Amid progress against California blaze, number of missing soars

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Family members and survivors on Friday sought news of the 630 people considered missing after the deadliest wildfire in California history reduced much of the town of Paradise to ash and charred rubble, and killed 63.

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the blaze, named the Camp Fire, was now 45 percent contained, up from 35 percent on Thursday, even though it had grown slightly to 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares).

With nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned, refugees from the fire have taken up residence in tents or their vehicles and filled evacuation centers to overflowing. Search teams, meanwhile, are in burned-out areas looking for bodies – or anything else that might carry human DNA for identification purposes.

Cal Fire said the Camp Fire death toll held at 63 overnight, but Miranda Bowersox, spokeswoman for the Butte County Sheriff’s office, warned the number of missing people would fluctuate.

“The overall number will go down but in the short term we expect will see new reports of people missing,” she said.

In some cases, those unaccounted for have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities that they are alive, or relatives may not yet have reported people missing. Poor cellphone coverage after the fire has also made communications difficult.

Last weekend, the Butte County Sheriff’s office initially put the total of missing people at 228, many of whom have now been accounted for. But as fresh reports from relatives caused the list to rise to 130 from 103 late Wednesday, 297 by Thursday morning and 630 as of Thursday night.

The fire – which roared through Paradise, a town of 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, on Nov. 8 – is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.

Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Weather conditions now are helping the firefighting effort, Nick Pimlott, a Cal Fire engineer, told KRCR TV. He said the winds had died down, allowing crews around Lake Oroville to the southeast of Paradise to construct fresh lines to contain the fire.

Many on the missing list are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors have long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.

Brandon DuVall of Seattle said he last communicated with his retired father, Robert DuVall, in July after his father had bought a new pickup and camper. He received a call earlier this week that his father’s remains might have been found and now will go to California to provide a DNA sample.

Relatives of retired U.S. Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began.

On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.

Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, told Reuters by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”

‘WHY AM I HERE?’

Some in Paradise were experiencing survivors’ guilt. “You’re like, ‘Why am I here?’” Sam Walker, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paradise, told WBUR radio. “‘Why is my family all here? Why are our churches still standing?’ I don’t know. My house is gone, like so many others.”

Thousands of additional structures remain threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, try to contain and suppress the flames.

For a graphic on Deadly California fires, see – tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui

More than 300 California National Guard troops are in the area searching for remains, as well as filling logistical, medical and administrative roles. Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Angle said seven soldiers from his battalion lost their homes in the fire, including one woman who asked to help with the recovery effort because it was “better for her piece of mind to be part of it.”

There have been other smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles. It was 57 percent contained.

Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are attributable to drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Critics say Trump politicized the fires by blaming them, without supporting evidence, on bad forest mismanagement by California, a largely Democratic state. Trump threatened to withhold federal assistance.

Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread broadly. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (150 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes for Friday due to poor air quality.

Some of Paradise’s older residents who had lost their homes were concerned about where they would live.

“I’m just very hopeful I can work something out for the future,” Norris Godsey, 82, told the San Francisco Chronicle at a church evacuation center in Chico. “If that’s not possible, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Nick Carey and Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool

May defends Brexit deal as opponents plot no-confidence vote

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Theresa May won the backing of the most prominent Brexiteer in her government on Friday as she fought to save a draft European Union divorce deal that has stirred up a plot to force her out of her job.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street via the back exit in London, Britain, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

More than two years after the United Kingdom voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear how, on what terms or even if the world’s fifth largest economy will leave the bloc as planned on March 29, 2019.

Just hours after announcing that her senior ministers had collectively backed her divorce deal, May’s premiership was thrust into its most perilous crisis to date when her Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab resigned on Thursday in opposition to the agreement.

Other mutinous lawmakers in her party have openly spoken of ousting her and said bluntly that the Brexit deal would not pass parliament.

But May, who has defiantly vowed to stay on as prime minister, got a rare boost on Friday when Michael Gove, the most prominent Brexit-supporting minister, gave his backing to her, saying he would stay on as environment minister.

Asked if he had confidence in May, Gove, who is famous for sinking former foreign minister Boris Johnson’s leadership bid in 2016, told reporters: “I absolutely do.”

