken to each other. Josh lived in Paradise, and Bellairs had called friends and former girlfriends, scoured social media for mentions of Josh and contacted local television stations, authorities and the jail, all in vain. One friend heard that Josh got a ride through Magalia, six miles northeast of Paradise, but there was no confirmation. Having exhausted these approaches, Bellairs resorted to plastering his Ford truck with his message, along with a phone number, written with glass chalk he’d purchased at Walmart. Missing Josh Bellairs With more than 52,000 people chased from their homes by the blaze, authorities are trying to put a number on individuals who are missing. A Facebook page lists 105 people, and on Monday, authorities reported 223 people whose whereabouts have yet to be confirmed. Bellairs was hoping evacuees who had arrived in Chico might be able to help. He and his girlfriend had driven from their home in Medford, Ore., to help his mother and stepfather, who had been burned out by the Camp fire. "I just want to know he's all right," Bellairs said as he stood near his truck with tears in his eyes. Bellairs and his family are trying to avoid thinking the worst. They are staying in the local shelter but will soon be moving on due to his stepfather's health's issues. They hope Josh is camping somewhere. Maybe, they tell themselves, he just doesn't have cell service. But as days pass, their hope grows slim. Maybe he didn't get the warning. "That's the fear," said Bellairs' stepfather, Charles Deaderick, "that he didn't find out in time." Last Thursday, as embers blew into Paradise in advance of the wind-driven wildfire that swept through these hills, residents had little notice and only a few minutes to gather pets and belonging and flee. By the time the fire moved on, it had destroyed more than 6,000 homes and 250 commercial buildings in less than 24 hours. Many displaced residents of the scattered rural communities between Redding and Sacramento have taken to posting messages on whiteboards at the Neighborhood Church of Chico and at Bidwell Junior High School, a better alternative than waiting helplessly, fearing the worst. The messages range from reassuring ("I'm OK, don't worry about me") to urgent. "Looking for Julian Binstock and his dog Jack, evacuated Nov. 8 from Feather Canyon Retirement Community in Paradise CA to avoid the #CampFire. Please help us find him." One woman was looking for her mother: "Needs heart medicine and a pacemaker." Paradise resident Jayne Keith, who lost her house in the fire and had taken refuge with family members at a hotel an hour away in Red Bluff, visited the Neighborhood Church on Tuesday to get dog food, blankets and pajamas. Peering at the board, she wrote down the phone number of someone looking for Barbara Hayes. A woman with the last name "Hayes" was staying down the road from her hotel, but Keith paused. "I think it's spelled differently," she said. Red Cross volunteers are also handing out forms at shelters in Chico for people to fill out and declare that they were safe. For 16-year-old Abigail Bell of Paradise, Thursday was both terrifying and never ending. Her uncle was missing. The two live together and are so close that he calls her his daughter and she calls him her dad. When the town started to burn, Abigail was with a neighbor and managed to escape to a friend's house in Marysville, 50 miles south. Her uncle, Darrell Medford, 66, was at their home on Hayes Lane. He was taking a nap but woke in time to escape and get out of harm. Abigail tried to reach Medford, but the fire had reached their house and the phone line was dead. Listening to reports of the mounting casualties amid the loss of their town, and not knowing if her uncle had made it out, Bell grew frantic. That night, however, in a phone call with her cousin, she learned that Medford was safe. She started to cry. It was an "absolutely gut-wrenching" experience, Abigail said. Since then, Medford has purchased a cellphone and has been talking to his niece every day. He's relieved, knowing that she's safe, and considers himself lucky to have memorized her phone number weeks before the fire. "I miss the heck out of her," he said. "All I know is I want her with me." Abigail and Medford are trying to reunite. He spent a few nights with a family member and Monday night in the parking lot of the Neighborhood Church. His insurance company is offering to put him up in a hotel. They are thinking they will meet there, the sooner the better. ___ (Smith, Branson-Potts and Santa Cruz reported from Butte County and Curwen from Los Angeles.) Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

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#2 British Prime Minister Theresa May says Cabinet agrees draft Brexit deal with European Union

British Prime Minister Theresa May says Cabinet agrees draft Brexit deal with European Union

LONDON - British Prime Minister Theresa May says Cabinet agrees draft Brexit deal with European Union after 'impassioned' debate.

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May says her Cabinet has backed a draft Brexit deal with the European Union after an "impassioned" debate.

May emerged from a five-hour Cabinet meeting to say agreement had been reached.

She said: "This is a decisive step which allows us to move on and finalize the deal in the days ahead."

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#3 Survivors of deadly fire in Paradise, California say warnings came too late

Survivors of deadly fire in Paradise, California say warnings came too late

Gallery by photo services LOS ANGELES - Belated warnings from public officials and the reluctance of residents who had survived previous fires to leave home were among the factors that contributed to the delayed and chaotic evacuation in what has become the deadliest wildfire in California history, survivors said.

