Chico, Nov 16 (AP/UNB) — Fire refugee Anna Goodnight sat on an overturned shopping cart Thursday in a Walmart parking lot as she ate scrambled eggs and tater tots while her husband drank a Budweiser.
The couple was trying to put a good face on a weeklong ordeal that left them uncertain of the fate of their home and now had them camping next to the store with hundreds of others forced to flee from a deadly Northern California wildfire . But William Goodnight finally lost it and began to cry.
"We're grateful. We're better off than some. I've been holding it together for her," he said, gesturing toward his wife. "I'm just breaking down finally."
With the Goodnights' hometown of Paradise destroyed, thousands of homes gone and untold neighbors dead, uncertainty hangs over survivors like smoke still clouding the sky over Chico. For those who have turned a grassy lot next to the Walmart into an informal campground, the anxiety of what lies ahead is even greater.
They have no roof overhead — just a filament of nylon that provides privacy but little security. It's chilly at night and they wonder what will happen if it rains and where they'll go if the camp closes Sunday, as planned.
"It's cold and scary," said Lilly Batres, 13, one of the few children here, who fled with her family from Magalia and don't know if they have a home to return to. "I feel like people are going to come into our tent."
Word began to spread Thursday that efforts were being made to phase out the camp by gradually removing donated clothing, food and toilets.
"The ultimate goal is to get these people out of tents, out of their cars and into warm shelter, into homes," said Jessica Busick, who was among the first volunteers when she and her husband started serving free food from their Truckaroni food truck last week. "We've always known this isn't a long-term solution."
It's unclear what will be done if people don't leave Sunday, but city officials don't plan to kick them out, said Betsy Totten, a Chico spokeswoman. Totten said volunteers — not the city — had decided to shut down the camp.
Walmart has added security to the location and is concerned about safety there, but it is not asking people to leave, spokeswoman LeMia Jenkins said.
Some, like Batres' family, had arrived after running out of money for a hotel. Others couldn't find a room or weren't allowed to stay at shelters with their dogs or, in the case of Suzanne Kaksonen, her two cockatoos.
Kaksonen couldn't remember how long she had been there, but said it felt like forever.
"I just want to go home," she said. "I don't even care if there's no home. I just want to go back to my dirt, you know, and put a trailer up and clean it up and get going. Sooner the better. I don't want to wait six months. That petrifies me."
Volunteers have shown up to help out and donations poured in. The informal nature of the camp was evident in the mix of order and disarray.
Racks of used clothes ranging from sweaters to plaid flannel shirts and tables covered with neatly organized pairs of boots, sneakers and shoes competed for space with shopping carts full of clothes, garbage bags stuffed with other donations, boxes of books, stuffed animals — yellow, purple and green teddy bears and a menagerie of other fuzzy critters — sitting on the pavement.
A sign tacked to a post says: "Short term help for evacuees. Please take what will help you through the next couple days. Be mindful of other evacuees!"
Food trucks offered free meals and a cook flipped burgers on a grill. There were portable toilets and some people were used the Walmart restrooms.
Someone walking through the camp Thursday offered free medicinal marijuana. Laura Whitaker, an evacuee from Paradise, said that while everyone had been helpful, she heard people were pretending to be evacuees and were selling drugs from tents.
More than 75 tents had popped up in the space since Matthew Flanagan arrived Friday and still more were sleeping in cars.
"We call it Wally World," Flanagan said, a riff off the store name. "When I first got here there was nobody here. And now it's just getting worse and worse and worse. There are more evacuees, more people running out of money for hotels."
Information for contacting the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance was posted on a board that allowed people to write the names of those they believed were missing. Several of those names, including Flanagan's, had the word "Here" written next to them.
Melissa Contant, who drove from the San Francisco area to help out, advised people to register with FEMA as soon as possible and not to reveal too much information about whether they own or rent homes or if they have sufficient food and water, because that could delay aid.
"You're living in a Walmart parking lot — you're not OK," she told Maggie and Michael Crowder.
Michael Crowder, a former sheriff's deputy, had left behind a rental home in Magalia, a Sierra foothills town also ravaged by flames, on his motorcycle with this wife following in a truck with their pit bull, Coco.
They slept several nights in a Burger King parking lot and were running out of money and food when they went to buy a tent at Walmart and discovered the camp.
Tents had sold out, but a pastor and some volunteers showed up with the shelters and blankets and cots. A volunteer pitched a red tent for the Crowders in the dark.
"This is better than Burger King in some ways," Maggie Crowder said. "We were kind of scared to be part of this."
Melley reported from Los Angeles. AP journalist Terence Chea in Chico contributed to this story.
New Delhi, Nov 16 (Xinhua/UNB) - The severe cyclonic storm Gaja Friday morning crossed the Tamil Nadu coast in southern India, triggering gusty winds and torrential rains, officials said.
Gaja made landfall between Nagapattinam and Vedaranyam, uprooting trees and damaging roofs of houses.
Officials, however, said there were no report of casualty so far of the cyclone in the affected areas.
According to officials the winds hit the coast with a speed of around 120 kmph.
"The eye of the storm began to make the landfall by 0:30 a.m. (local time) today and took about two hours to move into the land terrain completely," a meteorology department official said.
"It will take a few more hours to get inside the land fully. Therefore, the wind is still persisting in most parts of Nagapattinam district and its adjoining areas."
The severe cyclone according to officials will take several hours to weaken into a cyclone and then into a depression.
"It is set to reach the Arabian sea via mid-western Tamil Nadu and Kerala by tomorrow," the official said.
Reports said 76,290 people were evacuated from low lying areas and sheltered at over 300 relief centres in six districts including Nagapattinam, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram and Tiruvarur.
