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Guatemala volcano: rescuers battle boiling ash to recover Fuego’s dead

In San Miguel Los Lotes close to Guatemala’s most active volcano, firefighters are working hard, but hope is slim

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Guatemala volcano: rescuers battle boiling ash to recover Fuego’s dead” was written by Nina Lakhani in San Miguel Los Lotes, for The Guardian on Tuesday 5th June 2018 04.31 UTC

A rescue crew emerges from an immense cloud of fine grey dust carrying two stretchers that hold bodies recovered from houses engulfed by blistering lava from the nearby erupting Fuego volcano.

The recovered bodies are tightly wrapped in dusty white sheets. One barely fills half the stretcher – a young victim of the most deadly volcanic eruption to hit Guatemala in decades.

The official death toll from the Fuego disaster is 70 but the final number is likely to be far higher, with scores of people missing from dozens of communities cut off by the devastation.

‘It is terrible up there’

In the rural community of San Miguel Los Lotes, a group of municipal firefighters pulled out out 15 bodies on Monday morning, including four children and their pregnant mother who didn’t have time to escape the powerful pyroclastic flows – fast-moving mixtures of gas and volcanic matter discharged by the exploding volcano.

Another rescue team recovered 14 people, including several children, and reported encountering eight- to 10-metre high mounds of volcanic ash. The most common cause of death was asphyxia, followed by burns.

“The houses became ovens, and the village a crematorium. There are no survivors,” says volunteer firefighter Francisco Flores.

The ash-covered landscape in the aftermath of the eruption of Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.
The ash-covered landscape in the aftermath of the eruption of Volcan de Fuego in Guatemala.
Photograph: Juan Diego Alvarez

“There is so much ash it’s like a massive beach but with trees and rocks thrown in, it’s terrible up there,” adds Flores while taking a break to eat a sandwich and close his eyes for a few minutes by the side of the road.

Even the maize crops and vegetation bordering the snaking highway are covered in a dense layer of the grey ash that has turned the lush landscape into something that resembles a post-apocalyptic scene from a science fiction film.

Beside Flores rests Angel Solis, another volunteer, who is comforting a terrified puppy the crew found hiding under a bed in a house where the rest of the family were killed. On Monday, rescue workers tenderly carried out to safety several injured dogs, a pig, ducks and chickens, but no humans.

This entire hillside community has been devastated by Sunday’s eruption which took place without warning just before midday. The toxic mix of lava, ash and gas engulfed entire houses inside which dozens and dozens of people are feared to have been trapped as they prepared to eat lunch.

Those who managed to escape have sought refuge in makeshift shelters set-up in churches and schools in the nearby town of Escuintla.

People carry the coffins of seven people who died during the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.
People carry the coffins of seven people who died during the eruption of the Volcan de Fuego.
Photograph: Luis Soto/AP

‘Shall I go to the morgue?’

Isabel Pineda, 25, spent all morning going from shelter to shelter looking for her younger sister who lived in a small house on the main road into San Miguel. But she could not find Patricia Pineda, 21, a business administration student, and her phone is switched off. No one has heard from her since the volcano erupted.

From the cordon, Pineda points out where the house was, but in its place is nothing but clouds of grey dust. Beyond the dust, the road is ruined and inaccessible. “No one is coming out of there alive, they should check in the morgue,” says one rescue worker in a hushed tone.

Fuego – which means fire in Spanish – is located less than 50km west of the capital Guatemala City and is one of the most active volcanos in Central America. Sunday’s eruption was the second so far this year.

The build-up of energy inside the volcano generated an explosion that resulted in a second, lower crater forming alongside the spewing Fuego basin. The torrent of molten lava stretched at least five miles long crushing bridges, roads and buildings in its path. The lava reached record temperatures of about 700C.

Employing a mix of heavy machinery, shovels and picks, the rescue workers have cleared narrow paths in order to try and safely access houses, but 24 hours after the initial eruption a hundred or so homes in this village alone remain blanketed in volcanic matter and too dangerous to enter.

“Every time we lift off a metal roof a huge gush of steam rises out of the building,” rescue worker Juan Diego Alvarez tells the Guardian. “The ash is just too hot for us to work.” Nearby lie several pairs of abandoned burnt boots, melted by the boiling ash.

The rescue efforts have been hampered by further eruptions, poor visibility, rain and the unbearable heat trapped within the volcanic ash. The fate of dozens of smaller settlements constructed on higher plots around the volcano remains unknown as the conditions are too dangerous for rescuers to attempt to get close.

Image of an ash-covered town in the aftermath of the eruption of the Fuego volcano
Image of an ash-covered town in the aftermath of the eruption of the Fuego volcano
Photograph: Juan Diego Alvarez

Authorities fear that heavy rains expected later this week could turn tonnes of ash into rivers of mud strong enough to hurl bodies and debris down the foothills.

Meanwhile the morgues are filling up.

