Evacuees fleeing Canary Islands wildfire rise to 8,000

A helicopter carries water to fight a forest fire seen in the village of Guia on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, Spain, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Borja Suarez

TEJEDA, Spain (Reuters) – Around 8,000 people have been evacuated as firefighters battle an out-of-control wildfire on Gran Canaria in Spain’s Canary Islands, authorities said on Monday.

The blaze, which began on Saturday near the town of Tejeda, is advancing on several fronts, propelled by a combination of high temperatures, strong winds and low humidity. So far, the fire is affecting the mountainous central part of the island rather than coastal areas busy with tourists in the summer months.

“The fire remains out of control,” a spokeswoman for emergency services in the region told Reuters. “It is a very serious fire.”

Sixteen planes and helicopters, as well as more than 700 firefighters, are currently working to contain flames as high as 50 meters, authorities said. More than 3,400 hectares have burned so far and the fire is moving aggressively toward the northwestern Tamadaba natural park, home to some of the island’s oldest pine forests.

Some 400 firefighters spent the night battling the fire’s flanks, hoping to choke it off as it moved toward more populated areas.

The blaze marks the second time that Tejeda has been evacuated this month due to wildfire.

(Reporting by Ashifa Kassam, additional reporting by Borja Suarez, editing by Andres Gonzalez and Toby Chopra)

At least six dead in Southern California flooding, mudslides

A search dog looks for victims in damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

By Alex Dobuzinskis

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – At least six people died and thousands fled their homes in Southern California on Tuesday as a powerful rainstorm triggered flash floods and mudslides on slopes where a series of intense wildfires had burned off protective vegetation last month.

The heavy downpours subsided early Tuesday after prompting evacuation orders for residents along the Pacific Coast north of Los Angeles, but forecasters warned of more rain throughout the day. Rainfall totals ranged from 2 inches to 4-1/2 inches (5 to 11 cm) in the area, said the National Weather Service.

At least six people died in the storm and mudslides in Santa Barbara County, the hardest-hit county in the region, incident command spokeswoman Amber Anderson said in a telephone interview. She did not specify the cause of the fatalities, but said they occurred in several locations in Santa Barbara where there were mudslides.

The threat of mudslides prompted the county to order 7,000 residents to leave their homes before the rains came and to urge 23,000 others to evacuate voluntarily.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Boulders block a road after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

The county set up an evacuation shelter at Santa Barbara City College, and also gave residents a place to take their animals. The weather in Southern California was mild this week, so residents who fled their homes did not have to endure the cold snap that has gripped the U.S. Midwest and East Coast in recent weeks.

A neighborhood in the upscale community of Montecito, where mudslides ravaged homes near the city of Santa Barbara, residents had not been put under mandatory evacuation orders before mud from a creek cascaded toward their homes, Anderson said.

But she could not immediately say whether any of the fatalities were in the area that was not evacuated.

An unknown number of people in the county were unaccounted for, Anderson said, and 25 residents have been injured.

Photos posted by the local fire department showed a teenager covered in black mud being led away from the rubble of a house that had been destroyed by the Montecito mudslide. She had been trapped in the home for hours before rescuers came to her aid, the Santa Barbara County Fire Department said on Twitter.

Other pictures showed ankle-deep mud, logs and boulders in residential areas.

Emergency workers, using search dogs and helicopters, have rescued dozens of people stranded in rubble, Anderson said.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018.

Emergency personnel search through debris and damaged homes after a mudslide in Montecito, California, U.S. in this photo provided by the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, January 9, 2018. Mike Eliason/Santa Barbara County Fire Department/Handout via REUTERS

Last month’s wildfires, the largest in California history, left the area vulnerable to mudslides. The fires burned away grass and shrubs that hold the soil in place, and also baked a waxy layer into the earth which prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

The overnight rains forced road closures, including a 30-mile (48-km) stretch of U.S. Highway 101, essentially cutting off traffic between Santa Barbara and Ventura counties northwest of Los Angeles. Ventura County escaped with little damage, the county sheriff’s office said.

(Additional reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Jonathan Oatis)

Thousands in California flee homes ahead of possible mudslides

California wildfire fight aided by better weather

(Reuters) – Thousands of Southern Californians fled their homes on Monday as a powerful rain storm that could cause flash floods and trigger mudslides soaked steep slopes where a series of intense wildfires burned off vegetation last month.

Heavy downpours that could produce more than 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain per hour were expected through Tuesday evening, forcing officials to order or advise Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles county residents who live near where wildfires burned to evacuated their homes.

