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California wildfire death toll rises to 77

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Chico (US) : Authorities say one more set of human remains has been found, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77.

A state incident report released says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on November 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

 

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

The fire was 65 per cent contained Sunday.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work.

A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighbourhood looking for victims.

They’re focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed.

If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

The National Park Service says all but one of 13 mountain lions being tracked in Southern California mountains have been accounted for following a devastating wildfire.

As of Friday, the only missing mountain lion was one dubbed P-74, a young male born last year.

In addition, all four bobcats that the agency monitors via GPS have been located in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

Officials have again increased the number of homes and other structures burned by a huge Southern California wildfire.

The figure rose Sunday to 1,130 buildings destroyed – many of them homes – and 300 damaged. The tally is continuing.

Firefighters are making progress against the blaze that broke out November 8 and tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu.

More evacuees have been allowed back in their homes and the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) blaze is now 88 percent contained.

California’s governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires.

Democratic Governor Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday that the Republican president has “got our back” and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He’s since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Governor-elect Gavin Newsom.

Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.

Pope Francis has prayed for victims of California’s wildfires and freezing weather on the US East Coast.


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International

Peace talks postponed after Taliban object to size of Afghan delegation

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KABUL: A meeting between the Taliban and Afghan politicians and civil society aimed at ending more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan has been postponed, officials and diplomats said on Thursday, citing Taliban objections to the size of the Afghan delegation.
The talks were set to begin in Doha, but a senior government official in Kabul said “the gathering has been called off for now and details were being reworked.”
Afghan delegates scheduled to fly to the Qatari capital on Thursday were told the trip was postponed and new dates were being discussed, a western diplomat in Kabul said.
“The government will have to change the composition of the delegation to make this meeting happen,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said leaders of the hardline Islamist group were uncomfortable with the size of the Afghan delegation and its composition.
“Presence of some participants was completely against the list of what was agreed upon,” Mujahid said, adding that the delegation included Afghans working for the government.
The Taliban have repeatedly refused to meet President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they call a puppet regime, but have held several rounds of peace talks with US officials.
Ghani said on Wednesday the 250-member Afghan delegation included some government officials attending in a personal capacity. But the group did not include some of the most powerful figures in Afghan politics, who are reluctant to join forces with Ghani ahead of presidential elections due in September.
A senior government official said Afghan-to-Afghan peace talks are in jeopardy.
The talks between Afghan and Taliban officials at the same table for the first time have been considered a significant first step towards finding a negotiated end to Afghanistan’s protracted war.
The senior official said negotiations went awry after President Ashraf Ghani opposed a list of participants announced by the Qatar government, which is sponsoring the talks. The list of 243 people was announced by Qatar on Thursday.
The list differs in part from Ghani’s list of 250 people, according to the senior government official.

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N. Korea seeks Pompeo’s removal from nuclear talks

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SEOUL: North Korea demanded the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from talks over its nuclear programme, hours after the isolated state claimed to have tested a new kind of weapon.
Describing Pompeo as “reckless” and immature, the foreign ministry said it wanted him replaced by another interlocutor, a demand that significantly ups the ante in a sensitive diplomatic standoff.
Pyongyang and Washington have been at loggerheads since the collapse of a summit between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump earlier this year.
“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the foreign ministry’s Department of American Affairs said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
“Therefore, even in the case of possible resumption of the dialogue with the US, I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but… (another) person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”
It is not the first time North Korea has singled out Pompeo for special criticism.
When the secretary of state met North Korean officials in Pyongyang in July last year, he was condemned for his “gangster-like” insistence that the North move towards unilateral disarmament.
Kwon, whom KCNA said was responding to a question from one of its journalists, said leader Kim had made clear that the US attitude had to change. He said Pompeo was standing in the way of a resumption of talks.
“We cannot be aware of Pompeo’s ulterior motive behind his self-indulgence in reckless remarks; whether he is indeed unable to understand words properly or just pretending on purpose.
“The US cannot move us one iota by its current way of thinking. In his previous visits to Pyongyang, Pompeo was granted audiences with our Chairman of the State Affairs Commission for several times and pleaded for the denuclearisation.
“However, after sitting the other way round, he spouted reckless remarks hurting the dignity of our supreme leadership at Congress hearings last week to unveil his mean character by himself, thus stunning the reasonable people.”
Analysts said the North might have been reacting to Pompeo’s assessment — during a recent Senate hearing — that Kim could be described as a “tyrant”.
“By agreeing that Kim is a tyrant, Pompeo basically insulted the North’s ‘highest majesty’,” said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul.

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23 killed as thunderstorms, dust storm lash Pakistan

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Islamabad: Massive thunderstorms and a dust storm lashed Pakistan’s Punjab and Sindh provinces, killing at least 23 people, injuring scores of others, according to media reports

Heavy rain and storm caused by a westerly wave uprooted electricity poles and trees in different parts of the country and also damaged properties on Monday.

Intermittent downpour in western, central and northern parts of the country for the past few days has rendered mud houses susceptible to the collapse, while land slide and flash floods in some areas have already made several roads dangerous for travel, Dawn reported.

 

Thunderstorm in Punjab province resulted in the collapse of several buildings, leaving at least nine persons, including two women, dead. Four deaths were reported in Khanewal district; three in Hasilpur area of Bahawalnagar district; and two Dunyapur tehsil of Lodhran district. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province’s Chitral valley, a woman and two men died when the roof of their house collapsed and fell on them.

In Balochistan province, authorities declared emergency on Monday after torrential rains and flash flooding wreaked havoc and killed at least nine persons, including a child. Heavy rainfall in Quetta, Gwadar, Chagai, Harnai, Duki, Jewani, Jaffarabad, Kohlu, Sibi, Barkhan, Chaman and other districts of Balochistan caused flooding in nullahs and drains which severed land link in various parts of the province, the Express Tribune reported.

The low-lying areas had been submerged due to continuous rainfall in Kohlu and adjoining areas. In separate incidents related to the dust storm that hit Karachi, four persons, including two young girls died, an equal number of fishermen went missing and dozens of others suffered injuries, according to officials and rescue services.

Gusty winds also uprooted several trees, poles and signboards, broke windowpanes of some high-rise buildings and damaged the walls of schools and homes in Karachi.

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