“I think it’s absolutely vital that we focus on getting the right deal in the future, and making sure that in the areas that matter so much to the British people we can get a good outcome,” said Gove, 51, a potential successor to May.

Trade minister Liam Fox, another leading Brexit supporter, also joined Gove in backing May – but her future remains uncertain.

The first question she faced on a LBC radio phone-in show to defend her deal was from a caller who asked her to “respectfully stand down”. She did not immediately address that part of the caller’s question.

Stephen Barclay, a little-known junior health minister, was appointed as the new Brexit secretary, although the status of the role was downgraded from chief negotiator with May leading the completion of talks with the EU.

“He will be doing the domestic role. The PM will be completing the last 10 days of negotiations,” May’s spokesman said.

Sterling GBP=D3, which has see-sawed on Brexit news since the referendum, was up half a cent against the dollar at $1.2834 on Friday.

PLOTTERS

Politicians, officials and diplomats in London openly questioned how long May had left as speculation swirled that a leadership challenge could come soon.

Under Conservative Party rules, a vote must take place when 48 of her lawmakers submit letters to the party’s so-called 1922 committee, chaired by a senior lawmaker, Graham Brady.

Influential Brexit-supporting lawmaker Steve Baker said rebels in May’s party were close to the threshold which would trigger a confidence vote. So far, at least 21 lawmakers have publicly said they have submitted letters.

“I think we’re probably not far off,” said Baker, a key figure in the Brexit-backing wing of May’s party. “I think it probably is imminent, yes,” he told BBC TV.

British political correspondents also reported that Gove, Fox and other pro-Brexit ministers would meet this weekend to amend May’s deal. However, both the Irish and Dutch prime ministers said there was little scope to change the proposals.

Since winning the top job in the turmoil that followed the 2016 referendum, May’s tumultuous premiership has been characterised by an obdurate flair for survival despite frequent crises.

Slideshow (3 Images)

CONFIDENCE VOTE

May’s de facto deputy, David Lidington, said she would win a vote of no confidence, in which she would need a simple majority of the total votes cast by her lawmakers.

“If those letters were to go in, I think that she would win any such vote decisively, and she’d deserve to do so,” Lidington said in a broadcast clip.

If May stayed on in power without a divorce deal that could be approved, the ultimate outcome of Brexit would be uncertain.

Other possible scenarios for the United Kingdom include May’s deal ultimately winning approval; May losing her job; Britain leaving the bloc with no agreement; or even another referendum.

A snap poll by Survation of 1,070 voters for the Daily Mail newspaper found 49 percent of respondents opposed the deal and just 27 percent backed it.

To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need to get the backing of about 320 of parliament’s 650 lawmakers. The deal is due to be discussed at an EU summit on Nov. 25.

By seeking to preserve the closest possible ties with the EU, May has upset her party’s many advocates of a clean break, and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

“They’ve raised some questions with us, they’ve raised some concerns with us and yes we are looking at those,” May said. “We are still working with the DUP.”

NIGHTMARE FOR BUSINESS?

The EU and Britain need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom, home to the biggest international financial centre.

Supporters of Brexit say that while the divorce might bring some short-term instability, in the longer term it will allow the United Kingdom to thrive.

May told LBC radio the threat of a no deal Brexit was personal as she is Type 1 diabetic: “I depend on insulin every day. My insulin is produced by a country elsewhere in the European Union.”

May’s spokeswoman said there had been strong business support for her draft deal but British aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce (RR.L) was continuing with its no-deal contingency plans.

The plans include “buffer stocks so that we have all the logistical capacity that we need to carry on running our business,” said Chief Executive Warren East.

Proponents of closer relations with the EU in her own party and the Labour opposition say the deal squanders the advantages of membership for little gain.

Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill, Andy Bruce, Elizabeth Piper and William James; writing by Michael Holden and Guy Faulconbridge. Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg, William Maclean and Andrew Heavens

‘I brace myself’: anxious search for the missing in California fire

(Reuters) – Rose Farrell was an independent-minded 99-year-old determined to live by herself in Paradise, California. A caregiver checked on her daily and she relied on a walker, but still had her car in her driveway.

