Clashes, jeers and burning tires greet coronavirus evacuees in Ukraine

By Matthias Williams

NOVI SANZHARY, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of a central Ukrainian town clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying evacuees from China’s Hubei province, quarantined in case of the coronavirus, to a sanatorium on Thursday.

Some protesters and police were lying wounded on the ground after the clashes. At least two buses had their windows smashed while the evacuees sat behind curtains inside.

Locals in Novi Sanzhary feared they could become infected despite the authorities repeatedly insisting there was no danger and a special appeal from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for calm.

Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the virus.

Tempers flared after a tense day-long standoff in which protesters blocked a bridge leading to the sanatorium where the evacuees will be held in quarantine for at least two weeks to make sure they are not carrying the virus.

Hundreds of helmeted police, police vans and an armored personnel carrier had been dispatched to keep order. Police were periodically shouted at with cries of “shame on you” as the town waited for the evacuees to arrive.

In addition to 45 Ukrainians, there were 27 citizens of Argentina on the plane that landed in Ukraine on Thursday, as well as citizens from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica and other countries.

One Ukrainian woman refused to be evacuated at the last minute because she was not allowed by the Chinese authorities to take her dog, a Ukrainian embassy statement said.

The Ukrainian authorities say all passengers on board had been screened twice for the virus before being allowed to fly, but that was not enough to quell the protesters.

“Isn’t there any other place in Ukraine that can host 50 people, that is located in more or less remote villages or in far off areas where there is no threat to population?” said resident Yuriy Dzyubenko.

One protester was heard suggesting they should be kept at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. Another suggested taking them to parliament, while another said Zelenskiy should house them himself if he really believed there was no danger.

“This is what I am telling him, telling the president: “Take 10 people, then I will take two,” a man called Yuriy, who did not give his last name, said.

A weak healthcare system, corruption and mistrust of authority are widespread in Ukraine, which has recently also grappled with a measles epidemic amid a reluctance by some to vaccinate themselves and their children.

The protest had prompted Zelenskiy to issue a statement reassuring Ukrainians that there was no danger, that the authorities had done everything possible to make sure the virus would not spread to Ukraine.

“But there is another danger that I would like to mention. The danger of forgetting that we are all human and we are all Ukrainian,” he said.

In western Ukraine there were smaller protests by residents fearing the evacuees could be housed there instead.

China reported a drop in new cases in the province at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, though the death toll so far at over 2,000 has made it one of the biggest global health emergencies in recent decades.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Sergiy Karazy and Valentyn Ogirenko in Novi Sanzhary, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev; editing by Nick Macfie)

About 350 U.S. evacuees from virus-hit Chinese city land at California air base

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two planes carrying about 350 Americans out of Wuhan, China, arrived at a U.S. military base in California on Wednesday, in Washington’s latest effort to bring its citizens home from the epicenter of the fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak.

The U.S. travelers on two State Department-chartered flights will be quarantined for 14 days after landing, the U.S. Defense Department said in a statement.

The jets landed at Travis Air Force Base, about midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, several local media reported, showing images of two planes on the tarmac.

One of the planes will continue on to Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego after refueling, the Pentagon said. Itwas due to arrive at Miramar between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. Pacific time (between 1400 and 1700 GMT), a Marine Corps spokesman said in a statement.

The State Department separately said it may stage additional flights on Thursday but gave no other details.

KGO television showed video of people in white coverall suits getting off the plane in the predawn darkness at Travis Air Force Base.

The evacuees will be housed in a hotel on the base, the base said in a statement on its Facebook page.

“A safety cordon will be established, away from residential housing, to ensure the Travis mission can safely continue, the privacy of the evacuees can be enforced,” the statement said.

The United States and other countries are seeking to evacuate their citizens from China, where the coronavirus outbreak has killed 490 people and infected more than 23,000. Two deaths have been reported outside of the mainland.

U.S. health officials have reported 11 confirmed cases of the virus in the United States so far, including two person-to-person transmissions.

The Trump administration declared a public health emergency on Jan. 31, and announced the extraordinary measures of barring the entry of foreign nationals who have recently visited China and imposing a mandatory two-week quarantine for travelers from China’s most affected province of Hubei.

The State Department issued a “Do Not Travel” to China advisory to U.S. citizens, advising them to return on commercial flights if possible, though many commercial airlines have suspended flights to or from major Chinese cities.

U.S. officials have also restricted flights from China to 11 designated airports deemed capable of carrying out enhanced health screening.

