Philippines says anti-dengue vaccine may be connected to three deaths

Dr. Rolando Enrique Domingo (R), Undersecretary of the Department of Health (DOH), with Dr. Gerardo Legaspi, Director of the Philippine General Hospital (PGH), answer questions during a news conference at the DOH headquarter in metro Manila, Philippines February 2, 2018.

By Manuel Mogato

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines said on Friday the anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia may be connected to three deaths in the country, according to a government-ordered inquiry, and that the drug is not ready for mass immunisation.

French drug maker Sanofi said in November that Dengvaxia – the world’s first dengue vaccine – might increase the risk of severe disease in people who had never been exposed to the virus.

The news prompted an uproar in the Philippines, where more than 800,000 school-age children had been vaccinated in 2016.

“We sympathise with all the families who have suffered the loss of a child. Sanofi Pasteur’s mission is to reduce or eliminate suffering for millions around the world through vaccination, including in the Philippines,” a spokesman for Sanofi said in an emailed statement.

“Dengue fever is one of the most pressing public health issues facing the Philippines today. Sanofi Pasteur remains committed to working with the Philippines government and all organisations to address this urgent public health challenge.”

The Philippine Health Ministry halted Dengvaxia immunisations in November. It formed a 10-member panel of experts to determine if the drug was directly connected to the deaths of 14 children after they were given the vaccine.

It found it may have been connected to the deaths of three.

“Three cases were found to have causal association. They died of dengue even (though) they were given Dengvaxia. Two of them may have died because of vaccine failure,” Health Undersecretary Enrique Domingo told a news conference.

“These findings strengthen the decision of the Department of Health to stop the vaccine. It has failed in some children. Dengvaxia is not ready for mass vaccinations and we would need three to five more years to watch and monitor if there would be other adverse reactions from the vaccine.”

Mosquito-borne dengue is the world’s fastest-growing infectious disease, afflicting up to 100 million people worldwide, causing half a million life-threatening infections and killing about 20,000 people, mostly children, each year.

Domingo said the panel’s findings would be shared with the justice department, which is considering cases against those responsible for the mass immunisation programme.

Paediatrician and panel member Juliet Sio-Aguilar, from the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital, said the team was recommending further studies as it was difficult to directly connect the three deaths to Dengvaxia.

No vaccine has a 100 percent success rate, she said. The dengue death rate in the Philippines was 60 times higher than global rate, Sio-Aguilar said.

The Philippines spent 3.5 billion pesos ($68 million) on the Dengvaxia programme to reduce the 200,000 dengue cases reported every year.

The Philippines has already fined Sanofi a symbolic $2,000, citing violations in product registration and marketing.

(Additional reporting by Ben Hirshler in London, Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by Nick Macfie and David Evans)

Ford urges 2,900 pickup owners to stop driving after new Takata death

A recalled Takata airbag inflator is shown in Miami, Florida in this June 25, 2015 file photo.

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Ford Motor Co said on Thursday it had confirmed a second death in an older pickup truck caused by a defective airbag inflator of Takata Corp and urged 2,900 owners in North America to stop driving immediately until they can get replacement parts.

The second largest U.S. automaker said it confirmed in late December that a July 2017 crash death in West Virginia in a 2006 Ford Ranger was caused by a defective Takata inflator. It previously reported a similar death in South Carolina that occurred in December 2015.

Ford said both Takata deaths occurred with inflators built on the same day installed in 2006 Ranger pickups. At least 21 deaths worldwide are linked to the Takata inflators that can rupture and send deadly metal fragments inside vehicles. The faulty inflators have led to the largest automotive recall in history. The other 19 deaths have occurred in Honda Motor Co vehicles, most of which were in the United States.

Ford issued a new recall for automobiles that had been previously recalled in 2016.

Of the 391,000-plus 2004-2006 Ranger vehicles recalled at the time, the new recall announced on Thursday affects 2,900 vehicles. These include 2,700 in the United States and nearly 200 in Canada. The new recall will allow for identification of the 2,900 owners in the highest risk pool.