Juan Ortiz, 60, cycles towards the cordon where hundreds of soldiers, police officers, firefighters and volunteers are waiting for conditions to improve so they can resume the search for victims. His 28-year-old son is missing. Earlier, Ortiz snuck through security to reach his son’s house. “It’s completely covered in grey sand, the whole house, do you think the authorities will find him or shall I go to the morgue?”

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Trump Administration Wants California To Pay Back Billions For Bullet Train

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Trump administration plans to cancel $929 million in U.S. money for California’s beleaguered high-speed rail project and wants the state to return an additional $2.5 billion it’s already spent.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announcement Tuesday came after threats from President Donald Trump to make California pay back the money awarded to build the train between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The project has faced cost overruns and years of delays.

The Trump administration argues California hasn’t provided required matching dollars and can’t complete work by a 2022 deadline.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and California rail officials didn’t immediately comment.

Last week, Newsom said the rail project “as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long.” He wants to refocus on building a line in central California.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas Calls For Reconsideration of SCOTUS Verdict In New York Times v. Sullivan

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday urged the court to reconsider its landmark precedent that made it harder for public figures to sue for defamation even as he joined in a decision to end a defamation suit against comedian Bill Cosby.

The 1964 high court ruling in the libel case known as New York Times v. Sullivan has served as a powerful protection for media reporting on public figures. But Thomas, one of the high court’s most conservative justices, said it is not rooted in the U.S. Constitution.

That ruling and the court’s later ones extending it “were policy-driven decisions masquerading as constitutional law,” Thomas wrote, expressing views that appear to be aligned with those expressed previously by President Donald Trump.

Thomas made the comments in a concurring opinion agreeing with his fellow justices in refusing to consider reviving a defamation lawsuit against Cosby by Kathrine McKee, an actress and former Las Vegas showgirl who said he falsely called her a liar after she accused him of raping her in 1974.

McKee was represented in the case by attorney Charles Harder, who represented Trump in a defamation suit brought against the president by adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Daniels has said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006, which he denies. McKee had appealed a court ruling in Massachusetts that threw out her lawsuit.

In January 2018, Trump called current defamation laws “a sham and a disgrace” following the publication of a book about the White House by author Michael Wolff called “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” which among other things questioned the president’s mental health.

The high court’s unanimous 1964 ruling held that in order to win a libel suit, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the offending statement was made with “actual malice,” meaning knowledge that it was false or reckless disregard as to whether it was false.

The case involved a lawsuit against the New York Times, a newspaper that Trump often criticizes for its coverage of him.

Thomas wrote that “we should carefully examine the original meaning of the First and Fourteenth Amendments,” referring to the constitutional provisions protecting freedom of speech, freedom of the press and the application of those rights to the states.

“If the Constitution does not require public figures to satisfy an actual-malice standard in state-law defamation suits, then neither should we,” Thomas wrote.

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Leaving Neverland: First Trailer For Devastating New Michael Jackson Documentary Released

HBO/Channel 4 production features the testimonies of two men who allege that the singer sexually abused them as children

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Leaving Neverland: first trailer for ‘devastating’ Michael Jackson documentary” was written by Benjamin Lee, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 19th February 2019 19.32 UTC

It’s a documentary Michael Jackson’s estate doesn’t want you to see. But despite legal threats, HBO and Channel 4 will air Leaving Neverland next month.

A new trailer offers a first look at the troubling two-part, four-hour film that premiered at Sundance film festival last month, featuring the testimonies of James Safechuck and Wade Robson, who allege that Jackson sexually abused them as children.

“He told me if they ever found out what we were doing, he and I would go to jail,” says Robson in the trailer.

The film shocked critics and audiences when it was shown at Sundance. Variety’s Owen Gleiberman called it “devastating” and the Hollywood Reporter’s Daniel Fienberg praised it as “complicated and heartbreaking”.

“This is not a movie about Michael Jackson,” said director Dan Reed to Variety. “This is not a movie about Michael Jackson abusing little boys. It’s a movie about two families and how two families came to terms with what their sons revealed to them many years after Jackson died.”

Jackson’s estate has already criticised the film in a 10-page letter addressed to HBO’s CEO. It denied the allegations and condemned director Dan Reed for not speaking to anyone in Jackson’s family or legal team. Since the film premiered, some Jackson fans have attacked the director and the two accusers.

“There is also this league of fans who are almost like a cult, and they say very nasty things [about the film] on social media,” Reed said to Vice. “And their words echo the two-decade long rhetoric of the Jackson family and legal team, which is shaming the victims. It happens often in these cases. It’s what they do very aggressively and relentlessly, and I don’t think you can get away with that in 2019 like you could in the past.”

Earlier this month, a Chicago pre-run of an upcoming Broadway show based around Jackson’s music was cancelled because of the Actors’ Equity Association strike reportedly causing delays. Equity has rejected that its “modest” demand was to blame for the cancellation.

“The developmental lab that was scheduled for this production was delayed by 12 working days during the strike,” a spokesman said. “It is difficult to understand how a modest delay in February would impact a run that was scheduled for late October.”

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