Nearly 200 Americans were evacuated late last month, mostly U.S. diplomats and their families, and were flown to March Air Force Base east of Los Angeles.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Bernadette Baum and Bill Berkrot)

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan
By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s conservative government on Thursday defended its decision to use a detention center thousands of kilometers from the mainland to quarantine locals evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Australia on Wednesday said it would evacuate “isolated and vulnerable” locals from Wuhan as part of a joint operation with New Zealand.

Some health officials have criticized the decision to move those people to Christmas Island – about 2,600km (1,616 miles) from Australia and that had been used to hold thousands of refugees between 2002 and 2018.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said Australia has no other choice.

“The reality is people need to be accommodated for somewhere for up to 14 days. I can’t clear out a hospital in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra. “I don’t have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.”

The detention center on Christmas Island was reopened last year after a decade of being idled. It houses a Tamil family whom Australia wants to deport to Sri Lanka.

Australia, which has seven cases of coronavirus, said about 600 people have told the government they are in Wuhan, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was not clear how many wanted to leave China.

Morrison said priority would be given to infants and elderly people.

On Thursday, the global death toll from the epidemic hit 170 people, while the number of infected patients rose to 7,711.

Australia’s defense of its policy came as several countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from Wuhan.

Nearly 200 Americans, mostly U.S. diplomats and their families, airlifted from Wuhan on Wednesday, will remain isolated at a U.S. military base in California for at least 72 hours of medical observation, public health officials said.

A second flight with Japanese evacuees from Wuhan landed in Japan on Thursday, with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK reported. The first flight landed on Wednesday and at least one more is expected in coming days.

New Zealand on Thursday said it would charter an aircraft to assist citizens wanting to leave Wuhan.

(Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

As wildfire rages in Los Angeles, city tells wealthy to warn staff of dangers

As wildfire rages in Los Angeles, city tells wealthy to warn staff of dangers
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A wildfire raged through some of Los Angeles’ upscale neighborhoods on Tuesday, prompting city officials to chide wealthy evacuees to remember to tell their housekeepers and gardeners not to enter the danger zone.

Wind-driven blazes were burning largely uncontrolled in tinder-dry areas around Los Angeles as well as further north in California’s wine country.

Firefighters were battling to try to save thousands of imperiled homes as thousands of residents fled the area.

Los Angeles officials reminded wealthy evacuees to alert their service employees of the danger in light of news reports that several turned up for work at some of the 10,000 homes and businesses under smoky skies in the mandatory evacuation zone.

“I want to encourage people to be reaching out to anybody who may be showing up at their home and urge them to stay away,” Councilmember Mike Bonin told a news conference on Tuesday morning.

The brush fire that broke out early on Monday near the Getty Center art museum on the city’s West Side grew about 40 acres (16 hectares) overnight to 658 acres (266 hectares), Mayor Eric Garcetti told a news conference.

“That’s a good sign, actually, that it didn’t grow by more,” he said. Eight homes have been destroyed so far.

Across the state, hundreds of thousands of people were left in the dark as power companies cut off electricity to try to prevent more fires from being sparked by snapped cabling in the brushland.

Los Angeles Lakers basketball great LeBron James, “Terminator” actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well other celebrities, said on Twitter they had been forced to evacuate their homes.

Weather forecasters say there could be worse to come, with the National Weather Service (NWS) predicting gusting winds in the mountains around Los Angeles, where planes have been dousing the fire from the air.

The Santa Ana winds in the south could hit their worst levels of the season and last into late Thursday, according to Marc Chenard of the NWS Weather Prediction Center.

Until at least Wednesday, in the bone-dry wine country about 70 miles (113 km) north of San Francisco, winds will hit up to 65 mph (101 kph) in the mountain areas and 35 mph (56 kph) in the valleys and coast around where the Kincade Fire, the state’s biggest, is burning, he said.

POWER CUTS

Pacific Gas and Electric Company <PCG.N> said early on Tuesday that almost 600,000 more electric customers would have their power shut off, starting early in the day, as a fire prevention measure ahead of the wind storms.

This is on top of the 970,000 PG&E customers already shut off, although about half of those were restored by Monday night, the company announced.

After four days of sharp declines, PG&E shares rebounded, up 17% at $4.49 on the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

As of early Tuesday, the Kincade fire had scorched more than 75,000 acres (30,351 hectares), destroyed 123 homes and other structures and was 15 percent contained as it burned across parts of Sonoma County’s wine country, state fire officials said.