LOS ANGELES — Belated warnings from public officials and the reluctance of residents who had survived previous fires to leave home were among the factors that contributed to the delayed and chaotic evacuation in what has become the deadliest wildfire in California history, survivors said.

Some of those who escaped from the massive Camp Fire last week questioned why Butte County leaders did not do more to warn residents of Paradise and neighboring mountain communities as a fire whipped with fearsome speed through the mountainous region north of Sacramento.

Most of the attention following the wildfire has focused on the search for dozens of people still missing and the possibility that power equipment belonging to the electric utility PG&E may have sparked the fire. But a few residents have begun to ask why notice did not get out to more people about the fire, which has killed 48 and destroyed an estimated 7,600 single-family homes, both records for California.

We were trying to move tens of thousands of people out of an area very rapidly with the fire coming very rapidly. And no matter what your plan is to do that, no plan will ever work 100 percent when you are dealing with that much chaos."

"They definitely didn't do enough," said Christina Taft, whose 67-year-old mother has been missing since the fire. "She didn't expect it to be that bad. She expected someone would be calling, or something, if it got bad. But they didn't."

"They were negligent. They just let them go," said Taft, who has had no word from her mother, Victoria, since last Thursday. "There is a reason all these people are dead."

A resident of Magalia, about 8 miles west of the fire’s starting point, confronted Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea and other officials Monday about why he and his neighbors could not find any information about the dangerous blaze, a full three hours after fire crews first responded to the ignition point, near Highway 70 in Plumas National Forest.

“We use the emergency broadcast system for a tornado warning. But this is a deadly fire,” said the man, who was not identified by county officials whom he addressed at the meeting in Oroville. “I don’t remember any alert coming over my radio. ... People in the community are freaking out, you need to get some information up here.”

The Butte County sheriff's office said it did deliver notifications about the fire danger: 5,227 by email, 25,643 via phone (to both land lines and cellular devices) and 5,445 by text message.

"I wish we had the opportunity to get more alerts out, more of a warning out, but unfortunately we didn’t," Sheriff Honea told the public meeting on Monday.

At a news conference Tuesday evening, Honea stressed that the fire’s unusually swift progress south and west into Magalia, Paradise and other mountain communities made timely notification difficult.

"You have to keep in mind that this was an extraordinarily chaotic and rapidly moving situation. The fire started in a remote area. It takes awhile for our fire resources to get there and from that point, trying to determine the path of travel and whether or not that’s going to effect populated areas, that takes time," Honea said.

He added that it's possible some people were warned and didn't immediately act to get out of harm's way. "We were trying to move tens of thousands of people out of an area very rapidly with the fire coming very rapidly. And no matter what your plan is to do that, no plan will ever work 100 percent when you are dealing with that much chaos."

Honea, who took office four years ago, also suggested that emergency officials have to be concerned not to over-burden people with excessive or unneeded evacuation orders. He said the region had already lived through evacuations from earlier fires and last year’s threatened collapse of the Oroville Dam, which caused nearly 200,000 people to flee.

“So that takes a toll on people,” Honea said. “I don’t want to ever get into situation where people begin to stop paying attention because they feel like we are ordering evacuations for no cause or for very little cause.”

Like other counties, Butte has a system that allows residents to sign up for “reverse 911” telephone alerts in times of emergency.

Savannah Rauscher told The Sacramento Bee that by the time she got the 911 alert at 8:30 a.m., embers and dust were already flying around her family’s Edgewood Lane home.

"We saw a wall of fire," she told the newspaper. "Trees were glowing 50 yards away and it was probably moving like 10 yards every couple minutes. ... I had no idea it could be that fast."

Rausher and her husband soon found themselves in a long and unmoving line of cars. Her husband pulled into what normally would have been the oncoming traffic lane to escape, saying, “We’re not going to die like this.” Rausher said she waved other cars to follow along to safety.

High on the ridges above the Sacramento Valley, many homes do not have easy cellphone service, or access to WiFi. It’s unknown how much that isolation may have prevented residents from getting word of the fire.

Risa Johnson, a reporter for The Chico Enterprise-Record, said people in her newsroom also wondered how many residents might not sign up for the reverse 911 warnings because of concern about giving the government their personal information. The Sierra Nevada foothills are home to some who moved there precisely because they wanted to get away from intrusion by public officials.

But even signing up for the warnings was no guarantee they came through. Johnson said her aunt, Peg, applied for the 911 alerts, but received no notice at her Paradise home of the Camp Fire. “She said she didn’t get anything,” Johnson said. “It was friends and family calling, or neighbors coming by. That’s how many people found out.”

Taft said she argued fiercely with her mother for more than an hour, trying to convince her to flee. But there were no sheriff’s deputies demanding the neighborhood evacuate. Fire crews, busy on the front lines of the blaze, did not stop by. No one she talked to in her neighborhood was ordered out.

She said that when she reluctantly left her mother, the elder Taft was on the phone, talking to another elderly woman, both of them persuaded this fire would pass by, like all the others.