A Mazda Motor Corp spokeswoman said on Thursday the company would conduct a similar recall and stop-drive warning for some 2006 Mazda B-Series trucks, which were built by Ford and are similar to the Ranger.

Japanese auto supplier Takata plans to sell its viable operations to Key Safety Systems, an affiliate of China’s Ningo Joyson Electric Corp, for $1.6 billion.

A Takata spokesman said the company will make all attempts to ensure it can deliver replacement inflators as soon as possible.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration urged owners to heed Ford’s warning. “It is extremely important that all high-risk air bags are tracked down and replaced immediately,” NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said.

‘FAILED RECALL’

Ford said it would pay to have vehicles towed to dealerships or send mobile repair teams to owners’ homes and provide free loaner vehicles if needed.

Takata said in June that it has recalled, or expected to recall, about 125 million vehicles worldwide by 2019, including more than 60 million in the United States. Some 19 automakers worldwide are impacted.

Takata inflators can explode with excessive force, unleashing metal shrapnel inside cars and trucks and have injured more than 200. The defect led Takata to file for bankruptcy protection in June.

In 2017, prosecutors in Detroit charged three former senior Takata executives with falsifying test results to conceal the inflator defect. None have come to the United States to face charges.

Last year, Takata pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was subject to pay a total of $1 billion in criminal penalties in a U.S. court in connection with the recalls.

Automakers have struggled to get enough replacement parts for the massive recalls. A November NHTSA report said about two-thirds of U.S. vehicles recalled have not yet been repaired.

Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said in a statement on Thursday the latest death is evidence of “the very definition of a failed recall” pointing to the earlier Ford death in 2015. NHTSA must do more, he said, to make the recall a priority.

In November, NHTSA rejected a petition from Ford to delay recalling 3 million vehicles with potentially defective airbag inflators to conduct additional testing.

In June 2016, NHTSA warned airbag inflators on more than 300,000 unrepaired recalled 2001-2003 model year Honda vehicles showed a substantial risk of rupturing, and urged owners to stop driving them until getting them fixed. NHTSA said they have as high as a 50 percent chance of a rupture in a crash.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Additional reporting by Minami Funakoshi in TOKYO; Editing by Diane Craft and Muralikumar Anantharaman)

Child playing with stove may have started deadly N.Y. fire, mayor says

Fire Department of New York (FDNY) personnel work on the scene of an apartment fire in Bronx, New York, U.S., December 28, 2017.

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Mayor Bi A child playing with a stove may have caused the fire in a New York City apartment building that killed 12 people, including four children, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday.

People react near the scene of an apartment fire in Bronx, New York, U.S., December 29, 2017.

People react near the scene of an apartment fire in Bronx, New York, U.S., December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

The fire, the deadliest in the city in a quarter of a century, broke out a little before 7 p.m. EST (midnight GMT) on Thursday on the first floor of a brick building and quickly spread upstairs, killing people on multiple floors, the New York City Fire Department said.

A crowd gathers as New York Fire Department personnel fight a fire in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, in this still image taken from a December 28, 2017 social media video.

A crowd gathers as New York Fire Department personnel fight a fire in the Bronx borough of New York City, New York, in this still image taken from a December 28, 2017 social media video. Francesca Rosales/via REUTERS

“What we think at this point is that unfortunately it emanated from an accident, a young child playing with a stove on the first floor of the building,” de Blasio said in an interview with WNYC radio.

Children ages 1, 2 and 7 died along with four men and four women, local media reported. An unidentified boy also died.

Authorities said firefighters rescued 12 people from the building and four people were in the hospital in critical condition. More than 160 firefighters responded to the four-alarm blaze.

The building, with 26 apartments, has at least six open building code violations, according to city records. One violation was for a broken smoke detector in an apartment on the first floor, reported in August. It was not clear if the detector had been fixed or replaced or whether it had played any role in the fire.

“I know there were concerns raised about the building itself,” de Blasio told WNYC. “Based on the research we have at this moment, it does not appear there was anything problematic about the building or the fire safety in the building.”