California Governor Gavin Newsom said he was confident that firefighters had secured enough perimeters around the Kincade fire that it no longer posed an imminent threat to two communities north of Santa Rosa, although he conceded the fight was not over.

The cause of the Kincade fire in Sonoma County, where 190,000 people were ordered to evacuate, remains under investigation.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman, Dan Whitcomb and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Noel Randewich in San Francisco; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

Bahamas says 2,500 missing after Dorian; prime minister warns death toll to rise ‘significantly’

By Zachary Fagenson

NASSAU, Bahamas (Reuters) – Some 2,500 people are still listed as missing in the Bahamas more than a week after Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Caribbean island chain, although that number may include evacuees who fled to shelters, authorities said on Wednesday.

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis told the nation in a televised address that the death toll from Dorian remained at 50, but conceded that the large number of people missing meant that number would rise.

“The number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” Minnis said, adding the government was being transparent and would provide “timely information on the loss of life as it is available.”

Emergency management officials told a separate news conference that the list of missing had not yet been checked against records of evacuees or the thousands of people staying in shelters.

“My friends are missing, a few of my cousins are missing over there, five in total, they lived in Marsh Harbour,” said Clara Bain, a 38-year-old tour guide, referring to the Abaco town where officials estimate that 90% of homes and buildings were damaged or destroyed.

“Everyone on the islands are missing someone, it’s really devastating,” she said.

Dorian slammed into the Bahamas on Sept. 1 as a Category 5 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of intensity, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record to make a direct hit on land and packing top sustained winds of 185 miles per hour (298 kph).

“Our sympathies go out to the families of each person who died,” Minnis said. “Let us pray for them during this time of grief. We offer you our shoulders to cry on. You will never be forgotten.”

More than 5,000 people evacuated to New Providence, the island where the capital, Nassau, is located, in the face of the worst hurricane in the country’s history. But there has since been a significant reduction in the number now asking to be relocated, according to emergency management officials.

Some 15,000 people are still in need of shelter or food, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Officials have already put up large tents in Nassau to house those made homeless by the storm and plan to erect tent cities on Abaco capable of sheltering up to 4,000 people.

Minnis thanked U.S. President Donald Trump and the American people for mobilizing support and urged Bahamians to pitch in with relief efforts by volunteering or donating money to legitimate charities.

The White House said on Wednesday the United States would not give temporary protected immigration status to people fleeing the Bahamas after the hurricane.

The status would have allowed Bahamians to live and work in the United States while their country recovers.

Private forecasters estimated that Dorian destroyed or damaged some $3 billion in insured property in the Bahamas or elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Commercial flights to Abaco, one of the hardest-hit areas, resumed on a limited basis on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Zach Fagenson in Nassau, Maria Caspani in New York, Scott Malone in Boston and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angele; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Peter Cooney)

‘This isn’t over’: Islamic State loyalties linger despite defeat

Women sit with their children near the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said

By Ellen Francis

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Having joined Islamic State in Syria four years ago, the Algerian woman only abandoned the jihadists’ last scrap of besieged territory when her daughter was shot in the leg.

“I don’t regret it, even now … If my daughter was not injured, I would have stayed,” said the woman, speaking behind a full face veil as her 19-year-old daughter lay on a mattress nearby unable to walk.

At a checkpoint operated by U.S.-backed forces some 30 km (20 miles) from Islamic State’s last enclave at Baghouz, a village on the Euphrates, she described her faith in a movement that once held and terrorized large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

“Even if I’m here because I have no choice, I still believe, and I know this isn’t over,” added the woman, who finally joined the exodus from Baghouz on Monday evening.

The pro-Islamic State loyalties among evacuees showed the potential risk it still poses despite territorial defeat.

The militants once redrew the map of the region with a cross-border “caliphate” amounting to roughly a third of Iraq and Syria. But this has shrunk to Baghouz – a collection of hamlets and farmland – since they lost the bulk of their territory in 2017.

The group has been adapting for some time and has mounted a spate of guerrilla-style attacks in Syria of late.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the main partner of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria, says it wants to be certain all civilians have been evacuated from Baghouz before it launches a final assault to capture the area.

Numbers of evacuees have surpassed initial SDF estimates, and there was no sign of the evacuation ending on Tuesday when dozens of trucks ferried more out along dirt track roads.

People coming from Baghouz in recent days have shown more open loyalty to Islamic State than those who left earlier on, according to a volunteer medic at the checkpoint where they are subjected to preliminary security screening.

“Now they are more hardcore,” the medic said.