“Recent burn areas will be especially vulnerable where dangerous mud and debris flows are possible,” the National Weather Service said in a statement.

Several December wildfires, included a blaze known as the Thomas Fire which was the largest in the state’s history, burned away vegetation that holds the soil in place and baked a waxy layer into the earth that prevents water from sinking deeply into the ground.

About 30,000 residents were under evacuation orders or advisories on Monday, ABC news reported.

“I’m just tired. I can’t seem to get my life kick-started,” Teri Lebow, whose Montecito, California was damaged by the wildfires, told the Los Angeles Times.

The storm system was expected to produce 4 inches to 7 inches (10 to 18 cm) in the foothills and mountains with 9 inches (23 cm) in isolated areas. Three inches (7 cm) to two feet (61 cm) of snow was also forecast for higher elevations, the National Weather Service said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

‘No survivors’ after plane crash in northern Pakistan mountains

FILE PHOTO - A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane arrives at the Benazir International airport in Islamabad, Pakistan

By Jibran Ahmed and Asad Hashim

PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) – There were no survivors after a plane carrying 47 people crashed into a mountain in northern Pakistan on Wednesday, the airline’s chairman said, as recovery operations continued late into the night at the remote crash site.

The military said 40 bodies had been recovered and rescue efforts involved about 500 soldiers, doctors and paramedics. The bodies were shifted to the Ayub Medical Center in nearby Abbottabad, about 20km (12 miles) away.

“There are no survivors, no one has survived,” said Muhammad Azam Saigol, the chairman for Pakistan International Airlines. PIA-operated flight PK661, which crashed en route from Chitral to the capital, Islamabad.

Junaid Jamshed, a well-known Pakistani pop star turned evangelical Muslim cleric, was among those feared dead, an airline official said.

PIA said the captain of the flight had reported losing power in one engine minutes before its plane lost contact with the control tower en route to the capital.

The airline said the plane crashed at 4:42 pm local time (1142 GMT) in the Havelian area of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, about 40km (25 miles) north of Islamabad. Chitral, where the flight originated, is a popular tourist destination in Pakistan.

Saigol said the ATR turboprop aircraft had undergone regular maintenance and in October had passed an “A-check” maintenance certification, performed after every 500 flight hours.

He said a full investigation of the crash, involving international agencies, would be conducted.

“All of the bodies are burned beyond recognition. The debris are scattered,” Taj Muhammad Khan, a government official based in Havelian, told Reuters.

Khan, who was at the crash site, said witnesses told him “the aircraft has crashed in a mountainous area, and before it hit the ground it was on fire”.

Pakistani television showed a trail of wreckage engulfed in flames on a mountain slope.

Irfan Elahi, the government’s aviation secretary, told media the plane suffered engine problems but it was too early to determine the cause of the accident.

THREE FOREIGNERS ON BOARD

In a late night statement, PIA said the plane was carrying 47 people, including five crew members and 42 passengers. Earlier, the airline had said there were 48 people on board.

The airline said two Austrian citizens and one Chinese citizen, all men, had been on board. The flight manifest showed three people on board with foreign names.

The Austrian foreign minister’s spokesman later confirmed two Austrians had been killed in the crash.

A local trader at the site of the crash said the fire was still burning nearly two hours after the crash.

“They are removing body parts,” Nasim Gohar told Geo TV.

The military said it had sent in troops and helicopters.

“PIA is doing everything possible to help the families of passengers and crew members,” the airline said in a statement.

The pop singer Jamshed, a member of one of Pakistan’s first successful rock bands in the 1990s, abandoned his singing career to join the Tableeghi Jamaat group, which travels across Pakistan and abroad preaching about Islam.

In his last tweet, Jamshed posted pictures of a snow-capped mountain, calling Chitral “Heaven on Earth”.

Plane crashes are not uncommon in Pakistan and safety standards are often criticized. In recent years, media have reported on multiple near-misses as planes over-ran runways and engines caught fire.

In 2010, a passenger plane crashed in heavy rain near Islamabad, killing all 152 people on board. Two years later, a plane operated by a private Pakistani company, with 127 people on board, crashed near Islamabad. All on board were killed.

PIA has also suffered major disasters in the past.

In 1979 and 1992, PIA jets crashed in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and in Kathmandu, killing 156 and 167 people, respectively.

In 2006, a PIA plane crashed near the central city of Multan, killing 45 people.

(Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik and Amjad Ali in ISLAMABAD and Gul Hamad Farooqi in CHITRAL,; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Larry King)