The building is in the Belmont section of the Bronx, a primarily residential, close-knit neighborhood known as the “Little Italy” of the borough, near Fordham University and the Bronx Zoo.

It was the deadliest fire in the city since an arsonist torched a Bronx nightclub in 1990, killing 87 people inside the venue that did not have fire exits, alarms or sprinklers, the New York Times reported.

In 2007 10 immigrants from Mali, including nine children, died after a space heater caught fire in a Bronx building.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen, Stephanie Kelly and Dan Trotta in New York, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Philippines’ coast guard rescues 252 passengers from capsized ferry

Filipinos look for their missing relatives on a list of survivors after a Philippine vessel capsized because of bad weather in Real, Quezon in the Philippines, December 22, 2017.

By Erik De Castro and Ronn Bautista

REAL, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines’ coast guard said on Friday it had rescued 252 passengers and crew, including an Australian and his Filipino wife, and recovered five dead people from a ferry that capsized east of the capital Manila.

A Philippine vessel capsized on Thursday because of bad weather, highlighting frequent boat accidents in the Southeast Asian nation that is composed of more than 7,000 islands.

The Philippine Coast Guard has confirmed five deaths while 252 passengers including an Australian and his Filipino wife, were rescued, said spokesman Captain Arm and Balilo.

“All the passengers and crew are accounted for but as I have said we will re-evaluate based on the claims of the families of the missing passengers,” Balilo told Reuters. The vessel was carrying 257 passengers and crew.

The boat left the port around 9 a.m. and capsized an hour later due to strong winds and giant waves.

A survivor said the passengers panicked when the boat started to take in water and went to one side, causing the ferry to tilt and capsize.

“The others waited on top of the ship while it was sinking, but I didn’t do that because I know the ship will break down and I want to avoid getting hurt by that,” Rene Ebuenga, a rescued passenger told Reuters. “That’s dangerous and the big waves can slam debris to your body.”

The ferry capsized and sank about 5 miles off Quezon province, east of the capital on the main northern island of Luzon.

The Philippine Coast Guard said it will conduct an inquiry to determine the cause of the incident and to verify possible oil spills.

In 1987, nearly 5,000 people died in the world’s worst peacetime shipping disaster when an overloaded passenger ferry Dona Paz collided with an oil tanker off Mindoro island in the central Philippines.

Tropical storm Tembin, packing center winds of 80 kmh (49 mph), made landfall on the southern island of Mindanao early Friday. It weakened after hitting the land mass, the weather bureau said on Friday.

But, the weather agency warned of extensive flooding and landslides until the storm exits the Philippines on Sunday.

(Reporting by Erik de Castro and Ronn Bautista; Writing by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Michael Perry)

California wildfire crews gain edge as winds weaker than feared

Firefighters keep watch on the Thomas wildfire in the hills and canyons outside Montecito, California, U.S., December 16, 2017.

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Firefighters gained an edge in their weeks-long battle against a sprawling wildfire in Southern California on Thursday, thanks to weaker-than-expected winds that have been driving the flames.

Firefighters halted the spread of the so-called Thomas fire, the second-largest in the state’s recorded history, at 272,200 acres (110,155 hectares) after carving containment lines around 60 percent of its perimeter over the last couple of days, fire and police officials said.

Wind gusts expected to accelerate to 50 miles per hour (80 km per hour) on Thursday morning, creating extreme fire danger conditions for Santa Barbara County, turned out to be weaker than feared, authorities said.

“On the beach side, we didn’t really see the winds that were predicted,” said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Brandon Vaccaro.

Ventura County, which has taken the brunt of the blaze, was now forecast to have peak winds of 40 mph (64 kph) down from an earlier top forecast of 50-mph (80-kph) winds on Friday, the National Weather Service said.

Firefighters have been able to secure the Santa Barbara side of the fire, Battalion Chief Chris Childers of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said during a community meeting on Wednesday night.

“This has been a nightmare of a fire for a lot of people,” he said.

With progress being made against the blaze – which has scorched the dry coastal mountains, foothills and canyons of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties northwest of Los Angeles – officials said they had cut the number of firefighters to 5,644 from a peak of 8,500 over the past few days.