A view of homes destroyed by the Camp Fire is seen in Paradise, California, U.S. November 11, 2018. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Since the “Camp Fire” swept rapidly into Paradise, which sits atop a ridge 1,700 feet above a canyon cut by the Feather River, Farrell’s family has been unable to reach her.

“The hardest part is just waiting to know what happened,” said Tom Perez, 58, the husband of Farrell’s granddaughter.

California’s deadliest wildfire roared into the town of 27,000 last week, speeding seven miles in 90 minutes and leaving residents little time to flee.

Some died in their cars in a chaotic evacuation as gridlock snarled up the two exits out of town. Farrell is one of 630 people listed as missing, while the death toll has climbed to 63.

The number of those unaccounted for has fluctuated wildly and officials warn it will almost certainly change.

Over the weekend, the Butte County Sheriff’s office initially put the total of missing people at 228, many of whom were later accounted for. But as fresh reports from relatives came in, the list grew from 103 to 130 late Wednesday, jumped to 297 by Thursday morning and soared to 630 as of Thursday night.

In some cases, people may have survived but not yet notified the authorities, or relatives may not yet have reported people missing. Poor cell phone coverage after the fire has exacerbated the problem.

“We still have reports coming in of people being missing and of people being found,” said Miranda Bowersox, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office. “The overall number will go down, but in the short term we expect to see new reports of people missing.”

Paradise was home to many retirees, like Donna Duncan-Austin, 90, who used a walker to get around. Her husband Angello Austin, 87, was more physically active and worked as a baker and a handyman, Donna’s niece Andrea Evans told Reuters by phone.

“They were deeply, deeply in love,” Evans said.

Donna was heavily involved with her church, but no one there has heard from her, Evans said.

“That’s why I brace myself,” she said.

SEARCHING IN VAIN

At least 90 percent of those on a list of the missing provided by the Butte County Sheriff’s office on Wednesday were aged over 60. Relatives say some of them are disabled or have limited mobility.

Bill Mount, 62, is one of them. His niece Jaime Daugherty said her brother urgently knocked on Mount’s door just after 6 a.m. on the day of the fire and got no response.

Mount’s house burned to the ground. One of the dozen or so coroner’s teams dispatched to the calamity from around California along with cadaver dogs, was supposed to search the site on Thursday, she said.

“I called every hospital, every shelter,” Daugherty said, and was told they had no one by that name listed there.

Forensic teams have been trying to get DNA from relatives to identify victims.

Brian Potter has sought his grandmother, Vernice Regan, 96, at shelters, local hotels and a town hall meeting in the city of Chico to the south of Paradise, for days to no avail.

She lived in Paradise for more than six decades, once ran an apple orchard with her late husband, and recently broke her hip on an overseas trip, he said.

“I’m starting to think that maybe the worst may have happened,” Potter said.

For the those who survived the fire, helping locate friends and relatives has given them a sense of purpose.

Julie Walker and her husband Lane were among many who fled to the Neighborhood Community Church in Chico, which is serving as a Red Cross shelter for about 200 people.

When people call the shelter seeking the missing, church staff take down the person’s information and post it on a board outside. Lane and Julie were scanning the list, pen in hand, hoping to cross off names of people they knew were safe.

“We could only cross off two names,” said Julie, who retired from the Pacific Gas & Electric Co. “I know quite a few of the names on that list. It’s our whole community.”

(This story has been refilled to correct date in dateline to Nov 16 from Nov 15)

Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Terray Sylvester and Suzannah Gonzales; Writing by Bill Tarrant; Editing by James Dalgleish

Panda enjoys the first snow of the season in Washington DC


Bei Bei the giant panda enjoyed a carefree day at Smithsonian’s National Zoo despite the heavy snowfall.

The three-year-old male is the youngest of the three giant pandas at the zoo, after being born to couple Tian Tian and Mei Xiang in August 2015.

He’ll be sent to China when he is four as part of a deal between the US and China.



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A vote reversed – What is the path back from Brexit?

LONDON (Reuters) – To leave, or not to leave: More than two and a half years since the United Kingdom voted to exit the EU, that is still the question.

An anti-Brexit demonstrator hold placards opposite the Houses of Parliament, in London, Britain, November 13, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

The crisis in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government over her draft Brexit divorce deal has stirred interest in the possibility that the United Kingdom could change its mind, or ‘regrexit’.