GUNSHOTS AND MORTARS

All the women at the checkpoint on Tuesday were dressed head-to-toe in black including the full face veil, or niqab.

A handful of tents on the desert ground were not enough to accommodate all gathered there. Warplanes with the U.S.-led coalition could be seen overhead.

Some children, their faces covered in dirt, cried.

The Algerian woman said there had there had been more gun-battles and mortar shelling than air strikes of late.

Her husband and two other children had been killed by shelling earlier in the war.

She had no desire to return to Algeria, where the government fought a civil war with Islamists in the 1990s.

“I can’t return to people who do not like me and who I don’t like,” said the woman, who lived in France for a time.

Asked why she went to Syria, she said: “This is what I believe in … the laws of God.”

Islamic State used its ultra-radical interpretation of Sunni Islam to justify atrocities including enslavement, mass killings, and draconian punishments including crucifixion.

The evacuees from Baghouz were being taken to a camp for internally displaced people at al-Hol, a town near the Iraqi border. The SDF wants foreign governments to help repatriate Islamic State activists, saying the burden and risk of holding them is growing.

Adnan Afrin, an SDF official, said the civilian convoys from Baghouz have included a growing number of surrendering militants. They are searched for bombs and mines before being allowed to go any further, he said.

The SDF estimates about 30,000 people have left Baghouz. It aims to eliminate or force the surrender of remaining fighters, who, according to the SDF, have dug defensive tunnels.

Many fighters remain, according to Afrin.

“We know from the civilians who came out that there are a big number, mostly European and Asian jihadists.”

(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

Close to 1,000 still missing after deadliest California wildfire

Laura Martin mourns her father, TK Huff, during a vigil for the lives and community lost to the Camp Fire at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, California, November 18, 2018. Noah Berger/Pool via REUTERS

By Terray Sylvester

(Reuters) – Emergency services on Sunday sifted through the charred wreckage of California’s deadliest ever wildfire, searching for signs of nearly 1,000 people believed still missing as crews made progress in bringing the blaze under control.

The remains of 77 people have been recovered, the Butte County Sheriff’s Office said late on Sunday, as it cut the number of missing to 993 from 1,276. It gave no other details.

The Camp Fire broke out in Northern California on Nov. 8 and last week all but obliterated Paradise, a mountain town of nearly 27,000 people around 90 miles (145 km) north of state capital Sacramento.

Officials said it had consumed about 150,000 acres and was 65 percent contained late on Sunday, up from 60 percent earlier in the day, as prospects of a heavy rainstorm from late Tuesday onwards raised hopes that percentage will rise as the week progresses.

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

Maddy Mudd, 25, of Oakhurst, hugs Camp Fire evacuee Terri Wolfe, 62, of Paradise, at a donation site for evacuees in Chico, California, U.S., November 18, 2018. REUTERS/Terray Sylvester

They said full containment was not expected until Nov. 30, however.

Up to four inches (10 cm) of rain are forecast to fall north of San Francisco between late Tuesday and Friday, said Patrick Burke, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in Maryland.

“This weather system is locked in,” he said.

The rain would also make it harder for forensic teams sifting through ash and dirt looking for the bones of the dead. “The rain will easily disturb the soil where remains might be found,” Burke said.

Pathologists from the University of Nevada, Reno, worked through the weekend as firefighters peeled back debris, collecting bits of burned bones and photographing everything that might help identify the victims.

The storm, which is expected to carry moderate winds of 15-20 mph could also cause problems for evacuees, hundreds of whom are sheltering in tents and cars.

It isn’t clear how many people are in need of shelter but as many as 52,000 people had been ordered to evacuate

“While it isn’t an exceptionally strong storm, the recent burns make mudslides on hills and slopes a real danger,” Burke said.

South of Sacramento near Malibu, at least two inches of rain are expected to fall on a second fire, the Woolsey. Known to have killed three people, it was 88 percent contained on Sunday and full containment was expected on Thanksgiving Thursday.

The cause of both fires is under investigation, but electric utilities reported localized equipment problems around the time they broke out.

PG&E Corp has said it could face liability that exceeds its insurance coverage if its equipment were found to have caused the Camp Fire.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; editing by John Stonestreet)

For Syrian evacuees, civil war bus bombing a tragic end to a tragic deal

The interior of a damaged bus is seen after an explosion yesterday at insurgent-held al-Rashideen, Aleppo province, Syria

By John Davison

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Mothers Noha, a Shi’ite, and Samira, a Sunni, were besieged for nearly two years on each side of Syria’s civil war. At the weekend they finally escaped the suffocating blockades under an evacuation agreement – but their ordeal was not over.

