Chico, Nov 18 (AP/UNB) — Several people who fled the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century clustered around a television set at an evacuation center Saturday and watch President Donald Trump survey what remained of their Northern California community.
But for the most part, survivors, some who had barely escaped and no longer had homes, were too busy packing up what little they had left or seeking help to pay much attention to the president's visit.
Michelle Mack Couch, 49, waited in line to get into a Federal Emergency Management Agency center in the city of Chico. She needed a walker for her elderly mother and tags for her car.
"Let's hope he gets us some help," said Couch, who voted for Trump and whose house was among more than 9,800 that burned down last week.
But as far as taking time out to watch the president, she said wryly, "We don't have a TV anymore."
Hours after California's outgoing and incoming governors joined Trump as he surveyed the devastation in the town of Paradise, authorities raised the death toll to 76 and warned people being let back into previously evacuated areas to watch out for any remains.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea also reiterated his plea for people to check the list his office puts out of those reported as unaccounted for so that they can mark themselves as safe.
He said deputies have located hundreds but the roster has nearly 1,300 names, including duplicates and people who are likely OK, but haven't checked in.
"It's really very important for you to take a look at the list and call us if you're on the list," Honea said.
Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump's visit and joined him in a tour of Paradise, population 27,000.
The tour came as firefighters raced to get ahead of strong winds expected overnight and authorities struggled to locate 1,011 people who were unaccounted for. Authorities stressed that not all on the list are believed missing, but the death toll from the Camp Fire has risen daily, standing at 71.
The fire zone in Northern California is to some extent Trump country. He beat Hillary Clinton by 4 percentage points in Butte County in 2016. That enthusiasm was on display as dozens of people cheered and waved flags as his motorcade went by.
But elsewhere, others were searching for friends. At an unofficial encampment next to a Walmart in Chico, many were packing up to find another temporary place to sleep after being told to leave by Sunday.
That included Maggie Missere-Crowder, who said she was focused on getting her tent and boxes of food into her pickup truck.
Missere-Crowder, 61, and her husband had fled their home in Magalia, a community near Paradise that also was devastated, and now planned to go to a shelter in Yuba City, about an hour's drive from the Walmart.
She said she was angry about Trump's tweet last week blaming forest mismanagement for the Nov. 8 fire, a sentiment he evoked in his visit and has stirred resentment among survivors.
"Like we've done it on purpose. It's like a slap in the face," Missere-Crowder said.
Still, she said that if she met him, she would say, "Think about what you're saying, because it takes away from all the good stuff you're doing."
Al Coppa, who lost two homes and doesn't know the fate of a third in Magalia, was among a handful of people watching news about Trump's visit on a TV outside a Red Cross shelter in Chico.
He said he hopes the attention will speed up recovery for wildfire victims.
"I hope that only good comes out of it. Good for the people that have been devastated by this. It's just such a horrible thing. I couldn't believe how bad it was," said Coppa, who has been living in hotels.
Trump also was visiting Southern California, where firefighters were making progress on a wildfire that tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu, killing three people.
In Northern California, thousands of personnel battled the flames spanning about 230 square miles (600 square kilometers), officials said. It was halfway contained.
Firefighters were racing against time with winds up to 40 mph and low humidity expected Saturday night into Sunday. Rain was forecast for midweek, which could help firefighters but also complicate the search for remains.
The number of people unaccounted for has grown to more than 1,000. But Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the list was "dynamic" and could easily contain duplicate names and the names of people who are safe.
Brown, Newsom and Trump pledged to work together and showed a united front at several media stops Saturday.
Kevin Cory, a wildfire evacuee who lost his home in Paradise, praised Trump for coming to a state that is often at odds with the White House.
"I think that California's been really horrible to him and the fights. I mean they're suing him," he said. "It's back and forth between the state and the feds. It's not right."
Mexico, No 18 (AP/UNB) — Many of the nearly 3,000 Central American migrants who have reached the Mexican border with California via caravan said Saturday they do not feel welcome in the city of Tijuana, where hundreds more migrants are headed after more than a month on the road.
The vast majority were camped at an outdoor sports complex, sleeping on a dirt baseball field and under bleachers with a view of the steel walls topped by barbed wire at the newly reinforced U.S.-Mexico border. The city opened the complex after other shelters were filled to capacity. Church groups provided portable showers, bathrooms and sinks. The federal government estimates the migrant crowd in Tijuana could soon swell to 10,000.