In the June 23, 2016 referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc.

But ever since, opponents of Brexit have been exploring ways to hold another referendum.

May has repeatedly said there will not be another referendum on membership and the leader of the main opposition party, Jeremy Corbyn, has indicated he is also not in favour.

So what is the path to a second vote?

1) MAY’S BREXIT PLAN FAILS

The first step, according to campaigners, is that parliament rejects May’s draft divorce deal.

To leave the EU on the terms of her deal, May would need the backing of parliament.

The size of the rebellion inside her Conservative Party and the anger of her allies in the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party indicate she would have trouble passing the deal, even with significant support from Labour Party MPs.

“I suspect it will get to parliament and parliament will vote it down and once that happens it will be game on for a People’s Vote,” said Hugo Dixon, deputy chair of the People’s Vote campaign group, which wants another referendum.

“Voting down a deal does not mean we crash out no deal at all; it means we are highly likely to move to a People’s Vote with an option to stay in the EU,” Dixon said. “The no deal scenario is not likely,”

2) UK POLITICAL CRISIS

The collapse of May’s deal would thrust the United Kingdom deeper into crisis.

Three of the four former British prime ministers still alive – John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown – have said a second referendum is the way to resolve the crisis.

“I still believe it is possible that Brexit is stopped,” Blair told Reuters last month.

The opposition Labour Party, which is also divided over Brexit, has indicated it would seek to trigger a national election if May failed to get parliamentary approval.

But to secure an election, two thirds of the 650 MPs in parliament would have to vote for one.

Another way is if a motion of no confidence in the government is passed. There is then a 14-day grace period in which to pass an act of confidence in a new government.

If there is no vote of confidence in that new government, then a new election must be held within about 17 working days, according to the Institute of Government.

Brexit campaigners think Labour would fail to trigger an election.

3) PARLIAMENT TAKES CHARGE

After what would have been weeks of crisis and the failure of various other options – an election, a new prime minister, attempts to renegotiate with the EU – parliament would finally demand a new referendum.

The exact mechanism is unclear but MPs could vote for a motion calling for a new referendum as a way out of the deadlock. That would have to be backed up by legislation calling a referendum.

4) ASKING THE EU FOR TIME

Holding a referendum would take months so the European Union would have to be asked for more time as the United Kingdom is currently on course to leave at 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019.

Key to asking for more time is the question of whether the United Kingdom could withdraw Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon nearly two years after May invoked it.

As the clause has never been used before, lawyers have a diverse range of opinions on its reversibility or not.

But the British diplomat who drafted the clause, John Kerr, has repeatedly argued that it can be reversed.

“The die is not irrevocably cast, there is still time and, until the UK has left the EU, the Article 50 letter can be withdrawn,” Kerr, who was British ambassador to the EU from 1990 to 1995, said in “The Roadmap to a People’s Vote”. here

Judges at the European Union’s highest court will hear a case on the Brexit process on Nov. 27, reviewing whether Britain could unilaterally withdraw its decision to leave the EU.

5) WHAT WOULD THE PEOPLE SAY?

Unclear.

Many supporters of Brexit say that holding such a vote would thrust the United Kingdom into its biggest ever constitutional crisis, and possibly even provoke disorder.

While polls and academic research show that the country remains divided, a survey of 20,000 voters published this month showed it would vote to stay in the EU. here

Many surveys ahead of the vote incorrectly predicted that Britain would vote to stay in the club it joined in 1973. But a vote to leave in a second referendum would surely mean the country would have to leave.

6) WHAT WOULD BE ON THE BALLOT PAPER?

It’s not clear, of course. Jo Johnson, younger brother of Boris, resigned from the government earlier this month, calling for another referendum.

People should be asked “whether they want to go ahead with Brexit now that we know the deal that is actually available to us, whether we should leave without any deal at all, or whether people on balance would rather stick with the deal we already have inside the European Union”, he said.

Supporters of Brexit say having two options for Brexit and one for remain would be unfair as it would split the vote for Brexit. 

7) LOVE EU AGAIN?

The prospect of the world’s fifth largest economy returning to the fold would surely be welcomed by most EU leaders.