The Thomas blaze, which became California’s second largest wildfire in state history on Tuesday, is nearly as large as the 2003 Cedar fire in San Diego County, which consumed a record 273,246 acres (110,579 hectares) and killed 15 people.

More than 1,000 homes and other buildings have gone up in flames, and about 18,000 structures remained listed as threatened since the fire started on Dec. 4. The cause has not been determined.

One firefighter died last Thursday near the town of Fillmore in Ventura County.

The Thomas fire was initially stoked by hot, dry Santa Ana winds blowing with rare hurricane force from the eastern desert, spreading flames across miles of drought-parched chaparral and brush in California’s rugged coastal terrain.

(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

Landslides kill 26 in storm-hit Philippine province

A general view shows search, retrieval, and relief operations ongoing at the flooded areas at Tzu Chi Village in Barangay Liloan, Phillipines, December 17, 2017 in this picture obtained from social media. ORMOC CITY POLICE OFFICE/via REUTERS

MANILA (Reuters) – At least 26 people were killed while several residents were missing in an island province in central Philippines after tropical storm Kai-tak brought heavy rains that triggered landslides, local authorities and media said on Sunday.

Kai-tak cut power supplies in many areas, forced the cancellation of several flights, stranded more than 15,000 people in various ports in the region and prompted nearly 88,000 people to seek shelter in evacuation centers.

An aerial shot shows an impassable Caraycaray Bridge after it was destroyed when Typhoon Kai-tak, locally name Urduja, ravaged Biliran Province, Philippines December 18, 2017. Malacanang Presidential Photo/Handout via REUTERS

An aerial shot shows an impassable Caraycaray Bridge after it was destroyed when Typhoon Kai-tak, locally name Urduja, ravaged Biliran Province, Philippines December 18, 2017. Malacanang Presidential Photo/Handout via REUTERS

The Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office of Biliran island said 26 residents had died, but the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has yet to make any official announcement about fatalities.

Biliran Governor Gerardo Espina Jr confirmed the deaths in an interview with DZMM radio, with 23 people still missing, he said.

“We received reports of three deaths coming from the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) but these are for confirmation,” said NDRRMC spokeswoman Romina Marasigan. “We are still trying to check the others.”

Many areas were flooded, damaging crops and infrastructure.

Kai-tak has weakened to a tropical depression after barrelling through the eastern region of Visayas on Saturday, hitting islands and coastal towns such as Tacloban City where supertyphoon Haiyan claimed 8,000 lives in 2013.

Locally known as Urduja, Kai-tak was packing winds of 55 kilometers (31 miles) per hour with gusts of up to 80 km/h, according to a weather bureau bulletin issued at 2000 GMT.

(Reporting by Enrico dela Cruz, editing by David Evans)

U.S. police deaths on duty spiked in 2016: FBI

New York Police officers take part in a procession carrying the body of Sergeant Paul Tuozzolo, who was fatally shot in a shootout, at the Jacobi Medical Center in the neighborhood of Bronx in New York, U.S. November 4, 2016. REUTERS

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Sixty-six police officers were killed on the job by felons in 2016, up about 61 percent from 41 deaths a year ago, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation said on Monday.

The number was the second highest since 2011, when 72 officers were killed by felons, according to the FBI report.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a statement called the numbers “shocking” and “unacceptable,” and said the Justice Department would work toward reducing violent crime.

The findings bolster the so-called Blue Lives Matter movement, which advocates tougher hate-crime sentences for the murder of police officers. It was launched in response to Black Lives Matter, a campaign against police brutality toward black men, and gained momentum last year after police officers were killed in both Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Forty-one officers killed last year were employed by city police departments, and 30 officers were located in the U.S. South, the annual data show.

The most common circumstances involved ambushes, followed by responses to disturbance calls.

Accidental deaths of police officers in 2016 rose to 52 from 45 in 2015, mostly involving vehicles, the data show.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order directing the Justice Department to develop strategies to better protect law enforcement officials and pursue legislation to increase penalties against those who kill or injure officers in the line of duty.