Tijuana Mayor Juan Manuel Gastelum has called the migrants' arrival an "avalanche" that the city is ill-prepared to handle, calculating that they will be in Tijuana for at least six months as they wait to file asylum claims. U.S. border inspectors are processing only about 100 asylum claims a day at Tijuana's main crossing to San Diego. Asylum seekers register their names in a tattered notebook managed by migrants themselves that had more than 3,000 names even before the caravan arrived.
While many in Tijuana are sympathetic to the migrants' plight and trying to assist, some locals have shouted insults, hurled rocks and even thrown punches at the migrants.
It's a stark contrast to the many Mexican communities that welcomed the caravan with signs, music and donations of clothing after it entered Mexico nearly a month ago. Countless residents of rural areas pressed fruit and bags of water into the migrants' hands as they passed through southern Mexico, wishing them safe journeys.
Alden Rivera, the Honduran ambassador in Mexico, visited the outdoor sports complex Saturday. Rivera expects the migrants will need to be sheltered for eight months or more, and said he is working with Mexico to get more funds to feed and care for them. He expects the migrant numbers in Tijuana to reach 3,400 over the weekend, with another 1,200 migrants having made it to Mexicali, another border city a few hours to the east of Tijuana. An additional 1,500 migrants plan to reach the U.S. border region next week.
Rivera said 1,800 Hondurans have returned to their country since the caravan first set out on Oct. 13, and that he hopes more will make that decision.
"We want them to return to Honduras," Rivera said, adding that each migrant must weigh whether to go home, appeal for asylum in Mexico or wait in line to apply for asylum in the U.S.
The Mexican Interior Ministry said Friday that 2,697 Central American migrants have requested asylum in Mexico under a program that the country launched on Oct. 26 to more quickly get them credentials needed to live, work and study in southern Mexico.
Ivis Muñoz, 26, has considered returning to Honduras. The coffee farmer called his father in Atima, Honduras, on Saturday to consult on his next move a few days after being attacked on a beach by locals in Tijuana. His father told him to stick it out.
Munoz has a bullet in his leg. A gang member shot him a year ago in Honduras and threatened to kill him if he sees him again. Munoz said he found out later his girlfriend had been cheating on him with the gang member.
He's afraid to go home, but he feels unwelcome in Tijuana.
Munoz was asleep on a beach in Tijuana with about two dozen other migrants when rocks came raining down on them around 2 a.m. Wednesday. He heard a man shout in the darkness: "We don't want you here! Go back to your country!" Munoz and the others got up and ran for cover, heading toward the residential streets nearby. As the sun rose, they hitched a ride on a passing truck to Tijuana's downtown. Now he is staying at the sports complex.
"I don't know what to do," said Munoz. He fears the U.S. won't grant him asylum, and that he'll get deported if he tries to cross into the country without authorization.
Carlos Padilla, 57, a migrant from Progreso, Honduras, said a Tijuana resident shouted "migrants are pigs" as he passed on the street recently. He did not respond. "We didn't come here to cause problems, we came here with love and with the intention to ask for asylum," Padilla said. "But they treat us like animals here."
Padilla said he will likely return to Honduras if the U.S. rejects his asylum request.
The migrants' expected long stay in Tijuana has raised concerns about the ability of the border city of more than 1.6 million to handle the influx.
Tijuana officials said they converted the municipal gymnasium and recreational complex into a shelter to keep migrants out of public spaces. The city's privately run shelters have a maximum capacity of 700. The municipal complex can hold up to 3,000; as of Friday night there were 2,397 migrants there.
Some business owners near the shelter complained on Saturday of migrants panhandling and stealing.
Francisco Lopez, 50, owns a furniture store nearby. He said a group of migrants took food from a small grocery a few doors down, and he worries that crime in the area will rise the longer the migrants stay at the shelter.
Other neighbors expressed empathy.
"These poor people have left their country and they're in an unfamiliar place," said Maria de Jesus Izarraga, 68, who lives two blocks from complex.
As Izarraga spoke from her home's front door, a man interrupted to ask for money to buy a plate of beans. He said he came with the caravan and had blisters on his feet. She gave him some pesos, and continued speaking: "I hope this all works out in the best possible way."