Authorities have closed educational institutions in several districts on Friday as a precautionary measure.
Officials said disaster response force personnel who have been deployed in the vulnerable district to carry out rescue work were clearing roads of fallen trees.
Magalia, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — Cool weather helped fire crews gain ground Thursday against the nation's deadliest wildfire in a century, as the search went on for more bodies in the ashes of Paradise and surrounding communities. At least 56 people were killed, with 130 others missing a week after the flames swept through.
The nearly 220-square-mile (570-square-kilometer) blaze was 40 percent contained, the state fire agency said, and firefighters succeeded in slowing the flames' advance toward populated areas.
More than 450 searchers were assigned to look for remains in Paradise, which was all but destroyed, and outlying areas such as Magalia, a forested Northern California town of about 11,000. Many of the missing were elderly and from Magalia.
"If this town does recover, it's going to take many, many years," said Johnny Pohmagevich, an 18-year Magalia resident who lives up the road from many burned homes.
Police drove around town, searching for those still in their homes and checking if they needed food and water.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Wednesday night that 130 people were on the missing list.
At the other end of the state, crews continued to battle wildfires in Southern California, including a blaze of more than 153 square miles (396 square kilometers) that destroyed over 500 structures in Malibu and nearby communities. At least three deaths were reported.
Officials in Northern California put the number of homes lost there at nearly 8,800, and the sheriff said the task of recovering remains had become so vast that his office brought in 287 more searchers Wednesday, including National Guard troops. The searchers used 22 cadaver dogs.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke joined California Gov. Jerry Brown on a visit to Paradise on Wednesday, saying it was the worst fire devastation he had ever seen.
"Now is not the time to point fingers," Zinke said. "There are lots of reasons these catastrophic fires are happening." He cited higher temperatures, dead trees and the poor forest management.
The governor said officials would need to learn how to better prevent fires from becoming so deadly .
It will take years to rebuild, if people decide that's what should be done, said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "The infrastructure is basically a total rebuild at this point," he said.
While most of Paradise was wiped out, in Magalia a sharp dividing line marked those who survived and those who did not.
"Magalia has so many trees. I honestly can't believe it just didn't get leveled," said Sheri Palade, an area real estate agent.
Tom Driver, the office manager and elder at Magalia Community Church, said he heard the church made it through the blaze, though he did not know whether his home did.
"I've been able to account for all of the congregation," said Driver, who is staying with family in Oakland. "They're all over the place, but they got out in pretty good time."
Kim Bonini, one of those who got out safely Nov. 8, left after hearing someone on a bullhorn two blocks over urging people to leave. The power in her home had gone out that morning, leaving her with only her car radio.
"My cell didn't work, my house phone didn't work, nothing. Nothing except for me crawling into my car," Bonini said from her daughter's home in Chico. "If I wouldn't have heard them two blocks down, I wouldn't have known I had to evacuate."
Brussels, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — European Union chief Donald Tusk has called for a summit of leaders to take place on Nov. 25 so they can endorse a draft Brexit deal that has been reached with the British government.
Following an early Thursday meeting, Tusk heaped praise on the EU's Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who had "achieved the two most important objectives" — limiting the damage caused by Britain's impending departure and maintaining the interests of the other 27 countries that will remain in the bloc after Brexit.
While British Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win support within her fractured party as well as Parliament, the EU has held the line behind Barnier during the negotiations.
Colombo, Nov 15 (AP/UNB) — Rival lawmakers exchanged blows in Sri Lanka's Parliament on Thursday as disputed Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed the speaker had no authority to remove him from office by voice vote.
The fighting in the chamber came a day after it passed a no-confidence vote against Rajapaksa's government. When Parliament re-convened, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya said the country had no government and there was no prime minister — either Rajapaksa or his rival whose ousting in late October by the president started the crisis.
Rajapaksa disagreed, saying "a vote should have been taken. Such important motions should not be passed by a voice vote." He added that Jayasuriya has no power to remove or appoint the prime minister and Cabinet members.
He accused the speaker of being partial and representing the position of his party, the United National Party, which is led by ousted Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
Rajapaksa also called for fresh elections, suggesting that it was the best way to resolve the crisis.
Clashes erupted after the opposition asked for a vote on Rajapaksa's statement, with lawmakers supporting him gathering in the middle of the house while some ran toward the speaker shouting slogans condemning his behavior.
More than three dozen lawmakers fought and some who fell on the floor were kicked by rivals. Some of the lawmakers supporting Rajapaksa threw water bottles, books and trash cans at the speaker. Lawmakers opposed to Rajapaksa surrounded Jayasuriya to protect him. The ensuing commotion went on for about half an hour before Jayasuriya adjourned the house.
Sri Lanka has been in a crisis since Oct. 26, when President Maithripala Sirisena suddenly fired Wickremesinghe and replaced him with Rajapaksa. The former president is considered a hero by some of the ethnic Sinhalese majority for ending a long civil war by crushing Tamil Tiger rebels. However, his time in power was marred by allegations of wartime atrocities, corruption and nepotism.
Sirisena had also suspended Parliament, apparently to allow Rajapaksa time to gather support among lawmakers. But Wickremesinghe insisted his firing was unconstitutional. He refused to vacate his official residence and demanded that Parliament be summoned to prove he still has support.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended Sirisena's order to dissolve Parliament and hold new elections until next month.
Wickremesinghe said on Wednesday that the no-confidence vote proves that Rajapaksa's administration does not enjoy the support of Parliament and is illegal.
Tensions had been building between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe for some time, as the president did not approve of economic reforms introduced by the prime minister. Sirisena has also accused Wickremesinghe and another Cabinet member of plotting to assassinate him, a charge Wickremesinghe has repeatedly denied.