"Seniors expect an authority to tell them to leave," said Christina Taft, a business student at California State University, Chico. "And they did not get the authorities to tell them this time."

Sheriff Honea was greeted warmly by much of the crowd at Monday's public hearing. And some fire victims said it was wrong to blame the government for the fire's toll.

"This was an act of God, if you asked me," said Bill Husa, 55, a long-time photographer for the Chico Enterprise Record. "None of these officials have control over 50-mile-an-hour winds and a raging wildland fire. There is no way they had time to get everyone notified."

Questions about emergency notifications are becoming a more routine reality for emergency management officials nationwide, given storms, floods and wildfires made more potent as a result of global warming, said Rob Lewin, director of the Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management.

"Nationwide we are all feeling the trauma of climate change and the number of disasters we are facing over and over again," said Lewin. "We have to build an emergency management system that is ready to handle the new situation we are dealing with."

After firestorms last year devastated broad swaths of Sonoma and Napa counties and blackened a record number of acres in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, many people reported they did not receive emergency warnings.

© Josh Edelson Image: Camp Fire Evacuation

Lewin said his county has beefed up its notification system as a result — sending word of evacuations over land lines, cellphones, social media and traditional news outlets. Still, the system is not foolproof. Just 12 percent of the county's residents have signed up to receive so-called reverse 911 notifications in emergencies, despite last year's fires and a subsequent debris flow that killed 21 people. Even a system designed to push warnings to all cellphones, tested recently by the Trump administration, did not reach everyone.

Lewin said he had two cellphones side by side during that test, both serviced by the same phone company, and only one received the emergency alert. "And we don't know the reason why," he said.

An exacerbating factor in Butte County may have been the advanced age of many residents. Paradise and its environs are popular with retirees, some of whom are reluctant to leave home because of mobility problems. Feather River Hospital had to rely on private cars and trucks to get out many of its patients, just ahead of the flames.

Courtney Wright, a medical assistant, said her 54-year-old father was not compelled to leave his Magalia home even as the threat seemed to escalate. "We have had so many fires up there that it's kind of like it's nothing," said Wright. "It's just on to the next." When the house behind his caught on fire, its propane tank exploding, Wright's father finally decided it was time to move on.

Residents did not find an easy path to safety. The narrow mountain roads out of the communities quickly jammed, forcing some people to leave their cars and run for their lives. The incinerated corpses of others, still in their cars, provided ample evidence that the alarm wasn't raised in time.

As Honea was pressed for more answers at Monday’s meeting, he acknowledged that thoughts of those who could not escape troubled him. “I understand it was absolutely chaotic,” the sheriff said. “I will probably never be able to give you an answer that satisfies you.”

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#4 House Republicans elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy as party leader

House Republicans elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy as party leader

The California Republican ascended to the top job after the GOP lost its majority in the House.

Felicia Sonmez, Mike DeBonis 53 mins ago

© Kevin Lamarque U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy talks to reporters as he arrives for Republican House leadership elections on Capitol Hill on November 14, 2018.Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) ascended to the top job in House Republican leadership on Wednesday, while Rep. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) followed in her father’s footsteps by taking the party’s No. 3 spot.

McCarthy prevailed over Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) 159-43, according to the House press gallery, while Cheney was elected by voice vote.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) is stepping down at the end of his term in January. That opened up the top spot in House Republican leadership, which following the GOP’s defeat in last week’s midterms will be House Minority Leader.

Subscribe to the Post Most newsletter: Today’s most popular stories on The Washington Post

Both McCarthy and Jordan, a leader of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, had announced their bid for the position. McCarthy, who serves in the No. 2 spot as House Majority Leader, made a bid for speaker in 2015 but stepped aside amid pressure from conservatives. With Ryan’s backing — as well as a close relationship with President Trump — McCarthy triumphed over Jordan.

The California Republican has leveraged his alliance with Trump to his advantage on Capitol Hill, where the president looms large over the House GOP conference. Trump has referred to McCarthy as “my Kevin” since before his inauguration, and McCarthy has at times gone to great lengths to curry favor with Trump, both through legislation — such as by introducing a bill that would appropriate more than $23 billion to Trump’s border wall plan — and other means, such as sending the president his favorite candies.

The No. 2 spot of House Minority Whip was claimed Wednesday by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), who serves in the third-ranking role in House GOP leadership. Scalise had mulled a bid against McCarthy but announced last week that he was pursuing the minority whip spot instead.

Cheney, who first won election in 2016 and is the daughter of former vice president Richard B. Cheney, won the No. 3 spot of House Republican Conference Chair. Cheney launched her bid for the spot last Wednesday with a letter to colleagues in which she criticized Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), who has held the position for three terms. McMorris Rodgers announced the next day that she was stepping aside from her leadership role and instead seeking to climb the ranks of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The elder Cheney, who served as GOP conference chair from 1987 to 1989, was present for Wednesday’s vote for his daughter.

Elise Viebeck and John Wagner contributed to this report. 

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