Outside the complex, lines of migrants snaked along the street to receive donations of clothes and coolers full of bottled water being dropped off by charity groups and others looking to help the migrants.
Felipe Garza, 55, acknowledged that many in his hometown don't want to help as he and other volunteers from his church handed migrants coffee and rolls at the impromptu municipal shelter. "It's uncomfortable to receive such a big multitude of people, but it's a reality that we have to deal with," he said.
Garza surmised that if the Central Americans behave, Tijuana will embrace them just as it did thousands of Haitians in 2016. Those Haitians have since opened restaurants, hair salons and enrolled in local universities.
Police officer Victor Coronel agrees but wonders how much more the city can take. "The only thing we can do is hope that President (Donald) Trump opens his heart a little," said Coronel.
Trump, who sought to make the caravan a campaign issue in last week's elections, took to Twitter on Friday to aim new criticism at the migrants.
"Isn't it ironic that large Caravans of people are marching to our border wanting U.S.A. asylum because they are fearful of being in their country — yet they are proudly waving ... their country's flag. Can this be possible? Yes, because it is all a BIG CON, and the American taxpayer is paying for it," Trump said in a pair of tweets.
Washington, Nov 18 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump said Saturday that his administration will release a full report in the next two days about the death of a Saudi journalist, which has created a diplomatic conundrum for the president: How to admonish Riyadh for the killing yet maintain strong ties with a close ally in the Middle East.
"We'll be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday," Trump said. That will include "who did it," he said.
Reporters asked Trump about the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who was slain Oct. 2 inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Saudi Arabia's top diplomat has said the crown prince had "absolutely" nothing to do with it.
American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, according to a U.S. official familiar with the assessment. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others familiar with the case caution that while it's likely that the crown prince was involved in the death, there continue to be questions about what role he played.
"The United States government is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable," the State Department said in a statement. "Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi."
The statement added: "The U.S. government has taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible, including visa and sanctions actions. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia."
Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump about the death for weeks and he was briefed again by phone Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.
Before his call on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that when it came to the crown prince, "as of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We're going to have to find out what they have to say." That echoed remarks by national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier this week that people who have listened to an audio recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.
Also before leaving on his trip, Trump said Saudi Arabia was "a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development."
"I have to take a lot of things into consideration" when deciding what measures to take against the kingdom, he said.
Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said "the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups."
But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.
But members of Congress are pushing Trump for a tougher response to the killing. The administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.
Vice President Mike Pence told reporters traveling with him Saturday for a summit of Pacific Rim nations in Papua, New Guinea, that the "murder of Jamal Khashoggi was an atrocity. It was also an affront to a free and independent press, and the United States is determined to hold all of those accountable who are responsible for that murder."
Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, often criticized the royal family. Turkish and Saudi authorities say he was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.
Paradise, Nov 18 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump on Saturday acknowledged Californians suffering from twin tragedies, walking through the ashes of a mobile home and RV park in a small northern town all but destroyed by deadly wildfires and privately consoling people grieving after a mass shooting at a popular college bar outside Los Angeles.
"This has been a tough day when you look at all of the death from one place to the next," Trump said before flying back to Washington.
Trump's visits to areas of Northern and Southern California in the aftermath of unprecedented wildfires that have killed more than 70 people gave him what he sought in flying coast to coast and back in a single day — a grasp of the desolation in the heart of California's killer wildfires.
"We've never seen anything like this in California, we've never seen anything like this yet. It's like total devastation," Trump said as he stood amid the ruins of Paradise, burned to the ground by a wildfire the president called "this monster."
Before returning to Washington, Trump met briefly at an airport hangar with families and first responders touched by the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks more than a week ago, which left 12 dead in what Trump called "a horrible, horrible event." Reporters and photographers were not allowed to accompany the president to the session, which Trump later described as emotional.
"What can you say other than it's so sad to see. These are great people. Great families, torn apart," he told reporters. "We just hugged them and we kissed them — and everybody. And it was very warm."
He added: "It was tragic and yet, in one way, it was a very beautiful moment."
Trump had made only one previous trip as president to California, a deeply Democratic and liberal state that he has blamed for a pair of overheated crises, illegal immigration and voter fraud. He also has been at odds with the state's Democratic-led government, but differences were generally put aside as Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom joined Trump in surveying the wildfire damage.