European Council President Donald Tusk said this week that the EU is prepared to cancel Brexit.

French President Emmanuel Macron, for example, has suggested Britain could still change its mind.

8) NEVERENDUM?

Opponents of the idea of a second referendum say it would not solve anything even if voters chose to stay in the EU.

Supporters of Brexit would then demand a third, decisive referendum to resolve the question that has haunted the United Kingdom since it lost its empire: Should it go it alone or partner with the European project?

Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood

What are the rules concerning plus-size passengers on flights?

A passenger on a long-haul flight is suing British Airways for what he claims is physical harm suffered after being seated next to a large fellow traveller. But how can overweight passengers be sensitively accommodated on increasingly crowded aircraft?

Are flights are getting more crowded with less personal space?

Yes. Long-suffering airline passengers are accustomed to the discomfort of modern flying. But now the squeeze really is on, with airlines cramming more seats into the same size economy cabin, both on short-haul and long-haul planes. BA and other “legacy” airlines are seeking to compete with the budget carriers by packing more seats into their short-haul fleets. And British Airways is halfway through a programme of “densifying” its Boeing 777 fleet at Gatwick, by fitting an extra 52 seats into each aircraft.

When the 777 was introduced 24 years ago, almost every schedule airline fitted each economy row with nine seats abreast. But now the trend is towards 10 abreast. Air Canada, for example, has revealed “new slimline seats in economy”.

What is happening to the size of passengers?

Aviation is a “one-size-fits-all” business, but passengers are increasing in girth. According to the most recent figures from NHS England, 26 per cent of adults are classed as obese – compared with 15 per cent a quarter-century ago. At the same time, airlines are getting much better at filling up their aircraft.

Twenty-five years ago, the average “load factor” – the proportion of seats occupied on each plane – was about 70 per cent, meaning there were plenty of spare places on the typical flight. Today, airlines such easyJet and Ryanair are in the mid-90s, which means an average of seven or eight seats spare – and, on many services, none at all. Good for the environment, not so good for those of us who like a bit of room to move.

You can’t blame the airlines for squeezing us in; they are responding to the relentless public demand for cheap flights. 

What are the options for plus-size passengers?

On long-haul flights, there’s a simple if unappetising solution: spend more. At the same time as airlines are making basic economy more basic, they are expanding premium economy – pay a bit more, get a bit more space. If you need a more than a bit of extra room, then you could move up to business class – though fares are often many times more than in economy.

For this reason, some larger passengers routinely buy two seats: Ryanair, the biggest budget airline, makes it relatively easy (providing you book the second under the name “Extra Comfort Seat”), while easyJet says its seats are 17.5 inches wide and if you are unable to fit into a single seat, “You will be required to purchase additional seats at the prevailing rates”.


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Virgin Atlantic urges passengers with a high body mass to book extra space, and stresses “you will not pay any passenger taxes, fees, charges or surcharges on the extra seat.”

British Airways says: “Our customers have individual needs so we discuss options and provide guidance on a case-by-case basis.”

The most benign solution is operated by Air France. It offers passengers who won’t comfortably into a single seats the chance to buy a second, adjacent seat at a 25 per cent discount – with the promise that, if there are any unoccupied seats in your cabin, you get a refund on the second seat.

What if a passenger who can’t comfortably fit into a standard seat just turns up?

Most of the time, if there is some space available, cabin crew will work sensitively and discreetly to find a suitable pair of seats to maximise comfort for the large passenger and minimise discomfort for fellow travellers.

Problems arise, as in the British Airways court case, when flights are full. Air France warns passengers who don’t avail of the extra-seat offer: “In the interest of safety, if the flight is full and you have not reserved an additional seat, you may not be allowed to board if your build does not permit you to sit comfortably in a single seat.”

Passengers who are denied boarding because of their size will not qualify for compensation, but they will generally be accommodated on the next available flight.

Do fellow passengers have the right to unimpeded use of their seat space – and can they demand an upgrade?

Legally, no. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) deals with obesity only in terms of its threat to pilots’ health. The authority requires seats to be configured to allow passengers to escape swiftly in an emergency. But the CAA is silent on encroachment.

British Airways has rules about behaviour “which causes discomfort, inconvenience, damage or injury to the crew or other passengers.” But having a high body mass and sitting passively in a seat cannot be classed as “unacceptable behaviour”.