As they waited at two transit points miles apart outside Aleppo, a bomb attack hit Noha’s bus convoy, killing more than 120 people including dozens of children. After ambulances rushed off the wounded, new buses arrived and the two convoys eventually reached their destinations – one in government territory and the other in rebel territory.

In the hours leading up to Saturday’s attacks, the two women spoke to Reuters about what they had left behind, their families being split up, and the likelihood they would never return home.

Reuters was not allowed back past security to try to find Noha after the blast, and lost contact with Samira after speaking to her earlier on another evacuee’s phone.

“We’ve lost everything. We hope to go back one day, but I don’t expect we will,” said Noha, 45, asking not to be identified by her last name.

Noha left al-Foua, one of two Shi’ite villages besieged by Syrian insurgents in Idlib province with her two youngest children and 5,000 other people under a deal between the Syrian government and armed opposition.

In exchange, 2,000 Sunni residents and rebel fighters from the government-besieged town of Madaya near Damascus – Samira’s hometown – were given safe passage out, and bussed to Idlib province, a rebel stronghold, via Aleppo.

Thousands of Syrians have been evacuated from besieged areas in recent months under deals between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and rebels fighting for six years to unseat him.

The deals have mostly affected Sunni Muslims living in rebel-held areas surrounded by government forces and their allies. Damascus calls them reconciliation deals and says it allows services to be restored in the wrecked towns.

Rebels say it amounts to forced displacement of Assad’s opponents from Syria’s main urban centres in the west of the country, and engenders demographic change because most of the opposition, and Syria’s population, are Sunni.

But backed militarily by Russia and Shi’ite regional allies, Assad, a member of Syria’s Alawite minority, has negotiated the deals from a position of strength.

“There was little choice. We had to leave, we were scared,” said Samira, 55, who was traveling with her five adult sons.

She had feared her sons would be arrested or forced to join the Syrian military and fight once troops and officials of the Damascus government moved into the town.

Like Noha, Samira was relieved to have escaped a crushing siege which had caused widespread hunger – and in the case of Madaya, starvation – but had left everything behind, including family.

“We owned three houses, farmland and three shops in Madaya town. Now, we don’t have a single Syrian pound,” she said.

Her daughter, pregnant with a third child, had stayed in Madaya because her husband had vowed to “live and die” there, she said.

Samira has not heard from her own husband for nearly four years after he was arrested by Syrian authorities.

NOWHERE TO LIVE

With nothing left and no place to stay in Idlib other than camps, Samira said she would try to migrate, joining the 5 million Syrian refugees who have left since the war broke out in 2011. More than 6 million are internally displaced.

“I don’t want to be in Idlib, we know no one there. Also you don’t know when or where the jets might bomb,” she said, referring to the heavy bombardment by Russian and Syrian warplanes of rebel-held areas in Idlib – including a recent alleged poison gas attack.

“The plan is to try to get to Turkey, to leave Syria for good.”

Noha was also heading into the unknown.

“I don’t know where we’ll live, whether they (authorities) have anything set up. At the very least, we just want to be safe. The children jump at night from the sound of rockets. We just want security, wherever they take us,” she said.

Her adult son and daughter had stayed in al-Foua but were hoping to leave in the next stage of the evacuation deal. Noha’s husband had been killed, but she did not say how.

Both women said they would never have left their hometowns but for the strangling sieges, which caused severe food and medicine shortages, and the gradual change of control in each area.

Government forces moved into Madaya on Friday. Rebels are also due to leave nearby Zabadani as part of the deal. In al-Foua and Kefraya, hundreds of pro-government fighters were evacuated, and the agreement will pave the way for insurgents to take over.

Russia, Iran and Lebanese Hezbollah have helped Assad gain the upper hand against rebels in the west of the country in the last 18 months and he now controls all of Syria’s most populous cities there, although insurgents have made gains in some areas.

But with the war that has killed hundreds of thousands far from over, those displaced in swap deals see return a long way off.

“People have built their houses and worked their whole lives setting themselves up, and now they’ve left, with nothing, zero,” Noha said.

(Additional reporting by Ammar Abdullah; Editing by Anna Willard)

Turkey to set up camp for Aleppo evacuees in Syria

By Umit Ozdal

CILVEGOZU, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkey plans to set up a camp inside Syria to host people evacuated from the city of Aleppo but will continue to take the sick and wounded to Turkish hospitals, officials said on Friday.