"We're going to have to work quickly," Trump said near the crumpled foundations of Paradise homes and twisted steel of melted cars. "Hopefully this is going to be the last of these because this was a really, really bad one."
In a nod to his belief — not shared by all forest scientists — that improved forest management practices will diminish future risks, Trump added: "I think everybody's seen the light and I don't think we'll have this again to this extent."
With that bold and perhaps unlikely prediction, Trump evoked his initial tweeted reaction to the fire, the worst in the state's history, in which he seemed to blame local officials and threatened to take away federal funding.
Hours later and hundreds of miles to the south, Trump found similar signs of devastation in the seaside conclave of Malibu, one of the areas of Southern California ravaged by wildfires that have killed at least three. Palm trees stood scorched and some homes were burned to the ground on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
At least 71 people have died across Northern California, and authorities are trying to locate more than 1,000 people, though not all are believed missing. More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 square kilometers) and was about 50 percent contained, officials said.
When asked in Paradise if seeing the historic devastation, which stretched for miles and left neighborhoods destroyed and fields scorched, altered his opinion on climate change, Trump answered, "No."
The president has long voiced skepticism about man's impact on the climate and has been reluctant to assign blame to a warming earth for the increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters.
Wearing a camouflage "USA" hat, Trump gazed solemnly at the devastation in Paradise. Several burned-out buses and cars were nearby. Trees were burned, their branches bare and twisted. Homes were totally gone; some foundations remained, as did a chimney and, in front of one house, a Mickey Mouse lawn ornament. The fire was reported to have moved through the area at 80 mph.
"It's going to work out well, but right now we want to take care of the people that are so badly hurt," Trump said while visiting what remained of the Skyway Villa Mobile Home and RV Park. He noted "there are areas you can't even get to them yet" and the sheer number of people unaccounted for.
"I think people have to see this really to understand it," Trump said.
The president later toured an operation center, met with response commanders and praised the work of firefighters, law enforcement and representatives of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Trump took a helicopter tour en route to Chico before he toured Paradise. A full cover of haze and the smell of smoke greeted the president upon his arrival at Beale Air Force Base near Sacramento.
"They're out there fighting and they're fighting like hell," Trump said of the first responders.
He pledged that Washington would do its part by coming to the Golden State's aid and urged the House's Republican leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, a Trump ally and frequent White House visitor, to "come to the office" to help secure the needed funding.
Trump long has struggled to convey empathy to victims of national disasters and tragedies. His first reaction to the fires came in a tweet last week that drew criticism as unnecessarily critical and tone-deaf given the devastation: "There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests."
After the negative reaction to that response, Trump shifted gears, expressing words of encouragement to first responders and those of sympathy for hit victims.
Nature and humans share blame for the wildfires, but fire scientists are divided as to whether forest management played a major role. Nature provides the dangerous winds that have whipped the fires, the state has been in a drought and human-caused climate change over the long haul is killing and drying the shrubs and trees that provide the fuel.
When Trump was asked during an interview set to air on "Fox News Sunday" whether climate change played a role in the number of serious fires, he said "maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management."
In Northern California, Trump continued to show skepticism about the impact of climate change on wildfires. His grasp of forests was shaky at times, at one point invoking fire prevention efforts in Finland — it has a very different climate than California — as an example for the Golden State to follow.
Asked if he thought climate change played a role in the fires, Brown responded: "Yes. Yes. And we'll let science determine this over a longer period of time."
A reporter asked if climate change was discussed with the president, but Trump jumped in to say, "We didn't discuss it."
A reporter then said, "Well, you obviously disagree on this issue." Trump answered, in part: "Maybe not as different as people think. Is it happening? Things are changing. And I think most importantly we're doing things about. We're gonna make it better. We're going to make it a lot better. And it's gonna happen as quickly as it can possibly happen."
Brown and Newsom said they welcomed the president's visit, with the governor suggesting they set aside political differences since it "now is a time to pull together for the people of California." A fierce advocate of addressing climate change, the governor pointed to several causes and said they need to deal with them.
"If you really look at the facts, from a really open point of view, there are a lot of elements to be considered," Brown said. "The president came, he saw and I'm looking forward over the next months and beyond to really understand this threat of fire, the whole matter of drought and all the rest of it. It's not one thing, it's a lot of things and I think that if we just open our minds and look at things we'll get more stuff done."