 

 

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Richard Chang)

 

Malaysian teacher seen as new ’emir’ of pro-Islamic State militants

Soldiers distribute pictures of a member of extremist group Abu Sayyaf Isnilon Hapilon, who has a U.S. government bounty of $5 million for his capture, in Butig, Lanao del Sur in southern Philippines February 1, 2017.

By Rozanna Latiff and Joseph Sipalan

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – The battlefield deaths of two leaders of an Islamic State alliance in the southern Philippines could thrust a Malaysian who trained at an Al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan as the militant group’s new regional “emir”, experts and officials say.

Intelligence officials describe Malaysian Mahmud Ahmad as a financier and recruiter, who helped put together the coalition of pro-Islamic State (IS) fighters that stormed Marawi City in May.

Isnilon Hapilon, Islamic State’s anointed “emir” in Southeast Asia, and Omarkhayam Maute, one of two Middle East-educated brothers at the helm of the militant alliance, were killed in a raid on a building in Marawi and their bodies recovered on Monday, Philippine Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said.

Philippine authorities said they were still searching for Mahmud.

“Based on our information, there is still one personality, Dr. Mahmud of Malaysia, and he is still in the main battle area with some Indonesians and Malaysians,” military chief, Gen. Eduardo Ano, said on Monday. “But their attitude is now different, they are no longer as aggressive as before.” He did not elaborate.

Ano urged the 30 militants remaining in a shrinking combat zone to surrender and free hostages as troops stepped up their fight.

Abdullah Maute, the alliance’s military commander, was reported killed in August, though no body was found.

Intelligence officials in Malaysia believe Mahmud left Marawi months ago.

Malaysia’s police counter-terrorism chief Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay told Reuters in July that Mahmud “managed to sneak out from Marawi city to another safe place with his followers”.

The 39-year-old Mahmud, who holds a doctorate in religious studies and was a university lecturer in Kuala Lumpur, was Hapilon’s second-in-command in the IS’s Southeast Asia “caliphate”, according to a July report by Indonesia-based Institute of Policy Analysis and Conflict (IPAC).

 

RECRUITMENT AND FINANCING

Sitting in the inner circle of the Marawi command center, Mahmud controlled recruitment and financing, the IPAC report said.

He was the contact for foreigners wanting to join the fight in the Philippines or with IS in the Middle East, it said.

“It wasn’t just Indonesians and Malaysians contacting Dr. Mahmud … he was also the contact for Bangladeshis in Malaysia who wanted to join the fighting in Mindanao,” IPAC’s director Sidney Jones told Reuters.

Rohan Gunaratna, an analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, described Mahmud as

“the most important IS leader in Southeast Asia”.

Ahmad El-Muhammady, a lecturer at the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) and a counter-terrorism advisor to the police, said Mahmud often solicited funds for IS operations.

“He’s always the one asking people “does anyone have any money they’d like to donate?”, and he will usually reply when followers in the region ask him about the situation in the Philippines,” Ahmad said.

 

Men identified by Philippines Intelligence officers as Isnilon Hapilon (2nd L, yellow headscarf) and Abdullah Maute (2nd R, standing, long hair) are seen in this still image taken from video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on June 7, 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Men identified by Philippines Intelligence officers as Isnilon Hapilon (2nd L, yellow headscarf) and Abdullah Maute (2nd R, standing, long hair) are seen in this still image taken from video released by the Armed Forces of the Philippines on June 7, 2017. Armed Forces of the Philippines/Handout via REUTERS TV/File Photo

 

‘JUST DISAPPEARED’

Mahmud grew up in Batu Caves, a crowded Kuala Lumpur suburb, famous for a Hindu temple housed in a large complex of caverns.  Mahmud’s wife and three children were last known to be living there, although Reuters could not locate them.

Before leaving Malaysia in 2014, Mahmud taught young Muslim students at a tahfiz, a school to memorise the Koran, in Nakhoda, a village near Batu Caves, residents said.

“When he (Mahmud) started the school, he did stay there for the first one or two years, but then he just disappeared,” said 50-year-old Zainon Mat Arshad, a Nakhoda resident who went to the mosque where Mahmud prayed.