Two potential sites, around 3.5 km (2 miles) inside Syria, have been identified for a camp with the capacity to host up to 80,000 people, two senior officials told Reuters.

“Work on the infrastructure for the camp will begin shortly,” another official from the Turkish aid organization IHH said by phone from inside Syria. The camp will be jointly set up by the Turkish Red Crescent, disaster agency AFAD and IHH.

The IHH official said evacuees had so far largely found shelter with relatives in and around Syria’s Idlib province, southwest of Aleppo, but added that work to identify those with nowhere to go was under way.

Some arrived on Friday at a clinic in Syria close to the Turkish border gate of Cilvegozu where they were tended to by Turkish aid workers, video footage obtained by Reuters showed.

“We were bombed by a plane,” said one man, his head and arm bandaged, lying on a bed hugging his young son.

“All my family were killed and all I have left is him and a daughter,” he said. He had been told his daughter had been brought to Turkey but did not know her condition or whereabouts.

Turkey has taken in 55 wounded or sick evacuees, according to Hasan Aydinlik, head of an emergency response division of the Turkish Health Ministry. He told reporters at the Cilvegozu crossing that one of the wounded had died in hospital while four people, including a child, were in serious condition.

The evacuation of the last opposition-held areas of Aleppo was suspended on Friday after pro-government militias demanded that wounded people should also be brought out of two Shi’ite Muslim villages being besieged by rebels.

Turkey says that close to 8,000 people – rebels and civilians – have been evacuated under a ceasefire deal it brokered with Russia.

Turkey is already sheltering around 2.7 million Syrian refugees. An aid official with Syrian NGO Shafak, working on the Aleppo evacuation, said he expected more people to head for the Turkish border as the villages west of Aleppo were now full.

Aleppo was divided between government and rebel areas of control for much of the nearly six-year-old civil war. But a lightning advance by the Syrian army and its allies that began in mid-November saw the insurgents lose most of their territory.

(Reporting by Orhan Coskun and Ercan Gurses in Ankara, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul; Editing by Daren Butler and Nick Tattersall/Mark Heinrich)

Evacuees trickle back into Canadian city hit wildfire

Fort McMurray evacuees begin packing belongings away as they prepare to head back into Fort McMurray after the wildfires.

By Topher Seguin

FORT MCMURRAY, Alberta (Reuters) – Thousands of evacuees who fled a massive wildfire in the Canadian oil city of Fort McMurray began to trickle back to their homes on Wednesday, though the water was still not safe to drink and other services were limited.

More than 90,000 residents fled the remote northern Alberta city as the fire hit four weeks ago, burning entire neighborhoods. Officials expect 14,000 to 15,000 to return on Wednesday as a two week staged re-entry gets underway.

Downtown Fort McMurray, untouched by fire, was quiet but not empty early on Wednesday morning. Some stores were already open, and there was still some smoke in the air.

John Smith, 77, and his wife, Joyce, were bracing for heavy traffic on the main highway leading into the city, as well as what may lie ahead.

“We didn’t even have time to empty the garbage,” he said. “I’m going in first with a flashlight and wearing a mask, and one of us will open the doors and windows and flush the house out.”

The blaze was a devastating blow to a community already reeling from a two-year slump in global crude prices. It shuttered more than a million barrels per day of crude production, though some facilities have since resumed operations.

Early in the morning, police began removing the barricades that had kept residents out of the city. Authorities told those returning to bring two weeks’ worth of food, water and prescription medication. The area is under a boil water advisory and the local hospital’s capabilities are limited.

Some 2,000 residents who had expected to return this week were told on Monday that they should not go back because of risks posed by debris and contaminants, including caustic ash. Among them were Elsie Knister, 63, and her neighbor Mary Lindsey McNutt, 33.

“I have panic attacks, there’s water damage, there are toxins in my furniture and my cupboards, and under the floor,” Knister said. “I am scared of everything right now, and I am going to have to deal with it one day at a time.”

The pair had been staying in Edmonton and moved north to the Wandering River evacuee camp over the weekend in preparation for their return. They said they were not sure where to go next.

“I feel they are bringing people back in here way too quickly,” McNutt said. “My family in Nova Scotia are saying why don’t you come home for the summer? If we are displaced until August or September I will probably get on a plane.”

Deteriorating air quality could force officials to change re-entry plans yet again.

About 10 percent of the city’s homes were destroyed by the blaze, which has blackened more than 580,000 hectares (2,239 square miles).

(Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Calgary; Editing by Alan Crosby)