News Brief: California's Camp Fire, Florida Recount, Brexit Resignation

Nov 15, 2018
Originally published on November 15, 2018 7:22 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Steve, I'm talking to you this morning from Chico, Calif. This is not far from Paradise. That is the town that was all but incinerated by this Northern California wildfire that is still burning. The death toll went up to 56 yesterday. More than a hundred people are still missing, and many of them are from this town of Paradise. Search and rescue teams there have been sifting through the rubble, looking for human remains. And this is one volunteer who was doing that. I met her in Paradise yesterday. Her name is Beverly Lagos.

BEVERLY LAGOS: There are people who are worried. Where's their grandmother, their sister? Their - I don't think I'm going to be very traumatized if we find remains. The main thing is that I'm going to have a little peace of mind knowing that I've given peace of mind to the family members.

GREENE: So Steve, that is what seems to be keeping these teams going as they do something very grim.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

David, what did you see them doing minute by minute, hour by hour as you walked with them through Paradise yesterday?

GREENE: Well, we were out there. And I mean, these neighborhoods, it's just - it's astonishing. You know, imagine taking these beautiful neighborhoods and using some cruel black-and-white filter to turn the place into black-and-white ash. And so we're out there. The smoky haze is hanging over everything.

And these teams are just - they'll go onto the foundation of a home, and they'll start poking with, you know, almost what looks like hiking poles. And they're doing two things. One is to look for, like, gun safes or anything that might be dangerous for other teams to encounter, and the other is to look for any obvious signs of human remains. And I'll just let one of the search and rescue people talk to you. Here, this is Mark Aldridge. He's the deputy sheriff from Sonoma County, Calif.

MARK ALDRIDGE: If we know we're going into a house that it was an elderly person who is bedridden, we're going to go straight to where we think the bedroom is and find the bed frame and look there.

GREENE: And so this process is just going to keep going on for days, maybe weeks.

INSKEEP: Which means that some people who are worried about loved ones who are missing may not have news for days or weeks.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, that is the reality facing so many families. They don't know where their loved ones are. I mean, the number of missing is - I mean, it's just so disturbing. And they're holding out hope. Maybe they're going to get news. You know, they found a handful of remains yesterday. But you know, they're going desperately to these shelters. We were at a Red Cross shelter here in Chico yesterday, and there are these bulletin boards. And they're just - I mean, they're awful to look at people walking up to them. They're, you know, yellow notebook paper, people just putting lists of family members they're looking for. And they're identified as their moms, their fathers, their sons, their daughters, their neighbors - that they're just so desperate for some sort of information because they don't know where these people are.

INSKEEP: David, there's something random and hard to explain about fires, the way that they jump around in an area. And you may initially think an entire area is destroyed and then discover the fire actually skipped around and there are houses that survived, buildings that survived, forest areas that survived.

GREENE: Yeah.

INSKEEP: But is that the case in Paradise? Or do you find an entire town, where tens of thousands of people lived, and everything seems gone?

GREENE: It absolutely is the case. It's so strange, Steve. You'll see five, six, seven houses in a row totally gone and then one still standing. We saw - I saw in a yard that was completely scorched a flagpole that was the only thing intact. There was a Boston Red Sox flag and an American flag there. And I think it's not just objects. It's people. You know, I met one couple. They were fine. They were so happy that they were together and had made it. But they were feeling just terrible for neighbors who didn't make it. And you know, their house was totally destroyed. All they have is each other. And they're not sure where to go from here, but they're feeling very, very grateful.

INSKEEP: David, thanks for your reporting really appreciate it.

GREENE: Yeah. Sure.

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INSKEEP: Some other news - today is a legal deadline for counties across Florida. By 3 o'clock this afternoon, they are supposed to finish recounting ballots.

GREENE: Yeah, races for the Senate and the governorship are at stake here, among others. Despite lawsuits and a request by the incumbent senator Bill Nelson, this deadline stands. Almost all 67 Florida counties are finished. At least one is most likely not going to make it, though. Here is Susan Bucher, the elections supervisor in Palm Beach County.

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SUSAN BUCHER: This is our democracy, and I am here to count every vote. And I will take the time that's required. And you can see, I haven't been home for three days.

INSKEEP: You know, take the time that's required, but time is running out. And NPR lead political editor Domenico Montanaro is following this story.

Domenico, good morning.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what exactly must be done by 3 o'clock this afternoon?

MONTANARO: Well, the machine recounts are due today at 3 o'clock. If a county doesn't meet that deadline, the previous vote stands. And you're talking about Palm Beach County there. Some of the larger counties like Palm Beach, we've been hearing about, saying that they're having trouble meeting that deadline. Broward County, for example, is expected to be done sometime this morning. Palm Beach says it won't likely get the governor's race done but might be able to finish counting for the Senate. When all the results are in, if the margin in those races is within 0.25 percentage points, a very slim margin there, then it goes to a manual recount of some ballots - not all but some of these irregular ballots. Counting in those would be due Sunday at noon.