“When he was at the tahfiz school, he kept mostly to himself and if he had come over to pray on Friday, I don’t think anyone would have recognized him,” said Zainon. “He didn’t mingle with the local community.”

Security experts say Mahmud studied at Pakistan’s Islamabad Islamic University in the late 1990s before going to Afghanistan where he learned to make improvised explosive devices at an al Qaeda camp.

In 2000, he returned to Malaysia to get a doctorate, which earned him a post as a lecturer in the Islamic Studies faculty at the University of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.

Former students described Mahmud as a quiet person who kept to himself.

“He wasn’t the kind of lecturer who hung out at cafes with his students as some others did,” said one former student, who declined to be identified.

 

WROTE JIHAD BOOK

The few signs of his militant beliefs were discovered later, including a book he wrote on jihad under his nom de guerre, Abu Handzalah, said Ahmad, the IIUM lecturer.

He was put on Malaysia’s most-wanted list in April 2014 after leaving the country with several others, including his aide, a Malaysian bomb maker named Mohammad Najib Husen, to work with the Abu Sayyaf group, notorious for violent kidnappings and beheadings in the southern Philippines, Ahmad said.

Mahmud received funding for the Marawi operation directly from IS headquarters, through the group’s Southeast Asian unit led by Syrian-based Indonesian militant Bahrumsyah, the IPAC report said.

In a video released by the Philippines army in June, Mahmud is seen alongside Hapilon as well as Omarkhayam and Abdullah Maute – the pair of brothers who orchestrated the Marawi siege.

 

 

(Editing by Praveen Menon and Bill Tarrant)

 

Death toll in London tower fire rises to 79, police say

The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower are seen in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 18, 201

By Estelle Shirbon and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – The death toll from a fire that ravaged a London tower block last week has risen to 79, police said on Monday, as the government tried to show it was improving its handling of a tragedy that has angered the public.

Fire broke out in the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a social housing block in Kensington, in western London, in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as it tore through the building with terrifying speed.

“I believe there are 79 people that are either dead, or missing, and sadly I have to presume are dead,” Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy told reporters.

He said five of the dead had been formally identified, and it would be a slow and painstaking task to identify the others.

A minute’s silence was held across Britain at 1000 GMT (6.00 a.m. ET) to honor the victims of the fire – a painfully familiar ritual after the country has been hit by three deadly attacks by militants in London and Manchester since March.

Members of the emergency services arrive to attend a minute's silence for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire near the site of the blaze in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 19, 2017

Members of the emergency services arrive to attend a minute’s silence for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire near the site of the blaze in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

The attacks and the fire have come at a particularly difficult time for Prime Minister Theresa May, who was weakened by the loss of her parliamentary majority in a June 8 election and faces arduous talks on Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Cundy became visibly upset as he described conditions in the charred Grenfell Tower, where a search and recovery operation is expected to last weeks.

“I was in there myself and went all the way to the top floor and it is incredibly hard,” he said, before pausing as tears welled up in his eyes.

“It is incredibly hard to describe the devastation in some parts of the building,” he continued, his voice breaking.

“It is a truly awful reality that there may be some people that we may not be able to identify due to the intensity of the fire,” he said before pausing again to recover himself.

Emergency services have been widely praised for how they handled the fire, but the local community has accused the government of a slow and inadequate response. May has come under personal attack for failing to meet residents during her first visit to the site.

People react next to tributes to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire near the site of the blaze in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 19, 2017.

People react next to tributes to the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire near the site of the blaze in North Kensington, London, Britain, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

“NOT GOOD ENOUGH”

At a daily briefing with reporters, May’s spokeswoman said that on a second visit to the area, during which the prime minister was booed and heckled, May had listened carefully to the experiences of those on the ground.

“That’s why she totally accepted that it (the government response) hadn’t been good enough. She understood that immediate action needed to be taken to speed things up, and that’s what she’s done,” the spokeswoman said.

She said the terms of reference of a public inquiry into the blaze were being drafted, and the government had now contacted all local authorities in England asking them to identify any safety concerns in light of the tragedy.