If, in a full economy section, a possible solution involves re-seating someone in a premium cabin, there is no reason to assume that either the large passenger or their neighbour will get the benefit; airlines generally issue upgrades according to frequent-flyer status.

Should passengers be weighed at check in?

Ideally, yes – but not to embarrass or surcharge overweight people. Stepping on the scales at check-in is a good idea is for safety and environmental reasons.

To operate safely and efficiently, pilots need to know the weight of the plane and everything in it. The CAA assumes passengers and their presumed 6kg of hand baggage weigh an average of 84kg. Children under 12 are assumed to average 35kg. And each passenger’s checked-in baggage is deemed to average 13kg, though this is one thing that the airline should know with accuracy since all hold bags are weighed

If the captain knows the plane is carrying less weight than the “assumed mass”, he or she can load a little less fuel, which in turn uses less fuel to carry. Also, on routes where there is a restriction on passenger numbers because of range limitations, knowing exact weights can mean a plane carries more people – reducing the “footprint” per person. 

On small passenger planes, such as those used for safaris, it is essential for passengers to be weighed, in order to assign seats in a way that maximises safety. Wilderness Air in Zambia insists on knowing weights ahead of time, so it can plan its operation. Small planes are much less tolerant of “weight and balance” issues than bigger passenger aircraft.

But unless it is for safety reasons, passengers are unlikely to tolerate the indignity of being weighed at check-in.


How much hand baggage can you take on a Ryanair flight? Where should you be travelling in 2019? Can you claim compensation for a delayed flight?

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Reality Check: Brexit withdrawal agreement – what it all means


The Withdrawal AgreementImage copyright
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The draft Brexit withdrawal agreement stands at 585 pages long. It sets out how the UK leaves the European Union, scheduled for 29 March 2019.

Chris Morris, from BBC Reality Check, has been going through it in detail and pulls out the key points from the agreement and what they mean.

Transition

  • The transition period (which the UK government calls “implementation period”) begins on 29 March 2019 and lasts until 31 December 2020.
  • The UK will need to abide by all EU rules, but will lose membership of its institutions.
  • The draft withdrawal agreement says the transition can be extended, but this can only happen once and for a limited period.
  • Both the UK and EU must agree to any extension and the decision must be taken before 1 July 2020.

Chris Morris’s analysis: The details of transition aren’t new but they are no less awkward for that. At a time when the government wants to trumpet that it is taking back control (its slogan, not mine), it will be ceding control for 21 months and very possibly longer. There will be no UK presence in the European Parliament, at the top table of the European Commission or in the European Court of Justice.

The UK will have no formal say in making or amending EU rules and regulations, but it will have to follow them to the letter. The great advantage of transition, of course, is that it buys more time for businesses and governments to prepare for a new regime, and it smoothes the path out of the EU. Transition also gives the UK continued access to EU databases on crucial issues like security while a future relationship is negotiated.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

Money

  • The draft agreement sets out the calculations for the financial settlement (or “divorce bill”) that the UK will need to pay to the EU to settle all of its obligations.
  • While no figure appears in the document, it is expected to be at least £39bn and it will be paid over a number of years.
  • Part of that money will be the financial contribution that the UK has to make during the transition period. This year the UK’s contribution to the EU budget is forecast to be a net £10.8bn.
  • If the transition is extended, there will have to be additional UK payments to the EU budget, which will be agreed separately.

Chris Morris’s analysis: It seems a long time now since the size of the “divorce bill” was the big issue that was never going to be resolved, but the government knew that without a financial settlement, progress on other issues would be impossible.

Money remains a cause of controversy, though, because many Brexit supporters hate the fact that large sums will be handed over without any cast-iron guarantee about the nature of the UK’s future trade relationship with the EU. Any refusal to pay, on the other hand, would sour relations and could – in extremis – end up in court.

Citizens’ rights

  • This is broadly unchanged from the initial draft of the withdrawal agreement which came out in March.
  • UK citizens in the EU, and EU citizens in the UK, will retain their residency and social security rights after Brexit.
  • Citizens who take up residency in another EU country during the transition period (including the UK of course) will be allowed to stay in that country after the transition.
  • Anyone that stays in the same EU country for five years will be allowed to apply for permanent residence.