But what does this mean big picture? You know, if the vote totals hold, it's very possible this afternoon the governor's race will be called because that has been slightly outside the margin of 0.25 percentage points, and Ron DeSantis could be declared the governor - the Republican there. And the Senate race, though, looks like it's headed for a manual recount. That didn't stop Rick Scott, the incumbent governor who's running for the Senate, from showing up in Washington as something of a victory lap with Republican leader Mitch McConnell yesterday.

INSKEEP: I guess we should remind people why this has become a partisan issue. The biggest problems, the biggest delays that we know about seemed to have been in Palm Beach County and Broward County, two counties in South Florida that lean pretty heavily Democratic.

MONTANARO: Yeah I mean first of all those are pretty big counties. I mean if you were to take Broward, for example, and make it a state, it would be the 37th-largest state in the country. About 1.9 million people live there. Of course, Miami-Dade is bigger than that, and they haven't had the same issues in counting the vote. You've had voting machines, aging machines in Palm Beach County overheat. That's led to some of the frustration there that you heard. That forced recounting of about 175,000 ballots that have already been counted. It's so hectic that you heard Bucher actually say that she's not very optimistic and, quote, "we're in prayer mode to finish on time."

INSKEEP: Well, there's not only prayer. There's also the law and the courts to deal with. There are six different lawsuits. Could any of them affect this deadline that we're looking at or anything else?

MONTANARO: They could. And we'll find out a little bit more about that this morning. There's one legal challenge, in particular, from incumbent Democratic Senator Bill Nelson's team to delay the recount deadline. A state court had ordered a delay in counting for five days, but that got kicked up to a federal judge. He's not made a decision yet on whether to go that way.

INSKEEP: OK, Domenico. Thanks for the update, really appreciate it.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

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INSKEEP: Hours after Britain's Cabinet seemed to agree on a Brexit plan, two Cabinet secretaries in Prime Minister Theresa May's government have quit over it.

GREENE: That's right. The Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab, says he can't support the plan to withdraw from the European Union. A second Cabinet minister has also resigned this morning. And a top official outside the Cabinet, the minister for Northern Ireland, has also quit over this plan. Theresa May pushed this plan through her Cabinet just yesterday.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been covering this story and is on the line from London.

Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

INSKEEP: Doesn't sound good when it's a Brexit plan and your...

LANGFITT: No.

INSKEEP: ...Brexit secretary says goodbye.

LANGFITT: No. And that's going to be a real problem for the prime minister today. Let's go to the reason why he did that. Dominic Raab said in a letter, effectively, this agreement was breaking a promise that May's Conservative Party had made to people about a genuine break with the European Union. He called it a matter of public trust. More specifically, he said the deal - and this is pretty strong to get from one of your former Cabinet members - threatens the integrity of the United Kingdom because it could result in Northern Ireland being more aligned in regulations with the EU than the United Kingdom under certain circumstances.

Of course, the purpose of that, as we've been talking about now for months, is to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Raab also said that the U.K. cannot unilaterally get out of the EU customs area, which would then kind of trap the country and not allow it to move forward.

INSKEEP: Oh, I guess we should remember that one key part of this plan was to keep Britain within that customs, that free trade...

LANGFITT: Yep.

INSKEEP: ...Zone for a while longer. And that seems to be a key, yeah.

LANGFITT: Much longer, yes. And potentially, from they're concerned, they didn't know when it was going to end. And that's one of the reasons that Raab's resigning.

INSKEEP: And yet, we were told yesterday that the Cabinet had agreed to this. Does it seem that most Cabinet ministers are on board, much as they may not like it?

LANGFITT: Well, it's impossible to say at the moment because they haven't been speaking publicly. But the significance of this, as you were alluding to, is huge. And what we're waiting to see is, will more walk? There's, right now, a watch to see who else from the Cabinet - there are Brexiteers in the Cabinet. And it's known that a number of them were very critical in the meeting, so we're waiting to see who else might actually do that.

INSKEEP: I do...

LANGFITT: The one that we - oh, please go on.

INSKEEP: Yeah. I was going to say, I do have to ask because there have been resignations before. A Brexit minister resigned in the past. Boris Johnson resigned in the past. Is this more significant than those resignations?

LANGFITT: Yeah. It's a great question, and it is a lot more significant. This is the biggest threat to Theresa May's prime ministership in two years, since she took over. And there's talk now - as there has been in the past - from Tory Brexiteers, members of her own party, calling for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister. This takes 48 letters from members of Parliament from her own party, and people are waiting to see if those letters materialize. But having this happen right before you take this to the House of Commons, which is what she's going to do very soon, this morning, it really undermines the prime minister and weakens - she's been working on this for a very, very long time. And it just puts her in a very vulnerable state.

INSKEEP: Frank, I just want to remember, also, this is all the result of a referendum in 2016.

LANGFITT: Yep.

INSKEEP: It is what a majority of the people in Britain voted for, said they wanted. Is any of it going in a way that the British public likes?

LANGFITT: I think people are very unhappy with the way the government has handled it. Of course it was always going to be extremely difficult, although it was never sold that way to the public. They were told it was going to be easy. Also, people are frustrated and tired of it. But people will be watching very closely today when the prime minister is in Commons trying to sell this to, clearly, some people in her party who are very much against it.

INSKEEP: NPR's Frank Langfitt is in London.

Frank, thanks as always.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.