However, May did not support a proposal put forward by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour Party, to seize unoccupied properties to re-house survivors of the fire, the spokeswoman said.

“Occupy it, compulsory purchase it, requisition it – there’s a lot of things you can do,” Corbyn said on Sunday during an interview on ITV.

Grenfell Tower is located in a pocket of social deprivation within the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of Britain’s wealthiest areas. The fire has led to national soul-searching about inequalities and neglect of the poor.

Briefing reporters at New Scotland Yard, London’s police headquarters, Cundy said a criminal investigation into the tower blaze would be exhaustive. He said 250 investigators were looking at all criminal offences that may have been committed.

“Whilst it will look at the how, perhaps more importantly, it will also look at why this happened,” Cundy said. The investigation will include areas such as the construction, renovation and maintenance of the building and fire safety procedures, he said.

Cundy said five people who had been reported as missing in the fire had now been found and were safe and well.

He said the death toll of 79 could still change if anyone reported as missing was found alive, of if anyone was found in the ruined tower who had not been reported as missing.

“Whilst I’ve said I think there may be changes, I don’t think those changes will be as significant as the changes we’ve seen over the last few days,” he said.

The death toll was first given as 12, before being revised up to 17, then 30, then 58.

(Additional reporting by Paul Sandle, editing by Larry King)

Portugal’s deadliest fire still rages after 62 people killed

By Axel Bugge

PEDROGAO GRANDE, Portugal (Reuters) – More than 1,000 firefighters were still battling Portugal’s deadliest forest blaze on Monday after it killed at least 62 people over the weekend.

Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who on Sunday visited Pedrogao Grande, a mountainous area about 200 kilometers (125 miles) northeast of Lisbon, called it the biggest human tragedy in Portugal in living memory.

Welcome light rain that started on Monday morning brought only modest relief to the shocked population and exhausted firefighters. Water planes, including French and Spanish ones, resumed their missions after stopping overnight.

“There is still a lot of forest that can burn and the rain does not make much difference,” said Rui Barreto, deputy chief firefighter at the makeshift emergency services headquarters in Pedrogao Grande as thunder rolled through the skies over the ash-covered town.

Firefighters said the weather conditions were still adverse in most areas where the flames were raging. Two army battalions were helping the emergency services.

Dozens of fire engines drove back and forth to fight the raging blaze in areas as far as 20km north of Pedrogao Grande. In a sign of help Portugal is receiving from its European neighbors, four Spanish fire engines were seen driving off from the headquarters.

At least half the victims died in their cars as they tried to flee along a local motorway while many other bodies were found next to the road, suggesting they had probably abandoned their vehicles in panic.

Firefightes work to put out a forest fire near the village of Fato, central Portugal, June 18, 2017. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

GOVERNMENT ASSURANCES

Despite government assurances that the first response by the emergency services was swift and adequate, many media and residents questioned the efficiency of the operation and the strategic planning in a country which is used to wooded areas burning every year.

“So what failed this Saturday? Everything, as it has failed for decades,” read a headline in the daily Publico, which blamed a lack of coordination between services in charge of fire prevention and firefighting and poor forestry reserve planning.

Police said a lightning strike on a tree probably caused the blaze on Saturday in a region hit by an intense heat wave and dry, gusty winds, which fanned the flames.

Red Cross and other relief personnel are seen outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017.

Red Cross and other relief personnel are seen outside a relief centre for people affected by a forest fire in Figueiro dos Vinhos, Portugal, June 19, 2017. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal

The regional prosecutor still ordered a criminal investigation into the causes, which he said would be shelved if the police version of events is confirmed. Many forest fires in Portugal are caused by arson or carelessness.

A public petition circulating on the Internet demanding an investigation into possible failures by the authorities has gathered about 270 signatures.

Local residents said they had been without the support of firefighters for hours as their homes burned. Many blamed depopulation of villages that left wooded areas untended.

(Story repeats fixing typo in second paragraph.)

(Writing by Andrei Khalip, editing by Ed Osmond)