Chris Morris’s analysis: The European Parliament has promised to make citizens’ rights its top priority. But while politicians on all sides are telling citizens that they want them to stay, the Brexit process has caused an enormous amount of anxiety and uncertainty.

British citizens in other EU countries, for example, still don’t know whether they will be able to work across borders in the future, because their right to reside only applies to the specific country where they live. Recognition of professional qualifications, and access to university education on the same terms they have now, are also unresolved issues.

Northern Ireland/the backstop

  • If no long-term trade deal has been agreed by the end of 2020 that avoids a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and if there is no extension to the transition period, then a backstop consisting of “a single customs territory between the (European) Union and the United Kingdom” will be triggered.
  • Northern Ireland will be in a deeper customs relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK; it will also be more closely aligned with the rules and regulations of the EU single market.
  • As long as the backstop is in operation, the UK will be subject to “level playing field conditions”, to ensure it cannot gain a competitive advantage while remaining in the same customs territory.
  • The UK cannot leave the backstop independently, it needs to be decided together with the EU.

Chris Morris’s analysis: The single customs territory is basically another name for a temporary customs union and, if it were needed, it would ensure that completely frictionless trade could continue across the Irish border. But it would also prevent the UK implementing any trade deals with other countries around the world that involve removing tariffs on goods.

That upsets supporters of Brexit, especially as there is no guaranteed route out of this backstop unless the EU gives its consent. The Protocol on Republic of Ireland/Northern Ireland was the toughest part of the draft agreement to negotiate and, now it has been published, it has triggered a series of government resignations.

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionConfused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics.

Fishing

  • The agreement says that a separate agreement will need to be reached on access to EU fishing in UK waters.
  • The document says: “The Union and the United Kingdom shall use their best endeavours to conclude and ratify ‘an agreement’ on access to waters and fishing opportunities.”

Chris Morris’s analysis: Fishing is always a hot button issue, even though in most countries the fishing sector forms a tiny part of the economy. Fishing has been left out of plans for a single customs territory because several countries objected to the idea that UK fish produce would be allowed unimpeded access to EU markets, without any corresponding guarantee that EU boats would be granted access to UK fishing waters.

It’s an example of how negotiations on a temporary customs union were bound to throw up a host of complications – and a reminder of how tough negotiations on a future trade agreement are likely to be.

Laws and disputes

  • The UK will remain under European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction during the transition.
  • If the backstop is triggered and the UK forms a single customs territory with the EU, the ECJ will not be able to resolve disputes between the UK and EU.
  • Instead, there will be a dispute resolution procedure which provides for arbitration. However, if the dispute rests on the interpretation of EU law, the arbitration panel refers the case to the ECJ for a binding decision.

Chris Morris’s analysis: Most of this draft agreement deals with matters of EU law, so the European Court of Justice casts a long shadow. The arbitration system for resolving disputes creates a semblance of independence and ECJ rulings will no longer have direct effect in the UK once transition is over.

That is an important point of principle for the UK government, but the European Court will continue to have indirect influence over the UK for many years to come.

What else is in it?

  • Elsewhere in the agreement there are protocols on Gibraltar and the British military bases in Cyprus.
  • There’s a provision that the UK will withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom), which relates to how nuclear material is handled.
  • EU-approved geographic indications, protecting approved names like “Welsh Lamb” or “Parma Ham” remain.
  • Alongside the withdrawal agreement, there’s the outline of the political declaration, setting out what the future UK/EU relationship might look like. It’s currently only seven pages long but it’s being fleshed out in negotiations that are still continuing in the run-up to the EU’s Brexit summit on 25 November.

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Families anxious to learn fate of hundreds missing in California fire

PARADISE, Calif. (Reuters) – Family members and survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history sought news on Friday on the missing 630 people – 10 times the number of confirmed dead – from the fast-moving blaze that reduced much of the town of Paradise to ash and charred rubble.

With nearly 12,000 homes and buildings burned, refugees from the fire have taken up residence in tents or their vehicles and filled evacuation centers to overflowing. Search teams, meanwhile, are combing through burned-out areas looking for bodies – or anything else that might carry human DNA for identification purposes.