Paradise, Nov 17 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump heads to Northern California on Saturday to see firsthand the grief and devastation from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century, as confusion continued over how many people remain unaccounted for.
Authorities confirmed a new death toll of 71 and say they are trying to locate 1,011 people even as they stressed that not all are believed missing.
California's outgoing and incoming governors, both Democrats and vocal critics of Trump, planned to join the president Saturday. Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom welcomed Trump's visit, declaring it's time "to pull together for the people of California."
The blaze that started Nov. 8 all but razed the town of Paradise, population 27,000, and heavily damaged the outlying communities of Magalia and Concow. It destroyed more than 9,800 homes and at its height displaced 52,000 people.
Details of Trump's itinerary had not been released late Friday.
This patch of California, a former Gold Rush region in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is to some extent Trump country, with Trump beating Hillary Clinton in Butte County by 4 percentage points in 2016.
But Trump has stirred resentment among survivors over comments he made two days after the disaster on Twitter, then reiterated on the eve of his visit.
In an interview taped Friday and scheduled for broadcast on "Fox News Sunday," Trump said he was surprised to see images of firefighters removing dried brush near a fire, adding, "This should have been all raked out."
Asked if he thought climate change contributed to the fires, he said: "Maybe it contributes a little bit. The big problem we have is management."
Those comments echoed his initial reaction to the fires Nov. 10 when he blamed the wildfires on poor forest management and threatened then to withhold federal payments. Trump subsequently approved a federal disaster declaration.
"If you insult people, then you go visit them, how do you think you're going to be accepted? You're not going to have a parade," Maggie Crowder of Magalia said this week outside an informal shelter at a Walmart store in Chico.
But Stacy Lazzarino, who voted for Trump, said it would be good for the president to see the devastation up close: "I think by maybe seeing it he's going to be like 'Oh, my goodness,' and it might start opening people's eyes."
Firefighters returning to a command center in the neighboring city of Chico after a 24-hour shift Friday were reluctant to weigh in on Trump's visit, but some shared their thoughts.
Nick Shawkey, a CalFire captain from rural Northern California, said Trump's visit was the mark of a good leader. But to imply the state was to blame for mismanaging the forests was based on a misunderstanding because much of the forest land in California is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, he said.
"The thing he's tweeting about is his property," Shawkey said.
Paul Briones, a firefighter from Bakersfield, predicted Trump's visit would be a huge boost to the community, showing "that this on a national level is a priority."
More than 5,500 fire personnel were battling the blaze that covered 228 square miles (590 square kilometers) and was 50 percent contained officials said.
Firefighters were racing against time with a red flag warning issued for Saturday night into Sunday, including winds up to 50 mph and low humidity. Rain was forecast for mid-week, which could help firefighters but also complicate the challenging search for remains.
"It's a disheartening situation," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference Friday. "As much as I wish we could get through this before the rains come, I don't know if that's possible."
The number of people unaccounted for grew to more than 1,000 on Friday. But Honea acknowledged the list was "dynamic" and could easily contain duplicate names and unreliable spellings of names.
The roster probably includes some who fled the blaze and do not realize they've been reported missing, he said.
"We are still receiving calls. We're still reviewing emails," Honea said. "This is a massive undertaking. We have hundreds and hundreds of people working on this."
Families searching for loved ones have scoured shelters and social media and say they understand the chaos of the situation, But the wait for information is agonizing.
For one family, good news arrived by telephone.
Monica Whipple said Friday she was boarding a plane back to North Carolina from Northern California when she got a call two days ago that her mother, Donna Price, had been found alive. Price had been presumed missing but was tracked down at a shelter.
"It was so crazy, I started crying in front of everybody," Whipple said. "She's doing OK."
For too many others, the wait to learn a loved one's fate has ended with bad news.
Sol Bechtold searched for his 75-year-old mother, Caddy, posting flyers of her on bulletin boards and searching for her in shelters.
On Thursday, Bechtold went to the Butte County Sheriff to provide DNA samples. As he was driving back to his home in Pleasanton, California, he got a call from an officer with the coroner's unit of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office and was told his mother's remains were found in her home in the community of Magalia. The home had burned down to its concrete foundation.
"It's hard to realize your mother is gone," Bechtold said.
Family members remembered her personality, her wonderful heart and great smile, he said. She raised four children.
"It's been a pretty emotional 24 hours. Lots of tears," he said.