The number of people unaccounted for after the fire has fluctuated all week and officials have warned those numbers are almost certain to change day by day. In some cases, those unaccounted for have likely survived but not yet notified family or authorities that they are alive, or relatives may not yet have reported people missing. Poor cellphone coverage after the fire has also made communications difficult.

Last weekend, the Butte County Sheriff’s office initially put the total of missing people at 228, many of whom have now been accounted for. But as fresh reports from relatives caused the list to rise to 130 from 103 late Wednesday, 297 by Thursday morning and 630 as of Thursday night.

On Friday morning the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, known as Cal Fire, said the death toll in the fire held at 63 overnight. The blaze, named the Camp Fire, was now 45 percent contained, up from 35 percent on Thursday, even though it had grown slightly to 142,000 acres (57,000 hectares).

The fire – which roared through Paradise, a town of 27,000 people in the Sierra foothills 175 miles (280 km) north of San Francisco, on Nov. 8 – is among the deadliest to have hit the United States over the last century.

Authorities attribute the death toll partly to the speed with which flames raced through the town, driven by wind and fueled by desiccated scrub and trees.

Weather conditions now are helping the firefighting effort, Nick Pimlott, a Cal Fire engineer, told KRCR TV. He said the winds had died down, allowing crews around Lake Oroville to the southeast of Paradise to construct fresh lines to contain the fire.

Many on the missing list are over the age of 65. Local officials and realtors have long sold Paradise as an ideal place to retire.

Brandon DuVall of Seattle said he last communicated with his retired father, Robert DuVall, in July after his father had bought a new pickup and camper. He received a call earlier this week that his father’s remains might have been found and now will go to California to provide a DNA sample.

Relatives of retired U.S. Navy veteran David Marbury, 66, are waiting to hear from him. No one has managed to speak with him since the wildfire began, and relatives’ phone calls have gone directly to his voicemail.

Cal Fire firefighter Stewart Morrow inspects a house destroyed by the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, U.S., November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

On Thursday, Marbury’s landlord confirmed to relatives that his duplex in Paradise had burned down. Sheriff’s officials told them his car was still in the garage.

“I really hope he’s still alive and we’re going to be able to see him,” Marbury’s niece Sadia Quint, 30, told Reuters by phone. “We just hope that he’s still with us.”

‘WHY AM I HERE?’

Some in Paradise were experiencing survivors’ guilt. “You’re like, ‘Why am I here?’” Sam Walker, a pastor at the First Baptist Church of Paradise, told WBUR radio. “‘Why is my family all here? Why are our churches still standing?’ I don’t know. My house is gone, like so many others.”

Thousands of additional structures remain threatened as firefighters, many from distant states, try to contain and suppress the flames.

(GRAPHIC: Deadly California fires – tmsnrt.rs/2Plpuui)

There have been other smaller blazes in Southern California, including the Woolsey Fire, which is linked to three fatalities and has destroyed at least 500 structures near the Malibu coast west of Los Angeles. It was 57 percent contained.

Scientists say two seasons of devastating wildfires in California are ascribable to drought that is symptomatic of climate change.

Two electric utilities say they sustained equipment problems close to the origins of the blazes around the time they were reported.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump is due to visit the fire zones on Saturday to meet displaced residents. Critics say Trump politicized the fires by blaming them, without supporting evidence, on bad forest mismanagement by California, a largely Democratic state. Trump had threatened to withhold federal assistance.

Smoke from the Camp Fire has spread far and wide. Public schools in Sacramento 90 miles (145 km) to the south, and as far away as San Francisco and Oakland, canceled classes for Friday due to poor air quality.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Many of those who survived the flames but lost homes stayed with friends or relatives or at American Red Cross shelters.

Some of Paradise’s older residents who had lost their homes were concerned about where they would live.

“I’m just very hopeful I can work something out for the future,” Norris Godsey, 82, told the San Francisco Chronicle at a church evacuation center in Chico. “If that’s not possible, I don’t know what I’ll do.”

Reporting by Terray Sylvester; Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Jonathan Allen in New York; Suzannah Gonzales in Chicago; Writing by Nick Carey and Bill Trott; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Steve Orlofsky and Grant McCool